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Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott in secret Christmas agreement

The Gillard government's offshore dumping policy (1)

From Rudd to Gillard, post-Howard Labor never really recovered from Howard's Tampa wedge

Many people around Australia cheered loudly when in 2007 Kevin Rudd, the Howard-slayer, brought eleven years of conservative rule to an end and handed power to the Australian Labor Party.

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The Rudd government was determined to end the harsh Howard and Ruddock asylum seeker offshore processing era. Alas, that determination came crashing down during the last half of 2009. Rudd's handling of boat arrivals had become a constant reason for aggressive political baiting and brazen opportunistic political attacks by Australia's conservatives.

Rudd came well and truly unstuck by his sudden jolt, shifting to a hardline regime in October 2009 during the last year of his government. Following his demise and replacement by Julia Gillard as PM, Labor kept lurching sharply to and fro before finally settling on leaving the cruelty of Conservative asylum seeker policy under John Howard well behind in its wake - creating its own newly ALP-constructed asylum seeker cruelty policy, from offshore detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to an international refugee trade deal with Malaysia.

Oh, how starkly has the Light on the Hill dimmed into obscurity since Tampa.

To implement the cruel harshness of her underlying desire to join the bandwagon of asylum seeker punishment, Gillard appointed a 3-person socalled "expert panel" to deliver a policy that would give Labor the justification to maintain a maximum deterrence in its treatment of boat arrivals.

Just eight years earlier, Labor had sounded so very, very differently: here are quotes from Gillard and from the former Labor Member for Perth, Stephen Smith MP. At the time they spoke out, both were senior, influential and shadow front-bench Federal politicians in the Federal Australian Labor Party:

Labor's Stephen Smith MP, 2004: "Well I don't accept for a moment that Nauru or Manus Island play any significant or any role in deterring unauthorised arrivals from trying to come to Australia. What deters people coming to Australia is effective border protection and sensible regional arrangements with our neighbours to deter secondary movements. What we do know about the so-called Pacific Solution, Nauru and Manus Island is that it's now an expensive farce." [source]

Labor's Julia Gillard MP, 2007: "We have committed to ending the so-called Pacific Solution. We would not have offshore processing in Manus Island and Nauru ... Labor will end the Pacific solution, the so-called Pacific Solution, the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle." [source]

Perhaps we can call the 2012 Angus Houston 3-person Expert Committee a stunt to achieve a "desired outcome", but even so, we could have expected a Labor Committee. Regrettably, we have to regard the Panel, comprising of former Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, refugee trauma consultant Paris Aristotle and former Liberal staffer and Conservative Think Tank founder Michael L'Estrange as a trio more likely to support a conservative Liberal political outlook. For us it was a massive Labor Party Fail.

What's on this page?

Immediately below this introductory paragraph some stored documents are listed. They relate to the activities of the Houston Panel, and to the Gillard government's initiative of sending asylum seekers to other countries for detention and processing. Our media releases are posted below that section.

Below these documentation and links sections are some 2012 photos received from Nauru. They were taken by asylum seekers during the first protest action organised by detained asylum seekers who had arrived in Australia to seek validation of their refugee claims - only to find themselves sent to the remote island nation of Nauru.

The final section comprises the community reaction to the first "offshore dumping" proposal by the Australian Labor Party under PM Gillard - starting with the flood of media commentary, most of which was utterly damning. The page concludes with the community reaction as reflected in opinion polling. There's reason to believe the community at large was shocked by the unbelievably harsh and cruel game played by Gillard and her Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.

The second section of the material is reflected in the contents of the next page. See the links above and below to visit this page.

Related documentation

31 August 2013: The Gillard government's offshore dumping policy (2) - Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on May 7, 2011, that all boat arrivals could well be subject to deportation to Manus Island on PNG for detention and processing purposes. The announcement and the announcement of a Malaysian 'refugee swap deal' started a heightened media interest in every single boat arrival, and ongoing speculation about the fate of these passengers resulted in a virtual media frenzy following boat arrivals.

1 November 2013: Malaysia's response to Gillard's refugee swap plans - Not only proved Gillard's Malaysia refugee swap deal unpopular, legally condemned and fruitless in Australia, within weeks of its announcement it also came unstuck and was heavily criticised in Malaysia. Until the end of the Gillard government it was only Labor that kept harping on about it against better knowing. Australian reporters too shone a light on the prospects of asylum seekers under Malaysian rule, that was damning on all levels.

8 November 2009: Kevin Rudd, stuck and becalmed in Merak - Australia's Prime Minister dreams of an Indonesian Solution that fails within a week. Rudd may have made 'that phone call' to President Bambang Yudhoyono, promising even more funding 'to stop the boats' before they would arrive in Australian waters, but he had not counted on local resistance and to fury from Australia and the rest of the world..

Project SafeCom media releases

Photos from Nauru

Below are some images from the first Nauru protests during October 2012 sent to advocates. Click on the thumbnails to open a large size photo in a new browser window.

in the shade of the tree
depicting our fate
a growing number
gathering 1
gathering 2
gathering 3

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Govt recycles Pacific Solution

Canberra Times
May 7, 2011

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then former prime minister John Howard must be well pleased with the Gillard Government's apparent tendency of late to embrace old Coalition government policies ones it condemned while in opposition.

A month after Ms Gillard confirmed that the budget would contain new measures to shift people off welfare and into work (a reaffirmation of Mr Howard's principal of mutual obligation), the Government looks set to resurrect Mr Howard's Pacific Solution.

An official announcement is still forthcoming, but it's believed the Government has struck a deal with the Papua New Guinean Government of Michael Somare and the Manus Provincial Government to reopen a detention centre on Manus Island. This centre, along with another on Nauru, served as part of the Pacific Solution from 2001-07 when it was dismantled by the incoming Rudd government.

Last year, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen attacked the Pacific Solution as ''inhumanely'' delaying the resettlement of hundreds of refugees.

That a reopened Manus Island detention facility represents a return to the notorious Pacific Solution would be strongly denied by Mr Bowen or Ms Gillard. For them, it is about reducing crowding on Christmas Island and securing regional support to address the problem of people smuggling and irregular immigration.

Given the violence that has bedevilled the Christmas Island detention centre since an upsurge in asylum-seekers last year, this is a fair argument. Since that time, however, Labor has been assailed by the Opposition and sections of the media for its inability to ''turn back the boats'' and its handling of the general asylum-seeker issue.

Its ad-hoc approach to dealing with the upsurge, and its increasingly authoritarian responses to protests by asylum-seekers on Christmas Island and at Villawood, suggests Labor is feeling the heat politically, and wilting in the process.

Shortly after succeeding Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister last year, Ms Gillard proposed establishing a regional refugee processing centre on East Timor. However, her ham-fisted approach seriously diminished any chance of securing the necessary support of the East Timorese Government. Nor, unsurprisingly, was she able to get other regional leaders to back the idea.

The best that can be said of Ms Gillard's initiative was that it led to another conference in Bali in February, the fourth, exploring regional solutions to people smuggling, though the result agreement on a regional cooperation framework was underwhelming.

Last month, East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao formally rejected the Gillard proposal on the grounds that it would cause social division in the struggling nation, leaving Labor with no choice but to look elsewhere.

In Papua New Guinea, Labor has a rather more willing client state or perhaps one with less pride. While there might be some resentment felt in Port Moresby at being seen to be at the beck and call of a powerful neighbour, there is great enthusiasm in Manus for the centre to be opened, since it will bring significant economic benefits to what is a backwater province. Manus is very isolated, however, and a long way from Christmas Island. This alone will ensure that it is an expensive means of relieving pressure on that facility. Nevertheless, Labor can claim that since Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees those people transferred there will be treated humanely. That will certainly be the case if the facility is administered under the auspices of the UN rather than the Department of Immigration, which prefers to outsource the management of its facilities not always to best effect.

Labor is still committed to ensuring that detainees sent to Manus Island (children excepted) are processed relatively quickly (unlike the Howard government) and this too should appease its critics.

Nevertheless, Labor will have difficulty dressing this up as anything other than an attempt to export an Australian problem to a poor, and therefore tractable, neighbour.

This regional arm-twisting is all the more distasteful when one considers that the actual numbers of asylum-seekers arriving by boat in Australia is small by comparison with the numbers landing up in Western Europe. It is only because of the Coalition's tireless scaremongering, aided by the right-wing media, that asylum-seekers have become a hot-button issue in Australia. Labor could easily demolish their claims. Instead it increasingly apes the responses of the Howard government. No wonder the Opposition is crowing in private.

Policies on boat arrivals driven by hysteria

The Age
May 9, 2011

Labor will lose the debate as long as it panders to myths.

Labor was desperate when Julia Gillard announced plans for a regional refugee processing centre on the eve of last year's federal election. Six months earlier, the government had tried to turn down the political heat by abruptly suspending processing of the biggest groups of boat arrivals, Afghans and Sri Lankans. The freeze ended in September, a month after the election, and Labor is now learning the truth of the dictum ''act in haste, repent at leisure''.

Labor is still desperate. Plans for a centre in East Timor have collapsed, forcing the government to look elsewhere, to Papua New Guinea and Malaysia. Each of these plans is deeply flawed, on policy and humanitarian grounds.

The Australian government's facility on Manus Island in PNG was used by the Howard government. Only last year, then immigration minister Chris Evans condemned the ''Pacific solution'', which ''saw 1637 people, including more than 450 children, left to rot on Nauru and Manus Island for years and years''. How quickly we forget the cruelty, injustice and psychological harm inflicted on those people. Once again, our government is willing to disregard warnings about the inherent problems with such remote facilities.

Ms Gillard was right not to turn to Nauru because it has not signed the United Nations Refugee Convention. But now she has struck an agreement under which 800 asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will be sent to Malaysia. Yet Malaysia has not signed the convention either, and it has a disturbing record on human rights.

Many of the ALP's problems with crowded detention centres and the inevitable angry protests are of its own making. The processing freeze created a backlog that swelled numbers in detention to more than 6000.

The UN High Commission for Refugees reports that asylum applications to Australia have been falling since peaking a year ago. This includes asylum seekers who arrive by air in greater numbers without causing mass hysteria, even though the proportion of true refugees among them is lower. However, boat arrivals are also falling: 2100 arrived to April last year; this year's total is 940. The past two months' total is 526, down from 1399 last year. The opposition claims that ''failed border protection'' policies mean arrivals are continuing to soar. That claim, often uncritically repeated, is false.

Mandatory detention itself is based on a false premise. Tough policies do little to deter people who are desperate enough to risk their lives at sea.

Last year's surge was driven by the brutal climax to Sri Lanka's civil war and worsening conflict in Afghanistan. Of 7668 boat arrivals since January last year, 3306 are Afghan. Even so, the total for boat arrivals since 1998 amounts to only 7 per cent of net immigration last financial year alone.

