Posted by: Semiipro | August 16, 2014

Australia’s Fearsome War of Refugees

Australia’s Fearsome War on Refugees

If war can be waged against inanimate substances and abstractions (drugs and terror), declaring that Australia is at war with refugees is not a completely outlandish claim; at the very least, it is as apt a description for what is happening as those other wars. Australia is overtly engaged in war against refugees and their often forgotten brethren, the Unlawful Non-Citizens (who dwell amongst us without note in the cities, suburbs and farmlands of Australia). The institutions, the processes and the language involved in this war are the ways in which the Australian government refuses to explain what it is actually doing. It’s not an overly armed conflict and the parties involved are far from the usual protagonists in war: it is a war waged almost entirely by Australian Public Servants against people who are not in any way criminals and who are in need of help and who, with any kind of compassion in mind, should not be subject to harm.

Australia, as a country, has created its right to determine who may enter its land and in which fashion it allows people to enter its borders through legislation drafted and legitimised by its peoples’ representatives. Australia has a self-articulated legislative right to engage in war against refugees and UNCs, but does it have the moral right to do so?

INSTITUTIONS

The war against refugees is primarily waged by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and a one of its prominent ‘service providers’, Serco. Government[1] officials will tell you (with the veracity that only a kind of cult follower can so belligerently tell you) that government departments need to outsource work to save money.[2] But outsourcing is also used by governments to wash its hands of inhumane, nasty, ballot-box poison kind of business. Hence, Serco operates the detention centres in the Immigration Detention Network. They are called detention centres, but they can easily be called other things that would perhaps be more descriptive of what they actually are: buildings of incarceration; places for the confinement of persons in lawful detention (also known as ‘gaol’); houses of correction (‘don’t be a refugee again!’); enclosures run by mercenaries; and, for some people, they may be best defined as indefinite holding pens.   Whatever they may be called, they are places in which those who reside in them don’t want to be in them, but they cannot leave them on terms acceptable to them; DIAC and Serco see to it that their liberty is deprived.

There are other government departments involved (the Department of Finance and Deregulation[3] have their grubby little hands all over the relationship between DIAC and Serco, for example, and countless more contracts in which government has been financially stiffed by smarter market participants than them) and other complicit organisations are happy to suckle on the government teat, but DIAC and Serco are the main warriors in the war.

PROCESSES

People smugglers are almost universally condemned as the scum of the earth, even though some people smugglers (or as they may also be known as ‘people in-traffickers’ as they traffic people into Australia) have undoubtedly helped people and have saved lives. On the other hand, some people in-traffickers have virtually trafficked people to their deaths in shoddy transportation[4]; in stories told of them, people in-traffickers are either good or bad and are judged as such by who is telling the story.

DIAC and Serco are also in the business of trafficking people; they are people out-traffickers. They traffic people out of Australia. They, for the most part, traffic people in an orderly fashion and usually don’t kill them. But sometimes they do kill people in the process of trafficking them, through negligence and appalling care. There have been numerous incidents at detention centres in which, if DIAC and Serco were serious about their duty of care, people in detention centres would not have died. But they have died. Comcare, the government agency responsible for safety in federal workplaces, has considered safety inside the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre run by DIAC and Serco so bad, they have called the VIDC a safety ‘basket case.’ The NSW Coroner Mary Jerram said of the processes at VIDC that they were ‘a failure of systems which in [her] view require remedy.’

People inside VIDC are there because they do not hold a valid visa to remain in Australia. They may have been relocated from Christmas Island or they may have been UNCs living and working in the community – without ever having committed any kind of crime – who were hunted down by DIAC offices in their homes or workplaces.

