2 Jul 2013

Tony Burke Inherits Labor's Refugee Mess

By Trevor Grant

Tony Burke was shadow immigration minister before the 2007 election. Now he returns to the portfolio - and a regime fallen far from the idealistic days of opposition, writes Trevor Grant

In the transition from opposition to government Labor has taken a pronounced leap into conservative territory on several issues — but none more so than asylum seekers. They have concluded that there are more votes in the “hard bastard” approach than in showing compassion and tolerance.

Labor is unabashed about this shift. Within a couple of hours of Rudd II's installation last week, Foreign Minister Bob Carr, playing the role of de facto Immigration Minister, told the ABC’s Lateline program that he was convinced most asylum seekers to this country were economic migrants.

This statement is contradicted by Immigration Department figures, which show at least 90 per cent of people who come here seeking asylum from persecution are judged to have legitimate claims.

This appears to be of no concern to Carr, who presented no evidence to justify his claim that the vast majority of asylum seekers were economic migrants. Rather he blamed the umpires and said he would shift the goal posts to make it harder for refugees to prove they are fleeing persecution.

“The evidence before us is that they are economic refugees, not people fleeing persecution and are being brought here by people smugglers,” he told the Senate last week, declining to explain how the Immigration Department has got it so wrong.

Carr’s unequivocal statements indicate the Rudd Government has decided refugees are fair game. Its new Immigration Minister, Tony Burke, will no doubt be required to follow this path laid out so definitively by Carr.

Again, as with three previous Labor immigration ministers, Chris Evans, Chris Bowen and Brendan O’Connor, Burke will have to present a case almost diametrically opposed to the one he presented in Opposition.

Burke was the Shadow Immigration Minister for Immigration from June 2005 until the election in late 2007 that saw the Rudd Government come to power.

It is instructive to look back to 2007, a few months before the election, when he wrote to the “Buddies Refugee Support Group” on the Sunshine Coast to assuage their concerns.

In the letter he makes a number of worthwhile points:

“Labor believes that the detention of asylum seekers should only be used for health, security and background checks. Detention should never be indefinite...”
“A Labor Government would ensure that claims for asylum are processed within 90 days...”
“Labor is adamant that any claims for asylum from individuals from any country must be processed fairly, independently and free from any political or diplomatic interference...”
“The Howard Government’s use of Nauru as an immigration detention centre is not only a waste of money, it is inhumane. Labor would close the Australian detention facilities on Nauru and Manus Island...”

Let us also look at what we have now, as opposed to what was promised by Burke.

  • DIAC figures from 30 April 2013 record a total of 8797 people in immigration detention, with record 5178 people people in immigration detention centres with thousands more in alternative places of detention. More recent figures indicate that 1852 children are in closed facilities. It has also kept over 50 refugees indefinitely detained because of secret ASIO reports, many for more than three years.
  • The “no-advantage” policy has meant that processing has deliberately stalled. There are now 20,000 people, including thousands in community detention, who have been waiting since August last year to have their claims assessed.
  • Carr is content to interfere politically in the processing regime; he said the Rudd Government would be changing the way the Immigration Department judges the claims.
  • Labor reopened Nauru in August last year, along with Manus Island, as part of its “no-advantage” policy.

In the same letter, Burke hailed the Labor Party’s national conference decision in 2007 to withdraw support for Howard’s Temporary Protection Visas. “This change was adopted in pursuance of a very simple principle; that when people fleeing persecution reach Australia, that persecution must end,” he wrote.

Burke finished a speech to a fundraising dinner for Labor For Refugees on 29 July 2007, with the words “The day you arrive in Australia is the day your persecution ends”. He now inherits a policy that declares the day you arrive in Australia is the day your persecution continues.

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This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Tuesday, July 2, 2013 - 15:37

Excellent article by Trevor Grant , especially his final statement of the stark reality  for refugees that "the day you arrive in Australia is the day your persecution continues"

The statements by unelected Senator Bob Carr that most refugees now are "economic refugees" are just plain false as well as disgusting -  if Burke , Rudd and the Rudd Labor Government go down this same  route then Labor will lose the support of decent, humane Australians.

Unelected Senator Bob Carr's assertion that most asylum seekers coming by boat are ":economic refugees" is highly offending because :

(1) it seeks to impose political pressure on the hitherto independent and expert refugee assessment process (that has found 90% of such people to be genuine refugees) ;

(2) it ignores the reality that these people have undertaken an extremely hazardous course to escape intolerable circumstances;

(3) it ignores the horrendous reality that most Sri Lankan asylum seekers are Tamils fleeing the Tamil Genocide ( 100,000 killed, hundreds of thousands in concentration camps, widespread torture, rape and killing; see "The Tamil Genocide by Sri Lanka" by outstanding US international law expert Professor Francis Boyle);

(4) it ignores the horrendous reality that 100,000 Iranians die avoidably each year under Carr- and Labor-supported sanctions;

(5) it ignores the reality that successive Australian Coalition and Labor (Lib-Lab) Governments have been variously complicit (through diplomatic alignment, alliance with the US state terrorism, military involvement in genocidal US wars) in the generation of over 20 million Muslim refugees (the breakdown being 7 million Palestinians, 5-6 million Iraqis, 3-4 million Afghans, 2 million Pakistanis, 2 million Somalis, 1 million Libyans, 1 million Syrians, 1 million Myanmar Rohingyas); and

(6) it ignores the reality that most of these asylum seekers are fleeing genocide, war, gross human rights abuse, lack of democracy or flawed democracy - that latter lack of democracy an irony evidently lost on unelected Senator Carr who needs to be punished at the ballot box by indignant, humane voters (ditto Rudd Labor if it follows pro-war, pro-Zionist, US lackey Carr down the false, offending “most refugees are economic refugees” path) .

The Apartheid Israel-complicit Sri Lankan Tamil Genocide has involved the killing of about 100,000 Tamils and the highly abusive imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Tamils in concentration camps. Labor denies Sri Lankans human rights abuses, collaborates with the war criminal Sri Lankan authorities, and returns Tamil refugees to face possible rape, torture and murder in Sri Lanka .  While pro-Zionist, US lackey Canada will boycott the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Sri Lanka , Australia ignores the evidence of horrendous Sri Lankan atrocities and will attend CHOGM.

Of over 45 million refugees in the world today, over half are Muslim refugees mostly fleeing the Neocon American- and Zionist Imperialist-promoted US War on Muslims, the breakdown being 7 million Palestinians, 5-6 million Iraqis, 3-4 million Afghans, 2 million Somalis, 1 million Libyans, 1.5 million Syrians (with a further 4 million internally displaced Syrians), 2 million Pakistanis displaced in NW Pakistan, 2.3 million internally displaced Sudanese and  1.6 million refugee or stateless Rohingyas in Myanmar. Nearly 35,000 refugees have come to Australia by boat under Labor which has adopted the harsh Coalition policy of mandatory detention of such refugees in remote concentration camps. Lib-Lab PC racism means that this gross human rights abuse is described as “stopping the people smuggler business model to prevent loss of life of refugees at sea”.  Former Labor PM Kevin Rudd has described those helping desperate refugees find safe haven as “scum of the earth who should rot in hell” – but decent people can well ask how one should describe the genocidally racist Zionists, the US Alliance and their Australian Lib-Lab confrères responsible for generating over 20 million Muslim refugees in the first place.

Currently under Labor nearly 2,000 refugee CHILDREN are abusively imprisoned without charge under mandatory detention in remote concentrations camps within Australia or in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, with all this  in gross violation of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child and of basic human decency, this alone making Labor (and the Coaltion) utterly unfit for public life, let alone governing a nation (see Gideon Polya, "100 Reasons Why Australians Must Reject Gillard Labor", Countercurrents, 24 June, 2013: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya240613.htm ).

Decent Australians will vote 1 Green.

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This user is a New Matilda supporter. Rockjaw
Posted Tuesday, July 2, 2013 - 18:39

Hear ! Hear !

May Trevor Grant be heard far and wide!

aaron
Posted Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 00:19

Australia is not persecuting anyone, these illrgal arrivals are que jumpers and should not be treated in a way that encourages more to come here illegally. The bleeding hearts love to whinge but then offer no realistic alternatives. If we don't have a tough policy we will be overwhelmed with perhaps tens of thousands coming here illegally each year, after all there are tens of millions of refugees in the world.

K Brown
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 12:03

Only the wilfully blind would fail to see that there has been a sea change in the nature of Irregular Maritime Arrivals in the last year.  There has been a massive increase in arrivals from Iran and Sri Lanka and if they are allowed the easy ride to refugee status that Australia has afforded past asylum seekers then we face an exponential increase in future IMAs as they encourage others to follow their example.

The reason for this increase is not a sudden increase in repression or threats to their safety.  It is the development of the people smuggling industry.  These IMA's arrive with carefully rehearsed concocted claims that DIAC find difficult to disprove.  We have few means of checking the veracity of asylum claims in the asylum seekers country of origin.  That is why they are given the benefit of the doubt and are granted refugee status.  This was not a major problem when we had 3,000 arrivals a year.  Now the annual number of IMA's exceeds our humanitarian immigration quota which is undermining its integrity and public support. 

Something must be done to more carefully screen out and deter economic migrants.  A more robust assessment of asylum claims must be instituted.  We owe it to all those genuine refugees in UNHCR camps around the World who are in urgent need of resettlement and whose place on our humanitarian immigration program is being threatened by these IMAs.