11 November 2018: 100 years on

The Great War ended on 11 November 1918.  It was to have been the war that ended war, but the Treaty of Versailles laid the groundwork for the Second World War.

The Great War saw the start of brutal truth in poetry: Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen wrote poems of terrible, brutal honesty.  Sassoon was born in 1886 and died in 1967, but Owen was born in 1893 and died on the western Front just one week before the Armistice.  He was 25.

A century later, it is worth remembering what Owen wrote.

Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

And even more shattering:

Dulce et Decorum Est
(a reference to the Latin phrase Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, which means “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country” )

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 

5 November and the Gunpowder Plot

5 November 1605: The Gunpowder Plot

 

Those of us old enough to remember “Cracker Night” will associate it with the name of Guy Fawkes. Some might remember that Guy Fawkes’ name is synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot. Very few indeed will recognise that the Gunpowder Plot was the 17th Century equivalent of September 11.

It is a pity that the Gunpowder Plot has slipped from popular memory. It has striking parallels with contemporary events, both in its origins and in its consequences. Just a few years before the Gunpowder Plot, Francis Bacon wrote that “[h]istories make men wise …”. Our response to September 11 might have been wiser if only we had read history more carefully.

The last years of the reign of Elizabeth I were marked by increased persecution of Roman Catholics in England. Recusants were fined for not attending the Protestant churches, and the recusant fines had become a significant source of revenue. Catholic priests – especially Jesuits – were persecuted terribly, and many were put to death for their faith.

As Elizabeth’s health failed the question of succession had not been settled. Among the several possible candidates to succeed her was James VI of Scotland. He was Protestant, but the son of Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic daughter of James V of Scotland. Mary had been put to death by Elizabeth in 1587. James was married to Anne of Denmark. She was born a Lutheran but had converted to Catholicism. This made James’ position on religion decidedly ambiguous.

Many high-placed Englishmen established contact with James in advance of Elizabeth’s death, in order to test the ground. Among these was Thomas Percy, a recusant and protégé of the Earl of Northumberland. He returned from Scotland with enthusiastic accounts of the religious toleration James would introduce. Sir Robert Cecil, the Queen’s trusted adviser, also ascertained that James was not inclined to persecute the Catholics so long as they “lived quietly”. Thus it was that, when James VI of Scotland succeeded as James I of England there was real hope that the time of religious persecution would end.

The hopes engendered by Thomas Percy’s account and James’ ambivalent correspondence were not realised. By 1605, things had become markedly worse and more anti-Catholic legislation was expected.
The Gunpowder Plot

Robert Catesby was the son of a rich Warwickshire family. He was 30 years old at the time of James’ coronation. His father had been persecuted under Elizabeth. He was intelligent, pious, conscientious and (by all accounts) charismatic. Frustrated by the absence of real reform, he conceived the idea of destroying at a single stroke the Royal family and the Parliament which had passed the harsh, anti-papist laws. For this purpose he proposed to blow-up the Parliament at its opening, when the Royal family would be present. In March 1604, he recruited Thomas Winter and John Wright. Others were drawn into the conspiracy. In May, Thomas Percy and Guido Fawkes joined.

In July 1604, new anti-Catholic legislation was passed by Parliament. In January 1605 John Grant, Robert Winter and Thomas Bates joined the plot; in September Sir Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood and Francis Tresham joined.

Apart from the folly of the entire enterprise, it was probably the introduction of Francis Tresham which brought the plot down. The conspirators had arranged to store 36 barrels of gunpowder in an apartment adjacent to the Hall of Parliament. The recall of Parliament had been postponed several times, but was eventually fixed for Tuesday, 5 November. Someone – apparently Francis Tresham – wrote a cryptic letter to Lord Monteagle, advising him to absent himself from the opening of Parliament. Monteagle was a Roman Catholic, married to Tresham’s sister. But instead of heeding the warning, Monteagle took it to Robert Cecil. In due time, the Parliament building was searched, Guido Fawkes was discovered and the plot was undone.

Fawkes was taken into custody as the other conspirators fled from London. Under the law of the time, torture was illegal. However in exercise of the royal prerogative King James personally authorised the use of torture to discover the identity of the other conspirators. His letter of authority, dated 6 November 1605 reads in part:

“The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him et sic per gradus ad majora tenditur [and thus by degrees to the worst] and so God speed your goode worke”.

The gentler torture was the manacles: Fawkes was hung from a wall by iron manacles tightly bound around his wrist, with his feet above the ground. This has a physiological effect similar to crucifixion. The worst torture was the rack. This involved lying the victim on a horizontal frame and binding cords around his wrists and ankles. These cords were wound around rollers at each end of the frame. By use of winches, the rollers slowly wound in the cords, thus stretching the victim until the major joints came apart. It is accounted the most excruciating form of non-lethal treatment yet devised.

Under this treatment, Guido Fawkes made three confessions. The third bears a signature which hardly looks to be the work of a human hand: mute testimony to the effects of the rack.

Fawkes’ third confession led to the capture of the other conspirators. Catesby, Percy and Jack and Kit Wright were killed whilst being taken. Francis Tresham was badly wounded and died before he could be tried.

The Gunpowder Plot was the work of over-zealous extremists, isolated from their co-religionists. The Roman Catholic hierarchy in England had tried to dissuade any violence against the State. Nevertheless, when the conspirators were charged, the first name on the indictment was Father Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Superior of England. He was unquestionably innocent of the plot. But it was deemed important to pitch the Plot as a Catholic attack on England.

Those conspirators who had survived were tried on 27 January 1606 and were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Henry Garnet, who was not captured until later, was also brought to trial. His conviction was certainly unjustified, but reflects the public frenzy of anti-Catholicism which the plot had released. He was executed on 3rd May, 1606.
Divine right of kings

A key feature of the reign of James I was his belief in the divine right of Kings, and with it the unlimited scope of the sovereign prerogative. In his speech to Parliament on 21 March 1610 he said:

“Kings are justly called Gods for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth. For if you will consider the attributes of God you shall see how they agree in the person of a King. God hath power to create or destroy; make or unmake at his pleasure; to give life or send death; to judge all and to be judged nor accountable to none; to raise low things and to make high things low at his pleasure. And the like power have Kings.”

(Note the echo of King Lear, written in 1605: “as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, they kill us for their sport”).

Even though torture was illegal in 1605, the King could order it in the exercise of the royal prerogative. Furthermore James I, and after him Charles I, insisted that the Royal prerogative entitled them to rule without Parliament and to act beyond the laws made by Parliament or to suspend those laws in particular cases as they chose. As the notion of parliamentary democracy took shape, two questions became an increasing source of tension: did the King rule under the law, or did he stand outside it; and if Parliament made a law, was the King free to dispense with it? This was one of the great constitutional questions which dominated 17th century England.

The Gunpowder conspirators had been prosecuted by Sir Edward Coke, the then Attorney-General. In his capacity as Attorney-General, Coke had been an advocate of the right of the King to dispense with the law as he saw fit. When Coke was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, his views changed. He insisted that the King ruled under the law: in a famous confrontation with James I, Coke declared that “the King cannot change any part of the common law nor create any offence by proclamation which was not an offence before”.

Judicial independence was unknown in the time of James I. After many manoeuverings, James I dismissed Coke from his judicial office and Coke subsequently entered Parliament in 1620. In 1627 (the second year of the reign of Charles I) the King ordered the arrest of Sir Thomas Darnel and four others who had refused to advance a compulsory “loan” to the King. They sought habeas corpus. The jailer answered the suit by saying the five were held “per speciale mandatum Regis” [by special order of the King].

Darnel’s case in 1627 prompted Coke to draft for Parliament the Petition of Right (1628). The Petition raised, with exquisite politeness, the following complaints about the King’s conduct:

he had been ordering people, like Darnel, to be jailed for failing to lend him money;
he had been billeting soldiers in private houses throughout the country against the wishes of the owners;
he had circumvented the common law by appointing commissioners to enforce martial laws and those commissioners had been summarily trying and executing “such soldiers or mariners or other desolate persons joining with them as should commit … (any) outrage or misdemeanour whatsoever …”;
he had been exempting some from the operation of the common law.

The Parliament prayed that the King “would be graciously pleased for the further comfort and safety of your people, to declare … that in the things aforesaid all your officers and ministers shall serve you according to the laws and statutes of this realm …”.
The emergence of the Rule of Law

The Petition of Right was the opening shot in the battle for the Rule of Law. The principle of the Rule of Law in a parliamentary democracy insists that the Parliament is the supreme lawmaker and that all people, including every member of the Government and the head of state, are subject to the law; it requires that the laws be enforced by independent judges appropriately skilled, enjoying security of tenure so as to free them from extraneous pressures.

The struggle for the Rule of Law was waged in various forms over the balance of the 17th Century. Charles I prorogued the Parliament which had presented the Petition of Right. He ruled without Parliament until 1640 and then called the Short Parliament which refused to grant supply and was dissolved. He called the Long Parliament in November 1640 which confronted the King and declared it illegal to levy tax without the authority of Parliament.

The power struggle between Charles I and Parliament led to the Civil War (1642-1649) which ended with the surrender and execution of Charles I. It was followed by the Commonwealth period under Cromwell. That experiment collapsed after increasing mismanagement, and Charles II was restored to the throne, but only after issuing a promise (the Declaration of Breda) that he would meet the demands articulated in the Petition of Right 22 years earlier.

After Charles II came the truncated reign of James II and then in 1688 William of Orange and his wife Mary (daughter of King James) were offered the English crown and with it they were offered a Declaration of Rights prepared by the Parliament. This required regular, fair elections, protection of Parliamentary debates, no tax without Parliamentary consent, and the King was not to suspend or dispense with laws properly passed by the Parliament. They agreed.

Later, the Act of Settlement declared the sovereign to reign subject to the law. In the meantime, the Habeas Corpus Act had been passed, which ensured that no person could be held except by the authority of laws duly passed by the Parliament.

Thus were all the central principles of the Rule of Law put in place: the monarch is subject to the law and cannot set aside the common law or the laws passed by the Parliament; Judges are independent of the executive; no-one can be detained except as provided by law and the legality of their detention can be tested by the writ of habeas corpus.

These principles were won in the great constitutional struggles of 17th Century England. The chain of events which led to these momentous changes can be traced back to 1605 when those perceived as dangerous religious fanatics could be put to the torture on the authority of the King acting outside the law.

This tectonic shift was reflected in John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. Published in 1689, it demolished the theory of the divine right of kings, and proposed that the only true authority of the government came from the consent of the governed. In addition, Locke reasoned that the obligation to obey the laws of the state was conditional on the state protecting person and property, and that if the sovereign breached the terms of the Social Contract, he could be overthrown.
America and the Rule of Law

Echoes of the Petition of Right and the Act of Settlement can be found in the constitutional documents of the United States. The American colonists expressly adopted Locke’s reasoning in their preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.–We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. …

The US Constitution (1789), especially the Bill of Rights, adopts the principles first demanded in the Petition of Right 160 years earlier. From the beginning, the United States of America adopted the Rule of Law as fundamental and unchangeable. But in the aftermath of September 11, it all went badly wrong.

The attack on America created, or brought into sharp focus, another form of religious animosity: not between Protestants and Catholics, but between Christians and Muslims. Like the Gunpowder Plot, September 11 was an attack of unprecedented horror, the likes of which could not have been imagined. Like the Gunpowder Plot, it was the work of a small group of religious fanatics striking at the very heart of a group seen as a religious oppressor. But there are two obvious differences: the Gunpowder Plot failed, but it set in train the events which ultimately laid the foundations of the Rule of Law in a parliamentary democracy; September 11 succeeded, and set in train events which are undermining those very foundations.

In the aftermath of September 11, America raided Afghanistan in pursuit of al Quaeda. With the help of Northern Alliance troops, they swept up tens of thousands of supposed al Quaeda operatives and sympathizers. Suspects were captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other places.

As a matter of legal principle, combatants captured in Afghanistan during the hostilities there are Prisoners of War.Otherwise they are criminal suspects. Domestic and international laws deal comprehensively with both cases. There is no ground between the two possibilities.

The regime for treatment of Prisoners of War is clear: it is established by the Geneva Convention in relation to Prisoners of War, to which USA is a party. Relevantly, it provides for:

(a) humane treatment;

(b) no interrogation beyond name, rank and serial number;

(c) release at the end of hostilities

The regime for treatment of criminal suspects is also clear:

(a) humane treatment;

(b) no obligation to answer questions;

(c) no detention without charge;

(d) prima facie entitlement to bail when charged;

(e) (importantly in these circumstances) criminal charges are generally to be dealt with in the country where the offences occurred.

