Day to Day Politics: How is your memory?

Friday 15 December 2017Author's note: Assuming you didn’t know when I wrote…

No one being tortured offshore?

By Jane Salmon“We’ll Take That As a Comment.”On QandA this week, Prime…

With rapidly evaporating respect Mr Turnbull, that’s crap

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Thursday 14 December 2017I said to my wife, “I think he’s had…

Escaping Reality: Roy Moore and the Rage of…

It all seemed to be the rage of decency. Everywhere, moral indignation…

To our Government and the Opposition: Get your…

By Tina ClausenWhat is wrong with you? Your behaviour in Parliament is…

United Nations Committee Against Torture issues interim measure…

Press ReleaseOn 11 December 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) advised…

Bob Hawke Is A Martian and Merry Christmas,…

The trouble with most Prime Ministers is that you have to be…

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Stuff the Tobacco Companies – and while you’re at it, stuff the Catholic Church as well!

By Keith Davis

Smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia … A large proportion of these deaths were males (almost 13,000 deaths per year compared with 6,000 for females). In all age groups, except 15-34 years, more deaths were related to use of tobacco than to alcohol or illicit drugs.

OK, so here we go. I am a 65 year old Australian male, and all of my life, on and off, I have smoked cigarettes. I did not smoke them for the fun of it, I smoked them to meet a need. And the vendors of nicotine sure as shit welcomed me, and my need, with open arms.

What was my need? As a survivor of child sexual abuse in a Catholic orphanage in the 1950s and 1960s I have spent most of my life seeking any sort of comfort at a deep level. Any sort of comfort that would ameliorate the depth of hurt and outrage that I carried deep within my being. The advertised ‘soothingness’ of the old Marlbro Man cigarette advertisments drew me in like a lemming to a cliff face.

Recently I have instigated legal proceedings against the Catholic Church, and I cannot go into detail about that for all of the usual legal reasons. However, as part of the legal process, I spent some time with a forensic oriented psychiatrist – forensic in the sense that he looked at me, saw me, and described to me, in language that I could understand, that I just happened to be one of a reasonably small number of ‘survivors’ whose psyche was not totally rendered asunder by the awful experiences.

Believe me, I grasped onto that opinion with all of the strength of my hope and heart.

But he also mentioned that perhaps it would be in my best interest to stop smoking. Which, as you would expect, made me think about why I stick cancer sticks into my gob with gay alacrity on far too regular an occasion.

Do I blame the Tobacco Companies for the fact that I smoke? Of course not. They couldn’t give a crap about why anybody smokes – all they care about is THAT you smoke, and that you continue to buy their product. The Catholic Church gave me the need, and the purveyors of nicotine simply provided the handy product.

I am not an illusory beast and I am well aware that simple willpower alone will not defeat the addictive power that nicotine has over me. After the sessions with the psychiatrist, and I cannot begin to tell you the value those sessions had for me, I made the decision to no longer be a nicotine addict.

But I had to change my mindset. Apart from looking at the fact that ingesting huge quantities of a drug that were guaranteed to kill me, I also had to look at, and question, how our society sanctions this deadly drug.

Go into any Coles and Woolworths and right in front of you is the counter that sells cigarettes. Can anybody explain to me the moral justification of our supermarkets pushing this deadly drug?

So much of our police power and community angst is invested in the damage that Ice does to our communities. In comparison with the damage that the drug Nicotine does to our community, Ice, and please excuse or edit out the profanity, is a mere bloody minnow.

So. To end up. I have decided to not commit slow suicide by nicotine. I’ve decided to stop pouring tarry shit down my throat. Despite my appalling childhood experiences I have come to realise that my life has value, and my health is worth preserving.

So stuff cigarettes, stuff the Tobacco Companies (personally I think they should be tarred as criminals because of the damage they cause) … and, as you would expect from everything I have written … with bells on … stuff the Catholic Church!

Don Burke, Asperger’s and He Who Soweth The Thunder …

By Damian Smith

Sigh.

So here we are again.

Yet another celebrity accused of rampant sexual predation and the excuse of “the Asperger’s made me do it”.

Don Burke’s claim of recently self-diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome is dubious at best. Not that I doubt his claim – the man has made a career out of talking passionately and exhaustively about plants and soil compositions, he’s certainly ticking a couple of boxes. It isn’t for me to cast Asperger’s as it were.

No, it’s the timing of this revelation that evinces suspicion. “Recently diagnosed Asperger’s Sydnrome”, as though he had seen the impending storm clouds of controversy and tried to head them off with a trip to Dr Nick Riviera’s Hollywood Upstate Clinic of Excuses.

As if the first step on the mitigating sexual harassment fallout flow-chart is “claim to have high functioning autism and that you don’t know any better”.

But that’s the thing isn’t it? As someone on the spectrum, speaking on behalf of those on the spectrum, we do know better. It seems to be the rest of society that doesn’t.

There’s a constant societal misconception that people with Asperger’s are social buffoons, misreading the cues of interaction and not knowing when they’ve offended someone. Don Burke has seen the hideous caricatures of The Big Bang Theory and The Good Doctor and thought that he had found the perfect excuse for being overly hands on with women.

“Oh I just like touching people’s naughty bits, I didn’t know it was wrong”. Sure, Don.

Whilst for most the experience of autism is a subjective one, there are some commonalities where I feel I can express a consensus. Such as touch.

Being touched. Touching others. Feeling skin-to-skin contact with another human being can be difficult. The social obligation of handshakes and hugs are tiring, visits to the hairdresser and the dentist can be nothing short of an agonising hell akin to something by Hieronymus Bosch.

No one, and I mean no one – not even my mother – can touch my neck. Doing so will send me into a meltdown that could take days to recover from. That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about here. Does it make sense? No. Is it completely arbitrary? Absolutely. Does it sound like something that would specifically predicate you towards inappropriate sexual behaviour? I don’t think so.

In fact rather than giving me sexual superpowers my autism has made sex and sexuality quite difficult. I am 33 years old, I work in show business and even had a brief stint as a model, and although I can recite Pi to a hundred places, I can count the number of sexual partners I’ve had on one hand.

I’ve not once initiated a relationship. I’ve never even asked anyone out. Having Asperger’s means that you’re never quite sure of the rules of social interaction. You never know if you’re crossing a line or accidentally offending someone. So you tend to withdraw. You don’t dance across that line with abandon, you’re exceptionally careful. Rather than blithely barrel through life offending people without fear of consequence, you instead exercise great care and play it safe. You try and be polite, non-confrontational and boring.

Like how an alcoholic won’t have a single drink, I won’t make a flirtatious comment. Because I’m not sure where the line is.

I’m good with numbers, but I can’t count the times I’ve missed out on a chance with an exceptional woman because I was too frightened to make a move. Because I didn’t read the signals she was sending me, or wasn’t certain enough to risk acting on them.

I’m not complaining. The women I have been with have been amazing people. They are the ones who have noted the issues I have due to Asperger’s and realised that they would need to be extra overt in their courtship. That they would need to make the first move, that they couldn’t be subtle about it. I will be eternally grateful to them for that.

Even the act of sex itself, when it does happen, is a trial. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it immensely. But for the entire time you can’t immerse yourself fully into the experience. There’s a constant nagging voice in the back of your head critiquing your performance. Is she enjoying it? Is she comfortable? Are you doing it right? You’re not doing it right. Maybe you should be more vocal. No, be less vocal. Maybe you should make more noise? No that’s weird, don’t do that. Should I have my eyes open? No that’s creepy. Closed then? No, she’ll think I don’t find her attractive. I’ll just look at the wall. She just closed her eyes – that’s bad right? It’s bad. You’re bad. You’re doing it wrong. She’s not enjoying herself. Maybe you should just stop. Wait she said don’t stop. Does that mean keep going? Or is she just saying that to make you feel better?

If we have a reputation for lasting longer in bed, there’s your reason.

That’s a brief insight into what it’s like living with Asperger’s. Into how we view relationships, sex and personal space. I ask you, does this sound like Don Burke?

Are we the kind of people that would, to quote a world leader, “grab ‘em by the pussy”?

Is Don Burke autistic? That’s not for me to say. Is he a sex offender? That’s also not for me to judge, though the outlook isn’t great.

Is autism an excuse for sexual harassment? Absolutely not. Don Burke can no more claim that as a reason for his actions any more than the Beatles can be blamed for the actions of Charles Manson.

His comments were ignorant and grossly offensive. They reveal a man perpetuating a negative stereotype in a desperate attempt to salvage his dignity.

In my 33 years I have never, not once, sexually harassed a woman. Or a man. Or anyone of any gender they choose to identify with. Since the Don Burke story broke I’ve been inundated with Aspies sharing similar stories and the same outrage. Perhaps that is the true superpower of Asperger’s Syndrome – being immune to the compulsion towards sexual predation that seems to be have reached epidemic proportions.

Or maybe after having worked with manure for so many years, Don Burke is full of it.

The Foreign Policy White Paper: An Innovative Regional Big Picture?

Denis Bright invites comments on the recently released Foreign Policy White Paper which charts Australia’s short-term future in the Indo-Pacific Region to 2030. Is the White Paper essentially a federal LNP take on our future or can it accommodate some sparks of Australian independence? 

The Guardian noted the sparks of critical independence from the Hon Julie Bishop as she anticipated the ascendency of Donald Trump just prior to the US elections in November 2016:

“Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has raised concerns about the unclear direction of US foreign policy if Donald Trump becomes president.

She said the federal government had considered what a Clinton administration would mean for Australia and it knew what to expect.

But if Donald Trump won the US presidency she indicated the government would have to work hard to ensure Australia’s interests were still looked after”.

Restating Conventional Priorities

The White Paper places Australia at the centre of an Indo Pacific Hemisphere. Our potential influence is increased by the White Paper’s attempts to integrate economic and strategic interests.

The US Global Alliance has evolved to integrate such objectives.

In its conventional support for contemporary market capitalism, the White Paper has signed up to a now outdated model of financialization which has caused so many social tensions both within Australia and in neighbouring countries like PNG, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In all locations, the emphasis on achieving high rates of economic growth have not translated into improved living standards. In Australia, falling real wages confront rising costs of housing, rents and social pressures to consume more.

GDP trends also show some weakening of Australia’s global economic strength.

Comparing GDP Trends 2016-2030

The White Paper is committed to the maintenance of Australia’s links with networks of friendly market economies. The high levels of US corporate investment in Australia are deemed to be a welcome sign.

By 2030, the US may have exhausted much of its current capacity for investment outreach. If the European Union is considered collectively in the GDP tallies, the US may be approaching the secondary status of the world’s fourth largest economy in PPP terms.

Origins of Direct Foreign Investment 2016

Looking further ahead to 2050, the US economy will be 58 per cent the size of the Chinese economy. In global rank, Australia may have moved from 19th to 28th (PWC Online 2017).

