Australia’s Guantanamo Isn’t Offshore: It’s In Melbourne

Jeff Sparrow

Indefinite detention is the worst form of torture. I am an innocent man. […] But if anyone believes that I have done anything wrong, I beg them to charge me with a crime, try me, and sentence me. If not, release me. Even a death sentence is better than this. Instead of a swift execution, we are being subjected to a cruel, slow, and cold-blooded death. That’s a man called Musa’ab al-Madhwani. It’s a message smuggled from Guantanamo Bay, where detainees have embarked on a mass hunger strike. Yet so deep has Australia descended into a moral abyss over refugees that the passage might equally have come from Melbourne and the eerily parallel struggle currently taking place there. If the … government does not release us, we ask that they kill us mercifully … [we] can’t keep living like this. We are not in detention. We are in a cemetery.The Fairfax papers yesterday reproduced that snippet from a document written by 27-hunger-striking detainees at the Broadmeadows detention centre. The similarities are chilling – shamefully so.
There are 166 detainees still in indefinite detention at Gitmo, with no legal remedies available to them. In the public mind, Guantanamo looms as a prison designed for “the worst of the worst”, so that anyone detained in it seems tainted by association. Yet many of the men remaining were simply low-level Taliban soldiers, often sold to the Americans for bounties.
A US government taskforce has already assessed nearly half of them for immediate release. Yes, that’s right. The government has cleared them to leave. But they remain locked in cages because there’s nowhere to send them – the US won’t, for instance, send Yemeni prisoners home, apparently because they might subsequently be influenced by people hostile to America.
By refusing to eat, the detainees have embarked on the only form of protest available to those with nothing whatsoever to lose.
It’s the same in Melbourne.
All 27 of the strikers in detention at Broadmeadows have been assessed as genuine refugees. That means that the Immigration Department acknowledges that they faced persecution in Sri Lanka. But they can’t be allowed into the community because they have received adverse assessments from ASIO.
What do these assessments say? The refugees don’t know. They are not permitted to see the accusations against them, nor can they appeal. Though they have been charged with no crime, they now face detention without end.
As Stephen Blanks, a lawyer for one of the protesters, told Fairfax:
It is absolutely unarguable that keeping these people in detention on national security grounds is one of the greatest injustices Australia has inflicted on individuals.
An ‘adverse assessment’ from ASIO sounds frightening. But what does it mean? Andrew Zammit quotes ASIO director-general David Irvine:
ASIO has, over the years, developed very careful processes that enable us to eventually make a predictive judgement as to whether this person might be a potential security risk to Australia, and the security here being defined in terms of section 4 of the ASIO Act. Someone who might be coming to Australia to conduct espionage, someone who might be coming to Australia to conduct an act of sabotage, someone who might be coming to Australia to conduct an act of terrorism, and so on. [Emphasis added.]
Think about that. These men (whom we know, remember, to be genuine refugees) must remain in custody forever, without trial or appeal, not on the basis of anything they have actually done, but on ASIO’s prediction of what they might do in the future!
Most of us would scream blue murder if council allowed its parking inspectors to write tickets on the basis of ‘predictive judgements’. Yet that’s the basis on which we’re confining refugees for years.
Furthermore, the notion that ASIO – of all people – should be blindly trusted in such matters will seem utterly extraordinary to anyone with the slightest knowledge of that organisation’s dire history. Under the 30-year rule, you can read in the some of its earlier documents now in the national archives. Here is its ‘predictive assessment’ of the Vietnam moratorium and its leader, Jim Cairns:
Cairns’ activities could lead, via civil, industrial and political unrest to the growth of elitism in every sphere, to the manipulation of people by demagogues, to the fascist cult of the personality, to the worship of force, and to the destruction of the democratic parliamentary system of government and its replacement by a form of collectivism … That way lies anarchy and, in due course, left-wing fascism.
That might seem a document from another age, a bizarre screed by some anonymous right-wing zealot. Yet security forces operating with great power and little accountability are notoriously susceptible to going off the rails.
Remember, in 2007, Justice Adams found that, in the case of Sydney medical student Izhar Ul Haque, two ASIO operatives had “committed the criminal offences of false imprisonment and kidnapping at common law”, and engaged in conduct that was “grossly improper” and that they knew was “unlawful”.
Read the reports of how those particular ASIO agents behaved (“a gross breach of powers”) and ask yourself how you would feel about people like that assessing whether you might commit a crime some time in the future!
