Q&A on Monday 20 February 2017 included Attorney-General George Brandis QC.
Brandis showed rather unhappy aspects of himself, as he sought to justify enormous and extravagant expense allowances for Federal parliamentarians while justifying the meanness of NDIS funding, disability allowances, Community Legal Centre funding and the harshness of automated Centrelink debt recovery.
There was a common theme in Brandis’ position. He seemed to prefer meanness to generosity. He seemed unsympathetic to people who are struggling to survive; he does not care what we do to refugees; he does not care that his party has lied systematically to the public for years about boat people; he can’t be bothered to check the law in an area which, whatever your position, is contentious.
He chose to blame Labor for every difficulty, no matter that his party has had years to correct the situation which, he asserted frequently, was created by Labor. I don’t have much time for Labor, but watching him blame everything on a government which was defeated four years ago is simply pathetic.
It would be charitable to assume some kind of neural deficiency rather than a deep-seated personality disorder.
On robo-debt, Brandis seemed mildly concerned that a man had committed suicide after being chased for an alleged debt of $18,000 (this was later revised down to $10,000, without explanation). The way the system “works”, the burden is on the recipient of the debt notice to prove the demand is wrong. Most lawyers (at least, most lawyers who have actually practised law) respond instinctively against civil claims in which the Defendant has to prove that they do not owe the money claimed: the usual situation is that the person who makes a claim must prove it.
Brandis urged that anyone who received a robo-debt demand should ring Centrelink and discuss the claim: he seemed not to understand that getting Centrelink to answer a phone call is extraordinarily difficult. Several people in the audience with practical experience of the matter told Brandis how difficult it is to get Centrelink to answer a call, but our esteemed Attorney-General continued urging the same course. He cruised calmly on like a Spanish galleon in full sail, completely untroubled by any facts. Perhaps that’s the world he lives in: when he wants to speak to someone he simply instructs a staff-member to arrange it. He appears to know nothing of the world experienced by ordinary people, and did not seem willing or able to learn anything about it.
When tackled about the reduced funding for Community Legal Centres, he tried to blame Labor. It seemed not to occur to him that, as Attorney-General, he could arrange increased funding for Community Legal Centres and for Legal Aid. After all, Community Legal Centres deal with about 260,000 clients each year. Their total funding is about $40 million a year. So it costs the government about $153 per client for a CLC to help people who can’t afford lawyers. That’s pretty good value, but government funding is about to fall to about $30 million a year. Brandis did not seem to notice this as a problem, just as he didn’t notice the grotesque difference between his position on welfare payments and his position on parliamentary entitlements. Interestingly, Brandis presides over a department which spends about $792 million per year on lawyering. He has access to excellent legal advice.
Perhaps Brandis regards his government’s legal problems as vastly more important than the legal problems of any ordinary Australian.
And then we got to refugee policy. Confronted with the awkward fact that several thousand men, women and children have been locked up on Nauru and Manus for over 3 years, Brandis again tried to blame it on Labor. It is true that Kevin Rudd’s government put them there, but Brandis party, in government, could have removed them. Instead, it left them to swelter for years on end, suffering torment and abuse which includes hundreds of reported cases of child sex abuse and at least 5 deaths that we know of.
But the most surprising development was when I asked Brandis directly whether boat people commit any offence by arriving in Australia seeking protection from persecution. He said Yes, they do. He is wrong about that. I asked him to identify the provision in any legislation which makes it an offence. He protested that he could not be expected to identify a particular statute and a particular provision. He is wrong about that, too. The Coalition government has, for the past 15 years, called boat people “illegal”.
I assume Senator Brandis sometimes finds time to consider his party’s policies. So he can hardly have missed the fact that men, women and children who have fled persecution were being branded as “illegal”, and were being locked up in shocking conditions for years.
Unless he has slept through the past 15 years (and I would not rule that out as a possibility), Brandis must be aware of a few related things:
- the Coalition, of which he is part, has called boat people “illegal” for the past 15 years;
- some irritating people (including me) have been pointing out for years that boat people commit no offence by coming to Australia as they do.
- If they don’t commit any offence by coming here, calling them “illegal” is misleading at best, and dishonest at worst.
- He has a big staff of highly qualified lawyers and access to lots more.
If he had ever had any of his staff research the question, he would know affirmatively that boat people do not commit any offence by coming here the way they do.
And yet, when I asked him what offence he thought they committed, he protested that he could not be expected to remember what section of what Act.
If the first Law Officer of the country paid more attention, he might have paused to wonder whether his own party’s marketing was honest or not; he might have paused to wonder why no boat people are ever prosecuted because of their means of arrival.
But it seems that our Attorney-General is much too busy enjoying the fat perks of office to think about these things. Either Brandis does not care or he is a hopeless lawyer. In either case, it will be a relief to see him leave the Parliament and the country.
The only available conclusions are either:
- He has never bothered to have the question researched; or
- He lied, because he knew the true answer
Really, Attorney-General? Did you expect anyone to believe you?
Brandis is a disgrace to the office he holds. The first law officer of the country should be a bit more curious and a bit more honest.
[Incidentally, both before and after the show, Brandis conspicuously avoided speaking to me in the Green Room. So I will add pettiness and a lack of manners to my criticism of him]
On 13 February 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations. It was not great rhetoric, but it was a fine moment, because (for once) we heard a Federal Politician who sounded sincere. 9 years later, here is a message from Liberty Victoria:
Yesterday marked the ninth anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations. For many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, it was a hugely significant day and an important step towards redressing the extraordinary and inexplicable harm leveled against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by successive governments.
It also marked the start of a new commitment: to do more and do better for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and to close the enormous gap across basic health, education and employment indicators.
Yet nine years on, the gap remains a gaping gulf. In many areas, that picture is even worse than it was nine years ago.
This anniversary, Liberty Victoria joins the call for the inclusion of specific and measurable justice targets. Curbing the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, one of the most imprisoned groups of people in the world, and reducing the number of children in out-of-home care, must be priorities if we are to meaningfully close the gap and start redress the harm done by past and present governments.
This anniversary of the apology, take the time to rewatch the apology Kevin Rudd gave back in 2008. Imagine – or remember – the hope that these words gave to so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; that, this time, the change would be real and it would happen. As a country, we need to seriously grapple with the need to do better across all areas, including the justice sphere, and we need to do that now.
It is blindingly obvious that something is seriously wrong with politics at present. In the West, at least.
Barry Jones wrote a great piece on that theme for The Saturday Paper. The article included the following observations:
“Lincoln’s views, published on broadsheets, were extremely subtle and nuanced, without bitterness, personal attack or exaggeration. He could always see the other side of an argument and often set it out, fairly. … In 2016, 156 years later, Donald Trump won the Presidential nomination of Lincoln’s Party. … Lincoln was reflective, self-doubting…Trump is unreflective, posturing in a way that may conceal deep insecurity, narcissistic, always personalising issues (the hero v. the devil), talking – shouting, really – in slogans, endlessly repeated with no evidentiary base. He appeals to fear, anger, envy and conspiracy theories. …”
Here is the full article. It should be compulsory reading in Canberra: Trumpism-Barry Jones
A concerned member of the public recently sent me a letter which, in my opinion, captures a large part of the problem Australia is still wrestling with: the problem of how we respond to people who are not the same as us. Her letter includes this:
“Despite the challenges of nature and distance and its relatively small population, Australia has always had the opportunity to be the best and fairest nation in the world.
Resource rich and fuelled by determined folk, the country has produced ample to provide for all. Inheriting a tested system of law and growing a new expectation for fairness and democracy, the possibility that the country could mature into a relative utopia was always in reach.
I was born in WA, grew up proudly Australian, worked in public service and as a self–employed businesswoman, married and had children who I expected would have the advantages of a generous, intelligent, compassionate and wealthy nation.
How wrong was I? The blinkers are off and things have changed greatly over the past decade or so.
