Why we need to Stop Adani

Several weeks ago I was one of 150 plus people down at the Townsville Entertainment Centre delivering our StopAdani message to ALP members arriving for the ALP Queensland State Conference. Later that morning I met a friend who seeing my t-shirt, asked me why I wanted to Stop Adani. He said Adani is promising jobs and Townsville needs jobs at the moment. And what about all the taxes and royalties that the mining industry pays? Mining was a key part of the Queensland and Australian economy – Australia might have once ridden on the sheep’s back but now we depended on mining for our prosperity.

A good discussion ensued but I have since done some further research so I will better be able to answer his questions when next we meet.

The first thing I want to say that for me a major reason for opposing the Adani mine from proceeding is a moral one. Climate change is real. In December 2015 nations of the world came together in Paris and for the first time came up with a plan to keep global temperature increase to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. An important part of this plan is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and Australia for its part should not be contemplating allowing the development of what will be the country’s largest coal mine. This is reason enough to stop the Adani mine from proceeding.

What about jobs? The number of jobs promised by Adani is a moving feast. Initially the talk was all about 10,000 jobs and then came the Land Court hearing where Adani’s own expert witness Jerome Fahrer from ACIL Allen Consulting put the number of jobs created over the life of the Adani project at 1464. Adani spokesman Ron Watson has since criticised the economic model used by Fahrer and said it was a net figure and too conservative. Fahrer’s model took into account the fact that there are only a finite number of workers and more jobs in one place will mean less somewhere else.

Another factor that was not even considered in Adani’s  job calculations is the fact that global coal consumption is falling and a large new mine in the Galilee Basin will have a devastating impact on existing mines in central Queensland and the Hunter Valley. The net number of jobs produced by Adani is likely to be well below even the 1464 figure.

Jonathan Rooyen, a member of the Queensland Airports Board was recently criticised by Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill for opposing the Adani mine.  Mr Rooyen had said that there is no need for our governments to be contemplating spending billions of dollars on subsidies to Adani for a project that will provide less than a thousand direct jobs, will result in untold environmental damage, and cause economic hardship in other regional areas of Australia. As long as there is a few jobs for Townsville, Jenny Hill apparently does not care about the possible impact on employment in other parts of Australia.

What about the contribution of the coal mining industry to the Australian economy. Politicians and lobby groups like to tell us that coal mining is the backbone of the Australian economy. Richard Dennis in his must-read book “Econobabble” puts the contribution of the coal mining industry to the Australian economy in true perspective. He asks how can an industry that employs 40,000 out of a total 11.8million employed people in Australia be considered the backbone – this represents only 0.39% of the total work force. In comparison the manufacturing sector employs 870,000 and education 960,000.

And what about the contribution of the coal mining industry to our economy. Richard Dennis shows that the taxes and royalties paid by mining companies to all levels of government account for less than 5% of government revenue and this is the total amount paid not the net amount after all deducting all the subsidies they receive. The Queensland Government receives more from car registrations and speeding fines than it does from the coal industry.

And what about Adani – is Adani likely to go against the trend and become a major contributor to government revenue. Not if what we have seen so far is anything to go by. There are two Adani subsidiaries that operated in Australia in the 2014/15 Financial Year. The first is Adani Abbot Point whose Total income was $350,204,603. Its Taxable income was $0 and Tax paid also came to $0

Adani Minerals did a little better. Its total income was $135,934,900 and its Taxable income a paltry $131,098 (= 0.1% of total income) with Tax paid amounting to $39,329 (= 30.0% of taxable income).
To understand more about how Adani and other large corporations minimise their tax contributions, refer to this recently published article by Simon Foale in New Matilda.

These are some of the moral and economic reasons for opposing the Adani mine. Then there is the environmental damage that will result from the mine and the way in which Aboriginal traditional owners have been manipulated in an attempt to get their permission. The we need to add to that the shocking record of Adani described in the Adani Files.

All in all a pretty bleak picture of a company that we should not be involved with and a mine that should not go ahead.

