Salon des Intellectuels at the Famous Spiegeltent
The Hawke Centre at UniSA and Imprints Booksellers presented Salon des Intellectuels as part of the 2002 Adelaide Fringe program
Two national panels tackled big issues in two provocative sessions:
It's not easy being green. Do green technologies offer a future for South Australia? [transcript]
Panellists - 24 February 2002
- Richard Blandy: Chair of the Centre of Applied Economics at UniSA and supporter of an environmental economic future for South Australia
- Euan Cameron: Managing Director, Wind Prospects Pty Ltd
- Barbara Hardy: Vice President Nature Foundation, former Chair Investigator Science and Technology Centre, advocate for renewable energy in the Asia Pacific region
- Jennifer McKay: Director of the Water Law and Policy Group at the UniSA
- Barbara Santich: Author and Lecturer in Gastronomy at the University of Adelaide
Human rights or human wrongs - the worship of freedom and the detention of asylum seekers [transcript]
Panellists - 10 March 2002
- Anthony Burke: Lecturer in International Politics, University of Adelaide and author of In Fear of Security: Australia's Invasion Anxiety
- Morag Fraser: Public commentator and editor of Eureka Street
- Peter Mares: Presenter of Asia-Pacific on Radio Australia and Radio National and author of Borderline - Australia's Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers
- Jason Yat-sen Li: Lawyer with special interest in humanitarian law and a passionate representative of multicultural Australia
- Rick Sarre: Associate Professor of Law and Criminology at UniSA and legal affairs commentator
Do green technologies offer a future for South Australia?
This is a verbatim transcript and may contain grammatical and spelling errors, particularly in the case of foreign words.
GREG MACKIE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the famous Spiegeltent in the fabulous Adelaide Fringe in the beautiful Rundle Park on a summer's day where finally we are actually having a summer's day. My name is Greg Mackie, I am co-proprietor of Imprints Booksellers and co-presenter of today's salon. This is the first of what we hope might become a series under the banner: Salon des Intellectuels, and I am very, very delighted to be working on this project with the Hawke Centre from the University of South Australia and particularly would like to acknowledge Liz Ho who has worked very diligently with me in pulling this together.
First of all I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting here on Kaurna land and I would acknowledge the Kaurna people as the first Australians and occupants of this land and very glad that they share that land with us now. I also noticed Anne Levy who is the Honorary French Consul is here as well and I guess since we have appropriated the French language as the title for this gathering I would like to acknowledge you too, Anne.
We have, as many of you will be aware, a second salon program for Sunday, 10 March under the title: Human Rights or Human Wrongs, the Worship of Freedom and the Detention of Asylum Seekers. No prizes for saying this is a topic of great interest to Australians and of particular great interest I think to all thinking Australians. Just a quick run through of the participants who will be joining us in that particular panel: Anthony Burke who is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Adelaide; Morag Fraser, public commentator and editor of Eureka Street; Peter Mares who presents Asia Pacific on Radio National and Radio Australia and the author of Borderline, a very, very topical book looking at our current asylum seeker detention practices; Jason Yat‑sen Li, a former Young Australian of the Year who is a lawyer with a special interest in Humanitarian Law and Rick Sarre from the University of South Australia, Legal Affairs. That is on Sunday the 10th so I would encourage you, if you have an interest in this very, very important topic, to come back and join us on that afternoon.
However, today our topic is: It's not easy being green, do green technologies offer a future for South Australia? Now, some will argue that they offer the only future for a city that is perched between the sea and the desert and I will not attempt myself to go into any exposition of this reality. I will leave that to my learned panellists. I am delighted to be able to welcome and I will in some detail shortly introduce each of them, but Professor Dick Blandy from the University of South Australia, Barbara Hardy, Barbara Santich, Euan Cameron and Jennifer McKay, welcome.
The first speaker for today's session is Professor Dick Blandy. Now, Dick is Chairman of South Australia's Centre for Applied Economics where he is an Adjunct Professor. He is also an Emeritus Professor of Economics at Flinders University and an Adjunct Professor at the Northern Territory University and Curtin University. Dick is also Executive Director of Australasia Economics Proprietary Limited which is an economics consultancy business. Prior to forming this company Dick has also been CEO of the South Australian Development Council providing strategic policy advice to the Premier of South Australia and Cabinet, the Ronald F. Henderson Professor of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne and Professor of Economics and Director of the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University as well as an International Civil Servant at the International Labour Office in Geneva. So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Dick Blandy.
RICHARD BLANDY, Executive Director,
AUSTRALASIA ECONOMICS PTY LIMITED
RICHARD BLANDY: Greg, Liz Ho, fellow panellists, ladies and gentlemen, first let me summarise what I want to say on the South Australian economy and the role that green technologies could play in our future and then I will go on and say it. Firstly, our past economic performance unfortunately for some time has not really been very good. Our future economic outlook, apart from 2001/02 where it looks like we will probably hold our own in terms of our share of the national economy, it looks like if we take Access Economics' forecast for South Australia that we are going to continue our downward track relative to the rest of the country.
What can we do about changing the outlook? Well, what I am going to advocate, what I am going to propose, is that we must grow some strong, local industry clusters addressing our wants and needs, ones that will have outstanding global prospects. Then the suggestion I am going to make to achieve that is that we should at least in part of that go green and that means building strong environmental industry clusters in South Australia addressing solutions to environmental problems and creating world class technologies, products and services in South Australia for doing so.
Now, according to official figures from Access Economics from the Bureau of Statistics, in 1986/87 South Australia occupied 7.8 per cent of the Australian economy. Their project is forward to reach 6.2 per cent in 2004/05 and at present we are hovering on 6.5 per cent. We are shrinking at approximately 1 per cent of the national economy every decade at this sort of rate. Looking just at the past 3 years our economy has grown at only 32 per cent of the national growth rate and last financial year we grew by 0.7 per cent while Australia's GDP grew by 1.9. Now, this year, 2001/02, we have had an exceptional export year, exceptional seasons, low interest rates, low dollar, housing boom and we look like we are holding our own in terms of our share of the national economy.
Our standard of living has fallen from 87.4 per cent of the average of Australia in 8 years ago to 83½ and we only managed to create .08 per cent of all the full-time jobs created in Australia over the last 8 years. That is why so many of our young people, of course, have to leave South Australia to find full-time work. Most of the jobs that have been created in South Australia, of which there have been 44,000 over the last 8 years, 39,000 of those have been part-time. Our performance, I think is clear, has not been good and is something that we would not like to see continue if we can possibly avoid it. Access Economics believes that we are going to continue to slide unless something is done.
Now, what can we do about it? Well, I think that the wine industry is a classic model for South Australia. This is our industry. It is rooted here with its technology base and financing and marketing systems, all invented, built here. We did something in the end that the world wanted to buy and they cannot really take it away from us. It is not a passing call centre en route to Bangalore in India or to becoming farmed out to home workers as is happening in Britain. Not a passing multi‑national begging to set up a branch here that will always belong to them somewhere else, not us.
So this view of the way forward for economic regions and particularly struggling economic regions in a globalising world is now virtually universal. The OECD in 2001 stated that policy interest in the development of local productive systems, enterprise clusters and networks of local enterprises appears now to be universal. South Australian Business Vision 2010 has a good program in this area but it has been seriously underfunded in the last little while. Two of the clusters I might draw attention to are water and environment industry, including renewable energy, water management, pollution control and so on. The environment industry cluster is going very, very well at the moment and what I want to suggest is that the water cluster, the environment cluster are exactly the sorts of things we can build on to have a great future.
I think these green clusters offer a very positive economic way forward for South Australia and by that I mean not something that appeals to the Fringe green people like myself but I mean generating a capacity to earn high, first world incomes and help achieve full employment as well as meeting environmental objectives much better. Why is this? Well, economics is really about cost-effective means of meeting people's wants and needs, that is all it is. As countries become wealthier there is now considerable evidence emerging that environmental standards improve because people want their environment to be better. There is even stronger evidence that they improve if the private sector is developing effective responses to environmental challenges. This work has been done by Yale University, Colombia University for the World Economics Forum just completed.
If you put these two things together, firstly, the world is going to become steadily wealthier, or the laws of history are going to be repealed, and therefore the global demand for environmental solutions, improvements and so on is going to grow very strongly. Secondly, places that find ways of getting the private sector to develop the wanted solutions are going to have the most effective technologies, products and services, ones that are going to have a large and growing not only domestic market but global market, just like our wine industry, you see. Got to get out there and get the runs on the board.
Hence the development of a green private sector, green industry cluster, has huge economic potential in the 21st century. This is what people are going to want. This is the demand that is going to be generated over this century. Could South Australia possibly lead this charge to a successful future? South Australia lead the charge into the successful future? Of course. Consider Finland. Only 5 million people. It does have the most internet users per capita and 60 per cent of the population owns a Nokia mobile phone. GDP, gross domestic product, per head is about the same as Australia. Now, Finland and Sweden wanted a phone system that would be consistent with a no-wire environment which would enable the people to communicate over large distances in hostile ground and so on.
Finland Telecom developed wireless phone protocols which were put in place by the Finnish Government and the Swedes that were the foundation for this system. They changed the regulatory environment to permit this to happen. Nokia and Ericsson with some doubt put this in and built the equipment for it. Europe and the rest of the world subsequently adopted it. The rest is history. Nokia had the first move advantage. National Australia Bank and BHP Billiton are our two biggest companies. Their profit is about 2 billion a year each. Nokia's profit is about 12 billion a year. Since mobile phones started they have grown from nothing virtually to that sort of size.
Now, you see, they managed to do that because the Finnish Government changed the regulations and technology to make it profitable for people to build this sort of stuff. The rest of the world caught on and the rest is history. So changing the rules here to set up incentives for the private sector to create solutions for environmental problems offers a great way forward for the State in my opinion.
Let me give you another example, Swedish Environmental Technology Exports. Scandinavian countries are heavily into what I am suggesting already. Swedish Environmental Technology has now become an export business in its own right generating significant revenues which they believe will reach Swedish kroner 6000 billion a year by 2010. If we can only get a small piece of that we are going to be in great shape. More than 80 per cent of the enterprises in the environmental technology sector in Sweden have less than 50 employees and more than 50 per cent have fewer than 10 employees. Does that sound like South Australia? You bet you. A lot of small businesses that have great technological capability potentially. Environment technology business is growing rapidly. No signs of a decline in export growth.
Here we have the water industry alliance, small cluster. Actually it comes out of United Water. It is growing very rapidly, it is now doing $100 million per annum in exports out of the water industry in South Australia with a target of $1 million a year just around the corner. The environment industry cluster I have mentioned needs a lot more support but starting to make some runs. Legislation for energy efficient housing, for example, would enhance the demand for the development of products and services to achieve this in South Australia which can be delivered to the rest of the world because this is what they are going to want in the future. Solving our own water problems is going to be terribly valuable to us because water is going to be the huge biggest problem in the world over the course of this century. Our solutions can do very well.
Now, here with me today are experts in a number of prospective environment industry areas: wind power, Dr Cameron; renewable energy and environmental management, Dr Hardy; water, Professor McKay and organic food, Dr Santich. Each of these areas, in my opinion, has real potential for the future of our State. We have potentially big chances in building a strong, globally competitive economy in each of these areas as well, of course, as in others. So I think we must grasp a new and positive vision of what we can do economically which goes right back to the hearts and roots of what this State was like at the start in the 19th century. Technology advanced, socially advanced, looking to the issues of the future.
Now, while environmental industries will not solve all our problems, I think they can be a very dynamic impetus to stimulating the whole of our society and economy and I look forward to hearing what my colleagues have got to say about this.
GREG MACKIE: Well, thank you very much, Dick. Of course, I forgot to mention for those of you who perhaps did not actually get the reference: It's not easy being green, of course, is the song that was sung in the 1970s by that very, very famous francophile, Kermit the Frog, from the Muppets. I guess he would perhaps be not quite so keen about the French connection given that he might possibly end up on a dinner plate but there we go. Our next speaker is Barbara Hardy. Barbara is a greatly loved citizen of South Australia and has been working in the environmental field in a voluntary capacity since the early 1970s. Barbara has been a Commissioner of the Australian Heritage Commission, President of the National Parks Foundation of South Australia which is now Foundation SA and if I might get a quick plug in, just in case you forget, Barbara, the Nature Foundation have started a green credit card where, unlike some credit cards as you spend you accumulate fly-buys for future flights from airlines that may or may not still be in existence, you can actually with your purchasing be making a contribution each time to the Nature Foundation by way of an internal charge-back and the Nature Foundation has already accrued some $60,000 through this scheme, so every person who takes a Bank SA green card, green mastercard, actually will be doing their bit to help resource the very important work of that organisation.
Barbara was appointed an officer of the General Division of the Order of Australia in 1987 and has an Honorary Doctorate from Flinders University which was awarded in 1993 as well as an Advance Australia Award in 1991, an SA Great Award in 1992, Institution of Engineers Medal in 1992, the ABC Eureka Award for the advancement of science in 1994 and was named South Australian Citizen of the Year in 1996. Barbara is a trustee of SA Business Vision 2010 that Dick mentioned earlier and has for the last 3 years been working on several projects, guidelines for good business management indicators and developing specific industry clusters in renewable energy and environmental management. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Barbara Hardy.
BARBARA HARDY, Trustee
SA BUSINESS VISION 2010
BARBARA HARDY: Thank you, Greg and everyone, my panellist friends there. We have already been talking madly outside around one table there, we did not want to be interrupted we were getting so involved in all that we were talking about, so let us hope that it is going to be transferred in here and we will all have a chance to talk about the important issues that Dick Blandy has already mentioned. Can I say that I think it is just wonderful to hear Professor Blandy sticking up for the environmental industry. Thank you, Dick, very much indeed.
I have been involved in environmental issues, as Greg reminded me, since about 1973 but the environmental issue that I am particularly keen for South Australia to latch on to is solar energy and I have had a solar water heater on my roof for 18 years and the house that Tom and I lived in which is next-door to where I now live, Tom who was a mechanical engineer, my late husband that is, put our solar heater up there 25 years ago and they are both still working away very well indeed. All I have had to do is replace the tray under the tank in the roof and one angle in the overflow pipe. So it is going very, very well indeed, or they both are and the pay-back period has finished long, long ago.
I now generate my own electricity as I think some of you will know and I have been doing that for 3 years from photovoltaic cells and that industry is blossoming. The little company that put mine up, Solaris Technology, only had a staff of two, 3 years ago when they installed my system and they now have a staff of 12 and there are more than 12 companies here in South Australia installing photovoltaics. People might say: well, why don't more people do something about installing those systems on their roofs? Of course, the problem is big up-front costs and that is the problem with renewable energy and some other environmental goods too. There is a big up-front cost in order to install such systems but the operating costs are negligible or almost negligible. In fact, my meter goes backwards now. I am grid-connected. In fact, some of the electrical energy that we are using here today, which is a bit hot too, could have been generated at Barbara Hardy's system because it is working away while I am up here, my little system on the roof is creating electricity that is fed into the grid, so it is a really very pleasing thing to have done.
One of the reasons that I did it was because of my great interest in the environment of the world and the fact that we have learned recently about greenhouse gases and the damage that they may be doing to our climate. Greenhouse gases that are particularly bad are carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen monoxide, N2O, and methane gas, CH4. So those are the three gases that are very bad as far as increasing global temperatures, global warming, with the likelihood that that is making climate change. So I have the joy not only of knowing that those systems are up there working on my roof and creating electricity for us to use up here in the Spiegeltent, but also that I am not emitting very many greenhouse gases. So when my meter goes backwards I know that good things are happening, that I am not emitting greenhouse gases from my little bit of South Australia.
I am hoping that that renewable energy industry will be an industry - it is one of a cluster, the environmental management cluster. It has not got a cluster of its own yet because there are only just over 12 companies installing solar systems in South Australia and they are all so busy they have not got time to get together to have a meeting. So at the moment we have not yet got a specific renewable energy cluster but it is part of the environmental management cluster.
I am also very involved in Asia Pacific regions. For the last 6 months a group of us have been meeting up in Tokyo and in Bangkok so far brainstorming sustainability in the Asia Pacific region. How can we possibly help 2 billion people, actually 2 billion, more than half the population of the world which is about 6 billion, of course, are very, very poor people and of those 2 billion, more than half of them earn less than a dollar a day and many of them do not have light at night time and if they do have light they have had to buy kerosene which burns and creates horrible toxic gases and all that sort of thing.
If only we can somehow sponsor, assist, the introduction and implementation of renewable energy systems into the Asia Pacific region it will do a whole lot of things. It will for a start help their lifestyle. They will be able to have light at night time, they will be able to do handcrafts, have food cool, medicines cool, watch TV, learn a bit maybe, just by simply having such a simple thing as a solar lantern. A solar lantern is really a couple of photovoltaic cells with a globe and a battery, a little battery. It can stand outside all day and then you take it inside at night time and the energy that has been accumulated in the battery forms electricity obviously and they have a light. So that would greatly increase their lifestyle, it could increase their income production opportunities too. That in itself could help the lifestyle and the whole environment of the Asia Pacific region to be greatly improved and it would reduce greenhouse gases. I think that is probably one of the most important things that we have to think about.
Earlier I said it is that big up-front cost. How do we get over that big up‑front cost? I have thought of an idea and I hope I might hand it on to you and you might talk about it and that is that, for example, solar water heaters, how do we get more people to put them up, get over the big up-front cost? Why don't we persuade utilities or the private sector - I hesitate to use the word "Government" - but utilities or the private sector to bulk purchase hot water systems, solar hot water systems, and to lease them to people that want to put them up so that people do not have that big up-front cost, they could be leased.
When I got married I had a little stove called an Adelec stove. This is 60 years ago or something and it was an Adelaide Electric Supply owned stove and all I did was pay a bit of money every month and I had the stove, I didn't have to actually buy it, I did not own the stove. Really, I don't need to own a solar water heater. I want hot water and I would like my hot water heated by the sun. I want that service. So it would be a great idea if we could think about companies, utilities, whatever, bulk purchasing solar water heaters and leasing them to us and that sort of principle could go to quite a lot of environmental goods that have a big up-front cost. I would like to think that we could do that and I would like to think that South Australia is right up there in the front of a movement to do just that.
I am hoping that we are going to have lots of talk soon about such things as renewable energy and water and food and we are going to hear about those now, so thank you for listening to me.
GREG MACKIE: Thank you very much indeed, Barbara. Now, of course, we have got two Barbaras on the podium today. Our next speaker is Dr Barbara Santich. Barbara has responsibility for the new graduate program is gastronomy which is jointly operated by Adelaide University and Le Cordon Bleu. Barbara was born and educated in New South Wales and has a degree from the University of New South Wales. Her interest in food and eating was stimulated by her study of biochemistry and eventually under the influence of writers of the calibre of Waverley Root and Elizabeth David and as a result of travels in Europe began a food-writing career which has continued now for nearly 20 years or for over 20 years. Barbara also has a fascination with languages and France and has developed a sympathy for the ancient languages of Mediterranean France and that led to a subsequent degree.
Barbara has written for numerous Australian newspapers and magazines of such diversity as The Australian and Gourmet Traveller as well as overseas publications including the Journal of Gastronomy, Petits Propos Collinaires, New York Times and Slow which is the quarterly magazine of the International Slow Food Movement. Barbara has presented lots of papers at lost of conferences and was appointed to the editorial advisory board of Slow, the magazine I have just mentioned. She is also the author of several books, including: Looking for Flavour, which was published in 1996 which is a book of essays on food and culture. The Original Mediterranean Cuisine preceded that in 1995. What the Doctors Ordered, 150 years of dietary advice in Australia came in earlier as well as: Apples to Zampone which is in its second edition and McLaren Vale Sea and Vines. Barbara is deeply attached to the food and wine culture of this State and her most recent book is: In the Land of the Magic Pudding, a gastronomic miscellany, which was published in the year 2000. Please welcome Barbara Santich.
BARBARA SANTICH, Author
BARBARA SANTICH: Thank you, Greg, and thank you to the Hawke Centre for inviting me to contribute to today's forum. I know that I was announced before as being an expert in organic agriculture. From Greg's introduction you will see that really my area of interest and perhaps expertise is food in general, not just organic but food history, food culture and anything to do with food. Now, the question for today is: do green technologies offer a future for South Australia? The two speakers that we have heard so far have come out resoundingly in favour of yes. I want to say that it depends. It depends on what sort of future we are asking about and it also depends on what shade of green we are imagining and I hope that that will come out in my paper.
As I said, my expertise is in food and I can only talk about green in terms of food production. I came across a quote that came from a debate in London recently from Patrick Holden who is Director General of the Soil Association in England who said that the priorities for farming systems of the future were food safety and quality, the protection of the environment, sustainability of resources, high animal welfare and increased rural employment. I don't think any of us would argue with those as priorities for South Australia as well. Patrick Holden concluded that the only production system which meets all these objectives was organic farming and that is where I, I think, will part company with him because I do not believe that organic farming is going to be the only way of the future for South Australia.
As I said, it depends what sort of future we are talking about. Are we talking about an economic future or are we talking about the prosperity of South Australia? Are we talking about a future that is aiming at sustainability of natural resources in the State? Are we looking at a future for the people of South Australia or a future for the environment of South Australia? I think the answer to the question: do green technologies offer a future for South Australia, depends on what sort of future we are talking about.
Now, as I said, when people think about green technologies and food, when those two words are put together, the answer is almost always organic, organic farming systems, organic agriculture. As I said, I am not sure that that is going to be the only answer and that its shade of green is necessarily the shade of green that is going to be best. That said, however, if South Australia were to shift to organic agriculture the future looks exceedingly good. It would be good in terms of prosperity for the State. A report prepared by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation in 2000 reported that organic farming, organic agriculture, has a growth rate exceeding 20 per cent per annum and that demand is far in excess of supply, not only demand in the State but demand overseas. There's an enormous potential overseas for organic foods, particularly in affluent countries such as America, England, Japan, France, Germany, other European nations, Scandinavia.
There is a huge demand for organic foods. People want organic foods because they think that organic foods are safer, healthier, do not contain GMOs, are better for the environment, all sorts of reasons. In my reading of the research that is not necessarily always the case but it does not matter whether it is or not, the fact that they believe it is enough. So that it would seem, given this huge demand, that embracing green technology would be very good for the State in terms of its prosperity. As I said, there are different shades of green and is the green of organic agriculture the best one and the only one? To begin with, we are starting from a very, very small base. There are not any statistics for the extent of organic agriculture in South Australia but is estimated for Australia to be around 1 per cent of farming, a bit more than 1 per cent in terms of value, around 1 per cent in terms of area.
In Victoria, this is the only statistic I could find, only about 2 per cent of foods that were purchased were organic. So it is a very, very, very small base to start from. So even if we double, we are not doing an awful lot. You have to increase very, very much for organic agriculture to really have an impact. As I said, I do not think organic agriculture is the only way of delivering food safety and quality, but again that depends on the definitions of food safety and quality that are adopted. If we are looking at the future in terms of sustainability, organic agriculture is not necessarily automatically by definition sustainable although most farmers will strive for this.
As I said, we are starting from a very small resource base but I would question whether all farming environments in South Australia are appropriate for organic farming systems. Most organic agriculture in Australia, 75 per cent, is horticulture, so it is the production of fruits and nuts in particular, followed by vegetables and herbs, so it is certainly not covering the whole spectrum. Now, when people say that organic is green and is good, they are putting that on one side and on the other side putting conventional farming and painting conventional farming as bad. There is no doubt that intensive farming practices, especially in the last couple of decades, have had damaging repercussions. We have had increasing salinity, environmental pollution, wind and rain erosion of the soils, but I do not think that all the blame should go to modern agriculture. A lot of this damage happened earlier, it happened when land was cleared and I think that we also have to look at ignorance and greed rather than chemicals as the cause of the blame, where to place the blame.
There are other alternatives to organic agriculture and there is a lot of research being done in South Australia and in other States. In South Australia sustainability is one of the priorities for agricultural research. There are systems of agriculture called: integrated pest management, which aim to reduce the use of pesticides on crops. It might not be zero but it certainly would be less than might be practised today. There are irrigation systems where controlled amounts of water are delivered at certain times when the crops need them and water is recirculated so that there is minimum waste of water. There are systems of farming called: minimum till farming, where the structure of the soil is disturbed as little as possible.
These are alternatives. They are a different shade of green so they are still green but they offer, I think, a better future for South Australia than the really, really green or organic farming. We have to remember when we were talking about a future, whether it is a future for South Australians or for others, that South Australian agriculture produces food not only for South Australians. It is like my vegetable garden, it feeds me but it also feeds friends and neighbours and relations. It produces too much just for me. So does farming in South Australia. We sell nearly 80 per cent of the wheat, 64 per cent of beef, 74 per cent of lamb, 40 per cent of potato harvest goes interstate as does 40 per cent of the stone fruit crop and 48 per cent of the citrus crop. So we have to remember we are not just producing for South Australia, we are producing for a much bigger population and it is not just the needs or the desires of the people of South Australia that have to be taken into account.
Finally, if we are talking about the economic future of South Australia and food production I think another alternative to going green in terms of organic is to increase value-adding of our crops. At present our cereal crops which is one of the most significant ones was close to 3 billion in 2000/2001. About 90 per cent of that is exported raw, unprocessed, absolutely nothing done to it. There are opportunities to value-add by using the cereals and turning them into livestock foods, for example, and there is a huge opportunity overseas for grain-based livestock foods in the wake of the BSC and dioxin scandals in Europe. There is an opportunity there for South Australia to create rural employment and to value-add and increase State revenue.
Even better than that, I think we could go one step further and feed the grain to chickens and instead of becoming the Wine State - or we can say the Wine State - we could become the Grain-fed Poultry State. This is again a worldwide trend moving away from intensive chicken production to quality premium grain-fed chicken production. This is another opportunity for South Australia. Is it green? I think you could argue again that it is green. Again it depends on the shade of green but I think you could argue that that would be green.
Finally, and looking at the long term and food production in South Australia, I think that so long as cheapness of food is considered its prime virtue and this has been the case for almost as long as white settlement in Australia, then cost efficient systems of food production will prevail and this may well exclude some of the green alternatives. So if we are looking for green technologies as a way of the future for South Australia then the first change that has to occur is a cultural change so that people care more about what they eat, where it comes from, how it is produced and how it is processed and also about how much is wasted and less about how cheap it is. Thank you.
GREG MACKIE: Thanks very much indeed, Barbara. Now, our next speaker is visiting from the UK and it is very, very timely that he happens to be in Adelaide and able to join us today. Dr Euan Cameron is the Managing Director of Wind Prospect Limited. He has got quite a unique mix of experience of industry, industrial policy-making in central Government, management in the ship-building and oil and gas sectors and most recently establishing and building Wind Prospect Limited which has become the leading independent developer of wind energy in the United Kingdom.
Euan obtained a PhD in Geochemistry and then joined the Administrative Civil Service in the mid-seventies. In 1986 he was seconded to British Shipbuilders as the Executive Assistant to the Chairman and Director of European Affairs with particular responsibility for relationships with the Government and the European Commission. He was additionally appointed as Director of Corporate Affairs. In 1988 Euan left the public sector and joined the independent oil and gas start‑up company, Celt UK and was appointed Managing Director later that year. During his period with Celt he was responsible for the operation of 23 on-shore and off-shore oil and gas licences and two on‑shore oil fields drilling both on-shore and off-shore and additionally securing more exploration licences.
In 1991 Euan left Celt to develop a business offering consultancy in on‑shore oil and gas industry but later that year was invited to join the board of Wind Cluster Limited. He undertook the financing and development of the Havorick wind cluster, the second NFFO project to be commissioned, and he joined Wind Prospect Limited which was set up originally to take projects like this through to implementation. So from somebody who has a vast experience in the fossil fuel extraction and exploitation it is something of a seachange to move to the renewable prospect of wind energy. Please welcome Euan Cameron.
EUAN CAMERON, Managing Director,
WIND PROSPECT LIMITED
EUAN CAMERON: Well, thank you for that excellent introduction there. You almost managed to make some sort of apparent sense of my career progression which would be a first. I am sorry my wife is not here actually because she is still waiting to find out what I am going to do when I grow up and it might have helped a little. I have come from a background perhaps a little different to most people here in the sense that I am not out of the green end of the spectrum since I was youth side of the business, I am a practitioner in the world of renewable energy and I have come to that, as you gathered from my background, from somewhere else. I got there, to be perfectly honest, completely by accident. My CV does not go on to explain that I left the oil and gas industry as a result of a restructuring, as they say, and found myself bumping into some people who were setting up this curious thing called a wind farm about which I had never given a moment's thought before so I thought I would give them a hand.
That was 10 years ago and I am still here now. My reason for being here and being in this business therefore is because it is a business. I am here as well, I am in renewable energy because I believe it to be a good business and a proper business and a very valuable business for all sorts of reasons beyond just making money, but the facts of the matter is it has to be a business in order to achieve what we all want to achieve and that is where I come from.
My aim by the time I get to my twilight years and relax in my garden in sunny England is that it is a mainstream business. For us to achieve what we want to achieve in terms of combating global climate change, in terms of everything to do with renewable energy, we have to get it from being what is still regarded by many people as a slightly strange marginal activity into being a mainstream business. It has to be talked about in the same terms as gas-fired power stations versus coal‑fired power stations versus nuclear renewables, has to be up there along with that. Not just wind but all sorts of renewable energy. That is my great life ambition, if you like.
Why am I in wind energy? Well, as I said, largely by accident but I am in wind energy because it is the most advanced in commercialisation terms of the renewables, particularly in Europe. I was fascinated by Barbara talking about her solar energy systems and I am totally supportive of solar energy in your splendid environment, but I was just thinking as she was speaking exactly how it would work in my house in north-west England in Cumbria. I think the photovoltaic would work a bit of the time. I have a horrible feeling the water heating might work in reverse actually. The garden might benefit but I do not think we would.
Wind has the benefit of being a pretty universal commodity. There is more or less some of it everywhere. Whether you can exploit it or not depends on exactly how much money you get paid for it. Everywhere has the potential to generate wind energy, some just have the potential to generate it more economically than others. Why am I here in South Australia? Well, a bit of history of the company and what we are trying to do. As was said in the introduction, we are a major independent wind energy developer in the UK, so I have explained we have been about this for about 10 years now one way or another. It happened, another fortunate accident in life, that we had a gentleman come to work with us from this part of the world a few years ago. We got a bit fed up with him complaining about the weather about 2 years ago and sent him back here to do something useful, which he seems to be succeeding in doing.
More seriously, we saw in the Australian market, and again I am coming from the business direction here, we saw in the Australian market a great opportunity to replicate what has been happening in the UK. So what has been happening in the UK? Well, wind energy became a realistic prospect in the early nineties when the first support mechanisms were introduced. It is a mysterious thing called NFFO which was referred to earlier which was the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation which was a very clever wangle by the Government. They managed to get some State aid support past the European Commission by piggy‑backing on the State aid that was actually available to the nuclear industry which is also a non fossil fuel, of course.
This was a system that provided support in a slightly eccentric way for a number of years and matters have moved on now. Through that system the industry was kick-started. There are now about 1000 or so wind turbines kicking about the United Kingdom. There is substantial industry developing, supporting and most recently manufacturing wind turbines in the United Kingdom and we have done that in about 10 years and I have to say achieving anything in the UK in 10 years is a pretty damned good achievement because it is one of the places in the world lease likely to change, shall we say, one of the most difficult environments to work in for business reasons but I will not bore you with that.
