English language bar for citizenship likely to further disadvantage refugees



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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has proposed tougher language requirements for new citizenship applicants.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Sally Baker, University of Newcastle and Rachel Burke, University of Newcastle

Citizenship applicants will need to demonstrate a higher level of English proficiency if the government’s proposed changes to the Australian citizenship test go ahead. The Conversation

Applicants will be required to reach the equivalent of Band 6 proficiency of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

To achieve Band 6, applicants must correctly answer 30 out of 40 questions in the reading paper, 23 out of 40 in the listening paper, and the writing paper rewards language used “accurately and appropriately”. If a candidate’s writing has “frequent” inaccuracies in grammar and spelling, they cannot achieve Band 6

Success in IELTS requires proficiency in both the English language, and also understanding how to take – and pass – a test. The proposed changes will then make it harder for people with fragmented educational backgrounds to become citizens, such as many refugees.

How do the tests currently work?

The current citizenship test consists of 20 multiple-choice questions in English concerning Australia’s political system, history, and citizen responsibilities.

While the test does not require demonstration of English proficiency per se, it acts as an indirect assessment of language.

For example, the question: “Which official symbol of Australia identifies Commonwealth property?” demonstrates the level of linguistic complexity required.

The IELTS test is commonly taken for immigration purposes as a requirement for certain visa categories; however, the designer of IELTS argues that IELTS was never designed for this purpose. Researchers have argued that the growing strength of English as the language of politics and economics has resulted in its widespread use for immigration purposes.

Impact of proposed changes

English is undoubtedly important for participation in society, but deciding citizenship based on a high-stakes language test could further marginalise community members, such as people with refugee backgrounds who have the greatest need for citizenship, yet lack the formal educational background to navigate such tests.

The Refugee Council of Australia argues that adults with refugee backgrounds will be hardest hit by the proposed language test.

Data shows that refugees are both more likely to apply for citizenship, and twice as likely as other migrant groups to have to retake the test.

Mismatched proficiency expectations

The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), where many adult refugees access English learning upon arrival, expects only a “functional” level of language proficiency.

For many adult refugees – who have minimal first language literacy, fragmented educational experiences, and limited opportunities to gain feedback on their written English – “competency” may be prohibitive to gaining citizenship. This is also more likely to impact refugee women, who are less likely to have had formal schooling and more likely to assume caring duties.

Bar too high?

The challenges faced in re/settlement contexts, such as pressures of work and financial responsibilities to extended family, often combine to make learning a language difficult, and by extension,
prevent refugees from completing the citizenship test.

Similar patterns are evident with IELTS. Nearly half of Arabic speakers who took the IELTS in 2015 scored lower than Band 6.

There are a number of questions to clarify regarding the proposed language proficiency test:

  • Will those dealing with trauma-related experiences gain exemption from a high-stakes, time-pressured examination?

  • What support mechanisms will be provided to assist applicants to study for the test?

  • Will financially-disadvantaged members of the community be expected to pay for classes/ materials in order to prepare for the citizenship test?

  • The IELTS test costs A$330, with no subsidies available. Will the IELTS-based citizenship/ language test attract similar fees?

There are also questions about the fairness of requiring applicants to demonstrate a specific type and level of English under examination conditions that is not required of all citizens. Those born in Australia are not required to pass an academic test of language in order to retain their citizenship.

Recognising diversity of experiences

There are a few things the government should consider before introducing a language test:

1) Community consultation is essential. Input from community/ migrant groups, educators, and language assessment specialists will ensure the test functions as a valid evaluation of progression towards English language proficiency. The government is currently calling for submissions related to the new citizenship test.

2) Design the test to value different forms and varieties of English that demonstrate progression in learning rather than adherence to prescriptive standards.

3) Provide educational opportunities that build on existing linguistic strengths that help people to prepare for the test.

Equating a particular type of language proficiency with a commitment to Australian citizenship is a complex and ideologically-loaded notion. The government must engage in careful consideration before potentially further disadvantaging those most in need of citizenship.

