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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Australia's 2004 Report Card on Press Freedom looks concerning

Some disturbing news about the state of the media in Australia, starting with an item from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Index slams Australia's media freedom

Sydney Morning Herald
October 27, 2004 - 8:24AM

Australia has ranked dismally in a global index on media freedom released by Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Australia could only manage 41st position in RSF's third annual index of press freedom, lagging behind some former Eastern bloc nations, including Hungary (28), Czech Republic (19) and Poland (32).

Regional neighbour New Zealand placed a respectable ninth and was one of only three nations outside Europe to rank in the top 20.

But Australia's lowly ranking came as no surprise after it came under fire in the RSF's 2004 annual report released earlier this year.

In particular, the watchdog criticised Australia's policies restricting press access to refugees.

It said in the report that the Australian government "continued to prevent journalists from covering the situation of refugees held in camps on Australian territory or in neighbouring countries".

The report pointed to the January 2002 arrest of ABC TV reporter Natalie Larkins, who was carted off and charged with trespassing on commonwealth property while trying to report on 300 hunger striking refugees at the Woomera Detention Centre in South Australia.

The report also criticised a number of other attempts by several groups to stifle press freedom.

It mentioned a case in which the NRMA launched legal action to try to force Australian Associated Press (AAP) reporter Belinda Tasker and journalists Anne Lampe and Kate Askew from The Sydney Morning Herald to divulge their sources in their coverage of a boardroom battle.

The case has since been dropped by the NSW motoring body.

And it criticised attempts by the federal government to free up cross media ownership laws and make the Australian Broadcasting Authority responsible for maintaining editorial independence.

European nations dominated the top positions in the rankings, with the eight countries sharing top spot: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland.

Countries in east Asia and the Middle East have the least media freedom in the world, with North Korea coming at the bottom of a global index on media freedom in 167th spot.

RSF said that in states such as North Korea, Burma and China, and in Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, "an independent media either does not exist or journalists are persecuted and censored on a daily basis".

"Freedom of information and safety of journalists are not guaranteed there," RSF said in a statement.

It said a recent fact-finding mission to North Korea found journalists there were forced to serve the personality cult of dictator Kim Jong-il.

"Dozens of reporters had been 're-educated' for often minor supposed professional 'errors'," RSF said.

Meanwhile, Iraq proved to be the most deadly place for journalists in recent years, with 44 journalists killed since fighting began in March last year and ranked 148th.

The United States came in 22nd on the index, RSF said.

"Violations of the privacy of sources, persistent problems in granting press visas and the arrest of several journalists during anti-Bush demonstrations kept the United States away from the top of the list," the group said.

RSF said Cuba was the worst violator of press freedom in Latin America, coming in 166th. That was just above North Korea.

"All criticism of President Fidel Castro's rule is officially a crime. Twenty-six journalists arrested in March last year along with some 50 dissidents are still in prison," RSF said.

© 2004 AAP

Reporters sans Frontieres: Australia: 2004 Annual Report

October 2004
RSF Website

The conservative government tried to get the media into battle order to support Australia's participation in the invasion of Iraq. It was hard for journalists to cover the war in an independent way. This was also the case for Australia's involvement in the anti-terrorist struggle in Asia and the situation of refugees held in camps.

Throughout 2003, the authorities restricted press coverage of asylum-seeking refugees who were held in camps. Access to the camps was strictly regulated and the immigration ministry did everything possible to discourage journalists from investigating this issue. It was virtually impossible for journalists to visit camps set up in neighbouring countries such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

An Iraqi refugee died for unexplained reasons in the refugee camp in Nauru on 13 March after being sanctioned by the camp authorities for speaking to a TV crew from the programme "Dateline" on the TV channel SBS. An association of Australian journalists awarded immigration minister Philip Ruddock the "Orwell Award for obstructing press freedom" because of his hostility to the press.

The concentration of news media ownership in a few hands is still a issue in Australia. The federal government presented a bill on media ownership for the second time in November. It had been rejected on 27 June by opposition parties - which have a majority in the senate - as a threat to press freedom and diversity. The government wanted to ease restrictions on foreign ownership and relax local news quotas for region TV stations. It also wanted to scrap the ban on press groups owning several news media in the same city.

These measures were partly designed to satisfy Australia's two big press magnates: Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer. Murdoch, who has acquired US citizenship, already owns two thirds of the dailies in Australia's big cities. Packer controls several TV channels and wanted to buy a big daily newspaper. The level of ownership concentration in Australia continues to be one of the highest in the world.

Harassment and obstruction

The NGO Justice Action appealed to the state of New South Wales' human rights commission in January 2003 against a ban on distribution within the state's prisons of the magazine Framed, which is produced by prison inmates. Detainees said the ban, introduced in December 2002, violated their right to information on key matters, including legal issues, and left them without any means of expression. The head of the state's prison department, Ron Woodham, who had issued the ban, said on 10 February that it was a "state decision" and the commission had no authority to investigate. But the commission rejected his arguments on 30 April and gave him 14 days to respond to the original complaint.

Multicultural affairs minister Gary Hardgrave wrote to Arabic-language community TV stations on 9 January asking them to be balanced in their coverage of the coming war in Iraq and to take account of the communal tension they could cause. Free expression must be exercised with the appropriate responsibility and must not be abused by inciting hate or violence, he said. Lebanese Muslim Association director Keysar Trad accused Hardgrave of censorship and discrimination against community media. Hardgrave responded that the government would not stand for Australian media reflecting foreign propaganda. The New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board - an independent body - intervened with a report criticising the use of pressure against media according to racial criteria. The board had recently condemned growing media use of stereotypes identifying minorities, especially Muslims, with the emerging terrorist violence in South-East Asia.

As a result of the leaking of senate documents to the daily The Age in June 2002, the senate privileges committee issued a report on 6 February proposing a series of penalties including prison terms for journalists who publish classified information. Copies of the report were sent to newspaper editors and journalists accredited to the senate on 3 March. The Press Council reacted sharply in mid-March. Its president called the proposal "hypocrisy" for punishing the "messenger"and not the person responsible for the leak. The proposal had still not been adopted at the end of the year.

In March, the government and armed forces refused to reveal to the news media the location of the Australian troops deployed to the Middle East on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. Ian Mc Phedran, a journalist with News Limited, deplored the media's inability to contact the troops in the field and said he assumed this would not be the case in the event of war. Press coverage of the operations in Iraq was at first limited.

The authorities insisted that the military operations were subject to defence secrecy and the press had to accept this. But armed forces spokesman Mike Hannan assured journalists they would not be censored.

Parliament finally passed a bill on the functioning of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in June, after more than a year of debates, although it was criticised by the Press Council and many news media. It provides for a five-year prison sentence for journalists who fail to present themselves to the ASIO in response to a summons or fail to produce their sources. It also establishes penalties for journalists who fail to pass on information they receive about a terrorist act.

The government filed 68 complaints in July against the public radio and television network Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), accusing it of siding against the United States and its allies in the war in Iraq. ABC rejected all the complaints except two, which were investigated by its legal department. Communication minister Richard Alston accused ABC's Washington correspondent John Shoveloan of "anti-Americanism" in his reporting about President Bush and the Pentagon. ABC subsequently recognised that Shoveloan had displayed "sarcasm and irony." In August, ABC was again criticised by the government which threatened it with reprisals if it was found to have incited violence.

Communication minister Richard Alston accused a cable TV channel in August of broadcasting programmes sympathetic to the Lebanon-based, militant Islamic group Hezbollah. He said the cultural links maintained through cable television by Muslim communities around the world were no excuse for inciting violence.

The government on 26 August tried to prevent the public television channel from screening footage showing the different stages in the making of an explosive device identical to the one used by Indonesian terrorists in the Bali bombing. The federal authorities put pressure on the channel's management without going through the Press Council, which is supposed to handle this kind of conflict. Attorney-General Daryl Williams said he was disappointed that the channel ignored the requests of both the federal government and four state governments.

On 14 November, the company operating the satellite TV service TARBS withdrew the Hezbollah-linked channel Al Manar from its selection of pay channels pending the outcome of an enquiry initiated in October by the Australian Broadcasting Authority into allegations that it incited violence and supported terrorism.
Read more ...

Educating Laurie: More letters

Labor's new man causes immigration stir

Friday, October 29, 2004. 11:00am (AEST)

Federal Labor's new immigration spokesman, Laurie Ferguson, has angered refugee advocates by claiming that many asylum seekers have fraudulent claims and are manipulating the legal system.

Refugee support groups have begun a campaign called Educating Laurie and are urging the public to send letters and emails.

The director of Adelaide Catholic welfare agency Centacare and prominent refugee advocate Dale West says Labor has already said that if it took a different view, it would be in opposition for 20 years.

"I'm just wondering now when it looks like that's the case anyway, if Laurie Ferguson is the best person for the job because some of the things that he said in the Age yesterday about the vast majority of people being queue jumpers and that sort of thing, when in fact 93 per cent of people who come come as asylum seekers tend to be refugees, is clearly an ignorant position to take," Mr West said.

