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No need for your stupid border security spin lines, Minister!

As Federal Labor follows Howard's Pacific Solution by sending a new boatload of refugees to Christmas Island,  Jack H Smit sent out the comments below in the form of a media release.   Part of this castisgation of Chris Evans is featured in an SMH piece here.

No need for your stupid border security spin lines, Minister!

by Jack H Smit

We have absolutely no need for stupid spin and bullying statements about border security and border protection coming from the Immigration Minister Chris Evans as a small boat arrives at Ashmore Reef .

Not since World War II has any boat, no matter how small, arrived on our shores, with the intent to have its passengers clandestinely settle in our country and disappear into the community. It's time Minister Evans stops acting like John Howard, and it's time he stops uttering the nonsense lines of the widely reviled former Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock.

Not a single asylum seeker, arriving at our shores, conform with their International rights under the United Nations Refugee Convention, has ever been a danger to Australian borders.

Chris Evans employs the same vilifying tactics as the Howard government, every time he acts like a drunk bully and starts rabbeting on about border security when an asylum boat arrives, and we're not interested in his spin.

Chris Evans just needs to do his job, and engage our obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention with generosity, honesty, compassion and fast and due processing, especially when his chief Kevin Rudd sinks millions of dollars into a bid for Australia to get a seat on the UN Security Council. His current spin, recalling notions of illegality or unlawfulness around the arrival of this boat, does him no favours in Geneva.


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I am not a lawyer

Solomon, you are quite correct. I have, though, had the honour and pleasure of working with and being friends with some of the greatest lawyers in this country who worked pro bono to get people out of detention.

Jeremy Moore saw the plight of people in Woomera on TV, and immediately responded because those people had been in detention for almost a year and never seen or heard from a lawyer.

His wife Jane and her wonderful, marvellous and brilliant brother Paul Boylan were the first two lawyers to ever enter Woomera.

I worked with them on the Al Masri case, Al Khafaji is a great friend, Oday Al Tikriti (deemed by Ruddock to be a terrorist) is now a citizen and dear friend, the Bakhtiyari kids case and many, many others that are less well known.

So I am not a lawyer but these wonderful people gave me the honour of being their paralegal.

Fiona: I have made the assumption that you meant "is now" rather than "is not", Marilyn. Please let me know if I was wrong.

A la recherche du temps perdu

Another observation: what is most needed in the migration profession is people with strong English language skills like lawyers, history or English literature graduates. A person that has studied literature will be better able to maintain confidentiality, as I said before, and which I now repeat for new audiences.

Some people are warded off by the industry thinking you need to speak another language. I am not trying to sound anglo-centric and mean my comments to be utterly objective; many true blue Aussies have poor language skills but good people skills and compassion, and end up in the public service, especially in Centrelink. What is needed is not to replace these people but to have some oversight by an independent auditor to correct errors when they arise.

It would be useful for the department if the onus of proof could be reversed for applicants and the minister forced to argue a case before a court of law prior to deporting a person, just like a person cannot be forcefully sterilised in our country except by court order. Note Marion's case.

If we want to interview someone we should interview the pilot, Australian citizen and taxpayer, who deported Al-Masri to his death. A commercial airport cannot (physically, not legally) be compelled to deport a person if it offends their sense of their policy and international regulations. Presumably people from a war zone are deported from military airports. This is the task investigative journalists and documentarians on SBS should undertake.

Also note that in order to serve in the armed forces, last time I checked, you only had to be a permanent citizen eligible for citizenship. Clearly Howard didn't want Australians to die in war and wanted to convert these pacifist refugees and immigrants into soldiers. That is why we need to protect our borders, to filter out the violent from the non-violent, as quickly as we can. It isn't our job to oppress and torture people to the point where they would rather live in a war-zone. Note that in Silencing dissent, Andrew Wilkie, who is really no Peter Wright, argues against the monitoring of asylum seeker boats by the intelligence services. We need to create a space for the spooks to do their work.

Also note that Malcolm Turnbull worked as a lawyer to allow the publication of the Spycatcher autobiography, by Peter Wright, in Australia, and treated it as a lark to get up Thatcher's thatch. I don't like him but it is comforting to know he is a true liberal.

Bilingual individuals are of course utterly necessary in the industry and I would encourage any law graduate to work as a translator if possible. A thought on translation: I am aware of two translations from the French of Proust one that works out to be "In rembrance of things past" and the other "In search of lost time." These are academics and students of literature, not public servants, and yet the difference and embellishment is extraordinary. My own translation is closer to the latter than the former, but that depends on who writes my French-to-English, English-to-French dictionary. Embellishment should be fine; we should be permitted to speak in poetry rather than prose, so long as we accept that this is a possibility, and so not as to exclude the more poetic languages, like the Persians, who gave us Rumi.

I met a South Korean girl in Paris, who informed me that the word I hard learned for "Airport" was totally incorrect. Luckily I left that translation book on a concrete bench in Incheon and never had to make use of it. I was a tourist and I was given false information. Think of the troubles a refugee has.

I was a little concerned when I read in my Macquarie English dictionary that "Keating" is defined as a "Labor statesmen". There is also a disclaimer at the front that these words are not intended to have legal meanings, which is probably wise.

Likewise Finally Legal magazine, which is not a law journal, has a disclaimer that the comments and representations about the young women depicted are not intended to depict their actual behaviour or lifestyle. If that is true then pornography, built of words and pictures, should also be viewed critically even by its loving consumers. I encourage you to read Andrea Dworkin in conjunction with, or instead of, Catharine Lumby.

If non-citizens work they pay tax. If you work illegally then you pay tax once they find you, and, generally, appropriate a lot more money than ordinary citizens into consolidated revenue.

All Australian citizens are equal and if we listened to people according to how much money, either through tax, or through fines, then the country would be run by people who pay the most speeding fines. A school friend of mine was killed in a car accident on the way to university a few years ago. Please don't dismiss speeding regulations in front of me. I can't listen to it anymore. If it were up to me anyone who gets into a car and disobeys the road rules should be summarily decapitated.

I am not a tax specialist. I got 50/100 for tax law and I don't apologise for it. Most students fail. It is not me who is bad at tax law; it is Peter Costello who is bad at tax law, and whoever it was that decided that it should be a "core requirement" for students to study badly written laws rather than well-written laws. The consequence of badly-written laws is mass non-compliance and that was the only thing I learned about taxation. I grasped the arguments as presented by lawyers easily enough, but trying to grasp the nonsense of politcians just made me depressed.

Any institution that sums five years of your life up in one or two words and a number called a "Grade Point Average" is facelessly defaming you. This is a bureaucratic marker for convenience, not an objective assessment with a name and a source. A reference by a university lecturer is much more valuable than a number, which is basically just a punch-ticket for queue-jumpers. From a reference a potential employer can then speak to a human being about you and learn something about you. They might not even be favourable, but if they give an honest testimony, then a shrewd employer will be able to read between the lines. You want to work for a shrewd employer and not one that puts you in a queue based upon a number.

The universal declaration of human rights is now on sale in bookstores with illustrations and "in association with" Amnesty International. You won't find a better piece of legal writing and you can give it to your children.

Roger, I don't think you should read any of these things unless you want to. I think you should encourage people to adopt orphans rather than have their own children as a solution to the population problems of the world. Giving birth is a dangerous thing and I think if men love their wives they should consider the consequences, such as pre-natal depression or even death in childbirth. That is a positive contribution you can make if If you like orphans and want to increase our capacity. Accept that you can't control the reproductive function of 3 billion women, taking into account the fertile octagenarian, and that even if you could you don't have the right.

Argue the point case by case to young men and young women in Australia. Trust me on this, this is a good dead for all concerned.

For recreation I recommend you read, or re-read, Moby Dick. I specifically recommend the final epilogue, which is not particularly long. If you don't have a copy off-hand you can read it online through Project Gutenberg or the "Online books page search".

"It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan."

The difference between being right and being effective

Solomon, I have promoted numerous times in this forum the US Declaration of Independence as being one of the most inspiring and uplifting documents ever written.

And yet, it was a document of staggering hypocrisy. It was never intended to be a universal declaration because such concepts had very little currency at that time. It was never intended to embrace slaves or Native Americans. It was first and foremost a political document that was, on its publication, seditious and traitorous. It had to be couched in the best legal terms so that should the rebellion fail some basis for a legal defence could be mounted, a "good faith" defence. When I read Ben Franklin's biography I found some extremely interesting background on that magnificent document.

On the face of it, the Declaration of Independence is still a magnificent rallying cry for the whole world and its sentiment underpins much of the international law that deals with human rights.

But let's not forget something. People had to die before the Declaration could assume some legal weight and bring the victors to the point from which they could build the US Constitution and its long reach even through to today.

Laws are impotent to effect change without the heart and the stomach to carry through the many harsh actions that might assure victory.

Code of Conduct

There is more to this than just disillusionment with authority causing the backlash here. By law to give "immigration legal advice" you have to be a registered migration agent. It is a criminal offence to do so except in certain circumstances. It costs a lot of money to keep up your registration (less if you're a charity) and this is passed on to the client, so applicants are often deeply unhappy with the service they get. If something goes wrong they often blame their agent, and sometimes they are right to do so. The migration law and regulations are so complex, arising out of political considerations rather than for effective administration, that it is easy to make mistakes, especially given the language barriers. In fact I think its inevitable, what matters is that these are corrected at the earliest possible stage.

Which is not to say I think the industry is shonky; I haven't investigated it, how would I know? From my personal observations I have always seen agents and department officials operate with the utmost care and integrity. Others have seen more than I have and may have a different view.

If client's cannot afford a migration agent they can contact charities, legal aid or a member of parliament. Unfortunately some clients will be left to their own devices and some will do that by trawling the web for information. If a person is spreading misinformation online then that is a serious problem. There is an old English common law principle known as contempt of court which wouldn't in modern times ordinarily be applied to this kind of speech; I think we may have to revive it.

The conversations here about international law and human rights are essentially political arguments. International law is not enforceable in domestic courts. That is why if you mention international law to a domestic lawyer, like Malcolm B. Duncan, he is likely to look at you quizzically and inform you there is no such thing. An individual cannot appear before an international court, to do that you need a name like "Zimbabwe" or "Canada".

The Migration Agents Registration Authority requires that migration agents display their "Code of Conduct" prominently in their office or in their advertising. Whilst I am not a Migration Agent or a lawyer but an undergraduate media/law student, I think it worth linking to it anyway if I ever do end up in the industry, anything I have ever said could come back to haunt me.

I don't believe anyone here is trying to give "immigration legal assistance" or solicit to give immigration legal assistance, rather, they are commenting on questions of public policy which is their constitutional right, as per the implied right of political communication.

One of the ethics from MARA is for agents to uphold the integrity of the migration profession. I believe that commenting on a blog in good faith with the intention of correcting errors or arguing for policy reform is an entirely suitable application of this principle, though few are likely to want to risk permanently publishing their views and thought-processes online. It is not a responsibility I can undertake, or that I want, but I think I am competent to raise these simply as ethical questions for bloggers here to consider. Take it or leave it.

I should disclose a conflict of interest: I was in fact paid for a total of 6 days of my life for the work I've been doing when I filled in for admin staff. That isn't the reason I went, I would have done it anyway, as I began doing this as an adjunct to my education. Those are the facts.

I should also clarify something: the reason I believe Marilyn is not a lawyer is because she once wrote a comment starting: "I am not a lawyer, but..". I remember this because I commented on her skills favourably elsewhere even though she is not a lawyer and was criticised for being lawyer-centric. She is welcome to correct me or not, it's none of my business. I think she is a fine and relentless advocate, exercising her constitutional rights to the best of her ability with the intention of preserving human life in a corrupt world.

Names and faces

 An issue that troubles me about media coverage of refugees concerns the section of the Migration Act  (91 r (3)) which forces the decision-maker to disregard conduct in Australia unless it is for a reason other than strengthening their claim to be a refugee. 

