New gov’t enforces military response to asylum seeker boats

Re-blogging:

Asylum seekers who attempt to land on Australian shores by boat will be turned away to Indonesia, effective Wednesday.

Tony Abbott is sworn in as Australia’s 28th prime minister in Canberra on Wednesday and has pledged to enforce Operation Sovereign Borders to combat people smuggling and the influx of ‘boat people’ arriving on Australia’s shores.

Australia’s new Prime Minister Tony Abbott attends the first meeting of the full ministry at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

Abbott said the government of Australia has changed and will impose a conservative policy against asylum seekers with tighter border protection.

Operation Sovereign Borders sets out a military-led response to incoming asylum seeker boat arrivals led by a three-star commander. The new government will also enforce Operation Relex II, an operation to turn back asylum seekers’ boats “where it is safe to do so”. Op Relex II  is the Australian Defence Force operation that detects, intercepts, and deters vessels transporting unauthorised arrivals from entering Australia through the North-West maritime approaches.

Deputy Chief of Army Angus Campbell has been picked to head Operation Sovereign Borders. News of the impending appointment came ahead of the new Prime Minister’s trip to Indonesia on September 30.

Major General Angus Campbell speaks to soldiers in Afghanistan. Inset: Asylum seekers aboard a boat.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has also been changed to Department of Immigration and Border Protection to usher in the new era. Along with this, the Abbott government will stop granting permanent protection visas to undocumented boat arrivals and will reintroduce the processing of temporary protection visas which will deny permanent residency in Australia.

The Papua New Guinea Solution introduced by former PM Kevin Rudd has been criticized by human rights organizations as inhumane, and therefore not acceptable to provide a solution for displaced people.

Indonesian Solution?

Abbott earlier unveiled his plan to turn back asylum seekers who boarded boats from Indonesia. The $440 million scheme includes buying old Indonesian fishing boats, paying coastal village heads for information, and deploying Australian policemen to Indonesia to arrest people smugglers.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelegawa said the policy is problematic and Indonesia is sure to reject it. He said Indonesia would have to differentiate between the political campaign Abbott was trying to win and what the reality would be once he is sworn in.

Australia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, and Australia’s only female Cabinet member, Julie Bishop said the Coalition will negotiate with Indonesia on all aspects of its asylum seeker policy where possible. Bishop said Indonesia’s perception of the policy is immaterial and what is needed is ‘understanding’ on how Australia tries to work out a solution. It will be discussed during upcoming formal bilateral meetings with Indonesian officials.

In Indonesia, local observers were already displeased with the plan, saying Abbott insulted the country’s sovereignty. Local newspapers such as the Straits Times and the Jakarta Globe have quoted observers including Professor Hikmahanto Juwana, dean of Universitas Indonesia’s law faculty, who said in a statement, “Mr Abbott came up with these programmes as if Indonesia is a part of Australia, without sovereignty… He insults the government of Indonesia, making us mercenaries doing his dirty work for the sake of money.” Juwana called on the Indonesian government “to speak out against these plans lest it lose the trust of Indonesians.”

Mahfudz Siddiq, head of Parliament’s foreign affairs commission, also described the proposals as “degrading and offensive to the dignity of Indonesians”.

Tasmanian Solution

At home, prominent barrister and asylum seeker advocate Julian Burnside has proposed that the entire state of Tasmania be turned into an immigration detention centre.

He has rejected Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution as well as the Coalition’s plan to process asylum claims in the Pacific.

“If politicians are obsessed with the idea that asylum seekers must be kept in detention then that could be legally satisfied by declaring the island of Tasmania a place of detention,” he said.

He said it would save Australia about $3 billion a year. He suggested the Federal Government can give the Tasmanian Government $1 billion a year as “a thank you”.

The response in Tasmania has not been positive. The We say NO to Declaring Tasmania an Immigration Detention Centre  Facebook group has gained more than 11,000 members in just one week after Burnside’s comments. The other camp, We Say Yes to Asylum Seekers in Tasmania, had almost 1,000 fans at time of writing.

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

FoE probes Apple link to Bangka mining controversy

Do you trust your smartphone? Do you carry a brand using tin from the Bangka mining site?

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Campaigns Coordinator Cam Walker said FoE Australia and FoE Indonesia have joined forces to support the drive to investigate the source of tin used by smartphone manufacturers in the wake of the controversial Bangka mining site in Indonesia causing catastrophic damage to the environment.

Miners working at a tin ore mine in Tanjung Pesona, District Sungai Liat, Bangka, Indonesia. (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti)

Top mobile phone brands have been pressured to reveal the source of tin in their products. The mining site in Bangka has been accused of local labour exploitation while the mining has caused horrific deaths. One death per week is the average in recent years, reports said.  Bloomberg Businessweek earlier published a report on the harrowing conditions of workers.

Mining has also caused environmental havoc to water systems, forests, corals reefs and livelihoods of people living in and around the island, FoE said.

Top smartphone brands – Blackberry, Sony, Nokia and Motorola and LG – released statements admitting they use tin products sourced out from Bangka island. Tin is used as solder in all phones and electronic gadgets and around a third of the world’s mined tin comes from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung. The companies were also asked to cooperate in finding an industry-wide solution, FoE said.

Apple, however, stubbornly snubbed the campaign. Over 25,000 supporters have already emailed the company to reveal the tin sources of their products.

FoE UK started the smartphone campaign under Make it Better  to press phone manufacturers to observe transparency. The Bangka case highlights the need of strong laws ensuring companies reveal the human and environmental impacts of their businesses.

Bangka (or Banka) is an island province together with Belitung Island with Pankalpinang as the capital. It lies east of Sumatra, separated by the Bangka Strait. To the north lies the South China Sea, to the east, across the Gaspar Strait, is the island of Belitung, and to the south is the Java Sea. The size is about 12,000 km².

The name Bangka is derived from the word ”Wangka” which means ”tin”.  Since 1710, Bangka has been one of the world’s principal tin-producing centers. Tin production is an Indonesian government monopoly.

According to tour operators in the island, Bangka boasts of its “BANKATIN” – considered to have a worldwide reputation.

In April, Samsung Electronics led the mobile industry by publicly admitting that it uses tin from Bangka’s mines following pressure from more than 15,000 FoE individual supporters.  Dutch electronics giant, Philips, also publicly acknowledged its use of Bangka tin after a similar campaign in Netherlands (Milieudefensie) earlier.

The despicable condition of workers at a tin mine in Tanjung Pesona. (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti)

FOE’s Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook on 25 June pointing out that the company’s public stance on the issue is now “indefensible,” especially given Cook’s claimed desire to be more transparent about Apple supply chains. Read more about the  FoE iPhone findings here.