But it gets worse. The hunger strikers are overwhelmingly Tamil. Last month, the UN condemned, for the second time in two years, ongoing human rights violations in Sri Lanka (despite efforts of the Australian government to water down the resolution). Human Rights Watch comments:
Since the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution at its March 2012 session calling for action, the Sri Lankan government has taken no significant steps to provide justice for victims of abuse and accountability for those responsible for war crimes and violations of human rights in the country. Instead, over the last year, the Sri Lankan government has continued its assault on civil society, human rights defenders and media.
And where do you suppose that ASIO obtains the information for its “predictive judgements”? Almost certainly, much of this “intelligence” comes from the Sri Lankan state: that is, the very people most implicated in the dirty war against Tamils.
This is the point that Hannah Arendt made about the refugees of the 1930s: the treatment they received was largely determined by their oppressors. “Those whom the persecutor had singled out as scum of the earth […] actually were received as scum of the earth everywhere,” she wrote. The Tamils brutalised and deprived of their rights in Sri Lanka receive more of the same when they get to Australia, almost as if the Sri Lankan regime has outsourced its cruelty to an independent contractor.
Such is the Guantanamisation of refugee policy.
There is, however, one point at which the comparison breaks down. Citizens in the US at least have the excuse that Gitmo is located in Cuba, a long way from the everyday lives of mainstream Americans.
Here, by contrast, the men, women and children that we keep indefinitely detained can be found in the perfectly ordinary suburb of Broadmeadows.
In other words, when future generations ask us how we allowed our government to do this, we will not be able to say that we did not know.
Jeff Sparrow is editor of Overland literary journal. View his full profile here. House Rules 55

Keith Lethbridge Snr :
12 Apr 2013 4:59:49pm
G’day Jeff.
Thanks for your article. Clearly, you have compassion for humanity & that’s a wonderful virtue. Sadly, I’m not up to your standard in that area.
However, I do have consideration for other creatures, great & small, their ecosystems & the environment we all share. This concern leads me to believe that humans have become a plague on this little green planet & a threat to my vulnerable little mates of the various other species.
Humanity’s position of global dominance requires us to control our numbers. Failure to do so will be disastrous for my little mates & ultimately for yours as well.
We owe it to the other species to minimise our impact upon them. This means keeping our numbers down. “Smart growth” is a foolish illusion.
The reason people from other countries wish to live here is because they have outgrown their resources at home. In doing so, they have also trampled roughly on my little mates. Probably, they had no choice. We do.
Much as I’d love to welcome to Australia the losers of every global conflict, it’s neither practical nor possible. Our duty (in my humble opinion) is to lead the way in showing how not to over-populate a country. If we can help in other ways, then by all means we should do so, but not at the expense of the planet, nor of my little mates.
Go forth & stabilise!
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Sue :
12 Apr 2013 4:27:47pm
Thanks for this piece Jeff.
People get outraged about a boat making its way to Geraldton.
They should be getting outraged about the treatment of refugees all over Australia.
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Dove :
12 Apr 2013 4:18:52pm
Writing as if everyone is a victim is as unconvincing as writing as if everyone is a villain. Perhaps writing with an open mind might be more convincing?
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evidentlyi :
12 Apr 2013 4:15:21pm
This is how it inevitably works.
Insist on on-shore processing, then complain about detention, then complain that living standards are insufficient, then complain that legal and other support services are insufficient, then complain that jobs are not available, then complain that education is inadequate and on and on until each refugee is costing the country an absolute fortune.
How many desperate people across the world could have their plight improved for the tens of thousands of dollars that will now be spent on each ‘successful’ entrant.
The left never fail to amaze me. Screw up a working system through simpleminded actions, send a thousand people to the bottom of the oceans, waste a few billion dollars and leave taxpayers footing the bill for billions more. In the process, bringing down your own Government.
Chumps the lot of you.
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Willy Bach :
12 Apr 2013 3:52:52pm
Thanks Jeff, there’s much to say about the Gillard government’s continuation of Howard-Ruddock cruelty on vulnerable asylum seekers.
Indefinite detention has no legal standing in a democracy (if Australia still qualifies) and, even if they have a trial, it is needlessly vicious to lock anyone up and not tell them how long they have to remain there. It is a recipe for inflicting psychiatric harm. We were so shocked when we heard that the Soviet Union was locking sane people in psychiatric hospitals, weren’t we. How times have changed.
