Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill, and some letter-writing campaigns

As you might imagine, there are a few campaigns going against the Bills I wrote about on Sunday.  A Just Australia is organising a letter-writing campaign, with tips on what to say and information on how to find your local MPs and Senators.  The Refugee Advocacy Network is organising a similar campagin, and has information and interviews on YouTube explaining why these Bills are dangerous.  Or if you are a social media person, check out the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre‘s campaign, which combines Facebook and Twitter selfies with the more traditional letter-writing and phone calls.  You might also want to sign GetUp’s petition to close the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres – I know it’s been around for a few weeks, but it’s still worth doing.

The good news is that the Labor Party have said that they will oppose the bill (I have read that they do still support some measures, though I have not yet managed to find out which – I suspect it’s the off-shore detention part).  Independent Senator Madigan, formerly of the DLP, has also expressed opposition to this Bill, and when I called his office a few weeks ago on a related topic, I was told that he feels very strongly about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.  So if you are not in the mood for admonitory letters or emails, you could write a brief note of thanks and encouragement to your Labor and DLP Senators – or, of course, your Green Senators, whose opposition to this Bill is taken so much for granted that the ASRC doesn’t even bother to mention them!

Also, Pope Francis has also written to Tony Abbott asking him to remember the human cost of his laws, and calling for generosity to refugees – as well as more equitable social policies generally.   I’m beginning to think this Pope is almost as much of a socialist as I am – it will be interesting to see what our oh-so-Catholic Prime Minister makes of this letter.

But enough of these fun and games!  It’s letter-writing time!  As usual, I’m posting below the cut copies of the letters I have just sent to all my cross-bench Senators, my local MP, the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Immigration, and his Shadow Minister.

You can find contact details for your own local Senators and MPs here.  Happy writing!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Letter sent to PM Tony Abbott, varied slightly for sending to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Shadow Minister Richard Marles, who apparently thinks that Scott Morrison is on the right track…

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to express my deep concerns regarding the Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill and the Amendment to the Australian Citizenship Bill.  While these Bills purport to address the backlog of Asylum Seeker claims, they have grave potential to discriminate against those least able to help themselves.

I urge you to re-write, or better still, throw out the Asylum Seeker Legacy Caseload Bill.  There is, frankly, almost nothing about it that passes the test either of compassion or of natural justice. I am particularly concerned by clause 5J, which redefines ‘a well-founded fear of persecution’  so as to place the onus on the asylum seeker to change his or her behaviour unless this would involve changing ‘a characteristic that is fundamental to the person’s identity and conscience’.  This sounds very much like blaming the victim, and is particularly concerning as it is nowhere defined what constitutes a characteristic that is fundamental to someone’s identity.

You may be aware that after Malala Yousafzai was shot, she received a letter from a member of the Taliban assuring her that if she would only come back to Pakistan, wear the Burka and go to a madrassa rather than a secular school, all would be forgiven.  Technically speaking, this would be a situation where changing her behaviour would have made her safe in her home country – but is it reasonable to expect a woman to give up her right to education or self-determination in order to be safe?

Closer to home, I had a schoolfriend whose family fled Eastern Europe during the Cold War after her mother wrote an article against the current government.  Perhaps, had she chosen to change her behaviour and only write pleasant things about the government, she would have been welcomed back – but would this have been a good thing?  And if we ask people to do this, does that not put us in collusion with foreign Governments to repress their citizens?

This Bill – and indeed, any Bill which purports to save people from perishing at sea by forcing them either to be silent in the face of an oppressive government or perish at home instead – makes us the best ally a dictator could have.

I would also like to express my concerns regarding the amendments to the Australian Citizenship Bill, also under review in Parliament, which appears to give the Immigration Minister unchecked power to revoke the citizenship of anyone not born in Australia, for any reason, and without review.  It is extremely dangerous to put so much power into the hands of a single person – no matter how wise or compassionate he may be – without possibility of appeal.  Even the best-intentioned person can be mistaken, or may not have access to all the relevant information, and removing the power of appeal drastically increases that such a mistake will go un-corrected – especially in the context of the fast-track assessment process proposed in the Caseload Bill.   In the context of asylum seekers, such a mistake could result in people being sent to their deaths.  This is not something to take lightly.

Mr Abbott, you frequently talk about your strong Christian faith – a faith which I share.  If there is one thing the writers of the Bible felt strongly about, it was protecting the vulnerable and the stranger.  These Bills fail to do that.  They are inhumane.  Australia can do better than this.

I ask you to withdraw these two Bills from consideration, and to work with your party and with Parliament towards a more compassionate Asylum Seeker policy.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Letter sent to Senators Madigan (IND), Di Natale (GRN), Rice (GRN)

Dear Senator,

I am writing to express my thanks for your support of Asylum Seekers through your opposition to the Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill, and related Bills.  I am one of many Australians who feels strongly that the Government’s current policies are draconian and shameful, and this new Amendment would only make things worse.  Thank you for being our voice in the Senate.

