The position of airlines in respect of participation in forced deportations to danger is clear.
Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights means taking measures to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts. This applies regardless of the size or structure of the business, and over and above local laws.
To discharge their responsibility, airlines should not participate in deportations where there is evidence that the fundamental human rights to an adequate legal process have been denied, as well as where there is a real risk of serious, irreparable harm to an individual.
Relevant international legal and human rights standards in relation to the deportation of asylum seekers include the Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Given the inadequacy of Australian law and policy in upholding these standards, airlines should engage a heightened due diligence process in order to determine the potential for contribution to adverse human rights impacts before conducting any deportations as a provider of services to the Australian government.
Contribution to human rights abuses and failure to discharge their international obligations can do damage to a company’s reputation, undermine its social licence to operate, and pose material risks to a company’s financial interests.
Behrouz Boochani, Kurdish journalist, human rights defender, poet and film producer who has been detained on Manus Island since 2013
Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, member of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group on Implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
Tanya Jackson-Vaughan, Executive Director, The Refugee Advice and Casework Service
Professor Gillian Triggs, former President of the Australian Human Rights Commission
Janet Holmes à Court
Rhyll McMaster, poet and author and great niece of founding CEO of Qantas Sir Fergus McMaster
Father Rod Bower, Archdeacon of the Central Coast
Carrillo Gantner AO, Chairman, Sidney Myer Fund
Jennifer Robinson, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, London
Adjunct Professor George Newhouse, human rights lawyer, National Justice Project
Shen Narayanasamy, Director No Business in Abuse and GetUp Human Rights Director
Nayuka Gorrie, Kurnai/Gunai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer
Mark Seymour, rock legend
John Butler, singer, songwriter, music producer
Margaret Pomeranz AM, film critic, writer, producer and television personality
Judith Lucy, comedian and radio, television and film actress, author
Kate McCartney, writer, director, performer
Marieke Hardy, writer, broadcaster, television producer
Tom Zubrycki, documentary filmmaker
Holly Throsby, musician, novelist
Margaret Throsby AM, ABC broadcaster
Tony Wheeler AO, publishing entrepreneur, businessman and travel writer, co-founder of the Lonely Planet guidebook company
Michelle de Kretser, novelist
Thomas Keneally AO, Ambassador, Sydney Asylum Seeker Centre, novelist and playwright
Andrew Bovell, writer for theatre, film and television
Benjamin Law, author, broadcaster and TV screenwriter
Christos Tsiolkas, author, playwright, essayist and screen writer
Nigel Westlake, composer (Babe score), performer and conductor
Ana Kokkinos, film and television director and screenwriter
Neil Armfield AO, theatre, film, opera director
Tim Winton, writer
Yassmin Abdel-Magied, author, engineer
Linda Jaivin, author and translator
Anna Krien, journalist, essayist, fiction writer and poet
James Bradley, novelist and critic
Alison Croggon, writer and critic
Mireille Juchau, novelist
Gail Jones, novelist and Professor of Literature
Drusilla Modjeska, writer
Professor Terri-ann White FAHA, director UWA Publishing
Dhakshy Sooriyakumaran, founder YLab, Engineer, strategy Consultant
Van T Rudd, visual artist
Fiona Katauskas, cartoonist, illustrator
Mahmoud Salameh, cartoonist, visual artist
Hoda Afshar, visual artist
Alan Hunt, artist
Jiva Parthipan, artist
Andrew Bradley (Quro), musician, artist
Tim “Tigermoth” Paterson, musician, artist
Andrew Garvie (DJ Katch), musician and record label director, founder of Resin Dogs
Alex Kelly, film maker
Asher Wolf, journalist, human rights defender
Robin de Crespigny, author, filmmaker
Christopher Gordon, composer, Deputy Mayor of the City of Ryde
Archie Law, Chair, Sydney Peace Foundation
Glenn Osboldstone, Lawyers for Fores
Lizzie O’Shea, lawyer and writer
Shankari Chandran, lawyer and writer
Robert Henderson, Economics, Finance and Banking Consultant and formerly chief economist (markets) with National Australia Bank
Raj Thamotheram, founder & chair of Preventable Surprises
Pablo Berrutti, Responsible Investment professional
Simon O’Connor, Responsible Investment professional
Matt McAdam, Responsible Investment professional
Phil Vernon, Managing Director, Australian Ethical Investment
Simon Sheikh, Managing Director, Future Super
Terry Pinnell, Chair Ethical Advisers Co-op
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Michele O’Neill, President, Australian Council of Trade Unions
