The Guardian March 5, 2003


Baxter Detention Centre the truth will out

by Bob Briton

Most people of the TV generation would have seen at least part of the 
outrageous Jerry Springer program that regularly blights commercial daytime 
television. The usual format for the show is for a number of "guests" to 
confess for the first time to the most bizarre sexual behaviour in front of 
an abusive but morbidly interested audience while Jerry probes the subjects 
as to their motives. At the end, the host will give some moral instruction 
based on the deviant behaviour we have just witnessed and leave us with his 
trademark farewell, "take care of yourselves.and each other".

Something like this treatment was given by sections of the media to the 
people of Port Augusta following a public meeting held in the South 
Australian regional centre. The meeting was called to discuss plans to 
allow nine teenagers from the Baxter Detention Centre to attend the local 
public high school and for a trial that would see some women from the 
centre placed in alternative accommodation in the city.

Subsequent media reports in SA made the most of the spectacle. A headline 
in the next day's Advertiser proclaimed, "Port Augusta rails against 
asylum seekers". "The people of Port Augusta made it clear that Baxter 
detainees were not welcome in their community", the article maintained.

Much was made of Mayor Joy Baluch's role at the meeting. She is reported to 
have told all outsiders advocating contact between the community and 
detainees that, "You can all piss off".

The controversial mayor is always good for a sensational story. Her 
campaign for a curfew for the city's teenagers and her hostility to those 
she considers to be "illegal immigrants" are typical of her style of red 
necked populism.

Supporters of her views were very vocal among the estimated 180 people at 
the meeting. They also took advantage of the audience's frustration at the 
fact that officers of the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and 
Indigenous Affairs (DMIA) took an hour describing its position on the 
subject.

Appended to the Advertiser article was the observation that some 
people expressed sympathy for the plight of the asylum seekers and wanted 
to welcome them into the community. Father Ron Davoren of the Christian 
Ministers Association of Port Augusta and Whyalla was quoted as saying that 
"These people (at Baxter) are hurting and we are here to care and support 
people".

The next day, The Advertiser revealed a whole other side to the 
story. Apparently Joy Baluch represents a minority view on the City Council 
and that it had already voted in December to let the children attend the 
school.

We also found out that Port Augusta Secondary School principal, Darryl 
Ashby, is keen for the Baxter teenagers to begin their studies at the 
school. Vanessa Bailey, a 17-year-old student from the school said: "They 
have as much right as I do, they will fit in if people give them a fair 
go". 16-year-old Tyson Shine said that his is a "multicultural school and 
will accept people more openly, and I think they'll fit in well here".

It turns out that when Mr Ashby surveyed the 490 families represented at 
the school, the principal received only 15 replies expressing opposition to 
the proposal. Plans are also proceeding to have younger children attend 
Willsden Primary School.

Disregarding all this, the editorial of the next day's Advertiser 
was devoted to giving Port Augusta some gratuitous advice.

It said that the previous Tuesday evening's event was ". a meeting of 
shame. An indictment on the people of this normally friendly and welcoming 
city. An embarrassment to all fair-minded South Australians who understand 
the innocent children of Baxter should not be made to suffer for the wrongs 
[!?] of their parents."

Despite its own evidence of widespread community support in Port Augusta 
for the Baxter teenagers to take their place at the local high school, the 
editor offers up the following conclusion:

"If the children of Baxter are allowed to attend community schools there 
would inevitably be difficulties with behaviour and cultural assimilation.

"But there would also be rewarding lessons in tolerance, dignity and 
understanding. They would be lessons well learned in Port Augusta."

At this point in the above-mentioned TV program, Springer would give his 
signature farewell, the camera would zoom out on the duly shamed guests and 
the audience would begin to chant "Jerry!!.Jerry!!"

Bear in mind that, while you can switch over and watch something else while 
Jerry Springer takes over Channel Ten, The Advertiser is the only 
daily paper in Adelaide.

Meanwhile, other more reliable sources continue to break through the veil 
of disinformation.

* * *
Baxterwatch* at lifts the lid on the hellish facility whose accommodation has been described by Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock as "three star". It is also the place to go to put yourself in touch with organisers of a national convergence on Baxter Detention Centre from April 18-21. * http://www.baxterwatch.net/

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