Friday, September 21, 2007

Day 70: Melbourne

The final paddle and the final day of EXCISED. We got in the water at the Maribyrnong River, not far from the Lonely Planet building. Lonely Planet, after all, is an important sponsor of this project! We paddled down the river, passed where the Maribyrnong and the Yarra meet and then out into the bay. En route, we were questioned by a security guard who wanted to know who we were and why we were there. We are a little tired of this. It is fair enough that security folks wanted to know what were up to at Kirribilli. But not when we are paddling kayaks down the river. The security guy said that his need to question us was merely a reflection of the times. But we were hardly being discrete or secretive. It left me wondering how much more hassle you would get if you were of ‘middle eastern appearance’. As we are of ‘middle Australian’ appearance, it did not take much to get back on the water.

We arrived at the Brigidine Sisters in Albert Park where we had hoped to have been met by some local media. In the end, it was a quiet re-entry back to Melbourne. The trip is over.

Thanks everyone for following our journey and for taking the time to learn something about Australia’s policy and practice of excision. The journey has been fun and profound and frustrating and exhilarating. We hope that we have been able to communicate some of this. We now begin work on the documentary film!!! We hope that this will be completed by December, although it will depend on a few things, not least some funding to polish the sound and picture quality.

Stay tuned for when and where you will be able to see the film…..

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day 69: Gundagai - Euroa

Picture this: another crusty night in a public park. It’s raining. It’s cold. (We’re no longer in the tropics!). The trailer looks a lot worse than first expected. We got back to the trailer and jacked it up. Once off the ground the wheel literally fell off. It just toppled over. And in that sense we were so lucky and relieved. Another kilometre or two and we would have watched our wheel whiz past us, sparks shooting out from beneath the trailer, which then would flip, leaving the kayaks just a smudge of coloured plastic on the Hume Highway. So discovering our dilemma in town was fortunate, you might say. But still, we couldn’t believe it…., 2 days from the end of our journey and here we are….still dealing with our bloody trailer!!!

We spent about 5hrs mucking around getting the bearings fixed. We’ve gone over our budget so we have decided (or really have been limited) to a DIY job….well its not quick but it’s a good way to learn! Eventually back on the road and we made it to the Murray River for a dinner stop. In fact, this particularly pleasant dining spot is the place that I spent my first night on my paddle down the river. A nice bit of symmetry!

We’ve driven on and stopped somewhere outside of Euroa for a kip.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Day 68: Kiama – Canberra – Gundagai

The purpose for our stop in Kiama (as well as checking out some lovely NSW coast) was to do some filming in the surf. After waking up in what we thought was a quiet public park, we rose from the tent to find 6 or 7 people/groups all walking their dogs…it was not long after 6:00am! We headed for the surf and upon entering the water the swell seemed to pick up a couple more feet…this was reinforced by all the gun surfers swarming to the beach to be part of the action. Fortunately there were no kayaks seriously dumped and only the 1 capsize I think Dave?

We’ve left the coast – headed inland to Canberra, to do some filming with ‘Big John’ at Parliament House …All innocent – some would say, juvenile – fun. But not for the police at Parliament house. They were fully on our case. What were we doing? Why? And why did I keep smiling at him? This boring tiring pestering was enough to make us want to scream. We had a quick paddle ‘next’ to Lake Burley Griffin… and split.

We drove on to gain some km’s and made it to Gundagai where a truckie in the street whistled out and point to our trailer. We got out. He suggested we better check our wheel bearing. Hmmm, not good. Pretty content with the progress we’d made (we only had 600 odd km’s to go, and a couple days up our sleave)…we decided to leave the trailer in the street and head to the pub for feed. We can deal with it in the morning.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Days 65-68: Sydney

This morning, before we drove to Sydney, we had a brief breakfast-time gathering with some of the West Haven locals interested in asylum seeker issues. As always, it is encouraging to meet people who take the time to think and act for more humane responses to asylum seekers.