Ironically, given the political mythology that so distorts policy - at a cost for offshore processing that runs into the billions - Labor enacted mandatory detention in 1992. Before then, the Migration Act had carefully distinguished between unauthorised arrivals and illegal entrants.

The legal rights accepted by Australia in signing the Refugee Convention mean asylum seekers are not illegal entrants. Yet mandatory detention, by treating people like criminals, promotes the perception of illegality and contributes to the making of a policy mountain out of a molehill.

In 2001, after the atrocities of September 11, the Howard government played on the public's fears of terrorism by conflating that threat with the problem of asylum seekers. It worked a treat at that year's election. The Coalition has seen asylum seekers as a political trump card ever since.

Labor still jumps at shadows cast by problems that are largely the product of the febrile imaginations of its opponents. With many bigger challenges facing Australia, it is shameful that small numbers of vulnerable and abused asylum seekers inspire the fiercest political debates.

Michael Gordon: Punishing the innocent

The Age
Michael Gordon
May 10, 2011

Some big ifs need to be satisfied if the Malaysia solution is to work.

Julia Gillard could hardly have painted a bleaker picture for asylum seekers contemplating boarding a boat in Indonesia in the hope of finding sanctuary in Australia. Unveiling the Malaysia solution at the weekend, she declared: ''Under this arrangement, if someone seeks to come to Australia, then they are at risk of going to Malaysia and going to the back of the queue - that's what it means.

''Under this arrangement, what it will mean is you've given your money to a people smuggler, you've risked you're life at sea and you will be at real risk of ending up in Malaysia instead.''

She could have added that the queue in Malaysia already stands at more than 90,000 (but doesn't actually exist); that Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention; and that refugees in the country may be subject to detention, prosecution, whipping and deportation.

But Gillard wasn't talking to would-be asylum seekers. Her target audience were the people smugglers and an electorate that has responded to a string of disturbances, protests and riots in detention centres by being even less sympathetic to their plight.

Tony Abbott had the voters in mind, too, when he responded to the deal to send 800 of those who try to come to Australia by boat to Malaysia, and in return accept 4000 people whose refugee claims were found to be genuine from Malaysia.

''It's probably a terrific deal for Malaysia, but it's a hopeless deal for Australia,'' he told Andrew Bolt. ''This idea that we will send them one and get five back . . . my wife said to me, 'Is this an April Fools' Day joke?' when I told her.''

What was missing from the leaders on both sides of politics was a recognition that what we are talking about are vulnerable human beings who, overwhelmingly, have been found to have a well-founded fear of persecution if they are returned to their home countries.

Predictably, the deal with Malaysia has appalled refugee support groups and human rights organisations who see it as, at best, problematic on legal, moral and ethical grounds and, at the least, potentially in breach of Australia's international obligations.

But is it that bad? Gillard's muscular presentation was all about portraying the agreement as an assault on the people smugglers' business model and, unwittingly or not, reinforcing the falsehood that those who come by boat are queue jumpers. But she was correct in describing it as, at least potentially, a first step towards finding a regional solution to the problem of unauthorised boat arrivals - one that could improve the conditions for those who have been surviving in an appalling limbo for years in countries such as Malaysia, countries that have borne a disproportionate burden. This is why the UN refugee agency's regional representative, Rick Towle, has given it qualified support.

It all depends on the detail of the agreement - and whether undertakings by Malaysia to treat the 800 transported from Australia with ''dignity and respect'' are honoured.

If - and it's a very big if - they are not forcibly deported (or sent back to their home countries); are not held in detention centres; are afforded community-based support (including the opportunity to work); and are processed with some confidence of resettlement in another country, then the agreement has the potential to do three things.

First, it could be a disincentive to pay a people smuggler. Second, it could result in a flow-on of basic rights to other asylum seekers in Malaysia. Third, it could encourage other countries in the region to enter similar agreements and, as a consequence, result in a better sharing of the burden and better outcomes overall for refugees.

If, however, the promise that the 800 will be afforded ''dignity and respect'' is not honoured, the deal will carry the same ethical failing as the Howard government's Pacific Solution - that it seeks to influence the behaviour of one group of people (potential boat arrivals) by punishing another group.

Even if it is honoured, there is another problem that appears to have escaped attention. Under the agreement, the 800 who are sent from Australia to Malaysia for processing will have no prospect of resettlement in Australia if they are found to be refugees. Yet we know from past experience that some of these people will have immediate family members already in Australia - parents, siblings, husbands, wives - and it would represent a breach of Australia's obligations to refuse these people family reunions.

Of course, the deal with Malaysia is not the only initiative Gillard announced at the weekend. She also confirmed that discussions were under way with Papua New Guinea on reopening the Manus Island detention centre that was part of the Pacific Solution.

The Prime Minister rejected the criticism that she was restoring a key plank of the Pacific Solution by asserting that this was all part of establishing a regional framework on asylum seekers. Sadly, there is no evidence to support her contention.

At least in the first instance, the centre will be the product of a bilateral agreement between Australia and PNG for boat arrivals to be sent to this remote island indefinitely, with all the problems that were associated with the Pacific Solution - from health concerns such as malaria to the lack of mental health support, outside advice, accurate decision-making on claims and prompt resettlement for genuine refugees.

Yes, the government is facing a difficult issue with no easy answers, but returning to a failed and punitive policy of the past is no solution. Rather than ratchet up the rhetoric and see the issue only through the prism of sending signals to people smugglers, it should think outside the square on all aspects of asylum seeker policy.

The Malaysia agreement might be part of a solution, but a much greater emphasis on having asylum seekers in the community while their claims are finalised, and a much bigger global effort to address the factors that push people from their countries are fundamental ingredients, too.

Michael Gordon is Age national editor.

Labor lurches in a sea of uncertainty

The Age
Phillip Coorey
May 9, 2011

In mid-April, Kevin Rudd dropped into Singapore on the way home from one of his lengthy trips abroad. His purpose was to visit Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, who was in hospital and with whom Rudd has a reasonably close personal relationship.

The visit was not secret. It was announced as part of Rudd's itinerary, and Rudd himself tweeted from Singapore that his friend was looking ''fit and in good form''.

Kept under wraps was the prime purpose of Rudd's visit - to lobby Somare about PNG accepting a detention centre for asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters. The most obvious solution was to recommission the mothballed Manus Island centre which, along with the centre on Nauru, was established as part of the Howard government's Pacific solution, which Rudd himself abolished upon coming to power in 2007.

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, who had just finished taking a group of teenagers along the route of the Sandakan death march, bumped into Rudd in Singapore. Rudd said he was there to visit his friend Somare, and Morrison didn't twig.

Rudd's role in the efforts to establish a regional solution on asylum seekers has been to grease the wheels in his capacity as Foreign Minister, while the main carriage of the issue has been left to the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen.

Rudd's visit to Somare came at the end of the process. Negotiations with PNG date back to last July, when the then foreign minister, Stephen Smith took it up with his PNG counterpart. Since then there have been about a dozen meetings between ministers and officials.

Presumably, Rudd is happy to be the minor player, given he said the night before he was ousted as prime minister that he would not ''lurch to the right'' on the issue. After the events of last week and at the weekend, Labor has not so much lurched as lunged.

The deal with Malaysia - in which the next 800 arrivals to Australia would be sent to Malaysia in return for 4000 people in Malaysian camps already found to be refugees - is, in a political sense, potentially ingenious.

While Manus Island is still being negotiated and the centre there is in need of a refurbishment, Malaysia is an interim measure designed to stop the boats now.

Yes, it will only deter 800 people - or about a dozen boats - but who would want to be among that number? Surely if you were about to set sail from Indonesia, you would think twice.

On the other hand, there are so many policy inconsistencies in the events of the past week that it is difficult to know where to start.

When Gillard took over as prime minister, sorting out asylum seekers was one of three priorities she listed. She signalled that there would be a regional solution in which a large centre would be built on East Timor. Asylum seekers from the region would be sent there, processed under the watch of the United Nations and farmed out to Australia, New Zealand and beyond.

A key argument against opposition demands that the government re-embrace the Pacific solution was that Nauru was not a signatory to the UN refugee convention.

While PNG is a signatory, and therefore using Manus Island is consistent with the regional solution approach, Malaysia is not, and reports of beatings and maltreatment of asylum seekers there are common. Therefore, as Morrison argues, if it is good enough to send people to Malaysia, why not to Nauru, where you won't have to take five refugees in return for every asylum seeker dispatched?

Gillard and her ministers also say Malaysia is a deterrent because it will send people to the back of the ''queue''.

For years Labor and refugee advocates have argued there was no such thing as a queue, that it was a nebulous construct of the Howard government. People were desperate and did what they had to do to find a better life.

The embrace of regional nations contravenes so much Labor has said in past years about the evils of offshore processing. Even its initial move to stop the boats two years ago, by freezing the processing of applications by Afghan and Sri Lankan arrivals for six and three months, contravened its policy of timely processing.

In essence, political reality is forcing governments across the world to take unpalatable steps. In Europe there is a push to reintroduce passport controls within the European Union to stop asylum seekers landing in Italy from fanning into France and elsewhere.

In Australia, Labor, piece by piece, is assembling its version of a Pacific solution. All that is missing is a full re-embrace of temporary protection visas.

The Right just mocks and the Left is disgruntled. But as one left-wing MP said yesterday: ''The trouble is, it will f---ing work.''

Jo Coghlan: Labor lured to the Ruddock Solution for refugees

ABC Unleashed
May 10, 2011
Jo Coghlan

Announcements of character tests for refugees and the reintroduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs) are distractions. So too is the recent decision by the Gillard Government of its Malaysian 'solution'.

The deal between Australia and Malaysia proposes that Australia take 4,000 asylum seekers who have been declared refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) but have not been settled in a host country. Most of the 4,000 refugees Australia is likely to take are Burmese. The rate will be 1,000 a year over four years.

The annual quota for Australia's refugee intake will increase from 13,750 to 14,750 a year. The increase in the annual quota will reportedly cost the Federal Government $216 million and a further $76 million to fly refugees from Malaysia to Australia.

Costs of the Australian Government's international advertising campaign with the slogan 'Don't do it', warning people smugglers and refugees in Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan to resist coming to Australia or risk ending up in Malaysia, have been undisclosed.

Recent protests at Sydney's Villawood detention centre have again focused the public's attention on mandatory detention. In response to the protests the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship made it clear that "asylum seekers found to be refugees will lose the right to a permanent visa if convicted of an offence". The Minister's threat to deny or regulate protection of an asylum seeker because of their character distracts society from examining why we are intolerant of refugee protests.

Asylum seekers have the right to seek our protection. There is no requirement that they must accept long periods of detention with humility. The poor conditions of Australia's detention centres have been well documented and much criticised. Neither character tests nor TPVs will halt the movement of those fleeing persecution nor ensure they accept the criminalisation of their asylum claim.

Reports in the Australian media about the reintroduction of character tests and TPVs seeks to divert attention away from the failures of the Liberal and Labor party's refugee policies. As Green's Senator Sarah Hanson-Young correctly acknowledges, TPV's "won't stop people rioting in detention centres" and they "won't stop people making the treacherous voyage".

Yet, Minister Chris Bowen has recently said: "I think that it's perfectly appropriate to say to somebody who has misbehaved in a detention centre, "you're not getting a permanent visa, we'll look at sending you home, if we can't send you home for whatever reason at the moment, we might give you a temporary visa but it's got all these restrictions on it".

Even for a Labor government that maintains a populist hardline on asylum seekers, this is a remarkable statement given Bowen's previous comments. The 2007 Labor Government, according to Bowen, was elected on a platform that included a more humane treatment of those seeking protection. This included abolishing TPVs, described by the Minister as "the symbol of the former government's continued punishment of those found to be owed our protection".

TPVs contravene the 1951 Refugee Convention's protection mandate. As one migration lawyer recently put it: "the only [TM1] grounds on which refugee protection provisions could be revoked involved crimes against humanity" and "they're not supposed to be denied protection for criminal matters or detention centre misbehaviour".

Character tests and TPVs are not the answer to detention protests nor the growing numbers being detained. According to the Refugee Council of Australia there has been a 1,400 per cent increase in long-term detention in just one year. Detainees grew by 196 per cent. Those detained more than six months grew seven times faster (from 258 in March 2010 to 3,901 in March this year).

Regardless of the length of detention -- be it two months or two years -- criminalising protesting and denying humanitarian protection because of protesting -- fails to recognise the illegality and inhumanity of mandatory detention.

Delays in processing lead to overcrowding and frustration. It is this that leads to self-harm and protests. The introduction of a character test to those that engage in "unacceptable behaviour", including protesting, is designed to send a message to voters that Labor is tough on refugees. Apart from pandering to xenophobic nationalism, it distracts debate from the administrative problems of mandatory detention.

ASIO in 2010, for example, failed to complete security checks on 900 asylum seekers who had found to be genuine refugees, leaving them to languish in detention. It also detracts public attention and scrutiny away from those with mental illnesses, those that self-harm, and the tragedy of deaths in mandatory detention.

The character test built into Australia's 1958 Migration Act (Section 5C) is already strong. Every refugee must pass the test before they get a visa. New character tests will mean refugees have to jump more hurdles that anyone else. Even if they are granted a TPV, restrictive conditions on family reunion will continue to punish refugees.

The Gillard Government's plan to deny permanent visas to those caught breaking the law "even if they're a legitimate refugee" seems legally absurd and morally repugnant.

It also contravenes international law which states asylum seekers "should not be refused refugee status unless they have 'committed a serious non-political crime', been involved in 'war crimes, or crimes against humanity', or are a serious security risk."

The Liberal Coalition policy on refugees has been consistent if impractical. According to Tony Abbott the "two things that the Government should be doing today is they should be picking up the phone to the president of Nauru to say, 'Let's re-open the centre' and making TPVs the rule for all people who come illegally by boat."

Sadly the current problems -- increasing numbers of asylum seekers in detention centres, longer lengths of incarceration, and protests -- is not seen as a humanitarian issue for the Gillard Government. It is seen as a "perception" issue. Protests have highlighted the Labor Government doesn't have an effective policy.

This leaves room for conservative commentators to recall deplorable policies such at the expensive and ineffective Pacific Solution. The Government has also realised that the East Timor 'solution' will not be accepted (as prime minister Xanana Gusmao had privately acknowledged and which president Jose Ramos-Horta has now publically stated).

It seems Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Malaysia are the next stop for Gillard and Bowen.

The best that Labor does is to distract us with character tests, TPVs, and the Malaysian 'solution' serve to remind us of Philip Ruddock.

Jo Coghlan is a lecturer in politics at the School of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of New South Wales.

Bruce Haigh: Labor shame in refugee venom

Canberra Times
Bruce Haigh
Friday 13 May, 2011

Out of all the various groups of asylum-seekers in Australia, why are asylum-seekers arriving by boat being persecuted by the Australian Government? Why is Julia Gillard being so vindictive to desperate people arriving by boats on our shores? Why does she allow the erratic Tony Abbott and his attack dog, Scott Morrison, to set the boat-arrival agenda? They don't make an issue of refugees arriving by aircraft, but those arriving by boat receive their racist bile in bucket loads.

The once proud Labor Party has succumbed to their venom. This is the party which once championed human rights, took a stand against apartheid, sponsored support for refugees in the 1980s and early '90s and saw leaders Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd express compassion for the dignity of Aborigines.

Is this demonisation of the most defenceless in our state, in our care, being undertaken to win the hearts and minds of fellow Australians? If so, God help us all. Have we fallen so low that to please our compatriots we must bully and beat the supplicants that come begging for our mercy and help? Church leaders are absent on this issue. Where is their defence of the defenceless? Shame on the leaders of our major religious organisations for wallowing in the same secular cesspit as our morally bereft representatives.

Why is the quality of our mercy so strained? What are our lawmakers so afraid of?

Asylum-seekers arriving by boat feed into our fear of invasion from the north. This fear has been present in the national psyche since the 1850s' gold rush. Why haven't we been able to shake it off? It has driven us to seek the military protection of Britain and then America. Why didn't it push us towards self-reliance? Why haven't we matured?

''Australians all let us rejoice/For we are young and free.'' Puerile and selfish, with diminished moral courage. ''We've golden soil and wealth for toil.'' All the many refugees I know, work; they want to work. Ali, a friend and former refugee, went to Sydney. I asked him what he was doing and he said, ''Toiling.'' I said, ''Yes, but what are you actually doing?'' He said, ''Toiling mate, you know putting toils on walls.''

The Government talks of bringing in more skilled migrants, why don't they train refugees? ''Our home is girt by sea.'' And that makes it difficult for anyone to come here by sea and that is why the vast majority of asylum-seekers arrive in Australia by plane. ''Beneath our radiant Southern Cross/We'll toil with hearts and hands;/To make this Commonwealth of ours/Renowned of all the lands.'' It is, sadly, a country of repute moving towards disrepute on the record of its care for the disadvantaged, the needy and those seeking refuge.

''For those who've come across the seas We've boundless plains to share.'' Wonderful sentiments, but written before the Immigration Department was given its charter by John Howard to socially engineer the future of the country and our racial characteristics. Together with Defence, Immigration is a closed shop, wagging the fearful tails of Chris Bowen and Gillard.

To open up former Defence facilities on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea is a desperate and futile political ploy. It does nothing to remedy the Government's lack of courage. There is not sufficient courage within the Labor Party to overcome Abbott's bullying. (''With courage let us all combine.'') Instead he pushes them lower and lower. It will not win the Labor Party an election to grovel to the Coalition (of the Boot).

The Malaysian solution would be laughable were it not so tragic for the victims of Gillard's abuse and for the moral and mental health of this nation. Again it will solve nothing. She will be hard pressed to overcome a growing reputation as a nasty, shallow and policy-free manager. She is no leader.

''For we are young (immature) and (selfishly) free.'' All wealthy democratic nations are the desired destination of asylum-seekers. As the world's population increases so too do the number of asylum-seekers. There is a direct correlation between war, dysfunctional states, poverty, ideological and religious disputes and asylum-seeker movements.

There are 20 million refugees worldwide and numbers are growing. Climate change, the decline in potable water and arable land will add further pressure on numbers. Rather than trying to sweep the problem under the carpet, why doesn't Australia take the initiative and convene an international conference under UN auspices to examine and establish positive responses to what is an ongoing need. Such a conference might give the UN more authority and power to handle the complex issue of asylum-seeking and assist in the provision of better outcomes than the poor deal they have become party to with Australia and Malaysia.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.

Asylum deal shameful and inhumane

The Age
Sandy Gifford, Ignacio Correa-Velez, Celia McMichael
May 12, 2011

We can manage without detention centres and people swapping.

People swapping with Malaysia is not an effective or humane way to stop people smuggling. Trading in people is a shameful plan that serves only to further diminish Australia's increasingly shaky commitment to its human rights obligations. We need to begin by opening a dialogue within the Asia-Pacific region that is co-operative and does not have combating the smuggling of people at its centre.

Australia does not have a refugee crisis. In 2010 we received only 2 per cent of the 385,000 asylum claims made to the 44 countries of the industrialised world, ranking 15th. Forced migration is a global issue not unique to Australia. Last year, asylum claims rose in Australia and other Western countries. However, taking a longer-term view, over the past 10 years asylum claims made in Australia have dropped by a third.

The real crisis is for the millions of men, women and children who have no other choice but to flee their homes and seek safety elsewhere. They are turning to the international community because their own countries either cannot or will not provide protection to their own citizens. This crisis is heightened because the industrial world is rapidly closing its borders to people who seek international protection.

According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Asia-Pacific region had the greatest increase in people who became refugees, a 7 per cent rise in 2009 compared with all other regions. These people have fled from some of the most conflict-ridden countries in the region - a region where few countries have signed the Refugee Convention.

Malaysia hosts 90,000 refugee and asylum seekers but it is not party to the Refugee Convention, which makes these people highly vulnerable. In 2009, Malaysia was the fourth-highest destination country for asylum seekers, most of them from Burma.

People continue to flee persecution in Burma, with large numbers in Thailand and at least 200,000 languishing in Bangladesh, all with no viable solution in sight. This puts Australia's refugee crisis into context and makes the people-swap with Malaysia short-sighted. It is a missed opportunity for beginning a dialogue about a sustainable regional protection solution.

A focus on people smuggling is misplaced. People smuggling is a symptom - it is a response to forced migrants having no other options. Instead, the protection, well-being and human rights of refugees and asylum seekers must be at the centre of a robust and consistent approach to durable solutions around the Asia-Pacific region.

A regional dialogue would work towards a co-operative framework that emphasises border management, not border protection, and would strike a balance between security and humanitarian imperatives. It would work towards a decentralised, equitable and accessible system for accepting and assessing asylum claims in the countries where people are seeking asylum, including in Australia.

Sharing responsibility would work towards ensuring that asylum seekers have their human rights protected while their claims are being assessed and this includes being able to live in the community without fear and with dignity. This would entail no detention centres, no transferring our irregular maritime arrivals to other countries and a timely, fair and humane regional system for meeting the needs of refugees, asylum seekers and other forced migrants.

A regional co-operative protection framework would also address the upstream causes of forced displacement with a view towards developing effective polices that address the root causes.

Australia should take the lead in this important endeavour. It is reprehensible for Australia to turn its back on this humanitarian challenge by focusing on narrow short-term solutions.

