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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, December 04, 2004

Escape from Australia: WWII role models mix with civil disobedience

This week refugee activists in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane had their homes raided as several were charged with passport forgery offences, allegedly committed to assist asylum seekers with their escape from Australia to countries such as Canada and New Zealand, and refugee activists, refugee advocates, refugee supporters and all other agents will need to make up their mind about supporting those charged with these offences, if these charges are proven to be true.

NOTE: see also the update on ALP's Loe Ludwig's motion below!

I'm barely two years old as I develop the habit of also exploring what's going in in De Hoogstraat, the street that starts when you turn the corner at the end of my short street. I do the dishes for the ladies in that street, in the street where the people have automobiles; I rake their garden paths, I sweep their back patios, and make a general nuisance of myself, toddling around and keeping the middle-aged ladies entertained.

I also walk into that overgrown parcel between two of the stately mansions, where between clumps of saurgrass and stinging nettle remnants of large upright stones hesitate to topple over. And back home I learn that those strange hieroglyphs on the granite uprights are the same letters as those in the bible before they translated it into a bible with Dutch letters. They are Hebrew letter signs, and the cemetery has long been abandoned, because the many Jewish people were either herded into trains all the way to Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, or returned to help re-create their Promised Land in the years following 1948. In a few years' time I will discover how the windows of the Synagogue on The Singel are covered with old cement-smeared planks taken from building sites.

As I grow up in a sunny childhood in many respects, my parents introduce me to The International Court of Justice during holiday day-trips, and my first photographs are from the Peace Palace, that grandiose building in The Hague. They give evidence of the pride of post-war parents in The Netherlands, as Europe recovers from the slaughter of the Holocaust and as the Dutch recover from being refugees in their own country, feeling proud of NATO, proud of the UN, and supporting the Refugee Convention.

And dad looks back on to the five years of oppression as he brags about the magnamanious events during Sunday coffee when there always are visitors in our home, and I watch in wonder as one of the out-of-town reputable farmers shows us the hollowed-out haystack when we go and buy our winter potatoes; and as we go on our Sunday family walks, I get a chance to see the false wall behind the entrance door into the chicken coop - the places where the locals in my village rallied to hide Jewish families.

The memories of that time come back to me this week as The Australian reports a little item in its 3 December edition:

Activists look to WWII heroes

The Australian
Friday December 3, 2004
Page 6

REFUGEE activists who allegedly broke the law to smuggle asylum seekers out of Australia will launch a campaign comparing themselves to people who smuggled Jews out of Nazi Germany.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said activists would launch the campaign to explain why the laws were broken.

"People who helped Jews escape persecution in Nazi Germany are now heralded as heroes, but back then they faced persecution for breaking the law," he said.

"There's a great similarity with what refugee activists here are doing."

Federal police have laid a range of charges over an alleged fake passport racket aimed at spiriting asylum-seekers out of Australia to "safe" destinations.

Raids hit 'passport racket'

The Australian
By Patricia Karvelas and Elizabeth Colman

FEDERAL police have cracked an alleged fake passport racket aimed at spiriting asylum-seekers out of Australia to "safe" destinations such as New Zealand and Canada.

A combined squad of Australian Federal Police and immigration officers yesterday swooped on homes in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne where asylum-seekers who had escaped from detention were believed to be "harboured".

Two people were arrested and appeared in court yesterday on charges of obtaining fake passports for illegal immigrants and operating bank accounts under false names.

A 29-year-old western Sydney man was bailed and ordered to appear in Parramatta local court next month. An illegal immigrant woman from the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe, who faces further charges of using a false name to operate a bank account, was refused bail and will appear in court again today.

Another four men, believed to be refugee activists, were ordered to appear in Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney next month.

It is understood the alleged racket involved some of the 47 refugees who escaped from Woomera detention centre during riots in 2002.

In Sydney, Refugee Action Coalition members Mark Goudkamp and John Morris said AFP officers told them they would be charged with obtaining Australian and foreign passports under false pretences.

