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Kevin is a a long-time citizen journalist and blogger. He is a Global Voices Online author and has been active with ThinkBrigade. He is a retired secondary teacher and trade unionist and has been an Australian Labor Party member since 1972. His interests include the environment, current affairs, the media, politics and human rights.

Faces in the crowd: Melbourne #MarchinMarch

Photo: Labor View From Bayside

Photo: Labor View From Bayside

The Marches in March continue to glow with controversy. Never did so few gather so many, without engaging the usual suspects of the old media, the political parties, NGOs, the unions and the activist groups. There had to be a dark side to these events. The people can’t have minds of their own! Or if they do they must be warped!

Tim Dunlop has joined the fray with a post at The Drum: Rage against the mainstream

The fact is, the media’s lame response to an estimated 100,000 citizens showing up on the streets around the country is indicative of a deeper malaise: the rules of news have changed, and increasingly legacy media companies have neither the capacity nor the wit to operate in the new environment.

His target was the Sydney Morning Herald’s Jacqueline Maley.

Tim’s piece follows Lyndon Morley spirited offence at Independent Australia in support of his sign RESIGN DICKHEAD! He was replying to Andrew Bolt’s slanted reporting at the Herald Sun. Bolt was comparing the remarks about Abbott with those of Alan Jones about Julia Gillard. As usual he saw red: “But who will apologise for the parade of hatred in today’s March in March?” He found what he was looking for, of course.

I’ll leave jousting with the black knight of bigotry to Lyndon.

Matthew Donovan tackled The Daily Telegraph’s Tim Blair over what he called “delusions and blind or wilful ignorance” on AIMN on Wednesday. His message: “I will not let you smear the good people who marched”.

I’ll just stick to what I saw and heard in my hometown. To flip the record, I’ve compiled some offcuts that didn’t make my original video piece on the Melbourne #MarchinMarch, not for the signs of the times but for the faces of the people:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eK7o7_EgpdI]

One of the more appealing aspects of the Melbourne march was the signs. By and large, they were not offensive. Some seemed to have gone to extremes to be polite:

Kindness matters!

Not Happy Tony.

We Can Do Better!

Cowdy Songs Not Cowboy Govt.

Careful Now!

Wake Up Australia!

In fact most were homemade and some appeared to be the handy work of people more accustomed to writing letters-to-the-editor, pamphleteers rather than sloganeers:

Human Dignity Is Independent of National Borders. We must Always Defend the Interests of the Poor and the Persecuted.

Arbitrary Governments Use Arbitrary Detention.

The longest read:

MR ABBOTT AHD HIS GOVERNMENT HAVE SAID
NO TO CLIMATE CHANGE AND SCIENCE
NO TO MORE WOMEN IN CABINET
NO TO THEIR OWN EDUCATION PROMISES
NO TO THEIR OWN NBN PROMISES
NO TO THEIR OWN HEALTHCARE PROMISES
NO TO REFUGEES
NOW WE SAY NO TO YOU MR. ABBOTT!!!

Many were decidedly to the point:

Tony Abbott Worst PM in Australia’s History.

Wanted for Crimes Against Humanity and Our Planet.

No More Racism, No More Bull, Australia’s Nowhere Near Full!b>Welcome Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

No Justice, No Peace.

Some were a tad obscure:

Viva la Evolucion!

This one had two sides:

Dirty Coal. Clean Wind

Very few signs that I saw were truly offensive or in bad taste. This exception was timeless and certainly open to the charge of not being focussed:

F*ck the Police

It probably wouldn’t resonate with Bolt quite like ‘F*ck Tony Abbott’ T-shirts did.

Monday’s Media Watch looked at a coverage paradox, namely how the old media both ignored and condemned the marches. Paul Barry picked up the threads:

A bevy of right-wing columnists have accused the ABC and Fairfax of failing to condemn some vicious anti-Abbott placards, carried by a handful of marchers.

But it was not just the Right that was unhappy with the way the March in March was covered.

Many protesters felt that 31 marches and tens of thousands of people deserved far more attention.

Lingua Tribute: Translators are not tools

[君子不器 Junzi bu qi] Translators are not tools

A Tribute to Linda Jaivin’s Found in Translation: In Praise of a Plural World

‘Linda Jaivin has been translating from Chinese for more than thirty years. While her specialty is subtitles, she has also translated song lyrics, poetry and fiction, and interpreted for ABC film crews, Chinese artists and even the English singer Billy Bragg as he gave his take on socialism to some Beijing rockers. In Found in Translation she reveals the work of the translator and considers whether different worldviews can be bridged. She pays special attention to China and the English-speaking West, Australia in particular, but also discusses French, Japanese and even the odd phrase of Maori. This is a free-ranging essay, personal and informed, about translation in its narrowest and broadest senses, and the prism – occasionally prison – of culture.’

The print version or ebook can be purchased by clicking this image:

The Confucian saying, 君子不器 Junzi bu qi, is not hard to decipher according to Linda Jaivin, just to translate. Take your pick: ‘The accomplished/gentleman scholar is not a utensil/pot/tool.’ If it’s possible for a woman to be to a ‘gentleman scholar’, then Linda more than fits that tag from her essay for the Quarterly magazine.

