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Leo is an author and advocate for environmental protection and social justice. He is also an unashamed nerd. If put in a situation where he had to de-fuse an unexploded bomb, he would cut the blue wire.Follow him on Twitter at your own peril : @lionheartleojai

The Sixth Extinction & The Third Book

It may come as something of a surprise to many to learn that we are currently in the midst of what is called the ‘Sixth Extinction’ – that is, the sixth wave of mass extinctions of plant and animal species since the demise of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

What is particularly concerning about this event is that it is unlike the past five extinction waves which were caused by natural phenomena like asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions. The Sixth Extinction has been caused by the actions of Mankind. 99% of flora and fauna species currently identified as threatened with extinction have been linked to activities like land clearing, habitat destruction, air and water pollution, and warming induced by human activity.

Noted conservation scientist David Wilcove estimates that there are between 14,000 and 35,000 endangered species in the United States alone, which represents 7-18 % of all US flora and fauna.

What is patently clear is that thousands of species of plant and animal will disappear forever from the face of the Earth in the coming decades.

Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the present extinction crisis is the fact that the majority of our closest relatives, the primates, are severely endangered. This is the group that includes monkeys, lemurs and apes (as well as humans) and many are fast disappearing. In addition to the primates, marine mammals including several species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises are among those mammals slipping quickly toward extinction.

It is notable that the latter mammalian group – whales and dolphins – have inhabited the planet for just over 50 million years, and in that time they have successfully populated all of the major oceans of the world as apex species. Mankind, by comparison, boasts a heritage of a mere 2.5 million years, yet despite their relatively short tenure they have caused a level of destruction and imbalance which has culminated in the first planetary mass extinction event brought about by a native species.

For all of our supposed intellect and sophistication, what is it that we are missing with respect to how we interact with our natural environment?  Put another way, what are whales doing right, that we’re doing wrong? Is the simple fact of the matter that there are just too many of us for the planet to sustain? Land clearing for cattle grazing remains the largest contributor to the wholesale destruction of natural habitats. Overfishing and the high attendant level of by-catch wastage are causing the collapse of fish stocks across the world’s major fishing grounds.

Our lax attitudes toward effluent and pollution also play a major role. Steadily increasing demand for water, the damming of rivers throughout the world and the dumping and accumulation of various pollutants have made aquatic ecosystems some of the most threatened on the planet. 21% of the planet’s fish species evaluated were deemed at risk of extinction by the IUCN in 2010, including more than a third of sharks and rays.

It appears there are two factors in operation here – firstly the natural pressure on the planet caused by sheer population numbers, and secondly our collective attitudes toward our planetary ‘footprint’; the impact our activity has on the environment.

For many years I have championed the causes of animal rights and environmental protection, and I can observe in both arenas that there is always a common element of human superiority coming into play. By and large, we still hold to the view that the planet and its non-human co-habitants are limitless resources put there for our use. We naturally resist changes to lifestyle, energy, dietary and consumer patterns when confronted with the notion that those natural resources are threatened or under strain. And often the moves to make change are stymied by the actions of government and big business who have a vested interest in things remaining as they are.

Having authored reports on localized decline of small whale and dolphin species in Japanese waters, and having documented the dolphin captivity industry, my recently published work ‘Home’ is my first foray into the field of literary fiction as a vehicle for delivering a message. And just like the story itself, the writing of it came with a twist.

When I found myself in confinement in an immigration detention centre, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would personally experience all the cruelties of captivity which I had spoken out against so passionately.

I was detained in one of Australia’s cruellest gulags – Christmas Island. The name is deceptive and there was little cause for celebration or festivity in what is the equivalent of a maximum security prison, set into a lush ancient forest on a remote island in the Indian Ocean. There was no possibility of seeing my wife or my family, and I lived daily amongst people broken by misery and despair. Many had lived there for years, in a prison with no definable release date.

I wrote in order to survive mentally and emotionally. To keep my mind strong. I held to my firm belief that we should always reach out to others with compassion and respect. That we must carefully consider our relationship with our fellow co-habitants of planet Earth; both human and non-human. This is a central theme in the book ‘Home.’

‘Home’ is based on real events. Research has always been a primary consideration for my work, and ‘Home’ is no different in that respect.  One of the greatest challenges in writing and researching was the difficult conditions under which I worked. Computer and internet access was limited and I was forced to rely on the good old ‘analogue’ method of pen and paper writing a lot of the time. My wife chided me recently and suggested there was really no need to go to the lengths I did to research captivity!

I was routinely searched for contraband and weapons in the detention centre, and this added to the sense of powerlessness and humiliation one experiences in confinement. Yet I took a secret pleasure in the fact that, as far as I was concerned as a writer; my pen was the greatest weapon anyone could ever carry, and it was with me constantly. I like to think I have done some major damage with it, and perhaps Parker might consider giving me a sponsorship deal, or at the very least a new pen to replace my battle-weary old veteran!

 “Never pull a tiger by the tail. Never lock a writer in a cage”

As you can probably see, despite the paralysing misery of my situation, I never lost my sense of humour or my spirit, and hopefully my writing is imbued with these qualities.

So this book has become something of a statement about captivity, written entirely in captivity. You might be forgiven for thinking that this is just another book with a “greenie anti-cap” message. You may be partially correct in this appraisal, however ‘Home’ goes beyond that now familiar ‘Save the whales’ dialogue and touches on a spirituality and a sense of deeper mystery and intrigue that should appeal to a far broader audience.

The tale is told from the perspective of Adam Svenson, a man we meet as he is entering prison. At the same time, a parallel tale of the capture of two young orcas is told. We learn that Adam, who has been drawn to the oceans, has been somehow involved in their capture.

Steadily the loose weave of connection between man and orca tightens. When Adam is increasingly confronted by visions of a mystic whale, the story takes an unexpected twist and the reader is drawn into an unexpected mystery.

In a surprise ending, the concept of ‘home’ takes on a far deeper spiritual meaning

‘Home’ is something of a modern day parable, suggesting some deeper secrets of life and universal harmony, presented in the vehicle of a compelling story of whale and human captivity.

It is a book I would recommend not just to those with a ‘green conscience’ or the lovers of animals; but also to the dreamers, the wanderers and the wonderers, and those who simply enjoy a mystery and a good read.

So, what are whales doing right, that we’re doing wrong? Read the book and find out…..

“At the end of the day, we are all just walking one another Home”

‘Home’ by Leo Jai is available in both Paperback and E-Book formats.

Left Right Out – The Ideology Obsession

March 22 2018

When I was a nipper, I remember there was always a healthy rivalry between the state school kids and those of us who went to the local convent school. Many were the days we would run the gauntlet as we made our way to school; passing the main gate or the playing grounds of our state-schooled nemeses. It was standard procedure to fire off shots at each other; not with rocks or fists; rather it was in the form of cheeky taunts and ditties we would sing in earshot of the other party.

“Convent dogs jump like frogs, in and out the wa-ter” would come the ragged taunting chorus from beyond the chain-link fence as we filed past. Perhaps spurred on by the Holy Spirit, we Mick kids gave back as good as we got: ‘State school dogs sit on logs, eating maggots out of frogs’

What devastating repartée. Nyahh, nyahh, take that.

Sadly it seems we have a puerile clutch of political commentators who haven’t progressed much beyond the silly name calling stage that most of us left behind in the primary school playground. And some of our politicians and civic leaders aren’t much better.

This week I saw Miranda Devine bemoaning the goss that Matt Damon was considering relocating with his family to Australia rather than remain in a country under Donald Trump. This seemed far too bitter a pill to swallow for Ms Devine, who sarcastically tweeted “All we need is more leftie celebrities.”

Seriously? Lefty celebrities? Most normal people would just refer to Damon as a celebrity. Who would know that he is a left winger; if indeed that is even true? Who would even care? I’m pretty sure if you asked your average punters if they disliked Donald Trump because they were left-wingers, they would stare at you curiously and tell you they dislike him because he’s a dead-set numpty.

As an aside, had Ms Devine bothered to fact check, she would have found the Matt Damon story was in fact false, but that didn’t stop her having a wail at his expense. It seems as if anything or anyone who doesn’t conform with these journos own world views sends them into paroxysms of self-righteous indignation. They either need to get out more or move from under those power lines.

If someone feels so strongly about ‘lefty celebrities’ does this mean they will now boycott certain movies? ‘I refuse to watch the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight is Right” – the guy who plays Robin is a dirty lefty.’

Because there are dirty lefties and crazy lefties now. Believe in climate change and you’re by default a lefty. Speak out on the subject and you’re elevated to the status of dirty lefty. Nyahh, nyahh, take that.

Who even talks like this? When I happen to leave the toilet seat up by mistake, my wife never says “That was a bit right wing of you.” I’m far more likely to draw a cutting response along the lines of “How about you put the seat down for once, you lazy bugger!”

So, what next? Does the whole lefty/righty thing extend to the supermarket aisle? Do breakfast cereal choices brand someone left or right? “Just Right” is a dead giveaway for conservative consumers. Will my reaching for the organic muesli result in a chorus of lefty insults from my fellow grocery shoppers? I only happen to buy it because it tastes good.

Will road rules have to change so we all drive on the right and not the left? Or will we simply choose a side according to political persuasion and fight it out like Mad Max?

Everything we say, or do, or consume is not a statement of political affiliation.

What miserable one-dimensional lives these people must lead, that they can only see life in ideological terms. I truly question the value of a journalist who cannot see a multi-dimensional world existing beyond their political bubble. In a world of colour, these people are reducing everything to either black or white.

And politicians who make similar disparaging remarks need to be reminded that they are public servants, and they are not governing for themselves and their own little cheer squad.

Perhaps it might be on account of my Asperger’s, but every time I see their tedious lefty/righty diatribe spew across my Twitter feed, the “Convent dogs jump like frogs” ditty plays in glorious stereo in my head.

Even as I write this, I’m seeing the news that Peter Dutton is condemning “crazy lefties” for their criticism of his support for white South African farmers. So apparently the journos at the ABC and the Guardian are now “dead to him.” The last time I heard such blinding eloquence was from a teenage girl on the bus – “OMG, they are so totes dead to me right now.”