The opportunistic swindling of funds from those who most need them, the persecution of the most vulnerable in our society and the utter torment inflicted on people seeking asylum – all perpetrated by our government in an immoral grab for votes and control and enabled by mainstream media – have overtaken all efforts towards social conscience and benign leadership.
What frightens me most is the sheer number of Australians – including members of my family, despite my efforts to enlighten – who have fallen under the spell of disinformation. Paranoia is rife and the ugly fear that others may be receiving ‘more’ at our expense is too easy to incite in a poorly educated (by design?) and insecure (also by design?) public.
I’m no longer proud to be Australian. I feel personally degraded by the inhumane treatment of refugees desperately seeking our help. I go to bed each night and wake each morning with the burden of humiliation in my mind. Not just the humiliation of those in detention, but my own. How am I to deal with having this shame forced upon me by my own leaders? This may seem selfish, but I’m seriously concerned for the welfare of those detained on the islands and I know I’m not alone. It’s depressing to the point where the emotional and psychological impact on everyday Australians is apparent. I was sad at Christmas and find it hard to be positive going into the new year.
No amount of propaganda or deceit by government or media will assuage the guilt in anyone with an ounce of compassion, or the good sense to see the damaging consequences to the refugees and to Australia. Many simply don’t see that if our government is comfortable treating human beings as disposable, it won’t stop with refugees, ethnic and indigenous people – it will extend such ruthlessness to mainstream Australians too. Think Centrelink and Medicare. …”
It is a sad thing when an Australian citizen no longer feels proud to be Australian. Today’s politicians betray the country in various ways:
- they make up reasons for putting a ring of steel around the country
- they seek to avoid the obligations we voluntarily undertook when we signed the Refugees Convention
- They cause Australia to breach our obligations under the Convention Against Torture
- They cause Australia to breach our obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- They cause Australia to breach our obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
No wonder Australians feel ashamed, when they cut through the political dishonesty peddled by people like Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton.
Facing the fact that we are punishing people who have committed no offence is very painful.
Facing the fact that we are breaking our promises to the international community is very painful.
Facing the fact that we are behaving like a rogue state is very painful.
Facing the fact that we are behaving in ways which contradict our image of ourselves is very painful.
So all credit to Justine Pitcher for capturing the problem so well, and thanks to her for letting me quote her letter. Join with her in expressing your disgust at our political “leaders” and what they are doing to trash this country’s character and reputation.
The Australian government donated a new hospital to PNG at Lorengau on Manus, so the men held on Manus would receive “world-class treatment”. It was funded by AusAid. See this photo claiming credit – but make sure to scroll down and see the photos of the appalling facilties at the hospital:
Here are pics of the hospital facilities. The long benches are the waiting rooms.
The maternity ward has foam on the floor for beds.
When the agreement with the US was announced, the details were so meagre that it was hard to place much reliance on it.
Then Donald Trump was elected President of the USA and the deal looked even more speculative.
But now the realities of it are becoming apparent: it is being used by PNG, Australia and the contractors to force people into Lorengau.
Here is the substance of a first-hand account: All meetings with USA officials have to take place in Lorengau. When asked Why, the management of Broadspectrum said: “Uh, we don’t know.” But maybe they do know the answer: If residents move to Lorengau for US processing purposes and they are found either not suitable for USA standards or the USA pulls out of the deal, can residents return to the Centre? Answer: “No”
In other words , if they want to go to the USA they have to take an enormous risk and could be stuck in PNG forever. If they stay in the centre, they will not be eligible for resettlement in the USA.
I gave a speech for 350.org.au just recently. Here is the substance of what I said.
And before you read it (because it’s a bit depressing) cheer yourself up with First Dog on The Moon’s recent excoriation of our “Leader” Malcolm Turnbull on the subject of climate change. It is interesting that we still think of Malcolm as the country’s “Leader”. If anyone is taking us for this latest ride it’s Cory Bernardi or Peter Dutton or Eric Abetz or the collective gang of science-deniers in the LNP party room.
I have long considered climate change the principal issue facing the world. It is a first-order issue. Refugees are a second-order issue. Here is the speech I gave:
Climate change is the single biggest issue facing the world today.
Perhaps the biggest issue that has ever faced the planet.
Climate change resists simple solutions. To begin tackling it, we must first begin undoing the complex web of of factors that have existed for centuries and have brought us to this point.
- Global structures that have been based on fossil fuels and the exploitation of cheap energy and labour for centuries
- The inequalities and power dynamics that are the legacy of colonisation
- Giant corporations that have more power now than ever before in history and will do anything to protect their profits: The East India Company once ran India: global corporations today make the power of the East India Company look modest.
- And a new global economic system that has eroded the power of nation states to set and effectively enforce policy.
This complex web of factors makes it more difficult to solve the climate change issue: more interests are involved than, for example, in banning the use of CFCs in order to reduce the hole in the ozone layer.
For many people climate change is a relatively new issue. It was brought into public focus in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. It was reiterated by Kevin Rudd, who in 2007 called it the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’. And he went to Copenhagen in 2009 but somehow he lost his way after that.
But scientists have known for a long time that climate change was happening.
In the 1820s, the French mathematician Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier was trying to understand the various factors that affect Earth’s temperature. But he found a problem – according to his calculations, the Earth should have been a ball of ice.
The Sun did not seem to provide enough energy to raise the temperature of Earth above freezing. Fourier’s initial ideas, that there must be additional energy coming from the Earth’s core or from the temperature of outer space, were soon dismissed. Fourier then realised that the atmosphere, which at first seemed transparent, could be playing a crucial role.
In 1861, the Irish physicist John Tyndall demonstrated that gases such as methane and carbon dioxide absorbed infrared radiation, and could trap heat within the atmosphere. He recognised the implications and said that these gases “would produce great effects on the terrestrial rays and produce corresponding changes of climate.”
He was right. But in 1861 the amount of CO2 which was being released into the atmosphere was a tiny fraction of what happens today. Although CO2 levels started to rise with the industrial revolution, when Tyndall drew attention to the subject, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was less than 300 ppm. It now peaks at something like 410 ppm.
In the 1890s the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius identified the warming influence of water vapour in the atmosphere. This was the first indication of a positive feedback loop: more CO2 meant a warmer atmosphere; a warmer atmosphere can hold more water as vapour; more water vapour in the atmosphere traps more heat, and so on.
In the 1950s the Canadian physicist Gilbert Plass confirmed that doubling the level of CO2 in the atmosphere would lead to an increase in global temperatures of 3-4 decrees Celcius.
In the 1970s, Exxon knew that burning fossil fuels was warming the planet. This was years before it became a public issue. Exxon understood what this would mean for its business, and has since spent an estimated $30 million promoting the denial of climate change and questioning the science. Gosh: that’s how the tobacco industry defended itself: deny the science, create doubt, attack your opponents.
22 years ago the first UN Climate Change conference was held in Berlin. World leaders came together to work out what to do about climate change. In 1995 there was about 358 ppm of CO2 in the air.
Now, 22 years later when the first global climate agreement is finally in place, the figure is more than 400 ppm.
That has locked the planet into 1 degree of warming even if we stop burning all fossil fuels right now.
Burning fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas is the leading cause of increased anthropogenic CO2; deforestation is the second major cause.
The rate of increase in the release of CO2 into the atmosphere is startling:
In the 150 years from 1751 to 1900, about 12 gigatonnes of CO2 were released from fossil fuels and cement production worldwide.
In the 112 years from 1901 to 2013 the figure was about 1,400 Gigatonnes: an average of about 12 gigatonnes of CO2 per year, but the rate has been accelerating:
In 1990: 22.5 gigatonnes of CO2
In 2010, 33.5 gigatonnes of CO2
Half of the greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere were released after 1988. If fossil fuel companies were honest about the damage fossil fuels cause, we wouldn’t be in the situation where we have a 5 year window in which to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
But, thanks to the work of Exxon and other fossil fuel companies who put their own profits above the future of the planet, we’ve suffered through 21 years of policy inaction. Even worse, their climate denialism has muddied the water so much that people now believe climate change is a conspiracy dreamed up by the Chinese or a corrupt UN that wants to take over the world meaning that effective national policies that will have the least cost impact are often difficult or impossible to achieve.
