Australia: Scott Morrison moves to insulate looming cut in immigration intake from Christchurch fallout

Interesting that no mainstream political party in Canada has talked about urban congestion as an immigration issue. Nor has it been prominent in questions ongoing increases immigration levels:

The Morrison government is clearing the ground for a major shift on immigration policy ahead of the April 2 budget by insisting the debate over congestion must not be “hijacked” by racial and religious fears in the wake of the New Zealand terror attack.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed a growing “tribalism” in public life that distorted debate over issues like immigration and multiculturalism.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush has confirmed there was only one attacker in the mosque shootings

“The worst example being the despicable appropriation of concerns about immigration as a justification for a terrorist atrocity,” he said.

“Such views have rightly been denounced. But equally, so too must the imputation that the motivation for supporting moderated immigration levels is racial hatred.”

The government was preparing to release a new statement on congestion and population this week, ahead of a fall in permanent migration to be revealed in the budget, but held off after Friday’s assault on two mosques triggered a debate over far-right extremism.

Mr Morrison moved to separate the new migration policy from the political argument over extremism by saying a discussion about the annual migrant intake was not a debate about the value of migrants.

“It must not be appropriated as a proxy debate for racial, religious or ethnic sectarianism,” he said.

“Just because Australians are frustrated about traffic jams and population pressures encroaching on their quality of life, especially in this city, does not mean they are anti-migrant or racist.”

The budget is expected to show a fall in the annual intake of permanent migrants from about 190,000 to about 160,000, in line with Mr Morrison’s comments last year about making the growth more sustainable.

While the permanent intake does not include hundreds of thousands of overseas students and temporary workers, the official cut is likely to lead to a fall in projected tax revenue to be confirmed on budget day.

The government is also finalising measures to encourage migrants to work in regional areas after months of debate about sponsorship programs with regional councils.

Mr Morrison warned that the “mindless tribalism” of political debate could undermine practical work on migration and was fuelling a wider hatred in public life that could lead to immense costs.

“We cannot allow such legitimate policy debates to be hijacked like this,” he said in a speech to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne.

“Managing our population growth is a practical policy challenge that needs answers – answers I will continue to outline as we approach the next election.”

He said this would include road and rail investments as well as setting the migration programme to meet the needs of the economy as well as the “capacity of our cities” and the needs of the regions.

The warning against an “us and them” debate triggered a swift response from Mr Morrison’s critics, who blamed him for fuelling anxiety about migrants and refugees.

“This is the same man who has built his career on scaremongering against people of colour and asylum seekers,” said Tim Lo Surdo, founder of activist group Democracy in Colour.

“Scott Morrison is a professional fear-monger whose desperate scapegoating of the Muslim community over many years has normalised the kind of hatred that was at the root of Friday’s terrorist attack. He has no moral footing to talk about a better standard of public debate.”

Labor frontbencher Ed Husic said Mr Morrison and other Liberals and Nationals shared responsibility for failing to speak up against racism in the past.

Mr Husic said he had been targeted by Liberal opponents who raised his Muslim faith against him during the 2004 election campaign and he did not see Mr Morrison, who was NSW Liberal Party director at the time, express any concerns at the tactics.

“I think there is a need for leadership in political and media circles to be exercised at the right point of time – not some time later when you’re trying to airbrush what’s gone on, but to deal with in the public space,” Mr Husic said.

“People should not be victims of terrorism or extremism regardless of what background or faith they are. We all have a responsibility to speak up and deal with it.”

Mr Morrison’s speech comes at a time of incendiary debate over the responsibility of conservative politicians and some parts of the media, such as conservative commentators at Sky News, for fuelling racial hatreds, even if the same politicians and media outlets express sorrow at the killings in Christchurch.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott dismissed the problem of Islamophobia less than two years ago, while Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was subject to strong criticism from the Muslim community for questioning the contribution of Lebanese Muslims to Australia.

Mr Morrison used his speech to announce $55 million in new funding to offer grants to mosques, churches, synagogues, Hindu temples and religious schools to protect against attacks.

The grants will range in size from $50,000 to $1.5 million and will be made available for safety measures such as closed-circuit television cameras, lighting, fencing, bollards, alarms, security systems and public address systems.

“When I say I believe in religious freedom – and I am one of its staunchest defenders in Parliament – I know it starts with the right to worship and meet safely without fear,” Mr Morrison said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also called for caution in public debate but focused his remarks on the media and, especially, the social media platforms that spread the live-streamed video of the first Christchurch attack.

“The traditional media – newspapers, radio stations, television – they have to exercise caution before they publish stories. Now with the new media, with the new social media platforms, we haven’t seen that same caution before something is published,” Mr Shorten said in Perth.

“And after the event, eventually, despicable, dangerous, vile, perverted things get taken down.

“That’s really shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.”

Mr Morrison pointed to a growing extremism in some debate as people interacted only with those they agreed with and showed no respect to those with whom they disagreed.

“As debate becomes more fierce, the retreat to tribalism is increasingly taking over, and for some, extremism takes hold,” he said. “This is true of the left and the right.”

Source: Scott Morrison moves to insulate looming cut in immigration intake from Christchurch fallout

In Australia, Anti-Immigrant Racism Is Everywhere

While we often, in immigration and citizenship policy, compare ourselves with Australia, the political culture and overall dynamics are quite different, even if we also see mainstream Canadian politicians flirting with the far right or presenting their positions in a somewhat xenophobic manner:

Words from a vile manifesto, written by an Australian, have been floating around the internet following the New Zealand terrorist attack that saw 49 people killed at mosques during Friday prayers.

It calls Islam a “savage belief” and the “religious equivalent of fascism.” “Worldwide, Muslims are killing people in the name of their faith on an industrial scale,” it reads. “The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader, which justifies endless war against anyone who opposes it and calls for the murder of unbelievers and apostates.”

But it wasn’t written by the alleged shooter, Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant. It was written by an Australian politician.

Sen. Fraser Anning also tweeted, even before Friday’s death toll was public, “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” That link is Fraser Anning, and people like him.

Anning—the Aussie Steve King, perhaps—is a now-independent senator who is too racist even for the extremely racist party that elected him. Elected in 2017 as a One Nation party replacement candidate (after “free speech” crusader Malcolm Roberts was caught up in the citizenship debacle), Anning chose to sit as an independent, then opted to join another fringe party, until he was kicked out of that one too, for his infamous speech calling for a “final solution” to the Muslim immigration problem.

His latest comments have been roundly condemned by everyone in Australian politics—by the prime minister, the recent ex–prime minister, the soon-to-be prime minister. Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted that Anning’s comments were “disgusting” and “have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian Parliament.”

Anning and Tarrant may be extremists, but they are extreme representatives and undeniable products of a racist Australian culture—one that is at best quietly tolerated and at worst wildly stoked by politicians, not to mention a Rupert Murdoch–fueled mass media. Whether it’s demonizing asylum-seekers, demonizing African youths, demonizing Indigenous Australians, or demonizing Muslims, racism is insidious in the mainstream culture.

Note that while Anning’s 2018 final solution speech was condemned, he wasn’t removed from Parliament over it. A man who made an approving Hitler reference remains an Australian senator, a tacit endorsement of his bigotry. Politicians are falling over themselves to condemn Anning now, amid another open show of racism, but there seems to be no rush to condemn the dog whistle kind going on in the media every single day.

The alt-right has a strong presence Down Under, inviting figures like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak and holding fascist rallies—one of which Anning defended attending earlier this year. (Anning was also expected to address a meeting of neo-Nazis with Hitler fan Blair Cottrell later this weekend.) It’s alive and thriving online, a community that Tarrant was reportedly a part of. This report dives into one of the favorite memes of the Australian far right, one recently used by Tarrant both on the forum 8chan and on Twitter. It shows a highly stereotypical Aussie bloke, wearing Outback get-up, brandishing the bottle of a popular Aussie beer, with the caption “hold still while I glass you.” The same meme is frequently used by the Dingoes, an online group known for anti-Semitic views. Lest you think this is a murky subculture, a onetime Labor Party leader has appeared on the Dingoes’ podcast. That leader, Mark Latham, is now a One Nation candidate.

Latham, admittedly, has fallen far in the years he has been out of politics. But this excellent tweet thread from Guardian columnist Jason Wilson, who covers the far right, chronicles the horrific racism even mainstream figures have engaged in. “Remember when the Australian Senate almost passed a literal white nationalist meme?” he tweeted. “Remember all the free media Milo and Lauren Southern got? Remember ‘African Gangs’? Remember ‘white farmers’? Remember the Soros conspiracy theories during the SSM referendum?”

I don’t speak for all Aussies when I say I was not surprised to learn the shooter in the mosque attack was an Australian—but I do speak for many. Tarrant may have been radicalized online, but he was emboldened by the words surrounding him on national platforms, by right-wing commentators writing in major newspapers that a “tidal wave of immigrants sweeps away our national identity” (this from one of the most well-known “journalists” in Australia). His article was called “The Foreign Invasion.” Tarrant’s manifesto is called “The Great Replacement.”

Other parts of Tarrant’s manifesto echo words by other public figures. Australia, you may recall, is not in Europe, but Tarrant refers to himself as European and treats Australia as an outpost of Europe. One recent former prime minister seems a little obsessed with Australia being part of “the Anglosphere,” while Anning was ultimately kicked out of his second party for continuing to distinguish between “European” and “non-European” migration.

The nationality of the other suspects has not yet been revealed, so it’s hard to speculate on any extent to which New Zealand’s own alt-right was involved. I often tell Americans that New Zealand is Australia’s Canada, a better, more progressive version of Australia with a reputation as a welcoming place. The relationship between white and indigenous New Zealanders is much better than that of many colonial societies, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Ironically, the National Front, a far-right group with only about 1,000 members, is said to have been influenced by the Canadian alt-right—the Lauren Southerns and Stefan Molyneuxes and Jordan Petersons—to adopt a “pseudo-academia, clean-cut appearances.” New Zealand journalist Paula Penfold spoke to i24 on Friday, saying that while New Zealand is not known for hate crimes or mass violence, “there has been knowledge of white supremacy in Christchurch for some decades now. We’ve never seen violence like this, but there is a sense now that this is a situation that has been building.”

As Joshua Keating noted Friday, “New Zealand has had one of the fastest-growing immigration populations among developed countries in recent years, much of it from Asia. This has led to at least some political backlash, with [Winston] Peters’ New Zealand First party calling for immigration restrictions and accused of fomenting racism. Police clashed with right-wing nationalists who rallied outside the Parliament in Wellington in 2017.”

The world is again in shock, but it’s no surprise that Tarrant was Australian. After all, as he wrote in his manifesto, he was a “regular white man from a regular family.” So true.

Source: In Australia, Anti-Immigrant Racism Is Everywhere

Germany, New Zealand approaches to citizenship revocation for strip IS fighters – Statelessness

Both countries provide an exception for those who would be left stateless and appear to be applying that consistently unlike recent cases in the UK (Begum) and Australia (Prakash).

Starting with Germany:

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have agreed a plan to strip some Germans who fight for the Islamic State militant group of their citizenship, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

More than 1,000 Germans have left their country for war zones in the Middle East since 2013 and the government has been debating how to deal with them as U.S.-backed forces are poised to take the last patch of territory from Islamic State in Syria.

About a third have returned to Germany, another third are believed to have died, and the rest are believed to be still in Iraq and Syria, including some detained by Iraqi forces and U.S.-backed fighters in Syria. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, citing unnamed government sources, said three criteria must be met to allow the government to denaturalise Germans who take up arms for the Islamist group.

Such individuals must have a second citizenship, be adults and they would be stripped of their citizenship should they fight for Islamic State after the new rules go into effect.

The compromise ends a dispute over the issue between conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and SPD Justice Minister Katarina Barley.

Spokesmen for both ministers were not available to comment on the report.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month urged Britain, France and Germany to take back more than 800 captured Islamic State fighters and put them on trial.

Germany said it would take back fighters only if the suspects have consular access.

Last month Britain revoked the citizenship of a teenager who had left London when she was aged 15 to join Islamic State in Syria.

The case of Shamima Begum highlighted the security, legal and ethical dilemmas facing European governments dealing with citizens who had sworn allegiance to a group determined to destroy the West.

Source: Germany to strip IS fighters of citizenship under certain criteria – report

New Zealand:

A New Zealand man detained in Syria after joining the Islamic State militant group will not be stripped of citizenship but could face criminal charges if he returns, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

New Zealand is the latest of a number of countries, from Australia and Britain to the United States, forced to grapple with legal and security challenges in dealing with former members of a hardline group that had sworn to destroy the West.

Mark Taylor, who traveled to Syria in 2014, told Australian broadcaster ABC from a prison in the Kurdish-run north that he expected to face time in prison if he returned to New Zealand.

Taylor’s joining the group was illegal and could have legal ramifications, Ardern said, but added that her government would provide him with a travel document to return, if possible.

“We have long had plans in place in the event that a New Zealand citizen supporting ISIS in Syria were to return,” Ardern told reporters, using an alternative name for the group.

“Mr Taylor only holds New Zealand citizenship and the government has an obligation not to make people stateless.”

Ardern said officials had identified that a small number of New Zealanders had joined IS, but declined to give an exact number.

New Zealand law allows revocation of citizenship only in limited situations, Ardern said, adding that the government could not render stateless anyone who did not have dual citizenship.Officials had told Taylor he would need to travel to a country where New Zealand has a diplomatic presence, such as Turkey, to receive an emergency travel document to return, said Ardern, adding that would be difficult as he is in detention.

In an interview aired on Monday, Taylor told the ABC that he had worked as a guard for the group for five years and had been detained in its prisons a number of times, such as after he accidentally leaked location details in a tweet in 2015.

He also appeared in an IS promotional video that year, calling for attacks on ANZAC Day celebrations in Australia and New Zealand.

Taylor told ABC he had witnessed executions while with the group and was sorry.

“I don’t know if I can go back to New Zealand, but at the end of the day it’s really something I have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said.

In February, Britain said it was revoking the citizenship of 19-year-old Shamima Begum, who had left London with two school friends to join up when she was 15, but now sought to return with her newborn son.

Source: New Zealand Islamic State recruit will not be stripped of citizenship

 

Australian PM to reopen controversial Christmas Island detention camp after losing key vote on migrants

Noteworthy:

After Australia’s conservative government lost a key vote on the treatment of asylum seekers held in offshore camps on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Wednesday that he would reopen a controversial immigration detention camp on Christmas Island, a part of the country but almost 1,000 miles to the northwest of mainland Australia. The camp was shut last October after years of controversies and riots there.