In either case, and in all circumstances, there is an absolute prohibition on the use of torture. This is recognised as a universal norm of international law, and is the subject of the Convention Against Torture to which most countries, including the USA and Afghanistan, are parties.

Unfortunately, there comes a time in the history of nations when, for some unaccountable reason, basic values and accepted principles are diluted, betrayed or cast aside. The pretext may be external threat, internal strife or other great forces which call for extraordinary responses. Faced with very clear legal limits, President Bush stepped back to the 17th Century and acted, in substance, as James I did. He acted as if he could set aside the law and implement his own conception of right. He did so with obliging help from Department of Justice employees.

Suspects who had been rounded up during the war in Afghanistan were taken to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There they are held in cages, and are interrogated, humiliated and tortured. They are denied proper legal help. The Bush administration has argued that the American Constitution, and the American courts, have no authority in Guantanamo: that it is a legal black hole.

The basic features of the regime at Guantanamo were founded on an enabling memo from Alberto Gonzales. He advised that President Bush could declare prisoners held at Guantanamo not to be amenable to the protections of the Geneva Convention relating to Treatment of Prisoners of War (the GPW). He identified several points in favour of this position:

“Positive:

· Preserves flexibility:

As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors …

Substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441).

That statute, enacted in 1996, prohibits the commission of a “war crime” by or against a U.S. person, including U.S. officials. “War crime” for these purposes is defined to include any grave breach of GPW or any violation of common Article 3 thereof (such as “outrages against personal dignity”). Some of these provisions apply (if the GPW applies) regardless of whether the individual being detained qualifies as a POW. Punishments for violations of Section 2441 include the death penalty. A determination that the GPW is not applicable to the Taliban would mean that Section 2441 would not apply to actions taken with respect to the Taliban. …”

The author of the memo is unmistakably urging a path which would facilitate torture of prisoners and protect the torturers from the inconvenience of criminal charges. The author of the memo is now US Attorney-General.

Six months later Mr Jay Bybee wrote another memo to President Bush, which in substances authorises mistreatment of al Quaeda suspects. This memorandum, the existence of which was denied for several years, contains the most startling and convoluted justification of torture imaginable. Its legal reasoning is profoundly flawed. The memo says:

“it is difficult to take a specific act out of context and conclude that the act in isolation would constitute torture.”

It identifies seven techniques recognised as torture, including severe beatings, threats of imminent death, burning with cigarettes, electric shocks to genitalia, rape or sexual assault, and forcing a person to watch the torture of another. It then observes that:

“While we cannot say with certainty that acts falling short of these seven would not constitute torture, . . we believe that interrogation techniques would have to be similar to these in their extreme nature and in the type of harm caused to violate law…For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture, it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”

Here are some first hand accounts of what has been happening at Guantanamo:

“every day we were stuck in a cage of 2 meters by 2 meters. We were allowed out for 2 minutes a week to have a shower and then returned to the cage. Given the extreme heat, we sweated a lot and the area obviously began to smell. During the day we were forced to sit in the cell (we couldn’t lie down) in total silence. We couldn’t lean on the wire fence or stand up and walk around the cage.”
“very often the guards would refuse to take us to the portaloo outside and therefore people started to use the buckets in the cells. Many of the people [were] … suffering from dysentery … and simply couldn’t wait until the guards decided they would take them to the toilet. … The smell in the cell block was terrible.”
“We had the impression that at the beginning things were not carefully planned but a point came at which you could notice things changing. That appeared to be after General Miller around the end of 2002. That is when short-shackling started, loud music playing in interrogation, shaving beards and hair, putting people in cells naked, taking away people’s ‘comfort’ items, … moving some people every two hours depriving them of sleep, the use of (air conditioning). … After [General Miller] came, people would be kept [in solitary] for months and months and months. We didn’t hear anybody talking about being sexually humiliated or subjected to sexual provocation before General Miller came. After that we did.”
“… This time I was short shackled. I was left squatting for about an hour and then this Bashir came back again and he started questioning me again about the photographs and trying to get me to admit that I was in the photographs. I was telling him that if you check you will find out that I was in England during this time. After a while he left the room and I was left again in the short shackle position for several hours (I think for about 4 hours) before I was eventually taken back to the cells.”
“I was interrogated repeatedly about my presence at this meeting. … I said it wasn’t me but she kept pressing that I should admit it. She was very adamant. She said to me “I’ve put detainees here in isolation for 12 months and eventually they’ve broken. You might as well admit it now so that you don’t have to stay in isolation”.

These statements are all from the Tipton Three: three English boys who went to Afghanistan to give humanitarian aid after the Americans attacked that country. They were eventually released and sent back to Britain: they were never charged with any offence. They were there simply by mistake.

Another person later released because his capture had been “a mistake” was a 99 year old shepherd. He was incontinent. Because of his age and frailty, he could barely hobble around the camp; he was chained to a walking frame. Other inmates reported that he spent much of his time weeping.
Values at risk

It is impossible to reconcile these events with the values which are basic to our democratic system: no arrest without lawful authority (enforced by the ancient writ of habeas corpus); no arbitrary search and seizure; no prison except by authority of law; the presumption of innocence; criminal charges to be proved beyond reasonable doubt; no torture; an assumption (although not a legal right) of privacy. These values can all be traced to the events in 17th century England and equivalent events elsewhere in Europe. It is interesting to remember that most of those excesses arose from the supposed threat presented by unpopular religious beliefs.

It has long been recognised that these basic values, so hard won, are always at risk. In a speech in Boston on 28 January 1852 Wendell Phillips said:

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

In America, in Australia and elsewhere, there is a retreat from basic values. Pragmatism is emerging as a sufficient justification of measures which, until recently, would have been abhorrent. The dictates of pragmatism can be very appealing, especially to those (always the majority) who take the benefit. In the wake of September 11, Australia and other Western governments introduced draconian anti-terrorist laws. These laws, unprecedented in recent history except in time of war, betray the basic values on which democratic systems are established.
“Anti-terrorism” legislation in Australia

In 2002 the ASIO legislation was amended to permit the incommunicado detention, for a week at time, of people not suspected of any wrong-doing: it is enough if they are thought to have information about others who may have been involved in terrorist offences. The person may be taken into isolated custody, and will not have a free choice of legal help; they will not be permitted to tell friends or family where they are; they must answer questions, or face 5 years imprisonment. When released, they are not permitted to tell anyone where they were or what happened to them, on pain of imprisonment.

In 2005 further anti-terror legislation was introduced.

Division 105 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code provides that a member of the Federal Police may apply for a preventative detention order in relation to a person. A preventative detention order will result in a person being jailed for up to 14 days in circumstances where they have not been charged with much less convicted of any offence. The order is obtained in the absence of the subject and authorises that the person be taken into custody. When the person is taken into custody pursuant to the order, they will not be told the evidence on which the order was obtained: they will be given a copy of the order and a summary of the grounds on which the order was made. The summary need not include any information which is likely to prejudice national security (within the meaning of the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act (2004).

Thus, a preventative detention order can be made not only without a trial of any sort, but in circumstances where the subject of the order will not be allowed to know the evidence which was used to secure the order.

Division 104 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code allows the Federal Police to obtain a control order against a person. A control order can include an order confining a person to a single address for up to 12 months, without access to telephone or the internet. When the subject of the control order is served with the order, they are to be given a summary of the grounds on which the order was made, but not the evidence. Thus, a person’s freedom of movement can be grossly interfered with for up to 12 months in circumstances where they have no opportunity to know the evidence on which the order was obtained much less to challenge it. The summary of the grounds on which the order was obtained need not include any information disclosure of which is likely to prejudice national security within the meaning of the NSI Act.

Secrecy provisions prevent publication of the fact that people are held for incommunicado questioning, or held on preventative detention, or the subject of a control order.

Lying behind these draconian laws is something even more sinister: National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act (2004)) (the NSI Act). It is perhaps the most alarming piece of legislation ever passed by an Australian Parliament in a time of peace. The Act as originally passed was confined in its operation to criminal proceedings. In early 2005 it was amended so as to extend to civil proceedings as well. It provides that if a party to a proceeding knows or believes that they will disclose in the proceeding information that relates to national security, or the party intends to call a witness and that witness would, by their presence in court or by the evidence they could give, disclose information that relates to national security, then the party must notify the Commonwealth Attorney-General of the fact. The party must also notify the opposite party and the court. The court is then required to adjourn the proceeding until the Attorney-General acts on the matter. If the Attorney-General chooses, he may sign a conclusive certificate to the effect that the evidence proposed to be called, or the proposed calling of the witness, would be likely to prejudice Australia’s national security interests.

The certificate must then be provided to the court and the court must hold a hearing to decide whether or not to make an order preventing the evidence or witness from being called. During that hearing, the court must be closed. The Act authorises the court to exclude both the relevant party and his or her counsel from the closed hearing in which the question will be decided whether or not the evidence may be called or the witness brought to court.

In deciding the balance between the interests of a fair trial and the national security interests, the statute directs the court to give the greatest weight to the Attorney-General’s certificate that the evidence would present a risk of prejudice to national security.

These provisions are immediately alarming to anyone who understands the essential elements of a fair trial. They are all the more alarming when the real breadth of the provisions is understood. Their breadth comes from two things:

(a) the notion “likely to prejudice national security” is defined as meaning that there is a “real, and not merely remote, possibility that the disclosure will prejudice national security”;

(b) the definition of national security which means: “Australia’s defence, security, international relations or law enforcement interests”.

The apparently uncontroversial definition of national security is rendered astonishingly broad by the definition of “law enforcement interests”. That expression is defined as including interests in:

(a) avoiding disruption to national and international efforts relating to law enforcement, criminal intelligence, criminal investigation, foreign intelligence and security intelligence;

(b) protecting the technologies and methods used to collect, analyse, secure or otherwise deal with, criminal intelligence, foreign intelligence or security intelligence;

(c) the protection and safety of informants and of persons associated with informants;

(d) ensuring that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are not discouraged from giving information to a nation’s government and government agencies.

By reference to this definition, Australia’s national security is affected by each of the following things:

(a) evidence that a CIA operative extracted a confession by use of torture;

(b) any evidence which tended to reveal operational details of the CIA, Interpol, the FBI, the Australian Federal Police, the Egyptian Police, the American authorities at Guantanamo Bay, etc.;

(c) evidence which tended to show the use of torture or other inhumane interrogation techniques by any law enforcement agency.

These provisions are likely to have profound effect in several types of case.

First, in cases of people charged with terrorist offences. In such cases confessional statements may be received, but evidence that torture or other improper practices were used to obtain the confession may be excluded, in the name of national security.

Second, where a person is the subject of a preventative detention order or a control order they have a right to challenge the making of the order. However their challenge will be made difficult or impossible if they are prevented from knowing the evidence against them, or if they are prevented from calling other evidence which would qualify or explain the evidence against them.

Third, in cases where a person’s ordinary rights have been interfered with because of an adverse security assessment by ASIO. In those circumstances, it may prove impossible to have effective access to the material which provided the foundation of the interference.

There may be examples of the first and second type, but we are not allowed to know. The secrecy provisions surrounding control orders and preventative detention orders means that, in effect, the general public will not learn of them until many years have passed.

However examples of the third type can already be identified. An adverse security assessment from ASIO can result in a person’s passport being cancelled, or their job application being refused, or (for foreign visitors) a visa being refused or cancelled. In those circumstances, getting access to the material which provided the foundation for the adverse security assessment may prove difficult or impossible. Attempts to challenge the material can be met with the Attorney-General’s certificate.

Adverse security assessments from ASIO create another, related problem. An adverse security assessment will result in the cancellation of a visa or passport as the case may be. Cancellation of a passport may be challenged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act contains provisions enabling the Attorney-General to grant a certificate which, in substance, prevents the applicant and the applicant’s lawyer from being present in the Tribunal whilst certain evidence is given and submissions are made on behalf of the Government. Here is the text of one such certificate, issued early in 2006:

“I, Philip Maxwell Ruddock, the Attorney-General for the Commonwealth of Australia … hereby certify … that disclosure of the contents of the documents … described in the schedules hereto, and the schedules, would be contrary to the public interest because the disclosure would prejudice security.