The other sort of torture is the ASIO process which is opaque and not appeal-able. As Jeff says, “An ‘adverse assessment’ from ASIO sounds frightening. But what does it mean?” Part of this question lies in the impetuous flurry of activity to double the recruitment of ASIO officers that took place a few years ago and in the astonishingly wide powers ASIO was given by the Howard government with Labor support. There was little restraint.
It is not at all clear that ASIO officers have balanced views about perceived threats to Australia’s security and indeed whether such a narrow mindset can be applied to people seeking refugee status. One has also to consider what may happen to this person if they are sent back to their country of origin. Will there be a threat to their life from an unfriendly government they just fled.
There is a need to take a more nuanced view, less rigid, not so wedded to the war on terror mindset. People should have the right to know why they were turned down.
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reaver :
12 Apr 2013 3:46:57pm
Those detained at Guantanamo cannot legitimately be compared to those detained in Australia for two simple reasons- unlike those detained in Australia none of those detained by the US at Guantanamo went to Guantanamo both willingly and in violation of the wishes of their “hosts” and secondly and more importantly unlike those detained at Broadmeadows (who are not only free to go to any country that will take them, but will have the Australian taxpayers pay for them to go there) none of those detained at Guantanamo are allowed to leave even if they have a country happy to accept them.
A signatory country to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees still has the legal obligation to classify someone as a refugee even if there is sufficient evidence that they present a clear and present danger to the public of that country. If there is evidence that a refugee will be a danger to the public of the host country the host country is still obligated not to refouler the refugee, but is not obligated to give the dangerous individual a visa and release them into the community. Article 32 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees allows a country to expel a refugee who is lawfully in their country if they are found to be a threat to national security or public order, but these refugees aren’t even in Australia lawfully. To be in Australia lawfully they must have a valid visa. The 27 men that you refer to in your article have been assessed by ASIO as being a treat to the Australian people, they have made their reports to the immigration minister, the immigration minister has agreed with ASIO’s assessment and has denied them a visa. We can’t send them back to Sri Lanka and we’re not obligated to release them into the Australian community, but if they can find another country that’s willing to take them then they’re free to go there. Your entire argument is based on the notion that the Australian government should regard the safety of the Australian people as being secondary to the resettlement demands of the very people who represent a danger to them and that is unacceptable to the Australian people.
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Evian Conference :
12 Apr 2013 3:29:31pm
The earth is whirling into micro nuclear wars in decades and ought prepare a massive refugee policy.Australia a large land mass will have to punch above its weight if it wants USA support not now maybe but by 2060 very high probability.This is our next world war taking in nuclear refugees.Train People .Prepare stocks of Water and Food.Develop cities .Divert Flood Waters.Mass Evacuation Plans and a huge budget for Disasters and Catastrophies.
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Dingo :
12 Apr 2013 3:27:05pm
Simple, send them home. Nobody ask them come and nobody is asking them to stay.
The refugee convention is just another cash cow for lawyers and another way for criminals to escape justice.
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Mark Hallam :
12 Apr 2013 3:23:54pm
I am sure the detention centre is no holiday park but after seeing David Hicks talk recently this is a pretty huge exageration!
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rowbur :
12 Apr 2013 3:17:27pm
Chalk and cheese. Nobody is keeping these people from leaving.They broke the law by entering illegally.There are plenty of other countries between Aus. and Sri Lanka, some might say they are motivated by economic factors as much as any other.Why it falls only to traditionally western based cultures to take scores of refugees I can`t quite work out.Nobody is pushing Asian countries to do likewise. Just saying!
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Balanced View :
12 Apr 2013 2:59:15pm
“serious reasons for considering” is the test that is applied by the refugee convention for people who are considered a security risk or to have done something which disqualifies them from claiming asylum.

This test realises that the acts by the person claiming asylum, that concern the accepting state, occurred outside their jurisdiction and that the accepting state is going to have difficulty in proving whether exactly what took place.
The test must not be increased, it is unreasonable and would be extremely costly to expect Australia to “prove” anything in relation to these cases even on a balance of probabilities basis. The test as defined by the convention is “serious reasons for considering” and that is the test that must be maintained.
The other aspect I would like to challenge is that you say these people are in detention. They are not in detention, they are in fact free to go home anytime they like.
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hazy :
12 Apr 2013 2:55:03pm
Way to go Jeff,recycle the ole Tears and Tantrums..does anybody give a stuff? The more you blatherers try to shame the people the more they ignore you.I always thought the Tamil homelands were in India. You know …just across the strait.
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Alphamikefoxtrot :
12 Apr 2013 2:49:38pm
‘If the … government does not release us, we ask that they kill us mercifully … [we] can’t keep living like this. We are not in detention. We are in a cemetery’. Tough! Don’t think you can come here and demand anything. We have a process that you have abused already. If you don’t like it, do what you have done already and go ‘country-shopping’ again.
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Bob42 :
12 Apr 2013 2:45:14pm
Indefinite detention means that you stay locked up until you die. Effectivley, Indefinite detention is a Death Sentance. It’s time for the International Community to take a stand and impose sanctions on Australia until this shameful practice is dropped.
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Ibrahim :
12 Apr 2013 2:42:52pm
They don’t have a right to live in the Australian welfare state.
It would be a mad administration that abdicated its duty to the citizens of a nation, in order to satisfy the threats of people who resort to threats.
Any country that has abdicated its duty to security is welcome to accept these people. No takers? There are reasons for that.
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Sue :
12 Apr 2013 2:42:21pm
More to the point: when our children and the children of our children ask why they did not get a good education and why they cann’t walk the streets by day or evening because of the cime and why our system has changed to reflect the new majority Muslim group, that is when we will have the difficulty in providing a response.
That response will be about allowing the naieve and gullible take over policy at the risk or seeming to be racists.
That response will be about allowing this because we were weak and so delued that we thought we could solve the woes of the world.
That is when we will talk about the surrender that took place where there was no war.
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tom :
12 Apr 2013 2:15:18pm
Thanks for keeping this issue alive Jeff. It’s hard to believe an Australian government is instrumental in these breaches of human rights law when Australia was a such a key player in developing the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. No doubt in a few decades time there will be a teary PM or minister delivering a national apology for treatment of people like this.
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mark a :
12 Apr 2013 2:15:14pm
nauru and manus our lttle bit of guantanamo.broadmeadows = our version of a torture centre.Well done to the lib and labor pollies who still believe in the white oz policy.
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Robert :
12 Apr 2013 2:13:39pm
What a load of left wing Greens/Labor rant.Australia doesn’t have a Guantanamo or anything like it.This article is nothing but alarmist anti Australian rubbish.
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Act Rationally :
12 Apr 2013 1:54:41pm
I’ll take the ASIO assessment and security for ACTUAL Australian citizens over these individuals any day of the week. We didn’t ask them to come here, nor did they apply through the proper processes (like in transit countries).
You make claims against our intelligence services. I would take the assessment of a bunch of professional intelligence gatherers over the story presented by someone with something to gain by embellishing their story any day of the week.
Fortunately our governments in Australia seem to take the responsible road on this issue and trust our own intelligence assessments.
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me :
12 Apr 2013 1:47:11pm
A fantastic read!
Such a sad state of affairs. It’s even sadder that the majority of Australians are apathetic on this topic.
‘Such is the Guantanamisation of refugee policy’. Spot on! 🙁
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What’s that :
12 Apr 2013 1:38:49pm
As someone who has personal experience of the ineptness and corruption of sections of ASIO it beggars belief that anyone allows them to conduct ‘assessments’ at all even though it is their job. They are just no good at it. They are too insulated from the real world.
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Rusty :
12 Apr 2013 1:38:40pm
“In other words, when future generations ask us how we allowed our government to do this, we will not be able to say that we did not know.” – well when they ask how could Gillard let thousands of illegal aliens into the country, and house, feed, educate and provide health services to them as well as pay them when hundreds of thousands of Australians (men, women and children) are in poverty…what would YOUR answer be?
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jude :
12 Apr 2013 1:37:25pm
Our treatment of these people is possibly the most shameful thing in Australia today. How can we hold our heads high when we know that in this country, people’s lives are being destroyed and they can’t even find out why. It’s the absolute corner stone of justice that you can find out what evidence there is against you, so you can challenge it if it wrong.
ASIO’s operating in the shadows here is a open door to blunders and injustices. It’s not that these people can simply leave either and claim asylum elsewhere. Who would want them after we have branded them security risks.