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Is this really the end for the Great Barrier Reef?

Last Saturday the North Queensland Conservation Council hosted a screening of “Chasing Coral”, a recently released film that documents the disastrous bleaching events that have destroyed large areas of coral reef around the world. Following the film there was a panel discussion featuring John ”Charlie” Veron, Tony Fontes, a tourism operator from Airlie Beach and David Wachenfeld, the Director of Reef Recovery at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Charlie Veron, known by many as the godfather of the Great Barrier Reef, has spent forty years working on coral reefs identifying one third of the world’s known coral species. One very poignant moment came towards the end of the evening when in response to a question, Charlie said that if we continue to carry on in the way we are now, in fifteen years the Great Barrier Reef will be gone. In the past 15 years ocean temperatures have increased by one degree and we have had three major bleaching episodes – in 15 years the ocean temperature will have increased by at least one more degree and there is no way he can see the coral surviving. The silence was deafening.

The story of “Chasing Coral” began two years ago when underwater photographer Richard Veivers sent two photos to award winning documentary director Jeff Orlowski– one photo of live reef and a photo of the same reef taken several months later after a bleaching event. Both men had the same thought – if they could document the process of bleaching as it occurred, the dramatic impact might convince people around the world to take meaningful action on climate change before it is too late. They then went about recruiting a truly inspiring team to help them with their ambitious project.

The film begins with some interviews with coral reef researchers and beautiful photos of existing reef to help viewers understand the enormity of the danger facing the world’s coral reefs. We then follow the team as they set out to record the process of coral bleaching using time lapse photography. Towards the end of “Chasing Coral” we saw the impact of some of the photography recorded in the film on an audience at the 2016 International Symposium on Coral Reefs held in Hawaii.

Footage showing the before and after shots of coral bleaching had the audience in tears. The film had the same impact on the audience at Saturday’s screening. The audience last Saturday was young with most people being under thirty. Their questions came thick and fast – what could they do and was there any hope.

While Charlie Veron was pessimistic as already noted, he saw hope in the age of the audience and said that it was important that they do all they can to educate others about the reality of climate change and do all they can to save the reef. Tony Fontes still had hope and received thunderous applause when he said it was time to put a line in the sand – we need to go to our politicians and tell them if they are not committed to doing all they can to slow climate change, then we are not going to vote for them. He got more applause when he said we have to stop the Adani coalmine in the Galilee Basin.

David Wachenfeld saw hope in the Paris Climate accord. He said we need to be positive about the fact that for the first time ever the nations of the world have come together and agreed that we need a plan to limit increase in the earth’s temperature to less than two degrees. Panellists saw hope also in the uptake of renewable energy in countries everywhere. They also agreed that if Australian governments were serious about responding to the threat of climate change then allowing the Adani mine to proceed was definitely giving the wrong signal.

Those who saw the movie on Saturday would agree that it is essential that we get as many people as possible to view the movie. Good news is that you can subscribe to Netflix for one month for free to watch the movie as many times as you want. Encourage your friends who already have Netflix to invite their friends to a viewing

Let’s help the makers of the film achieve their vision of changing the way we all think about climate change.

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What happened to the boundless plains? What happened to sharing?

This week is celebrated in Australia as Refugee Week. It is a week for us to celebrate the contribution made to our community by those who have come to Australia as refugees.

RW banner

It is also a good time to reflect on our historical response to those who have come to our borders seeking refuge. We have got so used to the heinous deeds of recent Immigration ministers such as Dutton, Morrison and Ruddock that we forget that for most of our history Australia has a good record of welcoming and settling refugees.

Last week I was invited to give a pechakucha presentation in Townsville on Australia’s response to refugees since the end of the Second World War.

While shocking things are common in our world today, it is still difficult to imagine how people must have felt at the end of the Second World War. There was great relief that such a terrible event had finally ended – but there was also great dread that twenty one years after the war to end all wars, another even more destructive war had been allowed to happen. This sense of dread was heightened as photos of the horror of the Nazi death camps began to emerge.