I further certify … that evidence proposed to be adduced and submissions proposed to be made by or on behalf of the Director-General of Security concerning the documents … are of such a nature that the disclosure of the evidence or submissions would be contrary to the public interest because it would prejudice security.

As the responsible Minister … I do not consent to a person representing the applicant being present when evidence described … above is adduced and such submissions are made ….”

In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, and wrongly convicted. The heart of the problem was that the trial was held in camera, and documkents were provided to the judges which were withheld from Dreyfus and his counsel, on grounds of national security. The documents were forgeries.

The campaign for Dreyfus’ freedom is still remembered, not least for Emile Zola’s famous newspaper article “J’accuse…” which exposed the appalling nature of the “trial” which convicted Dreyfus. It was many years before justice was finally done: 13 July 2006 marks the centenary of his ultimate exoneration.

It is all too easy to look back on the Dreyfus Affair and imagine that it could not happen here today. Two matters made the Dreyfus Affair possible:

(a) a secret trial and the use of evidence concealed from the accused and his counsel, and

(b) racial or religious prejudice which ran so deep as to blind people to any concern about the quality of justice accorded to Dreyfus.

In the certificate set out above however, the Attorney-General produces the conditions which led to the wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. The applicant who seeks to have his passport restored will face an impossible burden in knowing what evidence must be called, because neither he nor his counsel will be allowed to know the nature of the case against him. And he is a Muslim.

Anti-Semitism no longer exists in any significant measure in Australia, at least not in the virulent form which characterised 19th Century France and the first half of the 20th Century in Western Europe generally. However there are other groups who are sufficiently unpopular that, for practical purposes, most members of the community do not regard the rights of those people as mattering. Those unpopular groups include alleged paedophiles, alleged terrorists, aborigines, people with mental disorders and Muslims. This is not to say that the feeling against each of those groups runs as deep and as strong as anti-Semitism at the time of Dreyfus’s trial. But it is strong enough that a large majority of people in our society do not regard the rights of those groups as being important enough to deserve recognition or protection.

The possibility of secret trials and trials in which evidence is concealed from the accused and their counsel already exist in Australia as a matter of law, because of the NSI Act and related legislation.

Fair trials are one of the basic promises of democracy. It is a tragedy that we have abandonned the guarantee of fair trials, ostensibly to help save democracy from terrorists. What we will achieve in fact by these measures is a growing concern that the real danger to democracy is our own government.

In December 2004 the House of Lords decided a case concerning UK anti-terrorist laws which allow terror suspects to be held without trial indefinitely. By a majority of 8 to 1 they held that the law impermissibly breached the democratic right to liberty. Lord Hope said that “the right to liberty belongs to each and every individual”. Lord Bingham traced these rights to Magna Carta, and made the point that the struggle for democracy has long focused on the need to protect individual liberty against the might of executive government. Lord Nicholls said:

“Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law. It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford. Wholly exceptional circumstances must exist before this extreme step can be justified.”

Lord Hoffman said:

“The real threat to the life of the nation … comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.”

How much more forcefully could that be said of Australia’s “anti-terror” legislation.

By these laws, the Howard government  betrayed the rule of law in Australia. It  damaged Australian democracy more than any terrorist could. It created the new Terror.

Seventeen years on, there has been no improvement.  We would do well to remember the lessons of the Gunpowder Plot.

 

Write to Federal Politicians: Find Out What They Know

Labor and the Coalition are both going to turn back refugee boats.

By doing so, they will (incidentally) be committing the crime of people smuggling, contrary to section 73 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. But who cares if we engage in criminal offences in order to close our doors to refugees?

The trouble is that a lot of MPs simply do not understand what they are going along with.  I urge you to write to Federal MPs to see how much they actually know.  If they don’t answer, you can assume they don’t know.  They probably will not answer.  Keep a record of the responses you get. Send the results to me. We will show up the MPs who do not even have enough manners to answer the questions.

Here is a discussion about the letter-writing experience of a very dedicated person from Niddrie.  It is really useful to get this sort of information, so please let me know how you go.

I urge you to write to your local Federal MP, and to the candidate of the opposite major party.  And if you have the energy, write to other Federal MPs.

There are some things you need to bear in mind if you write to MPs:

  1. Don’t tell them what you think: they are not listening.
  2. Ask just one or two questions.
  3. Ask questions which are directed to finding out what they know.  If they pass the letter to someone else to answer (eg, the Minister or Shadow Minister, you will see they are not willing to give their own opinion.
  4. Keep the letter really SHORT.  It is harder for them to disguise the fact that their response is not an answer to your question.

The ideal letter goes something like this:

“Dear X

I am a voter in [your electorate].

Do you think boat people are “illegal”?  If so, what offence do they commit?

Your faithfully…”

If you get a reply, it will probably be a couple of pages of waffle which does not answer your questions, but recites their party’s policy.  So write again, something like this:

“Dear X

I am still a voter in [your electorate].  thank you for your letter, but it did not answer my questions. Here they are again:

Do you think boat people are “illegal”?  If so, what offence do they commit?

Yours faithfully…”

Keep at them.

If they duck your questions more than 3 times, you can assume that they either can’t answer your questions (so do not even consider voting for them) or they know the answer and are too embarrassed by the facts.

Follow this link to find the names and contact details of Federal MPs

Kate had a good idea: form a social group; get together once a week to write letters; compare responses you have received; make it an enjoyable social event.  This way, you will (between you) write lots of letters.

Here are some sample questions you can ask:

  • Do you think people who arrive by boat to seek asylum in Australia are “illegal”?  If so, what offence do they commit?
  • Are you worried about boat people drowning?  If so, do you think it is alright to punish the ones who do not drown?
  • Do you think boat people in Nauru and Manus Island are treated humanely?
  • Do you think it is OK to put children in immigration detention?  Is it OK to have children held on Nauru?
  • In your opinion, what is the maximum time a refugee child should spend on Nauru?
  • What is the average number of boat people who have come to Australia each year in the past 40 years?  What is the average number of permanent new migrants who have come to Australia each year in the past 40 years?
  • Do you believe people who seek asylum in Australia should be detained indefinitely?
  • Do you believe indefinite detention of asylum seekers is humane?
  • Do you believe people who seek asylum in Australia should be taken against their will to Nauru or Manus Island?
  • Do you believe people who seek asylum in Australia and are held in Nauru or Manus Island are treated humanely?  If yes, in what way is that a deterrent?
  • Do you think it is acceptable to treat boat people harshly in order to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia?
  • Do you know how much offshore detention costs per person, per year?  If so, how much?
  • What is the average time boat people spend in detention?
  • Do you think there is a “queue” for refugees?  If so, where is it?
  • Do you support the idea of turning back asylum seeker boats?  If so, have you checked whether turning back asylum seeker boats breaches section 73 of the commonwealth Criminal Code?  Does it?
  • Are you worried about boat people drowning?  If so, how many people have drowned in boats that have been turned back?
  • In your opinion, could we process asylum claims in Malaysia or Indonesia and safely resettle people who are assessed as refugees?
  • Do you think we need to be protected from boat people?  If so, what risk do they present?
  • Do you think we need to be protected from children who come to Australia as boat people? If so, what risk are they to us?

The more people who write to MPs, the sooner they will wake up to the facts: we are treating refugees cruelly, and it is utterly pointless.

Follow this link to find the names and contact details of Federal MPs

How the World decided to help Refugees

A lot of people have the wrong idea about refugee protection: where it comes from, what it involves, etc.

Before the second World War, people facing persecution in Germany fled to any country they could reach: if they had family in other countries, that helped.  But they had very few rights.

Before WWII, the voyage of the St Louis showed us what was at stake.

In May 1939, a ship called the St Louis left Hamburg, carrying 900 Jewish refugees.  Its captain was Gustav Schroeder.  The St Louis was denied access to every port it approached, and eventually it had to return to Europe, despite the efforts of Captain Schroeder.  More than half the refugees on the St Louis ultimately perished in concentration camps.

In light of the current political attitudes in Australia, it is worth noting that Captain Schroeder was a people smuggler.  Those countries who denied the St Louis the right to land might look back now and ask whether their decision was a policy success or a humanitarian tragedy.

After WWII, as the world drew breath in horror at what had happened to the millions of people who could not escape persecution, two major international instruments were prepared and adopted:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948), and
  • The Refugees Convention (1951).

The UDHR starts with a preamble which captures some essential points:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …”

Article 14 of the UDHR says this:

“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution…”

And the central obligation under the Refugees Convention is in Article 33:

“No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler“) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…”

The combination of the two provisions means that a person is entitled to seek asylum, and an asylum seeker who arrives in a country which has signed the Refugees Convention cannot be “refouleddirectly (by returning them to the country they have fled) or indirectly (by sending them to a country which has not signed the Refugees Convention and which can’t be prevented from returning them to the country they have fled).

The point of this is to share the burden of refugee movement, so refugees will not be forced into countries immediately adjacent to trouble spots.

It is often said that there are about 80 million refugees in the world today. Australia’s reaction suggests that we fear they will all try to come here.  A couple of important points: only about 20 million of them are on the move: the rest ire internally displaced in their country of origin.  but even if all 80 million were on the move, the world’s population is about 8 billion.  That means that just 1% of the world’s population are refugees.  If we were all true to the UDHR, every country would accept an increase of its population of 1%.  But Australia went hysterical when a record number of 25,000 boat people arrived her in 2012: that’s just one tenth of one percent of our population!

Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum has been characterised by increasing cruelty, and this is explicitly to deter other people from seeking asylum here: we make the idea of seeking asylum in Australia look even worse than facing persecution at home.  some politicians say that our cruelty to boat-people is an expression of concern that they may drown in their attempt to cross from Indonesia to Australia.  They are lying when they say it.

Let’s be very clear about this: every death at sea is a tragedy.  No-one wants to see refugees die in their attempt to escape persecution, but the often-recited concern about refugees drowning is just hypocritical propaganda.  Let me be plain about this: when politicians like Abbott and Morrison and Turnbull and Dutton say they are worried about refugees drowning on their way to Australia, they are lying: they are deceiving the public.  If they were genuinely concerned about people drowning, they would not punish the ones who don’t drown.

Morrison as PM brags about “stopping the boats”.   But remember when he was Immigration Minister: he turned boats back, and denied us any information about the people on those boats: it was an “on-water matter”.  Let’s be clear about this: If a person drowns after their boat has been turned back, we aren’t allowed to know about it.  If a person chooses to escape by travelling North instead of South, and if they drown in the Mediterranean, we won’t hear about it.  And if they decide to stand their ground and their persecutor kills them, they’re still dead, just as if they had drowned.

Our politicians claim to be saving lives by stopping the boats, but it’s just a cynical way of winning votes while inflicting cruelty and misery on desperate people.

Oh, and just in case you missed it, our mistreatment of refugees in Manus Island and Nauru costs billions of dollars a year, and it’s costing us our reputation as a decent country.  Remember in June this year then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said:

“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion…”

So we are now  country where a senior Minister of the Crown can argue against compassion.  Even a few years ago, that would have been unthinkable.

So here’s an alternative policy, which shows a bit of compassion:

  • Shut down offshore processing: it’s needlessly cruel and expensive.
  • Assume the boats will start arriving again (far from certain, but assume it)
  • Initial detention of unauthorised arrivals, to enable health and security checks to be carried out;
  • Initial detention to continue for no longer than one month, unless a judge is satisfied in a particular case that continued detention is reasonably necessary;
  • At end of initial detention, release into the community on an interim visa, pending determination of protection visa application.  The interim visa would include conditions which:
    • allowed the asylum seeker to work;
    • allowed full Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
    • Required the asylum seeker to live in  specified regional or rural area;

Conditions might, if thought appropriate, include wearing an electronic bracelet to permit the wearer to be tracked.

Even if every asylum seeker stayed on full Centrelink benefits (which is highly unlikely, give that they are mostly courageous and motivated), all the Centrelink allowance would be spent in the ailing economy of whatever regional area the visa required the asylum seeker to live in.  After all, when you have paid rent, food and clothes, there’s not much left over.  And right now we are spending about $650k per refugee per year keeping them in hellish conditions in Manus and Nauru.

Protecting refugees

A lot of people have the wrong idea about refugee protection: where it comes from, what it involves, etc.

Before the second World War, people facing persecution in Germany fled to any country they could reach: if they had family in other countries, that helped.  But they had very few rights.

After WWII, as the world drew breath in horror at what had happened to the millions of people who could not escape persecution, two major international instruments were prepared and adopted:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948), and
  • The Refugees Convention (1951).

