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Category Archives: Social Justice

Freedom Street: An Immigrant’s Journey into Australia’s Border Protection Cruelty

By Alfred Pek  

On the 15th of June 2004, it was the day that I first migrated to Australia. I remembered having many first moments in my life as a 10-year-old who could barely speak English. Upon breathing the cold, fresh dry air of Sydney, my asthma was gone! I was astounded by how quiet, spacious, clean and organised the streets and the neighbourhoods were. It was also the first time in my life where I was truly at peace. I’ve always thought I’d face racism everywhere I go as a Chinese Indonesian. But my concerns were unfounded.

No one really bats an eye for me as an Asian. I no longer have to justify my existence for being a mixed ethnic or a multi-faith child. None of these things mattered anymore in Australia. My family didn’t even mind starting from the bottom again when we moved here. Having overcome the hardships of poverty and social discriminations in Indonesia, and knowing that this country guarantees protections and welfare of its citizens and population, this was a huge blessing for us all and we can really work hard to better our lives as a result.

But perhaps the biggest culture shock for me when I moved to Australia was its egalitarian values being practiced on the day-to-day life as well as its culture of accountability. I’m not painting a dark picture of the rest of the world, but there’s not many places where a lot of us can actually feel we can have certainty with our future and trajectory once we put our hard work into it. I’m not saying nepotism doesn’t exist here, but it is far less than the rest of the world. The Meritocracy idea is well and truly alive here. But it wasn’t all rosy and sweet when we first moved here.

My family’s qualifications weren’t recognised upon moving to Australia. All of us have to work in many labour-intensive jobs to make ends meet. I couldn’t do much as a high school kid besides helping around the house and learning English and following the school curriculum. I too eventually also work in labour intensive service jobs during my studies to help the family. Learning English wasn’t exactly easy to pick up for my mother. Both my sister and eventually I had to become the translator of the family. I had no choice but to help my mum’s legal documentations and her TAFE courses and assignments. And we had to make sure we did everything right to become good citizens, proving to our fellow local Australians of our values to society. It took us some time to get settled, and after around seven years we did just that. We were able to call ourselves Australians and we became fully adjusted to where we are now.

 

Pictured: Alfred Pek, Mother (left) and Sister (right)

 

However, whilst pursuing a media degree at university, I was eventually exposed to the cruel politics and the reality of how Australians treat its refugees in its detention centres on the mainland, Manus Island, Nauru, and arguably Indonesia. It took me a while to even grasp a concept of it because I would have thought people seeking refuge would come by plane. How would they even be able to come by boat? At first, I really feel like we as immigrants were betrayed that people like them who “skipped” the immigration process. Why couldn’t they go and join the process like everyone else?

Of course, then I was enlightened that there were no processes for these people to even seek protection in the region in the first place. Those fleeing persecution often come from places that are difficult to obtain any sort of visa to safe countries. And if money isn’t the issue, they can actually afford people smugglers. Because, unfortunately, these very exploitative smugglers are the only saviours that these people can rely on, much like Oskar Schindler smuggling the Jews from the Nazis. And for some they don’t even have citizenship anywhere to begin with. Where can they even be deported? How could these ever seek protection in any legal sort of way?

The very institutions that process these refugees rely on for protection (UNHCR, IOM and other NGOs) are not only severely underfunded and stretched to the brink by the fact that the world is currently facing the largest number of displaced people around the world in history. Furthermore, it is also being neglected by the resettlement countries who are increasingly nowadays are closing their borders prior to the pandemic.

Australian governments used to uphold its international standing and obligation and help resettle refugees seeking protection in our region (the Vietnamese and the Cambodians) during the 1970s until the 1990s. Along with other allied nations, Australia used to share resources and cooperate with the Southeast Asian nations like my home country Indonesia to create reception centres to humanely process and fly the refugees into our shores and help resettle the refugees who are seeking protection in our regions.

 

Pictured: Joniad & Ashfaq – Courtesy of Freedom Street Documentary

 

“(Politicians) used to create town hall meetings, gather constituents and educate the public about who actually are coming to our shores, and emphasise on why Australia must act on upholding our integrity in the international standings of the rules based order,” said Dr. Amy Nethery, a Senior Lecturer in Politics and Policy Studies at Deakin University who is featured in Freedom Street.

Yet we started to turn our backs against those who are genuinely seeking asylum, beginning from the 1990s until today. If Australian politicians want to save lives for those who are seeking asylum, then how come they don’t maintain safe and humane reception centres for refugees and asylum seekers across South East Asia? If saving lives means stopping the boats, then why remove the reception centre’s infrastructure that prevents it? Nobody wants to ever venture by boats unless they genuinely do not have any other alternative.

The backdrop of the cold war and the conflict in the South East Asia region might have subdued (notwithstanding the Rohingyan Refugee Crisis). And the number of refugees heading towards Australasia have never reached the peak during the Indochinese Crisis. Yet, the offshore and mainland processing expenditure that goes towards processing the case and screening refugees in Manus, Nauru, Kangaroo Point, Mantra Hotel and countless detention centres across the country have ballooned to more than $12 billion dollars of our tax money since 2013. But these detention centres and the thousands who have been detained, abused, tortured, and deprived of their basic agency, rights, and dignity are only one half of Australia’s cruel border protection policies.

 

Pictured: Refugee Protests in Makassar in 2019 – Courtesy of Freedom Street Documentary

 

The other half (arguably larger) comes from Australia’s influence on Indonesia to detain around 14000 refugees since 2013. This was all an attempt to stop the people-filled boats departing from Indonesia towards Australia. Despite having nowhere near the numbers of boat crossings that refugees and immigrants went through comparatively in the Mediterranean and South East Asia, Australia, along with Indonesia and other countries in the region during the 2000s created the Bali Process, the regional cooperation framework that manages and irregular trafficking and migration along with Indonesia and other countries in its vicinity. It funds IOM in Indonesia and does further incentives to strengthen Indonesia’s own military, police, and immigration essentially to halt these very processes.

The consequence, of course, is that Indonesia has become the last outpost for refugees living in protracted transit with little hope of any resettlement in the Asia-Pacific Region. Refugees in Indonesia don’t have any human rights such as work, schooling, or to participate in its civil and social society. It really only ever had a definition and a guideline on what is and how to manage “Foreign Refugee” in 2016. The only reason Indonesia ever cared about this issue in the first place is precisely due to its political and economical reliance it has on Australia. Indonesia with a population of over 270 million people will not have the incentive to care for the tens of thousands of refugees if it wasn’t for Australia’s externalisation of it’s border protection policy.

As an Indonesian, I understand Indonesia’s challenges for its own citizens. The government there doesn’t even necessarily always have the capacity to help millions of its own citizens, a lot of us including my own family have to help ourselves. Welfare programs are miniscule to non-existent. As an Australian citizen, I am furious that Australia has incentivised my home country to cooperate on this cruel inhumane border protection exercise. As both, along with the thousands of advocates across Australia, Indonesia and the region, we feel the moral responsibility to tell and educate the truth to all. Thus the creation of the currently in development documentary called “Freedom Street”. Below is the synopsis of the project:

14000 Refugees are trapped in limbo; caught in the crossfire of Australia’s border policy and Indonesia’s indifference.

Freedom Street is the harrowing story of Joniad, Ashfaq and Azizah, three refugees who are affected by the consequence of Australia’s policies. This feature-length documentary tells their moving stories while deconstructing Australian policy in a series of conversations with various experts who contextualise and illuminate the issue.

 

 

 

Pictured from Left to Right: Ashfaq, Joniad, Azizah, and Alfred – Courtesy of Freedom Street Documentary

 

My journey of almost 3 years of working in this documentary and more than 5 years as an accidental advocate have culminated towards the development of this film. The challenges were immense. Amongst advocates, most are already exhausted dealing with the man-made crises this government created with Manus, Nauru and the various hotels and mainland detention centres, and so has been difficult to pitch to local production companies. As a result, the project has been mostly self-funded, and the directing, filming and producing has largely been done by myself and a small team of colleagues who volunteer and advocate in their very limited time and capacity.

As an Australian, an Indonesian, a pragmatist, and as a human being with logic and conscience who has been exposed to this, I cannot stand by and let it slide. I have to use my privilege that me and my family earned to do what is right, alongside with the tens of thousands of advocates and refugees in the region fighting for their freedom every day. As a nation we spend money on committing crimes instead of taking care of our own citizens. The fact is that it will be cheaper to be humane to refugees in our region. The fact that alongside the Indigenous issues, we have neglected the rights, dignity, health, and the humanity for those who are genuinely seeking asylum is the absolute worst. And this is coming from me, an Immigrant who has full gratitude to what Australia has brought the opportunity for me and my family.

How can a country I am proud to call home commit to such heinous crimes and especially involving my home country in the process? Knowing these truths, I am more than ever driven to create a tool that can empower the voiceless and enlighten the full context of this entire situation, as well as creating an effective platform for change that many of us in the region desperately need. Many advocates are weary and tired of being dragged around in this nightmare. It’s not just the refugees stories we need to hear the truth from, it is time we hear the experts and changemakers that will finally fully contextualise this entire issue once and for all and create and uncover the fundamentals of Australia’s darkest secrets.

 

Pictured: Street Sign translating to ‘Pioneer of Freedom Street” – Courtesy of Freedom Street Documentary

 

Freedom Street is currently in production and raising funds to complete the film. Tax-deductible donations can be made at the Documentary Australia Foundation website.