The contact page on her website is for ‘messages or love letters’. It entices the sender to engage ‘tutoiement’ – the process of using the informal ‘tu’ in French. We should all pay homage there to her invisible hand behind the subtitles that have enriched cinephiles’ lives for decades. As a former teacher of NESB [Non-English Speaking Background] students and an author and sub-editor with Global Voices Online, this is my response to her essay and my tribute to translators.

In 1980 I attended a matinee Woody Allen doubleheader in Lisbon. The packed house was a clear indicator of his international popularity. I remember laughing loudly during both movies. It was a tad embarrassing for my reactions were slightly ahead of the pack as most of the audience were reading the subtitles. His New York Jewish humour didn’t seem to ruffle the Portuguese audience’s enjoyment.

Lingua Voices

Our GV Lingua team has volunteer translators for approximately forty languages. They are as diverse as Aymara, Magyar [Hungarian], Swahili, Bangla, Korean and Amharic [official language of Ethiopia and second-most spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic]. In addition, posts are also translated into English as all stories on the main section use that lingua franca. Nearly 100,000 translations of posts have been completed since 2006.Volunteers choose which ones they will translate. It is a form of feedback that can be a bit disheartening sometimes but that is compensated for when quoted bloggers/ tweeters find their words in two kinds of Chinese, Filipino or Farsi and send messages of delight.

Word play

As an author and a sub-editor helping with translations into English, my earliest lesson was to avoid puns. Word plays are potential nightmares for audience and translators alike. The most common slang in Oz English can stump even experienced linguists. It belongs in Pandora’s box, with jargon and cricket metaphors, marked ‘never to be opened’. Allusions to Australian Rules football prove even more dangerous.

When I wrote ‘Coca Cola Machine ‘Out of Order’ in Australia’ it was translated into six other languages including Malagasy, Macedonian and Catalan. In French it became ‘Distributeur Coca-Cola « En panne » en Australie’ [‘Distributor Coca-Cola ‘Broken Down’ in Australia] abandoning the double play on words. The charged word, ‘machine’, just went through to the keeper. That’s wicket-keeper, not goal-keeper, in case anyone is translating this response.

Neologisms [new words] are an essential element of netizen-speak but they are not universally understood even amongst geeks or tweeps (not to be confused with tweeping). Inevitably we fall captive to the latest. ‘Lacticvist’ was impossible to resist when breastfeeding in public hotted up in early 2012 but its rendition as ‘les militantes de l’allaitement maternel’ was a real mouthful. De l’autre côté, ‘SlutWalks’ was simply incorporated into the German, Italian and French using quotation marks – a very slippery slope indeed for L’Académie français. The Spanish translator was more creative with ‘Marcha de putas’- roughly ‘march of whores’ though it had currency in Brazil by then. Portuguese prefers ‘Marcha das Vadias’ i.e. ‘Bitches’.

It is often hard to know exactly which connotations attached to words like these, especially in different languages and cultures. Linda observes, “The swearwords and curses of a language expose what is forbidden, what is permitted and what is held sacred in that culture.”The use of Twitter hashtags presents its own complications. Some tweeters use multilingual tags such as #Syria #Siria #Syrie #Syrien to reach a wider audience but limit the length of the message. Others tweet in more than one language. GV always includes the original text when quoting plus a translation. The 140-character limit adds a challenge normally confined to post titles or headings, where brevity invites wit but not always clarity.

Lingua global

Linda asks, ‘Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?’ When my partner and I visited Iceland in July 2013, we were entertained by an Esperanto choir on the grand steps of Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre. They were taking a break from the World Congress of Esperanto, which involved over one thousand participants from fifty-five countries. Linda would be glad to know that there were some Chinese involved. Hvað er merking hörpu? No prizes for guessing that one, though harpa has two distinct meanings in Icelandic.Sub-editing posts written originally in a LOTE (Language other than English) is both daunting and rewarding. I often use Google Translate to check a word or phrase or to get a better grasp on the context.

Google doesn’t seem to like Japanese but sometimes gets it right. A scandal about Tokyo’s governor taking a bribe had this: ‘The document is a note of hand to borrow 50 million yen with no interest, no collateral and no return date set.’  I presumed ‘note of hand’ referred to something hand-written but it turned out to be a legit term for an informal promissory note. I.O.U. might have sufficed even if some readers wouldn’t have understood the etymology. It is a clear forerunner of SMS and twitter-speak.

“Words have the power to change the way we think.”

Meanwhile the Chinese government is trying to eradicate Chinglish [中式英語]  in a bid to stop people who ‘slip carefully’ in their translations. Chinese netizens are also annoying the authorities by mining euphemisms that Internet surveillance software is not blocking yet. They started using the term “tea talk” or “forced to drink tea” [被喝茶] to describe vigorous interrogations by the internal security police.“River crab’ (censorship)  and ‘watch uncle’ (corruption) have required pest control. Mention of the 18th National Party Congress was banned on Sina Weibo [China’s version of Twitter] and their Facebook equivalent Renren, so it became ‘Sparta’ because of its similar sound. Modifying English words also became a game on Weibo. Freedamn [中國特色自由] is freedom with Chinese characteristics. You can raise the red lantern against China’s censorship by offering a friendly Internet connection for the new circumvention software called Lantern [燈籠].

You have to wonder what the Chinese censors would have made of the ChinaSmacks’ translation of the ‘My Vagina Says – If your vagina could talk, what would she say?’ meme. It certainly went against stereotype: “You need to be invited – to get in!”

Barbaros babble

Chinese is one of the United Nations six official diplomatic languages. The others are Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish. They are obviously vehicular but they don’t always travel that well. We spent a month in 1996 at a Spanish language school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The teachers claimed that Cubans speaking Spanish sound like they have a mouthful of chewing gum. At that time my Chilean colleagues and students at Melbourne’s Westall Secondary College tested my tin ear by omitting the end or middle of words and sometimes both. They often contracted two of these into one word. There’s a word for everything in English, often borrowed. ‘Elision’ might fit here or perhaps ‘syncope’.Arabic should present fewer difficulties, at least for Arabs. However, a Tunisian blogger maintains that their vernacular can be almost impenetrable at times, even to near neighbours.

Linda canvasses “linguistic imperialism”. English may be the great vehicular language but assumptions about its  international currency are hazardous. The term ‘dog-whistling’ originated down under thanks to Prime Minister John Howard et al and has spread to some in the U.S. and UK. One of my posts began :

“There has been a contest for the worst pun following remarks by Teresa Gambaro [MP who] called for immigrants on work visas to be taught ‘social norms’ such as the use of deodorants and waiting in orderly queues.”

I was stretching all the rules about language accessibility but you’ve got to have fun. ‘Raw prawn’ and ‘hair of the dog’ were my favourites. My advice: “Check it out while the poop is still fresh”. You wouldn’t be dead for quids!

Northern Territory lights

Segue to Katherine High School 2002. After sharing my interest in etymology with my Year 8 class, I was approached on lunchtime yard duty by an unfamiliar youth who asked if it was true that I read the dictionary for fun. My confirmation brought the response, “You’re a very sick man!”When we were teaching in Maningrida in Arnhem Land during 2003-6, senior students were required to get exemptions to enroll in English as a Second Language [ESL]. For most it was not their second, third or in some cases even fourth or fifth. The indigenous community, and its homelands, has ten or more languages. Some are spoken by one or two extended families yet are healthy, rich and vibrant. Nakkara, with ap,proximately 60 speakers, and Rembarrnga are two of those. The township has a lingua franca but somewhat surprisingly it isn’t the local traditional owners’ Ndjebbana/Kunibidji but rather the other major language of the township Burarra.

Ars Poetica

Linda explores difficulties with translating poetry. They apply equally to song lyrics. Welsh band Manic Street Preachers’ song ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ didn’t faze some of our translators. Rezwan did an outstanding job in Bangla, going by my back-translation using Google. However, there was a stumble over ‘fascists’. Most online machines were fooled, ‘phyasistaderao’ being the only stab for ফ্যাসিস্টদেরও. Linda is, of course, no fan of “machine translations”.

Postscript

Finally, some wisdom from multi-linguist supremo, Danica Radisic, GV’s Central and Eastern Europe editor. Recently Niki wrote of her childhood growing up as a third culture kid:

Our parents’ work and lives allowed us to travel to different countries and often live on several different continents throughout our childhood, learn to speak countless languages and move seamlessly between cultures…”

Her ability to converse with someone simultaneously in their respective native languages is awesome. She concludes:

“…this spot on the Word Wide Web [GV] that is a scrapbook of different cultures and opposing views, is where third culture kids come when they grow up.”

The full story is on The Bridge at GV. Please join our global conversation.

Griffith Big Bash By-election is Just Not Cricket

There is a cricket team of candidates for the Griffith By-election on 8 February 2014. Nine of the eleven candidates represent registered political parties, but will electors really have any idea about who or what they are voting for in Kevin Rudd’s old House of Representatives seat?

The 2013 Senate results exposed some of the bizarre idiosyncrasies resulting from our compulsory electoral system: we have to vote and we have to allocate preferences to all candidates.

The party names will be written on the Griffith ballot paper so that should help, shouldn’t it?

Policy Bazaar

If you choose the Bullet Train Party, you’ll know what comedian Anthony Ackroyd will be fighting for if he wins. He may have to give up his impersonations of Kevin Rudd. However, it won’t be hard to take the mickey out of himself since he will be required to abstain from voting on any matters except the train. Now that’s taking a lot of taxpayers’ money for very little jam.

At least Family First’s candidate Christopher Williams could follow the example of former senator Steve Fielding who often made up policy on the run. In the absence of a hung parliament, he’ll have to rely on FF’s South Australian senator-elect Bob Day who doubtless will continue the traditional of backroom deals.

The Secular Party has lots of the policies you might expect: no religion in schools, support for an Aussie Republic. It stands for a carbon tax but against emissions trading schemes. Some voters may be surprised to know that they are pro-abortion and strongly favour Australia participating “in all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, including power generation and waste disposal”. Presumably, these will not be located in Griffith’s backyard.