We then took off for Sydney. We finally got rid of Maree. She was initially going to leave us in Brisbane, but we are clearly too much fun to be around, so we couldn’t shake her.

Time also for BIG JOHN to go home. He has been with us since Christmas Island and has learnt a whole lot about the human implications of Australia’s response to asylum seekers. It has been a very moving experience for him and for us watching as he has approached this issue with an open heart and an open mind. We paddled out under the Harbour Bridge and passed the Opera House. This is truly a magnificent city. We have been in some beautiful places on this tour and the Sydney Harbour, in its own way, is on a par with those places of incredible natural beauty. We did a short live interview with Virginia Trioli (ABC Sydney morning program) on the water and a JJJ journalist joined us (with the help of John Highfield who met us in his tinny) for the trip. We paddled Big John to Kirribilli where Simon took him to a rock shelf at the base of the Prime Minister’s residence. Unfortunately, Big John got a similar response to being ‘home’ as asylum seekers get when they land in Australia: the powers that be were not so keen to see him! The security guards told us to move away and called the water police. Just as Simon was suggesting that it would be funny if the ‘water rats’ paid us a visit, a huge police boat rounded the point to check us out. They were friendly enough, asking us what we were doing and were interested in the business of excision. To view the report & pictures of this momentous occasion see: Our attempt to paddle Big John Home was reported on JJJ’s Hack program later in the afternoon. You will be able to hear the audio on the website soon.



Early Days

A word from Kerry Nettle

Friday, September 14, 2007

Day 64: West Haven

After a fantastic evening with my friend Judy, and her friends John and Mick, we finally got on the road for West Haven. Again, it felt difficult to get going after hanging out with such great people. A flat battery in the car seemed to indicate that we should stay put. But that excuse was easily overcome. It wasn’t long before we hit a traffic jam – a truck had overturned on the highway. We were stuck for an hour and a half. The day seemed like it was against us. But we had to push on. We were due to meet Elaine and Geoff – and we had to get to Sydney by Saturday.


We finally made it to Elaine and Geoff’s place. As usual, it was an absolute pleasure to see them and to spend some – albeit too little – time.

I first met Elaine and Geoff when I travelled to their house in early 2003 to do some research for the Quarterly Essay that Robert Manne and I wrote. It was during this time that a number of the men on Nauru were on a hunger strike and some had sewn their lips together in a dramatic show of how they felt completely silenced in the system that the Australian government had set up. During this time, Elaine was the conduit between the people on Nauru and Australians. I felt that I was working hard during my time with Elaine and Geoff – I would wake early, work all day, and sleep late. But Elaine was up earlier and asleep later than me. In the middle of this, she would go to work. One of the things that I remember of this time, and I know that it hasn’t always been the way, was the ease with which Elaine and Geoff would laugh. And during the single night that Simon, Maree and I were with Elaine and Geoff there was again plenty of laughter.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Day 63: Byron Bay

From Brisbane to Byron Bay. We had intended to take some surf shots in Byron – the further south we get, the colder the weather is and so we want to get some good images before the ice-bergs start appearing. Alas, there was no surf. So we hung around Byron for a few hours. Not such a bad outcome.

Also heard that 72 of the Sri Lankans who are on Nauru having been intercepted off Christmas Island have been found to be refugees. That is, they have been found to have a well-founded fear of persecution in Sri Lanka. This is a good outcome for those people. But a significant problem remains: Because they have been processed in the offshore system – i.e. the system set up by excision, the Sri Lankans have no automatic right of resettlement in Australia or any other country. The Australian government has said that it will not allow the group to be resettled in Australia. So the 72 must wait while Australia negotiates with other countries to accept them. There is no time limit for these negotiations. So these people, people whose lives have been disrupted and dislocated due to their being the targets of human rights violations, must live in limbo for the foreseeable future, unable to rebuild their lives that have been shattered by the refugee experience.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day 62: Brisbane

