Happy Christmas Island Detention Centre II

Part II of this post centres on an article written by Jonathon Holmes in the Sydney Morning Herald in May 2016:

The Pacific Solution’s brutal fact: we need it.
We risk social disruption if we take more than a tiny fraction of asylum seekers.

Or, “I’ve got no ideas, so why am I bothering to write about this?”

In the article, Holmes says most people he knows deplore the Pacific Solution policy on moral grounds, but “I don’t believe one should pontificate about a policy unless one has some vaguely practical alternative to propose.”

The first hole in Holmes’ argument is that the boats have been stopped.  They haven’t been stopped, they are turned around.  The boats are still arriving.

The second is the “flood of reaction” from viewers unsympathetic to the situation of the Tampa when it was aired.  At the time, the Government, assisted by some sections of the media, worked hard to demonise the asylum seekers claiming falsely they threw children overboard, and so won an election based on a fabricated situation.

The article continues to say we can’t accept more than a trickle of refugees without social disruption, and Holmes can’t think of a better solution so champions what we have.  In other words, to maintain the status quo, we can only accept a small number of refugees who come through the “proper” channels.

To come to an end point on any problem, you have to discount what isn’t tenable:

We are signatories to the Refugee Convention, so we can’t do anything that contravenes it.  This instantly removes the option of returning refugees to the country they were fleeing.  It also removes the option of detention, once they are found to be genuine refugees.  It also removes the option of settling refugees overseas.

As long as we accept our status as signatories, we must accept our responsibilities.  If that “opens the floodgates”, then so be it.  We can stop a lot of people drowning at sea by intercepting their boats as soon as they reach Australian waters and bring them on board.  Is this a “practical” solution?  Yes, in that the money we waste on off-shore detention could be funneled into saving lives.

We may have to change our views about inclusion, accept that the era of a small Australia has ended, and realise that the global issues of over-population, climate change and food shortages will involve massive change regardless of what we do.

This sticking our head in the sand approach gives me the shits.  As a country, we are as great as how we treat our most vulnerable people.  It would take little effort on our part to settle the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru in Australia.

The number of displaced people world-wide was around 65 million in 2015 and will no doubt get higher.  By ignoring it we aren’t going to improve the lives of millions of people.  The question is, are we prepared to share what we have in return for helping more, and if not, then what are we?  As always, it comes down to the sheep and the goats.

Happy Christmas Island Detention Centre I

Our policy of off-shore detention has sunk to a new level with the death of 27 year old Sudanese detainee Faysal Ishak Ahmed on Christmas eve, the fourth death in detention.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed had “fled Sudan in 2013, having refused to be recruited by the same militias that had tortured him, killed several members of his family, and raped his sister.”  The Age, page 1, 31/12/16

The brief history of our off-shore detention policy started with the Liberal/National coalition (PM Howard) Government in 2001.  Previously, we didn’t have a problem with people arriving by boat, because they were refugees, but somewhere along the way we lost our conscience.

The first step on to the slippery slope was former Prime Minister John Howard, as part of the Pacific Solution, declaring Christmas Island no longer Australian territory only for the purpose of unauthorised boat arrivals.  This meant any arrivals were not on Australian soil, therefore unable to apply for refugee status.

Australia is populated by 24 million people, in a country the size of the USA (324 m).  We rank second in global per capita wealth.  In the year of highest boat arrivals the numbers reached 20,517 in 2013.  Our highest number of illegal immigration is from people coming by airplane and over-staying their visa (62,000 in 2014)

“When it comes to the total number of refugees recognised and resettled by a country, Australia ranks 25th (and 32nd on a per capita basis).”  abc.net.au  Since 2014 there has been no official boat arrivals as the Coalition policy of “stopping the boats” is in reality, turning them around so they are made to return to whatever they are fleeing.

Yet we still keep the off-shore detention centres open to house refugee arrivals from 2013.  These people have been in off-shore detention for four years and counting.

Off-shore detention is an outsourced operation funded by our Federal Government.  In that way, if anything goes wrong, they can blame either the company operating the centre, or the country where it is housed.  The Australian Government refuses to acknowledge responsibility for the people it pays to house at a rate of $400,000 per single asylum seeker per year.  Off-shore detention cost the taxpayers over $1 billion in 2014 – 2015.

Since people have been arriving by boat, the majority have been found to be genuine refugees.  As signatories to the Refugee Convention, the responsibility of care of these people begins and ends with us.  “Countries who have signed the Refugee Convention also cannot send a refugee overseas (or ‘expel’ them) except if they pose a risk to national security or public order.”

The Coalition Government has a history of silence, cover ups, gagging welfare workers, aid workers and doctors, and refusing journalists entry to the detention centres.  We find out what is happening when a whistle blower doctor or aid worker breaks ranks and risks their livelihood.  Or a former guard or teacher speaks out.  Occasionally the detainees themselves are able to get their voice heard, as in the case of  a fellow inmate of the Manus detention facility, who said Faysal Ishak Ahmed had been sick for some months and had previously repeatedly sought medical attention.

This recent opinion piece by New York Times writer, Roger Cohen, says it all:  Australia’s Death by Numbers

Next:  Happy Christmas Island Detention Centre II


The Big Comedown – Canberra Arts Funding

Insightful, essential reading that is universal to the arts.

