Sunday, November 27, 2011





The three Faili Kurd asylum seekers who have had their lips stitched
together since last Monday are continuing their protest and have now
declared a hunger strike.

On Saturday, 26 November, the three told the Immigration department
and the Red Cross that they would now be on hunger strike.

Until Saturday, they had been taking some sweet tea and juice.

At least one other Faili Kurd in the Darwin detention centre has been
on hunger strike for over a week. Two other Faili Kurds in Curtin were
hospitalised last week after self harm incidents.

The Immigration department already offered to move them to another
detention centre if they unstitched their lips, but the protesters
have rejected that as not offering them any solution. Yesterday
(Saturday), the department offered to negotiate their return if they
unstitched their lips but said that the arrangements would take them
at least ten months.

“The offer to return in unbelievable,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson
for the Refugee Action Coalition, “At least one of the Kurds applied
to be returned five months ago, but they were told then that as they
are stateless, the government could not send them anywhere.

“The government knows it is unable to send them anywhere, but is
keeping them in indefinite detention

“An urgent review of all the stateless asylum seeker cases is needed.
It is estimated that there are around 600 stateless asylum seekers
presently in immigration detention. They should be released. We don’t
want any more Peter Kasims,” said Rintoul.

Peter Kasim, was a stateless asylum seeker, that the Howard government
kept in detention for seven years (until 2005), although he applied
for residency to 80 countries.

“The bridging visas announced recently are not about to solve the
problems of long term detention. Three of the Kurds in Darwin have
been in detention between 17 and 21 months already. The Minister has
the power to release them, he should use it.”

For more information contact Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Monday, November 21, 2011


The Help That Michelle Beets Needed

By Jenny Haines

21.11.11, as published in New Matilda.

Changes in health services management meant that Michelle Beets was too involved with the hiring and firing of Walter Marsh, writes former general secretary of the NSW Nurses Association Jenny Haines

Michelle Beets was the Nursing Unit Manager of Emergency Department of Royal North Shore Hospital. On Tuesday 4 May 2010 she was violently and horribly murdered on the doorstep of her Chatswood home by a former employee, Walter Ciarin Marsh. He told his wife — who testified against him in court — that he murdered Beets because she had been instrumental in his employment being terminated at the hospital and because her poor references were preventing him from getting another job.

Marsh was found guilty by a jury last week. He will not like jail. A man who wanted control of his life such that he would kill in such a horrible way, a man who would terrorise his wife and her brother such that they were initially terrified to tell the police what they knew, this man is not going to like jail at all.

Having spent 34 years in the NSW health system, I have seen many changes in the way health services are managed. This have mostly involved the flattening of management structures, and the devolution of senior management tasks and responsibilities down the remaining administrative line to Nursing Unit Managers. These changes open many questions in my mind about the murder of Michelle Beets.

Why was Beets seen by Marsh as the person who was solely responsible for his employment? Why did he see her as the sole person who was blocking him getting future employment?

In times past, these employment tasks were managed by the Human Resources Departments of Area Health Services. The restructuring of health services and management roles means that these employment roles have been devolved to busy Nursing Unit Managers.

I can only imagine how busy and stressful Michelle’s life as a Nursing Unit Manager must have been. There would not have been a lot of spare time to manage all the details of employing new staff, and ending their employment when they left, or were dismissed — all without much needed support from the Human Resources Department. When Beets wanted Walter Marsh dismissed, why wasn’t his case handed over to Human Resources?

When police were finalising evidence against Marsh, reports emerged about problems with his registration as a nurse in the United States. A Nursing Unit Manager can look up a nurse’s registration status in Australia online easily. If there are problems with a nurse’s registration overseas, however, surely that responsibility should remain with the registering authorities? A busy Nursing Unit Manager should not be expected to contact the United States to follow up on the registration status of a job applicant.

