- Update : Asylum seekers fall through the cracks. Margaret Simons writes:
Five minutes after yesterday’s Crikey story about the Rudd Government’s rejection of asylum seekers was published, a client of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne was told that his application for ministerial intervention had been refused. He had come into the Centre to see his lawyer. He went downstairs and attempted suicide. An ambulance took him to hospital…
After deadline yesterday the Minister’s office got back to us with a response. Read the whole media release here.
In Crikey!, Margaret Simons has reported that the KRudd Government “is being tougher and more ruthless with asylum seekers than the HoWARd Government”, based on an analysis “of decisions made by the new Minister for Immigration, Senator Chris Evans” by the rabble at the Asylum Seekers’ Resource Centre:
The analysis of the exercise of ministerial discretion shows that Evans has rejected 97.6 per cent of applications since coming to power – the highest rate of rejection since 2001.
The handling of applications for ministerial discretion has been sped up, with 41 rejections being issued in five weeks and other applicants told their cases have been “escalated” which on the current pattern is not good news for them.
Most of those rejected feared for their safety if returned to their countries of origin. Many have mental health problems and spouses and children in Australia from whom they will be separated if deported.
The analysis of the rejections is contained in a document distributed to volunteers by the Asylum Seekers’ Resource Centre, which is the leading aid and advocacy organisation for refugees in Australia. Read the whole document here.
In a way, this represents a return to form for the ALP (see also the apparently defunct group Labor4Refugees). The policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers, for example, was introduced by the previous ALP Government in 1992, under then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Gerry Hand:
I believe it is crucial that all persons who come to Australia without prior authorisation not be released into the community. Their release would undermine the Government’s strategy for determining their refugee claims or entry claims. Indeed, I believe it is vital to Australia that this be prevented as far as possible. The Government is determined that a clear signal be sent that migration to Australia may not be achieved by simply arriving in this country and expecting to be allowed into the community.
Yeah: kill ’em first.
Like quite a number of his former colleagues, since retiring from Parliament in 1993, Gerry has managed to avoid joining the dole queue and carried on protecting Australia’s vital interests by going into business. Currently, Gerry is Chairman of Great Earth Limited, “an Australian Public Company based in Australia with a prime objective to advance projects into income generating investment entities”. In December 2007, Great Earth secured its “prime objective to advance projects into income generating investment entities” by purchasing two coal tenements in Monto and Proserpine, Queensland, for the measly sum of $100 million. In fact, Great Earth has made a terrific video about its activities, which has a very pleasant soundtrack:
In all likelihood, when he kicks his gold-and-diamond encrusted (working man’s) bucket, Gerry will be remembered not only for his profiteering from coal exports — and crying crocodile tears when he voted in support of Gulf War I — but also for his sterling efforts in protecting the Australian community from undesirable elements, especially those fleeing from the tyrannical regimes in the Middle East which his party — via its support for Gulf Wars I and II — did so much to reshape into the New World Order of Iraqi Freedom. For example, at the Woomera Detention Centre:
Since being bumped first into (1983) and then out of Parliament, Gerry has also managed to pursue his business interests outside of Australia, especially in East Timor and Indonesia. According to George Aditjondro, in 1996 “the Australian media publicised the close business partnership of Victorian Labour Left politician Gerry Hand, with the Indonesian Christmas Island casino baron, Robby Sumampouw. This Indonesian businessman has profited tremendously from his more than long association with General Benny Murdani and President Suharto’s youngest son, Tommy Suharto (Tony Wright, “How Labor’s Gerry Hand hit the jackpot in Jakarta,” Sydney Morning Herald, Dec 30, 1995; George Aditjondro, “Man with the right mates,” West Australian, Jan 3, 1996; David Jenkins, “Mr. Robby’s biggest bet,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 30, 1996; Lindsay Murdoch, “Mr Robby’s world,” The Melbourne Age, Feb 22, 1996). (On George Aditjondro, see GEORGE JUNUS ADITJONDRO: STANDING BY THE COUNTRY’S MARGINALIZED, Alpha Amirrachman, The Jakarta Post, January 9, 2007.) According to one record, Gerry still has his finger in the East Timorese pie, via Carrickmacross Holdings Pty. Ltd, a company of which he is also Chairman.
Speaking of money money money money money money money, ‘No productivity, no pay rises’ says Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan (Samantha Maiden, The Australian, May 6, 2008). Swan himself is entitled to a fairly reasonable salary: an annual allowance of $127,060, plus a bonus of 87.5% on the basis of his senior role as Treasurer, or a total of $238,237.50. Swan is also entitled to an ‘electorate allowance’ of $27,300, a ‘travel allowance’ and a very healthy superannuation scheme. Certainly, Peter Costello and John HoWARd are entitled to a rather good deal of money upon retirement. The maximum payment for the Age Pension, on the other hand, is $546.80 a fortnight, or the princely sum of $14,216.80 per annum.
In future, even this sum may be reduced, both via cost-cutting, but more importantly via inflation, even as the ALP undertakes a ‘third wave’ of neoliberal economic reform:
Australian Labor leaders plan “third wave” of free-market measures
April 3, 2008
At a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on March 26, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the eight state and territory leaders, all from the Labor Party, formally adopted a sweeping agenda to implement a new “wave” of free-market measures. These measures will inevitably mean an intensification of attacks on jobs, wages, workplace conditions, safety rules and social services…
The Labor leaders also committed themselves to renew the National Competition Policy, which was adopted by the Keating government in 1992 to drive a so-called “second wave” of “reform”—featuring privatisations, outsourcing, “user pays” measures and public sector job-shedding. Labor’s “first wave”, in the 1980s, focussed on de-regulating finance, trade and working conditions to meet the demands of business, laying the basis for the greatest redistribution of social wealth in Australian history from the working people to the corporate elite.
I think they mean ‘working families’.
See also : Mark Aarons, ‘Labor’s ties that grind’, Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2008 | Tom Bramble and Rick Kuhn, ‘The transformation of the Australian Labor Party’, Joint Social Sciences Public Lecture, June 8, 2007, Australian National University [PDF]:
Voting is one thing. What of the party membership? Labor’s membership has been declining over a long period. In 1954, just before the DLP split, Labor had 75,000 individual members. By 2006, membership had fallen to 40,000 despite the doubling of the population. Recent efforts to stem the decline have not had any notable success. In 2000, the NSW branch, which claimed 21,500 members, launched a membership drive with a target of 50,000 by 2005. Instead, NSW Assistant Secretary Luke Foley wrote, the membership fell to 16,300.
The composition of the Party’s membership has also been undergoing long-term change. The most dramatic shift has been the decline in blue-collar membership who made up 46 per cent of the NSW ALP’s membership in 1961. By 1981 the figure had fallen to 21 per cent. For a period in the 1960s through to the 1980s, the decline in blue-collar workers was offset by an influx of higher level white-collar professionals, managers and administrators, whose share of membership of the NSW branch doubled in the two decades to 1981, from 14 to 30 per cent. The pattern in the Victorian Party was similar. Although these shifts were associated with parallel changes in the overall workforce, the changes in Labor membership were disproportionate. Despite a dramatic rise in the ratio of clerks, salespersons and personal service workers to the overall population, they were essentially static as a proportion of Party members in the NSW branch. The result was that by the late 1980s, ‘a professional [was] more than three times as likely as a manual worker, and five times more likely than a salesperson, personal service employee or clerk, to participate in the ALP’s most basic structures’.
Many of the upper white collar working class or new middle class members who joined the ALP during the 1960s and 1970s were won over less on the basis of identification with the working class than the Party’s support for a series of progressive causes: opposition to war in Vietnam, anti-racism, feminism, environmental protection etc. However, the Hawke and Keating Governments’ record in these areas in the 1980s and 1990s demoralised many of this cohort, leading to a significant loss of members.
In contrast, there have been two groups whose weight in the Party has grown. The first is the layer of Party and union functionaries, their personal supporters and aspirants to such posts. The second layer is retirees. Between the early 1960s and the 1980s, the proportion of retirees in the Party rose significantly and in 2006, the average age of members in the NSW branch was 60, according to NSW secretary, Mark Arbib. Although political parties always suffer from turnover, the rate of turnover in the ALP is now quite acute: one half of all new members fail to renew their membership after their first year, which suggests extensive branch stacking.
The decline in the ALP’s membership has affected its organisation on the ground. Where once Labor had a base of supporters in the bigger workplaces who could be relied upon to champion Labor’s cause, this layer has now vanished. Former NSW minister Rodney Cavalier estimated in 2005 that the NSW branch had only 1,000 active members outside the apparatus and ‘[t]he Labor Party has ceased to exist below. The nurturing of new members, once so vital in our growth, even more vital in passing on traditions of honour and service, is less likely than at any time in our history’. In 2005, Mark Latham estimated that the active membership was 7,500 nationally. John Button, previously a minister in the Hawke Government, reported in 2002 that whereas branch meetings in the big cities once attracted 40 or 50 members, they now drew fewer than a dozen, mainly politicians and employees (or aspiring employees) of the Party machine. Right-wing faction chief Senator Robert Ray confirmed this picture in 2006. ‘Once thriving branches in provincial towns all across Australia’, he said ‘are now reduced to a mere handful of members. Branch meetings are desultory, the Party is accused of being too hierarchical… ’ Many ALP branches are barely functioning or are torn apart by branch stacking.
Due to changing patterns of work and residence, many branches have been affected by the break-up of inner-city working class communities. Furthermore, with the arrival of television, market research and telephone polling, Labor leaders, so long as they have the funds, no longer need an active membership to get the word out—television commercials and polling take the place of town hall meetings and door to door canvassing by Party members. The ALP has, in the view of Mark Latham, become ‘a virtual party controlled by a handful of machine men’.
THE CANDIDATES FIND COMMON GROUND
Slave labour and schemes!”
“An unemployed workforce
The capitalist’s dream!”
“But let’s keep Britain working
Either way we must keep Britain working”
To kill people nicely!”
To keep the peace!”
“But weapons definitely
Either way we must defend ourselves”
With one big boss!”
With lots of little bosses!”
“But someone in control of course
Either way there must be someone giving orders”
A toast to democracy
The prison guard of this society
Sides in the voting game
Disappear into the same machine…
To US bases and nuclear weapons
To stopping pickets pulling down fences
To British troops in Northern Ireland
To the wonderful victory in the Falklands
To the plastic bullet and the riot police
To the UDM and the TUC
To isolating gays and to law and order
To richer bosses and poorer workers
To longer hours and to less pay
To the courts (for those who get in our way)
To the beating of people who step out of line
To the use of troops to break a strike
To the expulsion of extremists
To political witch hunts
To repatriation and to benefit cuts
To peaceful settlements
And no strike agreements
To authority, to power, to governments
To the annual rise in the MP’s wage
To vested interests, to privilege
To the party who wins the next election
By definition a victory to capitalism!