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Tag Archives: Detention centres

Turnbull: women must be respected but only if they are of our tribe

If you can take away the freedom of one man [sic] you strike at the liberty of all.

I don’t think the truth of that statement has struck me quite as forcefully as it has since I learnt of the young Somali refugee who was raped and left pregnant on Nauru some fourteen weeks ago.

Since her ordeal began, the woman has repeatedly appealed to the Australian government to allow her to travel to this country for termination of the pregnancy. Abortion is illegal in Nauru. A termination can only be performed in Papua New Guinea prior to twelve weeks. There is no option for this young woman, other than being brought to Australia.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull patronisingly assures us that his government is in tune with the Somali refugee’s needs, and while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has assured us that any asylum seeker in off-shore detention will be brought to Australia for medical treatment if deemed necessary, the reality is that a pregnancy waits for no man, and fourteen weeks is more than enough time for a woman to be flown to this country and receive the treatment she is owed, and so desperately needs.

It’s starkly apparent that Nauru is a most unsafe environment for women and children, in detention and out of it. Both the Labor and LNP governments bear the entire responsibility for attacks on women and children they’ve imprisoned in a country that has virtually no rule of law, and whose aid has been revoked by the New Zealand government precisely because of its lack of an adequate justice system.

Malcolm Turnbull’s politically opportunistic proclamation that women in Australia deserve respect and must be respected is entirely undermined by his government’s attitude towards women in off-shore detention. If you do not respect women other than those who are of your tribe, then you do not respect women at all. Your respect for women is conditional, and the condition is that they are women you consider worthy, (or of calibre) according to your own criteria.

The government’s ongoing willingness to subject women in off-shore detention to abuses, sexual assaults, intimidation, fear, and hopelessness tells me that its respect for me is subject to its approval of me as a member of the accepted tribe. Were I to fall outside those criteria, I would no longer be considered worthy of respect and protection.

This isn’t good enough. If you take away respect from one woman, you take away respect from all of us. Respect for women should have no boundaries, political, geographic, ethnic or national.

In this instance, what Turnbull’s government perpetuates, as has every government since Paul Keating built the first detention centres, is the patriarchy’s favoured myth of the madonna and the whore: there are women you respect, and there are women you rape. Men decide which of us is which. In the case of asylum seekers who arrived here by boat, their very situation has placed them in the latter category as they are perceived by the hegemony as other. Other means not quite as human, because not of our tribe.

What Turnbull is doing to refugee women in off-shore detention is a variation of what men who sexually assault us always do: dehumanising those they consider of less value than themselves, and the women they choose to protect.

No, Mr Turnbull, you do not respect me and you do not respect Australian women, and as long as you permit the ill-treatment of women in your off-shore concentration camps, your proclamations of respect will ring as hollow as a clanging cymbal.

Bring the Somali refugee to Australia for the medical treatment you owe her. She is suffering as you never have and never will suffer. Show her some respect.

This article was first published on No Place For Sheep.


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A letter to Peter Dutton

By Vanessa Kairies

Dear Peter Dutton,

If your wife was raped in another country by foreigners and they fled that country to their homeland, would you expect their government to extradite them to face prosecution?

If your child was raped at a party, would you ever send them back to that location?

If an adult handcuffed one of your children while a group of adults looked on and laughed would you take action? If an adult struck your 4 year old daughter with such force that she fell over and grazed her elbows, would you react?

If friends of yours were bashed to death or died from an infection due to lack of inappropriate medical treatment would you expect an investigation to find out the cause to prevent it from happening again? Would you also expect that the murderers faced prosecution?

C How do you feel about people who trade drugs and money to vulnerable people in exchange for sexual favours? Would you want this happening to members of your family?

If someone threw a rock at your child, would you act?

If your child’s pre-school recorded a “critical incident” at its centre once every 20 days, would you expect that centre be closed?

If your 5 year old child developed significant PTSD syndrome as the result of negligent treatment at pre-school, what would you do?

If your adorable little toddler, God love him, had tuberculosis, would you want diagnostic tests carried out immediately or would you prefer to wait for 3 months? Once diagnosed would you like to wait 3 weeks for the medication to arrive in your country before treatment could be carried out?

If someone was spying on your wife, how would you respond?

If your family had to flee their homes because of flooding due to rising sea levels from climate change, would you expect sympathy and a new home to live in or would you want to be imprisoned?

GRAPHIC 4 If you were studying your HSC in a foreign land, and due to be married to a national of that country, would you want to finish your education, get married and start a family or would you prefer to be dragged by your hair screaming and placed in a detention centre? Would you expect to have representation by a solicitor or would you prefer that that right was refused?

Just for fun, do you like to play the game of waterboarding and zipping on a Sunday? I could help cable tie your arms to a bed and my friends and I could throw you up into the air and let the bed land. Promise we won’t hurt you. After that we could try a few rounds of waterboarding.

Do you think that rapists should be caught, charged and imprisoned?

Do you think murderers should have the same fate?

If there were government departments responsible that could fix all of the things by closing these facilities, would you have expectations that the government minister responsible would act immediately, or would you expect that person to lie and cover up these human rights abuses?

On a different note, do you like to save money? Are you good with a budget?

Please let me know your thoughts, if you have lost your heart, conscience or soul, I can help you to find them. You could start by reading my article ‘Australia has a duty of care towards asylum seekers’. It might be a good place to begin looking.

Your sincerely

Vanessa Kairies

For more information about the Asylum seeker issue please see my cartoon folder in this link.

For more information about racism in Australia, please see my cartoon folder in this link.


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Self-harm or State-inflicted-harm. What role does language play in the displacement of one and the other? Who gains from this?

In this revealing article, poet Janet Galbraith* tells of her own experiences and identifies wider causes and culprits.

A while ago I started writing an article about the notion of what is often called ‘self-harm’. I had felt saturated by this word and angry about the ways in which it is used to refer to a whole range of experiences. But I found it really hard to write. I wanted to research and come up with something that would articulate what I was feeling in a way that would be understood to have some gravitas. In the end, I did not finish it. But tonight, after speaking over the past days with people in detention who are in such dire situations that so-called ‘self-harm’ feels inevitable I decided just to write from experience.

I, myself, have had periods of my life when I have ‘self-harmed’, as, I imagine have many of you who read this. Self-harm comes in many forms, some socially acceptable, others that are not. I was someone who found some relief in cutting. And I have often been asked, ‘Why? What does this achieve?’ It is not something I can explain clearly. At different times in my life cutting was the result of various stresses or states or traumas I had or was experiencing at the time. At times it brought relief, at times it felt beyond my control, at times it was a scream for help. And at times I could not tell you why I needed to do this.

Many people have responded to my scars, or evidence of cutting, in anger or with what seems to be a sense of derision. But few people have really understood that the majority of those who ‘self-harm’ do so because of stresses that are placed on us by experiences that are bigger than ourselves.

At the moment there is much mention of ‘self-harm’ by people who are incarcerated in so-called immigration detention. Each time I read this I have a visceral reaction. This is not self-harm. To call this self-harm displaces the responsibility for the effects of torture and trauma onto the individual bodies of those who are being actively and deliberately harmed by successive Australian governments, and by those in Australia who acquiesce to, or actively encourage, their policies and behaviours.

As we have seen, language matters. The power of language and (mis)naming to disempower, control and construct certain groups of people as less than human or at least of less value than another has been essential to the process of creating a milieu where much of the Australian public will allow the torture and slow killing of refugees. This has a long history in this continent/country, this use of language to attempt to construct some as less than human so to shore up the anxious power of a white-supremacist nation operating in stolen lands. Since I was young I remember hearing people speak of the ‘Aboriginal Problem’. Of course now it is obvious that the only problem First Nations peoples caused was to those intent on invading and stealing lands, children and resources from them. But still this abhorrent displacement of ‘the problem’ continues.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

When I think of the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ I hear again the mis-naming of certain people – here people fleeing persecution and looking for refuge – as a problem. As many are aware, it is not these people who are a problem but rather the racism and unacknowledged history of Australia that seeps through the constant attempts at whitewash, that is the problem. It is the use and deliberate sacrificing of thousands of people in order for the mainstream political parties to grow their power and relationships with the monied, big business, the prison industry, the war criminals, that is the problem. It is the fact that many of us who live privileged and unsustainable lives enabled by the machinations of globalisation do not pay the dues for our greed. Instead there is the constant deferral onto others, those lives deemed not of value, those people who we allow to be sacrificed, that is the problem.

It may seem strange that I have gone on to speak of this but I see that in the processes of mis-naming, power constantly returns to the oppressors. Those who are oppressed are constantly mis-named as the problem and the actions of states are dis-placed onto individual bodies and psyches.

With Australian run detention centres, huge and irreversible harm is being actively and deliberately done to many, many, many men, women and children. When one or more of these people tie a sheet around their neck in order to die, or cut open their veins, or drink bleach … this is not self-harm. This is not about an individual harming themselves. This is state-inflicted-harm. This is the processes of slowly killing people with impunity.

  • Janet is the author of “Re-membering”, Walleah Press, 2013.

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