Michael Kirby Oration 3 July 2010

PRINCIPLES, PRAGMATISM AND POLITICS

Julian Burnside

Given that this is the Michael Kirby Oration, allow me a couple of minutes to talk about Michael Kirby.

Many years ago, Kirby telephoned me at home at about 8.00 on a Sunday morning. I was awake, but my day had not started. His opening words surprised me: “I rang you in chambers, but you were not there.” His tone of gentle reproach suggested that I needed to improve my work habits.

At the time, I was an ambitious young junior barrister, but the idea of being in chambers early on a Sunday morning had not occurred to me. I had only met him once or twice. It was the very early days of the law’s encounter with computer technology. I had shared the platform with Kirby a couple of times at seminars to do with computers and their likely impact on law and legal practice. I thought I knew a thing or two about the subject. His knowledge and insight made a great impression.

If Kirby’s purpose in calling me on a Sunday morning early was to impress me with his industry, it worked. If I had been tempted to think that he was showing off, the balance of his history would prove me wrong: Kirby’s industry is legendary; his output is phenomenal.

There are too many aspects of his productive life to compress into these brief remarks, but one of the enduring themes is founded in a profound ethical choice.  Kirby’s thinking is guided by an unshakeable conviction that human dignity and human rights are the gravitational centre of any civilized society; and that a legal system which escapes the insistent pull of human rights will produce law without justice. Kirby writes for a future which honours that role of law in society.

It seems curious that this might be a matter of ethical choice, since it seems to me so obviously right.  But Kirby’s view of the proper role of law is not shared by everyone: for some whose human rights are not in doubt, law serves better if it gets on with other tasks.

In much of his writing, on and off the Bench, he stands above the crowd and sees further. If he is looking to the future, it is because he sees clearly how the future can be. While contemporary commentators have not been uniform in their appreciation of Michael Kirby’s views, I think posterity will be more generous.

His appeal to future ages will come, in large measure, from the central idea that human dignity and human rights are fundamental. His place in history will depend in part on whether or not we acknowledge the centrality of human rights in our system of law. That idea provokes hostility in some quarters and indifference in others. It is by no means certain that we will end up with a legal system based on the notion that law should produce a just result consistent with the principles of human rights.

If Michael Kirby writes for the future, it is a future I would wish to share. It may be difficult to attain. But he has shown us the way, and he has shown that it is worth striving for.

His decision to live as a gay man without the respectable cover of a heterosexual marriage was an ethical choice; his decision to “come out” was another.

With one possible exception, I have not had to make such profound existential choices.  And I come to the subject of ethics as a layperson, an amateur.  Apart from the narrow field of professional ethics, lawyers are not instructed in ethics.  Professional ethics, for lawyers, deals with such prosaic ideas as not stealing a client’s money, and not being rude to judges.  It does not take a post-graduate degree in philosophy to discover the rules of professional ethics.

The exception was the choice to take on the Howard government in 2001 over the Tampa episode, and then over the issue of the treatment of asylum seekers generally.  For a person who had never been politically engaged, it was a strange choice, but an easy one.  It was made easier by the fact that my naïveté prevented me from foreseeing the personal cost of doing what I did.  But even if I had been smart enough to predict the death threats, the hate mail and the vilification by government acolytes in the maggot end of the press, I would have made the same choice.

If I had thought it through, it was a collision of principle (which said it is essential to do something) and pragmatism (which said “this is a bad career move”). But I made the choice by instinct, not by ethics.

It is a pity that lawyers don’t receive any real training in ethics, because one way or another lawyers, like doctors, are involved in ethical problems which are part of the fabric of any society and which emerge unexpectedly in a society in which technology is evolving rapidly.

Medicine continues to throw up ethical choices of the most fundamental kind.  The conference programme shows how diverse they are.  What constitutes a living human being?  When is a person dead?  When is a person entitled to die?  What are the relevant limiting criteria shaping end of life decisions:  sentience, physical capability, independence, resource allocation?  Does the right of a patient to have an abortion impose a corresponding obligation on a doctor to perform one?

Lawyers have a limited role in making ethical decisions of that sort – we are generally consulted by one or other side of the contest.  But they do not ask “What is the right answer?”.  They tell you their version of the right answer, and ask you to persuade a court (or perhaps a parliament) to embrace that answer.

For barristers at least, this position is in part a result of the cab-rank principle.  Every barrister has had the experience of being asked, at a dinner party “How can you defend someone who you know is guilty?”.  The answer is “The cab-rank principle”.

The cab-rank principle says that if you are offered a brief in a field of your ordinary practice, marked with a fee appropriate to your experience, and for a time when you are available, then you must accept the brief.  It matters not that you despise the client, or the client’s cause or the client’s conduct.  Those matters are subordinated to the idea that everyone is entitled to competent representation.  It’s an important principle, because without it some people would have real difficulty finding anyone willing to represent them.  The fact that people still ask the question highlights the problem:  some lay people – perhaps many of them – think that a guilty person should not be able to have legal representation.  Apart from anything else, this view conveniently forgets that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that the lawyer’s role is to represent the client, not to judge his guilt or innocence.

I should hasten to add that this principle does not apply to pro bono work.  Self-evidently, pro bono work is unpaid, so pro bono work does not meet the criterion that the brief is marked with an appropriate fee.  In performing pro bono work, barristers not only discharge the useful function of supplementing the inadequacy of Legal Aid, but in addition they give voice to their own ethical choices.

The presumption of innocence, and the requirement that all people who go to court are entitled to competent representation illustrates the way various ethical choices have been played out in our society.  The choice that all people are entitled to justice, not only the powerful.  The choice that an accused person should be presumed innocent – the same presumption does not operate in Japan.  The choice that, in the contest between state and citizen, the parties should meet on equal terms, with each competently represented.

The most fundamental of these choices is the first – that our conception of justice includes the idea that all people are entitled to it.  This is neither universal nor self-evident.  In his history of the Peloponnesian wars, Thucydides retells the Melian dialogue.  In its war against Sparta, Athens decided to invade the island of Melos.  Although Melos had not harmed Athens, and was neutral in the war, it was strategically located.  Athens wanted Melos fore its strategic importance.  An Athenian delegation went to the Commissioners of Melos and came straight to the point.  They agreed that it would seem unjust for them to invade Melos, but noted that “Justice is only relevant between equals in power.  Where power is not equal, the strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.”

Feudal societies and dictatorships tend to share the Athenian view.  Neither the Taliban nor those who hold Taliban in Guantanamo Bay think that justice is for all.

An equally deep ethical choice is involved in deciding what constitutes justice.  The answer to this question helps shape innumerable aspects of the legal system.  Try this.  A mother, stressed already by school holiday torment, is in the kitchen when she hears a crash in the living-room.  She rushes to see what has happened and finds her favourite, most precious vase shattered on the hearth.  She knows with a certainty which transcends analysis that her youngest was responsible.  She fines him and sends him to bed without dinner.  As it happens, he was in fact responsible for breaking the vase.

The alternative version:  when the mother finds the vase, she realizes that no-one should be punished without good cause and due process.  This is the minimum requirement of justice.  She seeks out each child in turn and asks questions calculated to discover the truth of the matter.  Suspicion eventually falls on her youngest.  She gives him a chance to explain.  Not convinced by his explanation she sends him to bed without dinner.  As it happens, he was not responsible for breaking the vase.