Sam Huggard, Secretary, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions
Luke Hilakari, Secretary, Victorian Trades Hall Council
Meredith Hammat, Secretary, UnionsWA
David Smith, National Secretary, Australian Services Union
Tim Kennedy, National Secretary, National Union of Workers
Jo-anne Schofield, National Secretary, United Voice
Paul Bastian, National Secretary, Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union
Jeanne Rea, National President, National Tertiary Education Union
Michael Thompson, NSW State Secretary, National Tertiary Education Union
Allen Hicks, National Secretary, Electrical Trades Union of Australia
Grant Phillips, Secretary, Newcastle & Northern branch, Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union
Graham Smith, Federal Secretary, Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union
Mick Nairn, President, Fire Brigade Employees’ Union
Susan Hopgood, Federal Secretary, Australian Education Union
John Dixon, General Secretary, NSW Teachers Federation
Annie Butler, Federal Secretary, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia
Michael O’Connor, National Secretary, Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union
Kate Lee, Executive Officer, Union Aid Abroad, APHEDA
Jacquie Widin, President, SEARCH Foundation
Melissa Parke, former federal member for Fremantle and Minister for International Development
Debbie Stothard, Secretary General and Coordinator, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Associate Professor Justine Nolan, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, member of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group on Implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
Professor Denise Bradley AC
Dennis Altman AM FASSA, Ambassador Human Rights Law Centre, Patron, Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives and Gay and Lesbian Foundation of Australia
Professor Brigitta Olubas, School of the Arts and Media, UNSW
Simon Holmes à Court, Senior Advisor, Climate and Energy College, Melbourne University
Dr Shelley Marshall, Senior Research Fellow, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University
Dr Julia Dehm, Lecturer, La Trobe Law School
Dr Alice de Jonge, Senior Lecturer, Monash Business School
Chris Nash, Professor of Journalism (Adjunct), School of Media, Film and Journalism, Faculty of Arts, Monash University
Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist, author and film-maker
Tessa Khan, international human rights lawyer
Rawan Arraf, human rights lawyer
Claire Palmer, barrister
Peter O’Brien, Principal, O’Brien criminal and civil solicitors
Tim Lo Surdo, Democracy in Colour
Ben Oquist, Executive Director, The Australia Institute
Tim Hollo, Executive Director, The Green Institute
Christine Milne, Global Greens Ambassador and former Leader of the Australian Greens
Sophie Black, Head of Publishing, The Wheeler Centre
Elaine Pearson, Australia Director, Human Rights Watch
Claire Mallinson, National Director, Amnesty International Australia
Madeleine Bridgett, barrister and Co-Chair Business and Human Rights Sub-Committee, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Keren Adams, Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre, member of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group on Implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
Professor Paul Redmond AM, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney, member of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group on Implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM, CEO, Asylum Seekers’ Resource Centre
Luke Fletcher, Executive Director, Jubilee Australia
Lyn Harrison, CEO, House of Welcome
Frances Rush, CEO, Asylum Seekers Centre Sydney
Carolina Gottardo, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
Phil Glendenning AM, Director, Edmund Rice Centre & President, Refugee Council of Australia
Paul Power, CEO, Refugee Council of Australia
Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council
Brendan Doyle, Secretary, Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group
Margaret Hughes Bennelong Friends of Refugees & Amnesty International Australia
Anthea Vogl, National Convener, Academics for Refugees
Jessie Taylor, President, Liberty Victoria
Dr Safdar Ahmed, Artist and Director, Refugee Art Project
Emeritus Professor Alison Mackinnon, AM, University of South Australia
Malcolm Turnbull may just have been replaced as Australian Prime Minister by Scott Morrison – a man with blood on his hands over his disgraceful treatment of refugees many years ago – but this publicly-released letter that I’ve signed still stands:
An alliance of organisations and individuals have formed the Unite Against Trump Alliance to begin coordinating a protest against US President Donald Trump when he visits Australia in November. The following statement, initiated by outgoing NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, is being circulated for sign-ons in the lead up to the protests that are being organised across the country including in Cairns, Canberra and Brisbane.
