Government v Triggs

24 Oct



It’s hardly President of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs’ fault when the Australian government is the worst human rights offender that Commission has to deal with.

When a government acts criminally, one hope for recourse is that statutory bodies will refuse to collude with or enable that government’s criminal behaviour, and indeed, that such bodies will name and shame the errant government.

The Turnbull government’s accusation that Professor Triggs is “politicising” her role is, like much of this government’s spin, farcical. For a start human rights are inherently political, and secondly all actions by governments are also inherently political. If the Turnbull government is determined to transgress the human rights of refugees currently abandoned to a highly uncertain future on Manus Island and Nauru, Professor Triggs has no option but to hold it accountable, otherwise she isn’t doing her job.

Of course any commentary Triggs runs on the government of the day is necessarily political, favourable or otherwise. There are instances in which even the silence of someone in her position is political.

Is it the government’s expectation that Triggs will ignore human rights abuses because they are perpetrated by the government? In what country are we living?

Triggs isn’t acting in isolation. Amnesty, the UNHCR, professionals who’ve worked on Manus and Nauru, refugee advocates, some thirty nation states, and this editorial in the New York Times speak with one voice to Australia’s refugee detention policies, and that one voice is damning.

There’s no doubt that in some instances, including the New York Times editorial, there’s blatant examples of the pot/kettle affliction, however, that does not invalidate the truth of the protests against Australia’s policies.

In a classic abuser pattern of behaviour, the Turnbull government continues its efforts to destroy the messenger, in this case Professor Triggs, though the government isn’t fussy, the tactic is transferable. The first concern of abusers is to silence accusers, and the government has displayed this pathology innumerable times, not only in relation to the secrecy with which it surrounds Manus and Nauru and threats of retribution, including imprisonment, against anyone who might transgress those secrecy demands.

Last week, the Border Force Act was amended to remove a comprehensive list of health professionals from the threat of two years jail for speaking publicly about conditions they encountered whilst working in the detention camps. The Turnbull government was forced to make this particular backflip because health professionals have spoken out regardless of the intimidation, and even this collection of political grotesques can see the folly of prosecuting them. However, they can still go after Gillian Triggs and deprived of other targets, they’ll no doubt double their efforts.

(Note to Turnbull government: never wise to make threats you can’t carry out. Makes you look wussy.)

Obviously, the solution for the government is to cease persecuting refugees. The pursuit of Professor Triggs is a distraction: don’t look at the refugees, look at this woman who is (allegedly) overstepping her role. It’s a greater offence to (allegedly) overstep a role than it is to torture refugees. Again, we see the classic abuser spin: it is a far worse crime to speak out about abuse than it is to perpetrate it.

It’s been messenger season as long as I can remember, in private and in public life. The paradigm is deeply entrenched in our society. It starts at the top and it doesn’t trickle down, it roars like a river in flood. It’s time to turn it around and put the focus where it belongs: on the perpetrator. In this case, the Turnbull government.

Stand with the messengers. Stand with Gillian Triggs.




Letting loose the inner Trump

21 Oct



The footage of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s bus ride with Billy Bush in which he owns sexual assault as his preferred method of engaging with women he finds desirable, led to a tsunami of accounts by women who’ve been similarly treated when men let loose their inner Trump.

Journalist Karen Middleton published her account of sexual harassment and assault by MPs and male colleagues in The Saturday Paper.

Leah McElrath broke down Trump’s non-apology for his actions into a series of astoundingly succinct tweets every woman should print out and stick on the fridge as a guide to common manipulative tactics used by abusers.

In fact, Trump has done all of us a great favour. His global performance of alpha male entitlement has given us a textbook example of predatory male behaviour, without us having to bother reading the textbook. He’s created an atmosphere in which women in our millions can comment on our experiences of such behaviour and, in many instances for the first time, give it a name. He’s outed both himself and the toxic masculinity from which predation springs in a way nothing and nobody else could. For this we can be relieved. There can no longer be any doubt that to adherents of that toxic masculinity, women are prey.

Trump also sorted something that has deeply troubled me for the last couple of years. I’ve written on this blog and elsewhere about my childhood sexual abuse and the PTSD that is its consequence. So when I met online friend David in person for the first time I knew he knew my history. When he asked me about it in the cafe I was discomfited: it seemed neither the place nor the time, however, part of my psychological damage from that time is that in certain circumstances I’m unable to make an assessment of my own best interests, so I briefly answered his questions and also told him of my lifelong struggle with PTSD.

When we left the cafe David grabbed me, pulled me to him, kissed me and put his tongue in my mouth. It was one of those moments in which you can’t get a handle on what is actually happening because what is happening is so unlikely. Then it’s over.

I’ve never been able to make sense of why, only moments after listening to an account of prolonged childhood sexual abuse and subsequent lifelong PTSD, a man would grab a woman he’d just met and put his tongue in her mouth.

Until I read a discussion between Donald Trump and Howard Stern. Troubled women, Trump asserts, deeply, deeply troubled women, give the best sex:

She’s probably deeply troubled and therefore great in bed. How come the deeply troubled women, you know, deeply, deeply troubled, they’re always the best in bed?”

Stern said damaged women are “looking for love, they’re looking for positive affirmation, they’re looking for a father figure who will love them and tell them they’re wonderful and they’ll never be enough.”

Well I have a friend, Howard, who’s actually like a great playboy, I mean, I don’t say this about men, this guy does very well, Trump said. He runs silent, runs deep as they say, like a submarine. He will only look for a crazy women. He says, ‘Donald, Donald, please, please, I only want the crazy women.’”

“They’re desperate,” Stern said.

Reading this exchange was like an epiphany. I understood why David had been so overwhelmed by desire he’d felt compelled to grab me and stick his tongue in my mouth, even though you’d hope a man might think twice about violating a woman who’d just spoken about childhood sexual abuse and lifelong PTSD.

But hey, a deeply troubled woman can turn loose a man’s inner Trump, and he can’t help himself  he has to grab her and stick his tongue in her mouth.

Vulnerability turns him on. Damage turns him on. It’s deeply, deeply sexy.

It’s a relief, really, to have my experience explained by Trump and Stern. It’s a relief to know it’s a predator’s thing and how else would we know so publicly, so accessibly, unless men like Trump and Stern shared their opinions?

We’ve known for a long time that women who experience childhood abuse are highly vulnerable to re-traumatisation. But I doubt it’s ever been so clear that this is because there are men who seek us out, specifically because we’ve been damaged.

Think on that, if you can bear to.












Charlotte Pass today

20 Oct

img_3484 img_3502 img_3504 img_3514 img_3530 img_3544 img_3551 img_3564 img_3565

You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

14 Oct



We’re having dinner at the Molong pub on our way to Canberra, and then to the Snowy Mountains for a month.

We’ve been driving for nine hours on the back roads, avoiding motorways and highways and listening to Bob Dylan because today he won the Nobel Prize for Literature and we’re stoked, and we need to revisit everything he’s ever sung, which you can’t actually do in nine hours but we’ve given it our best shot.

There’s an entertainer at the pub, he’s a little stout and red-faced with silver chains round his neck and he’s singing stuff like The Proclaimers I’m on My Way, and Elvis’s Suspicious Minds, and Joan Jett’s I love Rock n’ Roll, and there’s a woman wrapped around the verandah post, leaning over the singer and going “uh huh” every now and then in relation to pretty much nothing. She’s a little pissed and pretty happy and the singer’s trying to pretend she isn’t there. The sun’s gone down, it’s getting chilly in the beer garden and I wrap myself in a woollen shawl, drink another glass of wine, and consider asking the act if he’ll sing some Dylan.

As stoked as I am by Bob’s win, I’m also sad because if there’s one thing my beloved husband would have wanted to live long enough to hear, it’s that Dylan won the Nobel prize. Babe, if you can hear me, you were right.

Dylan was part of the soundtrack of our decades-long love affair, and Arnie’s knowledge of the man was encyclopaedic. He did a radio show on Sunday afternoons on 2SER just about Dylan. We went to every concert we could, and we only ever walked out of one, at the State Theatre in Sydney when Bob’s performance was so excruciatingly late and then so excruciatingly bad, even we couldn’t hack it. Something to do with drugs in the dunny, I don’t know.

I don’t ask the performer at the Molong pub to sing some Dylan, instead we walk back to our motel and eat chocolate and drink green tea in bed. I’m trying to think of which song was ours, Arnie’s and mine, but that’s the thing about Dylan: there was a song for every shifting phase, even the dark ones, maybe especially the dark ones.

Arnie always came back to You’re going to make me lonesome when you go as his song to me. Which is ironic, because in the end he went and I’m still here and still singing:

I’ll look for you in old Honolul-a
San Francisco, Ashtabula
You’re gonna have to leave me now, I know
But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

I know there’s all kinds of arguments against the Nobel prize for Bob Dylan. Some of them I probably even agree with. But I don’t care. What he wrote decades ago, personal and political, is as applicable today as it was then, his body of work is vast and varied, and I’ve never anywhere come across images of the kind Dylan comes up with.

As Mick Jagger said, Thank you Bob.



The debate that told us all about about sexism. In case we weren’t sure.

11 Oct



It’s difficult to imagine a man finding himself in the same position as did Hillary Clinton in the second debate yesterday.

When did you last hear of a man being held responsible for his wife’s alleged sexual crimes?

When did you last hear of a man centre stage in a political  forum, with his wife’s alleged sexual victims as invited audience members?

Aside from Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual crimes, and aside from Donald Trump’s lascivious objectification of women including his own daughter, yesterday’s debate in itself could not have more clearly enacted the sexism endemic in western culture.

When challenged about his attitudes to women Trump reacted by arguing that Bill Clinton is worse, and then went on to list all the things he believes are more important than sexually assaulting women, managing  to further demean us in that tacky investigation into the relativity of suffering.

What Trump unsurprisingly fails to appreciate (and many others male and female share his lack of perception) is that the objectification and sexual assault of women and girls originates in a collective mindset that is so accustomed to dehumanisation it can justify any destructive action against anyone, should it be judged necessary.  If you are part of a dominant group that treats some 50% of your country’s population as lesser beings because they have vaginas, it’s not going to be difficult for you to do the same to anyone else who threatens your fragile sense of who you are, such as people of religions and ethnicities that vary from your own.

Yes, I know Trump seems far from fragile in his sense of self, however, there’s a psychological theory of over-compensation for fears of inadequacy that might be applicable here.

There was a point in the debate when Trump appeared to stalk Clinton, moving in very close behind her as she answered a question, looming, as if to remind her of his hostile presence. It was nasty, almost as nasty as the video tape of Trump leaving his bus ten years ago to meet a young woman he’d only just finished crudely sexually assessing. He asked her for a hug. In those few seconds we saw sexism, intimidation and violation played out: the young woman couldn’t refuse Trump if she valued her career, and so obliged him in his effort to vindicate his boastful claims of sexual irresistibility. She did this in complete ignorance of the crass conversation about her that had just taken place.

If you’ve ever been groped that vision would have caused you to shudder.

I don’t think HRC did very well in the second debate. How much of this is down to Trump’s psychological tactic of ensuring women linked in the worst possible way with her and her husband were present, and his focus on both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s alleged treatment of them and other women, I don’t know. I’m inclined to think quite a bit, as there is simply no other area in which Trump can outdo HRC. It seems she’s got the presidency in the bag, unless something inconceivably catastrophic occurs.

A woman who stands by her philandering man isn’t necessarily admired for that: some see it as more a demonstration of strength if she kicks the cheater out. Whatever your position on this, it’s a fraught topic for women. Hillary is entrapped in Bill’s mess, as women are so frequently trapped in the messes made by men in their lives. Trump is making the most of it, because at this point there’s really little else he can use to cause HRC public discomfort.

How interesting, then, that both candidates have to deal with sexual scandals. And what a comment on women’s place in the world that Trump’s scandals are his own, while HRC’s are those allegedly perpetrated by her husband.

Says it all, really.










Controlling women’s bodies. Trump & Pence.

9 Oct



It neither shocked nor surprised me to yesterday hear a recording of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, made some ten years ago, boasting that his wealth and fame entitle him to grab women by the genitals, and kiss them without consent, because he finds female beauty irresistible:

I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

Men using their power to gain sexual access to women is nothing new. Bill Clinton has been accused of rape, sexual harassment, exposing himself to a woman who didn’t want to see the presidential penis, and of numerous affairs, the most famous of which involved White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and the most lengthy of which was, it’s said, conducted over some twenty-two years.

These matters are relevant a) because Trump repeatedly points to Clinton as being just as bad: Well, look over there, I’m not the only one who does it and b) because Trump has threatened several times to raise Clinton’s sexual history during debates with Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton, on the somewhat bizarre grounds that any woman married to an unfaithful man isn’t fit to be president of the United States.

HRC, goes Trump’s argument, has enabled her husband to sexually exploit women, therefore is as responsible for harm as is Clinton. This harmful enabling disqualifies HRC from challenging Trump on his attitudes to women because hers aren’t much better, particularly, Trump argues, as Secretary Clinton has allegedly pursued and intimidated some of the women with whom her husband enjoyed intimacy in an effort to ensure their silence.

There is some substance to the theory that tolerating deceptive behaviour is enabling that deceptive behaviour: the unfaithful spouse learns faithfulness is not a requirement for the relationship to continue, and there will be no catastrophic repercussions. I can only guess at HRC’s motives for choosing to remain in a marriage with Clinton, but I’m pretty certain that had they divorced she wouldn’t be running for President today, and she likely wouldn’t have been Secretary of State in the Obama administration either.

HRC is a pragmatist. Anyone running for presidential or other high office, male or female, must have that goal as their primary ambition and be willing to tailor his or her life to the demands of the race. Divorce and the failure it signifies in a country where religious beliefs about marriage and family hold great political sway, together with financial settlements that may reveal far too much about one’s circumstances are situations to be avoided, particularly if you are a politically ambitious woman.

It may well be that HRC long ago came to an understanding with herself that the anguish of betrayal was the price she’d have to pay for achieving her goals. She isn’t the first woman to come to this conclusion, and she won’t be the last.

There are women who find sharing life with a treacherous partner is more than they can bear and that they deserve better, as they do. The cycle of betrayal is a cycle of abuse. Married life with a man such as Clinton would be intolerable for me, but I’m not interested in political office and my priorities are living a life free from abuse and humiliation with a partner I can trust. HRC doesn’t appear to have been in a position (within the confines of the system she inhabits) to both achieve her political ambitions and live free from emotional and mental spousal abuse. She’s had to make choices.

HRC’s pragmatism does not in any way indicate an unsuitability for high office, quite the opposite I would have thought.

Trump’s attitude to women is vile, and it’s on the higher end of a vile continuum. He’s been caught on tape voicing his sordid desires and intentions: we know we’re dealing with a poster boy for sexism and exploitation. But think on this. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, believes abortion to be “monstrous” and vows to do everything possible to prevent women accessing the procedure, including attempting to overturn Roe v Wade.  Should Trump win, Pence is next in line for the presidency in the event of some kind of Trump collapse.

Everywhere we turn, we find a man attempting to control women’s bodies, either through sexual exploitation and abuse, and/or control of our reproductive processes. Trump, Clinton, Pence are high-profile performers of a dominant culture that is still, despite its sophistication  and its claims to western superiority, profoundly contemptuous of women, and committed to denying our autonomy and our humanity.

I’m no fan of Hillary Rodham Clinton. There are, in my opinion, many concerns about her becoming the next president of the US. However, Bill Clinton’s sexual predation and the manner in which she’s chosen to deal with it are not among them. But hey, she’s a woman. On that fact alone she’s blameworthy, and Trump knows it.




Truth to Power. Part Two

30 Sep

So, let’s go through this tweet, phrase by anguished phrase.

“MSM truthers.” A truther is “a person who doubts the generally accepted account of an event, believing that an official conspiracy exists to conceal the true explanation; a conspiracy theorist.”

There are 9/11 truthers who believe the terrorist attacks were perpetrated by the US government;  Sandy Hook Elementary School truthers who believe the massacre was a “false flag” government conspiracy, Holocaust deniers, Obama birthers and so on.

Di Stefano attempts to delegitimise any inquiry into the narrative choices made by MSM, describing those who question perceived bias as “truthers,” and implying that merely questioning media choices is the act of a conspiracy theorist. Whether you find MSM biased towards the right or the left of politics, in either case you are participating in a conspiracy and you wear a tin foil hat. Therefore your concerns are invalid, and deserving only of mockery.

When any institution takes this as its default position towards questioners and critics, it has lost sight of its purpose and its parameters. MSM is not now, never has been and should never aspire to be above critique. The tactic of reacting to criticism by denigrating the critic is inadequate and defensive, and only serves to confirm the suspicion that there is indeed something rotten in the fourth estate.

When your mainstream media tell you you’re unhinged (or biased) for questioning them, they’re presuming a privilege to stifle rather than evaluate criticism. This is the antithesis of the values of a liberal democracy. Fortunately we have blogs and social media through which we can contest mainstream efforts to quash disagreement. That the mainstream media has no business quashing criticism in the first place is a fact that must never be forgotten.

Aged-out tribal boomers.

“Aged out” usually refers to a young person who passes an age where he or she is eligible for certain youth benefits, or must leave foster care. Obviously the term wasn’t used in this sense when linked to “tribal boomers” and I took it to be a disparaging comment on people over fifty who are perceived by Di Stefano to be “aged-out” of well, life, really and of participating in or contributing to anything considered by him to be relevant or important.

(I’m not sure about fifty, maybe it’s sixty, but I don’t think that much matters.)

It’s a thing, to blame boomers for a swathe of social difficulties, and to perceive that group as particularly privileged: the hippies who grew up to be successful capitalists and bought up all the houses as investment properties (taking advantage of negative gearing) leaving younger generations struggling to put a roof over their heads.

