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Category Archives: Social Justice

The Precedent Set

With the acquittal this week (Tuesday 7 April 2020) of Cardinal George Pell, many words will be written, both in published media and in social channels. Many people will be appalled by the decision and personally offended that the Cardinal will walk free. For many people, victims of abuse and families of victims, this will come across as a further blow in a society where the odds are already rigged against them. Yet this decision is the only way that justice, in this case, could have been served, and it redresses a terrible travesty of jurisprudence and a frankly horrifying legal precedent.

The case against George Pell has been found insupportable in the High Court of Australia. On the basis of the evidence presented in the trial, the seven judges of the High Court found unanimously that it would be impossible for an unbiased person to dispel all reasonable doubt as to Pell’s guilt.

The prosecution built their case on the sworn testimony of a single victim/witness. Testifying over multiple days, undergoing cross-examination and providing a level of detail the judges and jury found believable and credible, the victim’s statement was damning.

Against that, the defence arrayed a formidable collection of testimony, evidence and witness statements casting doubt on every aspect of the prosecution’s case. From the physical ability to commit the alleged crime, to the opportunity to do so (was Pell really alone with the boys for any length of time after a Sunday service, when his attested habit was to meet-and-greet parishioners on the front steps, and when he was always attended while in robes), right through to personal character references.

By most accounts, the prosecution in the case spent their time explaining why the crime was possible, in the face of this defence evidence, rather than showing that the crime was committed, based on prosecution evidence. According to the statement released by the High Court, the defence evidence was “uncontested” by the prosecution.

It is not the job of the defence to prove that their version of events is true. Which makes it remarkable that the prosecution spent their energies introducing “reasonable doubt” about the defense testimony. It was uncontested, for example, that the Cardinal was in the habit of greeting parishioners on the steps of the cathedral after a Sunday service. All the prosecution could do was argue that it was possible that on this occasion that habit was not followed.

In our modern system of jurisprudence, the accused is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. It is the job of the prosecution to show how and why the accused committed a crime, and provide evidence to support the contention. The defence has the job of casting doubt upon the evidence presented with their own, contrary evidence. The prosecution must then disprove the defence evidence beyond reasonable doubt.

The High Court has concluded that the prosecution in Pell’s case did not do this. Showing that a particular event is possible is not equivalent to proving that it happened, or even is likely. Proving that commission of a crime is possible does not constitute proof that it happened.

A criminal trial rests on one equation and one only: does the evidence for the prosecution outweigh the evidence for the defence? If not, reasonable doubt must remain.

In the case of Pell v The Queen, every piece of evidence tendered – excepting the testimony of Witness A – was provided by the defence. The High Court has adjudged that the prosecution did not adequately disprove that evidence, such that an unbiased jury could dismiss it out of hand. The High Court case was not a judgement on the guilt or innocence of Pell, or the honesty or otherwise of the witness, but a reflection on the flawed processes of the earlier trials. Simply put, the prior trials convicted George Pell on the strength of one person’s testimony and ignored all the evidence to the contrary. The precedent this sets, should it have been allowed to stand, is monstrous.

The requirement for evidence protects us all from abuse by those who would do us harm. The presumption of innocence protects us from being judged before the evidence has a chance to convict. Arguably it has failed George Pell, perhaps because too many people look at him with a presumption of guilt, due to his history, his involvement in church cover-ups, or merely the fact he is a Catholic priest. Pell’s history, his sordid past protecting abusers in the priesthood, his faith and his personal arrogance are irrelevant to the case at hand: was there evidence that he committed the crimes of which he was accused? And does that evidence outweigh the evidence from the defence?

When a citizen is prosecuted for a crime, evidence is required. To successfully make a case, there must be cause to believe the accused person committed the crime. Convicting them in the absence of such evidence is something we have colloquial terms for. Kangaroo Court is one. Witch-Hunt is another. The trial against George Pell edges perilously close to being a witch hunt, and as multiple commentators have noted should never have come to trial. The prosecution did not have evidence to support their case, and could not adequately dispute the evidence that supported the defence.

This will not be a popular opinion. For many, the knowledge that a victim will not get justice rankles. More, it points to the continuing imbalance of power: when those in positions of authority abuse their trust, it can be nigh impossible for the powerless to obtain redress. In cases of sexual or other abuse, there is often no trial-ready evidence available, and in the current system this means that some victims will never receive justice.

Are there only two ways to handle this kind of crime? Either unquestioning acceptance of an accusation, or rigid adherence to a system that makes a conviction nearly impossible in all but the most egregious of cases, the worst of offenders? There ought to be a middle path, where the wronged can be heard and redress made, but the accused sinner might only have their life irrevocably ruined when there is enough proof to convict.

The National Redress Scheme goes some way to accomplishing this middle way, but it will not suit all cases. The shift in public opinion and the way such cases are treated will also have some effect. We now treat allegations of abuse with the importance they deserve and we are not so quick to dismiss or belittle them. We are able to believe the testimony of a victim without necessarily being in a position to bring their abuser to justice.

The fact remains that for many victims the only proof they have is their word, against which can be arrayed an army of evidence and cabals of powerful men. In many cases – maybe even most – it is not worth bringing a case to trial. And this means that many victims will never have their day in court, and that some offenders will never face justice.

Nevertheless, George Pell’s acquittal was the right decision, and should give every Australian some comfort that they, too, cannot be convicted of a crime where there is no evidence to support it. If there is to be any silver lining found in the court’s decision, it is here.

Perhaps a guilty man went free, but that’s a better system than one where the innocent person can be convicted.

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Our Compelling Witness!

Thousands upon thousands of Survivors of childhood sexual abuse could have written this brief article.

Their experiences may differ from mine in detail. But what we all have in common together is that we are living proof of the negative legacy that our experiences of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church has had upon the course of our whole lives. We are the most compelling of witnesses where the highlighting of this type of heinous crime is concerned.

Across all legal cases where witness is borne against the Catholic Church, and other institutions, there exists an echo of commonality.

From 1957 through to 1964 I experienced much abuse including being physically assaulted and sodomised by a Catholic Priest in the Church Sacristy of St. Vincent’s Orphanage, Nudgee, near Brisbane. That rape experience was not one of a kind. I was subject to far more than that over an interminable period of time.

There were no ‘dissenting’ witnesses to my experiences, there were no ‘witnesses of opportunity’ rounded up to oppose my case and support the Church. Yet my case was so easily minimised and pushed aside by the power of the Catholic Church – I was brow beaten into accepting a minor settlement and I did not even receive the pretence of an apology.

How many other Survivors of childhood sexual abuse have also been terrorised down that path by the Catholic Church?

Today, a judgement was handed down in the highest Court in this country. One man had his day in court. Some people are concerned that from now on Survivors will be reluctant to come forward. Some may be, but many of us will not be dissuaded from our efforts to achieve real and lasting justice.

I will re-pursue the Catholic Church. Many other Survivors will pursue or re-persue the Catholic Church.

We are the most Compelling of Witnesses!

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The end of the Newstart Criminal?

Happy days. The unemployed will now no longer be demonised as dole bludgers or Newstart Criminals. From now on they will be known as Australians in need.

Mind you, it has taken a crisis of unprecedented proportions to force a sliver of care, empathy, and compassion, into the punitive hearts of our right-wing politicians.

Could it be perhaps that the speed with which our Government has dropped their policy of the deliberate impoverishment of the poor and the unemployed could be due to the fact that now, given the ever-growing lines outside Centrelink, a proportion of their conservative base is about to be exposed to the untender mercies of our welfare system?

Can’t call your own voters dole bludgers or leaners can you? Gosh, how cynical of me.

Many people, and nobody alive would wish it on them, are about to find out what it will take to survive with a fortnightly income of roughly $1,100. But let’s bring that down to what the weekly income will be. $550. If you are single and live in your own home and have a mortgage of $500 per week you’ll be left with $50 per week to take care of everything else. Food, energy bills, petrol, phone, car repairs, and everything else. Reality. Not good.

If you are single and renting you will roughly get $550 per week plus a rental allowance of $69.50 per week. If you are paying $300 a week rent (and average regional rents, let alone city rents, are much higher than that) you will be leading a fairly tough and restricted lifestyle. Reality. Not good.

Of course, individual circumstances for the unemployed vary widely. Some people are in relationships and have children, and will be eligible for further support. But in all cases, things will be very, very, tight. Reality. Not good.

