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Category Archives: Social Justice

If only Dutton and Morrison weren’t so mean

In June 2018, when the world broke into uniform outrage over the forced separation and detention of illegal migrant children in the United States, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was quick to stomp on any hope for the men, women and children trapped on Nauru and Manus Island: “ …the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia,” he stated.

Several months later and community anger has grown. Recent News Corp polling shows the majority of Australians want children and their families removed from Nauru. Yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison (himself previously responsible for the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio) and Minister Dutton, supported by the whole swathe of hard-right conservative politicians, are holding strong.

In what can only be described as nonsensical lunacy and manipulative fuckwittery, Morrison, Dutton, and now Abbott, insult the collective intelligence of Australians. They insist that ceasing the relentless and intentional torture of innocent men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island will result in a flood of asylum seeker boats attempting to reach Australian shores.

Not content with sprouting this contemptuous bile across every media platform willing to accept it, the ruling overlords in Canberra are actively sabotaging every effort to bring detainees to Australia. The Government has launched a new legal bid to challenge the ability of the Federal Court to order humanitarian evacuations. It has thwarted Labors attempt to compromise on New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees by swiftly backing down on a bipartisan deal for the resettlement option.

This is sour news for everyone who listened to Morrison’s faux-impassioned apology to victims of child sexual abuse: “Why were the cries of children and parents ignored?” he asked. “Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?” he continued. “Why has it taken so long to act?” he questioned. “Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children?” he queried. “Why didn’t we believe?” he carried on, before further stating, “And our work does not stop at our borders.”

How many more leaked reports of the devastating trauma and abhorrent abuse of children in detention, Forgotten Children reports, and pleas from medical professionals (including those who have treated children on Nauru), do Morrison and Dutton intend to ignore? How much more evidence is required beyond the cache of available literature, for Morrison and Dutton to acknowledge that the indefinite detention of children is causing irreversible and catastrophic harm?

Yet at every turn the soulless conservatives rely on the manifestly erroneous opinion and blatant falsehood that the cruel, slow deaths of people fleeing persecution, war and genocide is necessary to prevent the return of the boats.

And Prime Minister Morrison and Minister Dutton must know it is a blatant falsehood, or they are beastly careless as to the truth.

Or are they simply incapable of comprehending the complexity, ambiguities and consequences of their own asylum seeker policy?

No doubt Morrison and Dutton are beholden by a fear, genuine or not, that any shift in the hardline policy will result in the renewed influx of leaky boats and drownings. There seems no doubt that they are frightened (or at least pretend to be) that just the tiniest sliver of hope for those destined to die in tent-camps in a remote island prison will send people-smugglers into a frenzy of ticket-selling for a journey to the promised land.

But a fervent belief does not make it true. Repeatedly saying the same falsehood out loud does not turn that erroneous assertion into fact. The Government has before it all the information it needs to successfully transition away from indefinite detention and still protect Australia’s borders. There is no plausible reason to continue the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore processing centres.

The boat turnback policy, actualised through the military-led Operation Sovereign Borders, stemmed the tide of asylum seekers reaching Australia. This is now indisputable and must be accepted across the full range of the political spectrum. As social scientist and public intellectual Robert Manne opines, this is supported not only by the evidenced consequences of the Howard government resettling hundreds of refugees in Australia during 2005-2007 at the height of its own boat turnback and offshore processing regime, but also the lack of any people-smuggler action when Turnbull announced the US resettlement deal in 2016.

More compelling, however, is the view of former Australian Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg, who was sacked by the Governor-General on 15 March 2018 for tenuous and frankly unbelievable reasons. In his former official role, Quaedvlieg sat on the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Taskforce and was responsible for briefing the respective Minister which included during his tenure, Morrison and Dutton, and others in parliament. Quaedvlieg knows intimately the role Operation Sovereign Borders had on quelling the influx of asylum seeker boats.

In a recent op-ed and also in his regular Tweets, Quaedvlieg maintains that evacuating the offshore processing centres and bringing all the current detainees to Australia for medical treatment, while resettlement options are canvassed and arranged, will not give a green light to people-smugglers. At worst, he accepts that there may be some exploratory ventures, but Quaedvlieg notes that this would likely happen in light of upcoming federal election anyway. Quaedvlieg’s pragmatic and politically palatable solution breaks the impasse and is grounded in reality.

The former Australian Border Force Commissioner’s position is backed up by Shaun Hanns, a former Home Affairs department official who was responsible for processing asylum seeker claims. Hanns quit his role in mid-October and provided parliamentarians with an extensive letter which analysed the interception activity of boat turnbacks. He admits that he initially supported Australia’s harsh deterrence regime, but is now of the belief that the ongoing and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers is “not just tragic but meaningless”.

What is behind Morrison and Dutton’s refusal to show even a semblance of humanity? Sacrificing the lives of children to appeal to the racist voters in marginal seats is inexcusable. There is no moral high ground in torturing innocent people to prevent others from boarding boats. “Groupthink” is a plausible explanation for why it has taken so long for moderate Coalition party members to break ranks. The psychological theory known as “cognitive dissonance” partly explains the warped justification for ongoing detention.

But nothing explains the sheer callousness and cruelty displayed by the likes of Morrison and Dutton who have right before them the evidence that Operation Sovereign Borders secured Australian waters, and equally so, that indefinite detention is causing catastrophic harm.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn. Dutton, and Morrison alike, are so incapable of absorbing irrefutable fact, so oblivious to bluntly delivered information, and so manifestly inadequate at assessing matters of significant public interest, they are not fit to hold office.

Or they are simply the meanest politicians Australia has ever seen.

 

The children, the children!

By George Theodoridis

Twenty-five minutes into last Monday night’s QandA, a question was asked about the refugees and specifically the children, stuck in the Guantanamos that Australia had created on Nauru and Manus. Mr Phillip Ruddock was asked to respond.

Ruddock leaned forward defiantly, some would say threateningly and asked the audience, “How many of you have been to Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh?”

Ruddock is the special envoy to the Prime Minister for Human Rights, the NSW Liberal Party President and a member of Amnesty International.

His demeanor could bring to mind an old uncle who had lost his mind a very long time ago and his temper at that very moment.

His view, as he enunciated it, is that unless we can do something about all those other – millions of them! – children living in far more appalling conditions in Cox Bazaar and all around the world, we need do nothing about those children that we ourselves have locked up and put into our own version of “appalling conditions.” It is an act of charity, after all. To save other children from drowning.

Therefore, he concluded, the NZ deal cannot go ahead and the notion that all those refugees – all those children in those “appalling conditions” – be brought to Australia was a nauseating anathema! We have no humanitarian questions to answer! The NZ deal could not happen because sometime in the future, these children would be able to come into Australia and … and what?

This view, that unless we do something else, something which is impossible to achieve, we don’t need to do anything, is emphasised a little later in the evening when Ruddock is asked this time to comment on climate change.

“… if you’ve not got China if you’ve not got Europe, if you’ve not got India if you’ve not got the United States if you’ve not got South America all involved …”

So we do nothing about those we’ve locked up in our abominable dungeons and we do nothing about climate change!

How on earth can we face all those other countries which Mr Ruddock has mentioned and ask them to do something about these issues if we, not only have done nothing about them but, in fact did things to make them worse?

Ruddock’s rhetoric is casuistry at its most blatant. A work of sophistry. A set of specious dot points that rely not on Aristotle’s “sylogism” (a set of conclusions based on previously proven conclusions) but, the reverse, conclusions made on things that cannot be proven or accomplished, the end result of which would be that the status quo remains. The children stay in those “appalling conditions” and the planet stays on its trajectory to becoming uninhabitable, all thanks to this form of thinking.

From the other politician, Mr Albanese I could – try as I might- heard nothing that delivers anything more than what Mr Ruddock had delivered. It took the brand-new politician, Dr Kerryn Phelps to put a bit of a flutter of optimism in my heart.

Thank you, Dr Phelps. Long may you reign and strong may be your right hand as you try and bend these unbendable minds now clogging the corridors of this country’s power.

Would we be hearing anything different from a certain female Senator from Queensland?

The question on children indicates the state of our moral health and that on climate change, the state of our intellectual health and the health of our planet. So far we have failed miserably on both of these states.

So, now we have the children and the planet caught firmly in the cross fire of egos, far too big, too prodigiously billowing to be allowed to continue as they are and at their whim and at their political contingencies.

And they are caught not only in the cross fire but in the cross hairs of our politician’s political long guns. Both, children and the planet are being shot at, both being treated with ever-increasing contempt and an ever-increasing resolve to have them – children and climate – disappear one way or another from their list of duties and responsibilities.

Some two and half thousand years ago, in the nascent Democracy of Athens, Pericles, one of its most prominent leaders, enacted a law which said that only children whose parents were both citizens of Athens would be allowed citizenship, otherwise they would remain in the status of barbarians, foreigners in our parlance. In other words, both mother and father must be Athenian citizens for their children to be treated as citizens, with all the rights of all Athenian citizen.

The tragedian Euripides was disgusted by that law and wrote his “Medea” to show what the outcome of such a discriminatory, eugenic, racist law would be.

Jason was from Iolcos and the rightful king but his father Aeson who wanted to keep the throne for himself, sent him off to Colchis, virtually the other end of the known world back then, to bring back the Golden fleece. That he thought would have him killed or disposed off for a very long time. (Kicking the can down the road a bit, as it were.) Jason gets a crew together, called the Argonauts after the name of the ship and its builder, Argos, goes to Colchis where Medea, the Princess helps him to take the golden fleece and escapes with him back to Jason’s home.

Upon their return however, Aeson refuses them both, the throne and citizenship and sends them away. The young couple now become refugees.

They end up in Corinth but there too, they are treated very badly. After all, they are not Corinthians. They are foreigners. They now have children.

After a while, Jason wants to marry the local princess, Glauke, so as to – so he says- get some respect for and acceptance of his children and of Medea. Medea doesn’t buy that and, in a mood of vengeance kills the Princess and, at the same time, her father the King.

Then she kills their two children and flees off to Athens.

Euripides tells this story as a criticism of Pericles’ new law and, more importantly as a moral question to the Athenians: “now that Medea is here,” he asks them, “how will you, Athenians, you who listen to your Pericles and boast that you are civilised and democratic and fair-minded and hospitable, people whose god is Zeus Xenios (ie the protector of the stranger) how will you treat her?”

Euripides had changed the myth slightly so as to emphasise his disgust. In the original story, Medea left alone and it was the Corinthians, the locals who had killed the kids. By changing this bit of the story Euripides, shows, among other things the desperation a mother feels in a hostile, racist world. She kills them rather than leave them for the locals to either torment them or – worse, kill them – and takes away their bodies to bury them with dignity elsewhere rather than to have them defiled by the racist locals.

That was Medea’s children, children that were caught in the crossfire of adult egos, children who have done nothing but were punished fatally. Cross fire and cross hairs.

Then, some 26 years later, in around 405BC, Euripides wrote his last extant play, Iphigeneia in Aulis.

This time he uses a young girl to teach the same lesson.

The young girl, Iphigeneia, a princess and the daughter of the leader of the army, (one thousand ships of it) Agamemnon, had committed no sin and performed no ill deed to anyone. But her father did. He had committed a grievous sin against the goddess Artemis by killing her favourite animal, a deer. Now, Agamemnon and all the armies of Greece were stuck around the harbour of Aulis for three years, waiting for favourable winds to fill their sails and head for Troy to bring back the queen of Sparta, Helen who was abducted by Paris, the Trojan Prince.

The priest Calchas was asked to ask the gods what was wrong, and he had returned bearing bad news. Artemis is seeking compensation of equal value: he had killed her favourite animal, so he must kill his own, that being Iphigeneia. Also, to deter others from committing similar acts of hubris.

