Tag Archives: refugees

Government v Triggs

24 Oct



It’s hardly President of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs’ fault when the Australian government is the worst human rights offender that Commission has to deal with.

When a government acts criminally, one hope for recourse is that statutory bodies will refuse to collude with or enable that government’s criminal behaviour, and indeed, that such bodies will name and shame the errant government.

The Turnbull government’s accusation that Professor Triggs is “politicising” her role is, like much of this government’s spin, farcical. For a start human rights are inherently political, and secondly all actions by governments are also inherently political. If the Turnbull government is determined to transgress the human rights of refugees currently abandoned to a highly uncertain future on Manus Island and Nauru, Professor Triggs has no option but to hold it accountable, otherwise she isn’t doing her job.

Of course any commentary Triggs runs on the government of the day is necessarily political, favourable or otherwise. There are instances in which even the silence of someone in her position is political.

Is it the government’s expectation that Triggs will ignore human rights abuses because they are perpetrated by the government? In what country are we living?

Triggs isn’t acting in isolation. Amnesty, the UNHCR, professionals who’ve worked on Manus and Nauru, refugee advocates, some thirty nation states, and this editorial in the New York Times speak with one voice to Australia’s refugee detention policies, and that one voice is damning.

There’s no doubt that in some instances, including the New York Times editorial, there’s blatant examples of the pot/kettle affliction, however, that does not invalidate the truth of the protests against Australia’s policies.

In a classic abuser pattern of behaviour, the Turnbull government continues its efforts to destroy the messenger, in this case Professor Triggs, though the government isn’t fussy, the tactic is transferable. The first concern of abusers is to silence accusers, and the government has displayed this pathology innumerable times, not only in relation to the secrecy with which it surrounds Manus and Nauru and threats of retribution, including imprisonment, against anyone who might transgress those secrecy demands.

Last week, the Border Force Act was amended to remove a comprehensive list of health professionals from the threat of two years jail for speaking publicly about conditions they encountered whilst working in the detention camps. The Turnbull government was forced to make this particular backflip because health professionals have spoken out regardless of the intimidation, and even this collection of political grotesques can see the folly of prosecuting them. However, they can still go after Gillian Triggs and deprived of other targets, they’ll no doubt double their efforts.

(Note to Turnbull government: never wise to make threats you can’t carry out. Makes you look wussy.)

Obviously, the solution for the government is to cease persecuting refugees. The pursuit of Professor Triggs is a distraction: don’t look at the refugees, look at this woman who is (allegedly) overstepping her role. It’s a greater offence to (allegedly) overstep a role than it is to torture refugees. Again, we see the classic abuser spin: it is a far worse crime to speak out about abuse than it is to perpetrate it.

It’s been messenger season as long as I can remember, in private and in public life. The paradigm is deeply entrenched in our society. It starts at the top and it doesn’t trickle down, it roars like a river in flood. It’s time to turn it around and put the focus where it belongs: on the perpetrator. In this case, the Turnbull government.

Stand with the messengers. Stand with Gillian Triggs.




Turnbull welcomes nice refugees who wait to be invited.

26 Sep



Just when you thought the Australian government’s treatment of refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru could not descend any deeper into the slough of moral repugnancy, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces that he will accept for resettlement refugees from camps in Costa Rica.

At the same time, the PM gave fleeting mention to the 12,000 hand-picked Syrian refugees we were supposed to welcome months ago, but who seem to have become terminally enmeshed in security procedures more stringent than those of any other western democracy because, well, we’re precious like that.

The refugees we are accepting are the nice refugees, while those held captive in life-extinguishing misery are not nice refugees. That’s why they’re held in life-extinguishing misery: no punishment is too great for people who are not nice refugees, even death.

All those not nice people who wouldn’t queue.

Or people who are in general not nice, really. One should never underestimate the grip the white tribe’s middle-class value of niceness has on our juridico-political system.

We are now in the morally sickening position of torturing one set of displaced, stateless persons whilst offering sanctuary to another set of displaced, stateless persons, based entirely on the falsehood that we invited the latter and we did not invite the former. In fact, as signatories to the Refugee Convention we did invite the former, but that Convention is so last century I don’t know why I’m even mentioning it.

Australia, Turnbull assures us, is very generous in our acceptance of the world’s nice needy. This is undoubtedly true, however, it’s a bit like arguing that Hitler loved his dogs, or a serial killer was friendly to his neighbours. It’s the kind of cognitive dissonance seen in people who work hard to compensate for their dark side by convincing themselves and others that they’re really very caring. Turnbull strives on the world stage to talk up our humanitarian inclinations, even as human lives fester on his watch in steaming, fetid tropical dystopias.

