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Federal

Sep 7, 2017

5 comments

Border Force officers have been told to repay thousands of dollars of overpaid leave within weeks or potentially face debt collectors.

An email seen by Crikey, sent to approximately 2000 employees across Border Force’s various agencies, sets out incorrect crediting of leave across the last two years due to a software glitch.

The email also offers the affected employee options by which the overpayments can be repaid. There is no option for the employee to negotiate the repayment on their own terms — an employee can only choose whether it is deducted from their future accrual of annual leave, or from their salary on the following terms: 

Employees who have been overpaid: 

  • $100 or less have to fully repay within a fortnight;
  • $100 – $300 must be repaid within two fortnightly repayments;
  • $300 – $1000 must be repaid within three fortnightly repayments;
  • $1000 – $3000 must be repaid within six fortnightly repayments; and
  • $3000 – $5000 must be repaid within eight fortnightly repayments

 

Anyone owing more than $5000 is in the hands of a delegate appointed by the Finance Department, who will determine how the amount is to be repaid. The email continuous ominously that “the Department reserves its right to pursue recovery of the debt through other available legal avenues. Where affected employees do not provide advice on their preferred repayment option the Department will create a debt for the monetary value of the over accrued annual leave.  This debt will then be recovered through the Department’s debt recovery management processes.”

When approached by Crikey, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection did not rule out the use of debt collectors.

“The department has identified that due to a systems error approximately 2000 employees were provided with additional leave. In most cases the additional leave paid was between one and five days,” a spokesperson said.

“The department has written to impacted staff and is working with each individual employee on arrangements to pay back this additional leave.”

The email to affected staff states “significant analysis and audit has been undertaken on the over-accrual of annual leave, and we confirm all other leave balances are correct”. It gives the recipient seven calendar days to dispute the matter.

The Community and Public Sector Union has also gotten involved. An email from the CPSU has been sent out to members, advising those affected to immediately dispute the amount — it provides a template for them to send — and await further advice. 

Normally an employer cannot recoup an overpayment from an employee directly from their wages, unless they have the affected employee’s written permission. However, the Fair Work Act allows deductions in the following cases:

  • the employee agrees in writing and it’s principally for their benefit;
  • it’s allowed by a law, a court order, or by the Fair Work Commission; or 
  • it’s allowed under the employee’s award or registered agreement.

In the case of public servants, the law allows the government to recoup costs under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule. Section 11 requires that a non-corporate Commonwealth entity pursue any debt owed to the Commonwealth.

The agreement covering border force employees states:

“Where an employee has been provided with payment and/or entitlements to which the employee was not entitled (including salary, leave, travel payment and/or other amount payable under this Agreement), which effectively represents an overpayment, a debt will be considered to be created to the Commonwealth.” 

There is a long history of discontent among employees at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection — as Crikey reported in May, morale was rock bottom, with the workforce having gone three years without a pay rise, and last year, overwhelming voted down pay offer after pay offer from the government, leading to compulsory arbitration from the Fair Work Commission

UPDATE: The Department has since contacted Crikey to clarify: The Department does not use the services of debt collectors to recover overpayment relating to staff debt.  

Federal

Jul 27, 2017

5 comments

The announcement by Prime Minister Turnbull, without any cabinet consultations, of the establishment of a substantially enlarged, security based, Department of Home Affairs under the ministerial control of Peter Dutton is unnecessary and unlikely to produce worthwhile results.

The proposed mega-department will include the Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the present Department of Immigration, all under the control of a Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton have all maintained that the department’s principal task will be to make the Australian people safer. It is ironic that the policies they have adopted during the last decade have ensured that the Australian people are less safe than they used to be. In this context, former prime minister Kevin Rudd announced that he had reversed the position he originally took and now believes that the refugees should be admitted to Australia.

The increased vulnerability of the Australian people to terrorist attacks stems from the government’s failure to concentrate on our own region of the world, namely south-east Asia, north Asia and the south-west Pacific. It follows logically that we should have avoided involving Australia in the Middle East and particularly on the same side of Saudi Arabia, given what is going on in Yemen, including the current cholera epidemic.

