Achieving A Just Refugee Policy for 2018
People Just Like Us Submission
ALP National Platform Consultation Draft 2018
People Just Like Us was established in Feb 2015 and it includes asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and individual members who are multilingual. We have decades of direct experience of the refugee crisis and experience in public policy development. We are formed for all people fighting the cruel, and inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers under Australia's immigration regime.
Prolonged toxic political and Government propaganda regarding refugees has led to a rise in xenophobia and Islamophobia throughout Australia. We recommend the creation of an independent vanguard organisation that draws upon (but is separate from) the Refugee Advocacy Sector, Labor and government to revive and extend the idea of a humane and transparent humanitarian refugee migration program.
This agency can promote this program to the general public as part of a “Fair Go”. “Every Australian Counts” was the name of the organisation which prepared the public to recognise the need for an NDIS under the then Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services, Bill Shorten. It is a suitable model for raising public awareness about the powerhouse of opportunity that enterprising, courageous and talented refugees bring to Australia.
The aim of this submission is to offer Labor a concrete, easy to follow plan, with tangible benefits for the broadest possible range of Labor members, voters, community and refugees.
The refugee debate should never be about border security. Asylum seekers and refugees are not invaders to our border. They are people just like us; they are people desperately seeking protection at our doorstep.
Labor won’t win the debate on “toughen” vs “soften” borders, boat turn-backs, or (indefinite) offshore detention against the Liberal because the discussion has been framed by the Liberals. Labors needs to distinguish itself from the Liberals. There is no limit to cruelty and inhumanity, not to mention the moral depravity which the current policy entails.
The only chance for Labor to win the refugee debate is to reframe it under humanity and compassion. Only with a policy as outlined in #TurnBackToHumanity can Labor have a chance of defeating the LNP in the coming election.
Ideal Labor Policy—The Points:
We acknowledge “ALP National Platform Consultation Draft 2018”, paragraph(s) 233-301 which deal with ALP Migration policy and Humanitarian Migration Programme. We commend many of the points raised and hope Labor will commit firmly to them.
However, we have concerns regarding the detention of children and unaccompanied minors, around the exception clauses in the 90-day limit on mandatory detention, around the incompatibility of the deterrence model with a truly humanitarian migration program, around the retention of offshore detention in particular, given the long history of previous abuses that have occurred in the system.
- Permanent closure of offshore facilities. Close immediately all remote ‘onshore’ and offshore detention facilities including those in so-called excised territories or remove the excision of these territories.
- Bring all remaining prisoners on Manus and Nauru (whether technically re-settled there or not) to Australia or set them free to live in relative safety in another viable country such as New Zealand or Canada.
- Conduct search and rescue, not boat turn-backs. Refugee policy should not be about border security. People seeking asylum are not invaders; they are people seeking our protection at our doorstep.
- Process people rapidly in Malaysia and Indonesia. This does not mean the resettlement of the current backlog of people seeking asylum in those or other Asian countries, for example Cambodia. It means resettling them in Australia. This humanely prevents people from risking their own precious lives on the sea and truly paves the way for a realistic regional solution that is not just about dumping ‘unwanted’ people onto our neighbours.
- Elevate refugee targets and allow refugees to apply for other categories of visa. Allow for private sponsorship over and above the government humanitarian quota, as per Canada. We commend Labor for addressing it in the ‘Platform’.
- Cap detention time to 30 days by conducting faster checks.
A three-week security check turnaround is generally realistic, plausible and saves taxpayers money in many regards. Immigration detention should be the measure of last resort. Alternatives to detention, may take various forms, including registration and/or deposit/surrender of documents, bond/bail/sureties, reporting conditions, community release and supervision, designated residence, electronic monitoring, or home curfew.
- Grant permanent residence and get rid of TPVs. We commend Labor on sticking to this in their ‘Platform’.
- Activate Labor’s Bill of Rights as a matter of urgency. Many organisations are calling for this and it has broad community support.
- Build transparency into all refugee assessment processes.
- Ensure integrity of all tender processes for refugee services and facilities.
- Establish a government-funded organisation to run the public awareness campaign for acceptance of refugees, as per the NDIS. Labor has the edge in this. This initiative is extremely important given the systematic erosion of a free and independent press.
- Establish a Royal Commission into the entire conduct of the deterrence method of dealing with humanitarian migration, in particular into measures rolled out since the establishment of Stop the Boats and Border Force and the No Advantage Pacific ‘Solution’ Part Two. Given the revelations from and broad public support of the Banking Royal Commission, the time is right for this as soon as Labor can achieve it.
What #TurnBackToHumanity can do for Australia and the ALP
- Underscore Labor values of a Fair Go and decency that resonate with the community.
- Future-proof Australia against terrorism, by supporting vulnerable young people from refugee source countries.