Iphigeneia’s speech, her plea to her father is one the most emotional speeches that Euripides had ever written, though, as emotional speeches go, he has always been far superior to his colleagues, Aeschylus (the father of tragedy) and Sophocles, who, most probably, was still around. Those two weren’t as keen to use emotions to deliver their moral instructions. Their method was simple. The gods are annoyed with you, Agamemnon or Klytaemestra, or Oedipus so you must die. Euripides went not only for the jugular but also for the heart.

So, the child, Iphigeneia too was caught in the cross fire of adult egos. “If I had the words of Orpheus, father …”

Verbal emotions were exhibited aplenty by the two leaders of the two leading parties in Australia last week, saying sorry to the children who were caught in the cross fire of political egos and the cross hairs of paedophiles.

Not too far away by terrestrial as well as by moral metres are some other children, also caught in the same cross fire of the same political egos, egos that care only for their own hollow bloatings than for finding a way of releasing those children from the jaws of torture and death into which these very same politicians dropped them and bringing them here, into our welcoming arms, arms that welcome all life.

Rhetoric gushes out easily. Cascades of it, tsunamis of it and all replete with emotional appeals and sympathy. Saying sorry is easy. Far too easy it seems. Doing things that show that we are indeed sorry, that we repent and are prepared to repair is quite another thing.

The children – and adults – in Manus and Nauru will stay there and under the same “appalling” conditions so long as politicians use casuistry like that used by Mr Ruddock and the mealy mouthed mumblings of Mr Albanese during last Monday’s QandA. Let us hope that Dr Phelps’ words become the flesh and blood of real action.

Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma

It is an organisation not without its problems. Conceived in the heat of idealism, and promoted as the vanguard of medical rescue and human rights advocacy, Médecins Sans Frontières has had its faults. Its co-founder Bernard Kouchner went a bit awry when he turned such advocacy into full blown interventionism. As Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign minister, his conversion to politicised interventionism in places of crisis went full circle. He notably split from MSF to create Doctors of the World, where he felt imbued by the spirit of droit d’ingerence, subsequently given the gloss of “humanitarian intervention”. With its mischief making properties, such interventions have manifested, usually in the guise of wealthy Western states, from the Balkans to Africa.

MSF, at least in its operating protocols, is meant to be solidly neutral and diligently impartial. But neutrality tends to be compromised before the spectacle of suffering.  Bearing witness disturbs the mood and narrows objective distance. On June 17, 2016, by way of example, the organisation stated that it could not “accept funding from the EU or the Member States while at the same time treating the victims of their policies! It’s that simple.” Central to this, as Katharine Weatherhead explained in an analysis of the organisation’s stance, is the “ethic of refusal” and témoignage, “the idea of being a witness to suffering.”

Australia’s gulag mimicry – a prison first, justice second mentality that governs boat arrivals – has done wonders to challenge any stance of distance humanitarian organisations might purport to have. To see the suffering such policies cause is to make converts of the stony-hearted. What matters in this instance – the MSF condemnation of Australia’s innately brutal anti-refugee policy on Nauru – is its certitude.

The Australian government has taken the high, icy road and left the UN Refugee Convention in shambolic ruin; it insists, repeatedly, that refugees are to be discriminated against on the basis of how they arrive to the country; it also suggests, with a hypnotically disabling insistence that keeping people in open air prisons indefinitely is far better than letting them drown. (We, the message goes, stopped the boats and saved lives!)

MSF, which had been working on the island since November 2017 primarily providing free psychological and psychiatric services, was given its marching orders by Nauru’s authorities last week. Visas for the organisation’s workers were cancelled “to make it clear there was no intention of inviting us back,” explained MSF Australia director Paul McPhun.

A disagreement about what MSF was charged with doing developed. The original memorandum of understanding with the Nauru government tends to put cold water on the suggestion by Australia’s Home Affairs Minister that MSF had not been involved in supplying medical services to the detainees on the island. In dull wording, the agreement stated who the intended recipients of the project would be: “People suffering from various mental health issues, from moderate to severe, members of the various communities living in the Republic of Nauru, including Nauruan residents, expatriates, asylum seekers and refugees with no discrimination.”

It was obvious that the revelations would eventually become too much for either the authorities of Australia or Nauru to tolerate. Having been entrusted with the task of healing the wounds of the mind, MSF’s brief was withdrawn after the organisation’s findings on the state of mental health of those in detention. “Five years of indefinite limbo has led to a radical deterioration of their medical health and wellbeing,” claimed McPhun in stark fashion to reporters in Sydney on Thursday. “Separating families, holding men, women and children on a remote island indefinitely with no hope of protection except in the case of a medical emergency, is cruel and inhumane.”

Undertaking a journey from war torn environs and famine-stricken lands might well inflict its own elements of emotional distortion and disturbance, but Australia’s policy of keeping people isolated, distant and grounded took it further. It was penal vindictiveness, a form of needless brutal application.

In McPhun’s sharp assessment, “While many asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru experienced trauma in their countries of origin or during their journey, it is the Australian government’s policy of indefinite offshore detention that has destroyed their resilience, shattered all hope, and ultimately impacted their mental health.”

The organisation has made it clear that Canberra’s insistence that “offshore detention” remains somehow humanitarian is barely credible, there being “nothing humanitarian saving people from the sea only to leave them in an open-air prison on Nauru.”

Such a cruel joke has turned the members of MSF into a decidedly militant outfit. “Over the past 11 months on Nauru,” states psychiatrist Beth O’Connor, “I have seen an alarming number of suicide attempts and incidents of self-harm among the refugee and asylum seeker men, women and children we treat.” Particularly shocking were the number of children enduring the effects of traumatic withdrawal syndrome “where their status deteriorated to the extent they were unable to eat, drink, or even to walk to the toilet.”

With such observations, there is little surprise that Nauru’s government, which was evidently seeking to find an ally and an alibi, felt slighted.  The doctors had to go. “Although MSF claimed to be a partner to Nauru and the Nauruan people instead of working with us,” came the government justification, “they conspired against us.” The government was no longer inclined “to accept the concocted lies told about us purely to advance political agendas.”

What the government statement also insisted upon was the comparative advantage the hosted refugees and asylum seekers had. They had their own tissue of mendacity to proffer. “The facilities, care, welfare and homely environment offered to refugees and asylum seekers are comparable or better than what other refugees and asylum seekers across the globe receive.” For that to make any sense, a comparative study on suicides, psychological corrosion and trauma would have to be done across the world’s refugee camps. In those terms, Nauru’s performance, aided and abetted by their Australian sponsors, has been ghoulishly stellar.

Access to mental health care services under threat

‘Enough is Enough’….All consumers and psychologists in Australia deserve equal access to Medicare!

The following is reproduced with permission from the Australian Psychologists’ communityrun petition which calls for all consumers and psychologists in Australia to have equal access to Medicare.

Please read the below and sign the petition here.

“Access to mental health care for millions of vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians is under threat. The peak representative body for psychologists, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) has put the majority of its members and their clients’ needs second to the interests of just 36% of all registered psychologists. It has submitted a proposal to the Federal Department of Health’s review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) which, if accepted, will have devastating consequences for rural and regional Australians, effectively denying them access to mental health services.

Medicare is the main funding program enabling the Australian public to access psychologists. In a nutshell, the APS has recommended that Australians seeking referrals for mental health issues should be restricted to seeing only 36% of psychologists. The APS has done this by proposing that only psychologists who have been “endorsed” in selected areas of practice by the Psychology Board of Australia can claim Medicare benefits for clients presenting with moderate, severe or complex mental health disorders.

The APS’s proposed three-tier model must be rejected. The existing two-tiered model which provides significantly higher rebates to clinical psychologists providing the same psychological service to clients as registered psychologists, must be replaced with a fair and equitable MBS model which recognises the expertise, experience and skills of all registered psychologists.

We need a single rebate for consumers and their psychologists in Australia! Please sign and support one rebate for all!

By the ‘Australian Psychologists’ Facebook team (a group containing over 1800 psychologists with a diversity of qualifications from all areas of psychology)

Why is this important?

The APS submission (https://www.psychology.org.au/About-Us/What-we-do/advocacy/Submissions/Professional-Practice/2018/APS-Submission-to-the-MBS-Review-Better-Access?) recommends that over two thirds of registered psychologists (many of whom hold higher degrees, specialised training and significant experience in their field) but have not applied for “endorsement” would only be able to provide services to the estimate 10% of clients presenting with mild to moderate disorders. The complicated model states that psychologists may be given an opportunity to “demonstrate equivalent competence” to be able to treat what is, for many, their existing client base. Recognition would almost certainly come at a significant cost. The APS has yet to explain just how this recognition would occur, leaving experienced practitioners at a loss as to how they can protect their livelihood and deliver crucial services to clients.

All registered psychologists are currently permitted to practice across all areas of psychology and mental health and can diagnose, assess and treat clients, regardless of whether they are endorsed or not. Ethical guidelines require psychologists to only provide services within their limits of personal competence.

Endorsed psychologists primarily operate in urban areas, while the majority of psychologists operating in rural areas are non-endorsed. Data from the Psychology Board of Australia’s ‘Area of practice endorsement data tables: January 2014’, shows that only 23 endorsed psychologists work in remote communities across Australia; 212 in outer regional; while 7 969 work in metropolitan/capital cities. Our rural areas have some of the highest rates of suicide in Australia. If accepted, the APS recommendations will leave rural and regional Australians without access to vital mental health care services.

The consequences to Australians in desperate need of mental health care will be disastrous. If accepted, the APS model will result in higher session fees, with clients unable to claim any Medicare rebate unless their preferred practitioner is “endorsed”. Market forces would likely push up out-of-pocket fees to see endorsed psychologists and waiting lists would blow out. By losing a major funding stream, many non-endorsed psychologists would be forced to close their practices, leaving vulnerable clients without access to vital and affordable health services. Many endorsed psychologists do not bulk bill, meaning only those in higher socioeconomic groups would be able to afford treatment for the most debilitating of conditions.

There is no evidence to support that better health outcomes are achieved by “endorsed” psychologists. In fact, a significant amount of “endorsed” psychologists achieved this status through historical paid membership to special interest “Colleges”, and not through demonstrated experience or completing a masters/doctorate degree. Some psychologists were granted up to six endorsements via this process. The Australian Clinical Psychology Association stated that ‘More than half of those clinical psychologists currently endorsed by the Psychology Board of Australia do not have qualifications in clinical psychology…’ (source: https://industry.gov.au/Office-of-the-Chief-Economist/SkilledOccupationList/Documents/2015Submissions/ACPA.pdf). Therefore, many endorsed psychologists hold the same level of training and qualifications as non-endorsed psychologists.

The APS position is a crushing blow to over two thirds of registered psychologists, many of whom will be unable to continue treating the majority of their clients if the proposal is accepted by the Government. It is clear the APS is not acting in the best interests of its members (who currently pay $640 for annual membership) or their clients, by advocating that the majority of psychologists lose access to the MBS.

In fact, if the APS proposal is accepted, 66% of the psychologist board members who are “endorsed”, may personally benefit with increased client referrals, while 64% of registered psychologists will have very limited access to Medicare referrals. Questions must be asked about the ability of the APS Board to represent all psychologists equally, and whether the board members are at risk of breaching their fiduciary duties to the APS with a proposal which effectively destroys the livelihoods of the majority of registered practitioners, for the benefit of a few, including themselves. For over ten years now, clinical psychologist’s services have attracted a $39 higher rebate than non-clinical psychologists. Despite this higher rebate, fewer clinical psychologists fully bulk-bill their clients.

Based on the current Medicare arrangements, the proposed changes will represent a significant increase to Medicare, as the cost of providing the same services already being provided by registered psychologists would increase by 47%.

A notable research project commissioned by the Australian Government (Pirkis et al, 2011) demonstrated clearly that psychologists treating mental illness across both tiers of Medicare Better Access produced equivalently strong treatment outcomes (as measured by the K-10 and DASS pre-post treatment) for mild, moderate and severe cases of mental illness. This research demonstrates clearly that there is no difference in treatment outcomes when comparing clinical psychologists treating under tier one of Medicare Better Access with the treatment outcomes of all other registered psychologists treating under tier two of Medicare Better Access (Pirkis et al, 2011a).
Reference: Pirkis, Ftanou, Williamson, Machlin, Spittal & Bassilios (2011a). Australia’s Better Access initiative: An evaluation. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45:726–739″.

You can find the petition here.

Also consider writing, emailing or calling your Federal Member of Parliament, Senators, and your local state government representatives, to share with them why you personally support fair and equal access to essential mental health care services.

Australian Psychological Society Medicare review submission betrays members and clients

The Australian Psychological Society’s (APS) submission to the Commonwealth Government’s Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) review is an astonishing attempt to restrict access to psychology services for the most vulnerable of Australians. The submission, which was only made available to APS members on Friday, 17 August 2018, represents a kick in the guts to over 60% of Australian psychologists, who may have their ability to provide affordable and accessible services to clients with complex mental health needs significantly reduced.

The submission preferences psychologists who have been “endorsed” by the APS above all other psychologists, for treating clients with “Severe and Chronic/Unremitting Disorders” and “Moderate – Severe Disorders and more Complex Disorders”. This includes disorders ranging from bipolar, autism and ADHD, to obsessive compulsive disorders, trauma disorders, eating disorders or anything else a referring practitioner thinks is “moderate/severe”.

The APS explicitly excludes four “Area of Practice Endorsements” (AoPE) categories from providing MBS rebated services for “Severe and Chronic/Unremitting Disorders”, recommending, and thus inferring, that only practitioners holding endorsements for Clinical, Counselling, Forensic, Health or Education and Development Psychology are competent to treat clients with complex health issues. These endorsed psychologists make up less than 34% of all registered psychologists in Australia.

Additionally, the proposal excludes over 66% of registered psychologists from providing MBS rebated services to clients presenting with “Moderate – Severe Disorders and more Complex Disorders”. It states that these clients should be treated only by AoPE practitioners, or “psychologists who can demonstrate equivalent competence”. While on the face of it, the addition of demonstrated equivalent competence implies that other experienced practitioners will be able to access the MBS for clients with moderate/severe disorders, sources have revealed that the APS requires onerous and unrealistic requirements to be met to demonstrate experience and competence (eg, failing to recognise relevant qualifications which were obtained prior to a psychology degree), which will effectively exclude the vast majority of experienced practitioners from treating clients with a broad range of moderate disorders.

All psychologists are registered with the Psychology Board of Australia. They are required to have a minimum of 4 years of university training and two years of supervised experience, and engage in yearly professional development to keep up to date with knowledge, and supplement  their skills, experience and training.

Less than 38% of registered psychologists are “endorsed” by the Psychology Board of Australia across nine separate areas of practice. However “endorsement” does not equate to better clinical skills or greater practical experience. It is not a confirmation of demonstrated and practical expertise. It simply means that the practitioner may have attended university for an additional two years. This study does not necessarily provide the AoPE practitioners with further people and practice skills required to form and build relationship with clients. The endorsement purely recognises an academic achievement which over time becomes less relevant compared with decades of actual practical experience in a specialist field.

To fully appreciate the offensiveness of this proposal, its estimated that up to 50% of “endorsed” psychologists do not hold the higher qualifications now required for AoPE. Historically, what preceded the “endorsement” was simply paid membership of an “interest group” or “College”. When the APS changed to a qualification based endorsement system, paid members of Colleges were grandfathered into the AoPE. The “grandfathered” practitioners may only hold undergraduate qualifications, yet are now preferenced by the APS above psychologists who did not pay membership to an interest group, but hold requisite qualifications.

The proposal is a brazen attempt by the APS to monopolise the market in favour of a select few endorsed psychologists. If accepted by Minister for Health, Greg Hunt MP, it may see registered psychologists with decades of experience and expertise in specialist areas lose their livelihoods. Vast swathes of the population, including the most disadvantaged in the community, may lose access to crucial services, particularly as many AoPE practitioners do not bulk-bill.

Under the proposal, a client with autism, ADHD or or schizophrenia would potentially be restricted to seeking services from less than 33.4% of registered practitioners. A client with a trauma disorder would be restricted to accessing less than 40% of registered practitioners. The remaining 60% of practitioners would have their client base severely curtailed, almost certainly resulting in the closure of many rural and regional practices, where dedicated professionals have formed and built relationships to ensure the best possible services are provided.

Psychologists have slammed the proposal, which they claim is unethical and potentially exposes them to claims of professional negligence, with the APS inferring that general practitioners lack the experience, skills and qualifications to treat complex health issues.

The APS strong inference that a practitioner who was formerly a paid member of a special interest College, or a recent university graduate, is capable of providing better service than a general practitioner who has diligently gained experience by working with clients in the community while maintaining professional development requirements, is plainly offensive.

Australians should be able to choose a medical specialist based on their skills and experience and expertise. If the APS proposal is accepted, clients with complex issues will not be able to access Medicare benefits for their preferred practitioner.

Each year in Australia, approximately one in five people will experience a mental illness. However a recent national survey showed that only 35% of people with a mental disorder had accessed a health service within the 12 months before the survey.

Research by Meadows et al (2015) of MBS items claimed under the nationally funded mental health program, Better Access, shows unequal distribution across the Australian population for psychiatry and clinical psychology services, compared with the equal distribution of general practitioner and non-clinical psychology services. This suggests that distribution of practitioners in the community has an impact on the accessibility of services. It is evident that the APS proposal to reduce number of practitioners able to access Medicare benefits for clients with complex mental health needs will significantly impact on levels of care and outcomes.

If accepted by Minister Hunt, the APS proposal will have the effect of funneling vital health funding to psychologists preferenced because of their privilege/access to higher education, rather than to those with proven and demonstrated skills at treating clients with complex mental health issues. It will result in reduced access to health services and consequently lead to poorer outcomes for Australians who require mental health services. It will restrict access to necessary and vital services for the most vulnerable of Australians. It will unfairly impact on Indigenous Australians, the homeless, those disadvantaged through circumstance, trauma or financial status, those in lower socioeconomic groups and rural and regional areas – in fact, the APS proposal will impact unfairly on exactly those people the Better Access program is intended to support.

50 Offshore Protests Occurred Around the Country to Mark the 5th Anniversary of the “Pacific Solution”

Media Release

The protests in the week ending 22/7/18 (involving over 90 groups) rolled across regional Australia and mostly focused on MP offices.

Rural Australians for Refugees (or RAR) celebrate the huge contribution migrants make to struggling country towns. The #HomeToBilo campaign is an expression of the warmth with which hard-working refugee families have been embraced.

Capital city actions with witty signs followed. Images of the 12 refugees who died offshore, and a dozen empty chairs or pairs of shoes were a frequent theme across the nation.

Iranian reporter on Manus Behrouz Boochani sent a moving message to metropolitan rallies. This was read to crowds of thousands in Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday.

The Melbourne rally responded by singing Happy Birthday live to Behrouz (whose book on his Manus expenses is launched by Pan Macmillan this week). “Birds” a song produced in international collaboration with an asylum seeker called Moz was also launched.

Traffic was stopped in both capitals. Protesters paused at Central Sydney Immigration offices to express their concerns over Australia’s disregard for human rights.

Protest events were largely ignored by television and radio media in Australia but attracted foreign press.

The bilateral political narrative of stopping the boats is challenged by asylum seeker advocates and activists who point to the secretive 33 boat turnbacks since 2013, possible drownings in foreign waters and, of course the huge pile up of stranded refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Above a quarter of a million work visas have been issued by Australia (sources available) during the same period that the 3000 men, women and children transferred offshore have been used as deterrents against boat entry.

Still more economic migrants have been granted citizenship. Activists suggest that Australia’s cultural, employment and security anxiety (about being “overrun”) is misdirected. Vulnerable Rohingyans fleeing genocide are not, by nature, terrorists or criminals. Repatriations are another cause for concern.

The US policy of splitting families and leaving vulnerable children incarcerated without their parents has attracted global outcry.

Pamela Curr, veteran campaigner of ASRC, points out that Australia does the exact same thing here.

Cuts to immigrant support services onshore mean that many asylum seekers who have reached Australia are starved of government money, food, trauma support, language classes, technical training and basic shelter during the prolonged assessment period. This in turn produces desperation.

The challenges of multiculturalism are often oversimplified. Racial slurs by political figures have not helped.

Mainstream Australians seem prone to selective stereotyping about foreigners. While more than happy to adopt and celebrate successful Sudanese athletes, for example, we express a xenophobic fear of Sudanese gangs.

Visa overstayers who arrive by plane have not been transferred offshore.

Many offshore transferees display initiative, courage, chutzpah and work skills when they first come to Australia.

Though stereotyped as broken and lazy, the industrious carve out productive lives as soon as major impediments are removed. A sparky promptly repaired the broken generator abandoned by departing staff during the RPC siege last November. The authorities then came in and took it to rust elsewhere.

Many have landed work in the US and show signs of thriving. The fate of the remaining 1300 seems tragic. The slow pace of traditional island life is frustrating for highly qualified engineers or academics.

Although families in migration limbo are shy about drawing attention to themselves, Home Affairs propaganda that children are not actually held in detention onshore or in Nauru is challenged by images of 127 children still living in mouldy tents or containers on Nauru, where compounds are “protected” by wire. Case after human rights case playing out painfully in Australian courts map mental trauma, abuse, neglect and despair. Suppression of case details cannot hide that circumstances offshore systematically harm health as health experts like paediatrician Professor David Isaacs of Westmead have testified.

The corruption that has diverted funds from effective hospital improvements on Manus and Nauru and maintained abbatoir-like conditions in (for example) the primitive Nauru “birthing suite” are also of concern. Dr Nick Martin, formerly of the navy, claims pile of unused expensive X-ray gear swelters in plastic behind the Manus hospital because there is no room and noone to run it.

The misapplication of massive mixed doses of psychiatric medications by authorities and the outbreak of psychoses that followed the withdrawal of access to care in November 2017 on Manus is also of concern. West Haus is now considered a “mad house” where paranoid, broken refugees hardly leave their rooms. Curfews are also making an ordinary working life less accessible. Meanwhile, most thefts and machete attacks of refugees offshore go unrecorded and unpunished.

Activist Jane Salmon says; “If Australian policy broke any of these people, it is up to us to fix them. In shops, the policy is ‘You broke it, you bought it’. Surely this applies.”

Footage is available from ABC Melbourne and AFP via YouTube.

#5YearsTooMany and #BringThemHere plus #Manus and #Nauru are the main hashtags for images.

ARAN has produced a roundup of the rallies here.

Rally speakers:

Pamela Curr

Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coalition, Sydney

Julian Burnside, lawyer

Fabia Claridge, People Just Like Us

Behrooz Boochani, Manus

It`s Time … To Raise Newstart!

By Christian Marx

Australia is rapidly going down the toilet. Stagnating wages, chronic unemployment and increasingly tenuous work has resulted in a lower standard of living for the middle-class. Even worse off are the poor. Not content with introducing a draconian job agency for profit program, the architects of this sick neoliberal ideology have also introduced “robo debt” … which is basically stealing from the most disadvantaged.

Meanwhile, the biggest parasites receive massive subsidies and handouts from the government. On top of this the wealthiest, such as Gina Rinehart, donate millions of dollars to right-wing lobby groups in the hope of influencing both government and the unwitting general public. In the 2016/17 financial year alone, Rinehart donated a whopping 4.5 million to the fascist, climate-denying “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs. This dangerous organisation is behind much of the LNP policy manifesto. They seek to erode worker’s rights and enhance big business power. They also seek to smash state services and privatise all state-owned services, including the ABC.

The Big 4 banks in Australia are estimated to get a whopping 5 billion worth of subsidies per year.

