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Jennifer, who has a PhD, has worked as an academic and a scholar, but now works at little of both her careers. She has published short stories in several anthologies, academic papers and book chapters, frequently on the topic of human rights. Her interests and writing are wide ranging, including cultural analysis. Jennifer has written for On Line Opinion, Suite 101 and ABC’s Drum Unleashed. Jennifer is well-known for her long-running blog No Place for Sheep: an eclectic blog that covers politics, society, satire, fiction and fun stuff.

Liberal senator admits 18C changes are designed to win back PHON voters

In case you did not suspect that Malcolm Turnbull’s explosion of piss and wind on Section 18C yesterday was entirely self-serving, this morning on Radio National Breakfast news, Liberal Senator James Paterson confirmed that the exercise was part of a suite of measures designed to win back votes from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Oh look! A Liberal can speak the truth!

It was as well another of Turnbull’s abject efforts to hold onto his rickety leadership by placating his simmeringly mutinous right-wing.  I hesitate to call them colleagues: that implies a co-operative relationship and this lot are snapping at their leader’s heels like a pack of rabid ferrets. Assuaging these furies is the motivation behind some 99.99% of Turnbull’s worryingly unhinged thought bubbles.

What yesterday’s exercise most certainly was not, is an expression of concern for the groups 18C is designed to protect, though Turnbull did his barrister best to spin it as such, declaring with silk-like arrogance that of course these changes would be of benefit, why else would his government so strongly support them?

The proposed change to the wording of 18C from insult, offend and humiliate to harass, is highly unlikely to pass the Senate, so Turnbull is on a hiding to nothing in that respect, however, he has silenced his critics’ savagery for a nano second (his nemesis, former PM Tony Abbott went so far as to congratulate him) and he has demonstrated to the pig ignorant that he won’t be enslaved by “political correctness.”

Aside: I have yet to fathom what political correctness actually is. Can anybody help me? Please be civil.

And so we have (on Harmony Day, nice touch lads) the spectacle of comfortably privileged white men demanding the right to insult, offend and humiliate others solely on the basis of difference. Comfortably privileged white men are inherently entitled to engage in these behaviours (we women know this all too well) and anyone attempting to interfere with their entitlement is guilty of “political correctness.”  Political Correctness is, apparently, a far greater crime than insulting, offending and humiliating others solely because they are different in some way from you.

The world is collapsing under the unsustainable weight of the entitlements of comfortably privileged white men and their female consorts. Like miserably greedy children who fear their parents don’t love them they must have control of everything, otherwise it’s not fair.

Section 18C is intended to curb speech that will cause harm on the very specific grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, colour and religion. I want Turnbull to explain why comfortably privileged white men and women need so desperately to be assured that they can legally insult, offend and humiliate others on the grounds of their race, ethnicity, nationality, colour and/or religion?

There is no upside to such commentary. It can only ever be derogatory, damaging and ill-intentioned. So why do the privileged need it? Why single out this particular aspect of free speech from the many others, including defamation law, that could more usefully be addressed?

Of course defamation law is what comfortably privileged white men use to destroy the freedom of others to speak about them in ways they find insulting, offensive and humiliating. Funny, that.

Changing the wording to harass almost certainly would have protected both Andrew Bolt and Bill Leak from complaints made against them to the Human Rights Commission. Harassment implies a sustained and personal attack, not a handful of cartoons or articles in a newspaper. A substantial body of work would need to be accrued before harassment could be alleged.

The bar would be set high so as to discourage complainants. The added recommendation that costs be awarded against complainants who lose their case is a powerful deterrent to making complaints in the first place.

The Murdoch press, on the other hand, has deep pockets and neither Bolt nor Leak would have faced personal financial distress, as would the majority of complainants. This does not, as Turnbull so deceitfully claimed, “strengthen the law” unless you are a perpetrator.

The proposed law is entirely political, and favours comfortably privileged white men over those they would insult, offend and humiliate, just because they can and by god, free speech!

One could almost claim that the LNP has struck (another) blow for Rupert.

What a happy Harmony Day we had in Australia. The day our government soothed the furrowed brows of ignorant bigots and promised to let them have all the freedoms they want, whenever they want.  Now all that remains is for Turnbull to name the proposed change “The Leak Amendment.”

As this piece by Jennifer Hewitt in the AFR proclaims, the spirit of Leak lives on in the 18C amendment. Oh yes, indeed it does, but not for the reasons Hewitt suggests.  It lives on in the cynical exploitation of difference for personal and political gain, normalised and legitimised by a very little, very frightened and very cowardly man, desperately clinging to his job and willing to exploit any circumstance that might help him stay in it for one more day.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Dutton stigmatises CEOs as no better than women. Wow.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton inexplicably stepped out of his portfolio last week to make commentary on CEOs with an opinion on marriage equality that does not coincide with his own.

Dutton singled out Qantas CEO Alan Joyce for particular attention, presumably because Mr Joyce is gay.

In a final flourish, Dutton advised CEOs to “stick with their knitting” and in so doing revealed the putrid depths of his masculinist contempt not only for gay men and marriage equality advocates, but also for women.

Knitting is largely (though not entirely) a female occupation. It has long been the practice of hegemonic masculinity to “feminise” and therefore devalue gay men through the conflation of homosexuality with effeminacy.

Heterosexual masculinists such as Dutton work to denigrate homosexuals and their CEO supporters as undesirably  “female” by suggesting that their expertise is not in the world of business, opinion and commentary, but rather in a confined domestic environment where they are powerless, voiceless, and, knitting.

The denigration works only if Dutton (and heterosexual masculinists of both genders who agree with his point of view) believes women are inferior, and uses the recommendation to “stick to your knitting” as a profoundly unpleasant, homophobic and sexist insult.

The Minister is actually saying: you have no place and no power in the world of “real” men like me, because if you are a man who supports marriage equality you are inevitably effeminate.

