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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Friday, May 06, 2005

Investigation needed

Australia's asylum seeker issues are making headlines in the UK. This is from today's Independent:

"Australia's treatment of asylum-seekers is under scrutiny again after revelations about a three-year-old girl who suffered serious mental health problems after spending her life in mandatory detention. Professional advice that Naomi Leong, a Malaysian child, should be allowed out to visit a playgroup for two hours once a week has gone unheeded."

And this from today's Sydney Morning Herald:

"The Federal Government transferred two suicidal Baxter detainees to a psychiatric hospital shortly before a court decision that would have compelled them to do so. In a damning judgement, the Federal Court found yesterday the Government had breached its duty of care in failing to provide adequate psychiatric care for the two Iranians held in the detention centre in South Australia. The court also found that the Government's conduct "contributed to the progressive deterioration of the applicants" and that it "continued to commit itself to treatment plans that may have been exacerbating, or else inadequately or inappropriately treating" their conditions."

(Margo Kingston explains what the political ramifications SHOULD be of this court ruling.)

Some are now calling for a Royal Commission into issues related to refugees and detention. In light of ABC TV's Lateline discovering that as many as 100 individuals may have been wrongly detained over the last three years, surely we owe it to asylum seekers and mental health cases to discover the result of ongoing harsh refugee policy?

Equally important is an examination of the Howard government's decision to privatise detention centres. When ACM, a subsidiary of the American Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, used to run our centres, accountability was virtually non-existent and profits skyrocketed. Conditions at the centres were frequently unacceptable. For more information of why these services should not be privatised, read this ABC Background Briefing report from 2004:

"Richard Harding [the Inspector of Custodial Services in Western Australia]: It shows that without proper supervision or care from DIMIA [Immigration Department], ACM did indeed develop its very own culture of indifference and worse than indifference, in fact virtually all of the riots that we’ve seen film and video of over the years, shows not riot control so much as riot provocation behaviour by the on-site operators, ACM. But you always come back to the fact that this is being allowed to happen by the persons with the responsibility in international law, in duty of care terms, in political terms, for running a decent operation. DIMIA and ultimately the Minister and the Federal government."


Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

The contracting and sub-contracting arrangements for detention centres is one aspect of this disgraceful saga which hasn't had much focus.

The running of Baxter is contracted out to GSL, but they then contract out some of the health services to another company, who then hire sub-contractors to perform various tasks but who are often just 'recommending' treatment back to others back up the chain. A shambles driven by profit, not by ensuring duty of care.

This case is not the first time that severly ill detainees have had to take the Dept to Court to get propoer medical treatment (a disgrace in itself that they shold have to go to such extreme lengths for a basic right), it is just the first time it has progressed all the way through to a judgement.

Saturday, May 07, 2005 12:40:00 am  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Thanks for your comments, Andrew.
The contracting of people's misery - which, when we think about it, is essentially what these profits are made from - is rarely examined by the mainstream. It's as if it's an area too sensitive, too messy, too complex, too God knows what.
Examining this reality will become even more essential post July 1. I suspect the place for this debate will not be the mainstream media - they'll be even more scared than now. Hello blogs...

Saturday, May 07, 2005 1:02:00 am  
Blogger syed-m said...

It's worth comparing the media's coverage of the mandatory detention of asylum seekers over the years with the recent coverage of Corby and the 'Bali 9'. Motivations aside, quite clearly the media has the capacity to convey the humanity of people in detention.

Sunday, May 08, 2005 12:05:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

Andrew has a point, but I don't think that the privatisation of detention health services is really at the core of the problem.

'NSW Justice Health' (formerly 'Corrections Health Servives') provides healthcare to all NSW prisons except Junee (the only private prison in NSW). Its service is just as appalling as the privatised ones - especially in the area of mental healthcare.

I don't see any advantages in having a shambles driven by bureaucratic corruption over a shambles driven by profit.

When I hear people like Louise Newman and - god help us - Carmen 'mandatory sentencing' Lawrence bang on about the third rate mental healthcare provided to children in immigration detention it makes me want to puke. Both of them are responsible for more than their own fair share of abusive treatment of mental health patients and child detainees (unlike the NT, Carmen's mandatory sentencing laws are still locking up Aboriginal kids in WA).

As Foucault pointed out, mental healthcare within the context of coercion and detention is always oppressive - whether that detention is in a desert rathole or a locked ward of a public or private hospital.

If those grandstanding to the media about the treatment of DIMIA detainees would pay a bit more attention to the abuse of those they are in a better position to assist it might be easier to listen to them without having to hold your nose at the rank hypocrisy of it all.

Sunday, May 08, 2005 2:31:00 pm  

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