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Tag Archives: Nauru

The Phone Call – Turnbull Is Assured Or So I’m Led To Believe By Someone Who Shall Remain Nameless!

From “The Sydney Morning Herald:

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has received Donald Trump’s personal assurance that a deal for the US to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island will go ahead, despite the US President’s harsh immigration policies sending shockwaves around the world…

Mr Turnbull’s office declined to comment on the 25-minute phone call with Mr Trump. Fairfax Media has been told the President confirmed his administration would honour last year’s agreement, though it remains unclear how many of the roughly 2000 asylum-seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island will be resettled in the US.
Under the Obama deal, final details, including the number to be resettled, were not expected to be nailed down until the second half of this year, after US officials scrutinised applications and carried out security checks.”

Ok, now I really hope I’m wrong, but it does strike me that this is one of those ones where you say something’s happening and if we all go, “That’s good,” and forget about it then there’s really no problem. However, being a cynical sort of chap, I do have to wonder about three things in the SMH report.

1. Why, if the deal is going ahead, did Mr Turnbull’s office decline to comment?
2. “Fairfax media has been told that the President confirmed his administration would honour last year’s agreement…” BY WHOM? Turnbull’s office is declining to comment about the phone call, Trump’s press release merely said that they were happy that Australia is happy to do whatever the US wants in return for having its tummy-tickled while the President says, “Who’s a good boy then!”, so who was this anonymous person who told Fairfax about the agreement? Was it the same person who led the ABC and The Australian to “understand” that the deal was going ahead?
3. How on earth does it take the USA nearly a year to check out people who’ve had Australia checking them out for the past four years? Do they have to check everything again? And then check the people doing the checking?

Of course, if someone connected to the government was briefing journalists “off the record”, then why is it off the record? And if it’s on the record, why not say a spokesman for Mr Turnbull or the Minister for Information and Newspeak told us the Mr Trump said such and such. Surely, journalists would ask why they’re being briefed off the record, why this isn’t official statement! Surely, they wouldn’t just report someone saying, “Look, I can’t tell you this officially but Mr Trump said that he was totally ok with the deal, but we just have to say nothing for now, but you can report that it’s on. Trust me, I’m saying this on behalf of the people who are declining to comment. Yes, the deal is going ahead and the US will take some of the people on Manus and Nauru. No, we don’t know how many. No, we don’t know when. But it’s definite. No problem. Rock solid guarantee. Trump said he’ll take any that fit the criteria. What criteria is that? Not sure, it was a quick phone call and Malcolm only had time to ask how he was doing and to make a couple of jokes and to say that he was hoping that the TPP wasn’t dead yet, but if it is, well, that’s ok, because the USA has no truer friend than Australia even if, Mr President, I had to spend the first five minutes on of the call waiting while you found it on a map. We still love you, even if you love another more. Well, the criteria might be that they’re not Muslims. Or from Syria or Iran. Or any one of a number of other countries. And, of course, they can’t be law-breakers. No, being an “illegal immigrant” doesn’t count. Why not? Um, look, I’m just speaking of the record here so I don’t have any actual information, but you can just write that it’s going ahead, ok, and we can all get back to worrying about Jobs and Growth… Sorry, don’t mention growth. Jobs and innovation.”

For the sake of those on Manus and Nauru, I really hope I’m wrong. I really hope we see something official in the next few days, but given this government’s lack of follow-through with even the things they’ve announced, I have to wonder when Turnbull’s office is declining to comment. But hey, Mr Turnbull is probably preparing a press release as I write this and there’ll be a big announcement and a timetable for when the people on Nauru will be re-settled. And even a timetable for the ones on Manus who were found to be being held “illegally”. Yeah, all ok now. We can go back to sleep.

P.S. I’ve started tagging a lot of my posts “climate change” in order to waste the time of paid climate change deniers who’ll read the whole thing and then wonder why there’s nothing they can be commenting on. Alternatively, they may comment anyway, which’ll just prove that they’re not really interested in “discussing the science”. My apologies if you read it because you feel that you desperately needed to be informed about the topic and haven’t realised that you’ve probably read enough things that should prompt you to actually start doing something to counter the misinformation out there!

Dutton’s message: torture works

Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation about Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was shown on SBS last night.

Many angry critics have described the film as CIA propaganda advocating torture, and accused Bigelow of making an immoral argument that torture works. That wasn’t my reading as I argue here.

This revisiting of the film and the arguments surrounding it made it obvious to me that the message “torture works” is precisely the message the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison before him, and several former Prime Ministers including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have sent to the world since the indefinite detention, off-shore and previously in the hell holes of Woomera and Baxter, of waterborne asylum seekers began.

They are not even particularly subtle about conveying this message: forcing women, children and men to live in circumstances in which they are tortured will deter others from attempting to seek asylum in Australia. It’s that stark.

To dissuade attacks from rusted on ALP supporters: Paul Keating built Woomera. I went there. It was one of Dante’s circles of hell. So please don’t come at me with the usual defence of your political party’s position on asylum seekers. There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties.

Every time politicians insist that bringing refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia will “start the drownings at sea again”, he or she is arguing, to the world, that “torture works.”

Frank Brennan, John Menadue, Tim Costello and Robert Manne have here proposed a solution to the current ghastly impasse. Their proposal retains the turn-back policy:

We believe there is no reason why the Turnbull government cannot do now what the Howard government previously did – maintain close intelligence co-operation with Indonesian authorities, and maintain the turn-back policy, while emptying the offshore processing centres and restoring the chance of a future to those we sent to Nauru or Manus Island three years ago or more by settling them either in Australia or, if any are willing, in other developed countries. Like Howard, Turnbull could maintain the offshore processing centres in case of an emergency.

Boats are to be turned back to their point of departure, usually Indonesia or in the case of Sri Lankan refugees, southern India where they continue to live as stateless people with few, if any rights.

The proposition put by Brennan et al would at least thwart the message that torture works, to which our politicians seem alarmingly attached. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it could be our next step in addressing a situation that in its current manifestation is hideously wrong in every possible way.

Critiquing their proposition is a post in itself, and I won’t do that here.

As I argue Bigelow’s film demonstrated, the proposition that torture works is in itself a terrifying premise for debate. Who are we, that we would engage in such a debate in the first place?

It isn’t about whether or not torture works. It’s about torture even being considered, and then implemented as an option. You might argue that no politician foresaw or planned the circumstances that have evolved on Manus and Nauru, and you’d likely be correct. So we have come to torture by accident, rather than by design. Having arrived at that point, even accidentally, we are culpable and every day we reinforce the message that torture works, we add to our burden of culpability. What was initially accidental, thoughtless, ignorant, uncaring, politically self-seeking becomes, in the maintaining of it, deliberate.

Which puts us in the company of the CIA and its propaganda, does it not? Not to mention Donald Trump.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

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

By Max Costello LLM*

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

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

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

Joining the criminal law dots

DOT #1

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

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

DOT #2

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

DOT #3

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

DOT #4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day to Day Politics. ‘If parliamentary convention applied. Dutton would resign’

1 If you think I am going to mention the ‘F’ word and some references about sexism over Christmas then you would be wrong. This is about misleading the parliament. The facts are straight forward.

This is about a 23-year-old Somali asylum seeker known as Abyan. The fact that she became pregnant on Nauru is well documented. She sought to have the pregnancy terminated last September. In October she was brought to Australia but as quickly as she arrives she was returned back to Nauru on a private jet no less, and at a cost of $115.000.

In the parliament Dutton claimed that she decided to not go ahead with the cessation. It is recorded that he repeated the claim in many subsequent interviews.

This is what he said. Quote.

The lady, following the consultations, provided advice that she did not wish to proceed with the termination and, as a result, was then chartered from Australia back to Nauru.”

 However, Human rights lawyer Kellie Tranter sought documents under FOI which confirm that Dutton misled the parliament. Emails make it clear that she hadn’t completely made up her mind and was still open to an abortion. Nauruan officials also made this clear.

So instead of waiting until the women was well enough to make an informed decision the Government hurried her back to Nauru. They did so because in the words of the first assistant secretary for the Immigration Department Neil Skill, they believed that the women’s lawyer was just ‘buying time’ so he could legally intervene to keep her in Australia permanently.

There we have it. An Australian Agency seeking to evade our legal system. That’s serious enough but on top of that we have the flagrant disregard for the women’s health.

The Coalition has people with degrees from some of the finest learning institutions in the world so I’m somewhat puzzled as to why a dunderhead like Dutton gets a ministry before them.

He should resign.

2 A thought on free speech.

The peddlers of verbal violence and dishonesty are the most vigorous defenders of free speech because it gives their vitriolic nonsense legitimacy. With the use of free speech, the bigots and hate-mongerers seek to influence those in the community who are susceptible or like-minded.

The original intent of free speech was to give a voice to the oppressed and to keep governments honest. In the United States, the first amendment is now used as a justification to incite racism, validate hatred and promote both religious and political bigotry

In a democracy the right to free speech in given by the people through the government. Therefore, it should be incumbent on the recipient to display a decorum of moderation, truth, fact, balance, reason, tolerance and respect for the other point of view. Sadly, this seems to have been forgotten both here and in the United States.

2 What should Shorten do?

Thus it is that Bill Shorten has gone from short odds to win the next election to rank outsider.

