Monthly Archives: June 2014

Repeal s18C. Get offended. Often

Treasurer Joe Hockey is offended by wind farms. And criticisms of his unspeakably cruel and greedy budget. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is offended by a case being brought on behalf of 50 drowned asylum seekers. And people praying in his office. The default response of government ministers to truth is that they are offended.

This is true. Truth does offend members of the Australian federal government. It causes them to hesitate, for nanoseconds. The artefact of memory, the residual sense of the moment when they could still say they entered politics to do good – to serve the people, to create positive change – is finally severed, floats free, never to return. Any conviction that the ideology to which they subscribe has the capacity to serve anything or anyone other than themselves and their corporate sponsors is cut adrift for the final time. It is replaced by increasingly shrinking, urgently repeated phrases prefaced by statements of belief. “No, Sarah, what I was saying was, I believe that…” in various formats and guises. The emptiness of these claims exposes the fact that they have no belief at all (as do the shameful claims to hold Christian “beliefs”, from Morrison of all people). Instead, we hear a desperate desire to believe one’s own bullshit, a desire so desperate that none know what they believe anymore; but only what they are supposed to believe. Today. Or for this station’s audience. Or when the sun comes out in June.

Asserting that some personal-party-political “belief” is any kind of grounds for policy making is not new; but its unwelcome presence on the political stage is particularly noxious in the age of climate change. Just quite when the self-interest of denialists became permitted to dominate public debate over scientific evidence can be traced to the fatal decision of Kevin Rudd to back away from an emissions trading scheme in 2009.

The backstory is long and dull. The Greens voted down the first bill in the Senate, the Prime Minister negotiated with then-Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull rather than call a double dissolution election. Both lost their positions – Rudd to Julia Gillard, Turnbull to Tony Abbott. Not on the sidelines but front and centre to the whole debacle were the feral employees of the Murdoch Press, columnists and editors and headline writers who have lost all sense of media standards, if they had any.

As with the concerted campaign to switch from “global warming” to “climate change”, the language war on scientific fact was won by denialists. The climate change narrative was skilfully reframed by people whose only skill is to obfuscate facts and reframe narratives for political ends. Now the debate was about whether one “believes” in climate change or “doesn’t believe” in climate change. The anti-climate action position was sustained by nothing but lies and political expedience – and claims of personal “belief”.

This is base. It is debased. It is a foul gamble with the future of the earth and intergenerational equity. It benefits no-one but the fossil fuel and other compromised corporate kings of today who can clearly sell out their own grandchildren for profit. It is also what we have, what we must live with, and in the case of the carbon tax repeal bill, what is going through the Commonwealth House of Representatives tonight.

In addition to the terminal threats posed by these monsters of capital, therefore, is this debasement of language – and thus principle, for changes in language are never meaningless, regardless of whether Abbott assaults our ears with his “terminological clarification” (Oh FFS). The precautionary principle, ditched. The principle of intergenerational equity, jettisoned. The “new policy” (and I use the word loosely) is defended in media interviews on the basis of “belief” and, even more ridiculously, what is “offensive”. Suggest to Joe Hockey that wind farming is a sustainable renewable alternative to coal. Wind farms, he asserts, offend him. Point out to Scott Morrison that Reza Berati, the Iranian asylum seeker who died during an armed attack by local guards whose employment is funded by the Australian taxpayer, was murdered on his watch. The mere suggestion is offensive to Scott. Not the murder, mind. That Scott is any way accountable.

Our Foreign Minister likes to lecture others on when to be offended. Apparently she missed the memo about getting offended by the whiff of truth in interviewer questions, and instead has told everyone else to stop getting offended by Abbott’s unreconstructed sexism. She is wheeled out to be a woman defending a misogynist, a trick used by both parties: oh look, she’s a woman, and she’s defending him, so his sleaze and creep must be a figure of our collective imagination. Nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s her boss, and she’s in cabinet and wants to stay there. Nor the fact that she’s a woman and is therefore the chosen spokesperson for the defence. Nope, she sincerely “believes” there is nothing offensive in the winking, the references to a candidate’s sex appeal, or the daughter’s looks, or the rest of the chauvinistic shit for which he is constantly, incomprehensively forgiven. Constantly, because he keeps doing it; incomprehensively, because he keeps doing it.

Peculiarly enough, the defence of Abbott is always that he has three daughters. This is not in itself evidence of non-sexism. The fact the he relentlessly paraded the daughters before the cameras throughout the campaign and referred to their looks in his leering bumbling way is not refuting evidence at all – it is the opposite. For me, the special corner in his hell should be reserved for the way he treated our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Among an embarrassment of choices, the nadir is his snide mockery of the anti-rapist campaign “no means no” by saying Are you suggesting to me that when it comes to Julia, no doesn’t mean no? Many fellow bloggers have listed myriad quotes and links – just google Tony Abbott sexist quotes – I can not rake over these nasty expressions of Abbott’s personality again. What niggles at me the question of whether the electorate perceives each as a vote-winner, or as forgivable ‘gaffes’, or simply overlooks the obvious character defects signalled by such ugly language.