If Marsh was a threat to Beets, and she knew it, and she had raised this with the hospital, what had been done by security services at the hospital to protect her? I have heard evidence from Michelle’s close friends that she had expressed concern for her safety. A nursing colleague who attended the interview with Beets in which she advised Marsh of his dismissal told the court that Beets was nervous about how he would take the news — but relieved after the interview was over because he was now out of the hospital.

No one could have anticipated what happened. But for a Nursing Unit Manager carrying such a heavy responsibility on behalf of the Area Health Service to be exposed to such risks, raises real questions about the the allocation of that responsibility.

All sorts of clever ideas have been introduced into the health system over the last 30 years to downsize departments, and to make them more cost efficient. Very rarely it seems, are questions raised about the occupational health and safety implications of these measures.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


SMH, 20.11.11

Tom Hyland.

Susan Douglas's expertise as a doctor and obstetrician is indisputable. As an assistant professor of family medicine and head of Canada's largest obstetrics department, she had no trouble securing a lecturing job at the Australian National University's medical school in 2006.

While she is qualified enough to teach Australia's next generation of doctors, she cannot get full registration to practise medicine here herself. Dr Douglas is one of hundreds of overseas-trained doctors - encouraged by the government to come to Australia to ease critical gaps in the healthcare system - who are stymied from practising medicine when they arrive.

Some foreign doctors give up and leave. Others, such as Pakistan-trained Nasir Mehmood Baig - who arrived in 2005 and has a wife and four children to support - drive taxis while navigating their way towards registration. Those who eventually have their qualifications recognised have to work for 10 years often in remote areas, shunned by domestically trained doctors if they want access to Medicare billing, without which they cannot make a living.

Advertisement: Story continues below Most had no idea of the obstacle course they would face when they answered the call to come to Australia to help plug holes created in the years after the Keating and Howard governments froze enrolments of medical students to contain the Medicare bill.

The registration system is so convoluted that MPs carrying out a federal parliamentary inquiry into ways of making it simpler without cutting standards have been left perplexed. The inquiry's chairman, Labor MP Steve Georganas, says the accreditation and registration process is a ''complex mishmash'' that does not work properly.

It is not as though Australia doesn't need foreign-trained doctors. Almost 40 per cent of Australia's 75,000 doctors trained overseas. About 68 per cent of them work in major cities.

Less than a third work in rural and remote areas but they make up almost half the medical workforce in those areas. In one-doctor towns, often they are the only physician.

Nobody denies the need to carefully check medical qualifications, and all agree a good standard of English is needed. ''Absolutely, they have to be thorough in verifying someone's credentials,'' Dr Douglas said. ''The problem is that the assessment we demand of foreign doctors is far greater than what we demand for our own practitioners.''

Registration processes were tightened, centralised and supposedly streamlined after the ''Dr Death'' scandal in which Queensland authorities failed to check the credentials of Jayant Patel, the surgeon recruited from the US and now serving seven years in jail for manslaughter and grievous bodily harm.

Commonwealth and state governments set up the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency in July last year to replace myriad state and professional boards. But the post-Patel reforms seem to have made things more complicated.

In June, a Senate committee inquiry into the new regulation agency, after hearing complaints of long delays, poor advice and lost paperwork, called on the agency to ''significantly improve its performance''. The same complaints have been made to the committee chaired by Mr Georganas.

The process is one of the most difficult to understand in the world, according to Rural Health Workforce Australia. Martina Stanley, director of a medical recruitment company, says other Western countries have complex and strict systems but ''we have the worst system for co-ordination'', with a reputation for ''causing frustration that makes us look ridiculous''.

Foreign doctors face a spaghetti bowl of red tape, involving multiple agencies. The Australian Medical Council checks and tests their credentials, the medical colleges govern specialists and the Medical Board of Australia registers them so they can practise. The regulation agency handles the paperwork. Gaining registration can entail more than a dozen processes.

