Category Archives: Everlasting awfulness

The “embassy issue” will not go away

There was no issue until it was made into an issue; and there is no question that Prime Minister Scott Morrison heard what he wanted to hear, and did what he wanted to do.

What he heard and acted on, according to Morrison, was advice from ex-ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma. This is a man billed by his colleagues as the best and brightest of Liberal Party recruits, an opinion duly amplified by major media outlets. Yet his advice was so spectacularly poorly conceived – or poorly received, or both – that a month later it is still the chemtrail of Australian politics: a toxic threat, spun out of thin air.

As good an account as any of how the prime minister lit this flaming mess is from Katharine Murphy, the Guardian Australia political editor. There is more backstory of course, there always is, but Liberal Party factional in-fighting already gets way more attention than it deserves. From where I sit, the entire caucus is not worth a jot; and costs the Australian public a fortune in salaries and phone bills and jet travel and pork, for negative return on our investment, for nothing at all in the national interest.

Domestic politicking on Israel and Palestine inevitably stirs up anti-Arab and Islamaphobic feeling as well as anti-Semitism. It mobilises unhelpful interventions from people like Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Carr, people who posture as experts on matters which they failed to address while in office, when they had the power to effect positive change. That political reporters buy into their legacy protection racket is equally irritating, but the crux is that when these voices dominate debate, no real progress is ever made.

There is no excuse for Sharma advising the prime minister as he did; and no excuse for Morrison not knowing, if indeed he did not, that announcing a re-think on moving the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is highly problematic.

Morrison had been in office less than two months at the time, and the by-election to choose a replacement for his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull was a mere five days away. Most commentators immediately noted that the seat of Wentworth has a significant Jewish bloc of around 12 per cent of voters; that strict adherents of Judaism would have likely cast pre-poll votes due to our elections being held on a Saturday; and that Jews are not a homogenous group of one mind on Israel, or Palestine, or pro-Zionist policy settings.

Oh, wait. Nobody said anything about Zionism. Nobody ever does.

The Holy City

I once spent two days in al Quds Jerusalem. The only places I saw outside the Old City walls were transport interchanges as I made my way from Ben Gurion airport (where I was later detained at length for perceived Palestinian sympathies) and back to Jaffa Tel Aviv. These Old Cities are incredible, like Uluru is incredible. I could feel the antiquity, a cellular memory buried deep in blood and bone.

I am not Arab or Jewish, or Christian or Muslim or Armenian or Greek (quarters in the Old Cities). The closest any of my forebears come to an ancestral connection is stirring renditions of the eponymous – and fictional, but the English are good at that – hymn Jerusalem. And I have the same bodily response to hearing bagpipes and the yidaki didgeridoo. Maybe I just feel sites and sounds, the way some people see auras. More likely the lessons learnt from Aboriginal friends and family, scholars and tour guides, are universal; lessons like listening to country, whichever country or whose country I am on.

Either way, my politics are grounded in universality and not in exceptionalism, or nationalism. These ideologies illuminate the embassy issue that wasn’t, until it was. This  utterly unnecessary nonsense is consuming political capital in Australia, in 2018, in the dying months of a Coalition government, thanks to advice the prime minister says he received from former ambassador to Israel and failed Liberal candidate Dave Sharma.

The Zionist position on Al Quds Jerusalem is of an eternal, undivided holy city and capital of Eretz Israel. At the opening of the newly relocated US Embassy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said

The truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state… The prophet, Zechariah, declared over 2,500 years ago, ‘So said the Lord, ‘I will return to Zion and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth’… God bless the United States of America and God bless Jerusalem, the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.

There is no place in this Holy City for a shared capital with a sovereign Palestine, and no place for self-determination of the Palestinian people, under military occupation for over 50 years. There is more biblical imagery in the same vein [full English text here], designed to flatter baffled belligerents like Donald Trump.

The Netanyahu position puts the lie to Morrison’s claim that his embassy announcement on behalf of the Australian people supports ‘the two-state solution’. Al Quds Jerusalem as the eternal undivided capital of a Jewish state, and the international consensus on a two-state ‘solution’ (to ‘the conflict’), are mutually exclusive propositions. Morrison is ignorant, or lying, or both; and government ministers are now doubling down on this internally incoherent line of argument, in complete contempt of voters and whether we have any understanding of the relevant issues.

The Australian Embassy Issue

There is no real way of knowing if Scott Morrison understands the implications of his announcement. The man is a chronic motor-mouth, the more he blathers about listening and hearing the more you suspect he is incapable of either, or both.

Perhaps Morrison is a committed Christian Zionist, and is across all the politics of an ‘eternal undivided’ capital of Israel. Most Christian Zionists are from the same kind of Pentecostal sect to which Morrison belongs. Alternatively, all politics is local (see O’Neill and Hymel, 1995). Maybe Morrison was driven exclusively or largely by the Wentworth by-election. The major media outlets reported the embassy news as retail politics, but failed to interrogate the legitimacy of mobilising foreign policy for domestic purposes.

This is not unusual. When the prime minister decked out a big blue campaign bus without calling an election, the political press explained this was because the government is threatened in marginal seats in Queensland. Which we know. What the electorate really need the press to do is what we can not: directly question the legitimacy of a politician using government power and money – the political economy of conservative incumbency – to shore up his margins and splash the pork about.

Similarly, many predicted that the embassy announcement would jeopardise bilateral relations with Indonesia; and were widely lauded for doing their job. In certain circles, foreign affairs are the holy grail of seniority and mastery. The foreign affairs editor at the Murdoch-owned The Australian is incapable of not mentioning this kind of vanity. For instance, the presumed foreign affairs ‘inexperience’ of Barack Obama and Julia Gillard consumed many airtime hours and column inches; the obvious foreign affairs ineptitude of men like Donald Trump and Scott Morrison barely rate a mention.

Then there were the leaked ASIO memos showing that Morrison announced without consulting security agencies; Senate estimates concessions that Morrison did not work with DFAT diplomats or the Defence Minister; and that military chiefs found out after media briefings. This is important, but not for the reasons we see in most analyses. The claim is that announcing a potential embassy move may increase security threats in an actuarised world, where the pseudo-science of risk predictors funnels billions of dollars in funding to the military and security agencies.

It will increase the risk of terror attacks, the claim goes, which relies on the false assumption that Palestinians are inherently violent. Palestinians are no more violent or non-violent than any ethnic group: there is no violence gene. The reasoning here is bio-essentialist nonsense, and anyone amplifying such ugly untruths ought to be ashamed.

This messaging, however, coincides with why Zionism goes unreported: its ideology is in fact very violent. As mentioned above, Zionism is characterised by nationalism and exceptionalism: Zionists believe that Israel is the Jewish Homeland, on the basis of Chosen People exceptionalism. There is no place for the Indigenous Peoples in the Zionist worldview, not Bedouin, nor Palestinian or Arab. Many Israelis say Arab and not Palestinian to erase the identity and existence of countrymen and women.

The metaphysical – the Zionist belief system – is backed by extreme physical force in multiple forms, including the renewed military assault on Gaza immediately after the UN voted on Palestinian leadership of its G77 last month. As with targeting civilians, collective punishment is a war crime (Geneva Convention Art 33).

The predictable post-UN vote attacks by Israel on Gaza were apparently not predicted by diplo-genius Dave Sharma. The Liberal candidate unconvincingly told Australian media and Wentworth voters that our government’s embassy announcement was in anticipation of the Palestinian bid to lead the G77. This is straight up hasbara, and in terms of his by-election campaign, would convince nobody and please only rusted on Zionists, voters who would have voted for him anyway.

In other words, the policy is wrong, the rationale is wrong, and the domestic politics were also all wrong. The whole thing is an avoidable disaster, from the leaked texts between Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne to the official deployment of Turnbull – by Morrison – to represent Australia at an oceans conference in Bali and smooth over the mess, which then blew up in their faces.

Sharma has not been tapped for his role in all this, but he should be, because he has constructive knowledge of the fall-out: if he did not know, his socio-positional status says he ought to have known. This is the one piece of advice on the public record that we know he offered to a sitting prime minister, the first ever Pentecostal one in Australia, during a by-election in which he was the government candidate. Sharma is not Jewish, yet his much-touted resume shows that he should know this is not about his ambassadorial credentials, or capacity to raise funds for the Liberal Party.

It is personal, because religion is personal, because ideology is personal.

When Morrison stood at the despatch box in parliament and shouted in the face of former Attorney General Mark Dreyfus QC that Sharma knows more about Israel than anyone on the opposition benches, it was personal. When Josh Frydenberg went on the record to state the anti-Semitic record of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, it was personal. Major media are not noting the ethno-religious identity of Frydenberg in every report, of course, as is always done when Aboriginal people speak on Aboriginal policy, or feminists speak to reproductive rights.

This erasure of inherent biases is privilege. No Arab, no Muslim, no Palestinian gets to speak on Israel or Gaza or the West Bank or terrorism without being labelled in a way that invites audiences to dismiss their expert point of view. Meanwhile Israeli Defence Forces terrorise Palestinians on a mass scale every single day of the week and nobody highlights whether or not major media outlets’ Jerusalem-based foreign correspondents are Jewish.

So Josh Frydenberg can invoke the Holocaust and nobody points out that he is the first Jewish Liberal Party MP in the House of Representatives. I do not much like writing about all this, because of the genie-in-the-bottle effect. But I will say: what Frydenberg is doing can not and will not help his people. It is not possible to put Israel Palestine into the public debate without producing intractable hostility and increasing anti-Semitism.

Political journalists are acutely alert to this inevitability, yet remain compelled to report what Morrison said and did (he is the prime minister) while not necessarily compelled to remind readers or listeners of Sharma’s role (unless or until pre-selected for the next election, Sharma is basically nobody).

Realpolitik

As Na’ama Carlin eloquently explains here, the ‘embassy issue’ was unworkable from day one, a cheap political stunt. It was an insult to Jewish communities, in Wentworth and beyond, with its simplistic and offensive presumption that Jewish Australians are single-issue and pro-Zionist voters. Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.

At a march for Gaza at Sydney Town Hall in 2014, I was standing next to a woman and boy who I guessed to be mother and son, or maybe auntie and nephew (she was about my age, he was 13 or 14, the same age as my younger son at the time). When a group nearby set up their stall and unfurled a banner Jews Against The Occupation, she asked (I think, in Arabic) They are Jews? The boy replied in English They are Jews but they are not Zionists.

I tell this story not only because it would probably have taken me twenty sentences to communicate the same point. I work at Western Sydney University, where high-level multi-cultural and bilingual competencies are the rule and not the exception among the student body. I tell it because the young teen boy had a better grasp of Israel and Palestine than can be detected from the public pronouncements of the Australian prime minister, from the collective wisdom of the parliamentary press corps, or the advice of a former ambassador and Liberal Party candidate in an electorate with more Jewish voters than any other electorate in the country.

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Government rejects Voice to Parliament

The federal government response to the Referendum Council proposal for a constitutionally-enshrined Voice to Parliament was delivered in the form of a joint press release. The statement is attributed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Attorney-General George Brandis, and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion.

The government decision

This week we learned that the federal government decided to reject the consensus of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples who participated in 12 regional dialogues and the 2017 Uluru Convention. That consensus was for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, to advise on legislation affecting Indigenous Peoples; as well as for Makaratta, a truth and reconciliation process.

