Eyewitness Account: The Kiwi Who Went To Baxter
The Kiwi Who Went To Baxter
Deporting those who pose a danger, but to whom?
Jack H Smit
27 October 2005
We [Australians] know our nice Department of Immigration a little better since Cornelia Rau, and what's also becoming clear is that we kick folks out of Australia who have been in jail for a year or longer, no matter how long they have lived in Australia. We even kick people out who came here when they were four months old, even if that was twenty or thirty years ago. As long as they are not proper Australian citizens, we can do all that - at least that's what DIMIA thinks.
Recently I received an email from New Zealand through the website contact form with a not unusual message - at least not for me. It came from someone called Stephen:
"I was recently a detainee in the infamous Red One wing. I was one of three detainees there and the conditions were much worse than Blue or White wings. We were under 24-hour lock-up and were not allowed to walk around the compound at all. We were not allowed visitors or to go to the shop or gym - except for half an hour at the gym once a week. The conditions were so appalling that when the heat was really on in June 2005, they transferred us to White Three under the cover of night with an hours notice and Red One was locked down. The food was so appalling I lived on Weetbix and toast for three months. Let me know if you want to know more. I give you my word that I was in Baxter. I am now back home in New Zealand."
Now, being in Baxter was never fun - ask your fellow citizen Cornelia Rau, she knows all about Baxter and she knows all about Red One compound as well - but in June this year it also was no fun. It was the time of some fierce protests over out-of-date food and inferior quality food. What, you mean they should be happy about what they get given, because they're criminals and illegals? Wait a moment - hundreds of those who Howard's Heroes stubbornly insist are all "illegals" get presented with a massive Bill for the unrequested favour of being locked up and away in Baxter by our good government, they should be demanding food with a quality of The Ritz, going by the amount of that bill...
So in June and July the food was rotten, there were protests in Baxter, and New Zealand national and locked-up Australian resident Sonny Peters, a founding member of the Bandidos bikies, was also in Baxter. The heat was on, as our friend Stephen wrote to me in his email.
First our dear minister, who undoubtedly loves her food, denied there was a problem, but later on she went weak-kneed about that food - what else would you expect really, from our dear minister Senator Amandatory Vanstone - and she announced some changes. There was even an independent review.
On 13 August Edith Bevan reports in the Adelaide Advertiser:
1. A New Zealand man, 43, who has legally lived and worked in Australia since 1991 and has an Australian wife and three Australian children, has spent 17 months in Baxter after having his application for Australian citizenship rejected.
2. Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman David Bernie said it was an abuse of the purpose that Baxter was set up for. "If it's someone with ties to the community, why is there a need for detention at all?" he said. "With all these detention centres being set up around Australia and privately staffed, there's almost a detention centre industry and a need to fill them to keep them going. "Holding people in detention is the same as sending them to jail - it should be the last resort."
3. New Zealanders are legally allowed to live and work in Australia indefinitely provided they hold a current NZ passport. NZ consular officials said many NZ citizens were finding themselves in Australian detention centres when they applied for Australian citizenship. "New Zealanders can be deported from Australia if they fail the character check set by Immigration," NZ consul in Canberra Bob Browne said.
4. Sonny Peters, originally from Auckland, has lived in Australia since 1991 with no complaints from the Immigration Department about his character. But when he applied to become an Australian citizen in 2003, the department initiated moves to deport him. His wife Julie, 42, was granted citizenship.
5. Mr Peters, 43, appealed against the deportation decision and, in March last year, was sent to Baxter, where he has remained. "What they (the Immigration Department) will probably end up doing is splitting up a family," Mrs Peters said. "My three children have grown up here, the youngest, my 12-year-old, was born here. This is all they know, and I don't particularly want to go back to NZ."
6. Mr Peters said he was stunned that he had ended up in Baxter because he had applied for citizenship after 14 years living in Australia. "I thought we were all Anzacs," he said. "I didn't believe a place like this could exist." Mr Peters served five years' jail in NZ after being convicted of assault at the age of 16. In Australia, he was also charged with assault following an incident while he was working as a bouncer at Adelaide's Whitehorse Inn, in 1993. He received a 12-month suspended sentence. In 1998, he was stopped by police while driving an unregistered car. He also was taken to court when he was overpaid by Centrelink, but he paid the money back in full.
7. Mr Peters was a founding member of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club in Australia but was never charged with any criminal activity in relation to the club. He cut off all associations with the club in 2003, his wife said. "He's being punished for what he was - not what he is," she said. "The funny thing is he always wanted to be an Australian citizen . . . I was never as keen but it's something that he always wanted to do."
There's a new problem with kicking out Kiwis such as Sonny though. after a recent Federal Court case where someone who felt 'firmly embedded' in Australian society took our dear minister to the court over her plans to deport him to where he came from, and won the case, "...the Federal Government is facing a potentially huge compensation payout to hundreds of people it has deported" according to the ABC's Investigative Unit.
We know our nice Department of Immigration a little better since Cornelia Rau, and what's also becoming clear is that we kick folks out of Australia who have been in jail for a year or longer, no matter how long they have lived in Australia. We even kick people out who came here when they were four months old, even if that was twenty or thirty years ago. As long as they are not proper Australian citizens, we can do all that - at least that's what DIMIA thinks. Says the ABC: "The judges argued that DIMIA was using the barest of technicalities in an attempt to deport a long-term Australian resident."
Parliamentary background writer Peter Prince hoped to stir the debate within Canberra circles about this issue already in 2002, in his Parliamentary library briefing paper The High Court and Deportation Under the Australian Constitution. The first sentence of the executive summary is enough to get most of us interested in OMO Australia: "The High Court is divided about the status of many thousands of British nationals living in Australia who have not formally become citizens of this country."
And to top off the setting the context of Stephen's story, the Legal and Constitutional Senate Committee's Inquiry into the Migration Act has just drilled up new dirt under the DIMIA surface - that at least two people may have been unlawfully locked away for as long as seven years. We have a lot to thank the "old Senate" for - this is the type of stuff Howard is not going to like.
And it doesn't seem to stop - on October 26, ABC Lateline reports that the Ombudsman John McMillan says we're also locking real Aussies away for years...
So, after the initial email, I asked Stephen to write the story of his time in Baxter. Without further rambling on, here it is.
Baxter Detention Centre - Australia's Disgrace
June 2nd, 2005
In World Wars 1 & 2 my New Zealand uncles fought alongside Australian diggers - brothers-in-arms from two nations taking a stand against tyranny on the other side of the world. They were called ANZACS and they are a living legend.
Australia and New Zealand still have a bond between our countries. That bond has always encouraged a particular warmth and recognition to Kiwis' visiting Australia and Aussies visiting EnZed.
The rivalry between both nations is a rivalry battled out on the sports fields. To our mutual credit it's always lighthearted and without malicious undertone.
This article does not reflect on the Australian people. It reflects a government that supports policies, which our grandfathers, fathers, and uncles crossed the world to fight.
To quote a European reader of this account, 'it reflects a government trying to make Australia a nation of note on the global stage but perpetuating policies that position the country as an introverted and insular country. It reflects civil and human rights policies two hundred years behind EEC nations.'
This is a warning to visitors to Australia and to all 'New Australians.' This is a surreal but factual account of yet another victim of Australian immigration policy. It is incomprehensible evidence of anachronistic and Orwellian policies and procedures. It evidences a government autocracy headed by power-corrupted politicians with neither accountability nor compassion.
This is a true story of the realities of the Australian Government's immigration regime.
The DIMIA Helltown - Australia's Baxter Detention Centre
Also published on Margo Kingston's Webdiary
click here to discuss Stephen's story
I'm a Kiwi who was a businessman in Australia. When I started writing this I was a detainee in Baxter Detention Centre. Baxter is notorious in Australia. For the benefit of those who may not yet be aware of Baxter, it's a purpose-built prison facility for Australia's Immigration Department. It's an isolated compound in arid and inhospitable country north of Adelaide.
I was born in a small country town in New Zealand in 1960. I had good times, bad times, committed the usual youthful indiscretions but was never involved in any serious criminal activities. For most of my life I lived a normal, in fact quite ordinary, life.
Despite not having a profession as such I've remained constantly employed. I've never been comfortable with the idea of being dependent on the government for an income.
My marriage failed after 9 years. The following few years involved some distractions arising from a pretty severe serving of marital breakdown sour grapes orchestrated by my ex-wife. I struggled to find an opportunity in New Zealand to move on and move up.
