Postscript: since I wrote the piece below, I have been the target of various people who prefer to hide behind anonymous Twitter handles, abusing me for what I say below. For the anonymous haters, I have great pity: most of them seem to suffer from one or both of:
- a reading disorder, which prevents them from actually reading what I wrote; or
- an intellectual disability, which leads them to misunderstand what I wrote: in some cases, so completely that they attribute to me things which are the opposite of what I say below.
Still, it’s nice that they try.
So: let me make my position plain for the people who have been hurling abuse from behind the safety of an anonymous keyboard:
- I do NOT approve of attacks on gays, whether the attacks are motivated by religious belief, malice or hatred.
- I do NOT approve of extremist views – whether ostensibly justified by religious doctrine or any other ideology
- I do NOT adhere to any religion, although I was raised as an Anglican
- I do NOT disapprove of gay people: I think every human being should be able to live their own life, guided by their nature and instincts.
Furthermore, the things I wrote below were not supposed to cover every nuance of religious thinking, nor were they intended to exhaust the field of LGBTI issues. I tried to deal with a limited question posed by someone who seems very excitable, and who has been one of the chief abuse-hurlers. Specifically, it is worth remembering that I was persuaded to comment on things said by the Grand Mufti of Australia, in response to some specific things said by Sheikh Shady. I have no interest at all in chasing everything said by Sheikh Shady: I doubt I would agree with him on much.
Someone got very excited recently on Twitter about the fact that the Australian Grand Mufti, Dr Mohammed, dined at Kirribilli House with the Prime Minister and others recently.
The asserted cause of the excitement was a statement by Dr Mohammed regarding things said six years ago by Sheikh Shady about homosexuality.
This person told me I had to respond to the comments. I was on holidays at the time. I have now had a chance to research the matter. In fairness, I should say that I do not adhere to any religion, and I take a much more lenient view of homosexuality than any of the Abrahamic religions do. It seems that Sheikh Shady’s comments were confined to the likelihood of practising homosexuals contracting diseases, which is probably accurate as a matter of medical observation, and it seems that the Grand Mufti’s comments were accurate as a matter of religious doctrine.
In 2010 Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman said that Allah will give gay people ‘diseases that they have never experienced before … if you speak to a doctor – he’ll tell you the most terrifying disease come from what? From sexual activities… or also homosexuality that is spreading all these diseases.’
Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohammed wrote a two page statement in which he said the sheikh had ‘simply conveyed a religious ruling. … Despite Islam’s long standing position on homosexuality, which no person can ever change, no matter who they are. … That which Sheikh Shady has said regarding homosexuality is simply a conveyance of a religious fact which is known to every practicing person in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.’
What Sheikh Shady said appears to have medical support.
What Dr Mohammed said is undoubtedly accurate. Here is the official position of various religions on the subject of homosexuality:
On being gay:
Christianity: not generally considered sinful in itself, though some see it as a purposeful perversion. Some accept it as a natural alternative, while others regard it as a non-chosen mental disorder akin to alcoholism.
Islam: Not generally condemned
Orthodox: Condemned as rebellion against God.
Conservative: Neither condemned nor affirmed.
Reform: Generally accepted as alternative.
On engaging in homosexual acts:
Christianity: Traditionally considered sinful. Many Christians and denominations continue to uphold this belief, while others have reconsidered it or in the process of doing so.
“A man shall not lie with another man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” -Leviticus 18:22
“Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” -Romans 1:27
Islam: Sinful and punishable under Islamic law.
Qur’an: “We also sent Lut: He said to his people: Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” -Qur’an 7:80-81
Orthodox: Strongly condemned.
Conservative: Violation of Jewish law, disqualifies from Jewish marriage and religious leadership.
Reform: Approved in context of committed relationship; civil marriage supported, but generally not religious marriage.
Bible: “A man shall not lie with another man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” -Leviticus 18:22
It seems that Sheikh Shady’s comments were accurate as a matter of medical observation and that the Grand Mufti’s comments were accurate as a matter of religious doctrine. That said, I do not agree with the official position of any of the Abrahamic religions on this issue.
Pauline Hanson and Sam Dastyari had some interesting exchanges on Q & A on Monday 18 July 2016.
Dastyari pointed out that Hanson has, in the past, expressed strident views against Aborigines, then against Asians, and more recently against Muslims. She wants to stop Muslims coming to Australia. She wanted to stop Asians coming to Australia. She could hardly have objected to Aborigines being in Australia, so she advocated instead for the abolition of special government assistance for them; the abolition of native title and the abolition of ATSIC.
One of the oddest exchanges between Hanson and Dastyari on Q & A went like this:
Dastyari: “When I look at Ms Hanson’s policy document that says we should be banning Muslims from coming to this country, I have to ask: does that mean that a five-year-old Sam Dastyari should never have been able to set foot in Australia, because somewhere in Tehran there’s a document that says beside my name the word ‘Muslim’, because of where I was born?”
Hanson: “Are you a Muslim?…Really?” … “You’re a practising Muslim? This is quite interesting,… I’m surprised. I did not know that about you.”
What is odd about this is that on 2 July, the night of the Federal election, when Hanson was being interviewed on Channel Seven, Dastyari offered to take her out for a Halal Snack Pack. That invitation, coupled with the widely known fact that Dastyari is originally from Iran, would lead any moderately intelligent person to conclude that Dastyari is Muslim. but Hanson seemed genuinely surprised on Monday night, in the exchange quoted above.
Perhaps her real point concerned whether he was a practising Muslim. But if that was her point she would have to refine her call for Muslims to be prevented from coming to Australia. But her comments on Muslims seem much broader than whether a Muslim is a practising Muslim. Here are some of her (false) claims about Muslims.
Here is the Guardian’s article about the Q & A episode: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jul/18/pauline-hanson-and-sam-dastyari-clash-over-islam-on-abcs-qa?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=182252&subid=7875396&CMP=ema_632
It s hard to know what is more disturbing: the fact that someone with Hanson’s strident bigotry has a strong presence in the Senate or that someone with such luke-warm intelligence has a strong presence in the Senate.
Yes: the Eureka Stockade, 1854, was a terrorist event by our contemporary legal standards. The current definition of “terrorist act” is set out below. It’s complex, but the bottom line is this: if an ordinary criminal act of damage to property or person is carried out in order to intimidate the government or the public, it is a terrorist act. The Eureka Stockade involved fairly serious criminal conduct: 30 people were killed. and it was explicitly for political purposes: they wanted to force the Victorian government to allow miners (who paid high mining licence fees) to vote. Their sentiment was part of the idea expressed 81 years earlier in America: the Boston tea party of 1773 and then the American war of independence were clear expressions of the sentiment: no taxation without representation.
The leaders were charged with high treason, but they were acquitted. this was generally regarded as an expression of public sympathy for their cause. One of them, Peter Lalor went on to be Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Council (upper House) in 1880.
The diggers swore an oath on 30 November 1854: ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties’
The Commonwealth Criminal Code Act (1995) defines”terrorist act” in section 100.1. You can see the full version here. Here is an abbreviated version:
“terrorist act means an action where:
(a) the action falls within subsection (2)…; and
(b) the action is done with the intention of:
(i) coercing, or influencing by intimidation, the government of the Commonwealth or a State, Territory or foreign country, or of part of a State, Territory or foreign country; or
(ii) intimidating the public or a section of the public.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it:
(a) causes serious harm that is physical harm to a person; or
(b) causes serious damage to property; or
(c) causes a person’s death; or …”
However it will not be a terrorist act if it falls within sub-section 3:
“(3) Action falls within this subsection if it:
(a) is advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action; and
(b) is not intended:
(i) to cause serious harm that is physical harm to a person; or
(ii) to cause a person’s death; or …”
It is a nice historical irony that another icon of Australian history is also bound up in terrorism. Ian Jones, the foremost authority on Ned Kelly, says Kelly’s activities in North-East Victoria had the ultimate objective of establishing a separate colony in that area. Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter adds credence to that suggestion. If his objective was a political one, then his murderous exploits fit him neatly into the modern legal definition of a terrorist.
Here is another account of misbehaviour by Myki Authorised Officers, sent to me yesterday. The Transport Minister, Jacinta Allan, says the culture will change: it needs to change really soon. Calling it misbehaviour understates its significance: if the account is accurate, the Authorised Officers clearly do not understand the law about allowing the passenger a reasonable time to produce his ID, and one of them committed a criminal assault on the passenger’s wife.
The person who contacted me has given me permission to quote her account of what happened. I have edited the email so as not to reveal the identity of the people involved:
My husband left his wallet at home when he took the car to be serviced near his work. He took a tram home to pick up our daughter from childcare before 6pm, as the car was being serviced, and completely forgot to get a ticket. He was approached by Authorised Officers, who told him he must provide ID and that he could pay an on-the-spot fine or a higher fine at a later time. He said he didn’t have his wallet and then told them to wait while he called me.
He spoke to me at 5.40pm for 4 minutes. He said that he was near childcare but was stuck as he didn’t have a tram ticket or ID. He said that he couldn’t pick up our daughter before 6pm.
I said that I could walk there, picking up our daughter on the way before child care closed at 6pm, and would bring his wallet to him. While we were making this plan I could hear someone yelling at him in the background. He stopped the discussion with me a number of times and repeatedly asked them to please wait for a moment while he organised for his child to be picked up and for his wallet for ID and payment method. They refused to stop and were talking over him.
During the phone call with me he asked the Authorised Officers how long he was allowed by law to provide the ID and payment, as I was coming straight away. We live 4 blocks away from where he was. The officers said that it had to be a reasonable time, and he was not being reasonable.
Our phone conversation ended at 5.44pm. My husband asked the Authorised Officers to wait while I brought his wallet, but they ignored him and began to write a report. And they called the police. My husband explained that I was picking up the child on the way, as her childcare closed at 6pm. The female Yarra Trams officer said that it was an inconvenience.
By the time I arrived at 6pm the police had arrived and the Authorised Officers were speaking with the police officers. I approached the police officer and said that I had brought his walled ID and payment method. The police officer drove away.
My husband said that he now had his wallet, so he had ID and payment method. He said he was happy to pay the on-the-spot fine. The Auyhorised Officers said it was too late as they had completed paperwork.
My husband and I were both recording the Authorised Officers, but they told us to stop recording the discussion. I was then physically pushed repeatedly by one of the Authorised Officers.
Some arguments need more than 140 characters. A minor dispute on Twitter on the link between bigotry and terrorism demonstrates this. So, for those with the skill and stamina to read more than 140 characters, here goes:
It is a matter of ordinary experience that a person who is treated badly may, eventually, react badly. If people in the West regularly condemn all Muslims, it is inevitable that some Muslims will begin to feel as though they are seen as the enemy, as though they are hated in the West. So, for example, British mosques have been attacked by anti-Muslim groups. In Australia, the construction of mosques has been violently opposed by some community groups, who were vocal in their condemnation of Muslims. Donald Trump has, in substance, said that Muslims should be excluded from the USA.
Any group confronted with hostility like this is likely to be offended. As a matter of ordinary human nature, it is easy to understand that some members of that group will react badly.
I do not approve of terrorists, whether Muslim, Red Brigade, Irish separatist or anything else. But I worry about the consequences of treating one group as if all members of that group present a threat to our Society. What we need to learn is that we are threatened by extremists. Of course there are Muslim extremists, just as there are extremists who adhere to other ideologies. We would be making a catastrophic mistake if we treat all Muslims as if they are extremists.
Until an expert in the field can show me that I am wrong, I will continue to hold the opinion that being the target of relentless bigotry will drive some people to extremism, and is therefore one cause of terrorism.
We are being very foolish if we continue to tolerate public abuse of Muslims generally.
On 30 March, the Australian Newspaper offered up the following morsel:
Pack your bags, Julian Burnside, your companion is ready
Julian Burnside on Twitter on Sunday:
Bigotry creates terrorists, by radicalising people who were willing to see hope in everything
Rodger Shanahan (associate professor at the Australian National University’s National Security College, and research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy) replying over several tweets:
Comment from someone not very well travelled nor versed in areas in which he prognosticates. Am sure that the people killed (in) Nairobi mall, Paris, Brussels, New York, Ankara, Istanbul, Bali, Tunis etc were questioning their bigoted past before they were killed. Travel in some hard parts of the world, economy class by foot may expand your rather closed mind. I know your “thing” is to be controversial and eloquent, but some real life experience may temper your strange world view. Possibly. Education is supposed to allow discernment. Tempered by real life experience it is powerful. Alone it is like an empty vessel. Methinks you are an empty vessel railing against things about which you have theoretical learning but nil practical experience.
But Shanahan doesn’t just come bearing criticism, he brings a solution, too:
I would recommend a holiday to real world. Happy to travel with you. Warning: may involve real-life experience.
The Australian newspaper saw fit to extract just some of the relevant tweets: One of mine and all of Rodger Shanahan’s. Presumably the editorial theory is that, if you strip out the context, you can skew the result. As in most things, even on Twitter the context can be important. Here’s how this little non-story developed:
On 27 March at 11.15 am @DanWosHere wrote:
It’s terrorism @JulianBurnside and it is Muslims from refugee backgrounds committing it. End of story
On 27 March at 4.02 pm I responded:
People like you, Miranda Devine &c will radicalise some who may become terrorists. You’re part of the problem
And then at 4.06pm I said:
Bigotry creates terrorists, by radicalising people who were willing to see hope in everything
The next day, 28 March, Rodger Shanahan, came in swinging. (I will confess, I did not see his tweets until the Australian printed them, so the article was not entirely useless). His contributions went as follows:
Comment from someone not very well travelled nor versed in areas in which he prognosticates. Am sure that the people killed (in) …
Nairobi mall, Paris, Brussels, New York, Ankara, Istanbul, Bali, Tunis etc were questioning their bigoted past before they were killed.
Travel in some hard parts of the world, economy class by foot may expand your rather closed mind.
I know your “thing” is to be controversial and eloquent, but some real life experience may temper your strange world view. Possibly.
Education is supposed to allow discernment. Tempered by real life experience it is powerful. Alone it is like an empty vessel.
Methinks you are an empty vessel railing against things about which you have theoretical learning but nil practical experience.
I did not respond to Shanahan, because I did not notice his tweets until The Australian put them up this morning.
All in all, it was a fairly standard bit of trolling by Shanahan: abuse without any attempt at argument, although the second tweet suggests that he had misunderstood the point I had made. I have never suggested that all terrorists are the result of bigotry, merely that bigotry can radicalise some people, thus forming one element in the process which results in them turning to terrorism.
In all of this jollity, there is a serious point to be made, which @DanWosHere exemplifies, and Shanahan leaves completely unanswered. It is a matter of ordinary experience that a person who is treated badly may, eventually, react badly. If people in the West regularly condemn all Muslims, it is inevitable that some Muslims will begin to feel as though they are seen as the enemy, as though they are hated in the West. So, for example, British mosques have been attacked by anti-Muslim groups. In Australia, the construction of mosques has been violently opposed by some community groups, who were vocal in their condemnation of Muslims. Donald Trump has, in substance, said that Muslims should be excluded from the USA. And don’t forget what was said at the start of the Twitter exchange: @DanWosHere “It’s terrorism … and it is Muslims from refugee backgrounds committing it. End of story”.
Any group confronted with hostility like this is likely to be offended. As a matter of ordinary human nature, it is easy to understand that some members of that group will react badly.
The strangest part of Shanahan’s response is that it does not appear to draw on his professional credentials, and it does not seem to acknowledge ordinary human experience.
I do not approve of terrorists, whether Muslim, Red Brigade, Irish separatist or anything else. But I worry about the consequencws of treating one group as if all members of that group presnet a threat to our Society. What we need to learn is that we are threatened by extremists. Of course there are Muslim extremists, just as there are extremists who adhere to other ideologies. We would be making a catastrophic mistake if we treat all Muslims as if they are extremists.
Until Shanahan, or an expert in the field, can show me that I am wrong, I will continue to hold the opinion that being the target of relentless bigotry will drive some people to extremism, and is therefore one cause of terrorism.
We are being very foolish if we continue to tolerate public abuse of Muslims generally.
WEstJustice today released a ground-breaking report called Fare Go: Myki, Transport Poverty and access to education in Melbourne’s West.
Here is the report: Fare Go Report
It makes the point that, especially in disadvantaged suburbs, Myki fares compete with a kid’s ability to get breakfast or buy books:
“There are many poor families in this school community who can’t even feed their children breakfast – they are fed through the school. Many families can’t afford the initial payment for Myki.”
“A lot [of students] stay at home, miss out on school until they can top up [Myki], starting the cycle of educational disadvantage.“
In the course of 12 years at school, a student will pay about $7,500 in public transport fares. Public transport is an important integer in our social life. Making sure kids can get to school is essential. Public transport is not just about revenue raising.
The system is complex, even for adults, and especially for kids:
“I helped one boy to contest fines…. I made numerous phone calls…tried to explain that he had a mental illness… also had an insecure home life… I spoke to three different people three times, got the same response, then someone said, ‘go and plead the mercy of the Magistrate’. Going to court then causes much stress and anxiety. In fact, this boy was struggling to speak in sentences. I can’ t imagine him going to court. I haven’t heard from him, so I don’t know what happened to him.”
We should never allow the cost of public transport, and the complexities of the system of fines, get in the way of a kid’s education.
The Report includes some very sensible recommendations, including:
1. Provide free public transport travel to all passengers up to 18 years of age and to any passenger who is a secondary student where their parent, carer or guardian is in receipt of Centrelink income or a healthcare card.
2. Accept identification issued by any authorised educational institution as evidence of age or student status for the purposes of free travel.
3. Authorise educational institutions to issue Myki travel cards to students free of charge.
4. Cancel all outstanding public transport fines related to Myki ticketing issues and fares which were incurred while a young person was under 18 years of age.
