Dave/Ross on Mon, 29 Apr 2002 14:14:01 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> A Lesson in Lip-Sewing

A Lesson in Lip-Sewing

"I'm prepared to keep my mouth shut, and my head down if you will 
just let us visit the detainees."

I was talking to Mike Hughes, the Manager Designate at the Woomera 
Detention Centre, from whom Ross Parry and myself had been trying for 
four weeks (fulltime), to get permission to visit asylum seekers.

"But you can't order me to shut up and to stay out both," I said. 
"You're asking me to pay for something that I'm not getting.  So 
which is it going to be?"

Mike had earlier told Ross that our emails were being read by "DIMA 
intelligence" and that they had to be cleaned up before we would be 
allowed into the Centre.  "I don't want to see my name appearing in 
anything you write, and I don't want to be quoted on anything," he 

I asked if they were reading my private mail as well, and he replied, 
"That's just the start of what they are doing."

He went on, "I'm not telling you anything you can't work out for 
yourself.  Certain places have paranoia about things here.  A 
decision regarding your status can be made on the basis of anything 
that is seen, read, or heard."  And then he added, "These decisions 
are all made in the interests of the detainees, you understand."

Yeah, sure.

When I challenged Mike about the illegality of anyone reading my 
private mail, he said, "There are organisations around -- government 
or otherwise -- who do those sort of things."

I wasn't so upset that my own government (or 'otherwise') was 
illegally spying on me for no other reason than that I wanted to 
visit asylum seekers at a detention centre that only gets about two 
or three non-official visitors a week for the 250 people being held 
there.  What really upset me was that I know I've said nothing in my 
mail that was either illegal or prejudicial to the security of 

What I have done is no worse than what many of the asylum seekers had 
done under the corrupt dictatorial governments of their homelands.  I 
had dared to criticise the Howard Government, and some of its 

A whisper around to others who have attempted to work in the best 
interests of the detainees suggests that I may not be the only one 
who has been spied on, nor the first one who has been told that 
keeping your mouth shut is the primary requirement to get inside the 
Centre.  It is generally agreed that, because of the extent of the 
corruption that exists at ACM and in the Department of Immigration, 
closed lips are an absolute essential.

I was prepared to co-operate.  But this morning I received yet 
another call from Mike.  "I'm afraid I don't have any good news," he 
said, feigning sadness.  "Your status is still under review on the 
grounds that it is alleged that you have had associations with 

Alleged my foot!  I WAS a demonstrator, for Pete's sake.  But what 
does that have to do with it?

Mike went on, "What I can do," he said conspiratorially, "is to make 
arrangements for some of your friends to visit the detainees who have 
already requested visits from you.  You just give me a list of your 
friends, and I'll fix things up for them."

I had had enough of diplomacy.  "What do you take me for?" I asked. 
"You've just told me that it only takes an allegation of association 
with a demonstrator for you to ban someone permanently from your 
little prison camp, and now you want me to give you a list of 
everyone associated with me?"

A similar letter had been sent to me by my internet service provider 
a week earlier, stating that he had noted that I was sending mail out 
to quite a number of mailing lists, and asking for a statement from 
me on how I had obtained the names for those lists.  The suggestion 
was that I may have been spamming these people.  A strange request, 
considering that the mailing lists were relatively short, and that 
most of them were just yahoogroups, to which anyone can sign up.

But I was also getting in-mail that was arriving in my email box with 
the "unread" button missing, showing that they had already been 
read... not many, but just a few, as though overlooked by a careless 

Then there was the personal letter from my wife and the text of a 
newspaper article about myself from London.  They went missing for 
more than a week, and when my wife suggested that maybe someone was 
intercepting our mail, they both dropped back into existence from 
cyberspace the next morning.  There was just one problem: the dates 
on the letters.  One was incorrect, and although they both carried 
dates from the previous week, my in-box recognised them as having 
just been sent that morning, and so they were filed incongruously 
amongst the current day's mail.

Something similar happened on the 24th of April, when I wrote and 
emailed off an article explaining that I had information from inside 
the detention centre, that several detainees had been writing to Ross 
and myself, some as many as four times, even though we had not 
received any mail at the post office in Woomera for more than two 
weeks.  Three hours after the article went out, a stack of mail from 
detainees, dating back for almost two weeks, arrived at the post 
office, which is practically across the street from the Centre.

"You can't prove anything from that," Mike said.  "Maybe they all 
just got around to writing to you today.  Or maybe the same person 
wrote several letters in the same day and put different dates on each 
of them.  They do that sort of thing sometimes."

That was five days ago.  But I said nothing about it.  We were 
keeping our mouths shut, remember, in the hope that our status would 
be reconsidered.  We had been assured that a decision would be 
forthcoming today, the 29th of April.

I woke up this morning with high hopes of spending the day conversing 
with some of the many asylum seekers who have been aware of our 
presence in the "Refugee Embassy" bus outside of Woomera for the past 
month.  We had given these people hope that they could be heard.  At 
last our silence was going to be rewarded.

But now it looks like I will be flat out filing complaints to the 
Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Human Rights and Opportunity 
Commission, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, and the United Nations Human 
Rights Committee... for starters.

And, of course, there will be articles like this one.  I would have 
preferred to offer the practical and more immediate comfort of a 
sympathetic ear, but that has been denied to both Ross and myself, 
and for no other reason than just that we happened to be the ones who 
turned up here over and over again asking for permission to visit. 
The official policy, you see, is that visitors are welcome at 
Woomera... but reality is that they are only welcome so long as they 
don't turn up.  Anyone who does turn up, and especially if they are 
not easily turned away, is regarded with suspicion.

Our expulsion means that the mouths of the detainees have been 
successfully shut once again.  This is an enormous tragedy.  But I do 
have to admit that there is a certain relief in having the thread 
taken out of my own sewn-up lips!   They have told us to stay out, 
but, because or that totally unjustified decree, they can no longer 
tell us to shut up.  We will now campaign to have the spying and 
lying stopped.

Dave McKay and Ross Parry will be taking their mobile "Refugee 
Embassy" to Parliament House, Adelaide, at noon on Friday, to present 
a letter of thanks to the Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, for 
his Government's attempts to defend the rights of children being held 
in Woomera.  This will be the first time that the pair have been away 
from Woomera since they started their "Embassy" vigil on Easter 

Phone:  0407-238805

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