Saturday, 23 May 2015

Now, can we talk about Malaysia again? The Rohingya and Australia's Asylum-Seeker Mythologies

There's been little (err, nothing actually) from the Dalai about the actions of his inherently-peace loving co-religionists in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar/Burma/which way is the wind blowing today?

Donations can be made directly in support of the Rohingya people through MuslimAid.

The international refugee regime, we are continually told, usually without any reference to the actually ample evidence, is broken. And nations across southeast Asia have had a very salutary reminder to that effect this week.

From an Australian perspective, there was no moral leg left to stand on when Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand all refused to allow boats laden with human misery in the form of thousands of asylum-seekers to come ashore. The narrative that the majority of these people are Burmese Rohingya has been countered with claims that most are in fact Bangladeshi laborers, and clearly it will take some time to sort the truth from the murk here.

But the poisonous politics of refugee movements has been sheeted home to both parties at either end of the loggerhead in Indonesia-Australia relations - and it seems clear now that this issue has become almost set like a permanent psoriasis in the relationship as a direct result of the Abbott Government's actions. (Psoriasis, by the way is an incurable condition where the body's immune system incorrectly identifies its own skin as a pathogen, which the immune system begins attempting to attack. I LIKE THIS METAPHOR!)

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry went to extraordinary lengths this week to ensure that it eked maximum moral mileage from the process, and why not? When your opponent hands you the moral high ground by dint of throwing themselves off it, what kind of fool wouldn't revel in their new status?

For Australia, this has been monumentally unedifying. Monumentally so because of the absolute lean undisguised hypocrisy our leaders have displayed. Let's put the parallels in purest black and white.

When this country was faced with an influx of asylum-seeker arrivals by boat, we screamed about the need for a "regional solution" and both implicitly and directly berated the Indonesions for not stopping the trade from their shores. The effect of Indonesia's stopping any given asylum seeker reaching Australia is a tacit agreement that they will continue to host that person in Indonesia.

In other words we are asking Indonesia to help keep these people out of Australia to avoid a given set of negatives for Australia. In doing that, we ask Indonesia to bear every single one of those negatives themselves. So the rich, first world nation with per capita GDP among the top 3 nations on earth wants to have its problems solved by their dirt-poor developing neighbour where GDP per capita is lower by a factor of nearly 20 times taking on board 100% exactly those same set of problems.

There are several mentally/morally-deficient scripts that need to run simultaneously in the background in order to sustain this indulgent fantasising. The first of which runs "Indonesia isn't a signatory to the convention, so it's not a problem, they have no obligations". This is of course only true in law. The realpolitik is that Indonesia has actually to do something to mange the situation of thousands of non-citizen itinerants in its own borders who have no means of their own to make ends meet. The costs are real.

So, basically we are saying to Indonesia "this is unfair on us, you need to help us avoid accruing the negatives associated with boat arrivals by agreeing to accrue all those negatives in Indonesia. That's our endpoint. That's our goal here." The average Indonesian must surely be left wondering about when the discussion will turn to how we sensibly therefore stop people these coming into Indonesia also. That would be rational. That would be a true "regional solution".

The image tells it all - rejecting Malaysia directly enabled the horrors of Manus Island and Nauru

This is why I will stand on a stack of lectern bibles and defend Gillard's "Malaysia Solution" as probably the best policy prescription to address irregular refugee movements that has yet been put forward anywhere globally ever. I strongly urge the ALP to return to this policy, replete with whatever enablements might be necessary to ensure constitutionality, and that should include if absolutely necessary setting aside our signature to the 1951 Convention.

Malaysia offered a far safer haven in a far more developed economy and society than any other offshore-transfer regime yet has. It offered haven largely free from detention in a muslim-majority country. And the kicker, for those who haven't yet twigged where I'm headed is of course that it offered in return for Malaysia taking 800 Australian boat arrivals that Australia woud take up to 4,000 ... wait for it ... mostly Rohingya refugees currently in camps in Malaysia.

"Fly them here to stop the drownings" is the language the Greens and the hard left assail us with. "Well, OK, then!" is the Malaysia solution's answer.

The Malaysia Solution gave very specific and direct voice to the claim the Australian people had been effectively (though perhaps disingenuously) making for years, that "we want to be generous to refugees, but only those accredited through the formal UNHCR channels."

