Asylum seekers:

Sandi Logan, spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, writes: Re. “Next stop, the Darwin Airport Motel: home to 150 asylum seeker teens” (Monday, item 5). One of this department’s regular interlocutors, and at times critics Pamela Curr, has told Crikey readers over recent days of her impressions of Immigration’s management of its diverse asylum seeker caseload in detention centres on Christmas Island and the mainland, as well as those clients detained in alternative places of detention (APOD) and in immigration residential housing.

In an ideal world there would be unlimited funding, unlimited support, and unlimited visa grants for all irregular maritime arrivals who seek to engage Australia’s international protection obligations. But in the real world, where DIAC’s ethos is to treat all of its clients fairly and reasonably, to be open and accountable with them, and to ensure they are offered the dignity and respect all human beings deserve, we have to work within the systems and processes in place. And frankly, I don’t believe enough credit is given for that.

Allow me, at some length given Crikey‘s coverage, to address some of the more specific claims and criticisms.

First, Pamela claims detainees are woken in the early hours for head checks. In fact, our detention service provider (Serco) conducts regular daily welfare checks of its clients at the Darwin APODs at times where families will not be disturbed, such as during meals periods at breakfast, lunch and dinner times. The frequency of welfare checks are generally three to four times a day.

Second, she criticises the fact that not all of the children in detention facilities are not going to school. Yesterday (September 13), 34 Darwin-based asylum seeker school-aged children began their first day of school following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the NT Department of Education and Training (DET) and Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).  We have been working closely with NT DET to make appropriate arrangements for primary age students to attend school with younger children set to start at the commencement of Term 4 on October 4, with orientation and induction programs to take place next week for some of the children (i.e. the last week of Term 3).

Third, she says the swimming pool is only open for one hour three times a week but in this criticism made, some of the cultural and practical realities to which we must be sensitive are ignored. The use of the swimming pools at the Asti and Airport Lodge APODs is a part of the structured activities program put in place by volunteer group Life Without Barriers (LWB) over the last four-and-a-half-months.

Consistent with meeting duty of care obligations, LWB uses qualified life guards to monitor the safety of clients utilising the pool. But, for cultural reasons, swimming sessions are divided into groups of children and women, unaccompanied minors and adult men, although we are looking to expand the use of swimming pool activities with the facilities and groups with which we’re working.

Fourth, Pamela made the claim on ABC Life Matters that up until recently “99 per cent of minors processed were found to be refugees, but that now it’s more like 30 per cent”.  I have no idea where her figures come from, as they do not relate to any visa grant statistics issued by the department in recent times.

Fifth and finally, there have been criticisms around the treatment of mental health issues experienced by minors in our detention facilities. Let there be no doubt we recognise that people in immigration detention, particularly irregular maritime arrivals as possible survivors of torture and trauma, are at risk of poor mental health, suicide and self-harming behaviour. We also recognise that the refusal of a visa application can place additional stress on people in immigration detention, which may increase their risk of suicide and self-harm or susceptibility to poor mental health.

As far as possible within the existing system of mandatory detention, the department is making strident efforts to minimise factors that contribute to the deterioration of the mental health of those in immigration detention and to assist those in need, including prompt referral for appropriate treatment. All people in immigration detention are provided with access to a range of health care services, including mental health support that is provided by the department’s contracted health services provider (HSP).

Mental health care services are provided by mental health nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists who either work for, or are networked with, the HSP. People in immigration detention are offered a mental health assessment by a mental health nurse within three days of arriving at the centre, have ongoing access to the mental health team for the duration of their time in detention, undergo mental state examinations every three months, and are referred for more specialised care if required.

The level of medical (including mental health) services provided at any given immigration detention facility is determined by the department based on the recommendations of the HSP.  Three new mental health policies were introduced to immigration detention which reflect best-practice approaches to identifying existing mental health issues, providing psychological support to people in immigration detention, and to preventing self-harm in immigration detention.

These policies were developed in consultation with the Detention Health Advisory Group’s mental health sub-group and with reference to the government’s National Mental Health Policy and standards recommended by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). We are also in the process of developing a mental health policy specifically aimed at minors. All personnel who work with people in detention are trained to recognise and respond to the warning signs and risk factors of self-harm and the deterioration of mental health.

I am sorry this has been so long but we could not let Pamela’s reports over three days go unchallenged.

ABC’s election coverage:

Alan Sunderland, Head of Policy, ABC News, writes: Re. “Ex-ABC presenter: ‘editorial judgment’ policy lets election coverage down” (yesterday, item 16). I can’t let Dave Lennon’s piece yesterday on the ABC’s approach to election campaign balance pass without comment, because it is simply wrong.

I don’t in any way wish to undermine Dave’s recollections of his own experiences, or what he may or may not have done in the past. I can only speak for the rules that apply to ABC News coverage for this Federal campaign and the previous one — because I helped shape and communicate them.

First of all, the Coalition members are treated equally when we consider balance between the two major parties — it is Labor and the Coalition, not Labor and the Liberals. But far more importantly, the monitoring we do of “share of voice” is a guide only — it is one tool that helps us see how balanced and inclusive our coverage is, but that’s all it is. There is no requirement for the two sides to get precise equal time, and our policies would never ever require us to run an interview with a politician just to ensure some sort of artificial balance of time.

The ABC’s approach is to try to ensure that all the principal relevant voices are included in our coverage in accordance with their relevance, newsworthiness and significance. That applies to all parties in a campaign and to all candidates.  The ABC has never imagined that balance in an election campaign can be measured with a stopwatch. Our monitoring of share of voice is often mistakenly seen as that, but in practice it is nothing of the sort.


Wil Stracke writes: Re. “Free TV was right to dump euthanasia ad” (yesterday, item 11). Look, I’m nobody special. But I have decided to write to you in response to Diana Cruikshanks article in yesterday’s Crikey.

Last Wednesday, my mother passed away suddenly at the age of 83. She was independent, feisty and ridiculously healthy her whole life despite her love of all things beginning with ‘c’ – cigarettes, champagne, chocolate and coffee. She had been slowing down over the last few years but still lived alone and got around town and we thought we had years ahead with her as an integral and much adored part of our lives.

Her heart, however, had other ideas and on the Saturday night whilst glued to the TV watching the Collingwood-Doggies game (she was a mad keen Magpies supporter) she suddenly experienced excruciating pain down her right side.  The following morning she went into hospital where they told her that the only treatment for her condition was a serious operation.

Mum knew her own mind so my brother and I left the decision to her and she decided not to have the operation.  At first, we hoped that despite this her condition might stabilise enough to be allowed to go home, even for a short time as she desperately wanted to say goodbye to her much loved Siamese cat (another “c”).  However, it became clear on the Monday that this would not happen.

I should explain that our family is Dutch and we had often talked about her wishes in such a situation. And these were crystal clear — if she ever reached a point where she would no longer be able to make decisions about her own life and where she could no longer get out and about and do the things that gave her joy then she wanted to die.  Die with dignity, with no pain and with her family around her.

Unfortunately, legally that choice was not available to her and it was left to nature to run its course, with increasing pain relief required just to stay on top of her deteriorating condition.  Fortunately, this happened quickly and she did not have to linger in that half state.

So whilst I appreciate the position that Ms Cruikshank takes, I am not so sure that the euthanasia debate can simply be characterised as people like my mother buying into a culture that devalues the aged. I am fairly sure that my mum would have been astonished to learn that anyone around her thought that she was in any way lacking because she no longer had “youth” or “bodily perfection”.

And I am certain that she would have had one or two choice things to say to Ms Cruikshank in relation to the idea that her wish to be able to end her life at the time of her own choosing was anything less than an ‘autonomous choice’.  No one who met my mum was ever left in any doubt of her opinions!

Male same-s-x couple adoption:

Anna Brown writes: Re. “Rundle: against male same-s-x couple adoption” (yesterday, item 4). A few points regarding this story:

  • The number of children coming up for adoption in NSW and the rest of Australia is minute: insufficient for the current number of infertile couples or others however disposed to adopt.
  • The critical factor in domestic adoption is the right of the relinquishing mother to choose who she would like as the parents for her child, whether or not that mother is mentally ill, a poly-drug user or socially “at risk”.
  • Most if not all — you would need to check — of the countries with which Australia has an arrangement for inter-country adoption prohibit anything other than adoption by married couples. Culturally any amendment to the status of married i.e. to include same s-x couples would almost definitely result in a stipulated condition that “married” couples be a male and female unit.

However, if the issue is posed as “would we prefer children to live on the streets, or remain in ‘impersonal’ government run institutions rather than live in a caring ‘familial’ type small group”, then any appropriately assessed coupling — of reasonably sane, non-criminal, capable adults seems preferable. “Grandparent” if not parent age adoptive couples would equally be preferable.

Humans craves significance. Maybe significance bestowed by a parent — biological or otherwise — is best.  But this is a spectrum.

Many parents are crap. Prisons, hospitals, psych consulting rooms are evidence of this. Anything remotely approaching the end characterised by love, care, stability, longevity, exclusivity of emotion — “I love/choose you first before all others” — is a child’s best chance of mental and emotional wellbeing, self-regard, healthy self-esteem, and rooted happiness.

One of the saddest things I have ever read was an Australian photojournalist in the aids ravaged states of east Africa (SMH or Australian weekend magazine for memory a while back). Everywhere he went he was hounded by parentless children wanting him to take their photos. Asked why they said they just wanted to be noticed, to be remembered by someone.

The tragic human equivalent of ‘if a tree falls in the forest but no one hears did it happen’

I am the adoptive parent of two children whose lives are unaccountably different to what they would have been in state run institutions, however benign. I am no doubt an imperfect alternate solution. However I would wish that every parentless child, would have the opportunity TO BE LOVED BY SOMEONE RATHER THAN NOONE.

In this context love is both essential and colour/race/and gender blind.

Steven McMeechan  writes: This is one of those rare occasions where I feel compelled to express my extreme disappointment with the quality of an editorial piece by someone who purports to be a journalist.

I’ve been enjoying my Crikey subscription for many months now, and enjoy the regular editorials from Bernard Keane and Guy Rundle. However imagine my dismay when I read this pretentious piece of crap masquerading as some lofty intellectualism on the issue of same s-x adoption.

Sure Guy Rundle is entitled to his ill-informed, homophobic opinion, which he unsuccessfully attempted to cloak under the guise of some poncy intellectual pontification but I’ll be buggered if it’s the sort of thing I’m prepared to pay for.

So I won’t be renewing my subscription.  I just thought you should know.

Climate change:

Tony Kevin, author of Crunch Time, writes: Re. “Taking stock of climate change — what now?” (yesterday, item 1).  Most of the analysis in Bernard Keane’s timely essay is excellent and could be profitably read by the new minister, Greg Combet.

That is, until Bernard’s last four paragraphs, which strangely conclude that Australia can defer discussion of a carbon price until some future time, after we have adopted other good policies like setting up a sovereign wealth fund for future major national investments in climate change adaptation, and increasing Australia’s aid to poor countries most adversely affected in the near term by climate change.

Yes, we need to do those good things now, but we also need now to bite the bullet on deciding how to introduce a carbon price into the Australian economy: either by carbon trading (a policy now, as Bernard says,  pretty much and rightly discredited) or carbon taxing (my strong preference, and the policy I believe is preferred by Ross Garnaut, at least the three Labor-aligned Independents, and the Greens).

Until we have a working carbon price, the market will not get the necessary signals to implement rational climate change mitigation and adaptation policies – which are mostly the same policies, e.g., rapidly expanding our renewable energy production capacities and transmission grids, decarbonising Australia’s transport infrastructure, and trying to make our cities and food growing regions more resilient to anticipated climate change risks (more extreme droughts, windstorms and floods, and rising sea level-exacerbated destructive storm surges).

Until we have a working carbon price, any responsible proposals by governments at any level  (federal, state/territory or local) in these policy areas will be vulnerable to market rationalism-based critiques that they impose unacceptable costs on taxpayers.

Bernard’s four last paragraphs are, I am sad to say, just another way of putting off Australia’s hard but necessary policy decisions on pricing carbon – which is Greg Combet’s responsibility now.

Nigel Brunel writes: In theory — it makes no difference whether you have carbon tax or an ETS but in reality — an ETS should be more efficient given the ability for the market to set the price of carbon and for schemes to link from country to country. The problems I have with a carbon tax are that the government sets the price and has to react to changed economic circumstances when resetting the price.

A good example of the market setting the price is now — the recession has seen less emissions due to an economic downturn and the global price of carbon has reflected this. Would the government have acted as quickly? The other issue about a tax versus an ETS is what does the government actually do with the money it raises? Can we trust them?

In an ETS environment — using New Zealand as an example — it’s the private sector (carbon farmers) who receives the money from polluters for growing trees and sequestering carbon. The real selling point for me is the creation of new industries rather than growth in bureaucrats.

Australia — you are suffering from paralysis by analysis — we have your CPRS / ETS — its version 1.0 and it has been accepted by the community at large. Power bills have not increased by 40% — in fact some generators have not raised prices. Petrol went up by 3 cents a litre on the day the ETS came in but fell by 2 cents two days later.

There are no mass demonstrations in the street — we have grumbled -accepted it and got on with it. What are you so afraid of?

Steve O’Connor writes: Re. “Carbon to take economy’s breath away by 2015” (yesterday, item 5). I hate to nitpick with a piece that was otherwise good, but I feel compelled to point out that Phil seems to have misunderstood the term “runaway climate change”, probably confusing it with passing so-called tipping points.

Runaway climate change would destroy all inhabitants of the Earth and is extremely unlikely. This is partly because of negative feedbacks kicking in as global warming starts to bite: as we saw during the GFC, global pollution dropped dramatically as the economy stuttered.

On the other hand, crossing tipping points will lead to a hotter “state” for the planet, but generally won’t progress to runaway warming.

There is, however, an element of ‘runaway’ in standard climate change. The global temperatures will continue to go up for many decades even after drastically cutting emissions. The severity of this effect can be controlled to a large extent (at the moment at least) by employing stronger emission targets and policies sooner, rather than later.

Julian Assange:

Katherine Stuart writes: Re. “We should stand up for Assange: Geoffrey Robertson” (yesterday, item 2). Guy Rundle is still not doing his homework. Claes Borgström is indeed a prominent Social Democrat politician in Sweden, but that party hasn’t ruled since late 2006 (“prominent lawyer Claes Borgstrom, also a powerful figure in the ruling Social Democrat Party”).

At least in Sweden, the whole Assange “harassment” case is being treated with the disdain it appears to deserve. A Swedish language spoof news website claimed at the end of August that Assange had also been accused of the unsolved assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 (Assange would have been aged just 15 at the time).

Which is somewhat of an in-joke for Swedes, since the handling of that case by the Swedish police and judiciary also left a lot to be desired. And an article in Svenska Dagbladet, the more conservative of the major daily newspapers, described the case and Marianne Ny’s treatment of it as something that should be “ringing alarm bells”.

Ark Tribe:

Ava Hubble writes: The Ark Tribe case has been adjourned until November 3 to allow further submissions to be lodged. The general secretary of the construction division of the CFMEU, Dave Noonan, said yesterday he is hopeful that a decision will be handed down when the hearing resumes at the Adelaide Magistrates’ Court.

The Oz and the election:

Rob Pickering writes: Re. Marcus Vernon (yesterday, comments). The problem I have with The Australian skewing their view so entirely towards the LNP party isn’t based on anything other than as a Journalist they should be fair and balanced in their reporting of news. To quote the Australian Journalist’s Association Code of Ethics:

MEAA members engaged in journalism commit themselves to:

  • Honesty
  • Fairness
  • Independence
  • Respect for the rights of others
  1. Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts.  Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis.  Do your utmost  to give a fair opportunity for reply.

The Australian have far from abided by these journalist code of ethics and that’s the issue I have with their coverage. Their coverage has been biased in the extreme and to me (and the journalist’s code of ethics) that makes the paper and therefore the paper’s editors unethical.

The Greens:

Clare Thompson writes: Re. “Greens: flick go the shares when it comes to ABC coverage” (Monday, item 4). Like many people, I harbour a warm fuzzy glow about the Greens, especially Bob Brown who I have always thought of as a really genuine guy who has good ideas. During the campaign I watched his speech at the National Press Club, broadcast on ABC24.

Having listened to him lay out the policies of the Greens on a number of issues it genuinely led me to change my vote in the Senate. I always vote below the line. As a result of the speech and my having had the opportunity to get a clearer understanding of what the Greens stood for, I put them right down the bottom of my ballot paper, just above One Nation and some religious zealots, all hovering between 45 and 55 on the WA ballot paper.

Be careful what you wish for Greens, it might not actually have the result you think it will!