Illegal acts: boat people vs. the Australian Government

I was unfortunately travelling interstate when the latest series of Go Back to Where You Came From was on free to air on SBS. The last season was excellent, so we recorded it and last night Ang and I just started watching the series (we’re watching one episode a week.)

One of the myths that was repeated by a number of the participants in the program was that asylum seekers that enter Australia by boat (by illegal means) are breaking the law, therefore they are criminals. This is plainly false, here’s why:

Australia is signatory to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (commonly referred to as the “Refugee Convention.”) This international legal instrument, to which we’re bound, clearly states on page 3 of its introduction (emphasis mine):

Convention provisions, for example, are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin. Developments in international human rights law also reinforce the principle that the Convention be applied without discrimination as to sex, age, disability, sexuality, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.

Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum."

What this means is that, contrary to this popular myth, asylum seekers are not breaking the law in attempting entry to Australia. In fact, quite the opposite is true — the criminal act, according to international law, is being perpetrated by our Government. The bolded points in the passage above are all penalties that the Government has illegally introduced, in addition to striking certain islands literally off the map when it comes to immigration law.

Refugees from specific regions have been discriminated against, with asylum seekers from some regions being automatically refused refugee status, regardless of their case. All asylum seekers entering by boat are arbitrarily detained. During the Howard Government people that were found to be refugees were granted only Temporary Protection Visas, which restricted the rights and support that they received. In my view, this can only be viewed as a “penalty” for the method of entry.

If we could remove set aside the emotion that the issue of refugees seems to engender in this country, and focus instead on the rule of law, there are few things that are plain and (should be) self-evident.

If you agree that the Government should commit to international laws (such as trade agreements and other treaties), you must accept that we need to act in accordance with the laws we have agreed to be bound by.

And if you accept that Australia should be a signatory to the Refugee Convention, you must accept that we are bound to its provisions. If you don’t, you should be asking the Government to withdraw its support for the Refugee Convention. Or if you disagree with just these provisions, you should be advocating action being taken by the Australian Government to address these issues through the appropriate channels — that is through the mechanisms of the United Nations — rather than “jumping the queue” (to steal another myth/misnomer) and implementing measures that are illegal under international law. And until such time that those provisions are in place, we should be upholding the laws which we have signed.

Celebrating Australia Day

As Australia Day rolls around again we’re encouraged to celebrate the nation’s official birthday. I’ve mentioned before my agitation about “celebrating” the invasion and near genocide of another people that this day represents.

Since writing that post, I’ve had the thought that if we are to continue celebrating on this date, that the celebration should be something akin to the sentiment engendered in ANZAC day. While a celebratory event, ANZAC day begins with a solemn reflection on lives lost and the cost of war. As the day progresses it transforms into a celebration of the human spirit — of overcoming and moving on from hard times, of friends and family, of sacrifice and valour.

Perhaps if Australia Day was practiced in this manner, I could support it. Imagine if at the beginning of the day we acknowledged the First Australians and the terrible wrongs wrought upon them in the foundation of the English phase of this nation? That we acknowledged and reflected on the lives lost, on the traditions ignored and broken. Then, perhaps, after this solemn expression we could begin to celebrate recent achievements and a vision for the future.

This is highly unlikely to happen, of course. This nation has been built upon a racist foundation — from terra nullius to the stolen generation to the White Australia policy. And that foundation still manifests in so many ways — from the relatively silent (for example, the Northern Territory “intervention” which is barely discussed) to the more vocal, such as the so-called “debate” on refugee policy. I put “debate” in quotation marks, because it is not. It is a race to the bottom as political parties and the media1 clamour for the most headline-catching (and usually inhumane) way to “manage” distraught and desperate people trying to flee war and persecution. All fuelled by a public sentiment that is so fearful of “the other” and an ignorance of the beauty and benefits of other cultures.

The only glimmer of hope I see in this discourse comes from SBS, with a string of excellent documentary series that aim to bring to light alternative perspectives on the race and immigration debate. From First Australians to Immigration Nation to Go Back to Where You Came From to the most recently aired Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta, SBS seems to be the only (relatively) mainstream media entity willing to actually tackle the issue with any degree of respect and balance.

Contrast that collection of works with the jingoistic nationalist tripe that gets rolled out annually across the commercial networks. Until the types of stories that appear on SBS are being told regularly on Sixty Minutes and Today Tonight, we have a long way to go before we can truly come to grips with our past, reconcile with our indigenous and immigrant brothers and sisters, and truly celebrate our nation moving forward.

