Day to Day Politics: Will someone please fix…

Thursday 25 May 2017 Those of you who follow my daily political mutterings…

Your Say: the 1967 Referendum

From Gary Pead It should be remembered in Referendum Week ​that in 1967…

Day to Day Politics: After-Budget Hangover.

Wednesday 24 May 2017 I’m having one of those days where I’m going…

At least I never said "Adani"...

Someone asked me how my wife feels about having our conversations repeated…

Day to Day Politics: Three cases of…

Tuesday 22 May 2017 1 I have for some time now been calling…

“Baa, baa, black sheep …”

By freef'all852 (Warning: This article contains words and language that may offend the…

No, the banks aren’t really scared

By Ross Hamilton A lot of Australians are fed up with the big…

Finding the pathway to humanity

A few weeks ago, an international peace conference was held in Cairo…

«
»
Facebook

Tag Archives: freedom

Screaming Freedom: Day of the Imprisoned Writer

By Janet Galbraith

‘… the protection of the right to freedom of expression – the freedom to express ideas without fear of attack, arrest or other persecution – has been at the heart of International PEN’s work since it was formed in 1921. PEN’s Charter pledges that all members will oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible’.

November the 15th 2015 marks the 34th anniversary of the annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, ‘an international day that recognises writers who have suffered persecution as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression’. Each year PEN International, its members and other concerned writers mark this day to raise awareness of the imprisonment, killings and threats writers are subject to.

Seldom has there been a focus on the persecution of imprisoned writers within Australia. Two notable cases are those of two writers detained in the early to mid 2000’s in Australia: Cheikh Kone who became International PEN’s first major Australian writer in prison and Iranian writer, journalist and political activist, Ardeshir Gholipour. Both were freed after a PEN International campaign. Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani held in detention on Manus Island for 27 months has recently been named an honorary member of PEN and his case for asylum supported by the human rights organisation.

Notably PEN International’s approach to the Australian’s government in 2004 resulted in communications between the Australian government and the noted human rights group and the freedom of the above writers. This year the letter sent to the Australian government by PEN International on behalf of Behrouz Boochani has garnered no response whatsoever. This is not terribly surprising as many working in solidarity with those detained in Australia’s immigration detention industry have noted that silence and obfuscation are one of the hallmarks of the Australian government’s (non)response to concerns of human rights abuses.

This year Australia has become under increases observation by PEN International as freedom of expression and information is further curtailed and legislated against. Sydney PEN informs us that:

“… at the recent PEN International Congress in Quebec City, the first resolution adopted by the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, was about Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws. The resolution relates to the constraint of freedom of expression in the name of countering terrorism, especially about operations on Manus Island and Nauru relating to asylum seekers”.

This comes at a time when many international human rights organisations speak out against the Australia’s failure to comply with international law and conventions and as the litany of human rights abuses, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment of people seeking asylum grows. When the Turnbull Government is asked for comment on conditions ‘tantamount to torture’ on people in off-shore detention camps, the strategy seems to be the same as that offered the UN and other international bodies: silence and obfuscation. This is not a new strategy nor is it specific to Australia. Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites’ founding members Professor Perera and Professor Pugliese have identified “parallels between the US extra-legal prisons at Guantanamo and elsewhere and our Pacific equivalents” naming the off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru as “Australia’s version of the secretive US ‘black sites‘ that operated during the war on terror”.

Writers detained in Australia’s black sites on Manus and Nauru, as well as the immigration gulags on Christmas Island and throughout the mainland of Australia, bear much of the brunt of these secretive operations and the deliberate curtailing of freedom of information and freedom of expression. Many writers involved with Writing Through Fences, a loosely connected group of writers writing from within Australia’s immigration detention industry, report being subject to intense surveillance, beatings, imprisonment without charge, prolonged detention, unnecessary restraint, isolation, threats of rape, and denial of appropriate medical treatment in attempts to silence them.

The breaking of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, by successive governments in Australia has been discussed in terms of the Border Force Act that sees workers and journalists who disclose human rights abuses within Australia’s detention industry at risk of imprisonment. However, such discussions have rarely included recognition that writers and human rights defenders detained by Australia in our black sites and mainland detention gulags are themselves subject to cruel, degrading and in human punishment as a result of their work.

Mark Isaacs highlight the targeting of writers: “the Nauruan police took Dev away from the camp in handcuffs. They said to him, ‘Goodbye Mr Journalist’, an implication that this was revenge for him having contact with Australian media”. Behrouz Boochani writes in a report to the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders: One time they put me in the jail after the hunger strike. You know in Foxtrot we had no violence at that time. I was in jail just for reporting to the outside about the hunger strike. He writes further, in a private letter, I remember when they moved me from the Lorengau jail to Charlie the officers said: “He is in here because he is a journalist”.

Many of those writing from within immigration detention centres are forced to withhold or change their names for fear of further punishment. At the same time, most of these people also speak of writing as their responsibility, privilege and duty. Others have reluctantly become writers in order to survive. One man detained on Manus Island for 27 months has said to me: “I am not a writer but I must write. I must write to tell the world what is being done to us. I must write to defend our right to live”.

Within this context, writing from within these black sites and detention gulags is understood to be a life-giving practice of survival and a courageous and necessary tool of resistance. A young man from Myanmar incarcerated in Manus Camp wrote to me earlier this year:

“I am a very different young man … I believe it will be difficult for you to accept that I have never been to school or college … With no education but a strong sense of determination I started learning English from scratch in the refugee camps … Being here I have written 1000 pages about my miserable life … Giving this privilege God wants me to raise my voice on behalf of millions of asylum seekers and refugees around the world who are being denied freedom in a safe place” (Khan – not real name).

Artist turned poet, FB writes:

“And the silence breaks its silence
setting free it’s songs from the depths.
The shouts of sleepers
release the voices of the voiceless
screaming
‘Freedom! Freedom!'”

A man held for 2 years in detention on Nauru writes:

“As a victim of injustice and politics, I was forced to face reality and the realisation that I needed to find a way to deal with all the emotions that I was unable to cope with. I took up writing and art” (Ravi).

Asserting existence and belonging before and in spite of displacement and detention a writer from Somalia, interred in immigration detention in Australia writes (excerpt from ‘A message from sweet home’):

OH SWEET GIRL
You were born inside of me.
Why did you leave me like this?
Have you forgotten my warm nights and bright breezy days?
Have you forgotten lying on my sand with a big beautiful smile on your face?
Oh my dear… unforgettable moments!
You were fearless, a strong and beautiful child…
Come home.
On this Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Australia is in the spotlight. We are being held to account for the atrocities enabled by the tax payers of this nation and perpetrated in our name. We cannot say we do not know. The voices are many.

Writing Through Fences joins with Write of Asylum and calls on writers and human rights defenders to stand with, and open space for, those who speak and write from within the detention gulags.

“I die slowly, so slowly in this tight cocoon
with no space to shout’”(M, 2015).

Opening space is important and so is solidarity. When asked about his fears around his reporting from our black site on Manus Island, Boochani said:

“I feel more secure because a campaign to sup-port me has taken shape”.

We who are not detained do have a responsibility, privilege and duty to be aware of how we fill spaces, and how we may open them. We also have a responsibility, privilege and duty to listen to and stand with imprisoned writers, to call on the Australian government to end the punishment of those who speak and write from within the gulags and demand their closure. The voices of the writers imprisoned in our detention gulags are calling, they are screaming “Freedom! Freedom!”

Janet Galbraith
Founder and facilitator of Writing Through Fences
Coordinator Write of Asylum
Founding member of Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites

 

Absolute crap

One thing that has become increasingly apparent about Tony Abbott is that he gears his words to his audience.  If that meant explaining policies at a level that the audience could comprehend, that could be a good thing, but in the case of our Prime Minister, it means saying what you think they want to hear even if it is inconsistent with, or even diametrically opposed to what you have told a different audience.

When Tony visited a meeting of 130 farmers and townspeople in Beaufort in September 2009, he called for a show of hands on whether the Coalition should support the ETS. Only a handful voted yes.

Abbott, until that point Turnbull’s main defender on the ETS, quickly donned his sceptic’s hat and played to the room discussing how there had been many changes of climate over the millennia not caused by man, leading to that infamous quote

“The argument is absolute crap. However, the politics of this are tough for us. Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.”

His comments were warmly received in this rural heartland and that was when Tony realised that he may have a shot at the leadership if he became a climate change denier.

After he staged his leadership takeover, Abbott tried to cover-up his backflip describing his use of “crap” as “a bit of hyperbole” and not his “considered position” and said it was made “in the context of a very heated discussion where I was attempting to argue people around to what I thought was then our position”.