But lest we forget. Up until a week ago the unemployed, including those who lost their jobs during the last catastrophic bushfire season, were expected to survive on the paltry sum of roughly $275 per week. At the same time, they had to endure the demonisation of ‘dole bludging’ foisted upon them by their own Government, the nong commercial television channels, the conservative press, and far too many of their fellow citizens.

Let’s hope that when we come out on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis that the rush of empathy for the unemployed and the poor becomes permanently welded onto the hearts, souls, and guts of the bureaucrats and politicians who design and maintain the safety net of our Welfare System.

(What is the average rent in Australia? $436 per week. The median rent across Australia is currently $436 per week, according to a new report from property research house CoreLogic. In capital cities, it’s $465 per week, while the regional areas have it slightly cheaper at $378. and pls note: these figures are as of a year ago!)

(According to research from Commonwealth Bank in 2017, average monthly mortgage payments in Australia’s capital cities range from $1,500 to over $3,000.)

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Another woman dead. What can we as a society do about it?

Somewhere around Australia, behind a closed door in one of our suburbs, right now a woman is being beaten. There is no guarantee that she will not soon be dead.

I do not say that just to make you stand up and take notice. I say that to make me stand up and take notice of how appalling the level of violence directed at women within Australian society really is.

When I think about my daughter, when I think about the women in my life, when I think back over the years of my life, when I think about how when those women raised the issue of violence against women I was verbally supportive of their efforts to both highlight and then attempt to stem the tide of violence directed at women.

It made me realise that I am part of a large cohort of people who verbally oppose the level of violence against women. It also made me realise that as an individual human being, who happens to be a male, I had never translated my own supportive words into ‘action’.

When such realisation happens, it happens, and cannot be ignored. So, as an older man, with all of the wobbles and vulnerabilities that taking such a step would entail for any human being, I decided to take action.

A week or so ago I thought up a concept, created a Facebook page called The March of Decent Men, and sought to place an ‘idea’ out there for the public to discuss and think about, or even to improve upon.

The concept is uncomplicated. It accepts the premise that violence against women is wrong. It accepts that the majority of the violence against women occurs in our suburbs behind closed doors. It asks people to join me in doing something that addresses the issue on the very ground where it happens.

On Saturday the 28th March at 11 am I am going to stand in my own street in my own suburb (on the footpath for safety reasons) with a sign that says, and I’ve had to re-think my wording many times – VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IS WRONG. PERIOD. NO EXCUSES. And I have invited everybody else, man or woman, to do the same with a sign of their own wording.

Doing such a thing as one person will change nothing. But imagine if the majority of us did it at the same time. Such a collective expression of will could not easily be ignored. Where is it written that we cannot all band together and make an effort to begin a process of positive change?

Support for the concept has been, in the majority, supportive. What is interesting though, perhaps in a sad way, is how some people respond to a clear and direct question. The question ‘Is violence against women wrong?’ cannot possibly draw in any sort of answer but yes it is wrong. Surely no human being could say that it is a good thing?

The range of answers to that so direct a question has educated me to the negative power of ‘Whataboutism’. Whataboutism happens when someone simply does not want to answer the question posed, because it does not directly address an issue that they feel heartfelt about, and they respond by saying ‘but what about’ violence against men, ‘but what about’ every other permutation of violence that human beings are capable of visiting upon each other. To someone who answers with ‘what about’ all I can do is encourage you to get out there yourself and do something about the issue that is of prime concern to you, you have the power to do that.

Is violence against women wrong? Yes it is. I invite everybody, man or woman, to stand up in their own suburb on 28th March at 11 am and say so. The perpetrators of such violence may just start to begin to get the message.

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Why does this man still have his OAM?

I am writing to bring to your attention a matter regarding the awarding of OAMs. Given the recent controversy regarding Bettina Arndt, I am sure that people would be horrified to learn that a convicted paedophile serving an 8-year sentence, still holds an OAM.

Graeme Russell Lawrence, former Anglican Dean of Newcastle, was defrocked by the Anglican Church in 2012 for sexual misconduct with a child. Further, he was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison in 2019 for the rape of a 15 year old boy.

I have written to the Awards Secretariat, The Governor General and the Prime Minister on at least 8 occasions since 2010 in relation to this and am yet to receive any reply other than generic responses.

I have been amazed that the Governor General’ s office has responded so quickly to calls to rescind the OAM of Arndt, yet steadfastly refuses to even consider revoking the OAM of a convicted paedophile.

After Lawrence’s conviction, Newcastle Council immediately revoked Freeman of the City and Citizen of the Year Awards that Lawrence held, yet the Governor General’s office refuses to act on this.

My name is Steven Smith. I was raped hundreds of times by an Anglican Priest while I was aged 10-14. I have fought for decades to bring offenders to justice.

I appeared as a survivor witness in Case Study 42 of the Child Abuse Royal Commission and was invited to appear to address the Commissioners as the final witness at the final hearing (CS57).

I feel that I speak for survivors from all over the country when I express my disgust at the inaction of the Governor General’s Office, the Prime Minister’s Office and The Awards Secretarial in allowing a convicted child rapist, serving a lengthy prison term, to retain an honour that should only be held by persons of the highest character.

For Lawrence to continue to hold that honour is an insult to all survivors of child sexual abuse, and an insult to all deserving holders of honours.

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No. I will not.

I wrote to the senate inquiry today to speak as a private citizen, as a survivor of crime and as a social security entitlement recipient who is also a long term clean and sober alcoholic and drug addict. I am one of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people who are facing forced income management under the Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT) program should roll outs continue.

I do not agree with the government’s assertion that the cashless debit card trials need to be extended and I do not believe this government has made a case for a trial extension. This bill will extend the trials and these extensions, as others in the past have done, will ultimately mean that human and economic rights infringements will also continue.

I am a survivor of long term sexual physical and psychological abuse, child sex-trafficking and religious abuse. I am a birth mother, a single mother, and a survivor of all the ‘value adds’ that come with each of those experiences; malnutrition, mental illness, homelessness, abuse perpetuation, social isolation and abject poverty. I understand the concept of ” Tough Love” and its role in addiction and trauma recovery very well. What government is offering under that banner, is not what tough love means.

Through my experiences in sickness and wellness, I understand that for tough love to be useful and effective, and not just another form of abuse, it has to be metered out by people with intimate knowledge of the issues and not by those whose only power and evidence is opinion. Tough Love has to come from people with a genuine authority of experience, and a genuine care for those they work with. Tough love begins from a position of equality, mutual respect, understanding and lateral comprehension.

The CDCT policy as a structure is none of these things and nor are those espousing and implementing it, who have consistently been impersonal, dismissive, infantilising and judgemental.

I am fortunate that I was surrounded by wise people when I was ready to stop drinking and using. They never judged me or thought it was in any way appropriate to try and restrict my spending or to control my daily life. They did not cushion me in any way from the often-devastating consequences of my own stupidity and already knew they could not ‘fix’ the underlying disease of my addiction.

They knew as I do today, that the consequences of my avoidance of responsibility, in the end would be the greatest teachers and motivators I had. Removing those true incentives, for an addict, is like removing soil from the base of a seedling. Without them, I couldn’t have learned from my mistakes and recovered. In a world where my only experience of ‘love’ was abuse, and experiences of ‘help’ were harmful, those consequences and yes, the pain they bought me, were the only teachers I could see hear, and the only thing I could trust.

To infantilise people as these cards do, removes more than this essential individual responsibility and accountability, it undermines the capacity of a person too. In the manner these cards do that, is to sentence people, in some cases, to a slow death. At best, it removes the teacher from the classroom, while demanding the student pass. It’s backwards.

I also know something of surviving abuse and trauma, and so I know firsthand that these cards, in undermining self-determination and personal autonomy are anathema to trauma recovery.

Government will never be able to address whatever inter-generational welfare dependency issues may exist, without first addressing issues of injustice and inter-generational trauma. Not just in any one community, but in the entire Australian community.

The impacts of denying people their full exercise of human rights are all around us right now. They are visible in the very ‘problems’ government now wishes to address with conditional social security policies, yet successive governments have ignored the voices of those most experienced in recovery in the development of those policies.

Applying insult to injury and taking that arrogance of ignorance a step further, denying people free access cash in a largely cash economy-based world, will only undermine any progress that has been made. Segregating people further from the world they must survive in, treating citizens as criminals simply for needing support, only isolates people from help even further. To move forward, you need trust. These cards are anathema to trust.

In the first and last assessment, access to cash money has nothing to do with treating any social problem. Government already knows this. There are four reports that inform the government of this, the government wrote them.

