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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Is it possible to separate the work from its creator?

13 Jun

 

by Linus Ekenstam via flickr

 

For as long as I can remember I’ve been completely disinterested in the private lives of notable creatives. I rarely read magazine accounts of the writer in her study, the artist in his studio, of the non-working lives of actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians et al. I’ve long adored the works of Leonard Cohen, for example, but I will not read his biography. I’m in awe of the narrative and imaginative powers of Hilary Mantel and I don’t have one fig of interest in any aspects of her personal life. I’ve never wanted to meet authors or attend writers’ festivals, though I’ve done both.

For me, knowledge of or engagement with a work’s creator interferes with my own imaginative and intellectual process. For me, the author was dead long before I ever encountered Roland Barthes. For me, “a text’s unity lies not in its origins (the author) but in its destination” (the reader).

I don’t know how to explain this lack of interest. I wonder if I ought to be ashamed to confess it. My gratitude, my admiration and my love for artists who enrich my world is inspired entirely by their creations which are complete in themselves, arriving in my life like jewels. Thank you, I think, for giving this to the world in all its complexity. I do not need or want to know anything else about you, other than that you have produced this work.

I think the first time this distance became impossible to maintain was in 1992, when Woody Allen was first of accused of sexually molesting his daughter, Dylan. I’d enjoyed an ambivalent relationship with Allen’s work: smart, funny, irritating, neurotic, mediocre, astonishingly good, boring, enchanting. After I learned of the accusations and became unwillingly aware of the proceedings that resulted, I could not watch an Allen movie without experiencing intrusive and unwelcome thoughts about its director. This knowledge of Allen’s alleged behaviour created in me a caution, a wariness, a holding back from engagement with his work that was extremely uncomfortable, to the degree that I could no longer enjoy his movies. I could no longer behave as if the author was dead: the author’s life had so vividly inserted itself into my world that ignoring it was impossible.

The work hadn’t changed. The talent and the fraught psycho-sexual ambiguities remained. But the text’s unities acquired a different destination: an audience altered by confronting information about its author. I didn’t find myself analysing the movies in the light of this new information, looking for clues in scripts and scenes. I simply experienced a powerful visceral retreat, a retreat I fought tooth and nail to resist because I didn’t want to lose my relationship with Allen’s body of work. I wanted the familiar partition between the private life and the work but try as I might, I could not maintain the distance.

The personal behaviour of the artist does not, in my opinion, affect the quality of his or her work. Great films remain great, great books remain unforgettable, great paintings are not altered for the worse by their creator’s offences. But once those offences are known, the works or the performance can’t be experienced with the same freedom, the freedom from knowledge and consideration of the artist’s private life.

It is not the works that change, it is their audience. The names of the creators have taken on new layers of meaning: where once Woody Allen signified a particular style of film making, now his name signifies that and sexual offences against his daughter. Kevin Spacey’s name signified a talented, mesmerising actor, now it signifies that and the man who raped and sexually molested those over whom he wielded power. As with Allan, I can’t watch Spacey perform anymore without that new knowledge of him intruding, yet his performance is still as superb as it was before I knew. I have changed as an audience, a reader, and it is knowledge of the artist’s life that has changed me.

Perhaps it is the desire of a child, to want to engage with works of art as if they exist independent of all human crimes and misdemeanours. There is a sense of loss of innocence upon realising that one may no longer enjoy freedom from knowledge. On the other hand, the freedom was an illusion all along, easier to maintain when scandals did not rupture the present, but were lodged safely in the distant past, or entirely hidden from public view.

I catch myself hoping, please let there not be anybody else whose work I love. Please, don’t make me have to lose anymore books and poems and plays and films and paintings to the knowledge of the human crimes and failings of their creators.

And last, but far from least, what about the victims? How can I laud Allen, or Spacey, or Dorothy Hewitt, after hearing the heart-wrenching accounts of those who’ve been so misused by them?

For me, the answer to the question that is the title of this piece is that once I would have steadfastly insisted that the work is separate from its creator, and that in its separateness lies its strength and beauty. Now I understand that there are circumstances that make such separation impossible, and this is not because the work is any the less, but because I as audience am changed by the knowledge of those circumstances. The change is not for the better.

At the same time there is an even bigger change underway, signified by the #MeToo movement that has led to the outing of so many notable creators accused of sexual offences against those over whom they have power and control. Beside this upheaval, my complaints are insignificant. Nevertheless, I sense we are going to have to find a way to acknowledge the disgust and anger we feel at those offenders, without discarding the creative work they produce. I have at this point no idea how this can be done.

 

 

 

Why we can and should make up our own minds about the Bob Ellis allegations.

12 Jun

 

It doesn’t come as any surprise to discover that “Australian arts luminaries,” among them journalist, screenwriter, novelist and passionate Labor supporter Bob Ellis, allegedly sexually assaulted the young daughters of playwright Dorothy Hewitt. That this disclosure does not surprise (though it certainly horrifies) is in itself a cause for anger and sorrow.

That the assaults took place in the girls’ home and apparently with the acquiescence of both their mother and their father, adds another dimension of horror to a story that is sickeningly familiar in every demographic, and every time and place.

When such atrocities are disclosed, a common reaction is that we should let the courts decide who is telling the truth, and remember that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence. In this case, some of the alleged perpetrators are dead, including Bob Ellis, and some are still living.

In an ideal world, if the law and the courts dealt at all fairly with victims of sexual assault, I’d agree that we should, if possible, leave the courts to determine innocence or guilt. But the justice system does not fairly deal with victims of this crime, as this article by Jane Gilmour explains. Rape victims who do report to police often describe the criminal justice system as “retraumatising.” 

When the alleged perpetrators are dead, there’s no possibility of legal redress. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t decide who we believe. For example, I find the stories of Rozanne and Kate Lilley credible. I don’t find the suggestion that they’ve made the whole thing up in the least bit credible. Therefore, I exercise my right to decide whom to trust, and I trust the Lilley sisters.

The sisters have already become targets for social media trolls. They are “claiming to be victims,” it’s alleged.  Well, no, they aren’t. They are simply telling their story. That story reveals hideous abuse and exploitation of two girls aged 13 and 15, by a group of celebrated and creative people who ought to have known better, and ought to have cared. They ought to have cared. And they didn’t. They wanted sex with children. So they had sex with children. Their creative accomplishments did not entitle them to have sex with children. The “bohemian” lifestyle they lived did not entitle them to have sex with children.

Yesterday I read on social media the opinion that because Ellis is dead, the sisters should have kept quiet. What this said to me is that to some people, living women matter so very, very much less than dead men. Since when does a man’s (or woman’s) notability entitle him or her to have their crimes and misdemeanours concealed by their victims?Since when must victims of notable people keep quiet, simply because the alleged perpetrator is notable?

I don’t know what these disclosures will do the legacy of Bob Ellis and feminist icon Dorothy Hewitt. Of far more concern to me is the wellbeing of Kate and Rozanne Lilley. Speaking out about sexual assault is an ordeal for anyone. That ordeal is inevitably compounded when the alleged perpetrators are public figures, or figures admired and respected in the community.

It’s something of a cop-out, I’d suggest, to respond to the sisters’ account of Ellis’s sexual predations with clichés about justice and the courts. We can decide if the story is credible without direction from a justice system that all too often miserably fails victims of sexual crimes. We can trust our own judgement and furthermore, we should have the courage to trust our own judgement. And having trusted ourselves, we can then decide how disclosure of alleged abhorrent sexual behaviour affects our feelings about the work of Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, Bob Ellis, Morgan Freeman, Dorothy Hewitt, Junot Diaz and the rest of the lengthening list of creative stars who stand so accused.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

In response to Jacqueline Maley.

17 Feb

After reading this piece by Jacqueline Maley titled “The Barnaby Joyce affair: when men make abysmal choices women pay the price,” I’m more than a little exercised.

Yes, it is true that Joyce’s lover, Vikki Campion, may well find herself unemployable whilst Joyce seems (at this moment, who knows about the next) relatively secure in his employment.

Yes, it is true that Natalie Joyce gave up her own ambitions to support her husband and raise their children, only to be catastrophically derailed when Joyce met someone else.

But for the love of the goddess, neither woman was forced at gun point to make the choices she made. We are not helpless. We are not fucking helpless. There are millions of women who refuse the traditional heteronormative couple experience and the price it can extract from us, and do something different.

When I was very young, I married a man who was an executive in an oil company. My life was that of a company wife. It was the most utterly abysmal period of my adult life, and after thirteen years and two children I said, fuck this for a lark, and ended it.

My standard of living plunged. My children hated me. But I felt, for the first time in a long time, that I was living an honest life, a life on my terms.

A woman decides that what she most wants is to attach herself to a man whose  ambitions and self-realisation will always matter more than hers. Why do so many of us choose that self-abnegation? And isn’t it about time we took responsibility for that choice?

And before you tell me that we are indoctrinated, let me tell you that if anyone could be considered indoctrinated it’s me. I survived years of childhood sexual abuse that taught me, amongst many other things, that girls and women are chattels. That girls and women must do what men want when they want it. That girls and women exist to give men what they say they want and need, and that our own lives are as nothing in comparison. This is what I learned.

But at some point, a woman has to rise up and say, fuck that for a lark. At some point, every woman has to rise up and take responsibility for her one life on earth. And were I to say anything to Ms Campion and Mrs Joyce, it would be, rise up and take  responsibility for your one life on earth, because that is your most vital duty, to yourself and to your children. 

Yes, it is true that when men make abysmal choices women pay the price. And yes, it is true that the only people who can change this are women, because there is no incentive at all for men to interfere with the status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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