But I headed this entry with reference to the planned repeal of “offence” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). There was a reason for that, and it is this: anything that goes for blackfellas seems to incite collective white panic. It is a common misconception among elites that social justice policies will cost them dearly. Since nothing is more dear than the hip pocket, elites campaign relentlessly against equalising policy like the NDIS, universal healthcare, increased investment in education among lower socio-economic groups and so on.

This may showcase their complete economic ignorance. Do privileged people know that most estimates put returns on social investment at between $17 and $34 per dollar spent on early childhood interventions such as baby health nurses and other family supports? That’s upwards of $17 returned on every dollar spent. The savings are in reduced costs of healthcare, welfare, public housing, and the big one: the criminal justice system. The profits are in employment, increased productivity and increased tax receipts.

Or it may showcase their naked greed: the privileged definitely understand the transfer of power that comes with such equalising policy as investing in education and adequate housing in impoverished neighbourhoods (neighbourhoods which have been actively impoversished, by guess who). Returns on investment may include the privileged hearing criticism of their narrow world view, or for once competing with a less loaded dice, or actually competing. This is unappetising to a group who have invested centuries in convincing themselves and others that their assets are the product of hard work, and represent “just” rewards (as opposed to the indolent poor, who receive “just” desserts). As George Monbiot points out, “if wealth was the inevitable result of hard work, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire”.

But the point. In 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations. The Aboriginal Stolen generations. Those Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families, many if not most on grounds of being Aboriginal. It was a crime second only to the original dispossession and massacre. And then, what? All of a sudden it seemed like everyone was getting an apology. Not that the subsequent recipients did not deserve a heartfelt apology. They did. As do many more who are systematically oppressed and impoverished by the state. But it was like anything those blackfellas get, we must have too.

The taking of offence has followed the same trajectory. A group of Aboriginal people proved in a court of law that a white columnist had behaved extremely offensively. The offence was proved, the offender was found in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. The offendees were entitled to the offence they took, AT LAW. All of a sudden every elite in the land was offended; or lecturing on who was entitled to be offended, and by what. And that everyone has a right to be offensive (this last claim, from the highest law officer in the country, is so absurdly false as to be embarrassing: there are no legislative gurantees of free speech in Australia, offensive or otherwise). The gist of it is this: if those blackfellas can be offended, we can too. The same thing happens with “entitlement”. While the Tories merrily feather their nest with their extremely expensive entitlements (like taxpayers funding their travel to hob-nobby weddings), the rest of us are lectured over ‘income support’ pittances, less for a week than MP per diem allowances for a day away from home.

When petulant elites hijack the victim role while asserting their right to victimise (a la Bolt and Brandis), someone has probably had a basic human right recognised by power. Members of a less powerful group have probably been recognised – by power – as having had their basic rights denied – by power. The Bolts of this world do not like such recognition. They push back, and push back hard. When the next key sentiment emerges from this nasty government, the pattern is sure to repeat.


On learning music and teaching law

I come from a maternal line of teachers. My mother teaches music, and her sister teaches drama. Their mother ran her own little school back in the day, with their aunty. Another sister ran yoga and dog-training classes. If there was one thing I swore never to do, not even a little bit, not even piano lessons on the side for pocket money, it was teaching. Even now, five years after I took my first class, it’s an open secret. How’s the teaching going? Mum will ask. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. I LOVE it.

Teaching is one of the few professions that has been relatively open to women who want to establish and maintain an independent working life. Staff rooms are not free of office politics – no work environment is free of office politics – work environments have humans within. But it is nowhere near as threatening to enter a school and earn a living as it is to confront the rampantly sexist horrors that await women in construction, mining, engineering, and (still) medicine, science and law. Not to mention the corporate cowboys in finance, insurance and IT.

That social structures and the men who perpetuate their flawed values have actively limited our life choices is still apparent today. Minimalisation of the worth and value of working with children (and the elderly, the sick, people with disabilities and other women) is one of those breathtakingly ignorant features of the western tradition. It is much over-looked that while we hold forth as the pinnacle of human achievement, we have in fact only succeeded at producing a generation of the fattest, saddest, most sugar-addicted beings in the history of humankind. If that sounds far-fetched, consider the fastest-rising diagnoses in the wealthiest countries: obesity, depression and diabetes. It is our strange privilege – to deploy the trappings of “civilisation” to disconnect from life’s fundamentals. This disconnection shields and buffers and cotton-wools the middle classes from the howling suffering of humanity. It is so all-pervasive that many of us only notice it when we breed a new human of our own. Suddenly the utter disregard for women and children is front and centre, every waking hour (which is most hours, for some new parents). How to push a pram AND a supermarket trolley? Why do tradies only turn up when you have to be somewhere else? What do you THINK I did all day? HAS A BABY DIED OF HUNGER OR DISEASE HERE? DO YOU KNOW WHY NOT?

Anyway. The latest pedagogy repositions teaching. It is now located and defined as teaching, learning and engagement (not necessarily in that order). Makes sense: students must be engaged to learn, and teachers must engage students before teaching and learning can take place. Turns out that teaching is a lot like parenting, and simultaneously teaching and parenting – among a group larger than an adult or two, to make the obvious point – is a tried and true pedagogy. Been around a while. For the sum of human existence and beyond. Back up in the trees, down in the swamp, parents showing children, elders leading. Not new, nothing innovative, just a return to the deepest of deep-rooted practices: listening, learning, laughing, living.

