Who do you think you're kidding Mr Ruddock?
In his own words: a profile of Philip Ruddock
Many people in the "refugee lobby" that florished following the MV Tampa drama and the central role of several Howard government ministers in the spin and obfuscation period that followed, spontaneously became very, very hard workers. One of them was South Australian citizen Garry Bickley, who on a daily basis collected tens of thousands of news items and disseminated them through his electronic news subscribers list.
This page is the smile many of the hard workers needed: Mr Bickley managed to juxtapose hundreds of "spun statements" by the then Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock against its opposites, attempting to take the clothes off the Minister and expose the spin as downright lies - or at best, as untruths.
Garry Bickley's effort is a valiant attempt in seeking truth. In any case, make a coffee, read on - it's quite a page - and judge for yourself!
Who do you think you're kidding Mr Ruddock?
Production: Garry Bicknell
Ruddock's success rate
"During this last financial year (1 July 2001 - 30 June 2002), the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) set aside 62% of all Afghan decisions appealed and 87% of all Iraqi decisions appealed. This means that Afghan asylum seekers got it right 62% of the time when they claimed that the departmental decision makers got it wrong. And the public servants got it wrong 87% of the times that the Iraqi applicants claim to have been mistakenly assessed. Meanwhile the RRT set aside only 7.9% of decisions appealed by members of other ethnic groups. Even more disturbing than these comparisons is the statistic that in the last financial year, the RRT finalised 855 detention cases of which 377 were set aside. This is a 44% set aside rate in detention cases."
Given that track record of the Minister's assessment, where he plays with the life and welfare of those he [these days rather quietly] regards as "queue-jumping", and "non-genuine" refugees, as carried out by his Refugee Review Tribunal, why would any discerning person in Australia find it credible, that the Minister with glaringly triumphant glee in his voice during yesterday's press conference, when he announced that most likely as many as 700 TPV Holders could have lied, and are not Afghani but Pakistani - that the Minister has got that right?
Isn't it time that somebody in Australia takes this Minister personally to the courts, presenting the case that the Minister and his henchmen lack credibility, competence, and due to their pre-set agenda, can not be trusted to be charged with refugee assessment?
(See Fr. Brennan's speech here) This version has full annotations and references. Thanks to Jack Smit of Project SafeCom)
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Ruddock lashes out at judges
The Canberra Times
Judges were deliberately undermining the Government's tough stance on asylum-seekers, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said yesterday. Ruddock attacked Australia's courts in Parliament, saying they had hindered the Government's stance on illegal immigrants after last year's Tampa crisis.
The courts are again taking a proactive position to undermine the efforts that this Parliament supported as recently as the end of last year," he said during Question Time. It is not the first time Mr Ruddock has used Parliament to air his grievances about the judiciary.
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Ruddock to face Federal Court revolt
A SERIOUS rift has emerged between senior Federal Court judges and the Howard Government over repeated attacks on the court by Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock.
Some of the court's senior judges are also angered by the Government's post-Tampa laws barring asylum-seekers from appealing to the Federal Court.
Those laws will be tested today in Melbourne when five appeals against migration tribunal decisions are heard by the full bench of the Federal Court.
The court has taken the unusual step of assembling a full bench of five of its most experienced judges to hear the appeals - a full bench usually comprises three judges - including its three most senior justices: Michael Black, Bryan Beaumont and Murray Wilcox.
The case comes amid growing anger within the Federal Court about continued attacks on judges by Mr Ruddock, who last week chastised them in parliament for "taking a proactive position to undermine the efforts that this parliament supported as recently as the end of last year".
That anger shows in a previously unreported speech by Justice Graham Hill who has warned that Australians' human rights and freedoms - taken for granted for more than a century - were at grave risk from a government contemptuous of judges. The Australian has been told that Justice Hill's views are shared by many of his fellow senior judges.
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'No offence': Ruddock answers court criticism
ABC News Online
The Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has expressed his regrets to the Federal Court, saying his comments about the court in relation to asylum seekers were misinterpreted.
Speaking on behalf of Mr Ruddock, the Commonwealth Solicitor-General David Bennett QC told the Federal Court the Minister did not intend to put pressure on the court.
His response follows yesterday's criticism by Chief Justice Michael Black over Mr Ruddock's comments that refugee tribunal decisions should be final, and the courts "were finding ways of dealing themselves back into the review game".
Mr Bennett said the Minister regrets that his comments, which were directed to the Opposition, were misinterpreted.
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Ruddock denies pressuring judges
Sydney Morning Herald
The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, has denied applying political pressure to the Federal Court despite continuing to express irritation over the record of the judiciary on migration decisions.
In a statement to the court yesterday, aimed at averting a showdown that could have led to him being cited for contempt, Mr Ruddock said his recent criticism of bench decisions had been misconstrued.
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Ruddock regrets, but party applauds
PHILIP Ruddock was applauded in the Coalition partyroom yesterday for his attack on outspoken judges, only hours after the Immigration Minister expressed his qualified regret to the Federal Court.
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Iraqi girl tells of detention ordeal
The Canberra Times
SYDNEY: A 12-year-old Iraqi girl told yesterday of the horrors of being confined for nine days with her father and 22 other men at South Australia's Woomera detention centre.
