Haitch or Aitch?

There is an interesting discussion on the ABC about the correct way to pronounce the name of “H”,  the 8th letter of the English alphabet.  It is a long-running debate.  I recall that, as a child, I was told firmly that I should say ” aitch”  not “haitch”. The debate is much older than I am.

“I am told on good authority that in schools of a certain denomination, and in those schools only, it is pronounced invariably as haitch, an oddity I cannot explain” (Arnold Wall The Queen’s English, 1958).  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the pronunciation  aitch is hard to explain.  The pronunciation of the letter H is one of Australia’s great social shibboleths:  not just the way it is sounded as the first letter of a word, but more particularly the way the name of the letter itself is said.  Some people say haitch, others call it aitch.

Although the spirit of our times is generous, forgiving and tolerant, the choice between aitch and haitch can cause a good deal of anxiety and even hostility.  Generally speaking, haitch is used by those educated in that part of the Roman Catholic system which traces its origins to Ireland.  Aitch is preferred by the rest.  Some apostates deny their origins by abandoning haitch; but there is little traffic in the other direction.  When I was a child, I was forbidden to say haitch; friends who said haitch were appalled that I ate meat on Fridays.

It is not at all surprising the issue is so confused, since the pronunciation of h, when used as the initial letter of a word, has changed significantly over the past couple of millenia.

Although nothing much is certain in matters of language these days, the prevailing view, perhaps illigocally, supports the pronunciation aitch.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives it thus, and does not recognise haitch as an alternative.  I say this is illogical, because it might be expected that the name of a letter of the alphabet would give a clue about the sound normally associated with it.  In this matter, h, w and y stand isolated from the rest of the alphabet, although the names of c, e and g represent only the lesser part of the work done by those letters.

The issue is manifested in at least 3 ways: how is the name of the letter to be said; is the h sounded or not before a vowel; does a word beginning with h accept a or an as the indefinite article?

The sound represented by H was known in the Semitic, Greek and Latin alphabets.  In the Semitic it was a laryngeal or guttural aspirate, and remained so in the Greek and Latin.  It passed from the Latin into the Germanic languages as a simple aspirate, that is, the sounded breath.  It has been variously called  ha, ahha, ache, acca, and accha.  These earlier forms of the name explain the current form, and are clearly referrable to the sound represented.

In late Latin, and in early Italian and French, the aspirate gradually ceased to be sounded.  In Italian, the h was progressively dropped in the written form of words, so that it is now absent from words which, in the French, retain it without sounding it: eretico (hérétique); istorio (histoire); oribile (horrible); osteria (hôtel).

In Anglo-Saxon speech, h was always sounded, but since the Norman conquest, the English pronunciation of words with an initial h gradually adopted the French manner: the english language has always been something of a trollop, pursuing advantage where it can.  So for hundreds of years, the h was seen but not heard in “proper” speech, at least in words which derive from the romance languages.

If the initial h of a noun or adjective is not sounded, then the word naturally takes the indefinite article an.  At least from the 11th century then, it was natural to refer to an (h)istory, an (h)otel, an (h)our, an (h)onourable woman, an (h)umble person.  The ambivalence of usage survives in words like hostler/ostler.

However, from the 18th century on, English usage began once more to aspirate the initial h.  This coincides with the arrival of the Hanoverian monarchs, whose native language had always sounded the h.  Thus words which had come into English via French began to be said with aspirated h’s, although the change was gradual and patchy.  Published in 1828, Walker’s Dictionary says that h is always sounded except in heir, heiress, honest, honesty, honour, honourable, herb, herbage, hospital, hostler, hour, humble, humour, humorous, & humorsomeSince that time, those underlined have also changed, but in the USA herb is still said with a silent hAbominable was originally abhominable at least from Wyclif’s time, and was explained as deriving from ab homine.  It lost its h in pronunciation and then in spelling, and remained unaffected by shift in the wake of the Hanoverian kings.

One of the oddest anomalies of this process is habitué, which is an unassimilated French word but which is generally spoken with a sounded h.  By contrast, an (h)abitual liar is commonly said with a silent h, although it would be odd not to sound the h in habit.  Homage is likewise anomalous

As the shift back to aspirating the h was slow and illogical, it is not surprising that it provoked uncertainty in the choice of indefinite article.  The choice is made the more difficult by a dread of dropping an aitch, which in many circles is a shocking thing if done incorrectly.  The unhappy result is such usages as: an hotel, an historic occasion, an hypothesis, an heroic effort, an hysterical outburst, &c.  If the h is sounded, the result is silly and indefensible.

