Having barely known each other before we embarked on this project, Simon and I have spent the last two months together – day and night, with barely a break. It has, in general (S comments: what do yer mean ‘in general’?????), been easy and fun and interesting. This morning, after spending a night in the car park of a football ground, Big Simon packed his bags and left for Melbourne on a jet plane, don’t know when he’ll be back again….actually, we do know….he’s going to Melbourne to deliver a speech to the students at his old school.
Our last night together before he left was a deeply moving one: we camped in the car park of a football field near the Mackay airport. As we got ready for bed, Simon realised that his phone might not be charged enough for the alarm to go off to wake him for his 6.30 morning flight. He has a ‘travel’ alarm clock, but that is also a little on the unreliable side: it lets off a single, quiet ‘beep’ and that is supposed to wake you up…..
In the end, it did. Simon made it to his flight and our latest EXCISED ring-in, Maree, joined me for a slow, two-day trip to Brisbane where we hitched up with Simon again.
It is feeling increasingly hard to get cracking on the EXCISED project. We have been on the road and water for two months. It has been a cracking pace. If we were merely travelling we would have been moving quickly. But we have also been trying to organise and implement a public awareness campaign. The time in the Whitsundays – where our phones were down and we were unable to contact any media – and then a couple of days without Simon in which we leisurely headed south has seemed like a respite from the manic trip that we have undertaken. It has felt great. But it has also left me feeling like I am needing to find some extra energy to get back into the project. Heading into Brisbane and on to a public function feels like walking up a steep hill after a pleasant stroll in the woods!
Well Simon was there at the airport as arranged. Picked him up and headed for Jason and Manon’s place. They live near the Brisbane river, not far from the city. They are involved heavily in West Papuan issues. In fact, Jason, through his involvement with the Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights, and the Refugee Action Collective organised a small public gathering where Simon and I and one of the 43 West Papuans who made it to Cape York earlier last year spoke.
In January 2006, a small boat with 43 West Papuans on board arrived at Weipa in Cape York. The group had built their traditional canoe from a single tree and had made the journey from the north of West Papua to the south and then across the Torres Straits. One man described how their engines had failed and how they were lost at sea for five days.
They had made it beyond the excised zone. Indonesia put extraordinary pressure on Australia to reject their asylum claims and to have access to the asylum seekers. In March the Indonesian government was outraged when, in a strong indication that Australia’s refugee determination system had been able to assert its independence in the face of powerful other interests, forty-two of the group were granted protection. Indonesia withdrew its ambassador to Australia and suggested that Australia’s actions would encourage more West Papuans to come here. Indonesia was concerned that Australia – or some within this country – were promoting the West Papuan independence movement, a suspicion that was reinforced by Australia’s role in the enabling of East Timorese independence. The Howard government responded to Indonesian displeasure by announcing a review of the way in which it conducted asylum seeker procedures, with the Prime Minister suggesting a radical measure whereby consideration of the national interest might become part of the protection determination process. In mid-April, the government announced that any future unauthorised boat arrivals, including West Papuans, who made it to the Australian mainland would be processed under the Pacific Solution arrangements (i.e. extraterritorially and outside Australian domestic law). It also announced co-ordinated surveillance activities with Indonesia around the Torres Straits.
In order to make its intentions law, the government introduced the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006 into parliament. The bill would have extended the excised zone to the whole of the Australian coastline – mainland and islands included. It would have meant that any non-citizen to arrive anywhere in Australia by boat (including those airlifted to the mainland after being picked up at sea) would have been ineligible to apply for protection in Australia. Instead, they would have been transferred to an offshore processing centre where they would have been channelled into a protection determination system that is substandard.
In the end, the government withdrew the Designated Unauthorised Arrivals Bill. It had become clear that, despite controlling the Senate, the government would not have the numbers to pass the Bill.