Australia finds no deal to help asylum seekers

The Senate upheld a High Court’s decision to scrap an extra-territorial solution to  people smuggled by boat into Australia in a dramatic vote, 39 against 29.

This is a nail in the coffin of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s benchmark policy to solve human smuggling. It also puts to rest Gillard’s “Malaysian Solution”—a deal that allows Australia to take in 4,000 genuine refugees from Malaysia in exchange for the deportation and processing of 800 boat arrivals within four years.

The High Court ruled out the deal in August last year on the grounds that Malaysia has no legal obligation to protect asylum seekers, a requirement under Australia’s Migration Act.

Refugee coalition groups in Australia also noted Malaysia rejected any responsibility in the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.

In Malaysia, the Lawyers for Liberty based in Selangor earlier supported a memorandum endorsed by various organisations against Australia’s “misguided refugee outsourcing deal.”

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, wish to express our opposition to the proposed Australia-Malaysia bilateral agreement, in principle, to transfer the next 800 asylum seekers seeking asylum in Australia to Malaysia.

Although the terms of the joint agreement remain vague, we are of the view that the Australian Government is making a mistake in arranging this joint agreement with the Malaysian Government which is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”). This proposed exchange is a misguided approach in dealing with a complex issue that will cause serious ramifications as Malaysia has a long record of abuse and mistreatment of people seeking protection. This arrangement, if implemented, may lead to the violation of the rights of transferred individuals to Malaysia.

Two boatloads of asylum seekers arrived on Christmas Island, north off Australia in just 10 days.  Media reports counted about 130 people were rescued, one body was recovered and three people went down with the vessel. Wednesday’s incident came just days after another boat capsized, with 110 people saved but an estimated 90 killed.

Toddlers are among the latest boat arrivals. (Photo: Danile Wilkins)

The twin tragedies alerted the Federal government. The Lower House convened and passed a bill on Wednesday to allow offshore processing of asylum seekers. However,  the breakthrough was immediately dashed off by the Senate on Thursday. Heated debates lasted up to the wee hours of Friday morning.

The bill authored by Independent Rob Oakeshott is called the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. It allows Australia to send asylum seekers to Malaysia and the island of Nauru in the South Pacific for processing.

The Opposition reached a compromise, but the Australian Greens were against the proposed deal and therefore voted against the bill in both houses.

The Parliament will go into a winter recess while more boats are expected to arrive within the next few weeks.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen pronounced a macabre prediction that more boat people are expected to die while politicians are having a 6-week holiday break, the SBS reported.

A boatload of people is spotted approaching Christmas Island. (Photo: Express MV Bison)

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie also said parliamentarians should not be going into recess when such an important matter remained unresolved.

“We should be sitting today, we should have continued sitting last night, we should sit next week, we should sit until we get a solution,” he told state broadcaster ABC.

“I think there is every chance in the world that more people will die during this six-week recess,” he said.

Gilliard earlier blamed the High Court for Australia’s failure to deal with human smugglers. She said the High Court-Senate is sending a message to people smugglers to load more people to come to Australia.

Amid prolonged parliamentary processes, Gillard announced the formation of a panel composed of “experts” such as former defence chief Angus Houston, former top diplomat Michael L’Estrange and refugee advocate Paris Aristotle. She said the panel will assess all asylum policy options. The “Multi Reference Group of MPs” will also work in consultation with the panel.

Since 1976, more than 27,000 people have risked their lives on boats in a desperate bid to arrive in Australia, a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

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Lower House passes offshore asylum processing

Risky arrivals of boat people are non-stop–usually with a tragic end. (Photo: AAP)

Human smuggling is unstoppable. Two incidents of capsized vessels near the Christmas Island are reported this week. Rescue operations have been dispatched to look for survivors.

It has became all-too-ordinary when people are crammed into a boat and sail on treacherous waters with high hopes of reaching Australia— then the boat sinks before it reaches the northern shores.

The Parliament convened this afternoon and grappled with a long-awaited solution. The Lower House finally passed a bill to allow the offshore processing of asylum seekers, a move the Julia Gillard’s Labor Party has been pushing for.

Authored by Independent Rob Oakeshott, the legislation passed 74 votes to 72 following a heated and emotional debate that lasted for almost six hours. Even crossbenchers are reported to have sided with the Government.

Independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott, and Tony Windsor listen during the bill deliberation. (Photo: Alex Allinghausen)

Gillard said a law is needed for the border protection and to assure the legal certainly of offshore processing of asylum seekers.