A range of people, including the Opposition Leader, are asking why this move proposed by Dutton is necessary — especially as the previous government had decided not to take such a step.

I have spent the last 66 years in the public service — as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and an adviser to both Coalition and Labor prime ministers and foreign ministers — and I am seriously disturbed that our present Coalition and ALP leaders have adopted the policy towards refugees that they have done. The policies that they are following clearly include elements of Islamophobia, Sinophobia and Russophobia. It is disappointing that Australia has adopted a course that, despite assertions to the contrary, is not in our real national interest.

The Islamic State is not a state. It has no army, no navy and no clear boundaries. It is clear that IS is delighted with the potentially damaging attitudes of Australia, which the Coalition and ALP leaders have adopted. I find why they have done so, hard to comprehend.

Australia’s present political culture seems to me disconnected from the real and rapidly changing global situation.  I fear that Australia will continue to fall behind if the government does not change its present course.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who has been in Australia since she was two, has now left the country because she feels she has been driven out by what she says is the hatred of a non-white woman wearing a headscarf.  This does raise the question of what is happening to our stated devotion to free speech.

*Richard Woolcott was formerly head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and president of the UN Security Council

*This article was originally published at John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations

Federal

Jun 19, 2017

5 comments

What do you get after more than a year of waiting for Border Force to respond to a freedom of information request? Not a lot, it turns out.

In April 2016, Crikey filed an FOI request for footage taken during Border Force’s trial of GoPro cameras. As we reported at the time a “small number” of GoPro cameras were issued for specific situations where Border Force agents board vessels at sea, and a second batch of cameras were bought “to evaluate the capability and to examine associated legislative, technical, training and other issues”.

The agency took over 12 months to respond and last week provided a DVD with just one, 32MB, two-minute video with one minute of footage from the trial:

Another eight videos identified by the department were blocked from release. Four of the videos were of border patrol operations prior to the launch of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) but contained “tactics and operational procedures” relevant to OSB. 

[What are they hiding? The widespread denial of FOI requests]

“This pertains to the national security of Australia,” the department said. “The operations of the assets captured on the video footage form part of the maintenance of the security of the Commonwealth… Australia’s national interests are threatened by any unauthorised arrival of people and the Australian Government has responsibility for the lawful and orderly entry of people into Australia, along with ensuring that only those foreign nationals who are appropriately authorised are allowed to enter and remain.”

The release of the footage would compromise the security of the Commonwealth, the department argued. Other reasons for blocking the release of the rest of the footage include that officers could be clearly identified in some of the footage. The full list of reasons can be found here

The delay in the release of the footage is not surprising considering that as one of the most secretive agencies, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection receives more FOI requests than any other government agency, and potentially more than the other agencies combined. In 2014-15, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner reported that DIBP, Human Services and the Department of Veteran Affairs received more than 75% of the total of FOI requests to Commonwealth agencies. Between October 2013 and February 2017, DIBP received 59,817 FOI requests. The department has just 81 full-time equivalent staff — a plainly inadequate number given the volume of requests — and an annual budget of $6.7 million to deal with all the requests.

[On-water matter or just bureaucracy? Why FOI requests are languishing]

Typical requests for information should take just 30 days, and the department recently told a Senate estimates committee that it did “attempt to meet these legislative timeframes to the extent possible within the limits of our operational and administrative capacity”. In the last financial year, of the 22,913 FOI requests finalised, 15,710 were finalised within the expected timeframe, but as of February this year 3905 of the 4059 active requests with the agency were outside the statutory timeframe for response.

These aren’t considered “overdue” because under FOI law, failure to respond in the timeframe can be treated as a refusal and then escalated for review at a higher level.

The release of the footage under FOI does show that such footage can be requested, meaning footage from other events in Immigration can be requested — such as, say, the Good Friday incident CCTV footage the government and Andrew Bolt claim backs Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s statements about what sparked the tensions on Manus Island.

The department was still evaluating the use of GoPro cameras on Border Force officers, and said at the time last year that a wider roll-out of cameras that had both audio and video recording could be in breach of state, territory and Commonwealth privacy legislation if used onshore.

