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Writing a Letter

There's an Elephant In My Backyard

an e-alert to Kevin Rudd and Chris Evans

about the Christmas Island refugee jail and many more outstanding issues

12 June 2008 - In the last two months, as a result of the Burma and China disasters, ten million refugees were created according to agencies, and there comes a time in the next two to four decades that this figure could rise a hundredfold, according to agencies such as the Christian Aid Service:

"Christian Aid predicts that, on current trends, a further 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050. We believe forced migration is the most urgent threat facing poor people in developing countries. The time for action is now."

After eleven years of a neo-conservative yet extremely radical government under John Howard, the Migration Act is an utter mess, the treatment of refugees is at best "shabby", or at worst still seriously and deliberately in breach of a raft of International Conventions.

While we can acknowledge several shifts underway under the Rudd government, with Senator Chris Evans at the helm of the Immigration Department as its Minister, many issues have not been touched and injustice continues to fester, also as a result of the presence and essential role of a Department that has been severely politicised.

What is this page?

This page contains an electronic letter form you can use to write to Immigration Minister Chris Evans and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. You can choose one, more or all topics, choose the pre-set text or your own, or both.

This e-campaign has been closed, but please feel free to explore the page!


All researched and collected sources on this website that form the background to this submission are listed here at the bottom of this page.

How does it work?

1. If you want to send all issues raised, just enter your details, make any or no comments, and click "Send the Letter!" button below the contents of the form.

2. If you would like to skip a topic in its entirety, change the little round 'yes-no' button (called a "radio button") to "no, only my comment below". Do not make any comments on this topic, and the entire topic will be skipped from your submission.

3. If you don't know your electorate, choose "Don't know" from the drop-down list.

Note: Do not provide a false name or a false email address: you're sending a letter to the Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister, and your letter will be looked at as an expression of you as an elector.

This e-campaign has been closed, but please feel free to explore the page!

The letter to Kevin Rudd and Chris Evans


Dear Prime Minister,

Dear Senator Chris Evans,

I write to you in reply to your invitation when you released the 2020 Summit Report, for an ongoing nationwide dialogue with Australians and your encouraging of further submissions following the Summit.

While I understand that Australia's treatment of refugees did not receive centre stage treatment with so many issues demanding attention, this embarrassing and shameful Australian issue has aroused very serious concern since your party supported John Howard's dreadful "Tampa laws" in 2001. Now that 2008 World Refugee Day on June 20 is drawing close, in the year that we celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights, I need to urgently write to you.

In the last two months, as a result of the Burma and China disasters, ten million refugees were created according to agencies, and there comes a time in the next two to four decades that this figure could rise a hundredfold, according to agencies such as the Christian Aid Service:

"Christian Aid predicts that, on current trends, a further 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050. We believe forced migration is the most urgent threat facing poor people in developing countries. The time for action is now." (Read more)

If and when that happens, Australians as well as Australia's government - even while it's abundantly clear we could never take in millions of climate refugees - should not waffle like drunkards about "border protection", "orderly migration", "control", "mandatory detention" and "invaders" but should activate a fully humanitarian response, with generosity and in openness.

Since Tampa we have seen the worst of our country, not only at the hand of John Howard but also in Labor politicians - and from now on we need to start developing the best of our country.

Christmas Island

Dear Prime Minister,

You intend to use John Howard's monstrosity on Christmas Island, the $400 million "white elephant" detention centre, keeping me ashamed of the way my country treats refugees and asylum seekers; you intend to do so at a cost of $32 million per year to lock up around 30 asylum seekers (source), and even worse: even when it's empty, running and maintenance costs amount to $25 million dollars!!!

Please stop squandering my taxpayers money. If you bring all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to the mainland (as you should under Australia's Refugee Convention obligations) you can save me millions of dollars, and restore Australia's good name from John Howard's legacy - you will not restore our damaged International reputation as a humanitarian country by keeping the Christmas Island centre open for business.

