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Tag Archives: human rights

People have strange ideas about “rights”!

“Here’s the thing about rights. They’re not supposed to be voted on… That’s why they call them RIGHTS!”

Rachel Maddow

Recently a woman has been charged because she suggested on social media that we should “burn down all mosques”. She’s arguing that she can’t be charged under the religious vilification laws because she doesn’t accept that Islam is a religion.

Which is an interesting defence. “I’m not guilty of murder, your honour, because I don’t accept that anyone who supports Tony Abbott is human, so when I bludgeoned my brother to death over Christmas lunch, it was merely cruelty to animals, for which I”ll happily plead guilty!” 

Apparently various people commented that this was another example of “pandering to Muslims”. I wonder if the same people would think that an Islamic speaker suggesting that we should burn synagogues or churches should be charged, or would that be pandering to Jews or Christians?

But it’s easy to see how confused simple folk can become when our politicians seem so at odds with each other – sometimes even within the same party. At the start of the month, Liberal MP, Andrew Nikolic informed us that the debate about civil rights was now redundant. Speaking in a parliamentary debate he went on to say, “This usually comes down to those who say they are merely defending human rights in objecting to counter-terrorism measures. But in doing so they are making life even more difficult for those charged with the responsibility of actually protecting these same rights for all Australians while at the same time keeping us safe.”

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Liberals gained a new taste for civil rights just a few days later. You see, some felt that when the head of ASIO, Duncan Lewis, called some MPs to suggest that their inflammatory rhetoric on Islam wasn’t helping, it was an attack of free speech.

Apparenlty, the head of ASIO doesn’t have the same right to free speech even if it’s done via a private phone call. He’s not there to get into politics. He’s just there to do his job. And that certainly doesn’t involve pointing out to Liberal politicians that they’re actually making his job harder.

One could point out that it was only a suggestion, and there was no suggestion of punishment if they failed to comply, but that’s the thing with the Right: Any suggestion that perhaps they shouldn’t say what they’ve said is infringement on their right to free speech. It doesn’t matter it the reason is that it’s actually helping terrorists, or – as in the Andrew Bolt case – what they were saying was wildly inaccurate, any suggestion that they should perhaps think before speaking is a violation of their right to free speech.

It doesn’t help to point out to them that as Australia doesn’t have a Bill of Rights, they don’t actually have any right to free speech, because then the argument will shift from the idiocy of what they’re saying to their insistence that we don’t need a Bill of Rights because we all know what our rights are and this is Australia, so nobody’s going to take them away from us.

Taking them away from other people, however, is quite ok. Like “illegal immigrants” who have forfeited their rights by coming here in the first place. In their case, the penalty for “illegal immigration” is incarceration for a period of time longer than any penalty they’d actually receive for entering the country illegally until they face trial for “illegal immigration” which we can’t try them for because they’d use the defence that they’re seeking asylum which isn’t a crime and we’d have to respect their human rights.

And as for Gillian Triggs having the right to freedom of speech, well, she’s on that Human Rights thingy, so she shouldn’t be partisan at all. I mean, if she’s going to criticise us then she should criticise everyone. You can’t have someone criticising one side of poltics and not the other. Never mind that she was critical of Labor too. It was the timing of her report that meant she’d forfeited her right to speak. She should have released her report before it was finished while Labor was still in power.

Or take the ABC, it should be editorially independent and not just a mouthpiece for the government. However, that doesn’t mean it has the right to be more critical of the government than the rest of the mainstream media – who, by the way, have a right to be biased so don’t complain if they’re critical of Labor or The Greens. The ABC have no right to be biased and, should therefore, simply reflect what all the other biased media are saying.

Yep, it seems to the Right that “rights” are something they automatically have, and everyone else has to earn by right behaviour. And by “right behaviour”, we mean “correct” behaviour. And by “correct” that means agreeing with the Right.

Perhaps the confusion is because the words are the same. Let’s face it, Tony Abbott never seemed that good with language and he was considered their spokesperson.

P.S. While Christmas is meant to be a slow news time, has anyone else noticed how many announcements on things like approvals to Adani and cuts to Medicare procedures are being announced in the past few days? Ah, the Turnbull government it just never rests. No wonder it thinks that penalty rates are for wimps…

Abbott another Right Wing Nutter.

There’s nothing quite as pathetic as watching a former Australian prime minister trying to redress a less than stellar political career. That Tony Abbott would use the Margaret Thatcher Lecture to do it, however, seems to fit nicely into his Anglophilic world view.

The event itself, celebrating a former UK Prime Minister who was far more arrogant and divisive than Abbott, seems a fitting place for him. No UK leader in living memory evoked such hatred for the way she so callously destroyed working class livelihoods.

Perhaps one should stop wasting good time writing about Tony Abbott. After devoting the last two years to his downfall and now celebrating that most joyous event, I would prefer never to pen his name again.

But after watching some of his Margaret Thatcher Lecture as he addressed that most pompous of audiences at the Guildhall in London, it became apparent that he is destined to follow another former PM and continue to embarrass himself and us along the way. It seems he is going to keep my keyboard working a little longer.

It is sad to watch someone in decline try to establish a positive legacy. It is worse when that effort is filled with such poisonous vitriol filled with such anti-human, anti-Christian values. As Alan Austin suggests, Abbott is in danger of being “consigned to the bin of foreign, right wing nutters along with Sarah Palin, Geert Wilders and Pauline Hanson.”

thatcherMargaret Thatcher, on the other hand, was the one who took on Argentina’s President Galtieri when he invaded the Falkland Islands. Against the advice from the Ministry of Defence she dispatched a Naval Task Force to reclaim them.

The Argentine invasion was a bizarre act by the ageing president in an attempt to deflect attention from his country’s appalling human rights record and its economic malaise.

The Falklands incident, however, could have been handled effectively through diplomatic channels over time. After all, it was a worthless rock in the Southern Ocean that meant little to either side. But Thatcher decided a show of force was necessary.

The result: Britain suffered 258 killed and 777 wounded. In addition, 2 destroyers, 2 frigates, and 2 auxiliary vessels were sunk. But they did reclaim their islands. For Argentina, the Falklands War cost 649 killed, 1,068 wounded, and 11,313 captured. In addition, the Argentine Navy lost a submarine, a light cruiser, and 75 fixed-wing aircraft.

As we have all witnessed recently, Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, displayed an obsessive interest in defence and a willingness to commit Australian defence personnel to foreign conflicts. It is reasonable to speculate he would have gone further had his hold on the top job been stronger.

In his address to the English Lords and ladies, he suggested that placing boots on the ground in Syria was a necessary component to defeating ISIS. His use of the dreaded ‘death cult’ slogan was an embarrassment that, fortunately, the few who heard it, would not have understood.

But, there is little doubt that a ‘Coalition of the Willing Mark 2’, if it was gathered, would have seen Australian soldiers caught up in that conflict if Abbott was still in charge.

We are a better nation for his removal from such a powerful position. It was a strange act on Abbott’s part to make such divisive comments to a foreign audience while still a member of the Australian government. It is hard to see Malcolm Turnbull agreeing to such a scenario.

Mr Squeaky Clean?Turnbull avoided chastising him in public, but I would be surprised if that was the last Abbott heard about it. Thankfully, the address was largely ignored by the international media, but not by those were keen to satirise it.

Abbott’s term as PM is now little more than a blimp on the radar and we have regained our self-respect. This, however, does not mean to say we are being governed well. We are not. Those appalling asylum seeker detention tactics are still in play and our economy is still heading south. The latest CPI figures are a prelude to recession.

These and other issues will test the Turnbull government in the coming months. If Labor is to mount a serious challenge to counter Turnbull’s popularity, something will have to be done about Bill Shorten.

But somehow, that hurdle pales in comparison to the one the nation has already cleared. We have rid ourselves of one right wing nutter. There are still some around though and they need to be exposed for the danger they represent.


Human Rights “Roundtable” – has Australia become a Soft Theocracy?

By Brian Morris

Has the Christian lobby influenced the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in discrimination against gays? If the answer is “no”, why has the HRC set up a ‘Religious Freedom’ Roundtable for the faithful, on 5th November?

This forum is not about ‘religious freedom’, it simply reflects a resurgent Christian lobby clamouring for new exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. As one clear example, Church leaders want special “religious liberty” for any Christians in the lucrative wedding industry to refuse services to gays, once same-sex marriage is finally legalised. They want to give caterers, photographers, outfitters, and others the “liberty” to snub gay couples who violate their religious beliefs.

It’s been brewing since the HRC’s Tim Wilson took office in 2014, and while he is also “defacto” Commissioner for LGBTI issues there are legitimate questions about how far he’ll go in shaping HR policy, to accommodate Christian anger at the very idea of marriage equality. He is reported as saying, “…we can design a law that’s more mindful of religious freedoms.”

‘Freedom of religion’ has been mandated for decades under a UN charter, adopted by Australia, and religion already has many ‘extended freedoms’ — including exemptions from anti-discrimination laws in education, health and aged care.

Consider also their grants and annual tax breaks worth billions; that Australia has the largest number of religious schools per capita in the OECD; that religious instruction and a national Chaplaincy Program persists in public schools — despite government funding twice being ruled unconstitutional by the High Court.

It can be said these privileges, even now, violate the basic tenets of a secular Australia. Many will add that the nation is already a “soft theocracy (1) — where Church and State share a cosy symbiotic relationship. And this image may harden if anticipated policy recommendations flow from the upcoming Roundtable.

Clearly, Human Rights are central to secular philosophy, but so too is the separation of Church and State. ‘Freedom of religion’ does not mean a ‘right’ to Christian privilege, or to use any faith as the pretext for exemptions from the law”.

Recently, the ABC reported comments by Anglican Bishop, Robert Forsyth, who argues that “wedding service providers should have the ‘religious freedom’ to refuse to cater for gay couples.” The report included references to countries where same-sex marriage is legal, but none have seen the backlash predicted in this new wave of Christian opposition.

Bishop Forsyth heads the Religious Freedom Reference Group and is expected to attend HRC’s forum. So too is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, who goes further by calling for “religious Liberty” to nullify secular policy.

Clearly there are two sides to this vexed question, so it’s surprising that invitations to submit ideas for the event were sent primarily to faith-based organisations. Secular and rationalist groups, who have much to say on this issue, appear to have been an afterthought.

Of the 200 invitations to make submissions, only four are reported to have gone to secular organisations. At the forum they will be joined by forty representatives from Australian Churches and faith-based institutions. By any yardstick there is considerable imbalance in representation — a disconcerting factor given that the non-religious viewpoint is determined as having equal rights to ‘freedom of expression’, under international conventions. It’s particularly strange when Australians are now more than 50 percent non-Christian.

The HRC decision only to invite national bodies creates an inbuilt bias — with scores of Churches and national religious lobby groups, compared to a handful with a “secular” voice. By comparison, the Australian Bureau of Statistics called for “all submissions” with ideas for changes following the 2011 Census — including on the “Religious Affiliation” question.

