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Eva is a freelance writer with a keen interest in legal, social justice and community matters, particularly where they intertwine with politics. She holds a Bachelor of Laws degree with First Class Honours, Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (Distinction) and a Bachelor of Social Science, majoring in Social Justice and Behavioural Science. Eva enjoys fighting politically expedient populism and is commited to empowering Australians to participate in democracy. She’s also a mother to three young children and lives in Tasmania.

Here’s our money, now let them go.

It’s 2019 and Western Australia is still locking up people for not paying fines. Of course this abhorrent policy barely affects the rich, or the well-employed, or those with financial security. It doesn’t affect those who have access to money, or for whom a $500 – $1000 slap on the wrist is just a matter of flashing the credit card or at worst, waiting until payday. No, it punishes people for being poor, for which $500+ becomes an unmanageable percentage of their income/benefit. And before long, that slap on the wrist becomes a prison sentence.

This policy, which Attorney-General John Quigley can stop right now, is disastrous for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community, those who barely have enough money to pay the rent, or buy food or nappies for babies. These are not violent criminals, or a threat to society. No, these people, many of which are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, cannot afford to pay the most miniscule of fines which have been meted out, not for grievous acts against person or property, but for basic regulatory offences which should never ever see a person imprisoned.

In Western Australia, every day there are approximately 8 to ten people in jail for unpaid fines. These are fathers and mothers separated from their children, vulnerable people separated from their families and incarcerated with prisoners when they have committed no crime. Of these, women are overrepresented, and 64% of the female fine defaulters are Indigenous women.

This is outrageous. And it must stop. Now. Not in six months after yet another review of a dire situation. Not tomorrow, when yet another two people have been arrested for not being able to pay their fines.

Today. Now. Attorney-General Quigley must act now and urgently put forward legislation to stop the abhorrent practice of jailing people who cannot pay their fines.

This isn’t a new idea. It isn’t something which the Western Australian government isn’t critically aware of, although the arrest and imprisonment last week of Indigenous actor and dancer Rubeun Yorkshire has thrown the spotlight on the issue again. It’s a policy which an entire coronial inquest report has recommended against.

In 2014, Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu died in police custody after officers failed to recognise she was critically ill after a rib, broken months earlier by a violent partner, became infected. Ms Dhu was in jail for owing a pitiful $3,622. It cost her life. The Coroner’s report noted that that the series of escalating consequences for fine defaulters, when combined with poverty, result in people being jailed without the safeguard of judicial oversight.

The Coroner recommended that the WA government should change the law and stop the practice of jailing people for unpaid fines. That report was handed down in December 2016.

And what has changed? Nothing. Not a thing. In fact the prison population is still growing, and Indigenous Australians are grossly overrepresented. A 2018 Human Rights Watch report found that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.”

Western Australia is punishing people for being poor. It is punishing people who have been subject all their lives to institutionalised racism. It is embedding a state-sanctioned punitive culture where those who are financially suffering are further shamed, humiliated and punished, despite having no criminal convictions.

Prisons are for criminals, not poor people. Prisons are places of punishment for those who pose a risk to society, not the victims of violence, like the Noongar woman who was arrested and jailed in September 2017 for unpaid fines after police were called to deal with a violent family member.

Attorney-General Quigley knows all this. In October 2018 he told media that jail for fine defaulters was an “economically unsound policy”. Jailing people costs money; approximately $303 a day per person. A person cannot “pay off” a fine through incarceration. It’s nonsensical and prehistoric. Quigley stated that jailing fine defaulters should be “truly a last resort”. This isn’t good enough, when “last resort” it almost certainly means a person has no other option but to give their life for a paltry thousand dollars or so.

And it isn’t good enough to promise to put forward legislation later, another day, another time. It must happen now.

The Western Australian government must act now.

But in the meantime, Australians who are appalled at the gross injustice of jailing people who have committed no crimes are stepping up. While Attorney-General Quigley hides behind bureaucracy, Debbie Kilroy, Executive Director of Sisters Inside, an organization which advocates for the human rights of women in the criminal justice system, has started a GoFundMe fundraiser with the aim to free 100 single Aboriginal mothers from Western Australian prisons.

It has raised over $87,000 in just two days.

This money has already been used to save a single Noongar woman, a mother of three children, from being imprisoned. The accumulated debt of $3100 came from traffic infringements and having an unregistered dog.

Attorney-General Quigley can put a stop to this draconian policy. He can put forward legislation immediately to end the discriminatory practice of jailing people for being poor. He can cease this barbaric action against the most vulnerable in the community. And he must do it now, before another family is torn apart and separated, by imprisonment, or death.

Please donate to #FreeThePeople here.

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“Peter Dutton is a Potato” – an analysis

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton MP is well known for throwing out subjective opinion as fact. His flippant assertions are plastered across mainstream news, regardless of how incorrect, offensive or harmful to Australia’s diverse communities. However it’s one thing to pander to the ideological sensitivities of the conservative fan-base with misinformed declarations, and another thing entirely to take serious action with significant legal consequences based on nothing more than supposition and conjecture.

In the case of Australian-born terrorist Neil Prakash, the latter applies. In what can only be described as an embarrassing botching of a matter which should have been a public relations winner, it appears that Dutton has stripped citizenship from a sole Australian citizen, rendering Prakash stateless. The government has made the ill-advised assumption that Prakash is a national or citizen of a country other than Australia, namely Fiji, because his father is Fijian. Accordingly, Dutton gave written notice to Prakash, as required by law, advising that he had ceased to be an Australian citizen by virtue of his overseas terrorist/foreign fighting activities.

Clearly Dutton, or his advisors, or the senior bureaucrats responsible for briefing Dutton, didn’t actually read the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, legislation which Dutton so fervently advocated for. Or they read it, and didn’t understand it. And yet, in the face of senior Fijian officials contradicting the Australian government, and legal experts throwing doubt on the veracity of Dutton’s claims and the legality of the administrative action in affirming the cessation of Prakash’s citizenship, Dutton is holding strong.

To see just how ludicrous it is for Dutton to maintain that Prakash is a citizen of Fiji, the same creative logic can be applied to another definitive statement.

“Peter Dutton is a potato”.

In order to analyse this seemingly erroneous, or at best metaphorical statement, it’s necessary to step through the logic which should have been applied when determining if section 35 of the Australian Citizenship Act actually applied to Prakash.

The elements required to be satisfied for section 35 to apply are unambiguous:

     (1)  A person aged 14 or older ceases to be an Australian citizen if:

                    (a)  the person is a national or citizen of a country other than Australia; and

                    (b)  the person:

                             (i)  serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia; or

                            (ii) fights for, or is in the service of, a declared terrorist organisation; and

                    (c)  the person’s service or fighting occurs outside Australia.

Clearly Prakash is over the age of 14 being now 27 years old, and Australia-born, is at least capable of losing his Australian citizenship if the remaining elements are satisfied.

Section 35(1)(a) requires that a person “is a national or citizen of a country other than Australia”. This element is particularly relevant to determining the correctness or otherwise of the statement “Peter Dutton is a potato”.

There are no two ways to interpret the requirement in section 35(1)(a). However breaking it down for ease of understanding the operative word is “is” followed by the nouns “national” or “citizen”. The ordinary definition of “is” is the present tense third-person singular of “be” which means to equal, have identity with, or to have an objective existence. There is no “maybe” or “possibly” or “subjectively could be” or “Dutton really wants it to be the case because political convenience”.

For section 35 to apply, and for Prakash to have ceased to be an Australian citizen, he must have objectively existed as a national or citizen of a country other than Australia at the time he fought in a declared terrorist organisation, Islamic State, while overseas. That doesn’t mean “entitled to” or “eligible for” Fijian citizenship; the statement “Prakash is a national or citizen of Fiji” must have been definitively true at the applicable time.

This is where it gets awkward for the government.

Whether or not someone is a national or citizen of a country is a question of fact. Nationality and citizenship are distinct legal concepts, which are defined in a constitution or legislation or codified in the relevant country. The status of someone as a national or citizen is not simply a matter of opinion. And Fijian officials have stated quite unequivocally that Prakash is not a citizen of Fiji.

So back to the contemporaneous assertion that Peter Dutton is a potato.

Once again, there is no ambiguity in the interpretation of “is”. Peter Dutton either is, or is not, a potato. He doesn’t act like a potato or look like a potato, or want to be a potato. The statement doesn’t inquire whether he is entitled or eligible to be a potato. It states that Peter Dutton objectively exists as a potato.

From an ordinary reading, this statement is clearly nonsensical, as Dutton is a homo sapien and not a starchy plant tuber. However using the same creative interpretive logic as the government, there is a stronger argument that Dutton is in fact a potato compared with the assertion that Prakash is a Fijian citizen.

