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Big News: Pagan In A Pagan Land

Big News – Aussie style with Dave Crampton

Pagan In A Pagan Land

Asylum seekers may no longer be big news in New Zealand, but in Aussie it is heating up again. Many asylum seekers are still heading for Australian shores, despite it being the only country in these parts that refuses to consider taking any on. New Zealand, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and possibly Fiji are taking in asylum seekers, but the latest to take in the refugees is the sea.

The 350 mainly Iraqi migrants ( including 70 children) that drowned off the coast of Indonesia in 10 minutes were heading straight for Christmas Island in a rotting, leaking 19m fishing boat. Forty-four people survived, including an eight –year-old boy who lost 21 of his family members. Survivors were rescued by fisherman after spending 15 hours in the sea and are now being cared for in Java. One survivor compared it to the Titanic - well the film, anyway.

Naturally, in election year, Aussie PM John Howard said it was a tragedy. But one can only help wondering how much of a tragedy Howard would have considered it had the boat found its way to Australia and the asylum seekers piled onto Australian soil to be processed ahead of legitimate refugees. Then sent back home.

Some of the refugees were from Afghanistan – and who in their right mind is going to send refugees back to Afghanistan. To Fiji maybe. Anywhere but Australia and Afghanistan. Even turning asylum seekers away can be dangerous as boats could break up and sink.

Meanwhile, Aussie Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock’s spokesman says journalists “don’t know what they are doing” in reporting the issue. Apparently it was reported that the Aussie government is pressuring Nauru to deny journalists access to asylum seekers due to fears that some may be recognised and denied access if deported. That has been refuted by Ruddock.

The opposition’s Kim Beazley went into fast-track electioneering mode – there’s a November 10 election in Australia, if you didn’t know already - and said the problem was that the Australian Senate has not passed laws preventing the international perception that Australia is a safe haven for asylum seekers. He said the answer to the problem was a decent coast guard. What he didn’t say that he supported the recent Border Protection Bill, allowing boats of asylum seekers to be turned away. Howard has promised $175 million in the next four years to upgrade border protection. And the government is trying to get a $190,000 pilot programme off the ground so that 20 Australian police can work in Indonesia to disrupt people smuggling. Apparently two police are there now to get information on people smuggling. I wonder how they are getting on?

Labour has also said an agreement with Indonesia would assist in the the long term, something Howard had failed to do at the APEC summit in Shanghai. Howard didn’t even speak with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, nor could he secure a brief chat with George W. Helen Clark got both.

Now, in the half way mark in the election campaign, the latest Morgan poll has Labour are in front on a two party preferred basis by 3 percent, according to today’s Bulletin magazine.

But questions have to be asked as to why Australia is about as much a home for asylum seekers as Afghanistan is to its own people. Howard has an election to win and doesn’t want to be seen as being soft on asylum seekers. But he does not want to see the asylum seekers to gain access to the Australian Justice system with permanent visas. What does that say about the Australian commitment to justice without “fear or favour”? Advance Australia where, you might ask.

Well, if the Christian Democratic Party have their way they will advance on without the Green Party. After attacking the NZ Green Party at the Christian Heritage Party Conference, The Reverend Fred Nile launched into his own Greenies because the New South Wales Greenies want to ban Almighty God by rejecting the opening prayer in the State Parliament each day and have a period of “reflection or silent prayer” for religious unity instead, claiming that religious prayers are divisive.

"Do [the] Greens plan to change their Party name to the 'Pagan Party', which rejects Almighty God, and instead worship trees?" asked the Rev Fred Nile.

Scrapping prayer in Parliament won’t achieve religious unity, most MP’s are a bunch of irreligious pagans anyway. The Greens lost the vote 31-5. What does it matter anyway, the Lords Prayer is said as a ritual, not as a prayer.

Which brings to mind: What are open-minded spiritual values anyway? Maybe someone from the Greens can answer that, as that is what they say they subscribe to – but don’t define.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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