The question is:  Which of these two results is more just?  The first is pragmatic; the second accords with principle.  But most people cannot choose which is right without hesitation.  Due process is inherent in our conception of justice.  But bad process can yield right results, just as good process can produce wrong results.  The legal system, with all its concerns about process and procedure, is designed to produce justice.  The idea of a mob-lynching of a suspected criminal is abhorrent, even if it happens that the mob is right in their choice of victim.

This simple example illustrates how hard it is to choose what constitutes justice.  The difficulty is compounded by the fact that our ethical criteria are not static.  What appears just in one age may be repugnant in another.  A crude illustration of this process is found in social attitudes to capital punishment.

Ronald Ryan was the last person put to death by an Australian Government.  The fight to save him from the gallows in 1967 was hotly contested.  Led by Barry Jones, those campaigning against capital punishment were vilified by the government of the day and by the tabloid press.  Now, 43 years on, no government in Australia today argues for reintroduction of capital punishment, and members of the community who support capital punishment are either a small minority or surprisingly quiet.

Nevertheless, there was a strong body of opinion in Australia which supported the idea of executing the Bali bombers, and even more local opposition to the execution of the Bali 9.  One integer of the ethical choice, it seems, is the nationality of the prisoner being sentenced.

One hundred years ago there was near universal support for the death penalty as an appropriate feature of the justice system.

Two hundred years ago, capital punishment was a commonplace, as was public flogging.  What was just then seems to us barbaric now.

Another example can be found in the recent history of South Australia.  Until the early 1960s, the South Australian Government had a practice of removing aboriginal children from their parents.

There have been three attempts by members of the stolen generations to recover damages.  Actions in the Northern Territory and New South Wales failed.  Recently, in August 2007, an action brought in South Australia succeeded.

In the South Australian case, the Plaintiff was Bruce Trevorrow.  Bruce was the illegitimate son of Joe Trevorrow and Thora Lampard.  They lived at One Mile Camp, Meningie, on the Coorong.  They had two other sons, Tom and George Trevorrow.

They lived at One Mile Camp because in those times it was not lawful for an aborigine to live closer than one mile to a place of white settlement.

When Bruce was 13 months old, he got gastroenteritis.  Joe didn’t have a car capable of taking Bruce to the hospital, so some neighbours from Meningie took him to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital where he was admitted on Christmas Day 1957.  Hospital records show that he was diagnosed with gastroenteritis, he was treated appropriately and the gastro resolved within six or seven days.  Seven days after that he was given away to a white family.

The family lived in suburban Adelaide.  They had a daughter who was aged about 16 at the time.  She gave evidence at the trial as a woman in her late middle age.  She remembered the day clearly.  Her mother had always wanted a second daughter.  They had seen an advertisement in the local newspaper offering aboriginal babies for fostering.  They went to the hospital and looked at a number of eligible babies and saw a cute little girl with curly hair and chose her.  They took her home and when they changed her nappy they discovered she was a boy.

A short time later, Bruce’s mother wrote to the Department asking how he was doing and when he was coming home.  The Department replied that Bruce was doing quite well but that he was not yet well enough to come home.  Bruce had been given away weeks earlier.

For the next 8 years, they prevented Bruce’s mother from finding out where he was.

When Bruce was three years old he was taken to hospital again:  he was pulling his own hair out.  When he was eight or nine years old, he was seen a number of times by the Child Guidance Clinic and was diagnosed as profoundly anxious and depressed, and as having no sense of his own identity.

Every time he has been assessed by a psychiatrist, from the age of 9 to the age of 49, the diagnosis has been the same:  anxiety, profound depression, no sense of identity and no sense of belonging anywhere.

Bruce’s brothers came to give evidence at the trial.  A striking feature of the trial was the astonishing difference between Bruce and his brothers, Tom and George, who had not been removed.  They told of growing up with Joe Trevorrow, who taught them how to track and hunt, how to use plants for medicine, how to fish.  He impressed on them the need for proper schooling.  They spoke of growing up in physically wretched circumstances, but loved and valued and supported.  They presented as strong, resilient, resourceful people.  By contrast, Bruce was profoundly damaged, depressed and broken.

In its defence, the Government of South Australia argued that removing a child from his or her parents did no harm.  This contest led to one of the most significant findings in the case.  Justice Gray said in his judgment:

“[885] I find that it was reasonably foreseeable that the separation of a 13 month old Aboriginal child from his natural mother and family and the placement of that child in a non-indigenous family for long-term fostering created real risks to the child’s health.  The State through its emanations, departments and departmental officers either foresaw these risks or ought to have foreseen these risks. …  ”

That finding was based on extensive evidence concerning the work of John Bowlby in the early 1950s, and it also accords with commonsense.  We all have an instinct that taking children from their parents will cause great pain.

It is fair to assume that most of the people involved in this conduct considered that they were acting justly, for was it not self-evident that an aboriginal child would be better off growing up in white, middle-class suburbia than in the shabbiness of an aboriginal settlement, even if the shabbiness was itself the result of aboriginals being alienated from white society?

Now we see it differently.  In its first sitting, the Rudd government said “sorry”” to the stolen generations.  It seemed almost too good to be true:  it was the apology so many had waited so long to hear.  And when we heard it, we rejoiced at the sound of some of the noblest and most dignified sentiments ever uttered in that place on the hill.  It is worth recalling some of Kevin Rudd’s words:

“Today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologize for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and Governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.  …

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry …”

The day Kevin Rudd said sorry to the stolen generations was 13 February 2008.  It will be remembered as a day when the spirit of the nation stirred.

The apology raised a couple of new ethical problems.  The first is this.  The Prime Minister acknowledged that the removal of children from their parents caused great harm, both to the parents and to the children.  He acknowledged that it was a great wrong.  The judgment in Bruce Trevorrow’s case shows that the harm was predictable, and was foreseen – or at least foreseeable – by the government at the time.  Is there not an ethical obligation to go further than saying “sorry”?  Where a moral wrong has caused foreseeable harm, surely saying sorry is not enough – it is ethically necessary to help remedy the harm done.

The second is this.  Many Australians – about 80% it seems – approved strongly of the apology.  Many people obviously felt that something profoundly important had happened.  Many, I am sure, felt better in themselves for the fact that we had, as a nation, apologized to the stolen generations.

But is it ethically right for us to feel cleansed and relieved by the apology, and do nothing to persuade the government that an apology is not enough, and that compensation is needed?  It is clear enough that saying sorry is useful and to a degree palliative.  But it is clear also that the harm which the Prime Minister acknowledged will not be remedied by an apology alone.  Even compensation will not mend the wounds entirely, but compensation will go further toward that end than an apology alone.

The next ethical choice we need to make, as a society is for a national compensation scheme, run by the States, Territories and Commonwealth in co-operation.  The scheme I advocate would allow people to register their claim to be members of the stolen generations.  If that claim was, on its face, correct then they would be entitled to receive copies of all relevant government records.  A panel would then assess which of the following categories best describes the claimant:

  • removed for demonstrably good welfare reasons;
  • removed with the informed consent of the parents;
  • removed without welfare justification but survived and flourished;
  • removed without welfare justification but did not flourish.

