Dealing to Australia’s US Immigration Deal?

There is something very tawdry going on. I’m sure of it.

Something grubby, shabby and very underhand. It isn’t nice. It might even be illegal or at the very least immoral.

It is the immigration deal that Australia has made with the United States to re settle refugees in America. In a sense it has everything and nothing to do with Donald Trump. Let me explain. I will do my best because quite frankly much of the deal is very unclear and crucial information missing from the narrative.

The deal relates to 1,250 refugees held in Australia’s offshore Pacific detention camps on Nauru and Manus Islands. Many of these refugees are from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq. The refugees are stateless, having spent years languishing in these offshore detention camps, that I would call prisons, which the United Nations has repeatedly criticised as cruel and illegal. The refugees are in a no man’s land. They are unable to go home, but cannot come to Australia – even when their right to protection as refugees is confirmed – because they travelled to Australia by boat and that is a no go as far as the Australian Government is concerned. The vast majority of those in Australia’s offshore detention regime are confirmed to have a valid claim to refugee status, meaning they are legally owed Australia’s protection. On Nauru, 983 of the 1,200 refugee status determinations were positive, while 217 were negative. On Manus Island, 78% of 859 the people finally assessed were found to be refugees, while 190 were found not to have a claim for protection. The deal with the United States was also to include hundreds of refugees previously held on Manus or Nauru, or who were in Australia receiving medical care, provided they had been found to be refugees.

Here is where it starts to get very murky. In November the US Obama administration agreed to take an undisclosed number of refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres. It was both extraordinarily generous and totally inexplicable. Why would the Americans do such a thing? Why indeed. It is a deal that made no sense when Obama was President and even less so now that we have the Donald.

The American resettlement option was accompanied by some strict caveats. It was only to be available for detainees found to be refugees (under the refugee convention). Others who were assessed and found to not have an entitlement to protection would be deemed ineligible. Applicants were to be interviewed twice by US officials before being resettled, in a process that would take between six and 12 months. If a refugee missed out on US resettlement, the existing options of re settlement in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia were still available.

This deal was seen as a significant political win for the Turnbull government. Australia has searched in vain for a sustainable plan for refugees. For more than three years Australia consistently maintained it will never settle asylum seekers on the Australian mainland that come here by boat, a position that has been popular with some voters and is still supported by both of Australia’s main political parties. But the policy has led to regular reports of human rights abuses, and is bitterly condemned by refugee advocates inside and outside of Australia.

At the time of the US agreement, only 24 refugees had resettled in PNG, and a handful in Cambodia. The Manus Island detention centre, was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Papua and Australia is under international pressure over allegations of the sexual abuse of women and children, assaults of children, rape, widespread mental harm and epidemic rates of self-harm and suicide attempts in the Nauru detention centre.

You can see why Turnbull striking a deal to resettle these people in the United States was a godsend. Which again, leads me back to the question: Why would the United States agree to this deal?

Enter the new American President Donald Trump. There is no one on this planet more likely to torpedo a deal like this than President Trump. One of the very first orders he signed as President was to ban Muslims from seven countries from entering the United States. So Australian Prime Minister Turnbull had good reason to be worried. Bilateral arrangements like this refugee deal, are made by the President of the day. They can just as easily be altered or revoked, at the stroke of a pen, by a new President. But even with the possibility of a Trump Presidency on the horizon, Turnbull seemed relatively untroubled. “ We deal with one administration at the time,” he said. “ There can only be one President at the time.”

So you can just imagine what a priority it might have been for Australia to ensure that this deal was ratified by the new American President, come hell or high water or Donald Trump.

Last Sunday a phone call took place between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and newly inaugurated President, Donald Trump. It would be fair to say the phone conversation didn’t go well. Trump told Turnbull it was “the worst deal ever” and accused Australia of trying to send the US the “next Boston Bombers” Then he abruptly ended the conversation by hanging up the phone on the Australian Prime Minister. We know all of this courtesy of a leak to a Washington Post journalist who duly reported it. Which brings me to my second intriguing question: Who leaked this information? Was it the White House? Or someone else? Whoever did leak the information has a nice sense of irony in choosing the Washington Post. A newspaper that has no love for the Donald. Watergate anyone? The Trump people denied they leaked the conversation. Why would they? They certainly have nothing to gain from the embarrassing spectacle of an American President treating one of his closest allies with incredible rudeness. Trump later added insult to injury by tweeting; “Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

I think it more probable than not that Australia was the source of that Washington Post story. Of course, I can’t prove it but we had everything to gain and nothing to lose from making it all public. President Trump while maintaining the rage says the deal will most likely be honoured subject to a strict vetting of the refugees. I was not surprised at all by Trump’s reaction. What I am surprised about is his change of mind. If this deal goes through it will be because we have done or are about to do a huge favour to the United States. They clearly owe us. And because all of this is shrouded in such secrecy it only makes me more determined, and hopefully you as well, to know what it is.

