26 December 2009

Remember Liu Xiaobo

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been sentenced to 11 years in prison in China for the crime of expressing an opinion that the authorities did not like. He was one of the authors of a document called Charter 08, which dared to suggest that Chinese citizens should not be locked up for criticising their government.

Since weblogs are a form of free expression, I think all bloggers should express their support for Liu and their disgust with the Chinese government.

Australia will soon join China and a few other select nations such as Iran and Myanmar in censoring the internet. We are told it is all about child pornography, and other stuff that is "refused classification". Interestingly, our Prime Minister has publicly declared "people smugglers" to be the scum of the earth, presumably putting them in the same basket as pedophiles and terrorists, so perhaps it won't be long before any discussion of the free movement of people around the world will join the new index urlorum prohibitorum.

13 December 2009

You may qualify for a visa, but will you get it?
The papers this weekend are telling us that a new government proposal may "spark panic". The idea seems to be to alter "the relationship between the lodgement of an application and the legal obligation to grant a visa".

The legal obligation refers to s 65 of the Migration Act 1958, which obliges the Minister to grant a visa to a person if they satisfy all of the criteria for that visa. Of course, those criteria include some pretty discretionary "public interest" tests which give the Minister lots of scope for refusing a visa to anyone he or she doesn't really want to let in, but the idea now being kicked around seems to have something to do with changing the rules after a person has applied.

Actually, there is plenty of scope for that already. The current law allows the government to impose a numerical cap on certain visa classes and then declare void all outstanding applications once that cap is reached (s 39). The points test pass marks can also be hiked up or down at any time, and the new mark made applicable to any existing application (s 93). Even more generally, changes to the "time of decision criteria" for any visa subclass can operate retrospectively.

The media quickly understood that the likely target of any new changes would be the student visa industry. Not surprisingly, they sought comment from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, which represents the education providers at the heart (for want of a better word) of that $16 billion dollar cash cow. And not surprisingly, their response was along the lines of "we'll all be rooned!".

There appear to be two different ideologies at work here. On one side, there are the national sovereignty supporters (remember "We will decide who comes to this country, blah blah blah"?). Migrants are foreigners, we owe them nothing, they should be grateful if we let them in, and whether they are or not nobody can claim a right to a visa. We control the tap, and we can turn it on or off as we please.

The other side of the argument starts from the proposition that immigration is a long-term society-building program that has worked astonishingly well in this country and, most recently, probably saved us from the worst effects of the Global Financial Crisis. Rather than being about foreigners, it is actually about Australians -- the Australians that the migrants become once they get here.

I have previously blamed the bean counters of the 90s for replacing long-term planning with short-term accounting. It looks like their offspring are carrying on the same tradition.

08 December 2009

When is a punishment not a punishment?
Is visa cancellation a punishment? Most people would think so. It can have pretty devastating effects. For one thing you can be arrested (sorry, "detained") and locked up in a jail (sorry, "detention centre"). Then you can be deported (sorry, "removed").

The official view is that all of this is "administrative", not "punitive". An interesting view from the other side can be found in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Royal Abbott.