We felt that what we had done in the UK could very readily be translated to Australia, in particular to South Australia, and the timing was very appropriate because a year or so ago at federal level your Government introduced a support system for renewables which at long last made it practicable. So that is why we are here. We are here with some partners and I mention these because again it emphasises the mainstream nature of what we are attempting to do. Our partners are a company called: Zilka Renewables, which is a very large American developer of wind energy, another company called: Anexco, which is a large Danish developer and operator which has several thousand turbines running in the US and elsewhere in the world, operations in India.
These people were prepared to put serious money into developing a business in South Australia which I think tells you that what we have here is a very real opportunity to develop a renewable energy business and I will come to why that is in itself a very interesting thing for the economy. Some practicalities foremost in the minds of those of us who actually try and develop some wind energy. To do it you have to first of all have the wind. As I said, everywhere has wind. Some places have more wind than others. There is a very interesting balance to be had between where you find wind and where you actually want to put wind turbines because they are very large objects, as you may have noticed if you have seen any.
Like all things environmental, doing one good environmentally inevitably has some impacts which some people may consider not to be so good in other senses. There is a long history of disagreement, certainly in the UK and other parts of Europe, about the relative benefits of wind energy globally against the influx locally in terms of the environment. So you have to combine your wind resource with a certain sensitivity as to where you put your wind turbines, particularly of course when you are looking at areas of great landscape value, national parks and things like that.
Our philosophy has been from the outset that we go for the relatively straightforward sites, if you like, in terms of acceptability to people, even if they are not so windy. That is because you have to get consent, you have to get planning consent to build your wind farm. Without that you do not have one. You have to get yourself connected to the grid. Quite an interesting technical problem but also an institutional problem and one of the things that in order to get a wind industry going in any country is to get the people who run the grid on board with what you are trying to do. If they are not they can be extraordinarily difficult. You are messing up their nice system. You are trying to put these horrible generators in awful places that they never designed the system for and it is undoubtedly going to bring down the whole system within a couple of weeks.
Have been long and interesting discussions on those lines with the likes of Electranet but eventually for us to succeed we have to persuade them that what we are doing is technically right and economically right and a benefit to everybody and we have to sell the electricity and we have to sell it at a price which is economic, enables us to build these things and to make a profit it out of them, because if we do not make a profit out of them we are not there as a business and it is not going to happen. We do that, as I say, through the support system that the Government has introduced. I will not talk about that now but if anybody wants to know any detail about that, by all means ask me.
So we do all that and we have been reasonably successful in our efforts to date. We have planning permission for about 100 megawatts in South Australia of wind energy as of today and we are hoping to get building the first 60 megawatts of that later this year. Now, to put that in context, a reasonable sized power station would be maybe 500 megawatts at the small end. So we are talking about reasonable chunks of power going into the grid. The scope in South Australia is enormous. The scope for wind farms in places that are largely unpopulated or very meagrely populated which have the necessary wind resource is tremendous.
What benefits are there for the economy because we are talking here about the green contribution, if you like, that can be made to the economy and what it brings forward apart from its own inherent green attributes. There is a lot of discussion in the wind energy business about local manufacture in Australia. I think that is clearly a benefit if you can achieve it. If you can build wind turbines and you can get yourself to a position where you are building substantial wind farms here and in other States, build them in South Australia, that is clearly a good thing for the economy. I do not think it is the be all and end all of economic benefits. The problem with local manufacture with any industry is that it cannot happen everywhere. There are obviously economics of scale involved in building wind turbines like there are with cars or anything else and you cannot build them everywhere. So they may or may not get built in South Australia.
I think where the benefit comes, and I would like to draw a bit on our experience in the UK with our own company, really is building up the base of expertise. What you have an opportunity to do when you are early into a technology, as we are in wind energy in this State, is rapidly build up that expertise that you need not just to do your own work, if you like, but to spread it out amongst others. Now, we are based up in the north-west of England in the county of Cumbria which is one of the lowest GDP per head counties in the UK. It is a very rural county. It is a very wet county and a very cold county.
Since we have been working there we have built up our own company to a number of people. Everybody in our company has at least a first degree, if not a higher degree, so we are building up a bunch of high quality jobs in an area which is generally, like this State, seeing an awful lot of its good people leaving for greener pastures. We have managed to build up a set of activities amongst other companies in supporting what we do. We have an electrical engineering company in the south of the county that has moved on to work for other developers, built a whole division on the basis of the electrical infrastructure needed for wind farms, a business that just was not there before.
We work with another company whose Managing Director is actually here at the moment, based in Northumberland which is also a rural, low GDP county slightly to the east of us, possibly less wet but otherwise very similar. They have got a rapidly expanding business in the art of connecting renewables of all sorts and shapes and sizes into the grid, an area of particular expertise that has worldwide application. So I see the benefit as being many fold in the sense that by developing - and this is true of any renewable energy business - by developing it within the State you are first of all getting the benefit, of course, of the global purpose of the exercise. You may get substantial manufacturing opportunities or you may not, that is a difficult one, but you will certainly build up centres of excellence, centres of expertise which themselves spawn expertise in other groups and other industries and other activities that surround you.
From that you go on, as we have done, to expand the business and you can expand not only into other States, there are going to be opportunities in New Zealand and elsewhere. You may even manage to expand it back to the UK, you never know. I will stop there, I think, because as I said, what I wanted to talk about was the practicalities to give you a feel for how these things can be done and obviously to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
GREG MACKIE: Thank you very much, Euan. Our last panellist for me to introduce today is Jennifer McKay. Jennifer is a lawyer who has had over 20 years' experience writing on national and international water policy issues since obtaining her PhD from the University of Melbourne. With more than 50 publications in major national and international journals Jennifer is also on the editorial board of Water International. Jennifer has been invited to make water law reform proposals to various State and Federal Governments and is presently the Foundation Director of the Water Policy and Law Group at the University of South Australia.
Members of the group publish on dam safety policies, water markets, policy frameworks for water allocation and trading, water quality laws, urban re-use of water, agenda 21, water development for poverty alleviation, corporatisation and privatisation of water utilities and international water law. Jennifer is a Water Resources Commissioner on the South Australian Environment Resources and Development Court and has for 5 years been a ministerial appointee to the National Heritage Trust Fund, Mount Lofty Ranges Water Catchment Board.
She has been invited to participate in the Rosenberg International forums on water policy since their inception and to collaborate with the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, the Pacific Institute, Stanford University Law School and has recently been invited by UNESCO and the World Bank to participate in major international programs. Please welcome Jennifer McKay.
JENNIFER McKAY, Foundation Director,
WATER POLICY AND LAW GROUP, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA
JENNIFER McKAY: Hello. My fellow panel members have presented many of the issues and provided some solutions to this issue of water as an aspect for a green future in South Australia. I am just going to focus on South Australia and I am going to give you, I hope, a couple of issues and then a couple of solutions with catchy titles. So the issues. The rural urban divide in this country means that over 80 per cent of people in Australia have little contact with the people who actually grow our food and these people, that is the people in the urban environment, just want food at acceptable prices and of course they want quality as well but that is basically it.
Of the rural dwellers and they are a diminishing part of our economy, about half to one-third would want to practise sustainable agriculture but cannot because they cannot afford to do it if all the burdens are placed on them and sometimes they do not have enough information on ways in which it can be done and I think the main reason is they are generally unsupported by clear economic and environmental policies that are integrated in order to enable trade-offs that they may make to produce fewer goods with less chemicals as opposed to going all out to produce so many kilograms per hectare. There is a large number of people in the rural environment who are not interested in the whole idea of sustainability either but I think that is not because they have got their head in the sand, I think again the same reasons apply, they have not been given enough information and they feel that they have to bear the burden.
So it is those of us in the urban areas are pushing for sustainability but without access to the information that the rural community can tell us, that is that they cannot bear all the costs, we have to bear it as a nation and we have to have some integrated policies. So we want a green economy with a green economic future but we cannot ask one sector of the population which only amounts to about 13 or 14 per cent to do it on their own. Recently I was at a meeting in Melbourne and Jeff Kennett came and gave a speech which I never thought I would agree with much he said but he did give a fantastic speech and I will get to that solution in the end, but in the meantime he had this poem written by a grower in 1996 and that pre-dates Australia's attempts at water reform. So since 1996 we have come a lot further but this poem, I think, says a lot and the poem is:
We have to lead to the future to vision it, to scan it,
to see a way, then plan it,
to go beyond convention, to get commitment with intention,
we have to know the barriers and break them
to empower people and take them,
to take them with you as you do it and then have the guts to do it.
That is Jock Douglas who unfortunately passed away. He was a very well known Australian primary industries lobbyist. Okay, what am I going to tell you? I am going to say that we in the urban community should regard the fact that we are all irrigators just as much as the people in the rural environment and that is because it takes about 3 gallons of water to produce one cup of lettuce. It takes about 7 gallons to produce 1 pound of white sugar. It takes 11 gallons to produce fresh broccoli and my figures say a huge amount of water to produce rice. I do not believe it so I am not going to give it to you but it is large. 48 gallons to produce 8 ounces of milk. These are American gallons. I got these figures from the US.
We, in the urban community, we want all these things but the water cost of them is enormous and we do not think about it, we just say that we want it. So what do we need to do? We need to have the perception that we are all irrigators, that should be a catch cry and therefore we should be thinking about how to work with the growing community in order to work out better policies. Rachel Carson in 1962 said that some of the methods used to produce agriculture were not sustainable then and since then things have only got worse.
So the problem is subsidised water prices for us in the urban environment has led us to believe that we can do what we like with it when we like with it and for irrigators unfortunately that is also the case. We have underpriced water, we have undervalued it and the irrigators have got the view that they can have as much as they like and then they get us telling them we want all these lettuces as well, so they do it and in the urban environment we do not look after our water. So the development of Australian water law and policy has never been a steady process and is one marked by failures of every type, physical, environmental, technological and I would suggest institutional and political.
Now, that is where my solutions come in. The problems with water management and the way forward for South Australia is multi-faceted but the second catch cry is that the way around this is leadership. Leadership, leadership, leadership. We have to get some leadership to get the urban and the rural community to reach some understanding, mutual understanding, of what the word "sustainable" means because we have all heard it all the time and nobody knows what it means in practice, so that we have some consensus and we can as a community in South Australia be the innovators in regulatory and business partnership models and then we can sell management skills to the rest of the world.
There are economic opportunities in solving these problems and we do have the skills and the education level in this State. We should be able to sell management expertise and give South Australia a future with economic incomes. So none of this is rocket science though. All the stuff about appropriate technologies and individual generation of power and so forth has been around since the fifties and an author called Schumacher talked about that. We have to be careful when we are going out and selling expertise to the third world countries, the 2 billion people who do not have enough food and water, that we are selling an appropriate technology to them and not something that will make somebody a lot of money for a while but cannot be maintained or so on.
So there are many regulatory models available to us in Australia and in fact the history of water management dates from Roman times and we still use some Roman law concepts in our laws here. There are plenty of models but we have to be careful that we are not going to end up with a model that promotes the rivalry rather than integration and some of the privatisations that have gone on have promoted rivalry and then we cannot get the overall consensus because we cannot get information from some of the private sector players.
There is no perfect model but clearly some are better than others. In Australia at the moment we have seven models. We have the Federal Government saying to the States: you must make everything sustainable, and then letting the State Governments work it out. So we have a unique opportunity through just looking at our own models to learn of the pitfalls and in South Australia we have one of the better models of water management.
What are the problems in South Australia? Well, they are less than the problems in Victoria and New South Wales and Queensland in some ways, even though you might all say we are the driest State in the driest Continent. We do actually have reasonable quantities of water and we have guaranteed water. We, like everybody else in Australia, our overall understanding of water is vague. Different States collect different water data differently to the point that the data compilation is almost impossible. That is still occurring in this State but to a much lesser degree. We are much more integrated, partly because of the public nature of water management in the years past.
We have water allocation policies in the whole country that are totally introspective, do not look at what anybody else is doing, then of course we get blueberry and algal blooms. We in South Australia have been more careful with our water allocation so we do not have the history of over allocation of water as they do in New South Wales which is creating huge political turmoil in that State when people are going to be losing water which now equates to money. What is needed is a fundamental shift in Australia's integration of water policy into the mainstream and I would think also Australian agricultural policy needs to encourage growers to select appropriate crops and do the R&D to minimise salinity impacts.
I mean, there is no reason why there could not be a great hydroponics business in some parts of this country where the effluent is then filtered and cleaned up, we are not actually putting stuff into soil. There is no reason why we could not have a hydroponics industry. The process of water management in this country is terribly patchy but New South Wales, for example, is spending $200 million on giving its farmers some idea on how to react to the co-ag reforms. In this State we are not doing that, we have a better base, as I said, but we still need to be in there trying to integrate policies and we have some very good examples of other technologies such as Mawson Lakes in this State where the Mawson Lakes development will be one of world class in its recycling of the water system. They have not actually done it yet but the ideals are world class.
So my view is we need to compare models from overseas; we need to integrate and sell management expertise in sustainable water management from this State. We have the technology; we have the social skills and the educational level. We still have that political divide problem but that is an educative problem and we could then be a great example to the rest of the world and lead the way in managing water in this dry, flat, salty land.
GREG MACKIE: Thanks very much indeed, Jennifer. We have now got 15 minutes of so where we can have a little bit of a discussion and there will be opportunities for you if you wish to make a comment or ask a question, please raise your hand, we will get a microphone to you. Hands up straightaway, this is wonderful.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
To Dr Cameron, why are the vanes on these turbines so big and does this affect birds at all?
EUAN CAMERON: Right, the short answer is that wind turbines can be as big as you want them to be. You can have a very small turbine and there are many around this State, particularly driving off grid applications, or you can have an enormously big one. They are large because, to come back to my original basis of this, what we are trying to do in wind energy technology is to bring wind energy into the mainstream and in order to capture enough energy to produce serious quantities of power you need to have large wind turbines with a large swept area because the energy capture is a function of the area you sweep with a blade.
To answer the second part of your question, the effect of wind turbines on birds is in fact extremely limited. There is an awful lot of research has been done, particularly in northern Europe and also in North America. There are instances where problems have occurred, the classic one is in the Altamont area of North America where there are thousands of wind turbines. There are also literally thousands of raptors flying around, bald eagles, various other hawks. These turbines were built mainly in the seventies and eighties and they are actually on lattice towers which are now not very widely used. Nowadays we particularly will always use steel columnar towers. The birds perch on the tower, look down from the tower, see their prey, off they go, do not notice the blade. That is an issue there.
In general the effect of turbines on birds is extremely limited. As I say, lots of evidence particularly in northern Europe, particularly in Holland where you have them in wetlands, you have huge migratory populations going through, you have feeding, roosting movements, things like that. The odd bird undoubtedly flies into a wind turbine. A hell of a lot more birds fly into cars and into windows and into conservatories and into power lines than will ever fly into wind turbines.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
I just wanted to know on solar, Barbara, about the building industry and how - I am from the Eastern States so I am very aware of people who live in apartments and it is becoming more around us in Adelaide here, whether there has been much discussion in regard to a solar answer for developers or body corporates, that sort of thing. I heard in Japan that they are actually introducing solar materials into building materials automatically. Can you give us a bit of feedback on that?
BARBARA HARDY: Certainly. Thank you very much for that question. I do not have a lot of detail on it but I certainly know that there has been great advances in the integrating photovoltaic cell structure into building materials and in Germany as well as Japan there is a lot of that happening. In England too I believe there is a building, I think it might even be right up in Manchester but I am not quite sure about that, where the photovoltaics have been integrated into the building materials which is ideal, of course.
With respect to apartments and that sort of thing, if you have an existing apartment block which obviously has not the opportunity for cladding that has integrated photovoltaics in it, but it is possible to get together with your other apartment owners and work on a system which could be shared amongst you and also streets. People could talk together and have a bigger system developed somewhere in the street which would allow the houses in a street to use renewable energy, solar generated energy. I certainly think that is very possible and is happening in quite a number of places. So that is my answer to that one.
