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Monday, 31 March 2014
(Tony Jones F*&%k show)
Panellists: Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian author and commentator; Kenneth Roth, International Director of Human Rights Watch; Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner; Ilwad Elman, Somalian peace and human rights activist; and Lucy Siegle, Ethics columnistThe Observer.
The ABC’sÂ Q & AÂ usually serves up a lumpy left-wing stew sourced from primarily local ingredients. For the sake of diversity, last night’s show featured standard leftoid lines from a variety ofÂ internationalÂ types. Here’s the American head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, reflecting on what host Tony Jones described as Australia’s “return to such an anachronistic form of honours”:
Well, it’s sadly characteristic of this Government now.
Somalian peace advocate Ilwad Elman agreed:
It seems like Australia is regressing.
How’s Somalia going, Ilwad? Made it out of the 15th century yet? Egyptian activist and commentator Mona Eltahawy turned out to be a regular Sweary Mary:
I come from a country that was under British occupation for so many years and when we got rid of the Brits finally in 1952 and they asked us if we wanted to join the Commonwealth, we said “F**k no”.
Language, dear. Of course, moany Mona is no fan of Tony Abbott:
Your Prime Minister is a walking anachronistic – I don’t know what else to call him.
Try a noun. There are lots available. Mona became more expressive on the topic of white guys:
The people who go on the most about freedom of expression and it’s my right to say this and my right to say that are usually old, rich, white men who parade under the term libertarian. And what it ends up basically meaning is: I have the right to be a racist and sexist s**t.
British ethics columnist Lucy Siegle chimes in:
I think we’re looking at protecting the wrong people.
And now back to Mona, describing a sign she saw on the New York subway that made her so angry she vandalised it:
It said: “In the war between the civilised man and the savage, always choose the civilised man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” And I thought: are you f**king kidding me?
Seems f**king reasonable enough to me. Roth next makes a point about stopped asylum seeker boats:
Well, first, if I could, just let me address the 100 days without a boat because, you know, the question really is how did that happen. You know, if I saidÂ we’re going to execute everybody who shows up in a boat, the boats would stop. Is that a fair way to do it? No.
Is that even close to what Australia is doing? No. Further from Somalia’s Elman:
I think Australia is taking a lot of very horrific positions and putting itself in very difficult situations … some of the topics that we discussed here today it’s just showing a whole new Australia that I never really thought about before and people are going to be shocked by this new position and this movement.
It’s called an elected government. Shocking, I know, but that’s just the way we do things down here. Oh, great, here’s f**king Mona again:
I think sometimes it helps in these discussions to get really down to the bare bones and just say it as it is and that is people are scared of brown and black people coming into your country.
Yep. We’re all terrifying racists. Last word to Siegle:
It’s sounding pretty toxic.
Sure is. It’s just as well all of these people have nice countries to return to, so they won’t have to suffer any longer.
TONY JONES: Good evening and welcome to Q&A. I’m Tony Jones and answering your questions tonight: Egyptian activist and commentator Mona Meltahawy. Eltahawy, I beg your pardon.
MONA ELTAHAWY: I can melt if you want.
TONY JONES: That’s a melting moment. Australia’s newly appointed Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson; Somalian peace and human rights advocate Ilwad Elman; The Observer’s ethics columnist Lucy Siegle; and the international head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth. Please welcome our panel. Thank you and as usual, we’re being simulcast on ABC News 24, News Radio and you can join the Twitter conversation or send a question by using the #qanda hashtag that just appeared on your screen. Our first question tonight comes from Tim Collier.
NOTHING LIKE A DAME00:01:10
TIM COLLIER: Australia has developed a proud multicultural identity with one in three people born overseas, including many from non-British backgrounds. After their abolition 28 years ago, do imperial honours, the return of knights and dames, really have a place in modern Australia?
TONY JONES: Lucy Siegle, what do you think?
LUCY SIEGLE: I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it. I think it coincided with my arrival in this country and I thought it was a – I don’t know, someone teasing me or something and I wonder if Mr Abbott understands what he has got into because in the UK this system is fraught with difficulty. And one of the main problems now is that people give them back or refuse them and it is terribly…
TONY JONES: Not very many.
LUCY SIEGLE: A few do and there’s a whole way now – there’s a whole way of doing quite a public refusal or saying “I don’t want the Knighthood but I might take a lesser one”. I mean the classic one was when they tried to give one to the poet Benjamin Zephaniah and he has written, you know, a lot of his canon is about anti-colonialism and how much he doesn’t like the Queen. So they obviously hadn’t actually read any of his work. So it’s fraught with problems, is all I’m saying and I’m surprised that anybody has willingly stumbled into this situation.
TONY JONES: Deliberately too.
LUCY SIEGLE: Well…
TONY JONES: Ken Roth, what do you think?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, look, I understand why people want, you know, recognition for their accomplishments but I’d like that recognition to come from the public. I don’t want the Government deciding who gets to be recognised as accomplished or not.
TONY JONES: Yeah. Are you surprised, though, that we would go for such an anachronistic form or return to such an anachronistic form of honours?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, it’s sadly characteristic of this Government now.
LUCY SIEGLE: Ooh.
TONY JONES: Ooh. Ilwad, what do you think?
ILWAD ELMAN: I think it is odd too. Much like Lucy said, I thought it was a joke at first but it seems like Australia is regressing a little bit and it may be something that’s being used right now to introduce elitism and if the Government is picking out these people who are worthy of being bestowed on these honours, it’s odd. It’s a step back.
TONY JONES: We already had – we did have a form of honours, an Indigenous form of honours as it were, but we have moved, in a way, to restoring the monarchical version?
ILWAD ELMAN: It may be also distraction from more important things.
TONY JONES: Ah.
ILWAD ELMAN: Yeah.
TONY JONES: Tim Wilson.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Ooh, there’s a thought.
TIM WILSON: My instinct is actually with Ken, which is I don’t think government should be issuing honours generally but I have a bit of sympathy for it, only for one reason, which is because nobody actually knows how our current system of honours works. We have things like AC, AO, OAM. Nobody seems to have any idea what they do or how they operate, whereas speaking to people in the past, you know, sort of 48 hours, people actually know what Sir and Dame is. But I think we’re on…
TONY JONES: Do they really know the difference between an Earl and a Duke?
TIM WILSON: I don’t think so but I think the point is people know it is a substantial title for somebody who has given an enormous amount of public service and I think as a country, where we are at the moment, recognising that one of the key challenges we have is around reconciliation, ingratiating Indigenous culture into every aspect of public life and we do and recognising the heritage we have, why couldn’t we find something, with permission of course, from Indigenous communities of an equivalence of an elder title to really – if we’re going to have these sorts of titles, completely Australianise it and use it as an opportunity to bring cultural change.
TONY JONES: So you don’t think that Tony Abbott should have gone back to the old style?
TIM WILSON: Well, I think it’s a missed opportunity, in the end, because if you are going to have the things and I’ve said I don’t think you should, I think we should make it Australian. Yes, it’s technically an Australian knight but it has the heritage and lineage which we know. Why not use and see if we can get some sort of Indigenous title that we can use and try and bring about some cultural change in the process.
TONY JONES: Mona, how does it feel? You’ve come back to this country and this change has happened among others?
MONA ELTAHAWY: Well, first of all, Tony Abbott, your male Prime Minister, has appointed himself the Minister for Women’s affairs, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that he wants to do something as ludicrous as bring these titles. So, I would like you to address as Sir Mona Eltahawy henceforth. I come from a country that was under British occupation for so many years and when we got rid of the Brits finally in 1952 and they asked us if we wanted to join the Commonwealth, we said “Fuck no”.