As the definition of  “national” or “citizen” is a distinct legal concept, it’s a question of fact whether a person is or is not a national or citizen, and a narrow or broad interpretation of such will result in the same conclusion. It may be difficult to navigate the complex citizenship laws of foreign countries and it may be necessary to consult legal experts from the relevant jurisdiction. But regardless, the citizenship status of a person will usually be definitive.

However because there is no legislative definition of “potato”, it’s necessary to adopt an ordinary meaning as defined in a dictionary. A narrow interpretation of “potato” results in the claim that Dutton is a starchy plant tuber. However a broad interpretation could include definitions found in a standard dictionary or an urban dictionary. This provides a far more imaginative use of the word. Dutton could be an object of poor quality, or a confusing word at the end of a sentence, or the sad forever alone single, a not-so-confident girl, or a person who is brainless and not aware of anything.

It appears on the available information that Prakash does not, and has not at any time, objectively existed as a Fijian citizen. As such, it is likely that section 35 of the Australian Citizenship Act does not apply to Prakash. His alleged involvement in overseas terrorist activities did not cause automatic cessation of his Australian citizenship, and Dutton erred in providing him with written notice that his Australian citizenship had ceased.

However it is evidently open to interpretation that Dutton is in fact a potato. While this goes some way to explaining how such a monumental and internationally embarrassing error could have occured, it is no consolation to Australians currently subject to Dutton’s continued reign of nincompoopery.

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Prakash citizenship saga suits Dutton’s racist agenda

When Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton MP announced that the government had revoked the citizenship of Australian-born terrorist Neil Prakash, he was no doubt sure it would be met with rounds of public applause. After a tumultuous few months for the Coalition, marred by scandal and infighting, Dutton needed a positive front page story. And what better than to reaffirm the government’s strong stance on national security and declare a famed and notorious terrorist had been stripped of citizenship?

There is little about Prakash to elicit empathy. Born in Australia, the 27 year old allegedly travelled to Syria to fight with Islamic State in 2013. He has appeared in Islamic State propaganda and is reportedly on the United States kill list. According to counter-terrorism experts, Prakash was a “pivotal figure inspiring and encouraging terrorist plots in Australia”. He was captured in October 2016 attempting to sneak into Turkey using fake identity documents and has been held in a maximum security jail ever since.

Prakash is evidently a dangerous man. He is clearly a threat to national security. He is the subject of an Australian Federal Police arrest warrant for multiple serious crimes. And being a follower of radical Islam, of Fijian-Indian and Cambodian background, Prakash conveniently reinforces the notion that terrorists are Muslim, brown and not Australian.

Except Prakash is Australian, or at least was, until Dutton provided him with written notice under section 35 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 that his citizenship had ceased.

In 2015 the government tightened the provisions in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 relating to the cessation of Australian citizenship. However the provisions – those relating to renunciation by conduct (section 33AA) and service outside Australia in armed forces of an enemy country or a declared terrorist organisation (section 35), only apply where a person is also a national or citizen of a country other than Australia.

And the evidence is mounting that Prakash is not.

Whether or not a person is a national or citizen of a particular country is a question of fact. A person either is, or is not, a national or citizen. It is a matter which can be determined by applying the law from the applicable country and it is a determination for the relevant country to make. Fijian officials have categorically stated that Prakash, despite his Fijian background, is not a citizen of that country. This causes some angst for Dutton and the government, which are standing firmly behind the announcement that Prakash has ceased to be an Australian citizen.

It appears that the Citizenship Loss Board, and those advising it, have erred in their briefing to Dutton that Prakash has ceased to be an Australian citizen by virtue of fighting with Islamic State. The legislation requires that if the Minister becomes aware that a person has ceased to be a citizen in accordance with section 35 or 33AA, the Minister must give, or make reasonable attempts to give, written notice to the person that citizenship has either been renounced or has ceased. As such, the revocation of Australian citizenship is an active administrative process. Government officials, if they are notified by security agencies that a possible dual citizen is fighting overseas or committing relevant terrorist acts, have to be satisfied that the elements are met for the provisions to apply before the Minister provides such written notice. In the case of section 35 and 33AA, the person must be aged 14 years or older, be a “a national or citizen of a country other than Australia” and have engaged in the relevant terrorism-related or foreign fighting activities.  

It appears that those briefing Dutton have interpreted the requirement in the legislation to be a foreign national or citizen as including a person being “eligible for” or “entitled to” be a national or citizen of another country. In Prakash’s case, because his father is Fijian, they have determined that close enough is good enough.

However there is nothing in the legislation to suggest that it may be interpreted as broadly as to apply to those who are not, but may be eligible for citizenship of another country. The wording is quite unambiguous and supports a strict interpretation that a person must hold citizenship or be a national of a country other than Australia for section 35 or section 33AA to apply.

If Prakash is not, and was not, a dual citizen, then it is a simple and strongly supported conclusion that he cannot have ceased to be an Australian citizen, or have renounced his Australian citizenship by conduct, as neither provision was enlivened by his actions of engaging in terrorist activities. If so, this is embarrassing for the government and a colossal error in applying the controversial laws.

As Fijian officials are adamant that Prakash is not a citizen, the Australian government’s actions in confirming by written notice that Prakash is no longer an Australian citizen, likely leaves him stateless unless a court rules that the written notice is invalid. If this occurs, section 35(19) provides that “to avoid doubt, a person’s citizenship is taken never to have ceased …” if “(b) … a court finds that the person was not a national or citizen of a country other than Australia at the time the person served or fought”.

Prakash’s case demonstrates how Dutton and his band of merry conservatives use national security to reinforce racism and divide in the community. It’s convenient for Dutton to promote that terrorists are somehow the “other”, they are probably brown and are not Australian. It suits the government to create an easily identifiable target for public fear; someone easily identifiable by the colour of their skin and to reinforce through that, that they are not Australian by way of making tenuous links with ancestry. It is ideologically useful to make terrorists someone else’s responsibility and it suits the government’s agenda to demonstrate it is keeping Australians safe by stripping citizenship. This reinforces that Australians aren’t terrorists and terrorists don’t live in Australia.

Even if a court challenge finds that the cessation of citizenship was erroneous, it’s possible that Prakash will never set foot in Australia again, despite the government initiating extradition proceedings with Turkey for his return. However the government’s possible misapplication of its own law in an attempt to abrogate responsibility for Australian-born and raised terrorists will undoubtedly further damage communities. The actions of the government build on years of racist undertones and policy which reinforces the false notion that Australians are white and of British ancestry.

A conservative estimate is that one third of Australians are either foreign nationals or foreign citizens, with 28% of Australians born overseas and millions more estimated to be dual citizens. It appears that Prakash is not one of these. To accept responsibility for Prakash, a man born in Australia and likely a sole, Australian citizen, is to accept that Australians are diverse and come from all backgrounds. It is to accept that Australia is not just white, Christian and British. It is to accept that Australia has its own home-grown and raised terrorists, and they are Australia’s responsibility, whether it suits the government’s agenda or not.

Beware: Coalition has incentive to neuter federal corruption watchdog

The Government’s eleventh hour hijack of a federal corruption watchdog is hardly a surprise. Still blistering from the party’s crushing defeat in both Wentworth and the Victorian State election, party leaders are feeling the heat. They do not need any further embarrassment. Sitting for the first time on the 26th November 2018 without a majority, the government only changed its tune to support an anti-corruption commission after rumours a National MP would cross the floor to stand with Labor and the crossbenchers in a formal motion.

Yet the Morrison government’s about-face is more than maintaining a visage of power on the floor. Attorney-General Christian Porter has already claimed that the bill introduced by Independent MP Cathy McGowan is a “violation of an individual’s rights and freedoms to due process” – something which has never worried Porter when introducing any other legislation. Further, the Attorney-General will not set time-frames for introducing his own bill, dismissing a federal corruption body as a “fringe issue”. Clearly a robust, independent and properly resourced anti-corruption body is not high in the list of government priorities.

On the same day the government signalled watery support for a national integrity body, Fairfax Media published a damning indictment on the ability of the existing law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies to deal with systemic corruption in the public service. Further throwing fuel on an already volatile Coalition fire, former Australian Border Force (ABF) Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg has also strongly implied that existing law enforcement agencies have been hobbled by the government through lack of funding and resources. He told Fairfax Media of the difficulties in having corruption within his own former agency investigated by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Quaedvlieg’s public support for a properly funded and well-resourced corruption watchdog should be a worry for his former bosses, Minister Dutton and Prime Minister Morrison, as well as Attorney-General Porter, who is the responsible minister for ACLEI. Quaedvlieg has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of government and an established reputation for supporting anti-corruption oversights. He has expertise in law enforcement, border protection and national security.

Exposing the gravity of the government’s neglect, Quaedvlieg told Fairfax Media that he and the now-Secretary of Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo had to provide $1 million out of their own agency budgets for investigations after being told by ACLEI that it lacked the resources. Quaedvlieg further revealed that “[ACLEI Commissioner Mr Griffin] came to us one year and asked us for more money and we said it is a matter you need to take up with your minister. We are not your budget source.”

