Topic: human rights
* pedants will say the treaty has not been 'repealed' as per this title and remains on foot, but that's meaningless where the treaty is effectively a dead letter regarding rights of asylum seekers. (For local readers think part 3A effective repeal of the 1979 Planning Act in NSW where the principal Act remains on the books but has no effect for big developers waved through by the NSW Govt.)
This front pager last Wednesday (6 days back) in the News Corp broadsheet says it all.
What is not being expressly commented on very much though is that Prime Minister Rudd, in the lead up to the huge equity issues at Copenhagen on climate, has effectively repudiated Australia's ratification of the refugee treaty we signed years ago. Indeed it was this same dishonest approach that helped see the back of former Prime Minister John Howard, the infamous deputy sheriff of George W Bush.
The Sydney ABC public broadcaster compere Deborah Cameron, previously stationed in Japan, and with the Sydney Morning Herald broadsheet captured a mood of dismay, saying yesterday of PM Rudd 'you can be strong and wrong' and 'Is he just a populist?'. Yes and yes.
A now famous phrase is often quoted in this policy area, namely John Howard PM in 2001 who famously bought full page adverts in the final week of the federal election stating something like 'We will decide who comes to Australia and the manner in which they come here'. All stirring nationalistic tub thump.
Only it's stupid. We already decided as a nation who we would accept and how they might come to be here by reference to their refugee status, when we ratified the Refugee Treaty: That is we will accept refugees however they arrive because we are a freedom loving human rights type country. It doesn't say we will take 'em by plane but not boat, or economic student overstayers yes, but darkies via Indonesia no.
So Howard then, and Rudd now are simply saying we want to selectively repeal the treaty we signed. To weasel out of our promise to the world. And alert people know this including within Rudd's own ALP. If PM Rudd and Howard before him were honest they would say we want to repeal the refugee treaty. But they know that will have global diplomatic consequences. Hence the weasel words.A prominent unionist Paul Howes, normally associated with the same Govt Party of PM Rudd has noted the sleazy approach with this quote in the last 24 hours (even allowing for soap brand choreography, same factory) here Union wants welcome mat laid out for refugees at http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2009/s2718322.htm
MARK COLVIN: So far the Labor movement has been broadly uncritical of the Prime Minister's approach on the Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
But now the head of the Australian Workers' Union and vice president of the ACTU, Paul Howes, has broken ranks.
Mr Howes says the Government should put out the welcome mat to the asylum seekers now docked in west Java.
He's urged the Government to seize the moral high ground and ensure there's no return to the divisive debate of 2001.
At the same time the fate of another 78 asylum seekers rescued by the Australian Navy remains in limbo as the Australian and Indonesian Governments decide where they should be sent.
From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Kevin Rudd runs a tight ship. But not everyone on the good ship Labor is happy with his stance on asylum seekers; more particularly the 250 Sri Lankans sent to Indonesia courtesy of the Indonesian Navy's interception.
That's ignited an immigration debate union leader Paul Howes doesn't like the look of.
PAUL HOWES: I mean the 2001 election was a real dark blight on our nation's history. You know, I would expect rhetoric and crass racism to come from the Coalition.
But I expect that Labor should and must take the moral high ground on this matter because this about social justice, this about upholding the rule of law, this about doing the right thing as a first world developed nation and it's about doing the right thing for our communities.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what in your view is doing the right thing?
PAUL HOWES: Well, bringing these people in.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Paul Howes heads the powerful Australian Workers' Union. He says Australia should roll out the red carpet and welcome the Sri Lankans with open arms.
He's urging the Labor Government take a leaf out of former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser's book.
PAUL HOWES: In the same way that Malcolm Fraser did several decades ago in dealing with the boat people crisis after the fallout of the Vietnam War. There was much community resentment and opposition to Vietnamese refugees being brought into our country.
But now several decades later no-one could dispute the fact that it has been a positive thing for our nation, a positive thing for those individuals and the Vietnamese boat people of the '70s have made a lasting and incredibly valuable contribution to the development of our nation.
And we need to make sure that with future waves of migration that we don't make those same mistakes time and time and time again.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government argues not allowing boatpeople to land on Australia's mainland deters people smugglers. Paul Howes sees it differently.
PAUL HOWES: Of course we don't want to see illegal syndicates profiting from the smuggling of people. I mean that is an abhorrent issue, but the fundamental point is is that what message is this sending to the Australian community about those individuals who are on the boats?
Not the men driving the boats but the individuals on the boats: those children, those women, those men fleeing circumstances of which most Australians couldn't even imagine.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Sri Lankan asylum seekers, who are docked in West Java, ended their hunger strike at the weekend, saying they'd agree to leave the boat if a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agreed to meet them.
It's the job of the UNHCR to assess asylum seekers' claims for refugee protection. PM asked the UNHCR in Canberra if any of their officers in Indonesia had spoken to the asylum seekers. The UNHCR says it's ready to register and asses the Sri Lankan's international protection needs if asked by the Indonesian Government. But the UN agency hasn't received such a request.
Immigration lawyer David Mann says that's the problem.
DAVID MANN: What's clear is that the Sri Lankans on the boat want to meet with the UN refugee agency so that they have a fair chance and a fair process to have their claims assessed against the refugee's convention.
And that hasn't happened yet, despite persistent requests.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: David Mann says all those involved should ensure the UNHCR is asked to act.
DAVID MANN: Well look, Australia simply can't wash its hands of this situation when it's having such a big say in relation to the fate of people who are warehoused in Indonesia and so significantly bankrolling the warehousing and processing of asylum seekers there and where Australia is really one of the only small amount of options for resettlement in the future.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Paul Howes says Australia shouldn't ship asylum seekers back to countries that aren't signatories to the UN refugee convention, such as Indonesia - urging Australia accept the 78 asylum seekers now aboard the Australian customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking.
The asylum seekers' boat got into difficulty in international waters off Indonesia. The patrol boat, HMAS Armidale, asked the Oceanic Viking to pick them up. And that's where they remain - in Indonesia's search and rescue zone, while the Federal Government decides where they should be sent.
PM's been told that sending them to Indonesia would set a precedent and could breach Australia's international obligations, all the government will say is it's not a straightforward matter.
MARK COLVIN: Alexandra Kirk.