To sign on to the statement, visit the Unite Against Trump Sydney page.
Disgracefully, Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull has invited US President Donald Trump to visit Australia. This is likely to occur after the APEC summit in PNG in November.
Donald Trump is a racist, misogynist, lying billionaire who is trying to drag global politics to the far right. His brand of extreme nationalism, Islamophobia, greed, anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-LGBTI, anti-union and anti-environment rhetoric and policies are abhorrent to the majority of the Australian public.
The Turnbull government has aligned with Trump’s bigoted and militaristic global agenda at every opportunity. We want to see Australia distanced from Trump’s values. His values do not represent the interests of most people on the planet or the planet itself.
More than ever we need to join together in Australia and across borders to struggle for a world that respects the equal rights and wonderful diversity of humanity, protects our fragile environment and equitably shares the enormous wealth all around us.
We call on Malcolm Turnbull to rescind Trump’s invitation to Australia and for the parliament to prohibit him from speaking if his visit goes ahead.
We pledge that if Trump does visit we will meet him with mass demonstrations to show our opposition to everything his Presidency stands for.
Lee Rhiannon — Greens Senator for NSW
David Shoebridge — NSW Greens MLC
Sydney Stop the War Coalition
Imogen Grant — President, University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council
Stephen Smyth — President CFMEU QLD Energy and Mining Division
National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) NSW
Professor Raymond Evans — Griffith University
Jeff Sparrow — author and journalist
Antony Loewenstein — author and filmmaker
Stephen Jolly — Yarra Councillor and president of Victorian Socialists
Aran Mvlvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson and Finances Sector Union organiser
Michael Thomson, NSW National Tertiary Education Union secretary
Craig McGregor, Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association secretary (VAHPA)
Latin American Social Forum (LASF)
Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance councillor, Moreland City Council, Victoria
Hersha Kadkol — National Ethno-Cultural Officer National Union of Students
Jasmine Duff & Kim Stern — National LGBTI Officers, National Union of Students
Zac Solomon — President UNSW Students’ Representative Council
Stuart Traill — Electricity Supply Industry Coordinator ETU (QLD and NT Branch)
Dr Peter Slezak — academic UNSW
Hanan Dover — Muslim Community Advocate
Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA)
Lucia Sorbera — Senior Lecturer and Chair of Arabic Studies Department University of Sydney Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH)
Sydney University Education Action Group (EAG)
Nick Reimer, academic University of Sydney
University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council
Mark Pace — National Union of Students president
Leonie Hendricks, Retired NSW NMA state secretary
Lisa Milner, academic Southern Cross University
Leonie Hendricks, Queensland Greens/CPSU organiser
Jenny Haines, academic UTS
Jacob Grech, Renegade Activists
Barbara McGrady, Indigenous photojournalist
David Brophy, Academic University of Sydney
Kirra Jackson, Vice President UTS Student Union
Tim Nelthorpe, NUW organiser
Patricia Cornelius, playwright
Michael Schembri, advocate Finance Sector Union and gay left activist
Grandmothers Against Detention
Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP)
Close The Camps Action Collective
Cathy Peters, Convenor Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine
Michael Brull, writer
Lizzie O’Shea, Social Justice Officer
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers
UNSW Education Collective
Palestine Action Group, Sydney (PAG)
The 21st century sees many nations looking for ways to punish, isolate and deter refugees (while often contributing to the reasons these people are fleeing in the first place through wars and occupations).
I recently published a major investigation in US magazine The Nation on how Australia is inspiring the EU and others over its draconian refugee policies.
NPR in the US has featured this reporting in a story written by Isabella Alexander:
Key parts of Europe’s new plans have a controversial precedent — in Australia.
Antony Loewenstein, a reporter who has spent the past several years investigating Europe’s move toward externalized border controls, revealed in June that officials from individual European countries and the EU had secretly met with Australian officials about their refugee policies.
As part of a complex system established by the Australian government in 2001, migrants and refugees who were imprisoned in privatized detention centers on the Australian mainland were increasingly sent to small Pacific islands that border the country — Manus in Papua New Guinea and the nation of Nauru.
Although access to these centers has been tightly controlled, reactions from the international community have grown louder as news from the inside slowly trickles out — stories of routine abuse, rape and death from beatings or suicide. Australia, which campaigned for three years to gain a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council, received a scathing report from the council during its first week in session in 2017. In a 20-page exposé, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, detailed a system of abuse designed to punish and use migrants as an example to deter future ones.
“It is not because [the refugees] are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers we [have] to deprive them of the product,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a phone call with President Trump in 2017, according to a transcript in The Washington Post. The product he was referring to is their basic right to seek asylum.
According to Loewenstein’s reporting, European officials were looking to adopt a similar practice.
If Australia, a democratic nation signatory to international human rights conventions, has successfully outsourced its processing centers with no concrete outside intervention, what is to stop Europe, which receives significantly more migrants, from doing so?
European leaders have an opportunity to learn from Australia’s human rights failings and avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of establishing similar processing centers outside of the bloc in North Africa.
Read the whole piece.
My interview on US network The Real News about the United Arab Emirates using private, military contractors in the horrific war in Yemen and the involvement of Australia and the US:
Richard Keeble is one of Britain’s leading journalism academics and he’s taught at the University of Lincoln for many years. Author of seminal books on reporting, his latest, just released work is co-edited with John Mair and it’s called, “Investigative Journalism Today: Speaking Truth to Power“. It features a range of writers exploring the importance of investigative work from the English and non-English speaking world:
Rumours of the death of investigative journalism have been greatly exaggerated. This book is proof enough of that. Examples from the corporate and alternative media across the globe highlight the many imaginative and courageous ways that reporters are still “kicking at the right targets”.
I’m honoured that Keeble’s chapter positively interrogates my work, especially around disaster capitalism, and he’s allowed me to post it here: keebleloewensteinchapter
From the introduction:
Antony Loewenstein is an Australian investigative reporter, freelance author, photographer, blogger and campaigner. He has written for a wide range of publications – both mainstream and alternative –such as the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Green Left Weekly, New Matilda and Counterpunch. His books include My Israel Question (2006) and The Blogging Revolution (2008 and 2011). His 2010 ABC Radio National feature documentary, A Different Kind of Jew, was a finalist in the UN Media Peace Awards. And his book, Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism Swallowing the World (2013) has been followed up with a documentary film, Disaster Capitalism, about aid, development and politics in Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea.
Profits of Doom also serves as a useful case study to examine Loewenstein’s investigative strategy in more detail. As this chapter will argue, Loewenstein draws creatively from a wide range of genres –peace journalism, investigative reporting, literary, long-form journalism, counter journalism and activist reporting – making his reportage both important and original. In particular, the study will focus on his investigative techniques, his ideological/political attitude – and his distinctive investigative writing style.
Today NGO Digital Rights Watch launched an important campaign that I was asked to support. Very happy to:
Today, a global coalition led by civil society and technology experts sent a letter asking the government of Australia to abandon plans to introduce legislation that would undermine strong encryption. The letter calls on government officials to become proponents of digital security and work collaboratively to help law enforcement adapt to the digital era.
In July 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference to announce that the government was drafting legislation that would compel device manufacturers to assist law enforcement in accessing encrypted information. In May of this year, Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Angus Taylor restated the government’s priority to introduce legislation and traveled to the United States to speak with companies based there.
Today’s letter (download here) signed by 76 organisations, companies, and individuals, asks leaders in the government “not to pursue legislation that would undermine tools, policies, and technologies critical to protecting individual rights, safeguarding the economy, and providing security both in Australia and around the world.”
“This is a really important issue for anyone who uses the internet to shop, bank or communicate – so basically everyone. Strong encryption is essential to the modern Australian economy, and it would be a mistake to deliberately weaken it,” said Tim Singleton Norton, chair of Digital Rights Watch.
My film Disaster Capitalism with director Thor Neureiter continues to spread around the world. Thor was recently in Melbourne for the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival and the film is screening soon in Australia, the UK and elsewhere.