She told the Parliament it would an act of destruction not to pass laws removing the legal uncertainty over offshore processing of asylum seekers.  ”We are on the verge of getting the laws we need….It would be tremendous act of destruction and tremendous denial of the national interest … to conduct yourself in a way which means there are no laws, ” the Age reported.

The bill is aimed at bridging the government’s proposed changes to the Migration Act to allow offshore processing in Malaysia against opposition demands for humanitarian safeguards.

It will allow an immigration minister to designate any nation as an ”offshore assessment country” as long as it was party to the Bali Process, which includes Malaysia.

The coalition had wanted to ensure refugees were only sent to countries which had signed the UN refugee convention, which would exclude Malaysia.

The Australian Greens, however, are not amenable with the proposed legislation. Media reports say they will block the bill in the Senate, and want all parties to take part in a committee to find a long-term solution that respects human rights.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said he would not support the bill ” [because] it rips up the Refugee Convention”.

The bill is now scheduled to face the Senate.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Australia’s new Fairfax media to promote mining agenda?

Following Gina Rinehart’s massive share buy outs last week, Fairfax announced its long-overdue plan to go digital via paid subscription— scrapping outdated print versions of Australia’s major broadsheets, namely the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Mining billionaire Gina Rinehart is now one of Australia’s most powerful women (Photo: AAP)

The media company is set to shut down the printing presses of the two papers located in Chullora in Sydney’s south-west and Tullamarine in north-west Melbourne, respectively, the ABC reported.

About 1,900 jobs have to go in the next three years shocking workers at the presses.

Andrew Jaspan, former editor-in-chief of The Age and a current editor of The Conversation, also said about about 20 percent of the editorial staff, about 150- 200, are also poised to lost their jobs. He added that the media company can still produce a “premium print” edition using a few journalists.

He said the media company has been mismanaged by people who do not have direct experience in the media industry.

Fairfax announced massive job cuts (Photo: Julian Smith)

The print editions, he said, are outdated formats invented 155 years ago noting that the Internet has radically changed the nature and the way news are distributed. He said “rivers of gold” generated by advertising have been dried up.

One by one Fairfax was stripped of its classified advertising “rivers of gold”. The jobs went to Seek.com.au, Cars to Carsales.co.au, homes to Realestate.com.au.

He proposed the digitalisation of Fairfax way back in 2007 when the company’s market value was $5 billion. After five years, the value dipped to as low as $1 billion. The shareprices also collapsed from $5 per share to 60 cents which predators like Rinehart has taken advantage of, he added.

The former Fairfax editor said Rinehart will not run the media like an investor but instead she will use the media to sway public opinion.

Back in 2010 she and her fellow mining barons spent $22m to get rid of Kevin Rudd’s proposed mining tax….. And so successful was the campaign that they got rid of Rudd and saved themselves an estimated $20bn in taxes.

Rinehart’s appointment of Australia’s leading climate change sceptic, Ian Plimer, as an advisor to her mining companies is simply a taste of what’s to come. As one senior Fairfax editor remarked, expect this kind of front page once Rinehart gets control. “Exclusive: Climate Change is a Hoax”.

Activists group, GetUp, tell supporters to exposed the “truth” behind Rinehart’s Fairfax raid. (Photo: GetUp)

Rinehart grabbed nearly 19 percent of the total shareholding of Fairfax Media in two separate buy outs last week. Her company, Hancock Prospecting ,confirmed she has increased her stake at the company from 13 percent, a status which already made her the majority shareholder. She cannot hold more than 20 percent unless she bid for a takeover as stipulated under Corporations Act, the ABC said.

Related article here.

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Australia’s mining goddess acquires Fairfax media

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart grabbed the largest stake at Fairfax Media with additional 42 million shares costing $25 million which she bought in just one transaction today. This increased her total share at the company to almost 15 per cent from 13 per cent, The Australian reported.

Gina Rinehart grabs Fairfax. (Photo: Patrick Hamilton/Perth Now)

Rinehart bought the shares at a price of 60 cents per share. The trade was worth $25.2 million representing 1.8 per cent of Fairfax’s total issued shares, the AAP said at noon.

Perth Now, however, is following up latest developments including a dramatic approached for 235 million shares which was made after the local sharemarket closed, with the offer available till 8pm.

Fairfax is one of the two biggest and most influential media conglomerates in Australia, along with the News Limited owned by the old-rich Rupert Murdoch’s clan.

Perth Now also noted Canberra Media analyst Peter Cox who believes Rinehart is increasing her stake to boost her influence in national affairs. He said Rinehart has already acquired Ten News as a financial investment.

“So this has to be driven by her view on politics in Australia…What’s the point of spending that money on it if you’re not going to have influence?”

