Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The 3 men in Pontville -the Tasmanian detention centre- have now been on hunger strike for 11 days. These men's cases were reviewed in the Courts and sent back to be reviewed a third time. They have been refused on the grounds that they are not refugees and would not face persecution in Afghanistan. Their life histories are stories of violence and loss, of family members shot and killed, of bombs going off with only half the family surviving, of being arrested for resisting Taliban attempts to steal property, of constant harrassment and fear of being killed and kidnapped. All documented and discarded as not worth worrying about.

They have been locked up now for two years first on Christmas Island, then Scherger, North Qld and now Pontville Tasmania.

Our refugee determination process has degenerated into a farce where reviewers read the minds of the minister and review accordingly.

Meanwhile three men lie on their beds in the Pontville huts and lose the will to survive.

Pamela Curr

Campaign Coordinator

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

12 Batman st West Melbourne 3003

ph 03 9326 6066 / 0417517075


Sunday, January 29, 2012





Around 40 refugee supporters of the Refugee Rights Action Network

(RRAN) travelling to Leonora this weekend have been shocked to

discover children who have been in detention for over a year when they

visited the remote Western Australian detention centre.

Around 140 unaccompanied minors have been moved in recent weeks from

Christmas Island and Darwin to the detention centre. The RRAN

activists have called for the immediate release of the children from


“We were told that children and families were going to be out of

detention by the end of June last year, but Leonora is proof positive

that even six months later, the government has not lived up to the

promise of getting children out of detention. It’s a scandal, “ said

RRAN spokesperson Victoria Martin-Iverson.

“These kids are not recent arrivals. A majority of the 40 kids we

managed to see have been in detention over a year. Yet, they are

either still waiting for their second interview or have just had their

appeal hearing. One seventeen year-old Hazara asylum seeker has been

in detention for two years and only had his second interview this

week! How is that possible?

“We were shocked to find that Serco guards referred to them by number.

How dehumanising is that? One guard came is asking ‘Is 176 in here?”

Another introduced a young Mohammed as, “Here is 428; he speaks good

English.” Perhaps more shocking - some of these kids have signs of

self harm on their bodies.

“We have serious concerns. They are not going to school; teachers are

meant to be coming into the detention centre – but even that hasn’t

happened yet, six weeks after they have arrived here.”

“We eat, we sleep; we eat, we sleep. We are very tired,” one Hazara

told the Perth visitors.

“We were told in town that the no asylum kid has been to the library

since the families were moved out of Leonora,” said Victoria.

“We are also concerned that there seems to be a large number of

untrained MSS guards at Leonora, and that we saw them with direct

client contact responsibilities with the children in detention. We

thought that having untrained guards in such contact is in direct

conflict with guidelines for children in detention. There is a serious

question whether Serco or the Immigration Department is breaching its

duty of care by using untrained guards.”

The RRAN cavalcade will be leaving Leonora around Sunday lunchtime (29

Jan) to make the return journey to Perth.

For more information/ interview contact Victoria Martin-Iverson 0417 904 329

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


David Marr, SMH.

People will die. They died the last time the navy forced boats back to Indonesia and they will die the next. They have always died.

That's why the navy hates these operations and that loathing is deep in the DNA of the service. It goes back to the violent blockade carried out by the Royal Navy before and after the Second World War to prevent Jews reaching Palestine. Jews were trapped in Europe. Jews and sailors died at sea. The film is called Exodus.

After Tampa, Canberra ordered the navy to force back every boat to Indonesia. The admirals resisted. They told John Howard's people most of the boats were so unseaworthy they could barely make the outward journey let alone limp home again.

Advertisement: Story continues below They reminded these civilian bureaucrats of the long history of desperate people compelling rescue by sabotaging their boats. They tried to explain the moral and legal obligation of every sailor to rescue those in peril on the sea - even in wartime. Howard was adamant: push back every boat you can, with rescue only as the last resort.