Dutton devalues the male CEOs by attributing to them the “feminine” activity of knitting, and simultaneously devalues women. Our real place is not, in his opinion, in the public space advocating marriage equality, but in a domestic life removed from concerns best left to masculinist politicians.

In Dutton’s view, gay men and male supporters lack masculinity, evidenced by their subversive refusal to unquestioningly support the hegemonic masculinity Dutton represents.

Indeed, Dutton’s masculinity is, like the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton, defined by his heterosexuality. I recall Shelton’s plaintive tweet that if we allow marriage equality, no one will know he is straight.

Feminising gay men and supporters, stigmatising them as no better and no more relevant in the world than women, is an abject attempt to differentiate the heterosexual masculinist from his greatest perceived threat: a man who loves another man and in so doing becomes, oh dear god no, feminised.

In the world of heterosexual masculinists opposites attract, therefore, if you’re a man who loves a man, you must be a woman.

That this is employed as an insult by Dutton should give us significant pause.

Knitting is generally regarded as a harmless occupation, however, Dutton should note that knitters are not necessarily quite so bland. Madame Defarge, for example, knits contentedly on through the Revolution as the despised ruling heads of France fall one by one into the basket under the guillotine, their names stitched into her patterns.

Dutton has managed, in one short phrase, to cast a thoroughly offensive slur upon gay men and all women. Actually, there aren’t many human beings Dutton likes. This nasty piece of work does not belong in our government. Let’s hope his electorate see it that way.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

How has Centrelink come to normalise contempt?

In The Saturday Paper this weekend there’s an editorial addressing the recent Centrelink scandals that, among other extreme dysfunctions, have seen the private data of two clients released to that publication, The Guardian, and The Canberra Times.

What you might not know is that The Saturday Paper declined to publish unsolicited private data sent to them by Centrelink, and that those private details belonged to a young man, Rhys Cauzzo, who died by suicide after receiving automated debt notices and subsequent harassment by Centrelink, and debt collectors Dun and Bradstreet:

Recently, private information about welfare recipients has been leaked to the media in the hope of discrediting critics. After The Saturday Paper published Rhys Cauzzo’s story, the department shared his personal data with our reporter in the hope of changing the piece.

The construction of citizens as enemies of Centrelink is engendered by the conservative ideology of Minister Alan Tudge, and senior departmental staff such as DHS secretary Kathryn Campbell, who use as their starting point the proposition that the majority of clients are criminals, or criminals-in-waiting.

(Sound unnervingly familiar?  The assumption by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton and his lackies that asylum seekers are criminals. I said a while back that what they do to asylum seekers they’ll do to Australians).

In her evidence before a Senate committee last week, Ms Campbell, who played a leading role in creating and presiding over the robo-debt system, refused to acknowledge that the system has any flaws, and remarked that clients have a responsibility to provide the department with correct information. Here you’ll find an excellent piece by Jack Waterford on Ms Campbell, and her “relentless suspicion of the poor.”

The ideologically-driven belief that Centrelink clients (or asylum seekers) are fraudsters is used to justify ill-treatment of them for political gain. The public does not like fraudsters.

Both DHS and DIBP are designed to deal with stereotypes, not human beings. The Ministers and senior staff in both departments are too lazy, too ignorant, too arrogant, too well-paid and too privileged to question their assumptions about those less comfortable in the world. Misfortune of any kind is perceived as a reprehensible moral failing, and as such, punishable by those with the power and authority to punish.

In the upper echelons of these departments you’ll find no broad view of context, of societal and cultural influences: the individual is entirely responsible for his or her own predicament. Society does not exist. There are individual men and women and there are families, but there is no society in the context of which the lives of individuals and families are played out.

Your part in destroying a country has nothing to do with its citizens subsequently seeking asylum in your country. Your ill-conceived policies have nothing to do with people becoming working poor, jobless, homeless, and needing assistance from the state. There’s bunch of rabid Thatcherites running DIBP and DHS.

Ministers such as Tudge, and senior public servants, treat welfare recipients as deviants. Welfare recipients embody what the ruling class fears most: loss of its power and its financial security. They must be punished for their carelessness, but more than that, they must be punished for reminding the comfortable just how close discomfort can be.

Ms Campbell may embrace the Thatcher ideology in her attitudes to citizens, however, it is easily unveiled as a comfortable and convenient delusion. Kathryn Campbell might reflect, if she has the capacity, that were it not for “clients” she’d be out of a job. Campbell’s $700,000 salary is entirely dependent on the misfortunes of millions. So much for the individual’s sole control over his or her circumstances.

The revelation that Centrelink authorities sent unsolicited private details of a dead man to the media, in the hope of changing the journalist’s story, ought to be beyond belief. Sadly, it isn’t. Sadly, we have in this country at least two bureaucracies whose leaders have modelled a pathological lack of humanity, and the dire weakness of all bullies. It’s time to get rid of the Tudges, the Campbells, the Duttons and the Pelluzos. We’ve travelled far enough down the path of cruelty and unreason. It’s time for a change.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Speaking freely of the dead

The death of The Australian’s controversial cartoonist Bill Leak yesterday provoked a storm of polarised emotion on Twitter, as colleagues expressed their shock and sorrow, and representatives of groups Leak humiliated and ridiculed in his work refused to abide by the rules of what was referred to as “common decency and good manners.”

These rules apparently require one to be silent if there’s nothing nice one can say, especially at a time of death and bereavement. The irony was lost on no one in the latter groups, and practically everyone in the former: Leak himself blatantly despised common decency and good manners, and earned his living giving those niceties the finger in the name of free speech.

In his later work, the cartoonist lampooned LGBTQI people, Muslims, the Safe Schools program, Indigenous people, the Human Rights Commission and its head Gillian Triggs. Because of these cartoons, he is lauded by admirers as an outstanding proponent of free speech.

