Time to remove mandatory sentencing of ‘people smugglers’

The groups of people who have suffered most from Australia’s long-standing absurdly politicised, disproportionate and irrational debate around asylum seekers are the asylum seekers themselves. But another group who have been subjected to disproportionate and unjustified punishment who get very little attention are the hundreds of impoverished Indonesian fishermen who are subjected to mandatory jail sentences for participating in transporting asylum seekers to Australia.

Of course, if we just disguise the reality by labeling all these people with the highly pejorative term ‘people smuggler’, it tends to automatically lead us not to care what happens to these people (and their families), even if by some accident we happen to find out.

So it was positive and pleasing to see a reasonably in-depth story by Christine Jackman in The Australian this weekend – yes, I can praise that newspaper when it does something good – showing not just the excessive suffering caused to these Indonesians who live in poverty few of us have experienced, but the pointlessness of these excessive and unjustified prison sentences as some sort of deterrent.

I was in the Parliament when the laws were passed which introduced mandatory minimum three year jail terms for anyone convicted of being involved in people smuggling – which is defined to ensure it catches all crew on a boat or organising a voyage, even if they receive no direct financial benefit themselves (as has occurred with someone charged who was trying to assist relatives who were refugees).

This wasn’t that long after there had been debates about the almost inevitable injustices which can occur when Parliaments insist on mandatory sentencing, regardless of circumstance, due to outrageous injustices being inflicted on mostly young Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, who due to a US-style ‘three strikes and you’re out’ mandatory sentencing law, had seen young kids jailed for nicking a few pencils.

Yet the federal Parliament passed these laws targeted at ‘people smugglers’ with mandatory three year minimum sentences with barely a blink. This happened in part because there was lots of the usual hairy chested bellowing about hitting the ‘Mr Bigs’ – I think some federal MP’s quite enjoyed a chance to jump on the law and order bandwagon that many of their state colleagues like to be part of – and also because the assumed targets/victims of the laws weren’t Australian, so no one was likely to get too upset about it.

But even such concerns as were raised were slapped with the sort of “who-could-defend-people-smugglers” rhetoric than, somewhat oddly Kevin Rudd decided to take to new depths with his “they should rot in jail – and hell” comment (which is quite aptly referenced in the piece in The Australian).

I am not suggesting that all crew members involved in transporting asylum seekers to Australia should be able to avoid any potential charge or penalty regardless of the circumstances. But I do believe enforcing mandatory jail terms is both unjust, and as the article in The Australian makes clear, also a very expensive and futile way  to try to deal with the issue of asylum seekers trying to get to Australia.

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113 Comments

  1. wandering my last reply was not allowed mite have been a bit too much
    so i think its not that dear to get a slippery slide sent over if you feel so strongly about the lack of a swing and a slide here is your chance to do something about it . myself i think its more important to give them a safe place to sleep and some food to eat .

    I am at present in Melbourne and unable to trot over and “prove” anything to anyone …

    question have you ever been there .

  2. That part of of my previous post which referred to “the relatively small number [of refugees] who have been able to pay people smugglers to take them to Australian waters” could have been taken as callous indifference to the plight of people, many of whom have faced personal tragedy more extreme than the vast majority of citizens of this country are likely to ever experience, so I regret having written those words and apologise for any offense they may have caused.

    Nevertheless, the fact remains that unscrupulous vested interests have since, at least 2001, effectively exploited that issue to divert the attention of the Australian public away from the collusion of the Australian Governments of both parties to inflict harm against tens of millions of people in other parts of the world. This includes:

    * The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 justified by the terrorist attack of 11/9/2001, blamed, without evidence, on Islamist extremists based in Afghanistan.
    * The 2003 invasion of Iraq referred to above.

    The Government of John Howard, was able to which inflict this harm on the world because it won at least two elections that it should have lost by landslides: 2001 and 2004.

    In 2011, the Australian Government is similarly fanning the flames of yet more terrible wars in Libya and Syria. The fact that so much of the front page news coverage has again been given over to the question of asylum seekers is strong evidence to me that the issue is being exploited to draw the attention of the public away from the wars in Libya and Syria.

  3. Red Crab – your ignorance of the developmental needs of children, particularly traumatised children from traumatised families, is breathtaking. That said, you are not in the position of the Minister for Immigration, who is in charge of the fate of these children, so you are lucky you won’t be held responsible, like Ruddock and Howard should be, for the damage done to human beings who did them no wrong and committed no crimes in arriving here in search of safety.

