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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.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Educating Laurie: More letters

Labor's new man causes immigration stir

Friday, October 29, 2004. 11:00am (AEST)

Federal Labor's new immigration spokesman, Laurie Ferguson, has angered refugee advocates by claiming that many asylum seekers have fraudulent claims and are manipulating the legal system.

Refugee support groups have begun a campaign called Educating Laurie and are urging the public to send letters and emails.

The director of Adelaide Catholic welfare agency Centacare and prominent refugee advocate Dale West says Labor has already said that if it took a different view, it would be in opposition for 20 years.

"I'm just wondering now when it looks like that's the case anyway, if Laurie Ferguson is the best person for the job because some of the things that he said in the Age yesterday about the vast majority of people being queue jumpers and that sort of thing, when in fact 93 per cent of people who come come as asylum seekers tend to be refugees, is clearly an ignorant position to take," Mr West said.

Dear Mr Ferguson,

I have always been a Labour voter. However, I am becoming increasingly alarmed by the right wing shift in the Labour party and its apparent loss of humanitarianism.

I have seen the detention centre at Woomera and wept at the appalling conditions under which refugees were kept. I have attended presentations by those who have worked in Australian refugee camps and heard about the treatment of the inmates. I am aware that, as with all facets of society, politicians included, there are a few bad eggs. However, all evidence points to the fact that somewhere around 90% of asylum seekers are genuine refugees. Indeed, we must keep in mind too that all white Australians are immigrants whose ancestors largely came out on boats, and who were not required to undergo a processing procedure but who received automatic asylum.
To suggest that those of us who have been horrified by the treatment of refugees are those who don't want any rules, is blatant ignorance and misreporting. We do want rules and procedures, but we want rules and procedures that are just and timely and that treat all people in a humanitarian manner. How would you feel if your country were invaded and you could no longer express a political opinion, no longer work, no longer have any freedom of speech or the means to ensure that you and your family had a safe and healthy life? Would you wish to 'escape' to another country? Perhaps so, and if so, how would you feel if you were abused, locked up with your children for years and left in appalling conditions and that you heard derogatory comments about the reasons why you had left the impossible conditions in your own country? Is that what a global world is all about? I don't think so. Or, I didn't think so!

As to the reported comment that you are sick of "being lectured to by people", Hello!!!! is it not the job of a politician, as an elected servant and spokesperson of the people to listen to those people without being critical of the fact that individuals wish to express their opinions? Or is this a myth long outlived? I fear so when I read information such as that which was reported by the Age. Perhaps the Age does have a particular readership, ownership and political position, but when quotations are used, can these be denied? Surely there must be some truth or the Age would be in court defending expensive defamation cases with monotonous regularity.

Please, as Shadow Minister for Immigration, take your responsibilities seriously. Take a humanitarian view. Do not insult the intelligence and values of your Labour constituency - or we will be doomed to the Libs/Coalition for eternity.



First, congratulations on getting Shadow Spokesperson on Immigration.

Second, now that you are in the role, I think it is important for you to remember that you represent party policy as adopted at the National Conference in January 2004, and the State Conferences that followed the last election, not just the policies of your own electorate.

Third, I recommend you re-read the policy platform of Labor for Refugees, and I commend the full policy platform to your attention and action. Making harsh judgements about refugees and their motives is not going to get you or the Labor Party anywhere but out of government and out of public sympathy for a very long time,


Dear Laurie,

Just wanted to congratulate you on losing another 20,000 votes in your first day as Immigration spokesman. Very impressive!

What YOU need to realise Mr Ferguson, and I hope I'm not lecturing here, is that refugee advocates are tireless, hard working, passionate and committed people who would work really hard to get the Labor party re-elected if you would just give us one SKERRICK of an indication that your policy on asylum seekers would be more compassionate than the Liberals.

Are you the Shadow Minister for Immigration or a Minister for the Shadow Liberal Party?

Why can't we all work together to defeat the real enemy - the Liberal party? Why do we spend so much time fighting each other? Give us some encouragement Laurie and we'll give you it back one hundred fold.


I have to say as a refugee advocate, I am disgusted at your first few statements on refugees.

Do you have any idea of the heartache and stress, those that care about the welfare of others are under since the elections? Do you have any idea of the hard work many of these people have endured to try and secure the release of the people locked up these deplorable conditions indefinitely? I'll bet you don't because like the rest of the politicians in this country you don't give a rats about anybody only yourself!

Take a long hard look at yourselves and ask why the ALP has lost the last three elections and why each time the vote for your party gets smaller, it is because people who are compassionate and caring in this country are now totally disenfranchised, we no longer have a party to vote for who can realistically change government. if we vote ALP we might as well vote for the bloody Liberal party. I am beginning to wonder whether those in the Labor party that are currently in Parliament are so stupid they can't see the wood for the trees.

I have voted Labor all my life, this time was the last and final time, that goes for the 60 or more members of my extended family and friends. You do not deserve my vote and I deserve more for loyally sticking with Labor all these years.

Bob Brown is the only person from now on I will consider giving my vote to.