Can I just make a comment on the wind energy one, the vanes of the wind generators. The wind generators that I have seen in Germany and over at Esperance in Western Australia, those blades move quite slowly. I was amazed at how slow they are and they still generate a lot of electricity. So I think any sensible bird could see them coming and certainly they are not the lattice work towers now so you do not have the birds perching on them. So I really do not think there is any problem or much problem at all with bird injuries. Thank you.
GREG MACKIE: One of the factors which was raised by one of you in your presentation about the affordability gap is something that comes up time and time again. I just wonder if any of you would like to comment. Are we basically paying too little for our electricity, too little for our water and if we were paying more would that therefore drive more of us into exploring and driving up the demand for renewable energy options? Barbara?
BARBARA HARDY: Thanks very much, Greg. What I did not say when I was talking about solar energy and the up-front costs and all that sort of thing is that the fossil fuel industry has quite a lot of subsidies which are sort of hidden subsidies that have just grown up over time, long before we knew about greenhouse gases and global warming and all that sort of thing and we have been using those fossil fuels in order to encourage some of the companies to develop them. There have been Government subsidies offered and I must say that if you offer a subsidy it is not very easy to take one away. So one of the things that we are looking at with the Asia Pacific business and trying to persuade countries in the Asia Pacific region not to install fossil fuel based power stations, centralised power stations, is to look at the subsidy aspect of it and certainly not to have those subsidies available to the fossil fuel power stations and maybe even think about, because of global warming and all that sort of thing, think about incentives to renewable energy.
One thing that I did not mention was the fact that the hot water systems here in South Australia, there is now a Government incentive to people that want to put a hot water producing system on their roof and that is about up to $700 which does help quite a lot. Of course, the photovoltaic sits $5 per peak watt up to $7500. Even community buildings, if they are owned and run by a non-profit body that has sort of tax deductible status and incorporated association you can attract that incentive from the Federal Government up to a maximum of $10,000, so that is an incentive.
GREG MACKIE: Thank you. Dick, you wanted to make a comment?
RICHARD BLANDY: Yes, I mean, there is no point in just paying a lot for power or water or anything else except for some purpose. I mean, we want to pay the minimum we possibly can for good, reliable power and good, clean water. Typically what happens if you switch to a new system is that the more expenditure, the more effort you put into the development of the relevant technology, the lower its costs come down towards the technology that preceded it. So you have got a bit of a trade-off here. Are we willing to pay some sort of premium or to have some degree of subsidy which can be seen to be the cost of investing in this new technology which has a potential to be a world beater.
That is the issue. There has to be some sensible reason for paying more than you have to, about the likely pay-off to this. I think the evidence is that there is and the way that businesses like Euan has been talking about, some very, very large businesses in Europe are moving into this area, that they believe there is a very big future in the competitive sense in a number of these technologies.
GREG MACKIE: Jennifer, did you want to add anything to that?
JENNIFER McKAY: I agree with Dick. There is no point in paying too much for something. We will pay for it if we can appreciate that what is being done is sustainable and appropriate and that we are willing to negotiate for change so that it will benefit the whole landscape.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
Thanks, Greg, thank you for coming along and speaking today. Two questions. One is co-generation and it does not seem to have been talked about an awful lot but in terms of that discussion about streets, body corporates, people doing things at a local level, co-generation using natural gas or hydrogen technology to generate electricity and heat for that particular street, any comment on that. The other one was that back in the seventies Flinders University kind of led the world a bit through Professor Bokrus in talking about developing a hydrogen economy using brackish water and solar energy in the outback and shipping it down. Instead we ship Moomba gas down at the moment but whether there is any discussion, any development along that area in South Australia.
GREG MACKIE: Who would like to respond to that?
BARBARA HARDY: Can I respond to the John Bokrus comment that you made? I pottered off to university at the age of 48 down to Flinders and I was very lucky that I actually studied with Professor Bokrus and certainly that was the first time that I had even thought about hydrogen as being an energy source of the future. Certainly John Bokrus wrote a book in 1973 called: The Solar Hydrogen Economy. That is actually what is now far more widely talked about, a solar hydrogen economy for the future, and there is quite a lot written about it and there is quite a lot happening. Of course, hydrogen can be used in many different ways. It can be burned, it can be used through fuel cells and fuel cells look to be the option for the future.
There is a company over in Canada that I am sure a lot of you have heard about called: Ballard Power Systems. They are doing extremely well now. They started back 20 years or more ago and they have developed into an absolutely wonderful company that is producing hundreds of thousands of fuel cells which are actually being bought up by the car companies. The car companies are very, very keen on this fuel cell initiative. A good example is Iceland. Iceland, you think of that little island up there which has got lots of volcanoes and all those sorts of things, even though it is called Iceland, but it is developing a solar hydrogen economy and Daimler Chrysler are working with Ballard and with other companies to help them develop a solar hydrogen economy.
Their hydrogen comes as a by-product of a fertiliser factory up in that country and that hydrogen is now being used in buses in Iceland, being used in fuel cells to provide electricity to power the buses. That possibility has come as far as Australia actually. Over in Perth there are going to be three buses in the very near future using hydrogen based fuel cells. Fuel cells can also be a sort of transition phase. You do not necessarily need to have pure hydrogen as the fuel. Oxygen, of course, is in the air all around us so that is okay, but the hydrogen can be used by re-forming natural gas, you can get the hydrogen from that source, which means that those sorts of fuel cells could work as a sort of transition phase from a hydro-carbon based economy to a hydrogen based economy.
If you look at our fuels right back from 150 years ago coal had a lot of carbon in it, oil had not quite so much carbon in it, natural gas has not much carbon in it and more hydrogen and, of course, hydrogen itself, if it only can be produced using solar energy to electrolyse water, producing hydrogen and oxygen, we can have a totally non-greenhouse gas emitting electricity power system. So that is the future, I believe, and that is what I am trying to work on, amongst all the other things that I would like to see the world doing. Thank you.
GREG MACKIE: Thank you. We will just ask for Dick to make a comment before our next question.
RICHARD BLANDY: Well, of course, I mean, the particular use of a hybrid system is that the power keeps going even when the solar pegs out. The solar does not work at night, for example, but you still want your car to go at night. So you need some system either for storing power or for supplementing it with some different power source. This I think is a major problem, or has been, for renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Battery technology turns out to be fundamental - has been - for solar energy because at night when you want the light the sun is not shining so you have got to get it from method of storing it and of course it is exactly why solar hot water systems work because you have got a method of storing the energy in the hot water in the roof.
Some people advocate pumping water up into dams or something so that at night you can let it come down through some turbine and generate the power. So a very important area of technological advance if you are interested in this is how do you overcome this intermittence and I understand that in fact in wind there has been major advances, which is why wind is starting to be a dominant alternative energy technology. There is an area, you see, where I think if we are serious about this that we could place serious effort and interest into those sorts of supplementary technologies. For example, Euan talked about the problem people have with seeing these giant turbines, that they disfigure the landscape and so on. Of course, if you can stick them miles away from where anybody is, then this would be an ideal solution to that particular problem because who cares if you do not look at it.
How do you get the juice to where the people are if you have losses in high transmission lines? Well, we know there are now new technologies developed with fibre optics and so on where the losses are absolutely minimal. It costs more to put them down but it means you can drag the energy from renewables a very, very large distance, including solar of course, into where the population centres are and maybe that is an area where we should be focusing, you see, if we are interested in making businesses in relation to this sort of thing.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
I think the speakers have been ..... As an example, Mawson Lakes has two reticulated water systems. The recycled water is not allowed to be drunk because it is illegal. So at some stage in the future that has to be changed so we have automatically a problem, a problem that you have said has got good water, drinkable water. South Australian water has pretty close to the most undrinkable water in Australia. On summer days salt levels in South Australian water is so high from the River Murray that it is illegal to drink in other cities, that is number one. So there is a problem that legislation has to occur for recycling of water.
Ground water is used. People go to the West End Brewery to get ground water that is over 100,000 years old whereas all of the creek systems of Adelaide go out. My council has not done any water conservation, making that water go into the ground area. They have built up land right up to the creeks. Those houses are flooded. They object to the Torrens Management System coming in and dictating to them. They have not improved the water system in our area for 70-odd years. Let me explain. This is a holistic approach. If those councils do not want to do it we have developers.
Now, the Nile River is the fertile area for Egypt. We have the Torrens Valley being built upon. In 1972 Dunstan wanted houses to be built at Monarto because that was the worst land and that was the best land. There is no political by either party and it is football. Both political parties play football with the land, the best land, the land at West Beach that was market gardens until the fifties, all of that has gone. We have to now go 50 miles further to do it. None of those things are taken into account.
JENNIFER McKAY: Let me agree with you on all of that. I have studied flood-plain management policy in this country for years and in the US and we still allow - that is my point, there is a lack of integration and it is still happening but it is not happening as much. Now, your point about Mawson Lakes though is not quite correct. They will be putting water in to the aquifer but that in itself requires a lot of care and consideration otherwise you end up with a poisoned aquifer. So at the moment it is progressing and it will be very innovative and much more innovative than anything else in Australia and bigger but I think we all want the march of technology to meet with the march of the people and we certainly do not want anything in place which leaves us with a legacy of a poisoned aquifer.
The system in Mawson Lakes will take all the storm water which is presently wasted, as you point out, and will filter it and then put it into the aquifer to be re-used, only for watering gardens and flushing toilets. That in itself is a huge leap for the community because we have never had to do that in this country and the people out there will be and they will be the vanguard. So your points are exactly right and are just further illustrations of the patchwork messiness within this State, which is better than the other States in water management.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
I have got one final point anyway. 51 per cent renewable energy that is occurring, we have a surplus of electricity in this State. Now, for something that is - looking at this potential of applied economics, what is going to occur then? Are you going to say for the other 49 per cent not to have electricity?
RICHARD BLANDY: No.
GREG MACKIE: A quick response from Dick and then time has taken us. No. That is a very quick response. Ladies and gentlemen, I feel as though we have, as always, just got rolling and time has come to an end. Because of the next program here we have to wind things up. We have got 10 more minutes, that is a bonus. We can pass the microphone around a little bit more.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
Yes, just a quick question. A lot of Governments do not do anything about the environment or renewable energy because money is a hurdle. What sort of legislative programs could Governments do that do not actually cost them money and I guess will not have a hugh backlash in the community in regards to renewable energy?
GREG MACKIE: Who would like to take that one?
JENNIFER McKAY: Remember there is a contest. If you privatise your electricity body or water body they are not going to be that keen on reducing the demand from them because they are going to lose money. So I think you have to carefully manage the way the private sector is involved and it can be involved in many ways that will be appropriate and then you will get the right incentive package, but some of the methods that have existed in the other States do not necessarily lead to the right incentives still. Dick?
RICHARD BLANDY: I mean, somehow you have to create an incentive, particularly for the private sector to get into the act so that they can create businesses that will create incomes and jobs for people here. I think there are two ways, and they are not mutually exclusive, that you can create the incentive. The first is to change the rules, to change the regulatory environment in a way that creates an opportunity, a business opportunity, for some people to solve. Economics is about solving problems for people. Now, for example, let us suppose if you passed a rule that no water is allowed to run off any properties in South Australia. All that stuff that is going off your roof at the moment and going into the storm water drains has got to be impounded somehow. Well, you have to have some deal for how this is to be used so it does not just go out to sea.
Now, you can imagine that the opportunity created for business in South Australia to solve this problem is quite significant. So these people who came up with solutions would then start to have a very serious sort of business. Now, this problem is not a problem just in South Australia. It is an increasing problem around the world, particularly in areas that do not have enough rainfall, do not have enough water and may have intermittent rainfall. How can you make better use of this water which otherwise is going to be wasted? I mean, presumably a number of people would say: well, we don not want to do that because it is going to cost more if you have to do that. It is cheaper just to pass the cost off, stick it in the storm water drain and let it go out and poison off the sea grass or the fishing industry stuff, you see, but you do not really see that.
It is changing the way we live in a way which creates a new business opportunity. That is I think the first thing. The second thing is, okay, if people say the do not want to pay the cost of that then there is a case, I guess, for the Government to say: well, we will mitigate that cost in some fashion if they believe this is a good technology and it is going to lead to business opportunities. I think we have to think carefully about those sorts of partnership models that Jennifer was talking about, about changing the environment. You see, this is exactly what Finnish Telecom did that created the opportunity for Nokia to become first in, best dressed, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. That is, I think, the opportunity. Not easy but we are clever enough in this State to get it right.
BARBARA HARDY: Can I have a say on that too? There is a possibility of Government looking at such a thing as tax shifting. Simplistically if you took the tax off income, which is really a tax against jobs, having a tax on income, and you put a sort of tax or levee on environmental degradation, that would do what Dick has just said, give incentives to businesses to get rid of whatever it was you were putting the environmental tax on to and you would not lose money if you had to spend money to do that because you would have no income tax. No, sorry, not income tax, payroll tax is what I am trying to say. If you take off payroll tax and you put tax on an environmental bad, the Government itself still gets the taxes so that it can provide the services like health, education and all those sorts of things that we need, but it also should improve the environment if people get taxed if they do bad environmental things and companies in turn do not need to pay payroll tax. So that was what I was trying to say, Dick, and I said income instead of payroll.
JENNIFER McKAY: New South Wales have done that on car emissions. It is cheaper to register some types of cars than others, depending on their emission output.
EUAN CAMERON: Can I just add, just thinking from my perspective and renewable energy, the fundamental problem is distinguishing between price and cost. What you are talking about here is the price you pay for electricity, it is not the cost of the electricity. Of course a renewable source is going to have a higher price to you than brown coal generated power has simply because you are not reflecting in that price the cost to the environment of using that fuel source and that is the understanding that has to come about. It always appears and it is a problem for us in renewables that we are always subsidised, people tell us. Well, I view it completely the other way around. The problem is that you are not recognising the cost of the alternative. We do not have any on-costs of any significance to the environment. We have some, like every object in the universe does, but very little. What you are not recognising is the on-cost of coal or gas or nuclear to the environment and that, of course, is the basis for the discussion about carbon taxation and similar things to that. Once you start getting that into your mindset then you much more readily see the actual economic value of going for things which have overall a more acceptable cost.
GREG MACKIE: Ladies and gentlemen, time unfortunately is proving to be an even more precious resource than those which we have been discussing. I am just going to ask Liz Ho from the Hawke Centre to say a final vote of thanks.
LIZ HO: Thanks, Greg. I think we have probably created our own greenhouse environment in here this afternoon but I think the quality of the conversation has not been hot air, if I can put it like that. I would like to thank the audience for coming along and supporting us today and for your very interesting questions but especially to our panellists who came together at short notice, come with an enormous diversity of talent and capacity and who shared that with us. So we have got a small green gift for all of them which we are going to give them in a minute, except for our UK visitor who probably will not be able to bring in a plant through the UK customs.
Just a very final message. As you go out there is a little folder like this which has the Hawke Centre Encounter Lectures. One of those lectures is going to be delivered by one of our panellists today, Professor Jennifer McKay. It is entitled: Encountering the Landscape, Early European Misconceptions and our Present Water Problems. So it is a free lecture. If any of you are interested you are most welcome. Thank you again, panellists.
Human Rights or Human Wrongs: the worship of freedom and the detention of asylum seekers
This is a verbatim transcript and may contain grammatical and spelling errors, particularly in the case of foreign words.
GREG MACKIE: I am the proprietor of Imprints Booksellers and co-presenter of the this afternoon's Salon with the Hawke Centre of the University of South Australia. Now, each and every one of you are most welcome here today and there are a couple of people I would like to single out for a special welcome. Elliott Johnson, QC, sitting quietly, now very embarrassed. Archbishop of Adelaide, the Most Reverend Ian George. Lowitja O'Donohue, Dr Basil Hetzel and everybody else here welcome. Today we are engaged upon one of a number of discussions that are going on around this country almost on a weekly basis now.
