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“This is not about Trump’s treatment of women, it’s about ordinary Australian men…”

1 May


Guest post by Dr Stewart Hase

Thanks to No Place for Sheep for letting me share this experience. Apologies in advance for all the people who will nod and say,’ Well what’s new’. But I think we need to keep shouting this sort of experience as often as we can and support each other when we do. Let me explain…….

Men just don’t get it

This blog is not about the appalling behaviour of Donald Trump and the way he unashamedly treats women as if they were just lumps of meat. It is about the failure of just ordinary Australian men, in this case, senior members of a volunteer, not for profit organisation, to understand what sexual harassment means to women and the effect it has on victims. It is also about a failure of leadership when even ordinary, not even great, leadership would make a profound difference. And, to indulge myself perhaps, it is about what can happen when you become an advocate for victims in a tribe that has no empathy with the victims: when you become a pariah.

I must have thought we had come a long way since the Australian Sexual Discrimination Act of 1984 that defined sexual harassment and determined that it was unlawful in certain circumstances. That idea has been shattered, despite the Australian Human Rights Commission making it clear that they know that there is still a major problem with sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse, here in the ‘lucky country’.

The shattering of my illusion began a few months ago when I took on a relatively senior role (voluntary) in a large voluntary, not-for-profit organisation. A program leader told me she had submitted a written complaint of quite nasty sexual harassment, some 12-months previously, to the senior leadership team and had no response since other than being fobbed off by the organisation’s legal officer. Given my role, I rode like Don Quixote into the fray. I need to point out that I am used to this, having been a psychologist for more years than I like to say, and familiar with advocating for victims, enlightening perpetrators and dealing with the darker side of organisations. I have seen the effects on victims of harassment and abuse.

This latter fact I repeated several times in my communications with the senior leadership but with no acknowledgment that they agreed. Instead, I was threatened with being sued because I had suggested that not responding to the complaint was a failure of leadership. I was told I was angry, to not forward my correspondence to the victims and generally shut down. Whistleblowers might be aware of similar problems. My role has become untenable.

This, of course is nothing, compared to effect of all this on the victims of this sexual harassment. They are angry, disappointed and, most importantly, disempowered. After all this time, now 15-months, there has been no apology from the perpetrator (who still holds a senior position in the organisation) and no apology from the ‘boss’ of the organisation to whom the complaint was made. This latter issue seems to be the most important to the women because of the lack of recognition, the pushing of the issue under the table, ignorance of what the sexual harassment meant. The writer of the complaint has been subject to gossip, been snubbed and suffered negative comments from other volunteers, one a member of the senior leadership team. So the harassment continues. Needless to say, the senior decision-makers are all men.

We received all the usual obfuscations, untruths and avoidance that is common in organisations, and it seems with increasing frequency in these days where not accepting accountability is the norm. That policy was followed (no it wasn’t), a brief but impotent acknowledgement from the wrong person providing the ‘sop’ that it wouldn’t be allowed to happen again. And the threats to me and my becoming an outsider. No doubt I had let the blokes down.

I don’t think that these men are evil people. They and the organisation do great things. They are no more evil than the blokes down the pub, golf club and around the bar-b-q that make racist and sexist comments as a matter of course. But I am past being an apologist for us. That we have to have legislation to stop sexual harassment, to ask people to behave with respect towards women is deplorable in itself.

What is clear to me is that men just don’t get it. They don’t understand how women feel and the impact on them when they are sexually harassed and, I suspect, this might be extrapolated to sexual abuse. And when they are offered the opportunity to learn, to acknowledge clear wrong doing, be given expert advice about what sexual harassment means, when it is clear that people are experiencing significant emotional distress, they don’t act. They shuffle away and protect their mates. A massive moral and leadership failure. Leaders stand up when it matters.

I’d like to think that this is an isolated case, but I know it’s not. At a cultural level we have a long way to go. The attitude that ‘boys will be boys’, ‘he’s just being naughty’, that making unwanted sexual comments to women is just ‘messing around’, and that women need to get a sense of humour when they find jokes that sexually denigrate women, still exists. And sometimes, as I found, some women in powerful positions think this too. I suspect it is just too hard.

I’ve heard debates about the role of men in standing up for women in these sorts of situations. That we need to get our act together, rather than advocate. That women need to stand up for themselves and they don’t need men to do it for them. Not being a woman, it is hard for me to take a stand on this. And I live in a grey world rather than one of opposites.