He doesn’t have the charisma of Turnbull and although the Royal Commission has found him innocent of any wrongdoing some mud has stuck. The recent revelation of branch stacking also underscores the negative view people have of him.

On the brighter side whatever tax package Turnbull takes to the election will be a hard sell and it will give Labor a decent campaign pitch. If Shorten is the policy wanker he is supposed to be then they might put forward some that command the electorate’s attention.

Notwithstanding the importance of economics Shorten must come up with a narrative that grabs the attention of the community.

How should he go about it?

A starting point would be a narrative about the decline in our democracy and the conservative’s participation in it. He could take the moral high ground, even acknowledge the faults, the corruption on both sides together with the destruction of our parliamentary conventions (the afore-mentioned Dutton action is an example)and institutions. Shout the need for a new truly representative democracy as often as Abbott said “Stop the Boats”.

In every utterance say that good democracies can only deliver good government and outcomes if the electorate demands it. Differentiate and deliver a campaign message that speaks to young and old alike by appealing to people to participate in this new democracy where all policy is centered on the common good. I can hear the first sentence of his first speech:

“I speak to all who have a common interest in renewing our democracy regardless of ideological association”.

Besides internal reform that engages its members, Labor needs to look at ways of opening our democracy to new ways of doing politics: ways that engage those that are in a political malaise so that they feel part of the decision-making process again.

Some examples of this are fixed terms, and the genuine reform of Question Time with an independent Speaker. Among many other things, Shorten needs to promote the principle of transparency by advocating things like no advertising in the final month of an election campaign, and policies and costing submitted in the same time frame. You can add reform of the Senate into this mix, and perhaps some form of citizen initiated referendum. Also things like implementing a National ICAC. Perhaps even a 10 point common good caveat on all legalisation.

He needs to convince people of a collective democracy that involves the people. A creative and exciting one.

In a future world dependent on innovation it will be ideas that determine government, and not the pursuit of power for power’s sake.

His narrative must convince the lost voters who have left our democracy to return. (and I am assuming that most would be Labor), He has to turn Labor’s ideology on its head, re-examine it, and then reintroduce it as an enlightened opposite to the Tea Party politics that conservatism has descended into.

Uppermost in his mind should be the ‘’say it like it is’’ rhetoric of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.

He must promote and vigorously argue the case for action against growing inequality in all its nefarious guises, cast off its image of having moved to far to the right and replace it with a simple proposition of government for the common good.

Fighting an election in the fashion that we have become used to will not win government.

My thought for the day.

‘In the recipe of good leadership there are many ingredients. Popularity is but one. It however ranks far below getting things done for the common good’

The immigration ministers and the Grand Mufti. And torture.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, along with former Immigration Ministers Scott Morrison and Philip Ruddock, took to the media last week to voice their disapproval of comments made by Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

There’s little doubt that some of the Grand Mufti’s remarks appear to rationalise, even justify, the terrorist attacks, by pointing to increasing Islamophobia in the West, and its symptomatic widespread willingness to regard all Muslims as harbouring secret and not so secret desires to destroy ‘western values.”

Dutton et al demand from the Mufti not rationalisation, but an unconditional condemnation of terrorist attacks, which is not an unreasonable demand. There’s a fine moral and intellectual line: while it’s important to grasp context, that’s an entirely different matter from using that context as justification for acts of terror.

That the west has been the cause of untold death and destruction in its violent pursuit of its own interests in the Middle East is also suggested by the Grand Mufti as background to current terrorism, a narrative I find difficult to disagree with, while simultaneously refusing it as justification for terrorist attacks.

Such is the state of things at the moment, it’s almost impossible to discuss context and history without being accused of being a sympathiser of whichever faction carries the role of baddie, and that applies to just about every situation, not only terrorism. Nuance is not currently our friend. Hardly anybody has time for it and social media is generally not its advocate.

State-sanctioned terrorist attacks perpetrated by the west are named more acceptably as “just war,” a term bandied about at the time of the Blair, Bush and Howard invasion of Iraq, that act of Christian crusading terrorism (the axis of evil, you’re with us or against us)  that left the country in ruins and some 700,000 of its citizens dead. John Pilger traces western state-sanctioned terrorism from the time of Pol Pot to ISIS, and it reveals us for the blood-drenched, murderous lot we are, despite the treasured “western values” used to justify so much of the horror we inflict on those who are not us.

The three immigration ministers who’ve complained about the Grand Mufti, Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, are responsible for the horrific indefinite incarceration of waterborne asylum seekers, even tiny young ones, in hellish conditions in off-shore camps on Manus Island and Nauru. These incarcerated beings committed no crime. It makes little difference, especially for women, that the Nauru detainees are now permitted to roam that island: they are likely safer in detention.

Conditions in off-shore concentration camps have been  described by the UN as violating the convention against torture. Think about that. Torture. We are torturing people. Yes. Us.

To which then PM Tony Abbott responded that Australians are sick of being lectured to by the UN. Well, what torturer ever liked having their crime named?

It is, to my mind, an act of terrorism to indefinitely imprison in vile conditions and without hope, a group of people who have committed no crime and with whom we are not at war. It is an act of terror to imprison and torture those who you know are innocent. These prisoners are subjected to torture in order to deter others from legitimately arriving in this country by boat, and requesting asylum. This is terrorism.

Their imprisonment is an act of violence. It is intended to intimidate a society of people who are unable to remain in their homeland for fear of persecution or death. Its goal is to achieve political, ideological and religious objectives. This is terrorism.

As I write this, there are reports that another boat has arrived near Christmas Island, and is apparently being towed out to sea again by our navy. To what destination? To what fate? Are there children on board? Pregnant women?

So it is with the barking laughter of contemptuous disbelief that I watch these three men take the high moral ground with the Grand Mufti.

It is not ISIS terrorists who will destroy our “western values.” We’re doing that all by ourselves. Yes, I would like to hear the Grand Mufti unconditionally condemn the Paris attacks. And yes, I would like to hear Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton admit to the torture they continue to support and perpetrate, terrorism that is inextricably linked to attacks such as those in Paris.

The three immigration ministers are as fond as is the Grand Mufti of citing justifications for their vile actions. Regrettably, I think we are far more likely to hear unconditional condemnation of terror from the Grand Mufti than we ever will from Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, those valiant upholders of western values,  and steadfast protectors of the western purity of our borders.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Screaming Freedom: Day of the Imprisoned Writer

By Janet Galbraith

‘… the protection of the right to freedom of expression – the freedom to express ideas without fear of attack, arrest or other persecution – has been at the heart of International PEN’s work since it was formed in 1921. PEN’s Charter pledges that all members will oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible’.

November the 15th 2015 marks the 34th anniversary of the annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, ‘an international day that recognises writers who have suffered persecution as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression’. Each year PEN International, its members and other concerned writers mark this day to raise awareness of the imprisonment, killings and threats writers are subject to.

Seldom has there been a focus on the persecution of imprisoned writers within Australia. Two notable cases are those of two writers detained in the early to mid 2000’s in Australia: Cheikh Kone who became International PEN’s first major Australian writer in prison and Iranian writer, journalist and political activist, Ardeshir Gholipour. Both were freed after a PEN International campaign. Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani held in detention on Manus Island for 27 months has recently been named an honorary member of PEN and his case for asylum supported by the human rights organisation.

Notably PEN International’s approach to the Australian’s government in 2004 resulted in communications between the Australian government and the noted human rights group and the freedom of the above writers. This year the letter sent to the Australian government by PEN International on behalf of Behrouz Boochani has garnered no response whatsoever. This is not terribly surprising as many working in solidarity with those detained in Australia’s immigration detention industry have noted that silence and obfuscation are one of the hallmarks of the Australian government’s (non)response to concerns of human rights abuses.

This year Australia has become under increases observation by PEN International as freedom of expression and information is further curtailed and legislated against. Sydney PEN informs us that:

“… at the recent PEN International Congress in Quebec City, the first resolution adopted by the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, was about Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws. The resolution relates to the constraint of freedom of expression in the name of countering terrorism, especially about operations on Manus Island and Nauru relating to asylum seekers”.

This comes at a time when many international human rights organisations speak out against the Australia’s failure to comply with international law and conventions and as the litany of human rights abuses, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment of people seeking asylum grows. When the Turnbull Government is asked for comment on conditions ‘tantamount to torture’ on people in off-shore detention camps, the strategy seems to be the same as that offered the UN and other international bodies: silence and obfuscation. This is not a new strategy nor is it specific to Australia. Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites’ founding members Professor Perera and Professor Pugliese have identified “parallels between the US extra-legal prisons at Guantanamo and elsewhere and our Pacific equivalents” naming the off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru as “Australia’s version of the secretive US ‘black sites‘ that operated during the war on terror”.

Writers detained in Australia’s black sites on Manus and Nauru, as well as the immigration gulags on Christmas Island and throughout the mainland of Australia, bear much of the brunt of these secretive operations and the deliberate curtailing of freedom of information and freedom of expression. Many writers involved with Writing Through Fences, a loosely connected group of writers writing from within Australia’s immigration detention industry, report being subject to intense surveillance, beatings, imprisonment without charge, prolonged detention, unnecessary restraint, isolation, threats of rape, and denial of appropriate medical treatment in attempts to silence them.

