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Category Archives: Social Justice

The forced sterilisation of women in detention is nothing new

By Mikayla Chadwick  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

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

 

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

University of South Australia Media Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vale Dave Graeber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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no more the SILENCE

Have a good look at this photo …

Now have a good look at this photo …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so no more the SILENCE …

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

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

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

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

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Colonial oppression: it still exists

By Robert Wood  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Pete-The-Not-So-Great’s Info Wars

By Jane Salmon  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former ABF head Roman Quadvlieg still loves this stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration suddenly gained an $8m PR budget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your participation is encouraged.

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

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The Precedent Set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Compelling Witness!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are the most Compelling of Witnesses!

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The end of the Newstart Criminal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why does this man still have his OAM?

I am writing to bring to your attention a matter regarding the awarding of OAMs. Given the recent controversy regarding Bettina Arndt, I am sure that people would be horrified to learn that a convicted paedophile serving an 8-year sentence, still holds an OAM.

Graeme Russell Lawrence, former Anglican Dean of Newcastle, was defrocked by the Anglican Church in 2012 for sexual misconduct with a child. Further, he was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison in 2019 for the rape of a 15 year old boy.

I have written to the Awards Secretariat, The Governor General and the Prime Minister on at least 8 occasions since 2010 in relation to this and am yet to receive any reply other than generic responses.

I have been amazed that the Governor General’ s office has responded so quickly to calls to rescind the OAM of Arndt, yet steadfastly refuses to even consider revoking the OAM of a convicted paedophile.

After Lawrence’s conviction, Newcastle Council immediately revoked Freeman of the City and Citizen of the Year Awards that Lawrence held, yet the Governor General’s office refuses to act on this.

My name is Steven Smith. I was raped hundreds of times by an Anglican Priest while I was aged 10-14. I have fought for decades to bring offenders to justice.

I appeared as a survivor witness in Case Study 42 of the Child Abuse Royal Commission and was invited to appear to address the Commissioners as the final witness at the final hearing (CS57).

I feel that I speak for survivors from all over the country when I express my disgust at the inaction of the Governor General’s Office, the Prime Minister’s Office and The Awards Secretarial in allowing a convicted child rapist, serving a lengthy prison term, to retain an honour that should only be held by persons of the highest character.

For Lawrence to continue to hold that honour is an insult to all survivors of child sexual abuse, and an insult to all deserving holders of honours.

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No. I will not.

I wrote to the senate inquiry today to speak as a private citizen, as a survivor of crime and as a social security entitlement recipient who is also a long term clean and sober alcoholic and drug addict. I am one of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people who are facing forced income management under the Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT) program should roll outs continue.

I do not agree with the government’s assertion that the cashless debit card trials need to be extended and I do not believe this government has made a case for a trial extension. This bill will extend the trials and these extensions, as others in the past have done, will ultimately mean that human and economic rights infringements will also continue.

I am a survivor of long term sexual physical and psychological abuse, child sex-trafficking and religious abuse. I am a birth mother, a single mother, and a survivor of all the ‘value adds’ that come with each of those experiences; malnutrition, mental illness, homelessness, abuse perpetuation, social isolation and abject poverty. I understand the concept of ” Tough Love” and its role in addiction and trauma recovery very well. What government is offering under that banner, is not what tough love means.

Through my experiences in sickness and wellness, I understand that for tough love to be useful and effective, and not just another form of abuse, it has to be metered out by people with intimate knowledge of the issues and not by those whose only power and evidence is opinion. Tough Love has to come from people with a genuine authority of experience, and a genuine care for those they work with. Tough love begins from a position of equality, mutual respect, understanding and lateral comprehension.

The CDCT policy as a structure is none of these things and nor are those espousing and implementing it, who have consistently been impersonal, dismissive, infantilising and judgemental.

I am fortunate that I was surrounded by wise people when I was ready to stop drinking and using. They never judged me or thought it was in any way appropriate to try and restrict my spending or to control my daily life. They did not cushion me in any way from the often-devastating consequences of my own stupidity and already knew they could not ‘fix’ the underlying disease of my addiction.

