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Category Archives: Social Justice

If a Bishop of the Brisbane Archdiocese drove me to the point of suicide in 2020 – did he and others conspire to commit a crime?

As a Survivor of childhood sexual abuse in a Catholic orphanage, I am the only person who can give myself agency. I am the only person who can stand up for myself and say that I have had enough of the treatment I have received from the Catholic Church. I make no allegation here, I make a direct accusation against a Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, and against the hierarchy of the Corporation of the Sisters of Mercy in Queensland.

In August 2020 I sought to end my own life.

In 1957 I was five years old. As my feet traversed the entrance to St. Vincent’s Catholic Orphanage near Brisbane I did not know that multiple rapes and years of mental cruelty lay in my future.

In 2017 I was sixty-four years old. As I lodged my Claim for redress against the Catholic Church I did not know that four years of re-traumatisation, re-abuse, and the very denial of my existence was ultimately going to send me to the acute mental health ward of Nambour General Hospital where I was placed on suicide watch.

The childhood rapes and cruelty I experienced are rightfully deemed to be a heinous series of crimes. Yet, the denial of agency and re-abuse I experienced from the Catholic Church when I lodged my Claim, events that combined together to lead me into the choice of wanting to end my own life, are not deemed to be crimes of equal magnitude. Well, I see no difference. Trauma is trauma. Abuse is abuse. Without the very good help of the professionals in the acute mental health ward I would not be here today writing this.

Imagine how appalling a feeling it was to find that in August 2020 I lost control of my own mind and came to awareness in the A & E ward of Nambour Hospital with a nurse checking my clothes and body for any implements I could use to kill myself.

I have a pretty obvious question to put to both the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, and to the Corporation of the Sisters of Mercy here in Queensland.

“When does omission of care by the Catholic Church cross the line between a casual indifference to the responsibility of duty of care, and morph into a deliberate criminal intent to deny care and cause harm?”

Committing myself has a bloody awful back-story. It is not a unique back-story. Too many of my Survivor Brothers and Sisters know the story all too well.

In early 2017, after almost a full lifetime of not having the courage to do it, I initiated legal proceedings against the Corporation of the Sisters of Mercy, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane. Well little did I know. I expected justice, acknowledgement, apology, recognition of lifelong harm done, and heartfelt involvement in truth telling. I did not expect to be purposefully psychologically demolished, I did not expect to be treated as though I were lower than scum, I did not expect absolute silence once I had spoken, I did not expect the extent to which the Catholic Church was prepared to go to to diminish, unacknowledge, and water down my claim against them to almost nothing, I did not expect to be totally cut out of any important mediation session between the Church and my legal representatives, I did not expect to be treated as though I do not exist.

You may laugh at my naivety here, but I truly did believe the PR material contained on the Catholic websites where they state how much they care for the welfare of Survivors who lodge genuine claims for acknowledgement and redress. Naive no more. Their only concern was to protect their reputation, demolish me psychologically to the point where I fell apart and could not competently pursue my claim. In their aims they were totally successful – I openly admit I was a broken re-traumatised and re-abused man who was prepared to, and subsequently did so, sign any sort of release document just to get away from them and their abusive behaviour.

The Catholic Church did not care for my welfare as a litigant Survivor. Their only concern was damage limitation, a strict adherence to their internal risk management processes, and a go to any length approach to protect their public reputation.

So, to reiterate, how appalling a measure and indictment of the destructive power on the human spirit of childhood sexual abuse is it when one finds, in the latter stages of your life, finding yourself on suicide watch in a secure facility with your capability to control your mind in any sort of positive way totally lost to yourself. How appalling is it that when you approach the Catholic Church for justice and fairness their response is to re-abuse, re-traumatise, and drive you to the wish for suicide.

The last four years, induced and reinforced by the terrible way I was treated by the Sisters of Mercy and a Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, has been an awful experience to go through.

So I make no allegation, I make a direct accusation. The Bishop concerned had nothing to do with my childhood rape experiences, but since he is part of the Archdiocese and can be seen as responsible for some things done in its name – I directly accuse him of gross failure in his duty of care towards me. I directly accuse him of responsibility for the four years of re-abuse and re-traumatisation that I have just experienced. I directly accuse him of placing me in an unsafe situation where I saw suicide as the only way out of the trauma. I directly hold the hierarchy of the Corporation of the Sisters of Mercy in Queensland of holding equal culpability in this matter.

In my opinion they have committed a crime.

I am writing to the Queensland Police Service to see if they will accept and investigate my Formal Complaint against the Bishop concerned.

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

 

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Industry partnership delivers real world training in homelessness

Media Release from Medianet

RMIT students are gaining a unique perspective through the first homelessness and housingcourse developed in collaboration with industry.

The popular summer intensive is part of an industry partnership between RMIT and Unison Housing.

Course coordinator and Deputy Director of the Unison Housing Research Lab at RMIT Dr Juliet Watson said the course – currently running for the fourth time – covered homelessnessfrom policy, practice and research perspectives.

“We break down myths about homelessness,” she said.

“We look at how homelessness is defined, the variety of ways people become homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless and the experiences of different groups.

“Homelessness and housing affect every other area of your life – your employment, your relationships, your family life, your economic status.

“Anyone working in the fields of social work, youth work and psychology needs to have an understanding of this.”

The Lab is a unique partnership that combines academic research and industry knowledge to support a research agenda focused on improving the lives of Australians facing housing issues.

Unison Director of Housing and Homelessness Sue Grigg said the partnership provided critical, evidence-based research.