- Establish future positive trade and economic links with source countries.
- Restore Australia’s position as a regional leader and, by positive example, pave the way for a regional solution.
- Refugee resettlement has support in rural and regional communities, eager to rebuild population and economy. This can be coupled with genuine and effective decentralisation initiatives, that Labor is well placed to roll out.
- Address the cost to taxpayers of “Border Protection” in its present, punitive form. Savings could be spent on other areas of public concern such as child poverty, homelessness, closing the gap and equal access to quality education in addition to positive community processing of refugees. This must cover more innovative re-settlement processes, such as allowing humanitarian applicants to apply for other visa categories over and above the base humanitarian intake, allowing for community sponsorship over and above a generous base humanitarian quota.
- Address ALP membership decline. Make real efforts to re-engage “Tampa Greens” with Labor. Many electorates that once had vibrant Labor Party branches no longer run Labor candidates. Grateful refugees are more likely to vote Labor than economic migrants fleeing taxation in their countries of origin.
- Humanising the debate is not just about sentiment. It is about long-term national interest and economics. It is imperative in the current and foreseeable geo-political climate that Australia has a good standing in the Asia-Pacific Region. It must also function as an adequate role model of humane and open policies that serve the common good regionally. Many of our neighbours struggle with poverty, education, employment, population and climate change issues.
- Attempt to redress the harm to abused refugees including gay refugees held in countries that criminalise homosexuality.
- It is in the long-term interests of the Labor Party and also in the national interest to have a forward thinking humane, transparent and positive policy that takes in possible scale of refugees fleeing wars and climate change.,
- Refugees and economic migrants have both been shown to benefit the economy according to a briefing released recently by Treasury and Home Affairs Departments. It is not appropriate for a wealthy country to act with selfish austerity or ignore the hardship at its doorstep. If “charity does (indeed) begin at home”, let us make that home a more sustainable, productive, positive and welcoming one.
- Appeasing the military establishment’s penchant for deterrence-based models reinforces xenophobic nationalist concepts. Closed, “Fortress Australia” with its “Sovereign Borders” does not sit well in a global economy or a region facing development challenges. The alienation of neighbours is dangerous. Mutual aid and mutual respect rules out using beleaguered islander communities as Australia’s “too-hard-basket”. Nor do these very limited, short term strategic and foreign aid goals reflect the Human Rights objectives of the UN Refugee Convention endorsed in Labor policy.
- The military and Home Affairs might do better to focus upon cyber security, identifying skilled migrants or illegal overstayers who travel by air than fixate on those who broach this island’s very large moat.
Discussion of ALP National Platform Consultation Draft
Labor asserts: “We share a common faith in Australia’s oldest idea: a Fair Go all round. That is the tradition we respect and the evolving mission we pledge ourselves to today,” and ... “In the Asian Century, let us continue to seek security in our region, not from it.“
- We applaud the concept of a Fair Go all round and expect Labor to uphold these ideal through its actions with regard to all aspects of the Humanitarian Migration Program. We have learned from past and current mistakes, that how we treat people asking us for refuge defines us.
People Just Like Us applauds Labor’s commitment to A Human Rights Framework ‘that reflects our international obligations necessary to deliver our commitment to fundamental rights across social and economic policies. We are committed to promoting awareness and understanding of human rights, supporting the international human rights instruments to which Australia is a signatory. We endorse funding and support of a politically independent Australian Human Rights Commission, an autonomous agency that plays a critical role in our society. Labor will adhere to Australia’s international human rights obligations and will seek to have them incorporated into the domestic law of Australia and taken into account in administrative decision-making and whenever new laws and policies are developed.’ We urge Labor to enact the necessary laws for a Bill of Rights into Australian domestic law without delay. We remind Labor that people have human rights because they are human, not only because they are Australian. Therefore, such human rights must be applied to all aspects of A Humanitarian Migration Program.
- PJLU commend Labor’s respect and ongoing support for a non-discriminatory and diverse migration program and its recognition of the vibrancy of migrant contribution and for Labor’s commitment to leadership in humanitarian migration and settlement.
- Acknowledgement of the current global refugee crisis and of Australia’s unique position in our region to show strongly positive leadership in shaping future responses to this crisis is also to be commended
- People Just Like Us commends Labor’s pledge to uphold all aspects of The Refugee Convention. We welcome the statement that Labor in Government will contribute to work with the UNHCR.
- We therefore ask Labor to address the following inconsistency in its humanitarian migration policy. There is a problem with the general paradigm of deterrence. It is punitive by definition. It presupposes that the deterrence policy will escalate until it works. Where does it end? Shooting? Bombing? Torture camps?
