Harshness Before Sense

by BINOY KAMPMARK

This is patently sinister.  Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, is destined under the “regional agreement” between PNG and Australia to become an expanded detention centre which may house upwards of 3000 individuals.  (Shades of an Asia Pacific Gulag Archipelago come to mind.)  These individuals might well have been processed quietly through Australian channels by Australian authorities.  If it had been news, it should have been embedded in the back pages.  But this Labor government is desperate.  Very desperate. So much so that anyone without a visa who arrives in Australia will never (emphasis on the word never) settle in Australia.[1]

Those are the words of a “restored” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.  Rudd has made it clear that the Refugee Convention, ratified in 1951 is an anachronism on stilts. Nothing new there – he parrots a long standing lament of wealthy states who would rather wish the convention might be done away with – or at the very least “revised”.

Much of this behaviour on the part of the prime minister is probably histrionics – to change the convention through the channels of the United Nations would require General Assembly approval.  Poorer states are unlikely to be joining richer states in attempting to curb global flows of individuals – for them, the richer the state, the greater the burden by necessity.

Hence, we face the next disturbing rationale.  If the convention can’t be changed, it won’t be heeded.  Naturally, one way of doing so is to re-label those who arrive in Australia in advance, a case of premature adjudication if ever there was one.  Ignore the refugee advocates and the professionals as much as possible – what would they know?  Foreign Minister Bob Carr has been most typical of this, claiming that those getting on boats and heading for Australia are “economic” migrants.

The response to Carr has been strident.  Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs has found little basis to the claim.  Former liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser is up at arms at the suggestion, calling Carr’s claims “total nonsense” and “fantasy”.  “I think a lot of people [who] might have felt some relief that Kevin Rudd was back in charge will now have that very heavily tempered by Senator Carr’s most intemperate remarks.”[2]

Applicants for asylum assessed and found to be legitimate refugees are entitled to stay in the country that duly processes them. To send them off shore, as it were, constitutes a violation of its principles.  It amounts, as some advocates have rightly noted, to an “outsourcing” of the burden imposed on a country.

Furthermore, let’s consider the country: developing, as close to, in structural and economic terms, a failed state as any in the Asia Pacific.  It is known for producing refugee applicants, not recipients.  The Australian Refugee Review Tribunal has actually granted refugee status to people leaving the country on grounds of persecution.  To speak of equitable “burden sharing” in this context, the term used by states in the European Union, is nonsense.

The “PNG Solution” will also be a disaster on another level. Not only will it violate a key principle of refugee law – that refugees cannot be sent to a place where they are put at risk – it will create another enormous social problem. Hundreds of Iranians, processed on PNG soil, is a recipe for social catastrophe.

As Marina O’Sullivan of the Castan Centre for Human Rights explains, domestic violence is rife.[3]  Ethnic tensions are ever present.  The “human rights” infrastructure is simply not in place.  Then there is that matter of the High Court, which found in 2011 that arrangements of this sort violated international refugee obligations.

Should he win the elections, will Rudd care?  This is hard to know given the distinct hollowness of Australian politics.  Australia is a land jam packed with regulations, controls and a mania for “security”.  Its electoral system, at least in so far as it determines the fates of governments, hinges on marginal seats in the outer suburbs – the “Rooty Hill” factor.  But this policy, unless it is challenged in the High Court, risks making Australia not merely an inept international citizen, but a callous one whose words at international law are empty sentiments rather than genuine policy.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: A New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative