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.

Another claim that is blatantly untrue is that I have named Ian Rintoul. While I am surprised that people have simply assumed I meant him, I have never named a single person. (For information, the article in The Australian doesn’t actually claim it’s him either. Instead, it quotes him on a related matter). The main reason I haven’t named names is that some of the people we’re talking about are representatives of wider organisations who may not be aware of the tactics. Those organisations themselves have good reputations that I would hate to see tarnished by association.

My advice to anyone who is worried about this is as follows: if you are involved with high profile refugee advocates, seek assurances from them that they are not involved in these tactics and hold them to account if they are. There is nothing to lose by doing so. Then get on with the main aim of pushing for better treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

I won’t bother going through the rest of the claims in Reimer’s article. Unfortunately, hardly any of them are correct and almost all of them grossly mis-represent my point. However, I do want to point out that context matters here. My public comments are always designed to highlight discrepancies in this debate – and they exist on both sides. It worries me that the conservative side of politics has hardly ever used personal attacks to respond to my claims against them and yet they are coming thick and fast when I make one claim about about a fringe and radical subset of the refugee advocacy community. Perhaps naively, I never expected this kind of behaviour from the people who I typically find myself standing beside. Furthermore, if what I have claimed is true (and it is), It worries me that the concern about potential damage to the reputation of other advocates than it is about the behaviour itself.

I want to once again say that I believe the vast majority of refugee advocates are genuinely focussed on promoting the humane and legal treatment of refugees. I have been disappointed that some are still so willing to engage in what amounts to a smear campaign designed to distract from the main game.

Finally, I do want to make one (whopper) of a confession. I confess I was relying on people’s trust. As someone who has worked very closely with asylum seekers in a few contexts now, and as someone who was privy to the ‘inner workings’ of both the government’s policy machine and the operations of immigration detention (both onshore and offshore), I have seen and experienced a lot of things that I choose not to share (or cannot, for legal reasons). Sometimes, my inability to share my sources doesn’t stop me from highlighting things that I think are important anyway. I can assure you that all my claims are supported by evidence, whether that evidence is public or not. (Interestingly, Riemer himself points to someone else who would have had access to this kind of evidence who decided to make similar claims.)

(The other irony here is that the same people who are complaining that I exposed information about the way things work in detention centres are the same ones who are calling for greater information from the Government on how things work in detention centres.)

Despite my track record of pushing for a more open debate about the issue of asylum seekers, clearly I was wrong to think that others would offer me a level of professional respect as someone who is just as passionate about the removal of kids from detention and the more humane treatment of asylum seekers.

That was an error. I concede that. There are some who are more interested in fighting about the periphery issues and taking time to frame me as some sort of enemy of asylum seekers, rather than calling out the rotten advocates for what they are and getting on with the job.

I just hope that this will be the end if it. If you want to know what I think, either ask me or read the rest of my blog. What I think you’ll discover is that I have a deep and passionate concern for people. I will gladly call out anyone who preys on asylum seekers, who I consider to be some of the most wonderful people I’ve met, but also some of the world’s most vulnerable.

Post Script: I am not affiliated with any political party and I was not paid by The Australian for my comments. In Reimer’s article, he likens my comments to previous coordinated attacked on refugee advocates, as though there is some sort of strategy to discredit the ‘industry’. Far from it. My decision to call out the unscrupulous activists who will stoop to any level to get their political message across was a decision I took alone. I stand by the decision to highlight this issue. I am happy to continue to discuss it (as long as those discussing it remain professional in their engagement with me – as Reimer has mostly done).

3 Responses to “Nothing like unsubstantiated claims: Responding to Nick Riemer”

  1. Marilyn July 14, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    REimer did get a couple of things wrong, but as most advocates cannot get to the refugee prisons precisely how do they advocate people self harming? That would make most refugees morons and they are not morons.

    My niece used to self harm all the time from the time she was 14 until she was diagnosed with bi-polar at 25. She didn’t need a skerrick of cheering on to self harm to get her goal, she was quite happy to do it herself.

    My mother was an anorexic junkie who used to use her self harming behaviour to black mail us all the time, trust me she needed no cheering on.

    You are talking about nonsense no matter how you try and dress it up. One incident on Nauru a couple of years ago does not deserve so much abuse of advocates and dressing yourself up now as someone who wants debate is silly. There is no debate, everyone has the right to seek asylum.

    The only so-called debate is do we want to uphold the law or keeping breaking it.

  2. Margot July 14, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    Greg, I think you did the right thing in bringing this unethical behaviour to light. Don’t be discouraged by the criticism – some people are fanatics who insist that only their own “side” can ever be correct.

  3. Phil Cook August 2, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    “There are some who are more interested in fighting about the periphery issues …”
    It is funny that you should make this accusation as that is exactly my problem with your writing about this. You have said that even by your unsubstantiated claims of advocates encouraging self harm, it is only a factor in a small number of the cases of self harm – and yet this is what you choose to write about. Not about the bigger problem of the system of indefinite detention that is the main problem in ALL cases of self harm by asylum seekers.

    The reason advocates get so fired up is that articles like the Australian article are used to undermine the work of advocates who you say you stand beside and it serves to belittle the suffering of those who have felt so desperate that they self harmed.

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