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Category Archives: Social Justice

SOS from Manus

In April 2016, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court, ruled that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal. Their detention breached the PNG constitution, and their right to personal liberty. They’re detained on Lombrum naval base, thirty-minutes away from the nearest town, Lorengau. After three-years of being held on the guarded base, they were now allowed to go, with restrictions, into town, by bus in daylight hours. The Australian and PNG governments were ordered to start taking steps to end the detention of asylum seekers there.

It wasn’t until this year, that both of the government’s announced that the camp on the naval base was to be closed down. The deadline is this Tuesday, the 31st of October. Compounds housing asylum seekers on Manus have been progressively shut down since. They have been given four options:

Relocate to the East, Lorengau Transit Centre

Go home voluntarily

Settle in PNG

Resettle in a third country

During this time, locals have enjoyed employment and enjoyed earning money that most have never seen before. More than one-thousand locals have lost their jobs. Since the closure announcement, tensions have risen dramatically, with more robberies, and violence against the men held on Manus. To the point that many are too afraid to take the risk to go into town, they feel safer on the naval base. There is no point reporting anything that happens to them because the PNG police don’t do anything. Around seventy men are currently, at the Transit Centre, with over six-hundred cooped up on the naval base, refusing to move to the centre. They’re too terrified to go as it is not safe, the locals have made it very clear that they don’t want them there.

Communications from Manus

I’ve been in communication with an asylum seeker on Manus, for the last few months. Out of respect for his privacy and concern for his safety, I’m keeping his identity anonymous. I will call him Rick. With the October deadline approaching, and anxiety building, a few days ago, he shared a few things with me.

He met an Australian man on Manus recently, and while discussing his situation, he told him that he wanted to go and have a look at the new camp, at the Lorengau Transit Centre. The man replied:

‘Don’t go there, locals are so angry, and they might do something silly to you.’

He said that a few days ago he was in a meeting with locals who told him that they hated the men and wouldn’t accept them, and that:

‘We don’t want any refugees around our neighbourhood.’

Rick also told me how he had met and spoken of his concerns with David Yapu, a local Police Commander, on Manus.

He also shared his concerns and said that the police have been given:

‘No clear direction about your situation, if anything happens, we have no direction of what to do.’

Yapu apologised to Rick and said that:

‘We’re really sorry for what Australia is doing to you’.

He also said that what Australia was doing to them was:

‘Inhumane, and shouldn’t happen to any person in the world’.

The compassion from someone from a police force, renowned for their brutality, wasn’t lost on Rick.

The new transit centre isn’t safe

It was revealed in senate estimates this week, that the new construction at the transit centre being built in Lorengau by the Australian government, hasn’t even finished being built. Rick and his Australian friend, went together, to have a look at the new transit centre, but authorities wouldn’t let them in. The government says that it will be finished by tomorrow, the 29th of October. As the closure date looms closer, locals have threatened violence against builders working on the centre, as well as vandalising and blockading it. Landowners of the centre, don’t want any refugee centres in residential areas. They say they’ve had no warning or consultation by the Australian government, and the PNG government has also been kept in the dark about the new construction going on at the centre. There is also a petition being circulated around Lorengau calling for the Australian government to take the men to Australia, until a third country has been found for them. In one community meeting an elderly man said:

“I’m going to get the youths. We’ll get spear guns, knives, axes, spades, crowbars and we will block the road.”

Many of the refugees and asylum seekers have been locked up there for over four-years. Of the 718 men on Manus, most of the men have been found to be refugees. There is also a group of around forty men known as the ‘Forties’, that have refused from the beginning, to be settled in PNG if they were found to be refugees. They have been given negative results despite not being processed, including my friend Rick. When the option came up to resettle in America, Rick felt glad that he had stood his ground, because he felt that the Australian Border Force, was lying about PNG being the only option for him to resettle. He could see straight away that PNG was very dangerous and knew he wasn’t wanted, all of the men know this and feel this way. He has asked many, many times for over a year, to tell his story and to be processed, but they said that he’s lost his chance and he’s not getting another. They are threatening deportation.

Broken men

This week the men were given medical packs to last them for one-month, with no further assistance. Most of the men are on medication, to help them sleep, and for physical and mental health problems, and they require professional care. It’s alarming that they would give such a large of medication to them, without guidance, particularly when mentally unstable. Interpreters for the men are rare too, leading to miscommunications and misunderstandings between the different nationalities. Instead the seeds of conflict were sown from the start. The locals were told that the asylum seekers were dangerous criminals, and the asylum seekers were told that the locals had deadly diseases, and that they were cannibals.

In mid-February 2014, a violent riot broke out in the detention centre, lasting two days. Many of the men had already been imprisoned for nine-months with no clue as to what was going to happen to them. No asylum seekers had even been processed yet, they were understandably demanding answers about processing their claims and resettlement. When immigration officers arrived and told them that they were going to be resettled in PNG, one of the men asked:

“Okay, you are saying you are going to resettle us, but your country is listed as 39 out of 40 notorious countries, and how – I mean you can’t even control your own people, how do you think that you could resettle us and give us a life here?”

G4S had the detention centre contract at the time (Broadspectrum took over the contracts, after the riot), and their staff and guards, warned against such an announcement. Based on their intelligence, they were worried about the potential for conflict. Immigration on site agreed with the decision not to tell the men, but it was overturned by immigration in Canberra. The announcement, was the catalyst for the riot.

Violence and murder on Manus

Iranian asylum-seeker, Reza Barati, was murdered. Another man lost his eye, one man was shot in his buttocks, and another had his throat slit. Seventy-seven others were treated for serious injuries. It wasn’t until 2016, that a former G4S employee, and a former Salvation Army employee, (both PNG nationals), were arrested for the murder of Reza Barati. Their sentence was reduced because there were so many other people involved in the murder. The other people involved were local residents and local security guards. Nobody else has ever been charged for the murder, or for the other serious injuries, inflicted on scores of others. One of the men charged for the murder has escaped twice from prison. He is currently still on the run.

On Good Friday this year, drunken PNG soldiers fired into the detention centre on the naval base. This time security guards, refugees and immigration officials were assaulted. Nobody has ever been charged for this incident either. Six men have died on Manus, two of the deaths have been in the last few months, both of the deceased, were found near the transit centre in Lorengau. It has been reported that the deaths were suicide due to mental illness, some have their doubts.

A matter of human rights

The Australian government is currently trying to force the men off of the naval base and into the new centre by withholding medical services, emptying rain-water tanks, closing the mess and withholding fruit, sugar  and coffee cups. Interestingly the fruit, sugar and coffee cups were stopped from been handed out, but the men have started receiving them again. The men wonder if the Australian government is worried about being found to abuse human rights again. Lawyer Ben Lomai, is seeking orders from the court that food and water should be provided after the 31st of October.

“If there’s anything, food and water should be maintained because that’s their constitutional right,” he said to Radio New Zealand.

“So you can’t deny them food and water. So if they are allowed to stay there then those are the two services they can be entitled to. Other things can be subject to further negotiation.”  He is also seeking orders to guarantee the men’s safety if and when they are moved to the centre and for a requirement that refugees are offered settlement in a third country.

The men have been given food-packs to last two days. Electricity is set to be turned off and the PNG military have been ordered to take over the base next Tuesday.  There should be a sense of urgency, not complacently seeing how it will all turn out, and a lets hope for the best, type of attitude.

Time to end the political games

In my mind, we have moved beyond the blame game, or one-upmanship that both major parties have played. Beyond the billions of dollars spent playing these games. And beyond, even resettling asylum seekers like Rick in Australia, many of them don’t want to come here, and I can’t blame them. But they do want to be resettled in another country, and they deserve to be safe, and to become, contributing members of society again.

We also can’t ignore the fact that this is being done for political reasons, especially when we look at the fact, that as of last June, there were more than 64,000 people overstaying their visas in Australia. Nearly 7,000 have overstayed for fifteen to twenty years. The most humane and sensible approach would be to bring them to Australia for processing, and to take it from there, for resettling them.

They’ve lost so much, stealing years away from them, means that when they do finally get resettled, the road ahead will be much steeper, especially in regards to gaining employment. We are heading towards the five-year mark of their imprisonment on an island in the middle of nowhere, the world has changed so much in this time. And of course so have they, but what strikes me the most about these men is how strong they are, and how kind-hearted they are, despite everything that Australia has put them through.

This article was originally published on Political Omniscience.

Manus deadline looms: opinion

By Jane Salmon

Festival of the Dead, Halloween, is also the literal deadline for the Manus men still at Lombrun RPC.

On that date they are to be forced out of the compounds that have housed them for 4 years, and into Lorengau.

My children will be running around lush front lawns collecting treats in fancy dress while Manus friends feel like they have an actual date with death.

They fear that PNG locals will fight them violently for every job or resource available and that, instead of liberation, their lives will become even more desperate.

Their fears have some foundation. Machete attacks and thefts have occurred during day trips on the island. Those with no tribesmen or “wan toks” to defend or avenge them are treated as fair game.

Men at Lorengau Transit Centre have gone mad and then died as recently as last month.

The kindness of some Manusians does not completely offset the fact that PNG is still a very harsh, struggling country. There has been envy and anger towards the strangers who have been warehoused by Australia.

Australia’s exercise in colonialism ended abruptly 40 years ago. This latest failed exercise in offshore detention has managed to signal to the world that we left PNG in chaos, one of the least safe travel destinations in the world.

The irony of men wanting a safe form of freedom being herded out the gates of RPC by force is acute.

There is no “freedom to thrive” waiting for them on November 1, 2017.

They see the trap. Moreover, their main strength has been their solidarity. Dispersal means disunity. What the men have achieved together through fellowship, collective action and mutual compassion across 4 tough years is also under attack.

These are real refugees. Their backgrounds have been checked and rechecked.

On paper they have been given thorough medical discharges and records. In reality, they get a bunch of untranslated words they don’t understand and a month’s supply of medication.

These are medicines they would generally not have needed if in community detention in Australia. Tropical ulcer treatments, addictive antidepressants, sedatives would have been less necessary if they had been free to work, to mix with people of their culture and to make headway in supporting wives, kids and family stuck in perilous circumstances.

The immediate risk of overdose by depressed and anxious hostages by strong pharmaceuticals is high and Manus Hospital is not resourced to help the psychotic or suicidal hereafter. Even the Port Moresby health system falls short.

There is little or no prospect of ongoing medical attention or redress once the Manus guys are forced into PNG. Their untreated fractures, malaria, ulcers, new cigarette  pharma addictions and nightmares will go with them.