All this makes for an interesting comparison. People smugglers, the in-traffickers, the sometimes-called scum of the earth, offer a service to people who use it willingly; although people who employ the services of people in-traffickers are desperate and would most likely prefer not to use such a service, they voluntarily, willingly move from one place to another in search of safety and/or a better life and allow the people in-traffickers to help them (at considerable financial cost to them and sometimes they even willingly sign up for indentured servitude for the use of the in-trafficker’s services.) In comparison, DIAC actively hunts down in a variety of locations people who have in most cases committed no crime, deprive them of their liberty, then traffics them first to a detention centre of ill-repute, then traffics them to another country, escorted by DIAC and Federal Police officers – all completely against the will of the people being trafficked. Who has the moral higher ground, DIAC or people smugglers? And it’s easy to see how a people in-trafficker may benefit from his actions, but what is the benefit to DIAC itself? It’s hard to fathom how a bureaucratic department benefits in treating people so poorly outside its infinitesimal contribution to ‘national security’ (and even that’s a stretch.) If a nation must – and I stress must – engage in war with refugees, it should be undertaken by the military and the reasons for the war should face a higher standard of need than an interpretation of the Migration Act.

Practically every process DIAC and Serco conjure up in relation to – and it can be described, in the parlance of our times as – the ‘refugee problem’ is poorly designed with much oversight in regards to health and safety, let alone does it take into account any kind of morality. When two organisations such as DIAC and Serco – who’s main principles are not aligned – have separate ‘risk matrices’ and no one person is responsible for any unforeseen problem[5], problems are bound to arise and can easily be never fully redressed.

LANGUAGE

Such institutional and process problems would be all fun and games if people weren’t dying and being harmed mentally because of them and if a nation wasn’t being defined by them. It seems the Australian government is happy to believe its own propaganda and attacks anyone who doesn’t believe in it. For example, if you were to read DIAC’s official Twitter account (@SandiHLogan) you would most likely learn that Australian Public Servants do whatever their government asks them to do, no questions asked, and government policy can never be wrong. It appears Australian Public Servants have been brainwashed into believing they cannot ever deny the requests of the politicians in power at the time[6]. If you ask any senior DIAC employee at what stage would they not do what their government asked them to, you won’t get a straight up answer, I can assure you[7]. But not only do they not question what is asked of them, senior DIAC employees will vehemently propagate the opinion that they are merely executing government policy (and never mentioning the poor execution by the administration) and that they can’t really be held responsible for such nasty processes. DIAC officials can’t lose, thanks to the belief in their own propaganda. Thanks to language, all actual responsibility is absolved. So it makes me wonder, is our ‘refugee problem’ just a kind of Wittgenstein-like language game that is merely played out in public whilst what is actually happening is hidden and hidden on purpose to perpetuate the game, as part of the game? Actual images of DIAC’s actions could be helpful, but they have been suppressed in the game, with the language of ‘national security’ always invoked.

Foreigners in Australia who have arrived by boat without a visa to enter Australia or who do not currently hold a valid visa are respectively called Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) and Unlawful Non-Citizens (UNCs). They are never ‘Guests of Australia Awaiting Refugee Assessment (GAARA)’ or ‘Fellow Human Beings Living With Us Who Don’t Currently Have The Right Piece of Paper (FHBLWUWDCHTRPP)’. Maybe those acronyms are too long, too complicated, too caring, too likely to be seen as weak, too human? Above all, it seems, public servants and the rest of government must appear ‘tough.’ The non-stop platitudes emanating from DIAC and its masters, the outright propaganda that spews forth from the official DIAC Twitter account, the people who have died in the care of the government – all for what? So Australia can appear tough? And tough in Australia means capturing, transporting and incarcerating people who are in need of help? And such actions are carried out by Public Servants, who are, what, heroes? Is Australia the final destination of history’s end and the land of some post-post(?) modernism dream/nightmare/reality? Is the war against refugees happening? Or isn’t it? And which is the simulacra?

CRITICISM? WHAT CRITICISM?

