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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.

What are Turnbull and Dutton waiting for?

An open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, said to be written and signed by the 600 men incarcerated on Manus Island, was released today, 30 November 2015. The letter is short. It acknowledges the hopeless situation of the men detained indefinitely by the Government. It acknowledges the necessity of the men’s detention to the Coalition’s cruel ‘stop the boats’ policy. It also asserts that the boats have stopped and therefore the men are no longer of use to the Australian Government. The men claim their job is done, and trapped on the island prison, without any possible end to their torture, they have presented Turnbull and Dutton with three possible solutions to end the inhumanity, the obscene waste of public money, and the ruination of Australia’s international reputation.

The men have requested to die.

“This is not a joke or a satire” the men say.

The options provided by the men appear harsh, but in the minds of the prisoners, incarcerated on the whim of the Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull Governments, the options are a better alternative to dying gradually on Manus Island and where “every single day” they are “literarly (sic) tortured and traumatized.”

The letter is not framed by the men as yet another plea for help, or a request for fairness, a safe-haven or safety – the men have acknowledged that their requests to be freed continue to go unanswered. The letter is a statement of truth, of fact, of recognition of the abhorrent situation the men who have fled persecution, war and genocide now face at the hands of successive Australian Governments, and funded by the taxpayer.

So what are Turnbull and Dutton waiting for?

It is clear the current situation is unsustainable. Offshore detention currently costs over $1 billion a year, more than five times the United Nations refugee agency’s entire budget for South East Asia.

The indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island has been repeatedly criticised. The United Nations has found that the offshore detention regime and the conditions that people seeking asylum and refugees are held in, amount to torture. In the past week, the United Nations chief, Ban Ki-moon personally asked Turnbull to review the boat turn back policy and raised concerns again about the conditions in offshore detention centres. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, cancelled his Australian visit because the Government refused to guarantee that professionals and staff would not be prosecuted and face 2 years in prison, under the secrecy provisions of the Border Force Act, for simply speaking with him.

Asylum seekers and refugees have been murdered, pushed to suicide, and died from medical neglect while being held indefinitely under cruel, inhumane and torturous conditions as a deterrent to people smugglers.

The Turnbull Government claims the boats have stopped. If this is so, then the men on Manus Island are correct to say they are no longer needed – unless Turnbull and Dutton intend on holding them hostage forever just in case the slightest show of humanity leads to resurgence in on-water arrivals. However, the boats have not stopped departing Indonesia, they have simply been prevented from landing. It is clear therefore, that despite the harsh conditions the men on Manus Island (and men, women and children on Nauru and Christmas Island) are held in, that people will continue to seek asylum in Australia – as is their right under the Refugee Convention signed and ratified by Australia.

Still, Turnbull and Dutton are unphased by international obligations and humanitarian responsibility. Repeated and relentless criticism has simply hardened their resolve to further punish those detained in the island prison hellholes.

So what exactly are Turnbull and Dutton waiting for?

Are they intending to hold each and every man, woman and child in detention until they die? Are they hoping another riot will break out and a few more innocent men will be murdered? Are they hoping that a few more men will be taken out by preventable and treatable infections and illness? Are they hoping that if they treat the men cruelly enough, more will commit suicide, thus saving the Government money and negating the need to process any claims? Do they hope a couple of pregnant women will die in childbirth, or at the very least, their babies die, thus saving the Government the issue of what to do with their prisoners?

According to Dutton, it would be irresponsible to take steps that might see a resurgence in people arriving in Australian waters. In October, in response to the Royal Children’s Hospital refusing to discharge a mother and child to detention, he said, “The Defence and Border Force staff on our vessels who were pulling dead kids out of the water don’t want the boats to restart.”

Is this the worst case scenario for Dutton?

If so, what are Turnbull and Dutton waiting for?

If the refugees and asylum seekers are not going to be freed, if the men, women and children held indefinitely in detention are doomed to stay there, until they are murdered, pushed to suicide, or die prematurely through medical neglect, why not opt for a kinder option?

The men on Manus Island propose the following:

  1. A navy ship that can put us all on board and dump us all in the ocean. (HMAS is always available)
  2. A gas chamber (DECMIL will do it with a new contract)
  3. Injection of a poison. (IHMS will help for this)

The response, if any is given at all, is predicable. “Dumping at sea? A gas chamber? Injection of poison? But that is unconscionable. First world, democratic nations don’t commit atrocities against innocent people. That would be akin to genocide, a war crime, an abhorrent act of terror. Australia will not be blackmailed by these people. We stand by our commitment to keep our borders safe and to stop the boats.”

More likely, there will be no comment at all, and Turnbull and Dutton, supported by Shorten, will leave the men, women and children to suffer indefinitely. The Government will ignore the men’s pleas and continue to support a slow, painful death for those housed in Australia’s concentration camps. There will be no festive cheer or hope for the future. Merry Christmas from Australia.

What a tragic state of affairs and how shameful for Australia as a nation.

The full transcribed text of the letter is below:

30/11/15

Hello Dear Mr Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton.

As the refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Manus Island detention we wold like to request you something different this time.

As previously we wrote and asked for help and there was no respond to our request to be freed out of detention we realized that there are no differences between us and rubbish but a bunch of slaves that helped to stop the boats by living in hellish condition. The only difference is that we are very costly for the Australian tax payers and the Politicians as our job to “stop the boats” is done.

We would like to give you some recommendations to stop the waste of this huge amount of money ruining Australian’s reputation and to keep the Australian boarders safe forever.

  1. A navy ship that can put us all on board and dump us all in the ocean. (HMAS is always available)
    2. A gas chamber (DECMIL will do it with a new contract)
    3. Injection of a poison. (IHMS will help for this)

This is not a joke or a satire and please take it serious.

We are dying in Manus gradually, every single day we are literarly tortured and traumatized and there is no safe country to offer us protection as DIBP says.

Best regards

Merry Christmas in advance
Manus refugees and asylum seekers.

 

 

Dutton has lost control.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has well and truly lost control of his portfolio. The past year alone provides a rich field of examples of Dutton’s incompetency. There are many instances which highlight the absurdity of his excuses, claims and justifications for the Coalition’s appalling policies. Yet despite a growing list of clear failures, there is a noticeable absence of demands for accountability. Dutton continues his awful attempts to defend the indefensible and the general public laps it up, convinced by the Government’s lies that it is all for the greater good.

Dutton has demonstrated many failures. A man with his level of ineptitude and incompetency in the private sector would have been fired a long time ago. A man in his position in any other institution, would be loudly condemned, and subject to a fiercely independent investigation at a minimum.

The latest in the string of absurdities must be Dutton’s reaction over the recent death of a person under his care and the following riot on Christmas Island. Dutton brushed off the seventh known death of an asylum seeker since early 2014, with little more than a ‘meh’, followed by loud accusations of violent, hardened criminals causing trouble for no reason at all in the remote prison. Not only does Dutton fail to recognise or even faintly appreciate the duty of care he owes to asylum seekers detained under this watch, but he loudly refutes the provable fact that violent criminals, minor offenders and asylum seekers have all been mixed together and none would be there at all if it wasn’t for him and his party’s policies.

The totally preventable death of Fazel Chegeni is the doing of Dutton. The riot, which looks to cost the Australian taxpayer $10 million dollars, on top of the $100 million dollar blowout in the billion dollar cost of offshore detention, is the doing of Dutton.

Dutton is responsible, and in being responsible, must be the most incompetent Immigration Minister since the equally appalling performance of former Minister Scott Morrison.

If Dutton was an employee in any private organisation, he would have been sacked long ago for gross incompetence. If any individual person was paying Dutton’s remuneration, he would have been sacked long ago. Yet the Australian public, every individual tax payer is paying for Dutton, and yet he continues, unchecked, with calculated, deliberate lies to try and cover up his incompetency. And Australia does not hold him to account.

The mysterious death of Fazel Chegeni, a refugee whose body was found after being chased through the Christmas Island jungle by guards, follows other preventable and inexcusable deaths. In October, out of fear of being returned to detention and dying a slow death at Dutton’s hands, Khodayar Amini doused himself in petrol and self-immolated. Leo Seemanpillai did the same last year. Asylum seeker ‘Reza’, fearing deportation on Dutton’s orders, was found dead at Brisbane airport. Earlier, Nasim Najafi was attacked while under Dutton’s care, placed in solitary confinement, and committed suicide.

Dutton is responsible for these deaths. Just like former Minister Scott Morrison was responsible for Reza Barati’s murder on Manus Island, and for Hamid Kehazaei who died from a septicaemia after a treatable infection on his cut foot was ignored.

Dutton holds the power to giving these people hope, freedom and a chance of a life. Dutton refuses.

Dutton, whose actions are slowly killing the people under his care, is doing his best to convince asylum seekers that it is better to return to their own countries and risk death in a warzone, than die a slow and lingering death under his watch. ‘Khaled’, who saw his own father murdered after they both worked as military interpreters for the US, was coerced into returning to the very city he fled from in Iraq. Officials from Dutton’s Department coerced another man, Eyad, to return to Syria, where he was tortured for twenty days by government officers, before finally making it to his home. A short time later he was injured in a shell attack, which killed his father on the spot. Dutton is responsible for this.

If any other person was responsible for so many deaths, so many atrocities, so much harm, they’d be imprisoned themselves. Not Dutton. No, he is being paid by the Australian tax payer to continue his torturous regime.

Who can forget the boatloads of Tamil asylum seekers Dutton returned to Sri Lanka, despite being subject to persecution? And his refusal to help rescue Rohingya refugees stranded at sea? Or the Vietnamese asylum seekers who were returned by Dutton, some of which were arrested and detained immediately on their return to Vietnam?

And of course there is Dutton’s implied admission that his Department paid people smugglers, in a clear breach of international law, backed up by an Amnesty International report finding enough evidence that it happened.

Dutton is determined to continue to expose children to sexual abuse, assault and torture. The Government-commissioned Moss Report, the Forgotten Children Report from the Australian Human Rights Commission, and a Senate Committee Inquiry found that offshore detention is not safe for families and children. Earlier this year Dutton ordered the transfer of a five month old baby, Asha, to Nauru, where her desperate mother is still gravely concerned for her health. Fully qualified, professional Australian doctors have labelled the Government’s treatment of asylum seeker children as torture. Dutton is unrepentant. Instead of addressing the shocking claims, he made it illegal for ‘entrusted people’ to report the abuse, threatening doctors, nurses, councillors and teachers with two years jail.

The Australian tax payer is financing this abhorrent situation. Every Australian is paying for Dutton to put in place laws to incarcerate anyone who tries to hold Dutton to account.

Dutton refused for months to help a woman who had been brutally raped while under his care. Abyan, another refugee who fell pregnant after being raped, was also denied treatment in Australia until a mass public outcry. Dutton, insistently lying to the Australian public and the world about the poor woman’s situation, despite even the Coalition’s biggest supporter, Chris Kenny, backing up her advocates, has not been held to account for his lies. Dutton only acted after a scathing press statement from the United Nations, yet he still insists that denying a traumatised woman access to a counsellor and expert medical care is appropriate treatment.

