Repeating the mistakes of the past – more people forced to Nauru

After a ridiculous wait of nearly a month, dithering and chewing up many thousands of taxpayers dollars, the federal government has finally announced they will be sending over 80 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to be ‘processed’ on Nauru. This has of course been done before, and we know what happened.

It took up to 5 years for some cases to be finalised, with many people still in a state of anxiety and uncertainty on temporary visas, remaining forcibly separated from their immediate families after a minimum of 6 years and often much longer. The process of deliberately enforced isolation, lack of support and continuing pressure on people to return from where they fled caused immense harm to many people, including many seriously traumatised children. Many people were pressured into going back and had to flee once again. The decision making process was shoddy and unaccountable to say the least. The extra cost of the Australian was tens of millions of dollars. The message sent to Pacific Island nations is that international civil, legal and humanitarian obligations are optional and can be ignored when it is politically advantageous, and it is OK for countries to co-operate in this if a wealthier nation is willing to pay them to do it.

The practice of removing asylum claims outside the rule of law also played a key role in developing what the federal government admitted were major ‘cultural problems’ within the Immigration Department, which are supposedly being fixed at the cost of tens of millions of dollars.

Knowing what we know now about the costs and consequences of such an approach, our federal government is doing it all again. There’s not much point having a government with ‘experience’, if they won’t learn from it.

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17 Comments

  1. The Australian record on Human Rights is horrifying. Whether it is the present incumbents or the previous ones in Canberra it appears to make little difference. There is “No Room At The Inn” unless you have political approval. Perhaps that play, with words by Dylan Thomas, should be revived. It would reveal the mean, narrow minded, self interest of the “authorities.”
    The Pinochet case started a new era. Perhaps we can continue that…

  2. OK so – so what should they do?

    Unfortunately the “experiecne” has been positive poltically across the board, so its hardly surprising they are doing it agian. Let me say at the riskl of furtehr copping a lashing fom others (read hard M), not my view.

  3. Andrews is even more of a cretin that Vanstone. He claimed that the people should have applied in Sri Lanka or Indonesia so let’s look at that shall we.

    “A refugee is a person outside of his own country with a well-founded fear of persecution and is unable or unwilling to go home because of that fear”. That excludes Sri Lanka.

    The Indonesian’s have not signed the refugee convention and made it very clear they would immediately deport the refugees to Sri Lanka where they would face persecution or torture or death. It seems one yound man saw 5 members of his family being slaughtered and another has shrapnel in his head. Guess Sri Lanka is out of the question then.

    So then Andrews said the IOM, a branch of the UNHCR, would do the processing. Except the IOM has nothing at all to do with the UNHCR and are mercenaries we have paid more than $300 million to so they can break their own charter which is against detention.

    The Australian law simply says that anyone has the right to seek protection from persecution and must be IN AUSTRALIA TO DO SO.

    I wonder which part of Australia Nauru belongs to.

    For the rest of it – Nauru was exposed by Kate Durham as a torture chamber years ago, so we are deliberately choosing torture over the law. Bit like Gitmo really.

  4. No matter what our perspective, there’s no excuse for leaving people in limbo for greatly extended periods of time.

    I’d love to know what the major “cultural problems” within the Immigration Department are deemed to be.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the staff being constantly browbeaten by the same pushy people who refuse to wait their turn.

    It seems to me that governments are very slow to learn anything from their own mistakes, or the mistakes of others, until it is almost too late to learn anything.

    Our continual mimicry of the USA across a range of issues is a case in point.

  5. Ken – I think what they should do with this group of people is to process them promptly in Australia. This would be cheaper, quicker and fairer.

    I don’t believe this approach would be likely to lead to a large increase in boat arrivals. It seems very likely that vessels can usually be stopped in Indonesia when the authorities there (who usually work in conjunction with Australian officials) choose to do so. If we were to do better at offering a real prospect of an secure outcome for the many asylum seekers in south-east Asian countries (as has happened intermittently) it would remove most of the incentive for risking their lives in a boat.

  6. Andrew

    I think it might be a political point-scoring decision. They’re attempting to rope back the supporters they lost through their IR legislation.

    They know who to manipulate and how.

  7. ken – since everyone else has had their two bob’s worth….

    I appreciate the point that you are making about the political pragmatics of governments playing to their constituencies, but I reckon the alternative is the now quaint notion that governments could provide leadership.

    As a society we elect governments to do important things that are beyond the scope and the ken of the average citizen. On the other hand, as a society we tend to vote out governments that move societal change along too rapidly eg Whitlam and arguably Keating.

    So to some extent we place our governments between a rock and a hard place. We expect them to make difficult decisions on our behalf without making us feel uncomfortable.

    Nonetheless I’d expect any federal or state government worth it’s salt to risk trying to lead society on matters of principle, and in particular matters affecting those who are powerless and in desperate need. While that may nowadays be little more than a fond memory, I still have enough optimism to think that we should continue to urge our political ‘leaders’ to provide leadership, rather than to present base appeals to the lowest common denominator.