So now the song is playing in my head again. Thanks, Pete. Totes.

I am driven primarily by moral compass, not by a notion of political ideology. And I would suggest there are a great many people who feel the same way.

Personally, I believe we should care for our environment and protect its flora and fauna. Hell, it isn’t rocket science – right now this is the only planet we have, and what kind of bird is stupid enough to shit in its own nest? I believe we should treat others as we expect to be treated – I would expect fairness, respect and equality. We’re not Christians and Muslims. We’re not blacks and whites. We’re humans. We all bleed and we all cry; we all need love. It’s that simple.

I don’t believe these beliefs make me anything unusual or exceptional. It does seem as though you are automatically branded a lefty if you happen to demonstrate qualities of empathy and compassion or express a desire to care for the planet. I’m not sure how that makes one “dirty.”

I don’t know about you, but quite frankly these are qualities which I would hope to find in all my fellow planetary travellers. And if sad-sack politicians and their cheerleader political commentators feel they want to call me a dirty lefty, then so be it.

Perhaps this explains why the heart is on the left side of the body.

Crazy Little Thing Called Lust

23 February 2018

It is being said in some quarters that Barnaby Joyce has been unfairly thrown under a bus. If that is so, then I suggest that the bus goes by the name of Karma. And it was no-one other than Barnaby who threw himself under its wheels.

There is something in all of this that certain people are not getting. And until they do, the lesson will not go away.

Joyce, like many of his born-to-privilege colleagues is fixated on the issues of morality and personal relationship choices as the cause of the fiasco. Joyce’s angry statement “Personal issues shouldn’t be a reason for a person to resign” is testament to this mindset. And in that sense he is more or less correct. A person’s public life should be separate from his or her private life, but when those private life choices impinge on one’s ability to carry out official duties, or culminate in nepotism, rorting and bias; then that becomes an issue for public scrutiny. That, to me is the line in the sand. Clearly many hold to that sentiment, and hence the outrage over Barnaby’s recent foibles. But conceited, self-serving men like Barnaby cannot see this. That is their problem, and that will ultimately spell their downfall.

Barnaby, obsessed as he is with self-interest and personal gain completely misses the point that it is not his personal relationship choices that should dictate his resignation; it is the fact that the greater good of his party, the Coalition and indeed the Australian public is increasingly damaged as a result of the ongoing distraction and controversy. The fact that Joyce saw fit to apologise to his ex-wife, his family and new partner on national television gave the whole fiasco a public dimension. The fact that he felt it unnecessary to use that national broadcast opportunity to make an apology to the Australian public which he serves is telling. And Aussies have long memories.

For somebody who made a platform of piousness – of championing traditional family values and supposedly protecting young women from promiscuity – to live a life diametrically opposed to the values one espouses just isn’t a good look. Nor does it gain you respect. And you’re really setting yourself up for a fall in this day and age of social media; there is always someone with a screenshot who is more than willing to remind everybody of what you said or did.

A true leader always leads by example. “Actions speak louder than words” is a truism which neatly sums it up. Sadly many of our political leaders fall well short of this ideal. The fact is anybody can talk, but few can pass the litmus test of practicing what they preach.

In a ‘compare the pair’ moment, cast your mind back to the Sam Dastyari affair when controversy threatened to cast a shadow over normal proceedings (if indeed anything is truly normal in Canberra these days). The matter was promptly nipped in the bud with the decision quickly made for Sam to step down. Parliament and Labor moved on. Barnaby on the other hand, is quite happy to play out as the precocious child who isn’t getting what he wants; openly disrespecting his leader publically in the process. For him the personal stakes are high, and he is a man who will clearly not allow the needs of the many to get in the way of the needs of the one – that ‘one’ being Barnaby Joyce.

It doesn’t take a behavioural expert to see in Joyce a man who has lived his life getting whatever he wants at the expense of others. And in that respect, life experience tells me that a leopard never changes its spots.

Barnaby suggests that “there is nothing to see here.” In actual fact there is everything to see here, in the sense that the whole affair (no pun intended) showcases the key problem which dogs the incumbent government – their singular tendency to lack perspective taking, and their obsession with self-aggrandisement and self-interest to the detriment of the greater good.

This week saw a socially inept and tasteless display on social media by Joyce’s Nationals colleague George Christensen. An unrepentant Christensen could see no wrong in the crass photograph he posted, threatening greenies with a handgun. It was pointed out to him that this was inappropriate, particularly in the wake of a school shooting in the States which claimed 17 young lives. Far from being contrite, he instead chose to sarcastically berate those who took offence.

Holding public office carries with it an implicit expectation to set community standards by your own behaviour. And clearly people make a yardstick of politicians’ behaviour – I only need point to the disgusting ‘copycat’ behaviour which occurred in the wake of Christensen’s inappropriate post in the form of offensive social media threats against figures like Sarah Hanson-Young to highlight how this behaviour emboldens and empowers ‘followers’, who only need the cue from a ‘leader’ to act out their thoughts.

A true leader leads by example. The sad reality is a vast proportion of our current crop of politicians is cut from rougher cloth.

Indeed, Barnaby’s crisis points to the government’s endemic problem. The dramatist in me would call this a tale of love and lust.  Our current government is riddled with individuals thirsting for power and personal gain. Self-interest has overtaken the principled responsive approach to public service. And I predict it will be this broader notion of civic love – or more correctly the dire lack of it – which will bring down this government.

If nothing else, Malcolm is a man who can see shortcomings and he has consistently acted to step in and shore them up. For example, he recognised John Alexander’s personal limitations as a public speaker during the Bennelong by-election; seconding Alexander to a mute ‘Humphrey B Bear’ role while he picked up the perceived slack as the talking head. In a wider sense Turnbull has spent a goodly proportion of his term in office playing ringmaster to a second rate circus.

He surely knows that the bottom line is that the public need to ‘feel the love’ from their government; to feel a sense of inclusion and cohesion from those they have selected to serve them. There is a wholesale loss of voter confidence in the two-party system. Public perception of politicians is at an all-time low. Used car salesmen and real estate agents must be wringing their hands together gleefully; grateful for the distraction that MPs have given provided them. Rightly or wrongly, the public see fingers in the till at every opportunity. The sense of entitlement and contempt for rule of law. Politicians showboating at gala events like catwalk models. Swanning around the world at public expense with partners in tow. (Funny how they seem to be conveniently viewed as partners when the need arises). Corruption and bare-faced lies are now perceived as political ‘business as usual.’

Even as I write this comes the news that Australia has fallen a further 8 points on the global corruption index. For the first time we have dropped from the top 10 least corrupt nations. At the same time our government is slamming the idea of a federal corruption commission as completely unnecessary. Move along nothing to see here folks.

Malcolm must sense that, at its heart, his government isn’t capable of delivering on the goods. In a previous article I discussed Malcolm’s telling over-use of the word ‘love’. It came as no surprise to me that Malcolm put his own relationship with Lucy on public display in a recent 60 Minutes segment, in a practical demonstration of love and harmony. I for one have no cause to doubt Malcolm and Lucy’s connection and love for one another. Indeed it was clearly evident and refreshing to behold, set against the lovelessness of his Canberra colleagues. And that’s the important thing about love – absolutely no words are necessary to tell people that it exists; they can feel and sense it. What I simply cannot buy is the implication that this same deep and loving commitment exists within Turnbull’s own government. Nor would I suggest do many members of the public.

Until a sense of practical love and respect replaces the current culture of greed and self-interest in the halls of power, the people will remain disenchanted and tuned out to those they have increasingly come to see as a dishonest self-serving ruling class.

Whether or not she actually said it; Marie Antoinette’s classic line springs to mind: “Let them eat cake.” The children of the revolution saw the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots. Between love and lust. And by the time it inevitably came, the guillotine blade cared little for either.

Dutton Stacks The Deck – Deportation & Section 501

14 February 2018

With the arrival of white settlers, Australia began life as a prisoner island. Many of those first immigrants were convicts; many finding themselves transported under the harshest of conditions and often for little more than acts of petty crime.

The formative years of our nation – an era where the transportation of convicts was an accepted cultural norm – is now universally viewed as a period marred by harsh violations of human rights.

The theme of convicts and immigrants still plays out in present day, but now the transportees are called 501’s. You could be forgiven for not knowing this, as much of the ‘501 phenomenon’ has played out without great public scrutiny.

In 2014 under the Abbott government, Section 501 of the Migration Act was amended to allow for the mandatory visa cancellation and detention of long-term permanent residents deemed to be of bad character. The introduction of section 501(3a) was always controversial, and the subject of much criticism and concern. In the two years following its implementation, this legislation change has resulted in a 1,100% increase in individuals placed in detention on ‘character grounds.’ Whilst this is passed off as the protection of the Australian community from a ‘criminal element’, what is particularly chilling is the set of sweeping discretionary powers this legislation gave to just one man – namely the Minister for Home Affairs.

Reason and common sense dictate that it is supreme folly to accord virtually unchecked powers to one person. It means we are left to rely on the moral fibre of an incumbent minister to uphold the spirit and intent of the legislation in a fair and just manner. With great power comes great responsibility’ as the saying goes. And therein lies the problem. In Peter Dutton we have a veritable monkey with a match in a barrel of dynamite. This is a man who displays open contempt for the judiciary; who sees the court system as little more than a frustrating impediment. He is nothing if not transparent – it is not hard to see a man consumed by self-righteousness and driven by a personal vendetta to rid the country of all that he personally considers to be vile and wrong. And in that sense, he is little more than a self-appointed vigilante – a man who holds to the belief that the soft judiciary cannot protect us; who attempts to take matters of law into his own hands.

