Tag Archives: Australian Federal Police

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

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.

Accolade for the AFP

16 Jun

Australian Federal Police this week busted a paedophile ring, seizing images of child sexual abuse including rape, bondage and torture. Watching the AFP spokesman at the press conference held to announce the seizures, I couldn’t help but wonder, how do they do it?

How do the men and women of the AFP deal with viewing images that are any reasonable person’s worst nightmare, as part of their daily routine?

I’ve experienced a fair bit of secondary post traumatic stress as a consequence of working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse. You have to be able to go there, you don’t flinch, you don’t turn away, you’re the listener who shares the journey. Looking into the dark side takes its toll: it’s powerful, it’s scary, and you underestimate it at your peril.

I’ve never had to look at anything like the horrors the AFP uncover. How do they feel when they go home at night, their minds crowded with images of rape and torture of the young? How do they manage to have any faith in human nature, after seeing first hand what human beings are capable of?

The Internet offers the ideal environment for paedophiles to connect with each other and engage in their vile commerce. Keeping pace with their proliferation must in itself be a challenging task.

Many of us would find it impossible to view images child pornographers disseminate, especially those at the far end of the continuum. Even thinking about what they might look like makes my gut churn in protest. It takes a certain type of courage and a rare kind of determination to commit your working life to bringing these people down.

It isn’t a job that brings them glory, and mostly we never see their faces.

For my money, if anyone deserves the term unsung heroes it’s these women and men. I think we should all honour them for their willingness to descend into the abyss and fight the monsters that dwell down there. If anyone renews my faith in human nature, it’s people who’ll face down the dark side in the interests of us all, and particularly in the interests of the most innocent and the most vulnerable among us.

So this post is dedicated to the men and women of the AFP who take on this battle. I salute you.

On Christmas Island

21 Mar
Topographic map in French of Christmas Island ...

Christmas Island

Imagine what it’s like living on Christmas Island right now.

In a matter of days, the picturesque tropical island community has gone from a peaceful piece of paradise where nobody bothered much about locking their cars and doors, to a place where police are advising locals to lock their houses and make sure they take the keys out of the ignition.

Some Christmas Island residents are afraid of the 10 – 20 asylum seekers who are unaccounted for after the days of riots at the Detention Centre. Others are disturbed by the situation, but aren’t as concerned for their personal safety.

Locals have been warning the government that trouble was ahead for months, after the crowded Detention Centre continued to accept new boat arrivals. The Centre now houses some three times more asylum seekers than it was designed to contain.

Christmas Island residents called on the government to reduce the numbers before things went pear-shaped. They wrote letters predicting riots. They’ve been trying to get the government to listen to them for nearly two years.

All to no avail.

In a tribute to the Australian spirit of the fair go, many members of the Christmas Island community express on-going support and sympathy for asylum seekers. This was particularly apparent last December with the tragic boat sinking and loss of life on the island’s coast, when locals tied to drag asylum seekers out of the water, and had to watch as many, including children and babies, were lost.

Hatred and antipathy towards asylum seekers really does seem to originate in places where nobody’s ever seen one, bearing out the belief that once we see the human face of the refugee, we are less likely to have sneering rejection as our default position.

Listening to Christmas Island locals, it’s clear many of them blame the government, not the asylum seekers. They understand the stupidity of over crowding young men, giving them nothing to do with their days, and keeping them in indefinite uncertainty about their future.

This is what the Howard government did at Woomera Detention Centre and look what happened. Riots, water cannon, self harm, even by children, and a legacy of post traumatic stress for detainees and many of the staff who worked there.

They did it at Baxter Detention Centre and look what happened. Exactly the same, without the water cannon.

Now at Christmas Island we’re using tear gas and something called “bean bag” bullets. “Bean bag” bullets? Is that a cuddly name designed to make them sound better?

This Labor government has learned nothing from the consequences of the Howard government’s policies. They’ve gone right ahead and done exactly the same things in their management of Detention Centres.

Nobody wins. Not the asylum seekers, not the residents of Christmas Island, not the workers at the centres, nobody. Especially not the government because  everybody gets to see how incapable they are of handling what should not be such a challenging situation if approached with a bit of common sense.

Perhaps those shock jocks like Chris Smith,of the guess how many dead asylum seekers fame get a retributory thrill, and the perhaps the voters who’ve never met a refugee but despise them anyway and want them anywhere but here, even at the bottom of the sea, feel gratified.

And of course the Opposition’s Scott Morrison has more ammunition, because that’s all refugees are to him.

On Christmas Island, locals who helped as best they could when the boat sank and the people drowned, are working hard to keep their lives and their children’s lives as normal as possible in the circumstances. There’ll be some of them who’ll be left traumatised by what they’ve seen on their island home. Their tourism figures are probably going to drop as well.

But do Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen give a stuff about any of this?

It’s an island, Gillard says. There’s nowhere for escaped asylum seekers to go.

Well, hello, PM – there’s actually a community on that island. It isn’t terra nullius.

Local resident Patsy Pine broke down in tears when interviewed. ‘The government doesn’t give a damn about us.” she said.

And who can argue with that sentiment?

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