Under the current game rules, it’s interesting to note that DIAC never takes the time to criticise Serco. In fact, it vehemently defends Serco with the language of a servant defending its King. Of course, this isn’t by accident and possibly can’t be avoided. I can imagine the sway Serco holds over the minds of senior DIAC and Department of Finance and Deregulation officials, if not overtly then otherwise. If DIAC criticises Serco, what happens when the next contract for the detention immigration network comes around (because it MUST be outsourced)? DIAC will have to pay through the nose to get a company to take on their dirty work. It would perhaps be so expensive as to consider it may even be financially viable (under the current accounting tricks) for DIAC to be responsible for what it should be held accountable for. Therefore, DIAC language must always paint (with a thousand or more words) a good picture of its service providers. Who is responsible for such a ridiculous game?

GOOD PEOPLE DOING BAD THINGS?

Are the perpetrators of the war on refugees really such bad people? Could they actually stand at Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island with artillery aimed at people in need and tell them to back off from Australia, we don’t want you here, we don’t want to help you? Could they idly watch a person suffer mental trauma at the hands of a multinational corporation that has no charter for caring about humans other than putting money into shareholder’s pockets? Could these Canberra public servants really be so cold-hearted? That’s the most frustrating part in all this: I don’t think they could if the language of this war was different, closer to reality, more direct, and if they took the time to examine their lives and their actions. These public servants who have been afforded jobs for life – if they do whatever the government asks of them – have made a kind of deal with the devil: they are waging a war – a one sided war – against people who only want the chance to be as comfortable as them, as safe in a home as them. Are these public servants – who I have no doubt are caring toward their own family – really good people when the results of their actions are so atrocious? This deal that has been made with lack of empathy can only be broken with courage; something sadly missing in all of government.

[1] Government is a word that has different meanings for different people and is actually horribly confusing. I say government here to mean those people that have been voted by the people of Australia in a democratic vote, who may or may not have been directly voted for by the majority of people in their electorate, who are aligned with the political party or parties that hold the most number of seats in the lower house of the Australian Parliament and those that are directly employed by those people and Australian Public Service bureaucrats.

[2] Don’t get me started on ‘money’ and related ‘value.’ Suffice it to say, when the government gives billions of dollars of the Australian people’s money to multinational companies in outsource contracts, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of anyone other than the corporation’s various ‘chief benefitting officers’, directors etc. and its shareholders. I beg to differ if you believe it also helps employees in Australia: they are generally paid lower than if they were to be directly employed by the Australian government. By the bye, I have a high regard for what corporations have done to advance the world and corporations can take some credit for lifting millions, maybe billions of people, out of poverty, but in this instance, corporations don’t float my boat.

[3] What a great name and purpose for a government department! It is in the business of eliminating itself (if its employees think of themselves as government employees. Which possibly they don’t or they live an unexamined life like every other government employee in Canberra, away from the front-line of services.) Am I the only person who thinks that a government department’s aim in reducing or eradicating government involvement in matters that pertain to government is somewhat perverse?

[4] Of what is it a failure when people die when using people in-traffickers? In a world where multi-national corporations have virtually unfettered ability to use capital in any country and there are many free-trade agreements, shouldn’t there be free-labour agreements, worldwide? There are three main reasons why people come to Australia: for safety, to be with family, and, to make money (and there are as many reason a person wants to make money as there are people). People wishing to come to Australia for those reasons should not be forced to do so in unsafe transportation. It’s that simple in my mind.

[5] Is this designed on purpose? Has anyone been held personally responsible for the deaths in detention? Well, no, because the deaths have been attributed to system deficiencies. Contrast this lack of personal accountability for when things gone horribly wrong with the fact that the current substantive Secretary of DIAC is using money received as a prize to study abroad (personally) after he was named the Chartered Accountants Federal Government Leader of the Year for 2010 for his work as Secretary of DIAC. Can one take the good with the good and with the good only?

[6] Brainwashed or financially compensated to do so. There has recently been a bit of a backlash against bonus payments to Australian Public Servants, but it still happens (it has been rolled-into salaries (as shown at page 376 of DIAC’s 2009-10 Annual Report), hidden now from view) and a lot of people currently in the APS with a modicum of power have financially gained simply from implementing government policy, no matter if it was done well or not.