MULTIPLE SPEAKERS TALK AT ONCE
MONA ELTAHAWY: Seriously, come on. You still have the Queen on your money. You know, this, for me, as a former colonial subject – or my country anyway – is just I can’t – it’s utterly bizarre. I don’t understand where this is coming from and I agree with, you know, the rest of the panel. But as I said, I think, you know, your Prime Minister is a walking anachronistic – I don’t know what else to call him – Prime Minister and Women’s Affairs Minister, who reminds me, actually, of when I was in Beijing in 1995 for the UN Women’s conference, what was then called Burma, they sent, for the head of their women’s delegation, a military general. So this is what I am reminded of, Tony Abbott Women’s Minister.
TONY JONES: Alright. It is already getting dangerous. We’ve got a lot of questions and comments on the free speech debate, the proposed changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act and the Attorney-General’s claim that people have a right to be bigots. Here are two videos on the subject.
RIGHT TO BE A BIGOT00:06:16
ROBERT MAYNARD: Tim Wilson’s comments to The Age this weekend calling it bizarre that racial terms may be used freely within communities of colour but not by white people and claiming free use of the N word would restore equality, revealed a breathtaking lack of comprehension that words may carry different meaning depending on the speaker, akin to not understanding that knives can both stab and butter bread.
RIGHT TO BE A BIGOT00:06:41
FRANK LAVORICO: Mr Wilson, if the Government changes 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (indistinct) message bigotry is acceptable in Australia. You can offend, insult, humiliate anyone you like, as long as you do not intimidate or vilify. Will this not create a new generation of bigots?
TONY JONES: Tim Wilson, let’s start with you?
TIM WILSON: Sure. Well, firstly there’s a factual inaccuracy in that story, which is that I never said that it was the case that people should be able to use those terms. What happened was I was explaining to a journalist that there is a difference between social convention and law and making the very clear case that we should have equality before the law and that is very different from social convention. Social convention is when somebody makes an error and people apologise because they recognise an offence. A law is when you can limit what people say. And when you talk about free speech, my…
TONY JONES: Well, can I just interrupt you there? Did you tell him it’s bizarre that members of the community can use racially loaded language against each other but that outsiders can’t use it, because that’s where this has come from?
TIM WILSON: Well, and where it has come from is talking specifically about one particular legal case and talking about how it established a principle where the assessment about whether people are found to be in infringement of the law is based on the attitudes of that particular community, which creates inequality before the law. And just to show you how non-controversial this proposition is, even the advocates for not changing parts of the Racial Discrimination Act on Sky News’s Australian Agenda yesterday, recognised that the proposal of, if you want to get wonky about it, sub-section (3) of the proposal, that had their support with minor changes, because they also agreed with the proposition that it was not fair to have inequality before the law. But when we are talking about free speech, we should always come from a basis in which you have a blank canvas and everything is legal until it is made illegal. Now, when it comes into conflict with other rights, it’s entirely reasonable to say that there are limits. So a classic example is defamation, because it’s related to people’s future earning capacity and their property et cetera. Equally, there are other reasons around national security. But my deference will always be to free speech because, in the end, it is the best medicine to a lot of the problems that we have in society because there is a somewhat, I have to say, naive assumption around the topic of the Racial Discrimination Act, which is that racism can purely be solved by law. We know that is not the case. We also have to inject cultural norms and standards and drive them through culture and society to improve the issues that we’re talking about and that happens through things like social conventions and others.
TONY JONES: OK. To get to the point of what the Attorney-General said, do you believe people have a right to bigotry?
TIM WILSON: I actually think the comment highlights so many of the problems around discussion of human rights today because people say people have a right to this. They have a right to that. What people have a right to is a freedom of thought and it’s an absolute right because no government can tell you what to think. But you also have a right to freedom of expression. And as I’ve said, the deference should be towards freer speech and if there is legitimate justification there can be (indistinct). But it’s a natural right that we all enjoy and it must be preserved and protected.
TONY JONES: So bigotry is not one of the rights?
TIM WILSON: Well, you do not have a right to that. You have a right to freedom of thought and a right to freed of expression but, obviously that includes both the most wonderful thoughts that people and most wonderful speech people can have and sometimes the worst things people can think and the worst things people can say.
TONY JONES: Ilwad, what do you think?
ILWAD ELMAN: I think that particular statement people have the right to become bigots is very worrisome. I do believe that people should have the right to expression and the freedom too but I think there is also a very thin line that needs to be monitored. At what point is the right to freedom of speech crossing on hate? That’s something that needs to be considered as well too. So if everybody has the right to become a critical thinker and to have the freedom to think and express whatever they feel, that’s fine and I agree with that but there should be limitations on what you can put out to other people.
TONY JONES: Mona?
MONA ELTAHAWY: Well, you’re talking to someone who got arrested for spray-painting over a racist and bigoted ad in the New York subway and I’m going to stand trial very soon in New York soon for this and I – so I have many thoughts on this. First of all, in the United States, the people who go on the most about freedom of expression and it’s my right to say this and my right to say that are usually old, rich, white men who parade under the term libertarian. And what it ends up basically meaning is: I have the right to be a racist and sexist shit and I’m protected by the first amendment. And it’s utterly ridiculous. Because when you look – if you look at this ad that I sprayed over – now, I’m – I love the first amendment. As a US citizen, because I am Egyptian-American, I love the first amendment. I love that it protects freedom of expression and freedom of belief. But here is the thing: if a racist, bigoted ad is protected as political speech, which it was – the New York subway didn’t want this very racist and bigoted ad but a judge deemed it protected political speech?
TONY JONES: What did it say? Are you allowed to tell us?
MONA ELTAHAWY: I can tell you because it – I mean it’s outrageous. It said: “In the war between the civilised man and the savage, always choose the civilised man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” And I thought: are you fucking kidding me? In my subway? How can you put this up? And the subway – the subway authorities did not want this ad, because they said it was going to incite people and so they took it to the hate group and it’s been classified as a hate group by the – it’s the Southern Law Centre, right, Ken? Is that what they’re called?
KENNETH ROTH: Southern Poverty Law Centre.
MONA ELTAHAWY: That’s it. They have deemed it a hate group. They have deep pockets, these libertarian, you know, old rich white men. And they took it to a judge and the judge deemed it protected political speech. I am fine with protected political speech but surely it should be my right to protest racism and bigotry? I am the one who got arrested. When you have an ad like that, you know, can you imagine, under any circumstances, in the New York subway that you would have an ad like that that either talked about the black community, the Jewish community, the gay community? Absolutely not. The reason that I protested it was because I believe, as a US citizen who has lived in the US for the past – I now live in Egypt but I was in the US for 13 years, Muslims are fair game. So let’s talk about who the subjects or, like, who were the people targeted by this: it’s my right to say and do whatever I want?
TONY JONES: Let’s- I’ll just quickly go back to Tim for a response to that because you are a libertarian, you are white but you’re not old.
TIM WILSON: I am also gay and I’m not a libertarian. I am a classical liberal. So let’s make that clear. But if I’m not mistaken, the reason that they would have said that is because the train system is owned by a level of government? Is that right?
MONA ELTAHAWY: No.
TIM WILSON: No.