2. Nazi death camp

This strong desire to protect human rights and to ensure that events such as the holocaust would never happen again resulted in the proclamation of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights in 1948. At the time, Australia showed leadership in the area of human rights and there was an Australian on the small drafting committee.

3. universal-declaration-human-rights
(Eleanor Roosevelt displays text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948)

At the end of World War 2, there were millions of displaced people from Eastern Europe needing resettlement in other countries. It was expected that once these people were resettled then the refugee crisis would be over. Sadly in the years following the end of the war, local conflicts erupted around the globe, resulting in more displaced people and more refugees. To protect these vulnerable people, the International Refugee Convention came into being in 1951 with 145 countries as signatories.

Back in Australia people were still is a state of shock that the country had almost been invaded during the war. The Government was convinced the only way to safeguard against future threat was to drastically increase the population by immigration. From 1947 Australia embarked on an ambitious immigration program aimed at an annual 2% increase in immigration. Populate or Perish was the slogan of post war governments of all political persuasions.

6. postwar migration
(Post war immigrants arriving in Australia)

In 1947 we still had the White Australia policy and the immigrants came from the United Kingdom and from Europe. Increasingly Australia looked to the displaced people from Eastern Europe to provide the people needed to build up our population. In the eight years from 1947 to 1955 more than 170,000 displaced people (refugees) came to settle in Australia. These people formed the majority of the work force on large post-war infrastructure projects such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme. During the 1950s and 1960s the level of immigration remained high.

The final vestiges of the White Australia policy were abolished by the Whitlam government in 1973. Soon after this was the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and in April 1976 the first Vietnamese refugee boat sailed into Darwin Harbour.

8. Vietnames boat Tu Do Darwin
(Vietnamese boat Tu Do (Freedom) arrives in Darwin Harbour 1976)

Many Australians were horrified by these uninvited visitors from SE Asia but the Fraser Government and the Labor opposition adopted a bipartisan approach and supported a regional solution to this refugee crisis. In the ten years following 1975 more than 150,000 people from Indo China – most of them refugees – settled in Australia.

The Fraser Government showed that Australia could meet its humanitarian obligations to provide refuge to people fleeing political persecution and safeguard national interests at the same time. This banner at Malcolm Fraser’s funeral last year shows the high regard held for Malcolm Fraser in the Vietnamese community.

9. Fraser tribute

For more than forty years since World War 2 there had been a bi-partisan approach from the Coalition and the Labor Party to immigration and settlement of refugees. In 2001 the terrorist attacks of September 11 coinciding with increase numbers of asylum seekers seeking to come to Australia by boat.

In August 2001 the Norwegian tanker MV Tampa picked up more than 400 asylum seekers from a sinking boat. When the vessel’s captain tried to enter Australian waters to unload his passengers, the Howard Government refused permission and ended up sending commandos to take charge of the vessel.

Tampa2

Howard’s actions earned him local electoral support but universal international condemnation. In the 2001 election campaign successfully exploited the concern in the Australian community about immigration to win victory in what previously had seemed to be an unwinnable election. It was at the launch of the 2001 campaign that he came up with his famous line – “we will decide who comes into Australia and the circumstances under which they come”.

16. John Howard

Since the 2001 both the Coalition and the Labor Party have maintained policies that have placed border protection above the human rights of people coming to Australia seeking refuge. In 2013 the Rudd Labor Government re-opened the Manus Island detention centre in 2013 – six years after it had been closed in 2007.

19. refugees welcome
(Photo taken at 2017 Walk for Justice for refugees in Townsville attended by 250 people)

But there are sign of hope. More and more Australians are realising that there are humane alternatives to current policies. In April this year thousands of Australians attended Palm Sunday rallies calling for compassionate and humane treatment of asylum seekers. In time we will come to see the past 15 or so years of inhumane policies towards refugees as an aberration from our country’s proud record of welcoming the stranger.

Follow this link to the pechakucha presentation.

 

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Pathways to Protection or Persecution

In February this year I attended the Refugee Alternatives Conference held in Sydney and sponsored by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA). One of the Highlights of the conference was the keynote address delivered Professor Gillian Triggs, the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Gillian Triggs

She began by stating that the plight of the world’s 65 million refugees was one of the greatest human rights challenges we face. At a number of times during her speech she referred to a report released by the Human Rights Commission in September 2016 entitled “Pathways to Protection: A human rights-based response to the flight of asylum seekers by sea.’

Gillian Triggs shared that as President of the Human Rights Commission she is often asked the alternatives to offshore processing by people who know that what is happening on Manus Island and Nauru is wrong. In early 2016 the Human Rights Commission initiated a research project to canvass possible alternatives to third country processing in Nauru and Manus Island. The aim of the project was to identify options for responding to flight by sea which are consistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations. The project employed a human-rights based approach to policy development.

“Pathways to Protection” is the report of this project and its findings are essential reading for those of us seeking to change public opinion in Australia on this contentious issue. The report is based on a series of consultations with people with expertise in the areas or refugee policy, human rights, international law and protection issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

Pathways to Protection

(Photo: Australian Human Rights Commission)

The summary of findings begins by making clear that the key driver of flight by sea towards Australia is the lack of effective protection for refugees and people seeking asylum in the Asia Pacific region. Once this is accepted then improving access to effective protection is the most effective and sustainable means of preventing flight by sea. This can only be achieved through cooperation and partnership with our regional neighbours.

Two core principles emerged from the research and consultation process which guided the Commission in identifying alternative options were:

  • The top priority of an alternative response should be enhancing protection for people fleeing persecution, in accordance with our international human rights obligations.
  • The focus of Australia’s policy response should shift from deterrence to prevention. Rather than seeking simply to discourage asylum seekers from embarking on dangerous journeys, an alternative response should aim to address the human rights violations which compel people undertake these journeys in the first place.

The report identifies two key obstacles that hamper Australia’s efforts to improve access to protection:

  • There are few effective mechanisms for cooperation on refugee protection issues among states in the Asia-Pacific region
  • There are limited opportunities for safe entry for people wishing to seek safe protection in Australia.

In the report a number of options are proposed that address the key driver of flight by sea through creating and enhancing pathways to protection. They seek to achieve this by facilitating access to safe migration options, improving protection for refugees and people seeking asylum who are living in the region, and building to more effective regional responses to refugee protection issues.

In September 2016 this report was released. Later that month Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull addressed the United Nations sponsored summit on refugees in New York that was hosted by US President Obama.

Turnbull at UN

In this speech Prime Minister Turnbull committed to maintain Australia’s refugee intake at 18,750 from 2018 onwards, and pledged to provide $130 million over the next three years to support global refugee programs.

Malcolm Turnbull should have stopped while he was ahead because he then went on to declare Australia’s border protection policy to be the “best in the world” and urged the international community to adopt the Australian model.

Professor Gillian Triggs had this to say about Turnbull’s address:
“At no time did the Prime Minister acknowledge the failure of his government to find viable, long-term settlement opportunities for refugees who continue to be held in dangerous and cruel conditions on the isolated islands of Manus and Nauru.
Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers have now been in limbo for years, with no prospect of durable resettlement in Australia or elsewhere. Denying these men, women and children any certainty about their future continues to result in dire health outcomes.”(Pathways to Protection)

It is a tragic state of affairs that both the Government and ALP opposition are so intent on preserving the status quo that they are ignoring a report that shows us a pathway out of this human rights disaster that is continuing to destroy the lives of people who have come to us for protection.

The government has gone one step further – in November last year Malcolm Turnbull took the extraordinary step of declaring that the Government would not be renewing Gillian Triggs’ contact when it expires in July this year. Such is the cost of speaking the truth to a government who are quite happy to trample on the human rights of vulnerable people.

Post script:
Tell him he's dreamin
“Tell him he’s dreamin'” – the doubtless response if Dale Kerrigan from the Castle had been in Turnbull’s New York audience.

