Is it detention or jail?

I received an email today from a person who is held in immigration detention.  The email read, in part:

We are told over and over again, from the moment we arrive that this is not a jail or prison and the Serco personnel are not guards. At 7:45 this morning I was coming out of the shower when the door was abruptly opened and about 15 ABF in all black barged in. I was rudely instructed to get dressed quickly and go to the common room with the rest of the detainees in this building. We were lined against a wall and a sniffer dog was used on all of us. They then entered each room and did a thorough search, and after, the dog sniffed the room.

Our area and closets were torn apart and each item examined. Very little was put back and it was difficult for us, the handicapped, to straighten up after. I had an asthma attack. There are four buildings and each was searched.

Of course nothing was found as we are searched before and after every visit. It was draconian, stressful and humiliating. If it is not prison, it is as close as it gets.

So: this is “immigration detention”.  It is “administrative” not punitive.  Gosh that make me feel better…

You think this government would never treat YOU that way?  Remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who was jailed by the Nazis in 1938.  He said:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—  Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—  Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

Form 866 and Australian values

Here is Form 866, which must be completed by all asylum seekers: form_866c

Have a look at the Australian Values Statement, which is part of each Form 866:

99 AUSTRALIAN VALUES STATEMENT

You must sign this statement if you are aged 18 years or over.

I confirm that I have read, or had explained to me, information provided by the Australian Government on Australian society and values.

I understand:

• Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good;

• Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background;

• the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.

Could Dutton seriously say that he “values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law”?  And would you believe him?

And for that matter, could any member of the Coalition government say on their oath that they embrace those values?  and if they embrace those values, why are they mistreating refugees the way they do?

Dutton’s latest bit of nastiness

At 9.38am on Sunday 21 May 2017, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton revealed his worst attack on refugees.

He said asylum seekers living in the Australian community had until 1 October to file applications for protection, failing which they would be or they will be denied Government payments, subject to removal from Australia, and banned from re-entering the country. There are about 7,500 people in the community who are affected by this edict.

The problem is that, for most people, the deadline will be impossible to meet.  The reason is simple:

  • the applications are very complex.  Have a look at it : form_866c
  • they have to be completed in English;
  • they involve all sorts of difficult and subtle legal issues;
  • they cannot be adequately completed without legal help;
  • asylum seekers do not generally have access to interpreters;
  • the Government has already cut legal support for people seeking asylum;
  • asylum seekers cannot generally afford to pay for legal help;
  • the free legal refugee support services are being crushed by the burden of trying to provide the help that is needed.

The result of these facts is that many asylum seekers will not be able to comply with the Dutton deadline.  One of the refugee support services, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, said this:

“The introduction of an impossible deadline that immediately places thousands of people at risk of being deported to danger.   In the 62 years since Australia ratified the Refugee Convention no government has ever dared to do something so unlawful and despicable.    Based on the heinous action of our government, there is now more people at risk of harm than ever before.”

Put to one side whether the deadline will be legally valid, it is worth recognising the dishonesty surrounding Dutton’s announcement.  Despite being a Minister of the Crown, Dutton is chronically dishonest:

  • He refers to asylum seekers as “illegal”, even though they have committed no offence by coming to Australia the way they do;
  • He refers to offshore detention as “border protection”, even though we do not need to be protected from asylum seekers:  they are human beings looking for a safe place to live;
  • He said many asylum seekers had been in the community for years: but he failed to admit that they were not allowed to apply for protection until late 2016;
  • He referred to asylum seekers who have not yet applied for protection as “fake refugees”.  This prejudges whether or not they are refugees and therefore entitled to protection;
  • He referred to the fact that social welfare benefits for refugees was costing the economy $246 million each year: he did not mention that locking refugees up on Manus Island and Nauru was costing the economy billions of dollars each year, and that offshore detention is the most expensive form of detention.

Have a look at the Australian Values Statement, which is part of each Form 866:

99 AUSTRALIAN VALUES STATEMENT

You must sign this statement if you are aged 18 years or over.

I confirm that I have read, or had explained to me, information provided by the Australian Government on Australian society and values.

I understand:

• Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law,

Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good;

• Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background;

• the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.

Could Dutton seriously say that he “values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law”?  And would you believe him?

It is interesting to see Dutton’s callous attitude in context.  The target for his government is boat-people, that is, people who come to Australia without invitation.  Jordan has a population about one third of Australia’s, and its economy is weak.  Jordan is in a difficult part of the world: it has borders with Israel, Syria and Iraq.  Jordan has not signed the Refugees Convention.  Nevertheless, right now there are more than a million uninvited refugees in Jordan.  That is more uninvited refugees than Australia has received in the 70 years since it singed the Refugees Convention.

How strange that Jordan treats refugees so well and Australia treats them so badly, even though Jordan has not signed the Convention and we have.