The UDHR starts with a preamble which captures some essential points:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …”

Article 14 of the UDHR says this:

“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution…”

And the central obligation under the Refugees Convention is in Article 33:

“No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler“) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…”

The combination of the two provisions means that a person is entitled to seek asylum, and an asylum seeker who arrives in a country which has signed the Refugees Convention cannot be “refouleddirectly (by returning them to the country they have fled) or indirectly (by sending them to a country which has not signed the Refugees Convention and which can’t be prevented from returning them to the country they have fled).

The point of this is to share the burden of refugee movement, so refugees will not be forced into countries immediately adjacent to trouble spots.

Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum has been characterised by increasing cruelty, and this is explicitly to deter other people from seeking asylum here: we make the idea of seeking asylum in Australia look even worse than facing persecution at home.  some politicians say that our cruelty to boat-people is an expression of concern that they may drown in their attempt to cross from Indonesia to Australia.  they are lying when they say it.

Let’s be very clear about this: every death at sea is a tragedy.  No-one wants to see refugees die in their attempt to escape persecution, but the often-recited concern about refugees drowning is just hypocritical propaganda.  Let me be plain about this: when politicians like Abbott and Morrison and Turnbull and Dutton say they are worried about refugees drowning on their way to Australia, they are lying: they are deceiving the public.  If they were genuinely concerned about people drowning, they would not punish the ones who don’t drown.

Morrison as PM brags about “stopping the boats”.   But remember when he was Immigration Minister: he turned boats back, and denied us any information about the people on those boats: it was an “on-water matter”.  Let’s be clear about this: If a person drowns after their boat has been turned back, we aren’t allowed to know about it.  If a person chooses to escape by travelling North instead of South, and if they drown in the Mediterranean, we won’t hear about it.  And if they decide to stand their ground and their persecutor kills them, they’re still dead, just as if they had drowned.

Our politicians claim to be saving lives by stopping the boats, but it’s just a cynical way of winning votes while inflicting cruelty and misery on desperate people.

Oh, and just in case you missed it, our mistreatment of refugees in Manus Island and Nauru costs billions of dollars a year, and it’s costing us our reputation as a decent country.  Remember in June this year then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said:

“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion…”

So we are now  country where a senior Minister of the Crown can argue against compassion.  Even a few years ago, that would have been unthinkable.

Ottomans abandon siege of Vienna, 12 September 1683

President George W Bush  never displayed much sensitivity for the nuances of language.  Even its basic rules elude him.  Consider a few of his famous blunders whilst speaking on public occasions, and try to imagine the qualities of his less-considered private discourse:

“More and more of our imports come from overseas”,

“What I’m against is quotas. I’m against hard quotas, quotas that basically delineate based upon whatever. However they delineate, quotas, I think, vulcanize society.”

“If you’re sick and tired of the politics of cynicism and polls and principles, come and join this campaign.”

“You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.”

He tended to speak in semantic near-misses, and his grammar lurches from one rough approximation to the next.

During the incumbency of this linguistic torment, the world changed permanently and catastrophically.  In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the USA, President Bush said that America and the rest of the free world would embark on a “crusade against terrorism”.  He soon changed his choice of words.  It became a “war on terrorism”.  Bush may not be a master of the language, but his spin-meisters quickly saw that crusade had connotations which might give offence beyond the intended range.

Crusade is historically associated with the series of assaults by Christian forces against Muslim control of Jerusalem and the Christian shrine of the Holy Sepulchre.  There were 8 main crusades,  between 1095 and 1270.  The disastrous 4th crusade culminated in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, during which the great library there was looted and destroyed.  The only extant copies of many classical texts were lost to mankind.  It was an event of cultural destruction almost unparalleled in history.

Etymologically, Bush’s advisors were wise to drop references to a crusade.  The word came to English via French and derives ultimately from crux, the Latin for cross.  It was variously spelt croisad, croissard, croisada, crusada, etc.  Specifically it meant a military expedition by the Christians to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims; and, by transference, any military expedition blessed by the church.  In short: a holy war.

The equivalent expression in Arabic is jihad.   The Western world has reacted with understandable alarm when  Osama bin Laden declared a jihad on various nations, including Australia which managed to lift itself from safe obscurity to swaggering prominence in a single idiotic gesture.  But it was President Bush who first invoked the language of holy wars.

Our headlong rush into conflict has brought into common currency a number of words previously misused or unfamiliar: mufti, fatwa, sheikh, shah, and mullah among others.

A mufti is a canonical lawyer in Islam: he gives decisions on questions of faith.  The word is derived from the active participle of afta, which is the 4th conjugation of fata: to give a decision.  A decision so given is a fatwa. A fatwa may be benign or dangerous according to the subject matter.  Most English speakers first heard of a fatwa in connection with Salman Rushdie: it had been decided that, because he had written The Satanic Verses, he should be killed wherever he could be found.  Even those who are immune to the charms of Rushdie’s writings thought this was an unreasonable restriction on free speech.  This very harsh and public fatwa gave fatwas in general a bad name in the West.

Mufti is commonly used in the West as referring to civilian clothes worn by one accustomed to wear a uniform.  It is thought to derive from the passing similarity between the regalia of a mufti and the English affectation of dressing gown, smoking cap and slippers.

The mullah has various meanings in various parts of the Muslim world.  In North Africa, a mullah is a king, sultan or other leader.  Further east, and in the Indian sub-continent, a mullah is similar to a mufti.  He is a man learned in theology and sacred law.  The Qur’an uses mullah in reference to Allah.  Thus, it is a word which maps almost perfectly onto the English Lord, signifying a position of leadership territorial, legal or spiritual.

Allah comes from al ilah: where al is the Arabic definite article, and ilah is the Aramaic for God.  The holy book of Islam is the Qur’an.  Qur’an means “recitation”: it is a recitation of the various teachings of God as received by the prophet Mohammed over the course of 20 years up to his death in 767 AD.  It is composed of 114 surahs (chapters), arranged according to length, with the longer surahs first.  Since the earlier teachings were rather shorter, the book is arranged, roughly, in reverse chronological order.  Incidentally, Islam recognises Moses and Jesus as prophets, and the God of the Qur’an is the same God worshipped by Jews and Christians: the crusades were more an argument about the messenger than about the message.

An essential feature of the teachings in the Qur’an is the importance of unquestioning submission to the teachings of the prophet.  Islam means resignation or submission.  It  is the 4th conjugation of salama: “he was or became safe, secure, or free”; hence salaam as a greeting of peace, which is coupled with a gesture of submission.  Self-evidently, salaam is cognate with the Hebrew greeting shalom (peace).

Many muslim words incorporate the name of Allah:

Allahu’akhbar  “God is great”

Bismillah (bi’sim illah) “in the name of God”

Hezbollah (hezb = party) “party of God”: an extreme Shiite Muslim sect.

Inshallah “if Allah wills it”; God willing

Mashallah “what God wills must come to pass”

Like mullahsheikh has meanings which vary with geography.  Its original meaning was “an old man”: specifically a man of 50 years or greater.  (In times past, age and wisdom were seen as functionally related.  This philosophy was temporarily displaced when the baby boomers graduated from university, and was rediscovered when they began to collect their superannuation.  The process continues, with resistance from Generation X).  A sheikh is the chief of an Arab family or tribe; the leader of an Arabian village.  It is also applied to heads of religious orders, heads of learned colleges, heads of towns or villages, to learned men generally.   It is also accorded to those who have memorized the entire Qur’an at whatever age (a fair achievement, since it is about 300 pages long).

Although closely related in sound and meaning, the shah is etymologically unrelated to the sheikh.  Shah is Persian for King.  It has left one important trace in English.  In that most civilized form of warfare, chess, the game ends when one player places the opponent’s king in a position from which it cannot escape.  The King is not formally taken, but it is unable to move to a position where it could avoid being taken.  The victor announces “checkmate”.  That triumphant declaration is the anglicised shah mat: the King dies.

The crusade I began with was once a croissard, which is reminiscent of croissant.  They are not etymologically related, but there is a connection between them.  While croissade-crusade came from Latin crux (French croix),  croissant is French for crescent.  In 1683, Vienna was struggling to survive a seige by the Ottoman Turks.  A Pole named Kolscitzky, who was learned in Turkish, came to their rescue.  He escaped through enemy lines to reach the Duke of Lorraine, who hurried to relieve the city.  The Turks were repelled and Vienna was saved.  Kolscitzky became very popular and famous.  He persuaded a baker to produce a sweet bread roll in celebration of Vienna’s victory over the Turks.  It was shaped like the crescent on the Turkish flag.

We call them croissants because at some point the French took ownership of this Polish-Austrian idea.  The crescent they imitate refers originally to the new moon as it grows towards the first quarter: the word comes from the Latin crescere to grow (from which we also get crescendo, and increase).  As a new moon grows it is a waxing crescent moon (a tautology); after the first quarter it is waxing gibbous (from the Latin for hump) and then full.  As the full moon declines, it is waning gibbous, then after the last quarter it is waning crescent (a contradiction in terms).

Incidentally, during his perilous journey, Kolscitzky had learned how to make coffee.  After the seige ended, he came by  a sack of coffee beans abandoned by the retreating Turks.  He was the only person in Vienna who knew what coffee beans were for.  He opened a café which quickly became famous for the drink and popular for its croissants.  He served the coffee with milk and honey, a precursor of the style now known as Vienna coffee.  Although the French stole the croissant, they had the good sense to leave Vienna coffee to the Viennese.

Julian Burnside

 

 

 

French au pairs

How does this work?

The story so far:
-Some Tory squatter couple needs a Froggy au pair to mind their idiot sprogs while they go to the polo.
-La Bimbo gets stopped by border security because she was clearly intending to break her visa conditions.
-Minutes later she is freed to work illegally after a couple of calls by our hero the head of the AFL
-Hundreds of refugees rot on Nauru.
-Dutton tells us there’s nothing to see here: it is irrelevant that the Tory squatter couple’s family are big donors to Dutton’s political party.
-Time to throw up

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/aug/28/peter-dutton-intervened-in-third-au-pair-visa-case-for-afl-bosss-relatives

Scott Morrison – Practising hypocrite

Scott Morrison is now Prime Minister of Australia.  Read this article in the Guardian Australia about a 7-year-old held on Nauru and remember: Scott Morrison could fix this in an instant, if he was true to his stated beliefs.

It is amazing to see how far dishonesty and hypocrisy can get you in this country.

Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Parliament placed great emphasis on his Christian values.  Among other things he said:

“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:

… I am theLord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.

From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil. Desmond Tutu put it this way:

… we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.

These are my principles.”

If those are Scott Morrison’s principles, he is not a man of his principles.  During his time as Immigration Minister, Morrison showed no trace of “loving kindness” or justice or compassion for refugees who came to Australia by boat looking for protection from persecution.

Peter Dutton claims to be Christian, but he boycotted Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008.  Like other members of Coalition governments during the past 16 years, he refers to boat people as “illegal” and he administers a system of detention which shows astonishing cruelty.

This is not the place to give details of Australia’s mistreatment of refugees: the facts are well-enough known.  Equally well-known is the Coalition message that a harsh refugee policy is essential to protect refugees from the risk of drowning.

But to suggest that Morrison and other politicians are worried about refugees drowning is a lie: a fig-leaf to make immoral mistreatment look compassionate.  “Worried about people drowning”!  So worried that, if they don’t drown, we punish them as if they were criminals, and call them “illegal” to make their punishment look vaguely respectable.  We do it, explicitly, as a deterrent so that others will not try to find safety in Australia.  And these dishonest politicians, pretending to be motivated by compassion, overlook altogether that if persecuted people stand their ground and are killed by their persecutors, they are still dead: just as if they drowned; if they die in an attempt to escape to some other country, they are still dead: just as if they drowned.

For politicians like Morrison, Abbott, Turnbull and Dutton to say they are worried about boat people drowning is a lie.  For them to mistreat asylum seekers in the way they do is a betrayal of the Christian values they cherish.

Our new PM, Scott Morrison, is a dishonest hypocrite, just like the PM he replaces and Dutton, who replaced him as Immigration Minister.

Human Rights Abuses in Israel

Recently I was invited to speak at the annual dinner of AFOPA (Australian Friends of Palestine Association) in Adelaide:

Australian Friends of Palestine Association – 4 November 2017

It sounds pathetic: I just did not know.

I did not realise what was being done to Palestinians.

