The Guardian May 1, 2002


A no-account Government

by Janice Hamilton

Recent footage of the continuing unrest at the Curtin Detention Centre in 
Western Australia has stirred emotions and given Australia a first hand 
look at the conditions detainees have lived under at this and other 
centres. In the days that followed three former staff of the Woomera 
Detention Centre spoke out at the horrendous conditions detainees lived 
under.

All this while John Howard was defending the violence on the leaked video 
from Curtin and other violence by bagging the ABC for showing the footage 
that he clearly believes the public doesn't have the right to see.

The three workers, Lyn Bedder, Terry Zeecher and Dr Glenda Koutroulis, who 
worked at Woomera in the last year have told of detainees being subjected 
to physical restraint on a regular basis, often unnecessarily.

Dr Koutroulis said that detainees were mimicked, mocked and on occasions 
treated like animals by Australasian Correctional Services Staff.

She recalled a time just before she left Woomera where a man said to her, 
"If you think I'm an animal then tell me I'm an animal so I begin to think 
myself as an animal rather than a human." This man had been talking about 
suicide and had being under observation for attempting self-harm.

Ms Zeecher, who was asked about children self-harming and if the children 
were put up to it by the adults as the Government claims said, "Absolutely 
not. Children were trying to hang themselves. Parents are genuinely 
distressed about the way the children are behaving."

Ms Bedder said the situation inside Woomera was very similar to that in 
Curtin. It was inhumane with daily suicide and self-harm attempts, but 
little information was getting out to the public. "There has been too much 
silence, too much acceptance of what's being going on."

The Federal Government on the other hand has refused to indicate whether it 
would support a United Nations human rights protocol that could lead to 
spot inspections of detention centres.

Immigration Minister Ruddock is currently overseas copping an earful from 
the Commonwealth Lawyers Association over his views on asylum seekers. A 
spokesman for the organisation called it "Australia's shame."

The acting Minister Chris Ellison says that Australia should stand by its 
detention centres and that the Government already has adequate 
accountability for them.

Really? Then why is the Prime Minister attacking the ABC for showing the 
Curtin footage?

Shouldn't security footage in these detention centres be publicly available 
if the Government is accountable for them?

Meanwhile in the Australian-sponsored camp in Nauru there is a similar 
pattern of human rights abuses and lack of accountability. Detainees there 
claim that they have been subjected to water shortages, physical restraint 
as punishment and have experienced an increase in various diseases.

Asylum seeker children have no access to education. Some have been locked 
up for at least three weeks in confinement after taking a short walk near 
the camp.

The majority of asylum seekers at Nauru are from Afghanistan. Footage from 
the ABC showed how not even the locals are allowed near the detention camp. 
Is this accountability Prime Minister, or secrecy?

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