There are no doubt many boomers who fit that stereotype, however there are many who don’t. For example, hundreds of thousands of older women are expected to become homeless in the near future, and many of these are, in Di Stefano’s terms, aged out tribal boomers.

This is the danger of isolating human groups who have in common only their age, and then pitting them against one another: the real culprits, rampant capitalism enabled by corrupt government supported by complicit media, remain unacknowledged and unchallenged. Responsibility is deflected and as long as the populace is busily engaged in wars against a particular group: boomers, asylum seekers, bikies, feminists, irresponsible whining generation whatever who just need to stop buying coffee if they want a home, those who are actually responsible for society’s ills and have the power to address them, are not held to account.

It’s surely the job of MSM to bring us back to first principles, not to divide and set us upon one another for their amusement and the amusement of their masters.

While Di Stefano didn’t gender his aged-out comment, it is particularly dismissive of women. When did you last hear a man over fifty described as aged-out?

He also used a tweet from a  woman as an example, and it was me who started him off on his tantrum.

I suspect that when a man describes a woman as aged out, this is code for “no longer sexually interesting to me and therefore irrelevant.”

When challenged, Di Stefano responded:

Stinking up Australian politics

As I replied to Di Stefano when he posted his tweet: crap politicians stink up Australian politics, and I’d add to that, crap media who do a crap job are enabling the ongoing production of stink.

I think Di Stefano’s one tweet validates much criticism  of MSM: biased, inaccurate, pushing a bizarre and very personal agenda, defensive, arrogant, ill-informed, divisive click bait crap. I rest my case.


"sticks thumb under front teeth"

“sticks thumb under front teeth”



Truth to power. Part One.

29 Sep



The other evening I was musing on the mainstream media reporting and pursuit of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari over  the Senator asking a Chinese benefactor to cover his travel costs, and then making a supportive statement, contrary to both government and opposition positions, on China’s activities in the South China Sea.

I was comparing this to the relative lack of interest in pursuing Steve Irons, the WA Turnbull government MP who stole taxpayer money to pay travel expenses for himself and his new wife to their wedding in Melbourne and back to Perth. I tweeted this:

The first response was from a Fairfax journalist taking me to task for using the blanket term “MSM.” After hooting a little at the notion of a journalist complaining about the use of “blanket terms” I acknowledge that the term, like all blanket terms, is less than perfect, although most of us use it to signify traditional media as opposed to new media.

There are some very good journalists working in mainstream media, without whom we’d be even more in the dark than we already are. Fairfax, the ABC and the Guardian are home to most of them. Yes, the ABC. There are still some exceptional people there and one can only imagine how they survive.

However, I wasn’t about to list in my tweet every media outlet not pursuing Irons to the same extent it pursued Dastyari, and I stand by my initial impression that the two incidents were handled very differently.

I then received this tweet from Mark Di Stefano of Buzzfeed. I’ve never considered Buzzfeed to be mainstream media so I wasn’t referring to them, however…


It is true that Irons didn’t reward the taxpayer for footing his wedding travel bill, as Dastyari rewarded the Chinese. It’s also true that both major parties are significant beneficiaries of Chinese money, for which they are presumably expected to provide favours in return. So why single out and hunt down Dastyari when the Turnbull government Foreign Minister, for example, received an iPad, airfares and accommodation, and a bunch of government MPs scored Rolex watches? All of these people are far better placed to further their benefactor’s interests than was Dastyari (who after all said something nobody much bothered to listen to) and to do it far more covertly.

It’s also true that politicians thieving from taxpayers has become normalised, and without the added spice of potentially treasonous remarks, Irons’ theft was of comparatively little consequence.

This, for mine, is the heart of the problem. “Ordinary” thieving from taxpayers is par for the course in politics, meaning politicians are held to a much lower standard of honesty and punishment than the rest of us. I’d like to know why.

For example, if you are caught thieving items from a supermarket you are very likely to be charged by police, even if you put the items back on the shelf and say you’re sorry. Not so much when politicians rip-off taxpayers. If they are caught, they pay it back and that is the only consequence they face.  They’re still thieves, but they are protected thieves.

No answer to any questions from Buzzfeed, and I’d terminated my conversation with the Fairfax journalist who’d lost his head and started telling me I was “wrong and you can’t face facts because of your bias.”

Interesting, I thought. I’m perceived as biased because I’m questioning the difference in how two matters are handled, and he’s obviously assuming I’m a Labor fanatic because why would anybody who wasn’t politically aligned bother to ask such a question? This is what I mean about the normalisation of crime in politics. You can’t even ask about it without journalists assuming you are only doing so to create trouble for a party other than your own.

At this point several of my Twitter pals joined in to assure the traditional media representatives that I’m equally disagreeable to all politicians.

On Di Stefano’s subsequent points, 1) It’s cheering to see the MSM doing its job by breaking stories, but actually I was querying the subsequent pursuit, and 2) what???

Do you mean MSM don’t pursue unless a political party pursues first? I asked Buzzfeed.

I didn’t say that, came the reply. So what do you mean, I asked. Just trying to clarify because your tweet read as if you were saying that.


The notion that matters are not pursued by the media unless first pursued by a political party is unnerving. This is not what one expects from the fourth estate. This is not speaking truth to power, it is waiting until one power gives you the signal to speak a bit of truth to another power, and obediently refraining from pursuit when no permission in the form of guidance is forthcoming. Is this how traditional media decide what issues and personalities to pursue? Taking their lead from politicians?

Well, as you’d expect the conversation by now involved more people than just me and Mark Di Stefano. Many references were made to the “MSM” and I don’t think any of them were particularly favourable, demonstrating the frustration and disillusionment felt by some consumers. Di Stefano maintained his silence until this:


As you can imagine, there is a great deal to unpack in Di Stefano’s communication. And so I’m dedicating an entire post to its deconstruction, which I hope to publish tomorrow.

Taskforce Integrity. Let’s start with politicians, shall we?

27 Sep


You may or may not be aware that in November 2015, the Turnbull government announced the formation of “Taskforce Integrity,” a unit set up specifically to address welfare fraud in the form of undeclared income and non-compliance.

WA Turnbull government MP Steve Irons tweeted his support of the innovation.

Yesterday we learned that Mr Irons charged taxpayers for flights from Perth to Melbourne for his wedding, and he also charged us for flights from Melbourne back to Perth for himself and his new wife, Cheryle.

Treasurer Scott Morrison also charged taxpayers for the cost of his flight to the Irons’ wedding. Both men have since repaid those monies.

Returning money you’ve stolen doesn’t mean you didn’t steal it in the first place. I am reasonably confident that neither thief would have repaid the money had their thieving activities not been exposed, or in danger of exposure.

Irons also charged the taxpayer for a trip he made to the Gold Coast to attend a golf tournament.

I have no problem with addressing welfare fraud. I do have a very big problem with politicians stealing taxpayer money to fund their personal lives, and can’t quite see why they are any different from those who seek to illegally and immorally benefit from the welfare system.

Even with my new glasses, I’m unable to see why those who defraud the welfare system should be charged and perhaps incarcerated, whilst those who defraud the taxpayer are given the opportunity to return the money, face no charges, and no jail time.

Integrity, much?

Yesterday I watched in weary disbelief as Attorney-General George Brandis claimed that his government is holding a plebiscite on marriage equality because the Australian people want a plebiscite, and we made this clear when we re-elected the Turnbull government, thus giving it a mandate.

The Turnbull government has a majority of one seat in the House of Representatives. This is hardly a mandate in anyone’s language.

Let’s quickly revisit the origins of this plebiscite. The notion was introduced by failed prime minister Tony Abbott to placate the rabid right-wing of his party who are incapable of rational thought on the topic of same-sex marriage, and appear to view it as a catastrophic threat to their own heterosexual identities and unions.

Abbott was also inspired by the Irish referendum. He disregarded the fact that Ireland was obliged to alter its constitution to accommodate marriage equality, while we are not. In Australia, it is a matter of a simple amendment to the Marriage Act, changed to discriminate against same-sex marriage in 2004 by the LNP prime minister who lost his seat after taking us into the Iraq invasion on entirely spurious grounds, and without any plebiscite, John Howard. But that’s another sickening story of lies, manipulation, immorality, death, despair and destruction.

Brandis concluded his litany of folded lies with the assertion that unless the opposition agree to a plebiscite, marriage equality will be delayed until the mid 2020’s, assuming the LNP wins the next election.

The Turnbull government is using the LGBTQI community for its own political purposes: delaying marriage equality as long as possible to placate the right-wing homophobes who permit Turnbull to play at being Prime Minister, and to wedge the ALP.

All that is required is an amendment to the Marriage Act, and Brandis made it clear yesterday that will never happen as long as the LNP are in power. This is not because we the people demand a plebiscite, and it is not because of any reasonable argument against marriage equality. It is because the likes of Cory Bernardi and George Christensen are terrified of the gays and lesbians and bisexuals and queers and transgender and intersex peoples. We are going through all this expense and all this angst because some seriously unhinged men, obsessed with the sexuality of others, cannot cope with the idea of difference.

Personally, I think the Marriage Act ought to be abolished. There’s no place for the state in intimate relationships. However, as long as it exists, and as long as it remains the powerful cultural marker that it is, nobody should be forbidden access to its legal and societal privileges.

And on the grounds that some ignorant, terrified, dysfunctional men don’t like what other people do in bed?

Integrity, much?



Turnbull welcomes nice refugees who wait to be invited.

26 Sep



Just when you thought the Australian government’s treatment of refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru could not descend any deeper into the slough of moral repugnancy, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces that he will accept for resettlement refugees from camps in Costa Rica.

At the same time, the PM gave fleeting mention to the 12,000 hand-picked Syrian refugees we were supposed to welcome months ago, but who seem to have become terminally enmeshed in security procedures more stringent than those of any other western democracy because, well, we’re precious like that.

The refugees we are accepting are the nice refugees, while those held captive in life-extinguishing misery are not nice refugees. That’s why they’re held in life-extinguishing misery: no punishment is too great for people who are not nice refugees, even death.

All those not nice people who wouldn’t queue.

Or people who are in general not nice, really. One should never underestimate the grip the white tribe’s middle-class value of niceness has on our juridico-political system.

We are now in the morally sickening position of torturing one set of displaced, stateless persons whilst offering sanctuary to another set of displaced, stateless persons, based entirely on the falsehood that we invited the latter and we did not invite the former. In fact, as signatories to the Refugee Convention we did invite the former, but that Convention is so last century I don’t know why I’m even mentioning it.

Australia, Turnbull assures us, is very generous in our acceptance of the world’s nice needy. This is undoubtedly true, however, it’s a bit like arguing that Hitler loved his dogs, or a serial killer was friendly to his neighbours. It’s the kind of cognitive dissonance seen in people who work hard to compensate for their dark side by convincing themselves and others that they’re really very caring. Turnbull strives on the world stage to talk up our humanitarian inclinations, even as human lives fester on his watch in steaming, fetid tropical dystopias.

This must be yet another blow for those on Manus and Nauru. If they needed further demonstration of their lack of worth in the eyes of their tormenters, which I’m certain they didn’t, they’ve got one, compliments of a prime minister with the principles of a bush pig.

The Turnbulls do not seem entirely at their ease, either hanging from straps on the New York subway or self-consciously posing for pics with the Obamas, Lucy clad in what appeared to be the shining black skin of a slain shark converted to a clinging sheath, more fitting in the wardrobe of the elegant Clare Underwood in the HBO production, House of Cards. Or perhaps she was wearing a wet suit. What do I know.

I realise I’m not being nice, but fuck it. It’s time to get the nasty on.


Shriver, Abdel-Magied, and writing fiction.

19 Sep




I’ve spent the last few days thinking about cultural appropriation and the writing of fiction, as a consequence of the controversial keynote speech given by author Lionel Shriver at the Brisbane Writers Festival, and the distress expressed by Yassmin Abdel-Magied that caused her to walk out of Shriver’s presentation.

Briefly, Shriver stated her hope that the concept of cultural appropriation will be a passing fad, whilst Abdel-Magied argued that the appropriation by white fiction writers of experiences they can only imagine and have not lived is a racist and silencing act of cultural theft, in a world in which the voices of oppressed people are far less likely to be published than are those of their oppressors.

As an example of cultural appropriation, British male author Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee, in which his protagonist is a female Nigerian asylum seeker, written in the first person, is cited.

It’s the job of fiction writers to imagine and convincingly convey to the reader experiences the writer has not necessarily lived, just as it’s the job of actors to portray characters with lives very different from their own. The “authenticity” of the creative work of both writer and actor lies in her or his ability to first fully imagine, and then fully realise their characters.

I can’t interpret this creative work as an act of theft. I can imagine how it might be experienced as an act of theft, but I cannot conclude from my imagining that it is an act of theft. This seems to me a crucial distinction in an argument that has as one of its requirements that a fiction writer (or actor) seek permission from a particular group to construct and perform a story around events he or she has not directly experienced, in order to avoid committing identity theft and cultural appropriation.

From a writer’s perspective, the core of this debate is the freedom to exercise the imagination, and to realise on the page the stories and characters it produces. The writer’s imagination is nourished from all manner of sources, personal experience being but one.

That both the film and publishing industry are dominated by privilege and largely white, is beyond dispute, yet this is perhaps a separate argument, and a situation for which the imaginations and performances of writers and actors cannot be held responsible.

At the same time, a writer or actor has the option of refusing to portray the experiences of a minority to which she or he does not belong, and instead urge their industry to seek out the voice of experience rather than settle for the voice of imaginative empathy, or at worst, exploitation.

I think both Shriver and Abdel-Magied have crucial points to make, but I can’t agree that the solution is the regulation of the imagination, or perhaps more accurately, the regulation of the imagination’s output. If a fiction writer is forbidden through shaming and accusations of theft from writing stories that contain experiences not their own, we’ll have nothing left but memoir.

As I haven’t read Cleave’s novel, I don’t know how successfully or otherwise he created the character of a female Nigerian asylum seeker, but I do know that the silencing of any writing voice is the privilege of publishers, not writers.

As Roland Barthes observed, any text is a tissue of all texts that preceded it: writers are also readers and nothing we produce stands in isolation. The text exists in a political culture of material relations that continue to produce ideologies, actions and beliefs.  As he also observed, the text is incomplete without the reader, and the reader brings to any text personal experiences and previous readings that necessarily influence interpretation.

Shriver’s acerbic reaction to charges of cultural appropriation are unfortunate and defensive, yet she is right to aggressively fight for a fiction writer’s freedom to imagine and narrate experiences that are not her own. If we cease to imagine the experiences of other, we become indescribably diminished. The oppression suffered by those for whom Abdel-Magied speaks can only become less penetrable, while the possibility of redress retreats even further.

Story is one of the most powerful weapons with which to crack the frozen seas of apathy and hatred. Without the imagination, we are as nothing.







The Year that Made Me

15 Sep



As I listened to Attorney-General George Brandis today unconvincingly bellow (shout loud: argument weak, as the father of my children used to say) that Malcolm Turnbull will be remembered by history as one of our great prime ministers, I reflected that while it’s sadly apparent Brandis is a fool, what is most unsettling is that he apparently believes the rest of us to be even bigger fools.

Malcolm Turnbull will be remembered by history as one of the weakest men ever to hold the nation’s highest office: I’m damned if I can think of many who’ve been more ineffective, more blustering, more incompetent and more so obviously at a total loss as to what to do next. No amount of Brandis’s maniacal talking up is going to change that situation, as we saw with failed and sacked prime minister Tony Abbott, also marketed as great and in the process of leaving a powerful legacy, as his popularity hurtled off a cliff like Sidney Nolan’s upside down horse, his death cult followers clinging to the saddle, three-word slogan at the ready: Nothing to see! Nothing to see!

There’s a pattern here. Talked up one day, compost the next.

No one can make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, least of all the meta data-challenged Attorney-General who will himself be remembered largely for his technological ignorance, his ludicrously expensive bookshelves, and his elitist notion of what constitutes art.

Turnbull’s deplorable decision to carry on with predecessor Tony Abbott’s (the one who will be remembered for giving Prince Philip a knighthood, just one of a vast array of incomprehensible acts of wilfully destructive stupidity) ill-willed and non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality demonstrates yet again that the Prime Minister is haemorrhaging principles from every orifice, in a kind of spiritual Ebola that has afflicted him since he took office.

I am unable to think of one reason why the Australian public has a “right” to vote on the right of citizens to marry or not. This is not a question of protecting the Australian public’s rights: no member of the Australian public will suffer during the enactment of same-sex marriage. Marriage equality is a human rights issue, and it is an outstanding example of heterosexual arrogance to reframe it as an issue on which “the people” are entitled to have their say. Why are they entitled to have their say? Give me one good reason.

If “the people” are “entitled” to “have their say” in plebiscites on all matters regarded by politicians as “too important” for them to simply do their jobs, why bother having a parliament at all? We’ll use their salaries and perks to fund opinion polls instead, then all they’ll need to do is pass the legislation.

The High Court ruled that parliament already has the authority it needs to simply amend the Marriage Act to include same-sex marriage, without consulting anybody. Why are we paying the idle swine to hand the job back to us?

Trust me, said George Brandis when asked if his party would honour a *yes* vote, and that’s where I fell off my chair and rolled on the floor laughing my arse off.

It used to be that when Abbott said anything good about someone we knew they’d be in the dumpster fairly soon. It’s very hard to believe that Brandis is serious about Turnbull’s strength as a leader. I don’t think he is. He’s shouting loud because his argument is, like its subject, weak. His exaggerated praise of Turnbull is turning the corner into mockery. Brandis knows what’s coming.

Some of you may be familiar with the segment on ABC broadcaster Jonathan Green’s Sunday Extra, The Year that Made Me. A guest who has achieved chooses a year from her or his life which to them was highly formative. Malcolm Turnbull could do this gig.  He could call it The Year that Made Me lose every principle I’d ever held, and left me a dusty, creaking husk of a man, and taught mean the true meaning of the phrase, laughing-stock.