The girl's comments to Channel Nine's Sunday program have cast doubt on the veracity of statements by Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, who denied she had been held with the men.
Speaking for the first time about her ordeal, Maysaa El Helo said she and her father were thrown into jail, separate from the main compound, because her father was involved in a peaceful protest. Also in the jail, she claimed, were 22 men, and a little boy named Mohammed.
Sunday reported that in December 2000 then Opposition leader Kim Beazley had asked Mr Ruddock if he was aware that a young girl had been confined for nine days with her father and 23 other men. Mr Ruddock responded that the girl and her father were never confined with 22 men in Woomera.
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Ruddock 'unaware' of UN criticism
ABC News Online
The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, says if the United Nations team which inspected Australia's immigration detention centres had any concerns they were not expressed to him.
The UN team, which will deliver its findings this morning, met with Mr Ruddock and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer yesterday.
The head of the team is reported to have described the Government's policy of locking up asylum seekers as a gross abuse of human rights.
The Sydney Morning Herald quotes UN working group head Louis Joinet as saying Australia's detention facilities are the worst he has seen.
However, Mr Ruddock says he met the group yesterday and the claims are news to him. "The working group expressed to me their thanks for the degree of access they received and the competency of our officers, who answered all of their questions and dealt with all of the issues they wanted to raise," Mr Ruddock said.
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No UN concern: Ruddock
THE United Nations did not express any concern to Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock about Australia's detention centres during a recent inspection, the minister has said.
A United Nations inspector has condemned Australia's mandatory detention of asylum seekers, a Sydney newspaper reported today, telling ministers in private talks that it was a gross abuse of human rights to lock up detainees for long periods.
Mr Ruddock said the UN did not raise concerns with him at the time of its visit to Australia.
"What I can say is that with the meeting that I held with them no concern was expressed," Mr Ruddock told ABC radio.
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Advance copy of 'flawed' report went to Ruddock
The Sydney Morning Herald
The United Nations report into immigration detention centres - which Howard Government ministers say is fundamentally flawed - was shown to the Government before its publication, its author said last night. Justice Prafullachandra Bhagwati, regional adviser to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, said he sent the draft of his report on conditions in the detention centres to the Government, and that any factual inaccuracies could have been pointed out then.
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Ruddock rejects 'Woomera jail' claims
Tue, Jul 2 2002 8:13 PM AEST
A former guard at South Australia's Woomera Detention Centre has spoken out about the extent of violence inside and how it has taken its toll on detainees and staff. The anonymous ex-staffer told the ABC's 7.30 Report that there were violent reprisals against detainees after unrest at Easter and the culture is like that of a jail.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock would not be drawn on the allegations surrounding last Easter's unrest at the centre but he has rejected suggestions that the culture inside Woomera is prison-like.
"These facilities are not facilities with cells where you can lock people down," Mr Ruddock said. "If we were able to manage it like we do jails you wouldn't see many of the events occurring because of the very low security nature of the facilities themselves," he said.
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"Rejectee" tossed in to Ruddock's vocabu1ary
Minister Philip Ruddock is well-known for his controversial lingo - and yesterday he threw in a new term for good measure.
"Rejectees" is the label the minister has given to the 1259 people still in Australia's main-land detention centres. Some might be forgiven for thinking he is talking about chipped china teacups or flawed factory garments.
But it was an accurate description, Mr Ruddock maintained, after using the word at an immigration conference in Sydney yesterday, because many asylum-seekers were towards the end of the process of appealing against adverse decisions or were awaiting deportation. "The cohort of detainees today is a cohort of people ... whose claims are prima facie not for approval," he said, defending the term rejectees".
Mr Ruddock is accustomed to the use of controversial language. He has called those who risk life and limb to travel to Australia in leaky vessels "illegals" and "queue-jumpers". He has likened them to thieves, saying that by coming to Australia they have "stolen" places from those in the most dire conditions.
He has even been pulled up for naming a six-year-old boy, suffering post traumatic stress disorder after 17 months in a detention centre, as "it".
Refugee Council of Australia spokeswoman Margaret Piper yesterday described Mr Ruddock's use of "rejectee" as a further attempt to manipulate community opinion on the plight of the boatpeople. "I think it's part of a systematic use of language to dehumanise people who have come here to seek protection," she said.
Labor's immigration spokesperson Julia Gillard was also dubious about the expression. "Obviously they are people who haven't been determined to be refugees ... but perhaps 'rejectee' is not the right word."
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Britain denies 'collaboration' with Ruddock
Sydney Morning Herald
The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has denied that Britain and Australia have been "collaborating" on his Government's tough proposals on illegal immigration, which dominated a European summit in Spain at the weekend.
The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, said earlier that he had been working closely with the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to develop Britain's policies on offshore immigration.
"Essentially I have been collaborating with Jack Straw," he said. "It has been recognised that Australia has an outstanding immigration program. It is recognised that Australia is not isolated, alone and behaving differently in wanting to have a program in which we decide whom we can help."