Perhaps the best known Referendum Council members are Megan Davis and Noel Pearson.

Professor Megan Davis was interviewed on ABC radio this morning. The first question implied that the government had rejected recognition, when it in fact rejected a Voice to Parliament and resurrected symbolic recognition. When as experienced and relatively impartial a journalist as Sabra Lane has to be corrected on a basic misapprehension from the very start of an interview… I mean, just imagine how exhausting this stuff is.

Noel Pearson was out of the blocks early. He condemned the dearth of political leadership on 4 August this year and has continued to do so since. Of all the Aboriginal people consulted by government, it is Noel who is called, Noel who gets the airtime. This week, you can hear his exhaustion and frustration, such as in this Radio National interview with Pat Karvelas.

Abridged and annotated: the government statement

Despite Turnbull and Brandis being named at the top of the press release, due to cabinet superiority, only Scullion has been on the hustings defending the Cabinet decision, which was leaked to the Courier Mail. According to Scullion, in an interview on RN Drive, the decision to put out the statement on the anniversary of the Uluru handback to traditional owners was out of “respect”. It happened to be the day the Indigenous Advisory Council meets, he said, and thus the press release went out that day with zero mention of the IAC out of respect for the IAC.

This peculiar claim suggests two likelihoods: first, that cabinet took the decision to reject Referendum Council proposals without consulting the IAC (and definitely without consulting the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples); and secondly that the statement was rushed out because someone in Cabinet leaked to the Murdoch press.

The government press release goes something like this.

The Turnbull Government has carefully considered the Referendum Council’s call to amend the Constitution to provide for a national Indigenous representative assembly to constitute a “Voice to Parliament”. The Government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum.

Translation: the Voice to Parliament proposition terrifies us. We perceive it as an existential threat to white Australian hegemony (institutions). We are projecting our own fear and loathing onto the electorate by claiming, without a skerrick of evidence, that the Voice proposal can not succeed at a referendum, because we are cowards and liars.

Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights – all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national Parliament – the House of Representatives and the Senate. A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle. It would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of Parliament.

Translation: Despite the resistance, despite respectful political communications over centuries, and the overturning of terra nullius by our highest court, we refuse to concede that Australia is built on stolen Aboriginal land. We refuse to see that not all citizens are equal. Such a concession poses an existential threat to our entire belief system, which is built not on evidence but on ideology, including the ideology of racism. We will express this in terms of a ‘third chamber of parliament’, which nobody proposed, because we are liars and cowards.

The Referendum Council noted the concerns that the proposed body would have insufficient power if its constitutional function was advisory only. The Referendum Council provided no guidance as to how this new representative assembly would be elected or how the diversity of Indigenous circumstance and experience could be fairly or democratically represented.

Translation: the Referendum Council did not do all our work for us and noted concerns rather than set us up for handy political point scoring with the lives of First Peoples. What is wrong with these Black people are they lazy or unprofessional or something.

Moreover, the Government does not believe such a radical change to our constitution’s representative institutions has any realistic prospect of being supported by a majority of Australians in a majority of States. The Government believes that any proposal for constitutional change should conform to the principles laid down by the 2012 Expert Panel, namely that any proposal should “be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums”.

Translation: it suits us to frame the Voice to Parliament as radical, even though it is modest and moderate. Wait there while we condescendingly spell out the constitutional requirements of passing a referendum to the Referendum Council. Also we have some beliefs about what Australian voters will vote for lololol just like we did when we lost 14 seats at the last election and just like our leader did when he messed up the republic referendum but hey we won’t let a dismal trail of multiple failures stop us talking down to First Peoples as though we know more about Australia than they and their 60,000 years of occupation and 230 years of colonisation what would they know?

The Referendum Council said the Voice to Parliament was a “take it or leave it” proposal for the Parliament and the Australian people. We do not agree. The Council’s proposal for an Indigenous representative assembly, or Voice, is new to the discussion about Constitutional change, and dismissed the extensive and valuable work done over the past decade – largely with bipartisan support.

Translation: how dare First Peoples take leadership of what directly affects them and put a proposal that directly includes them. Did they not get the memo? The symbolic recognition thing that First Peoples definitely did not prioritise has bipartisan mainstream political support, unlike the symbolic recognition thing that was tagged into the failed republic referendum and voted down under the mismanagement of Malcolm Turnbull.

We are confident that we can build on that work and develop Constitutional amendments that will unite our nation rather than establish a new national representative assembly open to some Australians only. The challenge remains to find a Constitutional amendment that will succeed, and which does not undermine the universal principles of unity, equality and “one person one vote”.

Translation: blather gargle bargle. More perceived existential threats. Non-binding advice from Indigenous people on legislation that affects Indigenous people would undermine democracy as we know it because we think it will.

We have listened to the arguments put forward by proponents of the Voice, and both understand and recognise the desire for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to have a greater say in their own affairs. We acknowledge the values and the aspirations which lie at the heart of the Uluru Statement. People who ask for a voice feel voiceless or feel like they’re not being heard. We remain committed to finding effective ways to develop stronger local voices and empowerment of local people.

Translation: we have not listened to the CONSENSUS put forward by the Referendum Council, but we have called its logic ‘arguments’, which shows we have not considered it carefully. Whatever, WE will tell YOU how you feel because who better to tell black people how they feel than colonial governments?

Our goal should be to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians serving in the House and the Senate – members of a Parliament which is elected by all Australians. The Government has written in response to Mr Shorten’s call for a Joint Select Committee, and have asked that the committee considers the recommendations of the existing bodies of work developed by the Expert Panel (2012), the Joint Select Committee on Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2015) and the Referendum Council report (2017). The Coalition continues to aim to work in a bipartisan way to support Constitutional recognition.

Translation: you should have proposed something else which we also would have reserved the right to reject if it rose above mere symbolism. We will work with the other major political party on ensuring any meaningful change for Indigenous people is killed in committee or otherwise endlessly delayed and sapped of all meaning. A few white people will be given a platform to tell the rest of Australia what will or will not further reconciliation, whatever that is, we do not seem to have much of an Indigenous Affairs policy of which to speak.

Where to now?

It is largely forgotten that Congress put out the Redfern Statement, a comprehensive and widely-supported policy document, for the last election. So while the current government has no real Indigenous Affairs agenda, it could have.

Both Turnbull and Abbott, like Gillard and Rudd before them, continued the Howard era-conceived Northern Territory Intervention. The policy is a disaster and its worst features have been adapted and applied to other areas which large Aboriginal populations. In a coincidence much like the tone-deafness of rejecting the Uluru Statement on the Uluru handback anniversary, Turnbull travelled to Kalgoorlie to announce the imposition of cashless welfare the same week the community was commemorating Elijah Doughty one year after he was killed by a white vigilante.

Meanwhile, the Rudd-instigated ‘Closing the Gap’ Indigenous health and well-being policy has been kept on in name, but all its KPIs have stagnated or gone backwards under the Coalition.

It is strikingly obvious that as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have reconstituted and developed their structures and forged an increasingly unified voice through their own modes of consensus and respect, it is increasingly difficult for governments to stick to the same old approach. That same-old same-old is victim-blaming paternalism designed to disguise the vicious brutality of the colonial-settler state policies and practices chiefly characterised by mass incarceration and forced child removal.

Nevertheless, Turnbull and Scullion have valiantly continued in this vein. It is particularly galling that the same man who set back Republicanism for decades now presumes to divine – Scullion conceded both to Senate estimates and to Karvelas that the ‘Voice will fail’ claim is not founded on polling – that an Aboriginal-led proposition would fail at a referendum, and set ‘reconciliation’ back decades.

When vigilante violence is condoned

Oooh he’s a little blondie like I was, says my niece, who has a little blondie of her own now. He’s not the little blondie running around anymore says his great-great auntie, who recently saw my boy, her 15-year-old nephew, for the first time since he was a toddler.

Like my youngest son, Elijah Doughty is a blondie and unmistakably Aboriginal. His beaming smile is heartbreaking today. I do not know Elijah or his family and I offer love and condolences to everyone who does. I only mention his looks because that picture of Elijah reminds me of my boy every time.

Is this personal connection what it takes to humanise Aboriginal people – even Aboriginal children – in the collective mind of white Australia? In my kids’ extended family, blondie expresses loving-belonging. I do not know if other families do this, but I know that words and gestures of loving and belonging matter, to reassure our kids, who daily face ignorant and harmful remarks, like whether they ‘look’ Aboriginal.

White Australia demands to be competent in determining who is Aboriginal, but it does not know. It may never know. Aboriginality is ontological , it is independent of white classificatory systems. Still, White Australia always knows who it can kill and incarcerate and criminalise and oppress and forcibly remove from family with impunity.

I am writing this because a white man killed a Black child, which – apparently this needs to be spelt out – is an objective moral wrong. The man was not charged with murder, and he was found not guilty of manslaughter. I am writing this because there are white people out there defending the killer, defending the legal system that let him kill with impunity. I am writing because our society is awash with racist violence and awash with normalisation of racist violence and still we let this go on and on and on.

 

Fact and law

The identity of the 56-year-old killer is suppressed by the court. He pleaded guilty to causing the death of Elijah ‘by dangerous driving’. The law categorises killings into lawful (eg self-defence) and unlawful (eg murder requires intent). The unlawful killings are further categorised into murder and manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. The accused can be charged with murder and come out with a manslaughter verdict, which is sui generis, a category (genus) of one (single). You can not be charged with armed robbery and get a lesser verdict like break-and-enter. This is because, as with all human societies, we say that the taking of the life of a fellow human is extremely serious.

So referring to the anonymous killer as a murderer (eg on social media) is not a good idea. It is wrong at law, and the law likes to punish those who are wrong at law. In the system we have, which was imposed by the English at gunpoint, only a court – whether a judge-only trial or trial by jury – can determine guilt on the offence. In contrast, calling the killer the killer is not wrong at law, because the killer pleaded guilty to causing the death of Elijah. What he did killed Elijah, and he conceded that by pleading guilty to occasioning death by dangerous driving.

What happened and coverage of what happened

There is no doubt, in law or in fact, that the anonymous killer got in a ute and chased down Elijah and killed him. On the evidence, the killer was told by a police officer where motorbikes are often “dumped” and went to that place. He then saw Elijah on a motorbike and chose, of his own free will, to drive in a manner that killed Elijah. This much is on the public record.

What happened next was absolutely typical of Australian law and society. To say that the not guilty verdict for manslaughter – the killer was not even charged with murder – or the sentence of three years are astonishing or incredible is to perpetuate the lie that racist violence is normally punished.

It is not. Killing Aboriginal people with impunity is the norm. If the anonymous killer had been adequately held to account… that would be astonishing. Reporter after reporter put on their grave face to ‘report’ that tensions were seething in Kalgoorlie-Boulder. That ‘there was anger’ in the Aboriginal community, as though this was some kind of abstract or independent thing. Aboriginal people are just angry, you see. Random as.

Put it this way. If my son steals a thing, it is okay to kill him. Sounds harsh? That is exactly what is being said about Elijah right now. Put it another way. The property rights of the white man are of greater value, to the white man and to white society, than the human right to life of the Black child. There is no moral universe in which this is a defensible ethical position. Yet there they are, all over the newsfeed, taking exactly this position.

Our political leaders, of course, have taken no position at all. They are all over the shooting of a white woman in America; but not a peep on the vicious vigilante killing back home. I wonder why.

