Tag Archives: children overboard

Ruddock: The man who called a refugee child “it”

23 Nov

Philip Ruddock


In August 2001, 6 year-old Shayan Badraie, an Iranian asylum seeker who arrived by boat in Australia with his family, became seriously ill with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder after spending seventeen months in the Woomera and Villawood  detention centres.

During the time he was detained with his family, Shayan witnessed suicide attempts, and great unrest within the Woomera prison. A letter I received from an asylum seeker described the conditions thus:

I see 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 slash up and cut their throats and arms.

Shayan refused to eat, drink, and walk. After his plight was exposed in an ABC TV investigation of Australia’s detention centres, public outrage was focused on the Immigration Minister at that time, Philip Ruddock.

Ruddock claimed Shayan’s illness had nothing to do with his experiences in the detention centres. If the child was ill, Ruddock claimed in an interview with Kerry O’Brien on ABC TV’s 7.30 Report, it was because “it was not a natural child of the mother, it’s a stepchild.”

Ruddock referred to Shayan as “it” throughout the interview.

Philip Ruddock is an enthusiastic stamp collector. As Immigration Minister, he took the stamps from letters he received from people all over the world, requesting asylum, and requesting information about loved ones in Australian detention camps. Letters forwarded to him by Amnesty International, of which organisation he was a member, and whose badge he wore with pride. Amnesty eventually attempted to distance themselves from Ruddock’s inhumane policies by publicly requesting that he not wear their badge, as did his daughter, who was so distressed by her father’s position on indefinite detention, especially of children, that she left the country to work for an aid organisation.

Ruddock’s wife gave him a Chinese cabinet with many drawers, in which to store his stamps. He joked that it was one of the good things about getting so many letters from Amnesty, a growing stash of stamps for him to sort in his retirement.

With what hopes were those stamps bought, what fears, what dreams? Stamps on envelopes containing stories that might break your heart. In a chilling act of appallingly twisted appropriation, Ruddock took the stamps for his hobby, while simultaneously writing into history a narrative that transformed asylum seekers into criminals, terrorists and potential murderers of their own children:


Philip Ruddock has just been appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to chair a panel tasked with reviewing religious protections, perceived by the right-wing as threatened after the recent marriage equality YES vote. As John Howard’s Attorney-General in 2004, Ruddock introduced the bill that prevented marriage equality by changing the wording of the Marriage Act to describe the institution as legal between a man and a woman only.

Here is a piece I wrote on Tuesday for Independent Australia on the separation of church and state, increasingly threatened by demands from conservatives for laws that protect their “religious freedoms.” When I wrote the post, I had no idea of Ruddock’s new role.

Australia has been torturing refugees who arrived by boat for seventeen years. Ruddock was an essential part of the early and illegal inhumanity during his time as Immigration Minister.

These people have attempted to invade our sovereign territory, he said of the waterborne asylum seekers. They have jumped the queue of legitimate refugees legally attempting to achieve asylum in this country. They have broken our laws. 









Annabel Crabb and Peter Reith

19 Jun

Yesterday I read a tweet from Annabel Crabb to a tweep who’d complained that Peter Reith was on The Drum AGAIN. Anyone on my Twitter feed will know that we are constantly complaining about the regular presence of Mr Reith, both on the televised and the online version of The Drum. Regulars like David Horton of the Watermelon Blog ask several times a week that the ABC reveal Reith’s contract with the public broadcaster, to no avail.

Many tweeps repeatedly point out the role Reith played in the Howard government, particularly in regard to the so-called “Children Overboard” scandal, in which the government made unsubstantiated (and later discredited) claims that seafaring asylum seekers had thrown children overboard in a presumed ploy to secure rescue and passage to Australia.

A Senate Select committee later found that no children were thrown overboard from SIEV 4, and that several Howard government ministers including Peter Reith had deliberately misled the public by “cynically exploiting voters’ fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum seekers.”

It was also found that on no less than fourteen occasions, Reith and/or his office were informed that children had not been thrown overboard, and that photos Reith claimed proved the allegations were in reality images of asylum seekers and children struggling in the water after their boat had sunk.

Add to that charges of the improper use of a phone card, and Reith’s much criticised handling of the waterfront dispute when he was Industrial Relations Minister, and you have a politician with a very fraught history. His close relationship with the ABC is regularly and rightly questioned. The public broadcaster usually makes no comment, but yesterday Ms Crabb broke with tradition and tweeted:

@annabelcrabb: @preciouspress I’m always pleased when Peter Reith’s on. I think he’s a great panel member.”

While I acknowledge that the ABC’s responsibility to attempt a balance of perspectives in its opinion and analysis means there will inevitably be guests with whom somebody disagrees, I do wonder why a politician with a record such as Reith’s is their choice as a regular participant.

Now I wonder why Ms Crabb decided to so wholeheartedly endorse him, and in such a personal fashion. I thought we’d just established through the shaming of Stephen Long, that it is not the job of ABC journalists to express displeasure or favour  towards any public figure.

The ABC presumably offers Peter Reith as a credible, honest commentator on current affairs. Now endorsed by Annabel Crabb, it seems confirmed that as we have long suspected, Mr Reith’s history is irrelevant to the ABC because he’s “a great panel member.”  The ABC legitimises Mr Reith by offering him a regular platform, and now by Ms Crabb’s personal seal of approval as well.

There are many far more credible alternatives to Peter Reith, whom the ABC might invite to express a right-wing point of view. Personally, I am unable to dismiss Mr Reith’s role in the Children Overboard affair, and I am saddened that the ABC and Annabel Crabb apparently find it so easy to erase that shameful chapter of our history, and to redeem and grant legitimacy to someone who was a central participant in that disgrace.



Leaky boats and marshmallow pies

10 Jul

Johnny in the sky with rainbows

It was with a sense of “did this really happen” that I watched Leaky Boat on ABC TV on July 7. On ABCTV blog you’ll find a timeline of the events of 2001 from the “Tampa” to the “Children Overboard” affairs covered by this documentary, in case you’ve been on Mars for the last ten years, or overseas where they don’t have meltdowns over a few asylum seekers like we do.

Immediately following the doco there was a Q&A “leaky boat” special, with the usual suspects holding their usual positions. Because I’m bored witless by listening to the same old same old from absolutely everybody on this topic, I decided to pretend I was an intergalactic traveller who’d fetched up in Australia just in time to watch these programs. Of course I had an intergalactic knowingness that allowed me to immediately cotton on to what most of it was about. When I got bogged down, I asked the dog. If he told me without detectable bias I let him lie in front of the fire.

My task was to objectively observe the human talking heads and because I was extra terrestrial, I had no difficulty at all being objective.

I tuned in to everybody’s vibes before I tuned into their words. I have to say straight up that I didn’t take to anybody on an energy level. My antennae (disguised so no human could see them) vibrated something shocking when they picked up the mutual animosity, ill will, one-upmanship and totally negative emotion fairly radiating through the television screen. I found it intensely upsetting to be in the presence of such bad feeling, especially when Raye Coleby (of SBS Go Back to Where you Came From fame) started in on a couple of re-settled Muslim refugees about how they didn’t deserve to be safe in Australia because thousands upon thousands of other asylum seekers are trapped in hellish camps, especially in Africa, without the financial means some lucky Muslims have to get themselves out.

Apparently, the dog explained when I murmured a question into his silky ear, this argument is what’s known as the queue question, and the boat arrivals keep jumping it which everybody knows is bloody bad manners and apparently not a good start in a country where good manners are more important than anything else at all. (Really? Is that really true? Is the dog dissing me?)

The fact that a queue is also a Chinese pigtail is of absolutely no relevance here at all, the dog said when I asked.

Wait a minute, I thought, as I watched Coleby become more and more emotional over her Africans, and more and more aggressive towards the Muslims around her.  There’s no queue to get into Australia, not as we understand queues where I come from. A queue that isn’t a Chinese pigtail is when everybody lines up in an orderly fashion to get something somebody else is distributing. That never happens in refugee camps in Africa or anywhere else. People make an application, Australia chooses who it wants. That’s not a queue it’s a lottery. Doesn’t matter how well mannered you are in a lottery.

So what’s Coleby on about?

Then the dog showed me how to send a tweet. My tweet said: “Is that the “real” Scott Morrison?”  because I thought he might be an extra terrestrial like me, standing in for a human. Well, not like me because I come from a peaceful people and he got right in David Marr’s personal space and embarked on an offensive interrogatory attack that a lesser man than Marr might have clocked him for.

Why nobody threw their shoes at Scott is a mystery to me.

My tweet didn’t appear on the screen and for that I blame the dog who should have told me to say something more intelligent like the other tweeters did.

I have since checked my Twitter account and found that I have ten followers, including one who wrote about me in my human form: “She is a woman of strong opinions with a sparse Twitter following.” The dog just shrugged about that. It’s my own fault, he gave me to understand. You have to nurture your Twitter account, feed it, give it time and attention: it doesn’t just happen all by itself.

But I digress. From my lofty alien perspective I find the public arguments over boat arrivals have become so predictable as to be meaningless. I know exactly who is going to say what, and the tone in which they will say it. It’s like saying a word, any word, over and over again to yourself until it becomes incomprehensible. Both sides of the debate carry great burdens of animosity towards one another. Emotions are high, indeed the entire debate has been so appropriated by high emotion that there’s hardly anything else left in it. Anybody who tries to be rational and reasonable is outside of the parameters and won’t get a look in.