Excoriate! Excoriate!









Pot, Kettle

9 Sep




The Coalition’s current explosion of self-righteous outrage is something to behold.

Compared to the excesses of, say, Bronwyn Bishop, or the personal gifts bestowed on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop by Chinese companies, not to mention the hundreds of thousands donated to her branch of the WA Liberal party by Chinese who have business interests in that state, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari’s few thousand dollars seem fairly insignificant.

The argument that Dastyari’s gift was “personal” does not hold water: so are Julie Bishop’s iPad, airfares and accommodation, and so were the $250,000 of Rolexes given to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and others by a Chinese business man. You don’t gift a Rolex to a party, you gift it to an individual. It’s personal.

Then there’s the South China Sea. This is what Dastyari actually said about the situation in the South China Sea, as quoted by Sydney-based Chinese media: “The South China Sea is China’s own affair. On this issue, Australia should remain neutral and respect China’s decision.”

This is not the position of either the government or the opposition, and left the Senator open to charges of “cash for comment.”

There’s no doubt Dastyari should have kept his trap shut on the South China Sea: nobody was likely to take notice of his views on this matter anyway. The chap can be a tad too ebullient, though I dare say he’s been cured of that characteristic for the foreseeable future.

Whatever benefits the Foreign Minister may bestow on those who’ve showered her with personal gifts and her party with money may not, at first blush, be as apparent as Dastyari’s allegedly paid support for China. That she will bestow benefits of some kind is certain: this is the way things work, interested parties donate and expect favours in return.

There’s no missing the government’s glaring hypocrisy. It’s now up to the media to hound the government as they have hounded Dastyari. Why is the Foreign Minister accepting personal gifts from the Chinese, or anyone else for that matter? In so doing, she is not meeting her PrimeMinister’s expectations, or at least the expectations he has of Sam Dastyari, and why should they be different?

Or is it one rule for the Coalition, and another, much harsher rule for everyone else? Because, you know, entitlement?


Sam I am. Aiding & Abetzing. Barnaby.

7 Sep



Beleagured and pasty-faced, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari yesterday flung himself at the feet of  herds of rabid news hounds, and proceeded to deliver an almost incoherent mea culpa for his inexplicable acceptance of some $1670 plus change from the Chinese.

Yes, all right, he’s sorry, we get that, even though he’s probably only sorry he’s been caught. However, we don’t want his plate of green eggs and ham, we do not like them Sam I am. We want to know why Sam asked the Top Education organisation to pay his $1670 excess travel expenses, and Sam will not tell us.

He will not tell us in a boat, he will not tell us with a goat. He will not tell us here or there, he will not tell us anywhere.

While we wait until Sam’s motives are uncovered, as they most certainly will be eventually, acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 Report last night looking as if he’d been mauled by a polar bear, or might have been if there were any left. Host Leigh Sales hastened to explain that he’s using cream to rid him of sun cancers, and then we got on with the process of distinguishing between I am Sam’s request for a personal handout from the Chinese, and the Chinese making large donations to political parties.

There is a huge difference, Barnaby argued. I don’t agree with his position. The Chinese aren’t giving money to Australian politicians, either singly or collectively, from a place of love and friendship. They, like any other gift giver and donor, hand money to politicians because they want and expect something in return. This is the case whether it’s a personal donation to Dastyari’s travel expenses, or a couple of million to a major party.

On the same theme, this bizarre tweet from Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz appeared in my  time line yesterday:

Eric AbetzVerified account
I have long agreed with banning foreign donations but does @billshortenmp support similar foreign money ban for marriage plebiscite?

Abetz has not “long agreed” with banning foreign donations. Abetz has voted “moderately against” restricting political donations, frequently absenting himself when votes were counted.

As for the rest of the tweet, I can make no sense of it. Perhaps he’s suffering from irrelevance syndrome since Turnbull took away his portfolios.

Or perhaps, as Ben Pobjie suggested to me on Twitter, Chinese billionaires are surreptitiously supporting marriage equality in Australia.

If the alleged support was for the noes, I’m absolutely certain Abetz wouldn’t be complaining.

In conclusion they’re all, one way or another, trying to persuade us to eat green eggs and ham.

We will not eat it in a box, We will not eat it with a fox….We do not like it, Sam I am, we do not like green eggs and ham.


Opiates of the people

6 Sep

Mexican Cross


On Sunday September 4 2016, Catholic nun Mother Theresa was canonised by Pope Francis for her work amongst the poor and sick in Calcutta, and two miracles attributed to her involving the apparently inexplicable curing of cancers.

As part of the celebrations the poor of Rome were treated by the Pope to a lunch of pizza, which, as a few of us agreed on Twitter, can be deconstructed to loaves and fishes if it contains anchovies.

It was with some disbelief that I watched media reports of this event showing great crowds of people rejoicing. There are still so many enslaved by religious delusion? I had thought it largely replaced by reality TV.

My chain of association led me next to Karl Marx:

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.*

I don’t know that anyone has put it better: the demand to give up illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. How many situations are there to which that insight might be applied?

Mother Theresa did not always enjoy good press. The late Christopher Hitchens, for example, was scathing, claiming in a piece titled “Mommie Dearest” that it wasn’t the poor she was interested in but rather poverty itself, which she used as a vehicle for her extreme right-wing religious views. Her habit of ensuring the dying were baptised into her church, no matter what their religious beliefs or lack of them, did not endear her to many of the living.

For me, the term “canon” refers to a patriarchal hierarchy of literary works, or, with two “ns” the final crescendo of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Associations here lead me back to the time when my sons were young and the 1812 was used by the defence forces in a recruitment drive. This didn’t fool those boys who sang in joyful unison whenever the advertisement interrupted their favourite shows: “Join the army get your balls blown off.”

I often think of this for comfort, when I torment myself about having been a bad mother. One way or another, I nurtured pacifists who from an early age could see through (some) illusions. I recall as well the time their father took them on an expedition to the public viewing of a warship and I refused to go. That ship was built to kill people, you know, I yelled as they went out the door, in an effort to counteract what I felt as an undermining.

The canonisation of humans as “saints” requires ” proof” of at least two “miracles” performed directly or indirectly by those “saints.” That the Catholic church persists in these delusions is hardly surprising, given its attitudes to priests who molest and sexually assault children in their care. Their entire system is delusional.

The emphasis on an after-life that validates suffering in real life, while not peculiar to Catholics, works in the service of the privileged who live off the efforts of those they exploit. Just as the glorification of war advantages arms dealers and politicians, who never set foot in its theatres of carnage.

In the same way that morphine lifts me above my pain so that I’m still aware of its presence but far less troubled by it, religion and other delusional beliefs lift people above the daily pain of an unfulfilled existence, without addressing the underlying condition.

There are many discouraging circumstances in the world, but I don’t know that I’ve felt quite the same sense of weariness about them that I felt at the spectacle of Theresa’s sanctification, which brought home to me the domination of opiates over human life, and I’m not referring to the chemicals.

Aside: As I wrote this a gaudy cross, part of my much-loved collection of Mexican kitsch, fell off the wall where it’s hung for years. However, a gaudy heart, part of the same collection and hung beside it, remains. Make of that what you will.


*Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

The government as sea lions

5 Sep



Pier 39 Sea Lions


I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco. I’m reminded of that querulous and stinking marine rabble whenever I encounter the Turnbull government in my media. The sea lions are a nasty bunch, and they fight a lot.

I now can’t picture Malcolm Turnbull as anything other than a self-congratulatory pinniped in a top hat, barking and clapping his flippers at his own cleverness as Lucy throws him a fish.

While the PM hastened to reassure the country that he had “excoriated” his rogue MPs (including ministers) who left parliament early on Thursday afternoon, the real issue is not that the LNP have taken this event as  “wake-up” call for their one-seat majority government, but that such a call was needed in the first place.

Surely someone (a staffer, one of Dutton’s ninety, yes that’s ninety spin doctors) could have reminded the government that with a one-seat majority, everyone really needs to stay till the end.

That seasoned politicians holding powerful positions (and, apparently, their entire staff) need such a fundamental “wake-up” call is worrying indeed. What it confirms is what I’ve long suspected: the LNP perceive governing as a game weighted in their favour that they are entitled to win, without any particular merit, or even by actually playing it. Any challenges to these perceptions are dismissed as little more than the grumblings of opinionated upstarts.

Turnbull’s first sitting week after the election was woeful. First thirteen of his backbenchers defied him on the matter of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Next, for the first time in some fifty years, the government lost three votes in the House of Representatives because of the Thursday bunk-off. Thankfully, they’ve now gone home for a few days.

On the matter of Section 18C, it’s interesting that the cohort advocating a “watering down” of the section are those who are the least likely to ever need the protections it offers. Read this piece by Jeff Sparrow on the co-option of speech laws for their own benefit by those who have no skin in the game.

Similarly, those most vehemently opposed to marriage equality are those who can in no way claim to be, in reality, affected by it.

(If such people are seriously concerned about a perceived debasing of the institution of marriage, they urgently need to make infidelity illegal. Imagine that).

I think it’s safe to say that politics has ceased to be much to do with good and fair governance, and is now almost entirely to do with the furtherance of the interests and ideologies of largely (and sometimes large) white men. In this they differ little from the sea lion colony in which the dominant males rule in their own interests, biting great chunks of flesh out of dissenters and shoving them, bleeding, back into the sea. It’s every pinniped for himself.

They even savage the young, and the ones with the loudest bark win.













Why do 13 coalition backbenchers need to racially offend & insult?

30 Aug




Today, the first sitting day of a new parliament, thirteen, yes thirteen coalition backbenchers defied their Prime Minister and called for an amendment to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that would see the words “insult” and “offend” removed.

Thirteen white Liberal backbenchers want to be legally permitted to racially offend and insult. So desperately do they want this that they have defied their Prime Minister and their Attorney-General, both of whom undertook to leave Section 18C as it is, and went to the election with this undertaking.

These thirteen backbenchers are fighting for the right to offend and insult specifically on the basis of race and ethnicity. They aren’t fighting for the right to offend and insult in general: that right isn’t under threat. They want to racially offend and insult. They are fighting to racially offend and insult. They are risking the cohesion of their party in order to be able to racially offend and insult.

Think about that.







The profound nastiness of the Turnbull government

29 Aug

pyne box


It was inevitable that any opposition by the ALP or Greens to Abbott’s reeking legacy, the proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, would provide the Turnbull government with the ammunition to  claim (with confected indignation) that both parties are creating an obstacle that thwarts an opportunity for same-sex marriage.

There are bound to be those who accept this warped inversion, however they are likely to be the same groups and individuals that reject marriage equality anyway.

What this situation reveals yet again is the profound nastiness of the LNP. This nastiness (there really isn’t a better word for it, their attitude towards their fellow humans is as base as that) has been evidenced in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s decision to deprive the unemployed and pensioners in order to fix his budget, and the vengeful exercise of raw power as illustrated by Peter Dutton’s ongoing implacability over asylum seekers and refugees. It’s reflected in the image that heads this post: even the dead are perceived as new sources of revenue for the LNP.

I don’t need to go on, the evidence of their nastiness is everywhere we look, and it multiplies as we sleep.

Nastiness is the Turnbull government’s default position. From the apparent banality of nastiness all manner of evils flourish, and if you ever doubted that it is being enacted daily, for you to witness, in our parliament.

Though the Northern Territory can’t be ever be taken as typical, the carnage wrought on the CLP this weekend gives me small hope. Citizens can become sickened by nastiness, and they can wreak havoc on the party of nasty when they’ve had enough.

There is not one rational reason to deny marriage equality. We are a secular state: religious arguments ought not to influence our decisions. The unholy alliance of religion and nastiness currently hold sway.

It’s my hope that the ALP hold out against a plebiscite. No Liberal MP has any obligation to honour a yes result. Those who touchingly believe a plebiscite =marriage equality need to disabuse themselves of that belief, because it does not. We could well go through the torturous process and still have necessary amendments to the Marriage Act blocked by MPs who are not bound to accept a yes vote.

At the heart of the demand for a plebiscite is nastiness, and a poisonous hatred for anyone who doesn’t fit a narrow definition of “normal.” The influence of pure nastiness has been overlooked in our arguments yet it is a powerful driver of irrational behaviour and you’d have to go a long way to find behaviour more irrational than that of Turnbull’s government in just about any area you can name.

There are rumours again that Abbott is preparing himself to challenge Turnbull’s leadership. Not only are they nasty to citizens, they are exceptionally nasty to one another. I would take great pleasure in watching the LNP continue to cannibalise itself. I doubt it would affect our governance to any great degree: they aren’t doing much of that anyway.

It’s my hope that the fate of the NT CLP is the Turnbull government’s future. Barely enough seats left to form a party? I’d go for that.




Morrison’s ethics & the Taxed-Nots

26 Aug


Does God want you to be rich?


Treasurer Scott Morrison and I have very different understandings of what comprises a “Taxed-Not,” a term it was yesterday alleged on Twitter he plagiarised from a Fox News anchor who coined it some six years ago.

Leaving aside the curly questions of whether or not it is possible to plagiarise Fox News and the length of time it’s taken Morrison to allegedly do it, the term is an ugly characterisation of human beings. So I naturally assumed it refers to those who are ugly in their behaviours.

When I first heard Morrison use it (apart from an immediate association with Dr Seuss) I thought, oh, the treasurer is referring to the churches, the mining magnates, the media moguls, the corporations, and the many politicians who rort the public purse for their private and/or ideological gain.

Friends, I could not have been more wrong. It turns out the “Taxed-Nots” are welfare recipients, and Morrison seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that if he takes from them what little they have, he will restore the budget to surplus.

Now I am, outside of my own relatively simple budget, financially illiterate but even I can see that taking the price of a cup of coffee from people on Newstart and pensioners is unlikely to curtail the budget deficit. I tried to begin a conversation with Mr Morrison about this on Twitter, but he blocked me. There are none so deaf as those that will not hear.

Perhaps I unthinkingly insulted Morrison’s faith. He’s a Happy Clapper at Hillsong, a Pentecostal outfit that believes God wants everyone to be rich and if you aren’t it’s because God doesn’t love you and if God doesn’t love you, you deserve what you (don’t) get because you are morally deficient. Like a Taxed-Not.

The term encapsulates a powerful, deliberately false dichotomy of wealth with morality and poverty with immorality that appeals even to the non-religious.

There are surely many avenues available to the treasurer that would go some way towards addressing the country’s allegedly parlous financial state. It would, for example, cost us a couple of billion less to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island  in Australia, rather than continue to bribe less developed nations to shoulder our responsibilities at the cost of some $55 million for two individuals.

Then there’s the $160 million plus marriage equality plebiscite: totally unnecessary if only the parliament would do its job.

Then there’s the $1.615 billion VET FEE-HELP loans rort. Yes, that’s $1.615 billion gone up in Joe Hockey’s cigar smoke.

Plus the ideologically driven and/or vengeful Royal Commissions, tax concessions to the wealthy, really, it can’t be that hard to grub up a bit more cash, can it, Mr Morrison? Try the almost 600 companies who pay little or no tax, such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, for starters.

There obviously are people who rort the welfare system. But I suspect their numbers are inconsequential compared to the rorting  wealthy.

In the LNP universe the wealthy don’t rort: they are entitled. In the LNP universe poverty equals immorality and therefore lack of all entitlement, indeed, in the LNP universe if you’re out of a job you don’t actually deserve to eat & they’ll take another $4 off you to make that even more clear.

Morrison and his multi-millionaire boss Malcolm Turnbull bullying the disadvantaged into deeper disadvantage while the wealthy flourish. What would Jesus say?









Dutton’s message: torture works

20 Aug

Torture Works


Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation about Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was shown on SBS last night.

Many angry critics have  described the film as CIA propaganda advocating torture, and accused Bigelow of making an immoral argument that torture works. That wasn’t my reading as I argue here.

This revisiting of the film and the arguments surrounding it made it obvious to me that the message “torture works” is precisely the message the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison before him, and several former Prime Ministers including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have sent to the world since the indefinite detention, off-shore and previously in the hell holes of Woomera and Baxter, of waterborne asylum seekers began.

They are not even particularly subtle about conveying this message: forcing women, children and men to live in circumstances in which they are tortured will deter others from attempting to seek asylum in Australia. It’s that stark.

To dissuade attacks from rusted on ALP supporters: Paul Keating built Woomera. I went there. It was one of Dante’s circles of hell. So please don’t come at me with the usual defence of your political party’s position on asylum seekers. There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties.

Every time politicians insist that bringing refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia will “start the drownings at sea again”, he or she is arguing, to the world, that “torture works.”

Frank Brennan, John Menadue, Tim Costello and Robert Manne have here proposed a solution to the current ghastly impasse. Their proposal retains the turn-back policy:

We believe there is no reason why the Turnbull government cannot do now what the Howard government previously did – maintain close intelligence co-operation with Indonesian authorities, and maintain the turn-back policy, while emptying the offshore processing centres and restoring the chance of a future to those we sent to Nauru or Manus Island three years ago or more by settling them either in Australia or, if any are willing, in other developed countries. Like Howard, Turnbull could maintain the offshore processing centres in case of an emergency.

Boats are to be turned back to their point of departure, usually Indonesia or in the case of Sri Lankan refugees,southern India where they continue to live as stateless people with few, if any rights.

The proposition put by Brennan et al would at least thwart the message that torture works, to which our politicians seem alarmingly attached. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it could be our next step in addressing a situation that in its current manifestation is hideously wrong in every possible way.

Critiquing their proposition is a post in itself, and I won’t do that here.

As I argue Bigelow’s film demonstrated, the proposition that torture works is in itself a terrifying premise for debate.Who are we, that we would engage in such a debate in the first place?