Dear Mr Ferguson,

I have always been a Labour voter. However, I am becoming increasingly alarmed by the right wing shift in the Labour party and its apparent loss of humanitarianism.

I have seen the detention centre at Woomera and wept at the appalling conditions under which refugees were kept. I have attended presentations by those who have worked in Australian refugee camps and heard about the treatment of the inmates. I am aware that, as with all facets of society, politicians included, there are a few bad eggs. However, all evidence points to the fact that somewhere around 90% of asylum seekers are genuine refugees. Indeed, we must keep in mind too that all white Australians are immigrants whose ancestors largely came out on boats, and who were not required to undergo a processing procedure but who received automatic asylum.
To suggest that those of us who have been horrified by the treatment of refugees are those who don't want any rules, is blatant ignorance and misreporting. We do want rules and procedures, but we want rules and procedures that are just and timely and that treat all people in a humanitarian manner. How would you feel if your country were invaded and you could no longer express a political opinion, no longer work, no longer have any freedom of speech or the means to ensure that you and your family had a safe and healthy life? Would you wish to 'escape' to another country? Perhaps so, and if so, how would you feel if you were abused, locked up with your children for years and left in appalling conditions and that you heard derogatory comments about the reasons why you had left the impossible conditions in your own country? Is that what a global world is all about? I don't think so. Or, I didn't think so!

As to the reported comment that you are sick of "being lectured to by people", Hello!!!! is it not the job of a politician, as an elected servant and spokesperson of the people to listen to those people without being critical of the fact that individuals wish to express their opinions? Or is this a myth long outlived? I fear so when I read information such as that which was reported by the Age. Perhaps the Age does have a particular readership, ownership and political position, but when quotations are used, can these be denied? Surely there must be some truth or the Age would be in court defending expensive defamation cases with monotonous regularity.

Please, as Shadow Minister for Immigration, take your responsibilities seriously. Take a humanitarian view. Do not insult the intelligence and values of your Labour constituency - or we will be doomed to the Libs/Coalition for eternity.



First, congratulations on getting Shadow Spokesperson on Immigration.

Second, now that you are in the role, I think it is important for you to remember that you represent party policy as adopted at the National Conference in January 2004, and the State Conferences that followed the last election, not just the policies of your own electorate.

Third, I recommend you re-read the policy platform of Labor for Refugees, and I commend the full policy platform to your attention and action. Making harsh judgements about refugees and their motives is not going to get you or the Labor Party anywhere but out of government and out of public sympathy for a very long time,


Dear Laurie,

Just wanted to congratulate you on losing another 20,000 votes in your first day as Immigration spokesman. Very impressive!

What YOU need to realise Mr Ferguson, and I hope I'm not lecturing here, is that refugee advocates are tireless, hard working, passionate and committed people who would work really hard to get the Labor party re-elected if you would just give us one SKERRICK of an indication that your policy on asylum seekers would be more compassionate than the Liberals.

Are you the Shadow Minister for Immigration or a Minister for the Shadow Liberal Party?

Why can't we all work together to defeat the real enemy - the Liberal party? Why do we spend so much time fighting each other? Give us some encouragement Laurie and we'll give you it back one hundred fold.


I have to say as a refugee advocate, I am disgusted at your first few statements on refugees.

Do you have any idea of the heartache and stress, those that care about the welfare of others are under since the elections? Do you have any idea of the hard work many of these people have endured to try and secure the release of the people locked up these deplorable conditions indefinitely? I'll bet you don't because like the rest of the politicians in this country you don't give a rats about anybody only yourself!

Take a long hard look at yourselves and ask why the ALP has lost the last three elections and why each time the vote for your party gets smaller, it is because people who are compassionate and caring in this country are now totally disenfranchised, we no longer have a party to vote for who can realistically change government. if we vote ALP we might as well vote for the bloody Liberal party. I am beginning to wonder whether those in the Labor party that are currently in Parliament are so stupid they can't see the wood for the trees.

I have voted Labor all my life, this time was the last and final time, that goes for the 60 or more members of my extended family and friends. You do not deserve my vote and I deserve more for loyally sticking with Labor all these years.

Bob Brown is the only person from now on I will consider giving my vote to.

I have one more thing to say to you and that is, don't judge anyone, like you have refugees until you have walked in their shoes.

I hope there is a concerted campaign to get rid of you out of this portfolio, refugees deserve much better than you, representing them!!!!

New South Wales

Dear Mr Ferguson

Sir if my email sounded angry I confess I was so. Now if I sound conciliatory, that too is a correct assumption. This is mainly because you have shown me by replying that you are prepared to listen.

I am not in any network. I am 75 years old. I have helped a WA MP by being a booth manner for both his past elections. I not only voted for the labour party I know I convinced many undecideds and many liberal voters in our area to vote labour.

I have a strong dislike for John Howard and his crew. Nothing would have pleased me more than to see him defeated in the last election. His lies - mainly on the skins of the asylum-seekers "Children overboard" etc distressed me greatly. If you care to check Senator John Faulkner whom I had corresponded with on this subject you will find I am not given to lying.

You implied that I could be one who classes people of different thoughts to mine as racists. WRONG.

Everyone has a modicum of this in their being but when Howard plays his fear factor (and we've seen how well it works) we get a result unworthy of the ideal of FAIR GO which our nation espouses.

What we have is a nation being manipulated. The faces of the children, some only new-borns never shown. Their side of the story never told. Apologies never offered. Demonising of innocents perpetuated.

IF the TRUTH were exposed, you and many (hopefully, most) Australians would and could see the whole picture.

Your declarations did you no benefit. In effect you reinforced John Howard's actions. What else did you expect from me or the many who flooded your emails whether or not they were part of an "activist network" or not.

Kim Beazley lost the prior election becauseamongst other things, he went along with Howard's demonising campaign on asylum-seekers. If he'd taken the risk and MAYBE lost on the grounds of opposing such hate overtures, many thousands of compassionate and humanely motivated Australians would have felt dignified even, by a loss on such basis.

Similarly Mark Latham missed the opportunity to dignify his campaign by exposing the chink in Howard's armour so adeptly exposed by the diligence of John Faulkner, by exploiting Howard's ungodly, unchristian, unhumane, un-UN protocol respecting etc... etc... open flank, begging to have spears thrust into it.

I invite you to meet me anytime you are in this neck of the woods to have facts other than the ones which dominate your judgement at present presented.

For Christ sake oppose Howard don't pander to him.

West Australia

An invitation: becoming a detainee


Dear Laurie,

At the end of the day if you or I were to spend just one week in a detention centre in the middle of summer would we think differently. But to be honest, what would be harder for me would be knowing that my wife and children were suffering in this way and even harder being separated from them so that I could not offer any solace.

A challenge for both of us. I will live in a detention centre for a week of this coming summer if you care to join me. I promise not to preach or speak pompously. In fact I promise only to speak if invited to do so by you.

South Australia

The Right of Reply: Laurie's proforma email

Dear ......

Thank you for your e-mail. An effective activist network ensured that there was a significant number of such messages. They were mainly characterised by smug admonishments that I should be as informed as the writers. Unfortunately my life experience and work question this proposition. Alternatively anyone disagreeing with their views is 'racist'. Much recourse was had the magical ninety per-cent pass rate with little conjecture as to why the rate was higher than international UNCHR proportions or Australia's offshore processing rates.

Finally, there was a bizarre belief that whilst Labor had and continues to have a distinctly different approach on detention specifics, not being even more distinct was the reason we lost the election. There were some e-mails critical of me which displayed valuable knowledge and insights. I have been contacting those people directly.

I commend you for your personal endeavours to ensure a more diverse settlement pattern in Australia.

Yours sincerely

Laurie Ferguson MP
Federal Member for Reid
Shadow Minister for Immigration


The Right of Reply: Lost on me

Dear Laurie,

I'm afraid your first paragraph is completely unintelligible. I guess it's some kind of cryptic insult. Lost on me.

But the mere acknowledgement of "An effective activist network" seems to suggest it would be something you should make use of. More fool you. Guess you won't be speaking at the convergence in Canberra next Tuesday.

I gather I wasn't one of the emails "which displayed valuable knowledge and insights" so won't be getting a direct response. Oh well.

For the last couple of weeks [....] Artists Against Howard, [....] Musicians for Change have been thinking about what to re-name our group of over 2000 artists including some of the most prominent actors, musicians, writers and directors in the country as we use our voices to campaign over the next three years towards the next Federal election.

I guess the new name is coming clearer day by day - Artists for the Greens. Has a nice ring to it doesn't it ?

Thanks for your time Julie. Sorry, Laurie.


Dear Laurie Ferguson

People tell me that we should 'educate' you as the new shadow minister for immigration, but I think you have had plenty of time to hear about the abuse and razor wire the Liberals have welcomed asylum seekers to Australia with. You cannot claim you didn't know about the suffering that Howard's government put them through.

