25 May 2005


The announcement by Liberal Member of parliament Petro Georgiou that he will be moving two private members bills to address Australia’s inhumane mandatory detention policy next week is a significant development. That he has gained the public support of several of his colleagues is also significant.

The proposed bills provide for
- those who have been in detention for more than a year to be released while their claims for protection are resolved;
- the release of children and their parents from detention, unless they pose a risk to the public or are likely to abscond;
- permanent protection for Temporary Protection Visa holders;
- asylum seekers who arrive without a visa to only be detained initially for up to 90 days, which can only be extended by application to the Federal Court; and those whose claim for asylum has failed but who cannot removed from Australia (after 3 years) to be granted permanent protection.

The proposal comes at a time when an increasing number of Australians are expressing concerns about the current policy in the light of recent publicity about the plight of long term detainees especially children, the wrongful detaining and deportation of Australian citizens and the extraordinary instances of Departmental incompetence and mismanagement that have been revealed in recent weeks.

The referral of more than two hundred cases of wrongful detention to tthe Palmer enquiry, the release from detention of 3 yr old Naomi Leong and the pledge to review the cases of the East Timorese originally scheduled to be deported next month, indicate a government on the defensive over its treatment of asylum seekers.

The next few days provides a rare opportunity for ordinary members of the public to directly influence government policy. It is known that many government members share an increasing unease about aspects of the current policy and could therefore be open to be influenced by a groundswell of public opinion. Contact details to write, telephone or email your parliamentary representatives asking them to support the private members bill can be found at the Parliament of Australia website.


"This budget will be judged as a lost opportunity to bring about real change for the most disadvantaged" said Frank Quinlan, Executive director of Catholic Welfare Australia in a response to the recent budget announced by the Australian Treasurer. He expressed dismay that "in a budget that returns a surplus of almost $9 billion, with all the economic security that sound budgeting brings, homeless Australians will not find any significant new programs to increase the national public housing stock and the mentally ill will not find radical new measures in our health system."

"In a budget that implements very significant and welcome investments in pre-marriage education, family relationships support, and relationship counselling – single parent families face declining financial support and increased pressure to return to the paid workforce. Those who may wish to remain at home to invest in their children and our communities find their choices undervalued by a 'work-first' agenda."

He went on to point out that if Australia is not prepared to invest in the poor or address the disadvantage experienced by single parents, the disabled and the mentally ill at a time when the nation is enjoying a period of sustained economic prosperity one wonders when the plight of these groups might ever be seriously addressed.


The catholic based political lobby group Polmin has recently shifted its base to Melbourne and appointed a new co-ordinator.

In the latest edition of its regular publication "For the Common Good" Polmin has highlighted the recent criticisms of the Australian Government by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The Australian Government last appeared before the UN CERD Committee in 2000, when it faced heavy criticism, particularly in relation to Indigenous Peoples. The Government responded by rejecting the criticisms and accusing the CERD Committee of uncritically accepting the non-government submissions.

Following its meeting held in Geneva this year CERD tabled 19 concerns and recommendations relating to the Australian government. These included the abolition of ATSIC, the stalled reconciliation process, the cutbacks to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the treatment of asylum seekers, (particularly the plight of stateless long-term detainees), the counter-terrorism legislation and the shortcomings of the Racial Discrimination Act.

"When such issues often only receive limited scrutiny in Australia, it is critical that the United Nations process exists to put a spotlight on Australia’s human rights record, to uphold universally accepted standards for human rights" said Polmin. The issue of Australia’s compliance with the broad range of obligations it has signed on to with the United Nations is of particular concern to PolMin which has pledged to continue to monitor closely the performance of the Government in this area.


The National Sorry Day Committee has renamed Sorry Day (May 26th) as a National Day of Healing for all Australians.
Accepting that the current Australian government will never deliver an apology on behalf of the nation for past injustices to Indigenous Australians, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has stated that there was still much that ordinary Australians could do to further the process of reconciliation. Mr Fraser was speaking at the media launch for the National Day of Healing and in his speech highlighted the failure of both major parties to advance Indigenous health, and Indigenous participation in Australian public life.

He went on to point out that several indicators of Indigenous well-being and involvement have seen a reversal in recent years. There are now fewer Aboriginal people at university than there were five years ago, and fewer Aboriginal people in the public service than a decade ago. The Office of Indigenous Policy, which is shaping the new approach to Indigenous affairs, has only one Indigenous person at senior level.

There has been no improvement in the life expectancy of Aboriginal people since the Commonwealth Grants Commission in 2001 reported the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians as over 19 years. In New Zealand, the gap is 5 to 6 years; in Canada, it is 7 years; in the USA, it is 3.5 years. Every developed country except Australia eliminated trachoma decades ago; we still have 20,000 to 30,000 Aboriginal children going blind through trachoma.

For the full text of his address and information about activities planned around the country for Reconciliation Week visit the Journey of Healing website.


Readers of this bulletin in Victoria may be interested in one or both of the following events planned for next month.