Absolute crap say the people who were at the meeting.

Event organiser Jim Cox said Abbott’s comment was “very well received” and he quickly realised “he was on a bit of a winner”.  Vice-president of the Beaufort branch of the Liberal Party Joe McCracken said Abbott looked relieved by the applause.

Buoyed by his success, Tony used the same approach when he attended a luncheon event on International Women’s Day in 2010.

What would women want to hear?  I know…we are going to give you universal paid parental leave on replacement wages plus superannuation for six months and we are going to scrap Labor’s $150,000- a-year income limit on the $5185 Baby Bonus.

Instead of being grateful, women, who are in the main smarter than Tony Abbott, realised this fell into the ‘too good to be true’ category.  As subsequent actions have shown, Tony’s feigned concern for women and families was absolute crap as was his promise not to introduce any new taxes. (Who could forget that humiliating interview with Kerry O’Brien?)

Not only have we lost the Baby Bonus, and lost the right to claim paid parental leave from both our employer and the government, eligibility for Family Benefit payments has been tightened up and increases frozen.  The appropriateness of these measures is debatable but Abbott’s backflip is not.

Going into the last election Tony Abbott promised a ‘unity ticket’ on education.  The Liberal Party education policy also clearly stated “We will ensure the continuation of the current arrangements of university funding.”

Absolute crap.

When Tony Abbott addressed the IPA at their 70th anniversary dinner, he spoke of freedom.

Freedom can only exist within a framework of law so that every person’s freedom is consistent with the same freedom for everyone else.  At least in the English speaking tradition, liberalism and conservatism, love of freedom and respect for due process, have been easy allies.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the foundation of our justice. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is the foundation of our mercy.

..a democratic parliament, an incorruptible judiciary and a free press, rather than mere law itself, are the best guarantors of human rights.

You campaigned against the legislative prohibition against giving offence and I’m pleased to say that the author of those draft laws is now leaving the parliament. Well done IPA! And, of course, you campaigned against the public interest media advocate, an attack dog masquerading as a watchdog, designed to intimidate this government’s media critics and that legislation was humiliatingly withdrawn.”

Abbott sucked up to the IPA telling them what they wanted to hear but where is the due process for citizens returning from the Middle East?  Where is the justice and mercy for asylum seekers?  Where is the concern for human rights?  Where is the freedom to criticise this government?  And who is Abbott to speak of humiliating withdrawals?

That speech had more crap in it than Chinese berries.

Tony speaks of his commitment to tackling the scourge of domestic violence and to closing the gap for Indigenous Australians while slashing funding for frontline services.  We have seemingly endless funds for defence, national security and border protection.  We can even find $40 million to give Cambodia to take four refugees.  But we cannot fund refuges, legal services and advocacy groups.

The lip service paid to the protection of our vulnerable has been proven absolute crap by the actions of Abbott’s mob.

And when it comes to the economy, everything the Abbott government says is crap.  Despite significantly increasing the debt and deficit and having to downgrade projections with every fiscal statement, they try to convince us that they have cut billions from the debt they inherited.  It makes no sense whatsoever to compare trajectories in ten years’ time and claim credit for things that haven’t happened and aren’t likely to.

After campaigning widely on the supposed “debt and deficit disaster” and trash talking our economy, Joe Hockey warns us now of the irresponsibility of such talk because of its negative affect on confidence.  Whilst reining in government spending, he encourages us all to get out there and spend up big to stimulate the economy.  Joe, you are full of it.

On many occasions before the election, the Coalition promised to build our new submarines in South Australia.  It even appears in their defence policy released on September 2, 2013.

“We will also ensure that work on the replacement of the current submarine fleet will centre around the South Australian shipyards.”

When Tony’s leadership was threatened in February, he promised his South Australian colleagues that would be the case – at least that’s what they thought he promised.  Even they must now realise that was absolute crap.

Before the election we were promised “no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS” and no adverse changes to superannuation.

Absolute crap.

In his victory speech on September 7 2013 Tony Abbott made the following promise:

“In a week or so the governor-general will swear in a new government. A government that says what it means, and means what it says. A government of no surprises and no excuses. A government that understands the limits of power as well as its potential. And a government that accepts that it will be judged more by its deeds than by its mere words.”

My judgement?

Tony Abbott will say whatever he thinks people want to hear because, far from being a leader, he is a dishonest inadequate man whose only motivation is to keep his job.  This makes him susceptible to manipulation.  We are in the position where focus groups, vested interests, lobbyists and party donors are dictating policy because our PM is a weak man with no vision whose words mean nothing.

