Category Archives: oecomuse

Journosplaining and other profitable pursuits

This post is written on the assumption that the current Australian government is defunct. Every outward sign appears, on my reading, to be the tip an iceberg, moving rapidly across the rising electoral oceans, to sink the Liberal Party of Australia. Good.

First, a caveat: I am ignoring the Nationals today because they are already a gerrymandered rump, with less than 5 per cent of the national vote at the 2016 election and 8.5 per cent for the Liberal National Party, which essentially means Queensland.

Like the disproportionate power wielded by former slave-holding states in the US Electoral College, there are many stories to be told about how, for example, the Nationals get to decide who is Acting Prime Minister when the Prime Minister is overseas despite their miniscule national vote. The influence wielded by charlatans like Barnaby Joyce is one; the secret Coalition agreement that quite literally constitutes the government of the country (which the Turnbull government spent 87,000 public dollars to keep secret) is another. Or how about the extreme racism mobilised by ex-Liberal candidate Senator Pauline Hanson, ex-Nationals MP Bob Katter and former Hanson/current neonazi Senator Fraser Anning that is endorsed by the ruling Coalition government.

But. Not today, Satan. Today I am predicting the annihilation of the Liberal Party at the federal election to be held in the coming months if not weeks; and why I do not care if the Liberal Party is wiped from the face of the Australian polity and neither should anyone else. multiple flashpoints support this call: the exodus of Liberal Party women; the relentless, undeniable, heat of this Australian summer; a million dead fish in a river killed by colonial ecocide. Liberal Party members should listen up too. Expand your working knowledge of free market ideology my mates.

A second caveat: I have no personal animus toward the Liberal Party. I do not know anyone in the caucus, and would probably not recognise a Craig Kelly or a Steve Ciobo if he passed me in the street.

Craig Kelly, you may recall, told the only Liberal MP who won a seat at the last election that she should not move to the cross bench but ‘roll with the punches’. Steve Ciobo is quite the character too. He told ABC Lateline, of our first and only woman Prime Minister, that her colleagues would ‘be in a rush to slit her throat’.

I mention these examples because misogyny is constitutive of this government. When it came to power in 2013, then-leader Tony Abbott was lavished with praise by the parliamentary press gallery as ‘effective’ and successful.

This is a hallmark of colonial and patriarchal societies. The vested dominant group admires and rewards kick-down strategies deployed by white males like Abbott. Vicious and dishonest aggression – aimed at women and children, at First Nations and Black people and People of Colour, at the rainbow (LGBTQIA+) community, at people with disabilities, the unemployed, single mums, the casualised working poor – is rewarded with governing power over other peoples’ lives.

That power is then predictably abused, to cause harm to the targeted groups. And five years later, the Liberal Party is on the brink of collapsing under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. Good.

The origins of liberalism and free market theory

Liberal, in ideological terms, means free. The most basic proposition of liberalism is that citizens are free and autonomous individuals who may think, speak, and act as they please unless a properly constituted sovereign government – in our case, the parliament – had passed a law which proscribes the thought, speech or action.

In the formative years (C18-19) of classical liberalism, only land-owning men, some of whom had property in human beings, were citizens. So the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy and English liberalism excluded Black people (who were slaves in this context), peasants/the working class (JS Mill referred to ‘labourers’, or specified ‘agricultural labourers’), women, children, and by association (because they were excluded from land ownership) disabled people and people of colour.

Colonised peoples of all hues were made subject to the laws of the coloniser and simultaneously excluded from representative/participatory democracy in theory and in practice, and from any recourse resembling justice in the justice system.

The general picture is of government by propertied white men, of propertied white men, for propertied white men. It is not unusual for liberalism to congratulate itself for the struggles against its structural norms, successful movements to dismantle its exclusivity like abolition of slavery, and ‘universal’ suffrage.

Men of political organisations such as the whigs tout these shifts as their victories, but it was Black people – slaves and former slaves – it was women – feminists and suffragettes – who put their lives on the frontline, in the face of violent colonial and patriarchal resistance, to secure basic rights in a polity that touts ‘freedom, democracy and rule of law’ as its fundamental values.

There are nations where the relationship between government and military determines national standing; there are forms of social organisation where religion is the predominant factor in the trajectory of history. In the liberal democracies, because resources are distributed by way of what is weirdly and inaccurately called capitalism (given that primogeniture, a constitutive feature of autocratic dynastic monarchy, is still the system by which wealth distribution is primarily determined), the central organising frame is political economy.

Liberal heroes like JS Mill opined that the magical market will correct an aberrant increase in the rise of food prices. The ‘logic’ (ideology) is that unaffordable food will cause the children in poor people households to die of starvation, thereby inclining poor people to exercise ‘prudence’ and produce fewer children. This, wait for it, leads to a lower supply of workers and thus employers ‘competing’ for labour will drive up the ‘price’, which in the ‘labour market’ is wages.

These despicable ideas were imposed in real time on Ireland, killing one million Irish people by starvation and causing the displacement by emigration of two million more. England treated Ireland and her people as a kind of social experiment to test warped ideas from men like Malthus and his acolytes. Its colonial-imperial descendant, the ‘Commonwealth of Australia’, views Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in the Northern Territory especially, the same way.

Wrong. First Nations Peoples, from Ireland and Scotland to Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to Turtle Island and beyond, have place-based worldviews already. Look it up. My place and expertise is to criticise the terrible men and their ghastly ideas that inform the paradigmatic worldview of the Liberal Party of Australia, currently (but not for much longer) in government. For example:

[Therefore] it is impossible that population should increase at its utmost rate without lowering wages. Nor will the fall be stopped at any point, short of its physical or moral operation… Either the whole number of births which nature admits of do not take place; or if they do, a large proportion of those who are born, die. The retardation of increase results from mortality or prudence; and one or the other of these must and does exist in all old societies. Wherever population is not kept down by the prudence either of individuals or of the state, it is kept down by starvation or disease… (JS Mill 1848, Principles of Political Economy, Ch 11, On Wages p. 345).

In an age of abstinence as the only reliable form of contraception, Mill is implicating working class male brutality and rape in the way that the #notallmen crowd today desperately try to distance themselves from rapist murderer ‘monsters’. Like how Aboriginal men are framed as sexual predators to ‘rationalise’ the Northern Territory Intervention (white men make rational decisions) which in fact was designed for John Howard to get ‘cut through’ (self-interest is rational) because the electorate had stopped listening to his evil banality and he wanted to win an election.

He lost his seat, and government. Anyway. The general picture of liberalism must be supplemented by specific policy settings based on what our freedom-loving liberals call ‘free market theory’, which in turn is based on a set of spectacularly false assumptions.

An example is ‘perfect consumer knowledge’, where everyone in the used car market is assumed to be able to competently and confidently distinguish a lemon from a genuine low-mileage bargain. This is obviously not true.

Another assumption of classical free market theory is that there are ‘no barriers to entry’ into the market. This infers that I can start a media organisation (borrow money, secure land, buy plant and equipment, employ labour), and ‘compete’ against Fairfax or Murdoch. In this ‘competition’, I will use hard work and entrepreneurial spirit and innovative talent. The ‘most efficient’ of the players – out of me, Fairfax, and Murdoch – will ‘win’ ie make the most money. This is obviously not true.

These are over-simplified examples of course, presented to illustrate the absurdity of the ideology – literally the logic of ideas, where logic encompasses values, because ethics are integral to logic in the Athenian tradition – informing political economy under Liberal Party governance. This is their weltanschauung, the world view to which Liberal Party members purport to subscribe.

All of which brings us back to the existential crisis being felt by institutional power-holders who are touting for the survival of the Liberal Party in the Australian summer of 2018-2019. Why? It does not matter if the Liberal Party collapses under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. That just means that the market for toxic misogyny has dried up, and there is low demand for what the Liberal Party supplies.

Why I do not care if the Liberal Party implodes (and why the commentariat does)

This account is set out to contextualise the announcement by our current federal Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, that she will not be re-contesting the seat of Higgins at the 2019 election. So what? You may ask. Who is Kelly O’Dwyer? Well, O’Dwyer is a relatively young woman (42) and married mother who the Liberal Party holds up as evidence that they are not a male-dominated chauvinist-ridden organisation awash with vicious bullies.

Except they are, and now they have one less piece of tactical armour – which is the objectified value O’Dwyer represented to the Party – to sustain their phoney claims.

Her resignation announcement is the latest in a series of events exposing the fact that the Liberal Party is made up of unreconstructed misogynists and the organisation is collapsing under the weight of its own toxic ideology. Good.

The starkest indicator, partly lost in the noise of yet another party room-installed prime minister, was the miniscule 11 votes for then-deputy leader Julie Bishop. She is more popular, better-known, and least associated with institutionalised cruelty and budgetary incompetence, certainly in comparison to male contenders Morrison and Peter Dutton. But no party room prime ministership for Julie no siree.

At the time, former military Linda Reynolds put her name to eye-witness accounts of intimidation by party males towards women. Next, the male who was pre-selected in Wentworth, after Turnbull quit and while Liberal Party sexism was squarely in the spotlight, lost the blue-ribbon seat to independent woman Dr Kerryn Phelps. He has been re-pre-selected.

Julia Banks went to the cross-benches.

More men killed more women in horrific circumstances described as ‘domestic’.

Any wonder then that the electorate are ready to give this government a hiding to nothing. And make no mistake, the Liberal-Nationals Coalition can not win.

Enter the journosplainers and other vested interests from hell, intent on telling voters that expressing good riddance to a woman whose party has done incalculable harm to women while she is Minister for Women means that we are mean, and horrible, and haters, see, just ‘scoring political points’.

I am not sure how one disaggregates political points from an announcement that a politician is leaving politics, but according to the dominant narrative coming from politicians and political journalists, this is an objective that voters must in all conscience try to reach. Apparently our responses to the news that a financially secure white woman who chose to join the Liberal Party, who has collected an annual 6-figure salary from the Australian public plus maternity leave that we fought for while attacking unions and impoverishing single mums, just discovered that the Liberal Party hates women.

Righto, Bevan. I should be in her corner when she has never been in mine. You reckon?

[journalist] Shields for Fairfax wrote ‘don’t listen to the haters. Kelly O’Dwyer was a talent and the type of person the Liberal party desperately needs. This is a major blow.’

[journalist] Pat Karvelas at the ABC said ‘not surprisingly twitter is full of anti-Kelly O’Dwyer sentiment but mainstream political parties are at their best when they have strong women in leadership positions…’

[politician] Darren Chester Nationals MP posted Before rushing to score a political point about [Kelly O’Dwyer] decision to not recontest Higgins, just consider the long hours, separation from family & enormous workload for any young parent serving our community in Cabinet. Job well done Kelly. Good luck for the future.

[politician] Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote ‘No doubt good things ahead for [Kelly O’Dwyer] whatever she does next. But a huge loss for the Liberal Party, for women in politics and the country. Thanks for always being a friendly face in Canberra. Good luck for the future!

All of these people hyper-linked to Kelly O’Dwyer, thereby guaranteeing that any replies would be tagged to her account. This snitch-tagging by sycophants directs vitriolic twitter traffic straight to O’Dwyer’s door. The same politicians and political journalists then declared that the online dynamic they specifically enabled, with their high-follower counts and major media platforms, makes voters bad and also social media is bad.