Following your disgusting racist remarks about asylum seekers I think it would have been no better if you had won the election. As the former Greens candidate for Fadden I stood against David Jull, one of the Liberals' worst bigots, and now you demonstrate to us that you are no better. I am very glad we didn't give the ALP our preferences in my electorate because you are no better than the arch tormenter of refugees, Philip Ruddock.

This email will go out to hundreds of people and you should know that the people who campaigned for a more civilised and humane refugee policy knew they couldn't trust the ALP and they were right.

I hope you will resign from the portfolio as soon as possible, because we will out you as publicly as possible. You are unfit to be in public life.

Get out!
Willy Bach

Ferguson's failure

The Age
30 October 2004

At the start a new term of government, it could reasonably be hoped that political leaders would reconsider Australia's hardline approach to refugees, which does not conform to international protocols. From Laurie Ferguson's first comments as Labor's immigration spokesman (The Age, 28/10), no change of approach will be advocated by Labor. Instead, we may expect the Opposition to support a policy that is devoid of humanity and dismissive of people's rights and sensitivities.

David Dyer, Ballarat

God help him

The Age
30 October 2004

What an appalling start Laurie Ferguson has made as Labor's immigration spokesman with his broadside about "a sizeable proportion (of refugees) with fraudulent cases". God help us, and him. I am closely associated/continually informed by Rural Australians for Refugees and A Just Australia. The latter has 74 patrons, more than 40 of whom have Australian medals for recognised service to their communities. Ferguson's opening emphasis is simply wrong-footed, and he will create a wave of dismay and anger from a large number of very well-informed, committed and articulate people. Pull your head in, mate, would be my advice.

Alan Wright, Spotswood

Humanitarian need

The Age
30 October 2004

Despite your critical headline that he sounded "a harsh note" (The Age, 28/10), Laurie Ferguson was justified in defending his position. Even if it is true, as Jack Smit claims, that 93 per cent of asylum seekers are found to be refugees, it is still necessary to have a process that separates those who are genuine from those who are not. Yes, it needs to be speeded up and people deserve all care while waiting for the outcome of their initial claims or later appeals. Mr Ferguson appears to support that.

However, he is right to say that his critics lack knowledge of the broader issues. Many asylum advocates ignore those wasting away in refugee camps, not least in Darfur. They often have greater claim on our compassion than those who can find the resources to reach our shores. Net migration is now around 120,000 while natural increase is almost as much, a total growth rate that is unsustainable. We need to double our humanitarian stream from the miserable 12,000, but as Australia's population cannot be allowed to grow inexorably, that has to be at the expense of the skilled program.

Jenny Goldie, Michelago, NSW

Humanitarian need just as strong for unannounced arrivals

The Age
Letter to the Editor
30 October 2004

Jenny Goldie (Letters 30/10, Humanitarian need), please become more informed about the 'refugee movement'. This movement did not rise up because of concerns about the off-shore refugee program: Australia can take some credit for its decent share in this program. We've taken in a considerable number of Sudanese refugees already, and if you remember Senator Vanstone's announcements about the last annual off-shore intake, at the beginning of the year you can rest at ease about this.

One of my very serious charges against Laurie Ferguson, apart from the fact that he is being appallingly dismissive, blunt and arrogant on Day One of his new job appointment, is that he tries to rebuff the refugee movement with the same manipulative statements as the Immigration Minister Senator Vanstone when we seek him out on what we do to boatpeople: he tries to tell us "don't look over here, look over there". In trying to talk about the overseas refugee camps, he tries to avoid addressing the immense cruelty we inflict on those who come 'unannounced'.

The refugee movement, consisting of tens of thousands of very informed Australians, rose up because Australia became known around the world for its scandal of how we treat those who come 'unannounced' and how the Howard government consistently lies to the Australian electorate about those arrivals. First, the coalition government is guilty of manipulating Australians by calling unannounced arrivals "illegal" while there is no ground in law or convention to support this. Here is my second charge against Laurie Ferguson: he's also maintaining to call them "illegal". Laurie also lies.

Second, the initial refugee assessment by DIMIA since about 2000, carried an error rate of about 60% to 80% for Iraqis and Afghans. Third, government reviews (the Refugee Review Tribunal) of these erroneous claims is conducted by just one person, who is not a lawyer, who does not need to be qualified for the job: the reason that more than 90% is eventually successful in their refugee claims, is not at all due to, but despite of, our assessment system reserved for 'unannounced arrivals', often only after appealing to the Federal or High Courts claimants are found to be refugees. Meanwhile, during those 3,4 or 5 years of appeals and counter-appeals by the government, we keep them locked up, hoping they go mad instead and go home. They're not users of the legal system, as Laurie alleged in statements this week, they're desperately trying to find justice and recognition in Australia, because they thought we would give them that justice when they decided to come here.

Fourth, we lock people up until they die in detention centres if we can't send them back and we determine that they're unsuccessful in their claims, and the Full high Court says we can do that. Recently Peter Qasim who arrived without papers because he never had any in the first place, started on his seventh year in the Baxter detention centre.

Laurie Ferguson has a choice: he either accepts, appreciates, and supports the refugee movement, or he should be honest and cross the floor to support the Howard government. Of course he can also resign from the ALP and become a "Large L Liberal".

Jack H Smit, Narrogin WA

Read more ...

The aftermath: moving ahead from the 2004 election

The 2004 Election: An Analysis

Part Two

In the last 30 years, Australia along with every other country in the world, has experienced sustained and radical economic, and consequently, social restructuring. (I hesitate to use the word "reform" as that should imply an improvement). The sum total of these changes on a worldwide scale is what we popularly describe as globalisation.

These changes have seen the near total destruction of manufacturing industry in developed countries with the shift of such work to low wage developing countries; the mass flattening of business structures, shedding in the process thousands of jobs; the adoption of new technology which has underpinned the reduction in numbers of workers and the expansion of hours worked. Alongside has been destruction of the post world war two social democratic consensus, either by restricting access to, limiting the scope of, or totally privatising, many aspects of the public sphere of service delivery. Many of the rights to support, assistance and security people once enjoyed as citizens have now become rights to purchase such services as consumers.

The outcome is of course the very familiar wealth polarisation of Australia. The middle income group have shrunk, bulges have appeared at each end of the spectrum and wealth differentials from poorest to wealthiest have spread enormously. The losers in the exercise are stuck in either harshly administered welfare poverty traps, or in low paid, often casual, underemployment. Many of the so called winners have increased their incomes and wealth, but are hanging on to jobs with increasing hours, upward spiralling production requirements, insistence on displays of "positive, enthusiastic attitudes" or have made the transition to self employment or contract work.. Many of these people have done well out of the changes - far more however think they will do well. This is the first ever generation in which the population have thoroughly internalised the mores and ethos of the capitalist economy. They believe they can accumulate and better their positions. This was the argument expressed under the rhetorical metaphor of greed in the original analysis.

The loss of security - job security, social security - spreads across the board. Obviously the losers are acutely aware of this. But as I argued in the original analysis, the winners are generally aware of this as well. But their "internalisation" of the capitalist value system means that they accept the mantra of "Thee is no alternative". They believe they have to provide for themselves, to replace the lost security with one derived from wealth; always conscious that if they get it wrong, or circumstances (political and economic) turn against them, they will lose both their gains and their potential security. And one of the biggest risks to these people is the revival of the social democratic project, because that may mean greater tax burdens which will undermine their quest for security. Hence the hostility to welfare. This was the argument expressed under the rhetorical metaphor of fear, to which I added the fear of the "other", who represents the "barbarian at the gate" in the minds of the majority of the voting population.

The point if restating my original argument in these terms is to make clear that the people who voted for the coalition did not "get it wrong". They made a conscious, rational decision based on how they see the world. I stand by the philosophical concept that the real is rational. In this context, that means that the election result (a real event) must be seen as a rational event; i.e. one appropriate to the electors of Australia at this time. This argument is not to be confused with saying that it was "right" in the sense of morally correct. That is a normative argument, which merely serves to disparage people and lock the critics into a ghetto of smug self satisfaction ("we know you got it wrong you ignorant fools"). For Australians who have done well out of the changes, or believe they will do well, the choice of a coalition government was rational.

Recognising these facts, and recognising how they are tied to long term economic trends, we have to draw a number of unpalatable conclusions. Firstly the neo liberal consensus will not be undermined until it fails the people who have accepted it. Until the current economic long wave trends down (and on past experience this can be expected in 10 to 15 years time), people will still believe they are winning or can win.

Secondly we have to recognise that, like it or not, the world has changed, and the social democratic consensus is broken. (And it truly was a consensus - the post war welfare project was built as much by non labour governments in the west as by labour bases ones. Think of the Menzies years in Australia, the Eisenhower administration in the USA, Christian Democrats in Italy and West Germany, Gaullists in France, the Macmillan years in the UK). All of these "conservative" governments maintained, extended and enhanced the broadly speaking social democratic policies of the post war state. But that consensus has gone; the political will has left. Previous services and entitlements delivered as rights or now either turned into commodities and consumed as purchases or subject to ever tighter and tighter restrictions as the public sphere contracts.

