Do we get the governments we deserve?

3 Mar

by Dr Stewart Hase

The toxic sludge that has surrounded recent events in our Federal Government raises some important questions. Not least of all is whether it actually represents our culture, our norms, our attitudes, our values or is it just what happens when people become powerful: as Lord Acton put it, ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.  However, in the end, do we get the government that we deserve?

It is disturbing to think that the toxic sludge we have seen recently is a reflection of who we are as a nation. Hugh Mackay, arguably one of the best thinking commentators on what it means to be Australian, has already suggested, in ‘Australia Reimagined’, that we are not what we like to think we are. It is common psychological knowledge that our view of ourselves as individuals is an illusion in the same way that Mackay sees our collective view. We think of ourselves in a much rosier light than is really the case, except for a proportion of people who, sadly, have self-esteem problems and see themselves much more darkly. In either case, the self-appraisal is faulty. But importantly and unwittingly, most of the time, we are drawn to those who most reflect our innermost values.

So, the appalling dialogue from Ministers, including the PM, that attempts to minimise the abuse of women, the misdirection by attacking innocents, obfuscation to avoid responsibility, the lies, the protection of alleged offenders, the racism inherent in the way refugees are treated, peddling misinformation, the ‘one coffee a day’ pay increase for the poor while parliamentarians have their snout in the trough for a $181 day meal allowance, and as Mackay points out, the avoidance of the big ticket issues such as our love of a carbon based economy, the 16% of Australian kids that don’t have decent food, and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The need for accountability list is huge. 

Is this who we are? Well, if you hang around enough golf and bowls clubs, listen to the chatter at church, attend enough dinner parties, mix with the common folk, you don’t have to scratch the surface too much to see the values mention above bubble up. Not everyone, of course, but enough to make you realise that around half the population voted for the current Government. And let’s not forget the hoards who kneel at the feet of our right-wing commentators on TV, radio and the written press.  

It it’s not who we are, then we are being inappropriately represented. Absolute power means that the Government is running its own agenda. It that is the case then we, the people, should be speaking truth to power. There should be marches in the street. But there is silence except for a few. So, perhaps this is who we are, who we aspire to be. And that, is sad.

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

Morrison shows us again how much he despises women

1 Mar

In his press conference today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about allegations pertaining to the anal rape of a child, allegedly perpetrated by one of his current cabinet ministers in 1988. 

Mr Morrison replied:

“We have a rule of law in this country and it’s appropriate that these things were referred to the federal police – they have been…the police are the ones who do that, and the police have had this matter referred to them…”

Let us interrogate the Prime Minister’s statement.

The Australian Federal Police have no authority to investigate an alleged crime of sexual assault that was allegedly committed in NSW. The Prime Minister must know this. If he doesn’t, he should perhaps seek advice from his Attorney General, Christian Porter, who would certainly be aware of this. 

Either mistakenly or deliberately the Prime Minister is not observing the “rule of law” in referring the allegations to the Federal Police. He should have referred them to the NSW Police. He should still refer them to the NSW Police if he is interested in respecting the rule of law and intends to continue to claim he is abiding by that rule. Morrison has done nothing by referring the matter to the AFP other than provide a smokescreen, and some breathing space for himself and the alleged rapist in his cabinet. 

It does beggar belief that in the current climate, the Prime Minister would not inform himself of a fact as basic as this. Of course, it’s only about rape, a matter that so conspicuously fails to exercise his concern (he didn’t know about the alleged rape of Ms Higgins for two years, though practically everyone around him did) that one is reminded of the infamous comment by George Pell on hearing allegations of child sexual abuse by former priest, Gerald Ridsdale. It was, Pell observed, “a sad story and it isn’t of much interest to me.”

Mr Morrison went on to claim that he had conducted a “discussion” with the “individual” (cabinet minister) involved, who vehemently rejected the allegations. 

No surprises there. 

“At this stage,” the Prime Minister pompously concluded,” there are no matters that require my immediate attention.” 

In other words the Prime Minister is prepared to accept the alleged rapist’s denial, and is satisfied with having referred the matter to a police agency that cannot do anything at all about it. 

I don’t know what the rules are about the Prime Minister speaking with the alleged offender on the matter after he has referred allegations to police, let alone announcing his denial to the country, but I’m sure somebody does. 

But wait, there’s more. When asked if he had read the detailed accounts of the alleged rape written by the victim, who has since taken her life, and sent to him and other politicians by a group of her friends and colleagues, Morrison said he’d “been briefed” on their content. 

