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Statement on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s Working Visit to Australia

MPOZ notes that DPM Ahmad Zahid has just completed a 3-day working visit to Australia. He was accompanied by Deputy Home Minister Datuk Masir Kujat and other senior government officials. It was his first visit to Australia since taking office in 2015.

The stated purpose of the visit is to strengthen “bilateral relations on matters related to security, counter-terrorism, and transnational crimes”. The visit occurred on request of Australia’s Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton.

Given the purpose of the visit and the officials involved, MPOZ believes a response is warranted, for the benefit of Malaysian students overseas especially.

On Security and “Border Protection”

Australia is known for its brutal refugee deterrence regime, which has been copied in Europe and the US. Australia was one of the first countries to totally ban boat arrivals from seeking asylum. Refugees arriving by boat are either turned back to sea or imprisoned indefinitely in offshore camps where they have no hope of being processed and settled safely.

Dutton is known for his disregard for refugee rights. The detention camps have been condemned by human rights groups for years. Dutton maintains a longstanding Australian policy of deliberately sabotaging plans by refugees to reach Australia, in cooperation with other countries.

In 2011, Malaysia agreed to play host to the “Malaysia Solution”, a refugee deal in which Australia was to send detained refugees to Malaysia in exchange for accepting refugees from camps in Malaysia. The deal was cancelled after the Australian High Court ruled it illegal.

Since then, Australia has tried and failed to sign a deal with a “third country” willing to settle refugees. Deals with Cambodia, the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan have all failed despite large offers of cash aid from Australia. The possibility that Australia may once again be looking to Malaysia as a solution is very troubling.

Malaysia has not signed the UN Refugee Convention. There is no legal definition of a ‘refugee’ in Malaysia. Outside of UN camps, refugees that work underpaid, unpleasant jobs in our cities are only considered illegal immigrants. Their children have no right to education in our schools. They can be arrested and deported back to danger at will.

On Work Visa Scams

Large numbers of Malaysians are tricked into coming to Australia every year. They are offered a work visa in exchange for working on farms, often picking fruit. In reality, they are trapped on farms once they arrive, live in squalid conditions and earn less than half the minimum wage (as little as $8/hr). They are unable to return home until they have saved up enough for a flight.

Just last year, 34 Malaysians were arrested and detained for a week after being caught in such an arrangement. They were subsequently deported, and have likely been banned from entering Australia for the next few years. But the problem remains widespread, and the Australian and Malaysian governments’ primary concern is to punish the Malaysian farm workers rather than retrieve the wages they are owed or hunt down the companies responsible.

The Liberal government in Australia has for many years blamed migrants for stealing local jobs. They have no interest in migrants beyond the cheap labour they can provide. A solution for this problem must involve regulation and legalisation of these migrant farm workers, with the accompanying rights to basic working conditions.

Dutton’s job as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection is to control the movement of people in and out of Australia. He is waging a war against skilled migration, cutting work visas, increasing PR and citizenship restrictions and instituting harsh checks and an English test. The current “security” arrangements that DPM Zahid was here to discuss have a real human cost for refugees and visa-scam victims, and Malaysian migrants in general.

On Terrorism and Transnational Crime

Peter Dutton is notorious even among the conservative Liberal government here for blaming crime on migrants, especially Muslims. Late last year he suggested that Lebanese migrants were putting Australia at risk of terrorist attacks. He is no friend of the Muslim community anywhere.

Both Malaysia and Australia have deployed unusual measures to hunt down terrorists. In Australia this has taken the form of violent police raids on Muslim households, and schoolteachers being asked to pick out students that seem to be “at risk”. Malaysia has also deployed SOSMA against terror suspects, detaining these often young and disengaged people in poor conditions without trial.

The roots of Islamic extremism lie in Western-led wars in the Middle East and the stoking of conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, in which Malaysia is complicit. It is bolstered by racism that Muslims encounter in the West.

Until peace is restored to the Middle East and conservative politicians in Malaysia stop pitting Muslims against non-Muslims, extremism will remain a threat. This means calling for an end to foreign interference in the Middle East and the “War on Terror”.

More importantly, the vast majority of Muslims in Malaysia and Australia are not even remotely interested in sectarian tensions or extremism. They will be far more interested in large-scale transnational corruption that harms both our societies. Australian property investments have been used by Malaysian officials to launder money in the past.

We hope that both governments will be working hard to crack down on corruption like this. But given the reputation of the Malaysian political establishment and the Liberal Party in Australia, that is not likely to be a priority.

When DPM Zahid was finished with business, he spent some time with Malaysian students in Canberra and Sydney. As is usual when addressing students, his comments were about giving “opinions that are for the country’s interests” and promoting TN50 as proof that the government cares about young people’s opinions . There is nothing new here for students who would organise against the government’s unjust dealings.

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MPOZ acknowledges the traditional owners of the land we meet on -

  • the Gadigal people of the Euroa Nation,
  • the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation
  • and the Ngambri people of the Ngunnawal Nations.

We pay respect to the Elders both past and present and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians past, present and emerging.

The land was never ceded, and the struggle for Aboriginal recognition continues today. Always was, always will be Aboriginal Land.