Section 501 has effectively equipped this vigilante Minister with a weapon of mass destruction. So how does a 501 visa cancellation actually work? Simply put, it can be likened to a card game which has the deck rigged in favour of the house:

You are a permanent resident who has been given a prison sentence of 12 months. Whether you like it or not, this automatically makes you a 501 player. On completion of your prison sentence, you are notified that your visa has been cancelled and you are offered the opportunity to present a submission in writing to the Minister telling him why you feel you should keep it. Let the game begin. Even though you have a home and job to return to, you will be placed in a detention centre which is the equivalent of a maximum security prison. You are likely to be moved to a facility like Christmas Island where it is virtually impossible for your wife and children to visit you. Locked down with restricted movement, you will suffer from some degree of mental and emotional anxiety, depending on your strength of mind. Unlike prison, nobody can tell you how long you will be here. By the time the Minister has read your submission and is ready to play, you will have been in detention almost 12 months. The wait is getting longer because of the massive rise in people detained, waiting to play 501. Let us consider your cards. In your case, you have a strong hand; a ‘Full House’ – you have lived here for 40 years and your entire family now reside here. Both your young children were born in Australia. You also have a “Get Out Of Jail Free’ card – you have lived lawfully and have no criminal record apart from one mishap, and you were granted parole on the basis that you present little risk to the community. The stakes you’re playing for are your home, your loved ones and your way of life. What monetary value do you place on this? You cannot afford not to play. Sobbing on the phone, your wife tells you that if you had only become an Aussie you would be back home with them. The only reason you are suffering through this nightmare is that you didn’t apply for citizenship. And that is not actually a crime.

Anyway, back to the game. The rules from here are that the Minister must consider all the cards in deciding your fate. However he can trump any and all cards simply by saying: ‘I have looked at your cards and I think you’re a risk to the community and it is in the national interest to deport you.’ In your case, the Minister plays his standard game and does just that, saying ‘I considered your ‘Full House’ and it is not enough. Your visa remains cancelled.’

So what now? Surely there is some check and balance to ensure the Minister made the right decision? Your only course of action from here is to appeal to the referee – the Federal Court. If the Minister made a judicial error when trumping you – if he overlooked an important card – the Court may overrule his decision. So you wait another 6-9 months for the referee to review your case. By now the relentless stress has caused your physical, mental and emotional health, and that of your estranged loved ones to decline further. Your youngest daughter has withdrawn and is seeing a psychologist. Your wife is working a second job to support the family in your absence, and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. You feel powerless and responsible, and now require medication to sleep.

Fortunately, the court decides that the Minister was in error because he did not consider that vital ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card. It is relevant because it means the judiciary have assessed you to be of negligible risk, which contradicts the Minister’s judgement that you are a threat to the community. They rule the visa cancellation decision be quashed on that basis.

The referee has ruled in your favour! So you’re in the clear, right? Wrong. In this game, the referee can’t actually give your visa back. They can only tell the Minister to review his decision according to law. So you are returned to the detention centre while the Minister looks at your cards for a second time. More weeks of waiting drag by.

Now, in a game of tennis or cricket, or any other sport for that matter, the referee’s decision is final. Not so with 501 where the Minister is hell-bent on making his decision final, no matter that a court rules otherwise. And so you rot in a detention centre, awaiting the day when the Minister makes his next play. This is most likely to be: ‘I re-considered your ‘Full House’ AND your ‘Get Out Of Jail Free Card’ and it is not enough. I still consider you a threat to the community and in the national interest your visa remains cancelled.’

How confident would you feel playing Dutton’s 501 game?

Lawyers will speak of their concern with respect to the course that Section 501 has taken. Minister Dutton has capitalised on these broad powers to remove as many people as possible, including one-off offenders with otherwise lawful backgrounds. Even people who have done prison time decades ago and left the past behind have answered a knock on the door in the small hours of the morning; finding themselves dragged away to an immigration detention centre. And like the transportees of old, all have found themselves estranged indefinitely from partners, children and family as a result. Not since the Second World War has Australia deported permanent residents in such record numbers. Dutton has demonstrated precious little by way of compassion in many of his heavy-handed decisions, which have torn families apart. It would be fair to say that he presides over a deportation regime which has effectively created a second stolen generation.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has suggested that the monster which Section 501 has become goes beyond the original intention of the provision. The Australian Human Rights Commission concurs, and has consistently called for an end to Australia’s system of mandatory detention for ‘unlawful non-citizens’ because it leads to breaches of Australia’s international human rights obligations.

With the possibility of a Labor government taking power at the next federal election, it is time for Shadow Minister Shayne Neumann to clarify his party’s position regarding the over-reach enacted courtesy of this sweeping set of administrative powers. Can we expect more of the same heavy handed treatment under Labor, or will judicial fairness and ministerial accountability prevail?

Giving an address at the Law Council of Australia’s Immigration Conference last week, Neumann stated that Labor strongly supports the cancellation of visas on character grounds under Section 501 of the Migration Act.” He should have no complaint from the public in this respect – the protection of the Australian community must be held paramount. But here’s the thing – the majority of people now being caught in the 501 net are not ‘hardened criminals’ as Peter Dutton likes to paint them. Many have made a serious mistake which they will likely remember for the rest of their lives. They have paid their dues in the eyes of the law and the courts. Bear in mind that with respect to their risk to the community; if they were Australian citizens they would actually be back in the community, as a court or parole board has assessed them to be of negligible risk. Is it appropriate to break these people mentally, emotionally and financially while they await a second judgment by the Grim Reaper, simply because they remained permanent residents and didn’t become Australian citizens? What does the word ‘permanent’ mean, after all? How do Labor and Shayne Neumann plan to navigate this situation?

Mr Neumann further observed that “decisions made under Section 501 are too important for an Immigration Minister to get wrong or make legal errors.”

Recent history shows the Minister has made legal error on several occasions. When a Federal Court rules the Minister is in error and he subsequently over-rules the finding of the judiciary – often within hours of their ruling – I think you will agree that we have a problem. Apart from Dutton’s 501 game; how many legitimate sports can you name where one of the players can actually over-ride the decisions of the referee?

This week Minister Dutton cancelled an individual’s visa for the third time – he has now overturned the rulings of a court demanding he re-instate the man’s visa on two separate occasions.

Will this stacking of the deck’ continue under a Labor government?

***

Please share this article with Labor MPs for their review and comment:

Hon Shayne Neumann MP – Shadow Minister for Immigration: @ShayneNeumannMP

Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP – Shadow Attorney-General: @markdreyfusQCMP

Hon Bill Shorten MP – Leader of the Opposition: @billshortenmp

From Malcolm With Love

Thursday 1 February 2018

On 14 September 2017, Malcolm Turnbull delivered a closing statement during Question Time in Parliament, asserting his parties commitment to Australia and Australian values; specifically through welfare reform in the form of the cashless welfare card.

What sticks in my mind is that in the brief minute or so that it took to deliver this rambling diatribe, he used the magical word ‘love’ no less than eight times. And there is something very powerful and telling in that.

“Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world. On Australia Day, which we defend, which we defend, we begin those celebrations with an acknowledgment of country, a welcome to country….Australians love this country. They love Australia Day. They love the values it embodies. And at the heart of those values, Mr Speaker, democracy, freedom, the rule of law, mutual respect, mutual respect and mutual obligation.

Now we on our side, Mr Speaker, we believe that welfare money should not be spent on drugs and booze….but those opposite have no problem with it being spent on drugs and booze. They will not support us. How shameful. If they loved those people on welfare, if they love them, if you love them, what would you do? Would you tell them to get off the drugs, get off the booze? Well, I’d hope so. We’d hope so. But no, the Labor Party won’t do that….I tell you, Mr Speaker, when we do, we do so with love. We do so with love and compassion and the Australian values of helping our mate, looking after each other, standing up for Australia, standing up for Australians.”

I wonder how many people have picked up on the Prime Minister’s almost liturgical use of the word ‘love’ during his term in office?

All you need, as the Beatles say, is love. And I would contend that with respect to the incumbent LNP government, love will be the very thing that causes them to lose their grip on power. Because love is the key commodity that the present federal line-up does not have, and Turnbull at some level understands the significance of this full well.

In the days prior to that September 2017 speech in Parliament, Turnbull was spruiking the Coalition’s cashless welfare debit card, describing it rather hopefully to the assembled media in Kalgoorlie as an exercise in practical love.”

Mining baron Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s philanthropic donation of 400 million in May 2017 earned a similar wrap from the Turnbull love machine, with Malcolm dropping the ‘l’ word no less than three times for good measure, when he gushed: This is an act of love. It is an act of generosity and above all, it is an act of leadership that will inspire other Australians, now and in the years to come, to show their love by helping those who we can support and we can advance through that commitment of love for mankind.”

Sounding rather like a magician proving there was no hidden card up his sleeve, he then told Mr Forrest: “This is not extracted from you by force of law; this is a matter of conviction, of your love and your commitment.” Perhaps this observation was intended more for our benefit than Twiggy’s.

Turnbull’s love reared its ugly head again last month, shortly after he deliberately stirred racial tension and division by magnifying the so-called ‘African gang’ problem in Victoria, despite the fact that Sudanese offenders accounted for only 1% of the state’s total reported crime. Facing off with acting Premier James Merlino at a media conference, the PM deflected attention with the claim that there was love bursting all over the place.”

So where did this all start? Back in January 2016, Malcolm Turnbull’s liberal (pardon the pun) use of the word led Sydney Morning Herald’s reporter Tony Wright to remark: It’s not every day a political leader publicly uses the word love, and it’s even rarer that love and technology are joined in the same sentence. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tossed love around like fairy dust on Friday.” Back then, the target of his effusiveness was a new website providing a database of services for the homeless. Turnbull enthusiastically referred to it as a triumph of deep love combined with technology focussed on the customer.” Not since William S Burroughs’ novel ‘Naked Lunch’ featured a steam-powered dildo called Steely Dan have love and technology been so successfully mated. Turnbull’s penchant for the word ‘love’ is equally strange, yet perfectly explainable.

If we are to take Malcolm at his word, that seems to be a whole lotta love; to borrow the words of another iconic band. And therein lies the problem. There simply isn’t a whole lot of love for the people emanating from this government and Turnbull must realise this. In over half a century of life in Australia, never have I seen a public so distrusting of politicians and disenchanted with its leaders; so worn down by their exhortations of terror and division. So tired of not being listened to. So close to revolution. That may seem melodramatic to some, however the turn-outs of people protesting the treatment of refugees, the desire for marriage equality and more recently the solidarity of Aussies wanting to change the date of Australia Day speaks of the growing disenchantment with the LNP’s style of ‘business as usual.’