The most rudimentary study of structural hierarchies perpetuated under patriarchy and capitalism, of kick down culture, would predict that legacy media has a vested interest in kicking down on social media; and politicians have a vested interest in kicking down on voters. High-follower twitter account holders with institutional and structural power seek to discredit and de-legitimise the response from punters on social media because they want their world view, their political analysis, their (comfortable, private school fee- and Sydney-mortgage-paying) ‘expertise’ to prevail.

There is a lot at stake, folks. What if the punters elect a government that reduces the massive subsidises funded by the Australian public to the private school fees and private health care budget of very comfortable households headed by politicians and political journalists? I mean then where would we be?

Back in the (real) world, twitter punters were having none of it. We do not have to respect a woman who, as minister for women, saw her government implementing policies that cause massive harm to single mums and their children while she collects a six-figure salary. Why should we?

We do not care if the Liberal Party collapses under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. That has nothing to do with us. It is the author of its own demise and those who fear its collapse are people who benefit from its elitist policies and practices. Why would people who are harmed by the policies of Liberal Party government care if it chokes on its own cruelty, greed, and incompetence and dies? We wouldn’t.

The Bevans and the Pats, the Sarahs and Darrens, are frightened of the extent to which the current Liberal Party meltdown has exposed structural flaws in a system that pays their salaries and mortgages and crystalises inherited capital for their children.

If the poster woman for careerist motherhood-assistant treasurer-liberalism is resigning, what next? OMFG what if ONLY women without children (Gillard, Bishop) can ‘compete’ at the highest levels of politics in Australia? And conservatives STILL reject the most popular and competent politician in the caucus (who is a woman) for a discombobulated clownshow (who is a man)?

Could this mean that white patriarchy still reigns supreme?

If an avowed anti-feminist like Bishop or a phony proponent for [financially secure white] women like O’Dwyer can not hack the pace, do we have to concede that meritocracy is mythology? That coloniality is the constitutive ideology of the nation?

Yes, is the answer to that question. Yes, it does. But never mind. According to their ideology, the Liberal Party will bow out gracefully.

Never mind. Just think of how the Liberal Party treats women, or the car industry

The Liberal belief in free market theory extends to an abstract construction they call the marketplace of ideas. In this imagination, ideology ‘competes’ on a level playing field with all the other thoughts and ideas that humans construct and share with their friends or clan or political organisation or the electorate.

Should the demand for toxic misogyny dry up (or perhaps supply has saturated demand, there is a lot of toxic misogyny out there and value is scarcity after all), a true liberal will welcome this market signal that suppliers of toxic misogyny should and will be driven out of business.

Real liberals will celebrate the potential demise of the Liberal Party as the triumph of free market ideology, and be delighted that a new, less sexist political organisation will emerge to meet the demand for less sexist ideological ‘product’.

On the other hand, a host of vested interests and privileged individuals and groups might insist that the survival of the Liberal Party is a matter of national interest. Oh we must have a robust centrist party/credible opposition, the argument will go, ignoring the fact that the Liberal Party is not ‘centrist’ but a cabal of racist misogynists, and the liberal party is not in opposition but in government, abusing the power of incumbency, making terrible decisions that harm actual people who vote.

Anyone who says this is fine, anyone who can live with their conscience despite persecution of welfare recipients by Centrelink; rejection of First Peoples justice and rights as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart; unaffordable housing, stagnant and declining wages and increasing inequality and casualised, insecure work; torture of refugees and asylum seekers; ecocide; climate denial; and the ongoing transferral of public resources to people and corporations who are in need of nothing, absolutely nothing, whose every material need is met…

good luck mate. You are on the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of history.

I could go on. But this is where we are. Yes, I too was taught to not say anything if I can not say anything nice. So to everyone who supports the continued existence of the Liberal Party, who thinks that people harmed by the Liberal Party should support the survival of the Liberal Party and therefore its capacity to harm us: I hope the door does not hit you on the way out.

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An interpretation of the ideologies of the Liberal Party of Australia

Around the time former Attorney-General George Brandis was made High Commissioner in London, I read that the Liberal Party of Australia caucus is an estimated two-thirds conservative and one-third ‘classical’ liberal. The context was the creation of a Home Affairs ‘mega-ministry’, a kind of government-sponsored corporate raid. The new department subsumed some AGD responsibilities, and was generally interpreted as edging out the ‘moderate’ (classical liberal) Brandis to curry favour with ‘capital C Conservatives’ like former Queensland police officer Peter Dutton.

This omnishambles of a Liberal Party in turmoil, endlessly renting and kerning over factional power plays, instead of doing what the Australian public pays parliamentarians good money to do, has rolled through this Coalition government since 2013. When Liberal MP and member for the marginal electorate of Chisolm Julia Banks resigned to join the cross-bench on 27 November 2018, she cited colleagues putting personal political ambition before the national interest. Welcome to the Liberal Party, where aggressive pursuit of individual self-interest is codified as rational, and competitive, by the tenets of its very own ideology.

The day Banks stood to take her stand, legendary Fairfax photographer Andrew Ellinghausen posted a pair of images: one as she left the Liberals centres her among five men in blue and grey suits, all with their backs turned. The other chronicles her arrival to sit on the cross bench among three brightly-dressed independent women.

Both Brandis and Turnbull were regularly labelled, and probably were what passes for, ‘moderates’ in the neoliberal alt-right nativist populist Trumpist tribal world, or whatever white patriarchy is called these days. (I have written at length on the myth of moderate Malcolm, for instance here and here, and I warmly recommend this elegant analysis from Ben Eltham at New Matilda). The fact is that their purported moderation did not stop multiple women from reporting that Liberal men bullied them during the most recent leadership change, or, for that matter, men killing women every week, and often children too, in their own homes. Nor did it stop the gendered bullying in the parliament, or the media, or any other workplace or the many homes where it happens, or in public. But there hasn’t been much terrorism so that’s the main thing, according to the Prime and ‘Home’ Affairs minister.

The decline of liberalism in the Liberal Party, which is not worth saving

In this 2013 Fairfax profile, George Brandis is said to have read On Liberty by JS Mill in high school, which is the perfect cover for a deeply conservative worldview masquerading as commitment to individual liberty for all and thus – abracadabra – social equality. He later completed an honours thesis at the University of Queensland titled An interpretation of the ideology of the Liberal Party of Australia.

This is an odd title, because the Liberal Party of Australia houses two distinct ideologies. The most prominent lie the Liberal Party tells about itself – and there are many – is of a Broad Church that can and does accommodate both liberalism and conservatism. It doesn’t, and it can’t. Still, in 2018, those efforts by young George look commendable in a comparative sense. It is almost as though ‘moderate’ has become code for ‘has an ascertainable ideology that informs a coherent worldview, however narrow, naïve, and flawed’.

It can not be said that any parliamentarian among the estimated two-thirds-one-third ratio of conservatives to liberals in the Liberal Party caucus has lately enunciated his (sic) ideology. Or policy platform. Or Weltanschauung.

This is a party that campaigned against Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating (1991-1996) for having a vision for the future of the nation, mocking his platform as the vision thing. A party that offered up the alternative ‘platform’ of a relaxed and comfortable Australia from a man who says he enjoys Bob Dylan for his music not his lyrics… and who thinks saying this shit makes him quirky rather than a vacuous jerk paddling in an intellectual puddle.

In August 2018, this party produced, in yet another leadership coup that wasn’t, a failed figurehead who said he could smile and maybe show a different side if moved from Home Affairs to Prime Minister. That was his pitch. Like the electorate is his wife or something ‘yes, honey I’ve been very busy at work. I promise to smile a bit more.’

That is not a platform. If Peter Dutton decided to re-settle refugees detained on Nauru in Australia tomorrow, nobody – whether for or against the policy change – would care if he smiled or not. When his hour came, the performance of the most powerful conservative in the Liberal Party was egocentric nonsense.

Embedded values

The Broad Church euphemism persists for features it shares with common law theory. The authority of the common law, which is law every bit as much as legislation is law, rests on custom, longevity, and repetition. Common law is not only case law but also the doctrines, principles, rules and so on found in and applied by and handed down via those judgements.

If a legal principle has been around for a long time (in the judgements), and is derived from the social customs and conditions of the local population (as interpreted and applied by judges in Norfolk or Surrey or Kent, a tradition that gifts its name to district and circuit courts) and repeatedly cited and followed (by the judiciary), it has the authority of law. Sometimes, creative interpretation and application of legal norms becomes an accepted legal principle, sometimes in one jurisdiction and not another – or differently in different jurisdictions (Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QBD7s3 57 is a famous example).

According to common law theory, this shows (is evidence? proves? On the balance of probabilities?) that the common law is robust and flexible and relevant, is capable of adapting and changing, to accommodate shifting social values. One obvious flaw in this model is the mono-cultural demography of its custodians, who are overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of white barristers whose parents sent them to very expensive schools for boys. These are people who tend to have a wife who attends to life outside the law, like children, like bathtime and dinner and homework and birthdays.

This kind of demographic dominance works for corporations avoiding tax liabilities, or wealthy individuals shirking contractual obligations, or celebrities upset about how their craft or character is portrayed in a newspaper. The cast are mostly the same demographic as the judiciary, or in close proximity (maleness, whiteness), and the players have their exits and their entrances. Performing at their leisure or working hard for serious money? Maybe both – who can say?

The criminal law, in contrast, has a starkly different clientele to its practitioners. Prisons are full of poor people, black people, victims of crime and people who did not finish school and who survived child sexual assault, people with disproportionately high rates of mental illness and illiteracy. The lawyers and judges are not in these classes of person.

Some would say that this picture cannot be drawn without a neoliberal framework, and I don’t disagree. But the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that distinguishing classical from neoliberalism seems redundant. The tenets all look the same.

I was talking to a colleague and friend about data integrity recently, and specifically about those terms and conditions everyone is compelled to tick, which are basically caveat emptor, buyer beware. Data harvesting by tech giants, disguised by nonsense individual freedom and choice rhetoric, exist because neoliberal governments do not know what to do with behemoths like Facebook and Amazon. Those terms and conditions are the C21 equivalent of the perfect knowledge ascribed to consumers by free market theory.

All of which brings us back to that Broad Church of liberalism and conservatism, a euphemism perfectly suited to the Liberal Party, with its inherent dishonesty, phoney religiosity, and those values. Conservatives are very attached to custom, longevity and repetition. They will rationalise any old nastiness with ‘it has been this way for a long time’. Liberals, too, use this rationalisation, but even closer to their hearts are free market values like ‘rational’ self-interest and aggression disguised as ‘competition’. The fantastic fiction of this is that selfish pursuit of personal utility by individuals ipso facto produces aggregate social good.

No, it doesn’t.

Central organising principles

Recently I was invited to an Honours workshop because a star graduate, whose thesis I supervised, was giving a talk on getting his research published in an academic journal. For his conclusion, the student had constructed a case study in the form of three fictional judgements in the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal. He created a ‘constitutional trust’ as authority for the judiciary to not apply a law which abrogates fundamental common law principles (Serious Crime Prevention Orders, for the record). He did very well.