Late last year, Queensland MPs from electorates reliant on foreign doctors and alarmed at what they saw as discrimination by regulators and medical colleges, demanded a parliamentary inquiry.

Nationals MP Bruce Scott talked of a system ''that has just gone mad''. Independent MP Bob Katter described the process as a disgrace. ''Without overseas-trained doctors, regional Australia could not function,'' he said.

In response, the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, asked the House of Representatives committee on health and ageing to hold an inquiry. It will report early next year after receiving close to 200 submissions and holding 20 public hearings. It heard persistent complaints from doctors forced to do onerous language tests; of accrediting agencies not sharing information; of a lack of transparency; of shifting rules; and of a perception that the medical establishment is a closed shop protecting vested interests.

''It's clear the system is not working properly,'' Mr Georganas told The Sun-Herald. ''I don't think what we're talking about is discrimination but I think it's this stupid bureaucracy that has grown out of each different college and the Australian Medical Council. Every step of the way there's a separate bureaucracy. None of them talk to each other.''

He highlighted the case of Dr Douglas, now vice-president of the Australian Overseas Trained Doctors Association, who told the inquiry of a Kafkaesque ordeal with a ''dysfunctional, difficult and irrational bureaucracy''.

The Canadian is a native English speaker but to practise here she had to provide written proof of her language proficiency from her high school which closed decades ago.

She was forced to do the costly medical council accreditation process twice in two years and was confounded by more than one catch-22.

She had to obtain a fellowship with the college of general practitioners before she could register as a GP - but she could not get a fellowship until she was registered.

As processes dragged on, Dr Douglas said she ''fell into a state of deep depression''.

''It isn't that any one event in itself is particularly shocking,'' she wrote to the committee, ''it is the fact that the problems never seem to end and just go on and on, to the point where you literally feel like you are losing your mind.''

Australia's dependence on foreign doctors is self-made. The decision by first Labor and then Liberal federal governments in the 1990s to freeze local medical school enrolments was made amid predictions of an oversupply of doctors. But the freeze did not account for a growing population and the reluctance of Australian doctors to work in the bush. So doctors were recruited from overseas.

There was a catch. The Howard government barred doctors who entered the country after 1997 from billing under Medicare for 10 years unless they worked in areas of need, often in rural towns.

At the heart of the system are the Australian Medical Council and the Medical Board of Australia. Both are unapologetic, defending the need for strict standards to protect patient welfare.

The council's chief executive, Ian Frank, concedes the process can be complex, creating stress and frustration for doctors involved.

''Nevertheless,'' he told the committee, ''the assessment and registration of medical practitioners is a high-stakes process where individual failures, as evidenced by the Patel case in Queensland, can be very costly for the Australian community and lead to a loss of confidence in the regulatory processes … not to mention adverse clinical outcomes for individual patients.''

The chairwoman of the medical board, Joanna Flynn, said the process had to be stringent to ensure only qualified people were registered. She insisted the complaints did not reveal a systematic failure by the board and associated bodies.

''We try to make a good judgment call between the need to provide medical services to the community and the need to ensure that everybody is appropriately qualified,'' she said. ''I believe that most of the time we get that right.'' But Dr Flynn said more effort could be made in explaining the process. The board and the medical council were looking at ways of reducing duplication, possibly with an online repository of documents so doctors do not have to provide separate certificates to different agencies.

A central grievance of foreign doctors is the Medicare rule and their complaint is backed by major professional bodies. Former Australian Medical Association president Andrew Pesce said lifting the 10-year moratorium was the best way of supporting foreign doctors. He said the rule raised significant human rights issues, while allowing governments to avoid their responsibility to train enough local doctors and provide incentives for them to work in regional areas.

The system meant foreign doctors were conscripted to work in the bush, Dr Pesce said. Given the lack of support and the nature of rural practice, there ''could not have been a worse place'' to send doctors unfamiliar with Australia.

