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    Senator Andrew Bartlett

Democrats: Senator Andrew Bartlett

Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator for Queensland

"The government deliberately creates dysfunctional members of our community - at our expense."

"The government has created a twisting labyrinth of cruelty and faceless bureaucratic dispassion that is so heartless and so lacking in any reason that Franz Kafka would not have dared to have conjured it up. Despite the lives destroyed, the vast resources squandered and the children's futures that have been stolen, our government has the audacity to call their "strategy" a success."

Andrew Bartlett's website:
http://www.andrewbartlett.com/

Australian Democrats - Official Democrats Immigration Policy as balloted 1 July 2001

Objectives

The Australian Democrats believe in a non-discriminatory immigration program, which gives priority to refugees and family reunion, the total number of which when included with overall population trends will not impede sustainability of the nation's natural resources.

Principles

  1. all areas of Australia's immigration law meet our international obligations;

  2. departmental resources will be equitably distributed to ensure equal access to immigration posts;

  3. application fees will be adjusted to take into account variations in national average earnings;

  4. Qualifications will be linked with the right of reciprocity for Australian qualifications and based on careful assessment of education and work experience;

  5. all migrants including refugees will be eligible to the full range of welfare benefits and employment assistance available to other Australians;

  6. all people accepted into Australia as refugees will be granted permanent visas;

  7. non authorised arrivals will not be automatically subject to detention unless there are compelling security or public health reasons for doing so;

  8. incentives will be provided to encourage settlement in regional areas;

  9. settlement services for newly arrived migrants will be adequately resourced to maximise the opportunities for migrants to participate fully in the Australian community;

  10. all refugees and asylum seekers will be provided access to the Australian legal system equal to that of any Australian resident.

"The government deliberately creates dysfunctional members of our community - at our expense."

"The government has created a twisting labyrinth of cruelty and faceless bureaucratic dispassion that is so heartless and so lacking in any reason that Franz Kafka would not have dared to have conjured it up. Despite the lives destroyed, the vast resources squandered and the children's futures that have been stolen, our government has the audacity to call their "strategy" a success."

Speech: Immigration: SIEVX

Speech in the Senate accompanying the Motion of Condolance for the victims of SIEVX

Senate Hansard, 16 October 2003
SENATOR ANDREW BARTLETT
Immigration: SIEVX

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland-Leader of the Australian Democrats) (7.40 p.m.)-I would like to acknowledge what will be the second anniversary, on Sunday, of the sinking of he vessel that came to be known as the SIEVX. I am pleased to note that the Senate today, I think for the first time, specifically passed a motion expressing regret and sympathy for the loss of so many innocent lives. There have been a number of resolutions passed in this place, moved by me and a number of opposition senators, in relation to the SIEVX and various aspects of the situation surrounding the sinking of that vessel and a lot of unanswered questions. I think Senator Collins, just today, was speaking about that. It is certainly something that many of us, including the Democrats, will continue to follow up.

Tonight I simply want to focus on the tragedy itself and on what I think is the welcome development of the Senate specifically expressing its regret and sympathy for the loss of so many innocent lives-a total of 353.

Whilst I do not in any way wish to compare tragedies, quite appropriately a lot of focus in recent weeks in Australia has been on the first anniversary of the Bali tragedy and on the number of Australians who died there. At the service I attended today in the Great Hall of the Australian Parliament House, the names of the 91 Australian residents and citizens who died in that atrocity were read out. Again, I stress I am not comparing or suggesting numbers make one tragedy greater than another but, if you think of those 91 names that were read out and multiply by four, you would be close to the 353 lives that were lost. Of those 353, 146 were children.

I have spoken a lot in this chamber, as many senators would know, about my strong disagreements with the government's policy in relation to asylum seekers and refugees and the Labor Party's support for much of the legislation that came forward in relation to that. I will not speak on that tonight; I will certainly continue to express my views strongly over the days and months to come. Tonight I simply want to reinforce the weight of the Senate's resolution, noting that tragedy of 353 lives lost - of the 421 who were on that death boat - and noting that many people who lost their lives had and have close family members in Australia who are on temporary protection visas now.

