Monthly Archives: February 2011

Politicians Must Stop Using Asylum Seekers as Political Football

Media Release

Monday 21 February 2011

 Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has called on both the Government and the Opposition to stop using asylum seekers as political footballs.

The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the behaviour of both sides of politics last week over the handling of asylum seekers attending funerals of family members was deplorable and insensitive.

“Both sides of politics are clearly shaping their decisions and comments to pander to mean-spirited attitudes towards asylum seekers within the community,” Mr Arndt said.

“It is high time that all our politicians gave leadership on this issue rather than giving in to the callous, negative attitudes of some in the community,” he said.

 “Raising questions about the Government flying twenty-two asylum seekers from Christmas Island to Sydney to attend the funerals of family members on the very day of the funerals is heartless and insensitive,” he said.

“Sending nine year old Iranian orphan, Seena, back to Christmas Island instead of to family in Sydney is an equally deplorable act,” he said.

“These actions seem to have no regard or respect for the Christmas Island asylum seekers as human beings who have gone through immense trauma,” he said.

“They seem to be no more than tools to score points or get a cheap headline,” he said.

“Seena and all the other asylum seekers on Christmas Island and elsewhere in Australia deserve not only compassion, but justice,” he said.

 “All human beings, especially those who have experienced great trauma, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect as a matter of justice,” he said.

“We should not be locking up traumatised people in overcrowded facilities in remote, isolated locations with inadequate support services for long periods, as the recent Ombudsman’s report says,” he said.

 “Australia should not have a thousand children like Seena in detention if it has any sense of decency and justice,” he said.

 “Our political leaders should know better,” he said.

 “How can they speak with any authority when they criticise other countries for abusing human rights if they do not respect human rights in the way they treat asylum seekers in our own country?” he said.

 “We as Christians should be making it clear to our politicians that we want them to treat asylum seekers with compassion and justice,” he said.

“We have a responsibility to speak up for our sisters and brothers in need,” he said.

 “We should all be making it clear to our leaders and our MPs that we will not tolerate the political games we have seen over the past week,” he said.

For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.

 NB This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Mandate which enables it to speak in its own right. The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.

Support our Letter Writing Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in West Papua

The Brisbane  Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has recently written to Prime Minister Gillard asking her what her Government is doing to pressure the Indonesian Government to release political prisoners in West Papua and to stop violent military repression of peaceful political activists.

You can download a copy of the letter here or use the text below as a guide for your letter to the PM. You might like to us the comment box for this item to add your voice of concern and share your response to this campaign.

Contact Details for Prime Minister Gillard


An Appeal to the Prime Minister for Human Rights in West Papua

The Hon Julia Gillard MP

The Prime Minister

Parliament House


Date: …………

Dear Ms Gillard

Last November, you welcomed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese regime after a long period of detention. At the same time, you called for the Burmese leaders to release other political prisoners and to take other actions to promote democracy and peace.  Your comments were appropriate and welcome.

I am writing to urge you to adopt the same strong position with Indonesian authorities in relation to those Papuan political activists who have been jailed for expressing their political views peacefully.  Activists such as Filep Karma, should not be in jail for raising a flag or participating in a peaceful protest.

Your Government’s concerns about revelations of torture of a Papuan man by members of the Indonesian military are also very welcome.  There is much reliable evidence to suggest that this is not an isolated incident.  The brutal repression of Papuans is commonplace and long-running.  This appalling state of affairs is compounded by the failure to provide adequate social and economic opportunities to most indigenous Papuans.

You would be aware that special autonomy for West Papua has not operated effectively and has failed to overcome these serious problems.  You would also be aware that there is growing dissatisfaction among Papuans with this state of affairs.

Violent repression in West Papua must end.  While I am not campaigning for West Papuan independence, I passionately advocate that the political, civil, social and economic rights of the people of West Papua must be respected and promoted by Australia.  In line with your call for human rights and democracy in Burma, I urge you to also encourage the Indonesian Government to take swift and effective steps to end the abuse of military power in West Papua and to rectify the unsatisfactory political, economic and social situation in the province.

Please advise me what steps your Government is taking to secure the release of political prisoners in West Papua, to end the violent repression of Papuans and to bring about political arrangements which will ensure that they can exercise democratic freedom and live in dignity.

Yours sincerely

Signature: …………………………………………………

Name: ………………………………………………….

Address: ……………………………………………….

Statement on Aboriginal Rights by Leading Australians.

A Call to the People of Australia from Indigenous Elders


Monday February 7 2011

Australia has faced questioning at the United Nations by member states and independent experts regarding its Indigenous policies.  The failure to restore the rights of Aboriginal people is currently being scrutinised under the Universal Periodic Review process of the UN Human Rights Council and was criticised in 2010 by both the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Such scrutiny can only reveal just how far Australia is lagging behind international standards on human rights policies. Changes are urgently needed.

In such a context, we have become increasingly concerned by the failure of the Federal Government, with the tacit support of the Opposition, to properly address problems facing Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. In particular, the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the Intervention) has been progressed without credible consultation with, or the approval of, Aboriginal people.

While there are some limited aspects of the Intervention that have been viewed positively in some Aboriginal communities, it is the compulsory nature of the policies which are of concern.

It is our belief that inequality cannot be addressed by the removal of control from affected peoples over their lives and land, as is current Government policy.  Positive change requires respect and genuine engagement with the people themselves at the local level, rather than an isolated policy development in Canberra.

Examples of the failure of policies include:

  • The delayed, incomplete and flawed reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act.
  • The entrenchment of discrimination against Aborigines in the criminal law of the NT by failing to repeal s. 91 of the NTER Act which ensures that no customary law or cultural practice, excuses, justifies, authorises, requires or lessens the seriousness of any criminal behaviour with which the Crimes Act is concerned.
  • The retention and widening of involuntary income management in order to give it a veneer of non discrimination.
  • The failure to provide proper housing exemplified by the slow pace of doing so and the fact that of new houses built by Government under the SIHIP1 programme to alleviate overcrowding, there is a failure to take into account the size or requirements of the average Aboriginal family
  • The failure to provide full time education to Aboriginal children, which is a right of all Australian children. Examples include:

The fact that the 46 Aboriginal Homeland Learning Centres for which the NT Department of Education and Training2 is responsible have never been allocated full-time qualified teachers and are reliant on fly-in fly-out teachers, often for only one or two days per week.

The failure of NTER measures such as the policy of removal of welfare entitlements where there is unsatisfactory school attendance, in that recent figures from the NT Department of Education2 show a steady fall in attendance at schools in very remote areas between 2006-7 and 2009-10.

  • Maintaining the intervention despite evidence such as:

The Health Impact Assessment3 launched in March 2010, which found that the Intervention could potentially lead to profound long-term damage to overall health and cultural integrity.

The 2010 Enquiry into NT Child Protection4 which links health problems to community disadvantage and poverty associated with overcrowding, unsafe and stressful environments, poor community infrastructure, poor nutrition and limited health care, all of which were supposed to have been addressed by the intervention.

The Government’s policy approach must move from one of bureaucratic control by Canberra to one of recognition of Aboriginal leadership, negotiation, capacity building and direct input by Aboriginal people to local government decision-making. Without the direct engagement with Aboriginal people, policy changes will fail. With Aboriginal leaders, Government must commit to a policy of support by developing economies, encouraging investment and creating jobs by improving transport and communication systems, and where appropriate, the use of taxation incentives.

Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory must have choice and must not be forced to abandon their lands and heritage in order to obtain services that are automatically provided to other Australians.  The vision that is created must be one that is shared by both black and white.

We accordingly call upon the Government to start afresh, to comply with our international obligations by bringing the Northern Territory Intervention to an end, including the termination of involuntary income management and securing Aboriginal rights in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Present flawed legislation including that purporting to re-instate the Racial Discrimination Act and s 91 of the NTER Act should be repealed and the Racial Discrimination Act reintroduced in an unqualified form.


Diana Batzias                                                              Peter Norden AO

Professor Larissa Behrendt                                         Rev Alistair Macrae

Rev Shayne Blackman                                                 Hon Colleen Moore

The Hon Sally Brown AM                                            Hon Ron Merkel ­QC

Julian Burnside QC                                                      Graeme Mundine

Fred Chaney AO                                                          Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC

Patrick Dodson                                                            Dr Sarah Prichard

Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC                                               Professor Cheryl Saunders AO

Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser AC CH GCL PC Brother Paul Smith AM

The Most Reverend Philip Freier                                Professor Fiona Stanley AC

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM                                 Rev Ken Sumner

Hon Paul Guest QC                                                     Assoc Professor John Tobin

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM                                       Bret Walker SC

Phil Lynch                                                                    Brian Walters SC

Professor Tim McCormack                                         Hon Ian Viner AO QC

Assoc Professor Sarah Maddision

Reference Notes:

1Information provided by FaHCSIA

2NT Department of Education and Training Annual Report 2008-09 Page 27

3Medical Journal of Australia August 2010

4Growing Them Strong, Together Report page 17