Eventually I opted for a clean break provided by a NZ organisation working in Australia. The job description was 'setting up an infrastructure which encourages a comfortable transition for Australian consumers subsequent to the deregulation of the electricity industry.' In a nutshell, encouraging a fair choice of power supplier and highlighting the financial bonuses of competition to the consumer. A useful contribution, I thought, to Aussie consumers and a constructive start to a new life in a new country.
To a keen Kiwi, Melbourne was a city of opportunity, particularly for someone prepared to put in the hard yards. The city is a melting pot of race, colour and culture. Families; men; woman; people of all ages, forging a better life. 'Having a go' as they say, and expecting nothing more than a fair go.
The job, a contract situation, lasted for 4 months but I was committed to Melbourne. I could see potential in the city for a life and a quality of life that exceeded any expectations I'd had back 'over the ditch,' even prior to the marriage break-up.
The first 12 months were a cultural education. Adapting to a different work ethic. Coming into contact with so many ethnic backgrounds. I befriended mates of nationalities as diverse as Italian, Greek, and Macedonian, North African, Asian and American. I mixed with people with religious backgrounds that ranged from Islam to Sikh. Most of them were good people. All of them were looking for the same thing that I was…better opportunities in a better country.
I started in Melbourne in moderate accommodation. I mixed with working class battlers. I made friends, treated everyone with respect and behaved in such a way as to engender friendship in return. I drank with the locals at the local pub on Friday night and was your common garden variety 'Mr Average.' I think I can safely say that most of the people who met me wouldn't have anything adverse to say about me.
In my second year in Melbourne I found the opportunity I was looking for. The company I then worked for had a chain of businesses they were franchising. A couple of the less profitable of these businesses were up for outright sale. I took one of these businesses on.
In 12 months I turned it around. I built a moderately profitable enterprise providing a service to over 1,000 people in the local community. I eventually employed 5 full time staff and numerous casual staff.
In two years in Australia I'd created my own financial freedom and developed a business that provided a service to the community.
Life got better. I met a great lady and forged a wonderful relationship. Maybe the power of two was instrumental in our upward mobility. We moved into a nice three-bedroom house in a good suburb. Apart from a few enthusiastic Karaoke sessions we were considered pretty good neighbours. We were definitely a real good team.
My partner's daughter began attending the local school and we became moderately active in supporting the schools activities.
We were making a good go of it in the land of the fair go. This was what Aussie was all about!
The nightmare begins
My partner and I had just completed our weekly shop at the local supermarket. We returned home to drop off the groceries and take off again to pick up her youngster from school. It was then back home for a family fish and chip and video evening.
Two plain clothed policemen greeted me at the gate. They asked me to accompany them. When I asked what this was in connection with they assured me that we were just going up the road and back. I knew I had nothing more to worry about than an overlooked traffic fine so, with curiosity and without concern I complied.
Ten minutes later I was being held at the Maribynong Detention Centre.
I was first requested to empty my pockets under the watchful eye of an Immigration officer. They took my mobile phone away from me. They took the contents from my wallet and my loose change. I was weighed and fingerprinted. My picture was taken. I was given a medical. The procedure took about two hours.
During this procedure I consistently asked why I was being treated as a prisoner. I was eventually informed that my visa had been cancelled. The shock was overwhelming. It was impossible for me to connect the triviality of the claim with the reality of the treatment.
Australian Immigration had decided I was an illegal immigrant. I was to be extradited back to New Zealand. I was entitled to one phone call. I immediately called my partner. She was granted a half-hour visit, carefully observed by Global Solutions staff. Global Solutions, or GSL, are the company that manages the compounds nationwide for the Department of Immigration, DIMIA or 'Dimmi' as GSL refer to them. I was not allowed to return home even briefly to collect belongings. Apparently life in Australia was over for me.
I was put in a cell approximately 3 x 3 metres and as bare as a police station holding cell, with no facilities. I asked to speak with an Immigration official. I was told I would be sleeping there that night and would be transported interstate from Victoria to South Australia and Baxter Detention Centre at 9:00am the following day.
The following morning I was given a modest breakfast and told to prepare for my transfer. At 9:00am I met a case manager from Dimmi who advised me my visa had been cancelled because, on my arrival in Australia, I had not disclosed a previous conviction in New Zealand over ten years before. I did indeed have some minor offences in New Zealand but had not been incarcerated for any of them. Until now.
On arrival at Melbourne airport from New Zealand, I'd been questioned by an Immigration officer. His question to me was, "Have you been in prison?" My answer was no. He explained to me that they would check me out and I was held aside briefly. Again I have to reiterate - I have never been in jail, either in New Zealand or Australia, for any offence.
They swabbed my luggage for narcotics. The drug tests were negative. Our dialogue was concluded with no further discussion. As I passed through Immigration I was not overly concerned about any previous convictions. The offences were committed about 10 years earlier and were not offences that would be regarded as constituting an ongoing threat to the community.
Now, three years later, a non-custodial conviction from a decade earlier was reason to cancel my visa; destroy my business; shatter my relationship; and end my contribution to the community and the country. The Australian Immigration Department, on nothing more than their own cognisance, handed down a life sentence for crimes alleged in another country, over 10 years ago. Not crimes I was running away from. Accusations I had been accordingly held to account for and which had been dealt with accordingly by a New Zealand court of law.
The initial interview at Maribynong with Dimmi was short but concise. I was simply informed that my visa was cancelled and I had no right of appeal. I was told in no uncertain terms that any attempt to appeal the decision by Australian Immigration would be strenuously contested by the person conducting the 'interview.'
I pressed to determine my right of appeal until the Dimmi officer conceded that I could apply for a bridging visa within 24 hours. Before I could pursue this option I was bundled into a car with two guards at my side for the long drive to Baxter Detention Centre. It was 9.30 a.m. on Friday.
We arrived in Adelaide at around 8.00 p.m. and had to wait at the local police station for another detainee. It was a further three-hour drive to Baxter. We arrived in pitch darkness at 12.30am on Saturday morning. I was taken to the medical centre and given another medical.
Baxter has several compounds: Blue 1, 2 and 3; White 1, 2, and 3; and Red 1, 2 and 3. Blue 1 is for families, Blue 2 and 3 houses single men. White is similar. Red 3 is vacant. Red 2 is vacant.
RED 1, the maximum-security compound, was formerly the 'home' of now well-known detainee, Cornelia Rau. I was taken to RED 1.
At this time I had still not been made aware that there were various avenues through which I appeal my case.
On Monday I was informed that I could make an application to the Federal Court to overturn the visa cancellation. I could do this through a legal representative. I had seven days to do this from the time of detention.
I had spent Thursday in detention at Maribynong. Friday had been spent in transit. Finding an immigration lawyer on Saturday and Sunday in a state I had never been in before was academic anyway. From Monday I had three days to find a lawyer and have an application lodged.
To contact the outside world I needed a phone. I hadn't seen my cell phone since Dimmi confiscated it at Maribynong. My money had been confiscated at Maribynong. In Baxter Detention Centre you can receive calls once the outside world knows you're there but you can't make calls without a phone card. I needed money for a phone card.
My partner had been informed by Maribynong that she could put money in an account for me. The money would be converted to points and with these points I could purchase a phone card. My partner had transferred funds for me to the Maribynong Detention Centre account. My transfer to South Australia had been so fast the money was still at Maribynong, not at Baxter.
Finally some money was organised for me so I could contact my brother in Queensland. He quickly found and contacted an immigration lawyer in Port Augusta South Australia, close to Baxter.
I was eventually able to put my case to the lawyer. We organised to have my documentation to her by fax as quickly as possible. On Tuesday afternoon I arranged for a GSL guard to fax the paperwork. This cost me around $18.00 worth of my 'points.' The lawyer received the papers on Wednesday morning. My right of appeal ended at midnight that day. I was too late.
The lawyer explained that to pursue an extension would be costly and time consuming. We were probably talking a minimum of $10,000 and at least three months in Baxter before I would even have an indication of my chance of success.
A lot of people are lucky to only have nightmares like this.
A detention centre that's more than a prison
RED 1 in Dimmi Helltown is a maximum-security compound containing accommodation that I suspect lacks the niceties of prison maximum-security facilities. It consists of two separate living quarters each with 37 single rooms separated by a corrugated iron wall about 6 metres high. Electronically controlled steel doors lead to the common area.
At the time of my imprisonment RED 1 contained three detainees. We were under 24-hour CCV surveillance. Only one side of the living compound is open.
