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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.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

George Bush, Peter Singer, God and Family First

Hi all

I don't think the last word has been said about the US elections in November 2004, have a look at here.

One of the main issues of debate that's starting also, both in the US and here in Australia, is what may well be the rise of the new religious right, for us in the form of Family First. I'll be decent, and admit that I like Andrea Mason, the party leader. She wrote to Vanstone about deportations of Iranians soon after I phoned her and gave her an exhaustive briefing about what we do when we deport Christian Iranians back to Iran, and the letter was pretty much a no-nonsense epistle. Thanks also to the many of you who responded to my call to write to Family First about deporting Christian Iranians. Update of Nov 21, 2004: See Andrea Mason's letter below the report from Russell Skelton in The Weekend Age: Family First has shown it's got teeth!
Family First: Asylum policy brief 5/10/2004 (PDF file)
Below an opinion piece from the Sydney Morning Herald - it's a hoot, but also, it gives an insight into the issues at play. I've inserted some links to book reviews of Peter Singer's book, about 'the Ethics of George W. Bush'.


Those things we were liable to read into the Bible - it ain't necessarily so

Sydney Morning Herald
By Richard Glover
November 6, 2004

Exactly what kind of Bible is being read by all these evangelical Christians: the ones who have voted George Bush back into the White House? Do they have a special copy which skips the passage about the "meek inheriting the Earth"?

In their copy, is the world inherited instead by the sleek or the bleak, or perhaps by the clique - that group of defence contractors and petrol-pumpers surrounding the President? Does it approve of the coveting of one's neighbour's ass, because that's aspirational, but not his arse, because that's gay and therefore weird?

Does their copy say you can extract revenge by attacking someone unconnected with the original crime, as has happened in Iraq? Does it say that a War in Error can replace a War on Terror?

Have they a Bible which celebrates the transfer of resources from the poor to the rich through tax cuts; even unto billionaires such as Bill Gates (the Geek who will inherit the Earth). Is there a passage about Alaska, and the God-given right to drill for oil? And does their Bible bless the moneylenders, as this military and social charabanc runs up its ever-more staggering deficit?

Bush is the most divisive and geopolitically radical president in living memory, and yet he has been put there again by the Christian vote. All that time I spent at Sunday school, fashioning little lambs out of cotton wool and Clag glue, must have given me the wrong idea about these people. In Sydney, in the Sunday school of the '60s, they all seemed, if anything, a bit wet. It was all about peace and love and helping those less fortunate than oneself.

The teachers themselves seemed fragile and delicate, as if they too were fashioned out of cotton wool and Clag: the ladies with their wispy white hair, haloed around their head, and thin, bony limbs that looked as if they were made from twisted pipe-cleaners. Maybe that's why they worked us so hard at craft: it would be up to us to make a fresh generation of teachers once these ones passed on.

But, even as we twisted the pipe-cleaners into the shepherd's crook, we knew these people defined an idea of goodness: kindness, self-sacrifice, peace. We took them to be the Christian values.

No longer. Over there at least, there's nothing wispy or fragile about what seems to be the defining brand of Christian, with their belief in war, wealth and welfare-reform. Look at the voting patterns and they sure are good haters: many of them tempted into voting for the first time by the chance to condemn gay marriage. Hate got them out of bed and voting in a way love never did.

So what do these Bushite Christians make of the Bible and its scenes of Jesus washing the feet of the poor? Talk about rewarding the lazy: they should be washing the feet of the rich, under a work-for-the-dole scheme. Ditto all those prostitutes, beggars and thieves, with whom Jesus is always hanging out. Surely that can't be right?

In his book 'The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush', published this year, [See review here, here and here] the philosopher Peter Singer compares Bush's policies with his professed Christian beliefs. Singer demonstrates that, judged against the central principles of the Bible, Bush's actions don't stack up.

When Singer came on my ABC radio show, I suggested he had used a pretty large hammer to crack a pretty small nut: surely no one imagines Bush is simply acting out Christian beliefs. They would see him as just another politician, wouldn't they: in this case following a neo-conservative ideology, while posing in the raiments of faith?

I now accept I was wrong. Singer has used a big hammer, but, boy, these are pretty big nuts. On Tuesday, millions voted on what they took to be Christian values: 21 per cent said they voted on "moral values" ahead of the war or the economy. I now think Singer's book, with its methodical arguments from biblical sources, should be given to every evangelical in the US. We could start by smuggling it into every hotel room: we could call it Gideon Plus.

Some say this faith-based politics is now coming to Australia, with Family First in the Senate and arguments about abortion and homosexuality. I just hope we keep a little of the traditional Australian tolerance and, yes, levity.

Which brings us to the late parliamentarian Fred Daly. In his book From Curtin to Kerr, Daly recounts one of the early debates over abortion within the Labor Party.

"I just don't know what to do about the abortion bill," one worried backbencher confides to another. Comes the response: "Mate, if I were you, I'd pay it."