Sally Baker, Research Associate, Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education, University of Newcastle and Rachel Burke, Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: how Australia decides who is a genuine refugee


Mary Anne Kenny, Murdoch University

Every year, Australia provides protection to thousands of refugees under its humanitarian program. In 2015-16, the government issued 15,552 visas to people in need of humanitarian assistance overseas. These included people determined to be refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in camps outside Australia. The Conversation

A further 2,003 people received “onshore” permanent protection visas after being found to be refugees by the Australian government.

The term “genuine refugee” is thrown around often, yet many take for granted the complicated process of how someone is deemed to be one. So, what is a refugee? And how does the Australian government make the decision?

Who is a refugee?

Australia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and several other human rights treaties. These set the definition of a refugee and create a legal obligation not to return a person to a country where they will face persecution or serious harm.

Australia resettles refugees from camps outside the country as part of the government’s humanitarian program, not out of legal obligation. In choosing these refugees, Australia works with the UNHCR to resettle those considered most vulnerable.

We do have a legal obligation to determine whether those who seek asylum when already in Australia need protection. This is regardless of whether they arrive by boat or plane.

A refugee is defined as someone who does not want to return to their country of origin owing to a “well-founded fear of persecution” on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

The person can also receive complementary protection if there are “substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk he or she will suffer significant harm”.

What is the refugee determination process?

The Refugee Convention does not set out the procedures that must be followed to determine whether a person is a refugee. But, to comply with its international obligations, Australia must have a procedure to identify accurately the people to whom it owes protection.

The onshore refugee determination process begins when a person applies for a protection visa. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection assesses their claim. The purpose of this assessment is to decide whether the person engages Australia’s protection obligations as set out in the Migration Act.

Essentially, the decision-maker must decide whether the person faces a “real chance” or “real risk” of serious harm if they return home. The ultimate objective of refugee determination is humanitarian, so the refugee status isn’t based on a standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” or “balance of probablities” as it would be in other areas of law.

In Australian law, “real chance” means the fear of persecution is “likely” and not remote or far-fetched.

How is ‘real chance’ determined?

The Immigration Department considers the applicant’s personal account along with independent information about their country of origin. The department will interview the person about their claim. Interpreters are present if needed, and the person may have a migration agent in the interview.

For example, a woman may claim she cannot return to Afghanistan because she fears violent attacks from other community members due to her work as a human rights activist. The department would need to assess if her fear is well-founded by considering evidence that may corroborate her story. This may be independent information from government sources, NGOs and the UNCHR about the treatment of female human rights defenders in Afghanistan.

If the department decides she fits the definition of refugee, they will grant a permanent protection visa. The applicant will have to satisfy other health, character and security requirements.

People who have their initial application for protection refused can apply for an independent merits review. A tribunal member will have a hearing with the asylum seeker and consider the case again. They will take into account any new or additional evidence, such as country information that might have changed since the original decision was made.

The member may find the person to be a refugee and return the case to the Immigration Department for reconsideration. Or the original decision may be upheld.

What about those who come by boat?

In 2014, the government introduced a different determination process for those who arrived in Australia by boat after August 2012. Under the fast-track assessment process, timeframes for the provision and assessment of claims are truncated.

If the department rejects the claim, it may be referred to the Independent Assessment Authority. Reviews by the authority are on the basis of the original information provided by the asylum seeker. Only in “exceptional circumstances” will the authority accept new information or interview the applicant.

If found to be owed protection, boat arrivals will be eligible only for a three-year Temporary Protection Visa or a five-year Safe Haven Enterprise Visa.

People who arrived in Australia by boat after July 2013, and who have been transferred to Manus Island or Nauru, undergo refugee status determination in those countries. Papua New Guinea and Nauru are both signatories to the Refugee Convention and have their own refugee determination procedures.

Is the process fair?

Asylum seekers rarely have documentary evidence that strongly supports their claim for protection. They may also have difficulty presenting a comprehensive account of their claims due to literacy, language, culture, shame, problems with memory and difficulty in recounting traumatic experiences.

Determinations may also vary depending on the decision-maker. Some studies have identified a “culture of disbelief” in certain areas of decision-making, including claims based on sexual orientation. Some decision-makers who hear many cases may consciously or unconsciously form predetermined views on certain types of claims.

In 2014, the government made cuts that severely limited access to vital legal assistance for asylum seekers. Research conducted in the UK and Ireland shows legal assistance increases the confidence of asylum seekers and improves the quality of decisions.

