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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.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Refugees: ensuring renewed national attention

Massive refugee advocates' contingent to converge on Parliament

Media Release
Friday November 12 2004 13:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

A massive contingent of refugee advocates, supporters and activists is expected to descend on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra this Tuesday under the theme "Stand Up for Refugees" to make their presence felt during the opening day of the new parliament and the start of a new term of the Howard government.

Related pages:

bullet  Photos - a full record the Rally

bullet  The Call to attend the Rally

People from all States are expected to travel - many in large groups in buses - to be present, from the RAC (Refugee Action Collective) groups of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and representatives from Perth, and from Rural Australians for Refugees, ChilOut, Project SafeCom and many other collectives and groups. Mr Ian Rintoul of RAC Sydney expects the numbers may well swell to more than 1500 to 2000.

While groups such as Project SafeCom and the group Women in Black will make their presence felt from 10:30am onwards, others will arrive with buses, in time for the main speakers line-up at 12:30, convened by Big Brother protester Merlin Luck. At 11:30 the vast array of groups are expected to start their march on Federal Parliament from the pond in front of the High Court of Australia, to symbolize the grievances with the decisions of the High Court supporting the right of the Howard administration to detain asylum seekers "for the term of their natural life".

Women in Black will 'welcome' parliamentarians back to work as they arrive for the 10:30 start with an silent protest at the entrance, while Project SafeCom will prepare its mailout to all MP's, which will include a juicy summation of the political achievements of "The Man Who Stopped The Boats" - the politician who claims to qualify for the "boat-stopping medal" as well as a Christmas card linking the Magi at the birth of Christ to the forced deportations from Australian camps to Iran of failed asylum seekers.

The march will be likely to be a display the colourful and vast array of many alliances, including Rural Australians for Refugees groups, many of whom plan to march under their individual RAR Group banners in what promises to be a long procession from the High Court to Parliament House.

Project SafeCom spokesman Jack H Smit said that the tens of thousands of refugee advocates from around the country simply will not allow the government as well as the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party to silence and manipulate public opinion over refugee issues. "The scandal once was TAMPA, then Woomera, then the traumatisation of TPV holders", Mr Smit said.

"Since the 2004 election campaign the scandal has shifted to John Howard as well as Mark Latham, who are both actively working to silence this issue. It was extraordinary to have the Great Debate, where all issues that count for voters, such as the Iraq War, ATSIC, most of the education and health issues, as well as refugee issues, were avoided for fear of a backlash."

"This Tuesday the government will be powerfully reminded that Australians will not allow Mark Latham and John Howard to bury the issues that have dug so deep into the social conscience of many Australians, that they will not be erased by spin and avoidance of the major parties."

Online Event resource:
Project SafeCom Canberra Convergence page

Canberra - 11,000 HEARTS transplanted

Hearts for RefugeesFrom the west to the east, from north and south, from cities and towns, Australians are moving on buses, cars and planes towards Canberra for the opening of Parliament. There they will plant 11,000 hearts around the Parliament to remind this Government that their hearts are breaking. They will plant the multi-coloured hearts with messages of hope from thousands of Australian, calling on the Government to show some compassion to refugees. Fifty-one Asylum Seekers from Melbourne will be amongst the thousands on this day, asking for recognition.

Throughout the election campaign Prime Minister Howard and his busload of journalists avoided the refugee issue. Indeed Minister Vanstone's "only one child left in detention" lie went unchallenged by the media despite the evidence of 86 children in detention.

On this day Australians will remind their government about:

bullet The 101 children (as per figures to date) still held under guard in detention camps on- and offshore.

bullet The 972 asylum seekers still detained.

bullet Their disapproval of this Government's fight in the High Court for the right to lock up adults and children indefinitely.

bullet The Stateless people held in Indefinite Detention in camps, who have nowhere to call home, and this government's fight to hold them forever if it wished.

bullet The empty promise of visas for refugees given during the 2004 election campaign, when hundreds of Iraqis are being refused permanent protection and told to go home.

bullet The thousands of Iraqis living on Temporary Visas in Australia who fled the same regime which Australia has sent troops to attack.

bullet The fifty-five Iraqis imprisoned on Nauru waiting for [more than] three years for freedom.

bullet The twenty-eight Afghanis waiting on Nauru for freedom.

bullet The two Ahmadi's waiting on Nauru for freedom.