The first and second categories might receive nominal compensation.  The third category should receive modest compensation, say $5,000-$25,000 depending on circumstances.  The fourth category should receive substantial compensation, between say $25,000-$100,000 depending on circumstances.

The process should be simple, co-operative, lawyer-free and run in a way consistent with its benevolent objectives.  If only the governments of Australia could see their way clear to implement a scheme like this, the original owners of this land would receive real justice in compensation for one of the most wretched chapters in our history.  Unfortunately, as a community we seem to have made an ethical choice which says that saying sorry is enough.

It is interesting to contrast the current attitude to removal of aboriginal children with attitudes at the time it happened.  Then it was (at least to many) an ethical practice.  Now it is not.  If, in 2010, officers of a government department regularly decided to remove children from parents who lived in impoverished suburbs and placing them with white parents in more wealthy suburbs, in order to give them a better chance in life, the community will be rightly horrified.  Few people would say that it makes any difference if the children being removed are white, black, Asian, Christian, Jewish or Muslim.

This raises troubling questions about later assessment of current orthodoxies.  In 2003 I was briefed by the Office of the Public Advocate in Victoria to act in an end of life case.  The patient, known as Mrs BWV, was a middle-aged woman who had been in a persistent vegetative state for three years.  She was kept alive by being fed via a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy.  The Medical Treatment Act provided that a person’s guardian may, on behalf of the patient, refuse medical treatment.  However the Act went onto say that it did not apply to palliative care.  Palliative care was defined as including the reasonable provision of food and water.

The Public Advocate was acting as BWV’s guardian.  He sought a court declaration that feeding via a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy was “medical treatment” for the purposes of the Medical Treatment Act.  He made it clear that, if feeding via PEG was properly regarded as medical treatment in the circumstances, he intended to withdraw consent.  The inevitable result of that would be that Mrs BWV would die over the course of a week or so.

Mrs BWV’s family supported this course, saying that their mother had often expressed horror at the idea of being kept alive artificially if she were in a permanent coma.

It struck me then, and now, as ethically right that a person should be allowed to choose to die, and to dictate in advance their choice if circumstances render them unable to express a choice at the relevant time (incidentally, it struck me then as it strikes me now that if a decision to die is legitimate then requiring slow death by starvation is barbaric, when death by injection would be nearly instantaneous).

That said, it is not difficult to see that in 20 or 50 or 100 years from now social mores may have changed such that allowing a person to die in these circumstances would be regarded as unethical, immoral or criminal.  Sir Francis Galton’s theory of eugenics had many adherents for decades, until the Nazis gave it a bad name.  There is already a strong and vocal movement which opposes the idea of allowing a person in the position of Mrs BWV to die.  There is no certainty at all that the ethical choices we make now will be viewed benevolently by later generations.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I see Australia’s treatment of refugees as one of ethical choice.  It goes to the heart of whether we are a just society, and for any lawyer, justice is – or should be – a central concern.  It is pre-eminently an area where principle, pragmatism and politics collide.  In recent months, the debate about boat-people has reignited.

Recent comments by Tony Abbott suggest that, if elected, he would take a much harder line on what he calls ‘border protection’; he would reintroduce the Temporary Protection Visa; he would reintroduce the Pacific Solution; he would reintroduce the extraordinary idea that asylum seekers, held indefinitely despite having committed no offence, should be liable to the government for the daily cost of their incarceration.  These things were bad under Howard and Ruddock.  What is alarming is that Abbott immediately gained ground in the polls.

Clearly, he had taken his cue from polling in the marginal electorates and saw that pushing back Muslim refugees would be popular.  He lied by suggesting that we were being flooded by boat people, whereas in fact the arrival rate is still tiny by any measure.  He condemned all people smugglers to moral depths, as if all were in the same moral basket.

The people of this country, by and large, approved of his idea of mistreating the innocent to deter others from seeking our help.

Kevin Rudd’s principles should have rejected Abbott’s approach, but he quickly followed suit, and started talking tough about boat-people – he had figured out that decent treatment of refugees would work against him in the electorate.  Of course his harshest comments were directed against people smugglers, because a frontal attack on refugees might have looked a bit too harsh.

But surely the parable of the good Samaritan demands a humane response to people who, without committing any offence come here and politely ask us to protect them.  And let us not forget that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a people smuggler.  And so was Oskar Schindler, and so was Captain Schroeder, the master of the MS St Louis who tried valiantly to find a safe country for 900 Jewish refugees in 1939, but was eventually forced to return them to Europe where more than half of them perished in concentration camps.

Bonhoeffer, Schindler and Schroeder were people smugglers who made dangerous choices for principle against politics and pragmatism.  We honour their memory.  For political leaders in this country, especially self-proclaimed Christians, to prefer politics over principle is as disappointing as it is familiar.

This morning’s newspapers tell us that Julia Gillard is about to turn her attention to boat-people.  It would be an easy thing for her to take the initiative and respond in a principled way.  She could demonstrate just how flagrantly Abbott has tried to mislead the public on this issue.  She could point out that, even at the current rate of arrival, it would take 20 years to fill the MCG with boat-people.  She could point out that about 90% of boat-people are ultimately assessed as genuine refugees who are legally entitled to our protection.  She could point out that, the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is so great that our troops are scarcely gaining ground, and that most boat-people in recent times are Afghans fleeing the Taliban.   She could point out that, if we are concerned about a sustainable population, for every boat person who comes to Australia each year, we accept 20 new permanent economic migrants who come here as a matter of free choice.

Faced with these facts, the public might think that the case for human decency is overwhelming.  But I fear that pragmatism of the crudest sort will govern the outcome.

Genuine protection of human rights is a necessary feature of a Just Society.  Any worthwhile human rights framework will guarantee as inalienable rights those conditions which are generally regarded as necessary for a decent human existence.  A survey of the guaranteed rights in other Western democracies shows that they all guarantee the following rights and freedoms:

  1. Right to life and liberty
  2. Freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly,
  3. Freedom from arbitrary search and seizure
  4. Due process and equal protection under law
  5. No cruel and unusual punishment
  6. No slavery
  7. Privileges and immunities, due process, ,
  8. Right to vote

The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit has explored the question whether a just society will also necessarily be a decent society.  He tests the question by asking whether a society which is just may also choose to tolerate ‘humiliating institutions’.

What does Margalit’s proposition mean? He asks us to imagine a village in which food aid is to be distributed. Each villager needs one kilogram of rice. A just distribution may be achieved by visiting each house in the village and handing out the appropriate number of rice parcels. An alternative means is to drive through the village and tip the rice parcels off the back of the truck, with police on hand to ensure that no-one tries to take more than one package. Both methods result in an equal distribution, and thus satisfy John Rawls’ famous test for a just society. But the second method is humiliating. As Margalit says –

“The distribution may be both efficient and just, yet still humiliating… The claim that there can be bad manners in a Just Society may seem petty – confusing the major issue of ethics with the minor one of etiquette. But it is not petty. It reflects an old fear that justice may lack compassion and might even be an expression of vindictiveness. There is a suspicion that the Just Society might become mired in rigid calculations of what is just, which may replace gentleness and humane consideration in simple human relations. The requirement that a Just Society should also be a decent one means that it is not enough for goods to be distributed justly and efficiently – the style of their distribution must also be taken into account”

Margalit develops this, arguing that, of all the goods which must be equally distributed, the most fundamental is self-respect.  Self-respect precedes other basic goods – freedom of thought, speech and movement; food and shelter; education and employment – because self-respect is necessary if a person’s existence is to have any meaning at all.  Without the possibility of self-respect, a person’s life can have no purpose, and pursuit of life’s other goals is a meaningless exercise.  By this path, we see the undeniable centrality of human dignity in any coherent social framework, just as Kirby has consistently argued.

