Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

How the West has always backed brutal Sri Lanka

My weekly Guardian column:

The Sri Lankan Navy band was busy last week, learning the tune to Waltzing Matilda. They played it to welcome Scott Morrison, the Australian immigration minister, who was visiting to launch two patrol boats donated by the Australian government. A photo of the moment,tweeted by journalist Jason Koutsoukis, showed Morrison sitting alongside president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Perhaps it didn’t worry Morrison that there are growing calls to prosecute Gotabaya Rajapaksa for war crimes, because of his actions in 2009 during the Sri Lankan civil war. Australia has been aware of Sri Lanka’s breaches of human rights for some time.

Australia is now closer to the regime than ever, because of their assistance in implementing Morrison’s tough border protection strategy. As Emily Howie, the director of advocacy and research at the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre, reported in 2013, “the Australian government is actively funding and supporting Sri Lanka to undertake these interceptions [of asylum seekers].”

Her report was based on interviews she gathered in Sri Lanka with people who wanted to leave and were stopped, interrogated and often tortured. Howie wrote in The Conversation that arbitrary detention, beatings and torture are routinely meted out to those in custody, Tamil and Sinhalese, with Canberra’s knowledge.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) works closely with its Sri Lankan counterparts, providing training, intelligence, vehicles and surveillance equipment. This has been happening for years. From time to time, stories surface alleging that AFP offers have been present during Sri Lankan police beatings and interrogations of returned asylum seekers. If true, this fits into a wider pattern of Western officials colluding with thuggish militias and authorities over the last few decades, including in Northern IrelandIraq and Afghanistan.

Britain has had its own peculiar involvement in the darkness of Sri Lanka’s recent past. A groundbreaking new report by British researcher and journalist Phil Miller, a researcher at London-based Corporate Watch and regular contributor to Open Democracy on detention issues, outlines how brutal British tactics utilised in Northern Ireland were brought to Sri Lanka in its war against dissidents and Tamils.

The report uncovers new evidence of government and mercenary elements colluding to put down Tamil independence and calls for equal rights. From the early 1980s, London denied any official involvement in training Sri Lankan “para-military [forces] for counter-insurgency operations” but documents show how the British were working closely with Colombo to stamp out the Tamil Tiger insurgency.

Britain saw a unique opportunity to maintain influence with Colombo by training a generation of Sri Lankan officers. London set up a military academy there in 1997, supplied a range of weapons to the army, assisted Sri Lankan intelligence agencies, protected Sri Lanka in international forums against abuse allegations and pressured various governments to ban the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organisation after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

One month after the end of the civil war in 2009, Britain was working to assist the growth of Sri Lanka’s police department. There was no concern over the serious allegations of massive human rights abuses of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan military. The agenda was economic and political, with Liam Fox, the British defence minister, explaining in June 2011 that Sri Lanka played a vital role in combating international piracy.

“Sri Lanka is located in a pivotal position in the Indian Ocean with major international shipping routes between the Far East and the Gulf within 25 miles of your coast”, he said.

Russia, China, Israel and America have sold military hardware to Colombo both before and after 2009. Wikileaks cables show the US government recognised the Sri Lankan military’s role in atrocities during the civil war. Although the Tamil Tigers undeniably committed terrorist acts, state terrorism by the Sri Lankan establishment was far worse. Australia’s view has been consistent for decades: Canberra rarely recognises state terrorism if committed by an ally.

Australia’s former high commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bruce Haigh, stationed in the country from 1994, recalls how the high commission in Colombo would regularly liaise with its Sri Lankan counterparts, run training programs and accept Colombo’s line that any and all Tamils associated with the liberation struggle were terrorists.

This mindset existed long before September 11. Little has changed, though. Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, has gone even further than his mentor, John Howard, by expressing sympathy for a Sri Lankan regime that tortures its opponents and refuses to endorse an independent investigation into the end of the civil war.

How nations like Australia should relate to Sri Lanka and other human rights abusing countries is a tough question, when Canberra itself routinely breaches its international obligations. At the very least, we should call for rights to be recognised and improved in foreign lands and at home.

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On anti-Semitism, BDS, Palestine and justice

My essay in New Matilda is here:

As the BDS campaign starts to gain traction, accusations of anti-semitism should be treated gravely – whether from pro-Palestine advocates or Israel’s defenders, writes Antony Loewenstein

The charges of racism were serious. University orientation weeks, reported Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian, in early March, “have been marred by a series of alleged anti-semitic incidents”.

Socialist Alternative stood accused, according to the Australian Union of Jewish Students, of expressing hateful comments towards Jewish students, praising Hamas and calling for “death to the Zionist entity” at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales.

The reliability of the allegations of anti-semitism has not yet been assessed but, if they are found to be true, those responsible must be opposed. A spokesperson from Socialist Alternative tells me that his organisation categorically denies all of the allegations.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, a man who never misses an opportunity to fight a culture war he can’t win, accused backers of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel of making anti-semitism “a fashionability among highly ignorant sections of the far Left”. He wanted universities to “step in and take a very firm line” against racism on campus. “Free speech does not extend to ugly threats and physical harassment,” he argued.

It’s time to call this co-ordinated campaign of the local Zionist lobby and the Murdoch press for what it is; a cheapening of real anti-semitism and a clear attempt to brand all critics of Israel as Jew haters. It’s a tactic imported from America and Europe, articulated from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down, that aims to neuter opponents of the Jewish state’s brutal, military occupation as deluded and anti-semitic.

The rhetoric is increasing as BDS scores impressive wins globally — countless European firms are changing their business practices towards Israel in rejecting the occupation — and has entered the mainstream as a legitimate tool to oppose Israeli policies.