Refugee allies in Australia might dream of protecting them in refuges or running a hospital ship. Doubtless they would feel the need to help locals, too. The reality is that sustaining refugee hostages of the past 4 years is beyond the means of most community activists. They have done a great deal to help the men across that time. And perhaps also to delude themselves and their offshore friends that wholesale rescue was still possible.

Some lawyers have worked hard for the release of individual refugees. Deals were done with Border Force to conceal each release from publicity. The image of a boat blockade remains roughly intact.

The truth is that some boat arrivals have been admitted to Australia and others have not. The arbitrariness of the process is shocking.

So the the Halloween deadline seems ominous in more ways than one.

Activists have strong bonds with these 700 men. They fund-raised for phones, shoes, t-shirts and bath towels. They have counselled them through sleepless tropical nights and reached out to the families left behind.

As with the Rohingyans, it is perfectly clear that taking a plane back home is equally perilous. Some of the homesick have gone. They felt they could not leave their families unprotected in poverty for any longer.

Survival rates of those refouled is less clear. Some have found ways to cope. Some have simply fallen silent.

The experience of those refugees transferred to America last month is another paradox. These men took planes, were given accommodation and a chance to find jobs. They feel “lucky”, even if Dutton does envy them the odd flash t-shirts or fit-bits.

American gun violence, racism and poverty seems benign by comparison with the issues faced by PNG.

So the few handpicked, highly educated men perhaps not destroyed by the uncertainties of detention who were airlifted from Manus by America get a chance at real life.

Hundreds more do not. And children remain trapped on Nauru: a small pile of rocks with high unemployment, tents … and machetes.

Then we have the plight of mainland refugees.

What is already dead is the compassion of Australia’s right wing conservatives and white supremacists. Many others choose to affect numbness.

Their Government has spent a fortune to make an example of boat arrivals.  Food, mouldy shipping containers or tents, meds and guards have cost Australian taxpayers a great deal. Sloppy accounting is worse.

Arbitrary attempts at breaking the smuggling trade has also resulted in waste of life.

My friend AR arrived on Manus after the Taliban came for him. A month earlier his father had received the Taliban’s death knock and did not survive. The family business was in repairing and reselling foreign vehicles. This was enough to incense fundamentalists.

The family had earlier tried to send AR to Japan to escape all this on a trade visa. He was refused. After the Taliban knocked, he found his way out of his country to a boat from Indonesia. There was no safe pathway. Had he obtained a tourism visa, flown in and overstayed, his life might already be back on track.

His mother and brothers have been cowering around the borders of Afghanistan ever since. His mum became catatonically depressed and eventually received treatment in a major city. The great fear was that the younger brother will be conscripted by extremists.

AR, a talented mechanic fluent in English, has used the 4 years to complete some online learning. He has also become more worried, atheist, deeply depressed and addicted to cigarettes. I helped with phones and call credit.

Will AR find a way into PNG life? Will he be safe in PNG? Will there be a job? A home? Medical care?

Australia is throwing away a stoic, resilient and talented future citizen.

His colleague Behrouz Bouchani, the camp’s famous resident journalist, is a cultured thinker who also has the makings of a great leader.

My greatest terror for these souls who naively turned to Australia for help … is the machetes. The second is a mass suicide attempt by medication overdose in the last half of this month.

Take a look at yourself, Australia.

A letter to LGBTIQ Australians

This postal survey isn’t right
I originally addressed this letter to the LGBTIQ community, but while I don’t want to downplay the strength of this community, I can also imagine some of you might actually be a bit sick of being lumped together as a single undifferentiated entity.
Just as heterosexuals are a diverse range of people with all manner of opinions and traits, so too are their LGBTIQ counterparts.
The constant delineation between LGBTIQ and straight perpetuates an unspoken narrative that our sexuality is a preeminent criterion for defining differences, camouflaging the reality that I have more in common with many LGBTIQ people than a lot of straight people.

So, on behalf of millions of fair-minded Australians, I write this to all LGBTIQ Australians, with my own friends particularly close in my thoughts.

I would like to say that I am sorry for what you are enduring right now.  Some may take issue with my apologising for things I don’t have control of, but I am comfortable with the term, because I am truly sorrowful and embarrassed at what some of my fellow countrymen are capable of, let alone our pathetic excuse for a government.

As I said, everyone is different and some of you are handling this farce remarkably well, but you shouldn’t have to; and I am dismayed by the already documented emotional impact it is having on many of you.

You didn’t ask for your existence to be subject to prolonged public criticism and were unequivocal in your opposition to the plebiscite proposal, but here we are.

Come next election, you need no better example of how unfit the Liberal Party is to hold office than this postal survey on your rights.

This is a government that saw the divisiveness of the Brexit referendum (which included one Remain campaigner being murdered in public) and thought, “Yeah we want some of that, but let’s make it even more drawn out.”

The so-called debate

Despite the protestations of conservatives, it is unarguable that you are the only real victims of what is generously being described as a debate about marriage law.

Sadly, use of the term ‘debate,’ is poor nomenclature, as that would require two opposing perspectives on Marriage Equality being tested, but only one side is even talking about marriage.

The other uses any piece of obfuscation and downright trickery to frighten people into voting against equality.

One thing I want to say to you is I’m not buying the lies and few people I speak to are either.  They just come off as desperate and none of their arguments withstand any real scrutiny or analysis.

I don’t want to get into name-calling, but anyone proudly saying, “I’m not a bigot, but I think homosexuality is wrong,” is going to have to pick one or the other.

Ironically though, this type of NO voter is the only one being honest about why they are against equality.

While I can’t agree with their homophobia, at least they are open about it, so in some ways, I give them a little more credit than the more urbane NO advocates who try to have it both ways.

And it is certainly preferable to the disingenuous and self-righteous wailing about a child’s need to have both a mother and a father. Aside from its blatant irrelevance and mistruth, this is just a poorly coded way of saying children need to be protected from gay parents.

To many of us, it is self-evident how distorted and malicious these words are.  It makes me angry when I hear them said about people I care about, so I can only imagine how awful it is to endure it in person.

I urge you to remember that the lies said about you are in no way reflective of you or your relationships.  They are just reflections of the ignorance and prejudice of those who say them.

If you want to stand up for yourself and respond to these veiled attacks, you go right ahead.  There has been a lot written about how the YES campaign has lost votes by being too ‘aggressive,’ but I’m not sure I buy this as a significant factor.

Even if it is, you have to do what is right for you and sometimes standing up for ourselves is important for our own wellbeing.  Moreover, people who whine about their rights to freedom of speech almost invariably have a very one-sided idea of that freedom.

It takes some pretty Orwellian sophistry to argue that those who are publicly belittling you and your relationships are entitled to free speech, but when others use that same freedom to justifiably ridicule their ridiculous claims, the NO campaign feels bullied.

I won’t say I speak for a majority of Australians.  I’ve heard half a dozen people make this claim, including Bernardi and Abbott (both of whom I despise).  I don’t want to sound anything like them, so I won’t even use the language.

I also shouldn’t need to speak for the majority, because morality should not be a popularity contest.  On the other hand, I truly believe millions of Australians are with you in this campaign and that most of the denigration is coming from an obstinate minority.

As the saying goes, it only takes a few empty vessels to make a lot of noise.  And as the hysterical voices of those against equality get louder and more desperate, that is no sign of their strength, but of their weakness.  I hope you all know this.

Actually, I don’t think it is okay to vote NO

Sadly, I have to accept that even some of my own friends will vote against equality and in doing so will wilfully endorse arguments that treat you as inferior.  What do I make of that?

In truth, I’m not sure how to act about this.  I won’t deny anyone the right to hold different opinions to my own and as I have said before, we are so much more than a single opinion.  But this is a different situation.

I don’t care about opinions, but I do care about actions, especially those which directly and negatively impact on many of my friends.  And that is what a vote against equality is.

Am I still okay that some of my friends are going to do that?  I’m honestly not sure.  I guess I’ll make up my mind at some point after the whole painful charade is over, but I don’t expect to forgive quickly.

Let’s not kid ourselves, this survey has been set up by opponents of equality to get a particular result.  But even if it succeeds, one way or another, Marriage Equality is coming and coming soon.

If the Liberal government continues to fumble over this issue, I expect the next Labor government to legislate on it as a matter of priority and, in doing so, formalise an ongoing point of difference that will be politically costly for the Coalition for years to come.

And when it does- without the fanciful consequences NO campaigners are trying to conflate with it- a lot of people are going to be a bit sheepish about having voted against it.  This knowledge that they were wrong isn’t going to go away quickly either.  And nor should it.

What I am hoping for is a resounding YES that clearly articulates that I live in an open, accepting country, and not one that is stuck in the bigotry of the past.

I don’t ask people to be ashamed of history, but now that we know better, we don’t have to keep making the same mistakes.

But even if we don’t get that, let me assure you that for me and many others, none of the mud thrown by the NO campaign will stick and all this whole charade has done is consolidated our support for you.

This article was originally posted on Quietblog

“If marriage equality isn’t achieved this time round, it WILL happen.”

Australia is in the middle of a public debate on whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The results of the voluntary, non-binding, postal survey won’t be known for over a month. It will be even longer before the full impacts of the glorified opinion poll become apparent, regardless of the outcome.

However the short term effects are already becoming realised as state-sanctioned conversations on the worth of LGBTQI Australians and their families dominate social and traditional media, enter homes through mail, phone calls and texts, and are reduced to snappy slogans on billboards and signs around the nation.

There are so far 23 countries which allow same-sex couples to marry. And in all but one, negative consequences have been non-existent. However a recent study of Ireland; the only country to put marriage equality to a popular vote, showed that a majority of LGBTI people were negatively affected by the NO campaigning, experiencing heightened feelings of anger and distress as a result of the referendum.

Given the nature of the NO campaign in Australia’s unnecessary faux-vote (in which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already defended homophobic hate-speech as part of the “democratic debate”), it is likely similar results will be found in our own communities.

Counselling services have already seen increases in their need; over 20% increase at LGBT phone-counselling service QLife since the plebiscite was introduced, and a 40% increase at BeyondBlue since the announcement of the postal survey.

Now, with the personal lives of LGBTQI people and their families thrust into the spotlight, personal stories of hope, understanding and support are more important than ever.

For Ben van Tienen, the current situation offers an opportunity to share his journey, from Catholic schoolboy, raised in rural Tasmania, to a musical theatre conductor based in London, and touring the world.

