Archive | July, 2012

Domestic violence: it’s everybody’s problem

31 Jul

Programmes such as last night’s ABC Four Corners may be difficult for many people to watch, even if they haven’t experienced domestic violence. The account of the murders of Andrea Pickett and Saori Jones by their husbands reveals the attitudes of some police to women in mortal danger from their partners. Briefly, neither woman received the protection she begged for and deserved, as a human being in danger of losing her life. Neither woman should have died. Both deaths were preventable, if the authorities had cared enough to attempt prevention.

While both murders occurred in Western Australia, there is no reason to assume this attitude is peculiar to that state.

As a survivor of a violent home, I find programmes on the topic almost impossible to watch. Sometimes I can’t. But as a survivor I know the importance of bearing witness, particularly in the matter of domestic violence, that private violence, the violence that erupts behind closed doors, that violence everybody tries to hide.

There were some very brave people who tried to help Andrea and Saori. Andrea’s family took her and her children into their home, even though it made them targets for her husband’s uncontrollable rage.

A brave and generous couple helped Saori, because the Japanese woman had no family in Australia to whom she could turn. They also put themselves at risk from the possibility of retaliation by her murderous husband.

Andrea had thirteen children. Saori had two, one of whom was ten months old and still breast-feeding when his father killed his mother. In an unbearably ghastly act, the murderer told police he’d put the hungry infant to his dead mother’s breast to feed.

This man is now taking parenting classes in prison so he can claim his children when he’s released, after serving an inexplicably short sentence because the WA DPP decided he would be charged with a lesser offence than that of murder or manslaughter.

He owes this stroke of good fortune to the fact that his wife’s body was so decomposed after he’d kept it in a spare room in the house in which he continued to live with the children, that cause of death was difficult to determine. Even so, another charge could have been brought against him that would have earned him a sentence closer to twenty years.

These are the extreme outcomes of domestic violence, the ones we hear about.

In the four decades since feminists began political action that resulted in funded women’s refuges, there has been no decrease in domestic violence. We have learned how to better take care of the victims and survivors. But we have not learned how to prevent it in the first place. Anymore than we have learned how to prevent child sexual abuse.

Yesterday as I drove into town, I saw a young man and woman in a fight by the side of the road. Traffic was slow. I saw the man spit into her face, then hit her. I saw her run away. That’s all I saw. They were perhaps sixteen, seventeen.

What we need is far more research into violence in intimate relationships, and we need it urgently. What we need is a police force and a judiciary who take domestic violence as seriously as they do an assault by a stranger on the street. What we need are people who will bear witness, to our own experiences and to that of others, especially those who are not alive to tell their stories.

Whatever plans we currently have in place have spectacularly failed, and will continue to fail. How long will it take governments to accept this, and how many more victims of domestic violence have to die, and how many more survivors, including the witnessing children, will have their lives and their potential damaged, sometimes irrevocably?

This is everybody’s problem.

Vale, Andrea and Saori

What is it with conservatives and vulnerable people?

29 Jul

The refusal by Coalition states to put money on the table for the NDIS trials early this week makes no sense. If it was a purely political act, then one has to wonder what they imagined it would achieve. Every way you look at it the decision reflects badly on them. Premier O’Farrell (NSW) and Premier Baillieu’s (Victoria) back down two days later looks like a  win for PM Julia Gillard, while their initial refusal looks decidedly lacking in understanding and compassion for people living with a disability, and the carers the scheme is designed to assist.

Campbell Newman, aka the Butcher of Brisbane, continues to withhold financial support  from the scheme, and as a bonus has withdrawn a $6.50 payment to taxi drivers who transport disabled people, for whom accessing a taxi requires a good deal more time and assistance than Mr Newman needs to hop into his car.

What is it with conservatives and vulnerable people?

