Archive for June, 2011

Kronic Dependency

Kronic Dependency

Following the lead of the Barnett Government in Western Australia, all Australian states are moving to ban “Kronic”, a type of synthetic marijuana that is being sold legally throughout Australia online and in tobacconists and news agents.

While this prohibition is not surprising in Western Australia, where the Minister for police Rob Johnson is gaining fame for his paranoiac stance to law and order that not only punishes perpetrators but also innocent bystanders. Furthermore, the ban is also closely linked to reports that mineworkers were using Kronic  while at work. The Premier who was the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry will not let anything get in the way of the mining industry in Western Australia.

The principal but not principled reason given for banning Kronic is that it is harmful to health and impairs people’s judgement and perception. Exactly the same issues that crop up with alcohol and tobacco. Whenever health experts and others concerned about the massive impact of alcohol and tobacco ask for them to be banned, the stock reply from is that it is too hard to ban tobacco or alcohol in the same way as heroin, marijuana and amphetamines, because the liquor and cigarette industries are legal industries in Australia.

The banning of Kronic which was a legal business therefore creates a precedent and poses the question, “why not also ban booze and cigarettes?”.  It could be argued as a benefit of legal liquor is that there is a strong locally owned wine and brewing industry employing many Australians, but cigarettes are imported and are not an Australian owned industry.

The one group which benefits from the sale of cigarettes in Australia is the Australian Liberal Party which is the worlds largest beneficiary of election funding from tobacco companies. To borrow a line from the late Peter Cooke, the tobacco companies told the Liberal Party “we admire integrity and we are prepared to pay for it”. The message is there for the party drug industry, include political donations in your promotional budgets.


Afghan refugee, Arif Ruhani, shared his harrowing story with me in 2009. In April of that year there was a burning boat near Ashmore reef that reignited debate on refugee policy and responses. Then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, acknowledged that deteriorating conditions, particularly in countries like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, were causing people to flee their homelands. 

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves as human beings, what would it be like for us if we awoke to the armies of the night? What would we do if we were no longer safe due to sporadic acts of violence, murder on our doorstep? What steps would we take to try and survive the carnage? What would we do to protect those that we love? We may find answers to some of these fundamental human questions in Arif’s candid and courageous account:

Arif Ruhani’s story begins in Afghanistan in 2001 when the Taliban seized control of Oruzgan Province. This was not a unified event as Mujahedeen factions were fighting between each other  for power and populations were being murdered. His family became homeless and were displaced from village to village.

“We were trying to lead a ‘normal life’ after the Taliban came in to power and then the whole thing changed. The threat to our life was more imminent. They were killing people for no reasons, oppressing people and trying to make everyday life harder and harder. That was causing my family to choose for me to flee Afghanistan.”

The family pooled money for Arif to escape…”there was not even a single office in my area of any international government or organisation. Impossible.” His father made a deal with people smugglers on the ground in Afghanistan. Arif was then taken with a group of people to Pakistan and “from there my journey starts.”

Traveling under a false passport, he flew to Indonesia where he spent three months in hiding before boarding a small boat bound for Australia. Suitable for 20 people, but with 80 on board, the boat’s engines stopped working after 6 hours at sea. It was night and the vessel began taking on water. Two of his friends drowned before reaching land.  Arif returned to Jakarta where other Afghan asylum seekers were arrested by Indonesian police. While there, he became aware of the Tampa Affair where in 2001, 400 asylum seekers were picked up from their sinking vessel by the Norwegian container ship Tampa and then refused entry to Australia. He also learned of the Howard Government’s Pacific Solution, which saw those refugees set offshore to places including Nauru.

“We heard the news about the Pacific Solution, about the (Australian) Government trying to stop people coming by boat, but    we still had no choice. We couldn’t go   back to Afghanistan”

After a month in hiding, he boarded another small boat that was soon intercepted off Christmas Island by a large Australian Customs vessel. Women and children were taken aboard the customs ship, while Arif and many other men were detained aboard their boat for 13 days…

“This was a really difficult part of my journey coming to Australia. We were prisoners. The fishing boat was very cramped. They didn’t allow us to move freely and we were watched the whole time. We even had to wait for permission to go to the toilet…some people that spoke out were then sleep deprived. It was like torture.”

The Australian authorities tried to fix the boat to send it back to Indonesia, but it started leaking and was deemed too dangerous. The remaining passengers were transferred to the customs ship and after two days, they were detained at Christmas Island detention centre, which was still being built at the time. After two months on Christmas Island, they were transferred to Nauru, arriving on December 22, 2001. They were initially interviewed by the Australian Department of Immigration and refused refugee status. Many people were wrongly classified as Pakistani, reportedly due to inept interpreters working for the Australian Government. Arif too was initially classified as Pakistani.

Many of my friends were sent back to Afghanistan and were killed.”