The UNHCR and other human rights organisations have raised concerns that accelerated assessments of protection claims may lead to vulnerable people being returned to places where they are at risk of serious harm.

It is unclear whether Australia’s fast-tracking process allows the possibility to arrive at a fair and true decision.

Mary Anne Kenny, Associate Professor, School of Law, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dutton blows Turnbull’s credibility – for now and perhaps for later


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s explicit linking of the arrangements to send Australia’s offshore refugees to the US and to accept some from Costa Rica presents not just an immediate credibility problem for Malcolm Turnbull but, potentially, a more serious longer-term one. The Conversation

It contradicts the prime minister’s flat – if unconvincing – denial of such a link. It also raises the question, why would people believe Turnbull on anything remotely related to this issue in the future?

And that could be important if the Trump administration were to ask Australia to boost its military commitment in the Middle East.

Turnbull says any such request would be considered on its merits.

If there was a request and Australia were to agree, he would deny that the acquiescence had anything to do with his managing to twist Donald Trump’s arm to accept the deal Australia did with the Obama administration to take people from Nauru and Manus Island.

But that denial – always likely to be questioned – would be an even harder sell now.

In September, after the Costa Rica arrangement was announced, Turnbull was asked whether it had any material impact on the government’s ability to find homes for people on Nauru and Manus Island.

“It is not linked to any other resettlement discussions,” he said. “The announcement today is not connected to any other arrangements.”

This became the mantra, including after the deal about Nauru and Manus Island was announced following the presidential election. Dutton said on November 14: “The Costa Rica arrangement had nothing to do with this deal and it’s not a people swap.”

On Tuesday’s Bolt program on Sky, Dutton predicted the first offshore refugees would move in the next couple of months. Asked then when the first people from Costa Rica would arrive, Dutton said: “Well, we wouldn’t take anyone until we had assurances that people were going to go off Nauru and Manus … We want an outcome in relation to Nauru and Manus.”

“One of the lessons we’ve learnt from past arrangements, say the Malaysian deal for example that Julia Gillard entered into, we accepted all the people from Malaysia, not one person went from Australia. So we’re not going to be sucked into that sort of silly outcome.”

It should be said this is more than a bit rich. The people didn’t go because the Coalition opposition blocked the “swap”.

Bolt pressed Dutton on the arrangements with the US. “So it was a deal? It was, we’ll take yours if you take ours.”

Dutton said it wasn’t a “people-swap deal” but added: “I don’t have any problem with that characterisation if people want to put that”.

It’s always defied common sense to think there was no link between the Costa Rica and Nauru/Manus Island deals, and the government was taking the public for mugs to try to argue that. Now it is paying the price.

It remains unclear what the Americans honouring the deal will amount to, given it is up to them how many of the people they finally accept after Trump’s “extreme vetting” process.

Dutton’s proposition that the refugees from Costa Rica can’t come until he’s sure some of the offshore people are going suggests he feels the need to take out insurance.

Fairfax’s Michael Gordon has suggested Dutton could have handed Trump an excuse to junk the Manus/Nauru deal if he was so minded.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in Washington for wide-ranging talks with the Trump administration, said on Wednesday: “The agreement is progressing and our officials are working together with United States officials to vet the applicants for settlement in the United States.” She wouldn’t be drawn on detail.

Asked whether she would characterise it as a swap deal, Bishop said: “That’s not the way I would categorise it.”

The government continues to fall victim of its own spin.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tech companies fight Trump’s travel ban and may take their business elsewhere


David Glance, University of Western Australia

127, mostly tech, companies have signed a brief of support opposing US President Trump’s “Muslim travel ban”. The companies, that include Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Tesla have filed an “amicus brief” with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in support of US District Judge James L. Robart who ordered a stay on Trump’s executive order to ban anyone from 7 countries from entering the US for between 90 and 120 days.

The tech companies have argued that immigration is a central factor in the history and makeup of the US and has helped fuel American innovation and economic growth. Immigrants, or their children, founded more than 200 companies that are amongst the top 500 companies in the US. Between 2006 and 2010, immigrants were responsible for opening 28% of call new businesses in the US. Thirty percent of US Nobel laureates in Chemistry, Medicine and Physics have been immigrants.