The breaking of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, by successive governments in Australia has been discussed in terms of the Border Force Act that sees workers and journalists who disclose human rights abuses within Australia’s detention industry at risk of imprisonment. However, such discussions have rarely included recognition that writers and human rights defenders detained by Australia in our black sites and mainland detention gulags are themselves subject to cruel, degrading and in human punishment as a result of their work.

Mark Isaacs highlight the targeting of writers: “the Nauruan police took Dev away from the camp in handcuffs. They said to him, ‘Goodbye Mr Journalist’, an implication that this was revenge for him having contact with Australian media”. Behrouz Boochani writes in a report to the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders: One time they put me in the jail after the hunger strike. You know in Foxtrot we had no violence at that time. I was in jail just for reporting to the outside about the hunger strike. He writes further, in a private letter, I remember when they moved me from the Lorengau jail to Charlie the officers said: “He is in here because he is a journalist”.

Many of those writing from within immigration detention centres are forced to withhold or change their names for fear of further punishment. At the same time, most of these people also speak of writing as their responsibility, privilege and duty. Others have reluctantly become writers in order to survive. One man detained on Manus Island for 27 months has said to me: “I am not a writer but I must write. I must write to tell the world what is being done to us. I must write to defend our right to live”.

Within this context, writing from within these black sites and detention gulags is understood to be a life-giving practice of survival and a courageous and necessary tool of resistance. A young man from Myanmar incarcerated in Manus Camp wrote to me earlier this year:

“I am a very different young man … I believe it will be difficult for you to accept that I have never been to school or college … With no education but a strong sense of determination I started learning English from scratch in the refugee camps … Being here I have written 1000 pages about my miserable life … Giving this privilege God wants me to raise my voice on behalf of millions of asylum seekers and refugees around the world who are being denied freedom in a safe place” (Khan – not real name).

Artist turned poet, FB writes:

“And the silence breaks its silence
setting free it’s songs from the depths.
The shouts of sleepers
release the voices of the voiceless
screaming
‘Freedom! Freedom!'”

A man held for 2 years in detention on Nauru writes:

“As a victim of injustice and politics, I was forced to face reality and the realisation that I needed to find a way to deal with all the emotions that I was unable to cope with. I took up writing and art” (Ravi).

Asserting existence and belonging before and in spite of displacement and detention a writer from Somalia, interred in immigration detention in Australia writes (excerpt from ‘A message from sweet home’):

OH SWEET GIRL
You were born inside of me.
Why did you leave me like this?
Have you forgotten my warm nights and bright breezy days?
Have you forgotten lying on my sand with a big beautiful smile on your face?
Oh my dear… unforgettable moments!
You were fearless, a strong and beautiful child…
Come home.
On this Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Australia is in the spotlight. We are being held to account for the atrocities enabled by the tax payers of this nation and perpetrated in our name. We cannot say we do not know. The voices are many.

Writing Through Fences joins with Write of Asylum and calls on writers and human rights defenders to stand with, and open space for, those who speak and write from within the detention gulags.

“I die slowly, so slowly in this tight cocoon
with no space to shout’”(M, 2015).

Opening space is important and so is solidarity. When asked about his fears around his reporting from our black site on Manus Island, Boochani said:

“I feel more secure because a campaign to sup-port me has taken shape”.

We who are not detained do have a responsibility, privilege and duty to be aware of how we fill spaces, and how we may open them. We also have a responsibility, privilege and duty to listen to and stand with imprisoned writers, to call on the Australian government to end the punishment of those who speak and write from within the gulags and demand their closure. The voices of the writers imprisoned in our detention gulags are calling, they are screaming “Freedom! Freedom!”

Janet Galbraith
Founder and facilitator of Writing Through Fences
Coordinator Write of Asylum
Founding member of Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites

 

Set the girls free, Mr Turnbull

A letter from the heart, by Bob Rafto

Dear PM Turnbull

During Abbott’s tenure as PM the population was on high alert, not because of any terrorist threat but because of what crazy thing Abbott might do next. The country breathed a big sigh of relief when the Flickman arrived to give him the flick, and then you went about like Mr Sheen trying to give a gleam to the LNP, which according to the opinion polls, now has a wonderful shine.

So far it is working for you, Mr Turnbull, and with that in mind I’m writing to you to open up your heart on behalf of the Australian people to process the refugees on Nauru, Manus and Christmas Island to have them settle on the mainland, a place ‘we call home’ by Christmas. And that would certainly be a Christian thing to do, and an Aussie one as well.

I want to draw your attention, in particular, to the two girls in the above photo. The girl in the left of the picture is ill and has been for a long time. She was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up and she replied “Anything, to be free”. You can grant that wish, Mr Turnbull.

The girls have seen the horrors of war in their homeland and have fled their country with their parents only to be incarcerated in an inhumane hell hole of Nauru. When is enough persecution on innocent refugees and children enough?

If the claim to have stopped the boats is valid then there is no reason to have these refugees held any longer as ‘examples’ to the world of the ‘torture treatment’ we Aussies dish out to asylum seekers who attempt to arrive here by boat.

Mr Turnbull, you have the power to reset the nation’s heart by bringing the refugees to the mainland and close the offshore detention centres. With your ‘electorate loving’ charm you can persuade the nation that by bringing the refugees to the mainland there won’t be a need for the offshore centres, as you’ve stopped the boats and are saving us billions of dollars a year. And further, it will end the UN condemnation of our ill-treatment to refugees . . . a reputation that we don’t deserve (or do we?) and one for you, as only you have the power, to set right.

Set the girls free Mr. Turnbull!

With Great Expectations

Bob Rafto

 

Dutton has lost control.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has well and truly lost control of his portfolio. The past year alone provides a rich field of examples of Dutton’s incompetency. There are many instances which highlight the absurdity of his excuses, claims and justifications for the Coalition’s appalling policies. Yet despite a growing list of clear failures, there is a noticeable absence of demands for accountability. Dutton continues his awful attempts to defend the indefensible and the general public laps it up, convinced by the Government’s lies that it is all for the greater good.

Dutton has demonstrated many failures. A man with his level of ineptitude and incompetency in the private sector would have been fired a long time ago. A man in his position in any other institution, would be loudly condemned, and subject to a fiercely independent investigation at a minimum.

The latest in the string of absurdities must be Dutton’s reaction over the recent death of a person under his care and the following riot on Christmas Island. Dutton brushed off the seventh known death of an asylum seeker since early 2014, with little more than a ‘meh’, followed by loud accusations of violent, hardened criminals causing trouble for no reason at all in the remote prison. Not only does Dutton fail to recognise or even faintly appreciate the duty of care he owes to asylum seekers detained under this watch, but he loudly refutes the provable fact that violent criminals, minor offenders and asylum seekers have all been mixed together and none would be there at all if it wasn’t for him and his party’s policies.

The totally preventable death of Fazel Chegeni is the doing of Dutton. The riot, which looks to cost the Australian taxpayer $10 million dollars, on top of the $100 million dollar blowout in the billion dollar cost of offshore detention, is the doing of Dutton.

Dutton is responsible, and in being responsible, must be the most incompetent Immigration Minister since the equally appalling performance of former Minister Scott Morrison.

If Dutton was an employee in any private organisation, he would have been sacked long ago for gross incompetence. If any individual person was paying Dutton’s remuneration, he would have been sacked long ago. Yet the Australian public, every individual tax payer is paying for Dutton, and yet he continues, unchecked, with calculated, deliberate lies to try and cover up his incompetency. And Australia does not hold him to account.

The mysterious death of Fazel Chegeni, a refugee whose body was found after being chased through the Christmas Island jungle by guards, follows other preventable and inexcusable deaths. In October, out of fear of being returned to detention and dying a slow death at Dutton’s hands, Khodayar Amini doused himself in petrol and self-immolated. Leo Seemanpillai did the same last year. Asylum seeker ‘Reza’, fearing deportation on Dutton’s orders, was found dead at Brisbane airport. Earlier, Nasim Najafi was attacked while under Dutton’s care, placed in solitary confinement, and committed suicide.

Dutton is responsible for these deaths. Just like former Minister Scott Morrison was responsible for Reza Barati’s murder on Manus Island, and for Hamid Kehazaei who died from a septicaemia after a treatable infection on his cut foot was ignored.

Dutton holds the power to giving these people hope, freedom and a chance of a life. Dutton refuses.

Dutton, whose actions are slowly killing the people under his care, is doing his best to convince asylum seekers that it is better to return to their own countries and risk death in a warzone, than die a slow and lingering death under his watch. ‘Khaled’, who saw his own father murdered after they both worked as military interpreters for the US, was coerced into returning to the very city he fled from in Iraq. Officials from Dutton’s Department coerced another man, Eyad, to return to Syria, where he was tortured for twenty days by government officers, before finally making it to his home. A short time later he was injured in a shell attack, which killed his father on the spot. Dutton is responsible for this.

If any other person was responsible for so many deaths, so many atrocities, so much harm, they’d be imprisoned themselves. Not Dutton. No, he is being paid by the Australian tax payer to continue his torturous regime.

Who can forget the boatloads of Tamil asylum seekers Dutton returned to Sri Lanka, despite being subject to persecution? And his refusal to help rescue Rohingya refugees stranded at sea? Or the Vietnamese asylum seekers who were returned by Dutton, some of which were arrested and detained immediately on their return to Vietnam?