News story after news story reported on what a great job the WA police did in keeping the peace. Such heroes. With their guns and their riot gear in the face of people in mourning. Since when have Aboriginal people done anything but negotiate? And been slimed for their trouble? When Aboriginal people express anger, sadness, despair… it is not just the state but white society that pushes back in the most inhumane ways.

We do this because we know our presence is illegitimate. We know we are on Aboriginal land. We do not want to admit it. So we frame perfectly reasonable Black responses, the same response any one of us would have if Elijah was OUR child, as an existential threat.

The existential bit is true. But not the threat. Fuck Camus. Forget the threat. All any Aboriginal person has asked of me is to listen, learn, and be yourself.

Jingoistic white nationalism stops with me

With 26 January looming, it is that time of year in Australia when the gatekeepers of the national narrative go into overdrive.

Where I live, in western Sydney, it is easy enough to look around the train carriage or campus or shopping centre and celebrate diversity. It is equally easy to forget, unless venturing into the large and poorly-conceived social housing estates, that western Sydney has the largest Aboriginal population in the country.

And on 26 January, it is impossible to ignore the social fact that white Australia relentlessly, aggressively promotes the dominant agenda: whites are nation-builders, we ‘let’ the migrants in, we obscure the violence of our own ‘entry’, we are the arbiters of what is, and of what is not, Australian.

An early salvo from DIBP

One example of the dominant narrative is how junior minister for Immigration and Border Protection Alex Hawke stopped Freemantle Council holding a citizenship ceremony on Saturday 28 January. His is the department which the Australian National Audit Office reported has spent $2.2 billion on off-shore detention without authorisation.

This shambolic, cruel, militarised, and eye-wateringly profligate branch of executive government is designed to manufacture and disseminate xenophobic hate. And its 2IC (from the wealthy white northern suburbs of Sydney) confidently told a local government in Western Australia that its citizenship ceremony ‘has got to be apolitical, non-commercial, bipartisan and secular’.

Given the rabid politics in which white Australia engages around 26 January, these criteria would be met by changing the date of the first Freemantle citizenship ceremony for 2017.

At no point did Hawke articulate what exactly is ‘political’ (or commercial, or partisan, or religious) about 28 January. Unlike 26 January, which is obnoxiously white and hideously commercial, 28 January is just another day on the calendar. There was no mention that 28 January is the saints day of Thomas Aquinas, although Hawke is a former Opus Dei adherent and, given his position, likely to be as unapologetic an Islamophobe as his boss. Such mention would have been quite fitting: Aquinas christianised the philosophy of Aristotle while developing retrospective justifications for the christian west to invade Islamic countries and slaughter Muslim people. His just war theory (!) is embedded in the contemporary law of war (which, typically, is called humanitarian law) and invoked to this day.

But Hawke did not have to win his manufactured controversy on the merits or in the marketplace of ideas

He just threatened Freemantle Council with the power of the Commonwealth to revoke authority to hold citizenship ceremonies. Hawke backed this threat with an insupportable interpretation of the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code. The code does not stipulate that citizenship ceremonies be held on 26 January. In fact, such a directive would breach the code:

In keeping with government policy that ceremonies be held at regular intervals, local government councils should hold ceremonies at least every two to three months, regardless of the number of candidates available to attend and more frequently if necessary (ACCC 2011: 6).

It is par for the neoliberal course to label a decision to make a public ceremony more inclusive as divisive. Freemantle Council put up a decent fight, but was ultimately forced to move its scheduled 28 January citizenship ceremony.

A junior minister threatening to unilaterally operationalise federal power to bully a local government was widely reported, but without analysis of why Hawke got so worked up about a local council events calendar.

Why intervene? The strength and longevity of Aboriginal Australia

There is more to the wrongs of 26 January than whining hypocrisy and dishonesty from the likes of Alex Hawke. He is a mere microcosm of how incumbent conservative power is abused to retain dominance. Hawke was successful on his own terms: he got his mug in the press, playing to a racist constituency. Other councils will now resist change which could mitigate some of the harm caused by ‘celebrating’ 26 January.

And the nation is the poorer for it. Every time new Australians are sworn in on 26 January, they are co-opted into the colonial project. To become an Australian on 26 January is to become part of ongoing dispossession, of the goals and narratives of the colonial settler state, and to participate in the endless whitewashing of a violent history.

Surely new Australians do not want to erase the 50,000+ years of over 300 sovereign nations, their populations, their societies, their law and languages and traditions, which are the oldest continuing cultures in the world? Traditions that, as journalist Amy McQuire writes, include a slew of firsts from astronomy to bread baking to burial rituals to art to the most sophisticated and sustainable agricultural practices ever devised.

If we are seeking to redress dispossession, as we say in another dishonest narrative, we would not frame 26 January as a day of national pride. But in its current form, the Recognise campaign is as likely as every other white Australian agenda to further erase Aboriginal people and their sovereign rights.

At best, Aboriginal people are expected to show gratitude for crumbs from the white table, when an entire continent and her islands were taken by force. At worst, constitutional change will be interpreted by future governments and the courts as Aboriginal people collectively ceding sovereignty to the colonial settler state; something no Aboriginal nation has ever done nor stated any intention to do.

People like Hawke are deeply threatened by the fact that Aboriginal people have survived and maintained so much of their culture and traditions. During his crusade against Freemantle Council, Hawke did not once mention the meaning of 26 January to Aboriginal people. Instead, he relied on the inherent racism of the non-Aboriginal population to fill in the gaps around his false claim that  28 January is somehow a political/divisive date for a citizenship ceremony.

Inclusion and collusion

Speaking of crumbs from the table, this phrase was used more than once to describe a commitment by a crowd funding campaign which raised over $120,000 to donate leftover money to Indigenous organisations.

The money was raised to reinstate billboards and publish print ads depicting two girls wearing hijabs and waving Australian flags. The original digital billboard, funded by the Victorian government and developed by QMS media, showed a rotating series of images. It was taken down following threats of violence by tiny but well-known (because well-covered by legacy media) white supremacist groups.

A #PutThemBackUp campaign quickly gained traction. New billboards have since appeared with the same image of the girls, and the words ‘Happy Australia Day’.

That many Australians put their money where their mouth is for the purpose of addressing racist violence against Muslims is not an incontestable social good, although it did prompt some nuanced conversations about the implications of the billboards, the day itself, and another campaign: #ChangeTheDate. Conversations, I should add, that have been had many times over many years.

This generous post by Nakkiah Lui was widely shared and applauded. I say ‘generous’ because while racist threats by white supremacists are easy to spot, many Aboriginal people are still taking the time and effort to explain the ways in which self-identified political ‘progressives’ erase Aboriginal people, history and culture.

My own reaction was to cringe at the fact that the campaigners failed to consider Aboriginal perspectives until prompted.

Does it matter that the campaign was instigated by a director of Creative Edge, the advertising company that is reinstating the billboards? Or that the alliance offered ‘leftover money’ to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre before CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis turned their minds to Aboriginal perspectives – well after the initial target was reached?

Does it matter that many Aboriginal people were once again compelled to expend valuable time and emotional resources on educating white and multicultural Australia on what is wrong with celebrating 26 January? Or that a commitment to ‘deliberately not mention 26 January’ morphed into billboards saying Happy Australia Day?

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY? Would you say happy Israel independence day to Palestinian locals on the anniversary of the catastrophe? Would you, in the month of May, donate to fund billboards of Aboriginal children wearing ochre to ‘celebrate’ Al-Nakba? In Bethlehem? Naqab? In Ramallah?

Moral relativism and the national character

Commentary on such issues tends to draw on specific philosophical traditions, whether proponents are aware or not. For instance, concepts from classical economic theory, such as cost-benefit analysis and utility, are often applied to moral questions. This is a legacy of the enlightenment: Jeremy Bentham applying (half) of Adam Smith’s ‘free market’ theory to the (im)morality of the carceral state; Herbert Spencer butchering Darwinian evolution to justify the racist violence of imperialism.

Where an event or series of events produces feel-good benefits to one section of the population and tangible harm to another, it is justified by utilitarianism, the short hand for which is ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’. The problem is that we can reliably predict to whom the harm will be done and to whom the benefits will flow.

In Australia, with just about any political or social movement, the harm will disproportionately impact on the Aboriginal population.

So the claim is that the campaign did more good than harm, or produced a net social good. This is to succumb to JS Mill’s tyranny of the majority, which in turn relies on hyper-individualism for coherence. The thing to remember here is that for Bentham (and Kant and Rousseau and the rest) only property-owning white men were fully human.

This is the real root of identity politics. The corrupted version is used by opponents who have a vested interest in continuing to obscure the role of demographic privilege in life outcomes. We know who will benefit and who will not from any top-down policy or action. The evidence speaks for itself.

For example, the rate at which the state imprisons Aboriginal people has increased since desegregation freed people from mission managers and dog tags and town-limits curfews; since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The rate at which Aboriginal children are forcibly removed from their families has increased since the Bringing Them Home report, increased since the Apology to the Stolen Generations.

And these are policies which were said to be redressing past crimes against Aboriginal people. More commonly, Aboriginal peoples, and their sovereign rights as First Nation peoples, are not taken into account at all.

Inevitably, the response to critics is: what have you done? Is doing nothing better? At least we are doing something.

Implicit in this response is the utilitarian calculus: this action is better than the actions of white supremacists (and armchair activists). But also embedded is the value of change for its own sake. Like other nonsensical values such as extending government control over the citizenry for its own sake (data retention is an expensive hotch potch of IT amateurism; cashless welfare, at huge public cost, has no discernible benefits to people on welfare) this unquestioned assumption is dangerous.

Its economic manifestation is growth for the sake of growth, a capitalist value which has brought us to the brink of extinction. Its social manifestation is progress for the sake of progress, where a dominant minority defines progress: bigger houses? Smaller telephones? Greater connectivity? Labour market ‘flexibility’, rising inequality and income insecurity? Incessant, endless, unwinnable wars?

The not-dominant narratives

There are various reactions to the billboard campaign. Members of the many Aboriginal and Muslim communities have spoken out against a campaign which celebrates a day marking the start of colonisation, and their voices should be amplified: the links above to Amy McQuire and Megan Davis and Nakkiah Lui, the IndigenousX platform created by Luke Pearson for unmediated Indigenous perspectives; Aamer Rahman saying the billboard campaign is an ‘expensive way to throw Aboriginal people under the bus’.

It is also important to note commentary which emphasises the well-meaning motivations of the well-intentioned. This trope is a sop to whiteness. It is routinely trotted out to obscure the genocidal policies which caused monumental harm to the Stolen Generations and their descendants. When supposedly good intentions are so profoundly damaging, the crime should be treated as one of strict liability: absolute legal responsibility for which mens rea (the intention) does not have to be proven in order to convict the guilty.

From my point of view – and I speak only for myself, a white Australian and feminist (and graduate economist) – the billboard campaign is a misallocation of resources. It is exhausting for Aboriginal people to keep explaining how Happy and Australia Day do not go together. It re-traumatises, it marginalises, it causes fatigue, it takes up valuable time and effort, it drains energy from the struggle to see Australia recognise and redress its ongoing colonial crimes.

Where could these resources have gone instead? To Aboriginal women’s refuges, to Aboriginal legal and health services, to Indigenous literacy, to a trust fund pending consultation.