In other words, the Prime Minister did not consider it worth his time to read the victim’s account of her alleged rape, and correspondence that supports her claims, but he is prepared to speak with the alleged perpetrator and accept his assurances of innocence, which he then relays to the country.  

The implication that the Prime Minister accepts his denial is supported by his refusal to stand the man aside from his cabinet position while police review the matter. 

Oh wait. Police will not review the matter because Morrison sent the allegations to the wrong police & has shown no interest in sending them to the right ones. 

We will shortly be able to identify the alleged rapist as Morrison sends out one cabinet minister after another to face the media. Just observe who doesn’t appear. 

On another note, veteran journalist Paul Bongiorno observed this morning that legal circles in Canberra are buzzing after Attorney-General Christian Porter failed to appear at the historic swearing-in of newest High Court member, Jacqueline Gleeson. Apparently the AG had appointments in Perth. 

What the Prime Minister has achieved today is to send yet another message to women (in case we missed a million others) that in Australia, a perpetrator has more credibility than his victim. Not only that, a perpetrator will be listened to while his female victim will not, at least by the Prime Minister who unfortunately sets the tone. And what a tone it is. 

The Prime Minister and his government, our legislators, are currently protecting an alleged rapist. Our most senior legislators are seemingly unaware of the requirements of the very laws they make, and are sworn to uphold. 

The Morrison government is a sewer

28 Feb

An allegation of the brutal anal rape of a child in 1988 has been made against an un-named minister in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet. 

The victim took her own life in June 2020. NSW police have confirmed that a criminal investigation into the allegation dies with the victim.

Despite their knowledge that police will not investigate because the complainant is dead, government ministers and some journalists continue to claim that the matter must be left to the police. 

All of them are wrong, according to police. 

Morrison said that he has referred the allegations to police. 

Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, yesterday said the accused minister will not be stood aside, and that the matter should be left to police. 

(It is puzzling that Birmingham is commenting on this. It would seem to be more appropriately the job of senior lawmaker Attorney-General Christian Porter, who has thus far remained silent.) 

On ABC Insiders program this morning, Australian Financial Review journalist Phil Coorey repeated the government line.  “This is for the coppers,” he stated, “and it should be for the coppers first and foremost.”

This seems at first blush to be wilful ignorance, gross carelessness, the peddling of misinformation, or an attempt to yet again create and control a narrative that best favours the government.  

The accused minister has not come forward to defend himself against the allegations. It is not credible that anyone who is innocent would want to continue public life with accusations such as these left unaddressed, and yet, that appears to be the case.

It is also only a matter of time until the suspect is named. There appears to be no legal requirement to suppress his name, particularly as there will be no trial. He can also be named under parliamentary privilege. It is undoubtedly in the public interest for his name to be released, and were he anyone other than a Liberal cabinet minister, he would not probably not be protected by anonymity. Footballers, for example, are stood aside while allegations of sexual assault are investigated, and they are named.  Not so much cabinet ministers, it appears. 

It is also remarkable that the accused minister appears to be happy for his cabinet colleagues to be tainted by the rape allegations. As long as we do not know who the minister is, there are around sixteen possibilities in the cabinet. Every time a cabinet minister opens his mouth we can legitimately ask, are you the alleged child rapist? This can’t help but have a destabilising effect on the government, as its already tenuous legitimacy is further eroded by the presence of an anonymous alleged rapist in its highest ranks. 

Then there is the question of national security, a subject close to the hearts of both Morrison, and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, also a cabinet member. In 2017 when Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister, he had occasion to warn Christian Porter, prior to making him Attorney-General, that his drinking and his behaviours towards young women were leaving him open to the possibility of compromise, making him a security risk: 

“…it is just not acceptable. And he knew that I was considering appointing him attorney general, which of course is the first law officer of the crown, and has a seat on the national security committee, so the risk of compromise is very, very real.”

By the same token, one may conclude that an anonymous cabinet minister who is accused of the brutal anal rape of a child might well be a prime target for blackmail, and is a serious security risk. 

Indeed, everyone in the cabinet who is aware of and concealing the alleged rapist’s identity is a security risk, and vulnerable to exploitation.  

Is this government even tenable while this matter is “left to the coppers?”

It is alarming that Morrison seems oblivious to the security dangers the situation presents. It’s even more alarming that Morrison seems entirely impervious to the immorality of protecting and hiding an alleged child rapist. 