5. Abolish the public transport fines system for all young people under 18 years of age.
If you value the education of children, urge the Victorian Government consider the contents of this Report.
I’ve known Barry Dickins for years. He is a good bloke. And he writes beautifully.
He was on his way home in early October, waiting for the bus in Lygon St Carlton on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
A police pursuit vehicle came screeching up, blocking the path of the bus Barry was about to board. The police then strip searched him, in public. They said they had a report of someone fitting his description having pinched a T-shirt from K-Mart in Lygon St.
There isn’t a K-Mart in Lygon St.
The police filmed him being strip searched. They found nothing, and sped off. Maybe they went to some place near to where there actually is a K-Mart.
Barry verified the details of the event in an affidavit which he swore at the Reservoir police station in mid-October.
And he wrote a terrific piece about the event. It was published in The Sunday Age on 25 October. He has sworn to the accuracy of it. Next day, it was taken down from The Age website at the request of senior police. But you can read it here:
Dickins article, click here
And you should read it, because it it is an alarming account of what some people will do if they are given a uniform and a bit of power.
Don’t let this episode be buried by the police. And don’t let it be forgotten.
A brief account of australia’s offshore detention regime
Accomodation for refugees
Detention, australian style
Poetry: get angry, by oliver hovenden
Refugee resettlement: getting the facts straight
Myki: it just keeps getting worse…
And another myki outrage. This is beyond beyond…
More outrages on the flawed myki system in melbourne
The border force hits town: operation fortitude
The impact of cuts to art funding
Serco and border force bring cruelty to new levels
Wind Farm Music Dedicated To Tony Abbott
Year 12 student taken from school and put in detention
Detainees in Manus Island face grim prospects
More letters returned from Manus Island
Write to federal MPs about refugee policy
Speech to Labor national conference
Australia: becoming a pariah on climate change
Analysis of Border Force Act by George Newhouse
More letters to elected representatives, but…how disappointing they are
A brief account of Australias offshore detention regime
Set out below is a brief account of the worst aspects of Australia’s offshore detention regime: the notorious Pacific Solution.
This concentrates only on the negative aspects: cruelty, abuse, criminal acts by government and its contractors, etc. And the fact that it got us the Australian Border Force Act which makes it a criminal offence to report what goes on in the detention system. It’s even an offence to report instances of child sex abuse if it occurs within the detention system. Penalty: 2-years jail. How odd. In civil society, it is a criminal offence not to report such things.
Beside those things, a system which costs us about a million Geelong Chopper Rides a year probably looks like good value to our Federal Parliamentarians. Because don’t forget the benefits: it helped get John Howard several more terms as PM; it gave Scott Morrison an opportunity to parade his pretended Christian values by approving cruel mistreatment of innocent children; it got Tony Abbott the chance to disfigure our nation as Prime Minister, when he was barely qualified to be an outback country mayor. He likes 3-word slogans. How about “Worst PM ever”? Or “Liberals Inflicting Misery”? Or (specially for Scott Morrison) “Christians For Cruelty”?
A brief account of Offshore Detention: Australia’s mistreatment of boat people
- The Tampa incident is recognised as the catalyst for the ‘Pacific Solution’, which was introduced in the months that followed. Under the Pacific Solution, certain areas of Australia’s territory were excised from Australia’s migration zone, meaning that non-citizens arriving to seek asylum could not make valid applications for any form of visa (including protection visas) without the exercise of ministerial discretion (the “Pacific Solution”, forming part of Australia’s Immigration Policies as defined above). The areas excised included Christmas Island, the Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
- In addition, as part of the Pacific Solution, “Offshore Processing Centres” were established on Nauru and Manus Island (Papua New Guinea). Unauthorised arrivals (being asylum seekers arriving by boat without a valid visa (“Unauthorised Arrivals”)) were taken and remained there whilst their asylum claims were processed. The use of Offshore Processing Centres forms part of the Immigration Policies as defined above: successive governments have made it clear that boat person who arrive in Australia will be put in offshore detention, and “will never be resettled in Australia”.
- Australia’s Immigration Policies have resulted in mandatory detention for Unauthorised Arrivals, both at Offshore Processing Centres and domestic immigration centres (together “Immigration Detention”). Immigration Detention comprises part of the Immigration Policies as defined above.
- The Pacific Solution ended in about 2007, during the last year of the Howard government, but it was revived in 2012 under the Gillard government. It continues under the (current) Abbott government. Reports of cruelty and mistreatment are more numerous and more serious now than in earlier versions of the Pacific Solution.
- In its current incarnation, the Pacific Solution appears to have, as its primary objective, breaking the spirit of the people held on Manus or Nauru. Set out in Annexure A is a statement by a doctor who has spent most of his professional life working in the Australian prison system, but who recently spent time working as a doctor in the detention system on Manus.
- The UNHCR has delivered reports highly critical of the Pacific Solution. Its report on Nauru and its report on Manus are both highly critical of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers held in those places under the Pacific Solution in its present form.
- Amnesty International has issued several reports equally critical of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus  and the conditions in which they are held. It says Manus is “as bad as Nauru”.
- On 1 July 2015 the Australian Border Force Act came into operation. Apart from other things, it makes it a criminal offence for a person who works in Australia’s detention system to disclose facts they observe during their work. The penalty for disclosing facts observed in the detention system (on-shore and offshore) is two years’ jail.
- On 26 September, the UN special rapporteur Francois Crepeau cancelled his planned trip  to Nauru and Manus because of a concern that workers in the detention centres would not be able to provide information for fear of prosecution by Australian authorities. He was quoted as saying: “This threat of reprisals with persons who would want to cooperate with me on the occasion of this official visit is unacceptable,” he said. “The Act prevents me from fully and freely carrying out my duties during the visit, as required by the UN guidelines for independent experts carrying out their country visits.”
- Statements of people who have worked in the detention system on Manus are found in Annexures A, B, C & D below. A statement of a person who worked in the detention system on Nauru is found in Annexure E below.
- The mistreatment of asylum seekers is not limited to the Pacific Solution. Christmas Island is part of Australia, although it is more than 1500 kilometers north-west of mainland Australia.
- Christmas Island has, for a long time, been the commonest point of arrival of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat, which is why it was the site of the Tampa episode.
- Statements by people who have worked in, or visited, the detention centre on Christmas Island are found in Annexures F & G below.
Australian Human Rights Commission enquiries 2004 and 2014
- The Australian Human Rights Commission has presented two major reports on Australia’s detention of asylum seekers.
- The Commission’s 2004 Report “A last resort?” focussed on children in immigration detention.
- The Commission’s 2014 report also concentrated on the plight of children in immigration detention. It was delivered to the Australian government in late 2014, and was released by the Australian government in early 2015, on the last day on which it was required by statute to release it. The submissions received by the Commission provide a very rich source of material concerning the circumstances and effects of the detention of refugee children in Australia’s immigration detention system. Although many submissions were anonymous (presumably for fear of government reprisals), they can generally be relied on as accurate accounts of the detail of the treatment of children in Australia’s immigration detention system.
- As well as providing a useful account of the detention of refugee children by Australia, the AHRC 2014 report includes, in Appendix 1, a useful summary of Review of detention policy and practices from 2004–2014
Senate enquiry 2015
- Many more witnesses are available who can speak of the detention system in Nauru. The Australian Senate recently held an enquiry into the detention system. Parliamentary privilege protected those who were concerned about the operation of the Australian Border Force Act. The submissions received by the Senate Committee can be found here. Its final report can be found here.
Annexure A – Statement of Witness A (Manus)
STATEMENT OF “WITNESS A”
- I am a Medical Doctor, formerly employed at an Offshore Processing Centre (the “Manus Island OPC”) for some months. Whilst employed at the Manus Island OPC, my duties were mainly the supervision of the provision of medical care as provided by other doctors employed there, as well as the provision of medical care myself.
- My professional experience includes the provision of health care services in maximum-security prisons in Australia.
- On the whole, the conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC are extremely poor. When I first arrived at the Manus Island OPC I was considerably distressed at what I saw, and I recall thinking that this must be similar to a concentration camp.
- The detainees at the Manus Island OPC are detained behind razor wire fences, in conditions below the standard of Australian maximum-security prison.
- My professional opinion is that the minimum medical requirements of the detained population were not being met. I have no reason to believe that the conditions of detention have improved since I ceased employment at the Manus Island OPC.
- The conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC appeared to be calculated to break the spirit of those detained in the Manus Island OPC. On a number of occasions the extreme conditions of detention resulted in detainees abandoning their claims for asylum and returning to their country of origin.
- At the Manus Island OPC, bathroom facilities are rarely cleaned. There was a lot of mould, poor ventilation, and the structural integrity of the facilities is concerning.
- No soap is provided to detainees for personal hygiene.
- When detainees need to use the bathroom, it is standard procedure that they first attend at the guards’ station to request toilet paper. Detainees would be required to give an indication of how many ‘squares’ they will need. The maximum allowed is six squares of toilet paper, which I considered demeaning.
- A large number of detainees continue to be in need of urgent medical attention.