Today we paddled along the Brisbane River from Jason and Manon’s place into the city. Jason and a friend of Simon’s, Ali, joined us. We were met at the city end by a Courier Mail photographer. He took some shots and then went on his way. As an indication of how seriously the Courier Mail has taken the issue of excision, it did not send a journalist to meet us and didn’t ask us any questions beyond our press release. It’s difficult not be a little cynical!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Days 59-61: Mackay - Brisbane

Having barely known each other before we embarked on this project, Simon and I have spent the last two months together – day and night, with barely a break. It has, in general (S comments: what do yer mean ‘in general’?????), been easy and fun and interesting. This morning, after spending a night in the car park of a football ground, Big Simon packed his bags and left for Melbourne on a jet plane, don’t know when he’ll be back again….actually, we do know….he’s going to Melbourne to deliver a speech to the students at his old school.

Our last night together before he left was a deeply moving one: we camped in the car park of a football field near the Mackay airport. As we got ready for bed, Simon realised that his phone might not be charged enough for the alarm to go off to wake him for his 6.30 morning flight. He has a ‘travel’ alarm clock, but that is also a little on the unreliable side: it lets off a single, quiet ‘beep’ and that is supposed to wake you up…..

In the end, it did. Simon made it to his flight and our latest EXCISED ring-in, Maree, joined me for a slow, two-day trip to Brisbane where we hitched up with Simon again.


It is feeling increasingly hard to get cracking on the EXCISED project. We have been on the road and water for two months. It has been a cracking pace. If we were merely travelling we would have been moving quickly. But we have also been trying to organise and implement a public awareness campaign. The time in the Whitsundays – where our phones were down and we were unable to contact any media – and then a couple of days without Simon in which we leisurely headed south has seemed like a respite from the manic trip that we have undertaken. It has felt great. But it has also left me feeling like I am needing to find some extra energy to get back into the project. Heading into Brisbane and on to a public function feels like walking up a steep hill after a pleasant stroll in the woods!


Well Simon was there at the airport as arranged. Picked him up and headed for Jason and Manon’s place. They live near the Brisbane river, not far from the city. They are involved heavily in West Papuan issues. In fact, Jason, through his involvement with the Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights, and the Refugee Action Collective organised a small public gathering where Simon and I and one of the 43 West Papuans who made it to Cape York earlier last year spoke.

In January 2006, a small boat with 43 West Papuans on board arrived at Weipa in Cape York. The group had built their traditional canoe from a single tree and had made the journey from the north of West Papua to the south and then across the Torres Straits. One man described how their engines had failed and how they were lost at sea for five days.

They had made it beyond the excised zone. Indonesia put extraordinary pressure on Australia to reject their asylum claims and to have access to the asylum seekers. In March the Indonesian government was outraged when, in a strong indication that Australia’s refugee determination system had been able to assert its independence in the face of powerful other interests, forty-two of the group were granted protection. Indonesia withdrew its ambassador to Australia and suggested that Australia’s actions would encourage more West Papuans to come here. Indonesia was concerned that Australia – or some within this country – were promoting the West Papuan independence movement, a suspicion that was reinforced by Australia’s role in the enabling of East Timorese independence. The Howard government responded to Indonesian displeasure by announcing a review of the way in which it conducted asylum seeker procedures, with the Prime Minister suggesting a radical measure whereby consideration of the national interest might become part of the protection determination process. In mid-April, the government announced that any future unauthorised boat arrivals, including West Papuans, who made it to the Australian mainland would be processed under the Pacific Solution arrangements (i.e. extraterritorially and outside Australian domestic law). It also announced co-ordinated surveillance activities with Indonesia around the Torres Straits.

In order to make its intentions law, the government introduced the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006 into parliament. The bill would have extended the excised zone to the whole of the Australian coastline – mainland and islands included. It would have meant that any non-citizen to arrive anywhere in Australia by boat (including those airlifted to the mainland after being picked up at sea) would have been ineligible to apply for protection in Australia. Instead, they would have been transferred to an offshore processing centre where they would have been channelled into a protection determination system that is substandard.

