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.

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

News from Manus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second message:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devastating UNHCR report on Manus & Nauru

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

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

Geneva, 13 February 2018

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

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

Rico Salcedo, Regional Protection Officer, UNHCR Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Dishonest hypocrites

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.

Send Our political “Leaders” to The Hague

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

The Deal between Australia and PNG

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.

MOU-PNG-Aus

Letter from Refugees on Manus

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

CC:

– All humanitarian people all over the world.

Open Letter to NZ PM

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.

Yours sincerely

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: Letter to MPs

Doctors For Refugees have written a very well-considered letter to Federal MPs, concerning the crisis on Manus.  It captures the problem very well:

Dear MP,

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’.[1][2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.

Yours sincerely,

Dr David Berger, Executive Committee Member

Dr Barri Phatarfod, President

Dr Paddy McLisky, Secretary

Dr Igal Augarten, Treasurer

Doctors for Refugees

References

[1] HLRC 27th August 2017

[2] PNG Constabulary Media Release October 2017

[3] ABC 17th April 2017

[4] ABC 5th November 2017

[5] Reuters 30th October 2017

[6] Guardian 9th March 2015

 

Speech: Australian Friends of Palestine Association

Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) is a not for profit incorporated association based in South Australia. It is run professionally by a voluntary Executive Committee and volunteers. It was established in 2004, by Paul Heywood-Smith QC and others.

AFOPA’s primary concerns in respect to Palestine are:

  1.  the current humanitarian crises that exists in Palestine as a result of the Palestinian disposition of land and the provision of humanitarian support; and
  2. consistent with the position of the United Nations, support for a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict based on 1967 borders; it calls for Palestinian people to have the right to self-determination by recognition of the Palestinian State. This is fundamental to the achievements of social and economic freedom, and equality before the law.Australia is one of a few countries (along with Israel, the United States and Canada) that does not recognise the Palestinian State. AFOPA advocates for a change in this position. Australia’s recognition is required to contribute to the peace process. A Roy Morgan poll this year showed that 73 per cent of Australians support recognising Palestinian statehood.

This is a speech I gave to the annual dinner of AFOPA in Adelaide on 4 November 2017.

It sounds pathetic: I just did not know.

I did not know what was being done to Palestinians.

I was vaguely aware of troubles in Israel, of course. I was vaguely aware of reports of Palestinian youths causing trouble, throwing stones at Israeli settlers. I was vaguely aware that Israelis who were attacked would strike back. And of course, like most people, I was aware that the State of Israel was established as a homeland for the Jews who are one of the most persecuted races in all of history.

But I did not realise how shockingly the human rights of Palestinians are being violated.

It’s 69 year since al-Nakba, the great catastrophe: when more than 800,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes; 500 villages were destroyed; 15,000 Palestinians were killed.

It’s 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration originated in a letter written by Lord Balfour on 2 November 1917: 2 days after the famous charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade.

Back then, the Palestinians fought alongside the British. They didn’t get much gratitude: the Balfour Declaration included this paragraph:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

As it turned out, the rights of Palestinians have been comprehensively trashed.

And when Malcolm Turnbull went to Beersheba recently to celebrate the famous battle, no Palestinian leader was invited to attend.

The abuses of the human rights of Palestinians are getting worse. In particular, Palestinian children are grossly mistreated, despite the provisions of various international human rights conventions to which Israel is a party.

Palestinian children as young as 12 are being:

  • Arrested in their homes, at night, between 10pm and 5 am
  • Taken away, blindfolded, hooded, their hands tied
  • They are often placed on the floor of the van that takes them away, and they are taken by long, slow routes, so they often spend hours on the floor in the back of the van
  • They are physically abused: head-butted, kicked, tasered, dragged across the ground
  • They are strip-searched and threatened

They are interrogated without being told they are entitled to have their parents present; without being told they are entitled to have a lawyer present; without any warning that they have the right to remain silent. One Palestinian child reports: “The interrogator told me I had the right to remain silent and to consult a lawyer. I told him I wasn’t going to say anything before I was allowed to speak to a lawyer. He became angry and slapped me when I said this.”

Some Palestinian children have been held in solitary confinement for weeks on end.

And beyond all this, there is the Israeli Defence Force’s use of administrative detention: detention without charge, without trial; sometimes for months, often based on secret evidence.

John Lyons recently published a piece in the Weekend Australian. It includes this paragraph:

“Twice a week they had children’s days when children as young as 12 faced the army judges. I caught a glimpse of four young boys, in brown prison overalls, shuffling across the courtyard. They were handcuffed and shackled at the feet. I thought: if the 1nost powerful army in the Middle East thinks it’s acceptable to treat children like this, then something has gone badly wrong…”

Israel has been warned that these things are a gross violation of international human rights norms. Its response has been to suppress information about what it is doing.  But it has not improved its behaviour.

The legal rights of Palestinian children are not the same as the legal rights of Israeli children. Palestinian children are treated as legally responsible when they are 12; Israeli children are not legally responsible until they are 14.  Israeli children are taken to a civil court; Palestinian children are taken to a military court. Israeli children are treated properly if they come into contact with the criminal justice system; Palestinian children are not.

Israel is making the same tragic mistake Australia makes in relation to boat people. It seems to have forgotten completely the most fundamental point: these are human beings.

Anyone who criticises Israel’s conduct can expect a fierce response. John Lyons writes about it. Anthony Loewenstein has experienced it, and so have I.

I do not wish to deflect attention from the mistreatment of Palestinians for one moment, but it is worth noticing that we have a parallel set of events in Australia.

Australian Aborigines know what it is like to have your land taken; they know what it is like to be kept out of privileged areas; they know what it is like to be given a different, and inferior, legal status; they know what it is like for their children to be taken, mistreated, turned into aliens in their own land.

As I learned what was being done to Palestinian children, I had a recurring vision of the Aboriginal children in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

And Australia has a terrible record for mistreatment of children whose parents brought them to Australia as boat people: they get locked up indefinitely, in what the legal system regards as…yes…”administrative detention”. No charge, no trial. Just like we say to justify the indefinite detention of boat people, who come to Australia seeking a safe place to live.

It is eminently appropriate that AFOPA was founded in South Australia. South Australia leads this country in many things, not least in its advocacy for decent treatment of boat people. And South Australia is the only State where an Aboriginal man, who was taken from his parents when he was 13 months old, was accepted by a Court to have been taken unlawfully, and to have suffered harm as a result.

South Australians seem to understand human rights. Please support the work of AFOPA: keep reminding our politicians that what is being done to Palestinians is utterly unacceptable; donate to charities which concern themselves with human rights: especially Military Court Watch, which is doing remarkable work reporting the atrocious treatment of Palestinians. And hit social media: make sure Australians learn the truth about what is happening. After all, if our political “leaders” hide from the truth, let’s use the new democracy of social media to remind them.

Arundhati Roy, the Indian writer who is famous here for writing “The God of Small Things”, is more famous in her home country for her constant campaigning against the needless creation of dams which serve no useful purpose but which displace small farm holders in the valleys above and below the dams.  Arundhati Roy, in one of her essays a couple of years ago, said that “a thing once seen cannot be unseen.  And when you have seen a great moral wrong, to remain silent is as much a political statement as to act against it.”

So: now you know what is being done to the Palestinians.  Now is the time to speak against it.

 

 

 

A Cry For Help

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.

A Message From Adam Bandt

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

TIME: 2pm

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.

With solidarity,

Adam

P.S Can’t make it tomorrow? Forward this email to five friends and ask them to stand with you.

 

The Latest from Manus

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?

Latest News from Manus

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.