Open Letter to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton

January 7, 2015 at 11:33 pm (Entries that matter, Well written)

Felicity Banks


Dear Mr Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection:

I was a teenager when I first realised there was something wrong with Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. A case was being discussed on the radio of a gay man in danger due to his homosexuality. When I heard the story, he had already been returned to his country of origin on the basis that he was faking homosexuality in order to gain entry to Australia – despite the fact that he was in a relationship with another asylum seeker at the time.

I’m in my thirties now with two children of my own that I would protect with my life – but I still fear for the children and adults who have come to Australia for help only to face an immigration system that is designed to send away as many asylum seekers as possible. It seems asylum seekers are presumed to be guilty of “faking it” – but statistics indicate the majority are genuine refugees1.

I know that as a police officer you have seen the best and the worst of humanity, and have protected and defended the most vulnerable people in our community. You have also seen first-hand that justice requires an open flow of information.

Thanks to the recent Migration Bill, your job includes the power to hide Australia’s legal processes regarding our asylum seekers. You even have the power to knowingly send genuine refugees back to likely torture and death without ever letting the Australian media or the UN find out2.

I do not believe that is the kind of person you are.

There are three things I think you and I both believe in:

1. Transparency.

The Australian government must be 100% transparent about exactly what is happening to asylum seekers who attempt to find a home in Australia (except of course for hiding names and faces of asylum seekers who feel they or their loved ones may be in danger if revealed).

2. Freedom.

No innocent person (particularly a child) should be imprisoned.

a. We urgently need to get kids (and adults) out of detention and into Australia (not Papua New Guinea or Nauru, where they are in immediate physical danger from locals when released into the community3). The Uniting Church has volunteered to find safe homes for all the unaccompanied minors, and there are many other organisations falling over themselves to volunteer to help more people – at zero cost to the taxpayer4.

If sorting out aid organisations is too complex, ask the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to do it for you.

b. Our legal process is appallingly slow5 and the lack of a firm release date from detention is causing enormous harm6. It is not right to treat asylum seekers as badly as we do7, even in an effort to discourage people smuggling. The “stop the boats” policy looks good on paper, but only because the horrors are happening out of sight8.Our legal process should be weighted accordingly. The purpose of law is to protect the vulnerable – punishing the guilty is a secondary concern.

The fast-track-style legal process would be a good thing if it was used to get genuine refugees out of detention fast. It is not a good thing when it results in genuine refugees getting deported due to a lack of adequate examination of their case.

The needs of the incarcerated children are paramount, and their innocence is clear. But the majority of adults in detention don’t deserve to be there either1.

3. Humanity.

Please formally reaffirm Australia’s commitment to international human rights law, including the Refugee Convention that we helped to write9. Until now, we had a good human rights record. You have the power to make us a human rights leader once again.

Yours Sincerely,

Felicity Banks

Please note this is an open letter that, excluding my contact details, will be shared online.


In 2009/2010, 80% of boat arrivals were deemed to be genuine refugees, and only 3% of asylum seekers arrived by boat (ie “boat people” are an incredibly minor part of the issue, and are usually genuine refugees).


Former PM Malcolm Fraser is appalled at the recent Migration Bill and the powers it bestows upon the Immigration Minister (including secrecy and the ability to knowingly return people to a place where they are likely to be tortured).


Men and women granted refugee status and released into Nauru face persecution and threats, including police harassment when they ask for help. Women are afraid of being attacked and raped in their camps (both in and out of detention, but out of detention is more dangerous).

Unaccompanied children granted refugee status and released into Nauru face persecution from locals including beatings and threats.


Although studies vary considerably in their estimates, all agree that in the long term refugees settled within Australia benefit the national economy.

Suggestions of better ways to process asylum seekers (especially children).


At the time of writing (30 December 2014) 603 children are in immigration detention in Australia, 186 on Nauru, and the average time spent in detention is 413 days.

6. (trigger warning)

A case study of a girl given asylum in Australia after her father refused to allow her to become the concubine of a Taliban chief. While she waited three years for paperwork to process so her family could also be given asylum, her father was killed. Her brother is missing and probably also dead.