Control of cash money isn’t just about controlling people’s incomes, it is controlling people and nowhere at any time in history outside of atrocity, has this ever been successful.

The Cashless Debit Card Trial only serves a wider political agenda towards cashless societies, and on the ground, simply removes individual autonomy and adds a further layer of bureaucracy, complexity and burden to people already living with the failings of bureaucracies, people already overburdened and living complex lives.

What matters most when tough love comes to the basement, is that it is provided as empathetic medicine, not inflicted as a punitive control that can only ever uphold the intention to punish. This provision of tough love is important, because that simple qualification means the dis-ease and the person with the dis-ease, are not viewed as one and the same.

These cashless card trials and the policy as written under the Act now, makes no distinction between people who actually need government intervention and those who do not. It assumes. It morally judges people based on class and any number of closeted political agendas and ideologies. It bypasses every institutional wisdom and ignores structural issues as a contributing factor related to poverty, unemployment, abuse and addictions, in order to abdicate responsibility and lay blame for societal conditions onto individuals who never had a say in any of it.

As a practising addict, not only would I have gone to any lengths to get my fixes, cashless card or not.

A lack of access to ready cash would have only kept me locked into the very circles of friends and cycles of abuse I needed to step away from to get well. Restricted access to income would only have meant I was made more dependent on those friends and circles to survive.

I am not sure who came up with the idea it ever was, but I can tell you with the authority of my experience, that the availability of cash or lack thereof, was not the reason I drank, or continued to drink. Underlying causes and conditions must be addressed on an interpersonal level if recovery from addiction is to be possible. We cannot ignore the fact that two of the major causes for cyclical abuse patterns are the conditions of social stigma and ongoing social ignorance.

As a victim of sexual and structural crime, salvaged from certain demise at the hand of policing organisations who were meant to defend me as a result of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into those organisations, I know and have lived the full cost of social ignorance and social silence. Having had over a thousand ” good community men” tear through my body before my fourteenth birthday as my lived experience and ‘cost’, I can tell you this card is anathema to the needs I had in my early recovery from those experiences too.

The need for self-determination, was and is paramount in and to my survivorship; it is integral to moving beyond victimisation into survivor-ship and so, into stability and every single report on trauma and recovery from trauma can back me up on that. With the presence of any unwanted, external force controlling my daily life, such as this card would be, I could not have coped, and I would not cope, even today, as far as I have come.

Importantly, rather than “incentivised”, I would not have been motivated to recover at all, as to my wounded mind, giving up my rights to determine my own financial choices, would have been swapping one form of human abuse and slavery for another. I would have chosen suicide rather than to live subject to another person’s constant control, in that shame, bearing that social stigma and the silent yet obvious daily accusation I was just another perpetrator and a burden on the very society that abandoned me as a child to abusers in the first place.

It is with no small sense of irony and a great sense of despair that I find myself potentially subject to this card today simply because those early experiences I endured, in their cumulative impact, have left me disabled. I don’t fit governments target criteria, yet somehow that doesn’t matter.

Having made incredible journeys into recovery and sitting here to write to you now, a clean sober woman in a stable in a healing recovery path, I no longer fit into any of the target groups or categories this card is supposedly designed to ‘treat’ aside from ‘social security entitlement recipient,’ and yet along with all those that do or might, I am about to have my autonomy, the only real possession I have ever reclaimed from abusers in my recovery journey, removed again. All my hard work seems to have been for naught. Society wouldn’t accept me as I was, and now won’t accept me as I am.

Imagine for a moment that all the CDC’s intentions were justified and valid, then I ask you one last time, what have I done to warrant this punitive action and this imposition of government force and control in and over my life? What crime have I committed but to survive beyond expectation, that anyone has the right to sit in judgement over me?

Where was the government when I was being raped by its representatives on a daily basis that they now claim the right to condemn me to involuntary third-party income management for surviving that horror? Who are you to judge me a failed citizen, a derelict and who are you to judge those that are?

I am not a lost person or one who requires parenting or government guidance over my financial management, I am not stupid or impaired or negligent. The people who did this to me are. I have educated and schooled myself, I am someone who has endured, survived and overcome to the best of my own ability, though it seems not to government standards, the criminality and derelict moralities of the truly lost people of this country.

I have raised and I am continuing to raise myself out of the gutters members of this society not facing forced income management today put and left me in and all I have needed to do that, is an income support payment. I have no desire to end up back in the gutter and I have asked nothing else from the government. I am a good citizen. A good person. I pay my taxes, I support my community, I do what is required to stay well and stable and not deplete hospital resources unnecessarily.

I am entitled to my Centrelink payment under law, and it is my legislated right to own this entitlement under law. I do not abuse this payment. Under the CDCT, I do lose ownership of 80% of this payment. A corporate entity will control it and so, control me and my financial and social life. I cannot accept this. I will not.

I do not wish to participate in this act of collective punishment by the State on its most vulnerable citizens. And I will refuse to, even if that means my life ends or is diminished as a result. I know too well, that it was only the absence of respect for my rights as a human being and as a citizen and the intentional abuse of my human rights, that I am Centrelink payments to begin with. Rather than horse dung, respect for my human rights has been the only door to any of the recoveries I have been forced to make. This government must be held accountable to the law. Wanting to ‘get the cash out of communities’ is not sufficient justification for continued human rights infringements under the law.

Policies of social and economic segregation aside, any government action that includes or justifies acts that infringe upon people’s human and economic rights is an extremely serious matter.

If the government wishes to use addictions and abuse as its justification for imposing the card upon the “welfare class”, then it must address us all. Government must explain to the parliament and the people, why all the people who have committed no crimes and have no social illness or delinquency to speak of, are being forced onto CDCT and they must explain to us why we must submit to this third party authoritarianism and abuse of our rights as citizens and human beings.

If the government genuinely holds that removing access to alcohol and gambling products will work to stop addiction, paedophilia, crime, violence and gambling problems, then why assault people like me who do none of these things? If the situation is so grave, why have we not shut down places that sell these items in all communities? If governments intentions are to ‘help’ communities, then why after two years and millions of dollars, is there still no rehabilitation service in Ceduna? Why no youth diversion camp in Kununurra? That is what these communities were asking for. Why have their voices been ignored?

If the government believes that moving forward, collective cash control is the only solution to society’s ills, then let’s do it right from the get-go! Let’s do it together, all inclusive, the entire national community. Let’s close all the pubs poker machine venues and casinos everywhere right now and take control of everyone’s incomes. Are we no longer equal Australians?

If that sounds stupid or an affront to you, then maybe you now have a glimmer of understanding how it feels to be me right now. Only my understanding of that stupidity comes with the knowledge that it would be wrong to do that, to determine outcomes for others based on my individual intellectual and moral views and personal choices; based on my view of how things could, nay should ‘get better’ in this country.

The reality remains that the dis-ease that pervades the life of an alcoholic drinker is not in the bottle at all. It’s inside the alcoholic and not in their wallet. While money is wasted on efforts to control the symptoms, focused on efforts that ignore, demean, demoralise or demonise the person, the government simply dis-empowers the only source of the solutions. Nothing will change for the individual, because nothing will have changed where it matters to where it needs to. Within them. No amount of money or lack of cash money can change that.

In an economic landscape where fiscal disparity is 500 to 1 at best, concepts of community consensus let alone collective ‘community consent’ is nearly impossible to quantify and even if it were, outside of criminal activity, it should never usurp or replace the rights or informed consent of a single citizen. Under the current Cashless Card system, we are all considered guilty, all delinquents, and so the ignorant yet wealthy who are being empowered to give third party consent to these roll outs ‘ on our behalf’ are simply acting feudal lords determining outcomes for the peasants yet again. This isn’t right, it isn’t “OK”.

This policy is a total social injustice of a kind last seen in that feudal era, a ‘mistake’ we as a society have already repeated during the Northern Territory intervention. It is time to learn from the past, not continue to emulate it.

We the ill, the recovering damaged, the poor and disenfranchised don’t need any more good intentions or this twisted version of love or compassion, any more than we need your blanket judgements. What we do need are good decisions made by informed, trauma aware and mature people with a consistent empathy and authentically welfare-based vision willing to stand accountable for policy failure and impact outcomes.

We need people willing to see and hear us, and willing to work and engage with us, not those who would view themselves as our betters. And it is very clear from all the submissions and evidence given to the inquiry’s so far by those good people – yes I have read them all, that the Cashless Debit Card, which is a new name for third party income management by force, is simply not the answer.

