Category Archives: Everlasting awfulness

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.

Lying lacks integrity, or IOKIYALNP*

Last week I wrote up a few tips and guidelines to the Malcolm election in which Australia, increasingly miserably, finds itself. I grumbled about the sexism of Dutton and the posturing of the Prime Minister and observed that the Treasurer clearly hates his boss.

The post was redundant within hours. Dutton surpassed his sexism with some carefully calibrated racist xenophobic lies. Despite obvious distaste from the Opposition, much of the commentariat and the electorate, Turnbull backed him up and Dutton doubled down. Clearly this dead cat had major work to do. Just how bad were those polls, those PEFO figures, the evidence that the budget handouts to business and the wealthy would not produce either jobs nor growth?

Maybe it was the news that Australian Border Force members are allegedly involved in smuggling rackets. You know the ones. That favourite of Dutton (and Morrison, and Abbott) which spends more on medals than the actual Australian Defence Force does. This pseudo militaristic outfit isthe solution to ‘people smuggling’ but according to Fairfax, a ‘network of Australian Border security officials’ are likely into tobacco smuggling.

Not to mention the troubling evidence from none other than Amnesty International that our government committed transnational crimes by paying people smugglers to leave Australian waters.

Perhaps it was the Pre-election Economic Fiscal Outlook, which World Today reported would revise revenue downwards from the imaginary growth figures that featured in the budget a mere two weeks earlier. The afternoon PM program then reported that the PEFO would be broadly consistent with the budget forecasts. Is this really some kind of achievement when, did I mention? The budget was tabled a mere two weeks earlier.

But then things got really messy.

Turned out the AFP was about to raid the office of a Labor senator and the house of a Labor staffer which they did in quite spectacular fashion. The raid was ostensibly over leaks of nbn™ documents. An nbn™ staffer apparently went along to advise the AFP and took photos of documents – documents which are now subject to a claim of Parliamentary privilege – but not before the former copper turned nbn™ staffer turned special assistant to the AFP could share said photos.

Or not. Who knows? If these were errors, the AFP is incompetent. If the AFP knew the documents were likely to be subject to a privilege claim and went ahead anyway, the whole thing was a redundant stunt. Redundant but for one possible purpose: the ever-present media, some of whom happened to be nearby when the night time raids were mounted. The media works in mysterious ways.

Speaking of craptacular mistakathons (© @YaThink) the AFP Commissioner then told the media that his organisation had not notified government of the raids. This was followed by a clarification from the Communications Minister that he had been advised of the raids but that he had not told the Prime Minister.

So what? Well, both men clearly have a poor understanding of the word government (the AFP Commissioner and the Minister are both members of executive government); and at least one of them is lying about whether Communications Minister Fifield was told.

Nobody has contradicted the claim that the Prime Minister was not told except, it would seem, the Prime Minister himself. Answering questions on the campaign trail, he was asked repeatedly about the raids he was purportedly not told about before the fact.

From the transcript:


Prime Minister can you confirm that your Communications Minister knew about the possible investigation into the NBN links some months ago and didn’t tell you about it?


I can yes, that’s right.


He didn’t tell you about it but he knew about it?


That’s correct.

So far, so good – if you believe what the Prime Minister places on the public record. After some babbling about an old white man megaphone who is a blight on our airwaves, the PM was asked:


Prime Minister Turnbull, did you or anyone acting on your behalf have any contact with NBN Co or its’ executives about this leaked material?

The AFP Commissioner having denied telling anyone in government about the raids, and the relevant minister having said he was told but did not pass on this information, the journalist is checking whether the PM knew of the raids through some other avenue.

Here is what the PM said when asked if he had any contact with NBN Co about the leaks:

Can I say to you that I’m not sure what you mean by that question. But the only issue here, the issue here is the integrity and the independence of the Australian Federal Police.

Let me just make this point; it should be a matter of very great regret that the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Attorney-General sought yesterday to attack the integrity of the Australian Federal Police. Now, Australians recognise that the national security of this country, of our nation, the safety of our people, is indivisible. It involves our armed forces. It involves border protection. It involves police, federal police, state police. It is an indivisible chain of security. The integrity of our police forces is absolutely critical.

Now, the Australian Federal Police, when they conduct an investigation, firstly they make their own decision as to whether to investigate, which they did in this particular case and then how they conduct that investigation is theirs, their decision to make, independently of government. Now, what Mr Shorten is seeking to do is to suggest that the Australian Federal Police have acted other than with integrity or other than independently. He should be ashamed of doing so.

We know, as the Commissioner said, that the AFP act with the utmost integrity and they act independently of government as they should.

 Here is some of what Turnbull just did:

  1. began his answer with a signature distraction/think-time phrase
  2. expressed doubt in his own comprehension as he bought time to decide what question to replace the actual question with
  3. conflated AFP integrity with a lie about the Labor Party
  4. asserted, without a shred of evidence, that the AFP are above reproach and beyond questioning on issues of integrity and independence
  5. conflated an AFP raid with national security – which traditionally refers to threats from outside the nation state.
  6. implied that the AFP are not an arm of government. In fact, the AFP are armed agents of executive government
  7. backed his claim that the integrity of the AFP is above reproach by citing a man who either lied to the public or exposed the communications minister as a liar
  8. did not answer the question

And that is just a start. Turnbull was then asked about the NBN staffer who was present under the guise of holding expert knowledge as per AFP guidelines. He did essentially the same thing, in terms of not answering the question, switching the topic to the Opposition, and making unsubstantiated claims about the integrity of the AFP.

It is worth asking whether Turnbull would bother doing any of these things if there was a simple yes or no answer available to a properly briefed leader on the independence and probity of the raids. But apparently a man trained in first principles like presumption of innocence, and who ostensibly had no prior knowledge of the raids, also had deep insider knowledge of the facts and of culpability (emphasis added):


Prime Minister, do you accept that given these documents were presupposed to be under parliamentary privilege the AFP violated their own guidelines by having an NBN Co person present there, taking photographs?


I can’t comment on that. The documents, I note that there’s been a claim of parliamentary privilege made by Senator Conroy. The documents have not actually been tabled in Parliament, which is how parliamentary privilege is normally obtained. But really, I don’t want to get into the legalities of Senator Conroy’s determination to keep the police away from these documents, which were clearly stolen from the NBN Co. So he’s trying to keep the police away from those. He’s made a claim. Apparently it will be dealt with by the Senate when the Senate reconvenes after the election.

All I can say to you is that the police acted independently and with integrity. My Government respects that integrity and independence. It is a great pity that Mr Shorten and in particular his Shadow Attorney-General, plainly does not.

The documents were clearly stolen from NBN Co, according to the leader of the land.

Lets leave aside the presence of the former Victorian police officer turned casino security manager turned NBN staffer turned expert who was present at highly sensitive AFP raids in the full glare of the media in the middle of an election campaign where he reportedly took photos of documents and shared them before any privilege claim could be heard – this is all too murky for me.

What I can set out – in light of the Prime Ministerial claim that the documents were seized because the documents are clearly stolen goods – is a quick run down on how a criminal proceeding proceeds.

A complaint (or observation, when police are out on patrol) is made such that police form a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed.

The police interview the complainant and begin to gather other evidence.

If that potential evidence includes items that the police reasonably believe are stored at a specific location, a warrant application is made to search the premises at that location.

The warrant is signed off by a magistrate or higher officer (depending on seriousness of the crime and other details).

The police attend the suspected address and properly execute the warrant.

If evidence that matches that described on the warrant is found, it can be photographed, seized, and removed by authorised officers of the state.


We know each of these steps have been carried out, with the possible exception of the presence of the NBN staff member, which may turn out to be unauthorised at law.

Before anyone can state that the seized documents were stolen from NBN Co, let alone that the documents were obviously stolen from NBN Co, the following steps must be taken:

The police continue gathering evidence such as interviewing witnesses until there is sufficient evidence to arrest a suspect with a view to laying a charge or charges. The standard test here is whether the evidence can amount to proof such that a reasonable jury would be likely to convict the accused. Are there, asks the prosecutor, reasonable prospects of success in this case?

This rule is intended to prevent police from pursuing an unwinnable case against an accused person who merely conforms to the police idea of what a criminal is or looks like or who the police think should be locked up without credible evidence. There is a reason for thus rule. The reason is embedded in the preventative purposes listed.

Next, the police make an arrest ‘on suspicion’ of a particular offence. Then they question the suspect. Then they lay the charge (or release the suspect). There may be a bail hearing, if the police oppose bail. This is due to presumption of innocence. The accused is innocent until proven guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, in a properly constituted court of law.

There will be a mention to set various dates and may be a plea hearing. If the accused pleads guilty, we may state at this point and not before, that the documents were ‘obviously stolen’ – if and only if the charge is that of stealing these documents.

If a not guilty plea is entered, the evidence is tested before the tribunal of fact – either a jury, or a judge if the accused has opted for a judge-only trial. The prosecution presents its case. The defence presents its defence. Evidence is adduced. Applications are made for non-admissibility of prejudicial evidence (or not). Witnesses are examined and cross-examined (or not). The rules are explained by the judge if necessary.

The evidence and arguments are summarised. The tribunal of fact retires to consider the facts and circumstances of the case. A verdict is reached. The court is recalled. The verdict is delivered. If the verdict is guilty then, and only then, can we say that ‘the documents were obviously stolen’ – if the charge was that of stealing these documents.

The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of the criminal law system. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that the state and its agents are known to abuse power. Far from the armed agents of the state being above reproach, the most foundational principles of our legal system – presumption of innocence, right to silence, guilt beyond reasonable doubt – are specific recognition of the inherent power imbalance between the citizen and the state; and of the inherent tendency of the state to abuse its power and to violate the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

This is historical fact. The evidence of state abuse of power is overwhelming, and has been for centuries. When the Prime Minister claims the AFP are beyond reproach, he contradicts what every first year law student learns about the foundational principles of our legal system and why we have them.

In other words, none of us know whether the documents were ‘obviously stolen’ until a guilty plea is entered or the evidence is tested in a court of law. Either of these two results then makes the fact obvious. That is what criminal law processes are designed to do: seek facts and evidence, construct those facts and evidence into a logical argument that examines all the circumstances, and reach a verdict, which is either the truth or becomes the truth, depending on how robust is the system and its agents.

Yet regardless of centuries of legal tradition, principles, and rules, a barrister-turned-politician, the highest-ranked leader in the land, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, got out his crystal ball and told reporters that the documents were obviously stolen.

This is not his call to make. It is a matter for the police, the accused, and the courts.




*IOKIYALNP: It’s okay if you are Liberal National Party (like living within your means, for example). Originally coined as internet slang to describe the way Republicans in the USA apply one rule for the party (family values and rampant adultery, for example); and another for everyone else.


The Malcolm Election: A Primer

As week two of the 2016 federal election campaign kicked off, there was no more important news than the findings by The Australia Institute (TAI) which clearly show the 2016-17 budget measures will not, in fact, create either growth or jobs.

In short, taxpayer-funded government hand-outs to business and the wealthy do not trickle down to those in greatest need, but are scooped up by – this will shock you – business and the wealthy.