Absolute crap, indeed.

Deconstructing a dog whistle

Tony Abbott’s government has taken some body-blows in recent weeks, and Abbott’s own leadership standing is suffering. Some say that this is due to a savage budget that seeks to address a non-existent budget emergency by penalising those who can least afford it and by punching the powerless, compounded by poor communications and head-scratching political decisions. If this were the case, one might be forgiven for thinking that the best way of recovering the party’s fortunes might be to revisit the thinking behind the budget, to seek to appropriately identify who the real lifters and leaners in the economy are, and to fix the way that the government goes about doing business.

Or you could go for the approach of sowing distrust and disunity, painting an amorphous group as the “Other” in order to convince Australians that you are “One of them” and being strong to protect them from the forces of darkness. This is a skill-set and a rulebook Tony Abbott inherited from his great hero John Howard and this weekend’s video message shows that he has enthusiastically embraced it.

If national security is so important that it has prompted an address to the nation, at the expense of attention to Joe Hockey’s “Never back to surplus” budget and Andrew Robb’s TPP negotiations and the likely forthcoming execution of the Bali Nine kingpins, then it would seem worthwhile to examine the detail of Mr Abbott’s speech.

When you look at what Mr Abbott had to say, it becomes clear that he is taking two specific incidents and generalising threats from them, generalising failures from them, and using them to beat up the necessity for changes. In two minutes and 23 seconds, he commiserates with the victims of violence, generalises the threat to all Australians, spruiks the actions of the government, reminds us of the threat and reassures us that he is keeping us safe.

An examination of the specific incidents to which Abbott refers, however, tells a more sobering story. There have been no significant failures of our immigration and border protection regulations, no breaches of our balanced and considered jurisprudence and bail system. There are no practical measures that could have prevented these specific events that prompt Abbott’s address. Once you understand that any measures the government might propose can have no possible effect on preventing these specific events, the low-brow dog whistle becomes crystal clear, and it becomes possible to see the real threat behind the words – the threat of further intrusive and unwarranted interference into people’s everyday lives.

A Message from the PM

Abbott begins by referring to the recent Lindt cafe attack by Man Haron Monis. It is perfectly appropriate to “acknowledge the atrocity”. It was one man with a shotgun and three people, including the attacker, died in the event. “Atrocity” is a strong word, but Abbott commences as he means to continue. In any case, the scene is set, the tone of the address is identified: this is a message about terrorism.

Abbott continues with a pledge to keep Australia as “safe and secure” as humanly possible. Federal and State governments are conducting a joint review into the siege, and the report will be released soon. The report will make recommendations and the government intends to take some actions. History has shown us that actions taken by a government are often only a subset, or sometimes a completely different set, to the recommendations of any given report, but we will reserve judgement. In effect, Abbott is attempting to take credit in advance for an announcement the government has yet to make. He is showing the government is strong, by pointing to the future when it intends to take strong action that it can’t tell us about yet.

We may get an inkling of the actions the government has in mind when Abbott addresses the Parliament on the topic of national security next Monday. But we may have a sneak preview as Abbott continues on.

“For too long we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt. There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink. And in the courts, there has been bail, when clearly there should have been jail.”

When we unpack this statement, in the context of recent events and of the preceding text, Abbott is effectively telling us that we have not been strong enough in our immigration policies, and failures in our bail and justice systems. Abbott refers very specifically to the one example he has mentioned, Man Haron Monis, the attacker in the Lindt cafe event. Australians – particularly those in Sydney, Abbott’s home constituency – will be very aware
also of the arrest this week of two young men, home-grown potential jihadists. Despite not mentioning them specifically, the media has been quick to connect the dots between their arrest and this statement by Abbott.

The problem is that neither our immigration, residency, citizenship nor bail processes failed in any of these cases.

Man Haron Monis was on bail for a variety of criminal offenses at the time of his cafe attack. These cases were not religious in nature. He was accused of being accessory before and after the fact for the murder of his wife by his girlfriend. Separately, he was on bail on indecency charges. Neither case could have given indication that he was planning to turn into a shotgun-wielding maniac. [Read: How was Man Haron Monis not on a security watchlist?]