In the end, the government withdrew the Designated Unauthorised Arrivals Bill. It had become clear that, despite controlling the Senate, the government would not have the numbers to pass the Bill.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Days 54-58: Whitsundays

Its hard to believe the sacrifices that the EXCISED team has had to make on this journey. Paddling in the Whitsundays might sound to the unaware as an undisguised jaunt. Actually, it was all hard work….or nearly all…..or some….or maybe a little bit.

The Whitsundays are, of course, holiday and cultural icons for Australians needing a break from hectic lives and the cold winters of the south. The pure white beach at Whitehaven which seems to stretch on and on has an international reputation as a tropical paradise. The irony for us is that the Whitsundays are excised from Australia’s migration zone. Although no asylum seeker has landed in this area, the excision zone continues to just south of this island group. Pity all those yacheties, those hip young things on boisterous party cruises, those grey nomads who have stepped away, briefly, from their ‘vans….pity them all if they need to apply for protection from within the Whitsundays.


We have just returned from our brief trip to the Whitsundays. Our time here was great. Lots of fun and lots of beauty. We paddled around Whitehaven and South and North Molle. We then paddled from North Molle back to the mainland. We have exited the excised zone for the last time. The conclusion of this part of the journey reinforces that we are on the final leg of our trip. There is a heaviness to this realisation because the trip has been such a fantastic experience. I don’t want it to end, but it feels like the end is drawing nearer.

From here we travel to Mackay where Simon must leave the project briefly – he has a talk to do in Melbourne so he will fly there and back for a couple of days.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Days 52 & 53: Magnetic Island

The Magnetic Times anticipated our visit with an article that began by telling the story of seaman James Morrill. In 1846 he was shipwrecked at Cape Cleveland just opposite Magnetic Island. The local Aboriginal people welcomed James (“Jemmy”) into their lives and he lived with them for the next 17 years. The article continued: “if "foreign" survivors were to be washed ashore today on Magnetic Island they may well be welcomed by the locals but government policy, which has excised Magnetic Island (along with almost 5000 other Australia islands) from the Australian migration zone, could still see them forcibly transferred to Nauru.”

We were met by a small number of Townsvillans (?!?) who escorted us to Magnetic. It was great to have some local company on the paddle. Thanks in particular to Peter Handly of Amesty International (AI) who organised for our sea kayaking companions to join us. We parted company at Pinic Bay and made the final part of our paddle on our own. The seas had picked up and as we past the point, it became just a little challenging. We were told later that our greeting party was about to send out for us at our earlier stop, assuming that we would not be able to make it round the point. As it turned out, we did. And a party it was that greeted us. We were met by a vanguard in a little tiny. There was some threat that the children in the boat could have been thrown overboard. Thankfully, they were in good hands and the threat was averted. The party on land was about 30 adults and an array of kids. They presented us with two visas: Firstly, the ‘John Rudd, Kevin Howard Piss Off Visa’ (to symbolise the response to asylum seekers by the government if they were to land on Magnetic), and then the ‘People of Australia Welcome Visa’ (the visa that our welcoming party would like to extend to such people in need of protection). It was such a warm, generous welcome – the support & exceptional company has charged the batteries for our last long leg…down the east coast. Thanks to everyone for meeting us, and in particular to Mike and Kerry O’Grady for organising and putting us up.

(ps. You’ll have to watch the Visa(s) presentation…it’s a classic!)

We paddled back to Townsville the following afternoon where we were met local newspaper, radio and television journalists. The great work of Jen from AI generated a heap of media interest. From Townsville we took off with the latest member of the EXCISED team, Maree, heading for the Whitsundays.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Days 49 – 51: Darwin – Townsville

We travelled day and night to get to Townsville to Darwin. If we haven’t said it before, this is a bit country! And it is truly beautiful.

Before we left Darwin, Oxfam and A Just Australia released a report that they had written on Australia’s offshore processing system. I wrote a piece that was published in the Age Online about the report:

At what cost protection?