New Zealand outlet Foreign Control Watchdog has published a review of the film written by Jeremy Agar:
The years roll by but the news from Afghanistan scarcely changes. From the dry hills in landlocked Asia we glimpse mad mullahs shooting their rifles into the air. We see Humvees straining up a mountain pass and wait for the ambush. Underneath the banner news rolls through: a suicide truck has blown up a dozen pedestrians in Kabul.
Few of the many disasters that our information screens send our way are as wearying as the scenes from this war, the one that 30 years ago was dubbed “the forgotten war” because sometimes, back then, it wasn’t getting much air time. These days we’re all too likely to hear the inevitable soothing words that follow from the President, but whoever he is this time, no-one is listening.
On comes an American general. Just a few more troops, he assures us, and all will be well. Just a few more years and we’ll deliver you a shiny new democracy. Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day.But despite the assurances of the nation builders, peace in Afghanistan hasn’t been built in centuries. The waste, the futility of it all has a cartoonish quality: the US Army as Homer Simpson; the jihadi as … Jihadi. Boring. We flick the channel to the newest cooking show.
It’s the lack of any of this tedium that makes Antony Loewenstein’s analysis so welcome. By steering clear from cliché we’re allowed to see Afghanistan as the sort of place – an open plain, not some dizzying crag – that is not all that different from some parts of Loewenstein’s native Australia, perhaps, or America. He gets driven just an hour from the capital and talks to some quite normal locals. They were promised decent jobs and social development from a mine. It becomes clear that the foreign corporation never intended to make good on the deal, and that the Government’s undertaking to hold the company to account was similarly fraudulent.
Back in Kabul Loewenstein seeks answers from the bureaucrats who oversee the mining industry, No, Mr X is unavailable; Mr Y is busy. Mr Z? No, it is not possible. Leave the building. In other words, standard obstruction, standard corruption. Afghanistan’s misery is not primarily religious or tribalist. It’s the lack of trust that spawns those reactions. Fanaticism and tribalism are the poisoned fruit that grow from the seed of betrayal.
Loewenstein is showing us that, far from being uniquely messed up, Afghanistan is a template for a more general failure. That the mining company happens to be Chinese is an additional advantage in that the offender is not wearing the usual black hat. Villainy is not the monopoly of swaggering Uncle Sam. Take unaccountable big money and a corrupt State and moral failure is universal.
A modernist Afghan is interviewed, putting the case for the US to remain. If the troops go, he suggests, the warlords will swarm into the vacuum and there will be chaos and killings for an indefinite period. But what’s the alternative? The Vietnam gambit was often “to destroy a village in order to save it” – that’s a quote from the 1960s, not a mischievous paraphrase – and killing in Afghanistan will beget only more killing. Maybe everyone else just needs to leave them to it.
Loewenstein tells us that the amount the US military has cost in Afghanistan is more than what it invested in Europe after World War 2. As his topic of disaster capitalism is to do with how the world’s bullies go about “making money from misery”, that might be a reason his treatment ignores all the fundamentalist mayhem.
The huge spend has been about resisting the Taliban and now ISIS – and before that, let’s not forget, the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, better known as the Soviet Union). As such, while the post-World War 2 Marshall Plan set the US up for global dominance and hastened Europe’s recovery, the misadventures in Afghanistan have been unproductive to a point that future observers might regard as inexplicable (even Establishment types are now saying that about the domino theories that launched the Vietnam follies).
Just as it’s more than a truism – more a platitude – that wars never turn out how the belligerents intended, so too are the conventional wisdoms that inform life at home a poor guide for how Johnny Foreigner will react to being invaded. He won’t like it. So, it is that while the wise men in Washington are accustomed to thinking in terms of spending money in order to achieve results, in Afghanistan the opposite occurs. More money and more soldiers equal more chances for cock-ups and corruption.
As a frequent US visitor puts it here: “The more I go, the less I see”. More money being poured into the sinkhole makes matters ever worse. As he notes, saving money takes too much time. We’re in a hole. Keep digging and we’ll find a way out. Duh (the joke is that sometimes you win even when you lose. Vietnam now is much as US warmongers would have hoped it would have turned out to be had they won the war).