This might happen if the lobbyists get ahold of them and starts publicising their names and faces in the ordinary or ethnic media, or what have you, even without any direct design by the refugee to get involved in this three-ring circus.

It doesn't sit well with the principle of non-refoulement if we allow these people to have their prominence increased by involvement in any kind of activity and then ignore it, at the peril of their lives. The test of a refugee does not turn upon whether someone is subjectively genuine in their beliefs and practices so much as whether they will be percieved as such by their persecutors. The system, viewed in its totality, is incoherent.

I am starting to see and understand things I don't particularly want to see or understand. I am starting to suspect that the reason we have offshore processing, and why it persists on Christmas island even past Howard, is not to quarantine these people from the Australian public at large for their health and security, but rather to quarantine them from refugee advocates and media scrutiny, for the two-pronged reason that the media coverage can be exploited by the refugee industry, the applicant, and the persecutors to their own ends.

Corrections: that should read Jack's link, not Marilyn's. Also it should read NAGV and NAGW in my comments, not NAGV v NAGW. Two applicants were heard together and the 'v' is actually against the immigration minister. The letter 'v' in law in civil cases is actually pronounced 'and' and through carelessness I started using in place of an ampersand. This is atrocious. Also Persia is prettier name than "Iran" and some Iranian migrants will describe their country as Persia. Iran means "Land of Aryans". I prefer Persia, a land which once incorporated Afghanistan, and in which gave birth to the poet Rumi who solved in the 13th century with sublime poetry all the petty criticisms we make of islam. He fled the Mongols.


Interesting to read in Marilyn's link that Al-Masri said that he feared for his life but preferred to go back to Gaza than stay in the detention centre. Al-Kateb said the same thing.  This is what I mean about management of people; it isn't going to work trying to and get people fleeing a war zone, who have abandoned everything and been on the run, to wait patiently in a detention centre or camp. The mental health concerns are vivid to me, understanding exactly how it feels to be drugged and imprisoned amongst disturbed individuals.

Why Israel allowed Al-Masri to be deported to Gaza and Al-Kateb could not is a mystery to me; perhaps someone here has an idea. It bothers me that all these resources were put into arguing over dead-obvious questions of inhumane detention when we should have been arguing over facts and definitions. Is this person a refugee? Clearly, now that he is dead, we have proof that he was.

Al-Kateb vs Al-Masri

Solomon Wakeling: "Why Israel allowed Al-Masri to be deported to Gaza and Al-Kateb could not is a mystery to me..."

Al-Kateb is Kuwaiti born - and Palestinians do not automatically give absorbtion visas even if the parents are from Palistine. In addition, his parents are Palestinian refugees, so going back to Gaza was not the idea .... but Al Masri was from the Gaza strip, his entire family and extended clan still lives there (he came to Australia to escape clan feuding).

By the way, Solomon, I think you have a terrific writing style, and your argumentation is suberb. All admiration to you....

I'm still making my point

Jack and Marilyn, please take me out of the equation, because I have said all along that I am not anti-refugee and I don't need any convincing. Certainly I have not read these stories and why would I or should I? That is not a callous statement; purely a recognition that in my life I deal with a number of different causes that I have continued to work with for many years.

It should not need to be said that there are countless heart-breaking and heart-wrenching stories from Africa, Asia and in fact every nation including our own. It is not the responsibility or within the capability of any individual to devote themselves to so many causes. You have to work where you can and when you can.

I have written comments all along with a very simple aim; to promote the point of view that nothing will get a government apology on asylum-seekers because Australians in the main don't care about what happens to them. It's only when they become your friends and neighbours that what happened to them becomes important.

For any student of psychology and/or anthropology the reasons for this are clear and enunciated. We are tribal. We are automatically suspicious and distrustful of anyone from another tribe. All our relationships are broken into tribal affiliations. We have no problem killing someone from another tribe. We protect "our own". The challenge is how to build bridges so that outsiders can join the familial tribal circle.

I understand that it evokes a powerful and angry response when it is made clear that our leaders lie, that they deal so flippantly with another human being's life. But "they" are "us". We elect them and they know us. They know what buttons to push and they know that this type of callous deceitful behaviour is not punished.

The plight of the asylum-seekers coming to Australia in boats will not be resolved by changing laws or by shaming politicians. It will be changed by being even more politically cunning than the ones that you seek to change.

In The Art of War Sun Tzu wrote; "If you don't know your enemy, even if you know yourself, for each victory there will also be a defeat". Such defeats have real consequences for those that you are trying to protect.

Man, controller of the universe

I am conscious of resource constraints which is the reason I argued human rights needs to be an immoveable object. It is always tempting for the account-keeper to treat such expenses as discretionary spending when it is not discretionary at all, it only seems that way in the short-term when you're trying to keep your opinion polls up and your ego from flagging. 

The futurism expressed here about resources and population struck me as somewhat of a genocidal urge at first, especially given its complete irrelevance to the topic at hand. I find it quite difficult to understand why a discussion of 12 people fleeing for their lives and 2 crew members would spark comments that there are too many people on the Earth and that our country can't "afford" these particular people. It seems like the dead-end result of a decade of Howardist propaganda. And we're taught to blame not him, or ourselves for our complicity, but the masses, people we've never met or spoken to, and who are probably doing the same thing and blaming us.

I recall the Sydney Morning Herald once did a survey on attitudes to homosexuality and people claimed that although they weren't prejudiced against homosexuals, they estimated that other people were more prejudiced. Research on public opinion should always be questioned and interrogated.

Yes this should be questioned, especially given the end result of such thinking as evidenced in totalitarian China, where women are forcefully sterilised and have their children aborted, and where even the conservative party in our country has been complicit because, hey, there are too many people in the world.

Talk of population control is offensive to me at a personal level, because I ask myself questions like: how many people should I wait to die before I have children? Should I wait for all my grandparents to die before I have children? Do you see where this kind of thing ends up if we start discussing such issues at a "personal level"?

Clearly (at least to me) it is impermissible to attempt to solve resource constraints (which have yet to manifest themselves in our sphere and so authenticate their existence and iron grip over our future) by sacrificing human life or forcefully restricting the reproductive rights of other people. If the predictions prove correct it will probably cause refugee flows, some of those fleeing population control measures such as in China (i.e. the murder of unborn children) and the moral and practical problems we discuss now will take on greater importance.

I think if our elected representatives spoke seriously about cutting discretionary spending Australians would listen and be relieved. This is the puritanism I was talking about, not personal but philisophical. We're always fretting about water and food and population and our consumption habits, especially churches who dislike consumption, spending and exploitation. Hence Howard claiming he preferred church-based charities to the public service because they have a harder approach to money. In fact what they have is a dislike of the way other people live their lives and what they spend and a delusion as to their attitude to money, easily exploited by anyone that wants to.

 I think I would love to hear a politcian speak of the things we could do without and that this would be welcomed, in a way which I fear might border on the misanthropic. I cite as evidence, once more, the notion that our under-populated and under-skilled country can't "afford" to provide shelter for a small number of refugees that arrive onshore. What is this but a puritanical desire to hold on to our purse-strings? I repeat myself for fear I've been misunderstood.

Indeed I recall my neighbour a long time ago in Western Sydney voted for Howard because he didn't like the fact that refugees were "Throwing their kids overboard". He then apologised to the neighbours because he had sold his house to public housing. My conclusion was that his views were an excuse for voting in his economic interests, which I wouldn't have reproached him for, not belonging to the Labor party thought police. Personally I was pleased the public housing was being dispered amidst ordinary communities, that people with a bad reputation were being treated as human beings. I didn't need an apology.

I recall that some of the concern in Camden was about house prices caused by a muslim presence. I would have enjoyed their presence. Clearly if economics is built on the defamation and vilification of social groups then it has no foundation in reality and so is, as I argued before, a system of illusions. The value of the house is not objective but dependent upon media saturation.

In real terms the house has not changed, the town has not changed, and the value of that house or that town has not changed to a potential buyer.

I did work in a legal centre in a public housing suburb prior to working in immigration. There is a queue for housing and provisions are made for emergency cases to move them forward. The solution seemed to be working towards putting these people in private rentals (and what the hell else is "rental assistance" but publically funded housing?) since these people have to live somewhere. We don't need to build more houses, we just need to put people in existing homes.

Most refugees who come here will end up living with their families through sponsorship arrangements, or they will be supported by the religious or ethnic community organisations which are sympathetic to their plight.

Some more Roger


And Dark Victory by Marr and Wilkinson, 2002  - the true story of the TAMPA and kids not thrown.

Following them Home by David Corlett - details of those deported illegally.

The Carpet Maker of Mazar-i-Shariff and on and on go the book lists.

Go and find some.

A short story from Manus

Story from Manus

During the Federal election of 2001 Australia and the world were assured by John Howard that on one of the refugee boats, a boat which came to be known as suspected illegal entry vessel 4, parents threw their children into the sea to blackmail the navy.

Vast numbers of Australians did not believe the story but had to watch helplessly as the passengers were eventually taken on to the HMAS Adelaide and transported to Christmas Island. Very little was ever heard from the passengers again, until the Senate decided to hold a full senate enquiry after the Australian exposed on 7 November 2001 that the children were not thrown.

A statement was received from the refugees to the senate on 14 March 2002 to put their own story of the interception. However, as with everything else to do with refugees in Australia, the story was called a lie and ignored by most.

Peace upon you.

We are the Iraqis who fled from the oppression of the dictatorial regime in Iraq seeking peaceful land in Australia. On behalf of all asylum seekers here we would like to thank you for giving us the chance to explain the full details about how our boat sank in Australian water and clarify our innocence from the accusation of throwing our children overboard.

After you found we are innocent by the Australian court besides trying to give you the full view about the camp situation from all aspects.

On the 7th October 2001 at about 3-4 am the Australian frigate Adelaide fired warning shots to try and scare us and force the captain to stop the boat. They called to us in English and Arabic demanding us to stop the boat so they could give us the supplies we needed.

From the log of the HMAS Adelaide

7 October

01.53 (AEST 0435) Second warning issued.

04.02 Warning 5.56 mm (cannon) shots fired, 50 feet in front of vessel

04.05 Warning 5.56 mm shots fired 75-100 feet in front

04.09 Warning 5.56 mm shots fired 50-100 feet in front.

04.14 Boarding party advised by CO that if 50 cal machine gun warning shots do not stop vessel boarding party is to aggessively.

04.18 Twenty three round of 50 cal (23 rounds automatic fire in front

04.20 - 04.30 Close quarters manouevering by Adelaide SIEV passed close astern to Adelaide port quarter and reduced speed/took way off momentarily.

The frigate intercepted our course so the Indonesian captain reduced speed. Marines in four rubber boats took control of our boat. Some headed for the bridge and engine room while others spread taking full control over all the passengers by driving them into two groups. Men in the front, women and children in the aft so no-one could enter the bridge or get near the engine.

They took control of all the gates leading to every section of the boat. All the marines were in their full military equipment with weapons and electric sticks.

There was a navigator and wheelman who took over from the Indonesian crew by force and changed course of the boat. The passengers then knew they had been lied to about the supplies. Our people crowded and made objections by shouting at them, crying even begging by the women and children. They ignored all that and asked for a backup force who came at once.

From the log of the Adelaide, boarding log Sunday 7 October

05.36 Young female fainted

05.46 Taking female to Adelaide

05.47 SUNC’s (suspected unlawful non-citizens) not to come on board Adelaide, embarking boarding party.

By using the maximum speed from the engine they pushed the speed levers heading towards Indonesia causing a heavy unnatural smoke. The smoke caused asphyxia among the passengers, especially the women and children.

Meanwhile the PM and the minister were sombrely telling the world that the parents had thrown their children into the sea. The minister intoned “this is clearly planned and premeditated in an attempt to blackmail the navy for a better migration outcome.”

“This is the most disturbing practice I have ever heard of in my public life.”

“If this report is true, I certainly don’t want people like that in Australia.”

The boat kept moving and after some time the engine began to splutter until it went out completely. We couldn’t hear the engines any more and there was no smoke.

