Saturday, 1 September 2012

Second Thoughts

One of these men is very nervous.

There are lots of Toowoomba Chronicle readers having second thoughts about how they voted in the last state election.

It's an "opt-in" survey, but the results are unequivocal.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Blue on Green

The recent killing of diggers by Afghanistan military personnel is tragic and disturbing.

Having someone open up with an automatic weapon at close range in a base situation is horrific, and inevitably results in multiple casualties.

I recall the procedures used in Vietnam to ensure weapon discipline, and wonder whether there is anything to be learned from them. It was a long time ago, and the situation was very different, but I still wonder.

My memory of the drills we used forty years ago –

All soldiers returning behind the wire cleared weapons and removed magazines.

This was closely supervised at section level.

Whilst behind the wire (unless on picquet) you carried your personal weapon with a loaded magazine in the thigh pocket of your greens.

Unless you were moving out of your sub unit lines you left your weapon in its stand in your tent.

These procedures were universal in my unit at the time I was there. They may not have held all the time and across all units, but that is what I remember.

A quick visual check of someone approaching was all you needed to see if the mag was on the weapon or pocketed. I can remember diggers being bawled out because they’d left a mag on.

Someone with hostile intent could conceivably be detected simply by the state of his weapon. An AK47 with a mag on looks very different from an AK47 with a mag missing.

Perhaps if a similar regime applied in base in Afghanistan the risk might be managed more effectively. Or perhaps these drills would be a complete anachronism in 2012.

Journalists or Churnalists?

Great example of Churn.

In the last 24 hours I've come across two glaring examples of nonsense masquerading as journalism. It's nothing new, but the routine nature and frequency of this it never ceases to amaze me.

In the first instance, Bolt posts his characteristic offhand reference to the recent casualties in Afghanistan. He states that the multiple KIAs are the worst since Long Tan (18th August, 1966).

 It is our worst day of military losses since Long Tan.

He's simply wrong.

On 28th February 1970, 8 RAR lost 9 KIA and 15 WIA in two separate mine incidents in the Long Hais during Operation Hammersley.

I remember it well, as we'd been in country a little over a week, and we were briefed pretty comprehensively about the details of the tragedy in the hope that lessons would be learnt.

So what, you may say. After all, he's making a valid comparative point, and should be allowed a little historical licence.

Problem is, he calls himself a journalist.

First year journalism students learn about the critical importance of accuracy. Perhaps this explains his contempt of academics in journalism.

The second instance is related more to political spin than journalism, with Gladstone Port's Corporation's CEO continually denying a connection between dredging and fish deaths.

He says it often, here is one example from a report in the SMH -

The GPC also says there is no scientific evidence to suggest the project to date has had any effect that would contribute to the loss of marine life or disease in fish.

Evidence is easy to find.

It's possible that opionistas, bloggers and maybe spinning CEOs don't understand the power of Google - specifically Google Scholar.

I wish it had been around when I was a student. But I guess I still am. At age 65 it's liberating.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Ethical Way

Abbott is Jesuit trained, but has forgotten the ethics they taught  - Brennan is a Jesuit Priest.

This essay was written by Frank Brennan in response to the Houston Report.

I've met Brennan, participated in workshops which he led, and have always been impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge of the law, his moderation and his thoughtfulness.

We're also both Downlands old boys, but I was there about 15 years ahead of him. 

The essay is long, but written with clarity, and is recommended reading for anyone who wants to hold an informed opinion on the issue.

I'll comment as I go through. Brennan's words are in italics. My comments are in block text.

There is an ethical way to stop the boats

Frank Brennan

Behind all the legal technicalities and political argument about boat people, there is room for deeper
ethical reflection and a more principled proposal. But first, to clear away some of the debris.
Last week, the Australian Parliament led by a government in panic mode legislated to do three
things: lock the courts as far as possible out of reviewing government decisions about offshore
processing; set the course for re-instituting the Pacific solution in Nauru and Manus Island; and delay
any prospect of a Malaysia agreement until after the next election - which probably means never.

