October 25, 2013

Our ABC Insists on Maintaining Partisan Inaccuracy

The ABC has banned its journalists from using the term “illegal arrivals”, while acknowledging Scott Morrison’s preferred term for asylum-seekers who arrive by boat is factually correct.
Note that Packham himself refers to unlawful non-citizens seeking illegal entry as “asylum-seekers”—perhaps unwillingly, since he reveals that the policy of The Australian so insists—without first ascertaining whether they are indeed genuine asylum-seekers.
In an email to all staff yesterday, the ABC's head of editorial policy Alan Sunderland said the Immigration Minister’s decision to use the term raised the question of whether the ABC would change its own language.  “The short answer is no,” he said.
Mr Morrison recently ordered his department to use the term “illegal arrival” when referring to asylum-seekers who arrived by boat.
No, the term “illegal arrival” is for when unlawful non-citizens have arrived by boat; a few of them, perhaps, may be assessed later as genuine asylum-seekers.  It is silly to assume that, since a small number of people who arrive by boat may be genuinely seeking asylum we must refer to all of them as “asylum seekers”.  These fellows at The Australian seem almost as thick as the ABC’s officials and alleged reporters.  Perhaps, similarly, since a small number of athletes competing will win races, it would be insulting to refer to them merely as “athletes”, and we might instead refer to all athletes, winners and losers alike, generously if not proleptically as “winners”.
But Mr Sunderland said the term “asylum-seeker” would continue to be used by the taxpayer-funded broadcaster, as it is by The Australian.
He referred staff to the ABC's style guide, which notes that “under international law anyone can apply for asylum”.
Under international law anyone can apply to international courts of justice as well; perhaps we should refer to those people who arrive illegally by boat as “prospective plaintiffs”.
While rejecting the now official terminology, Mr Sunderland endorsed Mr Morrison’s use.
“It is worth examining the minister’s words a little more closely, though, to understand the precise point he is making,” he said.  “In September, ABC Fact Check pointed out that references to ‘'illegal entry’ and‘ illegal arrival’ are not wrong.  In essence, ‘illegal’ can be used to refer to a mode of entry to a country, and either ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ is often used in official documentation here and overseas.
“But that does not mean the person is ‘illegal’.”
No, of course not; if you or I were found guilty of committing a crime, that wouldn’t make us criminals; and if we robbed someone, that wouldn’t makes us robbers; oh, wait—.
Mr Morrison refused to comment yesterday on the ABC’s editorial directive.  But he defended his own language, saying he was “calling a spade a spade”.
He said the term “illegal arrival” was based on the language used in the UN Convention on Refugees.
“I’m not going to make any apologies for not using politically correct language to describe something that I’m trying to stop,” Mr Morrison said.
“Let me be clear.  I’m trying to stop people illegally entering Australia by boat.  That’s our objective.
“I've never claimed that it’s illegal to claim asylum.  That’s not what the term refers to.  It refers to their mode of entry.”
The Australian Press Council has adjudicated a number of complaints in recent years over the use of the term “illegal” in relation to asylum-seekers.
In response, News Corp Australia, publisher of The Australian, advised editors:  “The most accurate term to describe people arriving aboard unauthorised boats is ‘asylum-seekers’.”
No; the most accurate term to describe unlawful non-citizens who arrive illegally is “unlawful non-citizens who arrive illegally” or, in short, “illegal arrivals”.

UPDATE (26 October):  see “The minister for debasing the language” by a hypocritical debaser of language, Warwick McFadyen:
Compare the two phrases: “asylum seekers” versus “illegal maritime arrivals”.
The conjoining of “asylum” and “seeker” is evocative.  Who seeks asylum?  A human in danger, distress and despair; someone who is hoping to survive on the lee shore of kindness.  “Illegal” + “maritime” + “arrivals” = the draining of the human.  It is using language to drive and empower ideology.  Language shapes public policy and discourse.
By changing the terms of reference, Morrison is trying to control the debate.  Kon Karapanagiotidis, chief executive of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, believes the change in terms is “profound” and that Morrison is “deliberately trying to dehumanise asylum seekers by making them less than human”.
In truth, McFadyen and Karapanagiotidis, as well as too many others, are deliberately misusing language to drive and empower their foolish ideology that every person who who seeks to enter our country illegally must be a poor, deperate refugee deserving of our generous sympathy; by such wilful misuse of terminology, the bigoted McFadyen and the self-serving Karapanagiotidis are hoping to control the debate.