Perhaps his most telling use of the word ‘love’ came in a declaration on the day of parliament’s legalization of same-sex marriage when he exhorted: What a day for love, for equality, for respect.” Malcolm would undoubtedly like to be remembered as the Prime Minister who paved the way for marriage equality to become a reality in this country. His own personal commitment to this social milestone is unquestionable. Had he held to his own values rather than succumbing to the manipulations of the string-pullers in his cabinet, he might have some stronger claim to this accolade. As it stands, same sex marriage passed into law despite his party and his ministry team, rather than because of them; despite the divisiveness and disharmony stirred by an unnecessary plebiscite. It became a victory for the people, not the government.

People are not feeling the love from Turnbull’s government and I believe a fair proportion of the blame lies squarely at the feet of the conservative faction who have pulled the strings and enacted a divisive agenda. Australians are seeing a government given to in-fighting; a government which has stopped listening to the people. A party being devoured from the right. Malcolm is forced to step into the breach and assure us that there is love there. But his words have an increasingly hollow ring.

This ‘love deficit’ is a characteristic of the conservatives and their bleak world view. They are largely driven by the reflexes of threat and disgust. It is seen in their hostility towards foreigners and racial and ethnic minorities who are viewed as a dark, destabilizing influence on Australian culture and good order. There is a tendency for them to be pro-gun and defence oriented to counter the perceived threats of incursion and criminality which they repeatedly warn us about.

It is a faction bent on turning us into a police state. This week Dutton appeared on ABC News to warn tourists visiting Australia to attend the upcoming Commonwealth games that there are strict penalties in place for visa over-stayers. He stated that 95.5% of tourists are law-abiding, with 0.5% at risk of potential overstay. Firstly, what would possess anybody to issue such a sour warning, given their own acceptance of the fact that the vast majority present no such problem? And secondly, none of the foreign tourists that Dutton was directing the warning at would likely be watching an Australian news station anyway.

The conservative ethic is not only to order us to keep off the grass, but to remind us that a fine and a prison sentence will apply if we disobey.

They oppose welfare support for the poor due to its perceived encouragement of dependency and the potential for abuses of the welfare system. It was the federal government and Centrelink who created a virtual climate of fear in the Australian community with their aggressive pursuit of the ‘robo-debt’ program. And let’s not forget the recent blaze of headlines announcing that hard-working Aussies are forking out $83 a week to finance our national welfare bill. Just this week came the news that Tony Abbott had floated a radical plan of cutting welfare support to under-30’s ahead of the 2014 budget. The fact that these are the very same people that Turnbull showered with so-called ‘acts of love’ makes this a bitter pill to swallow.

I don’t believe that we are wired to live perpetually with such joylessness and dour severity. We respond to sincerity and love. The psychological make-up of conservatives expressed as a lack of empathy, compassion and flexibility forces Turnbull into a position of synthesizing love, so to speak; to re-dress the imbalance and to convince the public of a sense of care and human warmth that his party consistently fails to deliver.

As an aside, it’s notable that the phenomenon of ‘synthesizing love’ is not just limited to Turnbull either. Last week came the news from the USA that hardline conservatives blocked a proposal for a pathway to citizenship for the ‘Dreamers’ – the 700,000 undocumented immigrants now facing potential deportation. According to polls public sentiment is leaning in favour of the Dreamers being given the opportunity of citizenship. In response, Trump reflexively demanded that lawmakers craft a bill of protection to protect them; tellingly referring to it as a “bill of love.”

As well as this sense of ‘love deficit’ conservatives seem to be possessed of a distorted sense of self-perception and the lack of any real ability for self-assessment and perspective-taking. And therein lies their ultimate downfall.

Talk is again turning to a leadership spill with three conservatives – Abbott, Morrison and Dutton – suggested as contenders. Without Turnbull’s Doctor Frankenstein to breathe love and light into the body, we will be left with a ruling party run by the Monster. And that never ended well in the movies.

Crime, Punishment and the Right of Citizenship

A good salesperson will tell you that every sale, be it a house or car; even something as seemingly simple as a particular brand of breakfast cereal, is made on emotion. When we choose that new car, we are actually buying comfort, reliability and peace of mind. Or sex appeal, status and prestige. Negative emotions drive sales too. After the first Iraqi conflict broke out in 1991, American surplus store owners were confounded by the sudden surge in gas mask sales, driven by the perceived terror threat.

Fear and anger are powerful motivators. But when it comes to rational thinking and clear decision making, you are asking for trouble when you make complex decisions whilst in that kind of emotional state. How did that last discussion with your spouse work out for you when you were angry?

An unscrupulous salesperson could capitalise on the irrational reactive thinking that comes with strong emotion, and convince you to buy something you don’t really need. That’s why consumer law allows for a ‘cooling off’ period after making a significant purchase. There is no such cooling off period with politics per se; instead there are judicial checks and balances put into place to protect us. That is how rule of law works.

Politicians, like snake-oil sellers will also play on emotions like fear to gain public support. Often they will ignite that fear and then offer a solution to resolve it. We have seen this most recently with the magnification of the so-called ‘African gangs’ problem in Victoria. Moral outrage can be a giddy cloud of confusion behind which political agenda can be played out, and draconian laws are often passed off under the guise of public protection. In many cases, our civil rights and liberties are quietly eroded away as a result.

The recent matter of a convicted paedophile Roman Catholic priest is a prime case in point. A dual national who became a naturalized Australian citizen, he committed offences over more than two decades. On completion of his prison term, the Minister moved to revoke his citizenship and deport him. Let me be clear from the outset – there are two separate issues at play here. Firstly the recognition of what amounts to heinous criminal acts and the subsequent need to protect the community at large. There is no defence for the man’s abominable crimes. What I point to here is the potential for moral outrage to cloud proceedings in cases like this; permitting the broadening of draconian laws which then ultimately degrade the rights of others. I also speak to the rise of the notion that some people have less right of ‘ownership’ of residence in Australia than others.

The calls in this case have been clear: ‘This man must be stripped of his citizenship and removed from this country.’ Many outraged people took up the call, but I would wager precious few of them actually knew or cared whether in fact a dual national could be stripped of their citizenship. How exactly can citizenship be revoked after it’s conferral on a dual national, and under what circumstances? To act without recourse to law becomes the mentality of the lynch mob.

When citizenship has been conferred on a non-Australian born person, that citizenship may be revoked only in certain specific circumstances under the auspices of the Australian Citizenship Act (2007) – section 34 Revocation by Minister.

Put in a nutshell, if it was found you acted fraudulently when applying for citizenship or you were convicted of a serious crime resulting in a prison sentence of 12 months or more at any time before you were granted that citizenship, the Minister can pull the pin and revoke your citizenship, if he decides it is in the public interest.

A further consideration was enacted in 2015 to address citizens going overseas to fight with terrorist groups. The Allegiance to Australia Act allowed for Australian citizenship to be stripped from dual nationals as young as 14 who engaged in terrorist acts, or were convicted of terrorism related offenses that carry prison terms of 6 years or more.

The stripping of one’s citizenship is a serious matter, and one would expect that there are legal safeguards in place to ensure a just and reasoned decision is made. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and the Federal court play a critical role in overseeing and reviewing decisions made by Federal government ministers. What is concerning to note is just how much by way of this protection has been quietly eroded without fanfare or public knowledge.

For example, in the case of immigration matters; if the decision to cancel an existing visa or decline a request for the granting of a visa on character grounds is made by the Minister himself, the present legislation has been written in a way which denies a person recourse to a review of that decision by the AAT. Where the AAT over-rule decisions made by his delegates, Peter Dutton has stepped in on dozens of occasions and vetoed their findings. This of itself should be cause for concern, yet few people are aware of it.

Dutton has been very vocal in condemning the AAT, claiming that they have unfairly overturned scores of decisions to cancel the visas of non-citizens. Firstly, a politician criticizing the judiciary is tantamount to undermining the separation of the powers. Dutton’s behaviour is akin to a habitual drunk driver demanding that random breath testing be banned. It leads one to question the true intent of this ex-cop turned politician who is so contemptuous of rule of law.

Secondly, it is a fact that the rate of cases set aside is actually lower now than many previous years in the past decade, including those under Labor governments. This could perhaps be attributed to the troubling fact that in 2017 the government actually moved to replace members of the tribunal and many appointees are ex-Liberal staffers or candidates. Does it concern anybody that a government can ‘stack the deck’ by appointing its own people to an independent tribunal?

Law Council of Australia president Fiona McLeod SC hit out at Dutton’s attacks on the AAT last year, reminding him that “members of the government may disagree with decisions made by the AAT, but the courts and tribunals provide an important check upon the unlawful exercise of power. The independence of the judiciary, and respect for the role of courts and tribunals, is a fundamental to the rule of law in Australia.”

The checks and balances of the AAT and the courts cannot be undermined, in exactly the same way that you as a consumer would not want safeguards like the ‘cooling off’ period removed; leaving you at the mercy of that potentially unscrupulous salesperson.

In the context of citizenship revocation, let me put that to you another way – would you be happy for your future and that of your family to rest wholly and solely in the hands of just one man? That man in this particular case being Peter Dutton? No legislation should permit one man that degree of power.

The line between criminal punishment and immigration detention is blurring, and deportation or expulsion from a society is increasingly being seen as a punitive measure. This is fraught with complication as it essentially becomes a double punishment. To mete out such harsher penalty to a foreign national is essentially punishing someone because they are not naturalized; and that is actually not a crime. We see this notion in the reign of Trump who asserted that the focus on gang members should not be so much on imprisoning them but rather on “getting them the hell out of here.” In 2016, Theresa May while still British Home Secretary stated “We aim to deport all foreign national offenders at the earliest opportunity.”

In Australia, Dutton is hell-bent on taking this to the next level. Shortly after the inception of his new Home Affairs ministry, he announced the launch of a new super security agency to target child sex offenders with dual nationalities. The object of the exercise is to strip such offenders of their Australian citizenship. Nobody challenged the Minister as to exactly how he planned to achieve that, given the legislation that is currently in place. We need to look behind the cloud of moral outrage and question exactly what is happening in the background.

There are laws in place to prevent a person effectively becoming stateless. The Australian Citizenship Act currently prevents a Minister from revoking a person’s Australian citizenship if he or she is unable to become a national or citizen of another country. Despite this, Dutton and Abbott still investigated whether the revocation of Australian citizenship could be extended to natural born Australians, including second generation Australians. The proposal was so radical that six ministers reportedly revolted against the policy in a cabinet meeting. The fact that it was even considered in the first place simply goes to show just how far men like Dutton and Abbott are prepared to push the envelope in their desire to strip citizenship from as many people as humanly possible.

So where is the line in the sand? At what point do we decide that stripping of citizenship and exile is not an appropriate punishment? How ‘Australian’ does one actually need to be in order to be beyond the powers of the Minister? Cold logic suggests to me that with men like Dutton demonstrating their intentions to extend that line in the sand to include second generation Australian-born citizens, then precious few people are safe. They just haven’t been affected yet.

The average punter might counter these concerns by reminding us that the targets of removal of citizenship are those who were fraudulent in their application for citizenship, or who did not declare a past criminal history; or who engage in terrorist activities. “My family certainly aren’t terrorists, so this doesn’t concern us.”

Here’s something to consider. Perhaps someday your teenage kids will go on an overseas trip. Maybe an end-of-year footy trip. High-jinks and drunken horseplay get taken a step too far. Public property is damaged, stolen or defaced. Dual nationals can now lose Australian citizenship if engaging in ‘foreign incursions’ and this includes such things as damage to a public building overseas. The Law Council of Australia has raised concerns that an Australian could now lose his or her Australian citizenship for simply “engaging in graffiti on a public building in a foreign country.”

It’s very easy to be carried by the tide of moral outrage and view rigorous new laws as justifiable; until the day you realise that in the process ordinary people have actually lost many of their rights too.

Once a net is set, it can catch many fish. The degrees of separation between you and potential disaster quietly diminish in the background.

Cruelty and Corruption – Australia’s Border Farce

Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre. One week before Christmas 2017:

It is early morning, and the door to one of the detainee’s rooms is open wide. Sitting in the doorway on a plastic chair, quietly watching over the room is a Serco welfare officer wearing a red Santa hat. The sole occupant of the room – the huddled figure asleep in the bottom bunk, perfectly oblivious to the silent presence of the officer in the gaudy red hat just inches from where he slept – is on a 24-hour suicide watch. He has spent almost 6 years in detention, and has been effectively rendered stateless. The government has been relentless in attempting to deport him from Australia where he has lived since childhood, but his country of birth will not accept him back. For him, the stand-off means that he has been condemned to a life in confinement. For the sake of anonymity, I shall simply refer to him as Gabriel.

Australian Border Force oversees and administrates a network of onshore detention centres which includes Christmas Island. It is their officers who carry out the detention of so-called non-citizens and determine their placement within the system. The centres are run as virtual maximum security prisons, and the similarity between the para-military Border Force operation and the SS run concentration camps of Nazi Germany is striking.

Border Force have seen fit to place Gabriel on remote Christmas Island where he has no possibility of contact with his wife and his young son. Added to his sense of despair at being held in a limbo which has no foreseeable end, the distress of his separation from family and the recent advice that he has been denied legal aid because he is not on the Australian mainland have caused his mental state to deteriorate to the point where he is now routinely self-harming.

I am at pains to describe to you my own anguish in witnessing the forlorn sight of this broken man quietly applying antiseptic cream to the angry red slashes on his forearms, let alone attempt to describe the hell that his life has become.

Gabriel’s pleas and representations to Border Force are voluminous, and include a psychiatric finding that he is at risk of committing suicide. The report identifies his removal from access to family as the primary cause, and recommends his transfer to a mainland facility where he can have face-to-face contact. His young son also undergoes psychiatric counselling as a result of Gabriel’s removal. Despite the weight of clearly documented evidence suggesting that a simple return to a mainland detention centre would take him out of harm’s way, each request has been flatly denied. Instead he is simply placed on a suicide watch to ensure he doesn’t attempt the loneliest form of escape in the quiet of the night.

I question the avoidable tragedy of that lonely sleeping figure, who over the past months has fought a virtual David and Goliath battle with a government department which has grown increasingly callous and smug with its reach and its powers. The calculated ignorance of psychological reports and the physical evidence of self-harm on the part of Border Force goes beyond mere negligence of duty of care. One could rightly surmise from their actions that they seek to cause intentional harm.

Even as I write these words, the image of that red Santa hat is burned into my consciousness. What it signifies sickens me to my very core. How a tragic scene like this – a broken detainee on suicide watch – can be so thoughtlessly and flippantly dressed up with a festive novelty hat, as though it is a normal event. It stands a sick testament to the terrifying fact that this culture of locking people away in indefinite detention has become normalised, and little more than a cruelly sadistic game for its perpetrators. Gabriel’s story is just one of many.

The horrors of Manus Island are just one part of this broken immigration machine. There is still another layer to Australia’s draconian immigration detention regime which is yet to be fully exposed. That is the domain of onshore detention, and it is rarely given more than a cursory glance largely due to the public perception of those who have been so detained by it.

Dutton’s modus operandi when challenged on indefinite detention of asylum seekers is now clear and well documented – he uses lies and smear tactics to demonize refugees and turn public sympathy against them. In exactly the same way it has been easy for him to deflect attention away from the onshore detention regime. The Immigration minister typically describes those detained there as ‘hardened criminals’ and ‘members of organised crime gangs’ to elicit a ‘well, they deserved it’ reaction from the public at large. Add to this the tight veil of secrecy around Immigration detention matters which has included gag orders on staff employed at detention centres, and you have a recipe which has allowed a culture of injustice and heavy-handedness to flourish and grow.

In June 2016, the Hon. Peter Dutton MP stood up in parliament and proudly boasted that he had cancelled the visas of 2,000 non-citizens, 137 of whom were members of organised gangs. That amounted to just 7% of the total, and yet nobody bothered to challenge him to explain exactly who made up the other 93 per cent.

So who are the 93 per cent? Who exactly is Australia locking away indefinitely before deporting? The stories of injustice are numerous, and many will surprise. Many individuals have lived in Australia since their childhood, and many are one-time offenders with no criminal past. Some of those detained on ‘character grounds’ have been detained for little more than traffic offences. One detainee had simply been fined by his local council for burning off in his suburban backyard during a fire ban. Chillingly, some have no criminal charges whatsoever. If you have charges laid against you which are subsequently dropped and dismissed, you now run the risk of having your visa cancelled on the claim that you present a ‘future risk to the community.’ These people have been detained for years. Not weeks. Not months. Years. These are the people Peter Dutton would have you believe are “some of the countries most hardened criminals.

So how have we arrived at a situation like this? What became of the lucky country – the land of the ‘fair go’? Australia, like other western nations like USA and the UK has bowed to a conservative narrative of protectionism which has seen the closing of borders and a ‘national cleansing’ with respect to non-citizens. The line between punishment and detention has blurred. If you add to this recipe a culture of corruption and secrecy, you have the potential for human rights abuses and cruelty, as evidenced by Gabriel’s story.

Departmental corruption is rife, and the Federal Government’s independent watchdog, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) recorded a historic high of 244 new corruption investigations last year. Almost half of the corruption issues investigated by ACLEI related to the Department of Immigration & Border Protection, followed by the Australian Federal Police. To understand how this culture flourishes you only need begin by looking at the key players in this farce.

The saying ‘A fish rots from the head down’ finds no better application than with Border Force and its overarching Ministry of Home Affairs. The organisation is rotten from the very top down and morale within its ranks is reported to be at low ebb. Minister Dutton’s Trump-esque propensity for outright lies and deception, and his condemnation of anything counter to his own agenda as ‘fake news’ is now well documented. He has curried precious little favour beyond the hard-core conservative faction with his recent diatribes on ‘African crime gangs’ and his attacks on the Victorian state government and the judiciary. His off-the-wall portrayal of terrified Melbourne diners is a shambling attempt to strike fear in the populace and press home government and ideological imperatives. Like Trump, he is quick to decry foreigners and he emboldens neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Controversy has also surrounded the head of Border Force Roman Quaedvlieg, who was suspended from official duties in May 2017 which arose from an “external investigation into his activities.” according to the Department’s communications officer Sandi Logan. Eight months of investigation without resolution begs the question of just how deep those ‘activities’ go. Quaedvlieg is no stranger to corruption investigation, having been investigated by the national corruption watchdog in 2008 in his former role as Australian Federal Police Chief of Staff over the bungled sacking of an undercover police officer.

As far as moral turpitude is concerned, we fare little better with Secretary for Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo, with just one degree of separation between him and Border Force corruption. In mid-2013, the ACLEI released a report tabling allegations of foul-play involving customs officers at Sydney Airport. Four officers were charged with various criminal offences including bribery, conspiracy, drug importation and abuse of office after their involvement in the scheme was revealed.

Following the release of the Commission’s report, Michael Pezzullo, then Chief Operating Officer of Australian Customs and Border Protection, vowed to crack down on corruption within the service. What he omitted to mention was that his own brother was one of the officers in question. A 2014 investigation named his brother, Customs officer Fabio Pezzullo, as one member of the corrupt syndicate.

A senior Customs source claimed Mr Pezzullo did not disclose the charging of his brother with criminal offences when he updated a Senate committee about the Customs corruption scandal because he was being ”legally cautious.”

Despite this debacle, the Prime Minister nevertheless appointed Michael Pezzullo to the position of Secretary of the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection just months later in October 2014.

“The globalisation of terror, crime and indeed evil is becoming much more manifest and apparent to people,” Mr Pezzullo stated recently, “And the co-ordination of Australia’s security instruments, including ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, immigration and border authorities, was vital because “home is not what it used to be”.