Federal

May 10, 2017

5 comments

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has contradicted evidence given to the Senate about the use of capsicum spray in immigration detention. Yesterday Crikey revealed that in response to a question on notice from Senate estimates regarding “use of force in detention”, the department responded as follows:

“The Department defines ‘use’ as drawing, aiming, striking or discharging the baton, firearm or chemical agent and ‘force’ as any verbal command or physical action to gain subject control.”

The chemical agent, the department said in its response, was:

“Chemical agent means oleoresin capsicum spray or any other irritant or inflammatory spray, or device, of a type which has been approved by the Comptroller-General of Customs or his or her authorised representative for use by an officer in the exercise of statutory powers, and that is an approved item of personal defence equipment for the purposes of section 189A of the Customs Act 1901”

The question was specifically put to the department regarding a massive increase in incidents of “use of force” in Australia’s onshore detention network, and the question itself mentioned detention in its subject title. In a response published on the department’s “correcting the record” page late in the afternoon after the department did not provide a response within an hour to our questions, the department contradicted its initial response, and said that capsicum spray was not used in immigration detention centres.

“Neither ABF officers nor the Department’s contracted Service Provider, carry or have authorisation to use OC spray or firearms in IDCs. Crikey has misinterpreted the answer to a Question on Notice dealing with the broader issue of how the Department defines ‘use of force’ across the entirety of its operations.”

In the article, Crikey made no suggestion that capsicum spray had been used, just that according to the department’s own response, it appeared that there had been a shift in policy regarding its use. The department– which last month took close to three days and two email requests to get a response to questions from Crikey on briefing Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on the Good Friday incident on Manus Island — said it was “disappointed” Crikey didn’t hold off on publishing while waiting for a response from the department.  

Federal

May 9, 2017

5 comments

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has admitted it has the ability to use capsicum spray on detainees in Australia’s onshore immigration detention centres. In an apparent change of policy, hundreds of reported “use of force” incidents in Australia’s onshore immigration detention network could have included the use of capsicum spray on detainees, but it is unclear whether or not capsicum spray has actually been used on detainees.

In February, Fairfax (no link due to strike) revealed that so-called “use of force” incidents where security officers had to intervene or restrain detainees in Australia’s immigration network based in Australia (excluding Nauru and Manus Island) had more than doubled between February and April last year, compared to a similar period between August and October in 2015, up to 230 incidents per week from 100 incidents per week. This came despite a decline in the total number of detainees held on onshore detention centres. These stats came from several documents released under FOI law.

 

Fairfax reported that the use of restraints in particular was a cause for concern, with reports of the elderly or those in wheelchairs being forced to wear restraints while being transported. When questioned about the report in Senate estimates, Border Force commander Roman Quaedvlieg said that the definition of “use of force” could vary depending on who exactly is being subjected to the use of force: from those needing medical treatment to those attempting to escape to those who had their visas cancelled on character grounds:

“If there is a detainee who is threatening to commit, or actually demonstrating, self-harm, there is justification to use force to prevent that from occurring. If, for example, a detainee is scaling a fence to try to escape a facility, the use of force is justified. If we are moving people into a community setting for the receipt of medical, health or other treatments and they are an escape risk — which is risk assessed — we may apply restraints.”

In response to a question on the actual definition of “use of force” the department said it included “drawing, aiming, striking or discharging the baton, firearm or chemical agent and ‘force’ as any verbal command or physical action to gain subject control”. The chemical agent is capsicum spray, according to the department:

“Chemical agent, means oleoresin capsicum spray or any other irritant or inflammatory spray, or device, of a type which has been approved by the Comptroller-General of Customs or his or her authorised representative for use by an officer in the exercise of statutory powers, and that is an approved item of personal defence equipment for the purposes of section 189A of the Customs Act 1901”

This comes in contrast to the previously reported department position that “under no circumstances are chemical agents, including sedatives, tear gas, pepper spray or capsicum spray used in immigration detention”. The department did not state whether capsicum spray had been used on detainees. Crikey sought clarification from the department but had not heard back by deadline.

