Monday, March 5

Fear now rules the centre stage

Malcolm Fraser, former prime Minister of Australia has been a particularly vocal critic of the present Howard Government approach to human rights.

He contends it is vital to maintain liberty and there is no justification to believe we must curtail such liberty by a change of the rule of Law in response to the perceived threat of terrorism.

I remember the party I joined, the party of Menzies, of liberal and progressive ideas, a forward-looking party, willing to make experiments. As Menzies himself put it, a party that believes fervently in the Rule of Law, in higher education accessible to all able students, in a government accepting national obligations and a vision for the future, a party that slowly abolished the White Australia Policy and broadened Australia to a more open, multicultural society. It was a party of hope and of vision.

Fraser has become particular disillusioned with Prime Ministers Howard’s approach in government and I agree with his concerns. There is no doubt some changes to the law were appropriate to deal with the threat of terrorism. However the 37 new laws passed represent an exercise in extreme haste, for I think such laws were passed with inadequate debate. The end result is the removal of many of the checks and balances that protect us against mistaken false arrest and conviction.

The presumption of innocence that existed for so long, important to our society, is now removed and replaced with justified suspicion. Our laws now make no distinction between soldiers and civilians, or between legitimate and illegitimate motivations. Under these new laws, you need be only suspected of committing an offence, need not be charged and can be taken into secret detention by police or the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), with little or no right to contact family. You have only limited rights to speak to a lawyer.

Whilst there are limits on who can be detained and for the period of time the prospect of secrecy looms. The previous security available as defence in an open courtroom is lost and the whole system invites abuse. I am heartened to see some progress of repeal in Canada who enacted very similar laws. See Gary's blog; I hope we will eventually follow suite.

We have also created a detention centre in Nauru, to proceeds offshore refugees at a horrendous expense. I have visited Nauru and observed its desolate lunar landscape, a legacy of the phosphate mining which rendered the island useless except for a tiny green band around its outer perimeter. The processing offshore enables us to avoid our obligations as a Country, out of sight and mind but the cost is very high, at about 2 million per refugee.

I wonder how many people remember the 137,000 boat people who arrived penniless, as refuges on our shores from Vietnam in the late seventies. Except for isolated pockets they have assimilated very well in to the Australian way of Life. We were not nearly as fearful then and I remember talking to them, about their journey in open boats on the high seas subject to pirates and the cruel sea.

I composed a poem entitled: “Fear now rules the centre stage” as per below.

Count we did the human cost
Precious life blood that was lost
Fear stirred up a mighty rage
Fear rules our centre stage

Laws passed in fearful haste
Liberty, the law replaced
War on terror, our political pride
Render helpless enemies outside

Pacific solution is our history
Nauru’s new trade in misery
Cost of millions per refugee
Solution now far out to sea?

I remember a time of national debate
Vietnam refuges now hardly rates
137,000 amassed on our shores
Where are the age old sores?

Laws enacted please overturn
A time for freedoms wheels to turn
Freedoms guest book please re-design
War on Terror, phoney war this time


JBlue said...

Ah, Lindsay, always able to capture the point in a poem.

Val said...

Australia is indeed a different place than it was in Fraser's time. I find it encouraging though that he has gone beyond the party line, looked at what has happened under the present government and taken the step to speak out. Takes guts and shows that he has a conscience.

Lee said...

The climate has changed radically since the seventies, Lindsay, and I'm not referring to "Global Warming".

Strict regulations have to be in place,I believe. Menzies may have had ideas of "liberal and progressive ideas, a forward-looking party, willing to make experiments" but he, Menzies was still very much tied to the apron-strings of Britain. Since Menzie's long reign, I think Australia has grown up, matured and progressed much further and has learned to stand on its own 'feet'. We have to protect our wide, vast open border...and this is no mean feat. (no pun or rhyme intended).

I disagree that we avoid our obligations and responsibility as a nation. But, that's okay as that is my right in this country we strive to protect.

Gary said...

Thanks for the very passionate post and poem Lindsay.

DellaB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DellaB said...

Hi Lindsay,

I have a very different memory of the time under Menzies, I was of course very young at the time and much more concerned with the minutia of daily life - perhaps the slow progress of the abolishment of the 'White Australia Policy' would have something to do with that.

In later years I was quite able to empathise with the problems of non-whites in South Africa.

I have a huge respect for Malcolm Fraser. I believe he speaks and acts from the heart, no longer the politician...

I have lost much respect for the Australian people, I cannot believe some if the things they allow to take place, without uproar and dissent ..

"I'm okay......?"

your poems are very very effective, thank you.

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Ju Blu, Val, Lee, Gary & Dellab

Thanks for your comments.

Val. Thank goodness Fraser does speak out!!

Lee - I don’t disagree Menzies was tied to England, or we have progressed. Fraser quoted Menzies vision because he believes passionately the vision is being lost by the present government in many respects.

We need to move with the times, but ethics and morality are somewhat changeless attributes. This is the crux of the problem in the USA; justification for torture and imprisonment without trial on suspicions and faulty intelligence; as suspects are held indefinitely and moved to secret offshore locations.

Getting tough on terrorism but acting immorally in the process is what infuriates Fraser and I entirely agree with him.

I am not against using modern technlogy and our rather poorly resourced armed forces to protect our country and patrol the vast coastline. However there is no doubt Terrorists will not come from refugees; or those entering illegally along our vast coastline but rather from those who arrive on a tourist visa or as occurred in England and USA from long standing citizens within the country.

Present refugee processing offshore does allow our government to ignore its international obligations had they landed in Australia, just like the 137000 boat people in the late seventies.

Dellab -Apartheid

If our present new security laws were applied then (at the time of apartheid in South Africa in the eighties) anyone caught photocopying material to assist in a demonstration against that immoral regime could be convicted with imprisonment up to a maximum of 25 years.

Best wishes

grannyfiddler said...

your kookaburra makes me hum that old campfire song, learned as a child... kookaburra sits in an old gum tree - ee. i'll be humming it all day... in a major key!

my eldest son just told me this week that he's joining the military. he wants to make a difference, he says, as my heart quietly breaks. i listen to the arguments for military force and try to understand how violence can stop violence. and i wonder how being a good neighbor and a good friend to displaced people can make enemies for us....

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Granny fiddler
Thanks for visiting. I think the military could become much more of the style of peace keepers with violence an absolute last resort. The military could take on much more of a nation building role; not at the option of Governments to invade and engage in sometimes immoral conquests.

The risk to security of displaced persons has proven to be false, rather it builds goodwill; creates understanding as you say.

Best wishes