The lack of willingness by the Coalition government, through the Attorney-General, to fund the existing law enforcement agencies is deeply troubling. For all its talk of national security and protecting Australian borders, it appears evident that the Morrison government and his predecessors have been stifling the very agencies tasked with investigating and holding to account corrupt officials. This supports the public perception that corruption is indeed systemic and rife within federal agencies and government, extending to the federal judiciary which is also under the portfolio of the Attorney-General. It reveals the pantomimed support for a national integrity commission as farcical.

Contrary to the Attorney-General’s misguided assertion that “there doesn’t seem to be a high degree of corruption within the federal sphere”, there is no doubt that the Attorney-General (being responsible for ACLEI), and the relevant Ministers were, and are, aware of the depth and breadth of corruption. It is routine for Ministers to be briefed on alleged corruption levels, including the number of referrals to ACLEI and the anti-corruption measures which have been taken by the agency. Ministers are routinely briefed again when serious allegations are made and immediately before any formal action is taken. It is clearly disingenuous for the Coalition to maintain that corruption isn’t an issue, or that the existing agencies are equipped to deal with corruption. This is amplified when confronted with Quaedvlieg’s critical, publicly-stated assessment that “ACLEI has to beg borrow and steal capability – including surveillance and phone tapping – to operate.”

This highlights the obvious. What does the Coalition have to fear about a robust, independent, and fully resourced anti-corruption body? Why are those in charge of the security of the nation and the “safety of Australians” so anxious about the establishment of a body tasked with holding officials to account and ensuring the integrity of government institutions? Why would the Coalition not favour an agency with strong powers to “ferret out corruption”, as supported by leading former judges and anti-corruption commissioners?   

Why hasn’t the Attorney-General and relevant ministers properly funded the existing law enforcement and integrity agencies? The Attorney-General and relevant ministers are ultimately accountable when corruption is left to flourish in the public service, and even more so when vital funding is withheld. What motivation does the government have in attempting to reduce integrity agencies to toothless cubs with barely a gummy nibble, let alone a bite?   

There is a growing public perception that law enforcement agencies are being used for political purposes. The matter of the alleged tip-off to journalists from Michaelia Cash’s office of the AFP raids on the Australian Workers Union in October 2017, over decades-old allegations, has leached a nasty stain on government; a raid which the ALP and Union claims was politically motivated to implicate opposition leader Bill Shorten in corruption. Similar concerns exist over the motivation behind AFP raids on the Department of Home Affairs, investigating leaks related to Dutton’s au pair saga. The matter caused significant embarrassment to the government when a Senate Inquiry found Dutton had misled Parliament, and further embarrassment when the Senate determined the documents obtained in the raid were covered by parliamentary privilege.

Quaedvlieg’s sacking in March 2018 also raises concerns about the use of law enforcement agencies for political purposes. Considering the reasons provided for the termination of his appointment, the political environment, and the extraordinary assassination of Quaedvlieg’s character (only made possible through the unauthorised disclosure of confidential material from the investigation), there is an arguable case Quaedvlieg was initially referred for investigation for political and/or personal reasons, and was erroneously sacked.

Dutton has not yet been interrogated on how it was proper for Quaedvlieg’s then-contemporary, Pezzullo, to refer Quaedvlieg to ACLEI for investigation, knowing they had worked closely together for years and were both considered potential candidates for the role of secretary of the new mega-Department of Home Affairs (which was only publicly revealed once Quaedvlieg was stood down). Dutton has not provided an explanation on why it took Pezzullo months to recognise the obvious conflict of interest and recuse himself from the matter.

It is also notable that the AFP has taken no action into the unauthorised disclosures of confidential information relating to the investigation into Quaedvlieg, despite the leaks commencing within a month of his referral to ACLEI and continuing during and beyond the investigation and termination of his appointment. This is in stark contrast to the AFP’s swift action on the au pair affair leaks, which caused embarrassment to Dutton, rather than a private citizen.

The matter of ACLEI finding resources to investigate and refer for prosecution Quaedvlieg’s girlfriend for alleged minor and “nitpicky” offences relating to the investigation into Quaedvlieg, is also of serious concern. This “coincidentally” occurred mid-2018 at the time Quaedvlieg began speaking out publicly against government policy. There is, and was, no public interest in charging and prosecuting the woman, which is supported by the weak brief of evidence presented by the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecution. In fact, if not for the arguably improper initial referral of Quaedvlieg to ACLEI, she would not be facing any charges at all.   

Conversely, the government has failed to take any action to pursue the matter of Dutton allegedly asking Quaedvlieg to help two of his friends obtain employment within the ABF. It has also failed to address claims listed in a whistleblower’s document filed with the Queensland Legislative Assembly in August 2017, in relation to the allegations of corruption against former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale, which implicate Dutton in the scandal.

The document states at paragraph 16 .“It is known that ex-mayor [REDACTED] has had meetings with former treasurer [REDACTED] … and the Mayor [REDACTED] has also been there on occasion when [REDACTED] has been there as well. ([REDACTED] is the Federal Member for Dickson and the Minister for Immigration). It is known that ex-mayor [REDACTED] would often telephone the Immigration Ministers office or department to make representations seeking assistance with immigration processing for young Asian women.

While question marks hang over the heads of other members of parliament, the unexplained matters relating to Dutton are of profound concern given his prominence as a Minister and his influence within Cabinet. Fractured by internal warring and deserted by previously loyal voters, the Coalition is facing an election wipeout. All it needs now is an independent, properly funded and well-resourced integrity commission to ferret out abuse of power and corruption and the Liberal Party will face electoral oblivion.

With the loss of majority, Morrison has no choice but to feign support for a corruption watchdog. It’s the only way to gain control and effectively neuter the now foreseeable and genuine threat to the conservative-right’s supremacy. It is therefore crucial that Labor and the crossbenchers fight fiercely for an independent body which has strong investigatory powers, capability and resources. It must be properly funded with bipartisan oversight to prevent improper interference. It must maintain impartiality and avoid at all cost the perception it is being used for political purposes. And perhaps once such a body is established, Australians will renew their faith in democracy.   

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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.

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Why was Quaedvlieg really sacked?

On 15 March 2018, the head of the Australian Border Force, Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg was sacked. It was a curious case. Quaedvlieg had allegedly changed internal recruitment policy to help his girlfriend get a casual, low level administrative job at Sydney Airport and failed to disclose the relationship. Yet for such a high profile case, there was very little media attention during the nine month investigation. It was prolonged and shrouded in silence. The Opposition were strangely quiet over the whole affair. Quaedvlieg fiercely denied wrongdoing and still maintains his innocence.

Until his unprecedented sacking, Quaedvlieg was at the prime of his career. With a lengthy background in law enforcement and management, he was touted as one of two possible options to head up the new mega-Department of Home Affairs expected to be established in 2017. The timing of Quaedvlieg’s mysterious suspension couldn’t have been worse. In Quaedvlieg’s absence, Mike Pezzullo became one of the most powerful Department heads in the Commonwealth Government.

There was no indication Quaedvlieg wasn’t fully respected by his peers and the Minister when he suddenly disappeared from his official role in mid-2017. There was no indication that anything was awry. However his recent, very public spat with his former boss, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, has brought to the forefront a very serious question. Just why was Quaedvlieg sacked?

There seems a fairly reasonable case that Quaedvlieg was already a marked man from at least early 2017. Instigations for investigations of the nature for which Quaedvlieg was eventually sacked do not occur in a vacuum. And it seems distinctly unbelievable that a man in Quaedvlieg’s position, with his lengthy experience in law enforcement and national security, would have such a continued error of judgement, as alleged by Dutton and his companions, in committing the alleged misdemeanors which ultimately led to his sacking.

It is also unprecedented for a senior government official to be sacked over something as obscure as allegedly doctoring recruitment processes to benefit a person applying for a low-level administrative position. It’s equally absurd to suggest that Quaedvlieg would not have a sound understanding of the requirements to disclose a personal relationship at the appropriate time.

So what really happened? Was it the mismanagement of what should have been a minor internal investigation which made Quaedvlieg’s position untenable? The process was extraordinarily long and Quaedvlieg has publicly stated he was denied natural justice. Was it a personal vendetta instigated somewhere within the secretive depths of the bureaucracy which took an ugly turn and from which there was no coming back? Was the matter with the girlfriend a concocted and convenient excuse to take Quaedvlieg out? Just why did the Government go for Quaedvlieg?

As Border Force Commissioner, Quaedvlieg was a trusted, powerful and influential public servant. He had knowledge of the innermost workings of his Department, a direct line to the Minister, and a wealth of information on the most sensitive details of secretive and closely guarded operations. He was the public face of Border Force, with no smear on his record, other than the public wrathe personally directed at him over the abhorrent indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island; an accountability which actually sits directly and undisputedly with Mike Pezzullo, Secretary for the Department of Home Affairs.