The rule is simple enough: a word which begins with a vowel sound takes an; a word which begins with a consonant sound takes a.  So, an honest person, an hour, an heir,  an unusual event &c.; a hypothetical case, a historic occasion (but colloquially an ‘istoric occasion), a useful suggestion, &c.  Before initials, the choice of article depends on the way the name of the letter is sounded: a UN resolution; an S-bend, an HB pencil, an X-rated film, an MP.  But if the collection of letters is a recognized acronym, then the choice of article depends on how the acronym is said: a UNICEF official, an UNCITRAL official; a NATO resolution, a SALT meeting, a HoJo restaurant.


Since the publication of my article about the word fuck, I have received many comments, mostly complimentary.  That article attracted far more comment than any other I have written, which shows where the market is!  Readers will remember that I identified subagitate as the only polite word in the English language which has as its primary meaning have sexual intercourse.

However, correction comes from the least expected quarter: Robin Brett QC drew to my attention to the OED entry for swive, which reads as follows:

swive, v. Obs. or arch.

  1. trans. To have sexual connexion with, copulate with (a female). …
  2. intr. To copulate…”

I had always believed, without checking it, that swive was a slang word.  In fact it is a sturdy Old English word, related to the Old High German sweib (meaning sweep or swing). But for the fact that (apparently) its primary meaning is not gender neutral, it deserves to be ranked alongside subagitate.

Chaucer used it in The Miller’s Tale, The Reeve’s Tale and also in The Manciple’s Tale:

For all your watching, bleared is your bright eye
By one of small repute, as well is known,
Not worth, when I compare it with your own,
The value of a gnat, as I may thrive.
For on your bed your wife I saw him swive.”

Chaucer’s use of the word may not be enough to ensure its respectability.  Later in The Manciple’s Tale, the episode above is referred to again:

Masters, by this example, I do pray
You will beware and heed what I shall say:
Never tell any man, through all your life,
How that another man has humped his wife;
He’ll hate you mortally, and that’s certain.

On balance, it may still be advisable to prefer subagitate in genteel company, where clarity of meaning is traditionally subordinated to elegance.  But swive is justifiable on historical grounds, and hump will not cause too many problems, as long as you sound the h.

Myki: Authorised Officers behaving badly

Here is another account of misbehaviour by Myki Authorised Officers, sent to me yesterday.  The Transport Minister, Jacinta Allan, says the culture will change: it needs to change really soon.  Calling it misbehaviour understates its significance: if the account is accurate,  the Authorised Officers clearly do not understand the law about allowing the passenger a reasonable time to produce his ID, and one of them committed a criminal assault on the passenger’s wife.

The person who contacted me has given me permission to quote her account of what happened.  I have edited the email so as not to reveal the identity of the people involved:

My husband left his wallet at home when he took the car to be serviced near his work. He took a tram home to pick up our daughter from childcare before 6pm, as the car was being serviced, and completely forgot to get a ticket. He was approached by Authorised Officers, who told him he must provide ID and that he could pay an on-the-spot fine or a higher fine at a later time. He said he didn’t have his wallet and then told them to wait while he called me.

He spoke to me at 5.40pm for 4 minutes. He said that he was near childcare but was stuck as he didn’t have a tram ticket or ID. He said that he couldn’t pick up our daughter before 6pm.

I said that I could walk there, picking up our daughter on the way before child care closed at 6pm, and would bring his wallet to him. While we were making this plan I could hear someone yelling at him in the background. He stopped the discussion with me a number of times and repeatedly asked them to please wait for a moment while he organised for his child to be picked up and for his wallet for ID and payment method. They refused to stop and were talking over him.

During the phone call with me he asked the Authorised Officers how long he was allowed by law to provide the ID and payment, as I was coming straight away. We live 4 blocks away from where he was. The officers said that it had to be a reasonable time, and he was not being reasonable.

Our phone conversation ended at 5.44pm.  My husband asked the Authorised Officers to wait while I brought his wallet, but they ignored him and began to write a report. And they called the police. My husband explained that I was picking up the child on the way, as her childcare closed at 6pm. The female Yarra Trams officer said that it was an inconvenience.

By the time I arrived at 6pm the police had arrived and the Authorised Officers were speaking with the police officers. I approached the police officer and said that I had brought his walled ID and payment method. The police officer drove away.

My husband said that he now had his wallet, so he had ID and payment method.  He said he was happy to pay the on-the-spot fine. The Auyhorised Officers said it was too late as they had completed paperwork.