I went along, and added a few words about how I observed that his research really fell into place when he landed on his constitutional trust, which is not a real thing (it was meticulously researched and anchored in real law). Like students and everybody, researchers have different ways of learning and interpreting as we go about the knowledge business. For me, locating the central organising principle/s that found and shape whatever it is I am writing about – law, patriarchy, colonialism, etymology, citizenship, liberalism, conservatism – is the key. It unlocks. It opens the door.

For example, for a student using feminist analysis, it is useful to know that the central organising principles of patriarchy are domination and control. I learnt this from philosopher and novelist Marilyn French (Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morality, 1983) as an undergraduate in the late 1980s. Many years later, the work of distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton Robinson (2004) showed me to comprehend patriarchy and white supremacy, in its Australian form in particular, in The possessive logic of patriarchal white sovereignty: The High Court and the Yorta Yorta decision.

Obvious as it sounds (now), etymology and semiotics fell into place for me as soon as I could articulate that language encodes values, that there is a reason for phrases like mother country, mother tongue. Lex, lexicon, words of the people, law of the land. In English, and under patriarchy, this means a mass of disprovable and thus dishonest assumptions underpin much communication, whether among monolingual native English speakers or everyone who communicates with us.

Similarly, common law theory came into sharp relief when I landed on the source of its authority in custom, longevity and repetition. In among the many intriguing and intelligent readings in law that have crossed my desk, are centuries-worth of gibberish theorising origins of law and sources of its authority. It takes the patience of a saint more saintly than the immersion-baptism fetishist Augustine of Hippo (354-430), or the religious violence apologist Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), to wade through it all.

The set literature is dominated by men, so the proposition that human ideas spring from human brains, which are grown inside human bodies, something I have personally done three times, is not sufficiently male-centered. It takes effort to locate texts on intersectionality and critical race and feminist jurisprudence, by scholars like Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Carol Pateman. It also takes effort to birth and raise human beings with a mind of their own.

Ideology, and a polity lacking honesty in principle

Eventually, I arrived at the comparison between central organising principles of liberal and conservative ideology: meritocracy and primogeniture. Liberals claim that the distribution of power and wealth – political economy – is organised by merit. They think that stating the merits of those at the top of social hierarchy validly explains their position of power. This is meritocracy mythology. Conservatives, in contrast, think that birth into privilege – again, power and wealth – is a valid means of organising society, of determining who can exercise decision-making authority over the rest. This is primogeniture.

An ideology is the logic of ideas, the articles of faith underpinning specific policy positions and the codification of those policies into legislation. That legislation – laws – then impose conditions on, and threaten sanctions against, the subject population. Making laws is what governments do. So the coherence of the underlying logic, and ethic of the underlying values, is not immaterial. This is the why, and how, the conservative-liberal composition of the Liberal Party caucus produces irreconcilable ideological incoherence, and thus poor governance and therefore also bad law.

Meritocracy is demonstrably false. It is a myth built on lies, yet liberalism chooses to stick with its disprovable propositions rather than implement structural changes that would make it more real. To know the demographics of the executive levels in all our institutions – industry, politics, media, religion, whatever – and still believe in meritocracy requires belief in white male superiority, which is social Darwinist nonsense. White males dominate all our institutions because they are better at everything? Have you seen Barnaby Joyce on the telly?

The central tenet of conservatism, primogeniture, is relatively useful in that it carries explanatory power. Lots of executives, whether in the public service or universities or cabinet (for example), can be identified and explained by their inherited wealth, socio-positional power, and unshakeable belief that this qualifies them for high office. But neither conservatives nor liberals defend primogeniture anymore, or not so in so many words. Some openly defend British monarchy, but not that birthright is a valid basis for choosing who gets to govern over the population.

So Liberal ideology asserts an obviously wrong and morally dubious meritocracy mythology which its members claim explains existing hierarchical social organisation. Conservatives subscribe to a view which explains the hierarchy much more realistically – born to rule – but which is no longer socially acceptable to publicly defend.

Despite the ‘transactional costs’, funded by the Australian public, as Liberal Party MPs sort through their emotional attachment to basic and mostly unformed ideology, these standpoints are not intellectually irreconcilable. For instance, the Broad Church allegory can be understood in terms of the pivot to positivism attributed to Scottish philosopher and unreconstructed scientific racist David Hume (1711-1776).

What is, and what ought to be

Hume questioned whether there is a necessary connection between what is and what ought to be. He critiqued natural law philosophy for assuming, and not adequately explaining, the logical leap from lex talionis, law of the natural world, to how the social (man-made) world ought to be. This was not new of course, what is? Aristotle wrote of political justice as part natural part legal; Justinian had universal and civil law; Aquinas developed his typology around an eternal law from the heavens, a divine law on earth, and human law by society. Most of this thinking was directed at human exceptionalism, differentiating us from the beasts and creatures (etc), and the goal of placing us at the centre of the universe.

Conservatism and liberalism stem from these philosophies. Primogeniture explains how things are (our form of social organisation puts property-owning white males into positions of power, who deserve to rule), and meritocracy explains how things ought to be (positions of power should be held by those with merit, therefore the dominant group deserve their position). But ideological adherents refuse to flip their perspectives. Thinking that meritocracy produces the hierarchy we have ignores abhorrent bio-essentialist implications. Are white men from wealthy households innately better suited to governance? Genetically? No? But they dominate the executive. Why? Because primogeniture.  Conservatives, meanwhile, feel compelled to not publicly mention that the dominance of white men from wealthy households is entirely consistent with their world view.

Again, these positions can be reconciled intellectually. Both can be explained by white patriarchy and just deserts theory, for example. Patriarchy seeks domination and control, including for its own sake. Just deserts theory says the ruling class, in this case by white men, are validly placed at the top of social hierarchy – deserving of the power they hold – whether on merit or by birthright. So, that was easy.

But in the Liberal Party, the problem is intellectual honesty, intellectual capacity, courage and integrity. Liberal Party politicians are not even game to attempt ideological coherence in their public pronouncements. They prefer simplistic slogans, message manipulation, outright lies, and varying levels of verbal bullying.

None of this is new either, of course. It can be traced to its tories-vs-whigs political ancestry (the English Civil War), to catholic-vs-anglican christian sectarianism (Henry VIII and the papacy) right through to the disgusting transactionalism of present-day performative religiosity by Morrison, Turnbull, Abbott and Dutton (Pentecostal, Anglican-turned-catholic, Catholic, and mason-like protestant).

They all do it. The point is not to legitimise faux-Christianity, but to point to the constitutive problem of the Liberal Party, which is the broad church lie. This is not an organisation which can accommodate differing ideologies. It is an organisation whose members will fight to the death over ideology alone, when most players do not even understand the ideology each is defending, because pursuit of self-interest is the only tenet they picked up.

Some say the Liberal Party is done and personally I do not care whether it is or not. Something will rise, phoenix-like, from its trash ashes. My kids and I have survived a helluva a lot of vicious Liberal Party policy, and will again. But if the Liberal Party is gone, I will be the first to dance on its grave. Good riddance, horrible people. May all your imputed dividends and negative gearing be abolished.

Predicting an election driven by racism is against the public interest

It is not in the public interest to predict a ‘race-based’ election, which in real life means a racism-based election, like the losing campaign that Matthew Guy ran in Victoria this weekend. That his strategy was a monumental failure is not in doubt: the Liberals are likely to lose up to X seats to the incumbent Labor government which faced conservative cheerleaders – like the Murdoch-owned Sky News and Herald Sun – running negative media every week, every single day, of that incumbency.

I have never lived in Melbourne and have no particular connection to Victoria and am not here to commentate on the ins and outs of the state election. But I did happen to notice a few Canberra press gallery journalists writing commentary and analysis on the risk or implications or meaning or whatever of a federal election campaign next year potentially run on racist settings.

These were (obviously) columns written with one eye on (and no certainty of) the Victoria election result, columns designed to appear prospectively pro-neutrality and retrospectively predictive. I realise that sounds as confused as all get out, so here it is in plain English:

Political journalists, and many others, believe that Australia is racist. And it is. Ask any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, ask any person of colour. Hegemonic white Australia has a racist mindset; and white dominance of the polity means that Australia is a racist place to be. But there is more to this country than the dominant narratives.

Two things.

First, on election day – with compulsory voting – everybody gets their one vote. Nobody has to do what their boss at Friday drinks wants, or that laydee on the P&C says to do, or racist uncle at Christmas reckons is the go, or the most annoying bloke at the BBQ tries to dictate from behind the tongs. We are Australians and we will rise at 4am to bake and wrap and cook (mostly women) or stroll to the local public school in thongs with the dog (mostly men) at 4pm and cast a vote for whoever the fuck we want to and nobody ever EVER stands on the corner with a gun when we do so.

Second, our commitment to egalitarianism, mythological as it may be, outweighs other national narratives. The Liberal Party might think it is smart to run what media call dog-whistling and what anyone with a clue calls racism, but it is not smart, and here is why. We might be racist, hell, Australia is a racist place, on every credible measure. But we do not want to think of ourselves as racist; and we do not want our political leaders to legitimise racism to the extent that Matthew Guy was prepared to try and do.

The Victoria election result can be understood as a comprehensive rejection of racist campaign strategy. This is a good thing; but it is not the end of it, because so many people who cover elections had placed their cards on looking smart and analysing racist campaign strategies while calling it something else, like ‘dog-whistle’ this or ‘law-and-order’ that. It is not smart to predict the presence of racism in Australian election campaigns – anyone can do that – but it is wrong to cling to discredited predictions for the sake of personal ambition.

We have been here before, when white saviour Brian Harradine sold out Native Title supposedly to save the country from what we have seen time and again already: a racist election. White media had it covered, in that self-fulfilling-prophesy lowest-hanging-fruit way that is the most obvious prediction of all.

Is the Australian electorate as receptive to racist politicians as we are told by people whose job is to attract readers to their analysis of racist politicians?

It is worth remembering that the 1967 referendum was the biggest landslide in Australian electoral history. Nothing and nobody, before or since, mobilised Australian voters like the promise of meaningful change in the relationship between First Peoples and colonial-settler Australia. No political party could dream of a 90% majority vote, but that is what the electorate delivered up to the only vote on race – literally –  that we have ever held.

 

The “embassy issue” will not go away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Australian Embassy Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Realpolitik

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

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

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

Malcolm Turnbull Keeps Getting History Wrong. Here is Why

On 25 August 2017, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull uploaded a 526-word post to Facebook, condemning two minor acts of vandalism. It begins:

The vandalism of the statues of James Cook and Lachlan Macquarie is a cowardly criminal act and I hope the police swiftly find those responsible and bring them to justice. But it is also part of a deeply disturbing and totalitarian campaign to not just challenge our history but to deny it and obliterate it. This is what Stalin did. When he fell out with his henchmen he didn’t just execute them, they were removed from all official photographs – they became non-persons, banished not just from life’s mortal coil but from memory and history itself.

The deeply disturbing and totalitarian campaign which resembles what Stalin did consisted of two spray painted messages, with no structural or permanent damage to the inanimate objects (statues), on which the paint was sprayed.

The first message is CHANGE THE DATE. It refers to the proposition that Australia, as a nation, not celebrate its national day on 26 January. The reason is that 26 January marks the beginning of the British invasion, from Tharawhal (Botany Bay), to Gadigal (Circular Quay) and Darug (Parramatta-Hawkesbury) country respectively.

