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“Let them watch fireworks:” Gladys Antoinette, Sydney 2019

31 Dec

Bundjalung National Park December 2019. Image by Jennifer Wilson.

 

The sickening irony of letting off millions of exploding flames into a city sky already thickened with the smoke of bushfires that have surrounded Sydney for weeks, and then calling it “welcoming in the New Year,” seems entirely lost on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

According to both women, the fireworks will demonstrate that NSW is a “resilient” state that looks towards the future with hope. “Coming together as a community in times of great trouble” is another justification for persisting with a fiery celebration many other centres, including Canberra, have chosen to abandon. Some because it’s too dangerous, others, like here in northern NSW, because we suffer an unpleasant visceral and emotional reaction to the idea of fireworks at this time. It just does not seem right to celebrate the New Year in this way when people are dying, communities are being left bereft, millions of hectares of country across the state are burning, and untold numbers of animals are frying to death or living in agony.

The symbolism is terrifying. The lack of leaders’ ability to comprehend this symbolism is unnerving.

 

In fact, cancelling the fireworks would send the powerful message that climate change is irrevocably rearranging our lives and our expectations, and action must be taken by governments right now to address this reality. Indeed, this is a rare and brilliant opportunity to sheet home to negligent authorities the urgency of our situation, something LNP governments both federal and state seem to be slow to grasp.

“Listen, chaps. If you don’t act on climate change and with urgency, fire prevention and management, you won’t be able to have fireworks on New Year’s,” seems an accessible example of cause and effect, even for those practised in denial.

Apparently, cancelling the New Year’s Eve fireworks on Sydney Harbour would cause a loss of some $130 million to Sydney businesses. Perhaps this overnight loss might stimulate those city businesses to demand that politicians face up to the financial impact of climate change and its manifestations, on our economy. I would also love to hear exactly why Sydney businesses must be protected from loss, when across the state, indeed, across the country, individuals, businesses and entire communities are being financially destroyed, even as we watch the fireworks. Increasingly, we read of under-resourced fire brigades, exhausted volunteer firies, and inadequately resourced aerial fighting facilities, yet Sydney businesses are a protected species, indeed, the only protected species in this entire catastrophic state-wide conflagration.

Of course, cancelling the Sydney fireworks would be an acknowledgment of the gravity of our situation, an acknowledgment the Berejiklian and Morrison governments do not want to make. Even the Sydney City Council, usually considerably more aware of the peril we are facing than either government, cannot see the smoke for the fireworks in this instance, and insists on giving priority to marketing and tourism. This is a short-sighted perspective. The impact on tourism of past weeks of air quality readings, at one point the worst in the world, has apparently been omitted from the council’s evaluations. It will be interesting to see how the fireworks are reported internationally.

“Let them watch fireworks!” appears to be the slogan of leaders who think a little bit of bread and circuses will momentarily distract from the catastrophes currently engulfing much of the state. Tomorrow, however, we’ll still be burning with no end in sight, the fireworks forgotten, the fear, anger and sorrow still in our hearts, the failure of our politicians seared on our memories.

You have a #Right to Know, but only when the media says so. Media & the Morrison holiday.

20 Dec

 

For the last few days there has been unrelenting speculation on social media concerning Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s whereabouts. Yesterday evening journalist Samantha Maiden published this piece in The New Daily, confirming he is holidaying in Hawaii. This photo, taken by Australian tourists who ran into the Prime Minister and posted the image on Instagram, accompanied her article. For context, around the same time as this photo was taken & posted on social media, two volunteer firefighters died in bushfires in NSW. Morrison has yet to acknowledge those deaths, or express concerns for the families, co-workers and friends of the two deceased. There are also two firefighters in induced comas, and three injured.

Also yesterday the Australian Financial Review posted an editorial in which it was claimed that the Prime Minister’s minders “ordered” the Australian media not to report on his decision to take leave at this time. The reason given for the ban was that the minders and presumably Morrison feared there would be “churlish” commentary from people who thought the PM’s place was in Australia during the bushfire crisis. The AFR apparently ignored this order & reported the holiday some days ago. Other media such as Crikey, and The Guardian published pieces defending Morrison’s “right” to take a holiday without confirming that he had done so.

Never in the history of this country has a Prime Minister taken a holiday in the middle of a natural disaster. For reasons that on the surface appear unfathomable, the majority of the Australian media opted not to question the judgement of the incumbent in choosing to leave at this time. Indeed, they decided to defend his decision. Neither did they question the bizarre secrecy surrounding Morrison’s absence, as I wrote here yesterday.

When the media don’t question incidents that are not normal behaviour for politicians those abnormalities quickly become normalised. The media is all we have to point out abnormalities in political behaviour and when they fail to do that, they are failing at their job and they are failing their audience. Speaking truth to power is their mission, not protecting power from scrutiny. Whether the PM is insufferably arrogant, sociopathically incapable of feeling empathy owing to his religion’s cavalier attitude to lives other than those of its followers, or more incapable of reading a room than any politician in Australia’s history, it’s the media’s job not to maintain its silence about these deficiencies but rather to trumpet them. Morrison’s behaviour in this crisis speaks to his capacity as a leader, & if this is all he’s got, we should be very afraid.

There are occasions when a Prime Minister’s whereabouts ought not to be public knowledge, usually only for a day or so while he or she is on their way to a troop visit that can’t be advertised. Genuine national security is more important than anyone’s right to know. However, in this case, the press were ordered to embargo the information in an attempt to protect Morrison from “churlish” commentary. We might ask, how weak is this man that he has to be protected from adverse commentary?

In October 2019, major media outlets formed the Right to Know Coalition in response to police raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, and the ABC. The Coalition includes 9, News Corp, the ABC, SBS, The Guardian and journalist’s union MEAA. The Coalition’s mission is to protect the “health of democracy” by ensuring that members of the public have the right to know and are informed about the conduct of those in power. The Coalition sought the public’s support in the stand it has taken against government resistance to scrutiny. I have steadfastly supported this Coalition and its aims. However, this last week would seem to suggest that the Coalition is rather selective about what it considers is in the public interest, appearing to have come down strongly on the side of protecting the Prime Minister from scrutiny. They’ve used the argument that he has a right to have a holiday, while apparently obeying the PMO directive to not actually confirm he’s on a holiday.

Hardly transparent. We do have a right to know how the PM is conducting himself in a time of national crisis. I would like to see any argument the Right to Know Coalition can produce that proves otherwise.

UPDATE: The Prime Minister has now released this statement on the deaths of the firefighters:

 

 

 

 

Where is Scott Morrison & why is it a secret?

18 Dec

 

We awoke this morning to another day in which Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s whereabouts are unknown to the public, with his staff declining to enlighten us.

This isn’t the first time an Australian PM has gone missing: in 1967 Harold Holt went swimming and has never been heard of since. It’s unlikely Morrison has met the same fate, but we live in times when all things seem possible, generally not in a good way.

The secrecy surrounding the PM’s location is bizarre. Leaving the country in the midst of a national emergency with bushfires out of control and soaring temperatures threatening to elevate the danger to another level altogether is, in itself, an odd choice of timing. Shrouding his destination and the length of his absence in mystery only adds to the sense that we are in the hands of a very peculiar individual indeed. The man is already copping serious condemnation for clearing off,  why conceal his destination as well?

I’m trying hard to think of any other world leader who has simply disappeared from his country at any time, let alone when that country is in the crisis we’re currently experiencing. We’ve never had a PM who buggered off when there was a national disaster. They’ve all had their flaws, some of them major, but nobody ever buggered off and left the country rudderless and burning.

Rumours have placed Morrison in Hawaii, enjoying a summer break with his family. More rumours suggest Hawaii was merely a stop over in a much longer journey to New York, where his Pentecostal mentor, Hillsong’s Brian Houston, has just opened a church in a multi-million dollar property recently acquired by Hillsong in Manhattan. I couldn’t possibly comment. Well, actually, I could.