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Images from the twelve days of Christmas 2016-7

First Day of Christmas – Christmas Day

mt-and-faysal

The lead story on the ABC news today was the heart warming story of PM Malcolm Turnbull with wife Lucy volunteering at the community Christmas Dinner at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross. We were told that the PM has done this for many years and that the Chapel is in the PM’s electorate of Wentworth. The photo shows the PM enjoying his time with people at the lunch.

A pesky journalist asked the PM for his response to the death the previous day of Manus Island detainee Faysal Ishak Ahmed.  Fellow detainees told the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) that Faysal had been ill for more than six months with constant headaches and heart problems. He presented to the medical facility at the detention centre and was told that he did not need medical attention. Two days later he was dead.

Malcolm Turnbull assured the people of Australia that Australia’s policy towards refugees is “fair and compassionate”. I wonder what the definition of compassionate is in his dictionary.

Second Day of Christmas – Boxing Day

zero-emission-vehicle

(Photo – Jacob Choi)
While millions of Australians were out hunting for Boxing Day bargains I came across this fantastic gift idea from Debbie Choi – the “Zero Emissions Car” made for daughter Shiphrah.

Third Day of Christmas – December 27

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A photo of Lana on our walk from Nelly Bay across to Picnic Bay.

Fourth Day of Christmas – 28 December

fd-nativity

Here are some of the figures from the First Dog Onthemoon Do It Yourself Intra-Denominational Nativity Scene which can be downloaded here. If you start working on it now you should have it ready for Christmas 2017.

Fifth Day of Christmas – 29 December

mary-and-joseph-relay

The image is from a thought provoking video clip from Al Jazeerah that shows the difficulties that Mary and Joseph would have if they tried to walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem today.

Sixth Day of Christmas – 30 December

Worsening Weather Fails To Stem Migrant Flow
(Photo – Etienne De Malglaive via Getty Images)

Another inconvenient reminder from the Middle East. This photo is taken from an article in the Huffington Post that reminds us that Jesus together with his family were refugees.

Seventh Day of Christmas – New Year’s Eve

33-reasons-to-be-thankful

Perfect for the last day of 2016 –  our friends in Amnesty International in the UK suggest 33 reasons to be positive from this year.

 

Eighth Day of Christmas – New Year’s Day

idea-for-2017

A suggestion for 2017.

Ninth Day of Christmas – 2 January

heading-to-picnic-bay

One of my intentions for 2017 is to paddle across to Magnetic Island at least once each month. I got off to a good start on this the second day of the year.

Tenth Day of Christmas – 3 January

mums4refugees

In Australia we can be thankful for groups like Mums 4 Justice and their National Justice Project.

Eleventh Day of Christmas – 4 January

leunig-and-lake-lacuna

When things are getting too serious we all need a little Leunig.

Twelfth Day of Christmas – 5 January

january-ff-vigil

On the first Friday of each month, members of Townsville’s  Amnesty International Action group meet outside the office of Federal MP Cathy O’Toole.

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A life well lived

Last Friday I attended the Celebration of the life of Madge Sceriha. Madge has been an active member of our Amnesty group for more than ten years and active in her support of Human Rights causes for most of her life.

madge

As we entered the venue for the ceremony, we were handed the outline of the ceremony. On the front cover was a photo of Madge and underneath was printed her farewell to us all
“Bye now! I’m off to that big cosmic compost heap at ENERGY CENTRAL!
If I have a choice, I’ll join that energy stream that is the “wind beneath the wings” of Social Justice,
An end to poverty and violence in all its forms – especially to our environment.”

MC and long term of friend of Madge, Betty McLellan welcomed us and acknowledged the traditional owners of the land around Townsville, the Bindal and Wulgurukaba peoples. We then listened to John Lennon’s beautiful song “Imagine”.