Who are the wealthy?

Australians who enjoy an income of $80,000 or more per year want for absolutely nothing. We can choose between public and private education. Between public and private health care. We do not experience the systemic criminalisation of poverty. Nor the anxiety and transience of housing insecurity. When we turn on a tap, at home or at the park, clean potable water comes out. We can take at least one domestic holiday each year, and save for overseas holidays – the trip of a lifetime, biannual sojourns in the Pacific. Either way, other than our ugly sense of entitlement, we are just fine.

The electorate which reaps the greatest windfall from the jobs n growth budget is Wentworth, the extraordinarily wealthy enclave in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and seat of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Meanwhile, the Grattan Institute released findings that the slated company tax cuts would stimulate growth by  0.6% at best and it would take 25 years ‘for the economy to feel the full effect’. In other words: nothing. Margin of error stuff. The ‘growth’ half of the Liberal Party slogan ‘jobs and growth’ is demonstrably false.

In response, the Prime Minister did not engage with the figures. He did not provide a nuanced rebuttal. He did not display his fabled intellect, another lie, so vigorously promoted by his crony commentator mates. He did what weak and lazy conservative thinkers always do: asserted that a demonstrable lie is somehow natural, inevitable, common sense, an infallible truth.

Turnbull said: “It is well understood and well accepted that if you reduce the level of business taxes, company taxes, then you will get a better return on investment, you will see more investment and you will see more employment and that is the inevitable consequence of it.” (The Guardian, Friday 13 May, 2016).

Over at The Australia Institute, economist Richard Deniss found that the government hand-outs to business in the 2016-17 budget will create as many jobs over 30 years as the economy created last month on its own. That is, the economy created more jobs in a month, without a $50 billion hand-out from the saintedAustraliantaxpayer™ than the hand-out to business will create over the (very) long term.

Who is the saintedAustraliantaxpayer™?

Anyone who buys a good or service. It took a Disability Support Pension (DSP) recipient to remind the nation and the foreign-owned Murdoch press of this fundamental fiscal fact. This displeased said Murdoch press, which is neither Australian nor pays tax, but is down for persecuting a sexual assault survivor who is reportedly now on suicide watch.

(In fact we paid $882 million of our tax money to the foreign-owned Murdoch press. This windfall was sent via a morally bankrupt government and a depleted and frankly exhausted Australian Tax Office, which under the profligate and economically illiterate Treasurer Joe Hockey was forced to shed 4,400 jobs in 19 months.)

Disunity and Misleading Claims

As well as the completely unfounded claims (lies) the government broadcasts about its budget, the company tax cut (like the date of the budget itself) saw the Prime Minister and the Treasurer at odds, again, over whether Treasury had done the costings. Did the Prime Minister lie about whether Treasury had done the costings? Why not ask FactCheck, the ABC service to be axed by its brand new ex-Murdoch CEO in the middle of an election campaign?

What does it matter whether the Prime Minister forgot to tell the Treasurer that his re-election strategy relies on a grandiose announcement about a double dissolution over a bill nobody knows or cares about and that this would mean bringing the budget forward because Malcolm?

Who cares whether the Prime Minister lied about Treasury costings and the Treasurer therefore ordered Treasury to release the costings which is clear evidence that the Treasurer hates the Prime Minister and that the government is dysfunctional and in chaos but whatever because Malcolm.

Why not trust a banker, a barrister, a politician in bed with the real estate industry? Malcolm!

In the end we found out that the cost of this pre-election hand-out to Liberal Party donors business would be nearly $50 billion – for basically no return, except a prop on which to hang a slogan. That slogan of course is jobs and growth. The analysis above clearly shows that neither jobs nor growth are an inevitable iron-clad law of economics flowing from budget promises, as the Prime Minister would have us believe. Jobs and growth is nothing but a false and empty slogan of the most Abbottesque variety.

Next came The Australia Institute findings that the company tax cut would represent a massive $10 billion wealth transfer over ten years from Australia to – wait for it – the USA. Not to a developing country. Not to an aid project. Not to investment in renewables or global peace or education for girls (the single most effective way to change the world).

In response, the Finance Minister did not engage with the figures. He did not provide a nuanced rebuttal. He did what weak and lazy conservative thinkers always do: asserted that a demonstrable truth is not true. The Australia Institute findings are ‘factually incorrect. Completely and utterly false’ blathered Cormann, as we stood by for his substantiating evidence. But no, his entire argument amounted to the blare of a quiz show horn. Bzzzzzt. Wrong.

Recall that the Prime Minister relied on not just false but disproven productivity claims for the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) in his letter advising the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament. The Attorney General QC produced a 13-page letter in support. The Governor General reproduced the false claims in his speech to the amassed MPs who the Australian taxpayer flew back to Canberra at an estimated cost of $20 million to reject a bill we knew would be rejected. (Did the Governor General mislead parliament? My case for the affirmative here).

Such expensive gestures afford huge electoral advantage to the incumbents. Of course, for those smashing economic managers of the Liberal Party, no expenditure of other people’s money to shore up political advantage is too great. Abuse of incumbent power is also no problem.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister, not known for decisive action or sound judgment, dithered and waffled about the budget and a double dissolution, as his fortunes sank in the polls (stand by for fear-mongering on terror and asylum seekers). Meanwhile, his Treasurer hastily scribbled some numbers on the back of a nearby envelope. Young people, Morrison muttered, pencil clamped between his teeth. Health and education no no scrap that. I know. Give business yet another hand-out and troll young people by making another business hand-out look like a constructive policy.


Democratic process: on policy and law

None of the budget thought bubbles measures have been tabled as bills or passed by both houses of parliament. The government is in no different a position to the opposition: whatever they say is a promise, not a law.

Supply was passed, unamended, the day after the budget was tabled. New policies, which require new appropriations, are still up for grabs. Electoral fodder, nothing more.

At any time, but more so at times like this, it is important to remember that legislation is the codification of policy; and policies are units of ideology. Laws are made by politicians, who belong to political parties, which in turn hold to specific ideologies. The law is not neutral, either in creation or application. There is no magic political-evaporation pond in which to soak our laws when they come into force. Law is inherently political, because politicians make laws.

This is how democracy works. An election is called. Candidates for two major and some minor parties traverse the country, communicating their policy platform to the voters. The policy platform is comprised of planks. In the old days this was a direct metaphor for the stage on which the politician stood, like soap box for public speakers.

One party or coalition secures a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and forms government. Its promises, founded on its ideology, do not suddenly magically turn into law (the great Gough Whitlam came close to performing this magic in 1972, rest his soul). Each policy or promise must be dumped or broken or drafted into a bill and passed by both Houses of Parliament. No new policy, no hand-outs to business, whether tax cuts or the dehumanisation of young unemployed people, are yet law. What is happening in this campaign is a simple abuse of the power of incumbency by the incumbents.

Decoding election messages: the Malcolm campaign

The media has a designated role in the democratic process. This designated role is not to compete between gotcha moments and creepy selfies for the nightly lead. In the English tradition, the tradition forcibly imposed on this continent and her islands, the media is the fourth estate. The first, second and third estates are the Church, the landed gentry (Lords), and the peasants (Commoners).

As an estate, a stakeholder in a democratic system of government, the media have an obligation to report in the public interest. This includes informing the electorate of opposition policies, so the public has a choice on election day. If the electorate are not informed of opposition party policies, we only hear about government, and thus lack informed choice at the ballot box. There are words for one-party states, and none of those words are democracy.

The traditional media method of discharging this duty is to proclaim a commitment to the journalist code of ethics and to balanced reporting. Of course balance is not for vested conservative interests. The Murdoch empire remains a shrieking cabal of nasty privileged sexist racist cronies who broadcast their shameless partisan garbage to the detriment of all but the vested interests of their sadistically selfish boss.

But the supposedly more responsible media are not balanced either. This is partly a function of bullying by conservative governments and big business, via funding cuts (ABC and SBS) or a big bank withdrawing its ad buy (Fairfax).

But it is also a function of the most powerful structural advantage in any democracy: incumbency. The media subscribes to a structural hierarchy of privileged voices. The most powerful voices in society are assumed to be the most important voices.

Never mind that democracy claims to be government by the people for the people; or that the Rule of Law announces that we are all equal before the law; or that the most endorsed document in the history of humanity, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

No. Put all that to one side and, like capitalism itself, afford the highest platforms and most prominent positions to the most advantaged. Those from whom we have already heard, whose voices we hear all the damn time; who rarely offer a new insight or creative approach (and never an impartial one); whose social power eclipses all others; and who are largely responsible for the social, geopolitical, and environmental mess in which we find ourselves and in which we have placed our overburdened and burning planet.

Value is scarcity, or so my economics professors told me. Yet here we are with a surplus of vested white men and the occasional woman whose views are largely dull and redundant anyway, but also, according to economic orthodoxy, being in surplus and all, of extremely low worth. It is these voices that the traditional media foregrounds as though they are of the greatest value. We have an over-supply of smug white men. We hear from them endlessly. The bigger problem is how to shut them up. These voices lack substance, honesty, morality, inspiration, creativity, insight… anything, really.

Except incumbent power.

Under this model, every mainstream media campaign report leads with the incumbent. It should be noted that the current incumbents are ministers in a deeply conservative and inept government, sexist and racist and homophobic to a man and woman. These values are thus hyper-visibilised and normalised, irrespective of whether Australians see such ugly positions to accurately represent our values.

Government representatives of the people: a sample

We might hear from AG George Brandis QC, ‘confirming’ that prevention of an imminent terror attack is a fact (when it is not only an unproven claim but sub judice, as the good QC knows, or ought to know).  Brandis is presumably on terror-mongering duty to rehabilitate his dismal reputation as a luddite who failed to notice that numerous letters from Man Haron Monis to his office amounted to overwhelming evidence of Monis’ violent tendencies – which ended in the Sydney siege.

Or we get Scott Morrison saying the Opposition has blown a hole in ‘the budget’ (the Opposition does not control the budget. That would be the job of the Treasurer) and saying ‘this decision, the decision that we have taken today, we had already accounted for’. Okay, Scott. You accounted last month for a decision you made today, but Labor did not. Back in your time machine, mate.

The temporal dissonance is bad enough, but the failure to ever back their own policies with anything other than ‘this is inevitable’ conservatism, or ‘my unprovable claim is a fact’ terror-mongering, or ‘Labor Labor Labor’ from a rabble who have been in government for 2.5 years?

Who else is out and about flinging misleading claims like defecating monkeys?

Why hello Peter ‘plod’ Dutton. Hello you of the recently purchased $2 million+ Palm Beach pad, trolling Tanya Plibersek on her household income. It is an unwritten bipartisan rule of politics to never draw attention to the exorbitant amount we pay politicians for their phony, petty posturing. But household income? Oh, that’s okay. In this instance. You know why? Because Plibersek is a woman.

