Opinion Piece: Australia’s Concentration Camps

The following is an opinion piece written by Nepean Greens member and former candidate for Lindsay, David Lenton. The views expressed in this piece of writing are the author’s and are not meant to be taken as an official statement from the Nepean Greens.

*Author’s note: This was originally written in late December of 2013 and thus does not refer to more recent revelations about the treatment of asylum seekers.

I dislike the tendency toward hyperbole that has made Godwin’s Law a staple of contemporary discourse. I believe that references to the actions and rhetoric of Nazis has become so commonplace in discussing anything we simply don’t like or enjoy, that there is a constant threat of diminishing the unthinkable suffering of those who died at the hands of Hitler’s regime; and to diminish the horror of human suffering, particularly on that scale, is ultimately to diminish ourselves.

This is probably why, for a long time, while I was absolutely against the stance that we were taking on asylum seekers, the many references I saw to our offshore processing centres as being “concentration camps” made me feel uneasy. While WWII Germany certainly has no exclusive claim to the use of concentration camps, rightly or wrongly, this was the standard that had been set for me – and my unease was a sign of that lingering doubt that we, in modern-day Australia, could possibly be responsible for keeping people in conditions that could be considered the same as what happens in concentration camps. Simply put, the term would not mesh with my understanding of the time and place in which we live.

When I stood as the Greens candidate for Lindsay during the federal election earlier this year, I spoke out against the asylum seeker policies of both the Labor and Liberal parties. I genuinely felt that both of the major parties vying for the leadership of this country were taking us further down a dark path, from which any chance of returning was quickly diminishing. I believed – and still believe – that how horribly we are to treat people fleeing from persecution should not be the starting point from which all other conversations about asylum seekers begin.

What’s changed for me since September is the recognition that, as genuine as my feelings were back then, they were based on an abstract notion of what form our treatment of asylum seekers had taken – and what it would come to take after the result of the election was declared.

Since then, we’ve read about Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s decree that asylum seekers should only been referred to by the misnomer of “illegal arrivals”. We’ve seen his attempts to further shift our consideration away from questions relating to the humanity of asylum seekers and more toward the management of their numbers, as we might do when discussing animals.

We’ve read the reports from Amnesty International and seen the photos published by the Guardian Australia, which reveal in gruesome detail the conditions in which those seeking asylum in Australia are being kept. We’ve heard from medical professionals that the mental health and physical well-being of these people are currently at a standard that would spark an insurmountable wave of outrage if it were animals that were being treated in this way.

We’ve reached a point where comparisons to our treatment of animals have become relevant to our treatment of other human beings.

Even as a staunch believer in our need to improve our handling of animal welfare, I find this horrifying.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s claim that the conditions in the asylum centre on Nauru are better than mining camps has caused outrage, exactly because we know enough about the truth of the matter that her words ring hollow.

Despite the Herculean efforts of this government to keep negative information about our treatment of asylum seekers from surfacing, we no longer have any excuse for only understanding the plight of these people in an abstract sense.

My unease at the use of the term “concentration camps” has become a gnawing sense of dread at the realisation that, in modern-day Australia – in my Australia – this is exactly what we have.

It’s a realisation that, for me, has come with an almost crushing sense of shame. That I’m writing this in the first place is, I can admit, a somewhat selfish attempt to work through my own sense of guilt and question my complicity in a system that has reached a point where this treatment of other people has not only become the norm, but is decried by many as being ‘too soft’.

I believe that Kevin Rudd got it wrong when he declared climate change to be the “greatest moral challenge of our time”. Rather, I agree with Barry Jones, who wrote for The Conversation that asylum is our greatest moral challenge.

Claims that we should focus on our own before we help others – whether they be the homeless, our unemployed, or members of any other disadvantaged group – fall flat in the face of an election that was won not on policies relating to addressing the issues faced by any of these groups, but on a platform no more complex than “we will stop the boats [and they won’t]”.