- Formal requests for medical attention are available to the detainees. The forms are only available in English. Many of the detainees do not have a workable understanding of English and the guards will not provide assistance.
- The medical request forms are collected in a box throughout the week, and then on the weekend the box (together with its contents) is disposed of in a waste bin without having been reviewed. I witnessed this on a number of occasions, and understood it to be common practice.
- On some occasions when I was given access to particular detainees to provide medical treatment, they told me that they had filled out and submitted more than 15 forms over many months but until now had not received treatment. The medical complaints they had were serious and in urgent need of attention.
- I have personally witnessed a number of instances of trickery and deception on behalf of Manus Island OPC guards. Medical treatment is often used as bait for removing detainees from their compound where a particular detainee has complained about conditions. Once removed, and prior to the provision of any form of acceptable medical attention, the relevant detainees are transported to the local prison as a form of punishment for agitation.
- I often expressed my concern about the lack of medical treatment provided to the detainees. Never were my concerns addressed.
Annexure B – Statement of Witness B (Manus)
- I am a former detainee at an Offshore Processing Centre (the “Manus Island OPC”). I was detained there for many months.
- When I was detained at the Manus Island OPC, I was treated like an animal, and I was tortured.
- I was detained at the Manus Island OPC on 16 and 17 February 2014, at the time that Reza Barati was murdered inside the detention centre.
- I know that there were detainees who witnessed his murder.
- Those detainees provided written statements to the police following his murder. The written statements named specific persons who they believed were responsible for his murder, as well as detailed accounts of misbehaviour by the guards.
- I know that the detainees who provided those written statements were removed from their compound and taken to a different area of the Manus Island OPC, away from the other detainees.
- Here is a true and correct extract from the statement made by the first witness to the murder:
“J … is a local who worked for the Salvation Army. … He was holding a large wooden stick. It was about a metre and a half long … it had two nails in the wood. The nails were sticking out …
When Reza came up the stairs, J … was at the top of the stairs waiting for him. J … said ‘fuck you motherfucker’ J … then swung back behind his shoulder with the stick and took a big swing at Reza, hitting him on top of the head.
J … screamed again at Reza and hit him again on the head. Reza then fell on the floor …
I could see a lot of blood coming out of his head, on his forehead, running down his face. His blood is still there on the ground. He was still alive at this stage.
About 10 or 15 guards from G4S came up the stairs. Two of them were Australians. The rest were PNG locals. I know who they are. I can identify them by their face. They started kicking Reza in his head and stomach with their boots.
Reza was on the ground trying to defend himself. He put his arms up to cover his head but they were still kicking.
There was one local … I recognized him … he picked up a big rock … he lifted the rock above his head and threw it down hard on top of Reza’s head. At this time, Reza passed away.
One of the locals came and hit him in his leg very hard … but Reza did not feel it. This is how I know he was dead.
After that, as the guards came past him, they kicked his dead body on the ground …”
- Once removed, the detainees who had given statements were tied to chairs by Wilson Security guards, and physically assaulted.
- They were then asked to retract their statements.
- The detainees refused to retract their statements, and so the guards continued to beat them, more savagely.
- They were then asked again to retract their statements.
- The detainees still refused to retract their statements, and so the guards told them that if they still refused to retract their statements, they would allow the local men waiting outside to rape them.
- I don’t know for sure whether or not the detainees retracted the statements. I expect that they did.
Annexure C – Statement of Witness C (Manus)
- I am a former employee at an Offshore Processing Centre (the “Manus Island OPC”). I worked there for a number of months.
- I also have many years experience in the prisons system.
- Whilst employed at the Manus Island OPC, I witnessed certain events that deeply disturbed me; I continue to be deeply disturbed by these events.
- Detainees are not allowed communication with the outside world. They are restricted in the Internet sites that they have access to.
- Asylum case managers that are granted access to the Manus Island OPC are searched on entry. The case managers may not bring paper or documents of any form into the Manus Island OPC.
- When new detainees arrive at the Manus Island OPC, often, I saw one or two taken aside and offered a ‘more favourable’ assessment of their asylum claim if they agree to act as an informant on the balance of their boat group.
- Staff at the Manus Island OPC operate on the assumption that detainees of all ages will attempt self-harm. As such, self-harm is not addressed as a symptom of anxiety or depression, or dealt with at all.
- From what I witnessed, self-harm was not a concern to guards when it was reported.
- Site-staff move detainees constantly without their permission. It is impossible for detainees to form friendships or find stability whilst their asylum claims are assessed.
Annexure D – Statement of Witness D (Manus)
- I am a current employee at an Offshore Processing Centre (the “Manus Island OPC”). I have been employed there for more than 12 months.
- I have a number of years experience also in the Australian corrections system. The conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC are markedly worse than those I have seen in the corrections system.
- It is not possible for me to speak to my superiors about my concerns. In my experience people who speak out have a difficult time doing their jobs.
- On a number of occasions detainees were forcibly removed from their accommodation at the Manus Island OPC and taken to the local prison. I was unaware, and remain unaware, of any offence that any of those detainees may have committed.
- On the morning of the 20th of December 2014, I witnessed a detainee being handcuffed with zip-ties and forcibly transported to the local prison. He was visibly in extreme pain, and complained that the zip-ties were too tight. In response, the attending guards held him down and tightened the zip-ties. On arriving at the local prison, the guards could not remove the zip-ties because they were too tight to be cut off.
- I do not know how the zip-ties were removed.
- The detainee suffered long-term nerve damage.
- The detainee asked why he had been detained and he was informed that it was for “being a smart-arse and trying to contact a lawyer”.
- I know that a number of days earlier, that detainee had tried unsuccessfully to make contact with legal representation.
- Detainees at the Manus Island OPC are not afforded adequate medical care. Of particular concern is dental hygiene. Dental problems are extremely prevalent, causing serious distress amongst the detainees.
- For a number of months, dental treatment was refused to all detainees.
- One detainee had approached guards in extreme pain, complaining about a tooth. The guards told him he did not have a medical issue that required treatment. Dental care was refused, and he was not afforded the opportunity to speak with a medical practitioner.
- I then witnessed that detainee using wire taken from one of the security fences to manually extract a tooth from his jaw. Still, no dental care – or medical care of any persuasion – was provided to this man.
- I have also witnessed a number of instances of untreated infection on the feet of detainees. In these circumstances the guards again provide faux medical diagnosis, sending the detainees away in want of treatment.
- In February 2014 there was a riot, during which a man’s throat was slashed. Since that time, the relevant detainee has been very distressed. He was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
- I have witnessed the guards regularly intimidating this man, often by mocking him in ways that would remind him of having his throat cut. On a number of occasions I have seen the guards running their fingers across their throats to intimidate the detainee.
- Wilson Security guards often wake the relevant detainee early in the morning, around 3am. The guards will stand around his bed to intimidate him once he is woken.
- The population of the Manus Island OPC is made up of various ethnic groups. Each group naturally has members that take a leadership role.
- I witnessed the leaders of the ethnic groups being forcibly removed and taken to the local prison. They remained there for 21 days, in crowded cells, sleeping like sardines together on the floor. I believe this was done to destabilise the ethnic groups.
- Whilst detained in the prison, local police beat an intoxicated local man in front of the ethnic leaders to intimidate them. The man who was beaten lost most of his teeth in the incident.
- Often the guards at the Manus Island OPC allow local police access to the site. On one occasion in December 2014, I witnessed local police take Qur’ans and other personal items (including photos) from detainees.
- Also in December 2014, the guards conducted a number of raids on the accommodation of the detainees. All of these raids occurred in the early hours of the morning whilst the general population was asleep.
- It is my view that these raids were conducted in a way designed to agitate and anger the detainees. The guards were always unduly aggressive and on a number of occasions treated the detainees in a way that I perceived to be designed to start a physical confrontation.
- In December 2013, the local police lined the detainees up in the sun for hours. Whilst there, the local police seized a number of personal items from the detainees.
- It is my view that this was designed to cause maximum distress amongst the detainees.
- On a number of occasions in certain parts of the Manus Island OPC, Wilson Security guards tried to force the detainees to leave the camp so that they might be physically assaulted by local people outside the Manus Island OPC.
Annexure E – Statement of Witness E (Nauru)
- I work for a refugee advocacy organisation. I deal with many refugees who have been held at Offshore Processing Centres, including many from the Nauru Offshore Processing Centre (the “Nauru OPC”).
- At the Nauru OPC, womens’ sanitary pads are considered a fire hazard, and so the detainees are forced to ask for them often.
- Women seek also to use the sanitary pads as make-shift nappy’s given the high rates of bed wetting.
- Women are also terrified of going to the toilets at night because of the male guards present there. They prefer to wet themselves.
- Showers are restricted to extremely short periods at the Nauru OPC. A male guard sits outside a plastic sheet, and has control of the water.
- Often, the male guard will stop the flow of water while young girls are washing their hair and ask the girls to expose themselves in before turning the water back on. This is a common complaint amongst former and current detainees. It has not been addressed.
