July 21, 2013

Keep Left. Safety Zone.

There are two motivations for people at a refugee rally, those who connect directly with a sense of discrimination and injustice, then those who feel directly the plight of the refugees themselves. 

I didn't know what I hoped to achieve by attending the rally in Melbourne, I just wanted to be counted and blurting outrage on social media wasn't going to cut it. Marching in Bourke St felt like real action, even if it it really isn't.

Governments in Australia have a very poor record of heeding protests, and if 600,000 people marching failed to precipitate an apology to our indigenous or a rethink on the Iraq War, then how would a few hundred gathering in the rain lead to any real action?

What took me by surprise was the emotion of the experience. It caught me off guard because my outrage was rational and ethical, not personal. Standing on the edges I could barely hear the speeches, and didn't really care. My mind had begun to wander with contemplation of the people we're here to support, and what their lives are like. 

And it turned out that for me it is personal, I really can put myself in their shoes. I can feel their sense of homelessness, their sense of isolation, their sense of hopelessness. These are people adrift in the world, in every possible sense. 

Until you've been homeless, stateless and lived without a safety net you cannot begin to imagine the emotional journey that your average refugee has undertaken. That doesn't mean you should't try however. Cast into the ocean in search of a new home is far from the worst thing they have faced in life. The more I contemplated their noble desperation the more meaning I drew from the rally.

These rallies will do absolutely nothing to alter the course of debate in Australia, but they will do everything to help us through a dark night in our own lives. Hundreds of people from Melbourne have gathered because they care, because they are custodians of compassion. It was a gathering of humanity and something we can be proud of. 

Our media is filled with the destruction of sanity. But out on the steps of Victoria's State Library, walking the tram tracks of Bourke St and outside the Immigration Dept a chorus of voices came together to remind ourselves that there is a better way to live our lives. A chorus that speaks in the hope that refugees may have a better life too.

Being part of the rally helped me to feel better about the country I live in, knowing that there really are people with morals above those of our current political leaders. If you only saw Australia through our own media this week you would think it was a country where people care more about protecting tax rorts than asylum seekers.

Well the media can go fuck itself. Collectively they are a mob of shameless dolts who put their pursuit of profitable headlines ahead of the nation that feeds them, ahead of their own decency, and ahead of our most vulnerable. Those few examples of reasoned debate are inevitably drowned out by the stupid. 

That battle was lost a long time ago, and maybe the battle for humane treatment of refugees is also lost for now.

At least I have something positive to walk away with today. On a bleak and miserable winters day in Melbourne a cohort of caring souls came out to embrace kindness, humanity and compassion. That's the part of Australia that I love the most, and that I hope to see more of in the years ahead.

July 18, 2013

Cheaper. Kinder. Smarter.

The idea of being able to "Stop the boats" is akin to zero tolerance on drugs, prohibition of alcohol, or teenage abstinence. Governments cannot regulate human behaviour, especially when the humans haven't even reached your shores yet.

There has been a massive rise in displaced persons around the world in recent years. This means more people seeking asylum globally. This means more refugees in boats. We call this "push factors".

All of the policy discussion in Australia for the last decade has been around punitive measures to stop one kind of refugee, the boat people. In 1992 the mandatory detention policy was put in place, with bi-partisan support, as a temporary measure. It's proved expensive and currently is not working. The deterrent simply doesn't stack up against the desperation of so many displaced people.

I want a policy debate that focuses on the needs of these people, not one that focuses on the racist paranoia of a few privileged Australians. So what alternative policies might change the current situation?

The money currently spent on detention is in the order of $100,000 a year per person. Instead of locking up people who have already been through hell what if we spent some of those funds on creating a better way to get them to Australia? Here's a simple outline for a cheaper, kinder and smarter response to the international humanitarian emergency.

1. Increase our intake: Australia accepts piss all numbers of refugees compared to the rest of the world. We need to stop whining about the numbers arriving and get real about the benefits of accepting them into our communities. We are a wealthy nation and most of us here are migrants of a sort anyway.

2. Improve Processing Times: Why does it take years to process refugees in Australia and only months to do it in Sweden? We spend all our dollars on detention instead of a solution. A very small percentage of asylum seekers end up failing our criteria for refugee status, so currently we're punishing the many for the sake of the few.

3. Bring them here safely: People wont jump on a boat and risk their lives if they have a better way to get here, or a better way to apply for asylum. Creating legal pathways for refugees removes the economics of boat smuggling, and stops people from drowning at sea. This is not a trivial challenge, it requires cooperation between nations, but it's a more achievable goal than trying to get Indonesia to stop the smugglers.

My simple equation is not a new one, but I haven't seen these ideas talked about in the media recently. Having just penned my thoughts I saw a tweet from Sarah Hanson-Young on a similar thread. Turns out The Greens have a well documented policy along these lines, as was submitted to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers led by Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

It's very detailed and tackled some of the practical issues around creating safer pathways. This is where our debate should currently be focused. Below is a copy of the submission from The Greens. I know our political leaders and media are not in the habit of reading the details as often as they should, but perhaps a few words can stick in the memory somewhere and maybe stir some motivation to dig deeper on alternatives:

Cheaper. Kinder. Smarter.

Australian Greens submission can be found here. (pdf)

Cartoon from Bruce Petty, The Age (link)

July 09, 2013

730 Pre-Recorded

Dear ABC & 730 Report,

This week the 730 Report aired a pre-recorded interview with Tony Abbott, conducted by Chris Uhlmann.

The absence of any questions regarding the hot topic of the day, the alleged $9400 error in Mr Abbott's expense claims, was quite startling. In fact the entire interview came across as a highly 'managed' process, as though Tony was only answering pre-approved questions.

I am interested to know whether pre-conditions were placed on the ABC before Mr Abbott agreed to appear on the program, and whether there are any restrictions on disclosing the exact conditions agreed to for this interview. The context of any interview is important, and I believe it would be in the public interest for the context of this pre-recorded interview to be made clear to the audience.

Is this possible?