Bordering On Insanity

It is Australia Day, January 26th, 2003 – 215 years since the First Fleet landed in Sydney Cove. And this South Pacific colonial border patrol state is bordering on insanity.

As dawn broke on the 215th year of crown rule, people imprisoned in desert detention camps set fires in protest, and the Howard Government again trumpeted the anti-asylum seeker hysteria that won it re-election in 2001. The demonization of asylum seekers and the immigration issue highlight the ugly vein of racism that runs throughout Australia’s history. The Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) and its Minister Philip Ruddock have gone so far as to manufacture stories to generate support for their hard-line policies; incarcerate asylum seekers; and deny visas to political activists using secret evidence and trumped up pretexts. The scaremongering accompanying Australia’s immigration policy is frequently punctuated by shrill claims that organized resistance to the racist immigration regime, and protest actions against the government, are “unAustralian.”

The government sees the detention regime as part of an overall strategy of deterrence to keep the poor and non-white from its fabled fatal shores. Adult Learning Australia’s Janet Burstall wrote that John Howard’s Government is trying to “educate” those seeking refugee status in Australia: “The refugees are to spread the word back home – don’t even think about coming to Australia, you will suffer in hell.”

Meanwhile, DIMIA rationalises the banning of US student activist and global justice organiser Doyle Canning by citing secret evidence gathered from Australian and other intelligence agencies, and declaring that the refusal of her visa application ‘may deter other individuals from committing similar acts’ of free-speech. As people in Villawood, Woomera, Port Hedland, Baxter and Christmas Island detention centres once again protested the barbaric and punitive conditions in Australia’s detention centres earlier this month, the story of Doyle’s visa ban broke on the front page of the national daily, ‘The Australian’.

Her case illustrates how Australia’s immigration legislation also targets those advocating alternatives to the twisted anti-human logic of market capitalism. On the one hand a US peace activist and critic of neoliberalism is barred from entering Australia. On the other the Howard Government slavishly supports the Bush administration’s war machine, and is eager to sign a bilateral free trade and investment agreement with the USA.

Along with some 50, 000 others, Doyle Canning was on the streets of Seattle at the end of 1999, protesting the World Trade Organisation’s third ministerial meeting. In February 2000, aged 20, she went to Australia to study Australian ecology, Aboriginal Australia, colonization, the impacts of globalization in Australia, and the response of social movements as part of her degree at Goddard College in Vermont.

Prior to visiting Australia she had one minor criminal conviction – US $50 fine from a sit-in at so-called progressive Congressman Bernie Sanders’ office – a protest of the depleted uranium bombing of Kosovo in 1999. She had informed Australian authorities about her trespass ticket and had no problem getting a six-month tourist visa. While she undertook independent study and research in Tasmania and Victoria, she met activists preparing for a mass direct-action at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Asia-Pacific Summit in September.

Doyle shared stories and strategies gleaned from her experiences in Seattle and helped out in the efforts to mobilize against the WEF. She spoke at several rallies and conferences, and with media, about the Seattle mobilizations and the WTO, but returned home a month before the s11 protests shut down the “Economic Olympics” in Melbourne’s Crown Casino.

Dubbed the “Seattle of the South Pacific,” the s11 actions spanned three days, and on the morning of September 11, 2000 over 10,000 Australians shut down the WEF, which was playing host to Prime Minister John Howard, Bill Gates, and CEOs and politicians from around the world. While convergence spaces hosted trade unionists, environmentalists, students and activists of all stripes for meetings, direct action training, workshops and demonstrations against neoliberalism and corporate rule, Steve Bracks, the Premier of Victoria, railed against the protesters on ABC News: “It’s not Australian. It’s very unAustralian.”

Doyle Canning was on the other side of the world by then. Yet reading between the lines of official correspondence from DIMIA, it is as if the Australian government has made her the “fall girl” for the anti-WEF actions in Melbourne. Just as the use of the term “unAustralian” harkens back to Cold War McCarthyism and “un-American activities,” so too does the ridiculous construction of Doyle as an outside agitator, a “foreign hand.” Governments and their security forces have conveniently cast anti-globalization activists as the new “reds under the bed”. Never mind that thousands of Australians were – and still are – organising against the injustices wrought by global capitalism.

How many other people have been denied entry into Australia for their political views and non-violent organising activities? ‘The Australian’ reported that “in banning the Vermont student from visiting here, Mr Ruddock has placed her in the same dangerous alien category as Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, the outspoken Holocaust denier David Irving and the Black Panther Lorenzo Komboa Ervin.”

