Archive | February, 2017

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

28 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

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

22 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: Milo resigns from Breitbart:

And this is just for fun: 

Fake threats, and democracy.

18 Feb

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

13 Feb

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turnbull is a hypocrite, as well as a traitor.

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

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

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

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

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

How it’s never Pell’s fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Feb

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

5 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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