‘ASIO checks destroy refugee lives’ on Socialist Alternative

Today on Socialist Alternative, my article ‘ASIO checks destroy refugee lives’ appears:

At 1am on 14 May, I received a text message informing me that another refugee had attempted suicide inside Broadmeadows detention centre. It was the third attempt this month; another stark reminder of the effect mandatory detention has on refugees.

Jasee, a Tamil refugee, tried to hang himself after viewing a Mother’s Day special on TV. It had reminded him of his mum, who died during the civil war in Sri Lanka. He was 13 at the time.

One of the asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking in 2009, he remains in detention today even though he has been recognised as a refugee by the Department of Immigration. Like more than 55 other refugees, negative ASIO security checks condemn him to a life of indefinite detention. He is stuck in legal limbo. His refugee status and legitimate fear of torture or death if returned to Sri Lanka mean he cannot be deported. Yet the Immigration Department refuses to release refugees that have been condemned by ASIO’s secretive process of security checks and “character assessments”.

Continue reading…

On Friday, the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) – which I’m apart of – will be holding an action outside the Department of Immigration demanding an end to indefinite detention and an end to ASIO security checks. See Facebook for more details.

If you think TAFE cuts don’t affect you, your course will be next.

The proposed cuts to TAFE in Victoria seems to have washed over people like it doesn’t affect anyone. $300 million will be slashed by Baillieu whilst fees triple. Yet there is barely any outrage about this. The trade union and the student union haven’t provided a lead in any resistance, and at RMIT, university students walk passed stalls advertising the rally as if it doesn’t affect them.

But a show of opposition to the cuts to education is crucial tomorrow. The cuts to TAFE have to be seen as part of a broader assault on education led by Liberal State governments in the Eastern states. Arts are being savaged in Queensland, both Macquarie Uni and Sydney face major cuts, as well as the whole school of Music at ANU. It is not hard to imagine that if all of this goes by without even a whimper of opposition, a Liberal Federal government under Abbott will be pretty confident to continue with cuts and savage more education as well as other social services.

If you think education cuts don’t affect you, your course could be next. Your job could be next. Your kid’s school, your local hospital could be next. Wayne Swan says that our economy is the envy of the rest of the world, and it is true insofar as everywhere else is shit, but we are not immune and there are signs that some states are already in recession. From the perspective of those in power, cuts will be needed to maintain an edge over the rest of the world, and they want to do it sooner rather than later, before it gets so bad that people are forced to resist.

Resistance in essential in Australia. Solidarity with TAFE students is crucial. If they get to TAFE, they’ll come for your course next and when you look for support, it will be too late and there will be no TAFE students to defend you.

Protest against cuts to TAFE, outside Baillieu’s office at 1 Treasury Place from 12.30

Refugees: boat arrivals need to be assisted not deterred

Debates about offshore processing and how best to ‘manage’ the refugee ‘problem’ have flared up again following the tragic boat sinking between Indonesia and Australia over the weekend. In a sickening display, both Labor and the Coalition have used the tragedy to pursue their various forms of offshore processing, (or dumping) that do not save lives, but rather ruin or kill them under someone else’s responsibility.

More disappointing though has been the response from liberals or those considered allies of the refugee movement. Both Robert Manne and Bernard Keane in their responses, have accepted the logic of the mainstream debate that we need to stop the boats through a policy of deterrence in order to save lives. They also accept the logic that there is a problem with refugees seeking asylum that we need to manage somehow, rather than help to facilitate the safe seeking of asylum, by whatever means is necessary.

The starting point should be the recognition of that fundamental right to seek asylum. And that right is guaranteed no matter how one arrives. I repeat that a lot, but I do so, because it seems to so often get missed. People have a right to arrive by boat, and recognising that right should involve helping those who do so, to do safely.

Policies that impede that right, such as offshore processing, or policies involved in stopping the boats, also do not save lives. The end result of denying someone’s right to seek asylum is to work toward preventing them escaping situations of war or persecution. People who are seeking asylum often flee for fear of their life or liberty. If they do not escape or are sent back through deportation, the logical conclusion is that they could lose their life or are imprisoned, tortured etc. and that we are partly responsible for that. This is especially the case if we are invading those countries in the case of Afghanistan, or financially or politically backing the repressive government, in the case of Sri Lanka’s persecution of the Tamils.

The other outcome is that, if they manage to flee the initial situation, they are stuck in a third country; countries that are not signatories to any refugee convention or less able to look after refugees. Or in the case of the Malaysian solution, they will be sent back to one of these third countries. In Malaysia, refugees are caned and tortured. They have no rights. They have no right to work or receive benefits and often have to work illegally or beg to eat and live, and to look after their families. These ‘queues’ where people wait for decades, effectively rotting, unable to restart their lives, driven to take a boat because it’s the only way, are not a solution to the problem that people need to seek asylum.

Manne supports Nauru, the Coalition’s alternative, but this solution too means refugees languish on another island for possibly years waiting to be resettled, and not in Australia. Detention like this destroys people. It is not a more humane option.

Manne then goes on to argue that the Left have largely ignored the danger that asylum seekers face when travelling to Australia by boat, and that we must find a policy that deters this. But my alternative, and one I think the refugee movement must be clear on, involves not stopping the boats, but by making it safer.

There is nothing fundamentally dangerous about travelling from one country to another by boat. But it is the criminalisation of people smuggling that makes it dangerous and indeed fatal. Border patrols force boats to take the most dangerous routes to avoid detection. The policy of ‘scuttling’ boats i.e. destroying them on arrival, mean only the cheapest and most unseaworthy boats are sent on one way voyages.

The alternative I envisage would involve patrols to help boats in trouble arrive at our shores. It would involve even regulating the industry so that safe and seaworthy boats could transport asylum seekers from places like Malaysia and Indonesia and allow those boats to return. This would be on top of not only dramatically increasing our intake by plane, but to also honour it.

In this respect, I agree with Guy Rundle’s response to both Keane and Manne.

We need to stop treating refugees arriving by boat as a problem that needs to be managed, but instead see that refugees being unable to safely seek asylum is the real problem, and our goal should be to help manage that, rather than deter people from exercising that basic right.

But our government, whether it has been a Labor one or a Liberal one, prefers to turn refugees into a problem, a threat, to divert attention away from other problems, such as lack of funding for health and education, and so will not change their policy unless their is political pressure put on them, and this pressure does not waver on principles in order to appease those in government, and accept the mainstream terms of the debate. The mainstream debate is focussed on other goals, not a goal that seeks to look after people’s human rights.

It is clear to me, as it does when the refugee issue flares up time and time again, that a large, vocal, public and principled campaign for refugee rights needs to be created to pressure the government. This will require arguments to be had, but also for people to mobilise on the streets.

Baiada workers not chickening out of a fight

Wondering where I’ve been recently? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. Since about Wednesday, I’ve been spending a lot of time on a picket line down in Laverton, in Melbourne’s outer Western Suburbs supporting the Baiada workers in one hell of an inspiring fight not only for a decent standard of living, but for respect and safety in their workplace.

Baiada Poultry is a chicken processing factory that supplies a major percentage of the nation’s chicken including to major supermarkets and fast food outlets, and since last Tuesday, not one chicken has been killed in the Victorian plant. It makes millions, processing something like 180,000 chickens a day when it’s running, but its workforce see hardly any of the profit.

Issues at hand include some of the workforce working for cash in hand wages of as low as $10 an hour, being hired as contractors and having to provide your own WorkCover and Super, and the extremely unsafe work practices. Last year a worker was decapitated after being forced to clean a machine whilst it was still processing chickens. And the racism toward the mostly migrant workforce means that workers have, until now, been under confident about raising these concerns.

But the industrial dispute has seen a real shift in their confidence. And this is the first time I’ve been on an old school picket line, actually blocking trucks for a long, stopping scabs from getting in etc. And on Friday, the police tried to break it up, driving a wedge through hundreds of workers and community supporters to try and get in the scabs, but it was the defiance of the workers, including a group of Vietnamese women, that actually pushed the police back, forcing them to retreat.

The significance of this industrial dispute cannot be overestimated. These workers are not just fighting for themselves, but inspiring other workers on how to win. Since Friday, a crowd of community supporters have constantly been on the picket, swelling to hundreds at crucial times when there are rumours of attempts to break the picket line.

Now the chicken section in supermarkets Coles are short on chicken or empty, citing industrial action as the reason. The action is really hurting Baiada. And we hope to keep it up, calling on more community and union support. Other unions set up scaffolding this morning outside the front gate and unions such as the MUA, NTEU and the ASU have rostered themselves on to send members down to help guard the picket.

There is also a solidarity action/stunt in the city tonight, Tuesday night, meeting at City Square at 5.30pm. It’s going to involve chicken suits so it should be fun and I’m bringing my video camera.

I’d urge people in Melbourne or even Victoria, to get down any time to Pipe Road, Laverton, to offer support and soak up some inspiration on how to fight and win.

Occupy Melbourne and the need to challenge the state

On Saturday, once again the streets were full with thousands defying state intimidation from the police, marching from the State Library to take over Treasury Gardens, but the force of thousands was not enough for the re-occupation to be successful – and the police didn’t even have to break it up.

