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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Educating Laurie: Letters

Uniting Church Responds to Laurie Ferguson's Ignorance

Uniting Church of Australia
National Assembly
Thursday, 28 October 2004

The Uniting Church today said that it is disappointing that the new Shadow Minister for Immigration, Laurie Ferguson, has already shown that he knows nothing about the procedures for assessing refugee claims.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director, UnitingJustice Australia said that it is Mr Ferguson, not refugee advocates, who is undermining the rules, controls, and checking of refugee claims by the ridiculous comment that asylum seekers have fraudulent cases or manipulate the legal system.
"A refugee determination process, as a system for checking refugee claims, involves assessing an asylum seeker's claims against the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee," Rev Poulos said.

"All people have a right to seek asylum in another country and it is through the rules, controls, and checking of the refugee determination process that their claim for protection is tested. This process necessitates that some claims for protection will be accepted and others refused.

"Mr Ferguson's comments that rejected claims are somehow fraudulent show a complete lack of understanding of the protection system, and a clear disregard for the natural justice upon which refugee determination processes should be based.

"If a person's claim for protection is rejected, this simply means that the person is not a Convention Refugee. It does not mean that the person acted fraudulently."

Rev. Poulos also said that it is widely recognised that many people who are in need of protection fall outside the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee.

"Many asylum seekers who have their refugee protection claim refused have genuine protection needs including those that invoke our obligations under other international treaties, people who would be at risk if they were returned, and those who have experienced severe suffering or human rights abuses." Rev. Poulos said.

"The Minister for Immigration has granted a number of visas to asylum seekers using discretionary power for reasons such as these.

"Many churches, refugee advocates, and community organisations actually advocate for effective rules and controls, such as the introduction of a system of complementary protection so that these decisions are subject to more stringent checks and more effective accountability processes."


Media contact: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communications Officer, 0417 416 674

Educating Laurie: letters

I have read the report in today's Age regarding your position on Refugees In Australia.

You will never know what is really happening if you never listen first hand to those who are judged to be queue jumpers / short cutting our legal system (structures and processes). Unless you ever take the time to do so you will never know. And I trust that you do want to know.

My hope, being someone that has voted often for Labour, is that you are going to do all you can to be fully informed and lead well in your role as Shadow Minister of Immigration.

Yours truly,
Refugee advocate

Your New Portfolio

Congratulations Laurie on becoming Opposition spokesperson on Immigration. I would hope for a compassionate view about asylum seekers - in the first instance, an end to both detention of children, and closure of the Nauru hellhole as first priority policy items.

As you know, over 90% of asylum seekers turn out to be genuine refugees. Of course there has to be processing, but it would be really helpful if you could push the government to expedite the processes so that we are not making more cases of mental & physical illness by long detentions - only costs more to the community in the long run, looking at it from a merely pragmatic perspective.

But I look forward to compassion shining through - the ALP should not have to work too hard on this issue to be seen as very different from the Coalition!

Good luck in this challenging role.

Yours sincerely,
West Australian


You have also just lost Labor many tens of thousands of votes. This won't be forgotten.

I'm copying this to Julia Gillard in view of her shadow health portfolio and Mark Latham in view of his party leadership; and to Senator Faulkner and Carmen Lawrence. Maybe they can teach you a little bit of humanity - or at least, enough basic political savvy not to lead with your chin like this ?

Your comments are truly disgusting and you need to clean up your act. I do not know how any intelligent person can be so grossly insensitive, after all the cruelties inflicted on asylum-seekers by the Howard government in the last three years.

Go back to pre-school, Laurie - learn a little about how we need to love one another and respect human dignity. The average 6 year old Aussie second-grader knows more about those things than you do.

Maybe you might think about apologising to the people you have just gratuitously hurt all over again?

Anonymity requested

It is with great distress that I read your comments about asylum seekers Mr Ferguson.

I would suggest you go and visit the people in prison in Baxter Detention Centre and remember firstly that they are PEOPLE and they are LOCKED UP having committed NO CRIME.

It saddens me greatly that the ALP, formerly the voice of the workers and the underdog, has moved so far from its core values.

