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Eva is a freelance writer with a keen interest in legal, social justice and community matters, particularly where they intertwine with politics. She holds a Bachelor of Laws degree with First Class Honours, Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (Distinction) and a Bachelor of Social Science, majoring in Social Justice and Behavioural Science. Eva enjoys fighting politically expedient populism and is commited to empowering Australians to participate in democracy. She’s also a mother to three young children and lives in Tasmania.

If only Dutton and Morrison weren’t so mean

In June 2018, when the world broke into uniform outrage over the forced separation and detention of illegal migrant children in the United States, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was quick to stomp on any hope for the men, women and children trapped on Nauru and Manus Island: “ …the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia,” he stated.

Several months later and community anger has grown. Recent News Corp polling shows the majority of Australians want children and their families removed from Nauru. Yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison (himself previously responsible for the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio) and Minister Dutton, supported by the whole swathe of hard-right conservative politicians, are holding strong.

In what can only be described as nonsensical lunacy and manipulative fuckwittery, Morrison, Dutton, and now Abbott, insult the collective intelligence of Australians. They insist that ceasing the relentless and intentional torture of innocent men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island will result in a flood of asylum seeker boats attempting to reach Australian shores.

Not content with sprouting this contemptuous bile across every media platform willing to accept it, the ruling overlords in Canberra are actively sabotaging every effort to bring detainees to Australia. The Government has launched a new legal bid to challenge the ability of the Federal Court to order humanitarian evacuations. It has thwarted Labors attempt to compromise on New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees by swiftly backing down on a bipartisan deal for the resettlement option.

This is sour news for everyone who listened to Morrison’s faux-impassioned apology to victims of child sexual abuse: “Why were the cries of children and parents ignored?” he asked. “Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?” he continued. “Why has it taken so long to act?” he questioned. “Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children?” he queried. “Why didn’t we believe?” he carried on, before further stating, “And our work does not stop at our borders.”

How many more leaked reports of the devastating trauma and abhorrent abuse of children in detention, Forgotten Children reports, and pleas from medical professionals (including those who have treated children on Nauru), do Morrison and Dutton intend to ignore? How much more evidence is required beyond the cache of available literature, for Morrison and Dutton to acknowledge that the indefinite detention of children is causing irreversible and catastrophic harm?

Yet at every turn the soulless conservatives rely on the manifestly erroneous opinion and blatant falsehood that the cruel, slow deaths of people fleeing persecution, war and genocide is necessary to prevent the return of the boats.

And Prime Minister Morrison and Minister Dutton must know it is a blatant falsehood, or they are beastly careless as to the truth.

Or are they simply incapable of comprehending the complexity, ambiguities and consequences of their own asylum seeker policy?

No doubt Morrison and Dutton are beholden by a fear, genuine or not, that any shift in the hardline policy will result in the renewed influx of leaky boats and drownings. There seems no doubt that they are frightened (or at least pretend to be) that just the tiniest sliver of hope for those destined to die in tent-camps in a remote island prison will send people-smugglers into a frenzy of ticket-selling for a journey to the promised land.

But a fervent belief does not make it true. Repeatedly saying the same falsehood out loud does not turn that erroneous assertion into fact. The Government has before it all the information it needs to successfully transition away from indefinite detention and still protect Australia’s borders. There is no plausible reason to continue the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore processing centres.

The boat turnback policy, actualised through the military-led Operation Sovereign Borders, stemmed the tide of asylum seekers reaching Australia. This is now indisputable and must be accepted across the full range of the political spectrum. As social scientist and public intellectual Robert Manne opines, this is supported not only by the evidenced consequences of the Howard government resettling hundreds of refugees in Australia during 2005-2007 at the height of its own boat turnback and offshore processing regime, but also the lack of any people-smuggler action when Turnbull announced the US resettlement deal in 2016.

More compelling, however, is the view of former Australian Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg, who was sacked by the Governor-General on 15 March 2018 for tenuous and frankly unbelievable reasons. In his former official role, Quaedvlieg sat on the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Taskforce and was responsible for briefing the respective Minister which included during his tenure, Morrison and Dutton, and others in parliament. Quaedvlieg knows intimately the role Operation Sovereign Borders had on quelling the influx of asylum seeker boats.

In a recent op-ed and also in his regular Tweets, Quaedvlieg maintains that evacuating the offshore processing centres and bringing all the current detainees to Australia for medical treatment, while resettlement options are canvassed and arranged, will not give a green light to people-smugglers. At worst, he accepts that there may be some exploratory ventures, but Quaedvlieg notes that this would likely happen in light of upcoming federal election anyway. Quaedvlieg’s pragmatic and politically palatable solution breaks the impasse and is grounded in reality.

The former Australian Border Force Commissioner’s position is backed up by Shaun Hanns, a former Home Affairs department official who was responsible for processing asylum seeker claims. Hanns quit his role in mid-October and provided parliamentarians with an extensive letter which analysed the interception activity of boat turnbacks. He admits that he initially supported Australia’s harsh deterrence regime, but is now of the belief that the ongoing and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers is “not just tragic but meaningless”.

What is behind Morrison and Dutton’s refusal to show even a semblance of humanity? Sacrificing the lives of children to appeal to the racist voters in marginal seats is inexcusable. There is no moral high ground in torturing innocent people to prevent others from boarding boats. “Groupthink” is a plausible explanation for why it has taken so long for moderate Coalition party members to break ranks. The psychological theory known as “cognitive dissonance” partly explains the warped justification for ongoing detention.

But nothing explains the sheer callousness and cruelty displayed by the likes of Morrison and Dutton who have right before them the evidence that Operation Sovereign Borders secured Australian waters, and equally so, that indefinite detention is causing catastrophic harm.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn. Dutton, and Morrison alike, are so incapable of absorbing irrefutable fact, so oblivious to bluntly delivered information, and so manifestly inadequate at assessing matters of significant public interest, they are not fit to hold office.

Or they are simply the meanest politicians Australia has ever seen.

 

Why was Quaedvlieg really sacked?

On 15 March 2018, the head of the Australian Border Force, Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg was sacked. It was a curious case. Quaedvlieg had allegedly changed internal recruitment policy to help his girlfriend get a casual, low level administrative job at Sydney Airport and failed to disclose the relationship. Yet for such a high profile case, there was very little media attention during the nine month investigation. It was prolonged and shrouded in silence. The Opposition were strangely quiet over the whole affair. Quaedvlieg fiercely denied wrongdoing and still maintains his innocence.

Until his unprecedented sacking, Quaedvlieg was at the prime of his career. With a lengthy background in law enforcement and management, he was touted as one of two possible options to head up the new mega-Department of Home Affairs expected to be established in 2017. The timing of Quaedvlieg’s mysterious suspension couldn’t have been worse. In Quaedvlieg’s absence, Mike Pezzullo became one of the most powerful Department heads in the Commonwealth Government.

There was no indication Quaedvlieg wasn’t fully respected by his peers and the Minister when he suddenly disappeared from his official role in mid-2017. There was no indication that anything was awry. However his recent, very public spat with his former boss, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, has brought to the forefront a very serious question. Just why was Quaedvlieg sacked?

There seems a fairly reasonable case that Quaedvlieg was already a marked man from at least early 2017. Instigations for investigations of the nature for which Quaedvlieg was eventually sacked do not occur in a vacuum. And it seems distinctly unbelievable that a man in Quaedvlieg’s position, with his lengthy experience in law enforcement and national security, would have such a continued error of judgement, as alleged by Dutton and his companions, in committing the alleged misdemeanors which ultimately led to his sacking.

It is also unprecedented for a senior government official to be sacked over something as obscure as allegedly doctoring recruitment processes to benefit a person applying for a low-level administrative position. It’s equally absurd to suggest that Quaedvlieg would not have a sound understanding of the requirements to disclose a personal relationship at the appropriate time.

So what really happened? Was it the mismanagement of what should have been a minor internal investigation which made Quaedvlieg’s position untenable? The process was extraordinarily long and Quaedvlieg has publicly stated he was denied natural justice. Was it a personal vendetta instigated somewhere within the secretive depths of the bureaucracy which took an ugly turn and from which there was no coming back? Was the matter with the girlfriend a concocted and convenient excuse to take Quaedvlieg out? Just why did the Government go for Quaedvlieg?

As Border Force Commissioner, Quaedvlieg was a trusted, powerful and influential public servant. He had knowledge of the innermost workings of his Department, a direct line to the Minister, and a wealth of information on the most sensitive details of secretive and closely guarded operations. He was the public face of Border Force, with no smear on his record, other than the public wrathe personally directed at him over the abhorrent indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island; an accountability which actually sits directly and undisputedly with Mike Pezzullo, Secretary for the Department of Home Affairs.

Something clearly went wrong for Quaedvlieg. The investigation was initially instigated by Pezzullo, Quaedvlieg’s then-contemporary as Secretary of the former ­Department of Immigration and Border Protection. He referred allegations to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity in what Quaedvlieg expected would be a swift exoneration. Instead the matter dragged on. The internal inquiry was completed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s secretary, Martin Parkinson.

And while at the time, Home Affairs Minister Dutton went to great lengths to distance himself from Quaedvlieg’s sacking, recently he has made extraordinary attempts to discredit and defame him, while hiding behind parliamentary privilege. The current Prime Minister and former Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, has also supported Dutton, giving credence to Dutton’s scurrilous claims that Quaedvlieg’s consenting adult relationship with a younger woman was illegal.

The sacking, and unprecedented personal vilification of a man formerly trusted to lead the Australian Border Force is astonishing. It coincides with Quaedvlieg’s recent openness to engage publicly on matters of interest to the Australian public.

Shortly after his sacking, Quaedvlieg questioned the Government’s proposal to give police greater powers to demand identity documents in airports. In August 2018 he intervened to assist advocates obtain medical treatment for a refugee. In September he made public his own musings from a 2015 visit to Nauru. His regular tweets give subtle clues as to what he may know. He has used the protection of a parliamentary inquiry to reveal details of Dutton’s potential abuse of power in the au pair affair and jobs for mates scandal, which Quaedvlieg reveals he has detailed knowledge of the recruitment events for in his letter to the Chair, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee.

As a private citizen, it is difficult for Quaedvlieg to defend himself. Unlike Dutton, he does not have the protection of parliamentary privilege other than through formal government inquiry channels. It is evident that at least one man, Quaedvlieg’s former boss, will stop at nothing in his attempts to discredit him. And in what can only be described as a vindictive and malicious prosecution, Quaedvlieg’s girlfriend has been criminally charged for essentially not telling investigators what they wanted to hear.

