The Brilliant Cathy Wilcox

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

The Editor ,

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

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

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

But there is so much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frederika E Steen  AM
(address supplied)

The Australian Government can save Julian Assange

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

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

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

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

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

This Australian needs Australia’s help.

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

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

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

He is suffering from oedema: his legs are swelling.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hobart Oration 23 July 2018

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

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

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

Climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we thought Donald Trump was embarrassing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refugees

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

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

The Universal Declaration begins as follows:

PREAMBLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nauru

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

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

Morrison in his maiden speech in parliament said this:

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

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

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

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

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

Manus

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

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

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

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

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

The report includes recommendations:

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

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

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

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

Reza Berati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Men and women of Australia.

We are not behaving well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This is how our decency is degraded

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

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

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

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

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

“We can’t save all of them”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to write to Federal MPs

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

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

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

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

Yours Faithfully…”

An alternative (or follow up) letter:

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

Yours Faithfully…”

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

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

Yours Faithfully…”

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

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

What YOU can do about refugee policy

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

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

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

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

Classic sample letter:

“Dear xxx

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

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

Yours Faithfully… “

There are lots of other possible questions here.

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

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

The trolls are at it again

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

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

Who should we believe?

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

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

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

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

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

Hypocritical politicians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr Burnside,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Prophet Mohammed tortured people to death(5)

– Mohammed beheaded men, women and children(6)

– Mohammed advocated killing non-Muslim children(7)

– Mohammed advocated global Islamic supremacy through violence(8)

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

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

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

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

– Mohammed slaughtered anyone who insulted him(13)

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

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

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

I replied:

Thank you for advancing my education on religious matters.

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

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

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

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

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

History soon showed us how terrible this response was.

 

 

TSUNAMI of Homelessness and Poverty set to hit on JUNE 4

We are facing a tsunami of poverty and homelessness within a month. Home Affairs have two planned waves designed to hit the people in the community who are going through the visa process, first singles and then followed by a second wave to target families with children. This Dutton designed program of poverty is underway. Key dates for implementation cascade through May and the Tsunami is designed to hit on June 4 when families will be told that they have four weeks to “transition off SRSS”. This is Home Affairs speak for get out of your house and live on nothing. Please  read  briefing note from the Refugee council  which provides the detail of this heinous policy. More Information on the numbers affected and detail is available here   https://refugeecouncilms.sharepoint.com/:f:/s/Public/EhYidNjIuGVPgrwfR__zFBsB3RgPRsC6_Q1wnMWP4sIhBg?e=j4HP5i.

This policy change could affect 13,299 people including 4059 children under 17 years who can be made homeless and destitute at the stroke of the Ministers pen.

Not since the DEPRESSION in the 1930’s has an Australian  government so deliberately set out to deliberately impoverish a group of people including children.

Of interest is that Dutton and Pezzullo, the instigators of the “starve ’em out” regime have not announced this loudly. The Information has dribbled out through agencies and the people affected. This is Home Affairs method of quietly undermining the decency of the community who would be shocked if they saw what is happening. Many Liberal MP’s are ignorant as to what is planned. This gives us a chance to make sure they hear what Minister Dutton is doing with his all expansive super powers.

People seeking asylum on the myriad of complicated processes are all to be hit but the ones who are likely to suffer most are the sick and vulnerable and parents with sick children as access to medicines and care is cut.  People seeking asylum by boat or air are all to be included. The so-called Legacy Caseload who were denied the right to apply for a visa by successive ministers are being especially targetted by this cruelty, after waiting up to five years to be allowed to apply for a refugee visa,

In August 2017, 60 single men and women across Australia were cut off from all support on same day notice. They had been released from detention into Community detention but on this day they were given Bridging visas with no support. They had to vacate their shared houses in two weeks. This included the young women brought down from Nauru after violent attacks and the men from Manus because of need for medical care. Three girls told me how they slept in a car for three nights because they had no money and nowhere to go. The car was parked in the garage of their previous home because they were so scared. They had a friend still in Community Detention and she snuck them in to her house to wash and eat until they were forbidden. Nine months later they are still struggling to find work, They have each managed to find casual work in factories, shops and cafes but not enough to pay rent. Most of the work offered to people with Bridging Visas is cash in hand as employers know that they are desperate and take advantage of the situation. These are the facts of life for people on Bridging Visas.

