page loader

The taking of hostages by a deranged cleric of Iranian descent in the centre of Sydney, resulting in the death of two people, was a horrific event. The victims, their family and friends are deserving of the utmost sympathy.

Millions of Australians and people overseas have been affected and many of those in the Sydney CBD will be traumatised. During 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 April 28, 1996, and the Bali Bombing of October 12,2002, might share in that loss of innocence.

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 some degree they suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS).

There was a time, about 25 years ago, that upon application for refugee 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 that increased the trauma of people already suffering PTS. The result is that many Australians with a refugee background live with untreated PTS and by so doing pass the condition on to their children.

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.

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

If Moniswas “damaged goods”, what was he doing stalking the streets of Sydney? How did a “damaged” person manage to obtain a firearm under the nose of ASIO, the AFP and state police?

Immigration Minister Scott 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 Endeavour Hills police station in Victoria on September 24 this year after he stabbed two officers. Haider and his family came to Australia 10 years ago from Afghanistan. At no point in discussion regarding his violent response to police questioning was his apparent descent into mental instability mentioned. 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 reintroduction 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 substandard “care” they receive in camps that 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 at Morrison’s 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?