Friday, June 17, 2005

Compromise on detention policy reached - National -


A political compromise that goes someway forward towards mitigating the problems of Australia's extrodinarily harsh policy of detention but nevertheless still has someways to go. The same would really apply for any nation which uses a mandatory policy of detention as a manner of response to illegal immigration.

The background to this issue can be found me in my earlier post. This particular compromise is good in three particular areas:
1. Families will be released from detention. So no more children born and growing up in one of those detention centres. Children will de detained only as a last resort.

2. Greater power and flexibility given to the Immigration Minister who will now have the ability to grant visas and change the status of such detainees.

3. There will be a time limit of 3 months for which a primary decision must be made on a person's detention.

However, problems still remain, not least which is the mandatory detention scheme. In my earlier post, it was pointed out that Australia, as a signatory (and ratifier) of the Refugee Convention amongst other treaties had bound itself to acknowledge the right of every person to seek asylum and to protect such persons while an application is made. These laws were support to prohibit the use of such a blanket policy but obviously to no avail. The principle behind this is that such immigrants might be subject to various abuses in their country of origin which makes it impossible for them to seek legal avenues to get to their host nation.

But beyond this, there is also the entire matter of accountability and check and balances (judicial or otherwise) which has yet to be implemented. So for example, even though there is a time limit of 3 months for a primary decision, there really is no bite if the time limit is breached, "other than the requirement that regular reports be tabled in parliament detailing cases that haven't met those time limits" to quote Mr. Howard. And furthermore, it is only when detention is more than 2 years beyond there is a trigger whereby the Immigration Department must report it to the ombudsman who would then make recommendations back to the Department. Note, RECOMMENDATIONS, they are not binding, again to quote Mr. Howard. So really, it does feel like a soft policy without teeth.

However, to be fair to Mr. Howard, if we can take him at his word that there is fundamentally a very strong parliamentary and societal support for the original policy, then his submission to what a MP has called 'political terrorism' and aceeding to what might in turn be seen as a softening of a successful policy which prevents illegal immigrants, would be a blow to his political fortunes. In which case, assuming that he is being honourable in his intentions, this 'soft' policy would nevertheless work assuming that (and this is a big IF) the people in parliament raise a sufficient ruccuss everytime the Refugee Review Tribunal gives its report.

And it is entirely possible that there would not be such a need in the first place. But I seriously have have my doubts seeing that the purpose of this mandatory detention scheme is to scare people away and keep them from entering society (or to deport them).


At 7:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seriously doubt that it'll be any blow to the PM's political fortunes. In fact, it just makes him look good, i.e. he's willing to negotiate, blah blah blah. The accusation of political terrorism is just so much hyperbolic baloney. It would really make him look bad, however, if the private member's bill is tabled in Parliament.

The thing is, everytime immigration issues are involved, they always invoke the "we have community support" trump card.

See, for example, the issue of guest worker visas for unskilled Pacific Islanders, who suffer unemployment back home and who are sometimes employed (by other means, e.g. training visas) by Aussie farmers for farm work. They claim it's enough to have the holidaymaker visa (which allows backpackers to work), and that they are acting in the interest of the community. But it's not like the farmers don't want these workers, as they would be of a more reliable source of labour than backpackers.

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

Good point, John Howard is a very canny politician.

What I am curious is the extent to which this community support exists.

At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want a flippant point of view, it's the same when academics use the phrase "it is well known", i.e. there are a few obscure papers which mentioned 'it' that are known to experts whose main interests are issues surrounding 'it'. Thus, "community support" translates to "we ALL agree about this in the party room", IMHO. :)

More seriously, however, there has to be some level of community support for this kind of policy, otherwise John Howard, being the canny politican that he is, won't sell it. Certainly, some Aussies may be uneasy about migrants and migrant workers, given that there is still unemployment in Australia. There are symptoms of it in Sunny Island, too, and this is natural, I would think. And I would hesitate to label it "racism", since there are also jibes aimed at Britons ("poms"), for example. It's more the "us vs. them" mentality, which is more primal than just racism.

So, to what extent? Clearly, there must be some support in the party room, at the least. :) Then, there's probably a population that's suffering from a hangover of the "White Australia" policy. However, you can also see that there are pragmatic and/or compassionate people who would want to see the govt take a more flexible approach to immigration. And there are activists on these issues as well.

To end on a more geographical note: I think you may have to factor in the problems that Australia faces, in that it is the driest continent and a large portion of its economy is in the primary industries. Climate change is a visible issue here, and farmers have just successfully requested for drought relief from the federal govt. It seems natural to me, then, that immigration policy would have to be more restrictive in order to not place too much stress on resources, and water resources are behind almost everything that is needed to support modern human life.


At 5:47 AM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

I like the geographic take on it seeing particular as how the SMH is declaring that most Australians are looking at something around a $80 increase in their water and sewerage cost.

It's just that something that Bjorn Lomborg wrote in his book that strikes me. Considering that Australia is an entire continent and the federal govt has total control over it, I would have thought that there would be move towards water conservation AS WELL AS say desalination. Furthermore, the outback seems to be the perfect place to build solar-cell plants or nuclear reactors

At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is some token form of water conservation measures, token in that you'd never notice it (try noticing it when you come here :).

As for all the wonderful technologies you've mentioned, well, guess what, opposition exists for each one.

Desalinization garners some opposition for the unknown effects it'll have on marine ecology, plus some naysayers saying it won't be enough.

Solar-cell plants? I'm not sure about the state of the art there, but even given that it is efficient, Queensland has a coal industry to protect.

And let's not even talk about nuclear reactors: uranium mining already gets a bad press in SA.

BTW, the Outback is not Boon Lay, as I've tried to remind you. It is land, and part of it is still Aboriginal. It's not that easy to designate a piece of land to build a nuclear reactor, when local and even State authorities can block Federal actions. See, for example, SA's triumph in not letting the federal govt build a nuclear dump in the state's outback.

Finally, back to water resources, which also underlie power production. One of the major rivers, the Murray, is drying up through lack of input and massive output (to irrigators upstream, for example, in Queensland). The federal govt took ages to finally agree to inject some water back into the Murray, and even that was not enough (relative to recommendations from scientific studies). So how much longer do you think that govt will take to implement some of the wonderful technology on your list?



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