The colonisers headed out across the lands of some 350 distinct Peoples. Megan Davis, Cobble Cobble woman and UNSW pro vice chancellor and constitutional law professor (2015-16) describes this as ‘the pattern of killing that was the political economy of Australian settlement’. And as award-winning novelist and Wirlomin Noongar woman Claire G Coleman wrote here, the initial British invasion made way for the attempted genocide of another culture’.

The second message is NO PRIDE IN GENOCIDE. It states a simple truth: those who attempt genocide ought not be proud of their genocidal project. This is an incontrovertible moral position, that attempting to wipe out an entire ethno-racial or religious people (a genus, as it were) is a crime against the targeted group and a crime against humanity.

The laws of war and the British invasion

According to international law, unjustified invasion (in Thomsian terms, a breach of jus bello) and attempted genocide are war crimes. We are often told that times have changed since 1770, when Cook claimed the east of this continent for the British crown. But this position is confused and misrepresents history. The just war doctrine, generally attributed to Aquinas (1224-1275) was already 500 years old in 1770; and Aquinas derived and distilled his theses from earlier works, as scholars do.

What Turnbull does in his social media post is flip a crude binary power relation from perpetrator to victim. He does not draw a parallel between the autocratic, murderous Stalin and the autocratic, murderous Macquarie. Instead, he distorts historical fact to compare a known mass killer to an anonymous individual. The one act referred to is spray painting a statue. It did not hurt anybody. Any body.

There are minor inconveniences and clean-up costs, and a sense of indignity or anger among those who are emotionally attached to their dead heroes. But graffiti on a statue is peaceful protest, not a reign of terror. Peaceful protest is where nobody gets hurt, while a reign of terror is where thousands, even millions of people, are killed.

Obvious as it sounds, this bears repeating: peaceful protest and mass murder are not the same thing.

The illogics of Australian public debate

Analogical overreach is a familiar technique in our public debate. It is used frequently by the white male executive class who dominate all our social institutions. This group struggles to discern historical truth from their own belief in whatever claim they are making, and their act of saying it.

Meanwhile, everyone else is compelled to back claims with facts and evidence, and even to justify speaking in public at all (witness the witless conservative response to Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents dinner). Comparing graffiti to a fascist dictatorship is a fairly extreme departure from truth, yet there it is, sent out across the digital landscape for anyone to disseminate. The prime ministerial post quoted above was shared 2300 times, and white nationalists are primed to shout FREE SPEECH, whenever we try to call such absurdities in.

In this way, a deeply erroneous claim – that representations of dead white men (statues) are of greater import than First Peoples justice and rights – becomes reified. The Prime Minister sets the terms, and public debate is programmed to operate within those terms. Value-laden norms like ‘meeting place’ or ‘discovery’ carry a host of underlying assumptions, even as those assumptions deny or erase the reality of British invasion.

May we question such assumptions? Not really. Such assumptions may be questioned or articulated within acceptable parameters laid down by the executive class. It works like this: alternative narratives may be tolerated, but only to the extent that a base line of conformity is not disturbed. Anything that upsets the parameters of debate, rather than offer token balance within it, is loudly derided as identity politics (only dominant white male narratives are endorsed as impartial or objective), and as disrespectful (only dominant white male narratives, no matter how obnoxiously bigoted, qualify as civilised).

Those who do question orthodox parameters, such as by promoting Change the Date, are denigrated as ‘divisive’. In this case, calling for a change of date for our national day is labelled cowardly and criminal. The Stalin comparison has another, special purpose. It is designed to create the impression that a graffitist with a spray can is dangerous, and thus to be feared. This is so we may infer that, by defending a stone rendering of a dead Yorkshireman, Turnbull is being brave.

It does not take courage to post an illogical analogy on social media. This is something people do every day of the week.

Honouring the living

There is a scene in the Dickens masterpiece Bleak House starring ex-soldier Sergeant George, beloved by some of London’s poorest inhabitants for the compassion he shows towards them, and as someone who acts on principle. The good soldier must decide whether to hand over a letter written by his late comrade Captain James Hawdon to the lawyer Tulkinghorn and the money-lender Smallweed. The letter is of great value, as it will confirm the identity of Nemo the law writer, who fathered the illegitimate child Esther Summerson to Honoria Barbery, before her marriage to Sir Leicester Dedlock.

Sgt George runs a gym, teaching the military arts with his faithful comrade-in-arms, Phil Squod. The sergeant is behind on rent, in debt to Smallweed. As he deliberates over debt and the reputation of the dead Captain Hawdon, Phil says ‘we’ll get by, Guv’nor. We always do.’ No, says Sgt George eventually, deciding to part with the letter. ‘My duty is to the living.’

Such a principle of soldiering is lost on tin pots like Turnbull.

In the introduction to his book Soldier Dead, Michael Sledge (2004, p. 4) writes: ‘I have read of and spoken with those who have risked and will risk their lives to recover the remains of their comrades; those who did and do hold their political careers to be more important than the duties of their office…’

Politicians who start and join wars do not risk their own lives, and a commander who risks the lives of the living to recover the dead is making bad decisions. This is so in combat and equally true for commemoration and national narrative.

For every $500 million allocated to the Australian War Memorial, or $100 million on a museum in another hemisphere, or $50 million in yet more homage to Cook, there are opportunity costs. These costs are paid by students whose education is compromised, by patients to whom health services are not delivered, by women and children seeking refuge from violent men and who can not get away because there is nowhere to go.

What is the ‘benefit’, in return for this extremely high price that some, mostly women and children and always First Peoples, always low income householders, pay with our future, our opportunities, our safety and lives? Well, a white male executive class get to dominate the national narrative in ways that venerate their heroes and at the same time erase thousands of acts of courage, of heroic resistance, of almost inconceivable tenacity and determination and everyday struggle.

History is written and re-written by the most powerful and least moral, such that the ‘different times’ argument becomes ever weaker. It is one thing to argue, however uncritically, that Cook himself should be judged by the standards of eighteenth century England. It is quite another to continue to claim honour, for actions which opened the door to invasion and attempted genocide, in 2018.

Why not right past wrongs instead?

Honouring (some) dead: three projects, with a $650 million price tag

The hundreds of millions of public dollars allocated to just three projects, and just during this Coalition government, are a profligate waste and inexcusable investment in historical inaccuracy. When decolonising knowledge systems, a process rather than an end point, there are four basic principles. Adhering to these principles can prevent the problems of colonial mindsets, where the opposite of knowledge – errors, mistakes, falsehoods, lies – are disseminated instead.

The principles are these: knowledge must be place-based; the past co-exists with the present; human cultures are not frozen in time; and anglo- and euro-centric frameworks inevitably produce inaccuracies. Inaccuracy is counter to the purpose, ontologically counter to the existence, of everyone and everything operating in the public domain: universities, journalists, historians, politicians.

Inaccuracy is, or should be, a thing we are committed to not doing (or being). For more on decolonising, a detailed exegesis of these four principles here.

  • A proposed $500 million Australian War Memorial (AWM) Redevelopment

For many years, First Peoples have campaigned to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers recognised in official military histories. Their distinct identity as Indigenous soldiers has been routinely erased; as well as their specific experience as returned soldiers denied the basic rights of citizenship, including soldier-settlement compensation packages. One valuable project (of many) corrects this record here.

It is a predictable and poignant irony that white soldiers were gifted parcels of stolen Aboriginal land while Aboriginal soldiers were doubly – continuously – dispossessed.

Similarly, the Australian War Memorial consistently refuses to recognise the Frontier Wars. Aboriginal resistance to the invaders and colonisers is well-documented historical fact and ongoing, for example, the Stolenwealth Games action. This campaign highlighted the illegitimacy of the Commonwealth, a fact belatedly recognised by our highest court Mabo v Queensland (No. 2)(1992) 175 CLR 1, and by the Australian Parliament Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).

Re-branding the British Empire, such as from Empire Games to Commonwealth Games, does not make it any more legitimate (the Crimes of Britain site is a handy central online repository). The British Empire enriched itself by plundering the people and lands of places to which it had no right, on every populated continent, as demonstrated by Shashi Tharoor on India, here.

There has been no acknowledgement, and no reparations. This alone tells us the resistance is ongoing, rather than a new or discrete action. Re-branding can not and does not change the fact that the Commonwealth is an illegitimate global entity, regardless of what political leaders say at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Meanwhile, failed former Liberal Party leader Brendan Nelson, recycled to head a national institution as failed white male leaders inevitably are, accepted the proposition that navy personnel who participate in turning back refugee boats be recognised at the Australian War Memorial. This is in breach of its mission, because we have not declared war on non-state actors who seek asylum in Australia, and no ADF personnel were killed in action. In contrast, many refugees have died under the same Operation Sovereign Borders policy (a recap by Marr, 2014, here).

A separate memorial to resistance warriors and the Frontier Massacres has been canvassed (sign the Aboriginal Tent Embassy petition here).

It is conceivable that a properly funded institution headed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will result in a more accurate telling of invasion and colonisation. It is frankly inconceivable that the establishment of an Aboriginal memorial will be allocated anything like the half-billion dollars Nelson wants, and will probably get, for the AWM.

  • The $100 million Sir John Monash Centre

Located in Villiers-Bretonneux in France, this vanity project of deposed conservative prime minister Tony Abbott is riddled with the worst excesses of misplaced military glorification. At the opening ceremony, media and law expert David Marr said ‘the French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, delivered a speech that blew [current conservative Australian PM] Malcolm Turnbull’s to smithereens’.

Quoting Remarque’s seminal account All Quiet on the Western Front, Philippe said:

The earth is more important to the soldier than to anybody else,’ continues Erich Maria Remarque, ‘the earth is his only friend, his brother, his mother. He groans out his terror and screams into its silence and safety’. For many young Australians, this earth was their final safe place. For many of them, this earth was the final confidante of a thought or a word intended for a loved one from the other side of the world.”

Marr tells us that Turnbull was pedestrian and dull in comparison, which is no surprise to anyone who has observed Turnbull in speechmaking mode. His hallmarks are plodding gravitas, phoney enthusiasm, and ill-concealed anger. That he was eclipsed by Philippe on the day is predictable, because Philippe was place-based, on his home soil. Those soldiers bled into and embraced the earth on the western front in the northern hemisphere, no matter where they were born. Turnbull has no meaningful connection there.

This was painfully evidenced when Turnbull, in his speech opening a museum (or ‘centre’. Honestly. The imagination) attributed a pivotal victory led by Brigadiers-General Glasgow and Elliot to the eponymous Sir John Monash. This was picked up by historian Ross McMullen, who alerted us via Fairfax newspapers almost a full week later. All those political advisors, those foreign affairs officials and media staff, and nobody had fact-checked whether Monash led a battle that Turnbull, twice in two days, claimed that Monash had won.

Military history is absolutely not my thing, but research is. It took about 20 minutes to locate the primary source in the AWM archives, a letter from Monash dated 26 April 1918. Another quick search produced multiple scholarly and popular accounts of the same battle. This is unsurprising. First, there is the date – it was the three-year anniversary of the Gallipoli landings (25 April 1915) that are now the defining Anzac Day event. Second, there is a near-consensus view that the action was decisive in the lead-up to German surrender (see for example Pedersen 2014, pp. 139-44).