Something clearly went wrong for Quaedvlieg. The investigation was initially instigated by Pezzullo, Quaedvlieg’s then-contemporary as Secretary of the former ­Department of Immigration and Border Protection. He referred allegations to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity in what Quaedvlieg expected would be a swift exoneration. Instead the matter dragged on. The internal inquiry was completed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s secretary, Martin Parkinson.

And while at the time, Home Affairs Minister Dutton went to great lengths to distance himself from Quaedvlieg’s sacking, recently he has made extraordinary attempts to discredit and defame him, while hiding behind parliamentary privilege. The current Prime Minister and former Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, has also supported Dutton, giving credence to Dutton’s scurrilous claims that Quaedvlieg’s consenting adult relationship with a younger woman was illegal.

The sacking, and unprecedented personal vilification of a man formerly trusted to lead the Australian Border Force is astonishing. It coincides with Quaedvlieg’s recent openness to engage publicly on matters of interest to the Australian public.

Shortly after his sacking, Quaedvlieg questioned the Government’s proposal to give police greater powers to demand identity documents in airports. In August 2018 he intervened to assist advocates obtain medical treatment for a refugee. In September he made public his own musings from a 2015 visit to Nauru. His regular tweets give subtle clues as to what he may know. He has used the protection of a parliamentary inquiry to reveal details of Dutton’s potential abuse of power in the au pair affair and jobs for mates scandal, which Quaedvlieg reveals he has detailed knowledge of the recruitment events for in his letter to the Chair, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee.

As a private citizen, it is difficult for Quaedvlieg to defend himself. Unlike Dutton, he does not have the protection of parliamentary privilege other than through formal government inquiry channels. It is evident that at least one man, Quaedvlieg’s former boss, will stop at nothing in his attempts to discredit him. And in what can only be described as a vindictive and malicious prosecution, Quaedvlieg’s girlfriend has been criminally charged for essentially not telling investigators what they wanted to hear.

What happened behind closed doors that led to the squirreling out of Quaedvlieg’s girlfriend’s alleged unmerited job placement? Who was responsible for his drawn out, secretive and extraordinary downfall? Why is Quaedvlieg still being publicly attacked by the government?

In the current political climate, Dutton and Morrison are evidently concerned about the truth being exposed. They must be thankful they recently passed laws making it illegal to “harm Australia’s reputation”. They must be glad a precedent has been set with the vexatious prosecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K, who are now defending charges after exposing the Australian Government’s illegal spying in East Timor. Senior government officials and Ministers must be grateful that there is bipartisan support for the laws which threaten 2 years in jail for anyone speaking out on matters relevant to the Border Force. They must fear what Quaedvlieg knows.

Perhaps in time, a government committed to transparency and accountability will establish a full inquiry into the international embarrassment which is Australia’s offshore detention regime, the establishment of the Border Force and super-Department of Home Affairs, and the mysterious rise and fall of Quaedvlieg.

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.

Barnaby Joyce, religious freedom and moral outrage

The implosion of Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s political career, amid the growing scandal over his adulterous relationship with a female staffer comes at a fortuitous time. The Religious Freedom Review, an inquiry set up to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion, has just closed to submissions.

The impetus for the inquiry was the 2017 Marriage Equality Plebiscite, during which opponents of marriage equality argued they should be able to legally discriminate against people engaging in what they deemed morally repugnant behaviour, on the basis of their religious beliefs. And so it is with some irony that the exposure of Joyce’s morally questionable actions comes now.

The mandate for the Religious Freedom Review is to “consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights”. Clearly the aim of the inquiry is to placate those of faith who feel their religious beliefs are threatened by allowing LGBTI Australians the legal right to marry.

The context for the establishment of the inquiry has resulted in commentators generally analysing the intersection of the human right of freedom of religion with the human rights afforded (or which should be afforded) to LGBTI Australians. However, the inquiry provides the perfect opportunity to examine how granting greater religious freedom may look, when applied not to the LGBTI community, but to a “gregarious bull of a man often seen in a trademark Akubra bush hat”.

Joyce, a Christian and staunch defender of traditional marriage and family values, opposed marriage equality and abstained from the vote on legislation. Yet his behind-closed-doors activities, demonstrate an entirely different set of values to those he publicly proclaims.

Religions invariably impose strict moral rules on those practicing the faith, which impact not only on their public life, but also their personal life. For example, in Christianity, divorce, cohabitation and fornication are considered immoral, with children born out of wedlock pitied and frowned upon.

But of most relevance, the Christian Bible, in Leviticus 20:10, prohibits adultery, stating that “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbour—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”

Imagine therefore, what Joyce’s current situation would look like if the human right to freedom of religion took precedence over other human rights.

The generally accepted list of human rights is found within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948.

Fortunately for Joyce at this current time, he is protected from a vicious stoning for betraying his marriage vows. Article 3 of the UDHR says: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” He is also allowed to dissolve his marriage if he so wishes without unfavourable treatment (Article 16: “Men and women of full age….are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution”), and he has a right to privacy and protection from attacks on his reputation (Article 12: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”)

He is also generally protected from discrimination, whether it be in education (Article 26), employment (Article 23), participating in political life (Article 21) or other economic, social and cultural activities (Article 22).

The UDHR defines all human rights as equal, and all people as equally deserving of human rights. The UDHR provides a balance between competing rights, where rights may only be exercised to the extent that doing so does not cause harm to others in the community.

This is generally covered in Article 7: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” And, according to Article 29, “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

In Australia, a secular, Western democracy, religious exemptions to anti-discrimination and other laws do already exist in some jurisdictions. But if, as a result of the current review, religious freedom is afforded a higher priority over other human rights, where would this leave Barnaby Joyce?

Will those who are morally outraged by Joyce’s adultery, cohabitation and fornication be demanding he be put to death?

Should Joyce be sacked from his job solely on the basis of his chosen (extramarital) partner?

If Joyce divorces his wife, could he be refused rent or accommodation, or a room in a hotel?

If Joyce chooses to remarry, could a civil celebrant refuse to officiate over his wedding ceremony on the basis of his moral depravity?

Will the nation debate whether Barnaby’s fifth child, born out of an immoral union, be worse off than his children born and raised in wedlock?

Fortunately for Joyce, the nation has not yet been summoned to vote on whether he is entitled to the right to privacy. Australians have not been invited to participate in a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey to determine whether he should still be treated equally before the law as an adulterer. And fortunately for Joyce, he cannot be refused a room in a hotel to share with his pregnant partner, and he cannot be fired simply on the basis of his fornication.

Barnaby Joyce’s political career may be nearing its end, but he lives another day. Joyce has avoided a stoning for now, thanks to the intersection of the enjoyment of freedom of religion and other human rights in Australia. If he lived in a country where religious beliefs take precedence, he may well be dead.

 

 

 

Australia’s dual citizen “threat”

It is mid 2015. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is under fire for not only wanting to strip Australian citizenship from dual citizens, but sole nationals too. He declares it is about national security, combating terrorism and the protection of Australian values. The new laws are necessary for the safety of the community.

“It is now appropriate to modernise provisions concerning loss of citizenship to respond to current terrorist threats,” Mr Dutton tells media. “The world has changed so our laws should change accordingly.”

And so the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill was introduced to Parliament.

As usual, the proposed amendments didn’t just apply to the relevant politically expedient bogeymen; it wasn’t just convicted terrorists and foreign fighters who would bear the brunt of Dutton’s power-fueled desire to punish those who did not swear sole allegiance to Australia.

The provisions were so vague and broadly encompassing that any number of dual citizens might find themselves suddenly “UnAustralian”; by inadvertently renouncing their citizenship for protesting against Adani, donating to environmental groups, joining the Sea Shepherd, or for doodling with a pen on a chair in a Centrelink office.

Criticisms came from every quarter (apart from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and the ALP who backed the Bill in principle), with the Commonwealth Ombudsman pointing out the absurdity of dual citizens just “losing” their Australian citizenship without any authority determining that the criteria for revocation had been met.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) reviewed the initial Bill in detail, with 43 submissions made and several days of hearings. The committee report had no less than 27 recommendations for change.

A watered down Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill finally passed through Parliament in December 2015.

It ruled that any person over 14 who was a citizen or national of another country could lose their Australian citizenship if they did the following things:

  • fight for a foreign country at war with Australia.
  • fight for a declared terrorist organisation outside Australia.
  • are convicted of certain crimes and sentenced to at least six years in prison (eg, committing a terrorist act, including recruiting, training, funding; treason or espionage against Australia; overthrowing the government or sabotaging military equipment; or being a “foreign fighter”).
  • Intentionally engage in certain types of terrorism-related conduct, with no criminal charge or conviction required (automatic revocation).

Through it all, media repeatedly pointed out that over six million Australian citizens were born overseas, and a further five million people were born in Australia but held dual citizenship by descent.

While debate raged, and Dutton dug his heels in, ASIO had sights on Khaled Sharrouf, a notorious Islamic State terrorist, famous for having his then seven year old son pose with the severed head of a Syrian government official.

Sharrouf was an Australian citizen by birth. He had Lebanese citizenship through his parents who emigrated to Australia before he was born. Sharrouf was a dual citizen by descent.

Not two years later and the High Court has declared that five parliamentarians were invalidly elected because they held dual citizenship. Scott Ludlam (Greens), Larissa Waters (Greens), Malcolm Roberts (One Nation), Barnaby Joyce (Nationals) and Fiona Nash (Nationals) were ineligible to stand at the 2016 election.

Seven politicians were initially under the spotlight (Nick Xenophon (NXT) and Matthew Canavan (Nationals) were cleared) and now an eighth, Senate President Stephen Parry has revealed that he too, may be a British citizen by descent.

It is inconceivable that through all the public debate, discussion, reporting, Parliamentary Committee review and media frenzy, that the elected representatives did not consider and contemplate what makes a person a dual citizen.

It is equally unbelievable that each politician, when nominating for election did not understand the requirements for compliance with section 44 of the Constitution which prohibits foreign citizens or nationals or those entitled to the rights and privileges of a foreign citizen or national from sitting in Parliament.

How can it be possible, with all the chest-beating and strong messages and commitment to “national security”, that not one of these politicians thought to investigate their own parentage and ancestry, and none of their parliamentary colleagues suggested that they do?

When former Senator Scott Ludlam resigned after revelations he was still a New Zealander, the ridicule was swift and the condemnations harsh.

“Obviously Senator Ludlam’s oversight is a pretty remarkable one when you think about it — he’s been in the Senate for so long,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told media. “It is pretty amazing, isn’t it, that you have had two out of nine Greens Senators didn’t realise they were citizens of another country. It shows incredible sloppiness on their part. You know, when you nominate for Parliament, there is actually a question — you have got to address that Section 44 question and you’ve got to tick the box and confirm that you are not a citizen of another country. It is extraordinary negligence on their part.”

Yet as two then three, then five, and now eight step forward, it is more than sloppiness and negligence.

For those politicians who did not immediately step aside or resign on discovering their dual allegiance, it smacks of deliberate deceit, blind recklessness and a show of contempt for all Australian voters; people who trusted their elected representatives to truthfully and honestly tick a box confirming their eligibility on an election nomination form.

And being so obliged to declare their eligibility, those politicians should have had the integrity to stand aside and resign when investigations showed they were surely dual citizens.

Malcolm Turnbull was adamant the High Court would declare that the law did not apply to the ruling elite. “The leader of the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia is qualified to sit in this house and the High Court will so hold,” Turnbull said.

He was wrong. The law does apply. Seven members of Parliament were referred to the High Court. Senate President Stephen Parry waited until after his colleagues took a fall to admit his own probable dual allegiance.

How many more are there, waiting quietly, hoping no questions will be asked, frantically checking their backgrounds and filling out forms in the hope they will be clear before the next election is called?

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Ignorance of one’s own ancestry is not believable in the context of the politicians in question. Ignorance of the importance of the status of dual citizens is laughable given the laws which have been extensively debated and voted on.

This is a government which has breached the trust of the people and made a mockery of democracy. It is a government in which its members cannot comply with its own governing document, and treats the Constitution as a mere guideline to follow on a whim. It is a government which uses citizenship as a weapon and tool of propaganda, but negligible as an issue when it comes to parliamentarians. This is an illegitimate government, which cannot be trusted.

 

“If marriage equality isn’t achieved this time round, it WILL happen.”

Australia is in the middle of a public debate on whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The results of the voluntary, non-binding, postal survey won’t be known for over a month. It will be even longer before the full impacts of the glorified opinion poll become apparent, regardless of the outcome.

However the short term effects are already becoming realised as state-sanctioned conversations on the worth of LGBTQI Australians and their families dominate social and traditional media, enter homes through mail, phone calls and texts, and are reduced to snappy slogans on billboards and signs around the nation.

There are so far 23 countries which allow same-sex couples to marry. And in all but one, negative consequences have been non-existent. However a recent study of Ireland; the only country to put marriage equality to a popular vote, showed that a majority of LGBTI people were negatively affected by the NO campaigning, experiencing heightened feelings of anger and distress as a result of the referendum.

Given the nature of the NO campaign in Australia’s unnecessary faux-vote (in which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already defended homophobic hate-speech as part of the “democratic debate”), it is likely similar results will be found in our own communities.

Counselling services have already seen increases in their need; over 20% increase at LGBT phone-counselling service QLife since the plebiscite was introduced, and a 40% increase at BeyondBlue since the announcement of the postal survey.

Now, with the personal lives of LGBTQI people and their families thrust into the spotlight, personal stories of hope, understanding and support are more important than ever.

For Ben van Tienen, the current situation offers an opportunity to share his journey, from Catholic schoolboy, raised in rural Tasmania, to a musical theatre conductor based in London, and touring the world.

Ben is gay. Yet, as he so honestly explains, growing up in a deeply religious family in a small community, he “didn’t know gay people existed”. While he was oblivious to the media storm building up to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1997, his naivety did not protect him from the deeply embedded homophobic attitudes prevalent in society.

At the time, Ben did not know or understand what may have motivated the bullying he experienced every day from when he was 8 until 16. “That’s not an exaggeration. It was, legitimately, every day,” he says. He was called “poofter”, “faggot”,and “fairy”, and while he did not know what it meant, he took it to heart that “being different in any way was not okay.”

The Church provided Ben with an introduction to music, which ultimately gave him with a sanctuary of sorts. As he became more involved in the music and theatre communities, he learned to “relish his differences”, but it did not make it any easier getting through the “slog, every single day,” of school.

His passion for music and the friends he made in the broader community helped to cushion the abuse he experienced. Over time he took it less to heart, and his reaction to it has now changed. Yet Ben says that the behaviour of others has not changed over time; the “bullies are still using the same words, still trying to push me out, still threatened by their own fragile gender-constructs, still frightened by other-ness.”

However much has personally changed since Ben’s childhood in Cygnet. He was nearly 17 by the time he realised he was gay. “It was like a light being turned on after years of being in the dark. It was that quintessential ‘last piece of the jigsaw’ moment; it was literally like a hundred bells inside me going ‘ding ding ding’ at once.”

Ben recalls with amusement the reaction of his friends who “definitely already knew” he was gay, joking, “why didn’t y’all tell me?!” It was around a week after his own realisation, that he told his parents. He was prepared for the conversation to be more difficult with his family and acknowledges that one of the problems when he first came out, was being able to “articulate about anything yet, let alone respectfully/compassionately field any questions or accusations.”

As Ben has grown older, he finds it easier to talk about what it means to be gay, and his search for love, belonging and connection. He believes it was a challenge for his family to reconcile his identity with their faith, but is proud of how open they have been in their journey of understanding.

He recounts an early conversation with his parents, which demonstrates how love and respect for family took precedence:

“I’m just worried that when the time comes, and I want to bring a partner home for Christmas, that you won’t be ready to deal with it.” And they looked at each other and took a breath and said, “We’ll make sure we’re ready to deal with it.”

Ben’s own belief in the Christian faith ended abruptly on coming out. He had been brought up so firmly in the belief that “God made me in his own image,” and to suddenly be “seemingly told that that was no longer true was a massive shaking” of Ben’s world. He very quickly became “violently, defensively atheistic.” However in the last two years Ben has returned to spirituality as a concept and a way of life.

The national survey on marriage equality has added an urgency to navigating the complexities of identity and societal acceptance. The campaigning has thrust into the public sphere deeply personal conversations which would otherwise have time to grow naturally among family and friends.

For Ben, these conversations have been happening for sixteen years. However his passion for music, the unconditional love of his family and the support he has received from his friends in the broader community, has made the journey less difficult than it otherwise may have been.

Ben is reflective, articulate and honest. He describes himself as a yogi, “spirit junkie”, and activist. He is vegan, pro-caffeine and anti-gluten. He believes in love; “always crossing the street to get to the sunny side”. Ben’s brightness, compassion and enthusiasm for positivity shine strongly in the way he approaches life, and deals with homophobia.

He is now braver and more fierce in the face of it. He will hold hands with his date as he walks down the street. He will be brave in the face of people who stare or call him names. He will try to open-heartedly and whole-heartedly enter conversations where homophobia is an issue and do so in a “loving and inquisitive way”. This, Ben says, does not get easier, but he understands that if someone is directly homophobic towards him, it has absolutely nothing to do with him.

