This is a very good piece written by Australian author Mike Richards: It deals with him by the letters of his name, which is NOT to say he is a man of letters.
Donald J Trump, by Mike Richards
The essence of Donald Trump’s political personality is actually beyond narcissism: he has what I would call an “emperor complex” — a belief that, like medieval European royalty, he is a supreme being, superior to all others, all-powerful, above the law in ruling his empire, and able to do and say anything which must be taken as valid and true.
As Emperor of All America, Trump believes he possesses the divine right of kings: he is not accountable to earthly authority (i.e. Congress) or even subject to the will of the people, whose duty is only to admire and loyally praise his tremendous power and magnificent achievements. And under the doctrine of the infallibility of kings, Trump is unimpeachable and always right. At times he seems to extend to his children this assumption of an entitlement to rule as part of an imperial royal family.
In spelling this out, let’s start with Trump’s use of his signature in an enduring ritual of his presidency: issuing fiats by signing into law legislative and executive orders and displaying the signed document for lawmakers and the assembled media in the Oval Office as a validation moment of presidential achievement.
No president has been more triumphant in holding up the signed formal record of his executive accomplishments. As he signs the page with his custom-made black Sharpie pen, he etches the big, thick lines that make up his signature, which is at once angular and condensed, yet takes up more than half a page-width of what he sees as imperial edicts. Bold and huge, his signature is clearly intended to signal his commanding authority.
Using psychoanalytic insights, how might we decipher the signature letters of “Donald J Trump” to speculate on the traits that shape and define his emperor complex?
(Image: AP/Andrew Harnik)
The “D” in Donald J Trump has a number of possibilities. Despotic, defensive, deaf, devious, damaged, disloyal, disordered and dysfunctional all come to mind — as does dangerous (Mary Trump’s descriptor), which refers to all manner of damage he has done to the American system of democracy through his imperious disdain for truth in public office. He is also divisive, as in his response to the Black Lives Matter protests, associating himself with a tweet labelling peaceful protesters near the White House as “terrorists”.
But the behavioural trait he most compellingly displays is “delusional”. For Emperor Trump, the concepts of evidence and truth do not matter, and the most powerful man in the world can say anything he likes and not be accountable.
Trump has exhibited delusional behaviour many times during his term in office, starting with his description of the crowd at his 2017 inauguration as the biggest inauguration crowd ever– a description the White House sought to bolster through manipulated photographic images.
This was Trump’s coronation moment, the occasion of his enthronement, and he cannot bear to have his consecration diminished by comparisons with his rivals — those he regards as inferior beings — even if the rivalry exists only in his imagination. For Trump to accept that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had a larger crowd at his inauguration would be internally wounding and demeaning, and he is driven to avoid it with delusions of exaggerated superiority and self-importance.
This early delusional flourish was merely a hint of what was to come. Since then Trump has come to sharpen his obliteration of his perceived enemies — and those who deny his claim to greatness — with his frequent use of the word “fake”. This has become the epithet of choice for Emperor Trump: not merely is someone who opposes him wrong or even despicable, they are illegitimate and can be banished from his mind.
Obama has been a special target for Trump, going back to his assertions during Obama’s first term that America’s first Black president was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii, and hence was not constitutionally eligible to serve in the White House — merely a “pretender” to the throne. His delusions about Obama were not merely a political claim that his predecessor was misguided or ineffectual, or took the country in the wrong direction, but that he occupied his office illegitimately.
This is the ultimate put down by Trump — not merely the political disparagement of an imagined rival but the denial and destruction of his legitimacy. With no credible evidence whatsoever for his “birther” claim, Trump destroyed in his own mind the authority of the man who stood in the place he coveted.
It wasn’t enough, however, and Trump’s obsession with Obama has continued, perhaps intensified by Obama’s mocking of Trump at the White House correspondents dinner in April 2011. Humiliated by the audience laughing at him, Trump has never let go, tweeting in May this year that Obama was responsible for “the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR … [a crime that] makes Watergate look small time”.
However, at a subsequent press conference when pressed by journalists to explain this baseless claim, Trump replied: “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers…” (He continued his “denial of legitimacy” ploy with comments in August about the Democratic candidate for vice-president, Kamala Harris, who he falsely claimed was “ineligible to serve” if she was elected in November because she was born in the US to immigrant parents.)
Delusions of imperial grandeur are also a feature of Trump’s personality. He boasts that everything he does is amazing — the biggest, the best, the grandest and most beautiful. This became apparent in 1982 with the completion in New York of the extraordinary Trump Tower, the family apartments which are decorated in a gaudy mix of the opulent style of the French emperors’ palace of Versailles, the columned temples of ancient Greece and the grand palaces of Russia — a style which has been disparaged as “haute Miami Vice elegance”.
These gilded private rooms, with fixtures in 24-carat gold plate, are an expression of Trump’s inner need to feel regal — even King Midas-like. On its website, the Trump organisation says of the building that it “stands as a world famous testament of Mr Trump’s grand vision and ability to achieve tremendous success with everything he touches”.
The delusional trait is also found in Trump’s Twitter communications, both in his own words or those of others who say what he really thinks and believes. Last year he quoted a conservative radio host who called him “the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world … and the Jewish people in Israel love him like he is the King of Israel. Like he is the second coming of God.”
As we know, Emperor Trump tweets the messages of others that reflect his inner beliefs. His delusions are repetitive and obvious and have a common element: he is a tremendous president, and the greatest, the most perfect leader of his subjects.
This is a recurring claim that he makes, as he did in July 2019: “I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.” It was apparent again when, in disputing the impeachable character of his so-called quid pro quo phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he described the call as “perfect”.
Consistent with this delusion, when things go well Trump takes the credit; when they go badly, it’s always someone else’s fault. This was clear when he made the grandiose promise of completing the wall between Mexico and the US. When it was not completed, he blamed the political establishment, the news media — everyone but himself.
More recently, in early March this year, Trump minimised the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic for the US — blaming the “fake news” media for spreading panic — as if accepting the enormity of this threat would somehow diminish his standing of Imperial Majesty.