June 15, 2013

The Broken System Must Be Jettisoned

See “‘Frauds’ granted refugee status as determination process breaks down”, by Greg Sheridan, in The Weekend Australian:   
Australia’s refugee determination process has broken down completely, admitting large numbers of people whose claims to refugee status are fraudulent.
The claims come from a former senior Immigration Department official who says the system favours those who tell lies over those who tell the truth, is easily scammed and has become utterly dysfunctional.
“Having considerable experience interviewing and assessing boat arrival claims, I can confidently say ... that we are approving large numbers of people who are fabricating claims,” he wrote in an unpublished account of the process, obtained by The Weekend Australian.
“Indeed, the current refugee determination system works in favour of those who are most adept at spinning a yarn.” The former official talks of asylum-seekers “enhancing and inventing” claims that satisfy one level or another of the multi-layered refugee status determination and appeals procedures.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said there was no processing of any asylum-seeker who arrived after August 13 last year.  This halt was to give effect to the Houston committee’s recommendation that those who arrive by boat should secure “no advantage” over those awaiting resettlement in refugee camps overseas.  […]
The Weekend Australian also interviewed a former member of the Refugee Review Tribunal, who worked on the independent merits review processes for asylum-seekers.
He said that asylum-seekers on Christmas Island told him they had simply copied their claims from other applicants who had been successful.
The former tribunal member said that transcripts of court cases in which asylum-seeker appeals had been upheld circulated widely on Christmas Island so that claimants, and their advocates, could see what testimony had been successful. “I would sometimes receive a completely compelling story that was impossible to refuse,” the former tribunal member said.  “The problem is I would receive 100 other identical stories with only the names changed.”
He said that administrative pressures constituted an effective bias in favour of accepting claims to refugee status.  If he gave a negative decision on an asylum-seeker’s claim on appeal, he would need to write an extensive judgment because it would inevitably be appealed to the courts.  If he approved an asylum-seeker’s claim, he could write a pro-forma decision as it would never be reviewed.
He also reported that middle-class Iranian asylum-seekers often arrived in Christmas Island barely a week after leaving Tehran and exhibited an aggressive “entitlement mentality”.
“I had a colleague producing five ‘yes’ decisions a day,” the former tribunal member said.  “The (Immigration) department loved him because of the numbers of cases he could clear.”
The former Immigration Department officer said that asylum-seekers would communicate on the phone and the internet with potential asylum-seekers in their home countries to brief them on the best explanations to use in order to get a favourable outcome.
This backs up testimony from former minister Philip Ruddock that recordings of interviews by Australian officials with asylum-seekers were sold in Asian markets as helpful preparation for people intending to make illegal journeys to Australia.
“I believe that Australia should be assisting people in overseas refugee situations through financial, logistical and diplomatic assistance but we cannot solve these situations by the unrestricted entry of people, most of whom are not from the most disadvantaged strata of their societies,” the former immigration official wrote.
He also concluded that “literally millions” of people could successfully claim asylum in Australia if they could get here, if the refugee convention were interpreted the way the UN says it should be.
It is well past time that we discarded such a fractured, rotten system—predicated on flawed thinking and a foolish, fawning adherence to conventions of the corrupt United Nations—and formulated a rational policy based on first principles and enlightened self-interest.
Greg Sheridan also writes, in “UN convention turns Australia into a magnet for asylum-seekers”, that the Refugee Convention is a problem; yet he argues against ditching it:
Is the Refugee Convention itself now the problem?  The convention dates from 1951 and was designed to deal with people fleeing persecution across land borders in Europe.  It had the Holocaust in mind.  The idea was that if someone, generally a government, was trying to kill you because of your race or religion and you fled to escape death, you would not then be forced back to your persecutor.
Sadly, like most things associated with the UN, it has grown into a sort of grotesque parody of itself, with vast unintended consequences.
The actual wording of the convention is not too bad.  The obligations it imposes on signatories are reasonably limited.  The main one is that a country may not return a refugee to the place from which he has fled persecution.  Nothing John Howard did, nothing that Tony Abbott proposes, contravenes the convention.
It is clear, and sometimes explicit, in the convention’s wording that it envisages people fleeing directly from persecution in one country to haven, temporary or permanent, in an adjacent neighbour.  So how is it that, ostensibly under the auspices of the convention, there are now Iranians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Somalis, Afghans, Pakistanis and others arriving in Australia's north and claiming to be refugees?  […]
The convention talks of people directly fleeing persecution.  But the folks arriving in Australia use, or misuse, a technicality in the convention.  […]
But the convention operates now in three ways that are extremely bad for Australia.
First, because it is a treaty we have signed, it has been substantially imported into our domestic law.  But because some of its language is imprecise and aspirational, an imperial judiciary can steal much of the power from the parliament by interpreting such language expansively.
Second, Australia’s status as a signatory to the convention acts as an enormously powerful magnet, attracting all manner of aspirational immigrants, drawn by Australia's material riches and generous welfare, who can then use the convention to qualify for immigration status they would never get otherwise.
And third, it allows the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to play a wholly inappropriate part in our domestic politics. […]
So, should we leave the convention altogether?  I don't think so. It would be too difficult and controversial and we would still face the obligations of customary law anyway.  But we should completely decouple domestic law from the convention.