Ben’s attitude towards dealing with hate is enlightening and inspiring. He hopes it is easier now for LGBTQI children growing up, and that they can see that cisgender/straight behaviour is “just a small part of the greater kaleidoscope”. He cannot imagine what his childhood would have been like if the wider picture had been visible to him.

For young LGBTQI Australians now, experiencing a very public debate on their worth in society, while perhaps also struggling to understand themselves, coming out, and approaching difficult conversations, Ben has some kind words: “you are important, and you are not alone.”

He supports this with his paraphrased advice from gay, NYC, life-coach, Jordan Bach:

When you are in these conversations, I want you to imagine every queer person that has gone before you in this conversation – every single beautiful gay person asking for tolerance, love, acceptance. Imagine them standing behind you, around you, their hands on your shoulders, almost like your guardian angels. You are not alone in this.”

Ben now lives in the United Kingdom, where same-sex marriage is legal. He has noticed a “very subtle difference” in the way that he moves through the world. He now feels he has a place. He explains it is very easy to cultivate a subtle self-loathing in a society where the message is consistently reinforced that you do not belong. Ben also now knows more older male couples, who are now married, and he can see their “hopes, dreams, struggles and fears” and their “lawful, legitimised love deepen and grow”. This gives Ben hope, and makes him proud and excited about what his own future may hold.

Ben’s life is almost unrecognisable to the one he lived in Tasmania. He has conducted “West Side Story” at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris (with his proud parents in the audience). He has released an album with his best friend and completed a composition for the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, filmed Funny Girl for Sky TV and cinema broadcast and graduated from Brene Brown’s Living Brave Semester. He has also released “enough fear and shame to disrobe at a nudist beach!”

Ben is no longer so career-driven. He would still love to work on Broadway, but it is more important for him to “achieve with what I have, right now, in this moment”. He wants to be a better person than he was yesterday, and hopes he can answer yes to the following questions:

  • Did I touch someone’s heart today?
  • Did I help someone break through their threshold today?
  • Did my authenticity inspire someone today?
  • Was I as generous as I could be today?
  • Did I do my best to be wholehearted in every moment?

The questions Ben asks himself encapsulate his caring, compassionate spirit, and positive outlook on the world.

He has some final words for his friends in the broader community in Australia who are suffering during this public debate on their lives:

“All we can do is shine as fiercely and brightly as we can, and know that every time we can get one new person to share our vision, we must celebrate. And even if marriage equality isn’t achieved this time round, it WILL happen, and all we can do is keep trying.”

If only Turnbull had some authority

Yesterday, the High Court ruled it was lawful for the Federal Government to go ahead with a voluntary, non-binding public opinion poll on whether all consenting adult couples in Australia should have the right to marry. The tax-payer funded survey will cost $122 million and will have no direct effect on legal rights.

Instead, the faux-plebiscite, will record how many Australians can be bothered to tick a box on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and deliver it to a letterbox to find its way back to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While Australians will be given the opportunity to select YES or NO to the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” the very nature of a voluntary, paper-based survey is deeply problematic.

As Malcolm Turnbull said himself in 1997, before he lost what was left of his credibility:

“The voluntary postal voting method … flies in the face of Australian democratic values. …It is likely to ensure that not only will a minority of Australians vote, but also that large sections of the community will be disfranchised.”

The faux-plebiscite was the brain-child of habitual human-rights-violator, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. After the Senate twice voted down the legislatively authorised version, the Turnbull Government opted to subvert democracy by putting to the people a non-compulsory ballot. It will have no value other than to subject gay Australians to lengthy public debate on their worth in society, including hateful propaganda and threats of violence.

The postal vote is an obvious attempt by the far-right conservatives in the Liberal Party, to delay marriage equality for as long as possible. Not satisfied with being able to publicly register their disapproval of same-sex marriage in a free parliamentary vote, they intend to expose gay Australians to months of homophobic rhetoric before the inevitable change occurs.

Successive statistically valid polls have demonstrated repeatedly that a majority of Australians, which now includes a majority of Catholics and other people of faith, support marriage equality. Yet Turnbull persists with a voluntary paper-based survey – the results of which can be ignored by Government, and which bears the real risk that ambivalent and busy supporters will fail to lodge a vote, if they receive a ballot paper at all.

This postal survey should not be happening.

But it is. And now all Australians who support fairness and equality must ensure the YES vote wins.

Papers will begin to be mailed out on Tuesday, 12 September 2017, and should be posted back to the ABS no later than Friday, 27 October 2017. Votes received after Tuesday, 7 November 2017 will not be counted.

The survey may not be compulsory, and it is certainly unnecessary, but failing to participate will play right into the hands of those who seek to deny equal rights to LGBTI couples.

All Australians can show support for the YES campaign by following Australian Marriage Equality and GetUp! and involving themselves in the suggested actions.

But most importantly, all eligible voters can show support, by voting YES on the postal survey as soon as it arrives. And once the YES box is ticked, take the form to a post box and mail it back to the ABS to be counted.

 

“It’s not Fair” (In support of marriage equality) – A Lily Allen parody by Eva Cripps and Kim Phillips

Lyrics: E Cripps; Vocals: K Phillips; Backing track from YouTube channel “Lily Allen – Instrumentals and Acapellas”

 

Dual citizen politicians: what to do?

It is evident that section 44 of the Australian Constitution causes considerable angst to elected representatives in the Commonwealth Parliament. Section 44 sets out who is capable of being “chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives”. It describes this eligibility in the form of who is not allowed to be nominated or elected.

As a simplistic summary, this includes dual citizens, someone who has been convicted and under sentence or awaiting sentencing for certain offences, an undischarged bankrupt or insolvent, a person who holds any office of profit under the Crown, or a person with any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth.

Before the dual citizenship “conspiracy” swept through Parliament, section 44 was already in the spotlight. It is not the first time this year that Senators have fallen foul of the provision.

In February, the High Court ruled that One Nation Senator Rob Culleton’s election was invalid due to “a conviction at the time of the election” even though that conviction was later annulled. Mr Culleton was also found by the Federal Court to be an “undischarged bankrupt”, another ground for disqualification if the first hadn’t sufficed.

In April, the High Court ruled that Family First Senator Bob Day was invalidly elected because of leasing arrangements for his South Australian electorate office.

Labor has also referred National MP David Gillespie to the High Court due to a potential “direct or indirect pecuniary interest” for his ownership of a suburban shopping complex in Port Macquarie, which houses an Australia Post outlet, a government-owned corporation. This case still awaits judgment.

Yet it wasn’t Day and Culleton’s downfalls which led to cries of “conspiracy” and a backlash against section 44. Nor was it Labor’s attempt to destabilise the Government by referring David Gillespie to the High Court.

No. It is the dual citizenship provision, section 44(i), which has raised the ire of commentators.

And only after an embarrassing display of ignorance and some fancy excuses saw the resignation of Greens Senators, Scott Ludlam, and Larissa Waters, the High Court referrals of National’s Senator Matt “My Mum Did It” Canavan, followed by One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, (who claims to have never been British, Indian, or a “chucker”, but possibly a Sovereign Citizen), and the latest, Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand’s proudest Australian, Barnaby Joyce.

This political game of Dual Citizenship Dominos has come as a shock to many. But it shouldn’t.

It’s not like the Constitution has been around since 1900.

It’s not like the constitutional issue of dual citizenship has already been raised this year in an attempt to see Bob Day’s potential replacement, Lucy Gichuhi, ruled ineligible to sit due to her former Kenyan citizenship.

It’s not like Liberal backbencher Tony Abbott has been pursued mercilessly over his alleged dual citizenship with Great Britain for years.

It is also not like the Government has debated at great length about dual citizens, in the context of how the Minister may arbitrarily cancel a dual citizen’s Australian citizenship if that person offends the Minister so.

What seems to have caused the display of incredulation and dismay, and the sudden realization of the ramifications of section 44, is that it has caught up some popular, totes ‘Stayan mate, politicians.

The questions around the appropriateness of section 44 have come about because “ordinary” Aussie’s in the Senate and House of Reps were caught unawares over their dual citizenship.

Given the identities of those caught out by section 44(i), it is unsurprising the renewed interest in revision.

However, it is precisely because of the identities of the Unfortunate Five, that any call for a change should be heavily scrutinised.

For example, imagine if Ludlam, Waters, Canavan, Roberts and Joyce, instead of being New Zealanders, Canadians, potential Brits or Italians, were from the Middle East, former Soviet Union or Asia …

Would public commentators be demanding the Constitution be changed, or would they be calling for the respective parliamentarians to be jailed and/or deported?

This raises a further question.

If section 44(i) is changed to allow dual citizens, what criteria should be in place to decide which dual nationalities are acceptable, and which are not? How would real or perceived conflicts of interest, which may impact on the integrity of parliament, be addressed and mitigated?

