Tag Archives: John Howard

Cruelty is the worst policy

20 Jan

 

Amnesty Poster

 

In general, it’s always seemed to me that when governments or individuals take an increasingly hard, harsh and inhumane stand on an issue it’s a clear signal that they’ve actually lost the battle, and are on their way to losing the war.

In a political sense, I’m thinking of the current situation in detention facilities on Manus Island. New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is promising to maintain Scott Morrison’s “hard-line” against asylum seekers who have resorted to self-harm and protest, methods which are, in reality, their only means of expression, as the Australian government has virtually denied them access to legal process and natural justice.

This hard-line against asylum seekers protesting their fate began in Woomera and Baxter detention centres in 1999, at the instigation of the Howard LNP government. It was maintained by the ALP governments led by Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Sixteen years of both major parties taking a hard-line against waterborne asylum seekers has achieved absolutely nothing any of us can be proud of, and it won’t.

Similarly, the hard-line threatened by the Abbott government against the young unemployed that will see them starving and homeless as they are denied benefits for six months will achieve nothing any of us can be proud of, and will ruin lives for a very long time and likely permanently.

Taking a hard-line is very rarely necessary, and very rarely useful. A hard-line shouldn’t be the default position. Instead negotiation, mediation, conversation, and communication are civilised and humane methods of approaching difficulties. When all else fails, by all means try the hard-line, but to do this first is cruel and inhumane, and shows a lack of intelligence, imagination and skill.

Human beings have a tremendous capacity for good will and understanding. It’s a great shame our leaders don’t value this capacity, and instead believe our strength lies in brutality. It doesn’t. It never has and it never will. All cruelty springs from weakness, as the philosopher Seneca noted.

If governments and individuals are too weak and cowardly to sit across a table from other human beings in an effort to resolve difference and difficulty, they will inevitably resort to cruelty of one kind or another. Ignoring another human being in need is just as cruel as taking direct and punitive action against him or her. There are countless stories of asylum seekers achieving success and making considerable contributions to Australian society when they are given the opportunity. Instead we destroy them because our governments believe the destruction of human lives and human potential demonstrates political strength and determination.

Peter Dutton may well congratulate himself for emulating Scott Morrison’s abhorrent tactics against those legally seeking asylum in Australia. But emulating a bully is no great achievement. Australian governments have for sixteen years now proved themselves to be capable only of bullying behaviour towards human beings in the greatest distress and need, be they asylum seekers or their own citizens. Cruelty is not a strength. It is the most appalling, base and destructive weakness.

And now Morrison (yes him again) denies us our history

5 Jan

Woomera Detention Centre Riot SMH

 

Author Peter FitzSimons recently completed a documentary on the history of race riots in Australia. The first episode of “The Great Australian Race Riot” aired on SBS on January 4th.

FitzSimons wanted to include the 2001 riot at the Woomera Detention Centre. However, then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison (yes, him again) refused FitzSimons access to the long-closed facility, and demanded the crew not film within 150 metres of the site.

“That furiously annoyed me,” says FitzSimons. “We couldn’t shoot in Woomera itself, which staggered us. We were attempting to take a serious look at a sometimes difficult multicultural society.”

This is a deliberate attempt by the Abbott government to control a historical record of racial unrest in Australia.

The 2001 Woomera riot took place on the Howard LNP government watch. It is a period steeped in turmoil over asylum seekers arriving here by boat. It was at this time the notorious Tampa stand-off took place,causing an international incident between Australia and Norway as well as profound domestic political unrest as then Prime Minister John Howard made his infamous declaration: “We will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come.”

Howard exploited populist xenophobic fears incited by Pauline Hanson, then leader of right-wing One Nation, a conservative, anti multicultural political party. Co-opting Hanson’s xenophobic policies, Howard attracted her voter base and went on to win the 2001 federal election.

Woomera Detention Centre was central to the combination of circumstances that elevated the exploitation and incitement of xenophobia and racism to the central platform they remain for both the LNP and the ALP to this day. That period began what has become an increasingly isolationist and inhumane Australian response to the global problem of stateless persons.