Boats were boarded by Australian sailors in violent altercations. Shots were fired across bows. Engines were sabotaged by asylum seekers. Hulls holed. Boats set on fire.

The fourth boat post Tampa slowly sank in front of HMAS Adelaide with Canberra ordering no rescue of the 223 men women and children on board unless and until they were in danger of drowning. Australian sailors eventually carried out a heroic, successful and entirely unnecessary rescue from the sea.

"If the Manly ferry was sinking out in Sydney Harbour, none of those people would have gotten wet," Bec Lynd, an able seaman on the Adelaide that day, told ABC TV's Q&A last year. "We would have been there in a flash."

That rescue changed her mind about the boats. She thought the navy was out there stopping terrorists but found herself giving first aid to women and their children. "We sort of felt like we were used as a bit of a political tool," she said. "To be put in harm's way and to put other people in harm's way when it isn't necessarily - it's not a nice position to be put in."

The death count began with the seventh boat. At least three on board died when it was successfully forced back to Roti Island off the coast of Bali. Survivors told Four Corners they were beaten with batons and sprayed in the eyes by Australian military personnel.

The 10th boat caught erupted in flames, endangering an Australian boarding party and leading to another heroic mass rescue in which two Afghan women drowned, several children survived by a miracle and Australian personnel were deeply traumatised.

By Christmas 2001, four boats carrying more than 600 people had been forced to return to Indonesia. Then the boats stopped. The strategy had proved highly effective. When a few boats reappeared in 2008, the navy kept going through the routine of asking them to sail away. They never did and weren't forced to.

But in April 2009 desperately foolish men on a boat stopped at Ashmore Reef took the sailors seriously and blew up the vessel, killing five Afghans and hideously burning dozens of others.

Asylum seekers shouldn't do this but they do. It's a fact of history. Desperate people take terrible risks. Tony Abbott knows that when he says he will turn every possible boat back to Indonesia. It certainly works. But do we think it's worth it?

Thursday, January 19, 2012



The Editor,


Dear Sir/Madam,

John Menadue writes that opponents of the Malaysia Deal need to think again. Why? What has changed in Malaysia recently in respect of it human rights record that would give anyone any hope that refugees and asylum seekers sent from Australia to Malaysia would be treated any better in the future under this Deal than they have been in the past? There are many reports of refugees being stopped in the street and asked for papers by the Malaysian Police, who may beat the refugee even if the papers are in order. No one believes the assurances of the Malaysian leadership that human rights abuses will not happen to the 800 refugees returned to Malaysia under the arrangements of the Deal. You would have to be very naive!

Malaysia is a very troubled country. It’s Opposition Leader has just faced another cooked up trial for sodomy. The Herald reported on Wednesday 18th January 2012 on the appalling treatment of Cambodian maids by Malaysian families. Malaysian as a society and as a political system has a long way to go in developing respect for the human rights of those who do not fit the dominant paradigm.

There does need to be more regional processing of refugees, as they move forward towards Australia. Why we can’t get governments sorting out how this can happen seems very odd. But perhaps they don’t want to be seen to be being humane. Not popular with the voters in the marginal seats and the focus group participants they are trying to please.

Jenny Haines

Newtown. Sydney.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Capitalism: we can rebuild it Nigel Farndale

January 18, 2012

It is battered and bruised and remains the worst type of economic system - except for all the others.

SHORTLY after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, political economist Francis Fukuyama declared that we had reached the end of history. Communism had failed. Liberal democracy, and the capitalism that underpinned it, had triumphed. There were no more arguments to be had on the subject of how man should best govern himself.

The only trouble was, history carried on going, first throwing the world into convulsion on 9/11 and then, with the financial meltdown of 2008-09, pulling the ideological rug from under all those triumphant liberal democracies. We were used to a ''natural'' cycle of boom and bust and some even welcomed its ''creative destruction'', because it meant the weak companies went under while the strong survived, but this bust was something different and more profound. It seemed to be a bust of capitalism itself.