Action was brought against him under the now infamous Section 18C, on the grounds of offence he caused to Aboriginals with a particularly patronising and sneeringly vitriolic cartoon. The case was eventually dropped.

A life has many stages, and those who knew Leak in earlier days, as well as those whose political ideologies he supported, are naturally grieving his unexpected death. Yet as so often happens in death, little acknowledgement is made of the dark side of the deceased, provoking outrage in those who’ve suffered the racism and marginalisation so evident in his later work, and who, equally naturally, feel no loss at his passing.

The efforts by the former to silence the latter were something to behold. Here’s one example, from former PM Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine:

I’ll leave you to deconstruct that example of conservative hyperbole in which criticism is conflated with assassination and beheadings. Clearly Ms Foster does not advocate unfettered free speech by Mr Leak’s critics, while staunchly defending her right and his to express whatever opinions they like in whatever manner they choose.

Of course the accusation that you are not observing “common decency and good manners” is an accusation intended to shame, as is the call for you to “respect” the dead, implying that you don’t have the class to know how to behave in such a situation and someone who does has to tell you.

This latter is a demand I’ve never entirely understood: why am I required to “respect” someone simply because they’ve died?

The reactions to Leak’s death on Twitter yesterday were a microcosmic example of class and privilege setting its sights against anyone who refutes the worship of its idols, using the same tools of contempt, ridicule, shaming and humiliation to achieve silencing as were employed by the idol in his later years.

It seems obvious to me that anyone has the right to speak freely of their relationship with and opinion of a dead man or woman. I can see no reason why those who admired Leak should castigate those who did not for failing to engage in hypocrisy. The idea that death eradicates the hurt and damage any individual might have inflicted on others in their lifetime is ludicrous, as is the demand that we feel sympathy purely on the basis of death. The evil that men [sic] do lives after them.

Common decency is a fluid concept, determined by what suits the ruling classes rather than the commons at any particular moment. Good manners are things I tried to teach my dog.

Respect, I would argue, is sharing space with views different from our own, and not shaming or silencing others because of that difference. It is, in my opinion, perfectly fine for those who do not view Bill Leak with fondness to say so. It is domineering and deceitful for his supporters to fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of those opposing views.

Free speech is for everyone, not just the privileged establishment, and it is everyone’s right to point out when (and which) emperor has no clothes.

Funny how so many simply do not get that.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

How to deal with being raped: two incompatible points of view

On ABC Qanda last night, Icelandic writer Thordis Elva spoke about how she had, over a seventeen year period, communicated with and finally forgiven Australian Tom Stranger, who raped her when she was sixteen and he was eighteen.

Stranger raped Elva as she lay literally paralytic from the effects of alcohol, in her own bed. He’d taken her home from a party, where friends were so concerned they’d wanted to call for medical assistance. Stranger undertook to protect and watch over her until she recovered. The rape took place over two hours, and so damaged Elva she was unable to walk properly for some time.

The two have since given a TED talk on their many email encounters, which were initiated by Elva and culminated in a physical meeting in Cape Town. Stranger remarks on the suitability of this country for their purpose, given the truth and reconciliation project of the Mandela government that sought to address crimes against humanity during decades of apartheid in South Africa, employing a process that involved admissions of guilt, and subsequent forgiveness by victims.

Stranger and Elva have written a book about their long experience of seeking a resolution to their victim/perpetrator relationship. They finally reached a point where Stranger was able to take responsibility for his actions, and name himself as a rapist. This ownership of his behaviour has allowed Elva to find relief from her feelings of hatred, rage and desire for revenge.

While I don’t find it at all difficult to imagine the relief and liberation I’d feel if a perpetrator admitted his crimes against me, I do find it difficult to imagine wanting a relationship with him that would see us co-authoring a book, and travelling the world together, sharing a stage.

As Elva notes, and I agree, forgiveness is something victims do for ourselves, not for the perpetrator. However, what I couldn’t extrapolate from the TED talk or Qanda, or interviews I’ve read, is how she moved emotionally and intellectually from regarding Stranger as an assailant, to interacting with him as a colleague.

Or perhaps not so much how, as why? Releasing myself from dark feelings and desires so as to get on with my life is both sensible and healthy. But keeping the rapist in my life?

I can forgive the perpetrator for my own sake, but that doesn’t mean I ever want to see him again.

Also on the panel last night was Josephine Cashman, Indigenous lawyer and business woman. Ms Cashman’s take on rape is situated at the opposite end of the continuum, and she was rather dismissive of Elva’s story. Ms Cashman stated unequivocally that sexual assault should be dealt with by the legal system, women must go to the police, the perpetrator must be charged, tried, convicted and incarcerated.

Which in theory sounds quite logical, however, as this must-read article by Jane Gilmour points out, that apparently logical process is rarely the outcome of sexual assault allegations. The legal system can be brutal to victims of sexual assault, and conviction rates are notoriously low.

I admit to feeling not a little creeped out by Mr Stranger when I watched the TED talk. I was unable to get past my knowledge of him as a man who had cruelly  and opportunistically raped an entirely helpless woman, over a two-hour period. I didn’t really care what he had to say about his later realisation, self-evident to me, that at the time he’d been more concerned about his wants than Ms Elva’s needs and safety.

In the spirit of truth and reconciliation I tried quite hard to find a point of contact with Stranger. All I felt was dizzy and sick. Yes, I can imagine the miserable, criminal psychopathy of a man who rapes a very ill and barely conscious woman he’s promised to care for. Yes, I can pity it. I just don’t want it or him anywhere near my life.

It seems to me on reflection, that both Ms Cashman and Ms Elva are unrealistic. For very many victims of sexual violence and other violence against women, engaging with the perpetrator is the very last thing we want to do. Taking the legal option is often described as being raped all over again, and it is disingenuous of Ms Cashman to pose that option as a logical process that results in justice. It isn’t, and more often than not, there’s no justice to be had.

It is possible to achieve a state of comparative peace or forgiveness without any involvement with the perpetrator, and preferably with help and support from others.

A woman is forever changed by the experience of sexual assault, and it’s impossible to recover the self who existed before the attack. This is just one of the many losses caused by rape: the loss of who I was before.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as “closure” or “resolution.” There is only finding a way to live your life as fully as you can, in spite of what has happened to you. There’s no formula for this. There’s no prescription.

It’s the victim’s task, and how unfair it seems, to find her way through the hell of rape. It can take a lifetime. And nobody can or should tell a woman how she must do it. If you don’t do it Ms Cashman or Ms Elva’s way, you haven’t failed. You’ve succeeded in searching for and finding your own way to take back your life. And you might have to do it more than once.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

When you hand over private info, you are not informed of a caveat on confidentiality

Last time you were required to divulge private information to a government agency, did you do so in the belief that the agency would keep your information confidential?

Because if you did, that’s likely the last time you’ll have the luxury of holding that belief.

Nobody who has compulsorily given private data to Centrelink has ever been informed that there is a caveat on confidentiality.

Nobody who has ever compulsorily given private data to any government agency in the belief that it is confidential, has ever been warned that if they speak publicly about that agency, they have forfeited their right to confidentiality. 

Canberra Times hack Paul Malone has today written a column headlined “Time for the truth behind Centrelink controversy and Andie Fox.” The piece is a particularly inept and resentful defence of his use of a citizen’s private data, given to him by DHS Minister Alan Tudge, to put Centrelink’s “side of the story” of a dispute between that user & the service provider.

The core of his defence is that the user spoke publicly about her own circumstances, ergo Centrelink has the right to respond by revealing her circumstances as they know them, to the media.

Malone justifies his tawdry piece thus:

It should be noted here that Andie Fox chose to publish her personal details in her original 1200 word article 

In fact Ms Fox revealed her personal relationship status in the article she wrote and submitted for publication.

In the privacy agreement between Centrelink and Ms Fox, Centrelink undertook to protect the private data Ms Fox was compelled to reveal. Ms Fox at no time agreed, or was asked to agree, to refrain from criticising or otherwise speaking publicly about the agency. Neither was she informed that should she criticise the agency, it would abrogate its undertaking to keep her data private.

These details apparently entirely escape the moral and ethical capacities of Paul Malone, The Canberra Times editors, and Alan Tudge.

I asked some public servants how they feel about this turn of events. Obviously, I’m not going to name them.

Our jobs rely on the public having faith in our confidential handling of their often sensitive information. Why would they be honest with us if they don’t have confidence that we will keep that safe and secure?

A public breach of security or privacy is likely to jeopardise [compliance], causing fear and suspicion, and pushing more people into the non-compliant basket.

It also feels like the integrity of the entire PS has been tarnished [by Tudge’s actions against Fox].

We are constantly bombarded with reminders about privacy and dire warnings about the consequences of breaches, and the head of an agency goes and does this.

I had to sign a declaration before I was given access. Very serious shit to divulge private information.

I’m absolutely horrified at the actual release of the information, the vindictive purpose of the release and also for the Canberra Times publishing it, rather than acknowledging they’d received  information that contradicted other claims.

The relationship between a government agency and a citizen is unique. As I’ve noted before, we are compelled to reveal intensely private information to certain agencies. We do this because we are compelled, and we must trust their staff have been trained in the moral, ethical and legal requirements to respect our privacy.

Minister Alan Tudge’s disgraceful betrayal of that trust damages all APP agencies, and all their staff. It irreparably damages those agencies’ relationships with the public. The Canberra Times, in publishing Malone’s sordid pieces, is colluding with an unprecedented destruction of trust between public servants, politicians and the public.

There is nothing in this hideous saga for the LNP government and The Canberra Times to be proud of, and there is absolutely no defence Paul Malone can invent that justifies the damage he has done to Ms Fox, and in a broader sense, to our society, the fabric of which is held together by the civilising influence of mutual trust.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

“Belief” is not enough to justify legislation to reveal private data

On Thursday, in the midst of public outrage at Human Services Minister Alan Tudge’s doxxing of a Centrelink user, legislation allowing the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to give private information to the media passed through the lower house with bipartisan support, and almost unnoticed.

The power to legally release a citizen’s private information to the media is argued by politicians as necessary, in order for agencies to respond to people they believe are deliberately misleading the public and in so doing, undermining the public’s confidence in that agency.

Look. I could write an entire post on the irony of citizens undermining confidence in agencies. Think robo-debt for a start. It’s my “belief” that there’s no citizen alive capable of inflicting as much damage on government agencies as they inflict upon themselves, all too often exacerbated by the minister supposed to lead them. Nobody could undermine public confidence in Centrelink better than Hank Jongen and Alan Tudge.

The significant words in the justification for this legislation are they believe. Government agencies and ministers do not have to prove you are deliberately misleading the public and undermining an agency. They simply have to believe you are in order to legally release your private data.

Of course you can fight them after the fact. You can take them to court to make them prove their belief. But by then you’re all over the media, you’re traumatised, and it’s too late. Governments have deep pockets, and you most likely do not.

You have also compulsorily supplied agencies with the very information they now intend to use against you, because they believe your complaints, impressions, and opinions undermine them.

I’ve carefully re-read the article by Andie Fox that caused Alan Tudge to release her data to Fairfax because he “believed” her commentary undermined public confidence in Centrelink.

Ms Fox wrote an opinion piece. It consists almost entirely of how she felt during her encounters with Centrelink. The only points of dispute Tudge could find are a couple of dates, and numbers of phone calls.

According to Alan Tudge, this is sufficient to undermine public confidence in Centrelink, and justifies his release of her private data to Fairfax. Clearly, this is an absolutely ridiculous claim on Tudge’s part, and an abhorrent abuse of his power.