My husband and I were both recording the Authorised Officers, but they told us to stop recording the discussion. I was then physically pushed repeatedly by one of the Authorised Officers. 

Border Force

Paul Stevenson has been sacked for speaking about conditions in offshore detention.  Among other things, he said conditions in the camps were “demoralising … and desperate. … It’s indeterminate, it’s under terrible, terrible conditions, and there is nothing you can say about it that says there’s some positive humanity in this. And that’s why it’s such an atrocity.” Now he has been told his contract has been summarily cancelled.  Sacking him was probably a breach of contract, but it is important to notice that he was sacked by his employer PsyCare.  It’s fair to assume that Border Force told his employer to sack him: they are too gutless to take direct action against him under the Border Force legislation, for fear of the consequences.

On 20 May 2015, the Australian Parliament passed the Australian Border Force Act.  The Act  came into force until 1 July 2015.

It includes secrecy provisions which have potentially very far-reaching consequences, but it is to be hoped that these provisions will be read down.  What is really alarming about the Australian Border Force Act is that it shows the willingness of the government to suppress the facts connected with its brutal mistreatment of asylum seekers.  I think the attempt will fail, but it should not have been made in the first place.  It is of a piece with Tony Abbott’s response to Q & A allowing a question from Zaky Mallah to go to air: instead of regretting an error of judgment, he asked “Whose side is ABC on?”.  Abbott appears to think that the best way to deal with the world is to ignore facts which contradict your view of it.

Section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act makes it an offence (punishable by 2 years’ imprisonment) for an “entrusted person” to “make a record of, or disclose” protected information.

Entrusted person” is widely defined, to include various officials in the Border Force, as well as officers of the Migration Department. This includes people who are “Immigration and Border Protection workers”. That class is defined as including people who have been designated by the Minister, as a class, to be officers. On 27 November 2003 the then Minister designated in writing employees of various service providers to be officers.

Accordingly, an employee of a detention centre service provider is, by definition, within the definition of “officer” in subsection 5(1) of the Migration Act 1958 and is therefore within the definition of “entrusted person” in the Border Force Act.

The restriction in section 42 is modified by a series of exceptions in sections 43 to 49. Most of those exceptions are not presently relevant. However the exceptions include these:

  • disclosure to an authorised person for a purpose relating to the protection of public health, or the prevention or elimination of risks to the life or safety of an individual or a group of individuals; (s. 44 & s. 45 in conjunction with s. 46(d))
  • disclosure to an authorised person for the provision of services to persons who are not Australian citizens; (s. 44 & s. 45 in conjunction with s. 46(j))
  • section 48 has arguably the most important exception:

“48 Disclosure to reduce threat to life or health

An entrusted person may disclose protected information if:

(a)       the entrusted person reasonably believes that the disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious threat to the life or health of an individual; and

(b)       the disclosure is for the purposes of preventing or lessening that threat.”

In my opinion, if a health worker learned facts while employed by a service provider in detention and genuinely believed, on reasonable grounds, that those facts  represented a serious threat to the life or health of one or more asylum seekers, and, that disclosing those facts might help prevent or lessen that threat, the disclosure would not constitute an offence.

So far as I am aware, no one has been prosecuted under section 42, although there have been some high profile disclosures which on their face appear to breach section 42, although they would have a good section 48 defence.

Similarly, if any other employee of a detention centre operator formed the same belief, and disclosed the facts believing that disclosing them might help prevent or lessen that threat, the disclosure would not constitute an offence.

It is not clear from the Act whether disclosure is prohibited of facts learned before the Act came into force but disclosed after the Act comes into force. The normal principle against retrospective criminal laws tends to the result that the Act would not apply in those circumstances, but it is not clear.

Two practical matters remain.

First, the Act came into force on 1 July. Disclosure before then cannot be a breach of the Act.

Second, whether a prosecution would be brought in any particular case is hard to guess. If the disclosure was such as to attract a possible defence under section 48, a government acting sensibly would recognise that a prosecution would provide an opportunity for the accused to explain – in the very public forum of court proceedings – exactly what is going on inside detention centres and why those things present a serious threat to the life or health of an individual (or individuals) in detention.

The defence under section 48 is important.  It is arguably more powerful than normal whistle-blower defences.  The most disturbing thing about the Australian Border Force Act is its apparent attempt to hide the iniquities which are happening in immigration detention, on-shore and off-shore.

