A person who is held on Manus – at our expense, as taxpayers (thanks, Peter Dutton) – has written to me a couple of times setting out the hardship refugees on Manus are facing.
Bear in mind, the misery we inflict costs us, the taxpayers, $570,000 per refugee per year. And also bear in mind that New Zealand recently revived its offer to take 150 refugees per year from Manus and Nauru. Dutton made it clear that, although it is a matter for New Zealand and PNG/Nauru to consider, they should be aware of the trade implications! He might just as well have threatened reprisals directly.
This is the same Minister who claims to be a Christian, but he is inflicting misery on people who have not broken any law by trying to escape persecution.
This is the same Minister who dishonestly tells us he is concerned about people drowning at the hands of unscrupulous people-smugglers. He’s so concerned about them drowning that he punishes them if they don’t drown. So far, most of them have been held on Manus or Nauru for the past 4 years.
Peter Dutton is a dishonest hypocrite. He disfigures our nation.
Here is a snapshot of the misery inflicted on human beings by your government:
“Actually I don’t know how to start it because there has been a lot of issues since Australia government brought us in here.
We are all in a bad mental condition as we are here for such a long time and still hope for a better future.
PNG Authorities keep insulting us and use a lot of bad words when they talk to residents, for example, yesterday PNG ICSA and police brought some non refugees from Port moresby to hillside compound and tried to accomodate them and while they were doing their job they started saying that you are not a refugee and you should sleep in the rubbish bin and they said that we won’t have any good future and we should get the hell out of their country because we are non refugee.
You know we are so sick of living like that. When we were in pervious detention we were hoping that after this hell we may go to a nice and safe country but unfortunately they brought us to another camp by force and now they are making road , building new accomodation and they are hiring new security officers. This is really scary for us because we don’t know how long more they want to suffer us in here.
We know that there are a lot of Australians who are happy about what Australia is doing to us in here but please if you can spread my message to them that Australia is using their taxes for nothing in here they are just wasting money in our name and please tell them that we are trying for everything in here but not one thing and that’s coming to Australia.
Hope I didn’t make you upset but this is really true. This is current situation in our camp.”
“About our current situation, we still do not know about our future as Australia put us in this whole shit situation and do not take any responsibility.
We don’t really know what is going on in here but what we know is PNG ICSA is deporting Bangladeshi people to their home country after 5 years which is unfair. For rest of us, we have not been told anything yet but spread the message between us that they want to bring refugees from Nuru to Manus which I believe they are bullying us.
Believe it or not, that take us as hostage in here.
There is something weird going on in here, for example PNG immigration do not provide any visa to Australian security officers to come here for work but not sure for tomorrow.
Another thing is they are slightly decreasing their services. Whatever we request in here they say NKW company is responsible then we talk to NKW staff and they say JDA company is responsible for that and at end they say Australia must look after you not us.
They are passing us to each other however they have contract with ABF and they have been paid a lot of money but these companies I told you do not provide us our necessary things. All of these companies I told you take advantage from our miserable situation.
Since the local take our this place they become so cranky and they are really rude to us. “
I recently received a letter which was directed to all Federal MPs and was copied to a number of refugee organisations.
The subject line is: Taxpayer funded time spent on other people’s lives
It sets out very well how Australia is failing in its treatment of refugees. Here is the letter:
Ltr to MPs 15 Feb 2018
Rico Salcedo, the Regional Protection Officer, UNHCR Canberra, recently spent time on Manus and Nauru to assess conditions. Hisreport makes difficult reading.
If you are an Australian, it is hard to avoid feeling ashamed:
Geneva, 13 February 2018
Update on humanitarian situation of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island
The following is a transcript of the remarks by UNHCR Regional Protection Officer, Rico Salcedo in Canberra – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Rico Salcedo, Regional Protection Officer, UNHCR Canberra
Thank you for the chance to briefly update you on UNHCR observations from our latest mission to Manus Island (Papua New Guinea).
What stood out the most from this mission at the time we were there, was a pervasive and worsening sense of despair among refugees and asylum-seekers. I observed and people shared with us that many are staying in the rooms, not going out, and not meeting and talking with others around them.
Those that you see walking or meet are usually downcast. In our conversations with different people there’s a sense of desolation. People are grasping for hope. They ask many questions that we, as UNHCR, have previously heard and repeatedly raised as well – what will happen to them; when will this end; how long will they have to stay in these conditions? These questions are particularly concerning in the context where current services, as well as future solutions outside of Papua New Guinea, remain insufficient.
While the relocation of refugees to the United States is an ongoing and welcome process, the knowledge that many remain without any resolution is weighing on everyone.
More than 3,000 refugees and asylum-seekers have been forcibly transferred by Australia to the offshore processing facilities since 2013. Currently, more than 500 refugees and asylum seekers are living in three sites in Wards 1 and 2 in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
It was evident again from our last mission and after more than 100 days since the closure of Australia’s so-called Regional Processing Centre, that the need for greater mental health support, emergency medical care and specialised torture and trauma counselling remains critical and unmet.
I spoke with a refugee who shared with me his daily struggles and what he was going through. He told me how he was concerned about some of his friends who are suffering of depression, who were thinking of self-harm and how he tries to be there for them. He also shared how he felt unable to help on some days because he himself could not get the help he needed.
The services provided at the site are predominantly implemented by Australian-contracted providers. The Government of Australia is no longer playing a coordination role on Manus Island. This is in contrast with previous arrangements at the former Regional Processing Centre.
UNHCR staff have observed a consistent and ongoing lack of clarity on the designated roles for specific services amongst contracted providers. This continued confusion makes it hard for refugees and asylum seekers to obtain the necessary services and to understand if they are even provided. This highlights the lack of outreach services to people with mental health concerns. This is particularly important at this point as the most vulnerable aren’t able to seek assistance outside their accommodation sites.
We’ve already emphasised and it remains the case that the local health facility, primarily the Lorengal hospital, has very limited capacity and resources to assist refugees and asylum seekers with serious mental health concerns.
Another observation is the safety of the refugees in the community which remains a major concern. This is noted from the conversations with refugees and community leaders.
In the local community, while no curfew is in place, the police have advised all refugees and asylum-seekers that they should return to their accommodation by 06:00pm each evening to mitigate security risks, and to walk in groups and not alone.
We cannot emphasize enough that solutions must be found for all, outside of Papua New Guinea, as a matter of urgency. Australia remains ultimately responsible, as the state from which these refugees and asylum-seekers have sought international protection, for their welfare and long-term settlement outside of Papua New Guinea.
The Government of Australia should assume a clear coordination role with regard to the service providers it has retained, and adequately monitor and provide services in line with growing and evolving needs.
Clearly, much more needs to be done to bring the circumstances of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island up to a basic minimum standard. These critical steps however, will only be a stop-gap measure until durable solutions are found and made available for them outside of Papua New Guinea.
In 1974 the Parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive…”. But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that norms of conduct which parliamentarians sets for commerce do not apply to them.
Most people expect politicians to lie. But few politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.
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 had earlier exposed his bankrupt version of Christianity when he gave the second Margaret Thatcher Lecture, in London on 27 October 2015. Among other things he said:
“Implicitly or explicitly, the imperative to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” is at the heart of every Western polity. It expresses itself in laws protecting workers, in strong social security safety nets, and in the readiness to take in refugees. It’s what makes us decent and humane countries as well as prosperous ones, but – right now – this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.”
So, a wholesome instinct is sidelined because of its consequences.
In the same speech, Abbott said this:
“…no country or continent can open its borders to all comers without fundamentally weakening itself. This is the risk that the countries of Europe now run through misguided altruism.
On a somewhat smaller scale, Australia has faced the same predicament and overcome it. The first wave of so-called “illegal” arrivals to Australia peaked at 4000 people a year, back in 2001, before the Howard government first stopped the boats: by processing illegal arrivals offshore; by denying them permanent residency; and in a handful of cases, by turning illegal immigrant boats back to Indonesia.
The second wave of “illegal” boat people was running at the rate of 50,000 a year – and rising fast – by July 2013, when the Rudd government belatedly reversed its opposition to offshore processing; and then my government started turning boats around, even using orange lifeboats when people smugglers deliberately scuttled their vessels.”
(Incidentally, in addition to his lie about “illegal boat people”, his figures were false. The Australia Parliament House library shows that the largest number of boat people to come to Australia in a single year was just short of 25,000).
Malcolm Turnbull converted to Roman Catholicism . He has not tried to reinterpret Christ’s teaching, but he has embraced Abbott’s practical lessons in morality by embracing his policy of mistreating refugees.
By contrast, Pope Francis has taken a principled stand on the need for compassion for the plight of asylum seekers said:
“Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in so doing, we open our doors to God, and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself.”
He was referring to a passage in the Bible (Matthew 25), where Christ says:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Sadly, neither Abbott nor Turnbull appear to have listened to the Pope or understood the Bible.
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 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; 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 they 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 Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison 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.
They are dishonest hypocrites.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) sits at The Hague.
We joined the ICC in 2002. Since then, our treatment of people seeking asylum has involved various crimes against humanity.
So far, 5 communiques have been sent to the ICC, inviting it to investigate and prosecute our PMs and Immigration Ministers for crimes against humanity. The one exception is Chris Evans, who behaved very well as Immigration Minister. The rest: appalling.
Offshore processing has just made it worse. The Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Papua New guinea makes it clear that humane treatment was never the point: rather, the point was to end the people smuggling trade by holding refugees in horrible conditions for a long time. For most of them, it’s been 4 years now. MOU-PNG-Aus
To understand how our treatment of refugees amounts to a crime against humanity, here is one of the communiques. Analysis of the legal aspects starts at page 15: Communiqué to ICC
It is worth looking at the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
It sets the frame-work for the humanitarian horrors which are unfolding there.
Bear in mind: the MOU makes it clear that the purpose of the whole exercise is to combat people smugglers by making an example of the people held on Manus. When government Ministers say they are worried about people drowning, don’t believe them: they are using the survivors as hostages.
If they were genuinely worried about people drowning, they would treat the survivors decently, but there’s no trace of that: not in the MOU and not in the way it is playing out: inadequate medical care; refugees had to queue 7 hours today to get fed.
Just for a moment, imagine that the refugees held on Manus are German Jews, late 1930s: is our treatment of them ethically acceptable?
Here’s the MOU: notice there is no promise they will be treated decently.
I have recently read two new books about Australia’s policy in relation to boat people.
They are both excellent, they both contain a lot of facts which need to be understood, and they both deserve to be widely read.
Claire Higgins’ recent book Asylum By Boat, is published by UNSW Press. It is a very good history of boat arrivals since the Fraser years. It paints a remarkable contrast between the resolute generosity of Australia’s treatment of boat people escaping Vietnam and Australia’s current response to boat people. It explains how the policy shifted over time, and how (back in the late 1970s) the government persuaded the public that mistreating asylum seekers was unthinkable.
Tony Ward’s recent book Bridging Troubled Waters is published by Australian Scholarly Publishing. It is an excellent account of Australia and asylum seekers. It is very rich in facts and it has a number of very useful graphs and tables. It is superbly researched. It discusses Australia’s various manoeuvres designed to avoid its humanitarian obligations and (of particular interest) it notes in passing that asylum seekers who arrive by air (with visas for tourism, study etc) have outnumbered boat people in all but one of the past 20 years. And yet “aeroplane people” are not given a hard time, are not vilified and are not detained, even though they are far less likely to be assessed as refugees than “boat people” are.
On Thursday 16 November, Kate Durham will speak at the opening of the Home exhibition at the Walker St Gallery in Dandenong. It includes works by Zia Atahi, Renee Dixson, Mahla Karimian, Pierre Mukeba and Zakiria Tahirian
Kate spoke at the opening of the Dandenong Annual Art Prize in 2015.
Dandenong Annual Arts Prize
Dear Dandenong, Defiant Dandenong, look at you, how you’ve grown. I remember you, but not like this. Dandenong you are like a council of nations. Here in this intricate city is an Ark, as if from the bible, representatives of every breed, clan or culture are assembled here, a gathering has taken place, Moses would be pleased. What did this city know of the bewildering displacement, the loss of art and cultivation, the self-expression or the needs of the people of the world? Or how to welcome their tentative steps towards a cautious resettlement, in an often hostile terrain?
