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Tele’s Front Page Boat Lies

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph hit a new low today, with a headline detached from any shred of evidence.

Gemma Jones has mastered the art of selective reporting. “Julia’s Boats Baby Bonus” is the headline splashed across the front page of the Daily Telegraph today, claiming “asylum seekers are being offered free domestic help and childcare” alongside non-urgent medical treatment.  Sadly, it refers to only one woman who was offered childcare help, indicating that the woman concerned rejected the offer. Still, that was in paragraph four – presumably most readers don’t get that far.

Earlier on there is this falsehood: “Most of the detainees who received medical attention — from free glasses and orthotics to dietary counselling to combat high cholesterol — have been rejected as refugees and are exhausting appeals or have received a negative ASIO security assessment.”

Gemma needs to think a bit harder. She was rifling through the Ombudsman’s reports tabled in parliament on 20th March. They related to 73 people who had been in immigration detention for two years or more. Yes, 28 of them have “been removed” – presumably that means sent home – and 19 are in a detention facility or transit accommodation, most of those because of adverse security assessments.

It’s disingenuous –  or just plain wrong – to claim most detainees who received medical attention have been rejected as refugees. In truth, almost all refugees will receive medical attention, most of those will have spent less than two years in detention, and the vast majority of those will not have had a negative ASIO assessment. Those who stay longer are more likely to have been detained longer because of a negative ASIO security assessment. You see her twisted logic?

For the rest, we can’t decry some medical support surely, particularly if they are incarcerated for a long time. The man with drooping eyelids also had post-traumatic stress disorder and had, at one stage, been placed on suicide watch. Many had mental disorders diagnosed early in their stay, but remained in detention many years later. Some turned to violence, exacerbating their situation. 

So, no baby bonus then – surely the premise for the massive front page headline

The 33 year old woman, on whom the Daily Telegraph headline is based, was widowed and arrived in Australia by boat in 2010. She was moved to community detention in 2012 and, soon after, got remarried and fell pregnant. Rather than the authorities insisting that she conducted a do-it-yourself abortion, she was given the medical attention associated with having a baby. Imagine that. But, as Gemma Jones pointed out, when she was offered domestic assistance on 15 August last year said she didn’t need it or “assistance with her children.” So, no baby bonus then – surely the premise for the massive front page headline in the Telegraph. And there was no evidence of such an offer being made to others in the reports tabled in parliament last week.

What Gemma Jones failed to mention in her story was the fact that the woman arrived here with two sons, the eldest one now eight, who has been receiving trauma counselling from the loss of family members in their home country, including his dad presumably. Because the woman has failed an ASIO security assessment their incarceration continues. In many of the reports the Ombudsman refers to the increasing number of people held in long term detention with an adverse security assessment from ASIO who, “without changes to current policy and practice” are “likely to remain in a restrictive form of immigration for an indefinite period”. That’s the real issue. Surely the subject of trauma and child detention deserve more respect than a flippant headline appealing to the core xenophobia of Telegraph readers.

If you want to read the Ombudsman assessments you can find them here.

If you want to make a complaint to the Press Council you can do it here. I’d suggest the basis of the complaint is that:

– there is no evidence of a baby bonus being granted

– the subheadline “government offers free maid to pregnant refugee” is misleading because the suggestion was made by IHMS (International Health and Medical Services), not the government; the term “free maid” implies full time individual care, which was not specified; and the offer was made after the woman gave birth, not when she was pregnant.

– the fact that the offer was refused negates the implication of the story and demonstrates the headline was devised to be divisive rather than incisive.

– the statement “Most of the detainees who received medical attention … have been rejected as refugees” is unproven and is based on a sample of cases held in detention for more than two years.

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