The hideous situation has come to light just days after the government spectacularly failed to cope with the alleged rape of media advisor, Brittany Higgins, in Parliament House just metres from the Prime Minister’s office. 

Ms Higgins was left unconscious and half naked by her attacker on Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ couch. This could have cost Ms Higgins her life, as she was inebriated and unable to care for herself. Security guards “checked on” Ms Higgins through the night, but nobody called for medical assistance. At least thirty people, including ministers, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate and the Prime Minister’s Office most senior staff knew about this “serious incident,” and none of them informed the Prime Minister until two years later.   

The Morrison government is a sewer. It is steeped in allegations of rape and sexual assault of the most serious and sickening kind. It is almost certain that Morrison will attempt to brazen out this latest allegation. He will not stand the minister aside, and he will continue to contend that it is a matter for police, in full knowledge that the police cannot pursue criminal charges. 

The minister will not be investigated by police. He will not be exonerated. His name will not be cleared. Suspicion will linger over the heads of all male cabinet members, including Scott Morrison, Christian Porter and Peter Dutton. 

We should probably assume that being suspected of the anal rape of a child does not necessarily perturb any of them.  

While we know not all cabinet ministers are alleged child rapists, we do not know which one is. The Prime Minister is doing everything possible to conceal that knowledge from us.   

How good is that? 

“He said, she said”: How Dutton is attempting to control the narrative

26 Feb

One of the greatest challenges for a political commentator in recent years has been keeping track of the Morrison government’s lies and obfuscations. 

These have escalated considerably in the last couple of weeks, since former media advisor Brittany Higgins revealed she had allegedly been raped in Parliament House by a senior staffer.

Since then, ministers, MPs, Senators, their advisors and staffers have devoted an inordinate amount of their taxpayer-funded time to covering their backsides about who knew what and when. According to estimates by the  ABC’s 7.30 program last night, there appear to be thirty or more people with knowledge of the so-called “serious incident” in 2019, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison conspicuously excluded from the circle of knowledge.

The latest government member to speak up is Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton. Dutton is, among other things, the minister responsible for the Australian Federal Police, as well having once served as a police officer in the Queensland Police sex offenders’ squad. 

You need this background as context for what comes next. 

In keeping with the government line that neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Prime Minister knew anything about the alleged rape before February 12 2021 and February 15 2021 respectively, Dutton claims he was only informed of the alleged crime by the AFP on February 11 2021, and only because they had been alerted that the matter was about to be revealed by the media.  

AFP guidelines require that “politically sensitive” matters such as this alleged crime be reported to the Minister as soon as possible. The AFP first became aware of the allegations on April 4 2019, when informed by Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds. The AFP did not inform Minister Dutton at that time.  Indeed, according to Dutton, the AFP did not inform him of this “politically sensitive” incident, despite being required to do so by their guidelines, for another two years. 

One might be forgiven for risking the observation that “politically sensitive” and “politically embarrassing” might be interchangeable concepts in this instance. 

Amazingly, Dutton also failed to inform the Prime Minister that the excrement was about to hit the ceiling fan, not alerting his office until 24 hours later. The PMO didn’t like to disturb Morrison over the weekend, we know weekends are sacred to him, so they didn’t inform their boss until Monday. 

Dutton then went on to describe the rape allegations as a “he said, she said” affair. 

Some reasons why this gratuitous comment from the Minister appears to be an attempt to influence both the AFP and the public:  

  1. The AFP, who is investigating this alleged crime, is answerable to Peter Dutton. Their Minister has just signalled through the media that he considers the alleged crime to be not crime at all, but a “he said, she said” affair. In other words, Dutton is telling the AFP how to frame and deal with this alleged crime. 
  2. “He said, she said” is one of the most invalidating dismissals possible of allegations of rape and sexual assault. It implies, as it is intended to, the unworthiness of a woman’s word and description of her experience. “He said, she said” intentionally minimises the experience of rape and sexual assault, and explicitly favours the narrative of the alleged perpetrator. It is appalling that a former police officer, who worked with victims, would hold and voice this opinion. 
  3. The AFP has not yet questioned the alleged perpetrator. Nobody knows what “he said” because he hasn’t said it yet. Unless of course Minister Dutton has had occasion to speak with the alleged perpetrator and knows his side of the story. 
  4. Dutton is also, despicably, dog whistling to the demographic that is his base & the base of the Liberal Party more generally, that women lie about being raped. It’s a “he said, she said” affair, and nobody should take it anymore seriously than that. You’re only actually raped if you’re killed as well. 
  5. A woman cannot consent to sex if she is falling down drunk, as Ms Higgins claims she was, and as, apparently, both CCTV footage will confirm and the security guards involved will verify. In his “he said, she said” attempt to control the narrative, because that is exactly what he is trying to do by using this phrase, Dutton is attempting to subvert the power of this evidence, prior to the AFP investigation. 