In democracies, these tactics poses a very real threat. At a time when entire nations are at risk of sinking below the seas, Donald Trump has committed to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement because quote: The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. Here in Australia, we are no better! The Australian Government continues to block any real action on climate change and our former Prime Minister claimed that ‘coal is good for humanity’ and our current Prime Minister seems largely beholden to the far right’s agenda on the issue: more coal and gas and no national strategy to reduce emissions or plan for a transition from fossil fuels.
This is compounded by the fact that developed countries like Australia, the UK and the US – whose centuries of reliance on coal, oil and gas have caused this climate crisis – are increasingly turning into national fortresses, leaving the most vulnerable to a changing climate stranded, quite literally, at sea.
Let’s take a moment to look at what Australia is doing — or not doing — on climate change.
A report in the Guardian Australia on 30 November illustrates the problem. An expert advisory panel reported that Coal-fired Queensland, with just 7% of its power generation from renewables, could lift that to 50% by 2030 with little appreciable cost to electricity consumers. The Queensland government would subsidise renewables. The federal energy minister, Josh Frydenberg criticised the report. The Guardian article continues:
Coal companies like Rio Tinto have called on Queensland to abandon its own renewables target to simply align with the commonwealth’s 2020 goal of 20%. But Bailey says it’s clear the state’s plan was “developed in the absence of federal policy” and with doubt that even the 2020 commonwealth target will be achieved.
He says the failure of the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to put policy daylight between him and his predecessor, Tony Abbott, shows conservative politics in Australia will be dragged kicking and screaming towards energy sector reform.
Antipathy towards renewables and acting on climate change among the hard right of the Coalition stands in contrast to moves by “conservative parties in other parts of the world”, Bailey says. He cites Germany and California as advanced economies already boasting more than 30% renewable power.
“You go to Europe, this is not an issue,” he says. “It seems to be a particular LNP [Liberal National party] Australian thing but they seem extraordinarily intransigent on it and, while we see more and more extreme weather events occur, they are stopping us from dealing with some of those big issues around climate change. …”
We are a uniquely embarrassing case on the global stage, in that early on, we put in place a fairly comprehensive domestic climate policy with a carbon price by the minority Gillard Government that was then dismantled and replaced with an impotent measure that pays polluters and has seen our emissions rise every year since.
Watching Malcolm Turnbull fade into the shadow of what he could have been is like watching the slow destruction of a man the country once respected on so many of our most important issues. He has been so unwilling to lead his party, and has granted so much power to the fringe right of his party – particularly on the issue of climate change and asylum seekers – that Australia’s global reputation on climate change has gone from global leader to global threat.
As a case in point, here is a short but non exhaustive list of what the Government has done since the world signed the Paris Agreement a year ago:
- Fast-tracked the Adani coal mine in Queensland – one of the biggest coal basins in the world that if developed would blow any chance the world has of remaining below 2 degrees of global warming. This is more than just a climate fight. It is also a fight over land rights and how the government has granted mining leases on indigenous land and repeatedly refuses to acknowledge the claim by the traditional Wangan and Jagalingou owners on this land.
- Attacked environmental groups standing up for our climate and to protect our natural environment. The Turnbull Government has launched a two pronged attack on environment groups – the first attack is by seeking to amend the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act — or the EPBC. This act allows groups and individuals to legally challenge resource projects if they are a threat to water or the environment. This is an incredibly important provision – introduced by the Howard Government – that allows for a check and balance on Government’s power. The second attack is on the tax deductible status of environmental not-for-profits. This is an attempt to silence groups like 350.org and others who are standing up against fossil fuel projects.
- Recently, investigative reporting discovered 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. Even though the health of the reef recently 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.
- The Government has launched an ideological war on renewable energy after the recent South Australian blackout. This culminated in Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg attempting to bully the states out of their ambitious renewable energy targets and pushing them instead to focus on promulgating onshore gas production. As you, probably know, gas is in fact a non-renewable fossil fuel that releases methane into the atmosphere that is 86x more potent than carbon at warming the planet.
- And then there was Tony Abbott’s asking the mining industry to “demonstrate its gratitude” to the retiring Federal Resources Minister – Ian MacFarlane – who dismantled the mining tax. The Industry duly listened, and MacFarlane broke a Parliamentary code of ethics by accepting a $500k per year job with the Queensland Resources Council — on top of his $140k Parliamentary pension — so that he can spruik for the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland.
- The Australian government actively resisted and watered down restrictions on financing of coal plants by OECD export credit agencies last year because the government wants more coal plants to be built so that there are new markets for Australian coal.
- The Government has slashed the budget of ARENA — Australian Renewable Energy Agency — by $500 million– after trying to kill it off entirely. ARENA provides grants to innovative new renewables projects and is essential to keeping Australia at the forefront of research and development. If Turnbull was serious about ‘innovation’, ARENA would be the flagship organisation of this push. Instead, the Government created and funnelled money into a new major national fossil fuel research program called the Oil, Gas & Energy Resources Growth centre. You couldn’t dream this stuff up!
Australia’s political donation laws are outdated and not up to the task, so it is hard to get a clear view of how much is actually donated. But in the three years leading up to the 2016 election the fossil fuel industry donated almost $3.7 million to the major parties in direct donations.
In return the industry saw $7.7 billion in subsidies comes its way, priority access to any land they desired to develop and unbeatable access to the ears of our decision makers, including some of the most plum and influential roles in the country on retirement.
Indirect donations and the revolving door of jobs — such as that of the former Minister Macfarlane — would show significantly more influence.
Brad Burke, the former Corporate Affairs Director of Santos, is now Malcolm Turnbull’s senior strategist.
Senator James McGrath is now a QLD Liberal Senator.
Patrick Gibbons was the corporate affairs manager of mining company Alcoa was Greg Hunt’s senior adviser as Environment Minister.
Josh Frydenberg’s current adviser previously worked for Shell and then Energy Australia.
That our Government is awash with former fossil fuel executives goes a long way to explaining why we are currently a global embarrassment on climate change. And as to why we are not addressing our biggest contribution to climate change: that Australia remains the world’s biggest coal exporter.
To use a crude analogy: if fossil fuels are the drug, then Australia is the pusher.
This is a nice little arrangement between the fossil fuel industry and our Government. 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 above mentioned the proposed Adani coal mine and development of the Galilee Basin supported by the QLD and Federal Governments, we would be responsible for 705 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Opening up the entire Galilee Basin would see Australia become the world’s seventh largest contributor of emissions in the world!
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.
Fundamentally, we have to do better.
Globally Australia is under extreme pressure to lift its game on climate. At the recent UN climate meeting in Marrakesh, we got more questions than any other country. Including questions from allies like the US and NZ. And from countries like China that want to know why we have no credible climate policy and what we are going to do about it.
BUT, the Turnbull Government, like the Abbott Government, is impervious to international pressure.
So, it is therefore up to us – Australian citizens – to lead the way on climate and make the moral case for climate change leadership.
We need to emphasise that by refusing to act we are missing out on the new jobs that the transition to clean energy is creating. China, Europe and the US are investing billions into this burgeoning industry, while Australia is cutting its funding to that same source of new jobs.
We need to emphasise that global warming is real, and if we let it run away from us we are mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren. The Federal Treasurer emphasises that we must avoid creating inter-generational debt. He says this in connection with the Federal budget. He needs to speak to Josh Frydenberg: climate change is the biggest inter-generational debt imaginable.
We need to emphasise that climate change provides the biggest existential threat to our neighbouring Pacific Islands and across Asia. At least five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have been lost completely to sea-level rise. The rapid changes in the Solomon Islands has already seen whole coastal communities have to relocated. These are communities that have in many cases lived in these areas for generations.
Historically, Australia has been looked to as a leader in the Pacific region. Our recent approach to climate policy has severely weakened this view. Responding to the scrapping of the carbon tax and the defunding of climate science research bodies, the Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum said this:
“It just does not make sense, it goes against the grain of the world.