Many of us have been a bit slack about taking seriously Morrison’s commitment to his Pentecostal cult. Their beliefs are so wildly beyond anything any rational or even mildly irrational being can endorse, we’re inclined to laugh them off. This is a big mistake. Emeritus Professor in the History of Religious Thought at the University of Queensland, Philip Almond, has explained five aspects of Pentecostalism that we need to familiarise ourselves with if we are to understand where Morrison’s faith will take us. Here you are.

There is also this piece in The Monthly by James Boyce titled The Devil and Scott Morrison which is a longer read, worth undertaking if you want to know how the PM’s religious beliefs influence his politics, particularly his attitude to deadly, rampaging bushfires and apocalyptic heat, as well as beliefs on poverty and god’s preference for the wealthy.

During the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009 Morrison, then an ambitious young Liberal MP, attacked Victoria’s Police Chief Christine Nixon for going out to dinner while her state was in crisis. He found her decision shocking, and not one a senior figure in public life should have made. However, not only has Morrison now buggered off in this current crisis, he’s gone overseas with no forwarding address giving no indication of how long he’ll be gone. Every criticism he made of Nixon must now be applied to him, tenfold.

In Morrison’s absence Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, a group that includes no fewer than 29 former emergences services chiefs, has announced it is prepared to take over if the government remains “missing in action”on the matter of future planning for emergencies similar or worse to the one we are currently experiencing. Group spokesperson Greg Mullins is the former NSW Fires and Rescue Commissioner. These are serious people with decades of experience. Mullins is still on the front line fighting fires.

There is, the group states, a “leadership vacuum” in Canberra and they will go ahead with planning for future emergencies whether Morrison is involved or not. I cannot remember a precedent for this in Australia or anywhere else, except when there’s a military coup. Essentially, the experts are declaring that the government is not functioning in these matters, and they are stepping in to take on responsibilities the government has declined to shoulder.

 

We are in interesting times. I have no idea how this will end, and neither does anybody else. Good luck, fellow travellers.

Coleman wants the family to stay, Dutton wants them refouled. Trouble in Home Affairs.

3 Sep

 Picture: Claudia BaxterSource:News Corp Australia

In May 2019, newly-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison removed responsibility for the Immigration portfolio from Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, and gave it to David Coleman. The portfolio, renamed Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, remains under the umbrella of Home Affairs, and Dutton is the senior Minister.

In the matter of the family from Biloela, currently incarcerated on Christmas Island waiting for the court to decide their fate this week, Minister Coleman has had little or nothing to say even though he is directly responsible. All commentary has been handled by Dutton, despite Coleman having the same ministerial powers, and the same legal right to exercise the ministerial discretion that would allow the family to stay.

(A quick recap if you’ve been out of touch lately. Minister Dutton attempted to secretly deport Priya, Nadesalingam and their Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa under cover of darkness last week. An urgent injunction forced their plane, en route to Sri Lanka, to land in Darwin, from where they were transferred to Christmas Island.)

Ministerial discretion is a legal option that allows a minister to grant visas even if the court has declared the applicants are not refugees. It also permits the minister to intervene in the matter of, for example, European au pairs arriving in Australia on a Sunday afternoon with the wrong visa, ensuring the au pairs are released from immigration detention and sped on their way to employers with the clout to get Dutton out on a weekend.

Minister Coleman is well aware of the dangers that await the family in Sri Lanka, as this tweet from four months ago confirms:

It appears that Coleman has been gagged by Dutton, preventing him from publicly commenting on the current situation despite the fact that calls to Dutton’s office regarding the family are being diverted to Coleman’s office.

Coleman is also copping considerable ridicule on social media, with people referring to him as “OfDutton” and suggesting that he is “Under his eye.” It does seem as if Coleman is being forced to handle the brunt of public displeasure, while being temporary stripped of all ministerial authority and capacity to respond or act.

No doubt if this entire situation goes pear-shaped, Coleman will be held responsible for that as well, leaving Dutton with plausible deniability.

A report in The Guardian suggests tension between Coleman and Dutton, with the former “committed” to ensuring the family are permitted to stay in their community, as opposed to his senior minister’s hardline approach that will see them refouled to Sri Lanka:

Multiple sources have indicated to the Guardian that the immigration minister, David Coleman, is inclined – one source said “committed” – towards allowing the family to stay, but that he has been consistently overruled by the senior minister in the department, the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, who is adamant the family has extinguished its appeal avenues and must, by law, leave the country.