Yolande Norris

It’s so completely boring, the continual demand on the arts sector to state its case and argue to exist. It’s boring and offensive – a total waste of time and energy. I resent writing this now. I resent thinking about it. But since learning of the complete shambolic outcome of the ACT’s most recent arts funding round, I’ve been grinding my teeth over it, so here I am.

It’s nearly a year now I’ve been away from the sector, on maternity leave. I wondered how it might be, looking at the lay of the land from a distance – and perhaps I even hoped it would be refreshing, invigorating. But no. The shifts and movements of the past eighteen months have brought me right to the edge of a bitter pit of cynicism. I’ve felt disappointed, exasperated. I’ve cringed at the sector’s apparent lack of ability to hold its…

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Money Tree II

Since writing the post on the Money Tree, I came across this excellent article, and spoke to some friends about the reality of home ownership in 2016.

Paying for it: In hock to the greatly outdated Australian dream

My parent’s and my generation were brought up with the expectation that we would own a home, with assistance from our parents in the form of a loan or deposit.  In the mid to late 20th century full-time, permanent jobs were achievable, and the cost of living low enough for couples to live off one wage.

All of this changed around the turn of the 21st century.  People started to invest in housing instead of stocks and bonds, or self manage their own superannuation.  The government offered incentives on investment properties, that weren’t available for personal home loans.  This drove the price of housing up at a rapid rate; 300% in South Australia, and more in the eastern states.

To add to the difficulties in securing a home loan, banks were spooked by the Global Financial Crisis, despite our government going guarantor, and tightened lending regulations for home buyers.  As a result, a fat deposit is no longer the step into home ownership.  It has to be backed with a good credit history and proof of a permanent minimum income.

Permanent full-time jobs are steadily decreasing in Australia, replaced with contract and casual or part-time work.  There is no such thing as job security anymore, and most workers are pushed to their limits with performance management, long hours, unrealistic work expectations, with under-training and an ultra-competitive work place that is constantly looking for ways to streamline procedures and cut costs.

For manufacturers, tariff reduction and free-trade agreements mean making locally is no longer a competitive option, with labour costs far cheaper in poorer countries with lower living standards and workplace conditions.

If you aren’t part of the lucky generation, or politicians, who receive tax free superannuation benefits for the rest of their life after retirement, the next retirement generation is going to be working until they are too old to do so.  Then living on the aged pension with a mortgage or rent still to pay, and adult children to support both financially and physically with day-care for grand-children.

The CityMag article referred to above, looks at the realities of housing today and a change in the way people are living.  We used to live in multi-generational housing, as many cultures still do, but the last century was an odd bump in the road with the “nuclear family”.  The future of housing has to address a much larger population, mass migration due to climate change or war, and less money moving around in the economy.

I don’t think these forced changes to our way of living have to be a bad thing.  The excesses of the 20th and early 21st century in western societies can move to a more inclusive and community based way of living.  Technology allows us to see how other people live and we can learn a lot by simplifying our lives.  I look forward to seeing what an affordable, adaptable, totally self sustainable home can look like.  By removing the expectations of the past, we can start with a clean slate and ask, what are our needs and what makes a meaningful life?

The Perfect Storm II

The average person might think that a storm strong enough to take out 23 transmission towers and black out a state five times the size of the UK, would spark urgent discussion about climate change.

In part II of this saga, the energy ministers meet together yesterday to address how South Australia could be without power for at least three hours.  According to theage.com.au, Climate change wasn’t mentioned at the meeting.

Worse still, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told the states, renewable energy targets were a bad idea.  There is no Federal policy on renewable energy targets.  Existing national targets to 2020 are 23.5%.  South Australia, under a Labor government, chose to set its own targets and is already producing 40% with a target of 50% by 2025.

Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said yesterday, “With great respect to solar power and wind power, they cannot and will not provide secure base load and that has now been shown in South Australia in a manner that is devastating.” He also stated that as SA sits on 25% of the world’s uranium deposits and the storage of nuclear waste was now safe, that we should look at nuclear power.

Abetz has no respect for renewable energy and for years has been a leader in climate change denial in the Liberal National Coalition government.  SA is currently going through a process of community consultation to create favour for permanent storage of low to high level nuclear waste, which is anything but safe.  Nuclear power in Australia is not economically viable. Environmental business expert, Paul Gilding says, “I would be very happy to hear of a proven way to use nuclear power without radioactive waste, risk of meltdown, or producing materials that were dangerous in the hands of terrorists or rogue states.”

What annoys me most about Mr Abetz and similar attitudes is the playing down of safety issues and disregard of the environment.  No one can clean up a site properly as we have seen with Maralinga, Fukushima and Chernobyl.  The storage facility for the waste has a shorter life span than the waste itself.  More importantly, why permanently bury something in the ground, that can potentially contaminate the Great Artisan Basin, when the technology for recycling spent rods is not that far into the future?

The most obvious course of action is to look at renewable energy sources with zero emissions that are as safe as possible, and then investing to make sure they work, such as battery storage.

I mentioned in the last post that we haven’t yet reached peak stupid in recognising climate change is an urgent issue.  It’s beyond understanding that any action can be undertaken addressing energy supply and transmission while ignoring climate change, in 2016.  I don’t know why we fund science and encourage our children to study it at school when we don’t accept international consensus of scientific opinion.


Footnote:  On Friday 11th November, Adelaide experienced a storm with  hailstones the size of golf balls.  I asked my mother if she remembered hailstones that size ever falling in South Australia in her ninety years and she said no, and it’s the kind of thing you would remember.