The Australian marines moved out of the boat in a rush as if they were escaping and we were left to ourselves at about 10-11 am. The Indonesian crew said we were in International waters, the engine was broken down, the water pump and the rudder too. The Australian navigator left us a small compass and a drawing showing the direction of Indonesia.

All the passengers were shocked when remembering the claims of the navy who first offered us help and to provide us with food and water. They had deserted us, left us alone in the middle of nowhere and the wide ocean in front of us. The motor was in a terrible condition and the water was leaking into the boat because the pumps were stopped and there was no more fuel to operate the portable pump.

Due to the desperate condition all the passengers began to bail the seawater in the boat using different kinds of available pails and jugs. After that we raised a white sheet to the mast asking for aid using the life jacket whistles and the women and children calling the frigate which was watching from a distance.

From the Adelaide ships log - Christmas Island

15.15 Command intention to repair SIEV and send them north

15.29 SUNC’s claimed UN assistance due to political problems in their homeland.

15.44 Brig awaiting Prime Minister to make decision on SIEV

15.50 PM determined Adelaide will tow SIEV to place to be determined.

15.54 Command intentions prepare to tow SIEV.

Boarding log 7 October

15.27 1 SUNC wants UN to be told of location of the SIEV, he has sick women and children on board.

15.30 BPO confirms engine beyond repair and steering useless.

15.30 CO intends to tow awaiting approval from NORCOM

15.49 CO advised approval from PMOF to tow vessel to place to be determined.

Operations room narrative

08.35 Boarding party has disembarked. Awaiting intentions from Headquarters at Northern Command (NORCOM)

08.50 CO – Holden won Bathurst and the PM gave permission to tow vessel to place undetermined yet.

15.49 SIEV requested Dr, 1 SUNC vomiting blood and gone into shock

The boat came from the warship with marines, one of them speaking Arabic. He asked why we were not moving and we answered that the engines were not working. The water was leaking into the boat so we put up the SOS.

They went back to the frigate and soon came back bringing two mechanics to check the engine. For two hours they tried to mend the engine. When they were sure the motor would not start they returned to the frigate at 6-7 pm to report. Then the frigate came and started towing us to Australian waters in very rough seas.

The towing, rough seas and high winds caused the keel and mainframe to begin breaking apart and the seawater inside got higher. Together with 3 marines we started to bail.

The frigate towed us for about 24 hours providing medical care and medicine for sea- sickness. They brought a portable pump, which worked on diesel, but it didn’t work, so they took it to be replaced with a benzine pump, which was also broken.

When the level of the water inside the boat was about 1 metre and the drowning was going on increasingly all the passengers were desperate and calling for help, especially the children. In that moment of horror some of us repeated attempts to lift our kids to gain their sympathy to show that we have kids and women on the boat. We appealed to the navy officer asking him to help the women and children to abandon the sinking boat and have them transferred to the warship before things got worse.

He listened to them and called for the commander who called the Australian government and they are waiting for an answer.

From the log book of the Adelaide during the enquiry the following was tabled in support of the refugees statements.

Adelaide 8th October

07.38 SUNKS becoming agitated as the current course and swell means we are taking on water. 1.13 m of water and increasing.

07.51 CB request to move women and children off

09.39 Possible SUNK over the side, request stop tow, 5 cm water starboard side of deck causing large amount of panic.

09.40 CO denies request

09.44 Water level increasing rapidly, 120 cm water doubling, believe serious damage to the bottom of the boat.

09.48 Co

09.49 Continuing to take on water. CO remove personnel aft and 02 deck

09.50 110cm water at shallowest point. We are not sinking but taking on large amounts of water. Believe the boat is slowly sinking

10.09 CB recommend we put people in the water

10.29 All personnel have departed boat

10.36 contacting parliament on crisis

10.42 a total of 4 life-rafts in the water

11.0 RHIB instructed to bring children on board Adelaide.

Boarding log

16.41 5cm free surface water on starboard side of boat. Boarding party officer requests to stop. CO stated negative, to not be reactionary to SUNC’s requirements.

Whilst all this was happening we wrote a letter to the president of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan declaring our tragic situation and asking for an urgent rescue. An officer on board said it had been sent to him, but still there was no reply, no reaction.

The water level inside the boat reached 130 cm so they sent us a hose from the main pump inside the frigate for taking out water but this did not work and things were getting worse.

The officer onboard said that they were all waiting for an answer and told us not to worry for they were going to rescue us if the boat sank and we were actually in the water.

Things were getting very bad so they brought us some life-jackets although we have our own from the first moment we were on board – some had lost them so they took the new jackets.

After a while things were happening rapidly, the boat went down and we were dropped into the ocean with all our possessions which included money, jewellry, personal belongings, documents, etc. Many of our personal belongings were simple things but they meant a lot because they were the most precious we were able to bring. All these were possible to be saved if the decision to abandon ship was taken earlier. With the help of the navy nothing would have been lost.

The navy picked us up from the water. They were very capable doing the rescue and we would like to take this opportunity to thank them, especially the Australian girl who jumped from the frigate deck to the ocean without a life jacket, just to save a child with her mother before they went under the ship. Also there was a brave sailor who jumped in with a life-jacket which exploded from the sudden shock, but he kept on saving passengers.

From the Certain Maritime Incident and Marr and Wilkinson’s Dark Victory

From the second deck of the Adelaide, Able Seaman Laura Whittle saw a mother struggling in the choppy water with her young child. Without even waiting to put on her life jacket Whittle dived 12 metres into the sea to haul the frightened pair into a life raft. Her mate, Leading Cook Jason Barker was swimming to a terrified father and child. Scores of passengers bobbed in the water surrounded by debris as the Adelaide’s crew scrambled to get to the 223 men, women and children.

All these events show how brave were the navy, how impressed they were by our desperate position, their kindness and their deep respect for human rights.

One of our women was deeply hurt in her back by the rope used to lift her from the ocean to the deck.

This thing gives you a very straight view of the way the Australian government dealt with us. They were well known of the whole situation and never gave the order for the navy to help us until the boat was fully submerged with water, never considering that we have on board infants and babies.

All this drama took place with the full knowledge of the Australian government which didn’t give the order to the navy at the right time, before the boat sank, then all this tragedy would not have happened.

After our boat sank the war ship rescued us putting us onto the ship for two days before transferring us to Christmas Island according to a decision read by the immigration officer. We were apprehended us for 11 days in a basket ball hall then banished us outside Australia to Manus Island.

Under dark of night they forcibly and secretly put us on military planes and they put manacles on our hands, restricted media access and without telling us our destination.

A very important event during our lifting from the airport on Manus camp some of our people were pushed from the plane and force was used to get into the cars. There were a lot of police and soldiers to escort us to the gates of the camp.

At that point the Island was closed with the refugees completely cut off from the outside world. In March 2002, the minister and shadow minister, Ms Julia Gillard, travelled to the island to talk to the refugees about their futures. In her diary on her return Ms Gillard described it as “a little harsh”, the story was printed in the AGE once, then forgotten again.

Evan Williams from the ABC eventually tricked his way onto Manus, but was refused any access to the refugees. The pictures we saw were of a barren island and a large prison with sheds and tents.

Nothing more was heard of these refugees until stories of epidemics of malaria reached Australia, and a group of New Guinea lawyers attempted to prove it was a breach of their constitution to keep the refugees imprisoned there.

As some of the refugees began to arrive in Australia the stories were being told and faces were being put to the names.

And unidentified mother told us her story on 20th September 2002:

I arrived on Christmas Island about 5th October 2001 (10th) and was taken then to Manus Island on the 21st with my four children. My husband was in Australia on a Temporary Protection Visa. The last group to arrive was on 1st February 2002.

There were about 450 people (356) on the island including many women whose husbands were in Australia. By now about 60 people have come to Australia and about 83 have gone to New Zealand.

Our boat approached Christmas Island but was turned away by an Australian naval boat that watched us for two days. When we were turned away the boat was not working and we had to bail the water out by hand.

The navy brought us a pump but it did not work and the boat began to take on more water, the waves were big and breaking up the boat. The boat had a hole in it.

When the boat sank we were all in the water, including the children. The navy came and picked us up from the water, the children first then the adults.

We were on the Adelaide for about 2 days, then taken to a big hall on Christmas Island for 11 days. We were then told we would be taken to a good camp but they didn’t say where it was. I had already told them my husband was in Australia.

They moved us in a military aircraft between 2 and 3 am with about 30 people per trip. When we arrived on Manus we were met by American officers from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). They told us everything would be fine and we should be patient.

When we first arrived there were two lines of small rooms about 2 x 2.5 metres. There was a mess area but there was no airconditioning and we could not stay is the dongas as it was too hot. They only had ceiling fans.

Later they brought more dongas and they had airconditioning.

On the first day we were asked to go to the PMG officials to have our photos taken for visas. Everybody refused. On the second day all of the people, including the children went on a hunger strike because no-one knew we were there and we needed to be processed.

Officials came and asked us to stop the hunger strike and told us that DIMIA would be on the island in 10 days. After 11 days they came and asked 15 people to come and speak to them about the procedures. On the 15th day DIMIA asked us to go with IOM and the PNG officials to have photos taken to prevent us being illegally in PNG.

We agreed to have our photos done and were given PNG visas straight away. The visas were valid for 6 months but were never taken away from us so all the people still there have expired visas.

Processing of our applications started in November when DIMIA interviewers came to Manus. My second interview was just before Christmas. One week before Christmas all processing stopped while DIMIA went on holidays for three weeks. They came back on January 9th 2002, to finish the second interviews.

On the 28th January medical screening began and after the screening I read in the Australian that asylum seekers on Manus had tuberculosis and malaria. There was only one case of tuberculosis.

The IOM doctor thought we would stay for 6 months but then we heard that the Australian government had extended that for us to stay on Manus.

I worked for IOM and was paid in coupons. Each coupon was worth about 1.5 Kina per day, and I earned about 5 coupons a day to make phone calls. Ten coupons would be for a ten minute call, then this was changed to 10 coupons for an 8 minute call.

On 8th May the first decisions came from DIMIA, we had been waiting since February. In the first group 8 people were rejected including a woman whose husband was in Australia.

DIMIA came back and gave the rejections and offered counselling sessions for the next day. They said they would tell them why they had been rejected, which points were weak and where they needed to add more information. Those people were then re-interviewed by the same people. Within two days they had gone back to Australia.

From the 8 originally rejected all were rejected again except for the woman with the husband in Australia. All those rejected were put into isolation and then asked Ilene from DIMIA to sent copies of their files to lawyers in Australia.

We asked to see lawyer and journalists but were told they could not come because it was a PNG navy area. When Ilene checked with DIMIA about our files she said the files could not be taken outside DIMIA and also tht the people could not be sent to Iraq because America was going to strike.

One man was rejected because his wife was Danish and he was told to go back to Iraq. He was told that he could go back in 28 days if he agreed, but he is still there.

On the 21st March there was a rejection rate of about 1:3 with higher rejections among the single men. When they had been rejected the medical centre was told to look after them.

The 30th July 2002, 42 women and children with husbands and fathers in Australia were finally re-united in Australia.

Everyone was healthy when we arrived on Manus and within one week malaria appeared. We began to see fevers, joint pain, hysteria attacks and fainting. There were two IOM doctors and one nurse in the medical centre. This medical centre was one room with two beds.

Those people with malaria would lie on the ground outside as there was no room. They would lie on the ground and the IV units would be hung from trees. About 20 to 40 people got the malaria and after about two months we were given anti-malaria tablets called Chloraquine which made people sick.

We would line up and have the tablets in front of the doctor every Saturday at first but they changed this to the head of each family so the people could choose whether or not to take them. They made many people worried about the side affects so they stopped taking them.

The local hospital had no proper power and was very dirty and very old. There was no water and lots of mosquitoes. There was no airconditioning so it was unbearably hot. Most people who went there signed out. After two months they started to bring more dongas and then we had three doctors, including one female.

Maintenance work began on the hospital but no x-rays or medical screening happened until the work was done. People got gastritis and the many psychological cases forced them to bring a psychiatrist in March 2002.