I have said it before, and I repeat it here: if anyone is prosecuted under section 42 after disclosing things about the detention system which, they genuinely believe, involve a serious risk to the life or health of a person, I will arrange the best pro bono defence ever seen in this country.

Shameful things are being done in our name, on out taxes and Australia’s reputation internationally is being degraded rapidly.  The only favourable thing which has been said about Australia’s policy in relation to asylum seekers was said by Katie Hopkins in the London Sun a few months ago.  Her compliment was diminished by the fact that she referred to boat people as “vermin” and “cockroaches”.  I would prefer Australia not to have the good opinion of someone who thinks like that.

Befriend a child in detention

Befriend a Child in Detention, a project established by writer and educator, Dr June Factor, calls on political candidates to bring to Australia from Nauru the more than 100 children still living there in dire, detention-like conditions, and to process the claims of the 317 children in Australia living in community detention limbo.
‘Our project’s purpose is simple,’ said Dr Factor. ‘We send books and letters of friendship to children seeking asylum. We want the children and their families to know they are not forgotten.’

See more here: befriend

Why you should care

Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers who arrive here by boat has a few distinctive and disfiguring features:

  • It is based on dishonesty and hypocrisy;
  • It is intentionally cruel;
  • It is absurdly expensive;
  • It is not in keeping with our national character, which is why the government hides the facts from us.

Dishonesty and hypocrisy

In August 2001, the Palapa was carrying 438 Hazaras towards Australia.

It began to sink. Australia asked the Norwegian cargo ship, the Tampa, to rescue them. But when it tried to put them ashore at Christmas Island, Australia sent the SAS to take command of the Tampa at gunpoint.

John Howard said the people rescued by Tampa would never set foot in Australia. He said any asylum seeker trying to get protection in Australia would be sent to Nauru: a tiny Pacific Republic with a population of 10,000 people and an area of just 21 square kilometers.

The decision of Justice North in the Tampa case was handed down at 2.15pm (Melbourne time) on 11 September 2001.  8 hours later the terror attack on America happened.  All of a sudden, we no longer had terrorists, only “Muslim terrorists”.  We no longer had boat people, only “Muslim boat people”.  And the Howard government started calling boat people “illegals”.

It is important to recognise that this is a lie: boat people who come to Australia seeking protection from persecution do not commit any offence, even if they come without papers and without an invitation.  They do not commit an offence: they are not “illegal”.

But in the weeks after 9/11, no-one was much interested in the truth.

Two months later, the Howard government stormed to electoral victory.  Mr Howard’s notorious mantra was “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”.  If he was talking about migration policy, he was right.  But he was talking about refugee policy, and he was plain wrong.

It was untrue, and the Liberals knew it.

The Labor party said nothing to contradict the lies. The Liberals, it seemed, had turned into a party which was prepared to lie to the electorate and gain popularity by mistreating the most helpless people in the world.

The Liberals kept calling boat people “illegals” and the Labour party never authoritatively contradicted them.

Then in 2013 Tony Abbott became PM, and appointed Scott Morrison as Immigration Minister.  Morrison issued a directive in the Immigration Department that “unauthorised maritime arrivals” must thereafter be referred to as “illegal maritime arrivals”.  And he renamed the department: it became the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  That clearly conveys the idea that we need to be protected from boat people. By these two devices, Scott Morrison (who claims to be a Christian) and his conspicuously Christian leader Tony Abbott,  set the lie as an official directive and added another layer to it: the public perception was that we were using harsh measures to protect ourselves from criminals.

If it was true, it might have justified the cruelty. But it was a lie.

The Christians who led us had apparently forgotten the central point of Christian teaching.  Or perhaps their claimed Christian beliefs were just another lie.

Intentionally cruel

Boat people who arrive in Australia are taken by force and against their will to Manus Island or Nauru.

Manus Island is part of Papua New Guinea: it is a small island north of Port Moresby.  Unaccompanied me are sent to Manus.

Nauru is a tiny Pacific Republic with a population of 10,000 people and an area of just 21 square kilometres.  Women, children and families are sent to Nauru.

Manus and Nauru are incredibly hot and uncomfortable.  People are held there for years and are assured that they will never be allowed to come to Australia.

Here is an extract from a statement by a doctor who worked on Manus who has spent most of his  professional life working in the prison system in Australia:

“…On the whole, the conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC are extremely poor. When I first arrived at the Manus Island OPC I was considerably distressed at what I saw, and I recall thinking that this must be similar to a concentration camp.

The detainees at the Manus Island OPC are detained behind razor wire fences, in conditions below the standard of Australian maximum-security prison.