And thirdly in Australia, we have to expect at least two and possibly three more terms of coalition government. And certainly for the next three years, a government with near absolute power, thanks to its domination of both houses and the limited protections within the Australian constitution.

The traditional tactics of the "left" - pressure campaigns of petitions, lobbying of MP's; protest meetings and marches, public pronouncements exhorting people to look to the principles of caring for the disadvantaged, being fair, collective solutions, are thus all totally out of compatibility with the spirit of the time. A hard conclusion; one many of us don‚??t want to hear, but in fear, all to true.

I wish I had some answers to offer. At this stage I can only suggest a rethinking of basic principles, a conscious attempt to recover consciousness and memory of how people have struggled before against difficult odds and learn from those, a willingness to experiment with different ways of struggle and expression. We need to create a new paradigm of how to be "left" (and even consider whether we keep that word) in an era of postmodern hyper-capitalism.

As a basic roadmap, I think as a whole Australians who are opposed to the system being impose don us need to do three things:

Recover the political left. This has basically died in the last twenty years. The ALP is not part of the solution - it wishes to offer exactly the same things as the coalition to exactly the same people ("aspirational voters") only slightly more nicely. Post communism, the surviving political left are largely nostalgic old comrades; blinkered sectarians, or wonderfully earnest young activists who are unfortunately seduced by the siren calls of postmodernism into rejecting all "grand theory". Part of this involves revisiting the sources of socialist tradition, and this includes the complete and authentic Marx; not the partial Marx of the traditional left parties. In many ways I feel that Marx's theories are only coming in to their own now - he stated that he sought to analysis capitalism as a complete system which had conquered the world - and only now are those conditions met. In one of his prophetic early statements Marx talked about all the normal ties of human relationships in capitalism been torn asunder and replaced with the cold calculations of the cash nexus; and in the ever increasing commercialisation of virtually all human relationships we can see that now - think of Thatcher's famous "There is no such thing as society - there are only individuals and enterprises". So, despite being junked 15 years and proclaimed irrelevant, there may still be lesson (or perhaps lessons for the first time) in revisiting this old body of thought. As a starting point for this excursion I recommend the writings of Cyril Smith; particularly Marx at the Millennium, as well as the works collected in the Cyril Smith Archive on the Marxists Internet Archive website.

Reconnecting with the social left. As the political left vacated the scene, the fray ahs been increasingly abandoned to the social left. By this I mean that network of very active hard working people involved in combating on the ground, the daily advances of neo liberalism. I mean the welfare lobbies, activists and volunteers; the grass roots environmental campaigners; the mums and dads fighting rearguard actions in public schools or in defence of health whatever remains of a public heath system. These people have been left to fight noble and desperate battles against unfair odds, often without the benefit of any practical analysis of what is happening in the world. I recently addressed a meeting of a welfare peak group, and was stunned to find that it had been "years" since they has had contact with a political activist. So this is an essential alliance.

Building a whole new way of doing politics. The old method of parties has run its course. The more recent method of protesting, activist social movements is too easily split, overrun and defeated in detail. We need a way to create unity with diversity. I urge people to look to the World Social Forum movement, and within that in particular the fascinating connecting networks being built in poor countries between autonomous local culture, social activists, environmentalist and political activists as a model to learn from. Another good starting point is the work of Andy Blunden, For Ethical Politics.

Finally, on the strength of this roadmap, reaching out to the mass of Australians who have supported the coalition. Reaching out by listening; finding the things they fear and love and building human bridges across these. To rebuild a broad coalition we must be humble and listen, not lecture and impose; not make noisy "look at me" gestures, but work very hard at finding whatever common humanity unites us with the coalition voters. Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatistas, an iconic figure of the 1990's anti capitalist movement, said he had nothing to say to the people of Chiapas; he did not teach, he only listened because the people already knew what to do.

We need to find projects that people can unite around. Margo Kingston's democracy project is one - recapture the idea of democracy as something active, done by people, not a triennial ritual. There must be other projects with scope for drawing people in, engaging their interests and permitting the development of social change.

Circumstances are currently against us. Rebuilding and regrouping will be hard; emotionally draining, intellectually challenging; practically difficult. And victories will not be easy, cheap or quick. There may in fact be many years of defeat. We must cultivate the stoic mood of Antonio Gramsci "Optimism of the intellect, pessimism of the will". We know that in the long run things will change and that the actions we undertake now will in some small way, like ripples in a pond, impact on the long tern future. But we realise that many of our immediate actions will fail and our short-term goals will not be achieved, as the balance of forces is too strong. But giving up is to vacate the field totally to the forces that we oppose, and that is to surrender the future to them. Therefore, despite all, we must continue to act. But we must do our work beyond the surface, out of sight. In the last chapter of A beginners guide to anti-capitalism, Simon Tormey talks about the metaphor of the rhizome, a perennial underground plant, whose scattered surface manifestations look like different plants, but in reality are part of one tangled mass of roots below ground. Left alone, the rhizome keeps growing underground until there is nothing else, just a network of roots multiplying and sending up shoots and leaves. The task for us after this election result is to work out how to become this rhizome.

Now is the time to be creative; to try new ways, to think new thoughts; to experiment with political forms; to revisit and learn from old traditions and forgotten histories with new eyes. "Let 100 flowers bloom, let 1000 schools of thought contend".

<<<-- Return to Part 1
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Coming to terms with the 2004 election

The 2004 Election: An Analysis

Part One

On Saturday, 9 October 2004, Australians went to the polls in a general election for the federal parliament. Although the pundits suggested there was a possibility of a victory by the opposition Labor Party, most people expected the incumbent Liberal - national coalition under the rat cunning John Howard to be returned, but with a possible reduced majority; payback for his lying consistently to the Australian people over such matters as the sinking of SIEV X; the "children overboard" scandal; and above all the WMD issue in Iraq and the decision to take Australia into that Iraq war. Polls, and above all audience response to the leader's debate on TV, indicated that many people felt Howard had not been truthful, that his conduct of foreign policy had been characterised by lies and that above all, participation in the Iraq war had not made Australia a safer place. In general there was a perception that the Green party would make a strong showing, particularly in the Senate.

The expectation was half right: the coalition was returned. It was half wrong - Howard gained an increased majority winning more seats than before and obtaining a swing of 2% across the nation (up to 10% in some seats). Given this is the fourth term of the coalition government, this is an amazing outcome. And it looks possible that thanks to the sudden emergence of a party of the overt religious right (Family First party - whose candidates are either pastors of, or members of, the Assemblies of God Church) and that fact that the Greens did not do as well as expected, the coalition could have control of the Senate as well - the first time this happened since 1981.

It's the half wrong part that has left people stunned. I worked on the booths that day and Liberal Party workers and scrutineers were equally overwhelmed by the result. Howard himself has announced that it was unexpected.

As Labor frontbencher, defence spokesperson and ex-leader Kim Beazley has stated in Monday's The West Australian [11 Oct -Ed], this result needs to be examined and studied carefully, on the facts, without preconceptions. Exactly.

The problem is in most cases that won't happen. Post-electoral analysis normally focuses on matters such as: the conduct of the campaign in the prior weeks; the pronouncements and images of the leaders; the messages delivered; the intricacies of the preferential system; the advertising, slogans and tactical machinery of the electioneering. All of these issues have a place, but they perpetuate the idea that electoral victories are won or lost during the election campaign and are the outcome of the activities of the political parties and their advisors and staff. The people in this analysis vanish - they become a passive "mob" who respond to inducements, scare tactics, manipulation, dirty tricks or whatever and are thus lead to vote the 'right' or the 'wrong' way.

Hugh Mackey in Monday's The West Australian is closer to the truth - the election campaign just isn't that important. People have largely firmed up their views long before. They may say they are undecided in opinion polls, but that just means they are open to reconsideration, but they have baseline fall back position already. We can't keep pretending the people are stupid, able to be (mis)led; we have to recognise that on polling day, they made a choice. A conscious choice for John Howard and all he stands he for.

So we have to understand why people have made that unpalatable selection. Commentators and analysts are pointing the way - people they say were concerned about the "economy" and "security", and that the ALP failed to reach them on those critical issues. That is probably right. But what do those words mean?