 

PNG Navy shoots refugees on Manus

Here is a very powerful message I received by email from an Australian citizen:

 

This is beyond the pale.

My husband, [xxx], used to bleakly joke about how Australia’s Immigration Department really just should shoot all the boat people and get it over with.

Now the PNG Navy really is shooting at them.

It is beyond despair.

According to the ABC’s PNG correspondent, Erik Tlozek, it all started over a footy match where the locals got cranky that some of the refugees were playing on the field.

Then the Navy stepped in and started to shoot.

The details thus far are still murky, and I don’t know if there are any deaths. It’s still unfolding, if we’re ever allowed to get any information….transparency is a huge issue and we have to challenge the lack of it.

So far, we’ve had state-sanctioned torture in these camps. Now it’s state-sanctioned murder.

Enough. As reluctant as I am to put my head above the parapet, this is a call to legal arms (and legs).

I will write; you have to do the legal work…

[zzz] just reminded me that it was Kevin Rudd – Labor – who set up offshore detention. Onshore detention like Baxter was not enough for the right wing voting minority , apparently. (Besides, they’re clogging up the M4 in Sydney with all their boats on trailers…)

And don’t forget, it remains Australia’s responsibility by distance, no matter how the thugs like Morrisson and Dutton try to hide it under a nicely-ironed linen cloth….all very bright in Canberra. Very murky in PNG ; and Christmas; and Nauru…follow the money, boils and goils…..

There are yet undisclosed amounts of money paid as Baksheesh to the PNG Government, whose rulers buy their new Merc or BMW…

It’s said we live in the age of Enlightenment..let’s get some light on this issue for once and for all, before we cark it from sheer fatigue…

It’s hard not to agree.

George Brandis QC A-G

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:

  1. the Coalition, of which he is part, has called boat people “illegal” for the past 15 years;
  2. some irritating people (including me) have been pointing out for years that boat people commit no offence by coming to Australia as they do.
  3. If they don’t commit any offence by coming here, calling them “illegal” is misleading at best, and dishonest at worst.
  4. 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]

What has happened to this country?

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 selfemployed 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.

 Im 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 Im seriously concerned for the welfare of those detained on the islands and I know Im not alone. Its 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 dont see that if our government is comfortable treating human beings as disposable,  it wont 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.

Lorengau hospital: your taxes at work (?!)

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.

The dodgy US refugee deal

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.

More on anti-Islamic rants

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?”

My response:

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.

Dishonest Dutton: at it again

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.

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.

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…

Border Force making it harder to visit detention centres

[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 detention.visits@border.gov.au

For further information please go to http://www.border.gov.au/Busi/Comp/Immigration-detention/visiting-a-facility

Kind regards

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.

Big Deal

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.

 

News from Manus

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?

Complaint to International Criminal Court names Abbott, Morrison, Dutton, Turnbull

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

Oppose Lifetime Visa Ban

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:
    1. 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;
    2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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 Grim Report from MITA

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.”

More news from Manus

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.   

 

What Would You Do?

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.

The Great Australian Lockout

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.

 

Frightening effect of Islamophobia

It seems that a lot of Australians are frightened of Muslims.  this Islamophobia has been whipped up by politicians who ought to know better.

It is terrifying to see just how frightened people can react.  One Australian has been writing to me relentlessly urging that we establish concentration camps for Muslims!

Yes: concentration camps.  Here is a portion of a recent email from this person:

“What is wrong with Concentration Camps? They were good enough for a former Australian Prime Minister – Billy Hughes.

It is fantastic that of-shore Concentration Camps have been established to protect Australia from the Muslim Invasion.

More should be established on the Mainland to house Muslims that have been allowed into Australia and who pose a threat to the safety of other Australians.

Cicero would have fully supported Concentration Camps to protect the safety of the people. …”

I can do no better than quote something Helen Razer wrote:

“In a post earlier today that linked to an article written by me I incorrectly identified those who disdain Islam as “racist”.  I am sorry  about this. As you so deftly and cleverly remind me, “Islam is not a race”. You are, therefore, not a racist.

I didn’t mean to call you a racist.

I meant to call you – how can I put this? – history’s worst reflex.

I meant to call you the frail and fearful idiot who learned nothing of the lessons of 1933.

I meant to call you the descendent of Nazism.

I meant, much more kindly, to say that your belief that a little cultural difference is responsible for all the shit in your life is a product of an under-informed mind and an ugly spirit. …”

The idea that any person in the early 21st century could call for concentration camps is so shocking as to defy belief.  But the person who emailed me has sent me many emails in recent months arguing, repeatedly, that concentration camps for Muslims would be a good idea.  I prefer not to ask his attitude to Hitler, Nazism and anti-Semitism.