Tag Archives: Gillian Triggs

Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity.

18 Nov

 

rights

 

It’s becoming rather tiring, listening to privileged people with large platforms complain that their freedom of speech is being denied, and we have to get rid of anti discrimination laws that allegedly silence them.

As far as I can tell such people are incapable of dealing with criticism of their speech, and are unable to distinguish between that criticism, and the oppression of silencing. Criticism is not denial of free speech. It’s criticism. I don’t think they know this, which is surprising.

Neither are you being “silenced” if you don’t have the guts to speak. That’s not denial of free speech, it’s lack of courage. The “I can’t say anything because of political correctness” whine is an admission of cowardice.

“Stop political correctness” actually means, “make the world absolutely safe for me to say whatever I like without fear of criticism” which is in itself interesting, because the “stop political correctness” cohort also seems to oppose the idea of safe spaces for people who might actually need them.

The complaint of denial of freedom of speech currently emanates overwhelmingly from those incapable of tolerating a challenge: they wish to engage in bigotry without anyone calling them on it. Somewhere, in one of their developmental stages, somebody hurt them by giving them critical feedback for bad work and they never got over it.

Apart from all that, it is rather ludicrous when someone with a platform regularly provided and paid for by Newscorpse et al (not to mention those privileged by their presence in parliament) complains they have no freedom to speak. Cowards, every one.

There were mixed reactions when the Human Rights Commission dropped its inquiry into the Australian’s cartoonist, Bill Leak, after complaints were lodged against him under the now infamous Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

I found the cartoon under scrutiny (you can see it in the first link) obnoxious, an expression of white paternalism, privilege and assumed supremacy. I also believed the complaint would fail under the exemptions permitted by Section 18D, and I can’t see how that potential failure could do anything to further the cause of those racially humiliated by Leak in his cartoon, not for the first time or the last, I might add.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, without which many other rights collapse. We also live in a country in which it is regrettably necessary to have a Racial Discrimination Act, because we are racist, and because the concept of freedom of speech is frequently abused to justify racially motivated attacks.

The two are not always compatible. Section 18C is perceived by some as a threat to free speech or, as Attorney-General George Brandis so memorably put it, the freedom to be a bigot. However, nobody is prevented or can be prevented from being a bigot: they just need to be aware that there may be consequences,  just as there are consequences, positive and negative, for every other choice we make.

I’d prefer to see the words “offend and insult” in 18C changed to “vilify.” I think it’s extremely difficult to make laws about offending and insulting: vilification is far more specific and contains within it the notions of offence and insult. Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs is not opposed to rewording the Section.

The concept of freedom of speech is in danger of becoming grotesquely distorted by those who have no need at all to be protected from the loss of it. But this is the neo liberal way: co-opt the safeguards put in place to protect people from vilification and exploitation, and frame yourself as the victim. Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity in the new world order. Oh, yeah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, we are not “better than this.” We are worse.

12 Aug

 

Elie Wiesel

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton seems to be of the opinion that because people fleeing their home countries pay “people smugglers” for passage to Australia, it is perfectly acceptable for them to be subjected to every imaginable kind of suffering. He includes children in this belief.

Dutton’s world view is mirrored by politicians such as Adam Giles in the Northern Territory, who share the narcissistic sense of entitlement that regards any perceived offence against them and their laws however mundane, however explicable, as a crime deserving of extreme punishment guaranteed to destroy the spirit.

In short, if you offend me I’ll destroy you. The crime here is offending these men, and both Giles and Dutton are profoundly offended by recalcitrant indigenous youth in the first, and waterborne asylum seekers in the second. You can see their indignation seeping out of every shining pore. They are incapable of seeing context: they can only perceive offence.

This overblown sense of offence and indignation, coupled with a sociopathic inability to imagine the conditions of lives other than their own, is the breeding ground for an extreme cruelty that ought never to be coupled with power, but unfortunately all too frequently is.

The manner in which successive immigration ministers, including those from the ALP, have treated waterborne asylum seekers beggars belief. They have been able to do this because enough Australians share the same narcissistic sense of entitlement and belief that being offended, personally, collectively and nationalistically, is a crime for which, unlike real crimes, punishment must be unrestrained and infinite. So kids in Don Dale don’t ever deserve a chance at life. So waterborne asylum seekers and refugees don’t ever deserve a chance at life. They’ve both offended white Australia in a variety of ways, and so they must die, metaphorically and sometimes literally.