So began a long period of detention on Nauru that was to last until June 2005. Over this period, Arif and other detainees had no access to telephones or the Internet; in fact, no access to the outside world. Arif estimates that there were over 100 children also in detention, ranging in age from 1 to 17 years old. One young boy was detained on Nauru, his mother had died and he was separated from his father who was in Australia under a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV). After three years, the boy was repatriated with his father.

The detention centre on Nauru was funded and administrated by a body called The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Chubb were contracted for security. Arif said he and others were told repeatedly by Australian authorities (during the Howard years):

“If you don’t go back to Afghanistan, we will send you back by force.” 

“We were living in constant fear of being deported by force”, said Arif. Many detainees arrived on Nauru with chronic PTSD (Post Traumatic stress Disorder), while others also developed other severe psychological problems and had no access to treatment. Hunger strikes were also symptomatic of people’s acute distress.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was finally able to visit detainees an Nauru in 2004. This prompted the Australian Department of Immigration to interview individual detainees – Arif was among 29 Afghan asylum seekers whose cases were rejected. He was told by Australian officials that they had reached a new agreement with the Afghan Government whereby he and other remaining Afghan refugees would be sent back. After an agonising delay, Arif was later told that he would be accepted after all, and gained entry to Australia under a TPV, arriving in June 2005. Under the terms of these visas, refugees were denied the right to travel and there was no right of even temporary family reunion.

Arif was granted permanent residency in 2008 and lives in Perth, where he talks of the relationships he has made with local people:

“I am very thankful to them: they have helped me a lot. I will be thankful to them forever.”

Asked about his experiences and the plight of other refugees, Arif Ruhani said:

“It is very difficult to express how I feel. I would definitely say to anybody who will read this, please, please help these   people. These people are putting their lives at risk for a safe life, for peace and for freedom.”

Every community and ethnic group has its own style of idiosyncrasy. They each display some strange inexplicable, even illogical habit or belief that makes an outsider shake their head in puzzlement. The Australian idiosyncrasy is the adulation and ownership of our tall poppies. In the same manner that football supporters talk of how “we” showed that other mob, we like to transfer dreams of power and affluence from the tall poppy to ourselves. “We could do that entrepreneurship ourselves if we really wanted to couldn’t we?”
As community members each of our households is required to pay a fee for dumping our rubbish in our local tips. This fee covers the costs of management, disposal and the retention of toxic runoff on site. Likewise industries wanting to dump their waste in landfill, and in some cases the ocean, are required to pay a fee.
Why then is getting our biggest polluters to pay for dumping their waste in the atmosphere such a difficult concept for us to accept? The simple answer is the big boys and girl want all of us to pay for their waste disposal and are prepared to spend a lot of money on buying political and media influence. Both of these groups set out to bamboozle us with misleading arguments and artful sophistry that suggests that such an impost on these demigods is an injustice equivalent to the crucifixion of Jesus. In fact we should be paying them some of our taxes to help them feel better about having to deal with emissions.
They are also able to enlist or buy the support of economically illiterate union leaders who are caught up in the mantra that a dumping levee will cost jobs. In some cases a union is given preferred access on a worksite because in this and many other matters its representatives are more compliant.
All of the above is understandable, after all Australian businesses are not known to be charitable or ecologically responsible, and they and our political parties have always preferred to have the community cater to their needs rather than the reverse.
What is difficult to understand is why so many in the community are lining up to support the polluters. Are Australian voters so irrational that they are not capable of understanding what is in their own best interest or is some other cause having them putting their hands in their pockets to pay for our billionaires waste management?
Air pollution costs us a fortune as it is causes more of us to die than car accidents as well as causing many to suffer from a chronic non fatal illness. In addition it poisons our waterways and our land, dropping agriculture yields by about four percent. Of course the costs of climate change in terms of lower rainfall in the South West of Australia and floods and cyclones in the North costs billions of dollars. Given the increasing loss of bio-diversity it could also end up wiping out the human race.
So come on Aussies come on, dip your hands in your pockets for Andrew and Gina and Clive. They need your help to resist the greedy government. Wouldn’t it be sad if they had to sell one of their holiday homes in Aspen or one or two of their Picasso’s? How could they be really important and iconic celebrities with such strictures placed on their lifestyles? We would all be diminished and embarrassed by such a circumstance.

“Brothers, sisters, we don’t need that fascist groove thang.”

Tony Abbot continues with his mantra of ‘Stop the Boats’, once again demonising the defenceless and making potlitical capital from their plight. As if those fleeing the ravages of war and persecution are anything but deserving of democracy’s protection. This is as illogical and spiteful as demonising the victims of accidents or natural disasters. Actually, perhaps it’s even worse. That victims of war and oppression are burdened by the scorn and intolerance of people in relatively free, wealthy countries is odious and craven.