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Peter of Melbourne :
12 Apr 2013 1:32:10pm
“Almost certainly, much of this “intelligence” comes from the Sri Lankan state: that is, the very people most implicated in the dirty war against Tamils.”
You mean the Tamil Tigers, an organisation recognised by all Western nations as a terrorist group.
Send them back as they are not our problem. The problem today is that those such as yourself espouse our Government’s getting involved with other nations internal issues and then cry when it doesn’t work out the way you want.
The Tamil’s are not our problem, the Hazara are not our problem, the Kurds are not our problem, in point of fact all of these people fleeing from tribal and religious issues are not our problem.
These are issues they need to work out in their own societies instead of dragging and dumping their unwanted baggage in ours.
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Greg :
12 Apr 2013 1:32:06pm
“In other words, when future generations ask us how we allowed our government to do this, we will not be able to say that we did not know.”, BUT we will be able to say that the government was too weak to send these economic migrants back to where they came from. That will then lead to the question why we elected a party that destroyed our boarder security which was working.
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Budovski :
12 Apr 2013 1:30:46pm
Total exaggeration…….
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Fred :
12 Apr 2013 1:29:06pm
Now cut the crap. The so called indefinite detention only exists because the government has not got the fortitude to throw these particular people out. The moment they decide to leave Australia they can, thus it is by nature NOT indefinite.
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barsnax :
12 Apr 2013 1:26:41pm
I’m ashamed of Australia’s treatment of assylum seekers. We have gone full circle with the white Australia policy.
Compare what would happen if these recent boat arrivals were full of white South Africans or British.
Both political parties should hang their heads in shame and so should Australian citizens who agree with these dispicable policies.
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Susan :
12 Apr 2013 1:21:03pm
I will brace myself for the vitriol that will flow because of the statement I am about to make – but here goes. Recently a crowd of ‘refugees’ sailed into Geraldton harbour on a boat that had been DONATED to a Sri-Lankan fishing village on the premise that the people needed it to survive. So how did it come to be in the hands of people who may or may not be genuine refugees? Was it sold to someone in an underhand deal – or was it stolen from the people who needed it to catch food to eat? This is a question that seems to have been glossed over so far – if the need of the people was so pressing that they had to be given a boat, why aren’t they still using it? Do we assume that while the boat was sailing its load of people to Australia that there are people in Sri-Lanka now starving because they can’t catch fish to eat? I think the whole question casts a cloud over the people who sailed in on that boat – how can we trust them if they would put their neighbours in such hardship?
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Forrest Gardener :
12 Apr 2013 1:17:30pm
Jeff, just one question. Are the people at Broadmeadows free to leave at any time they choose?
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frank of malvern :
12 Apr 2013 1:15:29pm
These people did not follow the.correct process to come to Australia often deliberatly destroying their paperwork and jumped the queue.And now they complain and I bet they are getting better medical attention ,dental treatment while eating better than many of Australias own pensioners and disadvantaged
Sorry but they get little sympathy from me.
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Dropbear :
12 Apr 2013 1:01:26pm
You’d think someone forced these people onto the boat, after a long and EXPENSIVE trip from their home country to their port of call at gunpoint.
Don’t like it? Don’t come.
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Coogera :
12 Apr 2013 12:54:14pm
This article is an attempt at sensationalism. There is a major difference between Gitmo and Australian detention centres: namely, the inmates can return home any time they like.

Most of what the author bases his views on is the unproven proposition that ASIO is unreliable and incompetent. Since is it an unproven proposition, we can only trust that ASIO has made reasonable assessments of people and has concern for the potential harm they may cause the Australian public. The LTTE was a vicious terrorist organization so it is reasonable that any assessment of an individual to possess links to the LTTE should result in the exclusion of that person from Australia.
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sleepykarly :
12 Apr 2013 12:52:16pm
Fifty years ago refugees from East Germany and Hungary were welcomed as heros, risking their lives to escape Communism.
So why are the current refugees, who risk everything to escape from oppression every bit as bad, now treted like vermin?
Oh, yes! I should have realised! They are not white! And the oppressive governments they are escaping from (e.g., Afghanistan, Sri Lanka) are our ‘allies’!
We are a nation that has hardened itself against any feelings of shame or remorse for our inhumanity.
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In ABC World :
12 Apr 2013 12:50:21pm
Last time I as in Broadmeadows it was hijabs and hallal wall to wall – felt really safe and at home I did.
