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Education & Political Interference in the Death of Democracy

18 Jun

by DR STEWART HASE

In Ray Bradbury’s 1953 book Farenheit 431, Captain Beatty states that, ‘A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it, Take the shot from the weapon. Breach one man’s mind. Who knows what might be the target of the well-read man’.  In this dystopian novel, Beatty is justifying the burning of books.

While Farenheit is a novel, there is a long history of book burning going back centuries. 

The burning of books is intended to control knowledge, to prevent free thinking, to make sure everyone thinks the same and an affront to liberalism. Book burning is a political issue, Similarly, the 21st equivalent is Internet Censorship, which, in a political context, has became a hot topic since the propagation of mistruths became so visible during the Trump Presidency.

There are myriad reasons politicians want to interfere with the distribution of knowledge, not least of which is to avoid scrutiny. But, the most frightening, as highlighted in Farenheit 451 and Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’, is the need for complete control of ideology-what we think.

Texas has become the latest State to ban Critical Race Theory from being taught in schools, joining  several others that have banned it or thinking of doing so. While Critical Race Theory was conceptualised over 40 years ago it has become a target for politicians as racial tensions have grown, arguably since the murder of George Floyd, and continue to be at flash point across America. Some states have also banned Project 1619  from being taught in schools becoming another target of  revisionist conservatives.

There is little doubt that both Critical Race Theory and Project 1619 are ‘in your face’ accounts of the history of slavery and racism in the United States that started with the first slave ship arriving on the shores of Virginia in 1619. Critical Race Theory describes the social construction of racism and how it’s relationship to power, civil rights, advantage and disadvantage. What gets conservatives jumpy is that at the heart of Critical Race Theory is its attack on white supremacism. Critical Theory , in general, is a scholarly approach to research, well understood and accepted in universities around the world. It is less liked by the institutions and ideologies that are scrutinised by it because Critical Theory attempts to unearth who are the beneficiaries of the actions of others, and the institutions in which they reside, who are the disadvantaged and what are the real social, political and economic effects. Institutions are not great fans of Critical Theory because it investigates truth to power.

We should be very concerned about political interference of this type when it comes to school curricula. It is a blatant attempt by conservatives to control what people think and, if not to exactly revise history,  to control and suppress it. Along with the events at Capitol Hill, the normalisation of lie telling in the media, legislation to suppress the vote, and divisiveness of American politics, and the widening gap between the haves and the have nots, we should be concerned with the threat to democracy. We may be observing the death of another republic.

And we should be concerned, as well as watchful, here in Australia about the control of knowledge and information. There is a slow but steady shift to the right in democracies across the globe. This shift reflects people’s propensity to seek simple solutions to complex problems that populist right wing politics provides, underpinned by authoritarianism-tell us what to do. Simple explanations such as, it ‘their fault’ (xenophobia and racism) make it easy for the masses to shift responsibility and to stop being curious as we are fed misinformation that helps us explain our world. We are not immune from this in Australia. It simmers just below the surface.

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power.Twitter: @stewarthase

Ants and politicians

30 Mar

by Dr Stewart Hase

I have a question. ‘When the barometer is dropping, and it is about to pour with rain and possibly flood, does one ant make the decision to quit the nest, to jump ship, with all its valuables and invade my kitchen and then tell the others, or do all the ants simultaneously?’  I guess, either way, the aim is survival: as base an instinct as it is possible to have.

So it was that I started thinking about the disingenuousness of politicians and how they use it to survive when there is trouble on the horizon, when it is time for them to serve their needs and their needs only. I think it is their disingenuousness that is at the heart of our disgust of politicians. 

It’s not just a matter of trust but the way in which they will do what they need to do without any consistency of values or morality. It is the pure pragmatism that wears us down. We expect our leaders to stand for something, but we find the emperor is naked because we discover that they stand for nothing, other than their own short term political aims. 

It is like the person who runs down a cyclist with their car and drives away because no-one saw the accident and the cyclist is left in agony on the side of the road. Expediency, knowing that you can get away with your transgression.

As an exemplar, Mathias Cormann comes to mind, but I could use any number of other examples including the cover ups, lies and deceit surrounding rape and other sexual assaults in our supposed seat of democracy, our Peoples’ House. When it comes to cynicism, however, Mathias Cormann, takes the cake. As you know he recently become the Secretary General designate of the OCED thanks to a taxpayer funded effort that I am sure he will repay from his exorbitant salary. There was considerable opposition from some quarters due to his rather obvious problems with action over climate change. 

