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Press Freedom & the AFP Raids.

7 Jun

 

This piece was first published at Independent Australia.

In April 2018, Sun-Herald journalist Annika Smethurst reported that The Australian Signals Directorate(whose somewhat disturbing motto is, Reveal their secrets. Protect our own)was seeking expanded powers to spy on Australian citizens without their knowledge.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton dismissed Smethurst’s report as nonsense, while in an apparent contradiction of his Minister’s assessment department head, Mike Pezzullo, immediately referred the “nonsensical” report to the Australian Federal Police for investigation.

On June 4, 2019, some fourteen months after Pezzullo referred the matter to police, the AFP conducted a raid on Smethurst’s home, armed with warrants to seize her phone and computer. The raid is described as “brutish” by news.com.aupolitical editor, Malcolm Farr, who also demands that whoever ordered it should be held to account.

 

 

Interestingly, the raid was on the journalist’s home, and not the offices of the Sun-Herald. Perhaps raiding the offices of the media company that worked so hard to re-elect the LNP government is a bridge too far at this time?

The AFP confirmed the raid in the following statement:

 “The Australian Federal Police (AFP) can confirm it has executed a search warrant at a residence in the ACT suburb of Kingston today.

“The matter relates to an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information that was referred to the AFP.

“Police will allege the unauthorised disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security.

 That the AFP took fourteen months to act on a matter of national security after a complaint from the head of the Home Affairs department, ought to give us pause for speculation as to its motivations.

That the raid took place only a couple of weeks after the Morrison government gained re-election, having apparently been staved off for fourteen months despite the enormity of the threat to national security, should also give us pause for thought.

While the outrage subsequently expressed by many journalists at this sequence of events is entirely valid, the irony of such outrage ought not to be lost on those outside the profession who have watched with deepening alarm as the LNP government, with the full co-operation of the Labor opposition, has rushed increasingly draconian surveillance legislation through the parliament, largely unremarked upon by many in the fourth estate. Indeed, escalating government surveillance of citizens has frequently been justified by Smethurst’s employer, News Corp Australia,under the over-arching banner of “national security.”

Where, one wonders, have these outraged journalists been during the passage of this recent legislation, particularly the foreign interference bill passed in June 2108with amendments by Labor that do little to protect journalists from imprisonment, and nothing at all to protect whistle-blowers?

What, one wonders, did journalists imagine the government was going to do with the 2018 legislation? Apply it to everyone other than themselves?

That so many journalists are outraged and shocked by the Smethurst raid confirms what many of us have long suspected – they are too close to power, believe themselves to be untouchable, and are disinclined to give much consideration to the ways in which extreme and unnecessary legislation can affect those not of their profession, including the whistle blowers they depend on as their sources.

In March 2018 the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed astonishment at the Turnbull government’s “anti-democratic slide,” citing “mounting evidence of regressive measures” being pursued by the government. As an example, the then proposed laws to keep government information secret, and punish whistle-blowers, is highlighted. Those proposed laws, with their threats to journalism and its sources, were actualised in June 2018. As noted on Twitter, no media outlet bothered to cover the UN report.

 

 

Does the industry deserve our sympathy when laws they’ve largely ignored are turned against them?

Let’s not forget as well that several media outlets, including Fairfax, actively collaborated with the LNP government to dox a Centrelink clientwho dared to publicly criticise that department. The woman involved did not threaten our national security. She simply went public about her treatment at the hands of a government agency. Media outlets showed no compunction in publishing personal information released to them by then Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge. Echoing Malcolm Farr’s reaction to the Smethurst raid, this doxxing was a brutish intervention for which neither Tudge nor the compliant media was ever held to account.

Does the industry deserve our sympathy when the government finally turns its weapons on them?

News Corp Australia, widely regarded as the propaganda arm of the LNP,yesterday issued a thundering statement defending the public’s “right to know,” an attitude that is conspicuously absent from the great majority of News Corps output, unless it concerns the public’s right to know about hapless individuals who fall foul of that organisation, women they don’t like, and welfare recipients. For the Murdoch press to take a stand against governmental surveillance is a notable occurrence.