I was vaguely aware of troubles in Israel, of course. I was vaguely aware of reports of Palestinian youths causing trouble, throwing stones at Israeli settlers. I was vaguely aware that Israelis who were attacked would strike back.  And of course, like most people, I was aware that the State of Israel was established as a homeland for the Jews who are one of the most persecuted races in all of history.

But I did not realise how shockingly the human rights of Palestinians are being violated.

It’s 69 year since al-Nakba: when more than 800,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes; 500 villages were destroyed; 15,000 Palestinians were killed.

It’s 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration originated in a letter written by Lord Balfour on 2 November 1917: 2 days after the famous charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade.

Back then, the Palestinians fought alongside the British. They didn’t get much gratitude: the Balfour Declaration included this paragraph:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

As it turned out, the rights of Palestinians have been comprehensively trashed.

And when Malcolm Turnbull went to Beersheba recently to celebrate the famous battle, no Palestinian leader was invited to attend.

The abuses of the human rights of Palestinians are getting worse. In particular, Palestinian children are grossly mistreated, despite the provisions of various international human rights conventions to which Israel is a party.

Palestinian children as young as 12 :

  • Are being arrested in their homes, at night, between 10pm and 5 am
  • Are being taken away, blindfolded, hooded, their hands tied
  • They are often placed on the floor of the van that takes them away, and they are taken by long, slow routes, so they often spend hours on the floor in the back of the van
  • They are physically abused: head-butted, kicked, tasered, dragged across the ground
  • They are strip-searched and threatened
  • They are interrogated without being told they are entitled to have their parents present; without being told they are entitled to have a lawyer present; without any warning that they have the right to remain silent
  • Some Palestinian children have been held in solitary confinement for weeks on end.

And beyond all this, there is the Israeli Defence Force’s use of administrative detention: detention without charge, without trial; sometimes for months.

John Lyons recently published a piece in the Weekend Australian. It includes this paragraph:

“Twice a week they had children’s days when children as young as 12 faced the army judges. I caught a glimpse of four young boys, in brown prison overalls, shuffling across the courtyard. They were handcuffed and shackled at the feet. I thought: if the 1nost powerful army in the Middle East thinks it’s acceptable to treat children like this, then something has gone badly wrong…”

Israel has been warned that these things are a gross violation of international human rights norms. Its response has been to suppress information about what it is doing.

The legal rights of Palestinian children are not the same as the legal rights of Israeli children. Palestinian children are treated as legally responsible when they are 12; Israeli children are not legally responsible until they are 14.  Israeli children are taken to a civil court; Palestinian children are taken to a military court.  Israeli children are taken to a civil court; Palestinian children are taken to a military court. Israeli children are treated properly if they come into contact with the criminal justice system; Palestinian children are not.

Israel is making the same tragic mistake Australia makes in relation to boat people. It seems to have forgotten completely the most fundamental point: these are human beings.

Anyone who criticises Israel’s conduct can expect a fierce response. John Lyons writes about it. Anthony Loewenstein has experienced it, and so have I.

I do not wish to deflect attention from the mistreatment of Palestinians for one moment, but it is worth noticing that we have a parallel set of events in Australia.

Australian Aborigines know what it is like to have your land taken; they know what it is like to be kept out of privileged areas; they know what it is like to be given a different, and inferior, legal status; they know what it is like for their children to be taken, mistreated, turned into aliens in their own land.

As I learned what was being done to Palestinian children, I had a recurring vision of the Aboriginal children in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

And Australia has a terrible record for mistreatment of children whose parents brought them to Australia as boat people: they get locked up indefinitely, in what the legal system regards as…yes…”administrative detention”. No charge, no trial.

It is eminently appropriate that AFOPA was founded in South Australia. South Australia leads this country in many things, not least in its advocacy for decent treatment of boat people. And South Australia is the only State where an Aboriginal man, who was taken from his parents when he was 13 months old, was accepted by a Court to have been taken unlawfully, and to have suffered harm as a result.

South Australians seem to understand human rights. Please support the work of AFOPA: keep reminding our politicians that what is being done to Palestinians is utterly unacceptable; donate to charities which concern themselves with human rights: especially Military Court Watch, which is doing remarkable work reporting the atrocious treatment of Palestinians. And hit social media: make sure Australians learn the truth about what is happening. After all, if our political “leaders” hide from the truth, let’s use the new democracy of social media to remind them.

 

 

 

Why People Flee for Safety

Here is a message I received from Paul Ronalds of Save The Children. It is an excellent account of what forces people to become refugees. Read it, and ask yourself what you would do to reach safety, if you were in this unhappy position?

It’s hard to believe, but tomorrow (25 August 2018) marks one year since the Rohingya crisis unfolded in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. Brutal violence drove Rohingya people from their homes, leading to one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. Now, with more than 800,000 refugees living in crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the settlement has earned the dubious title of being the world’s largest refugee camp.

Twelve months ago, whole villages were burned to the ground. Families and children embarked on treacherous journeys – some by foot and others on unsafe boats – desperately hoping to find safety in neighbouring Bangladesh. Against all odds, a lot made it – albeit malnourished, sick or wounded. But a lot didn’t.

Of those who did make it over the border, more than 55% were children. Some arrived unaccompanied and separated from family – distressed and too exhausted to speak. While others arrived as orphans, having tragically seen their parents or relatives killed.

These are events no child should ever have to experience.

Eight-year-old Aziz* is one of those children. He has experienced unthinkable brutality and he has endured lifechanging events that most adults would find hard to imagine.

Aziz was separated from his family after an armed group came to their village, randomly shooting and beating people. The family fled to safety but, in their scrambled escape, Aziz was shot twice in the leg and fractured his arm as he fell to the ground. Unfortunately, no one realised Aziz had been wounded and left behind – until it was too late.

After the violence settled, family and friends searched desperately for the young boy. But when they eventually found him, they were forced back into hiding and couldn’t access medical services for a week. By which time, Aziz’s leg had become so badly infected it had to be amputated. Likewise, his injured arm was irreparably damaged.

After 25 days in the clinic, Aziz returned home but soon after the armed groups mounted fresh attacks. This time there was no hiding in the hills, the family knew they had to leave their home indefinitely.

Trekking in heavy rain – sometimes wading through thigh-high mud and clay – and without any food or water, it took them nine days to reach Cox’s Bazar by foot. Aziz, still frail from his surgery, was carried by his 16-year-old sister.

Aziz and his family have been in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp for almost 12 months. It’s a grim existence, living in precarious shelters and facing constant threats of malnutrition and disease, but still Aziz and his family consider themselves among the ‘lucky’ ones.

The task of providing food, water, shelter, sanitation, healthcare and education to so many vulnerable people in such a short period of time has been immense. But our work has meant Aziz – and 370,000 Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar – have received these essentials. They’ve had access to a health clinic and have been able to attend child-friendly spaces, which has been particularly beneficial for Aziz’s psychological recovery and wellbeing.

But our work is far from finished.

In the months leading up to this first anniversary, camps have had to contend with monsoon and cyclone conditions. Heavy showers and powerful winds have torn through the overcrowded and already-fragile settlements, which are highly susceptible to landslides.

Already, there have been thousands of mini landslides. Around 8,000 refugees have been directly affected and just over 4,000 have had to move because their makeshift shelters have been destroyed.

We have prioritised our work preparing communities for monsoons and cyclones – running flood preparedness workshops and setting up lost child points to help reunite families and children after storms. But we are deeply concerned about the potential for a health disaster in the camps.

Any outbreak of disease in these fragile conditions and cramped spaces could spread quickly and would be potentially catastrophic.

In short, it could create a disaster within a disaster.

Over the past year, the Government of Bangladesh, UN agencies and NGOs like us, have mounted an enormous humanitarian response. But it must be drastically ramped up if we are to alleviate the uncertainty these families and children continue to endure.

Thousands of Rohingya children, just like Aziz, are in urgent need of support. With your help, I believe we can reach them – we can keep them safe from disease, abuse and exploitation. We can provide them with life essentials and we can give them the chance to go back to school. With your help, I believe we can allow them to be kids again.

Tomorrow, as we mark 12 months since the crisis began, please join me in making a gift to our Rohingya Crisis Appeal. With your support, we can ensure Rohingya children are given the best possible chance to recover from this humanitarian disaster.

PS, Read our recent donor impact report The Rohingya Crisis One Year of Your Support, it explains how donors, like you, have helped our work with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

*Name have been changedPaul Ronalds | Chief Executive Officer | Save the Children Australia
33 Lincoln Square South, Carlton Vic 3053

 

The Brilliant Cathy Wilcox

Here is a letter by Freddie Steen to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.  I agree with every word of it.

The Editor ,

Cathy Wilcox(“political cartoon, 1/8) cuts to the core: Dutton’s punitive, care-less  position on the human  status of men seeking asylum , lets young men die.

A breach of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention RG Menzies freely signed in 1954.

The death of Hamid Khazaie  is now world history as a preventable death in administrative  immigration detention, in itself illegal in PNG.

But there is so much more.

The Biloela Tamil family with two babies,  remains locked up in Melbourne Detention.

The body of the young Iranian who could stand it no more on Nauru , lies in an undertaker’s vault in Brisbane and his widow, mother and 12 year old brother are refused travel to bury him.

Baby Asha from Nauru, and baby Ferouz born in Brisbane’s Mater Hospital are still living in limbo.

 Mojgan the Brisbane  student plucked out of Year 12, separated from her Australian resident husband , and  re detained  in Darwin detention is  now living  in Brisbane with uncertainty, on a visa that is temporary.

And  “ Ali”, the 63 year old  Hazara refugee  is dying with terminal cancer  in Brisbane  immigration detention,  when 2000 doctors signed a petition  telling the Minister that palliative  support and medical  services on Nauru are  not at an Australian standard, and Ali must be brought here.

There are 60 000  + people  residing among us illegally without a valid visa , yet a proven Afghan  refugee who came the dangerous way by boat five years ago ,   is deprived at the end of his days of the freedom he dreams of for his family , for which he risked his life.

Like tens of thousands of Australians, this makes me ashamed and sad.

Frederika E Steen  AM
(address supplied)

The Australian Government can save Julian Assange

Julian Assange is an Australian. He is in trouble overseas.  He needs the Australian government’s help.

For six years he has been virtually a prisoner in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  The reason he is there is because he is the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, which published evidence of war crimes leaked by an American soldier, Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning as a matter of conscience. WikiLeaks has since revealed the secrets of the world’s unaccountable forces. This Australian has provided an historic public service.

The Americans have made it clear from the start that they want to get Assange, who has good reason to fear he will be mistreated the way Chelsea Manning was. That’s why this week’s events in London are so critical. Will the Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno, at present visiting London and under pressure from Washington, abandon the man his country has so honourably protected?

Julian Assange has never been charged with any crime. In 2010, Sweden wanted to extradite him from Britain under a European Arrest Warrant. When it became clear that Sweden was likely to hand him over to the Americans, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

The Swedish case has been dropped, but the British authorities still want him for jumping bail.  If he steps out of the Embassy, they will very likely hand him over to the Americans.

This Australian needs Australia’s help.

He has not seen sunshine or felt rain for 6 years. Try to imagine what it is like to be stuck indoors for 6 years.  Whatever your view of what he did, 6 years inside is enough.

His health has deteriorated badly over those 6 years.  I visited him at the Embassy  in the middle of June: he is looking much frailer than when I saw him there in mid-2012.

His teeth are causing great pain: a dentist can’t visit him.   He needs root-canal surgery, which is not possible except in a fully equipped dental surgery.

He is suffering from oedema: his legs are swelling.

His eyesight is fading, because he cannot look into the distance: the most distant thing from him inside the Embassy is a view down the corridor, which is perhaps 10 metres.

His bone-density is reducing seriously, because he has not been in the sunshine for 6 years, and exercise is difficult.

The government of Ecuador changed recently, and conditions in the Embassy have changed as well: it is now much more difficult for Assange to receive visitors, and he does not have access to a phone or the internet.

Because the British authorities are likely to hand him over to the Americans, Assange does not dare to step out of the Embassy.  That’s why he needs the help of the Australian government.  Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop could easily reach a diplomatic agreement with Britain to allow Assange to be brought safely back to Australia, where his family is.  If the Americans want to extradite him, they can apply to an Australian Court. The Australian Government has given help to other Australians in trouble overseas – such as the journalist Peter Greste in Egypt.