In order for ‘…new Australian citizens understand that their primary loyalty must be to Australia and its values, not their religion…’ the SPA’s citizenship pledge will be:

I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights, liberties and values I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.

The list of shared values will be found in an expanded Australian Values Statement. The secularists want “Evidence of compliance with the Australian Values Statement, such as witness statements, …before permanent residence visas and citizenship are granted.’ If you’ve forgotten or never heard about the Statement, you’d better rush to read it before you vote next. It involves ‘a shared identity, a common bond’ that all Aussies accept implicitly, don’t we.

Timothy Lawrence may be regretting the shaky status of his party’s name, which will soon change from the one on the ballot paper to the Sustainable Population Party. The thesaurus doesn’t have them as synonyms. The current name could easily be associated with right-wing anti-immigration parties while ‘sustainable’ has definite green connotations.

Ray Sawyer is wearing the hat for Bob Katter’s Australian Party, having gained only 1.92% as candidate for the seat of Fairfax in 2013. They directed their second preferences to Clive Palmer and his eponymous party, who won that by a nose, but PUP has squibbed this contest.

According to independent Karel Boele, “He supports needs-based education funding and an effective solution to climate instability, for example an ETS. He supports improved discussions and trade with neighbouring countries, and a no offshore processing by Australia policy for refugees.” He is independent. Or is he?  He runs the People Decide platform and will vote on Bills in Parliament directly through the Internet. Now that’s a real pig in a poke. He will vote on each Bill in accordance with the majority of votes. It’s a bit murky as to how he will vote on amendments.

Dealing preferences

The Pirate Party proudly claims to be “the first and only political party in Australia to decide all its candidates and Senate preferences by a party-wide vote”. However, the process in 2013 involved making deals with other parties for preference swaps that were then put to the members for ratification. How many of the party officialdom or membership were aware of the possible ramifications in the Senate is unclear. They responded to a tweet about whether they helped to elect the motoring or sports mob or Palmer’s miners to the Senate in 2013:

The Liberal National Party has put its faith in the reverse donkey vote in its preference allocation. Their preferences go from Bill Glasson, bottom to top.

Bill Glasson How-to-vote

At least one well-known Queensland Lib thinks independent Travis Windsor is worth a look. Could we stand another independent T. Windsor? Could make for some messy googling. He’s splitting his preferences but in each case The Greens are ahead of Labor or the Coalition.

Travis Windsor How-to-vote

The Greens have Labor ahead of the Coalition but behind five small parties. Anthony Ackroyd is their first choice. That was an easy call, as his party has no other policies to sift through. The Stable Population Party is second. Its policies line up with many of The Greens’ own goals but some commentators have argued that its motives are suspect. Malcolm King is one of them. Last August he argued:

The Stable Population Party (SPP) is using environmental and community groups to ‘green wash’ its anti-immigration message and split the Greens vote at the Federal election.

Next comes the Pirate Party of Australia, which shares lots of policies with The Greens and their other fancied micro-parties. Nothing illegal of course, PPA’s core business is not piracy, but freeing up copyright. However, they could be labeled copycats on many other issues, as could many of the others. It’s good to see so much agreement with marriage equality, climate change trading schemes, and humane treatment of asylum seekers.

Their other two Greens’ preference choices fit that bill. However, The Greens can’t be jumping for joy over the Secular Party’s nuclear stance. Karel Boele is a policy loose cannon for a different reason, as he’s going to follow direction from voters online. Nevertheless, they’re happy to put him ahead of Labor.

The ALP’s Terri Butler has The Greens second on her how-to-vote card, and then just numbers down the ballot paper. Less informal votes that way. There is no potential controversy as could arise if we had One Nation progeny in this field.

Now if you fancy any of the other candidates, please see what you can discover online. If you don’t know to whom Katter’s mob or any of the others are giving the nod, good luck finding out. Their preferences may well decide the result!

The policies of the two main contenders are not canvassed here, as the residents of Griffith are no doubt sick of leaflets, phone calls, SMS, and knocks on their doors. There have been suggestions of unethical and perhaps illegal push-polling and anonymous automated calls.

Train travellers are also well serviced by political candidates, if not necessarily by governments. The Bullet Train Party, which is not directing preferences presumably because Thomas the Tank Engine isn’t running, at least has a trainspotting video.

Given the disillusionment with the major parties (including The Greens) and the complexity of the voting system, it’s no wonder that nearly 6% of ballots cast for the House of Representatives in 2013 were informal. In addition, nearly 7% of enrolled voters did not turnout. The Australian Electoral Commission also estimated that more than one million eligible Australians are ‘missing’ from the electoral roll, approximately 7%. So nearly two in ten did not exercise their right to vote.

So much for compulsion! People are dying around the world for democracy. Some Australians are just lying low.

Presumably, aspiring Members of the House have been visible at the Gabba lately supporting the Brisbane Heat. However, many electors doubtless believe that compulsory, preferential voting is just not cricket.

Anita Heiss: Am I Black Enough for You?

Anita Heiss (image from abc.net.au)

Anita Heiss (image from abc.net.au)

A crosspost from my blog Red Bluff Review.