Freedom Street is an ongoing project, funded primarily through donations. Should you wish to donate, you can do so through the Documentary Australia Foundation (tax-deductible). Why have our tax money being used to oppress refugees? Why not instead get tax deductions by supporting the project that challenges the cruelty that our government has done for them?

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It’s not about Sex or Race, stupid. It’s about justice and mercy.

By David Ayliffe  

I get so annoyed with people who use their religious faith or a sense of outdated morality to condemn people they don’t like or agree with. The same sex marriage debate brought out the best and the worst in our nation but then we showed them all when a huge majority voted “Yes”.

As a Marriage Celebrant I have conducted many weddings a year. Some of the most moving and special have been the same sex marriages that I have been privileged to perform since the law changed.

Well, I’m still a disability support worker too but at 66 I’ve started a new journey that some of my friends might question. They could well ask why a husband, father and grandfather would be committing hours of his time and money to supporting queer refugees in far off Kenya, East Africa?

“Has he gone mad?”

Well my answer is you don’t have to be gay or mad to care about suffering human beings. Justice and mercy, equal treatment for all transcends race, sexuality and any other difference that people may experience.

It all started with a Facebook friend request and message from a young man in Africa. I normally refuse these.

For some reason the request from this man was different so I responded. He asked me how I was and I said briefly “I’m ok. And you?” The answer was “I’m not ok. We have no food and no clean water.”

Now I had checked with a friend who knew him and who told me that he was a genuine gay refugee from Uganda. I knew that thanks to the support of conservative “hard right” evangelical Christians Uganda had hideous laws against homosexuals. Many African nations have been encouraged by these religious bigots to embrace laws that sentence homosexuals to isolation and sometimes death.

Aboriginal singer-songwriter Kev Carmody said it so well:

“Your Jesus said you’re supposed to give the oppressed a better deal.”

Yep, many many Christians would agree with him but sadly some of the loudest voices in our world don’t. Consider those hard-right Christians in America who seem to see Jesus in the racist narcissist Donald Trump who consistently refuses to condemn Klu Klux Klan types of organisations for their hate filled words and beliefs.

As the 1965 song said:

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love,

No not just for some but for everyone.”

I believed it as a child. I believe it more now. More humanity to others. More care. More love. More compassion. A better world.

That initial contact with a young man in Kenya found me joining a small group of people who have been doing extraordinary work for some of the most oppressed in the world.

Consider just one story:

“Well, I am 24 Gay.

I was chased away from home by my parents and community after they discovered that am Gay. I was brutally assaulted and I was nearly killed …

I decided to run to UNHCR Kenya to seek protection and was then brought into the camp. Ever Since I arrived here, life has been so worse for me.

In fact, I am a target.

Last year I was attacked and cut in the neck by Sudanese refugees for being gay. In March this year, I was pushed into a long ditch, my joints and bones in the right leg got broken and dislocated. Some friends supported me with treatment and I thank God, there is an improvement though I am still in pain.

My life remains in danger.”

There are many others like the lesbian whose girlfriend’s parents poisoned their own daughter when they discovered she was gay. No wonder her surviving partner fled Uganda fearing her own parents would do the same only to find in the Kakuma refugee camp the danger of hatred from other refugees.

Since beginning this new journey I have helped my friends form an association “Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees” and so far our first fundraising exercise has raised just over $1,800 but we have spent much than $6,000 just trying to keep people alive and safe.  It’s a job that large organisations should be doing the UNHCR should be doing but it seems, since COVID, because they have had to restrict their activities they insist the best place despite the dangers is for all refugees to stay within the camp.

When they flee to live on the streets of Nairobi, bashings and abuse of all kinds take place where sometimes they have only their bodies to sell to survive.

Even so, there are some wonderful stories of humanity in action. Through online contacts I have met an incredible young man who takes people to medical clinics for treatment and often stays with them overnight if they are afraid and alone. A real hero to those in need. Another young man rents safe houses in Nairobi where he offers accommodation to people he finds on the streets. He does it out of love and a true sense of care. He is particularly concerned for a Lesbian group with children who are living in the desert. They need food and they need to be brought to Nairobi to another safe house. If only …

The generosity of a handful of people is paying for provisions and rents in private accommodation for queer refugees but we desperately need more people to support us.

You don’t have to be queer to help queer folk in need. You don’t have to be black to help black people. You only need to be human and to care. We are looking for people who can give what they can as a once off gift or on a monthly basis. The one thing we can promise you is that you will save lives. You will be part of a wonderful human story.

You might ask, what has happened to my new friend of only a few weeks ago? Well this week he was to fly to America to start a new life with safe asylum. We paid for his travel to the airport and for food for his flight. He was so excited, but then when he got to the airport and found some of his papers had not been stamped by the authorities he was turned away. And so, through no fault of his own, he returned to his house where the rent will be due soon to wait yet again.

He had said he wanted to meet me for a coffee when he arrived in America, but I had to explain that whilst I would like that very much, there is a bit of a difference in kilometres between Melbourne, Australia and there.

Our fundraiser: chuffed.org/project/humans-in-need-rainbow-refugees.

Please join us.

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Values and priorities

What do you think of Australia’s attitude to refugees and migrants?

In fact how do you rate current government policies?

We are seldom offered an opportunity to replicate past successes, so, instead, we should concentrate on learning from past mistakes.

As an example, the ALP’s approach to saving the economy in the GFC was lauded by the world but denigrated by the Coalition.

In the current financial crisis, the Coalition have not succeeded in developing an equally successful strategy.

What may have been good in its day, may be totally inappropriate as the world moves on, but the approach by the ALP was to help everybody. The Coalition has been selective..

We learn from observation and our own experiences, and the onus is on us to use all of that to try to progress in a positive way – if, that is, we are not stuck with a belief that what has happened in the past is good enough for us in the future!

Looking back over the centuries, women have occasionally held supreme authority, but it would have been rare for those women to have not been advised by, and often pressured into conforming to the views of, older males! Equal status for men and women is still a long way off, and the most recent budget has highlighted this fact.

A majority of people in nursing, childcare and care assistance positions in Aged Care are women. These have borne the brunt of helping others during the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, the financial recompense they receive is far from being appropriate to the value of their work in humanitarian terms, and many of them would have also had to bear the major share of caring for their own families.

The need for them to have adequate and affordable access to childcare has received scant attention, because too many of the older, white males responsible for decision making have, necessarily, no personal experience to open their eyes to their ignorance.

While younger males are beginning to wake up to the fact that laundry, cooking and housework are not actually the exclusive province of mothers, sisters and female partners or the paid help – despite many now working from home, which might have provided an insight for some men of the extent of household chores in which they were not normally personally involved – in general the traditional approach to family life has been based on stereotypes.

OK – Scott Morrison big notes his cookery skills when it comes to curry, but who does most of the home related chores, including looking after the children’s needs, not just taking time out to play with them, when they are not relying on paid staff?

To my dying day – which is now not so far off! – I shall be grateful to my mother for her strength and support to my older sister and me in enabling us to pursue a career in fields which were not ‘traditional’.

My sister aspired to study medicine. She was encouraged to do so and ended up as a surgical registrar. She moved into General Practice with her husband after having a family and her career was cut short when she died at 47.

I had a friend who was very good at languages and had the ability to study an Arts degree in foreign languages and go on to a diplomatic career in the Foreign Office.

Her parents had converted to the Catholic faith and her mother saw the role of women as being to marry and have a family, in which case, she maintained, any tertiary study would be wasted.

When I think of the questions my children expected me to help them answer, I cannot think of any aspect of my education which has not been really useful!

My friend ended up doing a bilingual secretarial course at the Institut Français in London. She had some very interesting jobs but they were far from demanding the full use of her potential, and, yes, she married and had children, but she was then not so well placed to pick up a career had her marriage broken down!

Since coming to Australia, I have never ceased to be amazed at the extent to which Australia has lagged behind in terms of adjusting to change in both work and social issues.

Abortion was made legal in the UK, and available under the NHS, in 1967, for example!

Because my best subject was mathematics, I have always felt that it acted as a magic screen to protect me from discrimination as a woman! After all – so many girls are told that girls can’t do maths – and, sadly, believe it! – so, for that to be demonstrably false in my case, took the wind out of the bigot’s sails!

In the UK, my older sister and I went to an all girls Grammar School, while my older brother attended the boys Grammar School. Our syllabus was almost identical, the only major difference being that while they did a year each of woodwork and metalwork, we did needlework and cookery.

Our female teachers were as well qualified as their male staff, since all, bar the Sports/Phys Ed staff had graduated from university, while those teaching up to university entrance level had Honours degrees in their discipline area. One of my maths teachers was a Cambridge graduate.

Getting into a Grammar School was not restricted to those with money, because there were no school fees!

I only taught in all girls schools in the UK and coming to Darwin and teaching at a coed secondary school was an eye opener!

Without exception, in all the schools I have taught, in both the UK and Australia, the top maths student in Year 12 was always a girl! So much for the ‘girls can’t do maths’ brigade.

Needless to say – it is an all-male brigade!

I know all about the tall poppy syndrome and to me it says something about the fragility of the self esteem of the males in that brigade, that they need to use a similar approach to maintain superiority!

I have learned, having had a daughter and 2 sons, that there are major differences between males and females, based on hormones, just as there are differences on a similar scale between individuals depending on their talents.

My daughter reads The Australian – I do not, and we have very different views on the significance of climate change! I have studied science – in her BA she majored in Social Science and Philosophy. Our differing levels of interest and expertise enliven our discussions!

