Tag Archives: detention centres

Tony Abbott: the human face of evil

1 Jul

silencing dissent

 

More than forty current and former workers at Australia’s detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island are challenging Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton to prosecute them under the new secrecy laws for speaking out over human rights abuses. 

What, exactly, is the government going to do to these forty professionals, and others who will no doubt join them? Arrest them all? Charge them?

While the very notion of threatening professional workers who speak out about human rights abuses in their workplace with prosecution is, in any western democracy, a travesty that is beyond comprehension, what’s even worse is that we are governed by individuals of such gargantuan stupidity they believe this is reasonable action to take in the first place, with an opposition that colludes, and apparently a demographic that supports this intimidatory silencing.

The government is on a hiding to nothing with these threats of prosecution. The legislation may well work as a deterrent, silencing those who might otherwise speak out, and that is likely its core purpose. However, the government now faces a direct challenge to its new laws, and the world will be watching what it does next.

No such laws have ever existed in our country before today, and I can’t think of any other comparable country in which they exist. What other liberal democratic government threatens professionals with imprisonment if they speak out about human rights abuses, including the sexual abuse of children, violence against women, and ill-treatment of people who are not criminals, not terrorists, and are in a situation of absolute helplessness and vulnerability.

They arrived seeking asylum in Australia by boat, a perfectly legal enterprise, and as we are still signatories to the Refugee Convention, though god knows why, we invited them to seek asylum here in the first place, using any means of transport they chose.

Now we have taken away the very last right they had – the right to a voice, albeit via a third-party, by threatening those third parties with prosecution if they bear witness. Yes. If you bear witness to the atrocities permitted by the Abbott government to be visited upon innocent people, you risk imprisonment. This is what we’ve come to.

This legislation has not been passed to protect Australian citizens. It has been passed to protect politicians. It will allow them to do what they like when they like to waterborne asylum seekers, without any accountability at all. This government and the opposition, who couldn’t oppose a wet lettuce, will permit all kinds of torments to be visited upon women, children and men in offshore detention, and they will prosecute and imprison anyone who reveals their secret savagery.

I’m not much given to use of the word evil. But evil has a human face and the human face of evil today is Tony Abbott. What the ALP has done is supporting this vile legislation is perhaps even more evil: they had the opportunity to resist it. Yet they did not, they endorsed it without as much as a murmur of dissent.

This is a government dedicated to secrecy, silencing, authoritarianism and the sowing of discord and disharmony, supported every step of the way by a spineless opposition. I have no idea where this will end, but every time I think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Casualties of “Border Protection”

3 Dec

 

Operation Soverereign BordersIt ought not to surprise anyone that naval personnel are vulnerable to post traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of implementing the ALP and LNP governments’ asylum seeker policies.

This investigative report by the ABC describes in detail what sailors are required to do in so-called “border protection” actions.

Over a decade ago I interviewed staff at the Woomera and Baxter Detention Centres. Many of them described the same symptoms of PTSD as do the naval personnel interviewed by the ABC. Those staff were, like the navy, caught up in a culture of deliberate dehumanisation of asylum seekers that first requires a dehumanisation of the self, in order to be implemented to the satisfaction of political masters in Canberra.

Both major parties have long known that the best way to calm an outcry about waterborne asylum seekers  is to hide them away from the public gaze, criminalise their perfectly legal right to come to this country by boat, and if possible never allow them to be seen as human. One sailor explained that the only way he could continue his work was to think of the asylum seekers as numbers, evidence that these dehumanising tactics work. Their consequences, however, manifest in both victim and perpetrator as post traumatic stress that can cripple a life and destroy a spirit.

Political masters are protected from the front-line traumas that are a direct consequence of their self-serving decisions, but in reality the blood both real and metaphorical of asylum seekers and the men and women who are directly involved with them, is on politicians’ hands and they cannot clean it off. The sight of MPs visiting workplaces is a common one, perhaps PM Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison might spend a day or two attempting to haul bodies from the sea and experiencing the horror of finding their hands full of drowned human flesh that has separated from drowned human bones.

One of the sailors interviewed expressed the opinion that current secrecy surrounding “Operation Sovereign Borders” exacerbates the difficulties and traumas experienced by those charged with its front-line implementation. The potential danger of secrecy is well-known to anyone who’s worked in mental health. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that the combination of the work they are called upon to do combined with the strict secrecy surrounding it, is likely to result in traumatic stress.

It’s outrageous that any government should demand its employees endure such extreme working conditions outside of war (despite what Morrison has claimed we are not at war with people smugglers, though many of us are at war with budgie smugglers) and purely to win that government votes. I can’t forget that the trauma endured by asylum seekers remains largely unacknowledged, is exacerbated by the continuation of dehumanisation after they’ve been despatched to off-shore detention centres, and ongoing uncertainty about their futures.

While a culture of dehumanisation adversely effects everyone involved, at least naval personnel and other staff have some hope of escape from their situations, and treatment.

Obviously the answer is for politicians to cease their barbaric practices and treat both their employees and the asylum seekers with at least a modicum of concern. Politicians are destroying people, literally, in their pursuit of power. Is it any wonder so many of us despise them?

Asylum Seekers not treated harshly enough, say vengeful Australians.

9 Jan

TONY ABBOTT ASYLUM SEEKERS PRESSERAccording to a poll reported in The Age yesterday, 60 per cent of Australians surveyed want asylum seekers arriving by boat treated more harshly.

59 per cent of those surveyed oppose government welfare for refugees.

Although there is a strong perception that boat arrivals are not ‘genuine refugees,’ in fact 99.7 per cent of asylum seekers from Afghanistan held on Christmas Island were assessed as refugees, as were a further 96 – 98 per cent from Iraq, Iran, and Burma.

The efforts of both major parties to reframe asylum seekers as illegal and threats to the country’s sovereignty, appear to have succeeded.

The chilling reality is that the majority of boat arrivals are fleeing conditions so severe that they are willing to undertake such a journey rather than remain in a country where they are at great risk, yet the majority of Australians, if the poll is to be believed, wish to see them further tormented when they arrive here.

Apparently the majority of Australians have a crippling lack of imagination coupled with a complete lack of desire to consider circumstances that drive others to flee their homes and beg for refuge at the other side of the world. Worse, they want asylum seekers treated more harshly than they already are when they arrive, a desire that borders on the psychopathic.

I suppose it is still possible to deal out harsher treatments, but people might die and that would be awkward.

The argument is frequently made that our treatment of asylum seekers is ‘inhumane.’ Asylum seekers are human beings, just like us, and because of that are entitled to as much consideration as we afford ourselves. This argument is obviously falling on deaf ears. According to the poll results, the majority of Australians lack any concept of a common humanity from which notions of equality and rights  spring.

Actually, it’s worse than that. They also want to harshly punish the suffering for bringing their suffering here.

My impulse is to beat such people around the head with a stick until they beg for mercy and flee, seeking refuge from my persecution. Of course that would achieve nothing, but it’s a gratifying fantasy. The minds of those so opposed to decent consideration of refugees’ circumstances are unlikely to be changed by any intervention, kind or unkind. However, the good news is 68 per cent of the 60 percent of Australians hostile to refugees are over 70 years of age, so they’ll hopefully cark, or become too demented to vote, and be replaced by saner minds.

Challenging such entrenched ignorance and lack of imagination is a formidable task, and those who undertake it haven’t made many inroads so far, though not from lack of effort.  Asylum seekers are now treated more harshly than they were nearly two decades ago. It was possible then for anyone who was prepared to jump through bureaucratic hoops to visit detention centres. This is no longer the case, and asylum seekers are almost entirely isolated off-shore, from those who would otherwise give support and assistance. This is still not sufficient for vengeful Australians. That their water is ridiculously rationed is not sufficient. That their medical care is below decent standards is not sufficient. That the children are imprisoned, that the latrines are foul, that many have no shoes, that we force them to suffer in high temperatures while offering no relief, that they live in an emotional and psychological limbo sure to destroy what their original persecutors didn’t manage to destroy, no, none of this is sufficient. Our vengeful Aussie majority want them treated even more harshly, which to my mind can only be putting them to death. Painfully.

I don’t think there’s any point anymore in speeches about our inhumanity to other humans. Frankly, not enough of us give enough of a shit about our common humanity, and the quaint notion that if you cut us we bleed just like you.

What, then,  is to be done?

Scott Morrison and “diseased” asylum seekers.

28 Feb

Below is a media release  issued yesterday by Scott Morrison, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

Typhoid cases on latest boats highlight the risk of Labor’s border failures

Monday 27th February 2012

The confirmation of two cases of typhoid for asylum seekers on recent illegal boat arrivals to Christmas Island highlights again the risks and consequences of Labor’s failed border protection policies, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Scott Morrison said today.

“When illegal boats turn up in our waters there will always be the risk that people on these boats will carry serious communicable diseases. The more boats there are, the greater the risk of serious diseases presenting,” Mr Morrison said.

“Last year there were 56 cases of communicable disease from those who had arrived on illegal boats. These cases included everything from Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C to Chlamydia and Syphilis. These latest cases have now added typhoid to the list,” he said.

“Of greatest immediate concern is the risk to Australians living on Christmas Island, including children attending the local schools, as well those who come in direct contact with asylum seekers including our defence forces, Customs and border protection officers, federal police, detention centre workers, health professionals and immigration staff.

“These Australians have been living on the front line of Labor’s failed border protection for the past four years.

“Despite the best efforts of our health professionals and other officials responsible for dealing with these situations, there are no guarantees that the arrival of people carrying these diseases could not lead to an outbreak on Christmas Island or the transfer of these diseases to the mainland. This is the risk of failed border protection policy.

“In the past three months more than 2,100 people have turned up on 26 illegal boats. This is the highest number of arrivals over summer on record and 50% more than Labor’s previous record two year ago.

“Labor’s largest ever summer of boats followed their decision to introduce mainstream release of asylum seekers into the community, with support payments, free housing and set up packages worth up to $10,000.

“As long as Labor’s soft policies on our borders continue, these boats will continue to arrive along with the risks they carry, including people with serious communicable diseases,” Mr Morrison said.

The following communicable diseases were detected in immigration detention facilities on Christmas Island from 1 July 2010 to 6 May 2011 –

Diagnosis – Total
Chlamydia – 4
Dengue – 2
Gonorrhoea – 1
Hepatitis B – 10
Hepatitis C – 3
Malaria – 1
Pertussis – 1
Shingles – 3
Syphilis – 29
Tetanus – 1
Tuberculosis
(active) – 1
Grand Total 56
Source: Question on Notice, 11/12 Budget Estimates (BE11/0615)

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.

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.

Rioting and deaths in detention: anyone could see that coming so why don’t the politicians?

30 Mar
A bunch of Razor Wire atop a chain link fence

Image via Wikipedia

Guest blog today by Dr Stewart Hase

A Refugee Crisis in the Camps: Now Who Could Have Predicted That?

The media treat it as something of a surprise that the ungrateful inmates of our refugee camps are rioting and committing suicide. But it does make for great headlines and, let’s face it, that’s mainstream journalism these days: the ‘gotcha’ rather than real investigation. Well, it is no surprise to psychologists who, had government taken the time to seek some good advice, could have easily predicted these events. In fact, if a research psychologist had wanted to design an experiment confirming the negative impact of incarcerating people, they could have done no better than the politicians and bureaucrats with the fiasco they have invented. The experiment has it all: desperate people; close confinement; razor wire; remote locations; removal of dignity an extended but variable process that engenders hopelessness; an unnatural existence; and overcrowding.

It has been long known in psychology that even relatively innocuous forms of incarceration cause psychological problems: an abnormal situation creates abnormal behaviour in and of itself. We know that guards become abusive towards inmates when they are in this unique position of power. The abuse of the powerless is not restricted to psychopaths or other similarly inadequate personalities. Mr and Mrs Average are quite capable of abnormal cruelty when given the opportunity. We see this in wartime, concentration camps, prisons and the now defunct (thankfully) psychiatric hospitals of the first half of the twentieth-century.

Any first year psychology student knows that you cannot expect people to behave normally when they are placed in abnormal situations. And we could expect people to riot when they are placed in a threatening situation. We can expect people to kill themselves or develop psychoses when their disbelief turns to despair turns to hopelessness. We can expect to see children rapidly wither on the vine when normality is stripped from them: they have few defences to protect themselves.

Successive Australian governments have failed the compassion test, as have we, the Australian people for not urging a humanitarian approach to this problem. This does not mean allowing illegal entry to our country. It does not mean opening our doors. But it does mean having a process for dealing with the problem that is in keeping with the mores of a twenty-first century civil society rather than those of the dark ages: a society that bases its decisions on evidence rather than false and convenient belief. I wonder if we are ready yet and is there a politician out there that is prepared to rise above the sorcery that is popularism?


Dr Stewart Hase

 

Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma ofPsychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at http://stewarthase.blogspot.com/

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