At the other end of the scale, those thrown on the unemployment scrapheap are forced to subsist on Newstart “benefits” which are at a shockingly low $545.80 per fortnight for a single unemployed person, and a paltry $590.40 a fortnight for an adult with children. This is less than $300 a week. This is well below the Henderson poverty line which is approx $400 a week.

The cost of rentals in this country would eat up most of an unemployed person’s expenses. According to Anglicare in 2017, under 1% of 67,000 rental properties were affordable to someone on a pension or unemployment benefits!

How the hell can a person on benefits survive in a rental crisis such as this? The answer is that they can`t! Many are couch-surfing at friends or relative’s houses, skipping meals and in many cases end up homeless and living on the streets. It is obscene that in a wealthy country such as Australia, billions can be handed over to mining companies, billions more on defence, and supporting that war monstrosity known as the USA. Billions more on multinational companies that continue to offshore more and more jobs to India and China for slave labour.

If you are not sickened by this current criminal waste of money, given to those with all the wealth and power, perhaps you are in a coma!

Both sides of politics will not raise Newstart, the pension or disability benefits unless they are publicly exposed and all their subsidies to big business are open to public scrutiny. Bill Shorten has merely mentioned that Newstart will be “looked at.” For Christ’s sake, man, do something! Neoliberalism is ensuring millions are now sliding into poverty. It is time for you to stand up and do something for the people of Australia! What would Gough Whitlam do?!

Fortunately, some grass roots pressure groups have had a big effect in lobbying their local councils. Many councils have heard the real horror stories directly from real people suffering every day as a direct result of government inaction in raising pensions and unemployment benefits. Anti-Poverty Network under the tireless leadership of Pas Forgione have relentlessly pushed for change and a voice for the disadvantaged. Owen Bennet from Australian Unemployment Workers Union is also making an impact in Melbourne.

The LNP are a dead loss when it comes to a compassionate society. Their whole ideology reeks of Classical Liberalism (aka survival of the fittest). Labor were a once great party who championed the rights of the poor and made huge strides towards lessening poverty and economic inequality.  Where are you, Labor? The onus is on you, Bill Shorten and co! What would Gough do? We all know the answer to this. He would say “It’s time … time to raise Newstart!”

Below is the video made by the Anti-Poverty Network, recreating the classic Labor election song from 1972, “It`s Time.”

Christian Marx is a political and social activist interested in making the world a fairer place. He has a Bachelor of Social Science and has a keen interest in sociology, politics and history. He was one of the organizers of the March in March rallies in Melbourne and is the founder of the progressive news and information page, “Don`t Look At This Page”, and is also a co-founder of “The Global Revolution” website.

History on the back of a beer coaster

Forget the links, the oft’ quoted academic tome … forget the reams of verbose railing against this or that “Authentic History” … ”Researched Paper” or PhD on the subject … I’ll give you a run-down on the course of events in both South Aust’ history and the formation of the Liberal Party on what will here be the equivalent of a beer coaster sketch … the “Pub Test” if you will … like a coupla’ mates discussing the pros and cons of a tradie-ute I am flogging to you.

Right … let’s start with why we need a new history … NOT just of SA, but the whole of Oz … It is because the victors and their lackeys in the academic circles have controlled the access to and the writing of those histories for too long and the publishers, coming from in many cases the same “breeding circle” as those types, have selected what THEY thought ought to be published … ie; a nice, white, sugary confection of “suitable for Primary education schools“ story … and in many cases a fiction story.

Here in South Australia …

Take the founding of the idea of the State … We are told – alongside portraits of a stern but proud Governor Hindmarsh – that a group of “enterprising, courageous men”, risking their lives, reputations and capital came to this “frontier of struggle and hardship” to found a colony based on “hard working individuals who wanted to advance themselves” in a free market environment … and these governors and administrators were just the people to give them that chance …

Fat chance!!

These scum … these trash who even betrayed the original Royal and Parliament decreed agreement, that have claimed naming rights to streets, avenues, towns and counties alongside their ruthless driving out of the indigenous peoples to the point of many recorded and so many more unrecorded massacres … their subterfuge in financial dealings and rapacious land-grabs of broad acres that were first at their own request, reduced in value from the stipulated; “One pound per Acre” to a more salubrious speculator’s price of twelve shillings per acre and THEN when the so called; “Special Surveys” (a polite name for an outright swindle) were “arranged” with the South Australian Commission … in effect themselves, as THEY or their agents were on the board and commission of every administration post in the colony, or had the ear of every official resident in the colony, and the “surveyed” land purchased at that knockdown price, it was immediately offered to those migrant Germans at TEN POUNDS AN ACRE! … an outrageous opportunity that had to be stopped by the British Authorities once Pastor Kavel protested on the penury it would place the settlers in.

Such opportunists are called “The Founding Fathers” of the colony … and when their wings were clipped by the arrival of a more reputable court of petty sessions and legal advocates, they immediately set to organise a lobby group to place ministers and representatives in the Legislative Council of the new Parliament to manipulate the laws on their behalf … This is when The National Defence League was born as a deformed mutation of rapacious and cruel, lying and thieving conservative political party representing those monopolies that saw great advantage in profiteering in commerce rather than loyalty to country … for while they spruiked enthusiasm for Federation, it was not solely for the good of national unity, but more for the control of shipping of commerce and profit of their enterprises.

The National Defence League recruited members with deceit and subterfuge, relying of subtle eloquence of language to sway the more gullible to back their enterprises … a fore-runner in conception to The IPA and in eventual existence to The Liberal Party.

This “party of patriot profiteers” preached the same rhetoric on taxation, the same rhetoric on minimum wages, the same rhetoric on property rights and enterprise as its most modern evolution … this most modern evocation of an age old swindle: The LNP.
On taxation, it abhorred the idea of a Land Tax that encouraged the breaking up of the huge estates of those original land-grabs by claiming that the tax was in effect a imposition on the “poor widows” the “hard-working small-farmers” and the working men of the country … The idea of a minimum wage denied the right of the employer “who created employment” of owning his choice of who and when and how many to employ and would curtail his capacity to manage his own costs … The Customs Tax between the states created a tariff that slowed the exchange of commodities between markets and disadvantaged the local producer … hence the benefits of Federation … NOT for the people en-masse, but for the profit margin that could be gained.

A profit margin that excluded ANY consideration of the native peoples … THEY were an unfortunate inclusion in the original decree of intent that had to be provoked and coerced into confrontation so that a police or military “reprimand” could put their tribes down and keep them suppressed. This was managed by driving thousands of stock deep into their hunting grounds and tribal territory, replete with wagons and drays and shepherds and their chattels. Pushing the boundaries of tolerance to such a point that confrontation was inevitable … I leave the reader to imagine the damage done when thousands of sheep and hundreds of cattle are driven through virgin territory and water places. Then when confrontation was inevitable, we see the appearance of the troopers meeting spear and waddy carrying warriors with a barrage of bullets … NOT from old powder and shot muzzle-loading muskets, but rather with the most modern breech loading Snider-Enfield or Martini-Henry rifles … a massacre!

What started out as a colony of speculative adventure of cashed-up cowboys ended up by the turn of the twentieth century as a conglomeration of venture capitalists with the same interests as capitalists the world over: “While all rivers glisten in different colours, a sewer everywhere looks the same.” … Their criminal activities worked with the same percentage profit margin expectations and with the same principle of “Private profit-Public Risk” … and don’t give me that old chestnut of it being a symptom and accepted practice of the times, as that original Decree signed off by both the British Parliament AND the King of England made specific provision and clause for certain social and humanitarian statutes that were both sworn to loyally on their “Christian faith” and then immediately abandoned!

No … it is time enough to tolerate the liars and fabricators of this false history … a fraud of monumental proportions … If we as a nation wish to stand tall and proud of what we WILL WANT to achieve in the future, we must let go of that brutal and rubbish history taught more as political propaganda than social education and damn well write anew in words of sincerity and inclusion a new dialogue with the truth of multicultural society and indigenous ownership of country EMBOSSED ONTO the document of a new constitution:

“ALL EQUAL UNDER THE SUN”.

Power over the destiny of others is never given up easily

By Tony Andrews

I’m coming from a perspective of almost complete ignorance about First Nation Australian people.

Land rights, native title, pan-Aboriginal relationships, history, culture, political interaction with government … in fact, I’m pretty bloody ignorant about everything, except that I can clearly see things are not as black and white as we’re often led to believe.

The first sign of my ignorance is my understanding of the term “First Nation”.

It implies to me, a united people, and, whilst that may be the ultimate goal, I believe it does not reflect the reality of Aboriginal Australia and I’ve learned recently, that the people of Aboriginal and Torres Island descent do not refer to themselves as “First Nation” in a collective sense either.

They talk of First Nations when discussing all Australian Indigenous people, First Nation when discussing individual groups, a subtle difference that’s easy to miss, but it adds a significantly different understanding of the realities of indigenous culture … We often miss the little things that are crucial when it comes to reconciliation.

We hear talk from all sides of the debate about social problems and issues that need to be fixed, but when it comes down to root causes and solutions, we all seem to chew at the skin and choke on the bones.

I’m quite happy, if it comes to a referendum for constitutional recognition, to be led by our First Nations people and vote whichever way they want me to, I’m just not sure I understand what it’s going to achieve, though I recognise that it’s important to them, so my understanding or lack of, really isn’t of any concern.

What is of concern to me, is living in a fair society that protects the interests of all Australians.

Which is the whole point of having a constitution in the first place.

Some things are still bothering me though …

Can real self-determination and control over destiny be achieved by First Nations people without mechanisms in place to enable them to achieve financial independence?

Not individual financial independence, but in the collective sense.

I’m not suggesting the removal of government funding, maybe reparations would be a more suitable term, or government funded programs that have tangible benefits for the Indigenous.

Or even money derived from mineral exploitation.

But allowing those funds the opportunity to work for the long-term instead of the present system under which First Nations operate, seems to me like it would create a more certain and independent path than anything we’ve seen so far.

Many individuals and organisational bodies work tirelessly to improve the lives of First Nations people, countless initiatives have been implemented and, while the lives of many have improved, the outcome for others has not and, overall, the divide between black and white Australia seems as wide as ever.

Constitutional recognition may be far more important than we, with a limited understanding of the issues, are led to believe by those in the media and in government.

The past and present inability to bring our two worlds together is not through lack of effort or passion from a lot of those involved though.

It also doesn’t appear to be from ignorance because Aboriginal Australia has produced many academics and intellectual voices, created well-researched and developed assessments on all aspects of their existence and are actively involved in the political process.

Mixed priorities and an unclear direction may be an issue, as is knee-jerk policy-making from governments that are under pressure to be seen to be “doing something”.

A kind of shotgun approach to self-determination, where some pellets may hit the target, with the rest flying off into the distance, hitting nothing or inadvertently striking others that have no ability to protect themselves from the blast.

One of those protections, as previously mentioned, is constitutional recognition and our Indigenous brothers and sisters have collectively agreed that this is vital to our shared existence and coming together as a society on this continent … because they’ve seen it all before.

They have always been a political football.

Whenever they’ve been ‘given’ any vestige of autonomy it’s often been taken away again at the whim of elected government.

The Prime Minister’s offhanded rejection of the Uluru “statement from the heart” is a perfect example of why it’s so important.

When we say “the Prime Minister”, we really mean the political party he leads and the vested interests that elevated him to the position of spokesperson.

In the case of Turnbull, Abbott, Howard, and others from the Liberal or Liberal/National side of politics, those vested interests are strictly commercial …

The voices they listen to are the voices of business and business does not want the rights of anybody to be set in stone, this is why they do not want the Aboriginal people to be recognised under the constitution, with safeguards that limit the extent of power that can be exerted over them.

The same limits that we take for granted, but which are, behind the scenes, continually being tested by the high flying, highly paid legal teams of the corporate world.

Make no mistake though, that rejection will not deter them from continuing to fight for full inclusion in our democracy and the right to participate in all aspects of our future direction as a country …

It was a huge disappointment though to young First Nations men and women who are passionately driven and in a hurry to see their goal of recognition and acceptance fulfilled.

Young people of all backgrounds are in a hurry, which is great and is always a positive driving force for change, but the older people that have been involved with this sort of thing before, knew it would never be handed to them on a platter …

Power over the destiny of others is never given up easily.

Do unto refugees

By John Haly

Deterring and imprisoning asylum seekers is gaining popularity in the western world. Punishment by separation of children from parents now has occurred in both Australia and America invoking community backlash. Many are unaware such practices have a long history in both countries. America forthwith will follow Australia’s indefinite detention practices, even as Trump repudiates his policy on separation of children from parents. These practices contravene the Refugee Convention to which both America and Australia were signatories. Dutton’s commentary emphasised the desire to be rid of this troublesome convention. He commented, “I think there is a need for like-minded countries to look at whether a convention designed decades ago is relevant today”.

I want to examine the relevance of international principles that underpin our history of refugee conventions versus “deterrence” against refugees and their smugglers. As I write this, it is Refugee week, so it is an ideal time to investigate the principles behind “deterrence”.

Human Rights convention

On the 10th of December 2018, Democratic Nations worldwide will celebrate the 69th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Robert Menzies (a man no one will mistake for a soft-hearted humanitarian) signed the UN Refugee Convention on January the 22nd, 1954.  Prime ministers that followed him, both Tony Abbott and John Howard spoke of him being the father of modern Australian Liberal ideology. The former Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser would have argued that in the 21st century, the Liberal “apple” has rolled a long way from that “tree”.

As we recall Human Rights Day, we will have long distinguished ourselves as the least compliant signatory to the Human Rights convention amongst any western democracy.  When even North Korea can legitimately accuse us of human rights abuses, you know we have moved to the “dark side of the Force.”

Australia, a world leader in child abuse

Internationally speaking, things have taken a turn for the worse since World War II. We have now reached a point where both America and Australia are actively abusing people, including children, who have fled from torture and prospective death in their own country. Some have even died within our offshore gulags and deaths have already featured in Trump’s “zero-tolerance” regime. I want first to outline some historical legal cases which illustrate how international courts have responded to the idea of subordinating human rights to achieve political ends.

The German Autumn

Following the days from 1970 to 1977 clashes between the Red Army Faction (RAF) with Germany culminated in the “German Autumn,” and the kidnapping and murder of industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer. Brett Walker delivered a speech to the annual Dinner of the Civil Liberties Society on Friday the 24th of November 2017 in Sydney in which he described the events of the German Autumn. The Germans had resisted the kidnapper’s demands. Schleyer’s son after failing to pay the ransom privately in part due to both inadvertent publicity and the German government’s reluctance then sued the Government in an attempt to save his father.  The principle invoked was the invariable nature of human dignity by which he called on the government to make an effort to save his father’s life. The specific implication was that nobody should use another, as an instrument or means, to achieve an end. This included hostage-taking with demands. The court rejected the son’s claim in less than a day, and within days, his father was killed. Standing up to hostage takers has consequences.

Aviation hostages

In 2006, the constitutional court in Karlsruhe received a complaint from flight crew staff about the decision that the government had justification in shooting down aircraft held hostage in the air under the ironically named “Aviation Security Act”. The Bundesverfassungsgericht declared that legislation which would have allowed the German Air Force to shoot down hijacked passenger planes was unconstitutional and as a counterproposal reinforced the constitutional right to life and human dignity.

Securing on air matters

In reviewing the decision, the court would not accept the argument by the government that the passengers were very probably soon to die anyhow. They instead held to another principle, that the State could not reduce passengers and crew to the status of “objects” they can kill at the pleasure of the State, no matter the amount of time the people, may or may not, have left to live. The court essentially held that human life should not be used as a bargaining chip or as instruments to achieve an end of preventing the possibility of further deaths. Presuming that one would then be as guilty of the Machiavellian principle that the “ends justify the means“, which is, of itself, the ploy of hostage taking.

Machiavelli versus the Golden Rule

The categorical imperative in a civilised society is that we should act in a manner towards others that we think can, and should be, applied universally. Brett Walker espoused the principle that one should “do as you would have, you and everybody else, done by.” To extend this principle, it would mean that one would never abuse fellow inhabitants of this planet as instruments for some political end or project. The welfare and dignity of people is an end, but never a means by which you should cause one person or group to suffer to produce some advantage for others.

Instead, an alternate approach has been pursued with vigour and enthusiasm by recent immigration ministers such as Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. Successive Australian governments (supported by the electors who have repeatedly voted for them) have created policies, legislation, and facilities, which are deliberately designed to mistreat and hold refugees and asylum seekers in conditions that we would not subject criminals in our internal national incarceration system. All designed and executed for the declared purpose of “deterrence.”

If punishing the innocent is the law then the “law” is criminal

Under criminal law, the idea of “deterrence” is to sentence a legally convicted person, in a such a way as to deter others from committing such crime. It serves idealistically to deter the convicted person from re-offending.  What is not part of the principle, is the notion of taking people who are not guilty of a crime and have not been convicted of having acted criminally, and visit upon them adversity and punishments to deter and modify other people’s conduct. That is abuse to use innocents as a means and abrogate their human dignity as an end.

Other democracies handle refugees far more efficiently and with less abuse than we do. But this perversion of law, criminality, morality and deterrence did not merely begin here with the likes of Howard, RuddockMorrison and Dutton! In fact, they have refined the “art” of this deliberate moral bankruptcy to heights which previously only totalitarian dictatorships or regimes have practised. Our pathway to abuse instead began with far humbler utterances from the lips of Labor politicians.

Queue jumping

While Keating is often attributed with the “queue jumping” rhetoric,  the source of this phrase came from Immigration minister, Michael MacKellar, in 1977 in a Radio Australia broadcast. While Malcolm Fraser was attempting to placate the fears that hordes of Vietnamese “boat people” were descending on Australia, the Labor Party was busily trying to capitalise on fears about this “unchecked invasion”. Herein lies the original authorship of the fear mongering, which was eventually to become the backbone of refugee policy in Australia. Back then, the Australian public’s reaction, though cautious, was a far cry from the response of this century.

Bob Hawke and Paul Keating continued Labor’s negative attitudes towards refugees when they decided to use mandatory detention for asylum seekers at Port Headland, WA. This deterrent detention was the next step in both perspective and action. That act being detention of Cambodian refugees who arrived at Pedder Bay in November of 1989. They were held till 1992 while the government tried in vain to exclude these asylum seekers from seeking justice and the rule of law in the courts.

Like most immigrants, once allowed in and embraced, they became highly productive members of the Australian community. Up until that time, the maximum period of detention allowed for refugees had been 273 days. That limit in the Migration act was removed in 1994, paving the way for the era of indefinite mandatory detention. Similarly Trump’s executive order on June 20th – presumed to be reuniting families – seeks indefinite detention of families as a challenge a 1997 law that limited immigration detention to 20 days. (See Flores v. Reno).

Racism as policy

The success of Pauline Hanson’s racism in 1996 and the rhetoric of Phillip Ruddock in treating refugees not just as “queue jumpers”, but as cunning manipulators of peoples sympathy with an evil intention; marked a change in Australian attitudes. [Pg 31] The implication is that refugees sought to reap the rewards of an Australian Economy, steal our jobs out from underneath Australians, and then use their consequential “enormous wages” to finance terrorist plots against our nation.  Not only does Australia’s falling wage rates make this unlikely, but the patient absurdity of the argument that traumatised people fleeing for their lives – often with their children – were even capable of such manipulation, was surprisingly and naively accepted by the public.

The strange attribution of motives

The proposition that terrorists hide out in detention centres was absurd back then and still is. Myths like these grew in number over time. Until the emergence of Pauline Hanson, it had not dawned on the political party system that racism inherent in public policy was a vote winner. John Howard realised that he could leverage refugees to acquire political power, which he did as a boat named the Tampa approached Australia. In particular, his use of the meaningless phrase “illegal immigrants” helped reframed the public debate to John Howard’s advantage in August of 2001.

The Pacific solution

The Pacific solution followed in September 2001 as Howard opened offshore gulags on Christmas Island, Manus Island, and Nauru. After Howard lost government to Kevin Rudd, that new government closed them down. When Rudd lost leadership to Julia Gillard, she reopened them, and once Tony Abbott became PM, he massively escalated the usage of offshore detention.

On his ascension, Malcolm Turnbull did little to change anything by way of policy; he did allow Morrison and Dutton to leverage legislative control of these gulags. The relish with which Dutton justifies the Government’s actions on Manus beggars belief.  Given that even the vaguest sense of decency would suggest, “deterrence” ought only to be addressed, at least under the pretence of regret.

Drowning in moral ambiguity

It’s not that complex to support children

If we did in any honesty, believe that preventing “drownings at sea” was a moral imperative, then indeed we would be doing what is being done privately by individuals with large boats in the Mediterranean Sea. We would be sending boats to rescue these people, rather than stopping their boats, turning them around and returning them to danger, which is what the Navy now does to prevent “drownings at sea”.

We should also most certainly be addressing the issue of why such people have a well-founded fear of persecution. One so strong, it leads them to seek protection on foreign soil in the first place. We would be spending money at the UN addressing the veto factor or refusing to engage in the sort of bombing and attacks on overseas middle-eastern targets that create push factors that generate asylum seekers.

The notion of leveraging human beings to achieve an end to stop the boats and prevent deaths at sea is comparable to the tactics of hostage-takers in the 1970s. Our government is holding an innocent population hostage to achieve a goal at which they are, evidently, unsuccessful. Claims of having stopped the boats have turned out to be exaggerations or spin. Boats filled with refugees seeking asylum are still “setting sail” to come to Australia as recently as last month. The illusion, however, created and maintained by the government’s response, is to either intercept the boats; pay off the “captains” to turn the boat around; or simply to declare that successful arrivals – when they do arise – don’t count as “arrivals“.

The End – does not justify the means

The end is not justified by whatever means are applied to achieve it. Instead, it’s the acts of compassion that define a civilised society, when they are brought to bear as the means to address an issue and achieve a goal with justice. And that, Mr Peter Dutton, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Jeff Sessions and Mr Donald Trump, is something which benefits all members of a community, old and new, and which has never become outdated.

Community garden signposts

This article was originally published on Australia Awaken – Ignite your Torches.

Activists Call for Mass Medical Evacuation from Manus, Nauru

Media Release

It is worrying that the latest death on Nauru and the circumstances relating to this event have not been broadcast by the ABC*. Have these events become too commonplace or is the national broadcaster underfunded? Perhaps parts of the ABC (and all its editors) have already been sold.

The ABC was informed of the death as details came to hand.

Iranian asylum seeker begged for help: ‘I am suffering intensely’

It is true that the rate of extreme mental health breakdown and suicide in offshore transferees is exceptionally high. Many more of those assessed to be of “negative” refugee status after 5 years have become simply too hopeless and numb to function. Refugee advocates are deeply anxious and horrified by the failure of Government to act when lives are in the balance.

Both PNG and Nauru are quite fragile or failed states. Nauru will not admit journalists. There is no appellant court in Nauru these days. Violence is commonplace. There are curfews for men on Manus for their own safety.

Australia itself has horse-traded hostages for money in a corrupt environment where $1b has gone astray. Australian and overseas contractors have even retained and rehired Australian guards known to be rapists or racist thugs.

Most of the 1100 refugees held offshore are too unwell to be safe. Medical whistleblowers have repeatedly stated that most if not all need to be brought here on physical and/or mental health grounds.

Fariborz Karami’s deteriorating condition was known to #IHMS staff on #Nauru

Refugee activists appeal to both Shorten and Turnbull to act bilaterally on this: and swiftly.

Indefinite “detention” of asylum seekers is proving lethal and illegal. Offshore isolation on impoverished islands is irresponsible. Refoulement has its own dangers. Edmund Rice Centre says 13 Afghanis including Hazaras have been killed since being forced back to Afghanistan by Australian Immigration. They came to us for safety after decades of war.

Australia needs to increase our refugee intake and airlift those waiting in Indonesia and Malaysia. Boat-stopping and deterring drownings is a smokescreen. Boats still arrive and are turned back (whether seaworthy or not).

Our overall annual economic migrant intake (nearly 150k pa) may have to be lowered in favour of refugees for a year or two. This seems doable. Many people with the wit to flee war are in fact wealthy, highly skilled and enterprising. We need such people in our country and the cultural diversity they offer. Steadying the numbers should address some of the fears of Aussies who fear “inundation”.

Sheer wealth should not be the only selection criteria that matters, given that Australia participates in relevant wars.

The land of the “fair go” needs to give these asylum seekers, our hostages, a chance at recovery, a balanced and peaceful life.

*The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy mentioned issue briefly on ABC Insiders 17/06/18.

7 ways Aboriginals are still being robbed in Australia today

By Welcome to Country

We always hear from non-Indigenous people that we get so many benefits. In reality, the benefits are few and far between and usually come with many strings attached. Another reality is that we are still being exploited far beyond any benefits could ever compensate for. Give us a moment to explain some of the realities of how we are still being robbed today.

Fake art – Australia is currently overrun with cheap imported fake Aboriginal art from Indonesia & China. Art has the potential to be a strong source of income for our people. We always hear about the term “welfare dependency”, well what about the term “fair go”? You protect farmers by banning foreign imports of bananas etc. Why won’t you protect us? We are trying our best to promote Indigenous artists and encouraging people to buy direct, but how can we compete when airports and tourist markets are overflowing with fake art?

Native Title – You often hear about Native Title celebrations when it is awarded, however native title is not land rights. If Traditional owners are not careful, they can soon find out that Native Title offers very limited protection from large mining companies who are always backed by the government to overturn any objections we have about how we want things to happen on our land. Native title holders should check out the economic treaty recently signed by the Wik people in Cape York, which gives them Independence from the government as the deal was made with investors from China.

Our Voice – This week there have been talks of replacing statues of colonial figures and moving Australia day to a more inclusive date. Many people seem quite shocked by these suggestions. We are labelled as left-wing troublemakers and the conversation is quickly shrugged off by the majority in Australia. The truth is that our people have been very vocal about these issues for many years but we are silenced by the media time and time again. The media either ignore our protests or finds an incident that draws the attention away from the protest. Social media is beginning to break down these barriers however the media is trying just as hard to keep them in place.

Respect – For the past 229 years our people have survived wave after wave of attacks on our people, languages, land and culture. It is amazing that we are still here today when you consider what we have been through. From the brutal frontier wars, the introduction of European diseases, the concentrations camps and other attempts at ethnic cleansing such as the stolen generations. You would think that after all that, we would have earned a bit of respect. Unfortunately, we still cop the blame for our broken communities and problems in society. We don’t just cop the blame either; we are demonised by the media for having these problems and they use this as an excuse to rob us even more. Keep reading…

Would your society still be strong if you faced what we have been through?

Our children – The 1997 Bringing them home report concluded that the 70-80 year period known as the stolen generations was an act of genocide. A decade later Kevin Rudd said sorry for this period but figures show that more Aboriginal children are being taken away now than ever before. Doesn’t sorry mean that you won’t do it again? We know that in some cases children do need to be taken away, but if you listen to our Elders such as those from the Grandmothers against removals campaigners, they want our children to be kept within our culture and extended family groups.

Our communities – Over the last few years, the government has tried to suggest that the solution to broken communities is to close the communities altogether and herd our people to the fringes of larger towns and cities. While this may seem to make sense to outsiders, figures show that we are healthier and happier on our traditional lands. In case you didn’t know already, there have been large nationwide rallies happening in recent years to show the government that we won’t be bullied off our lands. Now it seems the government is trying different ways to break down our communities even further with a significant reduction in funding, implementation of the basics card and making it easier for our people to be sent to jail with new rules brought in that include jail for unpaid fines and controversial amendments to the bail act in the northern territory which take away the power of the judge to grant bail when they feel the circumstance does not require jail time. This has led to some of the highest imprisonment rates in the world. Aboriginal deaths in custody continue to happen at an alarming rate as well.

Justice – So what is going on in Australia? Is the government too stupid to see the big picture? Even the United Nations have pointed out that the government has got things awfully wrong. So where is the change, where is the justice? I think the government is intentionally robbing us. Their dreams of assimilation and conquest still linger. You can see it in their refusals to change the date of Australia day and removing the monuments of those men responsible for the deaths of our ancestors.

I wish I could follow up these points with a solution but I think a solution will only come with more awareness about these issues. Change will come through International pressure, but without awareness, there will continue to be no pressure. If you want to see things change, then please share this message far and wide.

This article was originally published on Welcome to Country.

A New Definition – Pork-barrelling in the Cashless Debit Card Trial Zones

By The Say NO Seven

Most Australians have a basic understanding and uncomfortable acceptance that a certain amount of pork barrelling goes on within political circles.

To define the term, “pork barrel” is “… a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localised projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district. This form of political device helps attract campaign contributions and the support of local voters.”

Essentially, the pork barrel is considered the primary means for securing voter patronage, which in turn is the most effective strategy to win elections.

What happens though, when pork-barrelling moves beyond this electioneering context and is utilized instead as a strategic method for securing support for government policies and programs anathema to social justice and the national interest?

In our investigation into the implementation processes of the Indue LTD Cashless Debit Card Trial [CDCT] in Ceduna South Australia, this was one of the first questions raised as we noted the abundance of new grants and other funding that had suddenly materialized in the area in the lead up to the card trial that began in March 2016. This conveniently timed funding boom was distinct from those funds allocated to local area service groups under the trial legislation’s ‘wrap around services’ package designed to support the cards implementation processes.

To date we have been able to trace amounts that exceed 50 million dollars, in Federal, State and other funding arriving into the Ceduna region following the decision by Ceduna District Council to take on the Indue LTD Card Trial.

During the period of negotiations between government CDC teams and Ceduna officials as early as April 2015, concerns were raised by local residents and some service groups that threats were being made by officials to the effect that funding reductions could be a possibility should agreement to the demands for a card trial not be forthcoming. Complaints were also made regarding several obvious conflicts of interests this funding was creating as regards the investments of Ceduna council friendly groups and businesses.

The issue of threats to reduce already skeletal funding to local services was never investigated and consumer complaints were dismissed out of hand by Council itself or brushed aside as the petty concerns of angry alcoholics and “welfare bludgers” in local and national media. Worse, given the federal Governments media mantra that the card’s primary purpose was to stop violence and alcoholism, those who rejected the imposition of this trial locally and raised legitimate concerns nationally, were further labelled as being closet supporters of child abuse, domestic violence and addiction.

As an example of early funding boosts, among the many projects we investigated, was a December 2015 decision by the Federal Government to fund a fish unloading facility in Ceduna, which had for eight years, recorded multiple unsuccessful attempts to gain Federal or State funding support.

Speaking shortly after the 2013 denial of this same funding, somewhat ironically, the District Council of Ceduna Mayor Allan Suter remarked to media “It appears funding was taken from the regional process and put into campaigning in the Sydney Metro areas, which is another case of Government pork barrelling.

This facility development project grant was conveniently granted $10 million dollars in funding in December 2015, $4.3 million of which extends from Round Two of the Australian Government’s National Stronger Regions Fund.

We also examined over $8 million in grant funding given to the community of Yalata, a primary card trial site in the Ceduna catchment following Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit in November 2016.

Yalata Anangu School principal Bob Sim ecstatic at receiving a much needed $2.5 million share of the new funding pool, stated that this grant money would be used to build an early learning centre for children up to the age of five, on the existing school grounds. The remainder of Yalata grant pool to be utilised on upgrades to infrastructure in the area including money for a caravan park, roadhouse and the area’s rubbish tip. As Mr Sim rightly declared in media, “The effects from the grant would be felt throughout the community “.

Next we compared Ceduna’s funding experience, with that of the community of Halls Creek, and as this article demonstrates, immediately on refusal of the card trial by the Hall’s Creek community, government negotiation teams employed strong arm tactics in attempts to manipulate the community, including the threat to leave the community out of state-wide reform funding.

Speaking to WA Today, (Shire President Mr Edwards) said, “… regional development minister Terry Redman then flew in “out of the blue” and “made it clear that opposition to a trial … would strongly influence the level of investment made under WA’s largest ever redistribution of state and federal funding in the Kimberly and Pilbera – a funding pool worth $4.5 billion annually.” Mr Edwards further notes; “We took it from that discussion that unless the Shire accepted and supported a trial of the cashless debit card there would be a negative impact on service provision under the regional reform program.

In reply on questioning and in classic ‘newspeak’ Minister Redman said “… there was no plan to “take money away” from the shire, but when making funding decisions in relation to regional services reform, the government would focus on “investing in communities looking to move into a positive future.

We must be clear at this point, that we do not decry any remote or rural community taking all it can from variable funding opportunities, especially those 274 regional communities that were facing closure under the current government only weeks before card trial negotiations began in Ceduna. We are more than aware that these communities have quite literally been starved of services, resources and attention under the current government to the extent that ongoing viability of their towns and communities is in question.

In this regard, Ceduna is not a special case nor was it even a high priority case for federal funding, as other remote and rural communities across the nation were. Communities such as Whitegate, having had even their access to drinking water switched off, such has been the overall contempt, lack of interest and care for remote community health and the overt government neglect of the remote regions communities as whole.

We do empathise greatly and can comprehend the urgency of need in some communities for access to Federal and State grant money, this is a given for us as a social justice group. What we cannot abide however, is the current sacrifice by some, of the lives, Human Rights and essential liberties of their fellow community members in order to achieve personal interest inspired funding objectives – expressively in Ceduna, given its comparatively healthy local economy, location and social demographic, which means it had considerably less social problems than other locations and less need for Federal funding than any other remote area at the time of card trial negotiations.

We hold that to barter away the human rights of selected members of any community, for money, is as repugnant as the government that would demand community leaders do so. To underscore this abuse, and attempt to achieve ideological or funding goals under the guise of supporting victims of crime, addiction or poverty when alternatives and documented evidentiary support exists to counter the current proposals, is simply abhorrent and an abuse not just of power and position, but of public trust in the process of our entire representative democracy.

The next thing our investigations noted, was that these card trial negotiations in Ceduna were invisible i.e.: they were not independently overseen and were undertaken without community consultation or involvement. According to the transcript noted below, this consultation process continued for well over nine months and existed “on many levels”. According to Mayor Suter’s own statement, they also took place with no involvement at all by the 950 targeted residents. [See: Community Affairs Legislation Committee Friday 11th September 2015 pages 60-65].

On the one hand Australians nationwide were hearing from Alan Tudge in media about the ‘extensive community engagement and consultation processes underway’ in Ceduna, yet from the documented evidence presented to the Senate Estimates Committee via On Notice questions – many of which are still as yet unanswered, it is clear that no such community consultation or decision-making process ever took place.

It was only much later after the decision had already been made by Council to host the trial, that this consultative circle widened to include selected community groups now known as “regional leadership groups” whose inclusion was contingent on their approval of the card trial program. One example of this being the Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation [CAC], whom we are informed, had exhausted funding just prior to its selection for “community engagement” and subsequently has now had funding renewed. According to State Parliamentary committee records, two more groups selected for inclusion at this stage also reported that they had no ongoing funding as July 1st, 2015. The CAC itself, an organisation essential to maintaining any appearance of community support for the card trial in Ceduna, is still one of Alan Tudge’s most oft utilised star community consultant groups in press releases and speeches today.

Needless to say, groups or organisations opposed to the trial card, were not given any democratic access to decision making facilitators. They were given no representation, media voice or community placement in negotiations whatsoever. No general consultation meetings were held, nothing resembling a community vote on the card trial was taken and submissions that were given to council that reflected opposition viewpoints or alternatives, while remaining on record, have in effect been ignored or negated to irrelevancy.

As regards the few public information meetings available to income recipients, residents were simply informed of the fait accompli and what this would mean for them. Therefore, it is no surprise that this was not seen as an authentic consultative process by them, rather a soapbox or stage for Ceduna Councils decisions. These meetings were duly rejected by the majority of income support recipients as “useless” as all the exceedingly important negotiations regarding choice, recipient concerns, alternatives, local funding choices, viable projects, community needs assessments, risks assessments, card trial perimeters – essentially all decision making and deficit recording did not include them, or indeed any community groups or services from the get go.

Orima

The recently released Orima Research Interim Report* provides the following statistics, that cover a 12-month period from March 2016 to March 2-17 inclusive:

Of Participants: 49% said the Cashless Debit Card Trial [CDCT]  had made their lives worse, 22% that it had made it better.
Of Family members of trial participants gave a similar pattern of answers 37%  and 27% respectively.
Of Non-participants: 46% said that the CDCT had made  life in their community better and 18% that it had made life worse.
Across both trial locations, just 25% of CDCT participants and 13% of their family members reported drinking alcohol less frequently since the Trial commenced.

In the Overview of Findings against KPIs section, the report makes the qualifying statement that “All community leaders (members of regional leadership groups) who participated in the Wave 1 qualitative research were supportive of the CDCT”. Yet on page 6, the report also states that no community leadership groups participated in the trial evaluation – an evaluation which we would assume would have included Wave 1 qualitative research? This apparent contradiction and other such ambiguities left unattended, had us a little perturbed to say the least.

Statistics also provided on page 6 under the ‘Alcohol’ subheading, provided that 24% of CDCT participants and 28% of CDCT participants’ family members reported that they had noticed a reduction in the drinking of alcohol in their community since the Trial started. If you look again and the note the asterisk’s, you will also note one important feature. That while these figures themselves are quantitatively organised, it remains they are just a statistical representation, of anecdotal evidence.  This same device is utilised throughout the report that when examined, make up a majority of the reported “data”.

It remains, that these statistics are simply a record of perceptions and observations, recorded in scientific-like fashion, and as such, are not applicable as authentic data sets when it comes to the deterministic evaluation of quantitative changes to literal consumption habits of individuals nor are they indicative of actual reductions of alcohol consumption in the community. They tell us nothing other than what people think they might or do see, with no way for any researcher to externally verify those observations whatsoever. They’re data-non-data. Graph fillers.

We found similar structural concerns and shortcuts or absences of data throughout the report, on every key issue, gambling**, crime***, sexual assault, and family violence. On gambling observations, where state trends & tourist season fluctuations impact variability extensively, these conditions were ignored and again, actual trial participant behaviors were either not recorded, or were recorded by third parties with no way to proof validity.

More concerning were effusive statements made regarding crime statistics that for two paragraphs completely ignored the South Australian Police’s own expert data, to emotionally assert that crime had dropped in the Ceduna region, where it has already been irrefutably proven that this is simply not the case. **

This in itself sets a very dangerous precedent given the stated independence of this evaluation process, not just the use of effusive language in a deterministic trial evaluation report, but that expert data, as readily available to Orima research teams as it is to us, is in such conflict with the report findings yet is in no conflict at all with the government’s own press statements making the same unfounded statements regarding the extent of local crime.

If the intention of this trial evaluation, was to report on forced income management’s capacity to make non CDCT participants happy or to record people’s observations of the CDCT process, then we might take no issue with what has been reported as data.
However, the stated aims of the CDCT, is to document actual data regarding the actual habits of actual participants and to supply this information to the Australian Government and people, for comparative analysis.

As was the case in the Ceduna Progress report released Oct 2016, instead we have found  a disturbing lack of critical evidence; we find intentionally obtuse and misleading statements regarding the information that was collected and again, a lack of authoritative essential data and objective reporting on that data as regards the actual outcomes and activity of actual CDCT participants themselves.

Importantly, less than one full page in this report speaks to negative impacts of the CDCT on the lives of trial participants and even now, despite complaints, the label ‘participant’ is still being utilised without any qualifier. This term which implies a choice existed where none in actuality did, remains offensive to those forced through no fault of their own to comply with government demands to engage in the trial process under significant duress, for many, simply in order to continue to eat and live.

Yet despite evident research failures and the imbalance between the qualitative and quantitative data supplied; despite the abundant contradictions existent throughout the report and a general failure rate of 49-52% to improve quality of life for trial participants;  and in light of such a high stake holder and participant non-participation rate across the board, the Orima report concluding statement still states:

“Given the absence of material changes in other influential factors and conditions, the positive short term impacts reported since the commencement of the CDCT appear likely to be largely attributable to the Trial.“

And therein lies the problem.

Firstly this statement makes a judgement inconsistent with evaluation findings, and  ignores other  as-likely potential contributors to the stated outcomes, such as the dozen or so easily envisaged reasons why a person may not drink or use their usual toxin of choice for a period of time,  or any other reason they may feel compelled to lie to a researcher, such as embarrassment or familial and social pressures being applied in situ. The latter has been noted as a serious concern in these very small and tight knit communities where threats have been made (sources verified) against individuals opposing the card publicly and privately to the extent people have had to leave trial regions in fear of their personal safety.

More importantly, this ignores the extent to which Government manipulation in the trial process, via “pork-barrelling” grants to and for services and the alterations to the power balance of communities due to selective funding of certain interest groups has already impacted the community. It also ignores how this funding has influenced the qualitative research data being supplied by key stakeholders i.e.: local businesses, social services and organizations dependent on trial associated funding themselves. As key Stakeholders are compelled only to provide qualitative data for this evaluation, the opportunity for attribution error, for bias if not outright abuse of data reporting, is substantial and yet remains innominate within the reports concluding statements.

As you can see by the statements in our own opening paragraphs, the impact of this parallel funding is being felt throughout the entire community and region akin to rain breaking a long drought. This funding is now addressing many basic social needs that have until now, gone unmet. There is simply no way given this intrusion of government funding to distinguish between benefits gained through restriction of capacity to purchase alcohol and gambling products, and the benefits accrued that may be owed to a more congenial social environment within the communities affected, owing to selective funding effects.

If Alan Tudge and the CDCT teams thought that by narrowing the definition of this card trial and subsequent evaluation focus to an equation of one i.e.: ‘does restricting access to alcohol restrict alcohol purchases’, was in any way clever, they were wrong.

If we were to take your car away, we can guarantee that if you have legs, you must then walk to your next destination, that is not evidence of success, that is merely statement of fact. Further, this does not prove we were correct to take your car away or had the right to take it in the first place or that taking away your vehicle was useful to you. All it does prove is that we could take it and did.

This equation of one will not provide nearly enough information or hard data for wider community consideration in regard to determining the effectiveness of the card itself or when considering the wider implications of the imposition of this card program on larger communities or on a national scale. It will not begin to address the potential range of impacts of cash restricted Social Security payments much less their efficacy in addressing the consequences of alcohol over-consumption and violence in our communities.

What is very clear on examination of the KPI’s and trial framework alone, is that the purpose of this trial and the current evaluation in process appear designed for one thing only – to manufacture consent, and in doing so, to ensure the national roll out of corporatised health and welfare in Australia, starting from the bottom up. The Texas sharpshooter fallacy at work in this entire process, is obvious, insulting and severely underestimates the intelligence of the Australian community at large. ****

Throughout our investigations we have discussed the trials and card life reality on the ground with many Ceduna and Kununurra residents. One of the more frequent statements we have heard is that ‘there is so much pork-barrelling going on’. Hence our investigations began, and this article was initiated.

Today, and with respect to those residents, we must reject this statement outright, as what we have seen in the record and in investigations of the actions taken by the current government so far towards expediting this card pogrom, go well beyond this simply defined wheel greasing idiom and artefact of national governance.

When an entire class of Australian taxpaying citizen is utilized to circumvent due democratic processes for the benefit of a corporate agenda;

When the Privacy, Economic, Civil and Human Rights of forced participants are considered secondary concerns;

When Anti-Discrimination legislation that applies to all other classes of citizen in the nation is nullified through policy without question or challenge;

When the lives of our most vulnerable citizens are manipulated in order to establish a foundation for citizenship teiring and used as a fulcrum for ideological bastardry;

When entire communities and their duly elected officials can be held hostage and manipulated via grant hoarding or releases;

When fiscal apartheid is considered an acceptable means of budget containment;
And when the lives of five ‘participants’ lost due to suicide in despair at forced detoxification and loss of personal autonomy don’t even rate a mention in the only national report that concerns them; then it’s time we found a new word, because ‘pork barrel’ no longer suffices.

We need a new idiom, one that encapsulates exactly what it is that this government is doing, and we need it now.

————————–
* Orima Wave 1 Interim Evaluation Report

** The gambling data in Ceduna that shows that recorded observations of Ceduna gambling declines attributed in the Orima Interim Report seem to be in line with state-wide reductions in gambling.

Gambling revenue has fallen by 15% in SA over the 12 months to June.
It seems to have been falling over the past five years as well (take a look at the reports here). In Ceduna, it has been on a downward trend at least since 2011/12 (could be longer, just haven’t checked the other years).

*** No Welfare Card Australia Police Crime Data tracking:

**** The Texas sharpshooter fallacy

This article was originally published on saynoseven.wordpress.com

 

Double Pronged Approach – Time and Empathy, Bitterness and Hate, Education and Awareness

By Cally Jetta

I love when the kids are asleep and my hubby and I finally have the chance to really talk and get into the bigger issues that we are both so passionate about. It’s quite a rare occurrence these days, I must admit.

The other night was one of those times however. My hubby said that at times he wondered what it would be like to be white. How his life would have been different. He felt that much of the trauma he experienced in his earlier years and the memories he continues to struggle with today are the direct result of the inter-generational trauma he was born into and the resulting lifestyle outcomes of poverty, violence, alcoholism and crime. He went on to mention the many young relatives and peers he has lost just in recent years to suicide. They may not have been part of the Stolen Generations or alive when some of the worst atrocities against Aboriginal people were happening; but they certainly bare the heavy burden of the compounded feelings of hopelessness, anger and despair of those that did. He spoke about the fact that Aboriginal people had every right to feel grief and anger but without a healthy outlet, it leads to our own self-destruction and at times a deep-seated rage and bitterness that comes from feeling dismissed and disrespected by society.

It made me think of a story I had read just days earlier about an Aboriginal woman who had lived during a period a massive political change, interference and control. Her traditional life was destroyed and her family torn apart. She lost many babies because hospitals and doctors refused to treat her serious condition. She was forcibly removed from every place she ever found sanction and taken to squalid reserves. The children that did survive were not permitted to live in the same house with her and when her daughter of approximately 6 years fell ill and was taken far away to a strange and unfamiliar hospital and staff, the Chief Protector of Aborigines at the time refused to let her accompany her daughter. All she wanted was to sit by her daughter’s bedside during her final days and she was denied this right as a mother by people distant and unknown to her.

We have a 6 year old. I tried to imagine how I would have felt in this woman’s shoes. To be honest just the thought of it filled me with a gut-wrenching bitterness and hatred that no amount of time would likely diminish.

And the frightening realisation is that this experience, or similar, and the attached emotions and trauma are shared by so many Aboriginal people all across the country. I thought also about our aunt who was stolen not once, but three times from her family to endure such cruel and abusive treatment at the hands of mission staff. The pain, anger and hurt shows in her eyes and you can hear it in her words. Her children and grandchildren hear her stories and they see and hear her pain; and then they feel it too.

So, with all of this intergenerational trauma and grief what is the way forward? How do we break a cycle of self, family and community harm? What will it take to move beyond the anger and hate so many are justifiably holding onto and genuinely feeling?

My hubby simply answered with ‘time’. He explained that he didn’t mean Aboriginal people would ever forget their history and what their ancestors endured but that over time the raw emotion of it would fade along with feelings of bitterness and hate. He feels it is because we have many still alive today that endured such awful things and the fact that their children and grandchildren today are witness to the devastating impacts of it that the anger still burns so hot. Maybe when these experiences and stories are no longer still in living memory and the people telling them are not so directly involved and impacted by them we will see a shift forward and away from the raw emotion that is still very much felt today.

I then added that acknowledgement and empathy were also vital ingredients for healing and explained that the apathy and lack of empathy unashamedly expressed by so many Australians towards Aboriginal people and the lasting and devastating legacy of invasion was hugely counterproductive. I don’t think the average Australian realises just how a change in perspective and attitude could make such a monumental impact and difference to how Aboriginal people feel about themselves, others and their place in this nation.

I whole-heartedly believe that it is not entirely possible for a person or people to heal, grieve and move forward without the atrocities that were committed against them and the resulting trauma first being acknowledged and understood. A shift from dismissal and defensiveness to compassion and awareness would allow us to start pulling down the wall that currently exists between our communities and become a nation built on truth, respect and solidarity.

I don’t understand why this is such a challenge for our country and why so many seem to fear and loathe the very thought of considering an Aboriginal perspective or demonstrating any type of compassion and understanding. The scary idea for me is that we will never actually reach that point and that our nation won’t find the leadership and motivation needed to take the courageous and honest action needed to address past wrongs and create the public awareness needed to develop real understanding and empathy.

My hubby agreed also and then we both agreed that it was a double-pronged solution. Both time and empathy would bring healing and change. Time and empathy could potentially move us towards genuine reconciliation. Neither cost anything, they just require some patience, compassion and willingness to listen and learn on our part.

I’m willing to invest those things in the hope of a brighter and better future. Are you?

Fascism: History Repeats, Again

By Loz Lawrey

“… It was 1941. Europe was in flames. Spain had fallen to a ruthless dictator. Hitler had rolled over the continent, reduced France to an abject state, and was about to invade Russia. Concentration camps were filled with Jews (though we in America did not know much about that yet). Mussolini ruled Italy. Japan ravaged eastern China and southeast Asia, as her ultimate conquerors would later continue to do in Indochina. The enemy was fascism – and fascism did not exist only across the oceans …” (from the Rolling Stone article “Pete Seeger: Guerilla Minstrel” by Gene Marine, 13 April 1972).

It’s true that fascism, which emerged in Italy in the 1920s, was rearing its ugly head in America as well as Europe by the 1930s and 40s.

Social justice activists such as Pete Seeger knew their enemy well. The scrawled message “this machine kills fascists” on Woody Guthrie’s guitar said it all.

What is fascism? Most dictionary definitions describe a system of authoritarian government whose attributes include nationalism, racism and dictatorial/autocratic state control. Under fascism, military, corporate and political interests conjoin to impose their power over the people and suppress all voices of opposition or dissent. Hitler’s Nazi regime was fascist in nature.

Definitions of fascism tend to sound like neoliberalism’s mission statement, listing elements critical to the business model of … call them what you will: the wealthy elites, the one percent, the military/industrial complex, the economic rationalists, the political hard right, the corporate predators of neoliberalism … in other words, those who profit from chaos.

Socialism to fascists is what Kryptonite is to Superman. Fascists hate socialism, communism, even conservatism, which can appear too moderate in the eyes of these far-right bully boys. To fascists, concepts such as “human rights” and “social justice” are irrelevant.

Aspiring fascists prowl the corridors and back alleys of our federal parliament and public service.

Home Affairs, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton presides over a vast portfolio which, it could be argued, places too much power over others in the hands of one man.

Were he ever given free reign to exercise that power at will, without checks and balances to constrain his actions, fascism would displace the last vestiges of democracy in our country.

Were the Liberal/National Coalition government not constrained by our parliamentary system and the need to maintain an appearance of social democracy and public participation, we would now be living under an overtly fascist regime.

As it is, we are witnessing the creeping resurgence of fascism both here in Australia and globally.

I was born in 1951, only six years after the end of the Second World War, a horror chapter in humanity’s ever-repeating cycle of war, conflict, genocides and self-inflicted abominations which many of us hoped had ended with the USA’s shameful atomic  mass murders at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I grew up in a time when our society truly believed fascism, which had a presence in Australia during the 1930s, had been consigned to the past, just another stain on humanity’s abysmal human rights record.

We great apes think ourselves clever, but we don’t treat each other well, do we?

It is said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Lies, misrepresentation, fear-mongering, racism, the promotion of conflict and social division, “othering”… these are the tools of the fascist trade.

Political leaders with easy access to propaganda by mass media bring these tools to the task of grasping power and imposing control. The hysterical headlines of the Murdoch gutter press are a deliberate form of brainwashing.

How easily we forget the lessons drawn from the mistakes of the past. How short is humanity’s collective memory.

In my 66 years I have witnessed a great arc of human social improvement: Progress. A genuine, educated attempt to be truly human in our values and our social organising, underpinned by a vision of utopian possibility.

I’ve observed the struggle for civil rights in western nations, the hard-won gains of the union movement, the efforts to enshrine human values of fairness and decency within so-called democratic societies.

I’ve also witnessed that same vision of fairness, inclusion and equality being dismantled over time, diluted and diminished by neoliberalism: the cult of individualism with its “winners and losers” mentality.

Although socialism always attracts bad press, history demonstrates that some socialist values and principles of inclusiveness are mandatory requirements for any successful, healthy civil society.

For a few brief decades, thanks to the activism of our trade unions, workers enjoyed better wages, working conditions and safety standards than ever before.

With a little socialist garnish to balance its greed, capitalism actually seemed to work for a while there.

Workers earned a fair wage, a single breadwinner could feed a family and business reaped the rewards of workers’ ability to spend.

Trade unions brought rogue employers to heel. Principles of decency forced governments to endorse the standards of fairness that workers demanded.

Union members made this happen, while non-member “freeloaders” also enjoyed the fruits of endless hard-fought union campaigns. For years. And years.

Yet here we are today: Union membership is at an all-time low. Our hard-won rights, wages and conditions have been eroded and subverted, sanded down and dimished to the point of practical non-existence.

The new “gig economy” is code for a deregulated law-of-the-jungle employment environment where workers’ rights and entitlements no longer exist.

Like the crazed high priests of greed that they are, business lobby groups continually advocate for lower wages and working conditions in the name of “flexibility” and “productivity”.

We recently saw the oddly-named “Fair Work Commission” cut penalty rates for low-paid hospitality workers working outside business hours or on weekends, a decision that clearly had nothing to do with fairness for workers.

The nonsensical trickle-down economic argument supporting that decision would reduce workers to the level of indentured servants, caught up in an endless struggle for survival on wages which don’t meet the cost of living.

One has to wonder: can businesses really prosper while disenfranchising and impoverishing the very workers who are also their customers?

As long as workers are treated as “units of work” rather than people, exploitation will remain an integral part of our industrial relations system.

Penalty rates were originally conceived, fought for and won by unions seeking to compensate workers for the social disadvantages of working outside normal business trading hours while the rest of society plays.

Bloody unions! Always at it, aren’t they, trying to inject fairness into the employment space! They must be stopped! Quick! Raid their offices!

Unbelievably, I recently met a young man in his early twenties who had no idea what a trade union is. To him, the job market is a toxic jungle where concepts such as “fairness” or “living wage” no longer apply.

He sees a dog-eat-dog competitive arena where only a few victorious gladiators will ever be left standing to share the spoils of success.

To him, being a worker means being thrown to the wolves. Scars are expected. Ongoing employment and economic and social survival are now mere hopes, no longer expectations.

Is the struggle for social justice finally lost?

It could be argued that fascism has always been with us in one form or another.

Perhaps it simply changes its spots, adapting like a  chameleon to the temper of the times.

One could say that neoliberalism is fascism in sheep’s clothing, with its veneration of corporate power and market freedom, its deregulation, its austerity measures, its disregard for both the individual and the public interest, its attacks on social justice and denial of society’s right to social cohesion.

In other words, we now suffer from a different form of authoritarianism. Today industry and commerce run the show. Although the appearance of democracy and “people power” is maintained, governments listen first to the lobbyists of their corporate masters while paying lip service to voters, who are condemned to waiting for trickle-down benefits which may never materialise.

We are drowning in an ocean of often irrational lies and spin regurgitated by politicians quivering with excitement at the magnitude of corporate “donations” (some might say “payment for favourable outcomes”) to their party coffers.

Governments use the same fear-mongering (terrorists, North Korea etc) and “othering” (refugees, welfare recipients, “gangs”) as fascist regimes once did, in their ongoing attempts to divide, disempower and control us.

I’ve always found far greater inspiration in the stories of compassionate contributors to human betterment than those of conquering heroes and economic, social or sporting “winners”.

Some human stories warm the heart and inspire us to become our most generous selves, while others leave us mean-minded, competitive, judgmental, full of hubris, intolerance and nastiness.

I know that as a post-war baby boomer, I’ve been very lucky. I was born into middle-class comfort. I enjoyed a free education and a reasonably consistent working life, punctuated by short periods of unemployment, during which times my family was sustained by a viable social safety to which I myself contributed by paying tax, along with my fellow Australians.

While the media “dole bludger” label has always been with us, our social security system, though never perfect, ensured that few of us actually went homeless, unlike today’s reality when more than one in two hundred of us sleep rough.

“They” have turned us against each other. Maggie Thatcher’s “there’s no such thing as society” has come to pass.

Our own government constantly attacks and demonises our most disadvantaged citizens.

We are judged. If we accumulate wealth, we are “winners”. If wealth doesn’t materialise for us (for whatever reason), we are dismissed as “losers” and kicked to the curb.

As time passes, so does the past become devalued and forgotten. That’s why the historical record is so important.

I remember learning some years ago that the study of history was to be wound back in school curriculums. I knew then that we were making a mistake. How easily a generation forgets the lessons learned by its predecessor.

Once history is devalued and ignored, we’ve disempowered ourselves by throwing a precious resource of fact-based knowledge overboard.

Today we live in a world where people of lesser ability are elevated to high office, where stupidity is celebrated and fools are made famous by commercial media placing profit above the public interest.

Today I regularly encounter adults who’ve never read a book and are unaware of the precedents of history. I believe this trend has a lot to do with the resurgence of fascism we are witnessing globally.

Yes, fascism, Nazism … the ugliest variations on the theme of “Stupidity Uber Alles” are all around us. Fascism, that paradigm whereby bullies in jackboots with small brains, sadistic tendencies and no empathy whatsoever run the show.

As a player on the stage of life, I’ll eventually exit, stage left.

The world will go on without me and, apart from a few songs and scribblings floating in cyberspace, there will be little or no trace of me left behind. I hope to leave a small footprint: not too many people hurt, not too much damage done.

I love life, and while I do occasionally tumble into the slough of despond, I usually manage to remain positive in the face of what sometimes seems like universal awfulness.

There are, however, times when I’m overwhelmed by disappointment at what I perceive to be humanity’s bad choices.

My disenchantment began in the 1980s, with Thatcher in the U.K. and Reagan in the U.S., who infected our world with the toxic poison of “economically rationalist” neoliberal ideology, elevating selfishness, applauding greed and equating obscene wealth with success.

Today, things look worse than ever. Toxic regimes devour their own citizens. More global conflict seems inevitable.

History is repeating, again …

Once more, humanity’s fate is held in the hands of a few greedy, power-hungry men. Their deluded madness enslaves us all, and by their hand shall we bleed. Or perish.

Unless, of course, we choose otherwise.

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