MONA ELTAHAWY: The reason that they said that, actually, you know, this is actually all about the free market. This is why I am bringing in the rich, old, white men. Because what you’re saying in this scenario is that you can buy this ad in the subway and say whatever you want and then I’m now supposed to buy another ad and fight it with money. So it’s about money. It’s about who has money and we’ve come to a stage where freedom of expression is bought by money. It’s the market. I don’t have $6,000 to go and spend on an ad. I don’t have rich – you know, rich, old, white men who are racist who are going to provide the money for this.
TIM WILSON: Can I ask…
MONA ELTAHAWY: So who has freedom of expression here? The rich people, the powerful people do.
TIM WILSON: Can I ask why weren’t they allowed to ban the ad? If it’s their private property and it’s a train and it’s their private property they should have just said “We will not have the ad” and there should be no basis in which it can be restricted?
MONA ELTAHAWY: It was taken to a judge because it was protected under – now, see, this is the thing. I don’t want to ban the ad either. I want to be able to protest it. But my fight here is the kind of language used in the ad and what is acceptable now and you were saying earlier that it’s not just the law. It’s the law it’s also social norms.
TIM WILSON: OK.
MONA ELTAHAWY: And we have to be able to protest racism and sexism and bigotry and make it socially unacceptable but I also – I deserve to be protected by the law too.
TONY JONES: OK. I’m just going to bring in – we’ve got another questioner up the back and then I’m going to bring in the other panellists. Go ahead. It’s Peter Connell.
FREE SPEECH BEST MEDICINE00:14:00
PETER CONNELL: Yes. My question is in support of free speech being the best medicine for the bigotry disease. How can the issue be discussed if a person’s words for or against the issue are forbidden to be used?
TONY JONES: Lucy?
LUCY SIEGLE: I just – I just don’t buy it. I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it. I just really have a problem, similarly to Mona, that how dare people who – it is very, very unlikely they would ever need to call on this 18C, whatever it is called, as a resource; that they would ever need to employ it. How dare that they be the ones that repeal it? I mean it’s just – it’s just – it’s really, really not on. As I understand it, this was some sort of election promise, which is being kind of followed through, because there is a certain a amount of pressure to follow through and I think from your language and from what I’ve heard around it and from what I’ve observed and heard, that you’re kind of retreating into the detail of it. So now we’re at subsection 3.
TIM WILSON: No. No. I am being accurate.
LUCY SIEGLE: You are being accurate but let’s talk about it as a symbol of what’s going on here because I do think that’s important and, you know, it is incredibly difficult to understand. I mean bigotry destroys lives, so it is as important that there are laws to protect people from bigotry as there are in the other sorts of law and other sorts of cases that you mentioned. I think it’s really, really fundamental that this is not repealed and I also want to look at who is it really who has the problem with 18C? Who is it – who has come a cropper by this law? And I saw there was a contrarian columnist.
TONY JONES: Well, there’s a fellow called Andrew Bolt.
LUCY SIEGLE: Andrew Bolt.
TONY JONES: Who is a public conservative, highly published, with his own blog et cetera, et cetera.
LUCY SIEGLE: OK. So what I would like to say is that there are a lot of contrarian columnists around. I have worked in newspapers for years. They’re the ones who make the money and they are the ones – you know, it’s from the moment the printing press was invented there were people who worked out if you take a contrarian, shock jock point of view, you’re going to get a lot of attention and a lot of money. I don’t think we should change laws to protect their freedom of speech. We have a similar issue in the UK, where we have contrarian columnists and certain comedians who aren’t very funny but bigotry is part of their act and the whole debate is centred around how we can protect them and enable their free speech and I think we’re looking at protecting the wrong people.
TONY JONES: Ken Roth?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, first, let me begin with the Attorney-General’s comment because this is not a law professor. This is a public official who, as I agree with Mona, he should be setting social norms. This is the man who should not be running around saying “You have a right to be a bigot.” He should be saying “Bigotry is wrong.” That’s what a public officials should do.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Yes.
KENNETH ROTH: So I start there.
TONY JONES: Yeah.
KENNETH ROTH: Now, I think, you know, something we should all be able to agree on is that regardless what you feel about sort of giving offence to somebody, there are certain things that are clearly wrong. You know, discrimination, intimidation, you know, those kinds of clear physical wrongs, in a sense.
TONY JONES: Incidentally, have you looked at the way this Act is being or proposed to be rewritten, because it puts in the word “Vilify”?
KENNETH ROTH: Yeah. But, no, but see, what I wanted to address, Tony, is that the…
TONY JONES: But it uses the very specific definition for the word “Vilify”. That is to intimidate someone.
KENNETH ROTH: Precisely. But what concerns me is that the intimidation clause…
TONY JONES: Incite to violence, I think.
KENNETH ROTH: There is an exception to the intimidation clause. You can intimidate somebody, cause them to fear violence if you are engaged in a public discussion. Now, that is a huge loophole that is taking a big step backwards because we should all be able to agree that that kind of intimidation is just flat wrong. That should never happen, regardless of if it is a public discussion or whatever. So in those two respects, I completely disagree with where the government is going. The place where I would urge caution is I am very reluctant to get into the business of making it illegal to give offence to somebody. I understand where that’s coming from because, you know, it’s coming from the desire to protect the vulnerable but I have seen how laws like that are misused around the world. And if you’re an Ahmadiyya in Indonesia, if you are a Christian in Pakistan, if you’re a gay in Uganda, there are lots of things you can do and say that give offence to the majority and, believe me, these laws tend to be used by the majority against the vulnerable minority. So I think we just have to tread cautiously if we are going to start legislating the idea of offence because offence is very subjective and the offence that tends to govern is the offence of the powerful, not the weak.
TIM WILSON: (Indistinct)
TONY JONES: I’ll go back to Tim Wilson on this. No doubt you would agree with the last part of what was said there?
TIM WILSON: Absolutely and that’s part of the problem. I mean these laws, the way they are written at the moment and people – you know, I make no apology. My view is that philosophically the whole thing should be repealed but I also realise it’s genuine concern within the community about the issues around racial vilification and, of course, I agree with you also, Mona, that laws also play a part, also cultural norms and standards. But you have a situation where offence or insult, which when we’re talking – particularly if we’re talking about issues of race is partly about cross-cultural communication, it is very easy to invoke and, of course, you can actually have a situation where you end up using it against the weak and the powerless. Because free speech as an important birthright is so important for the weak and the powerless. The rich and powerful can always get their views out. They can buy newspapers. They can buy TV stations. They can by radio stations.
TONY JONES: So why an amendment to protect Andrew Bolt?
TIM WILSON: Well, but it’s not about protecting him. It’s about the precedent that case established. If people actually go and look at the case law, it establishes a precedent, which is not actually – obviously it relates to him but the precedent applies to everybody into the future and that’s part of the problem, which is why even the advocates to oppose…
TONY JONES: But would it not…
TIM WILSON: Hang on. But even the advocates opposed…
TONY JONES: No. No. But, I mean, you’ve made a point there which is contestable, because the truth is the thing that really caused him to come a cropper were the series of factual errors in his articles. He would have had a defence, were it not for all the errors?
KENNETH ROTH: He should have been sued for that.
TIM WILSON: That’s not true. There is also issues around tone and, again, if we want to – I mean I had this thing on Saturday morning where I did a radio interview, exactly on this topic, where somebody was basically making the point that free speech should be limited to accurate speech and in the process of them doing that, they made four errors. I said this demonstrates the problem clearly. The issue is not about (indistinct). It’s about the precedence established and how that impacts on everybody, not just them.
TONY JONES: OK. Tim, we have to move onto other subjects but, well, the Act is in draft form at the moment. But why, if you are going to use the word “Vilify” in it, why not use the correct meaning of vilify, which, in fact, is to demean someone, to put them down, to defame them. In its Latin term: to make them worthless. Why not use that as a definition rather than incitement to violence, which is not what vilify means?
TIM WILSON: Well, I didn’t draft it. I’m the human rights commissioner (indistinct)…
TONY JONES: Do you think it is badly drafted?
TIM WILSON: No. No. I think…
LUCY SIEGLE: You were talking about precision just now.
TIM WILSON: No. No. I agree. And, but I am sorry there is a proposal out there. People are entitled to engage with the consultation and send their suggestions and one of the suggestions I have heard already from the advocates for limiting the change is to change some sections of it and improve it and so I think it is entirely reasonable (indistinct)…
TONY JONES: Could you improve it by giving “Vilify” its correct meaning?
TIM WILSON: Well, I’d have to get legal advice and that’s part of the challenge. I’m still waiting for my legal advice on what the proposal actually means…
TONY JONES: OK. Alright.
TIM WILSON: …from the Human Rights Commission.
TONY JONES: Alright. Let’s move on. Our next question is a video. It’s from Iyngaran Selvaratnam in Darwin.
SRI LANKA HUMAN RIGHTS00:21:38
IYNGARAN SELVARATNAM: Last week, the UN Human Rights Council finally approved an independent investigation five years after the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka, during which up to 70,000 predominantly Tamil civilians are thought to have died. This was in the face of mounting evidence that many of these deaths were likely as a result of human rights abuses and war crimes committed by both sides, including the Sri Lankan Government’s armed forces. What does it say about our own Government that has done nothing but openly praise the current Sri Lankan regime and gone to the extent of gifting them with Navy patrol vessels to help stop boats to Australia?
TONY JONES: Let’s start with Ken Roth.
KENNETH ROTH: Well, the questioner is absolutely right. I mean for everybody to understand what happened, five years ago the war with the Tamil Tigers was coming to an end and in the last three months, there was a spit of land along the sea where many, many civilians were there. The Sri Lankan government indiscriminately shelled it, killed 40,000 civilians and it was a massive war crime. They have then been covering it up and blocking investigations for the last five years. Finally last week, the UN Human Rights Council said, “Enough of this. We’re going to start our own international investigation”. Every Western country supported this. At worst, the regional allies of Australia were neutral on it, Indonesia, Philippines. Japan abstained. The Australian Government pronounced against it. They are not on the council so they didn’t vote but they came out – Julie Bishop said this was a bad idea. We should be seeking to cooperate with the Sri Lankan Government, even though it is the Sri Lankan Government that ordered these mass atrocities. It is the Sri Lankan that has led the obstruct ion. This is the Government that has intention ever of investigating. But Julie Bishop is so concerned with placating the Government that she basically, you know, did its bidding for it. She became its PR agent. Now, I understand where this is coming from. She wants to stop the boats. These are asylum seekers but, nonetheless, let’s look at why it is that people are fleeing Sri Lanka. They are fleeing because this kind of repression is continuing. So why not go to the root cause? Why not criticise the Government? Why not press it…
TONY JONES: Ken, is there evidence that the repression is continuing, because that is denied, certainly by the Government of Sri Lanka, by its officials and, to some degree, by Australian officials?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, absolutely it continues and, I mean, let’s look at what Julie Bishop did when she visited. She said, “I am going to tour the north. I am going to see for myself.” She went there for one day. She looked around and said, “Nobody is telling me. Nobody is giving me any names”. Of course they’re not giving any names, you know. You turn in the names, these people get tortured and disappeared. You know, no. You know, so it’s, yes, the people who are on the ground are reporting ongoing serious persecution. Not these massive killings that took place at the end of the war but, nonetheless, plenty to cause these asylum seekers to flee. But Australia is looking ridiculous to the world by being one of the only nations that is backing the Rajapaksa Government, rather than doing everything it can to stop these atrocities and to bring to justice those who were responsible for the war crimes, beginning with the President and his brother, the Defence Minister.
TONY JONES: I want to hear from our other panellists before I go to Tim Wilson, because I’m very interested to hear Tim Wilson’s response. But Lucy Siegle?
LUCY SIEGLE: I think it’s almost like Sri Lanka – there is a collective blind spot about Sri Lanka and what happened there and it is almost like we’ve got our kind of quota of bad news. It’s full and we haven’t been able to, you know, engage with this at all. That’s how I feel. I’ve been offered two trips. I do a lot of work around textiles and fashion. I’ve been offered two trips paid for by the Sri Lanka Government to go with a university that I work a lot with to Sri Lanka. And I – the first one I sort of was confused because I didn’t know much about the issue, so I went to somebody I know, who works on human rights, and I said, “Oh, this has happened. What do you think?” And he just looked at me like I was insane and he was like, “Of course you cannot go.” But my colleagues have all gone.
TONY JONES: Wouldn’t it – wouldn’t it have been better to go and see for yourself?
LUCY SIEGLE: Well, my colleagues went and some of them did say that they now understand more than they did. But they’re not shown any of the detail. It is like the one-day trip that you describe. You know, it’s in and out. They see the nice bits. It’s all paid for. It’s all kind of glossed over and it’s really – it’s like the Sri Lankan Government is buying off the world. You know, it’s really, really worrying.
TONY JONES: Ilwad, what do you think?
ILWAD ELMAN: Well, I think, like Ken said, Australia is looking quite ridiculous to the rest of the world but where is Australia’s interest? If they’re trying to stop asylum seekers and stop the boats from coming in, obviously their interest seems to be with cuddling up next to Sri Lanka and make sure that everything is fine there, so that they can initiate the repatriation of a lot of the population that’s here. I think they want to make everything seem OK in Sri Lanka so that they can work towards the repatriation of the population that’s here, stop the boats from coming in, because there is a lot of my migrants that are coming from that area and seeking asylum in Australia. So if they have good ties with a nation, then that creates an easier door for them to send people back and I don’t think their interests are right now with reaching out to the root causes of this and trying to solve this but just managing their own interests, which are ending the boats from coming in.
TONY JONES: Tim Wilson, do you have concerns about this as Human Rights Commissioner?
TIM WILSON: I do. My role ends at the territorial borders of Australia, you know, as much as I’d love to have a view on everything in the world.
TONY JONES: But you opinions don’t?
TIM WILSON: No. No. I agree with that and I was going to make a point. Don’t worry Tony. Which is basically I’m in a similar position as Ken. My view is that whenever Australia is siding up with only China and Iran when we are voting on things, it is probably not a good sign. Added on top of that, Ken is right, we have people arriving by boat and there is obviously a political dimension to that and obviously an issue around humanitarianism as well. But surely the best solution is to solve the problem at the root cause and that is part of the reason why people are leaving Sri Lanka and it needs to be addressed and I’m not saying this is the solution. It’s – you know, an inquiry from the UN, it is not going to solve it but certainly will hopefully bring issues to the fore, so we can start to try and find…
TONY JONES: So, do you think the Australian government should have taken a different view on that?
TIM WILSON: I think I’ve made that pretty clear.
TONY JONES: Last year, Prime Minister Abbott said that, “While Australia deplores the use of torture, we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen.” He was speaking about Sri Lanka. Were you surprised by those remarks?
TIM WILSON: Well, it is true that in difficult situations, difficult decisions have to be made, but I would have thought that at least something as basic as an inquiry into whether human rights abuses by government against citizens is not particularly problematic.
TONY JONES: Mona?