We have recorded consecutive years of economic growth since 1992, we largely escaped the global financial crisis and our political leaders continually remind us how our economy remains the ''envy of the developed world''. We have the capacity and humanitarian obligations to accept many more refugees and to shoulder more of the burden when it comes to protection and assistance to asylum seekers. We can do better.

The big question is: will Australia rise to this challenge? We certainly have the capacity but more leadership is required. Our political leaders - both parties - have the moral courage and strategic intelligence to take a different direction to the regional humanitarian crisis of forced migration, but are not exercising their wealth and power.

The Australian government has been monitoring the refugee/asylum seeker situation in Malaysia for some time, due to concerns around the movement of these people to Australia. While it is a positive move for Australia to resettle more refugees living in Malaysia, it is doing so by exploiting Malaysia's anxieties around its existing refugee and asylum seeker population.

Refugees and asylum seekers are not tradeable commodities to be swapped, sold or smuggled. Indeed, they are our future - they are part of our regional neighbourhood and deserve a solution that builds the kind of community we envisage for ourselves now and for generations to come.

Professor Sandy Gifford is director of the La Trobe Refugee Research Centre, Dr Ignacio Correa-Velez is deputy director, and Dr Celia McMichael is a research fellow.

Replacing people smuggling with people juggling

Kon Karapanagiotidis
May 13, 2011
Yahoo!7 News

The mantra of stop the boats and the people smugglers has captured the popular imagination of Australians.

We have become hostage to baseless fears causing the Government to come up with a poorly thought out 'solution'. Prime Minister Julia Gillard's latest plan is nonsense for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we don't have a boat people problem. In 2011 eight refugees a day have sought asylum in Australia.

We have a paltry 0.03% of the world's refugees coming to our country each year. We used to be a proud nation when it came to refugees, settling 452,000 between 1948 and 1992 with no mandatory detention, offshore processing or public outcry.

We are a country built by boat people.

Secondly, we can't stop the boats. We need to understand that no one chooses to be an asylum seeker. You can introduce the most draconian of laws and all you are doing is leaving a permanent stain on the very fabric of our democracy and rule of law that are foundations of our great country.

Nor should we try to stop the boats as the people on these boats are genuine refugees.

In the last financial year, 99.7% of all Afghans who came by boat were found to be refugees by DIAC. That is people who our government accepted would be tortured, imprisoned or killed if returned home. Stopping the boats when there is no genuine and safe alternative way to seek asylum in Australia, means simply sending people back to their deaths.

So what does Julia Gillard now do? She tries to convince us that Malaysia is the new solution to a mythical boat problem. But her solution raises more questions than answers and comes at an unforgiveable financial and human cost.

Malaysia is a country that last year tortured 6000 refugees by caning them and has a police force that is renowned for extorting, abusing and harassing refugees.

Amnesty International reports that many refugees are held in filthy and overcrowded detention centres with no access to lawyers for months (including those with UNHCR documents) and are exploited and treated like criminals.

There have been numerous deaths in detention due to the squalid conditions - 1300 people died in detention in Malaysia between 2002 and 2008. How will Gillard stop this when Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention?

Many asylum seekers are likely to end up and remain in detention while the community alternative for asylum seekers in Malaysia is not much better.

Malaysia asylum seekers are not allowed to work and have minimal access to lawyers, medical treatment and safe houses.

We need to be asking will Gillard leave asylum seekers to be exploited and detained in squalid condition. Or if they are released into the community in Malaysia what will be the real cost of providing health care, legal assistance, housing and case management in a foreign country to 800 asylum seekers and who will be responsible for these provisions? Malaysia is a sovereign nation, what right do we have to dictate any terms to them?

The hypocrisy of Gillard is breathtaking. She advocates that any asylum seekers we send to Malaysia should not be detained but released into the community.

This is obviously a concession that mandatory detention is unnecessary. If it's okay for Malaysia to release asylum seekers into the community, why can't this happen in Australia?

The $76 million alone that will be spent to fly 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia would enable the Red Cross to care for 23,661 asylum seekers humanely in the community for an entire year. For just 50 bucks a day per asylum seeker we could care for them in the community in one of the greatest countries in the world - Australia.

Finally, there is the untenable cost to us as Australians. What does it say about us that we are willingly breaching our human rights obligations by outsourcing our moral and legal responsibilities to another country? We have already had the 'Pacific Solution' and it was a humanitarian disaster. It has been repackaged but is the same toxic lemon you are being asked to pay for with your money and conscience.

Is the Prime Minister breaking the rules? Will Australian officials be sent to Malaysia to process the claims? How will Australia stop the return of refugees to danger as is commonly practiced in Malaysia? Under whose laws will these claims be processed? How will we stop women and children being indefinitely detained?

Our government believes we are no better than this as Australians and will cop this injustice.

Gillard thinks she can pander to the worst in us and win. Let's prove her wrong.

Let's start talking about how the problem is not asylum seekers but the policy of mandatory detention.

Want to save a billion dollars a year? Let asylum seekers out into the community and let them work. Want to stop the suicides, self harm and protests? Spend just 3% of what we do now on detention to provide a safe, humane alternative that already exists. It's called the community and it's powerful, because it's me, you, everyone and we can make it work as we did until 1992.

Government is jumping the queue to stop the boats

The Age
May 20, 2011
Richard Ackland

Around we go again. The Malaysian Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, is reported as saying his country will not take new refugee boat arrivals from Australia until the negotiations are finalised. At the same time the Gillard government has declared any asylum seekers arriving on our shores in boats after May 7 will not be processed in Australia. The airline arrivals seem to be unscathed.

It means more than 100 arrivals on Christmas Island wanting refugee status are technically in limbo.

The swap deal of 800 of ours for 4000 of theirs will be a bilateral arrangement between Australia and Malaysia. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is not a party to it, yet it is being sold to the home market on the basis that the UNHCR has sorted and processed the ''queue'' and therefore this sanctifies the otherwise unpleasant reality that Malaysia is not a party to, nor does it observe, the obligations under the 1951 UN refugee convention. There remain a few doubts that might unstitch this latest grab-bag of a fix.

The proposed Malaysian solution involves the indefinite exile of people who have landed on our shores to a place of great uncertainty, and by Amnesty International's accounts, inhumane treatment.

Regardless of the clumsy artifice of seeking to exclude asylum seekers from access to legal rights here, the law does apply - administrative, constitutional and international law.

Last November, in the M61 and M69 cases, the High Court required the government to treat people whose refugee claims were being assessed and reviewed with ''procedural fairness'' and in a timely manner. It stunned many to realise as a result of those cases that the so-called independent merits review had been contracted by the government to a private operator with the Orwellian name of Wizard People Pty Ltd. The court ended up saying that the Wizard People people, even if they were not government officials, were nonetheless required to afford applicants a fair review.

Importantly, what the High Court decision did was to significantly blur the distinction between offshore and onshore processing. Still, we persist with the offshore model because somehow it keeps our home soil less sullied.

Is the door open for the fairness requirement to apply to people whom the government says are to be expelled indefinitely to Malaysia to stand at the back of the ''queue''? That is an unresolved and entirely open question that may well find its way back to the courts.

Then there is the Migration Act itself. There is a provision that states the minister may declare in writing that a specified country provide access for asylum seekers. That is the section (198A[3]) the minister will use if and when the Malaysian deal is sealed. However, the section goes on to provide a number of human rights protections, the same protections afforded by the refugee convention. A declaration by an Australian minister that Malaysia is able to fulfil these protections is hollow indeed.

As David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, says, the whole edifice of the latest ''solution'' rests on ''shaky ground''.

Then there is that ''Q'' word again. The Malaysian queue has been mentioned as the rightful spot for boat arrivals to Australia. We then take five for every one we send. But that does not mean those selected have been waiting longest and been processed first by the UNHCR. No way. The officials from the Department of Immigration will sort out who comes to Australia, regardless of their place in the line.

Surveys and inquiries conducted by Amnesty show that the No. 1 gripe Australians have is that asylum seekers arriving by boats are queue jumpers. Will it make any difference to public perceptions to know that under the Malaysian option the government itself will be the queue jumper?

So what is the answer to the Abbottesque question ''will it stop the boats''? There are about 70,000 refugees in Malaysia and another 11,000 asylum seekers. In Thailand, there are 105,000 refugees and 3.5 million stateless people. There is desperation, mistreatment and fear. If anyone can get on a boat in the hope for a better life, they will. Abbott will not stop the tide, nor will the Malaysian option.

One final unnerving reminder about the folly of our ways. To lock people up in remote locations in Australia and inadequately find out the truth of their claims is costing us $800 million a year.

Who would have believed this tiny fraction of our new arrivals intake would be such a financial and moral millstone?

Malaysia's Detention Centres Are No Orderly 'Queue'

When Michelle Dimasi tried to visit an Afghan asylum seeker in detention in Malaysia, she was told that 'for his own safety' he was not allowed visitors. She hasn't heard from him since.

New Matilda
May 9, 2011
By Michelle Dimasi

After producing two films that criticised the Taliban, Amin had little choice but to flee Afghanistan in 2010. His brothers, Rahmat and Ali, were already in Australia and had been found to be refugees.

Rahmat suffered two years on Nauru only to find himself returned to Afghanistan. Out of desperation, Rahmat made the journey to Australia a second time in 2009 and Australia finally granted him protection. In July last year, Rahmat informed me that Amin and nine other Hazaras had been caught by the police in Selangor, Malaysia. They were transferred back and forth between a prison and a detention centre several times and finally were detained in an immigration "depot" on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Somehow, the men had bribed the guards to keep a mobile phone in detention. I called an extremely anxious Amin and learnt that he and the other men had been assaulted and no longer had any documents. They were in a bad way.

At the time, I was planning a trip to Kabul to research the plight of Hazaras in light of the Australian Government's suspension of Afghan asylum claims. When Rahmat found out I would be transiting through Malaysia, he pleaded with me to help Amin.

On a sweltering hot tropical day, I drove for nearly two hours from Kuala Lumpur city and arrived at one of Malaysia's 17 detention centres. The air was not only thick with humidity but with suspicion. Although they were dubious, the guards allowed me through the first checkpoint, but then the negotiation began.

The detention centre officer leafed through a thick book filled with handwritten names and fingerprints. Finally, he announced that Amin was in the centre, but that "you can't see him, he is a victim of trafficking and it's for his own safety he does not see you".

The officer acknowledged that Amin was an asylum seeker but that the same draconian measures that are assigned for undocumented migrants or visa over-stayers were prescribed for Amin. Disappointed, I called Rahmat back in Melbourne and told him there was nothing I could do.

Two months later I was informed that Amin and 20 other Hazaras had escaped the detention centre. Amin never made it to Christmas Island and I have never heard from him again. I have grave concerns about what happened to them. He may have been recaptured and imprisoned in either Malaysia or Indonesia. He could have drowned on his way to Christmas Island. I have spent the last year trying to find him.

