This week


Australia is more surreal than ever this week. With the Howard government’s approval level rising in response to the budget’s tax cuts and the slashing of the safety net, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister in their remarkably similar ties have been looking pretty pleased with themselves if not with each other. How they must be cursing the embattled and incompetent Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Immigration as each day brings news of more callous treatment handed out by their officials.

This is policy failure of great magnitude.

Foreign Minister Downer admitted to Lateline’s Tony Jones that he knew he was sounding evasive as he kept repeating that the Palmer Inquiry will reveal all about the handling of Vivian Solon whose outrageous neglect and rejection by Australian officials becomes more disturbing every day.

Her case won’t be clarified satisfactorily without a Royal Commission. Nor will that of Cornelia Rau or any of the 111 asylum seekers cruelly detained in this country for more than three years.

Thanks to Peter Nicholson

Thanks to Peter Nicholson

Only Attorney General Philip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration at the time of Vivian’s deportation and ‘rediscovery’ by departmental officials two years ago, seems to be sleeping well at night. He sounded positively insouciant on the ABC’s AM, reminding us that ‘More than 20 000 people are removed from Australia each year under supervision’ – unsurprising, he believes, that occasionally one should fall by the wayside. Allowing for many deportations being backpackers and tourists who have overstayed their visas, a very large number of people are returned by officials to the desperate lives they tried to escape. These are people we don’t want, whose skills and initiative we can’t harness, who can’t be offered the same benefits the rest of us have enjoyed since birth or having had the good fortune of a more orderly mode of arrival.

The trial of Khaleed Daoed has opened in the Brisbane Supreme Court. Daoed is charged with two counts of helping to organise the illegal entry to Australia on what we call the SIEV-X (Suspected Illegal Entry Vehicle) which sank somewhere between Indonesia and Australia with the loss of 353 lives. Only 45 people survived.

Whether Australian officials knew that a badly damaged boat was on its way here and failed to act may well remain in dispute. Whether an anti people smuggling program run in Indonesia by Immigration and the Australian Federal Police involved dealings between corrupt Indonesian senior police offers and freelance people smugglers like Khaled Daoed is also unlikely to emerge. There are echoes in the close cooperation between AFI and the Indonesian authorities over evidence leading to the arrests of the Bali Nine and Foreign Affairs biding its time to provide documentation purporting to elucidate matters relating to the case of Schapelle Corby.

The head of Deakin University’s Law School, Professor Mirka Bagaric and his colleague Julie Clarke caused an uproar this week by declaring that torture is morally defensible as an interrogation method. In a paper entitled Not Enough (official) torture in the world? they argue that torture should be regulated to allow greater public scrutiny, because it exists.

Thanks to Michael Leunig

Thanks to Michael Leunig

This seems to us rather like arguing that murder or robbery should be regulated because they are widespread. Bagaric and Clarke argue that the use of torture should be redefined as an extension of human rights. ‘No right or interest is absolute,’ Bagaric says. We disagree. Torture is not merely a morally questionable way to extract information, it is also an instrument of state terror which erodes the social fabric, whether regulated or not.

Unlike those commentators who have called for the dismissal of Clarke and Bagaric from their university, we would also defend their right to freedom of speech – a fundamental human right and an essential plank in our democracy. Democracies that tolerate human rights violations are mortally wounded – their integrity damaged, and their ability to argue from a position of moral authority destroyed.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.