So being of the same gender does not guarantee having even similar approaches to life, but there are some aspects where there is a greater likelihood of similar views.

We kid ourselves when we claim to be a democracy and criticise authoritarian regimes like China.

I am sure there are many Australian residents who see the Australian government as unacceptably authoritarian!

With all the nations and cultures which have contributed, through migration, to this nation – in the process ignoring for the most part the First Nations who have been so displaced and ill-treated – we are long way from being a democracy.

We have avoided any serious discussion of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, too many of those descended from the first convict settlement era and many who have come since, are seriously racist, and the breadth of cultures and the diversity of people are grossly underrepresented in our Parliaments.

Increasingly, those we elect from the major parties have no experience of real life and work in the community, having come up through party ranks and being obliged to toe the party line and eschew independent thinking, at least in public.

Our Constitution is incredibly hard to amend, and yet it should be torn up and discarded in favour of a document which enshrines human rights, demands we honour the various commitments on issues like the treatment of refugees, and ensures higher standards of transparency and integrity in government than we are presently enduring, while recognising that every member of society should be valued, but appropriately treated if they cause harm to others.

Our top priority at present is to ensure that everyone living in Australia is appropriately assisted, not ignored because they do not fit neatly into a category the government sees as deserving of assistance.

I still maintain that the cost to the individual, and to the country as a whole, of having a plethora of welfare packages requiring endless form filling and oversight by Centrelink, would be massively reduced at the stroke of a pen, if the government introduced a Universal Basic Income which ensured that no one was without the means to cope with life or went hungry to bed with no roof for shelter.

I want to feel proud of being an Australian.

At present I do not.

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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Peter Dutton won’t be taking detained refugees’ phones

By Paul Gregoire  

The controversial bill to outlaw phone use by refugees has been defeated, enabled by popular vote, advocates and a public poll.

A significant victory was claimed by the Australian campaign to uphold the rights of wrongly detained refugees in this country, when Senator Jacqui Lambie announced last Friday that she’ll be voting against depriving immigration detainees of contact with the outside world.

The outcome is noteworthy because Lambie didn’t make any backdoor political deals in coming to her decision. She threw her vote open to the public, asking what they thought. And of the over 100,000 people who got back, an overwhelming 96% asked her to vote against it.

Set to be voted down in the Senate this week, the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 was all about removing mobile phones from those in immigration detention, as well as expanding the search and seizure powers of officers.

Despite the usual nasty rhetoric coming from the department to justify why these people should be cut off from the rest of humanity, Lambie made clear that detainees aren’t organising “riots” on phones, but rather they’re texting “friends and family” and watching “YouTube videos about cats”.

Credit must also be extended to the hundreds of thousands in the community – the supporters, civil society groups and politicians of all persuasions – who ensured that all immigration detainees won’t be deprived of this vital lifeline, including the Medevac transferees hauled up in hotels.

A victory inside

“I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all the amazing people who voted no to what Jacqui Lambie created,” said 34-year-old Kurdish refugee Mostafa Azimitabar. “And I’d also like to thank Jacqui Lambie for supporting us on this and letting us have our phones.”

“I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all the amazing people who voted no to what Jacqui Lambie created,” said 34-year-old Kurdish refugee Mostafa Azimitabar. “And I’d also like to thank Jacqui Lambie for supporting us on this and letting us have our phones.”

“Sometimes I feel my phone is alive,” the long-term detainee continued. “I can be in touch with my family and friends, first of all. And also, I am in touch with my lawyer and some doctors,”

“I feel I am not alone. I don’t feel homesick. And it helps me not to give up.”

 

 

Mostafa, or Moz, is currently being held in Melbourne’s Mantra Hotel, along with around 60 other former offshore detainees, who came to Australia for treatment after two doctors assessed it as necessary, and the minister checked and then gave approval, under the now revoked Medevac laws.

Indeed, Moz and other rights advocates both inside and outside detention, ran a successful campaign on 1 September that involved calling the office of acting immigration minister Alan Tudge to tell him that confiscating refugees’ mobile phones wasn’t on.

“This is a small victory. It means that the power of the people is stronger than the politicians,” Moz told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “And these people who wanted us to keep our phones, I am sure they want us to be free.”

Itching to deny them

Dressed up in the scare tactic rhetoric of minister Tudge’s second reading speech on it, and its numerous provisions, the Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities Bill doesn’t overtly indicate that mobile phones and internet-capable devices are its main target.

But considered alongside what had come before, its aim is obvious.

Back in February 2017, then immigration minister Peter Dutton and the Australian Border Force launched a new policy that aimed to confiscate the mobile phones of everyone in immigration detention.

Prior to the enforcement of this prohibition, the National Justice Project obtained a temporary injunction, which the not-for-profit legal service followed up with a class action that culminated in the Federal Court ruling in June 2018 that the department couldn’t confiscate detainee’s property.

The Federal Court initially knocked back a Dutton-led challenge to the temporary injunction in August 2017, so the minister then went about introducing the first version of the prohibiting items legislation in September that year, which simply went on to lapse.

Then in May, when federal parliament met for three emergency sitting days to deal with legislation that couldn’t wait until after the pandemic, Dutton and Co made a renewed attempt to bring about laws to confiscate refugees’ phones.

Life-saving devices

More than 150,000 voices from across Australia called on the Senate to take action, and today we congratulate the senators for listening,” said National Justice Project director George Newhouse, who successfully brought the class action against Dutton’s initial phone ban.

“Mobile phones save lives every day,” the legal service’s principal solicitor continued. “They are a legal, emotional, social, and cultural lifeline without which the government could silence and punish people seeking asylum with impunity.”

Newhouse explained that minister Dutton is trying to take away phones “from the innocent men, women, and children who he has detained.” And this would not only deprive them of vital communications with loved ones, but also cut them off from their legal representation.

“I believe that Priya, Nadesalingam and their two children would be in Sri Lanka today if they had not had their mobile phones with them on the night that the guards stormed their room in Villawood Immigration Centre,” Newhouse maintained.

Also known as the Biloela Tamil refugee family, Priya, Nadesalingam and their two Australian-born children were about to be covertly deported by plane last August, when they were able to contact supporters via their phone, which led to a last minute judicial reprieve.

Now, the family are deplorably being detained at Scott Morrison’s Christmas Island facility.

 

Biloela Tamil refugee family (Image from themorningbulletin.com.au)

Release them into the community

The failed mobile phone confiscation bill appeared mid-pandemic at a time when there was a rising focus upon the former Manus Island and Nauru offshore refugees and asylum seekers who came to Australia under Medevac last year and are now being held in hotels.

The men at the Mantra Hotel and the other 120-odd detainees held at Brisbane’s Kangaroo Point Central Hotel weren’t – and still haven’t been – given any way to protect themselves against COVID-19.

There’s no room to keep social distance in these establishments. The guards don’t take virus protective measures. And one staff member has tested positive for COVID-19 whilst working at each of the hotels that are now deemed alternative places of detention (APODs).

The majority of the information about the plight of these men – who were brought here for medical assistance and then locked away during a health crisis to be given none – has been making its way out to the public via their mobile phones and internet-capable devices.

And as long-term refugee rights advocate Jane Salmon points out, now Lambie has seen this important victory over the line, it’s time to turn back to the greater campaign that involves seeing the Medevac refugees released into the community, so they can have their freedom after seven long years.

This piece was originally published on The Big Smoke. You can find them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TheBigSmokeAU/) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TheBigSmokeAU).

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on civil rights, drug law reform, gender and Indigenous issues. Along with Sydney Criminal Lawyers, he writes for VICE and is the former news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

 

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Forced Income Management: The Cashless Welfare Card

By Tina Clausen  

YOUR assistance is URGENTLY needed to stop the further roll out of the privatisation of Social Security via the forced income management of anyone who happens to receive some kind of Social Security payment.

On Wednesday a Bill is up for voting in Parliament in order to add a new ‘trial’ area as well as extend the existing ongoing years long ‘trials’ already happening in many places around Australia. The final plan is to impose this draconian scheme on anyone of any age on any kind of Social Security benefit or pension. This week’s Bill is to add in the WHOLE of the Northern Territory as a ‘trial area’.

Everyone on any kind of Social Security payment, not just job seekers but also carers, people on the Disability Support Pension, students, part-time or gig workers getting a Centrelink top up, single parents, struggling farmers, fledgling small businesses owners, veterans, family tax benefit recipients, ALL are considered by this Government to be financially incompetent (this judgement being based purely on source of income, nothing else) and in need of forced income management.

URGENT: Phone or Email the Crossbench to VOTE NO on ‘Transition Bill 2019’.

  1. Stirling Griff (08) 8212 1409 / (02) 6277 3128 senator.griff@aph.gov.au
  2. Rex Patrick (08) 8232 1144 / (02) 6277 3785 senator.patrick@aph.gov.au
  3. Rebekha Sharkie (08) 8398 5566 / (02) 6277 2113 rebekha.sharkie.mp@aph.gov.au
  4. Jacqui Lambie (03) 6431 3112 / (02) 6277 3614 senator.lambie@aph.gov.au

The Cashless Welfare Card forced income management scheme has been falsely promoted as only being there to stop people using Social Security benefits/pensions on alcohol, gambling products and drugs (let us not even start on how and why this assumption of ‘deviancy’ has been applied on a blanket basis to people just because they happen to be clients of Centrelink), but not to worry as everything else is business as usual.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It restricts so much more than that, it is not just like an ordinary debit card in any other way.