Israel supporters have long believed that better PR will solve its problems, as if, for example, there’s any way to positively spin dozens of Israeli teens announcing their refusal to serve in the IDF due to its deleterious effect on Israeli society and Palestinian lives.

It’s a small but deeply courageous step in a society that still idolises a human rights abusing army (Amnesty’s new report details countless examples of the IDF killing Palestinian civilians in cold blood).

None of these profound shifts should escape the debate in Australian, where the Federal Government refuses to condemn illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank.

The establishment Zionist lobby has tried for decades, with a degree of success, to insulate the Jewish community from the realities of occupying Palestine.

The advent of the internet and social media, along with a more critical young population who won’t be easily bullied into support for Israel because of the Holocaust, are changing the landscape. Hence the need to use old, tired tactics. Parroting Netanyahu’s fear-mongering over Iran and Arabs is increasingly treated worldwide with the contempt it deserves.

The old men who run the Jewish community may catch on one day that it isn’t enough to run an hackneyed style enemies list against opponents; countless journalists and editors will tell you of the bullying calls, letters and emails employed by the Zionist community against critical coverage. It only sometimes now works.

It’s a failing style even called out by The Australian’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons in a recent, robust defence of his stunning ABC TV 4 Corners story on Palestine, accusing distant, self-appointed Zionist leaders of being little more than blind defenders of Israeli government policy. Pundits take note: whenever quoting such people remember to whom they pledge partial allegiance and ask about their funding sources.

Any form of racism must be completely condemned, whether it’s directed at Jews, Muslims, Christians or other minorities. But the way in which a state and community deals with racism is a more pressing the question. After years of falsely accusing critics of Israel of anti-semitism — Sydney University’s Jake Lynch is the latest person to face the predictable and costly wrath of an Israeli-government endorsed legal case against his ethically justified backing of BDS — the organised Zionist establishment lacks credibility in crying about opposing racism, when it so flagrantly encourages demonisation of Israel’s critics along racial lines.

They have a morally compromised voice by being occupation backers themselves. How dare they claim to cry over an alleged rise in real anti-semitism (mostly online) while at the same time shedding crocodile tears against the growing BDS movement? Perhaps they should learn some humility and recognise what their beloved state has become known for globally: repressing Palestinians.

Politically, the Abbott government has pledged to remove section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in an attempt, in their words, to increase free speech (a position loudly backed by The Australian).

Federal Attorney George Brandis said on ABC TV’s Q&A this week, defending his administration’s proposed changes that are opposed by the Jewish community and many other ethnic groups, that the current drafting in section 18C restricts the rights of all peoples to speak and be offensive. Now that there are signs that Brandis may be back-tracking on a complete repeal of the section, it’s really only the Murdoch press that bangs on about “free speech” while denying the same rights to many of its critics.

Despite all this, I’ve argued elsewhere, in opposition to many on the Left who believe the legislation should remain unchanged, that although all speech has limits, a robust democracy should legally tolerate insults over race. But the vast bulk of “discussion” over 18C has been at a desultory level.

Take the recent Australian Jewish News article by Fergal Davis, a senior lecturer in law at the University of NSW. He backed maintaining the current 18C legislation and then wistfully argued that the Abbott government could be the champions of human rights because “we must convince Australians that human rights are not ‘left wing’; they are at the heart of the fair go.” Nice sentiments, but utterly removed from reality. Davis ignores the new government’s shocking treatment of asylum seekers and refusal to seriously condemn abuses at the UN by allies Sri Lanka, Israel and Egypt.

The real questions for the Murdoch press, Zionist establishment, Abbott ministers and other supposed defenders of open speech are as follows: will you follow the path of many politicians in the US, both Democrat and Republican, who are increasingly trying to criminalise civilian backing for BDS? How serious is your commitment to free speech? How willing are you to preach tolerance and acceptance while believing that certain issues, such as legitimate criticisms of Israel (defined by whom will always be the question?) are beyond the pale and anti-semitic?

Away from the huffing and puffing of self-described friends of Israel lies the real limits of insulating Israel from criticism. Trying to stop BDS, through the courts, laws, parliament or defamatory attacks, will change nothing on the ground for Palestinians, and countless people around the world now know it. Israel and its dwindling band of Zionist backers in Australia and worldwide are desperately hanging onto 20th century tactics to fight modern opposition to a racially based state.

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Detention centre owners making a killing

My following feature appears in the January edition of Britain’s New Internationalist magazine:

Outsourcing detention to private companies is a recipe for a disaster, says Antony Loewenstein.

Imprisoning immigrants is good for business. In the US it’s common for lobbyists hired by leading prison companies to magically convince officials to write legislation that benefits their bottom line.

US magazine The Nation revealed in June 2013 that the massive corporation Geo Group had used the firm Navigators Global to lobby both houses of Congress on ‘issues related to comprehensive immigration reform’. It’s obvious why: billions of dollars are there for the taking with bi-partisan support for locking up thousands of undocumented migrants.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the collusion between big business and government are the clauses inserted into contracts that ensure people remain behind bars. In 2012, a letter to 48 state governors from the country’s biggest for-profit private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), offered to purchase and run public state prisons. However, the deal required the states to sign a 20-year contract guaranteeing 90-per-cent occupancy during the period. The states refused to accept this lousy deal, but in Arizona three privately run prisons require a 100-per-cent occupancy or fines are incurred. This is vulture capitalism of the crudest kind.

The past 30 years have seen a global trend towards outsourcing prisons, detention centres, juvenile justice facilities, hospitals and a range of other essential services. Under the guise of ‘efficiency’, major political parties of the centre-left and centre-right have rushed to embrace the least transparent companies such as Serco, G4S, Dyncorp, Blackwater and others.