And of course there is Dutton’s implied admission that his Department paid people smugglers, in a clear breach of international law, backed up by an Amnesty International report finding enough evidence that it happened.

Dutton is determined to continue to expose children to sexual abuse, assault and torture. The Government-commissioned Moss Report, the Forgotten Children Report from the Australian Human Rights Commission, and a Senate Committee Inquiry found that offshore detention is not safe for families and children. Earlier this year Dutton ordered the transfer of a five month old baby, Asha, to Nauru, where her desperate mother is still gravely concerned for her health. Fully qualified, professional Australian doctors have labelled the Government’s treatment of asylum seeker children as torture. Dutton is unrepentant. Instead of addressing the shocking claims, he made it illegal for ‘entrusted people’ to report the abuse, threatening doctors, nurses, councillors and teachers with two years jail.

The Australian tax payer is financing this abhorrent situation. Every Australian is paying for Dutton to put in place laws to incarcerate anyone who tries to hold Dutton to account.

Dutton refused for months to help a woman who had been brutally raped while under his care. Abyan, another refugee who fell pregnant after being raped, was also denied treatment in Australia until a mass public outcry. Dutton, insistently lying to the Australian public and the world about the poor woman’s situation, despite even the Coalition’s biggest supporter, Chris Kenny, backing up her advocates, has not been held to account for his lies. Dutton only acted after a scathing press statement from the United Nations, yet he still insists that denying a traumatised woman access to a counsellor and expert medical care is appropriate treatment.

Dutton deliberately seeks to expose vulnerable men, women and children to further harm.

According to Dutton, pregnant women under his care who request to give birth in Australia are trying to blackmail him, are taking him for a ‘mug’, and are partaking in a racket to get to Australia. According to Dutton, it is acceptable to force women under his care to give birth in a third world hospital on Nauru, where a newborn baby is seven times more likely to die at birth, and the mother is fifty times more likely to die during childbirth. Dutton has ignored medical professionals and the Australian Medical Association who insist Golestan, a diabetic woman, must be immediately flown to Australia to give birth. Golestan is suffering a complex pregnancy, and despite medical staff expecting her baby will require specialist care, Dutton insists on risking the baby’s life. Will Dutton sacrifice the life of an innocent baby in his race to provide crueler conditions than those which the asylum seekers have fled from?

It is not just asylum seekers Dutton treats with loathing and contempt. A freedom of information request by Fairfax media revealed that Dutton deliberately misled the public when he said there was no way his Border Force agents would be doing random spot checks on unsuspecting and law-abiding Melburnians in August this year.

Spooked by a backlash to the press release that Government agents would stop and speak with anyone they came across during Operation Fortitude in Melbourne’s CBD, Dutton’s kneejerk response at the time was to deny all knowledge of such a planned venture.

What kind of Minister thinks it’s acceptable and lawful to expect people to carry, and produce on demand, their ‘papers’ while out shopping on a weekend? What kind of Minister then lies to say it was never planned? Obviously one who mistakenly thought Australia was a police state, or one who is grossly incompetent. Dutton forgets he is an elected representative paid for by the Australian taxpayer to represent the Australian people, not treat the very people who elected him as criminals.

Speaking of taxpayers, voters, and Christmas Island, Dutton demonstrates yet again his inability to tell the truth. Despite deliberately, unrepentantly and viciously detaining and deporting any non-citizens who have suddenly become socially undesirable, no matter how minor their wrong-doing, or the absence of any actual offence at all, Dutton is adamant only the most violent and hardened criminals are subject to section 501 of the Migration Act. Many of these people have lived in Australia for their entire lives. They have voted in elections. Many have paid their taxes and contributed positively to the community for decades. They have families, wives, husbands, partners, siblings, parents and children in Australia.

According to Dutton, a decorated New Zealand soldier, Ngati Kanohi Haapu, known as Ko, must be banished forever, despite having no criminal convictions whatsoever. Ko’s ‘character issue’ is that he is allegedly a member of a one percent motorcycle club. Despite no motorcycle club being proven to be a criminal organisation, and police and law enforcement agencies being unable to produce sufficient evidence of such, Ko has been detained and set for deportation.

Ko has committed no crime. Not like Dutton, who has paid people smugglers, enabled and condoned child abuse, rape, and torture, and is responsible for at least five of the seven known deaths of asylum seekers.

According to Dutton, a New Zealand born mother of six, who has served her time for minor drug offences is a violent, hardened criminal. If this woman had been born in Australia she would serve her time and move on with her life. But no, according to Dutton, she must be banished from Australia, despite serving her sentence, because a faceless bureaucrat has applied a mandatory provision enacted on Dutton’s command, that she be deported.

According to Dutton, a single mother of two, charged with shoplifting is such a threat to the Australian public, she should be incarcerated, away from her young child and teen daughter – banished forever from Australia, because of Dutton. There is no such thing as rehabilitation or having ‘done one’s time’ under Dutton’s watch.

According to Dutton, a quadriplegic man, who served time for self-medicating with painkillers, is such a threat to the Australian public, he must be deported, never to return to the land he called home.

According to Dutton, a British man, who has lived in Australia for fifty of his fifty-one years, who in a moment of stupidity lit a scrub fire in which no people or property were harmed, is a violent and hardened criminal. Because according to Dutton, only violent and hardened criminals are being held on Christmas Island.

Where are the cries for Dutton’s resignation? Why is the Opposition silent? Why is Bill Shorten not calling for Dutton to stand down or be sacked? Why is the mainstream media not demanding more answers?

No person in anything other than a criminal organisation, a fascist, police state or dictatorship would get away with such criminal behaviour, and wilful and deliberate lies to the domestic and international community.

How many more families will be ripped apart by Dutton’s arbitrarily applied laws? How many more people must die a violent, painful and preventable death under Dutton’s watch? How many innocent children will lose their parents, and how many parents will lose their children at Dutton’s hands? The Government and the weak opposition, the detention centre contractors, and all the faceless bureaucrats, are complicit in the deaths, torture, and inhumane treatment of people under Australia’s care. Every Australian who does not make a stand against the cruel regime, is complicit.

Enough is enough. Rape, murder, suicide, torture, child abuse, violent assaults, death from medical neglect, and wilful destruction of families is all in a day’s work with Dutton in charge. And every Australian is paying for it.

 

The top 5 signs that your country’s Refugee Policy is a disaster

Australia’s Minister for Saying-We’ve-Stopped-the-Boats – one Mr Peter ‘PDuddy’ Dutton – was out and about this morning defending what he and his government believe is the best and most successful immigration policy EVER.

I decided to check out PDuddy’s claim against the following officialesque list …

The Top 5 signs your Refugee Policy is a disaster

Number Five: Refugees would rather return to possible death in a war-zone

than stay in the Refugee Centres your country provides

The Australian government has worked hard to convince as many refugees as it can to return to their home countries, despite the considerable potential risk to those refugees that doing so entails.

One Syrian refugee – Eyad – elected to return to probable death in Syria a few months ago, saying he would prefer to die with his family in Syria rather than stay on Manus island. On arriving in Syria he was arrested and tortured for 20 days. Following his release, he was allowed to return to his former home village where he was subsequently hit by shrapnel and saw his father die before him.

Number Four: You put refugees in the care of a government that has made

money from selling passports to terrorists & money-laundering

The way that Peter Dutton pontificates about ‘smashing’ the business of people-smugglers, you’d think he’d donned a cape and mask and turned into a one-man regional crime-fighting machine.

What PDuddy conveniently forgets to mention, when boasting of his crime-fighting achievements, is that the Australian government is propping up the Nauru government with our Refugee policy – and that the Nauru government is so beleaguered by corruption claims that the New Zealand government recently cut off aid to them.  PDuddy also leaves out the fact that this same government was previously heavily sanctioned by the international community for selling Nauruan passports to terrorists and laundering money for the Russian Mafia.

Number Three: Your Refugee Centres make it onto the UNHRC’s torture list

In March this year, the UN Human Rights Commission released its report on torture, naming Australia as a country who had breached the UN Convention against Torture in our Refugee camps.

Of course our government raced to immediately set up a Royal Commission to investigate the issues raised by the UN. Oh wait – no,  that was a Royal Commission into the unions. What our government actually did in response to the UN report was to say that it was sick of being lectured.

Number Two: You are spending more on your Refugee Policy than the

combined GDP of 9 small countries

In 2015, the Australian government spent at least 4 billion on its Refugee Policy – of which 3 billion was to look after offshore refugees (including just under 1600 refugees on Nauru and Manus Island).

This is the equivalent of the combined GDP in 2014 for Tonga, Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Sao Tome and Principe, Dominica and Comoros.

By way of contrast, the UN has a budget of $157 million USD for 2015 to look after over 200,000 refugees in South-East Asia.

Number One: A country in the Axis-of-Evil thinks you’ve gone too far

Over 110 countries lined up at the UN this week to comment on Australia’s refugee policies. In fact, so many countries wanted to raise issues at the periodic UN review, that each was given a time limit of just over a minute to speak. Between them they still managed to raise over 300 concerns in just that space of time.

Among their number was long-term member of Bush’s ‘Axis-of-evil’ – North Korea – who said that they:

have serious concerns at the continued reports of … violence against refugees and asylum seekers“.

