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Going Too Far With Policy and Generalisations

The politics of the asylum seeker issue is back in the headlines. Earlier this week we learned that an asylum seeker housed at Macquarie University on a bridging visa has been accused of sexual assault. This shameful crime has led to the Liberal Party streaking away in the so-called “race to the bottom”. We have seen further moves from liberal ideals mixed with the support of generalisations which give rise to xenophobic tendencies in some parts of the broader public. There has been a gross miscalculation of the issue and a complete exaggeration of any so-called ‘problem’.

In response to the alleged sex attack, the federal opposition have proposed a mandatory behaviour code for asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas. The Coalition has also pushed for the government to suspend all current bridging visas which have allowed a number of asylum seekers to live in the public while their asylum claims are processed.

No crime is ever forgivable and should be prosecuted by the law. And in this case and others of a similar nature, it will be. The man will have his day in court and answer for his alleged actions. We live in a liberal democracy and have this process, along with many others where people are made accountable for their actions.

Some people seem to think that the response of refugee advocates has been to legitimise the alleged crime. This is complete nonsense. Not one person is for a second giving any support to one of the most heinous criminal acts imaginable. They are however trying to put the whole issue into a sensible context based on reality and not some issue confected from emotion and irrational fear.

The problem of crime, it may surprise some, is not unique to asylum seekers. Crime is perpetrated by all kinds of people and for a number of different reasons. The Oscar Pistorius case shows that crime is not an issue for one section of the community but for the whole of society. Crime is not an asylum seeker problem, it is a human problem and people would do well to put the emotion to one side and realise that for themselves.

A big problem related to the asylum seeker debate is the treatment of all asylum seekers as if they are criminals. We lock most of them up while we process their refugee claims, some offshore and some onshore as if they have committed some criminal act. They have not. And the two proposals from the Coalition in the wake of the sexual assault treat asylum seekers as if they are all criminals regardless of whether a criminal act has been committed.

It is dumb and illogical to suggest that asylum seekers be subject to a code of behaviour. Everyone that comes to our shores is subject to our laws. A code of behaviour would just be a reiteration of those existing laws. It is merely an attempt to look tough and to appeal to those who are at the least very sceptical about asylum seekers in Australia.

Calling on the government to suspend all bridging visas is an equally silly idea. Again this feeds the generalisation that all asylum seekers are undesirable which is, in large part what motivates the xenophobia that pushes this issue into the absurd depths of idiocy we have come to expect when the politics of asylum seekers is raised – and it is raised too often now.

When it comes to asylum seekers, we see the Liberal Party veering further and further from the liberal ideals they were founded on. It is fundamentally illiberal to treat people differently under the law. It is also fundamentally illiberal to be hostile with regard to immigration, especially in the way that the Liberal Party are prosecuting their latest demands.

The 43rd parliament has seen some lows in asylum seeker policy that few would have predicted. The trouble is that the debate keeps plunging lower and lower to the point where there is not much further to go before rock bottom.

A Modest Proposal for Gun Control That Would Never Get Up

The latest gun massacre in the United States of America, this time in Aurora, Colorado has again sparked debate, within America and across the world about the sense or nonsense of the 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Twelve people were shot dead at a movie screening of The Dark Knight Rises and 58 further were injured by the gunman who burst into the cinema, let off teargas and began indiscriminately shooting at movie-goers.

The scenes of pandemonium that followed, including leaked mobile phone footage and the last tweets of some in the crowd will stick with people for a long time and must translate into at least some change in the gun laws.

Every year there are roughly 10,000 gun related murders in the United States of America out of a total number of murders close to 13,000 per annum. This is a truly horrifying statistic.

From the outset it is extremely important t0 acknowledge that no one “solution” to this incredibly difficult and fraught issue in US politics. Even a complete ban will not result in a massive reduction in gun-related deaths. People will do all they can to try and get their hands on firearms if they really want them and they will always exist in society.

There are two major problems that exist when thinking of gun crime. The first is that the right to bear arms applies to just about any weapon out there, in just about every state in the country. This access to an almost unlimited range of weapons includes some  capabilities that just about any military would be proud of being able to use.

The second major problem is that the ability to acquire weapons in most states in the USA is just way too easy and there are few checks and balances and the process to legally acquire a weapon is just too lax. There is just too little examination of people wanting to obtain a firearm, something that, while still a right, must be highly regulated.

While it is true that it is the person behind the weapon that does the damage, the damage done also has much to do with the types of guns that an American citizen has access to. Since when do everyday Americans need assault rifles and machine guns, even on properties used for farming? And tear gas? Please. Who on earth needs that? Nobody as yet over the years has been able to cogently explain and justify the need for the right to bear arms to translate into access to automatic and in most cases even semi-automatic firearms.

Gun laws, though regulated by the state, separate from the national constitutional right to bear arms need to be made more stringent, perhaps nationally consistent, though this may be constitutionally and politically impossible as any gun reform has proved to be so far.

So here’s a commonsense plan which would maintain the 2nd amendment rights of Americans, still keeping their right to possess such a deadly weapon while at the same time being realistic about the consequences of the more extreme weaponry around.

First, all states must at least ban access to all automatic weapons or guns that have the ability to operate automatically.

Second, access to semi-automatic weapons should at least be limited, though there should ideally be a strong presumption against people having or needing semi-automatic weapons.

A gun buy-back scheme, similar to the one instituted by the Howard Government after the Port Arthur massacre might be a way for honest citizens to hand over the automatic weapons that they frankly don’t need. Such a scheme would result in at least some of the weapons in circulation being taken out of the public and therefore away from the access of criminals.

As far as gun licensing and regulation goes, there should be a move to a stronger, more nationally consistent license and registration framework which takes into account the individual circumstances of applicants and makes purchasing a firearm a lot harder than buying a fast food meal.

But we must be realistic about things when it comes to gun control in the USA. First, it will never happen. The NRA as a lobby group just holds too much sway. Also, the inability of politicians to budge on such a wide interpretation of the 2nd amendment has hamstrung the prospects of any significant crackdown.

At the same time too, we must also be realistic then even the greatest crackdown on weapons will not remove the devastating consequences of gun crime, various examples of this exist worldwide, but it can be restricted.

The fact that even such a modest proposal like this one would never get up is a real shame.

The Difficult Art of Crime Reporting

Last night Q&A, the ABC panel show on politics and society broadcast live from Dandenong, a culturally diverse  area of Victoria, less than an hour from Melbourne. The city has a population of which approximately 56% were born overseas, from over 151 different nations. Further, just over half of the population that were born overseas hail from a non-English speaking background. So it was only natural that there would be some questions, aside from the usual talk of the major issues of the day about issues of ethnicity and culture and the intersection with basic  societal functions and phenomena.

How we deal with crime and the reporting of these unfortunate events is a very important issue and the Q&A discussion last night turned to the reporting of crime using the physically identifiable factors of those suspected of , or convicted of offences which we see daily in our news broadcasts.

The questioner last night asked:

I am an Australian citizen. Why is it that if I commit a crime the media identifies me by my parents’ country but as an Australian citizen?

Questions like this are often debated fiercely and are a polarising affair when talking about crime and those responsible for it and how it should be portrayed in the media.

Firstly, it is essential that there are different standards in the reporting of alleged criminal acts and of the criminals that are being and have been prosecuted by the courts.

Both of these parts of the process should not be held to the same standard, as being tough on the investigation and identification of criminals can impede the eventual prosecution of the alleged felon.

It seems reasonable and self-evident that the strict reporting of the appearance of a criminal suspect is an important way to aid the investigative process in the search for those criminals which cannot be captured while committing, or just after undertaking a criminal act.

To that end, journalists should be entirely free to report to the fullest extent possible, the colour of skin of a suspect in a crime and as much other identifiable characteristics as possible. This should include identifying possible ethnic backgrounds, providing that the information is based on realistic information and is applied to people of all skin colour, regardless of background.

Just as height, weight, eye colour, scars or other markings and clothing worn by alleged offenders matters in the investigation process, so too does the colour of skin and to not be able to freely report that would be a shame and hindrance to the resolution of criminal matters.

Where the ground is difficult in the reporting of crime is determining exactly what crimes by what individuals to focus on reporting. Balancing that depending on ethnicity and being proportional is difficult. Perhaps the best system for all media outlets to base criminal reporting on would be the seriousness and brutality of the crime as opposed to any other factor, while still again, in the investigative stages, being fully free to disclose identifiable characteristics.

Where the line should be drawn and where care should be taken to tread carefully is in mentioning the ethnic background or physical appearance of those who have been investigated and charged with criminal acts.

In this case, the skin colour or country of origin of the ancestors of an alleged criminal facing the justice process should not matter and does not need to be reported. Crime is crime and it transcends ethnicity and should not be used to unfairly single out any particular group.

So the reporting of crime is a difficult balancing act for the media, with the right to information in the investigation of crime being paramount. The identification of people charged with an offence should be where the background of the offender ceases to matter. It must be acknowledged that crime reporting is a difficult balancing act with limited time for news content to be determined based on the right of the public to know.

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