A small number of the survivors of that vessel - there were fewer than 70 survivors - are in Australia now on temporary protection visas. The one who is probably most known to Australians is the mother of those three little girls who were on the front page of Australia's newspapers in the days after the tragedy was discovered-three very beautiful young girls, all under the age of 10, who drowned in that tragedy. The mother survived, having to endure the double tragedy of seeing her children drown beside her in the water over a period of hours without anybody coming to rescue them, then having to endure months being separated from her husband, who was already in Australia on a refugee visa. She was kept in Indonesia. It took months for her to be finally given permission to come to Australia. That couple now have a new baby. I have had the privilege of meeting them and their new child.

The irony is that the father's visa - he was here already on a temporary visa-will expire quite soon, if it has not already. The mother arrived on a five-year visa that expires in about 2005 and the baby that was born last year has a separate visa that expires on another date again. That is the absurdity of the system. The motion specifically asked the new Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs to consider the humanitarian reality of people who, like that family, had family who drowned in that tragedy.

The minister should recognise that situation and to give them a permanent humanitarian visa so they can rebuild their lives.

It will be a day and a date I will always remember, because 19 October 2001, the day that all those children drowned, was the same day that my first and only daughter, Lillith, was born. She is, in my view, the most beautiful girl ever born - I apologise to everybody else who might have children, but that is just the way it is - and to think that, at the same time that she was being born and all the wonder that goes with that, there were 146 children whose lives were about to end as they struggled in the water in such fear and terror. It is indeed a tragedy, and it is one that should be remembered. They were all trying to seek a better life. I do not what to get into the rhetoric about asylum seekers, queue jumpers, illegal immigrants or anything like that.

I have my strong views on that. Suffice to say, they were all people seeking a better life, particularly those parents who were trying to get a better life for their kids, and they paid a terrible price, and it should be acknowledged. All people who seek to come to Australia do so for freedom and for a better life. Many people, including so many children, did not make it and I think the tragedy needs to be acknowledged. I am pleased the Senate has expressed its sympathy for this tragedy, and I do hope the new minister can examine ways to alleviate at least a little of the hurt that continues for so many of those people.

From the Daily Hansard: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/dailys/ds161003.pdf

NOTICE OF MOTION

Senator Bartlett to move on Thursday, 16 October 2003:

That the Senate-

  1. notes that:

    1. on 19 October 2001, a boat known as the SIEV X, bound for Australia and carrying 421 passengers and crew, sank with the tragic loss of 353 lives, including 146 children,

    2. a number of those who lost their lives had close family members in Australia who are on temporary protection visas, which prevents them from fully rebuilding their lives, and

    3. the Commonwealth Government has not responded to the report of the Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, which included an examination of the SIEV X sinking;

  2. asks the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (Senator Vanstone) to grant those refugees in Australia, whether they are awaiting a decision of their review or are on temporary protection visas, who suffered a personal loss through the sinking of SIEV X, permanent visas on humanitarian grounds;

  3. calls on the Commonwealth Government to immediately establish a comprehensive, independent judicial inquiry into all aspects of the People Smuggling Disruption Program operated by the Commonwealth Government and agencies from 2000 to date, including Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels, and in particular the boat known as SIEV X; and

  4. expresses its regret and sympathy at the tragic loss of so many innocent lives.

Government-sponsored child abuse at the Nauru detention centres

By Andrew Bartlett
Thursday, August 07, 2003
Posted at Online Opinion

Walking into the Topside Camp, established by the Australian government on Nauru to detain those asylum seekers intercepted in Australian waters, I was unsure what to expect.

I have visited every migration detention facility in Australia, including the current temporary facility on Christmas Island. They are all unnatural places, but this incongruous Australian-funded imprisonment of hundreds of Iraqis and Afghans on a small island, sitting almost exactly on the equator, has a special sense of the surreal.

