Testing the thesis (continued)
(Disdain for the importance of human rights)
Demonisation and marginalisation of those who are ‘different’ – ‘difference’ being an important concept which has a particular meaning in everyday’s language as spoken in Australia – may lead to the acceptance in war and even in peace that respect for persons branded from time to time as ‘the enemy’ or ‘different’ is not necessarily owed – as it is said to be professed – to Australians. ‘The other’ is not necessarily Australian. S/he is not sufficiently patriotic, but Communist, terrorist, or as defined from time to time – presently one feels more than a whisper: Muslim. The goals of such exclusion from civilised norms are furthered by the use of propaganda, often passed through the media: newspapers, private radio and television stations, even through the so-called ‘education’ system – now renamed as ‘an industry’, which is, with rare exceptions, an ‘indoctrination’ system and strongly classist. The three levels of that system are essentially: primary = minding centres; secondary = bad jokes; and tertiary = solemn farces.
Disinformation is assisted by secrecy and official denials.
Human rights are occasionally spoken of, but more frequently ignored in the interest of ‘national security’ and according to ‘need’. Conformism and indoctrination being the functions of ‘schooling’, it comes to no one’s surprise that there may be cases when looking the other way is necessary ‘in the national interest’. And if torture be complained of, it certainly does not happen in Australia – of course. Of course, there is a world of difference between summary executions as practiced in ‘dictatorial regimes’ and incarceration as practiced in Australia. But what of incarceration as practiced elsewhere, and favoured, tolerated and ignored when practiced by ‘our ally’, our Great-And-Powerful-Friend, the sole Superpower?
Every year Amnesty International Reports document the state of human rights: in 2009 it did so across 159 countries. The Amnesty International Report 2015/16, which documented the state of human rights in 160 countries and territories during 2015, opened thusly: “Australia jailed Indigenous people at a disproportionate rate to non-Indigenous people; some children were detained with adults. Australia continued its hard-line policies towards asylum-seekers, including pushing back boats, refoulement, and mandatory and indefinite detention, as well as offshore processing on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea. Those assessed as refugees on Nauru were denied the right to settle in Australia and offered temporary visas or residency in Cambodia. Papua New Guinea had yet to finalize a temporary visa, to be granted to those recognized as refugees, leaving many people in a legal limbo unable to leave Manus Island. Staff and contractors who complained about human rights violations at immigration detention facilities could face criminal proceedings under new legislation. New “security” legislation extended data interception powers and a law was passed stripping dual nationals of their Australian citizenship for terrorism-related activities.”
The Report then proceeded to consider ‘Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
“Indigenous children were 24 times more likely to be detained than non-Indigenous children.
As the age of criminal responsibility in Australia is 10, laws allowed for children aged 10 and 11 to be detained in every jurisdiction in violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Australia detained children with adults in Queensland and provided limited separation between detained children and adult prisoners in at least one detention centre in the Northern Territory. The Western Australian government widened existing mandatory sentencing by introducing mandatory sentences for aggravated home burglaries for adults and children aged 16 and 17, and by tightening the mandatory sentencing counting rules for non-violent home burglaries. Indigenous adults were 14 times more likely than non-Indigenous adults to be incarcerated and deaths in custody continued. In May , an Indigenous man in the Northern Territory died of heart failure in a police watch house, three hours after being taken into custody on suspicion of drinking alcohol in a regulated place. The coroner criticized the paperless arrest system under which the man was taken into custody as “manifestly unfair” in its disproportionate impact on Indigenous people, who were more likely to be targeted by the laws. Three prisoners died in two Western Australia prisons during September, November and December , adding to the list of deaths in custody yet to be heard by the Western Australian Coroner. One prisoner died in a New South Wales prison in December.
In June , the Federal government handed responsibility for essential and municipal services in remote Indigenous communities to state governments. The Western Australian Premier stated that up to 150 communities may be closed as a result; widespread protests ensued. Following the protests the Western Australian government initiated a consultation process.”
Amnesty International Report was equally scathing – and not for the first time – about Australia’s treatment of ‘Refugees and Asylum-seekers’.
“Australia continued its punitive approach to asylum-seekers arriving by boat by pushing them back at sea, returning them to countries of origin without proper assessment of asylum claims, creating a risk of refoulement, or by transferring them to Australian-run facilities in Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
By 30 November , 926 people were detained in Papua New Guinea and 543 people remained in the “open” facility on Nauru, including 70 children.
In March , the government released an independent review of the Nauru centre, which documented allegations of rape and sexual assault – including of children – as well as cases of harassment and physical assault (see Nauru entry). The Australian government accepted all of the recommendations but despite this in August  a Senate report stated conditions were “not adequate, appropriate or safe”. In October  the Nauru government announced that asylum-seekers would no longer be detained in the centre, which would become an open facility. It also announced that the remaining 600 asylum claims would be processed “within a week”. By the end of December  processing still had not been completed.
In June , four refugees were transferred to Cambodia as part of a deal signed in September 2014 where Australia paid an additional A$40 million (US$28 million) in aid to Cambodia, as well as a further A$15 million (US$10.5 million) for specific expenses, to relocate refugees there from its offshore immigration processing centre on Nauru.
While one of the four agreed to return from Cambodia to Myanmar in October , a fifth man was transferred to Cambodia from Nauru in November . Also in June, Indonesian officials alleged Australia paid people-smugglers US$31,000 in May  to return to Indonesia a boat carrying 65 asylum-seekers. A Senate Inquiry was ongoing at the end of the year.
Australia continued its policy of indefinite mandatory detention, with 1,852 people detained in onshore immigration detention centres as of 1 December . They included 104 children, despite the government’s pledge in August 2014 to end the detention of children. In July  the government introduced the Border Force Act 2015, which includes prison sentences for government staff and contractors, including health and child welfare professionals, who speak out about human rights abuses in immigration detention.
It also proposed legislation that would allow immigration detention employees to use force, including lethal force, against any individual in detention, while removing judicial oversight.
In August  the government announced that since December 2013 it had pushed back 20 boats, carrying a combined total of 633 people, including one directly to Vietnam in July . In November , another boat carrying 16 asylum-seekers was reportedly pushed back to Indonesia.
In September  the government announced that it would resettle an additional 12,000 Syrian refugees in response to the crisis in the Middle East. Between 10 and 30 seem to have been considered to date.
Passing on to deal with Counter-terror and Security, Amnesty International noted that “Parliament passed legislation stripping those with dual nationality of their Australian citizenship on the basis of suspicion of involvement in terrorist-related activities.
Australian dual nationals risked losing citizenship without any criminal conviction and with limited procedural safeguards. Legislation was passed authorizing the mass surveillance of personal metadata.”
Finally, on International Security, the Report said that “In November , Australia’s human rights record was assessed for the second time under the UN Universal Periodic Review. Australia received criticism for its failure to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and its failure to address Indigenous incarceration rates. Australia received recommendations to introduce a Human Rights Act and to end mandatory detention of asylum-seekers.” (‘Amnesty International Annual Report 2015/2016’).
Tomorrow: Testing the thesis . . . Disdain for the importance of human rights (continued)
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.