I think this is an important discussion and it is a privilege to be able to bring before you all such a fine panel of contributors. There will be an opportunity for questions and comments from the floor and I will do the roving microphone thing a little bit later. I would also like to, of course, acknowledge that we are gathered here today on Kaurna Land. I think never more than at present it is both appropriate and prescient to make this acknowledgment and I am very pleased and proud that this festival has been presented with the support and cooperation of the Kaurna people and the other indigenous groups who make up the State of South Australia.
Today your facilitator and co-contributor that I will introduce is Rick Sarre. Rick is Associate Professor of Law and Criminology based at the School of International Business at the University of South Australia. Formerly, he was Head of the School of Law and Legal Practice at Uni SA. He has been a legal adviser for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Hong Kong in 1992 and for Australian lawyers for refuges in Port Hedland in September 1992. Rick is frequently quoted in the media, as are most of our panellists. Without any further ado I'm pleased to hand it over to Rick. Please make him welcome.
RICK SARRE, Associate Professor of Law and Criminology,
SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA
RICK SARRE: Thank you, Greg. I keep meeting my mother's former students, my mother was a French teacher, so I'm happy to be in Salon des Intellectuels and I'm happy to extend Greg's French to bienvenue, so there you go. I'm also somewhat perplexed by the topic of, or at least, the name of the Salon which I would translate as being like that English movie, Room with a View.
So I think what we're going to have this afternoon is something of a view point, several view points. We are going to have an opportunity to hear from each of our panellists whom I will introduce in a few minutes, after which there will be some opportunity for dialogue with you, the audience, and as Greg said he will have a microphone and I'm going to encourage that for probably the last 45 minutes of our time together. I'm conscious of the fact that it is fairly warm in this room, the debate will make it even warmer and I hope that your interest does not wane as the temperature rises somewhat.
But I'm delighted to be here to help stimulate this debate and to introduce our panellists and have them make their presentations and engage with each other and engage with you as the afternoon goes on. The topic, as Greg has intimated, is Human Rights or Human Wrongs, the Worship of Freedom and the Detention of Asylum Seekers. Very briefly by way of background, since World War II we have had something like 650,000 refugees settling in Australia. The unauthorised arrivals to Australia by boat since 1989 is less than 12,000. It gives you some idea, I think, about the scale of the issue given the history of the last 55 years.
I am also conscious of the fact, as many of you would be, that there are some 20 million or so asylum seekers around the world at this current time, 50 per cent of whom are children, and I hope that during our dialogue this afternoon we do spend some opportunity of looking at our obligations under the Convention on the Rights of a Child, if not other international Conventions as well. For that purpose, we have a mixture in our panellists of a range of specialities. International law, journalism, authors, political commentators, teachers, columnists, writers, editors, etcetera, and I think we have got a terrific panel for you this afternoon to have you engage with.
I'm going to be something of - here is another French term that Greg asked me to use - agent provocateur, as I stimulate the panellists towards questions in the early part of our dialogue together. I won't allow that to go too long because I would like to have more of a discussion and a debate from the audience to engage that dialogue, but I think there are some general questions we will be asking. More specifically about children in detention, more specifically about Australia's policy on detention and Australia's policy on asylum seeking generally and perhaps the more broadly based question with a world view about whether in fact we are prepared and can envisage a future where in fact we live in a borderless world. If we didn't have borders this wouldn't be the issue and I'm wondering about whether or not we can extend the debate this afternoon that far. We will see how we go.
Let me introduce our panellists to you with something of their background very briefly, the order in which they will speak and then they will have about five, or six or seven minutes to address you on a matter of their particular concern before we begin our dialogue. Jason Yat-sen Li is an international lawyer, has degrees from the University of Sydney and the New York University Law School. Has worked in the Hague with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a present Board Member of the Sydney Institute the Australia-Asia Institute and the Australian Republican Movement, where I'm sure most of you have seen his face, as well as being a governor of the Smith Family. Would you welcome Jason this afternoon.
Next to him is Dr Anthony Burke, a lecturer in Politics at the University of Adelaide, a researcher in communications environmental international policy currently teaching in politics, international relations, media and cultural studies. His recent book is called, and I think rather appositely: In Fear of Security, Australia's Invasion Anxiety. Please welcome Anthony Burke. Next to Anthony and to my immediate left is Peter Mares, ABC journalist, who presents the regional current affairs program: Asia Pacific. He is currently working on a revised edition of his book: Borderline, Australia's Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, which was published last year to some acclaim. Borderline was short-listed in the non-fiction category at this year's Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. Please welcome Peter.
Finally, to your far left, Morag Fraser, regular ABC Commentator on political, social and religious affairs, Chair of the Melbourne Writers' Festival and Member of the Advisory Board of Adelaide's Festival of Ideas that many of you would be familiar with and Greg Mackie's involvement as well. Morag has been the editor of Eureka Street Magazine, which some of you will know as a Jesuit journal of ideas and she has done that since 1991. It recently produced a compilation of articles since 1991 as a resource kit which gives both policy detail and broad historical perspective on the issue of asylum seekers. 15 years experience with teaching, also working as a theatre designer, musical consorts and currently a columnist with the Melbourne Age. Please welcome Morag.
We have agreed on this particular order: Peter Mares, Morag Fraser, Jason Yat-sen Li and Anthony Burke. I have great pleasure in inviting Peter Mares to begin. We will sit here at the table and hopefully, Peter, your microphone is sound wired.
PETER MARES, ABC Journalist,
PETER MARES: Thank you very much. Thanks for coming and thanks to Greg and the other organisers for inviting me. I'd like to begin by telling the story of a colleague of mine's husband. His name is Arnaud and he is a potter and he is not the kind of guy to join political organisations or groups or whatever, in fact his wife, Anita, my colleague, says Arnaud is a bit of an anarchist. But Arnaud felt pretty strongly about the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, so he decided to put a sign on the back window of their car. So he got some gaffa tape and in big letters he wrote a sign which said: Compassion not Detention, close Woomera.
When Anita told me this at work I joked to her, "I hope you don't get your window smashed." In fact, a couple of weeks later she said to me, "We had to take the sign off." She said, "It was just - the level of abuse we received was so great, it was so distressing with my 6 year old, 7 year old daughter in the car that we decided we couldn't bear to have that sign on our window any more and so we took it off." Now, I tell that story because I think it indicates the importance of the current debate about asylum seekers in Australia. This is not just about - of course, it is very importantly about the rights of vulnerable people and protecting those rights, but it is also about this society, what kind of society we want to be. The kind of divisions and polarisations and anxieties that we want to see in this society.
It is my contention that, in fact, we don't really need to have a debate like this at all, in the sense that if we had competent political leadership on the issue the whole question of asylum seekers could disappear from our political agenda, it could be sorted, it could be dealt with in a way which did not arouse the passions that it currently does. It is in fact, in my view, a manufactured crisis. Not just in the sense that the Tampa was a manufactured crisis, a pseudo crisis, that suited the electoral cycle, but in a larger sense that the panic that attaches to boat people, so‑called, is unnecessary.
Rick alluded to numbers earlier and in order to sort of justify my position here I will also allude to some numbers. In the last financial year there were around 12,700 asylum seekers or people who sought asylum, people who lodged refugee claims in Australia in that financial year to the end of June 2001. Now, of those 12,700 two-thirds were not in detention and never actually came to the attention of the public or were reported about in any great depth at all. Those 8000-plus people arrived in Australia on valid visas, as tourists, as business people, on visitor visas of one sort or another, and after clearing Immigration at Melbourne, or Sydney, or Perth, or Adelaide Airport they subsequently applied for refugee status.
They were not detained, in fact, if they applied within 45 days of their arrival they were also able to get a work permit, if they got a work permit they were also able to get Medicare and while their claims are processed they live amongst us in the community. Some of them have a pretty hard time because some of them aren't able to work, especially if they have gone past the first level of refusal and their work permission is withdrawn. But nonetheless there was no panic, there was no anxiety, it was no big problem that they were amongst us. The anxiety was all about the minority, the 4000 who came on boats in a very kind of public way because of the way in which it is reported partly, who are then detained in Woomera, in Port Hedland and so on.
Now, the interesting thing about this is that the ones we worry about were far more likely to actually be refugees under the 1951 Convention, to which Australia was the sixth signatory and one of the key drafting countries. They were much more likely, in fact, statistically speaking, to be refugees than the 8000-plus who arrived lawfully. So that just goes to me to show the completely illogical nature of our approach to refugees and asylum seekers. We now have, of course, the so-called Pacific solution, I prefer to call it the Nauru Fix, for asylum seekers and in narrow terms of the Government the system appears to be working, there have been no more boat arrivals.
The Government is actually facing a very interesting or a very difficult dilemma here because the deterrence effect of the Pacific solution will work as long as those people are stuck in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. In fact, Australia has promised Nauru and Papua New Guinea initially that those people would be gone in 6 months, that has since been extended to 12 months, but Australia has promised they won't stay there. At the same time Australia has not promised to resettle those people who are refugees under the Convention. So the question is, what is going to happen to those people? If they are refugees and they are resettled in Australia then it is likely the boats will once again arrive because there is a path to safety and after all that is what people are seeking.
I think the longer they are there, the longer they are in Nauru and Papua New Guinea the more likely we are to see the king of problems we have already seen in Woomera and Port Hedland and Curtin and so on. The real scandal, and I will wind up here, the real scandal about this whole issue or the real scandal perhaps that voters should be concerned about is the costs. I mean there is, aside from the human rights issues obviously, there is - the Pacific solution has involved some 1676 asylum seekers and according to leak estimates that haven't been denied by the Government, the cost so far is $285 million.
Now, if you do a bit of maths as I did, you can see my scribbles here, on the plane, then you can work out that that is roughly $150,000 per person. So you have to ask yourself whether this is an appropriate way to spend taxpayers' money. I will stop there. I might have some more to say about how we could go about addressing this issue in a different way later on. Thank you.
RICK SARRE: Thank you, Peter. Morag Fraser.
MORAG FRASER, editor
EUREKA STREET MAGAZINE
MORAG FRASER: Thank you very much. I'm the grand-daughter of Adelaide's German-Irish, so in The Spiegeltent can I say willkommen. Well, I'm very glad that Peter started by saying that we are talking at the moment about the immediate crisis. It is a manufactured crisis. Now, I'm very interested as a journalist and a magazine editor in the way in which public perception has been formed and the way in which so much heat could have been generated out of what was, after all, a manufactured crisis. So that is what I am going to be talking about.
I've been editing a magazine, as you heard, for 10 years or so. I didn't set out to canvass immigration issues particularly, it just happened that in the kind of magazine of ideas that we work on and in association with the Jesuit Order of Priests with whom I work, it was one of the things that came up, but it wasn't just an issue that came up out of do-gooder instincts. It was a political issue that just kept on raising its head. I had a young correspondent in Bangkok for quite a while and it just simply had to be written about. He was writing about people smugglers whom he met. These were not distant faceless characters in '97, '98.
The reason I tell you this is because from a journalist's point of view, the depth of information about immigration policy, asylum seeker policy in this country is there for the getting if you want to and the Australian newspaper did a lot of very good investigative reporting during the Tampa crisis and the post-Tampa crisis, but over that 10 years through varies bodies it has been possible with some work to access the information. But we find ourselves in the extraordinary position where a very large number of the population will say yes to the kind of thing that Peter was talking about, bash the windscreens of people that say close Woomera.
So I think that is very important for us as Australians to investigate how the public perception could be so much out of kilter with the actual information when you read it. It is like indicative polls, when people sit down in a room, discuss things very hard and then you ask them for their opinion, it will be very different from the opinion that comes back on a talk-back program or as a result of the kinds of push polling or the sorts of questions that get asked on talk-back radio. My publisher at the moment is a Jesuit priest, his name is Andrew Hamilton, he speaks Khmer, he has been working with Cambodian refugees for 10 years. That is really why we started thinking about this kind of thing and because I work very closely with him I've just looked at the depth of information.
So I was very interested where pesky religious people that stand up and say things and you know what we're supposed to do, we're supposed to go back - I don't have a pulpit, I'm the wrong gender in the Catholic Church, but Andy is the kind of person that is supposed to go back to his church like Frank Brennan also and look after his prayers.
You might remember when the Prime Minister came to power he was, at the time, involved in lots of negotiations over Wik and a very robust pastoralist from Queensland, Warren Entsch, at the time was calling for people to boycott churches and the Prime Minister didn't exactly say that this shouldn't happen but he made this remark and I think it is interesting in the context of public perceptions. He said, "I do not support a call for a boycott of church attendance from these people who are making trouble about Wik," that is not quoting Howard, "but I can understand the sense of frustration that Mr Entsch feels." Just prior to that he had made the following statement about what it should be that would entitle people, church people, or just people in the public, to make public statements. He said, "People who want to avail themselves of the right of free speech they should speak freely only if on that range of issues they follow the obligation to speak in an informed, objective and constructive fashion." Now, I just want you to remember those words, "informed, objective" - "constructive" is interesting, isn't it?
I should say, in 1996 very soon after the coalition was elected what they did in Melbourne was close the Bureau of Immigration Research. The Bureau was a research body, it maintained a library and it was one of the few honest brokers between asylum seekers, the community and Government, so you close it. That is how you deal with objective, informed discussion. Flash forward to the now notorious October the 7th, the day in which at 9.30 in the morning there was a meeting of the coalition's advisers on border control, you know the particular body. A telephone call had come through, as we now know, from Defence. You all watch the Four Corners Program, I'm sure you have heard it by now or you have read the Australian, read the reports in the paper.
A phone call came through from Defence, the Minister's secretary rang him at 9.10-9.20 I believe, something like that, on October the 7th and said there was word that children, the actual report said "child" but by this time it had become "some children had been thrown over board". By 11 o'clock, 11 o'clock on that same date, it can take 4 years to get a refugee determination, it takes exactly an hour and a half to get cast iron information so you can go on the radio as Mr Ruddock did and say the following, "A number of people have jumped overboard and they have been rescued, but more disturbingly a number of children have been thrown overboard again with the intention of putting us under duress." No information as to how that particular construal is based in fact, but there it is.
Mr Ruddock continues, "I regard these as some of the most disturbing practices that I have come across in the time that I've been involved in public life. They are clearly planned and premeditated." There is no evidence for that. This is a public statement made on radio, flashed around the country, reported on the news at night. This is the way you form public perception. Meanwhile, as we know now, there was communication going backwards and forwards between Defence and between the advisory people for Mr Ruddock.
That didn't stop the Prime Minister going on radio that afternoon, that afternoon, there had been cables between that time saying there is some doubt. Mr Howard went on radio and said, and I'm quoting, he was asked by the journalist, "What's your reaction to the story?" He says, "Well, my reaction is" - and these are now the famous words - "I don't want in Australia people who would throw their own children in the sea. There's something to me incompatible between someone who claims to be a refugee" - unfounded - "and someone who would throw their own child in to the sea. It offends the natural instinct of protection and delivering safety and security to your children."
Let us go back to those words of Mr Howard himself, "In order to speak in public you ought to be informed, objective and speaking in a constructive fashion." As I said, they closed in 1996 one of the Bureaus from which you might have got objective, informed and constructive information and that is more or less the pattern that we have seen with this particular Government, but also with previous Governments. This is not a party political, or a partisan issue, the policies that we are following at the moment, policies of detention, policies of detention of children were well underway and well in hand under Mr Bolkus when he was Minister and under the Labour Government.
So what can journalists and journalism do to inform public perception and what are the limits of the influence of journalism? I mean, I think it will always be true there will be journalism that will lead, journalism that will investigate, journalism that will seek the truth and there will be journalism that does that peculiar hydro-headed thing of reacting and then very quickly stirring up more of the same and we have seen an awful lot of that, huge headlines, boat people coming, aliens. Very soon after the September 11 attack there was concern voiced in the press that some of the boat people coming here might be terrorists.
That concern, as Peter has noted in articles he has written, that concern was very quickly echoed by a Minister of the Government, by Mr Reith, who said: of course there is a danger that some of the boat people coming might be terrorists. So I think we are presented with this particular problem. A society can cope with tabloid and sensationalist journalism provided there is a balance of serious, decent, well researched, objective, constructive journalism going on at the same time, but above that a democracy relies on people in power, people with access to information, as members of our Government clearly are, to endorse the second kind of journalism, not to cooperate with the first.