It isn’t even so much what they’ve done. It’s the fact that they had the bloody gall to do it in the first place.

When outrages such as Don Dale and the Nauru files erupt, a lot of people get on social media to claim: “We’re better than this.”

Well, here’s the thing. We are not better than this. We’ve been torturing indigenous people since invasion day and we’re still doing it. We’ve been torturing waterborne asylum seekers for almost two decades, and we’re still doing it. We’re still voting in politicians who’ll continue the barbaric practices we don’t really want to know about as long as we feel we’re “being kept safe” from boats, or thieving black kids.

There are no innocent bystanders in these situations. We all know what’s happening. We’ve always known about our off-shore concentration camps. Keeping your mouth shut is enabling torture. These crimes are perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless because “good” people keep their mouths shut. Well, here’s another thing. You aren’t a “good”person if you keep your mouth shut. You’re an enabler of torment and torture.

As Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs pointed out yesterday, the only way anything will change in our treatment of asylum seekers is through public pressure. The government knows this as well, which is why they don’t allow anyone to see the camps and the suffering people in them. This is what every government intent on the torment and torture of a particular group do: they herd them into facilities where no one can hear their screams.

And when we do finally hear their screams, as we have since the Don Dale revelations, Adam Giles blames those who bring their screams to our ears, and Peter Dutton blames the victims for screaming.

Think about that. I mean, really, really think about the mind sets of Giles and Dutton and those who support them, who shoot the messengers, and blame the victims for the suffering they inflict upon them.

Then get on social media and say “we’re better than this.” We aren’t. We could be, but we aren’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to avoid the democratic process within your own party

7 Jun

power

 

In December 2014, then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made this alarming lunge for sole power over citizenship decisions without recourse to judicial review:

The DIBP submission to a Senate committee argues that an elected member of parliament and minister of the Crown has gained a particular insight into the community’s standards and values. This particular insight therefore qualifies Morrison to overrule AAT decisions. It is the bill’s intention to grant a minister, in this case Morrison, the power to determine an individual’s “good character” or otherwise, regardless of any ruling made by the AAT. Morrison’s decision will be unchallengeable.

Peter Dutton has now replaced Morrison as Minister for Immigration and is in the process of attempting a similar grab for sole power over the stripping of citizenship from those he alone deems unsuitable to retain it.

No citizen can have confidence in a government or an opposition that supports one politician being granted absolute power over such decisions. It is absolutely contrary to all democratic instincts and practices. The question we must ask is why is it thought necessary to invest one politician with this much power? The answer is obviously that the government cannot risk internal debate, and is determined to avoid that democratic process. The Minister is answerable to no one within his party, let alone outside of it. It is only a matter of time before more Ministers are granted similar authority over who knows what circumstances, and anyone who believes or trusts otherwise has their head in a sack. The government has no mandate to invest a Minister with absolute power, not even within its own ranks.

 

 

There are currently so many disturbing events initiated by the Abbott government it’s difficult to triage, however, surely one of the more alarming is the decision to imprison for up to two years doctors, nurses and teachers who disclose adverse conditions at asylum seeker detention centres on Manus and Nauru.

In spite of the border protection rhetoric that surrounds this decision, it’s apparent to anyone with a brain that the only interests served by imposing these draconian restrictions on professionals who, in Australia, are mandated to report abuses they become aware of in the course of their work, are the interests of the Abbott government, supported by the Labor opposition.

Neither major party wants us or the rest of the world to know what goes on in the off-shore detention centres. Knowledge of abuses inflicted upon the detained cannot possibly be a threat to our national security, and if that is what the major parties continue to insist, they need to explain exactly how they justify that claim.

Indeed, if there was any logic to the government’s argument the ill-treatment of asylum seekers ought to be trumpeted from the rooftops as a deterrence to anyone else attempting to come here by boat. Not only will you never be resettled in Australia, you and your children will be subjected to inhumane treatment and conditions in tropical hell holes as well.