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Asylum seekers in-bound
IMMIGRATION Minister Philip Ruddock has warned that 1000 asylum seekers were in search of people smugglers to bring them to Australia.
His comments came as the government's plan to cut 3000 islands off the Australian map for migration purposes enters the Senate, where it's expected to be blocked by Labor, the Australian Democrats, the Australian Greens and Independent Shayne Murphy.
Mr Ruddock rejected claims the bill was part of a plan to engineer a double dissolution election and challenged the Opposition to test whether it was a political stunt by supporting it.
He said the latest information that 1000 asylum seekers were trying to leave Indonesia proved how important it was for the opposition to support the excision plan.
The move would bar asylum seekers from lodging refugee applications if they landed on any northern islands from Exmouth in Western Australia to the Coral Sea off Queensland.
Mr Ruddock said there were 500 people in Indonesia who were awaiting resettlement after having their claim assessed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
He said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) was trying to send home another 600 people who were denied refugee status.
"And there are reports beyond that of another 1000 or so people who are simply washing around in Indonesia at the moment looking at smuggling opportunities and who would, if there were people able to deliver them, would be using them," he told Channel 10.
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Ruddock knew about SIEV X
'The boat began taking water and finally capsized and sank at about 1500 hours' Immigration Department report
INTELLIGENCE reports show Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock was told last year that the asylum-seeker vessel SIEV X had sunk in international waters within the zone patrolled by the Australian navy and air force.
However, Mr Ruddock appears not to have passed the information on to John Howard who claimed the SIEV X had sunk in "Indonesian waters" and was therefore outside Australia's responsibility.
The issue of where SIEV X sank is central to the question of whether the Australian navy and air force could have done anything to prevent the tragedy in which 353 asylum-seekers drowned.
If SIEV X sank more than 24 nautical miles south of Java it would have been within the zone patrolled by the Australian navy and air force.
Intelligence assessments released yesterday by the children overboard inquiry show that on the same day Australia learned of the sinking, Mr Ruddock was told the boat went down in international waters.
A report written by the Immigration Department's intelligence analysis section on October 23 concluded that "at about 1400 hours on Friday, when approximately 60 nautical miles south of Sunda Strait, the boat began taking water and finally capsized and sank at about 1500 hours".
Despite this information reaching Mr Ruddock, Mr Howard said the following day, October 24, that "(the) boat sank in Indonesian waters ... it had nothing to do with the actions of the Australian Government".
The Government only backed away from its claims that SIEV X sank in Indonesian waters in June when it was revealed that its own people-smuggling task-force was told last October that the boat had most probably sunk in international waters.
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Ruddock changes tack over fire on refugee boat
Mr Ruddock yesterday denied contradicting a navy report released by Prime Minister John Howard that stated that the fire was deliberately lit. "I don't think there is any confusion about the report. I made some comments about the way in which people endeavor to sabotage vessels," Mr Ruddock said. "It should not be seen in any way as contradicting the report. "I conjectured as to whether or not there are various ways in which fires can be lit with people playing around with fuel and you have hot engines around ... but that is not what the navy reported happened."
On Friday night, Mr Ruddock reportedly suggested that the fire could have resulted from deliberate attempts to disable the vessel and that he did not know how it started. "Certainly the defence people have a view it might well have been deliberately lit, but presumably it could have been (from) trying to cut the fuel line on a hot engine," he said on Friday.
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Ruddock rejects criticism
ABC Radio National AM
RACHEL MEALEY: Irene Khan is the International Head of Amnesty International. She says that Australia must replace what she refers to as a 'trade in misery', and that is the Pacific solution, with a sustainable long-term approach to dealing with refugee arrivals in Australia. How does that criticism affect you as the Minister?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I am concerned, when people are emboldened and encouraged to get in boats which take their lives - women and children - because they think that the international protection system will only work if they're forced to engage people smugglers and travel halfway around the world to get a particular outcome.
RACHEL MEALEY: But specifically on her criticism she says that that policy of taking people to the Pacific Islands must be replaced.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, let me just say that it is not misery for people to be in a situation of safety and security. And all of the people in any of the Pacific Island locations are safe and secure. Greater misery occurs for those who are put in vulnerable situations and lose their lives because of a 'think' that they're going to be better served getting into fragile boats trafficked by smugglers.
RACHEL MEALEY: She's also accused your government of politicising the issue for short-term gain, what's your response to that?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I think those who observe from afar and see some of the reports that have been, I think, developed out of quite inaccurate reporting - and in some cases inaccurate statements by people who ought to know better - does politicise it.
I mean people have been suggesting that our approach to these matters is in some way racist. To defend the international protection system, to resettle refugees from some of the most appalling circumstances in Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia, is not a policy of a racist government.
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Children accused in detention centre violence
CHILD detainees may be the perpetrators of riots and violence rather than the victims, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said yesterday.
In the wake of arson attacks causing $2 million damage at Woomera Detention Centre this week, Mr Ruddock hit back at critics.
Criticisms have centred on the plight of 200 child detainees, but Mr Ruddock told The Advertiser some of the children may have been involved in the attacks.
"Let me just say that some of the people you describe as children under Australian criminal law are children who through their very action occasion a risk to others by committing offences of the sort we're talking about now," he said.