Ask yourself: have you heard anyone, despite its ostentation, refer to the enormous wealth of Lucy Turnbull nee Hughes? Do you know whether Malcolm or Lucy, and we are talking an extremely high wealth base on any measure here, comes from the wealthier family circumstances? Not a whisper? Yet here is Dutton making veiled references to Plibersek’s husband. Anyone who has followed the fortunes of Mr P knows what else Dutton is implying, a disgusting smear unworthy of further consideration.

And then there is the Prime Minister. The shtrong (pause, deepen pitch, take breath) Prime Minister. A man who told Freemantle workers that massive government contracts are innovative, talented, the future of Australia, twenty-first century.

Let’s take a closer look. The  announcement is a government contract for patrol boats. Are we at war? Is someone invading our remote island?

A: Australian patrol boats are used to turn back desperate people fleeing persecution, many fleeing persecution of our making, in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria. So the Turnbull vision of innovation for the future of Australia is to further persecute desperate human beings. Nice.

The announcement was for a government contract. Not a start-up, not the invention of refrigeration, or commercial application of wi-fi, or economies of scale on solar cells. It is a government contract to build patrol boats. This, says Turnbull, is Australia at its best. This is our future. Lovely.

Turnbull is talking about a taxpayer-funded order for military hardware in peacetime. The claims he makes for this ordinary procurement decision are so grandiose, so doused in rhetoric, that there must be a greater ideological purpose. What could this statesmanlike purpose be? When on analysis the rhetoric comes up isolationist, socialist, and racist? Can that be right?

Yep. Turns out the only point is the re-election of the Malcolm government, which stands for literally nothing but itself and its donor mates. Nothing new there, then.

Turnbull followed his racist isolationist speechifying with a visit to Darwin, where the Northern Territory government has leased the port to a Chinese government entity for the next 99 years. This is obviously the greatest threat to national sovereignty since the British took by force the sovereignty of over 300 nations in 1770.

Here on soil stolen by the British and handed to the Commonwealth of Australia which leased it to the Chinese, Turnbull waxed lyrical on shtrong border protection. Think about that.

Is he being wilfully ignorant? Stupid? Has he not heard of soft power, despite the cheer squad who laud his ‘intellect’? Or does he just love money and hate brown people seeking asylum? It is very hard to tell.

Just kidding. It is very easy to tell. Despite being demonstrably terrible at his job, Turnbull likes having it; and when a vested, powerful, wealthy white guy likes what he sees, woe betide anyone who stands between him and his object of desire. No isolationalist nationalist xenophobic rhetoric is too low to go.

Six More Weeks: A Survival Guide

Happily, the way to understand media coverage of all this woeful garbage is not difficult. It is not intellectually demanding, or more complex than that, as people out of their depth in public are trained to say.

First, every day is opposite day in the Liberal Party. The reason is that their policies are designed to benefit their own, their base and their donors; but must be sold as if the policy will produce some general social good – in order to win the election. While the Grattan and Australia Institutes have done fantastic work, and our system requires evidence to debunk the myths and lies being flung about, there is no need for the average punter to decode or analyse or crunch numbers. Just ask two simple questions:

  • Is the Minister insisting his claim is true without any substantive evidence? It is false.
  • Does the decision in fact benefit business and the wealthy? Then that is its point.

The dedicated punter can perform further checks. Turn the claim around, and see if its exact opposite seems to resonate, to more closely correspond to the facts in the world.

  • Turnbull is a good economic manager: take a look at the deficit
  • Turnbull can be trusted: Turnbull has reversed his positions on GST, state tax collection, marriage equality, the Republic, climate change (etc)
  • Turnbull is a good leader: Turnbull failed the Republic campaign and failed on climate as Opposition leader. See also NBN. And Godwin Greche (etc)
  • Turnbull is an intellect: Turnbull repeats the same six words at every outing
  • Turnbull is progressive: see marriage equality and climate change, above. See also Safe Schools, cashless welfare, Gonski, university fee deregulation, eating disorder helpline, upfront pathology costs (etc)
  • Turnbull is better than Abbott: Turnbull bangs on about terror and border protection at every opportunity
  • Turnbull is articulate: Turnbull ums and ahhhs like Abbott. Turnbull uses conservative tropes every time he speaks. Turnbull patronises senior journalists to prevail over otherwise much stronger counter-arguments to his claims.

And so on. And on. For six more gruelling weeks.










From island prison to island prisons: White Australia and other stories

This week the highest court in Papua New Guinea unanimously ruled that the detention camps established by Australia on Manus Island are unconstitutional, which is to say illegal.

There were two layers to the decision, both of which went against the case for the legality of the camps. The first was that the establishment of the camps was unconstitutional. The second was that the constitutional amendment designed to authorise the establishment of the camps was itself unconstitutional.

The next day the PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced that the camps would be closed. Bear in mind that the case was brought and won by the leader of the opposition. The PNG Supreme Court may have displayed greater moral fortitude and constitutional rigor than the High Court of Australia, but politics is politics wherever we look.


Two constitutions, four islands: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Manus and Nauru

This post is not about these legal decisions. I leave that to others who are far more qualified than I to write. The PNG decision is available here, and can be contrasted with the case against the constitutionality of Australian detention camps on Nauru here. There are many great explainers of the issues, the legalities and the politics. This article by Madeline Gleeson in The Conversation is excellent, as is this by Richard Ackland in The Guardian. Ackland has been publishing pieces on asylum seeker policy for the layperson for years.

This post is about the failure of the Australian political leadership and society to decolonise our thinking, over 220 years since what Aboriginal pastor Ray Minniecon recently described as the original sin of terra nullius.


The current political landscape and ongoing colonial project

The Australian political landscape this week was once again a garbling of strategy and tactics and messaging and what passes for policy these days. I say ‘what passes for policy’ because current government policy is predictably predicated on doing more-or-less nothing, or nothing differently to immediate predecessor PM Abbott.

As the PNG Supreme Court decision hit the news, the Immigration Minister was accused of contradicting the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister expressed surprise at the PNG court decision while the Immigration Minister said the government had been ‘working behind closed doors’ in preparation for such an outcome. Nothing new here. The month before the Treasurer and Prime Minister were at sixes and sevens on when the budget would be brought down – a matter of some import, or so we would be forgiven for thinking.

We are accustomed to this incoherent and mendacious incompetence from the Coalition government (though we are less accustomed to the Murdoch press completely ignoring it rather than screeching CHAOS!11!! at every opportunity, as was the case during the last Labor government).

There are many contradictions – some would say lies – of the 28 April 2016 prime ministerial interactions with the electorate. Fresh from memorialising victims of a massacre at Port Arthur 20 years ago, Turnbull put on his paternalistic lecturing voice to caution that ‘we can not be misty-eyed’ about indefinite detention on island camps.

These are camps that we know for a fact facilitate mental illness, rape, torture, and murder.

Anyway. Misty-eyed. From the man who did all he could to muster misty-eyed-ness mere hours earlier. It is obligatory at this point to emphasise that I do not intend to disrespect the dead at Port Arthur, which I do not. I write as a mother and human rights scholar, of the value of a single human life.

The events of the day were reliably exploited to:

  • perpetuate the lie that an event in 1996 was the worst massacre in our history, erasing massacres across the country from 1788 to 1928
  • elevate the legacy of John Howard, a racist, small-minded and deeply conservative prime minister who nurtured the meanness and madness of Tony Abbott and who is responsible for conflating asylum seekers with terrorism during the 2001 ‘Tampa affair’
  • reinforce the dominant narratives that ‘our’ dead were lives of value and must be remembered, while those human beings living in ‘offshore’ detention are to be dismissed as means to some other political end

It was like a one-day methodologies workshop on aggressive prosecution of the colonial project, a seemingly endless national preoccupation. Australia Day is merely the most blatant example. Abbott was merely the most blatantly racist recent prime minister. The erasure of the oldest continuing human history on earth continues unabated right here, right now, in Australia, in the 21st century.


The social landscape and dominant cultural hegemony

How might white and other non-Indigenous Australians decolonise our thinking on island exile? For island exile is not new to the white Australian colonial-settler state. It is in our DNA.

I do not mean to hate on this amazing country, cared for as it has been for upwards of 50,000 years by First Nations people. Nor do I ignore the vibrant multiculturalism of 21st century Australian society. I am looking at the dominant cultural hegemony of white middle class Australian values. It is these values that apparently approve the camps on Manus Island and Nauru; which makes these values racist and cruel.

This culture was bequeathed by the colonisers, and continued in recent times by the mean and tricky Howard; the aggressively nasty Abbott; and the cowardly and conformist Turnbull. Conservatives all, these men think that the way things have ‘always’  been done  (always being for as long as a liberal democracy is run by property-owning white men) is the way things ought to be done – despite evidence of a growing discomfort (discomfort!) with the inhumanity our off-shore processing arrangements.


Island exile: nothing new here

Island exile as a social and legal control measure is not only central to white Australian history. It is said that St John was exiled to the Greek island of Patmos in the first century C.E.

From France we have a rich store of lore: Napoleon was famously banished to St Helena, and prisoners including the elusive Papillon (butterfly) to Devil’s Island. Stories of the brutal island prison Alcatraz live on in film; while freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was labelled a terrorist and spent 27 years on Robben Island (and highly accessible island prison lore from the Smithsonian here).

This is not ancient history, any more than that notorious torture site, Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba off the coast of the US, is a thing of the past (I strongly recommend the account of David Hicks’ time there by his lawyer Major Michael Mori, pointedly titled In the Company of Cowards).

Placing particular people beyond the laws of the state is a key feature and purpose of island prisons. We are told this is to keep us safe. But the dominant purpose is to prosecute cruel and inhumane treatment of the banished. Cruel and inhumane treatment by the state, but out of sight of the people. Island prisons are not set up to keep us safe from the banished but from knowledge of the cruel and lawless actions authorised by the government we elected.

Even self-exile to the wilderness appears throughout the human story, and it is a universal human trait to makes sense of ourselves and our world through story. Involuntary exile is a harsh measure of social control, and to an island is harsher again. It is therefore imperative on the leadership of the society that has imposed such a measure to tell a credible story about why we have expelled some people from the land itself, to an island.


The past coexists with the present

There is no shortage of examples since 1770 of how island exile has been used to control, up to and including ending, the lives of those who are devalued and dehumanised by Australian society.  This 250-year old cultural hegemony appears unlikely to be dislodged any time soon.

Many of us are familiar with the ‘loaf of bread’ narrative. The invading forces came from a culture which placed greater value on the property rights a baker held in a loaf of bread than on sharing food with the hungry. Steal a loaf of bread, and you’re bound for Kamay (Botany Bay). This denies the poor and the hungry their basic human rights to food, sense of family, belonging and connection to country (as miserable and dirty a country was C18 England, it was still their home, where their family and friends resided).

The ‘remote island’ where we still perpetuate terra nullius thinking like ‘middle of nowhere’ and ‘alien landscape’ was not remote or alien or nowhere to the locals. The ‘hostile country’ was not hostile to its First Peoples. On this incredible archipelago, mother earth to more than 200 distinct Peoples, generations of Aboriginal peoples sustained their law and societies and cultures for upwards of 50,000 years.