May 3, 2013

Ditch the Convention

Adrienne Millbank, in “Ditch the UN Refugee Convention”, writes:
Once again Australia’s offshore (Nauru and Manus Island) and onshore processing centres are swamped and we are confronted with images of distressed asylum-seekers self-harming, lip-sewing and hunger-striking.  Such images are jarring and confusing in a country of migration where new arrivals are supposed to be welcomed as equals.
Australia’s border protection efforts and their appalling effects do not reflect a country that has turned its back on migrants and refugees; they reflect an asylum system that is crumbling under its own outrageous costs and contradictions.  The problem with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is that it legitimises unregulated entry.  And unregulated inflows of economic migrants and asylum-seekers are anathema to managed migration and refugee resettlement.
Australia may be approaching a tipping point in its always uneasy relationship with the refugee convention.  The Howard-era border protection policies, reinstated by the Labor government in desperation after it had abolished them, are not working.  Nor are measures recommended by the hastily convened expert panel to which the Prime Minister, in even greater desperation, abrogated responsibility. Indeed, the expansion of the humanitarian program to 20,000 places is encouraging more asylum-seekers.
Last year, more than 17,000 asylum-seekers arrived. More than 30,000 are projected for this year.  […]  At least 1000 people have drowned at sea.  […]
As a country of migration, Australia needs its refugee policy to be sensible, morally defensible and well regulated.
We may have reached the point where the country’s legal obligations need to be brought into line with public expectations that the government will control the borders and that migration will be managed.  It is time to rethink dubious international obligations and to argue Australia’s case.  Australia should require asylum-seekers wanting to settle in this country to apply for a refugee or humanitarian visa offshore, through our overseas posts or the UNHCR.
I maintain that, once Australia discards the Refugee Convention (and other inutile UN conventions) and stops wasting funding thereon, we could easily (and less expensively) provide homes to legitimate refugees, and even to feigned refugees, in a Free City.