For some time, without knowing it, Australia has been wrestling with this great ethical choice: do we want to be a decent society?  Do we actually believe in human rights, or do we simply pay lip service to the idea?  There are worrying signs that we have resolved the question the wrong way.

Broadly speaking, Australians have a fairly respectful attitude to human rights.  If most Australians were asked what they thought of human rights they would say that human rights matter.  The question then arises:  How is it that those same people watched with unconcern as David Hicks languished for years in Guantanamo Bay without charge and without trial?  How is it that they watched with unconcern for years as innocent men, women and children were locked up indefinitely in desert jails merely because they were fleeing the Taliban or Saddam Hussein?  How is it that we have managed such enduring complacency to the plight of the aborigines whose land was taken and whose children were stolen?  How is it that we are so indifferent to the draconian effects of the anti-terror laws as they are applied to Muslims in the Australian community, when we would not tolerate similar intrusions on our own rights?

We have seen recently an unhappy reflection of this ambivalence about human rights.  After an exhaustive consultation process, The Brennan committee recommended that Australia enact a Human Rights Act, of the sort we have in Victoria and the ACT.  The Brennan committee received more submissions than any government enquiry in Australia’s history.  The submissions were overwhelmingly in favour of a Human Rights Act.  But in April, the Rudd government announced that the government would not put forward a bill for a Human Rights Act.  It was a triumph of practical politics over principle.  Not only is Australia the only western democracy not to have a Human Rights Act, we are probably the only country in the world to have actively chosen not to have one.  How is it that, as a fairly benign democracy, we have ended up in this position?

The answer I think is this:  Australians subconsciously divide human beings into two categories:  Us and Other.  We think, perhaps subconsciously, “My rights matter, and so do those of my family and friends and neighbours, but the human rights of others do not matter in quite the same way because, (without quite saying it) the Others are not human in quite the same way we are”.  It is dangerous thinking and profoundly wrong.

We have human rights not because we are nice or because we are white or because we are Christian but because we are human.  This is something the Australian public do not generally understand.  So they are easily spooked by the utterly misguided and misleading comments of people like Cardinal Pell and Bob Carr; their anxiety is reflected in polling in marginal electorates, and politics trump principle.

Of all the things that might be said about Australia in the 21st century, the most depressing is this: political leaders of both major parties are driven almost completely by pragmatism, and not by principle.  Malcolm Turnbull tried to cling to principle in relation to global warming, and he was dumped by his party.  Neither Rudd nor Abbott have allowed their Christian values get in the way of focus group results.  It is too early to say whether Julia Gillard will be any better.

The ethical choice implicit in these matters reflects badly on the country.  I began by lamenting that lawyers do not study ethics at university.  Perhaps the real problem is that Australians are not taught ethics at school: they learn ethics by observation, by watching what sports people do, by watching what politicians do.  Heaven help us.

Are We There Yet?

I’m a bit late posting this: just came across it again.  it’s the Barry Jones Oration I gave in 2013.

Are We There Yet?  

It is a great privilege to be giving a talk in honour of Barry Jones.

Like many others, I first became aware of Barry when he was an apparently permanent fixture on Pick-a-Box. Most of us remember that he often tangled with Bob Dyer and quibbled about the expected answer, most famously when he was asked who the first British Governor-General of India was. He gave the expected answer, Warren Hastings, but then pointed out that, strictly, Hastings was only the Governor of Bengal. The first Governor-General of India was Lord William Bentinck.

But what distinguished Barry’s participation in Pick-a-Box was a disconnect between his purposes and Bob Dyer’s purposes. For Bob Dyer, the show was all about competing for material reward; for Barry it seemed to spring from a genuine interest in knowing things. I will never forget how excited I found it to see a person who knew so much about so much.

His extraordinary run on that show started in 1960 and ended in 1968. Viewed from the present, that may not seem such a long time but, to orient it to my own life, it began when I was in year 6 and ended when I was in my second year at Monash University. I did not imagine then that I would later be able to count him as a friend.

No-one who lived through those years could forget the mark Barry made in his mighty struggle to save Ronald Ryan from the gallows. While Barry did not manage to save Ryan from the crazed vindictiveness of Henry Bolte, he won the larger fight: although Ryan was eventually hanged, in February 1967, he was the last person to be executed in Australia.

Barry once predicted that one day there would be more computers than cars in Tasmania. He was ridiculed for this.

The received wisdom then was in line with what had been said for years by people who should have known:

  • In 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM said: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
  • In 1957 the editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall said: “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
  • And 20 years later, in 1977, the president of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olson, said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

In this and many other things, Barry sees much further than any of us. It is no accident that he is the only Australian to be a Fellow of all four learned academies: the Australian Academy of Science; the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

In 1962, when I was in year 8 at school and Barry was cleaning up all comers on Pick-a-Box, I discovered the writing of James Thurber. In particular, his Fables for our Time and Further Fables for our Time. These were little stories in the style of Aesop’s fables: short, simple stories which generally had small animals as the main protagonists and ended with an explicit moral.

Thurber’s reason for choosing that style was probably the same as Aesop’s: it meant he could write subversive things, but get under the radar of government censors. He wrote during the McCarthy era, when dissident thinking was even more dangerous and unwelcome in America than it is today.

In the last of his fables, Thurber tells of a lemming who, on his way home after a late night, stumbles, hits his head and, dazed, starts running towards the cliff. He accidentally starts a stampede. The other lemmings who follow him toward the cliff are no more certain why they are running than he is. They hurtle over the cliff, some shouting “We are saved” and others shouting “We are lost”.

The moral of the story was: “All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why”.

As a 12-year old I was greatly impressed by that moral. It has stood the test of time: I am still impressed by it, as the most unassailable single sentence of philosophical truth.

Thurber’s question shares a frontier with the question all children ask, as the miles roll tediously by: Are we there yet?

The answer depends on where you trying to go.

For human beings, we discover we are there just as we go over the cliff. At that moment it is a bit late to deal with Thurber’s question.

For Societies, Thurber’s question is just as important, but the cliff is a much more abstract idea. But every Society should ask: Are we there yet? Because asking that question focusses the mind on where we are trying to go.

Barry has a 17 year advantage on me, and his memory is far better stocked than mine. He would certainly have details which would illuminate the present landscape better than I can. But even with my more limited vision, it looks as though Australia has not worked out what it is running from, or to or why.

As a country, we are performing way below our potential. We have never been perfect. No country is. But I am old enough to remember how things were in the 1950s.