Politicians are seduced by the idea. Lavishly appointed trips organized by the contractor help to convince them that the state has no business managing public services. Democracy has suffered; services have not improved.

The problem is particularly acute in Australia. In 2011, I visited the Curtin Detention Centre, a desert camp for asylum-seekers, in the remote West. Around 1,000 men were warehoused there; Afghans, Iranians, Sri Lankans and others. British transnational Serco, which runs all of Australia’s detention centres, managed the place with ruthless efficiency. Australia has the dubious honour of being one of the few nations in the world that has outsourced its entire refugee network to private contractors.

I met Yugan, a Tamil asylum-seeker, in Curtin. He was in his mid-20s, spoke good English and was already knowledgeable about Australia after more than 18 months locked up in mandatory detention. He was warm, funny and inquisitive. Australian immigration officials and Serco guards gave him little information about his application for asylum – thousands of Tamils have arrived on Australian shores since the brutal end of the long-running Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 – and he did not know when he might be released into the community or forcibly returned to his unsafe homeland.

Why was Yugan locked up for so long in a high-security prison environment? Luckily, his story ended well. Granted a protection visa a few weeks after we met, he now lives in Perth, the capital of Western Australia. I saw him in October 2013 and he was adapting well to his new life. He regularly visited asylum-seekers who remained in detention, continued to campaign for justice in Sri Lanka and spoke at public rallies calling for a change in Australia’s asylum-seeker policy.

Not every story ends like this, of course. There are high incidences of self-harm, with many asylum-seekers languishing in detention for years and/or returned to unsafe countries. Post-release, many suffer mental trauma due to the extended time away from normal life.

The quest for profit can aggravate poor conditions in detention. When I spoke to Serco staff in Australia and a senior company whistleblower, they detailed the corporation hierarchy’s contempt for spending appropriate funds on support for staff or asylum-seekers in their care. Countless guards told me that they were suffering mental trauma after receiving little or no appropriate training before being thrust into remote centres alongside fragile refugees. The whistleblower explained that ‘there is no care about conditions [in detention], such as people sitting or lying in shit in tents, but it’s all about whether the right forms are filled in’.

Privatization lies at the heart of Australia’s asylum policy. In 2009, the then Labor government, under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, signed a contract with Serco for AUS $370 million ($342 million). By 2013, that figure ballooned to over AUS $1.86 billion ($1.7 billion) though the exact figures are not known, such is the deliberate obfuscation of the contractual agreement (‘commercial-in-confidence’ agreements are the antithesis of transparent democracy).

The new conservative government of Tony Abbott has every intention of maintaining the outsourcing agenda and is expanding secretive camps for asylum-seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. Australia’s border policy is neo-colonialism with a cheque in one hand and a stick in the other.

Conditions in offshore detention are said to be even worse. A former detention manager on Manus Island told TV station SBS in July 2013, ‘in Australia, the facility couldn’t even serve as a dog kennel. The owners would be jailed.’

Of course, this is the neoliberal model, applied globally, so we should not be too surprised at the results. Despite the troubled records of Serco and G4S in Britain and beyond, successive Australian leaders are seduced by the concept of ‘efficiency’ and seem willing to outsource their own responsibility to firms that rarely exercise any of their own. It’s a recipe for human rights disasters.

In Britain, both Serco and G4S are currently being investigated by the country’s Serious Fraud Office for allegedly charging for tagging criminals who were imprisoned, dead or did not exist. The contracts were worth millions and Serco’s chief executive resigned.

Such news should disqualify the firms from being able to bid on other contracts. But David Cameron’s government is allowing G4S to run for future work, including probation services worth around $800 million. G4S earns roughly 10 per cent of its annual revenue from British government contracts, while Serco receives 25 per cent of work from the British tax-payer.

The list of human rights abuses by both companies is long. It includes the death of Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga at the hands of G4S guards in 2010. The fact that a private company is paid to deport people using rough, physical restraint shows the woeful state of government responsibility for the most vulnerable.

It does not have to be this way. In the US, growing numbers of states – including those run by Republicans – are ditching a failed model of enriching private prison corporations, and are sentencing fewer people to long prison terms. It’s hardly revolutionary, but it’s a start. Warehousing asylum-seekers is not reducing the number of desperate citizens globally searching for a better life and it only helps the bottom line of companies like Serco.

The New York Times editorialized in November 2013 that European prisons are a model the US should consider. However, Europe shouldn’t be idealized. Countries in the European Union, reflecting the continent’s rightward political shift, are hiring private detention centre companies to house asylum-seekers.

Ireland, Spain, Italy and France are already utilizing this failed approach and Greece, a nation with neo-Nazis in parliament, will be following shortly. The Greek Ministry of Public Order recently announced it would issue public tenders – designed for private security companies – to outsource six temporary detention facilities.

Treating refugees with respect, and releasing them into the community while their claims are processed, is a practical and humane way for states to behave towards individuals who deserve patience and investment. We have a choice between becoming insecure ghetto-dwellers, with private corporations to hide our dirty secrets; or a truly globalized world with inspiring values.

Antony Loewenstein is an Australian independent journalist and author of many books, including the 2013 Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism is Swallowing the World’.

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ABCTV News24′s The Drum on Sri Lankan abuses, asylum seekers and Kevin Rudd

I appeared last Friday on ABCTV News24′s The Drum and we discussed vast human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, highlighted by the Commonwealth meeting in Colombo, and Australia under Prime Minister Tony Abbott turning a blind eye to Sri Lankan torture and abuse in the name of stopping people getting onto refugee boats.

With the privatised nature of Australia’s immigration system, I raised issues covered in my book Profits of Doom about the inevitable problems with under-staffed and under-trained employees work in remote detention centres.

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“No Fire Zone” is devastating film about Sri Lankan war crimes

This is a remarkable film that clearly details the range of crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military and government during the civil war that ended in 2009 and continues to this day. The regime in Colombo is desperate to discredit it but this is miserably failing. The Commonwealth meeting begins in Sri Lanka this week and a range of countries, including Australia, are more than happy to dine with thugs. Others, such as Canada, are not. I praise Australian Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon who visited the country on a fact-finding mission recently and was thrown out of the country for daring to be critical.

I’m proud to be on the advisory council of the UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice. Our aim is to bring accountability for the Tamil civilians and victims of the war. No Fire Zone’s director, Callum Macrae, is a determined and brave man who knows he’s doing something right because the Sri Lankan government continues to attack him and his work.

Watch, be appalled and take action:

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What asylum seekers are facing on the ground and why support is desperately needed

My weekly Guardian column is published today (here’s my archive):

Blind compassion is killing the asylum seeker debate. While Tony Abbott entangles his new government in megaphone diplomacy with Indonesia,upsetting our biggest neighbour in the process, refugees are struggling to survive closer to home.

Vast swaths of the Australian public remain hostile towards asylum seekers, and the advocacy groups supporting them need to ask if the strategy they employed over the last decade is partly responsible for it. Accusing the bulk of Australians of racism and discrimination, a common catch-cry of the left, has done nothing except harden hearts and allow media and political elites to ramp up cruel policies towards the most vulnerable souls landing on our shores.

The previous Labor government instituted a harsh regime of dumping asylum seekers out of detention without work rights, and the Coalition is set to deepen the problem. As a result of these policies, asylum seekers require community support. But according to Sri Lanka-born Ramesh Fernandez, CEO and founder of NGO Rise: refugee survivors and ex-detainees, this is not happening nearly enough. I met him last week at his organisation’s office, a small, bustling space in the heart of Melbourne.

refugees centreRamesh Fernandez and Nazeem Hussain. Photograph: Antony Loewenstein

As new arrivals visit Rise for legal advice on their refugee status, mass persecution continues in Fernandez’s birth country – despite the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, claiming otherwise. The Australian ran a fawning profile of Bishop last week. In it, she stated that on a trip to Sri Lanka this year she neither saw nor heard any evidence of persecution against Tamils, although statements by human rights group around the world proves the fallacy of this allegation.

Fernandez was released from mandatory detention in 2004 after spending time on Christmas Island and at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia. He says that he’s proud of the fact that Rise is the first asylum seeker organisation to be run by ex-detainees and people of non-white background. Rise is not funded by the federal government, and routinely refuses offers by the department of immigration to apply for grants.

Fernandez is outspoken and unforgiving towards the vast bulk of asylum seeker support services. Just this week, he sent out a press release damning the Uniting Church and human rights lawyer Julian Burnside for pushing for temporary mandatory detention. “Will the Uniting Church or any other organisations or community groups ever have the courage,” he wrote, “to call for humanitarian reception centres and hostels used in the past in Australia that assist in the rehabilitation of a group of people who are fleeing from situations of extreme trauma and cruelty, rather than advocating for the detention and security industry and stop compromising the lives and wellbeing of the refugee community for the sake of PR?”

The group has released a list of the companies making a fortune from privatised detention, and also didn’t spare community groups receiving federal government money, such as Anglicare, Wesley Mission and the Salvation Army.

“All human rights groups in Australia use unhealthy emotional attachment to refugees,” Fernandez tells me. “I’m against the stereotyping of refugees with sad and crying faces. White guilt is rampant, which often causes people to act to make themselves feel better rather than empowering asylum seekers. I want refugees to have a voice in this debate. I hate how refugees are often told at refugee rallies, by asylum seeker groups, “thanks for coming”, which is patronising and crazy when it’s white people saying that to brown and black people. Australia is one of the most racist nations in the world. Australia has never accepted that it has a racist past.”

Rise hosts a food bank, hip-hop concerts by asylum seekers, English classes, legal advice, publishes art and writing by refugee survivors, has a library featuring books by primarily non-white authors and a drop-in centre for children and adults. There are now 1,060 registered refugees with the group, and the need for such services has never been higher.

One of Rise’s volunteers is Nazeem Hussain, a Muslim comedian with a Sri Lankan background who performs with the group Fear of a Brown Planet and is the star of the SBS skit-show Legally Brown. Hussain tells me, “I grew up in a community of refugees and Rise is the only group I know that has the understanding of what they’re going through. Too many people are involved in the asylum seeker movement to feel good about themselves instead of helping refugees. Australia has a huge problem with racism, affirmed by both major sides of politics. The intervention against Indigenous people in the Northern Territory is mostly ignored because the racism is accepted.”

Over in west Melbourne, I visit the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre(ASRC). Community team leader Jana Favero shows me around the three story office building. She fears the coming three to six months under the Abbott government will tighten the noose around refugee rights and reduce their ability to source legal and community care. ASRC’s funding is mostly from private donations and philanthropy, with only 5% from the Victorian government, which ensures they’re not at Canberra’s mercy.

Favero worries that the “Abbott government could put pressure on the immigration department to discontinue our mostly good relationship between us and them, helping individual refugee cases.” ASRC never has enough money for the daily assistance in food, legal advice, housing, english and children’s classes and job hunting (for refugees allowed to work). Thousands of asylum seekers remain in limbo, on visas that don’t allow them full rights and unsure when that status will change, if ever.

Every day, volunteers cook up a lunch meal for up to 150 asylum seekers with donated food. Refugees have access to a large storage room for food, soap and healthcare products thanks to a needs-based points system. Refugee families are also given assistance in cooking healthy meals. During my visit, I meet Hazara men and women, African asylum seekers and, since it was during school holidays, a few rampaging kids. ASRC becomes an unofficial child care centre at various times during the day, and its office now opens into the night a few times a week to cope with the huge demand for services.

The ASRC’s Pamela Curr worries that the new federal government will only increase the secrecy around asylum seekers, a policy ably challenged by the Australian’s Mark Day this week. “I know of government-backed contractors signing confidentiality agreements and NGOs forcing staff with poor english to sign agreements with no legal standing”, Curr says. “They claim that speaking out in the media is not the way forward, private engagement with the immigration department is better, but it’s not born out by the facts.” One year after the re-introduction of off-shore processing, she despairs as she still hears stories of young men being raped and abused on Manus Island.

Resistance to the Coalition’s policies, coupled with outlining viable alternatives, is surely the best way to reform Australia’s dysfunctional relationship with asylum seekers.

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Welcome to the remote Curtin detention centre

The following extract from my book Profits of Doom appears in The Melbourne Review:

In this extract from his recently-released Profits of Doom, Antony Loewenstein visits the remote and jealously guarded Curtin Immigration Detention Centre. 

It’s a 30-minute drive through the desert from Derby to the Curtin Air Base. A number of signs warn us to turn back because it is ‘Private Property’. We approach the first checkpoint, where a logo on a fence with a forward arrow reads ‘Serco’. Even here in the Kimberley, Serco branding is slapped on infrastructure.

A dark-skinned man asks us for ID and the Serco entry forms that we faxed to Curtin a few days earlier – we were asked to list our professions and the names of the detainees we want to visit. I open my window and feel a rush of hot air. It is close to 40 degrees Celsius. We are allowed to proceed.

Curtin is surrounded by scrubby desert as far as the eye can see. I can’t imagine a more isolated place to be detained. Demountables are scattered beside the road near the car park and high barbed-wire fences surround the detention compound. We can see new houses being constructed nearby, and a freshly laid concrete pathway leads to the main entrance. The last years have seen the construction at the centre of gymnasiums, religious rooms and classrooms.

The Serco sign hanging over the reception area reads, ‘Welcome to Curtin IDC’. Staff, including a subcontractor from MSS Security, smile as we enter the heavily air-conditioned room. They ask to see our faxed Serco forms so they can confirm they received the documents at least 24 hours before the visit. Caroline says that, uncharacteristically, a Serco manager from Curtin rang her a few days ago and said they were looking forward to welcoming us. It was an unprecedented move, without any discernible reason behind it.  ‘It’s impossible to understand how this system truly works’, Caroline routinely tells me during our time together.

Serco posters and signs advertising the company are ubiquitous in the reception area. They display the smiling faces of happy staff and multicultural imagery that includes a Muslim imam. A colour brochure emblazoned with four grinning faces from various racial backgrounds sits on a small table near some lockers.

‘Bringing service to life’ is the company’s motto. The pamphlet says that Serco ‘promotes the inherent dignity of people in detention in line with the Australian government’s new immigration detention values’.

A number of other pieces of Serco literature are scattered around reception. ‘Visitor Conditions of Entry’ states that there are three visiting periods every day, including between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but also says that arrival after 5 p.m. will not be permitted. There are dozens of rules and regulations on the sheet, including: ‘Respect the privacy and dignity of all people in the centre’. It’s a noble goal, but one that staff routinely breach, detainees later tell me.

We are given keys for a locker in which to store our personal items. I am not allowed to carry a camera or a mobile phone, but I can bring a pen and notepad. I am surprised. I have been told it’s common for journalists to be denied even these basics here. Usually a cap and bottled water suffice.

The site’s operation manager, who is decked out in the Serco uniform of shirt, shorts and black shoes, says he’ll take us to a holding area to wait for the refugees we’ve asked to see. Normally, Caroline, who has been to Curtin many times before, meets detainees under a large tree inside the compound, but we’re informed that this isn’t possible today. No reason is given.

We enter the centre and walk near the perimeter fence. We come to a large metal gate, 4 metres high, and stand there silently in the soaring heat. The gate slowly opens to reveal a narrow no-man’s-land – 150 metres of earth bookended by fences. There’s an eerie silence in the compound. It’s mid-afternoon and it’s simply too hot for anyone to be outside at this time of the day.

We walk along dusty paths for five minutes, moving through locked gates that require authorisation via walkie-talkie to open. There are a few male asylum seekers behind a nearby fence, defying the heat, but we aren’t allowed to go near them. They wave and we reciprocate.

The banality of the process is dehumanising. This is no different to a high-security prison in a remote area where escape is close to impossible. The aim is clearly to make detainees feel isolated, cut off from the millions of Australians who have no idea, or who don’t care, about what is being done in their name.

We finally enter the holding area. The Serco guard accompanying us points out the TV and DVD player in the room and says to ‘use it if you like’. A DVD case for the Jackie Chan movie Rush Hour 3 sits on a low cabinet. Tea, coffee and hot water are available, and there are fridges with ‘Staff Only’ signs. The air-conditioning is so effective I start to feel a chill. The room is anodyne, resembling a claustrophobic airport holding cell.

While a few male Serco staff sit nearby, looking bored, a number of refugees from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan warmly welcome us. They are all men in their twenties and they include a few Hazara from Afghanistan who have recently achieved refugee status and shortly will be released into the Australian community. As Caroline and I start talking to them, I see a young Serco guard washing his hands with disinfectant – he had just shaken the hands of the detainees.