In his inaugural speech to parliament on August 15th 2007 Cormann said,

Climate change is a challenge we are facing as a global community’. 

It is notable that ‘man made’ doesn’t feature in this comment. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see that he went on to espouse the Howard Government’s emission trading scheme and offsets for trade exposed industries, policies designed to protect big business, the big polluters. He went on to protect his constituency of Western Australia by claiming our contribution to reducing the effects of climate change could be in the form of exporting clean energy in the form of gas and uranium, clearly looking after the interests of the coal and gas industry.

Cormann helped cripple Australia’s effort at attacking climate change as a member of the Abbott government by destroying the Clean Energy Finance Commission. He and Joe Hockey in a media release said:

‘The Government does not believe it is appropriate to keep borrowing money to underwrite a $10 billion taxpayer-funded bank that cherry-picks investments in direct competition with the private sector’

And with that Cormann tried to abolish the CEFC but were prevented by the Senate. So, instead they set impossible return targets for the agency.

Prior to that Cormann opposed the Gillard Government’s price on carbon by saying that, ‘the push to put a price on carbon on the basis that it would help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions is a very expensive hoax’. Carbon pricing has been promoted as one of the centrepieces, along with a green recovery, of an urgent climate plan proposed  by non-other than the IMF. 

I wonder what his response to the IMF might be now. As part of his campaigning for the OECD job, Cormann said that he would provide leadership towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050: a target that a government in which he was Finance Minister has consistently refused to sign up to. 

What is so infuriating in all this, and it is a common model when it comes to analysing the real values and morals of our current crop of politicians, is that toeing the party line and staying silent (the conspiracy of silence) is the modus operandi of the day. Bugger conscience, just do what’s expedient to stay in the job. And say what’s necessary to get the next one.

So, we come to the misogyny, the sexual assaults, the white male supremacy rule of Our House. It’s all about expediency while truth goes begging. It is the silence that is so deafening, making you wonder what the values of our politicians might be. If they have any. 

The inaction says it all.

Back to ants. So, is this a trait of all politicians or does the predilection of one, the leader, drive the rest? Almost a rhetorical question.

How many lies are too many lies?

15 Jan

by Dr Stewart Hase

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
― George Orwell

The storming of America’s Bastille, the Capitol Building has, finally, forced the debate that we needed to have had years ago. Propaganda, lies, and misinformation have been with us for thousands of years – they are part of the human condition. Print media has long traded on the propensity for humans to need simple solutions to complex issues, to accept whatever reinforces their biases, to be influenced by the influential, to respond to emotions rather than facts or science. Murdoch and others have made the trade in misinformation and artform. The communication tech giants just did what they thought was their job, being vehicles, platforms, for people to communicate. They never gave the consequences a thought.

January the 6th and the threat of major protests across the USA up to the inauguration have created the perfect storm for a sudden gnashing of teeth. Finally, the lines are being drawn, pretty well in accord with the right and left of politics, about what constitutes freedom of speech. Are their conditions in which it is fine to lie, to spread misinformation, distort or ignore the facts, quote questionable ‘science’, to spread hate, and slur others? To create the conditions to overthrow democracy?

Well, Scott Morrison seems to think so by refusing to censor Craig Kelly over his Trumpian behaviour, using the ‘freedom of speech’ argument. Not a whisper from anyone on the right about his mate, George Christianson who, among other things and blind to the irony of it, wants to censor the tech giants for fact checking. Freedom of speech, then, means anything goes-say what you want. The real tragedy is that Facebook have let Kelly and Christianson get away with campaign of disinformation for so long. 

Kelly has now used the platform to discredit the wearing of masks by children, calling it child abuse, has prompted the use of hydroxychloroquine in the past and now thinks that Betadine (a topical antiseptic) is the miracle cure. All based on unsubstantiated and even spurious research. What they fully realise is that they are coming from a position of power, and, wanting hope and miracle cures to reduce their anxiety, many will believe what they say. And even act on it. 

No doubt that such power massages the politicians’ fragile egos.

The best that even the health Minister, Greg Hunt, can manage is to say that we should listen to the health experts. No censorship of his compatriots or recognition of the misinformation. Just a beige response.

Now we have the acting PM, Michael McCormack legitimising MPs who want to spread lies and disinformation, claiming that facts are contentious, and gracing us with the profound logic that the sky can be grey and blue at the same time because facts are subjective. Presumably he’s a fan of Kellyanne Conway’s thesis on alternate facts.

Not content with that, McCormack has now fuelled a storm by making an astounding comparison between the riots in Washington and the BLM protests.