It isn’t about whether or not torture works. It’s about torture even being considered, and then implemented as an option. You might argue that no politician foresaw or planned the circumstances that have evolved on Manus and Nauru, and you’d likely be correct. So we have come to torture by accident, rather than by design. Having arrived at that point, even accidentally, we are culpable and every day we reinforce the message that torture works, we add to our burden of culpability. What was initially accidental, thoughtless, ignorant, uncaring, politically self-seeking becomes, in the maintaining of it, deliberate.

Which puts us in the company of the CIA and its propaganda, does it not? Not to mention Donald Trump.






Australia, Vietnam & white male supremacy

18 Aug



I don’t know who came up with the macabre notion of recreating the concert at which Little Pattie was performing when the Battle of Lon Tân commenced fifty years ago.

I don’t know who came up with the even more macabre notion of ABC TV’s Australian Story filming the recreation.

I do know that it should be no surprise to anyone that the Vietnamese government, citing the sensitivities of the people in Lon Tân and its surrounds, have, at the last minute, baulked at the notion of Australia recreating the circumstances in which that battle took place and refused to allow planned commemorations to go ahead.

I find it difficult to imagine that Australians would permit similar commemorations being enacted in our country, had we suffered the large-scale destruction wrought upon the Vietnamese by the US and its allies in a filthy war from which we finally withdrew in so-called “honourable defeat,” leaving a napalmed, land-mined landscape behind us and the communist regime intact.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and his ministers have expressed their deep disappointment in the Vietnamese government’s decision, and are particularly outraged at the last-minute nature of it. Perhaps the Little Pattie concert was too much of a stretch for the Vietnamese.

…the gala dinner, concert and the expectation of more than 1,000 Australians at the Long Tân memorial cross was seen as an insensitive celebration.

Yes. I get that. I would have expected Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to get that as well, and nip it in the bud.

However, Australia doesn’t care much for the feelings of brown people. There’s an example of this almost daily: indigenous youth in Don Dale. Asylum seekers and refugees in atrocious conditions on Manus and Nauru. The bribing of those countries and Cambodia to take refugees off our hands because they’re all brown aren’t they, so they should get on. The death of yet another indigenous woman in police custody. The conservative white male outrage over Section 18c.

The dominant Australian attitude as expressed by politicians and media would seem to be one of white entitlement: our sensitivities are paramount in the Lon Tân situation, not those of the brown people who cannot escape the repercussions of that war. We are apparently entitled to restage the entertainment of our troops, and if the Vietnamese want to stop us they are ill-willed spoil sports who will further destabilise our veterans.

Australians should never have been conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. They were treated hideously when they returned. Successive governments have dark histories concerning their attitudes to and neglect of war veterans. Accusing the Vietnamese of destabilising them is hypocrisy.

In neighbouring Laos, the arms and legs of children and rice farmers are still blown off when they step on land mines, fifty years later. I’ve stood on the Russian airstrip in Phonsovan, Northern Laos where the CIA conducted its “secret war” and seen the napalmed jungles, and the bomb craters outside the caves to which the villagers fled when they no longer had anywhere to hide. I’ve walked the Plain of Jars on a narrow path marked by white-painted stones, on either side of which there remains uncounted numbers of active mines. This is the legacy the US and we, its allies, left in Vietnam and Laos.

So the Vietnamese government refuses to permit a gala dinner, concert and large numbers of Australians at the memorial cross? I’m OK with that. Theres nothing to prevent the veterans already in Lon Tân from holding their own ceremony of remembrance. They don’t need Australian Story to do that.

We have never been invaded.* It’s one of our deepest collective fears. The arrival of a few thousand boat people causes us to construct a fortress around ourselves, and a border force in black shirts to protect us. We spend billions on keeping invaders out. We torture them, children and all, to dissuade other potential invaders. Yet we believe are entitled to perform our ceremonies in another country where we slaughtered its people in the service of the US for seven years.

That’s privilege. That’s entitlement. That’s white male supremacy.

*Some objections have been raised to this sentence, on the grounds that it seems to imply a denial by me of European invasion of this country, and the ongoing trauma of that invasion for Indigenous people. Australia has two distinct overarching populations: Europeans who invaded and colonised and now call Australia home, and Indigenous peoples who were invaded, colonised and displaced. I’m speaking from the European position, one that has the privilege of never having experienced invasion in this country we call home.

There’s never been a better time for white men & Section 18C

16 Aug

Racist Google?


Oh, that David Leyonhjelm! What a scamp he is! 

As you probably know, he’s making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, after Fairfax journalist Mark Kenny called him an “angry white man,”

I don’t think Leyonhjelm, a staunch opponent of 18C, is being hypocritical: he’s perfectly open about this being an opportunity to “test” the law, rather than a genuine case of offence inflicted or taken.

And it will be most interesting to watch the arguments for and against unfold: will Kenny’s comment fall into one of the many exemptions provided by 18D? Did Kenny intend to racially insult Leyonhjelm, or was he making a contextual point by mentioning the man’s colour? How can Leyonhjelm make a complaint at all, ethically speaking, if he’s not insulted or offended?

I remain astounded that white people continue to fight for the right to offend and insult people of colour. I understand that these white people believe they are fighting for free speech and of course they are, if you are of the belief that free speech equals unrestrained speech.

It’s inarguable that Section 18C curbs free speech. Of course it does. So do the laws that make it an offence to use foul language in public places, or to call police officers cunts when they’re attempting to restrain you or move you on. Why isn’t anybody complaining about these restrictions on free speech?

Insult and offence are subjective concepts, as Leyonhjelm repeatedly points out. However, Section 18C specifies that the insult and offence must relate to race, ethnicity and religion before it is considered insulting and offensive. Its ambit doesn’t cover insults such as you’re an arsehat dickwad, and offensive statements such as all your family are loser thieving pisspots and always will be so fuck off you sad cunt. 

I’m still struggling to come up with a pejorative comment about someone’s race, religion and/or ethnicity that isn’t offensive or insulting. Can anyone help me? Please use asterisks.

There’s never been a better time to watch two white men duke it out in the racial discrimination ring. Popcorn.

Music (& politics)

13 Aug



I’m telling you, if you haven’t heard a Mongolian throat singer perform George Gershwin’s Summertime you haven’t lived.

Bukhu, who has just been granted a Distinguished Talent visa by the DIBP, performed this feat last night accompanied by John Robinson (oud, Turkish baglama) Peter Kennard (percussion) and Bertie McMahon (double bass). Together they comprise the group Equus and they make music, rather than just play it very well.

Aside: I was going to write a warning top of this post stating that it isn’t political, when I realised that in fact it is. The political and human point to be made is that as I sat in the audience last night freezing my bum off in the delightful but seriously cold Pelican Theatre in Grafton, I thought that we, (we being all of us who can go to concerts, all of us who can perform in them and all of us who can read about them) are amongst the world’s most privileged people. I don’t feel guilt about that, but I do think the least we can do is to acknowledge our good fortune, and send forth a passing gratitude into the cosmos in the hope of counteracting some small portion of the dark matter in which we are almost entirely engulfed. As well as using our voices and our votes.

Back to music. Equus conjures up images of vast Mongolian plains and wild horses, fused with Turkish melodies to which the western ear must accustom itself. Just when you’re lost in the world created by this fusion, up pops Gershwin, performed by Bukhu using all four of his throat voices plus one that comes entirely through his nose. You laugh, out loud, in joyous delight, because this extraordinary performer is making music with such intelligence and wit, and he’s teasing you as well.

You’re in an enriched world, one without borders, and it’s a deeply nourishing place to be.

The day before I’d had a tiresome drive  from Lismore, tiresome because the goat track that is the Pacific Highway is finally being fixed and it takes forever to get home but fortunately for me, the Australian Youth Orchestra was on ABC FM playing Mahler’s first symphony which is not my favourite, but as with Leonard Cohen, I’ll listen to anything Mahler wrote.

The orchestra recently returned from a tour of Europe and China. While away, the lead clarinet made a point of playing a cadenza adapted from a piece of music specific to the city in which they were performing. This broadcast was from Melbourne, it was their homecoming concert and towards the end of piece by Katchachurian, the clarinetist burst into a virtuoso rendition of I still call Australia Home. Stuck at the road works, I laughed out loud at the wit, the intelligence and the unexpectedness.

It was another moment of joyous delight, brought to me by music. It was another moment of experiencing the richness of a world without borders.

This is why conservatives loathe the arts, and withdraw funding from just about anything that holds a possibility of being innovative and interesting. The arts dissolve borders. The arts are not respecters of sovereignty. The arts threaten to render conservative politicians obsolete and make them objects of pity and scorn.

Conservative politicians are unmasked by the world of music, as the intrusive, sad and ignorant pests they have become.

They do have a place. They’ve forgotten what it is. They need to get back to it. It isn’t nearly as important as music or any of the arts, and they know it.

Next week I’m going to see the Bangarra dancers, and spend some hours studying paintings. So I probably won’t be posting much about politics. Or posting anything at all.  🎵 👀 🎨 👏 😀




No, we are not “better than this.” We are worse.

12 Aug


Elie Wiesel

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton seems to be of the opinion that because people fleeing their home countries pay “people smugglers” for passage to Australia, it is perfectly acceptable for them to be subjected to every imaginable kind of suffering. He includes children in this belief.

Dutton’s world view is mirrored by politicians such as Adam Giles in the Northern Territory, who share the narcissistic sense of entitlement that regards any perceived offence against them and their laws however mundane, however explicable, as a crime deserving of extreme punishment guaranteed to destroy the spirit.

In short, if you offend me I’ll destroy you. The crime here is offending these men, and both Giles and Dutton are profoundly offended by recalcitrant indigenous youth in the first, and waterborne asylum seekers in the second. You can see their indignation seeping out of every shining pore. They are incapable of seeing context: they can only perceive offence.

This overblown sense of offence and indignation, coupled with a sociopathic inability to imagine the conditions of lives other than their own, is the breeding ground for an extreme cruelty that ought never to be coupled with power, but unfortunately all too frequently is.

The manner in which successive immigration ministers, including those from the ALP, have treated waterborne asylum seekers beggars belief. They have been able to do this because enough Australians share the same narcissistic sense of entitlement and belief that being offended, personally, collectively and nationalistically, is a crime for which, unlike real crimes, punishment must be unrestrained and infinite. So kids in Don Dale don’t ever deserve a chance at life. So waterborne asylum seekers and refugees don’t ever deserve a chance at life. They’ve both offended white Australia in a variety of ways, and so they must die, metaphorically and sometimes literally.

It isn’t even so much what they’ve done. It’s the fact that they had the bloody gall to do it in the first place.

When outrages such as Don Dale and the Nauru files erupt, a lot of people get on social media to claim: “We’re better than this.”

Well, here’s the thing. We are not better than this. We’ve been torturing indigenous people since invasion day and we’re still doing it. We’ve been torturing waterborne asylum seekers for almost two decades, and we’re still doing it. We’re still voting in politicians who’ll continue the barbaric practices we don’t really want to know about as long as we feel we’re “being kept safe” from boats, or thieving black kids.

There are no innocent bystanders in these situations. We all know what’s happening. We’ve always known about our off-shore concentration camps. Keeping your mouth shut is enabling torture. These crimes are perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless because “good” people keep their mouths shut. Well, here’s another thing. You aren’t a “good”person if you keep your mouth shut. You’re an enabler of torment and torture.

As Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs pointed out yesterday, the only way anything will change in our treatment of asylum seekers is through public pressure. The government knows this as well, which is why they don’t allow anyone to see the camps and the suffering people in them. This is what every government intent on the torment and torture of a particular group do: they herd them into facilities where no one can hear their screams.

And when we do finally hear their screams, as we have since the Don Dale revelations, Adam Giles blames those who bring their screams to our ears, and Peter Dutton blames the victims for screaming.

Think about that. I mean, really, really think about the mind sets of Giles and Dutton and those who support them, who shoot the messengers, and blame the victims for the suffering they inflict upon them.

Then get on social media and say “we’re better than this.” We aren’t. We could be, but we aren’t.







So they want to change 18c

8 Aug

Be Polite


Returned Senator David Leyonhjelm and new One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts both want rid of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Section 18c makes it illegal to carry out an act if: “(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group”.

There are those in both houses who support the removal or amendment of 18c, on the grounds that it collides with concepts of freedom of speech, though it’s slightly alarming to imagine what any of them want to say that requires the removal of 18c in order for them to be able to legally say it.

The section is a little over-written: a reasonable person can assume that if someone is humiliated or intimidated they have also been offended and insulted, and my understanding is that it is the words offend and insult that most aggravate the two senators.

Both Leyonhjelm and Roberts put forward the argument that offence is always taken, never given, and that each one of us has a choice as to whether or not we feel offended and insulted by the word or actions of another.

I find this notion particularly quaint coming from Senator Leyonhjelm: if indeed we can choose not to be offended and insulted, why does he so frequently choose to be angry and aggressive in reaction to others he feels have offended him? Especially on Twitter. He can get quite foul in that medium.

Leyonhjelm was apoplectic when The Chaser parked a van outside his house, and he threatened them with the police. Why did he choose that stressful and incendiary reaction if he’s in control of his feelings like he says we all should be?

Increasingly, this argument sounds like the justification of bullies for a perceived right to bully. I am tormenting you because I can, and you can choose not to be tormented so it’s your fault if you are.

What kind of person wants the right to behave like that towards another?

Of course it’s true that in theory no one can make us feel anything: we react and respond to others and those reactions and responses are influenced by all manner of prior experiences, and our degree of understanding of our own psychology.

Everyone is moulded by their individual experiences as well as by the social and economic systems in which we develop.  For example, if you suffer from, say, PTSD, you are less likely to be able to freely respond to distressing circumstances you encounter in the present, as one of effects of the illness is that it can make a present event indistinguishable from an event in a traumatic past.  Humans need models in our childhoods. We need to be able to learn how to choose our responses, this is not knowledge we acquire at birth. Some are taught better than others, some are not taught at all. The emotional life is by no means a level playing field, and saying we can all “choose’ not to be insulted or offended is like saying obesity is a choice, or poverty, or that we can all be millionaires if we only choose to.

Roberts and Leyonhjelm can take no credit for having being born white with the advantages that whiteness can bring, equally, those of ethnicities, race, colour and nationality that are frequently subject to hate speech had no choice in the matter of their birth either.

We are not islands: we are affected by others and we affect others. Leyonhjelm and Roberts’ argument is the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher’s belief that there is no society, there’s only individuals.

The question is not whether people should learn to be immune to feeling hurt and insulted when kicked by a donkey, but why do we tolerate donkeys who feel compelled to kick in the first place? The indigenous men and woman who took Andrew Bolt to court won their case, but Andrew Bolt has yet to adequately explain why he felt compelled to question their validity as people of colour.

This latter question would seem to me to be far more serious, and far more in need of urgent address than the removal or amendment of 18c. Why do these people want to amend or remove 18c? What will be gained from its removal, and who will profit?

I can see nothing to be gained, and a great deal that could be lost, unless it is your life goal to abuse those who are different from you, and if it is, you are the problem, not Section 18c.

By the way, we don’t actually have any constitutional rights to free speech in this country:

The Australian Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression. However, the High Court has held that an implied freedom of political communication exists as an indispensible part of the system of representative and responsible government created by the Constitution. It operates as a freedom from government restraint, rather than a right conferred directly on individuals. 






Trump & Clinton. Clinton & Trump

6 Aug

Clinton, Trump


I recently read a characterisation of the US presidential battle as a struggle between a neofascist catastrophe and a neoliberal disaster. This latter description of Hillary Clinton will not please those among us who believe, some ardently, that a US female president will be a triumph simply because of her sex.

It surely is worth noting here that there have been (and still are) female presidents and prime ministers in countries other than the US for some time, including our own Julia Gillard. The US is breaking its own glass ceiling, not the world’s. I don’t know that women have done much better than men at the task, and it is probably slightly delusional to expect or demand that we will: after all, female leaders have to work within the same long-established systems as do males, and no one person of either sex is going to smash those corrupt systems and make the world a better place.

This is not to say women shouldn’t be equally represented in politics: of course we must. However, I sometimes wonder if we wouldn’t be better served fighting dysfunctional political orders, rather than pouring our considerable energies into the task of moulding women into the value systems of a hegemonic masculinity when once there, we can do little if our ambition is to keep our jobs.

On the question of entrenched and deadly systems of government, John Pilger argues in his Pilgeresque way that Hillary Clinton is a far more dangerous presidential prospect than is Donald Trump, partially on the grounds that Clinton is deeply embedded in a warmongering system whilst Trump is a maverick who condemns the Iraq invasion as a crime, and doesn’t want any trouble with Russia or China. Pilger continues:

Among Clinton’s biggest backers are the Israel lobby and the arms companies that fuel the violence in the Middle East. She and her husband have received a fortune from Wall Street. And yet, she is about to be ordained the women’s candidate, to see off the evil Trump, the official demon. Her supporters include distinguished feminists: the likes of Gloria Steinem in the US and Anne Summers in Australia.

Then there is the analysis of Trump as a self-saboteur, an outstanding example of someone who sets high goals while simultaneously working to undermine himself. Nobody in this narrative, not even Trump, envisaged his campaign coming this far, and the candidate’s increasingly successful alienation of significant supporters can be interpreted as the behaviour of a man who wanted the attention and publicity of the competition, but never really believed he could win it and is now in the process of finding a way out. Trump’s way, the author argues, is to behave so badly everyone rejects him, then complain that the electoral system is rigged and he is its victim. On the other hand, the author admits, Trump could simply be unhinged.

I’m grateful I don’t have to vote in the US election: it’s bad enough coping with our own. What I take from both situations is a sense that the old political order is in its death throes, a new one not yet born or perhaps not even yet conceived. What we have to work with are the dregs of democracy.

In the western world we’re desperately casting about for something better or at the very least, different. I can’t see Hillary Clinton as the answer, even though she has a vagina. She is solidly of the old order. Trump, like some of our maverick politicians, is different and difference is his appeal, even though he, like our mavericks, may be no better and could be worse.

I confess myself astounded at feminist support for Clinton. I have no desire to live under hegemonic matriarchy, anymore than I enjoy living under the constraints of hegemonic patriarchy. Neither improve the lot of women nor many men, other than those of the ruling class. I can only conclude we are living with the dregs of feminism as well as the dregs of democracy, and nobody seems to have any idea what might possibly come next.




Sexualise this

5 Aug

leopard print cardigan


I’ve just read a piece in The Conversation titled: Sexualised girls are seen as less intelligent and less worthy of help than their peers.

Who defines what constitutes sexualisation, and using what criteria?

Examples from the article: Highly sexualised clothing (a short dress and a leopard print cardigan) or a girl in a black bikini.

To the authors of this article a short dress combined with a leopard print cardigan is a signifier of a sexually easy female, and thus highly inappropriate when worn by a young girl.

I would not view any young girl wearing these garments (or any other garments for that matter) as a sexualised object. Would you?

If your answer is yes I think there might be something slightly askew in your perceptions, and you might like to ask yourself not why the young girl is wearing those outfits, but why you see her as a sex object because of them.

If as a consequence of perceiving that young girl as “sexualised” you decide she is less morally worthy and of lesser intelligence, you probably should ask yourself why, in your moral universe, a “sexualised” female (young or mature) is less worthy of moral consideration and inevitably of lesser intelligence, than a female you perceive as free from sexualisation.

In other words, why do you hold those views, and where do they come from? Are they any different from the views held by, say, racists? Are they even, perhaps, a tad misogynist?

The sexualisation debate as represented in The Conversation article is warped. Research criteria are based on the assumed authority of a male-centered gaze, introjected by women, that continues to define female sexuality in terms of how much flesh we display and the manner in which we choose to display it or clothe it. This bias remains unacknowledged and unquestioned, and ought itself to be the subject of investigation.

Somewhere in our history there developed the notion that women who are open about our sexual desire and the expression of our sexuality are correspondingly brain-dead, and undeserving of moral consideration. It’s from these notions the concepts of sexualisation and objectification evolve, not from anything women do or wear.

Obviously the signifiers of objectification and sexualisation vary with fashion and culture: a modest 2016 swimsuit would have caused its wearer to be objectified as less than morally human in 1816. The point surely must be that we have not evolved beyond our need to define ourselves as moral beings against women and girls identified as less worthy, because they are pejoratively perceived as overtly sexual, sexualised or objectified.

Concepts of sexualisation and objectification are constructed concepts and as such fluid, always open to interrogation and contestation. They are not a given, and they do not come from any transcendental exteriority. Because Collective Shout or anyone else declares a garment objectifying does not make it so.

Nothing can make a child a sexualised object other than the warped perception of an adult. As we know to our cost, warped adult perceptions of children as sex objects are rampant, and to be found in our most esteemed institutions.  If you choose to view children through that warped perception there is, in my opinion, something unexamined in your thinking.

The fact that some adults care less about the welfare of women and girls they consider sexualised and objectified seems to my mind a much more urgent topic for investigation than chain stores selling pole dancing kits and Playboy stationery. To draw an equivalence between female sexuality and worthiness is warped reasoning, and that so many people in our society do this is cause for serious alarm.

The problem lies not with the sexualisation or objectification of young girls and women. It lies with unexamined attitudes to female sexuality, fear of female sexuality, and the ongoing desire to control female sexuality. If you are seeing children as sexualised and objectified have a good look at your beliefs about female sexuality, because you are likely part of the problem, not of the solution.





A win for the citizens, a fail for the government

2 Aug

Turnbull zips it


There’s currently not much from which one might take heart in politics (is there ever?) however, the replacing of Brian Martin as the single commissioner in the Northern Territory Royal Commission into  atrocities against Aboriginal children, perpetrated at the Don Dale facility, is a flickering candle in the current dark night of the citizen soul.

What this development says to me is that there are individuals who will not bend to the will of the LNP federal government, individuals who will listen to discontent and outrage expressed in the community and respond to that, rather than lick the sticky fundaments of our liberal overlords.

Mr Martin had personal reasons as well, which is fair enough. It was clear from the announcement of his commission that he was the wrong man for the job, optically speaking, and Brian Martin is aware of the power of optics to bring a man entirely undone. No matter what, he was never going to come out of that gig unscathed.

I’m not going to do it, he informed Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis (perhaps not using precisely that arrangement of words, I wasn’t there) leaving them egg-faced, their decisive agile nimble and innovative solution to the Don Dale outrage steaming and useless as a puddle of piss in a snow bank.

There have been rumblings from various elites that no “eminent” Australian will agree to perform public service if this capitulating to the will of the masses keeps up. Cry me a river.

Compare the actions of Brian Martin with those of Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon, who led then PM Tony Abbott’s witch hunt of Bill Shorten via the infamous Trade Union Royal Commission. Heydon became and remains a laughing-stock (all those vacuum cleaner jokes) an obedient slave of the right-wing of the LNP. His Royal Commission produced little of note, and didn’t unduly trouble Shorten. Perhaps Mr Martin noted Heydon’s fate.

The Royal Commission will now be headed by Mick Gooda and Margaret White, a far more satisfactory arrangement.

We probably don’t need too much more evidence of Turnbull’s incompetence, but true to his long-term policy of giving us what we don’t need, the PM keeps up supply.

Social media must be given some credit for the reconstitution of the Northern Territory Royal Commission. Complain about Twitter all you like: there’s no getting away from the fact that public opinion is conveyed so widely and so forcefully through its use, that politicians and elites who ignore the platform do so at their peril.

The resignation of Brian Martin, and the appointment of an Indigenous man and a former Queensland Supreme Court judge is a win for citizens over the disastrously inadequate decision of the LNP government. Take heart.

Pell: nothing to see here, look over there

29 Jul

Pell on sexual abuse


Cardinal George Pell has, in the face of fresh allegations of sexual abuse of children aired by ABC TV’s 7.30 Report this week, demanded a “probe” into what he perceives to be a conspiracy between the Victoria Police and the ABC to “pervert the course of justice” using a “trial by media” to establish his guilt before the matters are afforded due process.

I’m calling bollocks. Everything aired thus far by ABC TV has come directly from the complainants, Pell’s alleged victims. We have watched them give excruciating accounts of their experiences, and the effects those experiences have had on their lives. There are no police “leaks” in these first-hand accounts.

Anyone is at liberty to speak about his or her experiences at the hands of another, and we have defamation laws that deal with false claims.

There is no indication that Victoria Police have provided the ABC with information other than that they are pursuing their inquiries into the allegations, and that the matters have been referred to the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions where it will be decided whether or not charges are to be brought against the cardinal.

There is no legal requirement to protect Pell from identification. There are no minors involved in the complaints: they are historical. The ABC has offered Pell every opportunity to respond, and have published his responses on their website.

As long as the law permits the identification of alleged perpetrators, media outlets are at liberty to name them. This may or may not be fair: it is legal.

Pell’s position is no different from that of any other alleged perpetrator of historical sexual crimes against children in this country. Such people are identified in the media, and their alleged victims are frequently interviewed by the media. Police announce that they are pursuing lines of inquiry, and charges may or may not be brought. The Cardinal isn’t being granted, and should not be granted, any special favours or protections, neither is he being unfairly pursued.

The fact is, people continue to make complaints about Pell, and these complaints have to be investigated. Our justice system does not require the complaints be kept secret until they are proven or dismissed.

Like any other alleged perpetrator, Pell has to endure public curiosity and judgement, not because of any conspiracy, but because that is how our society works.

There are no doubt many benefits that go with being a prince of the catholic church. There are also responsibilities and intense scrutiny. The Vatican has deep pockets and should Pell choose to bring a defamation action against his accusers, lack of money will be no barrier to that pursuit. The Cardinal has on more than one occasion threatened legal action of this nature. It is still an option open to him if he feels himself to be a victim.













Why Four Corners sickened but did not surprise

27 Jul


Punishment in the Don Dale facility, Northern Territory

Punishment in the Don Dale facility, Northern Territory

In his 2014 book, Dark Emu, Bunarong, Tasmanian and Yuin man Bruce Pascoe challenges white man’s history of Indigenous people as hunter gatherers, and instead puts forward an absorbing thesis, well researched and documented, of systems of agriculture, aquaculture and governance recorded by early white settlers, but somehow overlooked by those who have insisted upon an ongoing account of this country’s Indigenous peoples that denies them as anything other than primitive.

Every time we discuss this book in our household I express my disbelief that evidence such as that so compellingly presented by Pascoe could have gone unnoticed, ignored, concealed, disregarded, disrespected by the legions of white writers and commentators, to whom it has been available, if only they had cared to seek it, for the last two hundred plus years. Many white careers have been built on this wilful ignorance.

Why aren’t we teaching Australian children about the successes and achievements  of Aboriginal culture? asks Pascoe.

Why indeed.

Of course the evidence gathered by Pascoe does not fit what remains the dominant white narrative, even after Mabo. Hard to declare terra nullius if the country is occupied by people who’ve devised successful and sophisticated system of farming and governance. Far easier if you frame them as primitive savages, flora and fauna.

The consequences of this cover-up, this conspiracy one might go so far as to suggest, have dominated white attitudes to Aboriginal people ever since invasion, and it should have come as no surprise to anyone when ABC TV’s Four Corners revealed on Monday night that Indigenous children are being tortured in detention facilities in the Northern Territory, and quite likely elsewhere in the country.

The Don Dale facility, and the horrors enacted within it, have not developed in a vacuum. They are the logical outcome of  a brutal and expedient racism that has existed in Australia since 1788, and continues to thrive. It’s excruciatingly apparent that the torments perpetrated on Indigenous children in this hell hole have been known to Northern Territory governments for the last few years. Absolutely nothing has been done to alleviate this suffering, inflicted in the service of “law and order.”

I would like to point out here that none of the offences committed by the incarcerated children come anywhere near the criminal acts perpetrated upon them by those who guard them, those who oversee the guards, and those who turn their blinded eyes away from the sight of the children’s suffering. There is nothing either lawful or orderly about the behaviour of the men in charge of these children, or the men in charge of the men in charge.

There is a deeply ingrained culture, the face of which is for today the Don Dale facility, that has its origins in the denial of Aboriginal people as capable of agriculture, aquaculture and governance, and the framing of them instead as primitive savages upon whom it is permissible to wreak any kind of havoc deemed necessary for the protection and furtherance of white society.

Sick of your car being stolen? Get out the canisters and fucking gas the fucking cunt kids who took it because your car and your right to not have it nicked trumps a young black life.

Don Dale may be closed down, there will be a Royal Commission, right and left alike will continue to express bipartisan outrage but unless Australia’s fundamental attitude towards Indigenous peoples is changed, the suffering will continue.

I leave you with the words of Nigel Scullion, federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs. He’d never taken any notice of complaints that reached him about the mistreatment of Aboriginal children in the Don Dale centre, he said. The reports had never sufficiently  “piqued his interest.”








#pray for the bigots?

22 Jul



Psychologically speaking, it’s self-evident that bigots are frightened of the group or groups they single out for attention. 

This is one of the characteristics of bigots: they fear a challenge is being mounted to their way of life, their  ideology, their religion, their freedom to be who they feel entitled to be. The bigot’s reaction is to annihilate (metaphorically, but increasingly literally) that challenge, banish it from their landscapes, imprison it if it is already present, and in so doing, make themselves and their identities safe.

Waleed Aly, a thinker, writer and broadcaster for whom I have a great deal of time, argued on The Project that Sonia Kruger, a “celebrity” mother for whom I have no time at all, should not be pilloried for her opinion that Muslim immigration should be entirely banned in this country, a conclusion she arrived at on the basis that she’d seen a child’s body bag with a doll beside it after the Nice massacre and very little else, from what I can glean, other than because Muslims. Aly claimed that Ms Kruger is “afraid.”

Ms Kruger has also fallen foul of several employers such as Swisse, Porsche and Target, for whom she performs as “the face” of their companies. None of them wish to be associated with her anti Muslim comments and are reviewing her contracts. Capitalists have never liked mouthy women and Ms Kruger has apparently gone “off brand,” having been hired for her non-controversial personality as well as the stereotypical  appearance that I think of as the White Barbie look. Honestly, so many of those women all look the same you’re flat-out distinguishing one from the other.

(That companies seek out “non controversial women” is a story in itself, is it not?)

Aly made an impassioned argument for “forgiveness” of such bigotry, rather than the outrage that greeted Ms Kruger’s observations. I confess Waleed has me baffled. Kruger’s comments were outrageously ignorant, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable that those offended by them express that outrage. What better way is there to inform bigots about the unacceptable nature of their bigotry? Forgive them if you want, but tell them what they’ve done first, though I doubt the true bigot will give a damn about either forgiveness or being called, outside of how it affects their income and status.

I’d also like to know what Waleed means by “forgiveness.” It’s unlike him to use such a loaded word without first defining his terms. When does “forgiveness” become enabling? If the offence is serial and without consequence or accountability, why should the offender change his or her behaviour?

I don’t think we can afford to be silent in the face of bigotry. Silence is all too easily interpreted as acquiescence. Forgive the bigots if you want. Pray for them if it’s your thing. Recognise that their bigotry springs from fear. But never cease to loudly challenge it, confront it and contest it. Contestation is not incompatible with “forgiveness.” Forgiveness doesn’t mean being silent about the offences.

Confronting bigots isn’t silencing them, as they’d have us believe. It isn’t taking away their right to free speech. Ms Kruger can continue to espouse her bigoted views from whatever platform will host her: if none are offered she may have to contemplate why that might be.







Why rights and bigots do not belong in the same sentence.

20 Jul


talking arse


When Attorney-General George Brandis declared that everyone has the right to be a bigot, he was, strangely for him, speaking out of his arse.

A bigot is irrationally prejudiced against and intolerant towards individuals and/or groups, without requiring any factual evidence to support her or his bigotry. This excellent Guardian piece by Susan Carland spells out the proposition. My only quibble with Dr Carland is that she writes “facts no longer matter” whereas I would argue that for bigots, facts have never mattered, and never will.

Brandis’s declaration conflates human rights with ignorance, intolerance and irrational prejudice, surely the very characteristics those rights are designed to contest, how odd he doesn’t know that.

When the country’s Attorney-General invites the indulgence and expression of bigotry it’s hardly surprising that we find ourselves entering a period of deep prejudice, expressed by the likes of convicted racist Andrew Bolt, echoed by the likes of television celebrity mother Sonia Kruger (#all mothers are celebrities, I can see that hash tag coming) and Pauline Hanson is enabled to replatform herself in government.

This time around, the bigots are singling out Muslims. It has in the past been the turn of Aborigines, Jews, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, single mothers of all nationalities, dole bludgers, those of Middle Eastern appearance, boat people, women… must I go on? Bigots aren’t choosy: they need to hate somebody, it doesn’t much matter who. You have the “right” to do this, says the most senior legal figure in the land. It’s freedom of speech. So knock yourselves out.

Unfortunately, the exercise of free speech does not have as a prerequisite informed and intelligent utterance. If it did there would be a strangled silence from the government benches and all early morning television shows would cease to be.

As this happy fantasy is not likely to eventuate, what are we to do in the face of the ignorant, prejudiced drivel increasingly issuing forth from public microphones? Fight back?  March in protest? Invite consultation? Sit down with the haters over  tea and scones? Ignore them?

I’d argue that there’s no single solution to contesting bigotry, and that all of the above suggestions might be useful in specific situations. When the citizens of a democracy vote bigots into government it’s a tough challenge fighting them from the top down, and we have to get creative. Psychologically speaking, bigots are generally insecure personalities with low self-esteem: they make themselves feel better by denigrating somebody else: I am not that, therefore I am OK. Those of us opposing bigotry may risk falling into the same trap…it’s complicated.

Ignorance is in ascendence, globally. It’s going to be turbulent. As I think the Dalai Llama [sic] once said, you don’t get peace by hating war. Fasten your seat belts.





#As a mother

19 Jul



Look. If I see/hear one more woman claim privileged insight because she’s a mother I will puke, spectacularly, in technicolour, over everything because WTAF?

On the proviso that you and your partner’s parts are in working order, all you need to become a mother is a root at the right time. It doesn’t even have to be a good one. In the matter of becoming mothers we are animals. It’s biological. It doesn’t qualify women for anything: it doesn’t make us better prime ministers, and it doesn’t give us exceptional insight into race relations. It can bring out the best and the worst in us, as can very many other situations encountered by the human female during the course of her life on earth.

Motherhood teaches us above all how to survive drudgery. Unless you’ve got nannies who do that for you, of course. There’s nappies and reeking shit; there’s three-year-olds whose every sentence begins with why, twelve hours a day. There’s broken nights, oh my god the broken nights. There’s kids creeping into your bed at 2am only to wake you up at three to inform you they just dreamed they were on the toilet and have accidentally peed. There’s days of exhaustion, running into one another till you don’t know what you did and when, let alone why. None of this makes a woman any better equipped to run a country than does, say, Malcolm Turnbull’s ability to turn a modest dot-com investment into millions, or Sonia Kruger’s ability to host Dancing with the Stars equips her to comment intelligently on immigration policy.

I’m a mother. I’ll never underestimate the importance of my influence on my children, for better and for worse. But #as a woman, I believe we need to recognise that attempting to privilege our motherhood works against us far more than it ever works for us. Motherhood isn’t a sacred calling. It isn’t the pinnacle of female achievement. Personally, I don’t feel greatly improved as a human being because I spent years of my life wrangling the obstinate young, and didn’t sell them to the circus.

