If you’re flabbergasted at the Australian Liberal/National government’s clumsy, indecisive and incompetent response to coronavirus, now is probably the time to read up on Scott Morrison’s values. (Van Badham)
If you’re flabbergasted at the Australian Liberal/National government’s clumsy, indecisive and incompetent response to coronavirus, now is probably the time to read up on Scott Morrison’s values. (Van Badham)
It’s part of his schtick: To sell himself as someone who won’t be rushed into anything, as the calm, thoughtful person who considers things and then announces the solution which, almost without exception is to chuck $2 billion at the problem. Drought, “Here’s two billion!” Bushfires: “We’ve established a two billion dollar Bushfire Relief Fund”! Coronavirus: “We’re working with the states and there’s a two billion dollar fund for extra resources to deal with the problem.”
And that’s where it’s so hard to find the correct level of panic. When you hear about the empty supermarket shelves, it’s easy to wonder if one should have watched more of those shows about zombies for educational reasons about preparing oneself by stockpiling and boarding up the house. But on the other hand, when someone says that it’s nothing to worry about because it’s probably going to kill less people than your average flu, there’s a certain soothing reassurance about that and I’d like to believe them.
And I would. It’s only the fact that Andrew Bolt is one of the people saying it that makes me think I should start shopping and watch an episode of “The Walking Dead”.
So much for Morrison telling us “it’s just Canberra bubble “Gossip” can you believe anything he says? (ODT)
Morrison has made International Interest in Australia Spike (ODT)Googl
Bushfire searches were almost twice as popular as the next most-clicked search
Interest in bushfires rose more than 500 per cent over the past three months
Global interest in Australia soared by 340 per cent in the first week of 2020, compared to usual levels
Specifically, Mr Morrison wants the inquiry to examine three areas of climate policy: emissions, resilience and mitigation.
He would much prefer the debate focused on resilience and mitigation, nominating land clearing and dam construction as areas ripe for improvement.
These are worthy areas to examine, but largely relate to the symptoms of climate change. It’s just as important, if not more-so, to confront the cause.
There’s still no sign of any “historic change” from Mr Morrison on that front.
As recently as four days ago, Morrison defended his Government’s climate change stance and refused to consider even the necessity for any review. It’s reasonable to assume that Morrison’s intention is to adapt to catastrophic fires, rather than address the causes, prevention and mitigation. In other words, we will continue to burn and all Morrison will do is call in the ADF earlier — if we’re lucky.
We have no guarantee that when this round of fires is subdued, Morrison will act any more speedily on the next round. Indeed, we can expect his reaction to future conflagrations to be exactly the same as this one. He does not act until he absolutely has to, and unless there’s something in it for him. His game is to get away with as much as he possibly can, before taking action. These are not the characteristics you want in your leader.
The Prime Minister only returned early from a totally ill-timed holiday because his reputation was taking a public battering.
He only developed a policy to support the fire-fighters because he was pressured into doing so.
Initially he only offered financial support to volunteer firies in NSW – his home state – until he was made aware that it had to be a national offer.
Instead of having an experienced Public Service to advise him, he has been relying on advice from political advisers.
Their advice is directed to keeping him in power – not into doing what is right for Australia!
There are so many things on which we could expect our national government to be formulating national policy, while we have a Prime Minister who seems intent on throwing all responsibility to the State governments!
If our accidental PM had a vestige of commonsense, he would be forming a national, non-partisan government, including representatives from all states and political areas, plus experts from the CSIRO and other appropriate scientific and service organisations to deal with the climate emergency, housing those displace by the fires, related employment and food production issues – you could make your own list – it is endless and needs careful prioritising.
Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in US history. It displaced of hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The damage was estimated at $US100 billion, and more than 1,000 people are thought to have died.
Scott Morrison is trying desperately hard to find the right language to reassure Australians that he believes climate change is “real” but that he won’t do anything that might cost money to address it.
He wants us to be “patient” as he methodically changes his mind about whether volunteers should be paid since they “want to be there”, whether the ADF should be deployed, and whether we might in fact have to bring in some more aerial firefighting assets.
No “knee jerk reactions”… and certainly nothing that could possibly resemble being proactive from our PM.
He talks a lot about the funding that the Commonwealth is handing out. Because we all know we can’t have Labor’s “unfunded empathy”.
The Messiah from the Shire seems a little flustered that people expect him to actually do something – show some leadership maybe?