They knew as I do today, that the consequences of my avoidance of responsibility, in the end would be the greatest teachers and motivators I had. Removing those true incentives, for an addict, is like removing soil from the base of a seedling. Without them, I couldn’t have learned from my mistakes and recovered. In a world where my only experience of ‘love’ was abuse, and experiences of ‘help’ were harmful, those consequences and yes, the pain they bought me, were the only teachers I could see hear, and the only thing I could trust.

To infantilise people as these cards do, removes more than this essential individual responsibility and accountability, it undermines the capacity of a person too. In the manner these cards do that, is to sentence people, in some cases, to a slow death. At best, it removes the teacher from the classroom, while demanding the student pass. It’s backwards.

I also know something of surviving abuse and trauma, and so I know firsthand that these cards, in undermining self-determination and personal autonomy are anathema to trauma recovery.

Government will never be able to address whatever inter-generational welfare dependency issues may exist, without first addressing issues of injustice and inter-generational trauma. Not just in any one community, but in the entire Australian community.

The impacts of denying people their full exercise of human rights are all around us right now. They are visible in the very ‘problems’ government now wishes to address with conditional social security policies, yet successive governments have ignored the voices of those most experienced in recovery in the development of those policies.

Applying insult to injury and taking that arrogance of ignorance a step further, denying people free access cash in a largely cash economy-based world, will only undermine any progress that has been made. Segregating people further from the world they must survive in, treating citizens as criminals simply for needing support, only isolates people from help even further. To move forward, you need trust. These cards are anathema to trust.

In the first and last assessment, access to cash money has nothing to do with treating any social problem. Government already knows this. There are four reports that inform the government of this, the government wrote them.

Control of cash money isn’t just about controlling people’s incomes, it is controlling people and nowhere at any time in history outside of atrocity, has this ever been successful.

The Cashless Debit Card Trial only serves a wider political agenda towards cashless societies, and on the ground, simply removes individual autonomy and adds a further layer of bureaucracy, complexity and burden to people already living with the failings of bureaucracies, people already overburdened and living complex lives.

What matters most when tough love comes to the basement, is that it is provided as empathetic medicine, not inflicted as a punitive control that can only ever uphold the intention to punish. This provision of tough love is important, because that simple qualification means the dis-ease and the person with the dis-ease, are not viewed as one and the same.

These cashless card trials and the policy as written under the Act now, makes no distinction between people who actually need government intervention and those who do not. It assumes. It morally judges people based on class and any number of closeted political agendas and ideologies.  It bypasses every institutional wisdom and ignores structural issues as a contributing factor related to poverty, unemployment, abuse and addictions, in order to abdicate responsibility and lay blame for societal conditions onto individuals who never had a say in any of it.

As a practising addict, not only would I have gone to any lengths to get my fixes, cashless card or not.

A lack of access to ready cash would have only kept me locked into the very circles of friends and cycles of abuse I needed to step away from to get well. Restricted access to income would only have meant I was made more dependent on those friends and circles to survive.

I am not sure who came up with the idea it ever was, but I can tell you with the authority of my experience, that the availability of cash or lack thereof, was not the reason I drank, or continued to drink. Underlying causes and conditions must be addressed on an interpersonal level if recovery from addiction is to be possible. We cannot ignore the fact that two of the major causes for cyclical abuse patterns are the conditions of social stigma and ongoing social ignorance.

As a victim of sexual and structural crime, salvaged from certain demise at the hand of policing organisations who were meant to defend me  as a result of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into those organisations, I know and have lived the full cost of social ignorance and social silence. Having had over a thousand ” good community men” tear through my body before my fourteenth birthday as my lived experience and ‘cost’, I can tell you this card is anathema to the needs I had in my early recovery from those experiences too.

The need for self-determination, was and is paramount in and to my survivorship; it is integral to moving beyond victimisation into survivor-ship and so, into stability and every single report on trauma and recovery from trauma can back me up on that.  With the presence of any unwanted, external force controlling my daily life, such as this card would be, I could not have coped, and I would not cope, even today, as far as I have come.

Importantly, rather than “incentivised”, I would not have been motivated to recover at all, as to my wounded mind, giving up my rights to determine my own financial choices, would have been swapping one form of human abuse and slavery for another. I would have chosen suicide rather than to live subject to another person’s constant control, in that shame, bearing that social stigma and the silent yet obvious daily accusation I was just another perpetrator and a burden on the very society that abandoned me as a child to abusers in the first place.

