Speaking freely of the dead

11 Mar

 

The death of The Australian’s controversial  cartoonist Bill Leak yesterday provoked a storm of polarised emotion on Twitter, as colleagues expressed their shock and sorrow, and representatives of groups Leak humiliated and ridiculed in his work refused to abide by the rules of what was referred to as “common decency and good manners.”

These rules apparently require one to be silent if there’s nothing nice one can say, especially at a time of death and bereavement. The irony was lost on no one in the latter groups, and practically everyone in the former: Leak himself blatantly despised common decency and good manners, and earned his living giving those niceties the finger in the name of free speech.

In his later work, the cartoonist lampooned LGBTQI people, Muslims, the Safe Schools program, Indigenous people,the Human Rights Commission and its head Gillian Triggs. Because of these cartoons, he is lauded by admirers as an outstanding proponent of free speech.

Action was brought against him under the now infamous Section 18C, on the grounds of offence he caused to Aboriginals with a particularly patronising and sneeringly vitriolic cartoon. The case was eventually dropped.

A life has many stages, and those who knew Leak in earlier days, as well as those whose political ideologies he supported, are naturally grieving his unexpected death. Yet as so often happens in death, little acknowledgement is made of the dark side of the deceased, provoking outrage in those who’ve suffered the racism and marginalisation so evident in his later work, and who, equally naturally, feel no loss at his passing.

The efforts by the former to silence the latter were something to behold. Here’s one example, from former PM Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine:

I’ll leave you to deconstruct that example of conservative hyperbole in which criticism is conflated with assassination and beheadings. Clearly Ms Foster does not advocate unfettered free speech by Mr Leak’s critics, while staunchly defending her right and his to express whatever opinions they like in whatever manner they choose.

Of course the accusation that you are not observing “common decency and good manners” is an accusation intended to shame, as is the call for you to “respect” the dead, implying that you don’t have the class to know how to behave in such a situation and someone who does has to tell you.

This latter is a demand I’ve never entirely understood: why am I required to “respect” someone simply because they’ve died?

The reactions to Leak’s death on Twitter yesterday were a microcosmic example of class and privilege setting its sights against anyone who refutes the worship of its idols, using the same tools of contempt, ridicule, shaming and humiliation to achieve silencing as were employed by the idol in his later years.

It seems obvious to me that anyone has the right to speak freely of their relationship with and opinion of a dead man or woman. I can see no reason why those who admired Leak should castigate those who did not for failing to engage in hypocrisy. The idea that death eradicates the hurt and damage any individual might have inflicted on others in their lifetime is ludicrous, as is the demand that we feel sympathy purely on the basis of death. The evil that men [sic] do lives after them.

Common decency is a fluid concept, determined by what suits the ruling classes rather than the commons at any particular moment. Good manners are things I tried to teach my dog.

Respect, I would argue, is sharing space with views different from our own, and not shaming or silencing others because of that difference. It is, in my opinion, perfectly fine for those who do not view Bill Leak with fondness to say so. It is domineering and deceitful for his supporters to fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of those opposing views.

Free speech is for everyone, not just the privileged establishment, and it is everyone’s right to point out when (and which) emperor has no clothes.

Funny how so many simply do not get that.

 

 

How to deal with being raped: two incompatible points of view.

7 Mar

 

On ABC Qanda last night, Icelandic writer Thordis Elva spoke about how she had, over a seventeen year period, communicated with and finally forgiven Australian Tom Stranger, who raped her when she was sixteen and he was eighteen.

Stranger raped Elva as she lay literally paralytic from the effects of alcohol, in her own bed. He’d taken her home from a party, where friends were so concerned they’d wanted to call for medical assistance. Stranger undertook to protect and watch over her until she recovered. The rape took place over two hours, and so damaged Elva she was unable to walk properly for some time.

The two have since given a TED talk on their many email encounters, which were initiated by Elva and culminated in a physical meeting in Cape Town. Stranger remarks on the suitability of this country for their purpose, given the truth and reconciliation project of the Mandela government that sought to address crimes against humanity during decades of apartheid in South Africa, employing a process that involved admissions of guilt, and subsequent forgiveness by victims.