Lawmakers had voted to ease medical transfers from offshore migrant camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island to Australia on Tuesday, despite governmental warnings that the evacuations may encourage more asylum seekers to risk the perilous boat journey. The Australian Senate approved the bill on Wednesday. Conditions in the Nauru and Manus camps had been called “inhuman” by the UN and physicians had long been clamouring for the authority to bring the asylum seekers to Australia for medical treatment.

As critics of the prime minister’s hard line immigration policies were still celebrating their success, Morrison announced that the Christmas Island camp would have to be reopened instead, “both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers.”

Christmas Island is part of Australia, so asylum seekers could be transferred to the facility and still kept far away from the mainland, despite Tuesday’s bill passage.

But human rights groups and the opposition immediately questioned the real intentions behind the reopening. “This is just further grandstanding from the government,” the Australian Human Rights Law Centre said in a statement to The Washington Post. “These people will need medical specialists and facilities that do not exist on Christmas Island, and the government is well aware of that.”

Authorities on Christmas Island appeared to agree on Wednesday that they were not prepared for a sudden reopening of the camp. Calling the decision a “knee-jerk reaction,” council chief executive David Price told ABC Australia: “We’ve got a hospital (but) it doesn’t do operations. People are medevaced out quite regularly here for medical reasons as it’s only a small regional hospital.”

Buildings at an Australian government immigration detention centre are seen behind a fence on Christmas Island.

Speaking to The Washington Post, Graham Thom, the Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International Australia, cautioned that transfers from Nauru and Manus Island to Christmas Island could in fact represent a step backward. “It means putting people back into detention who can currently walk free in daylight hours, which may have a detrimental impact on their mental health.”

The opposition also cast doubts on the governmental claim that migrant numbers would rise as a result of Tuesday’s vote. The bill is limited in scope and only applies to migrants already on Nauru or Manus Island. Morrison’s critics blame him for making up a threat scenario that is not based on facts, to deliberately stir concerns ahead of elections that will take place at some point before the end of May.

After losing a by-election in October, Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party lost its narrow majority in the lower house of Parliament last year, which paved the way for Tuesday’s historic defeat.

Wednesday’s countermove by Morrison bears some of the hallmarks of President Donald Trump’s political maneuvers ahead of the midterm elections last November, when he rallied his supporters behind the idea of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Days before the polling date, more than 5,000 active U.S. service members were ordered to the border on a mission Democrats described as pointless and political. Spreading unsubstantiated claims that “unknown Middle Easterners” were in a caravan of migrants moving toward the U.S. border and describing the developments as an “invasion,” Trump was widely criticized for exaggerating or even inventing a threat that did not exist.

Both Trump and Morrison, said Amnesty International coordinator Thom, were “creating sense of emergency and political crisis, that in this case really doesn’t exist.”

“The horrible rhetoric we’re hearing does echo Trump’s rhetoric of murderers and pedophiles. It’s playing into people’s fears,” said Thom.

Similar concerns were shared by Australia’s Labor opposition party on Wednesday in regards to the Morrison government’s Christmas Island announcement.

“(This is) a pattern of deceit and desperation from a man who is desperate to cling to office – a man who has nothing left, nothing left but deceit, fear and smear,” said Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong.

Christmas Island authorities are worried about a repeat of the scenes until 2018, when the immigration detention center on the island became a flash point of the country’s hard line immigration policies. Former detainees described extended lockdowns and a lack of medical and mental health care in the facilities prior the closure, even though Australian authorities denied those allegations.

In November 2015, the death of an Iranian Kurdish asylum seeker who attempted to escape the island but fell off a cliff sparked riots in the center, following years of protests there over conditions at the center and Australia’s immigration policies.

Despite criticism from international rights groups and the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the government has stood by its hard-line policy of directing asylum seekers who arrive by sea to the offshore camps. Thousands have been held on Manus Island and Nauru since the policy took effect in 2013, and about 1,000 remain on both islands, according to government estimates.

Lawyers for 606 asylum seekers in an Australian offshore detention center on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island sought a court injunction to prevent the facility’s scheduled closure, as fears mounted of violent confrontations with locals who oppose the asylum seekers living among them.

More recently, the Liberal Party has made some concessions to critics, by striking resettlement deals and evacuating children who may be at risk of committing suicide or have suffered mental distress.

But the Australian opposition maintained that the concessions are a facade: Morrison and his supporters have gone to great lengths to uphold the image of Australia’s hard line immigration policies. Adult asylum seekers – believed to be in need of urgent treatment by medical organizations – were repeatedly refused transfers, which prompted Tuesday’s bill that will ease such evacuations.

Whereas decisions on medical transfers had been made by civil servants, doctors can now themselves initiate the process. The Home Affairs Minister can still stop evacuations on the grounds of national security.

