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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.

The Morrison Government’s failure to act on a predicted disaster is damning

It’s only fitting that the nation’s capital should be drenched in thick smoke while the country burns. Canberra; home to the Parliament of Australia, the city where politicians stamp their mark and influence, and where law is passed. Canberra, where policy comes to life; policy which may spell the difference between suffocating never-ending seasons of smoke-hazed skies, homes razed to the ground, lives lost, wildlife, ecosystems and communities destroyed, or alternatively, strategised long term coordination, preparation, prevention, and management, and a national, unified approach to disaster.

When the catastrophic fires first burned through forests and bushland in the early days of Spring 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quick to push back on the states. Fighting fires was a state responsibility, he maintained, and thus nothing to do with the Commonwealth. He, along with senior members of Cabinet and other Coalition politicians, continued their approach of implicitly endorsing anti-climate change rhetoric, twisting the facts on what Australia was doing to address climate change, demonising protestors, and positioning environmental activists alongside groups and ideologies which threatened national security such as neo-Nazi terrorism and a pro-terrorist Islamists.

On a practical level, before the bushfires raged, the Federal Government had already rejected the National Aerial Firefighting Centres call in May 2016 to expand the fleet in preparation for hotter and more extended bushfire seasons. It had already dismissed warnings from ex-emergency chiefs in April 2019 that a catastrophic fire season was on the way and ignored requests to discuss the escalating climate change risks. This was despite there being 18 warnings that the impacts of climate change were leading to increased bushfire risks since the Coalition was first elected in 2013.

The 18 warnings were in addition to the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review’s final report which predicted a horror bushfire season in 2020; a report commissioned and supported by state and federal politicians, and which examined the long term impacts of climate change on the Australian economy. The Government had steadfastly ignored warnings and predictions from over 40 years, that the impacts of climate change would increase the risk of catastrophic bushfires.

Over the months that catastrophic fires burned through 10 million hectares, taking nearly 30 lives and killing more than a billion animals, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework lay buried in Canberra; a crucial report prepared under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and ready to publish just weeks before he was ousted by current Prime Minister Scott Morrison in August 2018. The Framework, ready, but sitting unactioned for over 18 months by Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, warned that the changing climate was exposing the country to natural disasters on ‘‘unimagined scales, in unprecedented combinations and in unexpected locations’’.

While the Federal politicians passed law after law with the promise to keep Australians safe and protect them from hypothetical national security risks, while the Home Affairs Department warned the Government again in May 2019 of unprecedented “disasters” exacerbated by climate change, and called for national action in a now public briefing, while Morrison chided climate protesters for imposing ‘needless anxiety’ on children over the impact of climate change on their future, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework sat idly in a metaphorical Canberra drawer.

It’s only fitting that the city drowning in smoke is home to the most damning of evidence that the Morrison Government willfully endangered Australia and its people for ideological and political purposes.

It is now indisputable that the lack of national coordination, prevention strategies and preparation for the predicted bushfire disaster is not because of departmental policy failures, or the absence of experts to advise, or the unwillingness of bureaucrats to recommend tangible action to the Prime Minister and his Government.

It’s painfully clear that the gaping hole that is national leadership is because the Prime Minister either does not appreciate the Commonwealth Government’s responsibility to mitigate the devastating impacts of a changing climate, or he simply does not care.

Morrison’s sloth-like response to the emergency crisis, the reactive, hastily drafted, shoddily communicated recovery and support policies, and the extraordinary Liberal Party ad spruiking Morrison’s belated actions, demonstrate that Morrison was not prepared at all for the disaster which presented over Christmas and New Years 2019/2020. The absence of collective preparation, preventative action, and long term national management strategy wasn’t for lack of internal knowledge or expert information being available, it was because Morrison chose to ignore it.

The scientific evidence demonstrates that “as the world warms due to human induced climate change, we experience an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.” The science has shown this for over 40 years. And yet as soon as the Coalition Government was first elected in 2013, it set about repealing the key legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions. And in the years that followed it has persisted in obfuscating on scientific fact, slashing funding to bodies tasked with researching climate related issues, and dismissing international criticism of its policies.

The Coalition Government’s failures are twofold;

  • globally, by failing to take appropriate action on climate change, ranking 57 out of 57 countries on climate change policy, yet still defending Australia’s policies as acceptable, and
  • nationally, by failing to provide and implement national, long-term strategies for prevention, preparation, management and recovery for the growing incidence and severity of natural disasters linked to climate change.

The Coalition Government has obstinately refused to take the threat of climate change seriously, even as bushfires burned simultaneously across every state of Australia and Canberra was drenched in smoke. The deliberate public policy vacuum, Morrison’s fierce defence when called on the Government’s insufficient action, and the refusal to implement long term, national risk reduction strategies, despite evidence the Government knew about the increasing risk and the predictions of a disastrous bushfire season, is unacceptable.