Mostly however, the brief focuses on the harm that its chaotic implementation will have on US companies. They allege:

“The Order makes it more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire, and retain some of the world’s best employees. It disrupts ongoing business operations. And it threatens companies’ ability to attract talent, business, and investment to the United States.

The consequences of this action will be that US companies will lose business and ultimately

“Multinational companies will have strong incentives, including from their own employees, to base operations outside the United States or to move or hire employees and make investments abroad.”

This last is no idle threat. In 2015, it was estimated that US companies have US $2.1 trillion overseas that haven’t been repatriated because of the tax implications. Apple alone has over US $230 billion held outside the US.

The idea of using this money to set up development and further manufacturing capabilities outside the US makes a great deal of sense, even without the imperative of Trump’s actions. However, there is another move that Trump is threatening that may make the decision to move operations outside the US more attractive still.

Trump’s administration is planning to target the high-skilled worker’s H-1B visa. This offers mostly tech companies the ability to recruit up to 85,000 skill developers and other staff from around the world. According to the Republicans and Trump however, tech companies should be recruiting locally.

Companies like Microsoft, where I have first hand experience of recruitment experience, did actively try and recruit within the US. Recruiting from outside is generally more expensive and time consuming and so there is no real reason why tech companies would actively ignore domestic applicants or favour foreign ones. Tech companies seek to employ the best people for the job and if the pool is global, that is how they achieve that goal.

Having offices remotely distributed can be made to work although it makes communications across teams and different product areas more challenging than if they are all in a single location. However, it already happens in most tech companies with Google and Microsoft already having research and product development occurring out of countries like Australia, India and China.

As outlined in the amicus brief, Trump is sowing uncertainty and chaos with his desire to treat policy like tweets on Twitter. That is going to provide enough incentive for companies to brave the potential disapproval from Trump and use the significant investments held outside the US to expand their capabilities.

Trump may succeed, contrary to his intentions, in catalysing a new phase in globalisation in which companies shift their centres from the US to a more distributed model. Of course, companies may still run into problems if Trump’s brand of nationalism succeeds in taking hold in other countries like Australia or Europe.

The other side-effect of the US uncertainty is the fact that increasingly businesses based outside the US will have a competitive advantage and customers may decide that it is easier to avoid doing business with the US for at least the next four years. China is rapidly becoming the technological equal of the US in many ways and so its ascendancy may also benefit.

The amicus curiae brief is the start of a long legal campaign which will aim to keep the worst of Trump’s plans in check. Depending on the outcomes, the world outside the US may actually benefit from Trump if companies are forced to look outside the walls, real and virtual, he is seeking to create.

The Conversation

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Malcolm Turnbull should walk away from the refugee deal


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It’s the last thing Malcolm Turnbull would want to do, or will do. But what he should do is walk away from the deal he struck with the Obama administration for the US to take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

He should then persuade his cabinet to grant a one-off amnesty, and let these people settle in Australia.

It would be a drastic and, for many in the government, a deeply unpalatable course. But the road Turnbull now has Australia travelling – that of the supplicant – is against our national interest. It’s one that sees the unpredictable Donald Trump treating the US’s close ally with near contempt, one that makes the Australian prime minister hostage to the US president’s capricious behaviour.

At the weekend, in their now much-canvassed telephone conversation, Trump told Turnbull it was his “intention” to honour the refugee agreement while, as revealed by the Washington Post’s detailed report, describing it to Turnbull as the “worst deal ever”.

According to the Post, Trump said Australia was seeking to export the “next Boston bombers”; he also told Turnbull “this was the worst call by far” in his round of five phone calls to world leaders that day, which included one with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Trump terminated the conversation after 25 minutes – it was expected to run for longer – although Turnbull insists Trump did not hang up on him, but rather “the call ended courteously”.

By Thursday (Australian time), after days of mixed messages from the US administration, Trump was publicly dissing the deal in the strongest terms, tweeting:

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No-one can predict where this imbroglio will now go. As one senior Australian source put it: “We are like a cork bobbing on the sea”.

Logic would suggest that Trump would want to ditch “this dumb deal”, which sits at odds with his suspension of the US refugee intake and must look inconsistent to his rusted-on supporters. But equally, he could go the other way and decide there were pluses – in terms of sway over Australia – in keeping it.