Another way of putting this - and probably more accurate - is that they are satisfied with the coalition's handling of these issues. "Economy" thus means - by and large people are (or believe they are, which is much the same thing), "doing OK". They are renovating their houses, doing over their backyards, acquiring investment properties, acquiring beach houses; stocking up on the latest electronic toys, getting their kids into private schools, 4-wheel driving their way to inner peace. Underneath this prosperity they are scared - they know the world has changed, they know their jobs aren't secure, they know their prosperity depends on high disposable income, so that means keeping their jobs and keeping taxes down. Managing their highly geared property portfolios only works with interest rates kept low. There is a lot of fear out there in elector country - fear ultimately arising form the globalisation induced economic restructuring that has occurred in Australia since 1983. Fear compounded by the destruction of post war social democratic consensus - quality and free pubic schooling; universal accessible health cover; guaranteed retirement and disability incomes. They know this has gone, and this drives their incessant accumulation of assets. People are aware the safety nets are full of holes - and the only answer they can see is to work longer hours (Australians work among the longest hours in the world and these have steadily increased over the last 25 years); and acquire more insurances, more assets, more property to support themselves if things go wrong. With the affluence is enormous fear of failing to deliver an acceptable quality of life to their families. The Australian elector has "privatised" the pressure of globalisation. She and he accept they must be "self reliant" (while depending on someone for a job). As long as they have a job and can accumulate assets they are doing OK, but if that economic balance changes- if interest rates rise and put pressure on their budgetary strategies; if they lose the job, the whole shebang falls apart.

So along with the feeling of doing OK goes economic and with it social insecurity. People know other people aren't "doing OK". They are terrified of crime, of the have nots scaling the walls and running amuck in the carefully tended made over backyards and tasteful renovations; of the expensive 4-wheel drives being nicked. Of the children being assaulted in public spaces; of themselves being mugged or experiencing "home invasions" by drug addled losers. So the paranoia increases, reinforcing the tendency to live privately behind security systems in their own spaces; to ferry everyone around in the big "secure" 4-wheel drive. And as you separate yourself from others and "privatise" your life, the social contracts that underpin civil society are snipped; the connections between people fray. It is easier to communicate vis SMS or e-mail than actually experience interaction with all the risks that entails! And of course, when the social connections fray, then it becomes easier to fear the other, to repackage the other from a tolerated if annoying part of the community, perhaps needing some assistance to a threat, intolerable, not to be helped but to be kept as far away as possible.

And what is a more quintessential other than swarthy people with limited English who practise a strange religion who come over the sea in leaky boats and want to share in this affluence which the average elector so wants to hang onto but in the dark reaches of the night knows is so fragile? Especially when these people share a religion with others who vent their frustrations by blowing up pubs, committing suicide with bombs in public places or fly planes into buildings? Does it really matter how badly a government treats these people, how unsympathetically they are imprisoned and hounded, how many lies are told and illegitimate military operations are waged provided it stops them coming to share the prosperity that is so fragile? Wealth, greed and fear go hand in hand. The historian Klaus Nauman has wondered how a poorer, less populated Australia could absorb over 150,000 refugees between 1946 and 1953 (about 20,000 per year), when a current larger, wealthier country has trouble with a mere 4,500 per year. The answer: precisely because it is wealthier -rather than now seeing a gain from taking people in ("with their help we can all make more") the elector now sees a threat ("they will take away what I have").

Economy and security thus go hand in hand. Hanging on to what we've got, precludes decency. Greed means not sharing. If we have, we must hold. We must resist demands for sharing or any potential for sharing, or any activities that might weaken our ability to hold on to what we have. And to hold on to what we have, it doesn't matter how much mendacity, immorality, indecency, lying and outrageous behaviour a government practices, as long as Bruce and Sheila Elector get to keep on accumulating.

And there lies the answer - Saturday's vote was a vote for greed, for keeping the world at arm's length, for erecting an impenetrable border, for not sharing what has been acquired, for a rejection of claims for justice. And in a conflict between two look alike parties (Tweedledum and Tweedledummer) the best bet is the devil you know, the one who has shown that he can deliver the outcome wanted rather than the one who says he can deliver the same outcome, only more nicely.

Proceed to Part 2 -->>>
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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Educating Laurie: Letters

Uniting Church Responds to Laurie Ferguson's Ignorance

Uniting Church of Australia
National Assembly
Thursday, 28 October 2004

The Uniting Church today said that it is disappointing that the new Shadow Minister for Immigration, Laurie Ferguson, has already shown that he knows nothing about the procedures for assessing refugee claims.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director, UnitingJustice Australia said that it is Mr Ferguson, not refugee advocates, who is undermining the rules, controls, and checking of refugee claims by the ridiculous comment that asylum seekers have fraudulent cases or manipulate the legal system.
"A refugee determination process, as a system for checking refugee claims, involves assessing an asylum seeker's claims against the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee," Rev Poulos said.

"All people have a right to seek asylum in another country and it is through the rules, controls, and checking of the refugee determination process that their claim for protection is tested. This process necessitates that some claims for protection will be accepted and others refused.

"Mr Ferguson's comments that rejected claims are somehow fraudulent show a complete lack of understanding of the protection system, and a clear disregard for the natural justice upon which refugee determination processes should be based.

"If a person's claim for protection is rejected, this simply means that the person is not a Convention Refugee. It does not mean that the person acted fraudulently."

Rev. Poulos also said that it is widely recognised that many people who are in need of protection fall outside the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee.

"Many asylum seekers who have their refugee protection claim refused have genuine protection needs including those that invoke our obligations under other international treaties, people who would be at risk if they were returned, and those who have experienced severe suffering or human rights abuses." Rev. Poulos said.

"The Minister for Immigration has granted a number of visas to asylum seekers using discretionary power for reasons such as these.

"Many churches, refugee advocates, and community organisations actually advocate for effective rules and controls, such as the introduction of a system of complementary protection so that these decisions are subject to more stringent checks and more effective accountability processes."


Media contact: Gavin Melvin, Senior Communications Officer, 0417 416 674

Educating Laurie: letters

I have read the report in today's Age regarding your position on Refugees In Australia.

You will never know what is really happening if you never listen first hand to those who are judged to be queue jumpers / short cutting our legal system (structures and processes). Unless you ever take the time to do so you will never know. And I trust that you do want to know.

My hope, being someone that has voted often for Labour, is that you are going to do all you can to be fully informed and lead well in your role as Shadow Minister of Immigration.

Yours truly,
Refugee advocate

Your New Portfolio

Congratulations Laurie on becoming Opposition spokesperson on Immigration. I would hope for a compassionate view about asylum seekers - in the first instance, an end to both detention of children, and closure of the Nauru hellhole as first priority policy items.

As you know, over 90% of asylum seekers turn out to be genuine refugees. Of course there has to be processing, but it would be really helpful if you could push the government to expedite the processes so that we are not making more cases of mental & physical illness by long detentions - only costs more to the community in the long run, looking at it from a merely pragmatic perspective.

But I look forward to compassion shining through - the ALP should not have to work too hard on this issue to be seen as very different from the Coalition!

Good luck in this challenging role.

Yours sincerely,
West Australian


You have also just lost Labor many tens of thousands of votes. This won't be forgotten.

I'm copying this to Julia Gillard in view of her shadow health portfolio and Mark Latham in view of his party leadership; and to Senator Faulkner and Carmen Lawrence. Maybe they can teach you a little bit of humanity - or at least, enough basic political savvy not to lead with your chin like this ?

Your comments are truly disgusting and you need to clean up your act. I do not know how any intelligent person can be so grossly insensitive, after all the cruelties inflicted on asylum-seekers by the Howard government in the last three years.

Go back to pre-school, Laurie - learn a little about how we need to love one another and respect human dignity. The average 6 year old Aussie second-grader knows more about those things than you do.

Maybe you might think about apologising to the people you have just gratuitously hurt all over again?

Anonymity requested

It is with great distress that I read your comments about asylum seekers Mr Ferguson.

I would suggest you go and visit the people in prison in Baxter Detention Centre and remember firstly that they are PEOPLE and they are LOCKED UP having committed NO CRIME.

It saddens me greatly that the ALP, formerly the voice of the workers and the underdog, has moved so far from its core values.

It will take a long time to regain my vote if this continues. I feel ashamed that our country has become such a harsh and inhospitable place and soon you will be trying to prevent the boat loads from leaving, full of honourable people looking for a just country!

Warrnambool VIC

Dear Mr Ferguson,

It is a sense of dismay and anxiety that I write to request clarification re your comments about refugees and refugee advocates as reported in today's Age newspaper.

Do you believe that refugee advocates do not have a realistic view about refugees? I live in Kevin Rudd's electorate of Griffith and work at Junction Park, The Annerley Primary School. I have daily contact with refugee families from places as diverse as the Sudan and Iraq. I am a volunteer member of the management Committee of the Annerley Community Bookshop which supports the work of the Annerley Literacy Centre with people from Refugee backgrounds.I have been a long time supporter and neighbour to the members of the Tigers 11 Refugee Soccer Club.I am the web editor of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission web site which includes a page dedicated to Asylum Seekers.

What evidence do you have that a "sizable proportion of asylum seekers have fraudulent cases and manipulate the legal system to stay in Australia? Can you justify this statement in the light of the evidence to the contrary provided by experts such as Julian Burnside?

I am appalled and object to your dismissive comment about "being lectured to by many people" Your stereotyping of advocates as being people who "do not want any rules or controls" is equally ill informed and unacceptable.

I look forward to reading your response to my questions and hope that future statements from your office will reflect a more compassionate program of support for refugees and asylum seekers.

Community Jester

Mr. Ferguson,

I was dismayed and alarmed at your reported attitude to refugee policy in your new role as Labor's Immigration Spokesman. I truly hope that the Age reporter caught you unprepared and uninformed, and that time will allow you the opportunity to retract some of the things you said and to develop a more pragmatic and humane refugee policy on behalf of the Opposition.

Bearing in mind that the eventual success rate of asylum-seekers is in the high ninety percentages for boat-arrivals and somewhat lower for those arriving by air (yes, you need to check DIMIA's figures), we are currently squandering enormous amounts of taxpayers' money in detaining these people in expensive detention camps, both mainland and offshore, while they followed a flawed RRT process that invariably leads to legal action and even more public cost.

And this is before consideration of the years of detention we inflict on these people, complete with the attendant depression, psychological and medical suffering caused by the systemic cruelty inflicted by the private sector managers of the detention centres. Not only is this treatment inhumane and contrary to several international treaties, but, once released into our communities, these people's medical and psychological problems render them automatic drains on our social services - and even further vilification in a lot of cases. You should be aware of this, from your experience in your electorate.

What could be simpler - and cheaper, and more humane - than the following?

* Detain all arrivals who request asylum in open immmigration reception centres while medical and security checks are being carried out. This should take no more than 3 weeks. Open reception centres should be located where arrivals occur (Christmas Island, and not Baxter), and should allow free access to the community with a night-time curfew. Asylum-seekers are, by definition, seeking protection, and, generally, will not abscond before they have even had a chance of establishing their credentials as a genuine refugee.

* Assuming they are found to be free of contagoius diseases and criminal records (as almost all of them are), while their cases are being processed through the RRT, they may be offered a bail-like arrangement whereby they may live in the community and have work rights and access to basic social services. Alternatively, they may choose to remain in the open reception centre at their own expense. So this becomes a virtually cost-free "detention" period. Again, it is highly unlikely that the asylum-seekers will abscond if the bond is sufficient - and in any case most will be anxious to achieve legitimate permanent residency.

* RRT processing need only take 2 to 3 months at the longest. This is achieved and bettered in several countries, including our neighbours, New Zealand.

* Perhaps, some form of "bridging visa" would be necessary for those unfortunate few who do not receive favourable RRT outcomes and still wish to pursue their case through the courts. This should clearly act as a mild disincentive to frivolous pursuits of baseless cases.

* And, of course, deportation (or "removal" as DIMIA likes to call it) should always remain as the last resort of a failed asylum case - but deportation to a country in which the physical safety of the failed asylum-seeker is at serious risk is just not on. Some form of humanitarian protection is called for in these very few cases.

The above proposal would NOT increase the number of refugees to plague proportions, although it might increase it somewhat. But considering that the 120,000 annual immigration quota has never been reached in recent memory, a few thousand additional new citizens admitted through the refugee portal would not cause any social problem. Besides, we need the labour they willingly offer our economy!

I sincerely trust that you will in due course acquaint yourself with the facts and possibilities that the refugee millieu present you, and are able to forge a more humane and pragmatic refugee policy than the Coalition have developed for their own selfish and manipulative reasons.

Refugee Supporter
New South Wales

Dear Sir,

I do not write to lecture you. I write to remind you that you are a member of a democracy, and that your position of responsibility in that democracy by definition *requires* you to listen to your constituents, whatever your personal views on electoral issues. I would think that it behoves you to be particularly interested in the views of a life-long supporter of the Labor Party who is on the verge of switching allegience to the Greens (and, in this respect, I am certain to be one of thousands).

I do not appreciate hectoring or condescension. I am an informed citizen. Australia's policy of mandatory detention is unnecessarily harsh, based on misinformation and fear. It is not practiced elsewhere in the democratic world; it has only been very recently practiced here. We are signatory to international human rights treaties regarding refugees. As a member of parliament it is your solemn duty to ensure that we uphold these treaties.

If you have particularly *Liberal* views on the refugee issues I would be most interested to see any evidence in support of such views. Until I see any such evidence I am forced to the conclusion that your rhetoric is re-heated racisim of the sort that accompanies integration - "Oh dear property values will drop if we have (insert your own target) in our street".

Hasn't Labor learned anything at all? Ever since the days of Hawke you have been trying to "pass" as Liberal. As an election strategy it's patently useless. Be an opposition spokesperson, not an echo.

Academic 1
Western Australia

My thoughts are that Amanda [Vanstone] may have more compassion and understanding.

Refugee worker

Dear Mr Ferguson,

If you continue to exhibit such ignorance and arrogance of the issues surrounding immigration then you will get more and more lectures and deservedly so.

Please get yourself informed before you make more comments on these matters.

Many of us look to the ALP for a more compassionate stance on immigration. Please do not try to outdo the coalition on this (or any other) issue. Apart from anything lese you will lose as you have done at the last two elections on this front.

I would be grateful for a response to this.

Academic 2
Western Australia

Dear Mr Ferguson

I am astonished with your attitude towards refugees and people in detention. And those with a heart that try to help them.

You are quoted "they would have a more realistic view if they lived in areas where most refugees resided."

I have lived with refugees I have opened my home and my life to them and know of many of their stories, heartaches and hopes. It seems to me Mr Ferguson you should sit down and talk to one and maybe then you will be better educated to hold the position you have been appointed.

"I get a bit sick of being lectured to by people," Mr Ferguson said. "What I do question is that people who don't want any rules, don't want any controls, don't want any checking (of refugee claims) are usually people whose contact is limited to a few niche cases that they get very emotionally involved in. These people lack knowledge, quite frankly, of the broader issues."

Mr Ferguson please go and talk to a few in Baxter or Nauru or any other of the detention centres. Know their stories they are not all "queue jumpers" some have run for their lives.

My friend‚??s brother was killed by the Iranian government. My friend at 22 asked his Father why do we have a government like this. His fathers response "we made a mistake and you have to live with it". My friend did not want to live with it so he protested handed out information to those at university and was found out. At a moments notice he was told to flee. With a bag and money from his family he fled. I am sure you know the story .... Malaysia .... Singapore .... Indonesia .... finally by boat to the "Lucky Country". A fair go country. Only to spend 15 months in detention. Now this guy was lucky another friend came out after 3 years.

Below is an extract from another friend in Nauru. How sad that he was symapthetic to your party, I guess he did not realise that you like the government would like to see him locked up in Nauru Hell indefinite.

Please Mr Ferguson do the right thing. There are children in Nauru who know no freedom. A beautiful little girl there who asks my friend why are you crying? She knows no different.

This is not what Australia is about, not want my grandfather fought for. The boats have stopped please work to get these people out!!! To enable them to rebuild their shattered and broken lives. Some are so broken after such extended periods in detention. 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 years. Please help to do the right thing they are humans not animals. Get them processed and get them out.

Regards and in hope your hard line stance will change

Refugee friend
Perth WA

From Nauru 3 days after the election result: Howard govt has won again the election. He won very easily. Poor Lathem I was sad for him if he would win so probably would better for us too. I am not saying that Lathem is good because he would close the Nauru camp. He is really good and better than John Howard is. I think he just lost because he wanted care about his people and his country. If he thought about the pocket money of people so obviously he would win the election. Because some Australian people do not care about their country they just want their pockets full of money and John Howard is giving them. You look my friend one-day they will regret for their wrong decision that why they elected a wrong man. Anyway, the misery has just written on our forhead. But we believe one day our turn will come too. The white clouds will take the place of black clouds. The black clouds will never remain stays.


Dear Tanya

Congratulations on your elevation to the Shadow Ministry, and very best wishes for your work there in the quest for better family policies.

Many of your greatest supporters were so very heartened by your steady, public support for a just refugee programme and a compassionate stance towards asylum seekers. Despite all the pundits assuring you that 'the electorate' didn't care about this issue, let me assure you that for some of us, it was THE issue we DID care about and Labor has come close to breaking our hearts and losing our vote forever.

I realise that primary responsibility for Immigration matters rests with your colleague Laurie Ferguson, whose record of compassion and decency on this issue is not strong. This letter is to urge you, because of your portfolio responsibilities towards families, to continue to press for a revision of Australian immigration policy, specifically:

1. To permit whole FAMILIES, including men and adolescent boys, to live in the community while their visa status is assessed

2. To permit those desperate men who have been granted refugee status to be reunited with their families, generally condemned by the present policy to precarious, poverty-stricken misery in dangerous countries.

It is an outrage for white Australian families to be treated as if they were different from black Australian families: it is an outrage for refugee families to be treated differently from white Australian ones.

Please help them. The 'ladder of opportunity' isn't everything. Please help to restore the faith of some of us in the Labor Party as a party of social justice, not just of social climbing.