ASIO makes these assessments about innocents who come here uninvited and largely undocumented. That alone should prompt ASIO to conclude they are desparate and hard done by and therefore safe to release. Who would risk such an activity without pure motives.
As for GITMO we should take these poor mistreated victims of unprovoked US agression give them permanent residency and free housing.
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gerard oosterman :
12 Apr 2013 12:48:50pm
The answer is staring us in the face with the millions of refugees swirling around the world but mainly dealt with by countries already bursting with refugees and poverty, countries such as Australia and many others should and must practice a belief in ‘compassion sans frontières’.
There is no other choice if we stake a claim to being part of humanity.
But, the first thing required to do is when a boatload of people arrive at our shore is to welcome them and act humanely and compassionately. Separating women, children and men and then sending them to isolated islands behind fences and keeping them there for years does not fall in that category. Neither does it behove us to have some rejected and sent back without a recourse to the reasons of ‘why’ by our ‘intelligence’.
Go back to the Frazer years when thousands arrived by boats as well without all the manured hatred as expressed today.
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DWP096 :
12 Apr 2013 12:48:01pm
You can attempt to draw analogies with Guantanamo Bay all you like, but they always fail on a fundamental difference that people like you try desperately to avoid addressing.
You can’t get OUT of the US Guantanamo Bay prison unless they decide you can. They took you there, they control your fate.
A person in an Australian immigration detention centre can’t get INTO Australia. They can, however, LEAVE the detention centre *and* Australia any time they choose to do so.
We didn’t bring them here, we aren’t keeping them here. All we’re doing is declining to let them loose into Australia.
So do me a favour and stop pushing false analogies forward. It just makes me discount everything else you say since it’s obvious you’re not interested in facts.
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David :
12 Apr 2013 12:39:11pm
Can one person who is not in favour of mandatory detention actually mention the people who can not afford to pay criminals thousands of dollars to travel to Australia?
Many refuguees spend over a decade in a UN Refuguee camp. What makes their claims less serious?
Australia’s migration policy benifits thoes who choose to pay people smugglers. The people arriving increasingly lack ID so Australian authorities only have a persons word. Unfortunately some lie and some actually caused the events that others are fleeing from.
Australia should continue mandatory detention instead of playing favourites with refuguees who pay criminal elements in other countries to get here.
We already have the 2nd highest total intake in the world and the highest per capita or formally recognised refuguees. We do alot. That does not mean we should bend over for every boat that arrives as many boat arrivals will simply be seeking a richer life instead of fleeing from danger and thoes that are fleeing from danger are not in any more danger that UN refuguees.
If ASIO gives full details on how it conducts assessment, that will only help thoes who want to circumnavigate the assessment protocols. Jeff appears to be willing to risk terrorists and foreign agents settling in Australia.
Australia maintains the option for people to return after the ASIO assessment. That is the biggest difference between Guantanamo and refuguee camps. Anyone claiming refuguee can request to be returned to their home country at any time. If things are so bad here, why wouldnt they be requesting that?
The record number of boat arrivals show that asylum seekers continue to believe Australia is the best option out of all places they could be.
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Terry :
12 Apr 2013 12:38:48pm
To anyone who has read about Jim Cairns, the ASIO comments seem a little over the top, but not much. I suspect even the Greens would hesitate before slecting him these days.
And we use predictive policies all the time. We select people for asssistance programs on the basis of what is likely to occur, we bar migration on the basis of likely behaviour and/or costs, we bar visits on the likely impact on our society.
If we had been more selective in the past, we may have had a lower risk of internal terrorism now. I am sure Great Britain would like to have the chance to bar some “refugees”.
The phrase “genuine refugee” sounds wonderful, but all it means is “has met the vague and elastic terms of the refugee convention that was written 50 years ago for very different circumstances.” Which leads to ridiculous situations such as the one we now have, where persons who have been deemed by our intelligence force to be a risk, can just turn up uninvited and we cannot do anything about it.
The onus should not be on us to prove that a person cannot stay in the country. It must be on the person who decided to come here.
If the outdated refugee convention, designed well before the people smuggling industy and the birth of economic migration schemes, does not work as intended any more, we should be courageous enough to point this out and push for changes.
A person can catch a commercial flight with valid documents from a country in which they are allegedly persecuted, travel through several other countries in which they are in no danger, then destroy their documents and sail to Australia. As long as they know the correct answers to the questions they will be asked (people smugglers and activist lawyers will provide the “right” answers”) then it is virtually impossible to deny them access.
In the meantime, thousands sit in holding camps in Ethiopia and Burma. Patiently waiting their turn, not knowing perhaps that “their” place has been taken by someone whom Australia considers to be a security risk. Someone who is likely, as soon as citizenship has been acquired, to be flying back to the country of persecution to carry out “humanitarian activities”.
And for saying this, I will be called inhumane and probably racist (the all-encompassing insult that has lost all meaning).
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andy :
12 Apr 2013 12:34:51pm
what are we meant to do? It is easy to be cynical in a blanket manner about ASIO. It is easy to believe that they are either malicious or incompetent. That they are so dumb they don’t factor in the source of the damning security report information.
Past behaviours are a pretty good predictor of future behaviours.
ASIO’s first and primary duty of care is owed to the citizens of australia, and ensuring our safety. For sure, the Sri Lankans might be refugees. So are a few million people in camps across africa and asia. That doesn’t give them a free pass to move into australia if they’re a security risk.
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JohnM :
12 Apr 2013 12:30:49pm
Maybe they are former Tamil Tigers who the Sri Lankan government would like to put on trial.
In a bigger picture, do we want former terrorists in this country? If not, where do we send them if they can’t be returned to the country they came from?
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ScottBE :
12 Apr 2013 12:29:55pm
Thanks Jeff for this chilling reminder that our treatment of refugees is abominable and inhumane.
While I must accept the greater wisdom of the trio of experts addressing the problem of people smuggling, and the repugnant use of off-shore facilities as a “deterrent” (I have argued before that no deterrence works if the push factor is greater than the deterrence), this aspect of refugee management is soul destroying for the refugees and demoralising for our nation/community.
Surely indefinite incarceration without trial is contrary to the rule of law? Is this not a profound breach of the Charter of Human Rights to which Australia is a signatory? Does this not place us in the company of dictators who lock up dissenters? Is this not worse because these people have committed no acts but have been tagged as criminals due to a “probability”?
I thought that this problem was stemming from Mr Howard’s post 9/11 reactionary Anti-Terrorist laws. I now appreciate that this practice has a longer history and that it is even more abhorrent due to its hidden nature and the arbitrary and bureaucratic manner of the imposition of incarceration.
How can these poor people ever be freed if this is the criteria. Are we to keep them imprisoned for the rest of their lives? How utterly barbaric!
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Bill Anderson :
12 Apr 2013 12:14:05pm
Yes lets allow a bunch of potential terrorists into our midst because their human rights may have been violated. Lets allow them access to information that will allow their mates to circumvent the tests next time. Great thinking. I don’t CARE about their rights. I want my family and community to live in safety
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libertarian :
12 Apr 2013 12:07:44pm
John Howard had, as some of our Northern Neighbors had already done, stopped people thinking the risk was worth taking. Kevin Rudd immediately undid all of that work and wasted the investment that had already been made. That’s why we have a problem. We need to do as Singapore and Malaysia did and turn the boats away. They will soon stop coming. With Australia’s welfare bill at astronomical levels and growing fast we can ill afford $2.5 billion this year that it costs for these arrivals and the welfare bill for them and the ten children they will have to support them for the rest of their lives. They are in fact treated far better than your average western Sydney welfare family. You receive priority everything and free everything if you are an alleged asylum seeker. Most of course are simply seeking better economic fortunes, not sanctuary. Future generations will ask why the Government of today did nothing whilst this was all happening.
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wal :
12 Apr 2013 11:57:36am
There are two reasons I can think of that might keep them detained.
st is that if they have link with terrorist organisations back home they might send money back to fund the terrorist organisations, 2nd they might send money back to those organisations or organise people smuggling activities as the Tamil Tigers do run a people smuggling network.
Nevetheless, there should be a tribunal or panel of judges to review the decisions by ASIO behind closed door to decide the cases.
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nebio :
12 Apr 2013 11:48:25am
This way anyone can be jailed and silenced forever. Not a big difference since the colonial times… kind of Monte Christo era. It is very disappointing to find out these facts about Australia.
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Another Aussie :
12 Apr 2013 11:44:04am
Those detained would be better off if do-gooders weren’t forever telling them “you gotta get out of this place if its the last thing you ever do”.

