Posted by: jkirkby8712 | October 12, 2011

Tuesday, 11th October 2011 – off-shore processing gets closer to reality!

I don’t know whether it is simply the late night on the radio [of a Monday] and the subsequently short sleeping time before getting up for work this morning, or simply a combination of those things with my age – but awoke this morning, after 3 hours sleep feeling decidedly unwell – a condition that would remain with me until late afternoon. In fact, almost considered returning home shortly after lunch, but stayed put, and oddly by the time I did leave, was feeling much better!!

Apart from that, another very enjoyable session on the radio over night, and with the knowledge that I have only one more Monday night show to do, with fulltime work to go to next morning, that heightens the prospect of even more pleasant shows in the immediate future. I call Monday night a ‘Smorgasbord of Music & Entertainment’, and subsequently, generally play and present a broad range of musical genres and other activities. The midnight finishing time is likely to be exceeded in the future, with no major commitments to follow the next morning!  Even played a track by Michael Buble last night  – don’t recall ever playing anything by him previously, as with Amy Whitehouse, the week before!

The GetUP organisation are perhaps getting concerned that their campaign on refugees is going to be defeated, with the likely vote to be taken in Federal Parliament this week on the question of off-shore processing. The following is the way they saw the situation, together with a quotation of the statement by former Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.

‘Only weeks ago the High Court declared the Government’s Malaysian Arrangement unlawful. Despite the ruling, this week the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on whether or not to change the law to get around the High Court’s decision and return to harmful and ineffective offshore processing.  The crucial vote for refugee policy is this Thursday, and we need to show our support for compassion and common sense.
We’ve all struggled to work out what the right thing to do is when it comes to asylum seekers arriving here on boats. We know it can be a dangerous journey, but does that mean off-shore processing is the only way? We think there’s a third way which slows the boats and creates a genuine pathway for refugees to reach Australia safely. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and experts from across the community think so too. Opponents of those who arrive by boat in Australia argue that people seeking protection should “join the queue.” But here’s the thing: in the 18 months prior to February this year, Australia granted 518 humanitarian visas to refugees in Malaysia. Not one visa went to people fleeing Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s no wonder Iraqis and Afghans take a journey by boat to Australia.
That’s why yesterday former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, joined by experts from the refugee sector, wrote an open letter to Australian politicians urging them to adopt a new approach based on humane onshore and an increase in Australia’s refugee intake, targeted at our region. By targeting a gradual increase in our intake largely to our region, we can reduce the need for asylum seekers to travel by boat to Australia just to receive protection.   Let’s show our politicians that we’re behind the former PM’s call for a sensible solution.

These days Australia grants very few humanitarian visas to refugees in our region – and that’s why coming by boat seems the only option for many who are fleeing persecution. That’s the opposite of “breaking the business model of people smugglers.”

Back when Malcolm Fraser was PM, as the Vietnam war was ending and a humanitarian crisis of truly staggering proportions seemed imminent, 55,000 refugees fled Vietnam in just one month. But our politicians rose to the challenge. Fraser sent Australian officials to Vietnam to directly process refugees quickly, after which they were flown to Australia. The Australian government worked with the governments of other Western countries to accept refugees and worked with other countries in our region to ensure refugees were not turned away.
If all this sounds remarkably sane compared to today’s refugee debate – that’s because it was.
It’s time our politicians got a history lesson. Tell Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and their colleagues that Australia’s leaders from both parties mustered courage and common sense 32 years ago, and we deserve no less from them today.

Meanwhile, the following piece is the Statement submitted by Malcolm Fraser and those that joined him, and I have added my name to the proposed petition, being in broad agreement with the feelings expressed hereunder.

“Throughout much of recent history, but especially since the Tampa incident in 2001, political leaders from the major parties have been unable or unwilling to compromise and craft a reasonable and realistic migration policy that takes into account regularly occurring flows of refugees from conflict areas. Instead politicians in Canberra have chosen to play to baser instincts rather than Australian’s better nature, marginalizing vulnerable asylum-seekers by catering to those on the extreme margins of politics.

The recent High Court decision, requiring current and future Australian Governments to meet basic human rights obligations in its treatment of asylum seekers, is more than simply a political obstacle to be overcome. It provides a unique opportunity to do what should always have been done – that is, process asylum seekers on-shore irrespective of whether they come by boat or by plane. This would serve to re-implement tested practical and effective solutions regarding the treatment and processing of refugees; an endeavor that would truly be in the “national interest.”

With both parties wrangling to score political points, the issue can be seen as intractable. However recent history offers clear guidance as to the compassion and creativity of the Australian people – and our political system – when our nation was forced to choose between treating refugees humanely or contributing to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

As the Vietnam War came to a chaotic end, Australia faced the prospect of a huge influx of refugees from the conflict. Fears for the well-being of asylum-seekers, as well as concerns about whether Australia could successfully deal with such an influx, were well founded. A balance was struck, and a humane and effective bi-partisan solution was put in place. Both Government and Opposition rose above party affiliation to act, initially, in the face of negative opinion polls.

Australia’s elected leaders created a system that worked with regional partners, ensured basic human rights protections and created an efficient and effective system which, over 20 years, dealt with the needs of more than 2.5 million Indochinese refugees. The Fraser Government alone took almost 250,000 Vietnamese as refugees and immigrants. Many of these people were fleeing a war in which Australia was a combatant. We had a moral responsibility to assist them.

The numbers were far greater than the small number arriving by boat today. The current debate all but ignores the fact that three times more asylum seekers arrive by plane than boat and are successfully processed onshore often while living within (and contributing to) their new communities. Onshore processing, assisted by regional cooperation, was the right thing to do then, and remains so today.

A Vietnamese refugee on one of the first boats to arrive in Darwin Harbour went on to become Lieutenant Governor of South Australia. Thousands of others have become magnificent Australian citizens over the past three decades.

By not simply subscribing to the idea but also implementing policies that reflect a “fair go,” Governments truly act in the “national interest” – being responsible global citizens, while making the Australian experience richer through refugees’ contributions to local communities and our country in countless ways. The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader have a similar opportunity to do the right thing now; to exhibit the kind of moral leadership that’s too often bypassed in the political process, yet which is precisely what the Australian people and those seeking to become Australians expect and deserve. Rather than seeking creative ways to remove the assumptions of natural law and review by the courts, and watering down human rights protections, our leaders can and should focus on real solutions:

  • First and foremost , institute a system for effective and efficient on-shore processing. Those arriving by boat and seeking asylum do nothing illegal under Australian law.
  • Honour the commitment to accepting an additional 4000 refugees – the only salvageable element of the Malaysian agreement – while permanently expanding the current intake of UNHCR-designated refugees up to 25,000 – a reasonable and manageable number that will go a long way in removing the incentive for individuals to take the desperate and dangerous ocean journey to Australia.
  • End the linking of on-shore asylum seekers with the off-shore refugee and humanitarian intake. This linkage was a relatively recent creation of the Howard Government and needs to be removed. Both those who seek resettlement off-shore and those seeking asylum on-shore should never have to compete. We should unravel the two categories immediately, returning to a policy whereby those who come from afar as refugees do not lessen Australia’s commitment or capacity to accept individuals escaping humanitarian crises who arrive in this country seeking asylum.
  • Put considerably more effort into developing cooperation with regional partners to ensure greater protections for asylum-seekers, while status determinations take place.
  • Seize the opportunity to exhibit leadership, not just at home, but also on the world stage, where implementing the aforementioned measures would serve as an incentive and example for members of the UNHCR Working Group on Resettlement, which Australia currently chairs.

This would be in sharp contrast to recent actions which have brought widespread global consternation and condemnation. Make no mistake – the world is watching. The current debate is doing tremendous damage to our international reputation. By exhibiting courage and compassion, Australia has a chance to not only salvage our reputation but set an example for our friends and allies around the world.

In short, we need an orderly migration and integration system for refugees, while realising the reality and gravity of international obligations and domestic law. It was done before when the numbers where much, much larger. It can be done again.

Political leaders who truly want to be on the right side of history must also exhibit leadership. We urge the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to put aside their political differences and work towards tried, tested and effective solutions. It’s the right thing to do – for refugees and asylum seekers, and it is in the national interest of all Australians.