A brief word on each of these three matters:

1. In 2001, Philip Ruddock, keen to win Opposition support for the offshore processing of
asylum seekers on Nauru, agreed with Kim Beazley to specify minimum human rights
conditions to be considered by the Minister before declaring any country to be an
appropriate offshore processing country. Few members of parliament or lawyers thought
the High Court would ever buy into reviewing whether or not these conditions had been
fulfilled, mainly because they thought the Court would not want to open a door of judicial
review which might require consideration of the human rights record of foreign countries. It
is one thing for a court to observe that a foreign country is not a signatory to an
international human rights instrument. 

That is a simple question of law. It is another matter for a court to be hearing evidence about the human rights record of a foreign country, whether or not it is a signatory to any or all of the relevant human rights instruments. 

Last August, the High Court caused some surprise when deciding 6 to 1 that the court would
open that door of judicial review. The court found Malaysia wanting, and the arrangement
negotiated between Malaysia and the Gillard government defective. Both sides of politics
were keen to shut this door again as firmly as possible. A bill was introduced to Parliament
to do just that last September. It got nowhere because the Opposition wanted to insist that
Parliament provide that any future offshore processing country be a signatory to the
Refugees Convention. The Government would not agree to this because it wanted to keep
open the Malaysia option - Malaysia not being a signatory to the Convention. Parliament
has now closed the door as far as it can. The Constitution may still leave a glimmer of light
between the door and wall.

In 2001, the Howard Government instituted offshore processing on Nauru. It was premised
on the bluff that anyone being sent to Nauru would never be resettled in Australia. Some
.asylum seekers opted to return home. Those who called the government's bluff and stayed
'generally ended up in Australia or New Zealand. When elected, the Rudd government
enacted long held ALP policy for which it had a strong mandate at the election and abolished
the Pacific Solution. When the boats started coming again, the Government's best advisers
cautioned that the bluff would not work a second time. Last week, the Houston Expert Panel
recommended that Nauru be tried again but with an added disincentive for asylum seekers.
They should be told that they would get 'no advantage' by getting on a boat rather than
waiting in Indonesia. They would have to wait the same time for resettlement from Nauru,
as they would had they stayed in Indonesia.

Convinced by their advisers that Nauru would not work again as a deterrent, the Gillard
government had investigated the Malaysia solution. The Coalition and the Greens are
implacably opposed to any Malaysia proposal. Under last week's law passed by the
Australian Parliament, no country will be eligible to host offshore processing unless there is
agreement from both Houses of Parliament. The Senate will now overwhelmingly agree to
Nauru, with support coming from all ALP, Liberal and National Party Senators. Before the
next election, there is no way that the Senate will agree to Malaysia. The Greens won't have
a bar of any offshore processing arrangement. The Opposition describes the Malaysia deal as

The above, and the following puts the Coalition's objections to Malaysia in context. It is clearly a political wedge, and their objection relates only to the fact that it is Labor policy, not to the ethical merits of the proposal. 

The Houston panel thought there was merit in the Malaysia proposal. But like the High Court, they thought it fell short on human rights protections and recommended further negotiation of basic human rights review mechanisms with the Malaysian government. There is no way that Australian officials will credibly be able to reopen negotiations with Malaysia before the next federal election. 

The Malaysian officials will know that such discussions could never satisfy the Australian Senate as presently constituted, and that any discussions will simply be face-saving exercises by the Gillard
government. The Malaysians would find such discussions demeaning and a waste of time.
Between now and the next election, we can be fairly sure that anyone sent to Nauru will not
have been resettled. They will still be awaiting processing and/or resettlement on a time line
which follows the 'no advantage' rule. There will be no further development of the Malaysia
proposal. And the vain hope of a regional agreement to solve a regional problem, and not
just the Australian problem, will still be on the long finger.

We need another proposal which could pass ethical muster as well as being workable, given the
Parliament's newfound bipartisan hostility to onshore processing.

Why the Pacific Solution Mark 11is unethical.