  8. I’m with Andrew on this one. Even if you are going to lock them up while processing, you could at the very least do it cheaply (not in Nauru) and do a good job in the first place. The government is wasting taxpayers money on this and making us look morally bankrupt.

  9. Its interesting to look back on this web site.
    even look one below.
    All these comments and all these people concerned about new arrivals here and women over thhere.
    It would not be hard for one to loose the sight of Australia- I mean lets face it most is involving overseas affairs anyway.
    What a bunch of hypicits we are. My God not one! comment on our own people . Housing for these people is dreadful yet you all go on about humane right for people either overeas or wanting to come to Australia.
    Open your eyes Australia and Marylin I am sick of hearing about helping people in other countries.
    Why dont you people look after our own FIRST?
    Its beyond the PALE to treat our own in such a discusting manner .
    Wakeup! they have lived like this long enough.
    NO MORE ANYBODY!~ COMING TO AUSTRALIA I SAY UNTIL OUR OWN!! ARE TAKEN CARE OF

  10. Wendy, get a grip girl. When the question is about the treatment of Sri Lankan refugees what on earth would be the point in talking about live exports or disability or Australians?

    The problem with this place is that the majority are so damn selfish and cruel they cannot see the forest for the trees.

    I still refuse to put the plight of animals who are going to be killed and eaten anyway above the rights of young men to a safe and secure life and not a life of torture and imprisonment on a bird poo island.

  11. Years ago Ruddock visited Christmas Island. During his visit he inspected a block of old units in an area called Poon Saan. It was pointed out to him that if the Commonwealth wished to use these units to temporarilly accommodate refugees that the railing on the top floor verandahs would have to be repaired and made safe. His reply was astonishing. “They can clip their belts on the railings and swing from them” This showed his and the goverments true colours on the issue. It has never been about protecting Australia from “queue jumpers” Its about cruel dishounarable and deceitfull individuals wanting to get their way. They have brought great shame to this wonderfull Country. The line has been abundantly crossed and the Australian people will shortly speak.

  12. People Against Live Exports: You obviously haven’t read enough of this blog, which has covered many issues affecting people who live in Australia.

    And can I ask how well off do Australian have to be before you’ll consider helping someone from another country? You really need a target; otherwise you’ll never help anyone else.

  13. I think the facility on Nauru is there for a good reason. It’s a pity no one will let us in on the government’s real strategy.

    I don’t think political point-scoring (using the refugee issue) has a snowball’s chance in hell of negating people’s outraged reactions to industrial relations abuses.

    Also, the tie-in with foreign workers (non-refugees) accepting 50% less pay is not going to help Howard.

    We’re talking about our own bread and butter, aren’t we?

  14. Feral – I agree with those sentiments. The other thing governments and people need to do is recognise that recognise there are not single imperatives for action.

    This is also extremely difficult becasue of the adversarial nature of politics – in the past the Democrats almost filled this role.

    This issue is an exmaple where there is room for an understadnig of competing objectives and a genuine need tot ry to find an acceptalbe outcemom that can satisfy both. Unfortuantely the debate is almost alwasy so extrmee (as evidcned on this blog) that any other viwe from either party is treaetd with disdain.

  15. “The other thing governments and people need to do is recognise that recognise there are not single imperatives for action.”

    ken- I think that is a very important point. I think too that arguments for and against a contentious issue often come down to a value judgement about the primacy of one imperative over another.

    Individuals tend to take stances on the basis of what they feel are the most urgent issue. And that seems to be determined by fear, anxiety or personal predilection as much as logic or philosophical approach.

    That said, I don’t think that this is an issue where the competing objectives are finely balanced (that’s my value judgement). The security and quarantine issues are nothing new, and can be dealt with by existing protocols; and the number of asylum seekers is trivial WRT the overall migrant intake, so there is no major resourcing issue that I can see.

    As for organised people-smuggling, there’s too little reliable information available to conclude much. If it does exist, surely that indicates the inadequacies of the official refugee networks. And if the govt was serious in its concerns about asylum seeker safety, I’d have thought it would be establishing programmes to assist refugees to move out of dangerous areas, rather than incarcerating them when they arrive in Australia.

  16. Feral, there is a thing called organised people trafficking but that has nothing at all to do with refugees and never did. Traffickers are the scum of the earth who mainly operate out of Europe to sell young girls from the former Eastern bloc or in Asia to traffic little girls into Australia and other western nations as sex slaves. About 1,000 each year are brought to Australia and all we do when they are “caught” or get too old is lock them up before we deport them.

    The parents of Phoungthang Simaplee who died in Villawood are suing the government for the wrongful death by negligence identified by the coroner. Actually 13 people have died in those centres.

    AS for people smuggling – people have to be smuggled out of their places of origin as a matter of survival but from then on refugees have a right in law to travel anywhere without documents so long as they turn themselves in promptly on arrival at a refugee convention country.

    Simple really. Yet our government insists on conflating the two things such that Schindler would be a smuggler and locked up, the Egyptian donkey seller, and those who saved Jews from gas chambers would be called smugglers by these cretins.

    Of course we only punish the refugees.

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