30 November 2012

Bernard Keane on the financial blocking of WikiLeaks

The Wednesday edition of online newsletter Crikey included a good piece by Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane on the inconsistent standards applied by Visa and Mastercard, whose joint financial blockade of the organisation has starved it of about 80% of its funds.

Keane writes that in doing so these financial giants are partly relying on the Australian government’s discredited claims about the illegality of WikiLeaks’ publication of diplomatic cables.

The fact that no prosecution has been mounted anywhere against WikiLeaks’ publication or sourcing the cables doesn’t bother them: Visa Europe’s position is that the blockade will be lifted when it is “finally determined” that WikiLeaks is not acting illegally – a stance which relies on proving a negative.

Keane goes on:

Mastercard and Visa have also failed to apply the test of whether an organisation has been “finally determined” to have not acted illegally in other circumstances. Rupert Murdoch’s News International has already admitted in court to the crimes of phone hacking and computer hacking and its current and former staff are facing charges of bribery, with claims that complicity in those crimes goes into senior management levels; News Corporation itself is also under investigation in the US for bribery of foreign officials.

By this logic, both News International and News Corporation itself should have been blockaded by Visa and Mastercard long ago, and remain blockaded until the resolution of all pending investigations and court actions arising from their activities.

The Government does not come out of it well:

The government has been repeatedly invited to withdraw its description of WikiLeaks’s activities as illegal and has so far declined to do so.

This is consistent with its standard positions of never admitting an error, never offending the United States, and always doing as little as possible to assist Australians it does not happen to like, including (especially) Julian Assange himself.

Read Bernard Keane’s piece in full here.

Paris Aristotle on asylum policy

If it were not already obvious that any similarity between the Government's approach to asylum seekers and the recommendations of the Houston Panel is entirely coincidental, the op-ed by Paris Aristotle published in the Tuesday edition of The Age should put the matter beyond doubt.

While I don’t like the Houston Panel’s solution, it is much better than the approach the Government has taken since the Panel reported; whereas the Panel was at pains to emphasise the integrated nature of its recommendations, the Government has simply picked up the nasty bits, proceeded with indecent haste to fling people in the direction of Nauru, and done little if anything about the main body of the recommendations.

The key paragraphs of Aristotle’s piece are:

The panel presented an integrated package of 22 recommendations knowing it would take time to implement them and have the desired effect. The report's most important components were measures to establish an effective regional processing and protection framework that would build a safer system. Increasing the humanitarian program to 20,000 places immediately and to 27,000 over the next five years, adding 4000 places to the family migration stream and $70 million dollars to improve regional processing underpins these measures.

However, there were also strong measures designed, not to punish, but to discourage people risking their lives while a better system is created. They included reintroducing processing on Nauru and Manus Island; building on and implementing the ''Malaysia Arrangement'' and increased co-operation with Indonesia.

To mitigate the associated risks the panel recommended safeguards. They include no arbitrary detention, appropriate accommodation, legal assistance and merits review, an oversight group and services such as health, mental health, education and vocational training. To date not all of these measures have been implemented, particularly in terms of appropriate accommodation and the processing of claims. They are designed to ensure processes comply with our convention obligations. Both Australia and Nauru are signatories to the convention and therefore should implement these measures without delay.

On the Minister for Immigration’s draconian announcement last week he says:

The announcements last week to disallow asylum seekers work rights and timely access to family reunion, even after they have been found to be a refugee, were not recommendations of the panel. The minister on Monday clarified that these measures were not associated with the panel recommendations. I welcome his commitment to work further on this with community groups and his advisory committee in the coming months.

The measures are highly problematic because they are a punitive form of deterrence in response to a specific and new phenomenon in people smuggling from Sri Lanka that the government believes is for economic reasons as opposed refugee protection. This is best established by properly and quickly processing their claims. Those that are refugees should be protected and those who are not can be returned.

He also has some news for the Coalition:

The coalition's proposal to slash the humanitarian quota back to 13,750 places and reintroduce temporary protection visas also makes little sense. These measures offer little in terms of a longer-term regional response.

Read Paris Aristotle’s article in full here.

29 November 2012

Cruelty in the name of all of us

On Monday 26 November The Canberra Times published an opinion piece by Amnesty International refugee policy expert Dr Graham Thom, who had just visited Nauru to examine the living conditions of asylum seekers who have been banished there. He writes:

For people seeking our protection, the accommodation is totally inappropriate. There were 14 men sharing the large tents, and five in smaller tents where there was little room inside to do anything but attempt sleep. The oppressive heat and humidity made staying in the tents during the day impossible. When it rained, tents leaked, forcing men to sleep on soaking beds. They showed us painful skin conditions caused by the heat and damp. On average 85 people a day visit the medical facility.

Outside the tents the rocky ground exacerbated the heat. With little shade, the men hung around the camp perimeter where the encroaching jungle provided some relief. If or when construction of a permanent processing centre begins, it will be just metres from their tents, claiming more of the little open space they now have to move around in. The noise and the dust created from construction, added to that from the nearby phosphate mining, will be horrific.

To read the full piece see Cruelty in the name of all of us. For an account of Dr Thom’s visit by The Age’s National Affairs Editor Michael Gordon see Floods, new rules add to refugees’ misery.

As Tony Windsor says (see here), we should all hang our heads in shame.

I have just four questions for the Prime Minister:

(1)  Did she not know, or did she not care, that the temperature under canvas would reach 50 degrees Centigrade on Nauru at this time of the year? She had a duty to know and a duty to care.

(3)  Did she not know, or did she not care, that the selected campsite was flood-prone and would inevitably flood during the wet season?

(3)  What consideration was given to the adequacy of medical and mental health facilities to cope with either a rapid expansion of the total population or the special needs of people who have been through the refugee experience? The total population of Nauru is less than 10,000 people. This is about the size of my home town of Armidale when I was at secondary school there in the 1950s. The medical facilities were perfectly adequate for the routine needs of the population but if you needed to see a specialist you went to Tamworth and for a variety of procedures you would fly to Sydney (as you still do). And if the local medical facilities were suddenly called upon to deal with hundreds of additional people, many with pre-existing ailments, trauma and mental health issues, it simply would not have coped.

(4)  Does she really believe that she can leave it to the Government of Nauru to process the claims of all the people she proposes to send there – or again, doesn’t she care?

It is hard to know whether it is incompetence or wanton cruelty that is at work here – probably a mixture of the two – but the situation that is unfolding on Nauru will demonstrate that incompetence can be just as dire for the recipients as cruelty.  It takes a great deal of logistical skill and a finely tuned supply chain, once you have deprived hundreds of people of any possibility of providing for themselves, to ensure that each and every one of them, every single day, gets the requisite food, clothing, shelter and preventative medical care (such as prophylaxis against mosquito-borne diseases), and that timely and appropriately specialised medical care is available when needed. In depriving people of the right to live and work in the community and take responsibility for their own lives our Government has taken upon itself a very heavy responsibility, but it shows no sign of being alive to that responsibility.

Asylum seekers: Phillip Adams talks to Julian Burnside

Driving home from an outing on Tuesday evening I tuned into Late Night Live on ABC Radio National and picked up Phillip Adams talking to Melbourne barrister, and refugee and human rights advocate Julian Burnside QC.

Burnside was invited onto the program to provide some context to the debate and propose a wasy forward.  It makes very compelling listening, which you can download or stream from here.