20 April 2006
In an effort to appease Indonesian outrage at the granting of asylum to 42 West Papuan refugees, the Australian government has announced that in future all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will be transferred offshore where there asylum claims will be assessed. The move means that these people will be denied access to the Australian legal system and even if they are deemed to be genuine refugees, they may be forced to languish in refugee camps until another country can be found to accept them. The Australian government has already signaled that it would not want to accept such people.
The attitude of the Australian government has been likened to that of Pontius Pilate, washing its hands of responsibility for the plight of people who are our nearest neighbours. This despite clear evidence of their mistreatment, and Australia's acceptance that the claims of the recently arrived refugees are genuine.
The Australian Government proposals are in clear breach of the UN convention on Refugees according to the Jesuit Refugee Services as quoted in CathNews on 18th April. And in an article published in several major newspapers this week, Fr Frank Brennan SJ described the proposals as both ‘unprincipled’ and ‘unworkable’.
This issue will be one of those addressed at a forthcoming seminar being organized by the Christian Brothers and Presentation Sisters Justice group for Sat Jun 17th on "Balancing individual human rights and national strategic interests"
Instead, even with the doubling of aid levels promised by the present government, Australia is expected to reach just 0.38% of GNI by 2010, well short of the target of 0.7% required to reach the Millenium Development Goals set by the UN.
Also of concern to World Vision is how Australia’s aid is directed. The report found that funding for law and justice has increased by 930% in the last five years. In contrast, spending in overseas aid has only increased marginally for basic health (4%) and basic education (18%).
"While impoverished nations may need funding to help their police or their bureaucrats - it will do little if we don't also help desperately poor people feed or educate their children or stop them dying from preventable diseases or dirty drinking water," World Vision chief executive Tim Costello said.
Concerns were also expressed at the level of what is termed ‘boomerang aid’ – whereby most of the aid money provided ultimately ends up in the pockets of Australian consultants and companies that deliver aid projects. (The current enquiry into the Australian Wheat Board bribery scandal for example revealed that discredited AWB employee Trevor Flugge was paid almost $700,000 from Australia’s Aid budget to pursue the sale of Australian wheat to Iraq) See AID/WATCH for more information.
"At least 80% of Australia's bilateral aid budget is spent on Australian sourced goods and services - the cost of an Australian consultant can run as high as A$600,000 a year. There are better ways to use this money to help impoverished communities" Mr Costello said.
The appropriateness of honouring the memory, bravery and sacrifice of those who served in the armed forces is not in question, even when the motives of those who sent them to fight and kill may be questionable.
However, the thinking that would deny the descendants of former enemy combatants the opportunity to participate in the annual commemoration deserves to be examined.
Is the emphasis of Anzac Day to be on affirming our national identity and celebrating military traditions, thereby risking making it easier for us to accept violence as a means of resolving disagreements?
Or is it more appropriate to place the emphasis on reconciliation between former enemies and on the futility and evils of war?
In a world still beset by conflicts around the globe, some initiated or supported by our own nation, it is perhaps appropriate to recall the words of the late pope John Paul II:-
"I proclaim that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man - violence destroys what it claims to defend : the dignity, life and freedom of human beings"
Earth Day 2006 will see the launch of a sustained, three-year campaign to educate consumers, corporations and governments worldwide on the urgent need to take concrete steps on climate change now – before it’s too late.
The Earth Day website contains information about events being organized as part of that campaign.
The website also lists a number of immediate practical actions that individuals, businesses and organizations can do can do to combat the effects of climate change.
6 April 2006
Readers of this bulletin formed three teams to participate in the "Amazing Race Against Poverty Treasure Hunt" in Melbourne last Sunday. Teams participated in an interactive, fun event involving the deciphering of cryptic clues that led them to visit sites around the inner city which highlighted the disparity of living conditions between the first world and the developing world.
The day concluded with speeches and entertainment in the city square and was intended to assist in maintaining the momentum generated by the international Make Poverty History campaign in 2005, a campaign which calls on world leaders to honour their commitments to the Millennium Development Goals, an eight-point plan for tackling global poverty.
The importance of the campaign for Australia was highlighted by the recent release of OECD figures which reported that despite its pledges to increase aid levels, Australia had slid further towards the bottom of he list of Western aid donor nations. A report published in the Melbourne ‘Age’ quoted figures that show that Australia last year gave away just 0.25 per cent of its national income in foreign aid, barely half the average of 0.47 per cent for donor countries. The OECD figures also show little sign of movement towards the Government's stated goal of doubling the aid budget by 2010.
For some current suggestions for maintaining support for the make Poverty History campaign visit the website of Micah Challenge
The industrial relations body of the Catholic Church in Australia has recently added its voice to those expressing concerns about the impact of the Federal Governments IR changes on low income earners.
Commenting on the WorkChoices legislation which became effective at the end of last month, the Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations executive officer, John Ryan said that he is concerned the newly created Australian Fair Pay Commission, will exacerbate the burdens placed on low paid working families.
He went on to claim that the current taxation debate has focused on those earning high incomes whilst neglecting the needs of those at the bottom end of the income scale. According to Mr Ryan this represents a continuation of a long-term trend and observed that "Even since the introduction of the GST in July 2000, the proportion of tax of these low income earners has gone up, while the percentage paid by those on five times that income has decreased".
Mr Ryan called for a broad and informed community debate on wage, employment, welfare and taxation policies and for the Commonwealth Government to take decisions that promote both economic growth and social justice.
The full text of the statements on wages and taxation can be found at the Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations website.
Whilst the decision of the Australian Government to grant temporary protection to the 42 West Papuan refugees has been applauded by refugee support groups, flaws in the current policy towards refugees and asylum seekers have again been exposed.
In congratulating the government on its decision, made in the face of pressure from the Indonesian government and from sections of the Australian government anxious not to offend Indonesia, a spokesman for the Refugee Council of Australia repeated the Council’s opposition to the system of temporary protection visas which restricts access to government sponsored resettlement services and requires proof of refugee claims again after three years
Voicing similar sentiments, the Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service Fr David Holdcroft drew attention to the very differing welcomes given to refugees accepted through the UN compared with those fleeing persecution and who arrive without authorization. He also pointed out that refugees released from detention are billed for their own incarceration and the account must be settled in full before they can hope to leave Australia and return, or become Australian citizens.
Many remain convinced that the underlying attitude towards refugees within the government and the immigration departments is one of hostility. The latest revelation of the unlawful detention of yet another Australian citizen (with the indication that many more similar cases are yet to be publicized) is evidence of this, as is the recent Senate enquiry which according to A Just Australia reveals that Australia’s refugee policy "is not designed to find out who are 'genuine' refugees, but is designed to find as few refugees as possible"
Following its successful lobbying of the Australian Government to amend the WorkChoices Bill to protect outworkers in the clothing and textile industry, Fairwear is again calling on its supporters to write to Members of Parliament about the proposed Independent Contractor Legislation and the Award Rationalisation Process. What is proposed is seen to undermine the hard won protections for a very vulnerable group of workers.
Fairwear is concerned that if outworkers are re-classified as independent contractors they can legally be required to enter into contracts for wages as little as $3 to $4 an hour. Fairwear is also concerned about changes that could mean the current monitoring mechanisms to protect outworkers will be made ineffective and the ability of unions to act on behalf of exploited outworkers will be severely impaired.
For a detailed summary of the impacts of these changes and sample letters that can be sent to the relevant politicians see the above website.
In the meantime, the ongoing campaign to encourage manufacturers behind prominent fashion labels to sign up to the Homeworkers Code of Practice continues to bear fruit. Following the institution of legal proceedings against 25 companies that were failing to meet the minimum conditions required under the Outworker clauses of the Federal Clothing Award, more companies have decided to seek accreditation to the Homeworker’s Code of Practice.
Companies yet to sign up who are currently being targeted by Fairwear include Ojay, Pilgrim, Rich and Scanlon & Theodore among others. A list of accredited companies and of those companies resisting accreditation, together with information about the ongoing campaign can be found here