Ben is gay. Yet, as he so honestly explains, growing up in a deeply religious family in a small community, he “didn’t know gay people existed”. While he was oblivious to the media storm building up to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1997, his naivety did not protect him from the deeply embedded homophobic attitudes prevalent in society.

At the time, Ben did not know or understand what may have motivated the bullying he experienced every day from when he was 8 until 16. “That’s not an exaggeration. It was, legitimately, every day,” he says. He was called “poofter”, “faggot”,and “fairy”, and while he did not know what it meant, he took it to heart that “being different in any way was not okay.”

The Church provided Ben with an introduction to music, which ultimately gave him with a sanctuary of sorts. As he became more involved in the music and theatre communities, he learned to “relish his differences”, but it did not make it any easier getting through the “slog, every single day,” of school.

His passion for music and the friends he made in the broader community helped to cushion the abuse he experienced. Over time he took it less to heart, and his reaction to it has now changed. Yet Ben says that the behaviour of others has not changed over time; the “bullies are still using the same words, still trying to push me out, still threatened by their own fragile gender-constructs, still frightened by other-ness.”

However much has personally changed since Ben’s childhood in Cygnet. He was nearly 17 by the time he realised he was gay. “It was like a light being turned on after years of being in the dark. It was that quintessential ‘last piece of the jigsaw’ moment; it was literally like a hundred bells inside me going ‘ding ding ding’ at once.”

Ben recalls with amusement the reaction of his friends who “definitely already knew” he was gay, joking, “why didn’t y’all tell me?!” It was around a week after his own realisation, that he told his parents. He was prepared for the conversation to be more difficult with his family and acknowledges that one of the problems when he first came out, was being able to “articulate about anything yet, let alone respectfully/compassionately field any questions or accusations.”

As Ben has grown older, he finds it easier to talk about what it means to be gay, and his search for love, belonging and connection. He believes it was a challenge for his family to reconcile his identity with their faith, but is proud of how open they have been in their journey of understanding.

He recounts an early conversation with his parents, which demonstrates how love and respect for family took precedence:

“I’m just worried that when the time comes, and I want to bring a partner home for Christmas, that you won’t be ready to deal with it.” And they looked at each other and took a breath and said, “We’ll make sure we’re ready to deal with it.”

Ben’s own belief in the Christian faith ended abruptly on coming out. He had been brought up so firmly in the belief that “God made me in his own image,” and to suddenly be “seemingly told that that was no longer true was a massive shaking” of Ben’s world. He very quickly became “violently, defensively atheistic.” However in the last two years Ben has returned to spirituality as a concept and a way of life.

The national survey on marriage equality has added an urgency to navigating the complexities of identity and societal acceptance. The campaigning has thrust into the public sphere deeply personal conversations which would otherwise have time to grow naturally among family and friends.

For Ben, these conversations have been happening for sixteen years. However his passion for music, the unconditional love of his family and the support he has received from his friends in the broader community, has made the journey less difficult than it otherwise may have been.

Ben is reflective, articulate and honest. He describes himself as a yogi, “spirit junkie”, and activist. He is vegan, pro-caffeine and anti-gluten. He believes in love; “always crossing the street to get to the sunny side”. Ben’s brightness, compassion and enthusiasm for positivity shine strongly in the way he approaches life, and deals with homophobia.

He is now braver and more fierce in the face of it. He will hold hands with his date as he walks down the street. He will be brave in the face of people who stare or call him names. He will try to open-heartedly and whole-heartedly enter conversations where homophobia is an issue and do so in a “loving and inquisitive way”. This, Ben says, does not get easier, but he understands that if someone is directly homophobic towards him, it has absolutely nothing to do with him.

Ben’s attitude towards dealing with hate is enlightening and inspiring. He hopes it is easier now for LGBTQI children growing up, and that they can see that cisgender/straight behaviour is “just a small part of the greater kaleidoscope”. He cannot imagine what his childhood would have been like if the wider picture had been visible to him.

For young LGBTQI Australians now, experiencing a very public debate on their worth in society, while perhaps also struggling to understand themselves, coming out, and approaching difficult conversations, Ben has some kind words: “you are important, and you are not alone.”

He supports this with his paraphrased advice from gay, NYC, life-coach, Jordan Bach:

When you are in these conversations, I want you to imagine every queer person that has gone before you in this conversation – every single beautiful gay person asking for tolerance, love, acceptance. Imagine them standing behind you, around you, their hands on your shoulders, almost like your guardian angels. You are not alone in this.”

Ben now lives in the United Kingdom, where same-sex marriage is legal. He has noticed a “very subtle difference” in the way that he moves through the world. He now feels he has a place. He explains it is very easy to cultivate a subtle self-loathing in a society where the message is consistently reinforced that you do not belong. Ben also now knows more older male couples, who are now married, and he can see their “hopes, dreams, struggles and fears” and their “lawful, legitimised love deepen and grow”. This gives Ben hope, and makes him proud and excited about what his own future may hold.

Ben’s life is almost unrecognisable to the one he lived in Tasmania. He has conducted “West Side Story” at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris (with his proud parents in the audience). He has released an album with his best friend and completed a composition for the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, filmed Funny Girl for Sky TV and cinema broadcast and graduated from Brene Brown’s Living Brave Semester. He has also released “enough fear and shame to disrobe at a nudist beach!”

Ben is no longer so career-driven. He would still love to work on Broadway, but it is more important for him to “achieve with what I have, right now, in this moment”. He wants to be a better person than he was yesterday, and hopes he can answer yes to the following questions:

  • Did I touch someone’s heart today?
  • Did I help someone break through their threshold today?
  • Did my authenticity inspire someone today?
  • Was I as generous as I could be today?
  • Did I do my best to be wholehearted in every moment?

The questions Ben asks himself encapsulate his caring, compassionate spirit, and positive outlook on the world.

He has some final words for his friends in the broader community in Australia who are suffering during this public debate on their lives:

“All we can do is shine as fiercely and brightly as we can, and know that every time we can get one new person to share our vision, we must celebrate. And even if marriage equality isn’t achieved this time round, it WILL happen, and all we can do is keep trying.”

Australia’s shameful treatment of refugees and asylum seekers must end

By Julie Grint

Many issues about human rights are dear to me as a former refugee. Two of these issues: the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by the military junta and the inhumane and cruel treatment of asylum seekers by the Australian government in defiance of the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, treatment meted out by political leaders from both sides of the aisle leads me to ask “why?” Why are we so cruel and indifferent to the fate of our fellow human beings when we call ourselves Christians?

I have written to Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten with my plea. A plea for human rights. Here are my letters:

The Hon Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,

Dear Mr Turnbull,

I would like to bring the following matters to the attention of your good self and of your cabinet colleagues.

Minister Dutton is trying to illegally refoul Rohingya Muslims from Manus island, right now. Men are being coerced to sign papers stating they wish to return home.

I appeal to your consciences to oppose such moves by your Ministerial colleague.

The ethnic Rohingya people of Myanmar (Burma) in Southeast Asia are being massacred. These barbarous acts are being carried out by Neo-Nazi racist groups like the RNDP (Rakhine Nationalities Development Party), ALA (Arakan Liberation Army), NaSaKa border police and 969 monks led by Monk Wirathu, the self-proclaimed Bin Laden of Buddhism. The Government of Myanmar is at best ignoring the slaughter of these people, just like the rest of the international community, and at worst is participating in the crimes.

The Burmese military junta considers the Rohingya to be sub-human and denies them almost all basic human rights. Often, they are subject to torture, gang rape, starvation, slave labor, and have been forced to live in the most dire camps in the world – some call these refugee camps but they are concentration camps. Over the past few months, thousands of Rohingya have been encouraged onto boats and sent out to sea with not enough food or fuel, and left there to die. Some of the boats were attacked and sunk, with women and children on board.

Whilst the United States claims to defend human rights, their record clearly reflects a government that will only intercede when their business interests are threatened. While politicians occasionally pay lip service to the horrific conditions in Myanmar no effective action has been taken by the UN or the US.

The only people neglecting the situation in Myanmar worse than the U.S. are the 4th estate who consistently ignored these atrocities or report them as ’ethnic clashes’. Since they have failed to document these crimes in any way, I would consider the media to be complicit in concealing the situation from the rest of the world. The acts of genocide being committed against the Rohingya people must not be ignored. The Rohingya are now anticipating a third massacre in which the junta attempts to force them all out of Rakhine State until there are no Rohingya left in Burma.

 

The Hon Bill Shorten

Dear Mr Shorten,

It is clear that Minister Peter Dutton is trying to disperse as many people from the Manus Island prison as he can, even resorting to using the excuse of “medical treatment” when in fact medical support provided by IHMS has been criminally lacking on Manus island for years. Men are being flown in manacles, like criminals, to Port Moresby (POM) for so called medical care. Which BTW they are NOT receiving at the Pacific International hospital.

Some 100 men have been sent to POM, leaving 700 on Manus, these are not even the sickest of the cohort. No one seems to know the basis for the selection of the transferees although many fear that they will simply be dumped in POM and left to fend for themselves if they do not agree to return to their home countries, despite 86% of those who have been processed, being found to be genuine refugees. Some of the men have refused to participate in the process conducted by PNG Immigration as they do not trust it and do not think it is fair. As a result of refusing to co-operate these men have been automatically deemed to be non- refugees and have been earmarked by DIBP for deportation.

I believe that Dutton is now in full panic mode and is doing everything he can to hide the crimes he has committed whilst he has been the Minister for Immigration & Border Protection. On his watch 5 men have died on Manus island and 2 have died on Nauru by self-immolation. Countless other refugees have taken their own lives in Australia due to the harsh and punitive system that Dutton has established for refugees living in the community and in onshore detention centres. People are being kept on Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) for years, being unable to work or study, having to rely on charity and a meagre Government stipend and living in limbo and uncertainty. Never sure when the knock on the door is from DIBP telling them they are being deported without rhyme or reason purely at the whim of the Minister.

What is happening on Manus island, on Nauru and in Australia’s onshore detention centres is unspeakably cruel and inhumane and breaches Australia’s obligations under the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, The Rights of the Refugee, The Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture. Australia is a proud signatory to all but the last Convention against Torture, maybe if we were Dondale would not have happened.

Australia’s asylum seeker policy and offshore detention regime shames our country and ALL decent humane and thinking Australians. Ever since the Tampa affair during John Howard’s Prime Ministership and the children overboard LIE which was deliberately created for political advantage Australia has been travelling ever downwards to the abyss. Our asylum seeker and refugee policies are cruel, harsh and just plain wrong. It is TIME for a radical rethink!

