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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.

In which the gas chambers are invoked to distract from dual citizenship. Yes. Really.

I planned on beginning this piece with: “The latest MP to fall foul of S44 in the current citizenship saga is Minister for Energy, Josh Frydenberg.”

However, two hours ago I heard that Alex Hawke has now come under scrutiny. Life comes at you fast when you’re a citizen blogger trying to keep up.

The possibility of Frydenberg holding dual citizenship was raised by The Australian, who must have it in for him for reasons I won’t attempt to deconstruct at the moment, except to say he’s a mate of Malcolm’s and Murdoch apparently is not.

Frydenberg responded with strong denials, producing an archival document in which his grandfather states that Josh’s mother, Erika, born in the Budapest ghetto and then aged about seven, was stateless when the family arrived in Australia from Hungary.

There are two more archived documents, one of which was written by Australian authorities when the family arrived at the port of Fremantle in 1950. This states the family is Hungarian, and that they travelled from Hungary on a valid passport. These documents can be seen in the first link at the top of this page.

The final document was issued by US authorities when the family was in transit. It describes Erika as a Hungarian transient, apparently the designation given to Jews by the Hungarian government at that time, and is on the left below.

 

It seems there are many questions surrounding these documents, given the period in which they were issued. However, for the purposes of establishing citizenship, Frydenberg must, like the other MPs, be referred to the High Court, with all the paperwork available to him.

What is remarkable in this case, however, is that Frydenberg and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have sought to make Frydenberg’s citizenship status all about the Holocaust.

If you haven’t seen Turnbull’s morally degenerate, calculatedly over-dramatised efforts to deflect these citizenship concerns by invoking the gas chambers, please do watch this video. It is a lesson in spin, the like of which you are unlikely to see again anytime soon.

Frydenberg threw his mother, and his family under a bus in an abject and shameful attempt to save his job. There was absolutely no need to drag them through this revisitation of highly traumatic events. He simply had to take himself to the High Court like everyone else, and make his case.

Instead, he and Turnbull have run the line that it is highly offensive, and anti semitic, to even question Frydenberg’s eligibility for parliament, because his Jewish family fled Hungary and the threat of death in the gas chambers, and have suffered enough.

It’s astounding that Frydenberg and Turnbull should attempt to manipulate such overwhelming tragedy for profane political purposes. But they have. Why, one could well ask Frydenberg, did you bring your family into this at all, particularly your mother, when all you had to do was present yourself to the Court with your documents?

The other hideous irony to emerge from Turnbull’s video is that many of the points he makes about the treatment of Jews by the Nazis are absolutely applicable to the treatment he is himself inflicting upon refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. As he attempts to destroy the 600 Manus men by denying them food, water, medicine, and the protection Australia owes them, and as he refuses to allow even 150 of them to be resettled in New Zealand, for no reason other than they might actually make a life there, the Chairman of the New Zealand Holocaust Centre drew these parallels:

We keep wondering how much worse Turnbull and the LNP government can get. And every time we wonder, they descend even deeper into a pit of moral and ethical slime.

But surely, you might well protest, using the gas chambers in an effort keep your job and hold onto government is going to take some beating.

But wait. There’s more. Genocide on Manus Island. There’s still that.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Media women name and shame sexual predators … unless they are politicians

Further allegations have been made against Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, including multiple sexual harassment and molestation claims dating back to 2012.

One of the allegations concerns a 17 year-old girl.

On ABC TV’s The Drum yesterday evening, a segment was devoted to the latest alleged high-profile offender, banished by Conde Naste from practising his profession as a fashion photographer after allegations of serial sexual harassment and assault of his model subjects. Katherine Murphy was one of the panelists, and the host was Julia Baird.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to watch Australian political journalists comment on sexual harassment by powerful men in every workplace other than the Australian parliament. The elephant loomed large in the studio as Baird and Murphy discussed a topic over which journalists have thrown a cone of silence when it concerns Australian politicians.

It’s increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that Australian journalists are complicit in, and enable, sexual harassment and worse in the parliamentary workplace.

The situation for alleged victims of Australian politicians’ sexual impropriety is a dire one. At the best of times women (and victims are predominantly women) struggle to be heard and believed when we complain about sexual harassment and assault. It’s been obvious for some time now that the media play a significant role in bringing harassers to everyone’s attention, giving victims a voice, and making it difficult or impossible for perpetrators to continue their behaviour.

Yet none of this support is available to women harassed in the parliamentary workplace, because the media will not investigate, and will not report on sexual crimes and misdemeanours occurring there.

How ironic that there is currently a name and shame campaign under way, led by high-profile journalist Tracey Spicer, against men who harass women employed in the Australian media, while at the same time, media women protect politicians from scrutiny. This selective approach to outing sexual harassers in the workplace damages the credibility of every woman involved in the campaign, particularly those who comment on politics.

This post by J.R. Hennessy on the Press Gallery convention that protects politicians from scrutiny of their “private lives” is excellent, and well worth a read.

I continue to ask the questions: why are politicians given the freedom by journalists to sexually harass and abuse women, a freedom that exists in no other Australian workplace? Why don’t the Press Gallery care about women in the parliamentary workplace?

The idea of protecting perpetrators because they are “entitled to privacy” has kept women and children in violent and abusive situations for centuries. That it continues to hold sway at the heart of our democracy is absolutely shameful, and every political commentator should be absolutely ashamed if they support this long out-dated convention.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Politicians, sex, and the Press Gallery

 

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, the Daily Telegraph decided on Saturday to publish a piece inferring that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce engaged in an extra marital affair with a staffer that has caused upheaval and discontent in his workplace, and his home.

My colleague Noely Neate offers some interesting speculations on the Tele’s piece here. 

