Offshore detention: Australians have a right to know what is done in their name


Johan Lidberg, Monash University

How did one of the world’s most-successful multicultural countries made up of refugees and immigrants end up harming children who came to us seeking protection and help? One of the answers to this question is secrecy.

Successive Australian governments, both Labor and Coalition, have dehumanised refugees and kept Australians in the dark about what really goes on in the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The cornerstone of the strategy is to limit public access to information. The policy started by the Rudd Labor government in 2013 has been put into overdrive by the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments.

There are three pillars to the secrecy strategy:

  • outsourcing the centres to other sovereign nations;

  • outsourcing the centres’ operations to private contractors; and

  • imposing a gag on current and former detention staff through the Border Force Act.

Outsourcing detention

Australian journalists have found it very difficult, bordering on practically impossible, to obtain visas to visit Nauru. Applying for a media visa for Nauru comes with an A$8,000 fee – which is non-refundable even if the application is rejected.

The only journalists to be granted visas in the last two years filed stories that did not properly investigate or challenge the Nauruan and Australian governments’ versions of the situation for refugees.

This means the two governments directly and indirectly control who is allowed onto the island to tell the refugees’ stories of how they are treated. This leads to speculation that serves no-one – not the refugees nor the Australian government nor the public.

The second issue with outsourcing refugee processing to another country is that neither Nauru nor Papua New Guinea has Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. This means an important journalistic tool is missing when it comes to seeking information.

This, combined with the poor FOI history of Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (and its predecessor), which have repeatedly blocked and delayed requests, makes obtaining raw and unspun information about offshore refugee processing a time-consuming and frustrating task.

Outsourcing to private contractors

Wilson Security is contracted to provide security in the offshore centres.

The 2010 amendments to the federal FOI Act significantly strengthened the requirement on government agencies to obtain information from a private contractor when asked to do so.

However, contracting out adds another layer of complexity to using FOI effectively. The practical consequences are longer processing times, delays and the increased possibility of the contractor claiming the information can’t be released due to commercial-in-confidence issues.

The Border Force Act disclosure offence

In July 2015, the Australian Border Force Act came into force. Its controversial disclosure offence section extended the questionable Australian tradition of limiting public servants’ right to public speech and participation in public debate.

The section effectively stops current and former staff, including those from volunteer organisations such as Save the Children, speaking out about conditions in refugee detention centres.

It is nigh-on impossible to see how this gag section can be in the public interest. But it is easy to see how it is in the government’s political interest.

What are the consequences?

The consequence of the fortress of secrecy built on these three pillars is that Australians don’t know what is being done in their name on Nauru and Manus Island.

It also means the refugees are dehumanised. Suffering children and families become numbers instead of human beings.

Every one of the nearly 1,300 refugees currently on Nauru and Manus has heartbreaking and crucial stories to tell. If Australians were allowed to hear and see those stories, the centres would have been closed a long time ago.

If offshore detention is to continue, the Australian government should:

  • stop outsourcing to private contractors. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection should run the centres to allow for proper accountability;

  • be completely transparent about the centres’ operations. Redact personal information, but publish as much as possible, including incident reports;

  • facilitate access to the centres for journalists and members of the public; and

  • scrap the gag section on detention centre staff, current and former, in the Border Force Act.

We don’t need a Senate inquiry or royal commission to figure out what needs to be done. More than enough evidence is available thanks to the Nauru files, former detention centre staff sharing their experiences, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on children in immigration detention. The government must do the decent and right thing by the refugees and the Australian public.

The Conversation

Johan Lidberg, Senior Lecturer, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hung Parliament Likely in Australian Federal Election


Greens and Independents to Hold Balance of Power in Both Houses

It would seem that the likely outcome of the 2010 federal election in Australia is that of a hung parliament, with government going to the party that gains the support of one or two possible Greens members of parliament in the lower house, and three other independent members of parliament in the lower house. It seems likely that the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate.

The Greens have now clearly become the third major political party behind the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party (Lib) – National Party (Nat) coalition. They have now gained a representative in the lower house with the seat of Melbourne in Victoria falling to Adam Bandt. It is possible that the seat of Grayndler in New South wales (NSW) could also fall to the Greens, with ALP member Anthony Albanese in a close fight with Sam Byrne of the Greens.