What is the purpose of the shelter, the vessel, the shield you have made here? The purpose is a very human one: to allow people to represent and to reproduce themselves, and their lives; to find passage to future generations, to stretch their allotted time and space on this ground, to leave the sea of turmoil. Like those animals in the Ark, people seek, if not deliverance from a place of evil, then a place to stay, the way a creature needs a habitat.
The people of the well-named Greater Dandenong recognised as an opportunity, other’s need to find a resolution to the search, a nest, a home, a full stop. With them, they also knew those exotic people would bring their freight of ancestry, their knowledge,,, their joke-bags, their grievance and losses, fears and expectations.
Their great enterprise will be to flourish, but also to pass on an indefinable essence, to pass it on, and to pass it on. Like the game Pass The Parcel: here is my gift, it may get smaller, but keep it, please keep it.
I’m picturing Dandenong, twenty years from now. Take yourself there now, on a little mental voyage. You may discover, that for the first time in a long while, white people, and certainly white females like me, even with the price of a ticket, can no longer travel to more than a quarter of the world’s surface, its prohibited or at least risky. White people are astonished, they have been the ones fussing over, visas, tickets and border control . We, no longer rule the world. we start to experience ostracism, mistrust and boundaries, like those immigrants only a generation ago.
The travel Industry, has not shut down, a vast commercial machine like that won’t rest or die, it will simply restrict or invent our horizons in a manner that suits its business model. They are already doing it. Travel is re-focussing, its offering has changed. In the 70’s the idea was to experience otherness, other cultures, other vistas. Nowadays its imperative to experience more about YOU. You, trekking, you on a mountain. you, snorkelling, you chilling on a beach, any beach. You taking a short trip around Europe within the sanitary and speedy confines of an ersatz Las Vegas: Disneyland for grown-ups, time – poor and afraid of anything but the highlights…
Some of you and some of these artists will remain here in Dandenong. Most of you will possess far more than highlights, you will have the fine grain, the memory, the advice of your former politics and parents. You will have a culture that is not thin, not dilute, but strengthened by its hybridity. Dandenong will be well known for its cultural curiosity and learning.
The artists in this show have something in common, mostly their otherness. In the future, artists like Valamanesh will not have such close, direct insight into Islamic Art and its cosmic gaze, but they’ll have this artist to guide them so the past won’t be so misunderstood. I’ve followed this artist for a while, admiring his cool austerity and wit.
I also know and have desired artworks by Guan Wei, also witty, with an out-sider’s idiosyncratic eye in relation to Australia.
Rhubaba Haider’s work spoke immediately to me of her feminine Hazara heritage. She has morphed that knowledge into something strong yet fragile and contemporary, and philosophical. Whilst retaining a great deal of typical Hazara woman’s discipline and personal restraint.
Khaled Sabsabi”s work turns like a Dervish on Sufi themes, that strange metaphysical branch of Islam which is becoming endangered. Thank you Khaled for preserving it.
Gosia Wlodarczak’s unsettled lines following and chasing life, restless and unfixable, charting her relationship to objects. She makes a cartographic record over time and space.
Kosar Majani’s work is highly symbolic and resonant. It speaks of unrelenting rituals and repetitions that we’ve never known or encountered, in our young country.
20 years from now we may find ourselves grateful that Greater Dandenong ignored the ”Team Australia“ slogans of some of the worst leadership known in this country. That Prime Minister tried to frighten us about the living and cultural aspirations of others, demanding to know whose side we were on, challenging us to mistrust foreigners or the unfamiliar.
Fortunately we barely remember that Prime Minister, he left no relics or artefacts. Unlike these artists who have joined us in a gathering just like this to fill this once slight and shallow space with all our lives, heredity, children, art, adventures and exploration on the vast subject of US and WE. Not THEM or THEY.
Thank you Dandenong, dear Dandenong: you are the Ark. Pass it on, pass it on.
The refugees on Manus have written a letter to some of the leaders of the free world (I have corrected a few spelling mistakes):
To the Honourable: President Donald Trump,
Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Justin Trudeau and also humanitarian people of those countries
We, refugees and asylum seekers in Manus Island detention, are writing to you to explain our terrible condition and also our request. The condition in here is out of humanity. Australian government cut food , water and electricity for 5 days. They also cut toilets and everything for around one month. There is no medical clinic in here if something happened for us. We are refugees or asylum seekers and we are not criminals. Even criminal have the right for food and water. This type of torturing is new and Australian government have been torturing us in many ways for more than 4 years. Crime against humanity have been exactly happening in here. To sum up, President Trump, our processing for the USA is running. We want you to please notice some genuine refugees have detained in here. We have no any other choices except for remaining in here. We also ask from Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Justin Trudeau to help us. We are skilled or educated from University. We can participate in the way that your countries are heading.
Please help us as much you can. We are in critical condition right now.
We are looking forward to hearing from you.
Detainees in Manus Island
5th of November 2017
– All humanitarian people all over the world.
An open letter to the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Join in: to sign the letter, email here, to show your support
6 November 2017
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister Private Bag 18888 Parliament Buildings Wellington 6160 New Zealand
Dear Prime Minister
Warm congratulations on your election as New Zealand’s new Prime Minister.
We are writing to call upon the New Zealand Government to intervene in the entirely preventable humanitarian disaster unfolding on Manus Island.
We applaud your Government for renewing New Zealand’s previous offer to resettle 150 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. We are aware that on Sunday the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, refused your renewed offer at this stage. This is not acceptable. The men who have languished in Papua New Guinea for over four years need urgent access to a durable solution.
We urge you to actively pursue negotiations with the Papua New Guinean Government and the UNHCR Regional Representative to resettle as many of the men from Manus Island as soon as possible.
We acknowledge, with regret, the unfortunate necessity of writing to you to request that New Zealand step in to resolve this crisis when it is so clearly an Australian responsibility. We believe, however, that the moral leadership New Zealand can take on this issue will increase the pressure on the Australian Government to work with resettlement countries to resolve the current crisis. We will do all in our power to assist you.
In the spirit of international cooperation and humanity, thank you for considering this letter.