 “The Australian public’s right to know information about government laws that could impact their lives is of fundamental importance in our society.

“This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths. The raid was outrageous and heavy handed.

“News Corp Australia has expressed the most serious concerns about the willingness of governments to undermine the Australian public’s right to know about important decisions Governments are making that can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens.

“What’s gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia.  This will chill public interest reporting.”

It cannot and should not be denied that the AFP raid on a journalist’s home following a complaint made by the head of Home Affairs is a deeply concerning turn of events. That News Corps Australia is the victim of the intervention is proof that contrary to popular belief, irony is not dead. Having worked so hard to ensure the Morrison government’s victory on May 18, 2019, it must be rather galling to find oneself the subject of an AFP onslaught. However, the AFP was considerate in focusing its primary attention on the journalist’s home, and not the organisation’s offices.

Many in the media might take this opportunity to quietly contemplate much of the public’s reaction to this assault on journalistic freedom. We have laughed. We have mocked. We have said, with one voice, it serves you right. Why did you think you’d be exempt, we’ve asked. We’ve said, you’ve consistently let us down in our expectation that you will do your job of speaking truth to power, and now we don’t care if power comes after you.

In a country in which the media is doing its job, citizens will defend the fourth estate. In Australia, citizens do not generally tend to view the media as our allies. That our first reaction is to guffaw at the AFP raid on a News Corp journalist says everything about the parlous state of relations between much of our media and its consumers. There are a very few notable exceptions. Not enough, sadly, to rescue the reputation of the profession as a whole and ensure our support in its hour of need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian whistleblower denied asylum in Australia

21 Jan

Image result for Department of Home Affairs

 

In 2006, British contractor Nick Stride was hired to work on the refurbishment of a palace under construction for Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov, on his estate outside Moscow. The project included the construction of a luxurious greenhouse known as the “Wintergarden,” and the cost of the refurbishment is thought to be in excess of $140 million.

Shuvalov is widely regarded as one of the more “liberal” of President Putin’s close associates, a “counterpoint” to the hardliners dominant in the Kremlin. He is credited with strengthening business relations between the US and Russia, improving the problematic reputation of Russia’s international commerce, and is thought to enjoy a good relationship with Putin.

Using the pseudonym “Lucas,” Stride blew the whistle on Shuvalov’s complex web of financial manipulations, including dubious transactions and avoidance of customs tax on materials imported to refurbish the estate and construct the greenhouse. “Lucas” provided relevant documents to journalist and author, Michael Weiss, including copies of invoices. The labyrinthine details of Shuvalov’s financial arrangements for the refurbishment of his estate can be seen here in a marvellously complex account written by Weiss for Foreign Policy, an account for which Stride was the source.

In 2010, Nick Stride and his family were threatened with “severe consequences” should they ever attempt to leave Russia, because of his extensive knowledge of Shuvalov’s business dealings. Fearing for their lives, the family escaped Russia and fled to Britain. However, believing they were still far too vulnerable to Russian retribution, Stride brought his family to Australia, where they requested political asylum.

A Refugee Review Tribunal Assessor found the danger they feared to be real, yet despite this assessment, their plea for asylum was rejected in 2012. Successive immigration ministers have refused to intervene to prevent the family’s deportation. Stride and his children will be deported to Britain, while his wife and their mother, Ludmila Kovateva, will be sent by Immigration Minister David Coleman to Russia. Ludmila faces almost certain execution in her home country, as retaliation by Shuvalov for her husband’s exposure of his financial affairs to US media.

On Thursday 17 January, Michael Weiss posted several tweets, appealing for Australian legal assistance for the Stride family, and revealing Nick, with his permission, as his source, “Lucas.”

Also Using Twitter to bring the Stride family’s perilous situation to public global notice is financier and economist Bill Browder, perhaps best known for his successful lobbying of the US government to pass into law the Magnitsky Act, legislation that authorises the US government to sanction human rights offenders, freezing their assets and denying them entry to the country. Browder is also the author of “Red Notice,”an account of Browder’s own experience of falling foul of Putin, his deportation from Russia and his relationship with Magnitsky who was both his lawyer and his friend.

The only coverage of the Stride family’s situation by Australian media this writer has been able to find appears to be this piece  in the West Australian dated March, 2018. That isn’t to say coverage doesn’t exist and any links will be appreciated. This is a story of immense interest, given the current global political situation, and it’s inexplicable why the mainstream media aren’t all over it.

The people going into bat for the Stride family against the intransigent Australian Immigration Minister know of what they speak. Weiss is an authority on Russia, and specifically, its propaganda. Browder conducted a highly successful financial career in Russia before being deported. He has also testified to the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US Presidential election.  Their concern for Nick Stride, Ludmila Kovateva and their children is palpable. And yet, the Australian Immigration Minister, undoubtedly supported by Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, continue to refuse asylum to this family.

Why is this so?

And why are the mainstream media apparently uninterested in the family’s fate?

Since this article was first published this background piece on the Stride family was run by the ABC

This article was first published at Independent Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schooling Senator Hinch

19 Jan

 

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, January 17 2019, the body of 21-year-old Palestinian student Aiia Maasarwe was found next to a Bundoora shopping centre in Melbourne.

Police described her murder as “horrendous as you could get,” and refused to release further details out of respect for Ms Maasarwe, her family and friends.

Later that day, Senator Derryn Hinch posted a tweet that contained a most horrific detail, allegedly leaked to him by a “police contact.”  I will not repost his tweet.

Hinch’s tweet provoked an immediate and furious backlash on social media. He responded to this reaction by doubling down, and insisting that “the stark details were included to warn women in the area what this monster, still on the loose, is capable of.”

He followed this up with:

 To all the do-gooder tweeters attacking me for telling the gruesome truth about the Bundoora rape/murder. This brute is still out there. My tweet was for the memory of Jill Meagher and Eurydice Dixon.

Hinch’s posts are deeply unsettling from a number of angles. There is the legal question of publishing details of a crime, and how that may influence subsequent prosecution. His account is also unsubstantiated: we only know that he’s been told some details of the crime by an anonymous someone else. For reasons that are not immediately apparent to me, Hinch believes himself worthy of our trust on these matters.

 

Most important of all is what it must do to Ms Maasarwe’s family to see that the extreme harms inflicted on their beloved are the subject of a politician’s self-seeking tweet, dashed off in seconds, posted on a global social media platform only hours after her death. One moment spent imagining my own child ‘s suffering and death being co-opted in this way is entirely unbearable. The Maasarwe family, and friends, have to live this. It is monstrous to inflict further anguish on them by detailing the torment Aiia suffered in the form of a tweet. To do this under the pretence of protecting women, and further, to claim it honours the memory of two other brutally murdered women, is beyond belief.

Yet, this is what Hinch did, and he has continued to defend his indefensible actions.

There’s also the effects of his posts on his accidental readers, many of whom, like myself, simply opened our Twitter feed to be confronted by horrific descriptions that I, and many other women I’ve engaged with today, have been unable to erase from our minds.

The details of the attack on Ms Maasarwe will eventually become public, in court transcripts and media coverage. It will be my choice whether to read these or not. Senator Hinch denied women this choice by posting the information on social media and I, and many others, feel violated by his act.

Twitter is not the platform on which to reveal terrifying details police have decided to withhold. This was not an act of noble truth-telling by a courageous man whose only desire was to inform women so that we might better protect ourselves. Indeed, Hinch has demonstrated yet one more way men can provoke terror in women, by detailing the torment another man has inflicted via a platform where such information carries no trigger warning, and cannot be anticipated or avoided.

It is not Senator Hinch’s role to decide for women that we need to be confronted by gratuitous descriptions in order to grasp the danger we are in. We are far from unaware. We understand that if police describe a woman’s murder as “horrendous as you can get” they mean what they say. Many women live on a continuum of fear, from mild apprehension to full-blown terror, pretty much every day of our lives. We can decode “horrendous as you can get.” We do not require men such as Hinch to do this for us, and in so doing, erode what little control we have over how we can best manage our lives in a world where we are at constant risk. Hinch seems to be on a grandiose, messiah-like mission to force women to face the details he decides are necessary for us to know.

In itself, this attitude absolutely violates our right to decide what we can and cannot admit into our lives. It is a dreadful thing to do to women who have already survived male violation, and denial of our autonomy.

What Hinch actually succeeded in doing was to make himself the centre of the story, not the women who were murdered, not their families and not their friends. We have become somewhat inured to politicians’ despicable behaviours over the last years. We don’t expect much decency. However, this action taken by Senator Hinch is up there with some of the worst political behaviours on record.

Women who survive sexual assault as adults, and/or children, and the terrifying powerlessness of being overwhelmed by male violence, are, at the very least, entitled to decide how much we can afford to know about the suffering inflicted on other victims. This is the reason for trigger warnings: to give us the opportunity to decide if we want to take the risk of having our own trauma reignited by the details of the violence wrought on another. We can say no to such information. We are not obliged to absorb the details of horror. We’ve lived horror, and we’ve earned the right to choose not to allow details such as those published by Hinch into our lives. We well know what some men are capable of. We do not forget. We certainly do not need another man to forcibly remind us.

Hinch has been reported to Twitter by numerous tweeps. Many of us have asked him to delete his post. He has steadfastly refused to do this.

It would be appropriate for his political colleagues to school Hinch on his despicable behaviour. However, I doubt any of them will bother. Yet again, it is up to us to express our disgust and contempt for the hideous actions of an elected representative.

Vale, Aiia Maasarwe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Turnbull & Shorten: Don’t wear the White Ribbon next time around.

3 Jul

In December 2017, following sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and Westminster, a report into the sexual harassment complaints process in the Australian Federal Parliament concluded that procedures for staffers in this workplace are “incomprehensibly and woefully inadequate.”

The parliamentary policy, controlled by the Department of Finance…does not specifically address sexual harassment as defined by the Sex Discrimination Act (which clearly defines sexual harassment as unwelcome contact of a sexual nature), give examples of behaviour that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment, and, perhaps most egregiously, it does not clearly spell out an employee’s options for pursuing a sexual harassment claim and relevant time limits. The appropriate legal avenue is to make an individual complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission, but a six-month time limit applies….

Furthermore:

“Where a complaint is substantiated, Finance has no capacity to take disciplinary action against either a Senator or Member or a MOP (S) Act employee.”

At the time of writing, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have remained woefully and incomprehensibly silent about the sexual slurs against Senator Sarah Hanson-Young made by Senator David Leyonhjelm, both in the Senate and later on the Sky News program Outsiders, a whine-fest of woeful and incomprehensible proportions with entirely comprehensible audience numbers of a mere few thousand, hosted by two of the most sadly inadequate men in media, Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron. Cameron is also a former Liberal politician, given shelter by the Sky News network retirement home for failed conservatives.

Sky News, Dean and Cameron have since apologised to Hanson-Young who has instigated legal action. Leyonhjelm,  libertarian and defender of free speech but only when it suits him, has not.

Turnbull and Shorten are the leaders of the parliamentary workplace. Leyonhjelm’s verbal sexual abuse of Hanson-Young occurred in that workplace, as well as later in the media. The Senator attempted to use Hanson-Young’s assumed sexual life as a weapon against her. In other words he slut-shamed her, in the Senate and later the media, in the time-honoured manner of misogynistic old men who have never resolved their desire for women with their simultaneous hatred of us.

It was one of the more sickening episodes to come out of a parliament that daily emits a multitude of sickening events.

The silence from Turnbull and Shorten is deafening. Indeed, it is a betrayal of every woman in that workplace, as well as those of us outside of it. No woman is required to suffer sexual slurs when she goes to her job.

