Standing in love does not mean we agree on everything

9 Oct

Religious leaders stand together for diversity and harmony

Yesterday, I attended a press conference where Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders called for 25 October to be a National Day of Unity.

The announcement came at a time when tensions are rising within the Australian community and violence against Australian Muslims is increasing.

As a Christian, I was disappointed not to see more denominational leaders present.

I understand the challenges. Our churches have people who have converted from Islam. Our faith teaches us that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that other gods are not only false but ultimately dangerous.

I also understand the fear that many Australians, not just Christians, have that recent violence by Islamic extremist organisations elsewhere in the world will arrive on our shores.

But it is into a climate of fear and uncertainty that God calls his people to go. As we live in he world, Jesus commands us to love not only our neighbour but even our enemy. It is hard to see how standing with our Muslim friends at this time can be seen as anything other than an expression of our love for them – the very love that we’re called too. Continue reading

My confession

24 Sep

I worked for the Immigration Department for just over 6 years. During that time, I managed four detention centres. I (or my staff) detained over 10,000 people (over 3,000 of them children), transferred over 1,000 people to Sri Lanka without hearing their refugee claims and transferred 450 to Manus or Nauru.

In my time, more than 500 committed acts of self harm. There were over 200 attempted suicides. One person died.

From what I know, over 200 people died at sea, including over 50 in one incident (December 2010, Christmas Island).

The average time in detention when I started on Christmas Island in January 2010 was 96 days. Today it is nearly 400.

When I started in detention centres, the policy was all about looking after people in detention. Welfare was priority. Yet we would stack 150 people on bunk beds in rooms designed to be classrooms – taking away their opportunity for education and cramming them in to overcrowded spaces. Continue reading

How do you end up running a detention centre?

23 Aug

Most people don’t wake up one morning and think, ‘Instead of being a fireman, I’ve decided to run immigration detention centres’.

I fell into the job by accident. Having grown up in northern sydney in a relatively middle-class area with a low migrant population, I hadn’t ever really thought about Immigration. 

After school, I went overseas and came back to a job as a youth worker at a church down the NSW South Coast. While there, I started studying a diploma of theology. After a couple of years, I decided to upgrade the studies to the Bachelor level and left the job at the church to go and earn enough money to study the Bachelor of Theology full time. I took up a job with a bank, commencing the bachelors degree at night.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself working for a bank, having changed degrees from Theology to Business and living in Canberra, not on the coast.

I hated banking. I didn’t feel like it was a good fit for my skills or personality, even though I’d risen from a tellar to being in branch management and business banking in a relatively short time. I started looking around for something more meaningful.

Government had always appealed to me, but I didn’t really have strong enough views about anything to know where in the government I might want to work. So I did what many people do – I started spamming the public service with applications. The job at Immigration was just the first job I was offered…

Continue reading

The lesser of two evils

22 Aug

What’s worse, temporary protection visas or indefinite mandatory detention?

Today the Immigration Minister faced the Australian Human a Rights Commission as part of their inquiry into children in detention. He pointed out that there were no children in detention in 2007 when Labor came to power and 8469 arrived while they were in power. Since he became minister, he has released 537 from detention. He said that no-one in his government wanted to see kids in detention.

The minister also called into question why the inquiry was launched now and not during the previous government, stating that he was trying to clean up the mess left by Labor.  Continue reading

How do I know when my visa will be granted?

15 Jul
The good folks over at Australia Migration Forums have recently launched their Visa Timelines / Immigration Tracker at

Nothing like unsubstantiated claims: Responding to Nick Riemer

14 Jul

I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear that Nick Riemer has not been involved in coaching asylum seekers in their protest action – we need more people like him working to give voice to the voiceless.

Unfortunately, in his article accusing me of unsubstantiated claims, he makes a few of his own.  The rest of this post will probably not make sense if you haven’t read his article, which you can find here. (My comments in The Australian – that he take issue with – are here).

The most interesting claim that Riemer makes is that, by my own admission, I had no evidence for the claims. This is untrue.

Information exists about particular ‘advocates’ who have absolutely been involved in this kind of behaviour – not just coaching asylum seekers to threaten self harm (or actually commit acts of self-harm such as voluntary starvation, lip-sewing and superficial cutting), but also in coaching other asylum seekers on ‘hold over’ tactics to coerce other detainees into getting involved in protest action. Furthermore, while I did not personally monitor the telecommunications (email, facebook and phone) of people in detention, those communications have been, at times, monitored by the Australian government. The main reason I haven’t released that information is that the details of that intelligence is contained in documents that have security classifications which would make their release a criminal offence. Continue reading

Cashed-up refugees: Is there such a thing?

13 Jul

Can a person be a refugee if they have UD$100,000 in the bank?

Most people in Australia find it hard to believe that you can truly be a refugee if you have money because, in Australia, having money means having options. If you have enough money, you can go on a holiday to Hawaii, or buy a 4WD and drive around the country. You can send you kids to a different school if they’re being bullied. You can even sell your house and move to another city or country. Having money gives you options.

When people find out that many asylum seekers pay people smugglers $10,000 to come to Australia, they assume that means they can’t possibly be real refugees!

Rather than going into the stories of how asylum seekers from countries like Afghanistan or Sri Lanka come up with those kinds of sums (as a taster – the often borrow the money and agree to pay the smuggler back when they arrive and get a job in Australia, which obviously doesn’t work, adding to their stress while in detention), I want to spend a second thinking about the real issue here… Continue reading

Be honest: would this satisfy you?

13 Jul

Say the government announced a new asylum seeker approach which had the following policy priorities:

  • Continuing to discourage boats (to prevent deaths at sea) – perhaps even though the current policies
  • Improving conditions for asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru
  • Working to quickly organise resettlement of all refugees (including those on Manus and Nauru) who arrived after 13 August 2012 in developed countries (other than Australia) and return those who are not assessed as having refugee claims – with the goal of finalising all cases within 6 months
  • Setting up a whole new framework (separate from and alongside the existing refugee and humanitarian program) that targets displaced people, including those in transit to Australia, who cannot access a safe UNHCR-run refugee camp and arranges for their assessment and resettlement in Australia and other developed countries. (I.e flying them to safe countries rather than leaving them with no options)
  • Pursuing a media strategy that moved this issue off the front pages

Would that satisfy you? (Be honest)

‘Advocates’, self harm and manipulation

11 Jul

When an asylum seeker breaks a piece of wire off the fence and sews their lips together with dental floss, it is an act of both self-harm and protest.

Tony Abbott has been heavily criticised for saying that he won’t be ‘held over a moral barrel’ by people who threaten self-harm on Christmas Island. I don’t feel sorry for Prime Ministers very often but in this case there is an element of truth in what he said.

I recall the situation vividly. It was late-February 2013 and I was the Director of the Nauru detention centre. Eight asylum seekers had sewn their lips together as part of a wider protest that was being organised by three key ‘ringleaders’. These ringleaders hadn’t sewn their own lips – they would never do that to themselves. Just as they weren’t prepared to jump the fence during mass escapes. Their tactics were to encourage, even coerce, other asylum seekers to do things for them. Continue reading

What’s worse than enhanced screening?

3 Jul

Over the last few weeks, we’ve all been listening to the story of 153 Tamils intercepted by the Australian Navy unfold. The government are refusing to release information – in line with their policy – and so the facts are hard to come by.

We aren’t clear whether the boat even exists (though the people on board have been in contact with Australian refugee advocates). We don’t know for sure that they’ve been intercepted (though it happened early Saturday morning and they’re currently on board the Customs Vessel Triton). We don’t know how many there are (though we know that there are 84 men, 32 women and 37 children, for a total of 153).

The other thing that isn’t clear is what will happen to these Tamils. Or even where they’re from. Continue reading