It is with no small sense of irony and a great sense of despair that I find myself potentially subject to this card today simply because those early experiences I endured, in their cumulative impact, have left me disabled. I don’t fit governments target criteria, yet somehow that doesn’t matter.

Having made incredible journeys into recovery and sitting here to write to you now, a clean sober woman in a stable in a healing recovery path, I no longer fit into any of the target groups or categories this card is supposedly designed to ‘treat’ aside from ‘social security entitlement recipient,’ and yet along with all those that do or might, I am about to have my autonomy, the only real possession I have ever reclaimed from abusers in my recovery journey, removed again. All my hard work seems to have been for naught. Society wouldn’t accept me as I was, and now won’t accept me as I am.

Imagine for a moment that all the CDC’s intentions were justified and valid, then I ask you one last time, what have I done to warrant this punitive action and this imposition of government force and control in and over my life? What crime have I committed but to survive beyond expectation, that anyone has the right to sit in judgement over me?

Where was the government when I was being raped by its representatives on a daily basis that they now claim the right to condemn me to involuntary third-party income management for surviving that horror? Who are you to judge me a failed citizen, a derelict and who are you to judge those that are?

I am not a lost person or one who requires parenting or government guidance over my financial management, I am not stupid or impaired or negligent. The people who did this to me are. I have educated and schooled myself, I am someone who has endured, survived and overcome to the best of my own ability, though it seems not to government standards, the criminality and derelict moralities of the truly lost people of this country.

I have raised and I am continuing to raise myself out of the gutters members of this society not facing forced income management today put and left me in and all I have needed to do that, is an income support payment. I have no desire to end up back in the gutter and I have asked nothing else from the government. I am a good citizen. A good person. I pay my taxes, I support my community, I do what is required to stay well and stable and not deplete hospital resources unnecessarily.

I am entitled to my Centrelink payment under law, and it is my legislated right to own this entitlement under law. I do not abuse this payment. Under the CDCT, I do lose ownership of 80% of this payment. A corporate entity will control it and so, control me and my financial and social life. I cannot accept this. I will not.

I do not wish to participate in this act of collective punishment by the State on its most vulnerable citizens. And I will refuse to, even if that means my life ends or is diminished as a result. I know too well, that it was only the absence of respect for my rights as a human being and as a citizen and the intentional abuse of my human rights, that I am Centrelink payments to begin with. Rather than horse dung, respect for my human rights has been the only door to any of the recoveries I have been forced to make. This government must be held accountable to the law. Wanting to ‘get the cash out of communities’ is not sufficient justification for continued human rights infringements under the law.

Policies of social and economic segregation aside, any government action that includes or justifies acts that infringe upon people’s human and economic rights is an extremely serious matter.

If the government wishes to use addictions and abuse as its justification for imposing the card upon the “welfare class”, then it must address us all.  Government must explain to the parliament and the people, why all the people who have committed no crimes and have no social illness or delinquency to speak of, are being forced onto CDCT and they must explain to us why we must submit to this third party authoritarianism and abuse of our rights as citizens and human beings.

If the government genuinely holds that removing access to alcohol and gambling products will work to stop addiction, paedophilia, crime, violence and gambling problems, then why assault people like me who do none of these things?  If the situation is so grave, why have we not shut down places that sell these items in all communities? If governments intentions are to ‘help’ communities, then why after two years and millions of dollars, is there still no rehabilitation service in Ceduna? Why no youth diversion camp in Kununurra?  That is what these communities were asking for. Why have their voices been ignored?

If the government believes that moving forward, collective cash control is the only solution to society’s ills, then let’s do it right from the get-go! Let’s do it together, all inclusive, the entire national community. Let’s close all the pubs poker machine venues and casinos everywhere right now and take control of everyone’s incomes. Are we no longer equal Australians?

If that sounds stupid or an affront to you, then maybe you now have a glimmer of understanding how it feels to be me right now. Only my understanding of that stupidity comes with the knowledge that it would be wrong to do that, to determine outcomes for others based on my individual intellectual and moral views and personal choices; based on my view of how things could, nay should ‘get better’ in this country.

The reality remains that the dis-ease that pervades the life of an alcoholic drinker is not in the bottle at all. It’s inside the alcoholic and not in their wallet. While money is wasted on efforts to control the symptoms, focused on efforts that ignore, demean, demoralise or demonise the person, the government simply dis-empowers the only source of the solutions. Nothing will change for the individual, because nothing will have changed where it matters to where it needs to. Within them. No amount of money or lack of cash money can change that.

In an economic landscape where fiscal disparity is 500 to 1 at best, concepts of community consensus let alone collective ‘community consent’ is nearly impossible to quantify and even if it were, outside of criminal activity, it should never usurp or replace the rights or informed consent of a single citizen. Under the current Cashless Card system, we are all considered guilty, all delinquents, and so the ignorant yet wealthy who are being empowered to give third party consent to these roll outs ‘ on our behalf’ are simply acting feudal lords determining outcomes for the peasants yet again. This isn’t right, it isn’t “OK”.

This policy is a total social injustice of a kind last seen in that feudal era, a ‘mistake’ we as a society have already repeated during the Northern Territory intervention. It is time to learn from the past, not continue to emulate it.

We the ill, the recovering damaged, the poor and disenfranchised don’t need any more good intentions or this twisted version of love or compassion, any more than we need your blanket judgements. What we do need are good decisions made by informed, trauma aware and mature people with a consistent empathy and authentically welfare-based vision willing to stand accountable for policy failure and impact outcomes.

We need people willing to see and hear us, and willing to work and engage with us, not those who would view themselves as our betters. And it is very clear from all the submissions and evidence given to the inquiry’s so far by those good people – yes I have read them all, that the Cashless Debit Card, which is a new name for third party income management by force, is simply not the answer.

To safeguard the innocent, to help those truly unable to help themselves, there needs to be at minimum a reversal of the burden of proof. Government needs to provide accountable proof that people are fiscally delinquent or even that they are in need of acute help. This must be accomplished via individual case assessment.

Individual case assessment is the only way to know, for certain, who needs help and who does not, and so, to protect the integrity of our so called national values that, unless there has been a coup, do not include collectively judging and punishing innocent people or infringing upon the human rights of citizens with impunity.

If individual assessment finds we are not falling or failing to thrive, then the card has no place in our lives and no grounds exist for it to be imposed on us.

As a survivor, I do not consent to having my human and economic rights stripped from me for no reason, regardless of any ‘data’ and ‘opinions’ or the ideology and grossly misled assumptions of an inept, unaccountable and political party. I will never give consent or be forced onto this card, on pain of homelessness, hunger and even death. My human rights and my dignity, have a value and special meaning to me beyond money, beyond society’s view of them, even if they mean nothing to anyone else. I will not be forced under duress to sign any contract with an unaccountable private corporation against my will. I will not.

I refuse to accept that any individual, government department,  group or community has the right to give ‘implied third party consent’ on my behalf to any government that would enable them to abuse my human and economic rights and freedoms, and I believe the very notion that they have any right to do that outside of criminality is absurd and simply Orwellian.

Abuse is not love. Harm is not helpful. Constriction and restriction that create harm and reduce a person’s status in the world, are not acts of compassion. The Indue cashless card reflects all the worst possible options available to the government in supporting people on Centrelink. I do not drink, use drugs, gamble or commit crime. I will not now or ever find it acceptable that my character can be presumed for me, nor accept that those presumptions acted upon by third parties, to my detriment are right, legal or moral.

I will not have my self-determination and personal autonomy in the world stolen by force ever again by the institutions of government or its agencies and representatives and I will not be treated like a criminal or an animal, by anyone, much less those so clearly devoid of the morality and basic human empathy, life experience and comprehension skills required to make such an assessment of my life.

If I am the only one or the last person in the entire nation to stand and say no to this policy, then so be it. I am not afraid. I know I am not writing only for myself or the current generation. I am considering the impact of this policy on people like me in the generation to come, and I make my stand with full awareness of the ultimate cost to me personally, and with awareness of the impact of the cost of normalising and institutionalising human rights infringements and government neglect in my country.

I absolutely question the use of the CDCT policy as a social “catalyst”, and do question the future of human rights in Australia overall if we are to be permissive of any government seeking to continue to infringe on the human rights of one group of people in order to motivate another group of people.

These cards are already turning practising addicts into dealers and practising alcoholics and the mentally ill into suicide statistics. Rather than achieving a catalytic explosion of hope in multiple creative and informed directions, the cashless debit card, via intimidation and moral judgment, has shown that it only creates inertia. For something to be a catalyst it has to create something productive, despair is not productive. Except for a privileged few, and when you actually read their submissions and stories, for most people on the cashless debit card already, despair is their daily diet. The food children need to grow well, doesn’t stop at the supermarket kind. These cards are stealing hope.

Human rights are not horsesh*t, they are not ‘irrelevant’ they are not paper weights. To me they are all I have left that structurally informs me I am more than the sum of other people’s opinions and judgements of me, and more than the experiences of my past.

They inform me that I do have a right to exist, a right to be here and the right to be free and protected as an equal member of society from all forms of social and institutional discrimination and abuse regardless of my social or financial status. These rights apply to all of us, equally, or none of us, entirely.

In the wider world, human rights inform us all. They are the wisdom of the lived experience of centuries of human mistakes and failures. They are the boundaries we have set for ourselves as a global community of human beings; a line in the sand we have legally and morally drawn based on our highest most informed moral awareness. Any program or government, knowingly impinging on these boundaries without concrete justification, is exceeding its moral and legal authority. The cashless debit card policy impinges on these rights.

To the best of my knowledge, the Cashless Debit Card Trial Legislation was presented and approved on the basis it met specific targets and respected limitations that applied to trial conditions only. These objectives and limitations have not been met. At the end of the day, it remains that now four years on, the Cashless Debit Card Trial has not met the targets set down in law, and another year will not change that.

I am a human being, not a laboratory specimen. I am not stupid and not willing to be compliant with acts that bring about my own dehumanisation.

The Cashless Card roll out this far has not just disrespected human rights of the people; it has not respected the people. This will not change in the future as this bill does not address the people or their futures. This legislation hasn’t even included one word about care for the people, protection of the people at all.

Under these conditions, it is wrong to continue these trials let alone to give consent to extend trials even further and to wilfully abuse even more people. I cannot speak for all, though I will say, that all the people who have been given no choice but to spend their lives surviving  society’s  neglect and the intentional abuses of its ‘good citizens’ embedded in its institutions, do deserve better. A lot better.

For this and many other reasons, I will not submit to this policy. And there is no power on or in this earth that can compel my conscience otherwise.

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Women not safe from violence in mental health inpatient facilities

RMIT Media Release

Women who spend time in mental health inpatient facilities are not being protected from gender-based violence, according to new research.

The study, “Preventing gender-based violence in mental health inpatient units” shows women have experienced sexual assault, harassment and related threats from other inpatients, visitors and even staff in some facilities.

Conducted by researchers from RMIT University and Charles Sturt University, the study also found many services lacked appropriate policies and procedures to support women who reported such violence during their stay.

Lead researcher from RMIT, Dr Juliet Watson, said while some examples of women receiving supportive responses were uncovered, incidents of harassment were frequently disbelieved or not taken seriously.

“Women told us about staff who dismiss their experiences as misperceptions and tell them to ignore it,” Watson said.

“But if a woman is perceiving some behaviour as violent, she should have the opportunity to decide what action is taken. Staff should then respond in a way that ensures she feels safe.”

Many of the female clients staying in these facilities have previously survived violent trauma.

The study found the experience of being restrained by staff, which is common during treatment, may also be a trigger for traumatic memories of past abuse.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) commissioned the study.

ANROWS CEO Dr Heather Nancarrow said there was an urgent need for trauma-informed care.

“This is a profound breach of trust by our health system,” Dr Nancarrow said.

“Mental health service providers need training and support. It’s crucial they understand the impact their actions might have on women with a history of sexual, domestic or family violence.”

“If women are to have access to safe, dignified and effective mental healthcare, we need to build a gender lens into hospital policies and procedures.”

She said the study was part of ANROWS’s growing body of evidence about how an understanding of gendered violence can be embedded in health policy and services.

This research includes the WITH and SUSTAIN studies, and ‘Constructions of complex trauma and implications for women’s wellbeing and safety from violence‘.

While mental health facilities have introduced processes to protect inpatients from violence, the models most commonly used across Australia do not employ a gender lens, and as a result leave women exposed to gendered violence, including domestic violence.

“We need mental health facilities to place the agency of women at the centre of their treatment,” Nancarrow said.

“This means consulting closely with each woman to build a plan of recovery that is sensitive to her history and respects her own judgement about what will keep her safe.”

“Feeling safe is a requirement for getting well.”

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Rorts sports

The “sports rorts” saga that has lately claimed the privileged position of Bridget McKenzie has consumed many newspaper front pages and exercised many peoples’ outrage – and not just those of us on the left. McKenzie is gone, relegated to the back bench for a token period of contrition.

(If there’s one thing the last week and Barnaby Joyce’s resurgence should have taught us, it’s that no matter how egregious the sin, the redemption is only a few news cycles away. After all, McKenzie knows first-hand how deeply embroiled the office of the PM – and conceivably, the PM himself along with Cabinet – were with this and other electoral misuses of public funds. It seems entirely likely that McKenzie’s demotion is a handshake deal with the understanding that her star will once again rise, given enough water under the bridge.)

Many in the ranks of the Liberal and National government may be relieved that the erstwhile Sports minister fell on her sword. McKenzie’s elevation to cabinet and the deputy leadership was unexpected and (some argue) unwarranted. McKenzie herself perhaps never expected to receive such a prominent role. Upon reaching the big chair she and her department have been the subject of many a scandal and rort. She seems to have capitalised on the perks of the job for all they’re worth, notching up the government’s largest travel bill in 2019.

McKenzie was not a high-performing minister in her other roles. In her capacity as Minister for Agriculture, arguably one of the Nationals’ core constituencies, McKenzie earned the ire of her colleagues for her poor communication skills, lack of visibility and poor organisation.  Nationals were furious that McKenzie capitulated quickly to demands from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, allowing PHON to claim credit for something the Nationals themselves had been agitating for over many months, something McKenzie had argued could not be achieved so quickly.

Most importantly, of course, the finding from Phil Gaetjens that McKenzie breached ministerial guidelines by not declaring the gift of a membership to a shooting club (which had, quite coincidentally, been given a grant under McKenzie’s funding program) allows the Liberal/National coalition government to safely demote the Minister for Sports without copping to the much more substantial claim that said funding program had been systematically rorted.

Because of course, that rorting was entirely according to Coalition policy and methods. McKenzie was not an outlier running a private little game. She was doing exactly what she had been told and what was expected of her.

We know this, even if the government won’t come out and admit it. The government knows this, and they know we know it. We know it, because they’re effectively admitting to it.

On ABC radio this week, Nationals MP Damian Drum admitted, on air, that “Every jurisdiction does it… “.

It’s hardly a new observation. Just after the 2013 federal election Sophie Mirabella, smarting from defeat in the battle for the seat of Indi against Cathy McGowan, claimed that “I had a commitment for a $10 million allocation for the Wangaratta Hospital that, if elected, I was going to announce a week after the election. That is $10 million that Wangaratta hasn’t had because [independent] Cathy [McGowan] was elected.”

The Coalition has a long tradition of paying back its benefactors. After all, this is why the Coalition is so hell-bent on sending the planet to hell, supporting the coal/oil/gas/fossil fuels industry against all scientific advice, despite world opprobrium and against the economic and environmental interests of the Australian public. Not because coal and fossil fuels are essentially good for us. Not even because the sums add up. If making plans to ditch coal would really send Australia’s economy into freefall you could understand the government’s position, but any rudimentary analysis shows that the market for coal and gas is a very short road indeed, and if we have not made significant inroads into renewable energy and associated industries by the time nobody else wants to buy our coal, we will be deep in it.

No, the reason the Coalition won’t ditch coal is that they owe their benefactors. The Liberals, like the Lannisters, always pay their debts.

So the idea that a voter needs to vote for the Coalition to secure any love from a Coalition government feels right at home. The thought of granting, or withholding, funds for a needy project not on the basis of need but because of the political party in control of that seat, is just and right in their eyes. Or if not “just and right”, it’s a case of “Every jurisdiction does it.”

Which raises two questions. Do they? And should they?

To be clear, we’re not talking about the time-honoured Australian method of “pork-barrelling” here. It’s true that both Labor and the Coalition talk the talk when it comes time for an election. An election is a battle of purses, each contender seeking to out-promise the other without ever stepping over the tenuous line beyond which the electorate wonders how the debt will be paid. We understand this. We accept it. To some extent, we reward it – politicians wouldn’t commit themselves to spending promises if it didn’t work at least some of the time.

The sports rorts is a deeper issue. Rather than promises to spend money in your electorate should you vote the correct way (and the promiser be in the position to grant their beneficence), these grants are intended to be retrospective. It’s not “Vote for us and we’ll do something for you”. It’s “See what we’ve done for you? Vote for us and you’ll get more.”

The corollary being, “Vote for somebody else and you won’t get a dime from us.” Or, in the case of Indi, a hospital.

We’re talking about a government, which actually has its hands on the levers of government, being partisan in the distribution of its funds. We’re not talking about fulfilling election promises.

So is Labor just as bad – or, as Damian Drum avers, worse? It’s hard to tell. I am not sure if the required analysis has been done. There certainly have not been as many scandals under Labor governments than Liberal ones, but perhaps Labor is better at keeping the lid on it. They appear to be better than the Liberals at many things, winning elections being the notable exception.

If it’s hard to tell whether it’s true that “every jurisdiction does it” – and let’s assume, for the sake of convenience, that they do – then, should they?

After all, MPs are expected to advocate for their electorates. They bring the needs and desires of their voters to those Ministers with the wherewithal to provide government support. Some would argue that Coalition MPs have better access to Coalition Ministers and receive a friendlier ear.

But this means that projects of merit can only receive funding if it suits the government of the day. It means that some electorates suffer in neglect due to being safe seats for either party, while marginal seats are showered in largess. It means that public funds – money coming from Australian taxpayers – is overtly funneled for political purposes, and only secondarily for public gain. I would argue that this should not happen. But how to avoid it, in a democratic two-party system where only the government of the day can call the shots?

If only there were an independent body, something like an overarching Sports Australia body, which could give advice as to the merits of any applicants to a funding scheme. A body with appropriate expertise – for the sake of imagination, let’s call it Infrastructure Victoria, and let it rule on the cost/benefits of something like the East/West Link. If only governments would commit to evidence-based policy.

But what kind of a political party would ever countenance such a thing? Certainly not the one we have now.

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Doing it for ourselves

I’ve previously written about conservative politics being unconvinced about the very purpose of government. It is becoming clearer, through repeated example, that the Australian people are unconvinced about the very purpose of government.

The recent bushfires and the ongoing drought are just two of the more recent examples that show how Australians will step up to the challenge, dig deep, give generously and demonstrate just how all-round spiffy they are.

The point that gets forgotten in this ongoing round of self-congratulations is that they shouldn’t have to.

We maintain a government not because we desperately want somebody to rule over us, but because there are things in a modern society we should not have to do for ourselves.

At least some of us recognise this. If we look just a little below the surface of all the many examples of altruism, we can see an undercurrent of dissatisfaction.

When Australians are able to make statements such as “They are facing catastrophic conditions. The town has been left to fend for itself”, when we read articles that “Volunteers are keeping Australians safe, not the Government”.  When we can seriously suggest that “We have reached a point where the long-running downgrading of our institutional apparatus of government means that the most efficient way of getting money out to people in desperate circumstances is via non-government organisations like Vinnies and the Red Cross” we need to ask if our government is doing the job we pay it for.

The bushfire crisis has been on the front page for a month or two. The ongoing drought crisis has been going much longer, and here also we see individuals stepping in where the government has not.

“I feel f—ing sick because I am taking honest people’s money and they shouldn’t be helping me. But 100 per cent, the government is where the money should be coming from.”

All this is just the latest symptom of a long-standing ideological disagreement about what government is for. Conservative governments have an ideological opposition to providing assistance.

The idea that governments should provide services such as healthcare and hospitals, education and schools, social security and welfare, is relatively recent in historical times. Prior to the 1700s all these services would be provided by the churches or not at all. Government’s role was to maintain law and order and support the armed forces, and that was about it.

If you look at modern-day Coalition budgets, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s what we’ve returned to. In any area you name the Coalition has, since its election in 2013, slashed and burned, cut and where possible dismantled. Government bodies have been merged, defunded or decommissioned. Public benefit projects like the NBN have been hollowed out and repurposed to avoid them becoming useful to the undeserving poor. Public benefits have been taxed, indexed and regulated into submission.

Coalition governments are welded onto the idea of privatising profits and socialising losses. That’s how they approach energy generation, mining, any provision of services where they can get away with it. And allowing the public to pay out of their own pockets what they should instead expect from the apparatus of State is the ultimate outcome of this ethic.

As I previously wrote:

Money to pay for education, fire services, health, broadband, has to come from somewhere. The social structures – primarily church – which previously might have supported these things no longer have the resources or the popular support to be able to take up the slack. Charities around the country are crying out for support and berating the government for not providing enough basic resources/support; something has to give. In this environment, the idea of “small government” doesn’t make sense.

The government has to be big enough to do the things that the monasteries aren’t around to do anymore.

Of course, the budget cuts that cut deepest are not the ones to frontline funding. The government has learned its lesson from Tony Abbott’s 2014 shocker budget: the Australian people do not like to see cuts to the bottom line of the ABC, of healthcare and social security and roads.

Instead the government makes budget cuts that are relatively invisible: slashing and burning a path through the public service. This allows them to crow that they are “increasing funds” to education, healthcare or other services, while concealing the fact that there’s nobody left in the responsible Departments to process the paperwork. So waiting lists blow out, but also, money is left unspent at the end of the financial year. Not because services don’t need it, but because those who needed it could not access it. Thus we have money left in the NDIS allocation that can be re-allocated to drought relief. Does anybody want to make a wager that this funding will be effectively used in a timely manner?

The Australian people want these services. They have come to expect them. But Coalition politicians just want to win elections, and they’ve convinced themselves (with some justification) that the way to win elections is to cut taxes. When they cut taxes, they can’t afford to pay for these services.

That’s when the beneficent Australian public – the battlers, the Quiet Australians – rise to the challenge. This is when we see crowdfunding campaigns to pay for playgrounds, to enable life-saving operations not covered by the PBS, to support art bodies that have lost their funding or to provide hoses and trucks and face masks to firefighters. And we give. Australians want these services and we’ve shown that we’re happy to pay for them.

This is evidence of a disconnect in the electorate. The same people who donate generously to charitable causes are often the same people who will cheerfully vote in a Coalition government and cheer on the hollowing-out of any ability or willingness Government might have to do its part.

Of course no politician ever saw a way of raising money they didn’t like.

Now we have political aspirants crowdfunding their election campaigns.

We have government bodies, starved of public funds, reduced to fundraising to be able to achieve the things their constituents want.

When we accept the thought of crowdfunding to pay for services that should come out of our taxes, we let governments off the hook. We allow the argument to be framed in terms of what we can afford. When we allow politicians to sway our votes on the basis of promised tax cuts, we should remember that in doing so we are contributing to a worldview in which governments don’t pay for firefighting, individuals do. Where governments don’t pay for healthcare, societal infrastructure: instead the market will provide.

But there are certain things only Government can do. Nobody can crowdfund a closure of coal power stations, or the building of solar farms. We can’t crowdfund an ETS into existence. How, practically, can we the people contribute to the things our Government ought to be doing for us?

Every time we see an article about What you can do to save the planet or confront a blog comment challenging you about how often you fly and whether you use light bulbs, this is contributing to the distraction campaign. Individuals, acting alone, cannot save us from global environmental collapse. Not while governments continue to support coal mining, gas exports, coal-fired power and the infrastructure that supports them.

So don’t let the government get away with claiming that it can’t afford to pay for these services. Don’t allow it to laud the efforts of well-meaning, altruistic Australians without demanding an explanation of why the private altruism was necessary. We have a government for the purposes of providing healthcare, emergency management, social welfare and a host of other social provisions that we can’t do on our own. We expect our government to provide these services without fear or favour, to the needy regardless of how loud or visible they are.

If our government is not doing these things, it is not fit for purpose. So why exactly does it exist?

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