It is inevitable that sooner or later there will be a judicial inquiry or royal commission into Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Both major parties have abandoned the Australian core value of a fair go. Substantial elements of the mainstream media have backed this divergence.
Nonetheless a core group of journalists, bloggers and individuals dedicated to establishing the truth about the detention and forced return of asylum seekers have and one can safely assume will continue to seek answers and expose the criminal abuse the asylum seekers suffer at the hands of the Australian government.
None of the fictions invented about the responsibilities of the PNG or Nauruan governments toward deported and incarcerated asylum seekers that first sought Australian protection can absolve the Australian government from their domestic and international legal and humanitarian responsibilities.
Concluding secret deals with Cambodia, a notoriously corrupt state, for the resettlement of refugees seeking asylum in Australia cannot remove Australia from its responsibilities and the UNHCR has said as much. Nor can returning Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without testing their claims be construed as anything less than an act of bastardry.
Genocide against the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka continues. This was the finding of an expert international panel of eleven Judges, plus academics, former UN officials and diplomats gathered together under auspices of the Rome based Permanent Peoples Tribunal on 10 December, 2013, in Bremen. These facts were put to the 25th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) meeting in New York at the end of March 2014.
On forcible return Tamil asylum seekers are incarcerated, some have been tortured and some have been raped. The fate of returned asylum seekers is not monitored by the Australian government. The retired former foreign minister, Bob Carr, had much to say recently on the pervasive influence of the Israeli lobby industry on Australian politicians, in particular former prime minister, Julia Gillard. What he failed to mention was his collapse in the face of sustained lobbying by the Sri Lankan government, were he bought the line that all Tamil asylum seekers were economic refugees.
But then Bob Carr is easy to turn, he was thrilled to meet Henry Kissinger, at the secret annual all male Bohemian Grove festival in northern California in July 2012, to which he had inveigled an invitation. Bob Carr is on the record as opposing an Australian Bill of Rights, so the ease with which he collapsed in the face of Sri Lankan pressure should come as no surprise. And the best he could manage over the Australian UN vote on granting Palestine UN Observer status in November 2012 was an abstention.
Narrow and base domestic political considerations have taken Australian foreign policy to a new low. On 22 April, 2014, in Canberra, the Sri Lankan Minister for Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, co-chaired the Second Session of the Australia-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on People Smuggling and Transnational Crime. Deeds of transfer were signed for two Australian patrol boats given to the Sri Lankan Navy. Australia has also undertaken to provide training and ‘capacity building. The first JWG was held in Sri Lanka in 2012.
Rajapaksa made a point of thanking Australia for abstaining on a US led resolution at the 25th UNHRC condemning the appalling human rights record in Sri Lanka. Gotabaya, an unfortunate name, has been accused of war crimes which he denies. Twenty Seven members of the Rajapaksa family are estimated to control 45% of Sri Lanka’s finances.
Responding to recent criticism in an opinion piece by Gordon Weiss in the Newcastle Herald, the Australian minister of foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, said that offering support to Tamils, ‘risked encouraging remnant members of the LTTE to cling to a philosophy of violent extremism.’ This puts in question the fact that the conflict in Sri Lanka was a civil war and should also be set against the fact that no Sinhalese war criminal has been brought to trial. It is selective judgement and a contestable statement particularly when taken in light of Australia’s position on the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution.
Perhaps doing deals with rogue states might be justified if Australian security was at stake, but it is not. The imperative behind Australia’s so called refugee policy has been a desire to hold onto power by acceding to the wishes of red neck electorates. A political framework for dealing with refugees, other than the one forged by John Howard, properly presented, might see fear driven ignorance recede. Instead this fear has been shamelessly exploited.
This cynical exploitation of ignorance presents a real challenge to the social fabric of Australia. Asylum seeker policy is the elephant in the room. Far from being on the periphery of Australian politics, it is at the centre. It has taken on a life of its own and now to varying degrees dictates the working agenda of a number of key government departments and agencies including, Immigration, Defence, Customs, Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister and Cabinet, the AFP, ASIO and ASIS. It has led to the politicisation not only of these departments but also to the uniformed branch of Defence.
The Howard asylum seeker framework, adopted as policy by successive Labor and Liberal governments, failed to address the issue of people travelling to Australia by boat. It was always open to Australia to process off shore within a regional framework, it still is. However the policy of deterrence negates such an arrangement. Deterrence is predicated on the notion that it is possible to stop people fleeing adversity and seeking asylum. It is not. The issue can however be managed and managed in such a way that it is humane and lawful.
For all the money that is now being so wastefully and wilfully spent on cruel and unsustainable deterrence measures, it should not be beyond the range of limited imaginations to encompass the prospect of processing on Indonesia and bring people to Australia in an orderly and caring manner.
Abbott is now beginning to reveal his lack of judgement – on a range of issues. Because of a media ban and because of wilfully incorrect reporting by some media organisations the extent of his lack of judgement in relation to asylum seeker issues was not apparent. However some dedicated journalists on The Guardian, the ABC and Fairfax have lifted the blind; both he and the minister for immigration, Scott Morrison, stand exposed.
I for one have had enough of watching the obvious pleasure Morrison takes in inflicting harm on innocent and powerless asylum seekers. His arrogance and bullying, match his inability to tell the truth. What Morrison and Abbott do to asylum seekers is done in the name of the Australian people, using taxpayer money. They are trashing Australia’s good international reputation built since the end of the Second World War. This has become a most shameful aspect of recent Australian history.
The Labor Party must amend its refugee platform and move out of lock step, with a dysfunctional and harmful government. With over 1500 deaths of asylum seekers nominally within Australian protection and with 200 of those dying in detention, with women and children detained on the hell holes of Manus and Nauru and with many if not most of the asylum seekers that have passed into Australian ‘care’ now permanently suffering chronic mental health issues, the time for a royal commission into Australian asylum seeker policies is overdue, particularly when set against the Abbott governments inquiries into pink batts and unions.