Haiti & Bougainville
Loewenstein’s other visits were to Haiti and Bougainville. In the former, US cash was meant to aid recovery from a devastating 2010 earthquake. This was very much a Clintonian intervention. We see Bill and Hillary in all their smarmy complacency rabbiting on about an investment zone where their corporate mates provide factory work for locals at five dollars a day. But the enterprises are not where the quakes struck. There, nothing has changed.
The final stop is closer to Loewenstein’s Aussie home, where another mining giant, Rio Tinto, has left a ruined landscape and a shattered society. Villagers faced a basic dilemma, one that confronts all such ravaged places: Do they want the mine to reopen so that they have a job, or do they want it to remain closed so that they can somehow, sometime, recover a stolen identity? It’s a fitting place to end this skillfully constructed doco.There is one final deft detail, tying the themes. Just as we’re given Afghanistan minus the hackneyed images, we see the usually ubiquitous Donald Trump only to conclude matters. He has spent one trillion dollars on mining ventures.
My latest book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, remains continually relevant especially in the Trump era (just a few examples in the news recently include Blackwater founder Erik Prince still obsessed with privatising the Afghan war and a CIA-linked military contractor making money from housing refugees in the US).
UK publisher Taylor and Francis, working with Routledge, recently launched a collection of essays around the issue of disaster capitalism across the world. My essay is adapted from the introduction to my book and updated to include the ongoing threats to making money from misery in the age of Trump.
My investigation in US magazine The Nation:
Soon after President Trump assumed office in January 2017, he had a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The transcript of the conversation, leaked in August, revealed that the new US president admired his Australian counterpart because Turnbull was “worse than I am” on asylum seekers. Turnbull had proudly stated, “If you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Nobel Prize–winning genius, we will not let you in.”
In their phone call, the prime minister begged the US leader to adhere to a deal struck by Turnbull and former President Barack Obama the year before, in which the United States had agreed take up to 1,250 refugees imprisoned by Australia for years on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru in the Pacific. In exchange, Australia would take refugees from Central America.
Trump didn’t understand why Australia couldn’t take the PNG and Nauru refugees in. Turnbull responded, “It is not because [the refugees] are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers we had to deprive them of the product.” Trump liked what he heard. “That is a good idea,” he said. “We should do that too.”
Turnbull was proudly explaining the complex system established by Australia many years earlier: Refugees are imprisoned in privatized, remote detention centers on the Australian mainland and on Pacific islands. Trump isn’t the only one who is impressed; many Western leaders have not only expressed admiration for Australia’s draconian refugee policies but have initiated ways to implement them in their own nations to contend with the recent surge of people fleeing Africa and the Middle East.
The mainstreaming of xenophobia regarding refugees was perfected by Australian politicians more than 20 years ago. Along with a media-savvy mix of dog-whistling against ethnic groups with little social power, refugees have been accused of being dirty, suspicious, lazy, welfare-hungry, and potential terrorists—and they’ve been accused of refusing to assimilate, despite the country’s largely successful multicultural reality.
Australia hasn’t been shy in offering advice to European nations struggling with an influx of refugees. Former prime minister Tony Abbott warned his European counterparts in 2016 that they were facing a “peaceful invasion” and risked “losing control” of their sovereignty unless they embraced Australian-style policies.
“Effective border protection is not for the squeamish,” he claimed, after pushing the concept of turning back refugee boats at sea and returning people to their country of origin, “but it is absolutely necessary to save lives and to preserve nations.” Abbott refused my requests for comment.
Australia has accepted about 190,000 people annually in its permanent migration program in recent years. This year, however, the migrant intake will be the lowest in seven years. There’s an inherent contradiction in Australia’s migration policy: The country quietly accepts many refugees who come by plane, but treats those arriving by boat with contempt and abuse. Between 1976 and 2015, more than 69,600 people seeking asylum—mostly from Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East—have arrived in Australia by boat.
Unlike some European nations, such as Britain, Spain, and Italy, where about 65 percent of people oppose immigration, authoritative polling by Australia’s Scanlon Foundation found that a majority of citizens back new arrivals: 80 percent of respondents rejected selecting immigrants by race, and 74 percent opposed the idea of selecting immigrants by religion—and yet growing numbers of people expressed opposition to or suspicion of Islam. And calling for a large cut in immigration has entered the Australian mainstream. The latest polling from the Lowy Institute in 2018 found that a majority of Australians now back a curb in migration. Many of those pushing this argument claim that caring for immigrants is too costly and that priority should be given to improving the infrastructure and environment. It’s possible, of course, for such a rich country to do both.
The internationalization of Australia’s refugee stance has, unfortunately, coincided with Europe’s right-wing populist surge. Europe has recently faced millions of asylum seekers arriving on its shores. Many want them stopped and turned back. It’s a view shared by some of the continent’s most extreme political parties; Italy’s new right-wing government is already turning refugee boats away. Some far-right Danish politicians tried but failed to visit Nauru in 2016 to see how it was housing refugees. Punitive attitudes are moving from the fringes to the mainstream, so it’s not surprising they want to see how Australia does it. If this democratic country can warehouse refugees for years, with little tangible international sanction—apart from increasingly scathing UN reports on its migration program—why not European states, with far more people crossing their borders?
I heard this argument regularly when talking to European fans of Australia. Jens Baur, chairman of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany’s Saxony region, told The Nation that he praised Australian “success” against refugees because it was an effective “deterrent.” For Baur, Europe used “ships of the navies of European states as a ‘tug-taxi,’ bringing refugees from the North African coast to Europe.” He wanted Europe to follow the examples of Australia and anti-refugee Hungary.
A more influential European politician, Kenneth Kristensen Berth of the ultranationalist Danish People’s Party, Denmark’s leading opposition party, has increasingly copied Australia’s hard-line position as his party has grown in popularity. Berth said that he liked the “efficiency” of Australia’s system and had no sympathy for refugees trapped on Pacific islands.
“It is their own choice,” Berth told me. “They have been warned by Australian officials that they will never be able to call Australia their home if they tried to reach Australia illegally. As long as they are not manhandled in these detention centers, I do not find any fault at the Australian side.” (In fact, countless refugees have been assaulted.)
One of the key architects of Brexit, former far-right UKIP leader Nigel Farage, praised what a fellow UKIP MP called Australia’s “innovative” refugee approach and wanted the European Union to follow. Farage ignored my repeated requests for comment.
The ideological underpinning of Europe’s far-right support should be understood as a politically savvy mix of racism, a kind of nationalist socialism, and isolationism. Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of the recently published book Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy, explains that many far-right leaders are “defenders of a nativist nanny state.” He told me, “They are not neoliberal dismantlers of the welfare state but defenders of social benefits for only the native born. This is a populist pitch that has been extremely effective at drawing ex-Communists and social democrats into their ranks. These politicians are seeking ways to protect their comprehensive social safety nets and avoid sharing with newcomers.”
Polakow-Suransky finds that in this worldview, Australia’s generous social benefits to its citizens should be copied in Europe but not for “what they perceive as the grasping hands of undeserving new arrivals who are seeking to leech off their welfare state.”
The Australian methods are ruthlessly effective; waves of refugees have attempted to arrive by boat since the early 1990s. Thousands have been physically and psychologically traumatized after being locked up, and one was even killed in detention by local guards (a subsequent Senate inquiry found that Australian authorities failed to adequately protect him). They’re often refused necessary medical care, and sometimes returned to danger in countries such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. A fundamental element of international law, which Australia routinely breaks, is the concept of non-refoulement, the principle that refugees should not be sent back to a place where they will be in danger.
Australia’s refugee policy has been condemned in reports by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, as well as in eyewitness accounts by activists and journalists. I’ve visited many of the most extreme facilities myself—such as Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean—and have heard horror stories from asylum seekers and guards. Successive Australian governments have paid tens of millions of dollars in compensation to many of these refugees, and yet the policy continues, with strong public support. In an age of refugee demonization, Australia was well ahead of the curve.
These policies were developed before the September 11 terror attacks, but they gained greater currency after that infamous day. After that trauma, it was easier to brand boat arrivals as potential terrorists and Islamist extremists; there’s been almost complete bipartisan political support for this view ever since.
Australia’s anti-refugee campaigns are targeted at a scared white population, of course, but their appeal is broader than that. According to the 2016 Census, nearly half of citizens were born to first- or second-generation migrants—and there are plenty of conservative former migrants who have little sympathy for more recent arrivals by boat. As journalist James Button wrote recently in the Australian magazine The Monthly, “Most Australians, including migrants, accept the brutal bargain: you have to be invited, there’s a right way and a wrong way.” The “wrong way” apparently deserves no sympathy. It doesn’t help that there are still very few nonwhite mainstream journalists in Australia, which means the perspectives of the growing number of non-Anglo residents are not getting the media attention they deserve.
My following book review appears in the Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age today:
Addicted? How Addiction Affects Every One of Us and What We Can Do About It
Matt Noffs and Kieran Palmer
When the Australian Greens recently called for the legalisation and regulation of cannabis, following moves in countless US states, Uruguay and Canada, the response from the federal government was immediate. Health Minister Greg Hunt dismissed the idea as “dangerous” and argued marijuana was a “gateway drug” to harder substances such as ice and heroin.
The evidence for Hunt’s theory is highly contested, with countless, reputable studies showing that poverty and troubled social environment have far more influence on a person’s drug intake than partaking in cannabis.
Hunt’s intervention followed a predictable route by opponents of serious drug reform (though he’s pushing for Australia to become a global leader in medical marijuana). As similar debates have taken place across the world – from opponents of Portugal’s successful decriminalisation of all drugs in 2001 to critics of heroin-assisted treatment in Switzerland – many sensible ideas are shunned by prohibition advocates to maintain a law and order response to illicit substances. Decades of these policies have singularly failed to stem drug taking; the Global Drug Survey consistently finds that Australians are some of the highest users per capita of illegal drugs.
These are just some of the concerns eloquently expressed in this important book by two workers on the frontlines of the drug debate. Matt Noffs and Kieran Palmer work for the Noffs Foundation in Sydney, an organisation founded in 1970 by Reverend Ted Noffs and his wife Margaret. It’s dedicated to assisting young people with drug and alcohol problems.
The message of Addicted? is largely about challenging the dangerous myths around drug use and advocating a more sensible approach: “The causes of addiction are generalised: living in a rough area, being of lower-than-average intelligence, being of low socio-economic status, belonging to a particular culture, even having a certain skin colour. The inner qualities of addicts are also overgeneralised: they have no self-control, no willpower, no ambition, or have simply given up on life…Rarely, if ever, is substance dependence viewed as a health issue, affliction of the mind and body, perpetuated by poor or risky health-related behaviour.”
Noffs and Palmer successfully demolish the stereotypes around drugs, explaining how most people taking illegal substances aren’t addicted to them. With justified irony, they rightly ask whether the Western addiction to smartphones, devices used far more extensively than any illicit drug and undeniably causing negative impacts on societal relations, should be curtailed with a “Just Say No” public messaging campaign akin to what is still used against drugs?
“Regulation is the word here,” they write. “Some of the studies of smartphone addiction show that parents can take control of their children’s use and manage the potential problems that arise.” Banning smartphones is never seriously suggested as a solution and yet that’s what many nations believe should happen to drugs despite fewer people being affected.
Addicted? takes aim at the media’s coverage of drugs and asks why most stories we see rarely hear from users themselves. They’re often demeaned, judged and discarded as a lost cause, smeared as people who don’t deserve a second chance. Think of how often the commercial networks and ABC feature drug-bust stories; journalists are spoon-fed images and startling facts by police with little context or history. Because this isn’t a dry policy book, though it has strong suggestions for governments to treat all citizens with respect regardless of what they ingest, Noffs and Palmer offer the personal stories of resilience and success against addiction that the corporate press usually avoids.
Reminiscent in parts of Johann Hari’s Lost Connections, a powerful rebuke to the excessive prescribing of anti-depressants, Addicted? offers clear and proven ideas to enrich lives touched by trouble (though they’re equally relevant for everybody). “While addiction can be harmful and suck away our spirit, it need not be an eternal shackle,” they conclude. “It is a part of our biology and our being, but its destructiveness can be minimised and managed.”
In a book filled with generosity and insights, it’s heartening to feel compassion directed at the most marginalised and invisible members of society. Noffs and Palmer live this philosophy and in a just world they would be tasked to redesign Australia’s decrepit drug laws.
Antony Loewenstein’s book on the global drug war will be published next year.