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…

The cost of the Iraq war

This isn’t going to be a long post, just a short observation.

Just before Christmas I read with great interest this piece in Time Last U.S. Troops Leave Iraq as War Ends about the final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

I’ve been a long time opponent of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, which I believe was launched on false pretences. One of these was that Iraq was somehow involved in the Sept 11 attacks (it clearly wasn’t).

But even if we take that at face value (which I don’t), the final casualty rate from Sept 11 was just under 3,000.

The Time article notes:

The mission cost nearly 4,500 American and well more than 100,000 Iraqi lives and $800 billion from the U.S. Treasury.

So the Iraq invasion, the retaliation of sorts, cost 1,000 more lives than the initial attacks, and cost more than the $700 billion bail-out of the US banks during the GFC.

Iraq Body Count estimates that civilian — i.e. non-combatant — casualties alone are greater than 100,000. A 22:1 ratio of Iraqi to American casualties. (I feel it important to note that estimates of civilian deaths while Saddam was in power are higher than this figure.)

As Time notes, “The question of whether it was worth it all is yet unanswered.” Indeed.

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…

Continue reading

Disproportionate force

Israel has reportedly lost 8 people in the current conflict, 3 of those civilians. Palestinian casualties amount to over 668 , make that 774, with civilian deaths at around 50% according to the UN.

The recent attacks on a school in Gaza raised the death toll by as many as 42 people, including 13 children.

I have yet to find any details of deaths related to the Hamas rocket attacks that supposedly justify Israel’s massive military offensive (though I’d be interested to learn more if anyone has links).

I was watching the 7:30 Report last night on the ABC and a UN representative responded to the school massacre. He passionately yet eloquently spoke against Israel’s attacks, calling for an immediate cessation to hostilities (on both sides) and called for international humanitarian law to be upheld (i.e. for Israel to cease attacks on civilian-populated areas and Hamas to not use human shields – which it should be added there is scant evidence of outside of IOF statements as far as I can tell). During the interview he used the words “disproportionate use of force”.

Given these statistics, I’d have to say I agree with his conclusion…

Further thoughts on “Reboot economics”

A couple of other thoughts popped into my head after writing that last post.

In no particular order:

  • I wonder if the lack of credit available is a result of foreign governments, such as China, basically decided to stop propping up the US spending spree? If so, this looks a lot like the scenario George Monbiot outlined in his book Age of Consent.
  • Given that the market has decided that these loans are too risky, why on Earth does it make sense for the public to underwrite risky investments like this?
  • I wonder if now is the time for the public (and US politicians) to get behind the Code of Corporate Citizenship – does this crisis open a window of opportunity to push this through?

Reboot economics

I was chatting to Ang the other night about the economic crisis, and I can’t help but think this is just a big “reboot” – the market correcting itself after years of abuse.

And if you’re a true believer in market economics, now is the time you should be arguing that we need to let this happen, as it is “the way of the market”.

What’s interesting is that’s not what’s happening. Instead we’re seeing what amounts to the biggest nationalisation project the western world has seen in a long, long time. (As Wade says: “So the AU govn’t is assuring all credit. Now all these private companies are publically funded. Remind me again why privatization is good?”)

We need this correction – to stem the tide of greed that has flooded the economic system over the past few decades (in this sense I agree somewhat with what Marc says on the matter – it’s not just the CEOs and banks at fault).

I’m actually fairly liberal (note the small “l”) when it comes to markets. Testament is the fact I’m starting a business as my method of achieving social change. With that in mind I say let the market do what it does best – let it balance itself.

Maybe I’m naive, but I think that such a correction would see a blossoming of sustainable businesses to fill the voids left by the unsustainable ones that toppled the market. In “sustainable self reliance as David Ransom puts it [via Wade]). Perhaps that’s part of the “balancing” process – a recognition that business does not operate in a vacuum with infinite resources and growth.

Yes there will be significant fallout that will affect a lot of people – some who can afford to “ride it out” and others who can’t. But instead of investing billions in banks (essentially supporting those who can afford it) why not funnel those dollars into support mechanisms for the people that are most directly affected, in their day to day lives, by the crisis. i.e. the ones who will need assistance with their rent and food bills, not bolstering their spouse’s trust fund.

That could take the form of state-run services – which, after all, is what the state is meant to be for (to pick up the pieces where/when the market fails). But could mean many things – I suspect many of them better than propping up corrupt executives.

Ban the bombs

GetUp’s latest campaign action: Ban the bombs:

As the international community is meeting in Dublin to ban cluster bombs – that saturate the ground with mini-bombs awaiting innocent civilians – our government is going out of its way to frustrate the process.

They’re calling for their own stockpile to be excluded – and for the treaty to be watered down. We’ve got just a few scarce days left before the fragile international agreement is drafted.

The petition calls on Kevin Rudd to support the ban without loopholes or exceptions…

Expression = prison

Amnesty International: Expression = prison: Hu Jia.

Tibet has (rightly) been in the spotlight of late, but this is a timeline reminder that these human rights abuses continue to occur throughout the country. I dearly hope that the spotlight remains firmly on these abuses in the leadup to the Olympics.

It is these kind of sentences that create the culture of self-censorship within the Chinese community.

Rebecca McKinnon suggests that we can’t expect too much to change – I hope that at least the embarrassments and increased pressure do at least help move things for the better, at least in some way.