An asylum seeker mother details the horrific and unsanitary conditions in Nauru, including a lack of adequate drinking water.

A summary of 2014 for asylum seekers in Australia: “Under Australia’s watchful eye, asylum seekers face an environment of intimidation, violence, self-harm and procedural uncertainty. “

The bizarre rules for refugee visas (eg not being allowed to swear in public or they may have their visas revoked) are designed to dehumanise legitimate immigrants and promote racism in the community.


The “stop the boats” policy is putting more people in danger (the most vulnerable are ignored because they are forced to go and risk death elsewhere).

According to the UN, the reason there are less people arriving in Australia by boat is because the “stop the boats” policy is causing more to die at sea. A more effective method of reducing people smuggling and needless death would be to create better legal channels where possible (but for many of the most desperate asylum seekers, there IS no legal path to safety because their own government wants them dead).

Sri Lankan asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka were immediately (and predictably) arrested.

“Less than two years ago, the Australian government’s own statistics showed that about 90% of boat arrivals, including those from Sri Lanka, were judged to be in need of protection. Yet suddenly, under a secret process on a boat on the high seas, with no legal oversight, only one of 38 is judged to need protection.”

Tamil asylum seekers deported from Australia allege torture (sometimes to death) and imprisonment without trial. Their allegations fit into human rights abuses already documented against Tamil people in Sri Lanka.



Australia is breaking international human rights law, and is therefore condemned by the UN.

Australia is a safe, wealthy country that is not pulling its weight in terms of international responsibility to the poor, desperate, and endangered.


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Plot Device Film, and Ten Untranslatable Words

July 16, 2011 at 10:14 am (Articles by others, funny, Videos, Well written)

Here is a movie and an article that are sashaying around the writerly blogosphere at the moment.

Yes, it’s a long film for youtube. But it’s way shorter than a movie, and just as good. Say hi to the zombies for me.


And this is an article by someone who has picked ten words that have been adopted from English into other languages due to their precise meanings.

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Advice to Victorian Ladies

July 3, 2011 at 8:38 am (funny, Steampunk, Well written)

This is taken from a mid-book compilation by author Liza Picard, in Victorian London. Enjoy!

Advice to Ladies:

Most wind instruments are decidedly inelegant, they should be left to the gentlemen. Playing the violin-cello is of course out of the question, while the violin, while not so openly obscene, necessitates an awkward position of the head and neck which is not recommended. The piano-forte is an elegant woman’s best friend. There is room on a properly designed piano stool for two, in delightful proximity, when attempting pieces for four hands. Remember that if your companion stands up you may be deposited on the floor unless you stand at the same time. Pages need turning, by someone standing close behind you. This will be present to your mind when adjusting the neckline of your dress before a musical evening. Do not spare the application of perfume.

Never be in the company of an unmarried man alone, unless considerations such as the imminence of an acceptable proposal of marriage outweigh the normal rules. If about to faint with emotion, make sure there is a convenient sopha on which to subside. Not all gentlemen can be relied upon to catch a falling female in time.


When other peoples’ children are presented to you, express delight and admiration, no matter how unprepossessing the infants. Resist any temptation to call attention to their running noses, wet pantaloons, or digital nasal explorations. One can only hope that all these matters will be taken care of by some third party such as the nursemaid. Mothers are often blind to any imperfection in their offspring. Meanwhile try your utmost to avoid physical contact with them, combining an adroit management of your skirts with uninterrupted paeans of praise. Much the same applies to other peoples’ pets, with obvious amendments.

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“Send sleep, vodka, and bacon. . .” (PG)

June 6, 2011 at 8:38 am (Articles by other bloggers, funny, Well written)

Chuck Wendig did another brilliant post on his new baby, and I couldn’t resist reposting it below (remember, his blog is often MA). The original is here.


