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Published On Line Opinion and ABC Unleashed 23 March 2011

It beggars belief that the Minister for Immigration, the luckless Chris Bowen, should seek to punish refugees on Christmas Island for the problem he has created.

Kirsty Needham reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, 19-20 March, that Bowen warned, “200 asylum seekers involved in violent protests on Christmas Island may have their visas revoked or blocked on character grounds, even if it had already been found they were genuine refugees”; it is the same as the mean and narrow John Howard saying, “We will determine who comes here and when”.

A refugee is a refugee and that determination cannot be altered by whim of a weak minister or the paranoid political imperatives of a puerile prime minister.

Held in over-crowded conditions without information as to the progress of so called security clearances, hope drained from already traumatised individuals. Working, unlike the Department of Immigration, on the basis that most people are decent, these individuals are well aware of the merits of their case. They are suffering not only acute depression but a substantial sense of injustice.

Ninety-five, maybe ninety-eight percent of refugees arriving by boat are genuine. Twenty to thirty percent arriving by plane are found to be refugees and they constitute by far and away the greatest number of refugee applicants.

The actions of Gillard and Bowen and the vitriolic statements of Abbott and Scott Morrison, his putative spokesperson on immigration, are a disgrace. Little wonder that apart from a few sycophantic journalists, the majority of Australians have little respect for politicians and the politics of the major parties; short term gain for the long term pain of trashing democracy.

Refugees are people; in fact they are future Australian citizens. We will expect them to work, raise families, participate in community and sporting activities and, if necessary, for them and their children to fight for Australia. What a great start we are giving them with rubber bullets and tear gas from a vengeful government.

Gillard believes these protesters to be criminals just as she believes Julian Assange to be a terrorist; a strange set of values for someone claiming the authority to lead this country. Not everyone in Australia lacks a moral compass, most, and there are many, do not scream their beliefs like some aging shock jock, they quietly go about their business with a sense of growing disquiet if not outrage.

Gillard, Bowen, Abbott and Morrison, poll driven, you are deluding your selves. You are on the path to being yesterday’s people. You have misjudged Australia and Australians they are not the people you are playing up to.

Who authorised the AFP to carrying ‘bean bag’ weaponry to Christmas Island and why? Bowen was reported on the ABC as saying he had no idea what ‘bean bag’ bullets were until they were explained to him after their initial use on the island.

Surely the minister should have been approached to authorise their use. It was a first in Australia, a matter, I would have thought, that required ministerial consideration and specific authorisation. This does not appear to have been the case. The question then arises, who is in charge? Bowen gives every appearance of being led by the nose. Immigration, the AFP and ASIO seem to be able to do and say what they with respect to refugee policy.
The unlovely Sandy Logan, spokesperson for Immigration and recruited from the AFP, said on ABC radio that rubber bullets had not been used on Christmas Island, two days later we find this is not true, that rubber bean bags had in fact been fired. Maybe Logan did not know in which case the AFP are once again out of control.

All accounts point to the initial demonstrations being peaceful, it was only after the use of force, grossly excessive use of force, by the AFP, that the internees turned nasty – and who wouldn’t. A disturbing feature of this is that it would seem the AFP are now armed and authorised (by whom?) to use rubber bullets against elements deemed hostile to the state, which in a demonstration against say unauthorised detention could be you and me or our children. These weapons are apparently now part of the instruments of state coercion, first unveiled against the most needy and traumatised in our society. Remember Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Next it will be aboriginals, then the unemployed.

Bowen needs to get control of himself and his portfolio. ASIO needs to be pulled into line. The intemperance of its decision making needs to be reformed. It is not good enough that an organisation with so many resources should take so long to obtain security clearances. In many cases illegal, as they are ‘obtained’ from the very authorities that the asylum seekers are fleeing. In any case, a person granted asylum does not need a security clearance; that is done as part of the refugee determination. ASIO is double dipping with what appears to be the intention of slowing down the intake of refugees. The aim being to deter arrivals by it becoming known that long periods will be spent in detention with an outcome that is not assured; hence the desire to return asylum seekers to home countries on spurious information and analysis.

Place too many living things within an enclosed space and inevitably they will turn on each other and if they have the capacity against those that hold the keys. The fact that Bowen, Scott, et al, cannot see this speaks volumes about the type of person now attracted to a political career.

The treatment handed out to the protesting refugees on Christmas Island was cruel and calculated revenge. Why do Immigration, the AFP and ASIO, shock jocks and the political ruling class hate refugees? What have they to fear? Why do they respond to and feed the hysteria?

Over the past seven months five refugees have died in detention. No words of care or compassion. No change in policy.

It is pathetic, truly pathetic.