Three people had serious medical conditions

1. A baby 19 months with a hip displacement, the family said the baby was fine before the boat trip. They did not notice the baby had problems till the baby could walk. They were taken to Port Moresby.

2. A seven year old girl got rheumatic fever. It started as tonsillitis and was treated as such. They could not control the fever so the took her to Port Moresby, then to Cairns. The family were accepted after their second interview.

3. A 14 year old girl had diabetes and was sent to Port Moresby to get her sugar levels controlled. They only took the mother with the girl and refused to let the rest of the family go. Eventually they sent for the father and 5 year old daughter. They had a brother-in-law on Manus who was rejected at his first interview and he was not allowed to join them.

From this boat of 219 refugees, 104 were eventually brought to live in Australia. Not one member of the government or the opposition ever apologised for the trauma they had been forced to suffer.

In June 2003 there were still 3 people on the Island, 2 of them refugees waiting for resettlement.

Aladin Sisalem was the last man standing on Manus Island at a cost of $6.9 million for 10 months.

He is now a permanent resident and working in Melbourne but still traumatised.

The common law as historical record

Roger, you can read the stories of asylum seekers in the Refugee Review Tribunal decisions, or those of the Federal Court and High Court. Their names are not given for reasons which should be obvious. Amongst other things the common law system is an historical record. I suggest you start with Applicant A, which I mentioned earlier, and then you might form a view as to the justice of our approach to pregnant Chinese women and their husbands under the law. I'm not interested in convincing "Australians" of anything, as I said before, I don't believe you speak for anyone but yourself, and so I am trying to convince you.

I also recommend Asylum Seekers and Mental Health edited by Diane Barnes, specifically the chapter on the experience of Iranian refugees living in Australia by Tahereh Ziaian, not a lawyer, but a sociologist. The issue is well-documented in all spheres, as I'm sure you are well aware.

Thank you Ernest

You need to get hold of the books I have cited and have a read.   Also on 19 November SBS will be showing a film called "A Well Founded Fear" shot in Afghanistan, Iran and other places with refugees we sent home who are living in danger and fear.

Richard:  Marylin, I'm sure that I'm not the only one who'd love to read reviews of some of the many books you devour. How about it?

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened

Roger, your recent comments are thought-provoking in a way that your earlier comments were not. I can now understand the source of your nihilism and mistrust of government and law, and why you wouldn't want them to have control of your taxes. That doesn't make your views any less anarchistic or impractical. That seems to me your underlying belief, and your other beliefs are concoted from press releases and political propaganda to disguise your deep mistrust. That is my revised opinion.

I don't retract a word of what I said and am in fact even more convinced of it. In your first comment you claimed the world was over-populated; I am asking you to justify your opinions and come to some kind of conclusion consistent with common sense and reason. If you want there to be less people, then I want you to tell me how you want that to occur. Who should not be born and who should we allow to die? These are your options, tell me your plan.

At a personal level I am willing to be convinced not to concieve of my children naturally and to adopt, if I thought your views on population were grounded in anything other than paranoia. I don't and I don't like paranoia. Give me something I can believe.

Your comments on this thread have consistently suggested a weird almost Christian eugenics, in which we preference the meek and allow the stronger (of the weak) to fend for themselves. I don't like it and I think this is a sickening way to approach the world. I'm sure you have your reasons and never assumed that you didn't (because I am not, despite these accusations, presumptuous in the slightest). And I of course I assume that at a domestic and personal level you are a lovely family man, if I applied your ideas to public policy I think we'd come out somewhere far right of John Howard and into territory I really don't want to enter.

I don't take errors of law lightly and you shouldn't expect me to. I am not going to tell someone they are right when I think they are wrong. I am also not going to defame a (potentially) noble cause or a (potentially) noble profession to cater to cynicism and defeatism. I don't believe that the world is "corrupt at all levels" but I am also not an idealist. I do believe you have suffered profoundly because of the corruption in the world, more than you deserved, and that this was an injustice, a wrong, not because it breaches any law or convention, but because it breaks whatever covenant man has with man by virtue of our common humanity.

And I don't expect you to trust me. I wouldn't for a second make that kind of presumption.

Kathy, your readings of my comments are over-protective and superficial. My comments on Geraldine Cox were tongue in cheek after a rather dishearteningly sombre discussion. I know Roger is an intelligent and well-meaning person, that is why I am talking to him, and I haven't judged him, I have tried to steer him away from things he doesn't know anything about, on to things he does, so that we can talk about something worthwhile. Call it an interview if you want, an insight into the minds of the great unbelievers, not that I had any intention of prompting this rather extraordinary revelation. Unlike Roger I don't think that such conversations would be given short thrift in the corridors of power, rather, I think that those in power would take all this deadly seriously.

More musings

Solomon, today's thought-provoking comment is tomorrow's dross. Unless we take the effort to write pieces that are massive, we have to be content with exposing what we believe and want to say in small chunks. That, unfortunately can create misimpressions.

Regarding the world population, I believe I was referring to the work of two UK scientists as reported in The Age a couple of weeks ago. The world is in crisis on many fronts including resources. The UN has issued a number of reports on the problems of adequately feeding hundreds of millions of people today who are sufferring from starvation. A number of  resource analysts are predicting that water will be fought over in our lifetime. Perhaps if the rich people of the world (which includes us) were prepared to live with less we may be able to support the 6 billion people on this planet. But what is the realistic chance of that. None, in my opinion.

Everything about our modern societies is predicated on greed and hedonism. Every ad in the media encourages a lifestyle that is inimical to a well-balanced ecological position for the human species. We have very little track record except in the most primitive of societies of being good husbands of this world.

We truly are the most stupid species on this planet with the current financial crisis as incontrovertible proof. And unfortunately you are relying on these dolt-like masses to be amenable to your point of view.

Marilyn, yes that is a story that is worth reading and is a great start. It is the first time that I have read it, so how are you going to get that one and the thousands of others like it out in the public arena?

Where have you been, Roger?

Roger Fedyk: "Marilyn, yes that is a story that is worth reading and is a great start. It is the first time that I have read it, so how are you going to get that one and the thousands of others like it out in the public arena?"

Where have you been since 2001, Roger! (not meant too cynical, just flippant). For the keen researcher there are hundreds of thousands of references and backgrounders.

Our website counts 1,000 pages, and features book reviews of about 20 titles in this area. Up to 70,000 people per month read an average of 140,000 pages. Hundreds of them are academics, PhD and other Uni students, while an equal number of High School and primary students send me daily messages, asking me to do their homework for them....

I'll give you three links relating to Marilyn's post to get you started:

Human Rights Overboard

About Shayan Badraye: The Bitter Shore

The story of Akram Al Masri

Here is one Roger


 ABBAS AL KHAFAJIAfter Akram was finally sent back to Gaza and before his case was upheld in the Full Federal Court we came across the case of Abbas Al Khafaji and on the 16th September, 2002 John Manetta and I went before Justice Mansfield for a writ of habeas corpus release for Abbas. Abbas was born in Iraq in 1973 but his parents and 9 brothers and sisters were forced to flee from the Hussein regime in 1980.  He grew up in Syria, was educated there and was officially an illegal immigrant in Syria. In November 1999 Abbas and a friend left Syria intending to come to Australia.   He arrived on 5th January 2000 and was sent to Woomera.  On 5th April he applied for a refugee visa which was denied on 3rd August 2000.   The delegate for the minister had accepted that Abbas had a well founded fear of persecution by reason of his political` opinions if he was returned to Iraq.  However, it was decided that Abbas had effective protection in Syria and that Syria would not send him back to danger in Iraq. Abbas appealed to the RRT but the RRT confirmed the delegates decision not to grant him protection because he had effective protection in Syria.   When he was informed on 4th December 2000 that he had been refused Abbas wrote to the minister and asked to be deported back to Syria on at least three occasions in December. At the same time Abbas and 20 other Iraqi nationals who had come to Australia via Syria signed a request to the minister to exercise his 417 ministerial discretion and grant all of them protection visas. On 20th January 2001 Abbas was transferred out of Woomera and sent to the even more remote Curtin centre in Western Australia where he was when he was told on 9th February that his 417 application had not been granted.  Abbas again asked to be sent back to Syria and even suggested several other countries if he could not go back to Syria. During an interview with a DIMA officer on 9th March 2001 Abbas asked that “he be returned anywhere” rather than stay in detention.   For the next several months he asked repeatedly to be sent somewhere but by mid year he found that  several of the other Iraqis had been granted visas under the 417 provision and on 13th July 2001 he made another request for his own visa. Abbas told the minister that if he wasn’t going to be granted a visa he would like to go to Syria or any other country as soon as possible.  Just 5 days later Abbas was told that his new request for a visa was not submitted to the minister by the DIMIA officer due to a lack of new information.Meanwhile Abbas remained in Curtin and on 16th April 2002 he made another written request to be returned to Syria and was told by an officer of DIMIA “he would probably be most successful in obtaining a visa for a third country if he could recover his own Iraqi passport and use it for this purpose.  The alternative suggestion was for him to have a visa entered in an Australian Certificate of Identity.” Abbas was only 7 when his family fled from Iraq, leaving illegally.  He had told the tribunal he had left Syria illegally using a false Iraqi passport and that he no longer had that passport.  Justice Mansfield observed “It is not clear on what basis the minister’s officer in the circumstances suggested the applicant should “recover” his own Iraqi passport.” The Australian Certificate of Identity is the correct term for what is sometimes called a “one way passport”.  DIMIA, in September 2002 was preparing for the applicant an Australian Certificate of Identity to be submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Passports Office, so the applicant can apply for a visa to Syria or another country”. The applicant describes his life as simply stopping, and that he is left in what he describes as inhumane conditions in Curtin.  If he is not to be granted a protection visa he maintains his strongly expressed desire to be returned immediately to Syria. The applicant complained to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Ombudsman of Western Australia and to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission on 4th June 2002 about his ongoing detention.  On 14th June he again applied for a 417 decision for a visa so he could be released from detention. On 29th July the Commonwealth Ombudsman told the applicant that the minister was “being very active” about having him removed from detention and that he would be contacted in two weeks.  No such contact was ever made On 18th August the applicant again wrote to the Commonwealth Ombudsman and on the 30th August was contacted that the minister was going to respond.  To the date of the hearing he had heard nothing from DIMIA or the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The director of Unauthorised Arrivals has since February 2001 been principally responsible for negotiations and returns of people who are in detention and are Iraqi nationals with effective protection in a third country. He confirms his awareness by the minister of the applicants desire to be returned, at least no later than the request of 9th February 2001.  The director also, in a confidential affidavit explains the steps taken to arrange for the return from Australia to Syria of failed asylum seekers who were formerly residents of Syria between 2000 and the present. It is not appropriate to set out the detailed nature of those steps as they are confidential.  It is not necessary to do so for the present decision and the director says that he considers the return of the applicant is “still achievable”. Under the Migration Act s 196 provides that an unlawful non-citizen is to remain in immigration detention until he/she is granted a visa or can be deported.  If  he/she cannot be granted a visa or be deported, as in Akram’s case, and he/she has asked in writing to be deported but can’t be  then under Akram’s decision it is out of their control and they shouldn’t be in detention. Article 198 (1) says that the minister or his delegate must take all steps at that time to help with the deportation as soon as possible.  Akram was in detention from December 2001 to May 2002 by the time we took his case before Justice Merkel.  Abbas had been asking to leave the country for 20 months before Akram’s release in September which enabled us to apply for his release. The minister argued that he could still have a possibility of having Abbas sent to Syria, but Mansfield decided  In my view there is nothing to indicate that there is any real prospect of the applicant being returned to Syria in the reasonably forseeable future, and nothing to indicate that he can successfully be removed to another country in any measurable time frame.  I accept the director’s evidence that “with persistence” there is some prospect of the applicant being successfully removed from Australia to a third country, possibly including Syria, after “protracted” steps are taken – but the period of time over which those steps may be taken – assuming but not clearly, that they are ultimately successful – is indefinite and is certainly not of short compass. There is no material to suggest the applicant’s removal from Australia will probably or might necessarily be effected within a time span of several months.  That is a finding which counsel for the minister contested only in  a relatively faint way. The respondent’s principal contention was that the decision in Al Masri was wrong and should not be followed. Abbas was released on 5th November when Mansfield J allowed our application for habeas corpus.  He was ordered to always keep me informed about where he was living and to report to DIMIA every day.   

