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."