Tag Archives: Christmas Island

Fasten your seat belts: turbulence ahead

25 Jun

It was with a certain contempt that I watched footage of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott piously declaring that he would hold his forked tongue for twenty four hours while the bodies of drowned asylum seekers were recovered and taken to a makeshift morgue on Christmas Island.

And I noted the absence of any comment, pious or otherwise, from Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison. Perhaps they’ve put the muzzle on in case he comes out with observations somebody might construe as racist.

However, it seems inevitable that all gloves will be off when Parliament resumes today, and we will be subjected to the self-interested politicising of the plight of asylum seekers that began with John Howard and hasn’t stopped since.

No doubt the government will attempt a revival of its Malaysia plan. This surely will necessitate re-negotiations with that country, as the initial agreement covered only 800 boat arrivals, after which, presumably, we went back to how things always were.

Mr Abbott will no doubt adhere to his demands that the government re-open his beloved Nauru detention facilities, because, he will argue, when they were operative they stopped the boats. Quite how the Nauru option will stop the boats is unclear to me, after all, practically everyone who got to Nauru was found to be a refugee and resettled. Hardly seems like a disincentive.

What both major parties apparently fail to grasp is the desperation of people who undertake these journeys. The dangers they face are no deterrent. They risk their lives to have a life. An inability to comprehend desperation is fairly typical of most politicians. They lack the imagination, and are far too occupied with saving their own arses than they are with the plight of human beings in dire circumstances, at home and abroad. Lack of political will is responsible for some of the most obscene travesties on the planet.

What we urgently need is a regional approach to managing people movements. This will require a degree of co-operation between the government, the Coalition and the Greens. This possibility looks as likely as Gina Rinehart funding care and housing for homeless children.

What we will get is yet another extended brawl that will achieve nothing. Then there will be another catastrophe in which more lives are lost. Then we will have another extended brawl that achieves nothing. Then there will be another catastrophe in which more lives are lost.

As well as the asylum seekers, you know who I feel sorry for? The good people of Christmas Island who have to deal with the stark reality of these events in their back yards.

This piece from the Castan Centre unpacks the complexities with clarity. The author addresses the notion of saving lives by deterring asylum seekers from embarking in the first place. Perhaps, if our objective really is to save lives, we would supply safer boats?  Or is the saving of life a cover for deeper concerns about border protection and just stopping the boats?

Thus far our politicians have proved themselves entirely inadequate on this matter. It isn’t good enough. Refugees are not going away. The numbers seeking resettlement here are miniscule compared with many other countries. It is a regional problem, but how can Australia take a responsible role in addressing it at this level when our politicians continue to domestically exploit widespread human misery to further their own interests?

Gerard’s Christmas wish

27 Nov

Guest post today by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger

Would Islam work better?  (The addicted gamblers demand it)

Well, if Catholicism was going to save us from the evils of gambling, or the moral spinelessness of our leaders, might it be prudent to look elsewhere for answers?  All our heavenly hope was vested in a leadership that would be benign, kind and benevolent.  So much hope got washed upon the shores of Christmas Island and despite promises that things would change for the better, it just doesn’t seem to have happened. Boat people are still languishing for years in detention. Suicides are almost  par for course with being a boat person. That’s what they do, don’t they? We provide them with three square meals, a bed and a flat screen television. If that’s not enough, that’s just tough. Go and jump.  Our hearts of stone will not be moved.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-19/dramatic-rise-in-detention-centre-incidents/3681630

If we think changing leaders at the next round of elections will change anything, think again. The flipping and flopping about by Abbott is just so mind boggling, one wonders if his stint with the Jesuits did more harm than good. It is amazing how anyone making claims to having enjoyed a Christian grounding and professing to have a belief in a good and benevolent God can in this same strand of theological forbearance and profound insight, and in the same breath, ‘predict’ the rescinding of sensible poker legislation.

