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Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/18-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-g20-meeting-age-of-enttilement-engineers-attack-of-austerity-hardship-on-civilians.mp3 (0)

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Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2014/02/11/john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-2/ (0)

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Not Malaysia, not Nauru: let refugees into Australia

It has to be said: you’ve got a better chance of compassion from the Gillard government if you’re a cow than if you’re a refugee.

While conditions in Indonesia are considered too bad for cattle to be exported there, the Australian government has no qualms about the export of human beings to Malaysia, where even UNHCR-approved refugees have no legal status, no right to work, and are routinely subject to brutal treatment, including murder, by the government and others.

The Australian government makes a habit of selectively condemning regimes for their poor human rights records. Sometimes, as with Malaysia, silence must be maintained.

Last week a spokesperson for Chris Bowen said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on living conditions for refugees in Malaysia because the government is still trying to do a deal with the Malaysian authorities.

Sometimes blatant hypocrisy rather than silence is required. There are currently 274 asylum seekers (47 of them children) in limbo on Christmas Island while the government tries to finalise plans to wreck their lives. Amongst them are 11 Syrians on whom the Gillard government is turning its back.

Kevin Rudd may strut the world stage, denouncing the vicious Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for atrocities against protesters, including the torture of a child, but that will not be allowed to get in the way of out-competing the Liberals in the anti-refugee stakes.

But what about Australia’s human rights record? The treatment of refugees in Australian detention centres, where thousands are locked up indefinitely, is itself a huge human rights abuse carried out under the government’s direct control.

Whatever happens to refugees forced back to Malaysia will also be on the hands of the Australian government, which is effectively contracting out its human rights violations to Malaysia.

Watching Immigration Minister Chris Bowen defend this policy on Lateline in early June was like watching him transform into Philip Ruddock. As with Ruddock, no shred of human feeling was allowed to intrude on the hard-line message of this “bold and innovative step”:

You need to send a strong message. I don’t want unaccompanied minors, I don’t want children getting on boats to come to Australia thinking or knowing there is some sort of exemption in place.

Eight hundred men, women and children are to be made an example of. Why?

The Labor Party’s hold on government is tenuous. Many of their policies are unpopular – and deservedly so. Two hundred and thirteen years of ruling class promotion of racism to justify their hold on power is a tempting tradition.

So Bowen is selling the Malaysian solution as harsher towards refugees than Howard’s Pacific solution.

Not only does it purposely single out children to be brutalised as an example to others, but it explicitly appeals to the racist “keep them out of Australia” idea which is the true meaning of “stop the boats”, the key competitive space for both Labor and Liberal on this issue.

Bowen, once he’d finished mouthing a few weasel words about how much dignity and respect there is in his plan to treat refugees worse than animals, got to the heart of the matter: “They get their claims processed [in Malaysia], but what they don’t do is get what they want, which is to be processed and resettled in Australia.”

Thus when Philip Ruddock argued that Labor should have simply said, “We made a mistake in criticising the Howard government and the approach they took,” Chris Bowen bragged in The Australian – the journal of record for refugee-bashing – that the Malaysia solution “will have the same (or better) practical effect as turning back the boats” because “If you go to Nauru, you would end up back in Australia – that’s what happened before.”

Gillard was proclaiming this intention to take over the “stop the boats” mantle in July last year when she dropped the bombshell of the East Timor solution:

I speak of the claim often made by Opposition politicians that they will, to quote: “turn the boats back … there is nowhere to turn the boats back to… We move forward to an effective, sustainable, long-term solution: to stop the boats not at our shoreline but before they even leave those far away ports.

And the export of human beings is how they propose to do it.

It should go without saying that there is a desperate need for the refugee campaign to mobilise in response. The central demands of the campaign – end mandatory detention, no offshore processing, no deportations – are more fitting than ever.

Yet some of the responses so far make you wonder if you’ve strayed into Topsy-Turvy World, where Tony Abbott calls Howard-abominators onto the streets, GetUp! declares the best way to oppose the government is to go along with them, and a refugee advocate calls for Nauru to be reopened.

Nothing but contempt should be heaped on Tony Abbott’s utter hypocrisy in suggesting that “all these people who thought that the Howard government was an abomination [should] be protesting in the streets against this effort by the Gillard government”.

Of course he doesn’t want any mobilisations. He just wants to embarrass those whose support for Labor is now in ever more stark contradiction to their support for refugees.

And the Labor Left doesn’t disappoint him. Once again exhibiting real gutlessness, the parliamentary Labor Left has declined to criticise the deal. Their spokesperson Stephen Jones has instead echoed the claims of Bowen that it is too early to pass judgement.

Along similar lines, GetUp! has distinguished itself by refusing to campaign against the Malaysian solution, pleading that this would “play into the government’s hands”.

In our mind we have to fight on what we can achieve in this space [i.e. about refugees]. That means getting children out of detention and the Minister has committed to doing that by the end of June.

How convenient that by ignoring the Malaysian deal there’s apparently no need to demand of the government anything it’s not already doing.

Even Marion Le, a refugee lawyer who played a key role in opposing the detention of refugees on Nauru under the Howard government, responded that “reopening Nauru would be far better than all the nightmare ideas this government has put forward”.

Such a capitulation to the “lesser evil” must discredit her, but it also indicates something of how the terms of the so-called refugee debate have narrowed.

Such apparently bizarre responses can only be explained by understanding the way in which refugee policy has moved Australian politics to the right over the last 18 months or so, since the Rudd government tried to dump the refugees on the Oceanic Viking and the Jaya Lestari 5 in Indonesia in October 2009.