But there is also a missed marketing opportunity. The billboard could have featured the words Change the Date. And the billboards could have had a message which foregrounds the fact that white and multicultural Australia share something profound: we are all on stolen Aboriginal land.

The Centrelink system is working to plan

It is in you, he said, gesturing to his heart. It never goes away.

Last Thursday a mate and I had a few quiet drinks and a post-festive season debrief on my back veranda. He grew up in poverty, in cars and refuges and low-income neighbourhoods, his education disrupted, his parents often absent – to shift work, to incapacity. He holds a university degree, a steady job, and a mortgage with his partner.

Inevitably we got talking about the federal government policy of sending 20,000 letters per week to past or current welfare recipients demanding repayment of past or current or – with an error rate of at least 20% – non-existent debts.

It is difficult to remember when I started earning enough to stop reporting my income to Centrelink, as a sole parent raising three children in western Sydney while working part time and studying law. But I will never forget the process. The dehumanisation, the penalties incurred on utilities bills due to Centrelink errors, the time, the ‘voice recognition’ which could never identify my employer correctly, the stress, the humiliation, the look on my children’s faces as I yelled at the phone, their avoidance behaviours around excursions and other expenses, the cost, the cost, the financial and emotional and personal and family cost.

Being poor is hugely and unnecessarily expensive, and it does not have to be like this.

Our government has gone out of its way to make what is already a horrible and inefficient and expensive process much worse than when I reported fortnightly, first on paper and in person and later by telephone to a machine. It is horrendous for income support recipients, for Centrelink staff, and for the budget bottom line.

According to Appendix E – Data matching of the 2015-16 Annual Report, the Department of Human Services spent $19.5 million in 2013-14, $25.5 million in 2014-15 and $8.3 million last financial year on its data matching program. That is, our government has allocated over $50 million in the last three years to produce the outcomes reported in the first week of 2017: outcomes so appalling that a government agency is making blanket referrals to the suicide prevention service Lifeline for hardships caused by its own actions.

Let that sink in: Centrelink is using social media platform Twitter to refer income support recipients to Lifeline, because some ‘customers’ are suicidal after receiving letters sent by the agency demanding repayment of debts that people have not, in fact, incurred. This is the return on a $50 million investment of public moneys.

Many were letters stamped with the Australian Federal Police logo demanding information under the code name Operation Integrity.

It will surprise no one who has observed the Turnbull government that the operation has no integrity. The link above does not provide a breakdown of Operation Integrity costs. But it offers this:

“From 1 July 2016, $45.1 million will be invested in the myGov digital service over 4 years, to ensure people can continue to interact with the Australian Government online, ensuring access by all tiers of government. … the next phase of improvements to myGov. $5.4 million will be invested over 2 years to modernise this service and ensure it continues to deliver on the government’s commitment to make services simpler, clearer and faster.”

From what I can tell, and I may not be reading it correctly (the reporting methods are oblique at best), this amounts to an additional $50 million for a total of $100 million for the years 2013-20. Again, to use the government-preferred econospeak, this ‘investment’ has a return. In the first week of 2017, the dividend included driving some low-income Australians to suicidal despair. And causing incalculable hardship to other welfare recipients across the country.

To put that figure in perspective, the politician expenditure for the first half of 2015 – this is above and beyond their $200-500K+ salaries, and does not include the cost of their staffers – was $48 million. That is for six months, so a reasonable guesstimate is that yearly expenditure would be around $100 million. More recent figures do not include total costs.

Welfare recipients have 21 days to respond to a threatening letter, but political expenditure disclosure is delayed by at least six months, as are political donations reporting requirements. For example, next month we apparently find out whether Turnbull threw in around $2 million to his own re-election campaign, the one where he lost 14 seats and claimed a mandate, including for these kinds of nasty policies.

Remember, Scott Morrison told us in the dying days of that dreary campaign that a re-elected Coalition government would continue to hate n the poor while cutting company tax rates (although a tax cut for entities which pay zero tax still generates zero revenue).

So from a government preaching fiscal restraint and sound economic management, we have seen a) $50 million spent over four years (2013-16), with another $50 million slated for the next four, to persecute the poor; and b) $100 million spent in one year (2015) to ship Barnaby Joyce and Julie Bishop and their ilk around the country and the globe. The return on that ‘investment’ by the Australian public – over which we had no say – is a) harm to welfare recipients up to and including contemplation of suicide; and b) Who knows? Presumably contracts to client donors, but if there is a discernible benefit to the nation I have yet to see it reported.

Independently wealthy politicians, people who have never missed a meal in their lives, are an enormous drain on the public purse. They are born into families that can afford to choose expensive educations which set the kids up for life. They grow up to be blind to their own privilege, yet make decisions which further marginalise and oppress identifiable groups in society, groups to which they have never belonged, and for whom they are utterly unqualified to make decisions.

Turnbull and Porter and Joyce do not understand that the entire point of fiscal policy, of a civil society, of collecting taxes and allocating resources to essential services, is to provide for those who – due to age, disability, parenting responsibilities, labour market conditions, whatever – can not always meet basic human needs such as food, housing and utilities.

And this is in a wealthy society whose shape and values are determined by people such as themselves, by the beneficiaries of inherited wealth. A society which in the 21st century means that ICT and metropolitan transport are necessities – for job-seeking – on top of food and shelter. A dominant culture which refuses to value reciprocity, mutuality, sharing, love. A government which co-opts these values to spout nasty and abusive rhetoric on mutual obligation and correct entitlement.

A government which pretends that a system which data-matches welfare recipients to Australian Tax Office (ATO) records is somehow acting on behalf of some special category of taxpayer, by persecuting some other category of taxpayer. People who paid taxes and received income support in the same year are the people receiving these letters: they are, by definition, taxpayers. As is anyone who has bought anything other than fresh food since 2001.

But that would be putting facts in the way of this government’s favourite pastime, which is to demonise welfare recipients (when it is not persecuting people fleeing persecution, or trolling women, and migrants, or ignoring Aboriginal rights).

This is a government entirely composed of people whose luxurious taxpayer-funded lifestyle falls outside of welfare categories. Its support base is also made up of people who enjoy private school fee subsidies, the medical advances borne of public teaching hospitals, immediate $20K write-downs on small business costs… but these are not classified as welfare either.

Under this value system, those who want for nothing are worthy of hundreds of millions in public moneys. Yet receiving and spending public moneys on food and shelter (rather than, say, mining truck diesel fuel) is somehow unworthy.

What a way to run a country which has been skilfully and beautifully managed for upwards of 50,000 years. A place of pristine rivers and verdant soils, of generosity and beauty and bounty, if only those who seized it for themselves could see.

The senior Minister, Christian Porter, insists that the system is working incredibly well, that it is a gold star system, that no better system could be designed. The junior minister, Alan Tudge, is nowhere to be seen or heard. The agency mouthpiece Hank Jongen consistently reiterates that he has complete confidence in the system. To date, the Prime Minister has not commented on the fact that a government agency is systematically driving low-income Australians to despair.

The evidence shows that the system is causing enormous harm to the poor. The minister and the mouthpiece say the system is working as it is supposed to work, operating as it is designed to operate, producing the outputs it is programmed to produce.

I believe them.

The gold plated ABCC bill, or who is counting the damn cost?

As duly noted by headline after headline, interpersonal relationships in the Pauline Hanson One Nation (PHON) party are dysfunctional.

Yeah, we know.

If the focus must be on internal party dysfunction, maybe take a look at the governing Coalition: conservative homophobes Cory Bernardi and George Christensen; dangerous and confused racist Peter Dutton and opportunistic wingman Michael Sukkar; sadistic prosperity theology adherent Scott Morrison, who shouts from both sides of his mouth.

It is dissonant (at best) to ignore ongoing internal government strife while simultaneously and enthusiastically projecting Turnbull as an innocent yet besieged ‘moderate’.

Take a look at the National Party backbenchers who voted against their senior Coalition partners this week. Or the Nat ministers who exited the chamber rather than be seen to abstain. Looks like a governing Coalition in strife, no?

No, because we take what the governing leaders say at face value. Floor-crossing is all good, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce assured airily, gurgling about individual rights. No problem. No, he will not say whether he supports the position of the no-shows, although he is completely free to, should he choose to be accountable to the electorate.

What’s that Skip? Accountability? Westminster principles, you say?

Nothing to see here, confirmed the boss. Turnbull was supposed to be speaking, statesmanlike, on free trade discussions at the Peru APEC meeting. But instead, he was side-lined from his own agenda by the racist rabble in his own ranks. As usual.

By a stroke of luck, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection had once again cleared the air for Turnbull to wax lyrical on our successful multicultural nation while carefully conflating migration with a non-material terror threat.

Just kidding. This is what passes for strategy in the Liberal Party ideas room these days.

Dutton did the usual thing, went on Sky News, made nasty racist remarks about refugees. He defamed hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Australians, presumably including much loved parents and grandparents who have passed away. He did this by implying that Lebanese Australians who arrived here in the 1970s are responsible for 21st century terrorism in Australia, which has not in fact occurred. Dutton referred to charges, not convictions: like the plod he is, our man remains wilfully ignorant of basic principle such as innocent until proven guilty and all equal before the law.

Dutton’s implied premise is that ethnicity is a determinant of criminality. This is the worst kind of social Darwinism, and does not stand up to basic scrutiny; although it does remind us that science can be, and has been, racist. Dutton defamed a dead liberal Prime Minister in the same breath, but whatever. Turnbull was probably not a Liberal during the Fraser years anyway.

A nasty and harmful routine

This bad cop-worse cop show that Dutton and Turnbull routinely perform is getting old. It goes like this. Dutton says something grossly racist. Turnbull is asked to repudiate it. Acres of column inches, volumes of airspace, open up for Turnbull to play his besieged moderate character.

Our diversity is our strength … we must guard against extremism, Turnbull lectures paternalistically, for the purpose of appearing pro-multiculturalism while conflating migrants with terror threats.

Malcolm loves this stuff. He must. Why else would Dutton be sent out to perform the opening scenes of the act every other week?

Hard to say.

The smart money is on another atrocious MYEFO. Such cynics. Causing actual harm to actual Australians is obviously better governance than addressing yet another looming MYEFO mess. Has this Coalition government passed a budget since regaining power in September 2013? Three years and two months ago? Why do you ask?

Everything old is news again

Speaking of racists, the story of embattled Senator Rodney Culleton looms large for all the wrong reasons. What does it matter that he and his leader are not talking to each other? Surely this is a last order issue. Perhaps the fourth estate is holding to account those federally funded extremists who deny climate change and peddle race hate on our coin?

Nope. The Culleton case does matter, but not because of internal PHON disunity. Along with bankrupt builder and former Senator Bob Day, Culleton matters because his status as a Senator is potentially unconstitutional.

This is costing us an enormous amount of money.

The cost has blown out as a direct result of the government seeking to secure the Culleton vote for its double dissolution (DD) bills despite what they did or did not know about the validity of his election. The bills had to be voted down earlier this year, to give the PM his bold, Turnbullesque double dissolution announcement. Nine months later, the bills can not be allowed to be voted down, because that would deprive Malcolm of oh who knows. Some triumphalist nonsense.

It is all about Malcolm. And it is costing a small fortune (or what is a very large fortune to most of us).

The phony grounds for the DD election are at stake, the election in which the government lost 14 seats and still claims to have a mandate. Naturally, no amount of taxpayer funds is too great, no plotting or dealing too dodgy, up to and including accepting the vote of potentially ineligible Senators. The alternative would be…well. The alternative would be more egg on the face of Malcolm, to which he is presumably becoming accustomed.