Two Tamil men, Agilan and Ajinth, both of whom speak good English, have been in detention for 19 months and 22 months, respectively. They both wear silver studs in their ears and one has a trendy haircut, with a partly shaved head. Agilan has some family in Germany, where his father lives, but a sister and his daughter remain in Colombo. Detention centre food soon comes up as an issue. Both men find the food very bland and they desperately want to be able to cook their own ingredients with spices, but it’s something they can only do covertly.

I ask Agilan and Ajinth about their treatment by Serco staff. Some are very kind, they say, while others tell them to go back to their home countries. They tell me that Serco has organized a cricket series with the Derby cricket team. Their outings include the old Derby jail, which we all think is strange because the men are already in detention. They also tell us that Serco staff learn swear words from refugees and curse each other in various languages.

We talk about the reasons they left Sri Lanka, mainly because Tamils still face widespread discrimination there, and why they can’t go back – they would face imprisonment, interrogation and possibly torture if they did. We also discuss the stultifying boredom of doing nothing day after day.

Caroline and I chat to the refugees for two hours, with Serco staff constantly looking at us. The detainees seemed to like the distraction of different company, and there was some flirty playfulness with Caroline. There are 1000 men in detention here and only a few female guards. In 2013, the federal government brought refugee children and families to Curtin into a section called ‘Alternative Place of Detention’. In a further Orwellian move in May 2013, the Federal Parliament legislated to remove the Australian mainland from its migration zone, meaning that any asylum seekers arriving on the mainland could be sent to offshore facilities in Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

In July 2013, the policy under the new but old Prime Minister Kevin Rudd worsened. No asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia would ever be allowed to settle there, instead being transferred directly to Papua New Guinea and indefinite detention in terrible conditions. British multinational G4S, already running Manus Island detention centre with daily reports of rape and abuse, would be licking their lips at the prospect of Australian plans to massively expand detention facilities.

When we leave the compound, the refugees come as far as they can with us, down to the locked gate, before taking a dusty road to their cabins while we backtrack to the detention centre entrance. As we walk slowly with our Serco guard, who looks about thirty, I ask about his life. He says he has a child in Perth and misses home. He’s on the six-weeks-on, three-weeks-off shift, living in Derby. ‘It’s good money’, he says, and admits that ‘this job is alright’, but he avoids sharing his views about the refugees.

We pass a small oval around which a few bearded men in tracksuit tops and shorts are running. The weather is cooler than when we arrived, but it’s still humid. On another small field alongside our path, twenty or so men play soccer. Without the high fences, guards and the desert, the scene could be taking place anywhere in suburban Australia.

As we prepare to leave, the magic sunset hour arrives and the sun drapes its last blistering light over the detention centre.

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Let’s be clear, Britain sells weapons to thugs globally

A belief in human rights? Preaching to others about improving accountability? It’s all empty rhetoric by most/all Western governments, including Britain.

Evidence for the prosecution (via Independent):

The Government has issued more than 3,000 export licences for military and intelligence equipment worth a total of £12.3bn to countries which  are on its own official list for human rights abuses.

The existence of one licence to Israel and the Occupied Territories has not been made public until today. Worth £7.7bn, it relates to cryptographic equipment, which has dual defence and civilian use.

The scale and detail of the deals emerged after a forensic investigation by a committee of MPs, who also discovered that strategically controlled items have been sent to Iran, China, Sri Lanka, Russia, Belarus and Zimbabwe – all of which feature prominently on the Foreign Office’s list of states with worrying civil rights records.

There are even three existing contracts for Syria, notwithstanding the fact that the UK is sending equipment to rebels fighting the Assad regime and is considering arming them. There are also 57 for Argentina, which is not on the list, but which remains in confrontation with Britain over the Falklands.

The Government had stated that it would not issue export licences for goods “which might be used to facilitate internal repression” or “might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts”.

However, the report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls found there were 62 licences for selling to Iran, again overwhelmingly cryptographic equipment. This also features heavily in the 271 licences for Russia, along with biotechnology equipment, sniper rifles, laser weapons systems, weapon sights and unmanned air vehicles (drones).

Both countries have been involved in large-scale supplies of weaponry to President Assad, and members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been on the ground, supporting regime forces, in Syria. The committee points out that the contracts should be examined both on grounds of “internal oppression” and “prolonging regional conflicts”.

The Syrian licences are for components for four-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection, which is believed to have been for an aid organisation. But there are also hydrophone arrays, which can be used to listen underwater. The report points out that the latter have a dual use and the Government needs to confirm that it is not breaking international sanctions against Syria.

 

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Why truth about Sri Lankan brutality scares the perpetrators

The powerful documentary, No Fire Zone, tells the harrowing story of the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, where war crimes were committed by all sides. But the Colombo government refuses to take any responsibility for the murder of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians.

The film-maker, Callum Macrae, recently visited Australia and has been attacked by Sri Lankan officials for daring to speak out:

A prominent Sri Lankan diplomat – who was once the chief media advisor to Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa – has launched an astonishing attack on Nobel Prize nominated film-maker and journalist, Callum Macrae, who is touring his film No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Canada.                                                                                                                  

In a move that will embarrass both the British and Sri Lankan governments ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka this November, Ambassador Bandula Jayasekara, Consul General in Sydney, Australia, has issued a series of abusive tweets specifically targeted at Macrae.

Calling him an ‘LTTE (Tamil Tiger) Terrorist from London’ only focused on profiting from ‘blood money,’ Jayasekara threatened to bar Macrae from entering the country: ‘I will make sure you don’t get a visa to come to Sri Lanka.’

