Tag Archives: asylum seekers

The immigration ministers and the Grand Mufti. And torture.

21 Nov



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. This piece by 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.



Ms Gillard’s sickening hypocrisy laid bare

8 Nov

Gillard Three


It was with disbelief, and finally contempt, that I watched excerpts of the Al Jazeera interview with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the topic of her government’s treatment of waterborne asylum seekers, particularly women and children.

Gillard, now a global advocate for the education of girls and women, employed what has disturbingly become a normalised justification for Australian governments’ increasingly callous torment of women and girls in off-shore detention: we do it to stop people drowning at sea.

I have yet to get my head around the psychopathology of those who believe the torment of one group is justified in order to discourage another group from undertaking a particular action. I think such justifications are teetering precariously on just about every ethical and moral ground I can think of, beginning with the Kantian argument that it is reprehensible to use people as a means to an end, and that people are an end in themselves. To treat them in any other way is to dehumanise them, and ultimately, ourselves.

However, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott and now Turnbull apparently have no difficulty with treating waterborne asylum seekers as a means to an end, and justifying their hideous treatment of them as a necessary deterrent in order to save the lives of others.

It has been said more than a million times: arriving in this country by boat, seeking asylum, is not a crime. Indeed, as we are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention, we actively invite people to arrive here by whatever means they manage to employ.

If we want to save people from drowning at sea, and if we care about the humanity of those we already have in detention, we would cease to use the detained as scapegoats, and as examples of what will happen if you legitimately arrive here by boat. We would instead withdraw from the Refugee Convention. People come to Australia because we invite them, through our participation in the Convention, and our agreement with its principles.

Of course, we aren’t about to take that step. So instead we will continue to ill-treat asylum seekers in off-shore detention. We will continue to justify this crime against humanity by claiming it’s done to save lives.

And Ms Gillard will continue to strut the world stage advocating for the education of women and children but not, regrettably, those she imprisoned in mandatory indefinite dentition in tropical hell holes where they are abused, raped and made mad.

Women for Gillard? Non, merci.



It isn’t the only question that matters, Mr Abbott.

15 Jun



“Again I keep making the point the only question that matters is, is this government prepared to do what is necessary to keep the boats stopped, the answer is yes.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott when asked about alleged payments to people smugglers by the Australian government.

There is never only one question that matters. When the leader of the country reveals this conviction as his bottom line, you know he has abandoned the basic the principles of liberal democracy.

Abbott has now publicly confirmed that in his world view the means absolutely justifies the end. If you believe he will only apply this conviction in order to “stop the boats” you’re dreaming.

What it sounds like to me is that Abbott is constructing rationalisations, minimisations and justifications for misappropriating taxpayers’ money  in order to engage in the illegal act of bribing people traffickers to find a destination other than Australia, in preparation for these allegations being confirmed.

The levels on which this is corrupt, degenerate, and potentially lethal to human life are myriad, but Abbott hopes to reframe these acts of bastardry as the necessary means to the noble end of keeping Australia safe.

If it is Abbott’s creed that the means justifies then end, he is without doubt crazed. It’s a belief that can be, has been and will continue to be used to justify every kind of violence, genocide, repression, oppression and suppression, and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

There is, in the Australian abhorrence for waterborne asylum seekers as represented by both ALP and LNP governments, more than a tinge of racism. The vicious punishments meted out to them, such as indefinite detention in off-shore hell holes, demonstrate a disregard for humanity other than our own that is but a few steps away on the continuum of contempt from murdering  them.

Let’s not forget that Abbott once memorably and bizarrely observed that Jesus didn’t intend everyone to come to Australia, so not only do we have the means to an end conviction in Abbott, we have the religious fanatic’s belief that he knows what God wants and is carrying out his wishes.

“The only question that matters” is a phrase favoured by those who have something to hide. It’s an avoidance phrase, and it’s a phrase intended not to inform but to obfuscate. It’s up there along with “the details don’t matter.” As soon as someone tells you the details don’t matter you know those details are central, and someone desperately doesn’t want them revealed.

It is not for a politician to determine the “only question that matters,” at least not in a western democracy. That’s the language of dictatorship. If Abbott is using taxpayers money to pay off people smugglers that’s a question that damn well matters. Apart from that, nobody thinking straight wants to be at the mercy of a government that is so flagrantly prepared to use human beings as a means to their own ends.