“Sharing this knowledge is essential to inform practices and service delivery across the sector, as well as government policy,” she said.

“With this course, we are providing the next generation of social workers with a unique opportunity to have direct access to real life, data-based research and sector experts.”

The course is being run online as an elective, with the bulk of students coming from the social work and human services cluster.

Watson said the practical aspects of the course were always popular with students.

“We really draw on the expertise of Unison as our industry partner and other non-government organisations and advocacy groups to shape the course,” she said.

“A key aspect is visiting services and having a speaker from the Council to Homeless Persons’ Peer Education Support Program where people who have experienced homelessness have the opportunity to improve the service system by sharing their experiences.

“I was worried about having the same access to external speakers due to having to move the course online because of COVID-19, but all our industry stakeholders continue to be incredibly generous with their time and expertise. I believe this is because they really value what the course is teaching.”

Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) student Holly Byrden said she had enjoyed her first summer subject.

“The highlight has been different speakers pretty much every session,” she said.

“We just had someone talk about her own experiences of homelessness, which I really enjoyed, and also visited an agency just before lockdown.

“We talked to the assistant manager and learnt how the workplace is run and what it’s like to work there.

“I’m not 100% sure what kind of work I want to do, but homelessness is something I’m interested in.

“Studying social work, I feel like I’ve found my niche and I’m around like-minded people. I want to work in a job where I can help people.”

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Invitation To Country

[Extract: By the 22nd Century, perhaps earlier, it is my belief that the Uluru Statement From the Heart will be recognised as a watershed moment rising up and out from the endless Dreamings of Indigenous time. It will become the primary Foundation Document that enabled the future creation of a strongly independent and more culturally harmonious post-invasion Australia. Keith Davis 2021)]

I would like to attend an Indigenous ceremony that welcomes me to Country. Why would I like to do that? Well, over the course of my lifetime I have gathered my reasons.

The thought of Welcome to Country digs deep into the question of what it means to be an Australian in the modern era, and it asks what commonality of Identity do we all share as Australians given the wealth of different cultural backgrounds we all come from.

The Australian Identity problem, to me, appears to be that the dominant mainstream culture in Australia controls the narrative around what an Australian Identity really is. New Citizens to the country are welcomed in a largely anglo/celtic ceremonial way. Cannons boom, flags wave, Politicians drone their speeches, swearing on rather than at Bibles gets a look in, and the New Citizens get a spiffy Certificate devoid of any sort of heartfelt apology for all the hurtful hoops they had to jump through to be finally accepted here in the first place.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that I come from an anglo/celtic background, I’m proud of it, and I even have a tattoo of the Celtic Tree of Life on my left arm. So I don’t have a problem in that area – but where I do feel an unease is over the fact that New Citizens to this country are welcomed here by the usurpers of a never ceded Indigenous Sovereignty. Those usurpers, as the dominant culture, claim the right to conduct the Welcome to Country at the national level. Doesn’t seem right does it?

As the truth-telling of the bloody and brutally violent history of the recent takeover/theft of this land by Europeans takes traction in the consciousness of mainstream Australia, it appears to me that the time is right not only to reset not only how we see ourselves, but also to re-craft an Australian Identity that is inclusive of us all.

Nobody has to agree with my line of thought on these matters, it is my line of thought, and I am well aware that there are many different lines of thought on this subject matter out there. But in for a penny as well as a pound as the old saying goes …

As a blue-blood anglo/celtic Australian, blue-blood in the sense that my ancestors on both sides were convicts who were banished to the other side of the world for pilfering a bolt of cloth or something, I could easily sit back and feel smug about where I sit on the Australian Identity Continuum. I don’t however, sit back in such smugness.

On one level, undeniably, I’m Australian. I’m a citizen of this Commonwealth. I even drive a Holden which thankfully is not a Ute and it does not have ‘patriotic’ flags waving nationalistically out of every window.

On another level I feel distinctly unsettled about the type of Australian Identity that has been crafted for me over the last two Centuries or so by the dominant culture that currently holds sway in this land.

There are some undeniable facts that cannot be massaged or fiddled away because of the faux outraged pettiness of dominant cultures.

The oldest contiguous culture on this planet escaped total decimation/genocide after 1788 by the skin of its teeth. As Indigenous Culture resurges with ‘We have always been here, still are, and you will see us and hear us’ it gives all of us a chance to consider an identity reset.

It all makes me want to ask a question that I at least have never heard asked before.

Because I was born on this land in 1952, because I am of this land, because gum scent is in my nostrils and because red dirt layers the soles of my feet, am I part of the oldest contiguous culture on this planet, or am I just an add-on?

I have certain feelings on this matter but only an Indigenous person could probably give me a clear answer to that one – an Indigenous person whose ancestors and self never ceded their sovereignty to my ancestors, or to my self, or to anybody else.

As young Indigenous Activists, and older ones as well, prod us to acknowledge the truth of our own history, and encourage us to learn and grow and walk equally side by side with them, it raises so many questions about the underlying Spirit of contemporary Australia.

I take as a given my right to have a Representative Voice in our Parliament. That Parliament and the system of governance it represents derives from the background culture of the anglo/celts (not discounting the earlier input to that system of the Britons, Danes, Vikings, Normans etc etc) and the invading English dumped their system of values and laws on this shore, and those values and laws eventually morphed into our system of Parliamentary Governance, and that system rode roughshod over the Indigenous Sovereign Laws and Lore that had existed here for untold thousands of years.

So … here we have a Parliament. I have a Voice in that Parliament. But the original and still owners of this land are continually denied their Voice in Parliament and a seat around the grand parliamentary table by our politicians and by our mainstream culture. Demolishes the myth of Australian egalitarianism don’t you think?