This must be yet another blow for those on Manus and Nauru. If they needed further demonstration of their lack of worth in the eyes of their tormenters, which I’m certain they didn’t, they’ve got one, compliments of a prime minister with the principles of a bush pig.

The Turnbulls do not seem entirely at their ease, either hanging from straps on the New York subway or self-consciously posing for pics with the Obamas, Lucy clad in what appeared to be the shining black skin of a slain shark converted to a clinging sheath, more fitting in the wardrobe of the elegant Clare Underwood in the HBO production, House of Cards. Or perhaps she was wearing a wet suit. What do I know.

I realise I’m not being nice, but fuck it. It’s time to get the nasty on.


Dutton’s message: torture works

20 Aug

Torture Works


Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation about Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was shown on SBS last night.

Many angry critics have  described the film as CIA propaganda advocating torture, and accused Bigelow of making an immoral argument that torture works. That wasn’t my reading as I argue here.

This revisiting of the film and the arguments surrounding it made it obvious to me that the message “torture works” is precisely the message the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison before him, and several former Prime Ministers including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have sent to the world since the indefinite detention, off-shore and previously in the hell holes of Woomera and Baxter, of waterborne asylum seekers began.

They are not even particularly subtle about conveying this message: forcing women, children and men to live in circumstances in which they are tortured will deter others from attempting to seek asylum in Australia. It’s that stark.

To dissuade attacks from rusted on ALP supporters: Paul Keating built Woomera. I went there. It was one of Dante’s circles of hell. So please don’t come at me with the usual defence of your political party’s position on asylum seekers. There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties.

Every time politicians insist that bringing refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia will “start the drownings at sea again”, he or she is arguing, to the world, that “torture works.”

Frank Brennan, John Menadue, Tim Costello and Robert Manne have here proposed a solution to the current ghastly impasse. Their proposal retains the turn-back policy:

We believe there is no reason why the Turnbull government cannot do now what the Howard government previously did – maintain close intelligence co-operation with Indonesian authorities, and maintain the turn-back policy, while emptying the offshore processing centres and restoring the chance of a future to those we sent to Nauru or Manus Island three years ago or more by settling them either in Australia or, if any are willing, in other developed countries. Like Howard, Turnbull could maintain the offshore processing centres in case of an emergency.

Boats are to be turned back to their point of departure, usually Indonesia or in the case of Sri Lankan refugees,southern India where they continue to live as stateless people with few, if any rights.

The proposition put by Brennan et al would at least thwart the message that torture works, to which our politicians seem alarmingly attached. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it could be our next step in addressing a situation that in its current manifestation is hideously wrong in every possible way.

Critiquing their proposition is a post in itself, and I won’t do that here.

As I argue Bigelow’s film demonstrated, the proposition that torture works is in itself a terrifying premise for debate.Who are we, that we would engage in such a debate in the first place?

It isn’t about whether or not torture works. It’s about torture even being considered, and then implemented as an option. You might argue that no politician foresaw or planned the circumstances that have evolved on Manus and Nauru, and you’d likely be correct. So we have come to torture by accident, rather than by design. Having arrived at that point, even accidentally, we are culpable and every day we reinforce the message that torture works, we add to our burden of culpability. What was initially accidental, thoughtless, ignorant, uncaring, politically self-seeking becomes, in the maintaining of it, deliberate.

Which puts us in the company of the CIA and its propaganda, does it not? Not to mention Donald Trump.






How politicians force us to make a choice we should never have to make.

11 May
Ironic points of light

Ironic points of light


The phrase, Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite, frequently attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville but in fact coined by French counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre, is translated as “Every democracy gets the government it deserves.”

It’s not a sentiment with which I entirely agree: many factors are at work in a liberal democracy such as ours that bring into question the core assumption of informed choice, not least of which is propaganda distributed by media with vested interests, and its collusion with political and financial elites. This piece in Alternet makes interesting arguments against de Maistre’s maxim, describing it as a toxic idea that needs to be laid to rest. It’s worth a read.

I’ve listened carefully to all the pragmatic arguments of ALP supporters, as I have for the last seven years. I know that in almost every way an ALP government is far preferable to life under an LNP administration.

And I am enraged at finding myself yet again in a situation where I would have to endorse the torture of asylum seekers and refugees in order to have a government that we in a liberal democracy deserve. This is a choice no one has the right to force upon citizens and we need to get very angry about being put in this position. 

