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When Tony Abbott called for heads to roll at the ABC, he invokes the “death cult” rhetoric he supposedly deplores, writes Lyn Bender.

TONY JONES draped himself across a nearby chair and watched the ABC makeup artist prepare me for the cameras and an appearance on ABC Lateline. It was 2002 and me and my two colleagues – all us having had worked at Woomera Detention Centre – were about to reveal the abusive environment we had witnessed.

Tony was not observing my cosmetic transformation. He was sussing out my motivation.

He explained that his wife was wondering, whether I had gone to Woomera with the intent of exposing it?  I answered that there had been no intent formed until I experienced Woomera. I had signed on, naively, to do a job.

Jones, the consummate journalist, checked out my intent. Then he and the ABC gave my conscience a voice.

Woomera set me against all the myriad, punitive, politically motivated, refugee “solutions” — from Pacific, to Nauruan, to Manus, to Malaysian, to Cambodian, to boat push backs, to alleged “pay a smuggler” deals.

Woomera was a camp of horrors, but its regrettable history is currently being repeated, as revealed in accounts of the torturous conditions in Camp Nauru.

Enraged Abbott called the 2014 Human Rights Commission report on children in detention “a transparent stitch up and said the “Commission ought to be ashamed of itself".

Ten years earlier, in 2004, the Human Rights Commission tabled another report on children in detention. Unlike Gillian Triggs, Commissioner Sev Ozdowski was not attacked for his report. Although he said to me that he was criticised by some as a Polish outsider who should mind his own business.

Then Prime Minister John Howard also complained about the ABC coverage and was reported to have said:

"There is a strong campaign being run against the Government. I have the impression the ABC has now become an advocate, a participant in the debate, rather than a reporter of the debate."

Defence Department publicist Jenny McKenry reported in ABC News that Howard instructed her

“... that there was to be nothing in the public forum which would humanise these people.”

So, the question must be asked: how far have we come since the Howard years of persecution of asylum seekers? The answer is: simply further down the slippery moral slope.

The Abbott Government’s answer to the problem of revelations of abuse is

  1. To make disclosures by workers at detention centres illegal.
  2. Create a class of political dissidents who can now be gaoled for up to two years. 
  3. Call immigration a security matter, thus conflating it with terrorism.
  4. Threaten the ABC and Tony Jones for disturbing tendencies towards broadcast unpalatable truths.

Of course, Tony Abbott applauds media coverage that suits his political purposes. He profusely thanked the ABC for the documentary on the ALP leadership conflict: The Killing Season.

But, after the now notorious ABC Q&A program featuring Zaky Mallah, an angry Abbott declared he would see heads roll. He was offended. Like a true despot, he called for beheadings of  “dissidents”. It’s a metaphor that invokes Abbott’s “death cult” rhetoric.

What will be the impact of the legislation? The abuser has his way by merely raising a fist. Fear and submission may follow. The Border Force Bill 2015 says no matter what crimes you observe in detention, you will be criminalised if you speak out.

Even if under your code of ethics and duty of care and legally, you are required in all other circumstances and throughout Australia, to notify abuse, you will be prosecuted.

Doctors and health staff have responded defiantly, challenging the Government to prosecute them under the new laws.

What will this mean for tweeters, broadcasters and journalists who publish this information? Despite reassurances of whistleblower protection – "don't worry, they won’t prosecute you sweetie" –  legal experts are alarmed. Julian Burnside has already pledged pro bono legal representation to any who are prosecuted.

But the legally empowered fist can be raised and smashed against any bleeding heart conscience. The wrath of the government will be unleashed, so beware.

Legal expert Barrister Greg Barns says:

'If for example a psychologist is working in a detention centre, that psychologist then comes back from the centre and writes an article, for the ABC or for a newspaper documenting in that person's clinical opinion — the long-term physical and mental harm that's being meted out to asylum seekers — that person could go to jail.'

My appearance on Lateline in 2002 would today have put me at risk of prosecution. As for the ABC, who knows?

As Abbott has said of the ISIS tyranny, the message is:

“It’s submit or die.”

Projection is a psychological mechanism that allows the psyche to deny beliefs ideas and traits within the self and to accuse others of these.  It is also a way to blame others. Racism or persecution uses projection that collectively blames the victim, or Muslims, or groups such as the poor or unemployed. A cursory scan of Abbott’s rhetoric reveals prolific projection.

It’s Labor’s debt/deficit disaster.

But the deficit has doubled under Abbott.

We stopped boats and deaths at sea.

But due to stultifying secrecy about so-called "operational matters", who knows how many deaths have resulted from boat push backs, or people denied asylum and sent back? We do know that Abbott said “nope nope nope to giving shelter to any of the thousands of starving Rohingya refugees drifting at sea.

Daesh is a death cult.

Australia was part of the 2003 Coalition of the Willing that invaded Iraq and bombed civilians. Over 500,000 war related deaths were suffered in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.

Coal is good for humanity.  

Abbott opposes "noisy", "ugly" wind turbines  He ignores the human and economic cost of climate change inaction.

The ALP rubber-stamped the Border Force Bill. Psychologically, Bill Shorten continues as the small target, kowtowing to the bully.

I asked sociologist and psychiatric nurse Glenda Koutroulis, who appeared with me on Lateline, what prompted her to become a whistle-blower?  

She replied:

“My moral compunction kept me awake at night.”

We agreed it was scary, but we had to speak. Glenda has just completed a book that tells the story of Woomera.

Would Border Force have stopped us revealing conditions at Woomera? 

Should Australia let anyone in?

The answer:

  • Take refugees out of the military, terrorism, punishment deterrence sphere and place their plight rightfully in a humanitarian perspective.
  • Honour our obligations, such as under the United Nations Refugee Convention, of which we are a signatory.
  • Stop the secrecy.                                                                                            
  • And every Australian should ask: “What if this was happening to me and my family?”

As for the ABC and Tony Jones, where might the truth be without them? Hidden, distorted and lost, in all probability.

What would we know about the Pacific Solution, on water matters, or Border Force, without the ABC and its facts, questioning and analysis?

In this tale of two Tony’s, one – an incompetent, self-serving liar – has declared war on the other – a brilliant journalist who has managed the tantrums of governments who don't distinguish between propaganda and high quality public broadcasting.

I stand with you, Tony Jones and Q&A.

Lyn Bender is a practicing pyschologist. You can follow Lyn on Twitter @lynestel.

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