Australian Politics: Mandatory Detention and Whaling


Firstly, congratulations to all of those involved with ‘Z’ on the 20th birthday of what is the first internet site I visit to get my information.  After discovering ZNet 7 or so years ago, it has become a valuable source of information on radical politics, economics and other social issues, and provides news that is either dismissed by the mainstream media, or is distorted to fit with its pro-corporate agenda.  Special congratulations should go to Michael Albert, Lydia Sargent and the rest of the ZNet team for facilitating the website, and the rest of the Z components.  The new site, with it’s focus on user interaction provides an opportunity for activists, intellectuals and all those interested in working towards a better world, is an excellent development that should be applauded.

I have been considering the use of a blog or a ‘myface’ profile to publish my views on the world and to contact with other like minded people across the globe.  ZNet has now provided this opportunity, and I intend to write regular blogs (this being the first) on issues that have caught my eye, in particular on, but not restricted to, Australian politics. 

The recent defeat of the Howard Government, and subsequent election of the Rudd Labor Government has provided some amount of hope for those of us on the progressive side of politics in Australia.  But as noted in an article on ZNet just after this election, I do have reservations over the likelihood of Rudd actually living up to the expectations placed on him by Australian progressives.  As mentioned in this article, the hard work has only just begun, Rudd may be in power, but it is only through a concerted effort by concerned Australians that we can bring about some change, and it is through public action and ‘virtual’ action (such as that on ZNet) that this can be achieved.  Hopefully, in my own small way, I can contribute to this through this blog and other writings.  My hope is that a community of concerned people can be formed on ZNet to pressure and expose the Rudd Government.

For my first blog I want to quickly focus on two issues that arose in Australian politics this week, but that appear to have been largely overlooked by most other media institutions: the release of the annual Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission on Immigration Detention Centres and ex-Environment Minister Ian Campbell’s decision to join Sea Shepherd.

As a background for those of you who may not be aware of the policies of the Australian Government in relation to asylum seekers, a quick update.  During the previous Labor Government (in power from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s) a system of mandatory detention was established in Australia for asylum seekers.  Asylum seekers are imprisoned in these centres for indefinite periods of time, with one notable detainee, Peter Qasim, detained for over seven years with no charge.  The physical and mental damage caused to detainees has been well documented.

Each year the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), a statutory body of the Australian Government that researches and advocates for human rights in Australia, releases a report on the conditions in these detention centres.  The latest report, for 2007, was released this week.  Although the report is generally complimentary of the conditions in the detention centres (with some notable exceptions, such as Villawood in Sydney) and the attitudes of staff working there, it does point out one major problem – the policy of mandatory detention itself.  Now, HREOC is no radical institution, it is a Government body, and it’s first recommendation is quite simple –  ‘Australia’s mandatory detention laws should be repealed.’  The big question is: will the Rudd Government act on this recommendation? 

This seems unlikely.  In its response to the report, through the department responsible for the administration of mandatory detention, no mention is made of this recommendation, while the department accepts the congratulations of HREOC on the improvements it has made.  The new minister for immigration, Chris Evans has also not responded to this recommendation, and has said that ‘significant problems still exist as a result of the Howard Government’s mishandling of immigration and detention matters’, without mentioning that many of the Howard Government’s policies were (and still are) fully supported by Labor.  If you want to have a look at the HREOC report, it can be found at: http://www.hreoc.gov.au/human_rights/idc/idc2007.html.

Now, for what has to be one of the most surprising news stories of the year, which admittedly is still very young: ex-Minister for the Environment in the Howard Government, Ian Campbell has joined the advisory board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  This is the same group that only a year ago Campbell condemned, calling their tactics ‘foolhardy’ and which endanger lives and hurt international efforts to end whaling.

All of this has happened while Peter Garrett, ex-lead singer of one of Australia’s most popular ‘political’ bands is Minister for the Environment.  After announcing prior to the election that if elected the Labor Party would send the navy to the Southern Ocean if the Japanese were involved in illegal actions in Australian waters, this has been amended to a customs ship.  The media has also reported that Garrett has not been available for comment on the issue of whaling, with comments coming from Australia’s foriegn affairs and home affairs ministers.  It appears yet again that Garrett has been sidelined, and is being used by the Rudd Government as a symbol of its environmental credentials, while not being allowed to do anything.  So much for Garrett’s wish to change policy from within the Labor Party.  It has been left to Ian Campbell, and other community groups to do so.

Any comments on either of these two issues (or any other issues from Australian politics) would be welcome.  Hopefully a dialogue will develop, and information can be shared – that is the way that change will come about. Who knows, maybe John Howard will join the Anti-War Coalition or the ACTU (but somehow I doubt it).

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