A small group of refugee supporters, including Greens’ refugee spokesperson Peter Job and Ian Rintoul from RAC-NSW picketed the Town Hall at lunchtime today to mark the Melbourne hearings of the Senate Enquiry into administration of the Immigration Act.
Yesterday’s hearing, which was held in Adelaide, was told, amongst other things, that fully half the members of the SA bar association were so disgusted at the government’s treatment of asylum seekers that they were providing legal services pro bono. According to a report in the Australian, the detention regime was described as ‘racist’, ‘‘punitive’, and almost ‘sadistic’. Police stationed at the entrance to the Town Hall announced they were not allowing anyone else in, so reports from today’s hearing will have to come later, but outside, Greeen’s spokesperson Peter Job described from first-hand knowledge instances of what he called ‘ineptitude’ on the part of the Immigration Department, such as the use of outdated information on the situation in a refugee’s country of origin, the recent bungled attempt to deport a person while the UNHCR was assessing his case, while stressing that abuse and mismanagement were continuing – a point taken up by Ian Rintoul, who said nothing substantive had changed since the ‘revolt’ by backbench Liberals led by Petro Georgiou: all that happened was that more discretion was given to Amanda Vanstone, who already had all the powers she needed to release all asylum seekers if she wanted, but no more protection had been given to the human rights of asylum seekers. He mentioned the recent media circus that accompanied Amanda Vanstone’s visit to Villawood to mark the removal of the razor wire: no such media coverage was given to the subsequent erection of an electric fence in its place. Senator Kerry Nettle also emerged from the hearings to address the rally – over the past five years, she said, the government had made small changes to the way asylum seekers were treated, and they had only made these changes because of pressure from people like those here today. She reported that Julian Burnside QC had made a submission to the enquiry calling for the ‘excision’ of parts of the Migration Act, specifically those parts that meant that people coming to Australian seeking asylum were locked up in desert camps. She pointed out that this was the last Senate Enquiry set up before the government took over control of the Senate, and so was particularly important. Ian Rintoul, however, later made the point that there was really no need for a Senate Enquiry to show that the Department of Immigration was rotten from the head down: even the government’s own Palmer Enquiry into the case of Cornelia Rau had shown that. Philip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone owed a tremendous debt to all the refugees who had spent years in Curtin, Villawood, Port Hedland, Baxter and the rest – and they haven’t been called to account yet.