Christmas Island:

Sandi Logan, National Communications Manager, Department of Immigration and Citizenship Canberra, writes: Re. “Is Christmas Island adequately prepared for boat tragedy?” (yesterday, item 1).   Tom Cowie wrote:

“Wooden boats are picked up because they have metal engines and, as those boats are generally moving towards Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef, said [Tony] Kevin, the immigration department waits until they are a safe distance and that moves out to intercept the boat.”

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship does nothing of the sort because we do not have vessels that intercept boats. Tom needs to get his basic facts correct — or at least check the veracity of what he’s told — if the rest of his copy is to be trusted.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Royal Australian Navy, (in the case of the latter under the direction of the Border Protection Command), operate vessels which patrol and where applicable, intercept vessels as required — and not Immigration.

Vernon Brabazon writes: Eight years ago I did a locum on Christmas Island, as the island “Community Counsellor”. This was after the casino closed, and before it went to looking after refugees. At that time, the “mental health” for the island consisted of the lone “Community Counsellor”, a rotational doctor and “medical director” who principle function was writing out approvals for patient travel assistance to Perth, and some nurses doing fairly low level nursing care.

The “Community Counsellor” also had to make periodic visits to the Cocos community as they only had the doctor. Christmas Island seems to be much better off than they were eight years ago, as you report that they now have “a hospital manager, four nurses, two doctors on rotation, a psychologist and four mental health nurses”. This increase can only be a consequence of the refugee issue.

Four mental health nurses for Christmas Island seems like rather a lot,  given that, 14,000 in citizens in Port Hedland have less mental health nurses. The principle professional function of “nurses” over say psychologists or counsellors is that they can administer and control psychiatric medications under the “poisons act” (usually for “high end” mental health presentations), but not that they necessarily have any greater skills to counsel trauma victims. They also cost more than counsellors/ social workers because of Nursing union pay rates.

Perhaps Christmas Island is not so much under resourced, as just having the wrong composition of their mental health team.

Niall Clugston writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. Your editorial on the Christmas Island disaster exemplifies a key problem with Australian politics, namely the abyss between the intelligentsia and the masses. In this case, the intelligentsia, as exemplified by Crikey, is underestimating the intelligence of the population.

The fact is people die every day, and any cause, even fascism, can be supported by footage of carnage. I don’t see how the masses of people who are indifferent, or antagonistic, to the plight of refugees will be suddenly converted to a recognition of reality by a few more corpses.

Sensationalism is a tool that cuts the hand of its user. A change to policy can only be made by patient and intelligent campaigning.

Terry J Mills writes: Even at this time of tragedy it is evident that the coalition are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of bagging the government over this. Yet it seems that the policies of both government and opposition are similar. One wants processing at Nauru and the other prefers East Timor.

Tony Abbott also has a whim to turn back the boats with him directing the navy commanders from Canberra or Kirribilli. This latter is probably just bravado with no substance so we come back to a difference between where the asylum seekers should be processed.

So here’s a plea, that we come together on this and have a bipartisan and humane approach to  policy  and that we bring in the Indonesians, in particular, as it from their ports that these frail craft are departing from.


Greg Williams writes: Re. “Rundle: Assange’s defence team losing the PR war by winning it” (yesterday, item 2). Attention Geoffrey Robertson!  Attention Geoffrey Robertson!  Hold everything!  You are obviously little more than a hayseed on the legal front.

The internationally renowned, undercover jurist Guy Rundle (or something) has published an article advising you where you and your prodigious legal team are going wrong with the handling of Julian Assange’s defence. Sit at Mr Rundle’s feet and gather up the pearls being cast before you.

David Hicks:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “David Hicks: responding to the critics” (yesterday, item 4). Tell me David, do you also take responsibility for taking up arms to fight for the Taliban? The Taliban prohibited employment and education for women, they executed homosexuals by burying them alive, publicly shot women for adultery, chopped off the hands of thieves, banned music and enforced a generally barbaric system of rule.  They also helped the terrorists that murdered three thousand people in downtown New York City and Washington DC. Why did you fight for them David?  Do you admit that it was wrong to do so?

Building the Education Revolution:

David Hardie writes: Re. “The BER outcome: time to correct the record” (yesterday, item 10). Thanks to Bernard Keane and Crikey for the article but the major point of evaluating the Building the Education Revolution (BER) program has been lost by Crikey, but even more so by The Australian and in turn the ABC.

One of the major problems with education and schooling (and especially state education) is that it is taking place in building of a standard that would not be tolerated in most other professions. See here for background. The BER program was meant to address by renewing the schools basic infrastructure.

However, in all of the reviews of the BER program and the commentary in the media there has been no mention of what should one of the most important outcomes of the program:  Improved outcomes for students.

Christmas cheer:

Erin Devery writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (yesterday, item 7). I just wanted to thank Crikey, and First Dog on the Moon, for a truly wonderful year of cartoons. They are the daily highlight of Crikey for me. The characterisations and observations are brilliant. First Dog delivers a daily dose of pleasure and hilarity.