We have seen the result of the ‘say what you want’ version of free speech in America and how democracy is being tragically undermined. The question is, when will we follow suit? We already saw an inkling of this with Tony Abbot’s unconscionable dismantling of Julia Gillard that went unchecked, and was fuelled by the media of the print and the social kind.

Australia is good at lying to itself. It’s done it for years over racism and misogyny. Are we going to kid ourselves that we are a fair, progressive, intelligent nation while allowing the manipulation of truth, as identified by George Orwell, to run rampant? 

How far are we willing to go? Perhaps fostering hate to the point that people feel that it is OK to kill? Allowing the entitled to destroy our democracy, as nearly happened in America over recent weeks?

How far Australia, how far?

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

My Story from the Great Plague Isles

14 Jan

by Msunderstood

As far as COVID is concerned, Australia is one of the safest places in the world to be. Msunderstood is an Australian vet living in Scotland, where the situation is very different. Here is her powerful account of life in the UK right now.

After graduating from UQ Vet School and spending two years working in the Snowy Mountains, it was time to explore the world.  Following several months wearing out my Eurail pass, I found myself in Edinburgh staying with a school friend on a teacher exchange.  I instantly fell in love with Edinburgh and decided to seek work in Scotland.  A series of locum jobs, some for a week, some for months and others for years, then came marriage, kids, a farm and lots of debt!  Many years later, I am divorced, with two teenagers and juggling two jobs.  Then fate intervened, and I met my Someone….only one problem….he lives in Australia.  So about two years ago I decided once the kids had finished secondary school it would be time to return home and start a new life.

Pre Covid, my Someone and I had managed to see each other several times a year.  Then came  2020.  As I write this I am in the depths of a Scottish winter, the thermometer barely above freezing for the past week.  Again we are in lockdown.  For the third time, thanks to the utter mismanagement and corruption of the ‘WestMonster’ government. Official figures show well over 80 000 dead and we are now losing over 1000 daily due to Covid.

We initially went into lockdown in March-stay at home orders were issued and many (including me) were furloughed.  We were allowed out to exercise once a day and for essential shopping.  It wasn’t much fun, but being allowed to binge watch Netflix without feeling guilty about not working seemed ok for a while.  I was called back to work after about 6 weeks, as the surgery had been working on skeleton staff and the vets and nurses were starting to burn out under the strain.  Honestly, I was glad to be working again, as it kept the mind occupied and we seemed to be coming out of the first wave.  

The death toll was huge and many of us assumed that Boris’ close shave with the virus may have changed his approach.  Sadly, as we now know, this assumption proved false.  The lockdown was eased when the numbers in London showed the virus was in decline.  Unfortunately, the rest of the country was some weeks behind and this opening up too soon proved to be a disaster.

The ‘Great British Summer’ arrived (not summer as any Aussie would know it) and as everyone knows the Brits love their summer holidays abroad.  The government encouraged travel, so they went, in their hundreds of thousands.  Evidence now show that the main strain identified in Scotland after the summer was from Spain.  “The strain from Spain comes mainly on the plane”??

Then the government had a brain wave to aid the hospitality sector-‘Eat out to Help out’ where dining out was subsidised.   This was also a great success….at spreading the virus.

By the end of summer the virus in the north of England was out of control, and Manchester and many other areas were put into heightened restrictions.  By November, London was in a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to try to control the spread again.  The bright idea to allow households to mix for 5 days over Christmas was eventually reduced to one day, after pressure from the scientific community.  Numbers since then have rocketed and the NHS is at the point of crumbling under the stress.

Although each of the four nations of the UK have taken a slightly different approach and have slightly different fatality rates, the mismanagement of the whole saga has been one of too little, too late, not following the scientific evidence and corruption of the highest order.  From the purchasing of PPE, the awarding of contracts to Tory cronies, the billions thrown at a test and trace system that is not fit for purpose, and an app that does not work, the setting up of emergency hospitals with no-one to staff them-every step taken has been wrong footed.

So lockdown again.  Yet for the last 10 months there has been no border control.  You can still land at Heathrow airport and walk straight through onto a tube and into London.  Self quarantine is required if you fly in from non-exempt countries, but it is not policed. There is talk of pre flight testing being required now, but considering we now have the highest infection rate per capita in the world, it seems rather pointless.

But life goes on…for some.

To avoid the mental scars on the staff that followed the first lockdown, the surgery staff have been split into two teams working week about, so that contamination and contact is minimised.  Vets had to fight during the first lockdown to be considered ‘key workers’ and are restricted to essential and emergency work only.  Interesting that some clients consider clipping nails an essential service!

Children are again off school and I doubt will be back before the summer holidays. In the past 11 months they have had about 15 weeks at school. For my son, that will mean he may go to university having never sat a formal examination.

Since March 2020, I have been to work and to get the groceries.  The kids and I have had two day trips away, with a picnic, far from the madding crowds.  I have not been for a swim, shopping with my daughter, I have had only two haircuts in the last 11 months, I wear a mask all day, every day at work and will do for the foreseeable future. It feels like being half alive.  I realise that I am very fortunate to have a job and so far we have all been healthy, there are so many terribly sad stories to have come out of this crisis.

My plans to return home depend on all the other ‘stranded Aussies’ getting back first.  My Someone and I Skype at least twice a day, every day, sometimes for hours when our schedules allow.  It is not easy, and every day is a day closer but I am so scared that I will not live to enjoy the life we have planned together.

When your government thinks banning Trump from Twitter is the real injustice

12 Jan

The response of the Australian government to US President Donald Trump’s incitement of the January 6 attack on the US Congress was, shall we say, muted. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed his “distress” and his hope that order would soon be restored. However, he stopped far short of condemning the President, an extraordinary omission for the leader of a liberal democracy, considering Trump’s goal was to violently overthrow the results of a democratic election and retain his power. 

It seems reasonable to expect that the government of a country that regards the US as its closest ally would express considerable alarm at a violent anti-democratic insurrection in which five people died, and yet…

Members of the Morrison government have saved their loudest outrage for Twitter, the social media platform Trump used to incite his followers, and the platform that has finally banned Trump for life. This, it appears, is the great injustice, an affront to “free speech,” and, wait for it, censorship.

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, Nationals backbencher George Christensen, Member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack are among government members who have condemned the “silencing” of Trump. (Trump has a pressroom in his house & can summon the world corps at any time, but that spoils the narrative so let’s not mention it).

Several MPs have called for the introduction of regulations that will ensure the state has control over the terms of service of private businesses such as social media, a most extraordinary demand from the party of small government, and one made with absolutely no sense of the irony inherent in the demand. 

Christensen has started a petition demanding legislation to rein in the big tech overlords. Sharma is calling for a “publicly accountable body” to control who social media companies can and cannot refuse to host on their platforms. Frydenberg says he is “uncomfortable” with Twitter’s decision to dump Donald, leaving this writer to wonder how “uncomfortable” Mr Frydenberg is with the spectacle of Trump’s anti-Semitic foot soldiers wearing shirts declaring that “6 million wasn’t enough.” Mr Frydenberg has remained silent on this outrage. 

Michael McCormack (some of you may know him better as the Elvis Impersonator) has this morning doubled down on his assertion that the insurrection at the Capitol last week was no different from Black Lives Matter protests, an assertion that has been strongly repudiated by Indigenous groups and Amnesty International as deeply offensive and flawed. 

McCormack went on to state that “violence is violence and we condemn it in all its forms,” except, apparently, when incited by President Trump, whom McCormack has conspicuously failed to condemn. 

What actually happened was that Twitter warned the President over several weeks that his content was violating their terms of service. Twitter then placed warning notices on many Trump tweets, while still permitting their visibility. They offered Trump the opportunity to delete his more troubling posts, and he declined. Finally, after weeks of what many perceived as irresponsible tolerance on the part of the social media platform, Twitter banished Trump. 

The President received far more warnings and chances than any other user in the history of Twitter. 

It is a manipulative leap to equate the breaching of a private company’s terms of service with “censorship.” 

As Garry Kasparov remarked on Twitter, 

Let’s not forget as well the enthusiasm with which an LNP government, under John Howard, took us along with the US into the invasion of Iraq, claiming as one of their justifications the delivery of democracy to that country. And yet, when democracy is under threat from domestic terrorism inside the US itself, there’s an orchestrated effort on the part of the LNP to distract attention from these momentous events and focus instead on Twitter allegedly “censoring” the leader of that insurrection. 

Big tech de-platforming Donald is what they want you to think about, not Donald trying to destroy the US democratic process. Ask yourself why this is. 

It is deeply troubling when your government decides the issue is a president being chucked off Twitter, and not a president attempting to violently interfere with the results of an election in an attempt to retain power. In its refusal to condemn Trump, the Australian government leaves us with little alternative but to assume its tacit support of the outgoing US President. 

If what you take from the events of the last week is that the outrageous injustice is Twitter banning Donald Trump, you are either complicit or incomprehensibly stupid. Which is the Morrison-led Australian government?

“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.

 

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