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Category Archives: Social Justice

People in Prison – Stories from the Northern Territory

By Katherine Marchment

This article opens a window into the lives of people in the prison system in the Northern Territory. These are their stories.

A Place to Stay

I was in Katherine for a Fracking Convergence. I met an ex-lifer and his wife, who had also spent time in prison. We talked for a bit. They asked me if I had somewhere to stay. I said I didn’t, so they invited me to stay with them. “You are welcome sister,” they said.

They gave me a bed and a feed. They said I could help myself to anything in the fridge if I felt hungry. We were at their house along with their other guests, black, white and brindle. We played music, looked at photos and cracked jokes. They talked to me about life, their love of their (traditional) country, about jail and parole.

They let me know they didn’t drink alcohol or allow it in their house. Sometimes drunks come round late at night humbugging. They gave me a couple of nullas to protect myself in case I needed it. I knew I was protected and I was safe. They opened my eyes to the human side of the correctional system in the Northern Territory.

Through them, my eyes opened to some of the struggles aboriginal people go through dealing with the Northern Territory correctional system and the police. They know I’m a writer and they want their message to get out there. I’ll do my best to translate their message to me into whitefella lingo so it can reach a wider audience.

Next morning as I was leaving I thanked them for letting me stay. The lifer grabbed my hand and looked me in the eye and repeated “You are welcome in my house sister.” So I have stayed with them on subsequent visits to Katherine and learned a bit more about what it means to be a prisoner and an ex-prisoner in the Northern Territory.

Blood on the Wire

I am friends with another ex lifer who is currently serving five months in prison for breaching parole. I have found him to be a good man. Again I always feel safe and protected around him. He is a funny, witty, intelligent and kind person. A local hero who has achieved notoriety for escaping from maximum security prison twice. His girlfriend has written a book about this: Blood on the Wire by Carolyn Wilkinson. It is a great read.

He asked of me, that if he returned to prison, that I would come in and visit him one time. I looked at him in disbelief and said “but you won’t go back to prison, you haven’t done anything wrong”. Little did I know then about how punitive the Northern Territory Parole Board is for the most minor of parole breaches. Even a person like me who has no criminal record would have trouble staying out of prison living under those parole conditions.

The odds are stacked against ex prisoners trying to stay out of prison and they know it. He joked with me saying that I would find out about him returning to prison from the front page of the NT News.

Vitriol and Revenge

Sure enough, a couple of months later, I found out he had returned to prison from a front page headline in the NT News “Cold Blooded Killer returns to jail”.  The comments accompanying the article were full of vitriol and revenge:

“He should never have been let out”

“They should lock him up and throw away the key”.

He may have been a cold-blooded killer 27 years ago when he committed his crime of accessory to murder. However, it just doesn’t gel with my impression of the free man I now knew and I value as my friend.

His parole breach: He was pulled over by police for speeding and they found a cannabis cigarette belonging to his girlfriend in his car – possession. The arresting officer was prepared to let him off. The Parole Board was not. He was sentenced to five months prison for this crime. The irony is that he doesn’t smoke cannabis himself. He is subject to random urine tests for the rest of his life as part of his parole conditions and considers it just not worth the risk.

Jailed for Protecting his Wife

He took me one time to visit another ex lifer friend of his who had offered to take him “on country” for a while to go hunting in the traditional ways. I met this man and his wife. His wife was a very warm gregarious person and did most of the talking. You could see that they were soul mates. She showed me the photos of their wedding that they had done in the whitefella way, although it was held on her traditional country. Beautiful.

We talked about and looked at a lot of art. The two men are both very talented artists and both have had their work featured in exhibitions. We talked about hunting on her traditional land. Both her and her mother offered to take me out with them. We talked a lot about family. And we talked about jail and parole.

This man has returned to jail a few times since being released on parole. He and his wife told me that the last time he went to jail, was because he was protecting his wife and granddaughter and mother in law from a drunken relative who was trying to smash his way into the house. This bloke tried to remove him peacefully first, aware that if he hit anyone he would go back to jail. The intruder slammed a door on his fingers crushing them and broke a couple, so he did hit him, hard. He ended up back in jail for six months.

Life on parole

In the Northern Territory, a lifer once released, is on parole for the rest of his or her life. No other state in Australia does this. The conditions of parole are strict and it is near impossible to stay out of jail no matter how long your good behaviour or how minor a parole breach. The head of the Parole Board is a retired judge. The rest is made up of ex police officers and a victim advocate. No advocate for the prisoner, although a parole officer can make recommendations which are usually ignored.  They meet in secret, are accountable to no one, have no contact with the person they are sentencing for a breach. They just send out the “boys” (local police) to go get ‘em – and police officers enjoy going on a hunt.

The Parole Board have their friends and supporters in the media and government. Daryl Manzies: a local shock jock on Territory FM supports and promotes “tough on crime” initiatives on his show such “Mandatory Sentencing” and “Compulsory Tracking Bracelets” for Juveniles released on bail or parole.

Feed ‘em to the Crocodiles!

The NT News publishes the most sensationalist, bloodthirsty headlines that they can think up about those who have committed crimes because it sells newspapers.

In the former CLP government, our Attorney General and Minister for Corrections was an ex police officer. Former police officers have made up our members of parliament here in the Northern Territory for decades. Public opinion is very much conditioned to think in terms of revenge for the latest outrages committed by the local “runamoks”.

Territorians tend not to see those who have committed crime as human. Instead they call for blood:

“Run ‘em over!”

“Lock ‘em up!”

“Shoot the bastards!”

“Feed ‘em to the crocodiles”

There is very little interest here in the Territory to reduce or prevent crime and imprisonment. No surprise that we have the third highest incarceration rate in the world after China and the USA.

The Don Dale Kids

I go to a community centre in Darwin, various people of all ages come in. You can usually pick the Don Dale kids because they are wearing a tracking ankle bracelet, or they are with a minder or both.

I am sitting with three young aboriginal men who served time together in Don Dale.

“Cigarette” one says to me.

“My name is not cigarette” I say to him.

“May I have a cigarette Katherine?” he says, as he has known me for a while and is a regular.

“I will give you a cigarette if you read this,” I say.

“I can’t read,” he snarls at me.

“Yes you can,” I say, “I know you can read”.

I look him in the eye while I am saying this. This is to let him know that I am pissed off about him lying to me.

Reading the Letter

I look at his closed expression and say “It is a letter I have written to the Minister about people in jail, and I just want the opinion of someone who has been there”. “Don’t worry about it,” I say “I will give you a cigarette anyway.”

I gave him some tobacco and we yarn for a bit.

He then says “Ok, I will read your letter for you.”

I pass it across the table to him. He starts to read and the young man sitting next to him reads over his shoulder. The third sitting next to me is watching the other two do this and communicating with them and me using sign/body language.

They both read the whole thing from start to finish. (Asking questions throughout like “What’s recidivism?”) Two of them said I should turn it into a petition and that they would sign. The one reading over the shoulder of the other became visibly upset about my suggestion of compulsory family contact saying “families shouldn’t have contact at all – THESE are my brothers” (meaning his two companions sitting with me).  He then changed this to “Well, contact once a month then” when he saw the other two didn’t agree with him. I have no idea what the background is of him or the others or what their crimes were. I just know that they have been in Don Dale. Ankle bracelets advertise it to the whole community and they are pretty defensive as a result. Especially with middle aged white women like me.

A Letter to the NT Attorney General

Before sending this letter to Natasha Fyles NT Attorney General and Minister for Justice, I get one more person to read it. She is a friend of mine who was in jail for three years, is now out and never wants to go back. She read every word intensely, nodding throughout and saying yep, yep at intervals when she reads stuff that resonates with her.

The thing that stood out for her was that prisoners “feel the passing of time more keenly than the rest of us” and “the law of diminishing returns” when it comes to re- imprisoning people.

She knows full well about kids being abandoned once they are in Don Dale. She also requested that I take the points I made in my letter to Minister Fyles and turn them into a petition, so that she and other people can sign.

I guess what I am trying to do is to get people to realise from the above stories that those who commit crime, for whatever reason, are human just like you and me. Those who have been in prison aren’t necessarily bad people. A lot of them are people who made a bad decision when they were young with tragic outcomes for all involved. That jail is hell and they sure as shit have lost the desire to repeat the crimes that got them in there in the first place.

Conclusion

The courts refuse parole to those they consider likely to re-offend and they are still in jail. This is especially and specific to the Northern Territory.

Before his release, my friend went for parole eight times after the end of his sentence. He then managed to stay out of jail for five years under incredibly strict parole conditions, which is quite a feat in the Northern Territory. I think he is the only person who has managed this. He has not committed any kind of violent or property crime. He could hardly be described as a danger to the community anymore. There are still those in the community who call for him to be locked up for the rest of his life. To bill the taxpayer $300,000 pa to keep him in jail for the rest of his life because they don’t like him and haven’t forgiven him for his crime.

How does this benefit the rest of the community? I personally resent my taxes used to pay for a few individual’s need for revenge. We need to create the conditions that make it more desirable and easier not to offend or re-offend. Jails are punishment but they shouldn’t be a form of torture as they are now. The conditions in Northern Territory Jails is a whole story in itself of which the 4 corners program showed us only a glimpse.

Manus Island: The door of death

By Abdul Aziz Adam (from Sudan, now a Manus Island detainee).

It will please me to let you know about our psychology in the prison camp of Manus island. The greatest faculty our minds possess is the ability of cope with pain. Classic thinking teaches us the four ways or steps of the minds which is everyone been through for the last three years under this cruel policy.

Fist is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain, giving us distance from the things that have hurt us. When the a person is wounded they will often fall unconscious, or you hear traumatic news will often swoon or faint. This is the minds way of protecting itself from pain. But for us is not exciting any more, hard for us to sleep without pills or drugs, hard for us to distinguish between traumatic news or good once. Our sleeping experience during the night we shared rooms with rats, cockroaches, lizards, spiders and crabs. whats a nice experienced.

Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly, all our memories are simply painful. They saying time heals most wounds is false, the wounds remain in time the mind protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessons. But it’s never gone.

Third is the door of madness. We have been through this way many time, many people feel happy to talk with their body by cutting or harm.

There are a times when the reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.

Last is the door of death, the final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead or so we have been told. Must of us were waiting for this moment which is three of our best went through. We are jealous the way they are happy without us. We are jealous the way they are reached their final destination without us, we have came together and they left us behind.

Rest Rest Rest in peace brothers …

Manus prison camp
Aziz

 

Men, women . . . and Trump

The media, social, mainstream and everything in between, have been flooded with justifications, discussions, jibes, insults and everything in between over the proven (by his own words and voice) predatory behaviour of Trump towards women. There are a string of labels attached and debate over the legal definition. I’ve no idea what “skeezing” means, but I can guess: the latest release is a video of Trump “skeezing” on a 10 year-old-girl.

slug-648206_1920

The NSW parliament have labelled Trump “a revolting slug” unfit for public office. I almost agree, although I think slugs are being insulted by the comparison. I won’t insult the many fine men I have known in my life by calling Trump a man – he isn’t a man. Of the male gender he may be, a man he is not.

My concern is not actually with Trump himself – he will get taken care of in due course, I hope. My concern is the fact Trump is not alone.

As unscientific as the numbers may be, a Trump supporter issued forecasts that allege if women did not have the vote, Trump would win the election. Within a very short space of time Twitter was awash with #repealthe19th. The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote.

The Nineteenth Amendment is identical to the Fifteenth Amendment, except that the Nineteenth prohibits the denial of suffrage because of sex and the Fifteenth because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”

Then we have the right-wing pastor Dave Daubenmire terrified of a woman becoming the President because according to him the “immorality of a sinful man” is not as bad as breaking the biblical principle that “when a woman rules over a man …. it’s a sign of the judgement of the Lord”. May I suggest to Dear Dave that perhaps that’s precisely what IS going to happen, because his Lord has judged men like Trump are not fit to rule and when the Lord sees other men supporting Trump, the Lord has decided enough is enough.

More than 3,000 sexual assault survivors have taken out an ad pleading with the Republicans to dump Trump. Author Kelly Oxford took to Twitter encouraging women to share their sexual assault stories. Over a million women answered her call. I read some of those tweets. Girls being groped on public transport at ages as young as nine and ten. For a million women to have been sexually assaulted, there have to have been a fair number of perpetrators. One man alone does not manage that many assaults.

I’ve been pleased to see athletes come out saying the sort of talk Trump claims is “locker room banter” is actually not what constitutes locker room banter in their experience. We need more men to stand up and be counted. To denounce Trump’s behaviour.

When I was young, forty years ago, I believed the genders were equal. It never occurred to me there were men like Trump or the pastor in existence. Then again, I am still stunned over Abbott and his “when they are doing the ironing” nonsense. My initial awakening came during my first management tenure. My female staff asked if they could wear tailored trousers to work. I saw absolutely no reason why not, yet the human resources department ruled only if the women wore a trouser SUIT. Back then, trouser suits were inordinately expensive. It was economically unrealistic to expect my staff to buy trouser suits. I saw nothing wrong with tailored trousers and a nice shirt or (as it was winter) a nice jumper. At the time male staff DID NOT have to wear suits unless they were management. Yes, I won the battle, but the fact the battle even had to be fought opened my eyes a little.

Some time later, at a business women’s networking lunch, a speaker outlined how not so many years before, women had been required to give up work once they married. How had I got to adulthood without knowing any of this stuff, I wondered.

Here we are forty years later and we have a predator running for the most powerful position in the world (some other world leaders might of course dispute the most powerful bit). We have people spouting the Bible and others (or many of the same) wanting women to lose the vote.

This is 2016 – or did I get caught in a time warp?

There is absolutely NO justification in 2016 for Trump’s behaviour. The is absolutely NO justification in 2016 for gender inequality.

In case it has escaped the notice of some members of the male gender, you are only on this planet because a FEMALE gave birth to you. Carried you and protected you in her body for nine months. Fed you from her breasts. How DARE you, those of you who are so inclined, demand that women be second class citizens? How dare you support Trump’s (and those like him) treatment of women? The women who support such nonsense: I have no words at all for you.

Having read as much as I have read over the past few days, I consider myself lucky. I have never been subjected to sexual abuse or assault. The closest I ever came was when I was propositioned by the CEO of the company I worked for many years ago. He assured me he and his wife had an open marriage. I told him I’d believe that when his wife told me, but the answer would still be thanks, but no thanks, I wasn’t interested. I did advise him I did not expect to be fired on Monday for refusing. I wasn’t. End of story. Not all female members of my extended family have been so lucky. While I have seen their pain and know it is real, while I have witnessed the health and psychological aftermath, I can’t feel it myself.

All I can do is say Trump is not a man. A real man doesn’t need to grab women’s parts uninvited. What, I wonder, is the underlying inadequacy of this individual that fuels his behaviour? What then leads him to try to incriminate all other men? His son got in on the act saying it was typical of alpha males. He thinks his father is an alpha male? Heaven forbid! Even his suits fit badly.

New York Magazine has a very informative and detailed article about this, but the take-home message is that before the 1960s there were barely any examples of humans being described as alpha males, the term was restricted to fields like primatology research. Species like chimps and gorillas do have social structures and hierarchies with a dominant individual at the top, typically a male who has achieved that positon via displays of strength and physical prowess. The fact that alpha males exist isn’t disputed, it’s whether humans can actually be such a thing.

Source: The Guardian

An alpha male in the primate world is the pack leader – and pack leaders don’t get that position easily, they have to prove their worth. As leaders and protectors.

Trump refuses to protect 50% of the population, believing that 50% are there for his personal gratification and pleasure.

There are many wonderful men in this world: men who treat women with respect and as equals. May those men flourish and prosper and raise their sons in their image and raise their daughters to have no qualms about placing a knee strategically and forcefully when required.

Don’t anyone come bleating to me about how Islam treats women while the western world even considers making Trump POTUS.

A final word to Dear Pastor Dave. Dave, in all of my life there has been only one man that I ever felt like submitting to and I still have no explanation for that. However, don’t confuse the often inexplicable dynamics of personal relationships on the one hand and how a healthy society should function on the other hand. Oh, and if Hillary wins? Well, I guess your Lord passed judgement.

Edited to Add: I have recalled another incident when I was 15. After my parents passed, I was in a foster home. I asked my foster father to cash a cheque for me. It was a Saturday, before ATMs. He suggested if I sat on the bed with him, he’d give me the money and I didn’t need to give him the cheque. I declined and moved out about a week later. The executor of my father’s will sent me to a psychologist as he didn’t believe me. I still consider myself fortunate – neither incidents involved physical contact of any sort.

Weighing up the Welfare Card

By Kathryn Wilkes

For anyone who has always been a law-abiding citizen, who was a very hard worker for many years and who has slogged it out “alone” to raise a teenage daughter, the welfare debit card feels like the lowest insult to their sense of personhood and belonging within our lovely country.

Like many, I did not ask to be on Income Support payments. A work injury and then other health issues meant I simply could not return to work, despite repeated attempts.

A system which (at that time) did not cover any other supports had me placed onto a “grandfathered” Disability Support Pension.

Told to make do on the DSP, I was initially given to believe that my poor health did not make me a lesser person.

I was permitted to supplement the DSP with smallish self-employment projects. I did not feel judged for doing so. It was once policy to let pensioners “have a go”. I managed until worsening health got in the way. I felt proud of my efforts. At least I had tried to make it.

The DSP “safety net” was intended to be enough to get by.

At the same time, I was raising my daughter and trying to also provide care for my extremely ill mother until her passing.

Today, it feels like everyone like me will be branded by their use of the welfare card. Members of the general public will see it and know that I am on Centrelink payment. Although my illness is not always visible, I will now have strangers judging me. They may even be looking at what food I am buying, what items I am buying with “their tax dollars”.

(How would it make you feel to be exposed to judgements like “You shouldn’t be allowed to buy that with MY Tax Dollars” at the community supermarket? We “bludgers” must grow thick skins, but this is so invasive!)

It makes me question what my life is for. What is the point? If the Coalition Federal Government gets away with this policy, almost every aspect of my life will be scrutinised and every financial decision will be publicly monitored or judged.

Card recipients may need permission just to pay individual bills. My entire financial and private life will be shared with partner organisations connected to the company operating the card, Indue. That’s everything: my money, my health (me!) sold out to some data collection agency.

This sounds like something straight out of 1984, but for nearly 5 million people on any payment between the age of 16-64 this craziness could become reality. It is a reality I don’t want for me, nor my daughter, nor for the majority of others in this country.

Tell me why my daughter should automatically be deemed unable to manage money, why she should be restricted as to where she can buy things? She is not incompetent simply because she is the child of a pensioner!

I survive and have survived by being able to buy secondhand goods. I use the freedom to choose where I shop to get the most out of every dollar possible.

My fixed income does not allow for emergencies or sudden costs.

When the car died, there was no magic pot of savings to delve into. Finance and credit are not an option for me. I tried to borrow money from the ex to replace the car. This loan further burdened an already very strained situation.

The welfare debit card will not provide me with sufficient cash to repay any such loan. Private debts are not considered when involved with financial matters.

The welfare card will make me feel like I am now a lesser person, unequal to the working guy next door or my other neighbour, a self-funded retiree that owns investment property.

Thanks to a victim-blaming media, “welfare bludgers” like me already live with challenging levels of stigma. People have no idea of how the Centrelink system works, the tight regulations and pressures of this impoverished life cycle. Yet all feel entitled to make critical assumptions.

The media have painted a picture of people milking the system and living it up.

This is very remote from the reality of 800,000 people on DSP, who at this time are frightened of being cut off and placed onto Newstart.

As for the poor buggers losing their jobs and trying to survive on Newstart, nearly 3 million are now looking and fighting for work. Any that cannot get more than a few hours a week are treated as “bludgers”.

Sole parents trying to raise the next generation all feel the boot being stuck in. The government’s latest insult, the “welfare card” will crush us.

I don’t do drugs, never have and never will. I don’t even like prescribed medicines. I have consumed just one single alcoholic drink, just the once, in 7 years. I rarely buy a lotto ticket. Given the 14 day gap until there is any income again, I must use every dollar carefully.

Yet, I must still be condemned and processed like any chronic addict with proven money management issues.

Our dreams fade too. I once hoped to be able to save enough to be able to take my daughter to meet my relatives in the UK before they die, and for her to see where I grew up. (Recent travel restrictions on DSP recipients mean they are only allowed outside the country for 28 days).

Were there no loan to repay, were there enough for bills, were there ways to save, were lottery tickets afforded and were miracles to occur: any proper journey back to explore my birthplace would remain outside the rules.

The card does not allow for even some types of basic domestic travel. Whenever it is necessary to drive to a city hospital, you can’t even pay the hospital parking with the card. Overnight hotel or motel accommodation nearby is also vetoed. So much for the “Healthy” card spin.

Folk on DSP did not commit a crime.

Dependence on DSP instantly stopped my life, it put an end to home ownership. Without enough income to maintain the mortgage payments, I also lost the house once I had to rely solely on DSP. Isn’t that huge loss punishment enough?

Goals are replaced with lost confidence. There is no living it up on Centrelink.

I am left with a life of isolation. The collapse of my health would have been restriction enough, but strong friendships founder and invitations dry up faster when you cannot afford to reciprocate hospitality or participate in events.

An impoverished environment and lifestyle is already riven with instability and trauma. This welfare card imposes further controls over my life that could cause extra stress.

Relinquishing this last bit of self-determination seems too much. What is the price of personhood?

I prefer to make decisions for myself and don’t want a random private company taking over that slender safety net and telling me how and where I can use it. While it will be detrimental to my financial and mental health; their shareholders will profit through my struggle and further loss of self worth.

Purchasing newish or hardly used items at markets, garage sales and op shops helps me afford basic essentials for my daughter. I once found her a pair of unworn Converse sneakers for $5 at a garage sale. The card would eliminate this sort of saving.

The Welfare Card only gives you the choice of relatively expensive retail shopping. New appliances are now way beyond budget.

The card would stop me from being able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables at markets, but permit trips to McDonalds. (“Healthy”? Really?)

I feel that at nearly 50 years of age, my worth as a citizen is being thrown to the gutter. We are no longer viable, as we are not big “Income Tax” payers. We don’t generate enough profit for others. So they re-engineer the “free” market and take away freedom of choice.

When the boss says, “Sorry we have no more work for you”, aversive and dehumanising policies from Centrelink will not get us back in the game.

When work dries up, you are shifted from “valued” to “burden”. Within hours, the very low “safety net” begins to separate you from your hard earned savings and assets, reducing you to a stressed out mess and dumps you into poverty.

Redefined as a bludger/rorter/lazy, you find yourself being attacked by media and people you don’t know. They don’t know how hard you have worked, what you achieved, (buying a house, owning a car, being able to pay bills as they came in. Remember shopping when you want? Going out with family and friends to socialise?)

It all disappears as you struggle to re-organize your life, desperately trying to keep that house or pay the rent to keep a roof over your head.

Once unemployed, life as a person knows it is gone. Naturally, people try to get another job, albeit with lowered self esteem. Further dignity may be stripped from you as a job agency treats you as “waste of space loser who wants to sponge off the system”.

Yesterday you had a job, a future, friends, dreams for the future.

Today you are branded a “waster”, no longer valued, and you must join the 3 million other people struggling to survive the brutal punitive system that has sprung up around us to make profits for private business whose CEOs and managements are living well, while their “clients are starving and becoming homeless “and generally struggling not to drown in the inequality of the modern world”.

Where is our nation’s humanity and compassion when human worth is reduced to dollar productivity?

Where are the politicians standing up for the rights of all? Where are your MPs and Senators standing up for the rights of the 5 Million on every Centrelink payment aged 16-64? I know in my electorate not one of our members actually stands up for me and everyone like me? Why not, is it not the duty of our members of parliament to actually stand up for the people, all of the people, not just the “income tax payers” of this country.  We all pay our taxes and our dues too.

Last but not least, I do know people out there that may be in need of such a card, or a service, those that either volunteer or are referred through a court order etc, as in the cases for children at risk.

One is not blind to the devastation, poverty, alcoholism and addictions can cause havoc within poor families.

However, disempowering a person and thrusting their family into still more stressful situations, is not the way to fix all their problems.

Solving complex addiction and social problems requires expert professionals, compassionate caring supports, investment in the appropriate facilities, drug rehabs and properly funded support services. Many of the best support services have had their funding cut or been closed down by this Government.

Real investment in people is required. No mere card can suddenly cure addicts in a “one size fits all” or cookie cutter approach. Paternalism should have limits.

We are not all “one size fits all” and neither should this card be!

Kathryn Wilkes is a progressive humanist who has joined the Anti Poverty Network campaign against the Basics Card and Welfare Debit Card in the past 12 months. Her work follows on the 5 year campaign against the Basics Card by the SA Anti Poverty Network. She convenes related groups on Facebook (Say No to Cashless Welfare and We Don’t Need Income Management) and is a committee member for the March Australia Activists Exchange. She is based in Hervey Bay.

Between a rock and a judgemental place

Today is Equal Pay Day. This event was celebrated yesterday by former Liberal PM John Howard’s observation that women won’t ever achieve equal representation in parliament because women stay at home with children. Thanks Johnny!

The fact is, modern mothers (as opposed to Howard’s 1950’s view of the world) are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to navigating the daily compromise between motherhood and paid employment. The problem is, there is no right answer in our society, because society doesn’t know what on earth they want us to do.

