Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Latest Get Up Campaign.... please sign on for this.

You may not realise this but there are still hundreds of people in immigration detention across Australia.

Finally however, the Government is ready to listen and has launched a genuine Inquiry into detention. This is our chance to call for a more humane system, and it is vital that we give the Government a strong mandate for change.

Join me in calling for an end to a regrettable chapter in Australian history. With a click below you can put your name to this petition - the inquiry closes at the end of this week so please add your name now:


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Much ado about a small segment of the global sex industry

A problem that has captured the imagination of our time is the international trafficking of women for sex. It's on the increase because of globalisation, and has become a presence in popular culture. Often the theme of books and television drama, it was the subject of last year's good Australian film The Jammed.

But while trafficking, which involves force and deception, does occur and is a terrible crime, its extent has been hugely exaggerated. This is because the so-called rescue industry often deliberately confuses it with another and far more common activity: voluntary travel by women who want to work in another country's sex industry.

We've seen this linguistic subterfuge before. In the days when the Howard government wanted public support for its efforts to deport boat people, we often heard that this was necessary in order to deter evil "people-traffickers". In fact, most of the boat people had not been trafficked but smuggled, which means they were happy to pay someone who could get them to Australia. Those providing this service were breaking the law but (with the exception of men who provided unseaworthy vessels) they were not in the same moral category as those who trick Thai girls into coming to Australia and then imprison them in brothels.

But there aren't many people doing that, although you wouldn't know it from the publicity the Government's anti-trafficking effort gets, assisted by media-friendly raids on brothels by the Immigration Department. Australia is hardly unique in this regard, and it's time to realise that the world, prompted by the current American administration, has exaggerated the extent of this sort of activity. The victims are often legally employed sex workers.

The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women has published a report called "Collateral Damage: the impact of anti-trafficking measures on human rights around the world". In the Australian chapter, by the Alliance staffer Elaine Pearson, one learns that "government attention to trafficking, as far as sex workers are concerned, has meant increased immigration raids on brothels, harassment of Asian sex workers in particular and disruption of their work. Three sex-worker organisations providing outreach to migrant sex workers stated that non-trafficked migrant sex workers working legally in Australia have been wrongly detained in raids at workplaces … Sex workers who are Australian citizens of Asian descent have also been subjected to increased harassment."

Someone who has looked closely at sex and migration internationally is Laura Maria Agustin, who has spent years talking to migrant sex workers and those who are paid to "rescue" them in America and Europe. She's just published a book called Sex At The Margins (Zed Books), and I spoke to her about it recently on Radio National.

Agustin says many migrants who sell sex choose to do so not because it's a matter of survival or because they're forced to, but because it's a way of bettering themselves.

In Agustin's view, many Westerners get very upset about this because they believe "people who are poor in the Third World are, almost by definition, not able to make any choices, are forced to do things, have been deceived, cannot possibly know what's going to happen to them and therefore are in need of the help of people who understand the world better. And when the situation involves women who sell sex, this is exaggerated by the belief on many people's part that any woman who is selling sex must have been misled, could not possibly want to do that."

But, based on the many women she's talked to, she says they do want to do that. They've decided working in the sex industry is better than the alternatives, a decision no one but they can make.

One might argue it would be better if they had other options, but they don't. And they have to live the lives they've got, not some fantasy alternative imagined by well-intentioned Westerners.
Agustin is struck by the way the linking of sex and migration exercises such a hold on the Western imagination. Every First World city is full of locally born sex workers, yet rarely is any concern expressed about this. Those cities are also full of migrants being exploited in non-sexual occupations, yet once again, public concern is rare. But when the two are placed together, it creates a sort of moral brain snap.

This is the case in Australia, where, the Global Alliance report notes, the government has been relatively uninterested in migrants trafficked for non-sex work. "From 1999 until the end of June 2005," it says, "159 individuals were identified as suspected victims of trafficking by [the Immigration Department] and/or the Australian Federal Police.

"Of this number, only 7.5 per cent of the victims were in sectors other than the sex industry. This is despite the fact that irregular workers are far more commonly found in sectors such as hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing, retail trade and construction than in the sex industry."

Elena Jeffreys, president of Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, told the Herald: "The Australian Federal Government has spent more money on anti-trafficking measures targeting the sex industry than has been spent in the entire history of the regulation of our industry …

"Although the raids on brothels and so on are targeted at Asian women, in a bid to locate those who have been trafficked, they affect everyone else who works there. No other legal industry in Sydney suffers this level of disruption by government officials."