Home most certainly isn’t what it used to be. I lament what Australia is becoming at the hands of men like Pezzullo and Dutton. The world has been here before.

“This is no laughing matter,” said Pezzullo.

Looking at the unprecedented level of corruption within your own Home Affairs ministry, and the flagrant breaches of human rights in your concentration camps, I for one am not laughing.

This month, Australian Border Force again re-affirmed their decision not to relocate Gabriel back to the mainland, citing a lack of accommodation as the reason. They have provided this explanation to him consistently as a stock letter over the past months. The latest psychiatrist’s evaluation recommended a transfer, and stated the concern that he would commit suicide in the medium to long term if he lost hope of achieving his goals.

Gabriel’s room was routinely searched after his suicide watch was terminated. His young son had made him a picture frame in his primary school craft class. It had been broken as the three officers rummaged dispassionately through Gabriel’s belongings.


In related news this week, detainees in Melbourne and Sydney immigration detention centres have commenced a co-ordinated hunger strike to protest a draconian new law which restricts visiting rights of family members. AIM Network carries the story here.

The Dark Side of Mainstream Media

Lesson 1: The use of nerve words

A few years back, at the height of the controversial Western Australian shark cull, I found myself constantly locking horns with a local news editor over the fear and misinformation that they were generating in their deliberately slanted media reports. Back then it was exasperating, and served to cloud the issue and curry favour for the state government agenda of drum-lining. The perspective of time shows it for the cheap spin it truly was. With the shark cull defeated, I can laugh about it now. One of my all-time favourites still remains ‘Shark Horror at Perth Beach’ – the story of a man who had been out for an early morning walk along his local beach when he captured footage on his phone showing a shark fin circling offshore. The shark was catching fish. As the man panned his camera around it confirmed that he was alone on the deserted post-dawn beach. I emailed the editor and demanded to know who exactly was so traumatised by the event as to warrant the use of the word ‘horror’? Indeed, the only two parties involved were the beach walker and the shark.

The sole human witnessing the event was videoing it excitedly, and he was clearly far from horrified. The shark, completely oblivious to the man on the distant shore and the looming threat of amateur journalism, was busying itself with rounding up a few fish for breakfast, and most certainly wasn’t horrified in the slightest. Sadly, it should have been. What followed was a season of drum-lining and the needless deaths of several small tiger sharks. Then-premier Colin Barnett and his Liberal crones blatantly ignored the advice of the scientific community and growing public outrage; instead enacting a senseless culling program which produced no positive result whatsoever. Which was precisely what we advised them would happen. To this day I swear the WA government’s research involved watching all the Jaws movies several times.

This followed hot on the heels of another piece of journalistic crap ominously entitled ‘Shark Lurks Off Crowded Metropolitan Beach.’ The inference in this case was blindingly obvious. Hungry man-eater lured by the prospect of a buffet meal hovers ready to strike. Only in this case, the shark in question happened to be a tagged shark and the trace information recorded as it passed the receiver buoys proved that it had actually transited down the coast without stopping. There was no hovering, stalking or prowling. And quite clearly no loitering. I pointed this out to the news editor and bluntly suggested that her third-rate journo might consider terms such as ‘swims harmlessly past’ or ‘totally ignores’ as more truthful substitutes for ‘lurks off.’  Of course the editor knew this full well, and that wouldn’t support the government’s narrative that the shark problem was out of control. There is absolutely no mileage to be gained in a story entitled ‘Suddenly Nothing Happened.’ But in fact, that is exactly what it was – a story about nothing, deliberately made sensational and provocative simply by some well selected words which did not convey the truth. These articles did just what they were supposed to do – instil fear and more importantly, cause outrage. This is what gets views.

‘OMG, you’re actually denying the shark was there? WTF! Sharks are our biggest problem right now.’ retorted one of my more articulate critics on social media. Therein lies the proof that it wasn’t just sharks that were taking the bait, thanks to media manipulation and spin.

As a writer I am familiar with how words work – we use certain ‘nerve words’ to evoke a desired reaction or create an image in the reader’s mind. That’s the beauty of words – they have a latent power. And remember, that power can be wielded for good or evil.  I recall Obi Wan Kenobi explaining something similar to Luke Skywalker. Or as the Galactic Empire approved tabloid media in a distant galaxy might spin it: ‘Old man lures naive farm boy.’

Lesson 2: Be selective about who you mention and how

Now you’ve learnt the power of certain words and you’re grappling with whether to use your newfound force for good or evil, here is another truism about words. The words that we use, or indeed the words we choose to leave out can create a slanted impression in people’s minds. Moral panics tend to be generated by tabloid media and their skewed depiction and portrayal of specific occurrences. We saw that with the ‘shark menace’, and most recently we have seen it with the depictions of ‘African gangs’ in Victoria.

When a teenage arsonist was arrested for lighting a fire just days later, no mention of the youth’s ethnic background was made in any media reports. Why did it seem so vitally necessary to describe the ethnicity of non-Caucasian perpetrators a few days earlier, yet the arson incident which was enacted by a Caucasian teen did not seem to call for a racial description of the accused? Before you suggest that this is an isolated incident, consider also the recent November 2017 brawl in Gippsland which saw four people hospitalised and a woman king hit and stomped on as she tried to resuscitate an injured man. Once again it seemed unnecessary to include the ethnicity of the perpetrators in media reports. Neither were those Caucasian perpetrators referred to as a gang. It is a fact that black youth are far more likely to be described as a ‘gang’ than a group of white youth.

Throw in some more of those nerve words we talked about in Lesson 1; I would suggest some good descriptive ones are ‘thugs’ and ‘predators.’ Be sure to add some behavioural texture with words such as ‘frenzy’ and ‘rampage’ and you’re well on the way to creating your own hotbed of moral outrage. And remember – it is moral outrage and panic that gets you views on-line. When you can’t make it on your own journalistic ability, this is a dead-set winner. A large part of your audience are apathetic viewers who won’t look that deeply into the background behind your stories, so you must play to their innate fears to galvanise them.

Lesson 3: Magnification, or the ‘Highlights of the Day’ technique

Is there a problem with youth crime – ‘African’ or otherwise? Yes, undoubtedly there is. But, like the old shark issue it is not the biggest problem, as crime statistics bear out.

Blanket reporting of targeted incidents in the media gives us a skewed perspective of frequency and scale. Anyone who has ever watched the two minute summary of a day’s test cricket will understand how this works. The summary footage contains only the highlights of the day played one after the other, giving one the impression of dynamic exciting play, when in actual fact the reality was hours of boredom broken by precious seconds of action. Despite knowing this, you still can’t help but be caught up in the sense of non-stop action, punctuated by the roars of the crowd and the feverish commentary. This is called magnification, and it leads neatly into the next lesson. That is, when you focus light through a magnifying glass onto something volatile, you can start a fire.

Lesson 4: The ‘Firestarter Method’

As far as problematic youth gangs and crime go, Australia has been there before. Many times. In my youth it was the ‘rocks’ and the ‘skinheads’, and the local suburban gangs were well known. In truth, they were more a bunch of kids who hung out together, but of course ‘gang’ is a convenient nerve word which conjures the idea of criminal motivation or organisation. Before my time there were the bodgies, widgies and sharpies.

The thing is, the gangs of the past were ‘our gangs’. White Europeans. With the steady rise of multi-culturalism, what followed were Vietnamese and Lebanese ‘gangs’ and they seem to be viewed in an inherently different way. When these racial ‘gangs’ arise, the talk invariably turns toward their reluctance to integrate and assimilate. I lived in a suburb with a strong English population. There were youth problems, and crime statistics showed the suburb had the third highest incidences of crime in the city. Yet no talk of Caucasian youth gangs.  There were a gaggle of shops plainly emulating the shops you would find back in England; selling imported English produce. (The Olde English Confectionery shop was my favourite!) Yet nobody talked about a reluctance to integrate or assimilate. It was certainly never painted that way in media reports.

Consider how gangs are portrayed in the context of entertainment and pop-culture. Take the TV series ‘Sons of Anarchy’ for example. Can you imagine the fall-out if the ‘Sons of Allah’ gang TV show was aired? Negative reactions would range from moral outrage to mild surprise and horror. (And not even a shark in sight). What would make a show about Muslim bikers a no-no? Imagine how the viewing public might react to the depiction and glorification of the Muslim equivalent of Chopper Reid. The question is, why do we react with such moral outrage?

It is a sociological fact that we inherently identify with our own kind. We naturally have a stronger connection with our own race which lends itself to a heightened sense of empathy and bias. We feel a sense of relation and social bonding. A sense of allegiance. Diehard football fans will never see the wrong with their own team. Because well, it’s their team. When the team loses, it’s because they had an off-day, not because they’re losers.

There is an element of cultural nationalism at play here. The engendered belief that this is ‘our’ country. There is an implicit notion that ‘our’ lawbreakers are OK. And there is a magnified sense of outrage when the same violence and lawlessness is perpetrated by a cultural ‘outsider.’ The early bushrangers kicked back at social injustice and the heavy-handedness of the police. The people of the First Nation would have had more than ample cause to do exactly the same, yet I’ll wager we would never elevate an indigenous bushranger to the same legendary status as ‘our’ bushrangers. Our country, our rules.

I am ashamed to say that not so very long ago I was guilty of this myself as a white European – if I was cut off in traffic by someone clearly of a foreign descent, I noticed that the curses I involuntarily muttered under my breath tended to be far more racially oriented to those I voiced when it was a Caucasian behind the wheel of the offending car. It led me to wonder just how many of us can claim to be truly colour blind.

So, the Firestarter method. It is the technique of playing upon a latent fear or an innate belief and fanning it until it becomes a blaze. Without oxygen a volatile source cannot become a fire. The media give an issue (or a perceived issue) oxygen. During the WA shark cull they played on the public’s fear and misunderstanding of sharks. Today they are doing precisely the same thing in fanning the flames of racial tension with the magnification of the ‘African gangs’ issue. And to revisit that galaxy far, far away: ‘Fear leads to anger, and anger leads to the Dark Side.’

The pen, as they say is mightier than the sword. It comes down to the integrity of the holder as to how it is used.

Super Ministry or Schutzstaffel?

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It seems the passage of time has isolated all but those familiar with the atrocities of the last World War from the warning signs that signal the rise of malevolent power.

In the post-war wash-up, the world moved progressively toward globalization, and the horrors of war effectively pushed the far-right front into fractured isolation.

We live in a world of cyclical trends – be it fashion and music, or politics and ideology. With regards to the latter, what started quietly as a seed has now germinated (pardon the pun) in many quarters of the Western world into a sense of nationalism which is scarily reminiscent of the pre-Second World War era.

The threat of global terror, be it real or perceived, has driven a tide of xenophobia which runs the gamut from simmering distrust to open persecution. Islamophobia is the new black, and the fear is aggravated by deliberately skewed media spin and propaganda.

The divide between the working class and the ruling class is growing, with the rising sense that the general populace feels disrespected, ignored, and oppressed by their governments, politicians and rich business moguls. This growing dissatisfaction with ‘traditional politics’ has seen the Western world wandering down and old seemingly-forgotten path in the search for alternatives. And it’s not the yellow brick road variety; it’s the shadowy path that leads to grandma getting eaten by the wolf.

We are witnessing the rise of a far-right conservatism which is once again capitalizing on the status-quo to foster the narrative that foreigners and immigrants are to blame for our woes. We see the demonizing of foreigners in USA’s Donald Trump and in Australia’s own Pauline Hanson and the increasingly vocal conservative wing of Turnbull’s LNP government. Foreigners, if you believe the spin, are running amok in violent crime sprees. Muslims are killing our people in terror attacks. Traditional religious freedoms are under threat. Immigrants are taking all our jobs. The phrase ‘border protection’ is bandied about ad nauseam. Far-right conservatism offers protectionism and national security to counter these perceived threats. This sense of territorial nationalism, of ‘taking the country back’ particularly appeals to the poorly educated and the lower working class and unemployed demographic.

Just what is happening under this nationalistic smokescreen with the emergence of the Australian Home Affairs ‘super ministry’ should terrify ordinary Australians to the core. Problem is, as they sit watching the idiot box with a beer and a pizza it isn’t directly affecting them. Yet. Quite to the contrary, it plays to the carefully crafted perception that our streets are under siege from Islamic terrorists. And this is precisely how it happens …

“In Hitler’s Germany, first they came for the Communists but I wasn’t a Communist so I didn’t speak up …”.

Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930’s in similar circumstances. Following the German defeat in the First World War, Europe was plunged into the Great Depression, and Germany suffered years of economic struggle marked by runaway inflation and mass unemployment. Hitler blamed it on the foreigners. The Jews, in particular were made the scapegoat for Germany’s economic and social woes. He offered the German people a solution to make their nation great again.

From 1929 until his regime’s collapse in 1945, the Schutzstaffel, (meaning ‘Protection Squadron’) better known as the ‘SS’, was established as Hitler’s foremost agency of security, surveillance and terror within Germany and German-occupied Europe. To counter the perceived threats to the Fatherland – which eventually included communists, Jews, gypsies, trade unionists and homosexuals – SS Chief Heinrich Himmler was tasked with amalgamating the various German police and intelligence forces into a single new centralised agency called the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) and policing authorities took on an increasingly para-military complexion.

Fast-forward to 2016 where concerns are growing that the Australian Border Force is taking on an increasingly military style and ethos.

In January 2016 it was revealed the Department of Immigration spent more than $1.3 million on medals for its staff, outspending the Department of Defence and prompting new concerns about the militarisation of the portfolio. ABF uniforms were changed and took on a severe military air, which reportedly intimidated many travellers. At the same time, Minister Dutton was being handed more and more sweeping powers, and his department became the most litigated against of all government departments. Under his watch, long-term permanent residents have been deported in numbers not witnessed since the Second World War. What war is the government fighting, and who are the enemy? The parallel between the steady development of Border Force as a para-military force and the rise of Himmler’s SS should send a shiver down your spine.

“Then they came for the trade unionists, but I wasn’t a trade unionist so I didn’t speak up …”.

Gaining momentum in 1936, the Gestapo were used for political gain and the crushing of Hitler’s political opponents. Himmler, now promoted to Reichsfuhrer SS, further amalgamated the Reich Criminal Police with the Gestapo to form a ‘super ministry.’

In 2017, the commissioning of the controversial new Australian Home Affairs department saw Mr Dutton – a man who already possesses extraordinary unchecked administrative powers – become the head of a ‘super ministry’ which amalgamated immigration, police, security and intelligence departments including ASIO, ASIS, the Australian Federal Police, Border Force and the Criminal Intelligence Commission. The move drew concern from many quarters, including officials within the very agencies in question.

Controversy abounded in October 2017 when the Australian Federal Police staged coordinated raids on the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the Australian Worker’s Union in an attempt to uncover documents relating to alleged donations to political factions opposing the government. Not only was the Federal Police used brazenly for ideological and political gain, but the entire operation was staged with media in attendance, drawn by a government tip-off to ensure coverage. Another disturbing move which reads directly from the Nazi playbook.

“Then they came for the Jews but I wasn’t a Jew so I didn’t speak up …”.

With the Nazis established in power, and the outbreak of war; the SS and its collective intelligence arm gained in strength and momentum. They continued to pursue and implement Hitler’s ideological policies. It was of course Himmler’s SS and Gestapo who hunted and rounded up the Jews for placement in concentration camps. Operations enacted through the SS ‘super ministry’ were not constrained by judicial or administrative review, which permitted them a broad reach.

In precisely the same manner, the suite of powers afforded to Minister Dutton have permitted him a ‘ministerial discretion’ in the decisions of who may remain in this country and who may be granted a visa. What this means is that his decisions cannot be challenged by administrative review by independent bodies like the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), and judicial bodies like the Federal Court can only recommend that he re-considers visa cancellation decisions. Dutton’s resentment for the constraints of rule of law has been made abundantly clear in the numerous instances where he has overturned the rulings of the courts to reverse visa cancellation decisions. Like Himmler, he has been given unchecked power to effectively make himself judge, jury and executioner.

Flashback to 2015 when the newly formed Australian Border Force announced an ominous new initiative called ‘Operation Fortitude.’ A press release advised that ABF officers would be stationed around Melbourne’s city checking “any individual we cross paths with” to assess visa status for possible immigration fraud.

It is hard to fathom exactly how a para-military force might randomly “cross paths with individuals” and casually ask if they possessed a valid visa, like a shop assistant offering samples of cologne to passers-by. Common sense dictates that they had an agenda of racial profiling which they would employ to target potential visa holders, and that is a frightening prospect which smacks of the profiling that the Nazis employed to track down their ‘enemies.’ Fortunately, public reaction stopped Operation Fortitude dead in its tracks.

Was Border Force testing the waters for future incursions, or to assess just how much they could get away with? Tellingly, the operation was named after a Second World War operation which was enacted just before the D-Day Normandy landings in 1944.

And yes, Australia has its very own concentration camps. Make no mistake – that is what they are. Not processing centres or detention centres. We have a network of camps where refugees and non-citizens languish in indefinite detention, drawing intense criticism from the UN Human Rights Committee.

With the atrocities of Manus Island now firmly in the spotlight, 2017 saw the largest compensation payout in Australian legal history for those illegally detained there, and it seems the apple is ready to fall in the onshore detention regime as well.

“Then they came for the Catholics but I wasn’t a Catholic so I didn’t speak up …”.

So where will Dutton take his Home Affairs juggernaut in 2018? You can bet your bottom dollar that the ‘foreigners running amok in crime sprees’ theme will continue to get air-time whilst there is political mileage to be gained. This plays to the LNP government’s narrative that the opposition has gone soft on crime; that criminals are protected over victims. It also sets the scene for increasing AFP intervention in state affairs.

We will continue to be reminded of the ever-present threat of Islamic (is there any other kind?) terrorism. Dutton will remind you of the threat of more boats and the pitfalls of relaxed border protection. If we are to believe him, only an LNP government will keep us safe.

This is a ministry which operates under intense secrecy. And here’s the thing about secrets – except for keeping quiet about that surprise birthday present for your partner, you only ever keep dark things a secret. There will be secret files created on target individuals, a fact which Secretary for Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo has already openly alluded to in a scary, off-the-wall speech which confounded businessmen attending the 2017 Trans-Tasman conference.

Expect Home Affair’s intel agencies to start digging the dirt on the government’s political opponents, while Dutton himself continues to grab for further power to extend his reach. His heavy-handed dealings with non-citizens and refugees is now well documented. Hitting the ground running following his promotion to Minister for Home Affairs, he announced plans to pursue criminal offenders holding dual citizenship. In 2018 you can expect him to further test just how far he can stretch the legislation to strip Australians of their citizenship. And beyond that …

“Then they finally came for me — and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

(Quotes in bold italics attributed to Rev Martin Niemöller – a Lutheran pastor who survived years of imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp 1938-1945).

The Stranger On Your Shore

The subdued young man sitting in front of the Border Force official looked tired and unkempt. And yet, in a stark contrast his deep brown eyes seemed alive; like quiet wells of clarity and understanding. The officer discreetly surveyed the figure sitting before him as he reviewed the confidential case notes on the screen. The man had fled from the Middle East without identification papers or passport, and enquiries had revealed him to have a record of public nuisance and disrespect for religion and government authority. He had been on a watch-list for some time as a result of his anti-social activities and it appeared that he had been detained and questioned in his own country on at least one previous occasion.

In previous interviews, the young man had revealed that he had suffered severe torture during this time, although this could not be verified by other intelligence sources. Today, he had answered each question dutifully and respectfully but offered nothing further by way of amplification or explanation. The only time that he spoke out of turn during the interview was to politely enquire as to how much longer he would remain in indefinite detention.

‘I would prefer you didn’t use the term indefinite detention’ said the officer.

‘Perhaps then, you are able to tell me when you propose to release me?’

‘I’m sorry but as you know, I can’t give you a time. It will take as long as it needs to in order to establish your legitimacy as a refugee.’

‘And is that not then by definition indefinite?’

The officer said nothing, dropping his eyes to scour the information on his profile, rather than look into those eyes. The stranger continued, his voice softly insistent:

‘I had hoped for a welcome place at your table, but instead found only tall fences and high walls.’

‘How long have you been here now?’ asked the officer, already knowing the answer.

‘It has been almost four years since our boat arrived on your shore,’ came the calm response.

‘Yes, I see,’ continued the officer, quickly searching the dark eyes that held his gaze unerringly. ‘And can you tell me why you decided to come here by boat?’

The man bowed his weary head momentarily; his patient demeanour unchanged. He had been asked the same question more than a dozen times since first arriving here. His response, when it came, was thoughtfully weighed.

‘Ask yourself, how dire must a danger be on dry land that men and women would consider the safer option for their children to be weeks on an angry sea in a small leaky boat?’

Hidden behind the screen the officer rolled his eyes; pausing to down the last dregs of his lukewarm coffee. Boat people. He had not thought to offer the swarthy man a drink, despite the heat of the day. In truth, the bearded stranger unsettled him somehow, leaving him oddly uncomfortable and off-balance.

‘What can you tell me about your family circumstances?’

‘My family had fled persecution and re-settled in a rural area. We were not wealthy, but I learned a trade from my father and earned a living that way. But I am sure you already know all of this.’

The uniformed man breathed a heavy frustrated sigh. Straightening visibly in his chair, he drew a deep centering breath and assumed an air of formality:

‘The problem is we have received concerning information that suggests you are a political dissident. An agitator. This is significant and it may affect your claims for residency in Australia. As you can appreciate, we cannot allow people of bad character to threaten our community and way of life. We are a Christian nation, and as Christians we care for one another. Do you understand?’

‘Sir, I have no criminal convictions and I have hurt no-one; nor have I encouraged anybody to do so. I have only spoken my truth, and that I understand is not a crime.’

‘You arrived here without a valid passport or travel document and that could be seen as a crime.’

‘I have never had need of a passport, but I have never represented myself fraudulently. Your people seem far more intent on proving the threat that I represent, than in who I truly am. I was given only a boat number for a name when I arrived here.’

The officer glanced back at the computer screen, grateful that the interview was coming to an end.

‘Well, perhaps you could state your full given name for me?’ asked the officer in a tired voice.

The bearded, unkempt young paused momentarily, before delivering his perfectly measured reply:

‘I am Jesus Christ, son of Joseph, son of God.’

* * *

Last week the Hon Scott Morrison MP stated that he will “fight back against discrimination and mockery of Christians and other religious groups in 2018.” In his maiden speech a decade ago, Morrison spoke of the importance of his deep personal faith. The tragic irony of this is that the Jesus Christ in whom he places this deep faith was a brown skinned young man of Middle Eastern descent. A man who had effectively been put on a ‘watch list’ as a trouble-maker and agitator. A man who, if fleeing that oppression today and seeking refuge in Australia, would very likely be thrown into a detention centre indefinitely by Christians such as Morrison and his ilk.

It seems that this hypocrisy is all but lost on our politicians as they prepare to celebrate the birth of the man whose teachings they claim to follow. It is a further irony then that these men who claim such allegiance to Christ also turn a blind eye to the human rights atrocities on a detention island named after Him – Christmas Island.

“The Day The Music Died”

Pretty much every Australian teenager growing up in the 1970’s knew about Countdown. And so, I would wager, did thousands of long suffering parents. Watching the Saturday evening music show became something of a national ritual. It was one of the very few times when we sat down in the same room as our siblings without the petty bickering, hushing our bemused oldies as the familiar intro theme heralded a somewhat shambolic hour long plunge into a sensually tacky world of colour, flashing lights and badly mimed video clips. The visual effects were unsophisticated and crass by today’s standards. The satin flares, lairy costumes and bad haircuts seemed in perfectly good taste at the time. For us Countdown was rebellion, experimentation and the claiming of a world that adults could neither comprehend nor truly participate in. And then there was Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum, always looking quietly perplexed by his own creation, yet always dropping names like Madonna, Bowie and Jagger with a schoolboy vitality. He loved what he did, and so too, it seemed, did Australia. We excused Molly his quaint bumbling mannerisms – indeed his shambling presence perfectly complemented the whole tone of the show.

But beyond the crass theatrics and the seminal excitement, there was the music. And the music was new, fresh and like a fever it was catching. Countdown became our musical window to the world, and every Saturday and Sunday evening we were transported; tuned in to a common wavelength that united us. Pretty soon Aussie kids were sporting ABBA T-shirts and taking their lunch to school in ABBA lunchboxes. The girls donning tartan in honour of their idols the Bay City Rollers. For the guys it was KISS. But as well as connecting us with the music scene of the UK and USA, Countdown became the conduit for the emergence of Aussie rock. And it very quickly became clear that Australian musicians could stand on their own merits. Indeed, they could virtually carry the entire show, and more often than not, they did just that. They rapidly became household names courtesy of Countdown – the pop of Sydney’s Sherbet and Melbourne’s Skyhooks. The hard rock of the Angels, AC/DC, Cold Chisel and the Oils. A string of teeny-bopper bubble-gum popsters like John Paul Young, William Shakespeare and Mark Holden. The ladies of blues and soul included Marcia Hines and Renee Geyer. What we were witnessing was the rich musical ‘coming of age’ of our nation, and the Australian music industry blossomed and grew like a vast sprawling evergreen through the seventies and eighties.

The roots of Australian contemporary popular music can be traced back to a largely British and European heritage. This is hardly unusual, given the mass migration of white settlers in the post-war decades. It was European migrants that formed the backbone of Australian music. Pop ambassadors John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John were English-born as were the Bee Gees’ Gibb brothers. The Scots were well represented and many of them still live on today in big name Aussie acts – Barnesy for one still retains his mighty voice!

The Easybeats were an ‘Australian’ band who met in Sydney in 1964. They were the first Aussie rock and roll act to score an international pop hit in 1966 with the anthematic ‘Friday On My Mind.’ Like many popular music groups, theirs was a star that blazed brightly for a short time and then was gone. By 1969 the flame was extinguished, and they disbanded. Their legacy however, lives on to this day. And their place as early pioneers of Australian music remains the stuff of legend.

So who exactly were The Easybeats? Firstly, all five members were born overseas and had recently emigrated with their families from Europe: vocalist Stevie Wright and drummer Gordon “Snowy” Fleet were from England; rhythm guitarist George Young was from Scotland and lead guitarist Harry Vanda and bassist Dick Diamonde hailed from the Netherlands.

George’s younger brothers might be better known to some Australians – Malcolm and Angus formed AC/DC soon after, following in the musical footsteps of their older brother.
The young men who became Australia’s Easybeats met each other in a place called the Villawood Migrant Hostel, where they lived with their families until their parents found permanent homes for them. In a cruel twist, that same hostel has now been converted into the Villawood Detention Centre – a concentration camp incarcerating ‘non-citizens’ whose resident visas have been cancelled and may be deported permanently.

What exactly happened to our nation that in a few short decades those same immigrants that we welcomed with open arms and embraced as our own are today treated as little more than sub-human and left to rot for months, if not years, in places like the Villawood Detention Centre and remote Christmas Island?

The transformation of the old Villawood Migrant Hostel into the current day maximum security Villawood Detention Centre stands as perfect testament to Australia’s changing sentiment with regards to immigrants. As a hostel in the mid-60s it was filled with life – a place of hopes and dreams for European migrants looking forward expectantly to a new life for their young families in the lucky country. In its draconian present day incarnation it houses only grief and despair – its detainee population condemned to endless months; facing the grim prospect of permanent estrangement from their families and the only life they know. The suicides that have occurred there never make the news. Fates are held in the hands of one man who will ultimately decide whether they stay or leave.

With sweeping new powers, that man – Immigration minister Dutton – has deported hundreds of permanent residents in numbers not seen since World War 2. Cases are emerging in the media of non-citizens, who have families here and have lived here since childhood, being deported for a range of minor offences including driving without a license and road rage.

Where then would that have left people like The Easybeats’ singer Stevie Wright – already drug addicted in the early 70s and charged with housebreaking and arrested for heroin abuse? Or Bon Scott, Scottish-born AC/DC vocalist, who served 9 months in juvenile detention for unlawful carnal knowledge, escaping custody and theft? Or the stream of expatriate European musos who came to the attention of the law?

The Countdown phenomenon could never have happened in our current political climate, and certainly not in the reign of heartless right-wing Immigration minister Dutton – a bitter ex-cop. In 2017, many of those key players of that burgeoning Aussie music scene would be in immigration detention, torn from their families and facing the prospect of deportation. Many ironically would be imprisoned in Villawood Detention Centre, the very same ‘hostel’ where The Easybeats first met many years ago.

In many ways Dutton represents the complete antithesis of what Meldrum’s Countdown stood for. What Meldrum embraced with joy and enthusiasm, Dutton rejects with a dour bitterness. Meldrum was proud of the ‘new Australians’ and was never short of a word of encouragement for our up and coming bands. And in the 60s, 70s and 80s we in turn were united by the music they made. In 2017, Dutton seeks only to divide us – seeing simply citizens and ‘non-citizens.’ He too claims to be representative of the national interest and Australian values, and yet he has almost singlehandedly destroyed a spirit which gave rise to 5 decades of music like some sullen, hate filled party-pooper.

Following the release of their international hit ‘Friday On My Mind’, The Easybeats gave an English radio interview, only to be mildly offended when the interviewer referred to them as an English band. ‘We’re Australian!’ they retorted loudly. ‘Three of you are British and two of you are Dutch,’ countered the interviewer, ‘What exactly makes you Australian?’

‘The music!’ they replied in unison.

You’ve been watching Countdown 2017 and this is the day the music died. Goodnight Australia.

This article was originally published on lionheartleojai.blogspot.com.au.

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