It will take a long time to regain my vote if this continues. I feel ashamed that our country has become such a harsh and inhospitable place and soon you will be trying to prevent the boat loads from leaving, full of honourable people looking for a just country!

Warrnambool VIC

Dear Mr Ferguson,

It is a sense of dismay and anxiety that I write to request clarification re your comments about refugees and refugee advocates as reported in today's Age newspaper.

Do you believe that refugee advocates do not have a realistic view about refugees? I live in Kevin Rudd's electorate of Griffith and work at Junction Park, The Annerley Primary School. I have daily contact with refugee families from places as diverse as the Sudan and Iraq. I am a volunteer member of the management Committee of the Annerley Community Bookshop which supports the work of the Annerley Literacy Centre with people from Refugee backgrounds.I have been a long time supporter and neighbour to the members of the Tigers 11 Refugee Soccer Club.I am the web editor of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission web site which includes a page dedicated to Asylum Seekers.

What evidence do you have that a "sizable proportion of asylum seekers have fraudulent cases and manipulate the legal system to stay in Australia? Can you justify this statement in the light of the evidence to the contrary provided by experts such as Julian Burnside?

I am appalled and object to your dismissive comment about "being lectured to by many people" Your stereotyping of advocates as being people who "do not want any rules or controls" is equally ill informed and unacceptable.

I look forward to reading your response to my questions and hope that future statements from your office will reflect a more compassionate program of support for refugees and asylum seekers.

Community Jester

Mr. Ferguson,

I was dismayed and alarmed at your reported attitude to refugee policy in your new role as Labor's Immigration Spokesman. I truly hope that the Age reporter caught you unprepared and uninformed, and that time will allow you the opportunity to retract some of the things you said and to develop a more pragmatic and humane refugee policy on behalf of the Opposition.

Bearing in mind that the eventual success rate of asylum-seekers is in the high ninety percentages for boat-arrivals and somewhat lower for those arriving by air (yes, you need to check DIMIA's figures), we are currently squandering enormous amounts of taxpayers' money in detaining these people in expensive detention camps, both mainland and offshore, while they followed a flawed RRT process that invariably leads to legal action and even more public cost.

And this is before consideration of the years of detention we inflict on these people, complete with the attendant depression, psychological and medical suffering caused by the systemic cruelty inflicted by the private sector managers of the detention centres. Not only is this treatment inhumane and contrary to several international treaties, but, once released into our communities, these people's medical and psychological problems render them automatic drains on our social services - and even further vilification in a lot of cases. You should be aware of this, from your experience in your electorate.

What could be simpler - and cheaper, and more humane - than the following?

* Detain all arrivals who request asylum in open immmigration reception centres while medical and security checks are being carried out. This should take no more than 3 weeks. Open reception centres should be located where arrivals occur (Christmas Island, and not Baxter), and should allow free access to the community with a night-time curfew. Asylum-seekers are, by definition, seeking protection, and, generally, will not abscond before they have even had a chance of establishing their credentials as a genuine refugee.

* Assuming they are found to be free of contagoius diseases and criminal records (as almost all of them are), while their cases are being processed through the RRT, they may be offered a bail-like arrangement whereby they may live in the community and have work rights and access to basic social services. Alternatively, they may choose to remain in the open reception centre at their own expense. So this becomes a virtually cost-free "detention" period. Again, it is highly unlikely that the asylum-seekers will abscond if the bond is sufficient - and in any case most will be anxious to achieve legitimate permanent residency.

* RRT processing need only take 2 to 3 months at the longest. This is achieved and bettered in several countries, including our neighbours, New Zealand.

* Perhaps, some form of "bridging visa" would be necessary for those unfortunate few who do not receive favourable RRT outcomes and still wish to pursue their case through the courts. This should clearly act as a mild disincentive to frivolous pursuits of baseless cases.

* And, of course, deportation (or "removal" as DIMIA likes to call it) should always remain as the last resort of a failed asylum case - but deportation to a country in which the physical safety of the failed asylum-seeker is at serious risk is just not on. Some form of humanitarian protection is called for in these very few cases.