Stripping away people’s right to manage their own finances, making them second-class citizens, having to endure abuse and stigmatisation, being automatically branded as drug/alcohol abusers, being financially worse off due to extra fees and charges for using the card, plus penalties for when Indue fail to pay bills set up for direct debit is NOT OK.

Being denied opportunities to make ends meet by accessing cheaper options via markets, garage sales, eBay, buy/sell groups, many online stores, cash in hand sales/repairs etc, is NOT OK.

Many people don’t seem to realise that eBay, Gumtree, a large proportion of on-line businesses as well as many physical stores selling ordinary goods, plus local eating and entertainment places are on ‘Indue’s block list as you could potentially buy alcohol from them. Other excluded businesses have just not bothered to apply to be on Indue’s ‘Approved Merchants’ list. A number have even deliberately decided not to be on it in order to exclude people on Centrelink benefits from accessing their services. Some of these include motels and caravan parks. This has had devastating consequences for some people fleeing domestic violence situations. It is also pure discrimination.

Having to justify to Indue why you should be allowed to spend money (and how much) on items like e.g. specialty bras, some trade services, text books, spare parts, specialised medical equipment needs, school excursions, second hand cars, someone to mow your lawn, attending a school fete, cash needed for transport on regional buses, buying second-hand uniforms, emergency replacement of a second hand fridge or washing machine, emergency car repairs, etc (many being situations where cash is generally asked for) then having to wait days for approval (or not) after submitting an affidavit, photos and a letter that the vendor has to supply, all of that is NOT OK.

Having your financial/credit rating destroyed by Indue whenever they fail to pay your rent or bills in time or fail to process them at all, is NOT OK. Becoming homeless because of this, having your rental history destroyed and real estate agents blacklisting you for non or late rental payments, and/or at the very least, once again continually incurring financial penalties and extra fees and charges is NOT OK.

All of this horror occurring supposedly in the name of ‘supporting’ (punishing actually) those few broken people who may ‘waste’ some of their Social Security benefit on alcohol or drugs. It is worth noting that people identified as having addiction issues already have a support option available in the Centrelink system via being able to be given their payments weekly rather than fortnightly. Ironically, people on this program are EXEMPT from being forced onto the Cashless Welfare Card’s income management scheme.

The lived experience of current ‘Trial Participants’:

  • Increased depression, social isolation and despair.
  • Reports of increased schoolyard ‘poverty’ bullying of kids whose parents have been forced onto this scheme.
  • Direct debit and BPAY Payments not being met on time or honoured, money regularly going missing from Indue accounts.
  • Reports from participants of increased inability to emotionally and physically cope with every day budget management given the complexity of split incomes. Not only between your own bank account and the Indue Cashless Welfare Card account, but the fact that the Indue account is further split into various spending categories that somehow you are meant to keep track of and divide all of your bills, expenses and spending into. Woe betide you if one week you might want to spend more than what has been ‘allocated’ to the grocery category or on unexpected bills. Doesn’t matter if you have more than enough money in ‘your’ account, it has to be in the ‘correct’ category for you to be allowed to spend it.
  • Increases in anger, frustration, desperation.
  • Ongoing stigma and harassment online, in media, in parliament, and socially.
  • Couples experiencing difficulties with no joint access, they must ‘financially divorce’ to continue to receive payments and pay bills.
  • The impact of daily media poverty shaming.
  • Ongoing impacts of economic segregation/social exclusion from every day cash-only family outings.
  • NDIS: People are reporting difficulties with being on Indue Cards and negotiating with NDIS service providers for travel expenses.
  • Increases in Domestic Violence.
  • The bullying, stalking, and active ‘trolling’ of anti-card dissenters by Ministers, paid political activists and a specific group of LNP allied members of the general public (one of whom had to be reported to area police for offline and online stalking of a No Card Hinkler group member).
  • Frequent failure of Indue card technology.
  • Landlords not signing up to CentrePay for rental accommodation.
  • Ongoing cash and third-party renter issues.
  • Experiences of bullying and ‘strong arming’ of local shop owners, service groups and businesses by the Department in trial regions and targeted regions.
  • Inconsistency: Indue LTD staff at shop fronts in trial locations saying one thing to CDC participants and the Department saying another.
  • Loss of dignity and equality.
  • Complaints Job Search Australia and Parents Next staff members using the existence of the cashless debit card as a threat and tool for compliance and bullying.
  • Increases in successful suicides, attempted suicide and self-injury that have not been investigated or openly addressed.
  • No monitoring of ‘at risk’ participants and a lack of reporting processes in place to address critical and cumulative mental health concerns of compulsory CDCT participants.
  • Families reporting a lack of food / going hungry due to random card declines, also an increased need to access food banks and charities.
  • Indue Ltd is not consistently meeting Direct debit and BPAY payments.
  • Families of trial participants reporting they are having to cover expenses and provide needed cash for necessities in order to make up cash shortfalls whenever and wherever the Indue card is not an accepted form of payment.
  • Indue Ltd not making loan, credit card and childcare payments on time (multiple reports).
  • Indue systems failures leaving people stranded.
  • Loss of income by way of increased bank fees and $10 ‘inbound fees’ that are being applied to some participant cash and emergency transfers.
  • Additional transaction fees and in store card user fees.
  • Legitimate Banks are not recognising more than the 20% cash component as lawful recipient income. They won’t recognise the 80% Indue component as income when people apply for loans or credit.
  • Inability of domestic violence victims to flee family violence.
  • Inability to engage in every day cultural and social practices.
  • Minimum spends at local shops impacting cash portion and quarantined portions of income.
  • Indue Ltd has not been investigating lost payments or late payments.
  • People are unable to pay council rates, school fees, childcare costs.
  • Hunger strikes.
  • Miscarriage.
  • Marriage and kinship group breakdown.
  • Homelessness, evictions, landlords unwilling to access CentrePay or wanting to rent to people who are on the cashless welfare card.
  • Inability to access basic shopping services such as Woolworths and Coles online, eBay, PayPal and Australia Post.
  • The refusal of some people to activate cashless debit cards leaving the most vulnerable in extreme and abject poverty, off grid entirely.

I ask everyone to please URGENTLY email or phone the above-mentioned cross benchers to implore them to vote AGAINST this Bill in Parliament on Wednesday. I also ask that you please share this article as far and wide as you possibly can. People MUST be allowed to know the truth about this nefarious and discriminatory scheme, whose only real purpose is the privatisation of Social Security so that a private company can make a huge profit of around $12,000 per person forced on to the card. (What a joke talking about Social Security recipients ‘wasting’ taxpayers’ money.

The Cashless Welfare Card is nothing but financial apartheid and forced social segregation of a group of your fellow community members and Australians.

Acknowledgements:

No Cashless Welfare Debit Card Australia, The Say NO Seven, Kathy Strickland, Kerri Shannon, Kathryn Wilkes for additional information and supplied picture.

“Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management and Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019.”

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The forced sterilisation of women in detention is nothing new

By Mikayla Chadwick  

The headlines may have shocked the world, but the forced sterilisation of immigrants in detention centres is not new, nor should it be surprising.

The Irwin Country Detention Center (ICDC), a prison facility that detains immigrants in Georgia, has been subject to complaints about human rights violations for many years. This month, whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at ICDC, has made allegations of improper medical treatment, detailed in a report by Project South. According to Ms Wooten, hysterectomies are being performed on unwilling women at ICDC, who have no access to translation services and did not give their consent to the sterilisation procedure.

As Wooten herself suffers from sickle cell disease and is thus vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, the alarm has been raised concerning the lack of policy to protect inmates and staff from the pandemic. Wooten “was told not to tell officers that there were detainees that they dealt with day in and day out that were positive.”

“Only God is taking care of us here”, reported a detained migrant at ICDC. The unidentified complainant’s statement was verified by another detainee who asserted “The medical unit is not helpful at all, even if you are dying”, after being subjected to improper medical care and neglectful treatment upon requesting medical care for her breast cancer four times and waiting more than two weeks without seeing a doctor. According to Ms Wooten, “it was common practice for the sick call nurse to shred medical request forms from detained immigrants”, condemning them to weather their illness, no matter how severe.

Explanations ranged from “a small twenty-minute procedure done drilling three small holes in her stomach to drain the cyst” to “receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed”. 

Lorelei Williams, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, stated to The Intercept that ICDC appears to “fail to provide basic medical care, necessary lifesaving treatments, and the resources needed to protect detained migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic”. The failure to care for people locked in immigration prisons is depressingly becoming a global trend. This trend is contextualised by historical medical neglect towards ‘othered’ Americans.

Many examples of women being subjected to heinous treatment were littered throughout Wooten’s testimony. A terrifying example is of one detained immigrant who reported to Project South that she experienced a near-miss of the doctor now termed “The Uterus Collector”. The woman “felt like they were trying to mess with my body”, after being transferred between the unit, an ambulance, the hospital and back to the detention centre, receiving three different accounts of what procedure was scheduled to be performed on her body. Explanations ranged from “a small twenty-minute procedure done drilling three small holes in her stomach to drain the cyst” to “receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed”. After receiving a positive COVID-19 test result, the woman had no operations performed.

“The Uterus Collector” has been identified by Prism as gynaecologist Mahendra Amin. Dr Amin is based in Douglas, Georgia and affiliated with Coffee Regional Medical Center and Irwin County Hospital in Georgia. Wooten, who did not identify Amin by name in her report, stated: “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.”