These uncontested facts alone prove that the land is abundant and the people live in close harmony with it. But first the English, then the colonials, and now the dominant hegemony are invested in a ‘great man’ approach. This methodology elevates individuals, perpetuating liberal mythology. Shining a spotlight on just a few ‘great men’ illuminates much about the island gulag model that Australia perpetuates today.

For example, Cook came here with the bloated botanist Banks, for whom the Dharawhal place Kamay was renamed Botany Bay. The English filled their barrels with clean fresh water on Palawa shores – without which they could neither sail nor live. It is a matter of historical fact that the English foul their own rivers and streams to the point of undrinkability, and those of others territories, wherever they go.

Palawa lands were later called Van Diemens Land – or The Demon by those Irishmen on whose backs the vicious brutality of English penal practices were inscribed. After a concerted attempt at genocide, the Palawa peoples (‘Tasmanian Aborigines’, in colonial terms) were declared ‘extinct’. What we meant by this social Darwinian erasure was ‘brutally murdered – by us’.

Palawa culture and peoples endure. The claim that there are no more Aboriginal Tasmanians is a lie. Meanwhile, Cape Barren Island was conceptualised by the English as a place for Palawa descendants to die. Think about that. The English claimed to have ‘discovered’ a place where their own ‘great men’ would have perished of thirst without the sustenance of its streams. They declared ‘extinct’ a people whose epic voyages predated the English by 50-70 millennia; peoples who survived the ice age that saw the island formed. The Palawa were there when the island became an island, the invaders framed their attempted genocide as some kind of natural Darwinian phenomenon.

Back on the mainland, in 1788 Phillip set up camp at Warrane (Sydney Cove). He established a punishment site at Mat-te-wan-ye (Fort Jackson/Pinchgut, more rocky outcrop than island but either way surrounded by a large body of water). He sent a boat north to set up a secondary punishment island at Norfolk, an essential part of the colonial project.

Like Tasmanian streams, Norfolk resources were key to colonial survival. Without decreasing the number of mouths to feed at Warrane, by sending them to Norfolk to live off mutton birds, the ‘second fleet’ and its cargo of human misery may have ‘arrived’ to find a pile of white people bones.

Like the first, ‘Second fleet’ reflects the absurdity and arrogance of English naming practices. Australia is an island, populated for 60,000 years. The English claim the first ever fleet of boats to arrive here was in 1788. That we accept this as fact is too absurd for words. There was no other way to get here.

So Phillip used Sydney Harbour and Norfolk islands for punishment and survival. Tasmania was also a site of punishment and exile as the penal bureaucracy was established. Langerrareroune off the coast of Tasmania, named Sarah Island by the colonisers, became a secondary secondary prison – an island off an island off an island. Langherrareroune was chosen for the rocky channel they called Hells Gates, in a fairly typical indicator of what navigating a boat to the island entailed.

Then there are islands where different clans of sovereign peoples were forced together by the colonisers. Like Palm Island off the Queensland coast, a place of great tragedy in a tropical paradise; Rottnest off teh Western Australian coast; and Cape Barren (I wonder what Cape Barren is like?). Aboriginal people were forcibly transported, out of sight, out of mind, as were the convicts before them and asylum seekers today. It didn’t work, and it will never work. It is a terrible mindset, a terrible thing to do, and we proclaim ourselves to be civilised.

Why coerce and isolate people on small islands off the Australian mainland? First peoples, colonial recidivists, refugees?

The answer is fear. Fear of the unknown, because it is not our land to know, fear of our own illegitimacy, fear that we do not really belong here. Fear that somehow in the great karma of things, someone somewhere might do what we did, and take the island by force, and dispossess us of this paradise.

That the contemporary Australian state banishes refugees to remote island prisons is not innovative, it is not civilised, it is predictable and backwards. The origin of these traditions and fears is a remote and windswept island off a (northern hemisphere) continent which experienced wave after wave of violent invasion. It does not originate here, and it does not belong here. On this continent and her islands, an different law, and a different set of cultual values, developed over a much longer period.


Two preventable deaths, one colonial mindset

As I was writing this, news of two preventable deaths came streaming through the news feed. Within minutes of each other. The news was so sad, and so frustrating. I had been reflecting on the colonial mindset that informs Australian treatment of asylum seekers, particularly as colonisers of pacific islands, including Australia as the biggest island in the largest ocean on earth.

From the English imposition of its laws and ways on these lands to the ghastly gulags on Manus Island and Nauru, the idea that it is the laws and culture of a civilised society that produce such outcomes could not be further from the truth.

First there was the devastating news of the loss of Bangarra Dance Theatre musical director. Here is their statement:

The Bangarra clan is unbelievably saddened that our brother David Page is no longer with us. On behalf of Stephen, the Page family and Bangarra, we ask for your privacy and respect at this difficult time.

He was only 55 years old. A towering talent. He achieved huge success with his brother, family and clan. I saw many Bangarra productions, most memorably a performance of Kin at Belvoir St, starring seven young brother cousins, on 26 January ten years ago.  The eulogies will and should be filled with praise. That 55 is the average life expectancy for Aboriginal men might be mentioned.

This sounds young, because it is. My father in law, a proud Aboriginal man, died of cancer at the age of 55. This is the terrible toll of a life expectancy twenty years lower for Aboriginal people than the rest of Australia. This is why the death of David Page also feels close to home. I miss them, for their teaching, for their generosity.

Then came news that the 23 year old man Omid who set himself on fire had died. I cried for Omid too. My oldest son is 23 years old. I raised him myself. We live in a place that demonises some while elevating the health and well-being of others. This includes valuing some children over others. Some babies. Did anyone else find the sight of the Turnbull grandson running around Yarralumla fawned on by all, while refugee babies are locked behind barbed wire, monumentally disgusting?

We should mourn the great David Page who died too young and the life of Omid and other young people who commit suicide in despair including those suffering the intergenerational trauma that causes so much suicide in Aboriginal communities. As we do this we should reflect on our own lives; and on the origins and traditions of governance, law and justice in this country.

Neoliberalism is toxic

Much has been written about the rise of neoliberalism and the ‘recent’ decline of standards in political debate. I am on the fence with this one. Was politics really so much gentler and kinder at some unspecified time?

What evidence is there that political leaders have not always been giant bullies who demand obedience from their own while mercilessly cutting down their opponents? Who play politics with the lives of the least advantaged for the purpose of seeking and holding power over those same people and expecting us to what? Trust them? Believe in them? Like them? Vote for them?

The dreary conformist respectability politics 101 narratives go like this: Tim Minchin had a point about accountability for priests who rape children, but he was doing it wrong. He used mean words. But it is okay for Malcolm Knox to use racist patois to rescue a white woman from the scary black man Chris Gayle I know this because Peter Fitz said so.

‘Expert’ commentators note that the Greens, a political party, are playing politics with Senate voting. White men paid from the public purse endlessly gossip about political leaders and staffers while pretending to discuss matters of state rather than, well, gossiping. It is not at all sexist to deploy psychobabble to note that Peta Credlin was a paid staffer rather than elected official.

George Christensen and Cory Bernardi are controversial. It is imperative that progressive thinkers invest our energy in defending a misguided nasty white man like Tim Wilson because gay.

What are we thinking, us tree-hugger hairy-armpit femmos, that we do not take up the cry as directed by the mainstream and immediately re-direct our time and resources to the urgent task of defending Tim Wilson and Peta Credlin and their self-interested greed and quests for power?  How will they muddle along without us?


Unfortunately there is just not enough evidence to convict a single police or corrective services officer for causing the death of an Aboriginal person in custody. Ever. Not once. Not even a young Aboriginal woman in police custody with broken ribs who had committed no crime and required urgent medical attention and died on our watch while the state eats lunch.

Sadly our government perpetuating gross human rights violations of people with disabilities and their carers and Aboriginal people and the unemployed and students and young people at massive cost to taxpayers is the price we all pay for cashless welfare to help people on social security to make healthier choices – as the planet burns.

Controversially, heteronormativity and religion are so important in a nominally secular multicultural democracy that kids discovering their own sexuality and gender identity should be immediately and loudly stigmatised and the government should waste millions providing succour to bullies and bigots who hate them.



I am not sure what else to say. I could furnish evidence that every single human society in every known place and time – no matter the era, no matter which location on our planet – has created social norms to accommodate gender fluidity and the poor. There is no known human culture or society, anywhere, without specific laws to punish those who take the life of a fellow human being.

These are universal, eternal truths. Part of the human condition. Part of ourselves, because what it is to be human across space and time defines us all.

Yet here we are with a bunch of immature white men, religious bigots all, with the power to make laws, redefining reality and the human condition for their own vicious self-interested  ends.

Neoliberalism has no social conscience. It rejects society and, as such, it rejects humanity. Neoliberalism is an abuser. The polity, the citizenry – us – we are its victim hostage partner. Neoliberalism is white heteronormative ablist neurotypical cis patriarchy on steroids, the worst of the worst.

I despair. And because of how much power neoliberal men wield, I despair for us all.

Not in my name: On racist white knight rubbish

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to excuse the disgrace that is that faux-patois minstrel-show garbage written by Malcolm Knox and published by Fairfax this weekend. It is a disgrace.

Indigenous people, black people, people of colour (as well as many whites) have been united in making clear since it was published that the piece is typical racism of the most quotidian kind.

The usual suspects, ie other white men with platforms, are out in force defending this colonial master routine. The piece includes words like ‘brethren’ and spelling like ‘mon’. It fetishizes facial features like white teeth of black people. It is black face in verbal form (while I thought this almost immediately, I have since seen the same metaphor multiple times on the news feed and am not claiming original thought on it).

The subject was, once again, cricketer Chris Gayle being sexist live on air. Which he was.

One relevant white man editor suggested that calling racism on Knox was a matter for people of the Caribbean. This, in Australia, where the black man who is the subject of the piece plays and was playing at the time. Where there is a strong and capable Indigenous population who know a thing or million about racism in this country. Indigenous people who are in fact the keepers of culture here.

As a white Australian, I want to draw attention to one specific underlying message of the Knox piece. The article is written on the assumption that a white man is permitted – nay, welcome – to use the technology of racism to mock a black man, presumably to defend a white woman sports journalist.

It is possible that Knox thinks he is defending all women. Yet given the gross racial stereo-typing of the piece, we can be reasonably sure that Knox’s thinking did not extend to Indigenous, black, women of colour. No. He implicitly presumes to be writing in defence of white women.

Women did not ask him to perform some gross colonial master mammy routine. We do not need Knox and his racist rubbish to ride in on a white steed and protect us from a black man. We are perfectly capable of condemning Gayle – and Briggs and Dutton and the entire ugly patriarchy – without buy-in from white men spouting racist ‘parody’ (it failed as parody too).

Remember the massacre perpetrator Dylan Roofe’s confession? I remember like yesterday when Roofe’s famous line emerged: ‘I had to do it. They’re raping our women’. It was when a tweet by Kristin Rawls scrolled up my timeline that the full weight of his message hit home. It said

White women, they keep doing this in our name. We are not delicate flowers. STAMP THEM THE FUCK OUT.

No-one is calling Knox a mass murderer, of course. To interpret the connections I am making in that way would be wilful ignorance at best, and shoot-the-messenger vengeance at worst. All I am saying, as have many others before me, is that white women have a specific role in these circumstances to call out racism where the perpetrator hides behind us.

This is not to say that white man racism is the fault or responsibility of white women. We should all call out all racism anyway. But white women are both beneficiary of and excuse for this tedious reproduction of power structures and stereotypes. This one especially – given that white men will back each other until the end of the world – is ours.

So here are a few of the more pervasive narratives. Boring and over-used as each is, it is because we keep hearing such equivalence and gaslighting that we have to keep countering it.

  1. It was parody

Okay. It was deeply offensive, disrespectful and poorly-executed parody. Its minstrel overtones  drew on the antebellum South in the USA. Invoking white slave owners is invoking one of the most horrendous crimes ever committed on this planet, from a wide field of such crimes against humanity.

2. It was a ‘lesson’ in sexism

Step aside, Malcolm. Women are more than capable of calling out, correcting and educating on sexism. Name it, sure – then move out of the way. While intersectional feminism is not widespread or well-understood – and I still make errors of privilege, often – Knox and his cabal of clubby white high-platform white men are not defending women against sexism. They are trolling women for their own click-bait purposes.

3. It’s a free country

This is always the most dreary excuse imaginable. No, it is not. It is a free country for most white men, and most certainly for white men sports writers and major newspaper editors. White men have far fewer chains – social and legal – than any other demographic. Women, Indigenous people, members of the LGBTQI community, people with disabilities: none of us are nearly so free to exercise our rights as are highly remunerated white men with legacy media platforms.

4. Any offence is for the people of the Caribbean

No, it is not. First, it is Knox who has written an offensive piece. It is Knox, his editors and colleagues and apologists who are the problem. And, as mentioned above, Indigenous Australians are the keepers of culture in this country, whether we white folks have grasped this on our personal journey or not. It is the oldest living culture on earth. Gayle was on Aboriginal land when he spoke, Knox was on Aboriginal land when he wrote, I am on Aboriginal land right now. Stop deflecting.

5. Knox is not a racist/Knox is a fine man/Knox is a well-respected writer

This is the Tony Abbott defence of his Rhodes scholarship patron Dyson Heydon. And the George Brandis defence of Heydon. And the Peter Fitzsimmons defence of Knox. And the same wagon-circling defence by white men for white men everywhere. The defence remains breezily ignorant of the fact that calling a white bloke a good bloke is not a defence in itself. We need more evidence than the word of chaps about chaps these days. The evidence is there in black and white. Writing a racially disrespectful column is not ‘fine’ or worthy of ‘respect’.

Knox wrote a racist column. Knox is a comfortable privileged white man. High regard for his writing and position accrue to his demographic more easily than to any other group in society. I am not saying he is a bad writer, although I am saying that since last night we now know he is a racist writer.

But white women have to work twice as hard to attract the same accolades, and Indigenous men twice as hard again, and Indigenous women face even higher barriers to get anywhere in this world. The likelihood of a well-regarded white man being mediocre at best is very high. The likelihood of a mediocre white man who displays overt racism and is defended for it is also extremely high. Today has brought yet more evidence to support the likelihood of these claims.

One last comment I saw was that 2015 was the year of sexism, and now 2016 is shaping up to be the year of racism. I am not attacking this comment – I welcome white men calling out sexism and racism together. But intersectionalism tells us to turn this comment around: it is always the year of the white man, and on the evidence, 2016 will be the year of the white man again.



Last week (Saturday 21 November 2015)  I attended one of five rallies against cashless welfare that were held around the country. The rallies were in Modooga, Ceduna, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. All were peaceful. At the Sydney rally, there were excellent speakers and no police.

A group of citizens who are deeply disturbed by human rights violations clearly do not pose the kind of threat to the peace (and opportunities for overtime pay) that came with the racist extremists who rallied the following day.


Ceduna residents rallying against cashless Welfare:


This post is an annotated transcript of the speech I gave at the Sydney rally, which can be viewed here. My thanks to Shaymaa Abdullah, who did a beautiful acknowledgement of country on the day, for recording and posting the speeches.

The speech relied on a quantum of prior knowledge on cashless welfare: the policy, its racist origins, and the legislation that recently passed both Houses of Parliament – explanatory memoranda available here.

The cashless welfare bill was passed by the lower house the day that Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as Prime Minister. This as much as anything tells us that life under Turnbull will be no better than life under Abbott, because the same people (Morrison, Dutton, Bishop) are doing the same things (violating the fundamental human rights of traditional owners, asylum seekers, the poor) with the same ideology.

I started with an acknowledgement of country. I sometimes hear white people rushing through a pro forma Acknowledgement like it is some kind of meaningless chore. It is not difficult to follow basic protocol, such as acknowledging the mayor or local MPs at a community event.

Acknowledgement of country is a simple matter of protocol, etiquette, manners – it does not redress dispossession or genocide, it merely shows respect.

‘I’d like to also start with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners. Of the Gadigal nation. I pay my respects to those who have held and passed on the knowledge, not only for upwards of 40,000 years, but also through centuries of violent dispossession, and attempts by the colonial-settler state to wipe out that knowledge. And I pay my respects to elders past and present.”

I introduced myself and the university where I work and warned the audience ‘I’d like to say a couple of things about the Constitution, which is not immediately riveting, but is very relevant to the state of our democracy today.

Cashless welfare is not new. The Northern Territory Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth) was passed with a stated purpose, and an actual purpose. The actual reason for the Act was for the re-election of John Howard as the Liberal Prime Minister of Australia. In fact, he lost both his seat and government. So it failed there.

The stated purpose was to address child sexual assault, alcoholism, pornography, in remote Aboriginal communities.

This disgusting slandering of Aboriginal people is also nothing new. It characterises Aboriginal men as sexual predators, which is radically at odds with historical record and contemporary reality, especially for Aboriginal women.

Or as the late Auntie Vera Lovelock said to me, ‘Where do they think the blue-eyed babies came from?’

The Northern Territory is often treated as some kind of giant social experiment. There is a reason for this. As a Territory and not a state, it does not retain the residual powers of the former colonies and now states of Australia. This means that the Territory is effectively under Commonwealth control.

Under s. 51(xxvi) of our Constitution, the Commonwealth has the power to make special laws for the people of any race. Special laws. Which means that it is imperative on any government that wants to operationalise this section to create a moral panic – and insist on the need for a special law for the people of a particular race.

In reality, this power is only ever used to dehumanise and oppress Aboriginal people, the traditional owners and First Nations people of this country.

Can you imagine a Commonwealth government saying we need a special law for the people of the Caucasian race now? That never happens. Can you imagine a government saying we need a special law for the people of the Mongol race, or the Negroid race? Nobody even uses these words any more. Yet here we are with special laws for the people of the Aboriginal race (so-called).

While race is a completely outdated and discredited notion, racism and racists remain among us to this day. We know that the areas where cashless welfare is being rolled out to the ‘mainstream’ have a particularly high proportion of Aboriginal people on social security, on income support, on welfare. Think about those words.

We have a social safety net in this country. We have universal education. Universal health care. We subscribe to the notion that our people should not be starving and dying in the streets. That is the point of social security, and anyone can find themselves on it.

A few months ago Tony Abbott was asked what he stands for. As in all known circumstances, he was incoherent, couldn’t gather his thoughts, didn’t know what he was talking about. But eventually in his incoherent and stumbling way, Abbott said that he believes in small government.

Here’s a quick tip about words:

when a politician says ‘I believe… X’ simply ignore everything that comes after it.

When a politician says ‘I am determined to… X’, don’t bother with that either.

And when a politician says ‘protection’, switch it to control. No-one can ‘protect’ anything unless they have a measure of control over it.

Ask any Aboriginal person what government ‘protection’ means to them, to their family.

Anyway, Tony Abbott reckons he believes in small government and if Malcolm Turnbull was asked if he does too, Turnbull would be compelled to say the same thing.

Cashless welfare is not small government. Data retention is not small government. All the anti-terror legislation passed since 2001 are not small government. This is huge government.

A government that decides what you can put on your shopping list, based on your income, is not small government.

Cashless welfare is also incredibly expensive. There are no efficiency dividends to this policy. There are massive costs involved in rolling out the hard ware and the software – the card, the compatibility systems – in the IT workers and case workers – all paying middle class mortgages with poor peoples’ lives.

This ‘just doing my job’ complicity is, as ever, disgusting.

Cashless welfare is scheduled to start in Ceduna in February if the government can not be stopped and held to account for the gross human rights abuses it embraces. The massive reach of this legislation is over all people with disabilities, all sole parents, all carers, all unemployed people, students, youth and sickness allowance recipients.

Everyone except veterans and old age pensioners in receipt of income support can be attacked under this Act.

The stated purpose of cashless welfare is to improve the health of welfare recipients. There is no evidence, no proof, and no truth to this claim. It is the kind of claim that politicians make on the well-founded assumption that most will not seek further (or any) evidence.

In fact, all the evidence from the Northern territory since 2007 shows poorer nutritional outcomes, lower school attendance rates, more children forcibly removed from their families by the state, more women hospitalised as a result of injuries inflicted by family members.

Nutrition, school attendance, stolen children and hospitalisation for assault are all outcomes which heavily and negatively impact on people’s health and well-being. The policy is dangerous and harmful. It is state-sanctioned and state-sponsored violence.

And again, it is also incredibly expensive. Every single dollar going into the pockets of the IT workers and case managers and card manufacturers could be spent on actual real health services for low income people.

Like dental care, for example. Rich people get to keep all their straight white teeth. Poor people do not. This effects every single aspect of life, from nutrition to job prospects. The primary costs do not even begin to take into account the huge increase in costs to the criminal law system. This is a cost to the states and territories, not the Commonwealth.

Grotesque vote-buying populism from a Commonwealth government that passes the costs on to the states is also nothing new. One of the worst examples of this can also be attributed to John Howard, who orchestrated the so-called baby bonus. This irresponsible and profligate spending sheeted back huge costs: to youth shelters, womens shelters, high schools, community services departments.

This is the real record, the true legacy, of a party that Australians persist in seeing as ‘better economic managers’. They are not. They are terrible economic managers. Absolutely hopeless.

The Liberal Party of Australia as a group are socially privileged, economically illiterate, and cruel. Their privilege and wealth is sustained by the poor; and their political power is sustained by members of the comfortable middle classes who insist, for their own self-interested reasons, on believing the mythology of meritocracy.

This is the actual purpose of every inhumane measure of control over the poor, over people with disabilities, over Aboriginal people, over women: to sustain the lie of merit-based reward in the liberal democracies.

The case against income management is strong, and is over eight years old in the Northern Territory. No case has been made by anyone with the power to stop the expansion of this highly questionable policy – not for the breaches of the Anti-Discrimination Act, the attacks on people with disabilities, the poverty and shame and humiliation and hardship that cashless welfare will inevitably, undoubtedly produce.

All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.






Tony Abbott is beyond appalling

You know how Abbott is just too appalling for words? How every single thinking Australian – and many others besides – are all cringing in horror at the evil clown act we have as Australian Prime Minister? Which is insulting to evil clowns?

You know how all these claims are kicking around social media about Tony Abbott’s brain, some of which have – but should not have – ventured into intellectual disability and mental health diagnosis territory? Because we simply can not fully comprehend the repulsive creepiness of this which was apparently democratically elected?

Yes, it is all questions. Tony Abbott is stupendously dense and revolting. But that is not the main problem. The key question we struggle with is this: how is it that a man who is an apparently legitimately elected leader of the country incapable of speaking sense? What the hell kind of system produces a head of government so gross and so hypocritical, so deceitful and so nonsensical? Abbott makes his nasty paterfamilias – the terror-mongering racist John Howard, a conscience-free zone who sowed the seeds for this disaster – seem like a relatively benign and harmless old man. What the hell is going on in this country?

There are four key areas of explanation, and all stem from the fact that Tony Abbott is a typical privileged white male of the most destructive and greedy kind. He is typical, yet extreme. Abbott represents an extreme point on the spectrum of what goes horribly wrong when elite white men continue to hold power, as white men have, for century upon century, lording it over – and profiteering in – human lives, among other imperialist abominations, of which slavery is but one example.

The first is Abbott’s Englishness. This is not about Abbott and his failure to renounce British citizenship before standing for Commonwealth Parliament. (As an aside, if Abbott did renounce his British citizenship prior to the first time he contested the seat of Warringah in 1994, you may colour me very very surprised.)

No, this is about Abbott’s imperial attitude to women and Indigenous people. It is about his utter disregard for our rights, his inability to understand that we are not only human but better humans than those who reproduce elitist power structures based on exclusion and greed.

Tony does not get this. He appointed himself Minister for Women and for Indigenous Affairs because of the same basic character flaw. As an English-born wannabe try-hard non-aristocrat, he follows in the footsteps of the old-school English elite. Abbott thinks that by declaring something so – a misogynist declaring himself the minister for women, for example – that the rest will simply fall into place. Because he said so. A typical linear elitist thinker, if we can call him a thinker at all.

This brings me to the next two of the four key areas that explain Abbott’s unfitness for office: his Catholicism. We need not spend too much time on it. That particular type of sectarianism is a thing of the past, thank goodness. Simply take all the observations about try-hard Tony, and multiply each by at least two, because Tony is not Church of England, but Tony is a wannabe non-aristocrat of the English-born variety.

Many of us whose ancestors were relatively early occupiers of this continent, and who rarely identify as any nationality other than Australian, are descended from the feckless second sons of the minor British aristocracy. The gamblers and womanisers and drunks. Those who missed out on primogeniture (probably just as well) and were sent to the colonies to become magistrates and police chiefs and senior bureaucrats because who better to lead a new nation than such characters? Who better to benefit from – and bequeath to their descendants – the riches of the stolen land?

Such is the pseudo upper-class English mind, and its mindless faith that blue blood – even said blood diluted to within an inch of its minor aristocrat concentrate by whiskey and miscegenation and interracial marriage – somehow trumps merit-based promotion, genuine leadership, local knowledge, and belonging to the land. This wholly untrue and ultimately disgusting elitism is how the LNP collectively thinks, and this is how someone like Tony Abbott ends up in power.

So Tony Abbott embodies an imperialist Aust-Brit mentality with its aristocratic pretensions; as well as embodying a Catholic-Brit try-hard attempt to be accepted by the protestant majority. This is bad enough, but Tony has two other flaws that feed into his way of speaking – his inauthentic and meaningless mendacity, that vision-free zone that lacks any global outlook, which in fact lacks any quality that a Prime Minister should display.

Abbott is still the Australian Prime Minister, difficult as that is to withstand. The first two explanations are historically based. The next two are current. Together with his gross and apparently incurable creepiness, the history and current afflictions represent a kind of quinella of incompetence and nastiness that no polity should endure. He is destroying the country.

In his Oxford days, Abbott was a boxer. He was an average student. He would not have been eligible for the Rhodes scholarship on which he famously went to Oxford university had he not eventually applied for Australian citizenship – in order to get the scholarship – and not before – we will always be a bunch of colonials to Abbott. The scholarship is designed for a renaissance man, exceptional in sport as well as in mind. Abbott is neither. I am sure I do not have to point out to anybody that an idiotic bully like Abbott is not a renaissance man. But he was nothing if not ambitious, and boxing was his chosen ‘sport’.

This is hardly surprising: fighting is all Abbott does. He can not build consensus, or form a coherent sentence, let alone a persuasive argument. His only achievements are reliant on the fact that he is a privileged white male who attended elite educational institutions, a path forged and paid for by parental and demographic wealth rather than individual ability of any kind. This is contrary to liberal ideology of course, but liberalism – like democracy itself – has always been by the propertied white male for the propertied white male.

Abbott likes to punch, literally and metaphorically, and it has got him to where he is, but that does not make him good at anything but punching. Disastrously for us, Abbott punched his way to the top in an organisation – the Liberal National Party – which rewards thuggery.

So Abbott can punch, but not very well. He took a lot of hits to the head. This is the third explanation for his imbecilic performance at the G20 in Brisbane this weekend, his partisan, parochial bullshit, his inability to rise to the occasion. Abbott is incapable of rising to any occasion for that matter – other than an election campaign (the 2013 version of which he is apparently still waging).

I am told by a colleague of a specialist sports injury professor and a retired wrestler that Abbott shows every sign of frontal lobe damage. The ahhh and umming. The unspeakable tongue thing. The lip smacking and man-handling. Yes, he is an unreconstructed sexist racist homophobe, but he is also incapable of retaining more than one thought at a time, or processing any input without assistance. No-one in need of this much neurological rehabilitation should be in his position.

The final problem relates to the point about Abbott the man who is incapable of processing thoughts. Affairs of state, geopolitics, the measures by which a civilised society shows its values – say, treatment of the vulnerable – are all beyond Abbott.

Abbott has a Chief of Staff who assumes all roles and delegation power over what assistance he will receive. This has been a monumental failure at every level except one. The one success is that Abbott got elected to the Prime Ministership.

Other than that, his first year in office has been a nightmare of incompetence, spin, cruelty and creepiness. We can not ignore the winking, lip-licking creepiness, because it rears its ugly head so often. Abbott has been spray-tanned and hair-dyed and botoxed to within an inch of his appearance, yet still he can not articulate a policy, or take the reins of government. He can spout three word slogans and bad-mouth the opposition – but this is to not take the reins of government at all.

I do not pretend for a moment that I think Tony Abbott was ever capable of any sort of statesmanship, or leadership, or anything other than his ugly bullying power-seeking self. He found his spiritual home in the Liberal Party, and it is by membership of the Liberal Party that he has become Prime Minister. But I do think that these four general points go some way to explaining just how low we have gone with this man in the Prime Ministerial seat. And what a crying shame it is that the Liberal Party is not motivated to be even slightly more true to its principles, simply because he is in power, despite the fact that liberalism is being trashed by Abbott and his cabinet, trashed beyond repair.

So here we are: the country run by an LNP coalition headed by a delusional misogynist, a racist homophobe; an elitist white male in thrall to an imperial past; driven by a sectarian history; a man so embarrassingly inarticulate he is both intellectually and spiritually incapable of putting together a warm or constructive sentence; who is also a bully and a liar; and who is unfit to hold public office.

A womb is not an aircraft under the Commonwealth Migration Act

Under the Migration Act 1958 (as amended) it has been confirmed that a womb is not an aircraft and ergo is an illegal maritime vessel that is to say a boat.

The Australian legal system reached a new low this week when a Federal Circuit Court judge refused to grant 11-month-old Ferouz Myuddin, born in Brisbane Mater Hospital, the right to apply for a protection visa. For the record, Brisbane Mater Hospital is in Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland, a large north-eastern state of the mainland of the continent of Australia.

ABC radio current affairs flagship PM provides a transcript of a dialogue between the host and a reporter outside the Federal Court in Brisbane.

According to the reporter Stephanie Smail:

“The judge accepted the Federal Government’s argument that the law states if asylum seekers enter Australia by any means other than an aircraft, they effectively arrive by boat. So even though he was born in Brisbane’s Mater Hospital, he wasn’t on the boat that his parents arrived on Christmas Island on, they were then transferred to Nauru, his mother was flown to Brisbane to give birth to Ferouz. Technically because they didn’t arrive by a plane, they’ve arrived by a boat.”

This was followed by apparent clarification of the “non-aircraft equals boat” business, which non-lawyers refer to as legal technicalities. We can assume that counsel used standard techniques of legal argument, and the judge used standard techniques of statutory interpretation. These are referred to as legal technicalities by non-lawyers. It is in fact how all common law becomes part of the common law.

The reporter then recounted some “interesting” judicial remarks. She was absolutely on the money to highlight these statements. The judgement is not yet online, but the remarks appeared to contain one of the most astonishing pieces of so-called legal reasoning that I have heard in a while. And that is from someone who works with the peculiarities of legalese – pronouncements passed off as legal reasoning – every day of the week.

“Interestingly the judge also told the court if he had granted Ferouz approval to apply for a protection visa or his lawyers, his family obviously – he’s a baby – that it might encourage other pregnant asylum seekers to enlist people smugglers and make the dangerous journey to Australia.”

This extraordinary manipulation of facts is not a new trick by the law. I fondly remember the High Court decision in Thomas v Mowbray [2007] HCA 33, where Jack Thomas (not the actor) was the first Australian to be subject to a control order under the 2004 LNP-induced terror hysteria. You might recall his nickname, Jihad Jack. It is an unwritten rule of Australian culture that brown people can not be in the headlines for too long without acquiring a casually racist and otherwise misleading nick name.

In Thomas v Mowbray, the High Court ruled that the expansion of the Commonwealth defence power under s. 51(vi) was constitutional on the basis of “notorious facts”. Notorious facts are not scientific facts, or empirical facts, or legal facts or legal fictions or, in fact, facts. Notorious facts are baseless claims. In this case, the baseless claims were accepted as notorious facts by a majority of the High Court bench – because terrorism. To not accept these baseless claims for which there was no evidence would be ‘September 10 thinking’. Gawd. The great Michael Kirby, of course, disagreed.

Some background:

The Migration Act 1958 (Cth) was drafted in the context of meeting our obligations under the Refugee Convention, which in turn was drafted in the aftermath of World War Two. Its articles reflect the collective conscious-stricken remorse of a world which had turned its back on the plight of Jews from Germany and eastern Europe.

The West had collectively refused entry to boatloads of Jews seeking refuge from persecution, including the British colonial governance in Palestine. The West then also collectively witnessed the liberation of the death camps, whether first-hand by members of the allied forces, or via newsreel. As such, there was an unprecedented impetus to assert our collective humanity and make a concerted effort to safeguard against genocide -and against blowing ourselves up.

The global response to the second world war forms the foundation of modern human rights law: the Nuremberg Trials and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration is formally codified in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant of Economic and Cultural Rights (ICECR). Among the many other Conventions that followed the Universal Declaration, the Refugee Convention was one of the first. It facilitated the great post-war migration waves that saw the birth of modern multicultural Australia. Waves of migration to Australia are not new.

People have arrived here by boat from earliest times, now estimated at over 60,000 years ago. The next wave included British colonial invasion and occupation, Afghans with their camels allowed in to traverse the central desert, and the attractions of the gold rushes to people from all over the world, often remembered for the number of Chinese migrants.

Nevertheless, the contemporary era of migration to Australia and our modern multicultural state is traced to European migrants escaping post-war Europe. This was the beginning of the end of the White Australia policy, and political leadership makes a difference. Escape from war and persecution characterises subsequent waves of people arriving from Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is not to ignore the gradually increasing numbers of refugees escaping war and famine in Africa, particularly then-Sudan (now mainly South Sudanese refugees). African migrants typically arrive in Australia via the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Africans boarding boats are much more likely to head for Italy. This is the rub. Up until very recently, every wave of migrants to Australia, over tens of thousands of years, has arrived by boat.

There is an undeniably obvious reason for this. Australia is a very large island dotted around by lots of smaller islands. Until the invention and commercialisation and mass movement of people by aircraft, there was no other way to get here. There are no land bridges to Australia from any other country.

Our borders are clearly delineated, more so than the map markings across any other continent, even more so than islands such as the United Kingdom with its internal struggles, or archipelagos like Indonesia with its outlier cultures which retain independent identities. Even Japan has border disputes with Russia to this day. Possibly only New Zealand is comparable in terms of its borders, though its size and political decision-making (such as not to march lock-step with the USA on foreign policy and military adventurism) renders it far lower in profile in global terms.

So for millennia, by necessity, every person in Australia has reached the place by boat. Our current national political leadership has decided to reverse this reality. It is now unlawful to seek a protection visa, to seek refuge from persecution, even from countries where the Australian armed forces have participated in the destruction of your home and the killing of your family, unless your mode of arrival is by aircraft. The relevant definitions are found in section 5AA of the Migration Act 1958 (as amended).

Capital letter(s) after a section are usually a signifier of multiple amendments, which in turn signifies that the section governs a policy area that is contested and amended by successive governments. A political hot potato of the highest order, in other words, is what we find in these sections with capital letter amendments. This signifier puts paid to any notion that the law is objective or neutral, because it has been re-written and voted into law by politicians who can not agree on which ways to mobilise and exercise executive power over other people’s lives – nor cease to meddle therein.

This is what produced the absurd injustice that saw a federal circuit court judge deem a baby born in Brisbane to have arrived in Australia by sea:

Meaning of unauthorised maritime arrival
(1) For the purposes of this Act, a person is an unauthorised maritime arrival if:
(a) the person entered Australia by sea:
(i) at an excised offshore place at any time after the excision time for that place; or
(ii) at any other place at any time on or after the commencement of this section; and
(b) the person became an unlawful non-citizen because of that entry; and
(c) the person is not an excluded maritime arrival.
Entered Australia by sea
(2) A person entered Australia by sea if:
(a) the person entered the migration zone except on an aircraft that landed in the migration zone
[s. 245A]: “aircraft” includes aeroplanes, seaplanes, airships, balloons or any other means of aerial locomotion.

This particular piece of weirdness means that a baby born in a major maternity hospital in a state capital is deemed at law to have arrived by boat. Had Farouz Myuddin thought to arrive in Australia by air balloon rather than by the traditional method of exiting his mother’s womb, his legal status would be altogether different.

There are common law rules around these kinds of case law interpretations, because otherwise the justice system produces injustices. The problem with the rules is that they are only as good as those who make common law decisions. Those people are called “judges”. The judge presiding over the case of Farouz Myuddin felt bound by law to produce an unjust absurdity, which is what the common law rules exist to prevent.

Such decisions are made by members of the judiciary all the time, of course. Many are accepted as necessary application of the legal reasoning process. When the rules produce historic justice or corrections of injustice, such as in the Mabo case, the right-wing commentariat call this ‘judicial activism’. The implication is that judges are usually neutral and impartial, but when manifest injustices such as terra nullius are recognised, a rogue judge has randomly lost their neutrality hat.

These assumptions and implications are not true. Judges are not objective, no-one is. The law is not impartial, it is partisan. We know this, because legislation is introduced and voted on by politicians who belong to political parties. Particularly when we see a law with multiple capital letters after the section number, we can absolutely certain that the piece of law at which we are looking has been subject to multiple partisan meddling. And so it is with section 5AA of the Commonwealth Migration Act 1958.

It is the judicial remarks that throw most light on the political sensibility of the judge presiding over this case. As reported by ABC radio, the judge expressed concern that a finding in favour of baby Farouz “might encourage other pregnant asylum seekers to enlist people smugglers and make the dangerous journey to Australia”.

There are roughly seventeen separate ways wrong with this statement. Even if it is not a verbatim or accurate account of what the judge in fact said, it is what a trained journalist heard and thus what the audience heard. So if the judge has been misinterpreted, the statement should have been expressed more carefully in the first place. On the face of it, this sentiment is absolutely abhorrent.

First, the phrase ‘other pregnant asylum seekers’: this obscurantist nonsense is steeped in sexism. The most obvious point is that Farouz has been denied the right to exercise the rights of asylum seekers under the United Nations regime, the Universal Declaration and the Refugee Convention. So to call anyone in this context an “other pregnant asylum seeker” is grossly inaccurate and internally inconsistent. Farouz was in the same breath legally defined out of asylum seeker status. There is no other because there is no-one in the case at hand being granted the rights of asylum seekers under international law.

This is probably sloppy and inadvertent – it is always sloppy and inadvertent. White man elites do not get called out or have any imperative to recognise their own obscurantism and the inherent denialism that the English legal language generously provides – to them. Happily, critical discourse analysis of the English language also provides us with the tools to see this kind of phraseology as a misrepresentation of fact and of law.

The phrase ‘other pregnant asylum seekers’ is busy obscuring another truth, the simple truth that all peoples, all cultures, all of the history of the human species knows to be a very special status: that of women carrying a member of the next generation of humans. To say “other pregnant asylum seekers” is to ignore a basic biological fact. Men do not get pregnant. Men do not do the hard labour of producing the next generation of humans. There is no such category of human as ‘pregnant people’. There are only pregnant women.

This ugly usage obscures the ugly inhumanity of denying human rights to women fleeing persecution, women who may be pregnant, women who are doing everything in their power to escape the atrocities and destruction and abuses that are exacerbated during wars, and wars are waged by men. To obscure these basic facts of humanity by implying that women are sneakily getting pregnant to reach Australia and simultaneously denying the most basic of human rights to a baby is a hideous thing to do.

And it gets worse.

The suggestion is that a finding in favour of baby Farouz “might encourage other pregnant asylum seekers to enlist people smugglers and make the dangerous journey to Australia”.
By drawing a very long bow, and looking at this remark in isolation, we can concede that it might contain a small degree of possibility. It may be that unknown women in unknown locations might become pregnant at some unknown time in the future and subsequently seek to reach Australia while fleeing persecution in her home country. Certainly the expansion of military aggression by US and Australian governments increases the likelihood that women in Iraq and Syria will seek to escape the death and destruction wrought by our decisions.

This kind of judicial reasoning contains a policy component. That is, the judge looks beyond the facts at hand, and also takes into account wider public policy considerations. It is not especially unusual, and Justice Deane and Justice Kirby, compassionate and passionate advocates for justice both, were well recognised for their agile policy-based reasoning. Such reasoning requires careful connecting of legal dots from an international human rights law instrument (for example) to the case before the court. Again, if this type of reasoning displeases particular people with particular agendas, it is labelled ‘judicial activism’.

Policy-based judicial decision-making is not some kind of free-for-all for rogue judges, however the overturning of terra nullius or acceptance of cruel Migration Act amendments may be perceived by the audience or portrayed to the public. The actual concern around policy-based judicial reasoning is to do with temporality. Here is the basic legal thinking around such approaches. The “introduction to law” version. Note to lawyers: I am talking to non-lawyers.

Legislation is prospective law-making. The political party in power, or parties in the case of our current federal government, drafts legislation which will operationalise its political objectives, such as changes to the Migration Act. Once the law is drafted and passed by both Houses and signed off by the Governor-General, it swings into action. Now people who breach that law can be legally dealt with by authorities whose job it is to detain them or charge them or bring them before a judge or whatever. The crucial thing here is the direction in which law-time is travelling.

In our system, a law is passed, and unless it is retrospective, it can not govern over people until it meets each of the relevant criteria for coming into force. Yes, force. That is the language used at law, and for good reason. Once the law is in force, the state can forcibly detain people, or do all sorts of other things to interfere in the lives of the people under its jurisdiction.

Case law is different. When a case comes before a court, it looks back in time. It is not prospective, as legislation is supposed to be, in most circumstances. Someone does something, their actions come to the attention of the authorities, and if the authorities act, the person is brought before a court of law and their past actions (and intentions and evidence and so on) are scrutinised in an open court. These are basic tenets of our system of law.

When the government departs from its usual model of enacting legislation which operates prospectively, there is usually some concern about those who will be caught by retrospective legislation. Lawyers tend not to like retrospective legislation (except administrative formalities that streamline inconsistencies and errors as they are discovered) because it is extremely difficult to build a defence for a client who has been charged with an offence which was not an offence at the time your client was allegedly involved.

Similarly, judicial decisions that put the facts to hand to one side and instead are based on what an unknown number of women in an unknown place at an unknown future point in time may or may not do whether or not they are pregnant, is highly problematic. This kind of reasoning is unlikely to be sound reasoning. It is even more troubling when such judicial reasoning is closely streamlined with the political rhetoric of the government of the day. We have the doctrine of the separation of powers in this country, at least in theory. For a judge to base a decision on prospective policy grounds is to see the ancient power-sharing arrangements of democracy crumbling before our eyes. And that’s not even skimming the surface of the sheer inhumanity of the treatment of this baby, at least one hundred other babies in the same position, their families, and all the people seeking to escape persecution by reaching our wealthy wealthy island in the sun.

Farewell SMH I miss what you once were

On Thursday 25 September 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald plastered its front page with jihadi imagery and an oddly dissonant picture of a young man in a suit. The Fairfax mast heads in Melbourne and Canberra published the same images and the same misinformation. It turned out the young man in the picture was alive but not so well, having been frightened by Fairfax out of leaving the house.

Picture a beautifully restored heritage landscape of sandstone and brick buildings, manicured gardens and green, green lawns rolling down to a sadly despoiled but still picturesque river. The odd Rivercat, a special catamaran-style ferry built for the shallows of Duck Creek, swooshes by with a faint honk carried on the wind.

This landscape is alive with young people and their families, everyone beautifully and respectfully dressed for the solemnity and respect demanded by the occasion. There are photos being taken on every corner. Young women tower over their parents in heels, bursting with health and pride. Young men hold their heads high and their chests sturdy. Nearly every ethnicity, nationality and religion on earth is represented. Scholars in full academic dress sweep by in pairs, their floppy hats and glowing brocade glittering in the sun.

This is graduation day at the University of Western Sydney, Parramatta campus. Our wonderful, dedicated, ambitious, hard-working against-the-odds students are attending their commencement, the day they start their adult lives as qualified bachelors, to go forth and work and teach and learn. To tend the sick, represent the accused, run the computer systems and teach the children of Western Sydney, Australia, and the world.

They are a wonder to behold. Huge numbers of our students would never have had access to tertiary education without this university, the brain child of Gough Whitlam, 25 years old this year. My heart swells with the tiny contribution I have made to some of their lives. I wish them every success, and eagerly anticipate seeing some of them on the news programs of tomorrow, working for peace, entering Parliament, making a difference.

Graduation is during the semester break. Just before the break, two of my students asked if I could give a lecture at Bankstown on the strong and rational responses we can deploy to mitigate against stereotypes of Muslim people, especially the young men. “They will listen to you miss” said one young man, an exceptional and committed student, employee, and family man, an Arabic-speaking Muslim who appears to know every other young man “of Middle Eastern appearance” on campus. Following up this request has become more urgent in recent days.

A few weeks ago I wrote about these young men. It was the story of an incident in my classroom where one Muslim student had objected to my using Islam in an example of an illogical argument. Three other Muslim students leapt to my defence, and one of the three later explained the concept in more detail to his formerly confused classmate, who is no longer confused on the point. It is good story, with a happy ending. It reinforced my conviction that education is the answer, irrespective of the question. As mother used to say, to a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail. To that I would add that to a man with a seat in Parliament, every problem looks like more legislation. And to an educator in richly vibrant, hugely diverse multicultural western Sydney, every problem looks like sensible, ongoing and consistent investment in universal education. I like to think of myself as consistent in my commitments and values, and in line with my views of the value of education, I busy myself each day with the tasks of living, working and educating in Western Sydney.

Imagine then my disgust, my visceral anger, my absolute contempt for everyone involved in the sordid and careless mistake that was what Fairfax did that morning. I responded to the SMH front page with fury. I also did what any other engaged digital citizen would do with their seething, roiling, relentless heartburn at this despicable carelessness, and posted my intention to boycott Fairfax, after 25 years of faithful readership, on my Twitter feed.

The response was overwhelming. No tweet of mine has ever gone so far (not even retweets from the mighty Van Badham, whose reach is legendary). My notification folder filled with hundreds of retweets, favourites and mentions. More experienced tweeps contacted me by private message to offer support, advice and caution. I thanked everybody, responded to almost everybody, and continued to tweet out my reasons for 24 hours. Over and over again, I said this is the last straw. This is it. Too much.

Then I got a reply from a sub-editor at BRW, a Fairfax publication. This put me on the alert. Like my reply would not be sent through the ranks, if my tweets had caught her attention? SMH was tagged in every single tweet.

‘I’m not defending the front page’ she began. Well, obviously, given that it is indefensible.

‘But after 25 years there must be more to your decision than one front page?’

I took this question in good faith. I answered with two tweets, in the accepted two-tweet way. The first said

‘Yeah, fair call. It’s been a slow burn since the Abbott endorsement and Carlton, but this was personal 1/2′.

This tweet referenced the fact that Fairfax endorsed Tony Abbott at the 2013 election, even though it was obvious to the most casual of observers the man is a power-seeking wrecker, with no policies of any value, no vision, and tendencies to be violent, misogynist, homophobic, and racist. Nevertheless, Fairfax is a company in decline with a dinosaur of a business model, and it was equally obvious that Abbott would be the next Prime Minister. For this and other claimed reasons, Fairfax endorsed this decision of the Australian electorate. The tweet also referenced their shameful treatment of long-time columnist Mike Carlton. When the editor who arranged for an apology for an article critical of Israel was over-ruled, and sought to impose a suspension of the columnist instead, Carlton walked.

The second tweet said:
‘It was graduation day at UWS. I teach 100s of students ‘of Middle East appearance’. Fairfax endangered them all. More’

Interestingly, the Fairfax employee retweeted the first but not the second reply. If this was strategic, and I assume it was – she is a professional – the thinking would go something like this: I had a made a claim that Fairfax lawyers could argue is unsubstantiated yet damaging to the brand. Defamation, loss of earnings, damages. Thus a Fairfax employee could not spread my claim further across the twitterverse, as that would further damage the brand (and assist my hypothetical defence in this hypothetical libel case).

Here is what it would look like.

This woman has made an unfounded claim, Fairfax lawyers could tell the judge, which has resulted in loss of earnings. Where is the proof that students at UWS are endangered by the Fairfax front page? Show us the endangered student. Prove the danger has increased. Demonstrate the chain of causation back to Fairfax. How did the Fairfax front page endanger anyone any more than a Murdoch front page?

It doesn’t, of course. The front pages are all as awful as each other. But lawyers like causation. For this hypothetical suit, Fairfax would imply that I have to prove a link between their front page (rather than any other front page) and the reckless endangerment of one of my students (rather than the student community “of Middle Eastern appearance”). I would not have to, because the onus of proof lies with the complainant in these matters. The correct legal argument would therefore be around whether I caused loss of earnings through an unsubstantiated claim. But that would not necessarily stop libel lawyers from trying to imply that the case is about something else. I adore many of my colleagues who are in legal practice, and send many exceptional future lawyers their way. But I am not particularly fond of those who ‘defend’ corporate interests against people with little or no resources, wealth, income or power.

Here, in more than 140 characters, is why that headline was the last straw, and why I took to Twitter to express my disgust, and why I am boycotting Fairfax.

I have read the Sydney Morning Herald all my life. It was delivered to my parents’ home (still is), and when I left home I kept buying it daily.

In our student household in the late 80s and early 90s, someone would go get the paper and we would all sit around and pool our wits to do the crosswords. A day when we got the cryptic done before lectures (usually a Thursday, never a Friday) was a good day. A completed cryptic is still a beautiful thing. I taught my mum to tackle them, and later when we got mobile phones, we would exchange texts and tips on 7-down or 8-across. My dad developed a sort of ritualised whinge about the time mum spent with the crossword.

When I moved to Alice Springs in 1994, my mum would send a fax of the cryptic to herself, tear off that shiny paper and send me a bundle of four or five by post. Once a week I would head into town and buy the one SMH available in the Northern Territory: the Saturday Herald. My then-partner and I would do the crosswords together, a happy reminder of our pre-parenting, carefree student life.

The cryptic crossword alone was part of my circle of friends and family.

I also submitted letters. The editor printed many of them. I would get a flurry of texts from friends and family – ‘saw your letter today, well said, well done’. Once a letter I wrote attracted replies for over a week. The paper had gone digital relatively recently, and gentility was already evaporating. The digital splash fanned a controversy over Nicole Kidman pretending to play the didgeridoo. Colleagues stopped me in the corridor, friends questioned me at BBQs, and disagreed with me by email. All this was triggered by my letter. Ironically, it was on a similar topic: I criticised Kidman for potentially disrespecting Aboriginal people for the purpose of selling movie tickets (I try to be consistent). I also felt like I was contributing to public debate, and I was, as I am now. But it was somewhat intimidating and confronting (so is this) and I stopped submitting letters to the editor after that (I do not plan to stop blogging or tweeting. Yet).

On returning to my home town of Sydney after 14 years in remote and regional Australia, I booked a Saturday SMH delivery. I leave too early during the week, and more than one day a week delivery would feel indulgent anyway. By now a single mother escaping domestic violence, this Saturday delivery was a tiny luxury, one that made me feel I had re-entered polite society after a traumatic ride in the gutter. Reading the SMH felt like hanging out with kindred spirit adults, and like home. The letters page remained a delight. I had graduated from the simple Sudoku to the samurai, egged along by my other ‘adult company’ in that little house, Adam Spencer. I bought an SMH each week day morning on the way to the station and geared my brain up for the day at work with news and comment and puzzles.

I have come a long way since then. I graduated at law, have publications in academic journals, and a co-edited collection on citizenship to my name. I went to Greece last year and gave a paper on the parlous state of Australian democracy in the home of democracy. My eldest son has reached adulthood, a young man who has a clear understanding of the risks of being a young man in this world. My daughter and younger son are in high school. I work hard in my home town and am more connected than ever before. My reliance on the SMH for like-minded adults to read and ponder and sometimes interact with via the letters page diminished. And now it is gone.

This is what I think happened. It is not conjecture but hypothesis, produced using the available evidence and accepted rules of case theory. The news that police had shot a teenager dead broke late on the night of Tuesday 23 September. By the time I signed off just after midnight, all we had heard was of a stabbing and a shooting. This is too late for a print publication to get a full story out for the first Wednesday morning edition.
Next, the workers at the paper probably went into overdrive to catch up on Thursday. This is highly likely for the simple reason that print is dying but the business model demands it remain relevant. This is because much of the news cycle is actually the news recycled. Breakfast radio and television do ‘what the papers say’ and the papers return the favour by cross-quoting broadcast media. All the major dailies now have social media monitors and presences. Maintaining a print presence is about feeding the larger machine.

As they all do these days, the people on the Numaid story would have trawled facebook pages for uncopyrighted images. Of course, just because everyone does it does not make it right. Trawling the facebook pages of a dead teenager in order to increase newspaper sales is a repulsive thing to do, but people do it. There are papers to sell, and catch-up imperative to satisfy.

My considered view is that someone had too many screens open at once and in a race to deadline – the media environment has been more frenzied than usual and they are all on it to keep themselves relevant and afloat – the wrong picture was put on the front pages.

Human error is common and predictable. No-one is suggesting malicious intent by whoever made this monumental mistake. Just a profit-seeking relevance-desperation deadline-driven rush job. But it has nevertheless wreaked enormous harm on the teenager concerned, and has flow-on effects to all Australians of “Middle Eastern appearance”. And that includes many of my students, and that is why I am so angry.

And here is a predictable fact: attacks on Muslim women have increased according to AFP Commissioner Ken Lay. That is on top of the attacks on a Muslim school. To state the absolute obvious, schools have children inside. That is who schools are built to serve. So the ramping up of a terror threat, in which all the media are playing a shameful part, women and children in Australia are suffering. It is a man’s world alright.

It has been a slow burn, and it is personal, as I said in my first tweet to the Fairfax employee. And I will not be backing away from that second tweet. I have my arguments mustered. They are rational arguments. I have even generously disclosed some of those arguments to Fairfax lawyers right here in this post. And full disclosure, as they know, or ought to know, is how ethical lawyering is done.

So I feel like I lost a friend, but we were drifting apart anyway. I was probably holding on, unnecessarily, tenuously, for old times’ sake, the way you do, not wanting to be the one to do the breaking up. Not wanting to face the fact that I was deluded all along, thinking we were friends. The SMH brought many joys. But Fairfax is a corporation and I am a human being. And when I opened that newspaper yesterday and saw that sordid headline, and got home to hear a young man is afraid to leave the house, I pictured those proud students and their proud families against the backdrop of the university grounds. Then I looked at my newspaper and thought ‘I stand with my students. And I no longer read you.’