‘Not our problem’

1 Jul

(This article first appeared at the Australian Evangelical Alliance’s Centre for Christianity and Society website. You can find it here.)

Abdullah (not his real name) was a young Kurdish boy, about 12 years old.  I remember that day in 2010 when I saw him step off the barge onto the jetty at Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island, clinging to his mother’s arm. His mother had brought him and his young sister (about 8 years old) to Australia after his father and uncle didn’t return home from a day at the markets.

No-one could get Abdullah to talk. We were all worried about him and it quickly became obvious that he was suffering one of the worst cases of Post-Traumatic Stress that we’d come across. He wouldn’t engage with the mental health team, the children’s activities coordinators, his school teachers or the other Kurdish kids at the detention centre. He had withdrawn into his own world.

As a former youth worker and from my time on missions in Sierra Leone, I had a bit of experience with kids with trauma. I decided to try and break down the barrier and get to know him and his family. Every few days, I would make an effort to seek him out to say hello, crack some jokes and have a quick chat with his mother to see how she was travelling… Continue reading 

Public Service professionalism and personal integrity

15 Jun

professionalism charity financeI did a talk recently (which you can watch here) and, at the end, answered a few questions from the audience.  One of the questioners asked whether, given the challenging environment I was in as an Immigration Officer, I was ever tempted to subvert the system, break the rules and do things in a way that I thought would be better than the way they were already being done.

My answer was basically no. But I did go on to explain, and I thought it might be helpful to share that answer in a bit more detail here… Continue reading 

Enhanced Screening: quite a response

14 Jun

Earlier this week, I was involved in a story about the process used by the Australian Government to ‘screen people out’ of the refugee status determination process when they’ve arrived by boat. The story aired on Monday night on the ABC’s 7.30 program (check out the related article here and the segment here) and attracted a fair bit of attention (you can check out some of the follow-on stories here and here).

The next morning, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Brendan O’Connor) got on the ABC’s Radio National program (with Fran Kelly) to defend the government’s program. The Minister posted the transcript on his website (here), but the relevant bit of the interview is quoted below:

Fran Kelly: On 7:30 last night, a former employee of the Immigration Department claimed that the Labor Government is basically – set a quota of Sri Lankans to be returned under the enhanced screening process, which we’ve spoken of before on the program with you.

He says – regardless, almost, of the validity of their claims. Is there a quota of numbers? Was it 200? Is it 400 a week to be returned to Colombo?

Brendan O’Connor: No, of course not. He wouldn’t be privy to that information in relation to how we deal with processing.

The fact is this is done properly. We have, I think, a relatively rigorous process.

Fran Kelly: Well, not as he described it. He said he witnessed the process, he was part of the process, and one question was asked to people.

Brendan O’Connor: I have to say to you that I have the protocols before me as to what is put forward, and we are very careful in ensuring that people are able to explain situations in order to determine whether, in fact, they engage our international obligations.

But let’s just remember what we’re talking about here. We had 6000 arrivals of Sri Lankans in the last three months of last year, and, of course, we talk about boats coming and leading to the maritime deaths.

When we started to screen people, we actually saw a decline of 90 per cent, which means the chances of people dying at sea, of course, will vastly reduce because of that process.

Some people were returned, and there were others who were not returned because it was possible – not that it was definite, but it was possible that they engaged an international obligations.

I think that’s the reasonable approach in the circumstances, and I think that’s led to saving lives at sea.

This astounds me for a number of reasons. In this post, I want to give some further background to the issue of enhanced screening and respond to the Minister’s statement… Continue reading 

Asylum seeker ‘enhanced screenings’ dangerous: former official

10 Jun

Here’s the full text of an article by Hayden Cooper from the ABC – including some quotes by me:

A former Immigration Department official has condemned Australia’s process of so-called “enhanced screening” of asylum seekers as dangerous and says the department felt pressured by the Prime Minister’s office.

Under enhanced screening, asylum seekers can be rejected based on their answers in an initial interview soon after arriving in Australia.

The method has been used to send more than 1,200 asylum seekers straight home, just days after they arrive on boats.

All were Sri Lankans, and the Australian Tamil Congress says some have ended up in prison once they are returned home.

Former Immigration Department official Greg Lake has told the ABC’s 7.30 program he fears legitimate refugees have been rejected.

Mr Lake was the operations manager at the Nauru detention centre earlier this year, and he also held management positions at the Christmas Island and Scherger detention centres, before quitting in April… Continue reading 


Asylum Seeker policy on the run

10 Jun

Here’s a video of a talk I did recently about some of my experiences working for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The sound quality is a bit bad (as is the light), but if you’ve got 25mins or so, you might enjoy it…


Breaking the people smuggler’s business model…

14 May

Breaking the people smuggler’s business model…

Check out this article about whether or not it is even possible for the Australian Government to break the business model of the people smugglers who prey on vulnerable asylum seekers, offering a better life in Australia.

I’m an outdoorsman!

13 May
Dad (L) and I (R) walking the Six Foot Track a while ago

Dad (L) and I (R) walking the Six Foot Track a while ago

I quite like going camping. In fact, I like it so much, I thought I’d share an old photo of me and my dad hiking the six foot track (in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney) when I was a teenager. (I know, not that flattering, right?). Anyway, the point is, I know how to rough it in a tent. But the thing is, I quite like doing that when I get to choose where I go and can pitch my own tent in a spot with amazing views or something. I can survive that experience quite happily.

But when you take away the choice about where to pitch the tent, take away the desire to get outdoors and see a new part of the world and when you take away the freedom of being able to go home to a nice warm bed whenever you like, camping in a tent becomes a lot less fun – even for a grown man.

Now shift gears with me, if you will, to the situation that most asylum seekers who come to Australia are in.  On both Manus and Nauru (the two places where Australia sends asylum seekers for ‘processing’), ‘Single Adult Males’ (otherwise known as SAMs) are accommodated in tents. (Granted, some SAMs are in buildings now, but all of the people who have been transferred to Manus or Nauru have been in a tent at one point or another).  In fact, on Manus, where there is a choice of tents or buildings, the SAMs are placed in the tent in favour of the Women and Children who are (rightly) given priority for a place in the building. Continue reading 

Cap the amount of aid money spent on processing asylum seekers at zero!

13 May
Wayne Swan, Australia's Treasurer

Wayne Swan, Australia’s Treasurer

Wayne Swan has just come out and announced that in this year’s federal budget (due to be announced tomorrow), the government will cap how much of the aid budget can be used to pay for the processing of Asylum Seekers in places like Manus and Nauru.  In other words, they’re going to try and prevent any future government from dipping in to the aid budget by any more than about $375m to help hold vulnerable people in detention in deplorable conditions on islands far from Australia.

(Incidentially, that amount – if it turns out to be $375m (which is what is expected, though the full details will be known tomorrow) – is exactly the amount that the Labor government have already spent out of the foreign aid budget to pay for these deplorable camps…)

Sure, I’m all for capping the amount of aid money that should be used for this sort of dreadful policy. It should be capped a ZERO!

Continue reading 

How far has Australia regressed?

7 May

ImageOver the last few weeks, the Australian Government have been toying with an idea that is truly worrying.

You have to have your head stuck in the sand if you don’t think Australia has a problem on its hands.  In the past seven days, nearly 1000 people have arrived by boat to Australia, seeking protection.  These asylum seekers, under the policy of Mandatory Detention (a policy maintained by both this government and the last), are housed in detention centres or other detention-type facilities until basic health, identity and security checks can be complete.

When the Labor government came into power (in 2007), they very quickly executed their election commitment to no longer house women and children in secure detention centres, but rather in ‘alternative places of detention’ (APODs) or the community (where appropriate).  While technically still in detention, this meant that children were no longer housed behind barbed wire fences, as they had been under previous governments.

In August last year (2012), in an attempt to break a political and policy deadlock, the government announced the re-establishment of offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.  This was a massive flip from their commitment at the 2007 election, where they promised to close the Manus and Nauru centres.  By re-opening them, they had effectively re-introduced the last of the policy framework that they had sought to dismantle after the 200 election win – offshore processing and temporary visas.

The other thing they did, without perhaps realising (and certainly without saying it) was re-introduce the detention of children.  While no children have been transferred to Nauru, the Manus Island centre (in PNG) does have children behind fences.  Under the local law (and certainly in the retoric of the Australian Government), these kids are not techically in ‘detention’, but for all intents and purposes, they are. In fact, the local government in Manus has made it clear that they want this thing to run the same as last time – when it was a full blown detention facility… Continue reading 



26 Apr

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a christian. Basically, that means that I believe Jesus (the guy who walked around a couple of thousand of years ago) is actually God and I seek to live a life that is in line with the things that the history books (particularly in a collection of writings known as the bible) tell us that he said.

The thing is, right, I’m pretty shocking at it! As an example, Jesus says that people who follow him must literally be different from the world. By looking at their lives, people should know that christians are something pretty radically different. But I’m not sure that people looking at me would necessarily see that.

Now, I’m not going to go on too much about that here (check out my other blog for more on the whole ‘Jesus’ thing), but I am going to share with you something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently…


Until a couple of months ago, I was working for the (Australian) Department of Immigration. The last job I had was as the Director of the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru. For those unfamiliar with it, its the place the Australian Government sends people who come to Australia by boat to seek asylum (political protection).  Seeking asylum in Australia isn’t illegal, but both the government and the main opposition party are committed to detaining the asylum seekers on arrival and transferring many of them to places like Nauru – a separate country where they’re deprived of many liberties.

To give you an idea of what Nauru is like, the guy who was famous for representing the former Guantanamo Bay detainee, David Hicks, is now representing 10 of the asylum seekers at the Nauru ‘Regional Processing Centre’ (read: detention centre). Continue reading 


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