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A stained white radiance

G'day. John Miner is a friend of mine. He once worked for Paul Keating and is now a consultant in Newcastle. He founded the New Institute to get speakers on interesting matters to visit Newcastle for public meetings and discussion. I discussed my book and the need to defend our democracy at its first function last year. He writes: "I'm a journalist who has worked as a press secretary to Labor Premiers in NSW and Victoria and was a senior adviser to PM Paul Keating. I have a communication consultancy in my home town of Newcastle, and am a founding member of The New Institute, which argues for a place in national debate for Australians who live beyond the capital cities." This is John's first piece for Webdiary.

by John Miner

Gavin Mooney, a professor of public health in Curtin University, placed an advertisement in the Canberra Times to express his thoughts about the Australian Government’s practice of kidnapping Australian citizens.

He didn’t call it that. Nobody calls it that. We call it unlawful detention. Why?

An Australian citizen, confused and alone, is grabbed in a public place. Taken to another place, where she has never been before, her confusion increases. When the police come, they don’t take her home, they don’t take her before a magistrate, they take her to an anonymous hotel near the airport. Then they dump her overseas.

We call this “unlawful detention”, but the fact that it is done by government employees in suits and uniforms doesn’t change the character of the offence. It’s assault and false imprisonment, which add up to kidnapping. I’m sick of inquiries, judicial or otherwise: charge the bastards.

I have read some of the ensuing correspondence through the Canberra Times website. Professor Mooney says he suggested that people working in DIMIA should examine their consciences. This is a reasonable suggestion, in my view.

Apparently I’m wrong. It was “an insulting personal attack on the integrity of public servants”. I have it on no less an authority than the First Assistant Secretary (Parliamentary and Legal) of DIMIA, Des Storer, who said so in a letter to the editor. 

Not only there, either. Des took advantage of his position to publish his response on the DIMIA website, a resource Professor Mooney doesn’t have. I, and many like me, would never have known about Professor Mooney’s idea if he hadn’t used the website to defend his troops against a suggestion that might have been good for their souls. Good one, Des. (As of today it is also linked to on DIMIA's home page.)

Des also used the time-honoured claptrap of the besieged flak:

If your journalist Paul Malone, who wrote the accompanying article, had bothered to contact the department for comment, we would have told him that next financial year immigration staff will: [do lots of good things].

Really? Opposition Senators in the Parliament have asked the Department question after question and got sweet f.a. in response. Why should Mr Malone have expected different? Anyway, the point was not what DIMIA would do but what it has done.

What Professor Mooney is driving at is something that echoes from my childhood, the “conscientious objector” of the Vietnam era, the Quakers, the JWs, and those who chanted in the streets, “Hell no, we won’t go.”

We use “conscientious” to mean serious, but it derives from “conscience.” Obedient or loyal to conscience, habitually governed by a sense of duty, scrupulous: so says (let’s not piss around with lesser authorities) the OED.

You would like to think all employees of DIMIA were conscientious. Clearly, Gavin Mooney thinks not.

But Des must know the implications of the word, too. Conscientious objectors to military service believe that there is a duty higher than the law, and are willing to go to prison rather then serve when they believe it wrong. And serving includes being any part of the forces: an army doesn’t march without logistical support, without medics, without cooks, without pay clerks.

Imagine if DIMIA staff refused to serve, or worse. What could be worse? Well, the “many local Canberra DIMIA employees who are trying to earn a living and administer the laws of the country”, as Des put it (ignoring the ones in the rest of the country) are, on one view of it, collaborators.

Some within DIMIA - someone who oversights the accommodation and travel claims, perhaps – must know who actually detained Cornelia Rau and Vivan Alvarez Solon, details that the Senate has been unable to find. Reveal that, and charges could be laid to sheet responsbility where it belongs.

(Actually, the officers who held them by the wrist and “escorted” them out of their lawful life and into the purgatory of detention or exile could come forward and try the Nuremburg defence: I was only following orders. One doubts they will have the courage. They didn’t display any when they kidnapped these defenceless women.)

There are at least three duties confronting those people. DIMIA has convinced them so far that their loyalty is to DIMIA and the government, not to the Parliament and people of Australia. Gavin Mooney is urging them to consider a third, their duty to their conscience.

For his trouble, Professor Mooney copped this little backhander from Des Storer:

As a migrant himself, it is disappointing Professor Mooney is unable to see the broader picture.

The FAS of DIMIA seems to think that migrants have a special duty to be circumspect in expressing opinions. How quaint, when the M in DIMIA stands for Multicultural.

I don’t know Gavin Mooney and have never corresponded with him in any way, but I have looked him up on the internet. Australia is the better for having him here and, although it may be true, I wouldn’t rush to say on the evidence available to me the same of Des Storer.

Dr William Maley, who is known to me only from the television as a defence boffin, summarised in his letter to the Times:

If I were First Assistant Secretary of a Department which in recent times had locked up a legal Australian resident (Cornelia Rau), deported an Australian citizen (Vivian Alvarez), given a visa to a terrorist suspect (Willy Brigitte), and administered a dehumanising system of detention without trial (Woomera, Baxter, etc), I would be lying low and keeping my mouth shut... When the full history of detention policy in Australia is written, top DIMIA officers should expect no mercy.

Des’s clumsy intervention doesn’t make Amanda Vanstone a liar. I believe she means to change the culture of DIMIA, to accept criticism. Des is just ensuring she can’t achieve it. His reference to Professor Mooney’s migrant status – he came from Scotland, I believe; I’ll bet Des looked him up on the Department’s files – shows the ingrained prejudices within the Department. And his timing suggests he doesn’t give a rat’s arse for his Minister or her radical idea of accepting anything that doesn’t come out of DIMIA.

The Department of Immigration has, over many years, enhanced Australia. The current culture of DIMIA has turned it into Australia’s Stasi, our Gestapo, our KGB, kidnapping people with impunity.

The poet Shelley wrote that life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, stains the white radiance of eternity. There was a radiance about Australia’s immigration policies at one time. DIMIA is not radiant now; it’s whitewashed. It’s time it was given the many colours of life through the examination of conscience and the revelation of truth.

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