But for some of the asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island who will be able to leave, the journey from one island detention camp may now end in just another island detention center. Ironically, the best bet for them may at this stage is to hope to be resettled to the United States before that happens – under a deal struck by former president Barack Obama and so far upheld by Trump.

Source: Australian PM to reopen controversial Christmas Island detention camp after losing key vote on migrants

Australia’s citizenship process is not efficient, audit finds

When I was working on citizenship files, Australia’s performance standard was the gold standard compared to Canada’s less than bronze (80 percent of processed within 80 days).

The official Canadian performance standard, as reported in departmental reports, is a meaningless one: the total number of immigrants who have become citizens irrespective of how long a time they have been in Canada (the total “stock”) versus a more meaningful measure of how many have become citizens within a certain period of time (e.g., 5-9 years since arrival):

Australian citizenship applications are not being processed in a timely way by the Department of Home Affairs, according to the auditor-general.

But the department disagrees, arguing measures introduced in the past three years to protect national security and community safety are delivering results.

An Australian National Audit Office review has found just 15 per cent of applications for citizenship “by conferral” – which makes up the bulk of applications – were processed within 80 days in 2017/18.

That compares to the department’s former target to process 80 per cent of applications within 80 days, which it dropped in 2017.

The department does, however, measure the time taken to obtain citizenship from lodging an application to attending a ceremony.

Australian citizenship applications are not being processed in a timely manner.

The auditor-general found that time “increased significantly” between March 2017 and September 2018, despite a dip in the “relative complexity” of applications being lodged.

“Growth in demand for citizenship in recent years was driven by people with good supporting documents who arrived in Australia on a skilled visa,” the audit office found.

The review suggests increased screening of applicants has played a major role in extended processing times.

Nevertheless, it found staff were not being using efficiently.

“The department has a suite of initiatives in train that are designed to enhance efficiency but has been slow in implementing them,” the review stated.

The Department of Home Affairs disputes the audit office’s claim. In a statement to the auditor-general, it highlighted that the proportion of citizenship applications knocked back has doubled from 3.4 per cent in 2014/15 to 6.8 per cent in the first few months of 2018/19.

That comes as new security measures have been introduced.

“The enhanced integrity measures adopted by the department over the last three years to protect Australia’s national security and community safety are delivering results,” the department said.

“We will always prioritise these efforts over speed.”

The department has agreed to the auditor-general’s recommendation to revise how it funds its citizenship activities, based on the latest activity levels.

But the department has knocked back a recommendation to publicly report its key performance indicators, saying they could give people unrealistic expectations.

The inquiry came after the commonwealth ombudsman, Refugee Council of Australia and others raised concerns about the duration of the citizenship application process.

Source: Australia’s citizenship process is not efficient, audit finds

Australia: Melbourne gets nod for $1mn ethno specific aged care

Have seen some of these initiatives in the Canadian context for language (second language fluency can decline), community and food choice reasons:

Indian community members joined local politicians and aged care providers recently at the launch of Planning Permits for an ethno specific, Indian aged care facility in Melbourne. The Australian Federal Government has approved a $1 million dollar grant towards the 108-bed facility in the south-eastern suburb of Noble Park.

According to Petra Neelman, Executive Director of MiCare (Formerly Dutch Care), the facility will ensure availability and access to linguistic and cultural needs, social activities and food choices for the residents. The plans include four prayer rooms, a vegetarian kitchen and a 300-seat capacity community hall among other culturally sensitive features.

Years of persistence in attempts to provision aged care services from an ethno specific Indian perspective finally saw some promising development with this launch. As all the dignitaries that attended the event pointed out, the credit for this exciting development goes to community leader and Multicultural Ambassador Vasan Srinivasan, who worked persistently to bring the plans to fruition.

Alan Tudge MP, Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population, commended Vasan for his persistence in spearheading projects that included the development of the Museum India in Dandenong, where the aged care facility launch was held.

‘Energiser Bunny’ and ‘Organiser Extraordinaire’ were the terms used to describe Vasan as the Minister acknowledged his hard work in negotiating with both the Federal and State Governments in relation to the proposed facility.

According to the Minister, ethno specific services provide enhanced connectedness and mental wellbeing for older people from diverse backgrounds. He thanked everyone involved for getting this up and running and officially declared the planning approvals as completed.

Roz Blades, Mayor, City of Dandenong, joined the Minister in launching the plans along with Neil Angus, Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs and Matt Fregon, Member for Mount Waverley.

Despite the melting heat, the event was well attended by multicultural leaders, community representatives and local media. MC Aneka and Swati admirably kept their cool through the entire event as they invited the dignitaries to say a few words.

Rakesh Malhotra (Consul General of India in Melbourne), Dr Dinesh Parekh (Artistic Director of Museum India) and Dr Sharad Gupta (President of FIAV) also addressed the audience briefly. A traditional Indian wrap and flowers were presented to all the dignitaries.

A light vegetarian meal was served after the event.

Speaking to the guests post event, Vasan Srinivasan shared his experience of the challenges that were faced and the multiple attempts made before reaching this stage of approval.