No, I am not advocating a trip down Aquarius lane. In a roundabout and easily distracted by the realities of most of the world’s pain while sitting in the comfort of my suburban home way, I am trying to get to this. My mother teaches music. I am belatedly, eternally grateful that this is her chosen profession. I teach law. We are both mother-teachers. This delivers dividends, in commonalities that far outweigh the surface differences in our chosen fields.

It dawned on me slowly, as I took on two and then three and four classes. Then unit co-ordinator of this course, or running summer school for that. Each additional responsibility brought that which most teachers loathe – the designing of assessments, the accountability measures to the institution, the endless administration. I developed pedagogy around remembering names; and more on compulsory attendance. I developed a pathological hatred of medical certificates; and a gentle, almost fond, tone for explaining to eighteen year old law students that they are adults, and smart ones, who have worked hard to get where they are … and are therefore expected to work on successful life/study strategies. I am not your mother, the sub text screams, as I smile and nod reassurely (subtext: Ingrid is right. You are smart. It is up to you).

What was slowly dawning was an understanding that I had spent a lifetime in the company of a woman who holds a sophisticated universal theory on the place of music in human history. And that I was spending much of my intellectual energy working on exactly that, in the field of law. Neither of these are new enterprises, but as with much teaching and learning agenda, we humans are doomed to re-learn or repeat, like history itself says it will doom us to do. Music resonates through the body and the heart, and through the ages. Law resonates through the head and the heart, and the body politic. If the heart thing strikes you as incongruent, spend a day in a court room. If any social structure showcases everything that is wrong with our civilisation so-called, it is the cold pomposity of this environment. The power of men to judge others while holding back any emotion as the most despicable, most heart breaking and traumatising events are recounted and relived in the public domain – it is a terrible thing. It is barely an improvement on public hangings – the single redeeming feature is that Australian courts at least do not, directly, have the power to take a human life.

While I am nothing if not a complete ignoramus on all things Foucaultian, I think the resonance from head to heart to social body is the music that pumps in our blood, and law that regulates its beat. The great reunification of parenting and teaching, of music and law, of a life’s calling that is a living wage, may never have fallen into place if my mother had not been that special kind of teacher who not only loves what she does but is gripped by a passion to share it with all. Her teaching style is inclusive and generous but not altruistically – for it is her greatest life satisfaction too, this privilege to enhance a fellow human’s love and knowledge of music. Same thing, I hear her in my mind’s ear, as I type that AND between love and knowledge. Same thing, for more knowledge of music is more love of music, and it is here that the law and music education paths diverge.

My own love of studying law has as mixed a provenance as anyone’s interest in anything. My dad is an Anglophile, I am an Anglophobe. His old-school liberalism prompts me to shriek in frustration. They’re letting you down, dad! How can you stay loyal to an idea (here, liberalism) when its adherents are people who bastardise and corrupt everything you actually do and they say they do while doing the opposite? Push back! Tell em to get back to first principles, or go back to school! He won’t, of course.

My Anglophobia is, as far as I will argue, grounded in fact. The English are dangerous. Like the church they took with them across the globe, everything the English touch turns to gold for the English and death by English hands for all but the most dedicated of collaborators. Why anyone would join collaborator ranks for the dubious outcome of never being more than a curiosity, and never attaining full membership no matter what, has always left me cold and unconvinced. I always thought Al-Fayed senior, the Arab who bought Harrods, was the ultimate exemplar of how that particular dynamic plays out. He’s so rich he takes over the iconic jewel in the English retail crown, just purchases this piece of prestige. His son squires the fallen princess about town. Al-Fayed paid the same price as families across empire have always paid. It is an old, old story; the first born son, the sacrificial lamb. Everything old is new again, nothing is new under the sun (hello vanity, hello Ecclesiastes, and hello to my maternal grandma, who loved that chapter and verse).

But back to my dad: Our shared yearning is for a social order which actually reflects the noble pursuits and principles that “the” law (our legal tradiiton) claims to uphold. There is nothing wrong with subscribing to the principle that all are equal before the law and no-one is above it. There is everything wrong with complacent declarations that this is indeed the case, that it is a factual claim that can be validly made about England and the common law countries the English so violently corralled under their jurisdiction.

I have written elsewhere of my immeasuarable discomfort with the notion of a common law – or, as the English and their accolytes call it, the common law. It has an inherent problem that is overlooked in the same way the great claims for “civilisation” made by the west overlook its barbaric disconnection from life, mother earth, humanity, and all that sustains us. Similarly, the “common” law is elitist. It is inaccessible to most. It is overlaid with multiple interpretations and rules, manifest across continents in different permutations, continents which to this day suffer the searing, tearing chasms wrought by the English and their maps and pencils, Englishmen drawing lines with their unspeakable disregard for others’ traditions around land, law and property. And all the while here is the common law proclaiming its central consistency and practical evolutionary capacity, while both being and appearing to be inconstant and inconsistent, rigid and inflexible, and perpetuating injustice, to all but the privileged few. The common law, on even cursory inspection, is not common to all.