But men like Malcolm do not think like that.

Recall that in the tedious, dying days of that 8-week campaign, the Treasurer started shouting false and nasty claims about welfare recipients. Again. This is par for the course. Identify any group in society already oppressed, violated, impoverished and disempowered by the state – as well as by the dominant social classes which benefit from state oppression of others – and the Liberal Party will hitch its wagon to further crushing their life circumstances.

This is a government that demonises children who care for sick parents. Why?

I mention this because internal Coalition campaign polling would have shown One Nation gaining momentum. It is axiomatic that the Liberals tell lies to woo (back) One Nation voters. It was the Liberal Party that first pre-selected Hanson. The Liberal party created her name recognition. They gave her a platform. John Howard accommodated her racism for base political gain, no matter the cost. Turnbull, Morrison, and Dutton are doing so too.

But there is trouble in dystopia.

Hanson’s brand of sexist racism and xenophobia has always attracted nasty opportunistic men. We have been here before. Hangers-on like David Oldfield and John Pasquarelli rode her coattails to government salaries, before crashing and burning in a blaze of incompetence. Hanson and a new loopy-bloke coterie rise phoenix-like from the ashes.

A few sums

And all the while we fork over millions to fund this vicious brand. We pay these people to hate on welfare recipients, to tell lies about Aboriginal people, to whip up anti-Islam sentiment.  From 11 Queensland parliamentary salaries in the 1990s, to four Australian Senate salaries now, One Nation does not come cheap.

Queensland MPs are paid $166,621 base salary. Those 11 Queensland MPs would have cost $5.5 million in today’s dollars. Think what that funding could do for Queenslanders escaping domestic violence. These are people who claim that governments pay ‘more’ to Aboriginal welfare recipients on the basis of their Aboriginality, a blatant lie. Yet all this cash was for nothing – except it created a latent platform for One Nation to return.

Today, on top of Australian Electoral Commission per vote funding ($1.6 million in 2016), the cost of PHON senators begins with base salaries of $190,550 (three years for three of them, six for Hanson). That amounts to $2.85 million, to which we can add at least another $1.5 million for entitlements and other costs (at $100K per senator per year). Add in time spent spreading hate and climate change denial on our national broadcaster.

And tell us again about welfare recipients, Scott.

Imagine if Aboriginal women who have a clear vision for treaties, land management, the arts, migration, social justice, health (to name a few), were speaking instead of Hanson and Roberts sitting on high-platform panels. This barely happens. While across Australia, Aboriginal people are doing this work: Aboriginal rangers, caring for country; Aboriginal lawyers working for justice; Aboriginal doctors, artists, academics, journalists.

And what we get in the public domain is One Nation. Backing an inquiry into racial discrimination law, pushing onto an NBN committee. The NBN. Hanson. Appointed with Turnbull’s blessing.

These people add nothing to the social good. They cost us tens of millions of dollars. In return, we get further damage to what social cohesion Australia can claim. It is because of this massive cost and damage, rather than any mealy-mouthed accommodation and normalisation, some cup of tea, that One Nation has to be taken seriously.

The cost, the damn cost, and the legal dimension

Culleton is now before the High Court, which is far from cost-neutral. This follows a murky trail, the seeking or circumventing of legal advice on the eligibility of Culleton or was it Bob Day, by Attorney General George Brandis. Former Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson reportedly sought further QC advice on the matter – which again, is not cheap (my post on the AG abomination re the SG here).

All this came under scrutiny in the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which – did I mention? – is not cost neutral. Senate Committees cost thousands of dollars, in transcribing and livestreaming and approvals, in the time of highly qualified and highly remunerated individuals. As though SG Gleeson or chair Louise Pratt could not be doing something more useful than mopping up the mess made by the Commonwealth Attorney General’s misleading claims? (Full findings on Brandis misleading parliament: here).

Whether Culleton was legally elected under s.44 of the Australian Constitution is yet to be determined. Only the High Court has jurisdiction to decide this, irrespective of Culleton blustering, embarrassingly, about recognising it. This is no more Culleton’s decision to make than it is for the Solicitor General to determine – rather than advise the government on – the legality of Culleton’s election to the Senate.

The transcript of Culleton addressing Chief Justice French is not just excruciating but enraging. Hearing the Chief Justice schooling a racist oaf like Culleton contradicts every basic principle I teach to future lawyers.

Where I come from, first year tutorials are run by income-insecure post-grad students in overcrowded classrooms; and incur HECS debts which burden many students, particularly women, into middle age. Yet this blustering fool, who we pay $200K pa to air his rough-n-ready racist views on the national stage, a man riding the coattails of the most outspoken hater in Australian politics, refuses to reach into his pocket for a lawyer. He gets a one-on-one tute from the Chief Justice while handing us the bill, while hating on the poor.

Disgusting.

Who knew what, about the potentially unconstitutional election of Culleton, is yet to be fully exposed. What we do know is that Turnbull and Brandis will disregard cost and throw any amount of other people’s money at dubious political strategy for dubious political gain.

And it may yet all amount to nought. To money down the drain. Wasted, by a profligate government which touts itself as superior economic managers to their predecessors. Their predecessors who, by the way, recession-proofed Australia from the GFC.

Post-truth indeed.

Despite Culleton and the shadowy role of the Attorney General, chewing up resources across the most expensive political and legal processes in the country, despite the cost, the damn cost, who is counting the cost? If Culleton is ousted, by law or by volition, we may never know.

The disappearance of Senator Bob Day

Many would say Who cares? And fair enough too. Day is gone. By all accounts, Day is a charlatan and a spiv, a man who rips off home builders and leaves tradesmen unpaid, while seeking high office, while indulging in dodgy deals, quite possibly in breach of s 44(v) of the Australian Constitution.

But Day does matter, because he is a type, he is a pattern; and those who unashamedly courted his vote are still running the country.

Like Pauline Hanson, Day is a former Liberal party candidate. Having failed there, Day was elected as a Family First candidate. He failed there too – as mentioned, he is now gone from the Senate. He is also a bankrupt building company founder – on any measure, a failure. So a man whose public profile alone amounts three ignominious failures. Yet the government tapped Day to herd up cross-bench votes to get its bills through the Senate.

Talk about reward for merit in a liberal democracy.

And here is a government which actively wooed this bankrupt building boss to shepherd in the Senate vote for the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill 2014 which massively empowers building bosses to disempower workers. The law will result in on-site, legally sanctioned, government-endorsed deaths of construction workers, most likely the youngest workers with the fewest employment options.

Yes, it will. Tell us again about youth unemployment, Scott.

As has been analysed at length on this site and by independent media, the government productivity claims for the ABCC are not merely erroneous but disproven. Academic and bureaucrat economists have demonstrated that the false claims arise from errors in an Econtech (now part of KPMG) report (Allan, Dungan and Peetz, 2010).

Yet still Turnbull wrote to His Excellency:

‘The government regards this bill as of great importance for promoting jobs and growth, improving productivity, and also promoting workplace safety through taking measures to deal with widespread and systemic criminality in the building and construction industry.’

What Turnbull says to Cosgrove, along with 13 pages of legal advice (from George Brandis!), does not change the findings that the claims are wrong.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister made the claims, in writing, to the Governor General; who duly repeated the falsehoods when he recalled the parliament, presumably misleading it.

Which brings us to where we are today

Turnbull is now negotiating and compromising on a bill that he refused to negotiate without a double dissolution election which delivered Culleton to the Senate, potentially unconstitutionally; an 8-week campaign, most of it paid for by the public; and a loss of 14 seats, which he calls a mandate.

As I write, news came in that a government bill failed in the Senate because Hanson and PHON colleague Brian Burston, on whom the government was relying to get the legislation through, failed to show up to vote. Presumably these two people were sorting out their internal party problems. This presumption is based on audio: the Hanson and Burston audio grabs on Culleton. He had some personal issues. He needs to better communicate.

Oh never mind, said the government. The bill will be presented again in the morning. Like running the Senate is a game. Or cost neutral. Which – did I mention? – it is not.

How many services could have been provided for the cost that One Nation meetings just cost the Australian people in wasted Senate time? And will again tomorrow? How many life-saving dialysis sessions, how many life-changing literacy classes, how many places to escape from violent men?

Of course the racism, the hating on welfare recipients and women escaping domestic violence, the abuse of process, the piteous nodding from the national broadcaster – all these things are top-order issues; and these are real costs.

At the same time, the hypocrisy, and the lies, and the harms – these are not unrelated to the financial cost, the eye-watering financial cost. The money. The dollars. Just quietly, I want what I pay in tax to go on universal healthcare and education. Carers. The unemployed. Women and their children escaping violence. Not Senate games. Not schooling idiots in the High Court. But maybe that’s just me.

Who is counting the costs?

I can’t sleep. I blame Turnbull. I am only half joking

Dear Diary,

Today I reviewed the Learning Guide to the compulsory first year Torts unit so the unit I am running over Summer School – Advanced Torts and Civil Wrongs – will not duplicate earlier content.

Then I liaised with the first year unit co-ordinator so the advanced unit will be interesting and fit the expectations and interests of the elective class.

After that I worked with the faculty administrator to book the Moot Court for oral presentations from 4 January 2017. This was very time consuming because the university administration and faculty staff are not in agreement as to whether we should return to work on 4 January. As a casual employee, this is of no moment to me: if I am there I am paid, if I am not, there is no income to feed my children. But I can not finalise the assessment requirements for the unit I am running until these details are sorted by those who enjoy holiday pay and sick leave and long service entitlements and what-not.

Of which I can only dream, but whatever. No doubt all the meeting time spent on whether or not 3 January is a paid leave day or something has been an efficient use of education resources. But I was talking about me and what I did today.

Dear Diary

Today I tutored for five hours under the ITAS program (Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme), a job that brings with it the joy of working with a Gamilaraay woman who is going to be a top lawyer one day. This is the program that Tony Abbott promised to abolish as part of his commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) that saw millions of dollars allocated to white organisations to perpetuate colonial and charity-based models to “help” Aboriginal people. I didn’t really have the time for this job but an auntie asked me and the student is great and now it is not a job but a human relationship and besides here is a Gamilaraay woman future law graduate who is committed and awesome and when my kids come in from school they recognise immediately that we are working and studying and that matters and what if the funding is cut before she graduates?

In the hours before and after ITAS tutoring I marked 10 property law assignments on the scope of Native Title after Akiba v Commonwealth (2013) and I’m happy to say that most of my students seem to have a comprehensive grasp of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights and interests in land and sea including for trade and thus commercial purposes under the NTA 1993 (Cth) as amended. Makes ya proud that does.

Like every other day, I am also responsible for three lives – my two teenagers and I – my oldest offspring lives independently – our food, our housing, our moral code, our education and health. Where would we be without endowment and Medicare I hate to think. Today, that meant little more than cooking dinner: my kids are pretty independent these days. It so happened that one teen offspring arrived home with not one but two friends, who simply had to stay mum, and can we have some of that stew? Well, duh. Why would I make a pot of stew if not for people in the house to eat it?

This is my way of saying that for the past 25 years I have done paid and unpaid work, I have paid my rent or mortgage and taxes, done what my employer expected, conformed to what society demanded – singularly, in my case, but that is not ignore two-parent families – taken responsibility for the welfare of human beings I brought into the world….