It in era of diminishing rights, of widespread insecurity and injustice, it is time to recognise one who has stood against the tide. Julian Assange needs our help, urgently. The Government should give it without delay.

 

Hobart Oration 23 July 2018

I was honoured to be invited to give the 2018 Hobart Oration.  It is sponsored by the Bob Brown Foundation.  Here is what I said.

Hobart Oration 23 July 2018:  Justice for the next Generation?  The Collapse of Values.

The two great issues our generation is leaving the next are climate change and the treatment of refugees.

Climate change

I have no hesitation in saying that climate change is the number one issue today: refugees are a second-order issue, but they just happen to be the issue which has captured my attention.

Both are issues which the next generation will have to solve, if humanity is to survive and flourish.

It is often overlooked that climate change has been known about for a long time.  The foundations were laid by the French mathematician Joseph Fourier, who noted that the Earth was too far from the Sun to account for a temperature which could support life, unless the atmosphere trapped some of the sun’s heat.

Later the Irish physicist John Tyndall identified the role of water vapour, CO² and methane as the key factors in trapping infra-red heat and thus maintaining atmospheric temperature.

Fourier’s work was done in 1824, Tyndal’s in 1859.  Later a Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, named the ‘Greenhouse effect’ and calculated the relationship between CO² levels and atmospheric temperature with astonishing accuracy.  That was in 1896.

Let’s take a moment to look at what Australia is doing — or not doing — on climate change.

In November 2016 an expert advisory panel reported that coal-fired Queensland, with just 7% of its power generation from renewables at present, could lift that to 50% by 2030 with very little cost to electricity consumers.  The Queensland government would subsidise renewables.  The federal energy minister, Josh Frydenberg criticised the report.

We are a uniquely embarrassing case on the global stage: the Gillard Government put in place a fairly comprehensive domestic climate policy with a carbon price by that was later dismantled.  Our emissions have risen every year since.  Malcolm Turnbull has failed to adopt policies any more advanced than those of the troglodyte Tony Abbott.   Conservative politics in Australia will have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards energy sector reform.

To watch Malcolm Turnbull fade into a shadow of what he could have been is to watch the slow destruction of a man the country once respected on many of our most important issues. He seems unable to lead his party, and has capitulated to the hard right: intellectual giants like Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and Eric Abetz – particularly on the issues of climate change and refugees – that Australia’s global reputation on climate change has gone from global leader to global threat.

Since the world signed the Paris Agreement, here are some of our “achievements”:

  • Tony Abbott asked the mining industry to “demonstrate its gratitude” to the retiring Federal Resources Minister – Ian MacFarlane – who had dismantled the mining tax. The Industry paid attention, and MacFarlane got a $500k per year job with the Queensland Resources Council — on top of his $140k Parliamentary pension — so he can spruik for the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland.  And Abbott recently expressed regret that he had signed Australia up to the Paris Agreement in the first place.
  • The government fast-tracked the Adani coal mine in Queensland – one of the biggest coal basins in the world which, if developed, would blow any chance the world has of remaining below 2 degrees of global warming.  It continues to press for the Adani mine to go ahead.
  • It has attacked environmental groups standing up for the world’s climate and trying to protect our natural environment. The Turnbull Government launched a two-pronged attack on environmental groups – the first attack: seeking to amend the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This Act allows groups and individuals to legally challenge resource projects if they are a threat to water or the environment. It is an incredibly important provision – introduced by the Howard Government – that allows for a check on the Government’s power. The second attack: on the tax-deductible status of environmental not-for-profits. This is an attempt to silence groups who are standing up against fossil fuel projects.  Recent changes introduced by the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018 present an additional threat to environmental groups with foreign affiliation.
  • In May of 2016 it was revealed that the government censored a UN report on the extent of bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and how much of a role climate change had to play in it. In 2016 the health of the reef got a “D” on the Australian government’s annual report card for the fifth year in a row and large-scale bleaching in the northern part of the reef threatens to see it never return to a productive state.  To put this in perspective, the world’s coral reefs have perished before, but they recovered… 10,000 years later.  That should be encouraging for the Great Barrier Reef tourist operators.
  • The Government launched an ideological war on renewable energy after the notorious South Australian blackout. It culminated in Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg trying to bully the states out of their ambitious renewable energy targets and pushing them instead to focus on promoting onshore gas production.
  • The Australian government actively resisted and watered down restrictions on financing of coal plants by OECD export credit agencies in 2015 because the government wants more coal plants to be built so that there are new markets for Australian coal.

And we thought Donald Trump was embarrassing!

By exporting our coal, we are exporting our emissions to other countries that we are not required to take responsibility for under our UN climate commitments. Just Australia’s domestic emissions equate to 1.5% of the world’s carbon emissions – 16th in the world.

However, if we add emissions from our exported coal to our domestic emissions, Australia’s carbon footprint trebles in size and we become the 6th largest emitter after China, the USA, Russia, India and Indonesia – all of which have populations over 250 million.

Even worse is that if the proposed Adani coal mine and development of the Galilee Basin goes ahead, we would be responsible for 705 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

This is at a time when reports are telling us that if there is any chance of avoiding the ‘safe’ 2 degree warming scenario that no new fossil fuel projects can go ahead, and that current ones need to be scaled back.

It is up to us – Australian citizens – to lead the way on climate and make the moral case for climate change leadership.

And still the climate change deniers are taken seriously by our media.

We need to force our politicians to consider the precautionary principle.  About 97% of the world’s climate scientists accept that climate change is real, anthropogenic and dangerous.  Deniers would point out that science is not decided by popular vote.  True enough, although it is sometimes useful to listen to people who know what they are talking about.  But let’s accept it: the scientists may be wrong.

Let’s give odds of 80% against the scientists: that is, let’s assume there is an 80% chance they are wrong.  But if they are right, if the 20% chance comes in, the result will be catastrophic and avoidable.  20% chance of a catastrophic, avoidable result is worse odds than Russian Roulette. So next time someone argues the denialist case, ask them if they are willing to play Russian Roulette with their children or grand-children.

And let’s face it: if we spend the money to avoid climate change, and if the denialists turn out to be right, the worst you can say is that we cleaned up the planet for no reason…

Refugees

It is tempting to reach far back into history for the origins of human rights thinking.  But it is not necessary to go back further than 1948.

The Universal Declaration was the work of a surprising activist: Eleanor Roosevelt.  She was the widow of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had died shortly before the end of the Second World War.  She was also cousin to Roosevelt and had grown up in the rich surroundings of the Roosevelt family.  But Eleanor Roosevelt was a genuine egalitarian and had set her heart on responding decisively to the horrors of the Second World War.

The Universal Declaration begins as follows:

PREAMBLE

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …

It’s not widely remembered that Australia was advocating that the rights it declared should be enforceable. The inspiration for that of course came from the fact that Ben Chifley was the Prime Minister at the time and Doc Evatt, uniquely among Australians, was the President of the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations.  Australia’s influence in the formation of the declaration was very significant, especially considering that we only had a population of about 3.5 million back then.

I like to think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a genuine reflection of the sentiment of the times: across Australia and across the world.

But things changed.  At the start of 2001, John Howard was facing an election to be held in November that year.  He played what he probably hoped would be a trump card and which turned out to be more successful than his devious mind could have dared hope for.  He became aware that a small boat, the Palapa, carrying Hazara refugees from Afghanistan was falling apart in the Indian Ocean.  He knew the Norwegian container ship the MV Tampa was in the area.  He asked the Tampa to rescue the people on the Palapa.

The captain of the Tampa agreed, and when he found the Palapa he thought it might hold maybe 50 people.  He was astonished when 434 people climbed out of the water, up the rope ladder and onto the deck of the Tampa.

Australia – indeed the whole world – knew about the Taliban’s murderous attitude to Hazaras.  In February that year, the Taliban had publicly destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas.  The statues had been erected 1500 years earlier by Hazaras – thought to be descendants of Genghis Khan – when they arrived in the area now known as Afghanistan.  Hazaras are readily identifiable, because they look Asian.  They were Buddhists when they arrived, but later converted to Islam.  But they embraced Shia Islam.  The Taliban are Sunni Muslims, and claimed that they wanted to clear Afghanistan of idolatry.  The division between Shia and sunni Muslims is as sharp as the division between Protestants and Roman Catholics used to be.

When the Tampa had rescued the refugees on the Palapa, there were two problems: some of them were in bad shape and needed medical help.  And the Tampa was licensed to carry 50 people: it had 47 crew, and (suddenly) 434 unexpected passengers.

Captain Arne Rinnan decided to put the refugees ashore at Christmas Island, which was on his planned route.

Christmas Island is a speck of Australian sovereignty in the Indian Ocean.  It is close to the equator.  It is about 2000 kilometres to the nearest point on the West Australian coast and is almost 3000 kilometres from Perth or Darwin.

When the Tampa tried to reach Christmas Island, Howard sent out the SAS, who took command of the bridge at gunpoint.

A stand-off followed.  Howard closed the airspace above Christmas Island, and issued a command that no “humanising images” of the people rescued (they were called “rescuees”) should be taken.  A group of us went to the Federal Court to try and resolve the impasse: after all, there were more than 400 people – men, women and children – being held hostage on the steel deck of a ship, in the tropical sun.  The trial was heard straight away by Justice North in the Federal Court.  He delivered judgment at 2.15 pm, Eastern Australian Time, on 11 September 2001.  The attack on America happened about 8 hours later.

John Howard, always quick to scramble for a political advantage, started calling boat-people “illegals”.  The Federal election was held two months later.  Howard went to the polls with the slogan “We will decide who comes to the country, and the circumstances in which they come.”  The coalition election campaign had Philip Ruddock – the walking spectre – as its pin-up boy.

Australia’s unhappily named “Pacific Solution” involved taking boat-people from Christmas Island to Manus Island or Nauru.

Manus is part of Papua New Guinea. Nauru is an independent republic.  Both are close to the equator.   Both are tiny: Nauru is smaller than Tullamarine airport in Melbourne.

Until 2013, when boat people arrived at Christmas Island, they had typically spent eight or 10 days on a rickety boat.  They had typically come from landlocked countries and had typically never spent time on the ocean.  Typically, they had not had enough to eat or drink on the voyage.  Typically, they had not had any opportunity to wash or to change their clothes.  Typically, they arrived distressed, frightened and wearing clothes caked in their own excrement.

They were not allowed to shower or to change their clothes before they were interviewed by a member of the Immigration Department.  It is difficult to think of any decent justification for subjecting them to that humiliation.

When they arrived, any medical appliances they have would be confiscated and not returned:  spectacles, hearing aids, false teeth, prosthetic limbs: all were confiscated.  If they had any medications with them, those medications were confiscated and not returned.  According to doctors on Christmas Island, one person had a fulltime job of sitting in front of a bin popping pills out of blister packs for later destruction.

If they had any medical documentation with them, it was confiscated and not returned.  The result of all of this was that people with chronic health problems found themselves denied any effective treatment.  The results could be very distressing.

Doctors were required to determine within 48 hours whether a person was suitable to be moved to Manus or Nauru.  The tests which are necessary for that assessment take seven days to complete.  They were not given the opportunity to complete the tests properly.  The detainees were nevertheless moved to Nauru or Manus.

One doctor who worked on Christmas Island told me of a woman who had been detained there for some weeks because she was generally regarded as psychotic.  Her behaviour was highly erratic, but for reasons no-one understood.  The consultation with this woman was very difficult because, although the doctor and the patient were sitting across a table from each other, the interpreter joined them by telephone from Sydney: over 5000 kilometres away.

Eventually, the doctor worked out the problem: the woman was incontinent of urine.  She could not leave her cabin without urine running down her leg.  It was driving her mad.  When the doctor worked out the cause of the problem, she asked the Department to provide incontinence pads.  The Department’s initial response was “we don’t do those”.  The doctor insisted.  The Department relented and provided four per day:  more than that would be a fire hazard, they said.

In 2012, the Pacific Solution was revived by Julia Gillard and in 2013 it became much harsher thanks to Kevin Rudd, in his second incarnation as PM.

From 2013, boat people were sent for offshore processing more or less regardless of circumstances.  So, for example, we know of cases where some members of a refugee family arrived in Australia before the cut-off date, were assessed as genuine refugees, and have since been settled in the Australian community.  But their family had been split up in the course of the journey, and some of the arrived just after the cut-off date, and are still held in Manus or Nauru.