Nothing and no-one and can be all things to all people. Simultaneously, all humanity are one, a common species is what unites us. It does not matter whether a fellow human has so profound a disability that they can not speak our language, or skin so black they disappear, to white eyes, up to the whites of black eyes at night. We recognise people, as individual humans, even as we dismiss or overlook or talk down to or ignore them. It is in those acts of dismissal and ignorance that we confirm our recognition.

All humans gather into groups and say to one another ‘what are the rules?’ Across all of time and space, from one end of history to the other and across the planet, every human society, every culture, or clan or tribe or language group, has nominated law makers and law enforcers, identified law breakers, and thus law itself. It is this that law shares (has in common!) with music. Law brings order, and it does, in the formal sense. But so does music, for what is a birth, death or marriage, any ritual designed to give thanks for our continuing survival, without music? Is there a society or culture or clan or tribe or language group known to human kind that has not organised itself around rules and rituals, leaders who lead, in law and in song? I can not imagine such a peoples, or if I could, I can not imagine them surviving for long.

In response to Tim Blech of the Terror

At 05.16 hours this morning Tuesday 16 June 2014 that old fashioned charmer Tim Blair confirmed his hysterical fear of intelligent articulate women:

While the gracious Dee Madigan suggested that no lefty femmo would be so crass as to post a response, I had no such qualms. Except perhap a small qualm about responding to Blair’s list of formidably fabulous women by naming the chief whitemansplainers (neologic credit: Celeste Liddle) who should be wanted for crimes against humanity, and the English language.

Here is my mirror call.

They blather, they jabber, they drone. They crow of their “democratic” victory (that’s the Abbott government, to you and me) from the towers of triumphalism, these chicken hawking megaphone kings. They are Australia’s dominant elite; oppressive, mendacious members of the white man ruling class NOT ALL WHITE MEN (why, a decent white man raised me – to think for myself). Their sexist, racist, homophobic (/self-hating) poor-hating chorus rises in ridiculousness to a panicked stampede following the rise and rise of today’s smart articulate women.

Only one of them can reign as our solitary shepherd of the petrified men-sheep. Only one can run screaming down the same road with all the others, clambering over each other to complain, whine and whinge that the women are out of the kitchen, and the First Peoples are asserting the universal rights that are inherent to us all. Who is the most threatened by intelligent voices everywhere? I can’t list the choices of frightened white man commentariat or I’d be sick in my mouth and besides, you know them already.

We know, and we have known for a very long time

Recently I finished re-reading the Steinbeck masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. Re-reading books is an old habit of mine, from childhood days when I used to run out of books to read. Like most people I know, books pile up by the bed these days, half- or un-read as deadlines loom and children are ferried about the countryside. Re-reading is rarer, a forgotten pleasure. It is easy company. There is no urgency. You know what happens. The book is an old friend to be curled up with at night in the sure knowledge that the prose is comfortingly exquisite, the finale the same.

A few weeks ago my daughter, frustrated with her homework on the equally grim Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men, decided to clean out the shed instead. She is that kind of person. I can think of no better way to pass a rainy weekend than in bed with a good book. My daughter and her metabolism start climbing the internal walls, silently and not-so-silently screaming for physical action. Hence the shed project, in which The Grapes of Wrath was re-discovered and thence re-read.

I had not forgotten much of this “terrible, indignant” book, as it is billed. Every pivotal scene was seared on my memory as it emerged – the crushed skull of the ex-preacher, Ma’s cold resistance to praise-the-lord flagellants, the Native American mechanic who befriends Tom Joad, and that final scene. In the end, which we know is neither end nor new beginning, the Joads stumble away from the flooded lowlands and across a starving family of two in the barn on the hill to which they flee. The once plump and simple Rose of Sharon has been pregnant throughout the book, until her starving bub is born lifeless in the midst of flooding rain that washed away the work. On hearing the crying boy, who tells how his whose dying lied about not being hungry, Rosasharn shares the one sustenance she has to give with the starving man. It is love, and human dignity, it is gift and spirit and sharing to the ultimate end, but it is terrible, too terrible to contemplate. This, says Steinbeck, in the closing pages: this, in the most powerful nation on earth.

Of course it could never happen here. This fucking refrain makes me screamingly angry. Wall-climbingly, hair-rippingly, arm-wavingly furious. Yes, it could. In fact, it is. Jesus said the poor will always be with us, I heard an arrogant man of god intone tonelessly on the radio this afternoon. He was one of those complacent conservative types from some wealthy diocese or bishopric or whatever its called, the Sydney one which is home to needle-eye squeezing camels, and which lost tens of millions of parishioner dollars in the 2008 global financial crisis. I assume the god-fearing merchant bankers knew their tithes were being gambled on the stock market, and did not care. What with the tens of millions of tax payer dollars rolling through the place in the form of massive government contracts to outsource the essential social services that are the responsibility of the state.

This corrupt and Christian-less rort allows the non-tax paying church to profiteer from the taxpayer while risking its actual income to enrich itself. Or not, in the case if the poor management and judgement exercised in the greedy noughties, indistinguishable from the greedy neoliberal radicals of the nineties. It is also how the government is obscuring our march toward radical US-style “free” marketeering ideology and, thus, government policy.

The poor will always be with us, intoned the man of god. Yes, yes they will for as long as people like you commandeer huge portions of available assets. And make no mistake, the wealthy few, the neo-liberal government and this man of god are all cut from the same cloth. But surely, said the interviewer to the man of god, a state stipend is about human dignity? Must we force the unemployed to go cap in hand to a religious organisation?

And there it is. We are not simply dumping the poor on the street. We are providing a safety net. We do not let people starve in this country. We fund, with taxes, religious organisations to perpetuate and reproduce the crashing failure of the charity model, which is designed to not let Jesus be wrong, and ensure the poor are always with us.

I am talking every category of poor, it does not matter whether we are talking homelessness or disability or Aboriginality or homelessness. Poor is poor, and poor means worse health, higher rates of imprisonment, greater need of urgent and unaffordable dental care, worse education outcomes. The evidence is in. We do not need to prop up more research communities or caring industries or government departments: poor is poor, and goods and services cost money. Either the tax payers provide essential services to those who can not afford them, or they suffer. Where the state under-invests in health and education, and over-invests in force (police, guns, tasers, batons, prisons, wars, ‘defence’ personnel and their eye-wateringly expensive equipment and perks) the problems compound. Even viable solutions like public dental clinics, cost more than the initial fix would have been, once this compound decay sets in for, would have been.

This, the state says, is the fault of the poor. It is not. It is the fault of economic management so bad it beggars belief that its architects are still able to take to the microphones and spout words like ‘economic management’. Those touts have little to no understanding of basic economic relationships, relationships such as that between investment and return on investment, or confidence and expectations, or credit and trust. This is not conspiracy. No conspiracy is required. They all respond the same because they all think the same. Not one has ever been hungry. But they will tell you they have been poor. The code word, the one to look out for, is struggle. I have known struggle, a complacent suited white man in the pink of health will assure an uncritical media representative, failing to mention that it was a pre-selection struggle or some other effort, equally meaningless to anyone but the club. They have never known night after night with a sick child (if they had, we would have heard about it), or no money for school excursions, or shame so intense it renders you immobile. You can be sure they have not struggled with the decision as to whether to share their dead baby’s milk with a grown, starving man. Well, nor did Rosasharn. As Steinbeck tells it, she did not struggle with that decision at all.

Listening learning knowing

Every time I attend Aboriginal gatherings, or spend time with family, or go to workshops – which is often, but not often enough – there is a strong sense that I am hearing and seeing and learning what is true. It is almost obvious, yet not.

For example, today I learnt that animals smell smoke, and respond by moving to higher ground, or up trees. This is true of mammals and marsupials, insects and invertebrates. Animals respond to fire. As soon as I hear this, the evidence is presented (I think like a lawyer, it is my burden). A fire is lit. The smoke drifts. We are alerted to checking the signs, to reading the wind, and told to listen and look… after a time, up. In the trees. Look. See. Hear. Listen. The animals have smelt the smoke. Of course they have. Like smoke is new to an ant?

To hear without listening, or to look without seeing – is like to touch without feeling, and be, sometimes, alone.

To listen is to sift sounds from noise, and make meaning. It is to rapidly separate and reunite point after point of contact – symbols, referents, commonalities, similarities, the divergent and the radically different. In ancient Greek, the polis – the political sphere – is a point. A point draws people, it demands attention. A point sends out a signal beyond its immediate space, whether a light on a hill, a cliff-top warning, or a circle of fire. The point carries the message: human knowledge resides here. Here is the light and enlightenment that is generated by human beings sharing observations of the world around us.

When ancient knowledge is shared, it resonates. This weekend I attended a workshop on firestick farming. It was one step in a long journey of extraordinarily tenacious work over the last ten years on the ground and 40000 years of knowledge passed down to family, and now, community. Ancient knowledge resonates so deeply that the moment of sharing carries the truth and universal nature of its telling. Listening to ancient knowledge is powerful, too. It is quiet, and peer-influenced: everyone else is listening intently. It is independent, and shared: in the presence of each other, we process what we hear through the prism of personal experience. And we know it to be true.

The ongoing embarrassment that is Tony Abbott in government

There were, and are, far more important daily outrages again today than the umming and erring of the Australian Prime Minister. But I couldn’t come at them, having depressed myself stupid by reading Robert Manne’s wise and prescient profile of Tony Abbott circa 2009 in The Monthly. The article, written during the first Rudd government, draws on Abbott’s record as a Howard government minister, and was re-linked today by my blog of choice (daily loonpond doses available at in the wake of the horrific news streaming from Iraq this week. In it, Prof Manne references at length the Abbott manifesto Battlelines, a copy of which I am the proud owner, courtesy of a 40th birthday present from the remaining Liberal party member with whom I can bear to speak (if he wasn’t married to an altogether more intelligent and compassionate person, I would probably fall out of touch completely, or at least for the duration and reconstruction).

It was a timely reminder. I had forgotten, for example, that the ham-fisted gold-plated Paid Parental Leave Scheme Abbott cooked up to encourage more babies from “women of calibre”, and his nasty proposal to impoverish and dehumanise unemployed people under 30, first appeared way back then. Anyone could have done their homework and seen this LNP train wreck coming from the day Abbott won the leadership by a single vote. And that is precisely what Prof Manne did. What cold comfort then that he has only ‘I told you so’ rather than ‘phew, thank goodness Abbott shared what he really thinks and we all ran a mile from that’.

