Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Out of sight, out of mind
Held for seven years in immigration detention, then COVID-19 strikes

As Australia’s second wave of COVID-19 continues to build, with Victoria recording 725 new cases and a record 15 deaths overnight, there has been scant attention paid to the plight of hundreds of asylum seekers who were given medical evacuations from Manus Island or Nauru but have since been detained onshore. Late yesterday, The Australian and The West Australian reported that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who has been keeping an extremely low profile, is planning to reopen Christmas Island in order to house detainees with a criminal record whose deportation has been delayed by the pandemic, while freeing up immigration detention facilities. Roughly 200 of the detainees to be transferred have been held at the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre in the WA town of Northam, according to The Australian, which was told Yongah Hill could then be used to hold hundreds more medevac detainees from NSW or Victoria who are at risk of contracting COVID – as “a way of keeping immigration detainees safe from outbreaks in those states”. Refugee advocates immediately cried foul, claiming it was “a ploy to reduce the profile of Medevac detainees and to pressure them to leave Australia”. 

Detained medevac refugee Mostafa Azimitabar said in a statement: “Immigration are using the ‘mask’ of COVID to isolate and punish people. Yongah Hill in Western Australia is a long way from Melbourne. We are afraid of COVID, true. But we are also being isolated and punished beyond endurance … We need to be safe and part of Australia’s national response to COVID, not shoved out of sight.”

Refugee advocate Jane Salmon tells The Monthly Today that the FIFO security guards likely to be used at either Yongah Hill or Christmas Island are no better trained in the use of PPE, handwashing protocols or social-distancing measures than the private guards used in Victoria’s failed hotel quarantine regime.

She said that while some of the detainees had committed serious crimes, some only had parking offences, and all were being lumped in together. They were also being punished for filming the violence of security guards, including shocking footage, shared on Facebook, of knee-on-neck manoeuvres similar to the technique used in the killing of George Floyd in the United States.

The roughly 400 medevac detainees each have sponsors willing to house them and should be released into the community. “After seven years, you’ve done your deterrence,” said Salmon, adding that the reopening of Christmas Island was part of Dutton’s “out of sight, out of mind” strategy. 

Today, the Senate standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs released its report on the government’s punitive migration amendment bill, which aims to remove mobile phones from detainees. The committee recommended that the bill be passed, but that “the government make administrative arrangements that ensure detainees have access to communication facilities that will reasonably meet their needs, and enable timely, and where appropriate, private contact with friends, family, and legal services”. Labor senators dissented by recommending that the government either withdraw the bill or amend it to ensure it is “focused on the specific risks and does not impose broad sweeping measures that punish detainees who themselves may be at risk from other, high risk detainees”. The Greens said the bill was “irredeemable and cannot be fixed by amendment”.

Refugees and asylum seekers in Australia have suffered during the pandemic. Last week, a report from the Refugee Council of Australia estimated that almost 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers on temporary visas will lose their jobs because of the COVID-19 recession, and are at risk of homelessness given they are not eligible for welfare support, such as the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments. Now it looks as though the pandemic will be used to punish those held in indefinite immigration detention even further. 

“It is possible to put in place a scheme in Australia that does reduce our carbon emissions … If it was done once, we can do it again in the future … I do want to push back against received helplessness that it’s all too hard.”

Former prime minister Julia Gillard reminds us that, when Labor and the Greens work together, progress is possible.

“Tensions over territorial claims are growing. The pace of military modernisation is unprecedented. Democratic nations face new threats from foreign interference. Cyber-attacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication. Disinformation is being used to manipulate free societies. The trade rules that have allowed us to prosper have not evolved to meet new challenges. And economic coercion is increasingly employed as a tool of statecraft.”

In a speech about the future of the Indo-Pacific, Prime Minister Scott Morrison lists the threats to democratic nations, but fails to mention climate change.

Reaganomics is back, baby
As Treasurer Josh Frydenburg praises Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, a controversial recovery plan is gaining traction. In today’s episode, Mike Seccombe discusses the treasurer’s economic inspirations, and whether Australia can spend its way out of the crisis.

The number of expected job losses at a slimmed-down Virgin Australia under new owner Bain Capital, which will ditch the Tiger brand.

“The Morrison government will invest $33 million so childcare services remain open for vulnerable families and permitted workers, while helping Victorian parents keep their child’s enrolment while they must keep their child at home … Melbourne families in stage-four lockdown will receive an additional 30 days, or six weeks, of allowable absences from childcare. In conjunction with the gap fee waiver, families should not be charged fees for keeping their children at home so will not have to withdraw from the system … This will guarantee revenue to childcare services through the government’s CCS contribution, even if children are not attending care.”

Education Minister Dan Tehan announces a childcare relief package for Victoria.

The list

“The man Morrison’s critics in the media imagine – someone with the build (and wardrobe) of a retired prop forward, and the heavy-handed touch to match – is an unconvincing caricature. Yes, he is fond of a photo opportunity, and has a tendency to talk loosely when put on the spot. But a barren legislative program, and the supposedly clumsy, inauthentic public persona, are hiding a robust and formidable agenda: to undo much of the postwar consensus on government spending – who it is for, and what it is intended to do.”

“With the beaver trappers and their leathers, the saloon sharks and their drink, the guns, the river barges, et cetera, First Cow threatens, at least at first, to become a full-scale Western. But full-scale anything would be out of kilter for Reichardt, whose eight feature films have proved her to be master of formal restraint and tonal understatement. Her 2010 film Meek’s Cutoff, which followed a wagon train through Oregon’s high desert circa 1845, was atmospherically parched, in keeping with that austere country, but the deep-green fecundity of First Cow – all river ferns and water – allows for a richer, wryer feeling.”

“They call themselves the COVID long-haulers. Weeks and months after the initial infection has passed, people around the world are still reporting a strange medley of often debilitating symptoms that have caused them daily pain, confusion and deepening concern. Those with ‘long COVID’ are marshalling in online forums and on private social media pages to share their symptoms and new discoveries about maladies that, they believe, simply did not affect them before the virus.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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