All my life I voted Labor, until in 2009 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd got into a face-off with Indonesia over Tamil asylum seekers picked up by the Oceanic Viking, refusing to allow them to be transferred to Christmas Island for refugee assessment.

In 2012 the Gillard government reopened detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru that had been closed by the Rudd government in 2008, at which time Immigration Minister Chris Evans described the Pacific Solution as a “costly, cynical and ultimately unsuccessful exercise.”

In 2013, newly returned Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced, “asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.”

The ALP lost my vote in 2009 and they’ve never got it back. It was a difficult decision: my local member was a woman I admired, and it was hard to imagine her supporting Gillard and Rudd, who appeared to be in complete harmony on the matter of torturing those who legally seek asylum in this country.

Refugee policy is one of very many issues to be considered when deciding on the government we deserve. For mine, it’s a fundamental issue: if we have as our government a group of people who take pride in destroying the lives of those who have committed absolutely no offence by arriving here on boats, indeed, who have done so in response to the invitation we continue to extend as signatories to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, we have as our government a group of barbarians who will not hesitate, should it serve their purposes, to take severe action against any other group who in some way threaten their hold on power, or can be used to shore up their grip on governance.

For the last sixteen years LNP and ALP governments have used asylum seekers as scapegoats, fuelling entirely unsubstantiated public fears about the stranger as terrorist, and pitting those fleeing the destruction of their homelands and in many cases torture and death, against disgruntled voters who are being let down and damaged not by asylum seekers, but by their elected representatives.

Asylum seekers have proved and continue to prove infinitely useful to both major parties, as distractions from their own failures, inadequacies and corruptions. This is the moral calibre of our politicians: that they will actively or passively engage in and perpetuate this torture of waterborne asylum seekers for their political gain. There is not one of them, LNP or ALP, that I wish to support in their vile exploitation of human beings.

The Pacific solution uses cruelty as a deterrent to asylum seekers, and in so doing, compromises every single voter in this country, and ensures we are complicit. Every time we agree to pragmatically compartmentalise, we agree to the ongoing torment of refugees and asylum seekers. In this sense we do get the government we deserve as we agree to the ongoing torment of human beings by both major parties, in order to create for ourselves the life to which we feel entitled.

This is a piece written by a young friend starting out on his career as a journalist. It’s his perception of Manus Island and Nauru, together with information on what can be done to assist refugees. Cameron’s article  brought to mind some lines from W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages…

There are among the young ironic points of light, exchanging messages in this stuporous world. In them I trust, because I have lost all faith in the adults who govern us.


Senior DIBP official overrules medical experts yet again.

30 Apr








The case of an African asylum seeker detained on Nauru and known as S99 is currently before the federal court, in an effort to have her brought to Australia for termination of pregnancy as a result of sexual assault.

S99 suffers from epilepsy. Whilst lying unconscious after a seizure, she was raped.

S99 is currently in Port Moresby where one David Nockels, senior bureaucrat in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, insisted she be sent for an abortion.

Abortion is illegal in PNG, and Nockels has not sought legal advice as to the consequences for S99 of undergoing termination in that country.

Further, Nockels has been advised by no less than five medical experts, including a neurologist and a psychiatrist, that S99’s condition is such that the procedure is far from straightforward, and must be carried out in a hospital and by medical staff with far more expertise in their various fields than is available in Port Moresby.

David Nockels has refused S99 permission to travel to Australia. He admitted to the court that he would consider flying an entire medical team, including an anaesthetist and all necessary equipment to Port Moresby before he would agree to S99 being transferred to this country.

“That is why we have Manus and Nauru,” David Nockels told the court.

The Guardian also reports Nockels admitted:

that a phone call to an obstetrician at the Pacific International hospital, Dr Mathias Sapuri, who had no expertise in neurology, psychiatry or PNG law, had reassured him that the abortion could be carried out in Port Moresby.

Further:  In his evidence, Sapuri admitted he had a financial interest in the Pacific International hospital as a shareholder, and that his private obstetric practice merged with the hospital. He did not say what proportion of the shares he held, other than it was “small”.

Ron Merkel QC, representing S99, asked Nockels why he valued the opinion of one doctor with an interest in attracting patients to the hospital over the advice of multiple medical experts provided by IHMS and lawyers representing S99.

In response, Nockels reiterated his confidence in Dr Sapuri’s advice.

It has also been revealed that the refugee known as Omid, who died yesterday after self-immolating on Nauru, was not evacuated from the island for 24 hours after suffering serious burns. The explanation for this delay is that DIBP could not find a pilot.

Omid was denied pain relief for several hours, and there was no appropriate treatment available at the hospital, causing risk of serious infection.

Two days ago I wrote about the unnecessary death of refugee Hamid Khazael on Manus Island from a simple scratch on his leg that led to septicaemia. This is a story of yet another overreach by a DIBP official who took it upon him or herself to ignore medical advice and deny Hamid treatment that could have saved his life.

DIBP is a government department rapidly coming to resemble a bureaucracy out of Kafka. Its secretive, punitive and murderous culture has no place in a liberal democracy.

DIBP is apparently staffed by individuals willing to follow to the letter the obscene orders of their ministers. Its default position is that asylum seekers and refugees who’ve arrived here by boat are not entitled to be acknowledged and treated as fully human. Even when granted refugee status confirming the horrors from which they’ve fled, DIBP officials, following orders, still treat those in off-shore detention as dispensable, and unworthy of proper attention and treatment.

The pathology and psychopathy starts at the top in any organisation. But after Nuremberg, that no longer excuses those who carry out the obscene commands of their superiors. DIBP is full of bureaucrats such as David Nockels: if it were not, the system would collapse.

In an ideal world DIBP staff would stage a full-scale revolt against their criminal masters, however I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

In what world does a bureaucrat have absolute control over the medical treatment, and indeed, the survival of a detained person?

Oh, yes, we know all too well the precedent for that world.






Let your heart bleed: compassion is not weakness

4 Feb



Yesterday in Australia the High Court upheld the legality of off-shore detention of refugees, a decision that should come as a surprise to no one given legislation passed by both major parties in June 2015 that virtually obliges the Court to arrive at this decision. The June legislation was rushed through by the LNP and the ALP, in the knowledge of the imminent Court challenge which was resolved yesterday.

Some 267 refugees temporarily in Australia, mostly for medical treatment, can now be returned to Nauru, as well as some 33 babies. Whether they will be returned or not is up to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who yesterday in Parliament gave a thundering declaration reinforcing our right to sovereignty, and his determination to maintain the status quo, signalling his intention.

My question is, if the much vaunted Border Force is even mildly competent, why do we need to use the morally bereft indefinite imprisonment of refugees on a stinking guano gulag, to dissuade future asylum seekers from attempting to journey here by boat?

My observation is, if we have to treat refugees in this despicable manner, we have forfeited our sovereignty and there is nothing left to protect. Sovereignty is not merely a matter of a nation’s borders.

Robert Manne has written an excellent blog in The Monthly on what he describes as the “rigid, irrational mind-set” that has led us to this situation.

There is little point in engaging in yet another outburst decrying the lack of morality of a government that believes in order to protect the sovereignty of the nation it must destroy the lives of others, and an opposition that supports this view.

The very concept of morality has been so eroded by successive governments that it has come to mean little more than “getting emotional,” in other words, exhibiting a contemptible demonstration of weakness. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, interviewed on the 7.30 Report last night, said he would be guided by medical advice as to who to return to Nauru and when, and in the next breath said he wouldn’t be taking that advice from anyone who was “emotional.”

This conflation of morality and compassion with the pejorative “emotional” is part of what Manne describes as a rigid, irrational mindset that takes the view that any disagreement is a sign of inferior thinking, dominated by emotion.

Labor’s spokesperson on Immigration, Richard Marles, yesterday conceded that sending children back to Nauru would be “disruptive” but said: we are talking about people whose lives were disrupted long before Australia came on the scene. In other words, when people have been traumatised before we encounter them it hardly matters if we traumatise them further because they’re used to it. What harm can a bit more do?

Mr Marles demonstrates a despicable lack of regard for suffering. His attitude is also part of a rigid and utterly irrational mindset: anyone at all damaged is rendered less human by virtue of that damage, and so our obligations to them are correspondingly minimal.

As some 70 per cent of Australians are apparently supportive of how we treat asylum seekers, there’s not much chance of immediate change. All we can do is keep on keeping on. There are no doubt politicians in both major parties who are appalled at their colleagues’ attitudes and policies but unless they take a stand, nothing can begin to change. In the meantime, let our hearts bleed over everything, especially the ballot boxes, and let us wear compassion as the badge of courage it is.







Bodies that matter. Bodies that don’t.

21 Oct

Chris Kenny


It’s profoundly concerning that Abyan, the Somali refugee currently living on Nauru and victim of a rape that left her pregnant, was forbidden to see her lawyer and denied adequate counselling for her trauma and her plight.

But now we hear that Rupert Murdoch’s minion Chris Kenny of The Australian was not only the first journalist in eighteen months to be granted a visa to enter Nauru in the last few days, he was also escorted by local police to Abyan’s accommodation, where he confronted her about her situation.

Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs has been denied a visa to visit Nauru, so Kenny is indeed privileged.

Kenny’s first account of his interview with Abyan, which you can access by clicking the link on Kenny’s tweet in The Guardian report above, seems to contradict Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s claims that Abyan refused an abortion and was therefore returned to the island, and instead substantiates her own claims that she did not refuse an abortion, she asked for some time, and appropriate help. Neither the time nor the appropriate help was forthcoming, and she was deported after being refused contact with her lawyer.

The likelihood of us ever knowing the truth of the situation is slim, however, no matter how you look at it, Abyan has been treated in a most despicable manner by both governments, and their agents.

Dutton has belatedly diarised appointments allegedly made for Abyan, with and without interpreters. However, there is no way at all of verifying Dutton’s claims that these appointments were in fact made, and that Abyan was offered the medical attention he claims.

I have no idea why Abyan was then subjected to further traumatisation by having to endure Chris Kenny’s pursuit of her after she was returned to Nauru.  But everywhere I look in this situation I see an extremely vulnerable young woman, stripped of all power and agency, subjected to the interrogation and control of powerful men intent on furthering their own interests. The demonstration of male power & dominance over women that the Abyan story illustrates makes my blood run cold.

In his latest report from Nauru, Kenny stresses that Abyan has not reported her rape to the Nauruan police. The implication is clear: if she didn’t report it, perhaps it didn’t happen.

There are a staggering number of sexual assaults in this developed country that go unreported. The majority of rapes that are reported don’t make it into court. Reporting sexual assault to police is a harrowing experience, even when the police concerned are highly trained and care about you, and share your language group. I had a sexual assault counsellor with me when I did it a few months ago, as well as evidence, and a great deal of loving support. With all that, it was an horrific experience from which I still haven’t recovered. Reporting sexual assault if you are a young, pregnant Somali refugee woman condemned to life on Nauru for the indefinite future, must be an almost impossibly daunting prospect.

And then there is Abyan’s history, including rape and genital mutilation in her home country.

And let’s not forget that Dutton only agreed to offer Abyan an abortion in the first place because public agitation forced him to.

There is a recent pattern of unrelenting traumatisation of Abyan by men who have descended on her, for one reason or another, like vultures on a wounded animal. Most of them are white and middle class. Their actions are validated by an entirely brutal government policy that condemned Abyan to Nauru in the first place, a policy initiated by Julia Gillard and Nicolo Roxon. I wonder what these two women now think of where their policy has led us, or if they consider it at all.

An aside: a link to an interview with Nancy Fraser, Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School on why the “leaning in” brand of feminism actually means leaning on other women. Quote:

For me, feminism is not simply a matter of getting a smattering of individual women into positions of power and privilege within existing social hierarchies. It is rather about overcoming those hierarchies.

Yes. Indeed.

In an uneasy corollary with Abyan’s situation Nauru is a subordinate state (read feminised) dominated by and dependent on Australia. Australia sends women and children it does not want to Nauru, where they are raped and abused. Australia, however, claims this is none of our business as Nauru is a sovereign state and we cannot intervene in its legal system, or what passes for a legal system in that lawless nation.

White, privileged, and apparently having suffered nothing more traumatic than being the butt (sorry) of a Chaser’s joke concerning sex with a dog, Chris Kenny feels he is entitled to pursue and interrogate the traumatised Somali refugee because, well, he is white, male, privileged, and works for Rupert Murdoch. He has no expertise in the matter of trauma and sexual trauma. If he had the slightest idea, and any compassion, he would not have subjected Abyan to his inquiries, and he certainly wouldn’t have arrived at her home with a police escort.

The bodies that matter are firstly, white. Then they are male. Then they are the bodies of women of calibre. They are bodies that belong to our tribe. I think, almost every day, what would the man who sexually assaulted me do if his daughter had been treated as he treated me? He observed more than once that I was “not of his tribe,” a comment I found ridiculous at the time, but with hindsight I see that his perception of me as other allowed him to behave towards me as if I was less vulnerable, less hurtable than women who were “of his tribe.”

Multiply this a million times when the victim is a Somali refugee abandoned by Australia to fend for herself in Nauru, and it isn’t hard to understand why there were difficulties reporting the rape.

The headline “Rape Refugee” says it all. Written on the body. Written on the body that does not matter, by the body that does.




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