- The guards at the Nauru OPC have also on a number of occasions asked to see nude children. On at least on occasion a naked child was placed on the guards lap and rubbed in a way that I would consider to be inappropriate.
- On one occasion a child (on seeing a psychologist) was asked to draw a picture of what made him upset. The drawing appeared to be a dark-skinned man with an erect penis.
- A number of parents have similar complaints about their children being abused.
- Male guards continue to loiter around the toilets, often offering lollies in exchange for the young children cleaning the toilets, which are filthy and covered in mould and excrement.
- The guards forcibly restrained fathers who protested about their children being asked to clean the toilets in exchange for lollies.
- On one occasion a 22 year-old girl (who has the physical appearance of a much younger child) attended the toilet facilities late at night. A male guard seriously sexually assaulted her. The victim feels she cannot report the identity of the guard to authorities as the guard is still working at the Nauru OPC where the remainder of her family is detained, and she believes that this will put her family in additional danger.
Annexure F – Statement of Witness F (Christmas Island)
- I am a Medical Doctor, formerly employed at the Christmas Island Refugee Processing Centre (“Christmas Island”). Whilst employed at Christmas Island, my duties were mainly to determine whether or not a particular refugee was fit to be transferred to the Manus Island Offshore Processing Centre or the Nauru Offshore Processing Centre.
- I was employed on Christmas Island for an extended period, and was working there during July 2013, when boat arrivals were at their peak.
- When asylum seekers arrived, they were usually badly sunburned, starving, and incontinent of urine and faeces. Often they had vomited on one another.
- I was frustrated to see that it was standard procedure to strip these asylum seekers of their belongings on arrival. In my view, this policy became unreasonable when it extended to removing glasses and hearing aids with no discretion.
- Asylum seekers were taken to the “induction shed” immediately on arrival.
- There were so many asylum seekers and so little staff, so we were forced to sacrifice the quality of our health assessments.
- The primary purpose of the health assessments was to ensure the asylum seekers were fit enough for detention on Nauru or Manus Island. Our health assessment checklists included a box that we could tick if we thought that the person was not fit for detention.
- On a number of occasions I recall being instructed verbally to “never tick that box”.
- On the electronic medical records, we were restricted to changing information about allergies. We were restricted from providing further medical assessment.
- At one point when the centre was extremely busy, we were made aware that the government wanted to have as many asylum seekers transferred to the Nauru and Manus Island OPCs as possible. We were to make an example of the children who were fit to travel.
- I recall being upset, as were my medically trained colleagues, when I was heard that a four year-old boy with cerebral palsy and a young mother with twins were sent to Manus Island without medical advice.
- These were the first people sent with the intention of demonstrating, for the other recently arrived asylum seekers, who would be considered fit for detention.
- On one occasion, a new member of the medical team refused to certify an asylum seeker for detention for medical reasons. My understanding is that she was removed from the medical certification process, and the asylum seeker was reassessed (positively) and sent to the Manus Island OPC or the Nauru OPC.
- It is also my understanding that, generally speaking, in the transportation process from Christmas Island to Manus Island or Nauru, medical records were usually lost. As a result of the loss of medical records, some women received between 18 and 19 separate, unnecessary vaccinations.
- I know that five pregnant women were given vaccinations that were unsafe for expectant mothers. Of these women, I know that four suffered miscarriages.
- I know also that a young boy who I considered to be inappropriate for detention on Manus Island or Nauru was sent to Manus Island where I understand he was repeatedly subject to sexual abuse, including rape.
Annexure G – Statement of Witness G (Christmas Island)
- I arrived on Christmas Island [in mid September 2015].
- There is identifiable and dysfunctional tension between Border Force who manage the centre, Serco who run the centre and Immigration who make all the decisions. This enormous discord and resentment and creates enormous incompetency and faulty service delivery as a result. I arrived at the centre after lengthy correspondence with Immigration to be told Serco were not aware of my application to visit. I was then questioned by a Border Force Superintendent who questioned what political or advocacy group I was a part of?
- I visited the centre on three days [and spoke to a number of detainees]The detainees told me they were woken in the middle of the night in their previous I DC (immigration detention centre) by a group of men, Border Force officers, who are geared up for violence. They are taken from their beds in underpants, pyjamas – one man said he made the entire trip in one shoe. They are handled with extreme force and any resistance is met with violence and verbal abuse. One very small and young detainee was shoved to the floor and his head was hit. He still had the scar on the side of his face.
Removal From Mainland To Christmas Island
- They are put on a plane and arrive at various airports where they are held until transported to Christmas. One detainee was handcuffed for 12 hours straight and still has problems with his wrist as a consequence. When they arrive on Christmas they find many of their belongings missing: personal photos and mementoes, watches, rings, clothes and shoes.
Detainees Are Abused By Guards
- I was told by the detainees of ongoing physical and psychological abuse. Detainees spoke of the kindness of some Serco staff members, but said these ones are in the minority. They are regularly called cunts, arseholes,- they are told “Get the fuck out of here” “Shut the fuck up”
- Consistently they are told “Its your fucking fault you’re here”. One notorious staff member they all spoke about – stands in people’s faces and says “Fucking hit me ….. I dare you”. One detainee asked me with complete genuineness “Why do they need to speak to us like this ….. we always do what they ask”. Another staff member was · consistently named as being particularly racist and sadistic.
- The Emergency Response Team, whom I personally saw on their way to trouble look like a football team. Muscled up and tattooed …. with skulls and overtly negative messages in some of their tattooing. All the detainees spoke about the extreme violence they experience at the hands of these people. Detainees have had their teeth broken, bruises, split lips, and cuts while being managed by these people. This crew also use abusive and threatening language and I found them extremely menacing in my brief interaction with them. I wouldn’t want to be in their hands for anything.
- lf you speak out, or defend a friend – you are threatened with consequences. These start at the most extreme Red Section where detainees spend up to a week (one detainee spent 4 days here during which time he started to cut him and tear at himself). This space has a metal door with a cement bed, a toilet, a camera and a light that stays on 24 hours. Food is passed through a grate.
- After a period of time you are let into White 1. This is a basic camp bed, camera and lights – but you are allowed out for 30 minutes into a caged yard every day. If you question or argue with staff in this section you are returned to the Red section. One detainee told me the only way to survive this is to disappear into yourself. I ask him what this meant and he said “I just leave myself and stop talking because this is what they want” This man spent 2 months in White section and he also self-harmed extensively during this time.
- If you continue to comply you are then moved in White 2. All the detainees spoke about a woman [name suppressed] who decides your punishment. They all said she is sadistic and often looks in on them and laughs. I personally witnessed her become enraged when she was locked out of her office – and her response was frightening. She was unaware I was sitting in the visitors’ room with the door open, and she screamed and kicked and pulled at the door. I was so uncomfortable with her behaviour, I coughed to let her know I was there.
- There is no fruit and vegetables in the men’s diet (one detainees spoke of his dreams about lettuce) and many detainees have stomach, and gum issues. The food is often stale and very poor quality. I was aware that this a general issue on Christmas but in conjunction with poor health and medical assessment and response to these issues, this poses life-long issues for many of these young men.
- I noticed every single man I saw shook excessively. Only one of the men I saw was not on medication. They are not diagnosed by a psychiatrist – yet a majority of them are on anti-depressants and sleeping tablets. I would find in the morning they were groggy and slow and their cognition improved as the day proceeded.
- The detainees talk of the apathy and negligence of their case managers. One man who has been waiting to return home – having signed 3 months ago, told how his case manager forgot to notify Immigration of his desire to return … for a month. Case managers regularly tell detainees the best option is to return home – even those who been found processed and found to be refugees.
- There was a very slack and slapdash approach to every aspect of dealing with myself and my friend, who accompanied me from Sydney. The rules changed every day. We never saw our friends on time. … one day waiting forty minutes. I took a cool bag through the metal detector after having purchased over $100 worth of special foods to take in for the guys. We were refused because we were told we were only allowed to bring in food purchased from the vending machine outside (chocolates and lollies).
- Asylum seekers are given a 45 page TPV application and given no help or assistance with answering this – it’s all in English.
Effects of mistreatment
- Every detainee I saw is profoundly depressed and suicidal. Of the 7 men I saw, 5 are self-harming on a regular basis. They said the place is awash in blood – from bashing and constant self-harming.
- A man with obvious mental health issues, from Iraq, who arrived .on Christmas Island on a boat 2 ½ years ago and has never left – explained to me in great detail his plans to slit his own throat and would kill himself any way he could find. He said repeated requests to be transferred anywhere …. even Nauru or Manus are ignored and not even responded to. I begged him to give me some time, to see what I could do to help him- I even told him I am suffering from cancer and don’t have the choice he does. I told him his life was valuable and please not to kill himself. He was incredibly gracious and took my hand and said how incredibly sorry he was I had cancer. He said you deserve life, but I am sorry I can’t live mine like this anymore”
- 0n the above visit, which was my last, I was escorted out by the Director of Operations. He questioned me about what this man had said, specifically his threat to cut his own throat. I told him that yes he had said this and I am very concerned for his well-being. He raised his eyes and told me “It’s very unfortunate he did this as he was doing so well” I said that the man is mentally unwell and in need of help and he proceeded to tell me he was attention seeking and would be reprimanded for this behaviour. I was incredulous and asked if he was serious. He said “Absolutely ….. he will be reprimanded”
- A man sat outside the room and took notes of everything I and the detainees said. Each visit a Serco officer sat outside in the doorway listening to our conversations.
