25 June 2013

ALP Caucus gives asylum seekers short shrift

According to today’s edition of Crikey, a motion by Labor Left MP Laura Smyth on the no-advantage test for asylum seekers, seconded by Janelle Saffin, was lost on the voices. Immigration minister Brendan O'Connor spoke against it. As Crikey says, it makes for interesting reading:

That this caucus calls for 1) an immediate independent assessment of the circumstances of asylum seekers held in offshore processing centres. In particular the assessment should address the condition of health infrastructure, mental health facilities and accommodation available to asylum seekers held at those facilities; and 2) the immediate development of guidelines pursuant to which the 'no-advantage principle' is to operate at the discretion of the minister of the day.

In other words, the ALP Caucus as a body would prefer to remain in ignorance of the circumstances of asylum seekers held in offshore processing centres, and what the “no disadvantage principle’ actually means.

We are not well served.

Meanwhile, according to an article by Greg Sheridan and Lauren Wilson in the 22 June 2013 edition of The Australian:

FOREIGN Minister Bob Carr has told a gathering of 40 non-government organisations in Canberra that their rhetoric about asylum-seekers is out of date, unhelpful and won't be accepted by the Australian people.

In the meeting on Thursday, Senator Carr told the leaders of more than 40 organisations that the old rhetoric about human rights and asylum-seekers no longer described the reality of Australia's situation.

Instead, Sri Lankans, Iranians and people of many nationalities with no genuine claims to refugee status were coming to Australia by boat. This, he said, was now a sophisticated and well-financed illegal immigration issue. The numbers, at 3000 a month, were intolerably high, Senator Carr said.

This is a highly irresponsible statement by our Foreign Minister who, under the Administrative Arrangements Order of 16May 2013, has general responsibility for “External Affairs, including … treaties …” The UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, which Australia was one of the first countries to sign when it was opened for signature in 1951, is, of course, a treaty. Under it, we have an obligation to assess on their individual merits the claims of all refugees who arrive in the jurisdiction. It makes no reference to a notion of a particular number of arrivals being tolerable or “intolerably high” as a factor to be taken into account in assessing those claims.

I am not sure how, in support of his remarkable claims, Senator Carr would explain the fact that the success rate of asylum claims by boat arrivals runs at about 94%, or how it is that the principal source countries for these arrivals (Sri Lanka, Iran and Afghanistan) are countries of which it is reasonable to believe that some of their citizens would have “a well-founded fear of persecution”.

Our Foreign Minister should be arguing for full-blooded performance of our obligations under the Convention, not making unfounded assertions to the effect that boat arrivals are just people seeking a better life.

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