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

Anita Heiss is an Australian writer and proud Koori woman. Koori is a general term for the First Peoples (aka Aborigines or Indigenous) of New South Wales and Victoria.

Am I Black Enough For You? is a memoir interweaved with an account of a controversial racial vilification court case. It is ironic that the latter has spawned this book. We should be grateful to the Herald and Weekly Times’ political commentator and blogger, Andrew Bolt, that he has unwittingly enabled us to:

“…come to appreciate without criticism or concern, the diversity and complexity of Aboriginal identity in the twenty-first century, and that the power of self-identity and representation is a right we should all enjoy.”

Anita’s story is a window on what defines her identity. Family is central to her being; especially her parents – aboriginal mother Elsie and Austrian immigrant father Joe. You’ll have to read the book to discover the incredible people who make up the rest of her kin.

Her Aboriginality is solidly connected to country, namely Wiradjiri land. She also has strong links to Gadigal country through as a long-term Sydney resident. She is keen to point out that she is an urban dweller who is no fan of camping in the great outdoors.

Anita is definitely a 21st Century citizen of the world. She travels extensively both inside and outside Oz. She has most of the modern neuroses including concern about body image and a love of shopping (her Westfield Dreaming). Her personal and professional networks are huge, especially her “tiddas” [sisters]. Her support group includes a life coach. Her biggest hero is Oprah Winfrey whose “self-faith and optimism” get a big tick. In fact, at times this book feels a lot like a self-help tome. Her blog was an outcome of Oprah’s Oz visit in 2009. It is ‘largely about gratefulness – hers and others – but she also posts about things important to her including books, reading, literacy and Aboriginal arts and culture’.

Anita is not just an author of non-fiction, historical fiction, poetry and children’s books, she writes a sub-genre of ‘chit-lit’ (commercial women’s fiction), dubbed ‘choc-lit’ by one of her mates. She has been an academic – her PhD was in Media and Communication focusing on Aboriginal literature and publishing. Her ongoing interests include indigenous literacy and reconciliation.

Her experience as an activist and in social commentary certainly came in handy when Andrew Bolt decided to indulge in some of his own. On 15 April 2009 he penned a highly contentious newspaper article (It’s hip to be black) and blog post (White is the new black). Anita was one of several prominent people whom he accused of being “professional” aborigines who identify as such to help their careers. She joined a group who took legal action against Bolt and his publisher under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act:

(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

It is the so-called ‘vilification’ section. Heiss describes Bolt as:

…an outspoken denier of climate change, the Stolen Generations[link added], and now, the right of for Aboriginal people to self-identity.

Many have gone a lot further in questioning his issues with race. Their case was upheld in September 2011 but has continued to be controversial. In fact, it is very topical at present as Australia’s new Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised before the recent election to repeal this section to “champion free speech”.

Moreover, the Attorney General, Senator Brandis, has made the very controversial appointment of Tim Wilson as ‘freedom’ commissioner at the Human Rights Commission (HRC). In his role at the right-wing think tank IPA (Institute of Public Affairs) Wilson has argued in the past not only to get rid of Section 18C but also to abolish the HRC itself. Free speech should make for some spirited discussions around the table there. He famously tweeted in 2011:

Anyway, there are plenty of views in Am I Black Enough for You? and Anita’s blog as well as elsewhere online. She sees it as being about “finding a balance between freedom of expression and racial discrimination” but there are plenty ready for an argument about that.

Despite the serious nature of the issues raised, this is a most readable and enjoyable book. Anita’s direct and open style, coupled with her sharp sense of humour, make her upbeat approach to life highly infectious.

By the way, my answer is Yes!

Australian Catholic Cardinal Centre of Child Sexual Abuse Scandal

This Human Rights post is part of Blog Action Day on 16 October 2013. It is a cross-post from Global Voices Online.

Two sisters were repeatedly raped by their parish priest in an Australian primary school. One later committed suicide. The other became a binge drinker and is disabled after being hit by a car. Their parents want laws to make the Catholic Church look after victims properly. Their mother told the story in her book Hell On The Way To Heaven.

Since its publication in 2010, action is finally being taken. There are currently three government inquiries in Australia into institutional responses to sexual abuse of children.

As Clerical Whispers reported in May 2013, the State of New South Wales investigation followed police whistleblower Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox’s allegations of Catholic church cover-ups in the Hunter Valley region.

In the State of Victoria, the Family and Community Development Committee of parliament has the task of reporting:

…on the processes by which religious and other non-government organisations respond to the criminal abuse of children by personnel within their organisations

The committee was set up after admissions by the Catholic hierarchy of forty suicides among 620 victims of child sexual abuse by its clergy. It is due to report in November 2013.

Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in late 2012. The commission is examining:

…how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

…any private, public or non-government organisation that is, or was in the past, involved with children, including government agencies, schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care, and religious organisations.

Despite the broad brush of the terms of reference, the Catholic church has taken the brunt of public criticism so far. In particular, the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell has been the centre of the controversy for his approach to offenders and victims over an extended period. His appearance at the Victorian committee in May 2013 created a storm when he admitted church cover-ups.