To safeguard the innocent, to help those truly unable to help themselves, there needs to be at minimum a reversal of the burden of proof. Government needs to provide accountable proof that people are fiscally delinquent or even that they are in need of acute help. This must be accomplished via individual case assessment.

Individual case assessment is the only way to know, for certain, who needs help and who does not, and so, to protect the integrity of our so called national values that, unless there has been a coup, do not include collectively judging and punishing innocent people or infringing upon the human rights of citizens with impunity.

If individual assessment finds we are not falling or failing to thrive, then the card has no place in our lives and no grounds exist for it to be imposed on us.

As a survivor, I do not consent to having my human and economic rights stripped from me for no reason, regardless of any ‘data’ and ‘opinions’ or the ideology and grossly misled assumptions of an inept, unaccountable and political party. I will never give consent or be forced onto this card, on pain of homelessness, hunger and even death. My human rights and my dignity, have a value and special meaning to me beyond money, beyond society’s view of them, even if they mean nothing to anyone else. I will not be forced under duress to sign any contract with an unaccountable private corporation against my will. I will not.

I refuse to accept that any individual, government department, group or community has the right to give ‘implied third party consent’ on my behalf to any government that would enable them to abuse my human and economic rights and freedoms, and I believe the very notion that they have any right to do that outside of criminality is absurd and simply Orwellian.

Abuse is not love. Harm is not helpful. Constriction and restriction that create harm and reduce a person’s status in the world, are not acts of compassion. The Indue cashless card reflects all the worst possible options available to the government in supporting people on Centrelink. I do not drink, use drugs, gamble or commit crime. I will not now or ever find it acceptable that my character can be presumed for me, nor accept that those presumptions acted upon by third parties, to my detriment are right, legal or moral.

I will not have my self-determination and personal autonomy in the world stolen by force ever again by the institutions of government or its agencies and representatives and I will not be treated like a criminal or an animal, by anyone, much less those so clearly devoid of the morality and basic human empathy, life experience and comprehension skills required to make such an assessment of my life.

If I am the only one or the last person in the entire nation to stand and say no to this policy, then so be it. I am not afraid. I know I am not writing only for myself or the current generation. I am considering the impact of this policy on people like me in the generation to come, and I make my stand with full awareness of the ultimate cost to me personally, and with awareness of the impact of the cost of normalising and institutionalising human rights infringements and government neglect in my country.

I absolutely question the use of the CDCT policy as a social “catalyst”, and do question the future of human rights in Australia overall if we are to be permissive of any government seeking to continue to infringe on the human rights of one group of people in order to motivate another group of people.

These cards are already turning practising addicts into dealers and practising alcoholics and the mentally ill into suicide statistics. Rather than achieving a catalytic explosion of hope in multiple creative and informed directions, the cashless debit card, via intimidation and moral judgment, has shown that it only creates inertia. For something to be a catalyst it has to create something productive, despair is not productive. Except for a privileged few, and when you actually read their submissions and stories, for most people on the cashless debit card already, despair is their daily diet. The food children need to grow well, doesn’t stop at the supermarket kind. These cards are stealing hope.

Human rights are not horsesh*t, they are not ‘irrelevant’ they are not paper weights. To me they are all I have left that structurally informs me I am more than the sum of other people’s opinions and judgements of me, and more than the experiences of my past.

They inform me that I do have a right to exist, a right to be here and the right to be free and protected as an equal member of society from all forms of social and institutional discrimination and abuse regardless of my social or financial status. These rights apply to all of us, equally, or none of us, entirely.

In the wider world, human rights inform us all. They are the wisdom of the lived experience of centuries of human mistakes and failures. They are the boundaries we have set for ourselves as a global community of human beings; a line in the sand we have legally and morally drawn based on our highest most informed moral awareness. Any program or government, knowingly impinging on these boundaries without concrete justification, is exceeding its moral and legal authority. The cashless debit card policy impinges on these rights.

To the best of my knowledge, the Cashless Debit Card Trial Legislation was presented and approved on the basis it met specific targets and respected limitations that applied to trial conditions only. These objectives and limitations have not been met. At the end of the day, it remains that now four years on, the Cashless Debit Card Trial has not met the targets set down in law, and another year will not change that.

I am a human being, not a laboratory specimen. I am not stupid and not willing to be compliant with acts that bring about my own dehumanisation.

The Cashless Card roll out this far has not just disrespected human rights of the people; it has not respected the people. This will not change in the future as this bill does not address the people or their futures. This legislation hasn’t even included one word about care for the people, protection of the people at all.

Under these conditions, it is wrong to continue these trials let alone to give consent to extend trials even further and to wilfully abuse even more people. I cannot speak for all, though I will say, that all the people who have been given no choice but to spend their lives surviving society’s neglect and the intentional abuses of its ‘good citizens’ embedded in its institutions, do deserve better. A lot better.

For this and many other reasons, I will not submit to this policy. And there is no power on or in this earth that can compel my conscience otherwise.

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Women not safe from violence in mental health inpatient facilities

RMIT Media Release

Women who spend time in mental health inpatient facilities are not being protected from gender-based violence, according to new research.

The study, “Preventing gender-based violence in mental health inpatient units” shows women have experienced sexual assault, harassment and related threats from other inpatients, visitors and even staff in some facilities.

Conducted by researchers from RMIT University and Charles Sturt University, the study also found many services lacked appropriate policies and procedures to support women who reported such violence during their stay.

Lead researcher from RMIT, Dr Juliet Watson, said while some examples of women receiving supportive responses were uncovered, incidents of harassment were frequently disbelieved or not taken seriously.

“Women told us about staff who dismiss their experiences as misperceptions and tell them to ignore it,” Watson said.

“But if a woman is perceiving some behaviour as violent, she should have the opportunity to decide what action is taken. Staff should then respond in a way that ensures she feels safe.”

Many of the female clients staying in these facilities have previously survived violent trauma.

The study found the experience of being restrained by staff, which is common during treatment, may also be a trigger for traumatic memories of past abuse.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) commissioned the study.

ANROWS CEO Dr Heather Nancarrow said there was an urgent need for trauma-informed care.

“This is a profound breach of trust by our health system,” Dr Nancarrow said.

“Mental health service providers need training and support. It’s crucial they understand the impact their actions might have on women with a history of sexual, domestic or family violence.”

“If women are to have access to safe, dignified and effective mental healthcare, we need to build a gender lens into hospital policies and procedures.”

She said the study was part of ANROWS’s growing body of evidence about how an understanding of gendered violence can be embedded in health policy and services.

This research includes the WITH and SUSTAIN studies, and ‘Constructions of complex trauma and implications for women’s wellbeing and safety from violence‘.

While mental health facilities have introduced processes to protect inpatients from violence, the models most commonly used across Australia do not employ a gender lens, and as a result leave women exposed to gendered violence, including domestic violence.

“We need mental health facilities to place the agency of women at the centre of their treatment,” Nancarrow said.

“This means consulting closely with each woman to build a plan of recovery that is sensitive to her history and respects her own judgement about what will keep her safe.”

“Feeling safe is a requirement for getting well.”

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Rorts sports

The “sports rorts” saga that has lately claimed the privileged position of Bridget McKenzie has consumed many newspaper front pages and exercised many peoples’ outrage – and not just those of us on the left. McKenzie is gone, relegated to the back bench for a token period of contrition.

(If there’s one thing the last week and Barnaby Joyce’s resurgence should have taught us, it’s that no matter how egregious the sin, the redemption is only a few news cycles away. After all, McKenzie knows first-hand how deeply embroiled the office of the PM – and conceivably, the PM himself along with Cabinet – were with this and other electoral misuses of public funds. It seems entirely likely that McKenzie’s demotion is a handshake deal with the understanding that her star will once again rise, given enough water under the bridge.)

Many in the ranks of the Liberal and National government may be relieved that the erstwhile Sports minister fell on her sword. McKenzie’s elevation to cabinet and the deputy leadership was unexpected and (some argue) unwarranted. McKenzie herself perhaps never expected to receive such a prominent role. Upon reaching the big chair she and her department have been the subject of many a scandal and rort. She seems to have capitalised on the perks of the job for all they’re worth, notching up the government’s largest travel bill in 2019.

McKenzie was not a high-performing minister in her other roles. In her capacity as Minister for Agriculture, arguably one of the Nationals’ core constituencies, McKenzie earned the ire of her colleagues for her poor communication skills, lack of visibility and poor organisation. Nationals were furious that McKenzie capitulated quickly to demands from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, allowing PHON to claim credit for something the Nationals themselves had been agitating for over many months, something McKenzie had argued could not be achieved so quickly.

