The Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, has written an extraordinary piece for The Australian newspaper (which unfortunately does not appear to be online). Amazingly, after starting off saying “there needs to be increased understanding of our protection visa obligations,” she then goes on to say that “it is the Government’s strong preference that protection is not offered in Australia to Papuan separatists” – a statement which is a blatant contradiction of the provisions of the Refugee Convention, and therefore of the Migration Act which the Minister is supposed to be overseeing.
The notion that countries can pick and choose who they provide protection to on the basis of the refugee’s political beliefs runs completely counter to Refugee Convention, which depends on establishing a fear of persecution, not assessing the acceptability of their political views. If every other nation adopted the same attitude, the entire global system of protecting refugees would be at risk of collapse.
It is also hard to see how the remaining West Papuan on Christmas Island – or any future asylum seekers – can expect a fair decision from the Department when the Minister is giving such specific, public directions.
In an amazing act of historical whitewashing, the Minister also says that “so-called Papuan nationalism in Indonesia is based on nothing more than hostility to people from other parts of Indonesia.” She also says it is “racist sentiment” and “a toxic cause that could, if encouraged, result in chaos, death and suffering on Australia’s doorstep.”
In seems that truth is little more than incidental these days. I don’t think it is so much calculated and deliberate lies, but rather that statements are made based on what is convenient for the moment and there is no concern about whether it corresponds with the truth or not.
The opening sentences of this ill-informed, irresponsible, inflammatory and aggressive article provides probably the most amazing combination of shameless, brazen irony and up-your-nose arrogance I have seen (so far) from this government.
“The controversy surrounding the Papuan asylum-seeker issue shows yet again how a flurry of ill-informed and irresponsible commentary can obscure important issues. It seems inflammatory and aggressive commentary will always push cautious, reasoned and balanced argument out of the public space. The verbal sabre-rattling should be left to undergraduates and commentators who skim the issue du jour.”
The Immigration Minister has an enormous range of discretionary powers under the Migration Act. In many instances, the way these discretionary powers are used (or not used) cannot be appealed against in any way. One can only hope that no one from West Papua ends up having to rely on Minister Vanstone’s discretion.