The latest stake must be a way to go forward fulfilling the prophesy of climate sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton who advised the rich to capture the media to advance free-market agenda.

Australia’s mining magnates: Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest

Monckton spoke last year to free-market think tanks in WA on “How to better capture the Australian media to help push a right-wing, free-market and climate sceptic agenda.” It was a boardroom meeting hosted by the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, a group chaired by mining “Hall of Fame” member Ron Manners to promote free-market ideals and low government intervention.

ABC’s The Drum said Manners is a member of Gina Rinehart’s lobby group ANDEV, which has been joined by the Institute for Public Affairs to lobby for a separate low-tax low regulation economic zone for the north of Australia to make mining projects easier to develop.

The original version of the video has been deleted from You Tube, but GetUp reposted it with transcription capturing Monckton’s verbatim sinister claims:

Is there an Australian version of Fox News?… No….

Frankly whatever you do at a street level, which is what you are talking about here, is not going to have much of an impact compared with capturing an entire news media.

You look at the impact that Andrew Bolt has had since he was rocketed to fame and that is the way to do it, you have to capture the high ground of what are still the major media, and what will remain for quite some time.

And until we crack that one both in the UK and Australia, we’re going to suffer from an disadvantage, against the more libertarian right-wing minded people in the United States…who have got Fox News and have therefore got things like a Tea Party, have at last put some lead into the pencil of the republican Party.

And it seems to me that putting some time into encouraging those we know who are super rich to invest in perhaps even establishing a new satellite TV channel is not an expensive thing, and then get a few…Joe Novas and Andrew Bolts to go on and do the commentating everyday—and keep the news free and fair and balanced, as they do on Fox. That would be breakthrough and give to Australia as it has for America a proper dose of free market thinki

The Australian said Rinehart admitted her desire to control two board seats at the media company which publishes The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age in Melbourne, and the Australian Financial Times. The company also controls the auction website TradeMe, as well as the Southern Cross Broadcasting network of radio stations.

Amid mining boom, Rinehart was also the first mining magnate to get the approval from the Federal Government to import 1715 foreign workers under a new type of 457 visa for the three-year construction phase of Roy Hill iron ore mine in Western Australia.

Caricature to mock Rinehart’s foreign workers (By Nicholson)

The scheme angered local workers and labour unions. Labour observers said Rinehart will take advantage of skilled foreign workers that come with cheaper wages.

This year, the BRW magazine named Rinehart as theworld’s richest woman with $29 billion mining fortune making her $3 billion richer  than Christy Walton’s, the widow whose inherited wealth springs from US retail giant Wal-Mart.

The ABC said “Ms Rinehart has ridden Australia’s resources boom like no-one else; her wealth ballooning by an unparalleled $18.87 billion in the past year….That equates to $1,077,054 every 30 minutes of every day.

Blog LInk: Asian Correspondent

Gas firm to finance West Australia’s new “Dubai”

Western Australia (WA) is set to defy all oppositions to chase its dream to turn Broome into a key tourist destination– including a court’s injunction order to stop gas giant, Woodside Petroleum, from drilling at a site in James Price Point. With Woodside offering big bucks to finance WA’s tourism promos, the State Government could not back down.

The North West Australian Tourism was more pleased to announce its intention to receive the $180,000 offered by Woodside to strategically position Broome as a major attraction that will enable WA to compete with other destinations Australia-wide.

The announcement sealed the fate of Broome, ignoring pleas from environmentalists, local residents, and indigenous land owners who have staged protests and demonstrations day in and day out against the proposed gas hub. Oppositions said gas is going to destroy the ecological, historical, cultural value of Broome.

The Australian Greens warned no one wants the project except Woodside and the Premiere Colin Barnett. The party also claimed Woodside’s partners were initially reluctant to the gas venture but have been “forced” to join in by the WA Premier and Federal Minister Martin Ferguson.

And who wants this hub? No one other than Woodside and the Government. Not the general public, not the local community, not the Aboriginal community, not the environment movement, not even Woodside’s business partners.

Woodside Petroleum has joint venture partners Shell, Chevron, BHP and BP in the project who are reluctant to go to the Kimberley but have been forced into it by the WA Premier and Federal Minister Martin Ferguson.

Broome residents said Woodside have purchased the souls of the locals with its money masquerading as charitable work.

Australia’s  North West Tourism welcomes the fund offer which will significantly help to promote Broome tourism amid a “tough domestic market, the WA newspaper reported adding that Chairman Chris Ellison believes the funding will help boost the image of Pilbara and Kimberley.

As the peak tourism marketing body for the Pilbara and the Kimberley, our members look to us to deliver a strong and engaging message to consumers about the positive tourism aspects of our region.

This additional funding will enable us to better tell the unique story of Broome, as the major tourism gateway to the region, and why it continues to be one of the best holiday destinations in Australia.

Police has become ubiquitous in James Price Point to suppress oppositions. The WA Government, however, said the police presence is aimed at maintaining peace.

Lyndon Schneiders, nationl director of The Wilderness Society wrote to The Australian saying. “the mini army has been assembled on the doorstep of the Kimberley wilderness for one purpose — to suppress the widespread opposition of the Broome community to the construction of the proposed $40 billion James Price Point industrial precinct.”

All this to move away and silence a dogged and growing band of locals who have stood in the way of the plans of a consortium of the world’s biggest companies, including Shell, Chevron, Woodside, BP and BHP Billiton, to build this massive gas plant in a beautiful and sensitive part of the remote Dampier Peninsula.

WA police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan admitted the police squad is costing Broome’s taxpayers $100,000 per day.

While the saga of Broome goes on, Woodside also awaits today the decision by the Perth’s Court of Appeal whether its drilling works at the contentious Browse gas project is legal or not.

A traditional owner and senior member of the indigenous Goolarabooloo people, Richard Hunter, has alleged the approval granted to Woodside in February was invalid because the Kimberley Joint Development Assessment Panel did not wait to receive an official report from the Shire of Broome.

Hunter applied for an injunction in the said court to stop major earthworks and geotechnical activities of the project. The company is also ordered to not do work in the beach or dune area.

Read related article here.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Queensland slams UNESCO, defends gas on the barrier reef

UNESCO has released its damning environmental report on the Great Barrier Reef, but the Queensland State Government hits back saying the report poses an obstacle to the multi-billion dollar seam gas business.

The report came in time when the mineral boom is underway and the Queensland Government is excited about financial gains. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said his Government understands the issues raised in the report but could not accommodate some of its chief recommendations, News Corp. reports.

Newman said his government is in coal business and he is not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down.

UNESCO sent a team of experts in March to assess the status of the reef confronted by both natural and man-made threats. While natural threats could be beyond control, the impact of the latter can be minimised if the Queensland Government can review and adopt strategic solutions.

The international body said the World Heritage listed site is under enormous pressure amid increased developmental activities, including additional port infrastructures in and around the Great Barrier Reef and ongoing management of major liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants at Curtis Island and Gladstone Harbour.

The dredging in Gladstone Harbour for the seam gas has been blamed by local environmentalists for the area’s poor water quality and a skin disease affecting marine life. Green activists say dredging has adversely affected whales and dugongs in the area.

UNESCO recommended to the State Government to stop port facilities expansions and to undertake a comprehensive review and strategic solutions to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the reef.

It warned the reef could officially be listed “in danger” if the federal Government fails to convince the international body it has improved its performance before February next year.

Whether Queensland would be able to help improve environmental conditions of the reef or not, both state and federal governments have already given mineral explorations a go. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke supports the developmental projects saying the approval of applications has been in full swing. He said there was not much he could do to prevent development applications already in progress.

Mining magnates Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart have likewise secured government’s approval of their mining ventures in Queensland. Further, the two mining lords have  been pressuring the Government to allow them to build the world’s largest coal export facility right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The facility is envisioned  to double Australia’s coal exports. The mining moguls expect to hear of Government’s decision in 36 weeks time, GetUp noted.

GetUp, an activist group, said mining billionaires are used to getting their way,” but they’re not the only ones who know how to fight.”  The group has forged a tie up with Greenpeace and BankTrack to undertake an advertising campaign in key financial market in Asia and India to warn potential investors not to invest in these projects.

It’s not just UNESCO who are against the massive expansion of coal and coal seam gas facilities. We’ve just released an opinion poll that found 79 per cent of  Australians are already concerned about the expansion of mining along the Reef’s recognised heritage area — and that was before UNESCO’s  scathing criticisms started to make headlines nationwide.

GetUp is optimistic the ad campaign will work.  It claims that  in 2009, it funded ads in the European Financial Times to discourage potential investors who were previously considering to fund Gunns’ pulp mill in Tasmania.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Conservationists blast Tasmanian wood exports to China

The Tasmanian Government has given Forestry Tasmania the trial green light to export blackwood logs to China with high hopes of potentially creating a multimillion wood industry– ignoring earlier forest moratorium with conservationists in the region.

The Office of Premiere Lara Giddings announced the initial shipment will create “an industry worth tens of millions of dollars to Tasmania.”

Forestry Tasmania continuing to slaughter massive quantities of minor species timbers, including blackwood, and exporting them. (Photo: Tasmanian Times)

Forestry Tasmania, in partnership with the private sector, will be shipping the initial logs to the Asian importer to test the feasibility of  manufacturing high quality engineered wood products from logs. These logs are said to be unsuitable for local processors and thus considered waste.

Minister for Resources and Energy Bryan Green supports the initiative saying the  trial is part of  state government’s Innovations Plan which seeks to convert forest residues into high value manufactured wood products. Green reiterated some blackwood are unsuitable for local sawmillers and processors.

“This is the type of innovative thinking that will be required as the forest industry transitions to a smaller resource base. If the trials prove successful, the finished product will be marketed by private companies, which are working in partnership with FT,” he said

Green is confident the trial export will ultimately result into establishing a manufacturing facilities in Tasmania thereby increasing market demand for blackwoods in Australia.

The Premiere’s Office also confirmed Forestry Tasmania has increased its export of whole logs in response to the closure of the Triabunna woodchip mill.

Some of the whole logs are for pulpwood in China, others are to trial the new products and the remainder are being peeled. Logs are currently being stockpiled in readiness for a shipment out of Hobart later this month and for further shipments out of Burnie.

Local retailers of Tasmanian forests identified by Market for Change (Photo: MFC)

This development, however, stirred anger from Green activists in the region. Groups such as The Markets for Change, the Huon Valley Environment Centre, The Last Stand, and Still Wild Still Threatened– in a joint press release– blasted the initiative saying the State Government’s support to Forestry Tasmania is a “provocative act”  that undermines the Tasmanian forest peace process.

Peg Putt of Markets for Change said her group has suspended new overseas market initiatives and protests a fortnight ago as a gesture of encouragement. She said the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania agreed to sit down and talk. However, Minister Green has “indulged in a series of provocations.” She said the trial shipment is contradictory to the intention to reduce logging.

Miranda Gibson of Still Wild Still Threatened from the Observer Tree also said it is devastating to hear of the ongoing developments which are obvious design to nullify forest protection. Gibson claims  Forestry Tasmania have signed up 22 logging contracts last year, eleven of which are new ones.

Miranda Gibson grabs media spotlight for her tree vigil. (Photo: Bob Brown)

Jenny Weber of the Huon Valley Environment Centre said her group will “maintain a close watching brief for the moment, but are exceedingly concerned that the longer the negotiations are drawn out the more magnificent forests we lose to the chainsaw.”

“We are waiting with high anxiety for some demonstration of the good faith that is claimed to exist,” Ula Majewski of The Last Stand concluded.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Foreign workers to benefit from Australia’s mining boom

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is fighting for an equitable distribution of wealth amid the current mining boom.

Gillard visits workers who are afffected by foreign labour scheme. (Photo: Gary Ramage/ The Daily Telegraph

Gillard told mining bosses at the Australian Mineral Council last night they don’t own the nation’s resources and that she will not back down with her controversial mining and carbon taxes. She said the Government allows them to dig up the earth, but they do not own its wealth.

The AAP said Gillard told her audience the need for a tough leadership to spread the benefits of the boom.

I know that not all of you in this room are in love with the language of ‘spreading the benefits of the boom’.. .Australia needs tough leadership and I think you know by now I’m prepared to fight….

About $500 billion of investment is currently in the pipeline and Gillard said there is no better place in the world to invest in than Australia.

Australia is ready to take advantage of the mega profits and to spread the wealth through taxes. However, taxing appears to be insufficient in the face of local labour shortages.

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief Simon Bennison admitted there are many people who are not qualified triggering unrest among labour unions led by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Australian media has announced mining magnate Gina Rinehart has already applied for the Federal Government’s Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) which would allow “mega” resource projects to import temporary foreign labour.

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart is the first to apply for EMA (Photo: ABC)

The EMA is another controversial scheme approved by the Federal Government without consultation from the labour sector.

Rinehart needs workers to work for the construction of her Roy Hill iron ore project in the Pilbara region.

The EMA would allow mega resource projects to source 1715 of its 8415 workers needed during its three year construction phase from overseas. The Daily Telegraph said the foreign workers would likely come from “the UK, Europe, India, China, South Korea and the Philippines. At least 6758 Australians will be employed on construction, including 2000 trainees. ”

Bennison said huge mining projects may qualify for an EMA to allow them “to import workers, needed skilled workers ready to work, who simply did not exist in Australia.”

Bennison said the majority of workers that were needed to meet demand in the industry were tradespeople such as welders and plumbers. “Training them up takes time,” he said.

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