Tagged: Peter Dutton

Jimmy Barnes calls for kids to be removed from Nauru

The Australian rock musician Jimmy Barnes had some strong words for the Australian government ahead of a rally on the Parliament House lawn in Canberra to remove children and their families from indefinite detention on Nauru.

Tuesday’s rally saw the delivery of a petition of 170,000 signatures to the government by the newly elected member for Wentworth, independent MP Dr Kerryn Phelps.

Barnes pointed to his own heritage: “I’m an immigrant,” he said. “I came to Australia in a boat. We were running away from poverty and violence in Scotland, and what we fled was nothing compared to what these people have tried to get away from.

“We should be helping them. Taking these people and sticking them on an island, indefinitely, is not the Australian way.”

Since the launch of the Kids off Nauru campaign three months ago by refugee advocacy groups, around 110 of the 119 children and their families had been brought to Australia after five years in detention on the island.

The Asylum Centre Resource Centre estimated only 40 percent of Australians were aware children were being held in detention at the time the campaign was launched. Many had spent their entire lives on the island.

That figure has since been raised to 80 percent, boosted by medical professionals including Phelps and international charity organisations World Vision, Save the Children and Oxfam.

A statement from Save the Children, which was contracted by the Australian government in 2013 to provide education and welfare services to children on Nauru before its workers were removed and its role taken over by Transfield in October 2015, said the organisation had “seen first-hand the distress and hardship endured by children languishing indefinitely on Nauru”.

“One day in effective detention for a child is unacceptable; five years is a disgrace,” the statement said.

Barnes, one of 65 ambassadors for Kids off Nauru, said he had reached a point where he felt he had to stand up.

“You can’t blame governments because we’ve allowed this to happen. The government represents us,” he said.

“I am ashamed that our government has allowed this to happen. And I’m ashamed of myself, because the government represents us, and that’s all of us, and we have to stand up and demand that this be changed … This has to stop.”

Asked how he responded to the view that ending offshore detention risked putting people smugglers back in business, Barnes said: “I think that’s rubbish.”

“There’s got to be better ways to stop that. Let’s tackle that problem on the ground in Indonesia, or wherever. But holding people up as hostages to stop people smugglers, that’s not the way to do things. That’s like two wrongs making a right … This has to stop.

“Politicians have been spreading fear, saying if we’re letting in refugees we’re letting in terrorists. It’s not the truth. We’ve got to recognise the difference between terrorism and people who are refugees; people who are struggling.

“I hate fear politics. And if you look at the Victorian election, that didn’t work and I think the tide is turning, people are changing and they’re not going to fall for that one any more.”

Barnes has become active in humanitarian causes in recent years, especially since the release of his memoirs Working Class Boy and Working Class Man.

“I had enough of my own problems before,” he said. “I can see a lot clearer now, and I just don’t feel comfortable sitting around not speaking out and saying what I want to say. These are kids, these are families, and they’re people who need help … I can’t sit by any more.”

Asked how he would respond to those – hypothetically, home affairs minister Peter Dutton – who might tell him to stick to singing, Barnes said: “I wouldn’t give Peter Dutton any of my time. It’s a waste of time speaking to someone like him, because they just spread lies and propaganda. He doesn’t represent me, he doesn’t care about people, and I wouldn’t give him the time of day, to tell you the truth.”

First published in The Guardian, 27 November 2018

With a little empathy, Turnbull changes the tone

Whatever you thought of Leigh Sales’ interview with Malcolm Turnbull on The 7.30 Report last night, it had a defining moment; one that has the potential to recast the fortunes of his government. It was a moment of empathy, and empathy is a quality that’s become an endangered species in public life.

Turnbull recalled when he was a partner at Goldman Sachs in New York. Everyone, he said, was earning big money. But he queried the CEO about whether they were deserving of their good fortune, pointing out that in the streets below them, there were taxi drivers working far longer hours for a fraction of the rewards they were receiving.

I nearly fell off my chair. As someone who’d driven a taxi for many years – and who occasionally had to shrug off barbs from those who clearly regarded my line of employment as a reflection on my intelligence, as well as my station in life – this was an extraordinary thing to hear. Especially from a conservative politician.

Turnbull readily accepted Leigh Sales’ proposition that he’s been lucky. He has been gifted with high intelligence, a good education, good health, a beautiful family, and he’s been able to convert all of it into enormous wealth, which only a tiny few are able to do no matter how lucky they are, or how hard they work.

But Turnbull wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His mother had deserted his family at a young age. And perhaps that’s given him another gift: the emotional intelligence, as he called it, to have the imagination to walk in somebody else’s shoes. It was, he said, was the most important quality for someone in his line of work.

“The fact that we have to recognise is that much of our good fortune is good fortune,” he said. Such a statement must have burned the ears of many of his conservative colleagues. Turnbull is richer than most of them put together, but his words signalled a huge shift in rhetorical emphasis away from the brutishness of his predecessor.

Empathy has been in short supply in the so-called land of the fair go these last two years. It was what went missing when Peter Dutton joked about rising sea levels in the South Pacific. It was missing from his apology, too, for not realising there was a boom microphone over his head at the time.

It was missing when Joe Hockey said that poor people don’t drive cars, and if they did, they didn’t drive them very far. It was missing when he said the key to breaking into the housing market was to get a good job that paid good money. (Frankly, empathy was missing on most of the occasions Hockey opened his cigar-hole.)

It was missing when Christopher Pyne opined that women would not be disproportionately effected by changes to higher education, because most of them would only go on to be nurses and teachers anyway. It was missing from the Abbott government’s attitude to same-sex marriage.

It was missing when the government attempted to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. All of the government’s empathy on that occasion was reserved for the very white Andrew Bolt. It was missing when George Brandis said people had a right to be bigots. It was missing when Bronwyn Bishop took that chopper to Geelong.

Symbolically, this collective lack of empathy can be summed up in Tony Abbott’s words: “Nope. Nope. Nope.”

Inevitably, this lack of care for others has spilled over into other aspects of our national life. The incessant booing of Adam Goodes. The continuing degradation and dehumanisation of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru. Where once we found the phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I,” we instead find fault.

The proof, of course, will be in the policies the Liberal Party takes to the election and, in the longer term, their outcomes. But with just a little empathy, Turnbull has changed the tone of the national conversation. It’s the first step towards saving his party from the sort of ideological drift – unhinged from the vicissitudes of life that effect ordinary people – that’s turned the US Republican Party into an unelectable circus.