Would I advocate again in the same situation? You bet I would. Am I still angry? Yes, I am, and disappointed too, at a time in my life when my cynical self should take control and shrug my shoulders. Am I going to find more windmills to attack with my trusty lance? You bet and even more so after this appalling event.

Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology. Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com 

 

 

 

Cash and Joyce, slut-shaming women. It’s the LNP way.

4 Mar

 

 

In the last few days, women have been thrown under more buses than usual by members of the Turnbull government, making something of a mockery of the Prime Minister’s desire to make Parliament House a more woman-friendly workplace, and demonstrating yet again that other women can trash you as easily as can a man.

The following story should finally put paid to the risible argument that the LNP would be a better government if only there were more female MPs. Rubbish. It’s the ideology, stupid, not the biology.

Senator Michaelia Cash, former Minister for Women, now representing the new Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, in the Senate, lost her head and threatened to expose alleged rumours about the sexual lives of young women in Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s office, when asked seemingly innocuous questions in senate estimates about the movement of staff in her own office. You can see the entire unedifying episode here, if by any chance you’ve thus far missed out.

Cash threatened to “expose” young women staffers, based on nothing more than “rumours” if she was questioned any further about her new Chief of Staff. It has since emerged that her new female CoS has been transferred from Trade Minister Steve Ciobo’s office, a demotion, as Cash is a junior minister.

The women in Shorten’s office are understandably outraged by Cash’s murky innuendoes. And it is quite startling that a Minister for Women should single out young women to use as a threat in an effort to avoid scrutiny of her own staffing arrangements.

In effect, Cash used the female staffers as political weapons. She didn’t threaten to expose Shorten, or any men rumoured to engage in office affairs. She focused right in on the young women, whom she implied were sluts.

Parliament House is not a workplace that looks out for women as a priority. For example, there is no specific procedure for addressing complaints of sexual harassment. This 2017 investigation revealed procedures in place for dealing with these complaints are woefully inadequate, even described by the investigators as “shocking” and below Human Rights Commission standards.

Yes. This is our parliament. The heart of our nation. The home of our legislators. No adequate procedures for making complaints of sexual harassment. I kid you not.

Next, we woke up this Sunday morning to the news that Barnaby Joyce has decided he may not be the father of his lover’s baby after all, but being a decent bloke, he’ll love the boy and raise him as his own regardless. And he won’t do a paternity test. Journalists, Joyce claimed, are entirely at fault for not asking him when the story broke if he is the father.

Joyce is lying. I know of at least two journalists who did ask this question, Sharri Markson of Newscorpse, and Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. Joyce enthusiastically avowed his responsibility for the baby boy, and the reasons for his current disavowal remain unclear.

It’s quite something, to tell the Australian nation that your partner’s baby may not be yours. If you want to seriously damage a woman, there’s little more effective than implying she is such a slut she doesn’t know who her baby’s father might be. That’s she’s misled you into thinking the child is yours, and now you’re such a great guy, you’re going to stand by her anyway. And yet, if you are such a great guy, wouldn’t you just shut up and carry on, and not expose your partner and the baby to such awfulness?

It’s the enduring patriarchal myth: that women will lie about our babies’ fathers. The primary purpose of heterosexual marriage is to ensure a man knows the children are his. There is likely no greater transgression than a woman being uncertain of her child’s father. Joyce has dumped Ms Campion right in it. All that remains is for him to pin a red “S” on her shirt.

Yet again, we’ve seen played out in our politics this week the damaging myths of female sexuality, myths that position us primarily as sexual objects. No matter that a staffer in Shorten’s office may have three degrees and a fine brain, be first class at her job and work like a dog. She’s useful to Michaelia Cash only as a sexual object. In other words, she’s a slut.

In the LNP government, women’s bodies remain battlegrounds, for other women as well as men.

And spare a thought for women working in parliament house without even the protection of proper process, when they are sexually harassed.

 

 

 

 

 

The investigation you have when you’re not having an investigation: Turnbull, Joyce & Parkinson.

27 Feb

 

Two days before former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce resigned last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull referred allegations that Joyce had breached ministerial standards to Martin Parkinson, Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, for investigation on the following grounds:

The Ministerial Code of Conduct Section 2.23 states:

Ministers’ close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices, and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the Executive Government without the Prime Minister’s express approval. A close relative or partner of a Minister is not to be appointed to any position in an agency in the Minister’s own portfolio if the appointment is subject to the agreement of the Minister or Cabinet.

Turnbull suffered considerable angst as he attempted to redefine “relationship” in a manner that would not include an ongoing sexual affair and pregnancy, thus exonerating Joyce from the allegation of breaching ministerial standards because he wasn’t in a “partnership” with Ms Campion at the time of her employment.

Turnbull’s definitions were in stark contrast to those of Centrelink that govern the rest of the population, as I unpack here.

Turnbull’s motives for referring the matter to Parkinson are as yet unclear. We might speculate that increasing public ridicule forced his hand. Perhaps there was a deal with Joyce: you resign, mate, and I’ll see the investigation is dropped. Requesting an investigation created the appearance of a much-needed distance between Joyce and the Liberals. Please feel free to come up with your own explanation, however, what has very quickly become apparent is that the investigation was never genuine.

No sooner did Joyce resign from the DPM position, than Parkinson wrote to Turnbull, stating that in view of Joyce’s resignation nothing was to be gained by pursuing his investigation, and the matter is now closed.

If the matter was worthy of investigation whilst Joyce was PM, it is worthy of investigation after his resignation. The allegations concern the period when he was a minister, and the fact that he is no longer a minister does not negate the seriousness of the allegations. Presumably, were we to extrapolate this insane reasoning to other situations, someone who embezzled funds from their employer no longer needs to be held to account if they leave that workplace. A priest who assaults children need not be held to account by his church if he leaves that church.

While ministerial standards are not laws, the principle is the same.

Had Joyce been found to be in breach of the standards, next in the line of fire would be Senator Matt Canavan, who employed Campion when it was determined by Joyce’s Chief of Staff, Di Hallam, that Campion had to get out of her lover’s office. Then we turn to Turnbull himself, who, having denied all knowledge of the nomadic Ms Campion’s employment history, a denial contested by other accounts of the debacle, breached his own standards by not giving the express approval to her various employments, as required by the Code.

All in all there was little to be gained, as Parkinson points out, in pursuing the investigation, and a great deal, as Parkinson does not point out, to be lost.

Here’s my latest on the repercussions of mainstream media’s failure to report the Joyce affair prior to the New England by-election.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Gaslighting. When media deny collusion.

10 Feb

 

In this discussion between journalists Malcolm Farr, Alice Workman, Caroline Overington and Fran Kelly yesterday, Farr and Workman take a swipe at those of us who have suggested that there has been collusion between the press gallery and the government to keep the Barnaby Joyce affair under wraps.

(Interesting times, Overington, a Murdoch employee, attacks her colleagues for not reporting on the Joyce affair.)

In fact, there’s nothing like suggesting collusion to invoke scorn and contempt from press gallery and msm journalists, who seem to assume that what one actually means by that term is an overt decision, taken in the middle of the night on burner phones by senior public servants, government MPs and senior media management to not publish or to delay publication of material that could in some way affect their mutual interests.

Such a scenario might well play out from time to time, I have no idea, however, what I mean when I use the term “collusion” is something far more subtle.

Every workplace, every family, every institution, every social media platform, indeed every human interaction is governed by overt rules, agreed upon by the culture and known to everyone. Far more elusive, however, are the unspoken rules, the implicit codes, the behavioural nuances deemed appropriate and inappropriate that you won’t find in policies and procedures guidelines. These are part of the culture of every institution, and all individual interactions. These tacit assumptions exercise an unspoken and unacknowledged control, constrain behaviour, and are arguably are more influential in determining behaviour than are the overt rules.

The press gallery, msm journalists, government employees and MPs are as enslaved by these unspoken cultural requirements as is any other human being. When Guardian journalist Katharine Murphy tweeted about the “convention” in the press gallery that MPs’ private lives are a no go area, she was referring to these unspoken rules.

It is to these undocumented conventions that I refer when suggesting  collusion or conspiracy between the press gallery and the government.

It probably won’t take you very long to identify the unspoken rules in your family that governed your behaviour, and the effects they’ve had on your life for better or for worse. Or in social media interactions, in the workplace, where nobody tells you about these cultural conventions, you have to pick them up, and you can be mightily ostracised if you unknowingly transgress. It isn’t difficult to image the powerful hold unverbalised conventions have over the culture that is parliament and the press gallery. Murphy names but one.

