Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Australia turns back three asylum-seeker boats
Australia has intercepted three asylum-seeker boats so far this year, including one carrying women and children from Sri Lanka, the country's immigration minister revealed on Monday.
Under Canberra's hardline measures, asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia by boat are either sent back to where they departed or to remote Pacific island camps, where living conditions have been criticised. The government has defended the policy as stopping deaths at sea.
Since the start of its "Operation Sovereign Borders" in September 2013, it has managed to halt the flood of boats, and drownings, that characterised previous Labor administrations.
In March, Canberra hailed 600 days with no vessels arriving, with 25 boats carrying 698 people turned back and "safely returned to their country of departure".
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said three boats had been intercepted this year, including a small wooden fishing vessel from Sri Lanka last week. "I can advise that there were 12 people on that vessel," he said.
"And the vessel had departed from Sri Lanka and we were able to successfully return those 12 people, which included men, women and children, back safely to Sri Lanka on May 6.
"Now, that brings to three the number of vessels that have sought to arrive and have been turned back, people returned back to their country of origin, in this calendar year."
He gave no details on the other two boats.
The vessel from Sri Lanka came within 500 metres (1,600 feet) of Australia's thinly-populated Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean on Monday last week, according to reports.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said that after being spotted, those on board were transferred from a customs ship to a smaller boat, which took them ashore.
They were flown back to Colombo on a charter flight in a secretive operation under the cover of darkness on Thursday, the broadcaster said, citing witnesses who claimed there were seven children, including babies, among them.
Dutton reiterated that no boatpeople, even if found to be genuine refugees, would ever be settled in Australia. "Please don't accept the word of con agents that are masquerading as these people-smugglers, that if you pay your money will you come to Australia. You will not," he said.
Election 2016: Labor's Melbourne candidate Sophie Ismail contradicts party asylum seeker policies
There's a lot of wobbling in the ALP about turning back the boats
Labor candidate Sophie Ismail has contradicted her party's asylum seeker policies, outlining concerns about boat turnbacks and offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru.
"I have concerns about turnbacks, I don't think they should be on the table"
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton seized on Ms Ismail's comments and called on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to discipline his candidate over her comments on immigration policy, which is a fraught political issue for the ALP and one it hopes will not become a major issue during the campaign.
An under pressure Mr Shorten was forced to declare five times his party's policy on boat turnbacks and offshore processing was "clear", as he dodged questions about whether he would reprimand Ms Ismail.
On the first formal day of the 2016 election campaign Ms Ismail - who has joked that she "looks like a Green" and is trying to win back the prized seat of Melbourne from the Greens' Adam Bandt - also said Treasurer Scott Morrison should "absolutely" apologise to charity organisation Save the Children.
Ms Ismail, who faces a tough fight to win back the former Labor stronghold, vowed to be a progressive voice inside the ALP caucus in the mould of retiring Fremantle MP Melissa Parke and suggested Australia may be in breach of its international legal obligations by processing asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Ms Parke and four other Labor MPs recently criticised the offshore processing of asylum seekers on Manus Island in the wake of a PNG Supreme Court ruling that found the Manus Island detention centre was illegal, prompting Prime Minister Peter O'Neill to say it would be closed.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised to continue the Coalition's policy of turning back asylum seeker boats if Labor is elected, a policy adopted at the 2015 Labor Party conference.
But in a direct contradiction of party policy, Ms Ismail told Fairfax Media: "I have concerns about turnbacks, I don't think they should be on the table. When people arrive by boat, and 90 per cent of them are genuine refugees, turning them back to places not signed up to the refugee convention is a problem".
"I think the PNG ruling obviously casts doubt on the whole situation, it's time to review the Pacific Solution and move towards a decent and humane approach that fully complies with our international legal obligations.
"These people [on Manus Island] need to be processed immediately and resettled. Their indefinite detention in unsafe conditions is clearly in breach of a number of our obligations and has to end.
"I have grave concerns about the ability of Manus and Nauru to provide safety for these people."
Asked directly if the asylum seekers on PNG should be brought to Australia and processed, Ms Ismail said: "I think they do need to be processed, whether in Australia or somewhere else".
Campaigning in Queensland, Mr Shorten said the ALP had publicly debated its policy last year and that "Labor's policy is clear. We will not put the people smugglers back into business" while dismissing suggestions he led a divided team.
"When it comes to people smugglers and turnbacks and not having onshore processing by people who are smuggled here by criminal syndicates, we are not for turning on our policy," he said.
"Our candidates are good candidates. I'm proud of my united Labor team but I'm clear what the policy is, as is my team."
Asked about Ms Ismail's comments, Senior Labor MP Anthony Albanese said "I'm not about condemning people for putting forward their views".
"The Labor Party has positions on this. I argued out my position in the Labor Party. The difference is that when the Labor Party makes a decision it is potentially a decision of government rather than just a couple of people."
Mr Dutton said Ms Ismail's comments brought to six the number of Labor MPs and candidates who "have openly revolted against Bill Shorten on border protection". The other five are Ms Parke, Lisa Singh, Anna Burke, Jill Hall and Sue Lines.
"This is eerily similar to the situation that occurred for Kevin Rudd when he tried to be tough on borders but he could not bring his party with him," Mr Dutton told Fairfax Media.
"Under Labor we saw 50,000 people come on boats, 800 boats and 1200 people drown at sea. Bill Shorten has to show leadership and discipline these candidates because the Australian public don't believe Labor has the ability to keep the boats stopped."