Ian Richardson’s reaction was typical of the twitterverse:

Rock in the grass was incensed by the Cardinal’s moralising:

Sam Butler made the inevitable comparison with Rupert Murdoch’s evidence in 2011 to the British parliamentary committee concerning the phone hacking scandal:

It was just one of a multitude of tweets linking to well-respected journalist David Marr’s report for the Guardian.

Meanwhile Cartoonist Jon Kudelka had his usual eye for The Details:

Jon Kudelka cartoon - The Details

Cartoon – The Details. Courtesy Jon Kudelka

At The Conversation blog Judy Courtin assessed Pell’s apology:

If we were to rate his performance as an actor with his apology he would have just passed as an actor. The apology, along with any empathy or compassion, was entirely lacking.

Subsequently David Marr has written an in-depth essay for the September Quarterly magazine: The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell (Essay 51):

He [Pell] knows children have been wrecked. He apologises again and again. He even sees that the hostility of the press he so deplores has helped the church face the scandal. What he doesn’t get is the hostility to the church. Whatever else he believes in, Pell has profound faith in the Catholic Church. He guards it with his life. Nations come and go but the church remains.

Jeremy von Einem’s tweet is representative of the general reaction to Marr’s essay:

John Lord captured the revulsion and the anger that many readers felt:

Whilst reading it I had to stop many times and reflect on the enormity of the sins of the fathers. More than once I shed a tear whilst uttering the word, bastards.

But this essay is as much about Pell (I don’t feel the need to be particularly aware of protocol and use his title) the man as it is about child abuse. When all is stripped back we see a man of very little love for flock but great love for the institution of church, the privileges that come with it and the power it commands. Consequently Pell is adored by the church but despised by the people.

Cardinal Pell responded to the essay with a written statement:

A predictable and selective rehash of old material. G.K.Chesterton said: ‘A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author’. Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.

The Prince has its critics. Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor at Eureka Street, the online publication of the Australian Jesuits. In his analysis Marring the Cardinal’s image he sees the essay as “elegant” but “unfair”:

The limitations of Marr’s account are the obverse of its virtues. It is not a dispassionate judgment but a prosecution brief. It sifts Pell’s motives and words but not those of his critics, and simplifies complexities.

Kate Edwards at Australia Incognita is a critic of Cardinal Pell but thinks Marr missed the ‘Real Story’:

The article provides no new insights on the Cardinal’s various disastrous interactions with victims and the laity in relation to the scandal; no new insights into just why he and many others in the Church were so reluctant to listen or act. To me that seems a great shame.

Despite being the central player in the sordid history of abuse and cover-up, the Catholic Church was not first case study off the rank at the Royal Commission public hearings. That dishonour went to the Scouts, reinforcing a long-held stereotype.

The Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council has made a lengthy submission to the Commission’s Towards Healing processes. Meanwhile, an appearance at the inquiry by Cardinal Pell is eagerly awaited by both critics and supporters.

Outside the Victorian inquiry, support group CLAN (Care Leavers Australia Network) spoke for people brought up in “care”:

The Royal Commission is expected to take several years to complete its investigations and make recommendations to the Federal government.[For more on this story at AIMN, please see John Lord’s The Prince. Faith, Abuse and George Pell (7 Oct 2013)]

Australian Media Fuelling Doubt with Speculation Specfest

Fran Kellly (image from theaustralian.com.au)

Fran Kelly (image from theaustralian.com.au)

It hasn’t taken ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program long to get back to normal. Its bleak view of the world in general and Australia in particular was in full swing this morning.

Presenter Fran Kelly and Michelle Grattan, daily guest from Fairfax’s newspaper The Age, shared their usual specfest about the national political scene. They hit a new low, discussing the speculation that there may be further ministerial resignations from the Gillard government before the 14 September election.

The analysis: “it is fuelling doubt”. It’s all about perceptions: “impressions of chaos”, “perceptions have taken over”. As Kelly noted, Grattan’s article on Saturday argued that “JULIA Gillard’s problems with her reshuffle will be how it is perceived”.

By whom, the press gallery? I’m sure they’re not using terms such as “sinking ship” or “spinning out of control”. On ABC TV news, Greg Jennett offered this gem when introducing Gillard’s press conference with the two retiring ministers: “These are the melancholy days of governing”. An “emotional” event in the PM’s words, a sad day. Why the hyperbole, with an emotive, negative and inaccurate word like “melancholy”?

Just who is fuelling doubt? What was the origin of this speculation? Michelle’s take on more resignations: there are “none known about. The government probably doesn’t expect anymore”. BUT “you never know what happens”.

There aren’t even the usual anonymous party sources or leaks used as justification for this kind of beat-up.

You can listen to the segment here.

This kind of negativity goes hand-in-hand with the constant talking-down of the Australian economy. If you believed the gloom on Breakfast and other ABC programs, you’d have sold all your shares months ago and slashed your financial wrists.

Another Fairfax journalist is grappling with this problem. Economics editor Ross Gittins wonders:

It’s long been clear from polling that the electorate doesn’t regard the government as good at managing the economy.

Why this should be so is a puzzle.