Best wishes,

Catherine

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Letter sent to MPs Kelvin Thompson, Bill Shorten,

Dear – ,

I am writing to express my thanks for your support of Asylum Seekers through your opposition to the Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill, and related Bills.  I am one of many Australians who feels strongly that the Government’s current policies are draconian and shameful, and this new Amendment would only make things worse.  Thank you for speaking against it.

I urge you to continue your opposition to this Bill.  I am particularly concerned by clause 5J, which redefines ‘a well-founded fear of persecution’  so as to place the onus on the asylum seeker to change his or her behaviour unless this would involve changing ‘a characteristic that is fundamental to the person’s identity and conscience’.  This sounds very much like blaming the victim.  And who, precisely, decides whether a characteristic is fundamental or immutable?

This clause is, I think, particularly damaging to women.  It is women, not men, who tend to be excluded from education or forbidden to work outside the home, women, not men, who are often forced into child marriages, and women, not men, who are told, in domestic violence cases, that if they’d just be nicer, then their husbands wouldn’t beat them. Which of these characteristics are fundamental, and who decides?

You may be aware that after Malala Yousafzai was shot, she received a letter from a member of the Taliban assuring her that if she would only come back to Pakistan, wear the Burka and go to a madrassa rather than a secular school, all would be forgiven.  Is this the kind of behaviour change that we are going to require of people?  What about people who are gay or transgender?  There are, unfortunately, plenty of people who think that these characteristics are a matter of choice, rather than a fundamental part of identity.

I would note, too, that this clause effectively allies Australia with any Government with an interest in repressing dissent – if someone becomes a refugee for expressing un-approved political opinions, this Bills suggests that we will not accept their claim for asylum.   They would be forced to go home and either conform to an oppressive government, or risk their lives with no hope of escape elsewhere.

I would also like to express my concerns regarding the amendments to the Australian Citizenship Bill, also under review in Parliament, which appears to give the Immigration Minister unchecked power to revoke the citizenship of anyone not born in Australia for any reason, and without review.  Regardless of the wisdom or beneficence of the Minister in question, it is extremely dangerous to put so much power into the hands of a single person without possibility of appeal.  Even the best-intentioned person can be mistaken, and this Bill makes such mistakes nearly irrevocable. I urge you to oppose this Bill.

Labor has a great opportunity here to distinguish themselves from the Liberal Party once and for all, drawing on Gough Whitlam’s legacy to create an asylum seeker policy that is compassionate, just, and beneficial not just to asylum seekers but to all Australians.  I urge you to oppose the current Bills, and instead work towards a policy that Australia can be proud of.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Letter sent to Senator Muir (has not yet showed his hand on this subject, but did vote yes on the Bill back in July to get more transparency about what had happened to a particular boat full of Asylum Seekers from Sri Lanka)

Dear Senator,

I am writing to urge you to vote against the Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill and the Australian Citizenship Amendment when they come under review in the Senate.  I am one of many Australians who feels strongly that the Government’s current policies are draconian and shameful, and these two Bills would only make things worse.

In the Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill, there are a number of sections that concern me, however I am particularly troubled by clause 5J, which redefines ‘a well-founded fear of persecution’  so as to place the onus on the asylum seeker to change his or her behaviour unless this would involve changing ‘a characteristic that is fundamental to the person’s identity and conscience’.  This sounds very much like blaming the victim.  And who, precisely, decides whether a characteristic is fundamental or immutable?

This sounds very much like blaming the victim, and is particularly concerning as it is nowhere defined what constitutes a characteristic that is fundamental to someone’s identity.

You may be aware that after Malala Yousafzai was shot, she received a letter from a member of the Taliban assuring her that if she would only come back to Pakistan, wear the Burka and go to a madrassa rather than a secular school, all would be forgiven.  Technically speaking, this would be a situation where changing her behaviour would have made her safe in her home country – but is it reasonable to expect a woman to give up her right to education or self-determination in order to be safe?

Closer to home, I had a schoolfriend whose family fled Eastern Europe during the Cold War after her mother wrote an article against the current government.  Perhaps, had she chosen to change her behaviour and only write pleasant things about the government, she would have been welcomed back – but would this have been a good thing?  And if we ask people to do this, does that not put us in collusion with foreign Governments to repress their citizens?

This Bill – and indeed, any Bill which purports to save people from perishing at sea by forcing them either to be silent in the face of an oppressive government or perish at home instead – makes us the best ally a dictator could have.

I would also like to express my concerns regarding the amendments to the Australian Citizenship Bill, also under review in Parliament, which appears to give the Immigration Minister unchecked power to revoke the citizenship of anyone not born in Australia for any reason, and without review.  Regardless of the wisdom or beneficence of the Minister in question, it is extremely dangerous to put so much power into the hands of a single person without possibility of appeal.  Even the best-intentioned person can be mistaken, and this Bill makes such mistakes almost inevitable – and nearly irrevocable.

I urge you to oppose this Bill.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine

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