Over the past week or so, simmering political divisions eventually became clear, manifesting in a small but influential group that stacked out the organising groups, driving an agenda against confrontation and disruption, against political aims and against debate. Beginning with a reluctance to protest against the Queen and Robert Doyle, the obsession with confining our actions under the narrow scope of legality meant that the inevitable need to disrupt things, defy unjust laws and to defend a camp against the state didn’t happen.

Robert Doyle had made it clear that we were not allowed to set up camp anywhere and that any camp would be broken up by the police. So in order to set up a successful camp, we were going to have to defy that and defend it. And so, despite the thousands in Treasury Gardens, the political division between challenging the state and appeasing it was brought open.

The General Assembly voted to march to Bowen Lane and set up camp there instead. This was overwhelmingly voted upon but once we got there, and some began setting up tents, many of the logistical groups like the Kitchen, refused to help put the camp into practice, defying the democratic decision.

The argument that the legal position of setting up a camp in RMIT was weaker because it was private land is bullshit. Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberation Plaza, which is the site of the Occupy Wall Street camp is privately owned by a corporation. They set up camp anyway and the force of numbers and the will to defend it, meant that they police haven’t been able to clear people off. It has not stopped people from supporting it and growing the camp.

The meeting at RMIT to discuss where to go next saw many dwindle away. We were running from one location to another, trying to find somewhere the council would let us camp. Some suggested running outside of council boundaries to Edinburgh gardens, and led a split because the rest of the group didn’t want to go somewhere outside of the city where no one would see us.

For me, this kept raising the political issue that you have to challenge the state to get anywhere. You need to defy unjust laws. There was a small minority that didn’t want to do that, and through the undemocratic manoeuvres within consensus decision making (which I can’t be fucked going into) they managed to avoid the necessary challenge to the state, whether it was because of their careers, their desire to be respectable, or the mistake that they think we can win anything by playing by the rules.

In America, camps continue to defy eviction orders, defend themselves, are confronted with much worse violence from the state including the use of rubber bullets, and this confrontation is what keeps bringing more supporters to the occupations and makes it stronger.

Rosa Parks wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if she’d just sat at the back of the bus, not wanting to disrupt things or challenge the law. Mubarak would still be in power in Egypt if the occupiers in Tahrir Square didn’t defend themselves and just moved from square to square.

And the Fair Work Australia ruling on Qantas shows once again that the state isn’t on our side. It’s another example of why we need to defy the law in order to win anything. We don’t have the right to strike in this country. And workers around the world have always had to confront the state trying to send them back to work. It’s by fighting that we win.

On Overland: The Boycott Israel 19

On the Overland blog today, my piece on the Boycott Israel 19 argues why everyone in Melbourne who supports the right to demonstrate needs to defend the 19 of us that were arrested on July 1 and to make the next BDS action on July 29 even bigger:

On Friday 1 July, 19 pro-Palestinian activists, including me, were arrested in Melbourne’s CBD for opposing Max Brenner, a chocolate store that sends care packages to some of the most brutal sections of the Israeli army. The arrests show just how far defenders of Israel will go to silence dissent. Furthermore, police intimidating and violently attacking a protest in Melbourne sets a dangerous precedent for anyone wanting to demonstrate in Victoria.

Read more…

Refugee activists won't be intimidated by police

On Sunday, around 170-200 people protested outside Maribyrnong Detention Centre in Melbourne’s west calling for an end to mandatory detention, an end to locking up innocent people who come here seeking asylum from poverty-stricken, war-torn and oppressive countries.

For standing up against injustice and racism, we were met with intimidation and brutality at the hands of the Victorian Police. On that day, I had a video camera documenting the events (the video is below) and we wanted to take note of the tactics the police used as evidence later. Many cops hid their badge numbers which is illegal and often an indication that they plan to do illegal things, they brought out at least 8 horses, and two attack dogs.

For marching on the road, as per an agreement with the police beforehand, we were charged at by horses. I got it all on video and as one man was arrested and dragged out of the march, I tried to get the whole thing. For that, I was tackled to the ground and beaten with a baton. Filming an arrest is apparently ‘interfering with police’ i.e. they were arresting someone for doing nothing wrong and didn’t want evidence of them doing so, along with charging the demonstration with horses with no justification at all. The man was later released without charge as my footage made the nightly news.

It was a clear attempt from the police to intimidate people out of protesting. We refused to back down and continued marching to Highpoint shopping centre where we released a banner reading ‘Free the Refugees’ that floated through the middle of shopping centre.

This highlights to need for more people to come out next time in defiance of police intimidation and to make it harder to try to do the same next time.