The infamous Steve Bannon, among other things a former advisor to former US President Donald Trump, liked to talk about “flooding the zone with shit.” This is the strategy of saturating the media with disinformation and misinformation, in order to bamboozle both media and the public, to the extent that nobody knows anymore what is real and what is fake.   

Make no mistake the Morrison government has adopted this tactic in the Brittany Higgins situation. They are flooding our zone with shit, attempting to confuse and exhaust and gaslight, with the ultimate goal of controlling a complex narrative about power, women, sexual assault, and cover ups. 

If you’re a woman in Parliament House, nobody hears you scream

24 Feb

Over the last few days, no less than five federal government ministers have publicly stated their support for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claims that he knew nothing about the 2019 alleged rape committed just metres from his office and reported by former media staffer Brittany Higgins, until February 2021.

Mr Morrison also claims his staff in the Prime Minister’s Office were unaware of the alleged crime.

The precariousness nature of Mr Morrison’s claims is addressed in this piece written by me for Independent Australia. Former Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd have stated their incredulity that such a serious incident could take place in Parliament House without the Prime Minister’s Office being made aware of it immediately. 

The Ministers who have supported Morrison’s claims to ignorance are:

Lynda Reynolds, Minister for Defence.

Marise Payne, Minister for Women.

Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services

Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment, Skills Small and Family Business

Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs

President of the Senate, Scott Ryan, has admitted being told of a “serious incident” in 2019, and claims he made no further inquiries as to what that incident was. 

The Speaker of the House, Tony Smith, has admitted to being told of a “serious incident” in 2019, and claims he made no further inquiries as to what that incident was. 

All the above are conspiring to conceal the full circumstances of a serious crime committed in their workplace. 

This week, former Liberal Staffer Chelsea Potter claimed she was sexually assaulted when working in the office of Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance. Birmingham refused to assist her. 

Also this week, Ruby O’Rourke claimed that in 2016 she was “continually assaulted by a well-know politician.” Ms O’Rourke says she has named Greg Hunt, Minister for Health and Aged Care, because he knows. 

In November 2020, Four Corners aired a program titled Inside the Canberra Bubble. The Morrison government went to great lengths to try to prevent the program going to air, and then threatened the ABC to the extent that the broadcaster’s Chair, Ita Buttrose, publicly defended the program.

Alan Tudge, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, who campaigned on family values, was revealed to have had an extra marital affair with staffer, Rachelle Miller, who has now lodged formal complaints of bullying against him, and against Michaelia Cash.

Attorney-General Christian Porter was alleged in the program to have a history of sleazy sexist behaviourtowards women. Porter immediately announced he was taking legal action against Four Corners. However, we have heard nothing further about any such action. 

The number of Morrison’s ministers involved in allegations of sexual harassment and the concealment of sexual violence against women in their workplace is astounding.

The message to women working in Parliament House is clear. No minister will support you. 

At time of writing Linda Reynolds, who was due to appear at the National Press Club today, has been admitted to hospital. Reynolds was expected to come under intense scrutiny at the Press Club today over her management of the Higgins rape allegations. 

The alleged rapist is also in hospital 

It’s time to fix our media laws

22 Feb

By Dr Stewart Hase

You have to admire, at some level, the brass of Paul Fletcher and Josh Frydenberg claiming that the new media code will contribute to more fact-based, rigorous news content. In the background Scomo is nodding his head like one of those little plastic dogs in the back window of a Kingswood. While the ‘code’ is probably the right step forward, let’s not let it gloss over the role of media in shaping public opinion.

The Murdoch empire has over many years provided trillions of dollars of free advertising to the Liberal Party, massaging the editorial stance of every paper Murdoch takes over. It’s impossible not to laugh hysterically at the adverts for Sky News, in which they say that it offers the only truly balanced view, reporting ‘all sides’ as Alan Jones, Peta Credlin, Andrew Bolt, Paul Murray et al stride onto the screen. You wouldn’t buy a used car from any of them.