If he does proceed with it, the deal could be scuttled in practice by the US “extreme vetting” process excluding most of the refugees. That would leave Australia, after having endured the diplomatic agony, still with responsibility for the people.

What is clear is that the deal has become a big and damaging issue in the Australian-American partnership.

Turnbull has already come under attack for refusing to criticise Trump’s provocative temporary bans on refugees (indefinite for those from Syria) and entrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, which have been widely condemned internationally. Even if he had other motives, his desire to preserve the refugee agreement was obviously one in Turnbull’s approach.

There could be serious longer-term implications if Trump did go ahead with the deal.

Trump is the ultimate transactional politician. If he does something for Australia, reciprocity will likely be demanded at a later stage – with Trump, whose approach is to bully, having no compunction in putting his foot on Australia’s neck. It could be over anything – such as a further commitment to the Middle East or an involvement if the US escalates pressure on China in the South China Sea.

If Turnbull had received a favour, it would be harder for Australia to resist US pressure to do what it might not want to do. Even if the government were comfortable on policy grounds to go along with some US request there would be the suspicion in the public’s mind that this was a quid pro quo.

Apart from those concerns, it is extremely unfortunate to have this issue, with the fractiousness surrounding it, dominate the start of the Turnbull government’s relationship with the new administration. Trump is known for his vindictiveness. If he keeps the deal but angrily and resentfully, that won’t stand Australia in good stead.

Early sourness could limit the extent to which Australia will be in a position to exert any influence on other matters that are of importance to it, such as trade policy – where there are substantial differences between the two countries – and, in particular, America’s future role in the Asia-Pacific region.

Regional countries will be watching closely how the Australian-US relationship unfolds; much of our clout with them derives from the perceived closeness we have with the Americans.

Critics will claim that if Australia cut its losses, dumped the deal and took in the refugees, all manner of disaster would follow.

In particular, they would say, the people-smugglers would start their trade again.

Turnbull on Thursday reiterated that “the only option that isn’t available” to the refugees “is bringing them to Australia for the obvious reasons that that would provide a signal to the people-smugglers to get back into business”.

Yet they didn’t restart their business when the US agreement was first announced, despite suggestions that this could send them an encouraging message.

The government fortified the border further, and the so-called ring of steel around our north would surely be enough to keep boats at bay if it had to take another step. If not, there is something very wrong with our military and coastguard forces.

Politically, there is no question the amnesty course would be extremely difficult for Turnbull, after all the government has said and done.

How difficult? Well, Labor could hardly score real hits against it.

Turnbull would have much more to fear from the conservative ranks in his own party and the right-wing commentariat – and he doesn’t have a lot of gumption when it comes to standing up to these people.

But it would be better to do so, even with the undoubted political risks that it would involve for him, than allow himself and Australia to be subject to the current and future whims of a US president who is raising a great deal of alarm in many places.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Will the diplomatic aggravation and reputational damage to Turnbull and Australia have been worth it?


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Let us turn to Shakespeare for guidance to describe the predicament in which Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, finds himself in his interactions with a bullying American president, damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

– Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3.

In one of Shakespeare’s most oft-quoted passages Polonius is providing his son, Laertes, with some advice before he embarks for the bright lights of Paris.

It might be a stretch to compare Turnbull and the hot-headed Laertes; he is more like Hamlet in his indecision, it might be said. But in a transactional space he has placed his government in an invidious position by outsourcing a domestic political conundrum.

Neither a borrower nor lender be …

The Trump administration may well honour an agreement struck with the previous Obama administration in its lame-duck phase to take up to 1,250 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island. But the question will remain: will the diplomatic aggravation and reputational damage to leader and country have been worth it?

Turnbull’s spokespeople have been assiduous in their efforts to persuade us that an Australian prime minister stood up to the bully in the White House, and that rather than suffering a humiliating rebuff he gave a good account of himself.

That may be true, as far as it goes. But the point is, we should never have been in a position in the first place where we were relying on America’s good graces to salve an Australian domestic political problem at a moment when an American election was being fought on the refugee issue.

Let’s repeat: a deal of questionable probity was struck with an outgoing American administration in contradiction with the policy impulses of an incoming replacement.

