Tag Archives: John Howard

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

You want it darker? We kill the flame

20 Nov

Georgia O'Keeffe

 

Stephen Bannon, chairman of the fascist platform Breitbart News, has been appointed chief strategist in President-Elect Donald Trump’s new administration.

In apparent response to fears that a darkness has fallen on the US since Trump’s election, Bannon countered: “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”

(Here’s a useful glimpse into the men Trump is considering as his most senior staff.)

The binaries dark and light, good and evil, have long dominated western political discourse. George W.Bush and his axis of evil; Tony Blair and his messianic conviction that the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam Hussein was a just and holy intervention: the bright light of democracy beamed into the abyss of despotic darkness by the forces of good.

There’s no nuance in the narrative, no shades of grey, and the lack of hue hasn’t changed with the ascension of Trump, it has merely been reversed. Trump doesn’t pretend the light and the good are superior ideals to which we should aspire. Darkness is good. Evil is power. There’s no longer any need to mask the dark with false light, as did Blair, Bush and sycophant John Howard. Trump has dragged us from those layered duplicities into his unmitigated and unmediated darkness. A million candles burning for the help that never came. You want it darker? We kill the flame.

I’m quoting from Leonard Cohen’s final album, released just weeks before he died. As with all great work, it’s both intensely personal and universal. I’ve been listening to it for days, not just because he’s dead and I mourn his loss, but because the album seems to speak with uncanny prescience of our current transition into a Trumpian world.

At first blush the work is about Cohen’s approaching death, but it is also about the dying of our irresponsible innocence, our smug carelessness, our neglect, our wilful blindness to how the Blairs, the Bushes and the Howards led us inevitably to Trump and Bannon, leaders of the killers of the flame, leaders of those who want it darker.

Trump’s vision for the US (and necessarily the world) Fox News, 2014

You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.

Bannon, 2016 interview with the Daily Beast:

I’m a Leninist, Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

Lenin, he answered, wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.

Meanwhile, at home, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia found it necessary to release a press statement expressing concern over inflammatory remarks made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on the subject of various “cohorts” and “nationalities” welcomed to Australia by former PM Malcolm Fraser. These refugees, Dutton asserts, may well be responsible for producing “terrorist” children and grandchildren. Fraser should have been more careful, Dutton (no doubt emboldened by Trump’s success) claims.

And to top off an increasingly dark fortnight, the UN Human Rights Council has appointed the Saudi ambassador to oversee women’s rights world-wide. The Ambassador will have the right to vote on, participate in and influence the following:

Elimination of discrimination against women
Equal participation [of women] in political and public affairs
Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women
The right to a nationality: women’s equal nationality rights in law and in practice
Addressing the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls
Annual full day debate on women’s rights
Annual half-day panel on the integration of a gender perspective

Saudi Arabia has among the worst, if not the worst, record on women’s rights in the world.

What I’m seeing in our new picture is even less nuance than we had before, which wasn’t all that much, we could have done with a bit more. Like an individual who decides to thoroughly trash his or her life as a means of effecting change, so Trump and Bannon see disaster and destruction on what could well be a global scale, as a legitimate method to correct perceived wrongs. We’re post fact, post truth, and post nuance.

You want it darker?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marriage Act: what is it good for?

30 Jun

vintage_cat_bride_and_groom_wedding_poster-rb775e43b418c4418bb91943fdadaf714_wvg_8byvr_324

 

In 2004, the Howard LNP government amended the Marriage Act of 1961 to read as follows:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the amendment in order to prevent any legal challenges to the concept of marriage as a solely heterosexual institution.

It would be useful if religious organisations opposing marriage equality took note of the origins of this amendment. It did not come from god. It was authored by Philip Ruddock and John Howard.

Then Greens leader Bob Brown described the amendment as “the straight Australia policy.”

There was no plebiscite held on the amendment, and no referendum.

I have yet to be convinced that the state has any role at all to play in the voluntary unions of its citizens, and would prefer to get rid of the Marriage Act altogether rather than just the 2004 amendment.

As it stands, the Act is discriminatory and has no place in a just society. It privileges traditional heterosexual marriage, an institution that functions more in its idealisation than its reality, and whose many and massive failings remain largely unexamined.

We do not need the state to define and control our expressions of love. Of all the situations in which we ought to be able to act with agency and autonomy, this must surely be the most fundamental. All citizens are entitled to enjoy this agency and autonomy, regardless of whom we love.

The fight for marriage equality is also the fight for everyone’s freedom, and our right to live without state intrusion, definition  and control of the most deeply intimate aspects of human life.

Do you really want politicians deciding what marriage is?

 

 

Abbott say SSM is a deeply personal issue but you can’t have a free vote. What?

12 Aug

same-sex marriage dolls

 

Two notable outcomes resulted from the Coalition’s six and a half hour joint party room meeting called to debate the legalising of same-sex marriage last night. The obvious outcome is that there will be no legal same-sex marriage on Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s watch, and that should surprise no one, remembering how Abbott once famously remarked that he felt “threatened” by gays.