Women who aren’t mothers can care just as much about the future as women who are, and it’s disgraceful to imply otherwise. Women who aren’t mothers can weep for the slaughtered children of others just as keenly as women who are.

The worst aspect of this motherhood rot is its divisiveness. There’s an entirely unwarranted moral acclaim blindly attributed to motherhood that divides those of us who are from those of us who aren’t. It’s lovely if you want children and have them. It’s just as lovely if you don’t want children and don’t have them. It’s another situation if you want them and can’t realise that desire.  None of us should be valued according to whether or not we reproduce ourselves. Indeed, there may well be an argument for refraining from reproduction, given the future we face.


The Perils of Pauline

5 Jul

I'm not racist but


Pauline Hanson has re-emerged as mouthpiece for the nation’s racism, going where the dog whistlers dare not venture, vocalising “what ordinary people are really thinking and are too scared to say.” This time her bile is directed against Muslims as well as Asians and Indigenous peoples: anyone who isn’t white and Christian, perhaps?

In a rather surprising move, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Hanson is not welcome in the parliament, surprising because he has not said this about any of his right-wing colleagues, many of whom share Hanson’s views. Surprising as well because Hanson is an elected representative in a liberal democracy, and Turnbull has no choice but to accept her presence in the Senate because voters put her there.

In May 2016 journalist Malcolm Farr wrote that voters do not want Hanson in parliament, any parliament, but voters do, and Hanson is. Railing against Hanson is getting people nowhere: she’s come back even stronger than before.

This piece by Margot Kingston in the Guardian yesterday is interesting in that Kingston advocates a change of approach to Hanson, one of respect and conciliation rather than mockery and scorn. While I don’t agree that it’s productive to embark on the re-education of Pauline Hanson, I do believe Kingston is right to suggest that we pay attention to the circumstances of the people who have voted her, and possibly two more One Nation candidates, back into the parliament. I also agree that scapegoating Hanson only gives her and her supporters fuel.

Both major parties have used racist tactics to distract voters from their failures to adequately govern: the manipulation of waterborne asylum seekers is an outstanding example of this: the creation of non-existent threats from which both major parties have promised to deliver us has led to the criminal and inhumane indefinite incarceration of innocent people on Manus and Nauru.

Hanson has been far from alone in exploiting fear and ignorance for political gain. It’s only a few weeks since Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told the country that asylum seekers will simultaneously take our jobs and bludge off our social services.

Given that John Howard co-opted most of Hanson’s beliefs and made them fundamental tenets of his LNP, where they remain comfortably unchallenged, I’m inclined to wonder how much of the elite political and media animosity towards Hanson is to do with class, and gender.

Much of what Hanson espouses seems to me gibberish: a Royal Commission into Islam, for example? She seems at times inarticulate: a seething mass of inchoate prejudice, while the more sophisticated know how to convey a not dissimilar prejudice in a manner more covert. Indeed, the only positive thing to be said about Hanson is that she lacks all subtlety: there can be no doubt about her bad intentions towards those who are not her: what you see is what you get. Hanson doesn’t spin.

Kingston herself has expressed some views on Muslims that have been interpreted as racist. She recently tweeted: OK, I’m gonna blow myself up. I think Muslim refugees should seek refuge in Muslim countries unless they embrace western values.

Kingston explained that the western values to which she refers are respect for the rule of law, freedom of speech, women’s, gays’ rights.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting these values embraced and practiced: the problem is singling out Muslims as a group that particularly needs to embrace them. Many of our white Christian politicians have no respect for some of those values, and some don’t have respect for any of them. Presumably their electorates support their views, as Hanson’s do hers. The elites who sneer at Hanson and her electorate need to attend to the racist logs in their own eyes.

I have a visceral reaction when I see and hear of particular groups being singled out for no reason other than religious belief, ethnicity, and race. I feel sick with fear, not of the groups but of  the mindset that chooses certain groups as targets for “special” treatment, marginalisation and hostility. This may have something to do with my late husband being a Jew. We had friends who survived the camps. Their families were slaughtered because they were Jews. My husband and his family experienced prejudice and discrimination because they were Jews. They supported “western values,” but that didn’t save them.

I don’t like Hanson. I’m very sorry she’s back. I think it’s going to be a difficult and frightening time for members of the groups she targets, as her views are widely disseminated through her role as a senator, and parliamentary privilege.

Hanson is the head of the throbbing boil that is Australian racism. The discharge will be copious and vile. But let’s not fool ourselves that Hanson is our only problem: the racism and bigotry she extols is far more widespread than the ugly manifesto of One Nation. Hanson is right: she’s articulating what many think, however the many who think this way are not comprised solely of ignorant rednecks: they also dwell in very high places.



LNP: It’s not us it’s them

4 Jul



Caretaker Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday blamed an alleged “scare campaign” by Labor concerning LNP threats to Medicare, for the swing against the government in the election results thus far.

Caretaker Attorney -General George (Bookcase) Brandis blamed Twitter for the alleged denigration of political discourse that apparently contributed to the government’s disappointment. Which is a bit rich coming from the man who declared that everyone has the inalienable right to be a bigot and thinks meta data is the address on an envelope not its contents, but whatever.

Caretaker Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (known as the Brussel Sprout or Mr Potato Head, either way it’s a vegetable)  blamed unions for his slide in popularity in the Queensland seat of Dickson.

Several other ministers, including Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison, also blamed Labor’s “scare tactics” for the government’s fall from grace. Some have even blamed the stupidity of voters, a self-defeating attribution of responsibility one would think.

The complete absence of the media from the LNP’s jaundiced, wounded, blaming gaze is remarkable. It tells me that I was right to detect overwhelming bias in their favour from almost every media outlet including, unfortunately, sections of the ABC.

Tony Abbott, that desiccated piece of hyena scat, did obscene things with a sizzled sausage and left early to plot his next thrust for LNP leadership and deja vu all over again.

Such is the arrogance of these entitled drongos that it does not, for one moment, enter their drongo consciousness that they might have alienated voters all by themselves. It has to be somebody else’s fault.

The inability to listen to criticism is a boring characteristic in an individual. It’s boring because such people are in significant ways stunted. There’s nothing more valuable than a bit of criticism: in the emotionally mature it provokes thought and inspires the birth of change, and as I quoted a few days ago, he/she who isn’t busy being born is busy dying. The LNP is busy dying, and it has been for quite some time.

I’m struggling to recall a government that has made quite such a spectacular and total cockup as has this one. I’m not referring to unforgivable decisions such as taking us to war on the spurious platform of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, or taking us to an election based on the imagined threat of a few miserable, hounded and tormented people attempting to escape intolerable circumstances, but rather the internal clusterfucks that have rent the LNP’s fabric in ways that make the ALP’s internecine strife of a few years ago look pretty average, really.

And let us not forget that despite the ALP’s leadership debacles, they still got phenomenal amounts of legislation through. This cannot be said for the LNP, which has yet to resolve the 2014 budget.

However, the LNP is maintaining some consistency, you have to give them that much. They’ve blamed Labor ever since they took office, so there’s a three-year precedent. They’ve barely missed a beat in their blaming, making a smooth transition to blaming the ALP for the current election debacle and no doubt whatever the outcome, they’ll continue to blame Labor without so much as a hiccough.

This is, really, their area of expertise. Good governance? Not so much.


The Senator, the camper vans & The Chaser

30 Jun

fiat car ad


Some of you may remember back in May this year there was a swell of outrage against Wicked Campers, the organisation that spray paints its vehicles with slogans such as: A wife: an attachment you screw on the bed to get the housework done; Inside every princess there’s a slut waiting to get out; The best thing about a blow job is five minutes of silence, and so on.

The slogans are usually accompanied by cartoonish illustrations of disembodied breasts, Snow White sucking a penis… you get the picture.

Free speech advocate and libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm was scathing in his criticism of those who protested the vans:

“If you want to take offense that’s your choice and you’ve got to remember it’s a choice and other people make different choices. 

Most of the statements I’ve read from the vans are able to be interpreted in a couple of ways and they require a degree of sophistication to know what they’re getting at.”

Leyonhjelm told the ABC Wicked made funny statements, “which obviously have sexual connotations.”

“But surprise, surprise sexual connotations are part of life. You need to be a particularly wowserish type of person to not find them funny,” he said.

But surprise, surprise ABC TV’s The Chaser recently parked a van outside Leyonhjelm’s residence that bore the slogan The best thing about oral sex from David Leyonhjelm – 5 mins of silence, and the Senator has gone ballistic.

When called on his perceived hypocrisy by Melinda Tankard Reist, an anti-Wicked advocate, Leyonhjelm tweeted to her: If you don’t understand free speech STFU. This a problematic prescriptive if ever there was one: the right to free speech isn’t supposed to be contingent on whether or not you fully understand what you are saying about free speech, or anything else, for that matter.

It is true that the Senator didn’t call for the Chaser to be silenced, he merely complained vociferously about their intrusion into his street. He also claimed the slogan was “homophobic,” a complaint I find quite baffling unless of course he doesn’t know about men orally pleasuring women.

My Twitter friend Kate Galloway recently wrote this post on sexist language in public discourse in response to Eddie McGuire’s expressed desire to drown journalist Caroline Wilson. What is it with some men and their desire to drown us? Alan Jones wanting to send Julia Gillard in a chaff bag out to sea, and of course that legendary test to see if we’re witches, perhaps from which this obsession with drowning us stems: tie us to a stool and drop us in the river and if we drown we’re witches and if we survive we’re witches, so burn us. Yeah.

I think I’m a woman with a sophisticated sense of humour. I can also laugh myself silly with a four-year-old. But I find absolutely nothing humorous in the Wicked van slogans, or in Eddie McGuire and his mates cackling hideously over the possibility of drowning Caroline Wilson. Nor  do I accept the apparently unassailable belief amongst some men and women that it is fine to say things about women that if said about any other human group would be thought crass, unacceptable, and even illegal.

There’s no right not to be offended, but there is the right to speak about what offends. A frequent response to expressed offence is an accusation of political correctness (gone mad, for added emphasis), or a judgement that one has “over-reacted.” These are  attempts to derail any discussion of the offensive nature of the commentary, and focus instead on the offended person’s alleged weakness and lack of humour. Such attempts at derailing should be treated with the contempt they deserve. As a general rule, people who make sexist comments don’t take kindly to being challenged and their first line of defence is attack.

Leyonhjelm is outraged that The Chaser’s stunt upset his wife, yet he was seemingly oblivious to the upset caused to women, girls, and men who had to attempt to explain to their children the slogans on the van next to their tent. One grandfather round these parts took to every van he saw with a can of black spray paint, so fed up was he with having to see the denigrating and misogynist garbage every time he went on the highway with his grandchildren. But according to the Senator, this man is an unsophisticated wowser with no sense of humour who has chosen to be offended.

Well, Senator, if the tiara fits…




The Marriage Act: what is it good for?

30 Jun



In 2004, the Howard LNP government amended the Marriage Act of 1961 to read as follows:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the amendment in order to prevent any legal challenges to the concept of marriage as a solely heterosexual institution.

It would be useful if religious organisations opposing marriage equality took note of the origins of this amendment. It did not come from god. It was authored by Philip Ruddock and John Howard.

Then Greens leader Bob Brown described the amendment as “the straight Australia policy.”

There was no plebiscite held on the amendment, and no referendum.

I have yet to be convinced that the state has any role at all to play in the voluntary unions of its citizens, and would prefer to get rid of the Marriage Act altogether rather than just the 2004 amendment.

As it stands, the Act is discriminatory and has no place in a just society. It privileges traditional heterosexual marriage, an institution that functions more in its idealisation than its reality, and whose many and massive failings remain largely unexamined.

We do not need the state to define and control our expressions of love. Of all the situations in which we ought to be able to act with agency and autonomy, this must surely be the most fundamental. All citizens are entitled to enjoy this agency and autonomy, regardless of whom we love.

The fight for marriage equality is also the fight for everyone’s freedom, and our right to live without state intrusion, definition  and control of the most deeply intimate aspects of human life.

Do you really want politicians deciding what marriage is?



On Turnbull and stability

27 Jun



Turnbull relying on Australians seeking stability during a time on [sic] unrest in Europe is the headline of Malcolm Farr’s précis of the LNP election campaign launch, held yesterday.

The problem with the word stability is that far too often, particularly in politics, it’s taken to mean “everything staying the same” regardless of whether that “same” is desirable or not.

According to Turnbull we need to avoid changing government at all costs, and we need to avoid a hung parliament at all costs. We need to stick with the stability (read sameness) of the two-party system, despite the profound lack of stability within both those parties, publicly demonstrated over the last six years.

Admittedly, the ALP seems to have pulled itself together and united behind its leader, achieving temporary internal stability. The same cannot be said for the LNP as Turnbull attempts to straddles the chasm between himself and the right-wing of his party. Revenant-in-waiting, Tony Abbott, continues to grimly stalk the Prime Minister and although he has been muted during the election campaign, it’s unlikely he’s relinquished all ambition to heal his pain by overthrowing Malcolm and reasserting himself as leader.

If it’s stability you’re looking for and you choose the LNP, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places.

It takes strength of character to weather uncertainty and instability, which together are the very substance of change, and, as Dylan said he [sic] who isn’t busy being born is busy dying. A politics with which we have become very familiar is in its death throes: look at Brexit and look at Trump in the US. This isn’t a time of stability it’s a time of change, and if we don’t get busy birthing the change we’ll get busy burying the dead.

Turnbull’s call for stability is a cynical and opportunistic attempt to co-opt the Brexit decision to his very unstable cause: governance by a party that is cataclysmically divided, and therefore incapable of providing the country with that which the government itself so conspicuously lacks.

The LNP will undoubtedly ramp up the emotional manipulation with its faux assurance of stability in an unstable world: Brexit is the best thing that could have happened for them at this time. Brexit could well be Turnbull’s Tampa: create fear, then offer yourself as the only protection from the terror you’ve manufactured.

It’s not about the policies, stupid. It’s about the emotion.




The word that Turnbull dare not speak

13 Jun

Flag. Half Mast.


I’m at a complete loss as to understand why that rasping husk of compromised humanity we’ve had inflicted on us as Prime Minister decided to co-opt this morning’s hideous mass slaughter of gay people in Orlando, Florida to the service of his government’s pathological border protection policies.

Not once in his obligatory comments on the mass murder (this link has since been updated by SMH to include Turnbull’s third press release in which he refers to gay people) did Turnbull acknowledge the identity of the victims, rather he carefully framed his remarks within the “terrorist threat facing the Australian way of life” narrative, a threat for which the LNP, with the full support of the opposition, created for our salvation the paramilitary border protection force.

Turnbull stopped short of invoking “stop the boats” and I suppose we should be grateful that even he, apparently, was unable to draw his stinkingly homophobic bow that far.

Had the victims been children they would have been identified as children. Had they been black, they would have been identified as black. Had they been Palestinians, Jews, women, protestors, Australians, ISIS, students, politicians, doctors or the homeless, they would have been identified as such.

But these were members of the LGBTQI community and Malcolm Turnbull could not speak their name.

Other politicians, including Obama, Clinton, Shorten & Plibersek have made a point of speaking directly to that community in their commentary, acknowledging that this has been an attack that will affect LGBTQI people wherever they are.

The murderer’s motives are as yet not fully known. But what is unquestionable is that he targeted a gay venue, and that he has been described by his own parents as “not religious, didn’t pray or fast, was very angry when he saw two men kissing.”

It might behoove us to remember at this time that the most vocal opponents of LGBTQI communities in Australia are white Christian men, some of whom are in the LNP, and some of whom gave Malcolm Turnbull his job. Could this perhaps go some way to explaining the PM’s bizarre reluctance to acknowledge the Orlando massacre for what it clearly is? A murderous attack on a particular community because of that community’s sexual orientation.

Whether or not the murderer was informed by other political motives as well does not alter the fact of his choice of target.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull  recently bowed to pressure from Christian homophobes to gut a Safe Schools program that sought to educate, and protect LGBTQI kids from bullying, depression and suicide.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull has decided on a completely unnecessary and highly expensive plebiscite on marriage equality, an event that will permit all manner of hate and bigotry against LGBTQI people free expression.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull has firmly established himself on a vile homophobic continuum (making himself clearly part of the problem) that begins with playground bullying, and ends in the mass slaughter of gays who’ve just gone out dancing for the evening.

This is our Prime Minister, people. The man who denies the dead their identity. The man who dares not speak the word.

Since I wrote this post, and after a great deal of criticism on social media, Turnbull has made another statement in which he refers to the gay club and the deaths of gay people. 

All traces of his first statement, on which this post is based, have vanished from the SMH and other media. ABC Radio’s Patricia Karvalas tweeted that she’d never heard of an earlier statement, and I don’t doubt her. 

Extensive tweets remain, as proof of Turnbull’s initial presser. Unless the Libs own Twitter as well as the MSM





What Barrett’s explicit videos say about family values

12 Jun



Northern Territory Sports Minister Nathan Barrett resigned his portfolio last week after the Northern Territory News revealed he’d sent two videos of himself masturbating “with his left hand” (this detail seems to have captured the NT News collective imagination for reasons I can’t fathom) in his bathroom at home while simultaneously filming the events and sending the videos via Facebook to a female constituent with whom he’d had an online relationship for several months.

One of Barrett’s mates later remarked on Facebook, apparently without any sense of irony, that the man is “very tech savvy.”

There is, in my opinion, no moral value at all attached to the consensual exchange of intimate images and it’s nobody’s business what two people consensually undertake.

The problems for Barrett are that he’s married, and has campaigned on the strength of his “family values” and his “deep commitment to his local church.” The woman involved states that although they’d developed a close online relationship, she did not invite videos of him masturbating. She also states that he’d promised her a job, though he denies this.