bullet The Stateless man from the Bihari refugee camp who has nowhere to call home.

bullet The farce that DIMIA claims that "asylum seekers on Nauru are not in detention".

bullet The Vietnamese asylum seekers on Christmas Island - waiting and waiting.

bullet The estimated eight thousand asylum seekers living in the Australian community on Bridging Visa E (BVE), destitute, with NO right to work and NO right to Medicare.

bullet The thousands of women and children "warehoused" in Indonesia by the Australian government who is paying The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to feed and house them, but give them no money or right of movement, while their husbands and fathers are in Australia pining for them.

bullet The 353 people from "SIEV X" who drowned during Operation Relex.

bullet The two women who died under the eyes of the Navy during Operation Relex.

bullet The houses, motels, schools and hospitals designated "place of detention" so that DIMIA can maintain a fiction of asylum seeker as threat.

bullet The asylum seekers now entering their seventh year in detention.

bullet The teenagers who grew up in Australia's camps being brutalised.

bullet Those who have died in Detention.

bullet The lonely fathers waiting years to be reunited with their families and those whom the government will never allow to see their families again.

"The 16th of November is a day for the people who represent the soul of Australia. These are the Australians who have not forgotten the second verse of our national anthem and yearn to see our government remember it. 'For those who come across the seas we've boundless plains to share'", Says Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.

Pamela Curr
ASRC Campaign Coordinator
13 November 2004

Protesters rally over refugee treatment

Tuesday, November 16, 2004, 2:01pm (AEDT)

About 400 people have rallied outside Parliament House in Canberra, protesting against the Howard Government's treatment of refugees.

The protesters include representatives of several refugee groups as well as refugee campaigner Tony Kevin and former television contestant, Merlin Luck.

They have used the first day of Parliament to say to the Federal Government that it can not continue to keep asylum seekers in detention centres.

They say the treatment of these people, particularly children, is inhumane and a crime according to international law.

Speakers at the rally have attacked the Howard Government for failing to end the detention of asylum seekers.

Many of the speakers were particularly angry at the detention of children, describing it as inhumane.

Riz Wakil spent time in the Curtin detention centre as a former Afghanistan asylum seeker and has told the rally that despite the Howard Government's election victory, people should not give up on those seeking refuge in Australia.

"They might have control of both rooms in the building behind us but they do not control the many more spaces in all our schools, our campuses, our workplaces, other communities and our streets.

"No Australian government has a mandate to brutalise asylum seekers and refugees."

Also addressing the rally was 16-year-old William Mudford, who expressed his dismay at the detention of children.

"The Howard Government has created this century's stolen generation," he said.

Greens Senator Bob Brown referred to a church service this morning at which the Prime Minister, John Howard, prayed that God would help Australia recognise unjust discrimination.

"Now I say Prime Minister, don't ask God to do that which you can do, Prime Minister," he said.

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett asked people at the protest not to give up the fight for asylum seekers.

Protesters rally for refugees

NineMSN News
17:38 AEDT Tue Nov 16 2004

Hundreds of protesters converged on Parliament House in Canberra to demand the government release refugees from detention.

As cannons were wheeled out for a 19-gun salute to mark the opening of parliament, asylum seekers told the 300-strong rally Australia was abusing human rights.

"The government and the regime who abused the human rights ... of innocent people in detention centres including myself - I spent nine months in Curtin Detention Centre - is back as a winner of the election," Afghani refugee Riz Wakil said.

"We will be fighting against any inhuman legislation which will be brought by this government in future and any action against refugees will not be accepted."

Merlin Luck, the 24-year-old from Sydney who arrived on stage for his Big Brother eviction with his mouth taped shut and holding a sign that read: "Free th(e) Refugees", said the rally showed the refugee movement was alive and stronger than ever.

"It's time Australia stepped into line - the international community is appalled, the United Nations is appalled and millions of Australians are appalled," he added.

In a church service on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister John Howard and MPs prayed that Australia "will continue to be the land of the fair go and that Australians from all backgrounds will continue to learn and practise acceptance" - a prayer Australian Greens leader Bob Brown told protesters was hypocritical while children remained in detention.

"I think prayers, particularly from the nation's leaders, should mean what they say," Senator Brown said.

"It's hypocrisy on the one hand to pray to a power to implement the very things that you have the power to do yourself but do not.

"John Howard should go back over the words of the church service this morning and change course."