[Signatories to the original statement were]

  • Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser AC CH, former Prime-Minister of Australia founder CARE-Australia
  • Act for Peace – National Council of Churches in Australia, Executive Director, Alistair Gee
  • Andrew Bartlett, Research Fellow in Migration Law, ANU former Senator (QLD)
  • Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), Executive Director, Marc Purcell
  • Br Julian McDonald AO cfc, former Chancellor, ACU
  • Dr Ian Anderson AM, Founding Chair, A Just Australia (Australians for Just Refugee Programs)
  • Edmund Rice Centre, Director, Phil Glendenning
  • GetUp!, Director, Simon Sheikh
  • Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC, first Chief Judge, Family Court of Aust. former President, Australian Law Reform Commission former member, UN Human Rights Committee former Commissioner, International Committee of Jurists
  • Human Rights Law Centre, Executive Director, Philip Lynch
  • Medical Association for Prevention of War, Australia, President, Dr Bill Williams
  • Prof Ian Lowe AO, President, Australian Conservation Foundation
  • Prof Louise Newman AM, Professor of Developmental Psychiatry, Monash Director, Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, Monash University Convener, Alliance of Health Professionals for Asylum Seekers
  • Prof Mary Crock, Professor of Law, Associate Dean of Law, USyd Accredited Specialist in Immigration Law
  • Prof Patrick McGorry AO, 2010 Australian of the Year, Executive Director of Orygen Youth Health Professor of Youth Mental Health, UniMelb
  • Prof Richard Broinowski, Adjunct Professor, Media and Communications, USyd former diplomat
  • Prof Ron McCallum AO, 2011 Senior Australian of the Year Chairperson, UN Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Professor of Law &amp former Dean of Law, USyd
  • Prof William Maley AM, Foundation Director, Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, ANU Barrister

A friend apparently caught note of my intended support for the petition – thankyou Bill G, who sent me a message on FaceBook to say that –   surely you couldn’t get involved with ANYTHING Malcolm Fraser is involved with…..Isn’t he the bloke who forced Ian Smith out of Rhodesia and installed that ‘great protector’ Robert Mugabe who has put the population of Zimbabwe back to the stone ages? His style of democracy?….. and calling Fraser an ‘Expert”….geeze!!

Needless to say, a response was needed: –  “And I’m sure he [Fraser] has regretted that action ever since as have most of the other Commonwealth leaders who were a part of that decision with him at the time – little different to supporting Nelson Mandela against the white extremist regime in South Africa. The problem was –everyone mis-judged  what kind of person Mugabe really was, the opposite of Mandela.  I don’t blame Fraser for that – he has been involved in some very worthwhile humane activities since leaving politics for which  I have a great deal of respect for, and while in office, the policies he encouraged towards the Vietnamese refugees leaves BOTH Gillard and Abbott looking heartless and inhumane, this offshore policy is despicable, and a prime example of our politicians trying to wipe their hands of our human rights obligations. I feel shame in the name of Australia for the way we have been treating these people over the past decade or so”.

I’ve not had any further response to that, by Bill, or anyone for that matter – perhaps because in most people’s hearts, they feel the off-shore policy is inhumane, but the ‘scare tactics’ about the evils of refugees that Australian governments have indulged in over the past decade, leads people to reject compassion and think self-preservation. In Bill G’s case, it was probably best we left the discussion at that point, and silently agreed to retain our opposite points of view [and our friendship], especially on the subject of Malcolm Fraser, which initiated the above comments in the first place.n South Africa. The problem was – everyone misjudged what kind of person Mugabe really was, the opposite of Mandela. I don’t blame Fraser for that – he has been involved in some very worthwhile humane activities since leaving politics for which I have a great deal of respect for, and while in office, the policies he encouraged towards the the Vietnamese refugees leaves BOTH Gillard and Abbott looking heartless and inhumane, this offshore policy is dispicable, and a prime example of our politicians trying to wipe their hands of their human rights obligations. I feel shame in the name of Australia for the way we have been treating these people over the past decade or so.

 

 

 

 

 

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