The second is that the Liberal party is not a party that is supportive of the free vote for its members, contrary to decades of received wisdom on the noble nature and purpose of core liberal ideology. The Liberal party is actually driven entirely by right-wing ideology, much of which is firmly grounded in bizarre religious beliefs that have no basis in reality, and do not withstand the most rudimentary logical and rational enquiry.

It’s my personal opinion that the State has no place in anybody’s bedroom. Neither am I particularly enamoured of the inherently exclusionary institution of heterosexual marriage, and have witnessed many crimes committed under its state-sanctioned umbrella.

That being said, when participation in an institution is a legal hallmark of belonging in a culture, it is clearly an aggressive and hostile act to deny that sense of legal belonging to any social group, purely on the basis of sexual orientation. In other words, if LGBTI people wish to throw in their lot with the heterosexuals and commit to the exclusivity of the institution of marriage, it is ridiculous for any government to go to this much trouble to stop them.

Now we are faced with the ludicrously unnecessary and immensely expensive prospect of a referendum on the subject after the next election, should the LNP win government. Unlike Ireland, it is not necessary for us to have a referendum to change the Constitution (see 1.2.3.) on the definition of marriage and who may and may not enter into that state. Indeed, when John Howard was Prime Minister in 2004, he thought the Constitution so open to interpretation he found it necessary to amend the Marriage Act to define marriage as an event that could take place only between a man and a woman.

Deeply conservative ideological forces are fighting an increasingly desperate and losing battle to control society’s narrative. According to polling, the majority of Australians are at ease with the concept of same-sex marriage, a fact Prime Minister Abbott steadfastly chooses to ignore. This is a ridiculous, unnecessary and anachronistic debate.

Abbott continues to insist that same-sex marriage is “a very personal issue.” This apparently contradicts his refusal to permit a free vote, and yet again, we see the trickery of this profoundly duplicitous Prime Minister as on the one hand he concedes the deeply personal nature of the matter, while simultaneously denying every MP the right to address it in accordance with their “deeply personal” feelings.

In so doing, he denies the Australian public the right to live according to our “deeply personal” opinions on same-sex marriage in pursuit, yet again, of his ideological, religious, and in this particular case, “deeply personal” sexual prejudices.

 

 

 

 

A Royal Commission worth its salt

7 Mar

royal_commissionFormer headmaster of Knox Grammar, Ian Paterson OA, has over the last few days experienced a most spectacular fall from grace as he attempted, before the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Institutions, to ‘rewrite’ the history of his mismanagement of the sexual abuse of students under his care, by what appears to be a nest of pedophiles employed by the school as teachers.

Stripped of all his considerable power, Paterson was confronted by the realities of his alleged failures and their consequences, while arrangements were made at Knox to rename the Paterson Centre for Ethics and Business as part of an eradication plan that includes calls for him to be stripped of his Order of Australia.

If ever a Royal Commission was worth its salt, this one is. I understand there have been some five hundred referrals by the Commission to police for further investigation.

However, what the Commission demonstrates more powerfully than anything else is the complex web of secrecy and denial that allows the sexual abuse of children, both in institutions and the home, to continue at unthinkable levels for many, many decades. Only with the enabling silence of others can crimes such as these flourish.

We have witnessed, heartbreakingly, since the Commission shone its light on the Catholic and Anglican churches and the Salvation Army, as well as other institutions, that their common practices were designed not to protect the children in their care, but the pedophiles who filled young lives with confusion, fear, and long-lasting trauma.

It is worth remembering that our Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, himself provided support and a reference for convicted pedophile John Nestor, describing him as “a beacon of humanity.” (This link is a thorough and interesting read, by the way.)

It is also worth remembering that Cardinal George Pell, compassionately challenged towards the victims of his pedophile priests, was a moral and spiritual advisor to both John Howard during his term as Prime Minister, and Tony Abbott. Pell was Abbott’s personal confessor, and Abbott is a staunch Pell defender. The Cardinal’s recent hasty removal by the Vatican from the Commission’s inquiry into sexual depravities in the Catholic church, to take on fiscal responsibilities in Rome, was convenient for both men.

The conspiracy of silence perpetrated by those with power and authority such as Paterson, Pell, Abbott and many, many others has caused the misery and ruination of untold young lives. If the Royal Commission achieves nothing else, it has exposed this conspiracy and some of the powerful names who supported it. Most will not, of course, suffer the same fate as Paterson, though they undoubtedly deserve to.

We can thank our lucky stars this Royal Commission was instigated by the previous government, because the likelihood of the Abbott government allowing these atrocities against children to be exposed and interrogated is less than none.

We are witnessing, and not just in Australia, the overthrow of a cruelly silencing and mendacious narrative, and in its place, the narrative of experiential truth. This is a global shift of extraordinary proportions, and I think we can take heart from it, even in these dark times.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

%d bloggers like this: