Tag Archives: Four Corners

From Woomera to Manus: 12 years of state brutality in exchange for votes

2 May

I have beside me on my desk the transcript of ABC Four Corners, May 19 2003. This is the link to ABC Four Corners, April 29 2013

The transcript I’m currently reading is that of reporter Debbie Whitmont’s investigation into the secrecy surrounding the conditions at the Woomera Detention Centre.

Whitmont is also the reporter on the April 29 programme, an investigation into the secrecy and the conditions at the Manus Island Detention Centre.

Excerpts, 2003 transcript

80% of those detained [in Woomera] were found to be genuine refugees and given temporary visas. Many who worked at the centre say they were pressured to stay silent about what they saw and did. It is only now that the full story is starting to be told.

Alley Crace, Welfare Officer [at Woomera] 1999-2001: Just basically, I see the compound all the time. I see hundreds and hundreds of people begging and crying, and I see people dehydrating in the sun. I see people with sewn lips and buried in the ground, cause that’s what they did. I see people slashed up and cut their throats and their arms.

Phillip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration (Howard Government): It is not a holiday camp nor should it be seen as one.

After a riot at Woomera, detainees were put in lock down. Psychiatric nurse Peter Ostarek-Gammon, who worked at Woomera during 2000-2001 and witnessed the aftermath of the riot:

Yeah, well, there was a lot of anger from the officers and the management, a lot of anger directed towards the detainees. In fact, some of them were not just locked into their dongas, but they were drilled in. The doors were drilled closed. I did see that, yeah. Another nurse and myself actually had to visit one of those guys one day and they had to get an electric drill to open the cabin. 

Debbie Whitmont: Four Corners has obtained the computer records of thousands of official reports written by Australian Correctional Management (ACM) [who ran the centre at the time] and given daily to the Department of Immigration. They document the relentlessness of hundreds and hundreds of self-harms and suicide attempts. Like this boy, who smashed his own head with a rock. And this fourteen-year-old girl who saw him do it cut herself and told staff she was frustrated with the Department of Immigration.

After repeated attempts by staff to assist and protect a 12 year-old Iranian boy who was being sexually assaulted, Alley Crace tells Whitmont:

At that stage, I was told that because the people had no identity and that they weren’t actual people in Australia, there was no need, or necessities to report to Family and Community Services – as in FACS.

During the time of the Four Corners investigation, some detainees were on a hunger strike. Whitmont spoke to one of them:

He tries to explain that the detainees have nothing left to use but their bodies to plead their desperation.

Man: We are crying, we are screaming. And we are all “What to do?” We have nothing. This is what you want? This is Australia say to us? Please help us and listen as we are suffering inside. We don’t want to make any rampage. We don’t want any things to do this. (Sobs) We all came from bad condition. We want help.

Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 13 May, 2003

Children locked up in Australia’s immigration centres have the highest rate of mental illness ever recorded in modern medical literature, according to a new study. 

The study found each of the 20 children surveyed had at least one psychiatric illness with more than half suffering major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder…

Dr Zachary Steel, [from the University of NSW's School of Psychiatry] said the findings showed detention centre were not the place for children. 

The above events took place during the Coalition government of John Howard. Since then, we’ve had a change of government. Now identical events are taking place under the Labor government of Julia Gillard, this time off-shore, more secretly and less accessibly.

Politicians of both major parties have continued to brutalise, scapegoat  and illegally detain, in shocking conditions, those who have arrived here by boat, requesting asylum.

Communicate with your local member and let her or him know this is unacceptable to you. The only way this will change is if politicians believe there are more votes in behaving humanely, than there are in brutally abusing arrivals.

This is what it boils down to. Votes. This is a very frightening comment on the type of people who run this country, no matter what their political allegiance.

Domestic violence: it’s everybody’s problem

31 Jul

Programmes such as last night’s ABC Four Corners may be difficult for many people to watch, even if they haven’t experienced domestic violence. The account of the murders of Andrea Pickett and Saori Jones by their husbands reveals the attitudes of some police to women in mortal danger from their partners. Briefly, neither woman received the protection she begged for and deserved, as a human being in danger of losing her life. Neither woman should have died. Both deaths were preventable, if the authorities had cared enough to attempt prevention.

While both murders occurred in Western Australia, there is no reason to assume this attitude is peculiar to that state.

As a survivor of a violent home, I find programmes on the topic almost impossible to watch. Sometimes I can’t. But as a survivor I know the importance of bearing witness, particularly in the matter of domestic violence, that private violence, the violence that erupts behind closed doors, that violence everybody tries to hide.

There were some very brave people who tried to help Andrea and Saori. Andrea’s family took her and her children into their home, even though it made them targets for her husband’s uncontrollable rage.

A brave and generous couple helped Saori, because the Japanese woman had no family in Australia to whom she could turn. They also put themselves at risk from the possibility of retaliation by her murderous husband.

Andrea had thirteen children. Saori had two, one of whom was ten months old and still breast-feeding when his father killed his mother. In an unbearably ghastly act, the murderer told police he’d put the hungry infant to his dead mother’s breast to feed.

This man is now taking parenting classes in prison so he can claim his children when he’s released, after serving an inexplicably short sentence because the WA DPP decided he would be charged with a lesser offence than that of murder or manslaughter.

He owes this stroke of good fortune to the fact that his wife’s body was so decomposed after he’d kept it in a spare room in the house in which he continued to live with the children, that cause of death was difficult to determine. Even so, another charge could have been brought against him that would have earned him a sentence closer to twenty years.

These are the extreme outcomes of domestic violence, the ones we hear about.

In the four decades since feminists began political action that resulted in funded women’s refuges, there has been no decrease in domestic violence. We have learned how to better take care of the victims and survivors. But we have not learned how to prevent it in the first place. Anymore than we have learned how to prevent child sexual abuse.

Yesterday as I drove into town, I saw a young man and woman in a fight by the side of the road. Traffic was slow. I saw the man spit into her face, then hit her. I saw her run away. That’s all I saw. They were perhaps sixteen, seventeen.

What we need is far more research into violence in intimate relationships, and we need it urgently. What we need is a police force and a judiciary who take domestic violence as seriously as they do an assault by a stranger on the street. What we need are people who will bear witness, to our own experiences and to that of others, especially those who are not alive to tell their stories.

Whatever plans we currently have in place have spectacularly failed, and will continue to fail. How long will it take governments to accept this, and how many more victims of domestic violence have to die, and how many more survivors, including the witnessing children, will have their lives and their potential damaged, sometimes irrevocably?

This is everybody’s problem.

Vale, Andrea and Saori

Leadership chatter. Assange’s passport. Blonde girls in short shorts

24 Jul

There is no way chatter about ALP leadership is going to stop before the next election, the next leadership change, a decision by the party to close ranks and stop white-anting, or a blackout by the media on the topic.  The latter is the most unlikely option, so we might as well resign ourselves to endless speculation, and learn to stick our fingers in our ears.

I’ve now arrived at what I like to call the “shit or get off the pot” point. It’s that place in the mind you reach when you’ve had a gut full of listening to the same narrative over and over and over again. Usually I’m hounded to this place of ultimatum by people who are deeply dissatisfied with their intimate relationships and feel they have to tell me about it because I’m a good listener. Over a period of years they reiterate their complaints against their partners with a monotony that makes me feel like pulling out my fingernails with pliers, on the theory that the resultant physical pain will  distract me from the mental anguish I’m enduring by having to listen.

It’s a human failing, that we can be so afraid of change we choose instead to remain in a state of miserable grievance. Indeed, the very act of complaint becomes a raison d’être. The  whine: “Oh, if I could only be happy” replaces any possibility of actually finding happiness because one has, without even thinking about it, chosen whining as a way of life rather than risking satisfaction.

There is of course the opposite situation in which there seems to be a destructive addiction to superficial change while the underlying matters remain un-addressed.

As with all things, it is necessary to find the middle road, grasshopper.

But I digress. I don’t care who will lead the ALP to the next election. Being an ALP leader is a poisoned chalice. Anyone mad enough to take it on has my sympathy, but only in the abstract. The present leader, Julia Gillard, is drinking deep of the tainted wine and nothing good will come of it for her, just as nothing good eventuated for her toppled predecessor, Kevin Rudd. What this says to me is that the problems are not entirely to do with party leaders, and that continuing to change the leader will do nothing to resolve the problems.

I know there are good people in the ALP who deliver results for their electorates. My own federal member, Janelle Saffin, is one of them. It does seem that in politics the good people are either not interested in taking prominent roles or are not considered prominent role material by the back room boys and girls who determine these matters. The criteria the back room crowd use to arrive at their choices is puzzling. I strongly suspect those moral and ethical qualities we don’t talk about anymore, lest acknowledging our loss breaks our hearts, do not rate highly in their list of necessary leadership qualities.

Of course one could also argue that on becoming leader a good person may well undergo a transformation, goodness and leadership seemingly anathemas in today’s political world. According to ALP legend Kevin Rudd, who seemed decent enough, became the antichrist when they won government.  I liked Julia Gillard as deputy PM. Enough said about both.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the unsettling Julian Assange story as aired on Four Corners last night, was the effort by then Attorney-General Robert McClelland, presumably supported by the PM, to rescind Assange’s Australian passport at the time of the Wikileaks cable dump. Footage of PM Gillard declaring Assange’s actions to be “illegal” without any evidence at all for that declaration, also gave pause for thought.

The US, of course, was the nation-state most grievously affected by the dump. Our government’s rush to condemn one of its own citizens looks sadly like a an ill-considered attempt to show what good and loyal friends we are to the US, by cutting Assange loose without bothering to establish his innocence or guilt. This is an example of what I mean about the incommensurability of goodness and power.

I would hate to think I live in a country where anyone’s passport can be taken away from them because the government says so, without any investigation and without any evidence that the accused has done anything to justify such drastic action.

Assange has committed no offence against his own country. It is yet to be determined whether or not he has committed any offences in any country. Yet our PM declared him guilty of illegal activities, and decided he should be relieved of his passport. This is very scary stuff, and we should not take it lightly. According to Four Corners, plans to relieve Assange of his most important document were abandoned when it was pointed out that leaving him in possession of his passport would make tracking his whereabouts that much easier.

And people wonder why Assange is worried for his future?

I was baffled during the programme, by the blurred and recurring shots of a young blonde woman in short shorts walking away from the viewer along a train station platform. This young woman seemed to bear no resemblance in dress or manner to the two women who have accused Assange of sexual misconduct. She did seem to signify sexual availability, and presumably the long blonde hair referenced her Scandinavian origins. I have no idea why this image was necessary, except to imply a certain stereotyped lasciviousness in young Swedish women which might by association be extrapolated to the complainants. Hmmm. Tacky, anyone?

And just who wears short shorts?

When the going gets tough where are the child advocates?

5 Jul

Child advocate Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids, and advocate for girls Melinda Tankard Reist, have thus far been strangely silent on the Four Corners report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic church. As of ten minutes ago, I could find nothing on either of their websites.

While this particular program focused on the young male victims of pederast priests, young girls have also suffered their unwelcome and terrifying attentions, and one can legitimately assume that these crimes against the young of both genders fall within the ambit of the two child advocates.

Both women work tirelessly to halt what they perceive as the sexualisation, objectification and pornification of children and women in the media. While this is a legitimate concern in some instances, compared to the literal sexualisation and objectification of children perpetrated by pedophile rapists, Playboy flogging necklaces to little girls pales into insignificance. Particularly as a responsible adult is presumably involved in the purchase of these baubles, while no responsible adult is involved in the sodomization and rape of little girls and little boys.

Of course, we all have our own particular sphere of interest and expertise, and I’m not prescribing what Ms Gale and Ms Reist’s sphere should be. I am, however, gobsmacked that as very public child advocates with a very high profile in their field, they apparently don’t feel the need to comment on the Four Corners’ revelations on their websites.

There are no innocent bystanders when it comes to the abuse of children, and those who remain silent enable its continuation. The responsibility to speak is particularly onerous when one has a public platform as a child advocate.

I cannot imagine a more destructive form of sexualisation, objectification and pornification of children than sexual abuse.

Ms Gale’s motto, according to her website, is “What we allow is what we approve.” Indeed, that is so. Silence implies tacit approval. Or lack of courage. Or fear. Or cowardice. It really doesn’t imply concern or interest. Silence by those who should speak out causes untold damage to children already grievously harmed. Self-described child advocates ought to be at the forefront of protest, at the very least with an acknowledgment and expression of concern, and an intention to raise awareness.

Both Ms Gale and Ms Reist have a commendable record of success at persuading various commercial interests to stop selling this or that on the grounds that the product is damaging to children’s sexual develoment and self image. They have the infrastructure in place and the following, to launch a huge campaign on behalf of children who are being sexually abused. They have the means to launch a petition for a royal commission into the Catholic church’s abuse, and its cover up of that abuse. If they choose to use their power for that good. It would take an hour or so at the most. Then they could go back to their main interest: images of sexualisation, objectification and pornification, rather than the real thing in our own back yards.

Time to walk the talk, ladies?

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