It was not difficult to find out that Turnbull had attributed victory to a bystander based at a nearby chateau (sic) who himself noted – in parentheses! – that the battle was led by Brigs-General Glasgow and Elliot (War letters of General Monash, Australian War Memorial, Canberra pp. 398-400: accessed 30 April 2018).

[Anzac day was] signalled by a wonderful fight, Monash wrote, carried out by the 13th and 15th Australian brigades – (Glasgow and Elliot) both of which Brigades have been under my orders for the past few weeks. It was the same old story. My 9th Brigade had held securely, and kept the Bosch out of the town of Villers Bretonneux for three weeks. They were then withdrawn for a rest on April 23rd, and the 8th British Division (regulars) took over the Sector from them.

Naturally, on April 24th, the Bosch attacked (with 4 Divisions) and biffed the Tommies out of town. Late at night we had to organise a counter-attack. This was undertaken by 13th and 15th Brigades, in the early hours of Anzac day. They advanced 3,000 yards, in the dark, without artillery support, completely restored the position, and captured over 1,000 prisoners. I can see the prisoners pouring past this chateau, from the window of the office, as I write this letter. It was a fine performance.

Everything on my front is quiet. Although there has been a lot of talk of another big attack, nothing has materialised. In any case we are quite ready for him.

Monash did not lead this decisive battle, but he wished he had. It was the same old story. My 9th Brigade had held securely… Everything on my front is quiet.

Turnbull and Abbott, and the edifice they conceived and oversaw, are also completely misplaced at Villiers-Bretonneux in France.

Malcolm Bligh Turnbull is descended from, and named after, the least capable colonial leader of his age. Bligh is a man who sailors mounted a mutiny against at sea; and who soldiers mounted a coup against on land.

Abbott is British-born and remains British in spirit. For instance, he said to then-tory British prime minister David Cameron, on the world stage, at a G20 meeting, that pre-colonial Sydney was ‘nothing but bush’.

In fact, Australia is home to the oldest continuing cultures on earth, a claim explored with nuance by Luke Pearson here. It is a place of successful, subtle and sophisticated societies which have developed – and continue to develop – over 65,000 years. These are societies of intricate laws and vast knowledge of ecology, of astronomy, of the human condition, neatly summarised by journalist and Darumbal and South Sea Islander woman Amy McQuire here.

An Aboriginal woman invented bread: Uncle Bruce Pascoe, Bunurong man and author of Dark Emu, the kind of book that changes lives.

However, it is not possible to shift Turnbull and Abbott from their anglo-centric, colonial mindset, and as stated above, anglo-centrism produces inaccuracy. The widely discredited ‘great man in history’ method has been discarded from curricula by historians all over the world, but not by conservative politicians.

For men like Abbott and Turnbull, the ‘great man’ approach is the only approach. They do not have the range, the depth, to process any other perspective.

  • The $50 million Kamay Botany Bay-Cook Plan

Learning nothing, our prime minister then returned home and strolled along the Kamay (Port Botany) shoreline with Treasurer and local member Scott Morrison. While the ABC took care to revive the defaced Cook statue story, it did not bother to identify or publish a quote of anyone other than the two white men pictured at the photo op.

Goori journalist Jack Latimore confirms that La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council representatives were present here. Meanwhile, the Turnbull and Morrison quotes, and ABC report generally, are riddled with the usual rag-bag of errors, falsehoods, misleading frameworks, and erasure of Aboriginal people and Aboriginal resistance:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the revamp of Sydney’s historical Botany Bay site, the place of the first encounter between Europeans and Indigenous Australians will allow the country to “celebrate, understand and interpret” the “momentous place” it is.

This is so frustratingly wrong, on so many levels.

Cook was not a European, he was an Englishman. He lived during an era when Britain was almost constantly at war with continental states like Spain and, most notably, France. There was no announcement about venerating the Frenchman La Perouse, who turned up in 1788 a few days after Phillip and his fleet. This is despite the fact that Turnbull was talking turkey on our ‘shared values’ – whatever that means – with French president Macron at the Sydney Opera House just a few days later.

But no: just Cook, at the LaPa site. This matters. The English colonised this place, not ‘Europeans’. There is no valid reason for continental Europe to share responsibility for the crimes of the English and their band of British collaborators, like the Scotsman Macquarie. The English did not identify as European then, and despite the best efforts of more progressive thinkers, do not now. This is evidenced by Brexit and the Windsrush generation as I write.

Kamay, or Botany Bay, was not the first encounter between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, either. Upwards of 300 distinct peoples are not a homogenous category of ‘Indigenous Australians’. Creating this homogenised category erases the diversity and identity of hundreds of Peoples, their language groups, landscapes, societies and laws.

Returning to the anglo-euro perspective, famous prior ‘encounters’ include the 1629 wreck of the Batavia off the west Australian coast, where two white men were put ashore as punishment for murders there. The Torres Strait is named after the 1606-08 voyage of Luis Váez de Torres. The Tasman sea and Tasmania itself are named for the 1642 claim to the island staked by Abel Tasman. Unlike Cook, these men were Europeans, but that does not mean their names and claims had – or have – any validity, for the simple reason that the continent and her islands were already occupied by First Peoples.

Nor did Cook ‘encounter’ First People here. He attacked, firing musket balls three times in what appears to be within as many minutes of weighing anchor, as his Sunday 29 April 1770 journal entry records. After describing his first two ‘Musquet small shott’, Cook wrote:

emmediatly after this we landed which we had no sooner done than they throw’d two darts at us  this obliged me to fire a third shott soon after which they both made off, but not in such haste but what we might have taken one

In typical English fashion, like the Parthenon marbles stolen and retained by their ruling classes, the British Museum refuses to return the Gwaegal Shield, which bears the bullet holes and which belongs to the descendants of those warriors who Cook attacked.  The museum can not do justice to the shield, because the past co-exists with the present, because anglo-centrism produces inaccuracies, and because knowledge is place-based.

Cook eventually got himself killed for carrying out his ‘obligation’ to shoot native peoples after entering their waters without permission. Whether his ignominious end at Kealakekua (Karakakooa) Bay, Hawaii, is accurately told at Kamay, Australia, remains to be seen. Either way, the Turnbull remarks bring us back to where we began:

This is a momentous place. One we need to celebrate understand interpret and reflect on.

Kamay is a momentous place. It is a place of great moment, a moment that opened the way to invasion and changed the course of 65,000 years of human occupation here, for every Aboriginal descendant since. It is not, however, a moment we need to celebrate. This is a place of commemoration, not celebration. The Cook claim, English invasion, British colonisation, and attempted genocide: these are not causes to celebrate. As the anonymous spray painter made clear, in that act of peaceful protest which did not harm anybody, there is NO PRIDE IN GENOCIDE.

Indigenous Peoples have the right to determine their own identity

One of the most persistent features of colonial jurisprudence is its aggressive insistence on defining colonised peoples on its own terms. In his 1797 work Law of Nations, Emer de Vattel conflated cultivation with civilisation, ironically presuming to define Aboriginal people by his perspective on their relationship to land.

In the same Anglo-European tradition, the British claimed this continent by citing terra nullius. This now-discarded doctrine of land belonging to no-one rested on a further fiction, this time of nomads.  The anglo-euro idea was that Aboriginal peoples aimlessly wander across country, a claim which quite literally could not be further from the truth. While many Indigenous cultures have as sophisticated land management and ecological knowledge as here, no human society on earth has a longer continuous connection to country than the more than 300 distinct Peoples of Australia.

Nomadism means a seasonal way of life anyway, rather than aimless wanderings, often disparagingly referred to as ‘walkabout’ (noting that it is entirely up to Aboriginal people to reclaim the word Walkabout on whatever terms they choose). But definitional accuracy is not a strong point of colonisers making bold assertions as to the culture and traditions of Black peoples. It is well documented that the most extreme forms of scientific racism – a fabricated human hierarchy with white men placed, by white men, at the top – were applied to First Peoples in Australia.

Alongside this recent history are post-war understandings of the right to self-determination, which is the cornerstone right specific to Indigenous Peoples. Self-determination is formally encoded into the leading international instruments of their kind, the United Nations Charter (Chapter 1, Article 1(2) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Article 3, signed by Australia in 2007.

When white law and society – the colonial state and social surveillance, each as invidious as the other – impose definitions of Aboriginality on Aboriginal people, we violate the general right to self-determination and the specific right of Indigenous Peoples to define themselves.

The colonial jurisprudence of imposing identity

The UNDRIP Article 33(1) states: Indigenous Peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. Yet settler-colonial nations insist on exercising – or abusing – the power to define colonised peoples. This is not some legacy of a bygone era. It is a continuation of the philosophy, law, and actions – the jurisprudence of the British invasion, attempted genocides, and forced assimilation.

To illustrate, many Australians are familiar with the Stolen Generations, but possibly without having contemplated the jurisprudence of colonisation. The Stolen Generations are made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed from their families as children, and their descendants. This is formally known as ‘assimilation’. It is informally known as ‘breeding out the colour’, which is a eugenics program, as signified by the word ‘breeding’.

Forced assimilation in turn rests on widespread belief in scientific racism, an obnoxious and discredited but (not yet eradicated) school of thought that provided the philosophical foundation for Aboriginal Protection Acts and Aboriginal Protection Boards. These are laws and institutions of executive government. Finally, officers of those agencies, as well as police and missionaries authorised by the same laws, took children from their families, by force, on the basis of their Aboriginality.

This is how philosophy, law and practice operate together under the rubric of colonial jurisprudence. The rubric can be applied to all the ways colonial powers were directed towards First Peoples: from formal acts of dispossession like the First Charter of Justice to the earliest criminal prosecutions against Aboriginal men (see R v Murrell and Bummaree [1836] NSWSupC 35), from segregation in cinemas and public pools well into the 20th century, to the disproportionately high rates of incarceration, police brutality, and forced child removal to this day.

In all these cases and many more, governments and the laws they pass operate in concert with the academy, cultural institutions and society, to maintain dominance over colonised peoples

Defining Aboriginality in 2018

This background is by way of context to the current proposal to create a new Indigenous Productivity Commissioner position. The position will be created by way of a bill to amend the Productivity Commission Act 1998 (Cth). Typically of how government rates that which concerns Aboriginal people, the amendment can be found on page 45 of a 45-page document, the Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Measures No. 5) Bill 2017 No. [blank], 2017 Treasury.

The Productivity Commission compiles data on Aboriginal people which it publishes in its biennial Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report. This is one of three publications which track Closing the Gap, which was established by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and announced in conjunction with the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations. It includes benchmarks like infant mortality, life expectancy, and education and employment levels.

The 10th Closing the Gap report was released on 13 February this year by a Prime Minister who arrived at the Anniversary breakfast for photo opportunities alone and departed without entering the hall.

Closing the Gap, along with the Indigenous Affairs portfolio and the Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC), sit with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C). I appreciate that these institutional arrangements are dull as dull to most punters, myself included (Kevin Rudd sets out more detail and justification on Closing the Gap governance here). However, the enabling amendment to create an Indigenous Productivity Commissioner has given rise to considerable disquiet among many Indigenous people, as discussed in this broad-ranging article by Karen Wyld, a writer, novelist and consultant of Martu descent.

