Tag Archives: Pacific Solution

How politicians force us to make a choice we should never have to make.

11 May
Ironic points of light

Ironic points of light

 

The phrase, Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite, frequently attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville but in fact coined by French counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre, is translated as “Every democracy gets the government it deserves.”

It’s not a sentiment with which I entirely agree: many factors are at work in a liberal democracy such as ours that bring into question the core assumption of informed choice, not least of which is propaganda distributed by media with vested interests, and its collusion with political and financial elites. This piece in Alternet makes interesting arguments against de Maistre’s maxim, describing it as a toxic idea that needs to be laid to rest. It’s worth a read.

I’ve listened carefully to all the pragmatic arguments of ALP supporters, as I have for the last seven years. I know that in almost every way an ALP government is far preferable to life under an LNP administration.

And I am enraged at finding myself yet again in a situation where I would have to endorse the torture of asylum seekers and refugees in order to have a government that we in a liberal democracy deserve. This is a choice no one has the right to force upon citizens and we need to get very angry about being put in this position. 

All my life I voted Labor, until in 2009 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd got into a face-off with Indonesia over Tamil asylum seekers picked up by the Oceanic Viking, refusing to allow them to be transferred to Christmas Island for refugee assessment.

In 2012 the Gillard government reopened detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru that had been closed by the Rudd government in 2008, at which time Immigration Minister Chris Evans described the Pacific Solution as a “costly, cynical and ultimately unsuccessful exercise.”

In 2013, newly returned Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced, “asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.”

The ALP lost my vote in 2009 and they’ve never got it back. It was a difficult decision: my local member was a woman I admired, and it was hard to imagine her supporting Gillard and Rudd, who appeared to be in complete harmony on the matter of torturing those who legally seek asylum in this country.

Refugee policy is one of very many issues to be considered when deciding on the government we deserve. For mine, it’s a fundamental issue: if we have as our government a group of people who take pride in destroying the lives of those who have committed absolutely no offence by arriving here on boats, indeed, who have done so in response to the invitation we continue to extend as signatories to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, we have as our government a group of barbarians who will not hesitate, should it serve their purposes, to take severe action against any other group who in some way threaten their hold on power, or can be used to shore up their grip on governance.

For the last sixteen years LNP and ALP governments have used asylum seekers as scapegoats, fuelling entirely unsubstantiated public fears about the stranger as terrorist, and pitting those fleeing the destruction of their homelands and in many cases torture and death, against disgruntled voters who are being let down and damaged not by asylum seekers, but by their elected representatives.

Asylum seekers have proved and continue to prove infinitely useful to both major parties, as distractions from their own failures, inadequacies and corruptions. This is the moral calibre of our politicians: that they will actively or passively engage in and perpetuate this torture of waterborne asylum seekers for their political gain. There is not one of them, LNP or ALP, that I wish to support in their vile exploitation of human beings.

The Pacific solution uses cruelty as a deterrent to asylum seekers, and in so doing, compromises every single voter in this country, and ensures we are complicit. Every time we agree to pragmatically compartmentalise, we agree to the ongoing torment of refugees and asylum seekers. In this sense we do get the government we deserve as we agree to the ongoing torment of human beings by both major parties, in order to create for ourselves the life to which we feel entitled.

This is a piece written by a young friend starting out on his career as a journalist. It’s his perception of Manus Island and Nauru, together with information on what can be done to assist refugees. Cameron’s article  brought to mind some lines from W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages…

There are among the young ironic points of light, exchanging messages in this stuporous world. In them I trust, because I have lost all faith in the adults who govern us.

 

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The Malaysian solution, or why Gillard will never have my respect and trust

17 Jul

‘To shelter the other in one’s own land or home, to tolerate the presence of the land-less and homeless on the “ancestral soil” so jealously guarded, so meanly loved – is that a criteria of humanness? Unquestionably so.” Emmanuel Levinas.

In the Sydney Morning Herald today there’s an article revealing that in the last three months taxpayers have funded flights from the Christmas Island detention centre to the mainland totalling over $3 million. These chartered flights have transported asylum seekers from the over-crowded Christmas Island centre to other detention centres on the mainland.

Figures from Senate Estimates also reveal that for the 11 months to the end of May, health costs in detention centres exceed $95 million.

2010 Australian of the Year, psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, described Australia’s detention centres as “factories for producing mental illness and mental disorders.” In response, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “We believe mandatory detention is necessary for security reasons.”

And those security reasons are?

Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are security threats how?

Australia is the only country signatory to the UN Refugee Convention that detains asylum seekers until a decision is made on their application to be accepted as refugees. All other signatory countries allow community placement while the assessments are made. The only signatory country in the world that subjects asylum seekers to indefinite imprisonment in “factories producing mental illness and mental disorder” is Australia.

In Australia as in no other signatory country the asylum seeker, the ultimate foreign other, is co-opted as an imprisoned and criminalized scapegoat. This is intended to strengthen the boundaries of our nation state by uniting Australians not in recognition of our shared humanity with the stranger, but rather in a common rejection of the foreigners’ human rights and needs in the interests of maintaining a politically expedient ideology of sovereignty.

Julia Gillard has gone further than even John Howard in her proposed treatment of asylum seekers. She wants to send them “to the back of the queue” in Malaysia. No other Australian politician has proposed the trade in vulnerable human beings that Gillard is engaged in organizing.

The refugees from Malaysia we will resettle in exchange for the 800 boat arrivals Gillard plans to transport to that country have not “queued” in order to be granted visas to live here. They have applied for re settlement along with thousand of others, and they have been selected not based on a position they hold in a non existent queue, but on their suitability as citizens.

Does Australia select refugees on the basis of how long they have been in camps? No, it doesn’t.