What caught my attention was the reaction on Twitter from a few journalists, among them Katharine Murphy of the Guardian, who tweeted:

I’ve written on this convention here, but there’s more to be said about it.

The problem with Murphy’s convention is that it makes any scrutiny of the parliamentary workplace well-nigh impossible. If journalists are not willing to do the necessary investigations, and politicians know they are safe from scrutiny no matter what their sexual activities unless a victim complains to police, they are at liberty to conduct affairs with employees in circumstances that are far from equal. A politician is a powerful individual, some more so than others. Staffers not so much.

In Barnaby’s case he is the Deputy Prime Minister. The power differential between himself and his staffers is considerable. Consensual sex requires a modicum of power on both parts, and it’s arguable whether or not the staffer of a DPM, in a workplace such as Parliament House, has that modicum of power.

I’m not aware of any workplace in Australia other than our Parliament that has an agreement with journalists that employees sexual lives are private, and will not be reported on.

While Murphy’s criminality rider is relatively straightforward, coercion and abuse are not. It is difficult to see how situations of coercion and abuse can ever see the light of day, given the agreement the Press Gallery apparently has with politicians to keep their sexual lives private.

Whether or not an individual is entitled to a private sexual life depends entirely on the nature of that life. If we look at examples such as Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, to name but a handful of men whose sexual lives consisted in large part of exploitation  and sexual assault, then no, those sexual lives are certainly not entitled to privacy. Indeed, according them privacy enables their abusive and criminal behaviour. Without journalists denying them that privacy, we’d be unaware of their predations.

I’m not, of course, suggesting there’s a large number of politicians indulging in predatory sexual behaviours, but given the Press Gallery’s refusal to go there, how do we know? It would be naive in the extreme to believe their workplace is the only one on the planet in which sexual predation does not occur.

We know how difficult it is for victims of sexual predators to speak out. How much more difficult must it be if you’re in a workplace where you know the culture is one of protection for perpetrators?

There are circumstances in which a politician’s sexual behaviour is absolutely of concern to the public, and those circumstances need not be criminal, coercive or abusive. Barnaby, for example, campaigns vehemently against marriage equality on the grounds that it will somehow destroy the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, while he’s allegedly destroying the sanctity of his own marriage vows. If we are being governed by the hypocritical, we have a right to know that.

Paula Matthewson deals with the implications of illicit sexual behaviours in the political world, and our need to know, here.

There are situations in which a politician’s sexual life is absolutely irrelevant, and privacy appropriate. The Press Gallery convention, however, makes no such distinctions, and journalists’ hands off attitude to politicians’ sexual behaviours ensures a cone of silence around their workplace that can only disadvantage less powerful employees, while allowing our elected representatives freedom from accountability journalists grant no other workplace.

Guardian columnist Jeff Sparrow posted this tweet:

While there’s no argument from me that our sex lives shouldn’t matter to politicians, there are occasions on which politicians’ sex lives should matter a great deal to us. Why, for example, is there no investigation into Barnaby’s alleged affair? Did he use public money to fund its enactment? Is it an isolated incident, or does he make a habit of betraying his family?

This is a government that has subjected LGBTQI people to a foul postal opinion poll that gives everyone the right to “vote” on their human rights, based entirely on sexuality. Barnaby Joyce wholeheartedly supports this disgusting intrusion into the sexual lives of others simply because they are not heterosexual. Why is there a journalistic convention that protects Joyce from scrutiny?

Let’s not forget as well that Minister Alan Tudge announced stringent and intrusive requirements for single parents to prove they do not have a sexual/intimate relationship, before they can receive benefits. This government increasingly encroaches upon our privacy and into our bedrooms: yet politicians’ privacy and bedrooms continue to be considered be sacrosanct.

Why?

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Bernardi and Abbott: a shared pyschosis

And the week finished on a spectacularly self-mutilating note for the No side, with Cory Bernardi and Tony Abbott inadvertently exposing the dark spite at its crippled heart through a couple of straw-clutching stunts that only served to reveal the dire lack of substance in the anti-marriage equality tripe.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday provoked a media kerfuffle when he decided to report an alleged assault on him in Hobart not to police, as one might expect, but to Andrew Bolt and various other representatives of the gutter press. He had been head butted, he claimed, by a Yes supporter, in a totally unprovoked attack and this is all we can expect from Yes supporters who are disgracefully violent.

Eric Abetz, with whom Abbott later lunched, declared that if marriage equality becomes a thing we can expect that married same-sex couples will go round head butting whomever they want, because marriage equality gives legitimacy to head butting. Or something.

Eventually the Tasmanian police, alerted by media reports, contacted Abbott about the assault. They subsequently arrested  Hobart DJ and anarchist Astro Labe, who stated quite bluntly that his attack had absolutely nothing at all to do with same-sex marriage. Astro just hates Abbott and half-tanked, took an apparently god-given golden opportunity to “nut the c#nt.”

That the media unquestioningly ran with Abbott’s fantasy that he had been attacked by a marriage equality supporter because of his stand against same-sex marriage, is disturbing. As the story unfolded, it became clear Abbott had quickly confected the motives for the assault, and the media went right along with his confection. I am tempted to speculate that Abbott’s opportunistic lies explain his failure to report the assault to police, and hopefully will cause him some difficulties when the matter comes to court.

Senator Cory Bernardi took umbrage at the South Australian Craigburn Primary School’s “Do it in a Dress” day, an event they’ve held for the last six years in which boys are encouraged to wear school frocks as part of a fund-raiser for African girls who are in urgent need of education.