The fools in the refugee industry have, inadvertingly, programmed the detainees to believe they belong in Australia. Thus the mind mind games the refugee industry are playing are a very sad reflection of their broader agenda to abolish borders. Shame on the refugee industry, not the detainees themselves, because the illegals can go home when they are ready or they can go off to a UNHCR refugee camp but we are stuck with the refugee industry people as they are home grown (but they can go to the camps as volunteers if they are really interested).
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Michael :
12 Apr 2013 11:39:12am
No when future generations ask we can show them the documents, which will be released under the 30year rule, which shows they were a security risk.
In any intelligence operation performed by AIC (Austalian Intelligence Community) an assessment of the intelligence and an assesment of the source are both run, separately.
Further to this you say that no one has access to the documents and then make assumptions on where the intelligence came from. If you are going to guess at it why not guess at it being a reliable source.
Finally it is a criminal action under international law to support people smuggling opperations, I would be curious to know how they got to Australia to know if they truely have not broken any laws.
So tell me what is our other option? Release them into the public? If anyone was hurt by anyone where there was evidence they were a risk can you imagine the back lash. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place, human welfare and human welfare.
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beansgasser :
12 Apr 2013 11:38:24am
we have to be mean, to discourage others, if we treat them too nice, then where is the downside to coming.
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Mike Brisco :
12 Apr 2013 11:34:43am
“In other words, when future generations ask us how we allowed our government to do this, we will not be able to say that we did not know.”
Nice nod there .. for those who didnt pick it up… it’s to Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, and journalist Gita Sereny.
Levi, from N Italy, was imprisoned in Auschwitz in Poland. After he was liberated, several months convalescence, he was returend by train, to Turin.
The train, of course, went via Germany..
Meeting many ordinary Germans, whom he told about what he’d been through. Often they said ‘we didnt know what was going on”.
Levi, angrily rejected that. How could you NOT know? he said. You see camps being built in the middle of nowhere. You see full trains arriving, empty ones leaving. You hear noise, you smell smells. Some of you trade, over the fence, with the in-mates. How could you possibly NOT know, what was going on?
We may be equally powerless against ASIO, which acts as a law unto itself.
But we remain curious, nosy. We can see what ASIO are up to and the lives they are destroying.
We see this, and we remember.
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billie :
12 Apr 2013 11:29:58am
ASIO is beyond a joke. Wikileaks indicate that Bob Hawke, Bob Carr and Mark Arbib have spied for a foreign country, the USA.
ASIO can’t protect Australia from powerful men so it relies on information from the Sri Lankan government to lock up Tamil refugees.
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Mike Brisco :
12 Apr 2013 11:23:24am
Spot on –
I need to reach back, to experience during the N Ireland civil war, to find the language I need to talk about what’s going on. terms.
One phrase we used and understood then, was is “internment without trial” – yes, that was also used there. People here like to use ‘detention’ – but that is what schools did, not what the government did.
another useful term is “extra-judicial” . Certain terror organisations on both sides, often used to use legal-sounding language like they had ‘administered a punishment’ or ‘removed a public nuisance (ie ethnic cleansing Belfast style).
We would mock them, by repeating the language, but as “extra-judicial punishment”, meaning it violated the usual norms where punishments are according to the law, and overseen by courts.
“Extra-judicial” also describes some of what ASIO does – it operates unaccountable to public, citizens, taxpayers, courts, or Parliament.
In the N Ireland civil war, danger from terrorism was clear and present. You heard bombs; your friends got shot or their parents did; you were on your guard not to get caught up in stuff; you drove past burned-out houses.
It is a farce to pretend Australia’s situation, is anything like this.
So why do we seem the same extra-judicial detentions, punishments, here too?
The holocaust survivors warned us that this stuff would happen again, and here it is.
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Linda :
12 Apr 2013 11:23:10am
I just cannot understand why people seem so scared of and agressive towards such a small number of refugees arriving by boat.
I can only presume that enough people holding such views exist in enough marginal electorates to determine the policy approach of both major parties. Otherwise it seems insane to spend so much money and angst persecuting such neglible numbers.
If only a more mature and moral response would come from the ALP (cant expect it from cynical LNP) in which they would explain the actualities to people rather than pandering to ignorance & prejudice.
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Anthony :
12 Apr 2013 11:15:20am
Maybe they should have gone to a refugee camp and got in line instead of jumping on leaky boats to get to the front of the queue.