MIDC Supporter

Dear Mr Ferguson,

I read your comments that were reported in "The Age" today. As I don't know too much about you, and as a previous Defence "spin doctor" who always allows some leeway from "reported" versus "truth", your comments prompted me to at least visit your website.

You are clearly a very educated man - but I wonder if you are widely briefed. Instead of taking a "George Bush" approach (he is now famous for "don't lecture me" and has one of the most narrow groups advising him in modern US presidential history) I would urge you to at least give a hearing to those who, whilst they may not share your views (of locking up children apparently - which I find VERY un-Australian), may at least give you a different perspective before you make yet another policy that will REALLY aggravate many of your strongest supporters out here in "punter land".

At the very least take a briefing from those who have been closest to this problem over the past few years. Australia's strength is in great measure due to it's ethnic diversity.

You simply echo John Howard and Alexander Downer (and a perusal of your CV suggests you just might be better than them?) with your "queue jumper" tag. Many of those you reportedly despise have shown great courage in even attempting the trip to this country.

There are many Labor voters who think deeply about the future Mr Ferguson. I would not like to see you on the opposition benches forever. I hope you are part of the thinking team and I hope those who vet these emails pass these views on.

Retired Brigadier


I found your hardline comments reported in The Age offensive, especially in the context that 90% arrivals are accepted as genuine refugees. And the temporary protection visa must be a once only before a fast conversion to permanent visa.

Don't be a Ruddock clone.

ALP member
Willoughby NSW

Dear Mr Ferguson

I voted Labour at the last election.

I am grateful that I live in a democracy and can express my views without fear of imprisonment. My husband and I are advocates for a Burmese asylum seeker, a man who turned 33 recently, whose life has been on hold for 16 years, since he was imprisoned and tortured for participating in a student pro-democracy protest in Burma. This man has lived with us for the past 6 months, because being on a bridging visa he is not able to work and has no safety net. For 6 years now he has been negotiating the immigration process, since an immigration officer decided, without interview, to disbelieve his story of torture and imprisonment.

I am grateful that I was born into a country that is politically stable, that I have not had to worry about my phone being tapped, or parents being harmed if I expressed views against the prevailing goverment. I am grateful that my son can listen to U2 without fear of execution (yes, that's what the government decreed in Burma, after U2 released a song criticising the regime).

I am grateful that we have been able to make this man's life a little more confortable over the past months - to see him put on a bit of weight, smile at a funny movie, relax a little. I wonder if you can put yourself in the shoes of someone who is not able call his mother on his birthday for fear of reprisals, who had to live from hand to mouth for over 5 years because the system called him a liar and did not allow him to defend himself, who has been ripped off by several so called immigration lawyers (we will be lodging formal comlaints when the legal process has run its course - right now he is too afraid to let us do that). I am sure that you too are grateful.

People like [our friend] need advocates. I am a medical practitioner and my husband is a business man. We are educated people - we can tell when someone is lying. The trauma expert who assessed [our friend] at my request identified ongoing psychological effects from the trauma he experienced at the age of 17. I wonder what you were doing at the age of 17. I am sure you were not being burnt with cigarettes, forced to eat food contaminated with cockroaches, confined in a space too small to stand up or lie down for days at a time. People like [our friend] need your support. I would urge you to visit Villawood and other centres and to talk to people yourself and inform yourself, lest you believe the misinformation being promulgated by the govermment and those who serve only their own interest.

We congratulate you on your appointment and wish you well in your challenging task.

Yours sincerely
Refugee doctor

Refugee lobby to 'educate' Labor

The Age
By Meaghan Shaw
October 29, 2004

Refugee advocates have vowed to "educate" Labor's new immigration spokesman amid fears that the ALP may be taking a more hardline approach to asylum seekers.

Their concerns were prompted by Laurie Ferguson's comments that a significant proportion of asylum seekers had fraudulent claims and manipulated the legal system.

But Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone welcomed Mr Ferguson's candour, which was "refreshing and recognises that not all claims for asylum are easily settled".

Uniting Church spokeswoman Elenie Poulos said the refugee determination process meant that some claims were accepted and others refused, but that did not mean that those rejected were fraudulent.

Reverend Poulos said it was widely recognised that those who failed to meet the strict criteria of the Refugee Convention could still be in need of "complementary protection", offering temporary protection but which carried lesser rights than refugee visas.

She said Mr Ferguson's comments were a worry given that Labor was making "noises" before the election to advocacy groups that it was looking at softer approaches to deal with refugees, such as complementary protection.

Mr Ferguson said he would consider the issue of complementary protection, which was complex.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence's refugee centre manager, Sarina Greco, also took issue with Mr Ferguson's remarks that many asylum seekers would abscond if released into the community.

"On the contrary, not one of the people in the Hotham Mission's study in 2002-03 absconded," she said. "It's just not borne out in the evidence."

A Just Australia's spokesman, Greg Barns, said Mr Ferguson's comments were "ill-founded and just wrong in fact". He said Mr Ferguson had positioned himself "well to the right of the National Party" and he hoped it was not a sign that ALP policy would move to the "less humane end of the spectrum".

Project SafeCom's Jack Smit has started a letter-writing campaign by up to 15,000 refugee supporters to "educate" Mr Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson said he did not reject the views of all refugee advocates, just those who had "very blinkered views".

Read more ...

Labor for Refugees: leaving the ALP?

by Kevin Peoples
Labor For Refugees (Victoria)

I have let two weeks go by since the election to ensure a degree of objectivity and calmness in what I have to say.

I have stayed with the ALP since the Tampa for two reasons. One is the certain knowledge that only one of the two major parties can form government and an ALP government was always going to be better than a Howard government - not just for refugees and asylum seekers but in a range of issues. Since the last January National Conference in Sydney, when the party firmly rejected the initiatives of Labor For Refugees and adopted policies that pandered to the irrational and xenophobic fears in our community, I have continued that support, torn between a realisation that I share virtually nothing in common with the Federal Labor leadership and on the other hand the absolute necessity to defeat Howard.

The second reason why I have stayed with the ALP is the support from the membership of the party. The Labor people who have joined and worked for Labor For Refugees represent what is best in the party. They deserve so much better. In the moral vacuum that is now Federal Labor they are an embarrassing paradox - people who have not lost the vision of a better world, who are appalled at Australia's involvement in the illegal, immoral and unwinnable war in Iraq (the ALP was weak on the war at the time and still is), the treatment of refugees and the failure to distribute equitably the gains made in the economy, yet they remain in a party that has moved so far to the Right it no longer knows what it stands for. As a disillusioned Labor voter said to me as I handed him a how to vote card, 'You know what ALP stands for mate? I said 'No'. He replied 'It stands for Another Liberal Party'.

Lindsay Tanner is right to question the identity of the ALP. Barry Jones is right when he says we now have two right of centre major parties in Australia. Jones is right when he argues that if Australian voters have to chose between a serious conservative party over one masquerading as one then why wouldn't they go for the genuine thing. The current leadership of the ALP has chosen the worst of all possible responses to the challenge facing all Labor parties in a global economy dominated by the American model of capitalism. Voters on the right do not trust it and it has alienated its supporters on the left.

Our party is dying under the strain of the compromise it has made with the new economic orthodoxy. A primary vote of 38% after three losses is a disaster. The central problem is that the ALP has failed to present a genuine economic alternative. We should be looking to Europe, not the USA or Blair's Britain for new models. Supporters of economic rationalist ideas would have us believe we have no choice. They are wrong.

The ALP is now embarrassed about its trade union history. It has turned its back on the trade union movement, which despite decreasing numbers, is still a significant group in our community. Instead, our leaders seek out the new 'aspirational' voters in the lower and middle classes whose individualism and materialism is at odds with the old inclusive and cooperative values that drove 'old' Labor.

Hawke and Keating crossed the Centre to the Right and destroyed whatever philosophical underpinnings Labor had with their 'reforms' of the Australian economy in the 1980's. Those 'reforms' inevitably led to a weakening of Labor's traditional ties, especially with its core constituents. Who does this party now represent? When the answer to that question is not immediately obvious, then any party has little choice but to turn to focus groups, to the media, to what is being said on talk-back radio, to 'expert' advisers, to influential groups, especially business whose values now dominate our society. The party must hear what people are saying. You then cut your cloth to those who will buy. Weathercocks.

It is not surprising then that our leader in the recent election had nothing to say about the economy. It's Labor's sort of economy. They have no other model. Of course he was never going to speak about the two million Australians who live in poverty or the 800,000 Australian children in poverty. He had nothing to say about the 65% of Australians who earn less than $600.00 per week and the growing pressure on families where unpaid overtime has become the norm. He had nothing to say about the growth of casual work and the real levels of underemployment and unemployment.

The Labor vision is now so narrow that our leader was never going to say anything about international inequalities, about the developing world with its debt and abysmal poverty. This is now a party that votes annually in favour of free trade over fair trade.

There was not a word about the scandalous Labor acceptance of the American Free Trade Agreement. What can you say when your policy is the same as the government?

