Monthly Archives: May 2010

Tell the old parties that refugees ARE welcome here

Of course, it’s not just law and order and publicly-funded political advertising on which the two old parties are nearly indistinguishable – the two of them are shamelessly bashing refugees because they calculate that Australians are more scared and selfish than we are rational and compassionate. (That’s what happens when you read the Herald Sun letters pages, I guess.)

Anyway, there’ll be a protest in Melbourne on June 20th for those of us who are opposed to locking people up indefinitely instead of processing their claims, and who realise that “boat people” are a tiny proportion of the total “unauthorised” immigration intake who are being unfairly and wrongly demonised. Who recognise that Australia has a responsibility to take its fair share of refugees, in a world where there are vastly more people fleeing chaos in their homelands (some of which is connected with our overseas adventures) who have few alternatives. Who fundamentally object to refugees, including children, being locked up behind razor wire in the remotest parts of this country just to send a “deterrent” message.

That’s just less than three weeks away. Please mark it in your diary – and let other people know you’re going to be there.

Fearing disorder more than tyranny

Just got around to listening to a truly wonderful Law Report broadcast from a few weeks back, featuring the retiring Chief Judge of the WA District Court, Antoinette Kennedy. The whole programme is worth hearing (or reading the transcript):

It’s becoming an increasing problem. The community has become more frightened of disorder than of tyranny, and the history of the law, and the history of Australia, shows us that in reality there’s no reason to be more frightened of disorder than tyranny, and when you frighten people so that they are more frightened of disorder than of tyranny, they’re likely to give up the rights that have been fought for since the 13th century, and they’re likely to let politicians do whatever they please.

More frightened of disorder than of tyranny. Well bloody put.

There’s a discussion on WA’s mandatory sentencing regime and the sorts of injustices it occasions, and then Kennedy makes this excellent point about the naivete of passing these harsh laws and just trusting that the nice people in charge of enforcing them won’t use them against anyone undeserving:

Well it means that they can stop and search anyone they like, anytime they like, without any suspicion or without the person having done anything suspicious. So that if your next-door neighbour’s a policeman, if he doesn’t like you, as you’re going out your front gate he can stop and search you. Now they would say to me, ‘Oh that’s ridiculous, we wouldn’t do that’. Well ‘we’ shouldn’t have the power to do it. And that’s all there is to it. Again the Commissioner of Police is saying, ‘Look, we’ll only use it in certain circumstances’, and again, it is: in that case, since he’s such a decent human being, why don’t we just say the Commissioner of Police can do whatever he like because we know he’s such a nice man, he won’t do anything unreasonable?

Quite right. “We’ll only use it in certain circumstances” has never held up over time.

There’s then a devastating critique of the clumsy anti-hoon laws, following which she gets stuck into the damage the tabloid media are doing to the cause of justice.

Does this ring any bells?

We had a very bad time in Western Australia for a period of time, which is now passed, with our major daily newspaper, and they were only interested in criticising judges and they weren’t interested in making sure that the community understood what the situation was. And I understand the problems that the media have, the media obviously, they’ve got to do things that people are interested in, and it’s very immediate, but no-one has ever asked what the community is doing about the crime problem, and there is this constant attempt to put all your eggs in one basket and to think that somehow, judges have the answer to the crime problem and we’re flatly refusing to use it. Now I live in this community, I have family and property in this community, of course I care what happens to the community. Of course I care about the victims of crime, it’s positively insulting and hurtful to suggest that I am a person who doesn’t care about crime, and the victims of crime… it’s arrant nonsense.

Antoinette Kennedy is clearly a legend.

I wish some Victorian judges would come out swinging, too.

UPDATE (31/5): And an excellent piece today by Greg Barns, “Five years in jail is a hell of a time, and a fitting sentence“:

So did Justice Coghlan get it wrong? No. On my reading of his sentencing remarks he rightly undertook the exercise which judges and magistrates agonise over every day – how to give the victim or their family a sense that justice has been done, while at the same time ensuring the offender becomes a worthwhile member of the community, which will make us all safer in the long run.

If the sentencing exercise carried out by our courts were simply there as reflection of society’s need to punish, and the deep seated and primitive desire for revenge that lies in all of us, then we would hang people who murder, castrate rapists, cut off the hands of burglars and have to spend billions of dollars on building jails to accommodate all the people we want to banish and punish.