The applicant is to attend in person any hearing in the Federal Court or in the High Court of which he is given reasonable notice in writing.  If such an appearance is not in the capital city of residence the minister is to provide reasonable transport and accommodation expenses.

Abbas was not allowed to work, to have any medical or financial support or to leave the state, but at least he had been released from detention after almost three years, and 22 months of attempting to leave. His case went to the High Court as part of the infamous Al Kateb case which stated that Abbas could spend his entire life in detention even though he was innocent of any crime, had no other country he could live in and had tried over 120 countries at that time. He spent a further 3 weeks in Baxter before a deal was struck to allow him to live in the community where he remained with no ability to work, get health care or have any dignity.   He was supported by members of a group called Circle of Friends. In an update – Abbas was diagnosed with lupus just before he was granted permanent residence in Australia on 3 December, 2006.   The next day he gave evidence to the People’s Inquiry into Detention which has now been turned into the book “Human Right’s Overboard”. He recently travelled to another country to see his mother whom he had not seen since his departure and was recently diagnosed with cancer.        

May I say Marilyn.

Without being arrogant, I believe that if we want to really communicate with other people, we must first write in their language; make our attitude clear and precise; and most of all allow for the possibility that they do not agree with the argument that we intend to put.

In the early stages of my contributions, I was advised to make my opinions readable and more acceptable to the people you wish to influence.

I am still trying but - I admire your tenacity and your compassion.

No good talking German to Japanese eh?

Cheers Ern G.

Richard:  Ernest, watching your writing style evolve as you spend time here has been a pleasure!

Roger, read my reports

Roger I have posted two stories about unaccompanied kids to make them human.

Why don't you read them?

An old Sailor's opinion.

 G'day Marilyn,

What do we have with your posts? Some reasoning opinion but, a great deal of fact.

You are a difficult person for the powers that be to dispute. I would much rather you be my friend than my enemy.

Cheers Ern G.

Missing the point again

Marilyn, I am not someone who needs convincing. I am for refugees. If you took a moment to try an understand what I have written you may realise that I am a supporter.

Perhaps there may be something to be learned in you analysing what you write and what you understand has been written by others, myself included. Perhaps you believe that your sanity and integrity is being tested by opinions that don't directly align with yours. Perhaps you believe that by being uncomprisingly confrontational, sometimes to the point of rudeness, you will convince others of the righteousness of your cause.

I find it enlightening and inspiring that real 20th century champions of the oppressed such as Gandhi and Theresa knew when to be uncompromising and when to play politics. That is why they were so effective during their lifetime.

Thoughtlessness piled upon thoughtlessness

Kathy, I think Roger is a puritan in regards to human life. He doesn't want to spend his taxes on preserving human rights or dignity, unless it suits his particular personal predispositions and unless people talk nicely to him. He wants there to be significantly less people on the planet.

People leave the world by dying and they come into the world by being born. Lest he can come up with a proposal for who should die, and how they should die, or who should be born, and who should not be born, I am not in a position to acknowledge that he is "thoughtful", since he has yet to provide me with an opportunity to comment upon his thoughts.

Let he who is without sin...

Solomon: "Kathy, I think Roger is a puritan in regards to human life. He doesn't want to spend his taxes on preserving human rights or dignity, unless it suits his particular personal predispositions and unless people talk nicely to him. He wants there to be significantly less people on the planet."

Oh, I don't know Solomon, you have been particularly scathing in your opinion of Roger,  and he has been magnanimous enough to ignore your presumptuous comments and respond in an amicable and good-natured manner.

Notice too, that Roger has not passed any judgement on your good self. 

A mind reader to boot?

Solomon, where is all this coming from? Apart from what thoughts we exchange in these forums, you would not know me from street dust.

I'll keep the label 'Puritan' just to remind me how silly comments can get. Of  course if you came around and had a few whiskeys and enjoyed my company together with my repertoire of expletives that I reserve for private occasions
 you might just review your penchant for daft labels like the offensive labels,  that you attached to Geraldine Cox, some one else who you have never met.

I gave my life over to preserving people's dignity a long time ago, that is a personal choice and not for public parading. It does not make me a saint or a "good" person. I know about the hardship of the street here, in the UK, the US and even in Switzerland. I have watched more good friends die than I ever wanted too.

Through what I do in my private life, which is just that, private, I have an intimate appreciation of how fragile life is and how lucky (blessed) we are to be alive. My parents met in a Nazi slave camp. They were lucky to survive. I was lucky to be born, their life celebration baby on being saved by the British 8th Army. Yet they had to remain, stateless, in that camp for 2 years until they could get papers. They were not treated much better by their saviours than they were by their captors. War does things like that.

Laws and conventions have never given any human being dignity.  Dignity comes from within nurtured by the respect and kindness of those around you in your community. 

I am not anti-refugee, I am one myself. My comments go to the pointlessness of relying on laws to change human hearts. We can be buried in laws up to the tops of our heads and it will not make the majority of Australians feel any different to what they do today. People respond to people through their stories. If you or Marilyn want to make a difference then you could start a "story project". Interview every asylum seeker and make them human beings to the rest of Australia. They have names, family history just like the rest of us.

Just stop waffling on about laws and conventions. If laws were the answer to our problems then we would not need police or armies and Malcolm B Duncan would have to find another career.

The Prophet Mohammed was an orphan too

Roger, from your description Geraldine Cox is evidently a megalomaniac who, after discovering she could not have children, built an empire of children out of orphans for her own maternal gratification and is no longer capable of having a normal conversation about anything else. It is not my intention to interfere with this. If you want to give her your money then go ahead. Perhaps you could ask her opinion of the Refugee Convention and the worth of international law; probably she has never thought about it, devoting all her waking moments to becoming the super-nanny.

If you want to help Cambodia then the most effective means you have is international law and order, which, sad to say, necessitates that you play fair in that order and follow your obligations, else you lose your moral authority. You could also decline to obstruct Cambodian students who might want to study law in Australia, then return home to prosecute the very crimes which gave rise to the situation you lament, which are, in the scheme of things, ordinary breaches of Cambodian criminal law and are best dealt with by that law. If it can't then these children ought to be entitled to take solace in the fact that the world will shelter them, as per the Refugee Convention, should their country lose its battle and become a failed state.

Oh dear...

Oh dear, Solomon.

You said this about Roger.

"Your religion has reached such a pitch of solipsism that it has become a shield and a cocoon against all influences, even benign, necessary and unexpectional influences that form the usual stuff of civic life"

You are quite in error there. I have been reading Roger's very thought provoking comments for some years now, and he is definitely no egotistical religious nut. Nor is he a puritan!

He gives very fair, considered and even handed commentary in my opinion. In short, he is a decent caring bloke. He has a vast knowledge in many areas and has studied extensively, religious writings and theology.

As for Geraldine Cox being a megalomaniac, how could you make such a harsh judgement? The woman has brought a lot of happiness to many an orphaned child, working tirelessly and unselfishly for the sake of the children.

Here is one person who has made a difference in this world.

Chaos, bring the pitiful to me

Roger, I'm not sure you do understand. Your views are nihilistic rather than pragmatic, to the point where you don’t seem to believe in elected government or the rule of law. Your understanding of economics seems so deeply clouded by puritanism that even the act of saving a life feels like an indulgence. The refugee issue has nothing to do with the poor, and yet, your interpretation of the issue is infused with it. I will leave this be.

You are evidently very experienced with charities and lobbyists tugging at your purse and heart-strings. Your religion has reached such a pitch of solipsism that it has become a shield and a cocoon against all influences, even benign, necessary and unexpectional influences that form the usual stuff of civic life. I don't want your money, or your over familiar advice on how to win over the government by compromising my ethics. I can read all of that in the Daily Telegraph. My concerns are deeper than yours, I don't want to wake up one morning and find I've become Bernhard Loesener. That is my personal and if you will private petition within myself.

I am not, at this point in time, trying to convince the government of anything. I was trying to convince you of something, and to teach you something of what I know, since I see more value in that than scoring a point on politics. I thought I might intercede, do something to rehabilitate another soul after the vicious and soul-destroying decade we've been through. I don't like the way we've been taught to think, it is oppressive, depressive, delusional.

I don't mind how you are. Puritanism is necessary to a person without law to keep them from harm. Keep it, it's yours, you need it.

These are only my impressions, the views I take away from you having listened to you. Yet it does make me want to plead with you, to please retreat even further into your monastic, asocial life, to leave others to their work, to refrain from interfering in this business unless you are willing to help and not hinder, to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto me what is mine.

Well that's really funny

Solomon, I must admit that I am chuckling away here. Me, a puritan? My wife can't believe it. It just goes to show how imperfect words are for getting a message across.

Never mind, we'll have to leave it at that. Good luck with your crusade. By the way if you get a chance to look, here a Wikipedia link to the lady whose seminar I attended last week, Geraldine Cox AM.

The most remarkable part of her talk was how proactively political and non-judgemental she was about the appalling abuse of law and process in her chosen home, Cambodia. Her focus is on one thing and one thing alone, the welfare of all the children that she has in her care. As she said, she long ago surrendered her ego and is prepared to go anywhere, do anything, dine with anyone just as long as she can continue to get the resources to feed, clothe and educate her chidren and build more orphanages.


Roger, the world had a road to damascus experience when we wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is not a legal document which imposes obligations and never purported to be. It doesn't have to. It is what it says it is: a declaration. This is what we believe, this is our article of faith. After committing the worst atrocities in human history, we stopped and said we were wrong.

You are right that laws sometimes become obsolete and are changed. Then the problem which manifested those laws returns, sometimes centuries later, and the same laws are revived. That is one of the ironies of inter-temporal law. I do not want the same problems which manifested the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to again occur, so that we might compose another. We got it right the first time.

I am awed at the logic present in W.H. Auden's Refugee Blues, written in March 1939, before the worst of the Holocaust ever happened. If we can't find a space for them, let them be here and be homeless, rather than murdered in a concentration camp. If we cannot be convinced of this after the fact, then nothing will save us. Better hope in the afterlife there is a "Divine Decisions Tribunal".

The Refugee Convention has a rather sombre tone to it. It reads like an apology, which is what it is.

My role model in the bible is not Pilate or Jesus but Joseph, Jesus' father. Clearly there is no such thing as divine conception and Mary must have lost her virginity in the usual way in those times, through pre-marital sex either with Joseph or another man, or because she was raped. Finding her pregnant he sought an inn where she might give birth; finding none Christ was born in a manger.

Jesus, her dutiful son, probably grew up hearing rumours of all this. When a prostitute was to be stoned he stood up and said that this was wrong, his sympathy falling on the fallen woman. He caused the ire of the authorities and was persecuted and killed for it, and at the final moment he lost his faith. I don't believe in the resurrection, clearly such things do not happen on this Earth.

These comments may sound blasphemous but they are not. That these were ordinary people gives them greater value, not less, and if you have studied Jesus' teachings at all you would understand why the fact that they were ordinary people gives them greater value. If we must have a King it should be a dead homeless man who preached love and forgiveness, and who died because he would not compromise.

I am more troubled by Applicant A than by Al-Kateb. In that case the law could not protect pregnant Chinese women who come seeking asylum. These women are no more or less valuable than Mary, and yet we are willing to send them back to China where they might face forced abortion and sterilisation. All we had to do was give them a manger. Since the law cannot protect them, one must lobby the government, the minister for his discretion, the powers that be.

Leonard Cohen, a Jewish song-writer, perhaps said it best: "I was just some ragged Joseph looking for a manger."

Well said but...

Solomon, I understand and I have studied the New and Old Testament and other religious writings both formally and informally over many years.