Within the international order, the security, well-being and human rights of persons is primarily the
responsibility of the nation state. The community of nations respects the sovereignty of nation

It is to be expected that some persons will face persecution at the hands of their own governments
because the government is either wielding the discriminatory fist or holding its hands behind its back
while others engage in the persecution. Thus the international community has a responsibility to
look to the security, well-being and human rights of those who are so persecuted.
Those fleeing persecution should be treated in a dignified manner, being offered basic protection.
They should be humanely housed, have their claims dealt with under a transparent, fair process and
be offered a durable solution in a timely fashion. Those fleeing persecution should not view their
plight as the basis for seeking their preferred migration outcome. Once offered an appropriate level
of protection, they should await local integration into their host community or resettlement in a
third country.

Ideally, each nation state should process onshore the asylum seekers arriving in its territory.
Alternatively, nations might seek a regional solution to regional asylum problems, even setting up
regional processing centres. Wealthy countries may want to consider outsourcing the
accommodation and processing of asylum seekers to impoverished client states or to other nations
seeking a bilateral advantage. Offshore processing, like onshore processing, should include humane
accommodation, transparent processing and prompt resettlement.

All countries - even those which are not net migration countries - have a responsibility to offer
protection to those persons fleeing in direct flight from persecution. All countries are entitled to
maintain the integrity and security of their borders. Being an island nation continent, Australia is
more able than most to entertain the notion of hermetically sealed borders. Nations sharing land
borders do not waste precious resources trying to exclude all unvisaed entrants.
Australia is less able to close off its borders because we want to retain possessions in the Indian
Ocean which are much closer to Indonesia than to the Australian mainland. With possessions like
Ashmore Reef, it is almost as if we share a land border with Indonesia.

Countries like Australia which are net migration countries should provide some humanitarian places
in the migration program, as well as places for business and family reunion. Given the vast number
of people facing persecution and human rights abuses in the world, net migration countries are
entitled to set an annual quota of migrant places, including a quota on those requiring humanitarian
assistance. The Houston panel has suggested a more generous humanitarian quota than Australia's
average in recent years. This is most welcome.Australia has a humanitarian interest in reducing the appeal of desperate asylum seekers making dangerous voyages in leaky boats from Indonesia. It is false to suggest that there is a queue or series of queues weaving like songlines across the globe - the right way to come being to join a queue and the wrong way to come being to jump the queue.

In some parts of the world there are queues. In other parts of the world (like Pakistan) there are not
- there is only mayhem (as for the Hazaras fleeing from Afghanistan to Pakistan). Once asylum
seekers have reached a place where an appropriate level of protection and processing is provided,
they should wait there, and governments are entitled to design measures which encourage such
waiting. The Houston panel suggested the need to enhance the prospects of people waiting, while at
the same time ensuring that those who take to the boats not enjoy any advantage.

This fairly comprehensively debunks the "queue jumpers" myth.

The ethical problem with the Pacific Solution Mark 11is that it is impossible to calculate the usual
waiting time for resettlement of asylum seekers in Indonesia. It is not as if everyone is placed in the
one queue with the same treatment. Needier cases are often dealt with first.

If people are to be held on Nauru longer than is required for their processing and resettlement,
either the Australian government officials will have to institute a 'go slow' on processing, or the
Nauruan government officials will have to breach numerous provisions of the Refugees
Convention once persons are proved to be refugees awaiting resettlement. A proven refugee, as
distinct from an asylum seeker awaiting processing, is properly entitled to be treated no less
favourably than other visiting foreigners and in some instances to be treated as well as the citizens.
For example, there is no principled reason why a proven refugee should be denied the right to travel
to other countries while awaiting resettlement. 

The Pacific Solution Mark 11needs to work on the bluff that asylum seekers sent to Nauru will be denied resettlement and other refugee entitlements for as long as it would take to resettle them had they waited in Indonesia.

So it's a bluff. That's a very strange brand of humanitarian policy.

So we need to find an ethically more appropriate way to stop the boats. A regional solution to the
regional problem will take many, many years, and Australia with its unduly sensitive, relatively small
problem will not be the key player to determine that progress.
Here is my suggestion for a short-term Australian initiative that is both ethical and workable.

