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/