And it was a solution that showed proper respect for the sovereignty and concerns of our regional neighbours, it gave us a role whereby the example we set we could be said to be showing real regional leadership.

And we and every other southeast Asian nation are back on the treadmill this week mouthing glib grabs about "regional solutions" being essential. Well, seriously people, get the hell on with it, then. Everyone knows what a regional solution is basically going to look like, and Malaysia gave us a pretty good template for a series of frameworks. And we already have the Bali forum to directly address this within. That forum would of course have more teeth today if it hadn't been for our hypocrisy in undermining it through our own actions, but there's no argument starting anything new would have a hope of re-setting that.

Tony Abbott has managed this week to sink this nation's moral reputation a good foot or so deeper in global sludge. I keep wondering how much gold a Gillard could have spun this week with a positive proactive framework to stop the deaths, stop the buck-passing back to the developing world, and ultimately mitigate the human suffering.

And we really do need to keep eternally reminding ourselves that's the bottom line here. Human suffering and its alleviation. Because I am damn certain that the policy prescriptions the Greens and their ilk have put forward to date do not score ahead of the Malaysia Solution under that very real and very meaningful and deeply moral benchmark.

We want to be part of this region. As a wealthy, open, tolerant nation with plenty of everything to go around, we want to share the main burden of this region's paramount humanitarian crisis, and if you doubt the Rohingya deserve that status, just Google image search the word. Watch your screen fill with nothing but grisly post-massacre photos as "peace-loving" Buddhists cart charred corpses away, that or see people sitting massed in the dirt in refugee camps by way of a pictorial account of an entire people. And ask yourself what any of these people have done more or less than yourself, other than a mere accident of their birthright to deserve it.

Can we live with any of the outcomes that currently look like playing out? Nope, Nope, Nope.

Donations can be made directly in support of the Rohingya people through MuslimAid.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Guildford Lane, Melbourne. The heritage you could lose in your sleep ...

There's a little known part of this city that has no immediate equivalent anywhere else in Australia. By virtue of its location, it has remained literally largely hidden from most Melburnians' sight for most of its life. It is only with the recent discovery of "laneway culture" and through development pressure across the cbd more broadly that the area called Guildford Lane has risen in prominence.

With that prominence now comes the imperative to develop a heritage overlay for the entire precinct before any more of this unique and highly valuable resource is lost to us. Council has in the past been presented with recommendations for preservation of the precinct but nothing has ever been done.

Guildford Lane and the network of lanes around it was established by 1855. The gold rush resulted in many dense developments of small tenements around central Melbourne, including in this precinct around Guildford Lane. The buildings, however are thought to likely mask archaeological evidence of even earlier residential dwellings.

The Guildford Lane Precinct is historically significant for its illustration of ordered but constrained re-division of the original 1837 Hoddle blocks for small-scale development. It is Melbourne's best surviving example of small scale, early twentieth century industrial and warehousing building fabric.

All except one of the buildings facing the lanes date from the 1880s to the 1930s, built for light industrial or warehousing purposes. Except for two buildings - the bluestone walls of former stables of the Buckshead Hotel at 15-21 Sutherland Street which may date from the 1850s, and the rendered brick wall of the building at 20 Sutherland Street, all the buildings facing Guildford Lane are in unadorned red brick, and none more than 4 storeys. 

Guildford Lane runs east off Queen Street, and after about 20m, the L-shaped Flannigan Lane and MacLean Alley branch off, to run behind the buildings facing Guildford Lane, and they all meet Sutherland Street, which runs north-south from Little Lonsdale to La Trobe Street. There are unnamed L shaped lanes running off Flannigan Lane to the west and Sutherland Street to the south that provide further access to Latrobe Street.

In addition to commercial and manufacturing businesses, Guildford Lane was the home to several food related businesses. In 1920, the Chocolate Bowl Confectionery Company occupied premises on the north side of the lane. In 1911, a request was made to the City Solicitor to take proceedings against several fruit hawkers who called Guildford Lane home.

The buildings almost all display relatively in tact original exterior fittings, including extensive ironwork, and increasingly rare metal-framed industrial-style windows.

Here, you can see the original pulley system for one of the warehouses still in place.

The area has cultural significance also. The New Theatre, an early and influential Communist/Brechtian group, and sister organisation to Sydney's New Theatre used to hold their performances upstairs at the Duke of Kent Hotel, now itself under threat of development. Signage for the theatre remains on display in Guildford Lane.