We know that there are more bad things as well, alcohol, obesity, smoking, drugs and much more that have proven to be so damaging to hundreds, if not millions of people. But, we made inroads in smoking but are now not able to take on the pokies. Why not? Where is the God in Abbott?

Perhaps it is time to ask; where is the Allah in Australia? If society is crumbling even with our long held beliefs in Christianity, should we swap for something a bit more solid, a bit more reliable, and a bit gutsier?  Of course, no- one is heralding the entry of religion in our government and we all dearly want to remain secular, but how would we would feel having a Member of Parliament, a Minister, if not a Prime Minister, holding Islamic beliefs?  What would we feel about a female MP for the seat of Bennelong wearing a headscarf, or a white-robed defense minister, for example? Could we cope, seeing we are hardly capable of accepting a couple of thousand from those hotbeds of Islam, Afghanistan and Iraq?

Might it not be wise and prudent to add up and balance some of the positives of Islam and its culture? They are against gambling and would most certainly soon sort out our gambling addiction. They do enjoy breeding and racing horses, so it doesn’t seem that bad. They don’t want a drop of alcohol and can you blame them, just look at us. Smoking the water-pipe and chewing khat leaves are ok. So is a bit of hashish, smoked or inhaled.

It is not as simple as we might believe and there are big differences even within the same country or the same religion. Islam is as diverse as Christianity.

We, here in Australia have the Friday night spectre of the pub’s ‘meat tray raffle’, or ‘happy hour’ with reduced prices for schooners. What do you think people from Islamic countries might make out of those peculiar cultural oddities? The pushing of buttons on glittering and light flickering machines by ladies with blue or pink hair could also easily be seen as a strange voodoo like habit.  And so it goes on, so many differences but also many similarities. We all share love, sadness, joy, vanity, modesty, greed, brutality, friendliness, hatred, spite, generosity, togetherness, and loneliness.

We need to be far more tolerant and informed about the rest of the world, especially when borders disappear and so many people with all sorts of beliefs are roaming to find peace and happiness.

May Allah be with us also.

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

And here, Watermelon Man David Horton has written a timely meditation on holes in the ground.

The high cost of obstinacy

22 Aug

Guest post today by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger

The treasury informs us that 2.4 billion has been spent on detaining boat people since 2000. This has worked out at $100,000 per boat arrival. I wonder how long this stupid waste of money will be allowed to continue.

The tide in favour on off shore detention has been turning, and ever so slowly there now appears the realization that if not from a humanitarian but from a financial point of view, we might be better off to swallow our pride or blind obstinacy and simply do what the rest of the world has been doing for many years. That is, dealing with a difficult problem that presents itself directly on most of their doorsteps, on a never-ending and daily basis.

After all, not many countries have the luxury of submissive sovereign nations such as PNG and Nauru, or excised islands close by, where refugees can be sent and left to slowly languish while awaiting the assessment of their refugee status.

In the meantime, there are serious concerns expressed daily about the treatment of asylum seekers in detention. This treatment results in hundreds of cases of self harm, mental break-downs, riots and the involvement of the Australian Federal Police. These events ring alarm bells worldwide especially at the UNHCR.

No matter what we do to try to dissuade the boat people, they will continue to undertake dangerous voyages to escape their circumstances and find a better life for themselves and their children. They have little or nothing to lose.

So what is this deep fear that Australia has about boat people who, no matter what, will continue to arrive at our doorstep? Are they armed? Do they threaten Us? Do they come with murderous intent, do they come to rape and pillage? The general and not unreasonable assumption is that many more will arrive  if we let our guard down. That might well be true. So what?  Australia happily takes in more than a hundred thousand migrants in a year. If a thousand boat people a week arrive on our shores, what is the problem with that?

If we reduced our normal intake of migrants by fifty thousand we would still not increase the overall number. Consider that fifty thousand migrants from ‘normal’ channels are those that are in less urgent need than boat arrivals, then why not give priority to asylum seekers? Consider how our image would change overnight.