The Uluru Statement From the Heart was a combined First Nation’ effort to reach out to us and offer up a shared way forward. Our Parliament, the Parliament that speaks in our name, viciously riposted to the Statement by dumping it and the attendant hopes in the rubbish bin. There was no effort to meet halfway, there was no meeting of Spirit. The utter rejection of the Statement blights us all.

I don’t believe that the Uluru Statement From the Heart will continue to lie quietly in the background, nor will it allow itself to be ignored. By the 22nd Century, perhaps earlier, it is my belief that the Uluru Statement From the Heart will be recognised as a watershed moment rising up and out from the endless Indigenous Dreamings of time. It will become the primary Foundation Document that enabled the future creation of a strongly independent and more culturally harmonious post-invasion Australia.

Big words those might be. Fact is we have to look back and acknowledge truth, then seek a way to move forward together. The Uluru Statement offers us that way forward.

Sometimes in life little moments happen in our interactions with other people and those moments stick around in the back of our skull boxes for some reason .. here’s an example of that.

Almost two years ago I did an epic road trip out into the Australian Deserts, not a bad effort for an avowed stay at home hermit. On the road between Lake Eyre and Uluru I stopped to assist some Aboriginal men whose car had broken down – long story short it created the need for another epic trip of sorts to the nearest but far away Aboriginal Settlement in order to pick up a hose to syphon petrol from my car to theirs. It made time for an interesting conversation …

The other blokes stayed with their car and their leader came with me and directed me on the quest to find that elusive hose. I’m paraphrasing from memory here a bit, and we had quite a few laughs along the way at our mutual ineptitude at trying to find something as simple as a bit of garden hose out in the Desert of all places, but here’s the gist of the conversation …

“For a White Fella you seem to at least have half a brain so I want to be truthed up. I know you sensed that things could have gone bad today. Well nothing went bad because we all said to each other he’s the only White Fella who stopped.”

As one does I thought of a couple of things … since they were six fine examples of Aboriginal manhood I reckon I’d have lasted a magnificent three seconds into the first Round , and then I asked him why would I be hated or be a target?

“You are not hated Brother. We don’t hate White Fellas. You are not hated because you were not scared like the others who flashed past and you stopped out here with us. What we hate is what your Mob did to us. We hate that.” Serious stuff, and laughs, it was quite a conversation. How could it not make me think about the need for real change in Australia?

Another short moment to relate … at the underground bar in Coober Pedy I had a conversation without words with an old Aboriginal man … we both sat there in an alcove amongst all that resplendent touristic finery with a bottle of Italian beer in our hands and our eyes met … without words we smiled at each other and clinked our bottles … again, it was quite a conversation … an old white hermit and an old black member of the oldest contiguous culture on this planet … both sitting there feeling out of time and place yet recognising each other and wishing each other the best of good cheer. You see, it really is possible, with the Spirit of meet, hands really can extend towards each other.

My wish to be Welcomed to Country by a representative of First Nations’ People might just seem like a hollow goody-two-shoes symbolic act by some, and others may tag me a leftist bleeding-heart wishing for the seemingly impossible. I don’t care because I am neither of those things. All of us as human beings have to work out for ourselves the values that we carry around in our own hearts. I do not buy into the Australian myth of who I am supposed to be, and nor will I allow any Identity to be imposed upon me.

Only an Indigenous person can tell me whether or not my wish to be truly Welcomed to Country is culturally appropriate from their point of view. If they say no I’ll say fair enough. However, if they say yes and “quit yapping on about it you old bozo and get your skinny skin over here so we can get the thing done”, well, I’ll scoot over there with bells on.

All of us think, and I’m sure that most of you realise that, given the bloody nature of the earlier history of Australia, for any one of us to be truly Welcomed to Country by an Indigenous person is not a light flick-away feel-good thing. It is not like the Welcome to Country that we get when we attend the first day of a Cricket Test.

To be truly Welcomed to Country requires both parties to stand together, and look back together, and for one party to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused and the generational disadvantage imposed and the benefits accrued to that party by being a modern day beneficiary of all the terrible things that went on before, and for the other party to speak and be heard and to not hold back on the depth of the wounding and pain and that deepest deepest sense of loss. So there is nothing ephemeral about such a real Welcome to Country. That is my view.

Such a meeting of true Spirit could have the power to resonate strongly and cut through the apathy and judgemental indifference and the spurning that our, our, mainstream culture directs towards the First Nations’ People of this land. Like anything else in Australia real change on serious issues comes from the ground up, it comes from individual people who see the need for change coming together to create that change.

Before I die I want to be Welcomed to Country, my country, by the only People who can do such a thing. I don’t want pomp and ceremony, booming cannons, political double-speak, hands on supposedly holy books, or any other of that made up guff. I want to be drawn into, and invited to feel a welcomed part of, the timeless Spirit of this Land.

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Wake up, Australia!

It is true that 2020 is behind us and that various vaccines for COVID-19, claimed to be effective, are in the process of being distributed – BUT – we still have a Coalition government, which is ruled by the same power group which has, initially under Nick Minchin’s influence, and for at least two decades, denied us government support for realistic action on climate change.

I suspect that being in power is an incredible aphrodisiac – at the flick of a pen you can refuse to accept valid advice and expect that your popularity in the right quarters will then ensure a comfortable retirement from politics – and to hell with all those powerless fools whose lives will be forever damaged in consequence!

Inequality, in addition to lack of action on global warming, is a vicious menace.

We have a government which takes a jackboot attitude towards the poor and the disabled.

Don’t for a moment believe that the proof of illegality of Robodebt will stop this government from enforcing draconian laws on those who lack the skills and the finance to protect themselves from government mistreatment.

The current push – which, once more, is possibly illegal – is for a cashless welfare card to be imposed on many communities, and individuals, on the arrogant assumption that the people affected are incapable of managing a budget and need protection from themselves because they will fritter money away on drugs and alcohol.

And this is not being applied only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people, yet no one notices that it goes way beyond arrogant paternalism, as it smacks of an assumption that these people are incapable of learning how to manage their own money!

Too many decision makers – be they government Ministers or bureaucrats – lack lived experience. If you have never lost a limb, been born with a disability, suffered extreme poverty, etc, you are not really in a good position to understand the effect of these situations on others.

Particularly when it comes to dealing with people with any sort of mental illness, when to lose patience with them because they are not behaving – in your personal opinion – in a rational manner, is the height of stupidity on your part.

No person with any sort of mental impairment should ever be interviewed by officials in the absence of an advocate known to the interviewee. Have you ever heard of the Anunga rules in the NT in regard to Indigenous people in police custody?

This is an approach which needs to be adopted in all cases where any issues raised might affect the ability of either party in an interview to understand the other – whether it be language or mental capacity which is the applicable issue.

Our ATSI people are, in many parts of Australia, among the most disadvantaged people in the world. They struggle to maintain – or, in many cases, recover – a culture which is extremely important to them. As with many migrants, English is not even not necessarily their first language at home, it is often their third or fourth language.

Have you ever seen this map of Australia before?

Many ATSI people can speak in multiple languages. If they do not understand English, it is not because they are any more stupid than you are if you cannot understand a Chinese speaker – because you have never learned to speak fluent Chinese!

If the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted one thing, it is that the government’s main interest is in the economy. This is, in some instances, understandable, but governments MUST multi-task!

People are in second place – or, for particular groups, even lower down the priority list – so that the only thing admired by too many of our politicians is the ability to acquire, and enhance the nature of, wealth! If you are in entertainment or politics, being wealthy makes you the darling of the media but if you are disadvantaged in any way, neither media nor politicians really give a damn about you!

I subscribe to Crikey and, over this past year or two, they have been following research into NDIS.

This has not been well received by official circles, yet when these findings have been obtained, is the research not warranted?

We live in an era where the advice on which government Ministers seem to rely does not come from experienced Public Servants, but from political advisers, whose duties are centred – not on “What is best for the country?”, but “What is most likely to help win the next election?”

When people’s lives are being damaged in consequence of a totally flawed policy approach, something has to change.

And we who are electors have got to be much more vocal in making it clear that what we are being offered doesn’t begin to meet the pub test!

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Qantas workers cannot be denied sick leave, says ACTU

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), in keeping with their reputation to doing anything to ensure that the nation’s workers receive their proper contractual award obligations, is going to the High Court to win sick leave entitlements for the workers of Qantas.

According to Scott Connolly, the ACTU’s assistant national secretary, the airline giant colloquially known as an Australian icon, and the giant red kangaroo logo usually being the first thing tourists entering Australia see when they go through the nation’s airports, has not been extending the sick leave entitlement to its employees for a number of years.

In some cases, it has been decades of Qantas workers allowing their sick leave entitlements to accrue, mainly due to the failure of Qantas’s front offices and human resources divisions to invoke its duty of care to extend those entitlements to employees who need it most.

One such hard-hit case is that of Peter Seymour, a 31-year Qantas veteran push-back/aircraft driver based at Sydney Airport who has been battling cancer since receiving his diagnosis a year ago, saying that the company has failed to pay out a single cent of his sick leave entitlement.

“I love my job but that was a huge smack in the face,” Seymour said on Wednesday, as the ACTU was announcing its High Court action with multi-union backing on behalf of the workers of Qantas.

“I was treated just like a number [by the company].

“I could not stay on JobKeeper because I’ve got bills to pay, so I was forced to take redundancy from the company. I’ve just turned 64 and I still have to work, I now have to find a job” despite his cancer diagnosis, Seymour added.

Instead, Seymour had to suffer the further indignity of being contacted by the company via an e-mail that he was being made redundant and forced onto the JobKeeper stimulus – which possesses a much lower rate to award to him than a payout from Qantas – in place of any accrued sick leave entitlement.

“Qantas’ behaviour toward the most unwell people in its workforce has been callous and illegal,” said Connolly, who also cited the case of one other unnamed Qantas employee who after receiving a diagnosis of heart disease, was also given the same fate by the airline company.

“That’s why we fully support this bid to have this matter heard in the High Court,” added Connolly.

The case – being brought under the auspices of the law firm of Maurice Blackburn on behalf of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), all unions with vested interests among Qantas’s workforce – has found its way to the High Court after being rejected in the Federal Court last month.

Maurice Blackburn employment law principal Giri Sivaraman and the ACTU were united in agreement that this case being presided over by the High Court is bound to leave a precedent on workers’ rights cases over any sort of leave entitlements for years to come.

“We say that you can’t stand someone down who is on sick leave, and if you can’t stand them down then you can’t withhold sick leave payments from them,” Sivaraman said outside the High Court in Canberra.

“This appeal is not just important for Qantas employees who’ve been unfairly denied access to their own sick, compassionate, personal or carer’s leave, it’s critical to all workers in Australia who may be stood down in the future,” added Connolly.

As expected, Seymour’s union, the TWU, is not only backing him but potentially countless others whose entitlements may become denied to them by any employer, and not one with the wealth of Qantas.

“Qantas has received over $800 million in [JobKeeper] taxpayers’ support to help it during the pandemic but instead of acting like a responsible employer in return it is trashing lives and trashing jobs,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, whose company has received $800 million in government funding, JobKeeper and otherwise, during the pandemic. (Photo from abc.net.au)

And Kaine believes that any sort of government stipends, stimulus endeavours or other fundings should come with a strict set of terms and conditions, especially when workers’ lives and well-being remains at stake.

“Denying sick workers the leave they have built up and pushing them in some case out of their jobs in order to access redundancy payments to pay bills is utterly despicable.

“The Federal Government could tie conditions to the public money it is pumping into Qantas to force it to act responsibly but it is choosing not to,” added Kaine.

The other unions involved in the ACTU’s case remain resolute and defiant in fighting the case on behalf of all of its workers past, present and future.

“We make no apology for continuing our pursuit to right these wrongs. This is another very important step in the fight to ensure every worker in this country can access their sick leave when they need it most,” said Allen Hicks, the national secretary of the ETU.

“It adds insult to injury for sick Qantas workers who now have to defend their right to sick leave entitlements in the High Court,” said Steve Murphy, the national secretary of the AMWU, who added that the fight in the High Court amid Qantas’s decision could not come at a worse time in 2020.

“Essential workers stepped up during the year from hell, now Qantas is out-of-control, leaving it’s sick workers behind during their time of need – at Christmas,” said Murphy.

 

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Straight old white man

Stan Grant (wonderful man) is currently hosting One on One on the ABC. He is exploring the notion of IDENTITY with various more than interesting guests. It has made me think about what sort of tribe I identify with, it has made me think about who am I as a human being, it has made me think about who am I?

On the surface I am a straight old white man. Gosh … on the surface … so easy to vilify. Think Trump. Think Putin. Think Australian CEO’s. Think power imbalances, think historical power elites who use their strength and financial power to keep out the ‘others’ and protect their own entitlement.

But that is not me.

I look at my skin. It is white. I look at my age. I am old. I look at my sexual orientation … it is straight. Big fucking deal … none of that defines who I am as a human being.

Because of my appearance people tag me in a certain way. A privileged person. A person who has benefited from the early brutal invasion of Australia that demolished a beautiful and wonderful Aboriginal culture.

Yet … yet … yet. I was born on this land in 1952. I am of this land. I know no other land. Early last year when I drove out to Uluru and placed my hand on the Rock it spoke to me and it accepted me and it said (no matter how you got here) you are of this land. The Red Dirt is under my fingernails, the air of this land is in my lungs. This is my land and I am part of it. I do not belong anywhere else. I have nowhere to go back to.

I am a Survivor of extreme childhood sexual abuse. If you simply see me as a straight old white man then you are dithering yourself in stupidity.

Your skin colour means nothing to me. Your sexual orientation means nothing bad to me. The nature of your heart … however … ah … that’s where we start to address the real things.

If you have a good heart … then you are of my Tribe.

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Abuse on the Mainland: Australia’s Medevac Hotel Detentions

Governments that issue press releases about the abuse of human rights tend to avoid close gazes at the mirror. Doing so would be telling. In the case of Australia, its record on dealing with refugees is both abysmal and cruel. It tends to be easier to point the finger at national security laws in Hong Kong and concentration camps in Xinjiang. Wickedness is always easily found afar.

Australia’s own concentration camp system hums along, inflicting suffering upon asylum seekers and refugees who fled suffering by keeping them in a state of calculated limbo. Its brutality has been so normalised, it barely warrants mention in Australia’s sterile news outlets. In penitence, the country’s literary establishment pays homage to the victims, such as the Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani. Garlands and literary prizes have done nothing to shift the vicious centre in Canberra. Boat arrivals remain political slurry and are treated accordingly.

Recently, there were small signs that prevalent amnesia and indifference was being disturbed. The fate of some 200 refugees and asylum seekers brought to the Australian mainland for emergency medical treatment piqued the interest of certain activists. Prior to its repeal as part of a secret arrangement between the Morrison government and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie in December last year, the medical evacuation law was a mixed blessing.

While it was championed as a humanitarian instrument, it did not ensure one iota of freedom. As before, limbo followed like a dank smell. The repeal of the legislation offered another prospect of purgatory, only this time on the mainland.

The individuals in question have found themselves detained in Melbourne at the Mantra Bell City Hotel in Preston, and the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane. In the mind of Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul, the conditions at both abodes are more restrictive than those on Nauru. The medical help promised has also been tardily delivered, if at all.

“My life is exactly the size of a room, and a narrow corridor,” reflects Mostafa (Moz) Azimitabar, who has been detained at the Mantra for 13 months. Like his fellow detainees, he has become a spectacle, able to see protesters gather outside the hotel, the signs pleading for their release, drivers honking in solidarity. He sees himself as “a fish inside an aquarium … The whole of my life in this window to see the real life, where people are driving, walking; when they wave to us. And when I wave back at them. This is my life.”

When former Australian soccer player turned human rights activist Craig Foster visited Azimitabar, conversation could only take place between a transparent plastic barrier. “I had to talk with him behind the glass,” tweeted the detainee. “Several times a day Serco officers enter my room and there aren’t any glasses for them.”

 

 

After the visit, Foster described the corrosion of liberties, “this constant theme of the most onerous regulations … constantly chipping away – just taking another right, another right, another right, and making them feel less and less and less human, if that’s possible after eight years.”

The more obstreperous refugees have been targeted by the Department of Home Affairs and forcibly relocated. Iranian refugee Farhad Rahmati found himself shifted from Kangaroo Point to the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre (BITA), and then to Villawood. BITA also received four more from Kangaroo Point in mid-November.

The advent of COVID-19 compounded the situation. Detainees already vulnerable to other medical conditions faced another danger. The authorities gave a big shrug. Shared bathrooms are the norm and are infrequently cleaned. Hand sanitizer containers are left empty or broken. The inquiry into the failure of Victoria’s quarantine system that led to a second infectious wave in Melbourne avoided considering the conditions of detained refugees. Writing in Eureka Street, Andra Jackson wondered if this had anything to do with the fact “that these men, now detained in some instances for six to seven years, have behaved more responsibly that [sic] some returning travellers.”

The government authorities did release five refugees from the medevac hotels last week, threatened by lawsuits testing the legal status of their detention. On December 14, the 60 men detained at the Mantra were told that they would be moving to another undisclosed location. The conclusion of the contract with the hotel has the Department of Home Affairs considering its options, and all are bound to aggravate the distress of the detainees.

Alison Battinson of Human Rights for All has a suggestion bound to be ignored. “Instead of telling the gentlemen that they are going to be moved to another place of detention – that hasn’t been disclosed to them – the more sensible approach would be to release them as per the law.”

The only ray of compassion in this mess of inhumanity has come in the form of a Canadian resettlement scheme. Nine refugees have already availed themselves of the opportunity; another twenty await their fate. Australian politicians, as they so often do on this subject, are nowhere to be found.

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His name is Fousseny Traoré

This is an open letter to the people of Australia and the rest of the Western World,

I’m writing to you today because I am angry. In fact I am positively furious, and I have been for the better part of a year. Finally I have found the words to say it aloud!

I have a brother, he’s not the brother you would define, but a brother all the same because we are one and the same. Both he and I share an ancestral connection, and though this may seem trivial to some, not 400 years ago our ancestors called the same place home. Intercontinental genetic comparisons confirmed that I am 1.4% African and my grandfather is 1.5%, a deep connection I will never ignore. I have an African brother, his name is Fousseny. Let me tell you the story of my brother, Fousseny Traoré.

It is 3am, my heart is pounding, tears are flowing down my cheeks and I am crying because I feel so helpless. I receive a message – the 10th message I have gotten from him in the space of a few hours and I am crying, because now 9 months on I have no answers for him yet again. “My sister, I am not credible”. “They will not listen-it has to be you sister”. “You are white and you are from The West, I do not have a voice, for you see I am not from The West”. “Please, they do not hear me, I can’t do this anymore, they ignore me. “You must understand they will always only ignore me”.

[“My sister, I am not credible”. “They will not listen-it has to be you sister”. “You are white and you are from The West, I do not have a voice, for you see I am not from The West”.

“Please, they do not hear me, I can’t do this anymore, they ignore me. “You must understand they will always only ignore me”]

I wipe my tears away as I read the message and red hot guilt flows through my body, and I try to formulate a sentence. I want to explain that people do care, but I know that’s a lie and he also knows that’s a lie. I know everything he is saying is none other than the truth. The West doesn’t see Africa, the west doesn’t hear AFRICA, and the west barely acknowledges its existence. In the words of my brother: “They care not, Africa is the garbage dump of the West”.

[“They care not, Africa is the garbage dump of the West”]

I am exhausted and it is exhausting to write this but the first thing I have to say is this: I’m really angry, and you should be too and this is why. You stood in the streets and you screamed in protest but… there was millions you left out. When you stood in your streets and screamed that ‘BLACKLIVESMATTER’ where were the screams for BLACK AFRICANS? When you stood in the streets and you screamed for human rights, for people of colour; and for the stolen generations, where were the screams for them? When you waved your sign in the air through your masked protection, where were screams for the Mother Land? When you rose up and demanded equality for all, where were the screams for Black Africans? Where were the screams for AFRICA? All that came from the west, was only for the west and nothing more. You went into the streets and you forgot! Where were the screams for your brothers and sisters in AFRICA? You forgot them. When they silently protested on social media, did you even hear them? Did you see them? Can you even name any African protesters? Even one? If you learn one thing today let it be his name: Fousseny Traoré.

To tell you his story we first have to address the African elephant in the room. Somehow between the 80’s and the 90’s the voice for most of Africa fell off the map. Somewhere along the lines, the words: ‘Give Help, Send Help and SOS’, lost all meaning. The very nature of these words have almost become perverse, almost as if human suffering is now a crime and ‘how dare anyone send out a distress signal on my meme scattered newsfeed’. For the first time in history, our African brothers and sisters are right in front of us and they are screaming for our help and we can do nothing but ignore them. During the BlackLivesMatters protests you NEVER amplified their voice! In your anger for the injustice in The West, you forgot Africa; and they watched you through a looking glass as you IGNORED THEM.

Spend 5 minutes on a public forum and you quickly learn of the mirror they hold up to our society; revealing what it truly is, a festering selfish world full of disgusting and filthy inequality. I want to you to ask yourself how many people who ask for help don’t want help? How many people who are suffering, are lying about it? Now I want you to think about this: if you’ve had a social media post that had some or a substantial outreach; go to your posts, go to your messages and I can guarantee someone in a dire situation has desperately tried to communicate with you. They saw you as a beacon and you ignored them, because they don’t know what a scam is, they don’t know how to ask for help, they don’t know the world through your eyes. So through their oppression sending a distress signal on social media is all that they can do. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t take an intellectual to see another human’s pain and suffering, it doesn’t take a genius to verify the authenticity of a story being told, you just need to do one human thing and LISTEN, listen because it doesn’t take a genius to hear a genuine scream.