It’s hard to believe the conservatives involved in this particular decision to boycott assistance for the vulnerable actually thought “Well it doesn’t matter, they are disabled, they aren’t like us, so what do we care because they are weaker so they don’t deserve showers every day and a life.”

Anymore than Adolf Eichmann thought about the lives of the Jews his organisational talents and ideological commitment combined to ensure were efficiently despatched to their deaths. What Eichmann, O’Farrell, Baillieu and Newman have in common is that they failed (and in Newman’s case, continue to fail) to acknowledge that they were and are dealing with human beings. Human beings with particularly difficult challenges, in the contemporary situation, and I include those who care for disabled people.

Yes, I know there’s a big difference between Eichmann and the Coalition, but they are on the same continuum, a continuum that denies the humanity of others unlike themselves. What is so chilling about the politicising of NDIS is that someone made the choice to politicise it, and to entirely disregard the human beings affected by that choice.

It’s really a case of blaming the victim. If you are unfortunate enough to be born with or incur a disability that affects your life, conservatives are not going to make it easy for you because there must be something wrong with you to be disabled in the first place. Like the poor, it’s your own fault. Social structures are not responsible, it’s the behaviours and cultural patterns of the poor that put them where they are.

In short, many conservatives seem to share an attitude that causes them to blame the poor for their poverty and the vulnerable for their vulnerability. There are some who claim this contempt for the “weak” is a feature of the fascist character.

Then there’s the psychological theory of projection, in which the subconscious denies his or her own fears and emotions, and ascribes them to others. Accepting the inevitable vulnerability of being human can be quite a challenge. Nobody wants to feel powerless, or at the mercy of others. Seeing those who are powerless and vulnerable can provoke anger and repulsion, because they are living reminders of what we could be at any moment. Disabled. Poor. Seeking asylum. Responsible for another human being who cannot live without our assistance. At the mercy of others. Not in control.

People who are unable to come to terms with their own vulnerability can react with great antagonism towards those who are in some way injured, and in need of care.  One way of dealing with these extremely uncomfortable feelings is to frame the vulnerable as entirely different and lesser than oneself, thus creating a distance, an illusion of safety and an illusion of  invulnerability. Bad things happen to them, not us, because they aren’t as good as us. The ego can pretend to retain control over the uncontrollable.

However we frame the conservatives’ contempt for people living with a disability and their carers, the bottom line is, it is very unsettling. In my opinion, the two premiers would not have backed down had there not been an angry public reaction to their decision. What does this say about the men and women of the Coalition? Nothing good, I fear and it should cause us to think hard and long about an Australia governed by men and women incapable of seeing others as human as themselves, because they are overtly vulnerable in some way.

I give the last word to George Harrison:

Have you seen the little piggies
Crawling in the dirt
And for all those little piggies
Life is getting worse
Always having dirt to play around in.

Have you seen the bigger piggies
In their starched white shirts
You will find the bigger piggies
Stirring up the dirt
And they always have clean shirts to play around in.

And in their styes with all their backing
They don’t care what goes on around
And in their eyes there’s something lacking
What they needs a damm good whacking.

Yeah, everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Playing piggy pranks
And you can see them on their trotters
Down at the piggy banks
Paying piggy thanks
To thee pig brother

– everybody: –
Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.

Marissa Mayer and the F word

24 Jul

And here we go again. Another “how dare she say she’s not a feminist” rant against a high achieving woman, this time newly appointed Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. You’ll find it at the mamamia website, written by self-described feminist Jamila Rizvi.

The term “feminist” has become extremely fraught, not least because of the rantings of  those feminists who demand every other woman on the planet describe herself thus. Many women are understandably disinclined to use the term about themselves. Many of us will not on principle, describe ourselves as others say we should, because we are engaged in a process of liberation from all those who arrogantly claim the right to tell us who we are, and who we should be.

Instead of addressing the complexities that have developed around the term, feminists such as Ms Rizvi wrongly attack women who do not wish to include that word in their lexicon of self-description. The problem is not that some women do not wish to describe themselves as feminists. The problem is that feminists like Ms Rizvi insist on publicly shaming such women.

Rizvi writes: Somewhere along the way being a feminist has become associated with hating on men, rather than being equal with them. So, I can see why women like Marissa Mayer, who work in male dominated professions, simply cannot afford to attract the label of ‘feminist’. After all, success doesn’t come to the woman who throws her hand up in the air and says ‘look at me, look at me, I’m a man-hater’.

No, Ms Rizvi, you are wrong. “Somewhere along the way” feminism has become associated with women bullying women, bullying us into describing ourselves as feminists, for example, by using abusive tirades that were they employed against us by a male, would be regarded as emotional violence.

“Somewhere along the way” feminists such as yourself decided to take over patriarchy’s work for them, and assume the right to define women.

“Somewhere along the way”  the cant of ideological purity  has blinded some feminists to the reality that when ideology of any kind gets the upper hand, the war is lost, and the revolution has become the  orthodoxy.

“Somewhere along the way” as well as being acceptable to the patriarchy, we now must be also be acceptable to a hegemonic feminism that demands we identify ourselves with its  laws, otherwise we are traitors to the women who have gone before us?

If I don’t  choose to identify myself as a “feminist”,” for example, that does not indicate that I am either ignorant of or ungrateful to the women who’ve gone before me, and by their hard work enabled some of us to achieve what was once unthinkable. I do not have to call myself a “feminist” in order to honour and appreciate those women. I do not have to use the label “feminist” for myself in order to actively care about equality. I do not have to play by your rules, Ms Rizvi, and I do not have to use your language.

There are feminists who would tear Rizvi to shreds for her love of red lipstick, her fondness for five-inch heels and her love of men. They would never grant her the right to the title. This is another reason many women refuse the label: it is, unfortunately, divisive, its meaning is unclear, and nobody quite knows what it’s describing.

I am delighted that a pregnant young woman has achieved what Marissa Mayer has achieved. I don’t give a stuff if she calls herself a feminist or not. The problem lies not with Ms Mayer. It lies with those people, women and men, who demand that human beings fit into pre-determined categories and in so doing, trash the human spirit and deprive it of its freedom.

I don’t believe for one moment that’s what the early feminists intended for us.

I do think of myself as  feminist. One of the reasons I claim that title is my belief that it is a woman’s right to call herself whatever feels appropriate for her, regardless of what others may think or demand. I will not define myself according to another’s lights. I will only define myself by my own. Feminists do not condemn a woman for defining herself by her own lights. That is the task of tyrants.

Leadership chatter. Assange’s passport. Blonde girls in short shorts

24 Jul

There is no way chatter about ALP leadership is going to stop before the next election, the next leadership change, a decision by the party to close ranks and stop white-anting, or a blackout by the media on the topic.  The latter is the most unlikely option, so we might as well resign ourselves to endless speculation, and learn to stick our fingers in our ears.

I’ve now arrived at what I like to call the “shit or get off the pot” point. It’s that place in the mind you reach when you’ve had a gut full of listening to the same narrative over and over and over again. Usually I’m hounded to this place of ultimatum by people who are deeply dissatisfied with their intimate relationships and feel they have to tell me about it because I’m a good listener. Over a period of years they reiterate their complaints against their partners with a monotony that makes me feel like pulling out my fingernails with pliers, on the theory that the resultant physical pain will  distract me from the mental anguish I’m enduring by having to listen.

It’s a human failing, that we can be so afraid of change we choose instead to remain in a state of miserable grievance. Indeed, the very act of complaint becomes a raison d’être. The  whine: “Oh, if I could only be happy” replaces any possibility of actually finding happiness because one has, without even thinking about it, chosen whining as a way of life rather than risking satisfaction.

There is of course the opposite situation in which there seems to be a destructive addiction to superficial change while the underlying matters remain un-addressed.

As with all things, it is necessary to find the middle road, grasshopper.

But I digress. I don’t care who will lead the ALP to the next election. Being an ALP leader is a poisoned chalice. Anyone mad enough to take it on has my sympathy, but only in the abstract. The present leader, Julia Gillard, is drinking deep of the tainted wine and nothing good will come of it for her, just as nothing good eventuated for her toppled predecessor, Kevin Rudd. What this says to me is that the problems are not entirely to do with party leaders, and that continuing to change the leader will do nothing to resolve the problems.

I know there are good people in the ALP who deliver results for their electorates. My own federal member, Janelle Saffin, is one of them. It does seem that in politics the good people are either not interested in taking prominent roles or are not considered prominent role material by the back room boys and girls who determine these matters. The criteria the back room crowd use to arrive at their choices is puzzling. I strongly suspect those moral and ethical qualities we don’t talk about anymore, lest acknowledging our loss breaks our hearts, do not rate highly in their list of necessary leadership qualities.

Of course one could also argue that on becoming leader a good person may well undergo a transformation, goodness and leadership seemingly anathemas in today’s political world. According to ALP legend Kevin Rudd, who seemed decent enough, became the antichrist when they won government.  I liked Julia Gillard as deputy PM. Enough said about both.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the unsettling Julian Assange story as aired on Four Corners last night, was the effort by then Attorney-General Robert McClelland, presumably supported by the PM, to rescind Assange’s Australian passport at the time of the Wikileaks cable dump. Footage of PM Gillard declaring Assange’s actions to be “illegal” without any evidence at all for that declaration, also gave pause for thought.

The US, of course, was the nation-state most grievously affected by the dump. Our government’s rush to condemn one of its own citizens looks sadly like a an ill-considered attempt to show what good and loyal friends we are to the US, by cutting Assange loose without bothering to establish his innocence or guilt. This is an example of what I mean about the incommensurability of goodness and power.

I would hate to think I live in a country where anyone’s passport can be taken away from them because the government says so, without any investigation and without any evidence that the accused has done anything to justify such drastic action.

Assange has committed no offence against his own country. It is yet to be determined whether or not he has committed any offences in any country. Yet our PM declared him guilty of illegal activities, and decided he should be relieved of his passport. This is very scary stuff, and we should not take it lightly. According to Four Corners, plans to relieve Assange of his most important document were abandoned when it was pointed out that leaving him in possession of his passport would make tracking his whereabouts that much easier.

And people wonder why Assange is worried for his future?

I was baffled during the programme, by the blurred and recurring shots of a young blonde woman in short shorts walking away from the viewer along a train station platform. This young woman seemed to bear no resemblance in dress or manner to the two women who have accused Assange of sexual misconduct. She did seem to signify sexual availability, and presumably the long blonde hair referenced her Scandinavian origins. I have no idea why this image was necessary, except to imply a certain stereotyped lasciviousness in young Swedish women which might by association be extrapolated to the complainants. Hmmm. Tacky, anyone?

And just who wears short shorts?

Real housewives: my week in popular culture.

21 Jul

I didn’t watch The Shire. I’ve never looked at Being Lara Bingle. I hate those shows where they have someone cruel on the panel to belittle contestants and make them cry.

As a critic of the reality TV genre  I’d be a failure. I can’t step far enough away from the emotions aroused in me. If I ridicule I feel guilty. After all, these are  human beings making a spectacle of themselves. I have on occasion made a spectacle of myself, though not, thankfully, on television. I might do it again. So who am I to sneer?

Which brings me to Real Housewives of Atlanta. Last weekend, when the infant I was minding had an afternoon nap, I took advantage of his parents’ Foxtel and trawling, came across housewife Kim and her boyfriend Kroy.

Actually, Kim didn’t start out with Kroy. She was finishing up a relationship with someone known as Big Poppa, whom I never got to see. Big Poppa lavished Kim with everything she could possible want, including two exceptionally pneumatic breasts and a feckin’ great diamond. But Kim isn’t the type to be satisfied by the superficial. Having all the stuff didn’t do it for her. Big Poppa was not emotionally (or reading between the lines, sexually) available, and Kim was over him.

And then along came Kroy. No, I have not misspelled his name. Football player. Cute. Shy. Within weeks, Kim and Kroy were pregnant. In three back-to-back episodes I watched them move house, give birth and get married. Kim gave birth in her blonde wig and full makeup. I worried for the baby, trying to latch onto those pneumatic breasts. I don’t know how she changed his diapers with those false nails. I don’t know why I sat there watching this unfolding spectacle, except that I was enthralled in the worst of ways, and I could not look away.

Luckily for me, just as we moved onto Housewives of Orange County the infant woke, and released me from the spell.

Watching this kind of television leaves me feeling as if I’ve scarfed down vile junk food because I’ve let myself get to a stage of hunger where anything will do, and I should really put my finger down my throat and hawk it all back up again if I know what’s good for me.

After watching Housewives, I realise I avoid reality TV not for aesthetic or intellectual reasons, I wish that were the case, but because it makes me far too emotionally uncomfortable.  I cringe and sweat and chew my fingers, and cover my eyes and put my hands over my ears, and want desperately to do something to stop the participants from revealing their tender underbellies. Be more careful with yourselves, I want to shout. Don’t show all this vulnerability to the world! People will laugh at you and mock you and look down on you! You will be judged, oh, how you will be judged!

But none of them seem to care. Indeed, they frequently enter into adversarial public exchanges with their critics, and thrive. Obviously, I need to drink a cup of cement and harden up.

On the other hand, one thing I have learned from the popular series Downton Abbey (which I watch because my household does and it would be churlish of me to absent myself from a bonding ritual and anyway, it is FICTION) is that there’s always been women who HAVE IT ALL. Wealthy women may not have been allowed employment outside of their stately home, but governing the household, which was their task, must have been akin to being CEO of a small to middling business. Add to this birthing the next generation, demanding social duties, responsibilities to the poor, dress fittings, spousal support, and marrying your daughters well, these upper-class women had careers, husbands, families, social lives and the wealth to engage all the assistance they required to maintain the lifestyle. Just look at this picture of Lady Cora.

Nothing much has changed, except having it all is no longer an ambition realised only by the well-bred. It’s far more egalitarian, however, the need for an income to support the lifestyle remains fundamental. You probably can’t have resident childcare if you live in public housing, for example, unless you have your mum or gran living with you and you don’t have to pay them to mind the children while you go to work.

I have to confess that I was almost banished from the Downton Abbey ritual when upon watching Captain Crowley (Crawley?) releasing his fiancée from her vows because the war had left him unable to be a full man, I laughed like a horse.

I would not have done this, of course, had Downton Abbey been reality TV. Even if they’d used the same mawkish language (and of course they would, probably worse) I would not, could not have laughed. I likely would have bawled.

I prefer the protection of fiction when I consume television for relaxation. I want a resolution to the drama, and catharsis. I don’t want to have to think about anybody’s real life issues going on and on and on until the show is cancelled.  I don’t want to watch someone weeping as they endure a verbal onslaught from a self-important celebrity judge of whatever.  And honestly, the thoughts and concerns of some of these reality stars are, well, numbingly, numbingly banal. I can only hope the taste for this unmediated drivel decreases in time. Otherwise we might find ourselves regressed to public hangings.

Pedophile priests make a mockery of confession

18 Jul

The Victorian inquiry into the handling of child sex abuse by religious groups poses this question in its submission guide: “To what extent should the reporting of suspicions of abuse be circumscribed by laws, customs and ethical codes of religions?”