He is optimistic that the combination of MiCare’s experience of working with ethnic backgrounds, Federal and State Government funding and community support will ensure the realisation of this project. “As the population of Indians in Melbourne continues to grow it is imperative that the community has access to ethno specific aged care in order to age and live well,” said Vasan.

According to him, availability of an ethno-specific and multicultural aged care, bilingual workforce and health educators will play a pivotal role in promoting healthy ageing and community capacity building.

Source: Melbourne gets nod for $1bn ethno specific aged care

Asylum-Seeker Barred From Entering Australia Wins Its Richest Literary Prize

Speaks for itself and the perseverance to be heard:

Back in August, when Behrouz Boochani was speaking with NPR over the phone, the Kurdish-Iranian journalist said his debut book, written mostly with texts he sent from an Australian detention center, was meant “to make a challenge against this system, to tell the truth to people.” He wasn’t motivated by money.

On Thursday, his work earned him some money anyway.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, which are among Australia’s most prestigious literary prizes, singled out Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison for their highest honor: the Victorian Prize for Literature. His book also won in the nonfiction category.

The Victorian Prize carries a purse of 100,000 Australian dollars, while the nonfiction award brings 25,000 on top of that — or about $90,000 in USD, all told.

But because Boochani remains detained on Manus Island, part of Papua New Guinea, at the same offshore facility where he’s been held since 2013, his translator, Omid Tofighian, picked the awards up at the ceremony in his stead. And Boochani had to deliver his remarks through a recorded video message.

“I have always said I believe in words and literature. I believe that literature has the potential to make change and challenge structures of power,” he said. “Literature has the power to give us freedom.”

Boochani himself has not enjoyed physical freedom for more than five years now. He has lived in a kind of legal purgatory since he fled from Iran to Indonesia and then tried to travel to Australia, where he had hoped to obtain asylum after his pro-Kurdish publication attracted the scrutiny of Iranian security forces.

Instead, the boat he’d been riding was intercepted by the Australian authorities, who eventually transferred him to Manus Island. It is there, at what the Australian government calls an “offshore processing centre” — and what what he calls a “prison” — that Boochani has lived for years.

Australia first reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea, back in 2013, to hold some asylum-seekers on its small northern neighbor. Since then the practice has received vehement pushback — including from Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court, which ruled it illegal in 2016, and from multiple international aid organizations.

In a report issued late last year, Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, said dozens of the detainees had attempted suicide and still more had considered it.

“While many of our patients had experienced trauma,” said MSF’s Christine Rufener,it was the Australian policy of indefinite processing that destroyed all their hope for the future and devastated their mental health.”

Despite the ruling of Papua New Guinea’s high court, and despite the Manus Island camp’s formal closure later, hundreds of asylum-seekers continue to languish on the island without much idea of what may come next.

During Boochani’s years-long detention, he wrote his book in Farsi, in dispatch after dispatch sent via WhatsApp, which Tofighian then translated into English and organized. The result is a hybrid text that eschews easy classification, combining journalism, poetry and critical theory to craft what the prize’s judges called “a new understanding both of Australia’s actions and of Australia itself.”

“Altogether, this is a demanding work of significant achievement,” they explained in their citation. “No Friend But the Mountains is a literary triumph, devastating and transcendent.”

In the end, Boochani told NPR, his work in some way is also a gesture of hope: “We all hope that finally, after five years, we get freedom in a place like America or other countries.”

Source: Asylum-Seeker Barred From Entering Australia Wins Its Richest Literary Prize

Australia admits misstep over Islamic State suspect [citizenship revocation and statelessness]

Finally publicly admitted:

Australia failed to make basic checks before stripping a suspected Islamic State fighter of his citizenship, a senior official said Wednesday, an admission likely to call into question the legality of the move.

The country last month striped Neil Prakash of citizenship after claiming he was Fijian — prompting strenuous denials from the authorities in Suva and an embarrassing diplomatic rift.

Prakash is accused of being a member of the IS jihadist group, and identified as the 12th Australian dual-national to lose their passport over terrorism links.

He is currently in Turkey facing charges of joining the organisation.

A parliamentary intelligence committee on Wednesday grilled Home Affairs officials on the issue, asking whether they verified his status with Fiji or consulted experts in Fijian law before revoking Prakash’s citizenship.

“No, we did not” admitted senior department official Linda Geddes.

If Prakash is neither Fijian nor Australian he would now be stateless in contravention of decades old UN accords and Australian law.

A Special Counsel advising the government told the parliamentary committee he offered “strong advice” on the case, but would not go into detail.

The move against Prakash was touted at the time by hardline Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton as the ruling Liberal Party eyed its base supporters and May elections.

But it created an awkward backdrop for a recent landmark Pacific visit by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Source: Australia admits misstep over Islamic State suspect

And in related news, lawyers express concern over expansion of Australian citizenship revocation policy towards those convicted of minor crimes:

Australian lawyers are afraid petty criminals and people participating in religious festivals could be rendered stateless under citizenship law changes aimed at homegrown terrorists.