Walking up to the gate, it seemed all of the camp's 300-plus residents had gathered to welcome me. It is very difficult for Australians wanting to visit the camp to get permission to enter Nauru, so they get very few non-official visitors. A big sign, reading "welcome to our detention centre", was stretched across the gate, but my attention was immediately grabbed by the children.

So many children, young children, three, four, five years old, gathered at the gate. All of them kept in camps since 2001. The inescapable question arises again. How can this be that the Australian taxpayer funds the deliberate imprisonment of children? I think of my own daughter, 21 months old, in the crucial stages of development. How would it be for her growing up in this sort of place, perhaps separated from her father, without her or her parents having any idea what her future is? Our government likes to call itself family friendly, yet it keeps families with children locked up in these conditions.

The camp is a collection of demountables, air-conditioned against the year-round heat. The facilities, sporting, recreational and health, are below that of centres in Australia. The showers and toilets are also in demountables. These use brackish water that only runs for about six hours, spread over various parts of the day. The water difficulties are similar to what is experienced by all the local residents of the island.

I am told the facilities at the other Nauru-based camp, called State House, are worse but I am advised not to visit there for safety reasons. I am allowed to meet with people who are in that camp, who are brought to see me at Topside.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is contracted by the Australian government to run the facilities and assist in the relocation of people once the Government has determined their refugee status. They have a difficult task, as they have no say over what happens to the detainees but must deal with the deep ocean of despair and depression that exists on the island camps. As was said to me, you could put these people into Club Med and their condition would still be almost the same, because it is the lack of freedom and hope, the empty future for their children, that is the source of their pain and suffering. Mental health issues comprise the vast bulk of the work of the medical staff but there is nothing they can do to alleviate the cause.

Of course, the conditions on Nauru are not Club Med. They are very basic and would be unpleasant to live in. Nauru is an impoverished island. The local population of about 12 000 people, on an island one-fifth the area of Christmas Island, are facing an economic crisis and the presence of the camps is currently the main economic input for the nation. I spoke with some government members and officials, as well as some youth workers at a local high school. Written on the blackboard was a message urging teachers to please keep coming to work, despite not having been paid for months. Virtually the only people on the island being paid regularly are those working at the camps.

The biggest disgrace of our "pro-family" government is the women and children in the camps who are deliberately being kept apart from husbands and fathers in Australia. Our Prime Minister, who recently lamented the lack of male role models for children growing up, is telling these women they must return alone with their children to Iraq or Afghanistan, to circumstances where their husbands were subject to severe persecutions. Their husbands cannot leave Australia without losing their protection. The Immigration Minister says their circumstances are considered separate from their husband's because they arrived on different boats. This is as logical as saying they are kept separate because their name starts with the wrong letter, and these women know it.

But again, worst of all is the children. Four and five-year-old girls who have no memory of their father and no understanding of why they cannot go to him, when they know where he is. And the fathers in Australia, some of whom I have also met, being driven to the brink by this enforced separation.

In the face of the government-generated harming of children, it seems almost a minor fact that it is being done at the cost of hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars - funds that could go to address major needs in Australia, or indeed in Nauru and other Pacific neighbours. Even those who manage to stagger out the other side of the hoops and hurdles, such as the 40 people who are finally being allowed to apply to enter Australia, nearly two years after they first sought our help, are left traumatised - unsupported and uncertain of their future while Australia provides temporary "protection". The government deliberately creates dysfunctional members of our community - at our expense.

The government has created a twisting labyrinth of cruelty and faceless bureaucratic dispassion that is so heartless and so lacking in any reason that Franz Kafka would not have dared to have conjured it up. Despite the lives destroyed, the vast resources squandered and the children's futures that have been stolen, our government has the audacity to call their "strategy" a success.

Senator Andrew Bartlett is Leader of the Democrats and a Senator for Queensland. He is a member of National Forum.

http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=603

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