This is particularly embarrassing for the UK and Sri Lankan governments in light of pledges made by the UK when it controversially agreed to attend CHOGM – despite calls for a boycott. Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has stated unequivocally: ‘… we will make it clear to the Sri Lanka Government that we expect them to guarantee full and unrestricted access for international press covering CHOGM,’ implying this was a condition of attending the meeting. 

But Ambassador Jayasekara did not stop at threatening to keep Macrae out, in further tweets he contacted freelance PR agent Ranjit Perera and asked him to ‘track that LTTE tiger terrorist propagandist Callum Macrae and find how much $$$$ he earned so far.’

Macrae said: ‘This is a regime which stands accused of some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity this century – of course they don’t want to be subjected to any kind of scrutiny at all.  

Given that the UK government has said that free and unrestricted access to the foreign press attending CHOGM is effectively a condition of the UK’s attendance, I don’t see how the Prime Minster and Foreign secretary can now agree to attend.’

Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden and vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, said: ‘The tweets threatening to deny Callum Macrae entry to Sri Lanka to report on the Commonwealth conference tell us all we need to know about that country’s respect for press freedom.  It also throws into sharp relief the moral ambivalence displayed by the UK government in declaring it will attend.  Alistair Burt’s insistence that the Sri Lankan government guarantee free and unrestricted access for the media is simply incompatible with these remarkable threats from a Sri Lankan diplomat.

Ambassador Jayasekara’s comments came after Macrae was interviewed in a Sri Lankan daily, in which he announced his intention to attend CHOGM (as he also did at the last one in Perth Australia).  But when that article was reprinted in the online Colombo Telegraph (20 June), he received threatening comments online from readers.

In response to Macrae’s remark: ‘I trust the Sri Lankan Government will welcome me.’ One anonymous comment read: ‘Absolutely white van is waiting at the airport.’

White vans are notoriously used in the abduction of government critics and are seen as a weapon of terror associated with extra-judicial killings and disappearances.

Macrae said:  ‘Ambassdor Jayasekara’s  intemperate language – and his absurd suggestion that I am funded by terrorists – can only encourage the kind of death threats made against me in the readers’ comments section of the Colombo Telegraph.’ 

Comments in the online newspaper included one which said Macrae was welcome in Sri Lanka ‘only to go back in a coffin’.  Another said: ‘Callum Macrae – do not come to Sri Lanka. You will be abducted in a white van, and sent to meet Lasantha Wikremasinghe.’

Lasantha Wickrematunge was the editor and founder of the Sunday Leader – a respected newspaper critical of the Rajapaksa regime.  He was shot and killed by unknown assassins in January 2009 as the government’s final offensive against the Tigers got underway.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates that 25 members of the press have been killed in Sri Lankan since 1999.

Callum Macrae added: ‘There is no free press in Sri Lanka.  Literally dozens of media workers and government critics have died, disappeared or been forced into exile in recent years.  The government is increasingly repressive, even the judiciary is under attack and the war against the Tigers has been replaced by a silent war against Tamil civilians in the North.

Here’s a recent story about the film during Macrae’s Australian visit:

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ABCTV News24′s The Drum on asylum seekers, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden

I appeared on ABCTV News24′s The Drum on Friday night (video here).

We discussed the foul use of vulnerable asylum seekers as a political tool in Australia, claiming those coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka or elsewhere are just economic refugees. The facts are the complete opposite.

I strongly defended the importance of NSA contract whistle-blower Edward Snowden to reveal the surveillance state set up by the US and backed by far too many nations around the world. The vital role played by people like Bradley Manning and Snowden, along with Wikileaks, goes to the heart of how a democratic society must work. Those opposing the leaks on “national security” grounds either have too much faith in the state or fear challenging its power.

http://antonyloewenstein.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/DRMs_Program_0507_512k.mv4
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Tony Abbott’s foreign policy would be as clueless as George W. Bush

My following article appears today in the Guardian:

In April 2010, as the war in Afghanistan was raging and US president Barack Obama “surged” 30,000 more troops into the country, Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott suggested that under his leadership, a Coalition government would have considered increasing involvement. “The government should explain why it’s apparently right that Nato countries should commit more troops, but not Australia”, he said.

Abbott remained silent on the catastrophic civilian toll since the 2001 invasion, evidence of US incompetence, and failed Western policy in the nation – all of which were revealed in recently deceased journalist Michael Hasting’s blistering 2012 book The Operators.

Instead, Abbott’s commitment was to Washington and a war that had helped, in his own words, to bring “universal decencies of humanity” to a “country which has been pretty short on decency for a very long time”. He was also noticeably silent on Australia’s collusion with the notorious warlord and multi-millionaire Matiullah Khan in the Oruzgan province. Independent reporting from the country, away from embedded journalism on the military’s drip-feed, reveals a damning assessment of 12 years of Western occupation leaving the Afghan people exposed to rampant corruption and rising tensions between India and Pakistan.

As Australia approaches a federal election and with the re-appointment of Kevin Rudd as Labor leader and prime minister, it’s worth considering the similarities and differences in foreign policy between the two major parties. In short, there aren’t many. Although foreign minister Bob Carrrecently told the National Press Club that Labor had bravely opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq while in opposition – “there’s no way we would have supported that war” if in power, he stated – there are few precedents for a government in Canberra resisting the overtures from America when war is in the air. I believe Labor would have been seduced by the Bush administration’s sweet whispers just the same.