The treatment of asylum seekers imprisoned in the Woomera and Baxter detention centres marked the beginning of increasing public acceptance of the state’s dehumanisation of those fleeing persecution, and laid the ground for popular acceptance of Morrison’s narrative of border protection. Morrison’s alleged “war” against waterborne asylum seekers has been used to justify the ludicrous and sinister secrecy in which the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is now irrevocably steeped.

It is astounding that the Abbott government has in this instance successfully engineered the recording of Australian history to exclude any reference to the Woomera riot. Fortunately many records of these events exist. Morrison and Abbott are fighting a losing battle if they believe the voices of this period of our history can be silenced. Indeed, their attempts to control information appear increasingly desperate and naive, as they consistently fail to recognise that what one attempts to omit from the narrative eventually becomes the narrative, and all they are left with are increasingly sullied reputations drenched to the bone in lies, secrets and guilty silence. History eventually will judge Morrison and Abbott, and the Australian Labor Party, and find them all excruciatingly wanting.

 

Woomera Riots Two

 

 

When politicians create scapegoats.

26 Jul

Humanity is therefore a graded and ranked status with many shades and tiers between ‘superhuman’ Western, white, heterosexual male at the one end and the non-human, the concentration camp inmates or the fleeing refugee at the other. Costa Douzinas

It began in 2001 when John Howard introduced into our politics the language of border control, illegals and queue jumpers with which to define asylum seekers arriving by boat. In the context of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Howard seized the opportunity to exploit a xenophobia unleashed by Pauline Hanson, and sought to create a bond amongst Australian voters by uniting us in fear of invasion by the boat-borne, allegedly diseased, allegedly potentially terrorist refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

The fabricated threat of invasion, together with Howard’s promise to protect the electorate from imagined perils, won him an election he looked set to lose.

What was absolutely necessary for Howard’s success, and what continues to be necessary to the present day, is the successful dehumanisation of boat borne asylum seekers by politicians. The humanity of asylum seekers must be negated so that their suffering appears both inauthentic and uninteresting to sections of the electorate perceived to control the re-election of governments. Primarily, they must be constructed as threats to the well-being of Australians, their lives stripped of experience and meaning. The implication of such treatment is that asylum seekers are less than human, and that seeking asylum is a criminal offence.

The theoretical underpinning of Howard’s political moves is explained by Douzinas thus:

The refugee is a representative of total otherness…This is the reason why the refugee is seen as such a threat…the terrifying absolute, total Other, the symbol of contamination that otherness may bring upon community and identity.

The asylum seeker, the ultimate foreign other, is employed as a scapegoat to strengthen the boundaries of the nation-state by uniting its citizens in a common rejection of the foreigner’s humanity in favour of maintaining the ideology of sovereignty. In raw terms, the suffering of boat borne asylum seekers is as nothing compared to Australia’s sovereignty which, it is claimed, is dangerously threatened by their arrival and their requests for sanctuary. Once this principle is established, the dehumanising process has begun.

It is hardly surprising that when such a principle is promoted by the country’s leaders, mistreatment of asylum seekers in detention centres occurs. Permission has been granted from the highest political level to act towards them as if they are less human than us, and less entitled to fundamental considerations Australians may take for granted, such as the human right to access to legal assistance, for example.  In other words, boat borne asylum seekers are denied the right to rights. There is not much more that can be done to dehumanise an individual than to deny her or him the right to rights.

They have been cast as an underclass, displaced persons without citizenship, stateless, belonging nowhere, anonymous. Indeed, to the state and its supporters, the stranger seeking asylum is assumed to be corrupt because of her very circumstances, regardless of how far out of her control those circumstances are.

It can be difficult to understand the situations that have caused asylum seekers to undertake life-threatening boat journeys rather than stay where they are. With no experience of prolonged terror, daily fear of death or torture, or the crushing despair of indefinite uncertainty, it’s not unusual for people to imagine they would do much better than asylum seekers, and show greater resilience and courage  in similar circumstances. This is an attitude politicians exploit, encouraging the electorate to position itself on the high moral ground that casts asylum seekers as inferior and weak. In reality, there are likely few among us who would voluntarily embark on those boat journeys that in themselves speak to us of courage, tenacity, a will to live and a determination many of us never have to seek and find in ourselves.

Politicians carry an enormous burden of responsibility for the mistreatment of asylum seekers by others. They have given permission, indeed they have actively encouraged a perception of asylum seekers that casts them as less worthy of care and concern than anyone else in our community. They have deliberately created a scapegoat. It is inevitable that the scapegoat will be treated horribly. They are now holding the scapegoat hostage as an act of “deterrence” to others desperate enough to risk their lives at sea.

It means nothing that most of the 47,000 boat arrivals assessed in the last five years have been found to be refugees. Australian politicians are happy to take people whose lives are already in trauma and turmoil, and exploit them even further to achieve their own dubious ends. PM Rudd and LOTO Abbott are upping the stakes. Their increasingly hard-line policies will result in asylum seekers being treated more badly than they have been to date, as the message filters through to the Australian public that these people do not matter. Their lives and their experiences are as nothing compared to the country’s allegedly precarious sovereignty, and the winning of government. They are nothing more,  in the constructed reality of Rudd and Abbott, than scapegoats, and a means to a political end.

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.

Dear ALP

16 Apr

kevin07-kevin-ruddDear ALP

Lately, I have been thinking back to election night, 2007. I was in Brisbane that night. I’d gone up because I had an early flight to the US next morning, and things being as they are where I live, things like, for example, the treacherous stretch of pot-holed goat track we call the Pacific Highway,  if one has commitments such as overseas flights one can only be sure of keeping them if one allows oneself  twenty-four hours to drive 300ks. Occasionally, even that isn’t long enough.

Be that as it may.

I returned to the hotel room with Mrs Chook when it was all over, and you had won government. We turned on the TV, danced, drank champagne from the mini bar (what a waste of money that was, in hindsight) and felt, like many others, the terrible oppression of John Winston Howard’s lengthy reign lift off us. We were entering a new political phase, we believed, and our relief and happiness kept us awake for much of the night. By the time I boarded my flight the next day I was exhausted, but content.

It did not take long for things to sour. I believe my first major shock was when Kevin Rudd took that bizarre decision to send the Oceanic Viking, a ship carrying rescued asylum seekers, to Indonesia, where a lengthy stand-off ensued and it became clear that your policies on the question of asylum seekers were beginning to morph into something that more closely resembled those of the deposed John Howard and his right hand executioner, the pallid-complexioned Philip Ruddock. (The one who collected stamps from all the countries whose displaced peoples he locked up indefinitely in Woomera and Baxter, along with their children. He kept them in a Chinese cabinet his wife gave him for Christmas. The stamps, not the people).

One remembers such odd facts.

Things have gone frightfully down hill since then, but I cannot bear to list the litany of offences you continue to commit against those who are legally seeking refuge in this country, as is their human right, and as we continue to invite them to do. You are, ladies and gentlemen, fucking hypocrites on this matter.

I can say that I have never forgiven Kevin Rudd for initiating this downwardly spiralling breach of faith.

Then came the coup. Oh yes, much happened in between but if I’m to list every idiocy I will be here till the end of next year, and anyway, confronting you with individual disgraces is not my intention.

What I do want to convey is my horror and distress, when I recall the great tide of support and enthusiasm that swept you into power in 2007 and compare that to where you are now. That win was miraculous. You could not put a foot wrong. It was the triumph every politician dreams of.

SO WHY HAVE YOU FUCKED IT UP?

I believe you’ve fucked it up because there’s not one among you of any influence capable of putting their ego to one side, and focussing on the greater good of your party, and this country. You’ve had some good policies. You’ve done some good things. But none of this gets any airtime because you are so busy publicly brawling among yourselves that you have become the dominant narrative, with your scandals and your betrayals, and not, as it should be, with your policies.

Nobody can hear the good things above the noise of you fighting like fornicating possums trapped in the roof.  You have thus wickedly squandered all your hard-earned capital, and for what, I ask you, for what?

Again, I cannot bear to list the insults and disappointments you have dished out to those of us who elected you, because of your blind, ego-driven hatred of one another. I cannot bear to detail the extent of the self-harm, the cutting of your own arms and legs with blunt razor blades, the public purgings, the binges of self-destruction, the poking out of your own eyes with burnt sticks, the gut-spilling, the incessant factional wars, the eating of yourselves and your leaders, nobody could make this stuff up.