  4. your ignorance of the developmental needs of children,
    there you go again judging someone you have never met and dont know
    and whats so different between what the gillard govt is doing now to that of the howard govt nothing !!!!
    its easy to sit in some leafy sub of melb and criticize .
    its easy to believe what the media and the govt tell you
    its easy to take the high moral ground in a debate

    only a fool would not belive that the govts agenda is to populate australia as fast as they can now because they think it is the way to go
    they also realize that when the govt is changed and that is not far off that will be re looked at

    and a good politition would make as much noise about a few boat ppl as they could to take the focus off whats really happening .
    howard did the same thing nothing has changed
    .
    am i the only person here that can see that.

    your ignorance of the developmental needs of children,
    you sound like some 20yr old just out of a tafe course that has no life experience at all trying to tell some one who has raised several successful children they don’t know what there doing .
    instead of crystallizing mabe it would be better to try to change my point of veiw its been done before here by others
    but then thats not as easy as crystallizing and calling someone ignorant or other words when you have nothing to add to the debate

    prove to me that there is one child under 16 on christmas island that is behind razor wire
    show me one country in the world that if i go there i would not be subject to the laws of the land
    detaining people smugglers or those that are involved is the law of this land untill its changed

    if you really haven’t realized that the govts new solution is nothing more than smoke screen that they know had no chance of success in the beginning only a fool would not think that the ppl smugglers would not send a boat full of children to test the govt and a bigger fool would think the govt didnot know this .
    ..

  5. red cra b – I don’t know who you are arguign with, it is not me. I’m not in a leafy suburb of Melbourne, I’m trying to keep the dairy farm going while my brother-in-law is being treated in geelong hospital for massive organ failures due to some mysterious disease, and wondering if I’ll be next. If you have raised kids I’d have thought you woudl know they need to be able to play. I am not saying that Gillard is any better in this respect than Howard – you need to try to get a grip on what people actually say. Keep on wittering to yourself, mate, nobody else is listening.

  6. wondering
    hope it gos well for your brother-in-law
    im not arguing with you just making a point .
    and yes i know about raising kids my son was on the cliffs when the boat crashed and watched 50 ppl mostly women and kids drowned not being able to save them .
    iv just returned from brisbane visiting a friend who had some of his organs removed from cancer just to find out he still has the cancer
    on top of that while i was there my sister inlaws shop was burnt down just after getting it back up after it was flooded .

    now im back home a long way from where i could do more to help

    so i know how you feel and understand .

    small point if i may its not the first time in this countrys recent history that unaccompanied children have been sent here
    and i am prity shaw that the children that are here now are being treated far better than those that were sent here in the past .

    and i think that any one who organizes or assists in placing children in that situation should be gaoled no mater what part they played .

  7. the inquest into the boat tragerty starts today bet there will be some interesting statements from the locals ..

  8. seems to me the govt only wants to see how far they can bend over for the greens

    the greens want to save all the refugees but at the same time reduce the population now there’s a good trick if they could do it .

  9. Let’s not go there, Red Crab. There are many methods of Population Control which have nothing to do with refugees.

  10. so far since the Malaysian solution we are going to process the 500 or so that have come since its renouncement we have also agreed to give the un 400million dollars to look after the welfare of the 800 we send while they are in Malaysia.
    on top of that we are accepting 4000 genuine refugees to come to Australia at our cost to i would bet .
    so i think in the eyes of current and possibly future ppl smugglers we look like a big joke . or a country of fools .
    now lets not make the smugglers subject to our laws give them a few dollars and send them home .

    really!!!! the tree stooges could do a better job at least they would be funny.

  11. Red Crab:

    I think the asylum seekers who have been arriving in recent months are probably mostly those who got out of Afghanistan before Labor signed an immigration agreement with their government in January 2011.

    I still think the DLP’s 2-for-1 trade with refugees who have been sitting in UN camps on the Thai/Burma border beats any ideas that Labor has put forward.

    Lots of people are complaining that Labor’s 5-for-1 policy entails too high an exchange rate, mainly due to long term neglect of homelessness and poverty within our own nation.

    Australians are also angry when they see foreign workers being used in a Slave Labor Trade that negatively impacts everyone.

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