- Therefore, If Labor is going to have a truly humane policy on humanitarian migration, it cannot be framed as a national security issue. It must be predicated by a do-no-harm ethic. This does not imply that Australia has to single handedly solve the global refugee crisis. It does imply that Australia must take a leadership role that all Australians can be proud of.
- We point out that The Bali Process (Paragraph 248) to which Labor adheres, not only acknowledges the growing scale and complexity of irregular migration challenges both within and outside the Asia Pacific region and supports measures that would contribute to comprehensive long term strategies addressing the crimes of people smuggling and human trafficking, but also needs to reduce migrant exploitation by expanding safe, legal and affordable migration pathways. This second aspect of the Bali Process, that of providing alternative safe pathways to settlement, is vital and central to any truly humanitarian migration program. We feel that this aspect has to date been overlooked. We hope it will be one of the the strongest features of Labor’s future policy and actions.
- Addressing the genuine need for displaced people to find safe passage and timely, secure settlement, prevents them from endangering their own precious lives on dangerous sea voyages. This must be recognised as a cornerstone of any humanitarian migration program. Research indicates that every person who has undertaken such a voyage would not ever have risked that danger if other options had been available to them, even with a two-year wait time.
- We point out that if Australia is to take a leadership role in an enhanced humanitarian regional framework, Australia must first demonstrate a commitment to generous and increased humanitarian settlement programs in Australia as outlined above, drawing not only directly from source countries but also from some transit countries in our region. The reason for this is threefold. First, by definition, refugees are people who have been displaced outside their country’s borders and elevated targets for humanitarian settlement in Australia will help to alleviate congestion in parts of the region and demonstrate goodwill to our neighbours. Secondly, Australia’s current reputation in the region and globally has become so debased and tarnished that it is necessary for Australia to demonstrate this goodwill by its actions. Thirdly, Australia has the greatest capacity, economically, and historically, to be the country of destination for humanitarian settlement.
- Paragraph 247 on Australia’s Humanitarian Migration Program states: Australia has a particular responsibility to show humanitarian and protection leadership in South East Asia. Accordingly, Labor is committed to playing a leading role in working with South East Asian nations in the region and in particular, in Indonesia to build a regional framework to improve the lives of asylum seekers.
- We emphasise that Leadership in South East Asia means that Australia has responsibility in be a role model before insisting on ring of steel around our nation. By modelling positive and humane treatment of people seeking asylum in all aspects of our policy and actions as outlined here, and by rewarding positive steps by our neighbours to protect people needing asylum Australia will first gain the respect of its regional neighbours as a stepping stone to a humane Regional Framework.
- This means our culture of post-colonial arrogance must change. This means we do not bribe and bully our neighbours into taking people we (and they) do not want. We do not pay people smugglers to return boats. It means that we do not deport people to danger where they come from zones of persecution and civil war.
- This means we do not engage in military aid to such regimes or enter into deportation agreements with persecuting governments. This means Australia must also take our share of what a previous Labor minister for immigration has called ‘undesirables’. It means we offer genuine positive aid programs to help our neighbour welcome refugees, not security programs that trap and harm people seeking asylum. This means that we do not waste Australian tax dollars on further ad hoc, poorly conceived programs such as the Cambodian resettlement. This means that first, Australia must welcome refugees, end punitive policies and replace them with positive policies on our own soil.
- This means that Labor needs to think through what a Regional Framework will look like. For example, Indonesia hosts a number of detention centres at least partly funded by Australia. The secrecy on this needs to end. Wouldn't Indonesia rather get rid of those detention centres and instead have the inmates resettled in Australia? In return would Indonesia accept a number of Rohingya, whose settlement in Indonesia could be assisted by Australia. Whatever details will be negotiated, the attitude of ‘dumping’ by Australia needs to be reformed. Australia should not expect our neighbours, with vast problems of their own, to deal with people who we don't want. Australia is in a better position to help people. Australia thereby becomes a model and as such encourages our neighbours to improve their intake. Regional countries should not emulate our current standards. We've lost the moral high ground. and need to reclaim it.
- As stated in Paragraph 254: Labor in Government will increase the humanitarian intake to create an orderly pathway to resettlement in Australia for people at risk of people smuggling. That is safe passage. It inspires other countries to lift their intake.
Paragraph 240. Labor believes that as a country Australia must not harm people.
- A “Do No Harm” humanitarian migration program means that our navy or other authorities will search and rescue as per the Law of the Sea and the Refugee Convention. Even under previous Labor Governments, we have had instances of a delayed rescue response resulting in tragedies. We have the capacity to know all the coordinates of any boats departing. We applaud Labor’s commitment to a Regional Framework and expect “on water matters” to be carried out humanely, openly and transparently, with full media scrutiny, as in European countries. If there is nothing to hide and if authorities are doing their level best, as when rescuing vulnerable natural disaster victims or a lone yachtsman, there is no need for secrecy. This role would also give working men and women in the Australian navy a role they can be proud of. Medals for genuine rescue would then be truly appropriate.