MONA ELTAHAWY: I would like to know, one, the name of at least one western country that has this so-called ethical foreign policy that we often hear about. I think most western countries have disgraceful records when it comes to countries such as the one I was born in and others where torture is systematic, because I think your main concern is to sell our regimes and our dictators weapons. You turn a blind eye to torture, when you know very well what happens. You only pay attention when one of your subjects ends up in our jail, which is absolutely wrong, because obviously I’m against the imprisonment of Peter Greste. But if he wasn’t in jail right now, would you be paying attention to the hundreds and thousands of people in Egyptian jails? You wouldn’t. Whether it was the Australian Government, the US Government, the Europeans. All you care about is business deals, selling weapons to these dictators, getting oil from them. I mean Berlusconi did the same thing with Gaddafi. Gaddafi was his gatekeeper that kept the Africans out of Italy. You know, and these, you know, two incredibly slimy men would get together in Italy every now and then and strike these amazing business deals and then you wonder why we had a revolution and then you wonder why the revolution is going terribly wrong. Because none of you do absolutely anything to help us. You’ve always sold us out, so what’s new?
TONY JONES: I’ll just go back to, just to wrap up on the Sri Lankan thing, I’ll go back to Ken. I mean, how is this going to resolve itself, this issue, and will Australia’s role in this somehow damage Australia internationally, in your opinion?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, first, can I address the things happen comment?
TONY JONES: Yeah.
KENNETH ROTH: This is torture. Torture is flatly criminal, prohibited in all circumstances. It is never OK. For Tony Abbott to say, “Oh, you know, these things happen”, that was flat wrong. That should never have been what he said. Contrast it with what the British Prime Minister Cameron did, who, at the same summit, went to the north, went to the Tamil area, spoke out openly about what had happened. I mean, it was disgraceful what Abbott did there. How is this going to resolve? I mean the next step is that the UN is now launching this international investigation. I am assuming that, despite Julie Bishop’s views, the Sri Lankan Government is going to continue to block things. So what’s going to probably happen in a year is the Commission is going to come back. They’re going to say here is the evidence of criminality. We don’t see any justice process in Sri Lanka. We need to set up an international tribunal and that’s the way we’re going to finally bring to justice those responsible for these atrocities and hopefully start putting sufficient pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to change. That’s when the asylum seekers will stop coming to Australia.
TONY JONES: OK. Briefly what about sending back Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Sri Lanka?
KENNETH ROTH: I mean that would be appalling and I should note that the asylum seekers who are adjudicated here in Australia are almost uniformly granted asylum. It is only when they are stuck off in Manus Island or in Nauru, where suddenly, you know, they’re hinting that none of these are real asylum seekers. These are just economic migrants. The fair processees find that they are asylum seekers and these unfair ones, or these, you know, rudimentary ones set up in these processing centres outside of Australia, even though Australia retains responsibility because it sent them there, these are the only ones that are the only ones that are saying they are not legitimate asylum seekers and are just economic migrants.
TONY JONES: Alright. Time to come back to that question a little later on. Let’s move along. You’re watching Q&A. The next question comes from Kevin Brennan.
KEVIN BRENNAN: Mona…
MONA ELTAHAWY: Where are you?
EGYPTIAN DEATH SENTENCES00:31:19
KEVIN BRENNAN: Can I ask you how a beautiful, gentle, civilised country like Egypt can sentence 529 men to death over the death of one person in a protest march? These people belong to a religious group and it is a Muslim country, 80 to 90% are Muslims. Is this the fault of the legal system or the politics?
MONA ELTAHAWY: I love my beautiful and gentle country very much but I do not like or love the military regime that has been running my beautiful, wonderful country for the past six years. This is – this is the fault of many things. We’re stuck inside this Bermuda Triangle in Egypt of three very evil powers. One is the military regime, two is the interior ministry and three is the judiciary and between those three things we’re truly well and truly fucked and this is why the revolution is stumbling. And what happened, this death sentence, I mean beyond – I don’t believe in a death sentence under any circumstance but the death sentence does belong on the legal books in Egypt. But this judge sentenced to death 529 people after just two sessions in court, after just a few hours. We don’t have a jury system in Egypt. So by no stretch of the imagination did they have a free and fair trial. I don’t care what group they belong to. They can belong to Satan worshippers for all I care. Nobody deserves to have a trial like that. But, as I said, those three things are just so powerful in Egypt and they’re our main fight. It is one of the reasons that I refused to vote on our constitutional referendum earlier this year, because those three powers were left untouched. Now, the one man that they supposedly killed, these 529 people sentenced to death, was a police officer. Obviously I disagree with – I don’t want anyone to be murdered but no police officers have been held accountable for the hundreds of deaths of people since the revolution began. And we had two terrible massacres at the end – last summer in August, when the military regime and its police force broke up protests by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Rabaa and al-Nahda camp. I am not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. I actually detest what the Muslim Brotherhood represents but I detest even more the human rights violations that our military regime continues. And the next President of Egypt, this wonderful, beautiful, sensitive country is going to be Field Marshall Abdul Fattah el-Sisi who, incidentally, when he was head of military intelligence, defended the sexual assaults of woman revolutionaries under these so-called virginity tests and was promoted to defence minister by Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president. So you can see why I say we are well and truly fucked and we want you to condemn our military regime. We want a very, very clear denunciation of what happens in Egypt, because we’re trying – we’re trying very hard to fight the military regime under incredible odds. There is no justice in Egypt. There is no fair trial in Egypt. And what you saw happen, unfortunately, is a result of that, that this one judge thought he could get away with that. Hopefully he won’t because the world, I hope, is paying attention.
TONY JONES: OK. Tim, let’s bring you in here. So, the system that Mona just described is a system under which Peter Greste, the Australian journalist, along with all these other hundreds and thousands of people are detained, without trial and with no prospect of a trial currently.
TIM WILSON: Yes, and what do you want me to say? I mean it’s disgraceful. It should be a reminder to all of us about what we take for granted every day about the system of government we have where we have proper separation of powers, an independent judiciary, a Parliament elected by the people, a cultural understanding and sort of existence of human rights through every part of the nature of our culture and society and how that then flows through. And we take that for granted so often and when it doesn’t exist, you get the sorts of examples that are just outlined. I mean there is no ambiguity in my mind about that.
TONY JONES: Ilwad?
ILWAD ELMAN: It’s – I agree with Mona as well. The situation that’s happening in Egypt is very reminiscent to my contacts as well in Somalia, where there is no due process. Impunity is absolute and cases like this, it should shed light on what’s happening in Egypt and hopefully also ensure a process to have such attention on the situations that are happening in Somalia and other places around the world too.
TONY JONES: Ken, it is incredibly difficult to deal with this and we know just how difficult it is to deal with someone who has relative power. A journalist who works for a big broadcaster like Al Jazeera, who is an Australian citizen, and we can’t even dent the system.
KENNETH ROTH: Yeah. Well, the reason the Egyptian military is going after Al Jazeera in particular is – and it wasn’t so much Al Jazeera English, which Peter Greste works for. It’s Al Jazeera Arabic that they hate, because that is the one independent TV station that’s still beaming into Egypt that has not been completely, you know, shut down or censored by the government to give only its point of view to insist every Muslim Brotherhood member is a terrorist and therefore these kind of mock trials of 529 people where, you know, in less than two hours, without any defence opportunity at all, basically 14 seconds per suspect, they get death sentences. You know that’s only possible if they are all terrorists already and Al Jazeera broke that monopoly perspective and that’s why they hate Al Jazeera. I think it stresses the importance of, you know, of first of all the international community not just cosying up to General el-Sisi, as they did with Mubarak; as, frankly, they did with Morsi. Because there is this tendency to simply say, well, we will just work with whoever is there and we’ll give them the aid and we’ll, you know, gradually, through engagement, bring them along. You know, this is beyond engagement. This needs is serious pressure and Egypt is vulnerable to pressure because even though the Saudis and Emiratis are, these days, bankrolling them with billions, they can’t keep that up forever. The Egyptian economy is going to have to revive and that’s only going to happen if political normality sets in, which means an end to this massive suppression, not only of Muslim Brotherhood but also of secular critics. And, even though a number of critics, I think short-sightedly, welcomed the coup, they are ruing the day. They’re really having buyer’s remorse because, predictably, the military is going after not just the Muslim Brotherhood but anybody who criticises them.