The one thing that people are seeking is work, the most highly sought after is “work with tax”, a phrase used to denote legal work. As has been explained to me many times, ” if you have work you can stop thinking and worrying as well as eating”. The government has so demonised people on bridging visas that once a prospective  employer sees the Bridging visa they say no. A young woman who applied for a job, cleaning the public toilets in a large hospital was on track for the job until they asked about her visa status. When she said that she had a BV, they replied sorry we only take citizens or permanent visas.

This is why people need the SRSS support to keep alive while they find work and wait for the interminable visa process to finish. In August last year, generous groups including the Victorian State Government responded finding safe homes for the single people. We managed then but this tsunami of literally thousands of people made destitute is beyond our capability.

Please contact your local member and your local media. We have to act now.

Australia in breach of Convention Against Torture

The Human Rights Council, which we have struggled so hard to join, has just received the latest  Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Page 9 of the report carries special criticism of Australia, by reference to several cases in which Australia failed.  Page 9 includes the following:

27. The Human Rights Committee has repeatedly considered that “the combination of the
arbitrary character of the […] detention, its protracted and/or indefinite duration, the refusal
to provide information and procedural rights to the [detainees] and the difficult conditions of
detention are cumulatively inflicting serious psychological harm upon them, and constitute
treatment contrary to article 7 of the Covenant.”44 Indeed, the experience of being subjected
to detention that is neither necessary nor proportionate to serve any legitimate purpose,
particularly in conjunction with its prolonged and potentially indefinite duration, and with
the absence of any effective legal remedy has been shown to add significant mental and
emotional stress to the already extremely vulnerable situation of irregular migrants, with
many cases reported of self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
Thus, even factors that may not necessarily amount to ill-treatment when applied as an
isolated measure and for a very limited period of time – such as unjustified detention, delayed
access to procedural rights, or moderate physical discomfort – can cross the relevant threshold
if applied cumulatively and/or for a prolonged or open-ended period of time.
28. In the view of the Special Rapporteur, as a general rule, the longer a situation of
arbitrary detention and inadequate conditions lasts, and the less affected detainees can do to
influence their own situation, the more intense their mental and emotional suffering will
become, and the higher is the likelihood that the prohibition of ill-treatment has been
breached. Depending on the circumstances, this threshold can be reached very quickly, if not
immediately, for migrants in situations of increased vulnerability, such as children, women,
older people, persons with disabilities, medical conditions, or torture trauma, and members
of ethnic or social minorities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex
(LGBTI) persons. In particular, the Special Rapporteur endorses and reiterates the view
expressed by his predecessor that the deprivation of liberty of migrant children based solely
on their own or their parents’ migration status is never in the best interests of the child,
exceeds the requirement of necessity, is grossly disproportionate and, even in case of short
term detention, may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.45
29. In the view of the Special Rapporteur, detention based solely on migration-status, as
such, can also amount to torture, most notably where it is being intentionally imposed or
perpetuated for purposes such as deterring, intimidating, or punishing irregular migrants or
their families, coercing them into withdrawing their requests for asylum, subsidiary
protection or other stay, agreeing to voluntary repatriation, providing information or
fingerprints, or with a view to extorting money or sexual acts, or for reasons based on
discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on immigration status.46

Footnote 44 contains references to three cases against Australia.

Paragraph 18, on page 6, includes this:

“In practice, the possibility to leave must not be a merely theoretical option to be exercised at
some point in the future, but must be practicable and available at any time. For example,
holding migrants at an international border, an offshore facility or an airport transit zone and
refusing their immigration while granting them the theoretical right to leave to any other
country or territory of their choice still amounts to deprivation of liberty for such time as they
are being held, …”

Sounds just like Manus and Nauru, doesn’t it?

Here’s the full report

Trolls

Not surprisingly, I get a lot of trolls sniping at me on Twitter.