Not only [is Australia] our big brother down south, Australia is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum and Australia is a Pacific island, a big island, but a Pacific island. It must recognise that it has a responsibility.
The problems that have befallen the smaller countries are also Australia’s problems. You cannot remove Australia from the life and blood of the Pacific.”
For our conservative politicians climate change is a ‘wedge’ issue they can use against the Labor Party and the Greens to prove to their fringe right constituencies and their cheerleaders in the Murdoch press that they have the right mettle for the job.
We need to emphasise that climate change provides the biggest existential threat to the identity of Australia itself. What sort of country are we? Are we really a country that would do nothing to save the planet? Are we a country willing to destroy our region and mortgage the lives of future generations so we can continue to live prosperous, self-indulgent lives.
What we need to do is consider the precautionary principle. More particularly, we need to force our politicians to consider the precautionary principle. About 97% of the world’s 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 often 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 could have been avoided. 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…
In my opinion we have to make sure it never gets to this. We cannot trust the lives of millions of people to the whims of inward-looking fortress nation states.
That is why the current moment in history is critical. Until recently, the fossil fuel industry had a firm grip on the levers of power. They have been able to manipulate governments around the world to ensure that they could continue to drill, dig and frack for oil, coal and gas. But the world is rapidly changing.
A powerful global movement against fossil fuels is building. It is helped by the internet and a determination to build a better world. It includes local communities, first nations people, university students, farmers, politicians, business leaders, even politicians.
This movement is forcing a reckoning on the future of fossil fuels. It was behind the success of the Paris Agreement last year. It is why BP walked away from drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight. It was the cause of the ban on unconventional gas in Victoria. It is behind the states and communities announcing ambitious renewable energy targets despite every Federal Government effort to undo these targets.
The potential is huge. But its power rests with you.
Yes, 2016 has been a bad year for progressive causes and particularly for climate change at a time when we can least afford it.
But politics is like a pendulum and we need to be ready for when it swings back. Donald Trump will stumble. In Australia, the Turnbull Government has already lost the faith of the people just five months after the Federal election.
But, as Shakespeare said, When they fall, they fall like Lucifer – never to hope again.
They will resist.
We need to be resolute.
We need to be strong.
We need to be ready.
We need a robust and diverse movement of Australians ready to prove to our politicians that climate change matters. The movement against fossil fuels doesn’t have money or vested interests on our side. But we have the science, the evidence of the impacts already happening, and the liveability of our planet, our very future, as our authority.
Now we need to use it.
As mentioned before, a person who lives in Australia emails me regularly (at least a couple of times a week) ranting about Muslims. Most of what follows was written in 2016. At the end I have updated it in response to his emails of the past few weeks. He is clearly having an unhappy, insecure life. Some part of me feels sorry for him. But my pity for him is dimmed when he advocates:
- banning all Muslims from Australia
- supporting Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump
- putting all Muslims in Concentration Camps
- strafing Muslim boat people (for the millennials, strafing means machine gunning)
And he quotes Adolf Hitler to advance some of his poisonous views.
I have said a number of times that our detention system, which involves locking up innocent men, women and children for years in harsh, hostile conditions, is not consistent with core Australian values. A couple of weeks ago he wrote to me saying “I am yet to hear you articulate what you mean by “core Australian values”.”
This morning he wrote to me again, saying:
“I am still waiting for you to articulate what you mean by “core Australian values“. I assume fire bombing children is not one of these?”
You are right: core Australian values do not include fire-bombing children, or bombing children at all, so we should not have taken part in invading Iraq.
Mistreating children is probably not consistent with core Australian values, so deliberately harming children by locking them up on Nauru is probably wrong. And putting aside some of the nastiest episodes of white settlement in Australia, deliberate mistreatment of innocent people is probably not consistent with core Australian values, so locking up innocent boat people for years “as a deterrent to others” is probably not consistent with core Australian values.
And I would add that concentration camps and strafing people in boats (both of which measures you have advocated) are definitely not consistent with core Australian values.
In my view, the nearest we get to a core Australian value is the ideal of a fair go for everyone. And (if I am feeling optimistic) I would say that core Australian values include the Golden principle. It is one of the few, practically universal, philosophical precepts, captured in the Christian teaching: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In its original Biblical expression it says: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”.
Described in the West as the Golden Rule, it is found in many religious and secular philosophies. It is found in Brahmanism: “This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do nothing to others which would cause you pain if done to you”. In Buddhism: “…a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?”. In Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you”. In Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself”. And in Taoism: “Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss”.
The same principle has been advocated by secular philosophers, including Epictetus, Plato, Socrates, Seneca and Immanuel Kant.
And also close to being a core Australian value is the Love Thy Neighbour principle. I know you’re keen on that one, because you included it in an email to me. It is mentioned in Leviticus 19, but Matthew gave it a useful twist which you may have overlooked. You refer to Matthew 5.14.
It is worth reading Matthew 5.43-44:
“43 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”
Although you quote the first part of Matthew 5.43, it seems that you add a qualification which the Christian bible would reject. It seems you would say “Love thy neighbour (unless he is a Muslim)”. That directly contradicts the very scripture you cite.
It seems that the “Love thy Neighbour” principle is central to Christian teaching (Matthew repeats it at 19.19 and at 22.39; Mark propounds it at 12.31 and says it is one of the two most important commandments (his word). But in urging mistreatment of innocent (Muslim) people you betray that value. How strange that you invoke a central Christian principle but urge people to traduce it. I gather you are not a Christian.
But if you are a Christian, it might be worth asking yourself whether hypocrisy sits comfortably with anything you would identify as a core Australian value.
I imagine he will go to church next Sunday and pray for the souls of people he likes, and for the damnation of people he doesn’t like. With Christians like him, who needs atheists?
And here’s more from him, just recently:
“Concentration Camps looking more attractive by the day” … he then cites an article in an English newspaper which reports that President Trump believes that torture works. The article includes the following:
“President Donald Trump has declared that he believes torture works as his administration readies a sweeping review of how the United States conducts the war on terror. It includes possible resumption of banned interrogation methods and reopening CIA-run “black site” prisons outside the United States. In an interview with ABC News, Mr Trump said he would wage war against Islamic State militants with the singular goal of keeping the US safe. …”
The person who writes to me then comments: “Yes. The Donald is following in the foot steps of Billy Hughes.
The nature of warfare has changed and so must the tactics to defeat the enemy where the
enemy has already landed.”
It is an alarming fact that our society is harbouring people like this man. In my opinion, he is more dangerous than an Islamic militant.
The following news item appeared in The Australian on 21 November 2016, under the caption ‘I won’t be bullied’ (if you follow the link, you have to scroll down for the piece):
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has crossed swords with Bill Shorten in a fiery question time exchange, accusing the Opposition Leader of misrepresenting him about his comments last week in which he criticised parts of Malcolm Fraser’s immigration policy in the 1970s.
The Opposition Leader asked Mr Dutton about the comments he made on Sky News and his statement that Malcolm Fraser “did make mistakes in bringing some people in the 1970s and we’re seeing that today”.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in Question Time.
Mr Shorten asked what people Mr Dutton was referring to and whether he would apologise to Australia’s hard working migrant communities including the Vietnamese community.
But an angry Mr Dutton slammed the question, beginning his answer by saying: “I’m not going to be misrepresented by this great fraud of Australian politics.”
Mr Dutton accused Mr Shorten of unfairly trying to demonise him. “I won’t be bullied by this union leader. That may have been his working life. He may have bullied people and he may have double-crossed everybody he’s come across in his working life, but I won’t be bullied and I won’t be demonised by this union leader,” Mr Dutton said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
But Mr Shorten persisted, following up the question with a second on the same topic in which he again pushed Mr Dutton to nominate the country from which people should not have been allowed into Australia when Mr Fraser was Prime Minister.
Mr Dutton said that he had received advice that, out of the last 33 people to have been charged with terrorist-related offences, 22 were from a second and third generation Lebanese-Muslim background.