UPDATE I (10 May):  see “Richard Falk and the Crooked Ways of UN Rules” by Claudia Rosett:
[George] Russell has also unearthed the information—buried in a 183-page report from the UN’s External Board of Auditors—that Human Rights Council special rapporteurs, such as [Richard] Falk, are not required to disclose any support they might get from institutions or individual governments.  […]
In other words, while UN special rapporteurs appear to be doing altruistic work for a token fee, the Human Rights Council has effectively issued them a license to operate under the UN logo, expenses paid by the UN—and at the same time, allows them to accept funding from who-knows-whom with who-knows-what-agenda, and no requirement to disclose any of it.  Oh, and P.S., there is no provision for firing them […].  It may happen that some of these special rapporteurs try to operate with integrity.  But this is yet another instance in which, if the UN had set out to design a crooked setup, it’s hard to think how they could have done a better job of it.  It’s time to think bigger than firing Richard Falk.  How about finding a way to fire the entire Human Rights Council?
See George Russell’s “Anti-Israel UN human rights official can’t be fired, State Department says”:
In all, including Falk, there are now 48 different U.N. special rapporteurs or working groups that report on alleged human rights deficiencies around the world under the auspices of the 47-member Council.  Another mandate, covering human rights in Mali, is expected to become active in June.
The U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on its website terms the special procedure experts “a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery.”
Their mandates—generated by resolutions of the Human Rights Council—range from monitoring human rights practices in specific countries—North Korea and Iran, to name two—to such exotic new specialties as “monitoring the human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes,” and “the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence” for countries emerging from prolonged civil conflict.  […]
According to internal Human Rights Commission estimates obtained by Fox News, the likely cost of new country-specific mandates for rapporteurs and experts can currently range from about $240,000 each to nearly $600,000 per year.
So-called “thematic” mandates, such as “human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment” and “promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” can apparently range from $500,000 to $1.1 million annually.
The overall total for 2013, according to the OHCHR, is $18.55 million, up marginally from last yet, but a 20 percent hike from $15.5 million in 2011.
The two year total for 2012 and 2013 of $36.9 million is a very impressive portion of the roughly $54.7 million, or 12 percent, of its 2012-2013 annual budget of $448.1 million that the U.N.’s Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights has allocated for not only the special procedures experts but for the entire Human Rights Council.  […]
“It is a general observation that a U.N. budget is typically opaque, and difficult to decipher,” observers Brett Schaefer, a U.N. expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.  But the fact is that the real costs and spending by the U.N.’s special rapporteurs is something a mystery even to the U.N.’s own Board of Auditors.
In their most recent report, which covers the years 2010-2011, the auditors note that OHCHR “mandate holders”—another term for the special rapporteurs and experts—“are not required to disclose support” they may get from institutions or individual governments over and above their OHCHR budgets.
The auditors worried that “the absence of clear disclosures could put in doubt the perceived independence of mandate holders.”
And the number of mandate holders, meantime, keeps growing.
In 2012, according to the OHCHR, the Council created new special rapporteur mandates in Syria, Eritrea and Belarus, added new Independent Experts in Cote d’Ivoire, and Sudan, and instituted new thematic mandates on “the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment;” truth, justice and non-recurrence; and the equitable international order.
“Are all the mandates good and useful?” asks UN Watch’s [Hillel] Neuer.  “Do we need a human rights mandate on the right to food?  The U.N. has several massive food agencies already.  The Human Rights Council can’t feed anyone.  Should it be talking about this?”
UPDATE II (11 May):  the extent and cost of the problem which Australians must address is also detailed in “Tony Abbott must turn change of government into his Tampa moment”, by Chris Kenny:
In just over four months this year, 8767 people have arrived on 127 boats.  At this rate the number will be more than 20,000 this year, after topping 17,000 last year.
This is a terrible blow to the integrity of the nation's immigration system.  It means our full humanitarian quota—and more—is self-selected.  People-smugglers, rather than our immigration officials, determine our humanitarian intake.
This leaves thousands of refugees who abide by the rules, applying through orderly processes, wallowing in camps, with their small hope of settlement in Australia dwindling away to nothing.
Domestically, public confidence is tested, undermining support for immigration.
Hundreds of lives have been lost and each boat journey is dangerous, with evidence the risks are increasing as more decrepit boats are used and smugglers try to target the mainland to exploit legal loopholes.
There are also national security risks, with more than 50 refugees indefinitely detained after failing ASIO assessments.
So the failure to stem the people-smuggling trade is unfair, costs lives, threatens national security and undermines our immigration program.  It is also extremely costly—estimated to top $2 billion this financial year.

