Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Refugee advocates do more harm than good

Refugee advocates and other green-Left activists will say and do anything to inflame emotions and inject political acrimony into the border protection debate. Their sanctimony eclipses their respect for the facts.

They protest and denounce their government as heartless. They tweet about the racism and selfishness of their fellow Australians. They denounce Nauru and Papua New Guinea in terms that, in other debates, would be deemed patronising if not racist (Radio National commentator Paul ­Bongiorno this week referred to Nauru as a “prison island aka a guano heap”).

Five years ago, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young (who is one of the secular saints of this ­brigade) issued a press release about the unfolding tragedy of an asylum-seeker boat crashing against the rocks of Christmas ­Island (48 were killed) and a few hours later tweeted about watching a band at a pub. This is moral slacktivism writ large.

Another in this communion is Melbourne lawyer Julian Burnside, whose words summarise the twisted politics and derisory view of others within this group. “Stop the Boats policy causes terrible harm to boat people and Australia’s reputation,” tweeted Burnside, “but harnesses xenophobia for political gain.”

It would be difficult to conjure a more superficial view of a serious problem or a more miserable misreading of our national culture.

These compassionistas are not harmless. Back in 2008 Labor and the Greens bowed to the humanitarian hubris and abolished Australia’s strong border protection measures. This triggered a people-smuggling revival, leading to 1200 deaths as more than 800 boats and 50,000 asylum-seekers crossed dangerous waters.

A similar but greater tragedy has unfolded in Europe this year — more than 700,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in the EU, mainly via Mediterranean ­crossings, and more than 3000 have died.

Yet even after seeing what unfolded on our shores, the compassionistas cheer them on. When Tony Abbott spoke in London this week about this diabolical ­dilemma — how open borders could lure tens of millions from South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East — the response was hateful.

Abbott talked frankly about how protecting refugees and ­making their homelands safe was the only sustainable solution. He warned that welcoming unlimited numbers of refugees and economic migrants could undermine the very qualities that make ­European nations desirable destinations. This is what serious politicians need to do — explain hard choices.

“This is so utterly appalling, Tony Abbott,” tweeted human rights lawyer Sarah Joseph. Former Liberal, Democrats and ­WikiLeaks party member Greg Barns tweeted about “Abbott’s racist rant”.

The greatest chutzpah came from Kevin Rudd’s former press secretary, Lachlan Harris, with “What a very small man.” Never mind that Rudd’s policies, designed to appear generous and worldly, actually delivered misery and death.

By referencing the Christian ethos of “love thy neighbour” ­Abbott opened himself up to a simplistic morality play. The ABC’s Julia Baird suggested this maxim should be applied in an “unlimited” fashion. Fairfax Media’s Waleed Aly said Abbott’s approach was the kind reached when “deep down, the actual lives of people in far-off lands barely feature in your moral calculus”.

This moral superiority is coming from people who advocate policies that inevitably lead to chaos, criminal smuggling operations and innocent deaths. Taken to its logical extension, the unrestrained compassion urged by such commentators would be the ruin of Europe with the influx of millions of dependent people.

And it would surrender the countries from which people are fleeing — Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan and others — to barbarous vandals and ­dysfunction. This approach wouldn’t show much love to your neighbours in Hamburg, Milan or Amsterdam, nor would it do much for your neighbours left behind in Aleppo, Tripoli or Kabul.

Politicians have to make decisions and implement policies that will protect and enhance the lives of their constituents. When they are successful they can — as Western countries such as ours always do — extend generosity beyond their shores through aid and other support and through generous immigration programs.

To hatefully condemn people who deal in these realities as somehow morally inferior is, in fact, an act of prejudiced immorality and hypocrisy. If the compassionistas had their way, tens of thousands more in Australia would be in detention, hundreds more would have died and we could not possibly have agreed to accept 12,000 refugees from Syria.

The slacktivists excel in smugness and in vitriol thrown at their opponents but they have no real arguments or solutions. When it comes to outcomes, all the results come from the actions of those such as Abbott, Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Peter Dutton (and let’s give credit to the belated endorsements from the ALP leadership) who are prepared to soak up ­unconscionable abuse to run effective policy.

Last week in Nauru, I came face to face with those who pay the human price for strong border protection. An Iranian widow cried as she explained her thwarted hopes for her adult son, while he sat between us translating her torment. There was Syrian father Jafar and his five stranded sons, and many others.

We understand boatpeople deliberately tried to buy their way in while others wait forlornly for assigned humanitarian places but we all understand their motivation. None of us could blame anyone from seeking a better life in Australia.

But such feelings of empathy have never been in dispute and don’t provide answers. The issue is how to resolve the dilemma.

The refugees stuck on Nauru and Manus Island are the price we pay for sending a strong signal to the smugglers and potential customers. It is incredibly tough, but the policy outcome is crucial, fair and, ultimately, compassionate.

What those refugees need is permanent resettlement places, somewhere. And the tragic paradox is that the best option effectively has been killed off by the posturing of the compassionistas.

John Howard’s Pacific Solution was made to look and sound tougher than it actually was because in reality, of the 1153 asylum-seekers resettled from Nauru and Manus Island between 2001 and 2008, about 30 per cent went home, 30 per cent to other countries (mainly New Zealand) and 40 per cent came to Australia.

Yes, most of them got to Australia or New Zealand.

Critically, this generous outcome was kept quiet so that it wouldn’t encourage more smuggling. But later, to score political points and justify their ­rejection of offshore processing, opponents put it all up in lights.

“The truth about the Pacific Solution,” Rudd said in the 2013 election campaign, “is that 70 per cent, thereabouts, of those people sent by Mr Howard to Nauru and elsewhere as part of the Pacific Solution, used it as a weigh station and within a couple of years were in Australia anyway.”

This was part of a deliberate campaign to discredit the Pacific Solution.

Ideally, Australia would, again, gradually and quietly, resettle most of the refugees in Nauru and Manus Island on our shores. This would be compassionate and cost effective. And if no one made a song and dance about it, Operation Sovereign Borders wouldn’t be compromised. But in the present climate of confected hysteria, this can’t happen; the compassionistas have made it impossible.

Finding third country options is the critical task — and it is not proceeding well. So refugees will bide their time in the offshore centres for extended periods.

And the slacktivists whose actions have helped create the problem will make wild allegations and complain loudly, apparently ­convinced that if only we were all as compassionate as them, all the problems of the world would ­disappear.


Hizb ut-Tahrir: National anthem is ‘forced assimilation’

Scott Morrison has described speakers at a Hizb ut-Tahrir conference as “clowns” and said they were “no friends” of the Australian Muslim community.

The Islamist activist group told its followers yesterday that Muslims should not have to submit to an oppressive campaign of “forced assimilation” such as singing the national anthem­ or pledging support for democratic values in the citizenship oath.

The call came at a conference in Sydney where Muslims were encouraged to make use of printed material which recommends “refusing to partake in any of the government’s counter-terror­ism programs and initiatives”, and says co-operation with spy agencies “is outright haram (forbidden)”.

The Treasurer said the conference differed significantly to Saturday’s National Mosque Open Day, an initiative that saw mosques open their doors around the country in an attempt to improve social cohesion and break down misconceptions.

“On Sunday we saw no friends of Australia in the way that they were carrying on those speakers, the speaker in particular, and no friend of the Australian Muslim community either. They are no friends of that community, they do them no favours,” Mr Morrison said on 2GB radio.

He praised the Lebanese Muslim Association’s co-founder Samier Dandan and Islamic community leader Jamal Rifi for pursuing the mosque open day event.

“I just wish there was more people like them and not the clowns we saw carrying on on Sunday,” Mr Morrison said.

“When I was at Lakemba (on Saturday) I met a group of people who’d come down from the Blue Mountains, another one that’d come from Manly, other people had come up from the (Sutherland) Shire, they were asking really honest questions, they were getting I think very honest answers.”

Mr Morrison also said attendees at a Shia mosque had expressed their concerns about the Victorian primary school who allowed Muslim students to walk out during the national anthem.

“They were just as mortified and just as embarrassed about that as any of the rest of us would be,” he said.

Anthem is ‘forced assimilation’

Hizb ut-Tahrir speakers told followers at yesterday’s event that Australian Muslims should not have to submit to an oppressive campaign of “forced assimilation” such as singing the national anthem­ or pledging support for democratic values in the citizenship oath.

A slick magazine handed out to the 800 or so attendees recommends exposing ASIO’s “predatory tactics” publicly, because “the best way to send cockroaches scurrying is to turn on the lights.”

The Hizb ut-Tahrir conference held in Bankstown in Sydney’s west, entitled Innocent Until Proven Muslim, was the group’s strongest yet in condemning what it claimed was a brutal campaign by the government and security agencies to oppress Muslims and force them into compliance.

One speaker, Hizb ut-Tahrir figure Wassim Doureihi, said the government attitude was that “you cannot allow Muslims a momen­t to breathe” and raids by security agencies on the Muslim community were designed to “terroris­e its inhabitants” with a policy to “tie their hands, beat them, break their nose” and “all on the basis of nothing”.

Hizb ut-Tahrir describes itself as a global political party whose ideology is Islam.

Its ultim­ate goal is the creation of a caliphate to rule all Muslims around the world according to sharia.

Although former prime minister Tony Abbott promised to “crack down” on the group, which is banned in some countries, it has not been proscribed, and Malcolm Turnbull is believed to side with those in the security establishment who argue it is best left in the open.

Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Uthman Badar told the conference the federal government “claims to afford freedom, but seeks to impose values and beliefs” on Muslims.

This imposition was reflected in the oath when taking out citizenship, he said, with new citizens required to pledge alleg­iance to Australia “whose democratic belief­s I share”. “It’s not enough that you obey the law, no, you have to adopt our values,” Mr Badar told the conference.

Similarly, he said, schoolchild­ren were required to sing the nation­al anthem, which he said “reflects a disputed view of history”. “If you don’t share those values, why should they be forced to sing it?” Mr Badar said.

“It is nothing less than forced assimilation ... sought to be justif­ied by exaggerated fear of a security threat.”

The comments follow a backlash from many politicians and commentators to news last week that the principal of a Victorian primary school had excused Muslim­ students from singing Advance­ Australia Fair.

The conference heard a series of members of the Muslim community, some by prerecorded audio­visual clips and some live from the floor, deliver testimon­ials of what they claimed was oppress­ive behaviour by officials against them as Muslims, at airport­s, in police raids and in high-security prisons.

Among other speakers, British Muslim barrister and broadcaster Ibtihal Bsis, who created controversy in Britain by telling a group of young Muslim women that the Islamic State terrorist group was not really a problem, said in a prerecorded video to Australian Muslims that, when they needed strength, they should “look at your brothers in Syria who stand and fight against an unjust ruler”.


Second rotation of soldiers to Iraq depart Australia

SOME 300 Australian Defence Force members were formally farewelled in Brisbane yesterday ahead of their departure for Iraq under Operation Okra.

The Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binksin, AC, the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, DSC, AM, the Commander of the Army's 1st Division, Major General Stuart Smith, AO, DSC; and Federal Member for Ryan Jane Prentice MP, joined families and friends of the ADF members at the farewell parade.

The second rotation of the ADF's Building Partner Capacity contingent, known as Task Group Taji 2, is a combined force of Australian and New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin said the second rotation of Task Group Taji would carry on the important work of the ADF members currently serving in Iraq.

"Our Building Partner Capacity mission is critical to increasing capability across Iraq's security forces and enabling them to take the fight to Daesh.

"Those Iraqis who have completed Coalition-led training programs perform at a higher standard than their peers demonstrating greater skill, confidence and resilience on the battlefield.

"I know the men and women of Task Group Taji 2 will continue to build on the outstanding work of their predecessors in the region," he said.

Lieutenant General Campbell expressed his well wishes for the deploying contingent.

"The soldiers of Task Group Taji 2 will partner closely with Iraqi Security Forces and I am confident they will impart their professionalism, knowledge and skills; underpinned always by our values of courage, initiative, respect and teamwork," he said.

"We wish them all the best with their mission, and importantly, a safe return to family and friends."

The Commander of 7th Brigade, Brigadier Adam Findlay, AM, whose troops make up the majority of the departing force, thanked the families and friends of the deploying personnel for their support.

"This parade is not only about the soldiers. This parade recognises the contribution and support of the families of our soldiers and the broader Brisbane community," Brigadier Findlay said.

"We have spent the last few months conducting training focused on replicating the conditions the troops may face in Iraq. Our soldiers are ready and well prepared for any challenge this deployment may bring."

Commander of Task Group Taji 2, Colonel Gavin Keating, said the aim was to help to empower the Iraqis to shape their own destiny.

"Building Partner Capacity is all about training the Iraqi Security Forces so they can defeat Daesh and achieve peace and stability," he said.

"We are very fortunate to be able to build on the excellent work completed by Task Group Taji 1 and are looking forward to working with our NZDF partners."

Task Group Taji 2 will comprise a headquarters element, training team, force protection and support elements.

Operation Okra is the ADF's contribution to the international effort to combat the Daesh terrorist threat in Iraq.


Busting tax myths of Deloitte

Deloitte Australia's  Mythbusting tax reform report has made a useful contribution to the tax debate, but is misguided in a number of areas.

Deloitte confirms that super tax concessions are nowhere near as large as many commentators argue. I've created an interactive graph that shows the Budget cost of the Age Pension compared with the budget cost of superannuation tax concessions under two benchmarks: the income tax benchmark, and the expenditure tax benchmark.

The natural conclusion of this is that it is unwise to slash these concessions -- but this is what Deloitte is recommending. If there aren't large problems with the taxing of super, then it isn't clear why the system needs as large a change as Deloitte proposes.

Deloitte estimates its changes to the tax on super contributions will increase revenue by $6 billion -- and unhelpfully call this tax increase a 'reform dividend'. A tax impost isn't a reform dividend. Australia gets a reform dividend if growth increases, and large tax increases won't generate this growth.

The Deloitte report usefully busts the myths that negative gearing is a tax loophole that is driving property prices through the roof and (correctly) argues negative gearing shouldn't be removed solely on the basis that rich people are using it.

However there is an inconsistency in the report: it argues the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) discount should be wound back particularly because the discount is more often used by the rich. Consistency would argue that it is poor policy to remove
any tax concession simply because the rich are using it.

Deloitte is also correct in arguing that there should be a CGT discount (to reduce the overtaxation of saving).  But the report does not justify why the current approach is too generous or why their proposed discount of 33⅓% is an improvement.

Deloitte's report provides some useful analysis for the tax reform debate, arguing that taxes should be lower on saving, and tax rules shouldn't be changed solely because the rules are used by the rich. However, neither of these arguments justify their proposals for changing the tax treatment of super or capital gains. In busting some myths, they have generated some of their own.


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