If you instead would use the detention centre as a Centre for Asia-Pacific Relations where Conventions would be held, you would actually get my money back. This would be a supremely appropriate use of a resource Australia already owns. A section of that Convention Centre could become a full-time Casino, giving the Christmas Islanders back the casino they lost, and attracting lots of Indonesian and other Asian tourists.

The Excision Zone

Minister Evans,

Labor was always abundantly clear that it opposed the internationally reprehensible law that saw about 4,600 islands excised "from Australia's Migration Zone" - creating the Orwellian World-first "refugee exclusion zone" or "forbidden zone", and radically undermining Australia's obligations under the Refugee Convention, and all Senators convincingly supported Senator Andrew Bartlett's Motion of Disallowance of this zone of 10 August 2005. (See it here)

You would also be well aware that State Labor Party Conventions thought exactly the same when they passed resolutions to the same effect prior to your 2004 National Policy Convention - and that's why it is deeply disappointing that you have been at best ambiguous, or at worst manipulative, when you told reporters repeatedly that Labor "had not discussed" this issue. Please announce as soon as possible that you have now abandoned John Howard's massive excision zone. Your own "small" excision zone is reprehensible enough, and of course, also undermines the Refugee Convention and the International Declaration of Human Rights.

Minister, are you aware of the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture' 40th Session of 15 May this year? If you are, you should know that they also state that Australia:

"...should end the use of "excised" offshore locations for visa processing in order [to] allow all asylum seekers an equal opportunity to apply for a visa." (Open Report)

Want to be part of the UNCAT (United Nations Convention Against Torture), Minister? Well, then "just do it" is the answer!

Push Those Boats Back!

Prime Minister,

I'm sure you're active "behind the screens" on many occasions during your long working days. Why have you not been over-active since you planned to take government, to undo the shocking policy drafted by the Hon Julia Gillard, who wrote in 2003 a policy that sees Labor endorse a "pushing the boats back" approach to boat people?

Is this policy not a gross undermining of the United Nations Convention for the Status of Refugees? Was the UN Convention not developed with the express purpose of creating "privileged access to member countries" by all boat-faring asylum seekers?

My guess is that you didn't negotiate an undoing of this policy behind the screens at all. In fact, you confirmed a week before the 2007 election on the ABC's 7.30 Report, when Kerry O'Brien interviewed you, that you fully endorsed this policy. (See it here)

I'm sorry, Prime Minister - this policy makes you our Chief Underminer of the United Nations Convention for the Status of Refugees. I don't want my country or my government to engage in "cherry-picking", rejecting bits and pieces of International Conventions, while telling the public they want to honour these Conventions "unlike the Howard government". It won't do, Prime Minister, and it just ain't good enough.

First jail them, then send the Bill

I remain shocked that Australia could have the audacity to first jail "unannounced boat-using" asylum seekers who use their international right to "seek asylum in any country" (art 14, Declaration of Human Rights), and then, upon their release, whether this be for deportation or to delare them bona fide refugees and invite them to be co-builders of Australian society and its communities, send them a Bill for the cost of just having jailed them without having committed a crime - a jailing, often for years.

As long as this law remains in place, I carry shame about my country. According to Julian Burnside QC, there's only one other example of this ghastly practice: in Nazi Germany, where the Hitler regime sent the bill for accommodation in their concentration camps (also itemising the cost of the gas pellets) to the families of Jews who were exterminated.

Apart from the shocking aspect of a massive debt against the Australian Commonwealth that deeply shocks the recipient, this law is deliberately intended to injure, for years to come, the human rights of those who receive it: the computer on every airport and in many embassies will flag and alert immigration and customs staff. In keeping this law in place, you undermine the right to freedom to travel and the right to movement across the globe for all asylum seekers and refugees - and you do that to the most vulnerable of population groups.

Therefore, in unison with the Victorian Branch of the ALP, which has called this law "grotesque and reprehensible", I:

"call upon the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party to urgently repeal Section 209 of the Australian Government Migration Act 1958 under which asylum seekers are billed for the cost of their mandatory detention, and call for the existing Section 209 debts to be waived." (Source)

GSL and Duty of Care

Minister Evans,

More than a dozen detained asylum seekers have died in our country since Tampa, directly as a result of jailing them under the control of profit-making companies: first Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) and during the last couple of years Global Solutions Limited (GSL) - both companies linked to the Wackenhut conglomerate of companies. Many of these deaths would not have occurred if these asylum seekers would have been housed in "Open Reception Centres" - as they are in many other western countries that have signed the Refugee Convention.