Importantly, the ALP has failed to take up the challenge of defining the so-called 'war on terror'. The 'war on terror' is open-ended nonsense. The ALP has taken over the absurd notions of a fight between 'good' and 'evil'. We have allowed Howard to frighten Australians with these nonsensical notions. Howard and Bush's only solution is a fight to the death. This is no solution. We know that it is impossible to generalise about 'terror'. We know that at the heart of 'terror' is politics and real issues. We know that politics is about solving problems not waging crusades.

The ALP is undemocratic and secretative. Members are work-horses who are trotted out around the streets during campaigns. New policies are developed by a small clique for campaigns. Sitting candidates learn of new policies when they are announced to the press. And factions run the show. How unsightly it is to watch the current manoeuvrings for positions of prestige.

I am not prepared to continue as Secretary of Labor For Refugees (Victoria). Laurie Ferguson, an implacable opponent of refugees and asylum seekers is the new shadow minister. We can expect nothing from the party in the future. I no longer feel any loyalty to the current party. But for the sake of those who have joined with us and who I know agree with much of what I have said above, I am willing to join in discussions with them at our meeting in November to see what they think both about our future and the the future of the ALP.

We could adopt a far more aggressive stance to the current leadership and structure of the party. We could join with like-minded groups and become outspoken critics of the party and its direction. We could sponsor seminars, discussions and debates about the challengers facing Labor. We could look at European models of parties of the left and how they have coped with the challenge of the American model of globalisation.

It seems to me that we would be involved in a struggle for the heart and mind of Labor. It would be unpleasant and will take courage and time. I'm not sure if I am up to it.
Read more ...

Fixing Australia: 100 words

By Doug Everingham

Let's uphold

  • concern for life and our environment ahead of promoting markets.

  • outlawing unconditional control of other people, or of Earth's finite resources, to advantage any section of humanity.

  • the right of children to affection, respect, encouragement and guidance to develop understanding, reasoning, intuition, deliberation, conflict resolution and respectful co-operation with others.

  • the right of people to a safe and healthy life, with freedom of association, communication and conviction, in consistency with similar rights of others.

  • the right of each stakeholder to take part in decision making, feedback and liaison in all groups from local to global.

Read more ...

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Mr Laurie Ferguson's email to me

Well - we have a new shadow immigration minister: Laurie Ferguson, Member for Reid.

Watch out for how this feisty ALP member will deal with "those refugee advocates" ... below is the original communication between Mr Ferguson and myself.

Subject: RE: 'Mandatory' Latham represents a minority in Australia
Date: Fri, 23 Jan 2004 17:57:17 +1100
From: Ferguson, Laurie (MP)
Sender: Campbell, Maurice (L. Ferguson, MP)
To: Jack H. Smit

Dear Mr Smit

I have a saying "never believe your own propaganda."

It something others should ponder.

The Herald has a particular readership and a constant "line" on these matters. If it was a Telegraph poll you would dismiss it.

The group is self selecting and the day I believe an online poll is the day pigs will fly, on the day refugee advocates will make sure more than a trickle of successful claimants live in their area.

Yours sincerely

Laurie Ferguson MP
Federal Member for Reid
Shadow Minister for Population, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs

-----Original Message-----
From: Jack H. Smit
Sent: Thursday, 22 January 2004 2:49 PM
Subject: 'Mandatory' Latham represents a minority in Australia

Dear all,

Mark Latham may believe in mandatory detention, but according to a Poll conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald 61% of Australians don't agree with him.

Shortly after publishing the article "I believe in mandatory detention, says Latham" (Sydney Morning Herald, January 19, 2004)


.... SMH launched an online Poll, titled "Do you support mandatory detention?".

We followed the polling patterns - at closing 61% said NO to mandatory detention, and just 35% supported Latham (4% undecided).


Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Narrogin WA 6312
phone: 041 70 90 130

Poll Results: Do you support mandatory detention?

15:00pm, 20 January
Yes - 46%
No - 48%
Undecided - 5%
Total Votes: 4726
18:00pm, 20 January
Yes - 44%
No - 49%
Undecided - 5%
Total Votes: 4861
19:30pm, 20 January
Yes - 44%
No - 50%
Undecided - 5%
Total Votes: 4900
8:00am, 21 January
Yes - 40%
No - 54%
Undecided - 4%
Total Votes: 5418
9:30am, 21 January
Yes - 38%
No - 56%
Undecided - 4%
Total Votes: 5666
11:00am, 21 January
Yes - 38%
No - 57%
Undecided - 4%
Total Votes: 5795
12:00am, 21 January
Yes - 37%
No - 57%
Undecided - 4%
Total Votes: 5861
15:20pm, 21 January
Yes - 36%
No - 59%
Undecided - 4%
Total Votes: 6050
17:20pm, 21 January
Yes - 36%
No - 59%
Undecided - 4%
Total Votes: 6094
7:15am, 22 January
Yes - 35%
No - 60%
Undecided - 4%
Total Votes: 6285
Closing Percentages:
Yes - 35%
No - 61%
Undecided - 4%
Total Votes: 6355

Read more ...

Not advocating for Labor

I have been wondering about continuing to live in Australia since 2001. There now is the added dimension where the human rights abuses of the Howard government have become institutionalised in law. And that is only thinking about Howard's past achievements, without reflecting on the dimensions of state powers in future.

In 2001, Labor sold out on refugees. In 2004, sections of the refugee movement became a mouthpiece for Labor. Some people, such as myself, do not agree that advocating for refugee rights is synonymous with advocating for Labor.

Barbara Rogalla
Read more ...

Democracy itself is now at stake

Democracy itself is now at stake in Australia, and this is such a serious threat that I believe that people of all parties and political persuasions are concerned and would respond to a call to work together to save it.

Let's drop 'anti-John' messages. Even though it has been on his watch that democratic freedoms have been most eroded, I don't believe that Labor would be much different. Instead we must set up a nation-wide watch for attempts to further limit democratic freedoms, and fight for a return to democratic values in politics.

Nayano Taylor-Neumann
Read more ...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The ALP: did we vote for this?

Lindsay Tanner, Carmen Lawrence, John Faulkner, Bob McMullan on the backbenches. Anna Burke first in disagreement with mandatory detention, then arguing it keeps communicable diseases out. Did she get a talking to from Mark Latham, who is on the record of twisting the facts on mandatory detention? Laurie Ferguson who calls refugees 'illegals' has Immigration portfolio. Has right-wing neo-liberalism invaded the ALP so much that all hope for a good Labor Party as we know it should be abandoned? And, if that is so, should the backbenchers leave and become independents or Greens?
[100 words]
Read more ...

Fixing Australia in one hundred words

Since the recent Federal election, which I had hoped would turn out as a notice of eviction for the Howard government, it has been quiet, strangely quiet. I sense a despair amongst many people when I ask them to talk and share their thoughts, a despair about Australia, about its social conscience, about the future we had hoped for in a new government after the recent election.

In many people I sense a notion that Australia is broken, and while we're all coming to terms with the election, which is interpreted by many as a loss for refugees, a loss of values, a loss of possibilities we had hoped for, a loss of honesty amongst many people, and a loss for Australia itself, there seems to be an uneasy disquiet when it comes to the ingenuity in how to fix that broken Australia.
Julian Burnside considers leaving for New Zealand. A member of The Greens, independently, also mentions New Zealand. An academic friend in WA ponders about working in a developed country - to presumably return when Australia has been fixed, but he also acknowledges that the shift in politics that has enabled what happened, is a worldwide trend, and that the changes are a worldwide issue. Others have become silent, and may have given up altogether.

Margo Kingston is still recovering and on holidays, but she says, in words to that effect: "Don't go overseas, your country needs you, now more than ever!" - and she's already preparing a strategy, because the Not Happy John! project will be here to stay. Writes Hamish Alcorn, Margo's brother:

"This Friday Margo is regrouping with the Not Happy John! team and we are preparing for the next phase of the website and the "Defending Our Democracy" project. Note that "Defending Our Democracy" is the subtitle of Margo's book, and has always had a much broader relevance than merely, "Not Happy John!"


Can we fix Australia? How would you do it? Can it be done?

One of the things I have been telling myself, is that more than ever, "... we now know that it's not the government, it's now up to us". The 30% of Australians who did not applaud when Howard launched his election catch cry in 2001, 'We will control who comes to this country..." then rolled up their armsleeves and started on the long haul of changing Australia. On the 9th of October we ended Phase One ... and we have just started on Phase Two of this project.

Please send your ideas - in exactly one hundred words including your title (yes, you need to count them, because we will!). Your story (initially through a moderated approval system) will become part of our permanent website repository. And yes, you can send us more than one of the one-hundred word submissions.

Can we do it?

Read more ...

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The complete list of all previous bLog posts

Below is a list of all previous posts submitted to the blog. This list is manually updated at regular intervals, about once a month, for the posts that have been entered from when the blog was first opened. Newest posts are at the top, oldest posts are at the bottom.

Read more ...