As appropriate as “delusional” is to describe a key Trump trait, it has to be acknowledged that it is accompanied by high-level political acumen. On the flip side of his delusions is an unerring capacity to pick the weaknesses of his political rivals, perhaps through unconscious projection of his inner vulnerabilities. It is as if his delusions about his own inflated capabilities (founded as they are in unconscious defences against a profound inner sense of inferiority) enable him to crystallise the personality flaws of his opponents — to endow them with the personality traits he denies in himself.
(Image: AP/Alex Brandon)
The second letter of Trump’s royal signature — “O” — is also instructive: obscene, outlaw, outlandish, obsessive and oppositional are in the frame, but the signature “O” word that best fits is “omnipotent”, and it’s a particular expression of his delusional and authoritarian behaviour.
Trump always sees himself as the best, the greatest, the smartest — but particularly the most powerful. Even from the outset of his presidential candidacy, he articulated his grandiose sense of himself. Accepting the Republican nomination in July 2016, he declared: “I am your voice. I will be a champion, your champion. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
It has also come out in his periodic declarations of his monarch-like authority: “When somebody is president of the United States, your authority is total.” Trump said this in an angry tirade at a press conference on April 13 in response to criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. His seeming omnipotent authoritarianism is not the expression of a developed philosophy of governing, but a reflection of his self-centred preoccupation with ruling — of being in total control of his empire and its subjects.
The key letter for Donald Trump is “N” for “narcissist”. This is the umbrella letter for his core political personality, and it is no exaggeration to say that all the other behavioural features flow from this. He has a hyper-narcissistic personality, and whatever he does in office is really all about him.
All successful leaders have a healthy degree of self-regard — and a certain measure of associated paranoia; qualities necessary for political action and leadership survival. But when they become excessive and overpowering they can lead to debilitating and dysfunctional ways of acting politically.
More importantly, when these traits include a mix of other antisocial personality traits — what clinicians call “malignant narcissism” — sociopathic behaviour can emerge.
There are several features of Trump’s narcissistic and paranoid personality that shape a consistent pattern in his political behaviour. The central features are a distinctive marketing acumen and political drive that is accompanied by paranoia and destructive tendencies — anger, rage, envy and resentment — which suggests an inner dynamic involving overweening ambition defending against (that is, compensating for) low self-esteem.
The psychoanalytic literature on narcissistic personality is extensive and important to understanding Trump’s political personality, his emperor complex. At the core of modern theories are the concepts of the “narcissistic self”, in particular the “grandiose self” — the unconscious structure holding omnipotent and exhibitionistic wishes regulating behaviour and self-esteem.
The grandiose self, whose central mechanism may be stated as “I am perfect”, is a normal part of the child’s sense of itself. Under optimal conditions the exhibitionism and grandiosity of the child is gradually tamed, gives way to more realistic functioning, and becomes an important element in adult self-esteem. However, if the child’s development is disrupted by narcissistic trauma, whether real or imagined, it may persist unaltered in the adult formation of exaggerated ambition.
It is worth noting here that Trump has described his father Fred as demanding, difficult and driven, Indeed, from multiple biographical accounts of Trump’s early life, including most recently Mary Trump’s book, his father seems even more extreme — a sociopathic, relentlessly dominating, bullying and emotionally inaccessible parent. Trump’s emotional development was seemingly snap-frozen in early childhood when he appeared defensively combative, aggressively competitive and dominating. For the young Donald, losing meant inner obliteration.
In short, it seems the child persona has persisted into his adult behaviour. As he told a recent biographer: “When I look at myself in the first grade and look at myself now, I’m basically the same.”
In his classic study published more than 40 years ago, US psychoanalyst Otto F Kernberg MD identified a number of distinctive characteristics of the narcissistic personality. This type, he wrote, typically presents with “excessive self-absorption hand in hand with … various combinations of intense ambitiousness, grandiose fantasies, feelings of inferiority, and over-dependence on external admiration and acclaim, they suffer from chronic feelings of boredom and emptiness, [and] are constantly searching for gratification of strivings for brilliance [and] power”.
Other predominant characteristics “include a lack of capacity for empathetic understanding of others … conscious or unconscious exploitativeness and ruthlessness toward others and, particularly, the presence of chronic intense envy and defences against such envy”.
Trump’s behavior has been exemplified by many of these problematic features, the first of which is a tendency towards intense envy and resentment of those who, he believes, have entitlements greater than his own.
This is linked, second, to an ambivalent attitude towards elites and people in authority — for example, promising to “drain the swamp” at the same time as aspiring to rule over the swamp. At other times this appears as a tendency to enviously abuse and tear down to his level anyone within his orbit he perceives as occupying a superior position and casting a shadow over his throne.
Third, he shows in his political behaviour an obsessive concern to assert that he — above all others — is in control. And fourth, he shows a tendency towards paranoid fantasies, a hyper-sensitivity to criticism, where he sees friend and foe alike as attacking or undermining him.
Trump’s inner sense is that he is never wrong. If someone questions, even for a moment, his claim to unparalleled greatness, they are met with withering and unrelenting retaliation.
Associated with these features is a high level of rage at a political world he struggles to bend to his will. It’s a world that he vilifies in his tweets, a social media monologue that, like its author, is occasionally perceptive but mostly destructive and sometimes paranoid. These are features of the emperor complex that drove Trump to seek and attain the presidency. But they are also qualities of a flawed personality that make his presidential reign highly problematic and unsustainable.
At other times, when his sense of entitlement is breached — the demands of his grandiose self-image betrayed — he responds with retaliatory rage and retribution. This becomes clear in relation to his political associates — the imperial court — with whom he makes common cause at periods in his political rise.
A strong common element here is that his brittle shell will not allow any scintilla of criticism, and any deviation from wholehearted support by courtiers, staff and allies is responded to with a flight to rage and vindictiveness.
Trump’s sensitivities are evident in his experiences with successive White House chiefs of staff. One by one they have fallen foul of Emperor Trump’s need to be self-sufficient in his political decision-making. Trump sees his advisers as either loyalists or rivals, and they are most vulnerable to his impulsive and bullying instinct when they were best doing their jobs: telling the emperor what he does not want to hear. Successive close advisers have lamented their inability to make Trump take advice.