If we’re to continue to lay claim to a sense of moral authority, then we need to start taking a serious look at what we have become. We need to recognise that those coming here seeking asylum are deserving of the same standard of human decency that we expect for ourselves.

We’ve gone well past the point where it’s acceptable to continue looking at our behaviour in the abstract. Things need to change.

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Graffiti Law Overreach

The following is a letter to the editor of the Western Weekender, written by Nepean Greens member, David Lenton.

Dear Troy,

While Londonderry MP Bart Bassett is attempting to sell the Graffiti Control Amendment Bill as a crack down on crime (Enough is Enough, Western Weekender September 27), what he’s failed to acknowledge is the extreme overreach of the Bill in its current form.

The wording of the Bill means that any intentional marking on a property without the owner’s permission will be a punishable offence. When the example provided is acid etching, this sounds reasonable; but when you realise that it will also apply equally to someone using chalk on a property, it seems pretty clear that this is just plain ridiculous.

O’Farrell’s government has had this problem pointed out to them – and the answer has simply been to say that police officers will have discretion as to whether the law should be applied or not. This might mean that the parents of children who like to play hop scotch or handball can breathe a sigh of relief, but what about people who use sidewalk chalking as a form of protest?

Taking part in the ongoing – and widespread – protest against the removal of the rainbow crossing on Oxford Street, which has seen members of the LGBTIQ community and their supporters creating DIY rainbows and messages of support with chalk, could now be a punishable offence.

Taking part in student protests, where chalking is a common method of disseminating messages, could also now become a punishable offence.

Looking at the track record of police officers when it comes to their engagements with LGBTIQ people and students, I’m sure you can see why their ability to apply their discretion in these situations could be a huge problem.

Rather than simply casting a wide net and hoping for the best, the State government should take their responsibility as legislators seriously and tighten up the Graffiti Control Amendment Bill before attempting to pass it.

Regards,

David Lenton

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Coalition’s University Reforms About Ideology, Not Students

Nepean Greens spokesperson for higher education and former Greens candidate for Lindsay, David Lenton, has labelled newly announced plans by the Coalition government to dump the student services and amenities fees, and remove targets for increasing participation rates for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, as “yet another blow from a government who seems determined to undo everything we’ve achieved since John Howard’s time as Prime Minister.”

Mr Lenton summarily rejects claims made by Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, that the student services and amenities fees are “compulsory student unionism by the back door.”

“No one who is aware of the restrictions placed on the money raised by this fee could make such a claim unless they were intentionally trying to be misleading.”

“Mr Pyne’s claims not only fly in the face of the facts, they’re a clear attempt to try and call back to John Howard’s policy of voluntary student unionism.”

“Howard’s policy severely limited the ability of student unions to provide even basic services. At the University of Western Sydney alone, it led to the death of one student union and the rise of increasing corporatisation and University-held control of student services.”

“The Coalition government’s decision will now threaten the jobs of the many staff who provide these services. It will limit the ability of students to access services such as free legal assistance, impartial academic advocacy, childcare and welfare. It will also further degrade the ability of universities to provide any kind of campus life for students.”

“This is not in the best interest of staff or students. It’s not in the best interest of universities, who are already under pressure from funding cuts and the negative impacts of uncapped student numbers. It’s an attack from a government who is ideologically opposed to giving students a say in their own education.”

Mr Lenton also believes that the removal of targets for increasing the participation of students from low socio-economic backgrounds “highlights the lie of the ‘hope, reward and change’ slogan that the Liberal party ran on in the lead-up to the election.”

“Rather than having a solid foundation for increasing participation of low SES students, the Coalition is turning their back on them.”

“This is yet another instance of this government being too afraid of having its failure to meet a target made clear. They’re trying to make this disappear in the hope that no one will notice.”

“But we are noticing. And I’m determined to work with the students of UWS to keep on making sure that everyone else notices, too.”