Dutton deliberately seeks to expose vulnerable men, women and children to further harm.

According to Dutton, pregnant women under his care who request to give birth in Australia are trying to blackmail him, are taking him for a ‘mug’, and are partaking in a racket to get to Australia. According to Dutton, it is acceptable to force women under his care to give birth in a third world hospital on Nauru, where a newborn baby is seven times more likely to die at birth, and the mother is fifty times more likely to die during childbirth. Dutton has ignored medical professionals and the Australian Medical Association who insist Golestan, a diabetic woman, must be immediately flown to Australia to give birth. Golestan is suffering a complex pregnancy, and despite medical staff expecting her baby will require specialist care, Dutton insists on risking the baby’s life. Will Dutton sacrifice the life of an innocent baby in his race to provide crueler conditions than those which the asylum seekers have fled from?

It is not just asylum seekers Dutton treats with loathing and contempt. A freedom of information request by Fairfax media revealed that Dutton deliberately misled the public when he said there was no way his Border Force agents would be doing random spot checks on unsuspecting and law-abiding Melburnians in August this year.

Spooked by a backlash to the press release that Government agents would stop and speak with anyone they came across during Operation Fortitude in Melbourne’s CBD, Dutton’s kneejerk response at the time was to deny all knowledge of such a planned venture.

What kind of Minister thinks it’s acceptable and lawful to expect people to carry, and produce on demand, their ‘papers’ while out shopping on a weekend? What kind of Minister then lies to say it was never planned? Obviously one who mistakenly thought Australia was a police state, or one who is grossly incompetent. Dutton forgets he is an elected representative paid for by the Australian taxpayer to represent the Australian people, not treat the very people who elected him as criminals.

Speaking of taxpayers, voters, and Christmas Island, Dutton demonstrates yet again his inability to tell the truth. Despite deliberately, unrepentantly and viciously detaining and deporting any non-citizens who have suddenly become socially undesirable, no matter how minor their wrong-doing, or the absence of any actual offence at all, Dutton is adamant only the most violent and hardened criminals are subject to section 501 of the Migration Act. Many of these people have lived in Australia for their entire lives. They have voted in elections. Many have paid their taxes and contributed positively to the community for decades. They have families, wives, husbands, partners, siblings, parents and children in Australia.

According to Dutton, a decorated New Zealand soldier, Ngati Kanohi Haapu, known as Ko, must be banished forever, despite having no criminal convictions whatsoever. Ko’s ‘character issue’ is that he is allegedly a member of a one percent motorcycle club. Despite no motorcycle club being proven to be a criminal organisation, and police and law enforcement agencies being unable to produce sufficient evidence of such, Ko has been detained and set for deportation.

Ko has committed no crime. Not like Dutton, who has paid people smugglers, enabled and condoned child abuse, rape, and torture, and is responsible for at least five of the seven known deaths of asylum seekers.

According to Dutton, a New Zealand born mother of six, who has served her time for minor drug offences is a violent, hardened criminal. If this woman had been born in Australia she would serve her time and move on with her life. But no, according to Dutton, she must be banished from Australia, despite serving her sentence, because a faceless bureaucrat has applied a mandatory provision enacted on Dutton’s command, that she be deported.

According to Dutton, a single mother of two, charged with shoplifting is such a threat to the Australian public, she should be incarcerated, away from her young child and teen daughter – banished forever from Australia, because of Dutton. There is no such thing as rehabilitation or having ‘done one’s time’ under Dutton’s watch.

According to Dutton, a quadriplegic man, who served time for self-medicating with painkillers, is such a threat to the Australian public, he must be deported, never to return to the land he called home.

According to Dutton, a British man, who has lived in Australia for fifty of his fifty-one years, who in a moment of stupidity lit a scrub fire in which no people or property were harmed, is a violent and hardened criminal. Because according to Dutton, only violent and hardened criminals are being held on Christmas Island.

Where are the cries for Dutton’s resignation? Why is the Opposition silent? Why is Bill Shorten not calling for Dutton to stand down or be sacked? Why is the mainstream media not demanding more answers?

No person in anything other than a criminal organisation, a fascist, police state or dictatorship would get away with such criminal behaviour, and wilful and deliberate lies to the domestic and international community.

How many more families will be ripped apart by Dutton’s arbitrarily applied laws? How many more people must die a violent, painful and preventable death under Dutton’s watch? How many innocent children will lose their parents, and how many parents will lose their children at Dutton’s hands? The Government and the weak opposition, the detention centre contractors, and all the faceless bureaucrats, are complicit in the deaths, torture, and inhumane treatment of people under Australia’s care. Every Australian who does not make a stand against the cruel regime, is complicit.

Enough is enough. Rape, murder, suicide, torture, child abuse, violent assaults, death from medical neglect, and wilful destruction of families is all in a day’s work with Dutton in charge. And every Australian is paying for it.

 

What extremism, Australia?

The Federal Government has made quite clear its belief that Australians are at risk from extremists. It is so concerned about the threat of fundamentalists influencing young minds, it sanctioned the well-publicised anti-radicalisation booklet to be distributed in schools around the country. Whether this belief is founded, rational and based on admissible evidence appears irrelevant to the ruling class.

There is no doubt that fundamentalism, extremism and radicalised youth may, potentially, one day, if all circumstances and opportunities align, be a threat. However while the Government is focussing its attention on examples that conflict with its ideology, organisations of a specific religious persuasion are confidently and quite publicly corrupting and indoctrinating the minds of Australian children.

For not the first time, certain Christian organisations have been caught out inflicting their own warped idea of how society should function, on Australian youth. Under the guise of ‘religious education’ in the classroom, these apparent moral arbitrators are teaching teenagers the kind of stuff that would be funny, if it wasn’t so deadly serious.

According to the latest news, young Australians are being taught to “thank God for cancer” and that cancer is “the result of a mucked-up and broken world caused by sin.”

Religious instructors in New South Wales’ schools are allegedly teaching that “being sick or having your period isn’t a sin — but it reminds us that the body and therefore all of humanity now live with the curse of sin.”

Seriously?

In 2015, teenagers are being instructed that female menstruation is a sign of humanity being cursed with sin?

As if this isn’t extreme (and bizarre) enough, children in state funded, public schools, have been told that “wives should submit to their husbands in everything’’ and to “be prepared to die for God.”

This is not the eighteen hundreds. It is not even 1950. This is the stuff being taught in the twenty-first century.

The latest fundamentalist Christian teachings follow an instance earlier in the year where young teenage students in Victorian state schools were “warned not to have multiple sex partners or risk becoming like overused sticky tape.”

According to these religious instructors, clearly experts in the human body and reproductive organs, “a chemical released in females’ brains made them more needy than boys”, and having multiple sexual partners can break a “special chemical bond”, and “harm a woman’s capacity to form future relationships.”

None of these teachings will be news to those who endured a private Christian schooling. However this is not being taught in Christian schools, where parents and students expect a level of religious indoctrination and propaganda, but in public schools, in many cases without the parents’ knowledge or consent.

Some Christian groups are insistent on their right to teach harmful and dangerous anti-gay and anti-divorce messages. There appears to be no concept of the damage any of these teachings have on the wider community and vulnerable people targeted by the hate messages.

Why are these people not more loudly and publicly condemned?

Is it because these religious instructors are largely white, middle-classed, conservative Australians?

Is it because they share the same cultural heritage as a vast majority of the population?

Is it because we are so attuned to thinking extremism and fundamentalism corresponds with brutal, physical violence that we ignore the damage these disturbing teachings are having on society?

This year, the New South Wales Government demonstrated its full support of Christian indoctrination, inferring that Christian studies were mandatory by including it in a listing of ‘core subjects’. The Federal Government has made it clear that it will only support religious chaplains in schools to ‘support’ young people with ethical and moral dilemmas.

No doubt the supporters of this absurdity proclaim that Christian fundamentalism is not a threat to Australian society. Australia was, after all, founded on Christian principles when the British arrived in 1788 and set about brutally murdering the local Indigenous population in an attempt to annihilate the race.

But these kinds of so-called Christian teachings do immense damage.

These Christian organisations, endorsed in many public schools, are teaching the next generation that women must submit to their husbands, that women are inferior, that living with a partner unmarried is a sin, that basic bodily functions which almost half the entire world population experience or have experienced, is a sign of sin.

These Christian so-called educators, mainly volunteers who have been welcomed into state schools, are instructing that gay people are unnatural, that children will be harmed if they do not live within the confines of a heterosexual marriage with their biological mother and father.

Domestic violence is a massive issue for Australia. So far, 69 women have been murdered in 2015, many by husbands and partners.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found prolific, repeated and systematic cover-up of rapes, sexual assaults and child abuse going back decades. Many of those exposed as perpetrators and protectors are religious organisations, and many are Christian denominations.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex Australians have the highest rates of suicidality, (the risk of suicide) of any population in Australia. Same-sex attracted people have up to fourteen times higher rates of suicide attempts than heterosexual Australians, with young same-sex attracted Australians having rates up to six times higher than their peers.

Each year, several thousand Australians take their own lives, the vast majority male. The two key factors for whether a person will experience suicidal ideation is if that person is experiencing both depression and if they feel socially undesirable. It is not inconceivable that dangerous messages taught in schools about gender roles, sexual orientation and health play a part in feelings of social desirability.

The Christian values of love, compassion, inclusion, and forgiveness are sadly lacking from contemporary education, and appear to be replaced with socially divisive and grossly biased ideological messages.

Religion and religious influence is an important topic for children to learn about. People, insistent that their personal religious beliefs hold supremacy, are responsible for wars, genocide and brutal massacres of indigenous cultures and races. Religion is used as an excuse for many atrocities, discrimination, and the deliberate exclusion of certain people in society.

All people have a right to religion, but that does not include the right to force religion onto others. It does not include the right to indoctrinate the young and impressionable. It does not include forcing personal spiritual beliefs onto the wider community.

Earlier this year the Victorian Government announced that it had scrapped religious instruction from school curriculums from 2016, instead replacing with classes that address domestic violence and respectful relationships. This is a far more productive way of addressing the real issues facing young Australians.

Extremism has no place in schools, and this includes extremism which complies with the agenda of the Government.

 

Ode to Karen – Lyrics: Eva Cripps, performed by Kim.

 

What is better than drowning, according to the Australian Government?

The Federal Government is determined to stick to its policy of torturing innocent people to deter criminals. Apparently the only way to take power away from people smugglers is to ensure that perfectly legal asylum seekers who previously made it safely to Australia by boat are treated in the most barbaric way possible. In some kind of twisted Coalition logic, it asserts by its actions that the most effective way to prevent people drowning at sea is to torture those that survive.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton appears to understand that actions are more important than words, as does former Immigration Minister and current Treasurer, Scott Morrison. Both have made it clear that it’s not acceptable to simply intercept boats making their way to Australia, remove asylum seekers and detain the people smugglers. No, the only way to save lives is to detain and subject every man, woman and child to the cruellest, most inhumane treatment possible. The Coalition has a strong message for asylum seekers, “Dare to flee war, persecution or genocide, and we will make your lives so rotten you’ll beg to return to where you came from.”