He keeps saying now is not the time for politics or photo shoots.
But what else has he got?
To quote another pretender to the leadership … he’s a “bit of a weathervane“.
Denial that any man made events Australian, Global or otherwise have caused the current events these are purely a Natural event and LNP policies are sufficient to deal with it. Meanwhile Angus Taylor and Australia have been literally booed out of Cop 25 while cheered on by USA’a Donald Trump. It’s amazing how when push comes to shove Morrison now says “let the “experts do their job”. The very experts the LNP have been ignoring cutting the budgets of for the past years they have been in control. Morrison has been an expert denier long before he became PM. (ODT)
Prime Minister said: “There is no doubt natural disasters are termed that way because that is what they are. They are natural disasters. They wreak this sort of havoc when they affect our country and they have for a very long time..
Dangerous fire weather warnings spur evacuations in NSW and Victoria
“Our emissions reductions policies will both protect our environment and seek to reduce the risk and hazard we are seeing today. At the same time, it will seek to make sure the viability of people’s jobs and livelihoods,”
It takes some chutzpah to stand up with a straight face and deliver a speech foreshadowing a government crackdown on protest activity while in the same breath declaring that a new insidious form of progressivism is intent on denying the liberties of Australians.
But Scott Morrison has never lacked confidence.
Exclusive: PM was entitled to New Zealand citizenship from birth, but it is unclear whether his mother registered it
” Hollowness of words” =Lying SOB (ODT)
One small exchange in Senate estimates has exposed the measurable gap between the prime minister’s rhetoric and actions
QAnon figure BurnedSpy, whose wife works on the prime minister’s staff, has propagated bizarre theories about Alexander Downer and Julie Bishop
The FBI has previously warned that QAnon could act as a potential motivator for “domestic extremists” and last year Reddit banned one of its main QAnon threads for repeated violations of its content policy, warning it would not tolerate content “that incites violence, disseminates personal information, or harasses” users.
In Australia, one of the more significant QAnon figures tweets under the handle @BurnedSpy34 and has amassed 21,000 Twitter followers in just over a year. BurnedSpy tweets daily QAnon material, including bizarre theories about Alexander Downer and Julie Bishop.
The Guardian has learned the identity of BurnedSpy and established he is a longstanding family friend of the Australian prime minister and his wife, Jenny.
The wife of BurnedSpy works on the prime minister’s staff.
Two salesman and Morrison has decided to become Trump’s apprentice and not the Nations leader (ODT)
The prime minister has demonstrated a Trumpesque ability to fudge, mislead and obfuscate
Any fool can manufacture a narrative, in fact, whole societies have manufactured consent through media ownership while vilifying those who would point out the facts to challenge them. Cruelty, victim blame, and vilification become the norms shrouded in fascicle smiley hypocrisy.
Unless, as a species, we learn the scientific facts … we are lost to this type of cruel and vile self-justification for evil. The Christian wolf in sheep’s clothing. A compulsive lying coat of thorns disguised as many colours. The smiling assassin.
Mark my words, Morrison is truly dangerous because he believes his own lies.
Meet the Tripodinas, the Sydney fruit and veg moguls and Liberal Party donors behind the bid to privatise Australia’s visa system. Michael Sainsbury reports.
Flemington market’s fruit and vegetable mogul Santo Peter Tripodina and his 38-year old son, property developer Adrian Tripodina, have emerged as mystery power-brokers behind the one of the two bids for the Federal Government’s $1 billion visa privatisation.
Both bidding vehicles for Australia’s visa system, chiefly via Consolidated Press and Accenture, have significant tax haven connections.
One of the first two cabinet ministers to quit Parliament after last year’s Liberal leadership coup described Prime Minister Scott Morrison as an “absolute arsehole,” an explosive new book claims.
Michael Keenan, who served as justice minister under Scott Morrison when he was immigration minister, made the comments to colleagues at a lunch at the Garum Restaurant in Perth in April 2018, just months before Mr Morrison became leader.
According to Plots and Prayers, political commentator Niki Savva’s new book about last year’s leadership stoush, Mr Keenan told his West Australian colleagues, including Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Attorney-General Christian Porter and Mr Morrison’s chief ally Ben Morton, that Mr Morrison was an “absolute arsehole”.
The New York Times notes: “… the real affront is to democracy, which flounders in the absence of a free press. It should be self-evident to the guardians of Australian security that rogue soldiers and overreaching surveillance are the true risk to Australia’s security, and that such threats will become far more dangerous if the wall of secrecy is made impregnable.”