“This gender morphing is really getting absurd” thundered the chiselled-faced senator who apparently believes if you allow a boy child to wear a dress for six hours he will morph into a yucky girl and a rampant homosexual and destroy the values of western civilisation and all this ruination begins with marriage equality you are being warned!

The school expected to raise about $900 for the African girls. At last count they’d received some $120,000, as citizens outraged by Bernardi’s perverted attack on the generosity of little kids expressed their feelings via their credit cards. Bernardi has been left with an inordinate amount of egg on his Ken-like features, and his mean-spirited efforts to shame primary school boys because they don a frock has exposed the despicable lengths he is prepared to go to in his anti LGBTQI and marriage equality campaign.

These two men are, quite frankly, hideous in their zealotry and their willingness to exploit every situation in support of their cause. Both men have been exposed as extremists, who see the world through the lens of their bigotry and homophobia, always on the look out for circumstances they can turn to their advantage. These tactics have backfired for both of them this week.

The media is also apparently biased against the Yes side, with No campaigner Lyle Shelton receiving three times, that is three times more mentions than prominent Yes advocates.

You’ll be relieved to hear that Abbott received only a “very, very small swelling” on his lip. You might care to consider this alongside the murderous violence perpetrated against gays, for example, and the astounding lack of interest and concern shown by media and authorities in these atrocities.

Post Script: I have just with my own eyes seen a photo of Bernardi and his wife in their own home with a large painting of  Australia’s most famous gender morpher, Dame Edna Everage, on the wall. Nobody could make this shit up. Nobody. 

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Turnbull’s postal opinion poll: a vicious, bullying farce.

 

It’s rather difficult to empathise with the marriage equality No crowd’s insistence that they are being “bullied” by the Yes side, given that the postal opinion poll on the issue is, in itself, one of the most outstanding examples of government and social bullying that we’ve seen in quite some time.

Subjecting groups to the judgement of their fellow citizens on the basis of their sexuality is bullying, of the most insidious and damaging kind.

Sexuality is an integral part of who we are. It ought not to be the business of anyone other than ourselves, and those we choose to share it with.

And yet here we are, bullied into participating in a bullying opinion poll on our bullied fellow citizens.

(Well done, Prime Minister Turnbull. We all know you chose this persecutory path this because you’re scared dickless of your right-wing. We also know that bullies are always cowards.)

The opinion poll is a survey (and I use the word loosely, given it wouldn’t pass muster as an actual survey anywhere except perhaps North Korea) of what some Australians think of the sexuality of other Australians. It is inherently privileged: gay people do not and never will have the right to participate in a government-initiated opinion poll on the sexuality of straight people and their right to marry. (The very fact this comment sounds ludicrous is solid evidence of entitlement and privilege). It is a survey with a non binding outcome if the answer is yes, and a binding outcome if the answer is no.

I understand that the national result of the opinion poll will be broken down on a federal electoral basis, thereby enabling politicians to claim they will vote in parliament according to their constituents’ wishes and not their own. Yet again they’ve worked out a way of getting themselves off the hook. Eluding responsibility is the one skill this government seems to possess in abundance.

Although the postal poll is to say the least haphazard (piles of envelopes left in the rain at apartment blocks; sent to people who’ve left the address ten years before; stolen forms auctioned online and so on) the results will be a permanent record of opinion in each federal electorate without any safeguards in place to ensure everyone in that electorate had the opportunity to comment. It really is an absolute farce, confected by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and embraced by Turnbull as a way to save his sorry arse from a right-wing kicking. If this isn’t bullying, I don’t know what is.

The No crowd, on the other hand, seem incapable of distinguishing between disagreement, and bullying or silencing. It’s a conservative trait to believe anyone with an opinion that differs from yours is your enemy. According to the right-wing, if you aren’t agreed with you are “silenced.” To this end, the No crowd continues to appear on every available media platform on a daily basis, protesting their “silencing.” Not one of them can see the irony in this.

Here, yet again, we see entitlement and privilege in action. The No crowd is working from the premise that they must be agreed with, simply because of who they are and what they believe. It’s become perhaps an over-used concept since the advent of Donald Trump, however, the notion that anyone who doesn’t believe what you believe is wrong and wickedly trying to silence you is teetering towards narcissistic. It’s also bullying.

So far throughout this debacle, the right has shown itself to be relentlessly seeking victimhood. However, for mine, Shelton’s appearance at the National Press Club last week conclusively undermined his accusations of silencing, both for him personally, and for his followers.

Let’s face it: we should be so lucky…

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Let him eat cake: Abbott and marriage equality.

In the first paragraph of his opinion piece in The Age today, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott encapsulates the condescension and toleration typical of many on the No side of the marriage equality debate thus:

“Like most, I have tried to be there for friends and family who are gay. They are good people who deserve our love, respect and inclusion but that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to reserve the term “marriage” for the relationship of one man with one woman, ideally for life and usually dedicated to children.”

(Note: in almost every statement you can think of, whatever comes after a “but” negates wholly or in part what precedes it).

“They” are good people who deserve inclusion, however “they” do not deserve that ultimate straight privilege: marriage. And why don’t “they” deserve it? Because they are not heterosexual.

It ought to be obvious to even the dullest of minds that if your sole reason for denying another human the rights you unquestioningly hold yourself is their homosexuality, then you are practising homophobia.

Neither can you give the right to one group of citizens to determine the humanity of another and call for respectful debate at the same time. The premise of the debate is inherently disrespectful and harmful.

At this point, I could rest my case that the postal opinion poll is, in itself, homophobic, and as such anyone involved in it ought to be fined for vilification by participation, including me as I’m answering Yes. I remain enraged at Prime Minister Turnbull for his lazy and cowardly outsourcing of this matter to the public, thus forcing me, because I’m not prepared to chuck my survey in the bin, into engagement with a process I consider discriminatory and cruel. I couldn’t live with myself if I did anything to enable a No victory. The sucky little bastard has me wedged.