[7] For most senior DIAC figures, innocent people dying due to lack of care from a stressed, under-resourced department seems not to be the trigger to question whether a DIAC employee should not do as their government asks. Or is it simply a matter of the old Yes Minister administration/policy conundrum? Is it a language trick or a humanity problem? If an Australian public servant needs legislative authority to deny requests to gaol people and transport them against their will, they need only look to the Public Service Act 1999. Section 13(3) of that act says ‘An APS employee, when acting in the course of APS employment, must treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment.’ How does locking up men, women and children NOT contravene this section of the act?

First published 24 Jun 2012

Posted by: Semiipro | August 16, 2014

Corporations and Absence of Empathy

Let me start by saying I have a Bachelors degree in Business. I have worked as an auditor for a large accounting firm which was, at the time, one of the ‘Big 6’ accounting firms. I have also worked in the finance industry. I have some understanding of the workings of corporations.

A quick Google search will tell you that commercial corporations have been around since at least the 14th Century. There is little doubt that commercial corporations have had a significant impact on the developed world. The characteristic of corporations that has most helped the developed world to flourish is the concept of limited liability within corporations; this characteristic has enabled corporations to take greater risks than they otherwise would have. In taking such risks, corporations have been hugely successful and have employed millions of people worldwide. The success of corporations has had a large influence on the standard of living that we in the developed world enjoy today. Corporations, which are really collections of people, have been the backbone of modern capitalism. And capitalism, on a macro scale, has pretty much worked. Compare and contrast life in the developed world and the only place that capitalism has not reached, North Korea.

Limited liability limits the financial liability of a corporation’s shareholders and executives (for the most part). For those people who benefit from the concept of limited liability, they are, largely and effectively, playing with other people’s money. When there is little personal liability for bad financial decisions made by executives of many corporations, sometimes we end up with a situation like the 2008 Global Financial Crisis; a complete diffusion of accountability and responsibility.

In the past century when corporations have flourished, the world has also experienced occasions when people, collectively, have been afflicted with what the Professor of Developmental Psychopathology Simon Baron-Cohen calls (and yes, he has a more famous cousin) an absence of empathy. People, collectively, have committed genocide against Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Iraqi Kurds, Rwandan Tutsis and Bosnians with limited liability. Genocide is the extreme example of absence of empathy; absence of empathy can happen anywhere where two or more people gather. Absence of empathy is Professor Baron-Cohen’s interesting new theory of human cruelty (check it out in his book here – http://www.amazon.com/Science-Evil-Empathy-Origins-Cruelty/dp/0465023533/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1306200453&sr=1-1). An old fashioned word for the somewhat scientific term ‘absence of empathy’ is evil.

Unfortunately, absence of empathy seems to raise its ugly head again and again and again. The tricky thing about absence of empathy is that it can seemingly pop-up anywhere, its origins only unmistakeable in hindsight; sometimes the absence of empathy is not nipped in the bud before it can flourish. I think it beholds us all to be vigilant to situations that may allow absence of empathy to flourish.

Governments of developed countries today do an awful lot of outsourcing to corporations of functions that they believe they are either not capable of producing (for one said reason or another) or they believe that corporations can do it for a cheaper price. That’s what the elected governments would have us believe but usually, these outsourced functions are ballot box poison – a good example is the fighting of confused wars. The US Government has outsourced some fighting of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Xe Services (formerly known as Blackwater USA and Blackwater Worldwide). One could say that the US government has tried to limit its moral liability outsourcing its really dirty jobs. Who knows where such outsourcing started, but it’s pretty certain that such a tactic has been taught in MBA business schools around the world and if there is one thing government officials, public servant bureaucrats and corporate employees (and even I at times) have in common, it’s the love of a trendy theory. Enter the proliferation of outsourcing in the past few decades.