I posted a suggestion recently that we should identify the trolls, without wanting to give them any publicity.  People have been writing to me with suggested trolls.  The list follows.  I will update it as time goes on.  Let’s make social media #SocialAgain

Here’s a short-list of people on Twitter who seem unable to tweet anything but false allegations or meaningless insults:

@AstralCowboyz

@bennalongtime

@BoyfromBurleigh

@bush_bushy1961

@ClubMadManus

@Colt_Of_Freedom

@form0sa

@germ_nation1

@GondwanaLands

@GreattobeAussie

@Home_Oh_Hamish

@LeroyGJacobs

@Mabels_Message

@PrimaBaci

@ResistingHate_

@scammersbeware_

@scratchmynose

SchitCunce

@TiberiusMcGreg1

@UFC_fanboy

@wingisforever

@Yeahnahtoyou

Peter Dutton

In mid-March 2018 I retweeted a tweet which included a photo-shopped image of Peter Dutton as a Nazi.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation Commission criticised me for it.  Andrew Bolt published a piece on his blog which was very critical of me.  He did not bother to contact me about it for comment, before or after.

At the outset, I would say that I am very sorry that some people were offended by the tweet.  It is worth noting that I did not compare our present conduct with the events of the Holocaust, and I never would.

Twitter is not an ideal place for complex ideas.  I agree with the ADC that nothing in the Western world today is equivalent to the Holocaust, which cost the lives of millions of Jews.  Australia’s detention centres, onshore and offshore, are not death camps.

However it is important to recognise that the Nazi regime spent years generating in the German community a hatred and fear of Jews, without which the Holocaust would not have been possible.  The Nazis took control in 1933.  By degrees they generated fear and hatred of Jews.  If they had introduced the ”final solution” in 1933, I think the German public would have revolted,   By spending years spreading lies about Jews, the Nazis were able to get away with increasing mistreatment of Jews: mistreatment which reached flash-point in November 1938 (Kristallnacht) and rapidly descended into the events we call the Holocaust.

Peter Dutton is not doing things equivalent to the unspeakable acts which we call the Holocaust; but he is cultivating a climate of fear and hatred of some (I emphasise some) refugees: in particular Moslems and people who are not white.  His wish to encourage white South African farmers to come to Australia under “special arrangements” stands in marked contrast to the fact that he is encouraging  Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, by offering them money if they will go back: but we all know that the plight of Rohingya Muslims is far worse than that of white South African farmers.

The Jewish community in Australia is to be congratulated for its strong advocacy in favour of decent treatment of people seeking asylum.  And no wonder: they understand better than most what can happen if fear and hatred are allowed to govern the way people are treated.

I retweeted the image because I regard Peter Dutton as a dangerous force in Australian politics: he is leading the dogwhistle charge to make ordinary Australians fear Moslems generally, and Moslem refugees in particular.  He is making life increasingly difficult for them.  The pattern of his conduct is familiar: certainly they should be alarmingly familiar to the ADC.

Presumably it suits Peter Dutton for arguments like this to break out, driving a wedge between advocates who broadly agree with each other.

As I say, I am sorry that the tweet offended some people, but the direction in which the conduct of Australia is being taken by Peter Dutton is very troubling: we must be aware of what he is doing.

As George Santayana said “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

PS: the whole thing was brought to light by an article in the Australian, a Murdoch newspaper.  It is easy to forget that just before the 2013 Federal election a Murdoch paper ran front page pictures of Rudd and Albanese in Nazi uniforms!

PPS: Since posting this piece on my blog, I received a number of emails.  Here is one of them, and my response:

“Mr Burnside
YOUR COMMENTS RE Peter Dutton were inappropriate and wrong
How dare you slander this politician who has done in my opinion a great job in protecting Australia
Yes he has even cleaned up Labor’s mess in getting children out of refugee camps.
Why can’t you give him some credit you righteous person.
Love to hear your comments sorry Mr Bolt didn’t talk to you ….did you ring him first before you published?
Who do you think you are
Regards …”

My response:

“Dear …

Thank you for your email.  I am sorry you take such strong exception to my comments about Peter Dutton.

I will not match your personal abuse of me because I do not know who you are or what you do.

However I do know a bit about Peter Dutton, and what he does.

Peter Dutton kept many children in detention (on Nauru) despite his plainly dishonest public claims that there are “no children in detention”.  Apparently his dishonesty fooled you.  You may not have caught up on the news that being held on Nauru has caused terrible harm to the children who have been sent there.  In the past 4 months 2 children have been transferred from Nauru for treatment in Australia.  Both were suicidal.  Both were about 10 years old.  All the experts said that the children could not get appropriate treatment on Nauru.  Mr Dutton’s department resisted attempts to bring the children here so that the damage we had done to them could be treated.