Each cell (Dimmi call them 'rooms') consists of a bedroom approx. 3 x 3 metre with two beds built into the walls and a 3 x 1 metre bathroom. The bathroom features a shower with no curtain. A stainless steel toilet with no seat or lid is positioned directly below a hand basin with no plug. There is a stainless steel sheet attached directly above the sink which is referred to as a 'mirror.' There are three open steel shelves for personal belongings and a smaller steel structure resembling a desk. There is no chair.
On arrival I was provided with two sheets; two pillowcases and two blankets.
The common area is made up of two recreational rooms and a dining room.
A courtyard in the centre has a small gazebo.
Three years earlier I contracted a bad bug overseas. Since then I'd lived on a bland diet of toast and milk. After a lot of tests I was finally prescribed a pill that allowed me to resume a normal diet without feeling nauseous and throwing up. Melbourne is a great place for a healthy appetite. It was fantastic being able to begin enjoying the variety of cuisine on offer. The pills, which I had to carry on me, were my lifeline to an even more enjoyable lifestyle as well as a return to good health.
These pills were taken off me at Maribynong Detention Centre on the promise they would be at Baxter on my arrival. At Baxter they would not let me have them back. They prescribed a drug that was totally ineffective. As the days in Baxter progressed, my conditioned worsened. I suffered chronic diarrhea and stomach cramps. I was back to the toast diet.
I asked to see a doctor on numerous occasions. The time period between a request and a visit was anything up to a week. I asked the doctor to call my doctor in Melbourne so he could explain the severity of the complaint. My GP would have told the Baxter medico that this bug was a lifetime problem that needed specific medication. Basically, they really didn't care.
Before detention I had recently been fitted with prescription contact lenses. These had a life of one month. I had an arrangement with an optometrist close to my business to remove and replace my contacts regularly because I was not comfortable doing it myself. These contacts were due for replacement. I advised the doctor and nurses on several occasions that these particular contacts needed to be replaced or, at worst, removed and cleaned with their assistance. I was assured that an appointment with an optometrist would be arranged. I waited.
Three weeks later my eyes were chronically infected. My vision was impaired. One lens had fallen out and one had adhered to my eye. I had 50% visibility and was beginning to experience some pain in the eye still holding the retired lens. It was at that point that I was taken out to the nearby township of Whyalla to an optician.
Severe discomfit in one ear two weeks earlier had necessitated medical attention. I'd been swabbed for the necessary tests. The results showed that I had a serious middle ear infection that required treatment. I would have had the medication had I not been immediately and permanently detained. Without that medication the infection ran rampant. The result was 80% loss of hearing in one ear at time of writing and impaired balance. Medication for the ear infection was eventually provided.
Infections can cause permanent damage if not treated quickly and effectively with the correct medication. Despite the so-called medical examinations I was misdiagnosed and given ineffective medication for the one condition that was acknowledged. The reticence to acknowledge health issues in a relatively short time in Baxter (a few weeks) may yet have long-term repercussions. Certainly both my hearing and sight were compromised by negligence and apathy, if not outright incompetence.
If asked to list the ten most repugnant points of detention at Baxter, the first nine would the food. It is absolutely appalling and I'm guessing well below legislated 'prison' standard. I believe the meals are prepared by detainees, managed by a catering organisation contracted by Dimmi.
It's common 'outside' knowledge that the majority of detainees here originate from Middle Eastern and Islamic countries. The food reflects their dietary preferences. The highly spiced, often extremely piquant, mysteriously foreign fare would be unpalatable to most people of Western and European descent. It is, however, served on a daily basis as staple sustenance to all inmates. If not eaten when delivered, the food congeals under a layer of opaque oil or fat. Without my medication, this food induced instant chronic stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhea.
Meals were delivered in small square plastic containers. If we dared the food could be reheated in the microwave at our leisure and transferred to plastic plates. Plastic utensils were provided. There is no loose steel.
The detainees in RED 1 at the time of writing were all of European descent. We could access tea and coffee at our pleasure but there was no concession to Western dietary needs or preferences. Were it not for a consistent supply of breakfast cereals and toast, which soon constituted 80% of our dietary intake, meals were an unpredictable ordeal rather than a relief. We'd give our right arm for a feed of bacon and eggs or sausages and mash or any other plain and simple Australian food.
The days are longer in RED 1 unlike other compounds where the detainees can walk around freely. They can access the visitor centre, the gym and the library. RED 1 inmates do not get to mix with other detainees at all. Library books are picked from a list. So are canteen supplies. We are in lock-up 24 hours a day and may get out only for attention to some medical complaint, eventually.