Paul Barratt AO Former Secretary, Department of Defence
Dr Margaret Beavis MBBS FRACGP MPH Immediate Past President, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
Dr Alison Broinowski Writer and former Australian diplomat
Scott Cosgriff Chair, National Committee, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
John Falzon (TBC) CEO, National Council, St Vincent de Paul Society
Andrew Farran International lawyer
Michael Hamel-Green Emeritus Professor, Victoria University Melbourne
Marion Le AM Registered Migration Agent; specialist in International Law and Refugee Resettlement
Rebecca Minty Human Rights lawyer
Kellie Tranter Lawyer and human rights activist
Dr Sue Wareham OAM President, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
Matthew Zagor Associate Professor, Director of Law Reform and Social Justice, ANU College of Law
Julian Burnside AO QC Barrister
Doctors For Refugees have written a very well-considered letter to Federal MPs, concerning the crisis on Manus. It captures the problem very well:
Immediate action required to prevent humanitarian catastrophe on Manus Island
As you know, a major humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding on Manus Island. Six hundred male refugees and asylum seekers are occupying the former Regional Processing Centre (RPC). Outside sits the PNG Defence Force, which is preventing food supplies, purchased by well-wishers, from entering the facility. The men have been told to move to three locations in or near the regional capital, East Lorengau. Two of these are not ready for habitation. All three are insecure and these men have legitimate fears for their own safety. PNG locals have demonstrated their opposition to the move to the town in the last week with a vocal protest outside the centre and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Police Commissioner, Gari Baki, stated in a media release in late October 2017 that the safety of refugees is ‘not to be taken for granted given the tensions that are being expressed by the locals on Manus Island’. Paradoxically, the former RPC, with no access to food, clean water, sanitation, electricity or adequate medical care is currently the ‘safest’ place for these men to be.
However, the former RPC is not safe. These men have now been without access to the fundamentals necessary for life for over six days. In PNG’s tropical climate we must expect that serious consequences will start to occur this week. We can expect severe skin and respiratory infections, dysentery, malaria and other illnesses to start to take hold. If no action is taken immediately to alleviate this situation, we can expect deaths to start occurring very soon.
On the evening of 4th November 2017 a man with a suspected heart attack in the former RPC sought assistance in Lorengau Hospital. This man was discharged from the facility without having an ECG or blood tests and returned to the former RPC. Thirty six hours later these essential investigations still had not been performed. With this level of medical support, it seems there is little hope for any refugee who becomes seriously unwell on Manus Island, whether they are in the former RPC or relocated to East Lorengau.
If the situation deteriorates further and the PNG Defence Force decides to clear the centre then there is a risk of many deaths through violent action. This is a military force which has demonstrated tremendous antipathy to the refugees, which fired indiscriminately into the RPC causing multiple injuries earlier this year and which has no training in crowd control.
This situation is a direct consequence of the Australian government’s arbitrary, indefinite incarceration of hundreds of innocent men in a hostile environment on a remote island in a poor country, unequipped in all respects to look after them. It must finally take adequate responsibility for the welfare of these men. The duplicity of the Australian government in this matter is eye-watering. On the one hand, the representations of Doctors for Refugees and others about the welfare of these men are referred on by the Australian government as ‘a matter for the PNG government’. On the other hand, we hear that Prime Minister Turnbull has once again turned down the New Zealand government’s offer to shelter some of these men. If the Australian government can dictate what happens to them then it is evidently responsible for their welfare and in fact PNG Immigration Minister, Petrus Thomas, explicitly stated last week that Australia will remain responsible for the welfare of these men when the Australian-funded centre closes. All pretence to the contrary must now stop.
Amnesty International and the UNHCR have been condemning the detention and conditions of these men for years and this was first termed a situation amounting to torture over two years ago. Today, things are exponentially worse and we reiterate: we are heading for many deaths in the coming days and weeks unless urgent action is taken by Australia. Action to alleviate these men’s situation needs to be taken today to prevent deaths. As a start, they need food and water today.
You, as an Australian parliamentarian, must realise that at stake are these men’s lives and Australia’s international reputation as a Western democratic nation and that only you hold the power to influence the situation. Whether by your action or inaction to date it is you who is directly responsible for what is happening. If you do not act now, by speaking, lobbying and voting appropriately then whatever happens to these men will be on your conscience.
For the sake of humanity and compassion we urge you to act immediately. The world is watching you.
Dr David Berger, Executive Committee Member
Dr Barri Phatarfod, President
Dr Paddy McLisky, Secretary
Dr Igal Augarten, Treasurer
Doctors for Refugees
 HLRC 27th August 2017
 PNG Constabulary Media Release October 2017
 ABC 17th April 2017
 ABC 5th November 2017
 Reuters 30th October 2017
 Guardian 9th March 2015
This touching, truthful message is from a refugee suffering on Manus.
How can we be so miserable to a tiny group of people? Our politicians have persuaded us to forget the most basic thing: These people are human beings – they need our help.
I don’t normally pass on messages from politicians, but this one from Adam Bandt is an exception:
As we bear witness to the horror that is unfolding on Manus, we cannot be bystanders.
If we are silent, we are complicit. If we turn away, we are complicit. We cannot ignore the atrocities committed by Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull in our name. These callous men must know that there is fierce, widespread opposition to their barbaric regime. As this crisis deepens, the most important time to stand up is now. Will you join me at an emergency rally tomorrow in Melbourne, calling for the immediate evacuation of the men stuck on Manus?
WHAT: Emergency Rally for the Men on Manus Island
WHERE: State Library of Victoria
WHEN: Tomorrow, 4th of November
This week, I am ashamed to be Australian. The hypocrisy that Australia can be on the UN Human Rights council whilst at the same time willfully disregarding the human rights of the men on Manus is disgraceful. That this is happening under our watch shakes me to my core.
It is inconceivable that our Prime Minister can wield the power of the state to inflict torture on innocent people, cutting off food, water and electricity for 600 people under our care. We must stand against him. Join me tomorrow as we occupy the streets of Melbourne’s CBD to send a message the government can’t ignore.
A national tragedy is happening before our eyes. It is disturbing that the Labor party, who started the Manus camp and put people there, are working with the Liberals to deflect attention away from this crisis.
