The Guardian June 26, 2002


New hunger strike at Woomera.
Howard plays race card again

by Peter Mac

Last week as part of World International Day, the Captain and crew of the 
freighter Tampa was were awarded a special prize for their rescue of 438 
asylum seekers.

For its part, unable to pass new regulations against accepting certain 
groups (i.e. asylum seekers arriving in leaky boats) as immigrants, the 
Howard Government is pressing ahead with its proposal to excise large areas 
of Australian territory from eligibility for immigration.

As a contribution to implementing the Government's asylum seeker policies, 
the management of the Woomera detention centre has rudely rejected offers 
of warm clothing for refugees who are to be forcibly repatriated to their 
countries of origin, with the comment, "We supply them with everything they 
need."

The refugees don't agree. In protest at their treatment, a substantial 
number of the Woomera detainees have now embarked on a hunger strike.

The Government's excision proposal is intended to deny desperate asylum 
seekers access to the Australian legal system (and hence to asylum-seeker 
visas), as well as to social services.

As indicated in last week's Guardian, implementation of the legislation 
would not only be manifestly unjust, but would also be ludicrously 
ineffective in terms of denying asylum seekers access to Australian 
immigration territory, since some of the islands are accessible to the 
mainland at low tide.

The Australian Senate last week rejected the Government's policies, this 
time submitted in the form of new legislation. The Government has given no 
reason for its submission of the legislation when the same initiatives, 
embodied in proposed changes to the regulations, were unsuccessful the week 
before.

However, a second rejection of the legislation by the Senate after an 
interval of three months would be sufficient grounds for a double 
dissolution of parliament and new federal elections.

The Government appears determined to force the Australian Labor Party into 
the same position of abject submission to the Coalition's racist anti-
refugee policies as they did prior to the last election.

However, the ALP has begun to rethink its position on asylum seekers, 
particularly in light of the revelations of the Senate's "children 
overboard" inquiry, and growing community opposition to the Coalition's 
policies.

Opposition to the Government's policies was expressed last weekend with 
rallies around Australia in support of the asylum seekers.

Those formally joining the movement against the Government's policies 
include a number of high school students in Sydney and Wollongong, 
including those from Fort Street High, Newtown High School of the 
Performing Arts, Loretto College, Bulli High School and Riverside High 
School.

The high school group, Fortians for Refugees, have declared Fort Street 
high School a "Ruddock- free area". As a representative of the group stated 
recently, "More and more Australians have had enough of being misled to 
believe that our nation faces a serious threat to its security from some of 
the world's poorest and most persecuted human beings."

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