On Saturday, Julia Gillard announced that 800 asylum seekers will be returned to Malaysia if they attempt to seek asylum in Australia by boat. While the news that Australia will in turn take 4000 asylum seekers from Malaysia is welcome, the Labor Government's plan to return people who are in desperate need of Australia's protection is appalling. Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and has a record of human rights abuse.

According to UNHCR, Malaysia currently hosts over 90,000 asylum seekers and refugees. Malaysia's Immigration Act does not have provisions for refugees and asylum seekers, which means that they are subject to the same punitive treatment as undocumented migrants such as detention, floggings and imprisonment. While asylum seekers can apply for UNHCR status in Malaysia and be exempt from detention, this does not always happen and I have heard many stories of authorities, guards, and RELA (a volunteer organisation with the power to use force and firearms on suspected undocumented migrants) confiscating UNHCR documents and asking for bribes.

From 2002 to 2008, 1300 people died in Malaysia's detention centres or "depots" due to poor detention conditions and lack of adequate medical attention. Reports reveal that detainees only receive one cup of water a day and no vegetables, making malnutrition common. Detainees are often held in overcrowded environments with 300-400 people in a 30 square metre room, which often lack ventilation. There have been reports of sexual, physical and verbal abuse of detainees by the guards in detention centres.

Asylum seekers are left in detention indefinitely which has led to rioting in detention centres. This was demonstrated last month at Lenggeng Immigration Detention Depot in Negeri Sembilan when riots took place, the centre was burnt down and detainees escaped. Malaysia's Deputy Police Chief Datuk Abdul Manan Mohd. Hassan said that investigations had revealed this event occurred because of the poor detention conditions and that "some of the escapees had lost patience in waiting to be resettled to a third country by UNHCR".

Malaysian human rights groups claim that the incident came about because of the ongoing physical abuse of detainees by detention guards.

In an interview on ABC radio this morning, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen admitted that conditions inside Malaysia's detention centres were sub-standard: "If people think that the situation for asylum-seekers in Malaysia is difficult, they should endorse the fact that Australia is taking 4000 out (over) the next four years," he told Fran Kelly.

This new policy is being sold by the Minister and others as a regional co-operation measure to combat people smuggling and "share the burden" of asylum seekers. In fact it is a cynical and desperate political maneuver that merely reinforces the popular myth that there is an orderly "queue" that asylum seekers need to join in order to be accepted into Australia.

As the author of 'Following Them Home: The fate of the returned asylum seekers', David Corlett, notes: a more appropriate metaphor for the "refugee queue" is a "refugee heap", whereby a few fortunate asylum seekers are plucked out to be resettled in Australia. Under this new policy, Australia will not return asylum seekers to any orderly "queue". Instead those people who are owed Australia's protection will be left to languish in Malaysia's "refugee heap" with 90,000 other asylum seekers and refugees.

Klaus Neumann: Trading refugees

There's an opportunity in the agreement with Malaysia, but the government isn't likely to take it, writes Klaus Neumann

Klaus Neumann
Inside Story
May 9, 2011

The federal government's "Malaysian solution" raises a host of as yet unanswered questions. Under the agreement announced on Saturday by Julia Gillard and her Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, Australia will resettle 4000 refugees living in Malaysia, and Malaysia will take in 800 asylum seekers intercepted by the Australian navy. The Australian government hailed the agreement as "a landmark new measure as part of a Regional Cooperation Framework that will help put people smugglers out of business and prevent asylum seekers making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat." That's where the questions begin.

See more:

Savitri Taylor: Regional cooperation and the Malaysian solution

The Gillard government has taken two steps forward and one step back in its efforts to deal with irregular arrivals by boat, writes Savitri Taylor

Savitri Taylor
Inside Story
May 9, 2011

Malaysia is not a party to the Refugee Convention or Protocol, so any similar facility would invite charges of hypocrisy. What the Australian government is claiming is that the proposed MOU with Malaysia is an example "of steps we are taking to progress the wider Regional Cooperation Framework that was agreed to with our regional neighbours at the 4th Bali Process Regional Ministerial Conference." In my view, however, the step being taken is a step backward not forward in relation to that framework.

See more:

Sarah Hanson-Young: Busting the asylum seeker myths

The Age
May 10, 2011
Sarah Hanson-Young

It's time we confronted some of the myths about asylum seekers.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a deal had been cut to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia, in exchange for Australia taking 4000 UNHCR-assessed people from Malaysia. During her press conference, the Prime Minister used the same language she deplored last July when she revealed the now failed plan to establish a regional assessment centre in East Timor.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute, Ms Gillard said: "For too long, the asylum seeker policy debate has been polarised by extreme, emotionally charged claims and counterclaims; by a fundamental disrespect that I reject . . . I speak of the claim often made by opposition politicians that they will, and I quote: 'turn the boats back'. This needs to be seen for what it is. It's a shallow slogan. It's nonsense."

But on Saturday, Ms Gillard used similar inflammatory language long used by the Coalition: "The truth is, if you spend your money, you get on a boat, you risk your life - you don't get to stay. You go to Malaysia and you go to the back of the queue . . . We will take people from the front of the queue, people who are already in Malaysia and already processed as refugees."

FACT: There is no queue, something the Prime Minister herself acknowledged when Labor was in opposition. People fleeing wars and violence do not leave their homes in an orderly manner. There are arbout 92,000 people waiting in asylum seeker camps in Malaysia, including at least 3000 children who have been arbitrarily detained since 2004, according to the local rights group, Aliran.

When announcing the East Timor detention centre idea, the Prime Minister said she had told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees "that my Government is not interested in pursuing a new Pacific Solution".

FACT: The changes the Prime Minister announced at the weekend are the Malaysian solution. Prime Minister Gillard says sending 800 people to Malaysia will be lawful, and that's because she's using a law former prime minister John Howard created after the Tampa boat incident of 2001. This is on top of the impending return of temporary protection visas.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention -- the same reason Ms Gillard has ruled out reopening the Howard government's detention centre on Nauru.

When an Amnesty fact-finding team from Australia visited in 2009, they learned 120 men were "detained in a building no bigger than a tennis court for 24 hours a day", at temperatures of more than 30 degrees. They were given "two small meals a day and the fish is so salty it burns your throat". The Prime Minister says "Australians are hospitable people and we believe in honouring our international protection obligations".

By that logic, we should not be sending 800 people to a country that considers asylum seekers to be illegal and has had them caned.

Australians are hospitable. A Red Cross survey has found 86 per cent of respondents would flee to a safe country if they felt they were under threat.

Nearly one in three people questioned told the Red Cross they know of someone who has come to Australia escaping persecution in another country.

The Australian Immigration Department has told me that "detention arrangements in Malaysia are a matter for the Malaysian government". It is also Malaysia's policy to detain children. We're going to spend nearly $300 million on the deal with Malaysia.

Finally, it is not illegal to seek asylum. No one matter how many times shock jocks and conservative pundits want to use the term "illegal immigrants" to describe asylum seekers, people can seek asylum - 95 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are found to be genuine refugees. The 800 the Prime Minister proposes to send to Malaysia should have their claims assessed in mainland Australia.

Numbers belie fear of asylum seekers

Sydney Morning Herald
Jessica Irvine
May 14, 2011

Wait a minute, what was it we were all talking about before the budget? Oh, that's right: asylum seekers.

So, perhaps while we are temporarily distracted by the budget's outrageous assault on families eking out a living on $150,000 a year, it might be a good time to have a quiet, sensible discussion about the true size of Australia's asylum seeker ''problem''. Let's try, anyway.

Fear, and misunderstanding of the figures, have long driven the recurring debate about the number of people seeking asylum on Australian shores, either by boat or plane.

I suspect that at the heart of some people's worst fears is the idea that if we let just one person in the door, we'll soon be overrun. Viewed in the extreme, there are 6 billion people crawling all over this Earth who could potentially decide to jump on a boat or plane and lodge a bid to live in your backyard. That would be scary indeed.

We are understandably proud of our living standards, political freedoms and way of life. Australians are also well aware that living conditions in many other countries are awful, plagued by war, genocide and oppression. Who wouldn't want to up sticks and live here?

So it is interesting to note the number of people seeking to flee their home countries to obtain asylum in the developed world has almost halved over the past decade.

According to a snapshot by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of people seeking asylum in 44 industrialised nations has fallen from 620,000 in 2001 to a little more than 350,000 last year - hardly a relentlessly rising tide of people seeking a short cut to a better way of life.

It's hard to know what is driving this. Perhaps rising standards of living across the developing world and the end of some wars have reduced the ''push'' factors. Alternatively, it could be stricter policies in the developed world have lessened the ''pull'' factor. Maybe it's just uprooting yourself from all you've ever known to flee to the other side of the world is not a decision most people take lightly.

Either way, ''the global dynamics of asylum are changing'', says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. ''Asylum claims in the industrialised world are much lower than a decade ago, while year-on-year levels are up in only a handful of countries.''

Australia is among the handful of countries where applications have increased, up about 33 per cent last year. About 8000 people lodged applications for asylum in Australia last year, a figure that has risen for six years in a row.

But the report notes that despite this, asylum levels in Australia remain not only below those observed in 2000 (13,100 claims) and 2001 (12,400 claims), but also below those recorded by many other industrialised and non-industrialised countries.

Indeed, Australia ranks below 13 other rich nations for the number of asylum-seeker applications lodged here. We rank even lower - 17th - for the number of applications per population. Australia receives one application for asylum for every 2500 people already living here. Sweden has the highest number of applications per population, with one application per 300 Swedes.

It helps to keep things in perspective.

Understanding the asylum seeker debate

ABC Online
By Monique Ross
Posted Wed May 18, 2011 7:31pm AEST

Australia has a long history of accepting refugees for resettlement, and immigration and border protection are high on the country's political agenda.

But confusion lingers in the public debate on refugees and asylum seekers - not just about who they are, but also the impact they have on Australian life.

Here, ABC News Online takes a look at some common questions surrounding those seeking asylum in Australia.

What is the difference between a migrant, refugee and asylum seeker?

A migrant is someone who decides to leave their country in order to seek a better life and can return home at any time. Migrants may be granted temporary or permanent status to reside in Australia.

A refugee is recognised as having been forced to leave their home country for fear of persecution - such as torture, imprisonment or execution - and they cannot return for fear of that persecution. The definition of refugee does not cover those who leave their country only because of war or other civil disturbance, famine, natural disasters or in order to seek a better life.

An asylum seeker is a person who is seeking protection as a refugee and is still waiting to have their claim assessed. Every recognised refugee has at some point been an asylum seeker.

Where do the Government and Opposition stand on asylum seekers?

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's asylum seeker policy aims to tackle people smuggling. The Government is stepping up efforts to process asylum seekers offshore, and has recently negotiated a refugee swap deal with Malaysia.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has vowed to "stop the boats" through offshore processing, bringing back temporary protection visas and turning back asylum seeker boats where possible.