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia says overseas-trained doctors have prevented a catastrophic collapse in the medical workforce in rural and remote areas but it too wants the ''unconscionable'' 10-year moratorium phased out.

Ms Roxon said she did not want to pre-empt the inquiry's findings. In a written response to questions from The Sun-Herald, she appeared to rule out lifting the 10-year rule.

Overseas-trained doctors had ''proven to be a very effective way of improving workforce shortages in the areas of greatest need, which tend to be located in rural and regional Australia, and the government has no current plans to change this'', she said

Read more:

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Well done Ian Rintoul and Shane Prince!!

Kirsty Needham, SMH


THE federal government's plan to deport an Afghan asylum seeker by force for the first time has been stopped by the courts.

Afghan Hazara man Ismail Mirza Jan, 27, wept in the Sydney Federal Magistrates Court yesterday as a temporary injunction blocked his forced removal from Australia to Kabul.

The injunction, in place until a full court hearing, is the latest in a series of judicial curbs on the Gillard government's refugee policies. The High Court injuncted the removal of asylum seekers from Christmas Island to Malaysia on the eve of the first transfer, and later permanently blocked the Malaysia refugee swap.

Advertisement: Story continues below About two-thirds of rejected refugee claims from boat arrivals are being overturned in the Federal Magistrates Court because of a lack of procedural fairness.

''Federal Magistrate [Shenagh] Barnes granted our client an injunction, stopping our client departing tomorrow on the basis our client has an arguable case that he was denied natural justice in relation to a decision that it was reasonably practicable to remove him to Afghanistan,'' his lawyer George Newhouse said.

''It is a sound decision based on a universal principle of law which protects all Australians and those who come within our borders. Our client … is still living with the uncertainty that he may be removed in the future.''

A directions hearing for Mr Jan's case is set down for next month. A refugee activist, Ian Rintoul, said it was likely the case would not be heard until next year. It is believed that travel documents issued by the Afghan government will expire at the end of January.

Mr Jan fled Afghanistan a decade ago as a teenager and his family now live in Pakistan. He fears for his safety if returned to Afghanistan.

He arrived in Australia by plane in 2010, having spent years moving between European countries. His claim for refugee status was rejected by the Refugee Review Tribunal.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said: ''It's a fundamental part of our immigration system that if people are found not to be genuine refugees that they should be removed.

''People are only removed where their refugee claim has failed at multiple levels of assessment. This government is committed to a proper and robust assessment of asylum claims as a signatory to the Refugee Convention.''

The Afghanistan expert William Maley and Amnesty International have cautioned against deporting anyone to Afghanistan as the security situation in Kabul deteriorated.

A second legal front was opened in the Federal Court yesterday. The barrister Shane Prince commenced legal action seeking time to appeal an earlier court decision which had upheld the rejection of Mr Jan's refugee claim.

Although the Afghan government has issued travel documents, it has publicly indicated it is unhappy at the forced return of its nationals under a controversial agreement struck with the federal government.

As war against the Taliban continues, Afghans continue to be the largest group of asylum seekers worldwide, with the number of Afghans applying for refugee status leaping 20 per cent in the first half of this year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Asylum claims reached their highest level since 2002 in the most recent quarter measured by the UNHCR.

The Immigration Department had planned to take Mr Jan from the Villawood detention centre today and escort him by plane to Kabul, charging him $32,000 for his removal.

Read more:

Sunday, November 13, 2011



I hear the government and employers are backing away from a lockout of Victorian nurses because they have received legal advice that they would be liable for any adverse events during a lockout. But this is going to be a tough dispute and should be followed closely. Hopefully the health unions nationally are ready for this. The loss of the ratios in Victoria would set a benchmark for nurses nationally. We should be prepared to defend the ratios in Victoria by national action.

Jenny Haines

The Age

Kate Hagan, 12.11.11

ON THE job over the past couple of days, thousands of Victorian nurses have worn T-shirts emblazoned with the words ''respect our work''. It is the bottom line for many in their latest round of negotiations with the government over the enterprise agreement that governs their pay and conditions.

About 30,000 nurses are seeking an 18.5 per cent pay rise over the next three years and eight months. The Baillieu government is offering them 2.5 per cent. Any further pay rise, the government has said, will need to be offset by productivity gains.

Victoria's nurses are among the lowest paid in the country. But what they do have on their side are mandated nurse-patient ratios that ensure minimum staffing levels for different categories of patients. For a general surgical ward at a major metropolitan hospital, one nurse is rostered for every four patients during the day and one for every eight at night. Fewer nurses are rostered on for the same ward in a country hospital. And there are variations between wards - more nurses are needed for intensive care patients, and fewer for those undergoing rehabilitation after a spinal or brain injury.

Advertisement: Story continues below Nurses like ratios because they give some protection against overwhelming workloads. Several NSW nurses quit Albury hospital to work for less at Wodonga after Victoria introduced them in 2000 following a landmark decision in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Other states have since adopted models that provide a minimum level of nursing care for patients, depending on their needs. But the government says those models are more flexible - and that only in Victoria are there fixed ratios that must be applied every minute of every day regardless of how busy a ward is, or how sick its patients.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister David Davis says the government supports ratios but wants ''local flexibility for staff allocations that provide more nurses at the busiest times and fewer nurses during quieter times''.

The state secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, Lisa Fitzpatrick, counters that there is already ''extraordinary flexibility'' in ratios, and that nurses are busier than ever. She says ratios are the reason that Victoria, unlike other states, does not have a nursing shortage. In other states, shortages have been used to make a case for lesser-trained health assistants. Both measures - more flexible ratios and the introduction of health assistants - are at the heart of ''productivity improvements'' proposed by the state government as part of its EBA negotiations with nurses. A leaked cabinet document this week revealed that the proposals, which are opposed by nurses, could save $104 million.

Austin Hospital chief executive Brendan Murphy argues that employing health assistants to perform personal care tasks such as feeding and bathing patients is common sense. His hospital has recently completed a two-year trial in which 30 health assistants were employed to work on acute wards, under the supervision of registered nurses. He says the feedback from nurses and patients has been overwhelmingly positive, and that assistants have been employed at the hospital permanently. ''What we're trying to do is supplement the nursing workforce where appropriate and use people to the best of their skills. We shouldn't be wasting our incredibly precious and well-trained nurses doing basic tasks.''

The model has been evaluated by consultants, in a report being considered by the government. That rings alarm bells for Fitzpatrick, who is adamant that health assistants - who have about 80 hours' clinical experience compared with the 1000 hours of a registered nurse - have no place on an acute ward. She recalls one nurse telling her about a health assistant who was having difficulty understanding that a patient listed as ''not for resuscitation'' wanted only pain relief and to die in peace. ''Many nurses would deal with that every day of their working life. But this health assistant couldn't accept that … The nurse had to spend three hours with her over the next few shifts trying to talk her through it.''

Fitzpatrick says ratios providing for a minimum number of registered nurses are vital for safeguarding patient care. She says hospital chief executives hate ratios because they lock up a portion of their budgets. ''Our [staffing] budget can't get hived off to pay for a new MRI [machine].''

A decade ago, ratios were crucial in bringing nurses back to Victoria's public health system after thousands of them were made redundant under the Kennett government. Now they have got ratios, nurses are determined to hold on to them. With patients becoming sicker as the population ages - perhaps with diabetes or a chronic lung disease in addition to the fractured hip that has brought them to hospital - nurses are pushing for the ratios to be improved. But every three years when their enterprise agreement comes up for renegotiation, they find themselves fighting simply to maintain the status quo.

Neurosurgical nurse Rachael Duncan tells, in Suzanne Gordon's book Nursing against the Odds, of routinely caring for 10 patients - four of them in a high-dependency area - at the Austin Hospital before ratios were introduced.

''You left work feeling like a wet rag. There was a very poor skill mix on the floor. A lot of casual nurses were making up the numbers. Nursing is always hard work, but you never got ahead, you were always chasing everything. You never felt like you'd done your job [and] everyone was stressed,'' she said.

Returning to work after maternity leave, following the introduction of ratios, Duncan said she would leave for the day feeling she had done her job well. In one instance she had to drop everything to stabilise a patient who had developed a life-threatening blood clot in the lung and rush him to intensive care. She returned two hours later to find her colleagues had given her other patients their medications, taken their vital signs and changed their dressings - something she says never happened before ratios.

Louise Gates, 26, did not work in the hospital system before ratios - but even with them, she found the workload high, the responsibility immense. After three years at university to qualify as a division one nurse, she left the profession after just 18 months. She says many of her friends did the same.

''For me, there wasn't enough incentive to stay in nursing. I didn't feel valued enough, and I didn't think the remuneration was adequate for the responsibilities nurses have,'' she says. ''You get home from a shift absolutely exhausted, and then you're on the very next morning, waking up at 5am.''

That said, there was much in the job that she enjoyed. ''There's great parts about nursing: you form such great friendships and have a sense of purpose. I definitely miss the daily interaction with patients, and the medical side of things.''

Not everyone is convinced that ratios are the answer. Monash University researcher Virginia Plummer, while agreeing that they have restored control to nurses and brought them back into the Victorian system, says that as patient care becomes more complex, a far more sophisticated approach is needed. She believes that computer systems that crunch data on peaks and troughs in clinical workloads (based on patient numbers and complexity), and roster nurses across a hospital accordingly, can save money, improve patient care and result in fairer workloads. But, for now, she says, in Victoria, ratios are ''absolutely entrenched''.

Plummer says Victoria was in ''dire straits'' in 2000 when nurses left the system in droves because they could not bear to see the quality of nursing deteriorate. The introduction of mandated ratios was so successful, she says, that nurses will reject anything that threatens that system. ''It made them come back… and it made them trust their workplace. We hope that in time other systems will be accepted. But it's not the right time. The memories are still there.''

Read more:

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


Asylum seeker Scrabble

Kerry Murphy.

November 07, 2011

Eureka Street

Last week there were three significant events affecting refugees including, tragically, more deaths.

Yet another detainee killed himself after a prolonged period in detention and while awaiting a security check. It has never been satisfactorily explained why these checks take so long. For more than 15 years, mental health professionals have been stating that prolonged detention can cause serious damage to a person's mental health. Yet the mandatory detention policy remains.

The second event was the passing of the Deterring People Smuggling Bill. The law ensures that a person convicted under people smuggling offences introduced in 1999 will not be able to claim that they did not commit an offence if the people they transported were later found to be refugees. The law was introduced into Parliament and passed within a day to defeat ongoing court proceedings.

Then there were more deaths at sea when another unseaworthy boat sank. The tragedy refuelled the debate about whether a Nauru or a Malaysia based 'solution' would more effectively 'stop the boats'.

The Government and Opposition will tighten the system when challenged, but refuse to accept that the flawed system of mandatory detention is in need of major reform.

The use of language in the debate is always striking. It has evolved and adapted over the years.

Previously, governments spoke of 'border protection' as a reason for mandatory detention and methods of deterring applicants who arrive by boat. Now the tactic is to speak about 'preventing deaths at sea'. However, the politics is still driven by a philosophy of border control. The human rights of asylum seekers and international obligations are secondary considerations.

In 2001 we had the 'Pacific Solution', which was a misnomer: it was not 'pacific', and warehoused refugees rather than providing a solution. We saw, too, the creation of 'excision', whereby islands formerly considered to be part of Australia were no longer so for the purposes of Migration Law.

