The Politics    Monday, March 23, 2015

Island of terror

By Russell Marks

The Moss review ignores the real cause of the abuse on Nauru, because the government won’t go there

Scott Morrison, who is now the minister for social services, said yesterday that he would not be apologising for having aired allegations that Save the Children staff were “coaching” asylum seekers to self-harm on Nauru. Morrison claimed yesterday that he had simply reacted appropriately to those allegations, and others, by having directed Save the Children to ask ten of its staff to leave Nauru in early October while Phillip Moss conducted an independent review. But in October, when he was immigration minister, Morrison had said that Save the Children staff were “employed to do a job, not to be political activists”. He also said that “making false claims and worse – allegedly coaching self-harm and using children in protests – is also completely unacceptable.”

The report of Moss’s review, handed to the government on 9 February but only released late on Friday afternoon, found no evidence to support the “coaching” allegations beyond two reports prepared by Wilson Security in September. Ironically, those reports had relied on the “coaching” allegations as a way of effectively dismissing the substance of the complaints Save the Children staff had been making: that children, women and men were suffering the kinds of horrific abuse and assault that are utterly predictable whenever one dehumanised group of people is placed under the control of poorly-trained guards who enact what they believe to be the demands of their overseers. The Stanford Prison Experiment has received much critical treatment, but its findings are replicated in every real-world “experiment” since conducted.

Philip Moss’s investigators found reasons to believe the allegations being made by Save the Children staff, but his report’s recommendations – which essentially amount to calls for better training for guards – don’t address the fundamental problem of detaining already-traumatised people involuntarily on a developing island nation. There is no evidence that supports Tony Abbott’s repeated claims that offshore detention, especially of children, is integral to stopping dangerous boat journeys, and for that reason both the United Nations and the Australian Human Rights Commission are against the practice. Abbott has responded by attacking those organisations (and Save the Children) while lamenting that “things happen” that “aren’t perfect”. Meanwhile his government prepares to send refugees to Cambodia, once again contrary to all sensible advice.

The Round-up

Malcolm Fraser, 1930–2015

Guardian Australia is following the parliamentary condolence speeches live. Written tributes over the weekend from Fred Chaney, Robert Manne, Petro Georgiou, Philip Ruddock, Larissa BehrendtMargaret Simons, Michael Gordon and Katharine Murphy.

Lenore Taylor contrasts Fraser’s “steady hand” with Tony Abbott’s “chaotic manoeuvres”. Malcolm Farr recalls one episode that demonstrates Fraser’s estrangement from the Liberal Party, and lists five of his most significant policies.

Meanwhile David Ellery recalls Fraser’s love of cars, and The Australian records David Leyonhjelm’s questioning of the suspension of parliamentary proceedings today for condolences.

Social security

Susan McDonald reports at ABC News: “The federal government will trial a cashless welfare card, with payments not allowed to be spent on alcohol or gambling.”

Judith Ireland reports in Fairfax: “The Abbott government will extend homelessness funding for another two years, providing $230 million for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, with priority given to domestic violence services and young homeless people.”

Budget 2015

Eliza Borrello reports at ABC News: “Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says she plans to question Treasurer Joe Hockey about a report suggesting the aid budget is likely to suffer more cuts in May.”

An AAP report in The Australian: “Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the government remains ‘absolutely’ committed to cutting government spending.”

Peter Martin comments in Fairfax: “The intergenerational report projects massive and hidden tax cuts that would add as much as $150 billion a year to the budget deficit by 2055, a new analysis by The Australia Institute claims.”

Seeking refuge

Ramona Koval interviewed Geoffrey Eames (Nauru’s former chief justice) for The Saturday Paper.

Sarah Whyte reports in Fairfax: “International aid agencies based in Cambodia have rejected the Abbott government’s resettlement deal, saying it is not appropriate for a country that has been accused of human rights abuses and has no refugee resettlement experience.”


Thom Mitchell’s analysis at New Matilda: “Yesterday the Abbott government released the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan. While acknowledging climate change as the greatest long-term threat to the reef, it doesn’t once mention the nine mega-mines proposed for the Galilee Basin.”

Lisa Cox reports in Fairfax: “The man charged with steering a government taskforce reviewing Australia’s climate targets says the Abbott government has made it clear that its recommendations should not hurt the economy or jobs growth.”

Jacob Greber reports in the AFR: “The federal government will hold fresh talks on the renewable energy target today, less than a week before a deadline expires that will force emissions-intensive producers to pay fines under the scheme.”

Oliver Milman reports at Guardian Australia: “The Tasmanian government ignored the advice of its own experts to push ahead with logging in the habitat of the endangered swift parrot, internal departmental documents have revealed.”

NSW election 2015

An AAP report at Guardian Australia: “The NSW Coalition government is set to score a clear victory, winning many marginal seats it expected to lose, opinion polls show.”

An AAP report at Guardian Australia: “People with serious illnesses such as juvenile diabetes, cancer and severe asthma will reportedly get free medicine thanks to a Baird government plan to scrap copayments for public patients if it’s re-elected.”

Rick Morton reports at The Australian: “Labor would oppose the partial sale of the electricity network in NSW ‘win, lose or draw’, opposition leader Luke Foley says.”

Tony Windsor comments in The Saturday Paper: “This election will come down to two issues: electricity asset sales and coal seam gas.”

Paul Sheehan comments in Fairfax: “NSW is over-policed. Taxpayers are funding a costly, inefficient and increasingly intrusive force that devotes only 21 per cent of its work hours to investigating crime.”

Workplace relations

Kaitlin Thals reports at The New Daily: “The federal government’s proposed overhaul of the workers’ compensation scheme has been slammed, with a review warning it fails the public interest test, and workers, small and medium businesses and taxpayers will suffer.”


Shalailah Medhora reports at Guardian Australia: “The Productivity Commission has been asked by Joe Hockey and Peter Dutton to look into the impact of fees and other factors for both temporary and permanent visitors.”

Caitlyn Gribbin reports at ABC News: “A Sri Lankan family who want to work in a Christian crisis centre in remote Australia say their daughter was refused a temporary visa because she has Down syndrome.”


Nick Miller reports in Fairfax: “There are winners and losers in the plain packaging for cigarettes battle. Big business is trying valiantly to its protect its ground.”

Dan Harrison reports in Fairfax: “Two of Australia’s biggest health insurers are cutting the amount they will refund patients for alternative therapies and gym memberships at the same time they are raising the cost of insurance.”

Data retention

Katie Miller (of the Law Institute of Victoria) comments in the AFR: “Neither the government nor the opposition have made out a case that mass mandatory data retention of the scale set out in the bill is necessary, reasonable or proportionate.”

Richard Ackland comments at Guardian Australia: “No amount of lipstick applied to the data retention legislation will cosmetically improve this porker.”


Mike Seccombe’s analysis in The Saturday Paper: “He calls himself a ‘fixer’ but Christopher Pyne’s achievements heading the Coalition’s education portfolio have done nothing to support this school of thought.”


Phillip Coorey reports in the AFR: “On the issues considered most important, voters are marking the government down, giving it its lowest overall performance and quality rating since it was elected. Just 19 per cent rate the government's performance as good, while 13 per cent rate the Coalition as doing a good job in upholding quality of government.”

Gabrielle Chan comments at Guardian Australia: “The modern voter, so the conventional thinking goes, lacks the patience for reform and is easily offended, spurred on by a 24/7 media cycle that eschews proper policy debate. But what if voters actually understand the requirements of democracy and will simple punish governments until they get it right?”

James Massola reports in Fairfax: “In opposition, Tony Abbott was accused of adopting a small-target strategy. But the current opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has made himself an even smaller target, giving at least 200 fewer interviews and perhaps as many as 400 fewer while avoiding hostile commercial media outlets and commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.”

Dan Moss reports at The New Daily: “Veteran Canberra journalist Niki Savva has pointed out a handy source of last week’s ridiculed calls made in cabinet to spark a double dissolution.”

Paul Bongiorno comments in The Saturday Paper: “The incompetence of the Abbott government’s political management is almost incomprehensible. Many on its own backbench are close to despair.”

Sophie Morris reports in The Saturday Paper: “The leaking of media reforms has enraged News Corp and left the impression Turnbull is trying to wedge Abbott.”

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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