Category Archives: politics

Let’s talk about Immigration

Not government policy about Immigration, and all that entails, but the Department itself, the workplace I spent 15 years of my working life in, the Department in which I developed as an individual, learnt a lot of interesting and worthwhile things, and made a great number of friends.

Because when Immigration is demonised, I was demonised, my colleagues were demonised, and really it was rather shit.  So why not demonise an entire Department of people?  So glad you asked…

Immigration as an institution of people was significantly less racist than general society, and was one of the more diverse government departments (according to data I read from somewhere when I was there).  It was important in Immigration as to where our clients came from, because then we could assist with interpreters, etc, but otherwise their origin was unimportant overall.  Yes the world was divided into non-citizens, and Australian residents and citizens, but that was the nature of the job. The world was not divided into white and non-white, but along lines of visa eligibility (for example some nations could obtain Electronic Travel Authorities – which are a simple visitor visa to Australia, and others could not.  Again not based on white or non-white lines).

When it comes down to it, the people you’d want to be working with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, are the ones that actually are.  Many of my colleagues were left-leaning, socialist, caring souls who wanted the best outcome for the client.  They were satisfied that, for the most part, if they made a mistake, or if a client’s situation changed, there were review mechanisms in place to look at the case again.

Let’s use an example.  I had a group of clients from Kazakhstan apply for Protection Visas.  Based on the country information at that time, I refused their applications as they did not meet the definition of a refugee as outlined by the United Nations Convention on Refugees.  Between the time I decided their application and the time their review was finalised the situation in Kazakhstan had changed dramatically, meaning that some of them were found to be refugees.

That safety net, the ability to know that the decision I made would be (most times if rejected) reviewed made my job easier.  Things which didn’t make my job easier were being demonised for working for Immigration; dealing with stories of torture, trauma, rape, and loss; a department that was becoming increasingly risk averse; and my own lack of good judgement about how many extra-curricular roles I could take on as well as my full time job.

The people who work at Immigration are great people doing a difficult job.  Like all Government departments and agencies, their role is to implement Government policy.  Believe me, when they don’t agree with that policy, they let those who need to know, know.  My former colleagues are a rather bolshy lot and will speak up and explain exactly why X or Y is a bad idea.  Whether they are listened to is a different issue of course.  A number of times when I was still working for Immigration draft policy was sent for comment, and we were given the opportunity to shred it, which if it needed to be, we would.  Our comments were often taken into account, and I know of several occasions where policy was withdrawn on the basis of the comments that were made.

Disagreeing with Government policy is all well and good, disagreeing with individual visa decisions is also fine, slamming an entire organisation because of Government policy or a visa decision – not so good.  Really, with all Government departments, you want the best people possible to work there.  The salary is not great, though in many cases the conditions are, and the people there are attempting to provide good outcomes for people.  Suggesting that all Immigration employees are facists, racists, or any other epithet you think is a great one to hurl at Immigration hurts those that work there, and does nothing to change Government policy.

If you don’t like the policy of the Government of the day, talk to them, get a lobby group together, write to your local MP, attend meetings and forums where you can be heard, but don’t demonise those who are doing their jobs and who actually want the best outcome for their clients.

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They’re not even trying anymore

From The Age today I found the following two articles which just staggered me.  The first is about train level crossings, titled “Liberal Seats Gets Crossing Priority“:

A TRANSPORT Department list of the most dangerous railway level crossings has been ignored by the Baillieu government, which has instead directed millions of dollars towards upgrading crossings in Liberal-held seats.

Well thank the FSM that the Baillieu government has it’s priorities sorted out.  It’s much more about rewarding those who voted this current government in, and far less about saving the lives of Victorians.  I mean really, I should have guessed, it’s quite obvious when you think about it… no wait, it’s not.

The second is about female representation on government boards, titled “Ballieu wants more women on boards“:

THE Baillieu government has adopted a target to have women filling at least half of all positions on state boards, but has ruled out imposing quotas because ”positive discrimination” won’t always lead to the best person being picked for the job.

The Coalition has adopted a statewide target to get women into 50 per cent of government board positions, which are often regarded as a stepping stone to senior roles in the corporate sector, where women are largely under-represented.

”Targets can be very effective because it focuses the mind in making sure women are actively considered, and that their merit is taken seriously … rather than say, ‘well this spot has to go to a woman instead of the best person for the job’,” Ms Wooldridge told The Sunday Age.

I considered blogging about this when the last discussion of women on boards hit the airwaves, but I ran out of time and energy and brain.  Positive discrimination/Affirmative Action/whatever you’re going to call it does have it’s place.  Because if your colleagues on any given board are male, then actually thinking outside that typically “white male is the best for the job” box is rather hard.  And if you are presented with two equally qualified candidates, one male, one female, then far too often the individual selected is the same as the rest of the make-up of the board – which in Australia is generally white men.

So why not put a quota in place?  It won’t hurt, it will give you good quality candidates that you didn’t think of to start with, and if it all falls into a heap, then you can reverse it.  Ah, the joys of being able to change your mind.

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When I came home on Friday night and found my husband (husband 2 for ease of reference) watching footage of the tsunami in Japan, I was horrified by the sheer devastation.  I had been out drinking decadent (and delicious) hot chocolate with my husband (husband 1), my girlfriend and a dear friend after work and gym, and generally having a fantastic evening.

I stood behind my husband (number 2) and watched the tsunami, listened to the news reports, and watched in dumb horror the destruction occurring to my brothers and sisters to the north (and in winter when everything is going to be so very very cold).

As it happens, my husband (number 1) and I had organised to travel to his brother’s 50th on Saturday, and so that morning piled into the car to drive to Albury for the party.  We stayed at a gorgeous B&B, went to the party (and my FIL didn’t upset me even once – a new record!), travelled home via a friend’s place (where we had tea, scones and deep and meaningful conversations) and eventually got home Sunday night (thank the FSM for Labour Day in Victoria).

On return I turned on my PC and started talking to my sister, while catching up with the news and finding out how much worse the devastation of Japan was.  She shared two links with me, the first a collection of quotes from arsehats suggesting that aid should not be sent to Japan because Japan had bombed Pearl Harbour – or that the earthquake was return karma for bombing Pearl Harbour.  Now for everyone who doesn’t have a grasp of World War 2 history (because clearly that isn’t important to some people), the Japanese did not start WW2, and the US retaliated for the bombing of Pearl Harbour with the ATOMIC bombing of two CIVILIAN cities (not military targets) – an actual war crime. So if Japan was to be paid back in any kind of karma for Pearl Harbour, that nuclear bombing certainly was it and then some.

The whole karma payback for Pearl Harbour thing is also incredibly US-centric.  It certainly doesn’t address anything other grievance that other nations may have with Japan, and given some of the atrocities that occurred during WW2, there are certainly the potential for a lot of that.

The second site my sister shared with me was Karma Japan, a site that started collecting racist and bigoted commentary from Twitter mostly regarding the earthquake in Japan.  Many people apparently suggested that Japan deserved an earthquake because they killed dolphins and whales.  Clearly every other nation that kills dolphins and whales doesn’t deserve earthquakes and tsunamis.  Karma Japan has also published positive commentary from those who are condemning bigotry and racism, and provides counter argument to the hate and ignorance.

My favourite article of all on the earthquake and tsunami that has hit Japan (yes I am serious) is this from The Age, “World Rushes Aid to Japan“.  I am happily stunned by the generosity of past enemies and poor nations (well provinces) towards Japan in her hour of need.  In summary:

  • China’s Red Cross pledged one million yuan ($A150,000) to its Japanese counterpart
  • The Afghan province of Kandahar announced $A50,000 in aid

I feel that I am unable to even grasp the magnitude of this event (and the aftershocks and the possible nuclear meltdown).  It’s going to take Japan a long time to recover and rebuild, just as it will take Christchurch a long time to recover and rebuild.  I wish there was more I could do other than donate money to the Red Cross.

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Democracy by the sword

It always struck me as incongruous that democracy (and not demoncracy which I usually typo) has been imposed on so many sovereign states through Western Imperialism (mostly the US).  The most recent examples are Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is a lovely trail of US led, Western imperialism, democracy imposition (the right type of democracy) in other nations, such as Vietnam and South America.

It’s always seemed really odd that you can invade another nation, tell them that they’re doing government wrong, and then hang around while they do it to your standards (and I’m not a fan of US democracy anyway).  How can you impose democracy?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?

What has struck me about the past month and a bit is the both the people’s uprisings in northern Africa and parts of the Middle East, and the uncertainty of the US and back-footed response of the UN.  Clearly the US had vested interests in the various regimes as they were.  Egypt’s Mubarak was a useful ally, so little attention to was given to human rights violations or the wishes of the Egyptian citizens.  Yemen is an ally in “the war on terror”, so the current regime has been propped up using rhetoric that Al-Qaeda is based in Yemen (it may or may not be, I don’t know).  Libya is different again, with a great friend in Italy, and defrosting relationships with much of Europe – though I don’t think anyone expected Gadaffi to go quite off the rails the way he has.

I’m in awe of the courage that the regular people in Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, and Morocco (list may not be exhaustive), are displaying as they take on their regimes, as they watch their fellow countrymen be beaten, killed or arrested, for standing up and demanding a better say, less corruption, and more rights than they currently have.  I’m honoured to be able to hear their stories and watch them fight for democracy.  I’m amazed at how technology is being used for good (and not just for spying on citizens).

I am living in an amazing time, and I hope that my brothers and sisters who are fighting for democracy get everything they want, that the civil war in Libya ends quickly and that further violence is minimised.

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I’m sorry what have YOU been smoking?

The US Navy has finally decided to ban smoking on their submarines because the risks of second hand smoke are “severe”.

The US Navy is banning its crews from smoking aboard submarines, after a study found the risks of second-hand smoke were severe.

Submarine Forces Commander Vice-Admiral John Donnelly ordered the ban aboard 73 US subs, citing health concerns.

”Recent testing has proven that, despite our atmosphere purification technology, there are unacceptable levels of secondhand smoke in the atmosphere of a submerged submarine,” he said. (The Age)

Seriously?  What year do they think it is?  The dangers of second-hand smoke have been known for quite a long time, and surely the Navy would be far more interested in having their soldiers at peak physical fitness instead of craving nicotine or suffering the effects of second hand smoke.

The US appears to be a much different beast when it comes to smoking than Australia, which started banning workplace smoking in the mid 1980s.  According to Wikipedia:

Although Congress has not attempted to enact a general nationwide federal smoking ban in workplaces, several federal regulations do concern indoor smoking. Effective April 1998, smoking is banned by the United States Department of Transportation on all commercial passenger flights in the United States, and/or by American air carriers.  On August 9, 1997, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13058, banning smoking in all interior spaces owned, rented, or leased by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, as well as in any outdoor areas under executive branch control near air intake ducts.

Which I thought would have included spaces used by the Navy, which is part of the Executive Branch of the US Federal Government.  Remind me not to take my smoke-free workplaces for granted or to travel in a submarine any time soon.  I value my lungs, throat and mouth… and love not stinking of cigarette smoke after a night out on the town these days.  I’m a happy non-smoker and user of smoke free places.

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Boat People – it’s not a one dimensional issue

The recent tragedy on Christmas Island is beyond words. My sympathies are with the families who are mourning those who did not survive. This post is written because of what has been said since they arrived and their boat disintegrated with some dying and others surviving heavily traumatised, and in a very small way I hope that some people read it and realise that kicking the boat people football is a very bad game.

Unsurprisingly, the recent tragedy has brought out the usual political pundits, kicking the ball all over the place, blaming the Government for the tragedy (both the executive and the legislative arms) and suggesting that as the Labour Government overturned the previous Liberal Government’s Pacific Solution, that they’re responsible for boats arriving to Australia, and that Customs, AFP, Immigration and/or Defence should have known that the boat was nearby (despite the weather and sea playing interference with radar, and the sheer size of territory they’re responsible for monitoring – press release via another website here).

Let’s start with the latter point because it’s fairly simple to address – and I’ve pretty much done so with the fact that a small wooden boat, in high (near monsoonal) seas is going to be hard to spot.  Let’s not also Public Service bash, which is nice and easy with a big conglomerate of faceless individuals, but as a former Immigration staffer, I can tell you that most Public Servants I worked with were left leaning, compassionate and dedicated human beings.  The type of people you’d actually want making the tough decisions that get made.

Continue reading Boat People – it’s not a one dimensional issue

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