The prize for legalese must go to 'offshore entry person', which is defined as a 'person who arrives at an excised place after the excision time and becomes an unlawful non-citizen'. Everyone who has arrived at Christmas Island since late September 2001 has been designated as such.
We now have 'offshore processing'. This, too, is a misnomer, when it is used for people held in Christmas Island or in detention in Australia itself — which is definitely 'onshore'.

The term 'offshore processing' was used in an attempt to pretend such cases were not subject to the same judicial scrutiny as 'onshore' cases. This fiction was destroyed in November 2010 when the High Court handed down its judgment in M61 & M69. All of the 'offshore processing' of 'offshore entry persons' was subject to judicial oversight, in a similar manner to onshore cases.

Then, in August 2011 the High Court scuttled the misnamed 'Malaysian solution'. Again, it was not a solution, but a system of refugee 'warehousing'. No 'processing' of cases by Australia is involved at all, so again it is wrong for this to be called 'offshore processing'.
Since this decision and the political impasse over Nauru or Malaysia, we now have the 'Australian solution' — the processing of applications in Australia.

Sometimes language is used to demonise refugees, such as the term 'queue jumper' which persists despite the fact there are no queues (acceptance into Australia's offshore system is more like a lucky dip). In other instances, the language has adapted to avoid pejorative or inaccurate terms; for example, the term 'illegals' is less common now (it is not an offence to arrive without a visa).

Whatever the language used, it does not change the fact that the arrival of small numbers of people claiming asylum from some of the most dangerous countries on the planet continues to prompt both major parties to turn community fear to political advantage, rather than acknowledge our duty as a global citizen to contribute to refugee resettlement without moving our responsibilities offshore.

Meanwhile, people will continue to be damaged by this flawed system.

Kerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, teaches at ANU and was recognised by AFR best lawyers survey as one of Australia's top immigration lawyers.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


SMH, 6.11.11

David Sygall.

FOR Les Murray's parents, there was no queue to jump, immigration officer to plead with or process to follow. Nor was there a destination, other than to flee Hungary, where Soviet soldiers were crushing the 1956 uprising, in which his father had played a small but dangerous part.

Murray's parents, and the go-betweens who helped them cross the Austria-Hungary border one icy winter's night, risked everything to give their boys freedom. They succeeded.

It is why the demonisation of so-called people smugglers today prompts mixed feelings in the veteran broadcaster. He does not defend traders in misery. But he knows well that to escape persecution, smugglers are essential. Murray's smuggler, who he remembered only as Julius, remains his hero. In August, after 55 years, Murray sought to find him.

''When people discuss people smugglers, they often group together those who conduct the slave trade with those who legitimately help refugees,'' says Murray, born Laszlo ܨrge. ''One is despicable. The other has its dark side, too. But the point is, in order to successfully negotiate an escape through many dangers, you need help.''

About 200,000 people escaped Hungary in two months in 1956. Some smugglers expected payment. Others didn't. Murray's family was poor and perhaps offered some old jewellery. He remembers Julius as warm, caring and sympathetic. ''He held mine and my brother's hands across the border,'' he says. ''Then he kissed us all, turned around and disappeared. He told us which way to walk to an Austrian village and we were free. My people smuggler was always my hero.''

There was a haunting footnote. Another family, the Kereszteses, had conspired with the Murrays to escape, but their dash came unstuck. Imprinted on 11-year-old Murray's brain ever since is the image of two machinegun-carrying Soviet soldiers ushering them back. Until this year, Murray knew nothing of their fate. ''My parents had made inquiries but we got no information,'' he says.

When Murray went back to Hungary in August, he learnt that the parents of the Kereszteses had died. But, remarkably, he found Andor, the then four-year-old son. ''He told us the security police had interrogated his father, beat the crap out of him, then let him go,'' Murray says. ''That's what would have happened to my father if he'd been caught.''