My professional opinion is that the minimum medical requirements of the detained population were not being met. I have no reason to believe that the conditions of detention have improved since I ceased employment at the Manus Island OPC.

The conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC appeared to be calculated to break the spirit of those detained in the Manus Island OPC. On a number of occasions the extreme conditions of detention resulted in detainees abandoning their claims for asylum and returning to their country of origin.

At the Manus Island OPC, bathroom facilities are rarely cleaned. There was a lot of mould, poor ventilation, and the structural integrity of the facilities is concerning.

No soap is provided to detainees for personal hygiene.

When detainees need to use the bathroom, it is standard procedure that they first attend at the guards’ station to request toilet paper. Detainees would be required to give an indication of how many ‘squares’ they will need. The maximum allowed is six squares of toilet paper, which I considered demeaning.

A large number of detainees continue to be in need of urgent medical attention.

Formal requests for medical attention are available to the detainees. The forms are only available in English. Many of the detainees do not have a workable understanding of English and the guards will not provide assistance.  …”

In February 2014 Reza Barati was killed on Manus Island.  Initially, Morrison said that Barati had escaped from the detention centre and was killed by locals outside the detention centre.  He was not telling the truth.  Soon it became clear that Barati had been killed inside the detention centre.  It took nearly five months before anyone was charged with the murder of Reza Barati.

Just a couple of weeks after Reza Barati was killed, I received a sworn statement from an eyewitness.  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 Reza, 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 …”

Australia regards itself as having no responsibility for Reza Berati or anyone else held in Manus or Nauru.  But we pay Broadspectrum (previously called Transfield Services) to run the detention centres there.

We pay Wilson Security, the Australian company which employs the guards.  It was recently disclosed that Wilson Security is incorporated in Panama.


Absurdly expensive

The  present system of dealing with asylum seekers who arrive by boat is hideously expensive.  The current system costs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.  That’s a big number: think of it as one million Geelong chopper rides each year!

Not in keeping with our national character

I remain convinced that most Australians are basically decent people, who would be shocked if they knew how cruelly we treat innocent people who have done nothing worse than ask us to help them live in safety. What we are doing to them in offshore detention is impossible to reconcile with Australian values.  That is why the government has made it practically impossible to learn what is happening on Manus and Nauru.

On 1 July 2015, the Australian Border Force Act came into operation.  Among other things, the Act makes it a criminal offence for a detention centre worker to disclose things they have observed in the detention system. The penalty for disclosing facts about the detention system is 2 years prison.

The UN Special Rapporteur Francois Crepeau was due to inspect the detention centres on Manus and Nauru in late 2015.  But on 24 September 2015 he announced that he was cancelling his visit because the Act would discourage workers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea from disclosing information to him.

In civil society, it is a criminal offence to know of child sex-abuse and fail to report it.  But in Australia’s detention system, it is a crime to report it.

Ask yourself this: Why has the government made it a criminal offence for people working in the detention system to disclose anything they learn in that capacity: even cases of child sex abuse?

There are other ways of dealing with refugees

Australia’s treatment of boat people needs a radical re-think.  It is shameful that we are now trying to treat asylum seekers so harshly that they will be deterred from seeking our help at all.  It is shameful that this deliberate mistreatment of asylum seekers has been “justified” by describing them falsely as “illegal”, when in fact they commit no offence by coming here and asking for protection.  It is shameful that the deliberate Coalition lies about asylum seekers have not been roundly condemned by the Labor party.  It is shameful that, out of an alleged concern about asylum seekers drowning in their attempt to reach safety, we punish them if they don’t drown.

There are better ways of responding to asylum seekers.  If I could re-design the system, I would choose between two possible models.

A Regional solution

Boat-arrivals would be detained initially, but for a maximum of one month, to allow preliminary health and security checks.  That detention would be subject to extension, but only if a court was persuaded that a particular individual should be detained longer.

After that period of initial detention, boat arrivals would be released into the community on an interim visa with a number of conditions that would apply until the person’s refugee status was decided:

  •  they would be required to report regularly to a Centrelink office or a post office,  to make sure they remained available for the balance of the process;
  •  they would be allowed to work;
  •  they would be entitled to Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
  •  they would be required to live in aspecified rural town orregional city.

A system like this would have a number of benefits. First, it would avoid the harm presently inflicted on refugees held in detention.  Prolonged detention with an unknown release date is highly toxic: experience over the past 15 years provides plenty of evidence of this.