The public concern largely centres on whether government has unilaterally, without consultation, changed the way Aboriginal people are defined at law. Recall that Indigenous Peoples have the right to determine their own identity. Note that governments can not control what they can not define – legislation must have a subject, purpose and scope. As mentioned, colonial governments define Aboriginality for the purpose forced assimilation, a eugenics program that amounts to cultural genocide. These are not merely historical or legacy issues, but continuing, contemporary realities.

It is entirely logical for Aboriginal people to respond to a known threat, based on evidence, like the definitional amendments buried in the 5th Treasury amendment bill of 2017.

The new law, just like the old law

Those amendments just passed the House of Representatives, and merit closer examination as the bill proceeds to the Senate. It says:

1 Section 3 5

Insert:

Indigenous person means a person who is: 

(a) a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia; or

(b) a descendant of an Indigenous inhabitant of the Torres Strait Islands. 

4 At the end of section 24 18

Add:

(6) At least one Commissioner must:

(a) have extensive skills and experience in dealing with policies and programs that have an impact on Indigenous persons; and

(b) have experience in dealing with one or more communities of Indigenous persons

 

There are two things going on here. One is the definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. As Wyld notes, this is “not consistent with today’s standards [and] lacks awareness that Indigeneity is much more than descent, as it is linked to relationships, kin and community, and ongoing cultural practices”. The second is the continuing insistence by the Commonwealth that it is competent to define Aboriginality.

The definition of an Indigenous person at law is circular, and self-referential. A ‘member of the Aboriginal race’ in this context actually means ‘an amendment of this wording authorises the creation of an Indigenous Productivity Commissioner position and is consistent with section 51(xxvi) [the race power] of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1901 and also the International Convention on Elimination on all Forms of Racial Discrimination’.

Except that is not what is going on at all. The new Commissioner role is not required at law to be filled by an Indigenous person. The amendment quite specifically says a person ‘with extensive skills and experience’ of ‘dealing with’ Indigenous communities.

In other words, a mission manager.

The three-part test

However, there has been some misunderstanding around the definition of Indigenous in the amendment, which at law subsumes rather than changes the three-part definition of Aboriginality: Aboriginal descent, self-identification as Aboriginal, and community acceptance as an Aboriginal person.

The three part test is often referred to as an ‘administrative’ definition, which is not correct. It was set out in full as far back as 1983 in section 4 of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and the authority at common law is the High Court of Australia (Commonwealth v. Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1 at 551 per Deane J).

As such, reassurance that the amendment contains the three-part test is not, as Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion asserted, because it “is wholly consistent with the standard Commonwealth legislative definition used under both Liberal and Labor governments since the 1970’s (sic)”.

Further, as Scullion himself points out, this is a Treasury bill. Why, then, has Scullion been sent out to defend it? Surely the government would not establish a governance structure which enables interminable buck-passing between Treasury and the PM&C on an ‘Indigenous’ position – which is not an identified Aboriginal position – that it claims will ‘deliver better outcomes for First Australians’?

Surely not. But in among his paragraphs which do not accurately clarify the definitional issues, Scullion drops this gem:

Consideration of how to define Indigenous status in legislation is a significant matter and well above politics… [The Government] calls on Labor to immediately rule out doing a dirty deal with One Nation to change the legislative definition of an Indigenous person.

There has been much chatter recently about declining standards in public debate. Less clear is what was the previously high standard from which debate has declined? This kind of pompous innuendo is entirely consistent with the standard of rhetoric I have seen in 35 or so years following Australian politics, particularly from Conservatives.

More importantly, including the definition of Indigenous in the Treasury Bill merely scopes the requisite skills and experience in ‘dealing with Indigenous persons’. It is this contradiction that lies at the heart of community disquiet about the amendment. ‘Dealing with’ could include someone who has exploited Aboriginal people and damaged their lands, or as one Aboriginal colleague noted wryly, Twiggy Forrest could be appointed.

Meanwhile, inclusion of the definition limits the scope of the Commissioner’s role to monitoring Indigenous people and Indigenous communities, people who already experience extremely heavy surveillance from both society and the state.

The last word as the bill proceeds to the Senate goes to my colleague Lynda Holden, an Aboriginal lawyer and law lecturer:

“Aboriginal people know that if it is not an identified position, they are removing the three-part test. Because unless the Indigenous Productivity Commissioner is an identified Indigenous position, there is no need for the three-part test to be in the legislation. Much the same as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs is not an Indigenous person…

Both the Commissioner and the Minister should be an identified Aboriginal position”

Myths of Westminster democracy

Almost everything we are formally taught about our system of government is deeply anchored in vested dishonesty. All the formal claims to democratic principle fall short. Here is how those structural designs benefit as undeserving a character as Barnaby Joyce.

Like many Australian voters – or saintedAustraliantaxpayers™ as many choose to define us (taxpayers are everyone who buys anything other than fresh food so, you know, everyone) – I am incandescent at the mess caused by the current deputy prime minister and his senior coalition partner, the prime minister.

Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce have less idea how to clean up this spilt milk than my teenage son wiping the bench after making two-minute noodles, which trust me is a very low bar. Both men, and both parties they head, and thus by definition all the dithering cowards in their caucus, are terminally and irredeemably incapable of completing the tasks we pay them big money to achieve. Like running the country.

Two of the most deeply held Westminster myths are especially relevant to the shambolic shitshow that is now Barnaby Joyce’s political “career”. For the sake of brevity – and sanity – I limit this post to these: ministerial accountability; and the public interest obligation of the fourth estate.

For the record, I was writing about the moral and political failures – same thing, when it comes to Pilliga properties and inland rail, CSG and Eastern Star and Santos, the Murray-Darling river flows and Wesfarmers and irrigation licenses and water theft and more – of Barnaby Joyce before it was cool. I also have a rogue theory on why Joyce chose to publicly concede his marriage was over after the 2 December 2017 by-election.

I lived and voted in New England for thirteen years and visit annually to see family, and this is what I think: Joyce would have won anyway, but the charade allowed New Englanders to deny, to themselves, official knowledge that they were re-electing a grifter and a fool who was quite obviously drowning in a mid-life quagmire of his own making.

Nobody wanted to know, because nobody wanted to feel the prick of truth as they stood by their leery, beery charlatan of a man, their representative clown of the first order whose crass and boorish rent-seeking ways were well-known, but who nevertheless delivered the pork from a hapless beholden Coalition government and the public purse. Plus they hated Tony Windsor for backing Gillard, despite the obvious integrity of his decision-making process.

The by-election charade was aided and abetted by corny sentiment and distant ignorance from political journalists too eager to go along with the rebuttable presumption that white rural folk have an ontological right to define themselves in opposition to city culture and in their own best interests. The entire exercise was a classic demonstration of white fragility: collective safeguarding of the farming lobby and vested constituencies from facing the realities of their shabby loyalty to a wholly compromised bacon-bearer.

Which is all very well as anecdotal observation by an unreconstructed city dweller: I only lived away from Sydney, in the northern tablelands and Northern Territory, for fifteen years which as everyone knows does not a country girl make.

The analysis, like the Joycean house of cards, requires structural support.

Myths of Westminster 1: Ministerial accountability:

The misconceptions around Westminster-model democracy are numerous, persistent, and huge. One of our most fondly held beliefs is that once upon a time, in a kingdom far far away, ministers in Westminster governments resigned for sins such as abusing the power of office, such as using their influence to obtain a benefit for themselves or others, such as misleading the parliament. The myth is enthusiastically prosecuted by politicians, political reporters, and the comfortable classes. It feeds the comforting notion that we live in a democracy with flawed but essentially sound leadership, institutions, and systems.

As English as cricket, ministerial accountability purports to rely on the honour of the honourable member. This necessarily requires the heroic assumption that all MPs have a sense of honour, which is demonstrably untrue. Logic therefore directs that the assumption be discarded and a different mechanism be instituted for dealing with ministers who can not meet ministerial standards, whatever that was before Malcom Turnbull added a ban on minister-staff sexual relations this week

There was no mention at Turnbull’s press conference of compliance and enforcement of his sex ban. What is Malcolm going to do? Bust Joyce in flagrante delicto and not sack him, like he did not do last week, last month, or last year, because of a coalition agreement not in the public domain?

Despite the usual ‘reporting’ of prime ministerial announcement, nothing has changed. The Turnbull sex ban is as effective as the Turnbull citizenship audit, and no doubt came from the same advisory source. So much efficacy.

Like centuries of ‘reform’ before it, the sex-ban relies on another furphy that wafts around misguided notions of ministerial accountability. Contrary to popular belief, the real test is not ministerial behaviour but whether the minister gets caught. George Brandis mislead parliament over the exit of Julian Gleeson SC from the Solicitor General’s office and was rewarded with the London High Commissionership.

Hilariously, Joyce is the batsman who snicked the ball which was caught behind but does not walk back to the pavilion when the umpire shakes his head… then retires hurt.

It is just not cricket. But because it originates from the same source as cricket – the breathtakingly hypocritical privilege of upper class Englishmen – the myth of accountability is maintained. Some behaviour, somewhere, is cricket, the story goes – and we all somehow, miraculously, know what that behavioural standard is.

This is why the accountability myth is maintained not only by political elites but also by punters for whom the system is not an abusive monolith designed to criminalise and punish life circumstances.

For those who are systematically oppressed by Centrelink, child protection, Homeland Security, police and courts and prisons (to name a few), naïve faith in democratic principle is not an option. For most people who fall outside the demographic norms of its originating template – Westminster Parliaments comprised of property-owning white males – government is not benign but oppressive. It can be literally a matter of survival to not assume that government is well-meaning, or honest. If we believe Centrelink is necessarily right about a debt notice, we could become homeless or suicidal. If we believe the state will not brutalise our family, they could be killed by its agents.

Barnaby Joyce does not get this. He is entirely unaware that marriage and relationship breakdown is a primary cause of homelessness, especially for women and children escaping violent men. He told his matey Maguire story with zero insight into how life can hit people experiencing the emotional pain of separation and a lot more besides what a philandering fool like himself, often through no fault of their own, go through to survive. Joyce claimed it is ‘in the ballpark’ to be offered free rent on an executive townhouse while collecting upwards of a million dollars a year in publicly funded salary and entitlements when he felt sad.

It is patently absurd to hold onto the idea that a principle, ministerial accountability, will compel a proper response from Barnaby Joyce to being publicly exposed as a rorter and adulterer. The falsity of the assumption is borne out by Joyce’s response and that of the Prime Minister. Instead of falling on his sword, Joyce has taken a holiday. Meanwhile, Turnbull announced a wholly ineffective – because it is wholly unenforceable – rewrite of his sagging, lagging ministerial code of conduct.

The Fourth Estate

The role of media as the fourth estate, fearlessly reporting in the public interest, holding politicians to account, is pivotal in this context. According to principles of Westminster democracy and doctrine of estates, it is the task of political reporters to investigate allegations of impropriety, to know the official code, to question ministers, and to inform the public of how suspect decisions and actions measure up against the stated standards.

It then becomes a matter of whether the minister in question can withstand the pressure, rather than honour the fact that he felt the snick and knows he is caught out. Over and again, as from gallery veteran Michelle Grattan and Fairfax prince James Massola, we heard that Barnaby Joyce was on a knife edge. He could not possibly survive another transgression, it was pronounced, as further transgressions emerged by the minute.

