The Socialist Alliance estimated in 2010 that its key policies for social justice and environmental sustainability would cost a minimum of $81-140 billion a year. Any budget devised by a party focused on putting people and the planet before profits would look significantly different to the “safe” yet largely austere budget the federal Labor government released last week.
The federal Labor government is desperate for you to believe that its “no advantage” refugee policy is working. And from offshore detention to impoverished “living in the community”, children and teenagers will be no exception to its increasingly cruel measures. Immigration minister Brendan O'Connor derided the mounting calls to have children and families removed from the Manus Island detention camp after its appalling conditions were exposed by the ABC’sFour Corners.
The smuggling of cameras inside detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island by the ABC's Four Corners has added to pressure on Labor to answer for the shocking conditions in which men, women and children are being held. Footage that was aired on April 29 showed rows of muddy tents, derelict amenities and ablution facilities and image after image of people who are losing the will to live.
It’s a blight on the landscape. Participants of this year’s 11th annual refugee rights convergence gasped as the bus pulled off the Great Eastern Highway in Western Australia at the sight of the Yongah Hill detention centre. The detention centre was built in June last year and was described by immigration media spokesperson Sandi Logan as “one of the most secure” centres in the entire refugee detention network.
Two years ago, refugee advocates learned five men detained in Darwin's Northern Immigration Detention Centre (NIDC) had sewn their mouths together and were protesting against delays to their cases. Advocates alerted the media of the self-harm in July, 2011. But immigration spokespeople contacted by media denied lip-stitching had taken place. A spokesperson told AAP on July 2, 2011, that a detainee had been taken to hospital after an incident of self-harm, but: “Nobody has sewn their lips together.”
A 10-day hunger strike and protest carried out by a group of refugees in a Melbourne detention centre ended on April 17. Twenty-seven refugees in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre in Broadmeadows were refusing food and water, and sleeping on the ground outdoors to draw attention to their lives in limbo. Despite being found to be genuine refugees by Australia, they have been denied a protection visa due to adverse ASIO security checks. This means they will never be allowed to live in Australia, but cannot be deported because they have a genuine fear of persecution.
At first, a bridging visa seems like a new life. A brief glimpse of freedom is felt by many asylum seekers who, after years in detention, see an opportunity to live freely in Australia. The temporary, selective visa gets asylum seekers six weeks’ accommodation and financial support of $219 a week — a figure that is 89% of the Newstart allowance. But after six weeks — a nanosecond in Australia's cumbersome and bureaucratic refugee processing system — asylum seekers are expected to go out on their own, find somewhere to live, and somehow survive on a few hundred dollars a week.
A picture of a 1938 Daily Mail article titled "German Jews pouring into this country”, circulated social media networks last week and drew comparison with Australia's “stop the boats” obsession. “The number of Jewish aliens entering this country through the 'back door'” was “an outrage” and “a problem to which The Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed,” the article said.
Over recent weeks, lawyers and campaigners have been racing to the courts to prevent immigration department plans to deport Afghan refugees back to Kabul. Refugee advocates raised alarm bells on March 5 when four Afghan Hazara refugees who had been living in the community on bridging visas were re-detained after attending scheduled immigration meetings.
The Forbes Billionaires list released last month included almost two dozen Australians in its ranks. Among them was mining boss Gina Rinehart, who has now become the richest person in Australia with a fortune of $17 billion. This placed her 36th in the world, but her net wealth was still double that of her nearest fellow Australian billionaire, chief executive of commodities firm Glencore, Ivan Glasenberg. Also on the list were finance elites, gaming kingpins and several other mining corporation owners.
Lip-stitching and attempted self-immolation are among increasingly extreme acts of self-harm taking place in Australia’s two offshore detention camps in recent weeks. Hunger strikes, cutting and attempted hangings have already become widespread in the tent city on Nauru. But, on February 19, for the first time since the “dark days” of former prime minister John Howard’s “Pacific solution,” refugees stitched their mouths closed to protest their arbitrary and indefinite detention.
The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) released documents exposing the “appalling” extent of child self-harm in a Darwin detention centre on February 18. DASSAN obtained the documents via a Freedom of Information request, which took the department of immigration more than nine months to release. They detail 26 cases of self-harm by detained refugees aged 9 to 17 between August 2010 and November 2011. Spokesperson Fernanda Dahlstrom said the documents “concern one detention centre over a relatively short period of time”.
Figures released by the department of immigration showed the number of refugees held in Australian mainland detention peaked at 10,271 in November last year, the highest since mandatory detention began. This included housing and alternative places of detention, but not the almost 400 men held on Nauru by that time. Children made up 1221 of those held in detention as at December, another record high. The last time more than 1000 children were held in detention, the government was forced to allow more than half to be released.
Soon after Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the September 14 federal election, opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison confirmed the Coalition's startling plans to turn back every refugee from Sri Lanka without exception. This would include a new plan to enlist the Australian and Sri Lankan navies to detain and return to Colombo any refugee trying to flee the country by boat, Morrison told ABC's Lateline on February 4.
A highly publicised report by the United Nations' refugee agency labeled conditions in the Manus Island refugee camp “unlawful”, but stopped short of pushing the government to close it completely. The report was released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on February 4 after a visit to the detention centre over January 15-17. It principally called for the release of children from the “closed” detention camp. It said the Australian government's regime of “arbitrary, indefinite detention” with no legal framework was “deeply troubling”.