Mr Howard's office declined to comment but Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said Australia had a long history of bipartisan support for providing protection to those in need.

"Australia's commitment to ensuring protection for those most in need cannot be questioned," Senator Vanstone said.

"It's why Australia is ranked behind only the United States and Canada in the size of its refugee intake."

This year the government increased its refugee intake by 50 per cent, to 6,000 places out of a total 13,000 places in the refugee and humanitarian program, she said.

However, youth ambassador for Children Out of Detention (ChilOut), 16-year-old Canberra schoolboy Will Mudford said he expected better of the government than to lock up children.

İAAP 2004

Refugee-rights movement here to stay

Green Left Weekly
November 24 2004
Kerryn Williams & James Caulfield, Canberra

"The refugee movement is here to stay. We are becoming stronger by the day. We will fight on to free the refugees!" This declaration from Big Brother's Merlin Luck captured the determined mood of up to 1000 people who converged on Parliament House on November 16, the day parliament resumed.

Chaired by Luck, the refugees' rights rally followed a march from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to the High Court. People came from as far as Melbourne and Brisbane, and Rural Australians for Refugees groups were represented from across NSW. At least three busloads of people made the trip from Sydney.

Brisbane Murri community and Socialist Alliance activist Sam Watson told the crowd that "PM John Howard used the people on the Tampa to hijack the 2001 federal election" and that again at the October 9 election "he tapped into people's innermost fears to steal the election".

Rejecting Howard's mandate, Watson declared that "No man, woman or child who comes to our country as an asylum seeker should be put behind barbed wire. [Asylum seekers] have broken no Australian law or Aboriginal law. According to our customs they are welcome."

Greens Senator Bob Brown received a "rock star welcome" at Luck's request. Describing how the prime minister had prayed that morning that "Australians of all backgrounds will continue to practice love and acceptance, that we continue to be that land of a fair go", Brown urged Howard: "Do not ask God to do that which you can do!"

Brown assured "those behind wire and without rights on temporary protection visas" that regardless of government policy, "the spirit of your cause will be through the halls of parliament for the next three years".

Three young ambassadors from refugee-rights group Chilout (Children out of Detention) spread 102 pairs of small shoes on the stage to symbolise all those children still locked up in Australian immigration detention centres.

Rob Simpson from Rural Australians for Refugees told the crowd: "If the prime minister claims to govern for all the people, let's see him put it into practice, because we are the people."

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett, Afghan refugee Riz Wakil, Labor Senator Linda Kirk, former diplomat Tony Kevin and Gillian Davies from the Victorian Refugee Action Committee also addressed the protest.

After loud chanting directed at those within parliament, the protest concluded with a march to the attorney-general's office. Canberra Refugee Action Committee activist and protest organiser Andrew Hall told Green Left Weekly that "the rally was a spectacular success. It really showed the diversity of the refugee-rights movement and that we will not be going away until there is justice for refugees."

'Join the parliament of the streets!'

Green Left Weekly
November 24 2004

The following is abridged from an address by Sydney-based Afghan refugee Riz Wakil to the November 16 convergence at federal parliament in Canberra.

Thank you for coming here on the first sitting day of parliament to say: "It doesn't matter who won the election - No Australian government has a mandate to brutalise asylum seekers and refugees."

Despite the Coalition being returned to government, the refugee-rights movement had an important victory this year. It forced [PM John] Howard's government - against its will - to grant permanent residence to almost all Afghan refugees in this country. The government would have been much happier sending us all back to Afghanistan, but the constant commitment and campaigning of the refugee-rights movement over the last half decade, your refusal to be silenced by politicians' and media lies, made it impossible for Howard and his mates to get their way.

It is important that we recognise this victory, because it tells us that we can make a difference over time. We can force the government to back down even when it doesn't want to.

After the federal election, we can no longer use the Senate to block or reverse the government's inhumane anti-refugee legislation. We have to take this job into our own hands - the hands of the people, not the politicians.

So we will have to use every available avenue outside of parliament to create so much public support for policy change that the government simply cannot afford to ignore us. They might have control of both rooms in the building behind us, but they don't control the many more spaces in all our schools and campuses, our workplaces, our communities and our streets.

We cannot wait another three or four years to change the parliamentary line-up. There are still hundreds of asylum seekers - including many children - locked up in detention centres who won't last that long. There are still thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have not been granted permanent residency, let alone citizenship. And there are still millions of traumatised and oppressed people outside of Australia in urgent need of a safe haven, many of whom will literally die if we wait.

