The CSS Blog Network

ANZUS and the new Defence White Paper

F/A-18 and F-16's fly in formation over Sydney, Australia

F/A-18 and F-16’s fly in formation over Sydney, Australia. Photo: Department of Defence/flickr.

Last Friday’s Defence White Paper (DWP) rightly drew a lot of praise from (most) of the analytical community and the media. Many commentators, including myself, welcomed the more cautious tone regarding China’s military rise and the dismissal of Australia having to choose between Washington and Beijing. Does that mean Australia is less supportive of our US alliance? I’d argue that exactly the opposite is the case. There are several key points that support my view.

First, being more nuanced about China’s military capacity and intentions shows a maturation of Australian strategic thinking which surely is welcomed in Washington. As it seeks to integrate (not contain) China, Washington doesn’t need alarmist rhetoric about Beijing from its allies. It also doesn’t want us to invest in military capabilities such as nuclear submarines or long-range strike assets which would unnecessarily duplicate theirs and send provocative signals to China. » More

Outsourcing Responsibilities: Australia’s Punitive Asylum Regime

This blog is republished here as part of our special holiday selection.

Australia: “Refugee” Island. Image by trulyhectic/flickr.

At the height of British imperialism, the problem of overpopulation was solved through the transportation of society’s outcasts – those the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has described as ‘wasted lives’ – to less populated parts of the empire. What was then a global solution to a local problem has now been reversed; in its search for solutions to the global production of refugees, Australia, which was once a destination for these ‘wasted lives’, has sought to delegate its responsibilities for their welfare to local and regional partners. Despite having rowed back on many of the most troubling aspects of its asylum policy in recent years, the panel of experts appointed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to tackle the issue in June this year has recommended a series of measures which look increasingly regressive.

As Matt Gibney has described, until John Howard’s Liberal government came to power in 1996, Australia had often exceeded its international obligations to refugees and considered tackling the problem of forced migration as a key way to demonstrate that it was taking its international responsibilities seriously. Over the last twenty or so years, however, Australia’s has become one of the most punitive asylum systems in the developed world. Governmental efforts to evade its obligations to the international refugee regime reached crisis point in 2001 when a Norwegian freighter MV Tampa,which had picked up 438 ship-wrecked Afghan refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat, was denied entry to Australian waters. The country’s wide-ranging practices of detention have also come under international scrutiny. Woomera detention centre in South Australia, which closed in 2003, provoked an outcry among the Australian public after the extent of its mistreatment of detainees was revealed. » More

Outsourcing Responsibilities: Australia’s Punitive Asylum Regime

Australia: “Refugee” Island. Image by trulyhectic/flickr.

At the height of British imperialism, the problem of overpopulation was solved through the transportation of society’s outcasts – those the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has described as ‘wasted lives’ – to less populated parts of the empire. What was then a global solution to a local problem has now been reversed; in its search for solutions to the global production of refugees, Australia, which was once a destination for these ‘wasted lives’, has sought to delegate its responsibilities for their welfare to local and regional partners. Despite having rowed back on many of the most troubling aspects of its asylum policy in recent years, the panel of experts appointed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to tackle the issue in June this year has recommended a series of measures which look increasingly regressive.

As Matt Gibney has described, until John Howard’s Liberal government came to power in 1996, Australia had often exceeded its international obligations to refugees and considered tackling the problem of forced migration as a key way to demonstrate that it was taking its international responsibilities seriously. Over the last twenty or so years, however, Australia’s has become one of the most punitive asylum systems in the developed world. Governmental efforts to evade its obligations to the international refugee regime reached crisis point in 2001 when a Norwegian freighter MV Tampa,which had picked up 438 ship-wrecked Afghan refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat, was denied entry to Australian waters. The country’s wide-ranging practices of detention have also come under international scrutiny. Woomera detention centre in South Australia, which closed in 2003, provoked an outcry among the Australian public after the extent of its mistreatment of detainees was revealed. » More

Passport-Shaped Boxes

Male/Female Sign

Gender: depends which way you look at it, photo courtesy Brian Suda/flickr

Humans like to categorize and classify things – it helps make life easier. Well, at least some people’s lives. For others, trying to squeeze themselves into these boxes is nearly impossible.

So the news that Australia has decided to allow people to select “X” as a gender on their passports – as opposed to M(ale) or F(emale) – comes as welcome relief to the transgender and intersex communities. Back in 2009, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission undertook a study into the issues surrounding the legal recognition of sex and gender in official documents.  The participants’ comments were enlightening.

It surprised me to find that Australia is not the first state to (officially) acknowledge gender possibilities beyond the simple male/female dichotomy. Other groups have already successfully petitioned for an alternative choice: in India, the hijra can use “E” for ‘eunuch’, and in Bangladesh they can choose “Other”.

However, being able to choose this third option in Australia is currently restricted to those able to support their claim with a doctor’s statement. Why should this be the case? The Yogyakarta Principles state that it should be an individual’s self-defined identity which matters. Indeed, it got me wondering why on earth gender needs to be listed in a passport at all.

In the Australian Human Rights Report mentioned above, the main concern was apparently “national security”. Australian senator Louise Pratt stated that this reform “was a major improvement for travelers facing questioning and detention at airports because their appearance does not match their gender status.” But why does that matter? Surely it is more critical that their face matches the photo. So once more, why does gender need to be listed in a passport?

But, since we’re playing the categorization game, which box would you put internationally renowned model Andrej Pejic in — so as to no longer pose a threat to national security?

Update (20 Sep): It seems that the UK government is now asking itself the same question on whether gender needs to be listed in a passport, in a move spearheaded by the Liberal Democrat party. The Home Office’s Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said in a statement: “IPS is considering the gender options available to customers in the British passport. We are exploring with international partners and relevant stakeholders the security implications of gender not being displayed in the passport.”

Australia’s Indigenous (Prison) Population

Indigenous teenagers in Arnhem Land (Photo: Rusty Stewart/flickr)

Last week Australia performed extraordinarily well in the Global Liveability Survey and can now claim four of the top ten ‘most liveable cities’ in the world. One shining performer was the West Australian capital, Perth, which came in at 8th Place, just below Helsinki and just above a rival Australian city, Adelaide. You can take it from a proud Perth inhabitant – it’s a beautiful place to visit and even more remarkable place to live.

Unless, of course, you are an indigenous Australian, in which case there’s a very good chance you will be spending some time in Perth’s least beautiful locations – namely Hakea, Casuarina, or Bandyup maximum security prisons.

Last week a report was released by the government-established Productivity Commission, assessing the ongoing welfare (or lack thereof) of indigenous Australians.  Throughout Australia, indigenous people are 14 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous people.  In Western Australia specifically, indigenous people make up just less than 4% of the total Western Australian population, yet they make up 40.4% of the total male prison population, and 51.5% of the female prison population (Australian Bureau of Statistics). » More

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