According to the Coalition, there is nothing worse than drowning at sea. According to the actions of Dutton, Morrison, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, sexual abuse, violent assaults, and denial of medical treatment are all better than drowning.

In some respects, they have a point. Death is final. It is the end. There is no return from death. Drowning really is a final outcome.

Torture, on the other hand, rape, sexual abuse, violent assaults, denial of medical treatment; none of these things results in immediate death. No, these things, continuously supported by the Australian Government by its lack of action, ensure that people stay alive; although not so much alive as a lingering, painful existence from which there is no escape. Asylum seekers who attempt to escape by ending their own lives, are subjected to more pain and torture.

It seems the Australian Government is determined to stop people drowning at all costs.

Based on the events of the past few years, the Government has demonstrated a number of things that it believes are better than drowning.

  1. Being bashed to death by security guards who are meant to protect you.
  2. Dying a slow, lingering death from septicaemia from an untreated foot infection.
  3. Housing a five month old baby in a stinking hot, rat-infested tent without access to appropriate formula, hygienic facilities to prepare food, and placing her mother in so much stress she can’t breastfeed properly.
  4. Being so suicidal you can’t be trusted to be left alone for five minutes with a lawyer or husband, but considered well enough to be flown to detention in Nauru.
  5. Depriving women of basic sanitary items and forcing them to ask male security guards for pads while blood clots run down their legs.
  6. Leaving a young child with a broken arm untreated for weeks.
  7. Being brutally raped as a 23 year old, and denied medical treatment for weeks, if not months, and forced to continue a pregnancy that is making you physically sick.
  8. Having medical treatment delayed after being brutally raped and attempting suicide.
  9. Young boys being attacked, beaten and robbed.
  10. The sexual abuse of children.
  11. Sending children who are suffering from serious mental health issues back to detention where they won’t have access to proper treatment and their condition will worsen.
  12. Waterboarding and being cable-tied to a bed and dropped from height.
  13. Dying after being denied medical treatment for two weeks.

Astoundingly, while on one hand declaring that the arbitrary and indefinite detention of asylum seekers is necessary to deter the people smugglers, and proudly boasting of its cruel policies, the Government’s main defence in a High Court challenge to offshore detention was that it has no control over the detention centres and besides, there is now no detention after the Nauruan Government coincidentally opened up the centre several days before the challenge was to be heard. This is not the first time the Government has changed the rules at the last minute to thwart any attempts to test the legality of the offshore detention policy and hold it accountable.

The Australian Government behaves as though what happens on Nauru is not Australia’s responsibility. It deliberately and publicly sends men, women and children, including tiny babies, into torturous conditions, yet steps back and says, “its not our problem.” It says the detention centre is not “controlled” by Australia.

The Government’s defence amounts to “it’s nothing to do with us”. At least in this respect the Government’s words and actions are consistent. It continues to fail to act on mounting evidence of appalling conditions for asylum seekers and refugees on the remote island prisons, despite Turnbull recently expressing “concern”, as though the barbaric treatment of innocent people is news to him.

The Government uses the harsh treatment of asylum seekers detained in a third world shithole to attempt to deter people lawfully seeking asylum. It actively sends people to Nauru and Manus Island, and uses tax payer money for the management of the facilities, visas, and the security of the detention centres, yet absolves itself of all responsibility.

The Forgotten Children Report from the Australian Human Rights Centre provides clear evidence of the abhorrent conditions of immigration detention.

The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration policy and conditions in detention centres amounts to torture.

The Moss Report, commissioned by the Government itself, found that there is evidence of rapes, sexual assaults and drugs for sexual favours in the Australian run centre on Nauru.

A Senate Committee Inquiry found that the Nauru detention centre is not safe for children.

United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants cancelled a visit as the Government could not guarantee that people who spoke with him would not be prosecuted under the Border Force Act.

Despite ongoing criticism, the Government insists on promoting the same tired line that anything compassionate, humane and in line with the basic standards of human rights expected in a Western democracy will lead to more deaths in Australian waters.

It seems that it’s not the deaths the Government fears; it’s the method of death and the publicity surrounding it. Heart wrenching images of children washed up on beaches turns asylum seekers from illegal immigrants to be feared into humans who deserve care and help. Instead, the Government supports the slow, lingering, torturous death of innocent people in detention, which it does everything to hide, threatening two years jail for doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals for publicly disclosing the appalling treatment of asylum seekers, including the sexual abuse of children.

“You’re going to die from a hunger strike protesting your inadequate treatment after being bashed in immigration detention? You shouldn’t have sought asylum by boat”, will be the next heartless press statement from Dutton. “If we relax our draconian policies, people might drown”.

Apparently anything is better than drowning.

 

Has anything changed? Not judging by the comments.

While many Australians, and no doubt the rest of the world, are still breathing a collective sigh of relief at the deposal of Tony Abbott, his supporters are still smarting and licking their wounds. Abbott himself is still pretending to not wreck, not snipe and not undermine, by telling his supporters he could still have won the election, while those within Abbott’s camp have conveniently forgotten Abbott’s own overthrow of Turnbull not even a decade ago, albeit as leader of the opposition.

Malcolm Turnbull is by far more popular than Abbott. A jump in the polls after Turnbull ascended to the top is a pretty clear indication that Abbott as leader was the problem. Even a commitment to retain the most odious of Abbott’s policies has not dampened Turnbull’s popularity. Likewise, Andrew Hastie’s easy win in the Canning by-election after the coup was a good indication that the Coalition’s policies were not the problem for most people – the problem was Abbott.

Despite Turnbull now giving the Coalition a fighting, and likely, chance of winning the next election, Abbott’s supporters are still coming out hard. With the Liberal party effectively split in two for loyalty, diehard Lib fans continue to fiercely support Abbott’s legacy. As a result, they are reminding Australian’s of what the Coalition stands for, regardless of leader. Consequently, Australian’s cannot forget that the same party is in charge and nothing has really changed.

On Saturday, 3 October 2015, Malcolm Turnbull (or his staff) posted a rather innocuous photo and caption on his Facebook page, to which I replied. Some of the responses to my light-hearted comment serve as a reminder of the sheer ignorance and wilful deceit of the Coalition rhetoric and propaganda.

Turnbull’s initial Facebook post which prompted my comment was not remarkable. It was rather normal and not the slightest bit inflammatory. It hardly gave the impression of aiming to boost Turnbull’s standings in the polls, nor indicated a desperate attempt to show Turnbull leading the nation as a humble servant.

The post showed a photo of Turnbull with actor Chris Hemsworth, with the following words:

“Good to meet Chris Hemsworth today – talked about the contribution of the creative sector to our economy. But a bit weird he insisted on me calling him Thor“.

My comment, intended as a light-hearted comparison to what we had come to expect was:

“I can just imagine Tony Abbott’s caption to this photo, ‘Good to meet Chris Hemsworth today – talked about the contribution of the creative sector to our economy. He told me I could be a god just like him because of my superpowers stopping the boats’.”

This sparked an immediate tirade of misinformation, absurd assertions and a litany of personal abuse. Clearly critical thought and fact checking are not considered necessary for the diehard Liberal supporters.

The obvious response, and one of the most perpetuated lies of the Federal Government was that Abbott did indeed stop the boats.

“He did stop the boats as promised.

Granted, he stopped any boats landing on Australian shores, but he did not stop the boats. The Commonwealth has openly admitted that 20 boats were prevented from landing on Australian territory up until August 2015, and the Government has never refuted that it paid people smugglers to turn a boat around. If the boats had actually stopped there would be no need to turn them back.

Abbott cannot even claim credit for the massive reduction in boats leaving Indonesia: the credit belongs to Kevin Rudd II and his hard-line asylum seeker stance just before the 2013 election, where he declared no person arriving by boat would ever be resettled in Australia.

One response on the post demonstrated complete ignorance of Coalition policy and spending, saying:

“So you would rather pay for illegals than pay for what Australians need like bigger pensions better child care education etc etc. fix our own because no one else will, would or could!”

Ignoring the fact that it is not illegal to seek asylum, the Federal Government currently spends $1 billion a year on offshore detention. It also intends to cut pensions. Extra childcare funding is reliant on cutting family payments, leaving thousands of families worse off. New Treasurer, Scott Morrison has also announced that the Coalition is pushing for privatisation of health and education. It seems pretty obvious that the Government has a very clear intention to spend billions on arbitrary detention, and as little as possible on the Australian family.

Another poster astutely remarked:

“Eva is so far from the left she could probably fall over, let me guess your against offshore detention you probably believe in global warming. … I bet Eva is also against Christianity and private education.”

This disturbingly amusing ‘insult’ is a perfect example of the ignorance of the typical Coalition supporter. Apart from the billions of tax dollars currently used to arbitrarily detain asylum seekers and refugees, including young babies, it is laughable that someone would attempt to use the situation to cast aspersions on my character given the offshore detention regime supports rape, sexual assault, and physical abuse. A growing list of people are calling for the detention centres to be closed, on top of a Senate Committee inquiry recommending that children and families be immediately removed from Nauru.

Global warming, or climate change, is a pet hate of the Abbott supporter. With 97% of scientists agreeing that climate change is a serious issue, Australia has been criticised by a UN climate expert for its abysmally low greenhouse gas emissions targets. Despite Turnbull’s previous stance and criticism on the Coalition’s environmental policy, he has indicated an intention to retain Abbott’s laughable Direct Action. No doubt the Coalition supporters found Dutton’s recent shamefully embarrassing climate change ‘joke’ hilarious too.

It’s possible the curious comment on my alleged anti-Christian sentiment comes from the commenter’s observation of a satirical anti-radicalisation meme on my Facebook page: ‘Case Study: Jesus of Nazareth’. The meme describes Jesus as a ‘radical’ who left his loving family, was tempted by Satan, attempted to recruit followers, went against the Romans and the priests, and was ultimately hanged with thieves. Clearly the irony of this meme would be lost on most Coalition supporters, who would consider Karen, the alternative music loving, political activist, and environmentalist a genuine threat to their conservative, capitalist ideals.

Despite the overwhelming majority support of the Coalition and conservative politics within the mainstream media, Australians now source most of their news online, with a recent survey finding that 59% of people access news on their smartphones and 48% relying on Facebook. While there is no real evidence that the mainstream media in general has anything more than a ‘muted’ influence over an actual election outcome, the use of social media to access the news provides a new opportunity for all political stances and ideologies to share facts, lies, and opinions, whether informed or not.

A recent Nielson report found that approximately 13 million Australians (over 50% of the population) are active users of Facebook every month. The information also shows that on average, 60% of those that discover new information on Facebook will go on to learn more. Equal numbers of people reportedly use YouTube, with around a quarter of the population using WordPress.com and approximately 11% using Twitter.

With the rise of the use of social media, and the use of the same by the ill-informed, it is crucial that Australians who care about human rights, who believe in equality, and who deplore the dehumanisation of anyone other than white, middle-class, privileged Coalition party members and their friends, continue to speak out and demand accountability.

Turnbull’s new leadership will bring with it some changes, but not enough if Australia is to reach the standard expected of a Western democracy in the 21st Century. Abbott returned Australia to the 1950’s with his personal ideology, and medieval times in more than one policy. However, as Abbott so kindly pointed out, “Border protection policy the same, national security policy the same, economic policy the same, even same-sex marriage policy the same, and climate change policy the same. In fact, the rhetoric is the same…” under a Turnbull leadership.

Turnbull may be popular, but the Coalition remains the same.

 

The question should be “Will you marry me?” not “Can you marry me?”

On the 16 September 2015 the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee reported on an inquiry into “The matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia”. The committee took submissions from the public and received 77 submissions that complied with the terms of reference. The Committee issued one recommendation:

“…that a bill to amend the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961 to allow for the marriage between two people regardless of their sex is introduced into the Parliament as a matter of urgency, with all parliamentarians being allowed a conscience vote.”

This recommendation was released two days after the deposal of former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Given Abbott’s demonstrated contempt for Senate committee recommendations in the past, it was sure to be ignored had he remained leader. However there was hope that the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, being previously a vocal supporter of a conscience vote for marriage equality, would act on the recommendation and put the matter to an end.

It seems like Turnbull is determined to go down the same path as Abbott. The Coalition is still committed to a plebiscite, wasting millions of dollars in the process, and running the real risk of igniting anti-gay sentiment in the community.

It is disappointing but not surprising the lengths the Coalition Government is going to, to ensure that same-sex couples and families continue to be discriminated against. It seems absurd that a Senate inquiry was required to begin with, to decide on something as basic as ensuring equal rights for all Australians.

It is also disappointing that despite the findings of an unnecessary Senate References Committee, a plebiscite is still being pursued for marriage equality. It seems absurd that an expensive opinion poll, involving the entire voting population of Australia is required to determine whether a consenting, adult couple may have the same rights as every other couple in their own personal business – that of whether or not they may marry, simply because of the gender of their partner.

It also seems absurd that Constitutional changes are still being considered. The High Court has already determined that ‘marriage’ may include same sex marriage. The only possible desired result is to institutionally embed discrimination into the governing document of our nation.

People do not choose to be gay, no more than they choose to be left handed. Some of the loud opponents of equality state that the nation should not change the definition of marriage based on a minority. This is a particularly cruel way to view the debate and demonstrates a clear intention to maintain discrimination and inequality based on a narrow, unfair definition of what is ‘normal’.

Left handed people are a minority. At one point in time, left handed people were forced in school to write with their right hand.

Imagine for the moment if the parliament passed laws to ban left handed people from driving cars, working in certain industries or from adopting children? Imagine if the laws extended to red heads?

It would be ridiculously absurd. There would be righteous outrage. It is equally absurd that adult Australian couples cannot marry simply because they are attracted to the same sex.

Society – or at least most of society – has moved on from the wife being the possession of the husband. The basis of marriage is no longer about property rights or biological reproduction – if it ever was. Society has also moved on from writing with ink and feather quill, thus removing the only possible legitimate reason for discouraging the left handed among the population. Yet while left handed people are now largely free from prejudice (left handed scissors are a rarity), free from attempts to change their biology and free from personal slurs, gay people suffer some of the highest rates of discrimination, have been subjected to bizarre ‘conversion therapy’ in an attempt to ‘un-gay’ them, and are over-represented in suicide.

Legalising same sex marriage will not have the slightest impact on the value of heterosexual relationships, in the same way as a child will not be the slightest bit affected by sitting next to a left handed student in school. The arguments against same sex marriage are ideologically driven – there is simply no valid reason why same sex couples should not have the right to marry.

There should be no need for public endorsement of ‘marriage equality’ for it to be legalised; just as no public opinion poll was considered necessary for schools to stop caning students who wrote with their left hand – and no plebiscite considered necessary for former Prime Minister, John Howard to change the definition of ‘marriage’ in 2004 to expressly exclude same-sex couples. The government should stop pandering to the bigots and to ideologically driven prejudice.

Gay people are considered equal in every other area of society. The government considers gay people equal enough to pay taxes. Gay people have to pay exactly the same for parking and public transport as every other person. Gay people have to pay the same for water, electricity and other household amenities. Council’s consider gay people equal enough to pay rates on property at the same value as straight people.

Are gay people only equal when the governing bodies can make money from them?

Gay people are obliged to obey every Australian law yet are not afforded equality at law. There are no gay exemptions from paying income tax, no gay exemptions for obeying traffic regulations, no gay exemptions from exercising a duty of care to other people, and no gay exemptions from compulsory voting.

On the 23 September 2015 the Western Australian Government joined a long list of critics of the Federal Government, and questioned the need for a plebiscite, recommending instead that a conscience vote in parliament be supported. This is the simplest, easiest and most cost effective path to marriage equality and acceptance for all couples and families, no matter their sexual orientation.

It is unacceptable in 2015 that all adult Australians, no matter their sexual orientation, are not afforded the same rights at law, yet they are expected to meet all legal obligations. The question for every adult Australian in a loving committed relationship should be “Will you marry me?” not “Can you marry me?”

 

Dual citizen? Beware the Border Force street patrol

In many cases, buying into a conspiracy theory may result in an instant loss of credibility. However as reality becomes increasingly more absurd and Government policy more outrageous, what may once have seemed ludicrous now verges on genuine possibility. Friday the 28 August 2015 will go down in history as the day the citizens of Melbourne stood up against a police state and fascism. It will also be remembered as one of the most appallingly planned and ridiculously thought-out operations by a Government agency ever. And it demonstrates just why the instant revocation of citizenship in the proposed Allegiance to Australia Act is so incredibly dangerous.

Just weeks ago, the notion of Abbott’s paramilitary Border Force, prowling the streets of Australian cities and towns, searching for ‘visa fraudsters’ would have been laughed off as lunacy. The very thought of immigration and customs officials leaving their posts on the actual border of the nation and mingling among Saturday shoppers in the CBD of Melbourne would have been written off as an April Fool’s Day joke.

But no. Friday’s events showed that national security is no laughing matter for Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the now-missing-in-action Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton. The suggestion of potential identity checks of thousands of Australians meandering through the CBD was not so much of a suggestion, as part of an actual, real, planned inter-agency ‘safety’ operation with Victoria Police.

Astoundingly, the Australian Border Force issued a statement inferring that officers would be checking the visa status of people who crossed their paths on an ordinary weekend in Melbourne. There was no high profile event to warrant the operation, no actual security risk or suspected imminent incident of a terrorist nature. No. It was part of a crackdown on antisocial behaviour and outstanding warrants and to promote a ‘secure and cohesive’ community.

While Friday’s events were analysed, examined and ridiculed endlessly from every angle in the hours following the debacle, the whole concept of on-the-street visa checks ties in quite cleanly with another of Abbott’s new national security policies.

Earlier this year Abbott introduced the Allegiance to Australia Bill, which sets up a number of circumstances under which dual citizens may lose their Australian citizenship. While in some cases an actual conviction for an offence is required, there are many other cases where a person automatically renounces their citizenship by action.

Section 33AA of the Bill provides that where a person ‘acts inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia’ the renunciation has immediate effect from the moment the person does that action. Naturally, once the Minister becomes aware of the act and renunciation of citizenship, the person may be detained and deported.

The actions considered to be inconsistent with Australian allegiance include such things as engaging in terrorist activities; providing or receiving training connected with preparation for, engagement in, or assistance in a terrorist act; and financing terrorism or a terrorist. According to the University of Sydney’s Dr Rayner Thwaites and Dr Anne Twomey, a highly respected legal expert, the broadly worded provisions potentially apply to many innocent dual citizens. It means a law-abiding science or chemistry teacher, gym instructor or a member of a shooting club could inadvertently revoke their Australian citizenship if the skills they imparted or shared later helped a person commit a terrorist act.

As if this isn’t concerning enough, organisations such as Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd have been labelled as terrorist organisations, as have other environmental groups. People protesting against mining are considered such a threat, ASIO has reportedly spied on them.

Of course, the Allegiance to Australia Bill has not yet become law, but section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 already allows the Minister to cancel the visa of any Australian resident who is not a citizen on a range of ‘character’ grounds. The ‘test’ does not require any actual criminal convictions or any proof of criminality; not that the Minister has to provide the evidence used for a decision anyway if he can cite ‘national security’. The Minister basically decides a person is not of the calibre expected of an Australian resident and abolishes their right to live in the country – no matter how many decades they may have called Australia home.

With 28% of Australians born overseas, and an estimated third of Australians thought to be dual citizens, there are potentially millions of Australians at risk of detainment and deportation. Approximately 600 visas have already reportedly been cancelled by the Minister on ‘character grounds’ in the past year alone.

Which raises the question – just which ‘visa fraudsters’ was Mr Don Smith and his Border Force officers intending to intercept?

Many commentators have pointed out the absurdity of notifying visa over-stayers of an operation cracking down on illegal immigrants. Clearly those without lawful authority to be in Australia would have stayed clear of the Melbourne CBD.

But now, consider the operation was jointly between Victoria Police and other agencies, including the Border Force. According to Victorian Police Minister, Wade Noonan MP, it was a standard police operation focusing on antisocial behaviour and to ensure the safety of the community. He accuses Border Force of ‘unfortunate and inappropriate characterisation’ of the joint venture.

This may be so, but it does raise serious questions about how such an operation, if it had continued, would have been carried out. How many people, lawfully in Australia, holding permanent resident visas, would have been potentially caught up in the fishing exercise? How many would find themselves suddenly detained on the murky grounds of failing to meet the ‘good character’ requirements of the Migration Act? There need be no criminal offence committed, conviction or even evidence provided. What constitutes ‘antisocial behaviour’, and would suspicion of such warrant the immediate detainment and deportation of a New Zealand national, for example?

And if Abbott has his way and the Allegiance to Australia Bill becomes law, how exactly does Dutton intend to ‘discover’ those automatically renouncing their citizenship? Will the sight of Border Force agents patrolling shopping centres and malls be a regular and common occurrence? Will the Border Force be sent out to catch dual citizen commuters automatically revoking their citizenship by dropping a gold coin donation in a Wilderness Society tin? Will Border Force agents be pouncing on dual citizens buying chemistry sets from the National Geographic shop?

The ramifications of Friday’s aborted operation are huge. Despite Victoria Police seeing sense and cancelling the ridiculous event, the fact it was planned in the first place is cause for alarm.

The concerns about Border Force and Operation Fortitude has gone beyond racial profiling. Are we in the midst of a national cleansing program?

 

“We want you to be scared and compliant”.

It is safe to say that the Federal Government has taken Australia one step closer to complete authoritarian rule and dictatorship. In a statement released today, Friday, 28 August 2015, the Australian Border Force regional commander for Victoria and Tasmania, Don Smith, proudly revealed that officers from the para-military organisation will be checking the visas of people ambling around Melbourne’s CBD on Friday and Saturday.

The venture, named Operation Fortitude, is reportedly a joint exercise between a number of security agencies including Victoria Police. The stated aim is to fight crime and keep Melburnians safe. The operation will be targeting anti-social behaviour to outstanding warrants, and naturally, the Border Force agents will be cracking down hard on anyone suspected of visa fraud.

