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Issue #1691      July 1, 2015

Offshore processing illegal

Refugee advocates have called on the parliamentary Labor Party not to support any Coalition legislation aimed at saving offshore processing from a successful High Court challenge.

The Human Rights Legal Centre’s challenge seems to have exposed what so many felt for a long time – that offshore processing is illegal. It certainly has exploded the lie that offshore processing is the responsibility of Nauru and PNG.

The High Court challenge comes at a time when offshore processing is also facing a Constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court of PNG. “The issue of offshore processing will be vigorously debated at the Labor conference in July,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“Resolutions will be put to the conference to end offshore processing and close Manus Island and Nauru. The recent ACTU conference unanimously adopted policy to end offshore processing.

“Any support for the Coalition in the present circumstances would not only pre-empt Labor conference discussion, and possible rejection of offshore processing; it would be regarded as explicit support for the corrupt detention system and the corrupt Nauru government.

“The shocking revelations of physical and sexual abuse on Nauru have exposed the horror of the offshore regime that the Coalition is scrambling to legitimise. The detention regime on Nauru is crumbling under the weight of the corrupt government and the scale of abuses being maintained by the Australian government and Transfield.”

Ian Rintoul pointed out that even as concerns mounted for the welfare of baby Asha, sent back to Nauru two weeks ago the Coalition government has sent another 40 men, women and children back to the hell of Nauru.

“The parliamentary Labor Party has an opportunity to break the toxic bi-partisan support for offshore processing that violated human rights and inflicted torture and misery. A number of Labor politicians including leader Bill Shorten have referred to mistakes over asylum seekers that Labor made when it was in government – restarting offshore processing was one of them.

“Labor has an opportunity to rectify one of its most serious mistakes. We urge the Labor leaders to seize that opportunity – don’t throw the Liberals a lifeline.”

Meanwhile, the Refugee Action Coalition says it is now quite clear that the Coalition government, the architects of Operation Sovereign Borders, did pay the boat crew of a recent asylum boat to take asylum seekers back to Indonesia. The crew says it, the asylum seekers say it, the Indonesian police say it and the long list of government denials says all the public needs to know about who is telling the truth.

In this case, as in every other turn-around, the government is guilty of crimes on the high seas; trafficking defenceless people who were attempting to get to safety in New Zealand and returning them to danger.

The incident has also exposed the lie that the Coalition has stopped the boats. Almost two years since the start of Operation Sovereign Borders, asylum boats are still coming. The turn around also revealed that for all the supposed sophistication and military power of Operation Sovereign Borders, it is underpinned by wads of cash.

The media and political furore has focussed on the government’s denials and the payment of money to the boat crew – but the real crime is that the government has prevented another boat of asylum seekers gaining the protection and security they need.

“The furore has revealed much hypocrisy – the Coalition’s complete lack of scruples, and its willingness to use bribes, but also from Labor,” said Ian Rintoul.

“Labor politicians have tried to make political mileage by using the same rhetoric about ‘people smuggling’ as the Coalition. Rather than demonise boat crews, that provide an indispensable service for asylum seekers, Labor should be attacking the Coalition’s turn-around policy and its ban on accepting refugees from Indonesia.

“Abbott says that the Coalition uses turn-arounds, when it is ‘safe to do so’. But there is nothing safe about turn-arounds. These boats foundered on a reef off Landuti Island.”

He said that by choosing not to use the very obvious orange lifeboats to return asylum seekers to Indonesia, the government had to resort to paying the crew to try to make sure that the boats would head to Indonesia and not attempt to continue to travel to Australia, or New Zealand, as they originally intended. The government has been caught out by it’s own “cleverness”.

“We support the Indonesian government fully investigating the incident,” said Rintoul, “The Australian government’s cover-up attempt deserves to be exposed. It shamefully continues to use Indonesia as a dumping ground.

“It has tens of thousands of dollars, indeed millions, to arrange turn-backs but has not given a cent to Indonesia to assist with the thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers who recently found safety in Aceh.

“The turn-around policy is just an invitation for asylum seekers to die elsewhere. The real crime of the Abbott government is that it continues to violate human rights and international law by turning asylum boats back to Indonesia.”

Next article – “Jobactive” – Making unemployment “the worst time”

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