Obviously Barrett has some significant problems, and has committed himself to “counselling” in order to help him work through them. He’s also apologised to his boss, constituents, wife, family, and the woman with whom he formed an “inappropriate relationship.”

He deserves some respect for fully owning his behaviour, without minimisation, excuses and self-justification. It takes some courage to do that, and it’s not something we often see in such situations where the demon drink is frequently invoked as an explanation, or the serious impact of the behaviour is flat-out denied.

The figure of the outwardly moral and committed family man with a secret sexual life is a cliché, and like all clichés, it reveals much about the warped and hypocritical nature of our “values.”  Frequently, the most important consideration is maintaining the appearance of morality while concealing the transgression. The transgression itself is not as bad as others finding out about it. This has been the position of the churches, for example, in the matter of child sexual abuse, as well as the attitude of many families in which abuse of children is perpetrated.

The ideal of the morally intact family dominates the more common reality of the morally compromised family in which everyone involved agrees, consciously or otherwise, to live the lie.

Betraying a spouse is emotional, psychological and mental abuse. Spouses who live in relationships in which there is infidelity are living in an abusive relationship. It’s abusive to subject someone you claim to love to such pain, shock, trauma and stress as is caused by betrayal. When it’s done serially, it’s similar to the cycle of physical violence: discovery of betrayal, regret expressed, promises to never repeat, reconciliation and honeymoon period, then return to betrayal. Both parties are living a toxic life in a regressive relationship in which one enables the other to continue the abuse by continuing to “forgive.”

But hey. As long as no one knows and we’re looking ideal, who cares?

Perhaps nobody does care, however, problems arise when such situations are held up as those to which we should all aspire.  When Barrett became the current public face of treachery and betrayal he exposed the fragile moral high ground of heterosexual monogamous marriage. He crapped all over its presumed sanctity.  He confronted us with an unfortunate truth, which is that these circumstances are far from uncommon, and people lie about them all the time while continuing to promote heterosexual and monogamous family values as the aspirational ideal.

We should actually thank him, and everyone like him, for inadvertently pointing out that the emperor has fewer clothes than he thinks.










Politics. What is it good for?

11 Jun



I don’t know if there are people out there as fed up as I am with this interminable election campaign, with its interminable commentators making interminable commentary and engaging in interminable speculation in between interminable gotcha moments, and what in the name of all that is good and great and human, is the bloody point of it all?

Politics, the art or science of government, has become merely the art or science of winning and holding government, as is irrefutably evidenced by the last two leaders of this country whose overweening ambition was to become Prime Minister, without any idea of what to actually do once that personal ambition was achieved. I’m not partisan: there’s a persuasive argument to include Kevin Rudd in that narcissistic leader pool as well.

Caretaker Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently plumbed new depths of sog with his sepia video of himself as an infant astride the shoulders of his single dad, as if to reassure voters that loving his dad, who left him a property portfolio worth some $2 million, (he probably would have loved him even if he hadn’t: I’m not the one drawing false equivalences here) somehow qualifies him to lead the country.

This humongous non sequitur makes me question, yet again, Turnbull’s much-flaunted promise to treat the punters with respect as a means of distinguishing himself from his predecessor, that lunatic (to quote Turnbull’s father-in-law and former attorney-general Tom Hughes, even though the old man took it back last week) Tony Abbott. It is difficult to take back having described someone as a lunatic, especially when the original comment rings with far more truth than does the retraction.

Then on Friday morning I looked at Twitter only to find a photo of Pauline Hanson or her doppelgänger peeing into a cup at the football. Well, I thought, the day can only improve but I was wrong because election.

Hanson is not welcome in the parliament, thundered Turnbull, which is an astoundingly  stupid comment because if she’s elected she’s in the parliament: this is a liberal democracy and politicians can’t refuse entry to other elected representatives you’d think Turnbull of all people would know that and apart from anything else, he pissed off innumerable Hanson supporters who took the comment personally, as of course anyone would at the prospect of their elected representative being ostracised in a parliament where everyone is meant to be equally representing everyone outside of it.

Hanson retaliated by observing Turnbull to be arrogant and I, for one, find myself agreeing with her on this if nothing else. I don’t agree with her (or her doppelgänger) crouching on their haunches to pee into a cup in a football stadium: women can actually pee standing up (with or without assistance, see image above) and in such a situation it might be more seemly to do just that. Or there’s always bush wees, as we’ve taught the young ones in our family bush wees are good, until we realised they thought we meant peeing in any bushes anywhere anytime rather than peeing in the forest, but anyway.

It signals the end days of a society, said Aristotle or Plato, I can’t remember which and am in such a state of election-induced lethargy I can’t be arsed using my Google finger, when tolerance and apathy become the dominant public sentiments. Are we there yet?

There is so much one can hardly bear to see and hear: the unending violence against women, the cavalier destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, the determination to mine the country into eternity, the neglect of and disinterest in our most vulnerable citizens, the wicked scapegoating of waterborne asylum seekers, the increasing privilege and entitlement of the haves: how can my one vote possibly have any real effect on any of these sites of heartbreak?

As Bob Dylan observed, the only thing I know how to do is to keep on keeping on, a line I have on many occasions found useful and here we are again. Our politicians are a sorry-arsed lot on the whole, at least the ones who claw their way to the top. We have not yet created a Trump, but I don’t doubt it’s within our capabilities and neither does Jonathan Green in this gloomy piece.

But all is not lost. I can see some use for that Shewee thing, in the kayak, yes definitely. I don’t attend footy matches but there are traffic holdups on the Pacific Highway when you’ve forgotten to pee before you left home.

It doesn’t seem at all remarkable that a post on the usefulness or otherwise of politics should end up with commentary on urination, so I might just leave things here, wish you all well for the next few weeks of shameless propaganda, and take myself back to the couch to continue my binge re-watch of Mad Men. Ah, they knew how to treat women back then. No Shewee for you, sweetheart.






Victims, Trauma, Spinoza, and Butler

5 Jun


Trauma Narratives. University of Zaragoza


I’ve never met anyone whose ambition it was to be a victim, though I don’t doubt such people exist.

Victimhood is not considered an honourable state, rather it’s an abject one, shrouded in shame and often guilt: had I done something differently, been a better person, had more sense, (insert your favoured self-blaming admonition) this thing wouldn’t have happened to me and I wouldn’t be a victim.

Victims are frequently blamed by others and victims frequently blame themselves, so all in all, no one in a healthy state of mind would desire the experience. In the current economy of victimisation, the victim is always deeply in debt.

Being confronted by your own vulnerability isn’t an easy experience: many of us spend an inordinate amount of energy convincing ourselves we aren’t vulnerable, which is entirely unrealistic as we are, every minute of our lives, vulnerable to something or someone. Vulnerability is one of life’s inescapable conditions.

I suspect, though I have no proof, that one of the elements of victim blaming is anger at a being confronted by a victim’s obvious vulnerability that can’t help but remind us of our own precarious state in the world, a state many of us would rather not admit to. It doesn’t bear thinking about, the things that can happen to us, and victims can make us think about it.

If the injury can somehow be made to seem their own fault that makes us feel safer. We have control: we just won’t do what they did. These convoluted self-delusions are a sorry waste of psychic energy: denial is ultimately exhausting and it’s entirely unfair to project our own vulnerability onto someone else, rather than learn to live with it.

When I visited the doctor last week we got into a conversation about the 17th century Sephardic/Portuguese philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. I’m not sure why this topic came up but anyway, we talked about how Spinoza was banished from his Jewish community for what were perceived to be his heretical views. A cherem, or herem was declared against him, a form of shunning and ostracism employed as punishment for his refusal to accept god as some kind of divine human with emotion, intention, and desires. For Spinoza, god was Nature, and there was nothing beyond Nature and the laws of the natural world.

Spinoza also argued passionately for freedom of thought and speech: it is permissible to speak any thought, although not necessarily permissible to act upon that thought. Forbidding speech causes resentment and an inevitable backlash against the deciders, and only sends thought underground. No wonder Spinoza remains relevant hundreds of years after his time.

This conversation about Spinoza reminded me next of Judith Butler, American philosopher and gender theorist, who in 2002 gave the annual Spinoza Lecture at the University of Amsterdam. This lecture morphed into the book Giving an account of oneself, in which Butler examines, among other things, the concept of injury and victimhood, and what new ethical possibilities these experiences open up for a subject, what she calls…the moral predicament that emerges as a consequence of being injured…

From the traumatic and unpromising site of injury and desire for revenge or redress, Butler argues that …a model of ethical capaciousness… might emerge. This model of ethical capaciousness, she continues …understands the pull of the claim (for retribution) and resists the pull at the same time, providing a certain ambivalent gesture as the action of ethics itself.

As Spinoza’s thinking suggests, ethical capaciousness is permitting the thought without taking the action, a moral victory perpetrators outstandingly fail to achieve.

Much taken with Butler’s notions of un-willed injury as a site of ethical possibility, I wrote a paper that I gave at a conference at the University of Barcelona in 2008, titled The Experience of Being Injured: An Otherwise Perspective. The conference was about myth, history and memory, and I was exploring how traumatic injury and its aftermath, both societal and individual, are contained within these frameworks.

All of this has come  flooding back to me as a consequence of the last post I wrote on Sheep about memoir and trauma. There are, it’s alleged, too many people writing about their personal traumas; public accounts of private trauma will not bring about political change; must we have one more “misery memoir” and why aren’t these things kept private. These are some of the objections to what has over the last years become an outpouring of first person accounts of traumatised lives.

They are the objections of the very privileged, and they are both ignorant and pointless: trauma is not going away and one of the ways assaulted individuals attempt to deal with distress is to give their personal pain expression. This is a way of clawing back some of the agency lost when another exerts silencing power over you.

Criticising traumatised people for doing something that assists them is victim blaming. Unlike the victim, the consumer has the choice not to enter that world: it isn’t a victim’s obligation to stay silent in order to avoid disturbing bourgeois sensibilities.

Granted some media have seen an opportunity and set about exploiting it: take that media to task, not the authors of traumatic narratives.

The sheer volume of traumatised people on the planet is breathtaking: from stateless and displaced refugees escaping wars, to defence personnel, to paramedics and police, to those traumatised in childhood by sexual abuse; domestic violence, and sexual assault. Trauma and post traumatic stress shape and dominate societies and relationships. The effects of PTSD are crippling, not only on the sufferer but on everyone around him or her. The costs to society are astronomical.

Butler’s concept of the moral predicament anyone faces as a consequence of being injured can help shift one out of victimhood into agency. What actions does the injured party take or not take as a consequences of the injury? What does one do about the natural desire for revenge, for redress, for acknowledgement, apology? How far can one go before becoming a perpetrator?  What if the law will not assist you, or fails in its attempts?

The moral predicament that results from un-willed injury is an opportunity to regain the agency that is lost when someone is used by another as a means to an end. It is an ethical possibility that rises out of the ashes of an immoral act. Very often the first step on this alchemical progression is the externalisation of personal trauma through artistic expression.

It’s ludicrous to expect that a memoir or a thousand memoirs of personal pain will bring about political change, then complain when it doesn’t happen. What actually does change is that instead of one or a thousand people crippled and without agency, some will make a partial or whole recovery as they struggle with their moral predicament and give that struggle expression. Every victim experiences a form of cherem, of shunning, of banishment. Having no voice is one form such exclusion takes.  If we find a voice with which to paint the trauma, or write it, or compose it for piano, who cares, if the outcome is functional, productive people?

Expression of our personal pain is indeed a blow for justice: that it may not be someone else’s notion of what justice is and how it ought to be attained is irrelevant. Traumatised people have usually done enough of what other people want the way other people want it done. We don’t have to do it anymore.

And most of all we do not have to observe the bourgeois values of “privacy” that silenced many of us in the first place, and made our abuse possible.



The memoir police

2 Jun

Derrida Quote


A couple of years ago, British concert pianist James Rhodes succeeded in his efforts to have the English Supreme Court overturn an injunction granted to his ex-wife that prevented him publishing his memoir of a childhood in which he was sexually abused.

Hs ex-wife was granted the injunction on the grounds that the book would upset their son, should he ever read it.

Rhodes’ memoir has since been published.

Spectator journalist Brendan O’Neill thought this was a just outcome, however, as he argues in this piece titled Another child-abuse memoir: why can’t the past be private, the injunction should have been a personal one, applied by Rhodes against himself, because people should simply not write “misery memoirs” whose “take-home message is that humanity is ultimately wicked.”

A few days ago, SMH journalist Kath Kenny published this piece titled Our insatiable appetite for women’s tragic stories, in which she expresses her frustration with what she calls a “first-person traumatic complex” or as O’Neill would have it, the misery memoir industry. Apparently it’s virtually de rigueur to disclose traumatic events if you want to get ahead in reality TV or the published world, and people who don’t have anything traumatic enough to relate are being discriminated against.

Then Helen Razer published this piece titled Writers and artists your personal pain is not a blow for justice, in which she argues that the personal is no longer political and, puzzlingly, that we don’t need any more personal stories, we need more bulk-billing, as if one has any effect at all on the other.

Like O’Neill, Razer states her belief that some traumatic tales are too horrifying to be publicly told, and it would be better for everyone if they were kept private. There is, she argues, no longer a possible political outcome from  the writing of the self: that ship has sailed. Whether or not you agree with this statement depends entirely on your definition of the political.

Razer’s piece is more interesting than either of the others, and I believe that out of the three, she is the only one to have written her own memoir of surviving suicidal depression. I learned this from someone who took her on in the comments with barely disguised accusations of hypocrisy.

While none of these journalists have the ability to silence those who choose to write or speak about traumatic events they’ve survived, it is interesting that all three are making a bid to prescribe what our public narratives should and should not accommodate, and to determine what is suitable for public consumption and what ought to remain private. None of the journalists offer any evidence to substantiate their views: apparently they just feel it’s all gone too far, or to be specific, it’s gone too far for their comfort.

I’m not entirely sure how to respond to these complaints from the privileged about there being too many published accounts of private trauma. I think, certainly for women, it has only been possible to write the self at all for the last three decades or so, which in the scheme of things is barely a nano second so it seems a little premature for cultural critics to be telling us we ought to shut up about it.

There is also an enormous amount of scholarly literature on autobiography and memoir, that reveals the genres to be rich and complex. Indeed I wrote my Honour’s thesis on that very topic. For example, who is the “I” who writes? “I am spacious, singing Flesh, onto which is grafted no one knows which I…” exalts Hélène Cixous.

“Writing so as not to die,” observed Foucault “is a task as old as the world.” There are trauma survivors who write so as not to die, either metaphorically or literally. I find it extremely difficult to speak about my childhood trauma. Writing is my liberation, my mastery of what once governed me.

Nobody is forcing anyone to read our work.

To claim that work isn’t political is ridiculous.

To be sure, there’s some bad writing in the memoir genre, as there is in every other genre but that’s a matter of aesthetics and taste. I’m about to read Nick Cave’s The Song of the Sick Bag and after that there’s Patti Smith’s The M Train waiting on my bookshelf. There’s some memoir I wouldn’t go near, which doesn’t mean it ought not to have been written, but that this is a question of interest and personal taste.

It is, I think, mean-spirited and not a little ignorant to complain about others writing memoirs of trauma.

The division between public and private has always worked in favour of the powerful and the abusive. It’s not a little chilling to find our cultural critics calling for a withdrawal of traumatic stories back into the private from which they have so recently been liberated.










There’s only one leader in the debate & it isn’t Turnbull.

30 May

Bad Leaders


If there is one piece of knowledge we’ve painfully acquired during the last few years in Australian politics, it’s that a leader of both major parties can be brought down by colleagues at any moment.

Voters may be witness to the stormy trajectory of a leader’s demise, as we were with Tony Abbott. Then again, it might come entirely out of nowhere as happened with Kevin Rudd, when we woke one sunny morning to find him slaughtered, and Julia Gillard dancing on his grave.

In a paradoxical correlation, the more insecure leadership in the ALP and LNP becomes, the more our elections assume a presidential quality in which public focus is steered towards leaders rather than policies. Logic would argue against this focus, given the proven temporary nature of leadership, together with the factions within both parties struggling for control. The leader and faction you voted for today may not be the leader and faction you end up with for three years, because unlike in a presidential system, the parties have been at liberty to oust a leader at any time.

Since the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd debacle, the ALP has put in place certain measures that make it more difficult for their leaders to be chucked out, and it’s astonishing to me that they aren’t making more of this thrust for stability in their election campaign. If you aren’t united how can you govern a nation, asked Mr Shorten before Abbott’s demise, a question all of us ought to ask before we vote.

If you vote ALP, you have the reassurance that their time and energy is less likely to be squandered on internal leadership battles. They are freed from those concerns to concentrate on actually governing, which is far more than can be said for the LNP.

As opposition leader Bill Shorten pointed out in the Leaders’ Debate last night, Turnbull is controlled by his party while Shorten is in control of his.  This may well be the best zinger we ever hear from Shorten, and it zings with truth.

You are a leader in nothing but name if your every move is orchestrated by those you ostensibly lead, and there is no doubt that Turnbull has compromised himself almost beyond recognition in order to soothe the slavering right-wing in his party and retain their support.

Turnbull demonstrates few, if any, political leadership qualities. He’s a man who wanted to be Prime Minister at any cost not because he wanted to steer a country wisely into its future, but because he wanted to be Prime Minister. In this, he is no different from the man he ousted.

Shorten is the leader of his party in every sense. He won’t be thrown out. He doesn’t have to submit to factional demands in order to maintain his leadership. He is at liberty to focus on good governance in ways that Turnbull is not.

If you’re voting for the man and not the policies, it makes no sense at all to vote for Turnbull. He could be gone, even if he wins, and your vote is down the dunny.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m over the leadership dramatics. We’ve been badly served by the major parties’ internal strife for long enough.