TONY JONES: We’ve actually got a question on that subject. It’s from Hossameldin Ibrahim .
EGYPT, MORSI & MONA00:37:25
HOSSAMELDIN IBRAHIM: As a matter of fact, the situation in Egypt now is clear and it’s not pro or anti Morsi. Rather than it’s now it’s proper and/or anti the military coup that happened in July 2013. So my question to the panel, and in particular to our special guest Mona: after the worst human rights violations that happened since July 2013, with 529 people being sentenced to death, more than 3,000 people dead and thousands in jail with no reason, after all of these violations, can you now admit that you have made a huge mistake, that you were working against the first freely elected President that protected the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression during his one year in the presidential office?
TONY JONES: Mona?
MONA ELTAHAWY: Thank you for your question. Mohammed Morsi was freely elected but your job as a President doesn’t stop after you are freely elected. Democracy isn’t about a piece of paper in a box. Democracy needs institutions. Democracy needs to be encouraged and you are also conveniently forgetting that in November of 2012, Mohammed Morsi effectively basically took – put into place his own coup, a constitutional coup, when he passed a constitutional declaration giving himself tremendous amounts of power, almost as much as Mubarak had, so that the Muslim Brotherhood could rush into effect a constitution that was incredibly flawed. Just as I said the military constitution a few months ago was flawed, the Morsi constitution, which, incidentally, left the military, which ended up overflowing Morsi, untouched. So I think you’re taking a very rosy view of Morsi.
TONY JONES: But, Mona, just to pick – and I’m sure our questioner might want to get back in on this – but the question he asked really, because it wasn’t…
MONA ELTAHAWY: Am I regretting?
TONY JONES: Yes, exactly, because it wasn’t…
MONA ELTAHAWY: Yeah, but I’m explaining that.
TONY JONES: …it wasn’t only the military who staged the uprising against the Morsi Government.
MONA ELTAHAWY: No, of course not.
TONY JONES: It was the same people who staged the original uprising against Mubarak, went back out on the streets to get rid of an elected government and now this is the consequence.
MONA ELTAHAWY: I am getting to that. Hundreds of thousands of people in Egypt went out against Mohamed Morsi for a reason and it wasn’t because el-Sisi told them to go out. It was because they understood that Mohamed Morsi did not deliver. We wanted a President to help us through this traditional stage. Mohamed Morsi proved himself not to be that man. I, personally, would not have wanted el-Sisi to be involved in any way whatsoever. There are some Egyptians who would have told you we don’t have anyone powerful enough to back the people up against Mohamed Morsi. Just as the military, when Mubarak asked them to go out on the street, after the 18 days – at the time, Egypt also needed the military’s protection, quote unquote. Even back then it was a very, very double edged sword because they were torturing people, arresting people and violating people’s human rights. This is the situation in Egypt. So I think you need to take a much more honest view of Mohamed Morsi. I want military rule in Egypt to end. I want a President in Egypt that follows the people’s demands for democracy and freedom of expression but I don’t want a President to be there to put the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood into office or the interests of the military regime and, unfortunately, that’s what we’re stuck with. But you hear, I hope, even though I am not a fan of the Muslim Brotherhood, that I absolutely denounced any violations against anyone in Egypt. Because if our revolution is to stand a chance, I must defend everybody’s rights. So you have to ask, at the end of the day, who is speaking out? And as Ken mentioned, it is not just the Muslim Brotherhood that fill el-Sisi’s jails. It’s people of all political backgrounds. And in Egypt, we need to stage – we need to reach a stage where we defend everybody’s rights but understand that democracy is more than a piece of paper in a box.
TONY JONES: Mona, we’ve got a questioner down the front who put up his hand. Go ahead.
HANY SORIAL: Yeah. My name is Hany Sorial. I’m Australian-Egyptian activist and I wonder how in the world that a President will prove himself in 12 months while all the power is not in his hands and they are fighting him from the day that he swear that he will be a President? How you expect that this guy will prove something when we have a background of 30 years just Mubarak? I will not talk about 60 years. No, 30 years of Mubarak. He cannot do miracles, this guy. We should…
TONY JONES: You are talking about – you’re talking about Morsi, right?
MONA ELTAHAWY: Mohamed Morsi.
HANY SORIAL: Morsi.
TONY JONES: Yeah, OK.
HANY SORIAL: Yeah. We should support him. We should stand with him.
MONA ELTAHAWY: OK.
TONY JONES: OK. Alright. We have got your point and, Mona, I’d like to hear briefly on you from this and then I want to hear from the rest of the panel.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Sure. It was an incredible – it was incredibly difficult, the job that Mohamed Morsi was given. But I have a question for you.
HANY SORIAL: Yes.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Why didn’t he side with us? Why did Mohamed Morsi side with the military? From the beginning of the revolution the Muslim Brotherhood positioned itself to side with the military and not with the people. If Mohammed Morsi had, when he was elected, said I am going to side with the revolution and side with the people who are trying to truly free Egypt, he would have stood a much better chance. But what Mohamed Morsi did was he continue to enshrine and leave untouched military powers in his Constitution. He took the wrong side. He should have sided with us.
TONY JONES: OK. Now, Mona…
HANY SORIAL: (Indistinct)
TONY JONES: Sorry.
HANY SORIAL: OK. Sorry. Alright.
TONY JONES: Sorry. I actually want to hear from the rest of the panel and I haven’t heard from you for a while, Lucy?
LUCY SIEGLE: No, you haven’t, have you? I just wanted to make – I hope it’s worth the wait. I just – I just wanted to make one point really. It was really something you said about pressure from the international community. I find it utterly bizarre that the only real sort of international pressure or intervention came from the IMF, who wanted to impose an – you know, an austerity program on Egypt. We just seems, you know, in the midst of chaos to come along with a sort of economic, bureaucratic program of austerity reform just seems really, really inappropriate but speaks volumes about the sort of pressure that we are happy to put on Egypt at the moment and the sort that we’re not.
TONY JONES: Ken, just to bring you back to the question, was it a mistake for those democracy activists to go back out on the street against an elected government. Because the consequences of doing that, allowing the military to run the game, have been horrific?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, I would separate those two thoughts. The activists had every right to go out and demonstrate, by all means. There shouldn’t have been a coup. You know, Morsi was very problematic. I mean I agree with Mona that, you know, his constitution basically enshrined military impunity, military autonomy. They had their own finances. Their own businesses. And he essentially tried to buy peace from the military at the expense of the long-term prospects for democracy in Egypt. He also, with 51% of the vote, ruled as if he had 100% of the vote by essentially ignoring women’s rights, ignoring minorities, taking steps to undermine free speech. That said, the military has come in and, on the basis of zero per cent of the vote, because they never had a vote, acts as if they have 100% of the vote and has been ruthless. I mean they make Morsi look like, you know, Thomas Jefferson compared to, you know, the way they have been ruling. You know, Morsi didn’t gun down a thousand people in the Square. You know, Morsi didn’t imprison, what is it, 16,000 people right now and counting. Morsi hasn’t overseen death sentences on the basis of, you know, a two-hour trial for 529. So, you know, there were problems with Morsi. My inclination would have been to put pressure on him, work with him, but recognise he is the elected president and try to push him in a democratic direction, not to put my faith in a military coup, which has been an utter disaster for Egypt.