Our major parties are knowingly, and in full view of the international community, attempting to destroy the lives of innocent human beings that need our help. Tell them that this is unacceptable.
Julian, when we look back on this time in Australian history, we will be deeply ashamed. Make sure you are on the right side of history. Make sure that when the next generation asks you what you did when this was happening, you can answer them with pride.
Stand with me tomorrow at the emergency rally in the city. Be counted.
P.S Can’t make it tomorrow? Forward this email to five friends and ask them to stand with you.
Here is a Facebook message from Behrouz Boochani, posted about 4 hours ago:
The situation is getting worse in Manus prison camp. The bodies are getting weak and people are developing physical problems. The refugees collected some more water in rubbish bins from a big tropical rain storm yesterday, and they are also using water from a hole that they dug in Oscar coupound. This water is not clean enough for people to drink, but they are boiling it on a small fire so it can be used. Another important thing is that people are struggling with starvation, and at the same time don’t feel safe in the centre or safe enough to go out because of their previous bad experiences. Many people are unable to sleep because of hunger and fear. Yesterday a Manus missionary wanted to bring food in to the refugees but the Navy prevented them. It’s really hard to describe the difficulty of the current situation. Nonetheless, what I’m understanding from talking with people is that they are not going to leave the prison camp. Also it’s important to state they are saying they don’t want to go to Australia. They are asking that Australia lets them go to a third country. They are so tired from Australia and don’t want to hear any more from Australia.
Hey: Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton how are your Christian values looking?
The situation on Manus is a humanitarian disaster, entirely Australia’s fault. Here is a message from one of the refugees on Manus, received this afternoon:
“EXTERMINATION OF REFUGEES IN MRPC IS UNDER WAY ACCORDING TO THE PLAN.
People are starving and hunger and thirst is everywhere in camp. Locals and churches are trying their best to provide food and water in the camp for the starving people. People have no electricity so when they tried to get help from the nearby home and a kind woman wanted to help with charging phones, a huge contingent of Navy and police arrived to arrest the woman and confiscate the phone sets. She was continuously weeping and crying over the situation happening with these helpless people. She still vows to help us through every possible help according to her capacity. Everyone is barred from outside to provide some Humanitarian needs, but in vain. Even it is not possible to take some stuff stealthily with the help of locals living around, even locals tried to help us with their meagre resources but in vain. A Humanitarian crisis is looming sooner or later if no help get in from the outside world. They are adamant to close the so called RPC through force and starvation. No sewage system is working anymore and filth will cause the epidemic of dysentery pretty much soon. We appeal to the outside world to assert every possible pressure on the authorities concerned to allow some help inside the camp for relief.” (emphasis added)
This disgrace is the direct responsibility of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. They are both engaged in a policy which is criminal, but they are too puffed up with their own importance to notice that the civilized world holds them in contempt.
And let’s not forget all the Coalition members of Federal parliament who go along with this brutal policy.
And don’t let Labor off the hook: The Australian Labor Party should reverse its refugee policy and embrace something with a shred of decency. Instead, it is playing along with Coalition policy. A policy which is causing untold human misery, and at vast expense to the taxpayer: offshore processing is costing Australia about $3,000,000,000 per year: that’s 3 billion dollars a year. A competent Treasurer would ordinarily blow the whistle on that sort of financial insanity, but Scott Morrison was refugee-torturer-in-chief until he became Treasurer.
Turnbull, Dutton and Morrison claim to be Christians. What they are doing gives the lie to their supposed Christianity.
There is a person who emails me quite lot. He represents the very worst of the Australian community.
He started with these suggestions:
- banning all Muslims from Australia
- supporting Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump
- putting all Australian Muslims in Concentration Camps
- strafing Muslim boat people (for the millennials, strafing means machine gunning)
Recently I got another email from him, in which he said that the Rohingyan Muslims who are facing genocide in Myanmar are simply being punished for 9/11.
That prompted me to ask him a couple of questions. My questions, and his answers, are as follows (prepare to be shocked):
Q:How many of the thousands of Muslims being killed in Myanmar were involved, directly or indirectly, in 9/11?
A: All the Muslims receiving divine retribution in Myanmar were indirectly involved in 9/11. Anyone who believes that non-Muslims should be killed, especially if they are Jews or homosexuals and who give credence to the evil ideology of Islam are collectively guilty.
It gets worse. Last week he wrote “The greatest mistake of the 20th Century? – the alliance with Stalin to defeat Hitler instead of an alliance with Herr Hitler to defeat Stalin”
I agree that Stalin was terrible, but wishing we had formed an alliance with Hitler…? And this was in an email with the subject line: “This would never of happened under the 1000 year Reich” (I won’t even bother pointing out that he seems only semi-literate).
And today, he quotes a suggestion that Andrew Hastie should be PM, and comments “There may be a better option than Pauline Hanson…Someone who has actually killed Muslims …”
Why do I feel a need to have a shower after receiving his toxic emails? Maybe I should identify the name he uses in his emails. But no: that might just encourage him.
I have received the following report from Manus, just a couple of days ago. As you read it, remember this is YOUR government, spending YOUR taxes, doing things to innocent human beings that would horrify most Australians.
The Australian Government is trying coerce the 600 or so inmates of the Manus Regional Processing Centre (RPC) to leave the Centre.
It is doing this by slowly reducing services to the Centre, each one either more extreme or each one resulting in a more extreme environment for the men in the Centre.
For example, in the most recent examples the Centre management reduced medical services on Monday and this morning has reduced the access of men to the town, allowing only a maximum of 30 per day to visit the town using the Centre provided transport. Before that hourly buses were available to transport up to 150 men to town daily.
The Centre is located within a PNGDF naval base 30 mins drive from the main town of Lorengau.
Our Government wants the men to leave the Centre by 31 Oct, when it will close.
Our Government has paid to establish three new centres in the town to house the men.
Significantly, while Australian Immigration officials and officers have a very important role in the management of the RPC, Australia will have no such role in the new centres.
I have been told that all Australian ABF and APS will return to Australia shortly after 31 Oct.
As detention of the men in MPC has been declared illegal by the PNG High Court, the men, when housed in these new centres, will be free to move around the town as they please.