Should a dual national be ineligible if they are a citizen of a country subject to an Australian sanction regime (either in conjunction with UNSC or autonomously)? Imagine if a Syrian dual national was nominated. What about North Korean?

Do we say parliamentarians can be dual citizens provided we are not in direct conflict with the foreign nation? How serious does that conflict need to be? JBish has caused a serious diplomatic incident with Australia’s closest neighbour in her desperation to blame Labor for Kiwi Joyce’s dual status.

What about historical alliances? How far back do you go? The Allies? That may well rule out half of Europe, but the Soviet Union is in. So maybe the Western Bloc? Will Australia need to choose sides when Brexit negotiations get ugly (even though it has nothing to do with our nation)? Will that mean British dual citizens are ace, but European dual citizens are out?

What about current alliances? That could change any minute and result in bi-elections every 6 months, given the precarious nature of Donald Trump’s Rule By Twitter, and Turnbull’s tendency to lavishly lick Trump’s butthole when it comes to backing him up.

Or perhaps we could exclude any person who has ever worked for a foreign government or served in foreign forces or is obliged to serve in a foreign force? So that rules out any country with mandatory national service and there are a few of those.

Given the identities of those parliamentarians currently caught up in the scandal (bar Canavan), perhaps what those calling for an amendment to section 44 mean is that dual citizenship is fine as long as it’s with Mother England and any of her former colonies. Because it’s not like Australia deliberately enacted the Australia Act 1986 to override the notion of Britain being so Great it encompassed Australia as well.

Perhaps a simple requirement is that as long as English is the first language … No wait. That is just a little bit too obviously White Australia Policy and excludes Indigenous Australians too.

So maybe the nominee will be required to speak the level of English the Government has proposed for Australian citizenship, making other allegiances moot? But that knocks out the Irish based on the current test, anyone without a university degree (from a Western University), and probably a few that do.

What a conundrum. Just how should the newly revised Constitution determine who is eligible to be chosen or sit?

Perhaps there is a simple solution. Leave the Constitution how it is, and tough to those politicians who “can’t manage basic admin“.

An aspiring politician is obliged to confirm they are not “under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power,” or “a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power”, when they nominate with the AEC. They must take the time to conduct due diligence checks on their own lineage, and where applicable renounce their foreign citizenship or decline to nominate.

It is a whole lot easier for potential representatives to check their place of birth, their parents’ nationality and place of birth (and in some cases, grandparents), than to decide which dual nationality is acceptable.

But maybe that is still just a tiny bit too complex. Just ask the 5 so far and counting.

 

Being a transracial adoptee: a unique perspective on racism

Disclaimer: New Zealand artist Gabby Malpas is a transracial adoptee of Chinese descent. She “followed the herd” to the UK in 1989 and lived there for 14 years, before emigrating to Australia in 2003. She became an Australian citizen in 2017.

It is only recently at 48 years of age that Malpas started coming “out of the adoption fog”. She is now 51. Malpas met her birth mother when she was 38, however it has only been in the past few years that she has begun to process her life experiences and understand why race and racist incidents are such a big deal for her. She doesn’t hold herself up as blameless or without racial prejudice of her own but she is putting energy into developing empathy and awareness and trying to keep a sense of humour about it all.

All in all Malpas says she is living a fantastic life. She has had opportunities and adventures most only dream about and she grasps every day with both hands as an artist, because that is what she does and has been working towards for over 30 years. Her reason for opening up about racism is to help other transracial adoptees coming after her. The world is a different place to the one Malpas grew up in and she had to find her own way. She believes that if sharing her experiences helps someone else, it is worth it.

Malpas says she is still learning how not to be a dick.

Being a transracial adoptee: a unique perspective on racism

If there is one thing guaranteed to cause a frenzy of outrage and defensive indignation, it’s an accusation of racism. Mainstream and social media erupts with analysis, condemnation and fury over the alleged insults; both the derogatory slur and being labelled a racist.

Throughout it all, tempers flare. Equally adversarial personalities argue over which “human right” takes precedence; the right to freedom of speech, or the right to be free from racial abuse, while other commentators question if everyone is being just a tad oversensitive, or if it’s another case of “political correctness gone mad”. And then the media cycle moves on, and a new outrage gains prominence. Racism is yesterday’s news.

Yet the lives of people of colour aren’t dictated by populist trends. Personal attacks based on skin colour and ethnic origin don’t stop once racism is out of the spotlight. There is no reprieve for those subjected to a lifetime of insults, harassment or abuse on the basis of who they are.

For New Zealand artist Gabby Malpas, this is an exhausting experience. As a transracial adoptee of Chinese descent born in the ‘60s, Malpas has seen countless media cycles bring racism to the forefront of people’s minds. However, the voices of those most intimately affected by racist sentiment are often overlooked in favour of the loudest commentators “being offended on behalf of ‘brown’ people” or insisting that “brown’ people choose to take offence”.

Malpas’s upbringing has given her a unique perspective on racism. One of ten children in a “white” family, she was raised exactly the same as her siblings, and received no special recognition of her Asian ancestry. This, of course, means that she has a keen understanding of western culture, mentality and expectations.

Yet Asian race-hate was rife across western nations in the sixties and seventies, and as a child, Malpas became increasingly aware of the different way she was seen and treated in the community. She was subject to daily bullying and taunts, something her family and friends did not understand, acknowledge or even vaguely appreciate. Malpas quickly learned that no one was interested in hearing about the racial slurs and abuse; in fact, no one believed her experiences were racially motivated. She was dismissed, told to ignore it, or disbelieved.

This pattern of having her experiences ignored and dismissed became a familiar occurrence, and continued long into adulthood. Malpas learned to expect it, just as she learned that she would be subject to racism. She found she was constantly in “attack mode”, attempting to preempt and prepare for the next wave of abuse. Yet whenever she tried to change how she reacted, another incident would occur; being racially attacked, followed by dismissal and denial by those around her, and the cycle would begin again.

It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that the extent of the difference between how she expected she would be treated, having been raised in New Zealand in a “white family”, and how she was treated, on the basis of her Asian appearance, finally became clear in her mind.

Malpas recounts a shocking example; in her early twenties, she embarked on a backpacking holiday in South East Asia with a male friend. Her recollection is vivid, but she now understands the cultural reaction: “In my naive and culturally ignorant eyes I should have been treated with the respect given to white tourists – yet in many places I was seen as a prostitute because I was an Asian with a white male.”

This wasn’t an isolated incident, and was just one of many distressing situations Malpas found herself in where she was judged and treated differently to her friends and family based on racial stereotypes. Malpas came to realise that her “life experiences were not, are not, and never will be the same” as her adopted family.

For people of colour, “racism” isn’t a buzzword, it isn’t a hot topic, it doesn’t provide a chance to bemoan the loss of freedom of speech or congratulate oneself on the nation’s “tolerance and acceptance of diversity”. Yet for many “white” Australians, it is unfathomable that they, or their friends, may be complicit in defending, condoning or supporting racism.

For people of colour, racism is reality. It is something they experience with weary regularity. It forms a part of their lives from which there is no escape, no matter how much people tell them to “lighten up”, “take a joke”, “just get over it” or “stop playing ‘victim’”.

Still, public discourse focusses on superficial questions: “Is Australia a racist nation?”, “Is it racist to call an Indigenous man an ape?”, “Is racism an issue in contemporary society?”

The time for “debating” these topics is long gone, if there ever was a time. However there is still fierce denial from many in the community, who cannot come to terms with Australia’s racist history, or accept that racism still exists. They fall back on the narrative that as Australia is a multiculturally diverse and “tolerant” nation, it cannot possibly be racially motivated when people of colour experience abuse.

Racism exists in every culture, and it is just as deeply embedded in Australian society, culture and language as any other nation. The Government and institutions unrepentantly support racist policies: The proposed Citizenship law changes impact disproportionately on people of colour and are a thinly veiled return to a White Australia policy (which only ended in 1973), the Northern Territory Intervention, where the Army was sent in to an Indigenous community and paternalistic controls set in place, occurred just ten years ago. Indigenous Australians were only recognised and counted as “people” in 1967.

It has taken Malpas almost her whole life to understand her relationship with race and identity, and how her life experience has shaped her. The reality is, and always was, that she is different. She was never truly equal to her “white” contemporaries and her experiences have been tinged by colour. She is different too, to Asians who have grown up in their own families or culture. Malpas identifies that the experiences of transracial adoptees is so unique that they are generally only understood by other transracial adoptees.

Malpas says self-denial played a huge part in her life. She couldn’t identify as “white”, but she didn’t identify as “Asian”. And Malpas didn’t want to be “Asian”; Asian women were portrayed in the media as “sexy and submissive or conniving”, and Asian men as “weak”. Her family had no concept of what it was like to be “Asian”, and no understanding of Malpas’s personal experiences. She felt isolated, and in her struggle to find her place, participated in self-deprecating banter to “get in first” with the inevitable racist “jokes”, if only to show she wasn’t really one of “them”.

Malpas believes that social media has been brilliant at exposing racist behaviour and actions. Smartphones capture incidents as they happen, in all the terrible, distressing detail, and the images and videos may be widely shared. Malpas feels validated and heartened by the community calling out incidences of racism and stepping up to denounce it as unacceptable.

But with so many people still in denial that racism is present, and many who don’t understand what constitutes racist behaviour, there is a long way to go. Even more so when the Government, media and other institutions openly support division in the community. In the past month alone, a Sky News’ Outsiders program presenter told the Government appointed Race Discrimination Commissioner,  Dr Tim Soutphommasane, to “go back to Laos” (he was born in France). Last month, another veteran broadcaster, Red Symons, asked ABC journalist and radio producer, Beverley Wang, “what’s the deal with Asians” and if she was “yellow”. Senator Pauline Hanson has built a political platform on divisive policies.

However, unless a person has personally experienced racially motivated abuse, many find it hard to recognise and identify racism. Consequently, they fail to appreciate the impact a seemingly minor incident can have on a person, and how dismissal over the incident can add to distress.

But what counts as racist? Who gets to decide what is offensive?

Malpas believes that a good starting point is to “let the ‘brown’ people decide”. And then, most importantly, listen to what they say; if a “brown” person says it is offensive, believe them.

The lived experience of people of colour shows that racism comes in many forms. It may be calling someone a “nigger” or “dirty Abo”, or saying “go back to where you came from, you yellow c***”. It may be as subversive as subtly reminding a person that they are an “other”, for example, by using a person’s individual name as an identifier for a whole race, or assuming that an Asian in a “white” household is the “nanny”.

It might be in the form of a micro-aggression, for example, by declaring, “I’m not racist, my friend is brown/yellow/black”, “You should know what that is – you’re Asian,” or by playing on the fetishization of a race, for example, by only dating a person of colour when it’s fashionable to have a “cute Asian girlfriend”.

Malpas is encouraged by the rise in awareness of racism. Yet when it comes to comment and debate, she says it is crucial to listen to people of colour and acknowledge that the experiences of people of colour are not the same as a “white” majority in western nations.

Structural inequality is deeply embedded. While simplistic “colourblind” mantras, for example, that “all races matter, we are all one race; the human race,” may be well-meaning, they ignore the reality that people of colour have far greater challenges to overcome than others in the community due to systematic and institutionalised discrimination.

Current generations are still impacted by the inequality, abuse and state-sanctioned controls exercised over their parents, grandparents, extended family and ancestors. This is particularly the case where indigenous people were captured, murdered and deliberately dehumanised, or in the case of African Americans, imported and bred for slavery. The trauma, passed from one generation to the next, is still very real today.

Malpas talks honestly about her experiences with racism and her isolation until connecting with other transracial adoptees three years ago. The connection with others with similar experience has lessened her feelings of isolation. She believes that promoting inclusiveness and diversity through acknowledgment of difference will have a far greater impact in combating the never-ending cycle of racist abuse than resorting to idealistic principles of “oneness”.

For Malpas, coming to terms with her past has been a lengthy, thought-provoking experience. She uses her art to express her feelings about race, culture and identity in “lavish and beautiful images”. Sensitive subjects are explored in an engaging and respectful way. Her art is a gentle response to being silenced and a subtle reminder for people to listen to those who have a story to share. It took her 48 years to begin to make art about her life experiences that communicated the way she wanted; with “love, respect and a little bit of humour”.

When Malpas was growing up, very little support existed for transracially adopted children and their families. Now she provides some support to the next generation of young people by volunteering her time, skills and experience. Her reason for opening up about racism is to help the next generation of transracial adoptees and their families.

In addition to being a professional artist, Malpas runs art workshops, including monthly sessions for adolescent Chinese adoptees with the FCCA (Families with Children from China). She is on the advisory committee of the NSW Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC), part of the Benevolent Society, is actively involved in adoption groups such as Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) and is the “down under” ambassador for the Peace Through Prosperity Foundation. Malpas speaks at adoption and art events and meetings, and provides personal support to other transracial adoptees. She also donates art to charities on a regular basis, including the Cancer Council, Epilepsy Action Australia, Thompson Reuters, and Wheelchair Sports NSW.

Malpas’s story is important not only for other transracial adoptees. Her experience and observations also provide insight into what the broader community can do to lessen the divide and limit the impact of harmful public debate:

Listen before you speak. When calling someone out on racist behaviour, consider, are you speaking your own mind, or are you amplifying the voices of those who are personally impacted? Listen to the stories, accept history and acknowledge the distress and anxiety caused by repeated race-based attacks. Show empathy, kindness and understanding. Listen.

Do you value international journalism? I do.

Broken bodies lay scattered among the charred remnants of blown up vehicles. Dusty brown school bags and brightly coloured scarves are soaked with blood amid the acrid stench of burnt flesh, in a ghastly, stomach-turning scene. In the distance gunfire punctuates the still air, with the deep throb of a helicopter snapping stunned survivors back to the immediate reality.

This scene is brought to you … not from the comfort of an air-conditioned studio in Sydney, not from the safety of a private car surrounded by security officials, or the cramped, windowless office in a city skyrise.

If this scene was real, it would not come from lazily typed words on a luminescent screen; they would be hastily scribed by the shaking hand of an international journalist.

For as long as journalism has existed, daring men and women have departed the shores of their own lands and hurried abroad, keen to explore and document another world. In past times, the careful notes and detailed descriptions of foreign cultures, fascinating societies and disastrous events meandered slowly back to “civilisation” by foot, horseback or boat, to be considered, pondered and wondered about by fascinated audiences.

As the world shrank and technological advances developed, far away countries became more accessible. Ordinary folk left their homes for adventure, holidays and recreational travel. Yet the most dangerous destinations, most challenging locations and most confronting of situations were reserved for the most inquisitive, the most bold and the bravest.

Communication through telling stories is as old as the world itself. Journalism is the professional incarnation of storytelling. International journalists go where others dare not.

The Walkley Awards recognise Excellence in Australian Journalism. In the last few days, the Walkley Awards Advisory Board has decided to abolish the award category for International Journalism. It has done this on the basis of a lengthy review, where it made “evolutionary” changes to the program. The Board considered the changing nature of journalism, and after consultation with the industry, chose to honour international journalists through other categories, rather than alone.

Yet international journalists stand alone in the risks they take, the challenges they face, and the physical and mental stamina required to produce the stories they share. International journalists, particularly those who venture outside of other western nations, go beyond what is expected or required of their domestic peers, not because their writing requires greater skill, but because the circumstances under which they operate simply to do the job may be unpredictable, ever-changing and fraught with dangers not encountered in contemporary Australian society.

International journalists do what ordinary people do not. They travel to war zones, disaster zones and in areas of civil unrest to uncover, expose and report on important matters of social, political and cultural interest. They may face the threat of death – and sometimes death itself – torture and imprisonment, often sanctioned by foreign governments or ruling powers, simply for doing their job.

They witness brutality, poverty, devastation and carnage. They put aside human emotion, temporarily, to document these events in intricate and graphic detail in order to provide accountability, prompt for humanitarian aid and intervention or justice. They pay a huge price when they allow their human emotions to return in the “down time”.

International journalists travel to places no “sane” person would venture, risking their own lives and mental health to ensure atrocities, human rights abuse and the consequences of famine, fire and flood are captured in compelling detail. They play a crucial role in uncovering corruption, crime, health emergencies and other matters of public interest.

Without the efforts and sacrifices of these journalists, reporting of international events would be nothing more than shallow, disjointed accounts. The depth of feeling, immediacy and presence can only be provided by those journalists, right in the middle of the action.

Their stories connect us with other lives away from our own insular experience, broadening our knowledge, exposure and empathy of other people whose reality is so far removed from our own.

It is no small decision to remove an award which recognises the importance of international journalism. It is no small thing to abolish the formal acknowledgement of the fundamental role international journalists play in the communication and dissemination of information on complex issues, events and times.

The Walkley Awards cannot genuinely promote excellence in Australian journalism while excluding the unique contribution international journalists provide to the rich and diverse narrative of the modern world. Australians with political and social conscience appreciate the value of the daring men and women who step outside the comfort of this relatively safe and peaceful country.

The award category for International Journalism should, and must be, reinstated.

*If you have the time and inclination, please consider respectfully emailing the Walkley Awards Committee with your thoughts on why you believe international journalists should be honoured in a category of their own.

[Contacts: louisa.graham@walkleys.com; jacqui.park@walkleys.com; lauren.dixon@walkleys.com; clare.fletcher@walkleys.com; anna.magnus@walkleys.com; barbara.blackman@walkleys.com; kate.golden@walkleys.com]

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