There were indications perhaps of mental instability, of paranoia, and definite isolation and marginalisation. Monis was known for holding “extremist” views. That’s easy to say in retrospect. His views on the West’s involvement in Middle-Eastern conflicts would not be out of place in a Greens party room meeting. He was, until very shortly before his act of terror, a well-dressed and urbane Australian.

Could the Lindt Cafe attack have been avoided if Man Haron Monis was denied bail? Certainly. On what basis could bail have been denied, though? This was not a wild-haired fanatic before the magistrate.

Bail is a State issue of law enforcement. As it happens, laws have already been tightened in NSW that would have prevented Monis’ bail. So what exactly does Abbott, in the Federal sphere, expect to do to make Australians still safer?

The recent arrests in Sydney were of two young men, Mohammad Kiad and Omar al-Kutobi. Allegedly they were arrested just hours before they intended to attack members of the public with knives. Could either of these alleged terrorists have been captured earlier with tighter border protection policies, or more intelligence resources? Were they abusing their Centrelink entitlements?

It would appear not. Kiad, now 25, came into Australia four years ago on a family visa to join his wife. al-Kutobi fled Iraq with his family ten years ago; he came to Australia in 2009. Shortly thereafter he received a protection visa and he became an Australian citizen in 2013. Neither man was a wild-haired fanatic, nor obviously a danger to the public.

The pair were not known to police. They were not known as religious extremists. Until recently, it doesn’t appear that they were. Instead, they were young Aussie men, fond of barbeques and American TV and luxury goods. Their radicalisation occurred over the last few weeks, perhaps triggered by the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices last month in Paris. Their rapid radicalisation was reported to Australian authorities by their own community about a week ago. Mere days later, police swooped.

How were tighter immigration rules four years ago going to prevent a planned terror attack that took months, at most, to be conceived and instigated, from men who by all reports only became extreme within the last six months, and on Australian soil?

The other problematic element of this densely offensive paragraph is the reference to Centrelink. In the context of this strident message, the inference is clear: that terrorists rely on Newstart. This is so ridiculous as to be laughable – yet it plays to the same crowd who lapped up the election rhetoric about boat people clogging up the motorways of Sydney.

The other possible reading is that people who rely on welfare are as bad as terrorists. I’m not certain which interpretation is the more offensive.

Abbott continues his address with the key message: all too often, “bad people play us for mugs. Well, that’s going to stop.”

Who are these bad people? That’s not been shown. Hopefully it’s not Man Haron Monis, because if we’re going to stop people like him from “taking us for mugs”, we presumably will no longer be providing welfare to those with mental issue. Hopefully it’s not Mohammad Kiad and Omar al-Kutobi, because in order to curtail the terrorist threat they pose, we would need to prevent muslims in general from entering the country.

Abbott makes a variety of references to the “Islamist death cult”. There’s a three-word slogan that’s earned him a couple of poll points before. It is also simultaneously emotive, highly offensive to large groups of undeserving people, and impossible to criticise without coming across as an apologist. Well, this author will criticise it. Islamic State might possibly be Islamist, but using the term paints all Muslims alike. IS is most certainly not a death cult. Yes, it uses unsupportable means and revels in bloodshed, but it does so not for the sake of killing people, but rather to attract those it considers devout. The killings are a means, not an end. And the idea of a world caliphate of muslims is dear to many. Nobody should seek to defend the actions or the Islamic State. However, belittling IS with a three-word slogan ignores the complexities and the real grievances and aspirations of millions of muslims everywhere.

Abbott goes on to talk about the much-discussed “new threats” of home-grown backyard terrorists, armed with “a knife, a flag, a camera phone, and a victim”. Terrorists are everywhere, around every corner, lurking under every bed.

By all means, do what you can to identify potential attackers before they take a life. But in the same way that it’s impossible to protect the public from an armed robber in a milk bar, it is impossible to protect the public from a quiet young man who just wants to be respected.

Abbott finishes his presentation by proudly boasting of working with other nations to degrade the Islamic State through military means; and improving the powers and resources of Australian intelligence agencies. Finally, he claims the need for stronger laws to “make it easier to keep you safe”. These include the data retention laws currently before parliament, but, worryingly, might also include other laws and regulations Abbott does not describe, but which will inevitably further encroach on our liberties and our privacy. Of course, it’s all for our own good. The government is being strong to keep Us safe from Them.

“As a country we won’t let evil people exploit our freedom.” As Kaye Lee has written today, it’s a pity that credo doesn’t stretch to include the current government.

Scroll Up