"There's nothing to suggest that youths would not be involved.
It is naive to believe that you can simply say all people under 18 are at risk because they are in this situation.
"Some of the people may in fact be the perpetrators of that risk."
(NOTE: Here we see the classic use of the cheap deception that because there is no evidence that something DIDN'T happen that it therefore DID! e.g. There is nothing to suggest that children weren't thrown overboard. No. But nevertheless it didn't happen! -- Garry B.)
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Dealing in Double negatives and deceit
Only hours after the events witnessed by the HMAS Adelaide, which did not include seeing children thrown overboard, Philip Ruddock went to the media claiming "a number" of children had been thrown overboard.
"I regard this as one of the most disturbing practices I've come across," he said. "It was clearly planned and premeditated."
NOTE: On what did he base this claim?
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Children overboard scandal: Philip Ruddock
ABC Radio National AM
ELEANOR HALL: Well it was the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock who first made public the claims about children overboard, on the first Sunday of the election campaign, the 7th of October. Yet at 5pm on that day, the man who'd earlier informed Mr Ruddock of the claims, the Secretary of his Department, Bill Farmer, was told there was no evidence for them.
So, why didn't Bill Farmer tell his boss and when the controversy raged over the issue, why didn't Philip Ruddock think it was his duty to discover the truth? Mr Ruddock joins us this morning, he's speaking to chief political correspondent, Catherine McGrath.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Mr Ruddock, good morning.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Catherine.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Mr Ruddock, the first information about this, according to the report that was released this week in Parliament, was that at an inter-departmental meeting the issue was brought up by Jane Halton from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. During that meeting, your Departmental Secretary, Bill Farmer, took a call from you. He told you of the information and you announced it some time later.
Now, on that same day, according to the report, at 5 o'clock, the inter-departmental meeting was told by the defence member of that group, Group Captain Walker, that there was no evidence. Now do you regret what you said that day?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Certainly not. I mean I'm in the situation frequently where, as these issues develop, members of the media expect to get information from me and ask questions about these issues and expect to get as much honest and detailed information as I have about these situations as they're unfolding.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Well the media had no idea about it until you told them. Honest information, you said. What you gave them now, in hindsight, was not correct. Do you apologise to the people on Manus Island too, who appear to have been defamed by this?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well let me just take you to the report that was tabled in the Parliament. I think it was Group Captain Walker's evaluation of all of the information that was obtained by Defence, and there is a chronology there as to the events that were occurring on that day, and this also needs to be understood in the context of the fact that we had already returned the vessel, I believe, at that time to Indonesia and there were indications from some of the information we were receiving that there were going to be determined efforts to ensure that that didn't happen again. And as you saw, tragically, at Ashmore Reef, those efforts led to a vessel being on fire.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Well if I'm not mistaken, that report was also corrected too. The vessel on fire report was corrected.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well I don't believe so. I mean the fact is the vessel was on fire and two women tragically drowned and those investigations as to the detail of that are . . .
CATHERINE McGRATH: Put on fire - the original reports were that the people had put it on fire but can we leave that to one side. What I think the people of Australia want to really understand Mr Ruddock is how Bill Farmer, your Chief Public Servant in the Department of Immigration, was told at 5 o'clock on that day, after you had made this statement: "I consider these some of the most disturbing practices that I have come across in the time I have been involved in public life". Now Bill Farmer heard at 5 o'clock there was no evidence. Now, what people want to know Mr Ruddock, is why didn't Bill Farmer tell you that there was no evidence?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I mean I can't go into what was in Bill Farmer's mind and what he knew or didn't know. What I can say is that the report I've seen of it suggests that there was no written evidence at that stage and that in terms of the communications with the Adelaide, they had been oral communications and they're recorded in Group Captain Walker's analysis, and it becomes quite clear that the Commander of the Eastern Command whom the report was being made has one recollection of what he was told and the Captain has another but . . .
CATHERINE McGRATH: Well can I bring you to something the Prime Minister said yesterday quite clearly. He said we received unambiguous advice. The way you've just outlined it does not seem unambiguous at all, it seems totally ambiguous.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Well with the analysis that's taken place in relation to the way in which these events unfolded, it was quite clear that the advice that we received at that time was quite unambiguous and clear and it came orally but I mean this was a situation . . .
CATHERINE McGRATH: No, it seems unclear. Can I dispute that. Jane Halton told the meeting that people had been thrown overboard at 9 o'clock in the morning. The Defence adviser, the Defence representative on that committee said he had no information. Bill Farmer told you it had happened, you made the announcement. At 5 o'clock, the Defence adviser said there was no evidence. To me Mr Ruddock that seems totally ambiguous.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well I mean what you're looking at is an evolving situation. The report to me was quite unambiguous and . . .
CATHERINE McGRATH: In what way was it unambiguous? Can you tell me exactly what was said and what evidence was provided at the time.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well I mean what I was told by the Departmental Head is what I've said before and what I said at that meeting and that has never been corrected to me and that's the situation but I read now the evolving situation that was occurring in which this advice was given and it's quite clear, if you read the chronology that has been developed by Defence, that it was a very difficult situation for the crew of the . . . .