Yet Gillard continues to misinform and mislead the Australian people on the matter of a mythical “queue” because it is politically expedient for her to do so. The fact that it is a lie is as irrelevant to her as it is to Alan Jones, and it serves both their purposes to continue to feed this lie to the public. To the PM and shock jocks alike, the stranger seeking asylum via the boat is assumed to be morally corrupt, a criminal and possibly a terrorist, by virtue only of the dire circumstances in which he or she finds themselves in their homeland. This is utter nonsense.

In the moral world of Gillard and the shock jocks, having the gumption to get yourself out of a high risk situation by entering into another high risk situation, all in the pursuit of life, liberty and safety, makes you a criminal and possibly a terrorist. The fact that you manage to get enough money together to pay for your dangerous boat journey is only further evidence that you should be hanged by the neck when you get here, metaphorically speaking.

Imprisoning boat arrivals is a dishonest, cruel, wicked and discriminatory practice. It does nothing to improve our society, and does everything to morally and ethically damage us. It does nothing to assist the thousands of refugees in camps around the world.

“He said to me: ‘You are an animal. We will deal with you like an animal.” Guard to asylum seeker detained in Villawood Detention Centre.

Julia Gillard is engaged in a process of dehumanizing both the boat arrivals and the Australian electorate. Our attitude to those seeking asylum is a measure of our humanness, just as Levinas claims. Our political leaders should care about our collective and individual capacity for humanness because no society can thrive and survive without this quality.

“We are not animals! We have eyes like you, we have hands like you! We are not criminals!” Thirteen-year-old male detainee.

The very thing the Gillard government does not want acknowledged is that the people in detention are in any way like us. If the humanity we have in common with asylum seekers is recognized, indefinite mandatory detention would become intolerable. The demonization of boat arrivals is a morally repugnant practice, and one which Gillard fully endorses. Politicians have always sought to demonize and scapegoat human groups in the pursuit of their own political interests, and she is no exception.

We drive these people mad through the use of  indefinite mandatory detention. Then, when they act out their mad despair, we punish them for it. Now Julia Gillard like Pontius Pilate, has decided to wash her hands of the fate of the boat people and send them to Malaysia, a non-signatory country where we will have no control over what happens to them. Indeed, singling out a particular group for some kind of “special” UN protection is likely to make them even more vulnerable to attack and discrimination in a country where there are tens of thousands of displaced people, all of whom are struggling for survival in an environment that is hostile to them.

What Gillard is doing makes the Howard government’s off-shore policies look reasonable. Many refugee advocates now prefer the Pacific solution to Gillard’s Malaysian plans. That Julia Gillard should have brought us to such a choice!

I should respect this woman? I should support her? I should trust her?

I should be a proud feminist because Gillard is our first female PM?

The Malaysian solution is a bloody disgrace to this country. Nothing Gillard achieves in other areas will do anything to mitigate the immorality and inhuman cruelty of her plan. Neither will anything mitigate her continued support of indefinite mandatory detention while refugee claims are being processed. Gillard continues this, despite everything we know after ten years of the practice about how it damages and destroys the human beings we incarcerate.

Politicians’ racist refugee policies revealed yet again.

28 Feb

by Pigeon Poo via flickr

 

In his interview on ABC radio’s Counterpoint on February 28, former immigration minister Philip Ruddock unintentionally revealed the racist platform on which the coalition’s asylum seeker policies, like the government’s, uneasily sit.

When asked why asylum seekers who arrive by plane are not held in detention, he explained that they usually have a place to stay, and so there’s no need to go to the expense of detaining them while their claims are being processed.

The Counterpoint interviewer didn’t point out that there are boat arrivals who have family already in the community, and could very easily stay with them while their refugee claims are being processed. Just like the plane people.

Instead, they are held in indefinite mandatory detention. There is no mandatory detention for the airborne.

What is the difference between the waterborne asylum seekers and airborne? Most of the waterborne come from the Middle East.

The Coalition’s refugee policies are allegedly built on giving preference to deserving as opposed to undeserving asylum seekers, that is, they allegedly favour accepting those who are in most need.

This doesn’t include boat people because they have enough money to pay their way, and they take refugees places from those without the means to do that.

Ruddock doesn’t have the same attitude to asylum seekers who arrive by plane. Unlike boat arrivals they have visas, he says, and have been “vetted.”

However, they still take places from those refugees without the means to get visas, and without the means to pay airfares.

The Counterpoint interviewer neglected to point that out, as well.

There is no apparent reason  to treat waterborne and airborne asylum seekers differently. As the former are without visas, it is sensible to detain them for an appropriate period while they undergo health and identity checks. They can then be released into the community, as are the plane arrivals.

The punitive criminalizing of boat arrivals makes no sense in any terms other than racist. It’s very likely that they have fled more difficult circumstances than those who arrived by plane, from countries where it is still possible to obtain visas and engage in regular travel.

Indeed, plane arrivals are more likely to be making immigration choices, as opposed to seeking asylum.

Circumstances in Iraq, for example, are horrific. SBS Dateline, Sunday February 27 ran a piece called Nation of Tears that eloquently portrayed the life Iraqis have to live.

As a member of the Coalition of the Willing who illegally invaded that country, we bear our share of responsibility for the on going chaos and death. Yet we imprison those who flee that nightmare, while allowing those who arrive from functioning countries,with visas, to live free while their refugee claims are assessed.

This hardly sounds like a policy of attending to the most in need.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the coalition and the government to deny their inherent racism. No matter how hard they try it keeps on erupting, as it will when it’s so deeply ingrained.

If Chris Bowen and Scott Morrison have an explanation as to why there is such on going discrimination between asylum seekers arriving by boat and plane, why don’t they reveal it, and put paid to the inevitable allegations of racism against themselves and their parties?

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