The Bill of Horror

Convention mapAs well as the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas, which leave refugees in constant statelessness and fear of being returned to persecution, the Australian Minister for Immigration is proposing changes to the Migration Act which are utterly alarming.  The ‘Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014’ removes references to the UN Refugee Convention to allow Australia’s domestic law to ignore Australia’s obligations under international law. It also removes the ability of the High Court to challenge refugee and asylum seeker policy and operations.

The bill exempts vessels involved in Operation Sovereign Borders from the appropriate maritime laws. There will be nothing to stop fuel, food, water and safety devices from being removed from intercepted boats. The Government will have the power to send boats or individuals anywhere it chooses.  The bill removes the need for Australia to have a Memorandum of Understanding in place, or for the country to be a signatory to the Refugee Convention.  The bill will allow boats to be towed outside of Australian waters and left there without regard for the safety of passengers.

The bill proposes a fast track assessment process which removes access to the Refugee Review Tribunal. Fast turnaround processing was ruled illegal in the United Kingdom earlier this year due to an “unacceptable risk of unfairness”.  The bill seeks to change the definition of ‘refugee’ to allow the government to reject a refugee status application if it decides that there is a ‘safe area’ in the country of origin, or that the nation’s police force is ‘reasonably effective’.  This is nothing short of playing with people’s lives.  It will allow the Australian government to send back asylum seekers, regardless of whether they face a real chance of torture or execution on return.  What does Scott Morrison think happens to Hazara people when they are returned to Afghanistan or to Tamil people who are returned to Sri Lanka?  Does he really believe that members of the Taliban or Rajapaksa’s regime are unable to travel to target their victims?  If he had converted to Christianity in Iran, or spoken against the Iranian Government,  would he really trust the Iranian police force to protect him?

Children born in Australia, to asylum seekers who arrived by boat, will be classified as “transitory persons”, creating a new generation of stateless people, and giving them no access to permanent residency or citizenship.  Does Scott Morrison really believe that these babies pose a serious threat to Australia as we know it?  Or is his distain, even hatred, for asylum seekers so great that detaining innocent children indefinitely doesn’t satisfy his lust for vengeance;  does he feel the need to ensure that his punishments will continue for each of their lifetimes?

The ‘Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014’ gives the Australian Government, under domestic law, the power to ignore international law and to engage in state-sanctioned human rights abuses. It will allow Australia to be complicit, even collaborative, in the persecution, torture and execution of innocent people. The Minister for Immigration will have absolute power, and his actions under Operation Sovereign Borders will not be brought to account by Australia’s justice system.  He will become untouchable. This sets a very dangerous precedent for Australian politics and law.

I see so many people ‘liking’ and sharing messages about Australia’s terrible mistreatment of asylum seekers, on social media.  I read the comments they write, pouring out their outrage and their grief.  Yet, when it comes to asking them to take the time to write to politicians to urge them to oppose this horrific bill, the passion and the anger appear to evaporate.  I for one, need to know that I have done everything in my power, and then some, to persuade the Senators to vote against this bill.  Will you join me in writing to them?  You don’t need to produce a perfectly crafted, eloquent letter; you just need to write!  A few lines will do.  If you are an Australian citizen, tell them that you cannot support politicians who sanction human rights abuses.  If you are an expat, tell them how horrified you are at what Australia has become while you have been away. Most of all, tell them to oppose this bill.

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” ― Thomas Jefferson

Here are the addresses you will need:

Here are the contact details for the cross bench Senators who will ultimately pass or reject the bill:

Senator Bob Day AO
Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices
100 King William Street
Adelaide SA 5000

Senator Jacqui Lambie
29 Wilson Street
Burnie TAS 7320

Senator Glenn Lazarus
PO Box 228
Brisbane QLD 4001

Senator David Leyonhjelm
PO Box 636
Drummoyne NSW 1470

Senator John Madigan
17 Albert St
Ballarat Vic 3350

Senator Ricky Muir
Level 4, Treasury Place
Melbourne VIC 3002

Senator Dio Wang
PO Box 6120
East Perth WA 6892

Senator Nick Xenophon
Level 2
31 Ebenezer Place
Adelaide SA 5000

Write to Clive Palmer too, as he will be instructing his PUP Senators:
Mr Clive Palmer MP
Palmer United Party
PO Box 1978
Sunshine Plaza QLD 4558

You’ll find the other Senators for your state here. You can search by state by using the map. Then click on their names for contact details.

Join the Combined Refugee Action Group’s Letter Blitz group on Facebook to access information and letter writing tips.

* Information on the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Bill was sourced in analyses undertaken by ChilOut Revived;   Refugee Council of Australia;  Human Rights Law Centre;  and Professor Mary Crock, Sydney University

The Depths of Indecency

across the seasOn Monday evening, the Senate of the Australian Federal Parliament voted to scrap Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) for the asylum seekers already living in the community awaiting the outcome of their claims, in favour of issuing Permanent Protection Visas.  This was based on the following:

  • TPVs break international law by disallowing family reunification for asylum seekers
  • TPVs break international law by disallowing protection of guardians for unaccompanied minors
  • TPVs enforce statelessness on individuals as they never allow for permanent residency
  • People may be sent back to their homelands, at the end of three years of protection, to face punishment, persecution, torture or execution

Furious with the vote to block their policy, Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, announced that no asylum seekers, who are already living in the community, will be granted permanent protection before July 2014 (when the new Senate takes office).  Instead, they will be placed on indefinite Bridging Visas.  As Bridging Visas do not provide asylum seekers access to work or education, yet more international laws will be broken.

Tony Abbott stated, “Temporary Protection Visas are an essential part of any effective plan to stop the boats.”.

However, this statement makes no sense in the light (or should I say the darkness?) of the Coalition Government’s current off-shore processing policy and practice.   Abbott and Morrison have made it clear, time and time again, that all people arriving on boats during the Coalition’s time in government will be detained indefinitely on Nauru or Manus Island.  The best that these people can hope for is resettlement there, or some other country.  They will never be resettled in Australia.  Therefore, TPVs (or Bridging Visas for that matter) have absolutely NOTHING to do with any boat arrivals that have occurred since the Coalition came into power, or any which might occur in the future.  They are about preventing the people who are already here from gaining permanent residency.

This is confirmed in Scott Morrison’s statement, “Temporary Protection Visas deny the promise of permanent residency that was made to the 33,000 people that are already on shore that turned up on Labor’s watch and are part of that appalling legacy caseload that have been left behind for this government to clean up.”.

Make no mistake; this is not about saving lives at sea.

Nor is it about economics.  As people are not allowed to work on Bridging Visas, they are forcibly held on ongoing government welfare payments.

Nor it seems, is this about people.  Morrison’s use of the word ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ in relation to asylum seekers, strengthens his resolve to see them as nameless, faceless “illegal arrivals” which form an “appalling legacy caseload” to be “cleaned up”, rather than as fellow human beings.

What this is really about, is punishment and revenge.  It’s an attempt to punish the people who are already on Australian soil because they came here requesting protection and safety from war and persecution.  It’s an attempt to use innocent, already traumatised people as an implement of political revenge on the Senators who voted in favour of compassion, decency, humanity and the upholding of international law.

I want to say that Abbott and Morrison could not possibly sink any lower in the depths of indecency.  However, Abbott has already raised the idea of Australia leaving the UN Refugee Convention and said that he will “have more to say on this in the days and weeks ahead”.  No doubt, so will the Senate.