The above proposal would NOT increase the number of refugees to plague proportions, although it might increase it somewhat. But considering that the 120,000 annual immigration quota has never been reached in recent memory, a few thousand additional new citizens admitted through the refugee portal would not cause any social problem. Besides, we need the labour they willingly offer our economy!

I sincerely trust that you will in due course acquaint yourself with the facts and possibilities that the refugee millieu present you, and are able to forge a more humane and pragmatic refugee policy than the Coalition have developed for their own selfish and manipulative reasons.

Refugee Supporter
New South Wales

Dear Sir,

I do not write to lecture you. I write to remind you that you are a member of a democracy, and that your position of responsibility in that democracy by definition *requires* you to listen to your constituents, whatever your personal views on electoral issues. I would think that it behoves you to be particularly interested in the views of a life-long supporter of the Labor Party who is on the verge of switching allegience to the Greens (and, in this respect, I am certain to be one of thousands).

I do not appreciate hectoring or condescension. I am an informed citizen. Australia's policy of mandatory detention is unnecessarily harsh, based on misinformation and fear. It is not practiced elsewhere in the democratic world; it has only been very recently practiced here. We are signatory to international human rights treaties regarding refugees. As a member of parliament it is your solemn duty to ensure that we uphold these treaties.

If you have particularly *Liberal* views on the refugee issues I would be most interested to see any evidence in support of such views. Until I see any such evidence I am forced to the conclusion that your rhetoric is re-heated racisim of the sort that accompanies integration - "Oh dear property values will drop if we have (insert your own target) in our street".

Hasn't Labor learned anything at all? Ever since the days of Hawke you have been trying to "pass" as Liberal. As an election strategy it's patently useless. Be an opposition spokesperson, not an echo.

Academic 1
Western Australia

My thoughts are that Amanda [Vanstone] may have more compassion and understanding.

Refugee worker

Dear Mr Ferguson,

If you continue to exhibit such ignorance and arrogance of the issues surrounding immigration then you will get more and more lectures and deservedly so.

Please get yourself informed before you make more comments on these matters.

Many of us look to the ALP for a more compassionate stance on immigration. Please do not try to outdo the coalition on this (or any other) issue. Apart from anything lese you will lose as you have done at the last two elections on this front.

I would be grateful for a response to this.

Academic 2
Western Australia

Dear Mr Ferguson

I am astonished with your attitude towards refugees and people in detention. And those with a heart that try to help them.

You are quoted "they would have a more realistic view if they lived in areas where most refugees resided."

I have lived with refugees I have opened my home and my life to them and know of many of their stories, heartaches and hopes. It seems to me Mr Ferguson you should sit down and talk to one and maybe then you will be better educated to hold the position you have been appointed.

"I get a bit sick of being lectured to by people," Mr Ferguson said. "What I do question is that people who don't want any rules, don't want any controls, don't want any checking (of refugee claims) are usually people whose contact is limited to a few niche cases that they get very emotionally involved in. These people lack knowledge, quite frankly, of the broader issues."

Mr Ferguson please go and talk to a few in Baxter or Nauru or any other of the detention centres. Know their stories they are not all "queue jumpers" some have run for their lives.

My friendÔ??s brother was killed by the Iranian government. My friend at 22 asked his Father why do we have a government like this. His fathers response "we made a mistake and you have to live with it". My friend did not want to live with it so he protested handed out information to those at university and was found out. At a moments notice he was told to flee. With a bag and money from his family he fled. I am sure you know the story .... Malaysia .... Singapore .... Indonesia .... finally by boat to the "Lucky Country". A fair go country. Only to spend 15 months in detention. Now this guy was lucky another friend came out after 3 years.

Below is an extract from another friend in Nauru. How sad that he was symapthetic to your party, I guess he did not realise that you like the government would like to see him locked up in Nauru Hell indefinite.

Please Mr Ferguson do the right thing. There are children in Nauru who know no freedom. A beautiful little girl there who asks my friend why are you crying? She knows no different.

This is not what Australia is about, not want my grandfather fought for. The boats have stopped please work to get these people out!!! To enable them to rebuild their shattered and broken lives. Some are so broken after such extended periods in detention. 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 years. Please help to do the right thing they are humans not animals. Get them processed and get them out.

