Kudos, Labor . . .

30 07 2008

Tampa Refugees (Safdar Ali Hussaini)

. . . for winding down the mandatory detention of asylum seekers:

SYDNEY, Australia — Australia is ending its policy of automatic detention for asylum seekers who arrive in the country without visas, the government said Tuesday.Detention in immigration centers will be used only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said as he announced the policy change in a speech at Australian National University in the capital, Canberra.

Children and adults who are not considered a security risk will no longer be held, Mr. Evans said. The presumption will be that they will remain in the country while their status is resolved, he said. In addition, the cases of adults who are detained will be reviewed every three months.

Previously, illegal immigrants who reached the Australian mainland were immediately sent to detention centers while the government sifted through their claims for asylum, a process that could take years. (New York Times)

The Howard Government’s refugee policy, and worse than that, the enthusiastic support it received from many Australians, absolutely floored me when it reared its hideous head in the early 2000s. Hansonism in the hands of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party was a fad, and its public face very soon became a laughing-stock and an embarrassment. But, as many a Letters to the Editor page in the early years of this decade would attest, people were at best, indifferent, at worst seemed delighted about brown people from distant lands suffering physically and psychologically in desert camps. The issue galvanised my left-libertarian politics, to the consternation of many of my friends whose email inboxes I would regularly spam with articles condemning the practice. (How Web 1.0!)

To jog your memory, mandatory detention in Australia was a Keating Government initiative, targeting Vietnamese, Chinese and Cambodian asylum seekers, and in its early manifestations circa 1992 was already quite punitive: no judicial review, and (eventually) no time limit on detention (Wikipedia). The policy received international attention in 2001 when SAS troops boarded the MV Tampa, which had rescued 438 mainly Afghan refugees with the intention of bringing them to the nearest port for medical treatment (as per international law); and the Howard Government shipped the Tampa asylum seekers to detention centres on Nauru, and excised certain islands from Australia’s migration zone (with the support of the Labor Opposition), effectively kicking off the “Pacific Solution.” Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers was condemned by human rights organisations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, as well as local groups including A Just Australia, the Edmund Rice Centre, and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Though it received overwhelming domestic support in the early 2000s, and the backing of prominent Labor figures such as Mark Latham and Robert McLelland in the mid-2000s, Rudd Labor rolled back many aspects of Howard’s refugee policy upon coming to power in 2007.

The Federal Opposition, still proud of their baby, are gearing up to fight the changes to mandatory detention in the Senate. One Chris Ellison sheds the following crocodile tears:

“To simply release these people into the community without any support, without any plan as to what is to happen with them shows no compassion for them either,” he said.

That’s what we all need from the party that gave us Temporary Protection Visas, permitting recipients only temporary employment, and denying them access to social security and education, as well as the right to travel overseas (without losing the TPV): a lecture on “compassion.”



2 responses

31 07 2008
31 07 2008

At last, the following -alternative lyrics for the Australian National Anthem- can be shredded. It fell off the back of a focus group around 2001.

Us Anthem

Those aliens all let us reject,
for we are young, gun-free.
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
though not for refugees.
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
but we refuse to share.
Your boat goes down?
Your children drown?
Australia does not care.
In spiteful strains then let us sneer:
Advance Australian fear!

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