The way forward 

Over the next 15 months, in the lead up to the federal election, Australian officials should redouble
their efforts to seek a bilateral arrangement with Indonesia, with the co-operation of both UNHCR
(which, will be responsible for processing) and laM (which will share responsibility with the
Indonesian government for offering humane accommodation during processing and while awaiting
resettlement). Under an enforceable memorandum of understanding (MOU) Indonesia would agree
not to refoule any person whose asylum claim was awaiting determination nor any person proven to
be a refugee.

Whereas UNHCR has 217,618 persons of concern on its books in Malaysia, it has only 4,239 in
Indonesia. Other than the Sri Lankans, all asylum seekers who head to Australia by boat come
through Indonesia. We need to set up a workable, transparent, honourable queue in Indonesia.
Persons in the queue would receive appropriately deferential treatment from UNHCR deciding that
the neediest cases would be dealt with preferentially.

Sounds a bit like what operated successfully with the Vietnamese. But that was before wee Johnny poisoned the issue with his wedge on Tampa. That single action may well have destroyed possibility of Brennan's suggestion bearing fruit.

What we need is for Indonesia to agree to an arrangement whereby Australia funds the
accommodation and processing arrangements in Indonesia, with Australia setting an agreed quota
of resettlement places from Indonesia. The quota needs the agreement of both governments being
sufficiently generous to assist clear the Indonesia case load, and being sufficiently tight not to
set up a 'honeypot effect,' thereby luring more asylum seekers to the Indonesian queue awaiting
passage to Australia.

The human rights safeguards would need to match the requirements set by the Houston panel when
reviewing the presently defective Malaysia proposal including 'the operational aspects need to be
specified in greater detail' and that 'provisions for unaccompanied minors and for other highly
vulnerable asylum seekers need to be more explicitly detailed and agreed.'

The MOU would need to be accompanied by 'a written agreement between (Indonesia) and UNHCR'
and 'a more effective monitoring mechanism' of human rights protection, including participation by
Australian 'senior officials and eminent persons from civil society.'

Any person leaving Indonesia by boat for Australia could then be intercepted either before or after
reaching the Australian mainland. They could be held briefly in detention while a prompt assessment
was made whether they genuinely feared persecution in Indonesia. Almost none of them will. They
could then be safely flown back to Indonesia and placed, quite literally, at the end of the queue.
Should they attempt a boat journey again, they could be flown back having previously been
informed that they would never be offered a resettlement place in Australia.

This would be a more ethical way of stopping the boats than indeterminate warehousing of people
on Nauru and Manus Island. The increase of the humanitarian intake proposed by the Houston panel
could then allow us to take more refugees from further up the transport chain.

Sounds reasonable to me. The problem would be cutting through the political effluvium that has been whipped up by the xenophobes.

In the lead up to the election, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison are sure to continue insisting that the
Gillard Government's Pacific Solution Mark 11will not work. In all probability, this will undermine the
efficacy of the Gillard Solution in stopping the boats. Just imagine if Kim Beazley had spent 2001
trumpeting that Nauru would never work and that people would end up in Australia anyway.
We can expect that there will be a cohort of people housed or detained on Nauru and Manus Island
until the next election. 

The Houston panel has made it clear that towing back the boats is not a safe option at this time. The panel declined to recommend the re-institution of temporary protection visas (TPVs), presumably because they are convinced by the evidence that TPVs being issued to men simply results in women and children family members feeling compelled to get on the next boat, given that there is no other way to be a reunited family.

While hoping that the Pacific Solution Mark 11- with the unworkable, unethical 'no advantage' rule
- will in fact stop the boats in the short term, despite the Abbott static, we need to build greater
trust and co-operation with the Indonesians so that those asylum seekers, other than Sri Lankans,
determined to get on a boat to Australia can be processed in Indonesia. If that works, we might then
look to a one-off co-operative solution for the Sri Lankans much closer to home.

Father Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic
University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous
Studies, Australian National University. This article first appeared online at ABC Religion and Ethics.

Short & Sweet

For once the Courier Mail nails it.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Bishops Speak

 This is the response to the Houston report by the Australian Bishops Conference.

It was handed to parishioners at Mass on Sunday.


Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office Catholic Migrant office scorecard of "Houston Report" 

 This month, 178 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in their homeland. Most civilians caught in situations of armed conflict will die in horrific circumstances at home in tragedies that affect much larger human numbers than those seeking asylum by boat in Australia. Australia is not being asked to take in all of the world's refugees. 

Incidentally, Australia resettles considerably less people than countries with far fewer resources than our own. We are only asked to resettle as many as we possibly can and treat humanely those who turn up unexpectedly on our shores seeking refuge. The report of the expert panel on asylum seekers entitled The Houston Report which is authored by Angus Houston, Paris Aristotle and Michael L'Estrange comes up with 22 recommendations for-how the Australian government should approach the issue of refugees recommendations for-how the Australian government should approach the issue of refugees and asylum seekers.

 The Catholic Church in response needs to come up with something of a "scorecard" on this report from the perspective of our tradition. "The Church is close to refugees, not only with their pastoral presence and material support, but also with her commitment to defend their human dignity. Concern for refugees must lead us to reaffirm and highlight universally recognised human rights and to ask that the effective recognition of these rights be guaranteed to refugees. " (John Paul II, 1990, Message for Lent, 3, in "L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 12 February, 1999, Page 5.) There are a number of hopeful aspects to The Houston Report, yet there are also some problems we wish to draw attention to. Three experienced people have worked hard on this report and invited submissions from agencies and individuals concerned with Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, this issue is one which has marked our history and calls us to reflect. , 

The 22 recommendations were compiled in a comprehensive report and it is difficult to do justice to each aspect - yet out of love for our fellow human beings, we must consider its findings. Firstly, the recommendation was made by the Houston panel to increase our humanitarian intake to 20,000 people per year. This one policy decision will have the greatest impact on the asylum seeker phenomenon. The report's recommendation to separate the onshore asylum program and the offshore resettlement program is also crucial and was one of the recommendations the ACMRO made in its submission to the panel. Both programs are essential to save the lives of those who are stuck in their homeland and those who suddenly need to leave in order to save their lives. 

The proposal to use Nauru and Papua New Guinea for offshore processing is less helpful and many commentators have simply labelled this a return to "The Pacific Solution". This policy is a concern because it is not likely to deter asylum seekers any more than Christmas Island or other remote detention facilities. What is important to asylum seekers is the opportunity to gain access to Australia. Asylum seekers know from experience that Australia is the only resettlement country available to them once they are placed on Nauru. Experience suggests that most will be recognised as refugees and hence they cannot be sent home. No other country will resettle them and so most will remain in Australia anyway. 

The Houston Report estimates that Australia will waste $1.4 billion penalising a little over 2,000 asylum seekers who will end up at Nauru or PNG. Meanwhile, another $1.4 billion will be used to resettle over 6,250 humanitarian entrants. 

If both sums of money were used for resettlement we could help 26,250 per year. This would mean 6,250 people wouldn't have to seek asylum by boat - resettlement is a much better deterrent than Nauru. 

Finally, the sanctity of family unity is non-negotiable in Catholic teaching. The Panel's recommendations preventing family reunions for those who come by boat are perhaps the most troubling of the proposals offered to the Government. Preventing vulnerable people from being able to reunite with their families can never have positive consequences for our society and we need only imagine what this could lead to. The focus of this report ultimately, from this perspective, cannot be seen as caring for the well-being of vulnerable people. 

Once again, such a policy is unnecessarily punitive to those who seek asylum by boat. From the perspective of faith, we cannot see any sense or compassion in such a measure. Now, all of this critique and discernment about the report is well and good, but for Christians, we need to go to the teaching of the Church. 

This year's message on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees speaks quite specifically to the findings of this report. It clearly argues that while a pragmatic set of recommendations and policies might seem to solve a "problem" we can never ignore the cries of our sisters and brothers. 

"Asylum seekers, who fled from persecution, violence and situations that put their life at risk, stand in need of our understanding and welcome, of respect for their human dignity and rights, as well as awareness of their duties. Their suffering pleads with individual states and the international community to adopt attitudes of reciprocal acceptance, overcoming fears and avoiding forms of discrimination, and to make provisions for concrete solidarity also through appropriate structures for hospitality and resettlement programmes. 

