Keep The Arts Alive at Fortyfive

Here is a really worthwhile message from Fortyfive Downstairs: Melbourne’s most creative an vibrant arts venue:

Dear friends of fortyfivedownstairs,

You will probably have seen something in the press about the effect the massive Australia Council funding cuts have had on Australia’s arts community, and like all of us, you will have had many appeals for funds by post and by email.

We can’t say that our need is greater than that of homeless people, or refugees, or victims of domestic violence. The fact that the need is so great is an indictment of one of the wealthiest countries in the world. But without the arts, we are a country without a soul. Our artists need our support now more than ever.

In the past couple of years, we’ve said that if everyone who comes to this venue for an exhibition, or a theatre production, could donate $10, we would be able to reduce costs for artists, and achieve our aim – to make money for artists, rather than from them.

Since 2002, fortyfivedownstairs has presented, produced or co-produced almost 200 new Australian theatre productions, and we’ve shown the work of literally thousands of artists.
The reality however is that it’s getting harder and harder to survive, let alone combat the current climate of Federal government indifference to the arts. So we are asking for your help to continue our efforts to bring exciting new work to audiences, and to reward the artists who create it.

Our artists hold up a mirror to our society, they illuminate the dark corners, they enrich our spirit. Imagine how poor our lives would be without them.

– Mary Lou Jelbart, Artistic Director


Fortyfive Downstairs is a curated gallery space and also a performance venue.  We showcase independent visual art, theatre and music.

fortyfivedownstairs is a Melbourne based not-for-profit theatre and gallery.

The Arts in Australia are suffering at present, because of changes to Australia Council funding.. Theatre productions in particular are difficult, if not impossible, without external funding. So people wanting to mount plays have a really hard time doing it unless they receive external funding.  That has an immediate impact on venues like Fortyfive Downstairs: if people can’t afford to put on a show, we have an empty space but we are still paying the rent.  We do what we can to help, but we need YOUR help as well.

If you feel like donating, click here

In the interests of full disclosure, I am the  founding chair of Fortyfive Downstairs. I do not have a financial stake in it; I donate to it each year. But like all Melburnians, I am enriched by the enormous contribution it makes to the arts in Melbourne.

Refugees write to PNG Supreme Court

Detainees held in the Manus Island detention centre have now written to the PNG Supreme Court, thanking the Court for the judgment, which held that their detention is unlawful and unconstitutional.

It is worthwhile  for all Australians to note that one implication of the judgment is that PNG’s human rights standards are greater than ours.  Here’s the letter.

Ltr to PNG Supreme Court

How sad it’s come to this.

New Get-Up campaign to Get Dutton Out

I don’t usually publicise Get-Up campaigns, but here is the text of their latest campaign.  I agree with them:

“In a disgusting ploy to win votes, Peter Dutton — the Minister for Immigration — just slandered many of our immigrant communities:

“They won’t be numerate or literate … They would languish on unemployment … These people will be taking Australian jobs.”1

This kind of rank bigotry and stupidity has no place in our politics. But it won’t stop until we make it cost votes and cost bigots like Dutton their place in parliament.

According to experts, Dutton is vulnerable in his electorate of Dickson.2 It’s no easy task unseating a cabinet minister, so to beat him, we’ll really have to fight.

But just imagine if we brought the full force of our national movement to bear on Dutton. That’s on the ground organisers, door-knocking, massive phone banks, a data-driven digital advertising program, sophisticated message testing and electorate-wide advertising.

He won’t know what hit him. And the only thing worse than enduring Dutton’s divisive drivel, is knowing we had a shot to end it, and didn’t give it everything we’ve got.

Can you chip in to our all out campaign to get Dutton’s bigotry out of Parliament?

Peter Dutton isn’t just the Minister for Immigration. He’s said to be the leader of the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, pulling our government and politics further to the right on everything we care about.3

And Malcolm Turnbull is so bound to the hard right of his party he couldn’t bring himself to rebuke Dutton yesterday — instead calling him “an outstanding Immigration Minister.”4 So if we want change, we’ll have to cut those strings to the hard right ourselves.

Even if we can’t get Dutton chucked out of office, cutting deeply into his vote in Dickson would deal a serious blow to his reputation and power in the party.

Critically, it would prove that bigotry doesn’t win votes or elections — it causes you to lose them. That’s the message we need to send to Dutton, Turnbull and politicians everywhere.

Can you help fund our all out assault against bigotry in our politics?

Our strategy to beat Pete is big, strategic and sophisticated:

  •    On the ground. On the ground organisers in Dickson — who know the people, know the streets and know how to organise. They’ll be leading door-knocking events, starting next week.
  •    On the phone. Massive phone banks, with the power to make thousands of calls a week to the people of Dickson — straight through to the voters who can make a difference.
  •    On message. A sophisticated, data-driven program to identify the swing voters in Dickson and determine the messages that will influence their vote.
  •    On the airwaves. Ads in cinemas, on the streets, in papers and online with the messages proven to shift the most votes away from Dutton.

It’s a lot to do, and we have to put it in place right away. Can you chip in to make it happen?

Thanks for all you do,
Shen for the GetUp team.

PS – And if running offshore detention camps doesn’t convince you, here’s 10 more reasons Peter Dutton needs to go.5 Click here to chip in, when you’ve heard enough.