In response to questions from Labor, the department also revealed there are two types of restraints used to hold detainees in the detention centres:

The department didn’t respond directly as to whether these restraints were used on the elderly or disabled as had been claimed, but said that “application and approval of restraints is appropriate and proportionate to the threat and risk of harm to the individual detainee and of others.” Physical condition, age, and mental condition are all taken into account, according to the department.

Federal

Oct 31, 2016

5 comments

The Border Force has started putting out podcasts to counter what Immigration Minister Peter Dutton describes as “a bit of a jihad” from Fairfax, and the “biased” questioning and subsequent “kangaroo court” of an ABC program.

The podcasts cover riveting topics — such as training sniffer dog puppies or regional maritime co-operation — but are more distinguished by not detailing with what lots of people want to know about: exactly how boats are being stopped and what’s going on in Nauru.

It’s difficult to imagine the community paying much genuine attention to these off-piste topics. The resultant immaterial podcast is like publishing Playboy without pictures: nobody is much interested. The releases serve to remind us more about what is not being said rather than what is. Attempting to change the subject is a clumsy communication strategy. Ignoring contentious issues while simulating transparency by issuing electronic irrelevancies is Dutton dressed as spam.

It is hard not to feel sorry for a department with broad ranging responsibilities and a communications staff of 82 people whose main job seems to be finding new ways to keep schtum for the minister.

At the core of this silly distraction tactic is the issue of quite how secret governments should be.

Clandestine behaviour by the apparatus of the state on the basis that the end justifies the means seems defensible with imminent life-endangering terror threats or wars, but should it be central to long-term programs to reduce irregular immigration and, if so, why?

There is a common view that rights and freedoms, including freedom of information are unlimited. This is not true.

Under international law, certain rights are “non-derogable”, meaning they always apply in all situations. These include things like the right to life, the prohibition of torture and ill treatment, the right to recognition as a person before the law, and the right to freedom from retroactive application of criminal laws.

Other rights, including freedom of information and association are not absolute and may be suspended or restricted by the state, most usually at times of grave national emergency.

Counterbalancing this, any such restriction must have a basis in national law, pursue a legitimate aim, allow for effective remedies, have guarantees against abuse, be non-discriminatory and, most relevantly, be necessary and proportionate to the aim.

In this case, the principle of proportionality seems simple: does a pragmatic increase in effective deterrence outweigh the need for regime transparency? Is success an excuse? What is the moral imperative underpinning this decision, and to which other programs ought it apply?

At the last election, by popular demand, both major parties promised to curb irregular immigration by sea, an objective that necessitates policies of overt cruelty.

If Government can deliver that result without the tactics causing moral anguish and community guilt thus substantial backlash from uncommitted voters, then it’s a political win. If those tactics are too contentious for soft and swinging voters to endorse at the next poll, then it’s a political loss.

In the absence of hard facts, it seems entirely plausible that the reason Border Force tactics to contain irregular migration are being kept secret is not to outfox people smugglers, but rather to contain outrage from Australians who might conclude that what is being done in their name is objectionable, inhumane and does not justify the outcome.

The truth of exactly what is happening to deter irregular marine migration is unknown to public and media, so that vacuum is being filled by suspicions of payoffs, intimidations and dodgy dealings. It’s a ministerial and departmental no-win; little wonder there’s desire to change the subject with podcast puff pieces.

In my view at least, transparency about what is being done by government takes priority. In all but the direst and information-sensitive emergencies, the end does not justify the means — that slope is way too slippery. Balancing these conflicting priorities ultimately presents a complex zugzwang for decision makers, perhaps driving a bid to stall by attempting to change the subject.

In the trade-off between stemming irregular immigration or freedom of information, I lean to the latter, and although it may well not be the majority opinion, I’m no orphan.

This stretch of “on-water matters” secrecy seems a tipping point in state power. We are a country of grown-ups, capable of balancing complex arguments and making rational decisions.

Obscuring genuine concerns with irrelevant podcasts to simulate openness compounds the insult of secrecy.

It is time to experiment with truth.

Federal

May 3, 2016

5 comments

Every budget throws a few curveballs, even during times of jobs and growth. There is still time to put levies on hay and deer velvet, or invest in something as wonderful (depending on your point of view) as “beef roads”. Here we present the weirdest and most fun bits of the budget:

Make hay (and money) while the sun shines. The government has announced that it will transform a previously voluntary levy on every tonne of hay exported to a mandatory 50c levy on the fodder.

Wonderful, my deer. The government will also drop an excise levy and customs charge on deer velvet, as well as the customs charge on live deer, which is great for all the people who knew that deer velvet was a thing before today. This may or may not include your correspondent, who has been without access to Google all day.

Sour lemons. The citrus levy will increase by $1.50 per tonne on July 1 this year, with the extra funds collected to go towards addressing “gaps in citrus industry research and development funding”.

Let’s get digital. The budget has also allowed for $1 million for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, “for digital resilience against violent extremism” as part of a range of counter-terrorism initiatives. The Stay Smart Online program has been funded for $404,000 this year, or, as it very appropriately appears in the budget papers, “404”.

There’s also $3.5 million over four years from 2016-17 for the Department of Education and Training (DET) to establish up to six academic centres of “cyber security excellence”. Whatever that is.

The 2014 budget? Never heard of him. There are also a few sneaky measures restoring cuts made in 2014. The government will spend $37.8 million over the forward estimates to backdate payments claimed under the Veterans’ Disability Pension. It’s “to reverse the 2014-15 Budget measure titled Veterans’ Disability Pensions commencement of payments from date of claim that removed the backdating of payments to veterans under the Veterans’ Disability Pension”.

Operation Tetris. Mandarins’ favourite game — entitled Operation Tetris — is back in this budget, meaning that more departments and agencies will be poked, prodded and squeezed until they fit in smaller office spaces. The departments affected include the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Australian Electoral Commission, the Digital Transformation Office and the Environment Department, along with the Shared Services Centre and the Department of Education and Training. It’s expected to save $200 million over 10 years.

Palm trees and disgraced Libs. The graphics and case studies featured in the budget papers really convey the feeling of the mediocre ambitions of the policies. This explanation of how a tax haven works tells a thousand words:

 taxhavengraphic

 

And the names chosen in these case studies sound just a tad familiar: Bronwyn and Jamie are benefits of changes to tax brackets.

Coincidentally (we are sure) their names match with Bronwyn Bishop and Jamie Briggs — not ones the government really wants to be reminded of today.

budgettax

And these three young people are benefitting from the newly announced youth employment program — they end up at jobs in a supermarket, a coffee shop and a newsagent. Not very agile or innovative.

budgetyouthgraphic

Barnaby carping on. Already announced on the weekend, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce’s war on the European carp also gets a prominent mention. While the press release accompanying the papers avoided specifying that the carp would be culled by spreading herpes, the budget papers themselves let us know the specific strain — cyprinid herpes virus 3.

Say no to drugs. The government has pledged an extra $1.5 million over three years to the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority to supercharge its surveillance in the lead-up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

No more leaks. The budget papers include $18.3 million to “strengthen the main and side skylights within the APH. This funding has already been provided for by the Government.”

Our favourite acronym. The Australian Federal Police is getting $3.3 million to establish the National Anti-Gang Squad (NAGS) strike team in South Australia “to provide the Government with a coordination capability to detect, deter and disrupt gang-related crimes”.

No money for alcopops. Australian wine growers will receive a $50 million boost through a program to promote wine tourism within Australia and to advertise our vintages overseas. The government will also extend the “brewery refund scheme to domestic distilleries and producers of low strength fermented beverages such as non-traditional cider” — but not to alcopop producers, who “merely purchase the spirits and add the soda and other flavours”. That’s a win for hipsters, but a big blow to teenagers.

Border Force allows queue jumping. The government will raise revenue by allowing private airport operators to charge travellers more for “premium border clearance services for international air passengers, initially at Sydney, Perth and Melbourne airports”. Now you can skip the line to get into Australia, but only if you pay.

Tips and rumours

Apr 15, 2016

5 comments

The $6.1 million government-funded film Journey, which is designed to deter asylum seekers from coming to Australia by boat, has begun being broadcast in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan this year. In response to a question on notice from Senate estimates, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said that the film would be repeated a number of times in the countries until July. This is how the department describes the film:

“The telemovie Journey is a ninety-minute film that is inspired by true events. It portrays the journeys of people looking to travel illegally by boat to Australia. It highlights their personal situations and challenges they face along their journey. It includes the messages delivered as part of the Australian Government’s No Way anti-people smuggling communication campaign. This includes the risks and dangers of travelling illegally by boat, the lies of people smugglers, and Australia’s protection measures to preserve the integrity of its borders, including boat turnbacks.”

After a bit of searching online, we’ve found the full version of the film (but not in English). Watch at your own peril. It’s not the feel-good family fun film of the year.

Federal

Mar 10, 2016

5 comments

In a one-two punch of bizarre (and very touchy) press releases, Immigration secretary Mike Pezzullo is trying to deny the undeniable: what dozens of official — including Australian government — inquiries, and whole cohorts of health and welfare professionals, have seen and heard for themselves.

The press releases were in part a response to this article that I wrote for medical journal Australian Psychiatry, in which I compared Australia’s offshore detention regime to Nazi Germany.

Pezzullo opined:

“Consistent with the law of the land, and under direction of the government of the day, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection operates a policy of keeping children in detention only as a last resort, and releasing those children that might be in detention as soon as reasonably practicable.

“This is a very contentious area of public policy and administration. Sometimes emotions rise and facts gets distorted. For the reputation of my Department and its officers, it is crucial that I set the record straight: the Department and its uniformed operational arm, the Australian Border Force, does not operate beyond the law, nor is it an immoral ‘rogue agency’.”

He identifies the importance of mental health services because of PTSD in asylum seekers but fails to note the impact of detention system itself — and how long adults and children are spending in detention.

If all is wholesome and enlightened as Pezzullo represents it, he should allow the media freedom to visit offshore detention centres and to report. He makes claims about improvements in healthcare and education that would be worthy of unfettered media attention. Why are the media not allowed access? The standard response is detainee privacy — but far more often than not, this is code for department privacy. Detainees want their story told.

Pezzullo implies that emotions prompted the comparison I made, comparing those who work in offshore detention to those who aided the Nazis. He suggests that emotions, even when accompanied by accurate information, are unreliable when making moral judgments. The Nazis occasion intense emotional response, but I used the link with Nazi Germany with deliberate intent of making a reasonable claim that can be tested. I explicitly disclaimed any reference to death camps. Others may see no connection of Australian race history (including its treatment of indigenous peoples and recent treatment of refugees) and the exclusion and scapegoating of Jews in 1930s Nazi Germany with the widening bystander effect on the German public that so many observers commented on.

I do see a connection. We in Australia all know what is happening; what is worrying is that as a nation we are being led to believe that it is all OK. Immigration detention psychiatrist Dr Peter Young makes it explicit that our treatment of asylum seekers constitutes torture: “If we take the definition of torture to be the deliberate harming of people in order to coerce them into a desired outcome, I think it does fulfil that definition.”

If children are being removed from detention, that is excellent. But those who are there are there longer than ever. It is also irrelevant, because tomorrow the next group of children can be incarcerated. The point of contention is that the Australian government indefinitely detains children at all. This practice should be outlawed by legislation, consistent with Australia’s human rights commitments.

In Senate estimates recently, Pezzullo made abundantly clear that he would tolerate professional ethics and practice only as far as it fell into line with government policy, and the Border Force Act does threatens two years’ jail for disclosures about systemic abuses. Its secrecy provisions are incompatible with professional ethics. My colleagues and I have no confidence in immigration health while it comes under the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The oversight groups Pezzullo mentions either are rubber stamps or they do not have the powers to effect change. We all know what happened to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Forgotten Children Report and the scorn with which the former PM treated both it and AHRC president Gillian Triggs. The Immigration Minister should have the support of a truly independent health advisory body, as the Palmer Inquiry (2005) recommended. Any health professional who witnesses detention’s rife systemic abuses and seeks to fulfil his or her obligatory duties as a human rights worker in these environments is on a collision course with DIBP.

With many workers, I hold out a vision of a generous Australia, an Australia that imagines other ways of responding to the international and regional refugee crisis. We are better than this. There are available models of response we could access. Unfortunately, neither side of politics is currently interested in exploring these pathways.

Comments & corrections

Mar 7, 2016

5 comments

On Xi and Mao

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Xi whiz! It’s Mao all over again” (Friday). Mao? Wow! Does Michael Sainsbury really believe that Xi Jinping is behaving like the Great Helmsman, or is it just a claim to make his comment more interesting?

On Pell

Rob Gerrand writes: Re. “Cui bono? Home field advantage in the inquisition of George Pell” (March 1). There are none so blind as those who will not see, and the forensic examination of Cardinal Pell by Gail Furness, SC shows two aspects of the proverb.

First, there is the blindness of the culture 40 years ago where people refused to believe a priest or teacher could sexually abuse a child. The victim was usually vilified as a liar. That culture unfortunately still manifests itself today, for example with the dreadful story of abuse by an orthodox Jewish principal in Melbourne of some of her students.

This blindness manifested itself in Ballarat and elsewhere, where even a mother would not believe her own son. And Pell showed his blind spot when a boy told him he was being abused and he only referred it to the school, and accepted at face value that the Christian Brothers would deal with it; he didn’t follow up further. And again, when Pell said that Gerald Ridsdale’s activities were of little interest to him.

But it also manifests itself in Furness’ own relentless attempt to trap the Cardinal. She appears to be blind to the idea that back then almost no one took reports of abuse seriously. Time and again victims’ harrowing stories show how getting authorities to believe them was almost impossible. Not only the Catholic Church hushed up and covered up allegations. So did other religious and government bodies, the scouts, the YMCA, and the police. The media also rarely ran the story. The fine movie Spotlight illustrates this well.

It is, unfortunately, all too credible that the Cardinal is telling the truth, and he was blind to the abuse that was occurring, was too eager to dismiss it as “difficulties”. It is disturbing that Counsel Assisting does not appear able to understand that.

On Turnbull, the let-down

Les Heimann writes: Re. “The Abbott legacy: Turnbull heads for the worst of both worlds” (Friday). Bernard Keane writes on his disillusion concerning Malcolm Turnbull; how he promised a fragrance not delivered after ousting the stink of Abbott. Myself and many others warned the poli-tragics that nothing would change with Turnbull other than style.

It is now the case that one longs for the artlessness of Abbott as Turnbull’s performance both in and out of parliament is of epic obfuscation mixed with simple lies and this makes the receiver angry. At least with Abbott we simply laughed.

Remember we said “Turnbull is not a leader — he is at best a hum drum barrister and a carpetbagger”. So now we see a leaderless policy-free rabble of mediocre men and women intent on ideology being “the plan” with a Rudd-like peacock scratching the sand around their barren barnyard.

Suddenly Bill Shorten sounds sensible and considered, and he is through the utterly obvious policy presentation around negative gearing and capital gains tax. This policy is crystal clear a winner. Simple and fair and the punters know it. Turnbull’s reaction to it couldn’t possibly better demonstrate his liabilities. Lies, exaggeration and hyperbole has provided us with another “Gretch” moment.

Look carefully at the opposition frontbench and you will notice intelligence and discipline; then contrast this with the government front bench. You don’t have to name them to know them as incompetent. There will not be double dissolution, there will not be an early election: this mob will want to cling to power as long as possible waiting for Labor to make a mistake. What sort of a government is that?

The enforcers

Nicholas Ryan writes: Re. “Border Force goes hard” (Friday). Somebody in uniform having a go at Masha Gessen about dirt on a bicycle at airport arrival would be somebody from DAFF Biosecurity, not the nice people from ABF. They were so famous for hazing frequent business flyers about dirt on their sneakers etc that even Max Wilton, then chair of Sydney Airport, had a large public moan about them.

Subsequently there was a government report, said to be far-reaching, the result of which was a name change for an organisation whose acronym was by then widely and well established. That organisation was AQIS, but no more. Now it’s DAFF(t) indeed.