I love a good BBQ. I drink beer with my mates and celebrate “mateship”. I believe in this supposed Australian tradition of a “fair go”. I am a fervent NRL fan and love heading down the pub to watch the grand final with the rest of the rabble. I’ll cheer Lleyton and Bernard, or Clarkey and the team. I’ll gladly give some good-humoured stick to the Kiwi’s or the Poms when we get up in the union, cricket, rugby (or anything really).

I celebrate and enjoy these traditions. But I can’t bring myself to celebrate this day. I find it a sad shame that when I see people displaying an Australian flag (on a temporary tattoo or on their car or in their window) that I can’t help but think there’s a racist “go home” intent.

All that said, I will appreciate Australia Day, in all of its complexity, in solemn reflection and respect. I hope you do too…

  1. The only time I’ve seen the Daily Telegraph display a pro-refugee headline was when it was an opportunity to beat up on the Gillard Government’s policies (or, more to the point, a beat up on “Julia”). As an aside, is there any male Prime Minister where it was ok to reference them by their first name so readily? I don’t remember Kevin or John or Paul being bandied about quite so freely in the press and public discourse. But I digress…

Blog Action Day: Climate Change

Today is Blog Action Day and this year’s theme is “climate change”. This post is my contribution, professional cross-posted on my blog.

For those that don’t know, world leaders are meeting in Copenhagen December this year to discuss climate change and their responses to it.

So far we have seen very little from world leaders in terms of real, concrete targets and changes. There is a lot of hope (though dare I say not a lot of expectation) that the Copenhagen talks will result in an updated global agreement that reflects the severity of the situation as outlined by the scientific and economic communities (although Obama’s recent executive order is a positive sign).

It seems that governments the world over are having a deal of trouble committing to targets that are decades away. But I suspect this is part of the problem – the focus on decade long cycles (e.g. “25% by 2020”) needs to shift binding 1 and 5 year targets and plans as well. Whilever plans focus on 10 or 20 years away, action will not be swift. Let’s reduce by 1% this year, an addition 2% next year and soon the totals will add up to the 25%+ that we need to achieve.

To most people it is clear that societally we need to rapidly (i.e. over the next 10 years) reduce carbon emissions across the globe. It is also clear that the costs of acting now will be much lower than later.

To put this into perspective, WWF-Australia recently teamed up with Climate Risk to produce an estimate that places the cost of transforming to a low-carbon economy in Australia at half the cost of the recent economic stimulus package – if we act now. If we allow the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to reach potentially catastrophic levels, the cost will be far, far greater.

Our government and business leaders know this. There is popular support for action. And yet things are still stalled…

What we do know

While there are a lot of unknowns, and acknowledging there is no “silver bullet” solution to reducing carbon emissions, there are a few things that are already underway and with further support will make a significant impact on our emissions.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy systems need to be developed and rapidly deployed to offset coal-based generation. So-called “clean coal” is not a long-term solution, yet it has a medium-term development cycle – the case just doesn’t stack up (you might consider joining GetUp’s “iCoal 2.0” campaign to let our politicians know we know).

Investment needs to be channelled to existing and emerging technologies such as wind, solar, and wave energy. Report after report shows how these, existing, technologies can service our needs. Google has stated that more early stage funding is required. But of course there are myriad ways the government could be supporting the industry – a “real” emissions trading scheme (one that doesn’t let big polluters off the hook) or feed in tariffs are a good start. But even better support for R&D in the area would be welcome.

Alternative fuel vehicles

Alternative fuel vehicles – especially electric vehicles powered by renewable energy – will play a significant role in the short-term transformation of mobility towards low-carbon goals.

It seems that the market has landed on electric vehicles – with the Tesla roadster launched and the Model S on the way in 2011, GM launching the Volt in 2010, followed hotly by the Nissan LEAF late 2012. Nissan’s concept is interesting as they plan to lease the battery – the most expensive component in electric vehicles – to reduce the up-front cost of the technology for buyers.

And of course A Better Place has a novel concept that they hope to launch in Australia, among other countries, soon.

There are longer-term solutions, including re-thinking our cities, something that City of Sydney council seems to be making a lot of noise about with their 2030 Sustainable Sydney plan. But in the short-term cars will be the transport option of choice for many people as our existing infrastructure is geared to best support this mode of mobility.

Energy efficiency

Energy prices will inevitibly increase over time – if not through government levies through geo-political and other factors. In addition, a shift to renewable energy will to an extent require us to be more efficient with our use of energy.

But being more efficient now can also have a significant positive impact by reducing consumption, or maintaining current levels of consumption as population grows, reducing the need for new capacity while new renewable energy capacity enters the mix and some emerging technologies gain a footing.

This is where individual action can make a big difference – if we all choose more efficient appliances, upgrade to more efficient lighting technology, and the like can reduce the need for new capacity, as well as reducing our bills.

Collective action

Over the past few years there’s been a lot of emphasis on individual action – in us as “consumers” playing our part in creating demand and making lifestyle changes. While individual action is important, this will only get us so far.

We need our leaders in government and industry to truly step up to the mark. This is why the Copenhagen agreement is so critical. There will be many, many actions that can be taken in the lead up to the Copenhagen talks – but on this Blog Action Day can I suggest writing or speaking to your federal government representative (you can user OpenAustralia to find out who your rep is) and telling them how important this issue is. Outline the ways that you’re doing your bit, and put forward your ideas about how you want the government to do theirs.

If that’s too much, consider casting your vote with EarthHour, or support an environmentally-focused non-profit who is doing good work in the area.

In either case, let’s give our political leaders the support they need to ensure that we get the right result at Copenhagen.

Emissions trading objections

In my (admittedly limited) reading about the proposed emissions trading scheme here in Australia, I get the impression there’s two primary objections (mostly from business, but also the opposition party – coincidence?) to the trading scheme.

The first is that a scheme will raise prices for the Australian public for goods from high-emissions industries, like electricity. I suspect this is to raise public opposition to the scheme, but I think that we’ve mostly overcome this objection.

The second seems to be that the scheme will negatively impact exports for these products, which in Australia will have a significant impact on exports. An extension to this argument is that producers in countries that don’t have such impediments will be able to undercut the price of Australian companies’ produce.

Over the jump I’ve put together some initial thoughts on these objections and the Government’s proposed approach…

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(White) Australia Day

Every year I approach the “Australia Day” holiday with a sense of agitation. I want to celebrate my country, but to hold the holiday as a marking of the British invasion of this country has long been of concern to me. (As an aside, in the lead up to this year’s event, Ang and I were considering ways that we could show solidarity with the first Australians on the day – sadly we weren’t that successful – suggestions welcome…).

With that in mind, I think Mick Dodson’s suggestion that the date be changed is a worthy one. If Australia Day is truly about celebrating inclusiveness and everything we love about this country, and we have any respect for our indigenous brothers and sisters, we should emphatically not be “celebrating” on this day.

Imagine if your ancestors were nearly wiped out by a colonial power, only to have the “national day of celebration” occur on the first day of that offensive? How would you feel?

The fact that Rudd isn’t even willing to have the conversation, likely due to the political ramifications of accepting to do so (it would be political suicide), is a sign of how deeply ingrained the racism, especially towards this nation’s original owners, is in this country. Why shouldn’t this be on the national agenda? It makes that word “Sorry” sound hollow…

This is an opportunity to step beyond the empty rhetoric and actually acknowledge what really happened when this country was “settled”. Sadly, it may take far too long before we see that step taken…

Anyways – News Limited is running a poll on whether or not the date should be changed – feel free to add your voice. At the moment it seems the crowd is oblivious to the problems with calling 26 January “Australia Day”.

Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Carbon targets

I received a response from Tanya Plibersek to my previous letter re: clean feed just before I went away on holidays, and just after the Government announced their woefully inadequate targets for CO2 reduction.

Below the fold is my follow-up.

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Retailers “doing it tough”. Again.

It seems every year, in the lead-up to Christmas, we hear about how “retailers are doing it tough” and that the Christmas period is crucial for retailers, so we, as consumers, had better “spend, spend, spend”.

This year was no different, except the “global financial crisis” had “hit retailers hard” and that, more than ever, we needed to spend, spend, spend. Never mind the fact that families might need the Rudd government’s handout for bills and savings – it was our duty to spend to save the economy.

Before the Christmas rush I commented to Ang (though I wish I had have blogged the prediction here) that by the time Christmas was over we’d hear that spending was up this year, if not to record levels. Why? Because I’ve noticed that this happens every year.

Last year it was the weight of growing interest rates denting consumers’ spending. This year, the economic crisis. I forget what it was the year before that.

I did entertain the thought that the financial “crisis” might, in fact, have an impact this year – but I posited that we’d still see a surge in spending all the same.

Well… the scare tactics appear to have worked.

According to the salesman at The Good Guys near my Mum’s home, large LCD TVs have been “walking out the door” (hardly an objective measure I know). And Gerry Harvey is surprised that sales had increased 8.7% over the same period last year.

Mr Rudd must be very pleased that his bonus is being spent so wisely…

Now, I am aware that retailers have experienced a significant decrease in spending over the past few months and that some, especially I suspect smaller operators, will actually be “doing it tough”.

I don’t know about you, but I just find the whole “it’s your duty to spend” line a little sickening and that the justifications for why we should are wearing a little thin when retailers continue to report record profits even after claiming that they’re “doing it tough”.

I’d like to see journalists, when reporting such statements, take a look at the profit figures across the previous year and put it all in a bit of perspective: “Despite the fact that David Jones posted a record profit last year, the best in it’s history, the retailer says its preparing for ‘tough times’.” (tough times = “net profit after tax … in line with previous guidance of five to 10% growth” – emphasis mine.)

I think it’s all very much a sign of our myopic focus on growth at all costs (hilariously captured by this YouTube video) as though the environment is just a never-ending source of resources and that permanent, endless growth is possible.

It’s quite simply not possible – the environment has limits that are already stretched by our current consumption habits. Sooner rather than later we’re going to have to face that fact.

Perhaps we should be looking for alternative models and starting to look at the economy from a different perspective? Models and perspectives that don’t rely on infinite, unsustainable growth fueled by private, debt-enabled spending – which, after all, got us into this mess in the first place.

Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Clean Feed

I decided to write to my Federal MP, Tanya Plibersek, about the Government’s plan to introduce an internet filter (which I’ve written about previously).

Over the jump is the letter itself – but I would also recommend checking out the Electronic Frontiers Australia briefing on the issue.

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Daily Tele’s irresponsible reporting

The past few days I noticed that the Daily Telegraph was on an all out campaign against the current NSW Government, with headlines lambasting their mini-budget.

Admittedly, it’s quite a state we’re in. The Government has admitted it’s nearly broke, but the Telegraph would no doubt cry foul if the Government increased taxes. Of course, by cutting the budget, as the Government did, they also get hauled over the coals.

When I read a Telegraph piece on the mini-budget, it a) proposed no alternatives to how the Government would cut expenditure and b) did not actually show any analysis as to where else in the budget where cuts could have been made. How we’re meant to be “informed citizens” from what passes as journalism over there is beyond me.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. I was going to write a blog about how the Telegraph had basically set itself on a campaign to oust the Labor government and that this was irresponsible journalism. I was going to say “just come out with it and call on the premier to quit”, which was obviously what they were aiming for.

Well, at least they had the courage to put their agenda on the front page. That article, however, points out that the Telegraph’s editor is leaving their post. I’m interested in the details: was this because they stepped over the line and were sacked?; or because they felt the direction of the paper was heading in the wrong direction?

In either case, perhaps the change of editors will restore the paper to some semblance of journalism, rather than activism. The Telegraph has, of course, for a long time been less about news and more about headline grabbing and entertainment, but recent events go far beyond what I consider journalism at all.

In my opinion, good journalists report the news, not set out on politically motivated campaigns. Especially so when they continue to pretend that they’re “unbiased” and “have no agenda” as so many journalists do.

In a global credit crisis, with the State nearly broke, we don’t need this kind of bullshit passing as journalism. We need to actually get some analysis and some help understanding how we can realistically get out of this mess.

Sacking the premier and calling an early election (which I’m informed via @neerav on Twitter is wishful thinking) is not the solution.

Not least of which because the opposition is a ridiculous mess – I don’t even know who the opposition leader is, let alone what the Liberal’s policies are and how they plan to get us out of this mess… (The two party preferred system is broken at the best of times, but it’s especially poor with such an appalling group of pollies that this State has.)

*Sigh*

Update: Just a quick clarification: I mention the Liberal leader and policies as I know that, in the end, a swing away from Labor means a win for the Liberals. And this “two horse race” view of political races continues to be propagated by mainstream media, further perpetuating the myth.

With this in mind, even with a significant swing to another dominant party such as the Greens, the preferential system is likely to install either Liberal or Labor into Government.

Personally I vote on the basis of the local candidates’ strengths and approach to things, not on party lines. But I’m aware enough to know that in the current system such a backlash is likely to result in a Liberal win – thus my comments above.