Commissioner Wilson loses sight of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). It serves to protect both ‘Religions and Beliefs’ — a mandate that specifically includes rights of expression for all non-religious and atheist beliefs. The Roundtable should be focused on ‘Freedom of Belief’, not solely for ‘Religion’.

So, what are we seeing here? Surely not a religious Trojan Horse to lobby for new anti-discrimination exemptions when gay marriage is finally legalised — adding to Church exemptions already enjoyed in education, health and aged care?”

Bishop Forsyth and Archbishop Fisher are among many religious leaders campaigning for exclusive powers to discriminate against those who offend their beliefs. Religion cannot be regarded as occupying the moral high ground — it is in no way superior to secular values; and human rights does not mean religious privilege . . . !

There are elements of concern that also surround the Human Rights Commissioner and his agenda — when Tim Wilson was appointed he was dubbed the “Freedom Commissioner.” In principle that may sound laudable but we might also consider that prior to his role with the HRC he was a policy director with the conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, and we need to finally understand his objectives in terms of new ‘freedoms’ for the religious.

Shortly after assuming his new role he gave a speech at the Australian Catholic University. It was titled ‘The forgotten freedom of worship’ and in it he said, “In short, religion is about everyone’s relationship to their creator“. That sentiment is not shared by a public majority — and in matters that may lead to people of faith having a superior privilege we need to exercise extreme care; and this HRC Roundtable is no exception.

From the outset there has been a drive for a religious forum, and points of contention include; ignoring the UNDHR definition of ‘religion and belief’; inviting predominately faith-based groups to make submissions; allowing only token secular inclusion at the Roundtable; permitting the forum to appear heavily biased towards a Christian view of ‘Religious Rights’ under the law; and aiming to frame policy from what seems a predicable outcome.

We should also reflect on the HRC wording of its “Guiding Principles” for this ‘Religious Freedom’ Roundtable — particularly items 3 and 10 — which give an unmistakable Christian perspective on morality and the supernatural. Passages refer to religion as, “the moral and spiritual guidance of our nation” and with an objective to, “uphold the law and improve Australia’s moral and spiritual guidance”.

It is unacceptable, in a supposed secular democracy, to suggest that religion has some moral superiority — over and above the broad philosophical ethics and humanitarian values shared by most non-religious Australians. One can only trust that in the wash-up of this religious Roundtable, the Human Rights Commission will not allow it to be just another gateway for politicised Christianity to win new legal exemptions — and harden Australia’s image as a Soft Theocracy”.


(1) Soft Theocracy — “A state where church and government purposes coincide to garnishee taxpayers’ money and resources, structurally through tax exemptions and functionally through grants and privileges.” Realising Secularism: Australia and New Zealand. 2010. Ed. Max Wallace.

About Brian Morris: World travel shaped Brian’s interest in social justice — wealth, poverty and religion in many countries. His book Sacred to Secular is critically acclaimed, including from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. It’s an analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm it does. It’s a call for Australia to become fully secular. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.


China nationalises religion

Politics and religion don’t mix, as the old adage goes. But China has ignored this adage, writes Mike Mizzi.

As civil and human rights continue to be eroded in the West under the all pervasive blanket of “national security,” the Chinese are busily perfecting the art to a new height. Hot on the heels of an estimated record amount of religious converts, mainly Christians, to the tune of 1000 per day, the Chinese Communist Party has decided to “minimise the influence of foreign institutions” according to China’s official newspaper, the China Daily.

Of course control and persecution of religious people in Communist countries is nothing new. As we have seen throughout history, religious groups perennially get picked out for persecution. However, China’s new way of dealing with the rise of Christianity is a very socialist solution. The Chinese are going to make Christianity a nationalised religion.

“The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture,” Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said at a Shanghai forum on the “Sinicization of Christianity,” according to China’s state media.

Gu Mengfei, deputy secretary-general of the the Three-Self Patriotic Movement — a state-sanctioned umbrella organisation for Protestant churches — elaborated on the initiative. “This will encourage more believers to make contributions to the country’s harmonious social progress, cultural prosperity and economic development,” Gu said.

Figures disclosed at seminars held by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, showed that China now has about 23 million to 40 million Protestants, 1.7 to 2.9 per cent of the total population. Each year, about 500,000 people are baptized as Protestants. According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs in 2012, the country has about 139,000 approved religious places. Among them, there are about 56,000 Christian churches and gathering sites.

By the end of last year, the country had published 65 million copies of the Bible, including editions in minority languages.

China’s embrace of religious “freedom” is not limited to Christianity. In some provinces Muslims also thrive and prosper peacefully.

The ancient Silk Road trade route cut through what is today the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, luring Muslim traders from afar. It has maintained a vibrant and integrated Muslim community for centuries. Descendants of Arab and Persian merchants travelled here in the 7th century and many settled, planting the roots of Islam in the heart of China. About half the country’s 20 million Muslims are from the Hui ethnic group mostly located in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous region.

But not all Muslim communities are living as harmoniously with the state as the Hui.
In 2009 riots erupted in Xinjiang’s regional capital Urumqi, leaving about 200 Han and Muslim Uighurs dead. China’s government cracked down – a situation that continues to simmer to this day.

While Beijing supports the Muslim religion in Ningxia, that is far from the case in Xinjiang. Minors under the age of 18 are forbidden from participating in Islamic practices, and thousands are detained every year for “illegal religious activity”, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

”It is strictly forbidden to read and study religious texts at state institutions, including schools,” said the 2005 report titled “Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang”.