What we have seen principally in the last - well, for really quite a long time in Australia has been our leadership cooperating with the kind of journalism that doesn't inform, that is not objective and that is not constructive, and I think I will stop there.
RICK SARRE: Thank you, Morag. Jason Yat-sen Li, you have another challenge not only to bring another perspective but to say welcome in another language.
JASON YAT-SEN LI, International lawyer
AUSTRALIAN REPUBLICAN MOVEMENT
JASON YAT-SEN LI: Well, that is easy. To the Chinese speaking people in the audience fu nee [audio transcription] and thank you to Greg Mackie for putting this on. I'm really delighted to be here and to participate in this particularly in the current climate of vilification of elites as a stagnating inhibitor. It is particularly gratifying to be in this, the Salon des Intellectuels, in the sort of Viennese style tent and I've got my cafe latte so we're all set to go.
My angle to this, and I guess to give you a bit more perspective from my background and my take on this, is firstly a legal one, but I should confess at the beginning that my specialty is genocide and war crimes and I'm not a specialist in human rights as they relate to refugees' issues. So if I do say something which is a doozey, feel free to correct me, because I'm just sort of not an expert in this area, but hopefully I can bring some perspectives and draw some sort of common themes and to bring some decent observations to bear on this debate.
The second perspective, I think, that I can bring is I guess strangely enough as a young Republican and as a person who is interested in the constitutional affairs of this country and as I will talk about briefly in a second, the whole notion of a Bill of Rights and how that fits in to this debate here. Lastly, again as a young person who believes very much and is a really committed advocate for multi-cultural Australia and the need to, I guess, put into a holistic perspective these issues here. Put them in the perspective of, you know, who are we as an Australian people? What is our history and what is the relation to Indigenous Australia? What are our shared values and how do we move forward with an inclusive sense of Australian identity and population as well?
To introduce a substantive part of what I would like to say, I guess I would like to start with something I heard when I was in New York a couple of years ago when the Canadian Foreign Minister was addressing a forum, it was a fellow called Lloyd Axworthy. He gave a fantastic insight into Canada's approach to international affairs and to a lot of these human rights issues and it is summed up by this one phrase. He said, "Our approach is based on this: nobody lives in a fire-safe house," which means that even local issues, particularly when they have to do with the infringement of human rights, they affect all of us. In today's world these sorts of issues necessarily cross national boundaries and they need holistic, global solutions, because they are holistically global problems.
Australia recently by comparison has, I mean, we have yet again sort of covered ourselves in glory in relation to that, and I think if I can just sort of summarise some of the comments made so far in terms of what are the key problems, what are the destructive elements in summary that have arisen because of our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers? The first is that the Australia population is divided. I'm 30 years old, I've never seen our population as divided as this. I don't remember the Vietnam War and people tell me that was the last time that they remember this sort of social division.
Related to that is the damage that it is doing to our multi-cultural society and our understandings of, you know, harmony and the fact that we need to live in a productive, creative environment together. There has been massive damage to our democratic institutions. I think a lot of people out there honestly believe that we have been lied to and we have been lied to and that erodes confidence in our politicians and that cannot be sustainable nor good on a longer term basis for our democracy.
There is the cost of border protection which has been raised already. There is the distraction of attention from the real issues that we should be tackling now: health, education, indigenous affairs. These are the things that we should be concentrating on. Finally, the damage to our international reputation and how that affects us in many, many ways that we may not be immediately aware of given our geographic isolation and, as I will talk about in a second, our intellectual isolation here in Australia, particularly when it comes to matters of human rights. Then, of course, the most obvious thing, you know, people are suffering.
So what can we do about this? Just really briefly, five sort of key things I think that we can keep in mind when we are talking about this. The first came out of an interview with - I don't know how many of you heard the interview with Helen Clarke on Radio National, but, you know, the interviewer put it to her, "Well, you know, Australia has rejected all these asylum seekers and New Zealand has taken in a small number admittedly, but taken them in and, you know, your approval rating has never been higher, it actually got a boost. How do you explain this?" And she said, "It's leadership." Simple as that, it's leadership.
The second thing that I think we need to do is we need to continue to agitate, I think, to make sure that Australia honours the letter and the spirit of our international obligations under human rights treaties. I would go a little bit further than that, I'd say that a few years ago I wrote a paper about the Bill of Rights debate and that is the debate that has been going on for ages, for decades and decades in Australia. The principal argument for those opposing a Bill of Rights in Australia is that we don't need one. That we have our democratic institutions and our common law and everything that we have as part of Australian democracy means that our rights are protected in Australia.
Back then, you know, you could think of hypotheticals where our rights wouldn't be protected. I think in the last 6 months it has really, really hammered home to us situations where people within the jurisdiction of Australia have their rights completely trampled on and there is no adequate protection for them. Now, a Bill of Rights can have a very tangible influence on outcomes here and as an example there was a case called the Sardi case, which was a House of Lords case a couple of years ago where the - sorry, a bit more recently than that, just after the implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights into the United Kingdom's domestic legal system. The House of Lords there held that: yes, you can detain an asylum seeker but for no longer than a very short period. They were forced, they had no choice but to follow that because the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights had been transplanted, had been taken in to British Law and that had a direct and tangible effect on the outcome of that case.
Just finally in relation to that, we have been looking at this whole rights thing through the lens of public opinion, everybody is saying: well, you know, 80 per cent of the Australian public support the Government's stance on this. The difficulty with that is it neglects the foundations where human rights actually came from and I think we need to bear in mind that our entire, almost our entire sort of cabinet of human rights legislation in institutions were a product of fascism in the Second World War and because of that they're intrinsically anti-democratic. Because as you will remember the fascist regimes in the Second World War had the overwhelming support of their populations.
So these human rights things came about because of a realisation that: look, majorities don't always get it right, and in that sense human rights law is designed to be unpopular. It is not meant to be popular and it is meant to be backed up by the rule of law. That is a central point, a crucial point that I think has been missing. My final point, and I will wrap it up now, is we need to win the debate in terms of political rhetoric and we need to start building a notion of an inclusive Australian identity and an understanding of: well, who are we as a people and how has that been built through history? That encompasses our immigration program, our refugee program, the contribution that people from other places have made to us as a nation and what is our shared destiny together and if we can achieve that I think we will put into context a lot of the difficult issues of this refugee problem right now. Thank you.
RICK SARRE: Thank you, Jason. To Anthony Burke, with or without a multilingual welcome.
DR ANTHONY BURKE, Lecturer
UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE
ANTHONY BURKE: Thank you very much, Rick. Hello everyone, in Australian. It is a little bit intimidating coming after so many fine speakers. In particular, I will probably echo some of the things that Jason has said, some very good things. My concern is this question of public opinion and trying to understand it without putting people down saying we're all racist. Now, in 1998 when I was actually in the middle of writing my book, security emerged as one of the central promises of that year's election campaign. Now, it largely went unremarked at the time, but I think by October last year we were all starting to get a chill up our spines. We recall the ALPs election slogan, "Security at Home and Abroad," and we recall John Howard's remarks at his policy launch that national security is about having an uncompromising view, about the fundamental right of this country to protect its borders.
That was the bland policy statement, but the emotional charge came two days before the election when he spoke to Radio 2GB in Sydney and said, "I don't want to use the word 'invaded' but the shores of this nation are thick with asylum seeker boats." Wherever our security obsession has taken precedence in our history it has been to the detriment of civil liberties and human rights. In fact, a constitutional system, the problem I suppose is that it is based on Benthamite utilitarianism which is a tradition that elevates individual and national interests over a tradition of natural rights. Bentham called rights "nonsense on stilts". He also argued that security was the most fundamental societal value, one that guaranteed and enabled freedom. But have been the costs of that freedom? Who has suffered for our security and our freedom? Indeed, are we really free or are we slaves to somebody else's claustrophobic idea of our freedom?
I talk about the racist and security-obsessed foundations of the constitution in my book. Hilary Charlesworth has also persuasively shown that the founding fathers' rejection of human rights guarantees was crucial to the legal viability of the White Australia Policy and crucial to the bureaucratic control of Aborigines. Manning Clark was right to say that the constitution was erected as a fortress against both the enemy without and the enemy within.
Ever since Federation the drive for security has been a threat to democracy and to human rights. It happened during the Great War when aliens were interned and anti-war activists were hounded. During the 1920s when the Bruce Government sought to outlaw communism and again in the 1950s when the Menzies Government had another try and we are back there again, as asylum seekers are systematically deprived of due process and locked in immigration prisons.
Just last week I heard of two cases of two Vietnamese teenagers who had been brought to Australia and put in to sexual slavery. They had been imprisoned at Villawood, one of them died in solitary confinement in a pool of vomit, the other leapt from the roof to her death. In the face of this, I think it is time that we ask ourselves some searching questions. Firstly, do we live in a healthy functioning democracy? I'm coming more and more to fear that what is democratic and pluralistic in our politics co-exists with a form of electoral fascism in which the promise of security reaches in to our hearts with a grubby fist, making us afraid, making us compliant, dividing us and distracting us from the real sources of our pain. We have been captured by demagoguery and violence, suffering and death are its inevitable results.
Secondly, are we thinking hard enough about constitutional reform and it is in thinking about this that I've decided that I am adamantly opposed to a minimalist republic because I think what it will do is simply set our oppressive legal and constitutional structure into cultural concrete. At the very least we need a legislative Bill of Rights that applies to both State and Commonwealth law, but we should also be pushing for more profound constitutional reform so that the abuse of human rights in detention centres becomes impossible. So that international human rights instruments that we sign, as Jason said, have binding legal force in this country.
It is time that we admit what the founding fathers wouldn't and I'm thinking here of Alexander Cockburn's protest that including rights would be a reflection on our civilisation. "Pretty things these States of Australia", he said, "they need to be prevented by a provision in the constitution from doing the grossest injustice."
Finally, I think we need to look in to our hearts to search out the fear that lies at the heart of our national identity and makes us into the psychological play things of our political masters. Because what I fear is that we have now entered a world whose logic is that of the slogans used by the party in Orwell's novel 1984: Ignorance is Strength, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery. Indeed, we have invented our own: Security is Fear. Thanks.
RICK SARRE: Thank you, Anthony. Friends we have been treated to four very thought provoking opening remarks in this discussion. I want to have a good 40 minutes of community involvement in this dialogue. I thought I would begin the process by tossing out one question which is one that was raised in fact when, I think it was Jason or Morag were talking about the New Zealand situation, that is the question of the choice between detention or having asylum seekers move more openly into the community while their claims are being assessed. Let us open with that question generally and then we can take it a little broader with questions from the audience after panellists address this question.
This is a quote from Mary Crock's paper. Mary is one of the foremost refugee lawyers in Australia and she was asked to undertake a HREOC investigation looking at various detention centres around Australia and she made this observation concerning the choice in Australia or the choice in New Zealand for the way in which asylum seekers are treated, bearing in mind Helen Clarke's comment a little earlier. She says this:
In Australia the family arrives and is taken off the plane, typically because they have arrived in Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef or somewhere, and placed in immediate custody, is not provided with a lawyer and is taken into what is known as "separation detention". Parents are questioned, if they use trigger words and say things like: I am a refugee and I'm afraid I'll be killed if I return, they are screened in. If they do not use the right words but make statements such as: I need a better life for my children, the family may be screened out.
In New Zealand the same family as a general rule would be taken to a quarantine area where they would be interviewed on the spot, given a work permit, an address of a hostel and access to 16 hours free legal advice from a list of lawyers from which they may choose their own legal representative. A very similar situation pertains in Canada.
In Australia if this family makes it through the separation detention the family is not allowed to stay in the community but is taken to a main detention centre and is allocated a lawyer from DIMA, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
This situation is, as a result of the process on arrival, coming under increasing tighter control in Australia, no exception is made for the children even though the law technically allows for children to be released. Although a trial scheme has been established at Woomera, only a tiny number of women and children remain in the group houses and little effort seems to have been made to widen the release program.
Now, that was said last June. I think in fact there has been some moves in relation to women and children now, but generally speaking in relation to the process by which people are taken in to asylum seeking processes is there a better way that we can do it, and I'm going to open that up generally perhaps Peter to begin with and then to the other members of the panel.
PETER MARES: Thanks Rick. I think the question of separation detention is one of the most, or the practice of separation detention is one of the reasons that I began my whole research into this issue and I might point out that it has been going on for a very long time. One of the things I discovered in 1994, I think it was, when I was doing some research on the detention of Cambodians at Port Hedland, long before I thought of writing a book on this issue, was that when people are detained for entering Australia without authorisation they are not informed of their legal rights. They are not told that they have a right to legal advice.
Now, this shocked me. I'm not a lawyer, but you know, I know enough about the law to see that as a pretty basic right and we, you know, we exposed this fact, we got an Immigration Department official to admit it live on radio. The depressing thing is that while it was then something of an embarrassment it is now openly flouted as part of Australia's policy. It is in the regulations that Immigration Department officials are not under any obligation - it does not say they are forbidden from doing it, but they are not under any obligation to inform immigration detainees of their right to legal advice.
So as Rick said, unless you say the right things there is a chance you will remain in separation detention until you are removed from Australia. So we are not talking here about the refugee determination process, we are talking about getting over the threshold. Does there need to be a detention system? Yes, I think there does. I don't think that you can just abolish detention for unauthorised migrants or irregular migrants. Why do I say that? I say that because I think that's a political reality, on the one hand, but I also say it because I think there are legitimate issues to address. There are health concerns for a start and there are the issues of character and background checks.
We know, for example, that a lot of Nazi war criminals made it in to Australia. We don't want to create an avenue for people fleeing prosecution for crimes against humanity to be able to get in to Australia. So there is legitimate cause for initial detention. The health issues can be sorted out in a couple of days. I mean, there is no need for prolonged detention on that score and if you front-load the character and background checks there is no reason why most people couldn't be released from detention very quickly while their claims are assessed. There is no reason why women and children couldn't be released from detention almost immediately.
There are now, at least in the Labor Party, discussions going on about alternative structures, alternative approaches to the detention issue. Labor is, I think, politically afraid of backing away from the term "mandatory detention" so they are trying to redefine it and the sorts of discussions they are having is that mandatory detention could include a kind of release into the community with reporting requirements once a week, for example.
So that what Duncan Kerr, former Justice Minister, has argued in a position paper to the ALP is for a graduated system whereby people who were identified as people with perhaps a criminal background or who otherwise posed a threat to society would be detained and there would be different levels of detention and levels of security of detention, but that most people after initial processing for health and character checks would be released into either a kind of hostel-type open accommodation or living in the community with reporting requirements. I think those things are all politically feasible and it is, as Helen Clarke so memorably put it, a question of leadership.
RICK SARRE: Morag?
MORAG FRASER: Peter has answered that very thoroughly and many of the things that I would say I have learned from reading Peter. I would agree with what he is saying, but let me add a couple of other things. Some of the things that happen to people in detention camps are such an assault on one's sense of decency. People are separated quite often so they can't talk to one another. What is the word, it is not tutor, what are they not allowed to do, Peter? What is the word for it?
PETER MARES: Coaching.
MORAG FRASER: That is right. They are separated so they can't coach one another in ways of representing themselves. Now, every murderer or accused murderer in Australia, every rapist is given the opportunity to discuss, talk about all the kinds of things that might be mounted in defence. Once you start doing this kind of thing to people, once you turn them into faceless, anonymous figures that have not the right - initially in Woomera, not even the right to - not even the access to facilities to ring their families to say they were not dead, they had not been drowned, once you do that you allow something very, very dangerous loose in society. You allow that sense that there is a whole group of people that are other - that you can disregard.