It’s official – Australia’s refugee policy is a disaster …

In all seriousness – our refugee policy really IS a disaster. It is pure propaganda  – truthiness at its finest – to suggest otherwise.

And still Peter Dutton keeps a straight face while he claims that Australia’s Refugee policy:

  • has saved lives – this is doubtful at best;
  • has stopped people smugglers – if this were true, who exactly are they paying to turn around?
  • to be the most generous in the world – this is actually an insult to countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan who lay true claim to this title. We are literally nowhere near.
  • to have protected our borders – from who exactly? From victims of war, terrorism, torture and persecution, who, if they had the funds to arrive here by plane would be allowed to stay? When did we start needing protection from victims? The reality is that these are the world’s most vulnerable people being used as political pawns. They aren’t terrorists. Or economic migrants. They are people with no safe place to call home.

It doesn’t matter what measure you pick …

  • financial
  • humanitarian
  • doing our bit globally
  • stopping crime in the region
  • making our country more secure, or
  • just plain common decency.

… there is not a single measure that doesn’t point at our government’s Refugee Policy as being at best an abject failure, and at worst a complete disaster that will haunt us in years to come.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

 

Nauru: What do bird poop, the Russian Mafia and Australia’s refugee policy have in common?

Nauru was described by The Economist in 2001 as a hotbed of incompetence – as “Paradise Lost … an enormous moth-eaten fedora: a ghastly grey mound of rock surrounded by a narrow green brim of vegetation“.

That same year, Nauru became a cornerstone of one of the LNP’s favourite policies – their refugee policy. In the heady days of the Abbott PMship, barely a day went by when Abbott didn’t boast about stopping the boats. Even in his post-PMship days, Abbott is still annoying people all over the world with his stop the boats mantra. And our shiny new PM – Malcolm Turnbull – has picked up a similar, but predictably longer refrain about his party’s refugee policy:

The one thing that we know is that our [refugee] policies, tough though they are, harsh though they are in many respects, actually do work. They save lives.
(Malcolm Turnbull, 1 October 2015)

One country’s political hot potato is another country’s lottery win

Crucial to our government’s refugee policy – at least so they would have us believe – is the promise that no asylum seeker who arrives here by boat will be settled in Australia. To achieve this, they have renewed and reinvigorated deals with Nauru and PNG (Manus Island) that were first struck by both the previous Liberal and Labor governments.

Rather than considering this to be a hardship, Australia’s political hot potato has been a veritable lottery win for Nauru and PNG. Both have received a substantial increase in foreign aid from Australia as well as a brand new ‘Asylum Seeker processing’ industry to provide jobs and inject hundreds of millions of dollars into their economies.

But who exactly are we financing here? We’ve taken money (and jobs) out of the Australian economy so that we can send victims of war, terrorism and persecution to these islands. So surely, with the well-being and lives of asylum seekers at stake and with billions of Australian taxpayer dollars being poured into sending asylum seekers offshore, we would want to ensure that we are comfortable with the regimes we are throwing our considerable financial weight behind.

Further, as one of the other regularly promoted goals of the LNP’s refugee policy is to stop the “evil trade” of people smuggling, we would certainly want to ensure that any country we are dealing with is above board, and that we are not directly or indirectly supporting any illegal activities through our investment in their economies.

So let’s take a look at Nauru – the Economist’s ‘Paradise Lost’.

Nauru: not so much paradise lost as paradise spent

Here’s some things you need to know about Nauru:

  • Nauru has the second smallest population in the world
    Nauru is a sovereign state – a single island with around 10,500 inhabitants. It is the second smallest country (population wise) in the world – with only the Vatican City in Rome being smaller.
  • NauruSignsNauru is a speck in the ocean, just below the equator
    Nauru is only 21 square kilometers – around the size of an average university campus in Sydney or Melbourne. But thanks to mining, around 70% to 80% of the island is now an environmental wasteland – leaving inhabitants with around 5 to 7 square kilometers of inhabitable space. In fact, Nauru is so small, that it doesn’t even have a capital city.
  • Nauru has almost no arable land and no in-ground water supplies – but it does have a golf-course
    Having given up most of its land to mining, Nauru has very little room for agriculture and as a result imports most of its food (much of it from Australia). There are no clean in-ground water supplies, so all clean water is sourced from rainwater or imported. Despite this shortage of arable land and water, Nauru has still found room for a golf-course.
  • In the 70s and 80s Nauru was THE wealthiest country (on a per capita basis) in the world 
    In the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to the proceeds of phosphate mining (derived from bird poop) – Nauruans had the highest income per capita in the world. Knowing that the bird poop would run out at some stage, the Nauruan government did set aside income from the phosphate mines for the future. But it also started spending up big time. For example, it set up a national airline of seven aircraft which were often empty and ran at a huge loss. Further, it created ‘jobs’ in the public service for most of the population. At one stage the government employed some 95% of the island’s laborforce.
  • By the early 90s, most of Nauru’s mining wealth was gone
    Once the phosphate started to run out, the income started to dry up. The Nauru government also made some poor investment decisions with the money they had saved from the phosphate boom – which meant that by 1993 the Government teetered on the edge of insolvency. The 1.8 billion the government had set aside was somehow all but gone.
  • So Nauru became a money laundering centre drawing in the likes of the Russian mafia
    On an island that small, there weren’t too many money-making options left once the phosphate supplies had dwindled to a trickle and the bulk of the land was left stripped of vegetation. So some bright-spark came up with the idea of allowing foreigners to set up their own offshore bank in Nauru online. When you combine the ability to set up your own bank with laws that provide strict secrecy for any banking transactions done in Nauru – and they had created the perfect environment for money laundering. In 1998 alone, the Russian mafia is said to have laundered $70 billion through Nauru.
  • Throw in selling passports to foreign nationals (including at least a few to Al Qaeda) and Nauru was starting to look shadier than a palm tree
    To further supplement the country’s income, the Nauruan government also set up a passport-dispensing operation whereby it would sell passports to anyone who had the money. This included selling much-coveted diplomatic passports – which confer all sorts of legal immunity to the passport holder.
  • This soon bought severe international sanctions
    Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before Nauru’s money-laundering and passport-dispensing boom brought international condemnation.  This was soon followed by sanctions – harsher than those against Iraq – which eventually forced Nauru to do something about its latest money-making schemes.
  • As a result, the unemployment rate in Nauru has been as high as 90% this century
    During the mining and money laundering booms, the Nauruan government continued ‘redistributing’ much of its wealth through government ‘jobs’. Once the government had limited income from these sources, the jobs dried up, leaving unemployment as high as 90%. While employment has picked up a bit lately, that is primarily due to Nauru hosting our Asylum Seeker Processing centre which generates 600 direct jobs and many ancillary ones. Other than that, the key sources of non-government employment are a few jobs in what remains of the Nauru Phosphate mines and a few in fishing.

Nauru finds a new money supply….

Back to 2001, and with its two major income sources under threat, Nauru was in a perilous position. It had even started discussing buying another island and starting all over again. But in the words of the Economist:

“Who in his right mind would let the Nauruans get their hands on another island?”

Luckily for Nauru, at the same time as they were looking for either a new island or a new source of income, the Liberal government of Australia was looking for a way to solve its politically charged refugee situation. Phillip Ruddock – then Immigration Minister of Australia – was in charge of implementing the LNP’s “Pacific Solution”, and offered Nauru a much needed lifeline: a new industry to bring employment and income to the island nation, along with an agreement to substantially increase Australia’s Foreign Aid to Nauru.

Back in 2001, Nauru’s role was simply to play temporary host to asylum seekers while their claims for refuge were being assessed. Once assessed, if asylum seekers were determined to be legitimate refugees they were then moved elsewhere – to Australia, New Zealand and various other countries.

It was just prior to the 2013 federal election that then Prime Minister Keven Rudd signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nauru to extend their role in Australia’s refugee policy to one where they would also allow refugees to settle in Nauru, rather than just staying there temporarily. Two weeks later, when Abbott took the reins of government, he and Scott Morrison endorsed and continued the arrangements that had been made.

Australia: Nauru’s Sugar Daddy

A key part of our initial agreement with Nauru back in 2001 was to increase the amount of foreign aid we sent there from around $3.5 million per year in 2000 and 2001, to an average of around $27 million per year since then. This equates to around $2700 per Nauruan citizen per year. As a result, Nauru now receives aid at one of the highest rates per capita in the world.

And that’s just our foreign aid budget. We also spend an extraordinary amount of money on running the asylum seeker detention centre on Nauru. In the 3 months from July 2015 to September 2015, our government spent 93.26 million dollars to look after 653 asylum seekers on Nauru. This is $143,000 per asylum seeker for the quarter – the equivalent of $572,000 per year. That’s just for operating the asylum seeker centre – meals, water, staff etc.

With that sort of price-tag, you’d be forgiven for thinking that asylum seekers are living in five-star beach-side accommodation on Nauru, each with their own private chef and butler.

Not so much. The $143,000 fee that we – the Australian tax payer – paid last quarter for every asylum seeker on Nauru covered them sleeping on a stretcher in “mouldy tents full of cockroaches and rodents“.

(Now, to avoid confusion, I should point out that not all money for running the asylum seeker centre is going to the people of Nauru. The centre is actually operated by Transfield who clearly have a very large snout in the seemingly endless pool that is the asylum seeker funding trough.)

