Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Land without People belongs to the People without Land

Kim’s reply now seems much less like an attempt to walk both sides of the street then when I first read it. My letter to him, on the other hand, now seems too terse to convey what I was trying to say properly.

This is what I might have said if I had been writing a blog post, rather than dashing off a quick email:

There is currently much debate about the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers. This policy was instituted by the Hawke-Keating government, and has historically had broad bipartisan support. This policy may be justified in several ways:

1) These entities called countries have a right to control who enters certain geographical areas. Otherwise, what is the point of having them? I do not agree with this argument on theological grounds (e.g., ‘The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens’, Baha’ullah) and it has been critiqued extensively from both left and right, but there is broad support for it in the electorate. Thus, detaining unauthorized arrivals will tend to deter other unauthorized arrivals and keep the process of migration under control. Kim does not explicitly refer to this primary deterrent function of mandatory detention in his reply.

2) People entering Australia illegally may injure us by taking our jobs, bringing plagues into the country, stealing our women and running riot in the streets. These reasons are all highly dubious, but are the main rationale offered by Kim, viz.: ‘…the damage that the unmonitored release of large numbers of refugee claimants could inflict on our community in terms of illegal employment and health risks’; ‘…we continue to support a regime of compulsory detention of unauthorised arrivals in order to carry out thorough health and character checks’. I trust the ‘bot’ calculated that most letters on this topic would be from sentimental folks who would not be moved by the Realpolitik justifications.

3) We should discourage people from doing something that is very dangerous- making a long ocean crossing in unseaworthy craft operated by criminals. There is a moral rationale for deterring people from doing this by making their experience unpleasant once they land, even if like me you believe that nations have no intrinsic right to control ‘their’ borders. I am in complete agreement with this justification. Unsurprisingly, as I am the only one I am aware of who has made it, Kim does not mention it.

4) Given that 1) is a fact of life, our natural admiration for the initiative and daring of these asylum seekers, and our dispassionate assessment that they form a very small group of people posing no threat to our way of life, is tempered by the realization that it is unjust to let in illegal immigrants while others are waiting patiently to proceed through legal channels of immigration. This sense of injustice was milked to great success by the Coalition government. But, I think it is only valid if the ‘queue’ which is being ‘jumped’ is a real queue, and not a shabby con. If a refugee who follows legal procedures for immigration to Australia is likely to die of old age before making it the head of the queue, then it is nonsense to talk about ‘queue jumpers’. It is ridiculous to demonise people for not going through proper channels if proper channels are woefully inadequate. Kim’s bot does not mention ‘queue jumping’ because, I think, explicitly saying it was okay would scare swing voters, while explicitly saying it was bad would cause the rank and file to complain that he was exactly the same as Johnnie.

Thus, I should have said:

Kim, this popular justification that the Coalition is going on about- number 4- is fraudulent. You know it, and I know it. But we both know that it could be made a decent argument, and should you win government you will need more decent arguments than number 2 to continue the Hawke-Keating mandatory detention policy. I figure that with a refugee intake of 200-250k per annum, targeted to the places where the refugees actually are, most people who have a valid case and want to come to Australia will have a fair chance of making it here within a decade, and will be content to go through legal channels instead of risking their lives. Then, you will be on firm ground to throw the book at those asylum seekers arriving here unannounced. ‘Why didn’t you fill out the forms we were distributing in Peshawar?’ you can ask. ‘Why isn’t your name on the list?’

I suddenly non sequitured to mention Israel in my letter because of what I had been reading just before, which had brought home to me very strongly two things.

a) The consequences of justification 1) in the 1930s and 40s, when it condemned millions of people who had the desire to emigrate, the wherewithal to support themselves, and the qualities to be exemplary citizens of their new countries, to appalling suffering and death.

b) The amazing capacity of a small struggling country to absorb large numbers of immigrants in a short time, leading me to believe that if we could easily cope with many more refugees than we were taking.

Marco and I were recently discussing the best way to exert pressure on the candidates in the upcoming federal election in order to increase Australia’s unskilled migrant intake, because there aren’t enough unskilled workers to go around. Refugees would be the best source of unskilled migrants, because they need it more and because they will earn us international good nation points. Can anyone recommend any good lobby groups?

Oops, there I go messing up somebody's survey again

Rather than the scary ultraconservative I expected to turn out as, my analytical approach to the questions on the survey these folks are running suggests that I am an amoral libertarian moonbat. Curses! (Blue = self-identified liberals, Red = self-identified conservatives, Green = me).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Form Letter from Kim

I might possibly have posted this beofre, but am doing so again (or not!) in response to a query from Marco... In October 2001 I wrote an email about immigration to then leader of the opposition Kim Beazley, and received the following standard reply:

Dear [Dr Clam],

Thank you for your letter concerning the treatment of asylum
seekers who have entered Australia without authorisation.

We appreciate your comments and understand your concern for these people, the vast majority of whom are fleeing oppressive regimes.

Immigration detention is a sensitive issue. Policy in this area must balance the rights of asylum seekers, who have gained unauthorised entry into Australia but who are not by and large violent criminals, against the damage that the unmonitored release of large numbers of refugee claimants could inflict on our community in terms of illegal employment and health risks.

In its review of policy for the coming election, the Labor Party is
undertaking a review of immigration detention issues.

