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28th June 1998

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Of thriving rackets and racketeers

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

The past week didn't have a single "politically" dull moment- with the suspension of UNP Chief Whip Wijeyapala Mendis' party membership and the possibility of a presidential election becoming more imminent.

But the scenario at the House by the Diyawanna differed- with the Sub Judice Rule playing havoc with parliamentary agenda and the government making a snap decision to postpone the debate on Wijeyapala Mendis in the eleventh hour.

Instead, Parliament took up amendments to the Immigration and Emigration Act on Wednesday with UNP front liner Wijeyapala Mendis being the notable absentee.

Addressing a depleted House was Power and Energy Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte who emphasized the significance of the amendments to prevent illicit trafficking of Sri Lankans abroad.

" With increasing complaints from foreign missions, the government is charged with the inalienable duty of combatting the crime. Trafficking of human beings abroad is an organized operation- the modus operandi being multifold. While discharging the duty reposed on us to the maximum by enhancing the stipulated penalties, we appeal to the international community to play a complementary role to deter these crimes," he quipped.

The amendments sought to increase the penalty from Rs.200-5,000 to Rs. 50,000- 200,000 with the sentence increased from a minimum of three months to one year and made mandatory. The war minister playing a different role this time painstakingly explained that lenient sentences made racketeers bounce right back to the trade, once released. A rare participant in an ordinary debate, the rowing Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar sought to drive home the point that while Sri Lanka strived to curb illicit emigrants, a similar duty was cast upon other nations to assist in the process.

Reiterating that Sri Lanka indeed took serious note of the question and was sincerely attempting to curb such illegal exodus by imposing heavy penalties, the impeccable Minister on a note of warning said other nations should not adopt a farcically liberal and lenient attitude thereby fostering asylum seekers, which was why the government of Sri Lanka called upon them to play their full part.

The House of the Tunics is often divided by petty politicking. But making a clean departure to make a constructive and academic contribution was UNP's D. H. N. Jayamaha. Displaying his legal acumen, the lawyer saluted the move to impose a mandatory sentence while disallowing suspended sentences.

Adding colour to an otherwise dull debate, SLMC's Sammanthurai member U.L.M. Mohideen was quick to blame the Department itself for the reeking corruption which was instrumental in breeding toutism..

Mr. Mohideen with his characteristic red Fez while laboriously drawing parallels between a den of corruption and the Department, also furnished the origins of the Bill which dated back to 50 years.

"With the drastic changes in the international scenario, over 6,000 Sri Lankan nationals have reported to have illegally entered Germany. The West was flooded by our nationals. Prospective illegal emigrants were told that in some countries, "refugee status" was easily attained by paying substantial sums of money. But they were most often only promises and once abroad, these people were left high and dry," he asserted.

" It is an exchange of girls between certain countries, and one could spot scantily clad Thai and Singaporean girls parading themselves at will. It was common knowledge what their profession was," he thundered.

Setting out the view that the vast number of illegal migrations were due to an unhealthy political climate was TULF's R.Sampanthan. Clad in his immaculate white verti the seasoned MP averred Mother Lanka had to rethink as to why her children were fleeing the country.

Expressing concern for the plight of the Tamil citizens, the silver-haired MP admitted they migrated more through illegal channels. The majority left owing to the prevailing unrest here while a wafer thin minority left for economic reasons."It was no wonder that Tamils opt to leave, considering the agony of being subjected to illegal detention without reasonable suspicion and being subjected to immense physical and mental torture . But the PA's Felix Perera disagreed with Mr. Sampanthan's contention, emphasizing that people sought political asylum mostly for monetary gain.

The perennial heckler of the UNP, A.H.M. Azwer changed stance to speak on a more serious note when he appealed for the reduction of the fee levied for issuing a passport within a day- Rs. 3,000 which was unaffordable to the poor who went overseas for employment.