From 19 July 2013, boat people have been sent offshore as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to seek asylum in Australia.  Behrooz Bouchani is held on Manus.  He has written a book called No Friend but the Mountains.  In it he says, at page 133:

“Can it be that I sought asylum in Australia only to be exiled to a place I know nothing about? … Clearly they are taking us hostage.  … We are being made examples to strike fear into others, to scare people so they won’t come to Australia. …”

Tony Abbott became PM later in 2013 (there’s a thought to conjure with) and appointed Scott Morrison as his Immigration Minister.  Later, Malcolm Turnbull rolled Abbott, and Turnbull appointed Peter Dutton as his Immigration Minister.

I mention Morrison and Dutton specifically because they are, arguably, the most dishonest hypocrites ever to hold high office in this country.  “Dishonest” because they call boat people “illegal”, even though the fact is that boat-people do not commit any offence against Australian law by arriving the way they do.  “Hypocrites” because they both claim to be Christians, and yet their treatment of asylum seekers has been criticized by every Christian denomination and by the World Council of Churches. Their conduct is irreconcilable with Christian teaching.

So we are led by dishonest hypocrites who trade on sanctimony and imprison innocent children.  Right now there are about 125 refugee children on Nauru, living in misery and hopelessness.  40 of them were born in detention and have never experienced a day’s freedom in their lives.

Nauru

In the middle of 2017 The Guardian Australia published the Nauru files: more than 2000 incident reports, compiled by workers employed by Australia.  More than half of the Nauru files concern mistreatment of children.  They range from a guard grabbing a boy and threatening to kill him once he is living in the community to guards slapping children in the face. In September 2014 a teacher reported that a young classroom helper had asked for a four-minute shower instead of a two-minute shower. “Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn’t occurred. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower.”

Reading the Nauru files, you learn that in September 2014, a girl had sewn her lips together. A guard saw her and began laughing at her. In July 2014 a child under the age of 10 undressed and invited a group of adults to insert their fingers into her vagina.

Morrison in his maiden speech in parliament said this:

“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:

… I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.

From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others…”

The Abbott government, with Scott Morrison as Immigration Minister renamed the Department of Immigration and Citizenship: it became the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  Under Peter Dutton’s “leadership” it became Australian Border Force and was later swept into Home Affairs.  Home Affairs was established on 20 December 2017.  It combines the national security, law enforcement and emergency management functions of the A-G’s Department, the transport security functions of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the counterterrorism and cybersecurity functions of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the multicultural affairs functions of the Department of Social Services, and the entire Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  It controls the Federal Police, Border Force and ASIO.

Home Affairs is the most powerful ministry in the country, and it is headed by Peter Dutton.  It is hard to imagine a worse or more dangerous choice than to elevate a dishonest ex-cop from Queensland to the most powerful ministry in the land.  If you feel comfortable and sleep well, you clearly do not understand what is going on.

Manus

The UNHCR recently delivered a report on the state of affairs on Manus.  Their report includes these observations:

“UNHCR protection staff and medical experts observed a high level of tension and further deterioration in the mental health of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. Separation from family members and a deep-seated fear of being abandoned in Papua New Guinea by Australia without adequate support has contributed to an acute sense of insecurity and helplessness…

Caseworkers visit refugee and asylum-seeker accommodation sites for the purpose of identifying and providing support for vulnerabilities such as medical needs and mental health issues. For people who have withdrawn and are unable to seek assistance, however, no follow up interventions are made. For those with serious mental health needs, such withdrawal may in fact be a sign of greater vulnerability. There is no systematic, ongoing process to identify those at low, medium or high levels of risk, and tailor assistance accordingly. This means that those with the most significant needs have not been monitored on a regular basis since October 2017.

UNHCR staff asked diverse stakeholders who is responsible for follow up of identified vulnerable people, and received inconsistent answers. Service providers work in silos, without clear information as to the role of others – which should be complementary and coordinated.

The Government of Australia has no continuous or regular on the ground presence to coordinate and supervise the fulfilment of contractual obligations by those it has engaged to provide basic assistance and support to refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. The Government of Australia, rather than the Government of Papua New Guinea, is the contracting party for all medical, security, infrastructure, garrison and caseworker services…”

The report includes recommendations:

“…The Government of Australia should ensure that a clear strategy and critical incident response plan includes significantly bolstered mental health support…

The Government of Australia should immediately identify and secure alternate durable solutions outside of the bilateral arrangement between Australia and the United States of America, including acceptance of the continuing New Zealand offer. Clear information on all appropriate available options outside of Papua New Guinea should also be communicated to refugees…

Given the increasing mental health needs of the refugee population, the number and expertise of caseworkers should be increased to a level commensurate to different degrees of risk and vulnerability…

There is an urgent need for outreach medical care, enhanced general medical and specialist mental health care. The tragic death of a Rohingya refugee on 22 May 2018 underscores the criticality of these unmet needs…”

Reza Berati

In February 2014 Reza Berati was killed on Manus Island.  Initially, Australia said that he had escaped from the detention centre and was killed outside the detention centre.  Soon it became clear that he was killed inside the detention centre.  It took nearly five months before anyone was charged with the murder of Reza Berati.

Curiously, tellingly, Scott Morrison went public after Reza Berati was killed.  He said Berati had escaped the detention centre, and had been killed by locals.  He said:

“…[T]his was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk…”

By making up this lie, Morrison inadvertently disclosed a serious truth: that the locals on Manus are extremely hostile to the refugees.

Just a couple of weeks after Reza Berati was killed, I received a sworn statement from an eyewitness, Benham Satah.  The statement included the following:

“J … is a local who worked for the Salvation Army.  …  He was holding a large wooden stick.  It was about a metre and a half long … it had two nails in the wood.  The nails were sticking out …

When Reza came up the stairs, J … was at the top of the stairs waiting for him.  J … said ‘fuck you motherfucker’ J … then swung back behind his shoulder with the stick and took a big swing at Rezaa, hitting him on top of the head.

J … screamed again at Reza and hit him again on the head.  Reza then fell on the floor …

I could see a lot of blood coming out of his head, on his forehead, running down his face.  His blood is still there on the ground.  He was still alive at this stage.

About 10 or 15 guards from G4S came up the stairs.  Two of them were Australians.  The rest were PNG locals.  I know who they are.  I can identify them by their face.  They started kicking Reza in his head and stomach with their boots.

Reza was on the ground trying to defend himself.  He put his arms up to cover his head but they were still kicking.

There was one local … I recognized him … he picked up a big rock … he lifted the rock above his head and threw it down hard on top of Reza’s head.  At this time, Reza passed away.

One of the locals came and hit him in his leg very hard … but Reza did not feel it.  This is how I know he was dead.

After that, as the guards came past him, they kicked his dead body on the ground …”

A short time later, Benham Satah was taken into the Wilson Security cabin in the detention centre.  Wilson Security provide the guard services on Manus and Nauru, and in your local park.   They are incorporated in Panama, presumably to avoid the inconvenience of paying Australian tax on the vast amounts they are paid by the Australian government.  The Wilson Security people tied Benham Satah to a chair and beat him up.  They told him that, unless he withdrew his witness statement, they would take him outside the camp, where he would be raped and killed by locals.

By their threat, the Wilson Security people echoed what Morrison had conveyed: that the locals on Manus are extremely hostile to the refugees.

Several Australians involved in the killing of Reza Berati were, conveniently, able to return to Australia before any charges were laid.  The people who were, eventually, two years later, convicted of murder were somehow able to escape from prison.

Benham Satah is still on Manus, still living in fear of retribution.

The treatment of boat people in offshore detention is dreadful, and I am glad that Behrooz Bouchani will be speaking to us later: it’s our loss that he has to speak to us electronically rather than in person.

Peter Dutton recently had to deal with a suggestion that some people should be brought from Manus to Australia as a matter of compassion.  He said:

“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia…”

How many people in this country – how many people in this hall – would have believed it possible, even 5 years ago, that a senior Minister of the Crown would publicly dismiss the possibility of compassion?

And this from the most powerful politician in the country.  But he’s not invincible: for some years now I have publicly called him a dishonest hypocrite, but he has not sued for defamation.  I repeat it now: Peter Dutton is a dishonest hypocrite.   Dishonest, because he calls boat-people “illegal”.  They aren’t.  A hypocrite because he claims to be a Christian, but his wilful mistreatment of refugees is the exact opposite of what Christianity teaches.  And now he is arguing against compassion!

In the tumult of news we get every day, especially that rich and varied diet produced by Donald Trump, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a Minister of the Crown urged us not to act with compassion.  He is the same person who recently reduced the social welfare entitlements of people living in the Australian community as they wait for their refugee status to be decided.  The government has just cut the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) program that provides a basic living allowance, casework support, help in finding housing, and access to torture and trauma counselling.  Before the cuts, the SRSS payments amounted to about 89% of Newstart allowance:  just $247 per week.

Newstart is hardly the most generous scheme in the world.  Surviving on $247 per week ($35 per day) would be unbelievably hard.  In 2016, between 28 March and 2 April, Dutton attended the UNHCR high-level meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian Refugees.  He claimed expenses of $36,221.80 for those days.   That is, roughly $8000 per day on top of his parliamentary salary, which amounts to a bit over $940 per day ($343 thousand per year).  And since we are talking numbers, keeping refugees in offshore detention costs us about $570 thousand per person per year.  To put that in perspective, it is equal to about 44 years worth of SRSS payments.  So, if we decided to put an end to the cruelty of indefinite offshore detention, we could put every refugee on SRSS for 40 years, and actually save money.

Many members of the Coalition seek to make their anti-refugee stance look respectable, and even morally worthy, by saying that they are worried about refugees drowning, so they need to deter people from using people smugglers to get to Australia.  More hypocrisy: I do not for one minute believe them.  They are not being sincere or honest when they express concern about people drowning: if they were genuinely concerned about people drowning, they would not punish the ones who don’t drown.  They would not use the survivors as hostages, to deter others from trying to get here.

If our politicians were genuinely concerned about people drowning in their attempts to escape persecution, why are we not allowed to know the fate of people whose boats are turned back?  We are told this is an “on-water matter”.  If boats are turned back, there is clearly a risk of people drowning, but we know nothing of it.  If people are deterred from trying to come here and instead head to the Mediterranean, they still risk drowning, but we know nothing of it.  And if our deterrent measures  persuade them to stand their ground and they are killed by their persecutors, they are just as dead as if they had drowned, but we know nothing of it.

We are not well-served by our Coalition government: it has lied to us repeatedly on this issue, and has induced the country to descend into behaviour which contradicts our national values.

We are not well-served by the Labor party, which has never contradicted the Coalition’s lies.  If the Labor Party had a shred of decency, Bill Shorten would make a speech before the next election in which he would tell the nation what we are actually doing.  Imagine the impact if the Murdoch press reported Shorten saying:

“Men and women of Australia.

We are not behaving well.

Australia is paying billions of dollars a year to hold people hostage on Nauru and Manus.

They arrived in Australia seeking to be protected from persecution.  Most of them are genuine refugees.  Australia took them to Nauru or Manus by force, against their will.

For 17 years, the Coalition has, called them “illegal”.  They aren’t “illegal”.  We should have pointed out that the Coalition was lying to you.  We didn’t.  I am sorry we didn’t.

The way we are treating refugees is a betrayal of what Australia stands for.

What does this country stand for?  The statement of national values, which was introduced by the Turnbull government and is now part of the citizenship ceremony, says in part:

“I understand Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion … and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good; …”

If that is who we are, then what we are doing to refugees is simply un-Australian.

It is un-Australian to mistreat innocent people, which we are doing to people held on Manus and Nauru.

It is un-Australian to hold innocent people hostage, which we are doing to people held on Manus and Nauru.

It is un-Australian for political leaders to lie to the public in order to frighten them into tolerating the wilful mistreatment of innocent people.

If the Turnbull government was honest, it would have included something about cruelty and dishonesty in the statement of Australian value

I am sorry it has taken us so long  to tell you truthfully what is being done in your name…”

But somehow I don’t think Bill Shorten has the courage to make a speech like that.

And, if I may return to the issue of climate change, here’s a thought to finish on.  If the Tony Abbott attitude to climate change ultimately prevails, then in 8 or 10 generations we will all be history.  The collapse of agriculture and of complex supply lines will spell the end for most members of the human race.  Presumably there will be some survivors: the Kalahari bushmen, the Inuit, the outback aborigines…

So: if the Tony Abbott view of climate change ultimately prevails, the Aborigines will get their land back.   I’m not sure that is what he intends.