Wooten also told Project South the despondent story of an inmate who fell victim to Dr Amin. The woman “was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy. She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids”.

Forced hysterectomies and a neglect of the duty of care to inmates must be contextualised within a broad and alarming history of forced sterilisation within America. According to journalist Moira Donegan, “everything the Nazis knew about eugenics, they learned from the United States”. In her report, Donegan detailed a series of engineered mass sterilisations of African American women, ignited by the Buck v Bell supreme court case in 1927.

 

 

Further, in the 1960s and 1970s, medical officials in the U.S. “decided that approximately a quarter of Native American women were unfit to have children, and sterilized them”. North Carolina’s eugenics program victimised 7,600 women, subjecting them to forced sterilisation until 1977.

I have my own story of medical practitioners neglecting their patients, proving the same mindset is not strictly an American problem. Last year, I had pains in my stomach on a holiday at the beach. I returned to Melbourne, panicked, and immediately saw a GP. They told me to go into the emergency room, where I waited six hours to see a doctor. In those six hours, I was vomiting from severe pain. I was repeatedly told I had appendicitis. I wanted to wait for an ultrasound to confirm this diagnosis but was told that ultrasounds are not available over the weekend. Two days later I was pressured into surgery to remove my appendix, and the last thing I said before losing consciousness on the operating table, was “this is not my appendix, it’s my ovaries.” I waited three months to find out that it was not my appendix that was causing me pain, but a burst cyst on my ovary. I sat in the follow-up room and cried, realising they had operated on me to remove my appendix unnecessarily, and a feeling of grief washed over me while I processed the fact that I had been right all along.

Female autonomy in the medical landscape is undermined in public hospitals in Australia, and Immigration Detention Centres in America. What is concerning, is that a detained woman has even fewer rights to speak for herself and cannot decide what she consents to when the information given to her is not in her own language. Prism claims that every woman they spoke to in ICDC had not been appointed a translator when being consulted for medical treatment.

We like to believe that we have come a long way from enslavement and Nazi medical experiments, yet it takes the strength of a whistleblower like Dawn Wooten to remind us that we have not.

 

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

Mikayla Chadwick is a Melbourne-based freelance writer, focused on human and legal rights, global affairs and popular culture. Mikayla holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and is currently completing a research degree in sex work policy reform. To read more from Mikayla, check out her website: mikaylachadwick.com.

 

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Addressing the mental health needs of asylum seekers: A compassionate and trauma-informed approach

University of South Australia Media Release

A new study by The University of South Australia has found mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and suicidality are widespread among people seeking asylum in Western nations, including Australia.

The research, conducted by UniSA’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research Group (MHSPRG), was published in the British Medical Bulletin, and examined data from Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States, finding asylum seekers from all regions face numerous systemic mental health challenges.

MHSPRG researcher, Heather McIntyre, says the team reviewed 25 studies which included a total of 3504 asylum seekers from 12 countries, and results indicate mental health problems are relatively common and often co-occur.

“The experience of seeking asylum is unique and problematic when compared to other migration trajectories, and this review suggests harsh and restrictive immigration policy settings initiated by governments severely affect asylum seekers’ mental health,” McIntyre says.

“Significantly, our review finds this population group experiences high rates of PTSD, anxiety and depressive symptoms, with 25-54 per cent of participants meeting criteria for at least two of these conditions.”

The MHSPRG review also indicates self-harm and suicidality are linked to the asylum immigration process, reinforcing similar findings from other studies over many years.

“Rejection of asylum seeker claims is a major driver (61 per cent) of suicidal thoughts and behaviour and presentation to psychiatric emergency services – uncertainty for the future and perceived burdensomeness all contribute to suicidal ideation and acting upon those thoughts,” McIntyre says.

“Advocates and care workers of asylum seekers and refugees see these outcomes weekly, and publicly available information (unconfirmed and provisional data) shows us that asylum seekers are thought to die by suicide at a higher rate than their male Australian-born counterparts.”

The MHSPRG study recognises asylum seekers often express mental distress in ways consistent with their culture and suggests the medical and professional response should be ‘trauma-informed’.

“A trauma-informed approach acknowledges that behaviours and expressions of distress are coping strategies instinctively developed to manage trauma,” McIntyre says.

“Being aware of trauma and consciously working to avoid causing more trauma or re-traumatisation is the approach needed – showing empathy toward the person, while gently encouraging them to develop their autonomy and support them to make positive mental health care choices.”

The study also emphasised that work rights and employment prospects can be a significant factor in protecting and promoting mental health for asylum seekers.

“Feeling psychologically safe and being able to work increases wellbeing for the asylum seeker; living a life as normal as possible is also a driver for personal autonomy and will improve mental health,” McIntyre says.

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Vale Dave Graeber

When one writes satire, it’s sometimes hard to write something serious and have people realise that you’re actually just writing what you actually think, particularly if one is simply describing the political situation in countries where people like Scotty, Boris and Donald are leaders.

However, I felt that I should note the passing of Dave Graeber, the writer of two of my favourite non-fiction books, Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.

Graeber was an anthropologist and, as such, took a slightly different tack on economics. He challenged the beliefs that many economists take for granted, such as the way in which trade and debt evolved. I noticed that his New York Times obituary described him as a “radical anthropologist” and I was left wondering if that was because of his approach to his discipline or because of his involvement in things like the Occupy movement.

Challenging economic orthodoxy can have its consequences and he didn’t have his contract renewed by Yale in 2005, so I wonder whether the champions of free speech demanding Peter Ridd’s sacking would have taken up his cause were it to be a recent event.

In Debt: The First 5,000 Years, Graeber made a strong case that debt was around long before what we traditionally think of as money and that cash and barter were uncommon until there needed to be a system to deal with those who may have proven to be untrustworthy or who were outside your normal world. You didn’t need to have cash or to barter with the local innkeeper, for example, because he could keep a tally and you would pay him in kind when you did your harvesting or slaughtered your livestock. Cash was only needed for trade with the stranger.

Money, he points out, is only as valuable as your faith in the king who issued the coin. A principle we’d do well to remember in these days when we’re constantly asked where the money would come from when talking about climate change, but “money” was quickly found which enabled executives to keep their bonuses thanks to JobKeeper. “Money” will also be miraculously found for tax cuts because we all know that the best way to fix a deficit is to reduce the amount of revenue you’ll receive. .

His assessment of the world of work in Bullshit Jobs: A Theory is particularly apt as we hear more and more that today’s students will be in jobs that don’t exist yet. One has to question the need for them. Sure, the best form of welfare is a job and all that, but maybe we’d be better off employing people in areas that actually need more workers such as aged care, rather than creating jobs for the sake of it. (And yes, I know that not all new jobs will be unnecessary.)

Graeber argued that there were five types of soul-destroying jobs and acknowledged that not everyone doing these jobs would necessarily feel that they weren’t doing something significant. However, it’s worth remembering that when there’s a strike by garbage collectors, we can only go a few weeks before the situation becomes dire. When the banks in Ireland went on strike in the 70s, people managed for six months without the country grinding to a halt. He described the following types of “bullshit jobs”:

  1. flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g. door attendants
  2. goons, who oppose other goons hired by other companies, e.g. spin doctors
  3. duct tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g. people constantly repairing copper wire to enable the NBN to reach the building 
  4. box tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it isn’t, e.g., the surveys you constantly get about how the company did when nobody gets back to you if you tell them service was terrible.
  5. taskmasters, who manage—or create extra work for—those who do not need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals[

Vale, Dave Graeber. The world needs more thinkers like you. Sadly, we have one less.

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no more the SILENCE

Have a good look at this photo …

Now have a good look at this photo …

Look at the degradation and pain in the second photo. You are looking at the same person and at what the legacies of childhood sexual abuse do to a person over the course of a lifetime.

Those photos happen to be of me … but they could just as easily be the photos of many other men and women who have done their best to survive what was done to them as children.

Society, and that includes some, though not all of you, are not in the least interested in hearing what the lives of some of us Survivors (male or female) of childhood sexual abuse have been like.

There are decent people out there and none of the following applies to you. The following applies to the majority of the rest of you.

You seem to think that just because there was a Royal Commission and just because there was a public Parliamentary Apology that, just like magic, all is good for us and all is fine for us. Well here is a rough shaft to your way of thinking – such patronising bullshit makes no difference, and makes no change to what we deal with on a daily basis at all.

As the author of JAGGED on AIMN, and I consider myself blessed to be given the opportunity to speak about my own story on AIMN, I am careful in the publication of that Book to keep my Survivor Anger well in the background. In that Book I simply seek to show the truth of the life I have led.

But separate to JAGGED – I am appalled at how this society that you are part of treats Survivors of childhood sexual abuse. You seem to think that the existence of a flawed Redress Scheme rights all ills. You seem to think that our access to a civil litigation system delivers to us justice and fair recompense for our lived trauma. Your thinking on such matters is nothing short of delusional.

Do you realise that when we approach the legal system for justice we are torn apart by the system’s need for us to prove the veracity of our claims. We are torn apart, in some cases, by ambulance chaser type tort lawyers whose only interest is the quick prosecution of multiple claims to early Settlement. We are torn apart by institutions such as Churches who gave no thought to our welfare as children and who give not a shit for our adult selves when we seek a just hearing from them. Such matters constitute a form of torture.

so no more the SILENCE …

Here in the era of COVID-19 our social media and media airwaves are swamped by people who feel grandly hard done by because they have had to endure a couple of weeks of isolation. Seriously? How about you try the life of isolation that many of us Survivors of childhood sexual abuse have lived over multiple decades. For many of us Survivors we don’t get to eventually come out of our enforced isolation, for the majority of the complaining you the end is always only a couple of weeks away.