Closer to home, arguably the highest profile outsourcing the Australian government employs is the outsourcing of its detention centre services to the UK Public Limited Company Serco. It’s hard to believe that anyone knows how much this outsourced contract is costing the Australian tax payer financially (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/national/detention-contractors-asylum-windfall/story-e6freuzr-1226055679841). But money isn’t what concerns me most about the Detention Services Provider contract between the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and Serco. The Australian government, through DIAC, has entered into a contract with a company that a UK jury has labelled ‘an unlawful regime’ (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/suicide-of-14-year-old-inmate-dogs-serco/story-fn59niix-1226052167565) because of its business practices.   There have been four deaths in Serco run detention centres in the past year in Australia and yet we know nothing of who is accountable and responsible for the deaths.   Not only are the tragic deaths mitigated by limited liability but the secret DIAC/Serco contract means we will never know the full story of those deaths. It’s not a diffusion of responsibility – DIAC and Serco have ingeniously guaranteed that there never will be anyone responsible for deaths in detention in Australia, and no one will be held accountable. Where there is no accountability and responsibility there is a complete absence of empathy. Or, if you like the old fashioned word, it is where evil resides.

First published 26 May 2012

Posted by: Semiipro | August 16, 2014

Leaving Villawood

I once worked as a compliance officer for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) in Sydney. My job was to detain unlawful non-citizens (UNCs, non-Australians who do not hold a valid visa) located in the community and, if necessary, take UNCs to the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre (VIDC). The VIDC is usually referred to as simply ‘Villawood’ and all UNCs seem to know it by that name, as do most Australians.

In November 2010 I took a stand and advised my supervisors that I no longer wanted to go anywhere near Villawood. There were a number of incidents at Villawood that made me doubt that those people responsible for the care of UNCs (people employed by the UK for-profit corporation, Serco) were doing an effective job (these incidents are recorded in the public domain and that is how I received such information).   I felt Villawood was not safe. My standpoint came to me eventually, sometime after the above incidents and after I made a particular visit to Villawood as part of my job. I say eventually because the realisation of my standpoint came to me in a similar fashion to how Hawkeye came to eventually see his involvement on the bus in the final episode of MASH (Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen – you can watch the scene here:)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYjy7uUn7fc

I had convinced myself into believing that I was not in any way responsible for the care of UNCs I took to Villawood; I merely detained various UNCs and from Villawood on, they were not my concern. But when I had my ‘chicken realisation’ I could no longer take UNCs to Villawood in good conscience. I became somewhat of a conscientious objector to taking UNCs to Villawood. I could no longer take UNCs (the vast majority of UNCs are not, and have never been, criminals) to a place I considered unsafe, physically and mentally.

I continued to detain UNCs in the community but I did not transport them to Villawood. I repressed thoughts about my involvement in the greater scheme of immigration detention and I put my head down and went about daily business. It was pointless in raising concerns to who was actually responsible for the day-to-day welfare of UNCs in immigration detention in Australia because who was responsible was a faceless, secretive corporation based in another country that owes no accountability to me or any other member of the Australian public. I tried to trick myself into forgetting where the UNCs I detained would eventually be housed. Unfortunately for me, I could not trick myself for very long.

In the midst of the general malaise on the subject of immigration in our country that is incessantly broadcast in the media (for good reason), my conscience annoyed me like a chicken that clucked inside my mind; I couldn’t keep that damned chicken quiet. The UNCs had faces and were human. After a few more months, I refused to detain any more human beings as I did not want to be involved in any way with the incarceration of people at Villawood.

I don’t know what goes on inside Serco, a for-profit company. No one in DIAC knows what goes on inside Serco, a for-profit company. Serco has a contract with DIAC, the details of which can never be known by me or anyone in the general public (few people outside of a select few at DIAC, the Department of Finance and Deregulation and Serco know the contract details). Serco may be financially accountable to DIAC if people die in their care; that is what has been represented by DIAC. I don’t have access to the contract, so I don’t know for sure. But monetary fines appear to be the only accountability directed at them. They are not morally accountable to the Australian government, DIAC, or anyone else in Australia. Serco is in no way required to behave in a manner that people would call right. Serco is a corporation and its only responsibility is to spend as little money as possible while obtaining as much income as possible (and they are very good at that).

