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Monis and our duty of care

By Bruce Haigh - posted Friday, 19 December 2014


The taking of hostages by a deranged cleric of Iranian descent in the centre of Sydney on 15 December, resulting in the death of two, was an horrific event by any yardstick. I extend the utmost sympathy to the victims, their family and friends.

Millions of Australians and people overseas have been affected and many of those in the Sydney CBD will be traumatised. Over the next days and weeks different interpretations, including spin will be put on what has occurred. A metaphor that has already been used and one that will no doubt gain wider acceptance is the loss of Australian innocence.

No doubt a first time terror attack in central Sydney will change perceptions, but Martin Bryant and the Port Arthur massacre of 28 April, 1996, and the Bali Bombing of 12 October,2002, might share in that loss of innocence.

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The perpetrator of this cruel and bloody act of terror, Man Haron Monis, a refugee, also died within the Lindt Cafe. He had form. He was on bail for his alleged involvement in the murder of his wife, sexual assault charges and had come to notice for writing abusive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

His former lawyer, Manny Conditsis described him as 'damaged goods'. It was a phrase that jumped out at me. I have had a lot to do with refugees over the years and if there is one thing that marks them as being different to others in the community it is that to a greater or lesser degree they suffer from post traumatic stress (PTS).

There was a time, about twenty five years ago, that upon application for refugees status, asylum seekers were urged to undertake stress counselling. That ceased with the large scale detention of asylum seekers by the Howard government, a measure which increased the trauma of people already suffering PTS. The result is that there are now many Australians with a refugee background who live with untreated PTS and by so doing pass the condition onto their children, which is also the case for many Australian veterans.

This neglect represents a significant failure in the duty of care on the part of Australian authorities. It represents a failure of compassion, lost productivity and potential skills.

Man Haron Monis was a person known to police and presumably intelligence authorities. He had multiple contacts with the police, prison authorities and perhaps intelligence services. Apparently his mental state was of no concern to them, yet it should have been, particularly in light of the things he was 'preaching'.

If Man Haron Monis was 'damaged goods', what was he doing stalking the streets of Sydney? How did a 'damaged' person manage to obtain a fire arm under the nose of ASIO, the AFP and State Police?

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The Immigration Minister, Morrison, is detaining, at his pleasure, more than 50 Tamils already found to be refugees. Their continued detention is at the request of the Sri Lankan government and is indefinite; imagine what that is doing to their mental health.

A young man, Abdul Numan Haider, was shot dead by police outside the Endevour Hills police station in Victoria on 24 September this year after he stabbed two officers. Haider and his family came to Australia ten years ago from Afghanistan. At no point in discussion with respect to his violent response to police questioning was his apparent descent into mental instability discussed or considered. I know of other cases of young people in the Afghan refugee community who suffer depression. There are no safety nets in place for members of refugee communities.

Matters will get worse with the re-introduction of Temporary Protection Visas, widely condemned as injurious to mental health for the fact that they leave the refugee status of recipients in limbo.

Whether or not the poor souls being detained by Morrison in prison camp or concentration camp conditions on Manus and Nauru ever come to Australia, the fact is that whatever PTS they suffered as a result of the persecution that led them to flee their homes will have been increased in multiples as a result of the cruel and mindless policy of deterrence and the sub standard 'care' they receive in camps which by any standard should be condemned and demolished.

Cruelty and oppression radicalises people, ask the Palestinians or just look at blacks in South Africa under Apartheid. One day the inmates detained at Morrisons pleasure will walk free, can he assure us that as a result of the damage being done to them none will be radicalised to the point that Australian lives at home and overseas will be in danger?

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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