Here are some of Dutton’s “achievements” in parliament:

  1. Forced a raped, pregnant asylum seeker onto a late-night charter flight to Nauru.
  2. Only front bencher to boycott the apology to the stolen generations.
  3. Sent text calling a journalist a “mad f—ing witch” (to the journalist).
  4. Spent $55 million to resettle almost no asylum seekers in Cambodia.
  5. Responded to two refugees tragically setting themselves on fire by blaming activists.
  6. Caught joking about climate impacts on low-lying Pacific Islands while on diplomatic visit.
  7. Border Force’s ‘Operation Fortitude’ fiasco to randomly check visas of Melbourne pedestrians.
  8. As Health Minister, cut $57 billion from our local hospitals.
  9. As Health Minister, tried to bring in a GP co-payment.
  10. Voted “worst Health Minister in 35 years” by doctors.

[1] “Peter Dutton says ‘illiterate and innumerate’ refugees would take Australian jobs”, The Sydney Morning Herald, May 18 2016.
[2] “Queensland: up to 10 LNP seats could change hands in federal election”, The Guardian, April 29 2016.
[3] “Peter Dutton supersedes Scott Morrison as Liberal Party’s conservative champion”, The Sydney Morning Herald, December 1 2015.
[4] “Election 2016: Malcolm Turnbull backs ‘outstanding’ Peter Dutton after refugee comments”, ABC News, May 18 2016.
[5] “View from the Street: Peter Dutton, strategic Coalition distraction-goose!” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 18 2016; “Refugee rape victim says Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is telling lies about abortion”, Sydney Morning Herald 19 October 2016.

GetUp is an independent, not-for-profit community campaigning group. We use new technology to empower Australians to have their say on important national issues. We receive no political party or government funding, and every campaign we run is entirely supported by voluntary donations. If you’d like to contribute to help fund GetUp’s work, please donate now! To unsubscribe from GetUp, please click here.

Our team acknowledges that we meet and work on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. We wish to pay respect to their Elders – past, present and future – and acknowledge the important role all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to play within Australia and the GetUp community.

Authorised by Paul Oosting, Level 14, 338 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW 2000.

Schrödinger’s Refugees

Recently, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that “They won’t be numerate or literate … They would languish on unemployment … These people will be taking Australian jobs.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, May 18 2016).  He said this in an attempt to make his deliberately cruel treatment of boat people seem vaguely respectable.

But in saying that he unwittingly created what might be called Schrödinger’s Refugees, by postulating that refugees would both languish on unemployment and take Australian jobs,.

Schrödinger’s cat   is an idea from the strange realm of quantum physics.  Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It illustrates what Schrödinger saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects. The scenario presents a cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead, a state known as a quantum superposition, as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur. (courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)



Update from Manus

Delta Compound: recommended capacity by Red Cross: 225. Current reality: 255 and increasing as more Positive outcomes are handed down.

Oscar Compound: 270 refugees using a total of 6 washing machines , 6 dryers, 16 toilets, 20 showers. Water bottles are used for toilet use. Toothbrushes: currently none in stock. Each dormitory has around 30 refugees, so no privacy, doors slamming, broken air conditioning etc.

Benham Satah, eye witness to the murder of Reza Berati, is more scared than ever.  He continues to live in fear. He is in Mike compound, where his friends guard him day and night.

Norfolk Island

Natasha Blucher got a lot of stick recently about a proposal she authored ages ago.  It dealt with the idea of using Norfolk Island instead of Nauru or Manus, on the footing that it would be available (in principle) to the Australian government, and would not be as bad as Nauru or Manus.

The Norfolk Islanders didn’t like the idea (good on them).

Now the press are trying to criticise Blucher for the proposal: a proposal she does not now advance.  She has issued this statement:

Norfolk Island Proposal

Among other things, she says:

“As a Norfolk Islander who has been living in Australia for the past 10 years, it is absolutely not my place to represent Norfolk Islanders who are currently living on Norfolk, or their views.” said Blucher. “The proposal was written 18 months ago as a suggestion for the island and its government and people, and was never meant to be pursued against their wishes.’’

OFFSHORE by Madeline Gleeson

On 9 May I launched OFFSHORE by Madeline Gleeson (NewSouth Publishing, 2016, paperback)

Madeline is a Research Associate at the wonderful Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law

It is a terrific book.  Buy it; read it; ask yourself: “How did it come to this?”

Here is my speech at the launch.

I have launched quite a few books in my time.  I always read a book before launching it.  It can be a chore, at times.

I have never launched a book which is as compelling as Offshore.

I thought I knew a fair bit about the treatment of asylum seekers in Manus and Nauru.  But Offshore brings together so many compelling details, many of which I was unaware of, that I was torn: part of me could not put the book down; part of me could not cope with more and more searing detail of our cruelty to men, women and children who have had the courage to risk their lives on the ocean in a search for a safe place to live.

This book is meticulously documented: every assertion of fact is attributed to a verifiable source.  In fact, this must be the only book ever published which has nearly 100 pages of footnotes, but is genuinely compelling to read.

It covers Australia’s offshore detention regime since 2012.  What comes through is quite clear: Australia takes boat people and mistreats them in order to persuade others not to even think about seeking safety in Australia.  This is, ostensibly, to protect them from the evils of people smugglers, as if people smugglers were all morally  identical. If that were so, the worst imaginable people smuggler would be in the same moral basket as Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, Oskar Schindler and Gustav Schroeder.  (Gustav Schroeder was the master of the MS St Louis who tried valiantly to find a safe country for 900 Jewish refugees in 1939, but was eventually forced to return them to Europe where more than half of them perished in concentration camps).