Religious condemnation of homosexuals denies human rights

Michael Kirby
June 30, 2008

A THOUSAND conservative Anglican leaders met in Jerusalem last week, among them Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria who was reported as saying that Anglicans who preach the inclusion of homosexuals in God's church were guilty of apostasy. He is not alone in this view. In Zimbabwe, the former bishop of Harare, an ardent supporter of President Robert Mugabe, withdrew from the Anglican province in May saying he could not co-exist with so many gays and lesbians in the church.

Many of us know the passage from the Old Testament book of Leviticus that declares homosexuals an "abomination". It is one of a long list of denunciations that has profoundly affected the way three great world religions — the "People of the Book": Jews, Christians and Muslims — have responded to sexual minorities. Only in a few countries is there a strict separation of church and state, so what they teach about morality influences secular laws by which most people on the planet are governed.

The problem is that those who believe in the inerrancy of religious texts find it difficult, or impossible, to tolerate those who deny or doubt their truth. Often the reaction against apostates is explained as being for the benefit of those affected. And it is ascribed to a command from God himself.

No doubt there are some in modern Jewish society who still adhere to views such as those in Deuteronomy that advocate the stoning of apostates, but generally speaking, few Jews would take them seriously as a command for contemporary civilian law. Christians have a similar tradition. In the 1250s, in one of the first descriptions of traditional English law, Henry Bracton declared that apostates should be burnt to death. Then, in the 1770s, William Blackstone declared Christianity to be "part of the laws of England", enforceable as such. Such laws have long since ceased to be observed, although occasionally the law of blasphemy is invoked to protect an Anglican concept of God.

It is 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on the recommendation of a committee led by Eleanor Roosevelt. It gave effect to one of the Allied war aims in the Second World War, upholding the right of everyone to "worship God in one's own way anywhere in the world".

For most Jews and Christians today, the thought of punishing people because they abandon or deny their old religion, is unthinkable. Increasing numbers of Australians declare on the census that they have "no religion". So even hardline believers tend to skip over the passages in Deuteronomy. Much easier to single out those of Leviticus and to denounce sexual minorities.
Still, in some countries apostasy is very much a live issue, especially in some Islamic countries. The Holy Koran does not prescribe compulsory adherence to Islamic beliefs. On the contrary, it states that "there is no compulsion in religion". God alone has the right to punish those who do not adhere to Islam or who turn their backs on its beliefs.

On the other hand, the Hadith, a secondary source of Islamic law, records the prophet as saying that whoever rejects Islam must be killed. This has become a source for civilian laws and stern punishments in some Islamic countries. Occasionally, as in Sudan, those laws appear to be used as political tools for removing outspoken opposition personalities.

In Malaysia, the constitution contains standard guarantees of freedom of religion. However, in 2007, a decision of that country's highest court, in the Lina Joy case, by majority, denied the applicant the right to record a change of her religion from Islam to Christianity on her identity papers so that she could marry her Christian fiance.

One of the foremost critics of the Malaysian court decision on apostasy was Dr Thio Li-ann, a professor of law and a nominated member of Singapore's Parliament, a Christian who took a leading part in persuading the Singapore Parliament to reject proposals to repeal the old British laws against homosexuals, based on the teachings in Leviticus. For her, refusing to permit Lina Joy to have freedom of religious conscience was an abomination, notwithstanding Deuteronomy. But the abomination in Leviticus had still to be enforced. Like most non-Western countries in the former British Empire, Singapore maintains its criminal laws against gays.

On the 60th anniversary of Eleanor Roosevelt's Declaration, we need to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity among all the People of the Book. For the sake of the planet and survival of the species we must embrace the universal principles of human rights. It is no accident that they were promised as a foundation stone for the New World Order created by the United Nations. Without respect for such basic rights, peace and security will always be at risk.

Most of the world's great religions are founded, ultimately, on simple principles of loving God and one another. It is from those principles that religious tolerance derives.

The Nobel laureate and religious leader Desmond Tutu recently wrote a foreword to the life story of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church. Tutu declared his acceptance of the authority of Scripture as the word of God. But he has not forgotten that the Bible had been used to justify racism, slavery and the humiliation of women. He declared: "I could not stand by whilst people were being penalised again for something about which they could do nothing — their sexual orientation."

The big challenge before us is to telescope centuries of experience, law, culture and tolerance in the West into a few decades in the rest of the world. Unless we do so, the mixture of religious intolerance and weapons of mass destruction will be a great threat to the world and everyone in it.

Michael Kirby is a judge of the High Court of Australia. This is an edited version of a speech he will give tonight, at the invitation of the La Trobe University Centre for Dialogue, at the Asia Centre, Melbourne University. He will speak at 7pm and the lecture is open to the public