Currently, we are viewed with horror by many world-wide as images and have been since the Tampa. Then there are the terrible sights of refugees burning and self harming, and those terrible drownings at Christmas Island. Sometimes, the footage resembles Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners are also languishing after many years.

The advantage of age is the luxury of hindsight. I remember still a similar
fear of refugees and new-comers in the late fifties and sixties. The ‘reffos’ and Italians and Greeks were knife pullers and worse, garlic eaters. They would catch trains or buses while speaking strange languages. That fear for Southern Europeans later changed into a fear for the boat people from Vietnam. They would allegedly bring exotic diseases, and they wore funny hats.

All of those fears were unfounded. Can you imagine Australia without the huge benefits from all those brave enough to risk dangerous journeys to come here?
We would all still be slurping milk-shakes, eating meat pies with lamingtons for dessert, and thronging around the six o’clock swill pubs. Those killer Sundays, they were deadly quiet with just the stray dogs about,scratching their fleas at deserted suburban rail-stations. Instead, we have a lively and varied society.

We still seem to harbour similar fears against the Afghans, Burmese or Iraqis, again based on ignorance, prejudice and an unwillingness to change.

Why do we allow fear to compete so sadly with compassion?

Come on Aussies. Open your hearts. Take the risk and deal with those
unfortunate boat arrivals as best as we can. Deal with the problem with honesty and do it in Australia. Show the world we care and have compassion. We are the largest
and least densely population country in the world. Not just a country but a
complete continent with the smallest population.  Let’s also have the
largest hearts.

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

The impotent threats of impotent leaders

11 Aug

They may come from different political perspectives (in theory, anyway) but there are interesting similarities between British PM David Cameron’s authoritarian threats against the rioting mobs, and those used by Julia Gillard on the matter of water-borne asylum seekers.

Whenever there is social unrest of almost any kind, politicians pull up the same violently repressive cliches: stamp out, crack down. I/we will not allow, full force of the law, tough stance against criminals, illegals, queue jumpers. This ritualized language is the backbone of authority’s discourse when faced with challenges it ‘s very likely incapable of controlling. The less likely the possibility of control, the more violently repressive politicians’ language becomes.

While there is a place for dissent and disobedience in a liberal democracy, these acts can only be performed within the strict parameters of acceptable middle class behaviour. It is not acceptable to riot, either in the streets of London or behind the razor wire of a detention centre. Middle class manners do not allow for extreme behaviours of any kind. This is why politicians have absolutely no hope of competently addressing extreme behaviours: they don’t understand them and they’re scared to death of them. All they can think of to do is threaten with imprisonment or expulsion, either of which may at some point become necessary, but neither of which do anything to calm a red-hot situation.

The bottom line is, David Cameron cannot control the rioters. He may bring in water cannon. Australians know from Woomera that doesn’t work. It’s a very bad look, especially for a country aiming to put on the best Olympics ever next year. The effects of water cannon are extremely temporary, unless it inadvertently kills or injures someone, and it’s use will further incite the rioters it blasts all over the streets.

The bottom line is, Julia Gillard cannot control the asylum seekers who are already here awaiting assessment, or those she intends to expel to Christmas island. She cannot stop them trying to poison themselves, going on hunger strikes, sewing up their lips or killing themselves. Her plan to despatch them to Malaysia is now completely out of her control, and in the hands of the High Court. Even if she has them shot again them with bean bag bullets she’s still got no control over them, and that’s a bad look too.

You cannot control human beings who feel they have nothing to lose. You can only attempt to create a society in which human beings are not driven to that extreme. People exhausted by failure frequently resort to savagery. Politicians consistently fail to understand this. There’s no votes in understanding it.

Once, in less sophisticated times, the public might have been reassured by politicians using tough language in a crisis. Not anymore, but politicians haven’t caught up with the change in the public’s credulity. Consequently they look increasingly impotent as it becomes more apparent that their rhetoric is hollow. The objects of their wrath are entirely un-cowed by the blustering, and more often than not, they’re driven to greater extremes by the threats.

So Cameron throws hundreds of youths in jail. Imprisonment then becomes a right of passage and the offenders emerge even more brutal and brutalized than when they went in.

God only knows what’s going to happen to the asylum seekers, but it doesn’t look like the boats are doing any stopping, and there’s still the problem of expelling unaccompanied minors into very uncertain conditions and futures.

So what exactly do the politicians hard line positions achieve?

Votes, of course. Because there’s still enough of us who want to hear the rhetoric, even if we know it doesn’t work. The authoritarian rhetoric reassures. It makes us think somebody’s in charge even though we don’t really believe it. In full authoritarian flight, the politician appears to possess the “truth” about the situations we’re facing, and the right things to do about them. It’s a chicken and egg thing: the use of authoritarian language facilitates authority.

Of course, the fact that these events are taking place at all signifies the degree to which our politicians really have lost control.

Orang-utans and boat people.

2 Aug

Guest post today kindly written by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger.

Rangas

Does anyone see the irony of the complaints by Malaysians about Australia’s treatment of Orang-utans at Melbourne zoo and the habit of caning people in Malaysia, or even more relevant, the treatment of our boat people in detention?

The latest news tells that a representative of a Malaysian Palm oil counsel had made complaints about the Orang-utans’ treatment at a Melbourne zoo. They were horrified about the Orang-utans being somewhat cold. They had heard sounds of sad crying and signals of distress from the animals. The Orang-utans were shivering and a picture was even shown of one of them carrying a coat. Melbourne Zoo retaliated and stated that the outside and inside temperature in their environments was kept at a cosy constant 20 celsius. “They are the happiest Orang-utans in the world,” they replied. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-08-01/orang-utans/2819534

At the same time, we are all being reassured that the latest boat arrivals to Australia that will be sent back to Malaysia will not be caned. We also are now being told on the news that those unwilling to board the plane back to Malaysia might be forced to do so with  full authority given to the Federal Police to use whatever they can muster for the boat people to comply.   There are lawyers busy on a formal protest about the possible use of force on people already traumatized.

Are we getting care for Orang-utans and people somewhat mixed up or confused? If the Orang-utans are the ‘happiest’ in the world, I wonder about the level of ‘happiness’ of boat people being returned to Malaysia.

The federal police have been given ‘carte blanche’ by our PM Julia Gillard to ensure the boat people would board the plane back to Malaysia. This, we were assured might involve whatever the federal police have at their disposal. This, it was suggested, could well include the use of ‘potential lethal force’ with no ‘blanket exemptions’ even for unaccompanied children. This lethal force has been used on Christmas Island already. We are not shy from using lethal force when it comes to boat people. Bean bag bullets fired from shotguns, batons, tear gas, capsicum spray, handcuffs, the whole arsenal at the Feds disposal has been used to force compliance on more than just one occasions. So far our treatment of boat people and refugees is not showing the world much about our compassion towards the less fortunate.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-08-01/gillard-asylum-seekers-malaysia/2819786

While we don’t cane people in Australia, we are not far from it, edging inexorably closer. Not the cane, instead the possible use of electric Tasers or cattle prods instead. It could be debated whether being stunned by a Taser or bean bag bullet is better or worse than a caning. The concern by the Malaysians about treatment of Orang-utans in Melbourne could perhaps be best answered by giving a Malaysian delegation a grand tour of our own Australian refugee camps in isolated Australia’s outback and on Christmas Island. Let’s show them how we do it so much better, so much more humane!

I am not sure about the percentage of self harm by our zoo inhabitants including the alleged shivering Orang-utans but I bet it is a lot less that amongst our own boat people locked up for long periods, living in uncertainty, in isolation, behind gates, fences and barbed wire. The ombudsman had all the figures, mind numbing it was.