Regards and in hope your hard line stance will change

Refugee friend
Perth WA

From Nauru 3 days after the election result: Howard govt has won again the election. He won very easily. Poor Lathem I was sad for him if he would win so probably would better for us too. I am not saying that Lathem is good because he would close the Nauru camp. He is really good and better than John Howard is. I think he just lost because he wanted care about his people and his country. If he thought about the pocket money of people so obviously he would win the election. Because some Australian people do not care about their country they just want their pockets full of money and John Howard is giving them. You look my friend one-day they will regret for their wrong decision that why they elected a wrong man. Anyway, the misery has just written on our forhead. But we believe one day our turn will come too. The white clouds will take the place of black clouds. The black clouds will never remain stays.


Dear Tanya

Congratulations on your elevation to the Shadow Ministry, and very best wishes for your work there in the quest for better family policies.

Many of your greatest supporters were so very heartened by your steady, public support for a just refugee programme and a compassionate stance towards asylum seekers. Despite all the pundits assuring you that 'the electorate' didn't care about this issue, let me assure you that for some of us, it was THE issue we DID care about and Labor has come close to breaking our hearts and losing our vote forever.

I realise that primary responsibility for Immigration matters rests with your colleague Laurie Ferguson, whose record of compassion and decency on this issue is not strong. This letter is to urge you, because of your portfolio responsibilities towards families, to continue to press for a revision of Australian immigration policy, specifically:

1. To permit whole FAMILIES, including men and adolescent boys, to live in the community while their visa status is assessed

2. To permit those desperate men who have been granted refugee status to be reunited with their families, generally condemned by the present policy to precarious, poverty-stricken misery in dangerous countries.

It is an outrage for white Australian families to be treated as if they were different from black Australian families: it is an outrage for refugee families to be treated differently from white Australian ones.

Please help them. The 'ladder of opportunity' isn't everything. Please help to restore the faith of some of us in the Labor Party as a party of social justice, not just of social climbing.

MIDC Supporter

Dear Mr Ferguson,

I read your comments that were reported in "The Age" today. As I don't know too much about you, and as a previous Defence "spin doctor" who always allows some leeway from "reported" versus "truth", your comments prompted me to at least visit your website.

You are clearly a very educated man - but I wonder if you are widely briefed. Instead of taking a "George Bush" approach (he is now famous for "don't lecture me" and has one of the most narrow groups advising him in modern US presidential history) I would urge you to at least give a hearing to those who, whilst they may not share your views (of locking up children apparently - which I find VERY un-Australian), may at least give you a different perspective before you make yet another policy that will REALLY aggravate many of your strongest supporters out here in "punter land".

At the very least take a briefing from those who have been closest to this problem over the past few years. Australia's strength is in great measure due to it's ethnic diversity.

You simply echo John Howard and Alexander Downer (and a perusal of your CV suggests you just might be better than them?) with your "queue jumper" tag. Many of those you reportedly despise have shown great courage in even attempting the trip to this country.

There are many Labor voters who think deeply about the future Mr Ferguson. I would not like to see you on the opposition benches forever. I hope you are part of the thinking team and I hope those who vet these emails pass these views on.

Retired Brigadier


I found your hardline comments reported in The Age offensive, especially in the context that 90% arrivals are accepted as genuine refugees. And the temporary protection visa must be a once only before a fast conversion to permanent visa.

Don't be a Ruddock clone.

ALP member
Willoughby NSW

Dear Mr Ferguson

I voted Labour at the last election.

I am grateful that I live in a democracy and can express my views without fear of imprisonment. My husband and I are advocates for a Burmese asylum seeker, a man who turned 33 recently, whose life has been on hold for 16 years, since he was imprisoned and tortured for participating in a student pro-democracy protest in Burma. This man has lived with us for the past 6 months, because being on a bridging visa he is not able to work and has no safety net. For 6 years now he has been negotiating the immigration process, since an immigration officer decided, without interview, to disbelieve his story of torture and imprisonment.

I am grateful that I was born into a country that is politically stable, that I have not had to worry about my phone being tapped, or parents being harmed if I expressed views against the prevailing goverment. I am grateful that my son can listen to U2 without fear of execution (yes, that's what the government decreed in Burma, after U2 released a song criticising the regime).