In Britain, Abbott bemoans, Catholic orphanages have been forced to close down as a direct consequence of marriage equality. This would seem to me to be a win-win, given the well-documented atrocities visited upon children in Catholic institutions but Abbott apparently considers it a reason to tick No. In the US, he continues, a baker (a baker, in the whole of the US, in the entire western world in fact, a bakerhas been prosecuted for refusing to put a slogan on a wedding cake. This, my friends, is all the drunken little toe rag has to prosecute his argument that marriage equality will destroy the principles on which our society is, in his perception, based. Bring on that long-overdue destruction, is my feeling on the matter.

This debate is about power. It’s about who controls the damn narrative. It’s about changing a society in which some people are considered less human than others solely because of their sexuality. It’s about ending exclusion. It’s about challenging the absolutely unacceptable hold religion has on our secular country. It’s about allowing the expression of human love beyond the narrow confines of the heteronormative.

By all means, let us discuss the institution of marriage, its pros and cons, its dominance in our culture. Its inherently exclusionary nature, the many ways in which it disadvantages women, all of its many problematics. However, these are separate issues from denying the privileges of marriage to anyone, solely on the basis of their sexuality.

If marriage equality does, as Abbott insists it will, fundamentally change our society, this can only be a good thing. Change will mean an equalising and an opening up, rather than the fearful and repressive hunkering down advocated by the No side, simply because they cannot deal with any kind of difference.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Tolerate my intolerance or I will destroy you

It takes some arrogance to declare that your support for others is contingent upon their actions and speech being acceptable to you. In other words, they earn your support by dancing to your tune, not because you have any real interest in their cause. Your primary concern is that your own sense of decorum may endure temporary violation, and you will not tolerate that, no matter whose human rights are at stake.

“Do it my way or else” is hardly a respectful way in which to approach debate and disagreement.

(I’ve long been of the belief that arrogance is a psychological defence mechanism employed to conceal from self and others terrifying feelings of  insecurity, uncertainty, and lack of self-worth. It’s a thin veneer.)

Such arrogance has been expressed by several right-wing commentators and was yesterday reiterated by one Tom Switzer, currently employed by the ABC as a “radio host.” Fairfax recently published this piece by Switzer on marriage equality and intolerance. To paraphrase: I would vote Yes in the marriage equality postal survey, declared Switzer, but the same-sex advocates are being so objectionable I’m rethinking that and may vote No.

I like to think of this attitude as a desperate (and despairing) effort to retain control by those who feel they are perilously close to losing their hold on the status quo. The “If you are not nice to me I will not support your cause” position is narcissistic, in the sense that offending these people is experienced by them as a narcissistic wound, a threat to their very being. It reveals the fragile, threatened ego that needs everyone to be nice to it all of the time, otherwise it will blow you up, metaphorically speaking in this instance though the threats of annihilation are more substantial at the more powerful end of the narcissism spectrum where we find Trump and Kim Jon Un. Switzer of course is not in their league: his narcissism is of the petit bourgeoisie class for whom bad manners, language and graffiti are offences that far outrank just about any denial of human rights.

The ultimate exercise of control: do it my way and don’t offend me, or I will use my power to affect your life against you.

Many of us can likely find a parallel in childhood, when our parents told us we wouldn’t have what we wanted unless we were good.  Switzer, et al, are applying the same authoritarian discourse to adults seeking equality with other adults. They are demanding their own intolerance, either of marriage equality or the manner in which the fight for it is fought, be placed front and centre in a discussion on equality. In so doing they destroy any possibility of equality and respect in the debate, let alone in its outcome.

This is a tactic used by the privileged against many minority groups. The ruling class sets behavioural norms, and gives itself permission to break them while severely punishing and shaming those who are not of their tribe. Tony Abbott’s taxpayer-funded drunkenness comes to mind as an example, as he advocates for the humiliation of indigenous people with the imposition of a cashless welfare card to prevent their purchase of alcohol.

The intolerant, such as Switzer, are not interested in respectful debate and just outcomes. They are concerned with their own feelings of offence, and consider themselves to be so important that a vote on the lives of others hinges entirely on whether or not they suffer affront.

Respectful? I don’t think so. Tolerant? Nah. Silenced? Give me a break.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

The fluidity of tradition

 

Tradition is a word we’ve heard a lot these last few weeks, as the anti marriage equality crowd cast about, in increasing desperation, for valid arguments to make against the Yes vote.

I’m being generous here, in describing the No contingent as engaged in a search for valid arguments: there are no such arguments and the Nays are resorting to all manner of nebulous scare tactics, including, but not limited to, the threat same-sex marriage allegedly poses to “traditional” marriage.

Here is federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie with his understanding of traditional marriage:

I could spend the rest of the day deconstructing Hastie’s evangelical Christian opinion of marriage as solely for procreation, but readers here are more than capable of doing that for themselves. Suffice to say the man has publicly revealed his sexual repression, commiserations to his female partner and back to tradition.

There is a sense in which people who call on tradition as a justification for perpetuating contested attitudes and actions hold the belief that tradition, in and of itself, entirely validates the status quo. Tradition is to them a numinous concept, and as such, unchallengeable.

A moment’s reflection ought to alert them to the perils of such an assumption: think of the many traditions our society no longer tolerates and one is immediately aware of the fluid nature of tradition, why it’s almost as fluid as gender, hey Mr Shelton? 