For many of us Survivors the enforced isolation proved too much and many of us ended up killing ourselves.

As a society, you are used to us Survivors speaking with a quiet and forelock-tugging voice. I’ll be buggered if I’ll use that sort of voice to represent myself anymore, and I encourage other Survivors of childhood sexual abuse to speak up harshly and loud and cut through the apathy and indifference with which the society that we are part of treats us.

We do want to be fully heard, even by people in our society who say ‘oh, I don’t waste my precious time acknowledging hard things or letting brutal truth impinge upon my wonderful protected lifestyle’. And we do also want real justice, and not the form of pretense justice that society in all its false-gushiness has deigned to send our way.

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Colonial oppression: it still exists

By Robert Wood  

One of the unconscious influences in Australian politics is the nineteenth century German philosopher George Hegel. His ideas come through in Australian Labor rhetoric often via Karl Marx who drew on Hegel to think about class consciousness and class conflict most of all. And while both are never invoked by name, they do influence the debate. Central to Hegel’s ideas is the dialectic, which he expressed as a relationship between lord and bondsman. Marx updated it to be about master and labourer, and now we hear of unionist talking of bosses and workers. The dialectic is about the relationship between the two.

For Hegel, it is the bondsman or the servant who has true power. They are the one who does the labour, who the lord relies upon, and the process of coming into consciousness is about realising the strength of the oppressed by the oppressed. They exist in a dialectical relationship where there is a thesis, an overcoming or antithesis, and then a synthesis. What this means to some extent, is that the bondsman need simply realise the truth of their situation so they can come into an awareness of their world and change it for the better. This is where we get the Marxist revolution, or decolonisation, or another way of creating a better world. It is a neat understanding for politics between two groups of people, or even two individuals.

So, why does it matter for sovereignty in Australia today? It matters when it comes to the nation state and the traditional owner. Here power is actually with traditional owners and many realise it, but are prevented from creating that by a system of colonial oppression upheld by many white settlers today. This is where the fundamental conflict of Australia, the nation if not the continent, is revealed to us.

Here we can cite the ongoing failure of Closing the Gap, the struggle to have Uluru recognised, the ongoing rates of incarceration. The state is, quite simply, failing Aboriginal people, but it does not mean we should assume it cannot do better or that it is the best way to respond to difficulty. The state does not represent me even if I am inside that tradition as well. In that way, when we look at Treaty we have to think who are our representatives that speak for us as non-Indigenous people too. Making the state better means making it better for all of us, in the hope that we invest in a dialectic of sovereignty based on values of care, compassion, fairness, equity and inclusion.

Our role then, as non-Indigenous people, is to support those coming into re-connection with a consciousness of their sovereignty. This is about repatriation, retrieval, return, all of which are the role of servants helping other servants in actions of solidarity that overturn our oppression by lords. This is where we work as a group to help people get their country back when we know it was taken from them. That is the work to do when we look to Hegel and Marx and apply it to settler colonialism in contemporary Australia. It does not only, or mainly, mean advocating for our specific class interests but about coming into a greater awareness of how we can support traditional knowledge, including ownership.

So if it is lord-bondsman, what about traditional owner and guest? I am not, will never be, a custodian of any country. I am a guest on land, being a saltwater person, even if I can point to 600 years of written records for my ancestors in a place called Puthucurichy in the present day Indian state of Kerala. That is a drop in the ocean of time, and, it does not even come close to the recognised 60,000+ years of sovereignty of groups that are here, on this continent, and have always been. Always was, always will be Noongar land, Whadjuk land, Ngarluma land. To be a guest though is liberating for it allows us to realise we must be in service – to the oppressed, to nature, to traditional owners, which is why we must turn to them for leadership no matter what the big-wig politicians suggest.

Sovereignty then is an ongoing set of conditions that cannot be resolved if we are to resign ourselves to the narrow collective perspectives that have dominated our history. It is about transcending our moment through a deep-time return to a moment when people were in control of what was possible. That land and people were supported and cared for over a long period means we must continue to respect and learn from Elders and the archive in shifting the balance towards justice and healing, and, away from genocide. The state has many ills contained within it, but just as the bourgeoisie are their own grave diggers, we can suspect that the seeds of its destruction are sewn into its very fabric.

Robert Wood’s writing has been published in numerous literary and academic journals. He has interned for Overland, edited for Peril and Cordite, been a columnist for Cultural Weekly. At present he works for The Centre for Stories.

 

 

 

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Pete-The-Not-So-Great’s Info Wars

By Jane Salmon  

Watching the lush tv series “The Great” on Stan, we are reminded that decadent 18th century European despots like Peter III and the nation’s shadow religious regimes were truly threatened by free thought and speech. The arrival of secular literacy and then printing presses gradually brought political debate and satire to repressed Mother Russia. 

Any with a yen for controlling and directing our current political and economic systems are finding free expression on the internet a burden in the same way.

Access to accurate information Is certainly controversial and a two-way street.

The government wants to know accurately when we have been in contact with Coronavirus carriers.

The Federal Government concurrently seeks to staunch some resident’s rights to secrecy and limit certain types of information getting out.

Political transparency is a perennial issue. Major parties eschew a powerful Federal ICAC. Whistleblowers are threatened. Spooks seem to be on steroids over Witness K.

Proposed security and intelligence laws would, if enacted, ensure that computer passwords be given up on threat of prison.

In another swag of laws before Senate, Immigration detainees are to be lumped in with criminals and deprived of mobile phone access. “So what?” some say.

What these laws have in common is Peter Dutton, who heads up the Home Affairs super ministry. Peter is the Not-So-Great Super Tsar seeking to staunch scrutiny in the name of Security.

Governing used not to be quite so hard. 18th Century Tsars certainly found life heaps easier before literacy and printing. Super Minister Dutton is similarly challenged by phones, the internet and facts.

(In fact, “Peter Dutton the musical” might include a glowing phone).

“The Great” tele-series colourfully depicts early PR wars against political commentary in 18th Century Russia. The first lie or narrative circulated (as to how Peter III’s war with Sweden ended) is meant to be the one that sticks. Leaders saw that timing was essential. 

Any blurring of national security measures as applied by traditional spooks and the conventions of defence secrecy is no accident. Defence is getting more say in the rules applied.

“On water matters” is a phrase used by the navy in border control. It can mask a multitude of asylum seeker processing events (good and bad) at sea. In other words, slap a naval “D Notice” on anything embarrassing and the public will not know whether you are throwing children overboard Tampa style, running modern prison hulks or turning back fishermen in leaky lifeboats.

Former ABF head Roman Quadvlieg still loves this stuff.

It has also suited Border Force to focus on rotten apples rather than sterling heroes in any immigrant cohort. Labelling refugees a disease-raddled inundation of criminals and terrorists has been convenient onshore.

It backfired offshore. The February 2014 fatal Manus RPC attack, in fact, came from local guards, civilians and militia who felt threatened by the massive impact of regional processing and the introduction of these maligned foreigners (as well, perhaps, as mounting evidence of their ongoing economic subservience to Australia).

Then Immigration Minister Scotty (from Marketing) Morrison immediately asserted that asylum seekers were rioting outside the perimeter of Manus Regional Processing centre compound.

Fortunately witnesses who had internet access and some mobile phones (as did Manus immigration officials, bureaucrats, guards). Morrison’s lies about the death of Reza Berati simply unravelled. Berati was murdered in his room.

Xenophobes continue to blame asylum seekers for everything. Others in the community looked harder. Advocates grasped the value of phones to detainees whose vulnerability offshore tore at their consciences. Shame is a great motivator. Funds were raised In Australia for both phones and credit every month for around 80 months. Empathic pensioners saved the means to buy handsets.

Phones gave ordinary Aussies the opportunity to hear refugee narratives first hand. They could assess character critically for themselves. Luckily, once phone access was established, independent media and social media shared news, privacy issues notwithstanding.

It was clear that phones were a lifeline that could inform independent doctors, call families (often still in war zones), sort essential supplies, disrupt neglect, transmit world news or the soft coo of a child, provide counselling or nurture new hobbies.

Events offshore were seen by friends, journalists and family members in real time. Australian nurses acted as remote birth support for women in labour on Nauru (where the nurse doubled as the cleaner). This is complicated by the prevalence of female genital mutilation among those detained. Mums for Refugees have also acted as birth partners onshore for women they got to meet by phone.

Immigration suddenly gained an $8m PR budget.

Only journalists sympathetic to Immigration narratives had access to Nauru. The lack of an adequate Nauru police response and Chris Kenny‘s intrusions upon the privacy of a pregnant Somali survivor of a vicious rape curdled the blood of Dutton calls “mad fucking witch” back in Australia.

When, according to Behrouz Boochani, Manus men were isolated in a windowless punishment container labelled “Chauka” or abused by guards, detainees conveyed the impacts. When locals shot at them or hit them with iron bars and machetes, there were memorable pictures recorded with shaky hands and quavering voices.

Suicidal children were photographed on Nauru. One searing image is the neat red chunk a machete took out of a man’s arm. (Pic too gory?)

During 13 detention deaths offshore, mobiles were used to inform relatives, mourn, arrange funerals, share news, show conditions or critique an impersonal government approach.