October 3, 2012

A Solution for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers: a Free City

Why send many millions of dollars to other countries each year, for little apparent benefit, when Australians and Australian resources could be more suitably employed in providing homes and better lives for refugees, asylum-seekers, and other non-citizens here?

The Australian Government, I say, ought to purchase a parcel of land from Western Australia, on or near the northern coast, build a large, enclosed city thereon, declare it an independent Free City, with a perpetual customs union with Australia but no territorial waters, with a democratic constitution similar to other Australian cities (which the inhabitants may subsequently amend as they list, by referendum), and inform the UN that the majority of our international-aid budget in the future will be spent thereon.  Thereafter, each year, thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers from camps around the world could be invited to reside in the Free City; also, any non-citizen caught seeking unlawful entry into Australia would be, by various amendments to the Migration Act, sent thither and freely accommodated therein.  (Australia should also withdraw its support for the present, ineffective Convention and Protocol for the Status of Refugees.)
Australian citizens (who could elect to dwell in the Free City or without) would be employed, at least initially, building the modern, well-planned infrastructure, administering the city, planting orchards and gardens, farming, staffing the schools and hospitals, etc. as, gradually, more and more newly arrived inhabitants would also find work building, administering, teaching, and so on.
All adult residents of the Free City would have full voting rights within the city but, for the most part, only Australian citizens could lawfully depart the city into Australian territory freely; each year, however, several thousand inhabitants of the Free City who demonstrated their eligibility for citizenship would be invited to apply to become Australian citizens with the right to dwell anywhere in Australia.
The Government could advertise in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere: instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars to people-smugglers, to risk their lives in far from seaworthy vessels, alleged refugees and other prospective citizens would more safely and much more cheaply travel directly to the Free City on official flights, and they could then afford to supplement the basic facilities granted to all residents with the money they saved.
Ultimately, I reckon, a Free City would prove far less expensive than current policies and costly proposals to impede the increasing numbers of boats, filled with non-citizens seeking illegal entry into Australia, which enter Australian waters (or which, whilst still in, say, Indonesian waters, are “intercepted” by RAN vessels).  I welcome suggestions in comments below.

UPDATE I (27 October):  see “Taxpayers’ $90 million bill for Nauru processing”, by Steve Lewis and Jessica Marszalek:
The tiny nation of Nauru is demanding Australia pay up to $90 million over five years in special payments as “insurance” against the cost of housing up to 1,500 asylum seekers.
A spokesman for the government of the Pacific island nation of fewer than 10,000 people said the $3,000-per-migrant payment was being introduced to help pay for the cost of running the offshore processing centre, which currently has 383 detainees.  […]
The Gillard government was forced to reopen Manus Island in PNG and Nauru as it sought to stem the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals—which yesterday reached 475 since August 2008, with the arrival of another vessel carrying 26 people on board.  On Monday, Treasurer Wayne Swan revealed a $1.2 billion blow-out in immigration costs as part of the government’s mid-year economic and budget forecasts.  The costs of the processing centre on Manus Island was estimated at more than $1 billion alone.
UPDATE II (24 November):  many silly people assert that, since it is not illegal to seek asylum, it must therefore be lawful to enter Australia by any means in order to claim asylum.  Well, it is not necessarily illegal to grow opium poppies, to decapitate a dog, to set fire to a dwelling or even to offer someone a deadly poison (in some circumstances); however, you’d be much mistaken if you conclude thereby that anyone may, without further thought or delay, without fear of consequence, and without legal necessity and lawful licence, cultivate opium poppies, decapitate dogs, set fire to dwellings or poison people’s beverages.
Pertinent legislation from the Migration Act 1958, § 228B:
Circumstances in which a non-citizen has no lawful right to come to Australia