In fact, the power of Ms Fox’s piece is not in a Tudge-like gotcha game with the agency, but rather in her subjective experience of engaging with Centrelink, one with which thousands and thousands of other users can identify.

What Tudge’s reaction demonstrates is that we absolutely cannot trust ministers and senior public servants to exercise good judgement in their use of this legislation.

It demonstrates that citizens must not tolerate legislation that is so open to abuse by ministers and senior public servants, legislation that is based solely on the grounds of their beliefs.

Politicians need to fully explain why they need such legislation in the first place, and in the second, why they feel the need to extend it to include veterans. It wouldn’t have anything to do with military personnel speaking out about the ADF’s stance on the effects of anti-malarial drug Mefloquine, would it?

No senior public servant and no minister should have the power to publicly release a citizen’s private data simply because he or she believes there may be an adverse outcome for an agency. This is an attempt by politicians to silence all dissent by instilling a terror of possible consequences.

Supplying private data to these agencies is compulsory. Politicians are demanding that in handing over our private data, we also agree to their release of it to media should they believe any public commentary we make might adversely affect their interests.

This is an untenable situation for citizens, and a massive over-reach on the part of politicians.

Postscript: Acting Senate Clerk Richard Pye has acknowledged that Tudge’s release of private data may have a “chilling effect” on witnesses at next week’s inquiry into Centrelink Robo-Debt. 

Mr Pye has warned that any attempts at interference with witnesses will be considered to be contempt. 

We have a government that has to be warned not to interfere with witnesses in a Senate inquiry. Think about that. 

 

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Just because a govt agency says it wrote you a letter, doesn’t mean it did

One of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge‘s justifications for his aggressive media pursuit of writer, blogger and single mother Andie Fox, is that Centrelink made numerous attempts to get in touch with her by phone and letter, and many of these attempts were unanswered.

I have no idea of the validity of these details, however I do know that government agencies are not always accurate in their accounts of interactions with citizens. Despite this fact, the agencies present “their side of the story” as if it is indisputable fact, simply because they say so.

I know this because last year I had some bizarre difficulties with Medicare. I submitted a claim for specialist services, the same claim submitted regularly for the previous eighteen months. The item number is not claimable on the website and as I didn’t have the app on my phone, I’d been submitting via snail mail. There was one occasion on which Medicare said my claim had not arrived, which was resolved after I resubmitted. This was attributed by Medicare to the tardiness of Australia Post.

A few months later I received notice in the mail from Medicare that I had not properly filled out my claim, and they needed further details. I found this very odd, as the claim was exactly the same as the previous eighteen. I rang Medicare.

I was told my claim hadn’t been received. If my claim wasn’t received, how come I’ve just got a letter asking me for more details about it? I inquired. The staff member was excessively rude, aggressive and unhelpful, so I asked to speak to a supervisor. She demanded why I wanted to speak to her supervisor, then shouted that there was no need for me to do that and terminated the call.

When I next managed to contact a staff member I was more fortunate. The staff member was extremely helpful, and we discovered that there was no record of the previous day’s aggressive phone call. We also discovered that the letter I’d received requesting further information had a reference number which did not coincide with that of any Medicare employee.

As well, the staff member informed me that my claim forms, photocopied and returned to me with the demand for more details, had been incorrectly handled: they should have not been returned to me at all, and certainly not as photocopies.

Where are my original claim forms, I asked? We have no idea, I was apologetically told. My claim forms have been photocopied and the originals lost? Breach of my privacy? I suggested.

Who has accessed my claims for specialist services and who knows my history and who is able to access the Medicare system with a false reference number? I asked.

I have never received any answers to these questions. I did speak to another staff member who also could not connect the reference number on my letter with anyone working in the system. I have no idea who in Medicare photocopied my original claim forms, or why, or what happened to them.

I did eventually receive reimbursement and I haven’t had any trouble since.

This is one small example of what can go wrong in government agencies, and that because the Minister says something has been properly executed does not necessarily mean it is so.

It’s also an example of how vulnerable users of these agencies are, and how little control we have over the information we submit. Medicare claim forms reveal a lot about us we might not necessarily want anyone else to know. This is our right.

If a minister can release private data marked “for official use only” to the media, we can have no trust in these agencies. We are in an invidious position: we have no choice but to submit private information. We have now seen how our private data can be used to hold us hostage by agencies and ministers, who might decided to “correct the record” with it if we publicly complain.

I didn’t write about my Medicare experience at the time because I felt concerned that there might be some retaliation, particularly in view of the bizarre circumstances and the misappropriation of my claims by an unknown person. This is how governments silence citizens, and this is why the Fox case is so important.

We now know that Tudge has his staff monitor social media for complaints against DHS.

Well, Minister Tudge, monitor this. Or better still, find out what happened to my private medical data.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Tudge releases unauthorised documents, and where are the “leading” feminists?

Please feel free to email, phone or visit this man with your opinions.

The Guardian has this afternoon reported that Human Services Minister Alan Tudge “accidentally” authorised the sending of confidential internal briefings concerning Centrelink complainant Andie Fox and marked “official use only,” to Fairfax journalist Paul Malone for publication.

The documents included information about Ms Fox from the Australian Tax Office. It’s unclear whether or not DHS has notified the ATO of this data breach.

The Guardian became aware of the “mistake” when the same documents were sent to that publication after journalists requested further information from DHS on the Tudge debacle.

Tudge has assured parliament that he lawfully authorised the release of Fox’s information to Malone. However, given he now claims some of those documents were “accidentally” released, he could not also have authorised them unless he authorised an accident, which is entirely possible and if so, situates us in even more bizarre territory than we found ourselves in yesterday.

It was also revealed today that Alan Tudge requires regular updates from his staff, gleaned from social media, on which Centrelink users are complaining about their experiences with that department.

Centrelink is stalking customers who publicly complain about their services.

Any Centrelink employee who released documents marked “for official use only” to the media would be sacked and prosecuted. I expect the same treatment for Minister Tudge. Don’t you?

