Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Attempt to get tough with "asylum seekers" falls over

Five year wait for right to work scrapped

NEW rules denying asylum seekers work rights for up to five years will be softened in response to a backlash from Labor MPs and one of the principal architects of the Gillard government's policy to stem the number of boat arrivals.

Paris Aristotle, a member of the government's expert panel on asylum seekers, has described the no-work-rights rules as inconsistent with the policy's controversial "no advantage" test, punitive and in breach of Australia's international treaty obligations.

Mr Aristotle welcomed a nuanced retreat by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, who signalled a willingness on Monday to put in place "some mechanism" for those found to be refugees, but having to wait several years for permanent protection, "to be able to support themselves".

Mr Bowen announced last Wednesday that, "consistent with "no advantage", those who could not be sent to Nauru or Manus Island would be released into the community with "no work rights and will receive only basic accommodation assistance and limited financial support [of $430 a fortnight]".

The move followed the recognition that too many asylum seekers have arrived since the new approach was announced on August 13 for them to be transferred to Nauru or Manus Island.

It was an attempt to put those who will now be released on bridging visas on the same footing as those on Nauru and Manus Island, but it prompted warnings that it would create an underclass of refugees who would be ill prepared to build new lives when finally granted protection visas.

It has also escalated unrest and anxiety among the 387 who have been sent to Nauru. They say they have been treated unfairly and warn that one Iranian is close to death after being on a hunger strike for 45 days.

After representations from Mr Aristotle and others, Mr Bowen asserted on Monday that the new rules were "not actually linked to the no-advantage principle as such", and were more about the surge in numbers from Sri Lanka and the belief that many were "economic migrants" and not refugees.

He also vowed to work with those in the refugee sector to determine "how we will deal" with those found to be refugees under the new system, where asylum seekers whose claims are upheld must wait for as long as they would have waited to be resettled if they had stayed in a transit country - a period Mr Bowen concedes could be five years.

In comments welcomed by Labor MP Melissa Parke, Mr Bowen said he wanted "over time" to work out how these people had "appropriate support and care, and where appropriate they have some mechanism in place to be able to support themselves".

Writing exclusively in The Age today, Mr Aristotle argues the correct response to concerns about economic migration from Sri Lanka is to "properly and quickly" establish if this is the case by processing applications. "Those that are refugees should be protected and those who are not can be returned," he writes.

"The announcements last week to disallow asylum seekers work rights and timely access to family reunion, even after they have been found to be a refugee, were not recommendations of the panel.

"The measures are highly problematic because they are a punitive form of deterrence in response to a specific and new phenomenon in people smuggling from Sri Lanka, which the government believes is for economic reasons as opposed to refugee protection."

Mr Aristotle expresses dismay at the opposition's proposal to slash the humanitarian quota to 13,750 places and reintroduce temporary protection visas, saying it makes little sense.

He laments that the debate on asylum-seeker issues continues to be on a "destructive and combative course".


Sydney's Lebanese Muslim gangs have moved on

POLICE don't go to Telopea Street much more these days.  More than a decade ago, it was a regular haunt as they tried to quell the 800 metre strip in Punchbowl that had become home to Sydney's worst violence, drug dealing and criminality.

As the new millennium began, Telopea Street was a brazen stop and shop for cocaine, heroin and ice.

Now, it is a quiet suburban strip like any other in Sydney. You can't tell it used to be run by a network of sophisticated gangs with loyal foot soldiers.

Many of those men have moved on, many are in jail. A good number were part of an unprecedented migration to traditionally anglo-saxon outlaw motorcycle clubs. Some are already dead.

Central to the evil of those times was Mustapha Dib, whose family arrived in 1977 from Miniyeh, in Lebanon's north.

On Friday, Mustapha Dib, known by friends, family and police as 'Fairy,' received a 30-year minimum jail sentence for the Lakemba murder of pregnant Anita Vrzina, 20, and wounding her partner, Ahmed Banat, with intent to murder in November 2000.

It was the second person he killed before he was 18.

Aged just 15, he stabbed and killed schoolboy Edward Lee in a brawl on Telopea Street. Lee's violent and senseless death forced Sydney to face the reality that a new generation of gangs were on the streets that had no qualms about killing innocents or anyone who got in their way.

Police had become targets too. In the month following the Lee murder, amid an intense police operation, the Lakemba police station was targeted in a hail of bullets.

Now an acting Deputy Commissioner, David Hudson was the Campsie crime manager when Telopea Street was a virtual war zone.

He told Fairfax Media this week, criminals in south-west Sydney got a foothold while police were rebuilding after the Wood Royal Commission that made sweeping reforms to rid the force of corruption.

"There was so much stuff going on internally we sort of took the eye off the ball and this gave them a strong foothold," he said.

But Mr Hudson said police gradually clawed their way back with in-your-face policing.

"We pushed back and eventually took back the streets," he said.

In two years, they made more than 60 arrests and seized $3 million worth of assets in an attempt to strangle the Telopea Street menace. It culminated in Dib being charged with Mr Lee's murder.

For the Dib family, it was a double-blow.

Mustapha's brother Mohammad Dib, 34, who has spent at least eight years in jail for car rebirthing and his role in trying to cover up his brother's role in the Lee murder, told Fairfax Media they are a "normal family despite a few murders and shit".

"It's quiet here, it's like any other street in Sydney," he said. "Before, yeah, there was drug dealing and stuff but we were young guys misled by older guys," he said.

Many of Sydney's worst crooks of that era grew up on or near Telopea Street, working together or on opposing gangs to control the underworld, while the infamous Danny Karam gang - known as DK's boys - fought it out for control of Kings Cross.

Michael Kanaan, serving life in jail for three murders, and the warring families of the Razzaks and Darwiches epitomised the lawless, ruthless bloodlust that Telopea Street thrived on.

These were the people Dib and his family called "friends". Mohammad Dib described Kanaan as "a top bloke".

Nonetheless there was a hint of regret at the years wasted on the criminality for which they are renowned.

"If I worked legitimate like I do now since day one, I'd have more money in the bank than a life of crime. I've got nothing and jail is the worst place ever. It's not worth it," he said.


Gillard still under attack as a participant in union corruption

Gillard is combative but so is Julie Bishop.  It takes a woman to tear down another woman.  Abbott's actually a bit of a softie so he needs Bishop.  The claim that Abbott is anti-woman is a real laugh

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's chief of staff Peta Credlin, left, speaks with Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop.  Abbott depends heavily on both

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop is ramping up her attack on Julia Gillard's conduct as a lawyer in the 1990s, accusing the Prime Minister of creating the "stolen vehicle that the bank robbers took to the bank".

Ms Bishop told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday that when Ms Gillard was a partner with Slater & Gordon, she set up a union association, which saw money siphoned out by her then boyfriend Bruce Wilson and fellow AWU official, Ralph Blewitt.

"The reason [Ms Gillard] didn't open a file within Slater & Gordon ... was because she and Wilson and Blewitt wanted to hide from the AWU the fact that an unauthorised entity was being set up..." Ms Bishop said.

"She created the stolen vehicle that the bank robbers took to the bank, to rob the bank."

Ms Gillard has maintained that she only provided legal advice about the set up of the AWU Workplace Reform Association and did not know anything of the fraud that followed.

She has consistently denied any wrongdoing and yesterday in a second "marathon" press conference on the AWU affair, she said claims she set up the fund were defamatory.

This morning, Ms Bishop said: "I am able to say that Julia Gillard set up an unauthorised incorporated association that was in breach of the laws of Western Australia."

Ms Bishop also called on the Prime Minister to ask the AWU and Mr Wilson to get Slater & Gordon to release all the documents they hold on the matter, "so that that this matter can be thoroughly investigated".

This follows a similar request from Mr Blewitt, calling on Mr Wilson to release Slater & Gordon from client privilege.

This comes as the law firm released a statement, defending its actions over the AWU affair and confirming it cannot "divulge confidential and privileged information of one client to another client or any other party".

Responding to questions about why Slater & Gordon did not notify the police or the AWU when allegations surfaced about Mr Wilson in 1995, the law firm said: "At all times it has acted in accordance with its legal and ethical obligations in relation to all aspects of the AWU matter."

Slater & Gordon said it had also sought independent legal advice from law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler and Philip Crutchfield SC on its conduct.

Both sets of advice - received yesterday evening - found that Slater & Gordon did the right thing by ceasing to act for the AWU and Mr Wilson when it became aware there was a conflict between the interests of the two.

Ms Bishop has been spearheading the attack on the Prime Minister about the AWU affair, yesterday asking all the Coalition questions in question time.

Speaking to reporters on her way into Parliament on Tuesday morning, Ms Bishop said it was entirely appropriate that she, not Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, lead the charge.

"I'm the Deputy Leader of the opposition and I happen to be a lawyer with 20 years experience," she said.

"Why are you suggesting that Tony Abbott has to ask the questions? I am the deputy leader of the party."


90pc of Sudanese refugees want to go home

I support free tickets for them

A new study has found the majority of refugees from Sudan who arrived in Australia over the past decade want to return home.

Many of those surveyed experienced isolation and reported being discriminated against, particularly when it came to employment and housing.

Nyok Gor is one of around 23,000 Sudanese refugees who fled to Australia over the past decade.  He arrived in late 2003 as one of the "lost boys of Sudan".

He began studying at university, but found it difficult to get work and accommodation.  "While I was looking for accommodation, that was one of the areas that I felt discriminated," he said.

"As a student I was looking for share accommodation and somebody would be calling to organise some of the houses that I was interested to apply for, and when I turn up later would tell me sorry we don't have enough room.

"There were other cases where somebody would ask me over the phone what background do you come from and I would say an African background and they would say no sorry we don't have available room for you."

According to the study by international policy research agency, STATT, that was a common problem among the 350 people surveyed.

STATT researcher Robert Onus says most people found there were good support services provided by the Government, but their ability to get help differed between cities and regional areas.

"People in regional areas felt quite a bit of isolation, particularly because the people that were settled in regional areas didn't have access to some of the support networks that people in bigger cities would have with the larger communities," he said.

"The other thing is definitely with regards to employment.  "A lot of people have worked hard to get skills and develop their skills in Australia.  "They've done education in Australia but they can't seem to get jobs in areas that they feel that they're skilled at working in."

Mr Onus says many people felt potential employers discriminated against them based on their race.

"On the other hand I think it's the question of getting skills, job skills in the Australian market," he said.  "A lot of people don't have the resume that local people might have or people that have been in Australia for a longer time might have."

The study released today also found that since South Sudan gained independence, many people want to return home.  "About 90 per cent of people had signalled that they would be intending to return. That includes both temporarily and permanently," he said.

"When it comes to more permanent return, people had a range of opinions about how long they would go and for what reasons."

But Mr Onus says most people who wanted to return to South Sudan did not hold negative opinions of Australia.

"It was very much a question of going home to support the development of their new nation and there's really a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm in the community towards helping the South Sudanese nation develop and repatriating the skills that they've gained here," he said.


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