- The staff are jaded and institutionalised – and in the isolation that is Christmas Island have transcended the normal behaviours one would expect of people working in custodial care. There were numerous staff members on our plane and it is very evident there is a big drinking culture and many of the people working at Christmas are poorly educated and ill-equipped to deal with the social nuances of the population of Christmas. Many of them see all the residents at the centre as criminals and one staff member told me the asylum seekers broke our laws by coming there on a boat in the first place.
- A frightening culture of cruelty, punitive responses, physical and verbal violence has been allowed to flourish and individuals are being damaged in ways they will spend the rest of their lives living with. I have no hesitation in stating the isolation and lack of community visitors has created a palpable redneck lawlessness that derives its validation from poorly conceived concepts of nationalism and truly … a base and ugly form of jingoism.
- Every detainee I saw was broken … cried … and beyond despair. They just looked to be completely deadened. One said to me “It doesn’t matter what happens ….. I’m already dead”
 Joint Standing Committee on Migration, Immigration detention in Australia: a new beginning: criteria for release from detention, First report of the inquiry into immigration detention, House of Representatives, Canberra, December 2008 <http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=mig/detention/index.htm> (viewed 22 April 2015) 152.
 H Spinks and J Phillips, ‘Immigration Detention in Australia’ (Background Note, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia, 2013) <http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22library%2Fprspub%2F1311498%22> 9.
 See for example ABC news report 20 July 2013 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-19/manus-island-detention-centre-to-be-expanded-under-rudd27s-asy/4830778
 Its report on Nauru is found at http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/images/2012-12-14%20nauru%20monitoring%20report%20final.pdf#_ga=1.249381255.1444519822.1443842035 and its report on Manus is found at http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/files/2013-07-12_Manus_Island_Report_Final%281%29.pdf#_ga=1.140395699.1444519822.1443842035
 Manus: http://www.amnesty.org.au/refugees/comments/33587
 see section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act
A brief account of Detention
The Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, said on 6 September 2015 that Australia is already doing a lot when it comes to accepting asylum seekers, and that “we take more refugees than any other through the UNHCR on a per capita basis.”
Shadow Immigration Minister, Richard Marles, repeatedly refused to contradict that claim on Radio National’s AM programme on 7 September.
It is characteristic of the impoverished conversation about refugees in Australia these days that the Prime Minister gets away with such misleading statements and that the Shadow Immigration Minister doesn’t know the facts sufficiently to set the record straight.
To see the way Abbott misleads the public on the matter, it is important to know that there are three streams of refugees who arrive in Australia each year.
First, there is the offshore resettlement stream. Along with a few other countries, Australia handpicks people from UNHCR refugee camps in other countries and brings them safely to Australia. It is an admirable scheme. The quota each year varies, but at present it is set at 13,750 people per year. We resettle them in the community, and it is a scheme we can be proud of. That is the refugee intake Mr Abbott was speaking of.
Second, there are refugees who come by aeroplane. These are people who are able to get travel documents from their country of origin and a visa to come to Australia: typically, a business or tourist visa. Once the person has cleared Passport Control in Australia, they apply for a protection visa. Until their refugee status is finally determined, they live in the community and cause no anxiety at all. Most of them are ultimately assessed as not being refugees. Mr Abbott never speaks about this group.
Third, there are people who are unable to get travel documents from their country of origin or are unable to get a visa to come to Australia. These people are unable to board a plane to fly to Australia, since airlines will not allow a person to board a flight to Australia unless the person is holding an Australian passport or a valid visa to enter Australia. The reason for this is simple: if an airline brings a person to Australia who is not entitled to enter Australia, the airline has to return the person to their point of embarkation at its own expense.
The people who are unable to get travel documents or a visa to enter Australia have no choice but to use people smugglers. They arrive as “boat people”. We lock them up or we take them by force, against their will, to Nauru or Manus Island. Almost all of them are ultimately found to be refugees. Mr Abbott is obsessed with this group and puts his proclaimed Christianity to one side in order to have them treated as harshly as possible.
In order to decide whether Australia is generous in the way Mr Abbot and Mr Marles seem to think, it is important to see which group we are talking about.
Not every country has an offshore resettlement scheme. If we compare our offshore humanitarian intake, we rank well against those other countries which also have an offshore resettlement programme. but this involves comparing us to a small group of countries, and it ignores the reality that most countries receive refugees who are on the move, not sitting in UNHCR camps.
If we compare the number of refugees we receive across all categories, our performance crashes. For example, here are some figures showing the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in just a few countries, and a calculation of how those numbers look on a per capita basis:
|refugees as % of population
|asylum seekers as % of population
|* the figures for Germany and Turkey are very recent estimates, taking account of the arrival of substantial numbers of Syrian refugees in the past few weeks
The comparisons become all the more striking when you consider that countries like Lebanon and Jordan now have millions of refugees from Syria, for the obvious reason that those countries are very close to Syria.
So, a few simple facts:
- Australia is NOT the most generous country when it comes to resettling refugees
- Australia IS the only western country which punishes people for seeking asylum, even though seeking asylum is not a crime: boat people are NOT illegal.
- Australia spends vast amounts of money to lock up and mistreat refugees.
- Tony Abbott either does not know the facts or he wilfully misleads the public, by pandering to our natural desire to do good. He could encourage us to be generous, but instead promotes cruelty while pretending that we are being generous.
- Richard Marles either does not know the facts or sees political advantage insupporting the Abbott government policy.
- Tony Abbott is unfit to be Prime Minister and Richard Marles is unfit to be shadow Immigration Minister.
The question all Australians should ask is this: What sort of country are we? Are we selfish or are we generous? Are we willing to mistreat terrified human beings who have the courage, and the initiative, to escape to safety?
How about this for a great night out ruined by PTV. This was sent to me by a person who has only recently returned from Sydney and hit awful strife trying to use Melbourne’s train system. It was supposed to be a good night out, but turned into Nightmare on Public Transport. I have removed all identifying details:
My husband … and I decided on the night of Monday 20th July 2015 to catch public transport into the city where we held tickets to a concert. We have been living in NSW for the past 5 ½ years and this was to be our first excursion on the train since arriving back from Sydney.
In preparation for the trip, that afternoon, [my husband] looked up the Public Transport Victoria website (http://ptv.vic.gov.au/tickets/myki/) to make sure we could indeed purchase a Myki card each at our local train station … With the information from the website we felt confident that it would not be a problem to do so and we walked up from our home to the station. …
At the … station, platform 1, we split off onto a Myki ticket machine each. We both found it hard to work out how to buy a Myki card and I ended up walking over to the machine [my husband] was at (terminal ID 091200214) where we both tried again to work out the system without success. (This machine was later discovered to be faulty, as admitted to me during a phone conversation on 10th August 2015 at 1:34pm.)
Feeling confused and defeated by the system, we walked out of the … station in search of a taxi. Not 20 meters from the station, we turned to one another and said (in regards to the ticket machines)’it can’t be that hard’, and we headed back up to the station to try again. Our movements would be clearly visible on the … station’s CCTV surveillance footage. My husband requested the CCTV footage along with the transaction list/report from the offending machine …
At approximately 6:15pm, we both went back to the same machine (terminal ID 091200214). We clicked through the options to buy a Myki card, the machine asked for money and we put in a $20.00 cash note. The machine took the money and issued us with a receipt for the $20.00 but did not issue a Myki card. We checked to see if a Myki card had been dispensed from the machine and it had not and there was no staff at the … Station to assist us. At this time, the train arrived and we boarded the train thinking that the receipt would be sufficient evidence to prove we had tried to buy the tickets and that we would be able to reconcile the transaction at Flinders Street Station. Please note that we took the receipt that came out of the machine after our transaction was completed, no other receipt. We did not try to purchase a second Myki card due to our problems in trying to purchase the first one. …
Almost as soon as we sat down on the train, we heard the voice of one of the PT officers asking for passengers to show their Myki cards. I immediately thought’thank goodness, we’ll be able to tell them what happened and they will be able to explain what we can do from here’.
Unfortuantely, it is not the way the interaction with the officers went. We explained to Officer 2139 [name] and Officer 2135 [name] what had happened and from the outset 2139 was very hostile toward us. After explaining the problem we had with the ticket machine Officer 2139 told us that he hears a lot of’stories’ and has a very low tolerance for such things. His manner was very accusatory and we felt like we were being treated like criminals. He asked to see the ticket machine receipt that the machine had created for our transaction. This was the first time we noticed that the receipt had the correct transaction amount ($20.00), but the incorrect payment type and time of transaction was wrong too. We paid in cash and the receipt said we used a MasterCard; it also had the incorrect time on it. Officer 2139 further accused us of carrying the wrong receipt and was inferring that we were lying about our transaction and that we had simply picked up a receipt from the machine that another passenger had left behind. He basically told us we were lying and he did not believe us.
I started to get a bit emotional and explained that we were not trying to do the wrong thing, in fact quite the opposite. We were trying to do the right thing by researching how to buy a Myki card on the website before leaving home and by consciously trying to purchase 2 Myki cards at the station. [Both officers] said they needed to write a report on the incident. We asked whether this meant that we were going to be issued with infringement notices, and they said that it was out of their hands once the report was handed in. Officer 2139 then said that we could either wait and see if an infringement notice arrived in the mail or we could pay an on the spot fine of $75.00 each there and then. He was using this as an obvious threat. (ie:’You either pay now, or pay later’). Officer 2139 was essentially using bullying behaviour and stand over tactics to intimidate us.
At this stage I said to Officer 2139,’Regardless of what is happening here, I do not appreciate your tone or the way you are speaking to us. It is very accusatory and offensive’. [Both officers] had by this time finished writing their reports. Officer 2139 turned on his heel and walked off, muttering to himself. …
I turned to Officer 2135 and stated that I was not happy with how we had been treated by Officer 2139 . Officer 2135 apologised for Officer 2139’s rudeness’ (her words) and told me to appeal the infringement if/when it arrived. Officer 2135 then pointed out the 1800 number for complaints and implied that I should call the number.
At Flinders Street station I called 1800 800 007 at 6:35pm and spoke with Andrew to explain what had just happened with the ticket machine and with Officer 2139’s inappropriate behaviour toward my husband and I. I spoke with him for 12 minutes and he gave me a call …
The next day, Tuesday 21st July, I rang the same 1800 number and spoke with Subra for a further 23 minutes at 2:12pm. This second call was to add further detail to my complaint about the incident and Officer 2139’s behaviour on the night before. A few times, Subra tried to tell me that we picked up the wrong receipt from the machine. I said we definitely didn’t. He then said he would ensure we got a refund (his exact words) for the $20.00 spent at ticket machine 214 and gave me a further case number of #…
I received a phone call (from caller ID – 03 8363 4000) on Monday 10th August at 1:34pm. I was surprised to receive a phone call about the matter because I had requested correspondence to be via email. As I was out, I did not get a chance to take down the caller’s name. The lady told me that the machine 214 (terminal ID 091200214) was indeed found to be faulty and that we would be receiving a refund for the $20.00 we put into the Myki machine. She asked if we had since bought another Myki card that she could have the refund credited to. I said we had not used the public transport system since and therefore still do not have a Myki Card. Due to this she asked for our home address and said to expect a cheque in the mail for the $20.00 in the next 14 days. …
On Thursday 20th August, I was then shocked to receive an email from [name] …. stating that after a comprehensive investigation they have found that a Myki card had indeed been dispensed from the machine around the time of our incident and therefore we would not be issued with a refund. To date, we have not been provided with any evidence to prove the machine was not faulty. It is not a very ’just’ system when [my husband] and I have to prove every movement and event during the time in question, yet PTV essentially asks us to take their word that the machine is not faulty with no evidence to support their claim.
After receiving the email, I once again called 1800 800 007 on Thurs 20th August at 1:42pm, this time speaking with Michelle. … I explained what had happened and she seemed to have all of the information at her disposal already, which I was pleased about. I asked her why were we told to expect a refund cheque in the mail if the decision was going to be overturned 10 days later? Wouldn’t it seem more reasonable to finalise the investigation before promising a refund? [my husband] and I are not happy with the resolution of this matter, and so Michelle opened another case file to investigate further (Ref: 032512_340). It is not fair that a decision can be flip flopped in this way, not to mention terribly unprofessional and unreasonable.
[My husband] and I both work freelance jobs and carry around lots of professional gear. This means we drive our cars to our jobs etc. Neither of us has caught the train in Victoria for over 8 years. Although we are not familiar with the PTV systems, we are law-abiding citizens and were really trying to do the right thing. And as it now stands we have been slugged with a combined penalty amount of $446.00 for one train trip.
In conclusion, [my husband] and I work very hard whilst raising our 2 ½ year old daughter. We do not get to go out on ’dates’ together very often due to our hectic family and work schedules. We had planned the evening down to a ’T’, with a babysitter, a train ride and a concert. It was to be a special night to celebrate our move to Melbourne with a very ’Melbourne’ night out. Unfortunately, the public transport system let us down due to a faulty ticket machine, not to mention an overly complex and sub-standard ticketing system. And due to that we were humiliated and bullied in front of a packed train by a very rude and accusatory staff member, Officer 2139, and left feeling very angry and upset for the rest of the evening. It seems that PT Victoria would prefer their passengers to feel guilty until proven innocent instead of the other way around. The incompetent Myki system combined with the surrounding bureaucracy has cost us many hours of our time. …
What on earth does Public Transport Victoria think it is doing? It is acting as if it is above the law.
Here is a story sent in to me by a Melbourne commuter. In short: he had touched on, and was actively prevented from touching off by an Authorised Officer, who then charged him with Fail to produce a valid ticket and Refuse name and address.
Here is his story:
On the morning of March 5th, 2014, I was traveling from my home in Yarraville, to work near Parliament railway station.
I had a valid myki which I touched on when I commenced my journey at Yarraville railway station. I changed trains at Southern Cross in order to get to Parliament station.
On exiting Parliament station, I noticed a larger than usual crowd attempting to exit the station. The crowd was using both the barriers, and the overflow (pedestal only) area.
I chose to exit via the overflow (pedestal only) areas, as there were less people using it than were using the barriers.
A number of Authorised Officers were checking (what I assumed to be) a random selection of travelers.
These Authorised Officer were on the ‘inside’ of the pedestals (that is, on the train side of the world. The Authorised Officers were checking the myki’s of people who were yet to touch off).
As all Authorised Officers were busy, I simply proceeded to the closest available pedestal and attempted to touch off.
Touch Off Interrupted by Authorised Officer
As my hand approached, and was in fact at the pedestal, an Authorised Officer swept my hand away from the pedestal.
The Authorised Officer must have lunged towards me in order to do this, as, when I approached the pedestal, I saw no idle Authorised Officers standing in a position to engage me.
It must be noted that the Authorised Officer actively prevented me from touching off; he interrupted an activity which I had commenced PRIOR TO any interaction by the Authorised Officer.
Understanding the effect of cutting over $100 million from the Australia Council Budget
“The last time there were similar cuts, when severe budget cuts wiped out the entire middle sector of Australian theatre in the 1990s, the culture took twenty years to recover. I believe these budget cuts are much more serious.” – Alison Croggon, submission to the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding
Mary Lou Jelbart, who runs fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne has sent the following newsletter to supporters of fortyfivedownstairs. It shows plainly how the arts are being hit by Senator Brandis’ reduction of funding for the Australia Council.
Many arts lovers are finding it difficult to comprehend just how powerful an impact the Government’s 30% cut to the Australia Council will have, and it’s hard for non-practitioners to work out why it matters so much.
The opera, the ballet, the major theatre companies and the orchestras have been “quarantined” from the cuts, and their funding will not be affected. Instead, the cuts will have to come from grants to individuals, small to medium sized organisations, and independent theatre companies nationally. This amounts to a 57% cut of previous total funding. Already small grant programs for artists in their early years after graduation have vanished, and two of this years’ four funding rounds have been cancelled.
fortyfivedownstairs does not receive funding from the Australia Council or other public funding sources. However, arts venues have already been seriously affected by the cancellation of theatre seasons scheduled for 2016 due to companies’ inability to apply for funding support.
For example, in the past 9 years, fortyfivedownstairs has supported and/or presented over 70 new Australian productions and 40 readings of new plays. Literally hundreds of emerging and mid-career artists have exhibited there. Some of the most remarkable exhibitions, and productions, have been made possible by relatively small grants from the Australia Council. All that is under threat, and with it the viability of fortyfivedownstairs, and other small, independent venues around the country.
Last week the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding received submissions. Many arts practitioners attended and spoke to their submissions. I strongly recommend looking at them on the Parliament of Australia website.
Very important issues are raised in these submissions, including concerns about secrecy of decision-making by the newly established National Program for Excellence in the Arts. If you only read one or two of the submissions I would strongly recommend the impressive submissions from writer and critic Alison Croggan (no.116), curator David Pledger (no.172) and Professor Nikos Papastergiadis (no.4).
Australia Council Funding is not a perfect system, but it is open and transparent, and has evolved over forty years. The NPEA, set up by Senator George Brandis, will not publish names of those who make the decisions, those who receive the grants, or the amounts granted. As many have pointed out, in the wrong hands a secretive program could well become a vehicle for political control.
Here is the first performance of Wind Farm Music Dedicated to Tony Abbott https://youtu.be/fbLiBCdZyBg
And here is another: https://youtu.be/ky-w9qrCO-E
Lots more to follow, I hope
The score and parts are available, free of charge, here: https://www.mediafire.com/folder/zgkxv0xa8xwpp/Wind_Farm_Music
I recently commissioned Sydney-based composer Lyle Chan to write a short piece for piano trio.
We were chatting at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. I thought about commissioning him to write something. Normally when I commission a piece, I give the composer a completely free hand. But for the first time, I had very specific requirements: I wanted a short piece of music for piano, violin and cello, which must contain quotes from famous pieces of classical music, and must be called “Wind Farm Music, Dedicated to Tony Abbott”.
Lyle completed the piece within a week, and wrote the following epigraph to the score:
“This music is a vision of happy wind turbines, high in the air, soaking up the sunshine, catching fragments of music that rise into the sky after it leaves the ears of the people who listen to them. The music tangles up in their airfoils and the turbines are laughing, delighted. “
From the windmills of the middle ages to the first electricity producing turbine in the 19th century, human beings have ground grain and pumped water with wind power. This music – the music of Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, Schubert, Rossini – was around at that time, and the music is still here today, reminding us that it witnessed humans who knew a kinder and more loving way of fulfilling its needs.
Political? Of course. There is a long and honourable tradition of art in service of political protest. That’s why politicians are a bit jumpy about funding the arts.
This music is intended to counter the absurd idea that wind farms are “ugly”; a reminder that harnessing the wind to help save the planet is a fine thing. It is a reminder of our obligation to future generations
Lyle and I hope that piano trios around Australia will perform the piece (just the right length and tone for an encore). We encourage them to record it and put it up on YouTube. We want everyone to hear it.
The piece is subtitled “A quodlibet for piano trio”. A quodlibet is a musical work made up of fragments of other music. Great composers throughout history wrote them, including famous examples by Bach and Brahms.
Wind Farm Music Dedicated to Tony Abbott will have its world premiere by Seraphim Trio at 12.30 on Wed 19 Aug 2015, at the State Library of Victoria.
Wind Farm Music Dedicated to Tony Abbott is available online.
You can download the score, parts and a digital playback from this folder:
Performances here https://youtu.be/fbLiBCdZyBg and here: https://youtu.be/ky-w9qrCO-E
Lots more to follow, I hope
The PNG authorities have advised detainees in Manus of thir options.
In short, it comes to this: If you are refused refugee status, you will be sent back to your country of origin. If you cannot return to your country of origin, you will stay in detention in PNG. You will not be allowed to go to Australia.
Be clear about this: people who have committed no offence will be jailed, potentially for life, if they are stateless or if they are unwilling to return to their country of origin to be persecuted.
Here is a copy of the notice.
This, coupled with processing designed to exclude as many refugees as possible, will involve forcing people badk to face persecution. Already the system on Manus is operated with a view to breaking the spirit of the people held there, so that they will abandon their claim for protection.
Australia has disgraced itself by creating and running a system like this.
This is a photo of about 300 letters posted to detainees on Manus Island have been returned unopened.
Some of them, no doubt, were addressed to people who have left Manus and returned to their country of origin.
The objective of the detention system as it operates on Manus is to break the spirit of people held there so they will give up any hope of protection and prefer to face persecution at home than face persecution at the hands of Australia and its contractors:
IHMS (International Health & Medical Services)
Those companies – Australian companies – are collaborating with the Australian Government in one of the most shameful operations this country has ever been involved in: the deliberate mistreatment of asylum seekers who have sought protection in Australia.
Any group of people who (innocent of any offence) are locked up indefinitely in appalling conditions are eager to receive friendly messages from outside. Common sense suggests this, and experience shows it. The Australian government simply says that asylum seekers do not want to receive letters.
The government is lying when it says this.
The Department of Immigration is lying when it says this.
The greatest threat to Australia is not terrorism, but people like Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton, who are willing to inflict misery on innocent people in order to hold on to political power.
Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton both deserve to go down in history as the worst people ever to hold high office in this country.
Today I recorded a speech to the Labor National Conference. I did it because I was asked to. They may not like it.
SPEECH TO LABOR NATIONAL CONFERENCE
What I have to say to you today is not what I would have expected to say.
I do not expect you to agree with me.
Let me start by saying that in my view the current Prime Minister is the worst in our history. The current Government is probably the worst in our history.
But we also have the least effective Opposition in living memory.
It will not be news to you that a lot of people – at least those who think about their vote instead of voting out of habit – must be wondering whether either of the major parties is worth voting for. In my opinion, they aren’t.
There was a time when Labor stood for something. If it still stands for anything, it has been conspicuously quiet on the matter.
On asylum seekers, Labor’s record is patchy and getting worse. In the 2013 election campaign Labor tried to out-promise the Coalition on the cruelty with which it would treat boat people.
I know that asylum seeker policy might be seen as a niche issue, but we are now at the stage that it calls in question the character of the nation.
Labor’s refugee platform speaks in high-sounding terms of fairness and humanity, but it stays silent on the fact of deliberate, intentional cruelty to boat people.
How many Labor MPs have even been to Manus Island or Nauru? When was the last time a Labor parliamentarian went to Manus Island or Nauru? How much do Labor parliamentarians know about the shocking conditions in offshore detention? Labor has not used its position to expose the cruelty and hypocrisy of the Government’s position.
The Coalition’s rhetoric says they are worried about asylum seekers drowning in an attempt to reach Australia, so they punish the ones who don’t drown. It is an intentionally hard line. It is a hard line which depends on a cruelty.
To an outsider, the only difference between the two major parties is this: the Coalition treat boat people and boasts about it; Labor would mistreat boat people, but is ashamed of it.
A voter recently wrote to 45 Federal MPs asking two simple questions:
“In your personal opinion, are asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat treated humanely?
“Do you consider that people who arrive in Australia informally and seek asylum should be called ‘illegal’?”
Nineteen of the MPs were Labor MPs. Fourteen of the Labor MPs ignored the letter. They didn’t even acknowledge getting it.
One of them forwarded the letter to Richard Marles (the Shadow Immigration Minister) which is a strange thing to do when a personal opinion was asked for. But it didn’t matter because although Marles replied, his reply did not answer the questions.
Four other Labor MPs responded to the letter but did not answer the questions. They did say it was important to treat boat people with compassion and fairness, in a dignified humane way. Well, maybe Labor could advance those ideas publicly.
Do any of you have any idea how cruelly people are treated in offshore detention?
If you understand how shocking things are on Manus and Nauru the answers to that voter’s letters might have been different.
But how many Labor MPs have been to Manus or Nauru? When was the last time any Labor MP visited Manus or Nauru?
Either you have not bothered to find out the facts, or you know the facts and don’t care. Either way, Labor should be ashamed of itself.
The Opposition has a chance to be the second-loudest voice in the country. So why are you so quiet about these things?
Labor supported the Australian Border Force Act, which makes it a criminal offence to disclose anything about conditions in detention, including instances of child sex abuse.
There is a defence in section 48, which permits disclosure for the purpose of reducing a serious risk to the life or health of a person. But Labor’s Shadow Minister seemed to be unaware of section 48, and instead defended the legislation by pointing to the more onerous provisions of the whistle-blower legislation.
The only available inference is that Labor supported the legislation without understanding it, and without regard to the obvious chilling effects which the legislation is bound to have.
If Labor actually believes that people in detention should be treated with dignity and compassion, it should not have supported the Australian Border Force Act.
But that’s the problem: viewed from outside, it looks as though Labor does not actually believe in its own rhetoric. In fact, it looks as though Labor does not believe in anything much at all.
If that is where today’s Labor Party stands, it will not long survive.
Labor today looks like a weak centre-right party which does not believe in itself. A party that believes in nothing except power will end up with nothing at all.
If Labor refuses to stand up for the principles it espouses, to articulate them and then argue for them, it forfeits its right to any political support.
Katharine Murphy has a good piece in today’s Guardian
It includes these observations from Tim Flannery:
The Climate Council’s chief councillor, the scientist and climate activist Tim Flannery, said Australia needed to step up its level of ambition for the international talks because the Abbott government’s domestic policies had attracted international attention.
“Given Australia is one of the world’s largest coal producers, and the 13th largest contributor to climate change in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the eyes of the world are on Australia right now,” Flannery said on Monday.
“This is likely the first time in recent history that Australia has come under such sustained criticism from other countries over its domestic policies.
“We risk becoming a pariah if we don’t join the rest of the world in doing our fair share to tackle climate change.”
Here is a very useful analysis of the Australian Border Force Act, by George Newhouse: Criminalising whistleblowing under the ABF Act.
In my view, the scenarios he identifies are realistic although the defence under ABF s.48 probably applies to them.
The deeper point is this: the government is apparently intent on suppressing information about what is going on in Australia’s detention system. They have a lot to hide, and health workers know this better than most people.
Unfortunately, most Federal parliamentarians seem not to understand what they have just voted for. The Labor party supported the government on this one, and representatives on both sides point to the whistleblower legislation (the Public Interest Disclosure Act) to suppor their view that health workers can speak out. Apparently they did not read or understand section 48 of the Australian Border Force Act.