And would we have a safer society? No, but instead a more violent one, because violence begets violence.

If you see how the case he’s responding to was reported in the local tabloid, the Herald Sun – where eight years with a non-parole period of five years (as a discount for pleading guilty from the nine he would’ve received otherwise) – was just reported as “five”, and you observe the outraged comments of the misled “public”, it’s hard to deny that there’s a problem – but it’s a problem of misunderstanding, not of “lenient sentencing”. If the sentences are indeed so “lenient”, then why does the Hun feel the need to exaggerate them downwards every single time?

So it’s vital that we hear more of this common sense from people like Antoinette and Greg, lest the cynical fearmongers trying to sell newspapers actually achieve their apparent aim of making politicians enact ever-harsher laws that actually make the streets much more violent and less safe.

There IS an alternative: it’d be nice if they mentioned it

Suggestion for journos at The Age – when you’re writing a story about how both major parties are being criticised for chasing the xenophobe vote, you could at least mention the main party standing up for refugees, The Greens. Perhaps even ask them for and publish a response?

No wonder we’re stuck with two same-old parties who take the same nasty approaches on issues, when voters aren’t even being told about the alternative.

ELSEWHERE: While we’re on the topic, I’m sure it’s not at all suspicious that in the last month there’s been an increase in asylum seekers being knocked back on the flimsy – and highly dubious ground – that the Hazara community in Afghanistan are suddenly perfectly safe there. Despite major attacks on them in just the last week.

Politics trumping reason, with potentially the most tragic results? I’m sure it couldn’t be.

That’s not a national emergency…

Quick memo Kevin Rudd: mining companies running a smear campaign against your RSPT is not a “National Emergency”. No matter how ridiculous or shameless their lies.

Quick memo Liberals: you’re no better. You wasted just as much money on public advertising, and no doubt would do so again. And on the substance of this issue, you’re even worse, Official Lobbyists For The Mining Industry.

…THIS is a national emergency.

Once again, I’m very thankful that in this country we can vote against BOTH of you. And I can say clearly that I voted for, and am represented by, people who have consistently opposed this kind of undemocratic abuse of power.

The cheek

Howard government minister Kevin Andrews trying to blame the housing affordability crisis on Labor:

How Labor has made housing more expensive

He blames immigration (of course), foreign investment (of course) and governments not just rolling over whenever a developer makes an application (of course).

But even his figures and quotes show that the problem is one which, not coincidentally, took place on the Howard Government’s watch:

  • “A decade ago, social researcher, Jeanne Strachan, reflected on an emerging concern about housing: “Young couples today are the first generation since the war to face the reality that they often can’t obtain, even with two full-time workers in the house, what their own parents saw as a fair and reasonable reward for their hard work.””

  • “The proportion of Australians under 35 who owned their own house declined from 44 per cent in 2001 to 38 per cent in 2008.”
  • “The proportion of Australians aged 55 to 64 with mortgages has increased from 13 per cent in 1996-97 to 30 per cent in 2007-08.”
  • “there has been a substantial expansion of the spatial gap between the haves and have nots: 27 per cent of dwellings in different population centres were found to be ‘unaffordable’ in 2006, while none were in 2001.”

It is clear that the recent housing price boom started after the Howard Government implemented a first-home-buyers’ grant to pander to the building lobby at the time of the introduction of the GST – something Andrews now concedes makes house prices “spike” – and then went completely out of control when Howard halved capital gains tax and the market was promptly flooded with investors.

Andrews is right that Labor has done nothing to help this – its doubling of the grant did indeed make matters worse, and the grant is still in place. It has also, of course, done nothing to tackle the elephant in the room, ridiculously low CGT – and if it did, naturally the Coalition would scream bloody murder.

But crocodile tears from a Howard government apologist are pretty hard to swallow. Andrews’ solution – releasing more land, but not spending public money on building new public transport infrastructure to service it, and (he implies) cutting immigration in some unspecified way, will not be enough.

Still, at least he – belatedly – recognises that there’s a serious problem. That’s a step.

A more honest fight – Malcolm Fraser leaving the Liberals

I’m on record as opposing the domination in our parliament of the old “broad church” parties – you can’t represent both sides of an argument, and it’s an undemocratic fiction to pretend that you can. That lie underlines the claims to government of both big old parties, and it results in decisions being made based on secret internal votes, not on what the public actually wants.

So in one sense I fully support people like Malcolm Fraser leaving the Liberals, and progressives leaving the Labor Party. It weakens those parties, by decreasing their ability to trick a broad church of voters into voting for them, but it strengthens democracy. If liberals like Fraser were to start a classically liberal party, or join the libertarians or something, then such voters would have a real choice. Just like progressive voters no longer have to vote for the ALP – we can vote for the Greens and know that our votes won’t be being used to support socially conservative policies like opposing marriage equality or locking up refugees in the desert.

And I don’t want Malcolm Fraser joining the Greens just because we agree on those issues, because we fundamentally disagree on issues like public spending, taxation and unions. I want people who agree with him to have the chance to vote for his approach; and I want people who agree with me to be able to vote for my approach. And we don’t need a majority by ourselves – we can form coalitions depending on the issue, and on one issue we might agree with Malcolm’s lot, and on another we might agree with the old ALP lot. The numbers of our respective representatives will decide, entirely democratically, what gets done.

Of course, the problem with doing this is the intrinsic bias in our electoral system against new parties growing. The single-member constituency system pretty much locks in the Labor and Liberal Parties, and until that’s reformed, it is true that if liberals start leaving those major parties and leaving them in the hands of hardline rightwingers, then those hardline rightwingers will get all the benefits of incumbency and voter habit.

So I can understand their reluctance to leave. But there has to come a tipping point, a point at which you realise that the tent is so rotten there’s little to be gained by staying inside it any more. It might not make the fight easier, but it does make it more honest.

RRT sending gay people back to be persecuted for really stupid reasons

Contrary to the utter garbage spouted by dishonest conservatives that the Refugee Review Tribunal is somehow biased towards refugee claims, comes the revelation that it has been treating applications by gay people fleeing persecution with unbelievable contempt:

In one case a gay refugee couple who had experienced violence and harassment in their Bangladeshi homeland were told that they would be safe to return home provided they “conducted themselves in a discreet manner”. The tribunal noted that “men [in Bangladesh] who conform outwardly to social norms, most importantly by marrying and having children, can get away with male to male sex provided it is kept secret”.

And that’s not even the stupidest and most offensive example.

According to the tribunal, all gays, even non-English speaking ones, should instinctively know trivial details of western “gay” pop culture:

In a separate case, the tribunal attempted to determine the veracity of a claimant’s homosexuality by asking him to describe the “art, literature, song lyrics [and] popular cultural icons [that] spoke to him in his isolation from the rest of society”. It was indicated that they were looking for examples such as Madonna, Oscar Wilde, Greco-Roman wrestling and Bette Midler. The court added that the line of questioning was justified and comparable to quizzing Catholics on the Bible.

Time limit for being gay expired:

Another claimant was rejected in 2007 on the grounds that because his first homosexual experiences had occurred while in detention, his homosexuality was not real, but “situational”.

Just man up about it:

That same year, a Fijian homosexual who had been physically and sexually assaulted was ordered home and told to simply ignore the verbal abuse and derogatory treatment he experienced.

What, you’ve only got one example? Might have been a one-off:

Another homosexual who had been arrested and assaulted, first by the Fijian police and then by the militia for having gay sex, was told that while the court accepted his homosexuality and his story, they were not satisfied that he faced any further persecution.

Not promiscuous enough for our help:

Then in 2008 a court expressed concern over the fact that a Pakistani man only had a single “one night stand” to show for the “many months” he had spent in Australia.

Don’t look gay enough:

Still others have been rejected on the basis that because of their conservative dress or appearance, they are likely to be able to “pass” as heterosexual and therefore are not at risk of facing persecution.

Don’t worry, though, it’s not as if these odd examples of a system that has bizarre and unfathomable prejudices about gay people actually caused serious lasting harm to people’s lives and resulted in them being sent back into real danger. No, wait, that’s exactly what happened.

This is a disgrace, and the Minister should be answering serious questions about it in Parliament.