If any of you go and see that very interesting film Black Hawk Down at the moment, you will notice that the Americans call the Somalis the 'skinnies’. There was a drought in Somalia and a lot of people died. Now, once you call someone a geek, or a skinny it is much easier to kill them. In Australia we have had a practice in recent years, and particularly post Tampa, of keeping asylum seekers, people seeking refuge as anonymous and as visually invisible as possible. All we saw on the Tampa were those sort of strange humpbacks from a distance doing strange prayers.
So released in to the community what you are then faced with is what I have been faced with a number of times, I'm sure many of you have, the actual young man who ran across Somalia and happens now to be in Australia, who sits at dinner with you and talks. The man that broke the glass on the telephone box in Woomera, when on the third time the telephone swallowed up his telecard which he had earned money for so he could ring his parents, or ring his family. You begin to see people, and once you are face to face with people, Australians despite our initial fear of the other, we are curious and you begin to understand what other people are like, the "other".
You might begin to understand as Christopher Kremmer and this very good book called: Carpet Wars, understood when he met a carpet seller called, Tariq Ahmed, who had a good business. He might look like an economic refugee but next to his house in Kabul, the Taliban moved in and the Taliban started looking at his three daughters and his wife. So overnight he moved his daughters and his wife to somewhere else and over the next couple of weeks he got a truck and he shifted his only resource, his carpets, and he took them to a friend's house and then he spent the next few weeks going around scrounging and scavenging for bricks. He bricked his carpets up into an alcove in his friend's house and after that he became a refugee.
But Kremmer met this man, knew this man and had tea with this man, green tea. Once you've done that you can't abuse people as people were abused in that last century in which we all lived when they were turned into just ciphers, not people. So, yes, I would have people released into the community where you see their faces and have to speak to them.
RICK SARRE: Jason?
JASON YAT-SEN LI: Just a really brief comment from me. I absolutely agree with Morag's take on that. I think that really hit the nail on the head. My perspective here is, and I take you back to, I started at the War Crimes Tribunal just when the rules of procedure and evidence were being developed and they proceeded - the development of all the procedural rules for the conducting of these sorts of trials started from the rights of the accused person and they were built outwards from that. So the point I would like to make here is that if you are talking about procedures it is always a better approach to have your principles worked out and then have those procedures flow from the principles.
I guess this relates to my earlier comment that rather than a border control deterrence approach like we have now to asylum seekers, we really need to think about how we put in place a rights-based approach to this whole issue and the appropriate procedures for the processing of arrivals must flow from the starting point of what exactly those rights are. I think there is a better chance of getting it right if we do it that way.
RICK SARRE: Anthony?
ANTHONY BURKE: Thank you. I was just going to suggest that we do have it on Amnesty International's authority that the detention environment involves the abuse of human rights and we do need to do it differently but part of that pain and trauma that asylum seekers feel in detention which contributes to this kind of self-harming behaviour and the protest is the uncertainty created by the way the Government has set up the system of assessing refugee claims. I think Peter very persuasively shows in his book that that has become absolutely lacking in credibility. The Government seems to be using its administrative power as a way of closing down the number of people who can come here as refugees.
There are really a lot of problems in DIMA reasoning, there are problems at the Refugee Review Tribunal level and now asylum seekers have no right to appeal to the Federal Court. We know that the Government is planning to deport 700 people from Woomera very soon and we have no idea of knowing how much integrity the process that dealt with them had.
RICK SARRE: Thank you, Anthony.
It now, friends, falls to you and I would like to have wider debate. Greg Mackie has a roving microphone. I'm going to use a couple of rules that I saw Bishop John Shellby Spong use extremely effectively when he was in Adelaide here last year. One is that you will keep your remarks very, very short and make them questions and that will not be to make a speech and then say, "What do you think about that?" That is not a question. So keep it nice and short and to the point and if it is to any particular individual or more broadly please indicate that as well. The other stipulation I'm going to make is to have the question from a woman then a man, then a woman then a man. So we have some nice gender equality in questioning this afternoon as well. Do we have an opening question from somewhere?
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
Yes. It is addressed to any of you. Has the Governor‑General the power to dismiss this Government, Federal Government, on the grounds it was elected with lies and fear? Could somebody answer that, please.
RICK SARRE: I think I can answer that only for having heard George Williams, a man whose constitutional credentials I find impeccable, speaking on this in relation to actually whether or not it can work the other way as well. The answer is, "Yes, but it's not going to happen." So that's the best I can say from my constitutional background which is not particularly strong. Now, let us have a woman asking a question, please?
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
I want to know what we can do. We know what doesn't work: marching doesn't work, letter writing doesn't work. How can we soften the hearts of the leaders of the two major parties? How can we do it in a sophisticated and elegant way that is going to achieve results because we don't want to live in Australia like this?
RICK SARRE: It's probably a very good question to go to right up front because it is one that we want to take away with us, certainly. Morag?
MORAG FRASER: I'm not sure you're going to love my answer either. You're not going to change it overnight, not with the present Government. I think in the words of a colleague of mine, I think what you can do is chip away from your own individual expertise. If you are a doctor, there are many things you can do particularly working with people released into the community. It's perfectly obvious from this panel and from everything you read what lawyers can do and I suspect that the constitutional path laying the paper trail is going to be effective in the long term, it won't be effective in the short term but things will change.
If you are a member of the community who thinks you don't have particular expertise then the letter writing does work. I mean, you keep recording things, you keep at it. You keep a general atmosphere of agitation, worry and an advocacy for decency running through and keep on saying: Australians are people characterised by their sense of a fair go. I'm not apologising for using that phrase, it's a great phrase. At the moment we are not living like that but I think we want to. So you do it in your communities. In churches I've been challenged by people who said, "Why don't we just send the bastards back to where they came from?" You will get that all the time.
You have got to engage with those people until they begin to understand that we don't have to do that. We don't have to live like that. I mean, Jason alluded to the fact that we are at the moment a society divided. I don't think we need to be but you've got to argue it through. I argue it through weekly with my mother and with her friends who are all in their 80s who are quite genuinely fearful. I argue it with people who don't know what the word Muslim means. So I think that's the answer, from your expertise do what you can.
RICK SARRE: I should add there are a lot of church people who say to me, "What can I do?" as well. Jason?
JASON YAT-SEN LI: I agree with Morag and I think keep agitating, but the key here is believe that you can make a difference and approach it from your own area of expertise no matter how little you think that might be. How many have you heard the Al Gore butter story? It's a true story and it's totally informative here. Al Gore was at this fancy State dinner and for some reason he didn't get a piece of butter with his bread roll and he called the waiter over, who was a young fellow, and he said, "Look, give me a piece of butter." And the waiter said, "Look, I'm really sorry, we've run out." Al Gore was completely indignant. He said, "Do you know who I am? I'm the Vice President of the United States of America." The waiter, "Oh, that's very nice. Do you know who I am?" He said, "I'm the man who's in charge of the butter."
RICK SARRE: You can draw what you like from that story. Peter?
PETER MARES: This question is always asked every time I speak at a forum like this. Someone asks that question, "But what can we do?" In fact there are things being done all over the place and it's quite remarkable the amount of stuff that's going on. Perhaps I hear about things because people are always asking me to go and speak and I get invited to go and speak now all the time from these RAR groups. This is not the Royal Australian Regiment, this is Rural Australians for Refugees. They're in Wangaratta, they're in Bendigo, they're in Ballarat, they're in, you know, country New South Wales. I'm sure they're here in South Australia as well.
It is really interesting that the part of Australia that we often see, is often perceived in the cities as being the heartland of 'red-neckery', is in fact often incredibly welcoming to refugees. There was a piece in the Australian, the Weekend Australian by Victoria Laurie yesterday, who is a great writer, about a family in Swan Hill and quoting a guy, you know, from the local council in Swan Hill saying, "We need people out here, there's so much work to do." So I think that there are lots of different ways people can do things and while - as Morag says, the policy is not going to change in a hurry.
So you can get depressed about the fact that, you know, you're not having that sort of impact. There are also the kind of initiatives here in Adelaide or in Melbourne and other cities of people who are assisting refugees released from detention on temporary protection visas. Assisting them with practical help in finding houses, with teaching, helping them to learn English, with helping them to find a school for their kids and I don't think we should underestimate the enormous difference that can make in someone's life.
So there are lots of ways of being involved, either at that very personal level or if that is something you are not comfortable with, the letters, the phone calls, all of that. There is a debate going on in the Labor Party, a very serious debate, I think. I was invited to address a meeting of Labor Party members recently about the issues. So, you know, there are lots of points at which you can join in.
RICK SARRE: Morag again?
MORAG FRASER: I just want very briefly - do you all know about Camilla Karley and her team of Iraqi kids that play football? I'm not suggesting that any of you can do this, but it is just one lateral way. An extraordinary woman called Camilla Karley who has got together a group of young Iraqi kids and they have formed them into - look, I know nothing about what they play in New South Wales, will it be a rugby team or is it a - is it rugby or soccer? Soccer. It is a soccer team. Now, these are kids on the kinds of visas that leave them very insecure, aren't they, but nonetheless for a brief period of time in country New South Wales these kids are playing soccer and they are playing against people and they play like hell. They really play to win. So you can imagine what that might do for that group of young boys but also what it must do to the Australian kids that play against them, because they are no longer those faceless people. So, I mean, think about another way of doing the soccer team, you know, in Elizabeth.
RICK SARRE: There is a soccer game happening today at Fort Largs, thank you very much. A question from a man, please.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
My question is about human rights. It seems to me the problem with human rights is that it's based on imperatives, on what should be and this is the way things should be for you and this is what you should be entitled to. The problem is everybody has their own set of ‘shoulds’ and their own imperatives, particularly our Government. My question is, is there some way of reorganising the system so that it could be based on what "could be" rather than what "should be"?
RICK SARRE: Thank you. Did we all hear that question? Jason, I might toss that one to you in relation to international human rights law. You mentioned before that human rights law is supposed to make us uncomfortable, is that one of the reasons that countries find it difficult to adhere to it?
JASON YAT-SEN LI: I think the - it's an ongoing debate in human rights law this notion of cultural relativism and that's often an argument advanced by regimes who, you know, surprise, surprise, are terrific at sort of implementing their human rights obligations by saying: look, we do things differently here. We have a different set of values, you know, we have a different approach, you can't impose your Western sort of industrialised notion of human rights onto us.
The alternative approach is that, sure, there are certain things that we do differently but there are certain things that are universal. There are certain things if you look through the history of all cultures, all religions, all backgrounds, there are certain universal things and they form the tenets, the basic tenets of human rights law; the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to not to be detained unless, you know, there are avenues on a due process, the right to freedom of expression. All of these things, you know, they have a background in all cultures.
So from that respect, I think if we separate the universal, which are the most important things, from the sort of culturally relative, which are, you know, the more specific things, I think there is that body of universal human rights that we should all adhere to. I'm not sure that I fully get your point about whether we can make human rights more aspirational. I mean, they are aspirational in the sense that very few countries in the world actually have good human rights records. Those that do are probably the countries that we most often travel to and are most sort of, you know, have the highest profile on the international stage.
If you took a snap shot of the nations around the world, most are not terrific in terms of their human rights records. So they are aspirational from that point of view. I'm not sure if I fully get your question in terms of: can we make them even more what they could be.
RICK SARRE: You really have to write them in stone, I suppose, otherwise people are going to make more of a - make them more relative.
JASON YAT-SEN LI: I think the underlying thing is and in all the preambles to the human rights treaties and the conventions, it is understood that these rights exist to promote peace and security in the world. They exist for the betterment of human kind and that, you know, that thinking underlies all of the concrete principles.
RICK SARRE: Well, let us move to Peter Mares for a response.
PETER MARES: Well, I think actually if I - my interpretation of your question is, actually: is there a set of policies that we could come up with which would protect rights, but which would be politically acceptable, politically marketable? I think it is possible to do that. I mean, we have been told time and again by Minister Ruddock, by John Howard and others that the only alternative to our current system is to throw up our hands in horror and declare our borders open to all comers.
It is very much presented as a stark "all or nothing" choice. Either we detain these people or else we will be overrun. Now, of course, that is ridiculous. It is patent nonsense and there are a whole range of policy options in between. It is a question of trying to find a policy mix which would protect the rights of vulnerable people while acknowledging the political reality that a majority of Australians who voted for the coalition on November the 10th are concerned about the issues of border security and orderly migration.
So the question is: can you address those fears, exaggerated as they may be, and at the same time protect fundamental rights? And I think you can. What it requires is, for example, a graduated system of detention. One which is much more discriminatory, that people who are locked up are locked up for a reason and that is reviewable in a Court of law. So you make clear that you are protecting the population. You would have a system, for example, where you would do a deal with Indonesia, where you would say to Indonesia: well, look, as a rich neighbour, we will help you. Those people assessed as refugees in Jakarta by the UNHCR, we will resettle them and then those refugees wouldn't need to pay a smuggler $5000 or $3000 and get on a boat and come to Australia. You would beat the smugglers at their own game. You would create an orderly migration process. Orderly refugee process for those people.
So you have to address it at lots of different levels, at the end part of the journey. What our current policy does is focus almost entirely on the end part of the journey, that is, what do we do with these people when they get here? And we punish those people who get here in the hope of deterring others who are 10,000 miles away and have no idea what's going on in Australia, who are trying to get out of Iraq or whatever because - for completely separate reasons. So you need to address that.
We also then need to look at the international level at how we deal with a global refugee crisis. My argument would be that the way in which the region and Australia, under the leadership of Malcolm Fraser, dealt with the outflow of asylum seekers, refugees, boat people from Indo‑China, provides a model for a comprehensive plan of action, if you like, for asylum seekers in other parts of the world.
RICK SARRE: Anthony?
ANTHONY BURKE: I just want to make a comment that I do not believe there should be a debate about whether human rights exist, because philosophically the idea comes from the very beginnings of the Western State when - and it was argued that natural rights preceded the State. They preceded our existence, they came from God. Now, whether or not you want to express it in that language, I think they do come before us and they are a good counterweight to the hubris of the modern State which thinks it can buy and sell our lives and our rights as it wishes. Now, obviously implementing them is a political problem and a political process and this is where the kind of stuff you are arguing comes in.
RICK SARRE: Just by way of information, under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is also a signatory, a child seeking refugee status must receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance. So there are mandates in just about every direction one looks. A woman's question, please? I see a hand at the back there, Greg.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
I don't understand why we're not getting the full information out of some of these detention centres, say, Woomera. I believe there's - is there a law that - I know that the people who work there are under contract and they can't speak about what is happening in there, but is there actually a legal, a law that prevents information or the truth from - or people being interviewed and the truth, it just - because it's - public opinion is so strongly against the refugees who are in the detention centre at the moment and I think the only way we could change that public opinion, because it's fairly fickle, is by presenting the truth and making those people, those faceless people, real. So is there actually a law, or is there legal basis for all that?
RICK SARRE: Let me answer that question and then I can toss it open anywhere else. The detention centre is actually Commonwealth property and thereby it's under the auspices of the Australian Protective Service and if they delineate certain areas to be no go to journalists, as we discovered a few weeks ago, then that was the end of the matter. So it is really Government policy. It seemed to me at the time that when Governments want you to have a look at the riots and look at the damage caused, journalists are well and truly welcome.
When all of a sudden there's something going on that doesn't particularly sit with where the Government wants to present something, all of a sudden they are no go areas. So perhaps your question is asking more broadly why it is that Governments are a bit selective in the way in which they allow detention centres and their conditions to be broadcast to the world. We have got some journalists here and some other commentators. Who wants to go first on this one, anyone want to add anything to that? Peter?
PETER MARES: Yes, as Rick says, it is a matter of policy. The Government occasionally conducts guided tours of immigration detention centres.
MORAG FRASER: But not of the leader of Amnesty.
PETER MARES: No, and my own requests to visit have always been denied. The justification that I get is very interesting. When I first asked to go to Woomera I was told: well, no, you can't because it's for the protection of the detainees because, you know, you might broadcast their picture and that might be seen back in their homelands and perhaps they really are refugees and a member of their family, you know, might be persecuted because of it, and I said, "Well, actually I work on radio." But that didn't help. Well, I might print their name or something like that. At which point I said, "Don't you think I have any ethics at all?"