Most importantly, of course, the finding from Phil Gaetjens that McKenzie breached ministerial guidelines by not declaring the gift of a membership to a shooting club (which had, quite coincidentally, been given a grant under McKenzie’s funding program) allows the Liberal/National coalition government to safely demote the Minister for Sports without copping to the much more substantial claim that said funding program had been systematically rorted.

Because of course, that rorting was entirely according to Coalition policy and methods. McKenzie was not an outlier running a private little game. She was doing exactly what she had been told and what was expected of her.

We know this, even if the government won’t come out and admit it. The government knows this, and they know we know it. We know it, because they’re effectively admitting to it.

On ABC radio this week, Nationals MP Damian Drum admitted, on air, that “Every jurisdiction does it… “.

It’s hardly a new observation. Just after the 2013 federal election Sophie Mirabella, smarting from defeat in the battle for the seat of Indi against Cathy McGowan, claimed that “I had a commitment for a $10 million allocation for the Wangaratta Hospital that, if elected, I was going to announce a week after the election. That is $10 million that Wangaratta hasn’t had because [independent] Cathy [McGowan] was elected.”

The Coalition has a long tradition of paying back its benefactors. After all, this is why the Coalition is so hell-bent on sending the planet to hell, supporting the coal/oil/gas/fossil fuels industry against all scientific advice, despite world opprobrium and against the economic and environmental interests of the Australian public. Not because coal and fossil fuels are essentially good for us. Not even because the sums add up. If making plans to ditch coal would really send Australia’s economy into freefall you could understand the government’s position, but any rudimentary analysis shows that the market for coal and gas is a very short road indeed, and if we have not made significant inroads into renewable energy and associated industries by the time nobody else wants to buy our coal, we will be deep in it.

No, the reason the Coalition won’t ditch coal is that they owe their benefactors. The Liberals, like the Lannisters, always pay their debts.

So the idea that a voter needs to vote for the Coalition to secure any love from a Coalition government feels right at home. The thought of granting, or withholding, funds for a needy project not on the basis of need but because of the political party in control of that seat, is just and right in their eyes. Or if not “just and right”, it’s a case of “Every jurisdiction does it.”

Which raises two questions. Do they? And should they?

To be clear, we’re not talking about the time-honoured Australian method of “pork-barrelling” here. It’s true that both Labor and the Coalition talk the talk when it comes time for an election. An election is a battle of purses, each contender seeking to out-promise the other without ever stepping over the tenuous line beyond which the electorate wonders how the debt will be paid. We understand this. We accept it. To some extent, we reward it – politicians wouldn’t commit themselves to spending promises if it didn’t work at least some of the time.

The sports rorts is a deeper issue. Rather than promises to spend money in your electorate should you vote the correct way (and the promiser be in the position to grant their beneficence), these grants are intended to be retrospective. It’s not “Vote for us and we’ll do something for you”. It’s “See what we’ve done for you? Vote for us and you’ll get more.”

The corollary being, “Vote for somebody else and you won’t get a dime from us.” Or, in the case of Indi, a hospital.

We’re talking about a government, which actually has its hands on the levers of government, being partisan in the distribution of its funds. We’re not talking about fulfilling election promises.

So is Labor just as bad – or, as Damian Drum avers, worse? It’s hard to tell. I am not sure if the required analysis has been done. There certainly have not been as many scandals under Labor governments than Liberal ones, but perhaps Labor is better at keeping the lid on it. They appear to be better than the Liberals at many things, winning elections being the notable exception.

If it’s hard to tell whether it’s true that “every jurisdiction does it” – and let’s assume, for the sake of convenience, that they do – then, should they?

After all, MPs are expected to advocate for their electorates. They bring the needs and desires of their voters to those Ministers with the wherewithal to provide government support. Some would argue that Coalition MPs have better access to Coalition Ministers and receive a friendlier ear.

But this means that projects of merit can only receive funding if it suits the government of the day. It means that some electorates suffer in neglect due to being safe seats for either party, while marginal seats are showered in largess. It means that public funds – money coming from Australian taxpayers – is overtly funneled for political purposes, and only secondarily for public gain. I would argue that this should not happen. But how to avoid it, in a democratic two-party system where only the government of the day can call the shots?

If only there were an independent body, something like an overarching Sports Australia body, which could give advice as to the merits of any applicants to a funding scheme. A body with appropriate expertise – for the sake of imagination, let’s call it Infrastructure Victoria, and let it rule on the cost/benefits of something like the East/West Link. If only governments would commit to evidence-based policy.

But what kind of a political party would ever countenance such a thing? Certainly not the one we have now.

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Doing it for ourselves

I’ve previously written about conservative politics being unconvinced about the very purpose of government. It is becoming clearer, through repeated example, that the Australian people are unconvinced about the very purpose of government.

The recent bushfires and the ongoing drought are just two of the more recent examples that show how Australians will step up to the challenge, dig deep, give generously and demonstrate just how all-round spiffy they are.

The point that gets forgotten in this ongoing round of self-congratulations is that they shouldn’t have to.

We maintain a government not because we desperately want somebody to rule over us, but because there are things in a modern society we should not have to do for ourselves.

At least some of us recognise this. If we look just a little below the surface of all the many examples of altruism, we can see an undercurrent of dissatisfaction.

When Australians are able to make statements such as “They are facing catastrophic conditions. The town has been left to fend for itself”, when we read articles that “Volunteers are keeping Australians safe, not the Government”. When we can seriously suggest that “We have reached a point where the long-running downgrading of our institutional apparatus of government means that the most efficient way of getting money out to people in desperate circumstances is via non-government organisations like Vinnies and the Red Cross” we need to ask if our government is doing the job we pay it for.

The bushfire crisis has been on the front page for a month or two. The ongoing drought crisis has been going much longer, and here also we see individuals stepping in where the government has not.

“I feel f—ing sick because I am taking honest people’s money and they shouldn’t be helping me. But 100 per cent, the government is where the money should be coming from.”

All this is just the latest symptom of a long-standing ideological disagreement about what government is for. Conservative governments have an ideological opposition to providing assistance.

The idea that governments should provide services such as healthcare and hospitals, education and schools, social security and welfare, is relatively recent in historical times. Prior to the 1700s all these services would be provided by the churches or not at all. Government’s role was to maintain law and order and support the armed forces, and that was about it.

If you look at modern-day Coalition budgets, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s what we’ve returned to. In any area you name the Coalition has, since its election in 2013, slashed and burned, cut and where possible dismantled. Government bodies have been merged, defunded or decommissioned. Public benefit projects like the NBN have been hollowed out and repurposed to avoid them becoming useful to the undeserving poor. Public benefits have been taxed, indexed and regulated into submission.

Coalition governments are welded onto the idea of privatising profits and socialising losses. That’s how they approach energy generation, mining, any provision of services where they can get away with it. And allowing the public to pay out of their own pockets what they should instead expect from the apparatus of State is the ultimate outcome of this ethic.

As I previously wrote:

Money to pay for education, fire services, health, broadband, has to come from somewhere. The social structures – primarily church – which previously might have supported these things no longer have the resources or the popular support to be able to take up the slack. Charities around the country are crying out for support and berating the government for not providing enough basic resources/support; something has to give. In this environment, the idea of “small government” doesn’t make sense.

The government has to be big enough to do the things that the monasteries aren’t around to do anymore.

Of course, the budget cuts that cut deepest are not the ones to frontline funding. The government has learned its lesson from Tony Abbott’s 2014 shocker budget: the Australian people do not like to see cuts to the bottom line of the ABC, of healthcare and social security and roads.

Instead the government makes budget cuts that are relatively invisible: slashing and burning a path through the public service. This allows them to crow that they are “increasing funds” to education, healthcare or other services, while concealing the fact that there’s nobody left in the responsible Departments to process the paperwork. So waiting lists blow out, but also, money is left unspent at the end of the financial year. Not because services don’t need it, but because those who needed it could not access it. Thus we have money left in the NDIS allocation that can be re-allocated to drought relief. Does anybody want to make a wager that this funding will be effectively used in a timely manner?

The Australian people want these services. They have come to expect them. But Coalition politicians just want to win elections, and they’ve convinced themselves (with some justification) that the way to win elections is to cut taxes. When they cut taxes, they can’t afford to pay for these services.