Mind you, in the interests of balance in this blog, you know what you are going to get when you read the Guardian, the Huffington Post, The Washington Post, the Sydney Morning Herald and the New Daily, for example. Any student of cognitive bias, in which reality is distorted to remain consistent with one’s attitudes, values and beliefs, will tell you that true independence would be a small miracle. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.’ Not sure many of us do that and is a skill that needs to be taught in school.

The issue of media bias would probably be fine, since it mirrors the predilection of the human brain, were it not for scope. Kevin 07, like a candle in a gale force wind, argued to a Senate inquiry last week that News Ltd has a monopoly in Australia (Murdoch owns 70% of media in Australia and in Queensland, nearly 100%). In exhibit 1, a recent edition of the Daily Telegraph, Kev showed how five pages of text was no more than an opinion piece, rather than news. His view was nicely and ironically reinforced by the Telegraph, which has run a campaign of vilification about Kev not seen since their attacks on Julie Gillard-nothing to do with news and everything to do with suppressing a voice.

And Facebook, as Kev notes, is another demonstration of what can happen when a monolith with too much power can hijack information. One can only marvel at the prescience of George Orwell in ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’-a world in which information is manufactured, controlled and meted out at the whim of ‘Big Brother’.

The debate over the code, and Facebook’s demonstration of power, has brought into stark relief the issue of media ownership in this country. We need our Federal government to fix what is a threat to democracy and ensure we have the opportunity to have real news, not just opinion, real facts not manufactured reality, and journalists that can report what is really happening, to speak truth to power when necessary: nay, when essential. Most of us are cynical about politics and the news that surrounds it. So, now is the time to act and put pressure on government to fix this travesty, even as Murdoch signs a deal with Google to transmit even more of his bile.

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

“Don’t tell me her name…”

21 Feb

On Friday, a second woman alleged she had been raped by the same assailant who allegedly raped media advisor Brittany Higgins in then defence industry minister Linda Reynolds’ office in March 2019, shortly before the May election.

Ms Reynolds was promoted to defence minister in the returned LNP government. 

The second victim/survivor was attacked in 2020 and understandably feels that had the first alleged crime been better handled, the man would not have been free to rape her, and any other women who might not have come forward. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reaction to news of this second alleged rape was to declare himself “sickened.” He also said this: 

“I’m very upset about those circumstances and particularly for the young woman who I don’t know who that is, and nor do I need to know who that is, that is a very distressing event.”

Summary:

Journalist: A second woman has been raped. Prime Minister: I don’t need to know who that is.

Imagine for one moment the tremendous privilege Mr Morrison enjoys that allows him to choose not to know.

By any measure this is a bizarre reaction to such news, and one wonders why the Prime Minister felt compelled to let everyone know that he doesn’t know the name of the second victim, and, even more oddly, that he does not need to know.

Our names are a signifier of our humanity. This is why oppressors use numbers, not names, a practice Morrison is more than familiar with after his term as immigration minister. A refusal to know someone’s name is an act of hostility. It says: you are irrelevant to me. It says: you aren’t fully human to me. 

When someone is not seen as fully human, anything can be done to them. 

Anyone who refuses to know our name should be treated with the utmost caution. 

Perhaps Morrison is broadcasting a warning. Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. Keep it as far away from me as possible. Give me plausible deniability in case I need it. What I don’t know can’t hurt me. 

The Prime Minister wants to efface the second survivor, to make her appear insignificant, the crime against her inconsequential. He wants to delegitimise her suffering. He wants to entrench the power imbalance that gifts him the privilege to decide he doesn’t want to know.

Victims are the problem for Mr Morrison. They’re the ones causing him trouble, in his world-view.

Refusing to use someone’s name is a classic dehumanising tactic. Raping a woman is also dehumanizing her. You can’t dehumanise someone just a little bit. Morrison’s dehumanisation of the second woman is no different from the rapist’s. It is expressed in a different way. Dehumanising is an all or nothing process. There’s no such thing as a sliding scale. 

Refusing to use someone’s name is also an expression of profound contempt, and a signifier of the disgust in which the deliberately un-named is held. It’s also a decision to deny publicity and notoriety. The decision not to name terrorists is an example of this.

There are no good reasons for deciding, “I don’t need to know their name.” 

What has become sickeningly obvious since Ms Higgins went public just a few short days ago is that politics trumps everything, and politics especially trumps rape. It hasn’t been the crime that is the focus, not for politicians and their advisors and with a very few exceptions, not for the media. It’s been the politics. Morrison, in his declaration, did not hesitate to very publicly put his needs before those of the victim. He needs to keep his distance, it’s politics. He’s willing to dehumanise her in order to achieve his goal. 

Rape is a crime. Rape is a serious crime. It isn’t a sex scandal. It isn’t consensual bonking in Parliament House. It isn’t a “serious incident.” It is a crime. 

Scott Morrison doesn’t want to know the name of the latest victim of this crime. Don’t ask, don’t tell. It’s the vibe. 

Survivors are not responsible for changing a toxic culture

18 Feb
Artist: Quint Buchholz

by Jennifer Wilson

On February 15, journalist Samantha Maiden broke the story of the alleged rape of former media advisor Brittany Higgins, by a senior staffer. The assault allegedly took place on the couch in Defence Minister Linda Reynold’s ministerial office in March 2019, and the alleged perpetrator worked for Ms Reynolds, as did Ms Higgins.  

The Guardian subsequently published a piece by Katharine Murphy titled “Achieving permanent culture change in politics requires women to speak up.”

Murphy’s argument is that the “only way” to achieve permanent cultural change in a misogynistic Parliament is for women to speak up “when bad things happen,” that is, bad things such as sexual harassment and sexual assault. She writes: 

The only way to achieve permanent cultural change in the self-regulated fiefdom that is the political office – a unique professional environment where everything revolves around the needs and the whims of the principal – is for women to speak up when bad things happen.

To find the self-confidence to value their own stories, even if the system doesn’t, and tell them.

For a start, “bad things” don’t just “happen.”  They require human agency, in this instance a man who allegedly raped Ms Higgins. If ever there is an occasion in which to be cautious about language, this is it. 

Secondly, one of the first things a woman loses when she is sexually assaulted is her “self-confidence” and the ability to value herself and her story. Most information on post-traumatic stress due to sexual assault will note this reaction in many victims. 

The system is also responsible for these losses, given the manner in which it regards and treats female victims of male sexual aggression.

As we know, Ms Higgins did “speak up,” to no less an authority than her boss Linda Reynolds. Subsequent events resulted in Ms Higgins believing that if she pursued the alleged rape complaint with the Australian Federal Police, she would lose her job She did not speak up again until two years later, after realising that her struggle to continue working at the site of her trauma was proving untenable for her. 

Women have, in fact, been speaking up about sexual assault for more than fifty years

It hasn’t done us a lot of good in terms of prevention. There is little reason to believe that speaking up in politics would be any different from speaking up in any other sphere, in terms of changing a hegemonic culture that is fundamentally hostile to women.

Nonetheless women have done our best. We have spoken up in vast numbers. We have written books. We have made documentaries. We have made movies. We have, in all the ways available to us, spoken up about our rapes, and the sexual violences we have endured.

Nothing we’ve said, none of the tears we’ve cried, none of the rage we’ve expressed, none of our grief for our lost lives, our lost opportunities, our lost childhoods, our broken, savaged, bleeding, violated bodies, none of this speaking up has stopped men raping us, or come anywhere near achieving that goal. 

How this monstrous reality escapes the notice of any commentator on the matter is baffling. 

Survivors are not an homogenous group. Speaking up may be beneficial for some of us at some time, and nobody should be prevented from finding her voice and using it. However, prescribing speaking up as a responsibility survivors should shoulder in order to change the culture that has so dismally failed to protect us from male savagery, is a bridge too far. Society clearly cannot or will not protect us. We are injured both within and by its systems. 

We are then called upon to disclose our trauma in order to change the toxic culture. Obediently, we bare our ravaged hearts and souls and we do it over and over and over and over again. We are praised as courageous, admired as brave. Revisiting our trauma is lauded as a signifier of our strength of character and our resilience and our ability to feel concern for the world, despite our suffering. 

And yet, nothing changes. We are still raped. We are still murdered, one of us each week

Speaking up hasn’t stopped any of it, though most of us that do speak up hope with all our hearts we might help save somebody else from suffering as we have, or that our story might let another woman know she is not alone. 

Instead, what has happened over time is that an expectation has developed, as expressed in Murphy’s piece, that we should use our trauma if we are to challenge and change a hostile and dangerous culture.  What is amiss here is the existence of the expectation. 