Three years is a long time in any democracy. Three years of callous disregard for the vulnerable, the ill and the homeless, for the voiceless First Peoples, for the disabled and the elderly, the unemployed and the underemployed, and those held in detention without trial — some of whom have already attempted suicide this week. Three years is also a long time to spruik religion to a secular society, spit in the face of science and ignore the havoc we are wreaking on our natural world.
Morrison has already wasted $185 million on a stunt purely to stop critically ill asylum seekers (including children) from receiving medical attention. Morrison voted against a banking royal commission 26 times. He believes coal is the answer to our problems. Morrison is a failed Treasurer, who managed to double our debt. And ScoMo campaigned with only one policy: tax cuts.
The government said reopening the centre was vital after changes to refugee medical transfer laws — but nobody has been transferred there.-
Political Hoax (ODT)
“I’m just telling the truth. One case is too much. forget about the Aussies that get off planes with comminicable diseases their not dangerous” (ODT)
That’s Dog Whistling
“Last year there were 56 cases of communicable disease from those who had arrived on illegal boats. These cases included everything from Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C to Chlamydia and Syphilis. These latest cases have now added typhoid to the list,” he said.
And when Aly finished the interview by asking what the government needs to do next to defuse the situation, Morrison’s response was simple: “exactly what I did do”. By the end of the interview, he had cemented himself as a man who cannot listen, cannot answer, and cannot see the value in any ideas except his own.
Remember Morrison’s comments on Pamela Anderson. When difference is only an matter of degree between a photo and audio. Morrison presented a verbal photo that was not that different in the message. (ODT)
PM says trolls targeting the Carlton AFL Women’s player ‘need to wake up to themselves’
Fake News I don’t think so this has been widely reported and stretches back to 2005. How is it Morrison said nothing all this time? Yet we have heard him attack the South Sudanese. We’ve heard him attack the rate of and lack of Integration of Muslims but not Greeks, or Italians. Hreadily disparaged the influence the Chinese have had here in recent times. So why wouldn’t we consider it an outright lie? Morrison was an enthusiatic architect of dog whistling on immigration having witnessed the Cronulla riots in 2005.(ODT)
“I have no intention of doing that, I just simply want people to report the truth and that is an ugly and disgusting lie,” Mr Morrison said. “I reject it absolutely.”
The 2011 report was published in The Sydney Morning Herald by Lenore Taylor, the current editor of Guardian Australia.
“As the author of the report in question I can add that the sources (multiple) have always stuck by what they told me – and subsequently told several other journalists,” Taylor said on Sunday.
As if on brilliant cue, Shire Ali, like Malaspina, had been a blessing, giving Morrison a chance to scold imams into a greater state of vigilance even as he extolled the inner Melburnian spirit.
Elevate the standing of the slain common man; berate the state of the corrupted accused. Shire Ali’s mental health was of little consequence to finding a suitably political description for him, one that could be marketed. “Of course issues of mental health and all these other things are important,” he told Network Ten, but the assailant “was a terrorist” with the blood of Islamic State coursing through him. “He was a radical extremist terrorist who took a knife to another Australian because he had been radicalised in this country.”
“We’ve been doing whatever we can in our capacity to eradicate extreme thoughts and potential acts of terror.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told an event in Sydney that he ‘cried on his knees’ over the plight of children in Nauru, and just wished he was in a position to directly effect change.
“You think about these children and you pray, you cry, and you pray some more. But there’s only so much you can do. It’s frustrating because you feel so powerless,” Morrison said, asking the audience whether they knew anyone who worked in immigration.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I wished I had connections with a government minister or someone in the immigration department with some sort of influence over the situation’,” he said.
Will ScumMo guarantee a minimum wage for every unemployed person forced to go and pick fruit? I doubt it, as the LNP currently allow people on internships to be paid far less than the minimum wage; and those forced into ‘work-for-the-dole’ programs, to not be paid at all for their work! The current stories from people on working visas and working-holiday visas to Australia tell a story of chronic underpayment, abuse, substandard accommodation, substandard food, and constant intimidation and threats. Here are just a couple of the many recent stories regarding the abuse of fruit-pickers and seasonal workers in Australia:
One-third of backpackers paid half the legal minimum wage, study finds
Aussies are being ripped off more than ever before, study shows
ScumMo, only 2 days ago you were spruiking you wanted to help people on social security. ScumMo, you and your criminal LNP cronies really are some bizarre form of bipolar, schizophrenic, evil, DUMB, psychopathic numpties.
Why aren’t new laws that stop the banks ripping off working people the government’s first priority?
The revelations do nothing to mollify members of the Coalition’s hard right rump, whose mistrust of Morrison goes back at least to his betrayal of Tony Abbott in 2015. Abbott declares he’s still up for a leadership bid. No-one takes seriously his pious piffle that “the era of the political assassin is over”. It simply echoes his “no sniping”.
Then again, he did explain that no promise of his was to be believed – unless you had it in writing. Pathological liar or not, deeds do speak louder than words. Abbott’s are still speaking.
Who can forget his inspiring leadership in bullying Julia Gillard, “ditch the witch” or his services to party misogyny – well before he even contrived to insult all women in Australia by appointing himself the minister for women? His legacy may still be seen today.
This week women MPs speak of a culture of bullying in the Liberal Party. Male MPs, lobbying for Dutton, enter women’s offices early and refuse to leave in an intimidating and bizarre type of sit-in, unless the MPs sign up to Dutton’s faction. Some women MPs are told they must sign or they would lose their pre-selection, they allege.
Well, it looks like there’s a war on. Scott Morrison declared yesterday that Labor was waging war on business (and also on growth, capital, and mums and dads). Malcolm Turnbull later concurred: “It is a fact.
Source: Bad for business | The Monthly
DAVID MARK: A report by the former integrity commissioner, Philip Moss, has recommended a string of changes to the way the Nauru detention centre operates.
He was investigating allegations of sexual and physical assault on asylum seekers, including children, at the centre.
He’s also investigated allegations that staff on Nauru employed by the charity, Save the Children, encouraged refugees to self-harm or manipulate abuse allegations.
The Moss Review says there’s no information to prove those allegations.
Stephanie Smail reports.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: The Moss Review looked at a string of allegations about sexual and physical abuse against asylum seekers on Nauru.
They included claims of rape and forcing women to expose themselves in return for access to showers and other facilities.
The report says many asylum seekers living in the detention centre are apprehensive about their personal safety and have privacy concerns.
It also found some cases of sexual and physical assault aren’t being reported.
Philip Moss says when staff at the detention centre are made aware of issues, they have, in the most part, dealt with them appropriately and referred issues to police on Nauru when necessary. But he says there is room for improvement.
He wants the Nauruan government and the Immigration Department to overhaul how abuse claims are handled.
The Immigration Department has accepted the Moss Review’s 19 recommendations.
Mike Pezzullo is the secretary of the Immigration Department.
MIKE PEZZULLO: You don’t want to place anyone in a position where, for instance, a child is the subject of unwarranted and indeed completely depraved sexual attention in response, in relation either to someone’s gratification or in some cases, getting preferred access to things like showers or the ability to have a longer bath so you can shampoo someone’s hair.
I mean I find it abhorrent, and we’re going to crack down on the behaviour in partnership with all of the stakeholders I mentioned earlier.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: He says there are a couple of dozen allegations that warrant further attention.
The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says he believes people on Nauru are safe.
PETER DUTTON: It was a very difficult environment, I think people need to understand the pressures on the staff, on the Nauruan government, on people within my own department at that time, and in the preceding months and years before that, because the boats had come freely and we had many, many people in held detention.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: The other substantive part of the report deals with allegations that staff working for the charity Save the Children encouraged asylum seekers to self-harm and fabricated claims of abuse.
Ten of the charity’s staff were removed from the island after those claims surfaced.
Philip Moss reviewed intelligence reports and interviews from Wilson Security, the security provider at the centre. But he says none of the information indicated conclusively that Save the Children staff had engaged in those activities.
Mr Moss acknowledged there is still an Australian Federal Police investigation into the case, but he has recommended the Immigration Department review its decision to remove the staff from the island anyway.
The department secretary says he accepts that recommendation and he met with Save the Children last week.
MIKE PEZZULLO: The contractual point in time decision to remove the staff, or to seek to have them removed, because they had to be removed both contractually but also in terms of their visa status by the government of Nauru, is something that should be reviewed in the context of looking at all of the circumstances that led up to that point in time decision.
So I’ve already agreed with Save the Children. I met with their CEO last week, that was one of the preparatory matters that we were engaged in, in preparing the action plan to respond to the Moss Review.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: Mike Pezzullo has set his department a two month deadline to work on fulfilling the recommendations.
The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says the report shows why the Government is so determined to stop asylum seeker boats reaching Australia.
PETER DUTTON: Twelve-hundred people did die at sea when these boats were coming and do I want to see anyone in detention? Of course I don’t. But I also can’t allow a situation again where we see a flotilla of boats coming, and we end up with the sorts of things that we’re talking about today. That’s what I don’t want to return to.
DAVID MARK: The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton ending Stephanie Smail’s report.
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“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” – Ghandi
When George Brandis, in one of his first actions after coming to power in 2013, sacked Disability Commissioner Graeme Innes and replaced him with the IPA’s Tim Wilson to be the Commissioner for bigots, we were given a frightening example of the blatant cronyism that has become a hallmark of the Abbott government.
Graeme Innes was Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner from December 2005 to July 2014. During that time he has also served as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner for three and a half years and as Race Discrimination Commissioner for two years.
Graeme is a Lawyer, Mediator and Company Director. He has been a Human Rights Practitioner for 30 years in NSW, WA and nationally.
As Commissioner, Graeme has led or contributed to the success of a number of initiatives. These have included the Same Sex: Same Entitlements inquiry, which resulted in removal of discrimination across federal law; the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its ratification by Australia.
Graeme was also crucial to the development of the National Disability Strategy and the Disability (Access to Premises – buildings) Standards 2010; as well as the establishment of Livable Housing Australia.
He has also been an active high profile advocate for the implementation of cinema captioning and audio descriptions and, as Human Rights Commissioner, undertook three annual inspections of Australia’s Immigration Detention facilities.
Graeme has been a Member of the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal; the NSW Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal; and the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. He has also been a Hearing Commissioner with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
He was Chair of the Disability Advisory Council of Australia, and the first Chair of Australia’s national blindness agency, Vision Australia.
In 1995 Graeme was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). In 2003, he was a finalist for Australian of the Year.
Tim Wilson, on the other hand, has no qualifications or experience to recommend him for the job. He worked at the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years, serving as Director of Climate Change Policy and the Intellectual Property and Free Trade. He was a vocal critic of the Human Rights Commission and during his time there the IPA called for the abolition of the commission. Apparently his criticism of the HRC faded away when he found out how much he would be paid.
Tim Wilson now has a total salary of $389,000 plus vehicle and telephone expenses after the Remuneration Tribunal approved a travel allowance of $40,000 and a “reunion allowance’’ of $16,800 in addition to his base salary of $332,000 — back dated to February 17 when he took up the job.
This becomes even more obscene in light of the subsequent treatment of the disabled by the Abbott government.
Just under half of Australians with disabilities live at or below the poverty line. For the 30% who can work, poverty wages are the norm. The quality of life of Australians with disabilities compares very badly with other developed countries; in fact, it ranks as one of the worst in the OECD.
Some employees with disabilities are paid as little as 9% of the minimum wage – or 99 cents/hour, $8/day, $40/week – including some who work for government-supported Australian disability enterprises.
Over the last five years, some 10,000 employees with intellectual disabilities have sought to be paid more by pursuing a class action lawsuit. According to the federal and high courts, these employees have been illegally underpaid in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act for more than a decade. They are entitled to be compensated by the federal government. Instead, the government has done everything it can to block that effort.
In November, the federal government brought a bill before the Senate, designed to thwart the employees’ class action to recover their back pay. It was unprecedented; under the proposed law employees could accept half of their back pay in exchange for giving up their right to recover the other half. If they didn’t accept the offer, the government made it clear that it would continue to resist and delay the back pay claim in the courts for years.
The government lied to the crossbenchers in the Senate, claiming the employees would only recover half of their back pay in court after deductions for legal fees (false: it’s a pro bono case) and income tax (false: mostly the employees come under the income tax threshold). Jacqui Lambie, then still a PUP senator, parted ways with her colleagues and together with John Madigan and Nick Xenophon voted against the bill, which was defeated by one vote.
Within hours of the vote, Mitch Fifield resumed his lobbying of the crossbench senators, advising them that he would reintroduce the government bill in February 2015.
A few days before Christmas, the federal government cut funding to disability advocacy groups hoping that no one would notice. It did so shortly after reneging on its commitment to reform multinational corporate tax avoidance, a multi-billion dollar industry.
Groups which lost funding include the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia, Blind Citizens Australia, Brain Injury Australia, Deaf Australia, Deafness Forum of Australia, Down Syndrome Australia, the National Council on Intellectual Disability, Physical Disability Australia and Short Statured People of Australia.
All up, these funding cuts are said to have affected around 140 groups who deal with about 200,000 individuals.
The cuts also hit groups working with homeless people, including National Shelter, Homelessness Australia and the Community Housing Federation Australia.
This, too, will exacerbate existing problems. According to the most recent data, an estimated 105,000 Australians are homeless while some 254,000 used homeless services in the last year.
From the beginning of this year, those applying for the disability pension will have to be assessed by a government-contracted doctor instead of their own GP. Regular doctors will no longer be allowed to approve new DSP applications.
If the government doctor finds they’re not completely unable to work they could be put on the dole instead – which is about $160 a week less.
Instead of fixing a legitimate problem, ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie says the end result will be a modest budget saving at the expense of greater poverty among those with disabilities who are already doing their best to find work in a “really tough” and discriminatory job market.
“We need a proper job strategy to open up job opportunities to reduce discrimination against people with disability and we would like to see the Commonwealth lead that charge,” Ms Goldie says.
Eligibility for the DSP had already been tightened under the previous Labor government, including tougher impairment tables and job search requirements. Over the past decade the proportion of working age people receiving the DSP had remained relatively constant.
Last financial year, the Department of Human Services investigated 411 people for dishonestly claiming DSP, which clawed back $9.5 million.
However social security fraud represents about 0.02 per cent of payments.
Meanwhile, Kevin Andrew’s $20 million marriage counselling voucher scheme is to be scrapped because, of the 100,000 vouchers on offer, only a few thousand were taken up.
The appointment of “tough guy” Scott Morrison to the Social Services portfolio does not auger well for the vulnerable in our society. Dubbing himself the “Minister for Economic Participation” the man who ‘stopped the boats’ declared he will now ‘stop the bludgers’.
As they ramp up the attack on the most vulnerable members of our society it is incumbent on all decent Australians to raise their voice in protest and help defend the rights of those who are unable to defend themselves.
Karen Wells never thought she would be a whistleblower. She had spent 11 years working in the prison industry and two years at the Woomera and Curtin detention centres before taking a position as a guard on Manus Island.
“In corrections,” she says, “we just didn’t dob on anyone.”
But after the violent clashes in February 2014 on Manus Island, during which asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed, Wells contacted refugee advocate and lawyer Ben Pynt to speak out about what she described as the “complete mishandling” of the situation.
Pynt, the founder and director of advocacy group Humanitarian Research Partners, has set up an encrypted mailbox on the centre’s website to deal with the “steady leaks” he says he has been receiving over the past 12 months. He has also established an “onion site”, a hidden service reachable via the Tor network, to minimise the risk for those wishing to share information anonymously.
Wells is one of dozens of guards, caseworkers and medical staff who have worked at the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres and contacted lawyers, professional medical bodies and human rights groups, wanting to speak out about what they’ve witnessed. Lawyers and refugee advocates say that over the past year calls from workers and former workers have been steadily increasing.
Pynt adds that since the start of the most recent asylum seeker hunger strike on Manus, he’s had an “explosion of contact” from the island, receiving dozens of messages, emails and calls in the last ten days from both new and existing sources.
Barrister and human rights advocate Julian Burnside says he receives frequent calls from workers and former workers. The calls have “significantly increased since the legislative regime has harshened”, he says.
The potential whistleblowers have been keen to share information about alleged incidents of abuse and medical neglect, and to report what they see as the general mistreatment of asylum seekers detained at the offshore facilities. They have also sought advice about what would likely happen to them should they choose to speak out.
“The situation is becoming more desperate for asylum seekers in those facilities,” says Graeme McGregor, who heads Amnesty International’s refugee campaign in Australia.
“Conditions are worsening and people are reaching a point where they can’t not speak out.”.
Steve Kilburn, who served in the navy for 20 years and had been a firefighter for a decade before working on Manus Island, recalls signing his confidentiality agreement with security contractor G4S without giving it much thought.
“It was like the ‘I agree’ box when you download something from iTunes,” he says. “I read it and I thought, ‘Well, what does it matter? Who am I going to talk to?’ ”
For Kilburn, the tipping point was witnessing force used during the Manus Island riots that he believes was “way above what was required”. In April 2014, he appeared on the ABC’s Four Corners, recounting what had happened to a group of asylum seekers who had sought to escape the centre:
“When they saw the hiding they were getting, the belting that they were getting, some of them thought actually this is not, you know, what we expected and tried to climb back over the fence to get back into their compound. They were dragged off the fence and beaten.”
“After the riots, when I was looking after injured guys, it started to sink in about how bad it was,” he told me. “There was a young Sudanese guy with his head smashed in and he couldn’t speak and he couldn’t eat and I sat there looking at him, thinking, Who’s going to stand up for this guy? Who’s going to say this is not right? No one is.”
Salvation Army employees Chris Iacono, 25, and Nicole Judge, 24, employed as caseworkers between 2012 and 2014, first on Nauru, then on Manus Island. Before he worked offshore, Iacono “didn’t think anything about politics” and “didn’t know anything about asylum seekers or refugees”.
A former McDonalds manager, he heard about the work from Judge, who saw a job ad on Facebook after she joined the ‘Salvos’ student group at university.
“They were advertising the jobs as kinds of working holidays,” Judge says. “It was like when you see trips to Africa and it’s a really cool safari and everyone has a great time. I had a quick phone chat with the recruiter and then got an email saying, ‘Yay! You’re going to Nauru. Bring all your friends!’ ”
Judge and Iacono arrived on Nauru three days after the detention centre had opened in August 2012.
“I was sitting on the floor of the half-built office, and one of the only posters on the wall was about ‘cut-down procedures’. It was describing a technique with a ‘Hoffman knife’, which is training to be issued on how to cut the rope for someone who had hanged himself,” Says Judge.
Official sources’ apparent misrepresentation of the violent events that occurred on Nauru in July 2013 made them first consider coming forward.
“Once there were attacks on the centre and no news got out that it was the locals that had been threatening everybody, we were like, ‘Why isn’t anybody telling people back in Australia what’s going on?’ And we decided [that] maybe that’s supposed to be us [speaking out] because we’re here,” Judge says.
In June 2014, and Judge and Iacono testified before the Senate inquiry into the riots on Manus Island. In her testimony, Judge spoke about what she saw as the “mistreatment, abuse, and degrading treatment that asylum seekers transferred to Manus Island endure on a daily basis”.
She also laid out plainly what she thought would follow: “The attacks, whilst brutal and utterly devastating, did not surprise myself or my colleagues . . . I believe whilst the centre remains open more deaths and serious injuries are inevitable.”
In October 2014, former immigration minister Scott Morrison used Section 70, an anti-whistleblowing provision, of the Commonwealth Crimes Act to remove ten Save the Children staff from Nauru for “misusing privileged information”. The section prohibits any person employed by the Commonwealth from sending information to a non-government officer. The maximum penalty is two years’ imprisonment.
Lawyers and advocates are concerned that this action might have had a silencing effect on workers, eliminating a key source of information about the already secretive facilities.
“What you don’t want is a situation where staff are afraid to report a rape or an instance of child abuse because they’re afraid of legal action [against them] by the government,” says Amnesty’s McGregor. “There is a genuine risk of self-censorship.”
A senior associate at Maurice Blackburn, Lizzie O’Shea reports taking a dozen calls in the past year from potential whistleblowers, but confirms there is a “real risk at law” for those who choose to breach confidentiality agreements.
“No one I know of has been prosecuted for breaching these provisions but it’s a risk people have to be aware of because, if at some point the Commonwealth does get concerned about the amount or breadth of disclosures and decides to do something about it, you don’t want to be in the firing line.”
A kind of “whistleblower protection”, known as the Public Interest Disclosure Act, was introduced into law in 2013.
However, O’Shea says that because the act has not been tested, it’s difficult to predict what would happen if a whistleblower was taken to court.
“Obviously, it is problematic if people who have evidence of serious wrongdoing feel that they are at significant risk of civil and criminal liability if they disclose that information externally, for example to the media,” she says. “A healthy democracy requires that power be exercised transparently and in a manner that is accountable. Silencing whistleblowers is the opposite of this.”
Pynt acknowledges that workers who feel an obligation to share information that they believe is in the public interest are currently forced to put themselves at legal risk. But, he adds, that as well as the fear about the legal consequences, workers also contend with the threat that they will lose their jobs. Those speaking out all describe a “culture of secrecy and intimidation” at their respective organisations aimed at curbing leaks.
Dr Suelette Dreyfus of the University of Melbourne has conducted research into Australians’ attitudes to whistleblowers. Dreyfus says studies show that more than 80% of whistleblowers try to report wrongdoing internally first. She says that reporting externally is an extremely difficult step that most whistleblowers take when they see it as the only way to get action to address the wrongdoing they have witnessed.
Former G4S guard Karen Wells says she tried many times to report serious issues to her managers.
“They would read your reports in front of you and say, ‘You’re getting soft in your old age. You need to harden up’,” she reflects.
“Whether I agree with asylum seekers being here or not, whether I agree with them getting visas, you can’t treat a human being like that.”
Kilburn and Wells say that after the February 2014 riots they were repeatedly sent emails from G4S reminding them of the confidentiality provisions of their contracts and of the legal consequences of speaking out.
“A lot of people there are in security . . . That’s their livelihood and that’s what their future is based on,” Kilburn says. “These are people with young families and mortgages, so they’re not going to risk it. I had people ringing me saying ‘I really wish I could speak out, but I can’t’.”
Security workers are not the only ones whose jobs are at risk for those who choose to speak out.
Dr Robert Adler, a Melbourne-based paediatric psychiatrist who visited Nauru on behalf of International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), claims that he was told his services were no longer required after he wrote letters expressing concerns about detention.
Adler, who describes himself as “apolitical”, says he was appalled by what he saw on Nauru.
“Families were living under a marquee, separated from one another with plastic sheets, with no easily accessible toilet or kitchen facilities, no privacy and no air-conditioning in 40 degree heat . . . I couldn’t provide health services in a situation that I found deeply concerning and [then] remain silent.”
A few days into his trip, Adler drafted a letter to Tony Abbott, objecting to Australia’s detention policies. On his return home, he sent the letter off, along with copies to Bill Shorten and both leaders’ deputies, before emailing copies to a number of his colleagues and contacts, including the head of psychiatry at IHMS.
Not long after, according to Adler, despite his letter containing no confidential or direct clinical information, IHMS’ chiefs called him in for a meeting and told him that he would not be returning to work at the detention centre.
A co-founder of the advocacy group Doctors for Refugees, Richard Kidd, says that his organisation has received calls from doctors and nurses who have worked offshore, enquiring about their legal obligations, and the risks posed by speaking publicly.
He says there was a spike in the number of calls he received both after the Manus Island riots last February and the death last September of Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei, who died in a Brisbane hospital after being transferred from Manus Island with septicaemia.
Kidd says the incidents highlighted that “asylum seekers do not have safe, timely and appropriate access to an Australian standard of health care”.
As a result, health professionals working with IHMS have come to believe that “working within their contracts may put them in breach of the medical board and the Australian Medical Association’s code of ethics, thus putting their registration at risk”.
The Monthly’s questions to IHMS were forwarded onto the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, but they had not been answered at the time of publication.
Dr David Isaacs, a professor of paediatric infectious diseases at University of Sydney, returned from working with IHMS on Nauru in early December 2014 and has since decided to use his experience offshore to advocate against current detention policies.
“People have often said if you ignore things and don’t speak out when there’s undue trauma being caused to people than you’re in a way colluding with it,” Isaacs says.
“And, after being there, I feel that to not speak out would be appalling.”
Isaacs believes the clauses in his contract that say he’s not allowed to speak about specific patients are “fair enough”, but that “any doctor ought to be able to speak out against behaviour that’s causing illness”.
While on Nauru, Isaacs says he saw “extraordinarily high rates of psychological problems in children and adults”, which he feels were directly related to the condition of their detention.
According to Dreyfus’s research, half of all Australians believe there is too much secrecy in our public institutions, while four in every five agree that whistleblowers should be protected, and 87% support whistleblowers being able to turn to the media, even if it means revealing inside information.
“I think if most people got to spend some time on Manus Island and saw what was going on, most fair people would say, ‘This is not right’,” says Steve Kilburn.
“We all need rules and parameters and ways to work, but nothing should be above scrutiny. If you take away that ability then what you’re left with is unaccountability, and that’s a dangerous place.”
Reporting on this story was made possible with an independently awarded grant from GetUp’s Shipping News project
About the author Bec Zajac
Bec Zajac works for Overland magazine and broadcasts on 3CR community radio.