There are many examples of traditional values that have revealed themselves, in a society struggling to evolve, to be bigoted, exclusionary and privileged, not to mention racist, sexist and genocidal. Traditional is not a synonym for good, or compassionate, or decent. It merely means that a certain set of behaviours has been naturalised or normalised at the expense of another set of behaviours. The determination is inevitably made by those who have the most power, and the most to gain by investing their favoured behaviours with the allegedly eternal quality of tradition. He (and sadly it usually is he) who controls the narrative controls what is to be considered traditional.

I’m going to venture out on a limb here and suggest that tradition, in and of itself, is bollocks. There’s absolutely nothing numinous or eternal or universal about it. It’s nothing more than reified repetition. There’s nothing wrong with doing the same thing generation after generation provided it isn’t damaging people, but please, let’s not pretend it carries a mysterious power of incontestable rightness, simply because it’s always been done that way.

So there you go, No vote. That’s fixed tradition for you as an argument. Next?

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

From the heartland of privilege: the week in politics

Statues of Lachlan Macquarie and Captain James Cook were graffitied by protesters last week, in an action the most cowardly prime minister in Australian history described as “cowardly.” Angry criticism erupted from the most unexpected of quarters, confirming that the privileged mind governs both the left and the right when it comes to challenging the myths of white heroes.

Apparently vandalism is fine, indeed it isn’t even vandalism if the political class approves of your choice of subjects such as say, Saddam Hussein and Hitler, but stay away from white icons even if they are terrorists.

For mine, spraying some symbols of genocide and ongoing oppression with paint counts as nothing in comparison with the murderous acts perpetrated against your people, but the middle-class commentariat were outraged by the lack of niceness evidenced, niceness being one of that demographic’s primary instruments of control through the exercise of the power of shame.

Their reaction seems a tad hysterical, after all they can white wash their statues just as they’ve attempted to white wash the history behind them. For example, this statement from Macquarie is never seen on or around statues raised in his honour:

How about putting that on a plaque then?

And on the matter of being nice to the commentariat if you want their support, we have this from Caroline Overington on the problem of marriage equality advocates acting mean towards those who would have voted yes if marriage equality advocates hadn’t been mean to them and made them vote no. Because marriage equality is all about how people such as Caroline Overington feel, innit, and if you don’t get that you cannot expect her support.

Here we have a further example of the dominant privileged mindset. The privileged can dictate the terms of your protest, and if you are not nice in how you go about it, they won’t help you. Indeed, they will forget all about your cause, and shame you for your bad manners. It’s not what you say that counts for these people.  It’s all in the way that you say it.

As you read this post, one hundred asylum seekers are being effectively thrown out into the streets as the Turnbull government’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton implements a new “final departure Bridging E Visa” designed to force those in Australia for medical treatment to back Manus Island and Nauru, or back to the countries from which they fled.

Families, including children born here, are not yet included, though it appears to be only a matter of time before they too will have their income support withdrawn, and be given three weeks to leave government-supported accommodation.

The ALP has protested loudly against this fresh torment of asylum seekers, however, opposition leader Bill Shorten continues to insist that none will be settled here, and he spitefully ignores New Zealand offers to take a quota for resettlement. Shorten refers to un-named “third countries” as a solution (as long as they aren’t New Zealand) and to the doomed plan to resettle refugees in Trump’s America.

It is blindingly obvious that the US project is going nowhere, since we learned that Prime Minister Turnbull promised President Trump he didn’t have to take anyone, he just had to act as if he might. So why does Shorten continue to behave as if the option has any validity?

The PNG government has in the last couple of days informed the Turnbull government that it will not permit the closure of Manus Island detention centre at the end of October, and Dutton’s planned abandonment of refugees housed there to the island community.

The reality is, there is nowhere for the asylum seekers to go, and both parties carry equal responsibility for this disgusting state of affairs. They should be brought here, allowed to stay here, and New Zealand’s generous offer should be accepted.

In the three examples I’ve selected out of the many possibilities on offer this last week, there are common motifs. They are of lies, misinformation, suppression, oppression, persecution, and the revolting self-regard of white privilege.

Yes, this is Australia, no matter how often somebody attempts to claim that we are “better than this.” Clearly, we are not.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

On religious freedom

Yes, I know, this might at first blush seem an odd choice of topic given our current circumstances but really, what can one usefully say about the political shenanigans that currently overwhelm any possibility of good governance?

One can only cling to the words of the late George Harrison: all things must pass, all things must pass away, and hope to dog they don’t take too damn long in their passing.

The erudite and decent Father Frank Brennan published this piece in the Guardian yesterday on the necessity to protect religious freedom as well as to support marriage equality. As far as I can tell from the piece, Brennan is arguing that while he hopes for the prevailing influence of good will all round, there must be room made for the religious to discriminate against same sex couples. He does not quite frame his argument in those terms, of course, however it seems to me that in this instance religious freedom equals the unchallengeable right to discriminate, on the sole grounds that the sexuality of some humans offends your religious sensibility.

If the religious are to be granted a legal right to discriminate against same-sex couples, they better provide some sound evidence of the need for that discrimination. Otherwise, discrimination on the basis of sexuality becomes normalised as “religious freedom” with no justification other than “it’s against my religion.”  I’m going to stick out my neck and declare that this isn’t good enough.

Why should your religious belief trump another’s human rights? On what basis does your religion condemn same-sex couples as humans you are entitled to discriminate against and therefore inevitably less fully human than you, be it in baking them a wedding cake or employing them in your schools?

And why should the secular state support you in your deliberate creation of a lesser class of beings?

It isn’t religious freedom to discriminate against others who don’t fit your vision of how humans ought to live. It’s religious exceptionalism. The language of religious freedom serves to obfuscate the reality: it is unjustified and unjustifiable dehumanisation of those whom it excludes.