“For Beijing, Xinjiang falls into the same broad category of political concerns as Taiwan and Tibet,” the report says. “Demands for separation and/or autonomy are seen in Beijing as a threat to the continued viability of the Chinese state.”

Muslims working in state institutions such as schools, Communist party members, students and teachers in Xinjiang are forbidden from fasting during Ramadan.

China’s overriding desire to maintain a peaceful and stable socialist society is underwritten by state repression and control. Whether through violence or assimilation, religions in China remain a less than free pursuit and when religion meets ethnic aspirations, as in the case of the Uighurs, it can produce deadly results.

While remaining relatively open to religious freedoms, as long as they do not threaten the state, China, despite a dramatic increase in the number of “mass incidents”, as protests are euphemistically termed, remains closed to electoral democracy. None of the perennial protests that take place in China will deal a deathblow to unseat the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Unlike the Arab Spring protests in Egypt and Libya, where social media became an integral aspect spreading awareness and organising the masses, eventually toppling the dictators, the CCP monitors the Internet like a hawk. Armies of censors troll the web to eviscerate articles and comments that the government does not like.

Most political conflict in China takes place on a local level, wherein local officials found to be corrupt will attract dissent while none of the anger ever being directed at the China Communist Party itself.

In a blog post titled “Discussing Revolution”, popular blogger Han Han also explains why he thinks China does not need a revolution. According to Mr Han:

“With the exception of intellectuals and those working in the media industry, most Chinese find themselves ‘free’ and unless injustice befalls upon them, they do not see the need to concern themselves with issues of ‘justice’.”

Testifying to the CCP’s domination, Han Han says democracy will not work in China, as the central government could easily spend trillions of dollars on buying votes. How this works with religious groups is anyone’s guess. The buying of votes may be a regular event and condoned in China, but with the ongoing increase in religious conversions, the buying of souls may yet be another thing.


Bill Shorten’s Address at ALP National Conference on Asylum Seeker Policy – Key points

Below is the video of Bill Shorten’s address at the Labor Conference, regarding Asylum Seeker and immigration policies. Key points from the address are listed below:

Key Points:

  • Immigration has been one of the secrets of Australia’s success.
  • Shorten believes in a new direction for Australia’s immigration policies
  • Accept more refugees and ensure we treat refugees more humanely
  • Shorten guarantees to keep closed the lethal journey between Java and Christmas Island, which claims lives.
  • Australia can be the greater, kinder nation, we want our children to see.
  • A Labor Govt will keep more people safe in a more humane way
    • Safe from persecution by dictatorial regimes
    • Safe from the exploitation of criminal people smugglers who prey upon the vulnerable.
    • Safe from abuse in facilities which even fail to meet the basic standard of decency
    • Safe from losing people they love from having families torn apart from drownings at sea
  • In addressing this, unlike the Liberal National Coalition, we do not play to the politics of fear
  • Labor will never use labels to denigrate desperate people
  • Fleeing persecution is not a crime
  • We will not pander to a noisy tiny minority who will never embrace multi-cultural Australia
  • Shorten acknowledges the history of Asylum seeker policy
  • We must ensure Navy, customs officials and border force people never again pull bodies from waters
  • We must maintain regional settlement agreements Labor introduced. Safest deterrent to people smugglers
  • Under Labor’s policies people smugglers cannot falsely advertise settlement in Australia
  • There are now over 60 million displaced people in the world through no fault of their own and this will only increase
  • Risking lives in unsafe vessels will only increase and desperation will become more intense.
  • We should never tolerate the exploitation of vulnerable people.
  • We cannot allow people smugglers to take advantage of perceived weakness.
  • We need to ensure people smugglers cannot traffic vulnerable people.
  • We need to ensure Australia provides safe haven to a greater share of refugees
  • Displaced people will arrive here more safely.
  • We must have the option of turning boats around provided it is safe to do so.
  • By 2025, a Labor Govt will double Australia’s annual refugee intake to 27,000 people.
  • Labor will dedicate a portion of our program to resettling refugees from our region.
  • Labor will abolish temporary protection visas
  • Labor will reinstate the United Nations Refugee Convention in the Migration Act.
  • Labor will reverse the Abbott Govt’s retrograde efforts to undermine international law
  • Labor will deliver historic 450 million dollars to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees
  • Labor will take up overdue leadership role to work and engage with our neighbours, including Indonesia
  • Labor supports regional processing.
  • Processing offshore does not mean we can offshore or outsource our humanity
  • Vulnerable people should never be subject to degrading violence in Australia’s name.
  • To guarantee safety Labor will implement Independent oversight of every Australian funded facility
  • Labor will ensure refugee claims are processed as quickly as possible.
  • Labor will restore access to the refugee review tribunal
  • Labor will ensure increased transparency for processing times.
  • Labor will fulfil the solemn duty we owe to children.
  • Labor will end the moral shame of children in detention as quickly as possible.
  • Labor will establish an Independent Children’s Advocate
  • Independent Children’s advocate will be separate from Department, Minister & Government, serving only the interests of children.
  • In addition to Whistle Blower safeguards, Labor will legislate to impose mandatory reporting of any child abuse in all facilities.
  • Labor’s plan ensures Australia takes a fair share of refugees
  • Labor’s plan ensures refugees in our care are treated with humanity and dignity
  • Labor’s plan ensures that Australia steps up and fulfils a greater responsibility as a global citizen
  • Shorten says he did not enter politics to shirk hard decisions and hard issues
  • Shorten is determined for our country to be responsible in the world and secure at home
  • Shorten is determined for us to be a welcoming, kind, compassionate and safe destination
  • Shorten is determined Labor will achieve this for Australia.