Are these trends a prescription for a better future or a return to colonial status within the US Global Alliance?

Has Australia’s Colonial Status been Revived in the White Paper?

Earlier generations of Australian leaders also wanted to live in the shadows of great and powerful friends in the British Foreign Office and the best wisdom from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Lyons Government (1932-39) was proactive on the world scene with Australian overtures to Germany through conservative rapport with Mussolini and Japan through more open trading contacts (image of Prime Minister Lyons in Campaign Mode: State Library of NSW).

Today’s White Paper continues these traditions. Greater engagement with China and the wider Indo Pacific Region is influenced by the need for the maintenance of over-riding ties with the US Global Alliance.

Some of the caveats in the White Paper against a more independent engagement with the Indo Pacific Region are ideologically based. These articles of faith are deeply entrenched in Australian domestic politics by generations of mainstream Cold War rhetoric.

“It is strongly in Australia’s interests, therefore, to support US global leadership, including by maintaining the strength of our alliance, keeping our commitment to increase defence expenditure to two per cent of GDP and contributing to coalition operations in support of global and regional security.

Beyond the United States, our cooperation with like-minded partners is also increasingly important to collective efforts to limit the exercise of coercive power and support an open global economy and a rules-based international order.

Australia will support reforms that give new and emerging powers a greater role in the international system. Some change to institutions and patterns of global cooperation is inevitable, necessary and appropriate to reflect the greater weight of countries such as China, Indonesia, India, Nigeria and Brazil.

Reform should be a shared project. Australia is a willing partner. At the same time, Australia’s national interests are best advanced by an evolution of the international system that is anchored in international law, support for the rights and freedoms in United Nations declarations, and the principles of good governance, transparency and accountability”.

More youthful national leaders from New Zealand and Canada seem more able to challenge these ideological constraints.

Long-term commitments to Australian sovereignty and peaceful engagement with the Indo Pacific Region should always uppermost along the short road ahead to 2030. It will take a lot of progressive activism to modify the dogmatic scenarios in the current White Paper. It is likely to receive bipartisan support prior to the next federal election.

Pragmatic modifications can be made later during a more moderate phases of US domestic politics so that the emphasis in domestic political debate can be placed on more contestable issues like the protection of living standards and environmental sustainability. This at least challenges the bland commitments in the White Paper to neoliberal solutions first and foremost at home and abroad.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to advance pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.

Let’s not get carried away, folks …

By James Moylan

We have reached a tipping point in western world culture. Or at least that is what everyone keeps saying. Perhaps it was the Trump ‘gropey feely p***y’ tape and the fact of his subsequent election? Perhaps it is simply the culmination of many years of gross hypocrisy suddenly catching up on a few perverted sickos? But, however, it seems that the Age of Sexual Politics has Blossomed

Have you been keeping count?

Actor Ben Affleck, former head of Amazon Studios Roy Price, producer Bob Weinstein, celebrity chef John Besh, Director James Toback, prominent tech figure Robert Scoble, animator, producer, and director Chris Savino, magician David Blaine, director Roman Polanski, musician R. Kelly, musician Ethan Kath, former President George H.W. Bush, former NBC News political analyst Mark Halperin, director and producer Rick Najera, actor Kevin Spacey, actor Jeremy Piven, director Brett Ratner, actor Dustin Hoffman, actor Steven Seagal – [deep breath] – actor George Takei, showrunner Mark Schwahn, actor Jeffrey Tambor, Minnesota Senator Al Franken, former judge and current Alabama Senate candidate, Roy Moore, former Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives, Jeff Hoover, former senior vice president in charge of news at NPR, Michael Oreskes, New York Times White House correspondent Glenn Thrush, television host Charlie Rose, the current President of the USA, amongst many many, many, others, including the Great Burke of the Backyard, have all been accused of various degrees of sexual impropriety.

Who would have guessed? Well, everybody, I s’pose. We all know there are an awful lot of utter scrotes running the place. And we have always all known this collectively and individually. But we also knew that these guys had clout and influence and were and are important MEN. But now, suddenly, people are talking and listening to the talking. However, I am yet to be convinced we have really reached a point where our culture has suddenly changed. I am of a far more cynical breed. I think that what is happening is we are seeing genuine wrongdoing being selectively used by some people for personal and political reasons. I think that suddenly we have arrived at the point where Sexual Politics has simply merged with real politics. But will it change anything important? I don’t think so.

The list above are just those who have been thrown to the baying pack by the capitalist elite, on behalf of the politics of the capitalist elite. It changes nothing about our society. Nor does it address the inequity or inequality evident in our systems of relationship. Now the rich elite and political forces within have a new sort of weapon against each other. It is not available to virtually every woman in society, nor is there any appreciation that this will change.

Those who benefit the most from all of the impositions of sexual, symbolic and actual violence in our society are cossetted away in mansions and remain secure in their anonymity. The owners of capital, and so the owners our press and television outlets, are safe to arbitrate and be responsible for all sorts of ongoing violence simply because they are not publicly as well as ethically perverse.

Yes, I am horrified that the sexual abuse that has become public has occurred. But I am not surprised. If anything, I am just surprised that it has been so blatantly discussed. Hooray! Yet it is distressing that this will be used to further smother all the daily non-sexual perversions that we are obliged to appreciate as normal.

We live in a dying ecology, with the largest reef system in the world slowly decaying and degrading before our eyes, while we watch as our politicians and ‘captains of industry’ move to open up the largest coal mine ever envisioned despite the majority opinion of the populace.

We live in a land where our Prime Minister has extensive assets filed away in offshore bank accounts … yet we simply nod.

We live in a land where we blame the poor for their own neediness and ignore the locked garbage bins behind the supermarkets in every suburb of every town in the land.

Yes I am shocked at the recent spate of sexual abuse stories; but they simply highlight our facility for hypocrisy and make me cry for the everyday perversions that are imposed upon us by fat arseholes in big cars with big bank accounts and overblown influence!

However, I have to cut this rant short. Maintaining the required degree of defiant pessimism in the face of such apparently good news is hard work. It is always good to see some really hideous individuals get done over in the press. It does us all a power of good. But let’s not mistake a spark for a conflagration.

There are many perversions in our society that are just as big and known to all of us as is the fact of sexual indiscretion and violence. It is just that these other perversions of capital and greed are often protected by barbed wire and guns as well as public courtesy and tradition. These sorts of perversion are a little harder to discuss and much harder to address and subvert; let alone hold the perpetrators accountable.

Yet it is these arbitrary perversions that we can all see that will actually kill our species if we continue to allow them to reign unfettered. We have to come together and say ‘enough’. With billions of us on the globe we can only each have ‘enough’ – or we all die. Globe and all.

We live in a perverted society where perversions, both big and small, are appreciated as the facts of society. So let’s not get carried away because we have assisted some already smug people in becoming even more smug by casting down some indisputably ugly scrotes. It is only a significant development if it presages a fundamental change in our appreciation of the import of money and aggregations of the stuff. But, unfortunately, I can’t see that happening. Relatively, all the other perversions are just small beer.

 

Politics for good

Poliomyelitis is an infectious disease with consequences ranging from a mild illness, through lifetime disability to death. The disease is also known as polio. It is spread by contamination of drinking water and food and those affected may be contagious for up to six weeks without being aware of their illness. Once you have polio, there is no cure – treatment is based on assisting sufferers to live with the condition.

In 1988, around 350,000 additional people were infected with polio across the world. In 2016, the grand total was under 50. Most of us would be aware that disease infection rates usually don’t ‘drop off a cliff’ like polio apparently has, so the obvious question is why?

There is a vaccine that is proven effective against the disease, however it requires multiple doses and some discipline in the administration to be completely effective. If you lived through the 1960’s through to the early 2000’s in Australia, you might remember being given a small plastic spoonful of a syrup on a few occasions when you were lined up for vaccine injections. The syrup was the Sabin polio vaccine, and was replaced by one of the parts of an injection given to babies in 2005.

Australia and other wealthy countries can afford to fund immunisation programs with beneficial results, others can’t and it probably wouldn’t be a surprise to find that the less than 50 newly reported cases in 2016 were in countries that have other massive issues to solve, namely Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. While the World Health Organisation declared the south west Pacific free of polio in 2000, there is a risk of the disease being reintroduced to Australia from travellers bringing polio into the country with them. Accordingly, the vaccine is still administered today.

It might surprise you to know that the worldwide service organisation, Rotary, is one of the prime funders of efforts to eliminate polio in our lifetime and their program commenced in 1979

When James L. Bomar Jr., then Rotary president, put the first drops of vaccine into a child’s mouth, he ceremonially launched the Philippine poliomyelitis immunization effort. Bomar joined Enrique M. Garcia, the country’s minister of health, in signing the contract committing Rotary International and the government of the Philippines to a joint five-year effort to immunize around 6 million children against polio at a cost of about $760,000.

In a 1993 interview, Bomar recalled how the brother of one of the children he’d immunized tugged on his pant leg to get his attention and said, “Thank you, thank you, Rotary.”

There is a cost to attempting to eradicate polio from the earth and it is

estimated at US$1 billion dollars every year. While Rotary’s contributions make up a substantial portion of the yearly global polio eradication budget (and exceed the contributions of most individual G20 nations), Rotary’s advocacy has been even more influential, resulting in in more than US$7.8 billion to date in polio-specific grants from the public sector and consolidation of a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will see the foundation commit a further US$1.8 billion in coming years. Rotary envisages that its own contributions to the global polio eradication effort will exceed US$1.2 billion by the time the world is certified polio-free.

Of course that’s not to mention the countless hours and resources Rotarian volunteers worldwide devote every year to ending polio, both by fundraising in local communities and working internationally at the coal-face providing oral vaccinations to children. Simply put, Rotary remains one of the easiest channels through which everyday people can get involved in fighting polio, a fight which will be won by vaccinating one child at a time.

But the costs pale in comparison to the substantial dividends that a polio-free world would gain. Financial savings from the forgone costs of treating polio could exceed $1 billion per year, while a 2010 study published in leading medical journal Vaccine estimated the economic benefits of halting polio to amount to US$40-50 billion.

By attempting to eliminate polio, Rotary are demonstrating they exist to help fix what they perceive to be the unmet needs in their communities, as do Lions by funding research to eliminate cancer, Apex Australia by supporting Guide Dogs for the Blind, CWA, Surf Livesaving, Scouts, Guides, St John Ambulance and a host of other community organisations.

All of these organisations are experts in recycling money to achieve their aims. This is where the politics for good comes in.

When you grab a sausage from Bunnings, buy the ticket in the raffle for a trailer load of garden equipment, donate to the lifesavers rattling a tin at the transport interchange or shopping centre, get the Christmas Cake or attend the Gympie Music Muster (a fundraiser for the Gympie Apex Club), you directly support the community services that the individual club is supporting. It could be erecting rubbish bins in the local park, patrolling the beaches to ensure safety, assisting a local child to access educational opportunities, funding respite accommodation at hospitals or eliminating polio.

