The Guardian October 3, 2001


Editorial:

Fences can also keep people in

In a disgraceful display of political expediency and Liberal/Labor 
opportunism, seven draconian migration bills were rushed through Parliament 
last week. They effectively put a fence around Australia to keep out 
certain refugees and introduced legal procedures that are a form of 
mandatory sentencing. Furthermore, in allowing the Government to strip 
asylum seekers of their rights, Labor has de facto endorsed the Howard 
Government's broader assault on democratic rights in Australia  fences 
may confine people as well as keep them out.

Prime Minister Howard is using his "firm" stand against refugees to catch 
the red-neck vote in the coming election, and the Labor Party is getting 
into the Government's campaign slipstream. 

Such opportunism, however, is not likely to help Labor win votes.

Not only does the legislation incorporate a form of racism in that the 
specific target is to keep out refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran; it 
also attempts to brand refugees as being not "genuine" and as "queue 
jumpers".

Defence Minister Reith and others have gone so far as to claim that 
refugees coming from these countries could be a cover for "terrorists" when 
those looking for a new home in Australia are the immediate victims of 
extremely repressive regimes, including Afghanistan, against whom the "war 
against terrorism" is set to explode.

The refugee policy of the Liberal Party echoes that of One Nation. While 
telling the Australian people to put One Nation candidates last on the 
ballot paper, Howard is implementing One Nation policies, on this question 
and others.

One Nation says that "these people are not refugees but migrants jumping 
the queue ... [we] will not tolerate being seen as a haven for intending 
migrants that wish to jump the queue." One Nation proposes that "crew and 
organisers that participate in this trade [human trafficking] and are 
caught will face mandatory goal sentences of 25 years without parole."

The Liberal Party legislation effectively implements the sentiments of the 
One Nation policy.

The legislation, says the Liberal Party, "narrows the scope of judicial 
review". The decisions of a tribunal "cannot be overturned by the courts". 
The Liberal Party asserts that the refugees "have by-passed effective 
protection arrangements in countries closer to their home." One wonders 
which countries are being referred to in the case of refugees from Iraq, 
Iran and Afghanistan. 

The Liberal Party refers to "illegal boat arrivals" and the laws designed 
to "strengthen Australia's territorial integrity."

None of these measures were considered necessary when tens of thousands of 
Vietnamese boat people landed in northern Australia and "jumped the queue", 
or when Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, unilaterally granted residence to 
upwards of 20,000 Chinese students following the counter-revolutionary 
attempt in China in 1990.

The present rushed legislation is attempting to keep out a relatively small 
number of refugees from Middle East countries.It is on this background that 
Greens Senator, Bob Brown declared that "They have gone right across to put 
Pauline Hanson's ideas into law. The Opposition and Government have 
abandoned proper parliamentary process in agreeing to Government motions 
that allow legislation to pass while it is still before a Senate committee. 
Other legislation hasn't gone to a committee at all."

The scandalous pressure and bribery used to "persuade" Nauru to turn its 
tiny island into a prison island (that is what it will become) is yet 
another disgrace for the Australian Government and Opposition.

The Government's course of action is costing many millions of dollars that 
would have been better spent on immediately disembarking and processing the 
refugees in a humane manner. The Government's actions have not done any 
credit to Australia but, rather, have brought Australia into disrepute in 
the eyes of the peoples of many other countries.

The real solution to the huge waves of refugees, which is a consequence of 
wars, impoverishment, unemployment and persecution, is to remove those 
causes. That requires above all, a peaceful world with its rich resources 
being used for the benefit of the people of all countries.
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