Was it fifty a day, twenty or was it a hundred a month or just a couple of real or attempted hangings daily? Did it include lip sewing, roof jumping, wrists slashings and hunger strikes? Razors for shaving are taken away after the shower. Just in case. All points of possible hanging are removed. Suicide has been made harder as well. It has not only become mind bogglingly numbing, it is now heart numbing as well. We just let it go on and we shut our hearts and prefer to focus on royal weddings or the passing of a bill in the US.

It’s getting harder and harder to push away images of the Holocaust whereby people were also traumatised and pushed onto transport by the use of force. Most countries are coping with refugees in the tens of thousands, some in the millions. Even overcrowded Malaysia is coping with over eighty thousand refugees registered with the UNHCR. We seem unable to just treat people like we do with the Orang-utans at Melbourne zoo. We are using the same jack boot methods that were so popular in dealing with another traumatised and defenceless people some seventy years ago.

One can just imagine within the next day or so, footage of boat people being herded by force into the plane. Journalists will have their cameras focussed and the world will again learn about us.

When did we lose our hearts?

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

Gillard calls up the AFP: the act of a privileged,craven coward

2 Aug

AFP on Christmas Island today

This is the photograph the Australian published today showing Australian Federal Police in full riot gear, in training on Christmas Island to prepare them to force any recalcitrant asylum seekers on board their flight to Malaysia.

This is the beginning of the vile trade in perceived worthy and unworthy humans that the Gillard government has entered into with that country.

It’s in the Australian’s interests to show up the Gillard government as one that has essentially lost control of border security and boat arrivals as part of the Murdoch press on-going anti ALP/ Greens/ Independents campaign.  So it is not surprising that the paper has suddenly acquired a conscience, and a compassion for asylum seekers that it did not exhibit during John Howard’s time as coalition Prime Minister.

Let’s not forget Howard’s overkill when he sent the SAS in full regalia to board the Tampa, when its captain had requested only medical assistance.

La plus çe change…

Gillard’s privilege

The Gillard Family

Julia Gillard, like many, many others who have made this country their home including me, came here as a child. Her family didn’t flee persecution, or a country torn to shreds by wars perpetrated by self-interested Western powers, in which the majority of the injured and dead are innocent civilians.

No, Julia Gillard’s family came from a peaceful Welsh village, and chose to immigrate to this country in large part to give Julia a better chance in life. She suffered ill-health, and doctors advised a gentler climate.

This privileged child now holds the highest political office in this country, albeit without a mandate.

This is a child burned in a US/ Nato bombing in Afghanistan.

The difference between the privileged child Julia Gillard was, and this burnt, devastated victim of Western powers is nothing more than an accident of birth.

Unlike those who flee war zones and the multiplicity of dangers they face in such places, the Gillard family, or so Ms Gillard proudly tells us, came here the “right” way. The Gillard family were the “worthy” immigrants who wanted a better life for themselves and their children.  Families of children who are at risk from attacks such as those suffered by the child in this picture are the “unworthy” potential immigrants, even though they share the same goals and desires for themselves and their children as did the Gillards.

Families such as the one this injured child belongs to don’t have the privilege of doing it the “right” way, and doing it the “right” way is a privilege, let’s not forget.

These families do anything they can to get themselves or their children out. If they have money, they use it. So would I. And I’d like to meet one Australian who would not use every means available to them if their children or themselves were living in any of the countries the boat arrivals are fleeing.

In the Australian article, Gillard is quoted thus on the issue of expelling the unworthy humans to Malaysia:

“Obeying instructions here is not a question of volunteering,” Julia Gillard said yesterday. (Sounds like something they’d tell you when you arrive in hell. My comment.)

“People will be given an instruction to board a plane. We will be looking to people to obey that instruction. If it’s not obeyed, then we have security personnel, we have the Australian Federal Police, we also have counsellors available to talk things through with people.” 

Asylum seekers arriving by boat are not criminals. They are legally permitted to arrive by boat, and to request asylum in this country. Asylum seekers are no more illegal than was the Prime Minister and her family when they came to this country looking for a better life. The Gillard family, due to nothing more “worthy” or “right” than an accident of birth, were able to travel here knowing they would be able to realize their ambitions.

