‘What cranks my goat …’ is a new semi-regular feature which will provide a quick overview of cultural, legal, political and social issues of concern to me from time to time.
At the moment there are three issues that crank my goat in particular …
Children in detention
In a landmark judgment handed down on 3 February 2016, the High Court of Australia held the Commonwealth government’s handling of offshore processing of asylum seekers constitutional: Plaintiff M68/2015 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  HCA 1.
The court held, by majority, that the conduct of the Commonwealth in signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Nauru relating to persons who have ‘travelled irregularly by sea to Australia’ and whom Australian law authorises to be transferred to Nauru, was authorised by s61 of the Constitution.
The court further held that the conduct of the Commonwealth in giving effect to the MoU, including certain administrative arrangements for the regional processing and settlement of asylum seekers in Nauru, and a contract with Transfield Services (Australia) Pty Ltd for the provision of ‘garrison and welfare services’ to transferees and personnel at the regional processing centres, was authorised by s198AHA of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), which is a valid law of the Commonwealth.
It’s a minor detail that s198AHA, a provision with retroactive application back to 18 August 2012 the date of the MoU, was designed and rushed through Parliament on 30 June 2015, with the very specific purpose of defeating the High Court application in question.
The Commonwealth shifted the goalposts and it triumphed against the refugees – the High Court’s decision specifically stated ‘the plaintiff’s claim was well-founded until the insertion of s198AHA.’
The decision of the court means that 267 asylum seekers currently in Australia mostly for medical treatment, including 90 children, among them 37 babies born in Australia, can now be returned to Nauru or Manus Island by the government. Among the 267 asylum seekers are children who may have been subjected to sexual assaults in detention.
This is not the first time allegations of sexual assaults against women and children in Nauru had come to light. Evidence of the systematic sexual abuse of asylum seekers in our offshore detention facilities has been mounting for a while now. Instead of a substantive response to these disturbing allegations, the Commonwealth and Nauru are engaging what can only be described as a cover up, evidenced, among other things, by the expulsion of ‘Save the Children’ staff falsely accused of coaching asylum seekers to ‘fabricate’ stories of sexual abuse, an incident which led to the damning Moss Report which cleared Save the Children.
Another official report subsequently commissioned by the Commonwealth found the accusations levelled against the charity workers false, and the expulsion unjustified. The report released by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection was heavily redacted.
Save the Children is one of the world’s leading and most respected non-governmental organisation that promotes children’s rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries, since 1919.
The day after the High Court decision, the Australian Human Rights Commission released a report titled ‘The health and well-being of children in immigration detention.’
The report found that of the children over eight years old who had previously lived on Nauru, 95% were assessed using the ‘Childhood Trauma Screening Questionnaire‘ as being in the ‘clinical’ range, signifying a risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.
If our Constitution permits this kind of treatment of asylum seekers, particularly vulnerable young children, there is something very wrong with our Constitution.
It is particularly troubling that Australia is pleading ignorance, and exhibiting utter disinterest, when it comes to the mounting evidence of sexual abuse of asylum seekers, including children, at a time when a Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse is unfolding, and revealing unimaginable crimes against children …
The ‘Marriage Alliance’ rainbow noose
The good Christians at the so-called ‘Marriage Alliance’ don’t appear to have time for children in detention, or the institutional sexual abuse of children by their churches – they are consumed wholly by the ‘threat’ of marriage equality to Australia, and defending the hapless, homophobic bakers of the nation who may be ‘forced’ by our evil anti-discrimination laws to make a … wedding cake.
The ‘respectful’ debate the government has promised us when it comes to its ill-fated marriage equality plebiscite, got off to a shaky start when Marriage Alliance sent out curious tweet last week:
Yes, that’s a rainbow noose photoshopped around the neck of a supposedly tortured, homophobic office worker. The meaning being that persecuted, homophobic workers will be tragically prevented from spewing homophobia in the workplace once marriage equality is legalised in Australia.
It’s worth noting that the image, titled ‘asian businesswoman sitting in office, looking tired‘, is from Shutterstock and it is being used by Marriage Alliance in breach of the relevant licensing terms and conditions, in particular the prohibition on using images ‘in a political context, such as the promotion, advertisement or endorsement of any party, candidate, or elected official, or in connection with any political policy or viewpoint’.
The tweet was in such a bad taste, considering the higher than average occurrence of depression and suicide rates in the LGBTI community, and LGBTI youth, due to the bigotry, discrimination, hate and homophobia directed at LGBTI people, that both Beyond Blue and Suicide Prevention Australia were compelled to respond to Marriage Alliance’s deplorable tweet, further enraging these good Christians.
The fact is our anti-discrimination laws are very clear, have served this country well, and their operation will not be affected by marriage equality. Our homophobic work-colleagues will have to check their socially unacceptable behaviours at the front door of their workplaces, the same way as people with misogynist, racist and sexist views do.
Bigotry, hatred, homophobia, misogyny, racism, religious zealotry, sexism and transphobia are ‘values’ that damage society and hold social progress to ransom. They are not ‘values’ that should be tolerated or accommodated by a civilised society.
The historical privileges enjoyed by people of faith for centuries, enabled them to create their own alternative reality, largely unchallenged – this will be no doubt a hard habit to kick. However, the push to enshrine in the law the historical privileges of religion to spread often ignorant, uniformed and scientifically discredited and unsupported ‘opinions,’ unimpeded and with impunity, is concerning. In the absence of evidence, a ‘belief’ or an ‘opinion’ is usually an ignorant, uninformed and sometimes even malicious prejudice, and as such no one is simply ‘entitled’ to an opinion. There is only ‘entitlement’ to what can be rationally argued, and factually supported.
The ‘religious exemptions’ demanded to 21st century anti-discrimination laws are intellectual cowardice at their most damaging. Enshrining such exemptions in law would be a spineless capitulation to the ‘morals’ and ‘values’ of an uneducated, unenlightened and intellectually primitive humanity from millenniums ago, captured in ancient holy texts even believers are forced to interpret selectively, because many of those ‘values’ are considered morally repugnant, or even illegal, in modern, liberal, secular societies.
As for the hapless, homophobic bakers, florists and wedding venue operators of Australia, our laws do not exempt private businesses that serve the public from anti-discrimination laws. In our modern, liberal, secular society allowing homophobic bakers, florists and wedding venue operators to discriminate against same-sex couples would be inconsistent with our egalitarian values. Marriage equality will not change the existing laws. What would be rightly found unlawful discrimination today, will be found unlawful discrimination in a post-marriage equality environment.
I am confident a majority of Australians consider discrimination against the LGBTI community unacceptable in this day of age, as evidenced by the overwhelming public support for marriage equality, and that acceptance and equality under the law are mainstream Australian values that will triumph over ignorance and intolerance.
CSIRO funding cuts
And last, but by no means least, let’s talk about the CSIRO funding cuts announced last week, which will decimate Australia’s climate science capabilities.
These funding cuts destroy Malcolm Turnbull’s self-declared ‘innovation Prime Minister’ image, and undermine any remaining confidence in our climate change response.
The cuts to the CSIRO’s budget will result in the loss of over 300 positions at our world-renowned scientific research institute. The cuts will primarily affect CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere and Land and Water divisions, as well as its much-vaunted Data61 business, a supposed pillar of Turnbull’s ‘innovation revolution’ …
‘CSIRO pioneered climate research … But we cannot rest on our laurels as that is the path to mediocrity. Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change. That question has been answered, and the new question is what do we do about it, and how can we find solutions for the climate we will be living with?’
Larry Marshall, Chief Executive of CSIRO
Apparently we already know all there is to know about climate change.
The problem is that climate models are not really about ‘proving’ climate change, but about further understanding how the climate system works and then using that knowledge to manage risks, and develop practical plans for responding to changes in our climate. Reducing funding, and cutting loose the foremost experts on climate change, is hardly the best method of finding those answers. But apparently the former venture capitalist Larry Marshall is bringing the ‘Netflix culture’ to the CSIRO?!
• A really inconvenient truth
• The CSIRO reveals why we can’t have nice things, such as a liveable planet
• Our Minister for Energy makes a ‘strong moral case’ for … coal?!
• The Coalition stays true to form on emissions
• Tony Abbott’s war on renewable energy kicks into high gear
• Al Gore and Sir Martin Sorrell talk at Cannes Lions 2015
• When Barack Obama met David Attenborough
• Tony Abbott vs wind turbines
• ‘I’m not a scientist,’ and other climate change doozies
In the meantime, the agency’s leading scientists are warning that the axing of research programs is a breach of our commitments made at the Paris climate summit less than two months ago.
‘Closing down climate research capacity at a time of rapid global warming is not just short-sighted, it borders on the insane. A country that amputates its ability to analyse and understand climate change in its own region will simply harm itself – it is basically setting out to adapt to a changing climate blindfolded.’
Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, Germany
The Coalition may have replaced our Prime Minister, but it would appear Tony Abbott’s climate change denying ghost lives on in Canberra, as the government continues its Don Quixote-esque approach to climate science, with Turnbull now riding the horse of doom …