Australia’s political prisoners on Manus and Nauru must be brought to Australia for resettlement. John Howard quietly resettled the refugees on Nauru during Pacific solution Mark 1. The sky did not fall in and no one comments on that fact. Let these poor people come here and settle so they can start to rebuild their lives. All they want is to be afforded protection and safety and to be given a chance to make a contribution to Australia.

These people have many talented and educated folk amongst them, one man even speaks 6 languages, one is a journalist/film maker, one is an award-winning cartoonist, one is an actor/comedian these people will be an asset to Australia just like all the refugees who came to this country before them.

It is TIME for Labor to join the Greens in calling for an end to indefinite offshore detention of asylum seekers and refugees. These people are Australia’s responsibility no one else’s. The LNP Government has been unable to find a realistic resettlement option for these asylum seekers in four long years. It is fairly obvious that the so-called refugee swap deal with the USA is a sham and a phoney and very few if any refugees are going to America. Those not accepted by the Trump administration, the vast majority, must be brought to Australia immediately to have their health restored.

Could Labor approach the commercial airlines who fly to the Middle east and Africa, such as QANTAS, Emirates, Qatar, Singapore airlines etc and ask that they refuse to participate in the Australian government’s illegal refouling of refugees to their countries of origin. If this LNP government and Minister for Immigration want to persist in refouling refugees they will just have to use the RAAF to do so.

When is Mr Shorten and his executive team with media in tow going to visit Manus island and Nauru to see conditions for themselves in a well-publicised effort to end this impasse?

The sound of silence: Vale Hamed

By Kyran O’Dwyer

Every so often, something catches your eye and prompts you to look a little deeper. After you see, you find you cannot un-see. After you hear, you find you cannot un-hear. When the sound of silence is disturbed it is, at best, disturbing.

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.”

The men detained on Manus commenced a protest on July 31, where they would gather in ‘Mike Compound’ at 2.00pm every day. Initial protests included chants for freedom, and vocal demands to bring power back. This was off the back of the PNG Court decision to close the camp on Manus and increasing speculation that the ‘deal’ with America was nothing more than a cynical political ploy to appease critics of various ‘resettlement’ proposals.

On the 4th August, the transcript of the phone call between Turnbull and Trump became public knowledge around the world. It detailed the cold harsh reality of the ‘deal’. It confirmed the speculation. This was nothing more than the illusion of action, the very hallmark of the Turnbull/Trump leaderships. All talk, puffery, illusion. No substance.

It was shortly after this time that those incarcerated on Nauru commenced protesting, asking for no more than some certainty about their future. They had, after all, been on Nauru for four years and it had been made abundantly clear, by the publication of the transcript, there was no prospect of resettlement in a third country.

On the 7th August, the body of Hamed Shamshiripour was found. Our government is doing everything in its power to make sure the circumstances will not be investigated.

Whilst that in itself is disgraceful, the reality is it is neither of concern or consequence to our government.

What changed on Manus after Mr Shamshiripour’s needless death reminded me of the image of a lone protester in Tiananmen Square in 1989. You know the one. The lone protester standing in front of four tanks. The picture that encapsulated the very essence of both ‘futility’ and ‘hope’.

And Courage. Silent. Defiant. Courage.

The men on Manus continued to gather every day at 2.00pm in ‘Mike Compound’, but, since August 7, they have been silent. On Nauru, ‘Silence’ has become the theme for their protests as well. All of these people are yelling the obvious by their silence. Our government will not tolerate them, or their stories, being heard.

Silent. Defiant. Courage.

This is the narrative of despair. This is the situation our government has established and remains committed to. And, no. I am completely uninterested in any conversation about which political party is worse. The fact is our government has been doing this for four years.

Not satisfied with this deplorable situation, our government announced ‘new’ measures. Back in May, Dutton revealed an insidious plan:

“At 9.38am on Sunday 21 May 2017, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton revealed his worst attack on refugees.

He said asylum seekers living in the Australian community had until 1 October to file applications for protection, failing which they would be or they will be denied Government payments, subject to removal from Australia, and banned from re-entering the country. There are about 7,500 people in the community who are affected by this edict.”

This plan had the desired effect. Refugee advocates were stretched to breaking point, having to find money and suitably qualified people to assist with the ramped up time line.

How could that get worse? Only Dutton could find a way. Deprive those who had been brought to Australia from Manus and Nauru for medical treatment the most meagre of government support, make them reliant on the assistance of concerned individuals and groups, make their very existence on Australian soil untenable. Offer up an unconscionable choice. Return to incarceration on an island prison or return to the very harm you risked your life fleeing.

Depravity. There cannot be any other word for it.

On Thursday, August 31, was a post on the ASRC Facebook page.

“We were so blown away by this.

Walid, a refugee on Manus wanted to donate $30 to our Let Them Stay Appeal (the $30 just came thru) to provide 2 nights of housing for refugees. How selfless when you’re without freedom and safety yourself.

We need men like this in Australia.”

When Walid saw the post on the ASRC Facebook page, he responded.

“Dear Kon Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) I was really inspired by your generosity. I would say you are an angel. And im really thankful to your whole team and all those lovely and kind people who donate, for their kindness, compassion and love. That’s called humanity.

I was really happy when i saw you are collecting donation for my friends who will lose their welfare in next couple of weeks, i couldn’t stop my tears that time and i was thinking i should donate what i have.

I wish i could do more but…”

The result of the interchange is worth a look, if you can find the time.

So, who is Walid? What sort of a man could endure all of this, yet retain his compassion, his humanity, his decency? It came as a surprise that this is not his first contribution.
In April, 2017, Mr Walid Zazai penned a statement which was read to a Palm Sunday protest. This is an excerpt:

“After four years we have GAINED the ability to see right through the lies, deceit, and indifference of the people in charge of making the policies that have held us here. The Australian government says they are stopping the boats and they are saving lives at sea.

These are lies that cover the whole of the truth.

People are still dying at sea. It is simply that Australia is pushing the boats out of its waters. But what they are really doing is slowly killing us day by day.

Are our lives not worth saving?

We have LOST friends here.

We lost Reza Berati when he was murdered.

We lost Hamid Kehazei to a simple infection from a cut on his foot.

We lost Kamil Hussain who sadly drowned whilst swimming.

And most recently, during the celebration of Christmas, we lost Faysal Ishak Ahmed because his medical condition was given no care.

But … we have also lost friends we made with those who have worked at the detention facility. Some kind workers have been ripped from their jobs because they treated us kindly.

And in 2017 we have lost friends who have either been forced, or made to sign deals to be sent back to their homelands. Sent back to danger … back to the same situation they needed to flee.

All of these friends we have lost because of a system that refuses to look at the people behind the problem.

And finally … we have gained a small but precious army of people who care.

Thank you to our advocates and friends.

Thank you to the people who act … who are writing to their MP’s and talking to their friends to share the injustice of this place.

Thank you to the religions who take the love for your neighbour seriously.

Thank you to the people who know the equality in humanity and act upon it.

You have empowered us and given us a small voice.

Please let me finish by asking you to keep speaking for us, to yell for us, to scream for us.

Please keep putting peaceful, but loud, democratic pressure on the people who hold our freedom in their hard hands.

To the Australian Government … please consider our lives as important and end the pain detention inflicts upon us.

Please bring us to Australia, we will make it our home, we will give you our hearts and we, with every action, we will show our thanks.

Thanks so much for listening. Take care.”

Our mindless, heartless, brutal government considers spending $1,500 a night to warehouse people on island prisons is a suitable price for their silence. Even worse, our mindless, heartless, brutal government considers the same ‘thirty pieces of silver’ will be sufficient price for our silence.

That our government (comprising nothing more than politicians) is deaf, other than to the voices in their own head (be it a faction, a benefactor or an ideology), seems, to me, to be inarguable. How we, the people, get to be heard, in between elections, escapes me. What do these politicians need to see or hear to remind them they are here to serve us, not vice versa?

The voices of Mr Zazai, Mr Boochani, indeed, all of those we are warehousing on Manus and Nauru, need to be heard. Their silent defiant courage needs to be acknowledged. And applauded. That it may encourage those of us in Australia to pay more careful heed to what this government is doing is an aspiration worthy of consideration.

This is not an abstract or isolated issue. It is yet another example of our government’s inability to listen to anything other than the voices in their own head. There is no escaping the many issues that need urgent attention, whether it be the environment, health, education, due legal process, DV, equality, treaty. Way too many to list. That the issues are difficult goes without saying. How we get our government to pay attention escapes me.

But being quiet, being silent, is not an option:

“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence”

Like the image of the lone protester in front of the tanks, Mr Zazai’s words paint a picture of human qualities that define the very best of us. The ‘blindness’, the ‘deafness’, of our government is no excuse for being ‘silent’, in any of its manifestations.

It seems only fair to close by citing Mr Zazai:

“Please let me finish by asking you to keep speaking for us, to yell for us, to scream for us.

Please keep putting peaceful, but loud, democratic pressure on the people who hold our freedom in their hard hands.”

If only Turnbull had some authority

Yesterday, the High Court ruled it was lawful for the Federal Government to go ahead with a voluntary, non-binding public opinion poll on whether all consenting adult couples in Australia should have the right to marry. The tax-payer funded survey will cost $122 million and will have no direct effect on legal rights.

Instead, the faux-plebiscite, will record how many Australians can be bothered to tick a box on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and deliver it to a letterbox to find its way back to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While Australians will be given the opportunity to select YES or NO to the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” the very nature of a voluntary, paper-based survey is deeply problematic.

As Malcolm Turnbull said himself in 1997, before he lost what was left of his credibility:

“The voluntary postal voting method … flies in the face of Australian democratic values. …It is likely to ensure that not only will a minority of Australians vote, but also that large sections of the community will be disfranchised.”

The faux-plebiscite was the brain-child of habitual human-rights-violator, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. After the Senate twice voted down the legislatively authorised version, the Turnbull Government opted to subvert democracy by putting to the people a non-compulsory ballot. It will have no value other than to subject gay Australians to lengthy public debate on their worth in society, including hateful propaganda and threats of violence.

The postal vote is an obvious attempt by the far-right conservatives in the Liberal Party, to delay marriage equality for as long as possible. Not satisfied with being able to publicly register their disapproval of same-sex marriage in a free parliamentary vote, they intend to expose gay Australians to months of homophobic rhetoric before the inevitable change occurs.

Successive statistically valid polls have demonstrated repeatedly that a majority of Australians, which now includes a majority of Catholics and other people of faith, support marriage equality. Yet Turnbull persists with a voluntary paper-based survey – the results of which can be ignored by Government, and which bears the real risk that ambivalent and busy supporters will fail to lodge a vote, if they receive a ballot paper at all.

This postal survey should not be happening.

But it is. And now all Australians who support fairness and equality must ensure the YES vote wins.

Papers will begin to be mailed out on Tuesday, 12 September 2017, and should be posted back to the ABS no later than Friday, 27 October 2017. Votes received after Tuesday, 7 November 2017 will not be counted.

The survey may not be compulsory, and it is certainly unnecessary, but failing to participate will play right into the hands of those who seek to deny equal rights to LGBTI couples.

All Australians can show support for the YES campaign by following Australian Marriage Equality and GetUp! and involving themselves in the suggested actions.

But most importantly, all eligible voters can show support, by voting YES on the postal survey as soon as it arrives. And once the YES box is ticked, take the form to a post box and mail it back to the ABS to be counted.

 

“It’s not Fair” (In support of marriage equality) – A Lily Allen parody by Eva Cripps and Kim Phillips

Lyrics: E Cripps; Vocals: K Phillips; Backing track from YouTube channel “Lily Allen – Instrumentals and Acapellas”

 

Gay Marriage or Marriage Equality, the words you choose matter

By Alison @TurnLeft2017

Imagine you walk into a pub, and a sign behind the bar says Whites Only. You point out to the barstaff “hang on, that’s racist”. The barstaff looks, takes the sign down, and makes an adjustment Whites and Blacks only, and you are told “see, now it isn’t racist”. Of course it is, we all know the sign should say “Everyone welcome, all served”.

That is the situation the current debate on marriage is in. When people talk about “gay” marriage or “same sex” marriage, that is not the same as marriage equality.

Look at who is using the terms “gay” or “same sex” marriage – Tony Abbott, Lyle Sheldon, the No people. They are making the postal survey a pseudo debate about the rights of gay people in general.

Apparently ABC have told their on air-staff to not use the words “marriage equality”, as that is politically biased, and they must use “same sex” marriage instead – how is that any less politically biased?

Detouring here, to remember a recent public debate that engulfed the nation, a debate which hung on choice of words and led to the downfall of a government. CARBON TAX versus CARBON PRICE. The very first time Tony Abbott said the words “carbon tax” and no one corrected him, was the moment that ALP lost the 2013 election. Peta Credlin came out recently and said the choice to use TAX was deliberate, and inaccurate. I told an ALP politician at the time, why did he say “carbon tax” when it wasn’t a tax. His response was when people see it working they won’t care what it is called. Grr, of course they will, people don’t want to pay more tax than they should. At the time I noticed one ABC on-air presenter start to say “carbon pri-” then stopped and change it to “carbon tax”. I believe (and have no proof) that staff were told to use the words “carbon tax” as a political choice, even though they must have known it was not a tax. Words matter.

When media organisations use “same sex” marriage, when celebrities and campaigners say “gay” marriage, they are making a political choice because they know those words have an impact.

Words we choose frame the debate. The word tax instead of price brought down a government. Will the focus on gay instead of equality crash the marriage equality postal survey?

Many people who support marriage equality continue to use the words “gay marriage”, and I ask them: how will gay marriage be any different to straight peoples’ marriage? The answer is, it won’t. There is no special category of “gay marriage” created the same but different – that is the point, it is about equality.

People like Tony Abbott say “gay marriage” instead of “marriage equality” because they want the discussion to focus on gay people, not whether the current marriage act is discriminatory. Tony Abbott launched out of the starting blocks of the postal opinion poll saying it was about freedom of religion (how, I would like to know, does who I marry or don’t marry affects in any way his ability to practice his religion), freedom of speech, political correctness. It is about none of these things, nor is it about gender rights, or Safe Schools, or what kids wear to school, procreation or adoption – these are deliberate distractions.

Marriage equality is about removing the discriminatory language from the marriage act, not about who can get married.

Studies have shown when presented with changing the marriage act in terms of discrimination and equality a larger percent of people say it should change than when it is presented in terms of gay rights. Removing discrimination is never about giving one group special rights. As it stands now, only the hetero couples have special rights.

Marriage is a legal contract, and the exclusion of a segment of society from being legally able to enter that contract is as discriminatory as if I refused to hire a woman in my business, rent a room in my building to a Jew, sell a house to a Polish person, or provide medical services to a red head.

When women got the vote, it didn’t suddenly become “women’s vote”, when interracial marriage was no longer criminalised, it didn’t suddenly become “black and white marriage”, it was the same marriage. Removing discrimination from the marriage act as it is now won’t make it “gay”, it will just make it “marriage”.

There is a difference between allowing gay people to get married and remove the barriers that prevent gay people from marrying, or transgender or intersex. The focus on gay or same sex couples doesn’t address transgender or intersex or non-binary and is just as narrow and limiting.

Marriage as it currently stands is limited to one man and one woman. Changing those words to “two consenting adults” means the marriage act is no longer defined by gender. Campaigners are not asking for the marriage to be changed to “one man and one woman or one man and one man or one woman and one woman”. It is about equality regardless of gender of both people.

So next time you find yourself saying “gay” marriage or “same sex” marriage instead of marriage equality, that is what the No people want, they want this to be about everything not just marriage to muddy the waters of debate.

As Ricky Gervais famously said: “Same sex marriage is not gay privilege, it’s equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes. Like churches don’t.”

*Note, at this time no-one knows what the question will be. The assumption is Yes will mean marriage equality. But Australia remembers John Howard gaming the republic question.

Manus death ‘cover up’ unacceptable

Media Release from the National Justice Project

Manus death ‘cover up’ unacceptable – Bring the body here.

The family of an Iranian asylum seeker found dead on Manus Island is demanding the Australian Government launch a vigorous and transparent investigation into his death.

Hamed Shamshiripour’s body was found in bushland near the island’s Australian-run transit centre on Monday 7 August. Local authorities are treating the death as a suspected suicide.

Australia Border Force was consistently warned that the 31 year old was dealing with severe mental health challenges for at least a year before his death.

National Justice Project lawyer Adjunct Professor George Newhouse, who is acting for the Shamshiripour family, said the truth must come out.

“Make no mistake, this is a death in custody and the Australian Government is responsible,” Adj/Professor Newhouse said.

“It might have happened in Manus, not Manly, but it’s still on our watch.”

“We need to know how Hamed died and why the Australian government didn’t act to keep him alive when they knew about his fragile state.”

Newhouse says the Shamshiripour family want the body bought to Australia so an independent forensic pathologist can examine Hamed’s body and so that a Coroner can call an inquest here.

“The government knew that Hamed was subjected to assaults and beatings as a result of his mental health battles. Things got so bad that leading advocates demanded that the government take action before he was murdered or took his own life”.

“We need an inquest in Australia because of our government’s role in his death and because foul play has not been ruled out. We know that witnesses have described markings on the body that are inconsistent with suicide and these must be investigated”.

Australian witnesses would not be summoned to an inquest in PNG.

“We also know that relations between locals and refugees on Manus have become increasingly hostile, with the beatings, machete attacks and violent robberies of refugees on the Island becoming routine”

The family are also demanding  that top Australian government officials come clean on what they knew of Hamed’s fragile state even if that means being answerable at a PNG inquest.

Adj/Professor Newhouse says the Shamshiripour family’s requests should be respected. “They want our government to commit to a transparent and vigorous investigation about their role in the failure to treat or care for Hamed’s illness before his body is returned to them.”

“If any Australian mother lost their son in similar circumstances we’d leave no stone unturned searching for the truth.”

“The government owes the Shamshiripour family the truth and indeed they owe it to the Australian public.”

Avenging the King of Iran: The Fate of Hamed Shamshiripour

“The only responsible and humane thing for our government to do is immediately evacuate every single man on Manus, every single family and child on Nauru to safety on Australia” (Daniel Webb, Human Rights Law Centre, Aug 7, 2017).

Murder comes in various forms. It can be directly inflicted. It can be willed and directed from afar. It can also be the consequence of conditions planned, fostered, enacted. This sequential logic results in one dark conclusion: Australian refugee policy, spearheaded by the dreary, monotone immigration minister, Peter Dutton, is murderous. At the very least, it suggests complicity in manslaughter.

The gulag recipe for treating refugees and asylum seekers was always going to be an exercise in carceral brutality, a democratic state’s totalitarian alternative. Anyone familiar with the basic texts of criminology would have had a nodding acquaintance with the effects of incarceration, notably on those who did not, in fact, commit any crime. And here, the populations on Manus Island and Nauru face the sense of being punished for crimes they did not commit.

In the case of Manus, another dimension has come into play. The imminent closure of the rogue Australian outpost, funded by the Australian tax payer and deemed illegal by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court, has sent various asylum seekers into a state.

A situation of disturbance has been compounded, heaped upon by diplomatic machinations. The US-Australia refugee deal, mocked and derided by US president Donald Trump, haunts detainees. As does the prospect of resettlement in another country, most likely one hostile and ill-suited.

One of these broken figures was the late Hamed Shamshiripour, who on Monday was found dead in the vicinity of East Lorengau refugee transit centre on Manus Island after having gone missing on Saturday.

In the aftermath, police were already clear: the death was occasioned by suicide. But Inspector David Yapu initially confirmed that a crime scene had been declared, a point at odds with Papua New Guinea police commissioner Gary Baki. The body sported wounds, though news outlets seemed short on detail. Another outlet, news.com.au, noted that he had been “found hanging from a tree”. Shamshiripour’s family, sensing another hand in this, have demanded an autopsy followed by an inquest into the cause, timing and circumstances of his demise.

His state had caught the eye of those working on Manus, not to mention a few detainees themselves. The eloquent Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee and journalist held in the improvised prison since 2013, emitted on Twitter that a letter had been sent to authorities “stating [Shamshiripour] needs medical treatment.” The authorities, Boochani was clear, “did not care.”

Professor George Newhouse of the National Justice Project, an entity acting for the Shamshiripour family, explained that his ailing condition “had been monitored by Border Force and was known to Comcover”. This knowledge “implicated” Australia’s leaders in the death.

Human rights advocates had been busy on the warning circuit for months, using virtually every medium imaginable in attempting to convince the Immigration Department that the late Shamshiripour was “at risk”, being in an “unstable state” and showing “erratic and unpredictable behaviour”.

Case managers and guards also mucked in, observing his “erratic switching between crying, laughing, and declarations such as announcing himself as ‘King of Iran’ and then playing so in character.” The tireless Dr Barri Phatarfod from Doctors for Refugees similarly reiterated that a year of warnings had passed in an effort to have Shamshiripour moved to the Australian mainland, furnishing the Australian network, SBS, with a letter of concern from August 6, 2016.

