THE asylum-seeker debate in Australia is demeaning and miserable. The politicians who participate in it have contempt for the Australian people. They believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that if they appeal to the fearful and mean sides of our nature, they will win support. They are showing that they believe we won’t know enough about the world to know that for the most part what they are saying is plainly false.

Australia should not seek to avoid its obligations, accepted originally by Robert Menzies in 1954, by shifting asylum seekers to another country. There are many questions and problems relating to the so-called agreement with Malaysia. The whole idea of swapping asylum seekers including children in this way, as if they are commodities, is odious. It is trading in people. It is neither an appropriate nor a just solution.

What should we now do? I believe our approach to asylum seekers and refugees should encompass these 10 points:

1. Part of our approach should indeed be truly international. We should work through the United Nations to do much more to help those countries in grievous trouble. We should try new and better ways of helping them resolve their internal difficulties. It is only when such countries are living in peace and have put aside internal conflict and civil war that the flow of refugees will cease. We should also make sure that Western policy which we support – as we did in Iraq and as we are in Afghanistan – does not compound the problem and add greatly to the number of refugees and asylum seekers, as indeed those two conflicts have. While trying to marshal a greater international effort in the countries from which people flee, we should at the same time persuade those countries that accept refugees under UN auspices – including Australia – to greatly lift the number they are prepared to take each year.

2. Australia needs a solution that involves countries of our own region, but also countries who accept migrants and refugees in significant numbers such as Canada and the United States. We need a truly international solution.

3. Mandatory immigration detention centres should be abolished. Detention for the purpose of health, identity and security checks alone should be permissible. We should be prepared to meet our obligations originally accepted by Menzies in 1954 and accept onshore processing. We should not be frightened of its consequence.

4. There should be an independent judicial examination of adverse reports by ASIO on would-be immigrants to Australia. The nature of the decision on refugee status and the grounds for the decision should be available to the review. The review should report to Parliament and ASIO should have no capacity to censor any part of it. The secrecy surrounding these matters, the inability of people to learn why they have been denied residence in Australia, is shameful.

5. We should be especially concerned about children in detention. The previous government made a commitment to get children out of detention, yet in February there were more than 1000 children in detention. I am advised that was a record high but the government is working on changing this. They need to work faster.

6. The High Court ruling that a failed asylum seeker can be kept in jail for the term of his natural life if he cannot be returned to his country of origin should be overturned by statute.

7. The punitive approach taken to asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat – who are detained often for years – and to those who have come by air – who are living in the community but are denied any form of government support – should be replaced by a humane and compassionate policy where support is given to those in distress. I believe Australians would accept this approach if they knew the consequences and the hardship caused by current government policy.

8. Australia should not involve itself in trading in people, in swapping asylum seekers whose status has not been proven for refugees waiting in some third country.

9. We need to recapture our humanity and also our bipartisanship. We won’t achieve that until the political parties embrace a practical, humane and compassionate approach to this problem. The change will only come when people make it clear that they want a change of attitude and of purpose from political parties.

10. We need an independent report into post-arrival services and into the responsibilities of governments and community organisations for migrants and asylum seekers. Such a report would help to expose some of the unhappy myths that have grown up around these issues.

A strong, multicultural Australia that draws strength from its diversity, that debates real issues of importance to ourselves and to common humanity, has contributed so much in the past. It must do so again.

The pettiness and meanness of the current debates about asylum seekers and indeed on other issues that are dealt with on a totally partisan basis must be put aside.

There is a special obligation on our political leaders to lift themselves off the bottom and take the debate in a different direction – based on fact not hyperbole, based on humanitarian rather than punitive considerations; to rejoin the bipartisanship that will be needed to make meaningful contributions to such complex global challenges.

We should also ask ourselves what we as Australians need to do so that politicians will learn to appeal to the best of our natures and cease playing politics with the lives of vulnerable people.

I believe there is a special obligation on Australians who have come or whose parents have come here in the post-war years, to work for and maintain that Australia, because that is the Australia they came to, that is the Australia that has received them so warmly and that is the Australia to which they have already contributed so much in so many different ways.

This is an edited excerpt of former prime minister Malcolm Fraser’s Australian Refugee Association Oration, delivered in Adelaide last night.

Read more:

Guards ‘warned about SIEV 221’ landing at Christmas Island

EXCLUSIVE Debbie Guest
From: The Australian
June 25, 2011 12:00AM

CHRISTMAS Island detention centre guards were told the SIEV 221 was on its way four hours before the boat crashed into rocks, killing 50 people, according to a detainee who says he begged guards to tell authorities.

The Iraqi asylum-seeker, whose wife and two children died in the tragedy, claims he was told by a Serco guard about 2.30am on December 15 last year they could not do anything and that he “would have to wait until the morning”.

Another detainee has confirmed the man’s revelations.

An inquest into the disaster has been told the boat was not spotted until about 5am by locals on the shore.

When told of the new claims by The Weekend Australian yesterday, counsel assisting coroner Marco Tedeschi said he would immediately launch an investigation. The Iraqi man said he knew the boat was on its way after speaking by phone to a people-smuggler.

The Iraqi, who does not want to be named, has told his story to The Weekend Australian through advocate Omid Tofighian.

“He was in touch with the smuggler,” Dr Tofighian said. “The smuggler told him they should be arriving at the island in about two to three hours. This conversation was about 2am.”

The man then went with his friend, Iraqi detainee Hasanain al-Wazni, to tell the Serco guards. Speaking yesterday from Villawood Detention Centre where he is now detained, Mr Wazni said he interpreted for his friend and told about five guards the boat was on its way and they needed to do something.

He said one of the guards then called his supervisor to see what to do and was told nothing could be done.

“The manager said to him, ‘We can’t do anything now because it is night . . . you will have to wait until the morning’,” Mr Wazni said. He said his friend was extremely distressed and threatened to harm himself with a razor in front of the guards.

He said the guards then took his friend to the medical centre, where he was given some medication that made him sleepy, and he awoke to the shocking news of the wreck.

Mr Wazni said his friend did not know of the horrendous sea conditions or poor state of the boat at the time, but wanted to alert authorities because he was concerned for his family.

“He wanted the guards to tell somebody about the boat,” he said. “He was just so worried because we came the same way and we know it’s very dangerous.”

Read the full story HERE