Post-war migration to Australia presented some interesting challenges for us.

I remember during the 1950’s hearing people of my parents’ generation talking about the DPs and dagos and wogs who were coming into the country. Old Australians complained that New Australians were too religious, they had too many kids, they didn’t learn English, they didn’t fit in. Their women dressed all in black from head to foot and their food was weird: coffee, with froth on the top. Spaghetti which didn’t come from a tin. And, heaven help us, they ate squid.

They challenged our view of ourselves.

What I did not notice at the time was that, by small degrees, those same people began to adopt some of our ways, and we began to adopt some of theirs. It became smart and fashionable to eat at Italian and Greek restaurants.

The stereotypes of the 1950s faded, and our fear of wogs and dagos evaporated.

One way or another, things seemed to work out fairly well. Bit by bit the White Australia policy was dismantled. In 1967 we overwhelmingly supported a referendum to recognize Aboriginal Australians as part of the human population of the country which we had colonized in 1788.

The Pill and the Swinging Sixties did not spell the end of civilization.

Despite the direst predictions, it turned out that 6 o’clock closing was not essential to the good functioning of Society.

And some time in the 1960s the divide between Catholics and Protestants – something which had broken families in the past – faded away.

In the late 1970s there was another wave of new faces, this time refugees who had fled Vietnam and Cambodia. Fraser persuaded Whitlam that we should let Vietnamese boat people come to Australia. A lot came: about 25,000 a year for a few years. Fraser said we had been part of the problem and we had to be part of the solution.

The problem was brought to us in terrible images and in real time. For the first time in the history of human conflict, we saw events as they unfolded. Previously, we had to wait until the hostilities ended before we got the pictures. We only learned of the concentration camps when allied troops conquered Germany and the world was exposed to the skeletons, living and dead, in Belsen and Auschwitz and Dachau and other places, and suddenly we understood what the Jewish refugees had been running from when we turned our backs on them at the Evian conference in 1938.

But the Vietnam war came to us each night on the TV news. And newspapers showed us the appalling image of a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in 1963; and by another photograph of a police chief blowing a man’s brains out in the street.

Later, a photograph of a naked child running, terrified, from her burning village. And images of vast areas devastated by napalm.

It was to Fraser’s credit that he persuaded Whitlam not to make a fuss about the arrival of refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.

We took another small step forward in 1992, when the High Court departed from centuries of learning and held that Australia had not been terra nullius in 1788: that Aborigines had been here as the owners of the land when white settlers arrived. Rai Gaita illuminated the significance of the Mabo decision when he explained the thinking which had supported the doctrine of terra nullius for so long:

“We love, but they ‘love’; we grieve, but they ‘grieve’; and of course we may be dispossessed, but they are ‘dispossessed’. That is why, as Justice Brennan said, racists are able ‘utterly to disregard’ the sufferings of their victims. If they are to see the evil they do, they must first find it intelligible that their victims had inner lives of the kind which enable the wrongs they suffer to go deep”.

So far, so good. As a Society, Australia had come to grips with a lot of contentious issues. It hadn’t been perfect, but it was not bad. And we knew that the idea of a fair go was in our DNA: it was not just a marketing idea.

But in 1998, something important and fundamental started to shift. Or perhaps that is just when I began to pay attention. By chance I was briefed to act for the Maritime Union of Australia in what turned out to be a fairly contentious case.

Patricks was one of the two big stevedoring operations in Australia. They were caught out training an alternative, non-union workforce in Dubai and never offered a convincing explanation.

Early in 1998, rumours began to circulate that Patricks were about to do something drastic. As the weeks went by, the rumour firmed into a suggestion that Patricks were about to dismiss the entire unionized workforce on the Australian waterfront. Rumours are not evidence and so there was not much to work with. Innocent of any knowledge about the Workplace Relations Act, I asked what would happen if Patricks acted as the rumour suggested.

Those in the team, who were cleverer and better informed than I was, told me that the workforce would be reinstated, because of the provisions of the Workplace Relations Act. I asked innocently if there were any exceptions to that. They said that the only exception was if Patricks were going out of the business of stevedoring. Well, if they were to go out of the business of stevedoring, Patricks would have to sell their assets, so I suggested that we should write to Mr Corrigan asking for an undertaking not to dispose of Patricks’ assets and not to dismiss the workforce. If he did not give the undertaking sought, then his refusal would provide the evidence we needed.

He treated the request dismissively. He did not give the undertaking. We prepared a motion for injunctions, returnable on the Wednesday before Good Friday. The motion simply sought an order restraining Patricks from disposing of its assets or sacking its workforce.

On Wednesday morning, 8th April 1998, Australia woke to headlines saying that the entire workforce of Patrick Stevedores had been dismissed and had been replaced by an alternative, non-unionized workforce. When I arrived in court, Counsel for Patricks told me that administrators had been appointed to Patrick Stevedores. This was a surprising turn of events. My time practising as a commercial junior in the 1970s and 1980s made me think immediately of Bottom of the Harbour schemes. I thought that probably the court would be unimpressed by Patricks acting precipitately and doing the very thing which the court had been asked to restrain.

The Judge granted a holding injunction and directed that the matter should come back for further argument after Easter. Patricks were required to provide us with all relevant documents showing what had gone on. The picture revealed by those documents was truly astounding.

The previous year, in September 1997, the assets of the main stevedoring companies had been sold to new companies and the resulting credit balances were sent upstream to a holding company. The companies which had always employed the workforce – apparently large and successful stevedoring companies – were left with two assets only: their workforce, and contracts to provide the workforce to the new owners of the assets. These labour hire contracts were, in effect, terminable at will by the company with the assets. The employees had no job security whatever and no means of knowing the fact.

The effective result of this arrangement was that the labour hire company could be jettisoned without harming the enterprise. This made it possible to dismiss the entire workforce in a single stroke. On the ground, nothing at all had changed: Patrick Stevedores still had the appearance of prosperity which it had enjoyed for many decades, but it was a mere shell. The workers were hostage to a corporate shadow, and a CEO with secret plan.

The only party bound to gain from this strategy was the company which owned the assets. The only people bound to lose were the employees. As it happened, an obliging Federal Government had agreed in advance to provide the labour hire company with enough cash to pay the accrued entitlements of the employees when the workforce was sacked en masse. Thus the risks associated with the stevedoring venture were transferred to the workers and underwritten by a Government enthusiastic for waterfront reform at any price.

The case ran at an astonishing pace. We resumed argument before Justice North on the 15th April. The argument ran for three days. On the 21st April, Justice North delivered his Judgment and granted injunctions pending trial. At 3 o’clock that afternoon the Full Federal Court convened. They ordered a stay of Justice North’s orders pending appeal.

The Full Court appeal began the next day, 22nd April and ran over to the 23rd April. At 7 o’clock that night the Full Court gave judgment, upholding the order of Justice North. At 10 pm Justice Hayne in the High Court granted a stay of the Full Court’s orders, pending an application for special leave to the High Court.

The following Monday, 27th April, the seven judges of the High Court convened in Canberra and began hearing Patrick Stevedores’ application for special leave to appeal from the Full Federal Court’s orders. The application ran until the afternoon of Thursday, 30th April.