“– you hear me? The stuff’s everywhere — black tar — came pouring out of diapers — could lay shingles with this stuff OH GOD HERE COMES MORE OF IT –”


“– haven’t slept in days — seeing things — cherubs with wings, but not like out of a greeting card but like out of the damn Bible — so many eyes — fiery swords — chubby cheeks –”


“– think they’re cute but they’re deadly –”

“– energy levels low, rations dwindling –”

“– everywhere you go it’s always there watching waiting peeing –”

“– alert, alert, this thing’s got witch nails, it killed Samson, merciful Jesus it killed Samson! –”

“– we thought we controlled it, but no, no, it controls us! –”

” — such hubris, we thought we understood the parameters –”



” — send sleep — vodka — baaaacon –”



The baby is well.

He’s covered in the acne of an 8th grade math nerd.

He’s still trying to tear off his own face with his komodo claws.

He still looks like we enrolled him in Baby Fight Club.

He sometimes smiles. He likes dancing to the Beastie Boys. His poop has transitioned from the foul black hell-slurry to something that looked like swamp mud to something that looks like deli mustard.

He’s good. And we’re pretty good, too.

Read the rest.

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I’m pregnant

May 25, 2011 at 8:41 am (Daily Awesomeness, Well written)

The rumours are true.

Every Wednesday from now on will be about the baby (aka Mini-Me) until he/she is old enough to need some privacy (it’s quite likely I’ll mention breasts, breastfeeding, and maybe periods – but that’s as gross/adult as it will get). I’ve also prepped literally dozens of blog entries in advance – awesomenesses, pregnancy thoughts, and book reviews – to make sure I don’t let you guys down.

I was irrationally terrified CJ and I would be infertile, but it turns out we’re quite the opposite. We had one month of just trying, one month with a chemical pregnancy, and now we’re pregnant for real. Most people take 6-12 months to conceive – not three.

What’s a chemical pregnancy? It’s an extremely early miscarriage – within the first five weeks, and often before the first period (I only know about it because I used Forelife brand pregnancy tests, which turned out to be MORE sensitive than the urine tests at the doctor). Chemical pregnancies happen when the baby is malformed somehow. Which means that if our second-month pregnancy had come to term, it might have looked a little like this:

But THIS pregancy will probably end up looking a little like these samples my associates prepared earlier (especially the first, my niece):

When are you due? January 18 (although that may change as doctors learn more about the baby’s size – and it’s likely I’ll be up to two weeks late, like my mum). As of today, I am at six weeks.

Observant readers will notice that January is always an eventful month in my life – CJ and I married in Janury 2009 (I had in fact told him the previous August that we HAD to marry in January, and my mum and sister and I had discussed it in detail for over a year), went to China and Indonesia in January 2010, and had a second honeymoon in January 2011. For me, Christmas holidays are a dark, empty period of no tutoring income for two months (and the excess of free time doesn’t help things at all). We timed our conception attempts deliberately to (hopefully) hit the Christmas holidays. . . and we actually did it. So the timing is GREAT. Plus, my sister will be here – awesome.

Are you concerned about miscarriage? Mildly. I know the chances of miscarriage are relatively high in the next seven weeks, but I come from strong baby-making stock so I’ll almost certainly be fine.

Do you want a girl or a boy? Yes.

Before I was married, I wanted girls (because girls mostly make sense to me, and boys mostly don’t). The more I get to know CJ, the more I want a boy. But then again, girls have smaller heads.

How’s CJ coping? I love change and CJ hates it – but he’s also naturally VERY calm (any calmer and he’d be dead), and surprisingly good at adapting when change happens. He’s quietly excited about becoming a father, but to a certain extent he’s not convinced Mini-Me is real (which is fair enough, as well as being handy for coping with the thought of the epic journey  ahead of us). The first few days after we found out were probably the only time in our lives that I was calmer than him. I enjoyed that.

How are you feeling physically? Pretty normal, with a host of minor side effects so far – stomach cramps, pain, nausea, gastro, stomach-muscles twinging if I lift something heavy or reach for something high. Back pain. Sore breasts (I’ve already gone up a cup size, yay!), flatulence (yes, CJ, that was me – not the cat), dry skin, bigger belly (yes, already – to be fair, it was big to start off with), fatigue, emotional sensitivity (in every direction – exactly like PMS), and a cold. It’s fascinating how much pregnancy screws with everything in one’s entire body – but so far, it’s all extremely minor. Oh, I’m also extra unco and extra forgetful – no surprises there.

Since writing the above a few days ago, proper nausea has kicked in – particularly in the evenings. It’s just like being seasick, which means I have a pretty good idea where the increasing nausea is inevitably heading. Yo ho. . .

Actually, the most annoying thing so far is that on the steam train day I had another side effect: thirty mosquito bites all over my ankles and legs. Not a single other person I spoke to had any bites whatsoever. So remember, next time you go camping, to save yourself from insect attack all you need to do is pack a pregnant woman.

Here’s hoping my blood isn’t as delicious to vampires. Note to self: carry a stake (and/or exacto knife).

I also had a wacky pregnancy dream that I was a man (a sailor, incidentally – talk about foreshadowing) whose fiance gave birth to a large potato. After a careful discussion about whether smaller offspring would be bullied by the other children, we cut the potato in half – making it into twins.

Evidently, my subconscious skipped out on sex ed classes.

Have you thought at all about, ya know, having a baby – and how you’ll deal with that? Having a baby (child, teenager, adult offspring) is pretty much the point of the exercise, and it’s something I’ve thought about carefully for several years. I know it’s what I want to do with my life, and I also know it’ll be harder than I can imagine. There’s no way I’d have attempted this without CJ (quite apart from the difficulty of conception without his assistance), and I also know my mum’s obsession with grandchildren is the greatest thing in the world. Hello, free babysitting.

How’s that mental illness coming along? Very well, thank you. Oh, you mean How is someone with an anxiety disorder going to cope with pregnancy, and a real live baby?

Pregnancy is a lot like mental illness, but with physical illness on top. My tutoring workload is rather low at the moment – so I’m leaving it where it is until further notice (resisting the urge to earn more money while I still can). I’ve been madly stocking up on frozen meals – consciously planning for around six weeks of bleaugh and lolling around the house (I observed my sister’s pregnancy closely, and she was basically fine except for the second half of the first trimester – so I’m right on schedule). The good thing about my anxiety disorder is that I am very familiar with my own limits, and extremely aware of danger signs. I am not trying to be superwoman, and I’m certainly not going to attempt to be a supermum.

I’m already napping every day, doing less writing (I’m two months ahead on my quota anyway – did I mention I planned this?), and eating WAY more vegetables, milk, and protein. I’m also eating 30-100 grams of chocolate each day so that if I snap and have a binge it’s not a huge shock to the system (caffeine can harm an unborn baby, but since I don’t drink coffee I’m okay so long as I stick to my preference for milk rather than dark chocolate). My no-no foods are soft cheese, soft serve ice cream, raw food (unless it’s peeled and/or washed in hot water and detergent, ugh), paté, and processed cold meat. And (obviously) alcohol.

Most of the same prioritise-the-baby-and-be-good-to-myself principles apply to a new baby experience, except with way more assistance from CJ (who gets parental leave), my Mum, and everyone else I’ve ever met. My expectations are: emotional collapse on day 3, extreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation for several months, lots of poo and vomit and screaming for several years – and joy and sorrow for the rest of my life.

I also honestly believe I can handle it (with all that help, of course) as well or better than the average new mum.

Why’s that?

When something is meaningful, I can handle it. When it’s not – I can’t. I can’t work in a shop (unless it’s a bookshop), but I can look after a newborn. The difficulty actually makes it easier for me mentally, because it makes me feel my life has purpose (yes, I’m weird, I know).

I also spend a lot of time with babies and kids, and always have. CJ and I each have an excellent set of parents, which gives us a huge advantage in knowing how it’s done. Most of all, I know my strength is limited – which is, in my opinion, the single most useful piece of self-knowledge for a mum to have.

Are you scared about labor? Not really. Firstly because it’s not until next year, and I figure I can save that fear for later. Secondly because the pain will likely last around thirty hours – and then end (pain with a purpose AND a specific timeframe is the best kind). I tend to deal with crisis fairly well (unlike ordinary life, which terrifies me), and labor definitely counts as a heroic endeavour (and an AWESOME writing experience).

Frankly, I’m looking forward to labor – it means Mini-Me is about to arrive.

Here’s to January 2012!

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Politics of Fish

May 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm (Daily Awesomeness, Well written)

Right now, CJ and I have six fish.

Gandalf is a male siamese fighting fish. He can’t live in a tank with other long-finned fish because they’ll attack each other, but in general I’ve found him to be surprisingly placid.

Frodo is the last of our neon tetras, and is reasonably old now (named “Frodo” on the basis of being the last one of the tetras, all of whom are clearly small and helpless and thus names after hobbits). He doesn’t bother anyone, and is the smallest fish. He’s of indeterminate gender. Usually tetras are happiest in groups, but he appears to be coping with his newfound solitude. Sometimes he hangs with the guppies (who are the next smallest).

Our guppies are Aragorn and Gimli. Aragorn has a big decorative tail like a butterfly’s wing, and is more aggressive than Gimli. Gimli is orange – a colour most find unattractive (although there are some who REALLY like that sort of thing), hence the name.

Our bristlenose catfish is Watson, because he pootles about being a bottom feeder and generally cleaning up messes.

Our reticulate loach is Sherlock, because he runs about maniacally and is generally peculiar and fascinating. (Another bottom feeder, but a carniverous one – the last one bit off Sam’s eye. Sam has since died. Bad, naughty, violent Sherlock.) He’s also of indeterminate gender (which I can only presume is good news for Watson).

Gandalf is elderly now, and deserves his own tank. Unfortuantely, the new tank is infested with snails – so I bought Sherlock to deal with them. Gandalf took an instant dislike to teeny tiny Sherlock, and chased him excessively. Naughty, crochety Gandalf! He used to be so good-natured before I let him have his own pad.

Aragorn has been biting Gimli ever since Gimli arrived. I spoke to the pet shop staff and discovered that, basically, that’s what boys do. The only way to stop them is with women – LOTS of women. (Rather disturbingly, a single female with two guys will be killed in the battle for her love. Does that add insight into Lord of the Rings, or is that just me?)

Aragorn and Gandalf don’t get on (I never expected they would).

In an effort to maintain peace while simultaneously killing the snails in the small tank, I moved Gandalf to the big tank with Watson, Frodo and Gimli. Aragorn and Sherlock both buzzed around happily in the small tank, not killing each other. Gandalf hid in a plant and Gimli left him alone. All good!

Then the filter in the big tank broke.

Most fish need the filter for oxygen as well as cleanliness. So I moved Gimli and Frodo into the small tank with Aragorn and Sherlock. Aragorn and Gimli immediately resumed their territorial wars – but at least it’s a match of even strength.

Gandalf is fine without a filter (in the short term) and Watson is big enough that I’ll see signs of distress before he’s in any real danger – so they’re remaining in the big tank. For now I’m manually adding oxygen (ie periodically picking up water in a cup and pouring it back in again to create bubbles), and keeping an eye on everyone.

Every so often, my neighbours hear one of the following plaintive cries:

“Aragorn! Leave Gimli alone!”

“Sherlock! Eat the snails. The SNAILS!”

“It’s all right Gandalf. You can come out of your tree now.”

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Lifesaving and Codebreaking

April 5, 2011 at 8:43 am (Daily Awesomeness, Well written)

Of all the words in all the languages on Earth, “useful” is not one that is generally applied to me.

Today details one of those rare days when it was.

My neighbour and his wife stood in his front yard, staring around vacantly as I pulled up. Their car was parked half across my driveway. I carefully avoided both eye contact and car contact, and managed to park my car.

Pleased with my success in not glaring at them, I headed for my front door. Mr Neighbour ran up to me. “Please can you help jump-start our car?”

“Oh!” I said. “Uh. . . okay.”

I backed out and around, drew up next to them, and propped up my bonnet lid. He had his own jumper cables, so I simply waited. As he clipped the last jaws into place, there were sparks. He ignored them, and clipped on the cable.

See, here’s one of the grand things about poverty. When you’re so poor you need to save up for two months to buy a new battery, you get super good at jump-starting cars. Perhaps you even, in special circumstances, become useful.