While this “Indonesian solution” had the effect of prompting some protests, it opened up a competition between Labor and Liberal as to who could be more racist towards refugees.

With many refugee supporters unwilling to believe that Rudd would now reproduce Howard’s refugee-bashing, the racist policies of the Labor government were not immediately challenged by the kind of movement that had at its height mobilised thousands on the streets in support of refugees under Howard.

As in the Howard years, refugees in the detention centres have shown by their resistance that they are not prepared to just be the passive victims of the government’s policies. Their determination needs to be matched by the campaign outside the centres.

While what passes for the Labor Left in federal parliament has been pathetic, the blatant inhumanity of Labor’s new policy has brought out more opposition from elsewhere within the Labor Party than previously.

In Western Australia, 14 state Labor MPs signed a petition condemning the plan to send unaccompanied minors to Malaysia. Two Labor federal MPs, Melissa Parke and Anna Burke, have also not been able to stomach the deportation of children. On 8 June Labor For Refugees in both NSW and Victoria wrote to the newspapers condemning the immorality of the Malaysian solution.

Within the union movement, this week saw the Australian Education Union, which actively campaigned against the Howard government’s refugee policy, write to Chris Bowen to express the union’s “outrage and serious fears” about the Malaysian solution: “We had hoped that the appalling treatment of asylum seeker and refugee families and children in this country ended with the defeat of the Howard government.”

The campaign needs to take a clear stand against all aspects of the government’s racist policies and condemn the Gillard government’s attempts to play one group of refugees against another. That’s the key starting point.

But it needs to mobilise refugee supporters to protest. Already, Victoria’s Refugee Action Collective has held a speakout against the Malaysian solution at Labor Party Headquarters, and the Sydney Refugee Action Coalition greeted Chris Bowen in appropriate style when he turned up at a conference at the University of NSW this week. Future rallies at detention centres are also planned.

The World Refugee Day rallies on Sunday 19 June and Saturday 25 June were and are a real opportunity to mobilise to demand an end to mandatory detention, to all offshore processing and to deportations.

This article, by Diane Fieldes, first appeared in Socialist Alternative.

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Comments

Comment from John Barr
Time June 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Why does Australia have to let Muslim refugees in to Australia? There are better social options for them, such as Malaysia & Indonesia. Both are Muslim countries with Muslim values. The religion & customs are better suited to them in those countries. Australia is basicaly a Christian country with Christian values which are an abomination to Muslims. The only advantage they have in coming to Australia is that Australia has a better welfare system. The introduction of Muslims into Australian society has cause division & problems on an unprecedented scale never before seen in this country. I am sure Muslims would assimilate & be much happier in a Muslim society.
One of the reasons & aims of Muslims coming here is to eventually convert Australia to Islam because they have been advised that Australia, although basically Christian, is a therocratic desert & ripe for conversion in one way or another.

Comment from Gypsy
Time June 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm

John you have some good points but fail to provide a valid answer agreeable with the majority of the Australian population. Firstly most Australians are against anyone trying to introduce and force their culture and standards onto us as they are attempting. You only have to see what has transpired in other christian countries they migrated to.
Secondly employment and affordable housing is on the decline in Australia and Australia cannot sustain the imput of more people migratting enmass here. Thirdly the Australian tax payers fund the refugees, funds that could be better used for the benefit of Australian people.
Fourthly Most do not want to assimilate with Australian culture, our culture and theirs are distinctly opposite. Muslims and christians have fought each other since the beginning of time. Their views are death to the infidels and they view christians as infidels.
Last but not least many have arrived in Australia illegally either as boat people, on visitors visas, students visas, even work visa’s and have over stayed their visas. In many of the countries they have come from the people in those countries have risen up and ousted the tyrannt regimes so it would be assumed they could safely return home to their original countries. They now have a choice, Malaysia or where they originally came from. This would create more affordable housing and more jobs in Australia for the Australian people.
I’m looking forward to the comments generated from my response.
Cheers, Without malice and vexations,

Comment from Gypsy
Time June 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Oh I forgot to mention a couple of other points. As a rule if anyone arrived in Australia by plane at our airports legally or illegally and they do not satisfy customs of their reasons to be here they are immediately denied entry and put on the next available flight out.
Point 2 entering Australia by way of a crime is a criminal offence. People smugglers world wide are criminals and are sunject to being charged for their crimes. Anyone who assists in committing a crime is also subjected to being charged. This means the illegal boat people are assisting in the crime of people smugglers and also is our government by not deporting them on the first available flight out. If you or I did it we would be locked up and face the full force of the law.
Cheers, without malice or vexations

Comment from John Barr
Time June 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Gypsy: John you have some good points but fail to provide a valid answer agreeable with the majority of the Australian population.
I don’t dissagree with anything you have said. It is well known that the Majority of Australians dont want illegal people here. Every thing you have said is correct. Neither the Government or the oppositian woud have the guts to have a referendum on the subject because they know what the answer would be. “OUT, foul spot.”

Comment from Tony
Time June 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm

John Barr: Using your logic for the same argument at the time of British colonisation of Australia, consider that indigenous Australians found the “introduction of ” European Christians “into Australian society … cause[d] society division & problems on an unprecedented scale never before seen in this country”.

Consequently, by your logic European Christians have no place in Australia.

Please explain how you reconcile your thinking on this matter?

Comment from zac
Time June 22, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Emotive tripe, Diane Fieldes.

Comment from John Barr
Time June 28, 2011 at 7:33 pm

An old arguement Tony, but not valid. This is a different time in history with an entirely different mind set.