TONY JONES: Ilwad, how does this look from the perspective of a Somalian, who has seen her own country descend into completely anarchy?
ILWAD ELMAN: Well, I think what’s happening right now it Egypt, it’s not a mistake. I think what Mona touched on is very important, that the revolution for them is not yet complete and if they’re not satisfied with how things are yet, they have to continue. Otherwise it is not to say that it was a waste but there has been so much progress that has been made and so much progress that has been made and to just stop at this point just because they have had a democratically-elected President, I mean, it’s not enough. The situation has changed. So in Somalia, where we have now too, for the first time in 22 years, is our Federal democratic government, which was put into place in 2012 and we also have a lot of international interventions that are happening with the Government and it is not yet one that is able to make the environment more progressive or safer for the civilians and it is in a position now where it is very much appeasing its international supporters, its donors. There’s a recognition that it’s happening now and not protecting its civilians. So I can see that civilians can’t just be happy. Even in Somalia, we are not content with the situation right now but we do have a Federal Government and we are trying to work with the Government to strengthen its institutions. It is not enough to just have a government now in place. You still have to work with it to make it a better government that can actually govern its community.
TONY JONES: OK. Let’s move on to a different question all together. This one is from Laura McManus.
AUSTRALIA HUMAN RIGHTS00:46:15
LAURA MCMANUS: Thanks, Tony. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Tony Abbott celebrated 100 days of stopping the boats. However, just a few weeks ago, the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights said that the recent violence on Manus Island underscored the need to review the resettlement arrangements with PNG and Nauru. In her speech, Dr Pillay mentioned Australia among other serious rights violations, as we’ve mentioned, in Sri Lanka, Syria and Ukraine. Tim Wilson, is it not of utmost concern and an embarrassment that Australia is now known worldwide as a human rights offender and that our government is normalising human rights violations?
TIM WILSON: It is absolutely important that we address this issue and, yes, there are many problems associated with Australia’s detention program, particularly with relation to having it offshore in comparison to having it onshore. But I have to say one of my particular issues, and this is what the Australian Human Rights Commissioner is looking precisely at, at the moment, is the issue around children in detention. And just before I started at the Commission, an inquiry was announced to look exactly at the sorts of issues that are facing children and making sure that they are able to go through standards of normal development, both in health and in terms of social interaction, and where that is being limited. And the Commission has been limited from going to Manus Island and Nauru but has managed to go to Christmas Island and also in Sydney and in only a couple of weeks’ time I am going off to the Darwin Detention Centre to investigate the issues around making sure that children are treated appropriately in detention. And I have to say that there are some things that have been brought to my attention since I have started in the commission that have made me very concerned with relation to kids in detention and this is a clear example of it, which is the children were asked to draw an image of how they felt at the moment and, yes, obviously it shows that they feel that they’re being caged up and whatnot. But the thing that actually strangely disturbs me more is that when kids are asked to write their name, they don’t write their name, they wrote their boat number. And this is the sort of standard in which – it is never acceptable to have kids in detention, because they need to be able to developmentally grow and kids need to be – make sure they are out there. And even, you know, at the end of an inquiry, John Howard let kids out of detention and I think that should be replicated.
TONY JONES: Are you – are you in the process of petitioning the Government to release all children from detention centres?
TIM WILSON: What the Commission is in the process of doing is holding an inquiry. That will obviously have a report at the end of it. But I don’t think there’d be any…
TONY JONES: You really need to – just given what you have seen there, do you need to wait for a report?
TIM WILSON: Well, my view is that it would be wonderful if the Government took children out of detention tomorrow.
TONY JONES: Yeah. And can I just ask you why stop at children?
TIM WILSON: So, well…
TONY JONES: Because, I mean, obviously children suffer terribly. They are very vulnerable but women suffer, men suffer, young and old men, what’s the difference?
TIM WILSON: Well, the decision to go and look at children in detention was because it was 10 years after the last inquiry but obviously there is a difference. Whatever people think about asylum seekers, whatever people think about the issue about how they should be processed, whether it should be onshore or if it should be offshore. Whether it should be mandatory detention, community detention, there is a big difference for kids and it’s not just because of the impact it has on them, though that is extremely important. It’s also extremely important in terms of the impact it has on our society in the long-term. Because if you have kids who are not able to develop properly, they don’t have access to education services and everything else if, in the future, they come into this country how can we reasonably expect them to be active citizens when they have been institutionalised. This isn’t sort of going off to boarding school institutionalised. I mean serious institutionalised.
TONY JONES: OK. We’ve got a different perspective. It’s from Andrew Wilson.
ANDREW WILSON: The death at Manus Island was a tragedy. People are obviously desperate when they have paid thousands of dollars to people smugglers and have no hope of coming here. Yet, why did the ABC show no similar outrage for the thousands of deaths caused by the dismantling of the Pacific Solution.
TONY JONES: I will go to Ken Roth on this and this is the justification for stopping the boats, that thousands of people died at sea. Before we do, I will just quickly take issue with your point there, because I reject the characterisation of the ABC’s role in this. In fact, some of the most graphic reporting on this was done by ABC reporters, including finding ships that nobody even knew had been lost at sea and finding the detail on those. So I just discount what you are saying.
ANDREW WILSON: Well, I take issue with that. You never once opposed the previous Government’s policy in my reading of the ABC.
TONY JONES: OK. Alright. Ken Roth?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, first, if I could, just let me address the 100 days without a boat because, you know, the question really is how did that happen. You know, if I said we’re going to execute everybody who shows up in a boat, the boats would stop. Is that a fair way to do it? No. You know, you’ve got to do it in a way that respects human rights and sending people off to Manus Island or Nauru, given the conditions there, is not a way that respects human rights. Now, in terms of the…
TONY JONES: It’s not a – to be fair, that’s a pretty extreme analogy.
KENNETH ROTH: No, I’m not saying they’re the same.
TONY JONES: People who are being sent back are not being threatened at gunpoint. I mean, they are being put on lifeboats and…
KENNETH ROTH: Well, we don’t know. The ones who are being sent back, I mean, you’ve got to understand these are people who are, you know, Tamils fleeing Afghanistan. These are Hazara fleeing Afghanistan. These are people who are facing life-threatening situations at home. So turning them around and just pushing them back is effectively sending them back to their executioner. Sometimes. Not always. But there is a real risk. The fact that they pay a smuggler to get them here is a sign of their desperation. You know, it is not a sign of their wealth. It is a sign that they’ve got to get out of there. So, you know, let’s be real about what’s going on here. No, in terms of the humanitarian costs of the boat, I agree we should stop people from risking their lives. The answer to that is to set up centres, you know, whether it’s in Malaysia or Indonesia or Pakistan or wherever. Places where, in much more significant numbers than is possible now, people can apply for asylum and then they wouldn’t have to risk the boat journey. You know, the only reason they are risking their lives is because there is no alternative. The countries around here don’t recognise refugee rights. None of them have ratified the Refugee Convention. That’s why they come to Australia. This is the first place in the region that does recognise those rights in principle but is not respecting them now.