This conspiracy of silence on private lives in Australian politics cannot help but position the “ordinary” citizen as an outsider, marginalised in a democratic process to which we are, in theory if increasingly not in practice, essential. Many of us sense this exclusion and privilege, and many of us describe it, quite legitimately, as conspiracy and collusion.

Perhaps nobody actually said, “do not publish anything on the Joyce affair.” But nobody actually needed to spell it out. It would be known, via that mysterious process characterised as a nod and a wink, and in some instances not even that much would be required, what was to be said about Joyce, and when it was to be said, if it was to be said at all, and by whom. This is a process to which the punters cannot possibly have any access, and it is perfectly reasonable for us to experience that as collusion and conspiracy.

We are then gas-lighted by journalists who deny such a process ever takes place, and that we’re crazed conspiracy theorists living with our mothers, writing paranoid blogs in our grubby dressing gowns.

There are, however, instances in which the subtleties are abandoned and more direct orders issued. AFR journo Phil Coorey published this in December 2017:

Queenslander Keith Pitt, who Mr Joyce does not like, was not only overlooked but dumped from his job as parliamentary secretary for trade,” Coorey wrote.

“The two recently had a bitter argument about Mr Joyce’s infidelity and marriage breakup. Mr Joyce blamed Mr Pitt for spreading the rumours, a claim Mr Pitt denies.

Shortly afterwards these paragraphs disappeared from Coorey’s piece, after both Pitt and Joyce contacted him with denials. Fortunately, Twitter had secured a screen shot of Coorey’s original piece.

 

Turnbull must urgently clarify whether or not he is entitled to Israeli citizenship.

8 Nov

The S44 citizenship saga has thrown up possible queries concerning the citizenship status of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The first is this interview with the Times of Israel in September 2015, recorded when Turnbull ousted former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and took over the top job:

My mother always used to say that her mother’s family was Jewish, he (Turnbull) told the Australian Jewish News two years ago. Judaism is passed from generation to generation on the mother’s side, so if his mother was in fact Jewish, so is Turnbull.

The second is a piece from the Australian Jewish News, August 2013, headlined “Menachem Mandel Turnbull?” in which the same statement is made by Turnbull about his mother, Coral Lansbury.

If Turnbull is Jewish, he is, as is every Jew in the world with the exception of criminals and terrorists, entitled to Israeli citizenship under the 1950 Law of Return.

How does this bring into question Turnbull’s legitimacy as an MP?

Section 44(i) of Australia’s Constitution disqualifies someone from office if that person:

…is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power… (emphasis mine)

We know from recent events that:

The High Court’s reading of section 44 is strict and unsurprising. It means that a dual national is barred from Parliament even where they were born in Australia, are ignorant of their other citizenship and have never attempted to use the rights or privileges of another country. A person can even be disqualified where they become a dual national later in life due to legal changes in another country.

Obviously his citizenship status and S44 were far from Turnbull’s mind in 2013 and 2015, when the interviews were recorded. Yet  he was, at the beginning of his political career, like any other aspiring MP whose background carries the possibility of dual citizenship or entitlement to that citizenship, required to establish his status before standing for parliament. His failure to do this places his legitimacy as an MP and Prime Minister in doubt.

For the sake of the country’s stability, Turnbull must immediately address these issues, and rapidly and transparently convey his citizenship status to the Australian people. It is unthinkable that we should continue with a Prime Minister who is ineligible to sit in our parliament.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg is in the same situation as Turnbull. Frydenberg’s mother is Jewish, and he is also entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

 

 

 

 

Liberal senator admits 18C changes are designed to win back PHON voters

22 Mar

Brandis bigotry cartoon for 25 3 14 by Cathy Wilcox
“Bigot Pride March”

 

In case you did not suspect that Malcolm Turnbull’s explosion of piss and wind on Section 18C yesterday was entirely self-serving, this morning on Radio National Breakfast news, Liberal Senator James Paterson confirmed that the exercise was part of a suite of measures designed to win back votes from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Oh look! A Liberal can speak the truth!

It was as well another of Turnbull’s abject efforts to hold onto his rickety leadership by placating his simmeringly mutinous right-wing.  I hesitate to call them colleagues: that implies a co-operative relationship and this lot are snapping at their leader’s heels like a pack of rabid ferrets. Assuaging these furies is the motivation behind some 99.99% of Turnbull’s worryingly unhinged thought bubbles.

What yesterday’s exercise most certainly was not, is an expression of concern for the groups 18C is designed to protect, though Turnbull did his barrister best to spin it as such, declaring with silk-like arrogance that of course these changes would be of benefit, why else would his government so strongly support them?

The proposed change to the wording of 18C from insult, offend and humiliate to harass, is highly unlikely to pass the Senate, so Turnbull is on a hiding to nothing in that respect, however, he has silenced his critics’ savagery for a nano second (his nemesis, former PM Tony Abbott went so far as to congratulate him) and he has demonstrated to the pig ignorant that he won’t be enslaved by “political correctness.”

Aside: I have yet to fathom what political correctness actually is. Can anybody help me? Please be civil.

And so we have (on Harmony Day, nice touch lads) the spectacle of comfortably privileged white men demanding the right to insult, offend and humiliate others solely on the basis of difference. Comfortably privileged white men are inherently entitled to engage in these behaviours (we women know this all too well) and anyone attempting to interfere with their entitlement is guilty of “political correctness.”  Political Correctness is, apparently, a far greater crime than insulting, offending and humiliating others solely because they are different in some way from you.

The world is collapsing under the unsustainable weight of the entitlements of comfortably privileged white men and their female consorts. Like miserably greedy children who fear their parents don’t love them they must have control of everything, otherwise it’s not fair.

Section 18C is intended to curb speech that will cause harm on the very specific grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, and colour. I want Turnbull to explain why comfortably privileged white men and women need so desperately to be assured that they can legally insult, offend and humiliate others on the grounds of their race, ethnicity, nationality, or colour?

There is no upside to such commentary. It can only ever be derogatory, damaging and ill-intentioned. So why do the privileged need it? Why single out this particular aspect of free speech from the many others, including defamation law, that could more usefully be addressed?

Of course defamation law is what comfortably privileged white men use to destroy the freedom of others to speak about them in ways they find insulting, offensive and humiliating. Funny, that.

Changing the wording to harass almost certainly would have protected both Andrew Bolt and Bill Leak from complaints made against them to the Human Rights Commission. Harassment implies a sustained and personal attack, not a handful of cartoons or articles in a newspaper. A substantial body of work would need to be accrued before harassment could be alleged.

The bar would be set high so as to discourage complainants. The added recommendation that costs be awarded against complainants who lose their case is a powerful deterrent to making complaints in the first place.

The Murdoch press, on the other hand, has deep pockets and neither Bolt nor Leak would have faced personal financial distress, as would the majority of complainants. This does not, as Turnbull so deceitfully claimed, “strengthen the law” unless you are a perpetrator.

The proposed law is entirely political, and favours comfortably privileged white men over those they would insult, offend and humiliate, just because they can and by god, free speech!

One could almost claim that the LNP has struck (another) blow for Rupert.

What a happy Harmony Day we had in Australia. The day our government soothed the furrowed brows of ignorant bigots and promised to let them have all the freedoms they want, whenever they want.  Now all that remains is for Turnbull to name the proposed change “The Leak Amendment.”

As this piece by Jennifer Hewitt in the AFR proclaims, the spirit of Leak lives on in the 18C amendment. Oh yes, indeed it does, but not for the reasons Hewitt suggests.  It lives on in the cynical exploitation of difference for personal and political gain, normalised and legitimised by a very little, very frightened and very cowardly man, desperately clinging to his job and willing to exploit any circumstance that might help him stay in it for one more day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you hand over private info, you are not informed of a caveat on confidentiality

5 Mar

ui-desktop-crest

 

Last time you were required to divulge private information to a government agency, did you do so in the belief that the agency would keep your information confidential?

Because if you did, that’s likely the last time you’ll have the luxury of holding that belief.

Nobody who has compulsorily given private data to Centrelink has ever been informed that there is a caveat on confidentiality.

Nobody who has ever compulsorily given private data to any government agency in the belief that it is confidential, has ever been warned that if they speak publicly about that agency, they have forfeited their right to confidentiality. 

Canberra Times hack Paul Malone has today written a column headlined “Time for the truth behind Centrelink controversy and Andie Fox.” The piece is a particularly inept and resentful defence of his use of a citizen’s private data, given to him by DHS Minister Alan Tudge, to put Centrelink’s “side of the story” of a dispute between that user & the service provider.

The core of his defence is that the user spoke publicly about her own circumstances, ergo Centrelink has the right to respond by revealing her circumstances as they know them, to the media.

Malone justifies his tawdry piece thus:

It should be noted here that Andie Fox chose to publish her personal details in her original 1200 word article 

In fact Ms Fox revealed her personal relationship status in the article she wrote and submitted for publication.

In the privacy agreement between Centrelink and Ms Fox, Centrelink undertook to protect the private data Ms Fox was compelled to reveal. Ms Fox at no time agreed, or was asked to agree, to refrain from criticising or otherwise speaking publicly about the agency. Neither was she informed that should she criticise the agency, it would abrogate its undertaking to keep her data private.

These details apparently entirely escape the moral and ethical capacities of Paul Malone, The Canberra Times editors, and Alan Tudge.

I asked some public servants how they feel about this turn of events. Obviously, I’m not going to name them.

Our jobs rely on the public having faith in our confidential handling of their often sensitive information. Why would they be honest with us if they don’t have confidence that we will keep that safe and secure?

A public breach of security or privacy is likely to jeopardise [compliance], causing fear and suspicion, and pushing more people into the non-compliant basket.

It also feels like the integrity of the entire PS has been tarnished [by Tudge’s actions against Fox].

We are constantly bombarded with reminders about privacy and dire warnings about the consequences of breaches, and the head of an agency goes and does this.

I had to sign a declaration before I was given access. Very serious shit to divulge private information.

I’m absolutely horrified at the actual release of the information, the vindictive purpose of the release and also for the Canberra Times publishing it, rather than acknowledging they’d received  information that contradicted other claims.

The relationship between a government agency and a citizen is unique. As I’ve noted before, we are compelled to reveal intensely private information to certain agencies. We do this because we are compelled, and we must trust their staff have been trained in the moral, ethical and legal requirements to respect our privacy.

Minister Alan Tudge’s disgraceful betrayal of that trust damages all APP agencies, and all their staff. It irreparably damages those agencies’ relationships with the public. The Canberra Times, in publishing Malone’s sordid pieces, is colluding with an unprecedented destruction of trust between public servants, politicians and the public.

There is nothing in this hideous saga for the LNP government and The Canberra Times to be proud of, and there is absolutely no defence Paul Malone can invent that justifies the damage he has done to Ms Fox, and in a broader sense, to our society, the fabric of which is held together by the civilising influence of mutual trust.

 

 

 

 

 

Just because a govt agency says it wrote you a letter doesn’t mean it did.

3 Mar
Department of Complaints Against the State.

Department of Complaints Against the State.

 

One of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge ‘s justifications for his aggressive media pursuit of writer, blogger and single mother Andie Fox, is that Centrelink made numerous attempts to get in touch with her by phone and letter, and many of these attempts were unanswered.

I have no idea of the validity of these details, however I do know that government agencies are not always accurate in their accounts of interactions with citizens. Despite this fact, the agencies present “their side of the story” as if it is indisputable fact, simply because they say so.

I know this because last year I had some bizarre difficulties with Medicare. I submitted a claim for specialist services, the same claim submitted regularly for the previous eighteen months. The item number is not claimable on the website and as I didn’t have the app on my phone, I’d been submitting via snail mail. There was one occasion on which Medicare said my claim had not arrived, which was resolved after I resubmitted. This was attributed by Medicare to the tardiness of Australia Post.

A few months later I received notice in the mail from Medicare that I had not properly filled out my claim, and they needed further details. I found this very odd, as the claim was exactly the same as the previous eighteen. I rang Medicare.

I was told my claim hadn’t been received. If my claim wasn’t received, how come I’ve just got a letter asking me for more details about it? I inquired. The staff member was excessively rude, aggressive and unhelpful, so I asked to speak to a supervisor. She demanded why I wanted to speak to her supervisor, then shouted that there was no need for me to do that and terminated the call.

When I next managed to contact a staff member I was more fortunate. The staff member was extremely helpful, and we discovered that there was no record of the previous day’s aggressive phone call. We also discovered that the letter I’d received requesting further information had a reference number which did not coincide with that of any Medicare employee.

As well, the staff member informed me that my claim forms, photocopied and returned to me with the demand for more details, had been incorrectly handled: they should have not been returned to me at all, and certainly not as photocopies.

Where are my original claim forms, I asked? We have no idea, I was apologetically told. My claim forms have been photocopied and the originals lost? Breach of my privacy? I suggested.

Who has accessed my claims for specialist services and who knows my history and who is able to access the Medicare system with a false reference number? I asked.

I have never received any answers to these questions. I did speak to another staff member who also could not connect the reference number on my letter with anyone working in the system. I have no idea who in Medicare photocopied my original claim forms, or why, or what happened to them.

I did eventually receive reimbursement and I haven’t had any trouble since.

This is one small example of what can go wrong in government agencies, and that because the Minister says something has been properly executed does not necessarily mean it is so.

It’s also an example of how vulnerable users of these agencies are, and how little control we have over the information we submit. Medicare claim forms reveal a lot about us we might not necessarily want anyone else to know. This is our right.

If a minister can release private data marked “for official use only” to the media, we can have no trust in these agencies. We are in an invidious position: we have no choice but to submit private information. We have now seen how our private data can be used to hold us hostage by agencies and ministers, who might decided to “correct the record” with it if we publicly complain.

I didn’t write about my Medicare experience at the time because I felt concerned that there might be some retaliation, particularly in view of the bizarre circumstances and the misappropriation of my claims by an unknown person. This is how governments silence citizens, and this is why the Fox case is so important.

We now know that Tudge has his staff monitor social media for complaints against DHS.

Well, Minister Tudge, monitor this. Or better still, find out what happened to my private medical data.

 

Giving a damn still matters

21 Jan

mlik

 

Yesterday, in the Melbourne CBD, James “Jimmy” Gargasoulas, 26, used a car to mow down dozens of pedestrians. He killed four people, left a baby fighting for life, and seriously injured more than twenty others.  He was on bail from offences allegedly committed last weekend, including family violence, of which he has a long history. He is well-known to police.

Independent Senator David Leyonhjelm, gun lobbyist who threatened “difficult relationships” with the government if the ban on the rapid-fire Adler shotgun wasn’t lifted and whose favoured slogan is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” tweeted the following in response to the Melbourne news:

leyonhjelm

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts responded in a tweet he later deleted:

There were the predictable efforts by One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson to immediately frame the unfolding tragedy as the work of Muslim terrorists. Victoria Police acted quickly to douse such inflammatory assumptions by confirming that the events bore no resemblance to political terrorism.

The New York Times initially reported the situation couched in the narrative of terrorism, until tweeted protests from many Australians led to a rewrite.

Things worth thinking about

  1. Mass murderers are highly likely to have a history of domestic violence, terrorising their families before taking it to the streets. Therefore, it would make very good sense for us to make urgent and ongoing investment in addressing the crime of intimate terrorism as a first step towards protecting communities. As nothing else has thus far persuaded governments to consistently invest in curtailing the endemic plague of intimate terrorism in this country, perhaps recognition of the wider implications might.
  2. David Leyonhjelm and Malcolm Roberts ought not to be in public office. However, they are,and we have to deal with that reality, just as we have to deal with the reality of President Donald Trump, who also should not be in public office. There’s a view that people such as this ought not to be given oxygen. I disagree, not least because this is completely unrealistic: of course they will be given oxygen, and in view of that, to remain silent is to enable. It’s my intention to continue to call attention to Leyonhjelm and Roberts. Swamp them with your contempt. This is no time for silence.
  3. It’s time to reclaim the word “terrorism.”  It has been appropriated by the likes of Hanson, other politicians and media to the degree that it is now a thinly veiled substitute for “Muslim.” There is political terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, non state actor terrorism, domestic terrorism, intimate terrorism: these are all valid descriptors of the act of terrorism, depending on its context. “Muslim” terrorism is not. Domestic violence is an act of terrorism in the private sphere. If we use this term it might be easier to see the connection between the intimate terrorist, and the public terrorist who is not acting from political, ideological or religious motives.

Leyonhjelm, Roberts, Hanson and their supporters  have no interest in the suffering of those affected by Gargasoulas’s murderous acts. There really is something deeply awry in their psychology. There will be thousands of people, beyond those immediately affected, who will struggle to deal with the aftermath of this intimate terrorist’s crimes. The witnesses. The police who gave CPR when they could, and drove a critically injured child to hospital, not daring to wait for an ambulance. The paramedics, nurses, and doctors who treat the injured. The relatives, friends, and workmates of the dead and injured. Whole communities will have to deal with shock and grief but none of this is of the least interest to Hanson, Leyonhjelm and Roberts, who see only an opportunity in all this grief and this death and this injury and all this gut-wrenching sorrow, to further their own vile interests.

They are despicable individuals. Tell them this. Don’t be silent. Let them and their followers know that in this country, giving a damn still matters.

 

 

 

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