Australia jails asylum seekers, and those charged with a Duty of Care are "jailhouse profiteers" trained to look after dangerous criminals, while time and again their Duty of Care has been compromised because of the need to make a profit. The recent death of an Aboriginal Elder in Western Australia is an example (source), and the Port Phillip Prison torture by GSL staff and the subsequent prosecution yet another example of the mentality of GSL (see the report here).

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith promised an audience in 2004:

"When it comes to asylum seekers Labor ... wants mandatory detention maintained in a humane way, not in a punitive way, and managed by Commonwealth officers on Commonwealth territory." (Source)

Minister, when will you come good on Labor's promise to stop using American jailhouse "screws" controlling asylum seekers who have committed no crimes? When will you affirm that we need to offer care to, instead of imposing maximum control on those who seek out our help under International Conventions, also those who arrive unannounced?

When will you sack the jailhouse screws, Minister?

Royal Commission?

Minister Evans,

In January this year you told a reporter that "events have moved on" from a Royal Commission into the Immigration Department, and in passing you mentioned former Immigration spokesman for the ALP, Tony Burke, as having called for such a Royal Commission.

For the record, Minister, while Tony Burke has called for a Royal Commission, it was you, who became one of the loudest voices in Canberra demanding a Royal Commission at a doorstop interview outside Parliament House on 25 May 2005, when you no less than 11 times mentioned a Royal Commission, raised suggestions that even Mick Palmer, who wrote the Cornelia Rau Inquiry Report, would want a Royal Commission, and repeatedly suggested that all decent Australians now demanded a Royal Commission.

Quoting your own words from that May 2005 doorstop interview:

"It's clear a Royal Commission is needed. Anything less will leave the Australian public dissatisfied with the result." (Source)

Since the 2007 election there has been no "razor gang" in the Immigration Department, a Department that was severely politically compromised, that did John Howard's bidding, and anonymous sources from inside that Department have told Project SafeCom, that around 40% of staff would welcome a Royal Commission, but that the rest of the Department would not want this at all, because too much dirt would surface.

I am extremely concerned that those in the Immigration Department who deported people who sought our protection, to places where they would fear persecution - often trying to do this before human rights lawyers could get a court injunction against this deportation - are still working in that Department, and recent reports of decisions by the Ministerial Intervention Unit by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (see source), have only fanned the flames of my concerns that also under also under Your Watch, people who failed their refugee claim under that politicised assessment are being deported back to "persecution places", their failed assessment too often carried out by one single person, both on primary level and on the level of the Refugee Review Tribunal.

In Conclusion

The above issues are "outstanding" as we approach World Refugee Day 2008, and as we acknowledge your hard work since you started your job as our Immigration Minister.

There are some "thank-you's" in place for your work, because you ended the dreadful "Pacific Solution" where we dump asylum seekers on Nauru; you worked through the hundreds of cases of "illegal detention" and of long-term detention cases the Howard government avoided dealing with, and the 2008 Federal Budget provided for the end to Temporary Protection Visas. Thank you, Minister!

It is obvious that there is compassion and a desire to undo the grave injustice of the past decade in your intent, and you have now abandoned the use of the label "illegal" when denoting "unannounced asylum seekers". Please also stop using the notion of "border protection" when you talk about boat arrivals - it makes one cringe when you do - in fact, doing this is like spreading a lie about the status of refugees.

No asylum seeker arriving by boat has ever been a threat to Australia's borders. The United Nations Refugee Convention was designed to provide "privileged access" to member countries for boat-faring asylum seekers, so please don't undermine the spirit of this Convention in a government that wants to honour these conventions and restore Australia.