There is so much pressure on women to uphold the ideals of feminism, where our education, our careers, our professional achievements are equally important to us (and the family income!) as our male counterparts. But, when motherhood comes along, as it did for me a year ago, there is just as much pressure, if not more from some quarters, for mothers to put our own needs and wants aside and to focus solely on caregiving to children.

The problem is, this predicament ignores the fundamental realities of the constant tug-of-war between what a mother wants for herself and what society expects of her. An obvious one is that each mother wants different things. Take, for instance, that I would prefer to work than stay home with my child. Even writing that sentence, I can feel the hot eyes of judgement from the keyboard warriors yelling at me ‘YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE HAD CHILDREN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO STAY HOME TO LOOK AFTER THEM!!!’ My daughter loves childcare and I couldn’t be happier with the level of care she receives. Thanks for asking.

For many people, wants are beside the point. Sometimes, financially, there is no decision because mother has to work to pay the mortgage, the rent, to put food on the table and to give the family the standard of living she chooses. So we’re stuck between judgements from society about what makes a ‘good mother’ and what makes a ‘good worker’ or ‘good provider’. It is no wonder this situation puts so much pressure on mothers, right at a time in our lives when we’re vulnerable, tired and frankly just don’t need any more crap.

The four big picture decisions in the motherhood and career game, which each family must make work for their circumstances are: 1) mother* leaves or stays out of paid employment while raising children, 2) mother works in paid employment even though she would prefer to stay home because her family needs her income, 3) mother works in paid employment even though she can afford to stay home; she chooses to work because she enjoys it 4) mother works in paid employment because she has to and because she wants to (the category, by the way, I fall into). *The vast majority of parents who stay home to care for children are mothers.

Let’s just get one thing straight and confirm that all four categories of woman are full time mothers and all four are working. Mothers who stay home work incredibly hard. On the flipside, just because a woman is in paid employment, doesn’t mean she isn’t a mother when her child is being cared for by someone else; whether at childcare, kindergarten, or in that messy 90 minute period between the end of the school day and the end of an eight hour work day.

A friend of a friend toured their local primary school and asked about after-school care facilities. The tour-guiding-principal responded ‘we offer after-school care, but we don’t recommend it for the little kids in reception and year one – they’re a bit young to be at school for so long’. Well-meaning or not, this comment is eye-roll-inducing judgemental. What the women on the tour in categories 2, 3 and 4 heard, who low-and-behold probably don’t have the flexibility to leave work in the middle of the afternoon, who already leave work earlier than they would like to, who race to pick up their children so they can get home in a reasonable time for dinner, is that they are bad mothers for expecting their children to be stuck in after-school-care while they selfishly work until 5pm.

So here we have a perfect example of how women can’t win and how the guilt-police get us either way. We are expected to live up to society’s expectation that we work just as hard as men at earning a living, contributing to the economy, being productive members of society in both a paid and unpaid capacity, and living up to our own measures of career success, while also being available as mothers. There is an expectation, a judgement made, that good mothers pick their children up directly after school, help with reading in the classroom and volunteer at the tuck-shop. In the case of working mothers like me with younger children, we are told by psychologists like Steve Biddulph that child care is bad for children or scientists tell us childcare causes respiratory illness, obesity, aggression and hyperactivity. Thanks for the helpful advice! Then there’s the everyday garden variety of unhelpful labels such as ‘full time mother’ to describe stay at home mothers, as if mothers in paid employment are only part-time parents. And of course stay at home mothers get judged for not ‘working’, when every mother knows how hard work it is looking after children at home.

So back to my idea about there being no single best-fit for every family. All the mothers of small children want and need something slightly different in their tailored career and motherhood mix. We all build a patchwork of support and compromise to make our choices happen. That often means putting careers on hold for a period, or paying a huge amount for childcare or a nanny, or calling on the help of grandparents, finding a more flexible or part time job and sometimes fathers making career sacrifices too. But society seems hell-bent on making us guilty for whatever choice we make. So we should ignore judgey mc-judgey society. The phrase ‘happy wife, happy life’ might seem trite, but instead we can extend it to ‘happy mother, happy family’. It’s hard enough being stuck between the rock of motherhood and the hard place of a career, but it’s even harder when you’re being judged for it. Whatever choice you make, bringing up small children is hard work; there is constant compromise, exhaustion and stress on both parents, along with a lot of joy which thankfully makes it all worthwhile. So we should be proud of our choices, and then get on with our lives, without looking back over our shoulder to check what everyone else judges as ok.

I won’t leave it there. Because it’s also up to all of us to stop judging other people’s parenting choices. We all know the judgers are just reaffirming their own decisions. It’s unnecessary. Be secure in your own choice, and accept that everything else is none of your business.

And one last comment to society as a whole; please work out what you want mothers to do and then make it a little easier to do that. If you want mothers to work, deliver childcare which is accessible, affordable and high quality. And schools have to stop expecting us to down-tools to pick up children at 3:30pm. Surely a highly productive, smart, innovative and agile society can sort this stuff out for everyone’s benefit.

Enough with the judging, Clementine

My favourite feminist, Clementine Ford, wrote this week about her experiences giving birth to her first child. I’m sorry to have to admit I was deeply disappointed with the way she framed her birthing decisions, and the sanctimonious judgement and culture of expert-doctor-mistrust which makes these decisions for all women, more difficult.

It’s worth describing my own experiences in this area. I am a twin and was born via caesarean, which is the safest way to deliver twins. When I gave birth to my daughter just over a year ago, I went into labour two and a half weeks early and, with the help of the blessed relief of an epidural, delivered my daughter after 16 hours of labour. My twin sister had her first baby 10 weeks before I gave birth. She was induced two days after her due date, and after 12 hours in labour, her obstetrician judged that the labour wasn’t progressing because her son’s head was too big to pass through her birth canal. So she was rushed into the operating suite and had an emergency caesarean. It did occur to us all that my sister and her baby would likely have contributed to the huge statistics of maternal and infant mortality had they been in the same circumstances 100 years ago. But of course, my twin sister and I might not have been alive ourselves had we not been born via caesarean 35 years ago. So all in all, the wonders of modern medicine get a big round of applause in our family.

What really upset me about Clementine’s description of her decision to reject an obstetrician’s advice to be induced soon after her due date, and instead to go into hospital on her own terms 36 hours after her water broke at 43 weeks, is that she is upholding a cultural expectation through her public telling of this story, that there is something wrong with ‘giving in’ to the advice of doctors. And that anything other than a natural birth is a failure.

To put it frankly, it is incredibly dangerous to have a child at 43 weeks. As an obstetrician commented below Clementine’s post, much more calmly than I feel able, the statistics, the science, is clear about this risk. One in 300 babies born at 43 weeks (3 weeks after their due date) are stillborn. So when a doctor advises that a woman who has seen her due date come and go consider an induction, it’s not because the doctor is trying to take away the woman’s right to choose the circumstances of her birth, it’s not because the doctor is trying to dictate the terms of the birth in order to advantage the doctor in some way, it’s not because they want to bully the woman by using words like ‘stillborn’ or force the woman to not have the natural birth experience they dreamed of having. The doctor advises an induction to minimise the risk of the baby not surviving. The doctor is doing their job to deliver a baby safely. This job, to again be blunt, is far more important than looking after the feelings of the mother. Full stop.

I find it hard to believe women in modern society, where we have so much scientific advantage over previous generations, who played Russian roulette during childbirth, aren’t more grateful for the advice and assistance they get from doctors. In fact, rather than be grateful, many women seem to instead mistrust the doctor’s advice and claim they, as the intuitive mother, know best. The anti-vax movement is caused by this exact same phenomena. Mother knows best. Intuition and ‘feels’, and an obsession with exerting full control over every medical decision, ahead of expert provided medical fact.

So back to cultural expectations. Why did Clementine choose not to be induced? Is it because she judges a natural birth as superior? Is it because she judges a woman who gives birth naturally to have done a better job of the birthing process? I find it hard to see anything else in her words, which are imbued with a sense of self-righteous post-justification of her decisions, and martyrdom in claiming to have waited for things to occur naturally, even if that made her difficult wait longer and harder.

The thing is, I’ve seen this attitude so many times before. I’ve seen the way society looks disappointed when mothers tell the story of ‘giving in’ to an emergency caesarean, or being embarrassed to admit they elected to have a caesarean because it was the safest way for them to give birth. I’ve heard about the birth plans that women make, to do it all naturally, to be at home, in water, and to not take drugs, which, whether they mean to or not, are automatic judgements of ‘weak’ women who have gone before them and had every drug the hospital offered to get rid of that god-damn-pain thank you very much. I remember the women in my pregnancy aqua-aerobics class who proudly announced they’d achieved their goal of a VBAC – a vaginal birth after caesarean. So they had to ‘give in’ the first time, but the second time, they did it naturally, and that apparently earns them even more bragging points than a natural attempt first time round.

This behaviour by mothers is the Mobius-loop of society judging mothers. Clementine’s piece surely wasn’t meant to judge, but it backs up the judgement, a judgement which in turn makes it hard for women to make smart, expert-informed decisions about the safest way to deliver their child.

The thing is, this judgement around childbirth is just the start of a judging journey for mothers which continues into every facet of parenthood. This judgement, the expectations of perfection in all things parenting, the ‘right’ way to do things, has a negative impact on a new mother’s confidence, security, faith in her own decisions, and her overall mental health at a time in her life when she is particularly vulnerable. From the breast-is-best breastfeeding brigade, to the organic foods only army, to cloth nappies versus disposable, to unpasteurized milk, to whether you choose childcare and a job over mother-of-earth stay-at-home sanctimonious ‘mamma bear’. Choose the wrong decision and the judgers’ judge you to have failed.

There is already enough judgement out there thanks Clementine, and I’m so disappointed you’ve added to it from your privileged position of popular feminist commentator. I wish you the best of luck with motherhood, which, as I’m finding after a year is so much more than the challenges of labour. All I ask of society is to celebrate childbirth, however it happens, and to minimise the risk of things going horribly wrong. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, is it?

Asian Australians need to unite and support the Safe Schools Program

By Erin Chew

Recently a petition was distributed, signed and tabled on behalf of various Asian community groups in NSW. According to media reports it was coordinated by the Chinese Australian community. The petition was urging the NSW State Government to scrap a program called the “Safe Schools Program”, which aims to support schools who, in community consultation, choose to make their school a safer, more inclusive space for all students. It teaches values that are core to all cultures, like respect and acceptance for all students, including LGBTIQ students.

This is an anti-bullying program that skills teachers to help students to understand what it feels like to be in another person’s shoes, experiencing discrimination. This program teaches techniques to minimise discrimination, improve students’ resilience and learn respect for each other. Currently the Safe Schools Program has been welcomed in over 500 schools all across Australia. The results from teachers, school psychologists and mental health professionals have provided solid evidence that this program produces healthy, positive results for the wellbeing of all students. In many cases, this program has been life-saving, especially in suicide prevention. While continuous, regular reviewing of all school programs is welcomed, no professional research has ever stated that the program be stopped or be defunded.

It’s odd that there are Asian Australian communities so hell bent against this anti-bullying program considering it is our moral imperative to ensure a more just Australia that celebrates differences and promotes a culture of diversity and inclusivity.

The Safe Schools Program is there to support all Australian students no matter what backgrounds they may come from or any other aspects of their identity. Homophobia and transphobia is as damaging as any other prejudicial attacks. When fear of difference is allowed to continue, all forms of phobia flourish, including racism and xenophobia. This is not what the Asian Australian community who has worked so hard to fight against injustice and discrimination wants. Racism, bullying, transphobia, are all based on the same ignorant attitudes and prejudices as each other.

Unchecked racism affects all Australians regardless of background, just as unchecked homophobic bullying affects all Australians. Many Australians have keenly experienced incidences of discrimination based on race. This discrimination shares the same roots of cultural misunderstanding, pressures to conform to institutional violence, ignorance and intolerance. Discrimination in any form leads to poor health outcomes, low productivity and social disenfranchisement.

The scare-campaign petition being tabled in the NSW Parliament in the name of the entire Chinese Australian community is outrageously presumptuous and does not represent the broader Asian community. Recent reports have unfortunately mislabelled the entire Chinese Australian community as being opposed to the Safe Schools Program. This reporting is inaccurate and false propaganda by individuals whose only wish is to incite fear and tear communities apart.

Erin Chew is Convener of the Asian Australian Alliance, and Asian Australian Alliance Women’s Forum.

 

National rallies for refugees

A thousand refugee protesters were expected in Sydney yesterday. Mounted Police expressed surprise that there are at least four times that number filling the streets to Circular Quay.

The group spread onto George Street marched past the PNG consulate to Circular Quay: landing place of the first boat people.

Sydney Speakers included Mark Goudkamp of RAC Sydney and Teachers for Refugees Sydney, former offshore worker Nicole Judge and Fr Rod Bower of the Anglican Church in Gosford.

Concern was expressed by each speaker about the nature of freedom, detention conditions, about secrecy, about the innocence and rights of asylum seekers.

The choice to abuse other vulnerable humans out of selfishness or blind fear was widely condemned.

The event is one of a set of rallies held across the nation today.

As usual, Melbourne attracted the largest crowds.

Article courtesy of an AIMN reader.

 

Domestic violence is real: Centrelink where are you?

By Tracie Aylmer

I used to be somewhat quiet over the domestic violence that I suffered, although I did advise Centrelink time and time again what happened. Every phone call I made to Centrelink I talked about my domestic violence. Each and every time.

The most frustrating thing is that none of the customer service staff (until a month ago) actually recorded it on my records. When I told a job provider, she finally asked me why my DV wasn’t recorded on my records, then quickly set about amending my records to show that I had gone through it. Somewhat relieved, I asked though why it wasn’t there in the first place, and she told me that people don’t go around talking about DV unless they have been through it.

Centrelink obviously hadn’t recorded it as no-one there wanted to believe that I had gone through it. Simple.

Today I decided to check the legislation to see what could be done about my situation. I was shocked at what I found . . .

Section 542F enables an abused person with children to be exempted from the typical ‘work for the dole’ duties for a period of 16 weeks, but only if the abused person has told Centrelink within 26 weeks that they have been suffering from domestic violence. While it is wonderful that an abused parent suffering domestic violence is given alleviation, the issue is that the abuse is ongoing and has no end date. As the perpetrator is tied to the victim because of the children, this makes their recovery even more complex and problematic. There is absolutely no way a victim could even possibly think to recover after 16 weeks.

Section 502C covers those without children to be exempted from participation, also 16 weeks. While it is similar in concept to section 542F, it has the same ignorance. How on earth can a victim be able to recover in such a short period of time?

Other sections give exemptions to aspects such as work for the dole for the maximum period – again – of 16 weeks. How can they assume that a victim goes through domestic violence for such a short period of time? How can they not understand what recovery means? How can they not realise that a victim lives for the rest of their life with domestic violence? Why isn’t this not only taken into consideration but also catered for?

There are some shocking stories of domestic violence in the real world. The physical aspects of domestic violence can be also serious, as compared to the mental, emotional and the financial trauma of what really happens. There were times when I had wished (at the time) that I was hit, so people could see what was going on. Everyone thought the perpetrators were ‘good guys’.

The stalking carried on for months afterwards – not 16 weeks. Sixteen weeks is nothing compared to what really goes on after a victim finally figures out how to leave the perpetrator.

This is the reason why domestic violence isn’t considered serious by this government. They give a time limit to the suffering a victim goes through. With domestic violence, there are no time limits.

My suggestion to everyone is that they write to the politicians the reasons why there should be no time limit in the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) for domestic violence. I have already told Christian Porter (the Minister for Social Services) my story.

Please tell yours.

An open letter to all the bigoted, hypocritical politicians of the Australian Government

I am a concerned Australian citizen writing to you today, the evening after the election, concerning marriage equality.

Now whilst you are all sitting back, some with relief at being re-elected, some spitting chips at losing, and some hanging in the balance, I ask you take time to think of how we, the Australian public think of marriage equality.

You see, gentleman and (a small number of) ladies, it is just not possible to hurt us like we can hurt you (a huge voter backlash, so to speak). We remember words that hurt us,  words that offend us, words that make us feel lesser of a person, but more so, we
remember. On that note Bernadi and Christensen can thank their lucky asses they got back in to the Parliament (unfortunately) but still, maybe next time if they don’t improve, they might not be so lucky next time. Three years, boys.

Lots of issues got tossed about between all parties, and we read them all, if not most of them (hint, Mr Turnbull, leave our Medicare alone, cancel the team investigating the privatisation of any of it and back off from hurting the most vulnerable).

Mr Turnbull, let me say this to you as a voter, I did not and will never condone, or accept being made to feel like a lesser human being than you make us feel like, I deplore and despise the way you have made some of us feel as people and I hope I can speak for a lot of pensioners out there to say I don’t accept your attitude towards us.

It is not Labor’s fault or anybody else’s that got you a huge backlash against your LNP, it was you treating us like sheep and expecting us to just trust you and follow you.

Marriage equality is important to most Australian citizens and whether you like it or not, we did not swallow your random crap about being a respectable referendum/plebiscite at all. We have lived enough with hatred, bigotry, despicable behaviour, intolerance, violence, and other people telling us how we should and should not be and who we should and should not love. Three prime examples are Christensen, Bernadi and Lyle Shelton. Look at what they said about marriage equality, yet as a leader, our Prime Minister you did nothing, said nothing, and let them get away with it. You had no balls, Mr Turnbull, to reprimand them.

Now to the rest of you politicians I ask you kindly, please take some time, to ask yourself honestly and candidly, how you can help make Australia better and fairer and take us (advance us) to the future regarding marriage equality.

We do not seek anything but the right to marry the one we love and be united with the one that makes us happy, regardless of our gender.

I ask all of you these questions:

How will marriage equality directly influence your life and how you live?
How will marriage equality directly or indirectly effect your lifestyle and beliefs?
How will two people marrying each other (out of love and togetherness as a couple) effect any part of your life?
How will being able to marry someone you love be any different for anyone else?
How will you know who is and is not a good parent to their children if you don’t know them or live with them or even remotely know who they are and where they live?
How can you justify a fake book and it’s fake passages to defend something that in reality does not exist?
How can you, any of you, degrade another person based on just their sexuality and love  preferences?
Are you a god or better than a god?

I know full well what it is like to lose a partner in death. I know full well how something so terrible can tear your mind to pieces. I know full well how being despised, hated, bashed, almost murdered, brought close to death feels. I know what it is like to walk down the street and people spit in your faces because you hold hands or threaten you if are seen kissing your partner. I know what it feels like to be hated and made to feel worthless and dirty. I know what it is like to get raped, and not be believed. I know what it is like to be torn apart inside. I know all of this because I have experienced this, lived it, felt it, been the victim of it and I still am because people like Bernadi, Christensen, Shelton, and others of their ilk, often do so without fear of retribution or punishment from the law or our own government leader, aka the prime minister.

Place yourselves in my shoes and ask yourselves, how long could you survive all that mental stuff and still stand up and forgive? If I have felt and feel like this, imagine how the rest of the LGBTIQ community feel or have experienced?

We are not asking much, just the right to marry our partners, be a family in peace and love and be treated like a normal couple, just like yourselves.

We do not need to be persecuted or hated or despised or to be made to feel like we are nothing, we just want the right to be happy with our partners in full equal marriage, like a heterosexual couple can be.

If that is so wrong, then please, have your damn plebiscite. But we prefer the people we elect to do the job which is not that hard to do and change it through the act of parliament with a free vote. John Howard did it, why can’t you or you just want to waste money of the taxpayer on something you know is worthless and a waste of time.

Yours in waiting,

Concerned Citizen

 

‘Chalk your Support’ campaign launches, welcomes refugees

Below is a media alert announcing this Sunday’s launch of ‘Chalk your Support’, an initiative that aims to mobilise Australians from all walks of life to express their support for refugees and asylum seekers during Refugee Week (19-25 June 2016).

City of Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore will officially launch Chalk your Support at a public event to be held at 12:00pm this coming Sunday, 19 June at the southern steps of Sydney’s Town Hall. In the even of bad weather, it will be held at the vestibule of the Town Hall (at front).

The launch will be followed by a public rally at 1:00pm, which will see thousands of people march along George Street from Town Hall as a show of public support for the closure the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres, and the safe resettlement of detained refugees in Australia.

MEDIA CALL

Event: ‘Chalk your Support’ campaign launch

Date: This Sunday, 19 June 2016

Time: 12:00pm

Location: Southern steps of Sydney Town Hall, 483 George St, Sydney

Film, interview & photo opportunities:

Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore

Wendy Bacon and Julie Macken, journalists and co-authors of new refugee report Women on Nauru at Risk

Campaign organiser Monique Corah

Refugee advocates and campaign supporters ready to chalk Sydney’s CBD to let major political parties know that “Refugees are welcome!”

The 2016 ‘Chalk your Support’ campaign will encourage Australians from all walks of life to express their support for refugees and asylum seekers during Refugee Week, June 19 – 25 2016.

The initiative will see people take to their city’s paths and walkways to chalk, photograph and share their messages of support, encouraging all major political parties to adopt a more humane and reasonable approach to solving the Manus Island and Nauru regional detention centre crisis.

At 12pm this Sunday, 19 June, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore will launch the ‘Chalk Your Support’ campaign on the pavement outside Town Hall in Sydney’s CBD.

There will be music and art made on the spot.

The launch will be followed at 1pm by a public rally of thousands along George St, which will call on the Australian Government to close the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres and safely bring the detained refugees to Australia.

chalk“People whose lives are threatened by terror, war and starvation should be able to seek a better life, and be looked after when they do,” said the Lord Mayor.

“Chalking your support on the footpath outside Town Hall is a fun thing to do that lets our political leaders know we want a society that values diversity and acceptance.

“We can’t stop making these public statements until our federal representatives recognise we want to welcome refugees instead of slamming the door on people who dare to seek a life free from terror, poverty, famine or persecution,” the Lord Mayor said.

Wendy Bacon, journalist and co-author of the new report Protection denied, abuse condoned: Women on Nauru at risk, said that the call for public support and government action comes at a critical time.

“The situation for refugees and asylum seekers is extremely dire, with women and children in particular routinely abused including sexually assaulted and doomed to spend the rest of their lives on a tiny island nation, often alongside perpetrators.

“It is clear the Australian Government is determined to keep the plight of refugees and asylum seekers beyond the reach of local and international media, and civil society, therefore making their stories as invisible as possible.

“This is unacceptable. Australians must come together to demand swift government action to welcome those seeking refuge and asylum with open arms,” she said.

Well-known artists, Australians who came to Australia as refugees, and asylum seekers who have recently settled in Australia will sketch their personal stories in chalk in front of Town Hall as part of the launch.

“These people and families have incredible stories to tell about adversity, fear and most importantly loss, and we are keen to highlight their stories to demonstrate why refugees and asylum seekers deserve our compassion and support,” said campaign organiser Monique Corah.

“We welcome attendance at the campaign launch on Sunday 19, June at Sydney Town Hall.”

Families, friends, kids and communities are invited to chalk their messages of support on a pavement or path, then photograph and share their images across social media using the hashtags #ChalkYourSupport and #RefugeesWelcome.

Famous Australians and community leaders will join us in showing their chalkings on Facebook at Chalk Your Support and Twitter.

Chalk your Support will take place in Sydney and Melbourne, with more cities expected to sign on in coming days. It is part of Refugee Week, an annual celebration of cultures which aims to create a better understanding between different communities, and encourages successful integration for refugees into Australian society. The theme for this year’s Refugee Week is Restoring Hope.

Join the conversation with #ChalkYourSupport and #RefugeesWelcome or visit the Chalk your Support Facebook Community page for more information.

 

Is Australia breaching UN sanctions against the Democratic Republic of Congo?

By Tracie Aylmer

Many of you may wonder why the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – a country far away in deepest Africa and literally a world apart from Australia – is an important topic.

Well they are not as far apart as one would believe.

With a little bit of digging (thanks to my work on International Criminall Court submissions), concerns about the DRC have bubbled to the surface as have its relationship to the Australian government.

The DRC is rich in mining resources. There are more mining licenses given to Australian mining companies than any other country in the world. There have also been several cases of human rights abuses since 2004. While Australia enjoys some of the most thorough protections in the world for employees of mining companies, it’s a whole different story when it comes to Africa. It appears that human rights abuses are ongoing, with no end in sight because African governments and corruption have a strong bond.

I know that Australians don’t like to think that human rights abuses could be carried on in their name by an Australian government. It’s harrowing to think that our taxpayer dollars could be helping continue the abuse. This is not a blame game. Australians don’t know what the governments for the past 12 years have been doing. They have deliberately been kept in the dark. The government should be forced into explaining why they have decided to continually allow for this to happen. Money should not be everything.

The UN Security Council does not believe that money is everything. In fact, their most recent Resolution about the DRC shows that it’s not just arms that the UNSC is talking about. They want a stop to all methods of abuse, including child employment and disintegration of human rights. They want all organisations to take a step back from the DRC, or act in a humane manner towards the people of the DRC.

The sanctions against the DRC, according to the Australian government, are basically just for arms and weapons. This is untrue. While arms and weapons are being sanctioned by the UN, the sanctions go much further. To just talk about one aspect of the sanctions means that the Australian government is intent on ensuring that mining companies exist in the DRC, even if the companies are working with rebel forces. What the government refuses to see, won’t matter to them.

The DRC government is well known for being corrupt and accepting anything and everything in order to keep the money flowing into their back pockets, including accepting licenses for Australian mining companies. They have accepted payments for the mining of products such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, particularly in the North and South Kivu areas, which are the most resourced areas in the country.

While the International Model United Nations Association (IMUNA) has a firm belief that there is a bi-lateral agreement between Australia and the DRC similar to many other bi-lateral agreements, there in fact isn’t one. In fact, Australia is advertising that – apart from aspects of humanitarian aid – there is nothing untoward with Australia’s dealings with the DRC. This is far from reality.

The AAMEG was set up by the previous CEO of Anvil Mining Limited before it was sold to MMG. Just prior to this sale, Anvil Mining had been exposed for a mining disaster in the DRC which then led to little culpability. MMG still mines in the area today, in the southern areas of DRC. Other members can be seen here. This is the most extensive list that can be found in relation to interactions between Australia and Africa. It is easy to see where Australian mining companies are located by comparing a general map to the fact sheet. Some of the areas where the mining companies are situated are in well known conflict areas, particularly South Kivu. This country is in extreme poverty, yet the mining companies are running rampant around the country, picking up whatever profit it can find, to the detriment of those most in need.

Atrocities are being committed on a daily basis in the eastern part of the DRC yet Australian mining companies are still willing to do business there. Nothing has been stated by the Australian government in relation to the war-like conditions and humanitarian dilemmas within the DRC, nor of the ICC and UN Security Council investigations. It is like the Australian government has decided to ignore what is going on, with the likelihood that Australian mining companies are part of the problem, in lieu of profit.

While the USA has implemented the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act in order to ensure that conflict minerals are not being used, the run-off effect with Australia has either been very slow or non-existent. To explain why we need to regard this situation with much more scrutiny, we need to understand one major thing about the minerals being mined in the DRC – they are used in our phones, computers and other devices.

We need to become aware of what we are buying so we aren’t inadvertently taking part in the atrocities occurring in DRC, that are in actual fact being investigated at the International Criminal Court as well as the UN Security Council on top of the sanctions that are in place that aren’t being properly discussed by our own government.

In short, our government is breaching UN Security Council sanctions against a country in dire trouble, all for the benefit of so few. We should be disgusted that we have such little knowledge of what’s actually going on. The apathy within our community needs to stop, for our benefit as well as those overseas.

 

The Gap still needs closing

By Callen Sorensen – Karklis

For Indigenous Australians, election time is always a tough call. It’s a time when we find out how important my fellow Aboriginal peoples are to the average Australian.

It is well known and appreciated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that progress has been made in a bi-partisan manner over the last half century. Progress has been slow but it has taken shape.

Who can forget the 1967 referendum granting the vote for Indigenous Australians, the MABO case, and native title rights legislation being made locally and abroad? There’s been the memorable Redfern speech by Paul Keating and the apology to the Stolen Generations by Kevin Rudd.

These steps have been encouraging for Indigenous Australians and in turn have encouraged many Indigenous elders and leaders to step up. Kathy Freeman, David Unaipon, Adam Goodes, Nova Perris, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Pat Dodson, Ken Wyatt, Adam Giles, Leanne Enoch, Charles Perkins, Eddie Mabo, Neville Bonner and Deborah Mailman are just a few of the Indigenous Australians who have made a mark across the nation.

On the issue’s front, Indigenous child mortality rates and year 12 attainment have been improving and new targets on early education have been introduced – but it’s not enough!

Reconciliation progress is slow

Despite successes in leadership and society progress is still minimal, slow, and dragged out at the expense of Indigenous people. This has often led to misunderstandings in policy development and deferred greater progress towards reconciliation.

The average Aussie may see initiatives such as the intervention into many Indigenous communities as a good thing to curb alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence. But in Indigenous communities such approaches can be seen as old school styled colonial paternalism. Even with these measures in place an enormous gap between the average Australian and Indigenous persons still exists.

The problem is a lack of understanding about how Aboriginal culture works by many Australians. If any party, politician, candidate or business leader want to truly help Indigenous peoples (who have the longest continuing culture on Earth) with closing the gap they need to sit down and talk with Aboriginal elders and  leaders. The ‘act first ask questions later’ approach does not work for our First Australians.

The Gap is not closing fast enough

According to recent reports, Australia is failing to meet its goals on the issue of tackling Indigenous disadvantaged peoples. There is still a massive gap in Indigenous life expectancy compared to the average person. Employment, reading, writing and school attendance are other areas where the gap exists.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised a wave of action and consultations but it never fully eventuated. Consideration of constitutional recognition of Indigenous people by Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten is a good sign. Perhaps further consideration is needed on exploring treaty options with Indigenous nations and their elders.

But more needs to be done to boost funding into closing the gap. Lack of action only creates distrust among our Indigenous peoples.

Locally, the North Stradbroke Island economic transition is a major issue that will have a big impact on closing the gap.

During this Federal election campaign, we need to make sure all our politicians, no matter which Party, take a serious stand on closing the gap, in a meaningful and respectful manner.  They need to sit down with Indigenous peoples and their elders and work out real solutions with them and not act against them.

Faster progress is needed, with everyone working together, looking forwards to a brighter tomorrow.

This article was originally published on Redlands 2030.

CallenCallen is an active member of the Australian Fabians Society, ALP, Crime Stoppers, Meals on Wheels and is a Quandamooka Noonucle Indigenous person with a strong commitment to community. Callen has worked in the retail and market research sectors and is currently a student at Griffith University.

 

How the Federal Family Court is failing

By Tracie Aylmer

I have no need for the family court. I have never used it, myself, nor will I see any need to use it in the future. I have, however, heard many horror stories relating to it.

The main thread of each and every story I have heard is how the family court perceives domestic violence (DV). While it’s understandable that DV is a very complex topic, it appears that the court has not been trained in what DV ‘looks like’ and as such the court has at times decided inadvertently in favour of perpetrators, or has no idea how to enforce any type of violence order so simply ‘lets them go’. In some cases I have heard of perpetrators of DV being given custody of children, even though the warning signs were there.

This article is not a blame game. If it was, then it would be too easy to stop here, and not see the whole picture.

Many of the stories relate to how women flee DV, then have to fight for custody of their children. This is particularly so in Western Australia, where by some peculiar quirk of fate the government has decided to create its own Family Court laws, rather than be covered by the Federal act. The state Family Court legislation is identical to the federal legislation, but funnily enough interpretation is vastly different. I have actually heard of several stories where the child was unfortunately left behind in the ‘matrimonial’ home as the victim was too terrified to stay and couldn’t find any other way but to leave. The ex spouse kept telling the victim that they would be killed if they victim took the child. For some reason, the court hasn’t believed these victim, and instead believed the perpetrator, and custody was given to the perpetrator instead of the victim. This isn’t a lone story. I have heard these types of stories several times while living in Western Australia.

Another story I have heard is where, after the victim left the family home barefoot and with the children half asleep, found there were no available facilities and the victim became homeless.

Typically, a person fleeing domestic violence may do so with no money, or any access to it. The perpetrator has taken care of that, along with many other minute details. Perpetrators of DV at times plan every part of the victim’s life, so of course they would plan ways for the victim not to survive if they left. Then there are the death threats, which are – as history has shown to be very real. These brave survivors of DV more often than not become part of the homeless statistics, which is yet another failure of the family court and the welfare system. Both make life nearly impossible for victims of DV, as in these instances the more money the perpetrator has, the more successful they are in family court. Children are then awarded to the perpetrator, who wins because they see the children as a possession to harm whoever leaves their grasp.

I have also heard stories of where the perpetrator mother kept making out within the court that the father demonstrated DV, which of course was fabricated. And there stories of children desperate to be with their fathers, begging independent lawyers and courts for time with their fathers, yet because of a few nasty women the courts decided otherwise.

One particular story I have recently heard shows how a father and daughter have sent copious amounts of text messages to each other. The communication was reciprocal, at all times. The daughter kept begging the father for Skype communication. It was quite obvious that the father wanted to be involved in the daughter’s life. He even kept calling her school, being concerned for her grades. There are, unfortunately, many fathers (or mothers) that don’t bother, but this one has. The reason why the mother and father divorced is because the father caught the mother cheating on him. They separated, leading the daughter to live with the mother and the boyfriend that the mother had been seeing since before the separation. This would obviously cause friction, and the mother’s affidavit clearly showed this. The affidavit showed the mother’s frustration with the father’s desperation to keep their daughter in his life. Unfortunately, the court could not see this, and his only communication with the daughter now is by text messages. The father was actually given no standard custody arrangements whatsoever, even though legislation should be dictating that arrangements should be made.

In addition to this, the mother then dictated that the daughter should attend boarding school as far away from the father as possible, claiming that it was the father’s wishes. The father was not asked where he wanted his daughter to be educated, which was actually in a public school near his residence in the city. It was assumed by the court that he would find whatever the mother had stated in her affidavit as acceptable.

Considering the daughter had stated to the independent child lawyer that there was no DV on her from the father, and legislation had stated that the best interests of the child should be noted at all times, how the court could decide to not give any partial custody to the father is quite confusing. I read the transcripts of this particular case. I saw how the independent child lawyer was treated by the court, compared to the mother’s lawyer. The father’s lawyer was given even less consideration.

The one thing that perplexes me is how inadequately DV is treated in courts. Obviously, the system has failed spectacularly. Courts muddle along, thinking they know what’s best for families torn apart from divorce, yet they aren’t willing to learn or become educated in something that is so crucially important.

This can lead at times to the perpetrators being given custody of their children, to the concern of the victims and to communities. The best interests of the child are not entirely known or understood in courts. Children are treated like commodities, sometimes by courts, but more often by perpetrators.

Domestic violence is complex enough, without perpetrators treating the whole system as a total joke and their own children as possessions to be bartered. The perpetrators aren’t just men. Women can have a knack of using and abusing their children to show superiority against fathers for no reason other than to hurt them.

In all of this mess it is obvious that the arrogance and ignorance of family court needs to be addressed, desperately. This court has not just failed, it needs a complete overhaul, and the whole court system needs to start learning from DV experts – including those with lived experience.

This is not a job to be done in the future. It should have been done quite some time ago. It’s better late than never, but now is not the time to talk about it. Now is the time to take action, before more children’s lives are lost or shattered due to DV.

 

The reality of Manus Island

By Behrouz Boochani

This is my answer to Peter Michael whose article (now behind a paywall) in The Herald Sun quoted Immigration Minister Peter Dutton: “MANUS Island asylum seekers are trading taxpayer-funded cigarettes on the black market to pay for ­alcohol, electronics and ­marijuana.”

In the Manus prison, a skinny man with a pale and petrified face is leaning against the wall of a completely empty room in SAA solitary confinement. Deep down, he feels utterly hopeless while biting his nails. This man who has been kept in the prison for nearly three years and has lost 30 kilograms of his weight was recently transferred into the solitary confinement at his own request. He could not endure the drowsiness of marijuana anymore and had desperately pleaded to the officers to provide him with marijuana. Until recently, this solitary confinement was called the Green Zone.

A few meters away, at Foxtrot compound, a young man is collecting the cigarette butts spread over the mass of soil next to the dirty toilets of the prison, in order to roll them in paper and suck in the smoke. He is also addicted to marijuana and does not have any cigarettes to smoke. There are many like this vanquished and addicted man in the quadrangle of Manus prisons. In other words, they are experiencing a life similar to persons sleeping in cardboard, people who have inadvertently become slaves to addiction and are unable to live without marijuana in the cruel and harsh atmosphere of the prison.

The life of these forgotten men in this place reflects a crisis of silence; and the dominance of this crisis over the prison develops everyday, threatening the lives of this group of people in an even more apparent way.

Everything, however, refers to the weekly shopping points. If a person receives a double positive decision, which means, at the first stage he is recognized a refugee and at the second stage the Papua New Guinea accepts his resettlement in the country, his weekly points are cut. These refugees who are, at the moment, 450 people are loath to leave the prison and resettle in this country. They do not want to risk their lives in PNG as all they have seen, experienced and been taught so far is that this country has a tribe-like atmosphere where kinship ties demand allegiances that exclude ‘others’ and where safety is at its lowest possible level.

This policy precludes people from buying cigarettes and telephone cards; and also causes them to experience blatant discrimination and additional pressure. The other point is, according to this policy this group of people has practically become dependent on the others. In order to force refugees to live in PNG, the authorities make them reliant upon other prisoners. This discriminatory policy has had serious repercussion for refugees who smoke cigarettes and marijuana as they make every endeavour to provide them with substances to smoke. Apart from that, a cigarette in the prison effectively plays the role of money and makes it possible for people who do not smoke to receive many of their needs in return for cigarettes from the local officers who smuggle many goods into the prison. An obvious business is carried on by people who do not have anything other than some cigarettes in the small city of Lorengau – just twenty kilometers away from the prison. Those who have cigarettes buy different kinds of T-shirt, mp3, perfume, cups and many other small objects. This has formed economic class divisions over the course of time in this prison. Additionally, when a prisoner has bought everything he needs, he usually exchanges his cigarettes for little sums of money. Currently, many people have access to money at this hellhole; however, the amount of money is not much.

On the contrary, those who smoke cigarette and marijuana have nothing, no possessions. They are not even able to buy a telephone card to call their families. Since this policy was implemented last year, the deprived prisoners, those who cannot buy cigarettes and telephone cards, have sold their shoes, clothes, dictionaries, MP3s, and other useful possessions to the rest who still have cigarettes. Accordingly, they have become like people with nothing, like wanderers sleeping in cardboard

There is a relevant question. Why are the rest of the prisoners not assisting and supporting the deprived ones? The answer is clear. Despite the fact that they had helped their fellow detainees on various occasions in buying cigarettes or telephone cards, it is within the bounds of possibility that sooner or later, the same destiny lies before them. By receiving the double positive decision, they will too will be deprived of the weekly points; hence, every single wise person in their shoes would save his cigarettes so as to be able to smoke or speak with his family; particularly those who are a father and need to always know how their family is doing.

Here in this prison I know some prisoners who have not spoken even once with their families for nearly a year. Similarly, I know a number of men selling their rooms and beds to have marijuana. Some addicts prefer to smoke marijuana even at the price of living in crowded rooms. Therefore, they sell their rooms to people seeking a quieter and cleaner place in return for cigarettes.

Sexual abuse incidents and slavery cases have also been heard of where people use the supplicants, in practice, as slaves to carry out their personal work such as washing their clothes, getting food for them, etc. This rampant corruption has even spilled over into the kitchen. By paying with cigarette to the kitchen staff, many have milk, nuts, juice and snacks in their rooms. On the contrary, many others have limited access to quality food, as they do not have any cigarettes to offer.

Another vital question to ask is why Broadspectrum (Transfield) turns a blind eye to the catastrophic consequences of this policy. The response is crystal clear: With this policy, Transfield kills two birds with one stone. On the one hand, the company exerts mounting pressure on the refugees to make them resettle in the island; and on the other hand, this policy yields an excess economic profit for the company since there is a close correlation between the economic profit and the number of people attending various classes and engaging in sports activities. To clarify, if a person participates more often in activities, he can buy more cigarettes. A kind of direct relationship has formed between cigarettes and the activities in the prison. This relationship has caused classes to be busier, and the dirty ground of the prison full of people who are forced to run for a few minutes everyday to receive points and eventually, cigarettes. As a result of an increase in numbers of people engaging in the activities, Transfield has recruited dozens of teachers and trainers these days that bring about ambusiness boom for this company. In fact, if the refugees decide to impose a sanction against all the activities one day, the first loser will be the Transfield company; the company which develops its business more than before through cutting the weekly points of 450 people. In this scenario, Transfield will be compelled to dismiss its employees, similar to what occurred during the big hunger strike in January last year, when the company sustained heavy financial losses.

Prison is a filthy and inhuman place. It can cause people to be on the verge of distrust and hatred of fellow beings. For those who have experienced prison, an accepted reality is that a prisoner needs to reduce their dependence on the others; otherwise, he will simply become a tool in the hands of jailers and anyone else. A dependent person becomes like a slave.

What should be emphasized is that what has happened in the Manus prison is the collapse of social relationships and moral values through bringing cigarettes in the form, not only a consuming object, but more importantly as a functional tool that plays the role of money. A prisoner has very basic needs, and sometimes, having a simple cup could be a manifestation of power. The operating system in the prison engenders distrust in social relationships among the prisoners that leads to humiliation, pessimism, anxiety and ethical collapse. In short, these days at the Manus prison, the cigarette is used “as an element of control and domination”. At the moment, the authorities fear a public protest, even a peaceful one, being mounted.

By cutting the weekly points of half of the population, the authorities have created division between the detainees. Whereby, unlike before, they have been split into various groups. The prisoners are also aware of the fact that they do not have the previous sense of unity and, more than ever, they have become too weak and too obedient to confront this system that has stripped them of all human dignity and whatever they had as a human. There is no doubt that the cause of this division, rift, and even hostility is the discrimination that dominates the small society of this prison.

manusThis article was originally published on Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites.

Behrouz Boochani is an Iranian journalist and writer currently detained on Manus Island.