“If the Leader of the Opposition wants somehow to conduct a phony debate in this country and not to be honest in relation to these matters, that’s an issue for him,” Mr Dutton said. “I’m not going to shy away from the facts … Many people who have built this country over many decades deserve to be praised. But I am going to call out those people who are doing the wrong thing.”
There’s a couple of things to be said about this. First, and most obvious, Dutton seemed to be channelling his inner Julia Gillard as he (perhaps unwittingly) adopted the style of her famous misogyny speech. Second, and unlike Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, it was laced with dishonesty. Until the end of his “answer”, Dutton kept well away from dealing with the question. When finally he addressed the question, he suggested that Shorten “wants somehow to conduct a phony debate in this country and not to be honest in relation to these matters”. But Dutton is chronically dishonest about matters in his portfolio.
He refers to boat people as “illegal arrivals” which falsely suggests that boat people break the law by coming here the way they do, in order to seek asylum. It is a lie. It is a lie on which the Coalition have supported the deliberate, wilful mistreatment of boat people since the Tampa episode in 2001. It is a sad thing that Dutton, a former Queensland copper, brings to his role as a Minister of the Crown the habits he learned in an earlier career. Or maybe he has taken up lying more recently, because it is good for his political career. Who knows? What difference?
Just as bad as his dishonesty, Dutton finally justified his comments by suggesting that 22 people descended from immigrants who came to Australia 40 years ago. Over 10,000 Lebanese immigrants came to Australia during Fraser’s time as PM. On ordinary population growth figures, there would now be about 50,000 Australians who can trace their ancestry back to a Lebanese immigrant who came to Australia during that time. So Dutton is troubled by the fact that 0.04% (that’s one 40th of 1 %) of a particular cohort are behaving badly. Australians with no Lebanese ancestry are 6 times more likely to engage in criminal behaviour.
Dutton is, apparently, putting into practice the philosophy of that great Attorney-General George Brandis, that “People do have a right to be bigots…“
[Since first posting this, there have been more developments: see at the foot of the post]
I have received a number of reports about how absurdly difficult it is to visit people in immigration detention in Melbourne. Bear in mind that the people held in immigration detention have not committed any offence: they are just held in detention for as long as it takes to consider their claim for refugee protection, or for as long as the goons at Border Force think it will take to break them, although they probably check with their boss, Peter Dutton, who has never really stopped being a brainless, heartless Queensland copper.
MITA is the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation at 120-150 Camp Rd, Broadmeadows (in Melbourne’s northern suburbs).
Here is a visitor’s account of the difficulties:
Every week we try to visit, there always seems to be a change in process and seemingly arbitrary tightening of the “rules” for admission to MITA.
This coincides of course with the background new migration legislation proposed, an ominous symptom of which was the deportation in the middle of the night of a man from MITA [recently]. We visited that day and noticed the subdued tone of the visiting centre – already reduced to a shadow of the freedom and hospitality it unto recently was allowed. For example, there are no comfortable chairs now, only spartan tables and strict policing of the number of seats allowed at those tables.
These are just some of the ever-tightening and dehumanizing regime we have witnessed. One positive is that our students have witnessed these things.
To cut a long story short, Border Force has now had to approve school visits. But even that wasn’t enough. We now have to print out a form every time, with the risk that we may not be let in, miss out, or undergo the mind-numbing, expanding logistical headaches of taking students to the centre. If we say they are 17 y.o., then they can be questioned. If they say they are 18, then we somehow have to get forms printed out for them to fill in and sign. Still no guarantee. If we miss out, we have to do it all again. The delays that Border Force makes makes us miss out. We have discerned that the detainees look forward to this contact and understand graciously the purpose of bringing (senior) students along. Normally we travel there in groups of 5-7.
The latest blockage I am sharing with you – emails from ABF. … When I finally organized the forms of visiting teachers, the email wouldn’t ge through, because the attachment was too large!
As I joke, with English teacher’s perspective: Kafka is alive and well at MITA and Border Force!
The above are just the tip of the iceberg of the creeping dehumanizing. For the detainees … it hardly bears contemplating…
I set our below some email exchanges between would-be visitors and Border Force. For those whose minds go numb reading emails from Officialdom, the Border Force emails decode as something like this:
“We hate you and we hate that you are trying to bring comfort to the innocent people we lock up, so we are just going to fuck you around until you give up…”
An email chain between a teacher and Border Force to set up a visit by the teacher and some senior students in early November went like this:
Teacher to Border Force: I would like to request that the following people [named]… be permitted to visit [named detainees] on …November
Border Force to Teacher: In order to process your visit application the authorising delegate requires the following forms to be completed and submitted for each person attending … [asks if anyone is under 18]
Teacher to Border Force: We have been visiting detention for the past 3 years with students. I have always filled out this form on arrival. I do not understand why this process is being added. Particularly without warning. Particularly when it means that we can not visit today. We have permission from the Department of Immigration to visit. We are not an official visitor. … Can I please have a telephone number that I can reach you on.
Teacher to Border Force: I have now spoken with Patrick Gallagher from Canberra.
I request the following please: an explanation of why we are an official visit. I have copied in an email from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that clearly states that we are not an official visit. I would like clarification.
I also seek clarification about why I can no longer visit the detention centre on my own. I have done this often in the past, in addition to times that I have brought students to the detention centre and as I was planning to visit on this Thursday I would like to be able to do this. MITA is not allowing me to book a visit. Can you please clarify why this is occurring? I would great appreciate your intervention here so that I can visit.
Border Force to Teacher: Under the current settings within the Immigration Detention Network, visits from organisations such as yours are categorised as official visits and must be treated as such. There has been a significant amount of change within out Immigration Detention environment that explains the changes in the visits protocol since the attached 2014 email was written.
Here is an email from my colleague, to Border Force to set up a visit:
I would like to book a table of six for next Thursday 17th November, for the 6-8pm visit session:
AB (teacher – myself); CD (student); EF (student)
GH (detainee); JK (detainee); LM (detainee)
Could you kindly arrange this for us please?
Look forward to hearing from you soon.
Here is the reply:
In order to process your visit application the authorising delegate requires the following forms to be completed and submitted by each visitor:
Please note that we require at least seven days’ notice to process a visit application. Please send your visit request along with relevant completed forms to email@example.com
For further information please go to http://www.border.gov.au/Busi/Comp/Immigration-detention/visiting-a-facility
MITA VISITS TEAM
T: +61 3 9280 6105
120-150 Camp Road
Broadmeadows VIC 3047
I like the “Kind Regards”. Somehow, any trace of kindness is completely absent.
Another person, who is a friend of my colleague, tried to set up a visit for members of her refugee support group. She got this from Border Force:
I thank you for your email.
Under the current settings within the Immigration Detention Network, visits from organisations such as yours are categorised as official visits and must be treated as such. There has been a significant amount of change within out Immigration Detention environment that explains the changes in the visits protocol since the attached 2014 email was written.
It appears that you are aware of the current visit request protocols that are in place setting out the requirements for you and your organisation to visit. If you would like clarification re the process please advise and I will set out the procedures that need to be followed to accommodate your request. …
* * * * * * *
As noted above, there have been more developments since I first posted this. I have received the following update:
…since you posted the blog, we have had more stuffing around. We have missed out now on several visits (for which our Year 12 students had been waiting all year for), the latest for both Thursday and Friday because of the absurd requests for yet more paperwork, yet more paperwork, yet more “processing time”, because we have to wait “7 days” to be processed…..yet we have to book 7 days in advance otherwise we will miss out on the limited number of tables available! We have to fill out virtually identical forms every time. It takes a lot of goodwill from fellow teachers, all of whom are already saddled with excessive workloads – not to mention paperwork and duty of care at this end whenever we cross the street, let alone go to MITA!!
It also needs to be stressed how much we bend over backwards to accommodate the protocols and processes, which literally are changing every week.