The implicit and at times explicit demand that women speak up has created a sub genre of tragedy porn, in which those of us who have survived are asked to earn our survival by disclosing our trauma, ostensibly to bring about a cultural change for the greater good. That change does not happen. Regardless of this lack of outcome we are still asked to do the impossible, and we are asked to do it by making our most private and damaged selves available for public consumption. 

As Ms Higgins observed, she shouldn’t have had to go public for her rape to be addressed. 

In reality, the only way to effect cultural change is for men to stop inflicting sexual violence on us. It is that simple and it’s that difficult. How much easier to tell women it’s our job! 

It is not the job of a survivor to work out how men can be persuaded to control their violence against us.

Survivors owe nothing and to nobody, and we especially owe nothing to the culture that did not protect us in the first place. If we do speak up, it must be only because we want to and when we want to, and not because it’s our job to effect change. 

It is an indicator of the spiritual, psychological and emotional brutality visited unremarked upon women in this culture, that after enduring what is unspeakable, we are called upon to find a way to speak it, in order to change men. 

When you can’t trust the leader…

14 Feb

One month ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that it is his government’s aim to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March, with a target to roll out 80,000 COVID-19 vaccinations per week by mid to late February. 

First, do the maths & see if you think this is honest.

Then consider for a moment what kind of leader makes a vaccination announcement that is so glaringly untruthful it can’t be rationalised as a careless mistake by even the most committed sycophant. 

You might conclude, as I have, that the Prime Minister doesn’t give a toss what he says about the vaccination rollout, as long as he says something. 

Two days ago, Mr Morrison told the media that our vaccination program is “on track”having clearly forgotten his January announcement, or else consigned it to his dustbin of announcements without substance that is, by now, surely filled to overflowing. 

Strangely, nobody at the press conferences where Mr Morrison has insisted we are “on track” has bothered to refer him to his January claims, or indeed, asked him to define what “on track” actually means, given those claims. 

But wait. There’s more. On the ABC Insiders program today it was stated that the vaccination roll out will begin next week. I asked for the source of this claim, because there is no such information on the government health website. 

As yet I’ve received no reply and I don’t really expect that I will, to be honest.

What I would like to know is why Insiders is apparently gifted with this announcement when the information is not available on the government website, and no politician has confirmed that the Pfizer vaccine has even arrived in the country. 

It is mid February. No roll out has been announced. We will not achieve a vaccination rate of 80,000 by the end of this week, and neither will we reach the four million figure pulled out of somebody’s nether regions by the end of March. We are not “on track.” We are very far from “on track.” 

On January 25, the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected to cover around 20% of the population. However, as of writing the Pfizer vaccine has not yet arrived in Australia from Europe and some 80,000 -100,000 doses are reportedly expected next week. These will be batch tested before they are rolled out, adding another week to the estimated wait time. 

Then there is the AstraZeneca vaccine, to be used for the majority of us.  There are 50 million doses in production on shore (or as Mr Morrison likes to call them, “sovereign” doses) while we are importing 3.8 million more.  This vaccine has not yet been approved for use by the TGA.  

So as of writing, there is, in fact, no vaccine at all in Australia that is ready for use. But don’t worry. We are on track! 

On February 4 the PM had the chutzpah to announce that given our “sovereign” production rate, we would begin vaccination before New Zealand, due to start in April. But that isn’t true either, dear readers! New Zealand will start its Pfizer roll out on February 20, 6 days from now, when we may or may not have our vaccine and even if we do, it won’t be ready for use! 

Mr Morrison has repeatedly referred us to the government health website for up to date and reliable information on matters to do with COVID-19. However, as mentioned above, you will find no indication on that site of when the vaccination roll out is due to begin. 

But what you will find on this government site is a statement by infectious diseases expert Dr Nick Coatsworth that COVID-19 “is definitely not an airborne pathogen” : (thanks to @SusanSmithAus for alerting me to this)

COVID-19 is definitely not an airborne pathogen. When you have airborne pathogens, like measles for example, the basic reproductive number that we’ve all come to know so well is much higher than what it is for COVID-19 – so, so definitely not an airborne. It’s got- this is a droplet pathogen which means it settles on surfaces. Once it is coughed up or expectorated it tends to- it drops to the ground very quickly. And that’s why hand hygiene and physical distance are our most important measures, and will be our most important measures particularly when we start opening businesses that they that they enable processes that allow us to keep our distance from each other until we have a vaccine or effective treatment.