Obviously, you came to power divided and unsettled. Obviously, you are more heavily invested in your internal political hoo haa than you are even in getting yourselves re-elected. Even now, at this eleventh hour, you will not shut up & Mr Simon Crean (no, I will not refer to him as The Honourable) recently and inexplicably found himself compelled to enact yet another attempt at sabotage from the back benches, to whence he was so recently banished after his bizarre efforts to get rid of one leader and replace her with the leader you already got rid of, who has hung around ever since you fatally stabbed him, like an unhappy shade unable to grasp that it is actually dead.

Well, let me tell you, a punter can only take so much before she ceases to give a damn. And sadly, I have now reached that point. I no longer care what you do. Feed on yourselves. Gorge until you vomit like dogs. Do yourselves as much harm as you can manage before you finally collapse in a bloodied heap of lacerated, putrid human flesh, on the opposite side of the house, where you will no doubt languish for decades, and it serves you fucking well right.

Oh, yes you can cry foul, and blame the media. I admit, they have not been on your side. But did you have to make it so easy for them? Did you have to drip feed their malice?

I will vote for Janelle Saffin, my local member, as I have done for some time. This is not a vote of confidence in you, ALP. It is a vote for a damn fine local member who, god help her, has the misfortune to belong to you, and whom you recently demoted because she supports Kevin Rudd, even though she was doing a damn fine job and I resent it that you took her job away from her.

As for the rest of you, quite frankly I wouldn’t piss on most of you if you were on fire.

Sincerely, and more in incandescent rage than sorrow,

Jennifer.

Elite feminism. Who is it good for?

1 Apr

This piece by Anne Summers on women in government sent me to Twitter with the question “Can Anne Summers explain to me the advantage of having a conservative female PM over a conservative male PM?”

There isn’t an answer to that question unless you are a fanatic, which Summers seems to increasingly become on the matter of Julia Gillard, and then the only answer is, vagina.

It might be worth noting that all the women ministers remained loyal to Gillard in the attempted coup on her leadership, Summers writes. Although a few female members of caucus supported Kevin Rudd (and were willing to be filmed with him while he spoke after the meeting where Gillard was re-elected unopposed), there were no women in the key group of plotters. Nor did any women resign as a result.

An act of double treason, then, that the females who supported Rudd were willing to be filmed with him as well? They should have hidden their allegiances, perhaps, not flaunted them, standing by his side?

Is this an example of gender solidarity, Ms Summers muses. Except of course for the women, (are they real women?) who legged it to Rudd’s camp. And how to explain that failure?

This is an aspect of feminism, increasingly dominant, that I find, well, I don’t think repulsive is too strong a word. It affects me viscerally, as is required of true repulsion. The concept that female genitals correlate with good governance is dangerous in so many ways I don’t even know where to begin. Surely such a gendered concept is one women have been fighting against for centuries now? Surely it is the very cornerstone of patriarchy? 

Just what these women in government are achieving for women not in government is not immediately clear. Indeed, for many single mothers the change to Newstart, for example, is nothing short of disastrous (so much for gender solidarity). I’m informed on Twitter when I voice objections to this obscenity, it was John Howard’s legislation.

This confuses me. We are supporting our first female Labor Prime Minister, even when she perpetuates John Howard’s policies?

The Gillard government’s record on asylum seekers? Makes me want Howard back. Same-sex marriage? ‘Twas Howard who changed the Marriage Act to prevent this, & despite her party supporting a reversal of Howard’s meddling to allow same-sex nuptials, Prime Minister Gillard will have no truck with it.

But that’s all right, because, vagina.

Of course women must participate in government, and at the highest levels. But why I am supposed to support women whose policies I despise, just because women, is beyond me. This “Rah rah ra! Women are in power!” stuff shits me to tears.

It is a particularly middle class, privileged feminism that spares little thought for women who do not inhabit its exclusive clubs. It is offensively self-congratulatory. It is dishonest. It is distorted. And outside of its immediate rarified circles, I can’t see what good it does anybody.

We did once hope that when women got to the top they would take care of their sisters. Which, come to think of it, is just as naive and dangerous as Ms Summer’s position.

Flower of Life. Georgia O'Keeffe

Flower of Life. Georgia O’Keeffe

“…there are no votes in decency.”

8 Mar

The full quote comes from Federal Liberal MP Russell Broadbent, in reference to fallen Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, and reads:  “This is a man of great decency but obviously there are no votes in decency.”

I don’t have enough knowledge about Mr Baillieu and his situation to comment on his decency, and it is the observation “there are no votes in decency” that captured my attention.

It seems to me to sum up our current federal politics in relation to asylum seeker policies promoted by both major parties. I understand Pauline Hanson is looking to join them yet again, but as the ALP & LNP have stolen her thunder and more, it’s difficult to see why anybody needs her voice as they did back then, before John Howard plagiarised her instruction manual for xenophobes and racists and she found herself in gaol.

But that’s another story.

There is nothing even approaching decency in the government or the opposition’s asylum seeker policies. There is much chatter about dog whistling, but as far as I can see, they barely bother to dog whistle. The xenophobia is overtly rampant. The asylum seekers and refugees are well scapegoated. The fears of Australians are well-played upon: foreigners are taking our jobs and the government will rescue us from that. Asylum seekers and refugees present such a danger to us that police must be informed when they are housed in our neighbourhoods. It isn’t necessary to go through the dismal litany of false and unnecessary fears aroused solely to give politicians the opportunity to offer to then save us from those fears. It is a masterly manipulation, begun by Howard, honed close to perfection by subsequent politicians of both major parties, who apparently will do anything to win the vote of frightened and aggrieved xenophobes and racists.

Of whom it would seem there are a great many in Australia, otherwise why would anyone bother fighting tooth and nail to gain their approval?

That there are good reasons for some, even many people to be discontent with their lot, is not at issue. That politicians have managed to educate such people to believe that asylum seekers and refugees are responsible for this discontent, and not the decisions of politicians themselves, is evidence of a hugely successful propaganda campaign.

There are no votes in decency in Australia. Decency died in asylum seeker and refugee politics when Pauline Hanson opened the floodgates, and other politicians, witnessing the raging white water of legitimised ignorance and hate roar through, decided that rather than contest the mindset, they’d exploit it for all it’s worth because, votes.

Bereft of decent leaders in this matter, we find ourselves treading water in a cesspool of  racism, and fear and hatred of the foreign. Instead of broadening our minds and hearts, political leaders have promoted a shameful mental and spiritual shrinking of our human possibilities. The few lone voices in federal parliament are drowned out by leaders too inadequate and power-hungry to decently address the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, instead dehumanising them until all that is left is vote fodder.

It is a sickening, heartbreaking state in which we find ourselves and our country. A pox on both their political houses. They have brought us shame, disgrace and dishonour. There are indeed, no votes in decency.

On a personal note, I’m embarking on a road trip to Canberra and surrounds tomorrow for ten days, so the blog may be neglected, on the other hand it may not!

I’ve also decided to fulfil a long-held ambition to do a law degree. Because I already have a few degrees I’m allowed to fast track, and will take only three years full-time to complete. So the blog may be neglected off and on from July this year.

One of the side effects of severe childhood abuse was an inability to learn whilst I was at school. When I started on my road to recovery as an adult, an insatiable hunger for learning emerged from the wreckage, a hunger that inspired me through two and a half degrees and a PhD. Well, it’s surfaced again. I can’t wait to hit the books, and writing 2000 word essays after a 100,000 word doctorate ought to be a breeze.

I still have treatment for my post traumatic stress disorder, and will for the rest of my life. It doesn’t go away, but my ability to manage the symptoms increases all the time. I told my therapist yesterday that I sometimes feel such fury that so much of my life has to be spent managing the aftermath of childhood abuse, and how if I hadn’t needed to do that, I could have done so many other things.

I think of the children in detention who have suffered so much, and how their adult lives will be affected by their trauma. For those who’ve fled life-threatening circumstances, it’s bad enough. But to think that here, in Australia, in 2013, our government incarcerates these children and subjects them to even more stress, makes my blood boil at the cruel and hideous self-interest that causes politicians to act towards asylum seekers in such ways.

Many, if not all of the detained children will be eventually granted refugee status. They will be living their adult lives in this country. Instead of damaging them further, can we not treat them well, and kindly, and help them to be competent, productive and useful citizens?  Surely it’s in our own interests to do this?

Decency. Is it too much to ask? Yes, I fear it is.

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