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Shorter Shanahan:

Because the Rudd Government doesn’t plan to completely change every detail of immigration policy, they are exactly the same as the Howard and Keating Governments.

Yes, Dennis, detention centres will still exist. Some people will even be held in them. I will agree that the Rudd Government appears prepared to continue the semantic games about what is and isn’t part of Australia. You assert that “the Labor Government intends to continue to decide who comes into Australia and how,” invoking the language of your idol, John Winston Howard. But there are some core principles in the new policy that seem to overshadow any similarities to the glory days of mandatory detention:

  • People should be held in detention if there are legitimate grounds to believe that they pose a risk.
  • Absent a reasonable grounds to suspect a risk is posed, people should not be held in detention.
  • Children should not be held in detention.
  • The Government’s decisions about risk and detention should be subject to an appropriate level of judicial review.
  • People should be detained for as short a time as possible, whether the eventual result is the granting of asylum or deportation.

Seems a pretty clear distinction to me.

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Labor has had to bear the responsibility of introducing mandatory detention. I am very pleased that it can also claim the credit for doing away with it.

ELSEWHERE: Senator Evans’s speech sets out the plan for reforming detention policy. There is commentary from both Andrew Bartlett and Tim Dunlop. As Tim notes, the Opposition has responded by playing its greatest hits.

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Inappropriate

I wonder how they got that way:

The Federal Immigration Minister says an independent review of his discretionary powers has found the current levels of use are inappropriate.

Senator Evans says the Immigration Department has already implemented some recommendations for change, and is consulting on others.

He says it is important for the role to retain discretionary powers for exceptional cases, or those involving national security.

The policy will need to be adjusted from the last Government’s approach discretionary powers for anyone they don’t like the look of.

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Snap, indeed

Cross-posted from Public Polity:

This seems quite a strange thing to happen one week before election day:

IMMIGRATION Minister Kevin Andrews has ordered a snap review of all 450 people held in immigration detention in Australia to establish whether an administrative error means their incarceration is technically unlawful.

Department officers are being forced to go back and check the form of words used in the address and salutations on official letters notifying people they were in breach of their visa conditions and were no longer in Australia lawfully.

The review — which has already prompted the release of 13 immigration detainees in the past three weeks — centres on whether notification letters were addressed to the visa applicant or their “authorised recipient”, usually a migration agent.

If the notification is addressed to the applicant care of their authorised recipient, then their detention is potentially unlawful following a 2003 Federal Court decision.

This follows Tony Burke’s claims earlier in the week that the caretaker conventions were not being followed and that Labor was being denied information related to immigration cases.

It seems unlikely that Andrews would be rushing around cleaning up potentially unlawful immigration decisions (and blocking information access to his opposition) unless (i) there was serious incompetence or misconduct, or (ii) the potential risk to election prospects was deemed secondary to the benefits of cleaning it up urgently. I suspect that both conditions may exist.

As to the first, the Lateline story on Tony Tran highlighted a newly uncovered bungle, and Lateline also reported that the Commonwealth Ombudsman was aware of other cases that have not been made public. Obviously, there have been some serious failures beyond the ones that were known before the election campaign began.

However, I also think that Andrews’ actions highlight that Team Howard has given up hope of being returned to government and is preparing for its time in opposition. Labor must investigate and clean up the corruption and malfeasance that has contaminated the executive departments under John Howard. If Andrews had tried to keep things quiet until the election, these problems would simply have been uncovered in the subsequent inquiry. The little sneak can point to his requests for review and claim that he was trying to clean things up, and that if the Government had been returned then he would have finished the job.

This is a government that started out by claiming the moral high ground on ministerial conduct, but it has never lived up to these ideals. Over the past decade, we have learned about the depths they have sunk to in corrupting and undermining the integrity of governance in this country. Many of us have been cynical about their claims to responsibility and professionalism for their entire time in office. Others have slowly come around, until we have finally reached the tipping point at this election. But their character has remained unchanged. From their leader downward, as Ministers have come and gone, as scandals have been uncovered and weathered, the Howard government has held to the philosophy that remaining in power is the end they seek, and they would use any means necessary to attain it. In one week’s time, it will all be over.

Possum Comitatus has written about the danger facing the Liberal Party this week. It has taken some time, but almost every commentator now agrees that they are destined to lose. The question is whether they will actually face the annihilation their Captain warned about some months back. The discussion in Possum’s thread has questioned whether the disintegration of one of the two major parties would be a good thing – the argument is that, even though they might be repugnant in many ways, a severe defeat would hand unfettered power to the Labor Party, which would almost inevitably corrupt their own actions in government.

I disagree with that argument. The Liberal Party is not aligned with my own political attitudes and will never have my support, but their faults under John Howard’s leadership extend beyond political ideology. The party needs to be reformed from the ground up, removing the current culture of corruption, incompetence and political opportunism to re-establish its core principles. If it cannot do so, it should not hold power again in Australian politics. Another conservative party can take its place. And a dominant party in Government will not have unfettered power so long as an appropriate balance of power is maintained in the Senate – if nothing else, I hope the electorate will have learned that lesson from the past three years.

Kevin Andrews’ current actions again demonstrate that Team Howard will not act to ensure the integrity of government until their feet are held to the fire. It is too little, and it is far too late.

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Obviously, these 165 academics have been contaminated by the unions:

“Many of us work directly with humanitarian refugees and other
immigrants,” the letter says. “We take exception to the statement by
… Kevin Andrews that links the reduction of Australia’s African
humanitarian intake to assumed integration difficulties.

“We know of no empirical evidence that refugees from particular
countries find it more difficult to integrate into Australian society
compared to others.” The letter says this country – as a wealthy nation
faced with only a small number of asylum-seekers – has a duty to
maintain a substantial humanitarian resettlement program.

“Australia has a responsibility to ensure the trauma of the refugee
experience is not further exacerbated by racism and discrimination in
the resettlement context,” the experts say. “There is no place in
Australia today for racism and intolerance.”

There is a place for racism and intolerance – the Liberal Party (and any Liberal Party member who disputes that can feel free to openly challenge their Captain and his Immigration Minister’s policies). Let’s remove that place from Government.

UPDATE: Of all places, the GG has deigned to publish a critique of Andrews written by an academic, Klaus Neumann. The comparative analysis of the current situation with the blocking of Ugandan refugees during the McMahon era is worth reading, but the final paragraphs capture what is so wrong about the views our politicians are espousing and endorsing:

“The Government has been aware that many refugees from parts of Africa have had difficulties settling in Australia,” Andrews said. “Most have come from war and conflict including torture. Many have lived in refugee camps for up to and over a decade.”

Australia had accepted to resettle these people precisely because of their horrific experiences and because many had been stuck in refugee camps for 10 years or more.

Australia’s capacity to resettle refugees is far greater now than it was 35 years ago. And if the accommodation of people “from a vastly different culture”, to again use Andrews’s words, who went through hell on earth before being accepted for resettlement, is particularly complex and costly and challenging?

Then Australia, more so than most other countries, has the resources to meet the challenge.

UPDATE #2: The GG’s web site also has the open letter available now.

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Nice to know that Kevin Andrews has a loyal friend. And someone needs to explain to Pauline what the word “refugee” means:

Ms Hanson, who has formed a new political party, Pauline’s United Australia Party, for this year’s election, said Australia should send aid to Sudan instead of accepting refugees.

“If we want to do things for the Sudanese people, then let us send medical supplies, food, whatever they need over there – but let them stay in their own country,” she said

She’s up there with this genius:

The president of the Caxton Street Association Sarosh Mehta says young Sudanese men cause problems in the precinct every weekend and it is a serious problem.

He says the answer is simple – deport the troublemakers.

“I would like to publicly call on Kevin Andrews the Minister for Immigration to simply send them back to where they came from,” he said.

Yes, because they have apparently failed to seamlessly merge into our society, we should send them back to the country where they faced (and would likely continue to face) death. That ought to show them.

UPDATE: Michelle Grattan discusses both Andrews’ decision on the African refugee intake as well as his handling and defence of it. Her argument appears to be that he is not strategically invoking race for the election – instead, he’s just acting on flimsy evidence and putting himself into a position that he can’t defend. Again.

UPDATE #2: Senator Bartlett captures the argument against Team Howard (not to mention Pauline Hanson’s Manchester United Party):

When a party stoops so low as to willingly harm our social fabric and cause individual hurt to people who have already suffered enormously, and to publicly validate and encourage expressions of racially motivated prejudice, they are not fit to be in government.

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