That’s when the beneficent Australian public – the battlers, the Quiet Australians – rise to the challenge. This is when we see crowdfunding campaigns to pay for playgrounds, to enable life-saving operations not covered by the PBS, to support art bodies that have lost their funding or to provide hoses and trucks and face masks to firefighters. And we give. Australians want these services and we’ve shown that we’re happy to pay for them.

This is evidence of a disconnect in the electorate. The same people who donate generously to charitable causes are often the same people who will cheerfully vote in a Coalition government and cheer on the hollowing-out of any ability or willingness Government might have to do its part.

Of course no politician ever saw a way of raising money they didn’t like.

Now we have political aspirants crowdfunding their election campaigns.

We have government bodies, starved of public funds, reduced to fundraising to be able to achieve the things their constituents want.

When we accept the thought of crowdfunding to pay for services that should come out of our taxes, we let governments off the hook. We allow the argument to be framed in terms of what we can afford. When we allow politicians to sway our votes on the basis of promised tax cuts, we should remember that in doing so we are contributing to a worldview in which governments don’t pay for firefighting, individuals do. Where governments don’t pay for healthcare, societal infrastructure: instead the market will provide.

But there are certain things only Government can do. Nobody can crowdfund a closure of coal power stations, or the building of solar farms. We can’t crowdfund an ETS into existence. How, practically, can we the people contribute to the things our Government ought to be doing for us?

Every time we see an article about What you can do to save the planet or confront a blog comment challenging you about how often you fly and whether you use light bulbs, this is contributing to the distraction campaign. Individuals, acting alone, cannot save us from global environmental collapse. Not while governments continue to support coal mining, gas exports, coal-fired power and the infrastructure that supports them.

So don’t let the government get away with claiming that it can’t afford to pay for these services. Don’t allow it to laud the efforts of well-meaning, altruistic Australians without demanding an explanation of why the private altruism was necessary. We have a government for the purposes of providing healthcare, emergency management, social welfare and a host of other social provisions that we can’t do on our own. We expect our government to provide these services without fear or favour, to the needy regardless of how loud or visible they are.

If our government is not doing these things, it is not fit for purpose. So why exactly does it exist?

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We, the unheard.

And so the priests stand up in their pulpits and wish everyone a happy and merry Xmas …

And so we, the unheard, sit alone at home on Xmas day and try to endure the silence, the loneliness, and the loss. We try not to hear the happy celebrations of our neighbours, we leave the television off because of the swamp of festive visual fare that shows happy contented people singing carols and exuding joy, and we avoid any sort of human contact simply because we no longer have the ability to pretend that we can either contribute to or benefit from what is meant to be such a day of happy and relaxed and innocent celebration.

Many of us have drifted away from our families, or they have drifted away from us. Our children have drifted away from many of us, or we have drifted away from them. On Xmas day we think about, and live, the loss. We sit on our verandahs, and we stare at the sky.

And who are we, the unheard?

We are a grouping of men and women who as children back in the 1950s, yes back in the 1950s, that long and far away reach back in time, we are the human beings who endured unspeakable abuse experiences while under the care of religious institutions. We are now in our late sixties or seventies by physical age, but we are much older and worn down under the effects of the inescapable legacies that we have carried over the stretch of a full lifetime.

And so the priests stand up in their pulpits and wish everyone a happy and merry Xmas …

Our abuse experiences do not stand unique against those who were abused in the 1970s, the 1990s, the 2000s, or yesterday. The horror of the crimes committed against us in the 1950s are equal to the horror of the crimes committed against other children in the 1990s or in the present era. Nobody, no victim or survivor depending on how you as a society wishes to view us, escapes the legacy imposed by those crimes. The only difference for we, the unheard, is the fact that we have carried those legacies, those legacies of depression and PTSD, and the acute memories of what happened to us, for well over sixty years now.

Did some of us escape from under the weight of it all? We would like to think so, we would hope so, some must have surely, but for many of us, such cut through did not come our way.

The Royal Commission came far too late for us, the reach out from society via the Parliamentary apology was woefully too late for us, and both those events combined simply served to remind us how isolated, unheard, and unbelieved we were over that more than half a century ago.

We lived, as young children, and as teenagers, in an era where the churches and their clerics were venerated, and where those who had experienced scouring trauma were expected to just suck it up and move on, and, under no circumstance, speak out. We lived in a conservative and hypocritical society.

For us, back then, there was no inrush of supportive therapists and counsellors such as automatically happens today immediately post any sort of traumatic event. Society was quiet during our abuse, society was quiet after our abuse, society did not want to listen, society did not want to know. There was no such thing as early remedial intervention in our day, with the result that many of us carried our load of depression and post-traumatic stress for far too long in silence, and that long period of silence ensured for many of us that the state of those afflictions would become permanent.

As we hit our fifties and sixties, and as we saw the unfolding details of the Royal Commission, and as we sensed the new move within society to listen and believe, we started to open up. We approached therapists and psychologists, and for many of us, it was the first time in the totality of our lives that we were able to speak of what had been done. Our speech may have been halting, but at least for us, it was a welcome crack in the veil of silence.

After sixty years of being pushed aside, we were faced with the very new experience of being listened to. We had to try and draw ourselves out from under the blanket of silence imposed upon us by the society of our era. And it was at that very time, at a time when society was prepared to listen to our words, prepared to listen to our stories, when the Royal Commission was at its height, well, that was the exact time because of our decision to engage with the remedial therapies that many of us received the news from our therapists, our psychologists, and our psychiatrists that the damage done to us had been untreated for far too long, and that the damage could not be undone.

That blow was shattering for many of us. The last vestige of our hope for some internal relief or sense of normality was taken away.

And the priests stand up in their pulpits and wish everyone a happy and merry Xmas …

So our anger rose, and many of us entered the legal redress system, either under the civil system or the government promoted and subsequently watered down Redress Scheme. For many of us, our mental state was such that we could not clearly discern the ramifications for us of the decisions we made about the various levels of settlement offered to us by the religious institutions. For many of us, it was a depressing experience that added to the level of abuse that we had received from those institutions. We saw, and felt, their response to our requests for justice as an extension of our abuse at their hands. Many of us simply signed settlements in order to stop the further perpetration of abuse upon us.

As the Royal Commissioner recently stated, the problem with the largest abusive church of them all, the one that affected so many of us, is the fact that they saw and still see the molestation of children as a moral dilemma, and not as a crime. Well, we, the unheard, are the living proof of the effects across our whole lifetimes of the crime of childhood sexual abuse that was perpetrated upon us by representatives of that church. A church that does not have the moral courage to change itself from within.

This new era of societal redress and focus on abuse will end, as all things do, and society will move on to other things, as in this era society more and more quickly does. But we remain here locked into a world, not of our own creating, and many of us are faced with the impossible reality of accepting that how it always was for us, then so it will always remain to be.

On Xmas day many of us will just sit on our verandahs, and many of us will just stare at the sky. We remain quiet, and hidden away. It simply IS our IS. A bit of a brutal truth the churches don’t care to acknowledge. The age of being listened to arrived too late to be of benefit for many of us, and within ourselves, we feel and remain unheard.

And the priests stand up in their pulpits and wish everyone, including one assumes us, a happy and merry Xmas …

So we, some of that grouping of men and women who were children way back then in the 1950s do not in any sense wish you to not enjoy your festive season. But there is something that we would ask of you.

We want you to enjoy Xmas with every fibre of your being, and we want you to appreciate the beauty of your family, the beauty of your children, the beauty of your friends, and the beauty of being able to laugh and dance and celebrate and shout with unaffected joy at the freedoms that you have. We want you to fully appreciate and live your lives well. We want you to spread love and kindness to all you meet, and we want you to extend to and receive compassion from all on Xmas day. We wish you much success in the raising of your children and in the creation of positive legacies for them.

We, the unheard, would take it as a wonderful Xmas present to see you manage to do all of that.

Peace and love to all of you from all of us.

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Failure to resettle remaining offshore detainees to cost Australia $1.2 billion

Media Release

New figures released today reveal that the Australian Government’s failure to finalise resettlement for 535 offshore detainees currently in PNG and Nauru could cost taxpayers $1.2 billion over the next 3 years.

The independent economic modelling, commissioned by Save the Children Australia, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and GetUp, calculates the cost of offshore processing to be in excess of $573,000 per offshore person, per year.

Updating the report released by Save the Children and UNICEF Australia in 2016, todays report outlines the economic cost of not resettling the remaining 535 people who remain offshore.

Director of Policy and International Programs for Save the Children, Mat Tinkler said the high cost of offshore processing shouldn’t be forgotten.

