Ruddock: The man who called a refugee child “it”

23 Nov

Philip Ruddock

 

In August 2001, 6 year-old Shayan Badraie, an Iranian asylum seeker who arrived by boat in Australia with his family, became seriously ill with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder after spending seventeen months in the Woomera and Villawood  detention centres.

During the time he was detained with his family, Shayan witnessed suicide attempts, and great unrest within the Woomera prison. A letter I received from an asylum seeker described the conditions thus:

I see hundreds of people begging and crying, and I see people dehydrating in the sun. I see people with sewn lips and buried in the ground ’cause that’s what they did. I see people slash up and cut their throats and arms.

Shayan refused to eat, drink, and walk. After his plight was exposed in an ABC TV investigation of Australia’s detention centres, public outrage was focused on the Immigration Minister at that time, Philip Ruddock.

Ruddock claimed Shayan’s illness had nothing to do with his experiences in the detention centres. If the child was ill, Ruddock claimed in an interview with Kerry O’Brien on ABC TV’s 7.30 Report, it was because “it was not a natural child of the mother, it’s a stepchild.”

Ruddock referred to Shayan as “it” throughout the interview.

Philip Ruddock is an enthusiastic stamp collector. As Immigration Minister, he took the stamps from letters he received from people all over the world, requesting asylum, and requesting information about loved ones in Australian detention camps. Letters forwarded to him by Amnesty International, of which organisation he was a member, and whose badge he wore with pride. Amnesty eventually attempted to distance themselves from Ruddock’s inhumane policies by publicly requesting that he not wear their badge, as did his daughter, who was so distressed by her father’s position on indefinite detention, especially of children, that she left the country to work for an aid organisation.

Ruddock’s wife gave him a Chinese cabinet with many drawers, in which to store his stamps. He joked that it was one of the good things about getting so many letters from Amnesty, a growing stash of stamps for him to sort in his retirement.

With what hopes were those stamps bought, what fears, what dreams? Stamps on envelopes containing stories that might break your heart. In a chilling act of appallingly twisted appropriation, Ruddock took the stamps for his hobby, while simultaneously writing into history a narrative that transformed asylum seekers into criminals, terrorists and potential murderers of their own children:

 

Philip Ruddock has just been appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to chair a panel tasked with reviewing religious protections, perceived by the right-wing as threatened after the recent marriage equality YES vote. As John Howard’s Attorney-General in 2004, Ruddock introduced the bill that prevented marriage equality by changing the wording of the Marriage Act to describe the institution as legal between a man and a woman only.

Here is a piece I wrote on Tuesday for Independent Australia on the separation of church and state, increasingly threatened by demands from conservatives for laws that protect their “religious freedoms.” When I wrote the post, I had no idea of Ruddock’s new role.

Australia has been torturing refugees who arrived by boat for seventeen years. Ruddock was an essential part of the early and illegal inhumanity during his time as Immigration Minister.

These people have attempted to invade our sovereign territory, he said of the waterborne asylum seekers. They have jumped the queue of legitimate refugees legally attempting to achieve asylum in this country. They have broken our laws. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Media must ask LNP: Do you intend to allow the Manus refugees to die?

21 Nov

 

Refugees on Manus in peaceful protest

Since the days of the Tampa, seventeen years ago,  I’ve heard it said repeatedly that Australians don’t care about what happens to asylum seekers and refugees who arrived here by boat, perfectly legitimately, seeking only sanctuary.

Obviously after seventeen years, during which the treatment of boat arrivals has only gone downhill, I must finally accept that this is true. If enough Australians cared, refugees on Manus Island would not be suffering as they are. If enough Australians cared, Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull would not be conducting what amounts to a state-sanctioned experiment in torture: how long can people live without water, food, medicine, and medical attention in tropical conditions before they become extremely and or chronically ill, or die.

This is the experiment being conducted by our government. Australia is about to find out how long human beings can survive under these conditions. Australia is about to find out what the effects are on human beings of being subjected to these conditions if they don’t die. This is state-sanctioned experimentation on human beings. If you don’t agree, please, do tell me what you call it.

Every journalist should be asking every government MP they interview: Do you intend to allow the men on Manus to die? This is the only question that needs to be asked at this point. And nobody, but nobody, is asking it. The media are, with a couple of exceptions, as complicit in this state-sanctioned human experimentation as are politicians.

I am not particularly personally affected by which major party is in government. I’m not subject to Centrelink robodebt torment, for example. I’m not suffering the indignity of being unable to marry my same-sex partner. I don’t live in the vicinity of a proposed coal mine. I’m not desperately casting about for affordable child care so I can go to work. In terms of my material comfort and safety, either major party will, in general, do. Yet I’ve consistently, for decades, argued and fought for policies that seem to me fair and decent, whilst railing against injustices, not because they directly affect me, but because I’ve believed Australians, human beings, deserve the best and the fairest.

For the first time in my voting life, I understand the impulse to refuse the privilege of voting for any politician. This is not only because I am beyond disgusted over their collective treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Now I’m disgusted at Australians. The Australians I’ve always considered when I cast my vote. The Australians who don’t care what happens to the men on Manus and the families on Nauru. The Australians who enable, either actively or passively, this government’s experimentation on human beings who did nothing more than ask us to help them. That’s all they did. They asked us to help them.

To all the Australians who don’t care, I no longer care about you. I don’t care who governs you. It won’t bother me. It won’t affect my lifestyle. I’m not voting in your best interests anymore. I’m not voting at all.

There are 600 men on Manus Island who are, as I write this, being denied food, water, medication and medical care by your government. They are walking around leaking pus from wounds on their feet and legs. They are vomiting and shitting because the only water they have to drink is from wells they’ve dug, and it’s bad water. Your government destroyed their rainwater supply, and their means to gather rainwater. Your government has forbidden the Lorengau pharmacy to supply them with water purification tablets, and medicine. Your government is refusing to allow doctors from the AMA into the detention centre compound to treat their illnesses. They are perhaps only days away from outbreaks of dysentery and or cholera. They have no toilets. They have no power.

Remember, they have committed no crime. They simply asked us for sanctuary. They simply asked us for help.

And remember that while at the moment only the LNP can take any action to relieve their suffering, it has been inflicted on them by both major parties.

Are you proud to be Australian? I’m not.

 

Are you a Real Australian? Not if you’re a woman.

10 Nov

Current poster boy for Real Australians, Barnaby Joyce

 

As I read this piece by Sean Kelly at The Monthly yesterday, titled Real Australians: The way we talk about our country needs to change, I became aware of an overwhelming, visceral sadness, a feeling not usually aroused in me by meditations on national identity.

It took a few moments to analyse what this feeling was about. And then I got it. There is no place in the current concept of the “Real Australian” for women. There is no place for me. For my mother. My sisters. My granddaughter, my daughter-in-law, the women I work with, eat lunch with, dance with, exercise with, chat with on social media.

In other words, there is no place in my country’s definition of its identity for me, or for any human with female genitals. Real Australians are men. Real Australian men may squabble amongst themselves about which of them actually are Real Australians, however, they aren’t squabbling amongst themselves about including women in the national identity.

Kelly’s piece examines the racially abusive verbal attack on Senator Sam Dastyari in a pub a couple of evenings ago. Dastyari described his feelings about the attack thus:

“It makes me feel small, makes me feel horrible, it makes you feel kind of terrible and that’s what they are designed to do.”

Dastyari is right: this is exactly what racially abusive attacks are designed to do to the recipient. Without in any way wishing to diminish the abhorrence of Dastyari’s experience, I would like to borrow his words to describe how I feel about being excluded from my country’s national identity. It makes me feel small, makes me feel horrible, it makes me feel kind of terrible, and that’s what it’s designed to do.

I say “that’s what it’s designed to do” because it’s no accident that women are not included in the fantasy of the Real Australian. It cannot possibly have escaped the notice of intelligent, thinking men that the concept is entirely masculine, and yet I have never heard any man point out its exclusionary nature in public discussion. Why not?

Denying us a seat at the national identity table is not entirely unconnected with the apparently entrenched male habit of murdering one of us every week. A stretch! And an offensive one at that! you might protest. However, if you have even limited knowledge of the processes of dehumanisation, you will be aware that refusal to acknowledge other humans as being of equal consequence as yourself, is the first step on the morally abject journey that can end in you killing them.

Women are appallingly abused in Australia, and nobody much cares to discuss it, and it is not a stretch to suggest that the exclusion of women from national identity is a significant contributor to a national perception that our lives aren’t as important, therefore the murderous harms done to us, usually in our homes, are likewise, not that important.

As you might have noticed, my overwhelming visceral sadness has overnight morphed into fury. What are women to Australia, that in 2017 we continue to be excluded from conversations about national identity, and what are men in Australia, that you continue to conduct such conversations as if the Real Australian is unquestionably male, and that is a universal truth?

I’m not usually interested in concepts of national identity, being more inclined to cosmopolitanism. However, in this instance, it’s like excluding family members from membership in the family.

It starts at the top. The people you exclude from the definition of your country’s identity are the people you dehumanise, by the very fact of your exclusion. It’s easier to discount us, abuse us and murder us, if we aren’t Real Australians.

Oh, I’m sorry. That escaped your attention?

Turnbull must urgently clarify whether or not he is entitled to Israeli citizenship.

8 Nov

The S44 citizenship saga has thrown up possible queries concerning the citizenship status of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The first is this interview with the Times of Israel in September 2015, recorded when Turnbull ousted former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and took over the top job:

My mother always used to say that her mother’s family was Jewish, he (Turnbull) told the Australian Jewish News two years ago. Judaism is passed from generation to generation on the mother’s side, so if his mother was in fact Jewish, so is Turnbull.

The second is a piece from the Australian Jewish News, August 2013, headlined “Menachem Mandel Turnbull?” in which the same statement is made by Turnbull about his mother, Coral Lansbury.

If Turnbull is Jewish, he is, as is every Jew in the world with the exception of criminals and terrorists, entitled to Israeli citizenship under the 1950 Law of Return.

How does this bring into question Turnbull’s legitimacy as an MP?

Section 44(i) of Australia’s Constitution disqualifies someone from office if that person:

…is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power… (emphasis mine)

We know from recent events that:

The High Court’s reading of section 44 is strict and unsurprising. It means that a dual national is barred from Parliament even where they were born in Australia, are ignorant of their other citizenship and have never attempted to use the rights or privileges of another country. A person can even be disqualified where they become a dual national later in life due to legal changes in another country.

Obviously his citizenship status and S44 were far from Turnbull’s mind in 2013 and 2015, when the interviews were recorded. Yet  he was, at the beginning of his political career, like any other aspiring MP whose background carries the possibility of dual citizenship or entitlement to that citizenship, required to establish his status before standing for parliament. His failure to do this places his legitimacy as an MP and Prime Minister in doubt.

For the sake of the country’s stability, Turnbull must immediately address these issues, and rapidly and transparently convey his citizenship status to the Australian people. It is unthinkable that we should continue with a Prime Minister who is ineligible to sit in our parliament.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg is in the same situation as Turnbull. Frydenberg’s mother is Jewish, and he is also entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

 

 

 

 

In which the gas chambers are invoked to distract from dual citizenship. Yes. Really.

5 Nov

 

 

I planned on beginning this piece with: “The latest MP to fall foul of S44 in the current citizenship saga is Minister for Energy, Josh Frydenberg.”

However, two hours ago I heard that Alex Hawke has now come under scrutiny. Life comes at you fast when you’re a citizen blogger trying to keep up.

The possibility of Frydenberg holding dual citizenship was raised by The Australian, who must have it in for him for reasons I won’t attempt to deconstruct at the moment, except to say he’s a mate of Malcolm’s and Murdoch apparently is not.

Frydenberg responded with strong denials, producing an archival document in which his grandfather states that Josh’s mother, Erika, born in the Budapest ghetto and then aged about seven, was stateless when the family arrived in Australia from Hungary.

There are two more archived documents, one of which was written by Australian authorities when the family arrived at the port of Fremantle in 1950. This states the family is Hungarian, and that they travelled from Hungary on a valid passport. These documents can be seen in the first link at the top of this page.

The final document was issued by US authorities when the family was in transit. It describes Erika as a Hungarian transient, apparently the designation given to Jews by the Hungarian government at that time, and is on the left below.

It seems there are many questions surrounding these documents, given the period in which they were issued. However, for the purposes of establishing citizenship, Frydenberg must, like the other MPs, be referred to the High Court, with all the paperwork available to him.

What is remarkable in this case, however, is that Frydenberg and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have sought to make Frydenberg’s citizenship status all about the Holocaust.

If you haven’t seen Turnbull’s morally degenerate, calculatedly over-dramatised efforts to deflect these citizenship concerns by invoking the gas chambers, please do watch this video. It is a lesson in spin, the like of which you are unlikely to see again anytime soon.

Frydenberg threw his mother, and his family under a bus in an abject and shameful attempt to save his job. There was absolutely no need to drag them through this revisitation of highly traumatic events. He simply had to take himself to the High Court like everyone else, and make his case.

Instead, he and Turnbull have run the line that it is highly offensive, and anti semitic, to even question Frydenberg’s eligibility for parliament, because his Jewish family fled Hungary and the threat of death in the gas chambers, and have suffered enough.

It’s astounding that Frydenberg and Turnbull should attempt to manipulate such overwhelming tragedy for profane political purposes. But they have. Why, one could well ask Frydenberg, did you bring your family into this at all, particularly your mother, when all you had to do was present yourself to the Court with your documents?

The other hideous irony to emerge from Turnbull’s video is that many of the points he makes about the treatment of Jews by the Nazis are absolutely applicable to the treatment he is himself inflicting upon refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. As he attempts to destroy the 600 Manus men by denying them food, water, medicine, and the protection Australia owes them, and as he refuses to allow even 150 of them to be resettled in New Zealand, for no reason other than they might actually make a life there, the Chairman of the New Zealand Holocaust Centre drew these parallels:

We keep wondering how much worse Turnbull and the LNP government can get. And every time we wonder, they descend even deeper into a pit of moral and ethical slime.

But surely, you might well protest, using the gas chambers in an effort keep your job and hold onto government is going to take some beating.

But wait. There’s more. Genocide on Manus Island. There’s still that.

Media women name & shame sexual predators. Unless they are politicians.

26 Oct

 

Further allegations have been made against Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, including multiple sexual harassment and molestation claims dating back to 2012.

One of the allegations concerns a 17 year-old girl.

On ABC TV’s The Drum yesterday evening, a segment was devoted to the latest alleged high-profile offender, banished by Conde Naste from practising his profession as a fashion photographer after allegations of serial sexual harassment and assault of his model subjects. Katherine Murphy was one of the panelists, and the host was Julia Baird.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to watch Australian political journalists comment on sexual harassment by powerful men in every workplace other than the Australian parliament. The elephant loomed large in the studio as Baird and Murphy discussed a topic over which journalists have thrown a cone of silence when it concerns Australian politicians.

It’s increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that Australian journalists are complicit in, and enable, sexual harassment and worse in the parliamentary workplace.

The situation for alleged victims of Australian politicians’ sexual impropriety is a dire one. At the best of times women (and victims are predominantly women) struggle to be heard and believed when we complain about sexual harassment and assault. It’s been obvious for some time now that the media play a significant role in bringing harassers to everyone’s attention, giving victims a voice, and making it difficult or impossible for perpetrators to continue their behaviour.

Yet none of this support is available to women harassed in the parliamentary workplace, because the media will not investigate, and will not report on sexual crimes and misdemeanours occurring there.

How ironic that there is currently a name and shame campaign under way, led by high-profile journalist Tracey Spicer, against men who harass women employed in the Australian media, while at the same time, media women protect politicians from scrutiny. This selective approach to outing sexual harassers in the workplace damages the credibility of every woman involved in the campaign, particularly those who comment on politics.

This post by J.R. Hennessy on the Press Gallery convention that protects politicians from scrutiny of their “private lives” is excellent, and well worth a read.

I continue to ask the questions: why are politicians given the freedom by journalists to sexually harass and abuse women, a freedom that exists in no other Australian workplace? Why don’t the Press Gallery care about women in the parliamentary workplace?

The idea of protecting perpetrators because they are “entitled to privacy” has kept women and children in violent and abusive situations for centuries. That it continues to hold sway at the heart of our democracy is absolutely shameful, and every political commentator should be absolutely ashamed if they support this long out-dated convention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Politicians, sex and the Press Gallery

24 Oct

 

 

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, the Daily Telegraph decided on Saturday to publish a piece inferring that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce engaged in an extra marital affair with a staffer that has caused upheaval and discontent in his workplace, and his home.

My colleague Noely Neate offers some interesting speculations on the Tele’s piece here. 

What caught my attention was the reaction on Twitter from a few journalists, among them Katharine Murphy of the Guardian, who tweeted:

I’ve written on this convention here, but there’s more to be said about it.

The problem with Murphy’s convention is that it makes any scrutiny of the parliamentary workplace well-nigh impossible. If journalists are not willing to do the necessary investigations, and politicians know they are safe from scrutiny no matter what their sexual activities unless a victim complains to police, they are at liberty to conduct affairs with employees in circumstances that are far from equal. A politician is a powerful individual, some more so than others. Staffers not so much.

In Barnaby’s case he is the Deputy Prime Minister. The power differential between himself and his staffers is considerable. Consensual sex requires a modicum of power on both parts, and it’s arguable whether or not the staffer of a DPM, in a workplace such as Parliament House, has that modicum of power.

I’m not aware of any workplace in Australia other than our Parliament that has an agreement with journalists that employees sexual lives are private, and will not be reported on.

While Murphy’s criminality rider is relatively straightforward, coercion and abuse are not. It is difficult to see how situations of coercion and abuse can ever see the light of day, given the agreement the Press Gallery apparently has with politicians to keep their sexual lives private.

Whether or not an individual is entitled to a private sexual life depends entirely on the nature of that life. If we look at examples such as Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, to name but a handful of men whose sexual lives consisted in large part of exploitation  and sexual assault, then no, those sexual lives are certainly not entitled to privacy. Indeed, according them privacy enables their abusive and criminal behaviour. Without journalists denying them that privacy, we’d be unaware of their predations.

I’m not, of course, suggesting there’s a large number of politicians indulging in predatory sexual behaviours, but given the Press Gallery’s refusal to go there, how do we know? It would be naive in the extreme to believe their workplace is the only one on the planet in which sexual predation does not occur.

We know how difficult it is for victims of sexual predators to speak out. How much more difficult must it be if you’re in a workplace where you know the culture is one of protection for perpetrators?

There are circumstances in which a politician’s sexual behaviour is absolutely of concern to the public, and those circumstances need not be criminal, coercive or abusive. Barnaby, for example, campaigns vehemently against marriage equality on the grounds that it will somehow destroy the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, while he’s allegedly destroying the sanctity of his own marriage vows. If we are being governed by the hypocritical, we have a right to know that.

Paula Matthewson deals with the implications of illicit sexual behaviours in the political world, and our need to know, here.

There are situations in which a politician’s sexual life is absolutely irrelevant, and privacy appropriate. The Press Gallery convention, however, makes no such distinctions, and journalists’ hands off attitude to politicians’ sexual behaviours ensures a cone of silence around their workplace that can only disadvantage less powerful employees, while allowing our elected representatives freedom from accountability journalists grant no other workplace.

Guardian columnist Jeff Sparrow posted this tweet:

While there’s no argument from me that our sex lives shouldn’t matter to politicians, there are occasions on which politicians’ sex lives should matter a great deal to us. Why, for example, is there no investigation into Barnaby’s alleged affair? Did he use public money to fund its enactment? Is it an isolated incident, or does he make a habit of betraying his family?

This is a government that has subjected LGBTQI people to a foul postal opinion poll that gives everyone the right to “vote” on their human rights, based entirely on sexuality. Barnaby Joyce wholeheartedly supports this disgusting intrusion into the sexual lives of others simply because they are not heterosexual. Why is there a journalistic convention that protects Joyce from scrutiny?

Let’s not forget as well that Minister Alan Tudge announced stringent and intrusive requirements for single parents to prove they do not have a sexual/intimate relationship, before they can receive benefits. This government increasingly encroaches upon our privacy and into our bedrooms: yet politicians’ privacy and bedrooms continue to be considered be sacrosanct.

Why?

 

Bernardi & Abbott: a shared psychosis

23 Sep

And the week finished on a spectacularly self-mutilating note for the No side, with Cory Bernardi and Tony Abbott inadvertently exposing the dark spite at its crippled heart through a couple of straw-clutching stunts that only served to reveal the dire lack of substance in the anti-marriage equality tripe.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday provoked a media kerfuffle when he decided to report an alleged assault on him in Hobart not to police, as one might expect, but to Andrew Bolt and various other representatives of the gutter press. He had been head butted, he claimed, by a Yes supporter, in a totally unprovoked attack and this is all we can expect from Yes supporters who are disgracefully violent.

Eric Abetz, with whom Abbott later lunched, declared that if marriage equality becomes a thing we can expect that married same-sex couples will go round head butting whomever they want, because marriage equality gives legitimacy to head butting. Or something.

Eventually the Tasmanian police, alerted by media reports, contacted Abbott about the assault. They subsequently arrested  Hobart DJ and anarchist Astro Labe, who stated quite bluntly that his attack had absolutely nothing at all to do with same-sex marriage. Astro just hates Abbott and half-tanked, took an apparently god-given golden opportunity to “nut the cunt.”

That the media unquestioningly ran with Abbott’s fantasy that he had been attacked by a marriage equality supporter because of his stand against same-sex marriage, is disturbing. As the story unfolded, it became clear Abbott had quickly confected the motives for the assault, and the media went right along with his confection. I am tempted to speculate that Abbott’s opportunistic lies explain his failure to report the assault to police, and hopefully will cause him some difficulties when the matter comes to court.

Senator Cory Bernardi took umbrage at the South Australian Craigburn Primary School’s “Do it in a Dress” day, an event they’ve held for the last six years in which boys are encouraged to wear school frocks as part of a fund-raiser for African girls who are in urgent need of education.

“This gender morphing is really getting absurd” thundered the chiselled-faced senator who apparently believes if you allow a boy child to wear a dress for six hours he will morph into a yucky girl and a rampant homosexual and destroy the values of western civilisation and all this ruination begins with marriage equality you are being warned!

The school expected to raise about $900 for the African girls. At last count they’d received some $120,000, as citizens outraged by Bernardi’s perverted attack on the generosity of little kids expressed their feelings via their credit cards. Bernardi has been left with an inordinate amount of egg on his Ken-like features, and his mean-spirited efforts to shame primary school boys because they don a frock has exposed the despicable lengths he is prepared to go to in his anti LGBTQI and marriage equality campaign.

These two men are, quite frankly, hideous in their zealotry and their willingness to exploit every situation in support of their cause. Both men have been exposed as extremists, who see the world through the lens of their bigotry and homophobia, always on the look out for circumstances they can turn to their advantage. These tactics have backfired for both of them this week.

The media is also apparently biased against the Yes side, with No campaigner Lyle Shelton receiving three times, that is three times more mentions than prominent Yes advocates.

You’ll be relieved to hear that Abbott received only a “very, very small swelling” on his lip. You might care to consider this alongside the murderous violence perpetrated against gays, for example, and the astounding lack of interest and concern shown by media and authorities in these atrocities.

Post Script: I have just with my own eyes seen a photo of Bernardi and his wife in their own home with a large painting of  Australia’s most famous gender morpher, Dame Edna Everage, on the wall.  Nobody could make this shit up. Nobody. 

 

 

 

Turnbull’s postal opinion poll: a vicious, bullying farce.

19 Sep

It’s rather difficult to empathise with the marriage equality No crowd’s insistence that they are being “bullied” by the Yes side, given that the postal opinion poll on the issue is, in itself, one of the most outstanding examples of government and social bullying that we’ve seen in quite some time.

Subjecting groups to the judgement of their fellow citizens on the basis of their sexuality is bullying, of the most insidious and damaging kind. Sexuality is an integral part of who we are. It ought not to be the business of anyone other than ourselves, and those we choose to share it with. And yet here we are, bullied into participating in a bullying opinion poll on our bullied fellow citizens.

(Well done, Prime Minister Turnbull. We all know you chose this persecutory path this because you’re scared dickless of your right-wing. We also know that bullies are always cowards.)

The opinion poll is a survey (and I use the word loosely, given it wouldn’t pass muster as an actual survey anywhere except perhaps North Korea) of what some Australians think of the sexuality of other Australians. It is inherently privileged: gay people do not and never will have the right to participate in a government-initiated opinion poll on the sexuality of straight people and their right to marry. (The very fact this comment sounds ludicrous is solid evidence of entitlement and privilege). It is a survey with a non binding outcome if the answer is yes, and a binding outcome if the answer is no.

I understand that the national result of the opinion poll will be broken down on a federal electoral basis, thereby enabling politicians to claim they will vote in parliament according to their constituents’ wishes and not their own. Yet again they’ve worked out a way of getting themselves off the hook. Eluding responsibility is the one skill this government seems to possess in abundance.

Although the postal poll is to say the least haphazard (piles of envelopes left in the rain at apartment blocks; sent to people who’ve left the address ten years before; stolen forms auctioned online and so on) the results will be a permanent record of opinion in each federal electorate without any safeguards in place to ensure everyone in that electorate had the opportunity to comment. It really is an absolute farce, confected by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and embraced by Turnbull as a way to save his sorry arse from a right-wing kicking. If this isn’t bullying, I don’t know what is.

The No crowd, on the other hand, seem incapable of distinguishing between disagreement, and bullying or silencing. It’s a conservative trait to believe anyone with an opinion that differs from yours is your enemy. According to the right-wing, if you aren’t agreed with you are “silenced.” To this end, the No crowd continues to appear on every available media platform on a daily basis, protesting their “silencing.” Not one of them can see the irony in this.

Here, yet again, we see entitlement and privilege in action. The No crowd is working from the premise that they must be agreed with, simply because of who they are and what they believe. It’s become perhaps an over-used concept since the advent of Donald Trump, however, the notion that anyone who doesn’t believe what you believe is wrong and wickedly trying to silence you is teetering towards narcissistic. It’s also bullying.

So far throughout this debacle, the right has shown itself to be relentlessly seeking victimhood. However, for mine, Shelton’s appearance at the National Press Club last week conclusively undermined his accusations of silencing, both for him personally, and for his followers.

Let’s face it: we should be so lucky…

 

Let him eat cake: Abbott & marriage equality.

12 Sep

Tony Abbott marries himself. Mural by Australian artist Scott Marsh.

 

In the first paragraph of his opinion piece in The Age today, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott encapsulates the condescension and toleration typical of many on the No side of the marriage equality debate thus:

Like most, I have tried to be there for friends and family who are gay. They are good people who deserve our love, respect and inclusion but that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to reserve the term “marriage” for the relationship of one man with one woman, ideally for life and usually dedicated to children.

(Note: in almost every statement you can think of, whatever comes after a “but” negates wholly or in part what precedes it).

“They” are good people who deserve inclusion, however “they” do not deserve that ultimate straight privilege: marriage. And why don’t “they” deserve it? Because they are not heterosexual.

It ought to be obvious to even the dullest of minds that if your sole reason for denying another human the rights you unquestioningly hold yourself is their homosexuality, then you are practising homophobia.

Neither can you give the right to one group of citizens to determine the humanity of another and call for respectful debate at the same time. The premise of the debate is inherently disrespectful and harmful.

At this point, I could rest my case that the postal opinion poll is, in itself, homophobic, and as such anyone involved in it ought to be fined for vilification by participation, including me as I’m answering Yes. I remain enraged at Prime Minister Turnbull for his lazy and cowardly outsourcing of this matter to the public, thus forcing me, because I’m not prepared to chuck my survey in the bin, into engagement with a process I consider discriminatory and cruel. I couldn’t live with myself if I did anything to enable a No victory. The sucky little bastard has me wedged.

In Britain, Abbott bemoans, Catholic orphanages have been forced to close down as a direct consequence of marriage equality. This would seem to me to be a win-win, given the well-documented atrocities visited upon children in Catholic institutions but Abbott apparently considers it a reason to tick No. In the US, he continues, a baker (a baker, in the whole of the US, in the entire western world in fact, a bakerhas been prosecuted for refusing to put a slogan on a wedding cake. This, my friends, is all the drunken little toe rag has to prosecute his argument that marriage equality will destroy the principles on which our society is, in his perception, based. Bring on that long-overdue destruction, is my feeling on the matter.

This debate is about power. It’s about who controls the damn narrative. It’s about changing a society in which some people are considered less human than others solely because of their sexuality. It’s about ending exclusion. It’s about challenging the absolutely unacceptable hold religion has on our secular country. It’s about allowing the expression of human love beyond the narrow confines of the heteronormative.

By all means, let us discuss the institution of marriage, its pros and cons, its dominance in our culture. Its inherently exclusionary nature, the many ways in which it disadvantages women, all of its many problematics. However, these are separate issues from denying the privileges of marriage to anyone, solely on the basis of their sexuality.

If marriage equality does, as Abbott insists it will, fundamentally change our society, this can only be a good thing. Change will mean an equalising and an opening up, rather than the fearful and repressive hunkering down advocated by the No side, simply because they cannot deal with any kind of difference.

 

 

 

Tolerate my intolerance or I will destroy you

5 Sep

 

It takes some arrogance to declare that your support for others is contingent upon their actions and speech being acceptable to you. In other words, they earn your support by dancing to your tune, not because you have any real interest in their cause. Your primary concern is that your own sense of decorum may endure temporary violation, and you will not tolerate that, no matter whose human rights are at stake.

“Do it my way or else” is hardly a respectful way in which to approach debate and disagreement.

(I’ve long been of the belief that arrogance is a psychological defence mechanism employed to conceal from self and others terrifying feelings of  insecurity, uncertainty, and lack of self-worth. It’s a thin veneer.)

Such arrogance has been expressed by several right-wing commentators and was yesterday reiterated by one Tom Switzer, currently employed by the ABC as a “radio host.” Fairfax recently published this piece by Switzer on marriage equality and intolerance. To paraphrase: I would vote Yes in the marriage equality postal survey, declared Switzer, but the same-sex advocates are being so objectionable I’m rethinking that and may vote No.

I like to think of this attitude as a desperate (and despairing) effort to retain control by those who feel they are perilously close to losing their hold on the status quo. The “If you are not nice to me I will not support your cause” position is narcissistic, in the sense that offending these people is experienced by them as a narcissistic wound, a threat to their very being. It reveals the fragile, threatened ego that needs everyone to be nice to it all of the time, otherwise it will blow you up, metaphorically speaking in this instance though the threats of annihilation are more substantial at the more powerful end of the narcissism spectrum where we find Trump and Kim Jon Un. Switzer of course is not in their league: his narcissism is of the petit bourgeoisie class for whom bad manners, language and graffiti are offences that far outrank just about any denial of human rights.

The ultimate exercise of control: do it my way and don’t offend me, or I will use my power to affect your life against you.

Many of us can likely find a parallel in childhood, when our parents told us we wouldn’t have what we wanted unless we were good.  Switzer, et al, are applying the same authoritarian discourse to adults seeking equality with other adults. They are demanding their own intolerance, either of marriage equality or the manner in which the fight for it is fought, be placed front and centre in a discussion on equality. In so doing they destroy any possibility of equality and respect in the debate, let alone in its outcome.

This is a tactic used by the privileged against many minority groups. The ruling class sets behavioural norms, and gives itself permission to break them while severely punishing and shaming those who are not of their tribe. Tony Abbott’s taxpayer-funded drunkenness comes to mind as an example, as he advocates for the humiliation of indigenous people with the imposition of a cashless welfare card to prevent their purchase of alcohol.

The intolerant, such as Switzer, are not interested in respectful debate and just outcomes. They are concerned with their own feelings of offence, and consider themselves to be so important that a vote on the lives of others hinges entirely on whether or not they suffer affront.

Respectful? I don’t think so. Tolerant? Nah. Silenced? Give me a break.

 

 

 

 

The fluidity of tradition.

2 Sep

 

Tradition is a word we’ve heard a lot these last few weeks, as the anti marriage equality crowd cast about, in increasing desperation, for valid arguments to make against the Yes vote.

I’m being generous here, in describing the No contingent as engaged in a search for valid arguments: there are no such arguments and the Nays are resorting to all manner of nebulous scare tactics, including, but not limited to, the threat same-sex marriage allegedly poses to” traditional” marriage.

Here is  federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie with his understanding of traditional marriage:

I could spend the rest of the day deconstructing Hastie’s evangelical Christian opinion of marriage as solely for procreation, but readers here are more than capable of doing that for themselves. Suffice to say the man has publicly revealed his sexual repression, commiserations to his female partner and back to tradition.

There is a sense in which people who call on tradition as a justification for perpetuating contested attitudes and actions hold the belief that tradition, in and of itself, entirely validates the status quo. Tradition is to them a numinous concept, and as such, unchallengeable.

A moment’s reflection ought to alert them to the perils of such an assumption: think of the many traditions our society no longer tolerates and one is immediately aware of the fluid nature of tradition, why it’s almost as fluid as gender, hey Mr Shelton? 

There are many examples of traditional values that have revealed themselves, in a society struggling to evolve, to be bigoted, exclusionary and privileged, not to mention racist, sexist and genocidal. Traditional is not a synonym for good, or compassionate, or decent. It merely means that a certain set of behaviours has been naturalised or normalised at the expense of another set of behaviours. The determination is inevitably made by those who have the most power, and the most to gain by investing their favoured behaviours with the allegedly eternal quality of tradition. He (and sadly it usually is he) who controls the narrative controls what is to be considered traditional.

I’m going to venture out on a limb here and suggest that tradition, in and of itself, is bollocks. There’s absolutely nothing numinous or eternal or universal about it. It’s nothing more than reified repetition. There’s nothing wrong with doing the same thing generation after generation provided it isn’t damaging people, but please, let’s not pretend it carries a mysterious power of incontestable rightness, simply because it’s always been done that way.

So there you go, No vote. That’s fixed tradition for you as an argument. Next?

 

 

From the heartland of privilege: the week in politics

28 Aug

 

 

Statues of Lachlan Macquarie and Captain James Cook were graffitied by protesters last week, in an action the most cowardly prime minister in Australian history described as “cowardly.” Angry criticism erupted from the most unexpected of quarters, confirming that the privileged mind governs both the left and the right when it comes to challenging the myths of white heroes. Apparently vandalism is fine, indeed it isn’t even vandalism if the political class approves of your choice of subjects such as say, Saddam Hussein and Hitler, but stay away from white icons even if they are terrorists.

For mine, spraying some symbols of genocide and ongoing oppression with paint counts as nothing in comparison with the murderous acts perpetrated against your people, but the middle-class commentariat were outraged by the lack of niceness evidenced, niceness being one of that demographic’s primary instruments of control through the exercise of the power of shame.

Their reaction seems a tad hysterical, after all they can white wash their statues just as they’ve attempted to white wash the history behind them. For example, this statement from Macquarie is never seen on or around statues raised in his honour:

How about putting that on a plaque then?

And on the matter of being nice to the commentariat if you want their support, we have this from Caroline Overington on the problem of marriage equality advocates acting mean towards those who would have voted yes if marriage equality advocates hadn’t been mean to them and made them vote no. Because marriage equality is all about how people such as Caroline Overington feel, innit, and if you don’t get that you cannot expect her support.

Here we have a further example of the dominant privileged mindset. The privileged can dictate the terms of your protest, and if you are not nice in how you go about it, they won’t help you. Indeed, they will forget all about your cause, and shame you for your bad manners. It’s not what you say that counts for these people.  It’s all in the way that you say it.

As you read this post, one hundred asylum seekers are being effectively thrown out into the streets as the Turnbull government’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton implements a new “final departure Bridging E Visa” designed to force those in Australia for medical treatment to back Manus Island and Nauru, or back to the countries from which they fled.

Families, including children born here, are not yet included, though it appears to be only a matter of time before they too will have their income support withdrawn, and be given three weeks to leave government-supported accommodation.

 

The ALP has protested loudly against this fresh torment of asylum seekers, however, opposition leader Bill Shorten continues to insist that none will be settled here, and he spitefully ignores New Zealand offers to take a quota for resettlement. Shorten refers to un-named “third countries” as a solution (as long as they aren’t New Zealand) and to the doomed plan to resettle refugees in Trump’s America.

It is blindingly obvious that the US project is going nowhere, since we learned that Prime Minister Turnbull promised President Trump he didn’t have to take anyone, he just had to act as if he might. So why does Shorten continue to behave as if the option has any validity?

The PNG government has in the last couple of days informed the Turnbull government that it will not permit the closure of Manus Island detention centre at the end of October, and Dutton’s planned abandonment of refugees housed there to the island community.

The reality is, there is nowhere for the asylum seekers to go, and both parties carry equal responsibility for this disgusting state of affairs. They should be brought here, allowed to stay here, and New Zealand’s generous offer should be accepted.

In the three examples I’ve selected out of the many possibilities on offer this last week, there are common motifs. They are of lies, misinformation, suppression, oppression, persecution, and the revolting self-regard of white privilege.

Yes, this is Australia, no matter how often somebody attempts to claim that we are “better than this.” Clearly, we are not.

 

 

 

 

On religious freedom

18 Aug

 

Yes, I know, this might at first blush seem an odd choice of topic given our current circumstances but really, what can one usefully say about the political shenanigans that currently overwhelm any possibility of good governance?

One can only cling to the words of the late George Harrison: all things must pass, all things must pass away, and hope to dog they don’t take too damn long in their passing.

The erudite and decent Father Frank Brennan published this piece in the Guardian yesterday on the necessity to protect religious freedom as well as to support marriage equality. As far as I can tell from the piece, Brennan is arguing that while he hopes for the prevailing influence of good will all round, there must be room made for the religious to discriminate against same sex couples. He does not quite frame his argument in those terms, of course, however it seems to me that in this instance religious freedom equals the unchallengeable right to discriminate, on the sole grounds that the sexuality of some humans offends your religious sensibility.

If the religious are to be granted a legal right to discriminate against same-sex couples, they better provide some sound evidence of the need for that discrimination. Otherwise, discrimination on the basis of sexuality becomes normalised as “religious freedom” with no justification other than “it’s against my religion.”  I’m going to stick out my neck and declare that this isn’t good enough.

Why should your religious belief trump another’s human rights? On what basis does your religion condemn same-sex couples as humans you are entitled to discriminate against and therefore inevitably less fully human than you, be it in baking them a wedding cake or employing them in your schools?

And why should the secular state support you in your deliberate creation of a lesser class of beings?

It isn’t religious freedom to discriminate against others who don’t fit your vision of how humans ought to live. It’s religious exceptionalism. The language of religious freedom serves to obfuscate the reality: it is unjustified and unjustifiable dehumanisation of those whom it excludes.

Freedom of religion ought to mean, and in my opinion does mean, the freedom to practice your religious beliefs without oppression and persecution. It does not mean you are granted freedom to oppress and persecute those whose ways of being do not accord with your beliefs, and discriminatory behaviour towards such people is inarguably oppressing and persecuting them.

If your religious beliefs demand that you must, through discrimination, oppress and persecute a particular group of your fellow humans, perhaps you need to seriously consider the worth of that religion.

Religious freedom in this instance sounds an awful lot like justification for homophobia. And as long as the religious can’t offer sound reasons for needing this discrimination based on sexuality, it will continue to sound and look like homophobia. If it quacks like a duck…

 

 

Voting Yes

11 Aug

 

 

Friends of this blog know I’m not particularly enamoured of marriage as we know it. It’s an institution, as one wit noted, and who wants to live in an institution? Flippancy aside, my main objection to marriage is the entirely unwarranted privilege it is accorded in our society, a discriminatory privilege currently available only to heterosexuals.

Some of the most heinous behaviour of which the human species is capable is acted out in heterosexual marriage. Treachery and betrayal. Domestic violence. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children. Murder. The dark side of marriage ought to cause us to question its privileged position, but as a herd, we have a capacity for cognitive dissonance that is nothing short of astounding.

So voting Yes in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s disgraceful $122 million postal survey on marriage equality is a complicated decision, given that I think marriage as we know it is a bit of a nonsense in the first place. However, the reality I must accept is that marriage is an institution, and as such must be available to anyone who wishes to live in it. Excluding people on the basis of their sexuality is appallingly discriminatory, and makes second class citizens of anyone who isn’t heterosexual.

Add to this the allegedly illegitimate nature of Turnbull’s postal survey, about to be argued out in the High Court, and it becomes tempting to boycott the whole despicable process, rather than validate the PM’s sordid machinations with my participation.

However. You can be absolutely certain the No vote is, as we speak, marshalling all its forces to fight what the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton describes as “the fight of our lives” against marriage equality. Lyle, you might recall, some months ago issued a paranoid tweet to the effect that nobody will know he’s straight if gays are allowed to marry. Unfortunately most of his public commentary on marriage equality is far darker than that idiocy, and you can be absolutely certain he and his supporters will be cranking up their homophobic rhetoric over the next few weeks. If we don’t vote Yes we risk a No victory, and I do not want to think about the myriad ways in which that will licence Shelton and his ilk, possibly for years.

The No contingent will not care that a reduced Yes vote comes about as a consequence of principled boycott. They will rejoice in their victory. Nothing good can come of this, so please vote Yes.

Turnbull has wedged the electorate. He has presented us with a singularly depraved process, one he admits will go nowhere as a Yes vote is non-binding. He has co-opted us into his internal strife. He has made the Liberal party’s turmoil ours. He has forced us either to join him in his corrupt process, or risk an ongoing abuse of and discrimination against LGBTQI people that will be validated by a No vote. For this he should never, ever be forgiven.

We all know the right-wing of his party stands ready to nail his testicles to the despatch box. In another desperate attempt to avoid this fate, Turnbull has outsourced his responsibilities to the electorate.

I loathe the situation in which the PM has placed us. I loathe that he has made us a part of his cowardice and depravity. I would like nothing more than to boycott his stinking survey. But I believe the only way of fighting back is to vote Yes to marriage equality, an overwhelming, resounding Yes. If nothing else, this will place Turnbull in an absolutely untenable position if he then refuses to accept this Yes, and will forever make a mockery of his claims to listen to the will of the people.

A Yes vote is a demand that everyone in this country be accorded equal access to what is recognised as a human right to marriage and family. It is a demand for an end to the perception of LGBTQI people as somehow inferior to heterosexuals. It is a demand for an end to heterosexual privilege and power.

Turnbull has co-opted us into his vile process. Turn it back on him. Don’t play into his hands with a boycott. Vote Yes.

Oh, and you can also will the High Court to chuck the postal survey as an option out on its carbuncled arse.

 

 

 

Turnbull & Trump: Masters of depravity

6 Aug

“You’re worse than me” Trump tells Turnbull in leaked transcript

 

For those of you who haven’t read the full transcript of the phone call between US President Donald Trump and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, here’s the link.

For the politically aware, the transcript serves to confirm what we’d long since concluded: the agreement by the US to take refugees from Manus Island and Nauru is entirely dependent on the outcome of an “extreme vetting” process which, as Turnbull reassures Trump, means the US doesn’t actually have to take anyone. Trump only has to be seen to follow the process.

Turnbull also reassures a skittish Trump, worried about the moral character of the refugees, that they are good people we have imprisoned only because they travelled to Australia by boat. Had they arrived by plane, Turnbull states, they would be living here now.

Turnbull has unwittingly impaled himself on the horns of a dilemma: in order to persuade Trump he isn’t sending him “the next Boston Bombers” the PM, no doubt unquestioning in his belief that the phone call will remain secret, goes to some lengths to convince Trump the refugees are of good character and not potential terrorists, but we have imprisoned them anyway, in horrendous circumstances, for the non-crime of having arrived in a boat.

Let this sink in. Australian politicians have imprisoned and tortured those now acknowledged by the Prime Minister to be good people, purely to gain political advantage. Australian politicians have spent billions of taxpayer dollars on the confinement and torture of good people, for political advantage.

In my understanding of the word, this is depraved.

Some mainstream media commentators have praised Turnbull’s demeanour during the phone call. Some have claimed that he “won.” This is how depravity is normalised. By media unquestioningly accepting the “normality” of depraved exchanges. There can be no “winner” in what amounts to a discussion on people trafficking by people traffickers, and I have yet to see this exchange between Turnbull and Trump named for what it is.

What Turnbull “won” is unclear, since at its most base, the negotiation concluded with Trump being reassured that he does not have to take anyone from Manus and Nauru as they can all fail his extreme vetting, that’s up to him, while Turnbull grovelingly agrees that we will take all those Trump “needs to move on, anyone. Anyone.”  Momentarily setting aside the depraved nature of the discussion, how can this possibly be a “win” for Turnbull and Australia?

It’s indicative of how normal depravity has become in Australian politics that much of the mainstream media is apparently entirely unaware of it: even the ABC’s Chris Uhlman described Turnbull as having “won.” Are commentators incapable of acknowledging the depravity of two excessively privileged men treating refugees as less than human?

The leaked transcript has revealed nothing new: it has confirmed what many of us already long believed: that refugees imprisoned by Australia in off-shore concentration camps have been stripped of all humanity, and reduced to political pawns in a depraved political game designed to appease the most ignorant, racist and base amongst us.

The question is, are we prepared to accept this depravity from our politicians? Because if we are, we enter into this depraved state alongside them and by our collusion, and the collusion of our media, normalise the persecution of innocent people for political gain.

You think this will stop with refugees? You’re dreaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presumption of innocence, or attacking victims & the legal system?

2 Jul

 

I’m somewhat baffled by the insistence of George Pell’s more vocal and public supporters that he is being unfairly treated. He has, they assert, been subjected to years of suspicion and innuendo and this, they argue, makes a fair trial impossible. Their opinion: he is the victim of a witch hunt and should not have been charged. The ludicrous conclusion of this argument is that nobody should be charged with anything if there’s been public commentary prior to those charges being laid.

I would like to see some proof of this claim of inevitable prejudice due to Pell’s profile, though I doubt there’s relevant data. What is interesting is that whilst Pell himself has welcomed the opportunity to at last defend himself in court, his Australian supporters seem hell-bent on declaring the process already poisoned. Obviously they aren’t respecting Pell’s desire for his day in court. So what are they doing?

Amanda Vanstone, former ambassador to Rome and Pell admirer, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in May: how would you like to throw out your own right to a fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place together with the right to a fair trial if you are charged? Vanstone goes on to further question the integrity of the Victorian DPP (to whom she was presumably referring in the phrase “fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place”) and Victoria Police, and to rail against latte sippers in cafes who she claims deny Pell the presumption of innocence. Vanstone’s descriptions of those calling for Pell to be held to account include “a baying crowd” and a “lynch mob from the dark ages.” Inevitably, she includes victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in her derogatory commentary.

Then take Tasmania Archbishop Julian Porteous’ comments in the Hobart Mercury on Thursday, when police announced they ‘d charged Pell:

HOBART Archbishop Julian Porteous says he is “shocked and disappointed” his former colleague Cardinal George Pell has been charged with historical sexual offences by Victoria Police.

“I think it’s terrible these claims have been made against him. I don’t believe they’ve got any substance to them,” Archbishop Porteous said. [emphasis mine]

He said he was also worried about the impact the high-profile nature of the case would have on a fair trial.

“The possibility of a fair trial is compromised. I don’t know how a jury could proceed with a trial where [there is] so much media out there.”

Archbishop Porteous also referred to journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal, published in May, which details some of the allegations made against Cardinal Pell.

He said media coverage and the book were “creating a very unfair environment for justice”.

Cardinal Pell, 76, the Vatican’s finance chief, was charged by summons today with several historical offences dating back to his time as a Ballarat priest and Archbishop of Melbourne.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney — where Pell was Archbishop from 2001-2014, and where Archbishop Porteous was an auxiliary bishop from 2003-2013 — released a statement saying the Cardinal was “looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously”.

Archbishop Porteous said Cardinal Pell was “a man of absolute integrity”.

The Porteous and Vanstone reactions are little different from the reactions of some family members when one of their number is accused by another of sexual abuse. There is disbelief and scapegoating of the alleged victim, and blind defence of the alleged perpetrator. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s taking a side, and it’s prejudiced. It’s nothing more than opinion, and reveals the inability of the bystander to acknowledge any possibility other than his or her opinion.

Pell has welcomed the opportunity afforded him by Victoria Police to put his case in a court of law. His supporters must respect his stated wishes, and cease muddying the waters by attempting to manufacture cause for a trial to be abandoned. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s a denial of justice, both to Pell and to the complainants.

It is worth reiterating that nobody, not Vanston, not Porteous, not Paul Kelly, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine or indeed anyone one of us can know the truth of this matter. None of us were present. Pell was present. The alleged victims were present. This matter must be left to the best process we have: the process of law. It is not presumption of innocence to deny that process to Pell, and it is not presumption of innocence to attempt to denigrate and undermine the institutions that, in this intensely scrutinised case, are all we have to administer justice.

 

 

 

In the Pell case, complainants have equal rights to justice.

30 Jun

 

Yesterday came the momentous news that Victoria Police have charged Cardinal George Pell with multiple allegations of the crime of sexual abuse of children, following their investigation of complaints made by multiple accusers.

The matter is now sub judice, which means there can be no commentary on the charges and allegations, and no predictions of verdict. Sub judice does not forbid all commentary, and the above link is a guide to what may and may not be published. Please read the first couple of pages before leaving inflammatory comments that might be in contempt.

There is also an interim suppression order on the details of the charges, requested by Pell’s lawyers.

My thoughts are with those complainants who now face an arduous courtroom experience, during which our adversarial legal system will permit Pell’s lawyers to tear them to shreds. Already there has been much commentary from Murdoch hacks that the charges against Pell have been instigated by a vengeful and incompetent police force hell-bent on conducting a witch hunt. In other words, as far as Paul Kelly, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson and the other usual suspects are concerned, the complainants are liars and it is necessary to question police integrity. How this commentary is not flagrant abuse of the sub judice rule, I have yet to ascertain.

Much media coverage to date has focused on Pell’s right to justice. However, the complainants also have the right to justice. It is indicative of an almost entirely unexamined societal attitude that, particularly in sexual matters, the rights of the accused are likely to be the subject of greatest concern, while the complainants are, in the very essence of our law, obliged to prove they are not liars.

It’s amazing that Pell has been charged. In itself, this signifies an extraordinary change in societal attitudes to the sexual abuse of children, a change set in motion by the Gillard government’s Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, itself so fiercely opposed by several of those who yesterday claimed a witch hunt.

I have no idea how this will play out. Obviously, Victoria Police consider they have sufficient evidence to proceed. They have not assumed the complainants are liars. Pell is the highest ranking Catholic to be faced with such allegations, and the case has drawn global attention. For the sake of all concerned, most particularly the complainants, this situation must be allowed to run its legal course, whether you agree with the system or not. It’s the only one we’ve got.

Ive decided to add this astounding rant, published this morning by The Australian and written by Paul Kelly, as the site is pay-walled. 

In this momentous event, it is not just Cardinal George Pell who is on trial — it is the integrity of Victoria Police, the justice system and our capacity to deliver a fair trial.

There is no precedent for this situation. The most important Catholic leader in Australia since Daniel Mannix and close adviser to Pope Francis is being tried against allegations that Pell himself has perpetrated historical sexual offences.

This decision by Victoria Police comes after an unprecedented and manic campaign against Pell, leaks to the media, vicious character assaults in the mainstream media and grave doubts about the way police have conducted their inquiries.

The risk now is that the historic, unforgivable and appalling extent of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has taken yet another tragic turn — a show trial against the nation’s most senior Catholic figure. This is precisely what many people want.

The justice system must ensure it does not eventuate.

The issue here is not Pell’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations within the church — it is something entirely different; that Pell himself has engaged in sexual offences.

The decision to charge Pell is a shattering blow to the Catholic Church. The ramifications will last for years even if he is cleared.

The campaign of hatred against Pell transcends the deep and legitimate grievances of the victims and families. It is tied to the idea that Pell must be punished for the sins of the church and that this constitutes a form of justice for the victims.

Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, when venting his concern last month over whether Pell would get a fair trial, put the moral issue up in lights — the wrong done to victims of sexual abuse cannot justify a wrong being done in a witch hunt against Pell.

The case against Pell draws upon allegations of sexual offences by many complainants.

He has declared the claims are false. It is hard to believe these court proceedings will be finalised quickly. Whether Pell can receive a fair trial hangs in the balance. This is not just a trial for Pell and the church. It is a test of our institutions, our justice system and the culture of our civil society.

Convince me this isn’t written with intent to foul the Pell case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When all else fails, is a woman justified in naming the man who raped her?

19 Jun

 

Writer Lauren Ingram revealed on Twitter yesterday that in April 2015 she endured a violent sexual assault, allegedly perpetrated by an official of the NSW Greens.

Ms Ingram went public, including posting images of the bite marks (yes, bite marks) and bruises inflicted on her body by the assailant.

Lauren went to hospital. She went to the police, who told her the individual responsible was probably too young to know how to have sex properly, and declined to pursue the matter. After discovering she wasn’t the only woman with complaints against the alleged perpetrator, some made by young Greens members as long as six years ago and ignored by the party, Lauren approached the NSW Greens.

She had no more luck with them than she’d had with the police. The man was until recently employed by the Greens, as well as an office holder. He’s resigned his employment as he plans to go overseas.

When a woman reports a sexual assault to the police she might be lucky and get a good, well-trained officer, or she might be unlucky, as Lauren was, and find herself dealing with yet another form of assault and insult in which her complaint is dismissed and her trauma increased. This is unacceptable. Laws designed to deal with sexual assault are useless when frontline police officers do not do their job, out of ignorance, lack of interest, or lack of training. Lauren had hospital reports. She had photographic evidence of injury. The police officer couldn’t be bothered. This is unacceptable. I hope that officer is identified and subjected to disciplinary measures, because until such officers are weeded out, women are not safe when reporting crimes against us.

The NSW Greens have allegedly been aware of a rapist and sexual harasser among their number for some six years. Yet they have done nothing. They have not expelled him. They have provided him with a hunting ground for victims. They have enabled and supported his predatory behaviours. This is unacceptable. The NSW Greens have lost all credibility in their claims to support action against violence towards women. You cannot, as a political party or any other institution, protect an abuser and claim to be opposed to abuse.

The police and the Greens have done Jarah Cook no favours. In declining to pursue the complaints against him, they have denied him the opportunity to argue his innocence. In naming him, Lauren Ingram has taken matters into her own hands because every other option available failed her. As society in general appears to be more concerned with the fate of the perpetrator than the victim, let’s look at it from the alleged perpetrator’s point of view. Had he been been questioned, arrested and charged, Jarah Cook would have been given the chance to defend himself. It is not Lauren Ingram’s fault that this didn’t happen. It is the fault of the police, and the political party who gave him protection.

So, when all else fails should a woman name the man who raped her? In the case of Lauren Ingram, absolutely, yes. The idea that because a woman is blocked by police from obtaining justice she should keep her mouth shut is vile. Just what are we expected to do? Crawl away and maintain a silence that will only protect the perpetrator and the system that has failed us?

When the system fails we have the right to speak out.  Ms Ingram has most bravely taken this path, and I can only hope more women are empowered by her example.

As for the NSW Greens. All institutions are responsible for knowingly harbouring offenders. There are no innocent bystanders. They are accountable.

On June 19 2017, the Greens issued this statement. Jarah Cook’s membership was revoked in February 2017.  