- We have a number of concerns regarding the retention of detention in the 2018 ALP Draft Policy Platform, in particular for children including the detention of unaccompanied children. A humane policy does not fit with child detention, unaccompanied minors in detention and indefinite detention. Countless UN, Australian and overseas expert reports have underscored this point. How will Labor address this widely held, genuine concern?
The 90 day detention policy with an exceptions clause [Paragraph 269] can lead to a repeat of drawn-out situations. We have already seen people trapped in detention for 4 to 7 years under the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments. People have harmed and hung themselves under Labor, while the 90 day detention limit was on the statutes.
- Infectious Diseases Paediatrician Professor David Isaacs and Psychiatrist Dr Peter Young, who both have first hand experience of refugee conditions across the past 5 years on Nauru, have found that any form of detention unequivocally harms health. This has been borne out by numerous studies.     
- It is impossible to conduct complete full background checks on people from war zones, people who have no documents or those who have been forced to get false documents in order to escape violence, persecution and chaos. Inadequate paperwork does not necessarily reflect on their character. Refugees cannot always be judged by standards applicable in a country with a fair justice system. Therefore, regardless of who people are, they have to be released into community at the cut-off time. Indefinite mandatory detention carries its own well-recognised risks which must be avoided in future. Australian Federal Governments cannot humanely hold people indefinitely merely because they can't conform with your bureaucratic criteria. Immigration has to be more flexible. Those working in the refugee sector who have witnessed suicide and self-harm under a system of prolonged helplessness and uncertainty see that the consequences of mental torture include mental illness, lifelong loss of capacity and even radicalisation. 90 day detention is NOT humane. What mechanisms does Labor intend to put in place to prevent this happening again?
- How is Labor going to address the huge bureaucracy accustomed to abusing people? How will Labor address the culture of secrecy, abuse, prejudice and bias in the current government departments? How can Labor screen out personnel with a record of implementing unfair assessments punitive and arbitrary removals, transfers and other undemocratic measures? We recommend extensive cultural sensitivity training for detention centre staff or guards.
- Similarly, we have concerns about retention of private providers who are only involved in running detention centres to make money. With regard to private contractors, will all former Serco and Wilson guards, for example, be screened out of the system? Abuse is inherent in the established detention system. Humane, decent, respectful staff have to be recruited from scratch and fully trained if any immigration detention system is to be retained in any form.
- Full statutory transparency and openness must be legislated for to protect the humanity of a detention system against future LNP government and/or fascism. This must include free media access and visitor access to all detention centres.
- All immigration detention centres must be re-named and genuinely re-purposed to true processing centres with genuine rapid release into the community
- People Just Like Us has strong misgivings about Labor’s intention to retain Offshore Detention and NO Advantage. How can Labor retain offshore detention knowing the harm done? How can any of that fit with a "Fair Go" for humanity? In our view, Offshore Detention has no place in a Humanitarian Migration Program and it needs to be closed down completely, immediately and permanently The first experiment with Offshore Detention was a disaster and The No Advantage policy has also been a humanitarian disaster. It has been repeatedly criticised by The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and every other organisation in the sector. Its retention makes nonsense of any other reform of the Humanitarian Migration Program. Numerous submissions to the International Criminal Court have been made regarding the systematic and deliberate abuse of human rights of this punitive and debased policy. If Labor is going to be taken at all seriously about any of the other aspirational policy goals Offshore Detention and No Advantage MUST GO.
- Labor needs to implement a Royal Commission into Immigration. Unbridled, highly questionable, opaque transactions, extraordinary levels of taxpayer expenditure on Immigration plus the rate of known or reported human rights abuses make an official investigation necessary.
Paragraph 258. Those not found to be owed Australia’s protection under the Refugee Convention, Complimentary Protection or and other international instruments will be promptly returned only after any relevant legal avenues have been exhausted.
- This should occur only once a thorough assessment of the safety of return has been established. The Edmund Rice Centre, for example, has studied cases of those loyal to Australia being refouled to Afghanistan, only to disappear or to come to harm.
- Too much is left to the judgement of Ministers as to what level of response to international crises is “reasonable”.
Children in Detention
Paragraph 301. Labor will legislate to impose mandatory reporting of child abuse in all onshore immigration detention facilities and offshore regional processing centres and work with all state and territory governments to ensure all unaccompanied minor refugee children are covered by the relevant child protection authorities.
- No children should be held offshore. Ever. Their safety cannot be guaranteed. No minors should be separated from parents. This means that all processing of families must be undertaken onshore under all circumstances. Particular care must be taken with older teenagers who have survived harsh circumstances and whose age is generally assessed by physical development.
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