Sexual slurs are at the beginning of a continuum that ends with our rape and our murder. There is no workplace occasion, absolutely none, in which it is acceptable to comment on a woman’s sexual life and choices.

Turnbull and Shorten, quick to don the White Ribbon, quick to avail themselves of the photo opportunity and publicity surrounding the ghastly murder of Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon, are complicity silent when a female senator’s sexual life is used in the Senate as a weapon.

Lack of respect, Turnbull famously trumpeted, is where violence against women begins. If you respect women, he claims, you will not harass and abuse us. Lack of respect is the beginning of all violence against us, according to the Prime Minister who said on September 25, 2015:

Let me say this to you: disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women,” 

Turnbull’s silence on the sexual harassment of Hanson Young in the Senate indicates utter lack of respect for women, if not contempt. Shorten’s silence indicates the same. The silence of both leaders goes a long way to explaining why the Australian Parliament has some of the most inadequate workplace sexual harassment policies in the western world. Because they don’t give a damn about women. They don’t give a damn.

 

 

 

 

 

Turnbull, the self-made man. Seriously?

26 Jun

I am an ambitious person, but I am not ambitious in the sense that I want jobs only for the sake of them… I am here to do things I think are worthwhile. I am always careful that the political positions I take are consistent with good policy. I would not want to be prime minister of Australia at any price.
Malcolm Turnbull

 

A couple of days ago in The Weekend Australian, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton made an appeal for Australians to “guard against compassion” in the matter of refugees and asylum seekers held in offshore detention. I’ve written about this in some depth here at Independent Australia.

Yesterday, we heard from various members of the LNP that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a shining example of the virtues of coming from tough beginnings, working hard and making a lot of money. This was in response to an advertisement authorised by the ALP, questioning how much the Prime Minister will personally gain from tax cuts his party introduced that benefit the so-called “big end of town.” According to the ABC report:

The ads state the Prime Minister has “millions invested in funds which hold shares in dozens of big businesses which would benefit from the tax cut”.

Labor also released analysis of Mr Turnbull’s financial interests register, showing he indirectly owns shares in 32 companies worth over $50 million.

“Who exactly is he looking after?” the ads asks.

Predictably the LNP, supported by friendly media, have worked as hard as Turnbull to confect outrage at the “personal nature” of the ALP ad. This reaction is enormously funny for several reasons,not least that just last week Turnbull personally attacked Labor’s Tanya Plibersek, and yes, irony is dead, buried and cremated:

Turnbull then appealed for the public compassion Peter Dutton says we must not feel for refugees, claiming that the ALP was opposed to him and Lucy “having a quid.”

“They want to attack me having a quid,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“They want to attack me and Lucy for working hard, investing, having a go, making money, paying plenty of tax, giving back to the community.”

The rags to riches Turnbull fairly tale is just that. Here’s a couple of facts:

By the time Turnbull was in Year 10 and a long-term boarder at Sydney Grammar, his father Bruce was doing well enough to purchase a luxurious three-bedroom apartment in Point Piper, not far from Malcolm’s current dwelling.

Aged 28, with a couple of Sydney property deals already under his belt and his marriage into the wealthy Hughes family, Turnbull was left some $2 million according to reports, by his father.

There were undoubtedly a few tough years when Malcolm was small, but Bruce navigated them past those hardships well before Malcolm finished school. The reality is, Turnbull had the kind of good fortune most of us can only dream of, and he is the beneficiary of inherited wealth.

The ALP ad asks the question, how does a multi-millionaire Prime Minister justify introducing tax cuts that benefit him personally, as well as benefiting his multi-millionaire peers at the expense of ordinary Australians? This is not a “personal” question. It is a question any one of us is perfectly entitled to ask.

Let’s not forget as well, that in the 2016 election campaign Turnbull donated $1.75 million to the struggling LNP, who went on to win government by a margin of one seat in the House of Representatives. That donation could well have made the difference between winning and losing, we will likely never know. However, the question that has never been adequately addressed by the media is, is it good for our democracy that a wealthy Prime Minister can pay for his party to survive, and to retain his job?