Prof M starts with the Santamaria legacy, making a persuasive case that it is core to understanding Abbott the man and politician (as David Marr concurred a week or so ago, in The Saturday Paper). He then canvasses the general inconsistency of the Abbott mind, building to a crescendo of criticism that in my secret dreams I, too, am capable of writing and seeing published in a reputable magazine:

“….in defending the Howard government’s Iraq record, Abbott argues that “it was to liberate other people, to advance everyone’s interest and to uphold universal values that ‘the coalition of the willing’ went to war.” Does he not understand that he has just given us a kindergarten version of neo-conservative strategic doctrine, albeit one from which the explicit ambition for undisputed American global hegemony has been conveniently excised?
Abbott’s discussion of the Howard government’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq points to something in his political personality altogether disconcerting. As a con-sequence of Iraq, certainly tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people have died. Abbott was a member of the government that took Australia to war on the basis of a false intelligence trail. There is, however, no trace of anguish or even defensiveness in his discussion. A similar moral imperturbability is found when he discusses the Howard government’s treatment of asylum seekers or the question of Indigenous reconciliation. Despite the fact that the prolonged detention of asylum seekers inflicts grievous suffering and serious mental illness on very many innocent people, Abbott is apparently untouched. The rights of the asylum seekers, he tells us, have to be balanced against the rights of Australians to protect their borders. No more needs to be said. Abbott has reluctantly come to accept the apology to the Stolen Generations. His grudging tardiness is explained by the fact that, as he makes clear in Battlelines, he regards the dispossession and destruction of the Aboriginal people as merely a failure “to extend to Aboriginal people the kind of sympathetic understanding that was readily extended, say, to the Irish and their predicament” and the decades-long forced removal of Aboriginal children as “a mild enough form of racism”. No less disconcerting are his unbelievably superficial discussions of the Global Financial Crisis and the impending catastrophe of climate change. Although the ideological folly and the material greed of the most respectable brokers and bankers of Wall Street were responsible for the most devastating global economic collapse since the Great Depression, Battlelines shows Abbott’s naive faith in the beneficence of market capitalism altogether untouched. Even more seriously, Abbott must know that if the climate scientists are right, there is a chance that the very future of the Earth is in peril. Yet, because the issue has been thoroughly politicised and because his fellow conservatives in Australia and abroad have opted for do-nothing climate change denialism, Abbott is content to thoughtlessly follow their lead.”

See the full article in The Monthly at

So there it is, it’s all there, out there on the web for anyone and everyone to see, the jabbering incoherence, the radical religionist, and the relentless mendacity of all free market ideologues who babble about small government while spending taxpayers’ money with the kind of thoughtless abandon that comes to those who have never actually earned their keep at all. As pithy truth detector George Monbiot points out, if wealth really is “the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

Daily Outrage: Live footage of rape in Tahrir Square

Today’s outrage is accompanied by such horrific, specific footage that it comes with a triple X warning to all thinking, caring human beings. The link at the end of this post is to video footage of the actual events described by the headline Woman stripped beaten and sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square.

Sexual assault at protests in Tahrir Square is endemic. Last year, Al-Monitor reported the tactic of surrounding women protestors as a “human shield”. This term is usually reserved for propaganda purposes – Israel frequently claims that killing civilians in Gaza, the most densely populated strip of land on earth, is unavoidable because family members shield ‘militants’. Here, however, ‘human shield’ could not be more accurate, legitimately deployed to describe the necessity of shielding women from sexual assault during the five years and counting of waves of protests across Cairo.

Was it only five years ago that the Green Revolution gave us the despicable ‘first’ of live death footage uploaded to YouTube? The death of Nena Agha-Soltan went viral – of course it did – non-censored circulation of the most horrific and public of private moments is ‘a thing’, as our callous culture would have it. I didn’t watch her death, but am both moved by and optimistic that her death was not in vain, that the wider movement raised awareness outside of Iran, and that young people in the west are, and will be, more politically engaged as a result.

We know that the ‘middle east’ is widely and regularly demonised by western conservative politicians, painted as a hotbed of terrorism for the purposes of fear-mongering to domestic political audiences in their safe and comfortable homes. It is not hard to reach out and touch the latent fear in the hearts of those who are enriched by the theft and exploitation of others’ autonomy. As an Australian, I see daily the slender, tender layer of bravado that can be touched in white Australians who know, not particularly deep down, that we walk on Aboriginal land.

The death of Nena Agha-Soltan can and should and I believe will make it harder for the powerful machines of the fear-mongers and panic-merchants to find a place in the hearts of young westerners who are alert to the facts. While we are taught to fear people with legitimate grievances; we should really fear our own war-loving, capital-hoarding, planet-destroying “elected leaders”.

To return, the long way around, to Egypt: the place of women at the protests could not be more relevant, or necessary, either. Leaving aside electoral due process and legitimacy, the struggle for secular rule is inherently, urgently, about women’s autonomy.

Last night I scrolled onto a rare long post from a colleague and friend who usually shares links without commentary. Her style is different from mine. I like to add a little blurb, or my reaction to the content, whether anger, laughter or tears. But Sandra doesn’t. She lets the reader decide. I often read the coverage she sends, which is from her PhD field work in Egypt. Sandra is researching an amazing ‘flashmob’ type networked response to sexual and other mob violence against women in the context of political upheaval. The network is connected by mobile and smart phone, by text and social media. When a woman is threatened or attacked, nearby members respond with citizen action, calling authorities and often physically corralling the abuser away from the woman. The on-ground action is complemented by awareness raising and other education and media strategies.

According to a Global Mail report from July last year, over 90 women were assaulted in just four days of protests.

“Survivors and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that some of the men claiming to help the women during the attacks were in fact taking part, further disorienting victims, who could not assess who was in fact assisting them,” the report said.

Parse that for a moment. Men claiming to help were in fact taking part in violent assaults including rape. It reminds me of those not-particularly-rare stories of police officers and priests who, on hearing a complaint of sexual assault, would commit a sexual attack of their own on the complainant. Their sick sense is of women and children being nothing more than a sexual object, and spoilt goods at that, instead of a fellow human being in need of comfort, support and healing. This icy, nasty kernel of callous hatred and objectifying brutality is found from west to east.

In response, Tahrir Bodyguard members wear neon yellow vests and helmets to circumvent this despicable exploitation. “We aim for zero cases of sexual terrorism in Tahrir and keep on working until every person can express their opinion without getting raped or assaulted.”

It is not my intention, and nor do I have the expertise, to cover here the towering importance of women’s freedom to protest in a country where political powers-that-be and powers-to-be seek to wind back reforms in such areas as female genital mutilation and the legal marriageable age. It is no coincidence that as women fight long and hard to win political progress, men draw together and together attack individual women and their freedom to protest safely. Where “safely” means “without being raped”.
Today’s outrage is brought to you by men who do not want women to exercise political rights. And again, the warning: this link is to an eye-witness hand-held recorder of the actual sexual assault described by the headline Woman stripped beaten and sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square.

Daily Outrage: More evidence of Crimes Against Humanity by the Catholic Church

Today’s outrage comes courtesy of the Catholic Church, home of absolutist hypocrisy

In The Case of the Pope, a book which could be, but with wily lawyerly wisdom was not, called The Case Against the Pope, Geoffrey Robertson QC sets out in meticulous detail a potential prosecution case against Cardinal Ratzinger at The Hague. The charge? Crimes Against Humanity. A crucial component of Robertson’s argument is Ratzinger’s pre-Papal status as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. As is the wont of powerful religious men, the Congregation’s dominant feature is co-opted from the purported characteristic of their putative God: omnipotence.

Like the rest of the Vatican administration, the all-powerful Congregation is highly secretive and not even nominally accountable to those who provide the funds, including congregations of desperately impoverished families overburdened by the huge families demanded of submission to church teachings. Only the most senior of the celibate clerics entrusted with the vast wealth of the Catholic Church have any idea where the money goes or how the resource allocation decisions are made.

Nevertheless, it is acceptable in mainstream society to not question the criminal conduct of the church, and for mainstream media to describe the Congregation as “conservative” or “powerful” without questioning the terrible crimes in which it has played an active part. The assumption seems to be that the church does “good works”, and that no-one could possibly have known of the vast numbers of priests who are also child rapists, for if they had, they would have acted to stop it. This is an odd piece of equivalence at best, given the church itself stands against moral relativism and pushes an absolutist doctrine on sin, despite the sum total of its teachings being derived from fantastical mythology, genocidal allegory or, at best, anachronistic analogy.

That no-one could have known, on the basis that they would have acted had they known, is now demonstrably false as active cover-up after passive cheek-turning emerges on the evidence. It is dangerously retrospective and fallacious: we can not assume that people who have at no time been asked whether they knew something did not know it. Nor can we presume that a character test which at no time has been evidenced (the moral fortitude, or courage and strength, to defend abused children in the face of institutional and individual concealment) has been passed. As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse has laid bare in Australia, none of these assumptions are, or ever were, grounded in fact. The Commission has just had millions of dollars of funding revoked as the new Catholic Prime Minister re-aligns budget priorities. Investigating and revealing child rape by catholic priests has never been a priority for the Catholic Church, and nor is it a priority for the Australian Prime Minister, who is not only a company man to his well- heeled shoes, but also notoriously wrote a personal, gushing reference for a convicted paedophile priest.

As Robertson documents, there is overwhelming evidence that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is a human trafficking racket which moves paedophile priests around the world for the specific purpose of covering up their crimes. These acts actively and predictably create opportunities for child rapist-priests to re-offend. Simultaneously, the Congregation pretends – and expends considerable resources collected from the Catholic faithful to this end – that ecclesiastical ‘punishment’ (Hail Marys and the like) for child rape is sufficient and justifiable, and somehow precludes any further action such as reporting complaints to the relevant civil authorities. Aiding or abetting the crime of child sexual assault by relevant institutions and their agents is not even on the table, although gag orders and minimal compensation payments have been, for some time.

In Australia, the legal framework at least nominally recognises the principle of separation of church and state, despite the dominance of Judeo-Christian traditions across all aspects of civil society. Spare a thought then for the good citizens of Ireland, a pseudo theocratic state where Catholicism is inescapable and competes with England as the single greatest source of human misery inflicted on the Irish, and Irish women and children in particular, over hundreds and hundreds of years. The church and its demand for sons and daughters to enter lives of celibacy, with its harsh and harmful teachings on contraception and abortion, sits in judgement on individuals, families, schools, neighbourhoods and whole communities. To an outsider, it is beyond ludicrous that any community would accept judgement on pre-marital sex and pregnancy from celibate childless adults who adhere to a bastion of victim blaming sadism which actively conceals child sexual assault.

And so, to the latest revelations of Catholic church works and how the Catholic church works. Almost 800 baby and child corpses re-discovered in a septic tank on site at an institution run by Bon Secour (good help/safe harbour) Catholic nuns. At least three mothers have been confirmed to have suffered the same fate. “Buried” is too inaccurate a term here, with the dignity and humanity it implies. Extraordinary courage must have been required of historian Catherine Corless for her tireless work in bringing the fate of these tragic lives to light.

Sister word presser Stephanie Lord writes in No Country for Young Women: Honour and Infanticide in Ireland, that thousands of young women

“had violated the honour of their communities, by bringing shame on their families through “illegitimate” pregnancy and therefore had to be hidden at all costs, and punished for their transgressions. The children died as they lived, discarded like the refuse of society that the Church considered them and the mothers that gave birth to them to be. Most of the children who survived were put to work in industrial schools under the supervision of perverts and sadists.”

Lord takes no prisoners in her description of the Catholic Church as a central agency for attracting, rewarding and reproducing infanticide, sadists and perverts, and is equally frank on its power-hungry, child trafficking and wealth stripping activities:

“These children certainly did not die for lack of money or resources on the Church’s part (they had an income from the children they sold), and the fewer children of this kind there were, the less threat there was to the church’s control over society.”

Today’s outrage is brought to you by the Catholic Church.

Daily outrage: anti-homeless person spikes

Today’s outrage comes courtesy of the UK, home of the Tory abomination.

homeless studs

England has been exporting oppressive use of resources to break the human spirit, and lying about it, for well over 500 years. The UK ruthlessly pursues and promotes self-interest, in all things local and international, alongside aggressively righteous theorising, proclaiming self-interest to be the dominant human impetus. Simultaneously, the English tout the majesty of their legal system, the stability of constitutional monarchy, the beauty of parliamentary democracy, and various versions of the repugnant nonsense loosely known as trickle-down economics. Centuries of imperial destruction, coupled with recent decades of struggling to retain relevance, can be understood via careful analysis of the word common.

The common law is a law for everyone: under this system, we are all equal before the law; and no-one is above the law. The verity of this noble claim can be tested by the demography of imprisonment in common law countries. Every prison known to the former English colonies is full to overflowing with impoverished illiterate survivors of child neglect and abuse with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities and long histories of unemployment and homelessness. Prison populations do not mirror the society in which the prison sits. So either poor, Indigenous and otherwise marginalised people are inherently criminal, or prison populations demonstrate the oppressive use of resources to break the human spirit.

The House of Commons is the house of the people, where the majority of elected representatives form government, and thence pass laws to which all are subject, and no-one is above (see above). This, too, can be checked by a glance at the demography of members elected to the House of Commons to see whether the legislature is a microcosm of the society over which it governs. Turns out that legislative members everywhere court wealthy donors and pass into law measures which facilitate the transfer of public money to private interests, notably to wealthy donors and elected members of legislatures. By definition, there are no representatives who are unemployed. Almost by definition, there any no government MPs who have experienced long term generational homelessness and other sure indicators of ill health, low income and poor education outcomes. Tory governments by design are composed of people who have never wanted for necessity in their lives, and never will.

The Commonwealth is a very special use of the word common, for it embraces all that England loves: wealth for England. The Commonwealth is shorthand for centuries of forced transfer of wealth from a multitude of countries to England, in exchange for being lied to about the transfer of wealth from the country to England. This wealth came in many forms: the spices of the middle and far east, the rubber and sugar of the Caribbean, diamonds from Africa, wool from Australia, silver and or gold from just about everywhere. Most repulsive was the enthusiasm for trading in human beings, an age-old, multicultural practice which was eventually outlawed. Having exhausted its profit margins and any remnant of colonial goodwill except among slave traders, England switched from chief trader in human flesh to self-proclaimed abolitionist hero.

Much like the law, the legislature, and empire, the common room at Eton, or Kings College, or Mallory Towers, is hallowed ground. As anyone who follows the special use of the English language made by the English, as is surely their prerogative, a public school is a secondary education institution strictly unavailable to all but the wealthiest and most connected blue blood members of the public. It is in such places that the common room is to be found. One has already learned, of course, that one is not common; and learnt also to shun anyone who displays the tiniest hint of common behaviour, accent, or protocol breach.

A commoner, by contrast, is common. It is common for a commoner to fall on hard times, become homeless, and destitute. It is uncommon for a commoner to be assisted by the state. It is common for a commoner, a homeless and destitute commoner, to be criminalised by the state, to be actively further marginalised and dehumanised, to be refused access to state services, which are dismantled by Tory governments wherever and whenever they may be.

Today’s outrage is brought to you courtesy of the UK, home of the Tory abomination. These spikes were installed not to prevent homelessness. According to neighbours, these spikes were installed to prevent homeless people from sleeping in the meagre shelter provided by the wind break of a unit block in London. Thank you Tories, thank you England: