A letter to Queensland Senators, on Temporary Protection Visa

It occurs to me that as an impassioned democrat I should, perhaps, draw on that great democratic resource: impassioned letter writing.

Next week the Australian Senate will discuss the Greens’ motion to disallow Temporary Protection Visas. I encourage you to contact your Senators and ask them to exercise compassion. Queensland’s Senators are:

Senator the Hon Ronald Boswell – The Nationals
(07) 3001 8150

Senator Sue Boyce – Liberal Party
(07) 3862 4044

Senator the Hon George Brandis QC – Liberal Party
(07) 3001 8180

Senator Mark Furner – ALP
(07) 3881 3710

Senator the Hon John Hogg – ALP
(07) 3843 4066

Senator the Hon Joe Ludwig – ALP
(07) 3229 4477

I sent each Senator the following email and will be calling their offices on Monday. Please join me.

Dear Minister,

I am writing to you in the hope that you will support the Greens’ motion to disallow Temporary Protection Visas.  In the hope that you will, together with your fellow Senators, reaffirm the values that make this country great: a fair go, mateship, support for the underdog. This is not a country that turns its back, slams the door shut, closes its heart.

But it is not only compassion that should convince you TPVs are a bad idea. They have no deterrent effect: it is well-established that their introduction simply led to increased numbers of women and children risking their lives on leaky boats. If they are not intended for deterrence, one imagines the intent is to punish those who have arrived by boat: a breach of international law, which prohibits the punishment of refugees for their mode of arrival, and an intent unworthy of this nation.

But perhaps it is not intended to punish, but merely to prevent refugees from putting down serious roots in this country, in the hopes that they will, one day, be able to leave. It is difficult to comprehend the value Australia gains from this policy: indeed, the Department of Immigration and Border Control, on page 5 of the Community Programmes Service Providers’ Newsletter #8 recognises the benefits refugees can bring to Australian businesses. “They provide employers with unique skills, international experience and diverse cultural perspectives”.

Knowing that these refugees are liable, every three years, to have their TPVs revoked makes investment in these unique skills less attractive to potential employers. It robs the Australian economy of a source of growth and may, in some cases, contribute to welfare dependency.

But perhaps this is a national security issue. In that case, I fail to see how keeping an often traumatised and certainly vulnerable refugee community on the margins of our society – discouraging them from integrating into the community, from embracing our liberal democratic values – can possibly make us more secure. Why breed discontent and resentment where we could embrace different perspectives and a demonstrated determination to survive and thrive?

For me, though, this is not about economics or national security. It is about compassion. Please, Senator, try, for just one moment, to imagine a world turned upside down. A world in which Australia is no longer safe for you and I, a world in which torture and hunger and persecution are suddenly a part of our day-to-day, a world in which we are forced to flee. A world in which the only sanctuary we find is temporary.

I would be consumed by fear.

But we were lucky, you and I, to be born into the Lucky Country. Please, remember the arbitrariness of this luck. We did nothing to deserve it. But we can, through our actions, earn it, and extend that luck to the most vulnerable among us.

Support the Greens’ motion to disallow Temporary Protection Visas.
Camden Luxford


“… a world among worlds …”

To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind – without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham – comes.

Geertz, C. 1983. Local Knowledge: further essays in interpretive anthropology. London: Perseus Books (cited without a page number in UNFPA’s 2008 State of World Population 2008 Report).

In praise of a messy democracy: Transparency, freedom, and spy scandals

Christian Kerr writes in defence of an opaque security service in the Weekend Australian this week. There are two main thrusts to his argument: first, that democracy requires intelligence services that operate in secrecy. The second essentially conflates all those have defended the publication of this information with the actions of Julian Assange.

The first argument is the most powerful. Kerr writes:

The democratic state needs an intelligence apparatus to protect its democracy from threats from fundamentalists, absolutists and other enemies of liberty.

This is certain. What it neglects is that once in a while, the enemies of liberty make it to the highest levels of the public service or are democratically elected to positions of power. Or are created there (absolute power corrupting absolutely and all that). I am by no means suggesting that all intelligence operations be carried out in the bright light of public scrutiny, or that every decision to tap phones or recruit agents be public knowledge. The point is that, especially in the highly-securitised post-9/11 environment, overreach happens, and democratic discussion of the procedures used to reach decisions is valid and necessary. Sure, Snowden leaked details of operations, not procedures, but without the subsequent global outrage and embarrassment this debate would never have happened. These leaks have shone a hot bright light on the things that are carried out in service of the liberty we democratic citizens enjoy, and have inspired a debate about the lengths we should go to protect that liberty. Perhaps we will decide that the lengths gone to are actually just about right and nothing needs to change, but the act of debating it is healthy for our democracy.

Kerr’s portrayal of democracy as a “delicate balancing act” is telling. Seen this way, democracy is a fragile thing, best left in the hands of elite professionals and liable to be broken in the raucous hands of the mob. This simultaneously belittles the capacity of Australian citizens to make adult decisions in concert with their peers and – I put to you – overestimates the capacity of our politicians to do the same. Democracy via representation is inevitable given the size of modern states, but elections are only one small part of holding our representatives to account. Our democracy is robust enough to cope with citizen engagement on an ongoing basis, and this engagement requires transparency.

Kerr’s second argument – in which he essentially accuses all those who support the ABCs decision to publish the Snowden revelations of Assange-cultism – is weaker. He writes that Assange “divides the world into heroes and villains and is quick to purge and denounce those he decides are enemies”. This is true. Quick to dish criticism out, Assange seems unable to take it. He is a crusader; I suspect he has strong authoritarian tendencies, and is not the sort of person I would like to see running my country. Kerr’s horror at the release of WikilLeaks cables to the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, allowing him to crack down on internal opposition, is beyond justified. I share it. But I think that on balance, Wikileaks has done a lot for Western democracy – go figure.

To suggest that we “wide-eyed Wikifans” must, in supporting transparency and democratic debate, endorse all the actions of the Wikileaks founder is ludicrous. It does, however, square nicely with Kerr’s picture of democracy: we choose somebody to represent us and then do no more than cheer them on until we reach the next election, trusting that whatever they do behind closed doors is in our best interest.

…a tyranny probably worse …

…a return to “free” competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, being more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them.

— George Orwell*, criticising Hayek

I seriously cannot wait to bust this out the next time somebody tells me I need to brush up on my Orwell because I’m arguing for limitation of economic freedom.

And watch their head explode.

*  in Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (1970), cited in Funnell, W (2001) Government by Fiat: The retreat from responsibility. Sydney: University of NSW Press. p. 53.

“Difficult things happen”: Tony Abbott on human rights in Sri Lanka

While the leaders of India, Mauritius and Canada have boycotted the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo in protest at that government’s human rights record, Tony Abbot has defended Sri Lanka:

Mr Abbott said that while his government “deplores the use of torture we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen”.

“Sri Lanka since the end of the war is much more free and prosperous, and has a better future and that’s important for everyone,” he added.

The Australian

Ah yes. What are a few authoritarian excesses between friends, when the economy is going great guns? The Prime Minister goes on to say:

That Sri Lanka was willing to host this year’s CHOGM summit demonstrated its commitment to principles of the Commonwealth charter — democracy, human rights and rule of law — even though it was “not always easy to live up to those ideals.”

The Australian

On the contrary, I think these comments are an appalling demonstration of Mr Abbott’s lack of commitment to those same principles.

I mean, if you need reminding.

Gareth Evans on Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

Professor Gareth Evans gave a fascinating public lecture on R2P at the University of Queensland today*.

Professor Evans is often identified as the norm entrepreneur responsible for the R2P’s swift rise, and he is thus very well-placed to comment on the diplomacy and realpolitik surrounding this norm in the post-Libyan context.  He firmly believes in R2P’s continued relevance, and stressed the understandable historical and geopolitical reasons for the BRICs reluctance to wholeheartedly endorse the norm as understood by the West, especially the UK, US and France.

What I found particularly interesting was the insider’s view of diplomatic and scholarly initiatives going on within Brazil (at least until recently), China, and Russia, with an eye to developing a complementary doctrine of Responsibility While Protecting, or Responsible Protection, that stresses the importance of ongoing debate and review of interventions, which should only be carried out according to strict prudential criteria (last resort, legitimate intent, balance of consequences, proportionality).

I hadn’t been aware of these initiatives, which Professor Evans believes are very positive and demonstrate the acceptance of the R2P norm within these countries, balanced by a desire to achieve co-ownership: to have a meaningful say in the application and extension of these norms.  In light of some recent reading [span.] I’ve been doing about Brazil’s reluctance to stand up for democratic and human rights norms (specifically in relation to Cuba), I wonder if this is indicative of a broader shift within the BRICs to engage with rather than challenge the existing normative landscape, or if it really is limited to those norms seeking to minimise the most heinous abuses.

* I highly recommend keeping an eye out for the video which will be published here over the coming days. Meanwhile, text is here.