All this entails mutual help between the suffering regions and those which, already for years, have accepted a large number of fleeing people, as well as a greater sharing of responsibilities among States. (Benedict XVI) Fr Maurizio Pettena CS is the Director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office.

 The Bishop's response is probably best summarised in this extract -

"Once again, such a policy is unnecessarily punitive to those who seek asylum by boat. From the perspective of faith, we cannot see any sense or compassion in such a measure."

The other issue, of course, is whether this will slow or stop the flow of boats. This shows they doubt this -

"Asylum seekers know from experience that Australia is the only resettlement country available to them once they are placed on Nauru. Experience suggests that most will be recognised as refugees and hence they cannot be sent home. No other country will resettle them and so most will remain in Australia anyway."

They're correct of course.

Tomorrow I'll post a piece by Father Frank Brennan.

It puts a solution - whereas this response does not.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Wisdom of the Irish

I rarely post audio, but this is priceless.

The speaker is Michael Higgins, the current Irish President.

He describes very well the technique used by the Tea Party in the USA and the likes of Jones, Bolt and others in this country, of whipping up fear and hate to destroy their political opponents.

This guy is about 3'11' tall, but he put this opinionista in his place.

He reminds me of the Irish nuns who provided the backbone in Social Justice that transformed Catholic education in this country.

And, best of all, he called Michael Graham a wanker on air.

 Listen right through to the end.

Military Madness

The blogosphere is arcing up in reaction to the recent review on the treatment of women in the ADF.

That’s not surprising. After all, all the ingredients that reliably offend conservatives are present.

Change is likely, the myth of the noble warrior class is under threat, and the old order of things is being challenged.

I won’t pretend that two years in the military makes me an authority, but I reckon I have as much right to hold an opinion on the subject as anyone else.

I don’t recollect any harassment of the sexual kind in my time in the army, but it was an all male context. There was harassment of course – part of the deal in rookies is 24 hour harassment, but it had a purpose and was semi-institutionalised.

If you had enough backbone to deal with it, you probably also would be able to manage whatever other military madness came your way. It was however, never over the top, and managed well at platoon level.

Besides, whilst the power balance was always lopsided because of the hierarchy, the average platoon of Nashos had its own way of dealing with dimwits in authority. There were a few, and they didn’t last.

Harassment is difficult to define – it takes many forms – but you always know it when it’s happening. To my simple mind, the basic solution to the problem is to call it when you see it, and act on it.

The hierarchical structure of the military in theory should help this. After all, there were some behaviours in my time that were simply not acceptable.I assume they still aren't.

Insubordination was one of those.

Another was mishandling a weapon (UD – unauthorised discharge).

There was no give or take with these issues. As a consequence of this clear and set hierarchy an A4 (a charge) would inevitably follow – no grey areas – no tolerance.

Sexual harassment should have the same consequence.

The problem is, of course, that the culture in some units creates a situation where turning a blind eye is acceptable. Imagine if you will that the sexual harassment was male on male. I doubt a blind eye would be turned to that – it is outside the cultural norm. I’d expect that the perpetrator would probably never live it down, if charged.

On the other hand, male on female harassment would by some be characterised as boys being boys. Male on female harassment is, unfortunately for some, culturally acceptable. Sexual harassment, irrespective of gender is out, or should be.

It's about the abuse of power, not sex, and those who engage in it are from the same breed of no-hopers as paedophile priests and teachers. It’s not, and never can be OK. Nor is it ever boys being boys (or girls being girls for that matter, since harassment is not gender specific).

So it has no place in the ADF. It is destructive to team cohesion, demeaning, and cowardly. None of these results are acceptable in the military.

The solution rests with unit and sub-unit leadership. Charge the offenders, and get them out of the military. The existing rules and regulations are there – they simply need enforcing.

Conflation of this issue with the drive to improve female recruiting is muddying the waters. Weeding out the sexual harassers won’t “feminise” the military.

Relaxing physical standards to increase the ratio of females would not however make sense. These standards should be based on a functional task analysis of the physical performance necessary to perform each and every role. Different roles require different standards.

The bottom line should be whether or not the person meets the standard, not that person’s gender.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...