Now more than ever we must keep speaking out, keep the issue on the public agenda, keep educating and organising more people to demand that mandatory detention is abolished and every detention centre is closed, that temporary protection visas are replaced with citizenship rights, and that the so-called "Pacific solution" is dismantled.

But as we do this, we also have to be clear that solving the personal problems of those asylum seekers and refugees who've been fortunate enough to make it to Australia is nowhere near enough. To really achieve our goals, we have to create a situation where any peoples suffering war, poverty and persecution in any other country can find sanctuary and a better life in Australia.

The Australian government is doing exactly the opposite. It is not just making it almost impossible for asylum seekers to get into Australia, it is also creating countless more refugees. The government's participation in the occupation of Iraq, and its support for the United States' war of terror on the Third World, creates more destruction, more displacement and more refugees.

And don't think these problems are going to end in Iraq with the elections next January. They certainly did not end in my country after the US-sponsored elections last October. War still ravages many parts of the country. Unemployment, poverty, lack of education and health care are still the norm, and women's and other human rights abuses continue.

Thousands of my Hazara brothers and sisters, who cannot survive in devastated Afghanistan, have fled to Iran or Pakistan, where they continue to be exploited, persecuted and killed every day.

Five years after the overthrow of the Taliban government, Afghanistan shows - just as Iraq will show - that without real self-determination, without real democracy, and without real equality in the world, all talk of "liberation" and "freedom" by the powerful countries is just propaganda intended to justify their control and plunder of our countries, and to justify the barriers they are erecting to prevent their victims from claiming sanctuary in the rich countries.

The government and Labor Party's enthusiastic support for the so-called "war on terror" is creating second-class citizens in this country too - political refugees in our own country. Muslims and people of Middle Eastern background are being presented as untrustworthy, or violent or outright terrorists. Racism and fear has been whipped up to divide us one from the other, because the more that Australians are scared of people from different ethnic backgrounds, cultures and religions, the more the government will be able to get away with its warmongering foreign policies and its brutal domestic policies of imprisoning refugees and anyone else who speaks out against it.

Thanks to the work of the refugee-rights movement, and the anti-war movement, fewer people believe the lies politicians tell to justify these crimes against humanity, and John Howard no longer represents majority public opinion on the treatment of asylum seekers or even the occupation of Iraq.

We represent the majority, and we will continue to speak out, to tell the people of Australia and the world the truth, until the demands for justice are met.

Rallies like today's are a very important part of doing that. By taking public action, we are saying what the majority believe - that the government has no mandate to lock out or lock up asylum seekers, or to occupy other countries. By speaking out today we are also encouraging others to take a stand, to say "No" to this parliament and join the "parliament of the streets", which can and will stop the wars and free the refugees!

Faces of protest

Green Left Weekly
November 24 2004

Green Left Weekly's James Caulfield and Kerryn Williams spoke to some of those present at the November 16 convergence on parliament about why they joined the protest.

Lesley Bond was representing the Taree Residents For Refugees, established less than two months ago. "What galvanised us into forming was meeting Janeel, a lovely refugee who was locked up for three years before finally being released. He had fought for freedom for women in his home country of Afghanistan. He had lost sight in one eye, he had lost a leg through bombs, planted by those who felt threatened by his advocacy of freedom for women, yet our country considered this man an unsuitable citizen."

Marty Morrison, part of the Great Lakes Rural Australians for Refugees group, left home at 3.30am to reach to rally. "We are ashamed of our country and the way we lock people up. Not only the children, which many people are concerned about, but everybody, locking them up when they have escaped from such terrible circumstances - countries that we are prepared to bomb, invade, but we don't let the people come and live here."

Part of a contingent from Sydney's Community Action Against Homophobia, James Wilson attended the rally in solidarity with refugees but also to highlight homophobia. "We want the federal government to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage, which I feel to be a completely draconian law, one that serves no real purpose except to marginalise minority groups further back to the 1950s." More than 150 people in total travelled from Sydney to protest.

Sixteen-year-old Will Mudford from Chilout (Children out of Detention) said, "Refugees should not be detained, especially children. There are over 100 children refugees still in detention and this is a disgrace. I met a guy the other day who hasn't been able to speak for three years because of detention and this is what Howard has done to our country."


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