An annual employment census has ranked Home Affairs as the worst agency for staff engagement across the Australian public service. Thousands of public servants have expressed their wish to work elsewhere.

Almost 40% of those surveyed have applied for other jobs.

36% want to leave the department in the next six months.

Harassment, bullying, poor communication and substandard leadership are cited as some of the causes of employee discontent. It could well be that Coleman is a high profile victim of just such behaviour from his master.

It seems that the Home Affairs department is in something of a turmoil, which begs the question, how can this mega department satisfactorily carry out its multitude of duties, including overseeing every Australian intelligence agency and the AFP, when struggling with internal chaos and discord between its two Ministers?

That Home Affairs is such a toxic workplace should be a cause for serious concern and urgent action.

Peter Dutton has questions to answer. But don’t hold your breath. He’s a protected species and likely more powerful than the Prime Minister himself.

 

 

Dealing with Pell.

22 Aug

 

Yesterday, Cardinal George Pell lost his appeal against his conviction of child sexual abuse.

Children, when allowed to develop without debilitating trauma, often have an innate sense of fairness, together with a belief and the expectation that justice must be and will be made to prevail.

When you’ve been sexually abused in your childhood, this trust in the order of things is one of the first things to crumble. The disintegration continues into adulthood as you see that your abuser faces no consequences for their crimes against you, while your life is a daily struggle with traumatic stress that leaves no part of your body and mind untouched.

You often experience this loss of trust as feelings of angry hopelessness, despair even, disillusionment and bitter disappointment. Though of course you the child can articulate none of this, it’s inchoate, and black.

You might also as an adult speak of these things in the third person, when you manage to speak of them at all, because that creates some small distance from a chaos that might otherwise engulf you. The I, while recommended as a means of owning one’s life experiences and a step to empowerment, can be a bridge too far when dealing with experiences you don’t actually want to own. I use I sparingly, when I feel strong. It is empowering. I wish I could do it more often. For the moment, switching between the two persons is the best I can do.

I could not bear to hope that Pell would lose his appeal. I could not bear to deal with the blow of yet again witnessing a powerful man, backed by other powerful men and their female consorts, backed by the power of institutions and two former prime ministers, get away with it. So I prepared myself for his, their, win. That meant in the main trying not to think about it and when that didn’t work, steeling myself, calling up all my resources, so that I wouldn’t be entirely undone by yet another set of traumatic injustices over which I had no control. It meant forbidding myself expectations of anything other than our loss and their win.

When I heard the judges’ decision I was home alone. An involuntary and guttural cry, not dissimilar to the primitive roar a woman often makes in the last stages of birth, was my first reaction. It had happened. He’d lost. The institutions had lost. The powerful men and their consorts had lost. Two former prime ministers had lost.  Survivors had won.

This was an unfamiliar relief, and it swept through me warm and strong. I didn’t have to deal with watching survivors lose again. You lose so much when you’re sexually abused, your losses are incalculable, this motif of crippling loss continues throughout your life and for many of us there comes a time when it is one loss too many, and we are done. A win over patriarchal power is rare and it is overwhelming. It makes you tremble, and it makes you fear that there will be consequences. How dare you defeat them?

The Pell verdict is just. It is an enormous victory yet at the same time, it changes little for individual survivors. Our childhoods remain stolen. For many of us, our potential remains curbed. Our daily struggles with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress continue. The fight for redress, in itself so horribly damaging and wickedly protracted by the guilty institutions, goes on.  This is a turbulent time for survivors. As glad as we might be to see Pell fall, it is a tortuous victory when our histories, triggered by the circumstances, engulf us.