Our project, like [another teacher’s similar project], has a deep process of discernment and reflection behind it, as one would expect with our spiritual motivations for the visits to MITA. The decision to give moral support to our innocent friends locked up in the gulag (many of whom are profoundly affected mentally and emotionally but always put on their best, hospitable faces for our group, treating the students especially with graciousness) has not been taken lightly. As you saw, our language and diplomacy are a given. Occasionally, there is a gem of an individual staffer at MITA. They too are under incredible pressure from above – from the heartless Qld copper ultimately. But week to week, we experience knock backs for one procedural delay or another.
The latest experience this week was a “vetting” conversation with an official from Border Force. The person on the phone asked me about half a dozen questions….do we have links with other schools?….what’s the purpose of our visits….motives?…have you any projects a part of it…..(no projects, no agendas, just a friendly face and moral support)…have you any visitors under 18….we need to respect the privacy of our clients….how will you do that….etc. etc.This phone conversation, which involved the officer taking notes, came after we had already been given approval!!
Are we living is a dystopian, post-Brave New World imitation of normality? Has the Donald J Trump tide swept across our shores already?
At least we should be grateful for dedicated teachers like AB and CD who are willing to keep on trying, despite all thepassive-aggressive resistance put up by bureaucrats.
Australia has announced an agreement with the US in relation to refugees presently held on Nauru and Manus. In announcing the agreement, Prime Minister Turnbull and Immigration Minister Dutton were careful to avoid giving any significant detail of the arrangement. For example, they did not say how many people would be accepted by the USA and they did not say on what terms refugees would be accepted by the USA. They did say that the arrangement would not be available for anyone who arrives in Australia in the future seeking asylum.
It is sad that Mr Turnbull, who is a lawyer by training, is so ready to ignore the law, distort the facts and lie to the public in order to appease the right-wing of his party. There is something pathetic about the sight of a Prime Minister, who is independently rich and successful, having to sacrifice his values in order to hold onto his job. Mr Turnbull criticised Mr Shorten for rejecting the government’s proposed lifetime visa ban. He said this was a mark of Mr Shorten yielding to the left wing of the Labor party: an odd charge to make, given that Mr Turnbull’s present stance is a mark of his capitulation to the hard-right of his own party and a betrayal of his personal standards of honesty and decency.
Turnbull and Dutton did not say whether the resettlement arrangement was contingent on Labor supporting the lifetime visa ban legislation presently before the Senate, although Turnbull criticised Labor for opposing it in the lower house. It is difficult to understand why it would be contingent on a lifetime visa ban, unless the USA required it. There is nothing to suggest that it has.
Prime Minister Turnbull made it clear that any detainee who does not accept resettlement in USA will have to return to their country of origin; and any detainee who has been assessed as a refugee and who does not accept resettlement in USA will probably have to remain in Nauru indefinitely. Mr Turnbull announced that Australia is “in the final stages of negotiation with Nauru” to persuade it to offer 20 year visas.
The announcement on 13 November left a number of important questions unanswered. Without those questions being answered it is impossible to know whether this is a welcome development or an exercise in cynicism.
Turnbull and Dutton were not able to say whether the arrangement would still apply when Donald Trump is inaugurated as President in January. President-elect Trump has expressed unequivocal anti-Muslim views: in late 2015 he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
We need to know how many people will be offered resettlement. We need to know whether Muslims will be accepted by USA as part of the arrangement. It is an important consideration, given Donald Trump’s express hostility to Muslims. If resettlement was offered to 5 non-Muslim refugees on Manus, the entire exercise would be exposed as a cynical attempt to defuse an increasingly embarrassing Australian policy. If, on the other hand, the arrangement was available to all 1800 detainees on Nauru and Manus it would seem to be a welcome development. So far, it’s too early to tell.
Mr Turnbull’s announcement was interesting in other ways. He said:
“We have put in place the largest and most capable maritime surveillance and response fleet Australia has ever deployed. Any people smuggling boats that attempt to reach Australia will be intercepted and turned back. Australia’s border protection policy has not changed: it is resolute, it is unequivocal: those who seek to come to Australia with people smugglers will not be admitted to Australia.” and
“We have significantly reinforced the security of our borders”
These statements are interesting because they fall back on the old lie: that mistreatment of boat people is an exercise in “protecting” our borders. He later referred to boat people who come to Australia “unlawfully”. That is the other element of the government’s dishonesty about boat people. People who arrive in Australia seeking to be protected from persecution do not break any law. And we do not need to be protected from them.
Australia is a signatory to the Refugees Convention (1951). It was the world’s response to the chilling fact that, during the 1930s, Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were turned away from many countries where they sought a safe place to live. An essential purpose of the Refugees Convention was to spread the load of refugee movement, so as to give substance to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which declares the right of every person to seek asylum in any country they can reach. By taking steps to prevent asylum seekers reaching Australia, we are in effect denying that right. By seeking to justify those steps with the language of “illegals” and “border protection” politicians like Turnbull and Dutton are denying that right by lying to the Australian public: they are seeking to persuade us that closing our borders to refugees is a laudable thing. It is not laudable: it is heartless and dishonest.
Mr Turnbull also said:
“We anticipate that people smugglers will seek to use this agreement as a marketing opportunity to tempt vulnerable people onto this perilous sea journey”
This facile observation overlooks a basic fact about people-smuggling: it is wholly demand-driven. Refugees do not need to be lured by the prospect of resettlement: they use people smugglers because the perils of the journey look less terrifying than the persecution they seek to escape.
Whether the deal happens or not, one thing remains clear: Mr Turnbull has sacrificed his intellect and his values to hold onto the prize of being PM. It’s sad to watch.
I have just received another report from Manus. Here it is, in edited form to preserve the anonymity of people involved:
“In addition to declining mental health-we had an attempted suicide by hanging in October-a number of refugees suffering from serious medical health issues. Some refugees are being taken to Port Moresby for medical treatment and stay away for 6 weeks or longer. Some of the treatments are very minor and would be classified as day surgery in Australia. For instance, one refugee had a cyst behind his ear. They removed the cyst, yet he stayed for another 5 weeks in Port Moresby. Then there is a waiting list for urgent cases who seem to drag on and on. It makes no sense. With their permission, I would like to inform you of the following four refugees who are suffering from physical ailments and who have been placed on the waiting list for surgery. Some have had ‘treatment’ in Port Moresby, to no avail.
AB from — has issues with his knees and left wrist. In Port Moresby he was informed that he had a form of arthritis, however medications did not alleviate the pain. Later he was diagnosed as not suffering from this condition. He remains in pain, untreated.
CD is in fear of losing his left hand. It is discoloured and numb. He had botched surgery in Port Moresby.
EF has ‘blown up’ kidneys. In Port Moresby they looked at the wrong file and he was administered incorrect treatment. He is suffering from severe kidney pain and placed on the waiting list-again.
GH is suffering from intestinal issues which had been misdiagnosed in Port Moresby. Following his treatment his condition is worse, and his medication is affecting his kidneys. Nothing is being done to assist him.
Then there are a large number of refugees who suffered injuries during the February 2014 riots. The vast majority of these injuries have not been treated correctly, or not at all. Nearly three years later, their injuries continue to impact on their lives.”
(end of report)
Don’t forget, these people are suffering from conditions which result from their prolonged detention in Manus. They were taken there by Australia against their will. They did not break any law by trying to come to Australia to escape persecution. We have mistreated them and broken them.
If you were in their shoes, how would you feel?
Lest we forget.
The first World War produced remarkable poetry. In earlier times, war poetry tended to valourise war. Not so between 1914-1918.
The lacerating poetry of the First World War showed just how powerfully the truth can be told. Wilfred Owen in particular, and his mentor Siegfried Sassoon, showed how poetry can strip away the protective layers of delusion which protect us from the truth of what we do.
Good poetry sees the world in ways which are invisible to most of us – until we read the poems. By doing that, it can smuggle uncomfortable ideas into complacent minds.