Now, it seems to me that alternatives are possible. In fact, in that paper I mentioned by Duncan Kerr he proposes much more open access for the media to detention centres. In Sweden where they have a limited detention regime, that is, certain people are kept in detention if they are found to pose a risk to society or a risk of flight or so on. The journalists can go in and out. Detainees are allowed to have their own mobile phones, they have access to the Internet and E-mail. If they want to speak to journalists it is up to the detainees to decide whether or not they want to do that, NGOs have access and so on.
Our own system is much more limited to the extent that while the Human Rights Commission or the Commonwealth Ombudsman can go in they almost always do so after giving advance notice and we know that what happens then, for example, at Maribyrnong or Villawood is that the over-crowding is hidden because all the mattresses that are on the floor are packed away, but the detainees that day get a barbecue and other special food, that there is a lot of cleaning up done. Before Ruddock went to Woomera we know that the detainees were out picking up all the papers and then there were some nice pot plants put out in front of the office.
So, you know, I mean there's a whole - it is like, I was in Vietnam, a correspondent in Vietnam for 2 years from '95 to '97 and I had to apply for permission every time I left the city and have two or three minders with me everywhere I went and it certainly reminds me of that situation.
RICK SARRE: Ian George. Down here, Greg.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
ARCHBISHOP IAN GEORGE: Thank you. In this incredibly economic rationalist climate, is it possible for us by a bit of lateral thinking to help John Howard and Philip Ruddock out of the hole they have dug themselves in to. For example, we have a desperate need for environmental remediation in a lot of the rural areas and I'm glad the RAR was mentioned earlier, we have the money but no labour force. Would it be possible to say to a Prime Minister who has said: we will decide who comes in to this country, to create a special category of people who come from agricultural areas who might be willing to work for a couple of years, like the Snowy Mountains Authority where they could get excellent education, health facilities, all that sort of stuff and help them to find their way in to the Australian community after they have done a couple of years or something like that?
RICK SARRE: Particularly dry land farming, I would have thought there was a degree of speciality from the photographs I've seen of war‑torn Afghanistan. Does anyone want to tackle that one? Jason?
JASON YAT-SEN LI: I think it is a good idea. The difficulty is - I mean, that is partly an immigration question and I think the challenge to that will be, I have the feeling that the opposition to refugees is a really deep-seated fear of difference. It's not based on economic reasons or any other logical reasons. I was having a talk to some people of the Labor Party about, you know, the Government strategies in terms of how it won the last election and we were talking about, well, what if, you know, this economic argument were hammered home more. About how much we are spending on the Pacific solution, about the economics of migration and far greater political minds than me said: look, we could have spent $5 billion implementing the Pacific solution and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference.
People would have gone: money well spent, let's keep these people out. I think that is, I tend to agree, I think that is the challenge that we face in terms of whereas the economic rationalist solutions may make sense to us, I think the opposition out there is a really deep-seated fear and we need to address that first. Perhaps your solution can be part of a package of solutions to address it, but I mean, I think in that context it is a good idea.
RICK SARRE: A question from a woman? I see a hand up here. I see a hand over here. Greg has gone ahead of me. I will tell you we have got about, I would say, 10 or 15 minutes left so we have probably got time for two or three more questions. You will be the next one over there. Thank you, Greg.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
You're welcome. My question is for Jason and it's about the Bill of Rights. I'm very curious as to why you put so much faith in that sort of document. I mean, obviously in the US I could give you probably a history lesson that many of you know far more than my - many of my fellow Americans do, but having a Bill of Rights does not seem to me to be the kind of guarantee for the sort of society you are talking about. In fact, many of the most egregious pieces of American history were found to be fully consonant with the Bill of Rights.
RICK SARRE: Jason?
JASON YAT-SEN LI: That's a very, very good question and it raises lots of very, very difficult issues and I guess my response to it is, rights are never anything in themselves and you always need to understand rights in the historical and the cultural and the social and the legal context in which they operate. I honestly believe that - and I recognise that the United States and a lot of other countries may have rights which are either meaningless or have become so difficult and have been used in ways that they were never intended to have been used in the past.
I guess my faith comes from seeing how far we have come, looking at the implementation of rights of the European Convention, in particular, by the European Court of Justice, at determinations and rulings by the Human Rights Committee and there is good jurisprudence to come from that. I think looking at how far debate and the progress of rights and the jurisprudence surrounding rights has evolved over the last 50 years in our current political, social context that we have right now, I think a lot of the difficulties and the fears that you address can be taken care of or at least we can be aware of them and do everything that we can to make sure that those same difficulties don't arise.
We can learn from history and above all, I think just because there may be difficulties in the future doesn't mean that we shouldn't give it a shot because I think that the good that can flow from it will far outweigh the dangers.
RICK SARRE: Anthony?
ANTHONY BURKE: Ultimately on a question like that, somebody like me, a political scientist, has to defer to eminent jurists like George Williams or Hilary Charlesworth but my question is: why do our politicians fear a Bill of Rights so much? Why do you see people like Howard and Costello arguing so vociferously against such an idea? Why do you see Republicans like Greg Craven arguing at the Constitutional Convention that you cannot even have a preamble that talks about rights or values because it would bleed rights into the constitution.
I think the key is the kind of arguments that are being put about a Bill of Rights is one where you translate all the obligations of the International Human Rights Treaties that we have signed into Australian law. I think you would find that if that was the case much of the legislation that was passed in a hurry in the second half of last year could be challengeable in the High Court. So I'm a little bit more optimistic.
RICK SARRE: Peter Mares?
PETER MARES: Just adding briefly on a very practical level of what difference a Bill of Rights might make. One of the reasons that Australia can detain people in the way it does for indefinite periods is that they are non-citizens and they are therefore not offered any protection against this kind of arbitrary detention under our constitution. This has been the decision of the High Court, it has been challenged at the High Court level. If we had a Bill of Rights that protected citizens and non-citizens alike, and it would have to protect both, then that could create a basis for challenging this kind of detention as indeed it does in Canada where the Bill of Rights prohibits this kind - would prohibit the kind of detention regime we have in Australia.
RICK SARRE: Morag Fraser?
MORAG FRASER: Agreeing with all that to some extent, I still think your question is very good because you are talking about intangibles in a society that even good jurisprudence aren't going to be able to effect. I think we are facing that situation in Australia at the moment so that fundamental societal sort of balancing things that we took for granted like a degree of equity, like a commitment to equity and education, are being neglected. Fundamental things to a democracy like the way in which we use language and the way in which we use words are much abused at the moment and a Bill of Rights is not going to fix that.
So I think we have to keep our eyes scanning right across because rights puts you immediately into a different area of contestation, there are intangibles that as communities we have to advocate for, I think.
RICK SARRE: I'm going to give you a little quick update about where we will go with today's time. Greg said if things are really going well we could extend it 10 minutes. I would like to extend it 10 minutes so we will finish on the dot at 20 minutes to 3. Greg has been scouting around the audience there. I feel like one of those game show hosts. Who have you got now for us, Greg? Thank you, sir.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
Yes, good afternoon. I'm first and foremost an Aboriginal man of Ngadjuri heritage and Irish and Berber, South African background. I was one of the first Aboriginal Commissioned Officers in the Royal Australian Navy, clearance diving team on Special Ops, who they so figuratively call Seals nowadays. I've served in Vietnam, Somalia, Eritrea, Bosnia and most recently Timor and Cambodia and over my period of time I've completed a Masters in Political Science, a Degree in Cultural Anthropology and I'm just half-way through my Bachelor of Laws. I've had a fair bit to do with the various departments within Government and am fully aware of legislation, Acts and policies and procedures pertaining to those Acts and legislation.
Prior to the election, for example, here in South Australia, I wrote an 18-page working paper on the discrepancies and the complete disregard senior public servants had ‑ ‑ ‑
RICK SARRE: Can you get to your question just briefly, please?
Yes. My question is, it is not a question, it is a statement. I don't believe in questions. I've been around long enough to make statements. Is that we're looking at the wrong people. We're looking at the politicians. Let's start looking at the senior bureaucrats who create a culture of nepotism, feathering of their own nests for their own means and look at the policies that Australia has in regard to foreign and security with the United States of America, in regards to Indonesia, and look at the big picture because a lot of people, the majority are unaware of what is going on.
RICK SARRE: Okay. I will take that as a question, in fact, I think what we can say in that question arose out very much of the so-called children overboard that we seemed to have moved far more towards an American style of having your departmental heads, your acolytes, rather than your - the people who are challenging you in the Sir Humphrey mode. I don't know whether Anthony might want to comment on the political style of Governments tending to appoint those whose advice they want to hear, rather than those whose advice that might challenge their own views. The role of bureaucrats in all of this.
ANTHONY BURKE: We obviously know that we are heading in to some very disturbing territory with a politicisation of the upper levels of the public service and the children overboard thing really showed that up and showed it in a particularly damaging context which was our Defence Forces. You know, we need our Defence Forces, we need them to be apolitical. They occasionally get involved in some very shady things like providing military training to Indonesia but they also do some very good things.
I find it is corrosive of Armed Services morale, it is corrosive of public trust and I think Admiral Barry has really not covered himself in glory and we can even suspect that his recanting of his evidence came from the direct pressure of his other service leaders. So you are definitely raising some very important issues.
RICK SARRE: We will have three more questions, two women and a man, Greg, if you can organise that back there, thank you.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
Concerning the question about: what can we do? I attended a Community Aid Abroad OXFAM meeting recently at which we had an educated biochemist who spent 11 months in Woomera speak. We asked him: what can we do? He said probably the most practical thing we can do is to find a name of a family to write to in Woomera or any of the centres. He said that contact with an ordinary Australian to form a relationship with them can be the most important thing in their lives. He said to get a name is you get in touch with the lawyers or Community Aid Abroad.
RICK SARRE: I'll take that more as a statement and, in fact, I'm just quickly asking around the table here that there are organisations, I've got names, I'm sure others have got the names of the refugee associations who could facilitate that. So thank you for raising that with us. Sir?
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
There's a protest, as far as I know, going on at Woomera Detention Centre at the end of March. I'm not really sure what it entails but as far as I know it's kind of a direct action around the perimeter fence of Woomera Detention Centre. I'm just wondering what the panel think, if those direct actions are constructive, if they actually serve any purpose, if they are a good or bad thing?
RICK SARRE: Okay. The role of direct action, who would like to tackle that one? Morag?
MORAG FRASER: Well, from a journalist point of view, direct action has the immediate effect that it draws press attention so there's some chance that the public will become more informed as a result. I mean, it is just one of a whole complex of things that just - that ought to happen. So my view would be as long as it stays within the bounds of the law it is a good idea.
RICK SARRE: Anyone else? Okay. I think we will take this last question.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
GEOFF BRITTON: Yes, thanks Rick. I'm mindful of what you said about not making a speech, but just briefly, I am a barrister and I'm appearing in about 5 weeks time in the Federal Court for one of the detainees. Part of the problem I've experienced in even preparing this case is the lack of information which we can get and I'm mindful that in this audience we have wonderful people like Elliott Johnston, who has always been a person who has pushed this and said we should be transparent and how do we get the information. In the process of preparing it I've asked questions about the 700 who are going to be sent back, as we heard in the Sunday press, today.
I'm just wondering if maybe Peter or Anthony or anyone on the panel can tell us what they know about the process. Are we going to see a public display of people being sent back? Who is being sent back? Can I tell you, and I would think that I'm a person with some power in that, you know, I've got access to information more than most, but I just find it's impossible to get the right information. I wonder if you could comment on that?
PETER MARES: It's an area where I think a lot more, I personally would say, I'm planning to do more work on this question. It is a question of returns, removing people from Australian territory who are not refugees. It is a very, very difficult area. It's one that refugee advocates often don't really want to talk about because if you are going to have a refugee convention that protects refugees that means non-refugees are not protected and should be removed from Australia otherwise you essentially water down the convention.
The way it works is, depends on where people are being sent. There is a return agreement with China which is, let's say, highly efficient and officers from ACM, the same company that run the detention centres, will go on a chartered plane with 30-odd Chinese illegal immigrants and return them to China and it's really a very well oiled system, let's say. In other cases, as Four Corners has documented, people are moved in the most extraordinary manner involving essentially breaching the immigration procedures of other countries, more or less a form of people smuggling, in order to get them to places like Somalia through transiting them through South Africa and so on and the people in this case ended up in a detention centre in South Africa.
So it varies according to whether or not there are return agreements with the countries involved. One of the reasons we have seen, in my view, seen so much violence in the detention centres is that there are groups of people who cannot be returned. There are, for example, stateless Arabs who came from Kuwait who Kuwait does not want back. So they are non-refugees, they are in detention and they face being in detention until that issue is resolved which could be who knows how long.
MORAG FRASER: Peter, isn't this where the constitutional problems become quite interesting too, people that can't be returned?
PETER MARES: Well, I'm not sure of the legal issues involved entirely here, but there are also, you know, you can't return people to Iraq because of the penalties that they may suffer as a result of having left Iraq without authorisation in the first place. Afghanistan is a case in point, you can't in any decency return people to Afghanistan at the moment. If people want to go back, that is fine, you can help facilitate their return, but to return them against their will even with $3000 in their pocket is clearly unacceptable.
So I mean, I haven't actually heard this - I heard the 700 figure, I don't quite know how the Government intends to do it, but the other aspect of it is is there is no follow-up. If someone is a Tamil asylum seeker, is found not to be a refugee in Australia and returned to Sir Lanka, there is no follow-up as to what happens to them. There is no follow-up as to what happens to an Afghan returned to Pakistan and so on.
RICK SARRE: Okay, we have 2 minutes, so we will take this one last question from over there.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE:
The idea that the children weren't thrown overboard and this idea of the asylum seekers are faceless people, do you think it is a conscious thing that nobody in power, in politics, has apologised to these people who were accused of something that they didn't do, or worse, is it that those people in power don't consider them as people and therefore the debate is about who lied when, who said what when, rather than people have been accused of something that they didn't do and nobody says anything about that?
RICK SARRE: Would anyone like to tackle - while you are thinking about who will tackle that, I was circulated an E-mail that Frank Brennan was circulating, you might have seen it, Morag, just in relation to a visit that he had made to Woomera late last month, this one is dated 19 February and this was a statement that Frank had communicated from a number of people at Woomera, not in relation to the babies overboard or children overboard but in relation to the sewing up of lips:
Might we take this opportunity to assure you that no adult person in this centre sewed the lips of any child. We hope that you will have the opportunity to set right the record on this matter which has offended our dignity very greatly.
You are quite right, that in many respects the sorts of topics that we have discussed in this matter very generally have offended dignity across the board of people about whom we tend to be saying a lot without including them in that conversation. Anthony?
ANTHONY BURKE: I thought that was a very good question but may I just make a response to the previous one?
RICK SARRE: Yes, sorry.
ANTHONY BURKE: Because it raises two issues. One is that because we don't know whether our assessment processes are fair we may well be breaching the non‑refoulement provisions of the 1951 Convention by doing so. The second thing is this question of other stateless people who don't fit narrow definitions. All kinds of people who are not at home and not in a new home who are in danger that the International Refugee System is supposed to protect. I know that the UNHCR is initiating a very broad process of consultation that will end with a Governmental meeting in December this year. Many of us are afraid that that will take the convention backward, but we also need to be thinking about whether international law as it stands is adequate.
RICK SARRE: Friends, I will pass you back to Greg Mackie.
GREG MACKIE: Thank you very much, Rick. You have all been a wonderful audience and you have been very patient. I hope that you have gained from this discussion. If everyone of us walks out of this room with only one more piece of information then we can all claim that this has been a worthwhile gathering. I would like to extend a very great measure of thanks to Jason Li, Anthony Burke, Peter Mares, Rick Sarre and Morag Fraser. Please join me in doing that.