Sunday 18 June 2017
By John Lord and Martin Appleby
Shame, my country, shame on you that you would allow such evil to take place. Shame on the politicians who perpetuated it, knowingly and for so long. Shame on the Government who deliberately put aside our duty of care to those seeking asylum to allow our wrongdoing to be a deterrent to others. Shame, shame shame, for the deliberate abuse of our right to know what was being executed in our name.
“No defence” is a confession that this evil took place and rather than utter words of remorse, of sincere apology, Peter Dutton has sought to blame others. That is not unusual for this Government. Their cruelty goes back a long way.
Rather than defend their actions, which for the duration of the court proceedings would have caused considerable embarrassment for the government they chose, for 100 million dollars, to hide their atrocities from public view. An act of political cowardice unequaled in Australia’s history.
The demonisation of asylum seekers started with John Howard’s and Peter Reith’s lie of “children overboard”, Philip Ruddick’s “illegals” and Tony Abbott’s “stop the boats”.
On this day in 2016 I coincidentally wrote this following Bill Shortens interview with Tony Jones on Q&A:
Answering a question about our right to be informed about conditions on Nauru and Manus, after Morrison had said:
”Nauru and Papua New Guinea are sovereign governments, they’re the ones who actually ultimately decide what happens.”
”If I was prime minister it would have to be an amazing set of circumstances where we’re not prepared to tell you what’s going on.”
”As a general rule this nation operates best if you treat people as smart and intelligent and tell them what’s going on, full stop.”
The decision by the Government not to defend the litigation has been portrayed in various ways. Peter Gordon writing for Fairfax described it as:
”A powerful statement about the cruelty inflicted on vulnerable people who sought protection in Australia – and who is responsible for it.”
Tony Abbott reckons it:
”Looks like a windfall for people who unfairly took advantage of our nation’s generosity.”
”We’ve got a judiciary that takes the side of the so-called victim rather than the side of common sense.”
Remember it was he that was so unbending in his attitude. If he could use people’s lives to the Government’s advantage he never hesitated. He refused to countenance Gillard’s Malaysia solution and when dumped as PM admitted he should have done so. He successfully manoeuvred Labor and Bill Shorten into a bi-partisan position where one was as guilty as the other of the crimes and atrocities committed against innocent people. The only purpose being that they would act as an example to others wishing to come by boat.
The indefensible act of incarcerating people indefinitely when innocent must surely be an act of the lowest definable human trait.
Ben Doherty of The Guardian wrote about the consequences of the bipartisan policy of offshore detention:
”All of it has been laid bare: the children accidentally sent to adult men’s only detention where they were abused, suffered systemic sexual assault, the violence by guards against detainees, the repeated suicide attempts, the mass hunger strikes, the seriously ill neglected until it was too late and they died, the public servants who ignored the pleas of doctors to move patients because it was “policy” refugees stayed in detention, so again, they died.”
Now let’s look at the protagonists in the dreadful chapter in Australia’s history.
John Howard knew that the pictures of children in the water was not a result of kids being thrown overboard but elected to take the lie with him into the 2001 election because their misery would be helpful to his re election.
Peter Reith was complicit in the lie.
Philip Ruddick when immigration Minister demonized asylum seekers and invented the term “illegals” even when he knew that it was not illegal to seek asylum.
Scott Morrison, the Christian Minister for Immigration showed anything but a Christian attitude. He was a constant portrayer of those seeking a better life as the worst of humankind.
Tony Abbott whose tenure as Prime Minister can only be described as total farce will be remembered for the invention of the phrase “stop the boats,” a mantra that appealed to the worst characteristics of Australian society. No one has done more to incite hatred, racism and mistrust of others than Abbott.
Peter Dutton, a man of no redeeming features has continued with the Abbott dogma. Even when admitting guilt he, astonishingly condemns the decision and those who sought compensation. The reason they settled was to avoid the scrutiny of a six-month trial in which dozens of refugees were due to give evidence, along with doctors, security guards and other staff, about conditions inside the secretive detention centres.
Malcolm Turnbull is also complicit because he condoned it.
Bill Shorten is also complicit because he condoned it.
Incredibly, Dutton dumped it all on Labor saying their inaction on managing Australia’s borders had led to the record payout. Now it is true to say that Labor was responsible for reopening Manus (on the advice of an expert panel) but the Coalition, who has imprisoned these people for over four years, violating their human rights in the process.
Labor did not force the Coalition to mistreat refugees.
Tony Abbott said radio station 2GB the decision to compensate those held in detention ”Looks like a windfall for people who unfairly took advantage of our nation’s generosity.”