By all means, have a laugh. After this week, I reckon we need it.

From the Sydney Morning Herald

Deporting Christian convert angers Family First

The Age
By Russell Skelton
November 21, 2004

A serious rift has developed between Family First - the party expected to be the principal ally of the Coalition in the Senate - and the Howard Government over the deportation of an Iranian asylum seeker who converted to Christianity.

Andrea Mason, the former Family First leader and party spokeswoman, yesterday called on the Prime Minister to stop further deportations following the forced removal of the Iranian last month from the Baxter Immigration detention facility near Port Augusta.

"What the Government is doing is repugnant to all Christians and should not be allowed to continue. Iran is a country that punishes people who renounce Islam, and these people are being placed in danger by being sent back," she said.

It is believed that there are about 50 Iranians in immigration detention who have converted to the Christian faith since their arrival in Australia by boat four years ago. Most face deportation under a secret agreement the Australian Government struck with the Islamic Republic of Iran last year.

Ms Mason said she had received a letter from Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone during the week purporting to explain the circumstances surrounding the recent deportation. "It did not explain anything, really; it just looked like something dashed off by her department. It does not allay our concerns in any way," Ms Mason said.

The letter from Senator Vanstone said, in part, that although she could not discuss the individual case in question "unauthorised arrivals are not removed . . . until all review and legal actions have been completed".

She said Australia took seriously its obligation of not returning asylum seekers to a country where they might suffer persecution, but made no specific reference to the situation in Iran.

Earlier, Ms Mason wrote to Senator Vanstone warning that "the Iranian Government is repressive and there is much evidence of persecution, disappearance and killing of political and religious dissidents."

Ms Mason's church, the Assemblies of God, is campaigning internationally to force Iranian authorities to release Hamid Pourmand, a 47-year-old lay pastor, and 85 evangelical church members arrested in September for proselytising, a practice outlawed under Iran's religious codes.

The Iranian asylum seeker, whose name has been withheld at the request of Christian groups and the Immigration Department, was deported after attending the weekly Baxter Christian service. Detainees and pastoral care workers said the man was called to the administration office on what appeared to be a routine matter.

He was never seen again. Sister Anne, a Sister of Mercy, who attended the service, said: "He literally disappeared; we are still in a state of shock".

Immigration authorities have since confirmed that an Iranian who abandoned Islam for Catholicism three years earlier while in detention was deported to Tehran, where renouncing Islam in Iran is a capital crime, punishable by either hanging or stoning to death.

It is understood from Amnesty International that, on arrival at Tehran international airport, the man was interrogated for 48 hours before being charged with leaving the country illegally and released into the care of his family. He is yet to appear in court.

The deportation has alarmed human rights, Christian and refugee groups, who suspect the deportation signifies a sudden hardening in the Federal Government's attitude to the 91 Iranians remaining in detention.

Inquiries confirm that the man was deported on October 15, days after the federal election and before Senator Vanstone was sworn in again as Immigration Minister. He was the first Iranian to be deported by her although two were deported by her predecessor, Philip Ruddock.

Refugee and church groups had believed Senator Vanstone was willing to take a more sympathetic approach to the issue of deporting converts. In the weeks before the election, Senator Vanstone re-examined the cases of 13 Christian converts at Baxter, issuing eight with visas. Clergy who minister at Baxter subsequently submitted a list of 40 detainees they assessed as genuine converts - some deemed to be more worthy than the eight granted visas - to the minister's office for further consideration. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also has a list of Iranian religious converts at risk if returned. The deported man is believed to be on both lists.

Senator Vanstone's office denied that she personally ordered the deportation. A spokesman said she had not authorised the removal and was not required to. "This is a departmental matter; when all the processes have been exhausted, the law requires that unauthorised persons be removed," he said.

But a government official who has worked closely with Senator Vanstone and Mr Ruddock said it would be a controversial step for the department to deport an asylum seeker to Iran, a country with a dubious human rights record, without informing the minister or at least her office.

"It would never have happened under Philip Ruddock. It is extremely unusual for the department to take it upon itself to deport a person before the minister was even sworn in. I think it indicates how her office has been run," the official said.

The decision to deport the Iranian also appears to signify a shift in Senator Vanstone's decision making. After becoming minister a year ago, she has reduced the number of Iranians in detention by half.

Since January, the number of Iranians has dropped from about 200 to 90, with many being granted visas after making applications to the minister.

The deportation has provoked an angry response from clergy of all denominations. A petition has been circulated by Sister Anne Higgins and Father Arno Vermeeren, protesting about the deportation and accusing the Immigration Department of placing the man's life at risk. It has attracted several thousand signatures. The petition states: "The fundamentalist nature of the regime in Iran is well known and there is no doubt of its intent and practice of punishing apostates." Apart from the petition, Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Church bishops have also written to the Prime Minister urging him to stop the deportation of converts.