RED 1 is the same compound in which Cornelia Rau was held. Her room was a replica of my own.
During my incarceration some GSL officers at Baxter told me they were aware of Cornelia's situation at the time of her detention and claimed they had expressed their concerns to the so-called welfare carers.
I admit that I did believe a lot of what the GSL officers told me at first. The longer-term detainees were right to advise me not to believe too much of what I was told by the guards. I initially accepted the 'caring and sharing' GSL version of Cornelia Rau's treatment. As it turned out there was some conflict in various assertions. If there had indeed been 'indiscretions' it was all the fault of one guard who had now left, I was told.
It wasn't until around the fourth week of imprisonment that I began to see that there was usually an agenda behind the information provided. I suspected the beginnings of a cover-up.
It's worthwhile noting here that we didn't have much idea that the whole detention centre solution was unraveling thanks to media attention which intensified in May and June 2005. Whenever anything to do with immigration or detention centres started on TV the sets went black until the story was over.
Regardless of any assertions the Immigration Department makes in defending their handling of Cornelia's case, I find it appalling that a woman could be incarcerated in such a soulless and degrading environment.
The days of riots seem to have passed. I was told that most of the disputes now are over the food. I can understand that. You can feel however, a latent volatility.
For some, Baxter is a limbo world. Many of the male inmates are accused of crimes against corrupt or violent regimes in other countries. A question mark hangs over the possibility of them staying in Australia. Their return to their former country would be a death sentence. These detainees are desperate.
Most detainees feel vulnerable. Many are emotionally gutted. Everyone suffers some degree of anxiety or depression. The psychological damage to long-term 'guests' of up to five years incarceration is obvious. (Yes. Five years in 'prison' for daring to set foot in Australia without a visa!)
I can now closely empathise with them. Of course all sense of logic and justice flies out the window when you're torn from your family and your life. Of course your actions become emotionally driven. Any faith is tested. Surely it's clear to any thinking person that a 'solution' like Baxter is an emotional and psychological time bomb 24/7.
I was told that Baxter had eight detainees in psychiatric care with up to 16 guards 'managing' them. The wage bill is met, of course, by the Aussie taxpayer.
Dig deep enough and you'll find a skeleton
There are two other detainees in RED 1. These guys have actually done time here in Australia or abroad for what Dimmi term 'repugnant crimes.' I don't intend to elaborate on this. Having served their time, that part of their history is a closed book as far as I'm concerned. The nature of their crime could, I was told, make them vulnerable to violence from other detainees. They are held in RED 1 under a protection order and are treated as criminals.
Why am I in RED 1? The official line was "for my own protection." I was labeled 'high risk,' meaning I was at risk from harm from other detainees.
I knew I had two driving offences from Melbourne but had committed no other offence. There were no investigations relating to me in process by any authority either State or Federal, here or overseas, nor any allegations against me at any time prior and up to my apprehension on the visa issue.
It appeared that Australian Immigration had done some serious digging for some reason and dredged up an old indecency conviction. This was a charge arising from circumstances in which my former wife and one of her friends were present. The court dealt with the matter by recording a conviction and handing down a suspended sentence. That is an indication of the degree of doubt afforded by the court to the allegation. Sentences in New Zealand are consistently severe for 'repugnant crimes' when there is evidence to support the offence.
Naturally as a result of this accusation I had lost child visitation rights. In addition to that blow I was haunted by this particularly reviling history. I had hoped it would appropriately become ancient history.
My partner came to Port Augusta within a few days to offer support. We'd had our ups and downs but we'd always been there for each other when the chips were down. We'd never been apart for even a day since we first met. After her arrival in the nearest township, Port Augusta, she proceeded to cut through the red tape so we could have regular visits.
Because I was a RED 1 detainee I had to have a guard accompany me during my visits with her. In most cases they stayed discreetly far enough away for us to enjoy each other's company. There was only one instance that a guard crowded our visit due to ignorance and an over-inflated sense of self- importance.
In a place where boredom is rife and information is based on rumour or worse, situations can quickly become inflammatory. I learned there had been threats to my safety. These apparently originated from another detainee, a young Maori bloke. My partner is also a Maori. At the visitors centre she exchanged the customary pleasantries with both the detainee and his visiting Mum.
We now believe this bloke, a nice guy as it turned out, had been fed some bullshit story by one of the staff, probably to generate a bit of drama. This did not increase my confidence in the credibility and integrity of GSL staff.
There was a limit to the time my partner could stay in Port Augusta at $55-$65 a day in a local motor camp. Her return to Melbourne was heartbreaking for both of us. There was accommodation available for partners at the very modest cost of about $20 a day. This information was provided to me after my partner had returned to Melbourne.
Immigration apparently hadn't finished grinding. According to my partner, Australian welfare services contacted her and informed her, apparently on nothing more than the say-so of Immigration, that I was a 'high risk offender' and she should have no further contact with me. She was further advised that if she tried to ring me at Baxter or have any contact with me, her daughter would be removed from her care. Her mother in New Zealand and NZ police would also be notified.
My partner was quite aware of the circumstances of that early 'conviction' and did not feel it warranted concern. She was surprised and particularly distressed by the additional stress visited on her by yet another Australian bureaucracy and particularly by the extent of their heavy-fisted intimidation and blackmail. Remember, this is happening in Australia.
The actions of Australian Immigration are, by world standard, Orwellian most of the time. The sheer aggression of their 'solution' to my visa discrepancy made it impossible for me to defend and to prove an inappropriate over-reaction that was long on assumption and short on fact and ratification.
The ramifications of my not being given the opportunity to put matters in perspective, much less time to put affairs in order, now impact on many more lives, particularly those of my soon to be unemployed Aussie workers.
You're carrying the worst kind of baggage from a bitter break-up but moved on. You've never committed an act of violence against another person. You've never done time in prison. You're a decent and hard-working person. Any problems in the past are over 10 years behind you. You've built a great life and have found fulfillment in a wonderful relationship. You happily run a good business with well-paid and loyal employees.
Suddenly you're ripped from your family and thrown into a prison facility. You don't get a trial. Rights of appeal are, effectively, withheld from you. You have less rights than a convicted criminal. You're cut off completely from the outside world. All of your possessions are taken away from including your small change. Every movement is monitored by closed circuit TV. You have no say in what you eat. Contact with anyone is limited apart from those employed by your captives. You can earn $56 a week cleaning and you have to support your family on the outside. You haven't actually committed any crime in Australia at any time, or anywhere else for over ten years. Any past conviction has been appropriately dealt with. Now understand, this is happening in Australia!
'Welcome to Aussie, mate. The land of the 'fair go!'
Australians are rightfully angry at the travesty that constituted a 'trial' for Schapelle Corby. In Schapelle's matter and in the AFP 'setting up' of the Bali Nine, the Australian Government has again unequivocally and publicly evidenced its willingness to put international politics before Australian people. In the growing inhumanitarian history of the Howard administration, my story, and the many others that will never be told, brings 'Indonesian justice' frightfully close to home.
I am still more fortunate than 80% of the detainees here. I do have a residual business income until I sell or close the business. In most cases detainees have lost everything on travel expenses, family support and legal fees.
I've been here for what is generally considered a short time. Some of these people have been here for five years.
I will at least be reunited with my immediate family. A lot of the detainees have lost their families.
I can tell my story. No one cares about theirs.
I'll go back to a free country. They'd go back to war or execution.
I do appreciate the luxury of returning to New Zealand to resume a normal life. Like most civilized countries New Zealand consistently demonstrates a reasonable and intelligent approach to management of visa and immigration issues. Most 'offenders' are allowed to function in the community monitored by the New Zealand Immigration Department - at no direct cost to the taxpayer. They sometimes become self-supporting or are financially assisted by family and cultural support networks.
Australians visiting New Zealand not only don't need a visa; they have automatic residency status.
My treatment by Australian officialdom will very likely engender common disbelief in EnZed, a country with a rational and humane response to immigration and visa issues. I wonder if my former Aussie mates will express any sense of injustice?
It's June 1. All RED 1 detainees have been told to be ready to move out of RED 1 Compound virtually within the hour. We are being transferred to one of the 'Blue' compounds. A doctor has addressed my ear problem.
We know from reports from 'outside' that the media are driving intense scrutiny of 'Baxter' further to allegations by Cornelia Rau's family and some other stuff-up involving a Philipino-born Australian citizen. I have been imprisoned in Baxter's Red 1 Compound for six weeks. How long will I now be in 'Blue' before deportation?