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Tag Archives: Gillian Triggs

Why would anybody want to re-elect this government?

Voters must have an intense dislike of asylum seekers.

The latest Morgan Poll is great for the government, which sees them leading the opposition 56.5/43.5.

Taking away personalities (ie, disregarding that many people obviously like Malcolm Turnbull), it really is hard to see what the government has going for them.

If re-elected, they will make life harder or more miserable for near on all of the population. “Yes we can” says the poster. And yes they will. For example, if re-elected they:

  • will be doing nothing to address climate change
  • will possibly increase the GST, costing each family about $4,000 a year
  • will continue to ignore science of any description
  • will be doing nothing about housing affordability
  • will be doing nothing about the high unemployment levels
  • will be providing us with internet speeds that are the worst in the world
  • will continue to tighten the screws for people on welfare or income support
  • will still be giving billions to the mining companies
  • they will do nothing about the huge gap in wealth inequality (quite the opposite, they will continue to pander to the rich)
  • will do nothing to help the disadvantaged in our society (they will probably cut funding even further)
  • will continue to beat around the bush as far as same-sex marriage goes
  • have intentions of changing the media ownership laws which will give Murdoch even more control of our media (and they’ll probably cut funding to the ABC even further)
  • will continue to demonise innocent people (Gillian Triggs is a good example)
  • will make it more costly to see a doctor or a specialist
  • if economists are correct, the government will lead us into a recession
  • will keep ripping coal out of our beautiful country – coal that nobody wants
  • will make tertiary education unaffordable
  • will strip away our citizenship if (as a dual citizen) we do as much as destroy a government owned coffee table
  • will spy on our every movement
  • will jail anybody who dares report on atrocities committed by the government
  • . . . and on and on the list goes

But . . . they will keep telling us that they’ve stopped the boats and we’re safe from all those murderous would-be terrorists that did sneak through because they’re all locked up now on Nauru or Manus Island and with any luck they will either rot to death or be sent to a country with an unpronounceable name where they can perish without our knowledge.

And no matter how much misery this Coalition government casts over our own lives we will vote for them because of their asylum seekers policies.

And it’s got me beat.

 

Reward for achievement?

When Peter Dutton, at age 30, was elected to Federal Parliament in 2001, he said “it brought to a climax a lifetime of hard work and a focus on achieving the goal of standing proudly in this place today.”

This “lifetime of hard work” included starting work in the family business when he started high school, joining the Young Liberals at age 18, which was when he bought his first property, working for 9 years in the police force while also being listed, from age 23, as a company director for his father’s business, then quitting the police in 1999 to ‘work fulltime’ with his father for a year or so while he campaigned to enter politics.

Dutton said that the Liberal Party was “a party of natural choice” for him because it was a party founded on “the principles of individualism and reward for achievement.”

Which begs the question of why, after being voted the worst Health Minister in 35 years, Dutton retains his position in Cabinet.  One letter published in the Australian Doctor said “Dutton will be remembered as the dullest, least innovative and most gullible.”

Recently, George Brandis launched Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations human rights council (UNHRC), stating that “Across the entire panoply of human rights Australia has not only been an activist, but those rights are integral to what we Australians regard as our sense of nationhood”.  He further maintained that we pursue a “vigorous, ambitious human rights agenda”, domestically and internationally and that he had “enlarged the scope” of the Australian Human Rights Commission “to be a trustee of all human rights, including importantly, but not exclusively, the right to freedom from discrimination”.

While George is pushing his incredible view from a parallel universe, Peter Dutton is busy denying any human rights abuses in our offshore detention centres and making sure there is no oversight.

He has rejected an Amnesty International investigation of boat turnbacks as an “ideological attack” saying “the government is not going to be bullied into changing our position.”

Dutton refuses to deny that we illegally paid people smugglers, just as he refuses to deny his department were instrumental in gaining a visa for ‘journalist’ (I use the term loosely) Chris Kenny to visit Nauru while refusing to allow head of the AHRC Gillian Triggs access, or to guarantee not to prosecute anyone who spoke to the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants who subsequently cancelled his visit.

When Ms Triggs asked “have we thought about what the consequences are of pushing people back to our neighbour Indonesia?  Is it any wonder that Indonesia will not engage with us on other issues that we care about, like the death penalty?”, Dutton slammed her saying “For her to be out there making these unfounded comments is a complete disgrace.”

“It’s an international embarrassment and it’s an embarrassment for all Australians that we would have someone in a public office making comments like this that are completely unfounded,” he said.

This from the man who joked publicly about “Cape York time” and Pacific Islands being inundated.  This from the man who called Sarah Hansen-Young an attention-seeking embarrassment for thinking she was spied on while on Nauru – which was of course true.  This from the man who was the only Liberal frontbencher to boycott the Apology to the Stolen Generation.

If you need any further evidence of the government’s determination to control information about its immigration detention program, aid agencies including Save the Children and the Australian Red Cross were asked to offer “performance security” bonds – in one case, of $2 million – during negotiations over contracts relating to work caring for asylum seekers and refugees.  The non-profit organisations were also being asked to agree to clauses that would prevent them speaking to the media without government approval.

Save the Children refused, seeing it as an attempt to gag advocacy, and subsequently lost its contracts to Transfield Services and Connect Settlement Services. When they finish today, there will no longer be an agency whose mission is to uphold the rights of children on Nauru – nor will there be a human rights organisation advocating for asylum seekers and refugees

Dutton was also responsible for the shameful treatment of pregnant asylum seeker Abyan.

The following excerpt from his maiden speech shows what Dutton really thinks about human rights, advocacy, and the legal system.

“I have seen the sickening behaviour displayed by people who, frankly, barely justify their existence in our sometimes overtolerant society.