”I don’t think this is the sort of case that should have even got to court, let alone resulted in this kind of a settlement.”
Only someone with an unhinged mind could deduce that those who have endured unbelievable hardship, systematic physical, sexual assaults, inadequate medical care leading to deaths, high rates of suicide, self-harm, and regular outbreaks of violence, at the hands of a deliberately cruel government could say that they ‘’took advantage of our generosity.’’
One has to conclude that if Peter Dutton were so confident about the legality of its treatment of Asylum Seekers then it would have defended their cause to the bitter end. Instead they couldn’t settle quickly enough.
As David Manne puts it:
“This payout points to the government seeking to avoid public airing of a strong body of evidence documenting systematic mistreatment and neglect.”
The settlement of this class action gives Malcolm Turnbull the opportunity to do a number of things. Given he has the guts to do so he should apologise to those who have needlessly suffered at the hands our brutality.
He should then have Dutton and Morrison do the same before sacking them. And before our countries reputation is damaged any further he should have all those incarcerated on Manus and Nauru returned to Australia where they should rightly be. Then he could begin to restore our reputation as a friendly welcoming country. The one I love so much.
A chance meeting.
On 1 June I received a Facebook message:
“OMG … did you play at my old club? Heidelberg Football Club.” (It is a suburban football club where I spent the final years of my career).
”Yes I did,” I replied.
Once we picked up the threads, a discussion ensued and I found that we had much in common and he was a regular reader of my work.
In the course of our conversation he revealed to me that he had spent time on Manus Island as a Security Officer. He also explained that he was due to give evidence in the Supreme Court this month in a case against the Government. The first security officer to do so.
We didn’t get around to talking much football. Instead he directed me to two pieces written for the guardian. The first titled “Why I chose to become a security officer on Manus Island’“. The second was titled “Scott Morrison visit sent Manus tension soaring, says G4S whistleblower’“.
It is not my intention to place them in this piece, nor do I intend to comment on them suffice to say that you should read them both, particularly his letter about servitude which is very moving and you gain a first hand knowledge of the intrinsic dangers for those seeking asylum and the inherent perils in working on Manus. A place where mans inhumanity to man, found a place to thrive and the truth went to die.
By way of introduction, my name is Martin Vincent Appleby.
I am the Security officer that John refers to in his piece. My first job in the security area was as a prison and escort officer for Corrections Victoria, at the Metropolitan Remand Centre. In order to undertake that role, I had training in firearms, defence tactics, baton tactics as well as occupational health and safety and medical training. After 2-3 years of on the job training, I obtained my Certificate III in Correction.
I crossed over to start working for G4S Australia in around 2009. I was employed to give them training in how to deal with prisoners.
People ask me how survived such a change in environment seeing I had previously worked in Hospitality culmination in working with them at SOCOG delivering the Food Program.
G4S were looking for staff to work the Manus Island detention Centre, It was well-paid – $110,000 p/a position. I had never worked outside of Australia and thought it would be a bit of an adventure. I transferred up to the MIRPC along with several others from the G4S in August 2013.
When I arrived at the MIRPC, we left on the Tarmac for some hours and thought, well this is great start, I was later informed they had forgot to come get us, the worst was yet to come.
I estimate that there would have been about 500 transferees held there when I arrived, I was quite taken aback, as the accommodation set-up for them was much more primitive than I had imagined, particularly by Australian standards. Most were just in tents or old-World War II huts that were made of tin with tightly packed double-bunk beds in them, 120 bunks in all which means 240 me.
Even at that point they were cramped and things got worse later on as the number of transferees rose significantly over the period I was there.
The Safety Security Officers (or SSOs) were made up of both ex-pats and local PNG guards. Around 96% of the ex-pats were ex-army personnel from either the Australian or New Zealand defence forces. The remaining 4% were from the police or security. To my knowledge I was the only one with training in corrections defensive tactics, so I was given more senior responsibilities. The local PNG G4S guards, although they made up the majority of the SSOs, had virtually no experience in security of any sort. Most had previously been farmers, students or were unemployed.
I have heard the word “inhumane” used about the conditions in which the transferees were expected to live at the MIRPC and I think that’s probably the best description for them, especially for those living in the old-World War II sheds like the P-Dorm. Expecting people to live packed like sardines into tin sheds in 35-40-degree heat with only four fans to cool the place down just shouldn’t be allowed. It’s just ridiculous. There was virtually no shade in any of the compounds and despite the intense heat the guys weren’t given any hats and very limited sunscreen. Most of the guys were just given thongs in the way of shoes and there weren’t enough to go around. There was limited running water at the facility, plus the bottled water, it was always hot because the bottles were just left out on pallets in the sun.
The toilets got filthy and weren’t cleaned often enough. Most of the detainees weren’t used to Western-style toilets, so that didn’t help matters. Sewage was pumped out by small pumps either into the ocean but more often than not into the local Flora were the unsuspecting trudged through it, you only walked that route once.
To combat this problem, unbelievably, the Men were given 4 – 6 pieces of toilet paper to clean them-selves, which I found really demeaning and embarrassing. I’ve never seen anything like that – they were treated as less than children.
The quality of the food at the facility was also shocking and cases of diarrhoea and food poisoning were rampant. Personally, I refused to eat any of the hot food out of the bain-marie and just lived on salads.
In the Oscar compound for instance, there were around 400 transferees who had to queue for food, so often the line was 200 metres long and people had to queue for hours to get each meal. Breakfast was served every day from 7:30 to 9:30 and the catering staff would then switch the food off. So, if the transferees didn’t make it during that time, they didn’t get breakfast.
I saw a lot of illness among the transferee population. The problems ranged from rampant diarrhea, to fever and skin problems.
The entire island is made of coral, no attempt was made to clear the ground of the facility to make it safer. So, the transferees would regularly cut themselves on it, and the cuts would then get infections. We know that one Asylum Seeker died due this occurring, The 24-year-old Iranian, Hamid Khazaei.
I would say the worst health problems I witnessed though were psychological. I regularly saw guys openly sobbing and having Incidents of self-harm were virtually a daily occurrence.
These ranged from more minor hunger strikes (generally lasting several days) to guys cutting themselves with razors or taking their shirts off and sliding along the sharp coral on the ground.
On one occasion I had to physically slide in and under a male hanging him-self off a bunk, two officers who followed me in, laughed and joked to let him hang, one less Refugee to deal with they yelled, I was able to save him, with their help.
The incidents of self-harm seemed to have ripple effect in that when one person started having a breakdown it seemed to push other detainees over the edge as well.
Asylum Seekers deliberately cut themselves just to get access to a doctor, because it was often difficult for the transferees to get to see a medical officer.
They always had to put in the request to the G4S staff member on duty and often individual G4S SSOs were making the call as to whether they would forward that request on to IHMS or not.
I challenged other G4S guys about this a couple of times, as I didn’t think we were qualified to make the call as to whether someone was sick enough to see a doctor or not.
I was aware of a number of incidents of sexual assault between detainees while I was at the MIRPC. I personally dealt with one guy who had been sexually assaulted in the Foxtrot compound.
As a security officer, one of the things I found most frustrating about the management of the MIRPC by G4S was the lack of proper procedure and practice in the way security at the facility was managed.
We also didn’t have enough hand-held radios for all of the staff, and there was only one battery provided per radio so they were constantly running out of battery life. This meant that the G4S officers for their own safety had to operate within line of sight of each other.
There were also no proper fire or evacuation procedures.
MIRPC when the violence broke out in February 2014, in which the murder of Reza Barati resulted.
The PNG SSOs, as I have mentioned, had very little experience and were given inadequate training. The ex-pat staff, by contrast, were made up of past army, correctional and police personnel who would have been much more capable of dealing with a volatile situation such as the one that arose on the nights of 16 and 17 February 2014
The first major mistake I believe was transferring people to Manus before the infrastructure was in place to support them. The second major issue was overcrowding. Between the time I arrived at the facility and when I left, the numbers of transferees had gone from approx 500 – 600 hundred to over a thousand. This massively impacted on every aspect of the transferees’ daily lives, overt hostility between the local G4S guards and the transferees, I did witness ex-pat G4S staff verbally abusing detainees, particularly when they thought they couldn’t speak English.
Detaining large numbers of young men for long periods of time in sub-standard conditions in a poor country where people have many problems of their own is a flawed project and one that is bound to lead to tensions and violence.
If offshore processing is to continue, then a completely new centre with proper infrastructure would be needed. But to my mind, offshore processing itself is inherently flawed. When you start involving other countries with different laws and ways of operating, it all becomes a mess and no-one takes responsibility for ensuring things are done properly.
I think the MIRPC is not a safe or decent place to hold people and it should be shut down and the people there transferred to a facility in Australia.
Ex-Manus training and security officer.
My thought for the day.
“Telling the truth should not be delayed simply because we are not sure how people might react to it.”