There is obviously a structure to the individual service clubs and they all belong to a hierarchy, which helps with club administration, financial and physical protection for the club members (who are inevitably volunteering their time and other material) and a method of connection between like-minded people in different towns, states and (in the case of Rotary and Lions at least), nations.

So how do they decide what they will recycle the money on?

When Rotary President James L. Bomar Jr. gave the first dose of polio vaccine in the Philippines in 1979, it wasn’t because he woke up one morning with a great idea and decided to implement it with $760,000 of other people’s money that he had temporary control of. What would have happened is that club members in a Rotary Club somewhere in the world would have noted that polio was a destressing condition and killing or permanently disabling hundreds of thousands per annum across the world. That person would have discussed it with his (in the 1970’s Rotary was male only) Rotary Club, and successfully argued that the concept be referred to the clubs in the district.

Once the district had approved it, it would have gone to the next level and so on until it received support from the Rotary International Convention. Along the way, the concept for the elimination of polio would have changed from an idea to a fully blown business case with costings, implementation programs and expected benefits just as if it was a business – because in reality it is. There would have been a number of lobbying efforts by those in favour of the proposal to ensure a majority of the delegates to the International Convention saw the merit of the scheme.

Then after implementation, the actual results would be assessed and changes made, just as any corporation would, to retain product relevancy. This would have been referred back to the Rotary Clubs for grassroots members to see the worth of their financial and physical contributions to the cause. The good news in this is that service clubs usually don’t want to see people fail, so they will support the club members responsible for the plan and assist with developing strategies to achieve success by helping to write business plans, organise sections of events as well as whatever is necessary to assist the ‘real’ organiser. As the Apex Club of South Toowoomba points out¬

We have a policeman who project manages a statewide fashion show and a publican who runs a multi-layered national organisation.

When there are competing ideas, there is usually politics involved. We don’t know what other concepts were pitched within Rotary around the time that the eradication of polio was supported and who knows, one of them may have had greater worth. However, it is a prime example of someone, somewhere having a plan that is literally improving the quality of life for everyone, then feeling the encouragement to speak up and in turn receiving support for the concept. The concept is now 30 years old and demonstrably effective. Just as effective is funding the erection of rubbish bins or shade sails in the local park; the politics is working out what is the best use of the physical and financial efforts of the individual club members. Rotary Clubs have certainly funded other projects around the world in addition to their ambition to eradicate polio, and what is considered to be useful in one community may not be so in another.

This is grassroots politics, having an idea, convincing others of the worth of the idea and then implementing the idea which has a significant community benefit. Politics is not about Abbott working out how to perform the latest ritual knifing of Turnbull, or if Joyce and the other ‘foreign’ Nationals should have even been elected to Parliament while finger pointing at other parties to deflect blame because the National Party apparently didn’t do any due diligence. These behaviours, along with the ongoing sagas and finger pointing between the LNP, One Nation, NXT, Greens and ALP are just greed and hatred. It’s a pity that we are all paying for the hatred with increased taxes, fuel prices and a lack of co-ordinated genuine activity that would benefit all of us.

There are groups in your community that care enough to make a difference. You have a far greater chance of achieving a result for your community in any of these groups than you would by running as either an independent or political party aligned candidate at the next election, as you have to ‘pay your sponsors back’ in ‘politics’ by conforming to certain behaviours, while service organisations help and assist those with the ideas. You could join the local Lions Club, attend your children’s school Parents & Citizens Committee, volunteer for Meals on Wheels, patrol a beach or help run a group you or a member of your family is already a member of. They would certainly welcome your help, you will learn how politics should work and who knows, you might have the next earth changing idea. If more people know how politics is supposed to work, we as a community can hold those inhabiting the corridors of power in the state and federal capitals to account to a far greater level than is currently done. A lot of them play a greedy and hateful politics with the rest of us solely as a means of self-promotion.

At the very worst if you join a group, you will meet some great people, have a feeling of accomplishment because you are doing something useful, probably learn some useful skills that you never would have thought necessary (like the policeman running the fashion contest for Apex Australia) and wish you had done it years ago.

Disclaimer – The writer is a retired Apexian and a current member of Lions. He has cooked more sausages and stood behind more temporary bars than he chooses to remember.

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Match Report: Australia vs Prime Minister’s XI

By Richard O’Brien

The international cricket season kicked off last Sunday with the annual charity match between the Prime Minister’s XI and the Australian XI at Manuka Oval.

This year’s match was used to raise funds for Julie Bishop’s application for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Bishop has already been given a seat on the council but insists it needs more cushioning.

Despite hopes of a big turnout, the crowd size was disappointing, mainly due to a heavy police cordon around the ground to prevent protests over Manus Island. Organisers remained hopeful of raising enough money, however, as all the corporate boxes were full of CEOs and LNP ministers, many of whom promised to take a collection when they got back to the office.

After being informed that they had lost the toss, held earlier in the PMs XI change rooms, the Australian XI were sent in to bat. The innings got off too shaky start with openers Honesty and Integrity being dismissed by captain Malcolm Turnbull early in the innings. This brought Human Rights to the crease.

Despite a sound defensive technique, Rights has struggled for form on Australian pitches in recent years, with a series of disastrous run outs since 2013 severely curtailing his form.

Most of those run outs were caused by the batsman the other end, former human rights commissioner Tim Wilson, refusing to back him up. With Wilson successfully transferring to the PMs XI squad last year, hopes were high of a return to form for Rights in Australia.

The PMs XI, however, had other ideas. Turnbull brought on his most aggressive bowlers, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, who released a barrage of successive bouncers which umpires Bolt and Devine refused to no-ball.

To annoy and distract the batsman, Turnbull brought Christopher Pyne in at silly mid off and Kevin Andrews into short backward square. Eventually the pressure took toll, with Rights succumbing to yet another run out.

The Australian XI appealed the decision, arguing that Rights had been unable to make his ground as former police officer Dutton had him in a chokehold at the time. The decision was reviewed by the third umpire, Bronwyn Bishop, who not only upheld the decision but dismissed the next two batsmen for wasting her time, giving the PMs XI a hat trick.

With five wickets down, the Australian XI needed a saviour. That saviour arrived in the form of keeper Gillian Triggs, whose sound footwork, solid defensive technique and dignified poise helped the Australian XI begin to accumulate runs.

Turnbull responded by bringing his entire field in, as well as all the Murdoch journalists in the press box, and commencing a barrage of sledging not seen on since Julia Gillard retired. After making several unsuccessful bowling changes, Turnbull tried a new tactic, bowling all of them at once.

Triggs endured a series of vicious body blows, including some from the ball, and was eventually forced to retire hurt. In the next over Economic Competence was given out handled ball and/or hit wicket, sparking a collapse.

Ministerial Accountability, Status O’Women and Indigenous Affairs were dismissed immediately when they arrived at the middle only to discover the PMs XI and Press had gone to lunch early.

This left the batsman at the other end, Marriage Equality, stranded without a partner and unable to return to the change rooms without significant concessions being granted to substitute fielder James Paterson.

Extras were not applicable as the match was played on a Sunday. This gave the Australian XI a total of 9.6 billion in deficit, a figure Scott Morrison described as ‘robust’.

Since taking over the captaincy in 2015, Malcolm Turnbull has experienced a dramatic slump in form, including twenty consecutive soft dismissals to the wily leg-spinner News Poll. With Poll not available this week, Turnbull decided to promote himself to the top of the order.

The innings began well for Turnbull, who appeared to be settling in for a prolonged stay at the crease. Throughout his innings, Turnbull played a wide range of flamboyant, unconventional and at times highly dubious shots which initially dazzled the spectators but consistently failed to score any runs.

Disaster struck in the middle of the innings when Turnbull attempted his first run, only to be run out at the other end by former PMs XI captain Tony Abbott.

Abbott then immediately set about making amends for his honest mistake by scoring heavily, mainly for the opposing team. Abbott survived several loud appeals, most of them made by Turnbull running back onto the ground. Despite numerous shouts for LBW, caught behind, and clean bowled, umpires Bolt and Devine refused to give Abbott out.

Things weren’t faring much better at the other end, with most of the PMs XI either too inebriated after the lunch break to bat, absent, or disqualified as dual nationals.

The Australian XI began to sense victory, but hopes were dashed however when Turnbull appealed against the light. Umpires Bolt and Devine agreed, despite the forecast for the rest of the day being clear skies with no chance of rain.

Using the Joyce-Rinehart run-rate method, which awards additional runs to the PMs XI for services to mining, the PMs XI were declared clear winners by a yet to be determined margin.

For the fifth year running, the player of the match award was given to Rupert Murdoch. As per tradition, Malcolm Turnbull accepted the award on his behalf.

 

Unrest review: an intimate journey

By Siobhan Simper

Have you ever seen yourself onscreen? I hadn’t – until I watched Unrest. From the opening scene, when a desperately ill Jennifer Brea tries to force herself up onto her elbows but fails, falling to the ground again and again until she finally manages to crawl into bed, I knew this movie was about me. Not just me, but the millions of people around the world who suffer from the debilitating medical condition, ME/CFS.

“It was like I had died, but was forced to watch as the world moved on … it’s like I don’t even exist, like I never existed.”

Unrest follows the story of director Jennifer Brea, her husband Omar, and others around the globe living with ME/CFS. Initially shot from her bed, Brea uses a novel teleprompter technology to interview bedbound subjects such as Jessica in the UK, bedridden for 8 years, who celebrated her 21st birthday by sitting upright for 5 minutes; Leeray, whose husband of 14 years left her when she fell ill; her daughter, Casie; and Whitney, former travel photographer who now lives in a darkened room on TPN and hasn’t spoken for a year.

The intimate shots transport the viewer directly into the lives of its subjects by streaming right into their bedrooms. Interspersed with old home video footage, this approach allows them to tell their own story, their way.

This is not an insignificant point in a world where movies about disability tend to be written and starred entirely by able-bodied people, which naturally fails to accurately reflect the lived experiences of people with disabilities. As Brea notes, stories of illness in the media only ever end in triumph or tragedy. Her film empowers its subjects (herself included) to be the architects of a new narrative.

“What terrifies me is you can disappear because someone is telling the wrong story about you, and I feel like that’s what’s happening to all of us who are living with this.”

Unrest also takes the viewer on a political and historical journey, exploring the disturbing likelihood for women with chronic illnesses to be dismissed as mentally ill or hysteric – a practice which still continues today. Particularly poignant is the story of Karina Hansen, a young Danish woman who was forcibly removed from her home by police officers and imprisoned in a mental facility for over three years, prevented from seeing her family.