Mr Lenton is calling on the newly elected Liberal member for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, to stand with her constituents against these changes.

“If Fiona Scott cares for her electorate – and I believe that she does – she will recognise that these changes are going to have an immeasurably negative impact. This will affect the students and staff at UWS. And on it will ultimately have an impact on this electorate, which UWS has become such an important part of.”

“We should be working together to improve students’ quality of education and addressing issues of inequity. We don’t achieve that by brushing them under the rug and pretending they’re not there. All that will do is further entrench inequality through inaction.”

Further Reading:

Lee Rhiannon, Greens spokesperson for Higher Education:

Call to Reject Coalition Elitist Plan for Universities

Greens accuse Pyne of classic misdirection

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Missing! Minister for Disability​

The following is a letter to the editor of the Penrith Press, written by the Nepean Greens’ convenor, Peta Holmes.

Dear Editor,

Today Australia’s Prime Minister announced his cabinet to lead this great nation. I noticed with absolute dismay the omission of a Minister for Disability.

The Australian people have entrusted Mr Abbott with the care of the people of this nation. This responsibility should not be taken lightly. At many stages during the lead up to the election Mr Abbott confirmed his support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, branded by the previous Labor Government as DisabilityCare. My question is this, if Mr Abbott is firmly committed to the implementation of this nationwide scheme how will he manage it without a Minister responsible for this portfolio?

Australia has disability services that rank as some of the worst of all OECD nations, DisabilityCare has been designed to provide for the most vulnerable in our community. It is not a frivolous expenditure of money, for families living with disability such as mine, it will be a life line. Until its implementation in Penrith it is a beacon of hope for anyone confronted by disability and the pressure of caring for a family member.

This letter is to remind Mr Abbott of the commitment he made to the Australian people. It is also a reminder to our new MP Fiona Scott that she has a responsibility to her constituents, to represent us, including those families living with disability. I am calling on Ms Scott to represent the people of Lindsay living with disability. I am calling on her to petition Tony Abbott for a Minister of Disability to oversee the implementation of DisabilityCare.

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Greens Policy Summary

You can read the Greens’ full list of policies, costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office, here. You can also download the Greens’ election platform booklet, or read about our policies on the Australian Greens website.

Otherwise, you can read a basic overview to some of our most asked about issues below (in alphabetical order).

If you would like to see another topic covered, please email us at Lindsay@greens.nsw.org.au.

 […]

Climate Change

Overview: Climate change and its effects need to be addressed as soon as possible. The Greens want to create incentives to move away from sources of energy that have a negative impact on our environment.

Key points:

  • Reduce carbon emissions by at least 25% by 2020
  • Shift to 90% renewable energy by 2030
  • Increase funding to Clean Energy Finance to $30 billion over 10 years
  • Reduce the negative impacts of the mining industry and raise revenue by restructuring the mining tax (+ $21.8 billion), removing tax breaks for the mining industry (+ $12 billion) and removing fuel subsidies for the mining industry (+ $13 billion)
  • Increase funding for natural disaster preparedness to $350 million per year

Cost of Living

Overview: Cost of living has the greatest impact on society’s most vulnerable. Increasing government provision of basic services and support will have a positive impact on quality of life and the economy. A shift to renewable energy and increased competition in the provision of goods will also have a positive impact on the price of basic goods.

Key points:

  • Establish an Independent Energy Saving Agency, with the aim of finding $1 billion in energy savings per year
  • Decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and shift toward cleaner alternatives of energy, thus reducing vulnerability to shifts in the price of petrol, etc.
  • Reverse changes to single parent payment and allow a higher income free threshold
  • Increase Newstart payments by $50 per week
  • Develop public transport infrastructure for cleaner, cheaper travel
  • Build 122,000 new social housing premises across Australia

Education

Overview: The Greens recognise that education is one of the cornerstones of a safe, healthy, sustainable and economically viable future.

Key points:

  • Reverse $2.3 billion cuts to university funding and increase overall funding to universities by 10%
  • Increase funding to the Gonski reforms by $2 billion over the forward estimates, with this extra funding being directed where it’s most needed
  • Provide a $1.2 billion rescue package to TAFEs
  • Increase funding for Research and Development to 3% of GDP by 2020

Employment

Overview: The Greens want to facilitate greater participation in the workforce, particularly in areas that encourage sustainable growth and development.

Key points:

  • Push for stronger competition laws to break up the supermarket duopoly and increase ACCC funding, increasing opportunities for small business to compete
  • Reduce company tax rate for small business by 2%
  • Provide $200 million in grants for childcare places over 4 years
  • Provide $85 million in grants to help farmers sell direct to the consumer
  • Provide paid parental leave at 100% replacement wage and superannuation capped at $100,000
  • Improve the quality of job services
  • Increase Location Tax Offset for films by 13.5% to stimulate Australia’s film industry
  • Increase flexibility of working arrangements with the Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Bill

Environment

Overview: The Greens recognise the importance of maintaining our biodiversity and protecting our environment.

Key points:

  • Reject any attempts to hand environmental protections to State governments and protect our national parks with national laws
  • Initiate a $120 million plan to identify and protect important habitats and increase funding for threatened species management and research
  • Establish a national Biosecurity Authority to protect us from pests and diseases
  • Establish a moratorium on development and dredging of pristine areas of the Great Barrier Reef
  • Establish a moratorium on coal seam gas mining

Health

Overview: The Greens believe that the provision of health services is a fundamental right, as well as a necessary foundation for a productive society.

Key points:

  • Expand on Denticare by rolling dental care into Medicare and provide cover for everyone by 2016
  •  Invest over $1 billion to improve regional and rural health services, with a particular focus on mental health services
  • Invest $664 in Medicare to reduce out-of-pocket costs for medical care
  • Ban junk food ads during children’s television programming and on websites aimed at children
  • Invest further funds into the early detection of prevention of avoidable blindness
  • Reduce the impacts of gambling by implementing a $1 bet limit
  • Legalise voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill

Marriage Equality

Overview: The Greens are the only party in Parliament that has consistently stood for marriage equality and will continue to do so.

Public Transport

Overview: The Greens believe that improvement of our public transport infrastructure is important for our environment and our economy.

Key points:

  • Establish a High Speed Rail Authority dedicated to developing and managing a high speed rail system, with a particular focus on connecting South-Eastern cities
  • Invest in rail projects rather than motorways

[…]

Not sure how preferential voting works? Watch this video!

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Q&A – Abortion Rights and Chaplains in Schools

Following is the response to a question that was sent to Lindsay@nsw.greens.org.au, which asked about the Greens’ stance on abortion rights and chaplains in schools. The emailer had friends whose values she considered to be well-aligned with the Greens’ principles, but who had concerns because of their Christianity.

The original email hasn’t been included for the sake of privacy, but this is the response that was written by our candidate, David Lenton.

If you have any questions you would like answered, you are more than welcome to get in contact.

Hello _____,

Thank you for taking the time to get in contact with me.

I think you’re exactly right when you say that Greens policies line up with Christian values. We believe that it’s important to protect and care for the most vulnerable in our society, as well as maintaining a sustainable and environmentally-sound world for future generations.

With respect to abortion, the Greens believe that it’s important to maintain current protections for women seeking an abortion. This means that we’re against reducing the period of time that a woman can legally access abortion services and are extremely wary of any proposed foetal protection laws, which may be used to restriction abortion rights. Our policies are based on a pro-choice, pro-access stance. However, we have no policy – and I can’t think of any discussions that have happened – about extending the period of legal abortion access.

When it comes to chaplains in school, the main point of contention for the Greens came about when the Gillard-led Labor government initiated a national school chaplaincy program, which specifically invested $222 million for chaplains – and not for any alternatives, such as school counsellors or youth workers. The issue wasn’t so much chaplains themselves, but the lack of alternative options. You can read an op-ed by Sarah Hanson-Young where she explains the issue here: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/blogs/gengreens/schools-deserve-their-say-on-chaplains-20110516-1epju.html

I see our response to this program as being similar to our belief that ethics classes should be offered as an alternative to – not instead of, but alongside – scripture classes in schools. It’s about putting systems in place that recognise and accommodate a diversity of beliefs.

I realise that there’s this idea that religion and the Greens are incompatible, but I think a lot of it comes down to misinformation. I’ve had friends who have their kids in private religious schools telling me about letters that have been sent home with their kids, which are full of all sorts of incorrect statements about the Greens. I think it’s really unfortunate, because – as I mentioned above – in terms of fundamental beliefs, I think we’re actually pretty well-aligned.

If it makes them feel any better, tell your friends that we have two Catholic school teachers in our local group. That might surprise them.

I hope that helps! And if you or your friends have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to get in contact again.

Kind regards, David

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Q&A – General Overview and Climate Change

Following is the response to a question that was sent to Lindsay@nsw.greens.org.au, which asked for a general overview of why this constituent should vote for the Greens and, more specifically, what we planned to do about climate change.

The original email hasn’t been included for the sake of privacy, but this is the response that was written by our candidate, David Lenton.

If you have any questions you would like answered, you are more than welcome to get in contact.

Hello ______,

One of the things Christine Milne has said, which has really stuck with me, is that “we live in a society, not a economy.” I think that, broadly speaking, this is one of the fundamental difference underlying the Greens’ policies in comparison to Labor and the Coalition. Where the other parties are proposing cuts to university funding, firing tens of thousands of public servants, and enacting policies that further entrench inequality (whether it be social or economic), we’ve focussed on addressing these issues in a more holistic manner – in a way that recognises that we can set in place policies now, which will benefit us all well into the future, without harming some of our most vulnerable in the process.

I think that our proposed response to the threat of climate change is one of the best examples of this, because it’s not just about a one-off policy change, but is a goal that sets the foundation of many of our policies.

We want to set our target for a reduction in carbon emissions by at least 25% by 2020, with a shift to at least 90% renewable energy by 2030 and an increase in Clean Energy Finance to $30 billion over ten years. These are goals that are not only achievable, but which will have a positive impact on reducing the cost of living. For example, there are currently over 4,000 homes in Lindsay that are already enjoying the economic benefits of solar PV installations, but we want to see that number continue to go up. That way we can simultaneously continue to cut down on our carbon emissions, while increasing the competitiveness of the renewable energy market and seeing the benefits of that competitiveness passed on to consumers. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, which is in stark contrast to the findings of an independent report, ‘Renewable Energy and the Carbon Price,’ which shows that even just removing the carbon price (which we oppose) would decrease investment into renewable energies, decrease competitiveness, and could see electricity prices rising by 5-10% by 2020.

The balance of those policies is that we’re looking to further increase the cost of the negative impact that the mining industry is having on our environment and the health of our communities. Just by restructuring the mining tax we could raise $21.8 billion in revenue. Removing tax breaks from the mining industry could raise a further $12 billion, while cutting their fuel subsidies could save $13 billion. This alone would allow us to cover the costs of much-needed investments into so many positive policies, while having a huge impact on the damage that we’re doing to the environment.

We also want to make sure that we’re prepared when natural disasters do happen, by increasing our funding for natural disaster preparedness to $350 million a year, as opposed to the current amount of $50 million.

The longer that we delay our response to climate change, the worse it’s going to get. We want to make sure that we starting acting straight away.

I hope that answered your questions. Either way, I’m more than happy to expand on anything here, or respond to any other questions that you may have.

Cheers,

David

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