Stranger and Elva have written a book about their long experience of seeking a resolution to their victim/perpetrator relationship. They finally reached a point where Stranger was able to take responsibility for his actions, and name himself as a rapist. This ownership of his behaviour has allowed Elva to find relief from her feelings of hatred, rage and desire for revenge.

While I don’t find it at all difficult to imagine the relief and liberation I’d feel if a perpetrator admitted his crimes against me, I do find it difficult to imagine wanting a relationship with him that would see us co-authoring a book, and travelling the world together, sharing a stage.

As Elva notes, and I agree, forgiveness is something victims do for ourselves, not for the perpetrator. However, what I couldn’t extrapolate from the TED talk or Qanda, or interviews I’ve read, is how she moved emotionally and intellectually from regarding Stranger as an assailant, to interacting with him as a colleague.

Or perhaps not so much how, as why? Releasing myself from dark feelings and desires so as to get on with my life is both sensible and healthy. But keeping the rapist in my life?

I can forgive the perpetrator for my own sake, but that doesn’t mean I ever want to see him again.

Also on the panel last night was Josephine Cashman, Indigenous lawyer and business woman. Ms Cashman’s take on rape is situated at the opposite end of the continuum, and she was rather dismissive of Elva’s story. Ms Cashman stated unequivocally that sexual assault should be dealt with by the legal system, women must go to the police, the perpetrator must be charged, tried, convicted and incarcerated.

Which in theory sounds quite logical, however, as this must-read article by Jane Gilmour points out, that apparently logical process is rarely the outcome of sexual assault allegations. The legal system can be brutal to victims of sexual assault, and conviction rates are notoriously low.

I admit to feeling not a little creeped out by Mr Stranger when I watched the TED talk. I was unable to get past my knowledge of him as a man who had cruelly  and opportunistically raped an entirely helpless woman, over a two-hour period. I didn’t really care what he had to say about his later realisation, self-evident to me, that at the time he’d been more concerned about his wants than Ms Elva’s needs and safety.

In the spirit of truth and reconciliation I tried quite hard to find a point of contact with Stranger. All I felt was dizzy and sick. Yes, I can imagine the miserable, criminal psychopathy of a man who rapes a very ill and barely conscious woman he’s promised to care for. Yes, I can pity it. I just don’t want it or him anywhere near my life.

It seems to me on reflection, that both Ms Cashman and Ms Elva are unrealistic. For very many victims of sexual violence and other violence against women, engaging with the perpetrator is the very last thing we want to do. Taking the legal option is often described as being raped all over again, and it is disingenuous of Ms Cashman to pose that option as a logical process that results in justice. It isn’t, and more often than not, there’s no justice to be had.

It is possible to achieve a state of comparative peace or forgiveness without any involvement with the perpetrator, and preferably with help and support from others.

A woman is forever changed by the experience of sexual assault, and it’s impossible to recover the self who existed before the attack. This is just one of the many losses caused by rape: the loss of who I was before.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as “closure” or “resolution.” There is only finding a way to live your life as fully as you can, in spite of what has happened to you. There’s no formula for this. There’s no prescription.

It’s the victim’s task, and how unfair it seems, to find her way through the hell of rape. It can take a lifetime. And nobody can or should tell a woman how she must do it. If you don’t do it Ms Cashman or Ms Elva’s way, you haven’t failed. You’ve succeeded in searching for and finding your own way to take back your life. And you might have to do it more than once.

 

 

 

 

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

5 Mar

ui-desktop-crest

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malone justifies his tawdry piece thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

“Belief” is not enough to justify legislation to reveal private data

4 Mar

government-snooping

 

On Thursday, in the midst of public outrage at Human Services Minister Alan Tudge’s doxxing of a Centrelink user, legislation allowing the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to give private information to the media passed through the lower house with bipartisan support, and almost unnoticed.