After all, when taxpayers have to bail out banks because they are ''too big to fail'', that surely is a contradiction of capitalism - the survival-of-the-fittest part, anyway. Bailouts amount to nationalisation, the opposite not only of privatisation but also the laissez-faire economics that we were supposed to believe in. This seemed to have more in common with socialism, or even the planned economies of communism. Perhaps it was not the end of history, then, but the end of capitalism - at least capitalism as we know it.

Advertisement: Story continues below A number of books have been written on this, usually with apocalyptic titles featuring the words ''death'', ''end'' and ''nightmare''. But as I sifted through them, trying to penetrate the fog of economic jargon, I started to wonder: do these doom-mongers have any better ideas? If capitalism really is failing, is there a viable alternative?

Perhaps we need to look to heterodox economics: schools of thought outside the mainstream. One idea that has traction in France is the decroissance, or decrease movement. This group wants to decrease economic growth, which it believes is damaging the planet. Not only must it stop, it must be reversed. The usual eco-handwringing, you might think. But in a way, it is at the heart of the great macro-economic debate of our age: should our main concern be unemployment or inflation? Austerity or growth? Do you reduce the size of the state or increase it?

For the decroissance movement, gross domestic product is an inadequate yardstick for economic performance, not least because it doesn't measure the degradation of the environment as lost wealth - and it doesn't distinguish between productive economic activity and the creation of jobs for jobs' sake. In contradiction of John Maynard Keynes, the guru of interventionism, decroissance favours ''real'' economic growth over the ''make-work'' it associates with stimulus programs, such as the $US787 million one Barack Obama introduced in 2009.

I ask George Magnus, the senior economic adviser to UBS, what he makes of this. ''It chimes with ideas that have been around for a while,'' he says. ''Such as the need for a happiness index, or an economic and social wellbeing index, instead of vanilla GDP.

''But if decroissance means we have got past the point where economic growth matters, well I dispute that. It's not a natural state of affairs; people will always want to become better off. And in Western countries, where populations are due to rise, we are going to need growth. The idea we can get on without it is naive.''

Another idea doing the rounds is that old-style capitalism is failing because we don't understand how human psychology drives the economy. This takes various forms and offers various solutions, such as a theory that if more women were running banks and major companies there would be more stability, because there would be less testosterone involved and so less risk.

Before we ask if there are any alternatives to capitalism, we ought to say what it is. Karl Marx more or less invented the term in the 19th century to describe something that had existed since the end of feudalism. Capital for him was all about the private ownership of the means of production. And exploitation, of course, what with all those hardened mill owners and their grim, smoke-spewing factories.

But capitalism has come a long way. Speaking in its defence recently, former Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo asked: ''Is there any other system that could lift so many people out of poverty and create societies rich enough to provide welfare, health and education services?'' When you put it like that, the anti-capitalists look like Monty Python's People's Front of Judea: ''Apart from those capitalists who made us rich and provided welfare, health and education, what have the capitalists ever done for us?''

Marx decreed that capitalism carried the seeds of its own destruction. But as philosopher Karl Popper argued, the communism that Marx thought would replace it was even more doomed to failure - because it required the arrival of a ''New Man'', one who would embody freedom. And this New Man would be the end that justified the means, which, in the case of Stalinist and Maoist communism, meant not only denying freedom but committing genocide on a scale that would have made even Hitler gasp.

But if capitalism's supposed nemesis failed, were there any worthwhile ideas that could be rescued from its ashes? Well, one post-communist movement is called participatory economics. Parecon, as it is known, has four elements: solidarity, self-management, diversity and equity. Solidarity means encouraging people to work for the benefit of others as well as themselves. Self-management means that everyone has a say in decisions that affect them. Diversity means giving people more options for how they work and what they consume. And equity is about fairness and equality - nobody should have substantially more wealth or power than anyone else.

See what they did there? It all sounded reasonable, right up until equity, which is back-to-basics communism.