*Video sourced from Bill Shorten’s Facebook page.

Originally published on Polyfeministix

Selective compassion

We must ask ourselves, are we truly a compassionate nation?

I am against the death penalty. I always have been and I always will be. I cannot see how we can say murder is a crime, yet kill people as a punishment. As expedient a solution as the death penalty may be, we should not be killing people.

That said, I cannot reconcile in my mind the public outcry over the looming executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and the lack of public outcry over the incarceration of innocent children.

Despite Jeff Kennett’s rather flippant comment six days ago, we cannot deflect the blame onto the parents of the children. If we do that and follow that logic through, we should blame the parents of Chan and Sukumaran for raising children to become drug mules and clearly that is neither appropriate nor realistic.

Yes, the parents of the children took the children on a dangerous and torturous journey, seeking a safe haven. The parents are not responsible for locking the children up behind bars. No more than the parents of Chan and Sukumaran are responsible for Indonesia having the death penalty.

I understand there is not overwhelming concern in the community for the two people in Indonesia, yet there does seem to be far more concern than for the many hundreds of children suffering in detention. The Forgotten Children report, released by the Australian Human Rights Commission this month, provides comprehensive and horrifying details of the damage to these poor innocents.

Read the comments on articles about either situation. There are people who don’t see anything wrong with the executions or with the incarceration of the children. Yet it seems to me far more people in Australia are expressing anger about the executions than are irate about The Forgotten Children. Is this because in the case of the executions someone else (Indonesians) is doing the “bad” thing, while we (Australians) are doing the bad thing with the children?

Why this selective compassion? A life is a life. Many Australians are equally concerned about both situations, but it seems to me too many are not.

Under international human rights law neither the executions nor the incarcerations should be happening.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, recognizes each person’s right to life. It categorically states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5). In Amnesty International’s view, the death penalty violates these rights.

The children haven’t committed ANY crime yet are being subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

We should be witnessing equal outrage for both situations, surely? I understand death is final, incarceration is not. Yet many of these children may be damaged for life. In one situation we are talking of two lives, in the other many hundreds of lives. Some of those children are highly likely to die in detention, probably more than two.

I do not understand the selective compassion. Do you?

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.

The death of due process, transparency and accountability

Increasingly this government is seeking to subvert due process and impose their agenda in totalitarian fashion.

Regardless of whether you think the increase in fuel excise is an appropriate measure, the move to introduce it through regulation rather than legislation is specifically designed to bypass parliament.  The regulations will need to be backed up with proper legislation by the Senate within 12 months or the money raised will have to be refunded.

As reported in the SMH

“The government believes the ploy will put Labor and Greens senators in a bind at that time forcing them to choose between keeping the escalating revenue stream, or voting it down forcing the government to pay potentially hundreds of millions of dollars collected from motorists back to oil companies.

While the incremental inflation adjustments will raise an expected $167 million from motorists by November next year, little-appreciated new compliance costs for service stations are calculated at $5.06 million according to Treasury estimates.”

So much for cutting red tape to help small businesses.  They also ignore the flowon costs to households as businesses pass on increased delivery expenses, and the cumulative effect of twice yearly increases.

And it seems they may be trying to introduce the GP co-payment in the same way.

Initially, on Tuesday Peter Dutton said:

“There is no capacity to introduce a $7 co-payment through regulation, the advice from our legal people within the department as well as with attorneys is the $7 co-payment needs substantive legislation to support the co-payment.”

But yesterday he changed that message, refusing to rule out the introduction of the $7 levy by regulation to bypass the need for legislation.

“I am not going to rule things in or out. I am saying that there are options that are available to the Government,” Mr Dutton said.

Finding ways around our parliament and our laws is becoming a habit.

After the High Court ruled in June that the federal government could not directly fund religious chaplains in public schools, Christopher Pyne chose to give the money to the states with the direction that it could not be used for secular welfare workers.

So much for their claim that education decisions should not be dictated by Canberra.

In February, a Senate inquiry paved the way for the Parliament to give Environment Minister Greg Hunt legal immunity against future legal challenges to his decisions on mining projects.  It will protect him from being challenged over deliberate or negligent decisions that do not comply with the law.

The Coalition government has now licensed Greg Hunt to avoid compliance with the EPBC Act.  The amendment retrospectively validates ministerial decisions – even if they did not comply with the EPBC Act when they were made.

We are also losing our right to appeal development decisions.

The Abbott government’s move to establish a single approval process by passing environmental approval responsibilities onto the states and territories creates a conflict of interest as they raise revenue from land sales and mining royalties.

In early 2014 the Queensland government proposed to confine the objections and notifications process for a mining lease to people owning land within the proposed lease.

The Coordinator-General is fast becoming an almost supremely powerful czar for large projects in Queensland, subject only to the political whims of the state government.  He can also prevent any objections to the environmental authority for a coordinated project from being heard by the Land Court. When combined with the severe restrictions on objections to mining leases, very few people can now challenge matters such as impacts on groundwater of large mines that are declared a coordinated project.

Under the federal Coalition’s one-stop shop the Coordinator-General is also proposed to have power to approve projects impacting on matters protected under federal environmental laws.

And that’s not the only avenue for appeal that is being shut down.

Australians could be left with no appeal rights against government secrecy by the end of this year.

The May budget cut $10.2 million funding for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) which handles Freedom of Information appeals.  The government wants appeals to be handled by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal instead.  This move is being blocked in the Senate so we will be left with effectively no avenue for appeal.