The Department has denied any policy shift. "The department takes seriously its obligations under the refugees convention and does not return people to a place where they have a well-founded fear of persecution," the spokeswoman said. "To date, no evidence has been provided to the department to substantiate claims that Iranians returned by Australia are being persecuted."

This is disputed in a recent report prepared by the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education, titled Deported to Danger. Based on interviews with more than 40 returned asylum seekers, the report claimed that many voluntary returnees to Iran had been detained for days, interrogated about religious affiliations and asked for detainees' names in Australia who had converted to Christianity.

Phil Glendenning, president of the Edmund Rice Centre at the Australian Catholic University, said that other Iranians interviewed but not included in the report to protect their identity, complained that on return to Iran they found it hard to get work, were denied travel documents and banned from government jobs and universities.

There were, however, no recorded incidents of apostates being executed, even though the law provides for it.

The department spokeswoman said claims for asylum based on religious conversions were now taken into consideration when assessing protection claims. But she cautioned:

"The decision on whether a person is owed protection will depend on individual facts in each case."

So why was the Iranian, regarded by clergy ministering at Baxter as a Catholic of sincere and genuine belief, deported directly after a church service he attended to a country where the harsh treatment of apostates has been criticised by a wide range of groups from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to the US State Department?

An examination of the man's Refugee Review Tribunal hearing reveals that the man's conversion to Catholicism three years ago was not regarded as genuine and dismissed even though those who have prayed with him disagree with that evaluation.

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Department said the Iranian had been lawfully deported after all his claims for asylum, including a High Court appeal, had been rejected.

Family First's reponse to Iranian deportation

Senator Amanda Vanstone
Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
C/O Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister

Re: "Mr M"

I was recently informed that "Mr M", a gentlemen who had been endeavouring to obtain refugee status in Australia and who, until recently was being detained in the Baxter Detention Centre, Port Augusta, was on the weekend removed from the facility and deported to Iran.

I am extremely concerned about his return to Iran. From correspondence received, I understand he is a convert to Christianity. It is my understanding that Iranian Muslims who convert to Christianity face imprisonment, severe punishment and even death.

I would appreciate your explanation as to the action of deportation by the federal government. Specifically, would you explain the grounds upon which "Mr M"'s application failed to meet the criteria for refugee status or other special humanitarian considerations. Would you also explain what criteria was used in the assessment of his application, and the decision to deport and whether "Mr M" had exhausted all avenues of appeal.

Understanding that "Mr M" is now in Iran, is the government willing to accept the responsibility to monitor the safety of "Mr M"? The Iranian Government is repressive and there is much evidence for persecution, disappearance and killing of political and religious dissidents.

Article 33 of the UN Refugee Convention says that no state shall return a refugee to a place where his or her life or liberty is threatened. The UN Convention Against Torture says that no state can send a person to a place where there is a real prospect of torture. I am deeply concerned that the deportation of "Mr M" to Iran has placed him in serious danger of physical harm.

I would ask that you take urgent action in regard to ensuring, to the best of the Government's abilities, the safety of "Mr M". I would appreciate your advice in regard to the other matters raised in this letter. I can be reached on (08) 8368 6113 or via email andream(at)

Yours sincerely

Andrea Mason
SA Senate Candidate
Party Leader
Family First


  • At Monday, November 22, 2004 6:03:00 PM, Blogger Project_SafeCom said…

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  • At Monday, November 22, 2004 6:27:00 PM, Blogger Project_SafeCom said…

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  • At Monday, November 22, 2004 6:29:00 PM, Blogger Project_SafeCom said…

    The right-wing Christian voterby John TomlinsonBorn again, praise the Lord,
    Jesus is my friend.
    When I die I'll go to heaven,
    my life will never end.

    If it's true it's in the Bible
    Mathew, Mark, Luke and John
    for the answers we are liable
    to move this world along.

    I want a life that's simple
    that will really set me free
    to do what I want when I want-
    that's my new theology.

    Born again, praise the Lord,
    Jesus is my friend.
    When I die I'll go to heaven,
    my life will never end.

    I don't love that other Jesus,
    Jesus of Galilee,
    who asked us all to stand up tall
    and to love humanity.

    I don't love that other Jesus,
    who'd turn the other cheek,
    who would fight the rich and powerful
    for the humble and the meek.

    Born again, praise the Lord,
    Jesus is my friend.
    When I die I'll go to heaven,
    my life will never end.

    I don't love that other Jesus,
    who spurned the money makers.
    I've fallen for a new God,
    the God of the money takers.

    The poor are down, they're down and out
    and the homeless have no clout.
    None of the struggling find a friend.
    So don't ask for charity- it may offend.

    Born again, praise the Lord,
    Jesus is my friend.
    When I die I'll go to heaven,
    my life will never end.

    John Tomlinson is a Senior Social Work lecturer at Queensland University of Technology.


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