Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

More to the refugee deal than meets the eye Last week’s news that the Turnbull government has struck a deal to resettle in the USA up to 1800 refugees held on Nauru and Manus Island is superficially good news in some respects, though of course it cannot trump the fact that morally and ethically they should have been granted asylum here. My apologies for using the ‘trump’ word, but it has a bearing on my column this week. More on that below. The agreement reportedly will involve a people swap from US-overseen refugee camps in Costa Rica, which were established to deter asylum seekers and illegal migrants from trying to enter the US through unofficial channels. In effect Australia would be swapping South American land people for Middle Eastern and Asian boat people, with little change in the total refugee intake for both countries. How ironic it then that President Elect Trump holds in his hands the fate of many Central American migrants and Muslim refugees. Given his harsh rhetoric against both, the US-Australia deal must be on shaky ground. It would have been far, far better for such resettlement deals to be carried out under the auspices of the United Nations. Resettlement is as important to a deterrent refugee policy as humane conditions in offshore centres. The most important detail will be how Mr Trump reacts when he enters the White House in January. There though many more unanswered questions about this ‘deal’ that makes is less than the good news story it superficially appears to be. For example, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has confirmed that the US is not obliged to accept a particular number of refugees, or indeed any, under the terms of its “deal” with the Australian government. “We learned today that the agreement provides no certainty whatsoever for the men, women and children that Australia has detained on Manus Island and Nauru,” Greens Immigration spokesperson Senator Nick McKim said. Like many of us, the Greens also have serious concerns about the Trump Administration failing to honour this deal and leaving people stranded, particularly given the Department’s evidence today that processing applications will take many months in some cases. Much has been made that the deal will act as a deterrent to people smugglers, but it is also arguable that a back door to the USA could be an added incentive to try for Australia with hopes of a home in another fine place. Malcolm Turnbull says “once only” but he is of the professional expediency class who live in our own fantasy land beside Lake Burley Griffin. Could it be that our bid for a position on the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 might now be free from the inconvenient taint of refugees still incarcerated in offshore detention? There’s also the nagging suspicion that the imminent transfer of power in the US, to a leader outspokenly antagonistic towards immigration of any kind, has given the plans of the Turnbull government here and Democrats in the USA a sense of urgency? Other than the saving of face for our political leaders, how has can this be more practical than finding them a place in our country? They have been proved to be real refugees. Why are we so proudly and stubbornly merciless in this aspect of Australia’s refugee policies

Time to end the cruel Melbourne Cup. Is the first Tuesday in November really something to boast about? Your correspondent Graham correctly summed up the negative aspects of the Melbourne Cup (Web Words, DA 2 November) when he characterised it as being marked by “true blue Aussie pastimes such as not working, irresponsible gambling, excessive drinking and cruelty to animals”. Far be it from me to suggest any society should not be able to celebrate its qualities, but are these really the attributes that we want to endorse? No, they’re not, but as many will no doubt disagree, it’s worth delving deeper into exactly what the ‘race that stops the nation’ involves. Though it’s hard to escape all the hype about this race perhaps, as people become increasingly aware that horses die on racetracks, the Melbourne Cup is quickly turning into the race that divides the nation, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pointed out recently. Indeed, ever since Archer became famous for winning the first Melbourne Cup while already injured, in a race in which two other horses died, countless other horses have sustained catastrophic injuries on the racetrack after being whipped mercilessly and pushed past their limits. Last year sentimental favourite Red Cadeaux broke his left foreleg on the track and was later euthanised, and in 2014 the race resulted in the deaths of two horses. Less publicised is the fact that horses are dying at lower-profile races all the time, with a total of 127 horses pronounced dead on Australian tracks over the course of 12 months in 2014 and 2015, according to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses. All this horror is overshadowed by the glitz and glamour, champagne, fashion, and prize money, but more and more compassionate Aussies are starting to take notice. Attendance at the Melbourne Cup Carnival has fallen for the last four years in a row, it is pleasing to note. Meanwhile, anti-racing “Say Nup to the Cup” events are springing up all over the country. The wastage rate for horses in training or racing is around 40 per cent, and many of those who don’t make the cut are sent to slaughter. Those who do survive are given a gruelling training and racing schedule, many suffering muscle and joint injuries, fractures, internal bleeding, musculoskeletal trauma, and ruptured ligaments. Then there’s the whipping. It causes localised trauma and tissue damage, and is actually of little value, for a 2011 study of Australian horse racing found that it improved the race times of just 2 per cent of horses. Researchers at the University of Melbourne discovered that half of the horses they studied had blood in the windpipe and close to 90 per cent had blood deeper in the lungs. Studies in both Sydney and the US have found that over 85 per cent of horses also had lesions in the stomach lining. Sick and injured horses may also be given steroids, which can mask pain or make a horse run faster. Most broken-down horses don’t make headlines, they’re just quietly shipped interstate to be slaughtered for human consumption or pet food. There’s nothing “sporting” about a pastime in which animals routinely suffer and die. It’s time for the nation to stop “the race that stops the nation”, and to give serious thought to whether or not horse racing, along with that other abomination, greyhound racing, should be banned altogether.

Final days of my Bethlehem volunteer project

Excellent final days in Bethlehem, including good days with the Palestine Conflict Resolution Centre. I only discovered this place late in my time here, but it seems a very worthwhile project. Within three days I took a trip with them to the Golan Heights to meet other people (Syrians) also occupied and colonised by the Israelis,, attended a Lecture/Discussion on Northern Ireland/Palestine, and a day earlier I  took a children’s drama class.
Also a terrific final day today at the Aida Refugee Centre’s Alrowwad Culture Centre, where I took my final drama class and met the Director. We discussed a playbuilding project for next year I could do based on a series of story posters on Israel’s appalling Apartheid Wall.
I was also chuffed to get heaps of very positive spontaneous feedback from the kids and also from my interpreter/class teacher.
One worrying thing I’ve noticed here is the number of kids playing with realistic looking toy  pistols that fire a little soft dart. This happened today as I was leaving Aida and when I turned round to jokingly reprimand the shooter he rushed over to me and apologised, and shook hands with me! He was all of ten years old.
So all in all a great way to end this volunteer project.

More on my volunteer work in Bethlehem

My drama classes at Aida Refugee Camp are now happening regularly and are going well, and the kids are great. Because of language difficulties, though I have an interpreter with me who has some English and I have a few words of Arabic, I’m focussing on non-verbal drama games.
Because I’m here for three weeks I’m also exploring Bethlehem in more detail than previously, finding much of historical and contemporary cultural, social and political interest. After having found on  previous visits to the Church of the Nativity that tourist crowds made it impossible to see anything in any detail at all, this time, having realised on last week’s visit to the Dome of the Rock that going there early (like 7.30 or 8.00 am) meant there were no crowds, I did get there by 8.00 and was rewarded by a very calm and even spiritual experience, though I’m not a believer in the traditional sense of believing the stories in the bible.
I also went to the Milk Grotto,  which was quiet, calm, and quote beautiful. And later I went to King David’s Wells, which are not only still there, but are still in use. My interest though wasn’t in glorifying David, but in learning that he fought the indigenous people, the Phillistines, to gain control of the City. Phillistine gives us the origin of the word Palestine, which I sometimes see/hear as Falesteen.
I’m staying in a very small inexpensive bed-sit flat near the Israeli Apartheid Wall close to Rachel’s Tomb, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, but which the Israeli’s have enclosed by the Apartheid Wall. The Camp is next to it too, so it is ever present in my life, a constant reminder of the situation faced by Palestinians, which I lament.