But perhaps the most blatant disregard for the law is being shown by Scott Morrison who, in a Napoleonic gesture, has conferred on himself the power to revoke a person’s citizenship.  The new laws provide the Minister with the power to set aside decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) concerning character and identity if it would be in the public interest to do so and confer on the Minister the power to make legislative instruments.

Morrison has condemned innocent people to indefinite incarceration and washed his hands of any responsibility for their welfare.  He has ignored warnings that his actions are in breach of human rights and is actively outsourcing our responsibilities under the Refugee Convention at enormous cost to this country.  He is now even blocking refugee applications from people coming through official UNHCR channels.

Journalists have been denied access to detention camps.  Even the head of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, was denied access to child asylum seekers on Nauru on the grounds that the commission’s jurisdiction did not extend beyond Australia’s borders.  The cost of a single-entry media visa to Nauru rose from $200 to $8,000.

And if any of us report on the machinations of this government, our fate is in the hands of Attorney-General George Brandis who has the individual power to determine if we should face a possible ten year jail sentence.

So much for free speech, transparency and accountability.

“Trust me,” they say.  Not friggin’ likely.


Abbott uses society’s vulnerable as means to an ideological end

Can anybody make any sense out of what this government doing? asks Jennifer Wilson.

It seems to me that it’s a core conservative tradition to use  the most vulnerable people in society as a means to an ideological end. There are endless current examples of this: threats to pensions, restricted access to Newstart for unemployed youth, destruction of universal healthcare, proposed reduction of the minimum wage and a cap on that wage for the next ten years, all part of the Commission of Audit’s recommendations to the Abbott government prior to its first budget in a couple of weeks.

None of these measures will affect anyone as disastrously as they will affect the poor, and while middle class journalists  on a good wage, some of whom are Abbott’s most vocal supporters,  scream like stuck pigs about the flagged “debt levy” on incomes over $80,000, nobody much is pointing out the ideologically-based, systematic crippling of the lives of those who struggle hardest to keep poverty from their doors.

Conservatives seem to hold the ideological position that poverty is a moral failing, for which the individual is solely accountable, and if that individual has been incapable of taking care of her or himself and his or her family, they’ve no one to blame but themselves. If they do sink into a morass of underprivileged misery then they ought to be able to find ways to redeem themselves. If they don’t manage this feat, they obviously only deserve what little they get, and the conservative will do his or her best to take even that away.

This unexamined belief that the less financially fortunate are immoral and a drain on the prudent is, it seems, impossible to eradicate from the consciousness of the privileged and entitled, who lack any ability to comprehend context, and the myriad forces at work in society that affect the course of a life. This, coupled with the conservatives’ traditional love of a good clichéd stereotype, works to reinforce their sense of entitlement, and their contempt for anyone less blessed than are they.

The conservative disregard, some may even allege contempt,  for those other than (lesser than) themselves, allows them to use rational agents as a means to an end, contradicting the Kantian position that to use others as a means, and not an end in themselves, is to flout the fundamental principle of morality.  Perhaps this is nowhere as starkly obvious as in the current and previous governments’ treatment of asylum seekers. Both major political parties have, for many years now, used boat arrivals as a means to achieve political success, and not as rational agents deserving of consideration as ends in themselves. In this sense, the ALP finds itself on the same side as conservative politicians, something that should chill the heart of any ALP supporter.

There is no point in decrying the lack of humanity and compassion in conservative ideology. Both qualities are regarded as belonging to the bleeding hearts of the left, hindrances to freedom, obstacles to profit. So we find ourselves in the bizarre position of having a Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, who recently claimed that McDonalds has “human rights to own property” and that “spending” is an expression of free speech.

It’s a dangerous situation when a Commissioner for Human Rights equates the ability to spend with the right to freedom of any kind, including speech.

It makes no sense to take any measures that prevent or discourage people from taking care of their health, such as co-payments for doctor visits for example. This will increase the pressure on accident and emergency departments, already stretched beyond their means, and result in people becoming chronically ill, at much greater expense to the taxpayer.

It makes no sense to continue to spend billions of dollars incarcerating a few thousand asylum seekers, for example, when there are many less expensive options  such as allowing refugees to live in, work, and contribute to the community.

It makes no sense to waste billions on a paid parental leave system when the money could be much better invested in increased child care for parents who want to work, but find it difficult to access adequate care for their offspring. Good child care is also an investment in our future: children can benefit enormously from early education and socialisation, a child care centre doesn’t simply “mind” them, it educates them.

However, none of the above is of any consequence to a political party driven by ideology. Humans are, to such a party, a means to an ideological end, not an end in themselves. Obviously, it is much easier to treat the less financially blessed as a means to an end, and if you already believe poverty and disadvantage to be  indicators of lack of morality and worth, why would you care anyway?

You may not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative, but there is something very dark about the Abbott government’s willingness to impose harsh circumstances on those already doing without in this wealthy country. It is easy, Mr Abbott, to make life more difficult for those without the power to protest. It is more of a challenge to work towards an equitable society based not on ideology, but common sense, and respect for everyone’s humanity.

Note: It’s with my tongue firmly in my cheek that I use this conservative image of Jesus.

This article was first posted on Jennifer’s blog “No Place For Sheep” and reproduced with permission.

Image courtesy of politifake.org

Image courtesy of politifake.org

Tim Wilson Appointed To Human Rights Commission, Andrew Bolt won’t be DisAppointed!