TIM WILSON: Part of the challenge…
ANDREW WILSON: So what would our intake have to be, do you think, to stop people from fleeing from Afghanistan and the Hazara and so forth?
KENNETH ROTH: Look, I mean…
ANDREW WILSON: At what point do you believe, because you have said we set up the centres and if I thought that that worked, I would be in favour of it. But there will always be some who won’t make the quota. So do you think that they will then not take their lives in their hands and their children’s lives in their hands to get a better life?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, at this point…
ANDREW WILSON: What sort of people do you think they are?
KENNETH ROTH: Let me answer. Yeah, at this point Australia is nowhere near bearing its burden. The latest number was, you know – the latest number was 20,000 asylum seekers who arrived by boat, I think it was in 2013. That, if my calculations are correct, is roughly 1/10th of 1% of Australia’s population. I mean that’s a rounding error in a census. Let’s compare that with Lebanon. Lebanon, a population of 5 million, has taken in 1 million Syrian refugees with one-seventh the GDP per capita of Australia. I mean Australia is pretending as if, you know, the sky is falling because 20,000 people arrive by boat. You know, let’s look what a real disaster is looking like and Australia is nowhere near bearing the burden of…
ANDREW WILSON: Yeah, look, if you feel like that, why don’t you just put all of your money into the UN refugee program?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, I very much support the UN refugee program. You know the others…
ANDREW WILSON: Yeah, but all your money.
KENNETH ROTH: The issue is not – you know if the question is right now is Australia a wealthy country doing its share by having taken in 20,000 asylum seekers? No, it is nowhere close.
FOLLOW UP – PACIFIC SOLUTION00:52:30
ANDREW WILSON: Look, we can take a lot – immigration has been great for the country and we can take a lot more immigrants but you can’t take people to put them onto the dole. So we can’t run the same sort of welfare programs we have today to have the same immigration program.
KENNETH ROTH: Well, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. So what is the assumption here: that because somebody seeks asylum they go on the dole?
ANDREW WILSON: No. But…
KENNETH ROTH: I mean, please. Just to put this in perspective…
ANDREW WILSON: OK.
KENNETH ROTH: My father was an asylum seeker.
ANDREW WILSON: Yeah. Yeah.
KENNETH ROTH: OK. He fled Nazi Germany. He went to New York.
ANDREW WILSON: Sure.
KENNETH ROTH: Do you think he was ever, for one minute of his life, on the dole? And I think that is the norm for asylum seekers.
ANDREW WILSON: And can I tell you, mate – can I tell you that there are some great people in Western Sydney, refugees from African countries, et cetera, who I don’t believe get anywhere near the amount of social services that they deserve and that the money we spend on social workers today we will save on prison wardens tomorrow. And to think that you can gloss over the problems and not look after the people when you have got them here, I think is – is – the way you characterised that I thought was ridiculous.
TONY JONES: OK. Let’s go to some other panellists. Tim Wilson, you were trying to get in. I think you were at least going to make an attempt to defend the Government’s position.
TIM WILSON: Well, that’s representing my view. What my view was is that there is no easy solutions to this problem and this is part of the challenge and I take the gentleman’s point. I take Ken’s point. The challenge we have as a country is that we have a certain number of people we have allocated. We may very well be able to increase it but still there is the issue of the quota and part of the challenge we have with people in detention is that while we are processing those people, we are also turning a blind eye to refugee camps. Because I actually agree. I mean and this comes to the heart of the problem for many people. There are people who are legitimately in refugee camps in places like Lebanon. It is entirely legitimate they seek asylum because of the horrible circumstances that surround them because of a consequences of Syria, et cetera. And it’s that tension between legitimately coming here through that process and seeking to come here via boat and trying to escape horrific conditions as well and we can’t just look at one as the mere solution rather than looking at the broader context.
TONY JONES: Alright. Our original questioner wanted to get back in. I’ll just go back to her and, Ilwad, listening to this, what are your thoughts?
ILWAD ELMAN: I think Australia is taking a lot of very horrific positions and putting itself in very difficult situations. They’re cuddling up with Sri Lanka, cutting off the boats and celebrating they haven’t had – they have had 100 days of no boats coming in, talking about how Australians should be bigots. I mean, this whole environment, we – some of the topics that we discussed here today it’s just showing a whole new Australia that I never really thought about before and people are going to be shocked by this new position and this movement. It seems that it’s a very exclusive environment and that it’s not taking on its weight and many people look to Australia as a very privileged, developed nation, that can carry more weight and it’s – it’s a very…
LUCY SIEGLE: I agree. It’s sounding pretty toxic.
ILWAD ELMAN: Yeah.
TONY JONES: Let’s just hear from our questioner – original questioner.
FOLLOW UP – AUSTRALIAN HUMAN RIGHTS00:56:50
LAURA McMANUS: Thanks, Tony. Tim, in your response you mentioned that the Australian Human Rights Commission does not have access to Manus or Nauru. Do you think that point is of concern and what is the Commission doing to kind of rectify that situation?
TIM WILSON: Well, we can’t do anything to rectify it. It is up to the Government. But both the current Government and the previous Government denied the Australian Human Rights Commission access to detention centre. And my view of this is quite clear, which is if these detention centres are set up for Australia for processing, we are paying for them, we have at least an ethical and moral responsibility for some of the things that go on in there. We should have the capacity, as should the media, to reasonable access. That doesn’t mean unfettered access but we should certainly be able to look in and see what’s happening, to make sure that it’s meeting what we accept as a country.
TONY JONES: OK. Lucy, you said you thought it was sounding like the atmosphere was toxic. What do you mean by that?
LUCY SIEGLE: Just, as Ilwad said, some of the positions that the Australian Government is taking on behalf of the nation, they sound toxic to outsiders. But I just wanted to talk about this challenge, as we might call it, it that it’s going to get worse. If you saw the intergovernmental panel on climate change issuing today the 300 scientists who have come to the consensus on what’s happening with climate change, it is not good news. And one of the things that it will mean is that more and more people will have to migrate. So we are looking at increasingly large numbers of people who need somewhere else to be, need somewhere else to live for environmental reasons and that’s something that we need to – we need to not be in this state, because we need to be planning for the future, when it gets worse.
TONY JONES: And I’ll give the final word to Mona.
MONA ELTAHAWY: I think sometimes it helps in these discussions to get really down to the bare bones and just say it as it is and that is people are scared of brown and black people coming into your country. And that’s essentially what it is. And once you take it down to the bare bones, when you talk about things like the dole and they’re coming to take our jobs, they’re coming to take our money and all these incredibly, as you said, Lucy, toxic ideas that people have, it is, at the end of the day, about racism. It’s about people who don’t look like us. But in a country like this, you have to ask who is us and who made us us and what did you do to the people who were there before us became us and are you OK with them?
TONY JONES: Thank you. I’m sorry that’s all we – people have their hands up. I’m sorry, that’s all we have time for. We really are – I think we’re probably just about out of time. Please thank our panel: Mona Eltahawy, Tim Wilson, Ilwad Elman, Lucy Siegle and Ken Roth. Alright. Next Monday – next Monday Q&A is live from China. On the eve of visits by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Andrew Robb, Q&A will bring together a panel of Chinese and Australian intellectuals, commentators and business leaders to discuss our most important relationship. In a special collaboration with Australia Network and the Shanghai Media Group, Q&A will be taking questions from Chinese and Australian citizens in Shanghai. And if you’re quick enough, we will also include video and web questions from viewers here in Australia. So go to our website to find out more about that. Until next week’s Q&A live from Shanghai, goodnight.