In early October federal immigration minister Kevin Andrews announced plans to cut the number of African refugees that will be accepted into Australia. He said that the intake of Africans would be cut from 70 per cent of the refugee quota to 30 per cent because “some Africans are having problems settling into Australian society”.
Andrews said the ban on more African refugees was influenced by concerns about race-based gangs, nightclub fights, and tensions between African families. Andrews claimed there were higher crime rates in areas where African refugees are settled, especially those from Sudan. His comments were based purely on ‘anecdotal’ evidence and official crime statistics do not show an increase at all.
Andrews was even contradicted by the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon who said that people of Sudanese origin were not over-represented in crime statistics. Victoria Police figures show 327 Sudanese people were arrested in Victoria during the 2005-06 financial year. This represented only 1 per cent of offenders arrested in Greater Dandenong, where a large proportion of the Sudanese community lives.
Andrews responded by saying that the decision had been made after ‘confidential advice’ to the Cabinet, and rejected Christine Nixon’s assessment. It seems that every time the government can’t back up its position with facts and figures it now resorts to claiming it was given “confidential advice that can’t be released to the public”.
In reality it is the African community who are frequently victims of violence and abuse, at the hands of the police. In Victoria the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre has received a spate of complaints about police brutality, harassment and racism directed at young refugees especially from the Horn of Africa.
The complaints are now the subject of a confidential report written by the Ethical Standards Department (ESD) of the Victoria Police. Although lawyers from the community legal centre made a lengthy submission to the ESD review, police have so far fought successfully to keep its contents secret. You can only imagine why.
Leader of the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd was quick to support Andrews justifying cutting the intake of African refugees by saying that it will now allow for a larger number refugee intake from Iraq and Burma. After later realising that there was widespread anger over Andrews’ decision Rudd then went on to question the motives behind the decision.
The ‘me-too’ comments by Rudd supporting Howard on this issue show the hypocrisy of other federal Labor politicians like Lindsay Tanner (shadow Minister for Finance) who wax lyrical about supporting African refugees when they are electioneering but in reality his party is no different to the Liberals.
It is clear that in the lead up to the election with the Coalition trailing in the polls, Andrews is pulling out all stops to try and claw back support. As the government has done several times in the past it is once again using the race card in an attempt to win votes. The arguments that Andrews has put forward must be seen for what they are, nothing short of racism.
The Socialist Party supports the right of all refugees to be able to settle in Australia. We also call for an end to mandatory detention, the closure of all refugee detention centres and for more resources to be put into support and training for newly arrived refugees. This would include free English classes and translation services. We demand the right to employment, affordable housing and for free healthcare for all. This could be easily paid for with the millions of dollars that is currently being wasted on the so called ‘Pacific Solution’ and the maintenance of refugee detention centres.
By Anthony Main