How many asylum seekers that come to Australia then become refugees?

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), between 2007 and 2010 the approval rate for asylum seekers varied between 48 per cent and 67 per cent. Around 40 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive by plane are granted asylum, compared to 85 to 90 per cent of those who arrive by boat.

How many refugees does Australia take each year? Is this a lot compared to the rest of the world?

Ms Gillard has acknowledged that in 2009, Australia only received 0.6 per cent of the world's asylum seekers. ASRC says last year Australia received 8,250 asylum claims via air and sea arrivals. In comparison, last year the United States received 55,500 new onshore applications for asylum, France received 47,800 and Germany received 41,300. On average, Australia accepts around 13,500 refugees and humanitarian entrants each year, according to ASRC.

Do most asylum seekers arrive by boat?

Up until 2009, only a small proportion of asylum applicants in Australia arrived by boat - most arrived by air with a valid visa and then went on to pursue asylum claims. Recently there has been a jump in the number of boat arrivals, and a record number of asylum seekers arrived on boats in 2009-2010. ASRC puts that figure at 5,267.

But boat arrivals still comprise less than half of onshore asylum seekers in Australia. In comparison, it is estimated that in 2006 over 72,000 asylum seekers arrived by boat on the coasts of Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta.

Are asylum seekers 'illegals' or 'queue jumpers'?

Everyone has the right to seek asylum in Australia. The confusion about legal status stems from those arriving without a valid visa - most asylum seekers who arrive by air usually enter on a valid visa, while most who arrive by boat do not have a visa.

Regardless of how they arrive, asylum seekers are classified by Australian law to be "unlawful non-citizens". But that does not mean that they have committed a criminal offence - they have a right to seek asylum under international law and not be penalised for their mode of entry.

The Government notes the term illegal may more appropriately apply to those without a valid visa who are not seeking protection, such as visa overstayers. In June 2009, it was estimated that there were about 48,700 overstayers in Australia.

The term 'queue' refers to resettlement through the United Nations. Only a very small proportion of asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR and only 1 per cent of those recognised by the UNHCR as refugees who meet the resettlement criteria are subsequently resettled to another country.

Many asylum seekers are not in a position to join this queue and instead find protection by crossing a border. ASRC estimates that in 2011, governments will offer places to 80,000 refugees from over 10 million across the world. It says if all of these refugees were to join a queue, the wait for a positive outcome for a person joining the end of the queue would, at current resettlement rates, be 135 years.

Do asylum seekers and refugees receive higher welfare benefits than other Australians?

Asylum seekers living in the community are granted welfare under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme. Payments are equivalent to 89 per cent of the Centrelink Newstart Allowance. Asylum seekers in immigration detention centres receive a small allowance but do not receive Centrelink equivalent payments.

Once granted refugee status, former asylum seekers are entitled to the same benefits as any other permanent Australian resident. However, they are exempt from the standard waiting period that applies to migrants seeking to access social security payments or concession cards. They also receive short-term assistance aimed at helping them settle effectively.

How much does the Government spend on asylum seekers?

ASRC says budget papers reveal the cost of Australia's immigration detention system will hit $800 million in 2011-12. It says at current numbers, with approximately 7,000 people in detention, it will cost $110,000 per asylum seeker in detention in 2011-12.

But it is difficult to put a dollar figure on the cost of processing asylum seekers and keeping them in detention as Australia's policies are not encapsulated as a single program. They entail not just the cost of keeping asylum seekers in detention, but a long list of other costs such as the cost of border monitoring and boat interception, the cost of new infrastructure and the cost of providing legal, medical and other services to detainees.

Why should developed countries host asylum seekers and refugees?

Australia is one of only about 20 nations worldwide that participate formally in the United Nations' resettlement program and accepts quotas of refugees on an annual basis.

Eighty per cent of the world's refugees are hosted in the developing world, so the burden of assisting the world's asylum seekers and refugees actually falls to some of the world's poorest countries. UNHCR data shows that Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide.

Sources: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the Parliamentary Library of Australia.

Michelle Foster: Troubled waters lie ahead

The Age
Michelle Foster
May 17, 2011

Too many unanswered questions hang over the Malaysia solution.

On announcing the end of the so-called Pacific Solution in February 2008, the then minister for immigration, Chris Evans, noted that it had been, ''a cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise introduced on the eve of a federal election by the Howard government''. For this reason Julia Gillard was careful to distance the government's latest proposal from the Pacific Solution.

She emphasised that the proposal to swap 800 asylum seekers in Australia for 4000 ''genuine refugees'' in Malaysia represented ''a very different approach''. No doubt sensitive to the vociferous criticism directed at the Howard government for its failure to uphold international refugee law, both Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen also emphasised that Australia as a nation ''wants to honour our international obligations''.

However, we should all be concerned that this policy, if put into effect, will further tarnish Australia's international reputation and place it at serious risk of violating, not respecting, our international obligations.

In recent government rhetoric, much attention has been placed on the need for a regional framework and a ''regional approach to a regional problem''. Indeed Gillard has hailed the Malaysian deal as ''a genuine co-operation arrangement in our region under the Regional Co-operation Framework'', distinguishing it from the ''unilateral'' Pacific Solution, as though the mere fact that a policy involving a bilateral arrangement makes it an inherently positive one.

While the Preamble to the Refugee Convention recognises the need for ''international co-operation'' to respond to what is clearly an international problem, great care needs to be taken to ensure that ''co-operation'' does not operate as a facade behind which violations of international law are permitted to take place.

It is instructive to consider the operation of regional refugee frameworks in other parts of the world, especially in Europe, in which a burden-sharing arrangement - the Dublin Scheme - has been in operation for decades. This multilateral scheme might be considered the best-case scenario given that every member state of the European Union is, and must be, a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights - a treaty enforced by a regional court. Every member state is also a party to the Refugee Convention and other widely ratified human rights treaties. However, even in that context big problems have arisen. In January 2011, the European Court of Human Rights found Belgium in violation of its human rights obligations for transferring an asylum seeker to Greece to be processed, exposing him to conditions of detention and living conditions that were inhuman and degrading.

The risks inherent in any agreement to transfer asylum seekers are magnified in our region, which is marked by the lowest level of accession to the Refugee Convention in the world, and the absence of any regional human rights framework, let alone an enforceable one.

Malaysia is not a party to the Refugee Convention and there is no provision in domestic law for the recognition of asylum seekers or refugees. The Malaysian government is not responsible for processing refugee claims or for providing protection; that is considered a task for the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, the UNHCR has stated many times that the ''office cannot and is not meant to replace whole government structures that would be necessary to protect and assist refugees''. It is therefore difficult to comprehend how the Malaysian government could enter into an agreement that would be capable of complying with Australia's international obligations.

In assessing the adequacy of any Memorandum of Understanding with Malaysia, we must ask three key questions.

First, can Gillard be confident that asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia will not be sent home? While processing of claims does take place by the UNHCR, the agency acknowledges that it is ''difficult to fulfil its mandate'' in Malaysia. Further, given that the Malaysian government does not provide legal protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened, how will Australia ensure protection against refoulement? Will the Australian government require Malaysia to sign the convention and introduce legislation?

Second, can Australia be confident that in transferring asylum seekers to Malaysia we do not expose them to a risk of inhuman or degrading treatment, or other human rights violations? Due to their illegal status, even recognised refugees in Malaysia may be subject to detention, prosecution and whipping. Further, according to the UNHCR, they have ''no access to sustainable livelihoods or formal education''. That's why the Malaysian Bar Council characterises the conditions of life for refugees in Malaysia as ''degrading, demeaning and dehumanising''. How then can Gillard ensure that the transfer of 800 asylum seekers will not violate international law, especially when she has emphasised that the 800 ''will not receive any preferential treatment''.

Third, what provision will be made in the Memorandum of Understanding for post-transfer monitoring? What will happen if Australia becomes aware that any of the 800 transferred asylum seekers have not been treated in accordance with international law?

It is difficult to understand how this refugee-swapping arrangement could possibly send the message that, in the words of Bowen, ''People are not a commodity, freedom is not something which you can trade''.

Associate Professor Michelle Foster is director of the Research Program in International Refugee Law at Melbourne Law School.

Steve Pennells: Refugee spin masks racism

The West Australian
By Steve Pennells
June 7th, 2011, 1:30pm

A week before Four Corners aired its horrific footage of the fate of Australian cattle in Indonesia, Dateline on SBS featured equally graphic images - canings, detention and brutal treatment of asylum seekers at a Malaysian detention centre.

If the response to both is any indication, there was one clear winner in the battle for sympathy: the cattle by a landslide.

Australians seemed more willing to empathise with cattle exported for slaughter than they were with men, women and children who would be sent to Kuala Lumpur as part of the so-called "Malaysian solution".

It's an extraordinary comparison but it lays bare the ugly truth that our proud belief in a fair go for any battler often comes with a caveat - "battlers" get our support if they fit in with a homogenous, Christian Australia, a Neighbours reality where black, Asian or Muslim characters come in only as guest stars in fleeting visits to a white-skinned Erinsborough.

A week ago, the United Nation's top human rights watchdog, Navi Pillay, attacked Australia's refugee policies and the treatment of Aboriginals, saying there was a strong undercurrent of racism in the country.

"I come from South Africa and lived under this and am every way attuned to seeing racial discrimination," she said.

"There is a racial discriminatory element here which I see as rather inhumane treatment of people, judged by their differences: racial, colour or religions."

She was pointing bluntly to the elephant in the room - the racism that underpins much of Australia's discourse, attitudes, media and political debate.

When Prime Minister Julia Gillard first flagged the "Malaysian solution" - to exchange 800 asylum seekers who arrive on our shores for 4000 legitimate refugees in Malaysia - letters pages and talkback were filled with outcry: "We get five of them for every one we send across ... great deal, Julia."

The reaction made it clear that, however we try to justify it, the fear over asylum seekers is rooted more in race and religion than in the character of the people we accept.

I've visited and talked to asylum seekers waiting in camps or hiding out in towns and cities across Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and Kenya. They were families and individuals - so-called queue jumpers - living in shocking conditions and desperate for a chance at a better life.

In Kabul last year I decided to test the "queue" argument to see just what line-up the Afghans arriving in Australia had supposedly "jumped".

Unsurprisingly, there isn't one.

Any refugee fleeing persecution can't go to the Australian Embassy in Afghanistan because it is in a secret, hidden location and does not deal with visa applications of any kind.

The thousands of people in makeshift camps around the city also do not fall into the confines of the UNHCR's refugee classification, so they have no way to apply for humanitarian asylum.

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the so-called "queue" is a myth.

The only option these refugees have is to join the three million people living in camps across the borders with Pakistan and Iran, some for more than a generation, or seek asylum further afield, in countries such as Australia.

Some see no choice but to put their lives or their children in the hands of people smugglers.

