Gillard should forget minders and listen to Carlton

I’m a fan of Michael Carlton‘s who writes the backpage on Fairfax’s weekend NewsReview. Last weekend, he tackled the ‘farce of the mining tax’, the latest sympton of what he calls Labor’s ‘terminal disease.’

Vintage Carlton. But then came the very good bit about Tony Abbott.

“Tony Abbott was oddly silent all week. Invisible, even. There was no silly TV stunt at a fish shop or a widget factory, no poncing around in Lycra or hard hat. He kept his head down, allowing his shadow ministers and his obsequious media claque to do the public gloating over the opinion poll.

It was clever politics. Any comment from him would have looked like smart-alec hubris, which is one reason that voters have so disliked him in the past. Abbott still believes he was born to The Lodge and will do anything to get there, but he is learning to disguise this. The election is still his to lose, as his former mate John Hewson managed to do in 1993.

With Labor in turmoil and the smell of blood in the water, the opposition blithely carries on as a policy-free zone and gets away with it.”

Now read this carefully. If you enjoyed it last weekend, you will enjoy it again.

“Yet you know exactly what the Coalition will do if it wins government in September. First up there’ll be the Gothic horror of a Labor budget “black hole” – even worse than expected, we’ll be told. This will be the pretext for a savage round of expenditure “savings” and the sacking of thousands of public servants.

That done, all the same-old, clapped-out Tory machinery will creak into place. Once again there’ll be grovelling deference to the Americans in our defence and foreign policies. Billions will be wasted on bright and shiny military hardware, just as the Howard government did by buying 59 useless main battle tanks for the army, the navy’s Seasprite helicopters that could fly only in daylight in fine weather, and the eye-watering extravagance of the struggling Joint Strike Fighter project for the air force.

Domestically, Labor’s reforms in healthcare and education will be scrapped, with money ripped out of the public sector to be shovelled back into private hospitals and private schools. Climate change will be crap again. WorkChoices will eventually re-emerge with a new name; there will be a swingeing ideological attack on the ABC, enforced by a whopping funding cut; the national broadband network will be gutted; social reforms like same-sex marriage will be further off than ever; and the gap between rich and poor will grow ever wider, as it does in the US.

Been there, done that, deja vu all over again.”

Hard to sum it up better than that. Many of us have been there before and those that haven’t, don’t need to. Tip for Labor. Get rid of the mindless repetitious ‘working men and women’ version of Howard’s ‘working families’. Carlton, perhaps jokingly, says that he emailed John McTernan, your PR “apparatchik from the British Labour Party” last Christmas suggesting a drink but he hasn’t heard back.  I would take him at his word and sit down and have a chat with him. He might have more ideas. I doubt he’ll charge you an arm and a leg, like those expensive lobbyists and advertising firms.

For a start, I’d ditch trying to jolly up those journalists who have been campaigning to get rid of you for years and deliver Carlton’s column to every home in Australia. Skywrite and tweet it phrase by phrase.

Then I would get try one last treatment for that terminal disease and instead of dumping on the Greens follow their advice – fix the mining tax, stop the appalling abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus, speak up about war crimes in Sri Lanka and restore the income Labor’s taken from single parents and give those on unemployment allowance a rise of $50 which just about everyone who has tried living on the allowance recommends as a minimum.

Note : The last 40 words in the first published version of this post were slightly different. Edited for clarity and accuracy.

Who is responsible for asylum seekers on Manus? Terrifying Evacuation.

There has been an earthquake in the Pacific which has killed people in the Solomom Islands. I heard on the news that there was a tsunami warning for PNG. It did cross my mind to wonder if the Australian, PNG or Nauruan governments had given any thought to the extra responsibility of caring for asylum seekers if a natural disaster should occur on Manus Island in PNG or Nauru.

I was just closing down for the night when this email arrived from asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Red Cross arrived on Manus today.

It was around 1p.m that Salvation army received a fax from Canberra. It was written that tsunami may is coming to manus around 4p.m and you should evacuate the center as soon as possible.

All people were scared. the staffs only took their passports and cellphones. All the families were stressful and scarred. they took some clothe and left by bus. Some of the families went by walk to the topest place. Some of the SAMS didn’t left the camp. Most of them were Iranian. Poul moulds stayed with SAMS in detention center.

