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
The Greens have long understood the interconnectedness of things. Our previous blog post pointed to how one policy area affects another, from Education, to Health, to Social Issues, to the Economy.
Beyond the internet, people are all inter-connected and inter-dependent, and are in fact mostly much closer than the popular myth of 7 Degrees of separation.
Equally we are not just a product of our environment, we are a part of it, we are dependent on it, and increasingly it is dependent on us. It is good to have beliefs supported by research and evidence. Green cities are not just healthier and happier cities, they are safer cities and the Greening of cities has been an important of urban regeneration and transformation.
J. Morgan Grove and Michelle Kondo from the US Forestry Service have published some compelling results from the projects they have been involved in. The results are published on The Coversation website. They have been republished below with permission.
In the 1953 short story The Man Who Planted Trees, a lone shepherd plants thousands of trees, transforming a desolate valley into a vibrant forest with pleasant villages and unspoiled wilderness. The moral of this story is a simple one: that perseverance and planting trees can make places more desirable to live.
Across the United States, the US Forest Service is proving this, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
Within some neighbourhoods, scientists are documenting a connection between trees and a specific social improvement: a reduction in crime. These studies combine modern mapping technology with spatial and economic statistics to compare crime levels between similar urban neighbourhoods in the same city.
This research is becoming increasingly widespread and sophisticated. According to Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist with the University of Washington and the US Forest Service, this is “part of a movement to understand the role of nature in public health”. Wolf observes:
Now that we’re in the era of Big Data, we’re seeing an acceleration of crime-related research in a wide variety of disciplines and fields. We’re also incorporating data on things like disparities of green in urban communities.
Not only do healthy, well-maintained trees provide shade and benefit the ecosystem, they can have a social meaning: that people in that neighbourhood look out for each other.
One of the places we are conducting this type of research is Baltimore. One of the oldest cities in US, Baltimore has more than 600,000 residents. It is known for its rich historical heritage, a picturesque inner harbour, crab cakes … and for having some of the worst crime and poverty levels in the nation.
According to recent estimates, 25% of Baltimore residents and 37% of Baltimore children live in poverty.
Faced with one of the highest homicide rates in the country, the city implemented a youth curfew law in 2014 to keep unaccompanied children off the streets at night.
Baltimore also has an extensive team of urban research scientists, affiliated with both the US Forest Service Baltimore Field Station and the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, and a proactive non-profit organisation, The Parks & People Foundation. These entities are working together to demonstrate a connection between adding trees and reducing crime in under-served neighbourhoods.
We worked in a research collaboration to look at the relationship between urban tree cover and rates of robbery, burglary, theft and shooting in under-served neighbourhoods in Baltimore. After controlling for income, population density, block-scale tree canopy and housing type, we found that a 10% increase in tree canopy corresponded to a roughly 12% decrease in crime.
According to Valerie Rupp, director of community greening for The Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore, people are taking back their neighbourhoods. “While crime still exists, there’s been a shift to more minor, less violent crimes,” she says.
Less than 150 kilometres northwest of Baltimore is the city of Philadelphia, another historic metropolis. With a population of more than 1.5 million, Philadelphia also has its share of big-city problems.
Although Philadelphia’s homicide rate is lower than Baltimore’s, the city has one of the highest homicide rates of the country’s ten most populous cities.
The US Forest Service Philadelphia Field Station is working with city groups such as the Parks and Recreation Department and the Philadelphia Water Department to establish the “triple bottom line”, meaning improvements in three broad areas of impact – environmental, social and economic.
In terms of crime reduction, our studies have found that “green” stormwater infrastructure improvements resulted in significant reductions in narcotics possession and theft. According to Philadelphia police detective Hugh Davis, one can feel neighbourhoods changing and becoming safer over time. Davis says:
It often starts out as a grant program to make landscape improvements, and then residents start to take ownership. It improves neighbourhood pride and goodwill toward the city.
Developing ‘green courage’ in the inner city
The theory behind urban greening and reduced crime levels is that when under-served neighbourhoods are made more pleasant, it can result in a healthier sense of community. In turn, it makes those neighbourhoods less hospitable to criminal activity.
In places like Baltimore and Philadelphia, city departments are working with communities to give people what some urban sociologists call “green courage”. This occurs when residents become more willing to work together after seeing improvements in their neighbourhood.
At the end of the day, urban greening is not simply about planting trees. It’s about people working together to make neighbourhoods better places to live.
We are working alongside these efforts, helping to document and provide a scientific basis for the work to spread and continue. For those of us who are working toward these goals, we sometimes wonder: are we planting trees to organise people or are we organising people to plant trees?
The best answer is probably “yes” to both.
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.