Despite my emotional and mental turmoil I am immensely grateful for this verdict. It gives me some small hope that things are changing, that abusers, no matter how powerful, can be made accountable for crimes against children. That the powerful enablers are not able to silence us, no matter how much effort they devote to achieving that end. My abuser is long dead, and I will never know the satisfaction of seeing him publicly disgraced and imprisoned. My gratitude today is to J, the man who made this possible, the man who steadfastly confronted power with truth and in so doing gave me, and many others, this extraordinary chance to vicariously experience justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The attack on women by Australian politicians, and Alan Jones

20 Aug

 

Things have been just dandy for women in the last forty eight hours, with broadcaster Alan Jones declaring that Prime Minister Scott Morrison should give New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern a few backhands to shut her up, and then stuff a sock down her throat.

Jones was supported by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who mildly reprimanded him for his boy talk, before going on to declare that Jones is a “mainstay of our media.”

Then yesterday evening many of us in NSW received a robot call from Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce. Joyce stated that he was calling on behalf of the Foundation for Human Development on the matter of the NSW Abortion Bill.

The Foundation’s contact point is the NSW branch of Right to Life, and we can presume that the robocalls were paid for by this anti choice organisation.

I will transcribe Joyce’s message:

[The NSW Abortion Bill] prohibits giving critical care to babies born alive following abortion and this will be given to any other baby born alive prematurely.

In other words, every other premature baby will be given critical care, except those born alive following an abortion who will be either left to die, or slaughtered by the medical professionals in attendance.

[The Bill] allows sex selective abortions. It legalises abortion for any reason up until the day of birth.

No, the Bill does not “allow sex selective abortions.” No, the Bill does not legalise abortion for any reason up to the day of birth.

Barnaby Joyce is a liar.

We have now heard that the  Shooters Fishers & Farmers Party will refuse to work with the NSW government “ever again,” according to its leader Robert Borsak, if the Abortion Bill is passed.

Given the events of the last twenty four hours, a woman could be forgiven for thinking she’s been teleported to a southern state in the USA, where governments and their evangelical supporters routinely use our bodies as battlegrounds.

There is little more dangerous to women than a cabal of white, privileged, powerful men in politics and media who believe they have the right to control our bodies. What is needed is an equally powerful cabal of white, privileged, powerful men in politics and media who will vocally support us in our fight for bodily autonomy.  So far, I hear very few men of influence doing that.

When the Treasurer of Australia describes a misogynist, violent scroat  as a “media mainstay,” I have little hope.

 

 

 

 

 

Further to the story of the four doctors who voted against Medevac, a letter to the AMA

5 Aug

Further to the story of the four doctors who voted against the Medevac legislation, below is a letter to the Australian Medical Association that can be cut and pasted if you want to express your dissatisfaction with their actions.

This letter was drafted by Kath Murphy, @Chopsie_Murphy. Many thanks, Kath.

Phone: 02 6270 5400 Fax: 02 6270 5499
Email: ama@ama.com.au
Website: www.ama.com.au

Postal Address: PO Box 6090, KINGSTON ACT 2604
Street Address: 42 Macquarie Street, BARTON ACT 2600

Dr Fiona Martin is a registered psychologist, so any complaint about her actions should be directed to APHRA.

Contact APHRA here

The Letter: 

I refer to the recent repeal of the Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018, (“Medevac legislation”), which was supported by three medical practitioners, Drs Katie Allen, David Gillespie and Andrew Laming.

The Medevac legislation ensured that decisions about medical assessment and evacuation of seriously ill detainees from Manus Island and Nauru, locations with inadequate medical facilities, were made by medical practitioners.

I consider the action of these practitioners to be a gross breach of the AMA Code of Ethics and the World AMA Declaration of Geneva. Moreover, it is my view that the conduct of Drs Allen, Gillespie and Laming is at direct odds with the Australian Medical Board Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia.

In short, the conduct of Drs Allen, Gillespie and Laming falls significantly short of the fundamental professional standards the public reasonably expects of the medical profession.

Medical practitioners who consider that medical assessment should be taken out of the hands of medical practitioners and placed in the hands of bureaucrats bring the profession into disrepute and, because of the attitude reflected in their decisions, may pose a risk to the public.

I ask that the AMA investigate the conduct of Drs Allen,  Gillespie and Laming and take appropriate action.

Yours faithfully,

 

 

 

 

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