Some people were crying and kids terrified. They all thought that’s the end of their life. There were PNG police around people. They were waiting for Tsunami.

At 3:30 they said that everything is fine and nothing will happen and we are safe! All people went back to detention by walk.

Who is responsible for asylum seekers on manus? What would have happened if tsunami came? 34 kids may died!


Asylum seekers on manus island


Note: Paul Mounds works for the Salvation Army.  The SAMS are single men, many of whom are very depressed and have been refusing food at times.

This terrifying incident meant that the asylum seekers were forced to leave the camp. This was their first visit onto the rest of Manus Island since they arrived. Up until now, they have been locked up inside the camp 24 hours a day.

If you want to know how they were feeling before today, read the letters that we published today on New Matilda.



Australian psychiatrists speak out against Pacific Solution 2

On November 30, New Matilda published a report by Adam Brereton and myself  which included the comments of Professor of Developmental Psychiatry Dr Louise Newman who explained  how detention centres like the ones on Nauru and Manus Island produce feeling of abandonment, despair and psychiatric disorders. On the same day, Dr Michael Dudley is Chairperson of the Suicide Australia Prevention Board since 2001 spoke at a protest rally outside the Federal Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek’s office. As he spoke scores of asylum seekers detained by the Australian government on the Pacific island nation of Nauru were on hunger strike with one, Omid laying critically ill in a small Nauru hospital after refusing food for 50 days. A few hours later he was taken by air ambulance to a hospital in Brisbane.

Protestors outside Federal Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek’s office on November 30, 2012. ( photo by Peter Boyle)

This is a slightly edited version of Dr Dudley’s speech notes. A psychiatrist at Prince of Wales and Sydney Children’s Hospitals, Michael has experience working with youth, indigenous people, and refugees at risk of suicide and self harm. He lectures in psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, is on the Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee (ASPAC) and the Advisory Board of Inspire Foundation’s ‘Reach Out!’ Program.

Dr Dudley told the rally:

“The Pacific Solution is in full swing again, under a different party’s banner of course, but with the same old places of Nauru, and Manus ( Manus Island is part of Papua and New Guinea).

In the wake of the somewhat obscure, cognitively challenging policy of ‘no advantage’, we have organised misery for those in these locations, by suspending them indefinitely and with a gross deficiency of ordinary goods, services and protections. Though the collective focus has shifted offshore, the bane of onshore immigration detention also continues. Many are released into the community, but many others are still indefinitely trapped. Hunger-strikes and self-harm continue, taking people to the very edge of life, because they feel that they have no other voice.

For those released, the myth that they are living in five-star hotels seems to persist, and therefore various parties want to make the conditions as Spartan as possible. From the Opposition, we hear talk of the resumption of temporary protection visas, and the reduction of the recently extended quota. (Compare this with the numbers of refugees in some European industrialised countries). We are currently revisiting the unseemly debate about whether these people should be allowed to work – as though there should ever have been a question about this fundamental human right. We seem still to be unable to appreciate how refugees enrich us – how they have contributed enormously to Australian culture and life: instead we build false security by excluding and disowning the stranger (and thus become strangers to ourselves).

There is little appetite for genuine exploration of real solutions from either main political party. What for example would an onshore model for responding to refugees cost? – say redirecting our misspent monies to properly worked out regional agreements with our neighbours, a properly resourced and supported UNHCR determination process, and air-lifting asylum-seekers to Australia, as Malcolm Fraser once did? Parliament and people know plenty now about the mental health impacts, but who cares?

If we can’t care about the mental health of asylum-seekers, and the nightmare that Australia creates for them, could we be induced to care about the mental health of Australians? Could excluding and creating an underclass of asylum-seekers affect our mental health– with the possibility that their nightmare may become ours? We know a lot about the social factors that underpin mental disorders – such as war, gender-based violence, abuse, poverty, racism, social inequality: and we also know a lot about the social factors that promote mental health – such as the rule of law, basic conditions of life being met, social connectedness, education, a reasonable standard of income, spirituality etc. …studies indicate that strong and connected communities with trust and cooperation across traditional divisions of ethnicity, religion, class and gender are more resilient and more effective at enhancing mental health than more homogeneous environments, while primarily competitive self-interested approaches tend to isolate people.

It seems that we need to wake up to what is really happening here. The overall effects of these asylum seeker measures are to increase isolation, stigma and a personal sense of burden, poverty, disability, and inequality. .

So we must therefore ask ourselves:

Do we want a more equal society, where all people can participate?

Do we want a rich diverse community?

Do we want a significant group of our future citizens (like those who will be joining us from Nauru) to be an underclass who are denied a productive life?

Do we want a higher quality national debate about those seeking asylum?

Our mental health and well being depend on each other. To misquote W.H.Auden, ‘we were mistaken. These faces are ours’. We cannot stand aside from what is happening: we have to stand and be counted. We not only diminish ourselves, but jeopardise our own interests, if we allow these policies toward refugees to continue, and allow the two major parties to continue to head-butt each other when there is clearly another way forward. Let us continue to press this point until the penny drops, and until sanity prevails.

Asylum Seekers protest against indefinite detention on Nauru

Earlier in the year, I prepared a timeline covering the events for the period between 2001 and 2007 during which the Australian coalition government locked-up people seeking asylum on the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru, 4000 kilometres away from Australia. I prepared the timeline because I was upset by the way the Australian media failed to inform the public about the history of detention on Nauru at the time when the Gillard Labor government decided to restart the so-called Pacific Solution by opening detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island in PNG.  After all, people who are eighteen now were still in junior high school when the earlier events occurred. This lack of backgrounding by the media makes it easier for politicians to mislead the public. By presenting the news in a very narrow frame, significant issues are made invisible. 

You can find the timeline on New Matilda here and here. The story is an ugly one of human rights abuse, hunger strikes and forced repatriation that led to deaths. After it was elected in 2007, the Rudd government shut down the detention centre.

On Friday, October 12, New Matilda reporter Adam Brereton reported on an attempted suicide by one Iranian asylum seeker.

Asylum Seeker attempts suicide on Nauru

Two days later, I attended a protest on October 14, I attended a protest outside Sydney’s Town Hall. During the protest, asylum seekers were on the phone from Nauru. I left the protest, expecting that some of this would be reported. Silly me. So when I found no report the following morning, I did this one for New Matilda

Nauru asylum seekers protest delays.

There has however been some good reporting on asylum seekers recently

For example. Kerry Brewster did this excellent report on ABC’s Lateline on the terrible situation of two Tamil detainees.

Tamils speak out against Asio Security Rulings

The second part of my New Matilda timeline on the “Pacific Solution’

Yesterday, New Matilda published the second part of my Pacific Solution Timeline. The second part begins on New Year’s Day 2004. As champagne corks were popping in Australia, asylum seekers in Nauru detention centre were on a hunger strike. Some were in hospital after vomiting blood and losing consciousness.



Breaking through Nauru amnesia

In June, the Australian parliament debated refugee policy proposal put forward in a private member’s bill by Independent member Rob Oakshott which if passed would have meant asylum seekers arriving by boat would be sent to  Malaysia or to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru, which had played  a key role in the notorious Howard government’s  Pacific Solution.

Yesterday, I posted  a letter signed by 200 academics who opposed these solutions as well as the appalling Coalition policy of forcing boats back out to sea.

I was frustrated by the media and political debate around these issues and the annoyance with  the Greens who refusal to vote for the Oakshott Bill.  The argument was framed in a way which portrayed anyone who would not climb on board with the Oakshott  proposal as not being interested in saving  lives of people risking their lives by attempted to reach Australia by boat.  Much of the media too could barely disguise their annoyance with the Greens for their ‘obstructive’ and ‘rigid’ refusal to vote for the bill.

For me, this eliminated half the story. People drowning at sea is tragic and shocking. But  I can also remember that awful Christmas of 2003 when scores of desperate refugee hunger strikers, some of them were near to death, were protesting over their intolerable endless detention on an island prison.  Could the Labor government, which on its election in 2007 put a stop to the Pacific Solution, really be prepared to reintroduce it?   It was if the Australian community was being asked to commit a collective self-willed act of amnesia.

So I prepared a timeline of events surrounding the Pacific Solution for New Matilda. The first part was published today.

There is a long history to this debate which I can’t do justice to here. In fact, that history certainly goes back to the 20th century White Australia Policy and fears of invasion from the North. But for my purposes here, I began with the introduction of mandatory detention in 1992.