Incidentally, you may not have caught up on the fact that self-harm and suicide is extremely rare in children under the age of 12 or 13: except in Australia’s detention system, where it is common.

Peter Dutton says we have to put people in offshore camps in order to prevent asylum seekers from drowning.  I do not believe he is troubled about people drowning.  In fact I think he is lying about that: if he was truly concerned about people drowning, he would not punish them for not drowning.  But if people try to escape persecution and survive the perils of the journey, he forces them to Manus or Nauru and keeps them there for years, in conditions which have attracted criticism from around the world.  Of course, he won’t tell you that, because he is too dishonest to admit that he is doing it all for electoral advantage.

Most of the people seeking asylum who are now held on Manus or Nauru have been there for 4 years or more.  New Zealand has offered to take 150 people a year from our offshore camps.  Peter Dutton has actively discouraged that by making dark noises about trade arrangements.  Did you know that Australia spends about $570,000 per refugee per year to keep them offshore: that’s roughly 5 times more than it would cost to keep them in immigration detention in Australia, and roughly 20 times more than it would cost if we let them live in the community until their refugee claims were assessed.

Peter Dutton has been at the forefront of dog-whistling about boat people, in order to persuade a lot of Australians (apparently including you) that cruelty to innocent people is OK: that is what the Nazis did between 1933 and 1938.  Oh, by the way, they are innocent people.  Even though dishonest politicians call them “illegal” they do not break any law by coming here the way they do in order to seek asylum.  None of them is ever charged with having  come here without a visa, because it is not an offence.  We just jail them indefinitely.

If you have read this far, please feel free to tell me if any of the facts I have set out above is incorrect.  Because I am confident that the facts are as I have set them out, I regard Peter Dutton as dishonest, and I regard his dishonesty as profoundly dangerous: it has persuaded decent Australians to tolerate things which would have appalled us 10 or 20 years ago.  Peter Dutton is doing what the Nazis did between 1933 and 1938.

Very best wishes… “

 

Some random ideas to improve Australia

I don’t claim to have the answers to all our problems.  And I recognise that Australia has a lot going for it: great climate; great natural resources; great people.  Maybe our good fortune is the source of our complacency.  We’re a bit like Middleton’s Rouseabout (see the poem by Henry Lawson here).

It’s hard to go to any public function in an Australian city these days without the MC intoning recognition of “…the traditional owners of the land we meet on.  The people of the …Nation; their leaders past, present and emerging…”.

It is one-sided and self-indulgent.  It does not recognise that our ancestors took the land from them, and caused them immense harm.  And we don’t intend to give it back.  Then we added to the harm by taking their children from them.

It is easy to overlook that Aboriginal settlement in Australia goes back about 65,000 years.  Compare that with recent developments like ancient Egypt (about 4,000 years ago) and ancient Greece (about 3,000 years ago) and blow-ins like ancient Rome (a bit over 2,000 years ago).

Aboriginal people are about 2.8% of the Australian population.  So how about this:

  • A once-off tax of 2.8% of the capital value of the land we took. The proceeds would amount to billions of dollars.  Use that money specifically to fund programmes designed – genuinely designed – to repair the damage we did to members of the oldest, longest-lasting civilization on earth.

The Arts struggle to get genuine, meaningful support from governments and big-Australia.  Of course there are exceptions, but it is rare to see a head of government also holding the Arts portfolio.  And most practising artists in Australia can’t make enough from their art to cover the cost of surviving, so they take a job as a teacher or as a waiter.

But in the long sweep of history, it’s artists who are remembered.  Try this experiment:

Take a room of 50 or 60 people of fair intelligence and reasonable education.  Give them a list of names from the past 6 centuries.  They will recognise the names of painters, sculptors, composers and writers out of proportion to the number of practising artists from time to time.  They will not recognise the names of lawyers, accountants, sporting heroes…They will recognise the names of a few politicians, but mainly the ones who were tyrants.  By this experiment you will demonstrate the real, transcendent value of the Arts.

  • So: when governments at any level (from local to Federal) put out a request for tender, they could include this question: “What does your company do to support the Arts?”. It’s a fair bet that a lot of companies would want to be able to give a good answer and might just start supporting the Arts creatively – and generously.

In 1974 the parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive”. It was  new norm of conduct for companies in Australia.  While it was resisted at first, it is, by now, a deeply ingrained idea of the way companies should behave.