Refugee supporters sat up through the night talking to depressed or confused men in a mixture of languages. It helped that key supporters had counselling, nursing, medical or social work training. (They in turn sometimes needed trauma counselling themselves).

The Geneva Convention, its amendments and international laws to which we are signatories would have it that access to friends, lawyers and family is the right of detainees. Australia has wavered in its commitment to this.

Trips to hospital in Port Moresby, Taiwan or onshore would belatedly occur. Usually main medical issues remained untreated. There is no question that all this was as expensive as it was erratic.

Some less-depressed detainees learned new crafts and skills via their phones. Several doggedly composed and recorded music or shared their paintings. One man crocheted rugs that now grace museums. 3am was when Behrouz Boochani would transmit refined pellets of news via WhatsApp that became his film and his book, lyrically translated by Omid Tofighian.

Robust friendships forged in hardship have survived challenges and changes. Various faiths and cultures have been shared or discarded. Rebadged security firms came and went. The RPC was replaced by “freedom” to venture out during fixed hours.

People were shuffled around and slowly vetted by “safe third countries” such as the US or Canada.

In 2017 Australia’s liability for detention was palmed off to PNG.

For many months of 2019, in Bomana Prison (owned by PNG but funded by Australia), some 50 detainees had no phones. They were starved, bullied, lied to, denied property and some were deported without witnesses. They became more withdrawn. Even treating private Pacific International Hospital (funded by Aus taxpayers) maintained their dreadful isolation. 

Families of detainees were frantic for news, while traumatic damage to some held in Bomana has been permanent and is probably irreversible. It took repeated appeals to UNHCR and Red Cross by locals and advocates to secure the release of the sickest.

Pending laws stalled in the Senate, the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 – Parliament of Australia, the National Justice Project has submitted Federal Court injunctions against the ban on mobile phones in Australian detention several times. This was usually done stealthily near Christmas or Easter … under the mask of managing Covid-19.

In fact the new laws might also be applied to phones outside detention. Does this mean APODs or also activist phones?

The powers Dutton seeks claims in his amendments to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 aim to force the sharing of data under threat of imprisonment for those who refuse to share phone or computer passwords. Some states already lock up ten year olds.

When Dutton was denied freedom by Aussie courts to mute asylum seekers offshore, he handed those detainees over to PNG which has a different set of political vulnerabilities, values and laws.

My fear is that this is how Dutton would have Australian citizen life run, too. As detainees say, we are one human family. The truism that how governments treat migrants stateless people is how they would treat us all was never more relevant.

We should learn from Manus, Nauru and Bomana. We should learn from the limited access to internet of Priya, Nades and children on Christmas Island.

Ex-copper Peter Dutton seems threatened by the internet and by dissent among such colleagues as Coleman or Quadvlieg. His actions betray resentment of free speech. He avoids independent journalists. He may even dislike vocal citizens having a full set of human rights. Then there is the mire of contractor corruption revealed through internet searches and detainee reports.

Under Sovereign Borders, many refugees who came to Australia for help by boat have been stymied by uncertainty for almost 8 years. They have also been slandered as terrorists, driven mad with despair, bored, bullied, starved, deprived of Vitamin D and weakened by various forms of neglect or excruciatingly slow treatment. Some of them have also been isolated indoors for far, far longer than anyone quarantined for ‘Rona risk.

Onshore there are quiet detainees who have languished for up to 11 years.

The AFP raids on journos illustrate the folly of concentrating political and security power in one “super” ministry. That Labor voted repeatedly to enable Dutton to become the sinister overlord he now is, damns them too.

Dutton also teaches refugees that speak publicly in the “Home to Bilo“ or Medevac campaigns they will be punished by prolonging their detention ordeals.

Secrecy even allows him to give foreign high rollers “special visa concessions”, to visit casinos. Categories of legal worker visas aside, we all know many “invaders” are economic and invited. (The spectre of inundation is applied very selectively).

Ministerial Discretion has been stealthily used some 3000 times by Dutton. But not for the Bilo family parked on Christmas Island. They were too loud. 

No-one wants boats to resume. It’s too risky. But we do want to see humanitarian solutions to the global refugee problem. We need to take our fair share.

For detainees who have already suffered for 7 or 11 years, any

PRISON is PRISON: whether in the Preston Mantra without sunlight for 9 months, on Christmas Island without full internet or in a crowded formal Immigration Detention Centre such as MITA, BITA, Villawood or Yongah Hill.

However, detainee ordeals under Peter Ruddock and in Bomana Immigration Transit Centre in Port Moresby show, removal of phones can unleash a whole new level of hell.

During the distraction of COVID-19, our Federal Government seeks to usher in laws that will lose Australia whatever is left of journalistic inquiry plus remove mobile phone access.

The Post-Anzac Australia that school children studied was kind to strangers. We had fought the good fight with all our might. We had boundless plains to share. We had seen prisoners of war emerge from SE Asian chain gangs, camps and prisons after the defeat of the Japanese. We mourned the giants those broken ex-prisoners once were and abhored their abusers. According to myth, we were decent, spontaneous and fair. Larrikins that we were, we did not recategorise harmless people as “dangerous“ just so security contractors could grab more moolah.

In fantasy Australia, we did not use ex-Afghanistan vets and counter-terrorism experts to ensure that a person pole-axed with depression, agonising gall stones plus resignation syndrome was denied a packet of dates or a crisp new t-shirt in hospital at Christmas.

We did not conceal the whereabouts of detainees or migrant hospital patients from friends or loved ones.

We did not deny incarcerated folk a chat with mum or an internet music search.

We did not block grannies trying to comfort the suicidal (24/7 in the absence of hope).

We did not send refugees back to Myanmar during a holocaust.

We let people reach their lawyers at mutually convenient times rather than at the whim of guards or queues for phone cards and landlines.

Our team was not the sort to delay cancer scans or treatment by deadly years. Yet this and do many daily micro aggressions have repeatedly happened.

All this lumps us in with many other human rights abusers: just not the most bloody of them yet. Aussies are no longer moral leaders. To me, no facts and no truth means no real freedom.

The porous nature of Aussie ocean borders was indeed an embarrassment to defence and, more importantly, a terrible mass drowning hazard. Increasing asylum seeker intake and funding regional processing queues seems preferable to indefinite detention. It could hardly be more expensive.

Dutton’s latest security and immigration law changes are not just votes about whether criminals get phone access or whether detainees can push back against lies and cruelty.
They are about whether Aussie citizens will have human rights and freedom of information, too.

They represent a frontier with totalitarianism which we should not cross.

As with climate, many engage out of concern about the future that our children will inherit.

It’s time the rest of us looked up from “reality“ tv’s confected desert island survival contests to see what is happening right in front of us.

Security Tsar Pete’s plans are not so “Great”. 

Note: Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 [Provisions]

“On 14 May 2020 the Senate referred the provisions of the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 5 August 2020.

The deadline for submissions to the inquiry is 11 June 2020.”

Your participation is encouraged.

Jane Salmon once bought a mobile phone for a bloke offshore called Behrouz Boochani.

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The Precedent Set

With the acquittal this week (Tuesday 7 April 2020) of Cardinal George Pell, many words will be written, both in published media and in social channels. Many people will be appalled by the decision and personally offended that the Cardinal will walk free. For many people, victims of abuse and families of victims, this will come across as a further blow in a society where the odds are already rigged against them. Yet this decision is the only way that justice, in this case, could have been served, and it redresses a terrible travesty of jurisprudence and a frankly horrifying legal precedent.

The case against George Pell has been found insupportable in the High Court of Australia. On the basis of the evidence presented in the trial, the seven judges of the High Court found unanimously that it would be impossible for an unbiased person to dispel all reasonable doubt as to Pell’s guilt.

The prosecution built their case on the sworn testimony of a single victim/witness. Testifying over multiple days, undergoing cross-examination and providing a level of detail the judges and jury found believable and credible, the victim’s statement was damning.

Against that, the defence arrayed a formidable collection of testimony, evidence and witness statements casting doubt on every aspect of the prosecution’s case. From the physical ability to commit the alleged crime, to the opportunity to do so (was Pell really alone with the boys for any length of time after a Sunday service, when his attested habit was to meet-and-greet parishioners on the front steps, and when he was always attended while in robes), right through to personal character references.

By most accounts, the prosecution in the case spent their time explaining why the crime was possible, in the face of this defence evidence, rather than showing that the crime was committed, based on prosecution evidence. According to the statement released by the High Court, the defence evidence was “uncontested” by the prosecution.

It is not the job of the defence to prove that their version of events is true. Which makes it remarkable that the prosecution spent their energies introducing “reasonable doubt” about the defense testimony. It was uncontested, for example, that the Cardinal was in the habit of greeting parishioners on the steps of the cathedral after a Sunday service. All the prosecution could do was argue that it was possible that on this occasion that habit was not followed.

In our modern system of jurisprudence, the accused is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. It is the job of the prosecution to show how and why the accused committed a crime, and provide evidence to support the contention. The defence has the job of casting doubt upon the evidence presented with their own, contrary evidence. The prosecution must then disprove the defence evidence beyond reasonable doubt.

The High Court has concluded that the prosecution in Pell’s case did not do this. Showing that a particular event is possible is not equivalent to proving that it happened, or even is likely. Proving that commission of a crime is possible does not constitute proof that it happened.

A criminal trial rests on one equation and one only: does the evidence for the prosecution outweigh the evidence for the defence? If not, reasonable doubt must remain.