A Prime Minister who used his personal wealth to keep his party afloat so that he could keep his job cannot at the same time claim his financial affairs are private. When a man has so much wealth he can buy himself the PM’s job, that is not a personal matter. It is entirely political. When that man, now in government, passes legislation that benefits him personally, that is also not a private matter. It is entirely political.

It is beyond me how any journalist can argue otherwise.

Opponents point out that there are wealthy men and women in the ALP ranks. This entirely misses the point. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having money. As far as I’m aware, the ALP are not promoting tax cuts that benefit themselves and their wealthy peers, while cutting penalty rates for ordinary workers, and defunding vital services to subsides those tax cuts. We don’t know the details yet, but they have to be paid for somehow. The Guardian’s Greg Jericho addresses this fundamental question here.

As far as I am aware, ALP policy is a better deal for all (other than refugees, and that’s another story) not exorbitant privilege for the 1%.

Oh, and it appears that Turnbull did indeed have a price. It was $1.75 million.

 

 

 

Two female NSW Ministers for Women oppose women’s health, safety & wellbeing.

8 Jun

 

It says a great deal about our society and nothing much good, that women attending clinics and hospitals providing abortions are subject to harassment and intimidation by so-called “pro lifers,” to the degree that it has become necessary for the NSW parliament to pass legislation that criminalises such behaviour and threatens jail time for anyone apprehended engaging in it.

The NSW parliament yesterday passed laws to impose 150-metre “safe access zones” around these clinics and hospitals. Pro lifers may no longer position themselves at the entrances to medical facilities, forcing women to run the gauntlet of abuse, threats, disturbing images, and the risk of being photographed by protestors.

It is with dismay and disbelief that we learned that the current NSW Minister for Women, Tanya Davies, and the former Minister for Women and sex discrimination commissioner, now NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, Prue Goward, both opposed the bill.

Davies, a devout Christian, justified her extraordinary stand by claiming that the pro lifers are “sidewalk counsellors” who offer women options they may not be aware of and that may cause them to change their minds about a termination. Women are, after this “counselling,”  able to make a “truly informed decision” as Davies believes they were not prior to the unsolicited sidewalk interventions.

“Sidewalk counsellors” is an oxymoron if ever I heard one. Counselling is a profession practised in private, in safe spaces, by trained and accredited women and men whose goal ought not to be persuading the client to the counsellor’s point of view. I don’t know why representatives of that profession haven’t yet confronted Davies about her slur on their expertise.

I can’t imagine any circumstance in which I would take kindly to a self-proclaimed “counsellor” bailing me up in the street and imposing his or her opinions on me. Were I on my way to a surgical procedure that might be fraught for me, or simply attending the clinic for some other kind of treatment and advice, I’d be even less inclined to respond well to such a vile intrusion on my privacy.

Davies has lost whatever credibility she had as Minister for Women. She is pushing her own religious agenda. She is not acting in the interests of women. She needs to get out of that portfolio.

Prue Goward came at the issue from the free speech angle. Pro life protestors are being denied their right to free speech by the new legislation, Goward claims, despite the fact that we have no right to free speech in this country outside of an implied freedom of political communication enshrined in our Constitution. Goward puts the fairytale of free speech before the wellbeing of women. It doesn’t matter how abusive, harassing and intimidating pro lifers might be, “free speech” is at greater risk, she claims.

Behaviour that would be unacceptable in just about any other situation must be protected, over and above the wellbeing of women making their way into a medical facility.

Goward’s justification make no sense and has no legs, and one wonders how she keeps a straight face when, dripping with faux sincerity, she avows in parliament her commitment not to women’s health and safety, but to freedom of speech.

Pro lifers have not lost the assumed privilege of free speech. They may protest all they like outside the safe access zone. They have not been silenced. Speech is restricted in all kinds of spaces. There’s nothing unusual about areas where speech may not be indulged without incurring penalties or expulsion, yet the only one that apparently disturbs Goward is the space outside hospitals and clinics that offer terminations.

