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Rats in a cage

By Bruce Haigh - posted Wednesday, 23 March 2011


It beggars belief that the Minister for Immigration, the luckless Chris Bowen, should seek to punish refugees on Christmas Island for the problem he has created.

Kirsty Needham reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, 19-20 March, that Bowen warned, "200 asylum seekers involved in violent protests on Christmas Island may have their visas revoked or blocked on character grounds, even if it had already been found they were genuine refugees";

it is the same as the mean and narrow John Howard saying, "We will determine who comes here and when".

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A refugee is a refugee and that determination cannot be altered by whim of a weak minister or the paranoid political imperatives of a puerile prime minister.

Held in over-crowded conditions without information as to the progress of so called security clearances, hope drained from already traumatised individuals. Working, unlike the Department of Immigration, on the basis that most people are decent, these individuals are well aware of the merits of their case. They are suffering not only acute depression but a substantial sense of injustice.

Ninety-five, maybe ninety-eight per cent of refugees arriving by boat are genuine. Twenty to thirty percent arriving by plane are found to be refugees and they constitute by far and away the greatest number of refugee applicants.

The actions of Gillard and Bowen and the vitriolic statements of Abbott and Scott Morrison, his spokesperson on immigration, are a disgrace. Little wonder that apart from a few sycophantic journalists, the majority of Australians have little respect for politicians and the politics of the major parties; short term gain for the long term pain of trashing democracy.

Refugees are people,in fact they are future Australian citizens. We will expect them to work, raise families, participate in community and sporting activities and if necessary for them and their children to fight for Australia. What a great start we are giving them with rubber bullets and tear gas from a vengeful government.

Gillard believes these protesters to be criminals just as she believes Julian Assange to be a terrorist; a strange set of values for someone claiming the authority to lead this country. Not everyone in Australia lacks a moral compass, most, and there are many, do not scream their beliefs like some aging shock jock, they quietly go about their business with a sense of growing disquiet if not outrage.

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Gillard, Bowen, Abbott and Morrison, poll-driven, you are deluding yourselves. You are on the path to being yesterday's people. You have misjudged Australia and Australians they are not the people you are playing up to.

Who authorised the AFP to carrying 'bean bag' weaponry to Christmas Island and why? Bowen was reported on the ABC as saying he had no idea what 'bean bag' bullets were until they were explained to him after their initial use on the island.

Surely the minister should have been approached to authorise their use. It was a first in Australia, a matter, I would have thought, that required ministerial consideration and specific authorisation. This does not appear to have been the case. The question then arises, who is in charge? Bowen gives every appearance of being led by the nose. Immigration, the AFP and ASIO seem to be able to do and say what they with respect to refugee policy.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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