I have one more thing to say to you and that is, don't judge anyone, like you have refugees until you have walked in their shoes.

I hope there is a concerted campaign to get rid of you out of this portfolio, refugees deserve much better than you, representing them!!!!

New South Wales

Dear Mr Ferguson

Sir if my email sounded angry I confess I was so. Now if I sound conciliatory, that too is a correct assumption. This is mainly because you have shown me by replying that you are prepared to listen.

I am not in any network. I am 75 years old. I have helped a WA MP by being a booth manner for both his past elections. I not only voted for the labour party I know I convinced many undecideds and many liberal voters in our area to vote labour.

I have a strong dislike for John Howard and his crew. Nothing would have pleased me more than to see him defeated in the last election. His lies - mainly on the skins of the asylum-seekers "Children overboard" etc distressed me greatly. If you care to check Senator John Faulkner whom I had corresponded with on this subject you will find I am not given to lying.

You implied that I could be one who classes people of different thoughts to mine as racists. WRONG.

Everyone has a modicum of this in their being but when Howard plays his fear factor (and we've seen how well it works) we get a result unworthy of the ideal of FAIR GO which our nation espouses.

What we have is a nation being manipulated. The faces of the children, some only new-borns never shown. Their side of the story never told. Apologies never offered. Demonising of innocents perpetuated.

IF the TRUTH were exposed, you and many (hopefully, most) Australians would and could see the whole picture.

Your declarations did you no benefit. In effect you reinforced John Howard's actions. What else did you expect from me or the many who flooded your emails whether or not they were part of an "activist network" or not.

Kim Beazley lost the prior election becauseamongst other things, he went along with Howard's demonising campaign on asylum-seekers. If he'd taken the risk and MAYBE lost on the grounds of opposing such hate overtures, many thousands of compassionate and humanely motivated Australians would have felt dignified even, by a loss on such basis.

Similarly Mark Latham missed the opportunity to dignify his campaign by exposing the chink in Howard's armour so adeptly exposed by the diligence of John Faulkner, by exploiting Howard's ungodly, unchristian, unhumane, un-UN protocol respecting etc... etc... open flank, begging to have spears thrust into it.

I invite you to meet me anytime you are in this neck of the woods to have facts other than the ones which dominate your judgement at present presented.

For Christ sake oppose Howard don't pander to him.

West Australia

An invitation: becoming a detainee


Dear Laurie,

At the end of the day if you or I were to spend just one week in a detention centre in the middle of summer would we think differently. But to be honest, what would be harder for me would be knowing that my wife and children were suffering in this way and even harder being separated from them so that I could not offer any solace.

A challenge for both of us. I will live in a detention centre for a week of this coming summer if you care to join me. I promise not to preach or speak pompously. In fact I promise only to speak if invited to do so by you.

South Australia

The Right of Reply: Laurie's proforma email

Dear ......

Thank you for your e-mail. An effective activist network ensured that there was a significant number of such messages. They were mainly characterised by smug admonishments that I should be as informed as the writers. Unfortunately my life experience and work question this proposition. Alternatively anyone disagreeing with their views is 'racist'. Much recourse was had the magical ninety per-cent pass rate with little conjecture as to why the rate was higher than international UNCHR proportions or Australia's offshore processing rates.

Finally, there was a bizarre belief that whilst Labor had and continues to have a distinctly different approach on detention specifics, not being even more distinct was the reason we lost the election. There were some e-mails critical of me which displayed valuable knowledge and insights. I have been contacting those people directly.

I commend you for your personal endeavours to ensure a more diverse settlement pattern in Australia.

Yours sincerely

Laurie Ferguson MP
Federal Member for Reid
Shadow Minister for Immigration


The Right of Reply: Lost on me

Dear Laurie,

I'm afraid your first paragraph is completely unintelligible. I guess it's some kind of cryptic insult. Lost on me.

But the mere acknowledgement of "An effective activist network" seems to suggest it would be something you should make use of. More fool you. Guess you won't be speaking at the convergence in Canberra next Tuesday.

I gather I wasn't one of the emails "which displayed valuable knowledge and insights" so won't be getting a direct response. Oh well.

For the last couple of weeks [....] Artists Against Howard, [....] Musicians for Change have been thinking about what to re-name our group of over 2000 artists including some of the most prominent actors, musicians, writers and directors in the country as we use our voices to campaign over the next three years towards the next Federal election.

I guess the new name is coming clearer day by day - Artists for the Greens. Has a nice ring to it doesn't it ?

Thanks for your time Julie. Sorry, Laurie.


Dear Laurie Ferguson

People tell me that we should 'educate' you as the new shadow minister for immigration, but I think you have had plenty of time to hear about the abuse and razor wire the Liberals have welcomed asylum seekers to Australia with. You cannot claim you didn't know about the suffering that Howard's government put them through.

Following your disgusting racist remarks about asylum seekers I think it would have been no better if you had won the election. As the former Greens candidate for Fadden I stood against David Jull, one of the Liberals' worst bigots, and now you demonstrate to us that you are no better. I am very glad we didn't give the ALP our preferences in my electorate because you are no better than the arch tormenter of refugees, Philip Ruddock.