Constitutional and human rights experts have also expressed grave concerns about the “irredeemable” bill being put forward by the federal government.

The Morrison government wants to be able to deport Australian-born extremists who are entitled to citizenship in another country.

But the Law Council of Australia fears the proposed powers would be disproportionately harsh and could breach international law.

Dual nationals sentenced to at least six years jail for terror offences can already be stripped of their Australian citizenship.

The coalition wants to scrap the six-year threshold and expand the range of offences it can rely upon.

The Law Council’s David Neal is urging the federal parliamentary intelligence committee to keep the existing triggers in place.

“Low-level offending, which is dealt with to finality in a local court, could be captured by laws that lead to citizenship cessation,” he told committee members in Canberra on Wednesday.

Dr Neal is also concerned the offence of “associating with a terrorist organisation” could capture people participating in legitimate social gatherings and religious festivals.

Constitutional expert George Williams believes tinkering with the bill could also capture religious pilgrims and business people who venture into politically-sensitive areas.

“There is no actual involvement in terrorism, there is no suggestion of disloyalty, but that would trigger under this legislation the possibility of revocation,” he told the committee.

Professor Williams said the bill would have a range of “extreme and unjustified” consequences and could make the community less safe.

“In fact, it may do some harm, particularly in the broader agenda of building social cohesion.”

The laws would also significantly lower the threshold around proving a person’s citizenship of another country.

Under the changes, the minister would only need to be “reasonably satisfied” a person may be entitled to citizenship elsewhere.

“As recent history demonstrates – in both the cases of members of parliament and the (Neil) Prakash case – determining existing foreign citizenship can be difficult,” Dr Neal said.

“Determinations based on predictions about future foreign citizenship – which may include decisions by foreign governments – are obviously fraught.”

The Morrison government sparked a diplomatic fight with Fiji over the summer break after stripping Prakash of his Australian citizenship.

The Islamic terrorist was born in Melbourne to a Fijian father but Fiji says he is not a citizen.

The federal government has indicated dual nationals who are stripped of their citizenship could languish indefinitely in immigration detention if other countries refuse to take them.

Source: Lawyers flag fears about citizenship laws

Australians do not want any more migrants: ANU poll

The annual Scanlon Mapping Social Cohesion Surveys provides a more nuanced of immigration related public opinion, but still showing 43 percent believing the number of immigrants is too high:

Support among Australians for a growing population is crumbling amid fears of overcrowded cities and homes priced out of the reach of ordinary people, a new survey by the Australian National University has revealed.

As both the Morrison government and Shorten opposition consider their own approaches to population policy in the run-up to this year’s election, the ANU poll found just three out of 10 Australians believe the nation needs more people.

A similar poll conducted in 2010 found support for a growing population at 45 per cent.

The 15 percentage point fall was driven by a huge drop in support among male voters who in 2010 showed majority support for a bigger Australia. Male support has now fallen to 38.4 per cent.

In 2010, 38.5 per cent of female voters backed a growing population but this has now fallen to 28.2 per cent.

Over the past year, the nation’s population has grown by 390,500 of which 61 per cent was from net overseas migration.

But with growing public concern about Australia’s immigration intake, the government is considering a reduction in the current cap of 190,000. The planned intake for the 2019-20 financial year, to be set in the April budget, is expected to be closer to 160,000.

Already, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has signalled a reduction in the number of migrants brought into the country, saying he had heard “loud and clear” that city roads were clogged, “the buses and trains are full”.

It appears much of the drop in support for more Australians has been driven by issues in our major cities which have largely absorbed the 2.5 million increase in the nation’s population since 2010.

Almost nine out of 10 surveyed agreed that the high cost of housing was a reason to limit Australia’s population growth. Eighty-five per cent also believed the nation’s cities were over-crowded and there was too much traffic.

Another concern among those surveyed was around labour shortages.

About 90 per cent of those quizzed agreed that Australia should “train our own skilled people, not take them from other countries”.

Lead researcher Nicholas Biddle said with two-thirds of Australians believing the country has enough residents, the lived experience of many people was influencing their view towards immigration.

“Australians are more likely to support population growth if it increases our skills base, mitigates the impacts of an ageing population and increase our economic prosperity,” Associate Professor Biddle said.

“But they do not want population growth to cause crowding, affordability or job security issues nor at the expense of our natural environment.”

The poll was conducted late last year, just as house prices were falling in most major capital cities with Sydney property down by more than 11 per cent.

The poll is at odds with an Ipsos poll taken in October last year for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age which showed 52 per cent of respondents backing the idea of keeping or increasing the number of immigrants. Forty-five per cent supported a reduction in the nation’s migrant intake.

Responding to the ANU poll, Coalition voters were the least likely to support a higher population while Greens voters were the most open to the idea, but even amongst them support was less than 50 per cent.

People aged between 25 and 34 showed the highest support for more Australians, at more than 41 per cent. The lowest support was among people aged between 45 and 54, at less than 25 per cent.

The survey also found large differences based on ethnic background.

Just a quarter of Australian-born people supported a larger population, almost half the rate of those born in a non-English speaking country. Just under 40 per cent of those from an English-speaking nation backed a larger population.

The government is considering a way to encourage immigrants to live in rural and regional areas, with some country towns crying out for skilled workers. The poll showed this was more popular among urban Australians than those living in areas that would be home to new residents.

Support among Coalition and Greens voters for the policy was about 75 per cent but among Labor voters it was 10 percentage points lower.

Professor Biddle said while the survey showed growing opposition to migration, those quizzed were not driven by cultural issues.

He said there was substantially more support for migration on the grounds of broadening Australia’s cultural diversity, almost double the rate for those who believed the nation was already too culturally diverse.

According to Professor Biddle,  Australians had a series of serious concerns about a growing population.

“Australians need to be convinced that traffic and house prices won’t increase unduly, that there will be limited effects on the environment, and that Australia’s existing workforce will still receive adequate training,” he said.

Source: Australians do not want any more migrants: ANU poll

‘Bizarre, heavy-handed: Councils push back on changes to Australia Day citizenship ceremonies

Ongoing Australian debates, political positioning and virtue signalling continue to amaze me. That being said, we are seeing some similar pressures from Indigenous peoples here in Canada (Canada celebrates 150 but indigenous groups say history is being ‘skated over’):

The federal government has revised the citizenship code to make it compulsory for all councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day – but some councils say the Morrison government should have consulted rather than applying a “heavy-handed and odd” approach.

Under changes to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code to be introduced in 2020, councils will also have to hold a second citizenship ceremony on September 17 – Australian Citizenship Day – and new citizens will have to abide by a strict dress code that bans boardshorts and thongs.

The revised code will be sent to councils this week, Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister David Coleman announced.

“Australian citizenship is an immense privilege and fundamental to our national identity,” Mr Coleman said.

“As part of this update, the government will require that citizenship ceremonies be held on Australia Day across the nation.

“New citizens should be given the opportunity to become an Australian on our national day – Australia Day is an incredibly important part of our national calendar.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government will “protect our national day and ensure it is respected”.

“We believe all councils who are granted the privilege of conducting citizenship ceremonies should be required to conduct a ceremony on Australia Day,” he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

In 2017, two Melbourne councils were stripped of the right to hold citizenship ceremonies after scrapping all Australia Day celebrations to recognise Indigenous sensitivities. Yarra City Council and neighbouring Darebin Council cited a groundswell of popular support for the move but were slapped down by the government.

Amid a growing push from some corners to change Australia’s national from January 26, several councils have already made plans to move or cancel traditional celebrations this year.

Victoria’s Darebin, Yarra and Moreland, Western Australia’s Fremantle and NSW’s Byron have already flagged a change of date, because January 26 is considered a day of mourning by many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

City of Sydney Labor Councillor Linda Scott said councils had an obligation to listen to community sentiment.

“The job of local governments is to listen to their communities and represent their views,” she told SBS News.

“Councils should be able to set the day of their citizenship ceremonies in line with the views of their community.”

She said other councils had shifted citizenship ceremonies from January 26 because of extreme heat, a lack of new citizenship applications or because of cultural sensitivity.

Australian Local Government Association president Mayor David O’Loughlin said most councils likely won’t be opposed to the government’s proposed changes to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code but councils will have valid concerns.

“Most councils hold more than one citizenship ceremony a year, some as often as monthly – the Federal Government’s strong focus on drawing a link between Australia Day and citizenship ceremonies is bizarre,” he said.

“We do acknowledge that a small number of councils are in discussions with their communities about whether the 26th of January is the appropriate day to celebrate Australia Day.

“However, councils cannot move Australia Day – this is ultimately up to the Federal government – but it is our job to be responsive to our communities, including to their calls for prudence and advocacy.”

He said if the Morrison government had “bothered to consult” with council it would have found many Local Government Areas forgo citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day because of the heat.

“In some locations, it’s simply too hot for councils to hold ceremonies during the day, so they do it the evening before, just as the Federal Government does with its Australian of the Year Ceremony,” he said.

“Interestingly, the federal government has made no mention of any financial contribution towards the additional costs involved in running these ceremonies.”

More than 73,000 people have become Australian citizens on Australia Day in the past five years, according to government figures – despite there being no specific requirement for councils to hold ceremonies on January 26.

City of Darebin’s Mayor Susan Rennie told SBS News her council “will not be marking January 26 by holding any events on that day or surrounding days” for a second year running.

Ms Rennie said Darebin is “opposed to Australia’s national celebration being held on January 26 out of respect for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have told us that they experience a day of sadness, pain and disconnection”.

Source: ‘Bizarre, heavy-handed: Councils push back on changes to Australia Day citizenship ceremonies