Australia has benefited hugely from our intake of migrants and refugees and has an enviable reputation in the field of human rights. Labor policy on this issue is framed with this in mind, and within the provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We acknowledge the need to preserve the dignity and human rights of asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia without authorisation, while addressing community concerns about the cost of detention and the need to enforce strict health and character testing. The process of refugee determination needs to be streamlined to ensure that genuine refugees, and in particular young children, are assessed and released into the community as soon as possible, in order to minimise any recurrent trauma associated with long-term detention.

We recognise the importance of providing refugees with access to appropriate counselling and settlement services to help them adjust
to life here, so that they can set up home for themselves and their families and contribute to the community. We believe that measures must be taken to ensure that unauthorised arrivals who do not satisfy the criteria for protection established by the UNHCR are deported as soon as practicable, both to uphold the integrity of our migration program and send a decisive message to the people-smugglers and their victims.

We consider that the allegations raised in the Four Corners TV program about conditions and management practices in detention centres such as Villawood are further evidence of the need for an independent judicial inquiry into these centres.

The Government has obviously lost control of the immigration detention regime. No distinctions are being made between those asylum seekers who have a high likelihood of being granted refugee status, but whose application process is not yet complete, and those detainees who in many cases have failed in their applications and are now awaiting deportation.

Though we continue to support a regime of compulsory detention of unauthorised arrivals in order to carry out thorough health and
character checks, a future Labor Government will ensure that asylum seekers who are likely to be granted refugee status are not kept in detention for a moment longer than necessary, especially women, children, the frail and other vulnerable people.

Thank you again for taking the time to let me know of your concerns.

Yours sincerely

Kim C Beazley

Leader of the Opposition

However, I actually didn't write anything 'concerning the treatment of asylum seekers who have entered Australia without authorisation'. This is my letter:

Dear Sir -
I am concerned about our nation's failure to take significant numbers of refugees. The only way to stop illegal immigration with its attendant horrors is to have a viable channel of legal immigration
open to refugees, to the tune of say 200-250 000 a year (Far less in per capita terms than Israel has coped with at numerous times in its
I know you would be pilloried for suggesting any such thing, but
please keep our moral duty in mind should you win government!
From my postcode, you can see (a) that I am in a safe Labor seat anyway, so can't offer you anything ;) and (b) I am not from some leafy anglo-celtic neighbourhood preaching tolerance to others - my suburb is full of Australians from all over the world and I like it that way.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Spero: Question 4, the bare bones

The bit below is what I have in my old not-so-very-analytical Spero document. I will expand the points into sentences, and paragraphs, but this is the plan of what I mean to say:

point 4 : God - what do we mean by God?

1. Reason
In the absence of evidence outside our own experience of God, we have a duty to hope for the Best God Possible
* Omnibenevolent - only thing that is required
* Omniscient - required for true omnibenevolence * Personal - a thing cannot be benevolent - “2D slice through 3D Superperson”
We must rigourously cut away from our idea of God anything that is unworthy of a human, since how much more would it be unworthy in God? reductio ad malum

2. Faith
Our ideas of God must not conflict with our personal experience of God. If they do, either our hypotheses or our experience are lacking. The cup and the ocean. Authority is of use in that we can see -
i) where our experience of God overlaps with others
ii) more exact/challenging ways to express the God we have experienced

The Good Samaritan

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell among robbers, who began to beat him. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the robbers beating the man, he spoke to them in words of great power and beauty, telling them of the wickedness of violence, and how it was loathsome in the eyes of G_d to beat strangers. ‘Get lost, greybeard!’ the brigands shouted to the priest, and he passed on towards Jerusalem. So too, a diplomat, when he came down the road, saw the robbers beating the man, and spoke to them of the folly of violence, and how little profit there was to be had in beating strangers. The diplomat, too, the brigands told to bugger off, and he made haste to Jerusalem. Next there came a cowherd of Edom, uncouth in his speech, and when he saw the brigands beating the man he began at once to whale the bejesus out of them with a bit of four by two, so that they fled. Then he bound the man’s wounds, put the man on his own horse, and took him as far as the nearest inn, where he looked after him.

Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

Spero: Question 3

What is Good?

Every definition of good that I can think of at the moment is circular. The imperfection of the universe points towards ways that it could be more perfect. Ways that the beings in it could know more truth and create more beauty, could operate with fewer restrictions and become more truly what they are. That direction is, generally, the direction toward 'good'.

There are two possible interpretations of what is “good” in the universe. Good may be related to:
(i) The potential for each living being to reach their fullest capacity to be what they are, in this world.
(ii) The fitting of each being into a “thing fit for eternity” like the pots of the poem Rabbi-ben-Ezra.

For both of these cases, many things remain the same: Hence, the prohibitions against killing, against taking what is not ours, against activities that disfigure the soul, are required in both. Food, shelter, education, clean water and clean air, true freedom of thought and expression; these all work towards them both. There are a few practical differences between the two definitions of good; merely removing a source of temptation will work towards (i), by minimising the hazards that must be avoided in a finite time, but will not help towards (ii). We do not really know which ‘good’ is more important. But we should imagine the best good we can, and work towards that. If we cannot imagine what is good, how can we ever achieve it?

Axiom : Optimism is the first duty of Mankind

As I said before, the importance of God is that God is good. It is not important that God is powerful, or that God has done great things for us, or will do great things for us, or that God created the universe. Worshipping God for any of those reasons is idolatry.


Dialogue interesting.

Monologue boring.