The following Tuesday, 4th May 1998, the High Court delivered judgments upholding the judgment of Justice North. The process of going from Judge at first instance to appeal to a final hearing by 7 judges of the High Court took three weeks. Ordinarily it would take between three and five years.

For me at least it was a shock to learn that any Australian government would conspire to break its own laws in an attempt to break the union movement: it’s not how patrician blue-bloods are meant to behave. But the Coalition government argued all the way to the High Court that it was OK. They lost.

Then things got worse.

Since the Russians had left Afghanistan, the Taliban had escalated their attacks on the Hazara minority. Millions of Hazara fled Afghanistan. A few thousand reached Australia.

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

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

John Howard said the people rescued by Tampa would never set foot in Australia. He said any asylum seeker trying to get protection in Australia would be sent to Nauru: a tiny Pacific Republic with a population of 10,000 people and an area of just 21 square kilometers. He ordered that no humanizing images of the Hazara refugees were to be allowed.

Then September 11 happened. And the Liberal government headed into the 2001 election on the indecent slogan that “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which thy come”. Liberal propaganda called asylum seekers “illegals” and “queue-jumpers” and said that asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea.

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

For the next few years the cruelty and dishonesty continued. Asylum seekers, innocent of any offence, were held in detention for years until they collapsed into hopelessness and despair.

A little girl, ten years old, held in detention in Melbourne, hung herself.

A little boy, eight years old, held in detention in South Australia, slashed his arms with razor wire.

A man who had been in detention for five years cut himself so often he had ten meters of scarring on his body, but the government insisted that the only treatment he needed was solitary confinement and Panadol.

The Liberal government argued all the way to the High Court that a man who had not committed any offence and was not seen as a risk to anyone, who had been refused a visa but could not be removed from Australia because he was stateless, that this man could remain in detention for the rest of his life.

What was shocking was not only that the government won, but that a Liberal government was prepared to make the argument in the first place.

The Immigration Department held Cornelia Rau in detention for more than a year, in wretched, degrading conditions. She was filmed as she was dragged, naked and protesting, from her cell in Baxter detention centre, being manhandled by a group of guards.

Eventually the Department discovered that she had a visa and was entitled, all along, to be in Australia. It paid her a huge sum in compensation for the brutality and humiliation she had suffered.

We deported Vivian Alvarez-Solon from Australia and dumped her in the Philippines. The Department then realised that she was legally entitled to be in Australia: but it ignored that fact and did nothing to correct its mistake for the next two years.

We ignored the fact that David Hicks was being held and tortured in Guantanamo Bay by our allies, the USA. The Americans told him that, even if he was charged and found not guilty, he would not be released from Guantanamo. We knew this.

Hicks was held without charge for five years and the Australian government did nothing to help him. The Howard government eventually interceded on his behalf when public opinion swung in his favour, and Howard saw that there was an advantage to be had from helping him.

Then Kevin Rudd became leader of the Labor party and won government in late 2007. He promised a better, more humane, policy concerning refugees. And he delivered it.

But then Tony Abbott became leader of the party which still called itself Liberal.

He re-started the anti-refugee rhetoric. Rudd responded by attacking people smugglers. He called them “vermin” and the “vilest form of human life”. He seems to have forgotten that his moral hero, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, was also a people smuggler.

The attack on people smugglers was ham-fisted at best, and hypocritical at worst. For a start, it lumped all people smugglers into one irredeemable moral group: they were the “scum of the earth”. When today’s refugees wash up on our shores, Abbott and Morrison speak with concern about the boat people who die in their attempt to get to safety, but their concern is utterly false. Instead of attacking the refugees directly, which is their real purpose, they attack the people smugglers instead.

Because, aren’t people smugglers the worst people imaginable? We overlook the fact that Oskar Schindler was a people smuggler, and so was Gustav Schroeder, captain of the ill-fated MS St Louis which left Hamburg in May 1939 with a cargo of 900 Jews looking for help. He tried every trick in the book to land them somewhere safe, but was pushed away. He ended up putting them ashore again in Antwerp, and more than half of them perished in concentration camps.

We also overlook the fact that, without the help of people smugglers, refugees are left to face persecution or death at the hands of whatever tyranny threatens them.

Many recent boat people are Hazaras from Afghanistan. They are targeted ruthlessly by the Taliban, who are bent on ethnic cleansing. The Hazara population of Afghanistan has halved over the past decade, as Hazaras escape or are killed. The Taliban want to get rid of all of them. We have overlooked, it seems, that we are locked in mortal combat with the Taliban; and that my enemy’s enemy is probably my friend.

For a couple more elections and a couple more fractured administrations, things kept sliding to the right. It is a striking fact that the Labor party’s stance on refugees is well to the right of John Madigan – a DLP Senator.

The Pacific Solution was begun by Howard’s Liberal government in 2001, it was abolished by Rudd’s Labor government in 2008, and it was re-started by Gillard’s Labor government in 2012. In 2013, Rudd topped it with the PNG Arrangement.

Then in 2013 we had an awful election campaign in which Rudd and Abbott competed with each other in their promises to mistreat asylum seekers. It’s tempting to think that if Pauline Hanson had been asked to help Rudd, she might have been concerned that he was too far to the right for her taste.

The Liberal won the election. Australia lost.

The Labor party lost a lot of talent when half its front bench followed Gillard out the door.

The Liberals quickly showed their true colours when we learned that senior members of the new government had been rorting their parliamentary expenses. That was no surprise: but it was interesting to see that the new Attorney-General was involved. Haughty, supercilious, self-righteous George Brandis had elbowed his way to the trough with the best of them.

After all wasn’t Brandis the one who had ferociously attacked Peter Slipper for visiting a winery and charging the taxi ride to the Commonwealth? Brandis went to a friend’s wedding and billed the Commonwealth $1600. When he was found out two years later, Brandis repaid the $1600 but said he had done nothing wrong.

Peter Slipper is still facing criminal charges for much less.

And Tony Abbott has billed the Commonwealth for every fun-run and lycra cycle-fest, not to mention his Tamworth photo opportunity which apparently cost us about ten grand. Over the last couple of years he has had his hands in our pockets for about $3 million.

Just last week, Scott Morrison issued a directive to Immigration Department staff that boat people were to be referred to as “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”. Calling boat people “illegals” is now official Coalition policy, it seems.

It is a lie.

Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott know it is a lie.

But they lie to us deliberately, in order to dehumanize asylum seekers. That way they can mistreat asylum seekers and gain political advantage from doing so.

What is striking about the “illegals” lie is that Abbott and Morrison, and others in Cabinet, claim to be devout Christians.

But with their stealing from us, and lying to us and their claim to Christian belief smells like hypocrisy.

Since very recently, people held in our detention centres are again being addressed by use of their camp number, rather than by name. There are 1700 children in detention – innocent children, jailed indefinitely. Ostensibly for our protection. It is monstrous.

So here’s the problem.

By 1998, we had stopped running from our fear of foreigners and our fear of Communism; we had come to enjoy the idea that the world saw us as part Crocodile Dundee, and part Jack Thompson; part Kath and Kim, and part Edna Everage.

It’s a strange mix, but kind of endearing. It was a good place to be.