The power to legally release a citizen’s private information to the media is argued by politicians as necessary, in order for agencies  to respond to people they believe are deliberately misleading the public and in so doing, undermining the public’s confidence in that agency.

Look. I could write an entire post on the irony of citizens undermining confidence in agencies. Think robo-debt for a start. It’s my “belief” that there’s no citizen alive capable of inflicting as much damage on government agencies as they inflict upon themselves, all too often exacerbated by the minister supposed to lead them. Nobody could undermine public confidence in Centrelink better than Hank Jongen and Alan Tudge.

The significant words in the justification for this legislation are they believe. Government agencies and ministers do not have to prove you are deliberately misleading the public and undermining an agency. They simply have to believe you are in order to legally release your private data.

Of course you can fight them after the fact. You can take them to court to make them prove their belief. But by then you’re all over the media, you’re traumatised, and it’s too late. Governments have deep pockets, and you most likely do not.

You have also compulsorily supplied agencies with the very information they now intend to use against you, because they believe your complaints, impressions, and opinions undermine them.

I’ve carefully re-read the article by Andie Fox that caused Alan Tudge to release her data to Fairfax because he “believed” her commentary undermined public confidence in Centrelink.

Ms Fox wrote an opinion piece. It consists almost entirely of how she felt during her encounters with Centrelink. The only points of dispute Tudge could find are a couple of dates, and numbers of phone calls.

According to Alan Tudge, this is sufficient to undermine public confidence in Centrelink, and justifies his release of her private data to Fairfax. Clearly, this is an absolutely ridiculous claim on Tudge’s part, and an abhorrent abuse of his power.

In fact, the power of Ms Fox’s piece is not in a Tudge-like gotcha game with the agency, but rather in her subjective experience of engaging with Centrelink, one with which thousands and thousands of other users can identify.

What Tudge’s reaction demonstrates is that we absolutely cannot trust ministers and senior public servants to exercise good judgement in their use of this legislation.

It demonstrates that citizens must not tolerate legislation that is so open to abuse by ministers and senior public servants, legislation that is based solely on the grounds of their beliefs.

Politicians need to fully explain why they need such legislation in the first place, and in the second, why they feel the need to extend it to include veterans. It wouldn’t have anything to do with military personnel speaking out about the ADF’s stance on the effects of anti-malarial drug Mefloquine, would it?

No senior public servant and no minister should have the power to publicly release a citizen’s private data simply because he or she believes there may be an adverse outcome for an agency. This is an attempt by politicians to silence all dissent by instilling a terror of possible consequences.

Supplying private data to these agencies is compulsory. Politicians are demanding that in handing over our private data, we also agree to their release of it to media should they believe any public commentary we make might adversely affect their interests.

This is an untenable situation for citizens, and a massive over-reach on the part of politicians.

Postscript: Acting Senate Clerk Richard Pye has acknowledged that Tudge’s release of private data may have a “chilling effect” on witnesses at next week’s inquiry into Centrelink Robo-Debt. 

Mr Pye has warned that any attempts at interference with witnesses will be considered to be contempt. 

We have a government that has to be warned not to interfere with witnesses in a Senate inquiry. Think about that. 

 

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

3 Mar
Department of Complaints Against the State.

Department of Complaints Against the State.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tudge releases unauthorised documents, & where are the “leading” feminists?

2 Mar

alan-tudge-sponsorship-business-card-size-advert

 

Please feel free to email, phone or visit this man with your opinions.

The Guardian has this afternoon reported that Human Services Minister Alan Tudge “accidentally” authorised the sending of confidential internal briefings concerning Centrelink complainant Andie Fox and marked “official use only,” to Fairfax journalist Paul Malone for publication.

The documents included information about Ms Fox from the Australian Tax Office. It’s unclear whether or not DHS has notified the ATO of this data breach.

The Guardian became aware of the “mistake” when the same documents were sent to that publication after journalists requested further information from DHS on the Tudge debacle.

