9 September 2013, 18:32

Any refugee has right to come to Australia and claim asylum - that’s not for government to decide

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As Australia conservative leader Tony Abbott has won the national elections by a landslide, bringing an end to a six-year Labor rule, Anthony Loewenstein, an Australian independent freelance journalist, in an interview with the Voice of Russia shared his opinion on the election outcome and on what the country may expect from the new government which is to face many challenges, including tackling such issues as immigration policy and the carbon emission tax.

The Australian Election Commission confirmed on its website that the Liberal-National coalition had won 88 seats in the House of Representatives, and Labor 57. Australia's newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has admitted defeat to Tony Abbott in the Australian election. Outgoing Prime Minister said he will not stand again for Labor leadership. Rudd had called the election after defeating Julia Gillard in a leadership challenge in June. Under Rudd, Labor initially saw its figures improve, but Tony Abbott, who enjoyed the support of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, then widened the gap again.

Tony Abbott’s top priorities include cutting 4.1 billion dollars from Australia's foreign aid program over four years, abolishing a highly unpopular carbon tax, and implementing Operation Sovereign Borders aimed at curbing the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat. Abbott has also promised to scrap a controversial 30 percent profits tax imposed on major coal and iron ore mines.

The new Liberal-National Party coalition government is a strong supporter of a long-standing military alliance with the United States, and supports the rotation of US Marines through northern Australia. It also advocates closer ties with China, Australia's top trading partner, and wants to push ahead with negotiations for a free trade deal with Beijing.

A record 1,717 candidates contested the election, including mining entrepreneur Clive Palmer, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Anthony Loewenstein, an Australian independent freelance journalist.

Was this result expected? What was your opinion and forecast?

It was very much expected. It’s been a Labor government in power since 2007, in the last couple of years it became very unpopular for a range of different reasons. The economy is doing remarkably well, which is quite strange because most countries have suffered the financial crisis but Australia is doing very well. So, it has been combination of factors. The asylum seekers keep coming; there is also the issue of a lot of protests for Murdoch. There was time when Murdoch had a lot of influence in Australia and the opposition – it was inevitable that they were going to win on Saturday, and here we are.

What will happen to Australia's immigration policies? How will that change?

Unfortunately, the policy has become even crueler towards asylum seekers. For the last years, especially for the 15 years both sides of the politics in Australia found ways to harsh towards refugees, putting them in detention camps in the middle of desert, treating them very badly on the Pacific. So, unfortunately, it is already very bad. The new government is even worse. The aim is to stop people getting on boats from Indonesia to come to Australia, which may not be successful but people often forget in Australia or elsewhere that what the issue here is how we treat refugees when they come and Australia unfortunately in the last few years has chosen a path of giving harsh life. And I am worried that it is going to be worse not better in the coming months and years.

Can’t we say that Australia is protecting itself in that way?

That is what the government says, that Australia must protect its borders and yes, that is certainly a view that every country, including Australia must protect its borders. But the language that is used by politicians here, the true thing is, one, they regularly say that refugees are coming here illegally, which is incorrect. Any refugee has the right to come to Australia or any country and claim asylum - that’s not for the government to decide. And secondly, if you claim as the Australian government does that many asylum seekers are potentially terrorists or criminals or untrustworthy, it creates the image in the greater community that people that are coming by boat should be mistrusted and I think that is the problem where our own government figures show that a vast majority of asylum seekers that come to Australia from Iran, from Afghanistan, from Pakistan actually are legitimate refugees. So, this I think is the problem with that kind of rhetoric.

Can we say that most Australian people do support these kinds of measures?

Yes, there is no doubt that there is a sizable proportion of Australia that supports the idea of a harsher refugee policy. That is true. My view is possibly in the minority, I understand that. I would say because many people don’t know the full spectrum of refugees. The media for many years have sent a certain message that was negative towards asylum seekers, but yes, you are right, there is a great deal of support in the Australian community, as the reason many countries around the world have been treating asylum seekers very harshly and that is the challenge to try to make people look sympathetic, in my view.

What about tax changes? What changes in that sphere are you expecting?

One of the things that is quite remarkable is that besides the fact the Australian economy is doing very well, normally when the economy does well, people do not change the government. Australia is the opposite of that. So, we have the situation now when we have the new government. What the new government is talking about doing is providing far greater tax breaks for corporations to reduce regulations for those corporations and to help mining companies and energy companies to have far greater access to resources with less taxes and regulations. So, it seems that they are going to be following the path of the number of other countries and that will happen in the next 6-12 months.

What about the carbon emission tax?

We have the situation in Australia where there are 2 parts of the Parliament – the upper half and the lower half and because of the way the Parliament works quite similarly to Britain in some ways, it is unclear whether the new government will be able to put this through the Parliament. What they plan is to say that carbon tax that was put in place by the previous government should be abolished, the current government has been in power for 2 days and I think it has a very ambivalent relationship towards climate change, some members believe it exists, some do not. So, we are likely to see a loosening of regulations around energy companies and less of an issue towards pollution. I think Australia’s policy towards the carbon tax is likely to change and in some ways is following many other countries, but public support of serious actions on climate change regulations, in fact, is reducing, and it is similar to what is happening in many parts of the world at the moment as well.

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