And that’s not the end of the money that continues to flow out of the Australian taxpayer’s coffers to keep our government’s refugee policy firmly in place. Here are some other examples of money spent by our government on keeping refugees out of Australia and on Nauru:

The world’s most expensive refugee policy?

It’s pretty clear that the government’s refugee policies cost Australians a fortune – over a billion dollars in 2014 for just over 2,000 refugees on both Nauru and Manus Island.

By way of contrast, the UNHCR spent $157 million (around 16% of that) over the same period to look after 200,000 refugees, half a million internally displaced people and nearly 1.4 million stateless people.

Allegations of corruption in Nauru

It’s hardly surprising that allegations of corruption are to be found on an island that provided money-laundering services to the Russian mafia and purportedly sold passports to Al Qaeda operatives. According to Tony Thomas, “anti-corruption drives are often announced and never successful, partly because among any five Nauruans, two are relatives.”

Most recently, New Zealand cut aid to Nauru due to human rights abuses and problems with the Nauruan judicial system (which saw several senior members of the judiciary removed).

There have been other accusations of corruption this year. The Nauru government has attempted to silence local dissent – recently shutting down access to social media from the island and suspending members of the opposition from parliament without pay.

Further, other than hand-picked state-friendly media, the Nauruan government has blocked many media outlets from visiting their island. In the words of  Meghna Abraham, Deputy Director for Global Thematic Issues at Amnesty International:

“Whatever Nauru is trying to hide, it can’t be good if the authorities are so desperate to block all international media from visiting or reporting from the island”

So back to my original question…

Question: What do bird poop, the Russian Mafia and Australia’s refugee policy have in common?

Answer: Nauru has managed to make money from all of them. 

But here’s the thing – there are plenty more questions that we, the Australian people, really need answers to about Nauru. Here’s a few key ones:

  • If one of the key goals of our Refugee Policy is to reduce criminal activity such as people smuggling in the region, then why on earth did we make a deal with Nauru back in 2001? There was no doubt at all at that stage that Nauru was facilitating money laundering and selling passports to foreign nationals – including to Al Qaeda. And even if we made a mistake back then, why do we continue to prop up their regime today when there are so many stories around about government corruption?
  • How could anyone in this ‘entitlement-free’ age think that spending between $400,000 and $600,000 per asylum seeker per year is a reasonable cost when the UN does it for less than $800 per year. Yes, that is the cost differential – I haven’t forgotten any zeros. The UN looks after 200,000 refugees in SE Asia for less than what it costs us to look after 4 refugees on Nauru. And who exactly is getting all of this money? It’s clearly not all being spent on accommodation or food – so whose pockets are really being lined?
  • Why would anyone select an island in the middle of nowhere with less than 10 kms of inhabitable land and a history of unemployment at 90% as a viable solution for resettling a group of refugees? Who exactly would choose an island that even the locals have considered deserting because they are doubtful that it will be able to sustain them? What could be the justification for deciding to increase Nauru’s population by close to ten percent through the resettlement of refugees? And while the government is now looking at alternatives to move some of these refugees – how is $50 million to move four of them to Cambodia any more palatable?

There are also plenty of unanswered questions around human rights abuses and the refusal of Nauru to allow any press other than a hand-picked Murdoch journalist onto the island. However since these questions are being covered extensively elsewhere, I haven’t covered them here.

Nauru: Really?

I find it impossible to look at the image of this tiny little rock in the middle of the Pacific ocean – so crucial to our government’s refugee policy – and not wonder if there is a single non-political reason for continuing our arrangements there.

To me Nauru seems like a ridiculously expensive political solution that has seen victims of war, terrorism and persecution who, having escaped hellholes in their country of birth in order to find a safe place to put their feet, end up in a location referred to by the BBC as Australia’s Guantanamo. Instead of safety, they have ended up on an island where they sleep in moldy tents and are unable to protect themselves and their children from being sexually abused. It’s no wonder Australian officials have been able to convince Syrian refugees to return to Syria – despite the war there continuing to worsen.

Further, at the end of the day it’s arguable that we aren’t doing Nauru any real favours. They clearly had more than enough of their own problems before we came along. With an economy that is probably unsustainable without the Asylum Seeker industry and with the prospect of climate change seeing many of the inhabitable parts of the island going underwater, it’s difficult to see how the island has a future. The Asylum Seeker industry – and the accompanying foreign aid – has propped Nauru up temporarily and stalled them having to face the realities of how they make a future for themselves once the Asylum Seeker Industry is gone.

It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, this government’s refugee policies are an abject expensive failure. They have stayed in place and avoided scrutiny for so long by fanning the flames of bigotry which lie in many corners of Australia, by mixing up the issue of refugees with border security, by hiding behind spurious ‘saving lives’ claims and through the self-righteous (and erroneous) proclamations of having stopped people smuggling.

One day history is going to look back on Australia’s current refugee policies in the clear light of day with horror, disbelief and shame.

This article was first published on Progressive Conversation.

 

My Thoughts on the Week that Was

Saturday 17 October

1 Cambodian officials say one of the refugees who arrived in Phnom Penh from Nauru in June has quit Cambodia and returned to Myanmar. The Rohingya Muslim man in his early 20s had been given refugee status on the basis of a fear of returning to Myanmar, where Rohingya say they have long been persecuted in the majority Buddhist government country.

keating2 Paul Keating has come out of the shadows to back a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, describing it as the “unfinished business of the nation” and suggesting it could precede Indigenous recognition in the constitution.

And the former prime minister also says he would back any move by Malcolm Turnbull to revive the minimalist model for an Australian republic that both men crafted in the early 1990s, conceding this might be the “last and best opportunity” to secure the model.

Bring him back, insults and all.

3 Abyan, the Somali refugee who fell pregnant after allegedly being raped on Nauru has been secretly flown back to Nauru in what looks like an extraordinary attempt to avoid Australian law. Ruthless bastards.

The Minister needs to explain why immediately.

4 This week’s Crikey BludgerTrack poll aggregate has Labor bridging the gap on the back of a weak result for the Coalition from Newspoll. 51.2-48.8.

In a redistribution Joel Fitzgibbon will lose his seat of Hunter in NSW but is guaranteed another.

5 The innovation minister, Christopher Pyne, has told crossbench senators the government will only provide extra assistance for the car industry if they back down on their opposition to cuts to family tax benefits paid to low income families. The style of government hasn’t changed.

Sunday 18 October

aust car1 Amazing to think that Australia is one of only 13 countries in the world who can build a motor vehicle from start to finish but will stop doing so within 12 months. The impact on jobs will be enormous. Have we planned for it? What is the future of jobs? I will be writing about it soon.

2 Voters across the board have high expectations of Turnbull, and crucially, they want him to act. It means he is already behind the eight ball. However Turnbull’s strategy seems to be to make no commitments and announce no policies while speaking in vague platitudes with a velvet fog voice while smiling a lot.

An observation:

“Instantaneous gratification is a byproduct of greed be it for materialisms sake or for power itself”.

3 The PM says the 23-year-old Somali woman Abyan, who was brought to Australia and moved to Sydney’s Villawood detention centre this week an abortion, was returned to the island because she decided against it. She says she wanted some counselling before committing.

Two observations:

‘Telling the truth should not be delayed simply because we are not sure how people might react to it’.

“The ability of thinking human beings to blindly embrace what they are being told without referring to evaluation and the consideration of scientific fact, truth and reason, never ceases to amaze me. It is tantamount to the rejection of rational explanation“.

Monday 19 0ctober

1 There is a “strong moral case” to proceed with Adani’s $16 billion coal mine, Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg claimed on Sunday. There is also a higher moral principle not to. If coal is good for humanity then the sun the wind and the sea are better.

gough2 The term “must read” is often used but rarely satisfying phrase. However I can recommend a “must read” you should not miss. A four part series on THE AIMN coinciding with the 40th Anniversary of the dismissal of Gough Whitlam and his government, to be published 8,9,10 and 11 November. More to come, but it’s electrifying.

3 Gerard Henderson on Insiders was of the opinion that Bill Shorten had done little wrong in his dealings with Theiss. Never thought I would find myself agreeing with him. But it’s still a bad look.

4 Where did all the voters go, and why?

Mysteriously, 3.3 million eligible voters went missing at the last election. That is a whopping 15% more than the previous one.

There is something fundamentally wrong when, despite a huge recruitment drive by the Australian Electoral Commission, 1.22 million citizens failed to enrol to vote, and 400,000, or one third of the non-registrants, were aged 18 to 24. Additionally, 760,000 House of Representatives ballots were informal – about 6 percent – up more than 0.3 percent from the 2010 election.

Who carried the loss? Our democracy did.

5 Remiss of me not to mention Albo’s put down of Chrissy Pyne during Question Time last week. The Government was suggesting he was claiming responsibility for all infrastructure for the past few years. Much laughter prevailed until Albo to a “point of order” “The only hole you’ve dug is the one for the former PM”. That shut them up.

Tuesday 20 October

1 Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity is not in the least surprising. John Howard once remarked that the Australian electorate was less inclined toward ideology than it once was. What they are saying is that they just want a decent leader. One in whom they can trust. After the revolving door leadership of the past few years that’s what they see in Turnbull.

The IPSOS Poll shows the TPP in favor of the Coalition 53/47. With the Election 12 months away it is but a reflection on the current thinking of the population. The onus is still on the PM to show he has policies that would warrant his popularity.

The Morgan Poll followed up with Coalition leading 56/44.

An analysis of the last election result suggests that fifteen of the Coalition’s new seats are held on very thin margins. Eleven seats have margins of less than 4000 voters. In essence, the election was a lot tighter than was first suggested. Theoretically, this means that it would only take about 30,000 people to change their vote to change the government.

2 Peter Dutton is a former policeman. Whilst I have great respect for the force, he is one of those you would not like to meet at the end of a dark ally. The secrecy surrounding all things to do with border protection and asylum seekers is so draconian that it is often impossible to know where the truth lay. However, in the case of the women on Nauru seeking an abortion, I don’t think it is with the Government. Whatever happened to compassion?

3 NBN Co expects the national broadband network to be rolled out to an extra 7.5 million premises in the next three years. However, chairman Ziggy Switkowski says that achieving the target of making the network accessible to more than 11 million homes by 2020 would be an “heroic outcome” given the current state of the rollout. The Australian Government is confident that the rollout will be completed by 2020. It raises the question as to why they would come out with that schedule if the chairman thought it would be heroic.

4 The following is a comment on my post for THE AIMN last week on the Future of Faith.

“Everywhere that religion is stronger you will find an accompanying increase in the amount of social problems — murder, divorce, abortion, infant mortality, sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy. All these problems are more common in religious societies and less common in atheist (or less religious) ones. What is most surprising is that these are exactly the things religion claims to help.”

I can attest to the veracity of this statement based on USA research.

5 If we look around the world, wealth has become the measure of success and the rich are becoming wealthier at an alarming rate. The top one percent will soon own 99 percent.

An observation:

“In the history of Australia the rich have never been so openly brazen.”

Wednesday 21 October

1 What are we to make of people like Michael Lawler and Kathy Jackson? Only the investigation into his affairs and her trial will tell us but the stench of corruption hangs oppressively in the air. Yet another example of the need for a national ICAC.

2 It has to be said that the proposed overhaul to the financial services sector arising from the David Murray inquiry will be welcomed by the electorate. Excessive credit fees will be banned. More efficient superannuation. Safer banks. Lifting standards in financial advice. Innovative finance to be encouraged.

3 The difference in style and substance between Turnbull and Abbott is daily becoming more obvious. 4 I’m eagerly awaiting the proposed new rules to Question Time.

5 Tuesday’s Essential Poll has the Coalition on 51% and Labor on 49%. Makes the IPOS figures a touch fragile.

This is Bob Ellis’s take on the IPOS Poll:

They ring with machines those at home on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and willing to talk to a machine. Seventy thousand are not, fifteen hundred are, and the seven million without landlines or out of the house are not rung at all.

And a lot of octogenarians are.

This accounts for the figures, 30 percent for Labor, 45 for the Coalition, which Fairfax published today. The idea that 800,000 voters went from Shorten to Turnbull after Shorten attacked his opponent’s tax-dodging wealth is unlikely, since few swinging voters like tax-dodgers any more than they like queue-jumpers.

So the probable figure for Labor is 51.5 or 52; but the publication of Ipsos, which has never got anything right (its method predicted Rudd, Swan, Clare, Burke, Bowen and Dreyfus would lose their seats) puts wind in the sails of the early-election desperates who do not want Turnbull’s despoliation of the Solomons and rorting, in tens of millions, of the tax laws better known.

The caveats in this Ipsos report are significant. The margin of error in NSW, we are told, is 4.6 percent; in Queensland 6 percent; in South Australia 8.9 percent; in WA 8 percent; in Victoria 4.6 percent; but, overall, in all the nation, only 2.6 percent.

How can this be? How can the overall be lower than the lowest, less than two thirds of the lowest of the states? Is fraud involved here? Perish the thought. And the 5 percent who are ‘uncommitted’ (that is, uncommitted about Turnbull) were redistributed 3 to 2 in his favour.

One must be suspicious of the other figures, therefore, that are to do with strength, openness to ideas, trustworthiness and so on.

And — oh yes — the margin of error among 18-24 year olds is 7.9 percent (!); among 25-39 year olds 5:5 percent; among 40-54 year olds 4:9 percent; and among the over-55s 4:2 percent. If only half of these error-margins leaned Labor’s way — that is, 3.9 percent, 2.25 percent, 2.45 percent, 2.45 percent and 2:1 percent — its vote would be not 47 percent but 49.3 percent. If it went two thirds Labor’s way it would be 50.2.

Is it right therefore that Fairfax print the headlines it has? Don’t think so.

Looks pretty dodgy to me.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Thursday 22 October

1 The Essential survey on “Institutional Trust” showed the following:

State Police 68% AFP 67% ABC 55% Reserve Bank 51% Charities 49% Environmental Groups 42% Local Councils 40% Public Service 38% State Parliament 32% Federal Parliament 32% Religious Organisations 30% Business Groups 30% Trade Unions 27% Political Parties 19%.

Tony Abbott certainly didn’t enhance the bottom line. And to think that the church was once so well respected.

2 The revisions to Question Time are hardly newsworthy. There is still no compunction on anyone to tell the truth. Let alone answer the question. It is devoid of wit, humor, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning. Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political supremacy over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

justin3 Canada has rid itself of its own Abbott. His replacement Justin Trudeau is sure to turn his countries Environmental policies upside down further illustrating just how backward we are. We still have a PM who knows what he should do but is being told what to do by the extreme right of his party. Come November we might well be the laughing stock of the world.

4 A former Australian prime minister is on a list of “alleged pedophiles” that Liberal senator Bill Heffernan claims forms part of a police document.

This from a notorious nutter who once accused a well-respected former high court judge of picking up boys for sex and then had to apologise.

5 The Jackson Lawler saga reads like a work of criminal fiction except that it’s all true.

6 According to the Climate Council solar panels with home battery storage could be the cheapest way to get electricity within three years. The advance in battery technology has been nothing short of remarkable. Turnbull shouts innovation and technology at every opportunity so long as it’s not associated with renewable energy. Coal is still God’s gift to humanity.

An observation.

“We dislike and resist change in the foolish assumption that we can make permanent that which makes us feel secure. Yet change is in fact part of the very fabric of our existence”.

7 Now Joe Hockey says he wanted to tax the rich all along. It wasn’t what he told us when he was the treasurer. “The last thing you would want to do to people relying on investment income is to hit them with a new tax” he said.

8 The Government has finally backed down on its unfair Family tax benefits proposals. Whether the new proposals are any fairer is yet to be determined. One thing is for certain they will have some harsh consequences for families – including for single parents and grandparent carers. If they cannot get Labor on board the Senate may again reject them.

An observation.

“The left of politics is concerned with people who cannot help themselves. The right is concerned with those who can”.

9 Lastly the Labor Party gained concessions on the Free Trade agreements. Many words spoken about an inevitable outcome.

Friday 23 October

1 Train wreck interview. When asked on Sky News about the proposed changes to Family Tax benefit B, the new Social Services Minister Christian Porter got in a muddle.

Speers: Labor asked today will grandparents raising a 15 year old child will… be $2,500 a year worse off, will they?

Porter answered: Errr, well, that depends on their capacity to access childcare and re-enter the workforce.

Mr Porter, 15 year-old children aren’t going to childcare.

Is Mr Porter seriously suggesting a 70 year old grandparent carer go back to work to make up for the Government’s cuts to his family payments?

2 Liberal National MP Warren Entsch has presented Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with a proposition for a fresh parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage.

Under the new plan, Mr Entsch wants politicians to vote on amending the Marriage Act before the next election, but only ratify the outcome if it is supported by a “Yes” vote in a plebiscite that followed. It seems to me to be a complicated way of achieving an outcome that has been consistently endorsed in poll after poll, year after year. And spending around 150 million to confirm it is just a tad expensive. How about we choose 150 hospitals most in need and give them a million each.

Turnbull’s problem is that he has been compelled to embrace a formula to deal with the issue that he did not support while Tony Abbott was in charge. A problem wholly owned by the extreme right of his party.

Quote Senator Fierravanti-Wells

“I reject the assertion that those who argue for the retention of the definition of marriage are somehow homophobic, bigoted or are opposing equal rights. It is about maintaining a tradition—a tradition that has been the bedrock of our communities, our society and the world as we know it.’’

From an article in THE AIMN in which Kaye Lee addresses her assertions.

3 Australia has fallen outside the top 10 clean countries in an annual global corruption index, prompting calls for a federal body with a broader reach than the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption. There can, in reality, be only one reason why politicians refuse to submit themselves to scrutiny.

4 The Labor Party needs to rid itself of an outdated socialist objective and invest in a social philosophical common good instead. And recognise that the elimination of growing inequality is a worthwhile pursuit.

Midday thoughts.

1 As bad as it was, Senator Eric Abetz’s offensive ‘Negro’ jibe to describe the conservative African-American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, during a radio interview on Thursday wasn’t offensive enough to win my new weekly ‘Bad Mouth’ award. It must surely go to Benjamin Netanyahu who distorted history with his claim that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was the one who planted the idea of the extermination of European Jewry in Adolf Hitler’s mind.

Week That Was_68

And this is the week that was.