Betty explained that the ceremony had been prepared by Madge right down to the details of the flowers on the coffin. These were an arrangement of Madge’s favourite colours and included Red for her socialist upbringing, yellow symbolising Amnesty International and Human Rights, Green for the Environment, Pink for survivors of breast cancer, and red and yellow for the Indigenous people of Australia.

Betty then read to us Madge’s account of the early influences on her life. She came from a singing family – both her mother and father regularly sang the songs of the Workers’ movement. Madge’s grandmother was instrumental in the formation of the Labor Party branch in Mackay and her militancy had a big impact on the rest of the family. One of Madge’s favourite songs was the classic song “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night” which we then listened to.

Joe Hill had been an organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and was executed by firing squad after being framed on a murder charge. His final message to his colleagues in the IWW was “don’t agonise – organise”. Betty told us that famous singer and activist Paul Robeson sang this song to workers building the Sydney Opera House during his visit to Australia in 1960.

Marriage and motherhood were an important part of Madge’s life during the 60s and 70s and it was during the 70s she began part-time studies at JCU towards a B.A.. Her studies introduced to her to the feminist movement and activism and during this time the Women’s Electoral Lobby was an important political influence. The song that marked this stage of Madge’s life was “Never turning back”.

Madge went on to study for a Social Work Degree and became active in the work of the Women’s Centre and Independent Advocacy in the Tropics – an advocacy organisation for people with disabilities. The final two decades of Madge’s life were devoted to activism on a whole range of Human Rights issues. It was at this time that Madge became involved in our local Amnesty International Action group. Madge was a regular participant in our First Friday vigil for refugees and asylum seekers. Madge was also a member of our Townsville Human Rights choir and the Amnesty International Kazoo band.

kazoo-classic

(Photo – Amnesty International Kazoo band at Climate Change Rally 2015 – Madge in red hat at left of picture)

Madge’s final message to us, conveyed by Betty, was that she was handing on the baton to us to keep up the struggle for social justice and human rights. We were invited to scatter petals on Madge’s coffin as we listened to Leonard Cohen singing “Hallelujah”.

This moving ritual was followed by the eulogy given by Madge’s son Michael. Michael said that for much of his life he had been able to bask in his mother’s glory. People on hearing his name would often say – “you must be Madge Sceriha’s son”. Michael shared a conversation he had with Madge in the week before her passing when she told him that she was not scared of dying but was “curious how the process would pan out”. Michael said how fortunate he and his sister Rhonda were to have a mother like Madge. Compassionate, enthusiastic and optimistic were some of the adjectives Michael used to describe Madge.

Long time friend and colleague Ros Thorpe then gave a tribute to Madge and recounted the wonderful contribution that Madge had made to the Family Inclusion Network. Ros told us that Madge had been active on social media promoting the causes she believed in right to the end – her final Facebook post was made only three days before her passing. Ros’s final words summed up what many of us were feeling :”Goodbye Madge we will honour your memory”.

seniors-creating-change

One of Madge’s favourite activities was singing and she was a founding member of the wonderful “Seniors creating change”– a singing group whose mission is to empower older Australians to call for an end to elder abuse. The final musical item was from Seniors Creating Change singing their theme song “We are the Seniors”. We were lead from the church by Seniors Creating Change singing the chorus of another of Madge’s favourite songs “Always look on the bright side of life”.

Following the ceremony people stayed on and continued sharing their memories of Madge. Federal MP Cathy O’Toole told us that Madge had come to see her only three weeks earlier. She presented Cathy with a list of issues that Madge believed she needed to be working on. A friend Jill shared with me her fond memories of her first meeting with Madge more than 30 years ago at the Women’s Centre.

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I have my own two special memories of Madge. The first is of Madge making a special effort to join us for a short while at our November First Friday vigil for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. The second is meeting with Madge for one wonderful hour only two weeks before her passing. We talked of many things including her early years, the planning for her memorial service and what it was like to be heading for the “big cosmic compost heap at Energy Central”. I remarked that Leonard Cohen had died only several weeks earlier. Madge said the two of them had been born in the same year and died in the same year. Perhaps they would soon get to meet up!