Bonhoeffer, Schindler and Schroeder were people smugglers who made dangerous choices for principle against politics and pragmatism.  We honour their memory.

For political leaders in this country, especially self-proclaimed Christians, to prefer politics over principle is as disappointing as it is familiar.  This book could be first on the indictment of Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton for crimes against humanity.

Although it only gets a brief mention in Madeline Gleeson’s book, it is interesting to recall that, in 2015, a suggestion emerged that Australian Border Force people had paid $30,000 to a people smuggler to turn back, and take his passengers back to Indonesia.  The story was picked up by the Opposition, but suddenly disappeared.  But it draws attention to Australia’s law which makes people smuggling an offence.  It has just 3 elements.  The person arranges or facilitates the entry by a person into a country, of which that person is not a national, without going through the ordinary passport controls.  Let’s see how that lines up against our much promoted “turn back” policy.  We turn suspected people smuggling boats back to Indonesia – if necessary, we put the passengers into special orange lifeboats.  So, we facilitate the entry of those people into Indonesia.  In fact, we make their entry into Indonesia a practical certainty, unless they drown on the way back.  Do we think they are Indonesian nationals?  Probably not.  Do we expect that they will go through ordinary passport controls? Probably not.

Australia has boasted about this activity, but it means that Scott Morrison directly authorised people smuggling, as that offence is defined in our law.

But Scott Morrison’s hypocrisy is clear to see elsewhere in the pages of Madeline Gleeson’s book.

He said Reza Berati had escaped from the detention centre at Manus and had been killed by locals. The fact was that Reza Berati was killed, inside the centre, by people paid by Australia to keep the detainees safe.

He said Hamid Khazaie had been medically evacuated to Australia and was receiving the best medical care.

He overlooked that Khazaie was already brain-dead because his evacuation had been so delayed and carelessly handled by the Immigration Department.

He sent children to Nauru against the clearest medical advice.

Under Morrison, detainees were the victims of sexual assault, but no charges were ever laid.

Self-harm and suicide attempts reached “epidemic” proportions.

Save the Children workers, desperate to do whatever they could to relieve the suffering of children in detention, were accused by Morrison of engaging in a “campaign to cast doubt on the government’s border protection policies”.  Months after Save the Children had been removed from Nauru, the Moss review found that the allegation was false. Just last week, it was revealed that we have agreed to pay secret compensation in an undisclosed amount.

And each Sunday Morrison went to Church to display his Christian virtues.

Peter Dutton was appointed Immigration Minister by Tony Abbott in early 2015.  His appointment was reaffirmed by Malcolm Turnbull.  He presided over the introduction of the Australian Border Force Act in 2015.  Among other things, the Border Force Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone who works in the detention system to disclose anything they learn in that capacity.  In ordinary civil society, if a doctor becomes aware of a case of child abuse, they commits an offence if they fail to report it.  Under the Border Force Act, if a doctor working in the  detention system becomes aware of a case of child abuse, they commits an offence if they report it.  In theory, they face the possibility of two years in jail if they report a case of child sex abuse in the detention system.  Madeline’s book reveals numerous cases of child sex abuse in the Nauru detention centre: she reveals them because doctors have had the courage to let their ethics transcend their personal interests.

No one has yet been prosecuted under section 42 of the Border Force Act, but its chilling effect is clear.

What Offshore makes clear is that Australia is brutalising anyone who risks their life to come to Australia to seek safety.  Given that Australia played an important role in the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the wake of the second World War, it is a sobering irony that we are now playing a leading role in degrading human rights, and we are doing it because of the dishonest rhetoric of politicians such as John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton.

Last week, Stephen Charles QC, a former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal, published an opinion piece in the Fairfax press.  In it, he observed:

“The camps in Manus Island and Nauru have long since ceased to be mere detention centres.  They are now concentration camps.“

That statement, which 10 years ago would have been dismissed as hysterical alarmism, is now uncontestable.  But it provoked no great concern.  As we slip down a dangerous moral slope, our politicians assure us it is all for our own protection.

Modern human rights discourse started immediately after the second world war.  When the Nazi concentration camps were opened, the world drew breath in horror seeing proof of what had happened.  Most civilized nations resolved that it should never happen again. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was inspired by the horrors of the Holocaust. Most of the great human rights instruments came in the wake of the Universal Declaration.

But the tide turned on September 11, 2001, and I suspect that in many countries the idea of human rights is now seen very differently. People are more concerned with protecting themselves than with protecting grand ideals like human rights, probably because they think they’ll always be in the un-persecuted majority.

I have two fears – and I hope I’m wrong about them.

First, that in 50 years from now people might look back on the second half of the twentieth century as “the time when they thought about human rights”, like we look back to the first few decades of the twentieth century and say, oh, they used to talk about eugenics back then. Eugenics was the creation of Francis Galton in the late nineteenth century. It was taken seriously until Hitler gave eugenics a bad name.

In the late nineteenth century people used to talk about spiritualism. It was an area of thought that was taken seriously by many people, including seriously clever people.

You don’t hear about spiritualism or eugenics anymore. It’s not just that people don’t take them seriously as ideas anymore; people don’t think about them anymore. They are ideas which have been removed from the intellectual table.

It worries me that, in 20 or 30 or 40 years from now, people may no longer think about human rights.  It may just be seen as one of those historical curiosities that people used to think about.

My second fear is this: that Malcolm Turnbull will win the Federal election on 2 July, but with a reduced majority, and that he will be rolled in the party room…and Scott Morrison will become our Prime Minister.