No purpose is served now by arguing that few expected Donald Trump to prevail. That is one argument you cannot take to the bank.

If there is a reasonable explanation for Trump’s behaviour towards a friend and ally it is that he is being asked to sanction an arrangement that is antagonistic towards policies on which he was elected.

Whoever dreamed up this slithery refugees-for-politics arrangement in the prime minister’s office, or that of the immigration minister or the foreign minister, should be held to account for placing Australia’s reputation in hoc to an administration untethered form normal diplomatic niceities.

This proposed refugees-for-politics transaction might be characterised as an attempted end run around various United Nations refugee conventions.

My colleague at The Conversation, Michelle Grattan, has suggested that Turnbull cut his losses, tell Trump the deal is off, and offer those incarcerated on Nauru and Manus a “one-off” amnesty to come to Australia.

If Labor had the guts it would support such a course. But its position is even less principled than that of the government, if that is possible.

Labor both criticises its implementation and runs dead on such a transaction at the same time. This puts it in the position, discreditably, of both borrower and lender in this argument.

None of this is to suggest border controls be loosened, or that measures in place to counter unauthorised arrivals be relaxed. It is simply an argument to deal with an existing problem that has caused enormous rancour in Australia, and one that could be resolved if separated from politics.

Unfortunately, and in the case of a government bereft of an appealing political narrative, the “stop the boats” refugee mantra provides a port in a storm, it might be observed.

This brings us to the broader question of how countries like Australia might deal with a White House like no other in living memory.

If it is any comfort to Turnbull in his mendicant state as far as the refugee deal is concerned, leaders of comparable countries like Canada are faced with the same dilemma, and it is this. To what extent does Turnbull, or Justin Trudeau of Canada, or Angela Merkel of Germany, or Theresa May of Britain, assert their country’s values and at the same time criticise Trump at a moment when America’s own values are being trashed?

Trudeau perhaps provides the better model for an Australian prime minister seeking guidance about how to deal with the Trump phenomenon. Inside and outside the Canadian parliament, Trudeau has avoided direct criticism of the Trump administration, but he has made his views known via social media.

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No such public sentiments have emanated from an Australian prime minister hostage to his party’s unsentimental refugee policy, and a supplicant on the issue to a new American administration.

For her part, Merkel did not dissemble, as might be expected, and in contrast to others, including Turnbull. Her spokesman said:

The chancellor regrets the US government’s entry ban against refugees and citizens of certain countries. She is convinced that the necessary decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin and a certain religion.

Finally, a word about the Battle of Hamel, of July 4, 1918. In the welter of words written about the Trump-Turnbull contretemps, in which an American president allegedly hung up on an Australian prime minister, much has been made of Australia having been America’s most steadfast ally from the first world war on.

It is true that American troops served alongside Australians under the command of then Lieutenant General John Monash. But it is also the case America’s commander, General John J. Pershing, whittled back American involvement on the ground for operational reasons.

In the end, a relatively small number of American soldiers were involved in what proved to be a successful operation in efforts to defeat the German army on the River Somme.

Like the reduced American commitment at Hamel, a Trump administration may seek to minimise its intake of refugees in what has proved to be an exercise in Australian diplomacy that has brought little credit to those involved.

The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

US embassy says refugee deal stands, but Trump casts new doubt in tweet


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Update

Donald Trump has lashed out at Australia’s refugee deal with the US in an inflammatory tweet.

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Earlier story:

The American embassy in Canberra has been forced to reaffirm that President Donald Trump’s undertaking to honour the refugee deal stands, after new doubt arose following an explosive story in the Washington Post.

Malcolm Turnbull refused to be drawn on a Washington Post report that Trump “blasted” him over the refugee deal in their weekend conversation, which the president told him was his worst call of the day.

Turnbull’s silence was taken as an effective broad confirmation of the Washingon Post story.

“‘This is the worst deal ever’, Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honour its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention centre,” the Washington Post reported.

“Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was ‘going to get killed’ politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the ‘next Boston bombers’,” the story said.

“At one point Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – and that, ‘This was the worst call by far’.”

The report said Trump had abruptly ended the call after 25 minutes when it had been expected to go for an hour.