Andie Fox is a single mother, chosen by Tudge as a scapegoat to distract from his astronomical incompetency. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, the power imbalance between Alan Tudge, Paul Malone of Fairfax, and Andie Fox is incalculable. As I’ve also noted before, there are thousands of complainants Tudge could have chosen to attack, however, he chose a single mother, one woman because, I suggest, he imagined her to be an easy target, and we know how the LNP feel about single mothers.

And yet not one leading feminist has seen fit to speak out about Ms Fox’s plight. Not one feminist with a platform has chosen to use it to discuss this situation. Not one leading feminist has got Ms Fox’s back, not one has questioned Tudge’s persecution of a single mother, not one has questioned the injustice of Ms Fox being in this situation in the first place because of her ex partner’s actions. A woman is under unprecedented attack by the Australian LNP government, and not one public feminist has said a word about it. WHY NOT?

To be continued. 

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

No need for Centrelink to prove your comments are adverse: they only need to think so before exposing you to the media

Further to yesterday’s post on the release to Fairfax media of private information by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, the minister has justified his decision to take this action on the grounds that he is entitled by law to reveal personal details if the individual has made complaints in the media Centrelink considers false.

In other words, if you complain in the media about Centrelink, your private information can be released by that department in its own defence.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s Use or disclosure of personal information regulations address this situation thus:

6.22 Examples of where an individual may reasonably expect their personal information to be used or disclosed for a secondary purpose include where:

the individual makes adverse comments in the media about the way an APP [Australian Privacy Principles] entity has treated them. In these circumstances, it may be reasonable to expect that the entity may respond publicly to these comments in a way that reveals personal information specifically relevant to the issues that the individual has raised[8]

The APPs and the APP guidelines apply from 12 March 2014 and cover both Australian Government agencies and organisations covered by the Privacy Act. 

I would argue that it is never reasonable to expect that Centrelink* will divulge your personal information to the media under any circumstances, and 6.22 needs to be scrapped. The paragraph makes no reference as to whether or not your adverse comments are justified. You only need to make comments Centrelink considers adverse for them to reveal your private information to the media. 

Criticism of a government agency can see you stripped of all privacy. Think about that.

This should make anyone who entrusts Centrelink and other government agencies with private information, very nervous.

At the same time, if you need Centrelink assistance you have no choice but to give them all the private information they require. This is a lose-lose situation for citizens, and it is entirely unacceptable.

Andie Fox, the subject of Tudge’s vengeful action, is a middle class professional woman, like millions of others who claim Family Tax Benefit, and the millions of older Australians who claim part pensions. Tudge, in this instance, has not gone after his stereotypical welfare recipient. So don’t feel you are safe in your demographic, because you aren’t. Should you get Centrelink offside, your private information can be given to the media whether your complaints are justified or not, without any consultation or warning.

There is a website titled “Not my debt” where you’ll find page after page of adverse commentary on Centrelink. There are thousands of critical tweets. There are hundreds of articles in mainstream media and the blogosphere dedicated to adverse commentary on Centrelink. Yet Alan Tudge went after one woman.

If you think your privacy is safe with government agencies as long as you keep your mouth shut, think about what kind of country you’re living in, and what kind of person you’re becoming because of it.

Centrelink is an apolitical body. An individual’s private information held by the agency must not employed as a silencing tool by the government of the day.

 

* All govt agencies – not just Centrelink – can disclose private info under 6.22.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Fairfax and Centrelink unite in an unprecedented move to publicly persecute one woman

Early in February, writer and blogger Andie Fox published an account of her interactions with Centrelink over a failure by her ex partner to submit tax returns that led to the department issuing her with a debt notice for over-payment of Family Tax Benefit.

It’s a harrowing account and it resonated with very many people who’ve endured the tortuous process of attempting to explain their situation to Centrelink, after being notified of debt they do not carry. As you may recall, Centrelink is responsible for the unprecedented failure of an automated system that has harassed, threatened, engaged debt collectors and otherwise hounded citizens who have no debt, or a good deal less debt than the department claims.

On Monday, Fairfax journalist Paul Malone published an article titled Centrelink is an easy target for complaints but there are two sides to every story. The article contains the private details of Ms Fox’s interactions with Centrelink, provided to him by the department with the authority of the Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge.

Tudge later triumphantly tweeted the article, which contains details Ms Fox contests.

Just to make it clear: Centrelink has released the private details of an individual citizen without her permission in order to present Alan Tudge’s “side of the story.” 

In case there might be any doubt about Tudge’s intentions, Paul Malone and Fairfax have confirmed in their headline that Tudge’s only goal is to use the personal information of a citizen to present his side of the story.

Let’s first consider that both Alan Tudge and Paul Malone are protected by the institutions that employ them. Ms Fox is protected by nobody. So we have the unprecedented situation of Centrelink and Fairfax media joining forces to expose a citizen’s private data in an attempt to claw back some face for Alan Tudge, after the outrageously incompetent debt debacle he oversaw earlier this year.

This is not a question of “both sides of the story.” The actors have no equal ground. It is a breathtaking and unprecedented attack by the LNP government and a compliant Fairfax media on an individual. And it should make everyone of us very afraid.

Family Tax Benefit is paid to millions of families. Not one family is safe from exposure by Alan Tudge, not one, should that family publicly complain about Centrelink. Your private data is fair game in Tudge’s desperate and doomed efforts to appear competent.

There is absolutely no other reason for Centrelink to release Ms Fox’s private data to Fairfax media. Absolutely none.

In other words, any private data held by any government department can now be used as a weapon against you, should you have the temerity to publicly describe your interactions with that department. It can be used to put that department’s “side of the story.” It will be supplied to the media by faceless bureaucrats who do not have to be named, and authorised by their minister. 

You write a piece about Medicare? Expect to see your health records appear in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Can there be any more effective way to silence citizens than to threaten them with media exposure of their most private and intimate information?