There is only one leader in the debate, and it isn’t Turnbull. There’s only one major party in the debate that comes anywhere near allowing real leadership, and it isn’t the LNP.

That being said, we should still weep for our lack of decent choice.


This is not a rape.

25 May


Monsters under the bed

Monsters under the bed

The representation and simulation of rape has existed in many cultures, from the time humans first learned to make art. Sadly, none of these thousands of years of representation and simulation have done anything at all to prevent sexual assault.

So it is with some cynicism that I read artist Sophia Hewson’s explanation of her latest work as an attempt to bring the rape of women to our attention in the hope of subverting patriarchal notions of female victimisation and self-sacrifice, thus turning the trauma of rape into the liberation of empowerment.

While it is true that a raped woman need not remain forever a victim, and that the recovery of empowerment post trauma is indeed a real possibility, I’m at a loss as to how a video of a simulated “rape” scene will in any way assist the difficult progression from victim to empowered survivor.

Titled Untitled (“are you ok bob?”), the work is a video Hewson “arranged and choreographed” featuring herself and a male stranger she invited to her home to “rape” her on camera.

Immediately we note the absence of rape criteria: this is a pre-arranged consensual act, not a sexual assault.

All that is seen of the “perpetrator” are his hands and arms: the camera remains focused on Hewson’s face throughout the act. In itself this focus is, according to Hewson, a transgressive act: raped women are frequently depicted with eyes downcast, in what is presumed to be avoidance, and learned shame. (It is also an effort to protect oneself from being further violated by the gaze of others at a time of great vulnerability, among other things). Hewson claims she is instead “looking back at us from the experience” and indeed she is. However, the experience from which she is looking back is one of consensual sex, not rape.

Hewson did not enjoy making the video, she states. Not enjoying consensual sex with a stranger you’ve choreographed to “rape” you differs considerably from experiencing an act of sexual assault.

I confess myself entirely dumbfounded by this latest feminist effort to expose the damage done to raped women through a depiction of not-rape that effaces reality. I think I ought to be angry, but I’m too baffled for anger. Who is the consumer for whom this work is created? Is it intended for the titillation of the safe? Is it rape porn? Is it as ethically bereft as poverty porn or disaster porn?

Is it co-opting suffering for personal gain? For the delicious thrill of not being one of the violated, for the guilty pleasure of being privileged enough to only pretend it’s happening, like children frighten themselves by imagining monsters under the bed, just for the euphoric sensation of discovering there are none?

For mine, this work marks an alarming low in the discourse of sexual assault. It is bereft of context. Its raison d’être is as a simulation of rape, entirely gratuitous. It will be viewed with appalled fascination, no doubt by many, but what it will do for women and our unenviable position in the patriarchy is not apparent to me.












No, Beyonce’s sportswear does not empower me

16 May
This is an ironic photo from 1970's not Beyonce's sportswear LOL

This is an ironic (iconic as well) photo from 1970’s not Beyonce’s sportswear LOL


I do a fair bit of exercise. I go to Pilates, Feldenkrais, dance class, aquarobics, and in between I walk, run & swim, largely unsupervised.

With the exception of the water-focused exercise I wear the same clothing to every activity: leggings, comfy bra, tee-shirt, bare feet or runners. I’ve yet to enter a sportswear store in search of empowering work out gear.

The idea that the clothing I choose to wear when I put my body to work empowers me is, to be honest, elephant shite. What empowers me is using my body, and as long as I haven’t clothed it in something likely to result in strangulation or a bone-shattering fall, what I’m wearing while I work my sweet ass off is of no effin consequence at all.

True fact. We do not have to wear any particular garment in order to be empowered by exercise. Empowerment is to be found in becoming familiar with our bodies and what they can (and in some instances cannot) do. Empowerment is to be found in the enjoyment, the satisfaction, the gratification of using our bodies to the best of our ability. When my Feldenkrais teacher instructs me to “open those knees, Jennifer, wider, wider” I’m giving the finger to all those years the nuns told me to keep them closed.

Do not be tricked into outsourcing your empowerment: it can never come from an external source such as celebrity leggings, & Beyoncé is only after your money.

Neither does Beyoncé’s sports line empower the women who manufacture it: …a seamstress employed to make the clothes in Sri Lanka told The Sun newspaper: “When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners.

The disempowered seamstress is paid just $8.50 a day in her sweatshop to produce for foreign women garments described as “empowering.” Oh, the feckin, the heartbreaking irony.

In my experience, the process of self-empowerment is a long and gruelling one. It requires a woman to deconstruct all the disempowering shite she’s been told about herself, and replace it with the wondrous adventure of discovering who she can actually be and what she can actually do, without the toxic dictates of societal expectation that all too often require us to shrink our potential, rather than expand it.

Claiming we can get all this from wearing a designer sweatshirt and leggings  is actually adding to the burden of crippling shite most of us haul about every day. We can’t. We don’t. Telling us it’s even possible is an anti feminist act, and yet another example of capitalism’s co-option of women for profit.

Nobody is winning here, except Beyoncé. Not the women in sweatshops, not the women shelling out for promises of empowerment. It doesn’t matter what a woman wear while she empowers herself.  It only matters that she does it.





Let them eat toast

13 May


Class War


By now, you’ve probably all heard the tale of Duncan Storrer, the man on $20,000 a year who asked assistant treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer on Qanda why people much wealthier than him are getting tax breaks and he isn’t.

Let them eat toast, replied O’Dwyer, but those mofos can cost up to $6000 so two good people began a fund-raising campaign for Mr Storrer to get himself a toaster bigger than his very kitchen because this is class warfare and it’s time to pick your feckin side.

Newscorpse immediately launched a savage attack against Duncan, despatching Princess Caroline Overington to find Duncan’s estranged son who when found had nothing good to say about his dad so obviously, dumbo, Duncan had no right to ask his question because his son hates him. No, I’m not linking to Overington’s piece of trash.

Chris (doglover) Kenny’s son  has also publicly proclaimed his hatred for his father but Newscorpse doesn’t see that as an impediment to Kenny’s authenticity. Apparently earning over $80,000 a year restores any authenticity one might lose as a consequence of your children hating you.

(There are in fact very many impediments to Kenny’s authenticity: his son’s hatred of him is not one of them.)

According to another Newscorpse Princess, Rita Panhini and some of her followers, the ABC needs to be pilloried for allowing Duncan entry to Qanda in the first place, and no government minister should appear on that show again until the audience is subject to an income test.

Newscorpse then attacked Duncan for not paying any net tax, overlooking the fact that Newscorpse pays no net tax either but  that’s OK because Newscorpse has a $6000 toaster it uses to burn to a feckin crisp poor people who ask inconvenient questions so it’s exempted from tax which is only for poor people anyway who have to pay it as punishment for being poor because the doctrine of predestination teaches (read this, it explains a great deal about the LNP) that if God wants you to be rich you’ll be rich and if you aren’t it’s because you’ve pissed him off so NO TOASTER FOR YOU.

Not yet satisfied with the zillion buckets of their own stinking piss they’d poured over Duncan, Newscorpse discovered his rap sheet and plastered Duncan’s offences all over the Herald Sun’s front pages today. Duncan has a record, ergo Duncan may not ask a question on Qanda about income tax.

Yes. This is our country.

Let us not pay attention to the entirely legitimate question Duncan asked, a question many millions of us would dearly love to have answered by Treasurer Scott Morrison or, if we have no other choice, Kelly (let them eat toast) O’Dwyer. Let us instead go through the questioner’s trash cans in a mammoth effort to discredit and invalidate the perfectly legitimate question  he is perfectly entitled to ask from his seat in the Qanda audience upon which he is entirely entitled to settle his bum, even if he only earns $20,000 a year, because last time I looked, asking questions didn’t have a means test attached to it.

But wait. There’s more. Newscorpse chief political editor at one of its many sordid publications, Ms Samantha Maiden, will later this month appear in court to be sentenced for drunk driving and leading police not once but twice on a drunken car chase along the Hume Highway and surrounds. In spite of being found guilty of all charges, Ms Maiden has continued to write her regular column, indeed, in one of her first tweets after appearing in court she called a respected economist a dickhead, rather a reckless judgement from an individual who’d just been found guilty of drink driving and attempting to escape not one, but two police pursuits.

For reasons not immediately apparent to this writer, Ms Maiden’s criminal activities do not invalidate her opinions, while Duncan’s do.

Why have the frothing Newscorpse contingent gone after $20,000 a year Duncan like dogs in an advanced stage of rabies?  Because Duncan’s question threatened them so profoundly they have to try kill him stone dead, or at the very least, silence him and anyone like him, forever. This is a message from the LNP to the country: Stick your neck out and we’ll set our backers onto you, your family and your life till there’s nothing left of any of it. We will exterminate you.

This is a class war. Make no mistake about it.

In case you still have doubts, yesterday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took flight into the exclusive “gentleman’s only” Athanaeum Club for lunch, after being confronted by single mother, Melinda, on the matter of how hard it is raising her children after family tax cuts.  As the Huff Post reports it:

The visit [to the exclusive club] comes after the PM addressed a Business Women and Working Mothers Forum in Sydney on Wednesday, and not long after he was confronted on the street by a woman named Melinda who claimed his policies were hurting families. 

Class war. Gird thy loins.



How politicians force us to make a choice we should never have to make.

11 May
Ironic points of light

Ironic points of light


The phrase, Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite, frequently attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville but in fact coined by French counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre, is translated as “Every democracy gets the government it deserves.”

It’s not a sentiment with which I entirely agree: many factors are at work in a liberal democracy such as ours that bring into question the core assumption of informed choice, not least of which is propaganda distributed by media with vested interests, and its collusion with political and financial elites. This piece in Alternet makes interesting arguments against de Maistre’s maxim, describing it as a toxic idea that needs to be laid to rest. It’s worth a read.

I’ve listened carefully to all the pragmatic arguments of ALP supporters, as I have for the last seven years. I know that in almost every way an ALP government is far preferable to life under an LNP administration.

And I am enraged at finding myself yet again in a situation where I would have to endorse the torture of asylum seekers and refugees in order to have a government that we in a liberal democracy deserve. This is a choice no one has the right to force upon citizens and we need to get very angry about being put in this position. 

All my life I voted Labor, until in 2009 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd got into a face-off with Indonesia over Tamil asylum seekers picked up by the Oceanic Viking, refusing to allow them to be transferred to Christmas Island for refugee assessment.

In 2012 the Gillard government reopened detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru that had been closed by the Rudd government in 2008, at which time Immigration Minister Chris Evans described the Pacific Solution as a “costly, cynical and ultimately unsuccessful exercise.”

In 2013, newly returned Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced, “asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.”

The ALP lost my vote in 2009 and they’ve never got it back. It was a difficult decision: my local member was a woman I admired, and it was hard to imagine her supporting Gillard and Rudd, who appeared to be in complete harmony on the matter of torturing those who legally seek asylum in this country.

Refugee policy is one of very many issues to be considered when deciding on the government we deserve. For mine, it’s a fundamental issue: if we have as our government a group of people who take pride in destroying the lives of those who have committed absolutely no offence by arriving here on boats, indeed, who have done so in response to the invitation we continue to extend as signatories to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, we have as our government a group of barbarians who will not hesitate, should it serve their purposes, to take severe action against any other group who in some way threaten their hold on power, or can be used to shore up their grip on governance.

For the last sixteen years LNP and ALP governments have used asylum seekers as scapegoats, fuelling entirely unsubstantiated public fears about the stranger as terrorist, and pitting those fleeing the destruction of their homelands and in many cases torture and death, against disgruntled voters who are being let down and damaged not by asylum seekers, but by their elected representatives.

Asylum seekers have proved and continue to prove infinitely useful to both major parties, as distractions from their own failures, inadequacies and corruptions. This is the moral calibre of our politicians: that they will actively or passively engage in and perpetuate this torture of waterborne asylum seekers for their political gain. There is not one of them, LNP or ALP, that I wish to support in their vile exploitation of human beings.

The Pacific solution uses cruelty as a deterrent to asylum seekers, and in so doing, compromises every single voter in this country, and ensures we are complicit. Every time we agree to pragmatically compartmentalise, we agree to the ongoing torment of refugees and asylum seekers. In this sense we do get the government we deserve as we agree to the ongoing torment of human beings by both major parties, in order to create for ourselves the life to which we feel entitled.

This is a piece written by a young friend starting out on his career as a journalist. It’s his perception of Manus Island and Nauru, together with information on what can be done to assist refugees. Cameron’s article  brought to mind some lines from W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages…

There are among the young ironic points of light, exchanging messages in this stuporous world. In them I trust, because I have lost all faith in the adults who govern us.


Are you rational or self-interested, PM?

3 May

Self Interest


“We mustn’t let empathy cloud our judgement.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged the Australian people not to get all “misty-eyed” about the fate of refugees held in off-shore detention. He followed this urging with the above statement, after learning that the late Nauru refugee, Omid, had died as a consequence of setting himself on fire.

Turnbull urged us to stay “rational” when considering these matters.

However, if you think he’s only talking about the plight of refugees we continue to torture, think again.

Turnbull isn’t the first to expound the false dichotomy of empathy and judgement: determination not to allow empathy for raped and molested children to cloud their rational judgement is one of the factors that enables the Catholic church hierarchy to shelter perpetrators of these crimes.

Note how in these examples from church and state “rational” in both cases reflects the institution’s best interests.

It’s remarkable how the “rational” so frequently coincides with self-interest.

There’s nothing wrong with being rational. It’s a human attribute and a useful one. Like so many other useful and admirable human attributes, the rational has been co-opted by the self-serving to justify (rationalise) cruelty, and contempt for anyone considered “other.”

Empathy, on the other hand, rarely equates to self-interest. For a start, empathy asks that we imaginatively walk a mile in another’s shoes, an act entirely at odds with interest only in the self.

There is no either/or in the matter of empathy and judgement. No legitimate judgement can be made without empathy. Empathy is what tempers decisions that are otherwise entirely self-serving.

Turnbull’s attitude is a core belief of today’s LNP.  If you think it applies only to refugees you’re dreaming. It is the default position of the present-day Liberal towards anyone considered in some way less worthy. It’s why they won’t tackle negative gearing. It’s why they fund private schools and want to strip public schools of all assistance. It’s why they don’t care if you can’t afford private medical insurance and suffer horribly as a consequence. The LNP will not let empathy cloud their judgement not only of refugees, but of every citizen in this country who suffers as a consequence of their self-interested (rational) policies.

Rational or self-interested? You decide.





Senior DIBP official overrules medical experts yet again.

30 Apr








The case of an African asylum seeker detained on Nauru and known as S99 is currently before the federal court, in an effort to have her brought to Australia for termination of pregnancy as a result of sexual assault.

S99 suffers from epilepsy. Whilst lying unconscious after a seizure, she was raped.

S99 is currently in Port Moresby where one David Nockels, senior bureaucrat in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, insisted she be sent for an abortion.

Abortion is illegal in PNG, and Nockels has not sought legal advice as to the consequences for S99 of undergoing termination in that country.

Further, Nockels has been advised by no less than five medical experts, including a neurologist and a psychiatrist, that S99’s condition is such that the procedure is far from straightforward, and must be carried out in a hospital and by medical staff with far more expertise in their various fields than is available in Port Moresby.

David Nockels has refused S99 permission to travel to Australia. He admitted to the court that he would consider flying an entire medical team, including an anaesthetist and all necessary equipment to Port Moresby before he would agree to S99 being transferred to this country.

“That is why we have Manus and Nauru,” David Nockels told the court.

The Guardian also reports Nockels admitted:

that a phone call to an obstetrician at the Pacific International hospital, Dr Mathias Sapuri, who had no expertise in neurology, psychiatry or PNG law, had reassured him that the abortion could be carried out in Port Moresby.

Further:  In his evidence, Sapuri admitted he had a financial interest in the Pacific International hospital as a shareholder, and that his private obstetric practice merged with the hospital. He did not say what proportion of the shares he held, other than it was “small”.

Ron Merkel QC, representing S99, asked Nockels why he valued the opinion of one doctor with an interest in attracting patients to the hospital over the advice of multiple medical experts provided by IHMS and lawyers representing S99.

In response, Nockels reiterated his confidence in Dr Sapuri’s advice.

It has also been revealed that the refugee known as Omid, who died yesterday after self-immolating on Nauru, was not evacuated from the island for 24 hours after suffering serious burns. The explanation for this delay is that DIBP could not find a pilot.

Omid was denied pain relief for several hours, and there was no appropriate treatment available at the hospital, causing risk of serious infection.

Two days ago I wrote about the unnecessary death of refugee Hamid Khazael on Manus Island from a simple scratch on his leg that led to septicaemia. This is a story of yet another overreach by a DIBP official who took it upon him or herself to ignore medical advice and deny Hamid treatment that could have saved his life.

DIBP is a government department rapidly coming to resemble a bureaucracy out of Kafka. Its secretive, punitive and murderous culture has no place in a liberal democracy.

DIBP is apparently staffed by individuals willing to follow to the letter the obscene orders of their ministers. Its default position is that asylum seekers and refugees who’ve arrived here by boat are not entitled to be acknowledged and treated as fully human. Even when granted refugee status confirming the horrors from which they’ve fled, DIBP officials, following orders, still treat those in off-shore detention as dispensable, and unworthy of proper attention and treatment.

The pathology and psychopathy starts at the top in any organisation. But after Nuremberg, that no longer excuses those who carry out the obscene commands of their superiors. DIBP is full of bureaucrats such as David Nockels: if it were not, the system would collapse.

In an ideal world DIBP staff would stage a full-scale revolt against their criminal masters, however I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

In what world does a bureaucrat have absolute control over the medical treatment, and indeed, the survival of a detained person?

Oh, yes, we know all too well the precedent for that world.






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