But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that the norms of conduct, which parliamentarians set for commerce in 1974, do not apply to politicians.

Most people expect politicians to lie. Not many politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.

But should we expect better?  I propose:

  • Parliament should pass an Act which provides that “A politician, in his or her capacity as a politician, shall not engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive”.

Imagine how our politics would be transformed if politicians were expected to behave with the same honesty they demand of companies…

News from Manus

A person who is held on Manus – at our expense, as taxpayers (thanks, Peter Dutton) – has written to me a couple of times setting out the hardship refugees on Manus are facing.

Bear in mind, the misery we inflict costs us, the taxpayers, $570,000 per refugee per year.  And also bear in mind that New Zealand recently revived its offer to take 150 refugees per year from Manus and Nauru.  Dutton made it clear that, although it is a matter for New Zealand and PNG/Nauru to consider, they should be aware of the trade implications!  He might just as well have threatened reprisals directly.

This is the same Minister who claims to be a Christian, but he is inflicting misery on people who have not broken any law by trying to escape persecution.

This is the same Minister who dishonestly tells us he is concerned about people drowning at the hands of unscrupulous people-smugglers.  He’s so concerned about them drowning that he punishes them if they don’t drown.   So far, most of them have been held on Manus or Nauru for the past 4 years.

Peter Dutton is a dishonest hypocrite.  He disfigures our nation.

Here is a snapshot of the misery inflicted on human beings by your government:

“Actually I don’t know how to start it because there has been a lot of issues since Australia government brought us in here.

We are all in a bad mental condition as we are here for such a long time and still hope for a better future.

PNG Authorities keep insulting us and use a lot of bad words when they talk to residents, for example, yesterday PNG ICSA and police brought some non refugees from Port moresby to hillside compound and tried to accomodate them and while they were doing their job they started saying that you are not a refugee and you should sleep in the rubbish bin and they said that we won’t have any good future and we should get the hell out of their country because we are non refugee.

You know we are so sick of living like that.  When we were in pervious detention we were hoping that after this hell we may go to a nice and safe country but unfortunately they brought us to another camp by force and now they are making road , building new accomodation and they are hiring new security officers.  This is really scary for us because we don’t know how long more they want to suffer us in here.

We know that there are a lot of Australians who are happy about what Australia is doing to us in here but please if you can spread my message to them that Australia is using their taxes for nothing in here they are just wasting money in our name and please tell them that we are trying for everything in here but not one thing and that’s coming to Australia.

Hope I didn’t make you upset but this is really true.  This is current situation in our camp.”

Second message:

“About our current situation, we still do not know about our future as Australia put us in this whole shit situation and do not take any responsibility.

We don’t really know what is going on in here but what we know is PNG ICSA is deporting Bangladeshi people to their home country after 5 years which is unfair.  For rest of us, we have not been told anything yet but spread the message between us that they want to bring refugees from Nuru to Manus which I believe they are bullying us.

Believe it or not, that take us as hostage in here.

There is something weird going on in here, for example PNG immigration do not provide any visa to Australian security officers to come here for work but not sure for tomorrow.

Another thing is they are slightly decreasing their services. Whatever we request in here they say NKW company is responsible then we talk to NKW staff and they say JDA company is responsible for that and at end they say Australia must look after you not us.

They are passing us to each other however they have contract with ABF and they have been paid a lot of money but these companies I told you do not provide us our necessary things. All of these companies I told you take advantage from our miserable situation.

Since the local take our this place they become so cranky and they are really rude to us. “

Trump’s Gettysburg Address

I am grateful to Barry Jones for drawing this to my attention: the Gettysburg address as Trump would have made it.

First, the original:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Now, the Trump version:

It was many, many years ago that our beautiful founders created this great nation for Americans to love deeply. It’s been 400 years, or 700 years. That’s the information I was given. We’ve had a tremendous number of years. And they’ve been good years, believe me, the best. No country in the history of the world has had years like ours. Because we were conceived in winning and dedicated to the proposition of America first. Always America first.