The Government’s own reports, briefings and reports demonstrate it knew about the risks posed by lack of appropriate action to mitigate the consequences of climate change, and yet it did nothing tangible at all. The Morrison Government’s multiple failures, which have arguably contributed to the loss of life, homes, communities, wildlife and over 10 million hectares, must be seen as a gross act of negligence.

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When there’s a clash of faith, which ‘religious freedom’ takes priority?

Under the Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Freedom bills, what happens when there’s a clash of religious belief? Of all the religions and faiths subscribed to in this vast nation, which freedom will take priority when head to head at the service desk of a hotel, the pharmacist’s counter, or proselytizing on social media? Whose beliefs will take precedent above all others in the fight of the rights? How will the correct order of religious freedom be determined? Will there be a duel at dawn? A water walking competition? A zealous race to see whose dead prophet will rise the fastest?

What if the faith holders both attempt to pull rank when refusing the other service? Will they quote chapter after verse after testament until the glorious reigning mighty religious bigwigmen intervene to give the supposedly correct doctrine?

Will secular courts be required to determine the true interpretation of the holy books and scribes and scrolls, when even religious scholars can’t agree, or will they defer to the religious overlords, thus enshrining religious tenets into the common law?

What if a nasty pasty says something vile and unconscionable to a random stranger on the street and asserts their legal right to do so because ‘religious belief’? Will they have to prove they’re religious, or will their word simply do? Is there a waiting period before a person can make a defense of ‘religious freedom’ to a claim of discrimination against them? Or can they claim to have found their faith and converted to religion a mere three minutes before flinging an unprovoked slur at a person for simply being?

Is there an assumption of religiosity whenever someone speaks the words of a bigot? Will the onus of proof fall on the defendant to a claim of discrimination that they, in fact, have ‘faith’ and their faith, by its very nature, requires them to treat others as lesser people because of who they are?

What if the atheists chime in & heckle from the sidelines, asserting their protected right to call the warring factions religiloons and faithofarts? Will there be a three-way claim of discrimination and counter-discrimination and third party claimants and respondents and additional parties from each particular school of religious thought, all claiming to be the religiously righteous superior and thus the absolute protected by the law?

Will the entire farce collapse into a cringe-worthy public slag fest, transcribed carefully by the court, of “you are”, “your mum is”, and “that’s what she said” between the religious and believers and atheists and anyone who is otherwise not one of the protected species under any respective religious code?

How will Morrison manage the fallout from the proposed bill on social inclusion and community cohesion and assimilation and mental health and general feelings of happiness, fulfillment and the enjoyment of people to participate fully in public life, while also exercising their personal freedoms to bodily autonomy and accessing appropriate medical care?

Will Morrison demand tolerance and respect and fairness, while women, people of colour, racial minorities, people with a disability and LGBTIQA+ Australians are actively being denied services and publicly shamed, slandered and humiliated?

What further laws will Morrison rush through parliament when atheists, joined by any empathetic, loving and open-hearted religious folk, protest on the streets to denounce the positive rights of the religious to discriminate against them, their friends and families? Will he call in the military? Will he pray? Will he command the nation join him in prayer while the military confiscates padlocks, gaffa tape and glue?

What if? What if? What if?

What if Morrison and his merry band of religious zealots actually recognised and respected human rights, and instead of a knee-jerk reaction to appease the haters who think it’s their god-given right to impose their fundamentalist, extremist beliefs on the rest of the population, he proposed a bill to protect everyone from harm?


Morrison and his government are more concerned about the hurt feelings of a bunch of rotten losers than the real, demonstrated harm even the debate on ‘religious freedom’ is causing in the community.

But bets on who will be the first to cry foul when it’s religion up against religion, up against yet another religion, and maybe another religion (because who knew, even the religious types can’t agree on if there is one almighty supernatural creator or many) and then add in the atheists who will surely exercise their newly reinforced right to fiercely criticize religion and religious belief …


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Sanctioning harm under guise of religious freedom

When Attorney-General Christian Porter proposed to prioritise freedom of religion above all other human rights which are necessary for a fair, just and humane society, he gave an orange light to the most wicked entitlement and privilege. The Australian Government’s proposed Religious Freedom Bills are out for public consultation and if passed, create a plethora of unequal rights, where those who subscribe to religious beliefs are benefited above and beyond the rest of the community. The bills weaken existing protections for LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disabilities, and those from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, and potentially legalise hate speech.