This email will go out to hundreds of people and you should know that the people who campaigned for a more civilised and humane refugee policy knew they couldn't trust the ALP and they were right.

I hope you will resign from the portfolio as soon as possible, because we will out you as publicly as possible. You are unfit to be in public life.

Get out!
Willy Bach

Ferguson's failure

The Age
30 October 2004

At the start a new term of government, it could reasonably be hoped that political leaders would reconsider Australia's hardline approach to refugees, which does not conform to international protocols. From Laurie Ferguson's first comments as Labor's immigration spokesman (The Age, 28/10), no change of approach will be advocated by Labor. Instead, we may expect the Opposition to support a policy that is devoid of humanity and dismissive of people's rights and sensitivities.

David Dyer, Ballarat

God help him

The Age
30 October 2004

What an appalling start Laurie Ferguson has made as Labor's immigration spokesman with his broadside about "a sizeable proportion (of refugees) with fraudulent cases". God help us, and him. I am closely associated/continually informed by Rural Australians for Refugees and A Just Australia. The latter has 74 patrons, more than 40 of whom have Australian medals for recognised service to their communities. Ferguson's opening emphasis is simply wrong-footed, and he will create a wave of dismay and anger from a large number of very well-informed, committed and articulate people. Pull your head in, mate, would be my advice.

Alan Wright, Spotswood

Humanitarian need

The Age
30 October 2004

Despite your critical headline that he sounded "a harsh note" (The Age, 28/10), Laurie Ferguson was justified in defending his position. Even if it is true, as Jack Smit claims, that 93 per cent of asylum seekers are found to be refugees, it is still necessary to have a process that separates those who are genuine from those who are not. Yes, it needs to be speeded up and people deserve all care while waiting for the outcome of their initial claims or later appeals. Mr Ferguson appears to support that.

However, he is right to say that his critics lack knowledge of the broader issues. Many asylum advocates ignore those wasting away in refugee camps, not least in Darfur. They often have greater claim on our compassion than those who can find the resources to reach our shores. Net migration is now around 120,000 while natural increase is almost as much, a total growth rate that is unsustainable. We need to double our humanitarian stream from the miserable 12,000, but as Australia's population cannot be allowed to grow inexorably, that has to be at the expense of the skilled program.

Jenny Goldie, Michelago, NSW

Humanitarian need just as strong for unannounced arrivals

The Age
Letter to the Editor
30 October 2004

Jenny Goldie (Letters 30/10, Humanitarian need), please become more informed about the 'refugee movement'. This movement did not rise up because of concerns about the off-shore refugee program: Australia can take some credit for its decent share in this program. We've taken in a considerable number of Sudanese refugees already, and if you remember Senator Vanstone's announcements about the last annual off-shore intake, at the beginning of the year you can rest at ease about this.

One of my very serious charges against Laurie Ferguson, apart from the fact that he is being appallingly dismissive, blunt and arrogant on Day One of his new job appointment, is that he tries to rebuff the refugee movement with the same manipulative statements as the Immigration Minister Senator Vanstone when we seek him out on what we do to boatpeople: he tries to tell us "don't look over here, look over there". In trying to talk about the overseas refugee camps, he tries to avoid addressing the immense cruelty we inflict on those who come 'unannounced'.

The refugee movement, consisting of tens of thousands of very informed Australians, rose up because Australia became known around the world for its scandal of how we treat those who come 'unannounced' and how the Howard government consistently lies to the Australian electorate about those arrivals. First, the coalition government is guilty of manipulating Australians by calling unannounced arrivals "illegal" while there is no ground in law or convention to support this. Here is my second charge against Laurie Ferguson: he's also maintaining to call them "illegal". Laurie also lies.

Second, the initial refugee assessment by DIMIA since about 2000, carried an error rate of about 60% to 80% for Iraqis and Afghans. Third, government reviews (the Refugee Review Tribunal) of these erroneous claims is conducted by just one person, who is not a lawyer, who does not need to be qualified for the job: the reason that more than 90% is eventually successful in their refugee claims, is not at all due to, but despite of, our assessment system reserved for 'unannounced arrivals', often only after appealing to the Federal or High Courts claimants are found to be refugees. Meanwhile, during those 3,4 or 5 years of appeals and counter-appeals by the government, we keep them locked up, hoping they go mad instead and go home. They're not users of the legal system, as Laurie alleged in statements this week, they're desperately trying to find justice and recognition in Australia, because they thought we would give them that justice when they decided to come here.

Fourth, we lock people up until they die in detention centres if we can't send them back and we determine that they're unsuccessful in their claims, and the Full high Court says we can do that. Recently Peter Qasim who arrived without papers because he never had any in the first place, started on his seventh year in the Baxter detention centre.

Laurie Ferguson has a choice: he either accepts, appreciates, and supports the refugee movement, or he should be honest and cross the floor to support the Howard government. Of course he can also resign from the ALP and become a "Large L Liberal".

Jack H Smit, Narrogin WA


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