Yet on January 16, a group of senior scientists, health and safety experts and doctors claimed that 

Failure at a federal level to acknowledge COVID-19 is transmitted through the air has been putting the community at risk…Leading scientists said the virus could be leaking through our border controls because authorities have not put in place precautions that provide the greatest possible protection from airborne transmission.

On ABC QandA last Thursday evening, Professor Coatsworth was forced to defend his position on aerosol transmission.  On February 4, experts claimed that the neglect of aerosol transmission was clearly a gap in Australia’s quarantine system.

In short, the federal government’s health website tells us nothing about when we can expect vaccines to be rolled out. It does, however, convey misleading information on the airborne nature of the COVID-19 virus, misinformation that is causing considerable consternation as experts work to address ongoing infections associated with quarantine hotels. 

It would seem a futile exercise, to attempt to mislead the community about something like a vaccination roll out. It’s not as if we won’t notice that we aren’t getting the needle. However, this is what Scott Morrison does.  He’s entirely focused on the announcement and entirely disinterested in the substance. Unfortunately, no one in the media seems to have charted his vaccine announcements or confronted him about their lack of substance. 

While the majority of Mr Morrison’s announcements are not concerned with life-threatening matters and are generally misleading, exasperating, hurtful and deeply disappointing, the COVID-19 situation demands from a leader clarity, straightforwardness and trustworthiness. 

None of these requirements are met by Morrison, or any of his ministers. 

Morrison must have known, when he made his announcement one month ago, that there was no possibility of vaccinating 80,000 people in February and 4 million by the end of March. He must have known this, and yet he delivered this message to the country anyway. This is not how we need a leader to behave in these circumstances, or any other.

Being Indifferent to Difference

9 Feb

By Dr Stewart Hase

Humans are not particularly adept at accepting difference. I suspect that we are hard wired to at least be wary of others who are not the same as us. In fact, research studies have shown that there is a genetic influence in racism and in other areas such as political attitudes. There may well be an intolerance gene.

An aspect of wisdom or at least being civilised, you’d think, would be the ability to rise above impulse and to bring cognition into play. Sadly, there has been little of this lately. First, we had the unbelievable decision to upgrade Margaret Court’s gong. She received the original for her tennis achievements. Fair enough, she was able to repeatedly smash a tennis ball where she wanted to and made Australia look good on the world stage. But if you’re an observer from anywhere other than the awards committee, you can only conclude that her upgrade was for the homophobic bile she manages to spit out, using her position to influence the more feeble-minded that agree with her. Her rationale: that god’s word is the TV guide for life.

In the same vein, we then witness the leadership, if you want to call it that, at the St George Rugby League Club make the mind-numbing decision to negotiate with Israel Folau to return to Australia to play. Difficult to imagine what kind of logic that went into that idea. Luckily, the fear of losing sponsors and a backlash from fans slayed that dragon, but the fact they even thought about it was breathtaking.

Then we have the Collingwood scandal that exposed systemic racism at the club over many years, and the ugly reality that this is not an isolated case. This weekend, racism was called out again in football in the UK, albeit on social media by lunatic fans. Back here in Oz, Eddie Maguire managed to put his foot in his mouth again as he declared the release of the report on racism at Collingwood to be an historic and proud day. 

Given his gaffe over Adam Goodes, does Eddie have a problem with language or is he inherently racist? I think the latter, given he was completely blind to what was happening at his club. The buck stops with him. I’m amazed that they are waiting until the end of the year for him to step down as chairman. Why was he not sacked last week? 

We need to be careful to not assume that these high-profile cases are exceptions. They are the tip of the iceberg. I hear racist, homophobic and other slurs around difference at my local golf club and in other places where people mix, on a regular basis. And so do you. We damn the different, no matter what the form. We don’t value diversity, only diversity that makes others more the same as us, in other words, assimilation. We want migrants to be Australians, as long as they cook their authentic national dishes.

Sadly, we are not as civilised as we would like to think ourselves to be. I think we are getting better at calling out prejudice when we see it but we still need much more leadership from politicians and institutions such as those that support the events I’ve described above.

The quip of the week goes to Deborah Devine who talked about her son Dan Levy, the star of Schitt’s Creek, who is gay. She had a message to Dan’s bullies at a school camp when he was a boy: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” Dan was hosting the prestigious program, a measure of his enormous success.

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

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