My Bethlehem project continues

I spent the last two days exploring Jerusalem and then had my first day teaching at the Alrowwad Centre at Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, State of Palestine.
The Jerusalem days came courtesy of Green Olive Tours, as the outfit I organised my adventure through, the Green Olive Collective, is an offshoot of it.  I did wonder if I really needed two days exploring that city, as this is my fourth trip here, but in the end I’m very pleased that I did, because we went to areas that were new to me, and though there was some inclusion of Israeli West Jerusalem even those parts were free of Zionist jingoism.  The Extreme Orthodox Jewish area was in fact positively  pro-Palestinian, as they regard the State of Israel and Zionism as abominations, given that they firmly believe that the Temple will not be restored until God’s Messiah arrives!
 The guide was a youngish Jewish guy who had previously worked for an NGO that investigated, reported and exposed the regular and continuing illegal Israeli government demolitions of Palestinian homes. A good guy, and a reminder that not all Israelis are rabid Zionists.
My first class at Alrowwad wasn’t drama, which I’m supposedly here to do, but helping with a visual art class. Fancy finger painting really, but great fun and the kids were delightful.
The drama lessons do though start tomorrow, to which I’m really looking forward. I’ll have to focus on non-verbal drama games because the kids only have a few words of English. They can all say “Hello”, “What’s your name?”, and “Where you from?”, but after that their fluency varies enormously. Should be great fun though!
In several ways it is good to be in Bethlehem, for most of the time it is free of obvious Israeli presence, as it is part of Area A, which means full Palestinian state control. Israeli troops can still come, and do so, “because they can”, having overwhelming military might, and the attitude to go with it.
However, because the largely Christian tourism has not fully picked up from its downturn during the Second Intifada, it is not especially prosperous, but the again, what part of Palestine is, and what part can be given Israel’s stranglehold? It is all very depressing, but the resilience of the people amazes me, as does their hospitality and friendliness.

Now in Bethlehem

Now in Bethlehem, I made my first visit to the Alrowwad Culture Centre at the Aida Refugee Camp, where I will be teaching drama. Everyone is very welcoming and I have a stack of drama games, creative drama activities and play building projects, so hopefully it will all go well.
The Centre seems quite well endowed, with a drama room / small theatre, small library / computer room, a multimedia room for TV , film and radio. They even have an online radio station. I think it is largely funded by EU donor nations, plus its own fundraising from supporters.
The camp itself, which was established by the UN in 1950, is a poor place, with apartment blocks cheek by jowl and most in a very bad state of repair, naturally enough, I guess. Looming over it all is the Israeli Separation Wall, built right alongside the camp as Israel built it well over the 1948 Green Line, taking land from Palestine as it did so. More on the wall below.
I’ve rented a small low budget flat for the two weeks I’ll be here. Its a bit shabby but clean, and I have a fridge, kettle, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a huge double bed and a functional bathroom – and a fabulous view over large swathes of Bethlehem.
Its about a 15 walk to the camp, but the dominant feature here in the north of Bethlehem is the Israel Separation Wall, complete with gun towers and observation points. It is everywhere, looming over everything, at least 6 metres high. Built of grey concrete, but enlivened by fabulous graffiti and Banksy type political illustrations. I’ve even found a Banksy Shop, but have yet to find it open.  
A small but telling point: during an early morning (6.30 am) walk I found a traffic jam on the local main road near my flat. Walking along a bit I could see up ahead the flashing lights of ambulances and what looked like police type cars. Back home in Australia it would have indicated an traffic accident, but here it could have been an Israeli military incursion. Though Bethlehem is in Area A, which is supposed to mean 100% Palestinian control, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) moves in at will. A couple of weeks ago, for example, they killed two Palestinians.
One final point. The name of the IDF is pure propaganda, for it is a tool of expansionist aggression, and so has little to do with defence.

Blogging my next project in Palestine

I’m in Occupied East Jerusalem on my fourth visit to Palestine. This time I’m a volunteer at the Alrowwad Theatre and Culture Centre in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, to which I’ll travel tomorrow.

Getting here wasn’t easy. Well, the flights from Wagga via Sydney, Dubai and Amman were fine, as was the 30-minute drive from Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport to the Allenby Bridge across the so-called River Jordan. I say ‘so-called’ because there’s no water in the Jordan, it having been pumped dry by the illegally occupying Israelis.

