School detention in my neck of the woods is now called "after school reflection”. At break time, it’s “in school reflection”. My son tells me it’s not politically correct to call it detention anymore. I ask him why and his reply: “Those people just sit there coming up with ideas to piss people off.” Quite right too.
There are no such qualms in the May statistics on “Time in Immigration Detention Facilities” from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. [Which might just explain Australian touchiness about use of the word. – Ed.] The numbers show 1,400 immigrants in detention in May (including 343 visa over-stayers), with the average time in detention being 443 days, and 319 people in custody for more than two years. In 2013 when this figure peaked at 13,000, about 2,000 children were in detention “due to an increase in irregular maritime arrivals.
Clearly the federal government’s punitive policies have been effective deterrents. That, coupled with an agreement this month to compensate 1,900 asylum-seekers formerly held at the Manus Island Detention Centre. In terms of the conditional court settlement, the government is to pay the asylum-seekers a settlement of $70 million plus costs, to be distributed according to their length of detention and severity of their alleged injuries.
For now, the issue appears to have fallen off the public radar. It has more recently been overtaken by the situation vis-à-vis the Catholic church, which grows ever-more scandalous, with the latest furore being the charging of Australia’s most famous Roman Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, not only for covering up others’ abuses, but with his own alleged multiple, historical child sex offences.
The story of Pell, the third-highest ranking official in the Vatican and currently the Vatican treasurer, who until lately has claimed he was too ill to travel to Australia, is the subject of a song that has gone viral on YouTube, Come Home (Cardinal Pell), by satirist musician Tim Minchin. He has since returned – on leave of absence from the Vatican – to face trial on July 26.
Another shocker of a story has been that of the Tax Office’s deputy commissioner Michael Cranston, who leads tax-evasion investigations. He has been charged with accessing information in relation to a AU$165-million tax-fraud syndicate allegedly masterminded by his 30-year-old son Adam and 24-year-old daughter Lauren. Phone taps recorded a conversation where Cranston warns his son. In part, it goes: “I’ve got no unexplained wealth, mate,” says Adam.
|Australia's most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal George pell, denies multiple counts of sexual abuse|
“You’ve got a lot of fucking cars, mate,” replies the father.
See what I mean about the ominous use of the word mate?
Moving right along, in a week in which Sydney’s temperature plummeted to two degrees, your columnist has headed off to blissful Bali, as is the wont of Australians in search of the sun, cheap and delicious exotic food and accommodation, service with a smile and thumping music from the cafés lining the beachfront. Your grumpy correspondent is at an age where she finds disturbing also the sun-dried botoxed blondes swanning around with their big beer-belly men, the hub town of Kuta like a badly wired theme park (all those exposed wires, eek), the bumper-to-bumper traffic and the marauding shoppers buying buddhas, Ganeshes, and carved wooden penises in every shape and size, from key ring to monumental. Standard tourist fare.
What throws up more complex feelings are the servants in her host’s gorgeous house. Decades in Australia, where the fortnightly cleaner makes a decent hourly rate, have made me uncomfortable around domestic workers, although I know full well they need the jobs. Here they are, early in the morning, whisk, whisk, whisking away the fragrant fallen frangipani blossoms with a small broom, waking me when I want to sleep in.
Supervising the staff seems like a headache for my hostess friend, who walks around this morning with two in train, micro-managing preparations for the Airbnb guests due to arrive soon. Komang, who drives her about sometimes, did not turn up to take us on a promised outing and did not apologise. He won’t, and it’s all about saving face, says my quietly furious host, cast in the role of madam exploiter feeling exploited.
Tourism is the biggest industry, expats everywhere, retirees who want the tropical heat all year round. It’s lush, exotic and lazy. Then, like a body blow, the story of Suna Venter and her Broken Heart Syndrome and her love of justice and her country, broke into my morning – the price, oh the price, the choices made.
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