George W Bush and Rupert Murdoch might have been generous about the PM
during his time in Washington. But the city’s main paper, The Washington Post, wasn’t. It dedicated an editorial to Howard:

During a visit to Washington this week, Australian Prime
Minister John Howard expressed satisfaction that the United States
would expedite the process of bringing the only Australian citizen held
at Guantanamo Bay to a military trial. Since David Hicks was captured
in Afghanistan in December 2001, Australians have been annoyed by the
idea that one of their own is being detained indefinitely, with no
clear indication of when his case will be resolved. As it happens, Mr
Howard himself has faced a barrage of criticism in recent weeks –
including within his own party – over his government’s policies
concerning indefinite detention. The detainees in question, however,
are not suspected of involvement in terrorism; they are simply refugees
seeking asylum in Australia.

Australian immigration policy mandates detention for all asylum-seekers
who arrive without the proper documentation – even children.
Australian immigration law has been interpreted to require
asylum-seekers be detained until their cases are decided; because there
are no defined time constraints, this process can take months and
sometimes years. By contrast, US immigration policy, while by no
means perfect, sets out timetables for parts of the process and limits
indefinite detention to exceptional circumstances. If authorities
decide that the asylum-seeker could be eligible for refugee status in
the United States, immigration officials have discretion over whether
detention is necessary.

A recent inquiry on the detentions included the disturbing but
believable finding that immigration officers responsible for verifying
identities “seem to lack even basic investigative and management
skills.” The report further faulted inadequate training and oversight
of immigration employees and a lack of communication between officers
and detainees. These systematic failings have led to some egregious
cases, such as that of Peter Qasim. Mr Qasim finally received a visa
last weekend after nearly seven years in Australia’s immigration
detention centres, including the most notorious one, Woomera, closed in
2003 after allegations of grave mistreatment of detainees. It is true
that those darkest days appear to be over. But when Mr Howard talks
about a “speedy adjudication” for Mr Hicks at Guantanamo, he should
also consider the hundreds of asylum-seekers languishing in Australia’s
own barbed wire-enclosed detention facilities, their cases still
unresolved.

Interesting. Why not follow the US on this one, prime minister?

Peter Fray

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