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Australia Revokes Scott Parkin's Visa

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Australian's protest against Parkin's detention

In September 2005 the Australian Government revoked the six-month visitors visa of Scott Parkin, an environmental and peace activist from the Texas-based Houston Global Awareness Collective (HGAC). In their mission statement HGAC explicitly states its commitment to non-violence. [1]

Parkin was arrested, six weeks after he arrived in the country, on "character grounds" and imprisoned pending deportation. [2] Government officials refused to explain to Parkin or his lawyers the basis for re-assessing his status.

Scott Parkin is peace activist and community college history instructor. After participating in a protest and several non-violence training workshops he was detained by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and immigration officials on the grounds that he constitutes a threat to Australia's national security.

History

On the Wednesday September 7, Parkin received a call on his mobile phone from an officer with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). He was asked to attend an interview with ASIO. Parkin asked the officer if this was required of him and, when informed that participation in the interview was voluntary, declined to attend.

Since arriving in Australia in June, Scott has participated in a handful of workshops on nonviolent direct action and shared his experiences campaigning with HGAC for the withdrawal of US oil services corporation Halliburton from Iraq.

Parkin also participated in a piece of street theatre outside the Sydney headquarters of Halliburton subsidiary Kellog Brown Root (KBR). At the protest he described Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR as "the poster children of war profiteering." [3]

"They have more contracts than any other company in Iraq from the US government and they are making a lot of money from the exploitation of the death of Iraqis," he said. [4]

Reports that Scott "organised" the recent Forbes A30 protests "in which ten people were arrested" are inaccurate. Parkin did not organise the Forbes A30 protests and was not arrested.

The Arrest

Parkin was detained in Melbourne on Saturday September 10, 2005 en route to a workshop where he was to speak on nonviolent activism against the Iraq war. The workshop was co-sponsored by Pt’chang Nonviolent Community Safety Group[5], Friends of the Earth Melbourne and the Forest Action Trust. The groups had invited Parkin to participate in Saturday’s cancelled workshop because of his experience as a peace activist.

Upon his detention, Scott contacted a member of Pt’chang, a Melbourne-based organisation which provides training and support to social change activists. He then contacted a solicitor.

Detention

Shortly after being taken into custody, Scott has informed that a "competent authority" considered him to be a threat to national security, and that he faced mandatory detention. Scott has not been charged with any crime or given further grounds for his detention.

Australian immigration law provides visa revocation and detention of visitors visas. Section 501 of the Migration Act provides for the revocation of a visa if "there is significant risk that if the applicant were to enter or remain in Australia they would engage in criminal conduct; or harass another person in Australia; or vilify a segment of the Australian community; or incite discord in the Australian community; or become involved in activities that are disruptive or bring harm to the Australian community or a segment of that community." [6]

Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock told ABC News that the Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, revoked Parkin's visa based on an ASIO Security assessment. "I understand the decision was based upon a security assessment, and security assessments are not something about which I can comment in any detail." [7]

"The only point I'd make is that in relation to those matters, there are provisions by which the decisions can be challenged if people are inclined to do that," he said. [8]

In a later interview Ruddock stated that the basis of the assessment "has to made upon matters relating to politically motivated violence including violent protest activity." [9]

Later a spokesman for Ruddock said scaled the claims against Parkin telling the Age only that he had encouraged "spirited" protest action. [10] "But sources told The Age Mr Parkin's visa was cancelled because of what he was teaching in his workshops, including techniques for preventing police from taking protesters away for arrest," The Age reported.

Parkin was given the option of either being held is being held with the general prison population or in solitary confinement. He chose solitary confinement.

Apart from meetings with his legal counsel, he was been permitted limited visitation rights and was not been allowed to receive books. Because he was not allowed to use a calling card supplied by Pt’chang, he was been unable to speak directly with his family.

Under Australian legislation the Department of Immigration can bill those detained for the cost of their imprionment at the rate of $A125.47 per day. On top of that Parkin will be billed for three airfares to the US - one for himself and two others for security guards to escort him. [11]

After initially being held at the Carlton West Police Station, Parkin was transferred to the Melbourne Custody Centre at the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court. A vigil was organised outside the police station and later Custody Centre, with activists taping their mouths in solidarity.

As the controversy over his detention grew, the government sought to limit media access to Parkin. "Authorities at the Melbourne Custody Centre, where Mr Parkin was being detained, were instructed not to allow the media to talk to him yesterday," the Australian reported. [12]

The Legal Case

Under the Migration Act those who have had an adverse decision have the right of appeal. The government and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock have given no specific reason for Parkin's detention, apart from claiming that he contitutes a "threat to national security".

Parkin, with support from Greenpeace and a team of laywers including barrister Julian Burnside QC, plan to lodge an appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal requesting a review of the basis on which his visa was withdrawn. [[13]

"If all Mr Parkin has done to be assessed a security risk is to peacefully protest his opinions, then we are in serious trouble," Burnside said. [14]

Facing a mounting bill for his own imprisonment and a potentially long wait for a review to be heard, Parkin opted to accept deportation but on condition that his appeal rights would be maintained.

Unless Parkin can appeal and overturn the assessment he may be black-listed from travelling outside the U.S. and unable to return to Australia. "He probably wouldn't be able to travel anywhere else in the world because he's been deemed a security threat and that charge is not appealable in any court once it has been acted upon ... It's effectively a life sentence the Commonwealth has put on this man without charge or due process," ," Greenpeace campaign manager, Danny Kennedy, told the Sydney Morning Herald. [15]

Burnside told The Age that immigration officers had informed Parkin that the date of his deportation would be brought forward if he dropped his appeal. Burnside described this as "factually false and legally improper ... What they're doing, in effect, is saying 'Alright, we'll hold you here in solitary confinement until you dump your action', and that's outrageous," he said. [16]

However, an appeal might not be a strightforward process. Under the National Security (Information) Act, the government can issue a certificate preventing the disclosure of security information to a tribunal such as the Migration Review Tribunal.

In an editorial the Melbourne newspaper The Age noted "a distinctly Orwellian logic" over the possibility that the government could prevent Parkin's appeal. "The Government justifies a decision to curtail an individual's liberty by invoking national security and then refuses to provide evidence because national security allegedly is at stake," it wrote. [17]

Politics

The detention of Scott Parkin has sparked hot political debate over the activities of the security services and both existing and proposed anti-terrorism legislation.

Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown suspects Parkin was arrested because of his campaigning against the military contractor Halliburton.[18] [19]

Initially, the Leader of the Opposition Labor Party, Kim Beazley, expressed conconern that peace activism alone was insufficient reason to exclude a visitor and called for a briefing from ASIO. "The Government has said there are additional security concerns in relation to that person and we are not aware of those ... We are seeking to have ourselves made aware of those," he told ABC News. [20]

After ASIO's confidential briefing of Beazley and the Shadow Minister for Homeland Security, Arch Bevis, the Labor Party dropped its opposition to Parkin's detention. The Age reported Labor "was satisfied with the action taken." [21]

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks also backed calls for an explanation of Parkin's reasons for detention. "To not have an explanation brings into disrepute the very law which has been applied," he said. [22]

Senate Motion Demanding Answers

On the morning that Parkin was due to be deported the Australian Senate debated a motion by Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown, urging the government to provide an explanation on the reasons for the revocation of Parkin's visa.

The manager of business for the Opposition Labor Party, Senator Joe Ludwig, spoke against the motion. "We are not in a position to comment in relation to the specifics of the case … Labor does not support the details of sensitive security operations being disclosed in an open forum. This is particularly important given the complex and sensitive security environment which we now operate in," he said.

Ludwig said the Labor Party would support Brown being given a briefing on the issue by Parkin. Brown responded by stating that he had requested a briefing but this had been refused. Australian Democrats spokesperson for Foreign affairs, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, who has been strongly critical of the Government's lack of accountability, was provided with a briefing, though apparently somewhat more restricted than the Labor Party's.

"Senator Brown has apparently been denied a briefing by the government. I put on record that my effort to get a briefing from the Attorney-General’s office has been responded to positively on the basis of process grounds but obviously not a willingness to reveal more information," she told the Senate. [23]

Stott Despoja also attacked the Government's handling of the situation saying that it was "completely outrageous that Mr Parkin and his lawyers were denied a detailed explanation" as to why Parkin was detained and deported. Stott Despoja added that "this is a fundamental issue with which the Senate has to grapple not just when we are talking about US citizens but when we are talking about our own people.

Brown challenged the Labor Party's acquiesence. "This is not a police state, this is an open and free democracy. The opposition says that there are security matters at stake and I don’t think that there are. I don’t believe there is any security matter at stake here at all and to by implication tie Mr Parkin in with the current climate of fear that the government has embellished about terrorism is a very big mistake indeed, he said.

He also challenged the government's insistence on secrecy. "What has the government to hide here? It is the government that is hiding and being covert and being dangerous. Not Mr Parkin, it is the Howard government that is the dangerous entity here," he said.

Deportation

In a statement released the day before he was deported Parkin expressed his incomprehension of what occurred. "I find this entire experience incomprehensible and am still baffled as to why my visa has been cancelled," he said.

"I am a student of mass social movements in the tradition of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King jnr and I think that these movements have shown us the way to achieve positive social change," said Mr Parkin. [24]

On Thursday September 15, 2005 Parkin was put on a mid-morning Qantas flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles. A small group of supporters gathered at the airport to protest against his deportation.

One supporter, Iain Murray, ridiculed the government and oppositions support for his deportation. "The only threat that Scott could represent is a threat of embarrassment and exposure of a government that has supported the war on Iraq," Mr Murray told reporters.

"There's about as much evidence of Scott representing a threat as there's been evidence found of weapons of mass destruction," he said. [25]

Reaction to Parkin's Deportation

Supporters confront the Attorney General

Following the deportation of Parkin, former Office of National Assessments (ONA) analyst, Andrew Wilkie, dismissed claims that Parkin was a security threat. "If he was genuinely any sort of security threat, well they wouldn't just send him out of the country, he'd be pulled in if he's done anything unlawful, he'd be charged," Mr Wilkie said. [26]

Wilkie, who quit his role as an analyst with the Australian high level security agency over the misleading use of intelligence ahead of the Iraq war, stood as acandidate for the Green Party at the last federal election. Parkin, he said, "is being used as an example ... But also he is a victim of ... the government's increasing preparedness to clamp down really hard on anyone who speaks out against it." [27]

Wilkie said he suspects that the Labor Party's decision to go quiet may have been because they were misled. Wilkies said that he had sat in several ONA briefing with the former Labor Leader, Simon Crean, where information had been deliberately witheld. "I sat in on three ONA briefings with the then-opposition leader Simon Crean and on all three occasions, I saw relevant and important information intentionally omitted from the security briefings because they were inconsistent with the government's policies on the issue," he said. "So, I'm not satisfied that Kim Beazley has made an informed decision on this." [28]

"This government has a track record of trying to silence political dissent. It has a track record of being prepared to act nonsensically, unethically and even illegally," Wilkie said. [29]

Following Parkin's deportation, Australian supporters confronted Attorney General Philip Ruddock at a speaking engagement in Melbourne, demanding that Mr Ruddock either reveal the reasons for Parkin's detention or take them all into custody as threats to national security.[30]

On Monday 19 September, Ian Carnell, the Inspector-General of Intelligence Services (IGIS) told journalists that his office would investigate ASIO's actions in relation to Mr Parkin's case. All IGIS investigations take place in private.[31]

Spooks Spin at The Oz

The week after Parkin was deported the Foreign Editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan, and co-author John Kerin reported claims from anonymous intelligence sources that Parkin's civil disobedience training was "likely to increase violence" at demonstrations. (The Australian is published by the Rupert Murdoch controlled News Limited company, a subsidiary of News Corporation).

On September 22 2005, Sheridan, a champion of the Australian Government's so called "anti-terror laws", co-authored an article with John Kerin, claiming that deported US peace activist Scott Parkin planned to "instruct demonstrators in tactics including disabling police horses and springing arrested protestors from custody".

The front-page headline for Sheridan and Kerin's article was "Deported activist was to teach tactics of violence" while the continuation of it on page 4 was headlined "Activist's violent tactics."

In a media release issued in response to Sheridan's article, Parkin strongly rebutted claims that he endorsed or encouraged "tactics of violence":

"During my time in Australia I spoke publicly against techniques to de-arrest a person who has been lawfully detained by the Police because it is against my principles [...] Horses suffer from being used as riot control machines and I completely oppose anything that abuses them."

An AAP report, published by various news outlets including the Sydney Morning Herald, Parkin ridiculed claims against him in The Australian. "If I am such a threat, why have the FBI not even phoned me since my return from Australia to follow up [Australian intelligence]'s silly allegations? ... As I always say and sincerely believe, it is unprincipled to do anything violent at any time, including in a protest situation." [32]

Curiously, Sheridan and Kerin's article was not on the papers website nor has it been added to the Nexis database.

(It is not the first time Sheridan has breathlessly reported spin from an intelligence source. On July 11, 2003, Sheridan wrote an article "New hope for WMD evidence" in which he claimed that "well-informed sources" told him U.S. troops had discovered what they believed to be "decisive proof of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.")

Spooks Smear Backfires

If the leaker of the ASIO information to Sheridan and Kerin thought that Parkin could be anonymously smeared, they were in for a surprise. While the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, agreed that leaking of ASIO information was a serious matter he refused to initiate an investigation into the leak unless there was evidence that it had been leaked from the agency.

"If you have evidence that a leak has occurred you might like to give that to me so I can provide it to the Australian Federal Police for any investigation that they are undertaking, assuming that they are," Ruddock told journalists. [33]

On 26 September, the Inspector General for Intelligence, replying to a letter from NSW parliamentarian Ian Cohen, said that he had written to the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police concerning possible criminal misconduct in connection with the alleged leak. [34]

ASIO admission

On 30 October, ASIO Director-General Michael O'Sullivan admitted that Parkin was not involved in violence in Australia. Questioned from Senator Bob Brown on whether Parkin had been violent while in Australia, O'Sullivan told the Senate Estimates Committee: "I believe the answer to your question in respect to Australia is no."

O'Sullivan's answer contrasted with Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's earlier inference that Parkin was involved in "political violence" or "violent protest activity". Shortly after Mr Parkin was detained, Ruddock told ABC Radio: "ASIO is responsible for protecting the Australian community from all forms of politically motivated violence, including violent protest activity, and they've made an assessment [of Parkin] in relation to those matters."[35]

Pentagon revelations

In January 2006, an investigation by Newsweek magazine showed that a top-secret Pentagon spy agency had monitored and filed a report on a June 2004 protest organised by Parkin's group, Houston Global Awareness Collective.[36]

The Newsweek story followed repeated denials by the Australian Government that Parkin's treatment in Australia was influenced by pressure from US intelligence agencies.

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