As I say, I hope I am wrong about both these things

But if that is where we end up, Madeline Gleeson’s wonderful book will be an enduring reminder that human rights matter, and that right now, in Australia, our politicians are betraying the fundamental ideals of human rights.

And it will be a fitting epitaph to the political career of Scott Morrison.

A Letter to Minister Dutton from a Refugee Advocate

With permission from Sarah Smith, here is a copy of a letter she has sent to Peter Dutton:

“Dear Minister Dutton

You may have seen my article, published by The Guardian, last Thursday, May 5 2016. I have included a link here for your reference.

Today I became the latest advocate to be officially diagnosed with Vicarious Trauma, due to what I’m witnessing my friends suffer in detention on Manus and Nauru, and what my friends here are suffering after having been detained in Australia’s offshore ‘regional processing centres’.

The counsellor who diagnosed me has a friend who is a former security guard on Nauru, and who is now completely psychologically broken from his time there- despite having actively served in the military for 20 years in conflict zones, and emerging from that role trauma-free.

Minister, if hardened soldiers are being traumatized by what is occurring in offshore detention, and if people who have never been there are being traumatized by what they’re witnessing from the safety of their own homes, you can’t possibly claim that offshore detention is not a gross breach of international human rights laws. Manus and Nauru regional processing centres are, by the textbook definition of the term, torturing people. Nobody burns themselves to death so they can leave a country; they burn themselves to death because it is preferable to what they would otherwise be forced to endure.

I strongly urge you to close these centres immediately and bring all refugees to Australia for visa processing.

After many of us spent Mother’s Day talking women on Nauru out of suicide, I also take great offence at the suggestion you have ‘intelligence’ that advocates are coaching refugees to self-harm. This is untrue and defamatory, and I demand you provide evidence of this supposed intelligence, or issue a public retraction and apology to all who you defamed with this statement.

I expect a prompt response from your department.


Sarah Smith
Refugee Advocate

Great letter.  Absolutely right.

News from Nauru

A colleague sent this recent message from Nauru.  The writer is not politically active at all.   We should all be grateful that there are people like this who are willing to report accurately, neutrally in such circumstances.

But in addition we need to remember that THIS government is responsible for the humanitrian cataastrophe which is offshore processing, and THIS opposition revived the idea of offshore processing.  And BOTH major parties campaigned in 2013, seeking to over-bid each other in their promises of cruelty to refugees.

The LNP and the ALP are beneath contempt.

Neither major party can claim the moral high ground.  They are as bad as each other. this election, consider casting your primary vote for any party, as long as it is not ALP or LNP.  One or other of them will win government, but they will see their primary vote fall.  In our democracy, that’s an effective way to send a mesage to people who have stopped listening.

Here is the message my colleague sent:

“They say bad news travels fast. A UNHCR review panel arrived on Monday and was doing some community consultation this morning to assess the refugees situation and conditions to report back to the Australian Government about the  progress towards settlement and prospects for longer term residence on Nauru. They got their feedback! Now we can all jump up and down because we have some dramatic news footage and we can see how serious the situation is. But it has been that serious for some time!!! The long term prospects are not good for a host of reasons. It is not a viable solution for the vast majority of people; individuals and families. People who have been declared genuine refugees after  exhaustive investigations and reviews in some cases are being given a very raw deal in order to advance and enforce Australia’s border control policies. We know we need to “stop the boats” but should these people be the sole/ primary strategy, incarcerated endlessly to justify the government’s political agenda. What’s Indonesia doing? What are our intelligence people doing? Their navy, our navy? Why should the refugees be held responsible for the actions of others following months /years later? And, we should keep in mind that many of them set forth before the policy, or as the policy changed. They were doing what refugees do; seeking passage to a safe haven by whatever means were available. Many of them had been in transit for some time / years.

“People are understandably shocked and distressed having witnessed or heard about the terrible incident today. It is NOT an isolated incident and we know they will continue and increase.
Please do whatever you can to keep up awareness of the issues being faced by people here. It is understandable that the government instigated policies to stop the boat smuggling but the people who have been used as policy “fodder”, as scapegoats deserve better……. deserve something!!! Someone’s life hangs in the balance tonight. He was not a criminal. He was a refugee.
I want to throw up when Peter Dutton boasts there are no children (that we are responsible for) living in detention. There are. I’ve seen some of them and I’ve seen some of the toll that detention on Nauru has taken. Whatever the faults or unfortunate decisions their parents have taken, the children did not choose this path. “That’s unfortunate but what can we do?” you might say. Well, we can lobby. We can ring up. We can write. We can talk. We can do something however big or small because so much that is happening here is wrong.

“Medical and psychiatric facilities are barely/not?  coping with the number of incidents and deterioration of health of many refugees and asylum seekers. Numerous people have been flown out after self harming or attempting suicide.  There are insufficient facilities and medications here and many of the emergency situations are handled by the police who are insufficiently  trained and ill equipped to deal with severely disturbed and distressed  people.  They have passed laws….. If you attempt suicide it is against the law and you could go to jail AND be fined.  Lucky they don’t have the death penalty for such a heinous crime!!!