The Immigration Department is skilled and versed about "keeping illegals out", and in itself that's fine. Perhaps another department, or an instrumentality such as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) is much more suited to "letting people in", since dealing with refugee assessment is not about "keeping people out" but about dealing with refugee justice and universal human rights. It's clear that assessment in this context needs to be carried out with the greatest of care, on the highest level of human rights justice, within the confines of total transparency and accountability. Much more work to do, Minister!

Related pages and documentation

9 June 2008: First jail them, then send the Bill: Australia bills refugees for jailtime - Australia has the audacity to first jail 'unannounced boat-using asylum seekers' who use their international right to 'seek asylum in any country' (art 14, Declaration of Human Rights), and then, upon their release sending them a Bill for the cost of just having jailed them without having committed a crime - a jailing, often for years.

8 May 2008 - Asylum assessment under Rudd: tough, or just shonky? - Labor is being tougher and more ruthless with asylum seekers than the Howard Government, according to an analysis of decisions made by the new Minister for Immigration, Senator Chris Evans. The analysis of the exercise of ministerial discretion shows that Evans has rejected 97.6% of applications since coming to power - the highest rate of rejection since 2001.

30 March 2008: Labor abandons its 'small' Excision Zone and chooses John Howard's radical version - 'Refugee advocates have accused the Federal Government of abandoning its softer approach to asylum seekers after Immigration Minister Chris Evans said he was yet to decide whether Labor would reassess the status of 4600 islands 'excised' from Australian territory for the purpose of immigration law.' This page follows the debate.

27 February 2008: The Senate debates Australia's 'Excision Zone' - There's no reason in 2008 for anyone in Labor to argue that the issue of John Howard's extraordinary excision zone 'has not been discussed'. When the former government pushed through changes to that exclusion zone for refugees in 2005, Labor supported a Disallowance motion put by Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett.

23 February 2008: What !!! - No Royal Commission??? - The Rudd government and Immigration Minister Chris Evans have moved very swiftly to undo some serious damage done to the asylum processing system under the previous government, but there has also been some serious back-tracking and summer-saulting backflips - one of them on Labor's furious former commitment to a Royal Commission into the Immigration Department.

2 February 2008: Aboriginal Elder Mr Ward: another GSL Death in Custody - Last weekend's death in custody of an Indigenous offender while in transit by van, an AIMS Van operated under the contract with Global Solutions Limited from the Western Desert to Kalgoorlie was not by any means the first serious incident by this company, the company also charged by the Federal government for the running of Immigration Detention camps...

24 January 2008: Howard Mandarins and Labor Ministers - while some advocates seem to ride a wave of euphoria that followed the November 2007 Federal election that saw John Howard assigned to the political scrap heap, Immigration Minister Chris Evans' trip to Indonesia has called forth some critical comments for more senior commentators amongst our ranks.

27 November 2007: The ALP's me-too refugee policy: Australia will keep turning the boats back - The Howard Years have finally come to an end with a resounding victory for the Rudd camp, and while we know that we will be 'more amongst friends' than before, there is still a lot of work ahead for us, in terms of creating a wholehearted implementation of Australia's obligations as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.

  • Commonwealth Ombudsman - DIAC: Administration of detention debt waiver and write-off - Overall, the Ombudsman's investigation found that DIAC is administering debt waiver and write-off according to the legislative and policy requirements. However, the investigation also found scope for improvement. In particular, DIAC can improve the information it provides to people, timeliness and prioritisation in processing cases, and the consistency and reasonableness of decisions on debt waiver and write-off. (PDF File 129 Kb)
  • Senator Chris Evans' 417 decisions of 4th May 2008 - Updated Report by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre on the new Immigration Minister's 417 decisions as of the 4th of May 2008. With 97.6% rejection, the highest rejection rate the ASRC has had from any Minister since the ASRC started. (PDF File 24Kb)
  • Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture 2008 - Consideration of Reports Submitted by State Parties under Article 19 of the Convention Against Torture (Australia) ... lack of judicial review ... secrecy surrounding preventative detention ... Convention is only partially incorporated into Federal Law ... State should consider abolishing its policy of Mandatory Detention ... should end the use of excised offshore locations ... providing a medical practitioner is not a human right ... (PDF File 520Kb)