Burning issues


A TRAUMATISED former asylum-seeker was last week placed on a good behaviour bond after threatening Department of Human Services staff in Dandenong with a bottle of petrol and a cigarette lighter.
The defendant, 28, had threatened to “burn down the place” if he didn’t secure a public housing property “by the end of the day” during a meeting at the Thomas Street building on 29 August, police prosecutor Tanique McFarlane told Dandenong Magistrates’ Court on Monday.
He man presented for an appointment on 2 January “with the tools to facilitate the threat”, producing a water bottle containing petrol and lighter.
Using an interpreter, he told “scared” DHS workers that the bottle contained petrol.
“You should know what happens,” he said through an interpreter – prompting an officer to push the duress button.
Magistrate Jack Vandersteen said “the circumstances in which you came to Australia are highly relevant to the circumstances you’re in now”.
Before his arrival, the man had been under “constant threat” from an Iraqi militia and the “subject of severe abuse” in his homeland. The man fled Iraq after the same militia killed his brother.
While coming to Australia, he survived a “very tragic incident” at Christmas Island. Many of those who died were relatives and close friends of his.
Mr Vandersteen found those events led to the accused’s “multitude of mental health issues” and to his “unacceptable” threats to DHS staff.
“You’ve witnessed things that no human should witness such as bombings, shootings and other brutalities.
“There is irony in what you did, given your background in that you yourself have been threatened to be hurt by others.”
The defendant’s lawyer said her client was “clearly in a distressed state” at the time of his threats.
“He thought DHS wasn’t paying attention to him. He didn’t intend to hurt other people necessarily, but for people to pay attention to him.
“He is very remorseful for what happened during that day. He has a lot of supports to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
The court was told the man was getting near-daily mental health treatment and counselling for torture, trauma and gambling issues from Foundation House, ERMHA and an Arabic-speaking psychologist.
Constable McFarlane told the court pressed for a community corrections order rather than a good behaviour bond, though acknowledging the defendant had endured a “horrible history”.
Mr Vandersteen said adding a community corrections order might over-burden the accused and cause his extensive support system to “fall over”.
The man was convicted and handed a two-year good behaviour bond on condition that he continued treatment and counselling at Foundation House and ERMHA.
Mr Vandersteen said: “You must recognise there are many people willing and able to assist you.”