 

This is how our decency is degraded

A friend reminded me recently of a great observation about the process by which our decency is degraded.  Looking at what has happened in Australia, courtesy of Howard, Ruddock, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton, and what has happened recently in America because of Trump, it is sadly familiar.

Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945:

“…Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?-Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.  […]

But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked-if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in-your nation, your people-is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God.”

“We can’t save all of them”

Liberal party members who attempted to have white South African farmers singled out for special treatment when applying for asylum in Australia have been defeated after an interjection from Philip Ruddock.

Ruddock pointed out that there are about 65 million people around the world who are displaced, and about  22 million of them refugees.  That is: they are on the move, looking for somewhere safe to live.  He pointed out that we can’t help them all.

That’s true, but it misses the point completely.  First, they aren’t all trying to come to Australia.  boat arrivals in Australia typically tracked parallel with global refugee movement.  Second, no-one is suggesting that we should try to save them all.

When was in Lesbos helping make the film Border Politics, I heard a story, probably a global story which has been embraced by people living on Lesbos.  It went like this:

There is a beach on Lesbos where the full tide sometimes washes up thousands of starfish.  Sometimes, depending on the wind as the tide goes out, the starfish are stranded on the beach and if they stay there they dry out in the sun and die.  A little girl in Lesbos was very distressed by this, and went down to the beach.  A grown-up said to her, very sensibly, “You know, you can’t save all of them”.  Her response: she bent down, picked one up, threw it into the ocean and said “Well, I’ve saved that one!”

If all of us are troubled by the idea that we mistreat boat people who get to Australia, then all of us, together, can make a big difference.

Just try to save one at a time.  Try to save just one.

It’s time to write to Federal MPs

You may have seen Greg Hunt on Insiders this morning (27 May).  If not, watch it on Iview.  He simply did not answer questions about “indefinite detention”.  Coalition MPs are simply not being honest about the issue of people seeking asylum.  They won’t acknowledge that they are deliberately running a system of indefinite detention of people they call “illegal” but who do not commit ANY offence by coming to Australia seeking to be protected from persecution.

The Coalition justify their deliberate, intentional cruelty by saying they are worried about people drowning in their attempt to reach safety.  (Watch Greg Hunt retreat to this excuse).  It’s  a lie.  If they are so worried about people drowning, why punish the ones who don’t drown?  Why deny us any information about the safety of people on boats that are turned back  (by OUR armed services?  Why not worry about the people who drown in their attempt to reach Europe rather than Australia?  Why not worry about the people who do not try to escape persecution and are killed by their persecutors?

It’s time for all of us to write to our Federal MP (of whichever major party).  Make sure your letters are actual letters: paper, envelope etc, not emails.  Consider writing in the following terms:

“Dear xxx
I am a voter in your electorate.
Do you think asylum seekers are “illegal”?
If so, what offence do they commit?

Yours Faithfully…”

An alternative (or follow up) letter:

“Dear xxx
I am a voter in your electorate.
Are you concerned about boat-people drowning?
If so, do you think we should punish those who do not drown?

Yours Faithfully…”

Try it.  They will not give you an honest answer.  If they ignore you, or send a press release drafted by a staffer, write again, along the following lines:

“Dear xxx
I am still a voter in your electorate.  Thank you for responding to my letter.
It did not answer my questions.  Here they are again…

Yours Faithfully…”

Keep the letters as short as possible: most of them have a limited attention span.

Don’t try to persuade them: they aren’t listening to you any more, even though they are paid to be your representative.

What YOU can do about refugee policy

I am often asked “What can I do about refugee policy?”

Well here’s an idea Kate came up with: get a group of friends together and agree to meet once a week.

At those weekly meetings, agree on things you can do during the following week: helping at the local refugee support group is one possibility.

One thing you CAN do is write to Federal MPs.  There’s a few pointers about how to do this effectively: click here.  Key points: write letters: pen and paper (not emails, not SMS); keep it short: give them nowhere to hide. 

Classic sample letter:

“Dear xxx

I am a voter (in your electorate).  I have two questions:

  1. Do you think boat people are “illegal”?
  2. If so, what offence do they commit?

Yours Faithfully… “

There are lots of other possible questions here.

Write to members of both major parties. If you don’t get an answer (an answer as distinct from a non-responsive reply) write again: after all, this is supposed to be a representative democracy.

If enough people do this every week, so that all federal MPs get lots of letters, maybe they will start to get the picture.

The trolls are at it again

Really? I get paid nothing at all to help refugees, and I pay a lot of tax. So tell me if you are hinting at some kind of fact I am not aware of. Actually, I think you just made up what you said. Are you a troll or a fantasist?

 What 
What is interesting about it is that people are willing to invent things like that in order to distract attention from the obvious fact that some people are unfortunate enough to live in our society without being able to get work.  They are not only denied the dignity of working, the government does not give them enough to live on.  What’s a person supposed to do, if they can’t afford to pay the rent and feed their kids?
What sort of society are we, if we will willingly let people suffer?
Bronwyn Bishop made much of the fact that her pension had been “earned”, whereas payments to the unemployed are not earned.  Even if that is true, even if you assume that a person on Newstart has never paid tax, it remains the fact that they are part of our Society, and our Society is damaged if we let some people in it suffer: or worse, if we let their children suffer because the parents are unemployed and the Newstart allowance is not enough to allow them a life worth living.
People like Bronwyn Bishop, who have never had to scrape along on hopelessly inadequate resources, probably think that some people will rort the system it if offers a Newstart allowance which allows a decent, if modest, chance of survival.
Let that be so: as a Society we have to decide whether it is better to provide a safety net, or let people fall to the ground and be destroyed.
In my view it is better to provide a safety net.  Even if some people will rort the system.
And how can any politician take a different view?  They have salaries which start at $199k a year (more for Ministers, Committee chairs etc), and allowances which add another $200k to $800k a year.
And then there are the pensions, like the one Bronwyn Bishop gets, so she doesn’t have to see what it’s like living on $40 per day.
Expense allowances:
  • All politicians may claim expenses relating have their travel within Australia covered if they are on Parliamentary or electorate business
    • This may include first class tickets on scheduled commercial services.
  • If heading overseas, these entitlements may extend to medical services and clothing allowances.
  • Politicians are also entitled to a travel allowance for overnight stays, with varying rates for different locations and positions.
  • For example, all politicians can claim $273 for an overnight stay in Canberra but this increases to $498 in Karratha.
  • Office holders are given larger allowances in some locations.
  • The Prime Minister is limited to $564 for each overnight stay in a place other than an official establishment or the Prime Minister’s home base.
  • Accommodation and sustenance at official establishments is provided at Government expense.
  • Politicians have a limited number of overnight stays that they can claim.
    • For some MPs this limit might be 90 nights per year.
  • Ministers can also claim the cost of travel for their spouse, if it is in Australia and for official purposes.
  • All politicians are entitled to a private-plated vehicle to be used for parliamentary, electorate or official business.
    • They can choose an additional $19,500 per annum of electorate allowance to meet the costs of transport within and for the service of the electorate, instead.
  • Specific examples from the second half of 2015:
    • Foreign Minister Julie Bishop claimed the largest amount with a total cost of $808,649.49 – more than half of which was for overseas travel in her ministerial role.
    • Her colleague, Warren Entsch, claimed more than $779,512 – including $441,460 for an office fit-out
    • Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed a total of $508,200.67, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed $423,759.19.

Who should we believe?

It is interesting to compare reports in today’s The Australian and The Guardian Australia

In The Australian, there is an article with the headline: “Newspoll: Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity surges on the back of the budget

In The Guardian there is an article with this headline: “Coalition’s budget fails to turn around Turnbull’s government’s fortunes

On Sunday The Guardian had an article headlined: “An unfunded, uncosted tax plan plays into Labor’s hands – again

Turnbull continues to be preferred PM, but Labor seems to be preferred government.   So, what are we meant to believe?

Hypocritical politicians

I have said before, and I repeat it here, that I regard as hypocrites any Federal politicians who claim to be Christian, and yet go along with the deliberate mistreatment of people seeking asylum.  The key offenders are Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull.

Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton claim to be Christians, along with most other members of the Australian Parliament.  For fear of being misunderstood, I should declare that I was brought up in the Christian tradition, but I no longer adhere to any religion.  But I do remember some of the fundamental  tenets of Christian teaching: compassion for those in need; treat others as you would want to be treated…

These men lie to us, and they are hypocrites.  They lie when they call boat people “illegal”, when it is not an offence to arrive in Australia, without a visa, seeking to be protected from persecution.  And by their wilful mistreatment of people seeking asylum they betray the Christian values they pretend to hold.

Christ told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  A Jewish traveller on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, has been stripped and beaten and left, helpless, beside the road.  A priest and a Levite both pass him by and avoid engaging with him. A Samaritan sees him and helps him, even though Jews and Samaritans were traditional enemies.

Tony Abbott, who claims to be a devout Roman Catholic, once suggested that the parable of the Good Samaritan might have been different if a number of travellers had been found beside the road.  It takes someone like Abbott to claim that he can reconstruct Christs’s teaching.

Abbott, Morrison, Dutton and Turnbull are dishonest hypocrites.  Their conduct is impossible to reconcile with their asserted Christian beliefs.

Today I got a very snippy email from a person who did not like my views on this subject.  He wrote:

Dear Mr Burnside,

You have on several occasions publicly berated and condemned Australian leaders for failing to live up to your understanding of the teachings and example of Jesus Christ(15).

Yet you deliberately and wilfully ignore the terrifying(3) implications of Muslims living in accordance with the teachings and example of Mohammed(11), as Islam commands them to.

You appear to be ideologically incapable of progressing beyond your own facile, self-serving understanding of what Islam actually teaches:

– Islam incites hatred against Jews, Christians and all non-Muslims(1)

– Islam incites violence against all non-Muslims(2)

– Islam incites terror against all non-Muslims(3)

– Islam’s prophet Mohammed was a self-professed terrorist(4)

– Prophet Mohammed tortured people to death(5)

– Mohammed beheaded men, women and children(6)

– Mohammed advocated killing non-Muslim children(7)

– Mohammed advocated global Islamic supremacy through violence(8)

– A Muslims highest goal is martyrdom, Islam’s only sure path to paradise(9)

– Islam’s prophet Mohammed sexually enslaved women after killing their menfolk(10)

– Prophet Mohammed is Islam’s perfect example for all Muslims(11)

Islamic State follow the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail”(12)

– Mohammed slaughtered anyone who insulted him(13)

– Islam demands the death penalty for anyone who questions or criticises Islam(14)

Pots in glass houses should be careful when throwing black stones at kettles.

(There followed an impressive number of footnotes quoting passages from the Quran)

I replied:

Thank you for advancing my education on religious matters.

Quoting extracts from the Quran is probably no more helpful than quoting selected extracts from the Bible: some well-known passages from Leviticus, for example.

In any event, your fundamental point (as exemplified by the subject line of your email) was the difference between the conspicuous Christianity of some of our political “leaders” and their conduct.  As best I recall, Christ never taught people to despise or mistreat people of other religions, so politicians who make a public virtue of their Christianity (Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull…) can hardly justify their mistreatment of refugees because many refugees are Muslims.  That would be difficult to square with, for example, the parable of the good Samaritan.  The point of that parable, of course, was that the Samaritan helped someone who adhered to a different faith and was part of a despised group.  But the hypocritical Christian politicians, who are our political “leaders” apparently think it’s OK to mistreat members of a despised minority, buoyed by the fact they are (or might be) Muslims.  If you can tell me how that is acceptable as a matter of Christian teaching, I would be fascinated.

And then there is the small matter of comparing mainstream Australian values (mateship, “fair go” etc) with  what the politicians do.  And it seems pointless to notice that they lie to us: calling boat people “illegal”, even though they commit no offence by coming here the way they do, and calling the exercise “border protection”, although speaking for myself I feel less need to be protected from people fleeing persecution than I need to be protected from our dishonest, hypocritical politicians.

I have met people from many faiths.  I have never feared any of them on account of their religious beliefs.  But it is a major concern to see dislike of Islam becoming so vocal: it’s the new anti-Semitism.

In this context it is worth recalling that in July 1938 an international conference was held in Evian-Les-Bains, France.  The purpose of the conference was to arrange help for the increasing number of Jewish refugees fleeing Germany.  The Australian representative, T. W. White said: “as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one”.  Most countries said they could not accommodate any more refugees.

History soon showed us how terrible this response was.