I smell a rodent.

A Letter To America

Dear United States Of America,

I am a huge fan. I really am. You have much that I admire. You value democracy and the right of the individual. You try and help as best you can although sometimes I do question your priorities.

You have a bit of a curiosity, a kind of an understanding about the rest of the world even though sometimes I have to mark you down on your knowledge of geography.

You embrace freedom but I have to say lately you’ve been embracing it a little too enthusiastically for my liking. I mean what’s with your freedom to bear arms? From where I sit, it looks like a freedom to kill each other. And you’ve been doing that with monotonous regularity. May I remind you, 13 killed and many more wounded in your latest shooting massacre. What’s more you have a propensity to choose schools, elementary and high, to demonstrate this freedom.

Can’t quite get my head around that one. These are just innocent children.

Your President is pretty mad with you. I just saw him on TV looking and sounding grim. He called these massacres ‘routine’ and demanded that your Congress pass stricter gun laws. Then he made a really good point. He said the United States was the only advanced country on the planet that sees these mass shootings every few months. Wow.

But there was also a note of resignation in his voice. Almost like deep down he knows stricter gun laws are never going to happen. Congress won’t do anything and innocent people will keep getting killed.

He said why can’t you be like Australia which got me pretty excited and surprised. He said Australia had a simple solution to gun deaths after they experienced similar massacres. Reduce access to guns. And guess what? It actually worked.

But every time somebody suggests tougher gun laws in the United States your gun lobby comes out and blames everyone including the victims. Everyone, apart from the person, who actually pulled the trigger. They were crazy but hey everyone still has the right to own a gun. Right? Sorry but you are on your own with that one.

I think you need to understand that any freedom must be accompanied by social responsibility. That’s why we have speed limits and make car passengers wear seat belts and have laws banning smoking in public places. Those kinds of laws should also apply to the right to bear arms.

I know I’m probably wasting my time telling you this. You’ve never taken any notice in the past. But seriously this has to stop.

You Americans, on the whole, are an easy going, friendly bunch. I want as many of you to live long and happy lives especially your children who have a whole life ahead of them.

But you are being stupid and pig headed and just plain wrong when it comes to guns.

Sometimes it takes your friends to pull you up. But believe me, I am doing it with the best of intentions. If you’ll pardon the pun you need to bite the bullet on gun reform.

Yours sincerely,

The Rest Of The World.

You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

Man Bites Crocodile

Man they breed them tough in Australia’s Northern Territory. Tough like the territory they live in. It’s an area known for cyclones, tropical temperatures and hazardous critters like crocodiles. I am talking heaps and heaps of crocodiles.

Usually it’s the fatal attacks that make the news. Sometimes Territorians, but usually out of towners full of mad sauce who go swimming in a creek or river, even though there are signs warning of the danger. Salt-water crocodiles are nature’s apex predators. They are opportunistic and will stalk their prey, watching and waiting for the right time to strike. Why you would want to take them on, or think you can, has always been a source of great consternation to me. They will eat a human being just as easily as they eat any other prey. I’d like to think we are the smarter species and don’t give them that chance. But plenty of people have proved me wrong over the years .

So, when you hear the tables were turned it makes you sit up and take notice. It happened when a 20-year-old man was hunting geese in wetlands near a remote community in the NT. What he didn’t know, lurking under the water was a two-meter saltwater crocodile. A man-eater hunting him. And knowing crocs as I do, he would have watched that young man for some time. Watching and waiting for his opportunity. It’s was not long before it presented itself.

The man waded into the water to recover a goose he had shot. Talk about wading out of his comfort zone and into the crocs. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Talk about dinner on a plate. This croc was spoiled for choice. Start with the appetizer or the main course? Choices, choices. So many choices. No surprise which one, out of the two sets of prey, that big, old croc decided to go for.

According to the local policeman, the crocodile launched at the young man grabbing him by the arm, trying to pull him under water. That’s how crocs kill their prey. They drown them. But what the croc didn’t count on, he was attacking a true Northern Territorian. Just think Crocodile Dundee only younger. The 20-year-old man fought back. He wrestled with the croc and was finally able to loosen its grasp. But the Territorian wasn’t done. He proceeded to poke the croc in the eye, which was the smart thing to do. The croc took off and the man returned to shore.

But like I said they breed them tough in the territory. He received first aid to stop the bleeding from fairly severe puncture wounds and driven on a Quad bike to the station homestead. He was then given what some might describe as real first aid in the form of an ice-cold can of beer. Come to think of it there might have been more than one can drunk by the man. When ambulance staff arrived he was ‘mildly intoxicated’. I mean, wouldn’t you be?

When they took a good look at him he had puncture wounds, tears and claw marks on his arm and back. The ambulance officers told the young man they would fly him to Darwin hospital for further treatment. But oh, no. Air ambulance flights are for sissies. He decided to make the journey of hundreds of kilometers by road.