As head of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs so eloquently pointed out, we are currently being subjected to an erosion of rights that ought to have us taking to the streets in protest at the over-reach of executive power by the Abbott government. It is not far-fetched to imagine that a government prepared to imprison professionals for doing their jobs in off-shore detention centres will extend that threat to professionals doing their jobs in the homeland, should it serve their interests. There’s certainly no future in entreating the ALP to take a stand, indeed, the ALP seems more than happy for Abbott to do this dirty work.

Truth, employment and freedom of speech.

2 May

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, yesterday proffered this analysis of the sacking of SBS sports presenter Scott McIntyre, after he posted a series of tweets that suggested, among other things, an alternative and previously unspoken view of the actions of the ANZACS.

In her piece Professor Triggs refers to the case of Banerji v Bowles (2013) in which Department of Immigration former employee Michaela Banerji was sacked after tweeting criticisms of detention centres, the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Immigration. Ms Banerji used a pseudonym for her Twitter account, and argued that her comments are “constitutionally protected by her right to freedom of political communication as an indispensable incident of representative government.” The Federal Court rejected this view.

Ms Banerji has now replied to Professor Triggs’ observations on her case here.

I know there are readers of Sheep who are as intrigued by legal forensics as am I, and the arguments made by both parties are of significant import to anyone who is employed and uses social media. I won’t add my comparatively ignorant voice to those of Professor Triggs and Ms Banerji, rather I’m interested in Trigg’s observations on the use of social media and Truth.

Triggs begins her piece with a quote from John Milton’s Areopagitica in which the poet passionately opposes censorship, arguing for freedom of speech. “Whoever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” he asks.

Triggs argues that “today’s near universal access to social media challenges the idea that freedom of expression ensures truth will be victorious over falsehood.”  The poet Milton could not have envisaged the extent of free and open encounters awaiting society in its future, and made his observation at a time when only the privileged had access to a public platform.

There are a couple of assumptions in Triggs’ argument that ought to be noted. In claiming that universal access to social media dilutes the possibility of Truth triumphing over falsehood, Triggs, inadvertently I’m sure, is claiming not only that Truth is, as it was in Milton’s time, defined and controlled by a particular demographic who enjoy freedom of expression due to their privilege, but that this is still a legitimate manner in which to determine what is Truth.  Now the masses have unprecedented access to public platforms that democratise freedom of expression, Truth will inevitably be vanquished by the freely expressed opinions of these masses. Whatever is publicly expressed by those other than the privileged and entitled will inevitably be falsehood, is what her argument implies.

Truth is a tricky concept, fluid in the extreme, determined by the orthodoxy, enforced by the state and its agents, and religion and its agents. Social media offers the most expansive and democratic opportunity for the contestation of what Foucault calls “regimes of truth”  that has ever existed in human history.

Truth, argues Foucault, does not exist outside of power:

 on the contrary, truth “is produced by virtue of multiple constraints [a]nd it induces regulated effects of power”. This is to say that “each society has its regime of truth”, and by this expression Foucault means: (1) “the types of discourse [society] harbours and causes to function as true”; (2) “the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true from false statements” and (3) “the way in which each is sanctioned”; (4) “the techniques and procedures which are valorised for obtaining truth”; (5) “the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true” (Foucault 1976, p. 112; 13).

Therefore, “truth” is “a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and functioning of statements”; it is linked “by a circular relation to systems of power which produce it and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which redirect it”. 

It is the function of social media, exemplified most recently by the tweets of Scott McIntyre, to contest truth regimes produced by systems of power that control and sustain what comes to be normalised as “Truth.” Scott McIntyre, Michaela Banerji and countless others have used social media to contest the constructed regimes of truth, to their cost. Whether these challenges to the orthodoxy are accurate or not, the point is they must be made and in a liberal democracy the people who make them ought not to be punished.

There is absolutely no correlation between freedom of expression and what we might, at any given time, consider to be Truth. The very best we can do is, as Foucault recommends, constantly question the origins of our current regimes of truth, by whom are they determined, whose ends do they serve, what techniques and procedures are valorised for obtaining truth and by whom. Our most powerful weapon for contesting regimes of truth is social media. Professor Triggs is quite wrong: today’s near universal access to social media ensures an unprecedented freedom of expression that in turn ensures an unrelenting contestation of truth claims, and herein lies its power, and its threat to authority.

Freedom of expression has never ensured Truth, not in Milton’s time and not in ours. Social media is a powerful tool for the examination of regimes of truth established by the privileged and entitled, regimes that all too often have little to do with what is true, and far more to do with what is advantageous to those who declare it to be true.

Foucault: Regimes of Truth

 

Censured: The problem is Brandis not Triggs.

3 Mar

George Brandis

 

Yesterday’s Senate censure of Attorney-General George Brandis for his treatment of Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, has no direct constitutional or legal consequences. It is important, however, that the censure motion is on record as an example of attempts to bully into silence the head of a statutory authority the Attorney-General is obliged, in his job description, to defend against malicious attack.

If the government of the day is dissatisfied with the performance of the head of a statutory body there are presumably procedures in place to deal with that situation. I doubt very much that one of them is instigating personal public attacks. At the very least, the Attorney-General should be aware of the proper way to go about addressing perceived performance failures, and follow those guidelines.

Professor Triggs was entitled to natural justice. Instead she was subjected to an appalling attack by the very person who is obliged to ensure her right to natural justice is honoured.  This alone is just cause for censuring the Attorney-General, who could not have more blatantly failed to carry out his duties.

An Attorney-General who behaves in such a manner has gone rogue. He is not upholding the principles and duties of his office. He is making up the rules as he goes along. He is supported absolutely in his feral abrogation by his Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

This is our problem. It isn’t Gillian Triggs. It’s a government that has scant regard for any statutory body, any procedure, any law that doesn’t suit their ideological ambitions. The HRC is an anathema to the Abbott government, not least because one of the Commission’s responsibilities is to monitor and report on the actions of that government. What better way to demoralise and disempower the HRC than to publicly and ferociously go after its head?

 

 

Labor is the despicable winner in the Triggs affair.

27 Feb

 

The Abbott government’s attacks on President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, have served the ALP’s interests more than any other.

They certainly have done nothing to ease the ongoing plight of the 1,129 children successive Australian governments have kept in mandatory detention in appalling circumstances. Many of the children suffer long-term damage from the experience of being treated as criminals for no reason other than that they exist. The conditions under which the children have and continue to be incarcerated would likely make Charles Dickens flinch and look away, yet since the release of the AHRC report, nobody in the major parties has bothered so much as to mention their suffering.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs have done nothing for the

233 assaults involving children
33 reported sexual assaults
128 incidences of self-harm
34% who require psychiatric support

documented in the recent AHRC report.

However, what the government’s latest lunacy has done is to hand the ALP on a silver platter access to a high moral ground which they do not for one moment deserve, having been as despicably callous towards asylum seekers for their own political gain as has the LNP. There is not a bee’s dick of difference between the two major parties in terms of their ill-treatment of those they consider less worthy than the rest of us, and therefore infinitely exploitable in their mutual pursuit of power.

The ALP is now bellowing self-righteously about the government’s treatment of Professor Triggs, but not, of course, about the contents of Professor Triggs’ report. About that they cannot bellow, as the report condemns equally ALP asylum seeker policies implemented under the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd incumbencies.

Labor has now referred Attoney-General George Brandis to the AFP for allegedly inducing Triggs to leave her position at the HRC for something less disturbing to him. Carefully worded denials have ensued, reminding us that language can be used for ill, and in politics, invariably will be. In case we forget what was said about the Triggs “inducement” at the estimates hearing:

 

If this disgraceful fracas surrounding Professor Triggs tells us anything, it’s that the majority of our elected members on both sides of the house care nothing for the lives and fates of asylum seekers, and logically, it is only a matter of time before they care nothing for the lives and fates of many of their own citizens. Once a government makes scapegoats of one group for political expediency,  they’ll have no qualms scapegoating any other for the same motive. Indeed, there are those who could put up a good argument that this is already the case.