I am grateful that we have been able to make this man's life a little more confortable over the past months - to see him put on a bit of weight, smile at a funny movie, relax a little. I wonder if you can put yourself in the shoes of someone who is not able call his mother on his birthday for fear of reprisals, who had to live from hand to mouth for over 5 years because the system called him a liar and did not allow him to defend himself, who has been ripped off by several so called immigration lawyers (we will be lodging formal comlaints when the legal process has run its course - right now he is too afraid to let us do that). I am sure that you too are grateful.

People like [our friend] need advocates. I am a medical practitioner and my husband is a business man. We are educated people - we can tell when someone is lying. The trauma expert who assessed [our friend] at my request identified ongoing psychological effects from the trauma he experienced at the age of 17. I wonder what you were doing at the age of 17. I am sure you were not being burnt with cigarettes, forced to eat food contaminated with cockroaches, confined in a space too small to stand up or lie down for days at a time. People like [our friend] need your support. I would urge you to visit Villawood and other centres and to talk to people yourself and inform yourself, lest you believe the misinformation being promulgated by the govermment and those who serve only their own interest.

We congratulate you on your appointment and wish you well in your challenging task.

Yours sincerely
Refugee doctor

Refugee lobby to 'educate' Labor

The Age
By Meaghan Shaw
October 29, 2004

Refugee advocates have vowed to "educate" Labor's new immigration spokesman amid fears that the ALP may be taking a more hardline approach to asylum seekers.

Their concerns were prompted by Laurie Ferguson's comments that a significant proportion of asylum seekers had fraudulent claims and manipulated the legal system.

But Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone welcomed Mr Ferguson's candour, which was "refreshing and recognises that not all claims for asylum are easily settled".

Uniting Church spokeswoman Elenie Poulos said the refugee determination process meant that some claims were accepted and others refused, but that did not mean that those rejected were fraudulent.

Reverend Poulos said it was widely recognised that those who failed to meet the strict criteria of the Refugee Convention could still be in need of "complementary protection", offering temporary protection but which carried lesser rights than refugee visas.

She said Mr Ferguson's comments were a worry given that Labor was making "noises" before the election to advocacy groups that it was looking at softer approaches to deal with refugees, such as complementary protection.

Mr Ferguson said he would consider the issue of complementary protection, which was complex.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence's refugee centre manager, Sarina Greco, also took issue with Mr Ferguson's remarks that many asylum seekers would abscond if released into the community.

"On the contrary, not one of the people in the Hotham Mission's study in 2002-03 absconded," she said. "It's just not borne out in the evidence."

A Just Australia's spokesman, Greg Barns, said Mr Ferguson's comments were "ill-founded and just wrong in fact". He said Mr Ferguson had positioned himself "well to the right of the National Party" and he hoped it was not a sign that ALP policy would move to the "less humane end of the spectrum".

Project SafeCom's Jack Smit has started a letter-writing campaign by up to 15,000 refugee supporters to "educate" Mr Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson said he did not reject the views of all refugee advocates, just those who had "very blinkered views".



  • At Friday, October 29, 2004 12:23:00 PM, Blogger refolution said…

    In 2001 when I contacted my local ALP member (who has just lost his seat!) to complain about the exploitation of the callous and deceitful "Border Protection" campaign invented by Howard and Ruddock and adopoted by the ALP, my ALP member reassured me that when the ALP gained power they would then adopt policies which were mroe "refugee friendly".
    Well...look at what has just happened. One of the all time refugee haters is now our Shadow Minister of Immigration.
    We must condemn and abandon the ALP, following this betrayal. The ALP clearly wants to jettison these issues so that it can focus on "the economy" and yet again be led by the nose in duplicating Howard's policy line, to yet another defeat.
    The Greens don't have the support of the people who will decide the next election. They are seen as too wild and anarchistic. There is a strong commitment to the refugee issue in there somewhere, but it is swirling about in a confusing morass.
    Maybe Australia is ready for a "Supporting Refugee Party" as a clear single ussie party which could put the sorts of things we know, but mainstream Australia avoids on the agenda.
    If Pauline Hanson can shake Australian politics why couldn't a party like this?


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