The war, still costing thousands of Iraqi lives every month, is barely discussed today. Without any apparent regret about the massive loss of life, Abbott claims it “advanced everyone’s interest” – except, presumably, the innumerable Iraqis no longer alive. At least in 2008, Rudd rightly blamed a craven Liberal government for taking Australia to war in Iraq based on an intelligence “lie”.

It’s remarkable how little has been examined about Abbott’s view of the world. There’s a coterie of former advisers to prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer, some of whom are now rising Liberal politicians, who have learned nothing from the disastrous conflicts since September 11, and who still influence Abbott today.

Liberal MP and former Howard adviser Josh Frydenberg has supported the bombing of Iraq since 1998, and claimed in 2005 that a “vibrant, tolerant and democratic Iraq” was possible. The Australian columnist Chris Kenny, a former adviser to Downer, bleats about “anti-Americanism” to anybody questioning the wisdom of bombing and monitoring Muslim countries. In 2010 he was still talking about a US “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, willfully unaware of the reality for locals away from the Green Zone.

Abbott seems to retain a Bush administration style perspective – you’re either with us or against us. He told Washington’s right-wing Heritage Foundation last year that, “Australia’s foreign policy should be driven as much by our values as our interests”. It isn’t clear what values he cherishes when he told the Central Synagogue in 2012 that, “[Israel is] a country so much like Australia, a liberal, pluralist democracy. A beacon of freedom and hope in a part of the world which has so little freedom and hope.” He made no mention of Israel occupying millions of Palestinians under brutal military rule. He went on: “When Israel is fighting for its very life, well, as far as I’m concerned, Australians are Israelis. We are all Israelis in those circumstances”. It’s a comic book reading of the Middle East (at least foreign minister Carr, along with British foreign secretary William Hague, now rightly calls Israeli colonies “illegal”).

When I met Abbott in Sydney in 2010 and challenged him to learn more about Israel’s flouting of international law, he reverted to familiar, right-wing Zionist talking points. Both the Liberal party and Zionist lobby remain upset that in 2012, Australia didn’t reject Palestine’s statehood at the UN. Foreign affairs spokesperson for the Coalition, Julie Bishop, haspledged to return Australia to an uncritical stance towards Israel, placing us in a very isolated position globally. (The Greens, especially senator Lee Rhiannon, condemns Israel’s destruction of aid projects in Palestine,some of which are funded by Canberra).

Abbott would probably rely less on UN scripture – there’s already talk of removing Australia from the Refugee Convention. Private contractors would continue to benefit from bloated “boomerang” projects through AusAid, and rogue nation Sri Lanka would surely be as warmly embraced as it has been during the Labor years. Indonesia’s brutish military, especially in West Papua, would probably remain unchallenged.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s virtually identical to policies under a Labor government. This bipartisanship, shared by major parties in most Western nations, inhibits independent thought. It’s beyond time for Australia to embrace a different path, one not tethered to the whims of Washington’s entrails.

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Sri Lanka isn’t a holiday destination for writers. Discuss

How should an artist or writer act in a police state? How should a tourist? What’s the moral response?

Here’s a great piece by Jacinda Woodhead in Overland which tackles the thorny questions in a thoughtful way. I was asked to comment:

Listening to 3RRR’s Aural text on Wednesday, I heard alicia sometimes mention the four-week residency opportunity in Sri Lanka that Writers Victoria is currently promoting. ‘Why not take a month off to write?’ is how it’s being sold.

We hear a lot about Sri Lanka, the island slightly smaller in landmass than Tasmania that sits to the west of Malaysia, though mostly what we hear is that it’s a source of The Boats. The residency in question is located at the idyllic Templeberg Villa, a plantation-style house and garden on a hill near Galle, about an hour and a half below Colombo, and seven hours south of Jaffna, the tiny, isolated region up the very top of the island – like a hand reaching out to the Indian coast – that was once LTTE terrain.

‘The colonial Templeberg accommodation stands for a bygone British era in Sri Lanka,’ promises the website in a curious appeal to would-be guests – but picture island greens and fluttering palms, fronds as long as your arm and large wooden doors propped open to let the cleansing sea-air rush inside, and you get the idea.

Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to work in media in the world, which is partly why a number of writers refused to attend the literary festival there in 2011. The boycott was organised by Reporters Without Borders and the Sri Lankan organisation Journalists for Democracy (JDS). According to JDS, at least 39 media workers have been murdered under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency. This year, Reporters Without Borders ranked Sri Lanka 162 out of 179 in its annual press freedom index – just in front of Saudi Arabia.

For all these reasons, the residency had been worrying me since news of it turned up in my inbox a few weeks ago. I’d been tossing up what, exactly, to do about it – ask Writers Victoria to withdraw their support? Write an article about my concerns? Find out where other writers stood?

I started with the other writers. Antony Loewenstein was one of the people to boycott the Galle Literary Festival in 2011. But he isn’t against writers travelling to Sri Lanka per se, even as part of an official residency.

‘Sri Lanka remains a brutal police state where journalists, politicians, Tamils and general citizens are routinely repressed,’ he said. ‘As writers and artists we should not presume that we are apolitical or disinterested individuals. If people apply for this residency, they should not see it as an extended holiday.’

He suggested talking to Tamil communities, and learning about the history and present of Sri Lanka before applying. ‘Question whether the position will whitewash the ongoing abuses in the nation and ignore Australia’s tawdry relationship with Colombo in “stopping the refugee boats”. Get informed. And only then is it possible to determine whether Sri Lanka is the place to write that new book. I participated in a boycott campaign against the Galle Literary Festival in 2011 because I believed that literary and cultural events in Sri Lanka shouldn’t be used to ignore ongoing abuses by the regime. The situation has only worsened since then.’

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