As we listened to Leonard singing Hallelujah at Madge’s memorial celebration, I imagined Madge and Leonard singing along from Energy Central.

Farewell Madge – we miss you but we will carry that baton proudly.

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Townsville Refugee Advocates meet with Federal MP Cathy O’Toole

On Wednesday 16 November, a delegation from local refugee advocacy organisations met with Cathy O’Toole, the member for the Townsville-based Federal electorate of Herbert. The group was made up of Meg Davis from Townsville Multicultural Support Group (TMSG), Dinithi Dissanayake and Nimath Malawaraarachchi from JCU Health Professionals for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Tamara Townsend from Amnesty International JCU Action group and Jeanie Adams and Peter Hanley from Amnesty International Townsville Action Group.

delegation

These four organisations had worked together to organise a number of public events in Townsville in the past three years – the most recent being the 2016 JCU Human Rights lecture given by Kon Karapanagiotidis from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre(ASRC) and attended by more than 200 people.

The meeting followed Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement in late October that the Federal Government would introduce legislation to ban refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru from ever coming to Australia. The announcement was met with condemnation from refugee advocates around Australia. Lawyer David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said the move would punish refugees. “The majority of these people are refugees, and the policy is rapidly destroying them,” he said.

Refugee supporters in Townsville protested the move at the monthly First Friday Vigil for Refugees and Asylum Seekers held on Friday 4 November outside Cathy O’Toole’s office. We delivered a letter signed by those present at the vigil asking that she oppose this legislation. In our letter we said that the proposed law was unnecessary, cruel and also contrary to international human rights law. We also asked supporters to write to Cathy supporting our call and made the appointment for 16 November to speak with Cathy about refugees and other Human Rights related issues.

vigil4

After receiving our letter, Cathy contacted us and assured us that she would not support the proposed legislation, and that she had made her position clear to a number of Labor Party colleagues.

We opened our meeting with Cathy by asking her about the level of commitment to Human Rights the current Federal Parliament. We gave as an example the high profile of the Amnesty Parliamentary group in past years. She said that a big change has been the number of advocacy groups now operating in the human rights space. These included disability action groups, development NGOs, mental illness groups, and LGBTI advocacy groups. She said that Amnesty International occasionally brought speakers to the Parliament and that she had heard part of the address given by Anna Neistat on the situation on Nauru.

We went on to talk about the legislation introduced by the government to ban refugees and asylum seekers from entering Australia. Cathy said that she had received a flood of messages asking to oppose the legislation. She referred us to a speech she made in the House of Representatives opposing the legislation and in that speech she read out two of the messages she had received.

cathy-otoole

Cathy believes that to change public opinion on this issue we need to be constantly challenging people who support punishing of refugees and asylum seekers. We told Cathy about the strong message that came from Kon Karapanagiotisis that we need to change the conversation to focus on values. Cathy agreed with this and also said that there is a strong connection between the way we treat refugees and asylum seekers and the way we treat our First Nations people. She said that in the light of the shameful treatment of our First Nations people, it should be no surprise that those who come to our borders seeking protection and compassion are also harshly treated.

Cathy asked the JCU students present about their experience in advocating for refugees and First Nationals people at the university. Dinithi, Nimath and Tamara agreed that while racism on the campus was not as overt as in the general community, many people they encountered expressed negative sentiments towards people from minority groups such as First Nations people and refugees.

We also discussed the Community is Everything Campaign and the high level of concern in the Townsville community around the issues of crime and violence. Cathy reported on the Town Hall meeting held in Townsville the previous evening with Opposition leader Bill Shorten. Several speakers raised concerns about the level of crime and violence in Townsville. Bill Shorten had pointed the connections between drugs, alcohol, unemployment, disengagement from schooling, and domestic violence and suggested some measures to address these problems. We talked about some initiatives that had been recently announced to address disengagement of young people and we agreed that they need to be community driven and support community justice values.

We left the meeting inspired by Cathy’s strong commitment to human rights and social justice.

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