“We’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact of offshore processing on children, but this report shows that offshore processing continues to come at a huge financial cost to Australian taxpayers.

“Better and more affordable alternatives to indefinite and offshore mandatory detention exist, and there is an opportunity for the Government to change course and embrace greater regional cooperation which continues to disincentivise unsafe travel by boat but also minimises harm to asylum seekers and refugees.”

ASRC Advocacy Director, Jana Favero said:

“More than 6 years of offshore processing has cost Australians billions of dollars, taken 12 lives, and harmed the physical and mental health of 1000s of refugees and people seeking asylum.

“The Morrison government must negotiate to find a permanent solution to urgently resettle people held indefinitely for none other than its own political agenda.”

Shen Narayanasamy, founder of corporate responsibility organisation No Business in Abuse and Human Rights Director at GetUp said:

“The responsibility for this $1.2 billion cost sits squarely with this government’s abject failure to resolve the offshore situation.

“Keeping people detained offshore indefinitely isn’t just morally irresponsible, it makes no economic sense.”


In total 3,127 people seeking asylum have been detained on the islands of Manus and the Republic of Nauru since offshore processing began in 2013.

Despite some attempts at resettlement, six years later, 535 people are still trapped offshore, the vast majority (83%) assessed as refugees with a further 39 yet to be processed.

The updated analysis outlines that on the available public information, without the removal of the final 535 people to safety and resettlement, offshore processing will cost Australian taxpayers $1.2 billion over three years (2020-2023).

For each offshore person, the cost is more than $573,000 per year, compared to $10,221 per person, per year for those living in the community on bridging visas.

In At What Cost, Save the Children and UNICEF Australia argued that the human, strategic and economic cost of Australia’s offshore processing regime was untenable without significant variation.

The analysis found that the financial costs of at least $9.6 billion were incurred by Australian taxpayers between 2013 and 2016 in maintaining offshore processing, onshore mandatory detention and boat turn-backs.

The full At What Cost report released today is available here.

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We older ‘burdens’ on society

Here we go. Here we go. Yet again. Doesn’t pay to be over 60, does it?

Here’s an excerpt from an article in The Sydney Morning Herald:

“Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will on Tuesday signal a drive to get people in their mid and late 60s to work longer and undertake training to keep in touch with the jobs market as the government confronts long term pressures to the budget bottom line. Mr Frydenberg will use an address to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia to argue a “new dynamic” in the way the country’s population is ageing will require new policies to ensure the nation’s economic heavy lifting is not left to a diminishing number of younger people.”

I get it that the balance between older and younger in our society is changing, and that in the future the number of older people in our society will increase, and that the Government needs to take all of that into account when planning future health, education, housing, and ‘where’s the revenue going to come from’ type policies.

What I don’t get, and don’t like, is the frequency with which words like burden, and economic heavy lifting, are used by politicians to condescendingly swipe us oldies over the head.

Are we burdens on society? Have we not heavy-lifted and contributed to the economic well being of the country over the course of our working lifetimes? Now that we have been pushed aside into the invisibility of older age are we, now, to be targeted and punished by this Government because employers steadfastly refuse to hire us?

The major problem with this Government is that they hold vulnerable cohorts within our society solely responsible for the condition that they find themselves in.

The unemployed for example, of any age, are tagged as bludgers and burdens and are subject to such a punishing regime of compliance including: the bad joke that is JobActive, the deliberate suffering that is imposed by the starvation level of Newstart, the restriction of even the tiniest amount of freedom of choice left available to the unemployed by the imposition of the Indue Card.

When you are an oldie caught up in all of the mess that is the Government’s Welfare Policy, whether you are currently stuck on Newstart, or whether you have managed to transition to the marginally more welcoming climes of the Old Age Pension, which at least allows you to breathe with some dignity at least once a week, it is enough to make you tear out whatever hair you are lucky enough to still have left.

Frydenberg and Co need a reality check.

We oldies who want to work are not the problem, the employers who will not hire us are the problem.

We oldies who are not rich are not the problem, a society that measures the worth of a human being by the level of their ability to consume, and spend, and accumulate wealth, and a society that denies the most basic social dignities to the disadvantaged and the old, is the problem.

And what is the Government’s answer to the issue of older Australians whose job applications are continually rejected? Well, we have a startlingly new brilliant idea, we’ll re-train you. Gosh … we’ll all be re-trained up as coders and data analysts and rocket scientists in order to secure our share of the ‘jobs of the future’. It would be funny if it wasn’t what it actually is – sad and demeaning.

And where will we be re-trained up? Not in the TAFES, they’ve been gutted. We’ll be re-trained up in the profit-making private training industry, that plethora of Registered Training Organisations with happy and profitable links with the JobActive network.

Josh and Co need to sit in on some of the job interviews where employers tell us oldies that we are too over-qualified for the job. Already too over-qualified for the job. And the Government’s answer to that pernicious form of ageism is to offer to add to the level of our qualifications thereby ensuring that the employment door that has shut closed on our feet, will shut even harder.

The fact is that the proportion of older people who cannot find a job is going to increase, and increase, and increase. It is not going to increase because we are burdens, or bludgers, or light-weight lifters, or any of the other crap mantras that this Government throws towards our aged bones. The number of older people out of work will increase because employers have made it brutally obvious to us that we are not wanted.

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Money and power completely out of balance

Reading today of Bill Gates being once more top of the tree of billionaires left me feeling a bit sick.

I do realise that he is a philanthropist and does much good work, particularly in Africa.

I also realise that America prefers to have individual philanthropists meeting the needs of the poor, because if the government were doing it, they would be seen as socialists – and that is totally unacceptable in a land where you have to look after your own needs if you want to rise to the top.

That’s right isn’t it, Mr Donald Trump?

To be honest, I struggle sometimes these days to understand why we elect and pay politicians, because it is increasingly hard to find any benefits to the general population of such work as the politicians might do to justify the level of benefits they claim!

We also pay public servants to support the government, but it ignores their advice and spends zillions on consultants, who come largely from firms which both help business prepare their accounts, finding every loophole in the tax laws, and then go on to audit the financial statements. Conflict of interest? Oh, really!

The following information regarding national leaders basic benefits might be slightly out of date and there are indications that some countries believe that if leaders are paid more, they will be less open to corruption. I think the jury might still be out on that one!

But, seriously, when it comes to CEOs of mega businesses, including banks, it is really hard to find any justification for the amounts that are paid. Even more so for the rate of tax which they are charged!

It used to be said that people would lose the incentive to work harder if their tax rate increases the more they earned. But in business these days, unlike a bricklayer or a concreter, most of the mega-wealthy have acquired their stacks by letting money make money, rather the sweat of their physical labour or even the length of their working hours! Capital not labour wins every time!

And – of course! – having wealth goes having hand in hand with having power, which is why our governments’ policies are more influenced by wealthy business CEOs than by the needs of the poor.

In recent times, government policies have steadily eroded support for the vulnerable.

Centrelink has spent incredible amounts of time and money developing a flawed system which demands money with menaces from thousands of people, who, they claim, have – not just in the last year or two, but more than 7 years ago in many cases – received benefits to which it is claimed they are not entitled.

Many are puzzled as to how this can happen. After all, if you are made redundant and cannot immediately find other employment, it is not as though you can just waltz into Centrelink for help and get it at the drop of a hat!

You have to have exhausted pretty much all of your reserves and prove it by having your finances gone through with a fine toothcomb!

Simply put, Robo-debt works like this.

A Centrelink computer will access your tax return for the year in question, divide your annual taxable income by 26, and compare the resulting amount with your fortnightly benefits for the period in question.

This completely ignores the fact that you might have skills which mean that, normally, you earn a handsome salary, but it may involve appreciable outlays at the same time, so your ability to set money aside is limited. If you are made redundant, and remain out of work for, say 3 months or more, during which you eventually obtain some benefits from Centrelink, the amount you are actually receiving will be well below your previous regular salary.

It will also be well below what the inappropriate Robo-debt algorithm will have calculated, using the notional average income you were receiving – as any experienced Centrelink staff member could tell the idiot who dreamed up the system.

Being out of work is stressful.

Being put through the hoops of the Centrelink processes is stressful.

Being told to find proof of what you earned several years ago, while at the same time you are being accused of defrauding the government – and also being threatened by debt collectors – is not just stressful! It can push people over the edge!

And there are rumours that this flawed process will be extended to other Centrelink beneficiaries, including age pensioners, some of whom are living below the poverty line.

Oh – and being dead does not exempt you from attention!

Another group of people who are being disadvantaged by government policy are those being forced to use the cashless debit card – which is provided by a private organisation which makes lots of money out of it! Money which ought to be going to help the people concerned!

Again, the system has major flaws. Many people cannot afford to buy new, branded goods – assuming they are retailed by a firm which has registered to recognise the card. The alternative is to buy privately second-hand through, say, eBay or Gumtree.

But they definitely cannot use the cashless debit card in those systems.

And how about cash for school outings for the kids?

What is becoming abundantly clear is the massive gaps – not just between rich and poor, but also between policymakers and those directly affected by the policies.

This has always been the case with policies affecting the people of our First Nations. Lack of effective consultation has always been the complaint.

Now, whatever the colour of your skin, if you are not employed in a reasonably well paid job, sooner or later you will fall foul of policies, devised by people who have almost certainly never experienced severe hardship, and who lack the ability to even realise that this will almost certainly mean their policies will fail to produce valid outcomes.

The most recent example of a government organisation trying to recover recently established old debts comes from South Australia.

Whatever happened to the Statute of Limitation?

Meanwhile – in the millionaire’s haunts, life rolls on smoothly while governments work their butts off, taking from the poor to give to the rich.

Sorry – Robin Hood. It is a whole new world. You are better off being dead!

At least you do not now have to deal with the insanity of a world that lives, with its head in the sand, while fires are burning out of control, releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere, in amounts which inexorably increase, creating a climate of continuing self-destruction!

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The backlash of change

When I was a child, “In the olden days” as my children when younger used to say, Robinson’s jams had a Golliwog emblem and I had a golliwog to play with, as well as traditional dolls.

I also read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

A decade or so later, my sister was studying medicine in London and brought home a lonely (black) African fellow student to share Sunday lunch.

About this same time, I was reading ‘Cry, the beloved country’.

Learning is not confined to the classroom, and, over time, through expanding our knowledge and understanding, we are offered the chance to cast off prejudices, respect difference and accept that change is a continuing feature of our existence.

That is perhaps an idealised expectation. Not all avail themselves of that choice.

When I was a teenager, homosexuality was a criminal offence throughout the British colonised world, as well as among those of other faiths. In the British context, this was largely a result of the translation of certain passages in the Bible – which was, itself, penned in more ignorant times.

My mother, a dedicated Christian, who was brilliant in English grammar and arithmetic, but totally ignorant of more than basic science, firmly believed in the Genesis story of creation.

Ignorance of scientific discoveries is no excuse for ignoring them once they have been bought to your attention. There is no place in a changing world for ‘believing’ something which has been shown to be false.

It is a fact, which is still being denied by the intransigent, that mankind’s addiction to increasing use of fossil fuels, with the concomitant increase in polluting emissions, is a major contribution to accelerating global warming.

It is a fact that we are running out of time to take the steps necessary to drastically reduce the level of emissions and the damage being done to our oceans by plastic pollution.

Too many wars and conflicts are already occurring around the world, and the expansion of global corporations, encouraging the greed and selfishness of shareholders, are all features contributing to a refusal by a majority of governments to accept the massive task of declaring war on climate change.

Governments think in terms of winning the next election in 3 – 5 years’ time.

This myopic approach denies them the vision of how their current policies will impact the next generation – or they do not care about others enough to think it worthwhile.

When it comes to politics, I sit on the fence.

No one party has all the answers and the way European governments form coalitions from a wide range of parties is, in my opinion, a far healthier way to achieve consensus and develop policies which are not too biased.

The current ‘Coalition’ government in Australia is setting itself up to develop a police state. The AAT is being progressively politicised by appointing liberal members, many with no legal experience and little in the way of other special and relevant expertise.

Our disgusting treatment of refugees and asylum seekers – worse treatment than is handed out to those condemned of serious criminal offences – even Ivan Milat’s cancer was given more medical attention than are the severe traumas inflicted on those confined to Manus and Nauru.

We have a Minister in Peter Dutton who seems obsessed with sadistically inflicting pain and suffering. The Biloela family could have stayed at home, contributing to the community while all their matters went through the courts.

Instead, two innocent little girls have been treated so badly that we have almost certainly breached our obligations under the UN Convention on Children, while they have probably been as traumatised for life as have the victims of institutional sex abuse.

And the cost to the taxpayer has been exorbitant – certainly more than enough to settle all the excluded refugees in jobs and contributing to the economy!

Australia – the Lucky Country? – I don’t think so!

Australia – the land of the Fair Go? – Only if you are white and wealthy!

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Look on…


One cannot gloss over what has happened!

We witnessed the brutal cruelty and destruction of Afghanistan and its people at the hands of the Taliban.

We witnessed the brutal wars on neighbouring countries, ethnic minorities and its own people in Iraq at the hands of Saddam Hussein.

We witnessed the total destruction of civil war in Syria and the devastation of its cities and people.

We continue to see the brutality levied by Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in Lebanon and Israel on the Palestinian people.

We have seen the brutal acts of terrorism across the world at the hands of ISIS; and ignored the far greater threat to democracy by our own western governments, which use this as propaganda against human rights, their own people and constitutional freedom and democracy.

And while all this has been going on, we have silently witnessed and ignored our own complicit terrorist acts against Yemen at the hands of the Saudi king and president, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, as the West supply the Saudi- led Arab coalition with military arms to systematically bombard and indiscriminately destroy the men, women and children of Yemen.

We witness Trump rattling his lips and sabre against Turkey, Iran and refugees, and like the fake presidential coward and mercenary he is, he acts only in his own inseparable corporate and political interests, to secure his own moribund electorate and hungry games. We witness Morrison and Dutton in Australia, who in all likelihood are far worse as they tighten their demonic grip on democracy and rattle their delusional snake-strung evangelical tongues.

As a result of our own political navel gazing, we have ignored the catastrophic impact ISIS, successive regimes and dictators have had throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world; and on the eve of the latest campaign, this crusade – withdrawn from Syria’s borders and abandoned the Kurds, who not only fought as allies against ISIS, but now face the brutality of Turkey’s foreign policy at the hands of Tayyip Erdoğan, and more genocide to follow.

The Kurds are a people who are familiar with this cruelty and national obsession, as they continue to be demonised and eradicated not just by ISIS, but Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, they have no homeland and nowhere else to go. By now we should be familiar with this systematic pattern of human abuse across our planet, the repeated history glossed over and our part in it. But are we?

The heinous crime of Western countries is to have allowed extremist groups like ISIS, Taliban, dictators and cruel regimes around the world to flourish, while imposing and justifying our own outlandish empires; and now we do it again. We create the vacuum for their success and look on, worse we install and feed these cruel regimes with sick diplomacy and arms. And when we are done we turn our gaze on refugees fleeing from these rivers of blood and cruel regions, lock their people up in prisons, we turn our propaganda machine on the people who flee the tyranny of their oppressors to be subjugated and demonised within and just off our very own shores and borders.

And when that campaign wears thin, the evil eye of Sauron turns on its own people, lighting up domestic fires, demonising the poor, unemployed, students, the elderly, humanitarians, peaceful protesters, our own social and ethnic minorities, those who are sick of this wretched and cruel neoliberal straight jacket, our commercial bombshell.

As the Kurds defend democracy first against neighbouring countries in the region, ISIS and now Turkey, the West once again abandon their supposed allies. Behrouz Bouchani, a Kurd and journalist fleeing from Iran has been imprisoned on Manus and now PNG for the past 6 years, since 2013. He has become the offshore absent conscience of Australian politics. He is one of Australia’s many political prisoners and yet he has committed no crime, broken no law, there has been no charge, no lawful detention or justice. All he ever wanted was to report the abuse, to tell the truth, to live, to be free. He is one of the many. Morrison and Dutton look on.

We like to watch our TV, we witness, we gloss over and we allow this injustice to continue on all fronts, even in our own country, in the absent halls of our own conscience.

Look on…


For sake of the
crusade I learn
to slaughter men,
women and children

For sake of a
godless world
I substitute freedom
for religion

For sake of peace
I keep my mouth
shut, eyes closed
to death and suffering

For sake of
humanity I live
with the knowledge
of shame and doubt

If I could climb a tree
and shake the
mountain, I’d
paint the sky myself

and live without

(AB, 4 July 2019)

Poem first published in Poetry is a Mountain: A Poetry Anthology, 17 September 2019, Kevin Watt (eds), Independently published, San Jose CA, Amazon.

Reference: Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani warns of ‘genocide’ in northern Syria, Nick Baker, 15 October 2019, SBS Australia.


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