Mr Smith is clearly keen to show a presence in Melbourne. His officers will be located at strategic positions around the CBD and will apparently be ‘speaking with any individual we cross paths with.’

This is an astounding move. A horrifying and grossly invasive move. It marks a distinct end to whatever personal freedoms and liberties law-abiding Australians have left.

This is an operation in Melbourne’s CBD. It is not an operation on the ‘borders’ of Australia. It is not an operation at the entry and exit points of the nation, or indeed any state. It is not at an airport. Or at a sea port. It is not at suspected entry points for people seeking asylum.

It is the central business district of Victoria’s capital city.

The newly created Australian Border Force comes complete with a no-nonsense military style emblem. It has sharp, cutting slogans splashed across the homepage of its website: ‘Border Watch – Help Protect Australia’s Border’, ‘Report Suspicious Behaviour’, ‘70 Years of Post-War Migration’, ‘Australian Citizenship – Your Right, Your Responsibility’, ‘Join us on the Frontline’.

Except that frontline has moved: From a line at the front, to meandering among the Australian population going about their usual weekend business.

The intentions of the operation are clear – to ensure all Australian’s know that Tony Abbott and his band of merry henchmen are doing everything possible to keep its citizens safe and fear-free.

But only its citizens.

And only those who are white, respectable, and probably just the ones who vote conservative.

In fact, just the ones who look exactly likeTony Abbott and pasty-faced Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Or at least what they want Australians to look like.

And it is all about looks. Mr Smith has made that clear. The officers from Border Force will be speaking with anyone who crosses their paths. And by ‘crossing paths’ he certainly means anyone his over-zealous, enthusiastic and patriotic officers launch themselves in front of. And those people will be selected by their looks.

Of course, there is simply no possible way to identify a visa fraudster on looks alone. They do not have ‘Illegal Immigrant’ stamped in red font across their foreheads.

No. Visa over-stayers look remarkably like Australians because Australia is a multi-cultural nation with millions of people born overseas calling it home. In fact according to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, on 30 June 2014 28% of the total population was born outside of Australia. Reports from 2013 show that the majority of ‘visa fraudsters’ arrive by plane, with 1.2% of visa holders being unaccounted for. They are mostly people from China, Malaysia, United States and the United Kingdom.

What does this mean?

This weekend, every Melburnian out shopping with friends, chilling with family or rushing to work may be stopped and required to prove their right to be in Australia. On the street. In Melbourne’s CBD. However it is almost certain that the only people who will cross the paths of the agents will be those un-descended from Abbott’s favoured Motherland, despite UK citizens being the fourth most likely populace to over-stay a visa.

Instead, any person of non-obviously-white and pure-bread British heritage, every person who’s ancestry hails from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Balkans, every person who has dark skin, distinct facial features, a mop of black hair, may be stopped and face demands to account for themselves. Aboriginal Australians will be thrown in with any other nationality of dark skinned appearance and questioned ruthlessly on their heritage.

But rest assured. The operation is about keeping Australians safe. It is about ‘our common mission of promoting a secure and cohesive society.’

So what are Melburnians to do? How are they to react when confronted by Mr Smith and his Border Force agents? Carry their birth certificate? National identity documents? Smear their faces with white foundation and powder and dye their hair to alleviate suspicion? Dress in traditional Australian garb – thongs, Bonds vest and King-G work pants? Or Blunstone boots, red Speedos and a wide-brimmed Akubra hat?

What kind of accent should Melburnians practice to ensure they pass the initial sniff test of Australianness? Should they practice their “g’day mate”, “struth” and “she’ll be right, mate” lingo?

This farce must end. And soon. Before this appallingly fascist Government completely destroys what is left of Australia.

Canning pre-selection; strategic or the best person for the job?

The pre-selection of ex-SASR soldier, Andrew Hastie as the Liberal Party candidate for the September by-election in Canning, Western Australia is a clever move by the Liberals. Who better to know of the dangers of ISIS and the threat of asylum seekers arriving by boat than a man who has served three tours of Afghanistan, and who has already advised Abbott on Operation Sovereign Borders? The former Captain, who was in charge of troops who reportedly chopped off the hands of dead Taliban fighters in 2013, is no stranger to the gruesome nature of war.

Fresh faced and youthful at 32, Hastie’s pre-selection photos give no indication of the horrors he has certainly witnessed. This is not a man who shirks his national responsibilities. He has demonstrated this with his service for Australia. Hastie has seen first-hand the impacts of terrorism and extremist fighters in the Middle East. He should understand intricately the consequences of war to innocent people, and has no doubt seen the thousands of refugees fleeing in fear of their lives.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is already running the Government like his own personal army. He is notorious for making Captain’s Calls. He has warned Coalition MP’s and Senators of the consequences for voicing alternative views to his hard-right policies, including promising to sack any who cross the floor on marriage equality. Abbott has militarised immigration with the new Border Force, clearly not content with the regular Defence Forces. He has threatened imprisonment to professionals exposing Government-sanctioned torture and abuse.

It seems a natural progression from Abbott running the Coalition-led Government like a para-military organisation – complete with the blokey atmosphere and entrenched under-representation of females, to endorsing a candidate who has stepped straight out of the armed forces the very week his pre-selection is announced.

Who better to be the face of national security and public protection than a former Captain in the Special Air Services Regiment?

This is not a slight against Hastie as a soldier. Soldiers of all rank are paid to do a job. And that job includes defending Australia, its allies and interests on the whim of whichever political party is in power. Soldiers are deployed to war zones, on peace keeping missions and to help with natural disasters. Many experience horrors unimaginable to the ordinary citizen, leaving veterans up to twice as likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in their lifetime compared with other people in the general community.

However it is in the context of the current Liberal party’s neo-conservative nationalist regime, fascist policies and Abbott’s authoritarian leadership that Australians should be worried by the pre-selection of a freshly retired SASR Captain.

It should be of serious concern that a man who has witnessed the atrocities of a war zone is standing up to represent a party who uses war, terrorism and asylum seekers as political playthings.

There is no suggestion that Mr Hastie is not a man of integrity. There was no cloud over his head when he resigned from the Defence Force this week. However the Liberal Party’s pre-selection of a man such as Mr Hastie, at a time when Abbott’s popularity is at yet another low, must be viewed cynically. Is Abbott afraid that multiplying the number of flags for each successful national security announcement is not having a strong enough impact on the nation?

Does Abbott believe that Australians are not taking the threat of terrorism seriously enough, and feels the need to enlist a candidate who has personally witnessed the atrocities of war to help convince the public of the need for fear?

Mr Hastie took no time at all going from his apolitical role as a Captain in the Defence Force, to making it unequivocally clear of his political allegiances and persuasion.

Has Hastie sworn his loyalty to the party which believes in the ‘inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples’, a party founded on the principles of ‘a just and humane society’, and the importance of the role of law and justice being maintained? Or has he sworn to uphold the ideology of the Abbott-run Liberal Party which boasts proudly of its cruel asylum seeker policies?

It is clear from an objective viewpoint that Hastie’s pre-selection ties in perfectly with Abbott’s ‘national security’ agenda; an agenda Abbott has used predictably for months to deflect from poor opinion polls, woeful economic performance, and other accusations, like branch stacking on conscience votes for marriage equality, and his embarrassingly inadequate greenhouse gas emissions target.

Who better to give legitimacy to the Liberal Party’s draconian policies than a man who has actively fought in a war zone? Who else to give credibility to the need for harsher, more controlling and restrictive legislation than a man who has seen the worst of humankind?

There is no question about Hastie’s personal character. But there are certainly questions about the motivations for the Liberal Party to pre-select a man of Hastie’s experience and qualifications.

National security and stopping the boats are seen as vote winners for Abbott. Hastie has publicised involvement and knowledge of both. Perhaps Hastie brings other skills to the table, but in his first major speech he promised that his ‘combat skills’ would help his electorate. He says that after putting his life on the line for Australia he would use those same skills to represent his electorate. His background appears almost exclusively military.

It’s hard to see how the Liberal Party’s Canning campaign will be based on anything other than its ability to prioritise and promote national security, and protect the public from the Death Cult, with Hastie as the perfectly chosen representative.

 

Abbott: The homophobe

Let us call it how it is. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a homophobe.

Homophobe, as defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

“A person who hates or is afraid of homosexuals or treats them badly”.

Let’s just analyse that definition in the context of Abbott’s behaviour, language and actions.

A person.

This may be debateable in the context of Tony Abbott, but on the understanding that a person is an individual human, Abbott will likely scrape through. Of course, he appears to lack a moral compass, empathy, honesty, or compassion, but these are not prerequisites for being classed as a person.

Hates or is afraid of homosexuals.

This one is easy. Abbott has admitted himself that he is threatened by homosexuals. He believes that anything gay should be, you know, kept private, and not spoken about. He prefers a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on same sex love. He believes that homosexuality threatens the ‘right order of things’. Because everyone knows that the ‘right order of things’ relates to exactly which sexual organ goes where, and that is all that matters when it comes to love and relationships.

Or does ‘the right order of things’ really relate to his belief that women should treat their virginity as a gift not to be given pre-marriage? Or that women should remain at home, doing the ironing, while their husbands are doing the man’s thing at work? Of course, Abbott tempers his further ‘right order’ views that a woman should not withhold sex from her husband, by clarifying that men should not demand sex.

Regardless, the whole ‘right order of things’ issue does seem to have a kind of ‘sexual focus’.

Naturally, Abbott has attempted to counter his clearly homophobic attitude with the traditional defence against any sort of socially unacceptable discrimination.

‘I have many friends who are gay’, Abbott says.

Just as the racist-in-denial declares they have many friends who are ‘black’. The admitted bigotry only extends to those who aren’t friends, although Abbott is clearly happy for his friends to be treated as second class citizens when it comes to marriage equality.

Abbott’s language also provides a clue as to the depth of his fear of the homosexual lifestyle. In 2010, he reportedly told Tony Windsor that he would do anything to be Prime Minister, except ‘sell his arse’. He will do anything. Anything at all. Except compromise the sanctity of his rear. Of course this is just a standard saying, one of those commonly heard phrases that no one should take personally – just like calling a person ‘gay’ as an insult. Oh. Right.

Treats them badly.

Abbott has been loud and clear on his personal fear of people of same sex orientation. But up until this point, his personal view has not been forced onto the rest of the nation.

But now it has.

Abbott, while declaring to the Coalition that marriage equality is a ‘deeply personal’ issue, has forced his own ideological beliefs onto the rest of his party by refusing a conscience vote on same sex marriage legislation. As a result he has almost certainly quashed the likelihood of same sex marriage being legalised any time soon.

And how did he do this? By tricky, slippery means, called out by Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, as something akin to ‘branch stacking’. When Pyne is the voice of honesty, transparency and fairness in Government, there is a serious problem.

Same sex couples already have the same legal rights as married couples. Legalising same sex marriage will simply have the effect of affording all couples acceptance in the community and place them on an equal standing with every other family. All mums and dads can be married. All children have the opportunity to grow up in a nationally recognised institution if their parents so wish. All couples can stand before family and friends and say ‘I love you’, with perhaps a ring that is the symbol of a legally binding relationship. Marriage.

But no. Abbott doesn’t want that for gay people.

And he has yet to provide even the remotest acceptable reason why. Why would he force his personal ideology on the rest of the nation? A nation that has majority support for marriage equality?

Abbott has been accused of misogyny, of being sexist, of having a ‘woman problem’. But perhaps Abbott is just obsessed with sexuality. He is a man who clearly struggles to keep sexuality and physical attractiveness out of politics.

He described a female Liberal Party candidate as having ‘sex appeal’.

‘I’m the guy with the not-bad looking daughters’, he told the nation.

‘A bit of full body contact never hurt anyone’, Abbott happily told a bunch of teenage netballers.

‘You’d be the most popular girl in the place, wouldn’t you’? he famously asked a female utility worker.

And who can forget that wink and smirk when confronted by the angry pensioner who worked on an adult sex line to make ends meet.

Abbott has a penchant for prancing around in the most revealing of sportswear. Skin tight lycra, nifty red speedos, and tight running pants. Does he see himself as so insanely attractive that if same sex marriage was legalised he would be inundated with proposals? No one is asking Tony to be gay. Or even to sell his arse.

All Australians want is equality.

If anything is to come from this, at least we know this is a rare occasion when Tony is actually being honest. Even if it does ensure Australia’s same sex couples are continued to be treated as second class citizens.

 

Abbott is threatening to jail the wrong people.

Tony Abbott has made many terrible decisions during his tenure as Prime Minister. Broken promises, backflips, outright lies, and a fierce defence of travel rorters shows a typical pattern of behaviour. However the decision to threaten doctors with jail for speaking out about asylum seeker matters is perhaps the worst of all. The public anger over the Government’s enactment of the Border Force Act 2015 continues unabated and will certainly play a part in Abbott’s ultimate demise.

The campaign against the Act started with an open letter signed by more than 40 doctors on 1 July 2015, the day the Act came into force. The national unease, led by people intimately entrusted with the health, education and care of vulnerable people, has not been quelled by Abbott and Dutton’s attempts to clarify the scope of the Act.

Section 42 provides for up to 2 years jail for ‘entrusted people’ who record or disclose ‘protected information’. Both major parties are keen to reassure that the whistleblower legislation protects those wishing to make a public disclosure. This was conditionally confirmed by an ABC Fact Check. However the complex interrelation and application of the Border Force Act and whistleblower laws indicates that professionals are far from protected. It demonstrates why there should be serious concerns about section 42.

When all is taken into consideration, there is absolutely no certainty that professionals who speak out about the health and welfare of asylum seekers will be protected under any  Australian law.

But there is certainty that if professionals speak out, they risk 2 years imprisonment for unlawful disclosure. No amount of clarification of the legislation or explanation of the provisions removes this fact.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 protects conduct that contravenes a commonwealth, state or territory law, is corrupt, unreasonably endangers health and safety or involves the abuse of a person’s position. Internal disclosure must be made first. Public disclosure may only be made if the ‘whistleblower believes on reasonable grounds that the internal response to their disclosure has been inadequate’.

There is a considerable burden on the whistleblower to prove that the conduct comes within the protections of the legislation, and to demonstrate the reasonableness of their belief in the inadequacy of the Government’s response. Additionally, the person must also comply with requirements that on balance the external disclosure is not ‘contrary to the public interest’. They must only disclose information that is ‘reasonably necessary to identify one or more instances of disclosable conduct’.

The effect is that even if disclosure is ultimately defensible, professionals may be seriously deterred from publicly disclosing information due to the threat of jail.

Disclosure comes at a high risk to doctors, nurses, counsellors and other professionals who wish to speak out about conditions in asylum seeker detention centres. The combined legislative provisions are so complex that it would be difficult for a person to know if they were breaching section 42 by speaking with the media.

The practical considerations of when to make a public disclosure are immense. At what point does an untreated, yet treatable medical condition, become an unreasonable danger to health or safety? How long should those who make internal reports to the Government wait before deciding that the response is ‘inadequate’? At what point should the information be made public?

Is two weeks after making an internal report a reasonable amount of time to wait?

Two weeks was too late for a man identified as Mohammad Nasim Najafi, who died from a suspected heart attack after allegedly being refused access to a doctor.

Three weeks?

Three weeks was too late for Hamid Kehazaei who died from a treatable foot infection.

How many months should a health worker wait before publicly disclosing the length of time it takes for medical tests or medicine to arrive?

A child on Nauru suffering from a deadly bacterial infection was reportedly forced to wait three months before medical tests were ordered – and a further three weeks for medication to arrive. At what point in time would a health worker defensibly alert the public to this failure?

How many asylum seekers need to be murdered before the Government acts on the reports of inhumane conditions on Manus Island?

Or will the Government continue to defend the guards and operators of the detention centres, even if they allegedly commit drug and alcohol-fuelled rape?

The Government has known about the awful conditions of the detention centres for at least several years. It is fully aware of concerns about the welfare and safety of asylum seekers. And it has done almost nothing about it.

The Government has been provided independent reports of rape, sexual assault and child abuse in off-shore detention, yet it still thinks Nauru is a suitable place to detain young children – including baby Asha, transferred at just five months old.

Rather than act on the Human Rights Commission ‘Forgotten Children’ report, Abbott and his Ministers launched a personal attack on Professor Gillian Triggs.

Given the Government’s track record on stalling the implementation of recommendations from independent reports, there should be no legislative impediment to workers speaking out. The Government has demonstrated, irrefutably, that the health and welfare of asylum seekers is so low on its list of priorities as to be non-existent.

Abbott has not satisfactorily explained the need for such draconian provisions. Australia is not at war. The arguments for operational secrecy are absurd given there are no such restrictions on information in Indonesia, where many of the people smuggling boats depart. If anything, the Government might encourage the public disclosure of the abhorrent and unforgiveable treatment of vulnerable people if it truly believed that harsh treatment actually deterred.

There is clearly one purpose for section 42 of the Border Force Act.

It is an attempt to prevent the public having access to information about the Government’s repugnant treatment of people in its care.

And why?

Abbott knows there is significant public interest in Australia’s handling of asylum seekers. He knows great power lies with information becoming publicly available via the media. And there are those within Government who would be well aware of how Abbott’s actions are impacting on Australia’s international reputation.

Does Abbott fear that the popularity of his boat turn back policy will be overshadowed by the electorates’ disgust at the Government’s full endorsement and support of cruel and inhumane treatment and abuse of those people arbitrarily detained simply for seeking asylum and safety in Australia?

Fortunately the doctors, nurses and other professionals will not be silenced. And prominent human rights lawyers, including Julian Burnside, have promised to defend any health workers charged.

The Abbott Government clearly cannot be trusted to adequately deal with the objectionable conditions in detention centres. It cannot be trusted to adequately address the health and safety needs of the people in its care. It has deliberately and wilfully refused to act on reports of sexual assault and abuse. The lack of action is unconscionable and cruel. The United Nations has stated that Australia’s asylum seeker policies amount to torture.

And yet it is doctors, nurses, counsellors and other professionals who are being threatened with jail.

Cashless Welfare Card – an insult to all Australians

Australians are fortunate in many ways. Despite the best efforts of the Abbott Government to further marginalise vulnerable people, the majority of the population lives in relative safety, has a home to live in, access to education and employment and self-efficacy. However that minority, who are not so fortunate for whatever reason, now face a further disgraceful attack on their autonomy, independence, and ability for self-determination.

From February 2016, welfare recipients in the town of Ceduna in South Australia will start a trial of the Cashless Welfare Card.

It sounds innocuous enough. Most fortunate Australians have no real need for cash these days. Most people use debit or credit cards to pay for living expenses and basic necessities. And most bills can be paid by direct debit or electronic transfer. Apart from the odd parking meter coin or spare change for the kids’ pocket money, it is possible to get by almost exclusively without cash.

It is not the concept of a cashless card that is in issue. Rather, it is the motivation behind the cashless card, and the assumptions of irresponsibility of the holders, that makes it so sinister.

The aim of the cashless card is to prevent welfare recipients gambling or buying alcohol or drugs. The intention is that eventually, the card will apply to every adult, irrespective of their socio-economic or demographic status, who happens to be on welfare. It has been promoted as a way to stop alcohol fuelled violence and abuse of women and children – an absurd insinuation that this violence is solely the domain of welfare recipients.

Ceduna appears to be the perfect community to trial the card. There is no doubt whatsoever that Ceduna has a problem with alcohol use and abuse. An ABC interview from August 2013 highlights significant issues with Indigenous people ‘drinking themselves to death’. Since 1988 the centre of Ceduna has been a ‘dry zone’, but unsurprisingly, this has not stopped the problem.

Throwing his full support and enthusiasm behind the first official trial of the card, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge reported that hospitalisation from assault in Ceduna is now 68 times the national average, and last year there were 4,500 admissions to the sobering up centre – in a community of 4000 people. So the Government has negotiated with local Ceduna community representatives, who have agreed that restricting access to cash is a great solution to ‘breaking the cycle’ of alcoholism. Those on welfare will have 80% of their payments quarantined, leaving access to between $60 – $150 a week in cash.

This may sound reasonable to some people. $60 – $150 would surely cover parking, pocket money and spare change for the vending machine. And there clearly is a problem in Ceduna. A problem largely restricted to those on welfare. A problem involving alcohol. Perhaps reducing cash would help.

Or perhaps not.

In 2013, the Mayor, Allan Suter is reported to have wanted an income management plan to restrict access to alcohol. And Mayor Suter, along with Tudge and the ultra-privileged, mining identity Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, who recommended the cashless card, have opted for the most easily available but fundamentally flawed assumption that alcohol is the cause of all the problems.

Stop the alcohol, stop the abuse.

Stop the alcohol, stop the deaths.

Stop the alcohol, stop the crippling poverty, disadvantage and discrimination suffered by so many in the Indigenous community.

And suddenly it becomes clear why the cashless welfare card is nothing but a hideous and unworkable solution to addressing the devastating consequences of alcohol abuse and violence. It fails to consider the root of the issues.

In 2013, Ceduna Aboriginal Community Leader, John Isgar said:

“People who don’t get educations, people who can’t transition into work, people who can’t fund and maintain their own economies and look after their own families are gonna find something else to do. I mean, if you got up in the morning and had nothing to do, why wouldn’t you go and have a grog?”

The cashless welfare card is nothing but a restrictive, paternalistic sledge-hammer response to dealing with problems that do not stem from alcohol or drug abuse at all. It is a Band-Aid solution to treat a symptom of a failed society. The cashless card does nothing to address the lack of hope, lack of opportunity, and lack of pride in self and community. It does nothing to empower the most vulnerable and marginalised people to make their own good decisions and choices.

The majority of people on welfare are not chronic drug abusers, alcoholics or gambling addicts. But many people on welfare are vulnerable, disadvantaged, and facing discrimination. They are facing outright hostility from the Abbott Government and his ministers, with labels of ‘leaners’ and ‘bludgers’.

The cashless welfare card is a blatant attempt to further shame and demonise welfare recipients. It perpetuates the idea that the poor are sucking the nation dry with their dependency on the rich. The Government rhetoric favours the ‘lifters versus leaners’, ‘rich versus poor’, ‘bludgers versus workers’ mentality which works against a fair, inclusive and supportive society.

For many recipients, welfare is not a choice, but a necessity. Unemployment is currently at 6% – people cannot just ‘go out and get a job’. Welfare recipients include single parents, students, those with a disability, and older and long-term unemployed who find it increasingly harder to get back into the workforce. Many people on welfare payments have jobs but are still hovering around the poverty line.

The cashless welfare card is a reactive and controlling response to the serious, but relatively small occurrence of some welfare recipients’ dependency on alcohol or drugs – a dependency that stems from deep rooted and entrenched issues within the community and has nothing to do with the availability of cash. The card does nothing to address the issue of employed people who engage in alcohol and drug fuelled violence and crime. Or the significant health issues and costs to society of alcohol and drug abuse in general.

The very concept of the cashless welfare card punishes all Australians who rely, even temporarily, on welfare by labelling them irresponsible and untrustworthy. It reinforces feelings of worthlessness and helplessness already experienced by those struggling to get by below the poverty line. It disgustingly infers that restricting cash to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people will stop the scourge and very real threat of domestic violence.

So what will happen in Ceduna? Any decrease in crime and abuse, reduction in visible signs of poverty and reduced rates of alcoholism will be lauded as a massive success for the trial. Any increase in crime, abuse, alcoholism and poverty will be seen as an indication that cash should be further restricted.

And all the while, the Government cuts funding to community support centres and drug and alcohol programs that offer a real chance to improve the lives of Australians.

 

“What about my rights?”

It would be easy to assume that the Government of a country founded on democratic principles and the rule of law would have a semblance of respect for basic rights. That assumption would be incorrect. Rights are simple things. But often conflicting. One person’s right to hold a booze-fuelled orgy in their garden might well offend the neighbour’s right to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their own property. As a result, laws have been introduced over the centuries to achieve a balance between personal freedoms and a generally cohesive and functioning society.

What are rights?

A basic definition is this: “a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something.”

Rights are almost always balanced by responsibilities and obligations. People have a right to use the road, but they also have the responsibility to not injure themselves and an obligation to not endanger other road users. People have a right not to be punched in the face, but have a corresponding obligation to not punch other people. Of course, as people fail to recognise responsibilities and obligations, while still demanding their own rights be respected, law-makers increasingly introduce laws to attempt to protect the public from its own stupidity and mitigate basic human nature.

Over the past few decades in all areas of governance, the balance between freedoms and obligations has skewed towards increased government control of the population for the alleged ‘greater public good’, and at the expense of personal liberties.

This has led to a society full of people who expect, nay demand, the government protect them. In return for this protection, and in so protecting, the government has removed more and more fundamental freedoms through harsher, stricter and fear-inspired laws. All promoted to keep the public safe. And this in turn has made the public more dependent on the Government to protect them, thus accepting whatever law is proposed no matter the consequences to basic rights.

There have been anti-bikie laws, anti-association laws, anti-terror laws, anti-protest laws, anti-hoon laws, anti-party laws, mandatory data retention laws, border protection laws, ‘one-punch’ laws. Laws (and further laws proposed) to banish people from Australia where they don’t comply with the ideological or political views of the rulers, or conform to standard norms. These laws almost certainly come with arbitrary detention and mandatory minimum sentences. They undermine the basic protections for the innocent; the right to a fair trial, presumption of innocence until proven guilty and equality before the law.

Successive state and federal governments have enacted more and more repressive legislation under the guise of saving people from over-amplified threats; be it to themselves, their family or the entire nation. And in doing so, it has completely undermined the very freedom it is attempting to protect.

In each case, as more oppressive and fascist legislation is introduced, the government states that the laws are necessary to fight crime, deter the baddies or the catch-all of ‘in the interests of national security’ or ‘public safety’. It assure the public that the laws provide a balance between personal liberties and public protection, and reminds the public that sometimes, just sometimes, people need to give a little bit of their personal freedom away to secure their safety.

And people believe it.

Australians willingly hand over their hard earned money in atonement for ‘speeding’ because they have been convinced that exceeding an arbitrarily declared limit on a remote country road will cause instant death. They beg for speed limits to be dropped because they have lost the capacity to manage risks. They lack the understanding that they have always had a duty not to crash, and kill or injure their passengers or other road users in exchange for their right to use the road.

The federal government has so far convinced the vast majority of Australians that it is for their collective benefit that the government can now access metadata from electronic communications and therefore track any persons move on a whim, spy on their connections and analyse their online networks. Criminal or not. The NSW police now want warrantless access to bank accounts.

Security agencies have stronger and more intrusive powers to deal with the so-called terror threat. The government can effectively disappear a person. And no one can talk about it. Transparency has been replaced with secrecy, with laws in place to jail certain ‘whistle-blowers’. All in the name of ‘national security’.

Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland all have anti-association and ‘criminal organisation’ laws with varying degrees of harshness. In Queensland, so-called ‘participants’ in arbitrarily declared ‘criminal organisations’ are banned from associating together in three or more in public and can be searched without warrant merely on suspicion of participation. Any person committing a declared offence in a group of three or more may face a minimum of 15 years in jail unless they ‘help’ the police with enquiries. South Australia is opting for similarly repressive and almost identical laws.

In New South Wales, age-old consorting laws have been revived and can be applied without any proof whatsoever that the people concerned are engaging in or intending to commit any criminal activity. Additionally, the right to silence for people accused of indictable offences has been all but abolished, meaning that those who say nothing at interview run the risk of having that silence used as evidence against them at trial. Clearly a violation of the basic human right against self-incrimination.

The federal Government appears to be succeeding in convincing the general public that it should be allowed to banish citizens who are classed as socially undesirable on the say-so of the reigning Minister. The same Minister who is already actively expelling non-citizens for failing an ever changing, government-defined ‘character test’.

The Declaration of Human Rights, which Australia is a party to, states that “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.”

There are many examples in both state and federal legislation of basic rights and freedoms going far beyond what is necessary to secure the due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others. Many laws enacted over the past decade signify a complete departure from morality and are detrimental to the general welfare of the community and toxic to democracy.

And the government seems to be proud of this.

In almost every case, the laws do not just apply to alleged socially undesirable people, or criminals or other people in the community who attract no sympathy. Legislation rarely refers specifically to the targeted demographic or cultural or social group or class of offender. Because it cannot. The one basic principle the government will always uphold is that every person is subject to the same laws. And while the laws may not be applied equally, the potential is there – just as soon as a person, or class of person is out of favour.

All of these restrictive laws are sold to the public on the basis that if they’ve done nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear; if they have nothing to hide, they need not fear gross intrusions into their privacy and greater powers of the government.

But people are people. They are human. And they do and say stupid things. They act without thinking, they don’t pay attention, and they fail to consider those around them. They act with emotion, irrationally and without logic. They taunt and retaliate. They fear what they don’t know. They fear those who are not like them. And sometimes people are just deliberately nasty.

But rather than take personal responsibility, or accept that sometimes bad things just happen, when something horrible occurs; something preventable, avoidable, caused by human error, poor judgement or in some cases, pure maliciousness, the loudest voices, spurned on by the media, demand the government do something about it. And this is almost always in the form of more laws and police power. Even where sufficient laws exist. And the laws almost always have a retributive element, punishing offenders, dissenters or social outcasts.

The basic principles of society are clear. All people have a duty of care to others. Every person has the right to not have their person or property interfered with, and the corresponding obligation to not interfere with another person or their property. Yet somehow, this balance of personal rights and responsibility has been all but lost as individuals, and collectively Australians, call for the government to protect them from themselves.

So what about your rights? Well, what about them. As a society, Australians have pretty much demanded they be taken away.

 

Aliens, Allegiance to Australia and 1984

What do aliens, allegiance to Australia and 1984 have in common? Surprisingly, not George Orwell’s spookily accurate prediction of life under the Abbott Government in 2015; albeit 30 years later than anticipated. The plot of Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-four, is scarily similar to the current political regime; an authoritarian government controlled by the privileged and elite, a climate of perpetual war, mass surveillance, public manipulation through media control, and the persecution of dissenters. While there are no aliens in Orwell’s fictional masterpiece, aliens are certainly relevant to Abbott’s utopian concept of Team Australia in an increasingly dystopian nation. And crucial to the notion of allegiance to Australia.

Abbott is obsessed with national security. He has strengthened anti-terror laws, passed legislation to mandate data retention, enacted draconian measures to deter refugees seeking asylum in Australia, threatened jail for doctors and teachers and nurses speaking out about abuse in detention centres, and undermined the independence of the national broadcaster.

Most recently he has proposed stripping dual nationals (and sole nationals if Abbott has his way), of citizenship. This builds on the existing and fervently applied law used to deport non-citizens who do not pass a so-called ‘character test’. According to existing law from the leading case of Shaw v MIMA [2003], the Government has free reign to deport non-citizens, even if a person has spent decades living in the country.

There is no doubt that the Parliament can enact laws for the purpose of national security and take steps to protect Australia’s borders. The Constitution in section 51 gives the Federal Government powers to enact laws ‘for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth’ in areas such as naval and military defence, naturalisation and aliens, immigration and emigration, the influx of criminals and external affairs.

While Abbot’s dual citizenship plan and concept of Allegiance to Australia is arguably unconstitutional, how does it relate to the deportation of permanent residents, which at the moment appears to be perfectly lawful?

It comes down to the concept of aliens.

In the ordinary sense, an alien is a person of a foreign country. And the Government, according to the Constitution, has the powers to make laws on aliens. The long title of the Migration Act 1958 states that it is: ‘An Act relating to the entry into, and presence in, Australia of aliens, and the departure or deportation from Australia of aliens and certain other persons’.

The power for the Minister to cancel the visa of an Australian resident is found in section 501 of the Migration Act. Visas can be cancelled for a range of reasons, including failure to pass strict ‘character tests’, being a threat to national security, or where a person has a substantial criminal record. In some cases there is no right to natural justice, and no right to see any of the evidence on which the Minister based his decision.

In the past year alone, the Minister has cancelled over 600 visas. Many of the people deported or facing deportation are classed as British subjects, are eligible to vote and have lived in Australia since childhood. This is significant.

But what of aliens?

While Australians have referred to themselves as such for the best part of a century, up until 1973 they swore allegiance to the Queen of the United Kingdom, and they had the status of British subjects until 1987. In fact, in the 1971 census, 12,033286 of 12,755638 Australians reported that they were British. There was no option to report as an Australian Citizen despite the Nationality and Citizenship Act creating the concept of the Australian citizen in 1948. As late as 1967, Australian passports still bore the words, ‘British Passport’. It wasn’t until changes to the Citizenship Act in 1969 that Australians became citizens first and British subjects second.

In 1973, the title of Queen of Australia was created by statute, replacing the Queen of the United Kingdom for the purposes of allegiance.