At least Ross usually tries to counter this perception. The headline might well be a factor: Why voters believe the economy is in trouble

Another Fairfax publication, the Australian Financial Review, joined in the specfest in
Gillard feared leadership tilt. According to Phillip Coorey and Laura Tingle:

Fear of sparking a leadership ballot at the end of last year was a key ­reason Julia Gillard delayed until last week the decision to reshuffle her cabinet.

Or did she? Later the article gives the game away. It clearly contradicts itself under the sub-heading MEDIA SPECULATION:

While the Prime Minister did not think there was a likelihood of an actual challenge, media speculation at the time was stoking unrest.

Perhaps Phillip and Laura took turns to write paragraphs.

Apparently, the Insiders managed to get to policy matters 47 minutes into the hour-long TV show. I’ll rely on twitter as the source. It’s as reliable as “you never know what happens”!

Anyway the current specfest is a substitute for the usual mindless speculation about the date of the election or the Kevin Rudd challenge meme. When there is no challenge or likelihood of one, the journos have to dance around it, creating their own smoke.

This post originally appeared on Kevin’s blog Labor View from Bayside

 

Think our political debate is tanking? More talk, same voices

political debate

Image via smh.com.au

Mr Denmore’s post Talk is Cheap helps to explain why many of us increasingly switch off ABC current affairs programs in frustration:

Our public broadcaster is our most trusted source of news. So why does it spend so much time and money chasing cheap and predictable opinions from a small group of people who have plenty of other places to bang their tin drums?

The following is a repost from my Red Bluff blog from February 2012 about the role of think tanks in our political debate.

Think our political debate is tanking? Ask the s(c)eptic celebs.

The role of think tanks hit the headlines last week when the U.S. based Heartland Institute became embroiled in the denialgate controversy. Australia has a diverse range of think tanks covering much of the political spectrum, most with prominent public profiles.

The bright sparks of the commentariat are ubiquitous. It seems impossible to make even short visit to the mass media, especially ABC radio or television, without running into one of the young jerks from the conservative (or is it libertarian) Institute of Public Affairs. Chris Berg and Tim Wilson have an opinion on everything. Name a topic and you can guess what their research has discovered before they speak. This foresight is a skill shared by tankers of all political persuasions.

They not only comment on the latest spoke in the news cycle, they are often its origin. The Grattan Institute, a brains trust of the middle ground, has led recent news headlines with its report on energy No easy choices: which way to Australia’s energy future? and its education research Catching up: learning from the best school systems in East Asia

The current programs of the Grattan Institute focus on ‘productivity growth, cities, school education, tertiary education, and energy’. Their board is made up of academics, senior public servants, a former Liberal MHR, big business CEOs and lawyers. There are three women in the ten, reflecting most company boards in Australia. Grattan’s CEO John Daley has worked in most of these areas.

Often we are dished up research with attitude. “Who needs a car industry anyway?” The Centre for Independent Studies thinks “perhaps not”. It’s hard to know if Tony Abbott is taking his lead from them or vice versa. The CIS supports ‘a market economy and a free society under limited government where individuals can prosper and fully develop their talents’. It has that in common with U.S. right thinkers The John Birch Society. CIS has only two women on its board of twentyone with a similar composition and backgrounds to Grattan. It is very much the big end of town, although its Executive Director Greg Lindsay was a high school teacher before founding the organisation in 1976. Their research scholars number sixteen.

Recently CIS staffer Sara Hudson contributed a good news story to News Limited’s online blog The Punch: An Indigenous program that’s boxing clever. Perhaps a Jimmy Sharman Troupe employment program is in the offing to replace the much maligned Community Development Employment Program. Her expertise is Indigenous Affairs. With a job description that starts with ‘welfare dependency’, it is not hard to anticipate the direction of her research.

Wikipedia lists 34 think tanks in Oz. The entry has the National Civic Council and the H. R. Nicholls Society but not the Climate Institute.

One prominent organisation that describes itself as ‘the country’s most influential progressive think tank’ is The Australia Institute. Its concerns include poverty and ‘our planet’. Executive director Richard Denniss has a strong media presence. One of the five women directors out of eleven is Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney.

Behind the sparkling teeth of the young jerks lurks many an old stager. Frank Lowy’s passion for soccer, including the unsuccessful bid for the World cup, is well known. His Westfield shopping centre empire helps to fund the Lowy Institute for International Policy. ‘It ranges across all the dimensions of international policy debate in Australia – economic, political and strategic – and it is not limited to a particular geographic region.’ Its Board includes climate change reviewer Professor Ross Garnaut and its International Advisory Council sports former Australian Rupert Murdoch. It has a very large cohort of research staff and visiting fellows.

Think tank cross-fertilisation is first class. Samantha Hardy, a Strategic Adviser at Graeme Wood Foundation, is a director of the Australia Institute. Graeme Wood, of wotif.com fame, is the philanthropist behind the latest online media venture, The Global Mail. Before he switched to the Grattan Institute as program director for higher education in 2011, Andrew Norton spent 11 years working for both the University of Melbourne and CIS. IPA Executive Director John Roskam has strong Liberal party connections. Liberals on the Board include former Federal Minister Rod Kemp and Victorian powerbroker Michael Kroger.