Goward and Davies are an absolute disgrace, and should not be allowed anywhere near decisions affecting women. Readers familiar with the HBO series The Handmaids Tale will understand immediately why I call them Aunt Lydias, in reference to the brutal cohort of women who ensure that the wishes of the murderous patriarchy are fulfilled by subjugated handmaids. Both Goward and Davies are hopelessly out of touch with the concerns and needs of women. That they both hold portfolios that so specifically affect women is deeply worrying. They must go.

 

Turnbull’s latest bag of tripe.

16 Feb

 

One hardly knows where to begin.

Yesterday, Head Galoot Malcolm Turnbull announced that in an effort to curb the apparent enthusiasm of his ministers for shagging their staffers, he was adding a new rule to the ministerial regulations, forbidding sexual relationships.

Only ministers are denied these pleasures: backbenchers can carry on as usual.

Turnbull has experienced considerable difficulty over the last few days defining “relationships.” This is because Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Minister Matt Canavan and Turnbull himself appear, at first blush, to have breached ministerial regulations already in existence, by conspiring to create jobs for Joyce’s lover, Vikki Campion, in various ministerial offices while she and Joyce were partners.

Were they in a relationship? Even though Mrs Joyce remains registered as his partner?  The DPM got so Frenchy, so chic, sporting a wife and a mistress, and the ministerial regulations failed to anticipate this circumstance. Bronwyn Bishop took a break from her unrelenting savaging of socialism to explain that a series of one night stands is not a relationship. Centrelink disagrees.

All in all, a shamefully self-serving mangling of meaning by the Head Galoot, I thought, reminiscent of “I did not have sex with that woman” which brings me to my next point: how does Turnbull intend to define not just relationship, but “sexual?” Remember US President Bill Clinton’s infamous denial of fellatio as “sex?”  Will Turnbull take this as a guide? Has he thought his new directive through? It would appear not.

We now have a situation  in which ministers can be chucked out not because they’ve rorted, but because they’ve rooted, which, as Katharine Murphy points out, is  a morals test the like of which we have never seen in this country prior to yesterday.

Let us consider that one in three Australian marriages fail. Some of those failed marriages are going to include those of politicians. Joyce’s marriage by all accounts failed. The reasons for that failure are nobody else’s business.

Joyce fell in love with a staffer. It seems pretty clear that the staffer fell in love with him. People fall in love. This includes politicians and staffers. Many struggling marriages come to an end when one party falls in love with someone else. That’s a well-acknowledged impetus for getting yourself out of a relationship that has run its course. It’s messy. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a catastrophic emotional event. There will be few among us who haven’t been or won’t be an abandoned partner, an abandoning partner, or a lover, at some time in our lives.

The particular problem with Joyce is that it is alleged he misused taxpayers’ money to conceal his affair, and to keep his lover employed. It is also alleged that there are several levels of murk surrounding the gifts of free accommodation and luxury holidays made to him and his lover by a wealthy and influential friend. He also did everything possible to conceal this entire situation from his New England electorate prior to the December by-election. Aided, many would observe, by a complicit media who, while adhering to their convention that politicians’ personal lives are private, failed to document the public interest story underpinning that private life.

The problem is not that Joyce, like millions of Australians, found his marriage was over and fell in love with a new partner. And yet, Turnbull has contrived to make this the core issue, rather than the allegations of ongoing rorting surrounding Joyce’s personal drama.

And so we have a thundering puritanism emerging in our parliament, instead of a sober examination of politicians misusing public money, lying to the parliament and the electorate, and taking “gifts” they ought not to accept.

Not to mention the appalling lack of adequate policies and procedures to protect workers from sexual harassment, and to give anyone who is sexually harassed, by a minister, a back bencher or anyone else, a clear and safe pathway to report that harassment.

Instead we have been served up a stinking bag of raw tripe that encourages the most prurient speculations, and leaves us with our most dire problems entirely unaddressed. This is no accident. How much easier for Turnbull to focus on the root, and leave the rorting alone.

 

 

 

 

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