In fact, fascinating historical signage abounds in the area, as per these photos.

The area has recently risen to become arguably the most vibrant visual arts precinct anywhere in Melbourne. Fehily, Screen Space, Urban Codmeakers, Utopian Slumps and of course Guildford Lane Gallery all make their homes there. And the cafe culture has followed in their wake.

Particular praise needs to be made of the street activation offered by Brady Development's otherwise bog-awful Melbourne Star and Melbourne Sky apartment buildings, which have added a number of small-scale cafe spaces to the mix, rendering these monoliths strangely sympathetic from a street level perspective.

A number of the buildings have in recent times been converted to residential use, but the development has been almost wholly sympathetic to the preservation of the laneway's character.

Now, however, now a number of large developments threaten the integrity of the precinct and Melbourne Heritage Action's proposal for a Guildford Lane Heritage Precinct now needs urgent consideration by Council.

This development at 26-28 Guildford Lane proposes demolition of the existing building and construction of a 7 storey building wholly out of character with the surrounding four storey lanescape.

And this development proposes wholesale demolition of the C-graded Heritage building, The Duke of Kent Hotel, built in rare neo-Egyptian style, and whose rear (shown below) contributes significantly to the lanescape of Flanagan Lane.

Furthermore the lanescape of Sutherland Street is already in the process of being significantly compromised by the construction of Eporo Tower, which itself saw the demolition of these three heritage structures that were themselves highly contributory to the Guildord Lane precinct.

Melbourne Heritage Action currently has a proposal for a heritage overlay for the entire precinct, including surrounding contributory buildings before council. City of Melbourne residents are encouraged to write to their Councillors in support of this proposal. The complete proposal can be found HERE.

But if nothing else I'd urge all Melburnians not familiar with the area to spend a fascinating couple of hours pottering around the precinct. Heritage, after all is there to be lived.

Photocredits: Adam Ford, Tristan Davies, Melbourne Heritage Action.

Friday, 1 May 2015

(Open) Letter to the Editors of the Herald-Sun

Re. "Still selfish, still a rabble" 2/5/15, I'm writing to clarify what the paper's actual position is here, because obviously this is a considered editorial stance on the important question of public protest rather than reactionary race-baiting.

So, have I got this right, anyone that constitutes a "rabble" does not have a democratic right to public protest? Fair enough (actually not really, but let's take this moronic assertion to be true for the sake of fun). What elements define a group of people as a 'rabble', and how can we legislate to deny these people rights if we can't clearly identify them?

Is a "rabble" defined as "a gathering of people which includes an above average proportion of indigenous Australians"? Seems to me that's the very direct implication here. So, we should legislate to outlaw any gathering of people of which more than say 20% are indigenous? This should end REALLY, REALLY well don't you think?

If not that, then what else about the protest group of 10,000 pretty average seeming Melburnians constituted a rabble? How do these people differ from say the 10,000 people marching up Sydney Rd to decry Jill Meagher's murder? Oh, I think I get it ... they were clearly majority anglo-Australians, and they were protesting the victimisation of a WHITE WOMAN WHO WORKED IN THE MEDIA.

So basically, people who are similar to the Editorial team at the Herald-Sun are entitled to public protest and are called "saints" in news articles at the time. Anyone who has concerns for the forced closure of indigenous communities (aka ethnic cleansing) is just being "selfish" because they are not doing anything to reinforce the welfare of a bunch of people who earn well above the average wage, and who have a significantly over-enfranchised voice within the media already, namely the people who publish your daily picture book.

And the measure of this "selfishness" is that it takes a bunch of people maybe an extra half hour getting home from work on one Friday night?

Myself, I define selfishness as "anyone who transits to work in the CBD by car when perfectly viable public transport options are available."

I define a rabble as "a gathering of people whose mendicant self-interest is dressed up as opinion and shoved down the throats of a large portion of the population via uncritical media."

You, dear editors are the most selfish, pernicious goddamn rabble that has ever held sway over anything in this city.

I politely suggest the next protest on this topic should probably take place around the entrances to the Herald and Weekly Times carpark, starting at around 3pm on a Friday afternoon, and maybe ending sometime after midnight Saturday morning. Because I'm willing to bet none of you even know what a Myki card looks like ...

Have a lovely Friday.

Adam Ford.