But the other three perhaps amount to a new, more responsible capitalism, and this idea is very much in the air. British Prime Minister David Cameron's Big Society is, after all, barking up the same tree. I ask Paul Ormerod, author of The Death of Economics, where he stands on this. ''The capitalism we have today is not the same as capitalism in 1910,'' he says. ''Then there wasn't the same idea of a welfare state or state intervention, except for defence. The great strength of capitalism is that it is not static, it's dynamic. It evolves.''

Perhaps, I say, its real problem is its name - it needs rebranding. And perhaps there is something that can be borrowed from Marxism here, the coming of a New Man? ''Yes, I do think there needs to be a shift in attitude and a change in values,'' says Ormerod. ''Something like the Big Society or one-nation conservatism. If you are wealthy you ought to give something back through a sense of noblesse oblige. You have an obligation to the rest of society.''

This chimes with the rather Victorian views of Margaret Thatcher. She believed that people would have a more heightened sense of responsibility the wealthier they became.

Ormerod again: ''It's not a matter of pulling levers but more of values needing to change. It's like these directors of companies awarding themselves raises when their companies haven't been performing well. Their behaviour is damaging to capitalism.''

Ormerod believes this is not an economic problem so much as a cultural one. ''How do you alter culture? You have to send cultural signals. So governments shouldn't give knighthoods and invitations to Buckingham Palace garden parties to bankers who have ruined the economy through their greed.''

Adam Fergusson's book When Money Dies: the Nightmare of the Weimar Hyperinflation has become a modern classic. I ask for Fergusson's take. ''I don't think there are any serious alternatives to capitalism,'' he says, ''not if we hope for growth and recovery, because capitalism represents the competition and enterprise that produce these things. The events of the past three or four years will have taught those who practise capitalism some big lessons.''

A shortage of money is not the problem. The problem is that the money is in the wrong place. It's in China, where people, for reasons that seem enigmatic to us, like to - say it in a whisper - save. What we are witnessing, then, is the ''creative destruction'' of the heavily indebted Western economies by the emerging economies of the East. Darwinism at its purest. And a very capitalist idea. What, after all, is capitalism about if not competition and survival of the fittest?

Capitalism, like the poor, will always be with us, because trade is how society operates. Trade is the human condition. As philosopher Michel Onfray has said: ''Is this the end of capitalism? Absolutely not. Capitalism has been through antiquity, feudalism, the industrial era. It has worn the guise of fascism and now it's wedding itself to the ecology cause. After this latest event, it will take on a new form. It is indestructible and works like the Hydra of Lerne, cut off one head and another grows in its place.''

How might it adapt? Well, Bill Gates has spoken of ''creative capitalism'', an idea to change capitalism to work more in favour of ''the people''. But actually it's the very lack of overall direction that is capitalism's genius. Who could have predicted that we might look to the BMW factories of Germany for a new model of capitalism?

There they are attempting to reuse all the materials that go to make up a car. And what are we to make of the success of employee-owned companies such as British retailer John Lewis? Isn't that a rather fresh capitalist take on the old communist idea that workers should employ capital rather than the other way around?

It is time to mention the elephant in the room, China. Perhaps the alternative to capitalism is already here or, rather, there. Perhaps their version of capitalism is working at the moment because China is a totalitarian state, not despite it being one. Ormerod again: ''It was only when China moved towards a type of capitalism that it started becoming wealthy. But can its one-party state evolve into something sustainable? Will it allow dissidents, which is what capitalism needs to evolve? Without differing ideas, their version of capitalism will die.''

So where does that leave us? Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried. He could have said the same of capitalism.