Abbott’s denial of reality

14 Jun



It’s the goal of every political party to impose its particular concept of reality onto the nation over which it desires governance. Treasurer Joe Hockey, for example, wants to convince us that if we have a “good” job that pays sufficiently well we will be able to buy a house, even in what governor of the Reserve Bank Glenn Stevens describes as Sydney’s “crazy” market.

In other words, Hockey wants to impose his party’s ideological belief that all that is required is hard work to get you where you want to be. In the matter of affordable housing this fallacy is easily challenged: nurses, emergency workers, teachers, police, all essential to the safety of any community, are paid so comparatively poorly they have reduced opportunities to purchase a home in the city in which they serve, yet their jobs are “good” in every other sense of the word, and they work hard in traumatic and difficult circumstances.

In Hockey’s ideology the individual is entirely responsible for his or her fate, and the wider social and cultural context in which we exist is of no relevance whatsoever.

Even cabinet ministers occasionally have difficulty meeting their mortgage payments, Prime Minister Tony Abbott folksily tells us, and his own daughters are wondering how they’ll ever get into the market. These comments only serve to confirm the “craziness” referred to by Glenn Stevens, however this is not Abbott’s intention. In yet another cosy homily, the Prime Minister is attempting to brainwash the nation into the belief that it is normal to struggle mightily to own a home, and that housing is a privilege, not a human right.

The LNP ideology in general, not just as it is revealed through the prism of the housing market, is based entirely on the denial of the reality of everyone other than themselves and the like-minded. So as another example, in what must be the most twisted effort thus far to keep the country free of asylum seekers arriving by boat, we now hear that the Abbott government is allegedly using tax payer dollars to persuade people smugglers to turn their over-loaded boats towards Indonesia where they presumably will either offload their cargo of human misery, or conceivably turn right back around in the hope of being intercepted by another representative of the Australian navy and border patrol who will, if they are lucky, pay them more thousands of dollars to turn back to Indonesia.

This interesting variation on Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence will, the government assures us, ensure ongoing success in its campaign to turn back the boats and keep Australia safe. The fact that we pay those vile people smugglers to turn around will not, of course, encourage the people smuggler trade, because the Abbott government wants to stamp that trade out and paying them to turn back will stamp that trade out, dummy, what is wrong with you that you can’t get that?  It won’t even risk more drownings at sea because paying people smugglers to turn back their boats will stop drownings at sea, or at least in the bit of the sea that belongs to us, because the people smugglers have been paid and paying them means nobody will drown.

Are you gas-lighted yet?

The government has zero interest in the reality of waterborne asylum seekers, their struggles and their fate. The only reality that matters is that of a group of largely white males who currently comprise the orthodoxy, and whose sole goal is to remain in power. Their task is, by hook or by crook, to quote their leader, to persuade enough of the citizens of this country to share that reality and vote them back in. Denial of every other reality is essential to achieve this outcome, onshore and off.

Denial is an insidious psychological mechanism, on a personal, community, national and political level. One of the most destructive of its effects is the barrier it inevitable constructs against change. Nowhere do we see this played out more dramatically than in the Abbott government’s fanatical loyalty to the continued use of fossil fuels, brought yet again into stark focus this week by the Prime Minister’s brain fart on the aesthetic offensiveness of wind farms and his intention to find, by hook or by crook, expert evidence to prove their danger to human life.

A few weeks ago Jeff Sparrow tweeted about the demented wind farm phobia displayed by both Hockey and now the PM. Its roots, he claimed, lie in the fear that at their every turn the turbines are whispering: “Hang the bourgeoisie. Hang the bourgeoisie.”

Denial, in the psychological sense, causes a refusal to accept evidence-based reality, refusal to acknowledge the repercussions of one’s own actions and the effects those actions have on others. The denier uses minimisation, rationalisation and justification to cling to a status quo under challenge, and the more frightening the challenge, the more desperately the tools of denial are brought into play.

The Abbot government suffers a group psychosis, so deeply ingrained is its pathological denial of any reality other than its own; its callous disregard for the effects of its actions on any other group, and its narcissistic belief in its own entitlement and superiority. This can only go one way: downhill. Currently, we have no significant organised challenge to the Abbott government’s dominance, but when we do, and we must, even if it means widespread civil disobedience, the orthodoxy will decompensate, and hopefully implode. This will not be a pretty process: overthrowing tyrants never is.