In Australia today, the LNP and Fairfax media have joined forces in persecuting one woman to save a lamentably incompetent minister’s face. Think about that. 

The very fact that Tudge has chosen this course of action confirms his incompetence, and his unfitness to hold his position.

There’s a lot more to be unpacked from this situation, too much for one blog post.

To be continued.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Fake threats, and democracy

 

Demands that we be kept “safe” by governments play into the hands of conservatives who simultaneously, and with an alarming degree of cognitive dissonance, express their distaste for a nanny state while instigating extreme measures they claim will fulfil both our expectations of safety, and their responsibility to fulfil those expectations.

All too often those measures are an opportunity for authorities to increase surveillance, harvest personal information and exert unnecessary control over citizens, resulting in an erosion of rights that does nothing to keep us safe but rather makes us increasingly vulnerable, not to terrorists but to the state.

As in the family, so in public life. The greatest threat to our safety is allegedly the stranger, in both the private and the public narrative. So we have President Trump’s seven country “Muslim” ban in the US, designed to make Americans safe. In Australia we have the secretive, punitive Department of Immigration and Border Protection, with their ring of steel around our borders and their concentration camps off-shore. Both governments justify extreme measures with repeated assurances that their only objective is to keep us safe.

However, in the case of both family and country, danger is far more likely to come from within the circle than from without: the family is potentially the most dangerous place for women and children, and terrorism is overwhelmingly perpetrated by citizens/permanent residents of the target country rather than refugees, or foreigners who enter the country with the specific aim of conducting attacks.

In a liberal democracy we are supposed to be participants. We have agency. The degree of safety we demand governments provide is incompatible with the freedoms we rightly expect. Governments are not our parents. While as children we are entitled to protection, as adults we have no such entitlements. Protection and safety must be a joint venture: we have to participate in ensuring our own welfare. Once we relinquish our responsibility, we’re on the road to totalitarianism.

Democracy isn’t just the right to vote. It’s a way of being.

Neither will government assurances of safety from external threat protect us from what is most pressingly dangerous: violence in homes and institutions.

Governments are most reluctant to commit resources to these obvious threats to safety and stability.  Instead, billions are wasted on the containment of fake threats, and we continue to face real threats grossly under-supported and largely unacknowledged. Our protection in this instance does not require state intrusion into personal life: it requires adequate money and front-line resources administered by competent and experienced citizens, not politicians.

This is an example of democracy working. Secretive bureaucracies are not democratic, and neither is taking money from those in difficult circumstances to fund tax benefits for corporations turning billion dollar profits.

The robust exchange of views between Senator Jacqui Lambie and Islamic youth leader Yassmin Abdel-Magied, broadcast on ABC’s Q&A last week, is a complex example of the degree to which fake threats dominate our discourse. It also inadvertently provided a seminar in free speech, when a number of organisations petitioned the ABC to provide a “safe environment” in which Muslims may speak.

Senator Lambie has obviously swallowed the fake terrorism threat, as is evidenced in her noisy opposition to what she perceives as the imminent danger of Australia becoming subject to what she understands as Sharia law. At present, I’d argue, Australia is faced with the rather more urgent matter of dealing with the consequences of Catholic Canon law than with Islamic tenets, sad confirmation of the theory that the stranger is not our largest and most immediate danger.

I don’t like Lambie’s views on the matter of Sharia law, or her manner of expressing them, however, such views exist and attempting to silence them is not a useful option. Currently, the voices of prejudice, fear and hatred seem to have wrenched the mic from voices of reason and good will. We are under the governance of a conservative ideology that values combat and domination over citizens’ and community interests, while offering fake protection from outside forces in order to conceal that ideology’s very real threat to civil society.

Sharia law is not currently an issue for Australia: political negligence on matters of survival such as climate change and social inequality and injustice are.

I don’t yet know how we get the mic back. I don’t think anybody does. I don’t think forcible silencing of opposition is an option. It’s impossible to dictate the tone and language in which opposition is couched. Once again, personal responsibility stands side by side with freedoms. That there are people with platforms taking little or no responsibility for their speech and its possible consequences is truly awful, but it’s reality.

For mine, freedom of speech was exercised by all parties in the Q&A example, including the freedom of organisations to get up a petition protesting the event, and the freedom of their supporters to sign it.

This is how we contest fake threats. By embracing democracy as a way of being, not just something we perform at the ballot box every few years. It isn’t any government’s sole responsibility to keep us and democracy safe, and once we relinquish agency, we have truly lost all hope of safety, and returned to infantile dependence.

This article was first published on No Place for Sheep

 

 

Turnbull’s faith in coal is weak: his home is ready to go off grid

Today, FOI documents confirmed that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was advised that last year’s power blackouts in South Australia were not due to renewable energy failures, but to severe weather conditions that caused unprecedented damage to the network.

Turnbull decided to ignore this advice as it does not align with his commitment to fossil fuels and his party’s entrenched opposition to renewables. Instead, he and his ministers seized the opportunity to politicise the blackouts by blaming the generation mix and the South Australian Labor government, despite having been advised by concerned bureaucrats that in so doing, they were disseminating false information to the Australian people.

Federal Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg claimed that state and federal Labor governments had recklessly committed to ambitious new energy targets, using the SA blackouts as an example of how renewables are allegedly unstable, and allegedly lead to energy insecurity.

These men, along with Barnaby Joyce and other politicians, deliberately misled both parliament and the public, seizing the opportunity to manipulate and obfuscate for their personal and political gain, without any regard for the wellbeing of the country and its citizens. They are traitors.

Turnbull has done an extraordinary backflip from fighting to introduce a carbon price and losing the leadership of his party for his pains, to attacking Labor for “ideological obsession” with renewables at the expense of “energy security.”

However, Turnbull’s commitment to coal and gas does not extend to his personal life. Apparently he is not fully persuaded that coal and gas do indeed provide sufficient energy security. We learned today that the Prime Minister does not seem to be walking his talk, and has installed battery storage in his Point Piper home.

Turnbull also recently upgraded his solar array, to the point where he could almost go off-grid.

As was noted on Twitter, Turnbull is protecting himself and his family from the inconveniences, distresses and dangers of power outages in a NSW market dominated by coal, with renewable technology his policies vehemently oppose.

Turnbull is a hypocrite, as well as a traitor.

In the meantime, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) which is currently considering a $1billion loan to mining giant Adani, has refused a Greenpeace FOI request for dates and locations of upcoming board meetings, on the grounds that it could encourage protesters and media interest if they were made public. This is an acceptable reason for refusing a FOI request? We shall find out. Greenpeace is appealing the refusal.

Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia, writes Ian Verrender, in a piece that is worth a read.

I’m sure Malcolm Turnbull knows there is no future for coal.  I’m also sure he doesn’t care.

Turnbull will gamble with the future of the country and its citizens, many of whom suffer through upwards of 47 degree heat-waves without the benefit of battery storage, because Turnbull wants to keep the job he bought himself for $1.7 million.

And we thought we couldn’t do worse than Abbott.

This article was originally published on No Place for Sheep

 

As long as Pell is protected by the Pope no one can trust the Catholic Church

The Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, yesterday morning expressed his horror and outrage at the latest report from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse on the extent of that abuse within his church.

The Archbishop was at pains to reassure listeners that after years of intense and ongoing scrutiny (thanks to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordering the Royal Commission which catholic MP Tony Abbott and his catholic henchman did everything possible to sabotage) catholic schools are by now among the safest possible places for your child to be.

While he might have a point he is missing the point: the former head of the church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, is himself under investigation both for alleged child sexual abuse, and for his role in covering up the offences of other priests.

Cardinal Pell is currently in Rome, in a position that keeps him very close to Pope Francis. Victorian Police yesterday submitted a second brief of evidence against the Cardinal to the DPP. The Vatican is a sovereign state from which Pell cannot be extradited. When last required to appear before the Royal Commission, Pell pleaded a heart condition that left him unfit to fly long distances. He gave evidence via video link.

I would like to ask Archbishop Coleridge how anyone can trust the catholic church in Australia when its former head is under the protection of the Pope. I’m struggling to imagine this situation in a secular organisation in which 7% of employees were guilty of sexually abusing children, and 4,400 alleged cases of child sexual abuse had been brought against it.

Both these figures are conservative: how many victims have not made complaints? How many have suicided? How many made complaints that were mishandled by the church, or dismissed?

As a fish rots from the head, so has the catholic church. I’m neither heartened nor impressed by various catholic clergy and lay commentators wringing their hands at the awfulness of it all. Had it not been for an atheist ordering an investigation, this would still be hidden, and the perpetrators still protected.

I’m willing to bet a great deal that no one, but no one inside the church would have taken action to prevent the sexual abuse of children, or to instigate useful investigations that resulted in prosecutions, and demands for moral accountability.

This will not be over until those at the highest level are held accountable, including the Pope. Until churchmen and catholic commentators are willing to acknowledge that accountability starts at the head, nobody is safe in the catholic system, and the fish continues to stink.

This article was originally published at No Place For Sheep 

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope

In one of those serendipitous moments I treasure, such as when a book that contains much of what I need to know about a topic practically falls off the library shelves into my lap without me consciously looking for it, the new President of the United States was elected around the same time as the release of the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One. This co-incidence provoked a popular association of Trump with the leader of the dark side in that epic cosmic narrative, Darth Vader.

One of the problems for me in this analogy (and there are several, not least of which is that Vader has a presence Trump could never in a million light years muster) is that Darth Vader, like Lucifer, was once an angel, or as we Star Wars aficionados like to call such beings, a Jedi knight. Vader lost his way and chose the dark side, a decision that precipitated him right out of the good graces of heaven, or, if you’d rather, the select community of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Force.

In other words, Vader began his career as a good guy and stumbled. I can find no evidence anywhere of Donald Trump ever having been a good guy, or ever having been in a state of grace from which to fall.

There are early signs that the Force is beginning to rebel against the evil Trumpian empire in the form of the US judiciary. On Friday judges in two states, Washington and California, issued temporary restraining orders against the continuing enactment of Trump’s Executive Orders on immigration, otherwise known as the “Muslim ban.” Here is the text of one of those orders. Quite a startling read: how often is one likely to see restraining orders against the President of the United States? Perhaps frequently, in this administration.

Oh, my lord. Serendipity (or the Force) strikes again. My auto correct changed the United States into the Untied States. WTAF.

Trump has responded relatively mildly on Twitter, which is where presidential business, foreign and domestic, is conducted in these times:

We quite rightly mocked former President George W Bush for reducing complex affairs to a simplistic binary of good and evil. We argued for nuance, for the moral significance of detail, and against the immature demands of “you’re either with us, or against us.” Back then in the good old days, the Force still had wriggle room.

However, one of the more unfortunate changes rung by the ascension to power of Empire Trump is the successful diminishment of nuance to the status of complete irrelevance, rendering useless our arguments against simplistic perspectives. Nobody in power gives a wookie’s butt about the details of anything, and nuance is for losers:

Trump has (temporarily one hopes) achieved Bush’s goal: to divide the world into those for us and those against us, and to embed those divisions into implacable concepts of good and evil. We are now living in a Star Wars movie. The Empire has struck back, and it has knocked us silly.

The other disturbing difference between Vader and Trump is that in Vader one always senses the possibility, however small, of redemption. One senses no such possibility in Trump.

There’s a scarcity of Jedi knights, the Force is fading, and I can’t find my light sabres. (This is not a metaphor. There were two in this house, and they’ve vanished.)  A woman’s place is in the Resistance, and the Princess’s words resonate as never before:

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

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