Tudge has assured parliament that he lawfully authorised the release of Fox’s information to Malone. However, given he now claims some of those documents were “accidentally” released, he could not also have authorised them unless he authorised an accident, which is entirely possible and if so, situates us in even more bizarre territory than we found ourselves in yesterday.

It was also revealed today that Alan Tudge requires regular updates from his staff, gleaned from social media, on which Centrelink users are complaining about their experiences with that department.

Centrelink is stalking customers who publicly complain about their services.

Any Centrelink employee who released documents marked “for official use only” to the media would be sacked and prosecuted. I expect the same treatment for Minister Tudge. Don’t you?

Andie Fox is a single mother, chosen by Tudge as a scapegoat to distract from his astronomical incompetency. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, the power imbalance between Alan Tudge, Paul Malone of Fairfax, and Andie Fox is incalculable. As I’ve also noted before, there are thousands of complainants Tudge could have chosen to attack, however, he chose a single mother, one woman because, I suggest, he imagined her to be an easy target, and we know how the LNP feel about single mothers.

And yet not one leading feminist has seen fit to speak out about Ms Fox’s plight. Not one feminist with a platform has chosen to use it to discuss this situation. Not one leading feminist has got Ms Fox’s back, not one has questioned Tudge’s persecution of a single mother, not one has questioned the injustice of Ms Fox being in this situation in the first place because of her ex partner’s actions. A woman is under unprecedented attack by the Australian LNP government, and not one public feminist has said a word about it. WHY NOT?

To be continued. 

 

 

 

No need for Centrelink to prove your comments are adverse: they only need to think so before exposing you to media.

1 Mar

 

Information Privacy on computer keyboard background

Further to yesterday’s post on the release to Fairfax media of private information by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, the minister has justified his decision to take this action on the grounds that he is entitled by law to reveal personal details if the individual has made complaints in the media Centrelink considers false.

In other words, if you complain in the media about Centrelink, your private information can be released by that department in its own defence.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s Use or disclosure of personal information regulations address this situation thus:

6.22 Examples of where an individual may reasonably expect their personal information to be used or disclosed for a secondary purpose include where:

the individual makes adverse comments in the media about the way an APP [Australian Privacy Principles] entity has treated them. In these circumstances, it may be reasonable to expect that the entity may respond publicly to these comments in a way that reveals personal information specifically relevant to the issues that the individual has raised[8]

The APPs and the APP guidelines apply from 12 March 2014 and cover both Australian Government agencies and organisations covered by the Privacy Act. 

I would argue that it is never reasonable to expect that Centrelink will divulge your personal information to the media under any circumstances, and 6.22 needs to be scrapped. The paragraph makes no reference as to whether or not your adverse comments are justified. You only need to make comments Centrelink considers adverse for them to reveal your private information to the media. 

Criticism of a government agency can see you stripped of all privacy. Think about that.

This should make anyone who entrusts Centrelink and other government agencies with private information, very nervous.

At the same time, if you need Centrelink assistance you have no choice but to give them all the private information they require. This is a lose-lose situation for citizens, and it is entirely unacceptable.

Andie Fox, the subject of Tudge’s vengeful action, is a middle class professional woman, like millions of others who claim Family Tax Benefit, and the millions of older Australians who claim part pensions. Tudge, in this instance, has not gone after his stereotypical welfare recipient. So don’t feel you are safe in your demographic, because you aren’t. Should you get Centrelink offside, your private information can be given to the media whether your complaints are justified or not, without any consultation or warning.

There is a website titled “Not my debt” where you’ll find page after page of adverse commentary on Centrelink. There are thousands of critical tweets. There are hundreds of articles in mainstream media and the blogosphere dedicated to adverse commentary on Centrelink. Yet Alan Tudge went after one woman.

If you think your privacy is safe with government agencies as long as you keep your mouth shut, think about what kind of country you’re living in, and what kind of person you’re becoming because of it.

Centrelink is an apolitical body. An individual’s private information held by the agency must not employed as a silencing tool by the government of the day.

 

 

 

 

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