However it’s Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous’s statement on 12 September 2019 which provides one of the most compelling arguments as to why the concept of the proposed laws is so repugnant. Archbishop Porteous, when publicly declaring that priests will not obey the new Tasmanian law mandating that priests report child sex abuse, reportedly stated that the law is ‘at odds with the Australian Government’s religious freedom push’.

Translated into layman’s terms, Archbishop Porteous’s position is that ‘religious freedom’ means ‘mates keeping vile secrets for mates’, while children suffer. Archbishop Porteous’s stance that reporting paedophiles violates his religious freedom is an unconscionable response to the Church being exposed as a repugnant organisation responsible for immeasurable human suffering.

Given its past behaviour, it’s no surprise that the Catholic Church, at its highest levels, prioritises the ‘sanctity’ of the church and it’s religious beliefs over the safety of the most vulnerable in the community. The Catholic Church, at its highest levels, has repeatedly demonstrated a propensity to prioritise privilege and entitlement for its clergy, a culture of secrecy, and the institutionalised protection of paedophiles, above the right for children to be safe and free from abuse, despite the scathing report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. The church still performs exorcisms on LGBT members despite its documented harm.

Along with other religious organisations, the Catholic Church’s fierce advocacy for religious freedom to the detriment of other rights, goes against the universally accepted balance of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), proclaimed in Paris on 10 December 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, provides the key principles for a free, just, and peaceful society and sets out the proper balance between the freedom of religion and other human rights.

Article 18, which provides for the right of freedom of religion, is just one of 30 rights and principles in the UDHR; the other 29 Articles are conveniently ignored by the proponents of religious freedom. The right for a person to practice their beliefs must be balanced against the rights of others in the community not to be harmed. This is repeatedly supported when rights are considered in the full context of the UDHR.

The push for greater religious freedom at the expense of the rights of others is a manipulative response to the weakening power of religious organisations in the community. Churches cannot reconcile that it is no longer acceptable to forcefully impose their moral tenets on those who do not subscribe to restrictive and unreasonable codes.

Those of faith argue for religious freedom on the basis it is a human right, yet they fail to recognise that all human rights must be balanced. Where the exercise of one person’s human rights violates another, the line has been crossed. Where one person, in practicing their religion, denies another the ability to participate fully in community life and cultural practices, the line has been crossed.

The religious freedom laws will allow those of faith to treat people as second class citizens essentially on a whim, provided they can somehow tie it in with their religious beliefs.

Allowing greater religious freedom to the detriment of other fundamental human rights violates Article 30: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”

When practicing one’s religion causes harm to other people, it is unacceptable.

If by practising their religion, a person imposes their beliefs on another person and prevents that other person from freely participating in a secular society, it is unacceptable.

Religious freedom is, and must be, subject to the law and balanced with other human rights. Those of faith are free to attend their services, drink the symbolic blood of their prophets or engage in other religious rituals if those participating have freely, voluntarily and willingly consented. They can refuse blood transfusions or medical procedures for themselves, but they must not be allowed to deny them to others. They can prosthelytize and evangelise to their hearts’ content, provided they are not offending, humiliating, intimidating, insulting, ridiculing others or otherwise harming others in the community. They can pray or reflect or honour their gods in whichever way they choose, but must not be permitted to deny others the opportunity to participate fully in public life because of personal religious beliefs.

Attorney-General Porter’s proposed laws recognise that those of faith should not have unfettered freedom to disobey all laws. However he does propose overriding the Tasmanian anti-discrimination law for people of faith, and the proposed laws broaden the opportunities for people of faith to actively discriminate against members of the community in the name of religion.

It is evident from Archbishop Porteous’s public commentary how much ‘freedom’ he wishes the church to be given.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse outed the abhorrent practices of religious organisations in harbouring abusers, the resounding ‘YES’ result in the marriage equality plebiscite stunned opponents after the dedicated, religious-right-led, hate-filled rhetoric of the ‘NO’ campaign, George Pell’s conviction astonished believers after decades of institutionalised protection from prosecution, rugby player Israel Folau’s sacking frightened the proponents of ‘hate speech promoted as free speech’, abortion reform, transgender rights and voluntary euthanesia laws terrified the self-appointed ‘moral superiors’ who believe ‘God’s Law’ takes precedence. And now, with the state’s successively enacting laws mandating priests out their fellow paedophiles, the churches power is shriveling. Their response is to fight back and demand superiority, entitlement and privilege is enshrined in law.

The majority of Australians believe all people are deserving of equal rights and to be treated equally before the law. It is unconscionable to provide people of faith with greater ‘freedoms’, to the detriment of others in the community. Attorney-General Porter must not give the green light to bigotry, social division, exclusion and segregation under the guise of religious freedom.

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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.


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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 timeframes 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’ community-run 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 ( 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: 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.

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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.


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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 taxpayer 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”


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