Currently, the Catholic church regards confession as sacrosanct, and forbids its priests from revealing anything told to them during the performance of the confessional sacrament. Should an offending priest confess that he has raped and or sexually molested a child, his confessor is bound to keep his admission confidential. The priest escapes trial and punishment by the legal system, and is free to continue his criminal practices without fear of discovery and retribution.

No doubt the religious would argue that the mental and emotional anguish of facing the wrath of the sacred is far worse than anything incurred by facing the wrath of the profane. I can imagine suffering such self-inflicted spiritual torment, however my question is, why would anyone consider this punishment enough? Surely the offending priest must be made to face both his God and the wrath of the human world?

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus, who when asked if believers should pay taxes remarked “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God, that which is God’s.” In other words, if you are going to traffic in Caesar’s coin in order to obtain what to you are benefits of some kind, then of course you   must be prepared to pay  Caesar’s taxes. It isn’t too much of a stretch to understand this as advice  on how to deal with far more than taxes. For example, if you are going to indulge yourself in exploiting children for your sexual satisfaction then you must be prepared to accept the human and worldly consequences of your human and worldly activity. You must render unto Caesar’s law that to which the law of Caesar is entitled, as well as answering to your god.

But I’m no theologian, and no doubt someone will tell me I can’t make that extrapolation. To which I would respond, why not?

Quite what punishment is inflicted upon the sexual offender by his confessor remains unknown, also subject to confidentiality . His crimes and his punishments are gilded with the sanctity of the confessional, and he remains unaccountable to any human being.

The Catholic church places its own laws (laws it then ascribes to God) above all else. This is unsatisfactory from any number of perspectives, not least that it places Catholic criminals beyond the reach of the law of the land. As we can see from the sad history of the serial offenders, these men don’t stop raping and sodomizing children, even, presumably, after they’ve confessed their crimes, done whatever the Catholic church regards as adequate penance for their crimes, and accepted forgiveness. They continue to offend against children, and they do it for years and years and years. Confession and penance means less than nothing to them. They make a mockery of their own rituals.

Perhaps they don’t confess their crimes in the first place? We have no way of knowing.

The victims of the pedophile priests are completely ignored. There is no concern for them, no efforts to assist them or rescue them from further rape and exploitation, because under the seal of the confessional, the perpetrator must be completely protected. The perpetrator’s rights to confidential confession trump children’s rights to be safe from sexual attackers. In what universe is this acceptable?

Father Frank Brennan, so far the only prominent Catholic priest to have fronted up to the ABC 7.30 Report to discuss these matters, declared that he would go to jail before revealing anything told to him under the seal of the confessional. Well, let him. Let the jails fill up with priests who’ve raped children, and priests who have protected priests who raped children so that they can continue raping children. I can say with the authority of experience that a few months in jail for Father Brennan or any other priest is as nothing, compared to being a raped child.

Pedophile priests make a mockery of the sanctity of confession, and a mockery of their God. Every priest who protects them adds to this mockery.

If priests continue to choose to put the law of their church before the well-being of children in their care, then jail would seem to me a reasonable outcome. The offences are committed in the spiritual and the human sphere, yet punished only in the spiritual. This is not good enough. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. God is already getting more than his fair share.

A brief history of the Coalition’s hostile encounters with the UN

17 Jul

March 28, 2005 – “Australia was facing a United Nations committee’s scrutiny for the first time in five years. The event went unreported back home and the verdict – handed down on March 12 – was the subject of only a few, scattered reports in the press.”

“Australia was rebuked for its treatment of migrants, Muslims, asylum seekers, refugees and Aborigines. In the eyes of the Geneva committee, the list of this country’s failures on the human rights front has only grown longer since the Howard Government came to office.”

The Coalition’s recent insistence that asylum seekers can only be sent to states that have signed the Refugee Convention is startling, given its history with the UN throughout the Howard government years. This history can be fairly described as hostile and bordering on the pugilistic, with then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer reacting to negative UN committee reports with this outburst:

  “We won’t cop it any longer. We are a democratically elected government in one of the most liberal and democratic countries you will find on Earth. And if a United Nations committee wants to play domestic politics here in Australia, then it will end up with a bloody nose.”

On Howard’s watch in 1998, Australia became the first Western nation to be issued with an “urgent action” notice following what the UN committee identified as a risk of “acute impairment” to native title rights. We were then found in breach of our obligations to the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and again earned the dubious distinction of being the first Western nation to incur a breach finding.

John Howard reacted to UN criticisms thus: “Australian laws are made by Australian parliaments elected by the Australian people, not by UN committees.” Amnesty International confirmed his attitude with this observation, after a 2004 High Court ruling sanctioned mandatory detention:  “These findings show the limited impact that international human rights law has had to date on Australian law-making.”

As an indication of the Coalition attitude in 2001, Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot referred to boat arrivals as “uninvited and repulsive peoples whose sordid list of behaviours included scuttling their own boats.” (Human Rights Watch Report, 2003).

In 2002, at the request of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, the Howard government agreed to allow Special Envoy Justice P.N. Bhagwati to assess the conditions of asylum seekers held in indefinite mandatory detention, with specific regard to the question of their human rights.

Justice Bhagwati’s report, which can be read in full at the above link, contains this observation:

As noted above, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 7) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, explicitly prohibit torture and all cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. The human rights situation which Justice Bhagwati found in Woomera IRPC could, in many ways, be considered inhuman and degrading.

Australia signed the CAT treaty in 1985, and ratified in 1989.

Justice Bhagwati’s report was described by Howard government ministers as “fundamentally flawed,” “emotive” and lacking objectivity. The government received an advanced copy of the report, and had the opportunity to correct any “flaws” prior to its release. The Special Envoy was also accused of interfering in domestic policies.

A personal observation: I visited Woomera Detention Centre in 2002, just before Justice Bhagwati undertook his visit to Australian detention centres. It was entirely appropriate to react with emotion to the conditions in that place, and to the suffering of the children, women and men behind its razor wire. Indeed, the inability to feel disturbed by those conditions and the resultant human suffering, indicates the presence of sociopathic tendencies, an inability to accept those imprisoned there as human.

For a much more thorough analysis of the Coalition’s relations with the UN than I’ve provided, I strongly recommend “The Howard Government’s Record of Engagement with the International Human Rights System” by Sarah Joseph.

The series of events over the last decade and more rather gives lie to this extravagant claim: “The Opposition’s immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says the Coalition has always supported the UN Refugee Convention, and will continue to do so.”

The Opposition’s recent decision to refuse to allow asylum seekers to be sent to any country that hasn’t signed the Refugee Convention is wildly inconsistent with its attitude to the United Nations for the last fourteen years. When in government, the Coalition regarded the UN as toothless, and our obligations to the treaties we signed as irrelevant. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as children were and still are kept in mandatory detention, with and without their parents.

These attitudes are not peculiar to the Opposition. The current government does not observe our obligations either.

Now Scott Morrison seems to be getting himself in something of a twist, having declared the Refugee Convention to be out of date and needing an overhaul, while simultaneously demanding the government observe the fundamental protections it offers in ensuring asylum seekers are sent to a signatory country.

Neither major party have anything to boast about when it comes to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Both pander to the prejudice and xenophobia of voters they believe will give them government. Both claim they wish to avoid deaths at sea, but they apparently have little or no concern about asylum seekers dying anywhere else, as long as it’s out of our sight and mind.

This is a drastic failure of leadership on both parts. It’s been shown time and time again, that if people are given the opportunity to meet and know asylum seekers, even the most hardened attitudes can change dramatically. Leaders worth the title would grasp this, and take the opportunity to extend our hearts and minds rather than encourage their shrinkage for political gain. There are many things that can be described as despicable in politics, but surely up there at the top must be the demonisation of human beings, and exploitation of their suffering for domestic political gain.

A pox on both their houses.


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