Imagine then, my joy, when I heard about the second reading amendment today.

That my efforts in the paid work sphere, which net considerable tax receipts for the federal and state governments these days, me not being in a position to off-shore my tax liabilities, and of a disposition that I would not wish to, given that I think universal education and health care are universal goods, so I end up contributing to the half-million-dollars-plus per year, in salary alone, not to mention expenses and costs, to a bloke with over $200 million in assets, who to all intents and purposes appears incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery.

Imagine my joy, by which I mean imagine my incandescent rage, as a person who nets less than 20% of the Turnbull public purse remuneration, when I hear Christopher Pyne refer to “a series of events that led to this outcome and it is a pity”. That would be the same Christopher Pyne whose judgement is so meritorious that we not only pay him a 6-figure salary but also sign off on his authority to employ, on a $150K pa salary, a senior ‘innovation’ advisor who lacks the insight or judgement on whether or not to strip to his dacks and insult the flag and thus the nation of Malaysia when out and about with his equally expensively remunerated mates.

Have I mentioned? Reward for merit is the most desperate lie of liberalism.

The “series of events” Pyne referred to was a proposed amendment to a second reading speech on a bill in the House of Representatives. The “outcome”, the one which “is a pity” was the vote that saw the government vote for an Opposition amendment to its own bill.

A vote. In the House of Representatives. That would be where the party with a majority forms government. Not to labour the point hur hur but if voting in the House of Representatives on their own Bill is not their day job, why am I sending a third of my income to the ATO to accommodate these people in Canberra and remunerate them to the tune of at least five times my annual income when I can competently perform the tasks entailed by my job yet they can not competently say ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ on cue?

What. Is. The. Point. Of. The. Turnbull. Government?

Today, Malcolm Turnbull lectured us in front of the Singaporeans on the rule of law.

Today, Malcolm Turnbull conceded a position on the NBN Committee to Pauline Hanson – because she asked him to.

Today, a former Solicitor-General – utterly tastelessly – compared the current Solicitor-General to a dog on a leash.

Today, the Attorney-General doubled down on his misrepresentation of advice from the Solicitor General with respect to laws that embody the bigotry of this government: the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 2016 and the proposed Bill on a marriage equality plebiscite.

Imagine being a good lawyer – an impeccably-credentialed, beyond-reproach, top of executive government lawyer – and see a man like George Brandis misrepresent your legal opinion on what a majority of the High Court would do with regard to a possible future constitutional challenge to a bill as being advice with regard to a different, later version of the bill (a grossly xenophobic and racist bill).

As though Solicitors-General go around giving advice on what the High Court might do in its original jurisdiction lightly. As if such legal opinions are the playthings of the Attorney General. Brandis is abominable.

The Turnbull government made history today because no government in the history of federation – a very short history, a mere 116 years – voted against itself in the house where government is formed.

In the words of the leader of the House… what a pity.

Abuse of power is systematically rewarded

‘Move him upstairs?’ is a sentiment from the acutely observed BBC series ‘Yes, Prime Minister’. It is a tip of a line which conveys an iceberg of British culture.

‘Upstairs’ is the House of Lords, where governments send inconveniently misbehaving blue blood or otherwise powerfully connected men. It is a tool in the meritocracy mythology toolkit.

Reward for merit is the most desperate lie of liberalism.

Say some Tory – they are almost inevitably conservative white men – a politician or judge or banker, for instance – is caught in a tabloid scandal. It is the family values guy sending pictures of his penis to young women. The sanctimonious homophobe snapped leaving a gay club. The misogynist judge who waxes lyrical on how women are responsible for rapists. The fetishists and embezzlers and fraudsters and thieves, engaging the services of a bondage madam, charging the taxpayer for the wedding travel, or the helicopter transport to a party fund-raiser.

But the political leadership does not need the headache. The ludicrous hypocrisy, the sleazy and often criminal creepiness, are seen as a distraction from the latest announceable. This is what passes for government under neoliberalism. An endless string of reactions, distractions or announceables: an inquiry here, a defence contract there. Some other vapid unoriginal tried-and-failed effort to hold unaccountable power to account –  a tribunal, a committee, a commission.

One solution, a kind of predecessor to the dead cat, is to reward these transgressors for something else. An OBE for services to justice, for example, or a knighthood for outstanding contribution to the financial community. Hide him in plain sight, because the caravan will move on soon enough.

The caravan always does.

This technique is not funny, and it is not clever. The well-connected transgressor is not hilariously embarrassing; he is a drain on society, a wrongdoer whose reputation is treated as of greater value than the actual lives of minor offenders such as a drug addict or petty thief.

Take the idiot Australians recently returned from Malaysia. The privilege of their whiteness and maleness is not defined by the internet of things, as one major newspaper implied today. White male privilege is real and it is dangerous. It is violent and harmful. It plays out at every level of our society.

For example, two of the three police officers investigated by the Western Australian coroner over the death of Ms Dhu have been promoted. They have more responsibility than when they not only failed to ensure adequate care for a dying woman but expressed viciously nasty racist views directly to her as she died.

They are now on a higher salary. Move them upstairs.

As The Saturday Paper editor Erik Jensen observed, anyone expressing surprise at the boorishness of private school- and sandstone-educated white men does not know how privilege works. Rich white guys are trained to behave in exactly this way. The young ‘gentlemen’ of all-male institutions like The Kings School and the residential colleges of the University of Sydney are routinely schooled in consequence-free crassness; and have been for centuries.

It is another inheritance in this country from the toxic British tradition. The Kings School is a wannabe Eton, Sydney Uni is our Oxford-equivalent. The father institutions produce the Camerons and the Bojos, incompetent to a man. Their incompetence is not least because no mistake, no matter how monumental, ever results in lessons learned – except perhaps in how not to be caught; or in how to throw other people’s money at crisis-managing the next terrible, dangerous, destructive decision.

Stirring up racist violence to win an unnecessary referendum designed to resolve internal conservative differences which wiped up to three trillion dollars off global financial markets? A promotion to a senior cabinet position awaits. This is not to suggest that global financial markets are not riddled with corrupted dealings – of course they are – but has David or Boris paid any kind of price for the mess they made? Are they destitute? Condemned? Disgraced?

Nope. For a campaign demonstrably founded on racist hate, Bojo was promoted to Foreign Secretary. That’s how it works. Cameron has for the moment gone home to his luxury mansion, free to get on with whatever he chooses to do. Who knows, he could do a Tony Blair and end up being paid millions to speak on peace in the Middle East. Wreck havoc, pose as the solution instead of the problem.

Look at Joe Hockey, ensconced in the most prestigious diplomatic posting in the gift of the Australian Prime Minister. For what? Contributions to Treasury governance? Hardly. For agreeing to go quietly in an internal conservative power struggle. Like Cameron.

Or is Washington the second top post? Word is our man in London, Alexander Downer, could make way for George Brandis at the UK High Commission.

Downer lived there as a child, bless, when daddy held the position. Downer is also the former conservative Howard government Foreign Minister who presided during the corrupt wheat-for-weapons dealings by Australian entities in breach of UN sanctions against Iraq while we were at war there. Talk about reward for merit.

Brandis is the conservative Attorney General who has chanced his luck with fibbing about a meeting with the Solicitor General, a Senior Counsel of impeccable credentials who is angry enough to have made his displeasure public.

Send them upstairs.

Then there is John Howard, neck-deep in reviving the legacy of Menzies, a man who had to be stopped by unionised labour from selling iron to Japan as Japan was seeking to take Australia by force.

Nothing stops this white-washing drivel. Howard and his pet project are endlessly, tediously promoted, for free, all over the media. Hours of airtime on the national broadcaster is not quite a seat in the House of Lords. But it does go to legacy, which conservatives value as much as power, knowing the two are essential to maintain their born-to-rule mythology.

Mall this is on the same spectrum as the men who embarrassed the government and the nation this week in Malaysia. As many commentators have pointed out, it is not that these men do not know what they are doing is out of step with everyone around them. It is that they do not care.

They are not ignorant. They are arrogant.

The father of former senior defence industries “innovation adviser” John Walker told the waiting media that the ‘boys’ – all in fact men who have been adults for between 7 and 11 years – will now go home and get on with their lives. Indeed they will. And not one of the protagonists will see anything wrong with that.

(The Sydney Morning Herald reported at 9.15pm Saturday that Walker junior has tendered his resignation and minister Pyne has accepted it. Expect to see Walker on a similar or higher salary somewhere sometime soon.)

Walker senior also told us ‘there was no charge’. This is not true. The charge was public nuisance, and his son along with eight mates pleaded guilty to the charge. Their connections – called ‘remorse’ in the law and the media – then saw no conviction recorded, so the offender does not end up with a criminal record.

Tony Abbott availed himself of the equivalent provisions in NSW at a similar age.*

We can safely surmise that Walker senior knows his son was charged, and with what offence. Given he was there in Malaysia and there in court and all. Nevertheless, Walker senior has – oops – confused the case outcome with his son never having been charged in the first place. In this rarefied world, ‘there was no charge’ is code for ‘they did nothing wrong’.

It is worth noting that Aboriginal people have died in custody for less – singing ‘who let the dogs out’ in earshot of a policeman; being a victim of domestic violence with unpaid fines.

We could power the world and feed the hungry with the resources which are currently misallocated to exonerating men who are recipients of reward-for-merit (ie fuckup). Men who should – but will not – live out their days in penury and despair for their miserable actions.

A couple of forces are at work here. The first – previously mentioned – is deep and deeply harmful emotional and financial investment by liberal ideology in meritocracy mythology.

Another is the Great Man in History myth. Which is (falsely) tempered by the equivalence of the flawed human. Only men can be great, but all humans are flawed. This shallow but convenient equivalence is deployed to fallaciously refute the obvious. Churchill or Turnbull (or whoever) is not great. He is a drunk or a fake (or whatever).

When this is pointed out, the dominant narrative shrugs metaphorically and says oh we are all flawed. Who among us is not? Let he who has not sinned…

The narrative is upside down. People raised in environments epitomised by Eton or Oxford are more likely to be deeply flawed. Such a system produces terrible characters. People who start wars. Interfere in others’ wars. Send other people’s children to fight those wars. Create material conditions that perpetuate imperialism and poverty and displacement. Financial crises from which they but not the poor escape.

People not raised in these toxic institutions may have been just as deeply flawed as a Bojo or a Walker, but we will never know. This is because the elite male has so much more capacity to do harm. I can not send another person’s child to war, whether I want to or not. Tony Blair can. John Howard can. Abbott certainly wanted to, and it is his legacy that has seen the Royal Australian Air Force implicated in a war crime.

So enough with the trivialisation of Walker and his mates. The nickname is not funny. White male privilege is not a figment of the internet. The men may have had no conviction recorded, but they pleaded guilty and their plea was accepted by the court. They are, by their own admission, guilty of the charge that Walker senior tried to talk away. They are dangerous, because the message as represented by the literal and figurative father tells them they did nothing wrong.

What really matters about all this is that the ranks of the current ruling party are awash with this demographic; and that the Liberal Party is utterly incapable of reforming itself out of this ugly culture.

*Abbott was also charged with indecent assault for groping a young woman between the legs. I wrote this post before the latest news from the US and do not want to risk trivialising the allegations of Trump’s sexual criminality. For the record, millions of women are sharing similar stories right now; and characterising individual, powerful men as monsters is to miss the point.

On the Royal Commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention centres


Bearing witness to the horrors that human beings inflict on each other prompts many responses. One is silence. Another is to express shock. A third is gesture politics, as Prof Megan Davis writes here and Luke Pearson here.

One of the loudest public responses to terrible acts of violence in Australia is to call for an inquiry. When a politician responds by apparently deciding overnight to hold a Royal Commission, it is very likely to be an act of gesture politics.

This week, Malcolm Turnbull responded to mass media exposure of a problem – an endemic problem with a history as long as colonial Australia – by announcing a Royal Commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention centres.

As pointed out by Michelle Grattan and Brian Stout among others, the ‘evidence of NT detention centre abuse was there for all to see’. The Prime Minister knew or ought to have known. The Chief Minister did know. We know they knew because the NT Children’s Commissioner published its report in August 2015.

But there seems to be some confusion as to what is a Royal Commission, as well as to what a Royal Commission can achieve. A Royal Commission is a process, not an end in itself – although announcing a Royal Commission can be a political end in itself.

The nature of Royal Commissions

Royal Commissions are a serious business: the act enabling their establishment is only a year younger than the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution. The penalty for intentionally insulting a Royal Commission is imprisonment for three months. If the Commissioner is a judge, no trial is required – the Commissioner acts as police, judge and jury.

Royal Commissions bear witness, and are reported in detail. So the citizenry can bear witness too.

Referrals may be made for prosecution, and may produce convictions, which might be followed by custodial sentences – or not – as the law takes it laborious course.

Recommendations are always included in the final reports. This is the systemic aspect, the central purpose of an RC, that which goes beyond individuals to the whole of the society.

Governments may accept some or all of the recommendations. Governments might then legislate for the implementation of the recommendations. Or not.

Executive government – the minister and public servants whose job it is to implement cabinet decisions – may do as directed, in part or in full. Employees who ignore or resist government directives may face consequences for this form of misconduct. Or not.

So the pathway from announcing a Royal Commission to a positive change in the way we are governed – whether a harm done is compensated, whether the wrong-doer is punished, whether future harm is prevented by systemic reform – is very long.

The longer the path, the more likely there are twists and barriers and traps and saboteurs between the RC and its stated goal.

Meanwhile, vested interests deliberately deny and derail and delay around RC proceedings: to avoid accountability for their wrongs and those of their mates or staff or institution. Witnesses tell the Commissioner they can not recall. It was all so long ago.

Then there are the false binaries as to whether Royal Commissions are political or impartial, effective or ineffective. Some Royal Commissions are party-political from day one, others are established after careful consideration of its nature and the terms of reference.

These binaries emerge because white western traditions and systems – of knowledge, of government, of society – are designed this way. Our adversarial system of law, the two-party model of government, rigid male-female genders and stereotypes: these are examples of how we organise and teach and understand the world in ‘the west’.

The model is neither accurate nor nuanced, but it is the one we have. And its beneficiaries are very aggressive in maintaining the status quo.

A Royal Commission may be relatively non-politicised; but all concern specific vested interests (such as organised religion or the nuclear industry) and RCs always concern the interests of governments. Different Royal Commissions have played different roles. But no RC in living memory has prompted “strong decisive” government action to implement all recommendations and thereby produce lasting, effective social change for the better.

EG

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption was an unmitigated and expensive, deeply politicised failure. That a finding of corruption was pre-emptively written into its title is the first sign. The referrals for prosecution have not stood up to scrutiny by the relevant prosecutors. The Commissioner was compromised by perceptions of bias if not actual bias – where perception of bias was a decision reserved to the Commissioner himself.

In contrast, Black Rainbow founder Dameyon Bonson has been calling for a Royal Commission into Indigenous suicide. Rates of suicide among Indigenous people are the highest in the country. Young people and people from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex (LGBTQI) community are over-represented again. There has been no national approach to understanding, let alone acting on, these known facts. No representation of Indigenous people on the various peak bodies. We see mass coverage of government homophobes attacking an education program designed to save young LGBTQI lives, but not of the intergenerational trauma carried in Indigenous communities since colonisation.

In this context, a national, co-ordinated response in the form of a properly funded Royal Commission that gathers evidence, tested by lawyers, has every chance of being the most effective next step to the work done by Black Rainbow and Joe Williams and others’ efforts to save the lives of their people from suicide.

The Royal Commission into Northern Territory Juvenile Detention Centres

I am against. These are my reasons.

1 As mentioned, the claims made about the efficacy of Royal Commissions, that RCs have the capacity to effect social change for the better, are misplaced. It is governments which must legislate and implement the recommendations.

2 There are thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from hundreds of Indigenous nations around the country who have already analysed the evidence. Who have been stymied at every turn from bringing up their young people. Who have the knowledge, skills, understandings, love and care and motivation – but not necessarily enough resources or authority, which the colonial state has systematically stripped away – to care for young people.

3 The notion that another evidence-gathering and analysis process is required before government can act on systemic racist violence in its own ranks is entirely unfounded because the evidence is in. It is uncontested. It has been in for decades, at least since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-91) and National Inquiry into Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families (1997).

Only the most Jurassic racists openly pretend that this state-sanctioned violence is to deal with kids who ‘cause trouble’.  Like the NT Chief Minister. When (slightly less overtly racist) politicians gravely intone that this RC will ensure the terrible wrong will never happen again, they are demonstrating wilful ignorance of the system of government to which they have been elected. They are grandstanding. Posturing. Knowingly misleading the public. Lying.

Not only is implementing recommendations the role of government, but no RC recommendation has ever ensured Indigenous people are not harmed by the state. In fact, the state removes more Aboriginal children now than during the Stolen Generations eras. The state locks up Aboriginal people at a higher rate than when the RCADIC recommendations were handed down. A key finding of that RC was that the rate we lock up Aboriginal people is a direct cause of the rate that Aboriginal people die in custody.

4 Which raises the spectre of an RC doing more harm than good. Whenever Aboriginal people make steps towards equality and justice, the dominant majority – the white patriarchal state, citizens with structural social privilege (collectively and individually), corporate interests, conservative media, all these push back aggressively against Aboriginal people, Aboriginal people’s rights and interests.

This is how the official end of segregation and assimilation as government policy saw the beginning of a much harsher form of segregation: more children removed, and more locked up  – often the same kids.

5 Cost-benefit, or better use of resources: RCs are very expensive. Lawyers cost a lot of money, as do researchers and scribes and security and sittings and per diem if the RC sits in multiple locations. There is an allowance for witnesses, whether abuser or victim.

The estimated cost of the Trade Unions RC was $80 million. This new one looks to have a similarly narrow scope (unlike the RC into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, with its much wider jurisdiction).

What is the opportunity cost? Could $80 million cover a compensation scheme, be invested in remote communities, in health and education, in transport and recreation facilities? Who has the greater need for state funding: Aboriginal children, or lawyers?

6 Some recommendations on how to stop police and prison guards violently assaulting and even torturing children would be useful.

But this is not how the terms of reference will be framed. We know this, because the Prime Minister and Attorney General have committed to working with NT Chief Minister Adam Giles; and Giles has framed the problem as unloving parents and children who ’cause trouble’.

This problem – the subject of this RC – is about Giles’ racist government and its very violent employees.

The Northern Territory government signed off on the procurement of these ‘restraint’ chairs, as is clear from the linked story dated 22 April 2015, which reported: “Cable ties and restraint chairs are set to be approved for use on children in custody as young as 10 if new laws pass the NT Parliament next month.”

As young as 10.

Yet the Chief Minister watched footage of staff strapping a child to a chair with cable ties, men hooding a boy, men teargassing children, turning a fire hose on them, stripping a child naked in the most abhorrent way … and concluded:

“The best form of youth program there is the love of a parent. … In the Northern Territory, there are too many children who are unloved.”

This is coded. The translation? Black parents are the problem.

If 60,000 years continuous survival is not evidence that Aboriginal and Islander people can bring up their children, what is?

There is simply no way an RC with terms framed by a man who thinks like Giles can effect positive change. The way he thinks and the stated objective of the RC process are incompatible, irreconcilable, do not inhabit the same discursive universe.

7 – 100: No Australian government has the courage or the know-how to stop police and prison guards from violently abusing Aboriginal people, especially children.

The people who are presenting this Royal Commission as a solution are part of the problem. The people who will write the terms of reference, who will tell us this process is to ensure it never happens again, can not, and will not, ensure any such thing.

Racist violence directed by successive white governors and governments has led us here. Attorney General Brandis limited the RC scope to the Northern Territory on the basis that the NT was “the particular problem that has been exposed” – exposed by a television program. This minimisation and isolation of a systemic problem is part of the problem.

Our governments pass laws to (re)dispossess and otherwise oppress Aboriginal people, like the NT ‘Emergency’ Intervention, or the NT paperless arrest laws, or the closure of remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

The events shown on Four Corners are terrible, but they are on a spectrum rather than being a one-off, an aberration. All Australian governments employ men who violently abuse children in their care (as do churches, charities, boarding schools, armed forces and so on and on, ad infinitum, back to the culture of the C18 imperial power).

Yet these same men imply an RC comes with a magic Royal wand to safeguard against future governments passing laws that are designed to dispossess and otherwise oppress Aboriginal people. If Giles thinks black lives matter, he will repeal the paperless arrest laws and focus on the violence committed by government employees. He has not and will not do these things.

The timing, the politics, the narratives, and the role of RCs

The fact that the Turnbull government chose its announcement for maximum impact to capitalise on the Four Corners program; the feigned outrage and faux sincerity of every government member when asked about the footage (like Child Abuse RC witnesses, these people are only concerned with their own position, not those kids); the narrative of claiming shock when faced with the long established fact that government employees (and churches etc) grossly abuse young people; that Giles has been invited to give input …

These observations of how this thing is playing out in the public domain (and politicians treat the public domain as their private playground: double dissolution elections, plebiscites, Brexit), strongly indicates that the Commonwealth is using an RC announcement to appease the public; and that it will not be designed to stop government employees committing state-sanctioned racist violence.

Bearing witness is important, and has been done: by Aboriginal children and their families and communities; by the NT Children’s Commissioner and legal and other organisations; by governments and now by the viewing public. It is time for action.

Shut them down.

Not a hot take

Another day, another aggressive bombastic bully makes nasty sexist remarks on a public platform. He should, but will not, be sacked – unlike this writer who was sacked for two tweets. His name is Steve. Her name is Catherine.

Another day, another cranky old shock jock calling a woman hysterical on the telly ie he used a gendered slur in an attempt to silence and discredit that woman.

Everyday ignorance

Another day, another bunch of self-appointed progressive men being ironic or sarcastic or smart or funny – none of which can be done without honking their own horn.

‘To be fair, Steve Price did come to a battle of the wits unarmed’ chortled one bloke on Twitter. When an Aboriginal woman pointed out the significant armaments that Price’s demographic privilege affords him, the white man doubled down. His original irony and sarcasm were obvious, he proclaimed.

This bloke is performing support for women. He should have listened to, of all people, an Aboriginal woman. She knows a lot more about white male privilege than he does, because she has to navigate it every day while he does not see it at all. His comment was not original either – the phrase goes back centuries (but not to Shakespeare). Nor could he be sarcastic and ironic. Or maybe he is one of those people who think the two are synonyms, in which case his claim was a tautology.

This is the kind of dominance and erasure and ignorance – we are ignored and our views dismissed, by men who deploy responses which do not stand up to basic scrutiny – that women endure every day in the company of men.

Then there are the responses of incredulity and disbelief, which emerge every time a nasty sexist goes public with his nasty sexism. But nasty sexism is not new, or different, or out of the ordinary. It is not incredible.

Disgusting and appalling, yes. Surprising? No.

Every time we express surprise at routine sexism, we decontextualize the systemic nature of sexism. We also give a free pass to all those blokes who characterise themselves as entirely separate and different to the cranky old shock jock.

But the good bloke may not be so different from the cranky shock jock. ‘He was only joking’ and ‘I was being ironic’ are two versions of the same message. The message also has the same purpose: to legitimatise men’s voices while de-legitimising women’s voices. To silence women, to minimise and trivialise our perspectives, our experiences, our knowledge, our lives.

Everyday man, famous man: the difference is scale, not attitude

Take comedian Wil Anderson’s hot take: ‘We’ve reached the point where on a Tuesday there are more hot takes on #qanda than people who watched #qanda’ (Disclaimer: I love Wil. I defend Wil against Wil haters. I woke up with Wil for years. But in this tweet, Wil got it wrong).

Trivialising and minimising hot takes is one thing, but here is another: the two most important articles this Tuesday, by Van Badham and Rebecca Shaw, described the substantive problem in detail. The substantive problem is men’s violence against women, and domestic violence in particular. The substantive problem is the fact that successive conservative governments have systematically dismantled women’s services.

These are not ‘hot takes’. These are not for trivialising. These are life and death matters.

Or take the ABC radio host – a nice guy, a witty guy – who last week invited listeners to call in with their ‘tired mum’ stories. The first caller put through was a man. He was the parent who had not spent nine months growing a human being, who had not laboured mightily to bring a human into the world, who had never fed that human from his own body. But he was just as tired, this dad insisted, and the radio host did not have the wit or the will to correct him with basic biological facts.

Then there was the ABC radio roundtable last Thursday on the prospect of a federal hung parliament. The host – an apparently nice guy, witty too, some say – said ‘and of course Tony Windsor was an independent in the Greiner government’. Well, yes, he was. Windsor also served in a more recent minority government in the federal jurisdiction ie the actual jurisdiction that was then in the balance and under discussion. Why erase the Gillard government and reach back over 20 years for a less relevant comparison?

Why do you think?

The same radio host could also be heard this week ‘joking’ around with a white man colleague, saying Australian politics is not so bad because ‘we gave the sheilas the vote’ ha ha ha ‘before anyone else thought of it.’ Maybe he should think about what he just said. The suffragettes’ struggle for the vote was a protracted and difficult campaign. It was not a struggle against good blokes who hand over political rights to the sheilas because they are good blokes. It was a struggle against powerful white men who resisted power-sharing outside their own demographic elite. It was also not a struggle for Aboriginal suffrage. In a single sentence, our non-shock jock, our good white man, co-opted the work of suffragettes and pretended our enfranchisement was a gift from good blokes like himself and erased the disenfranchisement (or should that be unenfranchisement) of all Aboriginal people, men and women.

Nice one mate.

Then last Saturday there was this story on past winners of the prestigious Archibald prize, illustrated by a photo of three men front on, and the man writer off to one side. Off to the other side, we could just make out the blurry profile of Del Kathryn Barton, the only artist there who had won the Archibald twice. Maybe Barton asked to be obscured, but I doubt it – she has been interviewed and photographed before. I have no qualms with a photo in the arts section of a major newspaper showcasing Quilty. He seems like a top bloke. But to all but disappear Del Kathryn Barton? I have a major problem with that.

Archibald winners

Failure to portray the most successful portrait artist in this story

And how about The Drum this week. Host John Barron, a man, crossed to a commentator in the UK, also a man, to discuss the ascendency of Theresa May, a woman, to the British Prime Ministership. After treating us to the insights of these two men into women politicians, the host turned to former conservative MP Jackie Kelly and asked her about conservative women leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir and Indira Ghandi. Golda Meir. In 2016. In Australia. I ask you.

To her credit, Kelly responded to this ridiculous question by naming (Labor) Premiers Joan Kirner (Vic), Carmen Lawrence (WA) and Anna Bligh (Qld) as well as (conservative NSW opposition leader) Kerry Chikarovski – but not (Labor Premier) Kristina Keneally (NSW).

If not discussing the ‘hospital pass’ – as Kelly, and again kudos to her, called it – of men ceding power to women when the blokes have made such a complete mess of things that only a woman could possibly clean it up… then why raise gender at all?

Barron then crossed to another man, and said ‘is it just old blokes like us who don’t get Pokemon Go?’ This is an invitation to begin a self-deprecating blokey routine together. What was the other bloke supposed to say? ‘No mate, it is just you. Women have a much better grasp of how Pokemon Go works, given it is women who are most likely to be looking after kids as they play the game’.

Why not merely compare the merits of politicians, or conservatives, or any old adult who does not ‘get’ an app craze? Why not place the most successful artist front and centre of a photo showcasing successful portrait artists? Why erase not one but four ALP Premiers and dig around in history, overseas, to put an absurd and unsubstantiated premise about conservative women in politics?

There is a point to listing how men choose to gender these narratives. These nonsense twists and turns in public debate serve multiple purposes. Highlighting gender where it is unnecessary to do so paves the way to obscuring gender roles when it is very necessary to do so. Such as when it comes to domestic violence.

For instance, when women note the fact that men’s violence against women is gendered in specific ways that benefit men and harm women, the man commentator – assuming he has got past the me-tooism practiced by oafs like Steve Price – can throw up his hands, act confused, and say ‘but when I gendered women politicians you all criticised me’.

Our man prides himself for being above Neanderthal level, of having made an effort to understand women’s issues or some such. It is all about him. He tried. He can not be expected to understand the fine distinction between men killing women and men ceding power to women when the blokes have trashed the polity.

After all, he is only a highly remunerated professional with a public platform who was awarded his position on merit. What more do women want? Can he help it that his learned helplessness and deliberate decision to close his ears when women are speaking has prevented him from learning important lessons about his own gender? Of course not. He is a good man. He tried.

Bona fides ignorance

This is the bona fides ignorance routine that is unthinkingly permitted – to whiteness and to men. Look at the enormous harm that church and state visited on members of the Stolen Generations and their descendants. The standard conversation among white people about the Stolen Generations – again, if it gets beyond base level, (it wasn’t me I wasn’t even there) – quickly essentialises to ‘but they had good intentions’.

When his intentions were good, once he has done nothing more than said so, the white man is almost always taken at his word, and is thereafter in the clear. This norm stems from centuries of cultural indoctrination about a man’s word being his bond and so on. Course we can no longer demand our satisfaction by way of a duel if we doubt a man’s intentions – that is for the courts these days.

But women were never permitted to question men’s intentions anyway. He said he did not mean it. Why are you harping on about it? It is petty. It is trivial. It is nothing. He probably did not think about it. (Indeed. That is his luxury. Also the problem).

Women are trained to minimise our own stakes and feelings in any given set of circumstances; and to fear the repercussions of impugning a man’s character. The repercussions are very real, of course. Rejecting a man or his views is in fact a huge risk. Hell hath no fury like a man scorned; which is why the old aphorism is ascribed to women.

This is how sexism works: men are granted the benefit of the doubt, based on a false assumption of his good intentions. At the same time, the evidence shows that men often hold extreme ill-intention, up to and including killing the women who doubt or refute or reject them.

Meanwhile in NSW

As I write, the NSW Premier Mike Baird is gearing up for a heroic announcement on legislative reform to assist ‘women in violent relationships’. The changes are addressed at the terrible hardships women endure when violent men damage property but leave a woman with the bill.

Here is the scenario. Someone damages property that is owned and leased by someone else. This is a crime. The correct response is to call the police and make a report; and contact the agent to provide details including the crime report number. The real estate contacts the landlord, who contacts their insurer, who pays for the damage to be fixed.

However, if the leaseholder is a woman in a sexual relationship with the man who did the damage, she is held responsible for his actions. Rather than the police, the landlord, the insurer and society ensuring the safety and individual responsibility of each member of the community (as per our purported values), a woman is made to pay for the crimes of a violent man.

The ‘law reform’ is said to ‘assist’ women to not be blamed for the actions of a violent man. Yet the violent actions of a violent man are in fact actions for which she is not and never was and can not be at law responsible for in the first place.

If women could control or change men, we would use that magic power to stop men being violent, not cause men to be violent (and to not, in this context, leave us with the bill while we also take responsibility for feeding and clothing and housing our children).

The law could instead uphold its own principles – individual responsibility, equality before the law. But there is no fanfare for Baird, or continuation of the dominant victim-blaming norm, in that.

So Baird shuts down women’s services while posturing as a hero and saviour of women. Nobody mentions that violent men are the problem, because everyone up and down the chain knows that women’s lives are at stake. This makes criticism extremely difficult. We must settle for reforms that would not be necessary if the rule of law as it currently stands was upheld by those who write it.

These reforms enshrine in law the norm that a woman victim is responsible for a violent man perpetrator’s damage by providing special ‘help’ in ‘exceptional’ circumstances – circumstances which are in fact routine and not exceptional at all.

In sum

Meanwhile, a bully tells his audience that the woman he bullied is aggressive. A radio host hears out a man telling his tired mum story. A twitter exchange shows a white man performing support for women while talking over a black woman. A successful woman portrait artist is framed out of a photo of successful portrait artists. An entire government led by a woman is erased from public discussion.

All these instances are on the same spectrum. Even the Prime Minister knows this, with his empty rhetoric on ‘violence against women’ (by which he means men’s violence) beginning with ‘disrespect’ (by which he means the ways that men ignore, erase, speak over, silence, and tone police women). What a pity Turnbull does not articulate these facts, or any real meaning. I mean, the electoral evidence suggests he has a ready and willing audience, if only he had the wit or the guts to do so.

Turnbull wants to be a hero to women too – but not in any substantive way. Like everything in politics, no matter how flowery the rhetoric, it comes down to numbers. As the final seats are counted, the proportion of women MPs in the newly elected Coalition government is 17.1% on current figures. Turnbull has gone backwards. If he is a feminist, he has no authority. If he has authority, he is no feminist.

Unless and until

Steve Price defended his mates as making a joke and then demanded that Van Badham ‘not tar him with the same brush’ as his mates. This is exactly the kind of irrational, unreasonable, internal incoherence that white privilege bestows on white men. But Steve does belong in the same category as Eddie MacGuire. It was Steve, by blathering about his mates, who tarred himself with the same brush as Eddie.

And until those nice white men who think it is funny or clever or ironic to trivialise and minimise women’s lives and perspectives and knowledge and experience, including by crowding the airwaves with their own performative good bloke routine…

Until conservative politicians get that it is not heroic to enshrine in law so-called exceptional circumstances for what is in fact unexceptional nay routine male violence…

Until writers and artists and public broadcasters recognise that it is unacceptable to give men a more prominent platform for objectively less success, to co-opt womens’ labour, whether in creating new humans or painting a portrait of those humans…

Until white Australian manhood comes to terms with the fact that it is unacceptable to co-opt white women’s struggle for the vote, while erasing Aboriginal people from both their struggle for the franchise and from public debate…

Unless these lessons are learned, the progressive good bloke men are tarring themselves with the same brush too.