In the case of Pell v The Queen, every piece of evidence tendered – excepting the testimony of Witness A – was provided by the defence. The High Court has adjudged that the prosecution did not adequately disprove that evidence, such that an unbiased jury could dismiss it out of hand. The High Court case was not a judgement on the guilt or innocence of Pell, or the honesty or otherwise of the witness, but a reflection on the flawed processes of the earlier trials. Simply put, the prior trials convicted George Pell on the strength of one person’s testimony and ignored all the evidence to the contrary. The precedent this sets, should it have been allowed to stand, is monstrous.

The requirement for evidence protects us all from abuse by those who would do us harm. The presumption of innocence protects us from being judged before the evidence has a chance to convict. Arguably it has failed George Pell, perhaps because too many people look at him with a presumption of guilt, due to his history, his involvement in church cover-ups, or merely the fact he is a Catholic priest. Pell’s history, his sordid past protecting abusers in the priesthood, his faith and his personal arrogance are irrelevant to the case at hand: was there evidence that he committed the crimes of which he was accused? And does that evidence outweigh the evidence from the defence?

When a citizen is prosecuted for a crime, evidence is required. To successfully make a case, there must be cause to believe the accused person committed the crime. Convicting them in the absence of such evidence is something we have colloquial terms for. Kangaroo Court is one. Witch-Hunt is another. The trial against George Pell edges perilously close to being a witch hunt, and as multiple commentators have noted should never have come to trial. The prosecution did not have evidence to support their case, and could not adequately dispute the evidence that supported the defence.

This will not be a popular opinion. For many, the knowledge that a victim will not get justice rankles. More, it points to the continuing imbalance of power: when those in positions of authority abuse their trust, it can be nigh impossible for the powerless to obtain redress. In cases of sexual or other abuse, there is often no trial-ready evidence available, and in the current system this means that some victims will never receive justice.

Are there only two ways to handle this kind of crime? Either unquestioning acceptance of an accusation, or rigid adherence to a system that makes a conviction nearly impossible in all but the most egregious of cases, the worst of offenders? There ought to be a middle path, where the wronged can be heard and redress made, but the accused sinner might only have their life irrevocably ruined when there is enough proof to convict.

The National Redress Scheme goes some way to accomplishing this middle way, but it will not suit all cases. The shift in public opinion and the way such cases are treated will also have some effect. We now treat allegations of abuse with the importance they deserve and we are not so quick to dismiss or belittle them. We are able to believe the testimony of a victim without necessarily being in a position to bring their abuser to justice.

The fact remains that for many victims the only proof they have is their word, against which can be arrayed an army of evidence and cabals of powerful men. In many cases – maybe even most – it is not worth bringing a case to trial. And this means that many victims will never have their day in court, and that some offenders will never face justice.

Nevertheless, George Pell’s acquittal was the right decision, and should give every Australian some comfort that they, too, cannot be convicted of a crime where there is no evidence to support it. If there is to be any silver lining found in the court’s decision, it is here.

Perhaps a guilty man went free, but that’s a better system than one where the innocent person can be convicted.

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Our Compelling Witness!

Thousands upon thousands of Survivors of childhood sexual abuse could have written this brief article.

Their experiences may differ from mine in detail. But what we all have in common together is that we are living proof of the negative legacy that our experiences of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church has had upon the course of our whole lives. We are the most compelling of witnesses where the highlighting of this type of heinous crime is concerned.

Across all legal cases where witness is borne against the Catholic Church, and other institutions, there exists an echo of commonality.

From 1957 through to 1964 I experienced much abuse including being physically assaulted and sodomised by a Catholic Priest in the Church Sacristy of St. Vincent’s Orphanage, Nudgee, near Brisbane. That rape experience was not one of a kind. I was subject to far more than that over an interminable period of time.

There were no ‘dissenting’ witnesses to my experiences, there were no ‘witnesses of opportunity’ rounded up to oppose my case and support the Church. Yet my case was so easily minimised and pushed aside by the power of the Catholic Church – I was brow beaten into accepting a minor settlement and I did not even receive the pretence of an apology.

How many other Survivors of childhood sexual abuse have also been terrorised down that path by the Catholic Church?

Today, a judgement was handed down in the highest Court in this country. One man had his day in court. Some people are concerned that from now on Survivors will be reluctant to come forward. Some may be, but many of us will not be dissuaded from our efforts to achieve real and lasting justice.

I will re-pursue the Catholic Church. Many other Survivors will pursue or re-persue the Catholic Church.

We are the most Compelling of Witnesses!

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The end of the Newstart Criminal?

Happy days. The unemployed will now no longer be demonised as dole bludgers or Newstart Criminals. From now on they will be known as Australians in need.

Mind you, it has taken a crisis of unprecedented proportions to force a sliver of care, empathy, and compassion, into the punitive hearts of our right-wing politicians.

Could it be perhaps that the speed with which our Government has dropped their policy of the deliberate impoverishment of the poor and the unemployed could be due to the fact that now, given the ever-growing lines outside Centrelink, a proportion of their conservative base is about to be exposed to the untender mercies of our welfare system?

Can’t call your own voters dole bludgers or leaners can you? Gosh, how cynical of me.

Many people, and nobody alive would wish it on them, are about to find out what it will take to survive with a fortnightly income of roughly $1,100. But let’s bring that down to what the weekly income will be. $550. If you are single and live in your own home and have a mortgage of $500 per week you’ll be left with $50 per week to take care of everything else. Food, energy bills, petrol, phone, car repairs, and everything else. Reality. Not good.

If you are single and renting you will roughly get $550 per week plus a rental allowance of $69.50 per week. If you are paying $300 a week rent (and average regional rents, let alone city rents, are much higher than that) you will be leading a fairly tough and restricted lifestyle. Reality. Not good.

Of course, individual circumstances for the unemployed vary widely. Some people are in relationships and have children, and will be eligible for further support. But in all cases, things will be very, very, tight. Reality. Not good.

But lest we forget. Up until a week ago the unemployed, including those who lost their jobs during the last catastrophic bushfire season, were expected to survive on the paltry sum of roughly $275 per week. At the same time, they had to endure the demonisation of ‘dole bludging’ foisted upon them by their own Government, the nong commercial television channels, the conservative press, and far too many of their fellow citizens.

Let’s hope that when we come out on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis that the rush of empathy for the unemployed and the poor becomes permanently welded onto the hearts, souls, and guts of the bureaucrats and politicians who design and maintain the safety net of our Welfare System.

(What is the average rent in Australia? $436 per week. The median rent across Australia is currently $436 per week, according to a new report from property research house CoreLogic. In capital cities, it’s $465 per week, while the regional areas have it slightly cheaper at $378. and pls note: these figures are as of a year ago!)

(According to research from Commonwealth Bank in 2017, average monthly mortgage payments in Australia’s capital cities range from $1,500 to over $3,000.)

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Another woman dead. What can we as a society do about it?

Somewhere around Australia, behind a closed door in one of our suburbs, right now a woman is being beaten. There is no guarantee that she will not soon be dead.

I do not say that just to make you stand up and take notice. I say that to make me stand up and take notice of how appalling the level of violence directed at women within Australian society really is.

When I think about my daughter, when I think about the women in my life, when I think back over the years of my life, when I think about how when those women raised the issue of violence against women I was verbally supportive of their efforts to both highlight and then attempt to stem the tide of violence directed at women.

It made me realise that I am part of a large cohort of people who verbally oppose the level of violence against women. It also made me realise that as an individual human being, who happens to be a male, I had never translated my own supportive words into ‘action’.

When such realisation happens, it happens, and cannot be ignored. So, as an older man, with all of the wobbles and vulnerabilities that taking such a step would entail for any human being, I decided to take action.

A week or so ago I thought up a concept, created a Facebook page called The March of Decent Men, and sought to place an ‘idea’ out there for the public to discuss and think about, or even to improve upon.

The concept is uncomplicated. It accepts the premise that violence against women is wrong. It accepts that the majority of the violence against women occurs in our suburbs behind closed doors. It asks people to join me in doing something that addresses the issue on the very ground where it happens.

On Saturday the 28th March at 11 am I am going to stand in my own street in my own suburb (on the footpath for safety reasons) with a sign that says, and I’ve had to re-think my wording many times – VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IS WRONG. PERIOD. NO EXCUSES. And I have invited everybody else, man or woman, to do the same with a sign of their own wording.

Doing such a thing as one person will change nothing. But imagine if the majority of us did it at the same time. Such a collective expression of will could not easily be ignored. Where is it written that we cannot all band together and make an effort to begin a process of positive change?

Support for the concept has been, in the majority, supportive. What is interesting though, perhaps in a sad way, is how some people respond to a clear and direct question. The question ‘Is violence against women wrong?’ cannot possibly draw in any sort of answer but yes it is wrong. Surely no human being could say that it is a good thing?

The range of answers to that so direct a question has educated me to the negative power of ‘Whataboutism’. Whataboutism happens when someone simply does not want to answer the question posed, because it does not directly address an issue that they feel heartfelt about, and they respond by saying ‘but what about’ violence against men, ‘but what about’ every other permutation of violence that human beings are capable of visiting upon each other. To someone who answers with ‘what about’ all I can do is encourage you to get out there yourself and do something about the issue that is of prime concern to you, you have the power to do that.

Is violence against women wrong? Yes it is. I invite everybody, man or woman, to stand up in their own suburb on 28th March at 11 am and say so. The perpetrators of such violence may just start to begin to get the message.

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