your face is illegal [refugees and asylum seekers]

I was having a tanty the other day when I heard a news-anchor* refer to the asylum seekers who are going to be housed in Northam as ‘illegal immigrants’ that turned into a rather heated debate.

The debate ended with me throwing up my hands in frustration and us agreeing to disagree.  I was pretty pissed off.

Mostly, I was unhappy with myself for not having the actual answer — even though I knew I was right, that asylum seekers are not illegal, the best I could do wasn’t much short of going, “YOUR MAMMA IS ILLEGAL”.

So much for 6 years of law school and reading lots of stuff.  [Peter Garrett must resign &c]

I thought I was going pretty well by arguing that there is no law that says “if you come to Australia without a visa you commit an offence and are a detestable criminal”, and there is totally a difference between being ‘illegal’ and being ‘unauthorised’.

My opposition countered that if you need to have a visa to be ‘authorised’, and come here without the visa, you are unauthorised and that’s basically illegal. Cause that’s not legal.

[Me: Your face isn’t legal].

The Libs continue to use “illegal boat arrival[z]” and I think that’s one of the most damaging things in the debate about asylum seekers at the moment: of course people [let’s not call them rednecks, &c] are going to worry that people we lock up behind razor wire are scary if every day they are insidiously referenced as being tantamount to criminals.

Please don’t get me started on when our Dear Leaders as well as saying it out say horrible, incorrect, mean-nasties out loud (you know, it’s so scary to have 1500 single men in one place. Like in a mining camp).

So I got on the path to truth and wisdom as soon as I could and reminded myself the following things, which I encourage you to remember and share with your friends and bring up when you’re having your own debates in your communities about this issue:

  • Asylum seekers are not migrants, who leave their country voluntarily (often a choice they make to seek economic gain on yonder shores).  Asylum seekers leave because they are forced to flee from their homeland for fear of persecution and cannot return due to that fear [ASRC];
  • Asylum seekers – regardless of how they arrive in Australia – are permitted under Australian and international law to enter Australia for the purpose of seeking asylum, therefore asylum seekers have not broken any law [RCOA];
  • All people have a fundamental human right to seek asylum from persecution [AHRC]; and
  • Australia is a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, but successive governments have continually failed to fulfill Australia’s obligations under international law [AIA].

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has an excellent Fact Sheet out that I also recommend that you read and share.

For those of you interested in something heavier about the debate between sovereignty (ie, deciding ‘who comes into our country and blah blah blah’) and the human right to seek asylum, there’s a great paper in the Australian Year Book of International Law entitled ‘Sovereignty and the Right to Seek Asylum: The Case of Cambodian Asylum-Seekers in Australia’ (written in 1994 – the  laws have changed a bit but the debate hasn’t at all) that is available on AustLII.

*It was 7 Perth on Sunday 7 Nov 2010. Boo-hiss.

Can’t see the jobs for the Forrest…

I was on Q&A last night.  I sent three questions in — on refugees, sustainability and Twiggy’s 50,000 jobs–  and was lucky enough to have one of them chosen to be read out to the panel (specifically our hero-in-Hi-Vis, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest):

Two years ago you announced with great fanfare that you would get 50,000 indigenous Australians in jobs within two years. So how’s that going? And have you thought of taking a few steps back and looking at ways of getting kids to finish high school or addressing literacy, homelessness, domestic violence and substance abuse in Aboriginal communities?

Someone on the Q&A online forum made a comment that FMG isn’t responsible for social services at stuff and that parents should be sending their kids to school.  Yes. . .  of course.

My question was aimed at pointing out at that the issue at hand isn’t one that’ll be solved by banging on about 50k theoretical jobs.

Saying you’re committed to making 50,000 jobs available doesn’t do anything to address over two centuries of racism, dispossession and structural discrimination… which is the real point of ‘closing the gap’.

Turned out the timing was great for that one because the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research @ ANU released its report into the Australian Employment Covenant yesterday (I think I sent the question in on Thursday).

As pointed out by Dr Kirrily Jordan from Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research in today’s Crikey (paywalled):

So what, exactly, did the AEC set out to achieve? Some recent reports suggest that the aim of the AEC has only been to secure 50,000 job pledges from employers. But the formal agreement between the AEC and the Commonwealth government says that the original aim included an aspiration to “secure 50,000 sustainable jobs filled by indigenous Australians”, and the AEC website lists the scheme’s first goal as the “placement of 50,000 indigenous people into work”. If the goal of the AEC related only to job pledges, then these statements are confusing at best.

On job pledges, the AEC has been very effective in securing employer commitments. To date, more than 170 employers have promised a combined total of almost 26,000 “Covenant Jobs” under the scheme. Employers are asked to informally guarantee these jobs to indigenous applicants who complete appropriate training. This could be an important contribution: it not only creates an incentive for indigenous job seekers to undertake training but also seeks to challenge the well-established pitfall in which training is offered simply for training’s sake.

I think the AEC is really great, and that Twiggy’s a tops guy for putting so much passion and energy and money behind the initiative.

The thing is… as lovely as warm & fuzzy ‘awareness’ campaigns like GenerationOne and the AEC are, aren’t we all bloody well AWARE of the problems of indigenous disadvantage in Australia?

There’s a lot more that needs to be looked at below the surface of the slick ads and shiny websites before anyone can even say they’re going to ‘close the gap’ and that message risks being drowned out by the schmick PR stuff around covenants and commitments and promises and pledges.