What happened behind closed doors that led to the squirreling out of Quaedvlieg’s girlfriend’s alleged unmerited job placement? Who was responsible for his drawn out, secretive and extraordinary downfall? Why is Quaedvlieg still being publicly attacked by the government?

In the current political climate, Dutton and Morrison are evidently concerned about the truth being exposed. They must be thankful they recently passed laws making it illegal to “harm Australia’s reputation”. They must be glad a precedent has been set with the vexatious prosecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K, who are now defending charges after exposing the Australian Government’s illegal spying in East Timor. Senior government officials and Ministers must be grateful that there is bipartisan support for the laws which threaten 2 years in jail for anyone speaking out on matters relevant to the Border Force. They must fear what Quaedvlieg knows.

Perhaps in time, a government committed to transparency and accountability will establish a full inquiry into the international embarrassment which is Australia’s offshore detention regime, the establishment of the Border Force and super-Department of Home Affairs, and the mysterious rise and fall of Quaedvlieg.

Access to mental health care services under threat

‘Enough is Enough’….All consumers and psychologists in Australia deserve equal access to Medicare!

The following is reproduced with permission from the Australian Psychologists’ communityrun petition which calls for all consumers and psychologists in Australia to have equal access to Medicare.

Please read the below and sign the petition here.

“Access to mental health care for millions of vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians is under threat. The peak representative body for psychologists, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) has put the majority of its members and their clients’ needs second to the interests of just 36% of all registered psychologists. It has submitted a proposal to the Federal Department of Health’s review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) which, if accepted, will have devastating consequences for rural and regional Australians, effectively denying them access to mental health services.

Medicare is the main funding program enabling the Australian public to access psychologists. In a nutshell, the APS has recommended that Australians seeking referrals for mental health issues should be restricted to seeing only 36% of psychologists. The APS has done this by proposing that only psychologists who have been “endorsed” in selected areas of practice by the Psychology Board of Australia can claim Medicare benefits for clients presenting with moderate, severe or complex mental health disorders.

The APS’s proposed three-tier model must be rejected. The existing two-tiered model which provides significantly higher rebates to clinical psychologists providing the same psychological service to clients as registered psychologists, must be replaced with a fair and equitable MBS model which recognises the expertise, experience and skills of all registered psychologists.

We need a single rebate for consumers and their psychologists in Australia! Please sign and support one rebate for all!

By the ‘Australian Psychologists’ Facebook team (a group containing over 1800 psychologists with a diversity of qualifications from all areas of psychology)

Why is this important?

The APS submission (https://www.psychology.org.au/About-Us/What-we-do/advocacy/Submissions/Professional-Practice/2018/APS-Submission-to-the-MBS-Review-Better-Access?) recommends that over two thirds of registered psychologists (many of whom hold higher degrees, specialised training and significant experience in their field) but have not applied for “endorsement” would only be able to provide services to the estimate 10% of clients presenting with mild to moderate disorders. The complicated model states that psychologists may be given an opportunity to “demonstrate equivalent competence” to be able to treat what is, for many, their existing client base. Recognition would almost certainly come at a significant cost. The APS has yet to explain just how this recognition would occur, leaving experienced practitioners at a loss as to how they can protect their livelihood and deliver crucial services to clients.

All registered psychologists are currently permitted to practice across all areas of psychology and mental health and can diagnose, assess and treat clients, regardless of whether they are endorsed or not. Ethical guidelines require psychologists to only provide services within their limits of personal competence.

Endorsed psychologists primarily operate in urban areas, while the majority of psychologists operating in rural areas are non-endorsed. Data from the Psychology Board of Australia’s ‘Area of practice endorsement data tables: January 2014’, shows that only 23 endorsed psychologists work in remote communities across Australia; 212 in outer regional; while 7 969 work in metropolitan/capital cities. Our rural areas have some of the highest rates of suicide in Australia. If accepted, the APS recommendations will leave rural and regional Australians without access to vital mental health care services.

The consequences to Australians in desperate need of mental health care will be disastrous. If accepted, the APS model will result in higher session fees, with clients unable to claim any Medicare rebate unless their preferred practitioner is “endorsed”. Market forces would likely push up out-of-pocket fees to see endorsed psychologists and waiting lists would blow out. By losing a major funding stream, many non-endorsed psychologists would be forced to close their practices, leaving vulnerable clients without access to vital and affordable health services. Many endorsed psychologists do not bulk bill, meaning only those in higher socioeconomic groups would be able to afford treatment for the most debilitating of conditions.

There is no evidence to support that better health outcomes are achieved by “endorsed” psychologists. In fact, a significant amount of “endorsed” psychologists achieved this status through historical paid membership to special interest “Colleges”, and not through demonstrated experience or completing a masters/doctorate degree. Some psychologists were granted up to six endorsements via this process. The Australian Clinical Psychology Association stated that ‘More than half of those clinical psychologists currently endorsed by the Psychology Board of Australia do not have qualifications in clinical psychology…’ (source: https://industry.gov.au/Office-of-the-Chief-Economist/SkilledOccupationList/Documents/2015Submissions/ACPA.pdf). Therefore, many endorsed psychologists hold the same level of training and qualifications as non-endorsed psychologists.

The APS position is a crushing blow to over two thirds of registered psychologists, many of whom will be unable to continue treating the majority of their clients if the proposal is accepted by the Government. It is clear the APS is not acting in the best interests of its members (who currently pay $640 for annual membership) or their clients, by advocating that the majority of psychologists lose access to the MBS.

In fact, if the APS proposal is accepted, 66% of the psychologist board members who are “endorsed”, may personally benefit with increased client referrals, while 64% of registered psychologists will have very limited access to Medicare referrals. Questions must be asked about the ability of the APS Board to represent all psychologists equally, and whether the board members are at risk of breaching their fiduciary duties to the APS with a proposal which effectively destroys the livelihoods of the majority of registered practitioners, for the benefit of a few, including themselves. For over ten years now, clinical psychologist’s services have attracted a $39 higher rebate than non-clinical psychologists. Despite this higher rebate, fewer clinical psychologists fully bulk-bill their clients.

Based on the current Medicare arrangements, the proposed changes will represent a significant increase to Medicare, as the cost of providing the same services already being provided by registered psychologists would increase by 47%.

A notable research project commissioned by the Australian Government (Pirkis et al, 2011) demonstrated clearly that psychologists treating mental illness across both tiers of Medicare Better Access produced equivalently strong treatment outcomes (as measured by the K-10 and DASS pre-post treatment) for mild, moderate and severe cases of mental illness. This research demonstrates clearly that there is no difference in treatment outcomes when comparing clinical psychologists treating under tier one of Medicare Better Access with the treatment outcomes of all other registered psychologists treating under tier two of Medicare Better Access (Pirkis et al, 2011a).
Reference: Pirkis, Ftanou, Williamson, Machlin, Spittal & Bassilios (2011a). Australia’s Better Access initiative: An evaluation. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45:726–739″.

You can find the petition here.

Also consider writing, emailing or calling your Federal Member of Parliament, Senators, and your local state government representatives, to share with them why you personally support fair and equal access to essential mental health care services.

Australian Psychological Society Medicare review submission betrays members and clients

The Australian Psychological Society’s (APS) submission to the Commonwealth Government’s Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) review is an astonishing attempt to restrict access to psychology services for the most vulnerable of Australians. The submission, which was only made available to APS members on Friday, 17 August 2018, represents a kick in the guts to over 60% of Australian psychologists, who may have their ability to provide affordable and accessible services to clients with complex mental health needs significantly reduced.

The submission preferences psychologists who have been “endorsed” by the APS above all other psychologists, for treating clients with “Severe and Chronic/Unremitting Disorders” and “Moderate – Severe Disorders and more Complex Disorders”. This includes disorders ranging from bipolar, autism and ADHD, to obsessive compulsive disorders, trauma disorders, eating disorders or anything else a referring practitioner thinks is “moderate/severe”.

The APS explicitly excludes four “Area of Practice Endorsements” (AoPE) categories from providing MBS rebated services for “Severe and Chronic/Unremitting Disorders”, recommending, and thus inferring, that only practitioners holding endorsements for Clinical, Counselling, Forensic, Health or Education and Development Psychology are competent to treat clients with complex health issues. These endorsed psychologists make up less than 34% of all registered psychologists in Australia.

Additionally, the proposal excludes over 66% of registered psychologists from providing MBS rebated services to clients presenting with “Moderate – Severe Disorders and more Complex Disorders”. It states that these clients should be treated only by AoPE practitioners, or “psychologists who can demonstrate equivalent competence”. While on the face of it, the addition of demonstrated equivalent competence implies that other experienced practitioners will be able to access the MBS for clients with moderate/severe disorders, sources have revealed that the APS requires onerous and unrealistic requirements to be met to demonstrate experience and competence (eg, failing to recognise relevant qualifications which were obtained prior to a psychology degree), which will effectively exclude the vast majority of experienced practitioners from treating clients with a broad range of moderate disorders.

All psychologists are registered with the Psychology Board of Australia. They are required to have a minimum of 4 years of university training and two years of supervised experience, and engage in yearly professional development to keep up to date with knowledge, and supplement  their skills, experience and training.

Less than 38% of registered psychologists are “endorsed” by the Psychology Board of Australia across nine separate areas of practice. However “endorsement” does not equate to better clinical skills or greater practical experience. It is not a confirmation of demonstrated and practical expertise. It simply means that the practitioner may have attended university for an additional two years. This study does not necessarily provide the AoPE practitioners with further people and practice skills required to form and build relationship with clients. The endorsement purely recognises an academic achievement which over time becomes less relevant compared with decades of actual practical experience in a specialist field.

To fully appreciate the offensiveness of this proposal, its estimated that up to 50% of “endorsed” psychologists do not hold the higher qualifications now required for AoPE. Historically, what preceded the “endorsement” was simply paid membership of an “interest group” or “College”. When the APS changed to a qualification based endorsement system, paid members of Colleges were grandfathered into the AoPE. The “grandfathered” practitioners may only hold undergraduate qualifications, yet are now preferenced by the APS above psychologists who did not pay membership to an interest group, but hold requisite qualifications.

The proposal is a brazen attempt by the APS to monopolise the market in favour of a select few endorsed psychologists. If accepted by Minister for Health, Greg Hunt MP, it may see registered psychologists with decades of experience and expertise in specialist areas lose their livelihoods. Vast swathes of the population, including the most disadvantaged in the community, may lose access to crucial services, particularly as many AoPE practitioners do not bulk-bill.

Under the proposal, a client with autism, ADHD or or schizophrenia would potentially be restricted to seeking services from less than 33.4% of registered practitioners. A client with a trauma disorder would be restricted to accessing less than 40% of registered practitioners. The remaining 60% of practitioners would have their client base severely curtailed, almost certainly resulting in the closure of many rural and regional practices, where dedicated professionals have formed and built relationships to ensure the best possible services are provided.

Psychologists have slammed the proposal, which they claim is unethical and potentially exposes them to claims of professional negligence, with the APS inferring that general practitioners lack the experience, skills and qualifications to treat complex health issues.

The APS strong inference that a practitioner who was formerly a paid member of a special interest College, or a recent university graduate, is capable of providing better service than a general practitioner who has diligently gained experience by working with clients in the community while maintaining professional development requirements, is plainly offensive.

Australians should be able to choose a medical specialist based on their skills and experience and expertise. If the APS proposal is accepted, clients with complex issues will not be able to access Medicare benefits for their preferred practitioner.

Each year in Australia, approximately one in five people will experience a mental illness. However a recent national survey showed that only 35% of people with a mental disorder had accessed a health service within the 12 months before the survey.

Research by Meadows et al (2015) of MBS items claimed under the nationally funded mental health program, Better Access, shows unequal distribution across the Australian population for psychiatry and clinical psychology services, compared with the equal distribution of general practitioner and non-clinical psychology services. This suggests that distribution of practitioners in the community has an impact on the accessibility of services. It is evident that the APS proposal to reduce number of practitioners able to access Medicare benefits for clients with complex mental health needs will significantly impact on levels of care and outcomes.

If accepted by Minister Hunt, the APS proposal will have the effect of funneling vital health funding to psychologists preferenced because of their privilege/access to higher education, rather than to those with proven and demonstrated skills at treating clients with complex mental health issues. It will result in reduced access to health services and consequently lead to poorer outcomes for Australians who require mental health services. It will restrict access to necessary and vital services for the most vulnerable of Australians. It will unfairly impact on Indigenous Australians, the homeless, those disadvantaged through circumstance, trauma or financial status, those in lower socioeconomic groups and rural and regional areas – in fact, the APS proposal will impact unfairly on exactly those people the Better Access program is intended to support.

Barnaby Joyce, religious freedom and moral outrage

The implosion of Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s political career, amid the growing scandal over his adulterous relationship with a female staffer comes at a fortuitous time. The Religious Freedom Review, an inquiry set up to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion, has just closed to submissions.

The impetus for the inquiry was the 2017 Marriage Equality Plebiscite, during which opponents of marriage equality argued they should be able to legally discriminate against people engaging in what they deemed morally repugnant behaviour, on the basis of their religious beliefs. And so it is with some irony that the exposure of Joyce’s morally questionable actions comes now.

The mandate for the Religious Freedom Review is to “consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights”. Clearly the aim of the inquiry is to placate those of faith who feel their religious beliefs are threatened by allowing LGBTI Australians the legal right to marry.

The context for the establishment of the inquiry has resulted in commentators generally analysing the intersection of the human right of freedom of religion with the human rights afforded (or which should be afforded) to LGBTI Australians. However, the inquiry provides the perfect opportunity to examine how granting greater religious freedom may look, when applied not to the LGBTI community, but to a “gregarious bull of a man often seen in a trademark Akubra bush hat”.

Joyce, a Christian and staunch defender of traditional marriage and family values, opposed marriage equality and abstained from the vote on legislation. Yet his behind-closed-doors activities, demonstrate an entirely different set of values to those he publicly proclaims.

Religions invariably impose strict moral rules on those practicing the faith, which impact not only on their public life, but also their personal life. For example, in Christianity, divorce, cohabitation and fornication are considered immoral, with children born out of wedlock pitied and frowned upon.

But of most relevance, the Christian Bible, in Leviticus 20:10, prohibits adultery, stating that “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbour—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”

Imagine therefore, what Joyce’s current situation would look like if the human right to freedom of religion took precedence over other human rights.

The generally accepted list of human rights is found within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948.

Fortunately for Joyce at this current time, he is protected from a vicious stoning for betraying his marriage vows. Article 3 of the UDHR says: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” He is also allowed to dissolve his marriage if he so wishes without unfavourable treatment (Article 16: “Men and women of full age….are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution”), and he has a right to privacy and protection from attacks on his reputation (Article 12: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”)

He is also generally protected from discrimination, whether it be in education (Article 26), employment (Article 23), participating in political life (Article 21) or other economic, social and cultural activities (Article 22).

The UDHR defines all human rights as equal, and all people as equally deserving of human rights. The UDHR provides a balance between competing rights, where rights may only be exercised to the extent that doing so does not cause harm to others in the community.

This is generally covered in Article 7: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” And, according to Article 29, “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

In Australia, a secular, Western democracy, religious exemptions to anti-discrimination and other laws do already exist in some jurisdictions. But if, as a result of the current review, religious freedom is afforded a higher priority over other human rights, where would this leave Barnaby Joyce?

Will those who are morally outraged by Joyce’s adultery, cohabitation and fornication be demanding he be put to death?

Should Joyce be sacked from his job solely on the basis of his chosen (extramarital) partner?

If Joyce divorces his wife, could he be refused rent or accommodation, or a room in a hotel?

If Joyce chooses to remarry, could a civil celebrant refuse to officiate over his wedding ceremony on the basis of his moral depravity?

Will the nation debate whether Barnaby’s fifth child, born out of an immoral union, be worse off than his children born and raised in wedlock?

Fortunately for Joyce, the nation has not yet been summoned to vote on whether he is entitled to the right to privacy. Australians have not been invited to participate in a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey to determine whether he should still be treated equally before the law as an adulterer. And fortunately for Joyce, he cannot be refused a room in a hotel to share with his pregnant partner, and he cannot be fired simply on the basis of his fornication.

Barnaby Joyce’s political career may be nearing its end, but he lives another day. Joyce has avoided a stoning for now, thanks to the intersection of the enjoyment of freedom of religion and other human rights in Australia. If he lived in a country where religious beliefs take precedence, he may well be dead.

 

 

 

Australia’s dual citizen “threat”

It is mid 2015. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is under fire for not only wanting to strip Australian citizenship from dual citizens, but sole nationals too. He declares it is about national security, combating terrorism and the protection of Australian values. The new laws are necessary for the safety of the community.

“It is now appropriate to modernise provisions concerning loss of citizenship to respond to current terrorist threats,” Mr Dutton tells media. “The world has changed so our laws should change accordingly.”

And so the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill was introduced to Parliament.

As usual, the proposed amendments didn’t just apply to the relevant politically expedient bogeymen; it wasn’t just convicted terrorists and foreign fighters who would bear the brunt of Dutton’s power-fueled desire to punish those who did not swear sole allegiance to Australia.

The provisions were so vague and broadly encompassing that any number of dual citizens might find themselves suddenly “UnAustralian”; by inadvertently renouncing their citizenship for protesting against Adani, donating to environmental groups, joining the Sea Shepherd, or for doodling with a pen on a chair in a Centrelink office.

Criticisms came from every quarter (apart from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and the ALP who backed the Bill in principle), with the Commonwealth Ombudsman pointing out the absurdity of dual citizens just “losing” their Australian citizenship without any authority determining that the criteria for revocation had been met.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) reviewed the initial Bill in detail, with 43 submissions made and several days of hearings. The committee report had no less than 27 recommendations for change.

A watered down Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill finally passed through Parliament in December 2015.

It ruled that any person over 14 who was a citizen or national of another country could lose their Australian citizenship if they did the following things:

  • fight for a foreign country at war with Australia.
  • fight for a declared terrorist organisation outside Australia.
  • are convicted of certain crimes and sentenced to at least six years in prison (eg, committing a terrorist act, including recruiting, training, funding; treason or espionage against Australia; overthrowing the government or sabotaging military equipment; or being a “foreign fighter”).
  • Intentionally engage in certain types of terrorism-related conduct, with no criminal charge or conviction required (automatic revocation).

Through it all, media repeatedly pointed out that over six million Australian citizens were born overseas, and a further five million people were born in Australia but held dual citizenship by descent.

While debate raged, and Dutton dug his heels in, ASIO had sights on Khaled Sharrouf, a notorious Islamic State terrorist, famous for having his then seven year old son pose with the severed head of a Syrian government official.

Sharrouf was an Australian citizen by birth. He had Lebanese citizenship through his parents who emigrated to Australia before he was born. Sharrouf was a dual citizen by descent.

Not two years later and the High Court has declared that five parliamentarians were invalidly elected because they held dual citizenship. Scott Ludlam (Greens), Larissa Waters (Greens), Malcolm Roberts (One Nation), Barnaby Joyce (Nationals) and Fiona Nash (Nationals) were ineligible to stand at the 2016 election.

Seven politicians were initially under the spotlight (Nick Xenophon (NXT) and Matthew Canavan (Nationals) were cleared) and now an eighth, Senate President Stephen Parry has revealed that he too, may be a British citizen by descent.

It is inconceivable that through all the public debate, discussion, reporting, Parliamentary Committee review and media frenzy, that the elected representatives did not consider and contemplate what makes a person a dual citizen.

It is equally unbelievable that each politician, when nominating for election did not understand the requirements for compliance with section 44 of the Constitution which prohibits foreign citizens or nationals or those entitled to the rights and privileges of a foreign citizen or national from sitting in Parliament.

How can it be possible, with all the chest-beating and strong messages and commitment to “national security”, that not one of these politicians thought to investigate their own parentage and ancestry, and none of their parliamentary colleagues suggested that they do?

When former Senator Scott Ludlam resigned after revelations he was still a New Zealander, the ridicule was swift and the condemnations harsh.

“Obviously Senator Ludlam’s oversight is a pretty remarkable one when you think about it — he’s been in the Senate for so long,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told media. “It is pretty amazing, isn’t it, that you have had two out of nine Greens Senators didn’t realise they were citizens of another country. It shows incredible sloppiness on their part. You know, when you nominate for Parliament, there is actually a question — you have got to address that Section 44 question and you’ve got to tick the box and confirm that you are not a citizen of another country. It is extraordinary negligence on their part.”

Yet as two then three, then five, and now eight step forward, it is more than sloppiness and negligence.

For those politicians who did not immediately step aside or resign on discovering their dual allegiance, it smacks of deliberate deceit, blind recklessness and a show of contempt for all Australian voters; people who trusted their elected representatives to truthfully and honestly tick a box confirming their eligibility on an election nomination form.

And being so obliged to declare their eligibility, those politicians should have had the integrity to stand aside and resign when investigations showed they were surely dual citizens.

Malcolm Turnbull was adamant the High Court would declare that the law did not apply to the ruling elite. “The leader of the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia is qualified to sit in this house and the High Court will so hold,” Turnbull said.

He was wrong. The law does apply. Seven members of Parliament were referred to the High Court. Senate President Stephen Parry waited until after his colleagues took a fall to admit his own probable dual allegiance.

How many more are there, waiting quietly, hoping no questions will be asked, frantically checking their backgrounds and filling out forms in the hope they will be clear before the next election is called?

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Ignorance of one’s own ancestry is not believable in the context of the politicians in question. Ignorance of the importance of the status of dual citizens is laughable given the laws which have been extensively debated and voted on.

This is a government which has breached the trust of the people and made a mockery of democracy. It is a government in which its members cannot comply with its own governing document, and treats the Constitution as a mere guideline to follow on a whim. It is a government which uses citizenship as a weapon and tool of propaganda, but negligible as an issue when it comes to parliamentarians. This is an illegitimate government, which cannot be trusted.

 

“If marriage equality isn’t achieved this time round, it WILL happen.”

Australia is in the middle of a public debate on whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The results of the voluntary, non-binding, postal survey won’t be known for over a month. It will be even longer before the full impacts of the glorified opinion poll become apparent, regardless of the outcome.

However the short term effects are already becoming realised as state-sanctioned conversations on the worth of LGBTQI Australians and their families dominate social and traditional media, enter homes through mail, phone calls and texts, and are reduced to snappy slogans on billboards and signs around the nation.

There are so far 23 countries which allow same-sex couples to marry. And in all but one, negative consequences have been non-existent. However a recent study of Ireland; the only country to put marriage equality to a popular vote, showed that a majority of LGBTI people were negatively affected by the NO campaigning, experiencing heightened feelings of anger and distress as a result of the referendum.

Given the nature of the NO campaign in Australia’s unnecessary faux-vote (in which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already defended homophobic hate-speech as part of the “democratic debate”), it is likely similar results will be found in our own communities.

Counselling services have already seen increases in their need; over 20% increase at LGBT phone-counselling service QLife since the plebiscite was introduced, and a 40% increase at BeyondBlue since the announcement of the postal survey.

Now, with the personal lives of LGBTQI people and their families thrust into the spotlight, personal stories of hope, understanding and support are more important than ever.

For Ben van Tienen, the current situation offers an opportunity to share his journey, from Catholic schoolboy, raised in rural Tasmania, to a musical theatre conductor based in London, and touring the world.

Ben is gay. Yet, as he so honestly explains, growing up in a deeply religious family in a small community, he “didn’t know gay people existed”. While he was oblivious to the media storm building up to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1997, his naivety did not protect him from the deeply embedded homophobic attitudes prevalent in society.

At the time, Ben did not know or understand what may have motivated the bullying he experienced every day from when he was 8 until 16. “That’s not an exaggeration. It was, legitimately, every day,” he says. He was called “poofter”, “faggot”,and “fairy”, and while he did not know what it meant, he took it to heart that “being different in any way was not okay.”

The Church provided Ben with an introduction to music, which ultimately gave him with a sanctuary of sorts. As he became more involved in the music and theatre communities, he learned to “relish his differences”, but it did not make it any easier getting through the “slog, every single day,” of school.

His passion for music and the friends he made in the broader community helped to cushion the abuse he experienced. Over time he took it less to heart, and his reaction to it has now changed. Yet Ben says that the behaviour of others has not changed over time; the “bullies are still using the same words, still trying to push me out, still threatened by their own fragile gender-constructs, still frightened by other-ness.”

However much has personally changed since Ben’s childhood in Cygnet. He was nearly 17 by the time he realised he was gay. “It was like a light being turned on after years of being in the dark. It was that quintessential ‘last piece of the jigsaw’ moment; it was literally like a hundred bells inside me going ‘ding ding ding’ at once.”

Ben recalls with amusement the reaction of his friends who “definitely already knew” he was gay, joking, “why didn’t y’all tell me?!” It was around a week after his own realisation, that he told his parents. He was prepared for the conversation to be more difficult with his family and acknowledges that one of the problems when he first came out, was being able to “articulate about anything yet, let alone respectfully/compassionately field any questions or accusations.”

As Ben has grown older, he finds it easier to talk about what it means to be gay, and his search for love, belonging and connection. He believes it was a challenge for his family to reconcile his identity with their faith, but is proud of how open they have been in their journey of understanding.

He recounts an early conversation with his parents, which demonstrates how love and respect for family took precedence:

“I’m just worried that when the time comes, and I want to bring a partner home for Christmas, that you won’t be ready to deal with it.” And they looked at each other and took a breath and said, “We’ll make sure we’re ready to deal with it.”

Ben’s own belief in the Christian faith ended abruptly on coming out. He had been brought up so firmly in the belief that “God made me in his own image,” and to suddenly be “seemingly told that that was no longer true was a massive shaking” of Ben’s world. He very quickly became “violently, defensively atheistic.” However in the last two years Ben has returned to spirituality as a concept and a way of life.

The national survey on marriage equality has added an urgency to navigating the complexities of identity and societal acceptance. The campaigning has thrust into the public sphere deeply personal conversations which would otherwise have time to grow naturally among family and friends.

For Ben, these conversations have been happening for sixteen years. However his passion for music, the unconditional love of his family and the support he has received from his friends in the broader community, has made the journey less difficult than it otherwise may have been.

Ben is reflective, articulate and honest. He describes himself as a yogi, “spirit junkie”, and activist. He is vegan, pro-caffeine and anti-gluten. He believes in love; “always crossing the street to get to the sunny side”. Ben’s brightness, compassion and enthusiasm for positivity shine strongly in the way he approaches life, and deals with homophobia.

He is now braver and more fierce in the face of it. He will hold hands with his date as he walks down the street. He will be brave in the face of people who stare or call him names. He will try to open-heartedly and whole-heartedly enter conversations where homophobia is an issue and do so in a “loving and inquisitive way”. This, Ben says, does not get easier, but he understands that if someone is directly homophobic towards him, it has absolutely nothing to do with him.

Ben’s attitude towards dealing with hate is enlightening and inspiring. He hopes it is easier now for LGBTQI children growing up, and that they can see that cisgender/straight behaviour is “just a small part of the greater kaleidoscope”. He cannot imagine what his childhood would have been like if the wider picture had been visible to him.

For young LGBTQI Australians now, experiencing a very public debate on their worth in society, while perhaps also struggling to understand themselves, coming out, and approaching difficult conversations, Ben has some kind words: “you are important, and you are not alone.”

He supports this with his paraphrased advice from gay, NYC, life-coach, Jordan Bach:

When you are in these conversations, I want you to imagine every queer person that has gone before you in this conversation – every single beautiful gay person asking for tolerance, love, acceptance. Imagine them standing behind you, around you, their hands on your shoulders, almost like your guardian angels. You are not alone in this.”

Ben now lives in the United Kingdom, where same-sex marriage is legal. He has noticed a “very subtle difference” in the way that he moves through the world. He now feels he has a place. He explains it is very easy to cultivate a subtle self-loathing in a society where the message is consistently reinforced that you do not belong. Ben also now knows more older male couples, who are now married, and he can see their “hopes, dreams, struggles and fears” and their “lawful, legitimised love deepen and grow”. This gives Ben hope, and makes him proud and excited about what his own future may hold.

Ben’s life is almost unrecognisable to the one he lived in Tasmania. He has conducted “West Side Story” at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris (with his proud parents in the audience). He has released an album with his best friend and completed a composition for the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, filmed Funny Girl for Sky TV and cinema broadcast and graduated from Brene Brown’s Living Brave Semester. He has also released “enough fear and shame to disrobe at a nudist beach!”

Ben is no longer so career-driven. He would still love to work on Broadway, but it is more important for him to “achieve with what I have, right now, in this moment”. He wants to be a better person than he was yesterday, and hopes he can answer yes to the following questions:

  • Did I touch someone’s heart today?
  • Did I help someone break through their threshold today?
  • Did my authenticity inspire someone today?
  • Was I as generous as I could be today?
  • Did I do my best to be wholehearted in every moment?

The questions Ben asks himself encapsulate his caring, compassionate spirit, and positive outlook on the world.

He has some final words for his friends in the broader community in Australia who are suffering during this public debate on their lives:

“All we can do is shine as fiercely and brightly as we can, and know that every time we can get one new person to share our vision, we must celebrate. And even if marriage equality isn’t achieved this time round, it WILL happen, and all we can do is keep trying.”

If only Turnbull had some authority

Yesterday, the High Court ruled it was lawful for the Federal Government to go ahead with a voluntary, non-binding public opinion poll on whether all consenting adult couples in Australia should have the right to marry. The tax-payer funded survey will cost $122 million and will have no direct effect on legal rights.

Instead, the faux-plebiscite, will record how many Australians can be bothered to tick a box on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and deliver it to a letterbox to find its way back to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While Australians will be given the opportunity to select YES or NO to the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” the very nature of a voluntary, paper-based survey is deeply problematic.

As Malcolm Turnbull said himself in 1997, before he lost what was left of his credibility:

“The voluntary postal voting method … flies in the face of Australian democratic values. …It is likely to ensure that not only will a minority of Australians vote, but also that large sections of the community will be disfranchised.”

The faux-plebiscite was the brain-child of habitual human-rights-violator, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. After the Senate twice voted down the legislatively authorised version, the Turnbull Government opted to subvert democracy by putting to the people a non-compulsory ballot. It will have no value other than to subject gay Australians to lengthy public debate on their worth in society, including hateful propaganda and threats of violence.

The postal vote is an obvious attempt by the far-right conservatives in the Liberal Party, to delay marriage equality for as long as possible. Not satisfied with being able to publicly register their disapproval of same-sex marriage in a free parliamentary vote, they intend to expose gay Australians to months of homophobic rhetoric before the inevitable change occurs.

Successive statistically valid polls have demonstrated repeatedly that a majority of Australians, which now includes a majority of Catholics and other people of faith, support marriage equality. Yet Turnbull persists with a voluntary paper-based survey – the results of which can be ignored by Government, and which bears the real risk that ambivalent and busy supporters will fail to lodge a vote, if they receive a ballot paper at all.

This postal survey should not be happening.

But it is. And now all Australians who support fairness and equality must ensure the YES vote wins.

Papers will begin to be mailed out on Tuesday, 12 September 2017, and should be posted back to the ABS no later than Friday, 27 October 2017. Votes received after Tuesday, 7 November 2017 will not be counted.

The survey may not be compulsory, and it is certainly unnecessary, but failing to participate will play right into the hands of those who seek to deny equal rights to LGBTI couples.

All Australians can show support for the YES campaign by following Australian Marriage Equality and GetUp! and involving themselves in the suggested actions.

But most importantly, all eligible voters can show support, by voting YES on the postal survey as soon as it arrives. And once the YES box is ticked, take the form to a post box and mail it back to the ABS to be counted.

 

“It’s not Fair” (In support of marriage equality) – A Lily Allen parody by Eva Cripps and Kim Phillips

Lyrics: E Cripps; Vocals: K Phillips; Backing track from YouTube channel “Lily Allen – Instrumentals and Acapellas”

 

Dual citizen politicians: what to do?

It is evident that section 44 of the Australian Constitution causes considerable angst to elected representatives in the Commonwealth Parliament. Section 44 sets out who is capable of being “chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives”. It describes this eligibility in the form of who is not allowed to be nominated or elected.

As a simplistic summary, this includes dual citizens, someone who has been convicted and under sentence or awaiting sentencing for certain offences, an undischarged bankrupt or insolvent, a person who holds any office of profit under the Crown, or a person with any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth.

Before the dual citizenship “conspiracy” swept through Parliament, section 44 was already in the spotlight. It is not the first time this year that Senators have fallen foul of the provision.

In February, the High Court ruled that One Nation Senator Rob Culleton’s election was invalid due to “a conviction at the time of the election” even though that conviction was later annulled. Mr Culleton was also found by the Federal Court to be an “undischarged bankrupt”, another ground for disqualification if the first hadn’t sufficed.

In April, the High Court ruled that Family First Senator Bob Day was invalidly elected because of leasing arrangements for his South Australian electorate office.

Labor has also referred National MP David Gillespie to the High Court due to a potential “direct or indirect pecuniary interest” for his ownership of a suburban shopping complex in Port Macquarie, which houses an Australia Post outlet, a government-owned corporation. This case still awaits judgment.

Yet it wasn’t Day and Culleton’s downfalls which led to cries of “conspiracy” and a backlash against section 44. Nor was it Labor’s attempt to destabilise the Government by referring David Gillespie to the High Court.

No. It is the dual citizenship provision, section 44(i), which has raised the ire of commentators.

And only after an embarrassing display of ignorance and some fancy excuses saw the resignation of Greens Senators, Scott Ludlam, and Larissa Waters, the High Court referrals of National’s Senator Matt “My Mum Did It” Canavan, followed by One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, (who claims to have never been British, Indian, or a “chucker”, but possibly a Sovereign Citizen), and the latest, Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand’s proudest Australian, Barnaby Joyce.

This political game of Dual Citizenship Dominos has come as a shock to many. But it shouldn’t.

It’s not like the Constitution has been around since 1900.

It’s not like the constitutional issue of dual citizenship has already been raised this year in an attempt to see Bob Day’s potential replacement, Lucy Gichuhi, ruled ineligible to sit due to her former Kenyan citizenship.

It’s not like Liberal backbencher Tony Abbott has been pursued mercilessly over his alleged dual citizenship with Great Britain for years.

It is also not like the Government has debated at great length about dual citizens, in the context of how the Minister may arbitrarily cancel a dual citizen’s Australian citizenship if that person offends the Minister so.

What seems to have caused the display of incredulation and dismay, and the sudden realization of the ramifications of section 44, is that it has caught up some popular, totes ‘Stayan mate, politicians.

The questions around the appropriateness of section 44 have come about because “ordinary” Aussie’s in the Senate and House of Reps were caught unawares over their dual citizenship.

Given the identities of those caught out by section 44(i), it is unsurprising the renewed interest in revision.

However, it is precisely because of the identities of the Unfortunate Five, that any call for a change should be heavily scrutinised.

For example, imagine if Ludlam, Waters, Canavan, Roberts and Joyce, instead of being New Zealanders, Canadians, potential Brits or Italians, were from the Middle East, former Soviet Union or Asia …

Would public commentators be demanding the Constitution be changed, or would they be calling for the respective parliamentarians to be jailed and/or deported?

This raises a further question.

If section 44(i) is changed to allow dual citizens, what criteria should be in place to decide which dual nationalities are acceptable, and which are not? How would real or perceived conflicts of interest, which may impact on the integrity of parliament, be addressed and mitigated?

Should a dual national be ineligible if they are a citizen of a country subject to an Australian sanction regime (either in conjunction with UNSC or autonomously)? Imagine if a Syrian dual national was nominated. What about North Korean?

Do we say parliamentarians can be dual citizens provided we are not in direct conflict with the foreign nation? How serious does that conflict need to be? JBish has caused a serious diplomatic incident with Australia’s closest neighbour in her desperation to blame Labor for Kiwi Joyce’s dual status.

What about historical alliances? How far back do you go? The Allies? That may well rule out half of Europe, but the Soviet Union is in. So maybe the Western Bloc? Will Australia need to choose sides when Brexit negotiations get ugly (even though it has nothing to do with our nation)? Will that mean British dual citizens are ace, but European dual citizens are out?

What about current alliances? That could change any minute and result in bi-elections every 6 months, given the precarious nature of Donald Trump’s Rule By Twitter, and Turnbull’s tendency to lavishly lick Trump’s butthole when it comes to backing him up.

Or perhaps we could exclude any person who has ever worked for a foreign government or served in foreign forces or is obliged to serve in a foreign force? So that rules out any country with mandatory national service and there are a few of those.

Given the identities of those parliamentarians currently caught up in the scandal (bar Canavan), perhaps what those calling for an amendment to section 44 mean is that dual citizenship is fine as long as it’s with Mother England and any of her former colonies. Because it’s not like Australia deliberately enacted the Australia Act 1986 to override the notion of Britain being so Great it encompassed Australia as well.

Perhaps a simple requirement is that as long as English is the first language … No wait. That is just a little bit too obviously White Australia Policy and excludes Indigenous Australians too.

So maybe the nominee will be required to speak the level of English the Government has proposed for Australian citizenship, making other allegiances moot? But that knocks out the Irish based on the current test, anyone without a university degree (from a Western University), and probably a few that do.

What a conundrum. Just how should the newly revised Constitution determine who is eligible to be chosen or sit?

Perhaps there is a simple solution. Leave the Constitution how it is, and tough to those politicians who “can’t manage basic admin“.

An aspiring politician is obliged to confirm they are not “under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power,” or “a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power”, when they nominate with the AEC. They must take the time to conduct due diligence checks on their own lineage, and where applicable renounce their foreign citizenship or decline to nominate.

It is a whole lot easier for potential representatives to check their place of birth, their parents’ nationality and place of birth (and in some cases, grandparents), than to decide which dual nationality is acceptable.

But maybe that is still just a tiny bit too complex. Just ask the 5 so far and counting.

 

Being a transracial adoptee: a unique perspective on racism

Disclaimer: New Zealand artist Gabby Malpas is a transracial adoptee of Chinese descent. She “followed the herd” to the UK in 1989 and lived there for 14 years, before emigrating to Australia in 2003. She became an Australian citizen in 2017.

It is only recently at 48 years of age that Malpas started coming “out of the adoption fog”. She is now 51. Malpas met her birth mother when she was 38, however it has only been in the past few years that she has begun to process her life experiences and understand why race and racist incidents are such a big deal for her. She doesn’t hold herself up as blameless or without racial prejudice of her own but she is putting energy into developing empathy and awareness and trying to keep a sense of humour about it all.

All in all Malpas says she is living a fantastic life. She has had opportunities and adventures most only dream about and she grasps every day with both hands as an artist, because that is what she does and has been working towards for over 30 years. Her reason for opening up about racism is to help other transracial adoptees coming after her. The world is a different place to the one Malpas grew up in and she had to find her own way. She believes that if sharing her experiences helps someone else, it is worth it.

Malpas says she is still learning how not to be a dick.

Being a transracial adoptee: a unique perspective on racism

If there is one thing guaranteed to cause a frenzy of outrage and defensive indignation, it’s an accusation of racism. Mainstream and social media erupts with analysis, condemnation and fury over the alleged insults; both the derogatory slur and being labelled a racist.

Throughout it all, tempers flare. Equally adversarial personalities argue over which “human right” takes precedence; the right to freedom of speech, or the right to be free from racial abuse, while other commentators question if everyone is being just a tad oversensitive, or if it’s another case of “political correctness gone mad”. And then the media cycle moves on, and a new outrage gains prominence. Racism is yesterday’s news.

Yet the lives of people of colour aren’t dictated by populist trends. Personal attacks based on skin colour and ethnic origin don’t stop once racism is out of the spotlight. There is no reprieve for those subjected to a lifetime of insults, harassment or abuse on the basis of who they are.

For New Zealand artist Gabby Malpas, this is an exhausting experience. As a transracial adoptee of Chinese descent born in the ‘60s, Malpas has seen countless media cycles bring racism to the forefront of people’s minds. However, the voices of those most intimately affected by racist sentiment are often overlooked in favour of the loudest commentators “being offended on behalf of ‘brown’ people” or insisting that “brown’ people choose to take offence”.

Malpas’s upbringing has given her a unique perspective on racism. One of ten children in a “white” family, she was raised exactly the same as her siblings, and received no special recognition of her Asian ancestry. This, of course, means that she has a keen understanding of western culture, mentality and expectations.

Yet Asian race-hate was rife across western nations in the sixties and seventies, and as a child, Malpas became increasingly aware of the different way she was seen and treated in the community. She was subject to daily bullying and taunts, something her family and friends did not understand, acknowledge or even vaguely appreciate. Malpas quickly learned that no one was interested in hearing about the racial slurs and abuse; in fact, no one believed her experiences were racially motivated. She was dismissed, told to ignore it, or disbelieved.

This pattern of having her experiences ignored and dismissed became a familiar occurrence, and continued long into adulthood. Malpas learned to expect it, just as she learned that she would be subject to racism. She found she was constantly in “attack mode”, attempting to preempt and prepare for the next wave of abuse. Yet whenever she tried to change how she reacted, another incident would occur; being racially attacked, followed by dismissal and denial by those around her, and the cycle would begin again.

It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that the extent of the difference between how she expected she would be treated, having been raised in New Zealand in a “white family”, and how she was treated, on the basis of her Asian appearance, finally became clear in her mind.

Malpas recounts a shocking example; in her early twenties, she embarked on a backpacking holiday in South East Asia with a male friend. Her recollection is vivid, but she now understands the cultural reaction: “In my naive and culturally ignorant eyes I should have been treated with the respect given to white tourists – yet in many places I was seen as a prostitute because I was an Asian with a white male.”

This wasn’t an isolated incident, and was just one of many distressing situations Malpas found herself in where she was judged and treated differently to her friends and family based on racial stereotypes. Malpas came to realise that her “life experiences were not, are not, and never will be the same” as her adopted family.

For people of colour, “racism” isn’t a buzzword, it isn’t a hot topic, it doesn’t provide a chance to bemoan the loss of freedom of speech or congratulate oneself on the nation’s “tolerance and acceptance of diversity”. Yet for many “white” Australians, it is unfathomable that they, or their friends, may be complicit in defending, condoning or supporting racism.

For people of colour, racism is reality. It is something they experience with weary regularity. It forms a part of their lives from which there is no escape, no matter how much people tell them to “lighten up”, “take a joke”, “just get over it” or “stop playing ‘victim’”.

Still, public discourse focusses on superficial questions: “Is Australia a racist nation?”, “Is it racist to call an Indigenous man an ape?”, “Is racism an issue in contemporary society?”

The time for “debating” these topics is long gone, if there ever was a time. However there is still fierce denial from many in the community, who cannot come to terms with Australia’s racist history, or accept that racism still exists. They fall back on the narrative that as Australia is a multiculturally diverse and “tolerant” nation, it cannot possibly be racially motivated when people of colour experience abuse.

Racism exists in every culture, and it is just as deeply embedded in Australian society, culture and language as any other nation. The Government and institutions unrepentantly support racist policies: The proposed Citizenship law changes impact disproportionately on people of colour and are a thinly veiled return to a White Australia policy (which only ended in 1973), the Northern Territory Intervention, where the Army was sent in to an Indigenous community and paternalistic controls set in place, occurred just ten years ago. Indigenous Australians were only recognised and counted as “people” in 1967.

It has taken Malpas almost her whole life to understand her relationship with race and identity, and how her life experience has shaped her. The reality is, and always was, that she is different. She was never truly equal to her “white” contemporaries and her experiences have been tinged by colour. She is different too, to Asians who have grown up in their own families or culture. Malpas identifies that the experiences of transracial adoptees is so unique that they are generally only understood by other transracial adoptees.

Malpas says self-denial played a huge part in her life. She couldn’t identify as “white”, but she didn’t identify as “Asian”. And Malpas didn’t want to be “Asian”; Asian women were portrayed in the media as “sexy and submissive or conniving”, and Asian men as “weak”. Her family had no concept of what it was like to be “Asian”, and no understanding of Malpas’s personal experiences. She felt isolated, and in her struggle to find her place, participated in self-deprecating banter to “get in first” with the inevitable racist “jokes”, if only to show she wasn’t really one of “them”.

Malpas believes that social media has been brilliant at exposing racist behaviour and actions. Smartphones capture incidents as they happen, in all the terrible, distressing detail, and the images and videos may be widely shared. Malpas feels validated and heartened by the community calling out incidences of racism and stepping up to denounce it as unacceptable.

But with so many people still in denial that racism is present, and many who don’t understand what constitutes racist behaviour, there is a long way to go. Even more so when the Government, media and other institutions openly support division in the community. In the past month alone, a Sky News’ Outsiders program presenter told the Government appointed Race Discrimination Commissioner,  Dr Tim Soutphommasane, to “go back to Laos” (he was born in France). Last month, another veteran broadcaster, Red Symons, asked ABC journalist and radio producer, Beverley Wang, “what’s the deal with Asians” and if she was “yellow”. Senator Pauline Hanson has built a political platform on divisive policies.

However, unless a person has personally experienced racially motivated abuse, many find it hard to recognise and identify racism. Consequently, they fail to appreciate the impact a seemingly minor incident can have on a person, and how dismissal over the incident can add to distress.

But what counts as racist? Who gets to decide what is offensive?

Malpas believes that a good starting point is to “let the ‘brown’ people decide”. And then, most importantly, listen to what they say; if a “brown” person says it is offensive, believe them.

The lived experience of people of colour shows that racism comes in many forms. It may be calling someone a “nigger” or “dirty Abo”, or saying “go back to where you came from, you yellow c***”. It may be as subversive as subtly reminding a person that they are an “other”, for example, by using a person’s individual name as an identifier for a whole race, or assuming that an Asian in a “white” household is the “nanny”.

It might be in the form of a micro-aggression, for example, by declaring, “I’m not racist, my friend is brown/yellow/black”, “You should know what that is – you’re Asian,” or by playing on the fetishization of a race, for example, by only dating a person of colour when it’s fashionable to have a “cute Asian girlfriend”.

Malpas is encouraged by the rise in awareness of racism. Yet when it comes to comment and debate, she says it is crucial to listen to people of colour and acknowledge that the experiences of people of colour are not the same as a “white” majority in western nations.

Structural inequality is deeply embedded. While simplistic “colourblind” mantras, for example, that “all races matter, we are all one race; the human race,” may be well-meaning, they ignore the reality that people of colour have far greater challenges to overcome than others in the community due to systematic and institutionalised discrimination.

Current generations are still impacted by the inequality, abuse and state-sanctioned controls exercised over their parents, grandparents, extended family and ancestors. This is particularly the case where indigenous people were captured, murdered and deliberately dehumanised, or in the case of African Americans, imported and bred for slavery. The trauma, passed from one generation to the next, is still very real today.

Malpas talks honestly about her experiences with racism and her isolation until connecting with other transracial adoptees three years ago. The connection with others with similar experience has lessened her feelings of isolation. She believes that promoting inclusiveness and diversity through acknowledgment of difference will have a far greater impact in combating the never-ending cycle of racist abuse than resorting to idealistic principles of “oneness”.

For Malpas, coming to terms with her past has been a lengthy, thought-provoking experience. She uses her art to express her feelings about race, culture and identity in “lavish and beautiful images”. Sensitive subjects are explored in an engaging and respectful way. Her art is a gentle response to being silenced and a subtle reminder for people to listen to those who have a story to share. It took her 48 years to begin to make art about her life experiences that communicated the way she wanted; with “love, respect and a little bit of humour”.

When Malpas was growing up, very little support existed for transracially adopted children and their families. Now she provides some support to the next generation of young people by volunteering her time, skills and experience. Her reason for opening up about racism is to help the next generation of transracial adoptees and their families.

In addition to being a professional artist, Malpas runs art workshops, including monthly sessions for adolescent Chinese adoptees with the FCCA (Families with Children from China). She is on the advisory committee of the NSW Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC), part of the Benevolent Society, is actively involved in adoption groups such as Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) and is the “down under” ambassador for the Peace Through Prosperity Foundation. Malpas speaks at adoption and art events and meetings, and provides personal support to other transracial adoptees. She also donates art to charities on a regular basis, including the Cancer Council, Epilepsy Action Australia, Thompson Reuters, and Wheelchair Sports NSW.

Malpas’s story is important not only for other transracial adoptees. Her experience and observations also provide insight into what the broader community can do to lessen the divide and limit the impact of harmful public debate:

Listen before you speak. When calling someone out on racist behaviour, consider, are you speaking your own mind, or are you amplifying the voices of those who are personally impacted? Listen to the stories, accept history and acknowledge the distress and anxiety caused by repeated race-based attacks. Show empathy, kindness and understanding. Listen.

Do you value international journalism? I do.

Broken bodies lay scattered among the charred remnants of blown up vehicles. Dusty brown school bags and brightly coloured scarves are soaked with blood amid the acrid stench of burnt flesh, in a ghastly, stomach-turning scene. In the distance gunfire punctuates the still air, with the deep throb of a helicopter snapping stunned survivors back to the immediate reality.

This scene is brought to you … not from the comfort of an air-conditioned studio in Sydney, not from the safety of a private car surrounded by security officials, or the cramped, windowless office in a city skyrise.

If this scene was real, it would not come from lazily typed words on a luminescent screen; they would be hastily scribed by the shaking hand of an international journalist.

For as long as journalism has existed, daring men and women have departed the shores of their own lands and hurried abroad, keen to explore and document another world. In past times, the careful notes and detailed descriptions of foreign cultures, fascinating societies and disastrous events meandered slowly back to “civilisation” by foot, horseback or boat, to be considered, pondered and wondered about by fascinated audiences.

As the world shrank and technological advances developed, far away countries became more accessible. Ordinary folk left their homes for adventure, holidays and recreational travel. Yet the most dangerous destinations, most challenging locations and most confronting of situations were reserved for the most inquisitive, the most bold and the bravest.

Communication through telling stories is as old as the world itself. Journalism is the professional incarnation of storytelling. International journalists go where others dare not.

The Walkley Awards recognise Excellence in Australian Journalism. In the last few days, the Walkley Awards Advisory Board has decided to abolish the award category for International Journalism. It has done this on the basis of a lengthy review, where it made “evolutionary” changes to the program. The Board considered the changing nature of journalism, and after consultation with the industry, chose to honour international journalists through other categories, rather than alone.

Yet international journalists stand alone in the risks they take, the challenges they face, and the physical and mental stamina required to produce the stories they share. International journalists, particularly those who venture outside of other western nations, go beyond what is expected or required of their domestic peers, not because their writing requires greater skill, but because the circumstances under which they operate simply to do the job may be unpredictable, ever-changing and fraught with dangers not encountered in contemporary Australian society.

International journalists do what ordinary people do not. They travel to war zones, disaster zones and in areas of civil unrest to uncover, expose and report on important matters of social, political and cultural interest. They may face the threat of death – and sometimes death itself – torture and imprisonment, often sanctioned by foreign governments or ruling powers, simply for doing their job.

They witness brutality, poverty, devastation and carnage. They put aside human emotion, temporarily, to document these events in intricate and graphic detail in order to provide accountability, prompt for humanitarian aid and intervention or justice. They pay a huge price when they allow their human emotions to return in the “down time”.

International journalists travel to places no “sane” person would venture, risking their own lives and mental health to ensure atrocities, human rights abuse and the consequences of famine, fire and flood are captured in compelling detail. They play a crucial role in uncovering corruption, crime, health emergencies and other matters of public interest.

Without the efforts and sacrifices of these journalists, reporting of international events would be nothing more than shallow, disjointed accounts. The depth of feeling, immediacy and presence can only be provided by those journalists, right in the middle of the action.

Their stories connect us with other lives away from our own insular experience, broadening our knowledge, exposure and empathy of other people whose reality is so far removed from our own.

It is no small decision to remove an award which recognises the importance of international journalism. It is no small thing to abolish the formal acknowledgement of the fundamental role international journalists play in the communication and dissemination of information on complex issues, events and times.

The Walkley Awards cannot genuinely promote excellence in Australian journalism while excluding the unique contribution international journalists provide to the rich and diverse narrative of the modern world. Australians with political and social conscience appreciate the value of the daring men and women who step outside the comfort of this relatively safe and peaceful country.

The award category for International Journalism should, and must be, reinstated.

*If you have the time and inclination, please consider respectfully emailing the Walkley Awards Committee with your thoughts on why you believe international journalists should be honoured in a category of their own.

[Contacts: louisa.graham@walkleys.com; jacqui.park@walkleys.com; lauren.dixon@walkleys.com; clare.fletcher@walkleys.com; anna.magnus@walkleys.com; barbara.blackman@walkleys.com; kate.golden@walkleys.com]

A Human Rights Act for Tasmania

Right now, the nation is gripped in conversation about health, education, families, housing and justice. The 2017 Federal Budget has just been handed down, and people are earnestly investigating what it personally means for them.

Will the local school lose funding? Will a house ever be affordable? How much will a trip to the doctor cost? Will any new jobs be created?

With these questions firmly at the forefront of people’s minds, it is the perfect time to talk about “human rights”.

Education is a human right. Housing is a human right. Medical care is a human right. Employment is a human right.

This is not how many people understand human rights. In fact, the mention of human rights usually only occurs in the context of repugnant laws which clearly violate rights, for example, detaining refugees in leaky, rat-infested tents on tropical islands, or housing juveniles in adult prisons. Or when discussing equal rights and discrimination, for example whether gay people should be legally allowed to marry, or mothers should be allowed to breastfeed in Parliament House.

Alternately, people incorrectly assume their human rights are already protected. They assume the Government cannot throw them in jail without a fair trial, cannot unjustly deprive them of property, and cannot pass laws to ban them from protesting.

However, unlike other nations with similar legal and political systems, Australia does not legislatively protect all human rights. The Australian Constitution does not include a Bill of Rights. Unless the governments enact into domestic legislation those rights found in the international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, individuals have very little protection for the fundamental freedoms every person is entitled to, on the basis of being human.

Many things we take for granted are in fact basic human rights. Human rights cover such things as the right to life, the protection of the family and children, protection from discrimination, liberty and security of the person, to be treated equally before the law and be granted a fair hearing, the right to privacy and freedom from personal attack, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to peacefully express beliefs.

It includes freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, the right to work, and good working conditions. Additionally, it includes the right to adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, the right to education and to participate in the cultural life of the community, and the right to a safe environment and to the protection of the environment from pollution and ecological degradation.

While some laws do exist to protect human rights, for example the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas), Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth), Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) and Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) there is no central piece of legislation which enshrines all the recognised human rights of Australians and Tasmanians.

It is time for this to change.

Governments across Australia are increasingly enacting laws which infringe on basic human rights. People have come to accept as normal all manner of laws which undermine the principles of natural justice and a fair trial under the guise of “getting tough on crime” and “terrorism”.

Mandatory data retention, anti-protest laws, indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers, warrantless arrests, abrogation of the right to silence and anti-association laws are all generally accepted by the community because many do not understand the concept of human rights, or they think human rights violations only happen in war torn, third world countries.

A Tasmanian Human Rights Act will change the conversation. It will define what a human right is and how human rights apply for ordinary people. It will help to challenge the perception that society can selectively pick which human rights are available and for whom.

Tasmania will not be alone if it enacts laws to protect and recognise fundamental freedoms. The ACT and Victoria have had human rights legislation for over a decade, and in 2016 the Queensland Government announced it too would adopt a Human Rights Act.

The Tasmanian Liberal Party website identifies many of the basic human rights as central beliefs. A majority of the Tasmanian Labor Party policies also find their basis in fundamental human rights and Labor has stated it will introduce and support a Charter of Human Rights. The Tasmanian Greens also has a policy to legislate a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities and to counter the erosion of civil and human rights.

It is evident that all parties are committed to protecting human rights in some form or another. Introducing legislation to recognise human rights should be a common ground for all Tasmanian politicians, regardless of party politics and personal belief.

And what better way to do this than for each party to make the introduction of a Tasmanian Human Rights Act a commitment for the 2018 election?

A Tasmanian Human Rights Act will cement and centralise many of the rights which parties have already publicly acknowledged are important. A dedicated Tasmanian Human Rights Act will ensure that legislators consider holistic implications of new laws while drafting. An Act will ensure that all future legislation is measured against these universal and inalienable rights.

While a Tasmanian Human Rights Act will only apply to local laws, it is an important step in accepting and recognising the rights of all people to, for example, health, education, housing and adequate food. It will provide a central resource for individuals to refer to when they feel their rights have been violated in whichever way. It is the perfect way for state politicians to tell the community they genuinely care about the issues Tasmanians face.

And once state politicians start speaking the language of human rights, perhaps their federal counterparts will follow suit.

For more information on the campaign for a Tasmanian Human Rights Act visit the website or Facebook.

Drug test them all

A burning question arises from Budget 2017. What drugs are Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his team on? There can be no other rational explanation for the inclusion of a total clanger in an otherwise mediocre and generally anticipated bunch of policies. On Tuesday, 9 May, Treasurer Scott Morrison announced money for health, education, and farmers, more taxes, a hit to the banks and a kick for anti-vaxxers. And right at the end, a surreptitiously adopted populist measure to piss-test the poor.

There is no point asking what Mal, ScoMo, and Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, were thinking, as it is abundantly obvious. Perhaps more shocking than the policy itself, is that the Coalition has listened to people other than its rich donors. Yet in doing so, it has embarrassed itself by proposing as serious policy, a fetid and ghastly brainfart.

Despite having an abundance of professionals, consultants and experts at their fingertips, the not-so-illustrious leaders have turned to the blokes and women in the pub, and eagerly adopted the worn-out mantra of the self-righteously indignant and resentful.

I get drug tested for my job, why should those bludgers be able to smoke a joint and get the dole?

I don’t want my taxes going to meth-heads and stoners.”

Why should my money go to junkies to support their habits?

One can only guess how the conversation went in the back rooms of Parliament House.

“ScoMo, old boy, I have a plan!”

Yet just what intoxicating substance did Morrison snort to make him think such a proposal would be even remotely passable as a “cost-saving” measure? What potent brain-fudger did Turnbull and his team of budgeteers imbibe to magic up such pointless twatwafflery?

What jollies they must have had from the thought of sifting through rivers of excrement in search of the elusive whiff of weed.

The proposal is simple enough, in fact it is inherently simplistic. Drug test 5000 random welfare recipients for cannabis, ecstasy or methamphetamine use. If they test positive, they go on the cashless welfare card, in an attempt to deprive them of funds to buy drugs. The new program will focus on recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance payments in three locations, and the so-called “random tests” will use “a data-driven profiling tool… to identify relevant characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues.”

There is even a little bit of rehabilitative help thrown in to satisfy the bleeding-heart, leftie whingers who might claim that depriving drug-users of access to cash and the autonomy to spend it as they wish is a violation of their human rights.

That is pretty much it. A hair-brained plan to test a select proportion of welfare recipients for drugs most commonly used by lower socioeconomic groups in some kind of vain attempt to force them off drugs and back into the workforce.

In what alternative universe does the Government think restricting the cash flow to drug users and abusers will result in anything other than terrible consequences for the community?

Instead of a mature debate about drug use and abuse in the nation’s poorest demographic, Turnbull and co have opted for a puerile, infantile tactic to win the votes of mainstream Australia. In between inhaling sweet vapours and digesting fermented grape juice, they evidently thought it a genius move guaranteed to win widespread applause and nods of enthusiastic approval from the public.

Do they genuinely believe that brain-fried junkies will miraculously reform and de-addict overnight with the threat of Big Daddy-o taking the cash? What exactly do Turnbull and his completely out-of-touch Cabinet believe the “ice junkies” are going to do when they can’t fund their habit?

When there are no tax dollars at hand, they’ll go to the tax-payers directly.

Cue an increase in crime, thefts, robberies and drug-fuelled violence from the tiniest minority of people who rely on welfare and can’t kick the drugs.

Cue an increase in down-on-their luck Aussies who are humiliated and belittled by being subject to mandatory drug testing so they can feed their families.

Drug testing those on welfare is nothing more than a nasty, punitive, vindictive attempt to satisfy the lust for “fairness” from those begrudging that they can’t rock up to work high as a kite. If the conversation is about fairness and equality, the Government would enforce mandatory drug testing in every occupation and industry, or at the very least, for every position funded by the tax-payer, including themselves.

And if the conversation is about “moral superiority”, every person who supports this rancid proposal would insist every employee in every business who takes their money in whatever form be subject to testing too. Buying fuel at the servo? Don’t pay until the cashier provides a swab of saliva. Hitting up the market for Aussie-grown beef? No cash until the farmer gives a clean urine sample.

Or is drug use and abuse acceptable as long as the addict is employed?

But it’s not about drug use, or abuse, or the personal habits of total strangers. And it’s not about the alleged unfairness of drug testing in the workplace, which is to do with safety, not thinly-veiled ideology. It’s bred from the perception that those on welfare are living in a fancy, fun-filled, drug-fueled euphoric bubble of happiness. By contrast, the same people are not  dashing to quit their jobs to join the welfare-funded-party, and they rarely object to government-labelled-bad habits paid for with a weekly earned wage, no matter how big an eventual cost to the taxpayer.

Tobacco smoking, which is legal, is responsible for more drug-related hospitalisations and deaths than alcohol and illicit drugs combined. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013 states that in 2010, “it was estimated that tobacco smoking was responsible for 8.3% of the burden of disease in Australasia, 2.7% was attributable to alcohol use and a further 2.6% was attributable to the use of illicit Drugs.”

Further, in 2013, 29.2% of the population aged 14 and over engaged in risky drinking in the previous 12 months, compared with 15% who took illicit drugs, and 12.8% who smoked tobacco daily. Of illicit drug use, more people misuse pharmaceutical drugs (4.7%) than use methamphetamines (2.1%).

Yet bashing the alleged drug-using-dole-bludger is a favoured sport of Australians, despite being three times more likely to be a victim of an alcohol-related incident than a victim of an illicit drug-related incident. It’s employed versus unemployed, rich versus poor, the-drug-of-choice-of-city-dwellers versus the-available-substances-for-the-rural-and-remote.

It’s the taxed demanding that they have a say on how public funds are spent, while demonising just a small percentage of the population, who, through circumstances unbeknown to the judger, are not employed.

Advocating for the imposition of paternalistic conditions on the poorest of Australians who are already below the poverty line under the guise of “helping” them, is pathetic.

The public does not get to choose where their taxes go, whether it be health, education, corporate benefits, infrastructure or politicians perks. Taxes fund all manner of vile and abominable purposes, for example federally funded religious schools using tax money to protect paedophiles, dropping bombs on the wrong fighters in Syria, torturing refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, and destroying the environment.

International examples have shown that drug testing for welfare does not achieve much at all, and costs a whole lot of money which could otherwise be used on medical and health based interventions which do work, for example evidence-based drug prevention programs and medically supervised rehabilitation. Instead, the Government continues to treat drug use and abuse as a criminal matter, subjecting vulnerable and psychologically distressed people to punitive action.

In the absence of support and access to suitable rehabilitative measures, what options do those addicted to drugs have? Who will employ them while they struggle to overcome their demons? Where will they get the money from that they need to live, feed their families, and admittedly, buy their drugs?

Australians need to accept that some people are not suited to the workforce, either temporarily or permanently. It makes sense, socially and economically to support them financially, as unpalatable as the general working population may find it.

However there may be a silver lining for those who think it is too odious to grant these people social security. The consequences for those vulnerable people subject to the Government’s program who cannot kick the habit and are denied the help they need are predictable. Overdose or suicide.

And dead people don’t need welfare.

Shelton blames it on the gays

Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) managing director, Lyle Shelton, had the shock of his life when he checked out the RSVP’s to his show, Making sense of our time with Lyle Shelton, on the morning of Tuesday, 21 February 2017. While his administrators were sleeping (or busy drafting homophobic PowerPoint slides), the internet went wild.

Approximately one thousand ‘activists’ were keen to send a message to the out-and-proud, anti-LGBTI crusader, and registered over 54,000 fake people to attend the event held at the Melbourne Heathmont Baptist Church on 25 February 2017. There was ‘Hugh Janus’, ‘Alternative Facts’, ‘Dolan Turmp’, ‘Lotsa Butthurt’ and ‘Lyle Shelton has a very scary face and I don’t like it’, to name just a few.

The epic trolling received a horrified reaction from Shelton. Disgusted by the rude, crude, satirical and comical made-up names, Shelton took the opportunity to blame the gays and cry victim. In fact, such was his fear of The Gay, Shelton felt compelled to hire three security guards to keep him safe from any foul-mouthed, filthy activists who might bother turning up to the event to hurl hurtful, made-up names at him.

While Shelton was busy being precious about his feelings, telling media the RSVP’s included “the foulest, most degrading, most obscene written forms of communication I have seen in my life,” he spares little thought for the consequences of his relentless vilification of the LGBTI community.

Satirical identity and the initiator of the RSVP campaign, Pauline Pantsdown, says that the “capacity of Lyle Shelton and the Australian Christian Lobby to falsely paint themselves as victims knows no bounds” and that it is “no surprise that the ACL attempts to reverse this narrative when activists oppose their frightening and dangerous behaviour”.

Pantsdown further states that the ACL has previously made “documented false statements about ‘death threats’ in relation to an earlier protest involving the Mercure Hotel” and that Shelton “[rubbished] federal police investigations about a suicide attempt because [ACL] weren’t painted as being victims”. Shelton’s victim mentality has now extended so far as to hire three security guards because “someone RSVP’d to their event as ‘Ben Dover’.”

Despite some of the names being undoubtedly obscene and likely to cause moral indignation and outrage, the campaign was entirely harmless; unlike the ACL’s agenda. Claiming to be a Christian organization, Shelton uses his position to further his personal vendetta, rather than fostering a caring, inclusive and compassionate society. Given Shelton’s open condemnation of the LGBTI community, it is little wonder he jumped at the chance to hold them entirely responsible for his angst over a few rude words.

But while Shelton was momentarily morally violated by the obscenities, the impacts of the ACL’s campaigns have far more serious consequences.

Shelton has a history of obsessing about the gay community, with approximately 69% of his Tweets anti-LGBTI. Terrified that people will think he’s gay,  he jumps at the opportunity to discuss LGBTI issues, hiding his anti-gay rhetoric behind faux-concern for ‘the children’.

He is a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and the anti-bullying Safe Schools program, and is critical of other conservatives for not standing up to LGBTI community and the “unthinkable things” they support. He believes that implementing programs to address the high levels of bullying of LGBTI students is based on a “terrible ideology”, comparing the LGBTI movement to the rise of the Nazi’s in the 1930’s.

However it seems that Shelton is only concerned with the wellbeing of heteronormative children.

Pauline Pantsdown states that the ACL is “an organisation that places vulnerable transgender children under direct threat” and has “screwed up photographs of transgender children, re-photographed them and re-published them as a source of derision. Some government publications of lists of schools that support transgender children were withdrawn after children were harassed at schools, yet Shelton and his team continue to relentlessly hammer politicians to give them access to these lists.”

LGBTI people have significantly poorer mental health and higher rates of suicide than other Australians, with discrimination and exclusion key causal factors. The average age of the first suicide attempt is only 16 years of age.

Shelton’s gross overreaction to the ridiculous RSVP trolling provides a good insight as to what he considers to be acceptable ‘Christian’ behaviour: Obscene language and sexual references are morally reprehensible, even if no one is harmed, and divisive, anti-gay campaigns which contribute to the suicide of young people are perfectly fine as long as there is no profanity.

 

 

Hanson Rides High on Waves of Discontent

An ominous disquiet ripples across Australia. Anger, fear and frustration bubble away, with the occasional fiery flare on social media manufacturing outrage and another short-lived hashtag. Voter discontent, fury and helplessness simmer. Class and generational warfare grow stronger with hastily implemented Government policy unfairly clawing back billions from pensioners, families, the disabled and unemployed.

Punctuating the flickering angst, the media flings sensationalist stories of impending terrorist-inflicted carnage, interjected by the latest celebrity scandal, and allegations of refugees stealing jobs while bludging on welfare.

The major parties bicker and tie themselves in knots over the practical application of ideologically-generated cruelty. And while they seek to defend systematic and institutionally-supported expense rorting, Pauline Hanson continues to rise, a glowing phoenix emerging from of a puddle of stinking, rancid faeces.

Firing candidates for anti-gay remarks, and offering support for medicinal cannabis, she is charging ahead while the rest of the elected representatives fumble around in slush.

What is happening to Australia?

Social media is awash with petitions and memes declaring her to be the new saviour. According to the constant click-bait, Hanson is Brexit, Trump and the She-God-Almighty, destined to haul the wriggling, squirming nation back to greatness.

How has Australia come to this?

Why?

What grievous sin did ordinary people commit to have this woman and her motley crew of conspiracy theorists and right-wing nutjobs forced upon them?

It is clear Hanson’s popularity is growing. A recent poll in Queensland put her support at ten percent, almost double that at the 2016 Federal election. Apparently forty-five percent of respondents in a survey felt Hanson and One Nation addressed Queenslanders’ concerns better compared to other parties, with the results promoted as being support for Hanson as Prime Minister.

According to Queensland MP, Steve Dickson, a former LNP member who has now defected to Hanson’s One Nation Party, “the two major parties were out of touch with the electorate”, and “have lost their way.”

This is no surprise. According to Australian National University research, trust in Australia’s Government and faith in democracy reached an all-time low in 2016.

This was before the explosion of the latest politician expense scandal, and the unconscionable Centrelink debt debacle where welfare recipients are being intimidated into paying money back to Centrelink that they do not owe.

In the past decade, both the Coalition and Labor Party have fought to out-do the other on matters of public interest. They stand side by side in trashing basic human rights with national security and border control. Much of the rhetoric coming from the Abbott and now Turnbull Government is very similar to Hanson’s policies, despite Turnbull and his Minister’s seeking to distance themselves from the controversial Senator.

With trust in the major parties disintegrating rapidly, the Government’s anti-refugee, anti-immigration, anti-climate science policy adds believability to Hanson’s platform and reinforces the views of an alarmingly growing number of voters that Hanson is a credible option as the leader of Australia.

It would be suicide for Turnbull or Shorten to declare that refugees offer no threat to Australians’ way of life. It would be suicide for either major party to back away from the essential, yet suffocating so-called national security laws, such as the unnecessary and unfair visa cancellations and deportations which have mainly seen New Zealanders sent back across the water, or mandatory data retention, which is already suffering extraordinary scope-creep with a plan to use the data in civil cases.

On the back of such brainfarts as permanent visa bans for asylum seekers, shameful, paternalistic policies such as the cashless welfare card, and the ongoing torture of vulnerable people in island concentration camps, Hanson’s latest proposal to fingerprint every Australian and issue identity cards to cut down on welfare fraud, could almost be a current Liberal National Party policy.

The political climate is perfect for the rise of Saint Pauline.

Disillusioned, angry and frustrated with the system that doesn’t appear to work for them, thousands of Australians need and want change.

Hanson promotes herself as offering that change.

And thanks to the current batch of conservative politicians, her views are no longer seen as extreme. With policy differences so subtle the average voter cannot see the difference, she attracts people alienated by a Government so wrapped up in its own murky stench it cannot relate to the average worker.

Yet Hanson is no friend of the Aussie battler. She is not the answer. She may shake things up, cause a stir and rattle the establishment. But she will not make life better for Australians desperate for a share of economy, for a chance at success and a slice of the proverbial pie.

However the major parties have provided Pauline Hanson with the perfect environment to thrive.

With each new scandal, every new cut-throat act of this Government, disenchanted Australians are lining up to give the middle finger to the system.

And Hanson, like a phoenix will rise, to be the living embodiment of that finger.

 

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