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Issue #1689      June 17, 2015


Secrecy meets inhumanity

The Abbott government’s asylum seeker policy is descending into tragic farce. The “we’ll stop the boats” pledge made before the 2013 federal election is being upheld despite the mounting human cost and the major damage done to Australia’s reputation in the region and beyond. For progressive Australians, it is another manifestation of an arrogant authoritarianism creeping over the politics of the country. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s advice to people concerned about the plight of refugees and Australia’s international commitments is that they should “move on”. It is reminiscent of Joh Bjelke Petersen’s refrain of “don’t you worry about that” or even the “let me be your conscience” slogan from pre-war Germany.

The war of nerves against Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, who reported on the deplorable state of children in detention, goes on. Claims by Greens Senator Hanson-Young, that she was spied on during a visit to a detention centre on Nauru, were ridiculed and dismissed by government spokesmen when they hit the headlines recently. Hanson-Young was an “embarrassment to the country,” according to Dutton. It turns out the Senator was right. A parliamentary inquiry got it from the secretary of the minister’s own department that an employee of Wilson’s Security had tailed Hanson-Young’s car during the December 2013 visit.

The government is particularly sensitive to leaks regarding its notorious mandatory detention regime. Doctors and teachers working with asylum seekers now face two years in jail for providing information to journalists. The relevant bill passed quietly into law on May 14. Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Brian Owler is concerned about the moral aspect and the public interest. “This puts most doctors in a very difficult situation if they have to face two years’ imprisonment for speaking out, or be quiet and let people suffer. That’s not appropriate.”

The AMA wants an urgent review of the Border Force Act to exempt medical practitioners drawing attention to failures in health care delivery. The government is not likely to listen. The Act formalises and toughens the stance of former minister, Scott Morrison, who used section 70 of the Crimes Act to silence 10 staff from the Save the Children organisation working on Nauru.

Elsewhere there are reports of the bleak prospects facing asylum seekers released into the community in Papua new Guinea and Cambodia. In the latter case, a small, initial group of detainees was rushed to Phnom Penh recently in a military-style operation. They were told their applications for refugee status would be fast-tracked if they make the move. They were also told Cambodia was a booming land of opportunity, not a poor country still striving to repair the wounds of US bombing and Khmer Rouge-inflicted genocide. The refugees were given cash, accommodation, language instruction, health insurance and other assistance.

The experiment with these desperate people’s lives is raising eyebrows internationally. The huge expense and the involvement of an unrelated third country make plain the determination of the government to exclude certain populations from Australia. And the latest revelations concerning payments to Indonesian people smugglers to turn back to Indonesia with their human cargo aboard the same, overcrowded boat put lie to Abbott & Co’s supposed concern for asylum seekers’ safety at sea. The Indonesian government is to investigate the bribery claims.

The whole tragic situation has been another “bi-partisan” effort with the parliamentary Labor Party. Opposition leader Bill Shorten and others are working the media about the thousands of dollars allegedly handed over by Navy and Customs officials to persons we were told were the worst type of criminal on the planet. Labor spokespersons are careful not to appear critical of the mandatory detention policy or even “stopping the boats”. They remain convinced the argument that Australia must meet its commitments to international conventions regarding refugees has been lost. They have stopped listening to the large numbers of ALP members and trade unionists horrified by the betrayal. It is up to all Australians still holding to principles of humanitarianism and solidarity to unite to stop the current, unacceptable policies towards refugees before it causes more misery.

Next article – Glebe development wrapped in lies and greed

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