Nigel Farndale is a Sunday Telegraph columnist and author of five books.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/capitalism-we-can-rebuild-it-20120117-1q4k4.html#ixzz1jlB7GuLO

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Today a man lies in the dirt curled up and clutching the the wire fence at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA). He was there all last night in the cold. He is not eating or drinking. One of the teenage boys put a blanket on him last night. A guards stands watch as he is on PSP- I cant keep up with the acronyms- it used to be called SASH watch (Suicide and Self -Harm) The man said - " I am animal - they treat me like animal so I am animal." He has been recognised and accepted as a refugee, five months ago. He is waiting for the SECURITY CHECK or that is what he is told. It is hard to know where the decisions sit after they are made. Whose desk drawer holds these decisions while people rot and go mad in detention. Recently his father died in his home country. perhaps this is what has tipped him over the edge. Yesterday he was visited once again by his DIAC case manager who told him yet again that he has no information and that he must be "patient". So 24 hours later he lies shivering and dehydrated in the dirt, unable to think of anything but holding on to the wire fence and waiting... 8pm. Reason and compassion have intervened. He is no longer on the ground. He is either in hospital or in his room. The problem remains as thousands of people rot in detention waiting for decisions which could be made in months but instead take years take years. This is the 20th Anniversary of Mandatory Detention. How much longer will our government continue this cruel expensive system? ENOUGH. -- Pamela Curr Campaign Coordinator Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Monday, January 09, 2012


Jenny Haines


Being and old nursing hand with time on my hands, and the need for cash, I worked some shifts in the Emergency Departments of Sydney Hospitals over the Christmas New Year Break. Nothing changes! Governments and promises come and go, but EDs are just as busy, just as short staffed, just as poorly equipped as they always were. It amuses me angrily that governments and bureaucrats want ED Staff to speed up processing times, but they can’t even guarantee that there is the basic functioning equipment at every bed that every doctor and nurse needs to do their job. I am still after 30 years, wandering around looking for a working sphygnanometer, a working thermometer, or a working ECG machine, so vital when a patient has chest pain. But hey, you may have to fiddle while vital minutes go by, getting the old ECG machine you found in the corner to work, because the more modern one is in use, and present you with a readable ECG. Nothing changes!!

Some observations :

1. I noted particularly this year there seemed to be a lot of “family dumps” ie families sending older more embarrassing members of their family to ED around Christmas Day. Can’t have grandma, grandpa , aunt or uncle being an embarrassment when the rest of the family and friends come over on Christmas Day! One old lady was sent into hospital by her carers who seemed to be living in her house. She had nothing much wrong with her except a bit of diarrhoea that any competent carer should have been able to deal with. We did a full assessment on this lady, and sent her home with ambulance transport. One hour later she was back. The carers had sent her back to ED. They could not cope with her having diarrhoea!
2. Another variation on the older person presentation over the Festive Season – lonely, painfully lonely older people living on their own, presenting with a collection of minor complaints. The deep suspicion of the staff is that they come to hospital to have someone to talk to at Christmas, to get a decent feed, maybe a little gift, a bit of help with clearing their bowels, and then home to their loneliness again.
3. And another variation of the older person presentations are those that present from nursing homes and aged care facilities . Many of these facilities no longer have registered nurses working shifts, so the aged are cared for by Assistants in Nursing or Carers. If the resident becomes ill, the policy is to send them to ED. ED staff assess them, treat them, clean them up, and send them back with a new medication regime that is put in blister packs, and administered by the Assistants in Nursing or Carers, who have very little education in medication administration, the side effects and the nasty interactions that medications can cause. But hey, AINS and Carers are cost efficient to the proprietors, and that is what aged care is all about now, cost containment.
4. One tragic presentation was an old lady who had been found lying in her room covered in urine and faeces. She was deep blue. The ambulance staff picked her up, resuscitated her as best they could, and brought her to ED. The ED medical staff, unsupervised by a Senior Staff Specialist or a Consultant ( they are on holidays) did not run an organised resuscitation. Orders and counter orders were flying as the most senior of these junior doctors panicked, and then started arguing with the other junior medical staff. The nurses involved in the resuscitation were horrified. The patient deteriorated and vital treatment that should have been started early in the resuscitation was started too late. The patient died. Afterwards, in the staff room, the nurses fumed. One or two doctors joined them. How interesting that the reflection on this event was undertaken by the nursing staff, but not the doctors. The doctor in charge of the resuscitation refused to discuss what happened. That won’t be the end of this though. It should be a reportable event. There will be discussion with senior nursing staff on their return to work and there will have to be a lot of talking amongst the doctors to work through how to avoid such a messy situation in future.

Much is said by politicians and bureaucrats about Emergency Departments, their efficiency and how to improve things. Some of the solutions are very simple eg ensure that every bed in every ED has the basic equipment that the doctors and nurses need to do their job – a working thermometer, a working blood pressure machine, a working monitor, a bedside table, a bed that the patient is able to get on and off without scratching themselves, a chair and a bedside table. If every bed place in every ED had that, it would be a start.

Then of course there is the need to address bed blockages ie there are not enough open beds, and more need to be re-opened. To do that we need more nurses, not Assistants in Nursing, Registered Nurses. But where to get them from when there is a shortage of nurses? Agency staff, overseas backpackers on temporary contracts, new graduates looking for immediate work to pay off debts seems to be the answer, until we can find a way to encourage more of our youth into nursing, and more of our employers into employing them when they graduate.

EDs are a pressure point in our society. They care for everyone, high and low, every day of the year, day and night. They pick up the tired, the sore, the wounded, and the very sick, treat them, clean them, and care for them, while our society that just does not want to know, turns a blind eye to their suffering. ED staff are there, on the frontline, caring. It’s about time our politicians and bureaucrats recognised the needs, and stopped the point scoring.

Thursday, January 05, 2012





A group of Tamil refugees in Indonesia, recognized as refugees by the
UNHCR, but rejected by the Australian government now say they have
little choice but to get on a boat to get to safety in Australia.

The Tamil refugees are part of the group of 254 taken to the port of
Merak by the Indonesian navy at the request of then Australian Prime
Minister Kevin Rudd in October 2009. More than two years later, having
spent a year in detention and being found to be genuine refugees, the
Australian government has turned its back on 40 Merak Tamils despite
being referred to Australia by the UNHCR.

Most of the refugees are now living in Medan, but out of 134 Merak
Tamil refugees still in Indonesia, only three families have been

The rejection has angered the Tamil refugees. They are already
boycotting English and computer classes in protest. A bigger protest
in Medan is planned for next week.

“The refugees have been shamefully treated by the Australian
government. Their plight makes a mockery of the Australian government
supposed concern for the safety of refugees at sea. It is rank
hypocrisy. Their policies are pushing people onto boats. There is no
other way to get to safety in Australia. The Australian government
should not feign surprise if more Merak Tamils get a boat to
Australia, ” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action

Around 50 Merak Tamils took a boat to Christmas Island in 2010, and
around 25 of them already have Australian protection visas.

“In 2009, then Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor, and other
Ministers said that Australia would help resettle the Merak Tamils.
Successive governments have reneged on that promise. They simply don’t
care about the lives of refugees – neither those that are left in
limbo in Indonesia nor those that lose their lives trying to get to
Australia,” said Rintoul.

Two other Merak Tamils drowned attempting to get a boat to Australia
in June 2010.

“There is no justice. We have been very patient for over two years,
but we are losing patience. We were processed by the UNHCR,” Nimal,
one of the Tamil refugees in Medan told the Refugee Action Coalition,
“There is a big risk for us to get a boat to Australia. But are left
with no choice. Is the Australian government is trying to kill us?”

“The UNHCR and the Australian government has let us down. We were
promised that we would be resettled within a year. There is no future
for us in Indonesia,” said Nimal.

The Australian government’s rejection of the Tamil refugees is also a
slap in the face of the Indonesian government which has repeatedly
requested Australia’s assistance to resettle the Merak Tamils. The
head of Indonesia’s Diplomatic Security, Dr Sujatmiko, told the media
in April 2010, "We need Australian people, the Australian government
to help them."

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713.

Interviews with representatives of the Merak Tamils can be arranged.