“George Brandis appoints IPA’s Tim Wilson to Human Rights Commission”

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/george-brandis-appoints-ipas-tim-wilson-to-human-rights-commission-20131217-2zi5z.html#ixzz2nh3o7Z3x

For those of you who don’t know who Tim Wilson is, here’s a quick summary from the IPA website.

Director of Climate Change Policy and the Intellectual Property and Free Trade Unit

Tim Wilson has worked with the Institute of Public Affairs since 2007.

Tim also serves on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s IP industry consultative group as well

being a Senior Fellow at New York’s Center for

Medicine in the Public Interest.

He can be seen and heard being outspoken, challenging and thought provoking on 3AW, Sky News and the ABC and pens columns in the The Australian and Australian Financial Review.

And here’s some quotes from recent articles by Tim Wilson

From “Free speech does not discriminate”

“But the solution is more speech, not less. We should preserve the right to speak out, mock them and ridicule them for the stupidity of their comments or the hate in their heart. And that also applies for incorrect statements. Free speech isn’t limited to factual accuracy. If it were, we’d never have a contest of ideas where ideas are proposed, exposed and corrected. The argument behind 18C is to afford some people higher legal standing than others for factors outside their control. It’s the antithesis of equality before the law.”

(Word Cloud of this Article)

Tim Wilson article

From “Paternalism An Unhealthy Threat To Freedom”

“But public policy is not driven by evidence, it is informed by evidence. Public policy is driven by the political values of those elected to govern. Those values determine what issues the government believes needs to be tackled, how they then approach it, how they weigh evidence, and the policy solutions ultimately proposed.

An “evidence-based approach” amounts to discarding the choice of democracy for government by technocratic bureaucracy, particularly when much of the evidence is financed by government to justify their decisions.”

Now, the IPA you may recall frequently endorses free speech, while calling for the ABC to be privatised. The ABC, it seems, is biased. And while as Tim says, free speech doesn’t have to include “factual accuracy” apparently “bias” is a no-no.

Early in John Howard’s reign, there was an interesting article in the Australia Financial Review. (Chomsky is right – if you want to know what’s really going on read the Business Section) It basically suggested that Howard’s aim was to set things up so that future Liberal governments would have less trouble. This meant removing various “watchdogs” or, if removing them was constitutionally or politically impossible, then appoint as many sympathetic people as possible.

Perhaps this explains the reluctance to do anything to help Holden and the PM’s recent insistence that there’s no more money for Toyota. If we just get rid of unions then we’ll be able to knock off a few more watchdogs like Fair Work Australia, and Labor will have less money. But surely that couldn’t be it, could it? Surely our PM couldn’t be hoping that unemployment goes through the roof so we have an excuse to introduce Workchoices and Gina can get her workers for the $2 a day she aspires to!

Ok, that may going too far. But it certainly explains reducing the advisory group on asylum seekers from twelve to one, the removal of the Climate Commission and one or two other things.

So, how does Brandis reconcile appointing Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission?


‘He was at the forefront in thwarting recent attempts to erode freedom of speech, freedom of the press and artistic freedom – rights and freedoms Australians have always held precious,” Senator Brandis said.

”The appointment of Mr Wilson to this important position will help to restore balance to the Australian Human Rights Commission which, during the period of the Labor government, had become increasingly narrow and selective in its view of human rights.”

Restore the balance? To human rights? Surely things that are “rights” are just that. Sure sometimes they have to be balanced against each other. How do you balance a gay person’s right to marry against someone who thinks this will destroy society? (Quite easily, i’d argue)

So, exactly what was “narrow” about the Labor Government’s view? I’d like that one drawn out.

PS And for those who think I’m quoting him out of context.


The great pretenders

A guest post by Benjamin Reeves, who likens the performance of the Abbott Government to a group of children at play.

I watched my children playing ‘tendies’ the other night – ‘(pre)tending we’re in a cave … (pre)tending there’s a troll … (pre)tending there’s not … ’ I was charmed by such vital displays of the creative and destructive human imagination, but it also dawned on me: this is a perfect word to describe the tenor of our new government. The Liberals have been doing a lot of ‘tending’ lately.

First of all, they’re ‘tending’ there’s a need to restore civility to government, as if they were not the ones who debased the whole notion of respect in parliament with constant and vicious personal attacks throughout their entire period in Opposition.

They’re tending that we’re at war – with whom? Refugees? And they’re using tendy language like ‘operation sovereign borders’ and holding tendy weekly war briefings. They’re tending to ‘stop the boats’, even when boats arrive. And when boats arrive, they’re tending they’re  not. As if there’s no such thing as a big wide complex world out there where people are in genuine strife, a real problem with real people that demands a regional solution, not a ‘tendy’ one.

They’re tending that electricity companies will pass on a measly little saving to its customers, and if they don’t, they’ll get the big bad wolf on to them – because this measly little saving justifies the dismantling of a carbon pricing mechanism, more important than the future of our climate – one of the most vulnerable and susceptible environments in the world.

They’re tending that we’re Americans who have a debt ceiling crisis that could bring the whole of government, the whole of our country down, which must mean that they’re like Obama and Labor is like the Tea Party holding them to ransom? This is because any problem they face in government is all Labour’s fault: Tending the structural changes in the economy like the demise of the resources and investment boom putting pressure on the terms of trade is all their fault. Tending it’s not us who are cutting government services – tending its them … Tending we don’t currently hold the responsibility of executive power.

Tending  a VIP jet flying politicians and their families from WA to Canberra costing in excess of $140,000 is cheaper than domestic flights costing only $56,000.