Another tank that Wikepdia does not mention is the climate change skeptical Galileo Movement. They do undertake research, though #thinktank might be too rich a tag for an organisation that knows what it will find beforehand: ‘to expose misrepresentations pushing a price on carbon dioxide’. Their parton is radio shock-jock Alan Jones. Former Western Mining Corporation CEO Hugh Morgan and billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart have been linked to Galileo. Morgan is also President of the Lavoisier Group, another global warning skeptics organisation.

Galileo has ambitious aims:

‘The Galileo Movement seeks to protect Australians and our future in five areas:
– Protect freedom – personal choice and national sovereignty;
– Protect the environment;
– Protect science and restore scientific integrity;
– Protect our economic security;
– Protect people’s emotional health by ending Government and activists’ constant destructive bombardment of fear and guilt on our kids and communities.’

Its methods sound more like those of a political pressure group:

‘We address those five areas in four ways:
– Exposing UN IPCC misrepresentation of science, climate and Nature;
– Presenting real-world science and advocating for scientific evidence as the basis of policy;
– Revealing economic damage from needless additional taxation burdening people already reeling under high and rising costs of living;
– Revealing environmental damage of bureaucratic control taxing and ‘trading’ carbon dioxide.’

A huge agenda, but those who are hoping for long term protection of their freedoms will be disappointed:

‘Expected life-span: The intent is to terminate the Galileo Movement when the push to price carbon dioxide is destroyed. That’s anticipated to be by the next federal election.’

It seems that the Galileo Movement is really only interested in regime and tax change.

Their experts include: Professor Bob Carter of Heartlandgate fame, Professor Ian Plimer, Dr Jennifer Marohasy, Jo Nova, David Flint, Andrew Bolt and Lord Monckton. Marohasy is now a research fellow at Central Queensland University after five years with the IPA.

Meanwhile, it is great to know that Oz is in safe and secure hands – the firm grip of the defence establishment that is. The Australia Defence Association (ADA) claims to be ‘Australia’s only truly independent, actively non-partisan, community-based, public-interest guardian organisation and ‘think-tank’ on defence and wider national security issues.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) also claims independence but was set up and funded by the Howard government. It continues to accept government money but also receives private funding.

Another defence organisation is the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC), based at the Australian National University. Its head is Hugh White, is a frequent media contributor. His past includes Deputy Secretary of the Department of Defence and ALP adviser.

These defence tanks never seem to capture any new ground. Those that weren’t completely wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan certainly weren’t right in any meaningful way. They have a worse record of predicting disaster than most of the economists who occupy the extensive desks of groupthink land. It is hardly a surprise that Hugh White was a regular companion of Kerry O’Brien on the 7.30 Report before and during the Iraq invasion.

A number of the think tanks are not flush with money. The Sydney Institute is a niche operation with a tiny staff, consisting of conservative commentator Gerard Henderson, Anne Henderson, an executive assistant and 3 office personnel. Viewers of the Insiders will be familiar with Gerard’s cheery countenance as a regular panellist over the years.

The minnow is The Brisbane Institute,‘Queensland’s premier think tank and independent forum for ideas, insight, inspiration and innovation’, with three policy staff and one administration. It has University of Queensland, Brisbane City Council, State government and private company funding. Board member Philip Bacon is the well-connected owner of the eponymous art galleries.

As the name suggests, the Evatt Foundation sports a range of mostly left-centrist ALP types and fellow travellers. It appears to have few permanent research staff but its website was far from enlightening about resourcing.

One progressive organisation that punches above its funding is the Centre for Policy Development. Executive director Miriam Lyons is fast becoming a panel celeb on current affairs platforms such as the ABC’s Q&A and the TV version of the Drum. The CPD is a relatively recent addition to tanking, opening in 2007. It grew out of the online magazine New Matilda but is now quite separate. 4 of the 6 members of the research arm are women. The board boasts directors with trade union experience, as well as former Whitlam staffer and head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet John Menadue.

Fulltime pipers are expected to rap for their paymaster. Often it’s a case of seeing what your patrons and benefactors believe. On the other hand, whether they are paid or just patronised, visiting fellows and commissioned authors appear unconcerned by potential conflicts of interest. Visiting fellows at the Lowy Institute include Paul Kelly, editor-at-large of Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper, Peter Hartcher, Political and International Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and the very enterprising Hugh White.

Facts flow forth from the cluttered foreheads of the think tank performers with such predictability that it would be harmless, if it were not so pervasive. It is just one of many reasons our political understanding and debate is tanking.

Update: Free copy of How to Get Expelled From School “Offer comes courtesy of The Galileo Movement.”

Very public-spirited of them!

After watching The Drum on ABC News24 and 7.30 on Wednesday, I left this comment at The Failed Estate:

The Drum were up to it again today. James Paterson from the IPA, Sue Cato PR for business, and David Marr. 7.30 were a real surprise (not) with just one commentator on the National Security Strategy – Rory Medcalf, from the Lowy Institute. At least it wasn’t Hugh White!

Let’s agitate to get a diversity of voices, not just faces, on our national broadcaster. You might consider this petition as a starter: ABC (Australia): Stop the bias towards the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA)

Twitter is also a place where we can air our views e.g #QandA Not the usual suspects again!

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