He is now in hospital in a satisfactory condition. No doubt telling everyone about the one that got away. Meaning himself.

The Foot In The Mouth

I hate to say it. But, the Prime Minister of Australia suffers from foot-in-mouth disease.

His latest crazy utterance concerns the referendum debate for independence in Scotland. Yes. Scotland. Why he would bother to buy into that is a complete mystery to me.

But he did. And in doing so managed to mightily offend a very large number of Scottish people.

Scotland is deciding if it wants to be free of the UK and go its own way as an independent country in much the same way that the United States did with Great Britain. In Scotland’s case they won’t have to fight a war. Simply vote yes or no on the issue in about a month’s time.

At the moment the latest polls in Scotland are suggesting that a majority of Scots people are in favor of independence. But there is still a lot of water to pass under the bridge before the referendum and anything could happen.

To put this in context, the Australian Prime Minister happened to be in London for talks with the British Prime Minister David Cameron who was no doubt bemoaning to his antipodean counterpart that Scottish independence was not a good idea as far as the Poms were concerned.

Cue Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to announce at a London Press Conference that an independent Scotland would not be in the best interests of the international community. Say whaaa?

Abbott then went on to assert that “ the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.” Say whaaa?

Of course it was enough to get the Scots including their First Minister positively choking on their haggis.

Mr Abbott’s remarks were called “bewildering and ludicrous”.

The Scottish Government weighed in saying “Many Australians, including the great number with close Scottish connections, will look on in bafflement at these remarks – Australia is a country that has gained its independence from Westminster and has never looked back.

“Scotland’s referendum is a model of democracy, which has been cited as such internationally, including by the US secretary of state. An independent Scotland will be a beacon for fairness, justice and cooperation in the international community – and a great friend of Australia.”

The Scottish Government went on to rightly point out that Australia and the United States had prospered as independent countries able to make their own decisions and with populations never contemplating any prospect of that being reversed.

Enough said. So what is the moral here?

I think a sound piece of advice to follow whether you be Prime Minister or average Joe. If you have nothing to say then say nothing.

Australia’s Draconian Laws

One of the cornerstones of any healthy democracy must be free speech and freedom of the press.

But it seems not in Australia and not anymore. The Abbott Government is charting a course that’s hellbent on stifling both. And, if you are looking for a reason you need go no further than Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden.

They are almost certainly responsible for a set of leaked documents floating around  that appear to suggest corruption involving Australia and some senior Asian politicians. I say appears to be, because the documents have been the subject of a Victorian Supreme Court  gagging order so we don’t really know what’s in them.

But whatever it is the mere public mention of them was enough for the Indonesian President to demand yet another please explain from the Australian Government. And clearly, the Government has had enough of doing embarrassing explanations and apologies to the Indonesians.

Especially after the Snowden revelation that proved Australian spy agencies were listening in on the private telephone conversations of the Indonesian President and his wife.

So now, what the Abbott Government wants to do is well and truly shoot the messenger.

The Government has legislation before parliament that threatens Australian Security Intelligence Organisation leakers with 10 years’ imprisonment.

It also makes it an offence for journalists to report on information they receive from whistleblowers.

Edward Snowden’s lawyer has quite correctly labelled this as “draconian” and “chilling” because it will ‘criminalise a reporter talking to a source.”

Lawyer Jesselyn Radack said : “It’s the most draconian thing I’ve seen and it is completely antithetical to a free and open democratic society … I find it very disturbing that Australia’s entertaining this kind of legislation and that there hasn’t been a greater outcry, especially from the press.”

So what does this legislation actually do?

For a start you will be breaking the law if a person “discloses information … [that] relates to a special intelligence operation.”

And there are no exemptions, meaning it could apply to anyone including journalists, bloggers, lawyers and other members of the public. Anyone who discloses this kind of information faces tough new penalties of up to 10 years’ jail.

Ms Radack makes a crucial point in saying the new laws will essentially give ASIO, the Australian equivalent of the CIA, blanket immunity.

“This particular proposed legislation is drafted so broadly that almost anything could be labelled a special intelligence operation … the definitions are so broad and vague as to make anyone subject to this.”

Former US National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake, who fought the United States Government and won said these proposed laws would result in self-censorship.

“If this passes in its current form without huge changes, it is going to send a very chilling message,” Mr Drake said. “It will create a climate in which people will self-censor. They will opt not to reveal anything. They will opt not to associate with certain individuals. They will opt not to share certain information just on the risk that it might be designated secret or it might be designated something that might reveal an intelligence operation. Well in that kind of an environment guess what? It has its intended effect.”

Australia’s Federal Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has previously said that the new offences were not aimed at journalists.

“It’s not the purpose of this bill to place any constraints at all on freedom of discussion,” he said.

“We are a government that believes very strongly in freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

Yeah. Right.