The fight for a better place in which to live is today made even more difficult for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the boisterous minority and the politically correct seem to have a disproportionate say in public debate today. The silent majority, the forgotten people—or the aspirational voters of our generation, as some like to term them—are fed up with bodies like the Civil Liberties Council and the Refugee Action Collective, and certainly the dictatorship of the trade union movement. Australians are fed up with the Civil Liberties Council— otherwise known as the criminal lawyers media operative—who appear obsessed with the rights of criminals yet do not utter a word of understanding or compassion for the victims of crime. Their motives are questionable and their hypocrisy breathtaking.

The mood of the silent majority is fast rising to one of anger, because at present there is a basic right that is being impinged upon. It is incumbent upon us to represent the views of the majority and not to be held captive by groups who grab headlines in tabloids on the basis of anything but substance. As leaders and representatives of this country, we must facilitate and inform debate, and not be deterred by those who would seek to drive their own hidden agendas.

At this point in time it is stating the obvious that in my opinion the courts are not representing the views in the large of the broader community. Time after time we see grossly inadequate sentences being delivered to criminals whose civil rights have far exceeded those of the victim and others in our society. This imbalance must be addressed, and for the sake of living standards and reasonable expectations for all Australians must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Enter Border Force and a Minister with unilateral decision making power to bypass the judicial system.

Dutton is a hard line conservative who previously held leadership aspirations (truly!).  He had run-ins with both Turnbull and Bishop when Malcom was leader the first time.

Apparently it was Scott Morrison who convinced Malcolm Turnbull to keep Peter Dutton in the Ministry. If nothing else, this, to me, confirms that Morrison wants the top job and is rallying his right wing foot soldiers for when his time comes because you sure wouldn’t be keeping Dutton on his performance.

 

Bodies that matter. Bodies that don’t.

Image from noplaceforsheep.comIt’s profoundly concerning that Abyan, the Somali refugee currently living on Nauru and victim of a rape that left her pregnant, was forbidden to see her lawyer and denied adequate counselling for her trauma and her plight.

But now we hear that Rupert Murdoch’s minion Chris Kenny of The Australian was not only the first journalist in eighteen months to be granted a visa to enter Nauru in the last few days, he was also escorted by local police to Abyan’s accommodation, where he confronted her about her situation.

Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs has been denied a visa to visit Nauru, so Kenny is indeed privileged.

Kenny’s first account of his interview with Abyan, which you can access by clicking the link on Kenny’s tweet in The Guardian report above, seems to contradict Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s claims that Abyan refused an abortion and was therefore returned to the island, and instead substantiates her own claims that she did not refuse an abortion, she asked for some time, and appropriate help. Neither the time nor the appropriate help was forthcoming, and she was deported after being refused contact with her lawyer.

The likelihood of us ever knowing the truth of the situation is slim, however, no matter how you look at it, Abyan has been treated in a most despicable manner by both governments, and their agents.

Dutton has belatedly diarised appointments allegedly made for Abyan, with and without interpreters. However, there is no way at all of verifying Dutton’s claims that these appointments were in fact made, and that Abyan was offered the medical attention he claims.

I have no idea why Abyan was then subjected to further traumatisation by having to endure Chris Kenny’s pursuit of her after she was returned to Nauru.  But everywhere I look in this situation I see an extremely vulnerable young woman, stripped of all power and agency, subjected to the interrogation and control of powerful men intent on furthering their own interests. The demonstration of male power & dominance over women that the Abyan story illustrates makes my blood run cold.

In his latest report from Nauru, Kenny stresses that Abyan has not reported her rape to the Nauruan police. The implication is clear: if she didn’t report it, perhaps it didn’t happen.

There are a staggering number of sexual assaults in this developed country that go unreported. The majority of rapes that are reported don’t make it into court. Reporting sexual assault to police is a harrowing experience, even when the police concerned are highly trained and care about you, and share your language group. I had a sexual assault counsellor with me when I did it a few months ago, as well as evidence, and a great deal of loving support. With all that, it was an horrific experience from which I still haven’t recovered. Reporting sexual assault if you are a young, pregnant Somali refugee woman condemned to life on Nauru for the indefinite future, must be an almost impossibly daunting prospect.

And then there is Abyan’s history, including rape and genital mutilation in her home country.

And let’s not forget that Dutton only agreed to offer Abyan an abortion in the first place because public agitation forced him to.

There is a recent pattern of unrelenting traumatisation of Abyan by men who have descended on her, for one reason or another, like vultures on a wounded animal. Most of them are white and middle class. Their actions are validated by an entirely brutal government policy that condemned Abyan to Nauru in the first place, a policy initiated by Julia Gillard and Nicolo Roxon. I wonder what these two women now think of where their policy has led us, or if they consider it at all.

An aside: a link to an interview with Nancy Fraser, Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School on why the “leaning in” brand of feminism actually means leaning on other women. Quote:

For me, feminism is not simply a matter of getting a smattering of individual women into positions of power and privilege within existing social hierarchies. It is rather about overcoming those hierarchies.

Yes. Indeed.

In an uneasy corollary with Abyan’s situation Nauru is a subordinate state (read feminised) dominated by and dependent on Australia. Australia sends women and children it does not want to Nauru, where they are raped and abused. Australia, however, claims this is none of our business as Nauru is a sovereign state and we cannot intervene in its legal system, or what passes for a legal system in that lawless nation.

White, privileged, and apparently having suffered nothing more traumatic than being the butt (sorry) of a Chaser’s joke concerning sex with a dog, Chris Kenny feels he is entitled to pursue and interrogate the traumatised Somali refugee because, well, he is white, male, privileged, and works for Rupert Murdoch. He has no expertise in the matter of trauma and sexual trauma. If he had the slightest idea, and any compassion, he would not have subjected Abyan to his inquiries, and he certainly wouldn’t have arrived at her home with a police escort.

