Seriously, it’s hard to keep up with the Government at the moment. I have half-formed posts in my head about healthcare, and about pensions, and on how we construct value, and of course, the Victorian State Election is breathing down my neck with its promise of endless tiny political parties to write about, and now it seems we are finding new ways to pick on asylum seekers again. Honestly. Some of us have full-time jobs, you know. We can’t spend our entire time writing blog posts and letters about all the stupid and cruel things the government is doing. You’d think they’d be old enough by now that you could let them play in Parliament House unsupervised, but evidently not… (Why yes, I am being sarcastic. Though I have frequently suspected that the Abbott Government’s onslaught on everything from the environment to the unemployed was a deliberate strategy to weaken opposition by dividing its focus. Nobody has the energy to fight on this many fronts.)
So. If I’m not writing about all those other things, please don’t imagine it’s that I don’t care about them. It’s that there are only so many hours in the day, and I have to pick the issue that a) upsets me the most, b) is worth badgering the pollies about this week and c) is something I actually have an intelligent opinion about. You’re unlikely, for example, to get posts about global warming or coal seam gas or the Barrier Reef here, not because I don’t care, but because I’m starting from such a low baseline of knowledge that it makes sense to let people who know more write those articles. And boy, was that a digression. They were asking for it…
A Bill has been introduced into Parliament with the helpful-sounding name of Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014. Doesn’t that sound cosy? We like having things resolved, don’t we? Everyone keeps on hassling the Government about keeping people (especially children) in detention for so long – if we can be all efficient and process everyone fast, then nobody will have to be in detention! It’s awesome!
Of course, it’s not quite that easy. This is a long Bill, and I don’t think there is much to be gained from going through it in great detail. Others have already analysed this far better than I could, and I draw your attention in particular to the article by Malcolm Fraser and Barry Jones, to the analyses by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and ChilOut, and to the Refugee Action Collective’s Senate submission. I do, however, want to draw your attention to one segment of the Bill that I find particularly appalling. This is clause 5J, which defines the meaning of well-founded fear of persecution, and it’s absolutely horrifying. Here’s one of the clauses:
In addition, persecution must be systematic and discriminatory. Furthermore, 5K, if I’m reading it correctly, seems to say that you can’t count persecution that you or a member of your family has experienced ‘where it is reasonable to conclude that the fear or persecution would not exist if it were assumed that the fear of persecution had never existed.’
This is one long exercise in victim-blaming, and, frankly, it makes us the best ally an oppressive government could have. I recently read the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, and one of the things I found more chilling was that after she was shot, a member of the Taliban wrote to her, saying that he was shocked at the shooting, wished he could have warned her, and assuring her that if she would only come back to Pakistan, wear the Burka and go to a madrassa rather than a secular school, all would be forgiven.
In other words, if she would modify her behaviour, she would be safe.
Would the Australian Government send Malala back to Pakistan?
Is this hyperbole? I don’t think so. While I would imagine we wouldn’t send back someone as high-profile as Malala, who defines what is fundamental to someone’s identity or conscience? Scott Morrison – who this Bill (and the one I will be describing below) is appointing as the ultimate authority, with no possibility of review?
This clause is, I think, particularly damaging to women. It is women, not men, who tend to be excluded from education or forbidden to work outside the home, women, not men, who are often forced into child marriages, and women, not men, who are told, in domestic violence cases, that if they’d just be nicer, then their husbands wouldn’t beat them. (And yes, I realise that men can also be victims of domestic violence, but if we are talking about countries from which one might be fleeing as a refugee, it is notable that there are cultures that believe a husband has the right to beat his wife, but none advocating a wife’s right to ‘discipline’ her husband. So let’s not go haring off up this particular blind alley, OK?)
Is wanting to have an education, to work and keep one’s wage, to walk down the street without being accompanied by a male relative, or to simply leave a relationship that is abusive ‘a characteristic that is fundamental to the person’s identity or conscience’?
Is one’s sexuality would an innate and immutable characteristic? While conversion therapy seems to have been discredited (and about time, too), there are still a lot of people who feel that the only way for a gay person to be good is for them to be celibate and stay within traditional gender roles. Is it reasonable to ask gay refugees to avoid relationships and look as straight as possible in order to avoid harrassment at home? I think not.
Or here’s another one – what if I don’t agree with what the government in my country is doing, and write a blog about it? Stranger things have happened. What if the government wants to throw me in jail or ‘disappear’ me because I’ve written rude, rude things about their intelligence and ethics? What if I flee the country to avoid this? And what if the government says ‘It’s fine – we’ll forgive you, you just have to stop blogging about us’?
I could modify my behaviour and go home – and maybe the government would actually keep their word and not lock me up – but consider the result: political protest has been silenced, and my government hasn’t even had to lift a finger to make this happen. It didn’t have to. The Australian Government has done the job for them.
Quite seriously, I believe this clause will make it very, very difficult for anyone who is being persecuted for speaking out against an oppressive government to find asylum in Australia. We will be in a silent collusion with exactly the sort of dictatorships and repressive governments we usually go to war against.
There is a lot more that is wrong with this Bill. I am also deeply, deeply worried about the fast-track assessment process, which, if brought into law will significantly disadvantage those who are too traumatised to make their case well immediately on arrival, and may lead to people being sent back into danger simply because they were too ashamed or afraid to articulate what had happened to them. This is not just speculation – the process is based on the UK’s Detained Fast Track Asylum System, which was recently found by their High Court to be unlawful, for precisely those reasons.
But let’s move on to another, less-discussed Bill, that is also doing the rounds in Canberra this month…
Citizenship? What Citizenship? This one is classy on so many levels. In a new Bill, The Australian Citizenship and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014, the Government is changing the laws under which Citizenship can be revoked. I’ve read through the draft Bill, which is not wholly intelligible unless one has read the bill it is amending, but a few interesting little clauses spring out at one:
34AA – Revocation by Minister – other cases of fraud or misrepresentation
- A nice article about how Shepparton’s welcome to refugees. Proof that we can do better if we try – and that everyone benefits when we do!
- Like a bit of social justice with your sambosa? The Sorghum Sisters started as a way to build employment and social engagement opportunities for African women living in Carlton, and has grown into a first-class catering business.
- If you’re up for a longer read, this document, called ‘Beyond the Boats: building an asylum and refugee policy for the long term‘ is a bipartisan report about asylum seeker policy, complete with some really good recommendations. Long, but worth your time.
- And if you really can’t cope with reading one more word about politics tonight – here, have an owl and a pussycat who have not gone to sea in a pea-green boat, but who have apparently become excellent friends. Because there are days when all you can really do is look at cute animal videos.