The problem was the four hour(!) interrogation by the Israeli border force, including a session with the Israeli army. They really don’t like international peace volunteers, figuring we will expose their cruel inhumane and largely quite illegal tactics as they continue to defiantly occupy the Palestinian Territories.

Anyway, after this harrowing experience, when I did feel that this time they would really not let me in, I made my way up to East Jerusalem for a day’s rest before travelling on to Bethlehem. In theory that town is in Area A of the State of Palestine, which means that it has full Palestinian sovereignty, and no Israeli presence at all. And pigs might fly – the Israeli army (full title Israeli Defence Force, acronym IDF) comes in and out at will. Last week it raided the Aida Camp, killing two Palestinian civilians.

IDF is of course a euphemism, for it is nothing more than a brutal army of aggression, hell-bent on fulfilling the Greater Israel policy of the extreme Zionists in power in Israel.

Despite being jet-lagged and emotionally knocked about by the IDF’s interrogations I’ve just had a great day in (illegally occupied) East Jerusalem. I love this place and lament what it could be like without the Israeli presence, which means that it is very neglected and run-down. Despite that it is a vibrant community, jammed packed with places of historic and cultural significance.

Highlights for me today were the Old City, including revisiting the Dome of the Rock, both a real pleasure by being there early in the morning, the Educational Bookshop in Saladin Street and its sister shop at the American Colony Hotel, and, a new one for me, the Palestine Heritage Museum.

This museum, funded by the EU, is a modern place in an old building, well curated and a fascinating educational and cultural experience. Having found it on my fourth visit to this city I’ll need to visit it again and again on future visits.

My next entry to this journal-blog will be during my settling in to Bethlehem.

Sydney LGBTIQ parade and Parliamentary Apology to we 78ers.

Fabulous Mardi Gras march in Sydney last Saturday, and yesterday my column in the DA reflected on it and the Parliamentary Apology to the 78ers, of which I’m one. The only negative about the march was John Kaye’s absence, but I was consoled by a text he sent me. It was a great honour to march up front with the Greens MPs.
The text of my Daily Advertiser column read:

One step forward, two steps back for LGBTIQ rights

Just over a week ago I was privileged to attend one of the most moving experiences of my life, the NSW Parliament’s Apology for the violent treatment meted out to the marchers in the first Mardi Gras parade in 1978.

I was one of them, and have marched every year since, a total after last Saturday’s march of 38. My ambition is to make it to the 50th march in twelve years’ time. I’ll be 82 then, but plan to do it, by wheelchair if needs be.

The Apology was of course long overdue, but nonetheless very welcome. Not only was it important to hear MPs from the Liberal, Labor and Greens, as well as one Independent, say how sorry they were that the state’s upholders of law and order behaved in the appalling way they did, but all also expressed their thanks to us. Not just for braving the forces of darkness, but for initiating the legal and social changes we set in train. It was this that moved me to tears.

However, I was soon brought back to reality when Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong reminded the House and the audience that the police also needed to apologise for their quite unprovoked brutality. Her call was answered in part last Friday when Superintendent Tony Crandell apologised on behalf of the NSW Police, though Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione still remains silent.

If the apology was one step forward what has happened since represents two steps backwards. These negative developments began with Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi calling for the abolition of the Safe School program, designed to safeguard vulnerable children, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) ones, from harassment and bullying.

Bernardi’s call to take vulnerable children back to the horrors of the dark ages has been picked up and amplified by other troglodytes, including that troublesome back-bencher Tony Abbott. “It’s not an anti-bullying program,” Mr Abbott said. “It’s a social engineering program. Its funding should be terminated” he told News Corp.

To add to the back-stepping, debate flared on ABC TV’s Q&A program last week over claims that same-sex marriage would lead to a new “stolen generation” by panellist Lyle Shelton, the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, who said same-sex marriage would see babies taken from their mother’s breast. However, the Christian Lobby is merely an extreme right wing propaganda machine, thankfully not representing any of the recognised churches.

Another backward step is a leaked pamphlet, prepared and funded by Chris Miles, a former Liberal MP, set to feature in the upcoming plebiscite against same-sex marriage. It claims that children of gay and lesbian parents are more prone to “abuse and neglect” and more likely to be unemployed, and to abuse drugs and suffer depression.

Mr Miles cites a report to congress by the US Department of Health and Human Services as the source for this claim. This is at best arrant nonsense, totally at odds with what research tells us, and at worst it is a blatant lie.

So not surprisingly, the Australian Greens have warned that the pamphlet is a window into the campaign being planned by opponents of marriage equality, in preparation for a plebiscite on the issue.

“This flyer is the latest example of this ugly campaign against equality,” Greens marriage equality and sexuality spokesperson Senator Robert Simms said.

The pamphlet is an indication of the depths to which the opponents of same-sex marriage will sink. It reminds me that Prime Minister Turnbull’s championing of the plebiscite is the price he had to pay for the support of right wing Liberals in toppling Tony Abbott. A cruel irony, given that Mr Turnbull is a supporter of marriage equality and the parliamentary numbers indicate that a free vote in both houses would result in the Marriage Act being amended to include same-sex couples.

Rections to my column and media coverage

Great response to my Daily Advertiser column on our treatment of refugees, & my interview about the Balding killer’s inhumane sentence, though the right wing ‘string ’em up’ revenge brigade was predictably very negative. Odd really, given that most of them would probably claim to be Christians, a religion with tenets of redemption and mercy. Go figure. Also in the past week I’ve started to put my next trip to Palestine into place, though best not to elaborate until its locked in.

Here’s last week’s DA column:

Refugee treatment based on legislated lies

Last week a majority of the High Court ruled that Australia’s offshore detention regime at Nauru and Manus Island is legal, by a majority of six to one. Perhaps that is so, if a decision based on interpretation of our constitution and laws passed by Parliament is the sole criteria for determining legality, but even so I favour the dissenting voice of Justice Michelle Gordon, who argued that “The relevant section of the Migration Act is invalid”.

However, and very sadly, the majority rules, but that does not make their decision morally or ethically right. Their decision cannot be justified for either adults or children, though some media commentators such as the Sydney Moring Herald editorial (4 February) argue, wrongly to my mind, that “The Herald accepts it can be justified for adults, but there is no moral justification for punishing children for the “sins” of their parents”. Well yes, but of what sins are these particular parents guilty? None, of course.

This appalling situation is best summed up by esteemed commentator Waleed Aly, who asked, late last week, “How long can we keep lying to ourselves? The history of asylum seeker policy in Australia will be remembered as a story of how successive governments legislated their lies to justify a world of make-believe borders and imaginary compliance” (SMH 5 February).

The test case was run by the Human Rights Law Centre on behalf of a Bangladeshi national who was sent by the Australian government as an “unauthorised maritime arrival” to Nauru, then brought to Australia in August 2014 for medical treatment along with her baby daughter.

The baby is one of 37 facing immediate deportation from the Wickham Point detention facility near Darwin to Nauru as a result of the decision. The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has made clear his determination to enforce a “robust” approach.

True, the federal government in response to widespread outrage has belatedly worked to reduce the number of children held in detention, from nearly 1000 in mid-2014 to 174 at the end of last November. Of those still in detention 104 were held in closed immigration detention facilities in Australia and 70 in the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru. A further 331 children were in community detention in Australia.

On Nauru they face rat infestations, extreme heat, poor access to water, insufficient health screening, the threat of sexual assaults and prolonged uncertainty about the future. Not surprisingly the coincidentally new Human Rights Commission inquiry report found that “children on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress”.

As Professor George Williams notes, there is now no need for asylum seekers to be treated fairly with prompt assessment of claims, and the law allows Australia to wash its hands of such matters by sending them to Nauru.

In response to his first question since yesterday’s High Court decision directed to him in Question Time by Greens MP Adam Bandt, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to commit to not sending these children currently living in Australia to Nauru.

Greens Immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: “When it comes to people seeking asylum, we need to create a fair and efficient system that will bring them here safely so that they can be integrated into the community.”

Indeed, all asylum seekers, including of course, parents with children, should be subject to community detention, not imprisonment in detention centres.

Catch Up, and Comment on ‘Invasion Day’

All the end of/new year and my 70th birthday stuff is all over now, thank goodness, and Peter is back to health, if clearly older now, so time to get blogging again. I’ll be busy this year with the Greens, Palestine, and various volunteer activities, including the Multicultural Council, and so on, as well as my weekly column in the Wagga Daily Advertiser. This week’s was all about how we have very little to celebrate on Australia Day, especially as it is held on 26 January, which correctly should be known as ‘Invasion Day’. Very please to see Jenny Leong, Greens MP for Newtown, taking part in the march of that name in Sydney, and Greens Senator from NSW Lee Rhiannon doing good media on the issue. Good on ’em!

Here’s my Daily Advertiser column in full, which was published on the day itself:

Reflections on Australia Day

Today marks another Australia day, and as ever it gives me cause for reflection, though perhaps sometimes not quite in the way the powers that be might like.

26th January marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Feet of British convict ships at Port Jackson, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of what was then known as New Holland, which, despite British claims to the contrary, was not unoccupied territory, or ‘Terra Nullius’, to use the Latin term favoured by the British.

And indeed, the impact of the establishment of the British convict settlement was most obviously on the land’s first people, something most politicians and their parties manage to ignore, though thankfully not all, for as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said last week, “On Jan 26 thousands of Australians will remember the Frontier Wars when this land’s First Peoples fought against British colonisation. Tragically their struggle continues”,

Not surprisingly then, to many 26th January is ‘Invasion Day’, ‘Settlement Day’ or the ‘Day of Mourning”. Here’s what Aboriginal poet and Bayili woman Zelda Quakawoot said “Historically the 26th of January has always been marked as our Day of Mourning. There is so much turmoil about Australian pride on this day. Not all Australians feel that sense of pride.”

Yet she also wrote, “Aboriginal people did not and have never said ‘no’ to anyone entering this country, whether it was for trade or refuge. History tells us this through the Maccassans from Indonesia, who travelled quite regularly to the northern parts of Australia for trepang, and traded other goods and services many hundreds of years before Captain Cook landed.”

Lest readers think the world has moved on from such blatant grabs of other peoples’ territory, in the mid-twentieth century the Zionists argued, and still do, that they could seize the territory of the Palestinians on the grounds of it being “A land without a people, for a people without a land” to create the state of Israel.

Though the official rhetoric about the settlement at Sydney Cove likes to tell us convicts were transported for relatively trivial domestic criminal activity, the reality is that a great many of the convict population was made up of political prisoners, initially Irish Catholics, followed by campaigners against the social and political injustices of the industrial revolution.

Sydney was in fact a British gulag, and soon came to be ruled by the ‘Three Gs’, of guns, grog, and gambling. This isn’t much to celebrate, but on the other hand it would also be accurate to say that not much has changed.

Australia Day celebrations, at least according to the official line, reflect our diverse society, and are marked by community and family events, official community awards, and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new immigrants into the Australian community.

True enough, but even as we are welcoming new citizens, the day is often marked by outright hostility to them, as demonstrated by the Cronulla Riots, and repeated chants of ‘Go back to where you came from’. Even last year’s announcement that we would take a paltry 12,000 of the more than three million Syrian refugees was vocally opposed by some. Not much of a welcome really, quite putting our National Anthem to shame.

Given all this, it is therefore fitting to give the final word to rugby star and social activist David Pocock, who has urged the nation to take stock of its shortcomings on January 26, during his first speech as the ACT’s Australia Day ambassador (ABC Online).