It said Trump had told Turnbull it was his “intention” to honour the agreement. Turnbull told Trump that to honour it the US wouldn’t have to accept all the refugees, but only to allow each to go through the normal vetting procedures.

“At that, Trump vowed to subject each refugee to ‘extreme vetting’,” the Washington Post said, citing a senior US official who spoke to the paper.

One of the article’s two authors, Philip Rucker, said the sources for the story were “US officials who have been briefed on the specific details of the conversation”. Rucker is the White House bureau chief of the Washington Post. The other author, Greg Miller, covers the intelligence beat for the paper.

On Monday Turnbull described the conversation as “constructive”.

Peppered with questions at his Thursday news conference in Melbourne called to talk about energy, Turnbull repeatedly refused to be drawn. “I’m not going to comment on these reports of a conversation,” he said.

He did add that: “Australians know me very well. I always stand up for Australia in every forum.”

He repeated that he had received Trump’s assurance that the deal, negotiated with the Obama administration, would be honoured.

A US embassy spokesperson later said: “President Trump’s decision to honour the refugee agreement has not changed and [White House] spokesman Spicer’s comments [confirming this] stand. This was just reconfirmed to the State Department from the [White House] and on to this embassy at 13:15 Canberra time.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Turnbull should “talk straight to the Australian people” about what was going on. “We don’t want to find out our news from the Washington Post. We should hear it first from our prime minister.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What has Turnbull agreed to do for Trump?


Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Let’s hope it’s worth it. Malcolm Turnbull has sacrificed whatever remaining credibility he may still have had as a small-l liberal in a desperate effort to save his tawdry asylum-seeker deal with the US government.

Those hoping for great things from Turnbull will be disappointed but unsurprised, perhaps. What looked like a brilliant political ploy to resolve the running sore of offshore detention has now come back to bite him.

It’s hard to summon much sympathy for his plight. The reality, however, is that it could – and still may – have been so much worse. If the unpredictable xenophobe who currently runs the US and much of the rest of the world shows any consistency, there is no way the asylum seekers on Naru and Manus Island ought to be allowed into the land of the free. After all, most of them are from the countries that have been hit by Trump’s blanket ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries.

The question is what Turnbull had to say or even promise in his 25-minute phone call with US President Donald Trump to persuade him to honour an agreement forged with his predecessor.

Given that Barack Obama was routinely dismissed as being weak on terrorism, border protection and unambiguously naming supposed threats to American security, getting Trump to agree is no small achievement – if he actually follows through on it. At the very least the would-be asylum seekers will be subjected to “extreme vetting”, which many may not pass.

One assumes that Turnbull must have pointed out the immense political damage that reneging on this deal would do to him personally and to perceptions of the alliance relationship with the US more generally. For the first time in recent history there is a serious debate about Australia’s alliance with the US, and a repudiation of the deal would have been a political nightmare for Turnbull.

It would have been extremely difficult for him to mount a continuing defence of a relationship that is regarded in such a cavalier, instrumental and seemingly expendable fashion by the US.

Trump’s “transactional” approach to allies is entirely dependent on what benefit they bring to the US, not the stability of the international system, much less the wider collective good. It is not even clear whether Trump or many of his key advisers would actually recognise the idea of a collective interest at the international level as a meaningful concept.

The question, therefore, is what Turnbull had to offer as his part of a deal between two famously successful businessmen.

Not criticising the Trump regime would be a given in such circumstances, and Turnbull is dutifully fulfilling his part of the bargain, tacit or otherwise. Giving a running commentary on the domestic policies of other governments is not part of his job, apparently – something the likes of Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte will be delighted to hear, no doubt.

More immediately, has Turnbull given an explicit or in-principle commitment to support the Trump administration in whatever actions it may decide to take in the “war on terror”, or – more consequentially for Australia – “standing up to Chinese aggression”, as key Trump advisor Peter Navarro might put it?

The stakes here could hardly be higher, especially for Australia. It is not simply because Australia is bound to be adversely affected by any deterioration in the bilateral ties between our principle strategic and economic partners, but because there is the very real possibility that the relationship could descend into actual conflict.

