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Tag Archives: abuse

NDIS red-tape leaves vulnerable Victorians in abusive homes

Media release from the Office of the Public Advocate

Vulnerable Victorians living in disability accommodation remain in abusive situations for months due to NDIS bureaucracy.

This was a key finding the Community Visitors Annual Report, tabled in State Parliament today.

Nearly half of all serious incidents in disability group homes reported by the visitors each year relate to violence between co-residents, with 133 notifications being made this year to the Disability Services Commissioner (DSC). [p. 19]

Public Advocate and chair of the Community Visitor boards, Colleen Pearce, said that despite the number of recent inquiries into violence against people with disability, co-resident violence had received “little practical attention.”

The visitors report [p. 22] that one female resident suffered traumatic abuse from another but had been unable to move to another group home for at least five months, despite the support of her legal advocate and the DSC.

NDIS participants require their plans to be reviewed to move from one group home to another, even if the funding is the same. As well, an occupational therapist’s assessment is needed, however, NDIA pre-approval is needed first which involves a lengthy wait then a ten-week wait before the assessment and, only then, can a plan review be scheduled, which generally takes months.

In this case, the assessment was rescheduled several times from February because the NDIS delegate or the resident’s lawyer were unavailable.

Dr Pearce said that resident-on-resident violence and abuse in group homes was not uncommon.

“There are multiple instances where residents have expressed to Community Visitors how fearful they are in their own homes, and how they often choose to stay in their own rooms rather than interact in shared living spaces.”

Other issues identified include inappropriate environment for residents, lack of continuity of staffing and use of restrictive interventions.

This year, 266 volunteer Community Visitors made 2952 visits to 1148 units across the state, identifying 3806 new issues.

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Work Health and Safety law applies to all operators of detention, custody, care or educational facilities

By Max Costello LLM*

Whether Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is looking for (some) answers – by setting up a Royal Commission into Northern Territory correctional facilities – or not really looking – by refusing to do likewise in relation to alleged abuses of asylum seekers on Nauru – the essential answer is actually staring him in the face. He just doesn’t seem to see it.

Something akin to Bill Clinton’s famous political put-down of George W Bush, “It’s the economy, stupid” applies here. “It’s the Work Health and Safety Act, Malcolm.”

Government departments and non-government institutions that have failed to prevent child sexual abuse and other mistreatment of children or adults in their care have so far not been brought to book, because no-one seems to have joined the criminal law dots.

Joining the criminal law dots

DOT #1

Ask yourself this question: what do the following institutional settings – an Immigration ‘detention centre’ on Nauru, a Northern Territory juvenile correction centre, a South Australian care institution for abused children, a boarding school, a State (or NGO) care centre for people with a physical or intellectual disability – all have in common?

Answer: they are all workplaces – places where people work. More specifically, they’re all accommodation workplaces, where people reside continuously for months, years, decades or (in the case of some persons in offshore Immigration detention centres) indefinitely. Only a boarding school gets any occupancy breaks – during term holidays.

DOT #2

All State/Territory laws governing health and safety at work, and the Commonwealth’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (“the WHS Act”), impose a duty on the workplace operator to ensure that both “workers” and “other persons” at the workplace are not exposed to preventable risks to their health (including psychological health) and safety.

DOT #3

Under those laws, the children (and adults) residing at the above-named institutions are the other personswhose health and safety the operator must protect.

DOT #4

Under those laws, failure to comply with a protective duty is a criminal offence.

How can WHS laws, if complied with, prevent sexual and other abuse?

The basic answer is fourfold. The operator duty obligations set out in these laws are:

(1)     pro-actively preventative – requiring the operator to first identify and list all significant risks to health and safety, then secondly, “so far as is reasonably practicable”, take steps to eliminate or at least minimise all of them;

(2)     imposed primarily on the institution – that is, on the over-all or ‘head’ workplace operator and its “officers” (such as the CEO) – rather than just on individuals generally (although “workers” do have a duty to “take reasonable care”);

(3)     non-delegable – meaning that they can’t be transferred (to another government, for example) or contracted out (to, e.g., a service provider company such as Serco or Ferrovial (formerly Broadspectrum): any attempt to do either is “void”; and

(4)     buttressed by the deterrence effect of criminal penalties – such as, under the WHS Act in cases of “reckless” non-compliance with a duty, operator fines of up to $3 million, and officer fines of up to $600,000 and/or jail for up to 5 years.

Peter Dutton knows that his Department is bound by the WHS Act

There’s plenty of public domain evidence that Mr Dutton, as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, knows that the Commonwealth (of Australia) – in effect his Department – is the operator of the regional processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. One item of evidence will suffice.

All of the 2,000 or so “incident notifications” that Guardian Australia made public on 10 August 2016 – documents that Mr Dutton’s Departmental staffers on Nauru sent to Comcare because the WHS Act’s section 38 compels them to do so – have a little box near the top where the name of the party in charge of the workplace must be written.

The name entered on those incident report forms is not “Government of Nauru”: it is “Department of Immigration and Border Protection”.

So, Prime Minister Turnbull, the fiction that the governments of Nauru and PNG are legally responsible for the health and safety of the “other persons” (asylum seekers) who reside at the regional processing centres on their territory now stands exposed.

As a result, the following question – “Who should be investigated in relation to, and possibly prosecuted for, offences against the WHS Act?” – shouldn’t be too hard to answer.

What is apparently too hard, Prime Minister, is for you to ask that question – it seems to be stuck in your throat. (And of course if you do ask it, you’ll have to do something about it.)

The same question must be asked, and addressed, about all detention, custody, care and residential educational facilities across Australia.

What, if anything, have our State and Territory health and safety regulators been doing to make the operators of those workplaces comply with their statutory duty of care to all the “other persons” at those facilities, not just the workers?

Max Costello is a former WorkSafe Victoria prosecuting solicitor and former Employment Law lecturer at Melbourne’s RMIT University. He co-wrote submissions to the Moss review and the Senate Select Committee on Nauru abuses.

The Maintenance of Madness: How Australia Funded a Warlord in Afghanistan

The Federal Cabinet has approved the deployment of about 300 additional Australian troops to the Middle East to help train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State. The deployment will be for two years from the middle of may, and the troops join 200 existing special forces troops already in deployment in the region.

The Australian contingent will be joined by more than 100 New Zealand military personnel. They will be based at Taji military complex north of Baghdad, which is considered an “enduring base” by the United States Military, one of 14 such bases in the country.

Prime Minister Abbott made statements regarding the deployment at a press conference on the 3rd of March this year.

“We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission, not a combat mission. This is not just about Iraq, this is about our national security.”

A casual glance at the history of conflict in the Middle East will show that military intervention does not, as the government claims, increase national security, in fact it performs the exact opposite function, creating heavily armed and motivated militia groups with the spurious justification of prior Western aggression for their continued aggression.

Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson has let it slip that highly trained military personnel, likely indirectly trained by US or Coalition forces, make up the leadership of ISIS:

“[ISIS] is led by experienced former Iraqi generals and others with substantial military experience.”

ISIS is, in effect, the current incarnation of AQI, or Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of the central body of Al-Qaeda with links to Osama Bin Laden and notable members of the terrorist organisation. Older readers and the more historically astute will remember that the United States was responsible for training and arming mujahideen forces against the then Soviet Union during its war in Afghanistan, including Bin Laden and his compatriots, who later became instrumental in forming the modern day iteration of Al-Qaeda.

The official reason for deployment is to help the Iraqi government prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against Islamic State and regain control of its territory.

Abbott noted that Australian personnel will “not be working with irregulars, we don’t work with informal, armed groups.”

It turns out that this statement is entirely false and doesn’t accord with the documentary record.

Around November 2010, under the then Gillard government, six senior militia fighters loyal to Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan were flown to Australia to train with elite special forces as part of a “covert strategy to strengthen military operations against the Taliban.”

Matiullah Khan is known in the press as “Australia’s biggest ally in Afghanistan”. His uncle is former Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammed Khan, who has a reputation for corruption, brutality and double dealing.

In a few short years he went from being a taxi driver to a millionaire running security for NATO convoys in the area. He was appointed chief of police in Uruzgan province, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses. There are reports that he has dealings with drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents.

We have contracted with his private army, Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, to provide security services to the bases around his compound in the Uruzgan province.

Under an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior, the Australian Government pays for roughly 600 of Matiullah’s 1,500 fighters, including Matiullah himself, despite the fact that the force is not under government control or oversight.

Matiullah Kahn was killed in Kabul earlier this year in March by a suicide bomber.

From the Pakistani Daily Times:

“Khan’s militia has been involved in mass murder, rape and abductions of men and women.

The New York Times reported that he was earning $ 2.5 million a month through highway robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and extortion. Once, Khan warned his opponents that he could eliminate them by purchasing suicide bombers with the money he received from the Australian army.

WikiLeaks of the US embassy pinned him as a stand-over merchant, a wealthy warlord and drug trafficker.

Australian intelligence knew he was a corrupt war criminal but, despite the US army’s opposition, the Australian army and intelligence corps lobbied to make him an inspector general of the Uruzgan police in 2011.”

From Green Left Weekly, citing a story published in the Dutch Daily, De Pers:

“The extent of Matiullah’s brutality was shown in a massacre reported on by the July 18 Dutch daily De Pers.

The paper said the previous month, Matiullah’s army made a surprise attack on a meeting of 80 people in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Five people were killed in the ensuing shootout.

The remaining 75 were knifed to death.

Mohammed Daoud, the district chief of Chora, told De Pers: “As torture, they were first stabbed in the shoulders and legs. The corpses were treated with chemicals to make them unrecognisable.””

In this interview released several days before his death, the contents of Matiullah’s office suite are described as containing “plaques of appreciation from the Australian Federal Police” and a “boxed boomerang – a gift from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, formerly head of the Australian Defence Force.

From the same interview, detailing a raid on a nearby village by Jan Mohammed Khan and Matiullah Khan:

“One man told me how his son was made to lie on the ground – and then they drove a truck over his head.”

These accounts are horrifying, and our complicity in them more so. Indirect involvement in these abuses, though despicable, could be rationalised as a product of the idea that we are working towards some greater good, and indeed, it seems this is the justification for our involvement from many of the sources mentioned in the above interview and publications.

Our direct involvement in war crimes in the region however, cannot be rationalised away.

Reports from The Age in 2009 describe cover-ups by the ADF of attacks on civilians by SAS soldiers in Iraq around 2006-7. The attacks in November 2007 resulted in the murders of three men, two women and one child in a house that allegedly belonged to an insurgent.

In the same month, the newspaper reported the use of SAS patrols as death squads, carrying out assassinations in Afghanistan.

One has to ask the question: how exactly does action of this sort confer an increase in our national security? If the Iraqi military is to be trained by the same forces responsible for the financial support of a local warlord and who have engaged in war crimes of their own, I don’t see it as unreasonable to suppose that ethics and adherence to international law will be covered as an afterthought, if at all.

The approach of fighting fire with fire has been an abject failure in stemming the tide of radicalised Islamic extremism in the Middle Eastern theatre, and this new deployment of troops into the region is simply more of the same.

We cannot hope to bring peace to the Middle East with the sword.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

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