“I have previously talked with some about the various employment schemes here and a large number of refugees have got work…… some in construction, mining, utility and retail services but the greatest number are working in security…….. not where it’s needed mind you.  There’s limited security for the refugees, some of whom have been set upon, assaulted and or robbed in locations or on tracks where they are forced to travel to get from A to B in a feasible time. Vehicles (motor bikes and bicycles), phones and money have been stolen and property has been damaged but much of this goes unreported because the police do little or nothing.  They either don’t care or don’t have the resources to respond adequately. More often the refugees have given up complaining because nothing is done. There is no redress. Many refugees will tell you that they work simply to maintain some sort of routine and their sanity.  Many are paid the princely sum of $2.70 per hour (the locals get a little more than that!). In some cases they get an additional living allowance but then you’d need that because apples and bananas can be $12 /$13 a kilo. A mango or an avocado will cost you $5 – $8. Everything here costs approximately 50% more than Australians would pay in Australia….. so go figure how far a weekly salary of $125 will go.  Some of the guys working in construction/ mining testify that a lot of the locals clock on, possibly work for a few hours, disappear and return to clock off and collect their 8 hours wage which pays them approx $250+ per week. When the refugees complained about the unfairness of this they were told it was none of their business and they shouldn’t be telling the supervisor what he should or shouldn’t do.  Wouldn’t you be mad.  I would!

“There is so much more I could mention.  There are so many injustices and inconsistencies in the way the system operates or doesn’t as the case may be.  People have been told they would be moving out of the large, extremely hot and un air conditioned tents into better more permanent accommodation but that has taken much longer to come on line than was at first indicated.
There is a shortage of accommodation and shortage of available building sites because many of the Nauruan landholders do not want the refugees here and even if offered a lot of money (believe me heaps has been paid out) they have not agreed to any proposals.  There is a whole accommodation block that was built some years ago. It’s on someone’s land and is sitting idle and empty.  The government has apparently taken over responsibility for it but nothing happens quickly here. And…… to all those  who think the refugees have got it pretty good with a roof over their heads and a fortnightly allowance….. Have they ever tried to live in a space approx 2m x 4m? with a window(s) that needs to be covered to maintain privacy. I might be wrong but check and tell me the size of a small container.

“Sorry to be such a grump but I’m just telling you the facts.  I am not huffing and puffing just for the heck of it. I’m glad I’m here and can see what’s going on. By the way if there’s any suggestion that the Manus Island people could be relocated here, please laugh loudly because it’s not feasible. As mentioned by Julian Burnside there is often insufficient water, food and petrol to service the current population.  The island simply cannot sustain the increase in Nauruan and refugee populations and their needs.  Mind you it’s good business for the government. They get $1000 per month for each refugee/asylum seeker they are “hosting”.  Our accommodation here costs over $200 per night.  With us and permanent local residents that runs into 100s of 1000s of dollars a month. The place is falling down…… leaks, rust, mould, cracks, decay. Return fares cost around $2000.  Visas for workers $1000. Nauru Airlines having lost a fortune in days of yore is now making a fortune again. It’s another cash cow for the government that has spent and promised very little towards improved infrastructure, educational  or health facilities for its people. The Australian Government is building a new hospital but things can’t happen quickly enough to service the great increase in demand. …”

Stopping the boats doesn’t stop the deaths

Successive Australian governments have boasted their success at “stopping the boats”  That is, they have stopped the boats arriving: we know they are still setting out, because our navy turn them back.

But are we saving any lives by stopping refugees from getting to Australia?  No, we are not.

Leave aside the refugees who are killed in detention (Reza Berati) or who die of medical neglect in detention (Hamid Khazaie) or who kill themselves in despair (Omid, just the other day, and others).

What happens to people who are deterred from fleeing to escape persecution and are killed by their persecutors.  Have a look.  Feel uncomfortable.  The main difference is that, if a boat sinks in Australian waters, we see it.  If people do not flee, and they are killed by their persecutors, we do not see them die:

Not drowning 8 Not drowning 7 Not drowning 6 Not drowning 5 Not drowning 1 Not drowning 4 Not drowning 9





Not drowning 3 Not drowning 2

A blunt assessment

A colleague just sent me a blunt assessment of where we have got to with our warehousing of asylum seekers.  It’s hard to disagree with any of this, but it is important to add that asylum seekers are NOT “illegal”: that’s just a political lie.  the Coalition have lied to us for years about this, then Scott Morrison linked it to the rhetoric of “Border protection”.  For a bloke who claims to be Christian, it is astonishing how he can lie to us and mistreat asylum seekers.  I guess he must have forgotten about his Christian beliefs for a few years.

If I am wrong, let Morrison or Dutton say publicly what offence is committed by boat people who come here looking for safety.

“Dutton is cruelly incompetent.
Go back to drawing board.
Intercept boats by all means.
Escort the boats back to nearest land.
But we have to clean up after ourselves.
The people damaged wholesale in Aus detention on PNG & Nauru have to be fixed up and/or sent to Canada & NZ with compensation.
Go talk to those nations.
That is part of the new roadmap.
Dealing with & improving hell hole camps in Indonesia & elsewhere is vital to Australian self- respect.
We must rebuild & support UNHCR.
Labor is the party of compassion.
Fix this and you’re home. There will
Be joy from every pulpit.
Yesterday 80% of ABC listeners surveyed want them brought here.
Sure, spooks & security & defence industry will come up with a false flag terror incident.
And Washington will be pissed off. All the nightmare shenanigans will happen. Again.
But it will give us back our self respect.
Out of control fascism is not worthy of this nation,
You have to draw the line at some point.
PNG stood up to Aus. They have grown in independence & moral stature globally as a result.
We must, too.
Xenophobic racism is intolerable.
This is the deal breaker, Bill.
Labor stands for compassion. Labor stands for policy coherence. Pull it together, please.”