I don’t know what can be done about this, because  from the galactic perspective it looks like it’s becoming a kind of mutual masturbatory opportunity for sado-masochists to hurl and receive nasties, and is achieving nothing at all for people who arrive by boat.

It is, however, a sign of our extraordinary privilege that we can expend so much emotion abusing one another about a situation that is not likely to affect any of us. Who in the ABC’s audience at home and in the studio is likely to suffer even a smidgin of disadvantage from a few thousand boat arrivals being re-settled in this country?

Personally, being an intrepid cosmic traveller, I’m always interested to hear another traveller’s tales. I don’t get nearly as bored watching refugees tell their stories as I’m starting to get watching talking heads of all persuasions talking about refugee’s stories. I realise there’s a whole pro and anti boat people industry out there and my perspective will not be popular but I don’t care. I found Leaky Boat fascinating. It was good to see Arne Rinnan again. I found Go Back to Where you Came From fascinating because it humanized everybody involved.

But the talking heads, whether I agree with them or not, I’m over them. Let the people speak. Then I’ll hear.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river, the dog whispered in the firelight, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies…

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore, waiting to take you away,

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds and you’re gone…

That dog. He’s a bloody poet.

Really though, in all honesty I have to admit that when I’m back on earth in my usual form, minus antennae and universal perspective, I will probably just get stuck back into the brawl like I always have. I will jeer and sneer and give the finger with the best of them. I will gasp in outraged horror at something else Scott Morrison says, and I will continue to berate the Gillard government for it’s moral decline into unspeakably horrible plans to transport everybody to Malaysia where they may well be caned without first being stunned.

And why? Because I have to. Because even when it gets tiring and bogged down and you think it’s going nowhere you can’t stop. Because people who arrive in boats are my fellow humans and from that comes everything else, and when I can’t remember that any longer, I might as well sew up my lips,stuff up my ears, and close my kaleidescope eyes.

Chris Bowen outdoes Philip Ruddock: who would have thought?

3 Jun

The opposition is quite within its rights to call for marching in the streets as a reaction to the Gillard government’s deal in progress with Malaysia to send boat arrivals to camps in that country.

What we know, however, is that the opposition doesn’t give anymore of a stuff about the well-being of boat arrivals than does the government. It’s just an opportunity to score points. The calls for demonstrations against the Malaysia plans are hollow and hypocritical. I can’t imagine why any one of the opposition would think the punters actually believe they care, except perhaps those who’ve forgotten the children overboard saga, and Woomera, and the sinking of the Siev X.

I’m not sure how much more sickening this whole thing can get. The human capacity for vile behaviour never ceases to amaze me, and that’s probably more a comment on my inability to to acknowledge that the triumph of hope over experience is far more common than the other way round.

What has to be accepted, it seems, is the reality that fear and xenophobia are setting the political agenda in this country. Emotion and irrationality have won the day.

Emotion and irrationality are never a good foundation for deciding anything. Yet the whole asylum seeker debate is driven and dominated by nothing more substantial than the xenophobic emotions of focus groups. People who’ve never seen an asylum seeker  and likely never will, are in charge of making refugee policy.

When they’ve managed to stop the boats, these people will begin to notice that their lives are no better for it. It wasn’t the asylum seekers that were causing their misery after all. Their misery comes from the inside, and nothing is going to make it go away.

Focus Groups

The policies of both major parties are held hostage by a demographic that lift its leg and pisses on the UN Conventions to which we are signatory. This demographic doesn’t give  a flying f**ck about Australia as part of a global community, and the responsibilities that come with that. They have no awareness of the origins of white settlement in this country and could care less, or of how our presence here counts for less than a nanosecond in deep time. They just don’t want boat people here. They just don’t like them.

It would have been quite something to have a government that was capable of standing up to these bullies,  instead taking a principled stand on boat arrivals in keeping with the Conventions to which we are signatories, and our domestic laws. But that ship has long since sailed.

It remains to be seen how much Chris Bowen will capitulate to Malaysian demands. We are quite likely already the laughing stock in our region. Our neighbours must be enjoying having us by the short and curlies. Rudd’s farcical “solution” with Indonesia and the Oceanic Viking. Gillard’s premature announcement of her plans for a detention centre in East Timor. Nauru just begging us to come back. And now, Malaysia having us dance to their tune. If we aren’t ashamed of the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, we ought to be cringing at how demeaned we are by our humiliating begging for someone, anyone (except Nauru) to make this all go away.

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