We do not, in this country, have a good record for the treatment of children by authorities. The history of child abuse unfolding before us in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, for example, demonstrates as nothing else ever has the prevalence and consistency of the savage mistreatment of children across all demographics, from institutions that house the most underprivileged child, to institutions that house the children of the wealthiest and most influential citizens in the country. It is inevitable that our cruelty seamlessly extends itself to children of asylum seekers.

We are in dire need of politicians of calibre, who are capable of and willing to refuse the lure of political gamesmanship and instead do what they are elected to do, and represent the interests of those who gave them their trust. The ALP has no high moral ground on which to pitch its tents on the matter of the Triggs report and the ensuing unseemly brawls. Given its own foul record, the ALP has no choice but to either admit its failures and undertake reform, or make whatever miserable and poisoned political capital it can from the government’s sickening attacks on Gillian Triggs.

All in all, we are one of the most fortunate nations in the world, cast adrift in a tumultuous sea aboard a ship commanded by fools.

 

PiersonShipOfFoolsLE27x32WS

 

 

 

A PM who only knows aggression is a threat to the country

26 Feb

Agressive Abbott


The Abbott government’s attempted defenestration of President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs has, like so many of this government’s ventures into domination through aggression and bullying, badly backfired.

This latest debacle is yet another example of the Abbott government’s pugilistic default position, and follows hot on the heels of the Prime Minister’s combative approach to Indonesia in the matter of the looming execution of Australian drug smugglers Chan and Sukumaran.

Attorney-General George Brandis, chief instigator, along with Abbott, of an extraordinarily vitriolic personal attack on the head of a statutory authority, was yesterday asked what next in their campaign to publicly eviscerate Triggs, presumably to force her resignation which does not seem to be forthcoming, and why should it?

I can’t unscramble the egg, Brandis replied, in a rare admission of stupendous failure.

The egg certainly is all over the faces of Brandis and Abbott. In a move of unfathomable stupidity, Abbott decided to focus personally on Professor Triggs, rather than the report on children in detention the HRC published last week. Seemingly bereft of all politically savvy, Abbott made this choice despite the fact that the report fully covered the previous government’s abysmal record on this matter, and despite the fact that more children have been released from detention by the Abbott government than were by the previous Labor incumbents.

The down side is that this government keeps fewer children in detention for much longer. However, in spite of this reality there was much political capital to be made had Abbott chosen to take that path. Instead, he embarked upon a vicious campaign to force Professor Triggs out of her job, to be replaced, rumour has it, by the Brandis/Abbott protegé  “Freedom Boy” Tim Wilson, who, as you may recall, was parachuted by Brandis into his position at the HRC without so much as an interview.

This latest in the Abbott government’s expressions of contempt for the HRC has caused the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to write to the government protesting its attacks on Professor Triggs.

As Wayne Janssen explains,  the ICC  co-ordinates relationships with the UN human rights systems. Its accreditation system is based on compliance with the 1991 Paris Principles and grants access to UN committees. Australia currently enjoys “A” status which allows us speaking and seating rights at such committees.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs imply state interference with the independence of the AHRC that may be a transgression of the Paris Principles. If this is the case, Australia stands to lose our A status, and the access to speaking and seating rights this status confers.

Add to this the suggestion that Brandis attempted illegal inducement by offering Triggs another job to get her out of the HRC, an allegation now referred to the AFP, and it’s difficult to see how this move has brought the government anything other than ongoing grief.

Abbott’s aggressive, combative, high conflict personality dominates his thinking and his decision-making. He has proved repeatedly that he is not capable of controlling his pugilistic instincts. He is entirely unable to overcome his primitive need to shirtfront somebody, anybody, even his own back benchers, by instead employing mature, considered thinking and mental clarity. This is a personality defect that has catastrophic potential for a country led by him. It has equally catastrophic implications for the party he leads, as many of its MPs surely know.

Like an abusive partner in an intimate relationship,  Abbott is in the process of isolating this country from the rest of the world, and from international bodies such as the United Nations that offer what little opportunity there is for cohesion and communication between nations. He is an isolationist, as the violent always are. He seeks to sow seeds of discord and disharmony within our own communities, in his efforts to assert the superiority and domination of white, middle-class alpha masculinity, to the exclusion of all other groups.

He’s a threat to this country. He may be the biggest threat this country faces. He needs to go.

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