(1) For the purposes of this Subdivision, a non-citizen has, at a particular time, no lawful right to come to Australia if, at that time:

(a) the non-citizen does not hold a visa that is in effect; and
(b) the non-citizen is not covered by an exception referred to in subsection 42(2) or (2A); and
(c) the non-citizen is not permitted by regulations under subsection 42(3) to travel to Australia without a visa that is in effect.
(2) To avoid doubt, a reference in subsection (1) to a non-citizen includes a reference to a non-citizen seeking protection or asylum (however described), whether or not Australia has, or may have, protection obligations in respect of the non-citizen:
(a) under the Refugees Convention as amended by the Refugees Protocol; or
(b) for any other reason.
Article 31 of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees
Refugees Unlawfully in the Country of Refuge

1.  The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence. 
2.  The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country.  The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country.
UPDATE III (12 April, 2013):  a commentator at Catallaxy Files, Cold-Hands, kindly offered some criticism of the solution I herein present:
it comes across as a piece of ivory tower theorising which would not survive impact with the real world. 
Perhaps; sometimes, however, “ivory tower theorising” can lead to others’ providing more practical refinements.  A Free City, as I envision it, would certainly cost an immense amount of money to establish and a lot to maintain, but we’re already spending many millions of dollars anyway, without solving the problems.
we’d shortly have an overcrowded ghetto bursting at the seams […]
I should expect a site which might be two or three times the size of Manhattan, and that island safely accommodates over one and a half million residents, could cope with quite a sizable number of inhabitants ere it burst at the seams.
We’ve already proved that we can not control our Northern Borders.
That our current federal government cannot control our borders does not mean that no government can control its borders.  Even during World War II, Switzerland was able to maintain the integrity of its borders.  Even Mexico, which seemingly can’t stop citizens leaving, is willing to dissuade non-citizens entering Mexico.
Policing the land borders would be a nightmare.  Like the USA you’d have people smuggling; like Gaza you’d have tunnels.
It does not follow that people would be smuggled into a Free City which would hospitably welcome new residents; it does not follow that people would want to be smuggled out of a Free City which provided basic but humane accommodation for those without funds, better accommodation for those with funds, and great scope for lawfully obtaining funds because of the multitudinous opportunities for business, employment and education.
And how long before this “Free City” devolves into a sharia law hellhole demanding more and more funds, personnel and time before the courts to maintain Australian sovereignty and values?
If the residents of the Free City were to vote democratically to become “a sharia law hellhole”, despite a just constitution which promoted equality and liberty, that would be their decision.  ‪Not all refugees who flee oppression would vote for further oppression; not all refugees and asylum-seekers are muslim; ‬not all Muslims seek to impose sharia law.‬
Your proposal would see us with our own Mexican border—ringed with razor wire, with our border guards shooting to kill—and an overcrowded population desperate to sneak into Australia to lead the good life, but ill equipped with skills or culture to do so.
 I disagree.

UPDATE IV (16 April, 2013):  in comments at the original site, Cold-Hands helpfully provides some additional, considered criticism:
Now it may be that you intended to withdraw Australia from the Refugees convention and make more stringent changes to the Migration Act than the simple alteration posited above […]
That is exactly what I advocate.  In order to make my position clearer, I have added to the proposal above this sentence:  “Australia should also withdraw its support for the present, ineffective Convention and Protocol for the Status of Refugees.”
Your Free City doesn’t appear to have Australian police or judges, so an imposition of sharia by force is all too likely.
My proposal is that the Free City would have, at least initially, its own version of Australian law, as well as Australian police and judges.  Its constitution, until amended by democratic referenda, would, inter alia, guarantee equality for all before the law.  (Sharia law, of course, does not guarantee equality for all before the law; its imposition would, therefore, be illegal.)

All the above was originally published at the “all right, all right” ’blog.