Brea emphasises that Unrest is not about recovery, but a film which explores the question: what does chronic illness do to your identity, relationships and life possibilities? In doing so, it manages to tell a compelling love story, to be a cry to action, and to draw you closely into the lives of its interviewees, while avoiding all the tropes commonly associated with films about disability.

Despite its harrowing subject matter, Unrest is ultimately a movie about hope. Not only for those telling their stories in the film, but for other aspiring disabled filmmakers. Unrest’s success at film festivals such as Sundance is testament to the fact that people with disabilities can tell their own stories, and tell them well.

Brea’s parting lines “I am still here, I am still here” is both an assertion of her tenacity and a cry to be heard. And with the debut of Unrest, we are listening.

Unrest is available on iTunes and at selected screenings (see www.unrest.film/screenings for more).

Siobhan Simper is a psychology graduate and ME/CFS patient from regional Victoria. She writes at chronicallysiobhan.com.

Long overdue

By June M Bullivant OAM

Long overdue!” screams the headline in The Parramatta Sun. Why that question? Local groups and historians and advocacy groups (far too many to mention) have been fighting to save this site since Barry O’Farrell took office. Funny how things work out: you can talk and talk, you can work and work, and the community has been working since 2011 to try to inform the decision makers of NSW and Parramatta that there is a gold mine lying in Fleet Street.

I myself have spent many hours trying to achieve this. In fact many residents, community members, historians and descendants have worked as volunteers, and the collective hours spent on this project cannot be measured. Local media has worked overtime to keep the issue alive over that time, but the problem is that while a few of the people comment, many will not.

Ask yourself why has the Female Factory – which is the oldest convict site to survive with buildings intact – is little known and missed out on National and World Listing when Parramatta Park next door was World Heritage listed? In comparison to the Factory it has a number of things, like the Governors’ Bath House (open air would be cold in the winter), the obelisk, the dairy cottage, the Tudor Gates, Old Government House Lady Fitzroy’s memorial. It was even overlooked when someone listed the 12 Convict sites in Australia.

Our passionate descendants and community members have written and met, been interviewed by reporters, dashed off at the last minute to have “photo shoots” for years, hash tagged posts on social media, put up online and hard copy petitions, actually wrote to politicians in local, state and federal governments to be either brushed aside because it was not their portfolio or just ignored.

As well as the above people, lots of interest groups such as the Local Residents Group, Friends Groups, Historical Societies, National Trust, ICOMOS, and the Australian Institute of Architects. See their post Parramatta Female Factory added to National Heritage List.

Now you ask, why we the people have been ignored? In 2016 the National Heritage Office called for submissions, obut f course they don’t expect people to do anything. There was a deluge of them; the reader may ask why this has taken so long.

Image from parramattasun.com.au (photo by Geoff Jones)

Well history and heritage is not popular you see, it impedes development it is said, it gets in the way of progress they say … but does it? Well the NSW government sure believes that, the Federal Environment Minister did not want to know, even after numerous letters and emails it took an announcement from the World Heritage Committee UNESCO to include Australia on the committee – to actually have the Federal Minister announce a decision that had been sitting on his desk for months. So you ask why was it going to cause embarrassment to the Federal Government, and the State Government? Or was it the decision of the State Government to dismiss the Councillors and put an administrator in that would work with them to carve up the Factory and sell it for high rise? Josh Frydenberg announced the National Listing Tuesday last week.

The community is still fighting, WE NOW NEED WORLD HERITAGE LISTING. Why? To give the site further protection. All they have to do is put it on the list of the other important sites. Problem solved. Will they do it, will the minister be embarrassed if he is advising the world on how to save Heritage when he is allowing ours to be destroyed. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile … Australia Elected to the World Heritage Committee.

Will Josh be Australia’s saviour, or will he have the power to stop the Female Factory being listed?

The Dark Lord and the Call of Cthulhu (or, The Crisis of Planning in NSW)

By David Paull

“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.” (H.P. Lovecraft At the Mountains of Madness, 1931).

Since the state of affairs with the Department of Planning and Environment in NSW was reported on, the wizards in question have moved location and have a new boss, no longer looking like amateurs you find in Hogwarts, but have risen to new heights of legal and social manipulation that would make Lord Voldemort blush.

The Telstra Plaza Building in Pitt St is certainly a much more suitable location for the masters of how NSW is developed, but there is a new arrival, his office hails from a dark, watery place, and now firmly in control of perhaps the most important department in government. The Dark Lord himself, to many also known as Anthony Roberts, the Liberal member for Lane Cove.

Formerly the Minister for Resources and Energy (and Utilities), Mr Roberts took the reins of the new department in January this year. While Mr Roberts’ vision for NSW is not entirely clear, because he can be a man of few words, one of his first moves was to centralise planning powers by stripping councils of their power to determine development applications above a certain value and mandate the use of Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) across the major city centres of Sydney and Wollongong.

The SMH reported in May this year that the move is being seen within government as a ‘… probity measure that is hoped will also trump the Labor’s call for property developers to be banned from election to local government’. Of course, given Mr Roberts’ past, it is easy to see why he may have some concerns.

Roberts started his political career in Lane Cove Council where he also served as mayor for two terms, between 1995 and 2003. While busy doing this, at the same time Roberts was also employed as an electoral officer to the Prime Minister John Howard. Apparently, his main role was to act as a go-between for Howard and ‘the Parrot’, Alan Jones.

A friendship with Jones lasted right up until the Bentley Blockade coal seam gas protest on the North Coast. Jones had not talked about this particular people’s movement because of his friendship with Roberts, the then NSW Resources and Energy Minister. However, Jones came out against the gas development once he learned about Roberts’ comments attacking protestors, on behalf of Metgasco, the operator.

Roberts’ links to the onshore gas industry further became apparent in 2016 when the close relationship with the gas giant Santos was revealed with their collusion on the drafting of new anti-protest laws. More of this later.

During the years prior to his election to State Parliament, Roberts was also a Director of Flagship Communications, a high end of town PR company based in Sydney. He was a very busy individual indeed. This firm was dragged into disrepute when the Orange Grove affair was heard before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). There were no corrupt findings from this hearing, and despite the PR firm acting for the developer Gazcorp after Mr Roberts’ election as a state member in 2003, Roberts gave evidence in Parliament that he had resigned from Flagship Communications prior to his election as a state member.

However, as Bob Carr revealed in 2004 in Parliament, while Roberts’ PR firm was lobbying for Gazcorp, its owner, Nabil Gazal, was Roberts’ landlord renting out some of office space to Roberts, alongside office space rented out by Mr Howard, the former Prime Minister Howard that is.

Mr Carr said there had been 13 proposals for factory outlets in NSW in the past eight years. While none had been approved, the Liberal Party had sought to introduce special legislation only for the Orange Grove Road site owned by Mr Gazal. Mr Roberts is alleged to have had a close relationship with Mr Gazal during this time. Mr Gazal pops up later while helping Mr Roberts in his election campaign of 2007, where he is alleged to have donated some $40 000 to the Liberal Party. That’s how you repay old friends.

Today, Flagship Communications is going strong.

With these minor distractions behind him, Mr Roberts leapt into a safe Liberal state seat, Lane Cove in 2003 as part of the O’Farrell Government which promised to fight corruption and restore the public’s faith in politicians.

Roberts has been the member of this seat ever since, increasing his electoral margin by 3.2 per cent to 12.4 per cent in the 2007 election and again another swing of 13.4 points in 2011.  Roberts was appointed Minister for Fair Trading following this election. You would have to admit, this man sure knew his PR.

His rise happened quickly, becoming Minister for Resources and Energy in 2013 and Special Minister of State, following the resignation of Chris Hartcher from Cabinet. Roberts also assumed the role of Leader of the House in the Legislative Assembly, in addition to his Ministerial responsibilities. Following the 2015 state election in the new Baird Government, Roberts was sworn in as the Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy, and retained his role as Leader of the House. Roberts was also tasked with the creation of 150,000 jobs in NSW over four years, by promoting industry development and creating a new Department of Industry, Skills and Regional Development.

Despite his leaders’ claims of accountable government, it was during his time as Minister for Resources and Energy when his ‘lassiez-fare’ attitude to economics and corporate favours started to show. In one of his first acts as Minister, he focused on energy market reform, including deregulating electricity prices and announcing a market-led rollout of smart electricity meters.

With a firm belief in future of onshore gas development in NSW, Roberts also delivered the NSW Gas Plan, facilitated land access reforms and commenced the first NSW Minerals Industry Action Plan. His focus was squarely on getting more holes in the ground, as the Courier Mail reported in 2015 on his visit to Narrabri:

“The Minister said it was ‘critical’ to the economic future of NSW that the Narrabri project went ahead.”

Apparently, it is not the Minister of Resources’ job to consider that there may be adverse social, environmental or economic impacts from large scale mining projects, but hey, that’s not how they roll in the Department of Holes, after all, it is the Planning Minister who makes those kinds of decisions for the larger projects. Hold the bus.

Following his role as Resources and Energy Minister and his ‘business as usual’ approach to mine development, Roberts assumed ministerial responsibility for the Department of Planning and Environment in January 2017, with the swearing in of the Berejiklian Government. His role in the old department was taken by Don Harwin, a move lauded by the NSW Minerals Council.

He had risen to the top of the pile. He also was awarded the role as Minister for Housing and the Special Minister of State and retained his responsibilities as the Leader of the House. Mr Roberts perhaps the most powerful politician in the NSW government today.

But what are his objectives as the master at the helm of the planning department? All evidence indicates that his motto is to ‘streamline’, including reducing the size of the public service, to hamstring troublesome departments, to centralise decision making and to reduce perceived ‘red-tape’ all of which have been utilised by Mr Roberts. It is alarming that a remarkably similar strategy is being followed in Trump’s USA, where the EPA and State Departments’ have been gutted and their powers curtailed.

Apart from winding back local government powers with respect to development, now with the Dark Lord firmly in control, the Department of Planning (and Environment) this year has undertaken a number of measures that have shocked many throughout the community.

Perhaps the most drastic measure clearly destined to prop up polluting and failing fossil fuel operators was the rushed legislation effectively making it OK for the Springvale Mine to continue to pollute Sydney’s drinking water. This is despite a recent audit found Sydney’s drinking water as being subject to declining quality particularly from mining activities within the catchment.

The attack on the natural heritage agencies has continued with further cutbacks to funding, job losses and new guidelines which will see a brain drain from within the NPWS. These measures will see the NPWS become practically redundant as a land management agency and is an abjuration of the public interest. This pattern of reducing staffing and functions of agencies which look after natural resources and data has already been metered out to the Department of Water and the Australian Museum by the Liberal Neocon regime.

Recently, Roberts announced that he would be over-hauling the powers of the Planning Assessment Commission, to be called the ‘Independent Planning Commission’ though not however independent from the Minister. The review powers of the Commission will be reduced, but not to the extent that a public merit review can be re-instated, despite calls for such from ICAC. Some of the details of what is being proposed is unclear as the bill has not gone through the lower house, though one noticeable omission is the lack of any mechanism to address Climate Change. The consensus on these changes, all spin and little improvement.

But why you may ask. Is it the power of the corporations, the Call of Cthulhu, particularly from the development sector? These are the ones who certainly will benefit from the curtailment of perceived government ‘interference’. After all, these are the major donors to the Liberal and National Parties. While in the past Roberts had courted property developers, as Minister, he moved onto bigger fish.

At the federal level, the big donors are mainly through an associated entity of the Liberal Party, the Cormack Foundation, funded by big resource players, Telstra and the big four banks. An associated entity currently does not require the Liberal Party to disclose the details of any donations above $12,800, though Australian Electoral Commission declarations show last year the Foundation made nearly $4 million in payments. Of the other substantive donors in 2015-16 were the gambling lobby and the tax-payer funded Parakeelia along with an individual Paul Marks – actually a director in the resources company Nimrod, brought into disrepute last year through dealings with the Chinese Government.

Of course, political donations from developers are banned in NSW, though donations from associated entities, such as the Cormack Foundation, Parakeelia and the Free Enterprise Foundation are not. Last year however, the NSW Electoral Commission found that the latter was merely a front to hide illegal developer donations.

But the Liberals have largely avoided public scrutiny as donations from developers to the federal party are not illegal and it seems they do not make much internal differentiation between the two levels of the party when it comes to dollars.

But all has not gone smoothly. Roberts’ baby, the NSW Gas Plan, is now faltering. Still only one project is actively under consideration, the Narrabri Gas Project, itself beset by major issues, particularly as the owner, Santos Ltd, is not in a good financial position. Despite this, Santos have recently renewed their push to get this project over the line, with great support from the Department of Planning (and Environment), including:

  • In a media statement following the submission period for the EIS, NSW Planning announced that most people within the Narrabri LGA were supportive of the project, however following a final count of the massive 23,000 submissions, realised that in fact the majority did not support the project by 319 to 180 much later. This first statement has never been retracted.
  • Sending departmental staff and also members of the supposedly independent Planning Assessment Commission to view how coal seam gas activities are managed by Santos in Queensland, mainly it seems to cement the good relationships that exist between Roberts’ staff, Santos and the commissioners, prior to the project being referred to the Commission.
  • Set up a panel of ‘water experts’ loaded with industry connected individuals including the chair Prof Peter Cook from Melbourne University where he heads the ‘Peter Cook Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage Research’, a body funded by Rio Tinto.
  • And finally, the appointment of the Chief Scientist and Engineer, Mary O’Kane as the new chair of the soon to be Independent Planning Commission to commence next February. O’Kane put some recommendations about the coal seam gas industry to the government a few years ago, so this is a move which no doubt Roberts hopes will bring some muscle to the government side. However, a key issue for O’Kane is that most of the detail of her recommendations to make the industry workable still have not been met.
  • There are also questions over an ongoing relationship with geothermal energy company Kuth Energy Ltd which also use fracturing technology and O’Kane.

These types of artful manipulation of the goal posts should be of concern but in truth are typical of the sort of uneven playing field that communities have to navigate across NSW in relation to large development. In relation to the controversial Narrabri Gas Project, it is an issue of great anticipation as to whether or not it will go ahead, both for the community who generally hate the idea and Mr Roberts himself, as he has already vested so much in getting this one up.

Whatever happens, one thing is for sure; the meteoric rise of Anthony Roberts from being a council mayor in his 30s to a powerful player in the state government has been remarkable. Mr Roberts is a skilful operator, but evidence also seem to suggest he is simply dancing to the dark tunes of the creatures of the underworld better than most. There is only one direction for Mr Roberts to go now, and that is Premier. But a lot is riding on the being able to save face in relation to his stalled Gas Plan.

From whichever way you look at it, the direction of Planning in NSW is seeing a widening gap between public expectations and the reality of the policy as it is currently being implemented. Words like ‘efficiency’ and ‘red-tape’ should sound alarm bells. These are key signs that the government is implementing a Trump-style attack on the bureaucracy, with the effect of less public scrutiny, less transparency, less accountability and less institutional wisdom.

This is what the ‘old regime’ want, I dare say most likely because they know their days of controlling energy sectors are limited. Not until they are prepared to participate in the energy transformation will we be rid of community angst and health impacts, environmental damage and the market uncertainty, the very things these same players claim to be managing for us.

Sodomy and Pell

By John Haly

 

Has the cover-up of sexual abuse by the religious leaders in this country ceased, or is a culture of concealment still entrenched and showing up in new forms, as art (or what occurs to art) reflects life?

There is a pub in Newtown I walked past last week, in which the artist, Scott Marsh, was on a small scaffolding rig painting a multi-storeyed image of Abbott and Pell.

It was being painted in a rear alleyway at the back of a local pub. I could not recognise the characters as the painting had only recently started and thought to return later to see how it turned out.

Unfortunately, within 6 hours of it being completed – according to the staff at the Botany View Hotel – Pell’s image had been defaced with a paint splatter leaving only Abbott recognisable.

Sometime after that, it was entirely painted over in black allegedly by members of a right-wing Christian religious group, offended at the portrayal of Tony Abbott in a wedding dress beside a half-naked muscular Cardinal Pell.

The initial and ironic “whitewashing” of the lampooning alleyway mural of Pell’s image by Conservative Christian protestors.

An interview with a local resident revealed that earlier on, people had gathered to protest over the wall’s image on Friday night.  While initially claiming to be Catholics complete with incense burners waving ceremoniously at the wall, my catholic informant noted some discrepancies in their “Catholic” behaviour. Upon befriending them – to seek further information – he learned they came from three separate Christian churches and were not the “Catholics” they initially pretended to be.

The vandalism of Scott Marsh’s work didn’t stop at the image of Abbott and Pell. A Facebook group called “Christian Lives Matter” instigated and provoked “Christians” to continue attacking Scott Marsh’s work which included a privately commissioned image of George Michael on Devine Street Reserve, painted by private commission a year ago. One person has been arrested for defacing that image, and another lost his job, when he was filmed defacing the mural while wearing his employer’s logo on his shirt. They are both facing fines for vandalising private property.

Christian Lives Matter Facebook post calling for the removal any further images painted by Scott Marsh and referencing his year-old as yet undefaced image of George Micheal shown on private property.

Graffiti over the blackened and defaced mural of George Micheals by locals incensed at its disfigurement but promoting love and an end to bigotry.

Social media from the “No” and “Yes” vote campaigns reacted.  Abusive phone calls were received by the hotel staff and licensee.  Lyle Shelton defended the vandalism equating either Pell and/or Abbott to religious leaders such as Mohamed. One might understand if it was an offensive image of Christ, but Cardinal Pell?  All these factors have made me aware, that the fight for Equality for the Newtown’s community of diverse gender, sexuality and race, is far from over. (The Newtown electorate of Grayndler had a 79.9%  “Yes” vote)  An associate on Facebook titled his long opposing proclamation against the images with “Sodomite Nation!“.

Lyle Shelton from Australian Christian Lobby comparing Cardinal Pell to be the spiritual equivalent of the prophet, Mohamed.

Sodomite Nation” is an interesting turn of phrase. It is more interesting to note – like the word “gay” – how the meanings of words change over time. Religious concerns about homosexuality are often based on the fallacious belief that sodomy, as it was expressed in the Bible, was about homosexuality – a word that didn’t emerge in English till the 19th century.  The biblical text, although, had no such connotation.  Even Robyn Whitaker from Trinity College pointed out that Sodomy, as it was revealed in the biblical literature, is about rape and sexual abuse. Sodom and Gomorrah is a story about people rocking up at your door wanting to break it in, to have their way with you or your guests. It’s not about love or sex; it’s about abuse, it’s about rape. If what happened to Lot and his family occurred today outside your house, you would phone the police, scream for your neighbours to help and load your shotgun in defence. It is not about sexual preferences it is about RAPE and SEXUAL ABUSE. It’s sure as hell not about LOVE – gay or otherwise!

That the church has illegitimately changed the meaning of the word is understandable if you’re in the Catholic priesthood, as you wouldn’t want the bible to be condemning your particular predilections towards activities you’re infamous for, concerning small children. Two men who defended Sodomy (in its original biblical meaning) were adorned in effigy on the back-wall of a Hotel at the end of Newtown. One representative guarded the other via enormous political power, while the other defended and hid perpetrators of a crime only to be rewarded by the Vatican, while the biblical God allegedly destroyed a city over that evil. Pell was himself accused of sexual abuse and although an unproven accusation, his defence and lack of concern for sexual predators in the church have been well established.  The church whose original role as defenders of the poor and disenfranchised has been co-opted to enrich and protect the wealthy and powerful and further disempower the class it once served. Abbott content to safeguard this rising new religious force in the world, and set about bringing about changes in the political system to achieve more significant protections for this conservative “Christian” force. Abbott redirected funding from the Royal commission into sexual abuse which attacked his religious friends, to the probe into Labor’s insulation scheme which effectively attacked his political enemies.

These examples of this corruption of:

  1. language to misdirect people about the real sin of sodomy,
  2. identification and prosecution of sexual predators,
  3. justice by seeking to de-funding abuse investigations,
  4. the mission of the church to protect the poor, marginalised and our children, are becoming more efficient.

When considering what harm has been done to children generally by religious and political leadership, we need to consider the broader scope of injury.

These include:

  1. Attempting to protecting Pell and the church from an investigation into sexual abuse. Abbott and his support for Archbishop Pell’s character and redirection of funding belies Australia’s apparent repulsion for child abuse.
  2. Immigration detention and abuse of children which both Morrison and Dutton oversaw. This refugee child abuse was even confirmed by their own instigated investigation by Philip Moss confirming the abuse, as did the one by the Human Rights Commissioner.
  3. Increasing entrenched poverty for children by “attacking” single parents such as did Kevin Andrews by defunding of single parents via a thinly disguised excuse to rebuke their choice of children, over attempting to acquire rare full-time work.  The examples of further political child abuse are numerous from cutting aid overseas, or locally by reducing the Child Care Subsidy, or removing access to the affordability support element under the Community Child Care Fund, or slashing $930.6 million so that family day care educators cannot receive Commonwealth child care fee assistance.  These are just some of a list I have referenced before.

These actions are all being instituted by people who publicly claim a religious affiliation. To be fair, both the religious and political classes are acting entirely consistent with one another to attack what Christ most vehemently opposed. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”(Mark 9:42).

Christ said nothing about homosexuality. Although he did indicate that being a “born eunuch” (an ancient reference to homosexual men – Matthew 19:11-12) was a gift from God.  On the other hand, Christ had a lot to say about abuse of children and the marginalisation of the “least” of people, as well as about Loving one another, which seems to be points that many in this conservative evangelical community appear to have missed. That anyone in the church could mount any defence for either Pell or Abbott speaks, in my mind, volumes about the person they choose to be.

 

Chalk graffiti protests by locals who were proclaiming love overcoming religious hate over the blacked out artwork by Scott Marsh in the alleyway behind the Botany View Hotel.

So a local artist chooses to celebrate “love” as opposed to “abuse” by having painted two of the figureheads of “child abuse” on a wall in the back alleyway of a Pub in a manner that would be “offensive” to them. Scott Marsh recognised that both these men are offensive to the Newtown community. Art is supposed to challenge society, and it certainly seems to have been challenging to some. “Christians” from churches defended Pell and Abbott by painting over the image that apparently offended, despite that the wider community finds these two men, offensive! Who, pray tell me, stands on the higher moral ground? Is “art” and even the “obscuring of art” reflecting society or in this case segments of the church. It seems to me that the conservative church would still prefer, the sins of these men, were covered up.

This article was originally published on Australia Awaken.

Manus lessons

By Jane Salmon

I have been glued to mainstream and social media on the Manus issue as an advocate for 3 years. And I’ve met a few refugees along the way.

But yesterday took the biscuit. The sight of Aussies swallowing dishonest propaganda whole has shaken me. We’re in deep trouble if we think that Dutton and Bishop can lie straight in bed at night, let alone display any sensitivity to the facts of four years of offshore detention.

Every knee-jerk racist troll claims that the refugees on Manus trashed their own living space yesterday. They have dutifully maintained Dutton’s line that each of us can blame refugees for anything. They even claimed that drawing on your sweating prison walls was vandalism. Well what else was there to do for 4 years? Never happens in white jails, surely!

Xenophobic patriot trolls ignore the tidier “before” pictures of Wednesday 22nd in the camp and the many touching images of tired, hungry, traumatised men cleaning up the camp “after” Dutton’s destructive proxies and PNG thugs left in the evening of 23rd.

They get their story from Ray Hadley and a glance at scant, slanted mainstream news if they notice it all. Other (very busy) trolls work for the very companies and ministry that abused the men.

Our “patriots” have missed the fact that since staff left Manus RPC, the men have been empowered and become more organised. They have done this despite a lack of water, medication, medical care, sanitation, electricity and the demoralising blockade of food. A handful of judiciously used solar battery chargers are looked on as proof that the men are lying about having no power or flushing loos. Because belief is all that matters to a racist.

[“Oh well, mate. It’s alright. They’ll get compo. They’re cool. And they got food. They’ve got their lives. What more do they want?”]

Well there are at least six men whose families would actually like their sons and their lives back. There are men who are injured permanently. There are still vibrant, dynamic, clever young adults who won’t ever forget the powerlessness they have experienced. And they have been slandered again and again by Australia’s officials and their supporters. Just because they were vulnerable.

These refugees are not saints. But jail never brought out the best in anyone. However, the abuse they experienced has led these men to cooperate pretty well. The emotional maturity and organisation that most Manus refugees have displayed under pressure is an example to us all.

As one whose grandfathers and also father came back from wars physically and emotionally damaged (Dad’s Korean War spinal shrapnel used to set off airport metal detectors, four great uncles died over Britain or France, Grandpa Jack lost an arm, Grandpa was ultimately finished off by the gassing); as one whose Great Uncle Ron, a banker, survived camps in Singapore for four years and came back pretty damn broken; as one who has worked alongside an ex-Changi inmate, I disgree that a lousy $35K will fix any of that.

And don’t the “Patriots” see the “do as you would be done by” parallel in any of this? Or are they really too thick? How long would they manage up there in the tropics? (Oh, that’s right, a few of the Aussie “security” staff got a bit violent and rapey. Marvellous!).

Career Officer Molan took professional pride in demonstrating that this Fortress Island would not be breached on his watch. (Note that this is not a man who has been directly exposed to war in his own home country. Sure, a few subs approached Darwin and Sydney in his parents’ lifetime). He probably also believes that every non-Anglo is a potential terrorist because that’s what the chaplain led him to believe in Sunday school. He has only devoted his mind to military and naval strategy since.

Foreigners are not lesser humans. Even the ones whose parents were, luckily, not killed by the Taliban or bombed out of house and home after their sons and daughters had left.

No amount of compo will change the fact that the Manus refugees were singled out because they chose boats instead of planes after July 2013. Those who arrived by plane pre-Abbott endured a shorter stint in camps and got back on their feet more easily. They were more able to support their mothers, brothers, sisters, wives and children. The “not drowning” argument doesn’t wash. Boats still come but are turned back or captured before they reach Australian waters.

“Safe transit countries” like Indonesia are overflowing with people. The immigration detention camps there are horrifying, too.

The compo is a distraction. It was a cynical settlement. It doesn’t compensate the men for their lost health, their abuse, their near death experiences, death of friends nor for isolation torture. $35K each is merely an expression of Australian Border Force culpability. We used these men as deterrents.

Bottom line, any vulnerable Australians (whether in Don Dale or at the mercy of another government institution) can expect similar treatment if we shrug off this event as a one-off.

People can be disempowered in so many ways in an information age.

Scared for their own jobs, SBS decided to imply that the remaining men elected to leave in buses today. The vision of beatings with sticks were dismissed as misattributed or not real or somehow less than persuasive. The Manus refugees have in fact lost free choice and self determination. They are back inside fenced compounds with security guards watching over them and or protecting them from machete armed raskols. Who cares that the crates are newly fitted?

The truth is, the violent ouster of the men across the past two days was in contempt of PNG court. Men like Behrouz Boochani were held in handcuffs without charge. There was undue force. The rule of law has not been respected. The next court date was for December.

As a Labor Party member, I’m not supposed to say “Shame on you” to Shorten and his ineffectual Shadow Cabinet. But I will. They let the xenophobia grow by failing to stand up to One Nation and LNP racism. The unions have only recently spoken out about Manus. Many old lefties still fear that their wages will be undercut by refugees. Even though they have seen the government grow its own budget in order to find $10 billion to squitter away on detention. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The alternative for Labor is … quite a few more electoral routs like Northcote. And it serves them right. Because racist fascism will affect the safety and well-being of my kids as much as any time I spend online or any culinary shortcuts I dare take around their FODMAP allergies.

No more of this “jobs worth” crap from SBS or Shorten, please. Better people than you have fought and died for the truth.

Intercepting refugees in Malaysia and Indonesia will prevent some unanticipated arrivals. But swift and humane solutions would also include simply accepting people and providing them with orientation and the means manage in their new countries. There is plenty of positive work in supplying the supports the newcomers need. We don’t need to insist on unnecessary suffering. As an unadulterated leftie, I’d argue that we can afford to help everyone if we tax our own 1 per cent properly.

But we can argue about that one when Manus is over.

These men may deserve millions in compo each but they also deserve fresh starts in nothing less than safe third countries. No machetes. No racism. No fear. They have shown what they are made of and I salute them.

Nothing can distract the burgeoning community of refugee advocates from that.

Malcolm feels the end game approaching

By Peter McCarthy

Cancelling a sitting week in Parliament is unusual to begin with, but I initially thought that Malcolm might have been building an escape route for failing to get SSM sorted out (which still has no real chance of being resolved this year even with the extra week in place). But on reflection, Malcolm doesn’t seem to have any concept of “think what happens next” so I had to discard the theory. After all, he could simply have celebrated without offering a performance measuring device and enjoyed a victory over Tony Abbott without leaving the door open a crack for Tony to exploit. More of Malcolm self harming then the Mad Monk wandering by and seeing an opportunity. We should be used to that by now.

Then along came this little gem: Malcolm talking about tax cuts for poor people.

OMG. Things really have gone to Hell in a hand basket. Even more bizarre, it’s the “No one loses” variety of tax cuts direct from the Liberal Magic Pudding Economic model (LMPE). The sort of tax cut you have to break the glass cover to gain access to because it’s for desperate emergencies and doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny when the panic attack has passed.

I realised things were desperate for him, but I didn’t think Malcolm had noticed, being as he is spending most of his time punching on in the Party room, but apparently he has noticed, and when you consider the following, I guess he had to eventually.

Kristina should easily knock off John Alexander for starters so the Majority is gone in the House of Reps, which means the rules have changed and any cross benchers can easily leap off the Malcolm Leadership guarantee if they are irritated by his inertia. Even more seriously, the Nats need to step away from the decaying Turnbull Government and are shooting for a banking investigation that could very easily pass unless Labor or the Greens abandon their base. I would not be holding my breathe on that happening. For the Nats, this would be wildly popular with their base and throwing Malcolm under the bus would be fabulous for brand recognition. A problem they have suffered for years now.

Malcolm has a real problem now. By trying to avoid decisions and not standing up for anything, he stands for very little. He half likes coal, but half likes Renewables. This leaves both industries confused and vulnerable which in turn gives us the high energy prices. He sort of liked the ABC and SBS. Until he didn’t. Although by not declaring his hand, and steering well away from actually supporting things, he leaves it up to Voters to figure out that his actions (or lack of) speak louder than words. If you are frustrated by his lack of effectiveness, he does nothing to change your view. This could well result in the loss of financial support heading towards Malcolm. There is not much point building a campaign fund for Turnbull if he can’t reward that investment and when you don’t even know if he will actually defend your industry.

Could be the Liberals have to dump Malcolm to retain any sort of funding from the Top end of Town. The current situation is not in their interests and occasionally Malcolm even mouths off about them and the unfairness (without taking action of course). This is the worst possible position for TTEOT. He draws attention to them but does nothing to reign them in and Voters can see both the privilege and the inaction. Thanks for the double whammy Malcolm.

So now we have Malcolm realising he has a problem and preparing for an election, but clueless about what he stands for. He only just managed to escape with the meaningless Jobs and Growth mantra last time around, but he was battling from the position of new kid in town who’s first name wasn’t Tony. Now he has to fight with folk knowing he struggles to make decisions, and has so little control of his Party, that nothing much is going to be achievable. Looking forward? Yeah. Nah. Dinosaurs don’t do forward looking and no one else gets to do that on their watch.

Traditional Liberal party style is to have strong leadership and leave the gab fest to more social parties. Think Abbott and Howard. They don’t do “consensus”, and chaps like Malcolm trying to teach them consensus will not be happening. Liberal Leadership requires strength and the ability to demand discipline. Malcolm has neither.

This article was originally published on 1Petermcc’s Blog.

Sources

Malcolm Turnbull flags tax cuts for low, middle-income earners

Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/politics/malcolm-turnbull-flags-tax-cuts-for-low-middleincome-earners-20171120-gzp4ym#ixzz4z3nV7bq1

The Magic Pudding – by Norman Lindsay

Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magic_Pudding

Malcolm Turnbull Wikipedia entry

Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_Turnbull

Powerful inquiry into banks in the balance as Nationals MPs ponder crossing the floor

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/powerful-inquiry-into-banks-in-the-balance-as-nationals-mps-ponder-crossing-the-floor-20171117-gznl4g.html

Confusion? Only ‘cause it’s Turnbull

By Kyran O’Dwyer

The question asked of Australians in the recent survey was; “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

If you wished to participate, the survey required a response. ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

All of the noise, all of the fearmongering, all of the othering, all of the distractions offered in response to this very basic question did nought to change the question. It was, and remained, a most simple proposition.

“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

79.5% of eligible Australian voters participated in the survey, of which 61.6% responded in the Affirmative. A device invented to sharpen division and hate became a devise that underscored inclusion and acceptance. As noted on a social media post, had this been a Federal election, ‘Yes’ would have 133 seats and ‘No’ would have 17 in the House of Representatives. 100% of the Senate would likely be ‘Yes’.

Notwithstanding the fine work of Mr Smith, with bi-partisan cross bench support, it seems odd that this very simple question doesn’t just require a reversal of the amendments made in 2004. That was when the Howard/Ruddock changes went through.

How hard can that be?

Marriage is, after all, a legal construct, most easily defined as a union between two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. As per the original Marriage Act in 1961.

In terms of relevance, the Family Law Act of 1975 is far more reflective of changing societal norms, as it does not lend undue influence to a ‘marriage’, as opposed to an ‘informal’ union between two people. That, however, is a different conversation.

Now that religious extremists have derailed the issue, it seems only fair to look at marriage, this concept that causes extremists so much concern. The ABS have a report from 2015, which will suffice as there does not appear to be any material change since then.

To start with, we are talking about a ‘ceremony’ that only effects a relatively small part of the population. The ‘crude marriage rate’ (the number of marriages registered during a calendar year per 1,000 estimated resident population at 30 June of the same year) is about 5%. There were 113,595 marriages in 2015.

Couples who lived together prior to marriage accounted for 81.0% of all marriages registered in 2015, an increase from the 75.9% recorded in 2005.

Of the 113,595 couples that wed, 85,115 (or 74.9%) utilised a civil celebrant. Ministers of Religion performed 28,419 (or 25%) of the ceremonies. Of significance, in 2005, a mere ten years before, Ministers of Religion accounted for 40% of the ceremonies.

The divorce rate is worth a mention. Its trajectory is downwards since 1995. Whilst a generalisation of numerous statistics, about 45% of marriages end in divorce.

All of this long-winded explanation is to demonstrate two things.

Firstly, the incredible prominence being given to a ceremony that only effects about 5% of us. It will be interesting to note if there are any significant changes to this number as a result of equality.

Secondly, the extraordinary prominence being given to religious institutions whose influence and relevance is noticeably and demonstrably in decline, to the point of decay.

These institutions are seriously out of step with any notion of a modern society’s needs, let alone wants.

For the sake of discussion, let’s lump all of the religious institutions together. My reasoning is basic. The figures from the 2016 Census report that 30% of Australians say they have ‘no religion’ (up from 22.3% in 2011). 52% of Australians identify as Christian (down from 88% in 1966, a mere 50 years ago), and the balance identify as non-Christian.

Most of the religious institutions are now in lock step. Many of their fundamental doctrines are similar in their opposition to same sex unions. For any one religious institution to assume primacy over another, they would have to do what none of them can do. Produce their god. Until such time as that happens, it would be unreasonable to give one religious institution any significance over another. Hence, lump them all together.

The reason for the boring statistics is to underscore the increasing irrelevance of these religious institutions and the religious extremists currently representing them in our Parliament. Whilst 70% of Australians may identify as religious, one cannot help but notice that not a lot of them use a Minister of Religion for their marriage. It is also notable that a lot of them are either not ‘devout’ or are woefully ignorant of their own religious teachings. Of the 28, 419 that utilised a Minister of Religion, how many cohabited prior to their wedding? How many of those unions will end in divorce? How many of those unions will be impacted by infidelity? How many of those unions will use birth control?

There are numerous transgressions of religious teaching practised every day which, ultimately, are on the conscience of the transgressors. For the religious extremists in Parliament to not only hide behind that hypocrisy, but to use it as a clarion call to other extremists is breathtaking in its gall.

The religious extremists in our Parliament say this is the reason to enshrine discrimination in our legislation. To protect religious institutions. To ignore Sect 116.

Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia precludes the Commonwealth of Australia (i.e., the federal parliament) from making laws for establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance, or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion.

At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, the state makes laws for all of us, whether we like them or not. Our government has been handed a decisive survey to warrant that simple, fundamental change, back to the future, in 2004. Religions can only make rules for their followers, an addition to state laws, presumably in the justification that their followers adhere to higher standards.

This was never a question about religion. It was about the right of two people to marry. It was about equality.

By way of declaration, I have availed myself of the institution of marriage twice, both of which ended in divorce. I have, therefore, excelled. Statistically. I can think of no reason to deprive others of the opportunity to experience such misery and trauma simply because of their sexuality.

Also by way of declaration, I was born into the Catholic church, resplendent in nothing other than my ‘original sin’. I lost faith in the institution in my mid teens, and in the notion of an omnipotent, omnipresent deity not long after. My ‘original sin’ has had numerous replacements. I know several people who are religious by practice and many who identify as religious without practicing. I mean no disrespect to anyone who is consoled by their religious belief. Most of the ones I know have long since made the distinction between their beliefs and the institutional abuse of their beliefs. None of the ‘religious’ people I know believe they have any right, whatsoever, to lecture me on my morality, or lack thereof. Goodness knows, I’ve given them enough ammunition. Something about ‘stones’ and ‘glass houses’ seems to preclude comment by most of them.

It seems only fair to point out where this charade is now going. Phillip Ruddock, the fellow who facilitated Howard’s changes in 2004, is now ‘the man’ to oversee the reversal!

“A statement from the prime minister’s office said Mr Ruddock would conduct a “timely expert stocktake” that would determine whether there was any need to change the law to enshrine religious freedoms.”

In the off chance you missed the significance, our PM has just lobbed a hand grenade into his own agenda, like the Republic referendum, the NBN, and everything else he has touched. Ruddock’s review is not due till March, 2018. Turnbull has promised change by Christmas. Once again, our government has made incompetence the high bar for their ‘achievements’.

So, to finish my sermon, this was never about religion. It was about equality. However the institution of marriage is viewed by you, your family, your friends, the Australian people have said it’s fair enough that everyone has the same right of access to that institution.

Our government, held hostage by religious extremists, wants to make this about religious institutions and their freedoms. If Ruddock calls for submissions on what protections our ‘religions’ need, can we start with tax? Can we start with mandatory reporting of all abuse, absent any protection of a confessional? Can we start with unequivocal statements by all of these religious institutions that they accept the equality of all females, and will reflect that in their practice, not just their platitudes?

These religious extremists want to know what freedoms they should be entitled to. It is incumbent on all of us to let the government know what we think of that.

The government conducted a survey, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” to which the Australian people said “Yes”.

Now the government wants to discuss religious freedom. Perhaps they could consider a survey …

“Should the laws be changed to ensure that all religious bodies comply with all of the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia?”

“Yes” or “No”.


Canberra and the thumping great Heffalump in the room

By David Ayliffe

Shhhhh! There’s a thumping great Heffalump in Federal Parliament and he’s making quite a racket. The Heffalump has been around for quite some time ever since this blasted Marriage Equality debate began. Why can’t things just stay the same for ever and ever, Amen?

Damned Heffalump, just like Pooh and Piglet, courtesy of A.A. Milne, we’ve never been able to see him. It seems you can only dream about him, but believe me he’s there and he’s causing conservative politicians much angst as they lobby for increased protections for Freedom of Religion, as if they really are struggling now. They don’t want much, just to make sure people of faith, churches, temples, and synagogues have the right to tell same sex couples to ‘Heffalump off’ when it comes to marriage cakes, wedding gowns and suits and venues and so on.

Perhaps they moved on a little from bit from that, but the way some of their noses twitch from time to time I don’t think so.

The call for increasing protections for Freedom of Religion are wrongly placed. I agree with journalist Michael Bachelard who wrote in Fairfax Media that Religious Freedoms are and should be Limited.[1] Further still, we need to examine what religions are and the freedoms given them. People should always be allowed to believe anything they wish, but in a common society they shouldn’t be able to behave just as they wish, especially in violation of law.

Attorney-General George Brandis wants to amend the bill to extend religious protections to civil celebrants. Perhaps the Heffalump has been overactive in his office and some civil celebrants may have requested it but as a Civil Celebrant I just don’t understand why. It’s not as if people are banging on my door to insist that I marry them. There are after all thousands of celebrants in Australia and I have to spend thousands of dollars a year to advertise my services just to get the marriages I do each year. Couples who I meet choose me to marry them because they like me or they think I can do a good job for them in the style of ceremony that they are seeking, or maybe they like the price I offer. I never have to refuse a couple – they refuse me. As for same sex couples if I was homophobic I think they would recognise that and then they certainly wouldn’t choose me. Celebrants are not authorised by the Attorney General to judge whether a couple should or shouldn’t marry and refuse them on that basis. They are authorised to enact a law and that is all. Why not give Celebrants the right to refuse marriage for people over 70, or maybe under 30? Why only same sex couples?

It’s ridiculous. Behind all of it is something quite nasty I think and it is the need that some in society have to insist we have the right to throw stones as perhaps we once did. They want us to be able to say “I can’t marry you because you are full of sin and going to Hell!” Well, not all people would want to say that but it is an example of an argument that some believe.

Then there are those who want to say we’ve always done things this way why should we change? Use that argument as an airline pilot in a storm and the result could be tragic.

When Australians gave Marriage Equality a resounding YES last week to recognise that same sex couples could marry there was a clear signal to parliament and to the rest of us that we are not nearly as conservative as a nation as we might have thought. I hated the idea of the Plebiscite in the first place and moreso when it morphed into a postal survey. It was always putting LGBTI people on show like old time circus freaks to be judged by the rest of us. My friends in that community confirm that the whole thing was really painful for many, raising the spectre of previous judgements where people have been excluded, mocked, abused and even killed because of their sexuality.

Now that it’s over, its impact should reach into every aspect of our lives. It doesn’t just answer the one question but in my view it is saying that the majority of Australians who took the trouble to go to the post office or post box and post their surveys (80% response!) have declared we don’t want to be known as a nation that discriminates on any basis. We want to be an inclusive society, welcoming others.  I wonder what that might say about refugee policy?

Perhaps I’m drawing a broad brush here but this would never have happened in the world into which I was born in the early 1950s. It certainly is an exciting time to be alive in Australia. That is you don’t fear the Heffalump, but then as Pooh says: “Never fear the shadows, it’s just means there’s a light shining nearby.”

There is in my view an urgent need for Parliament to consider not “Freedom of Religion”, as some propose, but the well overdue examination of legislation to protect society from the excesses of religion. At the same time we need to examine just who claims to be a religion and revise the criteria by which that classification is accepted.

No religious group, for example, should be allowed to operate outside of the law that governs the rest of the country. When transparency is required for all kinds of not for profit organisations so too the financial statements of religions should be clearly available to Government, their followers and other interested parties.

The latter is the case with major denominations who publish financial statements but it is not the case with some other religious groups. Freedom of Religion should not give any religious group the right to hide from its supporters and donors how much money is raised and where it goes. I think an audit of this would be very interesting indeed. Now when those groups that claim to be religions get de jure tax-free status for their businesses, at a large financial cost to the population, the need for public accountability increases significantly, after all if they gain a public benefit from the public purse the public has every right to know where, how and why.

After all, have we learnt nothing from the Royal Commission into Child Abuse? Remember Freedom of Religion is one of the grounds that motivated organisations to protect offenders within their ranks and made them feel they had licence to do so..

In the Catholic Church, Freedom of Religion allowed predator priests and others to be shielded by church beliefs that gave sanctity to the confessional and the priesthood and that enabled Bishops and Cardinals to go to any lengths to hide offences and offenders. This because an essential element of faith in an unseen but all powerful God is that allegiance to that God as determined by the church, synagogue or temple puts the believer apart from and above the law. Not everyone of course follows this to the letter, but there are some clear examples.

In August this year, Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart declared he was prepared to go to jail for failing to report sexual abuse if revealed in the confessional. That argument should no longer be countenanced by any modern society. Let him go to jail and stay there, but better, let the Church recognise its responsibility to show mercy through justice and the law to it’s most vulnerable. I suspect the Archbishop is out of touch with the majority of Catholics who would find it unforgiveable should their Parish Priest keep secret a confession of abuse involving their own child. Many no longer attend Mass because of this very reason. Has the Archbishop and the church forgotten this or don’t they care?[2]

We don’t have to ask victims of sexual abuse questions about Freedom of Religion and the Sanctity of the Confessional. We also don’t have to ask aborigines in Australia how it felt to be the first peoples of the land living at a time of the discriminating “White Australia Policy” – no vote, no recognition, no rights. We are moving on, if slowly. Discrimination may be valuable to those who use it as a weapon of offence on religious grounds, but it continues to say to it’s victims – you are not like us, you are not the same, you are not equal.

As the Human Rights Commission discovered this is not just a Catholic issue. Secrecy abounds in many churches, various faiths and extremist groups. It is how some manage their business.

So I ask what right has any of us to demand greater powers of discrimination to exclude any group within our society from services or products that others can buy or receive? Talk about a slippery slope!

Perhaps arguments about cake makers are disappearing but let’s not forget that allowing this discrimination would open doors to many others. Should a Christian cake maker have the right to decide against serving a gay couple for their wedding? Yes, but only if our discrimination is broad enough to be really effective. Why limit it to religious groups for Heaven’s sake? Let’s allow restaurants to stop serving gay people, and taxis and Uber drivers to refuse to transport what they deem to be same sex couples. Let’s get back to a world where signs like “Blacks not welcome here” or “Japs prohibited” or “No poofs here” are welcomed.

The Postal Survey clearly stated that a strong majority in Australia doesn’t want such discrimination. Changing Marriage to include same sex couples is a big step in this country and all politicians should be considering its implications for other policies they support.

Further, Freedom of Religion, whilst important in it’s basic form, prompts all kinds of troubled questions for me. I am a former member of a religious cult. I am also a current member of an organisation that seeks to inform and assist people separated from loved ones through extremist religious groups, Cult Information and Family Support.There are many “churches” in Australia so deemed primarily because they claim to be, that could well do with some careful revision. At the same time the definition of religious groups and churches should be examined. In the early 1970’s the group I was part of, Zion Full Salvation Ministry, sought a Religious Marriage Celebrant licence for the woman who became the cult leader. What was required at the time was a letter to the Attorney General’s Office requesting a licence and declaring the group a church. That was all.

I’m not sure that it has changed much since then. I hope it has. In any case, the big question to consider is whether religious organisations are required to meet the standards expected of citizens, including our commitment to law and order and human rights?

Consider the Exclusive Brethren that claims to be a church, and no doubt it is under current guidelines. The church continues to receive very large financial support from the Government for its schools – set up to comply with the law of educating children, yet to segregate children from the evil world in which the rest of us low-lifes live. Those children educated to High School level will however be prevented from going on to tertiary studies. None can aspire to be doctors, lawyers or even teachers because of the religious beliefs accepted by their parents and proclaimed by their leaders, particularly their leader the current “Man of God” Bruce Hales.

Denying access to education is against the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, of which Australia is signatory. Clause 28 of the Declaration specifically obligates states to make higher education accessible to all and education and vocation information and guidance available and accessible to all. Currently, I expect that Freedom of Religion provisions would be used by Brethren to exclude them from any need to comply with this.[3]

Certainly there would have been fervent prayer during the time of the postal survey within Exclusive Brethren households. Being homosexual is the worst of possible sins within the faith. In 2012 the last remaining doctor in the group, educated before tertiary education was banned, was struck off for prescribing hormone therapy (chemical castration) to a young member of the Church to help him become ex-gay. I’m glad to acknowledge their intended victim Craig Hoyle, New Zealand journalist as a friend and so glad that this dreadful plan was foiled through media exposure. By the way, the Brethren claimed that they were not anti-gay, Michael Bachelard denies this and he would know, they love to take him to court.

Freedom of Religion is the claim that all beliefs use to validate activities and beliefs that put them at odds with the rest of society.

With the Brethren, just like other totalitarian faith groups, former members are shunned if they leave and considered “dead” to their families and friends. It is particularly hard on young people who decide to choose a life of freedom as the grief of separation never leaves them. In many cases ex members talk of never being told of illnesses and death of close family members. I have known of some who have been able to see parents, siblings or children within the group for only a very short few awkward hours. So much for family love.

To understand the Exclusive Brethren better I strongly recommend journalist Michael Bachelard’s book “Behind the Exclusive Brethren.’ In many ways a living horror story.

Yet the Brethren are not alone. There are many groups as you will see from the CIFS website that restrict individual freedoms of their followers, sometimes in violation of law either in spirit or act. All of these groups will claim they are the only ones with the right truth and the right path and that every other one is wrong.

At a time when some call for stronger Freedom of Religion provisions to allow discrimination, it is time that the Federal Government seriously examine excesses within religious bodies that fly under the radar because they claim to have God on their side and live above the law.

Many high demand religious groups use Freedom of Religion to excuse all kinds of behaviours including vows of secrecy that prevent disclosure of child and domestic abuse to authorities, and misappropriation of donated funds.

We need Freedom of Religion, but we also need a better understanding of what we define as a religion in our society and how then how we expect that religion to behave and treat its followers if it is to gain financial and other benefits within society.

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/samesex-marriage-debate-religious-freedom-is-and-should-be-limited-20171114-gzli5o.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/aug/15/melbourne-archbishop-says-hed-rather-go-to-jail-than-report-child-abuse-heard-in-confession

[3] Article 28

  1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; (b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need; (c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means; (d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;

Kevin’s World!

By Terence Mills

Marriage equality campaigners have shown patience, goodwill and perseverance and whilst the first skirmish has been won the parliamentary battle remains; this offering is a look at the lighter side of some of the silliness.

Kevin Andrews MP want to introduce changes to the Marriage Act that will allow businesses to discriminate on who they serve based not only on whether they are gay or not – he accepts that discrimination based purely on sexuality would be unlawful – but he insists that trades people should be given the right based on a conscientious belief reasonably held to discriminate against people who are LGBTQI and who may use the product in question at or in association with a gay type marriage or wedding.

Confusing, isn’t it? But Kevin is preparing a video that will clear things up once and for all: the scene is a bakery in Kevin’s electorate of Menzies. The Man is played by Matt Canavan; the Baker by Scott Morrison and Eric by Christopher Pyne.

A man enters the bakery and inspects the display of cakes, buns etc. He is approached by the baker:

Baker: Can I help you?

Man: A pie floater with Worcestershire sauce please.

Baker: (looks customer up and down) You wouldn’t be of a Gay persuasion would you?

Man: What’s that got to do with purchasing a pie floater with Worcestershire sauce. Are you seeking to discriminate against me and my choice of sustenance?

Baker: No, it’s just that if you were of a Gay persuasion and if the pie, should I elect to supply it, were to be taken to or in any way participate either actively or passively in a marriage type service involving two persons of a corresponding gender, then I would not be able to serve you based on my conscientious beliefs which are genuinely held that my pies should not be in attendance at any such gathering or function.

Man: I believe that my rights to personal privacy do not require me to divulge to you any information on my gender identity or persuasion. Apart from which, what makes you think that I am Gay anyhow and that I may be attending a gay wedding?

Baker: People who come in here don’t usually say Worcestershire sauce, they say Brown sauce and I noticed that your hair is dyed magenta red and that you are clutching a man-purse. This, according to the legislation allows me to form a reasonable belief that you may be of a gay persuasion. I also noted that you are wearing a carnation in the lapel of your puce jacket which leads me to believe on reasonable grounds that you may be attending or participating in a Gay marriage ceremony and in accordance with the prevailing laws I can decline to serve you a pie-floater with or without Worcestershire sauce: so, on your bike, sunshine.

Man: Well, Sherlock, you’re off base on that one because I’m actually a One Nation supporter and this is how we get about and my hair colour reflects my love of our dear leader. As a dual citizen born in Britain I choose to call the sauce of my choice Worcestershire and not Brown.

Baker: I’m still not convinced and I seem to detect a lisp in your pronunciation or Worcestershire and that according to my conscientiously held and well founded belief  gives me the right to deny you service. However, in the interests of fairness I’ll call my assistant Eric for his opinion: (calls out) Oh Eric are you free?

Eric: Yes, poppet, coming.

Baker: Eric, I have reasonable and a well based conscientious belief that this customer who wishes to purchase a pie-floater with Worcestershire sauce may be of a Gay persuasion and may be taking said pie-floater to a marriage celebration of two persons of a corresponding gender: I need your advice.

Eric: Get him to walk around a bit, it’s a dead giveaway.

Man walks around the shop

Baker: I detect a certain mincing gait that gives me reason to believe on a conscientious basis that this customer is of a gay persuasion and I can rightfully deny service, what do you think, Eric?

Eric: Ooh, nice bum!

Man takes a close look at the baker and Eric the assistant

Man: Based on a well-founded and reasonable belief and in accordance with the Consumer Protection (Cakes, Buns, Pies and other Confectionary) Act 2017 I consider that these are premises with a gay and/or LGBQTI inclination and accordingly on a conscientious basis I hereby withdraw my order for a pie floater with Worcestershire sauce.

It can’t get any worse folks!

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