This first seminar in the Conversations on Resistance series was Australia’s asylum seeker regime: Diminishing pathways for resistance.
Australia’s offshore detention policies for asylum seekers have recently been the subject of renewed international criticism. There are currently some 1500 asylum seekers, many of them refugees, living in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island in deplorable conditions where they have been held for three years. In this panel session, traumatologist and whistleblower Paul Stevenson, the Guardian’s immigration correspondent Ben Doherty, and RegNet Visitor and University of Queensland Fellow, Dr Cynthia Banham examine the theme of resistance to the Australian government’s asylum seeker regime.
The Australian government, particularly since 2015, has taken a number of steps specifically designed to close down traditional paths of resistance, including introducing laws making it a criminal offence for people who have worked in the detention centres to speak out about conditions inside the camps.
The panel also examines the implications of the government’s measures to prevent information circulating about the detention centres for society’s ability to have discussions and disagreements around contentious policy areas, and discussed some of these alternative regulatory ways that have emerged of resisting Australia’s asylum seeker policies that have not required transgressions of any laws.
About the Speakers
Ben Doherty is a foreign correspondent, photographer, and video journalist, currently working as immigration correspondent for The Guardian, based in the Sydney newsroom. He was formerly Southeast Asia Correspondent for The Guardian, and South Asia Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald. He has reported from more than 20 countries across Asia, the Pacific and Africa. He has twice been awarded a Walkley Award, most recently in 2013 for an investigation into Bangladeshi sweatshop labour conditions. He was 2008 Australian Young Print Journalist of the Year.
He holds a Master of International Law and International Relations from the University of New South Wales, and in 2015, was a visiting fellow with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. His dissertation was titled ‘Call Me Illegal’, and examined the semantics of asylum: the language used to describe asylum seekers in political and media discourses, and its impact on public opinion.
Cynthia Banham is a RegNet Visitor and University of Queensland Fellow in the School of Political Science & International Studies. Her current research is on ‘The voice and international human rights: offshore detention after 9.11’. She was previously a Post-doctoral Fellow at RegNet’s Centre for International Governance and Justice. She is a lawyer and was the foreign affairs and defence correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald. Her forthcoming book, ‘Liberal Democracies and the Torture of Their Citizens’, will be published by Hart Publishing in 2017.
Paul J. Stevenson CSW. BA. (Mus). Dip. Psych. MOP. MAPS. MAIIA. MGCAT. MUNAA. Fellow AAPi. Fellow ACCP. is an accredited Traumatologist with the International Green Cross Academy of Traumatology. He is a registered Psychologist in Australia with 43 years experience and a recognised authority within the fields of psychological trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, stress management and psychological recovery from disaster incidents. Paul, who was awarded an OAM for his work counselling Bali bombing victims, has visited Australian offshore detention centres 16 times between 2014 and 2015 as part of a counselling contract. His contract was summarily cancelled after he spoke publicly about his experiences.
Of the situation he witnessed at the Manus Island and Nauru offshore detention centres, Paul said: ‘I knew from the minute I set foot in the detention centres that the conditions had to be revealed. I worked tenaciously to gather the information with the intention of releasing it at some point. Whistleblowing for me was quite a deliberate thing to do.’ Paul has authored and published four books, including, Postcards from Ground Zero on the subject of International Disaster Management and Trauma Psychology.