This is what I heard. Fousseny is from Bamako, Mali West Africa. In 2019 Fousseny Traoré led the FRIDAYSFORFUTURE movement, [well he usedto lead the movement but more on that soon] his last protest had an audience of 2,000 Malians – but you’ve never heard of him. Fousseny is an incredibly remarkable young man, he’s kind, generous and would do anything for anyone. He would give anyone the clothes off his back if it meant he could change anything for the better. He started numerous campaigns to fight plastic pollution and has worked for pennies to feed himself and others in his community. With only his smile and determination and with little resources, he has encouraged hundreds to clean up the streets, to plant trees and live sustainably; and caused hundreds more to take to the streets in protest for Climate Action. He’s no Greta Thurnberg, no, but he is deserving of the stature all the same, because he is a deeply oppressed Black African Muslim and it is incredible what he has accomplished so far, but he’s invisible to you.

If he was a Westerner he’d be all over the news, but he’s not and so you don’t even know his name, so I’m saying it again, his name is Fousseny Traoré. I have no words to describe how remarkable he truly is, but do you know what the most remarkable thing about Fousseny is? He’s real and it was profoundly easy to verify the authenticity of his words, PROFOUNDLY EASY, so I helped him. Here’s what I have learned from that: no-body gives a HOOT about Black Africans. Quite frankly I’m sick of it, I’m sick of the excuses, I’m sick of heartless cowards and reacts with no intentions. I’ve had an ocean full of plastic of it. I’ve had so much of a barrel of it that both Fousseny and I feel like we are screaming into a blackened void- but that isn’t even the half of it! Like most people who live in a constant state of war and unrest Fousseny’s circumstances changed, initially we were all so filled with joy for him, but sadly things did not turn out as planned.

Earlier this year Fousseny won a scholarship from a French organisation for his efforts with the FRIDAYSFORFUTURE movements, and he flew all the way to Tunisia in North Africa for a month long workshop to learn how to become a future leader in climate activism. He would take these skills back home to Mali to lead the Climate Justice movement. Sadly Fousseny never made it home and now he can’t go home. Since both COVID-19 and the military coup in Mali, we can’t get him home and out of Tunisia. Exhaustingly, I have had to explain this to countless organisations, consuls, government bodies and humanitarian agencies with no or little reply, explicitly dictating that Fousseny can’t go home. There is a war in Mali, Mali is a no fly zone, and there is a high chance he would be held at gun point and forced to do unspeakable things on threat of his life. This isn’t a joke or an embellishment, this is real life. If forced to go home, especially since he is considered a political activist, Fousseny if he goes home will in all likelihood be murdered – that’s just a cold hard fact. Fousseny is thousands of km away from home and he’s never been outside Mali until now, he hasn’t seen his family in almost 9 months and he’s never been this far from them in his entire life. Fousseny was Mali’s only hope for Climate Justice and his efforts have faded into the deep oppression into nothingness. In the space of 2 months Fousseny and his people went from running Climate Action protests to: starving, running for their lives and being murdered- and this was barely before COVID-19 had graced their shores.

Fousseny Traoré

Fousseny also speaks 3 languages, and French is his first, he’s an incredibly gifted and talented environmentalist and everything he does is selfless, he is an asset to humanity and any country should be lucky to take him! But none of that matters, because he does not have a right to seek asylum in Tunisia, apparently that’s where his human rights just abruptly end? Fousseny is a refugee. To add to this, I have even had Westerners tell me he should seek asylum in Tunisia, and that he should be grateful that he isn’t in Mali… but you can’t seek asylum in Tunisia, a refugee can’t work nor start a new life in Tunisia! That is why people die in refugee camps in Tunisia. Fortunately he is not at the refugee camp in Tunisia, because even if it comes out of my own pocket, I will not subject to him to such torture, because it is a place of misery and suffering. It is completely inhuman the way they treat refugees in Tunisia. Even in his dark room, from his 1 bedroom flat that he can barely make rent on (from small donations), thousands of kilometres from home, he is still trying to reach out and create awareness for Climate Justice and he would do this until his last breath I’m sure. Fousseny needs urgent refugee protection now! He is getting sick, and his mental health is starting to destroy his mind and body, he also desperately needs treatment for his sickle cell anaemia and left foot disability. Imagine being in a country with not-the-right to seek asylum and being expected to die there, because of a war you didn’t start in a country on a continent the world doesn’t care about. What kind of soulless being do you have to be to believe he does not deserve to seek asylum in a foreign land? Why does he not deserve to seek asylum in Australia? These questions keep me awake at night.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has done nothing for Fousseny – save issuing him a useless card and his refugee status in Tunisia only adds to his invisibility, and with it carries a certain stigma. He is completely ignored by communities that 9 months ago were singing his praises. These are the communities he is supposed to be a part of that have left him for DEAD. This is what makes me angry the most, his distress signals on social media are completely ignored! No matter how much time we spend sharing his campaign, it’s blocked from Climate Activism Groups. The Admins of these groups delete the posts, because apparently a real life black African refugee and FridaysForFuture activist, is not authentic enough to warrant their support? If only they knew his pain and bothered to hear his cries, if only they knew he is very much a victim to the very injustice they are fighting for. They refuse to help someone who has done so much for the FRIDAYSFORFUTURE movement and for Climate Justice – they refuse to help their own. They have completely forgotten him. I am incensed beyond comprehension at this injustice Fousseny is being forced to endure, all the while being completely ignored by communities that he depends on so much. I am disgusted with these groups. So I have a message for those Climate Activists and groups who have deleted his posts. To those who have broken my brother’s spirit: you should BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES, for you know nothing of his sacrifice and NOTHING of his pain! Who do you think you are and why do you ignore his distress signal? Is this not what you are fighting for after all?!