CATHERINE McGRATH: It was obviously a very difficult situation but it was quite clear that on many occasions Defence said there was no evidence.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: No. One in which, Catherine, there is evidence that people threatened to throw their children overboard, that the explanation that's now being given of this was because there had been firing to bring the vessel to a halt but it's quite clear that these threats were made after a boarding party had gone on board the vessel and it is there recorded, quite clearly and unambiguously, that one of the intended unauthorised arrivals had a child on the wheelhouse of the vessel and was making threats to throw that child overboard.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Mr Ruddock, you're saying now threats. That's quite different from throwing overboard.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, situations in which there was an enormous amount of pressure on the Navy as recorded now in a detailed chronology that is available, and what you have is a situation in which one officer recalls being told very clearly that a child had been thrown overboard. That recollection is disputed but that has come about as a result of the further investigations.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Mr Ruddock, Mr Ruddock...
PHILIP RUDDOCK: . . . that the evidence that was provided initially was in any way untrue in terms of their understanding of what was happening and what I was told.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Mr Ruddock as you have agreed, the report also does say that there was discussions from Defence that there was no evidence, now can we move on.
Through the election campaign, there was a great deal of controversy about whether or not this was true. Now can I bring you to something that the current Defence Minister Robert Hill said in the Senate yesterday. He said "Ministers have a duty to inquire".
Now can I ask you, under the Westminster system, given that you were the Minister, you are currently and were then the Minister of Immigration, given that you said that this was one of the most disturbing practices that you have come across in the time that you have been in public life, given that there was public questioning, why did you not inquire, why did you not feel a duty to get to the bottom of it and given that it is now proved that the reports were false, will you not quit?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Look let me just go through again what happened. I mean this happened on the 7th of October, the only time that it arose in the campaign in a very significant way was in the last two days of the campaign but during the campaign itself, this was only, I think, raised once after there had been a letter in Arabic delivered from some of the detainees at Manus Island in which there appeared to be corroboration of the fact that people had been involved in these activities and that corroboration could be seen from the letter that said to the effect that you shouldn't blame us for having used the apple of our eye in this way.
Now whether that relates to the threat to throw overboard or, as we understood it at the time, an actual event, it's quite clear that there were very serious matters occurring at that time.
Now you asked the question when issues were raised by the Christmas Island Union as to what the recollection of some Navy officials may have been. I wasn't in a position to deal with those issues and, as happened when the Prime Minister asked for a full inquiry, we were able to establish what those facts were.
CATHERINE McGRATH: Mr Ruddock, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you for speaking to AM this morning.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: It's nice to talk to you.
ELEANOR HALL: Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock speaking to Catherine McGrath.
* * * * * *
Ruddock defends handling of 'children overboard' affair
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has defended his departmental officers and his own stance over the alleged children overboard incident.
Speaking on Channel Seven, Mr Ruddock denied he was ever given oral or written evidence to contradict an original report he received last October that children had been thrown overboard from a vessel carrying refugees off the Australian coastline.
Mr Ruddock says it was a difficult situation where those on the vessel threatened to throw themselves and their children overboard in an attempt to achieve the outcome of staying in Australia.
He says while there was no written advice the children had been thrown overboard, no one ever said it had not taken place.
"It wasn't contradicted, let's be very clear on that afternoon it was clear that there was no written advice on the matter," Mr Ruddock said.
"Bu there was no suggestion the absence of written advice had in any way contradicted any of the written advice that had earlier been conveyed to us."
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Go home, Ruddock tells Afghan protesters
Sydney Morning Herald
Protesting Afghan asylum seekers could go home if they did not like conditions in Woomera detention centre, the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, said yesterday.
Mr Ruddock said conditions in Afghanistan were now suitable for people to return to their homeland. He was reacting to a worsening protest in the camp, with people on a hunger strike and some sewing their lips together.
A spokesman for Mr Ruddock said last night there were 189 Afghan asylum seekers involved in the hunger strike, of whom 55 still had their lips sewn together. There were 24 children in the hunger strike, including 11 unaccompanied minors.
Earlier, a total of 70 Afghans - including three children - had sewn their lips together. The three minors and another child on the hunger strike were taken to hospital for treatment.
The spokesman said two of the children were aged 12, one 14 and one 15, with the 15-year-old being an unaccompanied minor.
Afghan asylum seekers have been subject to a freeze on processing of their refugee claims since the overthrow of the Taliban in November, when the Government said it was reassessing conditions in their homeland.
Mr Ruddock said he could not say when Afghan refugee claims would be processed again, which would allow them to be released into the community if their applications were approved.
* * * * * *
and a day later...
Woomera detainees collapse
By SAMANTHA MAIDEN in Canberra
EIGHT Woomera Detention Centre detainees who are on a hunger strike collapsed yesterday.
We want freedom or die, we request the Australian people help us. The centre confirmed 186 detainees - 30 of them minors - refusing to eat were under medical watch. Almost all are from Afghanistan.
An unknown number of detainees have sewn their lips - most with one stitch in the corner of their mouth - in protest against a temporary halt to the processing of visas for Afghans.