Firstly Paul Fogarty, a regular reader of this bulletin, has suggested an informal ‘Justice in the Pub’ gathering to discuss what more might be done to promote awareness and change in relation to issues mentioned in this bulletin. So Paul and myself will be meeting at 'Bridie O’Reilly’s' (cnr Sydney & Brunswick Rds) on Tues Jun 7th at 7.30pm and would welcome anyone else who would like to join us for a chat. A separate email advertising this event is also being circulated.

Secondly the Christian Brothers/Presentation Sisters Justice Group is organizing a public forum on ‘Detention, Human Rights and Mental Health’ on June 18th from 10.00 a.m. – 3.30 p.m. at Presentation College, Dandenong Rd, Windsor.

Speakers include: Kate Gauthier (National Co-ordinator of the "A Just Australia" campaign), Harry Minas (Psychiatric Department University of Melbourne) and Sr Stancea Vichie (Asylum Seeker Project). BYO lunch. Tea and coffee provided. A donation of $5.00 is suggested.

For more information about either of these events ring Brian Bond (03) 8359 0107

11 May 2005


Refugee advocates have reacted with shock and outrage at the recently announced government decision to deport approximately 50 East Timorese on 'character grounds'.

The nature of the alleged character defects have not been specified 'for privacy reasons' and have not even been disclosed to those being deported. The allegations, repeated on national television, have caused considerable distress to those facing the deportation, not only because of their impending removal from Australia (where they may have lived for more than ten years) to an uncertain future, but also because of the perceived slur on the character of people who have prided themselves on their honesty and willingness to abide by the law.

Josephite Sister Susan Connolly, Assistant Director of the Mary McKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies has suggested that the decision was deliberately timed to distract attention from the issue of the Australia-East Timor Oil and Gas dispute.

The decision to deport these people also comes at a time when Australia’s immigration and detention policy is under renewed scrutiny with the astonishing and disturbing disclosure that thirty three Australian citizens have been wrongly detained under the current mandatory detention laws (this is the number admitted by the government – some say the figure is much higher). This on top of the revelation that at least one Australian citizen was actually wrongly deported three years ago to her country of origin and her children placed in foster care. Since then all trace of the woman has been lost!

The fate of asylum seekers deported from Australia has long been an issue of concern for the Edmund Rice Centre whose report 'Deported to Danger' can be viewed at their website.

If that was not enough publicity has also been given, both in Australia and overseas, to the story of the three year old girl held at Villawood detention centre who was initially refused permission to attend a play group for a couple of hours each week despite having spent her whole life detention to this point and never having had any contact with children of her own age. This also despite the grave concerns for her mental health expressed by medical staff.

When will enough people be sufficiently motivated to raise their voices and demand an end to this cruel, vindictive and inhuman detention policy?


Have we extracted a toll from the earth that cannot be repaid? That is one of the questions posed by Damien Norris of the Edmund Rice Centre for Social Justice in Fremantle, WA in the wake of a BBC documentary screened on national television in the recent "4 Corners" program.

The program presented a view expressed by a number of scientists that the level of pollution in the atmosphere may actually be masking the true effect of global warming. Thus by addressing the issue of atmospheric pollution – itself a cause of a range of serious environmental and health problems – we may in fact accelerate the problem of global warming.

In response to this dilemma the Centre is facilitating an open space forum entitled 'Green & Good or Gloom & Doom: a future for our children or is it too late?' which is intended to engage, inform and connect people who share a concern for the future of planet earth.

More information about the issue of global dimming can be found at BBC 'Horizon' website.


World Debt Day commemorates the day in 1998 when 70,000 people formed a human chain around the G8 summit in Birmingham England to call for debt justice for poor countries.

Despite some progress in the granting of debt relief since then and continued promises of further relief, the world's richest nations have failed to reach agreement on the mechanism by which further relief is to be granted.

In the meantime an estimated 19,000 children die every day from their government's inability to provide basic services. At the same time these same poorer nations are repaying huge sums back to the world’s richest nations and financial institutions. For example, next year Indonesia will repay $9 billion in debt repayments to rich countries including $120 million to Australia. This is twice the total amount spent on health and education combined in a country still reeling from the devastating effects of the Boxing Day tsunami.

For more information about this issue and some actions you can take visit the Jubilee Australia website.


Attention has been focused on the issue of human trafficking in Australia with the commencement of the so-called 'sex slave' trial in Melbourne in April. On trial are the owner and the manager of a Fitzroy brothel where five Thai women were found to be working as prostitutes in an immigration department raid. It is believed that the women were deliberately brought to Melbourne to work in the brothel and were effectively held as slaves while working off debts allegedly owed to their 'employer'.

The case is significant in that represents the first prosecution in Victoria under Australia's sexual servitude laws and it draws attention to a little known issue, even though an estimated 1000 women in Australia may be working to pay off a 'debt' at any one time - often having been deceived as to the nature of the work they have been brought to Australia to perform.

Project Respect is an Australian non-Government organization which is working to challenge exploitation and violence against women, particularly those involved in the sex industry. Their website provides information about the operation of this lucrative trade often associated with criminal networks, violence and exploitation. It also points to a number of factors that make Australia an appealing site for the operation of traffickers.

The work of Project respect is supported by the Good Shepherd Sisters

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?