At a later press conference, Mr Dutton said internal Labor division proved the opposition will unravel the government's border protection policies if it wins power. He said three asylum seeker boats had been turned away from Australia this year, showing people smugglers remain "very desperate … to come to our country" and authorities must "keep our borders safe".
"Green" subsidies kill off a coal-fired electricity generator in South Australia
The coal furnaces at Alinta Energy's Port Augusta power station in South Australia's north will go cold today as it goes offline.
Less than a year ago, Alinta Energy announced the station — which is the city's bigger employer — would close after the company struggled to compete with government-backed renewable energy.
The company closed its coal mine at Leigh Creek, which fuelled its Playford A power station late last year, but trainloads of coal have been making the journey to the power station several times a week until only recently. The mine had employed more than 250 people.
Alinta chief executive Jeff Dimery said the closure was sad for workers but inevitable. "The reality is, the technology we are using here is old, the cost structures are high and there's no longer a place for us in the market," Mr Dimery said. "It was inevitable. It is inevitable that more coal-fired power stations will close into the future."
He said some families had three generations who worked in energy production at the site, which started with the State Electricity Company.
Port Augusta's mayor Sam Johnson said the power station helped diversify the city's economy when it was a rail hub in the 1940s and 50s. "It gave a significant economic injection into Port Augusta both then and over its 62-year history," he said.
"[It's] a bit of a mixed feeling in Port Augusta at the moment and we've all known this now for the last 11 months that it is coming to an end. "It will have a big impact on Port August, big impact on the region and a big impact on the state."
Decommissioning to take up to two years
Mr Johnson said people had already left the area to find work elsewhere, but some had kept their houses with the intention to "return home". About 140 employees at the site will leave over the next fortnight, but some will stay on for decommissioning.
The decommissioning process could take about 18 months to two years to complete. The Playford B power station was mothballed in 2012.
Alinta Energy worker Gary Rowbottom said the mood at the station had been "fairly sombre". "I think everyone's feeling that sadness and wondering what comes next for them," Mr Rowbottom said.
SA Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said the old coal-fired generator "was past its day". "The truth is, the reason it is closing is it couldn't make money in this market. The reason it can't make money in this market is even though it does pour in relatively cheap power into the grid, renewable energy is cheaper [due to subsidies]".
Identity politics is the enemy of equality
Australian campuses have become infested with victim politics
There is a growing obsession with victim politics on campus. It seems that certain groups are protected and everyone else is ignored or punished.
Take the recent events at one of Australia’s top universities. Outrage spread across the University of Melbourne campus following the discovery of anti-Islam graffiti. The chalked slogans, which were swiftly removed, stated ‘Islam is not a race’, ‘Stop the mosques’ and ‘Trump for president’.
The response was swift and furious. The vice-chancellor published a statement on Facebook within hours, asserting that the distressing and hurtful slogans ‘run counter to the vision of a safe, inclusive, connected and respectful university community’.
The University of Melbourne Students’ Union chimed in, denouncing the ‘hate speech and discrimination’ evident in the graffiti. The union proceeded to organise a ‘Chalk for Diversity’ morning, providing a free breakfast to students who wrote positive messages around campus.
But furious reaction to the graffiti was in stark contrast to way in which students and the university administration responded to another case of bigotry, just weeks earlier.
Hundreds of anti-Semitic flyers were distributed at the University of Melbourne during the first week of this academic year. The flyers, which were anonymously placed on car windscreens, stated that the Holocaust was ‘the greatest swindle of all time’ and that Holocaust Studies is ‘replete with nonsense, if not sheer fraud’.
In this case, the vice-chancellor did not take to Facebook to condemn them. In fact, the formal response to this disgraceful act was near silence. Neither the university nor the students’ union have condemned the flyers, and no events were organised to educate students about the Holocaust.
This isn’t just the case in Australia. At its recent annual conference, the UK National Union of Students (NUS) debated whether it should stop commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day. Unlike Muslims, women and gays, it seems Jewish students are not a chosen victim group.
In the name of justice and equality, certain identities are now given preferential treatment over others. Students’ union officials will often openly state that a white, male heterosexual has different political interests than a black, female homosexual, and so should be treated differently.
This is a tragedy. Identity politics diminishes both individuality and autonomy. You are defined by your category, speak for your group, and are responsible for the actions of others who share your identity.
And where a victim identity entitles you to special treatment, a privileged identity permits you to be punished. The recent bake sale organised by the University of Queensland Union illustrates this new mentality.
The union charged different amounts for cupcakes based on a student’s identity. If you were a white male, you had to pay a dollar. If you were a black woman in the legal profession, it cost just 55 cents. Rather than uphold equality, students were intentionally treated differently based on their supposed privilege, or lack thereof.
Such actions damage intellectual freedom on university campuses. Rather than consider views and ideas on their own merits, the identity of the person proposing them is now the first and foremost consideration in assessing their worth.
If a white male expresses a disagreeable opinion, they are instructed to ‘check their privilege’ before continuing. This argumentative technique presupposes whether or not a perspective is valid, purely based on who is expressing it.
Some people have also been forbidden from speaking altogether. At the Australian National Union of Students’ conference, men cannot speak during debates about women’s policy, nor can white people speak about ethno-cultural issues. Your identity is considered enough to silence your viewpoint.
Every individual should be judged according to their actions and the content of their character, not assessed collectively based on factors they cannot control. In the long run, treating everyone equally is the best guarantee against discrimination. But, in today’s student politics, equality is out of fashion.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here