A group of child detainees was released briefly yesterday for education programs at a Woomera school. One child handed a note to the media pleading for help.
"We want freedom or die, we request the Australian people help us, we don't want visa, we want freedom from barbed wire fences," it said.
However, Mr Ruddock hit back at Government critics.
"If people have complaints, they should make them," Mr Ruddock said.
They should also stop throwing rocks at detention officers, breaking their glasses, putting glass in their eyes, breaking their limbs and their fingers."
In an interview with The Advertiser, Mr Ruddock questioned the parenting skills of asylum seekers whose children were sexually assaulted in detention centres.
"You certainly have to ask yourself what families are doing when children as young as four and five are (put) in a position where they could be molested by other detainees," he said. If adults were found to have encouraged children to participate in lip-stitching protests or hunger strikes, Mr Ruddock said the Government would consider removing the minors from their care.
The organisation Lawyers for Woomera confirmed yesterday it was working on avenues to "rescue" the children from detention.
"They've witnessed suicides, hunger strikes, parents have come forward with some stories that are just awful," spokeswoman Jackie Everrett said.
* * * * * *
Your Immigration Detention Advisory Group [IDAG] has called for the closure of Woomera as a processing centre. Will you do this?
There is insufficient capacity within the detention centre system to close Woomera and still have sufficient flexibility within other centres. The group recognises those limitations, but I am happy to discuss their views in detail when they are not engaged in addressing the current situation at Woomera.
Is it possible to move at least some of the Woomera detainees to other locations?
If there are beds available at other centres, operationally it would be possible to move some people to other centres, but the question is whether that should be done under duress and whether it would then leave sufficient flexibility and capacity in the system.
Do you agree the Woomera centre is a harsh and inhumane place?
The Woomera natural environment has been described by some as harsh, but Australian detention centres offer a full range of educational, recreational, health and psychological services. The level and range of these services are the same as those available to the wider Australian community and even exceeds those in some regional areas.
Is Woomera too large? Ideally, would people be held in smaller centres?
One view is that a bigger number of smaller detention centres are much easier to manage. We will be keeping these issues under watch and looking at what happens to the numbers of asylum seekers. We will be looking at some of the cost questions - some of the centres are more expensive than others to operate and we will make operational decisions when it's appropriate.
The IDAG says action is vital to avert a looming tragedy at Woomera. Aside from your offer to continue processing, what action do you plan to take to resolve the present crisis?
The (Federal) Government cannot respond to duress and will not subvert the law on the basis of threats of self-harm. We have offered to continue processing on the basis of new information that is becoming available. That offer remains in good faith, and staff and service providers have been sent to Woomera to facilitate that process.
The IDAG describes the detainees as humane and caring. Do you agree with its statement that they "are not devious and clever manipulators seeking to change Australia immigration policy"?
What has become clear is the detainees have become confused and do not know who to trust or who to believe. This is probably due to the multiple sources of advice they are receiving. As well as advice on their cases from the (Immigration) Department, they are receiving advice from independent lawyers who are not specialist migration agents, in addition to well-meaning advocacy groups, and no doubt other detainees and possibly family and friends.
In this circumstance, it is little wonder that detainees involved in (recent) actions are not sure where to turn. This underscores the comments of the Independent Detention Advisory Group about the need to build trust.
Why has media coverage of Woomera been restricted?
Far from being surrounded by secrecy, Australia's immigration detention centres are subject to extensive scrutiny, with visits by various official government and non-government agencies, committees and media organisations.
However, media visits need to be seen in the context of the safety of people who might be making asylum claims. Inadvertent identification of people making claims can put them at risk, or put at risk the safety of family and friends they have left behind. It is also possible that exposure in the media can create refugee claims that did not exist before the person's arrival.
Visits are made by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, state and federal parliamentarians, the Red Cross, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, and parliamentary committees.
Journalists and photographers from many media organisations have participated in tours to detention centres arranged by the department. There have been numerous tours of detention centres since 1992.
In recent years the media have visited Port Hedland, in June, 1999, and February, 2000; Woomera in November, 1999, and January, March and December in 2001; Maribyrnong in March, 2001, and Curtin in June, 2001.
Detainees have access to telephones and are free to contact anyone they wish. Many detainees do have regular contact with the media. In fact, visits to the centre by external bodies average more than one a week and this demonstrates that the immigration detention program is among the most closely scrutinised of government programs.
Will you allow The Age immediate access to enter Woomera and to speak to detainees?
As previously stated, media visits are regularly organised for the detention centres and will be held again this year, and The Age will be invited to attend. Detainees have access to phones and can already speak to journalists from The Age.
However, care is needed because identifying an asylum seeker could place lives at risk, or threaten the safety of family and friends back home.
What is your response to Archbishop Pell's call for more compassion from the government and the release of Afghan asylum seekers into safe places?
The government's approach to mandatory detention is based on the compassionate need to ensure our humanitarian program is directed towards assisting those in greatest need, not just those who have the opportunity to confront us. Detention ensures people are available for processing and for removal if they are not refugees.
To release people who are not refugees would encourage others to put their life at risk on unseaworthy boats. The experience of countries such as Britain demonstrates the problems with community release. It is estimated a quarter-of-a-million failed asylum claimants have gone underground in Britain and the numbers arriving on their shores is growing.
Is the Government going to proceed with the planned centres at Baxter, Singleton and Darwin (announced in August last year)?
The three centres at Baxter, Singleton and Darwin are being established as contingency facilities.
Are any of these centres ready for use now? When do you expect each of them to be ready?
The Singleton and Coonawarra facilities have been ready since last year and remain as contingency facilities. The Baxter IRPC is expected to be operationally ready in the first half of this year.
Last year, you conducted a trial release of women and children into the community at Woomera. What did that trial reveal?
The alternative detention project for women and children began on August 7, 2001, and was expected to run for about six months, after which an evaluation of the project will be conducted. Initial indications have been quite positive.
* * * * * *
The Day Ruddock came to the table
IT was, said people who were at the meeting, the first time they thought Philip Ruddock had really listened to a frank report on what was going on at Woomera, and it had taken a life-threatening series of protests to get him to that point.
Ranged around Mr Ruddock's office at Parliament House in Canberra was an impressive array of intellectual firepower on the subject of immigration detention: the minister's chief of staff and another adviser, department secretary Bill Farmer and three departmental officers and six members of the Immigration Detention Advisory Group [ADAG], headed by a former immigration minister John Hodges.
Ruddock opened the meeting with a welcome and an instruction to his advisers and public servants to stay quiet. He asked the IDAG members to give him their honest opinion of what was going on at Woomera.
Everyone who has dealt with Ruddock is aware that he knows his subject, but that he can become so engrossed in the detail that he obscures the overview of a situation. On this occasion, he listened.
"It couldn't have been fuller or franker. He really listened," said one participant. "Possibly for the first time."
Ruddock and John Howard had already labelled the hunger strikers blackmailers and told them their dramatic protests would not help them win temporary (three-year) protection visas.
What the IDAG people told him at that meeting was that the hunger strikers, lip-stitchers and suicide pact teenagers were not blackmailers, they were desperate. This was their last-ditch stand. They felt as though they had no voice and their actions were a cry for help.
* * * * * *
Former G-G labels Ruddock a pit bull terrier
Labor's former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Hayden has launched a scathing attack on the Federal Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, labelling him the "political equivalent of a pit bull terrier".
Mr Hayden, who is also a former Governor-General, made the comments in a speech at a book launch in Brisbane last night.
* * * * * *
Ruddock denies punishment regime
Sydney Morning Herald
Immigration officials would not punish asylum seekers at Woomera detention centre over unrest which led to a mass breakout, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said today.
About 30 asylum seekers were expected to appear before the Adelaide Magistrates Court today charged with escaping from Woomera over Easter.
Another 14 remained at large this morning, with authorities now fearing for their safety in the hot outback conditions.
Mr Ruddock denied reports some detainees at Woomera were being punished through a range of measures including solitary confinement and handcuffing.
* * * * * *
Ruddock on school detention
ABC TV 7.30 Report
PHILIP RUDDOCK: [....] You are dealing with 20 children of very different backgrounds and you then ask the question what sort of education can you provide. I have a school in my electorate with 20 children. It has a number of teachers, I think two, but it certainly doesn't have a teacher for every age of every capacity that you would have in a normal school environment.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Are they referred to by number rather than name?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Let me deal with the educational issues and I'll come back to that question. In relation to the approach that we're taking, we are endeavouring and we have already - at Maribyrnong, at St Michael's school, detainees from the Maribyrnong Detention Centre are participating in a program in a normal school environment.
[....] Numbers are something that I don't believe should be used. They are used for the purposes of identifying people initially before you have established their identities and to know who they are, but to continue to use them is something that I have directed before should not happen. If it is continuing to happen at Port Hedland it would be quite contrary to the directions I have given.
But in addition there are occasions in which some people themselves, particularly when they are being summoned, that numbers rather than names are used. If there is a request for that to happen, one can't deny them that either.
[....] PHILIP RUDDOCK: I think the issue of curriculum has to be seen in terms of what do you develop for each child's capacities and capabilities, given that many of them will have come with no formal education before at all.
KERRY O'BRIEN: But your Department is saying they have one, the teachers are saying they don't.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: The department is saying we have obligations to provide certain core competenceies - in English and numeracy. There are ancillary programs particularly with computers that are used outside normal school hours.
KERRY O'BRIEN: These descriptions are not just coming from the two teachers you saw on camera. They're coming from other teachers who weren't prepared to go public as well as from the Human Rights Commissioner who has already found in South Australia on the basis of his inquiry that the education standards at detention centres were unacceptable. There is a consistent pattern coming from those other teachers matching those we've heard on camera that the conditions are deplorable in terms of education.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I'm not going to comment on unsourced allegations. In relation to what the Human Rights Commissioner has to say, he forms his own opinions in relation to our obligations and states them. We believe we honour our obligations.
KERRY O'BRIEN: You believe you match the two covenants?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: We believe on the advice given to us by our law officers in relation to the provision made, the contractual arrangement entered into, in the environments in which we are operate being, meets our obligations. I make the point again that you have very difficult environments in which to provide teaching for detainee children.
It stems from the very wide diversity - well, first of all the relatively small numbers - because they are relatively small.
KERRY O'BRIEN: They haven't always been relatively small?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: They're small in terms of the sorts of numbers you see in Australia which you stream into programs which are based upon years, their age...
KERRY O'BRIEN: They're also heavily traumatised, aren't they? I assume you'd acknowledge that even if the parents aren't genuine refugees, and most of them are, the children themselves are innocent and deserve accommodation of fundamental rights?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: That's not being disputed. There is an obligation to provide access to education. That access is provided. What you're talking about is the adequacy of that. What I'm saying is that we are dealing with an environment in which people have come to Australia without authority. They don't book in.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Not the children?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: They're without authority as well. They don't tell us "We're coming". We can't plan and say we know we're going to get 200 children this year and 500 next year. It's not a question of planning. You have a variety of countries they come from, a variety of languages that they speak. You have children of different levels of educational attainment. Women or children - girls - were denied access to any formal education under the Taliban.
KERRY O'BRIEN: But now they're here?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: And they are receiving access to educational programs they have not received before.
* * * * * *
Ruddock dismisses call to monitor deported asylum seekers
ABC News Online
The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock says a campaign by churches to stop the deportation of asylum seekers would not work.
A coalition of religious groups, including Christians, Muslims and Jews, are calling for an end to the deportation of asylum seekers.
The group's Francis Milne says a dossier has been collected on a number of people who have been imprisoned, tortured or killed after being deported from Australia.
"There is a very real problem in the way that we are going about our assessments," she said. But Mr Ruddock says he has seen no proof of the allegations. Mr Ruddock says it is not reasonable to expect Australian authorities to keep tabs on the thousands of people who are deported.
The Coalition of religious leaders will release a declaration on the issue on Wednesday.
NOTE: When it suits him he doesn't require proof!!!!
* * * * * *
Clearly the people associated with the following document are right....
Hundreds of Australian groups and individuals tell Ruddock to resign
FROM: Jack H Smit, Project SafeCom Inc.
Dear Elected Member,
Below is a Media Statement, which was sent to about 50 News Media organisations around the world last week.
The Statement was initiated by Project SafeCom Inc., Narrogin, Western Australia, one of the more than one hundred refugee support, lobby and action groups in Australia.
Its intention was to draft a collective Statement, but in such a way that it could be supported and endorsed by as many groups and individual Australians who are concerned about the wellbeing of the asylum seekers, currently on a hungerstrike in the Woomera detention centre.
Let no doubt exist in your mind about the intention of this Statement: with ongoing human rights abuses occurring in Australia, the signatories of this Statement demand the immediate resignation of the Minister of Immigration - and that's just a start.
To date, July 01, at 1900 WST, more than 540 signatures have been received, and the number grows spontaneously and rapidly.
You can view the Statement and its signatories online via this link:http://www.safecom.org/media-250602.htm
Your immediate attention and strongest possible action is required.
Jack H Smit
---start of Statement---
It has come to our notice that up to 200 detainees in the Woomera Detention Centre have started a hunger strike in support of the about 85 Afghanis - many of whom are Hazara - who are to be forcibly deported by the Minister of Immigration unless they sign voluntary repatriation agreements. Detainees of Iranian origin have also endorsed and are taking part in this strike, since they fear they will be the next group chosen for forcible repatriation.
Representatives of the Afghani detainees report that of the 100,000 Taliban forces active in Afghanistan before the US strikes, only 5,000 were eliminated, and they fear that when U.S. forces leave recriminations will resume. They report that killings are already happening in villages. "It is a very serious hunger strike," one representative has said. "For some it will be to the death."
The detainees issued the following statement in support of their action:
We understand that on Monday June 24, nobody at the Woomera Detention Centre came for breakfast, and that the hunger strikers include children.
We, the undersigned, hold the Minister of Immigration and the Howard government fully responsible for the reasons that led to this hunger strike and for anything that may befall the detainees during this hunger strike.
We express our dismay in the strongest possible terms with the horrendous attitude of the Howard government towards the UN Refugee Convention, particularly where it concerns Australia's promise to "not refoul asylum seekers", as well as the clear and unambiguous warnings of the UN that detention is only justifiable where States' security is at risk, and that detention is to be applied on a case-by-case basis only.
We have no confidence in the appalling rhetoric and the ongoing denial of expert evidence from the many professional bodies as well as from government advisory committees, by the current Minister of Immigration, who has proven time and again that he does not see eye to eye with the more than 120 refugee support, lobby and action groups in Australia, with not one exception. We call for the immediate resignation of this Minister as well as the immediate dismantling of the detention centres.
----end of Statement----
Amongst the signatories are people like Tony Kevin, former Australian Ambassador to Cambodia, and Steve Biddulph, Men's Health author. The list of signatories below is a selection of individuals identifying as members of the organisations listed - or submitting endorsement of these organisations.
Amongst the individual endorsements are many eminent Australians as well as Academics from several Australian Universities:
* * * * * *