Further reading 

And here

 

 

 

On cultural appropriation

15 May

 

I spent a considerable amount of time today arguing that cultural appropriation is not necessarily the same thing as fiction writers creating characters, and that it’s a disservice to everyone for the two to be conflated. Good arguments on this topic are explored here and here:

It is no longer enough to say that you merely disagree with something. Rather, the author must be stigmatized as a sort of dangerous thought criminal.

That being said, there are writers who use stereotypes. This is offensive, hurtful and likely harmful. It is also bad writing.

However, all fiction writing cannot be dismissed or forbidden because of bad writing. The task of the fiction writer is to walk a mile in another’s shoes. Indeed, fully realised fiction is an act of humanity: it demonstrates the all-too-often forgotten human capacity to empathically inhabit, and then convey difference. There is nothing, in my view, that can possibly save us as a species other than the ability to walk a mile in another’s shoes and then share the experience.

Cultural appropriation is the antithesis of this act of humanity. It is dehumanising. I’m pretty angry when defending the writer’s empathic imagination is framed as enabling cultural appropriation. In fact, I call bullshit.

I don’t care that I’m a white woman making these statements. I don’t care if they are interpreted as racist. If that’s the best argument you’ve got against the right of fiction writers to empathically explore other subjectivities, knock yourself out.

You can always fuck off, as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Damned

17 Apr

 

This morning I read this tweet from Fairfax journo Ross Gittins:

My first thought was, a new kind of human being has emerged. One without empathy. This is why we don’t care anymore. Our species is devolving.

For someone who only yesterday re-watched Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, my first thought rather remarkably disregarded  history. Visconti’s film charts the moral and physical decline of a wealthy German steel manufacturing family between 1933 and 1934, contiguous with the Nazi party’s rise to power. It is an unrelievedly dark work that plumbs the deeps of most depravities, and it left me needing an afternoon ocean swim for the cleansing properties of sea water and sunlight.

Visconti’s film is hailed as an outstanding examination of moral decadence, sexual neurosis, narcissistic self-centredness and political opportunism, a string of descriptors that can be well applied to the US President and his Republican Party, and to not a few of our own politicians.

(If you don’t think the desire to control women’s reproductive health is symptomatic of sexual neurosis, think again.)

The movie put me in mind of the Trumps, and the current White House battles for power and position, the best analysis of which (so far) is to be found here at Vanity Fair. The immediate difference is at the moment we can still sneer in mocking disbelief at the Trump tribe’s incompetence and stupidity, whereas nobody in their right mind would sneer at the Von Essenbecks and the Nazi party. It is, however, perfectly imaginable that at the time, such people were regarded as idiots by those who would later suffer immeasurably at their hands.

Trump is still largely seen as a buffoon rather than something far more sinister, however, he is a buffoon with the ability to unleash nuclear weapons, and he appears to have willingly conceded unfettered power to his military hawks. They don’t have to ask him before they blow stuff up.

Thinking of the differences and similarities between the Von Essenbeck family and the Trumps leads me to speculate that as well as having lost much of our ability to appreciate the beauty of compassion and concern (that human talent being derogated by the neo-fascists as “elitist”) we have also become diminished in our capacity to identify and acknowledge the corroding powers on the human spirit of darkness and terminal decay.  It’s likely impossible to become desensitised to horror without incurring an equal desensitisation to the sublime.

I think my reaction to Mr Gittens’ tweet was wrong. A new kind of human being has not emerged. The human being without empathy has always existed. The narcissistic, self- centred, sexually neurotic, morally decadent political opportunist has been in existence for as long as human civilisation. To think otherwise is to disregard history, and to disregard history is to ensure its repetition.

It is true that we used to care if people were starving, and now perhaps we do not care as much. It’s also true that before we cared there were periods when we didn’t care, and this periodic lack of care for others is nothing new. That doesn’t excuse it. There is no excusing it. However, it’s worth remembering this cyclical nature of compassion because we have, more than once, got ourselves out of not caring and back into caring again, and we probably need to remember how we did that, so we can have some hope of doing it again before it’s too late.

The most alarming difference between the Nazi Party and present day Republicans is nuclear weapons, from which there is, for most victims including the planet, no coming back. Once they are unleashed, we are most of us damned.

By the way, I note that the Trump family portrait bears an uncanny resemblance to the Von Essenbecks’ excesses of style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Government sinks in the swamp of stupid.

3 Apr

 

This morning, Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge outdid even himself in the stupidity stakes when he admitted that he had released the private data of a Centrelink client to “a small number of journalists,” and that the information “was not released more widely” than that “small number of journalists.”

One hardly knows where to begin unpacking this utterly facile statement, and perhaps one won’t bother wasting one’s valuable life trying. Perhaps it is more useful to reflect on the fact that it issued forth from the mouth of a Minister of the Crown and a member of our government, not that old wag One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, from whom one might more likely expect such codswallop.

Then we have Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who yesterday took to the airwaves to lacerate Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews for “permitting the closure of the Hazelwood power station.”

Everybody knows Hazelwood was closed by its owners Engie and Mitsui & Co (who bought it from the Kennett government, by the way). Turnbull is cogniscent of this minor detail, as he demonstrated just a few days ago with this observation:

Perhaps one ought not to blame the government for assuming its citizens are equals in stupidity: after all, it was elected, albeit with a majority of one.

I can’t decide if Turnbull and his gang of foot- shooters are attempting bad imitations of US President Donald Trump, or if they’ve attained a state of collective desperation in which they no longer care what they say because the swamp water has risen to their necks & there’s nothing left for them to lose: they’re going under.

If the former, someone should tell them it is not possible to do a bad imitation of President Trump. President Trump has the market cornered. Unless you’re Alec Baldwin, you should leave imitating Trump alone because you can only ever sound like a loser wannabe.

Oh, wait! It’s the Turnbull government I’m talking about (laughs like Samantha Bee).

Meanwhile, it was revealed this morning that the proposed Adani coal mine intends to send only high ash/low quality coal to India,and that’s fine, according to Minister for Resources, Matt Canavan, as the Indians are used to crap coal and anyway, if we don’t sell it to them somebody else will. Plus, our soot is superior to the soot India currently breathes so what’s the problem?

We are a wonderful country. It’s a tribute to us that we keep on keeping on, despite our farcical overlords.

But wait. I understand British Prime Minister Theresa May today threatened to start a war with Spain, so take heart. It could be worse.

 

Trump isn’t ironic about women, & neither is Turnbull

2 Apr

 

 

 

The announcement by US President Donald Trump that the month of April is national sexual assault awareness and prevention month was greeted with hollow mirth by many, and described by some as “ironic.”

There’s nothing ironic about this announcement. It is a calculated display of contempt for women, particularly women who endure sexual assault. It’s the most powerful man in the western world demonstrating to the women of his country that he can toy with them, as and when he chooses, in case they haven’t already worked that out.

Contempt isn’t irony. It’s far more dangerous, and we’re seriously underestimating the danger if we misread it.

Trump’s announcement is similar to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign aimed at encouraging men to “respect” women as a means of preventing sexual and other violences perpetrated upon us. However, Turnbull simultaneously ripped federal funding from community legal centres, and frontline services such as refuges and crisis counselling.

The “irony” of Turnbull’s scathing indictment of men who abuse women, and his own abuse of us by withdrawing resources we need when we are attacked, apparently escaped the PM. Except that it wasn’t irony: it was reckless disregard, born from contempt, for the safety of women and children under threat.

Turnbull acts from the same deep-seated contempt for women as does Trump: he is better at disguising it, or rather, Trump doesn’t care about disguising his contempt, while Turnbull needs to maintain at least the appearance of interest and concern to preserve both his self-image, and votes.

Yesterday I read this account of how Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee forced a prisoner to give birth while her hands were shackled. When during her labour she needed to go to the toilet, her ankles were also shackled. She was not permitted to move into positions that eased her pain or aided the delivery of her child. Her baby died at birth. It is customary in Clarke’s jail, for pregnant women to be shackled.

Last week I read many accounts of former politician Mark Latham’s attacks on women, enabled by much Australian media, up until he called a young man who spoke about feminism “gay.” For gay, in this instance read feminised, and therefore a suitable target for Latham’s misogyny.

It is no coincidence that misogyny and homophobia go hand in hand. For Latham, obviously a proponent of hydraulic male sexuality, the most toe-curling aspect of love between men is the assumption he makes that somebody has to be “the woman.”

There’s barely a day without attempted or successful attacks on women’s reproductive rights somewhere in the world. In Queensland and NSW abortion is still a crime for both women and doctors. Male politicians, such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and right wing senator Cory Bernardi, continue to imply that women who seek abortions are morally corrupt. Bernardi describes abortion as “an abhorrent form of birth control”

Just yesterday in Iowa, legislation that could force women to continue a pregnancy to term after the foetus has died, was passed.

Women’s access to contraception is continually under attack. 

There is no irony to be found in any of this.  There is unrelenting hatred and fear of women, expressed in… let me count the ways.

That our governments, state and federal will not, and it is will not, it isn’t cannot, provide adequate frontline services for women and children fleeing violence tells us everything we need to know about the contempt in which women are held in this country.

The contempt for us is so great that state and federal governments enable violence against us by refusing practical options that will give us an escape route, while at the same time launching ludicrous campaigns to “raise awareness” of that violence. This is not irony. This is full-fledged misogyny, and it is murderous.

So next time you think feminism is about female CEOs, or the choice to enlarge your breasts, or more women in parliament, remember that your governments hate you so much they will not provide a refuge for you and your children, they will not provide accessible legal assistance for you, they will not ensure you have housing if your home is too dangerous.

More female CEOs has not changed this. More women in parliament has not changed this. It’s difficult to see how becoming part of the system can ever change the system. Feminism’s ambition used to be to destroy an abusive system, not to be subsumed by it.

Where it actually matters and where it actually counts, governments have turned their backs on women, while engaging in expensive and useless campaigns to convince us otherwise.

Hatred of us is normalised. And now it’s so normal we’re calling it “irony.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How marriages based on mistrust hold back all women

31 Mar

 

I was intrigued yesterday to observe on Twitter a good deal of chatter from conservative religious types on the topic of husbands who refuse to eat alone with any woman other than their wife.

The not eating with anyone but your wife rule is based on the assumption that heterosexual marriage is the only possible partnership, being as the religious conservative crowd doesn’t believe LGBTQI people are fully human so don’t see the need for inclusion.

I tracked this odd behaviour down to a series of articles on US Vice President Mike Pence, who will not allow himself to be alone with women other than his wife, Karen, and who will not attend any functions at which alcohol is served unless Karen is by his side.The Pences are evangelical Christians.

Pence calls his wife “Mother.” He yells down the table at formal dinners: “Mother! Mother! Who cooked this meal?”

The Vice President of the US has sex with a woman he calls Mother.

They’re spoiled for choice in the US, aren’t they? A pussy grabber or a man with unresolved Oedipal conflicts who can only be prevented from grabbing pussy by having his mother wife beside him the entire time. Ladies, I give you the current leader of the Western world, and the one who’ll take his place in the event of unfortunate circumstances.

The most serious consequence of these bizarre restrictions is that women are immediately disadvantaged in terms of job opportunities, because there are men apparently unable to control their sexual impulses. Or there are wives with so little trust in husbands, they cannot cope with their man meeting alone with any woman who is not them.

It’s astounding that women can be refused job and career opportunities in order to safeguard somebody else’s deluded notion of heterosexual partnership. It’s astounding that woman are still seen first as opportunities for sex, over and above all other qualities, talents and capabilities.

It’s astounding that there are women who choose to spend their lives with men they think so little of they must infantilise them, and never let them out on their own, and men who enforce the same restrictions on their wives. I believe this is a form of domestic violence, an excess of jealousy and suspicion that has become normalised in some circles, to the degree that both parties submit to it and call it “respect.”

Most of us wouldn’t have friendships with people we can’t trust, yet it’s fine to be married to someone you don’t trust?

Very low bar some people set for marriage.

It isn’t only in job and career opportunities that heterosexual insecurities work to restrict the lives of women. Friendships, intellectual engagements, the pleasure of shared interests can also be difficult, if not impossible, when someone is in an insecure relationship that is threatened by a partner’s perfectly legitimate connections with another party.

Does marriage have to mean the end of every possibility of significant connection with anybody other than your spouse? Because if it does, it’s a dead-end that stunts humanity.

Many a single woman has a story of how she’s been treated with suspicion by friends, even good friends, who suddenly become uncomfortable with her when their husbands are around. I’ve heard of female friendships being ruined in such situations, and women left wondering what on earth they’d done to offend.

Unfortunately, some insecure wives tend to blame their inability to trust their husbands, or their husband’s actual untrustworthiness, on their female friends, rather than addressing the frightening challenges mistrust throws up in the marriage, and to them as individuals. The same goes for insecure husbands.

I mean, look. We’re still at the stage of blame the woman. No matter which way you look at it, it’s always let the men off the hook because they’re too infantile to take responsibility for themselves, and blame the woman. On the face of it, the Pence rule is bizarre and extreme, however, to settle for that explanation is to deny its far-reaching and damaging implications. Marriages built on mistrust are detrimental to women, whether it’s the US Vice President’s or those in your own social circle. And they couldn’t be a worse partnership model for the young.

We really have not come such a long way. Baby.

 

 

 

 

Liberal senator admits 18C changes are designed to win back PHON voters

22 Mar

Brandis bigotry cartoon for 25 3 14 by Cathy Wilcox
“Bigot Pride March”

 

In case you did not suspect that Malcolm Turnbull’s explosion of piss and wind on Section 18C yesterday was entirely self-serving, this morning on Radio National Breakfast news, Liberal Senator James Paterson confirmed that the exercise was part of a suite of measures designed to win back votes from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Oh look! A Liberal can speak the truth!

It was as well another of Turnbull’s abject efforts to hold onto his rickety leadership by placating his simmeringly mutinous right-wing.  I hesitate to call them colleagues: that implies a co-operative relationship and this lot are snapping at their leader’s heels like a pack of rabid ferrets. Assuaging these furies is the motivation behind some 99.99% of Turnbull’s worryingly unhinged thought bubbles.

What yesterday’s exercise most certainly was not, is an expression of concern for the groups 18C is designed to protect, though Turnbull did his barrister best to spin it as such, declaring with silk-like arrogance that of course these changes would be of benefit, why else would his government so strongly support them?

The proposed change to the wording of 18C from insult, offend and humiliate to harass, is highly unlikely to pass the Senate, so Turnbull is on a hiding to nothing in that respect, however, he has silenced his critics’ savagery for a nano second (his nemesis, former PM Tony Abbott went so far as to congratulate him) and he has demonstrated to the pig ignorant that he won’t be enslaved by “political correctness.”

Aside: I have yet to fathom what political correctness actually is. Can anybody help me? Please be civil.

And so we have (on Harmony Day, nice touch lads) the spectacle of comfortably privileged white men demanding the right to insult, offend and humiliate others solely on the basis of difference. Comfortably privileged white men are inherently entitled to engage in these behaviours (we women know this all too well) and anyone attempting to interfere with their entitlement is guilty of “political correctness.”  Political Correctness is, apparently, a far greater crime than insulting, offending and humiliating others solely because they are different in some way from you.

The world is collapsing under the unsustainable weight of the entitlements of comfortably privileged white men and their female consorts. Like miserably greedy children who fear their parents don’t love them they must have control of everything, otherwise it’s not fair.

Section 18C is intended to curb speech that will cause harm on the very specific grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, and colour. I want Turnbull to explain why comfortably privileged white men and women need so desperately to be assured that they can legally insult, offend and humiliate others on the grounds of their race, ethnicity, nationality, or colour?

There is no upside to such commentary. It can only ever be derogatory, damaging and ill-intentioned. So why do the privileged need it? Why single out this particular aspect of free speech from the many others, including defamation law, that could more usefully be addressed?

Of course defamation law is what comfortably privileged white men use to destroy the freedom of others to speak about them in ways they find insulting, offensive and humiliating. Funny, that.

Changing the wording to harass almost certainly would have protected both Andrew Bolt and Bill Leak from complaints made against them to the Human Rights Commission. Harassment implies a sustained and personal attack, not a handful of cartoons or articles in a newspaper. A substantial body of work would need to be accrued before harassment could be alleged.

The bar would be set high so as to discourage complainants. The added recommendation that costs be awarded against complainants who lose their case is a powerful deterrent to making complaints in the first place.

The Murdoch press, on the other hand, has deep pockets and neither Bolt nor Leak would have faced personal financial distress, as would the majority of complainants. This does not, as Turnbull so deceitfully claimed, “strengthen the law” unless you are a perpetrator.

The proposed law is entirely political, and favours comfortably privileged white men over those they would insult, offend and humiliate, just because they can and by god, free speech!

One could almost claim that the LNP has struck (another) blow for Rupert.

What a happy Harmony Day we had in Australia. The day our government soothed the furrowed brows of ignorant bigots and promised to let them have all the freedoms they want, whenever they want.  Now all that remains is for Turnbull to name the proposed change “The Leak Amendment.”

As this piece by Jennifer Hewitt in the AFR proclaims, the spirit of Leak lives on in the 18C amendment. Oh yes, indeed it does, but not for the reasons Hewitt suggests.  It lives on in the cynical exploitation of difference for personal and political gain, normalised and legitimised by a very little, very frightened and very cowardly man, desperately clinging to his job and willing to exploit any circumstance that might help him stay in it for one more day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dutton stigmatises CEOs as no better than women. Wow.

20 Mar

 

 

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton inexplicably stepped out of his portfolio last week to make commentary on CEOs with an opinion on marriage equality that does not coincide with his own.

Dutton singled out Qantas CEO Alan Joyce for particular attention, presumably because Mr Joyce is gay.

In a final flourish, Dutton advised CEOs to “stick with their knitting” and in so doing revealed the putrid depths of his masculinist contempt not only for gay men and marriage equality advocates, but also for women.

Knitting is largely (though not entirely) a female occupation. It has long been the practice of hegemonic masculinity to “feminise” and therefore devalue gay men through the conflation of homosexuality with effeminacy.

Heterosexual masculinists such as Dutton work to denigrate homosexuals and their CEO supporters as undesirably  “female” by suggesting that their expertise is not in the world of business, opinion and commentary, but rather in a confined domestic environment where they are powerless, voiceless, and, knitting.

The denigration works only if Dutton (and heterosexual masculinists of both genders who agree with his point of view) believes women are inferior, and uses the recommendation to “stick to your knitting” as a profoundly unpleasant, homophobic and sexist insult.

The Minister is actually saying: you have no place and no power in the world of “real” men like me, because if you are a man who supports marriage equality you are inevitably effeminate.

Dutton devalues the male CEOs by attributing to them the “feminine” activity of knitting, and simultaneously devalues women. Our real place is not, in his opinion, in the public space advocating marriage equality, but in a domestic life removed from concerns best left to masculinist politicians.