Now, we have a hard right-wing Liberal government, led by dishonest, self-seeking hypocrites.

Now, we have a weakened, right wing Labor opposition.

Now, we believe it is good policy to mistreat people who are escaping persecution.

Now, we are a country which is seen overseas as selfish, greedy and cruel and we have no political leadership at all.

We are well into the process of redefining Australia and what it is to be Australian. Most of us have not noticed because, for most of us, life is good. But a surprising number of people have admitted to me that they are ashamed to be Australian.

The sight of the major parties competing in their promises of greater cruelty to boat people was new in Australian politics. We have never been perfect, but this was something without precedent.

It is painful to recognize that we are now a country which would brutalize one group in the hope that other people in distress will choose not to ask us for help.

What are we running from? No one can say.

It’s not hard to see what we might be running to: but why?

The new path we are on has plenty of precedents in history. We know what can happen when governments conspire to break their own laws. We know what can happen when a Society thinks it is acceptable to see one group as less human than the rest, and use that as an excuse to mistreat them. We know what can happen when governments start stealing from the people and lying to them.

We know where those paths lead.

Are we there yet? Not yet. Not quite.

It is not too late to turn back.

Julian Burnside

Domestic and family abuse

An essay by Sarah Ruby

Domestic and family abuse is currently at the forefront of our national discourse, due to the horrifying murder of a Brisbane mother and her three beautiful children, by a man who decided that if they weren’t going to live ‘his way’, they had no right to live.

As a survivor of domestic abuse, I know I was only one of thousands of women around Australia who watched the aftermath of the attack with that sinking feeling in our stomachs, the familiar internal refrain of “that could have been me”- or, for some of us, “that could be me one day”. I certainly never expected to live to see 2020.

There is something frightening, impossible to prevent, and without and end-date happening in communities around Australia. The victims are men, women and children. They are hidden from sight, intimidated into silence, afraid of the consequences if they speak out. I’ve witnessed one such threat personally.

Therefore, with the freedom I have to do so, I believe it is necessary for me to inform the Australian public of this fact- the men, women and children in immigration detention in this country, and their friends and family, are being subjected to domestic abuse. The perpetrator is the Honourable Minister for the Department of Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

Allow me to tell you what I’m watching unfold, from the perceptive of a domestic abuse survivor- men and women who have left situations of domestic abuse can usually, at some point in the future, identify the key elements that define the situation as abusive. In my case, that took years of therapy. Hopefully I can save you that time.

Emotional abuse- being belittled, dehumanised, being told at every turn that what you’re doing is wrong, that you’re a bad person or a bad parent, name-calling.

Financial abuse- having your access to money restricted, not being allowed to work or study, having your spending examined and essential items withheld from you.

Physical abuse- including, but not limited to, assault.

Sexual abuse- including, but not limited to, sexual assault.

Restriction of movement- being told where you’re allowed to go, and when. Having a curfew. Being isolated from family and friends.

Medical abuse and reproductive coercion- not being allowed to keep your medical visits or records private, being denied medical treatment, being denied contraception.

Gaslighting- blaming complaints about the above on your ‘mental health issues’, telling other people you’re unstable or that you’ve harmed your children, in order to isolate you from anyone who might support you.

Let’s examine how these play out in Immigration Detention.

Firstly, it needs to be said- the ‘kids off Nauru’ campaign was successful, but the vast majority of these children are now living in Community Detention.

In both custodial and community detention scenarios, the abuse criteria play out as follows:

Emotional abuse – parents are told by Australian Border Force caseworkers and Immigration staff that they’re ‘bad parents’ for bringing their children to Australia. The children are told that their parents made a mistake in bringing them to Australia, that this will never be their home, and that they have no future here. I witnessed one speaker-phone call with a minor in which an Australian Border Force caseworker told her that if she continued to complain about her unsuitable accommodation (strange men were frequently at the home, on one occasion under the influence, because the owner was allowing it- I physically removed a drunk man from their backyard), ‘the Minister might reconsider his generosity in allowing you to live in the community’. This was a threat to put the child back into Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, and I immediately cut the call.

Financial abuse – nobody in detention is allowed to work. Families in Community Detention rely on food banks and charities in order to survive. When rotting fruit and vegetables are all that can be procured, mothers cut the rotten bits off, and freeze them. Once teenagers turn eighteen, they are no longer allowed to study in any form. Young women whose mothers fled their country of origin so that they can receive a tertiary education are relegated to sitting at home, unable to work or study.

Physical abuse – Beatings from guards in detention are common, and have always been. Beatings from other detainees are a risk, some claim at the behest of the guards. What you won’t know, however, is that refugee children were beaten on Nauru by locals. One boy I know, as a ten year old, was badly beaten by an adult Nauruan man for trying to assist a child half his age who was also being beaten.

Sexual abuse – for some detention guards, sexual assault is a game. They target Muslim men during pat downs, then laugh, knowing homosexual activity is considered ‘haram’; I don’t know a single detained woman who wants to fall pregnant. Everyone identifies as too traumatised to care for a newborn.

An Australian Citizen is being repeatedly hospitalised against her will because her carer, her partner, has been detained. His detention has been officially declared arbitrary (yet in 2019, a man who murdered his wife walked free from Immigration Detention).

Gaslighting: You’ve all seen the claims of ‘asylum seekers being coached to self-harm by advocates’, ‘parents harming their children to come to Australia’. Not a shred of evidence has ever been offered, or found, to support these claims. After two years of searching extensively for proof of these claims from the Government, my only findings are:

children being bullied at school due to the stigma of having been a refugee on Nauru – bullied not only by students, but by teachers, and parents of other children.

I witnessed a speaker-phone call between a caseworker and teenage boy, where the boy was refusing to sleep in his allocated granny flat because the men in the house at the front had repeatedly accosted him, his mother, their friends, and threatened to shoot him – the caseworker told him that he couldn’t sleep in a car because ‘there could be snakes’. My own son is the same age – 16; if I forced him into an unsafe living situation, with an active threat of violence, I would be rightly investigated by Family and Children’s Services.

I wish I didn’t know any of this. I wish I could go all ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and erase what I’ve seen over the past five years. The reality is, I cannot.

We are taught as a society to speak up when we see domestic abuse being perpetrated. As a survivor, I strongly believe this principle must be upheld.

So, Australia, I must inform you: in my opinion, from both lived experience and what I’ve witnessed, the biggest perpetrator of domestic abuse against men, women and children, is your elected Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

What will you do about it?

 

An Alternative to Being Cruel to Refugees

At the time of the Tampa episode in 2001, Australia introduced a system of sending boat people to other countries for processing.  “Offshore processing” does not quite capture what this involves. In fact, boat people who arrive in Australia and seek asylum are forcibly evicted from Australia and have their asylum claims processed in that other country: but it is now made clear to them that those who are found to be refugees will not be resettled in Australia.  That point was made to them in 2013 very forcefully by then-Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, as an illustration of his decidedly un-Christian attitude to people who have fled persecution.

It is significant that the two places which have been chosen for this role are Nauru and Manus Island.  Nauru is a Pacific Island republic.  Its land area is a total of 21 square kilometers (It is smaller than Tullamarine Airport!).  It has a population of 10,000 people.  It does not have an adequate supply of food or water for its own people.  Manus Island is part of Papua New Guinea. It is a small island north of Port Moresby. The area of Manus Island is about 2100 square kilometres; its population is about 55,000 people.  It is mountainous and covered in jungle.

So that the size of these places makes sense, you could fit two instances of Manus Island into the Greater Melbourne area.  Nauru would fit into the Greater Melbourne area about 260 times over.  Conditions in Manus and Nauru are harsh.  Their use was heralded as part of a policy of deterrence, so the harshness is intentional.  The idea of deterrence is that, faced with the choice of facing persecution at home, or the risk of drowning followed by the harshness of Manus or Nauru, would-be asylum seekers will prefer to face the Taliban or the genocidal regime in Sri Lanka rather than head to Australia. It may not be our vision of ourselves that we look nastier than the Taliban, but that is the logic of deterrence.

The Pacific Solution costs us about 5000 million dollars a year. Shut it down once and for all.  Assume the boats will start arriving again (It is far from certain, but assume it).

I do not advocate an open borders policy.  Initial detention for people who arrive without papers is not difficult to justify.  But it should be limited to one month, and should be used for preliminary health and security checks.  After that, release them on interim visas with four crucial conditions:

  • they are allowed to work or study;
  • they are allowed full access to Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
  • they must stay in regular touch with the Department until their refugee status has been determined (for example, they could check in at a Post Office once a week);
  • they are required to live in a specified regional town or city until their refugee status has been determined.

There are plenty of country towns which are slowly shrinking as people leave. The National Farmers Federation estimates that there are 96,000 unfilled jobs in country areas.  It is highly likely that many asylum seekers would get jobs.

How this would work can be tested by making some assumptions.

First: numbers.  The arrival rate of boat people tracks parallel to the global movement of refugees: we aren’t a magnet, we get just a tiny percentage of refugees who are on the move.  The biggest arrival rate of boat people was in 2012, when nearly 25,000 boat people arrived.  (For comparison, the annual migration intake – people who are not refugees but move to Australia – is about 200,000 people per year).

Let us assume that 25,000 boat people arrive in Australia every year, and let us assume that all of them stay on full Centrelink benefits.

These are both highly unlikely assumptions.

It would cost us about $500 million a year.  All that money would be spent in the economies of regional towns. It is not difficult to see the benefits to the economy of regional towns and cities which are slowly losing population to the capitals.  And we would save about 4.5 thousand million tax-payer dollars each year.  And we would

In short, if we could persuade Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton to adopt a truly Christian approach to other human beings, we could be doing good for refugees and for regional Australia, instead of intentionally harming innocent people.

And isn’t Australia supposed to value the idea of a fair go for everyone??

 

An update: this federal election, I’m standing for Parliament

In the past, I’ve said I wasn’t interested in politics. But it’s clear to me that things need to change, and that has motivated me to run for parliament, because of the situation our community, our country and our planet are facing.  In late 2018 the IPCC issued a report which said that we have until 2030 to take serious steps to tackle climate change, or it will be too late.  The idea that we will reach a point of no return is deeply worrying.

I’ve decided to stand for election in Kooyong because I have lived in this electorate my entire life, and I don’t feel like moving.

For years the major parties have allowed people to be misled and ignored when it comes to climate change, to refugee policy, to addressing inequality. They’re driven by self-interest and by the demands of their big corporate donors pulling the strings. People are not being listened to and they are not being respected by the Liberals or Labor.

I’m standing for the Greens because their policies are centred around people: caring about how people are treated, about the opportunities we have throughout our lives, the world we live in and the world we hand on to those who come after us…and they deliver results.

Time and again, we have seen the advocacy of the Greens, in Parliament and in the community, deliver outcomes, lead the political debate and give voice to the people and issues the major parties ignore.

As a Greens candidate and as a Greens MP, I’ll have honest and frank conversations with people about how we have been let down by the Liberals and Labor, and how the Greens’ plans put the well-being of everyone at its centre.

Climate change is the biggest single issue we all face, and it too is about humanity. It’s about our survival, but it’s also about jobs, health, power bills, the liveability of our towns and cities, whether it’s too hot to enjoy our summers, whether our community parks are protected, and whether we have clean air and clean water that doesn’t make us sick.

We need plans to address climate change, to make the transition to renewable energy technology and exports that will ensure workers are not hung out to dry as the world continues to move away from coal. The Greens are the only party talking about how we deliver this.

The current member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, has consistently been in a position to deliver climate change action – as Environment and Energy Minister, as Treasurer, as Deputy Liberal Leader – but he has consistently disappointed us.

When Josh Frydenberg was the Minister for Energy, he championed policies that would have meant more coal, more pollution, higher prices and less renewable energy. He was unable to grasp the opportunities that renewable energy has provided Australia. Meanwhile, his party continues to accept donations from coal and mining giants.

The renewable energy sector has been badly damaged by the instability within the Liberal Party over the past few years. By comparison, the Greens helped established the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Renewable Energy Agency and a price on carbon – they developed a world leading package that was then wrecked by Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party.

Refugees and people seeking asylum is another issue of great importance to me. To their great shame, the Liberals and Labor have used used people seeking our protection from war and conflict and the most appalling abuses of their human rights as a political tool for decades (stretching all the way back to Paul Keating).

Australia is a kind and compassionate country, yet we have been subjected to decades of this corrosive debate, acting as though offering support for people who need it is an intractable problem.

I have acted pro bono in many cases concerning the treatment of refugees. It concerns me greatly that the Liberals have lied about the treatment of refugees for years, and Labor has been too cowardly to call them out on their lies. I will be campaigning to end the major parties’ cruel and internationally condemned offshore detention regime. The Greens values reflect my values. They care about people, and they are the party that consistently stands up for human rights.

In my career, the cases I am proudest of are those where I have worked to protect people or remedy the injustice they’ve faced by attacks from big corporate interests or from cruel and craven government actions.

I’ve defended the rights of workers, of refugees, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, of our environment – against governments and against corporate giants.

That’s the challenge we are all facing right now: big corporate donors dictate terms to politicians who care more about their own jobs, and about looking after their mates, than they do about the people they’re elected to represent. This is the challenge the Greens are ready to take on.

Unlike both major parties, the Greens are a party that, again and again, show leadership, achieve outcomes and champion big ideas when it comes the issues that really matter. This is the only way we’ll deal with challenges as significant as the future of our planet and the most vulnerable people that occupy it. And that’s why I’m running. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

If you would like to support my campaign you can visit: www.greens.org.au/burnside

Write to Federal Politicians: Find Out What They Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ideal letter goes something like this:

“Dear X

I am a voter in [your electorate].

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

Your faithfully…”

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

“Dear X

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

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

Yours faithfully…”

Keep at them.

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

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

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

Here are some sample questions you can ask:

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

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

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

How the World decided to help Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 14 of the UDHR says this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 14 of the UDHR says this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Morrison – Practising hypocrite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are my principles.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why People Flee for Safety

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

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

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

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

These are events no child should ever have to experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But our work is far from finished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Brilliant Cathy Wilcox

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

The Editor ,

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

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

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

But there is so much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frederika E Steen  AM
(address supplied)

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.

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

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… “