The bodies that matter are firstly, white. Then they are male. Then they are the bodies of women of calibre. They are bodies that belong to our tribe. I think, almost every day, what would the man who sexually assaulted me do if his daughter had been treated as he treated me? He observed more than once that I was “not of his tribe,” a comment I found ridiculous at the time, but with hindsight I see that his perception of me as other allowed him to behave towards me as if I was less vulnerable, less hurtable than women who were “of his tribe.”

Multiply this a million times when the victim is a Somali refugee abandoned by Australia to fend for herself in Nauru, and it isn’t hard to understand why there were difficulties reporting the rape.

The headline “Rape Refugee” says it all. Written on the body. Written on the body that does not matter, by the body that does.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

To Gillian Triggs, thank you, you do not walk alone

In less than a week we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta – a 13th century document which is widely recognised as the bedrock of our democracy.

“It was a bunch of barons saying to the king, you can’t just do what you like, there is a rule of law and we would like you to abide by it, and we want it in writing. And it is fundamental to the rule of law that we have in this country today, that is still being debated,” said Libby Stewart, senior historian at the Museum of Australian Democracy.

Last Friday, Gillian Triggs gave a speech to the annual Human Rights Dinner where she spoke about “the vital role our parliaments play, whether State, Territory or Federal, in protecting our ancient democratic liberties and rights.”

She too made reference to the Magna Carta.  After sharing anecdotal history that “King John was probably illiterate and did not sign the document, and the Barons forgot to bring their seals and wax to Runnymede on this historic day”, she highlighted two clauses that she describes as “the defining statements of the rule of law and limits on arbitrary power of the state” which “ring through the centuries and remain the bedrock for principles of justice we struggle to protect in the 21st century.”

No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, …except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. (Clause 39)

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay, right or justice.(Clause 40)

Ms Triggs continued…

“It has become a universal acknowledgement of the principles that the sovereign is not above the law and of the sovereignty of parliament. Other legacies of Magna Carta include the right to a fair trial and access to justice; habeus corpus; the ideas that ‘punishment should fit the crime’; that courts should sit regularly in one place; that laws should be written and made public; and that widows should have their inheritance.

Magna Carta is recognized as the foundation of modern democracy and of the common law principle that public officials should justify their activities as necessary and proportional, where they interfere with individual freedoms.

It is the symbolic power of Magna Carta that informs my concern that supremacy of the law over the sovereign (or in today’s parlance, executive government), is under threat in Australia’s contemporary democracy.

Respective governments have been remarkably successful in persuading Parliaments to pass laws that are contrary, even explicitly contrary, to common law rights and to the international human rights regime to which Australia is a party.

A growing threat to democracy is the expansion of discretionary, often non-compellable, ministerial powers that may be exercised with limited or no judicial scrutiny.”

Triggs goes on to express her concerns regarding the expansion of the detention powers of the executive, the rapid extension of counter-terrorism laws, the overreach of data retention laws, the inconsistency in having to obtain a warrant to access the metadata of a journalist when no-one else is similarly protected, the imprecise definition of “advocating terrorism” in the Foreign Fighters Act and its restriction on freedom of movement, the immunity of ASIO officers from civil and criminal prosecution while engaged in ‘special intelligence operations”, the chilling effect that new laws have on legitimate public debate about security operations, attacks on freedom of association, the undermining of judicial discretion by mandatory sentencing, the punitive detention of asylum seekers, the deletion of references to the Refugees Convention from the Migration Act, and the “breathtaking inconsistency” of politicians in supporting the rule of law and freedom of speech.

“These examples of the willingness of parliament to consider and pass laws that breach democratic freedoms, taken individually, might be justified on the grounds of necessity and proportionality. Viewed together they are more than the sum of their parts. They suggest an overreach of power by the executive, (or as Senator Cory Bernardi calls it, “power creep”); a declining willingness of parliaments to defend core freedoms; and the exclusion of judges from interpreting laws according to common law principles of legality or and the presumption that parliament intends to comply with international law.

The proliferation of new laws that diminish our liberties and expand executive powers suggests that respective Parliaments have failed to exercise their traditional self-restraint in protecting democratic rights. Rather, the volume of laws that currently infringe freedoms –Professor George Williams estimates over 350 such laws are on the books at present- suggests prioritizing governmental power has become a “routine part of the legislative process”. As he observes, the enactment of anti-democratic laws has become so accepted that they elicit little community or media responses.”

On Monday night on Q&A, a man who obviously gets his news from the Murdoch press, asked the following question:

JIM ANDERSON: The spin coming from the Left media is that “The Government has stepped up the attack on Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs”. I believe it was Triggs who stepped up the attack on the Government through her unfounded allegations made during the week. As an Australian citizen and taxpayer, when will the Government decide enough is enough, that she has ruined the credibility of the Human Rights Commission beyond repair and disband it?…. The damage that’s been happening to our country, our name,that she has caused is just disgraceful.

Jim Anderson, the disgraceful thing is that people like you and our Immigration Minister read a headline in a Murdoch paper and think you are being told the truth.  The disgraceful thing is that a filthy rich meglomaniac uses our country as his plaything and people like you suck it up.  The disgraceful thing is that a woman like Gillian Triggs is being attacked by ill-informed morons for doing her job.

To Ms Triggs, I would like to express my admiration for your diligence, your integrity, your fortitude, your intelligence, your tenacity, and your unwavering support for the most vulnerable in our society.  You do not stand alone.  For every Jim Anderson and Peter Dutton, there are thousands of Australians saying thank you for being such a formidable protector of our rights.

No word from our Freedom Commissioner about offshore detention

When George Brandis gifted the IPA’s Tim Wilson the high paying job of Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom despite his qualifications being “woefully inadequate”, he said it was to “restore balance”, believing that the HRC was too focused on discrimination.

Senator Brandis said Mr Wilson was ”one of Australia’s most prominent public advocates of the rights of the individual”.

But apparently that advocacy does not extend to the rights of asylum seekers illegally incarcerated by this government.

When the HRC produced their report on children in detention, the government’s response was to launch a very personal attack against Gillian Triggs.

Tim Wilson’s response was to say “I’m not going to get involved in fuelling the debate around this report.”

So what the hell is our freedom commissioner there for?

When reports of rapes and the sexual abuse of minors on Nauru surfaced last October, Scott Morrison’s response was to sack the people who made the allegations public and to report them to the AFP on the basis of “an intelligence report” by the security company running the detention centre that claimed it was “probable” that staff were coaching asylum seekers to manufacture situations where evidence could be obtained to pursue a political and ideological agenda in Australia.

“I have been provided with reports indicating that staff of service providers at the Nauru centre have been allegedly engaged in a broader campaign with external advocates to seek to cast doubt on the government’s border protection policies.”

Whilst saying “the allegations of sexual misconduct are abhorrent and I would be horrified to think that things of that nature have taken place,” Morrison seemed far more interested in pursuing the messenger and commissioned former integrity commissioner Philip Moss to conduct an independent review.

Released late on Friday after news of Malcolm Fraser’s death, the report found no proof of misconduct by the Save the Children staff, 9 of whom are now preparing to sue.  I would suggest they have a far stronger case than Joe Hockey so if he wants to set a $1 million precedent, this could cost the government a lot of money.

The report, which the government has had for a month, did however detail many allegations against the security guards and the fact that 12 of them have been dismissed so far.

Mr Moss found compelling evidence that at least three women have been raped inside the detention centre and raised concern that sexual assault is likely to be under-reported due to a climate of fear and detainees worrying about their future refugee status.

“The review became aware of three allegations of rape (two female and one female minor), one which the Nauruan Police Force is investigating and two which the victims do not want to pursue by making a complaint. These allegations are concerning. They are also concerning because two of the victims do not feel able to bring forward these allegations to relevant authorities,” the report states.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said “Nauru would work to solve problems highlighted.”

The Australian Lawyers Alliance said the Commonwealth cannot outsource care of asylum seekers and could be liable for a “swathe of future compensation claims”.

“The nature of allegations raised in the Moss Review of sexual harassment, rape, trading sexual favours for marijuana and cigarettes and children being touched inappropriately, if proven, show that the Commonwealth has failed in its duty to take reasonable care of asylum seekers.”

So I went to our Commissioner for Freedom’s page on the HRC’s site to find what he had to say.

Tim Wilson’s latest article on March 11 begins well.

“Behind human rights is the still revolutionary idea that every human being is free and equal, that individuals own their own bodies and should be free to pursue their lives, opportunities and enterprise. Human rights provide the foundation for our liberal democracy, our market economy and our civil society.”

He goes on to say

“the biggest international frontier for human rights is ensuring the legal, social and cultural tolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.”

Another article published the same day criticised an advertisement by the Australian Marriage Forum (AMF) against marriage for same-sex couples.

On January 19 he had written an article about Charlie Hebdo and Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act and last October he wrote that it was time for the transgender talk.

I could not, however, find one thing about children in detention, or our continuing violation of human rights in offshore detention centres where we are legally liable for detainee’s safety and well-being.

Gillian Triggs, on the other hand, addressed the UN Human Rights Council yesterday.

Whistleblower goodies and baddies

When Kathy Jackson blew the whistle on Craig Thomson for misusing union funds, she was praised by various members of the Coalition.  Tony Abbott described her as “a brave decent woman”, a “credible whistleblower” whose actions were “heroic”.  Christopher Pyne labelled her a “revolutionary” who will be “remembered as a lion of the union movement.”  George Brandis and Eric Abetz were similarly effusive in their praise.

Kathy’s “courageous” revelations quickly led to Thomson being arrested by five detectives accompanied by a huge media pack at his Central Coast Office.  The following court cases eventually found Thomson was guilty of misappropriating a few thousand dollars.  His defence has cost him over $400,000, his career and reputation.  His prosecution, combined with the ensuing Royal Commission into trade unions and dedicated police task force, has cost the state tens of millions.

In 2012, Tony Abbott said “I think it’s to the enormous discredit of some people in the Labor movement that they are now trying to blacken [Kathy Jackson’s] name.”

Unfortunately for Mr Abbott, the investigation revealed that his hero has allegedly misappropriated far more than Craig Thomson could ever have dreamed of, well over $1 million by some accounts.  Despite the matter being referred to the Victorian police, Ms Jackson remains at large living a millionaire lifestyle.  No squad of police arriving at her door with media in tow.

We also had whistleblower James Ashby choosing to reveal private text messages to accuse Peter Slipper of sexual harassment, a charge he chose not to pursue after he had achieved the goal of destroying Mr Slipper’s career and personal life.

And then there was the “unknown” whistleblower who chose to refer Peter Slipper to the police for a few hundred dollars’ worth of cab charges rather than allowing him to pay back the money, something that many members of the Coalition, including Tony Abbott and George Brandis, have been forced to do.

The prosecution of Peter Slipper once again cost the state an amount totally incommensurate with the alleged crime and he has since won his appeal.

The Coalition’s very close relationship with these two dubious characters – Abetz had Jackson on speed dial and Pyne met up for “drinks” with Ashby – shows they had a vested interest in encouraging their revelations.

But when Freya Newman chose to reveal that Tony Abbott’s daughter had been given a $60,000 scholarship that was not available to anyone else, she was immediately investigated, prosecuted and put on a good behaviour bond.  The fact that Frances Abbott’s school was a Liberal Party donor who then benefitted greatly by Abbott’s decision to fund private colleges makes the whole thing smell of corruption.

Speaking of which, when a former ASIO employee chose to blow the whistle on Alexander Downer for, under the guise of foreign aid, bugging the offices of the government of Timor l’Este to gain a commercial advantage for Woodside Petroleum who subsequently employed Mr Downer, he immediately had his passport revoked so he could not testify in the case in the International Court and the office of his lawyer was raided and all documents confiscated.

When the Guardian and the ABC reported on leaked documents from Edward Snowden revealing that the Australian Government had bugged the phones of Indonesian politicians and even the President’s wife, they were labelled as traitors by Tony Abbott who apparently thought there was nothing wrong with the deed but talking about it was a crime.

Which brings me to, in my mind, the greatest travesty of all.

When ten members of the Save the Children organisation reported on cases of sexual assault and self-harm of children on Nauru, they were immediately sacked by Scott Morrison.

When the group made a submission to the AHRC’s children in detention inquiry providing evidence of sexual abuse, the Department of Immigration asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate Save The Children for potentially breaching section 70 of the Crimes Act, which bars the disclosure of Commonwealth facts or documents.

A secret report prepared by immigration detention service provider Transfield Services reveals the company was monitoring the activities of Save The Children staff, then accused them of providing evidence to the media of sexual assaults and protests in the detention centre.  It reveals that Save The Children staff had compiled reports documenting evidence of sexual assault, which it said had become “increasingly emotive in recent weeks”.

“Two days ago, information report 280917 was written in such a manner by SCA employees, DE and FF, and some of the allegations regarding sexually inappropriate behaviour by security guards contained within this report have been widely reported across Australian media today. DE left Nauru yesterday and the allegations have appeared in the press today.”

The Transfield report also alleges that “It is probable there is a degree of internal and external coaching, and encouragement, to achieve evacuations to Australia through self-harm actions,” though it gives no evidence at all in support of the accusation, which did not stop Scott Morrison and the Daily Telegraph from publicly repeating it last October.

Morrison’s reaction was to announce the Moss Review to examine allegations that staff from the charity acted inappropriately at the Nauru detention centre.

The Moss review, which is due to be released tomorrow, examined why 10 Save the Children aid workers were sent home from the detention centre and whether they fabricated allegations of sexual abuse.

As with the Human Rights Commission’s Forgotten Children report, the message has been ignored and the messenger has been relentlessly pursued and vilified.

In the corporate world, the Corporations Act contains protections for certain whistleblowers, including making it unlawful to persecute a whistleblower for making a protected disclosure of information. This protection encourages people within companies, or with special connections to companies, to alert the company (through its officers), or ASIC, to illegal behaviour.

Where is the same protection for people who alert us to wrongdoing by the government or its agents?  Why does Morrison accept Transfield’s report but not that of the Human Rights Commission?  Will the Moss Review investigate the sexual abuse or just the people who are trying to Save the Children?

A government who is happy to destroy people’s lives for their own political ends, who silences all criticism, and who considers their own interests in front of the welfare of children in our care, is worthy of the same contempt they show for the truth.

We are being governed by a despicable group of people who have sacrificed all decency and integrity to personal ambition.

asylum seeker children protest on Nauru

asylum seeker children protest on Nauru

Tony Abbott’s first significant act as Minister for Women

Tony Abbott’s first significant act as Minister for Women – let’s make everyone aware that we’re doing something about domestic violence!

“Federal and state governments will spend $30 million on a national awareness campaign to stop domestic violence as Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament he will meet with Labor to discuss a bipartisan approach to the issue.”

The Sydney Morning Herald, March 5th

 

“Violence is violence. It’s a crime. Full stop.”

Michaela Cash. Minister Assisting the Minister For Women, While Assisting The Minister For Women Announce That He’s Spending $30 million on an awareness campaign.

 

“What are these blinkin’ bleeding heart Labor lawyers from hereonin, screaming bloody hypocrites they are… they ought to out there kicking her (Julie Gillard) to death.”

Graham Morris, Liberal Party Strategist, suggesting strategy for the Labor Party.

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!

Yep, everyone. Even Gillian Triggs with her partisan report. Though we may not agree with we still think she has the right to resign on her own terms. In fact, we’re sure of it, because we had a good hard look at the ways in which her resignation could be forced.

But for those of you who thought that Abbott was being sexist in his attacks on Professor Triggs, I think that it’s only fair to point out that he attacks anyone who fails to acknowledge the god-given mandate that his government has been given.

Let’s not be distracted by a silly report, written by a silly person, who didn’t have the sense to take on a new job when it would have been offered, but certainly wasn’t offered because that could be considered breaking the law, so let’s be clear that there was no inducement, just the possibility of a job, had the person in question decided that she’d rather resign before her partisan report led to the entire country losing all confidence in her. Let’s move on to something more positive and exciting on IWD (that’s International Women’s Day, and not to be confused with IMDs which we all agree were very confusing in the days leading up to our invasion of Iraq.)

It’s really exciting that the Abbott Government is spending $30 million on making women – and, of course, one or two men  – aware of domestic violence. Because, after all, a woman who’s being attacked by her partner may not have been aware that she was a victim of domestic violence unless there was a government advertising campaign. She can remember the ad she saw on TV and think that she seek help, if only most of the help hadn’t been closed down in the 2014 Budget.

Now, I notice a lot of bleeding hearts – it’s just an expression, people, I mean if Graham Morris can use it, so can I – are complaining about this very thing. I read a piece where a person argued that it was ridiculous that the government is spending money creating awareness of the problem, when they’ve also saved money by closing down many of the places where a victim of domestic violence could go to seek help.

This, of course, overlooks the excellent approach to economic management that the government has. I mean, the money for the campaign had to come from somewhere, didn’t it? And while a place in a refuge would only help one person, an awareness campaign helps everyone… from advertising executives to media companies to Prime Ministers wishing to show how much they care about women.

And, of course, it also helps the women. The trickle down effect of this spending means that everyone should eventually have more money, which means that the women can afford to build and pay for their own refuges without relying on men’s taxes to pay for them. Let’s not forget that men earn more than women, so they’re paying more income tax, so why should their taxes be spent on something that they’re never going to use?

It’s part of the whole user pays system that the current government has a mandate for. Sorry, should that be a persondate; I have no wish to use politically incorrect language on IWD. It’s just like Medicare and the whole refuguee problem. And let’s be clear people, a refuge is only an “e” away from being a refugee.

But perhaps, I’m misunderstanding the government’s approach. Perhaps, the domestic violence campaign won’t be about making victims aware. Perhaps it’ll be directed at the cost of domestic violence, and try to convince the perpetrators to stop because like intergenerational debt, it’s something we just can’t afford. An ad campaign that says that like Medicare and Old People, it’s something that we just can’t afford any longer, maybe that’s what they have in mind.

Whatever, I’m sure it’ll be much better spent than if Labor had wasted it on services and that the campaign will be thoroughly worth the money, because, well, Tony’s back on top of his game, when just a week ago, we all thought that he’d hit the wall. Metaphorically, I’m not refering to any incident from his uni days.

 

The real stitch-up

Tony Abbott has been sneeringly yelling at anyone who will listen, if there are any of those left, that the government has no confidence in Gillian Triggs because the timing of her report shows it is a “stitch up” designed to make him look bad, like he isn’t capable of doing that on his own.

I would like to point out that Ms Triggs told Senate estimates hearings in early 2013 of the HRC’s concern about children in detention and their ongoing investigation.  She was slapped down by George Brandis who wasn’t interested.

In February 2013, some seven months after Ms Triggs had assumed her role at the Human Rights Commission, and seven months before the election, Senator Brandis grilled her unmercilessly about why the HRC was not spending more of their budget on defending free speech.

When she pointed out that the HRC receive about 17,500 inquiries a year of which approximately three concern political opinion “so it is a very tiny part, in answer to your question, of the complaints function of the commission”, Brandis refused to accept her explanation.

Senator BRANDIS: That may very well be so, Professor Triggs, but why has it taken people other than the Human Rights Commission to elevate this debate? Why has it taken people like my friends at the Institute of Public Affairs, some of my colleagues in the coalition, columnists, editorial writers and writers of letters to the editors of the newspapers to get a debate up and going in Australia about limitations on freedom, when we have an agency, your agency, whose explicit statutory charter is to promote and advance those rights?

Prof. Triggs : I wonder if I could take another point here. I accept your question. I think it is a valuable one, as I have said. But let us look at another element of this—that is, a great deal of my time as president and that of many members of our human rights law and policy group has been responding to our profound concerns about the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. I understand that at the moment we have many thousands—and I do not know the exact number, but let us say 6,000 people—in mandatory detention in Australia, including children. Many have been there for years. Babies have been born within that environment. They have been charged with no offence, and they have not yet had their claims to refugee status assessed. That is an area that I think is of fundamental importance to human rights.

Senator BRANDIS: Well, it is.

Prof. Triggs : It concerns arbitrary detention without trial. If I may say so, I went to an interesting lecture by the foreign minister the other day to celebrate the Magna Carta, quoting the fundamental principles of the Magna Carta that no man—or presumably woman—can be charged or held without a trial of their peers. It seems extraordinary—

Senator BRANDIS: I do not think the barons at Runnymede had friends like Mr Eddie Obeid and Mr Ian Macdonald, unlike our foreign minister, who speaks with eloquence about the Magna Carta, at least.

Brandis mentions several times his “friends at the IPA”

“Whereas your commission is a dedicated and committed advocate of antidiscrimination principles, I do not see the commission being a dedicated and committed advocate of freedom principles. You have think tanks, like in the Institute of Public Affairs, which has something called a ‘freedom project’. I do not see a freedom project in the Human Rights Commission.”

Senator Brandis finishes with what was no doubt his aim all along.

Senator BRANDIS: My last question. Your commission does seem to have a superabundance of discrimination commissioners in various areas. Should the Human Rights Commission have a freedom commissioner whose particular brief is to promote the kind of balance of which you speak so that within the commission there is a person whose particular job is to promote freedom, just as, within the commission at the moment, there are, I think, five commissioners whose particular job is to promote antidiscrimination?  Would that not be a desirable balance—one freedom person versus five anti-discrimination people?

Come on down Timmy!

A couple of months later, in April 2013, Brandis attended the IPA 70th birthday bash.  He obviously enjoyed himself because he has been rewarding them ever since.

As soon as he assumed office, Brandis gifted to Tim Wilson a $400,000 a year job as a Human Rights Commissioner despite his “woefully inadequate” qualifications.  It seems apparent that Wilson was appointed to destroy from within and, if worst comes to worst and he can’t abolish the HRC as he wants, then Tim will probably be offered the top job after the “anonymous” leaks about Triggs wanting to get out.

After the predictable backlash to this obvious act of cronyism, George wrote an article in the Australian condemning those who criticized his choice.

“But some things never change, like the reaction of the claque of bilious pseudo-intellectuals who constitute what passes for a left-wing commentariat in this country. Mike Carlton, Catherine Deveney, Van Badham and their ilk were nothing if not boorishly predictable.  They and their followers unleashed a storm of hatred and bile against Wilson on social media, the like of which I have never seen.”

Or perhaps they just thought that sacking the Disability Commissioner to employ your unqualified inexperienced ideologically opposed little friend was a step too far?  And is that any way for the highest legal officer in the land to speak?

This was all the more hypocritical considering  Brandis, in opposition, had previously taken to the Australian to excoriate the appointment by Mark Dreyfus of Labor staffer-turned-intellectual Tim Soutphommasane as Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, a role for which he was eminently qualified, labelling him as “yet another partisan of the Left”.

Dr Soutphommasane graduated from the University of Sydney with a first-class honours degree. He was then a Commonwealth Scholar and Jowett Senior Scholar at Balliol College of the University of Oxford where he completed a Master of Philosophy with distinction and a Doctor of Philosophy in political theory.

From 2010 to 2012 he was a Lecturer in Australian Studies and a Research Fellow at the National Centre for Australian Studies of Monash University.

Soutphommasane is the author of three books: The Virtuous Citizen: Patriotism in a Multicultural Society (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works (New South Books, 2012) which in 2013 won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award in the ‘Community Relations Commission Award’ section, and Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation-Building for Australian Progressives (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

By contrast, Wilson has a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade from Monash University.  He worked at the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years.  He was a vocal critic of the Human Rights Commission and during his time there the IPA called for the abolition of the commission.

After his “surprise”appointment, Wilson wrote that:

“Attorney-General George Brandis has asked me, as Australia’s next human rights commissioner, to focus on traditional liberal democratic and common law rights, particularly article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

All rights should be defended, but the human right most being neglected is free speech. Arguably freedom of speech is the most important human right. It is the human right necessary to protect and defend all other human rights.

Article 19 of the covenant states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Article 19 ought to be the human rights community’s starting point. But at the moment it seems more like a footnote.

Increasingly free speech has been pushed aside in favour of laws and regulations designed to stop people being offensive to each other, a steadily expanding corpus of anti-discrimination and defamation law, and the growing momentum towards restrictions on speech online.”

Whilst the Attorney General may appoint people to the HRC, I am not sure he has the power to direct them then what to say and do, and I am wondering how Tim feels about George’s recent announcement of devoting $17 million to monitor social media to take down terrorist propaganda

When the two Tims attended Senate estimates hearings in May 2014 to discuss proposed changes to Section 18C of the racial discrimination act, George Brandis objected to Tim Soutphommasane giving his opinion even though he is the Racial Discrimination Commissioner.  Ian Macdonald, coincidentally, was also chairing this meeting as he was with the recent meeting with Gillian Triggs and he upheld Senator Brandis’ objection saying his opinion had no place in the discussion. (see video here)

But later in the hearing, Tim Wilson was allowed to re-state, at length, his clear support for changing the Act.

After the hearing, Senator Singh said Dr Soutphommasane ”was gagged, in complete contradiction to Tim Wilson who was able to share his views on the RDA.  Senator Brandis initially stopped me from asking the question and accused me of being dishonest in asking for Dr Soutphommasane’s views.  This is a man who stands for freedom of speech yet won’t allow a witness at the table to speak.”

This absolute championing of freedom of speech seems very much at odds with Tony Abbott’s stand against Hizb ut-Tahrir, taken after Alan Jones urged him to “proscribe the movement”.

“We are changing the law that will make it easier to ban organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir. But before that even we should have a system in place which red cards these hate preachers and stops them coming to Australia.”

The response from our “Freedom Commissioner” was totally devoid of any legal facts, or gumption for that matter, as reported by Michelle Grattan in October:

“Wilson fears florid talk about “hate speech” can “justify censorship all over the place”. He is considering putting in a personal submission to the current parliamentary inquiry into the legislation, urging a tighter definition of the advocacy of terrorism. Wilson says it is unclear where the line would be between the advocacy of terrorism and for example attacking the coalition’s air strikes in the Middle East.”

Apparently, he either didn’t get around to his “personal submission” or it was ignored.

Abbott is right…this has been a stitch-up – one that began well before George Brandis was in a position to reward his “friends at the IPA” and, with the help of Senator Macdonald, take his revenge on that pesky woman.

Why the Liberals shouldn’t listen to Gillian Triggs

Well, it’s very clear that this government isn’t going to listen to anyone who’s partisan. I mean, that was clearly the problem with Gillian Triggs’ report. It was clearly partisan, even though it also criticised the Labor Party.

Now, for those of you who are having trouble following the Liberal logic here. I’ll put it in the form of a few simple steps.

  1. All people have the right to a point of view.
  2. Private institutions and media outlets have the right to be biased.
  3. People who receive any form of government funding do not have the right to bias and should never be partisan.
  4. We can tell we they are being partisan, because they criticise us, which they have no right to do because they’re meant to hold no views at all. Unless those views are critical of the Labor Party or The Greens because that’s an objective reading of the facts.
  5. We know this because those private institutions and media outlets agree with us and that shows that anyone critical is obviously partisan.

You see it’s not the substance of the report that matters. It’s the person delivering the report who needs to be questioned. If a total stranger called out, “Fire” would you ring emergency services or try to establish the person’s credentials? Personally, I wouldn’t do anything until the person produced a comprehensive resume and a credit check, even if the smoke was making it hard to read either, because it’s the person making the report and whether they can be trusted, that’s the central issue.

So, of course, Gillian Triggs criticism can be just dismissed, because when you have someone producing reports like that, well, they’re clearly not the sort of unbiased reports that justify the things we want to do. Maurice Newman, now there’s a man who gives a good unbiased report. And Dicky Warburton, he’s another. But just so you don’t think we don’t take any notice of women, and try to play that sexist card, don’t forget that we got Amanda Vanstone to give us a report on all the ways in which we could stop spending money on people and start making savings. And her audit committee only cost almost twice as much as we budgeted for, but let me say that it was money well spent, because they handed down a total non-partisan finding that told us that we needed to cut as much spending as possible to those in the worst position to fight back.

Whoops, did I say “fight back”? That’s nearly as big a no-no as saying “Workchoices” in Liberal ranks!

Now, while I’m right behind the Liberals all the way, as most regular readers of my blog will know, there’s just one thing that concerns me.

They’re on record as admitting two things:

  1. They lost confidence in Gillian Triggs.
  2. They suggest that they’d give her another job if she resigned.

Which strikes me as a very bad principle. Surely they wouldn’t throw away taxpayers’ money by giving a job to someone that they didn’t have confidence in! Surely, they should only be giving jobs to people in whom they have full confidence like Amanda Vanstone or Sophie Mirabella.

Because offering a job to a statutory officer like that could be misconstrued by wicked people who’d suggest that it was an “inducement”, which, of course, is another word for bribe. And, while we accept the notion of bribing electorates, bribing the Human Rights Commissioner is actually illegal. So there’s no way that the Attorney General would be behind such a thing, because surely the Attorney General understands the law.

Surely.

Immigration Detention: try living with the life changing effects

CartoonAIMSo many experts have warned the government about the effects of detention on asylum seekers. The experts have been publicly denouncing detention for years, yet we detain more and more people. Most sadly, we detain children, a situation the Human Rights Commission has reported on, in graphic and disturbing detail, this week in The Forgotten Children.

Here we are in 2015, incarcerating innocent children in conditions worse than those in which we jail convicted criminals. Julie Bishop cries tears of pain over the looming deaths of two convicted drug smugglers, yet Tony Abbott’s response when asked if he felt any guilt over the treatment of children in detention was “None whatsoever”. While I do not agree with the death penalty and I feel for the drug smugglers and their families at this tragic time, the contradiction evident in the two responses is nothing short of astonishing.

I left my country because there was a war and I wanted freedom. I left my country. I came to have a better future, not to sit in a prison. If I remain in this prison, I will not have a good future. I came to become a good man in the future to help poor people … I am tired of life. I cannot wait much longer. What will happen to us? What are we guilty of? What have we done to be imprisoned?87 I’m just a kid, I haven’t done anything wrong. They are putting me in a jail. We can’t talk with Australian people.

(13 year old child, Blaydin Detention Centre, Darwin, 12 April 2014)

Source: The Forgotten Children

Abbott launched a scathing attack on Gillian Triggs, Human Rights Commission President and it was reported today the government has sought her removal prior to the release of the report.

The Abbott government sought the resignation of the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs two weeks before it launched an extraordinary attack on the commission over its report on children in immigration detention.

While The Forgotten Children report is about children, it is also about detention. The effects of detention don’t disappear the moment a detainee is released. The experts have warned of this for years and I know from personal experience this is true. There may be some particularly resilient individuals that are released unscathed, but I suggest the vast majority do not find recovery instant or easy. Sometimes the effects are not immediately apparent. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often doesn’t appear until sometime later. A member of my family suffers PTSD as the result of a life experience totally unrelated to detention. The PTSD did not reach full expression until ten years after the event, although it could be argued with appropriate professional intervention her PTSD may have been detected earlier. There is considerable debate about delayed-onset PTSD and research continues: a good reference article is A Quarter of Cases of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Is With Delayed Onset. The article discusses patients suffering “subthreshold” symptoms after the event but before full expression of the PTSD condition.

Of course PTSD is only one of the many mental health issues that can result from detention. Anxiety and depression are also common.

Not only are we risking the welfare of vulnerable children while in detention, we are risking their future welfare as well because there is a very high risk we are damaging the mental health of their parents (those children who are not unaccompanied minors). This means the parents will be less able to engage with their children as parents at a time when the child most needs their parents to support their recovery.

In 2012 Dr Belinda Liddell, as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at UNSW, wrote of the impact of immigration policies on the mental health of asylum seekers. Since then our treatment of asylum seekers has worsened, not improved.

In Nauru, where more than 380 asylum seekers are currently being detained, there have been reports of hunger strikes, self-harm, aggression and suicide attempts.

Unfortunately this isn’t new – these signs of psychological distress have been repeatedly witnessed in Australia’s immigration detention centres since the early 1990s.

For several decades now, mental health professionals have documented the psychological health of asylum seekers within mandatory detention facilities. Findings from multiple studies provide clear evidence of deteriorating mental health as a result of indefinite detention, with profound long-term consequences even after community resettlement.

I note “profound long-term consequences“. So should our government. This report isn’t just about children. It is about whole families. This report isn’t just about the conditions in detention. It is about the future of the children, the future of the families. The long-term effects will be different for each person. Many may end up unable to be gainfully employed or to study to build a life after detention. Society will, as society often does in many situations such as rape and domestic violence, blame the victim rather than accept responsibility for allowing the detention in the first place.

Abbott and his ministry should be considering the lives of these people, not some “Stop the boats” slogan that is well past its use-by date. The government need to deliver the “good government” promised on Monday and act responsibly. Persecuting innocent people is not responsible. More importantly, it is not humane and is in contravention of Australia’s responsibilities under international law. It has life-long effects on the imprisoned, long after release.

Robyn Oyeniyi lives with the effects from detention on a daily basis. Robyn writes on Love versus Goliath.

Image by Jen Bethune.

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