Despite the fact that Australia could make absolutely no real difference to the outcome of such a conflict, there is every chance that it could get sucked into it as a compliant, ever-reliable and obliging American ally. Australia’s propensity to do America’s bidding is high at the best of times.

The worry is that Turnbull has, as the Americans say, doubled-down on our implicit strategic obligations with a renewed commitment to act – whatever policy the Trump regime embarks on. It is the very least Trump would expect in return.

The asylum-seeker problem is nightmarishly complex and offers no easy solutions. While it is possible to have some sympathy for a problem that wasn’t entirely of the Turnbull government’s making, it is difficult not to see the “American solution” as yet another illustration of the dangers of strategic dependence. It reeked of dubious political expediency under Obama; it is fraught with dangerous uncertainty under the Trump regime.

The growing band of critics of the alliance will feel vindicated and emboldened. If the relationship with the US causes Australia to become embroiled in yet another questionable and unnecessary war on behalf of our supposed protector, it can only be a question of time before wider public confidence in the relationship is eroded, too. That really would be a problem for the Turnbull government.


This piece was originally published on John Menadue’s blog, Pearls and Irritations, and is republished with permission.

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull news conference an exercise in avoidance and obfuscation


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

There were several takeouts from Malcolm Turnbull’s rather odd Monday news conference, which followed his Sunday telephone conversation with Donald Trump.

First, Australians are still not to be given any detail about the agreement – forged under the Obama administration and now confirmed by Trump – that the US will take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

Second, Turnbull appears to want at all costs to avoid criticising the Trump crackdown on the entry of nationals from the seven nominated countries. This is despite widespread international criticism of the bar. Presumably Turnbull is substantially driven by fears that forthrightness might jeopardise the refugee deal.

Third, Turnbull could not or would not give an indication of what the suspension might mean for Australian dual citizens from these countries.

The press conference, held jointly with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, saw Turnbull opening with very similar lines to those put out about the phone call by the government on Sunday on an unattributable basis. They had a “yesterday’s story” feel about them.

Turnbull looked as though he was on the podium reluctantly – his head was often down, he seemed dejected.

His refusal to provide any further information in relation to the refugees the US is supposed to be taking off our hands is cynical and unacceptable. Turnbull has won favourable headlines in the wake of having Trump reconfirm the deal. But as we don’t know the fine print – for starters, the rough number of people likely to be accepted, and when they could start to leave – we can’t judge how much praise Turnbull deserves for either the deal or the confirmation.

This is media manipulation at its worst. There is no legitimate justification for that secrecy; Turnbull’s suggestion that it’s all a matter for the US sounds a fob off.

When Turnbull was pressed to express an opinion about aspects of the Trump executive order, he simply slid around the issue.

It wasn’t his job to run commentary on the domestic policies of other countries, he said. Australia’s border arrangements were the envy of the world. “If others wish to emulate what we’re doing, they’re welcome to do so.” Is he equating Trump’s measures to Australia’s? But then he added “Our rules, our laws, our values are very well known,” including “our commitment to multiculturalism, our commitment to a nondiscriminatory immigration program. … So that’s where we stand.”

As for the urgent matter of how Australian dual citizens might be affected by the executive order, Turnbull was unenlightening.

“If those issues arise in respect of Australian citizens we will, and we are, taking up that issue with the Administration. Can I just say to you, we have a very close relationship with the United States, and when we want to engage in discussions of this kind, we do so privately and frankly.”

Yet Britain has already set out the position of its dual citizens.

A statement dated January 29 from the British Foreign Office said: “Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has today held conversations with the US government and as a result we can clarify that:

“The presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the seven named countries.

“If you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth.

“If you are a UK national who happens to be travelling from one of those countries to the US, then the order does not apply to you – even if you were born in one of those countries.

“If you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the US from OUTSIDE those countries then the order does not apply to you.

“The only dual nationals who might have extra checks are those coming from one of the seven countries themselves – for example a UK-Libya dual national coming from Libya to the US.

“The US has reaffirmed its strong commitment to the expeditious processing of all travellers from the United Kingdom.”

It was left to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to say later: “I have directed our officials in Washington DC to work with US officials to ensure any preferential treatment extended to any other country in relation to travel and entry to the United States is extended to Australia”.

The work should have already been done and Australia should have had a statement out when the UK did.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.