Lorengau is a small town of around 7000 people with many people living in poverty and with no knowledge of the culture of these men who are from many countries which they know little about.
So it is not surprising that a significant portion of the Lorengau population is opposed to this move.
They are also upset that they only found out about the details of this plan on Sun 8 Oct.
They were told in public announcements by a PNG Immigration Officer after church services in the town.
My wife and I witnessed the meeting outside the Catholic Church on that day.
The opposition to this move is universal in the community of Ward 1, one of seven or eight wards or districts of the town, where one of the centres is being built, and where I am staying. I was invited by the ward councillor to attend a meeting on Monday which I did.
But, for some of my Australian readers, it may be surprising that after four and half years in detention in RPC none of the men there want to leave the camp to live in the town under the conditions proposed. The want to leave, but only to go to a safe place where they can begin to re-build their lives.
Again, for some it may be surprising that after a similar period of advocacy for their freedom, many refugee advocates, including me, agree that they will be worse off in town than they were in RPC before the services started being cut at the Centre several months ago.
In short, the‘cure’ … is worse than the ‘disease’ itself.
The primary concern of both the men and the community is that after 31 Oct Australia will abandon the men in PNG. Certainly the US settlement will continue, albeit with numbers and time frames unknown, but otherwise the Australian Government is taking no further responsibility for the men.
We already know hundreds of them cannot or will not be accepted by the US, with their only choices being:
• remain permanently and involuntarily exiled in PNG, a country that cannot support them safely and where the community does not want them; or
• return to the country from which they fled in fear for their lives. The refugee assessment process, (in declaring them to be refugees) has found that the vast majority of those remaining have both:
– been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war, or violence, and
– (still) have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group (if they return to their country).
Both these two dot points, of course, match the UN endorsed definition of a refugee.
[I note as an aside that some politicians in Australia have taken to using the term ‘economic refugee’ to describe these people. This is not a legitimate term. People are either refugees according the above definition or they are not. Economic issues are not considered in assessing refugee status – both rich and poor people have equal right to protection under the Refugee Convention.
People who leave their country purely for economic reasons are not refugees but are economic migrants.
To clarify this further. Under the UN convention signed by Australia, any person leaving their country and arriving in a country which is a signatory to the convention has the right to seek asylum by applying for refugee status in that country. If a person leaving their country for economic reasons seeks asylum in a signatory country, that signatory country (Australia in this case) must still assess the refugee status of that person and if found not to be a refugee and this determination is so considered by an appropriate and fair review process, only then can that person be treated as a migrant and then will be subject to consideration of deportation to their country of origin if it is safe to do so and if the country will accept a deportee. Some countries such as Iran will not accept the return of their citizens unless they return voluntarily.]
But now back to the other concerns.
The second major concern of the men is that their medical and health services will be reduced under the new arrangements. In the latest stage of the coercive action taken at the RPC, that level of service was imposed on them on Monday and today so we already know how bad that will be.
As an example, from now on they have no access to torture and trauma counsellors, a key need for the hundreds of men with psychiatric disorders resulting from torture and trauma and for all of the men, all whom now have some degree of long term depression. This service was available to all the men up until last week. and I met one of these critical people looking very distressed to be at the end of their appointment, knowing that they would not be replaced.
Also, as the medical service winds down, the men with current prescriptions have been given a month’s worth of their medication. However, for any new prescriptions and for ad hoc requirements even such as Panadol, it is unclear what the situation in RPC actually is at the moment.
What we do know is that the men already in East Lorengau have to get their medicines in town. Only some of the medicines are free in town at the Hospital dispensary. If it has no stock or the drug is not on the catalogue of free medicines, the men have to buy it at the local pharmacy. These men get only 100 kina (around $40) per week to live on, plus limited food. Medicines that they have to buy vary between 20 and 60 kina. All of the men will be subject to these arrangements if and when they move into the centres in town.
What I have not yet confirmed is what is happening to the men in RPC from now until the closure of the camp. The pharmacy in the camp that has previously serviced most of the refugees needs has been closed, and their informal access to a one off issue of two Panadol from the security gate for the relief of immediate pain has been terminated. However I understand there is still a pharmacy in the still open medical centre that also services Centre staff. But I do not know if that second pharmacy is open or not, and if it is, is it available to supply medicines free of charge to the men who have no income from the Centre, meaning many of them have no money at all.
My fear is that, if the answer to either of these questions is no, then those men with no money who suffer anything (from a simple headache to a serious new medical condition needing drug treatment) will have to come into town. And if the Hospital dispensary has no stock, or the drug is not on the catalogue of free medicines, the men will not be able to get the drugs at the pharmacy because they have no money. And since only 30 people a day can travel to town on free Centre transport, they will have significant difficulty in getting to and from town anyway. I am told that there is limited public transport from the PNGDF base into town, but this costs money and is so of no use to men with little or no money.
The local community is also concerned about this medical situation.
These new arrangements will put a drain on the already very limited resources of Manus. I visited the Hospital dispensary and the pharmacy yesterday to check this out. I spoke to the staff at the dispensary and they told me that the Manus dispensary now only gets a re-supply of medicines every four to six weeks, with the irregular arrival of commercial boats from Lae. Three years ago they used to have a weekly boat service to Manus and then medicines were delivered weekly. The shipping company went broke.
More importantly the staff at the dispensary had not be told that in a month’s time many hundreds of men whose prescriptions have run out are likely to turn up there to seek additional medicine.
They said they would inform their boss. But it could be all a little academic. Even if they knew what medicines were required and they could find out in a few days, the order could not be delivered for at least another four weeks at the earliest, by which time the men could be on their doorstep.
The third big issue is security.
A small number of men (around fifty I think) have already moved to one of the new camps in East Lorengau which has been open for at least a year.
There have been six deaths out of the 1000 or so refugees and asylum seekers originally on Manus, now reduced to 600 in the last four and a half years.
The two most recent of those deaths, both suicide, have been residents of the much smaller population in town in East Lorengau and they have occurred in the last two months!
The men rightly believe that they are being asked to reside in a death trap.