Leave you with this thought:

Humility is the basis of all intellectual advancement. However, it is truth enables human progress’.

 

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.

 

Abyan needs help, not harassment: bring her off Nauru

A media release from the Refugee Action Coalition

The aggressive attempts by the Nauruan police to interview Abyan reveal their complete lack of concern for the privacy and welfare of a sexual assault victim.

The actions of the Australian Government and the Nauruan police have left Abyan exposed to retribution and vulnerable to further harassment and abuse.

The police and media visit to Abyan’s accommodation on Nauru left her in such a distressed situation that she asked if she could be taken into the detention compounds to gain some protection and security.

Such police harassment of a victim of sexual assault would not be tolerated in Australia. “Abyan’s safety on Nauru has been further compromised by the actions of the Nauruan police,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

Nor should the foot-in-the-door ‘journalism’ that has was inflicted on Abyan and her friend on Nauru, be tolerated. “It is impossible to describe the distress, and even terror, inflicted on Abyan and her friend when they were photographed on Nauru.

“This new round of distress has only been possible because, against all expert professional advice, the Australian government returned Abyan to the place of her sexual assault; something that can only add to the anguish that surrounds her situation,” said Rintoul. (See below for statement by Professor Louise Newman, Professor of Women’s Mental Health, University of Melbourne).

“It is clear from everything that Abyan has said, and now from media reports from Nauru, that she has never declined having a termination. She continues to be a victim of the Australian government’s political agenda.

“It is imperative that the Australian government acts urgently to provide the medical care that she needs. Her mental and physical well-being remains at risk as long as she remains on Nauru.

“She should be brought to Australia, this time, with the sympathy, care and consideration that she was previously denied.”

The Refugee Action Coalition has called a further protest Friday, 23 October, 5pm, Sydney Town Hall.

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVORS DESERVE COMPASSION AND CARE. NOT BLAME

Professor Louise Newman

Professor of Women’s Mental Health

University of Melbourne

The treatment of a 23 year old pregnant rape survivor from Namur highlights the profound lack of understanding of the psychological impact of rape and trauma. Blaming the victim – assuming that she is misusing the system to come to Australia and is not “genuine “in her request for termination does nothing to help us understand her torment and respond in a compassionate way

Rape if a significant psychological trauma. Pregnancy as a result of rape is always confusing for the woman who is often unclear about how to proceed and deeply troubled. We know that this young women AM has been distressed and withdrawn, not eating and has been suicidal. She has been asking for termination since around 4 week’s into the pregnant. She has not been responded to until around 14 weeks and the question of how to proceed has become even more complicated. She is still distressed and has stated that she needs time to consider her options. She requests counselling and this has not been provided. Instead she is blamed for her indecision and seen as misusing a care system

This response on the part of Government sets women’s rights back 50 years to a time when rape victims were dismissed, denigrated and belittled with huge social and psychological consequences. To treat any woman in this way is wrong bad this is magnified whin we treat a vulnerable and powerless refugee with such contempt.

From a mental health perspective, this young woman is in urgent need of clinical assessment and care. She needs specialist sexual assault trauma counselling and time to consider her options. The decision about t whether to proceed with the pregnancy is hers alone and needs to be made with full support and awareness. Discourse of her medical details and private information on the media is inappropriate.

The risk of not providing mental health support is significant and she has already been despairing and suicidal about her situation. Blaming and shaming by Government Ministers is something we should never sanction. The prospect of becoming a parent on Nauru and let alone the difficulties of parenting as child who is a product of rape is extremely high risk and should not be ignored for some perceived greater political need.

Compassion for rape survivors is a core Australian value. It has been hardly fought for and needs to be protected. Respect for all women regardless of their visa status is a social responsibility and standing in opposition to any violence towards women is at the heart of this issues.

Professor Louise Newman AM

What is better than drowning, according to the Australian Government?

The Federal Government is determined to stick to its policy of torturing innocent people to deter criminals. Apparently the only way to take power away from people smugglers is to ensure that perfectly legal asylum seekers who previously made it safely to Australia by boat are treated in the most barbaric way possible. In some kind of twisted Coalition logic, it asserts by its actions that the most effective way to prevent people drowning at sea is to torture those that survive.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton appears to understand that actions are more important than words, as does former Immigration Minister and current Treasurer, Scott Morrison. Both have made it clear that it’s not acceptable to simply intercept boats making their way to Australia, remove asylum seekers and detain the people smugglers. No, the only way to save lives is to detain and subject every man, woman and child to the cruellest, most inhumane treatment possible. The Coalition has a strong message for asylum seekers, “Dare to flee war, persecution or genocide, and we will make your lives so rotten you’ll beg to return to where you came from.”

According to the Coalition, there is nothing worse than drowning at sea. According to the actions of Dutton, Morrison, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, sexual abuse, violent assaults, and denial of medical treatment are all better than drowning.

In some respects, they have a point. Death is final. It is the end. There is no return from death. Drowning really is a final outcome.

Torture, on the other hand, rape, sexual abuse, violent assaults, denial of medical treatment; none of these things results in immediate death. No, these things, continuously supported by the Australian Government by its lack of action, ensure that people stay alive; although not so much alive as a lingering, painful existence from which there is no escape. Asylum seekers who attempt to escape by ending their own lives, are subjected to more pain and torture.

It seems the Australian Government is determined to stop people drowning at all costs.

Based on the events of the past few years, the Government has demonstrated a number of things that it believes are better than drowning.

  1. Being bashed to death by security guards who are meant to protect you.
  2. Dying a slow, lingering death from septicaemia from an untreated foot infection.
  3. Housing a five month old baby in a stinking hot, rat-infested tent without access to appropriate formula, hygienic facilities to prepare food, and placing her mother in so much stress she can’t breastfeed properly.
  4. Being so suicidal you can’t be trusted to be left alone for five minutes with a lawyer or husband, but considered well enough to be flown to detention in Nauru.
  5. Depriving women of basic sanitary items and forcing them to ask male security guards for pads while blood clots run down their legs.
  6. Leaving a young child with a broken arm untreated for weeks.
  7. Being brutally raped as a 23 year old, and denied medical treatment for weeks, if not months, and forced to continue a pregnancy that is making you physically sick.
  8. Having medical treatment delayed after being brutally raped and attempting suicide.
  9. Young boys being attacked, beaten and robbed.
  10. The sexual abuse of children.
  11. Sending children who are suffering from serious mental health issues back to detention where they won’t have access to proper treatment and their condition will worsen.
  12. Waterboarding and being cable-tied to a bed and dropped from height.
  13. Dying after being denied medical treatment for two weeks.

Astoundingly, while on one hand declaring that the arbitrary and indefinite detention of asylum seekers is necessary to deter the people smugglers, and proudly boasting of its cruel policies, the Government’s main defence in a High Court challenge to offshore detention was that it has no control over the detention centres and besides, there is now no detention after the Nauruan Government coincidentally opened up the centre several days before the challenge was to be heard. This is not the first time the Government has changed the rules at the last minute to thwart any attempts to test the legality of the offshore detention policy and hold it accountable.

The Australian Government behaves as though what happens on Nauru is not Australia’s responsibility. It deliberately and publicly sends men, women and children, including tiny babies, into torturous conditions, yet steps back and says, “its not our problem.” It says the detention centre is not “controlled” by Australia.

The Government’s defence amounts to “it’s nothing to do with us”. At least in this respect the Government’s words and actions are consistent. It continues to fail to act on mounting evidence of appalling conditions for asylum seekers and refugees on the remote island prisons, despite Turnbull recently expressing “concern”, as though the barbaric treatment of innocent people is news to him.

The Government uses the harsh treatment of asylum seekers detained in a third world shithole to attempt to deter people lawfully seeking asylum. It actively sends people to Nauru and Manus Island, and uses tax payer money for the management of the facilities, visas, and the security of the detention centres, yet absolves itself of all responsibility.

The Forgotten Children Report from the Australian Human Rights Centre provides clear evidence of the abhorrent conditions of immigration detention.

The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration policy and conditions in detention centres amounts to torture.

The Moss Report, commissioned by the Government itself, found that there is evidence of rapes, sexual assaults and drugs for sexual favours in the Australian run centre on Nauru.

A Senate Committee Inquiry found that the Nauru detention centre is not safe for children.

United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants cancelled a visit as the Government could not guarantee that people who spoke with him would not be prosecuted under the Border Force Act.

Despite ongoing criticism, the Government insists on promoting the same tired line that anything compassionate, humane and in line with the basic standards of human rights expected in a Western democracy will lead to more deaths in Australian waters.

It seems that it’s not the deaths the Government fears; it’s the method of death and the publicity surrounding it. Heart wrenching images of children washed up on beaches turns asylum seekers from illegal immigrants to be feared into humans who deserve care and help. Instead, the Government supports the slow, lingering, torturous death of innocent people in detention, which it does everything to hide, threatening two years jail for doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals for publicly disclosing the appalling treatment of asylum seekers, including the sexual abuse of children.

“You’re going to die from a hunger strike protesting your inadequate treatment after being bashed in immigration detention? You shouldn’t have sought asylum by boat”, will be the next heartless press statement from Dutton. “If we relax our draconian policies, people might drown”.

Apparently anything is better than drowning.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was first published on No Place For Sheep.

 

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