Change is an anathema to conservatives, and we are in a time of enormous global changes that must be maturely addressed. They will not cope. They are already not coping, and if we had an opposition with any kind of a spine, the government’s sick reality would be under real and consistent challenge.


How to avoid the democratic process within your own party

7 Jun



In December 2014, then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made this alarming lunge for sole power over citizenship decisions without recourse to judicial review:

The DIBP submission to a Senate committee argues that an elected member of parliament and minister of the Crown has gained a particular insight into the community’s standards and values. This particular insight therefore qualifies Morrison to overrule AAT decisions. It is the bill’s intention to grant a minister, in this case Morrison, the power to determine an individual’s “good character” or otherwise, regardless of any ruling made by the AAT. Morrison’s decision will be unchallengeable.

Peter Dutton has now replaced Morrison as Minister for Immigration and is in the process of attempting a similar grab for sole power over the stripping of citizenship from those he alone deems unsuitable to retain it.

No citizen can have confidence in a government or an opposition that supports one politician being granted absolute power over such decisions. It is absolutely contrary to all democratic instincts and practices. The question we must ask is why is it thought necessary to invest one politician with this much power? The answer is obviously that the government cannot risk internal debate, and is determined to avoid that democratic process. The Minister is answerable to no one within his party, let alone outside of it. It is only a matter of time before more Ministers are granted similar authority over who knows what circumstances, and anyone who believes or trusts otherwise has their head in a sack. The government has no mandate to invest a Minister with absolute power, not even within its own ranks.



There are currently so many disturbing events initiated by the Abbott government it’s difficult to triage, however, surely one of the more alarming is the decision to imprison for up to two years doctors, nurses and teachers who disclose adverse conditions at asylum seeker detention centres on Manus and Nauru.

In spite of the border protection rhetoric that surrounds this decision, it’s apparent to anyone with a brain that the only interests served by imposing these draconian restrictions on professionals who, in Australia, are mandated to report abuses they become aware of in the course of their work, are the interests of the Abbott government, supported by the Labor opposition.

Neither major party wants us or the rest of the world to know what goes on in the off-shore detention centres. Knowledge of abuses inflicted upon the detained cannot possibly be a threat to our national security, and if that is what the major parties continue to insist, they need to explain exactly how they justify that claim.

Indeed, if there was any logic to the government’s argument the ill-treatment of asylum seekers ought to be trumpeted from the rooftops as a deterrence to anyone else attempting to come here by boat. Not only will you never be resettled in Australia, you and your children will be subjected to inhumane treatment and conditions in tropical hell holes as well.

As head of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs so eloquently pointed out, we are currently being subjected to an erosion of rights that ought to have us taking to the streets in protest at the over-reach of executive power by the Abbott government. It is not far-fetched to imagine that a government prepared to imprison professionals for doing their jobs in off-shore detention centres will extend that threat to professionals doing their jobs in the homeland, should it serve their interests. There’s certainly no future in entreating the ALP to take a stand, indeed, the ALP seems more than happy for Abbott to do this dirty work.

Labor is the despicable winner in the Triggs affair.

27 Feb


The Abbott government’s attacks on President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, have served the ALP’s interests more than any other.

They certainly have done nothing to ease the ongoing plight of the 1,129 children successive Australian governments have kept in mandatory detention in appalling circumstances. Many of the children suffer long-term damage from the experience of being treated as criminals for no reason other than that they exist. The conditions under which the children have and continue to be incarcerated would likely make Charles Dickens flinch and look away, yet since the release of the AHRC report, nobody in the major parties has bothered so much as to mention their suffering.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs have done nothing for the

233 assaults involving children
33 reported sexual assaults
128 incidences of self-harm
34% who require psychiatric support

documented in the recent AHRC report.

However, what the government’s latest lunacy has done is to hand the ALP on a silver platter access to a high moral ground which they do not for one moment deserve, having been as despicably callous towards asylum seekers for their own political gain as has the LNP. There is not a bee’s dick of difference between the two major parties in terms of their ill-treatment of those they consider less worthy than the rest of us, and therefore infinitely exploitable in their mutual pursuit of power.

The ALP is now bellowing self-righteously about the government’s treatment of Professor Triggs, but not, of course, about the contents of Professor Triggs’ report. About that they cannot bellow, as the report condemns equally ALP asylum seeker policies implemented under the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd incumbencies.

Labor has now referred Attoney-General George Brandis to the AFP for allegedly inducing Triggs to leave her position at the HRC for something less disturbing to him. Carefully worded denials have ensued, reminding us that language can be used for ill, and in politics, invariably will be. In case we forget what was said about the Triggs “inducement” at the estimates hearing:


If this disgraceful fracas surrounding Professor Triggs tells us anything, it’s that the majority of our elected members on both sides of the house care nothing for the lives and fates of asylum seekers, and logically, it is only a matter of time before they care nothing for the lives and fates of many of their own citizens. Once a government makes scapegoats of one group for political expediency,  they’ll have no qualms scapegoating any other for the same motive. Indeed, there are those who could put up a good argument that this is already the case.

We do not, in this country, have a good record for the treatment of children by authorities. The history of child abuse unfolding before us in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, for example, demonstrates as nothing else ever has the prevalence and consistency of the savage mistreatment of children across all demographics, from institutions that house the most underprivileged child, to institutions that house the children of the wealthiest and most influential citizens in the country. It is inevitable that our cruelty seamlessly extends itself to children of asylum seekers.

We are in dire need of politicians of calibre, who are capable of and willing to refuse the lure of political gamesmanship and instead do what they are elected to do, and represent the interests of those who gave them their trust. The ALP has no high moral ground on which to pitch its tents on the matter of the Triggs report and the ensuing unseemly brawls. Given its own foul record, the ALP has no choice but to either admit its failures and undertake reform, or make whatever miserable and poisoned political capital it can from the government’s sickening attacks on Gillian Triggs.

All in all, we are one of the most fortunate nations in the world, cast adrift in a tumultuous sea aboard a ship commanded by fools.






Australia: a country of vengeful malcontents

24 Jan



In this piece titled “Manus Island: what will it take to shock us?” Julian Burnside, barrister and refugee advocate, gives a powerful synopsis of the cruelty the Australian public is prepared to tolerate its governments inflicting on asylum seekers, in the crazed collective desire to “stop the boats” and protect the country’s “sovereign borders.”

The answer to Mr Burnside’s question is, of course, that the only thing that will shock anyone at this point is a government that is prepared to cease and desist from using asylum seekers as human fodder in election campaigns. We have reached the stage in this matter where the only possibility for provoking shock is decent behaviour.

The contempt in which the Australian public holds asylum seekers who arrive here by boat is sickening. As has been noted on other occasions, we treat people who are far more threatening to us individually and collectively much better than we treat unarmed people seeking sanctuary who travel here by boat. The unexamined hatred, prejudice, loathing and contempt directed towards asylum seekers, chillingly orchestrated by political leaders of both major parties, is mind numbing, and it has numbed the minds of the Australian public in general to the degree that many believe we aren’t harsh enough. 60% of Australians, according to a poll conducted in September 2014, (see link) believe we are not treating waterborne asylum seekers badly enough.

From a psychological perspective, this leads me to believe that we are a nation of desperately unhappy, dissatisfied people who for many reasons, some of them undeniably sound, live with a sense of profound grievance that has to negatively express itself towards somebody and something. I draw this conclusion because people who are living lives in which they find satisfaction and enjoyment at least some of the time, are not inclined to desire the persecution of others, let alone bay for blood like rabid wolves because a few thousand stateless persons have turned up looking for sanctuary.

Regrettably, it would seem that these miserably vengeful Australians are in the majority, and one has to ask, why is this so? What has gone so awry in this lucky country that so many of us need to take out our apparently endemic discontent on the helpless and the vulnerable? Because it is not only asylum seekers towards whom this loathing is directed, although they are the extreme example of its concrete manifestation at this moment in time. In reality, any individual and group that can be defined as less than what the miserable majority  consider the “norm” are targeted for persecution in some way, and our politicians lead the ranting, bloodthirsty, vengeful pack.

“Fair go” is a principle inherent in the Australian “character?” My arse it is. My arse it ever has been. If it was, we would not have politicians who seek election and re-election on the backs of the most vulnerable in the first place, because it wouldn’t win them votes.

What will it take for us to be shocked? Common sense and decency in our political leaders. That’s what it will take to shock us. Don’t hold your breath. Neither of those things is coming to a marketplace near you anytime soon.

This blog on The Monthly on conditions on Manus as reported by workers there is well worth a read. Thanks to Robyn here for the link.




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