As a result all the men now in RPC are refusing to leave RPC as it is closed down and demolished around them. They also intend staying there until Australia has carried out its threat to close the Centre 31 Oct, whether full or empty. and whether or not all Australian officials and officers have departed in early November At this point, Australia will accept no responsibility for the welfare of the men. whether they have moved into town or whether they remain at the derelict MPC site with no access to water, health services, food, power, communications, shelter or transport. The men have also given no indication if or when they will leave that derelict site after that date. Indications are that they may intend to seek to stay there indefinitely.
On a personal note, for eighteen months my group has taken specific responsibility to support 23 men on Manus. As of today one has been deported, one living in East Lorengau committed suicide two weeks ago and the other resident of East Lorengau is living at a hotel with … two of his refugee friends. He is mentally unstable and on daily medication. He was the room mate of the man who committed suicide. The Sunday before I arrived he had a serious psychotic incident in town in which he had to be restrained by three of his friends assisted by my colleague J, who was in Manus at that time. On that day despite numerous efforts, they were unable to find any one at the hospital, the East Lorengau centre or anywhere on Manus to help him. They eventually returned to J’s hotel (the same one I am now staying in) and he has been here ever since, initially under the care of his friends and J. I have replaced J in that role as she has returned to Australia.
Since then I have been negotiating with the authorities to find a safe place for my sick friend to stay. Their only offer is for him to return to East Lorengau where he has no friends and where he witnessed his roommate’s first suicide attempt, before being moved to the hospital for treatment where he subsequently committed suicide. Furthermore none of his friends at RPC are allowed to visit East Lorengau. My sick friend is prepared to go back to RPC and stay with his friends and leave when they leave. The authorities have so far refused this request as they are trying to get everyone else out of RPC. The only other suggestion from the authorities is that his friends now move permanently to East Lorengau, leaving RPC, as Australia is trying unsuccessfully to get them to do. And of course his friends are not prepared to move there permanently for the three reasons outlined in this background, but particularly because, of the two members of their community who have moved to East Lorengau, one is now dead and the other has been made seriously mentally ill.
Negotiations and advocacy continue to protect my friends. I am not leaving Manus until late October, when another Australian colleague will have arrived to take over from me.
Here is a message I received this morning from a lady who is deeply concerned for the refugees held on Manus. I have modified it slightly. Please read it and ask yourself: is this really what Australia does to people fleeing persecution? People who have committed no offence?
Halloween is Festival of the Dead, This year, it is also the literal deadline for the Manus men still at Lombrun RPC.
On that date they are to be forced out of the compounds that have housed them for 4 years and into Lorengau.
For many this feels like an actual date with death.
They fear that PNG locals will fight them violently for every job or resource available and that, instead of liberation, their lives will become even more desperate.
Their fears have some foundation. Machete attacks and thefts have occurred during day trips on the island.
Men at Lorengau Transit Centre have gone mad and then died.
The kindness of some Manusians does not completely offset the fact that PNG is still a very harsh, struggling country. There has been envy and anger towards strangers who have been warehoused by Australia and who have no tribal allegiances.
Australia’s exercise in colonialism ended abruptly 40 years ago. This latest failed exercise in offshore detention has managed to signal to the world that we left PNG in chaos, one of the least safe travel destinations in the world.
The irony of men wanting a safe form of freedom being herded out the gates of RPC by force is acute.
There is no freedom to thrive waiting for them on November 1, 2017.
They see the trap. Moreover, their main strength has been their solidarity. Dispersal means disunity.
What the men have achieved together through fellowship, collective action and mutual compassion is also under attack.
On paper they have been given thorough medical discharges and records. In reality they get a bunch of untranslated words they don’t understand and a month’s supply of medication but little else.
These are medicines they would generally not have needed if in community detention in Australia. Tropical ulcers, antidepressants, sedatives would have been less necessary if they had been free to work. The risk of overdose is high and Manus hospital is not resourced to help.
Refugee allies in Australia might dream of protecting them in refuges or running a hospital ship. Doubtless they would feel the need to help locals, too.
The reality is that sustaining refugee hostages of the past 4 years is beyond the resources of most community activists. They have done a great deal to support the men across that time. And perhaps also to delude them that wholesale rescue was still possible.
Some lawyers have worked hard for the release of individual refugees. Deals were done with Border Force to conceal each release from publicity. The image of a boat blockade remains roughly intact.
The truth is that some boat arrivals have been admitted to Australia and others have not. The arbitrariness of the process is shocking.
So the Halloween deadline seems ominous in more ways than one.
Activists have strong bonds with these 700 men. They fundraised for phones, shoes and bath towels. They have counselled them through sleepless tropical nights and reached out to the families left behind.
As with the Rohingyans, it is perfectly clear that taking a plane back home is equally perilous. Some of the homesick have gone. They felt they could not leave their families unprotected in poverty for any longer.
Survival rates of those refouled is less clear. Some have found ways to cope.
The experience of those refugees transferred to America last month is another paradox. These men took planes, were given accommodation and a chance to find jobs. They feel “lucky”.
American gun violence, racism and poverty seems benign by comparison with the issues faced by PNG.
So the few handpicked, highly educated men perhaps not destroyed by the uncertainties of detention who were airlifted from Manus by America get a chance at life.
Hundreds more do not. And children remain trapped on Nauru: a small pile of rocks with machetes.
Then we have the plight of mainland refugees.
What is already dead is the compassion of Australia’s right wing conservatives and white supremacists.
They have spent a fortune to make an example of boat arrivals. Food, mouldy shipping containers or tents and guards have cost Australian taxpayers a great deal.
Breaking the smuggling trade has also resulted in waste of life.
My friend xx arrived on Manus after the Taliban came for him. A month earlier his father had received the Taliban’s death knock and did not survive. The family business was in repairing and reselling foreign vehicles. This was enough to incense fundamentalists. His mother and brothers have been cowering around the borders of Afghanistan ever since. His mum became catatonically depressed and eventually received treatment in a major city. The great fear was that the younger brother would be recruited by extremists. AR, a talented mechanic fluent in English, has used the 4 years to complete some online learning. He has also become atheist, deeply depressed and addicted to cigarettes. I helped with phones and call credit.