My car began to smoke from the battery (which, sidebar, I bought a month ago – yay for CJ’s steady income). At first it was just a hint of heat in the air. Then it was a tiny curl of grey. Then it was chunks and gouts of “this is not right, by golly” and “uh-oh” spiced with “run away! run away!”.

I realised This Was Not Right By Golly and dived into the fray, unhooking the jaws deftly. Fortunately, I didn’t blow up. Nor did the cars.

Mr Neighbour and I looked at one another, and social awkwardness and fire-fear vied for prominence. “It’s red to red and black to black, isn’t it?” he said.

I was immediately suspicious that I’d finally found someone who knew less than me about cars. Given the logic principle that “once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth” I glanced around surreptitiously for any of the following:

1. UFOs hovering to take advantage of their human-disguised leader’s cunning ruse.

2. Brain-altering fungus spores making my neighbour stupid.

3. Punk’d cameras.

Since I found none of those, I was forced to conclude that, for this one unnatural moment, I was the most knowledgable car person around. I looked at his battery. Sure enough, he’d attached the cables between positives and negatives.

One of my friends had two uncles that did that. Apparently when they started the car a blazing arc of lightning slammed across the cables, melting both engines.

I reattached the cables to the correct batteries, Mr Neighbour successfully started his car, and I advised him and his wife on How To Jump Start Your Car Without Killing Folks.

He drove off; I parked and went inside. I thought my usefulness for the year was done, but I was wrong.

At work that day a student showed me the essay we’d worked on together. She’d done well. There was only one problem – the teacher’s comment was spectacularly illegible after the first two words.

I’ve seen some thrilling handwriting efforts in my time, but this one was so deep into “someone likes to drink while they mark, and I sure can tell” territory – the writing is actually SLURRED – that I took the liberty of tracing it for the internet’s benefit. Here it is:

For the next hour, pausing only occasionally to snarl, “Get back to work” at the student (hurrah for $40 an hour) I studied the mysterious message (and, by extension, the drink-addled mind behind it).

The first two words were “Well done” which gave me a baseline on which to decode everything else. The first word after that looks very much like “Zu” but was probably something else entirely. The middle word on the second line looks like “none” and the first three words of the final line look like “etc let is”. The final word on the second line looked like a field of poppies dancing in a breeze (another substance, interestingly, that may have been tangentially involved in the note-making process).

By careful observation, I learned that tall or long letters were considered distinctive by dint of being tall or long, and all other features were presumed irrelevent. Similarly, letters that were neither tall nor long might be represented only by the most subtle wiggle of the pen as it wandered to greener pastures. The most reliable letters in each word were the early ones, as the writer tended to lose enthusiasm for a word partway through, and simply not bother forming letters any more.

I searched through the essay and assignment sheet looking for key words that might have been used (people who mark lose originality fast). That garnered some useful data.

Dots and dashes tended to migrate, often by several letters. That was crucial, because it meant that something that was clearly a “t” actually wasn’t. For example, the first word on the final line looks like “etc” but is actually “the”.

I also carefully traced, with an unclicked pen, the shape of the “Well done”. When it comes to profiling, I’m with the method school – I needed to get into her head and hand. And I did. The blurring of letters was a significant clue. It was also clear that some blurring caused other letters – irrelevent letters – to appear. It was a trap for the unwary, and it nearly got me.

By far the greatest challenge was the mysteriously poppy-like final word on the second line. I spent a long time trying to think of words with an early “th” followed by two ls (or ts) later on.

The join between the two tall letters and the previous letter was too long. It didn’t match the hurried pesonality of the teacher. That meant only one thing: something was there. Something invisible to the naked eye, but clear to a linguistic psychologist such as myself – another tall letter. The early “th” wasn’t two tall letters in a row – it was three. With that final crucial clue, I mentally scoured the English language. It seemed an impossible task. But. . . I did it.

Here’s the full note:

Well done – you have provided some well-formulated analyses and made relevent references to the texts as evidence.

Agatha Christie, eat your heart out.

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