Mr Morris yesterday told The Australian that last year he "supported" a passport application by an Iranian man who was now living safely overseas. "This person successfully left the onerous detention policy of Australia last year. He is now safe overseas; he is working and contributing to Western economy."

Mr Goudkamp, who was raided at his home in Sydney's inner-west by eight AFP and immigration officers, said he would do "anything" to assist the "desperate plight of refugees".

A spokesman for the AFP said he could not confirm the size of the alleged racket, which he claimed had been under way since 2002. However, The Australian understands activists have attempted to secure fake identification for about 10 asylum-seekers.

Refugee activists yesterday told The Australian some people might have been involved in falsifying documents because they were "desperate" to get asylum-seekers out of Australia so they could choose their destination rather than be deported to a nation where they might face torture.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul was also raided in his Brisbane home, where police took a large number of documents.

Mr Rintoul, who was not arrested, last night said it was understandable that people would break the law to get escaped asylum-seekers out of the country.

"If people were involved in this process, it's entirely understandable given the abominable treatment of refugees in Australia. Efforts like this are entirely justifiable and defensible," he said. "They are trumped up charges and are allowing the Government to attack refugee activists after the election."

Link to report in The Australian

Raids net illegal immigrants in Qld, NSW

Wednesday December 1 2004, 5:04pm (AEDT)

Australian Federal Police (AFP) have raided homes in New South Wales and Queensland as part of inquiries into alleged identity crime offences.

Police say they have investigated people who allegedly helped illegal immigrants obtain false passports and other documents after they had escaped from immigration detention.

Four people in Sydney have been summonsed to appear in court.

Another two have been arrested, one of whom police say is an illegal immigrant.

Another illegal immigrant was taken to the Villawood detention centre.

Documents were allegedly seized at a house in Barellan Point, west of Brisbane.

Homes raided in forgery probe

The Age
By Andra Jackson
December 2, 2004

Federal police and immigration officials yesterday moved against a passport forgery ring that smuggled detention centre escapees out of Australia.

They conducted early morning raids on homes in Sydney and Brisbane, resulting in the arrest of two people without valid visas.

Another four people were summonsed to appear in court on charges related to identity fraud, a federal police spokesman said.

At the same time, officials from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs questioned a Melbourne refugee activist at his home.

The raids followed an investigation that involved the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Crime Commission into the use of falsely obtained Australian and overseas passports.

The investigation centred on people who allegedly helped detention escapees obtain false passports and other identity documents, the spokesman said.

The Immigration Department confirmed that 12 escapees remained at large after break-outs from Woomera in March and June 2002.

A search of a house in Barellan Point, Queensland, resulted in the seizure of a large number of counterfeit identity documents including driving licences allegedly used to obtain the passports.

The escapees allegedly used the falsified passports to leave the country, the federal police spokesman said.

In Sydney, six search warrants were executed at homes in Ashfield, Belmore, Glebe, Hassal Grove, Westmead and Yagoona.

Many of those raided are members of the Refugee Action Collective, which supports asylum seekers on the run. They included the collective's Sydney leader, Ian Rintoul, whose house was searched for eight hours.

Four people received summonses to appear in Downing Centre Local Court on January 11 over charges relating to making false statements to obtain Australian and foreign passports.

A 29-year-old Glebe woman, who was found to be an illegal migrant, appeared in court yesterday charged with making a false statement to obtain a passport, opening a bank account with a false name and operating a bank account in a false name. She was remanded to appear in Sydney's Central Court today.

A 29-year-old man from Westmead who faced similar charges was bailed to appear in Parramatta Local Court on January 12.

A refugee whose bridging visa had expired was found by immigration staff in Glebe and transferred to Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.

Melbourne refugee activist Jerome Small said two immigration investigation officers visited his Carlton home at 7.45am, saying they believed an escapee had recently been living in his home. He said that for him it was a matter of why people helping desperate people were being treated as criminals. "And who are the real criminals when the Government locks up people until they are driven to starvation?" he said.