I understand Serco do not owe any kind of moral accountability to the Australian public or me, a lowly DIAC employee. That is their right after they negotiated a business deal on detention services with non-business minded public servants in Canberra on pure economic terms. But such lack of moral accountability in regards to the tragic incidents at Villawood, I believe, is a problem. To me, it’s a horrifying scenario: what is in effect at Villawood is a morally unaccountable system. Perhaps what is even worse (and the possibility fills me with dread): such an unaccountable system could easily have been purposely designed.

I have had the luxury of being able to leave Villawood forever. Some people don’t have that choice. My response to what I have seen at Villawood is not an average response and in its singularity it means nothing. But to mix in an expression to my MASH metaphor, it would be nice if somehow the chickens came home to roost before the chickens are harmed any further.

First published 22 Jun 2012

Posted by: Semiipro | August 16, 2014

When Risk Matrices Collide

The limitations of risk matrices are now well known. Yet risk matrices are still being used by many organizations, including corporations and government agencies. You can check out the problems with matrices online (http://www.evira.fi/attachments/english/research_on_animal_diseases_and_food/risk_assessment/riskmatrices.pdf), so I won’t elaborate on how and why risk matrices may be worse than useless in this post. However, I would like to pose and ruminate on a hypothetical situation involving two organizations who enter into a contract in which each party is interested in eliminating risks. And they achieve the elimination of those risks with deadly consequences.

Imagine if a government department wished to eliminate a troublesome service it is responsible for by outsourcing that service to a service provider. The government department has created a risk matrix for the service and, although on the face of it the outsourcing is done to save money (spending money is a near catastrophic risk for executives who obtain bonuses by curtailing spending, by the way), there is an added bonus of shifting responsibility for catastrophic risks to another party.

Enter the service provider, a for-profit organization whose sole aim is to make money for its shareholders. It has no moral obligations to people that the government department may have (except to maybe the fund managers who control a lot of equity – and the morals of fund managers are questionable, at best), moral obligations very loosely defined by the people of Australia via elected officials. The service provider chooses to enter into a contract (sometimes – sometimes – it must go through a rigorous tender process) with the government department to make money from the government department and if it has to take on catastrophic risks, it will charge accordingly.

But are the catastrophic risks identified by the government department and the service provider the same? If the two parties were working toward the same goals and engaged in meaningful communication at all times, the identified catastrophic risks would probably be the same. But the service provider and the government department are each guided by far differing principles. Maybe the government department can’t be completely honest with the service provider due to something like ‘state secrets.’ And maybe the service provider can’t be honest with the government department because being honest would be to the detriment of the bottom line. It could cost money. And money being the sole purpose of the service provider, that would really hurt. So the two parties have different risk matrices. In fact, they will NEVER have the same matrices.

So it seems impossible that the government department and the service provider could enter into a contract that would be of use to the two parties. Well, that depends on the contract. The contract may not even account for the known catastrophic risks (let alone the unknown risks) in which case the contract, in the eyes of neutral observers, clearly becomes completely useless. Unless neutral observers cannot see the contract and cannot make judgement on it.

A secret contract. Otherwise known as such things as ‘commercial-in-confidence’ or ‘confidential information’ or maybe a ‘trade secret.’ Whatever you want to call it, it is where evil resides. And when no one is accountable for catastrophic risks, people can die without anyone being held responsible. And people may continue to die until someone gets the blame.

First published 30 Dec 2011

Posted by: Semiipro | May 23, 2011

Why I Write

‘We read to know we are not alone.’  I’ve always liked this quote from the movie Shadowlands.  It’s as good a reason as any that I can think of as to why people read.  So why do we write?  If you agree with me as to why we read, then we must write to be read; we write to actively reach out to see if we are not alone.  I write to be read.  When it comes down to it, there is no other point to writing.

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers