Tag Archives: Nauru

Asylum Seekers: what it costs Australian governments to persecute stateless persons

12 Nov

 Asylum Seeker Three

 

The foreigner is the political precondition of the nation state… Costas Douzinas.

Australia, while remaining a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees, long since gave up any pretence of observance of international human rights in favour of a nationalistic observance of state sovereign rights. State sovereignty permits governments the right to exclude persons the state deems unworthy of inclusion.

The power of the state to exclude is perhaps the fundamental state power.

Ideological, racial, economic and political factors are the criteria for deciding who is and is not included in the nation-state. As Hannah Arendt noted, statelessness is not a problem of geographical space, but of political space.

The stateless person has as their only descriptor the fact that they are human. Ironically, this strips them of their right to human rights, rights which are only available to them if they are citizens of a state. It is not enough to be human. One must also belong to a state in order to claim human rights. Arendt suggest that the only fundamental human right is the right to have rights. Asylum seekers who have a legitimate right to arrive by boat in Australia are stripped of the right to have rights once their vessel is intercepted by Australian authorities.

 

Stateless Persons UNHCR

Persons seeking asylum from persecution who attempt to access Australia by boat are singled out for exclusion, and though their method of arrival is perfectly legitimate under the Convention, they are criminalised and detained in off-shore camps. Detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island are all that is offered to de facto stateless persons, that is, refugees unable to claim the human rights afforded by citizenship. Persons detained in these camps are exempted from “normal” laws. The methods of addressing their plight are containment and repatriation, or resettlement in another country, rather than granting asylum and legal integration into the Australian nation.

This action against asylum seekers is justified as being in the “national interest,” an abstract concept in which the mystical “nation”  is prioritised over the interests of singular human beings who are dispossessed non-nationals, and therefore considered rightless.  The state is committed to protecting only legitimate members of the nation, the rights of asylum being in conflict with the rights of the state. There is in Australia no concept of offering sanctuary and refuge to those fleeing persecution who arrive by sea. Their loss of place in the world, their loss of belonging, has the effect of reducing them to physical objects, bereft of human dignity, because without rights one is not a person, one is not an agent in the public realm.

In reaction to this deliberate and systematic dehumanisation, asylum seekers held in detention camps on Manus and Nauru behave as did those held in mainland camps such Woomera and Baxter. They sew up their lips in a symbolic protest against the silencing of their voices. They harm their own bodies. They suffer depression and anxiety, and hopelessness. Their suffer the abjection of those who have ceased to belong to any state.

Asylum Seekers Two SMH photo

 

Sovereignty, like religion, is a constructed knowledge imbued with faux mysticism. The Abbott government’s “Operation Sovereign Borders” appeals to this pseudo-mysticism, offering citizens the opportunity to come together in unity, led by a concerned, fatherly government to protect our nation against the breaching of its borders by the unwanted, stateless foreigner. As Douzinas points out, there can be no nation state without the foreigner; one must have someone to protect oneself from in order to maintain the perceived power of sovereignty.

The asylum seeker is equally imbued with mysticism, of the most negative kind as the assumption is peddled that merely due to the fact of her search for asylum she is morally corrupt and corrupting. Her crime is breaching sovereign borders. She is used as a scapegoat to unite citizens and strengthen boundaries, ultimately supporting the ideology of sovereignty.

What we are doing in this country is wrong. The idea that we must treat people horrifically in order to discourage others from attempting sea journeys is morally corrupt. Action the state is legitimised to take against one group can be and will be extrapolated to other groups, when the state deems it in the national interest. When the fate of human lives is secondary to the rights of the state, we are all at risk.

Is it really in the interests of the citizens of this country that so many billions of taxpayer dollars are eaten up in the pursuit and detention of a relatively few people who arrive here by boat, in the pursuit of the maintenance of our sovereign borders? No, it isn’t. It is, however, in the political interests of both major parties. The cost to the taxpayer of pursuing these political interests is obscene, and it is rising, as this graph from The Conversation shows:

 

The Conversation

 

The major parties continue to persecute stateless persons seeking asylum and refuge, solely because of their method of arrival. Australia moves further and further away from the undertakings we made when we signed and later ratified the Refugee Convention. Human beings suffer appallingly in concentration camps, out of sight and out of mind. The matter of the future of stateless persons is a massive global problem, and one that will continue to increase. Australian governments have long thought it is a problem that they can continue to outsource to countries far less capable than are we of providing the possibility of a decent life to those who by no fault of their own, are dispossessed of the lives they once had. This cannot go on. In all conscience, it cannot go on.

Turnbull, Transfield, The New Democracy Foundation, & the vicious ingratitude of artists

11 Mar

In the last two days Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and former Chairman of the Sydney Biennale and Transfield Executive Director, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, have provided the Australian public with an unusually revealing insight into what the ruling class expect from the artists they support.

Belgiorno-Nettis is an investor in the Transfield company recently awarded a $1.2 billion contract to provide “Garrison and Welfare” services to the Australian government’s detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, commented on earlier by No Place for Sheep here.  It seems that wherever one goes, from the St James Ethic’s Centre, to the Black Dog Institute, to the Business Council of Australia, to the New Democracy Foundation (see below) to the arts, one encounters a director of Transfield.

Ten artists withdrew their work from the Biennale because the event was heavily sponsored by Transfield, and the ten considered themselves to be benefiting from profits gained from the exploitation of human misery. Transfield was a co-founder of the Biennale some 41 years ago, but has only become problematic since it was awarded the government contracts for Nauru, and most recently Manus.

Turnbull described the artists as being “viciously ungrateful” to their benefactor.

On Radio National’s Books and Arts program today, Belgiorno-Nettis expressed his revulsion at the allegedly personal nature of the attacks on him and his family by “radical protestors” against the Manus and Nauru prisons, and when asked by presenter Michael Cathcart what he thought about the boycotting artists returning to the Biennale now Transfield was no longer involved, stated that as far as he was concerned they weren’t welcome back. They had, he insisted, used “guerilla tactics” against him.

The Transfield Executive Director’s explanation of his position was disappointingly self-indulgent. His outrage at being personally “insulted” is more than a trifle ironic, given the depths of misery and torment suffered by those legally seeking refuge from persecution, who are illegally imprisoned in the tropical hell holes (“garrisons”) overseen by Transfield.

Here is the letter written by the artists explaining their position. I can find nothing insulting to Belgiorno-Nettis or his family, and given Transfield’s withdrawal I see no reason at all why the artists should not now participate.

Neither can I find anything “viciously ungrateful” in the text of this letter.

Turnbull and Belgiorno-Nettis are as one in their contemptuous attitude to artists who disagree with both government policies, and the corporate support of those policies for profit.

Whether you agree or disagree with the stand taken by the ten artists, what the saga has revealed is the attitude of the ruling class to artists it supports. Both the Turnbull & Belgiorno-Nettis outrage at the audacity of artists supported by the establishment who defy that establishment is extraordinary, and the threat, loyally promoted by their middle class emulators, that now corporate sponsorship will become dangerously problematic because of this rebellion, is utterly predictable.

That the establishment’s reaction to robust critique of its policies and actions is outrage at the manner in which the challenge was mounted, and outrage that artists should have the nerve to bite the hand that feeds them, says everything about the lack of spine and imagination in the ruling class. The expectation that artists ought to be “grateful” to the degree that they keep their mouths shut when faced with intolerable and inhuman cruelty  shows a complete lack of understanding of what art is about, though I’m certain both Turnbull & Belgiorno-Nettis have art on their walls, and perceive themselves as cultured.

Belgiorno-Nettis is also the founder of The New Democracy Foundation, whose mission is to forge a new path to democracy through a “better system.” Lucy Turnbull, wife of Malcolm, is also a  member of this Foundation, along with other recognisable names. The Foundation’s mission statement:  The new Democracy Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research organisation aiming to identify improvements to our democratic process. We aim to replace the adversarial with the deliberative, and move out of the “continuous campaign” cycle.

It seems to me that the ten artists were peacefully exercising their democratic right to protest injustice with the most powerful means at their disposal – their work. According to Belgiorno-Nettis’ founder’s message, his New Democracy Foundation supports the right of people to express their opinions, and then for those opinions to be argued, Athenian fashion:  The Athenians called their discussion group The Council: 500 men [sic] selected by lot; 50 from each of the 10 tribes.  In this way the Council was a mirror of the population at large: a mini-public.  No one person, or tribe, could bully any other, because they were all equally represented. The Council’s job was to propose the laws for city, after which another discussion group, called the Assembly, would then meet and vote.  Any man [sic] could attend the Assembly and speak and then after all the arguments for and against, a vote would be taken, and that would become the law. They called this system Demokratia – meaning rule of the people.

Of course, trying to avoid dirty money must be an almost impossible task. However, the direct nature of the link between Transfield and the vile conditions in which those legally seeking asylum in this country are held is impossible to ignore. Australian politicians have singled out a group of people who they have determined are not deserving of decent, humane treatment. The group singled out is one whose members are almost entirely fleeing persecution of the most extreme kind. They are not criminals. They have committed no illegal act. They have requested protection from their persecutors. In response, they have been indefinitely detained, attacked, wounded and in one case, murdered, in extremely hostile and isolated conditions.

The company responsible for these “garrisons” and the “welfare” of those imprisoned, is Transfield. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, as an investor in the company, makes money from the cruel injustice wrought upon asylum seekers by Australian politicians.

I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation more deserving of protest by artists, and anybody else.

Transfield, detention centres, ethics, depression & Abbott’s Commission of Audit

2 Mar

Douglas Snedden, Non Executive Director of Transfield, the global operations, maintenance and construction services business awarded  the $1.22 billion dollar contract to provide ‘Garrison and welfare services’ to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, is also a director of the St. James Centre for Ethics, and Treasurer of the Black Dog Institute.

Tony Shepherd, handpicked by Joe Hockey as Chairman of the Abbott government’s Commission of Audit,  was until October 2013 the Chairman of Transfield. His record is far from exemplary, according to this report by Bernard Keane, in which Shepherd is described as ‘Transfield’s doyen of debt.’

The St James Centre for Ethics works with business to promote ethics and ethical decision-making. It is extensively supported by the business community. The Black Dog Institute is concerned with the treatment of mental illness, specifically depression and bi polar disorders.

Transfield subcontracts  the security management of the detention centres on Nauru and Manus to Wilson Security. Counselling and medical remain the responsibility of International Health and Medical Services.

‘Garrison and welfare’ services are the responsibility of Transfield. ‘Garrison’ is a military term meaning a permanent military post. Transfield have considerable experience with defence.

Quite what welfare services the company is responsible for providing to the prisoners held in the camps I have not yet been able ascertain. Presumably these are the services that were previously supplied by the Salvation Army. I have also been unable to ascertain if Transfield have any prior experience of providing welfare services. Based on the company’s own account of their business, the specific welfare needs of the prisoners held on Manus and Nauru would not appear to be included in their expertise.

Former Transfield ChairmanTony Shepherd is also President of the Business Council of Australia, an association of CEOs of one hundred of Australia’s leading companies, as well as a past (2012)  Director of the Migration Council of Australia.

Isn’t this all nice and cosy?

Many thanks to @mix1127 for first pointing out some of these connections.

Fasten your seat belts: turbulence ahead

25 Jun

It was with a certain contempt that I watched footage of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott piously declaring that he would hold his forked tongue for twenty four hours while the bodies of drowned asylum seekers were recovered and taken to a makeshift morgue on Christmas Island.

And I noted the absence of any comment, pious or otherwise, from Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison. Perhaps they’ve put the muzzle on in case he comes out with observations somebody might construe as racist.

However, it seems inevitable that all gloves will be off when Parliament resumes today, and we will be subjected to the self-interested politicising of the plight of asylum seekers that began with John Howard and hasn’t stopped since.

No doubt the government will attempt a revival of its Malaysia plan. This surely will necessitate re-negotiations with that country, as the initial agreement covered only 800 boat arrivals, after which, presumably, we went back to how things always were.

Mr Abbott will no doubt adhere to his demands that the government re-open his beloved Nauru detention facilities, because, he will argue, when they were operative they stopped the boats. Quite how the Nauru option will stop the boats is unclear to me, after all, practically everyone who got to Nauru was found to be a refugee and resettled. Hardly seems like a disincentive.

What both major parties apparently fail to grasp is the desperation of people who undertake these journeys. The dangers they face are no deterrent. They risk their lives to have a life. An inability to comprehend desperation is fairly typical of most politicians. They lack the imagination, and are far too occupied with saving their own arses than they are with the plight of human beings in dire circumstances, at home and abroad. Lack of political will is responsible for some of the most obscene travesties on the planet.

What we urgently need is a regional approach to managing people movements. This will require a degree of co-operation between the government, the Coalition and the Greens. This possibility looks as likely as Gina Rinehart funding care and housing for homeless children.

What we will get is yet another extended brawl that will achieve nothing. Then there will be another catastrophe in which more lives are lost. Then we will have another extended brawl that achieves nothing. Then there will be another catastrophe in which more lives are lost.

As well as the asylum seekers, you know who I feel sorry for? The good people of Christmas Island who have to deal with the stark reality of these events in their back yards.

This piece from the Castan Centre unpacks the complexities with clarity. The author addresses the notion of saving lives by deterring asylum seekers from embarking in the first place. Perhaps, if our objective really is to save lives, we would supply safer boats?  Or is the saving of life a cover for deeper concerns about border protection and just stopping the boats?

Thus far our politicians have proved themselves entirely inadequate on this matter. It isn’t good enough. Refugees are not going away. The numbers seeking resettlement here are miniscule compared with many other countries. It is a regional problem, but how can Australia take a responsible role in addressing it at this level when our politicians continue to domestically exploit widespread human misery to further their own interests?

Abbott determines government’s asylum seeker policy and Cabinet’s in a leaky boat.

16 Oct

Is this the face of the next Prime Minister?

Somewhere in the never-ending and increasingly despicable contest between the government and the opposition over asylum seekers and on-shore processing, the human beings around whom this furore rages ceased to matter altogether.

If you doubt that statement have a look at this article by Peter Hartcher in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald. Hartcher unpacks the politics that led to the Gillard government withdrawing its proposed Migration Act amendments last week and defaulting to on-shore processing, at least for the forseeable future.

Every aspect under discussion in Cabinet revolves around what Abbott might or might not do in reaction. And who’s the plank that said Bob Brown’s the real PM?

It’s patently clear that Tony Abbott is running this part of the show. The government reveals itself to be incapable of making any decision at all about boat arrivals without first considering what Abbott might do in response. There’s no mention of how best to design a policy that will prevent asylum seekers drowning, an endlessly cited core concern that actually looks as if it’s just trotted out for the media by both parties with the intention of applying a veneer of humanitarian concern to their self-interest.

That fake concern also has the added benefit of supplying ammunition for both sides to sneer at their opposition: “Don’t you care about what happened at Christmas Island,” followed by “Wanna see that happen again do ya, what are ya then?”

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen came up with the option of extending the Malaysian “solution” to include PNG and Nauru. This would give Abbott what he wants and cut his arguments off at the knees, Bowen claimed. If Abbott continues to protest, Bowen argues, he’ll be shown up for the malicious nay saying blood-oathing troll that he is.

Plus, argued Bowen,  if an extended Malaysia “solution” acted as a deterrent to boat arrivals we could up our humanitarian intake, thus making application through the proper channels more appealing to asylum seekers than getting on a leaky boat. Bowen seems to think that would work, without going into details about where our increased humanitarian intake is to be sourced. It could well pass boat arrivals right by, and there’d still be people taking dangerous journeys because they still can’t apply for a life here any other way.

But, but, Greg Combet spluttered, not Nauru! There’s some 10 years of TV footage of Julia Gillard bagging Nauru! Imagine what would happen if Abbott decided to trot a few years worth of that out, especially considering what Abbott’s done with footage of Gillard declaring there’ll be no carbon tax on her watch!  Ooooh Aaaah! It doesn’t bear imagining!

At the end of the day Gillard herself decided Nauru was off the table, presumably not wanting to look as if she doesn’t know what she’s doing on this issue yet another time because Abbott will slaughter her with it yet another time.

See? I told you. All about Abbott. Human beings? What are they and why are they relevant? Please stay on topic, we’ve got a lot to get through before Abbott starts up again.

Because of this politicking we may end up with decent on-shore processing options that are some way to the left of the options the Gillard government has been so rabidly pursuing, so for this Tony Abbott, much thanks. However, if Abbott wins the next election of course he will do a great big dismantling of everything, and having crawled laboriously up the ladder to comparative decency we’ll again be thrust back down amongst the venomous snakes of fear, self-interest, and xenophobia.

Now I ask you Mr Abbott, catholic ex-seminarian, what would Jesus do about asylum seekers? Turn back the boats? Indefinitely imprison them and their children?

At least Julia Gillard doesn’t pretend to have Christian values, well, mostly she doesn’t, only when the Australian Christian Lobby makes her.

Then there’s the curious question of who in Cabinet is leaking like an Indonesian fishing boat and why?

For another good read on the current parlous state of our political affairs as constructed by the media have a look at this piece  over at the Watermelon Blog:  Time to start again, and the whole cycle is repeated with new leader, the political party discovering, belatedly, that changing leader doesn’t stop instability (a media creation in fact), the instability having nothing to do with who the actual leader is, but merely being the signal for the media to begin a new round of destabilisation, writes David Horton.

On-shore processing rules so suck it up and play nice

14 Oct

It was a grim-faced PM who held a press conference yesterday evening to announce her decision to withdraw proposed amendments to the Migration Act that would enable the government to send asylum seekers to Malaysia.

Since the High Court re- interpreted our understanding of the Migration Act, a surly and humiliated PM declared, and until Opposition Leader Tony Abbott comes to his senses (if he’s got any) and throws his support behind the bill, the government is forced to continue with on-shore processing and there’ll be boats. There will be boats! And every boat will be on Tony Abbott’s sense-less head!

Though of course, Abbott insists it’s all Gillard’s fault and any increase in boat arrivals is entirely down to her.

That a good result comes from such prolonged bitching, moaning, carping and politicking with the lives of human beings by both major parties is something to give us all hope. No matter how hard they’ve tried, neither party has been able to reintroduce off-shore processing, and to add icing to the cake, they’ve nobody to blame but themselves.

Not that I’m complaining. It’s been a circuitous journey, expensive, cruel, duplicitous and xenophobic and it’s ended in a much more decent outcome than either leader ever wanted. The dark side lost the battle all by itself.

This ought to be another valuable lesson to both Abbott and Gillard on the futility of allowing politics and personal animosity to dominate policy. There’s no explanation for Gillard persisting with the bill, given it had no hope of passing the Senate, unless she saw it as a tactical victory over Abbott if the bill was passed in the Lower House. Another thwarted miscalculation inspired by personal feeling?

In the event that more asylum seekers arrive than we have room for in detention centres, the overflow will be given community detention with work privileges. Surely now it is only a matter of time before mandatory detention of practical necessity is restricted, and we join other countries in humanely allowing asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are assessed. The cost benefit is enormous: it costs us 90 per cent less to have refugees in the community than it does to keep them in detention.

Gillard’s attempt to snatch right-wing asylum seeker policies away from the Coalition is a spectacular failure. It’s given the Opposition the opportunity to paint themselves humane, and Gillard as lacking in compassion and heart. It’s incensed many Labor supporters who’ve had to watch as the party’s moved further and further away from their platform on refugees. Gillard made a fool of herself from the outset with the very silly and alarmingly premature East Timor proposition, and it’s gone down hill from there.