Errr, hang on a sec Mr Abbott: what would you do if you and your family were awakened by the armies of the night? Would you not seek sanctuary and shelter?

Revisionism in the Land of the Parallel Universe

After listening to or reading what is called the news, have you found yourself questioning your memory and even your sanity? Have you had a strong feeling that what you read or heard this morning is wrong and your recollection was something entirely different. Perhaps an anti-thought like Dr Edward Teller’s anti-matter has popped into your brain from the parallel universe.

I am here to tell you that you are not alone. This phenomenon is shared by me and others. In fact in recent days on hearing the leader of the Australian opposition Tony Abbott speaking about the wonderful Liberal “Pacific Solution” for refugees, memories came flooding back to me from the parallel universe in which I had previously lived.

Tony Abbott spoke of a warm friendly and pacifying solution in which the Howard Government had set up an idyllic holiday camp on Nauru where refugees could recover after fleeing from conflicts involving mass murder and mass rapes. Unfortunately my recollection is rather more dark, sinister and brutal.
My memory insists that many refugees fled from a phony and illegal war in Iraq and another war fought in the wrong country for the wrong reason. In both wars Australia was a cheerful and dutiful participant. A third war was being fought in the old communist state of Yugoslavia and of course many stateless Palestinians violently driven from homes by the Israelis were seeking a new place to live. What all these conflicts had in common was that the principal victims were Muslims.

Like the European Jews who fled from Hitler these Muslim refugees were not welcomed and were treated with suspicion by Western Governments. Ministers from the Howard Government headed by the unconscionable Peter Reith told or rather lied to the Australian people that these awful refugees had thrown their children overboard in order to force their way into Australia. In the wake of September 11, it was also suggested that some might be terrorists carrying bombs. Such was the concern of the Howard Government for the well being of these war victims that when a Norwegian ship rescued a sinking boat full of refugees, Howard sent a group of commandos to commandeer the ship to prevent it returning them to the Australian mainland. I suppose it was his way of making them feel at home.

These refugees were a blessing for a Howard Government struggling in the polls and facing an election. Following the example of World War Two Germany, the Liberals looked around for scapegoat, enemies for the mighty John Howard to protect us from. In this atmosphere the Pacific Solution was born. Howard, Ruddock and Reith had a scapegoat and it was foreign, dark skinned and Muslim, so few votes would be lost in its implementation.
Overnight refugees became “illegal immigrants”. They were “flooding into our country” and they were “clogging up the courts” with their appeals. Unlike the asylum seekers who flew in by plane these “illegal boat people” were “queue jumping” security threats. “They could be carrying bombs”. Most importantly the principle issue was not the safety of these victims of war and instead the focus went on to the wicked “people smugglers” who were both a new scapegoat and a potent salve for the right wing conscience.

So how could the refugees be prevented from telling the true story to the Australian public? They must be separated. How could we prevent them from exercising their human rights in the courts and how could they be prevented from reaching Australia? Both could be achieved by interception offshore and landing them at first on islands that had been declared to be no longer part of Australia for the purpose of the Immigration Act. This was the real reason for offshore processing. It would mean no protection for refugees under Australian law.
These asylum seekers, including women and children, who were threatening our security would be put as far away as possible. The island of Nauru was perfect. This would remove them from public view and the scrutiny of the few journalists who can still tell the truth from a bucket of detritus and importantly, who were capable of writing their own words rather than quoting the spinmeisters.
There you have it: the successful Pacific solution. It worked perfectly after all. John Howard did win the election and a blueprint had been created to win future elections.

Here’s the recipe – lie and deceive resolutely; show your strength by vilifying, silencing and crushing a defenceless minority; divert the populace from the real debate.

As for the refugees, they suffered long term imprisonment and their children were mentally damaged. In the end though almost all of them were recognised as genuine refugees and became Australian citizens. The financial cost and the damage to our national psyche has been immense.
Did this really happen and are you pacified or are you horrified? Do you have these fleeting memories of a different time when you believed your government and the press? Does the truth mean more to you than being comfortably numb?
Welcome to the underworld.

The following is an extract from Andrew Rawnsley’s ‘The End of the Party’ – as associate editor and chief political commentator of the Observer, he details the key components of how Blair contrived and sold the dodgy dossier re alleged Iraq WMD in September 2002:

“The intelligence chiefs had succumbed to the frenzied and insidious pressure from the Prime Minister and his senior staff to deliver the goods. The propagandist Campbell supervised the spinning of thin, dated and flaky material to make the threat look real, new and urgent. The lawyer Blair then further buried all the caveats and uncertainties to present the dossier with his trademark evangelical certainty. Then pro-war elements of the media inflated the claims into the scariest headlines they could contrive.” 

(The End of the Party, Viking Penguin, 2010)

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