At the very least, one would hope that the recipient of such privilege and generosity would show herself capable of compassion for those less fortunate.

Setting the riot police on a handful of frightened, confused asylum seekers who have fled war zones is the act of a craven coward. It is the act of a self-interested, privileged  woman whose political ambition far exceeds both her common sense and her capacity for decency. It is a distasteful, disgraceful act that will bring shame on this country.

Gillard would do well to remember that history will record her role in these events as it has already recorded John Howard’s: with utter contempt.

Go back to where you came from

22 Jun
Special Broadcasting Service logo, as of 2008

Image via Wikipedia

Go back to where you came from, aired on SBS last night,  is a three part series with a unique approach to educating it’s audience on the complex issues of boat arrivals and refugees in Australia.

In part one we’re introduced to the six participants, three men and three women, who have a diverse range of views on asylum seekers, from understanding and compassion, to angry rejection. There’s a young woman Raquel for example,who hates Africans, a position that presents something of a challenge for her when she’s sent to stay for three nights with a refugee family from Burandi and Congo.

Interestingly, while Raquel discovers herself capable of genuine empathy after listening to the sufferings endured by her hostess, she later declares that they were just one nice family, doesn’t mean she’s going to get friendly with Africans per se, whom she still doesn’t like.

The use of reality TV techniques, such as dramatic music and the friendly but authoritative manner of the program’s host, refugee researcher Dr David Corlett, are reminiscent of Big Brother and Survivor. I read this as ironic comment on reality TV shows that similarly challenge participants to take time out of their comfort zone to see what they can become, but unlike the SBS series, take no interest in anything other than the personal emotional journey.

In widening the focus the series becomes part reality TV, part documentary. This is a fascinating combination.

Already the participants have begun a psychological process of decompensation, as they’re thrust into situations entirely foreign to them, including embarking on a leaky boat for an unknown destination, bereft of passports, wallets, phones, money and ID. Just like real boat people. Tempers fray, harsh words are exchanged, and the experience may well have given Rae, a 63 year old retired social worker, pause for thought. At the beginning of the show Rae told us that when the boat was wrecked at Christmas Island last December she thought: “Serves you bastards right.”

While not agreeing with all of their views, nonetheless I very much admire this motley crew. They can never experience the life threatening dangers and torments boat people and refugees actually endure, but they are willing to go way outside of their physical, emotional and psychological comfort zones. This is brave, even if there is a camera crew and later, UN and US troops guarding them as they enter into dangerous territory. It’s a long way from Cronulla beaches, idyllic farmlets and safe lives with people who love you. All credit to them for volunteering to take themselves into something completely different.

The series promises intriguing insights into human behaviour under extraordinary stress, combined with profound insights into what asylum seekers and refugees are actually fleeing. As a social experiment it’s got to be unique. With the wide range of views represented by the participants, there’s someone for everyone to identify with, and this is smart. It wouldn’t have been nearly as useful if the group were like minded either way.

There seems to be little concern about the presence of cameras. I don’t think anyone is performing, though they may certainly be restraining themselves at times. It’s an unnatural situation in every way, and nobody’s going to behave as they do in their own homes without surveillance. Be that as it may, the participants seem to be honest in their expression of emotion and opinion, and this is one of the most powerful aspects of the program as they react, for example, to their initial visit to the Villawood Detention Centre where they talk to Iraqi detainees.

The program is a powerful argument for how people’s attitudes can shift when they are face to face with human suffering. All the propagandists from John Howard on have recognized the need to hide boat people away in desert camps and behind razor wire, to prevent their faces and their stories being known. Dehumanizing them by rendering them faceless continues to be a primary tool in the manipulation of Australian public opinion.

The first rule of propaganda is to stereotype your target.  Go back to where you came from challenges the propaganda head on, and for this alone, I’m glad to see it out there.

 

 

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