The family had earlier tried to send xx to Japan to escape all this on a trade visa. He was refused. Then they tried a boat from Indonesia.
Will xx find a way into PNG life? Will he be safe in PNG?
Australia is throwing away a stoic, resilient and talented future citizen.
Recently I received a letter from refugees held on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
It is signed by nearly 200 refugees, who have been held in hellish conditions on Manus for the past four years. For obvious reasons, I have not reproduced the signatures.
The letter makes grim reading, but all Australians should know about it.
Here is the letter: Letter_DrR
On Sunday 15 October 2017, the Wheeler Centre put on a day of ideas at Melbourne Town Hall. The first session was called Questions for the Nation.
Here’s my contribution:
“Is democracy still working?”
Donald Trump is President of the USA.
Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister of Australia, and the alternative PM is Bill Shorten.
This is what democracy has thrown up. Whatever happened to the idea of leadership?
Donald Trump was democratically elected. Leaving aside the complexities of the Electoral College system, it seems he was elected in accordance with the democratic principles of the United States of America.
Since his election, Trump has been an embarrassing failure.
He denies the science of climate change. As a candidate he vowed to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form,”. His first budget cut the EPA’s budget by more than 30%.
Trump is famous for his use of Twitter. As long ago as 2012, he tweeted:
“The concept of global warming was invented by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”
Meantime, in the real world the past 10 weeks have seen10 tropical storms become hurricanes: Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate and Ophelia.
The strength and ferocity of a hurricane is a function of the ocean temperature: as ocean temperatures rise, so hurricanes become more destructive. There is no doubt that hurricanes will be more destructive as the oceans warm.
In the past couple of months, Texas, Florida and various Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico have suffered immense damage because of hurricanes.
The people who live on Puerto Rico are American citizens. They have been without electricity and fresh water for nearly two weeks, because of Hurricane Maria. Last week, Trump got around to visiting Puerto Rico.
He spent four hours there. He visited a wealthy suburb of San Juan called Guaymabo, which had suffered very little damage. He said he “had fun” in Puerto Rico. He might not have said that if he had visited the rest of the island, where people are still dying for want of the most basic supplies which FEMA is planning to provide once all the paperwork is done.
In Washington, Trump has not achieved any legislative success. He has not delivered on any of his electoral promises.
This is due in large measure to Trump’s shameless capacity to deny facts. So he tags as “Fake News” anything that does not sit with his world view.
Malcolm Turnbull is a very intelligent man, and likeable. When he replaced Tony Abbott as PM, most Australians breathed a sigh of relief.
If he had had the political nous to go to the polls straight away, he would probably have won a substantial majority. He would have been able to hose out the hard-right.
But instead of going to the polls straight away, he dithered until his political instincts were shown to be missing in action. And now he is hostage to the hard right, with Tony Abbott sniping at him from the back bench, and Pauline Hanson calling the shots in the Senate.
The big change in the way democracies work happened 20 or 30 years ago: the science and technology of opinion polls developed dramatically. It is now possible to get an apparently accurate, representative measure of public attitudes easily and cheaply (it does not have to cost $122 million).
As this technology developed, political parties saw a way of shaping their policies so as to suit a perceived majority of the electorate. It is an interesting irony that this technology could have been, but has not been, used to find the nation’s views on marriage equality. If it had been used, the result would be more reliable statistically and would have cost thousands rather than millions of dollars. But that’s what the government does when it does not intend to be bound by the result but rather intends to leave plenty of room for the hard right to vote against same sex marriage.
In recent years, the government has been brutalising asylum seekers in ways that would appal most Australians. It has been costing us a fortune: it costs Australian taxpayers about $560,000 per refugee per year to lock them up in hellish conditions in Nauru and Manus. And the government makes it nearly impossible for us to find out what is going on. Journalists simply can’t get to Nauru. It costs $8000 for a journalist to apply for a Nauru visa. The fee is not refunded if the application is refused. The application is refused for any journalist who does not share the government’s ideology.
The public has been persuaded to accept all this by dishonest political rhetoric:
- the Coalition call boat people “illegal”. It’s a lie
- the Coalition call the exercise “border protection”, suggesting that we need to be protected from boat people. It’s a lie.
- the Coalition says the offshore processing regime is the responsibility of PNG and Nauru. It’s a lie.
- the Coalition prevent us from learning the truth about the cruelty with which innocent men, women and children are being treated. It’s a disgrace
And the same politicians who have lied to us for years about refugees have thrown $122 million at a postal plebiscite to find our views on marriage equality: a subject on which Australian views are already very clearly known. And they don’t intend to do what we want.
That’s where democracy has got us: Malcolm Turnbull panders to a party that has Pauline Hanson as its leader and (for the time being at least) Malcolm Roberts as a successful Senate candidate.
And what better can we hope for? Bill Shorten? He’s a very nice guy personally; he is intelligent and thoughtful. But he leads a party which reintroduced the Pacific Solution and made its operation even more vicious than John Howard and Philip Ruddock managed.
Look around and identify a genuine leader in politics these days. It’s a lonely search.
The mistreatment of asylum seekers is now, effectively, a bi-partisan issue. But that is true of many issues.
There was a time when you could predict, with fair accuracy, what the Labor policy on a particular issue would be, and what the Liberal policy on that same issue would be. Because the origins and inclinations of both major parties were well-known.
There was a time when politicians would say “This is what I believe. Here is why you should agree with me”.
There was a time when political leadership included the idea of leading. That idea seems to have faded away, some time in the past 20 or 30 years.
Western democracies now have leadership in the Jim Hacker mould. Jim Hacker, in Yes Prime Minister, famously said “I am their leader. I must follow them.”
There was a time when, despite Churchill’s comment, democracy worked quite well.
That time has passed.
It is easy to forget that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. So was Richard Nixon.
It is easy to forget that Australia once had political leaders like Deakin and Menzies; Chifley and Keating.
It is also easy to forget the real point of the American Declaration of Independence. Part of the Preamble is famous, but its broader point is often overlooked. It starts like this:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
–We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. …”
This is not talking about just calling another election: it is about a fundamental change to system of government.
Democracy is not working. Short of scrapping the entire system, let’s try something novel: let’s see if we can find some politicians who are also willing to be leaders.