Link to report in The Age

No passport system foolproof: PM
December 2, 2004

PRIME Minister John Howard today conceded the Australian passport system was not foolproof but said it was better than most others in the world.

Australian Federal Police say they have cracked an alleged fake passport racket in which refugee activists used false documents to smuggle illegal immigrants to other countries.

Police raided six houses in Sydney and one in Queensland yesterday in a joint operation with the immigration department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Crime Commission.

Two people were arrested and four were summonsed to appear in court for identity crime-related offences.

"I don't know that any passport system is foolproof," Mr Howard said.

"I think overall ours stacks up very well with others around the world."

The Australian newspaper today reported that the alleged racket involved some of the 47 refugees who escaped from the Woomera detention centre during riots in 2002.

As many as 10 fake passports were obtained, the paper said.


Link to report at News Interactive

Refugee-rights activists raided

Sarah Stephen, Sydney
Green Left Weekly
December 8 2004

Early on the morning of December 1, Refugee Action Coalition activist Mark Goudkamp got a knock on his door. He opened it to find eight Australian Federal Police officers and immigration department officials.

The AFP officers had a warrant to search his home. They summonsed him to appear in court on a charge of "making a false statement in the course of supporting an application for an Australian passport", that is, helping asylum seekers to obtain false passports so they could leave Australia and avoid being deported by finding a country that could offer them asylum.

"The Howard government is attempting to go on the offensive after winning an election that had nothing to do with refugees", Goudkamp told Green Left Weekly two days after the raid. "They've been tightening the screws on those held in detention, detaining more kids, attempting to deport people back to torture, and now they think they can get away with harassing refugee activists."

Goudkamp is one of four people who have been served notices to appear at the Downing Centre Local Court on January 11 asked to enter a plea for the same offence, conviction for which carries a maximum penalty of two years' jail or a $5000 fine. The fifth person will appear at the Parramatta Local Court on January 12.

On the same day as the Sydney raid, a dozen AFP and immigration department officers raided refugee-rights activist Ian Rintoul's house in Brisbane, spending almost eight hours searching through his belongings, and taking away at least 50 bags of literature. They also searched his Sydney house. Rintoul has not been charged.

According to Goudkamp, the pretext for these police raids was the escape of some 50 asylum seekers from the Woomera detention centre in March and June 2002.

"Many of the Woomera escapees were told they weren't refugees, yet many in similar circumstances who remained in detention have since been found to be refugees", he said. "It's criminal they were ever locked up in the first place and it's understandable why anyone with a heart would do whatever it takes to support these people, whether or not it is against the law."

At the time of the escapes, an editorial in the July 1 Canberra Times pointed to the morally just cause of those who assisted the escapees. "Those involved in helping organise escapes, and later in sheltering those who have escaped, are clearly and knowingly breaking the law", it said. "But they do not see that they are doing anything wrong, even in breaking the law. A higher moral issue is involved, and for most the thought of jail or other punishment is hardly likely to deter. That they are acting, as they and many others would see it, unselfishly clearly separates their civil disobedience from ordinary criminal conduct."

Citing the latest charges, the corporate media is working to portray refugee-rights activists as "criminals" involved in a "passport racket". Articles in the corporate press have carried headlines such as "Police crack fake passport racket" and "Homes raided in forgery probe".

The Refugee Action Coalition is planning a campaign in defence of the activists. If you would like to get involved, make a donation or offer your support, phone Sarah on (02) 9690 1220.

Refugee advocates condemn ALP's Joe Ludwig's Senate motion

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Western Australia 6312
Phone: 041 70 90 130

Refugee advocates condemn ALP's Joe Ludwig's Senate motion

Media Release
Tuesday December 7 2004 9:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

The fact that ALP Senator Joe Ludwig has scheduled a motion for today, condemning members of Refugee Action Coalition for allegedly assisting asylum seekers 'flee from Australia' even before any charges brought by the AFP have been proven, is not at all surprising given the mess the ALP is in since the November election. There is no leadership, and there clearly is not a whimper of a voice for human rights left within the ALP, and Senator Ludwig surely acts without consultation and consent from all factions within his party in disarray.

It is becoming clear that ALP has become part of Australia's one-party State to such an extend, that rather than condemning the Howard government's asylum policy that has attracted worldwide condemnation by human rights bodies as well as the wider international community, and exposing what has been named as leading to Crimes against Humanity by lawyers and QC's, Mr Ludwig seeks to undermine the voice of heroic Australians who expose the human rights abuses committed by the Howard government and who are prepared to act on it - even with acts of civil disobedience. Mr Ludwig also underestimates the broad array of people prepared to "help out" in similar situations - it extends to citizens and members of religious orders right around the country.

Retired diplomat and activist Bruce Haigh, a close alley of Project SafeCom, states that Australia can now be compared to South Africa in the days of Apartheid, and that the motion put by Senator Ludwig should unite decent Australians in their resolve to refer to the International community and international standards of human rights rather than expecting any condemnation about human rights abuses from the ALP.

The Howard government's policy as well as its treatment of asylum seekers has been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UNHCR. Labor is silent about this because it does not dare to be different, and today's motion only drives the ALP further into irrelevance.

Labor is also silent about the fact that DIMIA uses false passports when it seeks to deport asylum seekers, as the Edmund Rice Centre showed in its recent "Deported to Death" report. Labor is also silent about the fact that the Department of Immigration pays members of the Taliban for language assessment of the Afghani Harara minority group.

Project SafeCom coordinator Jack H Smit says, that now even more so than during the time of the Woomera escapes in 2002, asylum seekers in the Baxter detention centre are driven insane.

"If I were to have the resources, the assistance, and the opportunities, I'd take especially all the Iranians out from Baxter in the middle of the night, I'd give them false passports, and help them flee from the barbaric regime of being permanently locked up in Australian detention centres."

"If that would be possible, we would be able to free the Iranians from the endless inhumanity, inflicted by the Canberra gang of human rights criminals."

For more information:

Jack H Smit, Project SafeCom Inc [phone number posted]
Bruce Haigh, Retired diplomat Mudgee NSW [phone number posted]

Labor wrong: refugee activists are heroes not villains

Refugee Action Coalition of NSW
7 December 2004

The Refugee Action Coalition is appalled and feels betrayed by the motion the Labor Party intends to move in the Senate today against refugee supporters.

"Labor needs to get its priorities straight. The allegations made against members of the Refugee Action Coalition regarding false passport declarations are minor misdemeanours compared to the breaches of human rights and international law by the federal government against asylum seekers", said Anthea Vogl, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

"The Howard government's crimes against asylum seekers have been identified and condemned by The United Nations, Amnesty International, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and Human Rights Watch to name but a few. Where is the ALP motion condemning these crimes?

"Rather than political grandstanding with this motion, Senator Ludwig and the Labor Party should be asking why people who originally sought protection in Australia are forced to escape from persecution at the hands of our own government? "People seeking refuge in this country face indefinite detention in harsh conditions or deportation to danger or death. Assisting people to flee such a fate is not even a victimless crime, it is a heroic act.

"The Edmund Rice Centre released a report in October entitled /Deported to Death /which found that the Australian government deported people, often with false documents, into extreme danger in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Angola.

"A man deported to Iran in October must now face an Iranian court on charges of converting to Christianity - a crime punishable by death. Why isn't the Labor Party condemning the Minister for deporting this man into such a deadly situation?

"The Labor Party's motion flies in the face of the overwhelming support from thousands of its members for a more compassionate refugee policy. Labor really has lost its way if it is attacking refugee activist heroes instead of Howard for his cruel abuse of asylum seekers.

Contact: Anthea Vogl [phone number posted]


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