Wilfred Owen died just a week before the Armistice. Only four of his poems had been published. In 1937, Siegfried Sassoon persuaded a publisher to publish a book of Owen’s poetry. Two years later the second World War started. It was a predictable consequence of the Treaty of Versailles: the Treaty had impoverished Germany; the misery experienced in Germany made it possible for Hitler to take power in 1933; Hitler made himself popular by blaming all of Germany’s problems on the Jews and he poisoned the public attitude to Jews by vilifying them grotesquely.
Something similar is happening across the Western world today: Muslims are the target these days. Muslims are being vilified by people who should know better. One person emails me regularly with anti-Islamic rants. In one email he contrasts the Christian teaching “Love thy neighbour” with his assertion that the Koran preaches violence and hatred. Apparently he thinks that Muslims are not our “neighbour”, despite Christian teaching.
He has even urged that Australia should create concentration camps and put all Muslims in them; and he has suggested strafing refugees in their boats. It is the thinking of a person who has forgotten. He has forgotten not only the core teaching of the Christian religion which he appears to espouse. He has forgotten where hatred and vilification lead to.
Lest we forget, as that person has forgotten.
Here are a couple of Wilfred Owen’s poems.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped 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.
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 good-byes.
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.
A consortium of international lawyers, led from England, has asked the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to take action against Australia for crimes arising out of its policy towards asylum seekers.
The Consortium has issued a 52-page Communiqué which alleges that the Australian Government is guilty of international crimes because of its policy of indefinite mandatory detention of refugee “boat people” and their forcible removal to Manus Island (part of Papua New Guinea) and Nauru (which is called the Pacific Solution).
The Communiqué fully explains that the Pacific Solution, which was revived in 2012 and remains in place, appears to have, as its primary objective, breaking the spirit of the people held on Manus or Nauru.
The mistreatment of asylum seekers is not limited to the Pacific Solution. Christmas Island which is part of Australia, more than 1500 kilometers north-west of mainland Australia, also had detention centres.
The people are kept in these “Offshore Processing Centres” whilst their asylum claims are processed. Reports of cruelty and mistreatment are numerous and getting more serious.
The Communiqué is supported by witness evidence from doctors, workers, visitors and former detainees at the Offshore Processing Centres. Key findings include:
- As at 31 March 2014, there were 153 babies, 204 pre-schoolers (aged 2 to 4 years old), 336 primary school aged children, and 196 teenagers in Immigration Detention. As at 31 January 2016, 142 children remained in Immigration Detention.
- The average child spends 231 days in Immigration Detention.
- On average, the general population of refugees spend 457 days in Immigration Detention.
- There is inadequate food and water, a lack of medicine and medical treatment, overcrowding, and a subsistence of violent incidents. Further, the length of detention is generally indefinite at the outset.
- Conditions are unhygienic. On Nauru, showers are generally restricted to 30 seconds each day. Staff have said that the water has run out on multiple occasions, with overflowing, blocked toilets and faeces on the floor.
Reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are highly critical of the Pacific Solution and Australia’s treatment of those seeking asylum.
Amnesty International has also issued several reports equally critical of Australia’s policies towards refugees and the conditions in which they are held.
The Communiqué cites precedents in international law which show that Prime Ministers and Ministers for Immigration in Australia, Nauru and Papua New Guinea could be held personally responsible as perpetrators of crimes.
The lawyers behind the Communiqué consder that there is no option remaining, other than the International Criminal Court (ICC). Previous legal action before the UN Human Rights Committee, UN Human Rights Council and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) have not changed the Australian Government’s course. Asylum seekers who have had their detention recognised as arbitrary by the WGAD and are still in detention over a year or more later – including those with children. The previous Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in response to comments by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, stated that ‘Australians are sick of being lectured to by the UN’.
As such, the ICC is really the venue of last resort.
Courtenay Barklem, former human rights adviser at the Law Society of England and Wales said: “This scandal sullies Australia’s record on human rights. We expect Australia to have higher standards and not to mistreat some of the most vulnerale people through deliberate government policies. This diminishes Australia’s reputation in the eyes of the international community.”
It names every Australian PM and Immigration Minister since 2002, as well as Mr Baron Waqa (current Nauruan President and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade). It details the cruel treatment of boat people by successive Australian governments: communique-to-icc
Here is my submission to the Senate enquiry on the MIGRATION Legislation AMENDMENT (Regional processing cohort) BILL 2016
The Bill relevantly inserts sub-section 46A(2AA)
The effect of that provision is to “prevent unauthorised maritime arrivals (UMAs) who were at least 18 years of age and were taken to a regional processing country after 19 July 2013 from making a valid application for an Australian visa”.
The Bill should be opposed, for the following reasons:
- In the short term, it will operate to prevent people who are currently in a Regional Processing Centre, and who have been assessed as refugees, from being reunited with members of their immediate family who are presently living in the Australian community. That is a result which most Australians would regard as needlessly harsh. It would be unsafe to assume that the present Minister would exercise his discretion in favour of allowing the family to be reunited: he has previously refused to exercise his discretion in favour of a result which most people would regard as in keeping with Australian values.
- In the medium to long term, it would mean that people presently in a Regional Processing Centre and who are assessed as refugees and who settle in (say) Canada or Sweden and rebuild their lives there will never be able to visit Australia for tourism, or business, or any other legitimate reason. This has absurd and pointless possibilities:
- A person builds up a successful business in Canada and wants to visit business associates in Australia, but is not able to make a valid visa application;
- A person settles in another country and wins a Nobel Prize; or becomes eminent in some field, and is invited to visit Australia to give a lecture, but is not able to make a valid visa application.
- The medium to long term effect is founded on a misconception. It assumes that a person who has been held in misery for years at Australia’s direction and who makes a new life in another country will (if allowed to visit Australia) want to discard their new life and relocate to Australia. It is difficult to understand this conceit: in my experience most refugees who have been held offshore for years and are forced to resettle in a third country do not share the Australian view that this is the best country in the world. It contradicts ordinary human experience: relocating just once to a new culture is hard; to do it a second time (leaving one safe place to go to another safe place) seems unlikely.
- This measure, which is ostensibly intended to send a message to people smugglers would have been unthinkable in Australia 25 years ago. It can only be contemplated now because Australia has adopted a policy of undisguised cruelty to people who arrive here seeking protection. International opinion does not hold us in high esteem: we have distinguished ourselves as cruel and selfish. Australia’s suggested excuse for its harsh, deterrent policies is a pretended concern about refugees drowning, because of the indifference of people smugglers. This is a plausible, but false, reason.
- It is false because, if we deter people from escaping persecution and they are killed by their persecutors, they are still dead, just as if they had drowned.
- It is false because, if people try to escape persecution by heading towards Europe rather than Australia, and if they die in that attempt, they are still dead, just as if they had drowned.
- It is false because, if they succeed in getting to Australia without drowning, we send them to Nauru or Manus where, after years of misery, they try to kill themselves – even children. If they succeed in their self-harm attempts, they are still dead, just as if they had drowned.
- It is false because, if they succeed in getting to Australia without drowning, we abuse them and punish them. All the psychiatric evidence demonstrates that prolonged detention of an innocent person is seriously damaging. And they are innocent: they commit no offence by coming to Australia without a visa to seek protection from persecution. Calling them “illegal” is false, even if it is politically effective.
It is time for the Senate to take a stand and say that our mindless cruelty has gone too far: it should not be allowed to go any further. It is worth considering that Australia (because of its geography) has traditionally received very few refugees who arrive without prior permission. Contrast our position with that of Jordan and Lebanon which, being adjacent to Syria, have received millions of Syrian refugees in recent years. The purpose of the Refugees Convention, to which Australia is a signatory, was to spread the load of refugee movement so that the burden would not be born principally by countries adjacent to the source of refugees. By our increasingly harsh policies, which are explicitly intended to deter boat people, we are contradicting the central purpose of the Refugees Convention.
A person who lives in Australia emails me regularly (at least a couple of times a week) ranting about Muslims.
He is clearly having an unhappy, insecure life. Some part of me feels sorry for him. But my pity for him is dimmed when he advocates:
- banning all Muslims from Australia
- supporting Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump
- putting all Muslims in Concentration Camps
- strafing Muslims (for the millennials, strafing means machine gunning)
This is a real person with some seriously toxic ideas. And just a few days ago (just before the election in the USA) he wrote:
“America’s first Muslim President will soon be history and the States are now saying that they want no part in the invasion of the USA by Muslims”. It boggles the mind.
Here is a selection of his emails from the past: anti-islamic-rants
Melbourne Immigration Transit Accomodation at Broadmeadows (MITA) was the scene of another degrading episode.
Border Force was living down to its reputation if thereport is even partly true. (Note: since this was first posted, the story was covered on 7 November 2016 in The Guardian Australia:
“Sad News Today.
In the early hours of the morning, people in detention at the Broadmeadows MITA Melbourne awoke to distressed cries in Avon Compound.
They saw a man dragged out of his bed in his underwear, handcuffed and dragged away by many guards.
They heard his cries and pleas not to be taken back to Nauru for about 40 minutes and then silence.
We have since found out that he was taken by an Air Force plane and flown to Brisbane and then Nauru.
The Dutton /Turnbull war on refugees is now resorting to the Air Force to secretly remove people in the dead of night.
This man’s case was on file but not yet lodged which meant that immigration were not required by the Court to notify his lawyers, 72 hours in advance. His lawyers were not notified.
This man was brought to Australia for surgery after suffering on Nauru for over a year. Even after the camp was opened he was in such pain that he was unable to leave the camp.
Finally he was brought to Australia for surgery and started to recover. He is a quiet, gentle man who always looked out for others.
This removal has created intense fear and distress across the camps as people are hearing the terrible news. People are literally terrified.
We are reassuring them that the 72 hour notification period still stands and that no one with this in place can be removed without a legal battle.”
The Human RightsLaw Centre has said that “forced deportation would terrify hundreds of refugees and people seeking asylum currently in the Australian community but still fearful of being sent back offshore.”
The HRLC is also of the understanding that this man had already been assessed as a refugee and was legally represented but was removed without any notice to him or his lawyers.
You can join us to keep updated on incidents as they occur. Visit: AUSTRALIAN WOMEN IN SUPPORT OF WOMEN ON NAURU to join.”
A colleague has recently given me an update about things on Manus. Note in particular that Australia is not the attraction: they just want safety and certainty. Instead we mistreat them and grind them into despair. We are crushing them. Is this really what we want our politicians to do? What has happened to Australia?
The spirits of everyone is very bad there is a lot of hopelessness there. I was talking to a friend of ours and asked him did he know anyone elsewhere that could sponsor him for a visa. He doesn’t have anyone anywhere else. He just looked at me and said “I am going to die here”. He is early 20’s
They have no faith in anything anymore including the court process. Of course every time that the court process stalls it brings on those feelings again.
The reality is the hopelessness and boredom, they really feel like there is nothing left for them now.
Australia is in the process of building roads between the centre and Lorengau.
A lot of the refugees don’t want to come to Australia: they just want to go somewhere and be safe. Unfortunately it appears that Australia does not have any third country willing to take them.
Politicians repeatedly urge us to hate, and punish, and mistreat people who come here as boat people. Their anti-boat-people policies and laws are said to be justified as a deterrent, so that people will not risk drowning.
Let’s test that.
Imagine for a moment that you are a Hazara from Afghanistan. (About 99% of Hazaras are assessed as refugees: they are the equivalent of Jews fleeing Germany in the 1930s).
You have fled your country and you have come down the northwest corridor through Malaysia and Indonesia; countries that give you a one month visa on arrival. While you are in Indonesia you can go to the UNHCR office in Jakarta and apply for refugee status. If you are a Hazara from Afghanistan, you will almost certainly be assessed as a refugee. But when your one month visa expires, you have to hide because if you are found by the police, they will jail you. You cannot work or send your children to school, because if you are found they will jail you. If the UNHCR has assessed you as a refugee, you can wait in the shadows until some country offers to resettle you. That may take 20 or 30 years.
Now, for just one minute, imagine you are that person. Will you wait in the shadows for 20 or 30 years or will you take your courage in both hands and get on a boat? I have never met an Australian who would not get on the boat.
It’s a very strange thing that we criticize, revile and punish those who do precisely what we would do if we were in their shoes.
And do we really think we are saving lives by our harsh policies?
Stopping refugee boats arriving is not a self-evident good. It might stop people drowning inconveniently in view of Australians at Christmas Island. But if they do not get on a boat and are, instead, killed by the Taliban, they are just as dead as if they drowned. If they head towards Europe and drown in the Mediterranean, or suffocate in the back of a truck, they are just as dead as if they drowned.
The real difference is that our conscience is not troubled by their un-noted death somewhere else.
Reza Berati was murdered on Manus, by a person whose wages were paid by Australian taxpayers; Hamid Khazaie died because of medical negligence in Australia’s Immigration Department; Omid Massoumali died on Nauru when he set himself alight in despair, after having been found to be a refugee, but faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life on Nauru.
Reza Berati, Hamid Khazaie and Omid Massoumali are just as dead as if they had drowned.
It is worth remembering that boat people are, by definition, people with enough initiative to take steps to escape persecution, and enough courage to risk their lives at sea. And they are fleeing the same extremists we are fighting in the Middle East. So what’s not to like about them? Stopping the boats prevents our society from receiving people who are brave and determined.
Early yesterday, 30 October 2016, Malcolm Turnbull stood in front of the press and announced new policy that would impose a lifetime ban for people who came to Australia by boat, seeking protection. Senator Hanson immediately stated her full support.
Hanson’s support colours the proposal in a way that should make us careful: it’s like getting an approving nod from Donald Trump.
Let’s hope the ALP has the courage to act like an opposition, by opposing the legislation: there are many problems with the proposal.
First: it means that people who have family living in Australia on Temporary Protection Visas will never be able to see their families again. There are men right now who are held on Manus who have wife and children living in Australia. The problem is that the family members are on TPVs: that means that if ever they leave Australia they will not be allowed back. these are people who we have recognised as refugees: people unable to return to their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution.
The legislation, proposed by Turnbull, will break families apart permanently. It would be deeply troubling if Labor supported it.
Second: it achieves nothing at all apart from intensifying the misery suffered already by people held in offshore detention, at vast (and pointless) cost to Australian taxpayers.
Third: it involves a fundamental contradiction of Australia’s obligations under a range of international humanitarian conventions.
The Refugees Convention (1951) was designed to help spread the burden of refugee movement, so that all civilized countries would help protect refugees, rather than leaving the burden to countries adjacent to trouble spots.
The Convention Against Torture (1984) was designed to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. We already breach its provisions by the way we treat people in offshore detention. The UN Special Rapporteur made findings against Australia in 2015, which the LNP government ignored.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) It is hard to imagine less humane treatment of a child than preventing the child from ever seeing one of its parents again. We already breach the Convention by our mistreatment of children in Nauru detention.
Fourth: apparently the government does not even understand its own proposal. As I write this, Barnaby Joyce is speaking to Raf Epstein on ABC radio. He seeks to justify the measures by the desire to stop people drowning in their attempt to reach Australia. It is hard to understand how anyone is saved by further mistreatment of people who have already risked their lives to get to Australia and have spent the last 3 years suffering on Manus or Nauru. In addition, he referred to them as people who had come to Australia “Illegally”. He is wrong: it is not an offence to get to Australia by boat seeking protection from persecution.
The big question is this: when LNP politicians like Barnaby Joyce, Peter Dutton, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison refer to boat people as “illegal” and refer to fending them off as “border protection” are they misinformed or are they lying to the public.
In my opinion, they are lying.
They have had 15 years (since Tampa) to notice that boat people are never prosecuted for the manner of their arrival (because it isn’t “illegal”).
They have had 15 years to notice that it has been stated publicly and often that boat people are not “illegal”.
They have had 15 years to seek legal advice on the question.
In my opinion, when Barnaby Joyce, Peter Dutton, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison refer to boat people as “illegal” they are lying. They are lying to help hold onto power. The public should never believe anything they say.