The next step can take numerous forms. The transgressor might resign from the ministry, or from his party, or from the parliament. He might go to the backbench or to the cross-bench. He might be rehabilitated like Arthur Sinodinos (before taking sick leave) was and Abbott wanted to be; or embark on a post-parliamentary life like Sam Dastiyari.

This step is not determined by honour, or principle. It is determined by what the party numbers men, the pollsters, and the political press, decide is worth pursuing, or can be ridden out.

Such kid-glove treatment is not available to women, or anyone left of Barnaby Joyce, Andrew Robb, or John Brogden. In fact women, like Julia Gillard and Kristina Keneally, were regularly pilloried when there was no suggestion of impropriety other than in the fevered imaginations of their political opponents. The inherently conservative political press duly publish any old innuendo or nasty sexist claim. How would Bill Heffernan know whether Gillard is ‘deliberately barren’? Why publish slur after slur linking Keneally to the odious Eddie Obeid when the official body charged with investigating such claims, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, specifically praised the credibility of her evidence when questioned about him?

Why indeed?

The upshot

In contrast, conservative white men are invariably extended benefit of the doubt ad infinitum, and their feelings handled delicately. The media attention and public opprobrium are often said to be punishment enough. The wrong-doer is re-presented as a victim of the harshness of the spotlight. This is happening to a degree for Joyce, but his star is tainted. Independent news sites and social media are operating to strengthen ministerial accountability. Great, right!?

May the mainstream press and his Coalition colleagues find their spines. It is not difficult to discern that Joyce has behaved, and been caught behaving, in such a way that would compel an honourable man, by Westminster principle, to resign

Ministerial accountability is to Westminster democracy what meritocracy mythology is to liberalism: a convenient lie which operates to shore up the positional power of an already very comfortable class of persons. Joyce is in this class of persons. Nevertheless, even though current reports say Joyce is away for a week, I reckon he is gone from politics for good. And if he is not, he should be.

 

Official responses to Royal Commissions: A sorry take on a sorry tale

The gargantuan Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has come to a close. Its scale is almost impossible to comprehend: more than 1.2 million documents; testimony from over 8,000 people; a 21-volume final report; more than 400 recommendations. By all accounts, the commitment, professionalism and thoroughness of its processes were impeccable. And it would have surely taken a huge toll on survivors, counsel, journalists and lower-profile staff as well.

It is important to keep this Royal Commission in our sights, and in the headlines. Sexual predators thrive in secrecy, and catholic leaders have vowed to keep the secrets of its criminals, if they confess their crimes behind the confessional wall. Bearing bad news is never fun, but it must be said: the hopes and dreams of Australians desperately yearning for change in the wake of this Commission are already stymied.

The two most powerful actors on this stage are the federal government and the catholic church, and both have already signalled limits to – even rejection of – meaningful change.

The authority and efficacy of Royal Commissions

Many examples could be cited to demonstrate how governments stymie and side-track and otherwise render ineffective the work of Royal Commissions. It is tempting to re-visit the failure to secure justice for Anangu people at Maralinga, and the fact of a subsequent Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle; or remind everyone again that the Cole Royal Commission was supposed to clean up corrupt kickbacks paid by the Australian Wheat Board to the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein in breach of United Nations sanctions yet in the real world we followed the USA into an illegal war in Iraq and the responsible minister at the time is now our High Commissioner in London.

But for this post I confine myself to the one historical example, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and the four RCs called during the Abbott-Turnbull administration, to make some general observations about the institution of the RC as a constitutive part of Westminster systems of government.

There is a general public perception that Royal Commissions are a solution in themselves, but the ultimate efficacy of any Royal Commission rests with government and other institutions in its purview. This is not to overlook that public trust in institutional processes is a democratic good; or that bearing witness carries an intrinsic value. As Alice Walker eloquently writes here, it does. Over these five years, people who struggled for decades to be heard were finally heard. People who were ignored, stonewalled, manipulated, and re-traumatised were honoured, respected and believed.

This matters.

But governments consistently lag behind community expectations, leaving recommendations unimplemented, underfunding monitoring and compliance bodies, and allocating resources to appearances over action. Another failure is at the coal face, where officers of the state, such as police officers, ignore reforms.

Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, no police or prison officer has ever been successfully prosecuted for killing an Aboriginal person on their watch. The police officers Nunn and Matier, on duty when Ms Dhu died in a Western Australian police cell, were later promoted. So was Chris Hurley, the officer who Magistrate Brian Hine found caused the death of Mr Doomadgee on Palm Island.

When police failed to notify the Aboriginal Legal Service that Wiradjuri woman Ms Maher was in their custody, in breach of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission recommendations, they failed to prevent her death. Ms Maher was 36 years old. She was taken into custody ‘because police had concerns for her welfare’. Her death was the first in the 16-year history of the Custody Notification Service.

Properly considered reforms in response to thoroughly investigated structural circumstances save lives. It follows that those who resist such reform wish to preserve their own positional power over the actual lives of others. Obviously this is a disgusting position to take, whether by a man of the church, an officer of the state, or a representative of the people.

So Royal Commissions, the most powerful investigative process in the Commonwealth, are not enforcement bodies. And in recent years, the official authority and community respect commanded by Royal Commissions has been diluted. Unsurprisingly, the politicisation of Royal Commissions, which were never entirely free of political influence, accelerated during the short and ugly prime ministership of Tony Abbott. Both Royal Commissions he called were established for no better reason than partisan vengeance, thereby cheapening the institution itself (my comment on the Trade Union Commissioner here).

It is worth noting that many political reporters continue to view the aggressively hyper-partisan Abbott as ‘effective’ and ‘successful’ rather than as nasty and destructive.

Malcolm Turnbull has also called two Royal Commissions in two years. He is more desperate than aggressive, because his prime ministership is driven more by internal disunity. The first was called the morning after a television program (my take here). Like most Turnbull initiatives, it was designed for him to be seen to be doing something. The show screened footage of state employees viciously assaulting and otherwise abusing black children in detention.

These criminal practices were well-known, as this 2014 report makes clear. Yet Turnbull invested so little in its brief – the literal torture of black children by the state – that his first choice of Commissioner had to be stood aside immediately due to dubious differential treatment of black and white offenders. Turnbull also resisted calls to extend the inquiry to other jurisdictions, as though the states do not also employ prison guards who routinely violate black children (they do). That Commission has finalised its reports. The political speeches have been made. The work on the ground, which is largely done by Aboriginal community and organisations, and Aboriginal staff at NFPs like Amnesty International, will continue.

Turnbull, a former merchant banker, had also resisted calls for an inquiry into banks which ‘literally stitch up widows and orphans’ and breach anti-terror and money laundering laws. He was eventually forced to choose between a self-orchestrated backflip, or humiliating defeat in the chamber, because his numbers were weakened by two by-elections and perennially fickle Nationals MPs. He chose the backflip.

The likelihood of reform to ‘keep children safe’

The response to the Child Abuse Royal Commission recommendations lie with Turnbull and three others in particular: Christian Porter, Anthony Fisher, and Denis Hart. Keen-eyed observers will spot the immediate problem with this line-up. These men are not anointed as a result of actual effectiveness in institutional reform. In fact, all four have presided over colossal damage to substantial sections of the population, from children in institutions to welfare recipients sent fictional debt notices, driven to suicide, and forced onto a cashless regime which does not work.

What have these men had to say?

The Child Abuse Royal Commission “is an outstanding exercise in love” blathered the Prime Minister, presumably creeping out everyone who knows anything about sexual abuse. Christian Porter is the minister responsible for the government implementation (or otherwise) of its recommendations. This rhetoric is as repetitive as it is obtuse. “This card is an act of love,” said Turnbull when launching cashless welfare in Kalgoorlie, on the first anniversary since 14 year old Elijah Doughty was killed by a white vigilante. Christian Porter is the senior minister responsible for that program too.

Turnbull also announced limiting and capping costs of compensation, for the crimes of rapists in institutions, which are to be borne by the Australian public. He ruled out redress for victims with a conviction for a serious crime. Given that police routinely escalate charges against Aboriginal suspects, this will disproportionately disenfranchise Aboriginal survivors. Even without the embedded racism, the policy is arbitrary, populist, and unjust.

Then the most senior catholics in Australia, archbishops Fisher and Hart, shared their thoughts on celibacy and the seal of the confessional. This, too, would creep out everyone who knows anything about sexual abuse. In her book Cardinal (temporarily removed from Victorian book stores) Louise Milligan describes Hart as ‘Pell’s best mate in the church’ (2017, p. 66).

Hart and Fisher also unilaterally rejected any change to their confessional practices, supported by the scholarship of Fr Frank Brennan. They want to keep their culture of secrecy immune from scrutiny by secular society and the law. This tells us that despite what Geoffrey Robertson has argued amounts to crimes against humanity, the church does not want to change, ergo they do not want to stop rapists, and do not want to save lives.

Finally, there are growing community demands that the churches pay tax on their obscene wealth. This will not happen, despite the fact that religious organisations are handed multimillion dollar government contracts to deliver ‘charitable’ services, when provision of charitable services is the indefensible rationalisation for tax free status in the first place.

How do I know this will not happen? Because of the disproportionate, unrepresentative power that the catholic church wields as a political lobbyist. Recall that the lawful authority for religious organisations to discriminate against service users or staff with impunity was recently reaffirmed in amendments to the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth). The lawful authority to impose hateful doctrine – referred to as ‘religious freedom’ by their parliamentary allies – includes the freedom to refuse abortion advice to women or sack gay staff, in places like hospitals, schools, homelessness services, and drug and alcohol counselling.

So while the Commission has done its work, all the evidence suggests that the federal government and the catholic church will not do theirs, although there is one recommendation we will see implemented. A national memorial to survivors will provide an opportunity for politicians to appear to be doing something. That one will get done.

The dots less joined

As someone who asked the question of whether British-born Tony Abbott is eligible to sit in the Australian Parliament back in 2014, I feel the pain of punters who are tired of the ‘section 44’ story. In those days, we who raised the s.44 question were mocked as “birthers”, a nasty distortion, as I explained here.

The issue is not the foreign-born, but renunciation of foreign allegiance. Abbott never disguised a strong sense of allegiance to England. But those who backed Abbott into office studiously ignored eligibility questions. It is fine for Abbott to tweet a renunciation screenshot three years after those questions were raised, yet now we see the entry papers, not of an MP but his mother, published online [deliberately not linked]. We see the Prime Minister demanding Shorten prove his renunciation, which Shorten did.

While the press scour parentage records across the parliament, Turnbull announces ‘new’ disclosure rules that replicate the disclosure statement all federal parliamentarians have already signed, making his decision as redundant as his leadership. The major parties failed, as the major parties were always going to fail, to resolve the problem of candidates failing to renounce.

This is because both majors want what they always want. It is not rocket surgery. Labor wants to force the Coalition to a general election so it can win government, and the Coalition wants to stay in government. That is the point of the existence of these organisations, and thus that is what each will pursue.

meanwhile, we all have to watch the routine hypocrisy, a function of the inherent conservatism of our political and media institutions. But the direction reporters and politicians have taken this story since July 2017 is increasingly ugly. There is the law, sure, but there is also the messaging.

The legal question, and its answer

Our constitution disqualifies from the federal parliament anyone with ‘acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or [having or entitled to] the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power’. Nothing prevents any Australian born in any country, or whose parents or grandparents were born overseas, from nominating. However, a nominee must take all ‘reasonable steps’ to renounce their foreign connection(s). This test is from Sykes v Cleary [1992] and was upheld by the High Court in the ‘Citizenship Seven’ case.

Attorney General Brandis led the government response by claiming the Citizenship7 case is a ‘strict’ reading. This is the Joyce (and Nash) defence. It downplays the cornerstone of common law systems: doctrine of precedent. In reality, the High Court applied the law – including case law – to the facts before them.

Similarly, Turnbull repeatedly implies that the correct constitutional reading was shrouded in mystery until last month. This is the Parry (and Alexander) defence. But the case law is 25 years old. In reality, the government was hoping the High Court would overturn precedent (which it has full authority to do) to save Barnaby Joyce.

The political messaging, which is dangerous and wrong

That some nominees did not do their homework is a straightforward proposition. But the Coalition response is to make it about being Australian. This is underpinned by white nationalism, and Barnaby Joyce intends to fan these messages into flames, which I will come to in a moment.

But first, the pivot on which public debate turned from a semblance of legal logic (‘strict’ constitutional reading) to politically expedient ‘passion’, was the prime ministerial defence of Josh Frydenberg.

Now I am the last person on earth to defend Frydenberg. I have zero regard for his politics. Energy policy is a mess. I merely note this: there has never been a Jewish Liberal party member of the House before. Turnbull and colleagues joined a party which had never endorsed Jewish candidates in safe seats. This supports the widespread view that the Turnbull display was invoking the Holocaust for politically expedient purposes. It also suggests the party has not thought through the implications of the Israeli law of return whereas Labor probably has.

My own view of Israel is a rogue nuclear state that daily violates Palestinians in myriad ways such as water supply ‘apartheid’; and systematically commits war crimes such as collective punishment. Nevertheless, Israel is a sovereign nation and, to most of world Jewry (and many others), it is the Jewish homeland; and the relevant discussion here is not international law but Australia-Israel relations (my research on Australia-Israel relations here).

Israeli Law of Return confers entitlement, on Jewish people, ‘to the rights or privileges of a citizen’ of Israel, which is a ‘foreign power’ from the Australian perspective. Thus on that ‘strict’ s. 44 reading, our Constitution would demand prospective Jewish candidates renounce allegiance to Israel. I strongly suspect this is part of the current major party discussions.

It is unthinkable that Parliament contemplate putting the High Court in the position of reading down s.44 to accommodate right of return. Nor could any reasonable person contemplate a process that would effectively disenfranchise Jewish candidates.

A competent leader would have quietly brokered a compromise that the public could accept, if these genuinely sensitive issues were explained properly. But bringing the public along is a Prime Ministerial skill we have not seen in a long time.

New white nationalism

By mobilising the Holocaust defence, Turnbull has ensured the ‘citizenship debate’ –until now, a paperwork problem – turns entirely on emotional responses. This is the preferred setting of most campaign managers – political, military, advertising – who know we are less individualist than we are taught to believe.

Here is how that is panning out.

In Tamworth, Turnbull declared ‘I don’t know anybody that’s more Australian than Barnaby Joyce, I don’t know any electorate more Australian than New England’.

Not Lingiari, home of the Gurindji walk-off and historic handful of sand. Not Canberra, named for Ngunawal Peoples ‘meeting place’ and seat of national government. A seat that literally has the word England in it being contested by a man who has pocketed millions of public dollars for which he was not eligible, is the most Australian.

Meanwhile, Joyce told Sky News ‘how people see it is if you’re born here you are an Australian’. But we deport refugee babies. What jus soli is this? On Insiders, Mark Kenny sang from the same songsheet, asking ‘what could be more Australian than Barnaby Joyce?’

Oh I don’t know. Fanning white nationalism for political gain?

In the Daily Telegraph anonymous ‘cabinet ministers expressed concerns MPs of Greek and Italian (sic) could be the first under threat…’. But Canavan was cleared of Italian citizenship rights and Xenophon was cleared because he renounced Greek citizenship rights. So why the ‘fears’ about Italians and Greeks?

Then there was Craig Laundy, telling ABC radio he wants a referendum because ‘in my electorate I’ve got 320 nationalities represented. If we trade with those 320 countries, Australia grows.’ He made up 140 countries to defend the legitimacy of MPs of British descent. The AM reporter commented ‘there are concerns the strict ruling would make it harder to attract multicultural candidates in the future’.

Concerns about ‘multicultural’ candidates? Why? Every disqualified MP is a white person who failed to check their connections to Commonwealth countries.

Finally, there is the book Joyce is writing on ‘the social opprobrium attached to poor white people in Australia’s towns and regions’. Peter Hartcher quotes: ‘A lot of it will be politically incorrect – I want to shock… To give greater economic and personal advancement to the people in the weatherboard and iron in the regional towns.’

Politically incorrect? Weatherboard and iron? Poor whites?

Joyce is unashamedly channelling the Trump narrative, even though Trump was bankrolled by rich whites and elected by comfortable whites and the poor white rural rust belt myth has been debunked again and again including by the Washington Post. Hartcher in the era of Trump called Joyce’s project ‘respect for the people who live outside the big cities and feel overlooked.’ The headlined shouted ‘shrewd tactic of Barnaby Joyce’ but this is not shrewdness. It is dangerous.

This is how contemporary Australian white nationalism works: in the name of ‘equality’, we reject the consensus-based proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. In the name of ‘multiculturalism’, we defend white people who fail to do due diligence as true Australians mate. In the name of investigative journalism, we publish refugee documents of a Holocaust survivor. The debate will get anti-Semitic, because it always does. The political classes and political media will not, because they can not, put it back in the bottle.

Just don’t say nobody told ya.

 

Farewell Comrade

What a day, what a moving and beautiful day, in turns solemn and funny, nay whitty, and sad. A day when we were reminded of politics as the art of possibility, equality, opportunity, inclusiveness, and visionary greatness. A day when Noel Pearson returned to his roots and spoke passionately and convincingly in that fiery Obamaesque preacher style, as an Aboriginal man and as an Australian.

A day when the supremely talented Graham Freudenberg deployed his craft for a most important and perhaps last time, weaving words into pictures and sentences into messages that none of us who were there could possibly ever forget. A day when the crowd joined in the chorus as Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly sang another anthem – as a masterly MC Kerry O’Brien so aptly described their retelling of the Gurindji story – a story that evoked poverty, patience and pride, a tall stranger, and a handful of sand.

This was the Whitlam Memorial at Sydney Town Hall that I attended, with my two younger children. They got the day off from school for the occasion. Afterwards we met up with my adult son, who had rung me – twice, because I was teaching when the first call came – on the day the news of Gough’s death broke. He rang first to make sure I had heard the news, and second to ask if I was alright.

I was not alright, of course. I taught six hours face-to-face that day, on injustice and inequality, at an institution that would not exist without our Gough: the University of Western Sydney.

Gough brought us so many things, and Pearson listed a fraction of them in a stunning soliloquy that went for several long minutes. Three stand out as most relevant and memorable and worth reminding the young people with whom I work.

The first is that Aboriginal people moved in leaps and bounds to articulate their identity, knowledge and law to the rest of us, those of us whose ears had been closed for so long. These great steps could be made because a true leader had listened, a leader who was across the grand principles of universal human rights and the aspirations of self-determination that had been denied by colonial governments for so long. Gough listened to Aboriginal leaders, their elders, their political realities and their ancient living knowledge of the land.

Noel Pearson evoked Gough the Roman, but I wax lyrical on Gough the Greek. The Romans were about power, as are all politicians. The Greeks were about civilisation, as all politicians ought to be. Pearson noted this distinction differently, and he most certainly, pointedly, noted the emptiness and destructiveness of a political class interested in nothing but maintaining power. Pointedness goes to the origins of the polity itself.

The point is – linguistically and actually – the Greek origin of the polis, the high point in the land – in Athens, the Acropolis – where lights burn in the night, and can be seen from far and wide, for the people have gathered to discuss matters of state. This is the Athenian roots of the polity.

We pay our respects to the Greek light thea whenever we evoke theory OR theology. For science and religion seek answers to the same fundamental questions of the human condition: who are we? Why are we here? How should we live? And most of all, what is a life well-lived?

Gough had a vision for answering these questions on behalf of us all. Not some of us. All of us. Whether Greek or Roman, our Gough was a classicist. It was Gough who ensured that Aboriginal people had a point of light, it was Gough who established pillars of civil society that form the foundations for equality of opportunity and a landscape of co-existence. It was Gough who understood the essential nature of Aboriginal Medical Service, Legal Aid, and Housing. These fledgling organisations founded a grand vision: the possibility that universal human rights would not be trampled by the state – when it came to Aboriginal communities.

And it is on this note that I turn to the two remaining legacies that have been drummed into my children and my students for years, and again most emphatically this fortnight.

Gough Whitlam brought tertiary education and the sewerage system to western Sydney. It may not sound too fashionable, but Gough thought poor people should be allowed to get university degrees AND flush toilets. The point of light was this: that university degrees and flush toilets are not merely for the rich.

Every time we call a plumber, we should thank Gough that the system worked every other day to keep us safe from disease and maintain public health due to sanitation across Sydney instigated by Gough. Every time we pass a unit and get that little bit closer to graduation, we should thank Gough. Every time a graduate gets a job, or a payrise, or associated quality of life, it is Gough as well as themselves who has earned gratitude and respect.

Education and health in university degrees and flush toilets: these are not the only answers, but they are two fantastically good ones. This is what a liberal democracy should look like, and what ours did look like, and what Australia can look like again.

A coda: I am reluctant to donate even five minutes of my day to the crushingly stupid beat-up that is the booing of Tony Abbott by the crowd outside Town Hall. But too many of my lefty friends have allowed themselves to be drawn into doing the work of Murdoch hacks. Tony Abbott is of course rubbing his hands with glee that a brief crowd reaction to his reptilian self has become the story, rather than the monumental achievements of a man in whose footsteps he can never hope to walk. So here is the response.

It does not matter that Whitlam’s people at Whitlam’s memorial briefly booed Abbott. It was a crowd moment, ephemeral, transient, amid many boos and cheers and calls and much laughter and many tears, singing and crying and chuckling, talking and sharing on this great day for the great man. If some people react negatively to a boo – BOO! – they are seeking an excuse to not honour Gough Whitlam. If anyone argues that mainstream voters will be alienated, they forget that mainstream voters are hip pocket voters.

If you claim that it was undignified, you were not there. If you judge the crowd from a media report, you are doing the work of the Murdoch press, baiting and switching and dissembling, for the purpose of avoiding any focus on a visionary politician. The news story of the day was that Australia commemorated a giant of a man who stood literally and politically above anything we have today.

The only people who want to change that story into petty nonsense and judgemental tut-tutting are those who refuse to honour Gough. No-one is going to change their vote. Let us not look to a brief instinctive crowd reaction to the nasty destructive petty hypocritical man who, uninvited, entered our space.

Let us look instead to the waves of emotion and uplifting words crafted in honour of a splendid visionary. A constructive man, a builder and a fighter, a man whose memory and legacy will outlast us all. Every time a highly trained professional serves us well, or brings us pleasure, or enriches our lives with their knowledge and wit (or I flush the toilet) I send a little message skyward: Thank You Gough.