To make things worse it is because of Australian laws, and our utterly useless refugee policies, that Fousseny is not likely to seek protection from Australia. Canada, is where he wants to go because it is French speaking, but mainly because they sponsor refugees, unlike Australia! So I desperately want to fly him to Canada under refugee protection but we haven’t been unable raise enough money, not-with-standing we don’t even know if this is the correct path forward and since his Visa has expired we are afraid of him being detained by the Tunisian government. There are also legal issues as well as Tunisian taxes we can’t seem to get past. Not to mention numerous other barriers and probably many more invisible ones we also can’t seem to get a straight answer for. I want to find him a sponsor from Canada but since I’m not Canadian, this seems an impossible feat and we can’t seem to get a straight answer out of anyone! I am so disgusted with humanity, to the point I don’t even know who to be disgusted with anymore! I am disgusted with Australia for pretending that refugees like Fousseny do not exist and most of all (and I never thought I would say this) I am disgusted with the UNHCR!

My brother is fading into the festering swamp of vast human injustice and inexplicable inequality. The morale for human rights have gone, and I can do nothing but watch from the sidelines because so far no one has been able to help us, and their silence is all we can hear. I am one person and I have never felt more alone and ignored in my life, it’s as if nobody cares at all. Not a single humanitarian organisation or human rights advocacy group has come to this remarkable young man’s aid and I have no words to express my rage. He doesn’t understand why. We both don’t understand why. If people out there do care, WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU? We need you so desperately right now, I need you, Fousseny needs you. My heart aches, because you, the readers of Australian Independent Media, are my last hope to save my brother. I have no idea what is going to happen to him, and his only crime was being born a Black African.

[‘If I die on this journey then so be it’.]

Sadly, Fousseny no longer believes there is help out there and come January or February next year, Fousseny will risk his life and attempt to cross the Mediterranean, in a tiny boat over rough seas. He is so desperate to leave Tunisia he would rather die than stay there, and I quote ‘If I die on this journey, then so be it’. Please don’t let this happen, I beg you. Please don’t let him die. How can it be this hard to get help for someone who needs it most? Is he not human enough? I am failing him and it isn’t even my fault. I am afraid no one will ever come to his aid and with that I am afraid he will die.

FOR GOODNESS SAKE, IF YOU KNOW HOW TO HELP AND YOU’RE READING THIS, DO SOMETHING AND HELP HIM NOW!

Please don’t let him die, I cannot do this on my own, someone do something before for it’s too late. I need legal aid, sponsors, humanitarian and human rights advocates, someone, anyone… just someone other than just me to do something, anything!! Why is he being ignored? Please don’t let this go on. Help me save Fousseny, please help me get him out of Tunisia before he makes this dangerous journey and before it’s too late, help him seek refugee protection. He is all alone, please don’t let him die, BlackAfricanLivesMatter.

Sincerely,

Nicole F Clark

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Dutton Defeated in High Court by Refugees

National Justice Project Media Release

High Court Refuses to be Treated as “Post Box” by the Minister

Refugees who were detained by the government in Nauru and Papua New Guinea have secured a major legal victory in the High Court of Australia against the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

The High Court of Australia has ruled that the Federal Court has the power to hear the cases of over 50 refugees and asylum seekers, after the Commonwealth appealed to the Court in September 2019 to dispute the jurisdiction of the Federal Court.

The Minister claimed that Section 494AB of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) prevents the claimants from taking action for negligence and breaches of duty of care while held in the government’s custody.

The High Court, however, has ruled in paragraph 4:

“s 494AB is not a law that takes away the jurisdiction of those courts (or that of this Court) to hear and determine proceedings of the kinds described in s 494AB(1).”

In Paragraph 27, the High Court held:

“That conclusion is grounded in the established principle that “a law of the Commonwealth is not to be interpreted as withdrawing or limiting a conferral of jurisdiction unless the implication appears clearly and unmistakably.”

In Paragraph 34, the High Court said:

“So construing s 494AB as a statutory bar avoids the High Court being made a post box for the commencement of proceedings destined to be remitted to another court.

It avoids diverting the High Court away from its central work as the apex court of the Australian judicial system. And, further, it avoids administrative inconveniences for the courts, the profession and litigants in circumstances where the Commonwealth could not identify any purpose or utility in requiring the proceedings to be filed in the High Court only for them to be remitted.”

The full court decision can be found here.

George Newhouse, Principal Solicitor and Director of the National Justice Project, has said:

“We’ve argued successfully at every stage that the Federal Court has the jurisdiction to hear these claims. Today, the High Court agreed.”

“This decision vindicates the right of our clients to seek justice for the cruel and inhumane treatment that they suffered.

“In an act of legal bastardry, the government tried to slow down the course of justice, and they failed.”

“The decision vindicates our clients. By taking legal action against the government, our clients hope to access the long-term medical and psychological care that they need.”

“Many of our clients are young children who have suffered so much from the Minister’s cruel policies. These children suffer from constant nightmares, they struggle to interact with other children, and they experience suicidal thoughts. Some of them have self-harmed or attempted to take their own lives.”

“Now, we will fight in the Federal Court to make the government accountable for what it has done to these children.”

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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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