Now we have a huge fight on our hands. I’m telling you folks, we’re fighting to take back our country and start winning again. We’re fighting to make America great again. We’re fighting to make America first again. Some people have taken some very unfair hits in this fight. They’ve been hit by liberal activists and the dishonest fake news media. They’re gone now, but we remember their dedication to our movement, and we will be even more dedicated in their memory. We will commit ourselves to secure borders to keep our nation safe, extreme vetting to keep out the bad dudes, and the best trade deals to guarantee that our great American economy does not perish from the earth.
Chris O’Carroll/Donald Trump

Florida School Shooting

A student who witnessed the shooting called out lawmakers on TV, looking directly into the camera and saying: “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.” He added: “Ideas are great but without action, ideas stay ideas and children die.”

And when people say we need to discuss gun control, the NRA and its patsies in Congress say “Now is not the right time…”

So, when is the right time to start taking a rational approach to gun control, in a country where the possession and use of guns is out of control?

Devastating UNHCR report on Manus & Nauru

Rico Salcedo, the Regional Protection Officer, UNHCR Canberra, recently spent time on Manus and Nauru to assess conditions.  Hisreport makes difficult reading.

If you are an Australian, it is hard to avoid feeling ashamed:

Geneva, 13 February 2018

Update on humanitarian situation of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island

The following is a transcript of the remarks by UNHCR Regional Protection Officer, Rico Salcedo in Canberra – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Rico Salcedo, Regional Protection Officer, UNHCR Canberra

Thank you for the chance to briefly update you on UNHCR observations from our latest mission to Manus Island (Papua New Guinea).

What stood out the most from this mission at the time we were there, was a pervasive and worsening sense of despair among refugees and asylum-seekers. I observed and people shared with us that many are staying in the rooms, not going out, and not meeting and talking with others around them.

Those that you see walking or meet are usually downcast. In our conversations with different people there’s a sense of desolation. People are grasping for hope. They ask many questions that we, as UNHCR, have previously heard and repeatedly raised as well – what will happen to them; when will this end; how long will they have to stay in these conditions? These questions are particularly concerning in the context where current services, as well as future solutions outside of Papua New Guinea, remain insufficient.

While the relocation of refugees to the United States is an ongoing and welcome process, the knowledge that many remain without any resolution is weighing on everyone.

More than 3,000 refugees and asylum-seekers have been forcibly transferred by Australia to the offshore processing facilities since 2013. Currently, more than 500 refugees and asylum seekers are living in three sites in Wards 1 and 2 in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

It was evident again from our last mission and after more than 100 days since the closure of Australia’s so-called Regional Processing Centre, that the need for greater mental health support, emergency medical care and specialised torture and trauma counselling remains critical and unmet.

I spoke with a refugee who shared with me his daily struggles and what he was going through. He told me how he was concerned about some of his friends who are suffering of depression, who were thinking of self-harm and how he tries to be there for them. He also shared how he felt unable to help on some days because he himself could not get the help he needed.

The services provided at the site are predominantly implemented by Australian-contracted providers. The Government of Australia is no longer playing a coordination role on Manus Island. This is in contrast with previous arrangements at the former Regional Processing Centre.

UNHCR staff have observed a consistent and ongoing lack of clarity on the designated roles for specific services amongst contracted providers. This continued confusion makes it hard for refugees and asylum seekers to obtain the necessary services and to understand if they are even provided. This highlights the lack of outreach services to people with mental health concerns. This is particularly important at this point as the most vulnerable aren’t able to seek assistance outside their accommodation sites.

We’ve already emphasised and it remains the case that the local health facility, primarily the Lorengal hospital, has very limited capacity and resources to assist refugees and asylum seekers with serious mental health concerns.

Another observation is the safety of the refugees in the community which remains a major concern. This is noted from the conversations with refugees and community leaders.

In the local community, while no curfew is in place, the police have advised all refugees and asylum-seekers that they should return to their accommodation by 06:00pm each evening to mitigate security risks, and to walk in groups and not alone.

We cannot emphasize enough that solutions must be found for all, outside of Papua New Guinea, as a matter of urgency. Australia remains ultimately responsible, as the state from which these refugees and asylum-seekers have sought international protection, for their welfare and long-term settlement outside of Papua New Guinea.

The Government of Australia should assume a clear coordination role with regard to the service providers it has retained, and adequately monitor and provide services in line with growing and evolving needs.

Clearly, much more needs to be done to bring the circumstances of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island up to a basic minimum standard. These critical steps however, will only be a stop-gap measure until durable solutions are found and made available for them outside of Papua New Guinea.

Thank you.