For most of the 44 million refugees worldwide displaced by war or persecution there is no orderly queue.

The UNHCR battles to deal with a fraction of these people. In Malaysia alone, there are 94,000 refugees registered with UNHCR waiting to be processed. Despite the fact they're all considered legitimate, only 8000 are accepted by a handful of other countries each year. Do the maths.

It's why camps like Dadaab in north-east Kenya, built 20 years ago to hold 80,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia, now holds 352,000 and rising, with 42,000 new arrivals sitting outside its boundaries because the UNHCR can't fit them inside.

It's why almost three million Afghans live in exile and squalor on the Pakistan border.

I wrote about it at the time but it made no difference. The idea of "queue jumpers" has seeped so much into common wisdom that it is accepted as fact. It feeds so well into a simplistic interpretation of a complex reality that the truth doesn't seem to matter any more.

We can't rely on our politicians for any nuance, either. Three-year electoral cycles are the enemy of big picture debate and Canberra long ago adopted the slippery linguistics and psychologically calculated buzzwords of advertising.

After all, "queue jumpers" is such a great phrase - a neat pre-packaged opinion to steer a debate. Like all effective propaganda, it is predigested and does the judging for us.

It is an appropriation of language by people who seek to reorganise reality on their own terms. As is "bleeding heart" and "do gooder", which will no doubt feature in the letters and emails I am certain to get next week.

My point is that we seem more inclined to sympathise with the plight of cattle than we do at making any attempt to understand or empathise with the plight of this desperate throng of humanity.

The fury over asylum seekers or, more specifically, a certain type of asylum seeker, is also staggeringly disproportionate to the actual size of the problem.

If our obsession with boat people is solely about people being here illegally and not about race, then where is the outcry over the much greater number of illegals in Australia who fly here?

On June 30, 2009, the latest figures available, 48,700 people were here illegally after overstaying holiday or student visas. About 8060 of them were from the US and Britain alone - almost 3000 more than the total number of refugees who arrived by boat last year.

To put the situation into more context, look at the list of countries dealing with asylum seekers and we barely rate.

The UNHCR says 8250 asylum claims were made in Australia in 2010. Compare this with the US (55,000), France (47,800), Germany (41,300), Sweden (31,800), Canada (23,000), Britain (22,100), Belgium (19,900), Switzerland (13,500), the Netherlands (13,300), Austria (11,000), Greece (10,300), Turkey (9230) and Italy (8200).

Globally, only 2 per cent of the world's asylum claims are made in Australia. Not much of a "flood".

But what about the numbers compared with a country's population? Good point.

Even when comparing the number of asylum seekers with a country's GDP, which more accurately reflects the capacity of a country to host them, Australia doesn't rate. Cyprus and Malta come first with Sweden third, followed by Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Of course, none of this fits in with the rhetoric over asylum seekers or our overreaction to certain people who don't look or talk like us.

I'm dwelling on asylum seekers here but the argument can be stretched further.

Would there have been a bigger outcry in communities in WA's north if children being abused and abandoned were white? And what would have happened if the 12-year-old boy who spent a week in a police lockup this month wasn't Aboriginal?

Subconsciously or not, we see colour first and any nuance later.

I remember covering the Schapelle Corby trial a few years back and fending calls from a public obsessed at the injustice.

"She's innocent," the calls would usually start, "you just have to look into her green eyes to know that. Those animals are going to lock her up."

When Corby was sentenced in a Bali courtroom on May 27, 2005, Australian TV crews turned the court into a film set, production assistants miked up the key players and Australian tourists peered through windows waving flags as if they were at a sporting event.

The whole thing was broadcast live across Australia and New Zealand.

Just over six months later, another Australian, Van Tuong Nguyen, was hanged in Singapore. He was a Vietnamese-Australian. He didn't look like Corby and he had a name few could pronounce.

There were no Australians waving flags when he was executed and no national campaigns to free him.

Perhaps it might have been different if his name was Barry. Or if he'd been a steer.

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Refugees, animal chauvinism and ALP self-destruct button

Tuesday, 7 June 2011
by Guy Rundle

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in England in 1824. The equivalent society for the prevention of cruelty to children was founded half a century later. For a decade or so before the latter was fully established, legal cases against child cruelty were run by the RSPCA, because there was no legal provision for children to be defended as human beings -- and they had to be classed as "little animals".

The rise of the RSPCA -- which became the cause of anti-slavery advocates such as William Wilberforce, after that latter campaign had been well-established -- was unique in the world, and not, as we say, a coincidence. As the industrial revolution in the UK roared ahead, large numbers of people became separated from working animals in their daily life, far more so than in more agricultural societies.

Meanwhile, the factories began to be filled with human beings being treated like animals -- measurable units of regular power -- and then with children. As animals became visible as suffering beings, children disappeared into the weave of production. What supported the society, what made Victorian England possible, was the one thing that could not be seen.

Animals became not only objects of compassion, but of displacement -- their suffering became symbolic of a wider suffering as humanity disappeared into the maw of high capitalism. The full suffering of animals could be accorded because there was no danger to doing so -- animals could not get up on their hind legs and demand their rights. They could be objects of compassion, but never subjects.

That basic split has re-appeared again and again, and more on the right than the left; the diaries of Alan Clark, the neurotic incompetent Thatcher-era minister are full of musings about how terrible people can be to dogs, donkeys, etc, accompanied by nothing less than sadism about his fellow Britons during the crunch of the '80s -- and musings about how Hitler was misunderstood. At its worst, concern for animals licenses misanthropy -- because humans mistreat animals, all humans can be despised.

So it is a moral and political disaster when kindness towards animals becomes as important or equal a cause as our reciprocal moral obligations to other human beings. Yet that is what is happening now, following the Four Corners report on the shambolic (a word that originally came from butchery -- The Shambles was a street in town where butchers were located), and with the push by Andrew Wilkie to ban live exports and to make this cause a focus.

For those from the left, this is exactly the wrong move at the wrong time, and they should steer well clear of it. Worst of all, is any active comparison between animal exports and our handling of refugees that makes any sort of commonality -- the only thing worth observing about it, is that they are categorically different activities that both happen to involve ships.

To defend refugees, and to slate the full horror of swapping people -- including of course unaccompanied children, who, as in the 19th century, are taken as mere units, to be accorded no subjectivity -- one has to insist on the absolute and categorical difference between humans and animals. Indeed, one has to insist on it as the founding category of moral action. Part of the confusion occurs because the "moral" vision that has spread among some among the greens and social movements has been that of Peter Singer's "expanding circle" -- the idea that animals should be drawn into the expanding moral circle that over history has been extended from tribe, to nation, to eventually encompass the whole of humanity.

There is no capacity to found a genuinely critical or moral philosophy on such a conception. Its ultimate destination is that people start totting up the numbers of cattle being exported and refugees being shunted around as if this were some like-for-like comparison. Even more bizarrely, a type of animal chauvinism has crept in -- our Aussie animals being mistreated in filthy foreign abattoirs. The issue is becoming a licence to withdraw from the universalism that has to underpin a proper treatment of refugees.

The issue is refugees -- a small number to be sure, but a group whose humanity is being utterly negated, in a process whose main aim appears to be a continuation of the ALP's auto-destruction through cowardice and amoral gimmickry. To focus on that, it has to be asserted that animals matter, but they don't matter much, and if the fate of humans is allowed to be subsumed under that of beasts, as it did for the good burghers of the RSPCA, then we have become less moral, not more.

Labor to adopt bleak plan to stop the boats

The Age
Michael Gordon
May 20, 2011

Australia is poised to enforce a two-tier policy to stop the boats, where some asylum seekers face indefinite limbo on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, with a remote prospect of eventual resettlement in Australia, and others are despatched to Malaysia, with no rights to work or welfare and no prospect of ever settling here.

The Government is banking on both scenarios being bleak enough to deter boats arrivals and appears open to expanding Australia's humanitarian intake if the audacious strategy works.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday conceded Australia could accept refugees who were processed on Manus Island, but signalled that other options would be explored first and that no time limit would be placed on their being held on the island.

''It's a big call to make, to risk your life and spend that much money on those sorts of odds, when there is clearly no guarantee of resettlement in Australia, even if you go to Manus,'' Mr Bowen said in an exclusive interview with The Age.

Although three boats have arrived since the new strategy was announced almost two weeks ago, Mr Bowen expressed confidence that the new approach would have a dramatic impact on the people-smuggling trade once asylum seekers were sent to Malaysia.

''When we have people being returned to Malaysia, that's when obviously it will be very much noticed among asylum seekers,'' he said.

It now appears certain that those asylum seekers whose boats are intercepted between the strategy being announced on May 7, and the Malaysia agreement being finalised in a few weeks' time, will be sent to Manus Island, although the deal with PNG is also still to be finalised and Mr Bowen is deliberately keeping alive other options. In the interim, more than 100 asylum seekers who appear slated for removal to PNG face a stressful time on Christmas Island, unaware of their destination or protection prospects.

Mr Bowen yesterday filled in some of the details of the strategy, telling The Age:

• Those sent to Malaysia would not be treated any differently to more than 90,000 asylum seekers who are already in that country and whose treatment has prompted human rights advocates to express grave reservations about the new deal.

Mr Bowen said the promise that they would be afforded ''dignity and respect'', in accordance with human rights standards, would be monitored by a task force that would include representatives of both governments, the United Nations refugee agency, the International Organisation for Migration and possibly some other non-government bodies.

• Even those found to be refugees in Malaysia with immediate family members in Australia will be not be offered resettlement here. Mr Bowen said he had legal advice that this approach was not in breach of Australia's treaty obligations.

• The Manus Island centre was being established to ''complement'' the deal with Malaysia and would be ''there for people who, for whatever reason, are not taken to Malaysia''.

• If the quota of sending 800 boat arrivals to Malaysia is filled, the government will look to expanding the agreement with Malaysia or reaching a similar deal with Thailand or another country in the region.

Under the deal, Australia will accept 4000 refugees from Malaysia over four years in return for Malaysia taking 800 asylum seekers whose boats are intercepted after the agreement is finalised. Although Mr Bowen refused to be drawn on the issue, insiders say he would be supportive of an expansion of Australia's humanitarian intake once the strategy achieved its aim and dramatically cut the number of boat arrivals.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison used a speech to foreign correspondents in Sydney yesterday to accuse the government of ''cynically flicking the switch to Howard lite'', but still failing to get it right. ''Moving towards the Coalition's policies, however slight, will provide at least some deterrent. Something is better than nothing,'' he said.

Advocates, Greens slam refugee 'side deals'

ABC News Online
Posted Sun May 15, 2011 10:23pm AEST

Refugee advocates and the Greens say the Federal Government's push to get countries in the region to take asylum seekers coming to Australia is inhumane and politically motivated.