Second, any government benefits paid to refugees would be spent on accommodation, food and clothing in country towns.  There are plenty of towns in country areas which would welcome an increase in their population and a boost to their local economy.  According to the National Farmers Federation, there are more than 90,000 unfilled jobs in rural areas.  It is likely that adult male asylum seekers would look for work, and would find it.

However, even if every boat person stayed on full Centrelink benefits for the whole time it took to decide their refugee status, it would cost the Government only about $500 million a year (an earlier version of this post said $500,000. My mistake), all of which would go into the economy of country towns.  By contrast, the current system costs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.  We would save billions of dollars a year, and we would be doing good rather than harm.

A variant of this would be to require asylum seekers to live in Tasmania instead of regional towns.  As a sweetener, and to overcome any lingering resistance, the Federal Government would pay one billion dollars a year to the Tasmanian government to help with the necessary social adjustments. It would be a great and needed boost for the Tasmanian economy, and Australia would still be billions of dollars better off.

Genuine regional processing  

Another possibility is to process protection claims while people are in Indonesia.  Those who are assessed as refugees would be resettled, in Australia or elsewhere, in the order in which they have been accepted as refugees.  On assessment, people would be told that they will be resettled safely within (say) two or three months.  Provided the process was demonstrably fair, the incentive to get on a boat would disappear instantly.

At present, people assessed by the UNHCR in Indonesia face a wait of 10 or 20 years before they have a prospect of being resettled.  During that time, they are not allowed to work, and can’t send their kids to school. No wonder they chance their luck by getting on a boat.

Genuine offshore processing, with a guarantee of swift resettlement, was the means by which the Fraser government managed to bring about 80,000 Vietnamese boat people to Australia in the late 1970s.  It worked, but it was crucially different from the manner of offshore processing presently supported by both major parties.  In addition, other countries also resettled some of the refugees processed in this way.  It is likely that Australians would be more receptive to this approach if they thought other countries were contributing to the effort.

A solution along these lines would face some practical problems.  At present, the end-point for refugees who reach Australia via Indonesia is a dangerous boat trip.  You have to be fairly desperate to risk the voyage, which probably explains why such a high percentage of boat people are ultimately assessed as genuine refugees: over the past 15 years, about 90% of boat people have been assessed, by Australia, as refugees lawfully entitled to our protection.  If the end-point is less dangerous, it is obvious that a number of people will set out who are not genuine refugees.  That would cause a problem for Indonesia, and Australia would have to help Indonesia deal with that problem.  But since our current system is costing about $5 billion a year, we can probably work out some arrangement with Indonesia which suits them and us.

There is another problem.  Because we have been indelicate in our relations with Indonesia in recent years, the Indonesian government may not be receptive to an approach like this.  Their reluctance may be softened if Malaysia was also recruited for a similar role.

Both of these solutions have these features in common: they are effective, humane, and far less expensive than our present approach.  But more than that: they reflect the essential decency of Australians – something which has been tarnished and degraded by our behaviour over the past 15 years.


Keep The Arts Alive at Fortyfive

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

Dear friends of fortyfivedownstairs,

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

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

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

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

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

– Mary Lou Jelbart, Artistic Director


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

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

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

If you feel like donating, click here

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

Refugees write to PNG Supreme Court

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

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

Ltr to PNG Supreme Court

How sad it’s come to this.

New Get-Up campaign to Get Dutton Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schrödinger’s Refugees

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

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

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

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



Update from Manus

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

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

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

Norfolk Island

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

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

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

Norfolk Island Proposal

Among other things, she says:

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

OFFSHORE by Madeline Gleeson

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

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

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

Here is my speech at the launch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sent children to Nauru against the clearest medical advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Letter to Minister Dutton from a Refugee Advocate

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

“Dear Minister Dutton

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


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

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

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

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

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

I expect a prompt response from your department.


Sarah Smith
Refugee Advocate

Great letter.  Absolutely right.

News from Nauru

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

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

The LNP and the ALP are beneath contempt.

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

Here is the message my colleague sent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stopping the boats doesn’t stop the deaths

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

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

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

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

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





Not drowning 3 Not drowning 2

A blunt assessment

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

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

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

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

Our politicians have betrayed our character.

Unrepresented refugee applicants

Refugee applicants in Australia face major hurdles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dutton on the rampage

Latest report, 27 April 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Australia.

Letter from Manus

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

Letter from Manus

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

Detention on Manus “illegal”: Supreme Court

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

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

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

The Supreme Court ruling includes the following passages:

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

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

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

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

A few things are clear:

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