I don’t necessarily agree with every sentiment, but I firmly support the main sentiment: we have to start acting humanely and recognise that Australia is capable of acting as a decent country.

Our politicians have betrayed our character.

Unrepresented refugee applicants

Refugee applicants in Australia face major hurdles.

They have difficulty getting legal representation, because there is a limited number of pro bono lawyers in the country, and many of the refugee support groups have lost their Federal funding (funny about that). Legal Aid won’t represent them, because it has funding issues of its own.

Unrepresented refugee applicants have to try and deal with a complex legal system, in a language they may not know very well.  And the functioning of the Courts is impeded, because Judges are entitled to expect appropriate help from both ends of the Bar Table.

So here is something unrepresented refugee applicants might produce to the court, or read out:

When they appear before the Federal Circuit Court – they should read the following statement:

“I am poor. I am uneducated. I am unrepresented.

I cannot afford legal representation. I do not understand the law. I cannot run this case myself.

I face serious consequences if I do not get a fair hearing, including death, torture, persecutuon inhuman or degrading treatment and arbitrary arrest.

I ask the Minister to provide me with legal representation as ismy right under the Constitution, the common law or customary international law.

Otherwise, I ask the Court to stay the proceedings until the Minister does so.”

If enough refugee applicants say this, the message might just get through that the actions of the Commonwealth mean that life and death decisions are being made in circumstance that no-one would think fair, even though the Courts do their best.

Dutton on the rampage

Latest report, 27 April 2015:

At 3.30am 7 SERCO ERT guards in blackshirts entered BITA detention camp in Brisbane and dragged three people out of their beds and out of the camp to a waiting ADAGOLD charter flight which departed at 5.35am. Among the three was a woman who had been viciously assaulted on Nauru. She was carried out by arms and legs. Another man who had his jaw smashed on Nauru and was brought to Brisbane to have it set and wired. Third man still to be identified. BITA camp in state of fear. This will spread today.

It is a tragedy for this country that the Liberals have lied to us for so long (calling boat people “illegal”) that they assume they can mistreat asylum seekers at will, and expect applause from the electorate.

The liars: John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton have told us boat people are “illegal”. It is a lie.. They have made great political capital out of it.

The truth: asylum seekers do not commit any offence by coming to Australia, without papers, without an invitation, so seek protection from persecution.

The present position: As Dutton’s recent conduct shows, the government apparently thinks it can act like the Nazi brownshirts because they are picking on vulnerable people who have been demonised, falsely, for years.

Welcome to Australia.

Letter from Manus

Here is a letter from Manus Island: the detention centre which has just been declared illegal by the PNG Supreme Court.

Letter from Manus

The letter had dozens of signatures on it.  I have removed them to avoid reprisals against the people who wrote it.

Detention on Manus “illegal”: Supreme Court

The PNG Supreme Court has handed down a 5:0 ruling that the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal.  It breaches section 42 of PNG’s Constitution.

Section 42 of the PNG Constitution provides (in part):

”42. Liberty of the person.
(1) No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty except-
(a) in consequence of his unfitness to plead to a criminal charge; or
(b) in the execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of an offence of which he has been found guilty, or in the execution of the order of a court of record punishing him for contempt of itself or another court or tribunal; …”

The Supreme Court ruling includes the following passages:

“68. … on 4th February 2013, the UNHCR published a
detailed report on the MIPC and concluded overall:

“Assessed as a whole, UNHCR is of the view that the facilities on Manus
Island lack some of the basic conditions and standards required. In
particular, the closed detention setting and the lack of freedom of
movement, along with the absence of an appropriate legal framework and
capacitated system to assess refugee claims, are particularly concerning.”

69. In the circumstances, I agree with the contention of the Applicant that
treating those required to remain in the relocation centre as prisoners
irrespective of their circumstances or their status save only as asylum seekers, is
to offend against their rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the various
conventions on human rights at international law and under the PNG
Constitution. …”

The question now is whether Australia will respect the Constitutionl ruling of a 5-member bench of the Supreme Court, or whether it will try to find a way around it.

A few things are clear:

  • The people held on Manus are innocent of any offence;
  • They were taken to PNG by force, and against their will;
  • They are being detained in breach of the PNG constitutional guarantee of freedom
  • Two of them have died there: Reza Berati was murdered by a person whose wages were paid, indirectly, by Australia. Hamid Khazaie died of septicaemia because of criminal neglect, in particular because of the stupidity or carelessness of an officer in the Australian Immigration Department.
  • Most people held in Manus have been there for more than a year, and (according to one doctor – see below) they are exposed to worse conditions and treatment than prisoners in maximum security gaols in Australia.
  • Here is a statement by an Australian doctor who worked on Manus.  It reveals scandalous mistreatment:
    1. I am a Medical Doctor, formerly employed at an Offshore Processing Centre (the “Manus Island OPC”) for some months. Whilst employed at the Manus Island OPC, my duties were mainly the supervision of the provision of medical care as provided by other doctors employed there, as well as the provision of medical care myself.
    2. My professional experience includes the provision of health care services in maximum-security prisons in Australia.
    3. On the whole, the conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC are extremely poor. When I first arrived at the Manus Island OPC I was considerably distressed at what I saw, and I recall thinking that this must be similar to a concentration camp.
    4. The detainees at the Manus Island OPC are detained behind razor wire fences, in conditions below the standard of Australian maximum-security prison.
    5. My professional opinion is that the minimum medical requirements of the detained population were not being met. I have no reason to believe that the conditions of detention have improved since I ceased employment at the Manus Island OPC.
    6. The conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC appeared to be calculated to break the spirit of those detained in the Manus Island OPC. On a number of occasions the extreme conditions of detention resulted in detainees abandoning their claims for asylum and returning to their country of origin.
    7. At the Manus Island OPC, bathroom facilities are rarely cleaned. There was a lot of mould, poor ventilation, and the structural integrity of the facilities is concerning.
    8. No soap is provided to detainees for personal hygiene.
    9. When detainees need to use the bathroom, it is standard procedure that they first attend at the guards’ station to request toilet paper. Detainees would be required to give an indication of how many ‘squares’ they will need. The maximum allowed is six squares of toilet paper, which I considered demeaning.
    10. A large number of detainees continue to be in need of urgent medical attention.
    11. Formal requests for medical attention are available to the detainees. The forms are only available in English. Many of the detainees do not have a workable understanding of English and the guards will not provide assistance.
    12. The medical request forms are collected in a box throughout the week, and then on the weekend the box (together with its contents) is disposed of in a waste bin without having been reviewed. I witnessed this on a number of occasions, and understood it to be common practice.
    13. On some occasions when I was given access to particular detainees to provide medical treatment, they told me that they had filled out and submitted more than 15 forms over many months but until now had not received treatment. The medical complaints they had were serious and in urgent need of attention.
    14. I have personally witnessed a number of instances of trickery and deception on behalf of Manus Island OPC guards. Medical treatment is often used as bait for removing detainees from their compound where a particular detainee has complained about conditions. Once removed, and prior to the provision of any form of acceptable medical attention, the relevant detainees are transported to the local prison as a form of punishment for agitation.
    15. I often expressed my concern about the lack of medical treatment provided to the detainees. Never were my concerns addressed.
  • And here is an account of the mistreatment of people under our care.  It was written by a detainee (misspellings in the original):
  • mistreatment in Manus

Manus: an emotional rant

A colleague in Sydney recently sent me what follows. She described it as an “emotional rant”. I think it makes a lot of sense. Tragically, it show just how little sense our refugee policies make.  Turnbull and dutton should hang their heads in shame.

“My dear friend on Manus, let’s call him ‘James’, is in severe pain.
James confessed to me that IHMS only have given him ibuprofen and paracetamol- nothing stronger, and no further medical appointments.
So you know what he’s resorted to? Sniffing burning toilet paper.
This is a university-educated, highly resourceful, incredibly intelligent Christian (not that the latter should be a factor in determining his ability to contribute to this country, but it seems to be), who is using toilet paper as a painkiller. …

This is a kid who went without glasses for a year after they were deliberately smashed by security guards.
This is a kid who left his home country and paid to complete his education in a country where he wasn’t at risk of execution.
This is a kid who brightens my day, and makes me laugh like nobody else can.
And this is a kid who we’ve locked up, beaten, denied medical attention to- because he arrived by boat.

James mentioned to me last night that this year he should be finishing his Master’s degree. He wants to be a magistrate. But billions of dollars are being used to incarcerate him instead, and our country is poorer for it in more ways than one.

Congratulations Peter Dutton. Our borders are safe. But people like James should be inside of them, not on Manus. By killing James, you aren’t saving lives; you’re ending them.”

Here’s what their Attorney-General says about human rights:

“Across the entire panoply of human rights Australia has not only been an activist, but those rights are integral to what we Australians regard as our sense of nationhood … As a Liberal, I am proud that Australia has been so active, both domestically and internationally in the promotion of a vigorous, ambitious human rights agenda.” 

Attorney General George Brandis speaking at the launch of a campaign for Australia to become a member of the UN’s human rights council. October 19, 2015

Assuming he was being sincere (big assumption) perhaps he could have a quick chat toTturnbull and Dutton and tell them what “Human Rights” means.

“James” languishing on Manus, might wonder whether George Brandis was just kidding.

More horrors at MITA

Here is a message I just received from the wonderful Pamela Curr at ASRC.  As she says, our detention facilities are designed to break people – to punish them for daring to come to Australia seeking protection:

ONE OF THE WORST OF DAYS AT THE MITA – formerly a transit camp at Broadmeadows- now a HIGH SECURITY PRISON.

Today Border Force has broken up friendship groups at the MITA.

27 single men are now locked up in Calder, isolated from their friends and only able to make contact after applying in writing to request a visit.

It has been clarified that no time lines are given for when these requests will be honoured. It depends on SERCO staff deciding if there is a suitable time and space in visits.

10 women and family groups are locked up in Bass compound.  6 vulnerable men are in AVON and Eildon is empty.

Food will be delivered to the compounds so there will be no eating together.

Gym facilities consist of 3 machines in Calder and there are 4 Computers for 27 men. So no communal activity.

Worst of all are the rooms which are smaller than ever, estimated to be 2.5 x 3 metres. Two men are expected to live in each room in a double bunk. The men report that the bunks are so low that no one can sit upright in the downstairs bunk. No one wants to sleep upstairs jammed against the low celing. Detention regulations have always breached health and safety standards of residential care with impunity.

As one man said- they want to make conditions in detention so horrible that no one will ever come to Australia.

Another person said- these guys are our friends- we spend our days having a laugh with them in this terrible place.

Many of the women did not come to visits becasue they were too sad by the separation. Border Force and SERCO were there in force for this brutal change to the ” Operating Model” of the MITA.

There are 27 men to occupy 19 rooms. Most do not want to share rooms after years in detention. Some men are considering sleeping outside tonight.

What was saddest was to see young men so broken down that they said- there is no point in protesting- if we do they will just punish us more by sending us to MIDC or worse.

Day by day the cruelty and inhumanity increase.This model of separate zones, limiting communication and friendship has been implemented in MIDC at Maribyrnong. Now that the children are gone, the same brutal imprisonment techniques are being implemented in MITA at Broadmeadows.

They are designed to break people to punish them for daring to come to Australia seeking protection.


I am posting this largely for historical interest: Manus has been shocking but it’s getting worse.

This document has a number of alarming accounts of the brutality which surounded, and followed, the murder of Reza Berati.

At the end of the document, it has a number of photographs of conditions in the camp.

Here is some of the damage YOUR taxes have paid for (Note the injuries, bullet holes etc): injured asylum seekers on Manus

Joint Urgent Appeal on behalf of asylum seekers at Manus Island (1)

Border Force cracking down at MITA in Victoria

MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accomodation) is increasing the pressure on detainees.  They are making it increasingly difficult for people to visit detainees, even though the detainees have committed no offence and are held in conditions which are slowly driving them mad.  And now this – I got this report today:

Today Border Force operatives are “Messaging” people in detention at the MITA – Broadmeadows about the changed “operating model” to be implemented.
They are cutting the camp into high security locked zones where people will be separated according to gender and composition only able to see each other under supervision at set times in a set place.
SAMS= single adult men
SAFS= single adult females
ASIO guys.
Todays action is to draft the SAMS into a high security area where they will be locked off from the others. There they will live and eat alone. If they wish to visit a friend in another area they must apply in writing to SERCO who may or may not approve a request and arrange a visit in the visits centre.
Now that the children are gone the prisonification of detention grows more extreme.

The only ones exempt from this treatment are the ASIO guys who are recognised as having special needs by virtue of their long detention.

Tomorrow the separation begins.

Although there are more than 100 people in the MIDC Maribyrnong camp which has a capacity of 70, so far none are being moved. MITA is well under capacity.
The men in MIDC are already “zoned” and separated. However even though they have the capacity they are still putting vulnerable IMA’s in the same rooms and Zones with angry 501,s. We have repeatedly requested that the IMA’s be transferred to the MITA to no avail.
One young man with a girlfriend is very distressed at the proposed separation.


A plea from Manus

Letter from men detained on Manus, 15 April 2016.
Here is the original (I have removed the signatures to protect the writers from reprisals) Letter April 2016-image
To the UNHCR organization in Canberra
We, detainees in Manus Island, are writing to you to thank for coming your delegates in here. We are hoping to see positive results of your reports.More than 3,000 years ago some people in the world treated their wounds by mould of bread. By passing time scientists discovered antibiotics from mould. Now, in the world today, many kinds of antibiotics are made for each type of infections.

More than 2.000 years ago Human Right Charter was written by some great people in the world. Human Right Charter have been completed and now exists in the United Nations. It is one of the best honours of mankind.

Many years ago, Hippocrates made an oath for medical doctors and also medicine staff like nurses, etc. When somebody takes the Hippocratic Oath, they must treat the best with patient people even if they are enemy to them. The Hippocratic Oath is also one of the best honors of mankind.

Ona a place in the world is called Manus Island, an Island in PNG, many people have been detaining for around 33 months as the off shore processing centre of Australia. This time started from 19 July 2013. During this time antibiotics, Human Right Charter and Hippocratic Oath did not work for one of them. He was Hamid Khazaei. He died because of septicemia. He died because of lack of antibiotics. He died because of lack of Human Right Charter. He also died because of lack of the Hippocratic Oath.

Unfortunately, IHMS is still a tool in hand of Australian and PNG governments to pressurize us. We reported everything in details to your delegates. We just refer to some of them. Psychiatrists prescribe as much depression and sleeping tablets as that you want. They just want us to be quiet. Psychologists propose East Lorengau, and area near our compound as transit centre as a psychology way to control your mind and that you will be happy there. If you see the fortune of people who went to East Lorengau, you understand what we mean.

Prime Minister of PNG claims that we damage their reputation. He claims the we caused to dam age the reputation of Manus people. If so, why is he cooperating with Australian government to send us to East Lorengau? We are 100% happy to leave this country as soon as possible not to damage their reputation.

There are just 27 countries in the world that participate in UNHCR resettlement programe. We would like to resettle in each of them. PNG is not of them. If people go to East Lorengau, that does not mean they are happy. That is because they are tired. Many of them wish to return to our compound.

Please remind Australian People that we are in critical condition. Long time in detention, around 33 months, have been deteriorating us. As Tony Abott said, we are some part of Australian government policy to stop the boats. Malcolm Turnbull have been continuing that policy. Now boats have stopped. Operation Sovereign Border have been completed. In fact the last Bali Processing completed that policy. Detaining us at the moment wastes your taxes. Detaining us damage your reputation as free people. Even north Korea condemn Australian government.

We would not like to come to your country if you are not happy. But, we would like to resettle in UNHCR resettlement programme’s countries. People of the same boat from Christmas Island went to Australia around 15 months ago and it is completely unfair.
To sum up, we, the signatories, believe you as a highest organization in the world for supporting us. If some detainees do not sign it does not mean they are happy, but they are disappointed from everywhere. We are looking forward for your help. Please help us as much as you can.

Yours faithfully
Detainees of Manus Island
15 Apr 2016