Dr John Brayley, chief medical officer of that outfit of sinister import, the Australian Border Force, was privy to the steep decline in Shamshiripour’s health over a year ago. “Thank you for your recent email correspondence indicating your concern in relation to Mr Shamshiripour’s mental health management,” wrote Brayley to an unspecified inquirer in August 2016. “We had received advice about his current health care but recent events have overtaken this.”

The matter was given a bureaucratic, rather than mental appraisal. “Our office is seeking a copy of his file, in particular to review his mental health records.” This is the Australian camp apparatus in glorious operation, one unswervingly dedicated to cruelty above compassion and dispensation. When caught in a fix, bury the matter. When confronted with an awful truth, review it interminably till it, hopefully, vanishes. True to form, Brayley has refused to accept interviews while the Department of Immigration and Border Protection remains stonily mute.

Left with few devices other than grief and channelled indignation, Shamshiripour’s family held a vigil in Gachsaran for their lost one. But their determination to sniff out a paper trail on accountability is clear. In Newhouse’s words, “the family want justice and they want those responsible to be held accountable even if that goes all the way to the prime minister and the minister for immigration.” The self-proclaimed King of Iran will be avenged.

Dr Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed on Twitter at @bkampmark.

 

Being a transracial adoptee: a unique perspective on racism

Disclaimer: New Zealand artist Gabby Malpas is a transracial adoptee of Chinese descent. She “followed the herd” to the UK in 1989 and lived there for 14 years, before emigrating to Australia in 2003. She became an Australian citizen in 2017.

It is only recently at 48 years of age that Malpas started coming “out of the adoption fog”. She is now 51. Malpas met her birth mother when she was 38, however it has only been in the past few years that she has begun to process her life experiences and understand why race and racist incidents are such a big deal for her. She doesn’t hold herself up as blameless or without racial prejudice of her own but she is putting energy into developing empathy and awareness and trying to keep a sense of humour about it all.

All in all Malpas says she is living a fantastic life. She has had opportunities and adventures most only dream about and she grasps every day with both hands as an artist, because that is what she does and has been working towards for over 30 years. Her reason for opening up about racism is to help other transracial adoptees coming after her. The world is a different place to the one Malpas grew up in and she had to find her own way. She believes that if sharing her experiences helps someone else, it is worth it.

Malpas says she is still learning how not to be a dick.

Being a transracial adoptee: a unique perspective on racism

If there is one thing guaranteed to cause a frenzy of outrage and defensive indignation, it’s an accusation of racism. Mainstream and social media erupts with analysis, condemnation and fury over the alleged insults; both the derogatory slur and being labelled a racist.

Throughout it all, tempers flare. Equally adversarial personalities argue over which “human right” takes precedence; the right to freedom of speech, or the right to be free from racial abuse, while other commentators question if everyone is being just a tad oversensitive, or if it’s another case of “political correctness gone mad”. And then the media cycle moves on, and a new outrage gains prominence. Racism is yesterday’s news.

Yet the lives of people of colour aren’t dictated by populist trends. Personal attacks based on skin colour and ethnic origin don’t stop once racism is out of the spotlight. There is no reprieve for those subjected to a lifetime of insults, harassment or abuse on the basis of who they are.

For New Zealand artist Gabby Malpas, this is an exhausting experience. As a transracial adoptee of Chinese descent born in the ‘60s, Malpas has seen countless media cycles bring racism to the forefront of people’s minds. However, the voices of those most intimately affected by racist sentiment are often overlooked in favour of the loudest commentators “being offended on behalf of ‘brown’ people” or insisting that “brown’ people choose to take offence”.

Malpas’s upbringing has given her a unique perspective on racism. One of ten children in a “white” family, she was raised exactly the same as her siblings, and received no special recognition of her Asian ancestry. This, of course, means that she has a keen understanding of western culture, mentality and expectations.

Yet Asian race-hate was rife across western nations in the sixties and seventies, and as a child, Malpas became increasingly aware of the different way she was seen and treated in the community. She was subject to daily bullying and taunts, something her family and friends did not understand, acknowledge or even vaguely appreciate. Malpas quickly learned that no one was interested in hearing about the racial slurs and abuse; in fact, no one believed her experiences were racially motivated. She was dismissed, told to ignore it, or disbelieved.

This pattern of having her experiences ignored and dismissed became a familiar occurrence, and continued long into adulthood. Malpas learned to expect it, just as she learned that she would be subject to racism. She found she was constantly in “attack mode”, attempting to preempt and prepare for the next wave of abuse. Yet whenever she tried to change how she reacted, another incident would occur; being racially attacked, followed by dismissal and denial by those around her, and the cycle would begin again.

It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that the extent of the difference between how she expected she would be treated, having been raised in New Zealand in a “white family”, and how she was treated, on the basis of her Asian appearance, finally became clear in her mind.

Malpas recounts a shocking example; in her early twenties, she embarked on a backpacking holiday in South East Asia with a male friend. Her recollection is vivid, but she now understands the cultural reaction: “In my naive and culturally ignorant eyes I should have been treated with the respect given to white tourists – yet in many places I was seen as a prostitute because I was an Asian with a white male.”

This wasn’t an isolated incident, and was just one of many distressing situations Malpas found herself in where she was judged and treated differently to her friends and family based on racial stereotypes. Malpas came to realise that her “life experiences were not, are not, and never will be the same” as her adopted family.

For people of colour, “racism” isn’t a buzzword, it isn’t a hot topic, it doesn’t provide a chance to bemoan the loss of freedom of speech or congratulate oneself on the nation’s “tolerance and acceptance of diversity”. Yet for many “white” Australians, it is unfathomable that they, or their friends, may be complicit in defending, condoning or supporting racism.

For people of colour, racism is reality. It is something they experience with weary regularity. It forms a part of their lives from which there is no escape, no matter how much people tell them to “lighten up”, “take a joke”, “just get over it” or “stop playing ‘victim’”.

Still, public discourse focusses on superficial questions: “Is Australia a racist nation?”, “Is it racist to call an Indigenous man an ape?”, “Is racism an issue in contemporary society?”

The time for “debating” these topics is long gone, if there ever was a time. However there is still fierce denial from many in the community, who cannot come to terms with Australia’s racist history, or accept that racism still exists. They fall back on the narrative that as Australia is a multiculturally diverse and “tolerant” nation, it cannot possibly be racially motivated when people of colour experience abuse.

Racism exists in every culture, and it is just as deeply embedded in Australian society, culture and language as any other nation. The Government and institutions unrepentantly support racist policies: The proposed Citizenship law changes impact disproportionately on people of colour and are a thinly veiled return to a White Australia policy (which only ended in 1973), the Northern Territory Intervention, where the Army was sent in to an Indigenous community and paternalistic controls set in place, occurred just ten years ago. Indigenous Australians were only recognised and counted as “people” in 1967.

It has taken Malpas almost her whole life to understand her relationship with race and identity, and how her life experience has shaped her. The reality is, and always was, that she is different. She was never truly equal to her “white” contemporaries and her experiences have been tinged by colour. She is different too, to Asians who have grown up in their own families or culture. Malpas identifies that the experiences of transracial adoptees is so unique that they are generally only understood by other transracial adoptees.

Malpas says self-denial played a huge part in her life. She couldn’t identify as “white”, but she didn’t identify as “Asian”. And Malpas didn’t want to be “Asian”; Asian women were portrayed in the media as “sexy and submissive or conniving”, and Asian men as “weak”. Her family had no concept of what it was like to be “Asian”, and no understanding of Malpas’s personal experiences. She felt isolated, and in her struggle to find her place, participated in self-deprecating banter to “get in first” with the inevitable racist “jokes”, if only to show she wasn’t really one of “them”.

Malpas believes that social media has been brilliant at exposing racist behaviour and actions. Smartphones capture incidents as they happen, in all the terrible, distressing detail, and the images and videos may be widely shared. Malpas feels validated and heartened by the community calling out incidences of racism and stepping up to denounce it as unacceptable.

But with so many people still in denial that racism is present, and many who don’t understand what constitutes racist behaviour, there is a long way to go. Even more so when the Government, media and other institutions openly support division in the community. In the past month alone, a Sky News’ Outsiders program presenter told the Government appointed Race Discrimination Commissioner,  Dr Tim Soutphommasane, to “go back to Laos” (he was born in France). Last month, another veteran broadcaster, Red Symons, asked ABC journalist and radio producer, Beverley Wang, “what’s the deal with Asians” and if she was “yellow”. Senator Pauline Hanson has built a political platform on divisive policies.

However, unless a person has personally experienced racially motivated abuse, many find it hard to recognise and identify racism. Consequently, they fail to appreciate the impact a seemingly minor incident can have on a person, and how dismissal over the incident can add to distress.

But what counts as racist? Who gets to decide what is offensive?

Malpas believes that a good starting point is to “let the ‘brown’ people decide”. And then, most importantly, listen to what they say; if a “brown” person says it is offensive, believe them.

The lived experience of people of colour shows that racism comes in many forms. It may be calling someone a “nigger” or “dirty Abo”, or saying “go back to where you came from, you yellow c***”. It may be as subversive as subtly reminding a person that they are an “other”, for example, by using a person’s individual name as an identifier for a whole race, or assuming that an Asian in a “white” household is the “nanny”.

It might be in the form of a micro-aggression, for example, by declaring, “I’m not racist, my friend is brown/yellow/black”, “You should know what that is – you’re Asian,” or by playing on the fetishization of a race, for example, by only dating a person of colour when it’s fashionable to have a “cute Asian girlfriend”.

Malpas is encouraged by the rise in awareness of racism. Yet when it comes to comment and debate, she says it is crucial to listen to people of colour and acknowledge that the experiences of people of colour are not the same as a “white” majority in western nations.

Structural inequality is deeply embedded. While simplistic “colourblind” mantras, for example, that “all races matter, we are all one race; the human race,” may be well-meaning, they ignore the reality that people of colour have far greater challenges to overcome than others in the community due to systematic and institutionalised discrimination.

Current generations are still impacted by the inequality, abuse and state-sanctioned controls exercised over their parents, grandparents, extended family and ancestors. This is particularly the case where indigenous people were captured, murdered and deliberately dehumanised, or in the case of African Americans, imported and bred for slavery. The trauma, passed from one generation to the next, is still very real today.

Malpas talks honestly about her experiences with racism and her isolation until connecting with other transracial adoptees three years ago. The connection with others with similar experience has lessened her feelings of isolation. She believes that promoting inclusiveness and diversity through acknowledgment of difference will have a far greater impact in combating the never-ending cycle of racist abuse than resorting to idealistic principles of “oneness”.

For Malpas, coming to terms with her past has been a lengthy, thought-provoking experience. She uses her art to express her feelings about race, culture and identity in “lavish and beautiful images”. Sensitive subjects are explored in an engaging and respectful way. Her art is a gentle response to being silenced and a subtle reminder for people to listen to those who have a story to share. It took her 48 years to begin to make art about her life experiences that communicated the way she wanted; with “love, respect and a little bit of humour”.

When Malpas was growing up, very little support existed for transracially adopted children and their families. Now she provides some support to the next generation of young people by volunteering her time, skills and experience. Her reason for opening up about racism is to help the next generation of transracial adoptees and their families.

In addition to being a professional artist, Malpas runs art workshops, including monthly sessions for adolescent Chinese adoptees with the FCCA (Families with Children from China). She is on the advisory committee of the NSW Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC), part of the Benevolent Society, is actively involved in adoption groups such as Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) and is the “down under” ambassador for the Peace Through Prosperity Foundation. Malpas speaks at adoption and art events and meetings, and provides personal support to other transracial adoptees. She also donates art to charities on a regular basis, including the Cancer Council, Epilepsy Action Australia, Thompson Reuters, and Wheelchair Sports NSW.

Malpas’s story is important not only for other transracial adoptees. Her experience and observations also provide insight into what the broader community can do to lessen the divide and limit the impact of harmful public debate:

Listen before you speak. When calling someone out on racist behaviour, consider, are you speaking your own mind, or are you amplifying the voices of those who are personally impacted? Listen to the stories, accept history and acknowledge the distress and anxiety caused by repeated race-based attacks. Show empathy, kindness and understanding. Listen.

“The worst day of my life”

By Kyran O’Dwyer

“Malcolm Turnbull has defended the government’s border protection policies as protesters gathered outside the London venue hosting an award ceremony for the prime minister.

Mr Turnbull received the Disraeli prize for 2017 from the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange on Monday night.

Protest leader Lizzie O’Shea told AAP: “We are here to protest Malcolm Turnbull receiving an award for his immigration policy because we think that the immigration policy that Australia has is inhumane and unfair and treats people like animals, locking them up indefinitely offshore and around Australia and we think it needs to end.”

The prize presented by British Home Secretary Amber Rudd in part honours Mr Turnbull for “maintaining Australia’s non-discriminatory immigration program”.

Mr Turnbull said in his speech to the forum the government’s policy had saved lives and taxpayers dollars.” (The Weekend Australian, July 11, 2013).

No. This is not fake news. It’s real. Mr Turnbull received an award based on a lie. And in his speech, he uttered more lies.

This is the man, for want of a better word, who is currently overseeing the ‘rehousing’ of those on Manus. This is a process where the current housing of those men in our care is demolished and they are moved into an environment that is known to be unsafe for them.

This is the man, for want of a better word, who is currently overseeing the indefinite incarceration of those men, women and children in our care on Nauru, without charge or conviction.

This is the man, for want of a better word, who ‘made a deal’ with the Americans, only to watch the deal collapse, as the Americans have already taken in their quota.

This is the man, for want of a better word, who has overseen the imposition of an arbitrary date for asylum seekers in Australia to submit their applications, 1st October, whilst disabling their avenues of making such applications.

Four years of this barbaric policy

I turn to Facebook for the words of someone who has lived through this hell:

’19th July. The worst day of my life’

“As an architecture graduate, I look at art in geometric forms, with volume, colors and visual elements harmoniously combined. My inspiration comes from my favourite style Cubism and complimented by expressionism, abstract and modern art.

I usually draw portraits with aspects of the person’s life, textured, hidden and incorporated into their personal story. Their dreams, sadness, loves, hope, happiness flow throughout the drawing.

I’ve painted ’19th July’ to show my own story about trying to seek asylum in Australia and instead of finding safety, I am faced with 19th July 2013 policy, of no hope in limbo, told “You will never make Australia home”.

In this painting the only thing which is in realism is ocean. Because everything that I’ve seen during my travelling is based on lies, but the ocean was real and true. The words 19 July tattooed on the top of the canvas same as in my mind.

The fences on both sides of the ocean, shows a woman is stuck behind the bars, watching the ocean. The sun is brightening in her eyes and in front of her lips. The anchor has broken her heart, because she is stopped at a wrong place.

The hands reach for the sun, a symbol of warmth to catch the freedom of getting to Australia, are coming out from the ocean, Instead of catching the sun, those people are drowning in the ocean.

With fire behind the fences, the spiral gets closer to itself, getting more alone and cloistered, until he sets himself on fire.

There are thoughts of making fire in the woman’s mind, but also some brightness of sun that shows that some hopes still remain and stop her from making fire. In front of her face is an angry man who made the 19 July policy. His bruise face and his compressed teeth shows how he hates the woman because she is an asylum seeker.

The 19 July is the worst day of many people’s lives”.

To see the poster and this comment – visit the Free the Children NAURU Facebook page. To read some of their misery and marvel at their fortitude, visit freethechildrennauru.com.

The 19th July marks the four year anniversary of this barbaric policy. Since then, we have added more and more penalties, hoops and hurdles to people whose only ‘crime’ was to seek safety, asylum. That many of them were escaping from Australian bombs is regarded as little more than irony by our politicians.

The facts are that these people, in our custody, in our care, are doomed. The ones housed in our Gulags have no prospect of being ‘integrated’ into the communities on Manus and Nauru. They have no prospect of a ‘third’ country accepting them. Cambodia was a sham, America just an impossible dream, New Zealand a forbidden fruit. Those in Australia already are being further tormented with the prospect of being returned to their persecutors. Non-refoulement be damned.

GetUp has organised vigils around Australia on the 19th July. The links below show various venues:

https://www.communityrun.org/calendars/evacuatenow-nationwide-vigils

https://www.amnesty.org.au/evacuatenow-vigils-list/#EvacuateNow nationwide vigils

https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/refugees/evacuatenow/four-years-too-many-evacuatenow-national-vigils?t=1KkyTz2m

The purpose of this post isn’t to decry the policy or demean the perpetrators. These actions are simply inexplicable in any civilised society.

The purpose of the post is to simply state the obvious.

We need to bring them here, now.

Who watches the watchers?

Media Release

Aboriginal citizen journalists to use social media to hold police accountable and make communities safer.

A new program has been launched to run training in Aboriginal communities about using mobile phones to document harassment by authorities.

The project known as “Copwatch” has been developed by the National Justice Project (NJP), a human rights law firm, in response to complaints about over-policing and police abuses in Aboriginal communities. The NJP is currently seeking crowdfunding in order to send human rights lawyers and media professionals to deliver trainining on using mobile phone technology,  social media and the law around safely filming police interactions and other authority figures. Over $20,000 has already been raised in over a week, and the campaign shared over 8000 times on social media.

Training will be provided on invitation only basis, with several Aboriginal communities already expressing strong interest in participating.

Darumbal woman and journalist Amy McQuire said:

Over the course of my career in journalism, I have spoken to countless First Nations people who have been left deeply affected by police brutality and over-policing in their communities.”

“There are historical reasons why there is such a tense relationship between Aboriginal people and police, and it is not going to be solved by tokenistic platitudes and the occasional ‘good cop’. There needs to be justice. There has never been one police officer convicted over a black death in custody, and this is keenly felt across Aboriginal Australia. Copwatch is one way we can begin to help inform Aboriginal communities of their rights, and will give us the tools to keep the police accountable, and help make our communities safer,” said McQuire.

End Black Deaths in Custody campaigner Shaun Harris said: “I hope that Copwatch will educate and empower our community to enforce rights that everybody has in this country. Anything that amplifies the voices of Aboriginal peoples can only be regarded as positive and part of getting justice for my niece Ms Dhu.”

Marwari man Des Jones who heads up the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly in Western NSW states:

we hear a lot about zero tolerance on crime, Aboriginal peoples need to start having zero tolerance on racism entrenched in government, non-government and industry. We need to use all legal and political avenues available to expose and eradicate racism and abuse, and to bring perpetrators to justice.

National Justice Project Principal Solicitor George Newhouse said “Copwatch is a project that has been a long time coming. For years, Aboriginal communities have cried out against abuses and the prejudices of government officials – and the response has been apathetic.

This is not about attacking police. It is about the equal application of the rule of law. The law is applied with great severity to Aboriginal people – as demonstrated by their high incarceration rates. Many Aboriginal people see their treatment at the hands of our authorities as unfair when the law is not applied equally to those who enforce it. It may be that some complaints against police are unjustified. When video evidence is provided of these interactions, we will all have a better sense of what communal/police relations are really like and whether the police are willing to hold their own accountable.”

About the National Justice Project

The National Justice Project is a not for profit legal service. We combine strategic legal action with effective advocacy to advance human rights and social justice in Australia and in the Pacific Region.

For further information please visit our website – www.justice.org.au.

We have failed the First Australians

“Her paintings have been exhibited in Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and Milan. But in her old age, renowned Aboriginal artist Kathleen Ngale lives on a mattress outdoors, unable to walk, kept warm during cold desert winter nights by about a dozen dogs who sleep alongside her.” (ABC article; “Utopia: Aboriginal elderly sleeping on ground with dogs amid calls for improved aged care“, by Neda Vanovac).

Isn’t it appalling, saddening, disgraceful that an Australian lives like that? Many do. They might be young or old, from whatever walk of life, or from whatever culture. I do not know who they are. But Kathleen Ngale is an Aboriginal Australian, and I have some understanding of the history that put her where she is today.

I once heard a comment that went something like this: “The aspirations of Aboriginal Australians are expressed through a political system designed, first and foremost, for the white majority.” In my many years in Indigenous affairs and as a student of Indigenous history it was a theme that dominated my public and academic life.

Australian history has left a legacy of Aboriginal inequality and disadvantage. In our self-congratulatory celebration of egalitarianism and the fair go, we conveniently overlooked that fact that our treatment of Aborigines amounted to a contradiction of the very values we claimed to espouse. The inability to regard Aborigines as equals has never really left the ‘white’ consciousness.

There are a number of measures that can be used to establish the degree of inegalitarian treatment accorded to Aborigines: legal equality; political equality; economic equality; equality of opportunity; and equal satisfaction of basic needs. I could broach social injustice, government ineptness and bureaucratic mis-management in emphasising these inequalities.

There are many disadvantages suffered by Aborigines that need remedying, but what needs to be dealt with, and in what order? Is it inadequate housing? Is it the parlous state of Aboriginal health which still results in unacceptably high infant mortality rates as well as a diminished life expectancy? Is it the rapid loss of Aboriginal culture? Or the high rate of Aboriginal unemployment? Undoubtedly the problem is complex, but where do governments start to seek remedies? What are the political solutions?

History illustrates government inability above all else to deliver any remedies, due mainly to the makings of the Australian polity. Federalism stands out, and in particular the complex space that Aboriginal affairs occupies within our political system. In a federation like Australia it can be very difficult to achieve uniformity of power. Why cannot governments that perceive the existence of a regional or national problem, for example Aboriginal health, work constructively to eradicate the problem? Who is to be blamed, Commonwealth or State?

Aboriginal affairs involves many areas of governmental responsibility, including education, health, sanitation, land use and relations with police forces, which are all State government responsibilities. When Commonwealth and State governments disagree in such matters, whose view should prevail? A great deal of essential service delivery falls within the responsibility of State governments, but these governments often fall short of delivering full and satisfactory programs.

However the argument goes much further than being based on pure politics. In a polity like Australia, where the development of the land by both farmer and miner has for so long been described as basic to Australia’s prosperity, it is difficult for governments to ignore claims from such powerful interests. The mining interest has fought particularly strongly against land rights and native title. The propaganda battle is rarely won by the central government. It is easier for a State Premier to claim that the Native Title Act threatens peoples’ backyards than it is for the Commonwealth to explain the complexities of the legislation.

This is but one of the many shortcomings if we focus on program failure or distortion, for it is in these results that many hopes and expectations are deflected, destroyed or frustrated. An analysis of service delivery reveals that the problem is multi-faceted, not only having to do with the nature of modern bureaucracies, but also with the activities of politicians, the attitudes of white Australians, and the perceptions of Aborigines themselves.

In this arena of political and public perceptions, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) used to come under some heavy fire; from politicians, the media, and the wider community. Perhaps there was resentment because ATSIC had given Aboriginal people a voice in the political system.

The argument on this was compelling. Many Australians watched distrustfully as, under Whitlam’s grandiosity in 1972, large amounts of money were directed to Aboriginal affairs.  As a result there was a great deal of importance placed on the need for ATSIC, in particular, to be accountable for its operations, reflecting no doubt the uncertainties of mainstream Australians concerning the standards of operations of Indigenous institutions. Following accusations of the misuse of money, audits were made of various bodies, again nominally ATSIC, and government funds for many Aboriginal services were reduced, and eventually, ATSIC was wiped from the political and social landscape. Yet claims about ATSIC’s waste of public money usually ignored the difficulties that that body had in delivering any worthwhile services to the Indigenous community. ATSIC had an unbelievable array of demands on its finite budget and was simply not in a position to meet every demand.

Also, political parties are demonstrably divided on Aboriginal issues. The Howard Government, for example,  was less sympathetic to Aboriginal issues – or too cautious in the invocation of Commonwealth power for the benefit of Aborigines – than were the previous Labor Governments of Hawke and Keating. (It was forcefully argued that Howard was indeed influenced by the claims of the more powerful interest groups). Political parties’ views are extremely important in helping explain the place of Aboriginal people in the Australian political system. A series of questions that were asked of a sample of members of parliament* revealed the existence of varying party views that form an important framework to the development of Aboriginal policy. Some of the differences between Labor and Coalition MPs were imposing. It is worth having a look at some of these answers as they clearly identify who did and did not support Aboriginal causes. Consider them as a backdrop to discussions on issues such as Mabo, Wik, Native Title, the Stolen Generation or the more contemporary Northern Territory intervention.

Members of parliament – support for Aborigines

  1. Government has responsibility to grant land rights: ALP 93.2%, LNP 40.8%
  2. Settle land claims before development: ALP 78.2%, LNP 24.2%
  3. Aborigines should have special cultural protection: ALP 76.7%, LNP 43.7%
  4. Approve of treaty recognising Aboriginal rights: ALP 85.6%, LNP 11.2%
  5. Law should allow for Aboriginal customs: ALP 60.0%, 21.4%
  6. Constitution should recognise Aboriginal self-government: ALP 29.0%, LNP 4.6%
  7. Aborigines should not be assimilated: ALP 80.3%, LNP 42.2%

I could attack the media with as much veracity as I do the political interests. Press coverage should help ensure that the area of public policy is kept well and truly on the political agenda, for without it would be very difficult for Aboriginal interests to achieve anything of importance. Perhaps the best example in recent years has been the manner in which the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody disappeared from sight once the report became public. Such a lack of sustained coverage makes it easier for governments to ignore many matters of short-term notoriety. The desire for a story often overrides considerations of accuracy or fairness. Who could argue with this? Drunkenness, rioting and poor living conditions are given more attention than the stories that could show Aborigines playing a positive role in the general community.

It just isn’t good enough.

If you are as appalled as I am about the lack of services to Indigenous Australians, why not let you local member know? They can be contacted here.

*This survey was taken during Howard’s prime ministership and goes a long way in explaining Howard’s commitment to the reduction of government spending in Aboriginal affairs. If it is representative of the Abbott and Turnbull governments, this I could only speculate. Given the apathy and funding cuts since September 2013, perhaps it does.

Then the Invasion. Now the Treaty.

By Keith Davis

We experienced the scourge of invasion. My original people. My original culture. The Celts.

I am partly the progeny of Boudica. I am a faint remnant, a whispering lingering tendril, of the spirit of an Iceni Warrior Queen. My original people. My original culture. The Celts.

We opposed the Roman invasion of our land. We daubed the blue woad. But the fury of our nakedness, and the sharpness of our spears, was as of nothing.

Our Elders, our Seers, our Children, our Women, our Men, our Culture, our Way of Being, was swept aside by the greasy ease of unstoppable might. Swept aside, scattered, demolished.

Our land was taken from us, stolen by the Imperial Eagle. Our spirits were leached away under the cold gaze of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. The smothering by the Legions was unending.

My original people, my original culture, the Celts. We ended up as nothing more than the flies on the excrement of Rome’s Empire.

All that was left to us was an ephemeral fragmented sense of what, and who, we had once been. Our sense of self became as swirly as bog mist. The killings, the massacres, had desiccated us.

Then came the Saxons, the Angles and the Jutes. Then came the fierce Northmen, the Vikings, the ravagers of Lindisfarne, the imposers of Dane Law. Then came the Normans.

They each, in turn, absorbed whatever had remained of our Celticness. We, all together, became something new. We accepted the hegemony of new kings. French Kings, Scandinavian Kings, German Kings. We all, both invader and invaded, became a new people, a new culture.

We became The Englanders.

And as this new people, as these Englanders, we embarked on the journey of the imposition of Empire by force. We had forgotten the lessons of our own history. We had ignored the tiny dying fragments, the tiny dying whispers, of what it had felt like to be an invaded, subjugated, and massacred, Celt.

As Englanders we invaded France, we unleashed the bodkins of Azincourt. As Englanders, we invaded the Raj, the jewel, our jewel, of India. As Englanders we coloured the world map with our red of Empire.

And, as Englanders, we invaded Australia.

Then you, the First Peoples of Australia, opposed the Englander invasion of your land. You daubed the Red Ochre. But the fury of your nakedness, and the sharpness of your spears, was as of nothing.

Your Elders, your Seers, your Children, your Women, your Men, your Culture, your Way of Being was swept aside by the greasy ease of unstoppable might. Swept aside, scattered, demolished.

Your land was taken from you, stolen by the Imperial Union Jack. Your spirits were leached away under the cold gaze of our Settlers, our Pioneers, our forgers of new frontiers, our Missionaries, our Bureaucrats, our rapacious need to grasp and own everything in sight.

The killings, the massacres, have dessicated you. The smothering of who you are was, and remains, ongoing.

We, the Englanders, had forgotten the very lessons of our own history.

Our invasion, the invasion of your land by us is now well over two centuries old. That is a fly-blown spec of time when compared to your 60,000 year tenure of this land.

Yet we, the Englanders, in an era when humans have already walked on the moon, and will soon walk upon the red plains and mountains of Mars, are still having a debate on whether you, the First Peoples of this land, are deserving, are worthy, of our Recognition.

Our esteemed and blood-soaked Recognition.

Still … there is the faintest whiff of blue woad about me. Somewhere buried deep within the strands of my DNA lurks the racial memory of what it was like to stand warrior-proud under the banners of Boudica. Somewhere, within me, lurks the remnant of a Celt.

And that Man, that Celtic Man, says this to you … the First Nations People of Australia:

My original people, my original culture, the Celts. We are no more. What we have lost cannot be retrieved. My culture, my Gods of the River and of the Earth, are dead.

But your culture is not dead.

Your Dreaming has not ended. Your warrior-pride still stands strong under your own banners. You have that advantage over me and mine.

Despite the killings, the massacres, the poisonings, the stealing of land, the stealing of children, the rape of women, the damaging effects of the drugs and alcohol that were introduced to your cultural bloodstreams, the shunting aside of who you are … and the secret hope of the rest of Australians that you will simply become just like them … you have resisted and survived.

You have my respect for that, and I would respectfully request that you do not let us Recognise you.

Whatever you do, I would respectfully request that you do not let us Recognise you.

Such an event, should it be allowed to happen, would be like Gallipoli myth-making writ large, bronzed Aussies with pretend tears in their eyes. It would be a sleight of hand, a dog and pony show. By any stretch of the imagination it would not cut any sort of meaningful mustard. Nothing of any worth will have changed.

We modern non-Indigenous Australians were not here in 1788. It was our ancestors who invaded you, poisoned you, demolished your culture and way of being, shot you, and massacred you. How often have you heard from us; “It was not me!”?

But, in truth, who are we who claim to be guilelessly guilt-free? Well, we are the beneficiaries of that invasion. We have reaped the rewards. We own, or have taken, just about everything from you. Our culture, our greed, swamps the land. We are digging everything up, poisoning the earth, and despoiling the environment. It is hard to see how we can be proud of anything we have done.

So do not let us tell you anything. If there is room in your heart, forgive us for our invasion, and Recognise us if you can because we are the latecomers … that is what it really needs to be about. And remind us of the lessons of our own history.

We are here now. It cannot be undone. Our joint future remains as yet unwritten. TREATY with us. Absorb us into you. Teach us about Your Land.

Some of us are listening.

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