A former Panther and anarchist writer, Ervin was arrested while in Brisbane in July 1997 on a nationwide speaking tour. He was thrown in jail and beaten by police after right-wing politician Pauline Hanson accused him of being a terrorist and demanded his deportation. Although acting Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone’s decision to cancel Ervin’s visa (on the basis of concerns about his “character”) was overturned in a court ruling, he was still told to leave or face likely deportation – even amongst media hoopla, international declarations of solidarity, and demonstrations at Australian consulates overseas.

Doyle Canning’s visit clearly came to the attention of Australia’s political thought police – but the ban on her, apparently on a similar “character” pretext, was imposed far more quietly. Her vocal opposition to the WTO and stories of the victories won by people mobilizing in Seattle were seen as dangerous inspiration to the local global justice community, planning direct action at the WEF, and her ideas and organizational skills were apparently evidence of her poor character.

After being told that she was ineligible for an electronic 90-day visitors visa after applying online in September 2001, Doyle learned that she was subject to visa refusal under section 501 of the Migration Act, and was also subject to a Ministerial “Character Test”.

It wasn’t until July 2002 that Doyle was informed by the Australian Embassy in Washington that she had been denied a visitor’s visa because she did not pass the “Character Test”. Section 501 (6) (d) of the Australian Migration Act allows the Minister of Immigration to refuse a visa because of the applicant’s political affiliation and potential to “incite discord in the Australian community or in a segment of that community.” In addition, the Act provides for Ministerial intervention if the applicant could “represent a danger to the Australian community or to a segment of that community, whether by way of being liable to become involved in activities that are disruptive to, or in violence threatening harm to that community or segment, or in any other way.”

DIMIA had compiled a report on Doyle’s character in a dossier referred to as ËœAttachments A, B, and C.” She was, of course, not privy to these documents, and filed a complaint with the Ombudsman’s office, but apparently DIMIA was advised that these documents could ‘not be divulged to any person, including the Ombudsman’.

Following ‘The Australian’ coverage, which suggested that the Ombudsman was about to take legal action against Ruddock to gain access to the secret documents, Doyle wrote to seek clarification. In a recent media statement she noted: “In an email earlier this month from John Taylor of the Ombudsman’s office, I was told that the Ombudsman’s position was mistakenly represented in ‘The Australian’ article and that my case was closed in December [2002] ‘as we were not able to pursue production of the documents involved because of the statutory protections provided to DIMIA under Section 503A of the Migration Act’.”

Where a decision is made by the Minister himself, section 503A of the Migration Act apparently allows the Minister of Immigration to seal and withhold all departmental files – even from the Ombudsman – the arm of the state which is supposed to provide oversight and ensure accountability from government. Ruddock is executioner, judge and jury in the kangaroo court of Australian immigration.

As for Minister Ruddock’s own ‘character’, as Minister for Indigenous Affairs in 2000 he told ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’ that Aboriginal people in Australia were disadvantaged because they had come into contact with “developed civilisations” later than other Indigenous Peoples. In October 2001, he whipped up pre-election hysteria against refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia by showcasing a fabricated story of Iraqi people allegedly throwing their children overboard in an attempt to blackmail Australia to take them in. Of course, they were accused of unAustralianism too. If the Australian authorities are willing to concoct such incidents, and Ruddock himself champions hard-line policies against “savage” asylum seekers and Aboriginal People to win elections, then who knows what fairy tales and politicised innuendo are contained in attachments A, B and C?

While Ruddock refuses to disclose the information which he claims proves Doyle’s bad character, his press officer has told media that she would need to “change her circumstances significantly” before lifting the ban would be considered, and that “the section on which her visa has been rejected remains on her record forever and will act as a bar.” A visa ban on Gerry Adams was only revoked after he had “renounced violence,” so “you could assume that the refusal to allow her back to Australia related to her activities and associations in the US.” The information on her must remain secret because its source needed to be protected, they claimed.

Protected from the embarrassment that the Minister and DIMIA would surely have to endure if the documents were ever released is a more likely scenario. From the spirited resistance inside the cages and barbed wire fences of Australia’s immigration detention centres, to the struggles on the streets against corporate rule and colonisation, political organising is clearly understood as a crime to those who desire a world of compliant individualized economic isolates acting in their own self-interest.

While Australia played host to the WTO Mini-Ministerial in Sydney last November thousands of asylum seekers were incarcerated across the continent. As Australia negotiates a bilateral trade deal with the US, Doyle is exploring potential legal avenues against Ruddock and his Department for her unjust treatment. Globalization, we are reminded, is about the free flow of capital, and criminalization of those who seek refuge, or bring a message of hope and solidarity across the borders of nation states.

Doyle concludes that her case “illustrates that the Liberal government is so scared of ideas which challenge neoliberal corporate globalization that it will use every available avenue to silence dissent and keep its borders open for free trade, and closed to activists and organizers working for social change.”

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