Thailand has indicated it is interested in negotiating an agreement similar to the in-principle deal Australia has secured with Malaysia.

Under that deal Australia would send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia, in return for resettling 4,000 refugees.

But Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young says the Government is looking for a political fix.

"This is not busting people smugglers, this is about Julia Gillard looking after herself," she said.

She says Australia has abandoned its international legal obligations.

David Manne from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre says both Thailand and Malaysia treat asylum seekers terribly.

"These side deals with Malaysia and possibly with Thailand and PNG have all the hallmarks of being driven by narrow Australian political interests and not the pursuit of a genuine comprehensive regional co-operation framework, which is sorely needed," he said.

An Immigration Department spokesman says Thailand has been a strong supporter of efforts to deal with people smuggling and there has been a positive response to the deal throughout the region.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told ABC 1's Insiders the Government has a clear course of action.

"I don't think it's any mystery to anybody in Australia that we are in discussions with Malaysia, and I released the statement with the prime minister of Malaysia. We are working with PNG as well," she said.

On Friday night a boat carrying 32 asylum seekers was intercepted off north-western Australia.

The Government says the passengers and one crew member are being taken to Christmas Island for health and identity checks, before being transferred to another country.

Ms Gillard says offshore processing is sending a message to people smugglers.

"We will hold these asylum seekers pending removal," she said.

"The message here to people smugglers and to asylum seekers in the pipeline is don't come to Australia expecting to be processed because you won't be.

"You will be held pending removal."

The Government is still negotiating deals with Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

Gillard's support slumps as Malaysia deal gets the thumbs-down

The Age
Michelle Grattan
May 16, 2011

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's ratings have gone backwards in an Age/Nielsen post-budget poll showing Labor still trailing the Coalition 44-56 per cent and voters deeply sceptical about the government's Malaysian deal to deter boat arrivals.

In a fillip for the Coalition, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's approval has risen, and he has narrowed Ms Gillard's lead as preferred PM to three points - the closest they have been.

People are split over the budget and its fairness, while nearly six in 10 disapprove of the people-swapping deal with Malaysia and more than eight in 10 say it will make no difference or increase arrivals. Almost seven in 10 who support the agreement believe it won't work.

Labor's primary vote remains at a rock bottom 31 per cent, while the Coalition is steady on 47 per cent in the poll of 1400 taken from Thursday to Saturday. The Greens vote fell two points to 10 per cent. The Coalition two-party lead is the same as last month.

Ms Gillard's approval declined two points to a record 43 per cent; her disapproval was up two to 52 per cent, also a record for her. Mr Abbott's approval rose three to 45 per cent; his disapproval was down one to 50 per cent.

Ms Gillard still leads as preferred PM but only narrowly - 47 per cent, down three points to Mr Abbott's 44 per cent, up two.

With the budget's mild squeeze on family payments for higher income earners hotly debated last week, 42 per cent said the budget was ''fair''. This was down 14 points on 2009, when the question was last asked. Thirty-nine per cent said it was not fair (up six points on two years ago).

People were evenly divided - 44 per cent each - when asked whether they were satisfied with the budget. The satisfaction rating was well below those in 2008 and 2009.

Among Labor voters, 63 per cent said the budget was fair and 70 per cent were satisfied with it. Only 28 per cent of Coalition voters said it was fair and 27 per cent were satisfied.

Ms Gillard yesterday promised the family payment eligibility system would go back to the normal indexation arrangements after two years. The budget put a two-year freeze on indexation for the payments' upper eligibility thresholds.

Asked yesterday why she was having such trouble getting her message through, Ms Gillard said: ''We get the message out there ... as best we can. We've explained this budget up hill and down dale and we will continue to do so.''

She told the ABC she did not concern herself with ''the 24-hour media cycle and the day-to-day political plays. I'm there, out delivering the policies this nation needs ... if you like, I'm there as the architect as we're building the nation.''

She described Mr Abbott as ''like the kid with the baseball cap on backwards going past, shouting a slogan and spraying some graffiti''.

Former treasurer Peter Costello pronounced Ms Gillard ''dead''. ''The public has made up its mind,'' he told Channel 10. Mr Abbott now had to show ''he can be a statesman-like figure who can manage Australia''.

As the proposed Malaysia solution - in which Australia will swap 800 asylum seekers for 4000 refugees - failed to win public support, the government moved to shore up the deterrent by declaring it will send asylum seekers intercepted at the weekend to a third country.

The first vessel to arrive after the policy announcement - still to be finalised between the two governments - was intercepted near Broome, with 32 asylum seekers and one crew member aboard.

The people are on their way to Christmas Island for identity checking. They will then be sent to a third country, as yet unnamed, for their refugee claims to be assessed. Ms Gillard told the ABC yesterday: ''We will hold these asylum seekers pending removal.''

The government is still negotiating with Papua New Guinea for a processing centre there.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd had talks late last week with the Thais about regional arrangements.

Afterwards, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said the Australian-Malaysian ''likely agreement would provide some sort of certainty and also a model for others to study''.

He added the agreement ''is something that the rest of us would be interested to look at''.

Just over a third (35 per cent) support the Malaysian deal, including a bare majority (51 per cent) of Labor voters. Less than a quarter of Coalition voters (23 per cent) support it, and 45 per cent of Green voters. More than seven in 10 Coalition voters and nearly four in 10 Labor voters are against it.

Asked about the policy's effectiveness, 23 per cent predicted it would increase arrivals by boat, while only 16 per cent said it would reduce them.

Of those who support the measure, 57 per cent think it will make no difference and 12 per cent believe it will increase arrivals - just 28 per cent think it will reduce them.

Among those opposed, 60 per cent say it will make no difference, 30 per cent believe it will increase arrivals and a mere 8 per cent think it will reduce them. The Malaysia solution has the most support in Western Australia.

Commenting on the Thai talks, a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said that Australia and Thailand already worked closely to fight people smuggling.

''Thailand has been a strong supporter of the Regional Co-operation Framework and the Bali Process and the Australian government looks forward to engaging with them as part of that process.''

She said the positive regional responses to the Malaysian deal were a reminder of the resolve to combat people smuggling.

Voters reject Labor's Malaysian plan

Sydney Morning Herald
Phillip Coorey
May 16, 2011

Almost 60 per cent of voters oppose the federal government's proposal to send asylum seekers to Malaysia, and Coalition supporters are the most hostile.

The findings are contained in the latest Herald/Nielsen poll and come as the Thai government confirmed it was interested in a similar deal in which Thailand would take asylum seekers in return for Australia accepting refugees in its camps.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said the 32 people who arrived in Australian waters on Saturday will be ''held, pending removal'' to a third country that has yet to be determined, most likely Malaysia.

The poll of 1400 voters was taken from Thursday night to Saturday night, less than a week after the government announced that 800 asylum seekers would be sent to Malaysia for processing. In return, Malaysia would send Australia 4000 people who had already been classified as refugees over the next four years.

The poll found 58 per cent opposed this arrangement and 35 per cent supported it. Among Coalition voters, 72 per cent were opposed and 23 per cent supportive while Labor voters were split 51 per cent/39 per cent for and against, and Greens voters were almost equal with 45 per cent for and 48 per cent against.

Of those polled, 58 per cent felt the Malaysian plan would make no difference to boat arrivals, 23 per cent felt they would increase, and only 16 per cent felt they would decrease.

The government has said that boat arrivals would start being sent to Malaysia when the deal with Kuala Lumpur was finalised and signed. Australia is also negotiating with a divided Papua New Guinea government about reopening the detention centre on Manus island.

During a visit to Bangkok by his Australian counterpart, Kevin Rudd, the Thai Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, expressed interest at the weekend in a similar arrangement with his country.

Ms Gillard said yesterday that despite no deal having been signed with any regional government, the latest arrivals would be held in detention until a deal was signed and then sent away.

''The message here to people smugglers and asylum seekers in the pipeline is don't come to Australia expecting to be processed because you won't be. You will be held pending removal.''

The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said holding people pending a deal would create a backlog in detention centres similar to that caused by the freezes on processing Afghans and Sri Lankans two years ago. This caused overcrowding and riots and it is understood extra federal police have been sent to Christmas Island in recent weeks.

''Having said only a week ago that it would be the first 800 to go to Malaysia after the deal was finalised, they have now been forced to borrow against their quota before pen has been put to paper, let alone to sign the deal off,'' he said.

Mr Morrison said the government was potentially in breach of the Migration Act unless the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, gave an undertaking that asylum seekers sent to Malaysia would not be mistreated.

'PM weakened' by Malaysia deal

Paul Maley
The Australian
May 18, 2011 12:00AM

Two new boatloads of asylum-seekers are expected to arrive at Christmas Island in the coming days amid claims that Julia Gillard has surrendered Australia's negotiating leverage with Malaysia and Papua New Guinea by flagging detainee transfer deals before details have been agreed to.

Thirty-two asylum-seekers, said to be men from Afghanistan and Pakistan, are due to arrive today aboard the Customs vessel Triton and a second boatload of 21 people was picked up near Ashmore Reef on Monday.

The opposition yesterday opened a new line of attack against the government, accusing it of imposing what is effectively a processing freeze on new asylum claims while Canberra finalises the detail on its refugee swap with Kuala Lumpur.

However, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen continues to defend his policy. Writing in The Australian today, Mr Bowen warns that disasters such as the December 15 shipwrecking at Christmas Island are "inevitable" if the boats aren't stopped.

Mr Bowen also takes aim at the Coalition and the Greens, which oppose the Malaysia initiative.

Mr Bowen says if the Greens are truly concerned about the plight of refugees in Malaysia, they should welcome a deal that transfers 4000 of them to Australia.

"The Greens party position implies that we should care deeply about asylum-seekers who manage to get to Australia's shores, but not those who don't have the resources or the inclination to make such a journey," he says.

Referring to the Coalition's claim that Mr Bowen struck a dud deal with the Malaysians, the minister accuses the opposition of hypocrisy. He says an additional 4000 refugees is "a better deal than Tony Abbott's promise to double the refugee intake in return for Andrew Wilkie's vote on the floor of the House of Representatives".

But there are concerns the Gillard government has undermined Australia's negotiating position with Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby by announcing, or foreshadowing, agreements where details have not yet been decided.

It is understood the decision to announce the deal was driven in part by fear it would leak.

"In some ways, she's lost her strength in bargaining," one senior government source told The Australian. "The Malaysians and the Papuans will sheet it home to her."

PNG is expected to agree to reopen the Manus Island detention centre within weeks. It is likely to hold 400-600. Sources close to the negotiations with Malaysia, which has agreed to take the next 800 asylum-seekers intercepted by Australia, say a deal will probably be signed early next month.

Mr Bowen has come under mounting pressure to deal with the 87 asylum-seekers who have arrived since the Malaysia deal was announced.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said by not processing new claims, or deporting new boat arrivals, the government had effectively introduced a new asylum freeze.

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