Freedom of religion ought to mean, and in my opinion does mean, the freedom to practice your religious beliefs without oppression and persecution. It does not mean you are granted freedom to oppress and persecute those whose ways of being do not accord with your beliefs, and discriminatory behaviour towards such people is inarguably oppressing and persecuting them.

If your religious beliefs demand that you must, through discrimination, oppress and persecute a particular group of your fellow humans, perhaps you need to seriously consider the worth of that religion.

Religious freedom in this instance sounds an awful lot like justification for homophobia. And as long as the religious can’t offer sound reasons for needing this discrimination based on sexuality, it will continue to sound and look like homophobia. If it quacks like a duck …

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Voting Yes

Friends of this blog know I’m not particularly enamoured of marriage as we know it. It’s an institution, as one wit noted, and who wants to live in an institution? Flippancy aside, my main objection to marriage is the entirely unwarranted privilege it is accorded in our society, a discriminatory privilege currently available only to heterosexuals.

Some of the most heinous behaviour of which the human species is capable is acted out in heterosexual marriage. Treachery and betrayal. Domestic violence. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children. Murder. The dark side of marriage ought to cause us to question its privileged position, but as a herd, we have a capacity for cognitive dissonance that is nothing short of astounding.

So voting Yes in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s disgraceful $122 million postal survey on marriage equality is a complicated decision, given that I think marriage as we know it is a bit of a nonsense in the first place. However, the reality I must accept is that marriage is an institution, and as such must be available to anyone who wishes to live in it. Excluding people on the basis of their sexuality is appallingly discriminatory, and makes second class citizens of anyone who isn’t heterosexual.

Add to this the allegedly illegitimate nature of Turnbull’s postal survey, about to be argued out in the High Court, and it becomes tempting to boycott the whole despicable process, rather than validate the PM’s sordid machinations with my participation.

However. You can be absolutely certain the No vote is, as we speak, marshalling all its forces to fight what the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton describes as “the fight of our lives” against marriage equality. Lyle, you might recall, some months ago issued a paranoid tweet to the effect that nobody will know he’s straight if gays are allowed to marry. Unfortunately most of his public commentary on marriage equality is far darker than that idiocy, and you can be absolutely certain he and his supporters will be cranking up their homophobic rhetoric over the next few weeks. If we don’t vote Yes we risk a No victory, and I do not want to think about the myriad ways in which that will licence Shelton and his ilk, possibly for years.

The No contingent will not care that a reduced Yes vote comes about as a consequence of principled boycott. They will rejoice in their victory. Nothing good can come of this, so please vote Yes.

Turnbull has wedged the electorate. He has presented us with a singularly depraved process, one he admits will go nowhere as a Yes vote is non-binding. He has co-opted us into his internal strife. He has made the Liberal party’s turmoil ours. He has forced us either to join him in his corrupt process, or risk an ongoing abuse of and discrimination against LGBTQI people that will be validated by a No vote. For this he should never, ever be forgiven.

We all know the right-wing of his party stands ready to nail his testicles to the despatch box. In another desperate attempt to avoid this fate, Turnbull has outsourced his responsibilities to the electorate.

I loathe the situation in which the PM has placed us. I loathe that he has made us a part of his cowardice and depravity. I would like nothing more than to boycott his stinking survey. But I believe the only way of fighting back is to vote Yes to marriage equality, an overwhelming, resounding Yes. If nothing else, this will place Turnbull in an absolutely untenable position if he then refuses to accept this Yes, and will forever make a mockery of his claims to listen to the will of the people.

A Yes vote is a demand that everyone in this country be accorded equal access to what is recognised as a human right to marriage and family. It is a demand for an end to the perception of LGBTQI people as somehow inferior to heterosexuals. It is a demand for an end to heterosexual privilege and power.

Turnbull has co-opted us into his vile process. Turn it back on him. Don’t play into his hands with a boycott. Vote Yes.

Oh, and you can also will the High Court to chuck the postal survey as an option out on its carbuncled arse.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Turnbull and Trump: Masters of depravity

For those of you who haven’t read the full transcript of the phone call between US President Donald Trump and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, here’s the link.

For the politically aware, the transcript serves to confirm what we’d long since concluded: the agreement by the US to take refugees from Manus Island and Nauru is entirely dependent on the outcome of an “extreme vetting” process which, as Turnbull reassures Trump, means the US doesn’t actually have to take anyone. Trump only has to be seen to follow the process.

Turnbull also reassures a skittish Trump, worried about the moral character of the refugees, that they are good people we have imprisoned only because they travelled to Australia by boat. Had they arrived by plane, Turnbull states, they would be living here now.

Turnbull has unwittingly impaled himself on the horns of a dilemma: in order to persuade Trump he isn’t sending him “the next Boston Bombers” the PM, no doubt unquestioning in his belief that the phone call will remain secret, goes to some lengths to convince Trump the refugees are of good character and not potential terrorists, but we have imprisoned them anyway, in horrendous circumstances, for the non-crime of having arrived in a boat.

Let this sink in. Australian politicians have imprisoned and tortured those now acknowledged by the Prime Minister to be good people, purely to gain political advantage. Australian politicians have spent billions of taxpayer dollars on the confinement and torture of good people, for political advantage.

In my understanding of the word, this is depraved.

Some mainstream media commentators have praised Turnbull’s demeanour during the phone call. Some have claimed that he “won.” This is how depravity is normalised. By media unquestioningly accepting the “normality” of depraved exchanges. There can be no “winner” in what amounts to a discussion on people trafficking by people traffickers, and I have yet to see this exchange between Turnbull and Trump named for what it is.