Tending we believe in ‘freedom’ by denying some Australians the choice of who they can marry while proposing to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination act so right-wing commentators are ‘free’ to offend, insult, humiliate and intimidate minority groups through deliberate factual error and distortion of truth, without having to get fined thousands of dollars. Tending this doesn’t endorse hate speech and racism.

Yeah, and tending we believe in human rights by giving praise and gifts of navel patrol boats to known human rights violators for ending a civil war via human rights violations, espousing that the ‘ends justify the means’ because “Sri Lanka since the end of the war is much more free and prosperous” and we “accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen”, like torture.

Tending that other such vague and evasive statements concealing deep moral realities like “everyone spies” is really good diplomacy.

With all this tending going on, we can only conclude that our government are children. But this play of creative and destructive imagination is anything but charming.  It’s not ‘tending’ or even ‘pretending’. In the sphere of rule, we call it as it is – straight out duplicity.

Benjamin Reeves is a Melbourne based teacher and writer.

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Australian Catholic Cardinal Centre of Child Sexual Abuse Scandal

This Human Rights post is part of Blog Action Day on 16 October 2013. It is a cross-post from Global Voices Online.

Two sisters were repeatedly raped by their parish priest in an Australian primary school. One later committed suicide. The other became a binge drinker and is disabled after being hit by a car. Their parents want laws to make the Catholic Church look after victims properly. Their mother told the story in her book Hell On The Way To Heaven.

Since its publication in 2010, action is finally being taken. There are currently three government inquiries in Australia into institutional responses to sexual abuse of children.

As Clerical Whispers reported in May 2013, the State of New South Wales investigation followed police whistleblower Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox’s allegations of Catholic church cover-ups in the Hunter Valley region.

In the State of Victoria, the Family and Community Development Committee of parliament has the task of reporting:

…on the processes by which religious and other non-government organisations respond to the criminal abuse of children by personnel within their organisations

The committee was set up after admissions by the Catholic hierarchy of forty suicides among 620 victims of child sexual abuse by its clergy. It is due to report in November 2013.

Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in late 2012. The commission is examining:

…how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

…any private, public or non-government organisation that is, or was in the past, involved with children, including government agencies, schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care, and religious organisations.

Despite the broad brush of the terms of reference, the Catholic church has taken the brunt of public criticism so far. In particular, the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell has been the centre of the controversy for his approach to offenders and victims over an extended period. His appearance at the Victorian committee in May 2013 created a storm when he admitted church cover-ups.

Ian Richardson’s reaction was typical of the twitterverse:

Rock in the grass was incensed by the Cardinal’s moralising:

Sam Butler made the inevitable comparison with Rupert Murdoch’s evidence in 2011 to the British parliamentary committee concerning the phone hacking scandal:

It was just one of a multitude of tweets linking to well-respected journalist David Marr’s report for the Guardian.

Meanwhile Cartoonist Jon Kudelka had his usual eye for The Details:

Jon Kudelka cartoon - The Details

Cartoon – The Details. Courtesy Jon Kudelka

At The Conversation blog Judy Courtin assessed Pell’s apology:

If we were to rate his performance as an actor with his apology he would have just passed as an actor. The apology, along with any empathy or compassion, was entirely lacking.

Subsequently David Marr has written an in-depth essay for the September Quarterly magazine: The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell (Essay 51):

He [Pell] knows children have been wrecked. He apologises again and again. He even sees that the hostility of the press he so deplores has helped the church face the scandal. What he doesn’t get is the hostility to the church. Whatever else he believes in, Pell has profound faith in the Catholic Church. He guards it with his life. Nations come and go but the church remains.

Jeremy von Einem’s tweet is representative of the general reaction to Marr’s essay:

John Lord captured the revulsion and the anger that many readers felt:

Whilst reading it I had to stop many times and reflect on the enormity of the sins of the fathers. More than once I shed a tear whilst uttering the word, bastards.

But this essay is as much about Pell (I don’t feel the need to be particularly aware of protocol and use his title) the man as it is about child abuse. When all is stripped back we see a man of very little love for flock but great love for the institution of church, the privileges that come with it and the power it commands. Consequently Pell is adored by the church but despised by the people.

Cardinal Pell responded to the essay with a written statement:

A predictable and selective rehash of old material. G.K.Chesterton said: ‘A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author’. Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.

The Prince has its critics. Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor at Eureka Street, the online publication of the Australian Jesuits. In his analysis Marring the Cardinal’s image he sees the essay as “elegant” but “unfair”:

The limitations of Marr’s account are the obverse of its virtues. It is not a dispassionate judgment but a prosecution brief. It sifts Pell’s motives and words but not those of his critics, and simplifies complexities.

Kate Edwards at Australia Incognita is a critic of Cardinal Pell but thinks Marr missed the ‘Real Story’:

The article provides no new insights on the Cardinal’s various disastrous interactions with victims and the laity in relation to the scandal; no new insights into just why he and many others in the Church were so reluctant to listen or act. To me that seems a great shame.

Despite being the central player in the sordid history of abuse and cover-up, the Catholic Church was not first case study off the rank at the Royal Commission public hearings. That dishonour went to the Scouts, reinforcing a long-held stereotype.

The Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council has made a lengthy submission to the Commission’s Towards Healing processes. Meanwhile, an appearance at the inquiry by Cardinal Pell is eagerly awaited by both critics and supporters.

Outside the Victorian inquiry, support group CLAN (Care Leavers Australia Network) spoke for people brought up in “care”:

The Royal Commission is expected to take several years to complete its investigations and make recommendations to the Federal government.[For more on this story at AIMN, please see John Lord’s The Prince. Faith, Abuse and George Pell (7 Oct 2013)]

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