Having a customary dig at the SLFP, the young member from the East said that during Ms. Bandaranaike's coalition government there were many travel restrictions. Pilgrimages to Mecca, Lourdes and Buddha Gaya were unthinkable.

SLPF's sole representative Nihal Galappatty was in no mood to compromise when he took on the government with a barrage of accusations.

Accusing the PA of conduct only second to the UNP's acrimonious conduct and tyranny, he said the PA, despite its rhetoric had failed to create an environment conducive to democratic politics.

"Today tyrants parade as champions of human rights. Corruption, thuggery and intimidation was on the increase, thanks to full governmental patronage," he said, scoffing that Udugampola and Douglas Peiris were still surviving and thriving.

Speaking on a more saner note was CWC's P.P. Devaraj who explained that most of these were residual problems of the previous Act introduced to prevent Indian Tamils from flooding here. But the Act was 50 years old and archaic- a piece of legislation requiring immediate modification he said, stressing that only a process of decentralizing and increasing efficiency could resuscitate a vital Department which had been simply devoured by vulturish touts breeding massive corruption.

The Hanson factor in Australian politics

By Quintin Fernando in Melbourne

The electoral achievement of the One Nation Party in the recent Queensland State elections in Australia sent a shiver down the spines of not only Asian migrants, but also all minority ethnic groups and Australia's own indigenous people. The 160,000 strong Sri Lankan community has reason to be concerned as one of the major 'policies' of One Nation is aimed directly at Asians. Is Pauline Hanson a political freak, or has Australia entered a danger zone?

When Pauline Hanson, the Federal Independent Member for the seat of Oxley in Queensland, made her anti- Asian and anti- Aborigine maiden speech to a near-empty House of Representatives on the night of 10th September, 1996, she was dismissed as "a crank", "a loner" and a political aberration. Her ideas were blatantly racist and divisive and certainly explosive, and no ordinary Australian would give them a second thought.

Less than two years later, on June 14th, her Nation Party won 10 out the 89 seats in the Queensland Parliament, sending shock-waves through the nation, particularly among the Asian communities and the Aboriginal people of Australia. This was only the second time in 98 years of Federation, that a minor party had won a substantial number of seats in any Australian Legislature. (In 1957, the DLP, a breakaway group from the Labour Party won 11 out of the 75 seats in Queensland. The DLP is now completely defunct.) Unlike the DLP, One Nation Party is based on the negative policies of intolerance and hatred.

Although the One Nation Party would not have won a single seat but for an unprincipled and opportunistic preference deal done with it by the incumbent Country/Liberal Coalition, it attracted 23% of the primary vote. Translated into Federal politics, in a nationwide election, the One Nation Party could win a few House of Representative seats in each of the States (if the same preference deal is done), and certainly a Senate position in each of at least three states, up to three in Queensland. This would give them the balance of power in the federal sphere - a horrendous prospect for a nation that has become a shining example of multi- culturalism, and a society that is trying to come to terms with its historical atrocities towards the Aborigines.

To understand this new - and frightening - phenomenon in Australian politics and its future implications, one has to examine the reasons behind the sudden rise in comparative popularity of a political organization based on intolerant and divisive policies and the sinister forces behind Pauline Hanson, and also the genuine concerns of those Australians who have become disillusioned with the politics and politicians of the three major parties.

Pauline Hanson, as she herself admits, is not a 'normal' politician. She is a politician by default. Her interviews with the media indicate that she has very little understanding of the policies she espouses and, much less their national and international implications. She gets her facts wrong. She is rarely able to conduct a media interview without her minders sitting on the floor and prompting appropriate answers. One Nation policies are inward- looking, divisive and isolationist. What, then, makes Pauline Hanson tick?

She was running a small "Fish and Chips" shop in Ipswich in Queensland when she was endorsed as the Liberal candidate for the seat of Oxley, held for a long time by the Labour Party stalwart, Mr. Bill Hayden, who later became the Governor-General. Two weeks before the election she was dumped by the Liberal Party over some remarks she made to a local newspaper, disparaging of the Aborigines. She stood as an independent, and won a landslide victory to become the member for Oxley in the House of Representatives (the Lower House).

It was her maiden speech that shocked the nation and brought her to national attention. From the beginning it was clear that Pauline Hanson's politics were fertile ground for extreme Right-wing organizations and all those who were anti-Asian, anti-Aborigine and against "economic rationalism" and global economics which both major political parties have embraced.

The anti-Asian "policy" of the One Nation Party is blatantly racist. Immigration numbers and their effect on employment are of concern to many Australians. But Pauline Hanson has found a scapegoat in Australians of Asian origin.

According the Bureau of Statistics, less than 4% of all Australians are first-generation Asians. The number of people of Asian origin in the year 2025 has been estimated at less than 8% . This is hardly "Asianisation of Australia" as Pauline Hanson contends. It is the "Visibility" of certain groups rather than their numbers that makes Asian in general a soft target for the very small minority of potential racists in Australia.

The White Australia Policy was finally laid to rest in 1973 . Since then, there have been two significant waves of Asian migration. They were the so-called "boat people" from Indo China after 1975 and the large number of Chinese allowed to stay on following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Family re-union helped to swell their numbers . Many of these people, for reasons of security, congregated in certain suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, Footscray, and Richmond in Victoria and places like Cabaramatta in New South Wales were almost taken over by these people, making them virtual 'ghettos'.

Moreover, among the hard-working and law-abiding Vietnamese and Chinese, there arose a very small but very strong criminal element, dealing in drugs. The MP for Cabaramatta was gunned down in front of his house and the accused is a Vietnamese businessman. Dr. Chan, the world-famous heart transplant specialist was murdered by a person of Chinese origin. Drug-dealings in predominantly "Vietnemese" towns have had extensive media coverage. Japanese interests have bought into real estate and tourist business on a large scale, particularly in the resort areas of Queensland. It is this "Visibility" of certain groups of migrants that has made all Asians vulnerable.

Other migrants from India, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia have come on their own merits. Almost all of them are employed and are spread very thinly among the Australian population. Many of them hold very high positions in Medicine, Engineering, Teaching and Law. Their contribution has been openly acknowledged . They too are an irrational target of the One Nation Party, because they happen to be Asians. If there was any anti- Asian element in the Queensland election, it was due to the phobia created by Pauline Hanson and her One Nation and not due to any inherent racism among Australians. Australians are not anti- Asian. Asia is very important to Australia. Australia will never go back to the bad old days of the White Australia Policy. Multiculturalism is here to stay.

Aborigines are the most disadvantaged group in Australia. Historical atrocities committed against these gentle people had decimated their numbers. Today, many of them live in appalling conditions in central and northern Australia, which also happen to be areas given on lease to pastoralists and mining companies. Their common-law land rights had been denied because Australia was regarded as "terra nullius" or empty land before European settlement.

Whether the 'Hanson phenomenon' is a passing political aberration or whether it will radically change the fundamental politics of Australia depends on how the major political parties respond to what happened in Queensland.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister, Mr. John Howard has shown very little leadership with regard to Pauline Hanson and her hate-wagon. He hailed Pauline Hanson's bigoted maiden speech as marking a new era of free-speech. Whatever attacks he eventually made against Hanson and her warped ideas, were half-hearted, too little and too late. He still refuses to commit his party to placing One Nation last on the how-to-vote cards. His ineptness and timidity is beginning, in the minds of many Australians, to smack of hypocrisy and opportunism.

Pauline Hanson's ideas of hatred, intolerance and blatant racism have no place in Australia. Australians are no racist. I have lived, worked, eaten, drunk and played with Australians for over 25 years. I have not found more tolerance, genuine mateship and friendliness anywhere else I have been - not even in my Sri Lanka.

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