THE ABC, ever mindful of its role as Australia's least-reliable source of information, tonight broadcast an astonishing damnation of conditions at the Woomera Detention Centre, where hundreds of angry illegal immigrants are held.
It was one of The 7.30 Report's finest efforts. The program repeatedly condemned conditions at the Centre without once telling us what those conditions were. They even found some medicos who'd spent time inside the Centre and were happy to damn the place as well, yet even they declined to offer any details about any alleged wrongness. Shamefully, the ABC didn't press for any details, either.
Here's the (slightly abridged) transcript. I drop in from time to time:
KERRY O'BRIEN, HOST: After almost two weeks, there is still no sign of an end to the hunger strike by detainees at the Woomera Detention Centre. Authorities put the number of hunger strikers, including men, women and children, at 259.
Despite the mounting pressure, neither PM John Howard nor Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock show any signs of backing down.
Anne Barker reports on two doctors who have decided to speak publicly about the conditions they witnessed inside Woomera.
ANNIE SPARROW, PAEDIATRIC REGISTRAR: I've never seen so many depressed and traumatised and disturbed children as I have in the two weeks that I spent there just now.
Just a thought, but this might be more to do with their parents threatening to starve themselves to death than any fault of the "conditions".
ANNE BARKER: Annie Sparrow spent last weekend in tears, tears shed for the hundreds of children detained at Woomera, where, until just over a week ago, she was employed to look after them and tears for the wretched conditions she said she witnessed inside.
ANNIE SPARROW: I saw a 16-year-old who attempted to hang himself and a 14-year-old girl who cut her wrists and I saw another 14-year-old boy who tried to choke himself.
Those aren't "wretched conditions". Those are self-destructive actions that may be wholly unrelated to any conditions. Did Michael Hutchence kill himself because of slow room service at the Ritz Carlton Hotel?
PAUL CARROLL, GENERAL PRACTITIONER: When you walk through those barbed wire gates, you are sort of overwhelmed by this atmosphere, this aura of foreboding.
Welcome to myworld, doc.
PAUL CARROLL: There is this sense of oppression and of people being essentially just locked up in this incongruous place in the middle of the desert.
The kids are in Vegas?
ANNIE SPARROW: I've never been to a more miserable place. When I went inside the compounds and looked at the rooms in which they live, which are very small and cramped, there are no facilities for the children to play on and no basic grass for the children who are born in detention to learn to crawl or even walk on.
No "basic grass"! What a terrible thing for a baby to miss out on. A baby lamb, that is.
(By the way, while Sparrow was saying this, footage was being screened depicting clean, air-conditioned, mid-sized rooms featuring bunk beds and desks. The contrast between words and image was worthy of David Lynch. Note, too, that Sparrow doesn't actually give any dimensions of the rooms, or note how many detainees were assigned to each room. She just says the rooms are "small and cramped", and the fuckheaded ABC is happy to leave it at that.)
PAUL CARROLL: It is difficult to understand why we have to make their conditions so unpleasant and from what I saw from the people that I looked after while I was there, their health deteriorates while they are there.
That might be a side effect of sewing their mouths shut. But, hey, you're the doctor. And these "unpleasant conditions" … some examples, please?
ANNE BARKER: Last week, members of a Federal Government advisory committee visited Woomera to see first-hand conditions inside.
They gave the centre a tick and found that detainees have good food, plenty of clothing and air-conditioned accommodation, claims that Annie Sparrow and Paul Carroll dispute.
PAUL CARROLL: I'm not sure how they came to those conclusions because that certainly was not the conclusions I came to when I was there.
My understanding is that things are worse, if anything, than they were when I was there.
I did not agree with any of the comments I read of their assessment of the way these people were treated.
Is it too much too ask for some actual information here, sawbones? You know, that might give us a reason why you disagree?
This guy is meant to be a doctor. His diagnoses must be something else. "We've got your test results back, Mrs. Jones. They are very bad. Goodbye."
ANNIE SPARROW: It is not until you go inside the compounds and see how they live, and eat with them in the mess as I have done and eat their food, which I think is far from adequate, and see their quarters, which are degrading places to live in and understand that they really have a simply desperate way of living there.
Whyis the food bad? In what waysare their quarters degrading? Howare things desperate? Whyisn't the ABC asking you any of these questions?
ANNE BARKER: The volatile situation inside Woomera escalated even further at the weekend with claims that as many as 370 detainees are on a hunger strike.
A situation so serious that even the Red Cross, a strictly neutral and apolitical organisation …
ANNE BARKER: … broke its usual silence to voice its concern.
MARTINE LETTS, RED CROSS AUSTRALIA, SECRETARY-GENERAL: We have considerable concerns for the welfare of people who are clearly very vulnerable in those centres right now.
We make no judgment as to the whys or the wherefores – that is not Red Cross's job, that is not our international mandate either.
Whoa! Don't hold back, Martine.
ANNE BARKER: For all the distress they have witnessed at Woomera, Paul Carroll and Annie Sparrow will not rule out going back.
But for now their main concern is to correct what they say are negative misconceptions about asylum seekers in the border community.
At last, their agenda is revealed. They've got no beef with the conditions; they just want us to Love Everybody.
PAUL CARROLL: Most of them are normal people like you and me and just under extraordinary circumstances.
ANNIE SPARROW: I do not think if you put a subset of Australian children in detention they would do as well on the whole as these children have done.
Maybe not, but they'd do a better job than you of telling us why this place is so bad, if indeed it is.
From this program, we've learned that conditions are "wretched" because there's "an aura of foreboding" (ooooo!), it is "incongruous" (I bet the detainees are really pissed at the incongruities), there are no "facilities" (meaning?) for children to play on, no "basic grass" (only that damned luxury grass), that things were "unpleasant" (no details offered as to why), the food was "inadequate" (again, no details) and the living quarters were "degrading" (we don't need no stinkin' details!).
Pathetic. The ABC should be closed down.