In Dutton’s view, gay men and male supporters lack masculinity, evidenced by their subversive refusal to unquestioningly support the hegemonic masculinity Dutton represents.

Indeed, Dutton’s masculinity is, like the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton, defined by his heterosexuality. I recall Shelton’s plaintive tweet that if we allow marriage equality, no one will know he is straight.

Feminising gay men and supporters, stigmatising them as no better and no more relevant in the world than women, is an abject attempt to differentiate the heterosexual masculinist from his greatest perceived threat: a man who loves another man and in so doing becomes, oh dear god no, feminised.

In the world of heterosexual masculinists opposites attract, therefore, if you’re a man who loves a man, you must be a woman.

That this is employed as an insult by Dutton should give us significant pause.

Knitting is generally regarded as a harmless occupation, however, Dutton should note that knitters are not necessarily quite so bland. Madame Defarge, for example, knits contentedly on through the Revolution as the despised ruling heads of France fall one by one into the basket under the guillotine, their names stitched into her patterns.

Dutton has managed, in one short phrase, to cast a thoroughly offensive slur upon gay men and all women. Actually, there aren’t many human beings Dutton likes. This nasty piece of work does not belong in our government. Let’s hope his electorate see it that way.

 

 

How has Centrelink come to normalise contempt?

13 Mar

 

In The Saturday Paper this weekend there’s an editorial addressing the recent Centrelink scandals that, among other extreme dysfunctions, have seen the private data of two clients released to that publication, The Guardian, and The Canberra Times.

What you might not know is that The Saturday Paper declined to publish unsolicited private data sent to them by Centrelink, and that those private details belonged to a young man, Rhys Cauzzo, who died by suicide after receiving automated debt notices and subsequent harassment by Centrelink, and debt collectors Dun and Bradstreet:

Recently, private information about welfare recipients has been leaked to the media in the hope of discrediting critics. After The Saturday Paper published Rhys Cauzzo’s story, the department shared his personal data with our reporter in the hope of changing the piece.

The construction of citizens as enemies of Centrelink is engendered by the conservative ideology of Minister Alan Tudge, and senior departmental staff such as DHS secretary Kathryn Campbell, who use as their starting point the proposition that the majority of clients are criminals, or criminals-in-waiting.

(Sound unnervingly familiar?  The assumption by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton and his lackies that asylum seekers are criminals. I said a while back that what they do to asylum seekers they’ll do to Australians)

In her evidence before a Senate committee last week, Ms Campbell, who played a leading role in creating and presiding over the robo-debt system, refused to acknowledge that the system has any flaws, and remarked that clients have a responsibility to provide the department with correct information. Here you’ll find an excellent piece by Jack Waterford on Ms Campbell, and her “relentless suspicion of the poor.”

The ideologically-driven belief that Centrelink clients (or asylum seekers) are fraudsters is used to justify ill-treatment of them for political gain. The public does not like fraudsters.

Both DHS and DIBP are designed to deal with stereotypes, not human beings. The Ministers and senior staff in both departments are too lazy, too ignorant, too arrogant, too well-paid and too privileged to question their assumptions about those less comfortable in the world. Misfortune of any kind is perceived as a reprehensible moral failing, and as such, punishable by those with the power and authority to punish.

In the upper echelons of these departments you’ll find no broad view of context, of societal and cultural influences: the individual is entirely responsible for his or her own predicament. Society does not exist. There are individual men and women and there are families, but there is no society in the context of which the lives of individuals and families are played out.

Your part in destroying a country has nothing to do with its citizens subsequently seeking asylum in your country. Your ill-conceived policies have nothing to do with people becoming working poor, jobless, homeless, and needing assistance from the state. There’s bunch of rabid Thatcherites running DIBP and DHS.

Ministers such as Tudge, and senior public servants, treat welfare recipients as deviants. Welfare recipients embody what the ruling class fears most: loss of its power and its financial security. They must be punished for their carelessness, but more than that, they must be punished for reminding the comfortable just how close discomfort can be.

Ms Campbell may embrace the Thatcher ideology in her attitudes to citizens, however, it is easily unveiled as a comfortable and convenient delusion. Kathryn Campbell might reflect, if she has the capacity, that were it not for “clients” she’d be out of a job. Campbell’s $700,00 salary is entirely dependent on the misfortunes of millions. So much for the individual’s sole control over his or her circumstances.

The revelation that Centrelink authorities sent unsolicited private details of a dead man to the media, in the hope of changing the journalist’s story, ought to be beyond belief. Sadly, it isn’t. Sadly, we have in this country at least two bureaucracies whose leaders have modelled a pathological lack of humanity, and the dire weakness of all bullies. It’s time to get rid of the Tudges, the Campbells,  the Duttons and the Pelluzos. We’ve travelled far enough down the path of cruelty and unreason. It’s time for a change.

 

 

 

Speaking freely of the dead

11 Mar

 

The death of The Australian’s controversial  cartoonist Bill Leak yesterday provoked a storm of polarised emotion on Twitter, as colleagues expressed their shock and sorrow, and representatives of groups Leak humiliated and ridiculed in his work refused to abide by the rules of what was referred to as “common decency and good manners.”

These rules apparently require one to be silent if there’s nothing nice one can say, especially at a time of death and bereavement. The irony was lost on no one in the latter groups, and practically everyone in the former: Leak himself blatantly despised common decency and good manners, and earned his living giving those niceties the finger in the name of free speech.

In his later work, the cartoonist lampooned LGBTQI people, Muslims, the Safe Schools program, Indigenous people,the Human Rights Commission and its head Gillian Triggs. Because of these cartoons, he is lauded by admirers as an outstanding proponent of free speech.

Action was brought against him under the now infamous Section 18C, on the grounds of offence he caused to Aboriginals with a particularly patronising and sneeringly vitriolic cartoon. The case was eventually dropped.

A life has many stages, and those who knew Leak in earlier days, as well as those whose political ideologies he supported, are naturally grieving his unexpected death. Yet as so often happens in death, little acknowledgement is made of the dark side of the deceased, provoking outrage in those who’ve suffered the racism and marginalisation so evident in his later work, and who, equally naturally, feel no loss at his passing.

The efforts by the former to silence the latter were something to behold. Here’s one example, from former PM Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine:

I’ll leave you to deconstruct that example of conservative hyperbole in which criticism is conflated with assassination and beheadings. Clearly Ms Foster does not advocate unfettered free speech by Mr Leak’s critics, while staunchly defending her right and his to express whatever opinions they like in whatever manner they choose.

Of course the accusation that you are not observing “common decency and good manners” is an accusation intended to shame, as is the call for you to “respect” the dead, implying that you don’t have the class to know how to behave in such a situation and someone who does has to tell you.

This latter is a demand I’ve never entirely understood: why am I required to “respect” someone simply because they’ve died?

The reactions to Leak’s death on Twitter yesterday were a microcosmic example of class and privilege setting its sights against anyone who refutes the worship of its idols, using the same tools of contempt, ridicule, shaming and humiliation to achieve silencing as were employed by the idol in his later years.

It seems obvious to me that anyone has the right to speak freely of their relationship with and opinion of a dead man or woman. I can see no reason why those who admired Leak should castigate those who did not for failing to engage in hypocrisy. The idea that death eradicates the hurt and damage any individual might have inflicted on others in their lifetime is ludicrous, as is the demand that we feel sympathy purely on the basis of death. The evil that men [sic] do lives after them.

Common decency is a fluid concept, determined by what suits the ruling classes rather than the commons at any particular moment. Good manners are things I tried to teach my dog.

Respect, I would argue, is sharing space with views different from our own, and not shaming or silencing others because of that difference. It is, in my opinion, perfectly fine for those who do not view Bill Leak with fondness to say so. It is domineering and deceitful for his supporters to fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of those opposing views.

Free speech is for everyone, not just the privileged establishment, and it is everyone’s right to point out when (and which) emperor has no clothes.

Funny how so many simply do not get that.

 

 

How to deal with being raped: two incompatible points of view.

7 Mar

 

On ABC Qanda last night, Icelandic writer Thordis Elva spoke about how she had, over a seventeen year period, communicated with and finally forgiven Australian Tom Stranger, who raped her when she was sixteen and he was eighteen.

Stranger raped Elva as she lay literally paralytic from the effects of alcohol, in her own bed. He’d taken her home from a party, where friends were so concerned they’d wanted to call for medical assistance. Stranger undertook to protect and watch over her until she recovered. The rape took place over two hours, and so damaged Elva she was unable to walk properly for some time.

The two have since given a TED talk on their many email encounters, which were initiated by Elva and culminated in a physical meeting in Cape Town. Stranger remarks on the suitability of this country for their purpose, given the truth and reconciliation project of the Mandela government that sought to address crimes against humanity during decades of apartheid in South Africa, employing a process that involved admissions of guilt, and subsequent forgiveness by victims.

Stranger and Elva have written a book about their long experience of seeking a resolution to their victim/perpetrator relationship. They finally reached a point where Stranger was able to take responsibility for his actions, and name himself as a rapist. This ownership of his behaviour has allowed Elva to find relief from her feelings of hatred, rage and desire for revenge.

While I don’t find it at all difficult to imagine the relief and liberation I’d feel if a perpetrator admitted his crimes against me, I do find it difficult to imagine wanting a relationship with him that would see us co-authoring a book, and travelling the world together, sharing a stage.

As Elva notes, and I agree, forgiveness is something victims do for ourselves, not for the perpetrator. However, what I couldn’t extrapolate from the TED talk or Qanda, or interviews I’ve read, is how she moved emotionally and intellectually from regarding Stranger as an assailant, to interacting with him as a colleague.

Or perhaps not so much how, as why? Releasing myself from dark feelings and desires so as to get on with my life is both sensible and healthy. But keeping the rapist in my life?

I can forgive the perpetrator for my own sake, but that doesn’t mean I ever want to see him again.

Also on the panel last night was Josephine Cashman, Indigenous lawyer and business woman. Ms Cashman’s take on rape is situated at the opposite end of the continuum, and she was rather dismissive of Elva’s story. Ms Cashman stated unequivocally that sexual assault should be dealt with by the legal system, women must go to the police, the perpetrator must be charged, tried, convicted and incarcerated.

Which in theory sounds quite logical, however, as this must-read article by Jane Gilmour points out, that apparently logical process is rarely the outcome of sexual assault allegations. The legal system can be brutal to victims of sexual assault, and conviction rates are notoriously low.

I admit to feeling not a little creeped out by Mr Stranger when I watched the TED talk. I was unable to get past my knowledge of him as a man who had cruelly  and opportunistically raped an entirely helpless woman, over a two-hour period. I didn’t really care what he had to say about his later realisation, self-evident to me, that at the time he’d been more concerned about his wants than Ms Elva’s needs and safety.

In the spirit of truth and reconciliation I tried quite hard to find a point of contact with Stranger. All I felt was dizzy and sick. Yes, I can imagine the miserable, criminal psychopathy of a man who rapes a very ill and barely conscious woman he’s promised to care for. Yes, I can pity it. I just don’t want it or him anywhere near my life.

It seems to me on reflection, that both Ms Cashman and Ms Elva are unrealistic. For very many victims of sexual violence and other violence against women, engaging with the perpetrator is the very last thing we want to do. Taking the legal option is often described as being raped all over again, and it is disingenuous of Ms Cashman to pose that option as a logical process that results in justice. It isn’t, and more often than not, there’s no justice to be had.

It is possible to achieve a state of comparative peace or forgiveness without any involvement with the perpetrator, and preferably with help and support from others.

A woman is forever changed by the experience of sexual assault, and it’s impossible to recover the self who existed before the attack. This is just one of the many losses caused by rape: the loss of who I was before.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as “closure” or “resolution.” There is only finding a way to live your life as fully as you can, in spite of what has happened to you. There’s no formula for this. There’s no prescription.

It’s the victim’s task, and how unfair it seems, to find her way through the hell of rape. It can take a lifetime. And nobody can or should tell a woman how she must do it. If you don’t do it Ms Cashman or Ms Elva’s way, you haven’t failed. You’ve succeeded in searching for and finding your own way to take back your life. And you might have to do it more than once.

 

 

 

 

When you hand over private info, you are not informed of a caveat on confidentiality

5 Mar

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Last time you were required to divulge private information to a government agency, did you do so in the belief that the agency would keep your information confidential?

Because if you did, that’s likely the last time you’ll have the luxury of holding that belief.

Nobody who has compulsorily given private data to Centrelink has ever been informed that there is a caveat on confidentiality.

Nobody who has ever compulsorily given private data to any government agency in the belief that it is confidential, has ever been warned that if they speak publicly about that agency, they have forfeited their right to confidentiality. 

Canberra Times hack Paul Malone has today written a column headlined “Time for the truth behind Centrelink controversy and Andie Fox.” The piece is a particularly inept and resentful defence of his use of a citizen’s private data, given to him by DHS Minister Alan Tudge, to put Centrelink’s “side of the story” of a dispute between that user & the service provider.

The core of his defence is that the user spoke publicly about her own circumstances, ergo Centrelink has the right to respond by revealing her circumstances as they know them, to the media.

Malone justifies his tawdry piece thus:

It should be noted here that Andie Fox chose to publish her personal details in her original 1200 word article 

In fact Ms Fox revealed her personal relationship status in the article she wrote and submitted for publication.

In the privacy agreement between Centrelink and Ms Fox, Centrelink undertook to protect the private data Ms Fox was compelled to reveal. Ms Fox at no time agreed, or was asked to agree, to refrain from criticising or otherwise speaking publicly about the agency. Neither was she informed that should she criticise the agency, it would abrogate its undertaking to keep her data private.

These details apparently entirely escape the moral and ethical capacities of Paul Malone, The Canberra Times editors, and Alan Tudge.

I asked some public servants how they feel about this turn of events. Obviously, I’m not going to name them.

Our jobs rely on the public having faith in our confidential handling of their often sensitive information. Why would they be honest with us if they don’t have confidence that we will keep that safe and secure?

A public breach of security or privacy is likely to jeopardise [compliance], causing fear and suspicion, and pushing more people into the non-compliant basket.

It also feels like the integrity of the entire PS has been tarnished [by Tudge’s actions against Fox].

We are constantly bombarded with reminders about privacy and dire warnings about the consequences of breaches, and the head of an agency goes and does this.

I had to sign a declaration before I was given access. Very serious shit to divulge private information.

I’m absolutely horrified at the actual release of the information, the vindictive purpose of the release and also for the Canberra Times publishing it, rather than acknowledging they’d received  information that contradicted other claims.

The relationship between a government agency and a citizen is unique. As I’ve noted before, we are compelled to reveal intensely private information to certain agencies. We do this because we are compelled, and we must trust their staff have been trained in the moral, ethical and legal requirements to respect our privacy.

Minister Alan Tudge’s disgraceful betrayal of that trust damages all APP agencies, and all their staff. It irreparably damages those agencies’ relationships with the public. The Canberra Times, in publishing Malone’s sordid pieces, is colluding with an unprecedented destruction of trust between public servants, politicians and the public.

There is nothing in this hideous saga for the LNP government and The Canberra Times to be proud of, and there is absolutely no defence Paul Malone can invent that justifies the damage he has done to Ms Fox, and in a broader sense, to our society, the fabric of which is held together by the civilising influence of mutual trust.

 

 

 

 

 

“Belief” is not enough to justify legislation to reveal private data

4 Mar

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On Thursday, in the midst of public outrage at Human Services Minister Alan Tudge’s doxxing of a Centrelink user, legislation allowing the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to give private information to the media passed through the lower house with bipartisan support, and almost unnoticed.

The power to legally release a citizen’s private information to the media is argued by politicians as necessary, in order for agencies  to respond to people they believe are deliberately misleading the public and in so doing, undermining the public’s confidence in that agency.

Look. I could write an entire post on the irony of citizens undermining confidence in agencies. Think robo-debt for a start. It’s my “belief” that there’s no citizen alive capable of inflicting as much damage on government agencies as they inflict upon themselves, all too often exacerbated by the minister supposed to lead them. Nobody could undermine public confidence in Centrelink better than Hank Jongen and Alan Tudge.

The significant words in the justification for this legislation are they believe. Government agencies and ministers do not have to prove you are deliberately misleading the public and undermining an agency. They simply have to believe you are in order to legally release your private data.

Of course you can fight them after the fact. You can take them to court to make them prove their belief. But by then you’re all over the media, you’re traumatised, and it’s too late. Governments have deep pockets, and you most likely do not.

You have also compulsorily supplied agencies with the very information they now intend to use against you, because they believe your complaints, impressions, and opinions undermine them.

I’ve carefully re-read the article by Andie Fox that caused Alan Tudge to release her data to Fairfax because he “believed” her commentary undermined public confidence in Centrelink.

Ms Fox wrote an opinion piece. It consists almost entirely of how she felt during her encounters with Centrelink. The only points of dispute Tudge could find are a couple of dates, and numbers of phone calls.

According to Alan Tudge, this is sufficient to undermine public confidence in Centrelink, and justifies his release of her private data to Fairfax. Clearly, this is an absolutely ridiculous claim on Tudge’s part, and an abhorrent abuse of his power.

In fact, the power of Ms Fox’s piece is not in a Tudge-like gotcha game with the agency, but rather in her subjective experience of engaging with Centrelink, one with which thousands and thousands of other users can identify.

What Tudge’s reaction demonstrates is that we absolutely cannot trust ministers and senior public servants to exercise good judgement in their use of this legislation.

It demonstrates that citizens must not tolerate legislation that is so open to abuse by ministers and senior public servants, legislation that is based solely on the grounds of their beliefs.

Politicians need to fully explain why they need such legislation in the first place, and in the second, why they feel the need to extend it to include veterans. It wouldn’t have anything to do with military personnel speaking out about the ADF’s stance on the effects of anti-malarial drug Mefloquine, would it?

No senior public servant and no minister should have the power to publicly release a citizen’s private data simply because he or she believes there may be an adverse outcome for an agency. This is an attempt by politicians to silence all dissent by instilling a terror of possible consequences.

Supplying private data to these agencies is compulsory. Politicians are demanding that in handing over our private data, we also agree to their release of it to media should they believe any public commentary we make might adversely affect their interests.

This is an untenable situation for citizens, and a massive over-reach on the part of politicians.

Postscript: Acting Senate Clerk Richard Pye has acknowledged that Tudge’s release of private data may have a “chilling effect” on witnesses at next week’s inquiry into Centrelink Robo-Debt. 

Mr Pye has warned that any attempts at interference with witnesses will be considered to be contempt. 

We have a government that has to be warned not to interfere with witnesses in a Senate inquiry. Think about that. 

 

Just because a govt agency says it wrote you a letter doesn’t mean it did.

3 Mar
Department of Complaints Against the State.

Department of Complaints Against the State.

 

One of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge ‘s justifications for his aggressive media pursuit of writer, blogger and single mother Andie Fox, is that Centrelink made numerous attempts to get in touch with her by phone and letter, and many of these attempts were unanswered.

I have no idea of the validity of these details, however I do know that government agencies are not always accurate in their accounts of interactions with citizens. Despite this fact, the agencies present “their side of the story” as if it is indisputable fact, simply because they say so.

I know this because last year I had some bizarre difficulties with Medicare. I submitted a claim for specialist services, the same claim submitted regularly for the previous eighteen months. The item number is not claimable on the website and as I didn’t have the app on my phone, I’d been submitting via snail mail. There was one occasion on which Medicare said my claim had not arrived, which was resolved after I resubmitted. This was attributed by Medicare to the tardiness of Australia Post.

A few months later I received notice in the mail from Medicare that I had not properly filled out my claim, and they needed further details. I found this very odd, as the claim was exactly the same as the previous eighteen. I rang Medicare.

I was told my claim hadn’t been received. If my claim wasn’t received, how come I’ve just got a letter asking me for more details about it? I inquired. The staff member was excessively rude, aggressive and unhelpful, so I asked to speak to a supervisor. She demanded why I wanted to speak to her supervisor, then shouted that there was no need for me to do that and terminated the call.

When I next managed to contact a staff member I was more fortunate. The staff member was extremely helpful, and we discovered that there was no record of the previous day’s aggressive phone call. We also discovered that the letter I’d received requesting further information had a reference number which did not coincide with that of any Medicare employee.

As well, the staff member informed me that my claim forms, photocopied and returned to me with the demand for more details, had been incorrectly handled: they should have not been returned to me at all, and certainly not as photocopies.

Where are my original claim forms, I asked? We have no idea, I was apologetically told. My claim forms have been photocopied and the originals lost? Breach of my privacy? I suggested.

Who has accessed my claims for specialist services and who knows my history and who is able to access the Medicare system with a false reference number? I asked.

I have never received any answers to these questions. I did speak to another staff member who also could not connect the reference number on my letter with anyone working in the system. I have no idea who in Medicare photocopied my original claim forms, or why, or what happened to them.

I did eventually receive reimbursement and I haven’t had any trouble since.

This is one small example of what can go wrong in government agencies, and that because the Minister says something has been properly executed does not necessarily mean it is so.

It’s also an example of how vulnerable users of these agencies are, and how little control we have over the information we submit. Medicare claim forms reveal a lot about us we might not necessarily want anyone else to know. This is our right.

If a minister can release private data marked “for official use only” to the media, we can have no trust in these agencies. We are in an invidious position: we have no choice but to submit private information. We have now seen how our private data can be used to hold us hostage by agencies and ministers, who might decided to “correct the record” with it if we publicly complain.

I didn’t write about my Medicare experience at the time because I felt concerned that there might be some retaliation, particularly in view of the bizarre circumstances and the misappropriation of my claims by an unknown person. This is how governments silence citizens, and this is why the Fox case is so important.

We now know that Tudge has his staff monitor social media for complaints against DHS.

Well, Minister Tudge, monitor this. Or better still, find out what happened to my private medical data.

 

Tudge releases unauthorised documents, & where are the “leading” feminists?

2 Mar

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Please feel free to email, phone or visit this man with your opinions.

The Guardian has this afternoon reported that Human Services Minister Alan Tudge “accidentally” authorised the sending of confidential internal briefings concerning Centrelink complainant Andie Fox and marked “official use only,” to Fairfax journalist Paul Malone for publication.

The documents included information about Ms Fox from the Australian Tax Office. It’s unclear whether or not DHS has notified the ATO of this data breach.

The Guardian became aware of the “mistake” when the same documents were sent to that publication after journalists requested further information from DHS on the Tudge debacle.

Tudge has assured parliament that he lawfully authorised the release of Fox’s information to Malone. However, given he now claims some of those documents were “accidentally” released, he could not also have authorised them unless he authorised an accident, which is entirely possible and if so, situates us in even more bizarre territory than we found ourselves in yesterday.

It was also revealed today that Alan Tudge requires regular updates from his staff, gleaned from social media, on which Centrelink users are complaining about their experiences with that department.

Centrelink is stalking customers who publicly complain about their services.

Any Centrelink employee who released documents marked “for official use only” to the media would be sacked and prosecuted. I expect the same treatment for Minister Tudge. Don’t you?

Andie Fox is a single mother, chosen by Tudge as a scapegoat to distract from his astronomical incompetency. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, the power imbalance between Alan Tudge, Paul Malone of Fairfax, and Andie Fox is incalculable. As I’ve also noted before, there are thousands of complainants Tudge could have chosen to attack, however, he chose a single mother, one woman because, I suggest, he imagined her to be an easy target, and we know how the LNP feel about single mothers.

And yet not one leading feminist has seen fit to speak out about Ms Fox’s plight. Not one feminist with a platform has chosen to use it to discuss this situation. Not one leading feminist has got Ms Fox’s back, not one has questioned Tudge’s persecution of a single mother, not one has questioned the injustice of Ms Fox being in this situation in the first place because of her ex partner’s actions. A woman is under unprecedented attack by the Australian LNP government, and not one public feminist has said a word about it. WHY NOT?

To be continued. 

 

 

 

No need for Centrelink to prove your comments are adverse: they only need to think so before exposing you to media.

1 Mar

 

Information Privacy on computer keyboard background

Further to yesterday’s post on the release to Fairfax media of private information by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, the minister has justified his decision to take this action on the grounds that he is entitled by law to reveal personal details if the individual has made complaints in the media Centrelink considers false.

In other words, if you complain in the media about Centrelink, your private information can be released by that department in its own defence.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s Use or disclosure of personal information regulations address this situation thus:

6.22 Examples of where an individual may reasonably expect their personal information to be used or disclosed for a secondary purpose include where:

the individual makes adverse comments in the media about the way an APP [Australian Privacy Principles] entity has treated them. In these circumstances, it may be reasonable to expect that the entity may respond publicly to these comments in a way that reveals personal information specifically relevant to the issues that the individual has raised[8]

The APPs and the APP guidelines apply from 12 March 2014 and cover both Australian Government agencies and organisations covered by the Privacy Act. 

I would argue that it is never reasonable to expect that Centrelink will divulge your personal information to the media under any circumstances, and 6.22 needs to be scrapped. The paragraph makes no reference as to whether or not your adverse comments are justified. You only need to make comments Centrelink considers adverse for them to reveal your private information to the media. 

Criticism of a government agency can see you stripped of all privacy. Think about that.

This should make anyone who entrusts Centrelink and other government agencies with private information, very nervous.

At the same time, if you need Centrelink assistance you have no choice but to give them all the private information they require. This is a lose-lose situation for citizens, and it is entirely unacceptable.

Andie Fox, the subject of Tudge’s vengeful action, is a middle class professional woman, like millions of others who claim Family Tax Benefit, and the millions of older Australians who claim part pensions. Tudge, in this instance, has not gone after his stereotypical welfare recipient. So don’t feel you are safe in your demographic, because you aren’t. Should you get Centrelink offside, your private information can be given to the media whether your complaints are justified or not, without any consultation or warning.

There is a website titled “Not my debt” where you’ll find page after page of adverse commentary on Centrelink. There are thousands of critical tweets. There are hundreds of articles in mainstream media and the blogosphere dedicated to adverse commentary on Centrelink. Yet Alan Tudge went after one woman.

If you think your privacy is safe with government agencies as long as you keep your mouth shut, think about what kind of country you’re living in, and what kind of person you’re becoming because of it.

Centrelink is an apolitical body. An individual’s private information held by the agency must not employed as a silencing tool by the government of the day.

 

 

 

 

Fairfax and Centrelink unite in an unprecedented move to publicly persecute one woman.

28 Feb

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Early in February, writer and blogger Andie Fox published an account of her interactions with Centrelink over a failure by her ex partner to submit tax returns that led to the department issuing her with a debt notice for over-payment of Family Tax Benefit.

It’s a harrowing account and it resonated with very many people who’ve endured the tortuous process of attempting to explain their situation to Centrelink, after being notified of debt they do not carry. As you may recall, Centrelink is responsible for the unprecedented failure of an automated system that has harassed, threatened, engaged debt collectors and otherwise hounded citizens who have no debt, or a good deal less debt than the department claims.

On Monday, Fairfax journalist Paul Malone published an article titled Centrelink is an easy target for complaints but there are two sides to every story. The article contains the private details of Ms Fox’s interactions with Centrelink, provided to him by the department with the authority of the Minister for Human Services,  Alan Tudge.

Tudge later triumphantly tweeted the article, which contains details Ms Fox contests.

Just to make it clear: Centrelink has released the private details of an individual citizen without her permission in order to present Alan Tudge’s “side of the story.” 

In case there might be any doubt about Tudge’s intentions, Paul Malone and Fairfax have confirmed in their headline that Tudge’s only goal is to use the personal information of a citizen to present his side of the story.

Let’s first consider that both Alan Tudge and Paul Malone are protected by the institutions that employ them. Ms Fox is protected by nobody. So we have the unprecedented situation of Centrelink and Fairfax media joining forces to expose a citizen’s private data in an attempt to claw back some face for Alan Tudge, after the outrageously incompetent debt debacle he oversaw earlier this year.

This is not a question of “both sides of the story.” The actors have no equal ground. It is a breathtaking and unprecedented attack by the LNP government and a compliant Fairfax media on an individual. And it should make everyone of us very afraid.

Family Tax Benefit is paid to millions of families. Not one family is safe from exposure by Alan Tudge, not one, should that family publicly complain about Centrelink. Your private data is fair game in Tudge’s desperate and doomed efforts to appear competent.

There is absolutely no other reason for Centrelink to release Ms Fox’s private data to Fairfax media. Absolutely none.

In other words, any private data held by any government department can now be used as a weapon against you, should you have the temerity to publicly describe your interactions with that department. It can be used to put that department’s “side of the story.” It will be supplied to the media by faceless bureaucrats who do not have to be named, and authorised by their minister. 

You write a piece about Medicare? Expect to see you health records appear in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Can there be any more effective way to silence citizens than to threaten them with media exposure of their most private and intimate information?

In Australia today, the LNP and Fairfax media have joined forces in persecuting one woman to save a lamentably incompetent  minister’s face. Think about that. 

The very fact that Tudge has chosen this course of action confirms his incompetence, and his unfitness to hold his position.

There’s a lot more to be unpacked from this situation, too much for one blog post.

To be continued.

There’s honour even amongst morality’s dregs? Milo & the alt-right

22 Feb

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Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart editor, intellectual featherweight and fascist star turn adored by the alternate right who till yesterday saw him as a warrior king in their battle against “political correctness” and perceived left-wing censorship, has finally come spectacularly undone.

To the point where his followers (amongst them the likes of Rita Pahini, Chris Kenny and Andrew Bolt in this country) who have thus far endorsed his foul outbursts against Muslims, Jews, women and transgender people as an exercise of the right to free speech, have found themselves in unlikely and uncomfortable moral confusion over Milo’s positive attitude towards pedophilia, and overt sympathy for perpetrating catholic priests.

Yiannopoulos was to have given the keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference later this month, and yesterday (a bad day for Milo) organisers felt compelled to withdraw their invitation.

Breitbart News, whose former editor-in-chief Steve Bannon is now President Donald Trump’s lead strategist, is reportedly considering dumping Milo. At least we now know the alt-right’s bottom line: slander anyone on grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual preference and gender, but don’t publicly advocate pedophilia. There’s honour even amongst morality’s dregs, apparently.

Publishing house Simon and Schuster yesterday dropped Milo, terminating their contract to publish his forthcoming book. They stood by him while he slandered Jews, Muslims, women and transgender people for money and spectacle, but apparently a line was crossed with his sympathetic stance towards pedophilia.

It’s gratifying to witness the extreme right writhe in unaccustomed moral anguish when confronted with speech even they cannot accept. Who knew there was such a thing?

Yiannopoulos attempted to defend himself: “My book has been canceled”  he wailed on Facebook (Twitter having banned him some time ago) in baffled outrage, getting the spelling wrong in his time of extremity as anyone might.

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange then rushed to Milo’s defence from his lounge room in the Ecuadorean Embassy, tweeting that poor Milo is the victim of “politics disguised as morality” and, god help us, he’s been censored!

Well, Assange is wrong: Milo hasn’t been censored. Any publisher can publish him, he can self-publish, and any organisation is free to extend him an invitation to keynote. If they choose to ignore him that is not censorship, you’d think Assange, of all people, would understand that.

What Milo is experiencing are the consequences of free speech. He remains free to say whatever he wants, in the US at least.  Others have equal freedom to decline to listen and disseminate his speech. Refusing to listen and disseminate is not censorship, it’s exercising the agency and the right to decline to listen and disseminate.

Many among us have experienced the refusal to listen, and to disseminate our points of view, not a few of us from the very groups Milo has singled out for discrimination and contempt. He’s had a good run. Now his masters are done with him. You can’t go round advocating the rape and molestation of young boys, even amongst the alt-right, it seems. Who knew they had standards?

Update: Milo resigns from Breitbart:

And this is just for fun: 

Fake threats, and democracy.

18 Feb

 

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Demands that we be kept “safe” by governments play into the hands of conservatives who simultaneously, and with an alarming degree of cognitive dissonance, express their distaste for a nanny state while instigating extreme measures they claim will fulfil both our expectations of safety, and their responsibility to fulfil those expectations.

All too often those measures are an opportunity for authorities to increase surveillance, harvest personal information and exert unnecessary control over citizens, resulting in an erosion of rights that does nothing to keep us safe but rather makes us increasingly vulnerable, not to terrorists but to the state.

As in the family, so in public life. The greatest threat to our safety is allegedly the stranger, in both the private and the public narrative. So we have President Trump’s seven country “Muslim” ban in the US, designed to make Americans safe. In Australia we have the secretive, punitive Department of Immigration and Border Protection, with their ring of steel around our borders and their concentration camps off-shore. Both governments justify extreme measures with repeated assurances that their only objective is to keep us safe.

However, in the case of both family and country, danger is far more likely to come from within the circle than from without: the family is potentially the most dangerous place for women and children, and terrorism is overwhelmingly perpetrated by citizens/permanent residents of the target country rather than refugees, or foreigners who enter the country with the specific aim of conducting attacks.

In a liberal democracy we are supposed to be participants. We have agency. The degree of safety we demand governments provide is incompatible with the freedoms we rightly expect. Governments are not our parents. While as children we are entitled to protection, as adults we have no such entitlements. Protection and safety must be a joint venture: we have to participate in ensuring our own welfare. Once we relinquish our responsibility, we’re on the road to totalitarianism.

Democracy isn’t just the right to vote. It’s a way of being.

Neither will government assurances of safety from external threat protect us from what is most pressingly dangerous: violence in homes and institutions.

Governments are most reluctant to commit resources to these obvious threats to safety and stability.  Instead, billions are wasted on the containment of fake threats, and we continue to face real threats grossly under-supported and largely unacknowledged. Our protection in this instance does not require state intrusion into personal life: it requires adequate money and front-line resources administered by competent and experienced citizens, not politicians.

This is an example of democracy working. Secretive bureaucracies are not democratic, and neither is taking money from those in difficult circumstances to fund tax benefits for corporations turning billion dollar profits.

The robust exchange of views between Senator Jacqui Lambie and Islamic youth leader Yassmin Abdel-Magied, broadcast on ABC’s Q&A last week, is a complex example of the degree to which fake threats dominate our discourse. It also inadvertently provided a seminar in free speech, when a number of organisations petitioned the ABC to provide a “safe environment” in which Muslims may speak.

Senator Lambie has obviously swallowed the fake terrorism threat, as is evidenced in her noisy opposition to what she perceives as the imminent danger of Australia becoming subject to what she understands as Sharia law. At present, I’d argue, Australia is faced with the rather more urgent matter of dealing with the consequences of Catholic Canon law than with Islamic tenets, sad confirmation of the theory that the stranger is not our largest and most immediate danger.

I don’t like Lambie’s views on the matter of Sharia law, or her manner of expressing them, however, such views exist and attempting to silence them is not a useful option. Currently, the voices of prejudice, fear and hatred seem to have wrenched the mic from voices of reason and good will. We are under the governance of a conservative ideology that values combat and domination over citizens’ and community interests, while offering fake protection from outside forces in order to conceal that ideology’s very real threat to civil society.

Sharia law is not currently an issue for Australia: political negligence on matters of survival such as climate change and social inequality and injustice are.

I don’t yet know how we get the mic back. I don’t think anybody does. I don’t think forcible silencing of opposition is an option. It’s impossible to dictate the tone and language in which opposition is couched. Once again, personal responsibility stands side by side with freedoms. That there are people with platforms taking little or no responsibility for their speech and its possible consequences is truly awful, but it’s reality.

For mine, freedom of speech was exercised by all parties in the Q&A example, including the freedom of organisations to get up a petition protesting the event, and the freedom of their supporters to sign it.

This is how we contest fake threats. By embracing democracy as a way of being, not just something we perform at the ballot box every few years. It isn’t any government’s sole responsibility to keep us and democracy safe, and once we relinquish agency, we have truly lost all hope of safety, and returned to infantile dependence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turnbull’s faith in coal is weak: his home is ready to go off-grid.

13 Feb

 

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Today, FOI documents confirmed that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was advised that last year’s power blackouts in South Australia were not due to renewable energy failures, but to severe weather conditions that caused unprecedented damage to the network.

Turnbull decided to ignore this advice as it does not align with his commitment to fossil fuels and his party’s entrenched opposition to renewables. Instead, he and his ministers seized the opportunity to politicise the blackouts by blaming the generation mix and the South Australian Labor government, despite having been advised by concerned bureaucrats that in so doing, they were disseminating false information to the Australian people.

Federal Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg claimed that state and federal Labor governments had recklessly committed to ambitious new energy targets, using the SA blackouts as an example of how renewables are allegedly unstable, and allegedly lead to energy insecurity.

These men, along with Barnaby Joyce and other politicians, deliberately misled both parliament and the public, seizing the opportunity to manipulate and obfuscate for their personal and political gain, without any regard for the wellbeing of the country and its citizens. They are traitors.

Turnbull has done an extraordinary backflip from fighting to introduce a carbon price and losing the leadership of his party for his pains, to attacking Labor for “ideological obsession” with renewables at the expense of “energy security.”

However, Turnbull’s commitment to coal and gas does not extend to his personal life. Apparently he is not fully persuaded that coal and gas do indeed provide sufficient energy security. We learned today that the Prime Minister does not seem to be walking his talk, and has installed battery storage in his Point Piper home.

Turnbull also recently upgraded his solar array, to the point where he could almost go off-grid.

As was noted on Twitter, Turnbull is protecting himself and his family from the inconveniences, distresses and dangers of power outages in a NSW market dominated by coal, with renewable technology his policies vehemently oppose.

Turnbull is a hypocrite, as well as a traitor.

In the meantime, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) which is currently considering a $1billion loan to mining giant Adani, has refused a Greenpeace FOI request for dates and locations of upcoming board meetings, on the grounds that it could encourage protesters and media interest if they were made public. This is an acceptable reason for refusing a FOI request? We shall find out. Greenpeace is appealing the refusal.

Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia, writes Ian Verrender, in a piece that is worth a read.

I’m sure Malcolm Turnbull knows there is no future for coal.  I’m also sure he doesn’t care.

Turnbull will gamble with the future of the country and its citizens, many of whom suffer through upwards of 47 degree heat-waves without the benefit of battery storage, because Turnbull wants to keep the job he bought himself for $1.7 million.

And we thought we couldn’t do worse than Abbott.

How it’s never Pell’s fault.

10 Feb
'It's only a sin if you talk about it...'

‘It’s only a sin if you talk about it…’

 

It really has come to something when politicians call on the Vatican Treasurer and Pope Francis’s right hand man to come out from his Vatican sanctuary, and face up in person to allegations of having sexually abused children.

On Wednesday, a Greens motion calling on Cardinal George Pell to return to Australia from Rome to assist police and prosecutors investigating allegations of criminal misconduct against him was supported by the Senate.

Predictably, Pell launched an attack on the Greens, calling them anti religious and characterising the motion as a political stunt, despite the motion being supported by parties other than the Greens.

Pell is well-known for his bellicose self-defence. In 2012 he threatened to sue comedian Catherine Deveny for a tweet she posted that the Cardinal considered defamatory. He also threatened to sue Twitter, but resiled from that threat.

Then there was the church’s prolonged legal battle against complainant John Ellis, who attempted to sue the Archdiocese of Sydney, at the time under the authority of then Archbishop Pell. Mr Ellis spent more than ten years seeking compensation for the five years of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Father Aiden Duggan. Pell later apologised for the “vigorous and strenuous”  battle he ordered the church’s legal team to conduct against Mr Ellis with the aim of discrediting him, thus protecting and vindicating the honour of the institution in which Pell was a rising star. During the apology, Pell refused to even look at the frail Mr Ellis, who was sitting across from him.

In 2013, human rights lawyer and commentator Father Frank Brennan commended Pell for “being man enough and priest enough” to publicly apologise for the torment Mr Ellis suffered at the hands of the church’s lawyers. Four years later, Brennan’s comment seems both naive and misplaced.

In 2014 Pell was transferred to Rome to sort out the Vatican’s complex finances, and, many speculated, to get him out of the sewer that is the church’s increasingly sordid and public history of sexual crimes against children.

We are still not done with Pell. He has consistently responded with belligerent denial to allegations of abuse and cover-ups, at one point claiming that the ABC and Victoria Police entered into a conspiracy against him, and furiously demanding an investigation.  Pell also claimed that Victoria Police leaked confidential information in order to denigrate him, when it was clear the information in question came from victims interviewed by media. Pell also blamed numerous priests and bishops who he alleged failed to inform him of the rampant sexual abuse of children occurring on his watch over decades.

It isn’t possible to judge Pell on the question of child sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by him, and currently under consideration by the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions. It is possible, however, to form an opinion of the man based on the manner in which he’s conducted himself throughout the years of the Royal Commission into allegations against catholic clergy, and the cover-ups by the church’s hierarchy that made abuses possible, and ongoing.

The Cardinal’s attitude is not encouraging. At every turn he’s resorted to accusation and blame, in an effort to exonerate himself from all responsibility. If we generously give him the most enormous benefit of the doubt, he must at least be held responsible for what can only have been wilful ignorance, innumerable turnings of a blind eye that resulted in horrific abuse of children over decades, abuse he could have taken steps to prevent.

Instead, Pell appears to have prioritised his own career, and the reputation of the institution that sheltered and promoted him, over the awful suffering of thousands of children. Every single act of sexual abuse affects untold numbers of people, as well as the victim: family, other kids who knew and had to hide their knowledge, friends, possible partners, possible children of victims. The scale of damage as a consequence of every act of sexual abuse is incalculable. George Pell is responsible not only for failing to intervene and protect individual children  when he had the opportunity, but for the consequences and aftermath of the individual child’s experiences.

Thus far Pell has been neither “man enough” nor “priest enough” to face what he has done and the magnitude of the intergenerational repercussions, instead continuing to enjoy the safety and security of the Vatican’s protection while attempting to obfuscate grievances against him by attributing them to anti religious sentiment and political stunts. The man is a scoundrel. That much is clear. The full extent of his scoundrelly has yet to be revealed.

As long as Pell is protected by the Pope no one can trust the catholic church

7 Feb

 

Cardinal Pell comments on being told of incidents of child sexual abuse by priests.

Cardinal Pell, on being told of incidents of child sexual abuse by priests.

 

The Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, this morning expressed his horror and outrage at the latest report from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse on the extent of that abuse within his church.

The Archbishop was at pains to reassure listeners that after years of intense and ongoing scrutiny (thanks to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordering the Royal Commission which catholic MP Tony Abbott and his catholic henchman did everything possible to sabotage) catholic schools are by now among the safest possible places for your child to be.

While he might have a point he is missing the point: the former head of the church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, is himself under investigation both for alleged child sexual abuse, and for his role in covering up the offences of other priests.

Cardinal Pell is currently in Rome, in a position that keeps him very close to Pope Francis. Victorian Police yesterday submitted a second brief of evidence against the Cardinal to the DPP. The Vatican is a sovereign state from which Pell cannot be extradited. When last required to appear before the Royal Commission, Pell pleaded a heart condition that left him unfit to fly long distances. He gave evidence via video link.

I would like to ask Archbishop Coleridge how anyone can trust the catholic church in Australia when its former head is under the protection of the Pope. I’m struggling to imagine this situation in a secular organisation in which 7% of employees were guilty of sexually abusing children, and 4,400 alleged cases of child sexual abuse had been brought against it.

Both these figures are conservative: how many victims have not made complaints? How many have suicided? How many made complaints that were mishandled by the church, or dismissed?

As a fish rots from the head, so has the catholic church. I’m neither heartened nor impressed by various catholic clergy and lay commentators wringing their hands at the awfulness of it all. Had it not been for an atheist ordering an investigation, this would still be hidden, and the perpetrators still protected.

I’m willing to bet a great deal that no one, but no one inside the church would have taken action to prevent the sexual abuse of children, or to instigate useful investigations that resulted in prosecutions, and demands for moral accountability.

This will not be over until those at the highest level are held accountable, including the Pope. Until churchmen and catholic commentators are willing to acknowledge that accountability starts at the head, nobody is safe in the catholic system, and the fish continues to stink.

 

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope

5 Feb

trump-vader

 

In one of those serendipitous moments I treasure, such as when a book that contains much of what I need to know about a topic practically falls off the library shelves into my lap without me consciously looking for it, the new President of the United States was elected around the same time as the release of the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One. This co-incidence provoked a popular association of Trump with the leader of the dark side in that epic cosmic narrative, Darth Vader.

One of the problems for me in this analogy (and there are several, not least of which is that Vader has a presence Trump could never in a million light years muster) is that Darth Vader, like Lucifer, was once an angel, or as we Star Wars aficionados like to call such beings, a Jedi knight. Vader lost his way and chose the dark side, a decision that precipitated him right out of the good graces of heaven, or, if you’d rather, the select community of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Force.

In other words, Vader began his career as a good guy and stumbled. I can find no evidence anywhere of Donald Trump ever having been a good guy, or ever having been in a state of grace from which to fall.

There are early signs that the Force is beginning to rebel against the evil Trumpian empire in the form of the US judiciary. On Friday judges in two states, Washington and California, issued temporary restraining orders against the continuing enactment of Trump’s Executive Orders on immigration, otherwise known as the “Muslim ban.” Here is the text of one of those orders. Quite a startling read: how often is one likely to see restraining orders against the President of the United States? Perhaps frequently, in this administration.

Oh, my lord. Serendipity (or the Force) strikes again. My auto correct changed the United States into the Untied States. WTAF.

Trump has responded relatively mildly on Twitter, which is where presidential business, foreign and domestic, is conducted in these times:

We quite rightly mocked former President George W Bush for reducing complex affairs to a simplistic binary of good and evil. We argued for nuance, for the moral significance of detail, and against the immature demands of “you’re either with us, or against us.” Back then in the good old days, the Force still had wriggle room.

However, one of the more unfortunate changes rung by the ascension to power of Empire Trump is the successful diminishment of nuance to the status of complete irrelevance, rendering useless our arguments against simplistic perspectives. Nobody in power gives a wookie’s butt about the details of anything, and nuance is for losers:

Trump has (temporarily one hopes) achieved Bush’s goal: to divide the world into those for us and those against us, and to embed those divisions into implacable concepts of good and evil. We are now living in a Star Wars movie. The Empire has struck back, and it has knocked us silly.

The other disturbing difference between Vader and Trump is that in Vader one always senses the possibility, however small, of redemption. One senses no such possibility in Trump.

There’s a scarcity of Jedi knights, the Force is fading, and I can’t find my light sabres. (This is not a metaphor. There were two in this house, and they’ve vanished.)  A woman’s place is in the Resistance, and the Princess’s words resonate as never before:

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!

In which Turnbull is thoroughly played by Trump

2 Feb

donald-trump-and-malcolm-turnbull-on-the-phone-340x180-data

 

Towards the end of the Obama administration, a classified “deal” was made between the then President and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to send an undisclosed number of refugees from detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru to the US for resettlement. In return, Australia agreed to accept refugees from Costa Rica.

The classified nature of the deal infuriated Republicans, who after the election of President Trump called for details to be released, claiming the agreement covered the resettlement of an estimated 2,400 refugees, some from countries already on Obama’s list of “countries of concern.”

It was on the basis of Obama’s list that Trump formed his own list of seven predominantly Muslim countries from which entry into the US is now forbidden for ninety days, with refugees refused resettlement for one hundred and twenty days.

Both Obama and Turnbull were likely confident of a Clinton win when the agreement was reached, though Turnbull did express confidence that if elected, Trump would honour the agreement.

It was and remains, an unholy deal. The US is the last of a number of countries successive Australian governments have attempted to persuade to take refugees who legally sought asylum in Australia, and were incarcerated  in off-shore camps for exercising those legal rights. Both the LNP and ALP have engaged in increasingly desperate efforts to wash their hands of the refugees, and both parties were relieved and enthused by the US “deal.”

It’s been revealed today through leaks to the Washington Post, that Trump exploded at Turnbull during a phone call over the weekend, telling him it was the worst deal he’d ever heard of, and why did he, Turnbull, expect that Trump would agree to importing the next Boston Bomber. Trump later tweeted this:

The clue as to what is actually going on here is in the tweet, and to understand it, you need to know some context.

In 2011, Trump’s attacks on President Obama’s origins were at their height, the so-called “Birther” controversy. At the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner that year, Obama, who was guest speaker, took the opportunity to thoroughly trash Donald Trump, who was also present. Witnesses to this trashing claim Trump’s humiliation and rage were palpable, and many have since commented that this was the moment that determined Trump to enter the presidential race, and in victory avenge himself, lay his humiliation to rest, and assume power over every Obama initiative instigated during his administration, with the aim of dismantling as many of them as possible.

Much as in our own country, Tony Abbott set about dismantling every Labor government initiative of any note, regardless of its value, simply because it was a Labor initiative, and he could demonstrate his power to be greater than the ALP’s through this destructive rampage.

Trump misses no opportunity to denigrate Obama, either overtly or covertly. This “dumb deal” of Obama’s is being used by Trump to demonstrate to the American people that his predecessor was reckless enough to enter into a secret deal that allowed refugees from “countries of concern” into the US, and in so doing, risk the safety and security of Americans. Trump’s message  is that he is better than this. He knows a dumb deal from the Obama administration when he sees one, and he’s not going to just go along with it.

Turnbull and the refugees are collateral damage. Turnbull deserves it. The refugees do not.

Trump personally loathes and fears Muslims. He is also no doubt genuinely irritated at having to negotiate his way through this “deal” which, should he decide to honour it (and he may yet, the man is mercurial and entirely unpredictable) will cause him considerable embarrassment, given his hardline stance towards countries that are also the homelands of many of those whose fate is in limbo. Politcially, Trump allegedly said to Turnbull, I’ll get killed by it. I don’t want these people.

The future of the refugees is still as uncertain as it has been for years. At the very best, Trump might agree to “extreme vetting:” a process very few are likely to survive, given their homelands, the involvement of many in protests against their ill-treatment, and their demonised reputations, for which Australia is entirely responsible,  having cast them as “criminals” and “illegals” in order to win political favour with the ignorant.

It is with increasing incredulity we now watch as Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton attempt to rebrand those they’ve slandered as criminals and illegals, into “genuine”refugees worthy of resettlement in the USA. As we are wont to observe on social media, you could not make this shit up.

Turnbull continues to insist that Trump has agreed to honour the “deal.” However, neither he nor the media are particularly honest in their explanations of this deal: it is not a deal to accept anyone. The terms are such that the US can refuse to take even one refugee, and still honour the agreement. This has been known by the government for some time:

Our politicians seem not to have caught up with events. Trump is feral. He’ll do what he wants. He has no regard for diplomacy, checks and balances, time-honoured channels, or the right way of doing things. We’re in an entirely new political landscape. Documentary film maker Michael Moore claims there’s a coup underway even as we speak, a coup in which a handful of men destroy the US state via the transference of executive power to a small, tight inner circle, over-ruling any efforts by relevant agencies to intervene in their power grab.

The only certainties we can have about Trump is that he will act in ways that benefit and gratify his personal goals, and that his thirst for revenge is a legendary driving force.

Turnbull is in a pickle, and one he richly deserves. This is the karma bus coming to call.

However, he has an opportunity to redeem himself, at least as a human being, if not as a politician. I fear that latter ship has sailed. He could, however, recognise that there is nothing left to do but bring the refugees here, and attend to it without further ado.

At the moment he continues to insist, like a petulant and disappointed  child, that Trump “promised” to keep the agreement, and he won’t stop believing he will. Unfortunately, Turnbull doesn’t seem to realise yet that keeping the agreement does not mean the US accepting any refugees.

Meanwhile, those on Manus and Nauru continue to suffer. Pawns in successive Australian governments’ pandering to xenophobia, fear and ignorance. Well done, both major parties. Now let’s see you get out of this mess.

Trump’s Chief Strategist: I want to bring everything crashing down

30 Jan

 

Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon

In a revealing 2013 interview with The Daily Beast, US President Donald Trump’s Chief  Strategist and Senior Counselor, Steve Bannon, gives insight into his long-term goals:

He never called himself a “populist” or an “American nationalist,” as so many think of him today. “I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed. Shocked, I asked him what he meant.
“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press…

His goal was to bring down the entire establishment including the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress.

The relationship between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon is an unholy alliance, in which the shared goal is the destruction of institutions, and the undermining of the authority of traditional agents of governance and administration in the US. Their actions thus far have led to the country to the brink of  a constitutional crisis, provoked by the refusal of the executive to honour the rule of law when Customs and Border Protection agents refused lawyers access to illegally detained travellers from Trump’s List of Seven countries, in spite of a federal judge determining that they must be permitted to enter the US.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement undertaking to both obey the President’s Executive Orders, and judicial  orders, which led to reminders that employees of the agency swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to support the President of the day.

After less than a week, Bannon and Trump have thrown the country into chaos, using executive orders that have bypassed all consultation with relevant departments.

Trump has now granted Bannon regular access to meetings of the National Security Council, where matters of security are discussed at the highest level. Trump has ousted generals from their regular seats on the Council.

Bannon could not be in a better position to “bring everything crashing down” and not only in the US. The global repercussions of Trump’s Muslim travel ban have included causing Emirates to entirely reschedule its staffing to avoid employees from Trump’s List of Seven arriving as flight crew on US-bound aircraft, and being forbidden to enter the country for their regular stop overs.

Far more serious are the hundreds of stories emerging of the distress and confusion faced by those arriving in the US and being detained, and those being refused carriage to the US, separating them from homes, families and work. Dual citizens in many western countries have been affected by the bans. Bannon is causing chaos far beyond the shores of the US, and it’s taken less than a week.

Today in Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison all supported Trump’s actions against Muslims, with Turnbull suggesting that Trump is emulating Australian policies on border protection, and Morrison claiming Trump is following Australia’s lead in these matters. Australia’s politicians, along with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, stand out in their support of Trump in an otherwise global condemnation of the President’s actions.

The desire to “bring everything crashing down” is an apocalyptic fantasy that in psychoanalytic terms is an expression of narcissistic rage. It resembles the tantrums of young children when they are thwarted and hurt. It continues into adulthood in those who have been unable to mature beyond the desire to destroy anything or anyone perceived to be a threat or an obstacle. The perceived damage to self-worth and self-esteem results in cataclysmic acting out, the objective being revenge and empowerment, achieved through the destruction and mastery of others.

Both Bannon and Trump appear to display more than their fair share of these tendencies. One is the leader of the western world. The other is his most influential advisor. Between them, they have the power to bring not only the US system of governance crashing down, but, in the worst case scenario, as they have the nuclear codes, the world.

Our government has given them its wholehearted support, in so doing making this country a prime terrorist target, as one of the few allies of the US in this matter.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be Muslim in Australia today. Living in a country in which your own government has allied itself with Trump, and believes Trump’s “Muslim ban” is merely a copycat version of what it has itself already achieved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australia supports Trump. How does that make you feel?

30 Jan
The Foreign Minister at Hollywood party yesterday, with her partner and Nicole Kidman.

The Foreign Minister at Hollywood party yesterday, with her partner and Nicole Kidman.

 

By now, US President Donald Trump’s executive order denying entry into the US of an wide selection of people, including Australians with dual citizenship, is common knowledge, but here’s an excellent link in case you want to catch up.

World leaders expressed dismay at Trump’s “Muslim ban” and two of the countries on Trump’s List of Seven, Iraq and Iran, have retaliated by denying visas to US citizens.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, when asked to outline our position on the US crisis responded thus:

Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said the government would continue to work closely with the Trump administration to implement “strong border policies”. She said: “We share a common view on many issues so we will continue to work very closely with the Trump administration,” adding: “The very best days of the Australia-US relationship lie ahead.”

Take a few moments to think about this statement. Let it sink in, remembering events underway in the US right now.

No refugee from any of the banned countries has ever perpetrated an act of terror in the US. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia supplied the majority of the 9/11 attackers and is strangely absent from the list, as are other Muslim countries in which Trump has financial interests.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has thus far made no comment at all on the deepening crisis in the US. He has assured us that Trump will honour his commitment to take the refugees from Manus Island and Nauru off our hands. In other words, Trump has agreed to save the ugly racist faces of the Australian politicians that so closely mirror his own.

Turnbull has not revealed the price Australia will pay for Trump’s magnanimity. Neither has he explained why, when Trump is committed to the protection of his own borders to the extent that he has defied judicial orders and in so doing has provoked a constitutional crisis, the President is willing to take our refugees, many of whom come from some of the countries on Trump’s List of Seven.

The Turnbull government supports Donald Trump. How does that make you feel?

 

On violence and the Nazi

25 Jan

richard_spencerg_are_jews_people

 

When not preoccupied with US President Donald Trump, public debate has been focused these last few days on the morality of punching a Nazi upside the head.

The Nazi in question, Richard Spencer, founder of the alt-right, was giving a television interview when a black-garbed assailant hit him and ran away.

The question, is violence ever acceptable, even when directed against someone who wants to eradicate you and yours for no reason other than that he or she doesn’t like who you are, is still bouncing round the internet and mainstream media. I’d assess the majority verdict thus far as no, violence is never acceptable.

So to those blessed with such moral certainty, I’d like to pose the following questions.

  1. You are a woman living with a violent partner. So far your partner has attacked only you, but suddenly you are witnessing him/her beating one of your children. You violently attack your partner to save your child. Are you wrong to do this?
  2. You witness an unconscious woman being raped. You physically attack the rapist, because talking to him nicely about why what he’s doing is unacceptable doesn’t seem a feasible option. Are you wrong to do this?
  3.  You are a police officer attempting to prevent a crazed individual from mowing down pedestrians in a car he’s driving through a crowded shopping mall. You shoot this individual to stop him, and save others from death and injury. Are you wrong to do this?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

I doubt there is a more ludicrous statement than “violence is never acceptable.” There are situations in which violence is the only feasible option. The question is, was the situation in which the Nazi got punched one of those situations?

Knowing nothing of the history and motivation of the black-garbed assailant, it’s difficult to assess. If he or she had lost family in Nazi concentration camps, I can fully understand how he or she might attack Spencer for espousing the same vile dehumanising hatred that caused millions of family members to be calculatedly murdered.

I also think that if you are going to argue for the mass eradication of fellow humans because you don’t like who they are, you probably ought to expect the occasional smack in the head. Free speech is always risky.

I very much doubt that if faced with the loss of my family and an individual such as Spencer endorsing their slaughter I would be capable of thinking in the moment, how do we best go about dismantling the structures that permit the rise of fascism, as was suggested by one commentator. I imagine I’d be reacting from my gut and that gut reaction might be physical, even though I’m afraid of violence and don’t enjoy witnessing it.

Yes, we do have to apply our intelligence and imagination to this question, particularly in view of the US President’s fascist leanings and increasing signs of our own government’s tendencies in this area, however, fascism has never been defeated solely by intelligence and imagination: violence has always been necessary.

I’m not overly concerned with the fate of the Nazi. I do wish that even a fraction of the moral outrage surrounding the attack on the Nazi could be directed towards the global epidemic of violence against women. Imagine if every time a woman was punched somewhere in the world, the internet and mainstream media publicly shamed the perpetrator, and entered into vigorous debate on the immorality of punching women. Punching women has become normalised. Punching Nazis not so much, it would seem.

All I can say to those who unequivocally state that violence is never an option, is, use your imagination. Violence is not nice. Violence is frightening. Violence hurts. Only deeply disturbed people enjoy it. There are situations, however, in which it is the only option and if you aren’t willing to even consider the possibility of such a situation, you might find yourself part of the problem.

 

 

 

Dear Chris Kenny. When you lose your reproductive rights, then you can call us petulant.

23 Jan

chris-kenny

 

There are people who should know better who seem to be unclear about the nature of democracy.

I’m thinking of The Australian’s star turn Chris Kenny, who today tweeted that the US women’s march was “undemocratic” and an act of “mass petulance.”

(I’m sorry I can’t re-post his tweet. Kenny and I entered into an exchange of views and he blocked me. Gutted.)

Kenny appears to be claiming that in a democracy an elected leader is owed unquestioning allegiance from those who did not vote for him or her. He also seems to be arguing that protest is undemocratic. Both these assumptions demonstrate an appalling ignorance as to the nature and purpose of democracy, whose definition Kenny and his ilk are apparently attempting to renegotiate.

In pre -Trump times I would have largely ignored Kenny, except in relation to canines, however, in the new world order alternate facts, post truths and just plain old lies have to be challenged, otherwise we’ll all end up being ruled by giant babies excreting giant piles of reeking faecal matter.

I’m not a woman who is inclined to identify with other women just because we all have vaginas. Neither am I likely to exult that I am proud to be a woman, because I can’t see any merit in an accident of birth. However, President Trump’s attitude to women and the Republican Party’s determination to strip women of hard-won reproductive rights stirs in me a profound identification with my sex, and the difficulties that are peculiar to us because of our sex, and I’ll wear a pussy hat in a march any time as an indicator of where my loyalties lie.

Kenny’s dismissal of the global protests of millions of women as “mass petulance” encapsulates the reasons we march. Kenny does not have to fear enduring a backyard abortion because Roe v Wade is overturned. Kenny does not have to fear the lack of resources to see him through a pregnancy because his health care has been terminated. Kenny does not have to tolerate being paid significantly less than his female counterpart for doing the same job.

Kenny cannot deal with being the subject of  television satirists, so quite how he would cope with the myriad daily insults and abuses heaped on women just because we have vaginas, I can’t begin to imagine.

Kenny apparently believes he is justified in “standing up for [his] rights” when he feels abused, but women are not. It’s undemocratic when we do it. It’s a human right when he does it.

Sorry Chris. You won’t be remembered as the journalist called the dog f**ker who stood up for his rights. We’ll just remember you as the dog f**cker, with a big serve of petulance on the side.

 

Giving a damn still matters

21 Jan

mlik

 

Yesterday, in the Melbourne CBD, James “Jimmy” Gargasoulas, 26, used a car to mow down dozens of pedestrians. He killed four people, left a baby fighting for life, and seriously injured more than twenty others.  He was on bail from offences allegedly committed last weekend, including family violence, of which he has a long history. He is well-known to police.

Independent Senator David Leyonhjelm, gun lobbyist who threatened “difficult relationships” with the government if the ban on the rapid-fire Adler shotgun wasn’t lifted and whose favoured slogan is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” tweeted the following in response to the Melbourne news:

leyonhjelm

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts responded in a tweet he later deleted:

There were the predictable efforts by One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson to immediately frame the unfolding tragedy as the work of Muslim terrorists. Victoria Police acted quickly to douse such inflammatory assumptions by confirming that the events bore no resemblance to political terrorism.

The New York Times initially reported the situation couched in the narrative of terrorism, until tweeted protests from many Australians led to a rewrite.

Things worth thinking about

  1. Mass murderers are highly likely to have a history of domestic violence, terrorising their families before taking it to the streets. Therefore, it would make very good sense for us to make urgent and ongoing investment in addressing the crime of intimate terrorism as a first step towards protecting communities. As nothing else has thus far persuaded governments to consistently invest in curtailing the endemic plague of intimate terrorism in this country, perhaps recognition of the wider implications might.
  2. David Leyonhjelm and Malcolm Roberts ought not to be in public office. However, they are,and we have to deal with that reality, just as we have to deal with the reality of President Donald Trump, who also should not be in public office. There’s a view that people such as this ought not to be given oxygen. I disagree, not least because this is completely unrealistic: of course they will be given oxygen, and in view of that, to remain silent is to enable. It’s my intention to continue to call attention to Leyonhjelm and Roberts. Swamp them with your contempt. This is no time for silence.
  3. It’s time to reclaim the word “terrorism.”  It has been appropriated by the likes of Hanson, other politicians and media to the degree that it is now a thinly veiled substitute for “Muslim.” There is political terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, non state actor terrorism, domestic terrorism, intimate terrorism: these are all valid descriptors of the act of terrorism, depending on its context. “Muslim” terrorism is not. Domestic violence is an act of terrorism in the private sphere. If we use this term it might be easier to see the connection between the intimate terrorist, and the public terrorist who is not acting from political, ideological or religious motives.

Leyonhjelm, Roberts, Hanson and their supporters  have no interest in the suffering of those affected by Gargasoulas’s murderous acts. There really is something deeply awry in their psychology. There will be thousands of people, beyond those immediately affected, who will struggle to deal with the aftermath of this intimate terrorist’s crimes. The witnesses. The police who gave CPR when they could, and drove a critically injured child to hospital, not daring to wait for an ambulance. The paramedics, nurses, and doctors who treat the injured. The relatives, friends, and workmates of the dead and injured. Whole communities will have to deal with shock and grief but none of this is of the least interest to Hanson, Leyonhjelm and Roberts, who see only an opportunity in all this grief and this death and this injury and all this gut-wrenching sorrow, to further their own vile interests.

They are despicable individuals. Tell them this. Don’t be silent. Let them and their followers know that in this country, giving a damn still matters.

 

 

 

Politicians must take responsibility for their greed, wastage and negligence.

20 Jan

if-you-behaved-like-your-government

 

If you go to the website #notmydebt you’ll find fifteen pages of stories written by people who’ve received demands from Centrelink to repay debts the department has falsely raised against them. It’s a harrowing read.

Depending on which explanation you prefer, the aggressive efforts to extract monies from people who do not owe them has been caused by faults in the department’s new automatic compliance system; a malevolent attack by the LNP government on welfare recipients, or a combination of both.

Centrelink has advised some punters that their best course of action is to begin repaying the alleged debt while the review process is underway, that is, before it has been established that they actually owe anything. This places punters in a Kafkaesque bind: repaying a debt is an acknowledgement that you accept its validity. Punters are also threatened that if they don’t agree to a repayment scheme, their alleged debt will be referred to debt collectors, and their credit rating affected.

Regardless of acknowledged systemic faults, and an own-motion investigation launched by the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office,  the robo-debt collection scheme is set to widen its net to include pensioners and disabled people in the coming months.

The latest information from Centrelink whistleblowers (who have, by the way, been threatened with prosecution and imprisonment by their overlords, as have welfare recipients accused of fraudulently obtaining benefits) indicates that there are indeed serious faults in the system AND that Centrelink authorities have ordered officers to proceed regardless of these faults. Indeed, officers have been instructed to refrain from acknowledging any errors they discover unless the citizen in their sights spots the error first, causing a crisis of conscience for some Centrelink employees who are obliged to refrain from identifying systems errors to distraught punters.

How any of this can be consistent with legal process is beyond me: it’s beginning to sound very much like the Turnbull government illegally obtaining money from citizens by deception.

Even Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz has expressed his disapproval of Centrelink’s methods after a member of his extended family received a debt notice.

At the same time, a report from the Australian National Audit Office into the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s payments for the management of contracts for security and welfare services on Manus Island and Nauru reveals:

…$2.3 billion in payments made between September 2012 and April 2016, which it stated were not authorised or recorded correctly.

“$1.1 billion was approved by DIBP officers who did not have the required authorisation and for the remaining $1.1 billion there was no departmental record of who authorised the payments,” it stated.

The report further stated that contract variations totalling more than $1 billion were made without a documented assessment of value for money. (emphasis mine)

Is there any venture on the planet in which $2.3 billion dollars is spent without proper authorisation and record of authorisation, other than the Australian DIBP? Why is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton still in the portfolio, given that his department has apparently gone rogue?

Add to this the ongoing politicians’ expenses scandals exposing levels of rort (travel expenses being the least of it, it’s the office expenses we ought to be worried about) that if politicians themselves hadn’t written the rules would be criminal, and you have a grim picture of rampant abuse of public money, with minimum accountability.

You also have an exceedingly grim picture of the powerful and privileged attacking the most vulnerable. There is as well the abhorrent spectacle of greedy politicians refusing to take responsibility for their own indulgence and wastage, and instead accusing those least able to defend themselves of fraudulent behaviour.

Prime Minister Turnbull has promised action on politicians “entitlements.” Perhaps if it is made more difficult for MPs to get their entire upper bodies into the trough and wallow, politics will in time become less attractive to those amongst us with the least integrity. One can only hope.

News just in: Get Up has set up a website “Fraudstop” that advises people affected by Centrelink’s false debt claims of their options. 

 

 

 

 

I’m flying myself to the footy & I’m wearing Hugo Boss suck it up you sexist socialist serfs

15 Jan

flying-pigs

 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday made a desperate attempt to staunch the bleeding from wounds inflicted on his government by his own ministers thieving from the public purse for personal gain.

An independent parliamentary expenses authority will be a compliance, reporting and transparency body, he said, applying the tourniquet.

It will monitor and adjudicate all claims by MPs, senators and ministers, ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are spent appropriately and in compliance with the rules…

The sacrifice intended to appease the howling socialist, sexist pack of rabid dogs is former Health Minister Sussan Ley, whose cavorting between capital cities in a hired plane piloted by her own self, cost us thousands more than if she’d taken commercial flights along the same routes.

(By the way, the above link is to a quote from Bronwyn Bishop, late Speaker of the House, now quite settled into her spot in the Sky News Graveyard for Former Politicians, along with the likes of Ross Cameron and Mark Latham. Bishop, you might recall, was also finally brought undone by her penchant for helicopters as a means of transport, and feels Ms Ley’s pain.)

Fairfax intimated that Ley exploited her ministerial position to up her flying hours, and fulfil CASA requirements for commercial pilots.

When confronted with evidence that he’d attended the footy in 2013 at our expense, Minister for Trade Steve Ciobo brazenly declared that people expect Trade Ministers to show up at such events as part of their job description. Unfortunately for Mr Ciobo,  it was later revealed that at the time he wasn’t the Trade Minister at all, merely a lowly back bencher with aspirations. Proving, to my mind, the validity of deep and raucous public suspicions of the justifications trotted out by politicians for entertaining themselves at our expense.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop impulsively cancelled a long-planned appearance at the Portsea Polo when it emerged that last year she attended, with her partner, at a cost of some $3000 to the taxpayer. No doubt she has Ms Ley to blame for ruining her Saturday. The Foreign Minister was to have been dressed for the occasion by couturier Hugo Boss. The story took a totally unexpected turn when  it was revealed with much mirth on Twitter that the Boss fashion house was also responsible for outfitting the SS in Nazi Germany.

It’s a terrible indictment of our 45th Parliament that ministers can’t be trusted to properly manage their expenses. These people are elected to take responsibility for our budget, our legislation, our daily lives, and our country’s future. Yet they cannot be trusted with public money. They are thieves. They ought to be referred to the AFP, investigated and if necessary, charged with fraud.

In Gough Whitlam’s day, politicians were forced to fly economy class as their contribution to reducing the deficit. To paraphrase the man, a pissant is still a pissant even if it flies first class. Or its own plane. Dressed in Hugo Boss. To the footy or a wedding or a book launch or, in the case of Kevin Andrews, a prayer meeting in the USA.

If these people want to live the capitalist dream they need to clear off out of politics and get jobs in the private sector. Politicians are not celebrities or high-flying CEOs. We are not their customers, their clients or their share-holders. We are their employers, and they are servants of the public. That’s neither sexist nor socialist. It’s democracy.

 

 

 

Compare & contrast: Sussan Ley and Centrelink punters

9 Jan

animalfarm1

 

Such is politics in these interesting times that it’s impossible when alerted to one scandal, to refrain from speculating if it has been confected to distract your attention from another.

So it is with Health Minister Sussan Ley’s current imbroglio which seems, at first blush, a nice little “look over here not there” moment arriving right on top of the Centrelink scandal.

In the former, federal Health Minister Ley appears to have spent an inordinate amount of taxpayer dollars travelling to the Gold Coast, including for two New Year’s Eve celebrations (what ministerial duties could she possibly be fulfilling on New Year’s Eve at the Gold Coast?) and, conveniently, at the time of the auction purchase by herself and her partner, a Gold Coast businessman, of an $800,ooo apartment close to his office.

Noice.

Here is an analysis by the ABC of Ms Ley’s spending.

Ley has agreed to in part pay back some of these taxpayer dollars, acknowledging her fraudulent misappropriation of the money was “an error of judgement.” Many of us think of these behaviours as criminal activities that ought to be investigated by the AFP, but it all swings on the narrative.

In stark contrast, the AFP has joined forces with Centrelink to distribute intimidating letters threatening punters with jail if they might possibly have at some time in the last six years fraudulently claimed welfare benefits. People are advised to pay back the amounts Centrelink determined they owed, prior to any evidence that they actually owed anything. Three debt collection agencies have been contracted by Centrelink to pursue debtors, whether the validity of their debt has been established or not. This is an action Australian Lawyers for Human Rights describe as an abuse of legal process.

It does make sense that calling in debt collectors to pursue an alleged debtor before the debt has even been validated might well be an abuse of legal process. Somehow this fact escaped the notice of the Centrelink overlords, or perhaps they simply don’t care. It’s the government’s intention to continue this extortion for the next four years, making a total of ten years illegally hunting down welfare recipients in order to raise $4.6 billion to fix the budget.

In any case, the contrast between the treatment of Centrelink punters and the treatment of Health Minister Sussan Ley could not be more stark. If it was hoped the Ley affair might distract from the Centrelink debacle, well, no. But I do understand that the LNP would think it might, as they are largely brain-dead.

And then yesterday the Australian’s star turn and renowned dog lover Chris Kenny hove into view, with a tweet on the Ley affair to the effect that “there’s a very experienced health minister waiting in the wings.” Ahahaha! the thlot pickens!

Of course that very experienced health minister must be Tony Abbott, and of course Ley was first outed by the Murdoch hacks.

And so, Turnbull is wedged. If he doesn’t demote Ley: trouble from the voters. If he demotes Ley and doesn’t replace her with Abbott, who has long been agitating for a return to the front bench, he’s in serious trouble with the far right-wing.  Ley is also one of Turnbull’s few allies, and he won’t want to lose her from his cabinet.

However this plays out, the contrast between the manner in which Sussan Ley is treated and the treatment of Centrelink punters could not be a more outstanding example of what the Turnbull government thinks of its citizens. Ley, who ought to be investigated for fraud, is permitted to apologise and pay back the money. Centrelink punters are threatened with jail and repayment of monies, whether they’ve committed fraud or not.

Some humans really are more equal than others.

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