The PM is now faced with enacting a policy that is more lenient and humane than it was before she negotiated the doomed Malaysia “solution.” The 4,000 refugees we agreed to accept from Malaysia in return for the 800 we planned to send there, will be absorbed into our usual humanitarian intake. If the Gillard government wants to give more people a better chance of a good life in Australia, they could start by increasing that intake.

A regional processing centre is still a realistic goal, not hurriedly cobbled together in a politically-driven “Malaysian solution” that was at best short term, but a centre created in conjunction with others in the region and the UN.

Gillard and Abbott have been dragged kicking and screaming into maintaining on-shore processing. No doubt if we ever see an Abbott-led government the whole thing will start again and he’ll bring back Nauru, but for one brief shining moment we have something of a respite in this running, ulcerated sore that is Australia’s asylum seeker policy. The sustained collision of dark with dark resulted in a large crack, and the light got in. For this relief, much thanks.

Dear Julia: when supping with the devil use a long spoon

6 Sep

Julia Gillard this afternoon invited Tony Abbott to a briefing tomorrow on the legal implications of the High Court’s decision last week on the Malaysia solution. Abbott has accepted.

It’s looking increasingly likely that the two will join forces in amending the Migration Act to stop any possible legal disputes preventing off-shore processing of asylum seeker claims.

Common sense and decency have long since fled this debate. It defies rationality that the major parties are willing and eager to continue spending billions on off-shore processing and mandatory detention.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect is that last time we used Nauru as a dumping ground for asylum seekers who arrived by boat, almost every one of them was found to be a refugee, and sent to Australia where they now live. As the majority of boat arrivals are granted refugee status, we can only anticipate that this will continue to be the case. Unless of course, Ms Gillard has it in mind to indefinitely detain genuine refugees in Nauru or some other off-shore prison, until she can persuade another country to grant them sanctuary.

So exactly how will this “stop the boats?”

Just when we thought Gillard’s judgement couldn’t get any worse, it does.

In her final abandonment of the Labor platform on refugees, Gillard appears to have entered into an ego-driven game of one-up-man-ship with the High Court. Her ill-disguised pique with Chief Justice French adds personal prime ministerial face-saving to an off-shore processing policy that is already populist, right-wing and economically insane.

The mental and physical damage the Gillard government will continue to inflict upon asylum seekers and their children by subjecting them to mandatory detention and off-shore processing is of no consequence to Gillard. In spite of mounting evidence and protests from just about everyone involved in the detention system about the damage sustained by both detainees and those who work in these grim places,Gillard continues to pursue a policy that she is fully aware seriously harms many, and she does it for personal and political gain.

An alliance with Tony Abbott on asylum seeker policy is but the latest Gillard political misjudgment and it ought to be the last. As Philip Adams wrote today, resign Julia, resign.

The High Court decision gave the ALP a golden opportunity to extricate themselves from a disgraceful and shaming policy without losing too much face.

While Gillard was perfectly entitled to criticize the decision, her opinions were wrong. She’s been shooting off her mouth on the asylum seeker issue since day one, when she announced that we’d be expelling boat arrivals to East Timor without first properly negotiating her plan with that country. Things have gone downhill from there.

If there is such an animal as the national psyche, government and opposition policies on boat arrivals are doing it nothing but damage, as willful misrepresentation, weasel language, outright lies, complete lack of compassion and political and personal selfishness over-rule every other consideration, such as our responsibilities to the region in which we stand out as the wealthiest country, our voluntarily incurred responsibilities to the UN Refugee Convention, and our right to behave humanely and generously towards those in need. Julia Gillard is denying us that right. Julia Gillard is shriveling our national heart and soul. Julia Gillard is turning this country into a land of hard hearts and closed minds.

I wonder if she’ll have the sense to get anything Tony says in writing.

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