What Turnbull “won” is unclear, since at its most base, the negotiation concluded with Trump being reassured that he does not have to take anyone from Manus and Nauru as they can all fail his extreme vetting, that’s up to him, while Turnbull grovelingly agrees that we will take all those Trump “needs to move on, anyone. Anyone.”  Momentarily setting aside the depraved nature of the discussion, how can this possibly be a “win” for Turnbull and Australia?

It’s indicative of how normal depravity has become in Australian politics that much of the mainstream media is apparently entirely unaware of it: even the ABC’s Chris Uhlman described Turnbull as having “won.” Are commentators incapable of acknowledging the depravity of two excessively privileged men treating refugees as less than human?

The leaked transcript has revealed nothing new: it has confirmed what many of us already long believed: that refugees imprisoned by Australia in off-shore concentration camps have been stripped of all humanity, and reduced to political pawns in a depraved political game designed to appease the most ignorant, racist and base amongst us.

The question is, are we prepared to accept this depravity from our politicians? Because if we are, we enter into this depraved state alongside them and by our collusion, and the collusion of our media, normalise the persecution of innocent people for political gain.

You think this will stop with refugees? You’re dreaming.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Presumption of innocence, or attacking victims and the legal system?

I’m somewhat baffled by the insistence of George Pell’s more vocal and public supporters that he is being unfairly treated. He has, they assert, been subjected to years of suspicion and innuendo and this, they argue, makes a fair trial impossible. Their opinion: he is the victim of a witch hunt and should not have been charged. The ludicrous conclusion of this argument is that nobody should be charged with anything if there’s been public commentary prior to those charges being laid.

I would like to see some proof of this claim of inevitable prejudice due to Pell’s profile, though I doubt there’s relevant data. What is interesting is that whilst Pell himself has welcomed the opportunity to at last defend himself in court, his Australian supporters seem hell-bent on declaring the process already poisoned. Obviously they aren’t respecting Pell’s desire for his day in court. So what are they doing?

Amanda Vanstone, former ambassador to Rome and Pell admirer, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in May: how would you like to throw out your own right to a fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place together with the right to a fair trial if you are charged? Vanstone goes on to further question the integrity of the Victorian DPP (to whom she was presumably referring in the phrase “fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place”) and Victoria Police, and to rail against latte sippers in cafes who she claims deny Pell the presumption of innocence. Vanstone’s descriptions of those calling for Pell to be held to account include “a baying crowd” and a “lynch mob from the dark ages.” Inevitably, she includes victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in her derogatory commentary.

Then take Tasmania Archbishop Julian Porteous’ comments in the Hobart Mercury on Thursday, when police announced they‘d charged Pell:

HOBART Archbishop Julian Porteous says he is “shocked and disappointed” his former colleague Cardinal George Pell has been charged with historical sexual offences by Victoria Police.

“I think it’s terrible these claims have been made against him. I don’t believe they’ve got any substance to them,” Archbishop Porteous said. [emphasis mine]

He said he was also worried about the impact the high-profile nature of the case would have on a fair trial.

“The possibility of a fair trial is compromised. I don’t know how a jury could proceed with a trial where [there is] so much media out there.”

Archbishop Porteous also referred to journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal, published in May, which details some of the allegations made against Cardinal Pell.

He said media coverage and the book were “creating a very unfair environment for justice”.

Cardinal Pell, 76, the Vatican’s finance chief, was charged by summons today with several historical offences dating back to his time as a Ballarat priest and Archbishop of Melbourne.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney — where Pell was Archbishop from 2001-2014, and where Archbishop Porteous was an auxiliary bishop from 2003-2013 — released a statement saying the Cardinal was “looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously”.

Archbishop Porteous said Cardinal Pell was “a man of absolute integrity”.

The Porteous and Vanstone reactions are little different from the reactions of some family members when one of their number is accused by another of sexual abuse. There is disbelief and scapegoating of the alleged victim, and blind defence of the alleged perpetrator. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s taking a side, and it’s prejudiced.

Pell has welcomed the opportunity afforded him by Victoria Police to put his case in a court of law. His supporters must respect his stated wishes, and cease muddying the waters by attempting to manufacture cause for a trial to be abandoned. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s a denial of justice, both to Pell and to the complainants.

It is worth reiterating that nobody, not Vanston, not Porteous, not Paul Kelly, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine or indeed anyone one of us can know the truth of this matter. None of us were present. Pell was present. The alleged victims were present. This matter must be left to the best process we have: the process of law. It is not presumption of innocence to deny that process to Pell, and it is not presumption of innocence to attempt to denigrate and undermine the institutions that, in this intensely scrutinised case, are all we have to administer justice.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

In the Pell case, complainants have equal rights to justice.

Yesterday came the momentous news that Victoria Police have charged Cardinal George Pell with multiple allegations of the crime of sexual abuse of children, following their investigation of complaints made by multiple accusers.

The matter is now sub judice, which means there can be no commentary on the charges and allegations, and no predictions of verdict. Sub judice does not forbid all commentary, and the above link is a guide to what may and may not be published. Please read the first couple of pages before leaving inflammatory comments that might be in contempt.

There is also an interim suppression order on the details of the charges, requested by Pell’s lawyers.

My thoughts are with those complainants who now face an arduous courtroom experience, during which our adversarial legal system will permit Pell’s lawyers to tear them to shreds. Already there has been much commentary from Murdoch hacks that the charges against Pell have been instigated by a vengeful and incompetent police force hell-bent on conducting a witch hunt. In other words, as far as Paul Kelly, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson and the other usual suspects are concerned, the complainants are liars and it is necessary to question police integrity. How this commentary is not flagrant abuse of the sub judice rule, I have yet to ascertain.

Much media coverage to date has focused on Pell’s right to justice. However, the complainants also have the right to justice. It is indicative of an almost entirely unexamined societal attitude that, particularly in sexual matters, the rights of the accused are likely to be the subject of greatest concern, while the complainants are, in the very essence of our law, obliged to prove they are not liars.

It’s amazing that Pell has been charged. In itself, this signifies an extraordinary change in societal attitudes to the sexual abuse of children, a change set in motion by the Gillard government’s Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, itself so fiercely opposed by several of those who yesterday claimed a witch hunt.

I have no idea how this will play out. Obviously, Victoria Police consider they have sufficient evidence to proceed. They have not assumed the complainants are liars. Pell is the highest ranking Catholic to be faced with such allegations, and the case has drawn global attention. For the sake of all concerned, most particularly the complainants, this situation must be allowed to run its legal course, whether you agree with the system or not. It’s the only one we’ve got.

I’ve decided to add this astounding rant, published this morning by The Australian and written by Paul Kelly, as the site is pay-walled.

In this momentous event, it is not just Cardinal George Pell who is on trial — it is the integrity of Victoria Police, the justice system and our capacity to deliver a fair trial.

There is no precedent for this situation. The most important Catholic leader in Australia since Daniel Mannix and close adviser to Pope Francis is being tried against allegations that Pell himself has perpetrated historical sexual offences.

This decision by Victoria Police comes after an unprecedented and manic campaign against Pell, leaks to the media, vicious character assaults in the mainstream media and grave doubts about the way police have conducted their inquiries.

The risk now is that the historic, unforgivable and appalling extent of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has taken yet another tragic turn — a show trial against the nation’s most senior Catholic figure. This is precisely what many people want.

The justice system must ensure it does not eventuate.

The issue here is not Pell’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations within the church — it is something entirely different; that Pell himself has engaged in sexual offences.

The decision to charge Pell is a shattering blow to the Catholic Church. The ramifications will last for years even if he is cleared.

The campaign of hatred against Pell transcends the deep and legitimate grievances of the victims and families. It is tied to the idea that Pell must be punished for the sins of the church and that this constitutes a form of justice for the victims.

Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, when venting his concern last month over whether Pell would get a fair trial, put the moral issue up in lights — the wrong done to victims of sexual abuse cannot justify a wrong being done in a witch hunt against Pell.

The case against Pell draws upon allegations of sexual offences by many complainants.

He has declared the claims are false. It is hard to believe these court proceedings will be finalised quickly. Whether Pell can receive a fair trial hangs in the balance. This is not just a trial for Pell and the church. It is a test of our institutions, our justice system and the culture of our civil society.

Convince me this isn’t written with intent to foul the Pell case.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

The Damned

This morning I read this tweet from Fairfax journo Ross Gittins:

My first thought was, a new kind of human being has emerged. One without empathy. This is why we don’t care anymore. Our species is devolving.

For someone who only yesterday re-watched Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, my first thought rather remarkably disregarded  history. Visconti’s film charts the moral and physical decline of a wealthy German steel manufacturing family between 1933 and 1934, contiguous with the Nazi party’s rise to power. It is an unrelievedly dark work that plumbs the deeps of most depravities, and it left me needing an afternoon ocean swim for the cleansing properties of sea water and sunlight.

Visconti’s film is hailed as an outstanding examination of moral decadence, sexual neurosis, narcissistic self-centredness and political opportunism, a string of descriptors that can be well applied to the US President and his Republican Party, and to not a few of our own politicians.

(If you don’t think the desire to control women’s reproductive health is symptomatic of sexual neurosis, think again.)

The movie put me in mind of the Trumps, and the current White House battles for power and position, the best analysis of which (so far) is to be found here at Vanity Fair. The immediate difference is at the moment we can still sneer in mocking disbelief at the Trump tribe’s incompetence and stupidity, whereas nobody in their right mind would sneer at the Von Essenbecks and the Nazi party. It is, however, perfectly imaginable that at the time, such people were regarded as idiots by those who would later suffer immeasurably at their hands.

Trump is still largely seen as a buffoon rather than something far more sinister, however, he is a buffoon with the ability to unleash nuclear weapons, and he appears to have willingly conceded unfettered power to his military hawks. They don’t have to ask him before they blow stuff up.

Thinking of the differences and similarities between the Von Essenbeck family and the Trumps leads me to speculate that as well as having lost much of our ability to appreciate the beauty of compassion and concern (that human talent being derogated by the neo-fascists as “elitist”) we have also become diminished in our capacity to identify and acknowledge the corroding powers on the human spirit of darkness and terminal decay.  It’s likely impossible to become desensitised to horror without incurring an equal desensitisation to the sublime.

I think my reaction to Mr Gittens’ tweet was wrong. A new kind of human being has not emerged. The human being without empathy has always existed. The narcissistic, self- centred, sexually neurotic, morally decadent political opportunist has been in existence for as long as human civilisation. To think otherwise is to disregard history, and to disregard history is to ensure its repetition.

It is true that we used to care if people were starving, and now perhaps we do not care as much. It’s also true that before we cared there were periods when we didn’t care, and this periodic lack of care for others is nothing new. That doesn’t excuse it. There is no excusing it. However, it’s worth remembering this cyclical nature of compassion because we have, more than once, got ourselves out of not caring and back into caring again, and we probably need to remember how we did that, so we can have some hope of doing it again before it’s too late.

The most alarming difference between the Nazi Party and present day Republicans is nuclear weapons, from which there is, for most victims including the planet, no coming back. Once they are unleashed, we are most of us damned.

By the way, I note that the Trump family portrait bears an uncanny resemblance to the Von Essenbecks’ excesses of style.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

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