Why I prefer to push for a pragmatic solution is that in a world that has not changed since He was here, Jesus spoke eloquently about many things but not about Refugee Conventions or Declarations of any kind. Among His few telling words about the condition of humankind He said "The poor will always be with you". This was not a call to inaction but an acknowledgement that a higher "law" prevailed and would not be fulfilled on this earth.

However, He did not just leave it at that.. His own most telling application of law was a law of the heart and is the only mechanism that will make any difference. It was summed up in "You must love your Father with your whole heart, mind and soul and your neighbour as yourself". Interestingly He did not say you must agitate against/for/with your government/friends/associates to make the world a righteous place. He said, to paraphrase, "It is your duty before God to make a personal difference in one person's life, your neighbour". By this one simple mechanism, all the injustices of the world will be resolved in a single generation. If we cannot trust this then we have have no hope of fixing any problems because greed and corruption is at the centre of the human condition and only responds to the extraordinary nature of sacrifice..

So if you wnat to make a difference in an asylum seeker's life try to make him/her your neighbour but not at the expense of your own neighbour. This is an awfully hard precept to accept because we invest such high hopes in solving human problems, vicariously, through laws and organisations.

I am innocent of the blood of this just person; see ye to it

Roger, I believe that in real, practical, logistical terms it isn't possible to abandon the onshore protection regime without actively committing an impermissible act, legally, ethically and probably financially. This is why it was never done, except in isolated acts of rebellion, which were as widely condemned as they were actively encouraged, and alas, dismissed rather than addressed by the silent majority, voting as they did (and should), in their own interests. Rather than change the system, rhetoric was vamped up and an example was made of certain people by either turning away their boats or keeping them in detention for excessive periods, or other petty restrictions, not for any practical reason but purely for its propaganda value. It won an election, as it was designed to do.

In fact I believe that the rhetoric, propaganda, political speech and openness about immigration and multiculturalism is necessary to convince Australians to be more generous in their attitude to refugees and immigrants. If we can't say what we think, we've lost our country. I don't want to let that happen either. I don't want to live in a country where I can't spit on the Qur'an if I want. In truth I prefer to read books than spit on them but I reserve my right to do so.

Jack mentions common law principles. I think he means habeas corpus which is the law that no-one may be imprisoned without first being brought before a court of law. If the government engages in extra-judicial detention this infringes chapter III of the constitution, which reserves judicial power in the judiciary. I am not willing to abandon the seperation of powers in our constitution, at least not without a fight and by referendum. In Al-Kateb the court made a distinction between administrative (non-judicial) and punitive detention. I don't believe the detention of these people was for any administrative purpose except in the initial stages, but rather solely and wholly for its propaganda value, to be seen to be imposing punishment (and in fact imposing punishment) upon individuals for exercising their right to enter our territory. I think the decision was wrong and will work in whatever capacity I can to overturn it, should the need arise. In that case McHugh played Pontius Pilate. Kirby never shuts up about the case (in which he was right but for the wrong reasons) and I think with an evolving bench we could change the law.

We the living, I mean. In practical terms Vanstone gave Al-Kateb a bridging visa and he lives off the charity of family and friends, waiting for Palestine to become a state again. We stole a young man's life; he came to us at 24. That's all we achieved. In fact he was found not to be a refugee, asked to be returned to Kuwait (where he was born) or Gaza or any country who would take him. Don't ask me to forgive this, and don't tell me the system is practical. Clearly it reached such a crisis point that our politicians were so impotent they were unable to return to Kuwait a young man born in Kuwait. We should have booked him on a flight to anywhere and given him a parachute, so that he could then seek asylum from persecution by Australia.

Negotiating with your own population is easy. The hard part is negotiating with foreign governments. Treaties are one of the few means we have and you want to give that leverage away.

I believe the current government is doing a competent but minimalist job. Chris Evans is a capable man but he is inexperienced in the field. That's ok, so am I. Jack is over-critical but he is doing the right thing. The Minister needs to know, and probably does know, that he is being watched and that he won't be able to get away with a thing just because he wears a Labor party badge.

As a matter of linguistic convenience most refugee applicants will describe themselves as "illegal" if they don't have a visa. The priority issue is to find out what precisely their immigration status is so that you can then work towards helping them. Informing them that they have a right to enter and are not technically "illegal" is probably a bad idea, as you they might misunderstand you or it might underplay the gravity of the situation and the potential for deportation. As the Convention itself uses the term "illegal entry" I am not particularly concerned by the form of words, so long as the law is followed and no punishment imposed.

I think you have uncovered a truth here. Once in our jurisdiction the law will protect onshore applicants, so long as politicians do not interfere. That is why advocates are generally defensive, rather than offensive. They don't argue for increased quotas because then they'd have to argue economics and budgets and what have you, not with the courts, or even with the minister, but with the treasurer.  

If applicants are offshore and not within our jurisdiction then the system is more discretionary and relies on politics. Although a lawyer could assist families and employers in Australia and provide advice, they cannot force an outcome with the law if the person isn't physically present. I don't want to underplay the situation of offshore applicants, mostly because I know it's a trick, that it's designed to take the wind out of the sails of people working for a good cause, not for any real reason, but to suit the political posing of the powers-that-be. It is the equivalent of saying to a lobbyist "We'll give you what you want but we've decided to withdraw funding from a school for handicapped children. Look what you made us do you bastards." It's designed to shut people up - a form of censorship. You can serve that cause if you like, but I trust now that you're someone who is capable of being convinced, which is all I would expect of any person.

Immigration has been on the agenda since I first became politically conscious as a young teenager, with the rise and fall of Pauline Hanson, who is perhaps the first political figure to ever make a significant impression on me. I think a better word for xenophobia is racist. I find the politics of immigration intensely boring, in both pro and in contra.  I was deeply disappointed when I had to study Peter Scryznecki in High School, a competent but minor poet, simply because he wrote of book of poems entitled Immigrant Chronicle. Why couldn't I have studied T.S. Eliot? All of this feels like a complete waste of time, designed to entertain people who prefer to consume propaganda rather than art. I find such people tedious.

I do however enjoy speaking with individual visa appicants. Their stories are fascinating, often heroic and many-varied. I learn about the world and have a much broader perspective than I had before, certainly much broader than anything my massive media and political consumption ever taught me.

Pontius Pilate: A Good Role Model

Solomon, I have no intention to add to your disillusionment. However, the fact is that we can only get progress by embracing the political process. It is an innate part of not only humankind but all the social primate species (if you watch Animal Planet). Railing against corrupt practice and appealing to a long-term better nature is enormously energy-sapping and unless all 6 billion of us simultaneously experience the equivalent of a Road to Damascus experience it is also completely and totally useless. One does not have to condone corruption but the canny advocates makes use of what ever tools are at their disposal.

Marilyn, I will acknowledge that you may mean well.

Well gee Roger

All over Australia for the past 7 years those dreaded Iraqis, Afghans and Iranians have been picking the fruit, working in the abbatoirs and contributing to the economy of the country.

Have you been completely missing in action? It started in the home of the white Australia policy - Young - when the owner of the abbatoir employed dozens of Afghans.

Others are doctors, chemists, agricultural scientists and other professions.

Wouldn't it be nice if refugees could consider the  economy of Australia before they arrive?

Love is a human right

On the question of human interest stories DIAC provides some under the heading "Human interest stories". They are not very inspiring, unless you find press releases inspiring. The media gave you Vivian Alvarez-Young-Solon and Cornelia Rau, that is, the stories that are so sensational that public interest allows the loud to scream their loudest.

Few working in the industry, either at the department or as migration agents or in charities, are in a position to give you human interest stories because of confidentiality. A stray remark can have severe consequences; not all the time but sometimes. We're permitted to speak globally but not specifically, which is a line so delicate only the belligerent or the young are likely to risk it. It is also problematic in a world in which people might assume that words spoken about a general class are in fact derived from a particular individual, which isn't likely to be true. One hears the same stories over and over.

I think the most effective method of maintaining confidentiality, in any profession, in this age of instant publication, temptation and ultra-competitiveness is to maintain outside interests. It is disheartening that the people here are discussing Bill Hensen rather than, I don't know, Lewis Hine or Henri Cartier-Bresson. Let alone a photographer with a name like Zhara Rhanjbar, whom you are likely to assume is a terrorist or fundamentalist muslim, rather than a sweet Iranian girl who photographed a women's prison. But I am not the photography police.

The consequence of self-protective silence amongst the lawyer class and the bureaucracy is that different voices are heard, sometimes well-informed, other times deeply misinformed. Eventually they are provoked into speaking and one hears them at their most exasperated.

The Cambodian woman mentioned was, like many charities, using extremely explicit material to further her agenda. I don't judge her for this; it is simply an observation. You praise her for her diplomacy, for, in effect, modifying her behaviour because of the potential to get the authorities off-side. Our court of law would call this an error, that it is wrong to expect a person to modify their behaviour because of persecution (though from what I've read the Cambodian government is in about the mid-range of countries of concern and that the central authorities are not really involved in persecution. There seems to be some semblance of the rule of law). I like the word 'error' for its absolutism.

Why you prefer her style to a woman in a free country who says what she thinks regardless of who is listening says something about you. Perhaps only that you are cautious; perhaps you don't like to hear what you don't like to hear. Either way I cannot live my life in the way. I don't care if people don't like me or accomodate me.

Ian, I'm considering taking up your offer and founding a political party arguing to drop all border controls. I want to commit political suicide, like the hippie generation, who thought they could buy more with flowers than with money. There is some insight to this. I have bought more of value with flowers than money. I was wrong to mention work or donations. I mentioned them only because some people like to do voluntary work and give donations, and because I wanted to illustrate that charities are involved in improving literacy.

Considering the question of people who fall in love across borders I realise that I cannot in good conscience obstruct their union. Say an American Indian woman comes to Australia to learn from our Indigenous people in their struggle for rights, falls in love with an Aboriginal man and wants to stay here permanently and marry him? The consequence of obstructing love is that people will compromise and marry people who are not their partner of first choice.

If we created a system internally in which individuals could not marry who they choose but had to marry someone else from a dominant community because they had, I don't know, political clout and money to spend, we would call it institutionalised rape. Well, I would call it institutionalised rape, but then you might cotton up your ears. So I will focus on love and its positives and why open borders are a good thing.

We created open borders when we Federated Australia. That is why I don't have to ask permission if I want to marry a girl from another state. I don't have to provide a reason, I don't have to account to anyone. I can just walk across the invisible line (I don't believe in cars). I can swim across the Murray-Darling, or whatever river it is, and no-one will refoule me to New South Wales. For this I am eternally grateful to Queen Victoria for federating my country, when she passed (that is to say she didn't object) to the Australian Constitution Act.

In a world in which I can communicate and form relationships with anyone in any country, if not physically then emotionally and spiritually, borders seem obsolete. Clearly we're entitled to quarantine people for a time for health and security reasons (though it would be cheaper to provide targeted, rather than arbitrary, health and security checks across both the transient and stagnant population. Sorry to describe you as "stagnant" but I cannot think of an appropriate word.), but otherwise I don't see the point in living in a regulated environment. It is both a kind of censorship and the creation of an illusion. If you create a system of illusions you are vulnerable to people who will puncture that illusion, even if only by living out their private existence.

As a child I lived in Thirlmere in an isolated town and knew few people of a multicultural background. If you don't like foreigners there are places in Australia who would accomodate you. I then moved (or was moved, as children are) to Camden, the little churchy town that doesn't like muslim schools or McDonalds, and where people don't know how to mind their own business. I lived in the kind of ideal that the people here want. I found every single moment of my life in Camden unbearable, except the time I could make for myself or spend with the few people I liked. The civic aspects, so to speak, were horrid. Camden is the creation of an illusion; that is why it cannot tolerate the mere existence of muslims in its regulated space.

My friends at school were always non-conformists, and the few token ethnic students were also often my friends, not so much because I liked them but because I passively tolerated them. A friend of mine was in fact an Iranian Bahai and I recall having a conversation with him about why I allowed a mosquito to carry out its existence without immediately killing it. Even though bahais are a fundamentally nice religion, I observed traces of the world from which his parents had come. He taught me the word "Hezbollah".

My mathematics teacher was an Iranian Christian. He was not a very good teacher and I was not a very good student. He believed in disciplining students with a cane - except not Australian students, because there was no need. He said Iranian students were "like monkeys". He converted to Christianity because it taught forgiveness.

Love your enemies. Forgive them that persecute you and spitefully use you. These are astonishing words from 2000 years ago and what has changed? I would like to hear an interpretation of the refugee issue based on the old and new testament. Moses? I don't know, you're better at this than me.

Living and breathing Western Sydney later was at least stimulating and thought-provoking, if sometimes terrifying. I can live happily in Western Sydney having learned survival skills (for example, a cigarette is like a peace symbol; you're safer if you pretend you smoke, because then you have an alibi as to why you are wandering around at night. Alternatively you can buy a big black dog.) I could also live happily in an isolated rural environment with different skills - I could live in quiet, timeless Thirlmere, weighing its railway museum against its alienated young men who used to throw rocks at my parents home because they were teachers.

I couldn't live in Camden. I can visit, I can admire its autmunal trees and parks and the black swans in the ponds at the golf course, but I couldn't ever again live there. I spent a year of my life visiting Camden to study the bible (for my own reasons and for my education; my ethics are secular and my spiritual beliefs not tied to any religion.) I can tolerate it, decline to interfere with it but I couldn't live there. The most difficult part about Camden was that the library was very poor and there were no significant bookshops; I think now they sell them in the Chemist. That kind of place scares me, and it is one reason I have built my own library, should I ever be buffeted by destiny into living in a little town like that. Broken Hill has more bookshops than Camden. I bought Henry James in Broken Hill.

If you like white people you can join an Anglican or Catholic church or move to a little town. That is why we have little towns and churches, so little white people can socialise, meet other white people, get married and have little white babies. It is also so that they can read and talk about books. The bible is a book, and it is often a book in a place with few books. There is a place in the world to accomodate you. How lucky you are - and how ungrateful.

Jesus himself was a homeless person who crossed many borders and many rivers and seas and decided it was preferable to allow himself to be persecuted than seek refuge when it was available, that he might make of his life an example of others, in the hopes that in doing so he might solve the fundamental contradictions in the way humans deal with other humans. He didn't spend his life erecting borders, or even in building a home. He said man has no home.

In the Qur'an Mohammed writes that there are two oceans: one of saltwater and one of fresh. I no longer feel a need to give the one ocean different names, but if I had to choose a name, I think I would call it the pacific. Perhaps this is narcissistic. My own name also means peace. I am content to differentiate purely between saltwater and sweetwater.

The discipline and beauty of the higher religions is that they undo the damage caused by rules and restrictions, by the prescriptions of how things "should be" and forces us to reconcile the things we don't like with a perfect God. This is also the discipline and beauty of higher law; not creating restrictions but easing them, doing away with rules and evasions and allowing people to be as they are, even if we don't like who they are, and even if they don't like who we are.

Humans come before some stupid sovereignty

The notion of states is bizarre when we consider that the states borders can be moved around at will like in Israel and Kosovo.

 Under the  Declaration of human rights dated 10 December 1948 all human rights for all persons are deemed to be above the state and inalienable.

Australia happily helped to write it.  Human beings are always more important than some deluded notion of borders, they are just a line in the sand after all.


Roger, your representations about the Convention were inaccurate: the obligations towards unauthorised arrivals are not "over and above" the obligations of the Convention but rather form the very basis of that convention. The offshore intake involves the resettlement of refugees, generally speaking, who are living in countries of first asylum and to whom the obligations under the Refugee convention have, therefore, at a very minimal and precarious level, already been discharged. If you mention laws, even in passing, you should describe them accurately. Marilyn corrected you and then I corrected you. Something has been achieved.

I learn that in fact the Refugee convention in fact does allow for its termination with one year's notice. This parliamentary research paper gives a narrow but informative critique of the problems created by the Convention system. There is also customary international law to be dealt with but I'm not even going to go there. I accept that we could, with some difficulty, exit the Refugee Convention if we wanted. We would have to deal with the "geo-political considerations" that you raise. We could repeal the sections of the Migration Act , Australia's own laws duly enacted by parliament, which implement the convention if we wanted to.

I think the result would be that we would still recieve unauthorised arrivals and have to do something with them. We could, as China does, return them to their country of nationality, at the peril of their lives. We could allow them to drown in the sea. We could shoot them or put them into forced labour camps like the Nazis or Soviets. It seems efficient at first until you find yourself on trial for crimes against humanity in Nurumberg. Incidentally, if you are ever charged with war crimes or crimes against humanity, I would advise you to come up with a better argument than national sovereignty. You are likely to be hanged.

We could attempt to resettle them in third countries which can provide effective protection, if they are willing to take them, but this is would require us to negotiate with our allies, as I suggested in my first post on the issue. They are likely to be as unsympathetic to the idea as we are. In fact if we raised the issue of refugee settlement with other countries, the response is likely to be: "Great. How many will you take?" Once you finally managed through the use of translators (I know something about the use of translators) to get them to understand that you want them to accept refugees within our custody, the next question will be: "Ok, how much will you pay us?"

Well, how much are you willing to pay? Having paid them they will likely revoke the agreement and send them back to their country of origin, because, hey, they are a sovereign nation and can back out of any agreement at any time for any reason.

In essence I think that compliance with the Convention norms are in fact the most realistic, feasible and cheapest option and I believe that this is the fundamental reason why the system persisted despite the moanings and groanings of the previous government. The attempts to subvert these norms had high political currency but were otherwise a total waste of time. I am stunned these days to look in the mirror and find I still have my youth, that my lips still resemble child's lips, my eyes resemble child's eyes, that all though my soul and health has been spent wrangling with my own society over problems which don't interest me, that there is still something left that hasn't been taken in furtherance of this agenda. The ultimate cost that I can't forgive is that we wasted ten years. To you it was twenty, thirty, I don't know how many years.

I think your present arguments are accurate as to the issues at hand and provide a legitimate theory of international law. When Howard said: "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come." he was asserting Australia's sovereignty. That we had already decided these questions a long time hence, that it formed a settled part of the international order, that it had the weight of history behind it based on the experience of no less than the Holocaust, was not enough to prevent Howard from his infantile glory and pursuit of his political aspirations. He looked at a serious issue and saw in it a cheap and easy way to further his political aspirations. "Throwing their children over border, Mr. Speaker!" What kind of toddler would take that fact (which turned out, as it seems, to be false) and use it to his advantage with such Satanic glee?

Well, that is fine, suffering fools is one of the burden's of living in a free society. We voted him out of office, out of his seat, and personally, out of my thoughts and out of my dreams. Whilst he was in power I think we were entitled to draw the inference that he represented the majority opinion. Now that he is not, I think it necessary that if you claim to speak for the majority, you actually do some kind of substantive research, or cite someone that has. I studied audience research and actually know something about how sophisticated it is; and that often just to sell toilet paper and nappies. If you want to sell me a revocation on human rights you should try harder than Huggies. I would ask that you take some responsibility for your opinions, that you get your facts right, that you consider the consequences and don't just rely on inertia, the current political norms, to support the inevitablity of your views. I think we're getting to that point but we're not there yet. I'm still a baby at all this myself.

National sovereignty was a theory of law which was dominant until the events of World War II caused a reappraisal. Nazi and Soviet fascism involved the break down of the rule of law and the creation of criminal states. These crimes are not crimes of international concern except by default. They were assaults on the civic, domestic population of a country. They were as domestic as you can get: blood-feuds, arising from petty internal squabbles. I don't believe that human rights arise from international treaties, conventions or norms but rather from the human condition, that it is wrong to hurt and kill innocent people even if you don't like them. It is simply that when the nation-state fails fundamentally then there are no domestic courts to appeal to, no good King left to petition. Some turn to violence, others flee. Fleeing is better.

They flee, of course, to countries nearest them. Or internally. Or to a country that will accept them (or a country that won't), by boat, plane, car or bicycle. Sometimes they swim from one country to another across a body of water. Sometimes they sell their homes to bribe their way out. By its very nature the problem is chaotic and uncontrollable. To attempt to impose order upon it is, in my view, based upon a flawed philosophy of the management of people. I think people make their own decisions and that the more you try and make decisions for them, the less successful you will be. I'm sure you'll find all this in all those God-awful managerialist books that I've never read.

Call me cynical but I think it is only because of the influence of the international order and the principle of non-refoulement that countries of first asylum don't simply send these people back to their home countries and likely death. The reason we are able to have an orderly offshore intake is because these people first fled into the territory of a neighbouring country, were protected by the Refugee Convention or the international order (or even, God helps us, the sympathy of the local population), and were able to transform chaos into some semblance of order.

It is also a question of money. It costs very little to allow people to exist in camps in your own territory at the expense of the UNHCR. Who do you think pays for the United Nations? If other countries harbour these people it costs us. The cost to countries of first asylum is political: your people, whom you probably oppress and neglect yourself, dislike it, and if you allow scrutiny of your country by outsiders you might be pressured to alter your own policies, in which case your political opponents will capitalise on this and you lose your palace and they'll probably shoot you just for good measure. This is the dilemma faced by countries like Jordan, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, to name a handful. They are as likely as we are to get fed up and send them home, deport them, turn the boats away, sell their soul and then rationalise it when they realise they got the wrong end of the bargain. Australia faces a faint echo of their dilemma.

Give the Devil his due

Solomon, I admire your tenacity and I admire your belief in an honourable system of laws.

Australia, the political animal led by successive governments, speaks out the side of its mouth on many issues. We occassionally appropriate moral highgrounds while otherwise behaving abominably and from time to time illegally. However, this nation state is imperfect and runs on corruption at every level from municipal government to the federal sphere.

That is the reality. Furthermore, as generous as Australians can be, they are also on occasions, mean-spirited and xenophobic. There is no point in calling on our leaders and our citizens to follow the letter of the law where the Refugee Convention is concerned. It won't happen. Australians, in general, don't care enough.

The best outcome for those coming to Australia outside of government-mandated channels is to effect a political solution that the Australian people and therefore our leaders will accept. I imagine it is cold comfort to some one languishing inside the asylum system when told that some people are demanding that the letter of the law be followed. I am sure that they would rather something happens that gets them out into the community as soon as possible.

The history of the greater part of the law shows that it is promulgated by those who have a vested interest in keeping their priviledged position. Every now and then such as after the Holocaust or the Pol Pot madness we have an attack of conscience and give birth to well-intentioned laws only to then do our best to ignore them and subvert them.

If asylum seekers can be shown to have a positive financial effect on the ordinary Australian then you will have wide-spread support. Forget about trying to get an outcome through the law. Do what is possible; which is the definition of politics. 

"Cultural diversity" seen differently by major players

My bet is that immigration law is about to get an overhaul in Australia, anyway.

The bi-partisan consensus on "multiculturalism" (cheap labour mass immigration) is under stress from the economic crisis.

The "benefits" from "cultural diversity" are seen differently by the different players in the immigration industry.

The union movement sees "cultural diversity" as a way of shoring up the huge decline in union membership over recent years, recent arrivals being easier to recruit to union membership.

The business sector sees "cultural diversity" as a way of growing markets without having to compete offshore and as a source of cheap labour.

During the Howard years, both benefitted from mass immigration. Now only the ACTU will benefit.

So, immigration will get cut back I'd say.


Eliot, the Refugee Convention is administered by nation-states under their own laws and procedures. A treaty binds parties to to it according to its terms, as per the Vienna Convention on the law of treaties, and common sense. All the document is saying is that there is only a protection obligation for onshore applicants, as per the terms of the Refugee Convention, and that no external authority can create such an obligation on Australia for offshore applicants.

We can and did choose to allow unauthorised arrivals to make applications for a protection visa. Even at his worst Howard never repealed this law, he simply tinkered around the edges to no meaningful effect.

There is no body in the world which could confer "International legal status of a refugee" on a person. Perhaps the document meant to refer to UNHCR refugee status determinations but these don't confer any legal status or purport to compell a country to surrender the administration of its borders to an external entity. You've picked up on the most badly worded and perplexing portion of that document, and come up with a rather excessive ultra-nationalistic conclusion, which would essentially do away with any concept of international law whatsoever. Maybe you should focus on the blissfully simple phrase "protection obligations". It's in our very own, true blue, Howard and Ruddock approved Migration Act. To whom Australia owes protection obligations.

Repeat a dozen times over until it feels like falun dafa and you start to feel the Chinese spying on you from behind their newspapers. Then you'll fit in better and we won't have to deport you on character grounds. And don't tell me you're an Australian citizen because that scarcely makes a difference anymore.

Ian, did I read correctly that you puport to speak for the majority of Australians? And Roger, did you actually use the phrase "the national will"? 

Jenny, Population explosion? I'm starting to think it might be better if I ever become a registered migration agent to specialise in spouse visas - romance. I'm starting to feel sorry for these poor maligned tourists who fall in love and want to marry across a border. They should be able to. Unlike many here I don't feel any particular temptation to be judgemental about the desires of one person out of sympathy for another. Yes what these people ask may seem trivial in comparison to the next caller, who informs you their family has been murdered, but I tend to think joyful stories necessary to keep us focused on the final outcomes.

You've got to have a win sometime.

Solomon, "Ian, did I read correctly that you puport to speak for the majority of Australians?"

Well, I can't represent them on everything, but given that neither major party wants to commit political suicide by urging them to abandon border controls, I'd say that on that point, I do.

You've got to have a win sometime.

Thank you Graham

It's amazing how the rednecks and ignoramuses forget that last bit.    Our law also states "to apply for a protection visa a person must be in Australia."



Irrespective of their international legal status as refugees

Solomon Wakeling: "The Refugee convention is a multilateral treaty - we signed and ratified it. We gave up certain rights, just as an individual my bind themselves when they sign a contract. In signing this treaty, we bound ourselves not to refoule refugees. We did this, in part, to encourage others to do the same."

But the report, as Marilyn has correctly pointed out, says:

"As a sovereign nation, Australia is free to offer protection to whoever it chooses, irrespective of their international legal status as refugees."

See? Irrespective of their international legal status as refugees.

Signing a treaty doesn't put limits on national sovreignty. And our "purpose" in signing it is beside the point.

As the report says, Australia can offer protection to "whoever it chooses, irrespective of their international legal status as refugees."

D Markham: "What that statement is saying is that we can call someone a refugee even if they don't fit in with the internationally accepted definition."

No it doesn't. Read it.  It says: "Australia is free to offer protection to whoever it chooses, irrespective of their international legal status as refugees."

Do you see?

It says "to whoever it chooses, irrespective of their international legal status as refugees.'

We decide. When we what. And whoever we choose. I mean, how more straight forward does it have to be?

Thaks to Marilyn for pointing that out. Well done.

Forget a bit?

As only part of a paragraph is being repeatedly quoted, perhaps it is time to post what follows:

Where people come to Australia and seek asylum upon or after arrival, however, it is a different story.  Claims for refugee status must be determined, and recognised refugees must be afforded some kind of protection.[2]


Forced return of Karens to Burma

Ian, Also note this report from Human Rights Watch protesting against the forced return of Karens to Burma by Thailand. If we abandoned the principle of non-refoulement by dropping the Refugee Convention, how could we possible argue against Thailand doing the same? I hate to reduce our human rights obligations down to their propaganda value, but consider the consequences, the message it sends. Without the influence of international refugee law and the principle of non-refoulement, there wouldn't be Karens in Thailand. They would be in mass graves in Burma.

Significantly the article argues that non-refoulement forms a part of customary international law and so binds Thailand even though they have not signed the convention. This is debateable but it shows how strongly the principle is held and how difficult and implausible it would be to back out of it. If we're talking about political reality, you ought to get a better conception of it. The right to seek asylum forms part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I read it for the first time this year and almost burst into tears.

The reason we would take Karens from Thailand as part of our offshore program would be to prevent their forced return to Burma. They are not in danger of persecution in Thailand (otherwise why flee to Thailand?) and so the obligations under the convention have technically been discharged, so long as they are not returned. They face an uncertain fate and so it is a good thing that we bring them here, however they are in a different and arguably less dire situation than someone hot out of the Middle-East.

The moral question is also different in that the Karens are not within our jurisdiction and so there would be no direct complicity in an act of forced return, should we decline to exercise our jurisdiction and grant them asylum. We wouldn't have to ask Australian citizens, border officials, to forcibly and physically return human beings to their deaths. We wouldn't have to force Australian citizens, Australian taxpayers, to put human beings on a plane and send them to their deaths. We wouldn't have to force Australian citizens to handcuff, sedate, whatever it takes, and send people to their deaths.

Once refugees have come within our care that is it. It's over. They win, they can stay. I'm sorry. It's over.

Perhaps my favourite line from the Qur'an:

"The dwellers of hell will wrangle among themselves."

International status

Eliot Ramsey, I think your interpretation of the sentence you have quoted (9 Oct 8.56) misses the point completely.  What that statement is saying is that we can call someone a refugee even if they don't fit in with the internationally accepted definition.  It's an add on to our international obligations, not an alternative.

No Alan,

In 1954 we ratified a treaty co-written by Bob Menzies guaranteeing we would treat refugees in our territory under the rules we agreed on. We don't do that even though it is enshrined in our laws.

First the verdict, then the trial

Roger, your statements about the Refugee Convention are incorrect as a question of law, as Marilyn has painstakingly demonstrated. It stipulates that any person may enter into our territory, by any means, and make an application for asylum. It is an open border system for refugees. The principal obligation is not to return these people to a country where they face a real risk of persecution, as the UNHCR states plainly. You are confusing unilateral domestic policy pronouncements and intakes set by the government - to which they are accountable to no-one but the Australian public - with our actual obligations under international law.

I recommend this piece by James Hathaway as a well-written summary. He is critical of the absolutism of refugee advocates, so it is not just open slather. Ian at least accurately reflects the alternative when he suggests we quit the Refugee Convention. Whether this is permissible under international law is doubtful, as it would be like North Korea's attempt to back out of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was met with much booing and hissing. We could probably get away with it, but not without consequences. We would lose the benefit of reciprocal arrangements with other countries. It is difficult to predict the effect this would have, both to our relations with other countries and human life.

In the past the cumulative effect of tight border controls across the world exacerbated the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the primary motivation for the creation of an open border system in the Refugee Convention, at a time when the world was impoverished by war. The people who drafted these instruments knew what they were doing. I find it hard to accept that the rule of law is a "cause", or that it is unaffordable. It is simply business as usual. We've been living with this for decades and it's working.

The problems you discuss in Cambodia are of deep concern and you are right to be moved by it. They are different from that posed by the refugee situation but they are not of more or less worth. I thought this was self-evident. The kinds of persecution that refugees - and, yes, boat arrivals - suffer is genuinely of the same gravity. If they are not bona fide then we return them, after examing the merits of their claim. Due process of law.

Worth reading the US State Department report for an overall picture in Cambodia. Ostensibly such actions are prohibited by Cambodian law but steps need to be taken to strengthen the rule of law in that country.

The Refugee Convention provides strong protection for limited classes of individuals. If you are persecuted for a reason which is not a convention reason (i.e. race, religion, political opinion, etc), you're in bad spot. There is an argument for expanding our conception of human rights, and there are many other international instruments for doing so. The solution isn't to scapegoat a class of deserving people simply for exercising the right we elected to give them. I'm sorry: find another way to save the purse-strings. Fundamental human rights need to be an immoveable object.

Eliot, as a sovereign nation we also have the right to enter into binding agreements. The Refugee convention is a multilateral treaty - we signed and ratified it. We gave up certain rights, just as an individual my bind themselves when they sign a contract. In signing this treaty, we bound ourselves not to refoule refugees. We did this, in part, to encourage others to do the same.

China does no such thing. When North Koreans flee for their lives they are returned to North Korea. Many of them have contact with Christian missionaries and are targeted because of this. They are tortured and killed. We could do the same to the so-called queue-jumpers. They would be tortured and killed. This is what I am being asked to support. I'm sorry. I can't do it.

Not my intention

Solomon, I have not been making a case on a point of law even though it may appear that I have. I have made some references to the Refugee Convention as part of a general description of my opinions on this matter.

I see that you have an absolute position which you state as "Fundamental human rights need to be an immoveable object".  Well certainly we could be hard-pressed to argue against that position except that no law is binding forever. The law, as a body, evolves. In some cases it evolves to meet selfish national interest.

If  you and I accept that we live in a sovereign nation then it is patently clear that sovereign interests will remain paramount and will supplant or push aside  other interests, laws and conventions. As a signatory nation to many international conventions, I don't believe that we have ever deliberately  surrendered sovereignty in perpetuity to an international jusrisdiction even though it may appear that we did. That international courts and tribunals function at all is a consequence of geo-political considerations.

Every sovereign nation on this earth reserves for itself the right to repudiate any agreement that it has signed. Foreign political pressure is what keeps us in and domestic political pressure is what takes us out. Relying on an absolutist legal position, as you do, will get you short shrift in the corridors of power irrespective of how righteous a cause.

As I understand it, there is little political will or popular support that will ease the circumstances of those who come here in boats. If there is a battle to be one it is firstly and lastly a political one. The Refugee Convention is being and will be flouted because that is what Australians indicate that they will accept and the Government is happy to oblige them.

From the report...

Marilyn Shepherd: "It is as deluded as saying we must only do what we want while ignoring what we have to do because we promised the world we would."

From the report...

"As a sovereign nation, Australia is free to offer protection to whoever it chooses, irrespective of their international legal status as refugees."

Doesn't that imply some process of refugee screening? In which case, people smuggling is a breach of our national sovereignty.

Like, so there's a queue. And the refugee smugglers are 'jumping' it.



From a 2000 report

The Refugee and Humanitarian Program
1.1               The aim of the Refugee and Humanitarian program is to assist in alleviating the plight of refugees and others in humanitarian need in accordance with Australia’s international obligations.  The program seeks:

·             to resettle refugees and others in humanitarian need who are outside Australia - the offshore component; and

·             provide asylum for people in Australia who engage Australia’s international protection obligations - the onshore component.

1.2               It should be noted that whereas Australia is required by its international obligations to provide protection to persons who are actually within the country and meet the various criteria, of a refugee,[1] Australia is under no such obligation to provide protection to people who are living overseas:

The duties imposed by the Refugee Convention are of little consequence in the context of Australia’s selection of people overseas for inclusion in its refugee and special humanitarian program.  As a sovereign nation, Australia is free to offer protection to whoever it chooses, irrespective of their international legal status as refugees.  Where people come to Australia and seek asylum upon or after arrival, however, it is a different story.  Claims for refugee status must be determined, and recognised refugees must be afforded some kind of protection.[2]
Offshore Humanitarian Resettlement Program
1.3               As stated above, the objective of the Offshore Humanitarian Resettlement Program is to ‘resettle refugees and others in humanitarian need who are outside Australia’.[3]  The Program comprises the following categories:

·             Refugees - that is, people who are ‘subject to persecution’ and who have been identified, in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as requiring resettlement (this category includes the Woman at Risk Program);

·             Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) - that is, those people who have ‘suffered discrimination amounting to gross violation of human rights, and who have strong support from an Australian citizen or resident or community group in Australia’; and

[1]          In particular, Article 33 of the Refugee Convention, the obligation of non-refoulement, that prohibits State Parties from returning or refouling refugees to a country where they face persecution on any of the five grounds set out in the Convention definition of ‘refugee’ in A1

[2]          Dr Mary crock, Immigration and Refugee Law in Australia, Federation Press, 1998, p. 123.  See also Transcript of evidence, Senator McKiernan, p. 248

[3]          Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, 1998-99 Annual Report, p. 78

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