The attitude and the approach that both Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have taken to the immigration portfolio is both insulting and undemocratic.
Democracies function best when the voting public is properly informed, and government and especially outsourced government services become dysfunctional bordering on criminal when they are not held accountable and are not exposed to scrutiny in the media and the public domain.
We are where we are at Don Dale, Nauru and Manus due to a lack of scrutiny and accountability over many years.
It is time our governments stopped treating us like mushrooms on important issues and on issues on which we have a right to know.
These issues are surprisingly easy to fix, as outlined in a recent article in The Conversation by Johan Lidburg from Monach University (reprinted below with permission)
How did one of the world’s most-successful multicultural countries made up of refugees and immigrants end up harming children who came to us seeking protection and help? One of the answers to this question is secrecy.
Successive Australian governments, both Labor and Coalition, have dehumanised refugees and kept Australians in the dark about what really goes on in the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
The cornerstone of the strategy is to limit public access to information. The policy started by the Rudd Labor government in 2013 has been put into overdrive by the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments.
There are three pillars to the secrecy strategy:
Australian journalists have found it very difficult, bordering on practically impossible, to obtain visas to visit Nauru. Applying for a media visa for Nauru comes with an A$8,000 fee – which is non-refundable even if the application is rejected.
The only journalists to be granted visas in the last two years filed stories that did not properly investigate or challenge the Nauruan and Australian governments' versions of the situation for refugees.
This means the two governments directly and indirectly control who is allowed onto the island to tell the refugees’ stories of how they are treated. This leads to speculation that serves no-one – not the refugees nor the Australian government nor the public.
The second issue with outsourcing refugee processing to another country is that neither Nauru nor Papua New Guinea has Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. This means an important journalistic tool is missing when it comes to seeking information.
This, combined with the poor FOI history of Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (and its predecessor), which have repeatedly blocked and delayed requests, makes obtaining raw and unspun information about offshore refugee processing a time-consuming and frustrating task.
Wilson Security is contracted to provide security in the offshore centres.
The 2010 amendments to the federal FOI Act significantly strengthened the requirement on government agencies to obtain information from a private contractor when asked to do so.
However, contracting out adds another layer of complexity to using FOI effectively. The practical consequences are longer processing times, delays and the increased possibility of the contractor claiming the information can’t be released due to commercial-in-confidence issues.
In July 2015, the Australian Border Force Act came into force. Its controversial disclosure offence section extended the questionable Australian tradition of limiting public servants’ right to public speech and participation in public debate.
The section effectively stops current and former staff, including those from volunteer organisations such as Save the Children, speaking out about conditions in refugee detention centres.
It is nigh-on impossible to see how this gag section can be in the public interest. But it is easy to see how it is in the government’s political interest.
The consequence of the fortress of secrecy built on these three pillars is that Australians don’t know what is being done in their name on Nauru and Manus Island.
It also means the refugees are dehumanised. Suffering children and families become numbers instead of human beings.
Every one of the nearly 1,300 refugees currently on Nauru and Manus has heartbreaking and crucial stories to tell. If Australians were allowed to hear and see those stories, the centres would have been closed a long time ago.
If offshore detention is to continue, the Australian government should:
We don’t need a Senate inquiry or royal commission to figure out what needs to be done. More than enough evidence is available thanks to the Nauru files, former detention centre staff sharing their experiences, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on children in immigration detention. The government must do the decent and right thing by the refugees and the Australian public.
In short... we are being treated like Mushrooms and we are all tired of the Bullshit.
A picture does paint a thousand words. The power of Television and the Cinema is directly linked to the power of the images they project.
Many commentators have suggested that the reason that numerous reports into the treatment children were receiving in the Don Dale detention centre didn't have any effect was because those reports didn't contain the confronting images that were on national display on 4 Corners.
The reason why sympathy for Syrian refugees took a huge about face, right around the world, was because of the image of Aylan Al-Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach.
Images of horror do spur us into action. But equally, images of more positive emotions like joy, love and compassion are equally powerful. As Jane Lydon from the University of Western Australia says in her piece on The Conversation website - positive images of refugees shape perceptions and the public debate.
Images of both horror and joy surrounding refugees are censored by governments as they try to control the debate. It is the reason journalists are not permitted into detention centres. Photo-journalists would no doubt find endless images which would undermine their flimsy argument that they are being tough on people smugglers... rather than just unnecessarily cruel.
We intend to try balancing the discussion with some powerful images of our own. Images that tell a different story. Such as:
A story of Successful Migrants and Refugees...
Stories that speak to the humanity of refugees and highlight they are much like us...
Stories of love, joy and no threat to our collective safety....
Stories of Generosity, Welcoming and Kindness. Stories that show off our better selves...
We are a lucky country. We can be a generous nation. We live in a safe and relatively prosperous place.
The biggest threat to that is not refugees... it is the way we are being manipulated to think differently by powerful forces in sections of the government and the media.
We can all play our part in changing the course and the tone of the debate, on any issue, by sharing images that subvert the populist narrative. And in this highly connected world of social media it has never been easier to share.
by Wendy Tubman
We all have a right to know.
To know what is being done in our name. To know that those in a position of power are held accountable for their actions. We have a right to expect transparency from all our public servants, especially those whose position is as an elected official.
Our democracy is made stronger by an informed and engaged populace. Our democracy depends on freedom of the press, and our democracy is being damaged every single day that we, the voting public, are kept in the dark.
The Greens believe in our right to know, we believe in accountability, and transparency, we believe in a free press and a strong democracy, and we believe that the major parties are not doing enough to protect human rights, basic freedoms and the integrity of our political system.
While some politicians give lip service to the things we believe in, the Greens know that actions speak louder than words.
The Greens have announced that they will introduce a Private Members Bill into the Parliament, allowing media to gain access to Australian detention centres, following the election.
The ‘Transparency Guarantee Bill’ would mandate a reasonable level of access for media to detention centres and amend the migration act to make it illegal for the government to fund offshore detention centres where media are not allowed regular access.
Bill Shorten has conceded that the time has come to lift the lid on the secret torture camps on Manus Island and Nauru. Labor need to put their money where their mouth is and commit to legislating for transparency and genuine media access to the detention camps.
We all know (the Labor party included) that these detention camps operate under a cloak of secrecy for a reason and it’s important that we get this commitment from Labor enshrined in legislation.
A policy of secrecy is a dangerous one and secrecy has a long and sorry history in this country.
Secrecy allowed indigenous children to be taken from their parents.
Secrecy allowed the systematic abuse of children who were in the care of state and religious institutions.
Secrecy protected serial offenders and allowed abuse to continue long after it should have been stopped.
State sponsored secrecy has an even longer and more tragic legacy right around the world. And that is why fair minded people don’t just object to it, they are fearful of it.
Even with the little information we have been allowed to know about offshore detention, it is clear that the secrecy and the ongoing media blackout has allowed an environment of abuse and neglect to fester on Manus Island and Nauru. The Greens will act to put it to an end.
We ask for your support on July 2nd – stand alongside us and help us give the right to know back to every Australian.
by Wendy Tubman
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.