Julius, Murray's smuggler hero, died in 2005. But he found his son, also Julius, and grandson, Balazs, who had known nothing of Julius's deeds. ''The reaction was immense pride and emotion. Finally I could thank Julius, thank him through his son and grandson,'' Murray says.

Read more:


SMH, 6.11.11.

Paul Bibby Courts

A PSYCHIATRIC patient who believed chiropractors could bring dead people back to life was not properly diagnosed or treated in the months before he fatally stabbed a nurse manager at a country hospital, a court has heard.

Matthew Peter Loughrey was a voluntary patient suffering from acute schizophrenia at Bloomfield Hospital in January when he walked into a ward and attacked 20-year-old junior nurse Stephanie Pritchard with a knife.

When Ms Pritchard's manager, Bob Fenwick, 63, intervened, Loughrey stabbed him several times in the chest and the arm, causing fatal injuries.

Advertisement: Story continues below Mr Loughrey, 33, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder on the grounds of mental illness.

Yesterday, the NSW Supreme Court heard that Mr Loughrey had not been given a firm diagnosis while at Bloomfield, was placed on a low dose of anti-psychotic medication and placed in a low-supervision cottage.

''He was left to manage as best he could with the low level of supervision that this cottage provided,'' Justice Elizabeth Fullerton said.

''It does appear from the collective view of the psychiatrists [who assessed Mr Loughrey after the stabbing] that the accused wasn't properly or adequately diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia and his manifest behaviour on the day is explained by that confluence of factors.''

The trial, being heard by Justice Fullerton without a jury due to Mr Loughrey's mental state, heard that his behaviour had been increasingly disruptive before the attack.

He had attributed this to the reduced dose of medication he had been given. He was reportedly angry and unhappy at the level of treatment he was getting at Bloomfield.

Earlier, the court heard that he believed that his victim could be brought back to life by the local chiropractor, whom he thought was a witch doctor.

He was reported to have told police: ''I believe in chiropractors … I think they're witch doctors.''

''He believed people who he hurt wouldn't suffer, that they could be revived and not suffer any nasty injuries,'' Justice Fullerton said.

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Saturday, November 05, 2011



Dear refugee supporter,

The government has been forced into a temporary suspension of offshore processing, but the situation of refugees in Australia is as desperate as ever. Last week's suicide of a Tamil asylum-seeker in Villawood – the sixth in detention since September 2010 – has highlighted the chilling human cost of the government's commitment to detention, a commitment that shows no signs of relenting. The harrowing recent 'Four Corners' expose of conditions in the detention network adds to the urgency with which we must demand change. In addition, this week's tragic drowning of eight asylum seekers off Indonesia has reignited calls from both sides of politics for offshore processing. The Malaysia option has been abandoned for now, but not forgotten. Both sides of politics have indicated that they will legislate to allow some form of offshore processing at the earliest political opportunity. (For more information on all these facts, see the press releases on the RAC website,

The ALP National Conference to be held at Darling Harbour in December provides an ideal opportunity to publicly call on the government to change its cruel and unnecessary policies. The Refugee Action Coalition is organizing a large demonstration outside the conference on December 4, already endorsed by ChilOut, Labor for Refugees, and several unions.

Please put this date in your diaries and join us to show the government and the ALP the support that exists for giving Australia the humane refugee policy that it, and refugees, have needed for so long.

Please circulate this message to friends and families, RSVP on Facebook, and download the rally poster and leaflet from the 'Resources' section of our website,

Nick Riemer (for RAC)

12pm Sunday December 4
Meet Sydney Town hall to march to the ALP conference at Darling harbour
End mandatory detention— Refugees are welcome
Not in Malaysia, not in Nauru— No offshore processing
Initial endorsements: Chilout, Refugee Action Coalition, Labor for Refugees (NSW), National Tertiary Education Union (NSW), Australian Services Union (NSW & ACT (Services))