The waters off Christmas Island are remarkable. Beneath the surface, they are alive with tropical fish and coral. From above, the sea is a blue that is at the same time translucent and deep. It was in these waters, six years ago almost to the day, that the Tampa sailed and sat, waiting to offload its human cargo. It is here that children were not, in fact, thrown overboard. These are waters in which people seeking Australia’s protection have sailed and swum, and in some instances, died. It is not far from here that the SIEV X sunk, with the loss of 353 lives.

These are waters that have been central to Australia’s response to asylum seekers over the past decade or so. They are Australian waters. But this is also part of the ‘excised zone’. Christmas Island was one of the first Australian territories to be removed from the migration zone in order to prevent asylum seekers landing there from being able to make a valid visa application.

Instead, such people can be removed forcibly to places like Nauru and Manus Island – or kept in detention on Christmas Island – where they are processed in a protection determination system that is demonstrably inadequate.

A report released this week by A Just Australia and Oxfam Australia called A Price Too High: The Cost of Australia’s Approach to Asylum Seekers documents in painful detail the cost of Australia’s offshore processing system.

The most devastating costs are, of course, human. According to the report, ‘A central concern with the offshore detention of asylum seekers is the destructive mental and physical effects for people detained over an indefinite period. Many asylum seekers have already been through traumatic experiences, facing human rights violations and, in extreme cases, torture or the death of family members, in their home country or while escaping overseas. Their psychological ill-health can be exacerbated by their placement under mandatory and indefinite detention, according to medical studies.’

There is also considerable evidence that asylum seekers have been returned to persecution and other serious human rights violations. My own research with returned asylum seekers in Afghanistan and Pakistan illustrates this. More recent research conducted by the Edmund Rice Centre found that as many as eight Afghans who had been returned by Australia from Nauru may have been killed. According to the Edmund Rice Centre, three children of an Afghan man denied protection in the Pacific Solution were also killed.

This is hardly surprising. The offshore processing system is designed deliberately to exclude the checks and balances that are built into to the onshore system.

For example, in the onshore system asylum seekers whose cases are rejected by immigration department officials can appeal to the independent Refugee Review Tribunal. Between 2003 and 2006, the RRT overturned 92 per cent of immigration department rejections in cases concerning Iraqis and Afghans – the most prominent nationalities of asylum seekers in the Pacific Solution. 3200 people who might otherwise have been returned to situations of persecution were instead offered protection because of the RRT safety net.

There is no such independent appeals mechanism in the offshore process.

The financial cost of offshore processing is also alarming. A Price Too High shows that at least $1 billion has been spent on offshore processing since 2001. This amounts to half a million dollars to process each of the almost 1700 asylum seekers who have been caught in the system since its inception.

It is not merely the bottom line that is concerning. It is also the allocation of funds. Rather than being focused on the future development of countries like Nauru, aid has been directed towards Australia’s immigration outcomes. Increases in Australia’s Overseas Development Assistance have been ‘directly tied to the Pacific Solution on Nauru,’ the A Just Australia/Oxfam report says. According to a former staff member of the official Australian aid agency, aid payments to Nauru are “an unmitigated bribe” to ensure the continuation of the Pacific Solution.

Offshore processing was a radical development in Australia’s response to asylum seekers. It is also the bastard child of a set of policy assumptions that had been developing since the before the Howard government assumed power. It was Labor that established a system whereby asylum seekers who arrived in the country without prior official authorisation were detained – arbitrarily – well away from the major population centres of Australia. The Howard Government’s offshore processing system has reinforced emphatically this sense of asylum seekers being ‘out of sight and out of mind’. It has also ensured that the government’s actions, to the greatest extent possible, are beyond the scrutiny that is fundamental to accountable government. The failures of the offshore system, according to the authors of A Price to High, ‘ultimately undermine Australians’ ability to be confident that a fair and equitable application of the law will occur in their country; they undermine their ability to be confident that governments can be held accountable for their decisions and they potentially damage social harmony and cohesion.’

Taken together, the costs of offshore processing – particularly for those people caught within it – are far too great. It is time to excise the excision laws and to abandon Australia’s offshore processing system.