The question must be asked:

Did Australians, born as British subjects and under allegiance to the Queen of the United Kingdom, individually and formally swear allegiance to the new Queen of Australia in 1973? Did all those Australians, born in Australia before 1973 renounce their allegiance to the Queen of the United Kingdom? Of course not.

In 1973, the residents of Australia, whether or not born on Australian soil, became subjects of the Queen of Australia, by way of being resident in Australia at that time. They still remained British subjects.

And until 1987, an alien was defined as a person who did not have the status of British subject.

This is where it gets confusing.

The Migration Act, while purporting in the long title to be about aliens, now refers to non-citizens rather than aliens.

And just like that, with the change of a couple of words in a statute, British subjects who were not naturalised, but who until that time had been lawfully living, working, voting and participating in public life in Australia, become subject to the Migration Act, were classed as statutory aliens and liable for deportation.

The Australian Constitution does not mention citizens. It refers to people of the Commonwealth, and people and residents of the States. The Members of the House of Representative and Senators are elected by the people of the Commonwealth and the people of the States who are eligible to vote. The Constitution also states in section 41, that where a person has the right to vote, they cannot be prevented from voting. Before 1973, the status of Australian residents was clear. They were British subjects. Citizenship was irrelevant to their capacity to participate in public life. And the status of Australians after 1987 is also clear. Australians must now be citizens to participate in public life and have security of domicile. Before 1987, but after 1948, those born in Australia were both Australian citizens and British subjects. However something has clearly gone wrong for non-naturalised British subjects who became subjects of the Queen of Australia in 1973, and are for all other purposes Australian.

But why is 1984 relevant?

The Government has previously recognised the unique status of non-naturalised British subjects in Australia. Those who were not citizens, but were on the Commonwealth electoral roll on 25 January 1984, retained the right to vote and participate in both state and federal elections. Not only did they have the right to vote, they were legally obliged to.

So the question must be asked:

How is it that a person, previously afforded full rights, protections and responsibilities by their status as a British subject, lose those same rights on the whim of a Government who has changed the statutory definition of who is entitled to remain in Australia?

How can a British subject who migrated to Australia before 1973, when all Australian’s were classed as British subjects and under allegiance to the Queen of the United Kingdom, and who became a subject of the Queen of Australia in 1973 by way of residence, suddenly become classed as an alien?

At what point, did a British subject, not only permanently residing in Australia, but eligible to vote and elect the Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, become considered an alien?

At what point did a Government Minister, elected by the votes of the people of the Commonwealth including those British subjects eligible to vote, gain the power to deport those same people who by fulfilling their legal obligation to vote, helped elect said Minister?

At what point, did the same British subject, eligible to vote in a referendum – the mechanism by which the Constitution may be changed, lose the right to permanently live in Australia and be liable for deportation?

Can the Government even change the constitutional meaning of an alien, to make unlawful a person previously lawful, without a referendum?

It does not make sense that a person should be legally obliged to vote in a referendum, when the desired outcome is to enable the mechanism to deport that same person. It would be akin to signing their own deportation orders.

And in the same way, it does not make sense that the Government can change the status of Australians, so that those Australians, albeit not naturalised, lose the rights to domicile and vote, when that Government was elected by and to represent those same people now at risk of deportation.

In 1993, the Federal Government created an invisible type of visa for every person permanently resident in Australian but not naturalised. It did not matter if this person arrived before 1973, or if they were eligible to vote or stand for public office. Each and every one of these people was issued with an invisible visa. It is this invisible visa, created by statute and applying retrospectively, that the Minister is cancelling in accordance with section 501 of the Migration Act. And this means that of any one of the 162,928 British subjects on the Australian electoral roll in 2008 could be deported.

The ramifications of the proposed Allegiance to Australia Bill emerge. If the Government can change lawful residents into aliens by virtue of legislation – lawful residents who had the same rights and legal status as citizens, can it change the status of Australian citizens and turn them into aliens too? Could a person, born in Australia and having lived in Australia all their life, suddenly be declared an alien and deported, on the whim of the reigning Government? Could legislation be enacted and apply retrospectively, depriving an Australian of the only home they have ever known?

The concept of the Australian Citizen is found in legislation. It did not exist before 1948. And somewhere between 1973, when all Australians were classed as British subjects, and 1987, when the Australia Act came into effect, those British subjects who were not born in Australia lost the protection and certainty of domicile.

A team of Tasmanian lawyers are challenging the notion of what it means to be an alien. Led by Barristers, Mr Greg Melick SC and Mr Ray Broomhall, an application has just been filed in the High Court of Australia to argue that the Migration Act 1958 does not apply to a British subject, resident in Australia before 1973 and enrolled to vote in 1984. The Applicant, Mr Cayzer, is challenging his deportation on the basis that the Minister cannot cancel the visa of a person who until recently, had exactly the same rights and responsibilities of an Australian citizen. Mr Cazyer asserts that the Minister simply cannot redefine what it means to be an alien by legislation then retrospectively apply that definition to people who have always called Australia home.

In the leading case of Shaw, Mr Shaw, a British subject, arrived in Australia after 1973, so did not have allegiance to the Queen of Australia. He was not eligible to vote. Mr Cayzer’s case can be distinguished from this by the fact he actively and lawfully participated in public life in Australia. Mr Cayzer was a British subject who arrived in Australia in 1965. He has voted as a person of the Commonwealth to elect representatives in the federal parliament. And those representatives are now seeking to strip him of his right of domicile and right to vote.

The High Court has never before been asked to differentiate between a non-citizen resident in Australia before 1973 and who has the right to vote, and one who arrived after that time. While Mr Shaw was found to be an alien for the purposes of the Migration Act, Mr Cayzer alleges he became a subject of Australia in 1973.

There is no guarantee that the High Court will accept the application and answer the questions. But if it does, it will be an important case. It will redefine what it means to be Australian.

And it will have serious implications for Abbott’s concept of allegiance to Australia.

 

We are governed by child abuse enablers

It’s hard to believe anything Prime Minister Tony Abbott says. But there is one thing that seems to frighten him more than the threat of ISIS.

The return of the boats.

Abbott says he has no intention of tightening national security despite declaring that the Death Cult is coming after us. Apparently the real, albeit overplayed threat of ISIS warrants no additional measures. However the prospect of desperate men, women and children landing on Australia’s shores is so grim, Abbott has legislated a whole new security regime. And a paramilitary force to ward off people fleeing persecution, war and genocide. By ‘hook or by crook’ Abbott will protect Australia’s sovereign borders from asylum seekers.

Abbott has never hidden his tough asylum seeker policies. It formed part of his election platform. Described as harsh by Liberal frontbencher, Malcolm Turnbull, Abbott has gone to extreme lengths to ensure people smugglers are deterred. The latest abomination to become law simply builds on this.

It is the Border Force Act. And nothing is more sinister than the secrecy provisions contained within. The best friend the child abuser ever had.

It is unlikely the Government intended to protect child abusers.

It is unlikely the Government even gave it a second thought.

But it is there. The mechanism to silence those who report the abuse of asylum seekers in detention.

And silence is the biggest enabler of child abuse.

There is no doubt asylum seeker children are being abused. There have been ample reports, dismissed almost instantly by the Coalition as baseless.

And now, thanks to Abbott’s fears of an invasion by desperate people in leaky boats, it is unlawful for professionals working on Manus Island and Nauru to make public the squalid living conditions, cruel and inhumane treatment, and abuse of men, women and children.

The Border Force Act does not specifically apply to secrecy around asylum seekers. It applies to ‘entrusted persons’ making records of or disclosure of ‘protected information’. There are limited exceptions, which may be difficult to rely on in practicality if abuse is disclosed. The whistle-blower protections do not apply outside Australia.

Each State, Territory and the Commonwealth has legislated mandatory reporting of child abuse for certain people and professions. Foreign aid workers are required to comply with strict child protection policies. Yet mandatory reporting of abuse for children in off-shore detention was voted down by the Government.

The Border Force Act means that professionals who are mandated to report abuse in Australia, may be jailed for reporting the same abuse if it occurs on Nauru or Manus Island.

Not content with enabling child abuse through silence, Abbott, former Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison and current Minister, Peter Dutton’s reactions to specific reports and events conform with typical patterns of behaviour of the abuser.

In the same way child abusers seek to detract from the authenticity of allegations by questioning the reliability and honesty of the claimant, the Government has attempted to deflect criticism of the appalling treatment of children in detention by discrediting those who disclosed it. Abbott and Morrison’s savage attack on Human Rights Commission President, Gillian Triggs ensured the children were not only forgotten, but condemned to indefinite abuse.

Bureaucratic self-protectionism is often present where there is institutionalised abuse. When asylum seekers resorted to harming themselves and engaged in suicide pacts, it was classed as an ‘operational matter’, and the Government refused to comment. Workers who disclosed self-harm were accused of encouraging the behaviour, fabricating allegations, and orchestrating protests. Ten Save the Children workers were sacked, despite no evidence to back up the claims.

When asylum seeker Reza Berati was murdered on Manus Island, Morrison immediately apportioned blame on the murdered man and fellow ‘transferees’. Victim-blaming: a tactic employed by many an abuser. And used lavishly by the Government to ensure those perpetrating abuse are not held accountable.

When challenged on reports of five month old baby Asha living in squalor and struggling to feed, the Department denied it and issued a statement saying everything was fine. Typical of the abuser, those in Government hoped that the authority would be believed instead of the abused, attempting to stop the abuse being exposed.

And in much the same way that religious organisations closed ranks to protect paedophiles – but without the inherent loyalty found in such organisations, the Government has resorted to harsh legislation to attempt to deter disclosure of the cruel and inhumane treatment of people in detention, including the abuse of children.

For now, the Government is enabling the abuse of only asylum seeker children.

But hypothetically, what if children, who lose their Australian citizenship because of the actions of their parents, are detained by Federal authorities outside Australia? Will these Australian children, perhaps born of Australian parents, suddenly lose all protection from abuse simply because of where they are detained? Not beyond the realms of possibility if Abbott has his way. And if the Allegiance to Australia Bill is passed, and in the unlikely event found to be constitutional, certain.

No doubt the children of suspected terrorists will receive even less public sympathy than the children of asylum seekers.

But are we really a nation of people who believe it is acceptable to punish children because of the actions of their parents?

Are we really a nation that supports the imprisonment of professionals for complying with their ethical obligations to report abuse?

The Government is already enabling child abusers. Today the children are asylum seekers. Tomorrow it may be the children of dual citizens. And perhaps after that, in a year or two, the children of sole nationals, who have nowhere to be deported to, held indefinitely in detention on Nauru.

Abbott will not listen to the Human Rights Commission. He is doing little to act on the Moss Review, sanctioned by his own Government. He has expressly stated that he will not be lectured to by the United Nations.

At what point will the minority, speaking out against the actions of the Government, become the majority?

The secrecy provisions in the Border Force Act have one aim – to ensure information about asylum seeker welfare does not reach the public. The success of Abbott’s policies depends on the dehumanisation of asylum seekers and the absence of sympathy from the public.

The Australian public voted to stop the boats. But did that vote mandate torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, and child abuse?

Until Australians demand accountability, transparency and a humane solution to the refugee crisis, we will be governed by child abuse enablers.