The three other certain independents, all former National Party members, are Bob Katter (Kennedy – Queensland, Tony Windsor (New England – NSW) and Rob Oakeshott (Lyne – NSW)

The ALP has also lost large numbers of seats in Queensland ( QLD – Flynn, Leichhardt, Forde, Bonner, Dickson, Herbert, Longman, Brisbane and Dawson) and seats in NSW (Bennelong, Macarthur, Macquarie and Gilmore), one in the Northern Territory (Solomon), one in Western Australia (Hasluck) and possibly one in Tasmania (Denison) to independent Andrew Wilkie. It would seem that a total of 18 or 19 seats have been lost by the ALP. They have gained two in Victoria, winning La Trobe and McEwan.

The ALP’s greatest hope would seem to be the seat of Boothby in South Australia, which still appears too close too call. At this stage Denison in Tasmania remains an ALP seat, but it also remains too close to call.

It seems to me that there will be 73 seats to the ALP (possibly 72 if Grayndler falls to the Greens in NSW), 73 seats to the Coalition, one seat to the Greens (possibly 2 if they pick up Grayndler in NSW – who would lean to the ALP) and 3 to the Independents (all formerly National Party members who would likely lean to the Coalition). If these predictions prove to be true, it would seem that the Coalition will be able to form a minority government with the support of the Independents.

After the promise of the ALP in the previous election and the result that occured, the ALP should have held office for at least two terms. However, the ALP has failed to deliver and instead gave Australia a very lazy, poor and mediocre government. Under Kevin Rudd the ALP successfully steered Australia through the financial crisis, for which Australians should be very thankful. However, there has also been poor management of ecomomic stimulus projects, environmental issues and other projects, which have left many Australians disillusioned with the government. This of course led to the downfall of Kevin Rudd prior to the election and the elevation of Julia Gillard to the Prime Ministership of the country. This was too little too late to save the ALP from electoral disaster and the Australian people have delivered swift punishment for their failure to deliver what we had hoped for under the Kevin Rudd led ALP government.

Perhaps the experience of a hung parliament and a minority government, from whichever side of politics, will result in someone or some party standing up with a real commitment to governance and leadership in Australia. At the moment there seems little of both and the Australian people are largely disillusioned with both major parties. The ALP should prepare itself for major defeats in state elections over the next couple of years, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, where voters are fed up with poor government – not that the alternatives are much better.

Welcome Home Jess: Jessica Watson Back From Around the World


As I write this post, the youngest person to sail around the world solo is about to cross the finish line in Sydney, Australia. The ‘Ella’s Pink Lady,’ being sailed by 16 year old Jessica Watson is now making its way through the Sydney Heads and into Sydney Harbour. Her birthday is this Tuesday and what a fantastic 17th birthday present – just home from sailing around the world.

Waiting for Jessica at the Sydney Opera House are the Prime Minister of Australia (Kevin Rudd), the NSW Premier and many thousands and thousands of Australians, to give her a great welcome home that she will never forget.

Despite being plagued by controversy from the beginning, Jessica Watson has made it. She hit a Chinese bulk carrier on her way to the starting line and had to wait for repairs to be made to her sailing craft. Then it was a possible court challenge to prevent her from making her attempt on the grounds that she was too young and the journey too dangerous.

In recent times there have been other controversies, including that her record would not be recognized because she was both too young and had not travelled far enough into the northern hemisphere (and thereby travelled the required distance to make the record).

There has also been controversy over the name of her boat. Those who own the name for ‘Pink Lady’ apples, were concerned that there would be confusion because of the name ‘Ella’s Pink Lady’ and ‘Pink Lady’ apples. I’m a little concerned also, for if I was near her boat I may be tempted to take a bite out of the boat, thinking it was an apple – how ridiculous!

Anyhow, Jess has just made it and is now being checked out by customs before proceeding on to the opera house.

Welcome home Jess – well done and congratulations.

For all the news from Jessica Watson, including her Blog during her amazing journey, visit her site at:

http://www.jessicawatson.com.au/

ANZAC DAY: Remembering the original ANZAC legend


Today is ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day in Australia and New Zealand. It is a time to remember our fellow Australians (and in New Zealand their fellow New Zealanders) who made the great sacrifice of their lives in order to defend Australia (and New Zealand – from here in I will speak of my own country, though New Zealand is also implied) and our interests in time of war.

ABOVE: Images from the original ANZAC campaign that created the ANZAC legend.

ANZAC Day is a national public holiday in Australia and though the day specifically remembers the sacrifice made by ‘diggers’ in World War I on the battlefield of Gallipoli in Turkey, we also remember those who made a similar sacrifice on the other battlefields of World War I, including Belgium and France.

On ANZAC Day we also remember those Australians who sacrificed their lives throughout the world on all other battlefields as well, including those of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as those of more recent times including Iraq and Afghanistan.

We will remember them – lest we forget.

KIWIS LACK SENSE OF HUMOUR


A Blog site called ‘Fush ‘n’ Chups –  a guide for Australians to living and working in New Zealand,’ has been copping a fair bit of criticism of late. The controversy over the site has also appeared in newspapers, including this morning’s ‘Daily Telegraph’ in Sydney, Australia.

The site’s resident Blogger likes to have a bit of a dig at our Kiwi (New Zealand) neighbours, which appears to be typical of Australian tongue in cheek humour. However, the New Zealanders have been getting a little hot under the collar and have been posting a number of aggressive responses in their comments on the Blog and its various posts. The owner of the site believes that New Zealanders need to develop a sense of humour.

Perhaps he is right. Visit the site at:

http://fushnchups.co.nz

AUSTRALIA: BUSHFIRE ARSONISTS, LOOTERS AND FRAUD


As most Australians continue to be shocked by the bushfire crisis in Victoria, we are becoming even more shocked by the despicable behaviour of some in our communities.

Arsonists are believed to be responsible for many of the fires in Victoria, including those that have killed so many people. They have been branded as mass-murderers whom the authorities are pledging to bring to justice. Already there have been arrests and several good leads on some of the lowlifes responsible for the fires.

There have also been reports of looters taking what few valuables remain on the properties of those Australians who have practically lost everything – including some members of their families, if not their entire families. It is unthinkable that looters could be active but they are.

In some areas of Australia there have been those preying on the generosity of Australians by taking up so-called collections and selling raffle tickets supposedly for the benefit of fire victims – yet they are taking the money for themselves.

What some people will stoop to. We call this type of behaviour ‘un-Australian’ in this country and indeed it is something less than human.

AUSTRALIA – BUSHFIRES: DEATH TOLL REACHES 175 AND CLIMBING


The death toll in the bushfires in Victoria has now reached 175 and continues to climb. There are some 5000 people homeless at this stage, with many more homes and communities under direct threat from the still raging bushfires.

In a display of national generosity and sympathy for bushfire victims, Australians have been digging deep and donating millions of dollars to the various relief appeals, as well as turning up at evacuation centres with donations of clothes, food, furniture and other items. Others are simply turning up and doing what they can to help out.

Sadly, just as there are many seeking to provide what assistance they can, there are others who are behaving in ‘un-Australian’ ways – there are looters operating in the bushfire regions, arsonists continuing to light fires, sight-seers getting in the way of fire-fighting and relief operations, etc. The full weight of the law has been promised against all arsonists that are caught and there are several currently known to police that are being pursued.

ABOVE: Aftermath of the bushfire at Chum Creek, near Healesville

ABOVE: Aftermath of the bushfire at Marysville

ABOVE: Aftermath of the bushfire at Narbethong

AUSTRALIA: BUSHFIRE DEATH TOLL MAY REACH 200


The death toll in Australia’s bushfire disaster in Victoria has now reached 131 confirmed dead, along with the solemn warning that that death toll could very well reach 200 plus.

Our country is in shock and stunned at the ferocity of the fires, especially on Saturday. Bushfires are an annual thing in Australia and our bushfires are among the worst in the world – yet this has been by far the worst ever.

The bushfire emergency is continues to unfold with fires burning across two states – Victoria and New South Wales. There have been hundreds of fires and dozens continue to burn – many out of control. There are some fires in Victoria that are yet to be attended by any fire-fighters as the current priority remains the saving of lives and property protection. Some 330 000 hectares plus have so far been burnt by the fires.

Fire-fighting crews are rushing to the bushfire region from across Australia and also from New Zealand. Great Britain has also offered assistance and doubtless other countries have also offered help.

As I write there are still homes and towns facing immediate threats from bushfire activity and residents are being warned to leave before it is too late or if remaining home to fight the fires and protect a home (should it be defendable), do not leave when it is too late to do so.

Sadly, many of these fires appear to have been deliberately lit and several arsonists have already been arrested. Many people in Australia are calling for blood. Many Australians are deeply shocked and upset by the bushfire emergency, as has been represented by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Victorian Premier – both of whom have fought back tears during interviews.

In 2009 there has only been 12mm of rain in the region where I live and in many other regions of New South Wales and Victoria there has been even less. We need rain and there seems very little of it in weather forecasts for the foreseeable future.

ABOVE: A collection of photos and tributes from the fire emergency

ABOVE: A tribute to Channel 9 Newsreader Brian Naylor and his wife – killed in the fires at their home.

ABOVE: Report on the fires

ABOVE: The Fire approaches Churchill – Victoria