The point is less that Trump won’t take advice, but that he can’t take advice: to take the advice of a subordinate is humiliating and he can’t do it — unless and until he can convince himself that it was his advice in the first place, that he was the author of this masterstroke of strategy or politics that would be universally applauded as “brilliant” and “amazing”.
Trump is profoundly insecure and feels threatened when prospective staff have professional experience, standing and seniority that rivals his sense of superiority. At the start of his presidential term he dealt with that by appointing courtiers and devotees — inexperienced juniors — to his staff.
His campaign press secretary was Hope Hicks, a 26-year-old former model he later appoint to the role of White House director of strategic communications, despite the fact that she had no experience in government. This is less a case of Trump appointing a loyal associate than of ensuring the power relationship between president and advisers is uncomplicated by appointing seasoned professionals who might provide frank, fearless and independent advice.
He has also drawn upon the imperial entitlement of his imagined royal family to appoint his daughter Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, to senior adviser roles, although they had negligible skills for their positions.
Trump’s insecurity becomes more obvious when subordinates have a standing or get media and public attention he believes is rightfully his. In the early days of his presidency, the reported power behind the throne was Trump’s campaign chief executive and chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, who developed a high public profile and received intense media attention and accolades from commentators about his campaigning success.
Trump regarded this attention as demeaning of his own pre-eminent imperial position and went out of his way to disparage Bannon, putting him down in a way that allowed the proper hierarchy of greatness to be restored in his favour.
Eventually Trump could not endure Bannon’s prominence and he fired him in August 2017, after which he belittled Bannon’s role and denied his influence. In fact, he trashed Bannon as merely “a guy who works for me” and said “sloppy Steve” Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job”.
Eighteen months after he was dismissed, and well before he was arrested on fraud charges, Bannon was able to work his way back into the emperor’s favours, in part by publicly calling him “a great leader as a president” and a “great campaigner” — whereupon Trump felt able to say that Bannon was “one of my best pupils” and “still a giant Trump fan”. Notice that even in his renewed praise he keeps himself as the central object of admiration.
Trump has fallen out with other close court advisers — none of whom has lasted for more than 18 months — including chiefs of staff Reince Priebus and General John Kelly, and national security adviser John Bolton. Most recently his health expert on the coronavirus, Dr Anthony Fauci, incurred Trump’s displeasure, primarily because the president cannot abide anything less than devoted cheerleading from his courtiers.
When a subordinate’s advice is later shown to be well based, and Trump appears to have been publicly at odds with it, he reacts severely, as was the case with Fauci. This happened when, in a CNN interview earlier this year, Fauci said Trump had “pushed back” against his early advice about mandating social distancing to combat the spread of the coronavirus — an initiative, Fauci said, that had it not been delayed “would have saved lives”.
This was too much for Trump, and he retweeted a conservative call for Fauci to be fired. In effect, he was projecting his inner wish for retribution at the suggestion that his imperial rule was flawed. It is only when Fauci walked back from the meaning of his comments and praised the president for his handling of the pandemic response that Trump disavowed banishing him.
Others have not been so lucky. Months after Trump’s impeachment, for example, he was still paying out by firing those government officials who honoured their ethical duties in relation to the Ukrainian quid pro quo. Trump cannot ever accept the betrayal he feels about their conduct: in his mind, their loyalty is not to the republic or to their office, but unquestionably to him as emperor, and any deviation is met with aggressive disparagement and ultimately (in his mind) obliteration — by firing them.
Incidentally, there are interesting echoes here of Trump’s TV program, The Apprentice, where his signature statement was “you’re fired!” In the Middle Ages it would have been “off with his head!”
A central feature of Trump’s personality is his pronounced lack of empathy. At his press briefings, when he has conjured the numbers of COVID-19 cases or deaths, he has expressed little sympathy or empathetic understanding for those who have lost family or loved ones.
Back in March, in one of the more insensitive expressions of this trait, he conceded that he wanted to keep a cruise ship in limbo off the California coast rather than allowing it to dock because he wanted to keep the reported number of coronavirus cases artificially low. “I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship … If they want to take them off, they’ll take them off. But if that happens, all of a sudden your 240 [cases] is obviously going to be a much higher number, and probably the 11 [deaths] will be a higher number too.”
More recently, Trump seems to have given up on accepting responsibility for managing the pandemic, using distractions about employment numbers and the economy and law and order to divert attention from mounting infection rates and deaths. He has also urged reduced testing for the virus in the deluded belief that less testing means fewer cases.
The flip side of Trump’s narcissistic self-regard is paranoia, which manifests as a kind of persecutory anxiety: nobody is spared, he sees friend and foe alike as attacking him, and his emblematic expression is one of distrust in others. “I don’t trust anybody but myself,” he seems to be saying. “Everyone else is trying to undermine me and my claim to greatness.”
As we’ve seen earlier, a feature of his political persona is his denigration of his political colleagues as a way of raising himself up in his own estimation. One expression of this is the extensive list of disparaging nicknames he gives to both his political opponents and his erstwhile supporters.
Competitive rivalries between politicians in leadership positions are normal and inevitable. But in Emperor Trump’s case this takes a somewhat relentless and extreme form: he systematically belittles and demeans the activities and efforts of his party colleagues, as if only his actions are worthy and good. This destructive envy spreads to anyone he feels stands taller than him and, hence, one by one his colleagues — whether supporters or rivals — are characterised as “crazy” or “crooked” while his activities are extolled as “tremendous” and “perfect”.
Trump has a characteristic way of belittling real and imagined rivals who even momentarily challenge his elevated regal authority. They are variously “crazy”, “sleepy”, “sloppy”, or “lying”. Going back to the Republican presidential nomination process in 2015 and 2016, his rivals were “low energy Jeb” Bush, “little Marco” Rubio, and “lyin’ Ted” Cruz.
Four years later, as the Democratic party nomination process got under way, he targeted “sleepy, creepy Joe” Biden, “crazy Bernie” Sanders, “fake Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren and, later in the process, “mini-Mike” Bloomberg.
Trump’s denigration of rivals or would-be rivals reveals his inner self: anyone who emerges to challenge his pre-eminent position of entitlement is a threat to his sense of himself and has to be cut down to size. His Democrat Congressional detractors are put down in the same way (“crazy Nancy” Pelosi, “little Adam” Schiff, “cryin’ Chuck” Schumer), as are his supposed tormentors in the media (“crazy Jim” Acosta, “sloppy Carl” Bernstein, “crooked H Flunkie” Maggie Haberman, and “little wise guy” George Stephanopoulos), among many others.
It’s no surprise, incidentally, that Trump hates the media, since journalists are most frequently the source of the critical reporting and commentary that he finds demeaning and threatening to his grandiose inner sense of self. It’s why he brands anything less than unqualified admiration, if not idolatry, as “fake news”.
Trump’s deadliest venom in recent times has been directed at his former opponent in the race for the White House, Hillary “lock her up!” Clinton. Trump has never accepted that while he won the presidential election through his majority of delegates in the Electoral College, Clinton nationally polled 2.8 million more votes than he did. Unable to be gracious in victory, he still has to belittle her as “crooked Hillary”, lest anyone think she might have been more popular than him.
It is worth considering who Trump likes and admires. Mostly it’s other national leaders — all of them autocrats — with whom he can appear on an elevated world stage. Foremost in his relationships has been his enduring admiration for Russia’s modern-day tsar, President Vladimir Putin. In new evidence reported by CNN at the end of June, veteran journalist Carl Bernstein cites US national security officials with authorised access to Trump’s classified telephone conversations with Putin as dismayed by the pandering approach he took to the Russian leader — in sharp contrast to the abusive tone he adopted in speaking to democratic allies in German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British PM Theresa May.
Trump’s clear preference for authoritarian bullies has been obvious in his relationships with rulers such as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and more recently Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.
Trump’s relationship with China’s authoritarian president Xi Jinping has been admittedly on-again, off-again, and he has been ambivalent about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. At some points, Trump liked Kim, perhaps because when they met in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea in June 2019, Kim appeared deferential and compliant in his body language. This was appealing to Trump because he could satisfy his grandiose sense of himself as the dominant party strutting the world stage. Of course, lest anyone think Kim eventually got the better of him through his diplomatic game-playing, Trump looked to cut Kim down to size, once again describing him as “Little Rocket Man.”
There are any number of “A” letters that a decipher of Emperor Trump’s signature suggest: angry, ambitious, amoral, anti-democratic, adolescent, abusive, antagonistic, aggressive and autocratic commend themselves, as does attention-seeking, which characterises Trump’s pursuit of the presidential throne in the first place. This was not about Trump seeking to realise a developed vision of leading and governing in the national interest. This was about leveraging the foremost position in the country to attract attention to himself, to become more powerful and more famous than anyone.
The “A” word that fits best, however, is “arrogant” — a belief that he is better than others and knows more than anybody, even when the reality is that he doesn’t have a clue.
Trump’s arrogance is a defence against his profound inner sense of inferiority. He has claimed countless times while in office that he had extraordinary special knowledge about politics and public policy. Typically he has expressed this as: “Nobody knows more about [x] than I do.” He has claimed he knows more “than anyone on earth” about defence, nuclear weapons, Islamic State (IS), the courts, technology, the environment, renewables, money, taxes, trade, banks, healthcare, infrastructure, construction and campaign finance among an extensive list. It comes as no surprise that he has described himself as “a very stable genius”.
He invoked his claim to “genius’ again in March on a tour of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, when he felt obliged to overcome his lack of any real understanding of the laboratory experiments into infectious diseases that CDC medical researchers are distinguished for. So he bragged to the media accompanying him about his “great super genius” uncle, an MIT medical engineering professor, to assert that he himself had a natural ability as a medical doctor and researcher: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it … Every one of these doctors said: ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability, maybe I should have done [become a medical researcher] instead of running for president. But you know what? What they’ve done is really incredible. I understand that whole world, I love that world. I really do. I love that world.”
Trump cannot even for a moment accept that he has — like the rest of us — merely a rudimentary understanding of complex medical science, so he has to exaggerate — in this case by invoking his connection to his highly accomplished uncle — to momentarily project into the minds of the media audience the thought that he could have been a “great super genius” too.
There have been other occasions when Trump has looked to present himself as the guy who could cure coronavirus, notably with drugs such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. When his medical advisers warned that these were untested and potentially hazardous he pushed back: “I disagree. I feel good about it … I’m a smart guy. I’ve been right a lot.”
On April 23, Trump continued his “super genius” delusion by suggesting at his daily press briefing that a combination of UV light-zapping and disinfectant injected into the lungs could be a possible cure for coronavirus-infected patients. As CNN reported, when a journalist asked “why he was touting rumoured cures and not medically proven science”, the president reacted angrily, accusing the reporter of pushing fake news.
The next day, “Lysol” Don sought to further deflect the outrage from medical scientists by claiming he was only being “sarcastic”. Since then he has claimed that he had started taking hydroxychloroquine himself. Consistent with his relentless disposition to never let go, this seems like an attempt to buttress his first claim and reassert his authority after being widely ridiculed.
The letter “L” presents a number of possible interpretations — lewd, liar, licentious are just a few — but “lawless” is appealing, aligning as it does with Trump’s sense that he is above the law, that the law is whatever he says it is. The basis of the impeachment proceedings started in the House of Representatives were that Trump had abused the power of his office and unlawfully obstructed the Congress in breach of the constitution. As we know, while the House voted to impeach, he was acquitted by the Senate on both counts.
The point to make about Trump’s lawlessness is not that he recklessly flouts the law or wilfully breaks it, but that as a reigning emperor he doesn’t believe he is bound by the law. Like Richard Nixon before him, who famously said that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”, Emperor Trump has the inner conviction that his tremendously important position means he is above the law. As he said at a conservative student conference in July 2019: “Under Article II [of the constitution], I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” In effect, he believes he has an unimpeachable entitlement to rule.
Trump repeated the point in his media briefing on April 13 when he claimed “total authority” over the states in relation to COVID-19 lockdowns. This is less an expression by Trump of a developed argument about the limits or otherwise of presidential powers than a reflection of his inner sense of his dominant, unquestioned royal authority.
Indeed, his April 17 tweet inciting his supporters to protest against social distancing lockdowns by state governors — “Liberate Michigan”, “Liberate Minnesota”, “Liberate Virginia” — provides a hint of his inner state of mind in asserting his legitimate dominance, and that the law is whatever he says it is.
The second “D” offers a number of deciphering possibilities: devious, disordered, disturbed, destructive, deranged, demented, dissolute, distrustful or despotic; or perhaps — given its second occurrence in the signature — double-down, which is tempting given that when challenged on something he says that is shown to be false, Trump simply doubles-down and says the criticism of him is just “fake news”. Through his imperial powers, the truth is whatever he says it is.
But the “D” that looks closest is “distrustful”. This quality of never really trusting anyone was foreshadowed early in Trump’s term by his treatment of FBI director James Comey in a meeting at the White House on January 27, 2017, shortly after Trump’s inauguration. At the one-on-one dinner — which took place amid the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — the new president improperly sought to extract a commitment of personal loyalty from Comey, superseding the FBI director’s oath of allegiance to the constitution and the duties of his high office.
Having failed to secure such a pledge of fealty from Comey, Trump could never trust him, later calling him “an untruthful slime ball” and a “proven LEAKER and LIAR”, and eventually firing him in May 2017. As Comey later wrote in his memoir, Trump’s behaviour in office was “unethical and untethered to truth” and — in respect of his demand for personal loyalty as the basis of any trust and working relationship — like that of a Mafia boss.
(Image: Reuters/Francois Lenoir)
“J” is a central letter in the Trump signature, and it has a singular character, perhaps aligned with jealous and judgemental, both of which traits Trump frequently exhibits. And then there is jingoistic, an extreme nationalism in framing US foreign policy, which conveniently matches Trump’s inner need to dominate, even globally.
With Trump, even the political campaigning objective of “Make America Great Again” takes on an aggressive quality as he runs down allies and enemies alike to elevate the US — but particularly himself — in the global leadership stakes. (It’s tempting to think of “America first” as really “me first”, because in his mind Trump and America are one and the same.)
Jingoistic he certainly is, but the most compelling “J” is “juvenile”, a Trump trait abundantly in evidence through his immature, even childish, behaviour. This was on show at a NATO meeting in Brussels in May 2017 in what came to be known as “the shove”. Walking with other leaders to a planned photograph at NATO headquarters, Trump momentarily found himself positioned behind a group of presidents and prime ministers slowly shuffling toward the photo-op point. Like a child in a playgroup, Trump abruptly shoves out of the way the NATO colleague inadvertently blocking his path — who happens to be the leader of tiny Montenegro, Prime Minister Duško Marković.
Trump’s intent is to assert his entitlement to be at the front of the group (not unreasonable in the global scheme of things, of course), especially ahead of this Balkan nation state, which has a population of a mere 620,000. His abrupt manoeuvre successful, Trump self-consciously flaps his suit coat as if to say: “Outta my way. I’m the king of this sandpit!”
(Image: AP/Alex Brandon)
The “T” is a big deal in the Trump signature: along with the opening “D” and the final “P”, it is the tallest letter on the signature page, over-reaching the others like Trump Tower on the Manhattan skyline. Treasonous and treacherous are possible, and transactional appeals too. Certainly Trump has been quintessentially transactional in his presidential behaviour, as in the Ukrainian quid pro quo, where his presidential negotiations and positioning were clearly motivated by the prospect of personal political advantage rather than advancing US national interests.
This has been a consistent approach, well documented over time, harking back to his early business dealings as a New York property developer where he made political donations to elected city officials, Democrat and Republican, to create a political obligation that could be called in to his financial advantage when required.
Transactional though Trump certainly is, the “T” word that best expresses a core personality trait is “tyrannical”. That is not to say Trump is a tyrant per se, although his propensity to fire those administration officials who cross him comes close to tyrannical behaviour. Indeed, there is a litany of officials Trump has fired because they have been doing their job in respect of Congressional and intelligence community oversight, but in ways that Trump perceives as offensive to his sense of himself as perfect.
Trump’s tyrannical trait reflects the fact that he has an inner wish — a compulsion — to dominate, to exercise unfettered power and control absolutely, to never be constrained by laws or principles or ethics or counter-balancing institutional authority. Like so many of Emperor Trump’s behavioural political instincts, it derives from his inner conviction that he is unique, he is a tremendously majestic and powerful person, one without peer or blemish on the national and global stage.
(Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
There are several “R” words that fit the bill — reckless, rabid, remorseless, rivalrous and raging — but the closest reading is “resentful”. Like Nixon, Trump is a serial collector of resentments and at times his political outlook is dominated by extreme suspicion and distrust, hostility, and a pervasive preoccupation with enemies, real or imagined. He stores up his resentments and takes every opportunity to get even, usually by firing courtiers who offend his sense of superiority.
Trump has an extremely low threshold of tolerance for anyone who doesn’t vow fealty to his imperial sense of himself and so he has forced out multiple senior White House counsellors, advisers and special assistants, national security advisers, the US deputy attorney-general, the secretary of state, the FBI director and deputy director, Justice Department officials, the secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as competent senior officials in many other departments.
This is especially true for a raft of independent inspectors-general, officials in oversight roles in the US administration who have incurred Trump’s wrath just for doing their jobs with integrity. In fact the turnover rate in the Trump administration has been record-setting. No doubt some staff have left of their own volition, but a number of reports have pointed to a toxic culture within the Trump administration — the consequence of capricious expression of presidential resentments — as the cause.
It is tempting to suggest this is not the promised “draining the swamp” as Trump might have it, but the trashing of vital administrative capability on the whim of a deluded and resentful emperor. Trump’s resentful trait was further in evidence recently when — hypersensitive to any hint of criticism about his “perfect” performance on the COVID-19 outbreak — he ordered a cut in US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). Since then he has taken action to withdraw the US from WHO altogether.
There are myriad Trump traits associated with the letter “U”, beginning as it does numerous “un” words. These are the contra versions of the positive qualities so conspicuously absent in Emperor Trump: unprepared, unruly, unethical, unsympathetic, untethered, unstable, unforgiving, unthinking, unprincipled, unscrupulous, unreflective, and unrepentant. Unempathetic also has a certain appeal.
Unforgiving is relevant too, capturing that vindictive trait that he can never let go of a slight and has to pay out on the source. This was how he behaved toward his Republican rival, the late Arizona senator John McCain, the Vietnam War pilot and prisoner of war he periodically disparaged in a 20-year feud because McCain stood in the uniquely elevated position that Trump knew he could never reach, much less surpass — that of American war hero.
Perhaps feeling humiliated as the former military academy student who never served during the Vietnam War (granted multiple deferments because of his college status and later exemption because of supposed bone spurs in his feet), the best Trump can do in his unforgiving way is mock McCain as a captive of the North Vietnamese: “He’s not a war hero,” he said in a July 2015 interview. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump’s evident contempt for US military sacrifice was reportedly on display during a presidential visit to France in 2018. According to The Atlantic, Trump cancelled a visit to war graves at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris because (as he allegedly said to senior staff members) the American soldiers who had fought and died in World War I were “losers” and “suckers” for getting killed.
This is Trump rationalising to himself the “smartness” of his own unwillingness to serve in Vietnam. Any reasonable comparison, even in his own mind, between his avoidance of military service and the bravery of those combat soldiers who put themselves in harm’s way would be deeply humiliating for him, so to maintain his inner sense of superiority he has to disparage their sacrifice as meaningless or stupid.
“Unhinged” is the signature word of choice here, however, referring as it does to the emotionally unbalanced way in which Trump has often behaved, especially in relation to the present COVID-19 pandemic. When the coronavirus outbreak first appeared, Trump went on the attack, accusing the Democrats of fostering a new hoax.
“They tried the impeachment hoax,” he said on February 28. “This is their new hoax.” A little over two weeks later, on March 17, Trump was insisting he knew before anyone how serious COVID-19 was: “I’ve always known this is real — this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
Trump has been consistently unhinged in his responses to the health crisis. How else to explain his unwillingness to adopt a disciplined and focused leadership of the US response? Since the outbreak, he has relentlessly advanced and backtracked, uneasily trying to juggle the demands of evidence-based, scientific health advice in the best interests of the American people with his inner imperative to give priority to his own political interests through a booming and unconstrained economy.
Trump has been unfit and mentally unprepared to articulate a coherent strategy through this crisis — a pathway that Americans can heed and have confidence in, and the rest of the Western world can respect and follow. Through his unhinged leadership, Trump has untethered the US from its near century-long great-power role on the world stage.
The letter “M” offers interesting decoding possibilities such as manipulative, megalomaniacal, mad and mendacious. The one that gets it, though, is “misogynist”. This is not normally a term describing a narcissistic personality trait, but in Trump’s case it is important because it provides yet another revealing expression of his hyper-sensitivity to slight.
Trump commonly sees women as inferior, dependent, and even — in his entitled way — as his sexual playthings. The latter emerged in 2005 in a hot-mic conversation recorded on a bus when travelling to film an episode of the TV program Access Hollywood. Trump boastfully related his sexual exploits with women made possible by his status as a TV star: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Women are a special challenge for Trump. Defining them in his mind as inherently dependent, lesser beings, he cannot allow any turning of the tables when he encounters smart, highly educated and assertive women –as he did in the Republican presidential debate in August 2015 when Fox News journalist and debate moderator Megyn Kelly got the better of him. In a question to Trump, Kelly called him out on his record of insulting and disparaging women.
“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly said. “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
Skewered by the question, Trump was doubly offended because he has been taken down by a woman — one he later disparaged in a repulsive tantrum as “crazy Megyn” Kelly, who had “blood coming out of her wherever”.
Trump is also consumed with resentment and envy when he feels that his entitlement is breached by others undeserving of his celebrity position, as he did in December last year when teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was chosen as Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019. Even though Trump had been the Time Person of the Year in 2016, he evidently felt humiliated by her elevation over him, depriving him of an opportunity to equal his rival, Barack Obama, who had been named Time Person of the Year twice.
One of 10 short-listed nominees with Thunberg in 2019, Trump’s humiliation was perhaps deeper because Thunberg was only 16, and he lashed out at her in a way that was designed to further cut her down to size. “She beat me out on Time magazine,” he commented testily, after tweeting his ire about her being named for the award: “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend. Chill Greta, Chill!”
Here again is an expression of Trump’s preoccupations revealing his inflated but fragile sense of self — a sitting US president feeling diminished by the celebrity of a teenage girl he momentarily regards as a rival for the high accolades to which he feels entitled.
(Image: AP/Kazuhiro Nogi)
So to the last imposing letter in the Donald J Trump signature: the letter “P” and the distinctive final signature flourish of a plutocratic, petty, paranoid, predatory, petulant, punishing and psychopathic personality. Fitting as these descriptions might be, the “P” word that best describes Trump is “Putinesque”. Like the word misogynist, Putinesque is not a psychological term but it expresses a behavioural trait of Emperor Trump in an instructive way.
Trump reveres Putin because the kleptocratic Russian president has the attributes that Trump aspires to for himself: unconstrained imperial power, seemingly unlimited terms of office, vast wealth, and no political rivals to contend with — primarily because Putin “locks them up”, or worse. Such is Trump’s infatuation with Putin that he cannot even bring himself to denounce the covert bounties paid by Putin’s Russia to Taliban-linked militants to kill American combat troops in Afghanistan.
Putin is arguably the most autocratically powerful person in the world — an achievement shared perhaps only with China’s President-for-life, Xi Jinping — and his personal wealth is estimated to be somewhere between US$70 billion and US$200 billion. By contrast, Trump’s fortune is thought to be just US$2.5 billion.
For Trump, Putin’s unchallenged position of authority represents the ideal of his own grandiose ambition to be the most powerful, the wealthiest and tremendously superior person on the planet. (It didn’t hurt either that — as Trump reported in May 2019 — Putin wrote him “beautiful letters”.)
Putin was also recently successful in rewriting the Russian constitution to allow him to serve two further six-year terms. Is it really outside the bounds of possibility that, if Trump looked to be defeated at the presidential poll in November, he could assert that the COVID-19 crisis “demanded” he intervene to delay the election (to a politically more advantageous date), despite the constitutional and statutory provisions denying such a power?
Trump has already started to manipulate the election with his assault on the capability of the US Postal Service to manage mail voting for the election. The most concerning possibility would be for Trump to invoke the National Emergencies Act 1976 in the lead-up to the election to disrupt elements of the vote.
And if he is defeated in the election, might he move to disallow “invalid” votes in the Electoral College to keep himself on the throne? Or would he unleash armed and lawless protesters, as he encouraged those who menacingly entered Michigan’s state parliament in late April, describing them as “very good people”?
Certainly, such manoeuvres would be entirely consistent with, if not exemplify, some of the core traits of the emperor complex we have now deciphered in Donald J Trump: delusional, omnipotent, narcissistic, arrogant, lawless and distrustful. Juvenile. Tyrannical, resentful, unhinged, misogynist and, perhaps most worrying of all, Putinesque.
Does art matter? Does culture matter? It is tempting to say that our belief in these things is a matter of faith: it is axiomatic – we assume as a first principle that art matters, and we use this assumption as a starting point for arguments about philanthropic support for the arts.
By contrast, economic rationalists would point out that most artists are economically unviable. That is true. Creative artists generally have miserable incomes from their art, and survive by teaching or waiting on tables. Performing artists do not have it much better. Depending on their speciality, they may have just as difficult a time as creative artists.
Economic rationalists would argue that pouring money into the arts is irrational unless the consumer considers the transaction to deliver a nett benefit to them.
The economic rationalist will buy the painting which delivers them the greatest pleasure for the lowest price, allowing that part of the pleasure might derive from the conspicuously famous name of the artist.
The economic rationalist will not be tempted to provide philanthropic support for the arts, because that produces no saleable return; the economic rationalist will not be tempted to commission music unless it has a good chance of generating royalties.
I want to explore briefly the assumption that Art matters, and set the argument against economic rationalism.
Vincent Van Gogh sold very few paintings, and those for very little money. Cezanne was once booted out of his lodgings and the angry landlord hurled some of his paintings out of the attic window into the courtyard below. Similar examples can be multiplied endlessly.
Would the world be poorer if Van Gogh had never painted Starry Night, or if Cezanne had not painted Les Bagneuses; or if van Gogh and Cezanne had never painted at all?
Would the world be poorer if Michelangelo had never painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or designed the Duomo in Florence; if Leonardo da Vinci had never painted; if Beethoven or Shostakovitch had never written a note of music?
Imagine a world without Shakespeare or Balzac and ask whether it is better or worse than this world.
It is no answer that paintings by Van Gogh and Cezanne now sell for tens of millions of dollars; that original scores of Beethoven are priceless, likewise the manuscripts of Balzac and Shakespeare.
We do not value these works because of their price tags: the price tags are almost entirely irrelevant to the value we see in these works. Few people would accept that a person who buys an iconic painting could withdraw it forever from public view.
No-one would accept that the purchaser of a great work of art was entitled to destroy it.
The reason this is so is that we all acknowledge that a work of art is more than simply a physical thing capable of being bought and sold.
In profoundly important ways, every work of art carries part of our shared culture and it is that fact which gives the work its true value: a value which bears very little relation to the operation of a market for unique commodities.
The destruction of the library at Byzantium in 1204 and the looting of the national museum of Baghdad in 2004 represent losses which not even the crassest economist has tried to measure in economic terms, because the calculation would be seen by everyone to miss the point completely.
In a remarkable short story by Frederic Raphael, the author speaks of a man whose father was a judge. He grows up with the unstated expectation that he will be a lawyer. In his early adolescence starts writing poetry. He is quite good a it, and keeps writing poetry when all his friends have returned to the cricket pitch. He does well at school and is accepted into a law course, but keeps writing poetry. During his university days, he meets the girl he later marries. She gently persuades him to forget about poetry and concentrate on law. He abandoned a hopeful career as a poet for the much more prosaic career of a lawyer. He prospers in his choice and is eventually appointed to the Bench. Upon his appointment, he has to vacate his chambers and this leads him to the bitter-sweet task of going through the accumulated papers of decades to decide what may be disposed of and what should be retained.
“He had quite forgotten about his adolescent poetry and was astonished to come across a batch of it at the bottom of a cupboard. He smiled – golly! – at the sight of it and took it out and started to read, for a laugh. He expected clinching evidence of the folly of youthful pretensions. His whole happy life had been founded on the assumption that he had been right to abdicate before his wife’s gentle, unmistakable judgment. He sat on the floor of his chambers, boyishly grey, and prepared to be embarrassed by those unburnt embers. Instead, the poems passed sentence on his life. At last, he closed his eyes to escape their indictment, but the unblinking eye in the centre of his forehead gazed and blazed with unique and undeniable vision. He cowered on the floor of the dusty cave and saw that the years of his life had escaped, like Odysseus’s men under the panicky sheep of the blind, deluded Polyphemus. ‘Who are you, who are you?’ he cried. And the voice of the man who had blinded himself replied ‘No-one. No-one.’”
In that short, compelling paragraph the author shows the result of comparing the valuable with the priceless.
If we suspect that the world would be poorer without Beethoven and Mozart, without van Gogh and Cezanne; without Shakespeare and Balzac, we acknowledge the value of art for its own sake.
None of those people created material wealth. None of them derived great material wealth in their lifetimes. The value of unique paintings is a quirk of the market for commodities: the true value of the works is spiritual.
If the manuscript score of all of Beethoven’s symphonies were destroyed, it would be tragic but we would still have the works themselves and our cultural heritage would remain intact.
I recently heard an enchanting story from a friend of mine called Mary who works in a large Melbourne bookshop. She told me about a middle-aged Melbourne woman who ventured shyly into the bookshop. Noticing her bewildered hesitancy, Mary approached her and asked if she was looking for a book. “Yes” she said, “I’ve never bought one before.” This startling comment turned out to be literal truth. She had never bought a book in her life, and was unsure how to go about it. My friend helped identify a book she was likely to enjoy, and the transaction was settled. A couple of weeks later she was back and bought another book. And so it went for some months and as Christmas approached she confided in Mary that she had suggested to her friends that books would be welcome Christmas presents. Mary asked her how she felt now that she had begun reading books: “It is wonderful” she said, “I no longer live in a flat in Kensington – I live in the world.”
There is great force in that comment.
There is great force in the notion that art connects us to the world, to each other, to others we can never meet or know. It affirms and reinforces our integral relationship to the rest of humanity. The wider our encounter with art, the richer that connection becomes.
So art is valuable, in and of itself.
Human language has a vocabulary adapted to accommodate our daily needs and functions: the vocabulary of any human language maps approximately to the needs and activities of our mundane lives.
But few would deny that there is another dimension of human existence which transcends the mundane: call it the soul, the spirit, that part of the human frame which responds to the call of the non-rational.
In the domain of the human spirit, other vocabularies emerge.
Painting, music, poetry, sculpture are all different languages, each with its own unique vocabulary. The vocabulary of each artform gives it access to areas of human experience which are not available to other sorts of language.
This is why works of art are considered less meritorious – at least less interesting – as they become more literal and narrative. If an idea is best expressed in words, why bother expressing it in paint or music instead?
By contrast, some ideas can only be expressed in paint or music: the vocabulary of paint and music share little of the vocabulary of spoken language. I once heard someone ask an abstract expressionist to say what one of his paintings meant. He said “No, I can’t tell you, but I will try to hum it.”
It is neither useful nor interesting to ask what Beethoven’s 5th symphony “means”, or what Carl Vine’s 4th string quartet “means”, if the questioner wants you to say in words what Beethoven or Carl Vine said in music
This is the key to understanding why Art matters. Every form of art is a unique way of seeing, and at its best each form of art says things which cannot be said, or said as compellingly, in any other way.
Deny this, and you close off part of the human spirit. As Victor Hugo said:
Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
A history of the Weimar Republic speaks of the same things which occupied Kathe Kollwitz and George Grosz, but their work reaches out to us in a quite different way. The story of that time and place would be incomplete without their work.
Try to imagine this country if all practising artists perished overnight. Imagine this country if, for the next generation, there were no new paintings made, no new novels or poems written, no new music, no new sculpture.
Imagine looking back on that bleak and wasted generation in 50 or 100 years time. Like a layer of ash in the archaeological record it would stand as a silent marker of a period of desolation.
Culture is the accumulated record of artistic expression of a time and place. It may present an unattractive picture, or a brilliant one, but it is an essential record unless we take the nihilist view that human existence itself is irrelevant.
The nihilist would see no point in having children. If any one of us matters, then art matters and culture matters. A Society without culture leaves no children; with no past it can have no future.
Helen Sykes has published more than 30 books in the Future Leaders series (see https://www.futureleaders.com.au . The next Future Leaders book is Climate Change and Health. She asked me to write a chapter, and said I could put it on my website:
Climate Change and Human Rights
Climate Change represents the greatest challenge to human existence we have ever experienced.
This is not a universal view. On 29 April 2019, Dr C.J. Hamilton wrote:
“Climate Change” alarmists base their case for man-made Global Warming on two key claims. Their first claim is that carbon dioxide is “dirty” and a pollutant – it is not. Their second claim is that the increase in global temperature since the onset of the industrial age around 1850 is primarily due to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by the combustion of fossil fuels – it is not. There is no evidence in all the historical scientific records to support this claim. The real cause of “Global Warming” is the repeat of the Warm Period cycle which made Greenland green a thousand years ago during the Medieval Warm Period and caused the Little Ice Age from 1350 to 1850.
It’s not a view I do not share. If Dr Hamilton would consider me a “Climate Change alarmist” so be it. But although I am persuaded that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the principal cause of Climate Change, I do not regard it as “dirty”, or a “pollutant”. And, despite Dr Hamilton’s sharp views, I regard Climate Change as very important and a major threat to our species.
A lot of people think that our knowledge of Climate Change dates from Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring (1962) or Al Gore’s later expressions of concern about it. In fact, we have known the mechanism of Climate Change for much longer: roughly 160 years.
It is worth considering the earlier history of Climate Change. In the 1820s, Joseph Fourier calculated that a planetary object the size of Earth should not be as warm as it is, given its distance from the Sun, and the relatively small amount of sunlight falling on its surface. We now know that Venus and Mars both have atmospheres, as does the Earth. The atmosphere of Venus is about 100 times as dense as the atmosphere on Earth. Venus is closer to the sun than Earth is; Mars is further away. To make sense of the table that follows, it is worth bearing in mind (in relation to Fourier’s observation) that Venus and Earth are roughly the same size; Mars is much smaller than both. The atmosphere of Mars is about 1% as dense as the Earth’s atmosphere.
Planet distance from Sun av. temperature
Venus 108 million km 461o C
Earth 150 million km 61o C
Mars 228 million km -60o C
The temperature on Mars ranges from 20o C in daylight to -73o C at night. As most commentaries on Mars note, its atmosphere is so thin that it does not have a thermal blanket to trap heat. The contrast between Marrs, Venus and Earth is obvious.
In about 1859, Tyndall discovered that water-vapour was an important heat-trapping agent, and that it tended to trap carbon dioxide, which was also very good at trapping heat, by preventing the escape of infra-red radiation. The trapped heat enables the atmosphere to hold more water vapour, more CO2 and so on. He demonstrated this on 10 June 1859 in a Royal Society lecture, pointing out that coal gas and ether strongly absorbed infrared heat
The central insight was in fact given earlier in a paper by Eunice Newton Foote, in about 1856, but Tyndall gets the credit. Some things just don’t change. Eunice Foote was an American scientist, inventor, and women’s rights campaigner from New York. At a conference in 1856, she presented a paper titled “Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays” which suggested that changing the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would change the Earth’s temperature.
In the 1890s, Svante Arrhenius demonstrated that CO2 trapped infra-red rays, and that the consequent warming would enable more water vapour to be held in the atmosphere, and that water vapour would in turn trap more heat in the atmosphere. He worked out that if you halved the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the temperature of Europe could drop by as much as 4-50C. Conversely, increasing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere would increase the average temperature of the Earth. His calculations were remarkably accurate. (The concern of 19th Century scientists with water vapour is probably a reflection of the fact that the Industrial Revolution was, in large part, powered by steam).
Between the four of them: Fourier, Foote, Tyndall and Arrhenius showed us what we needed to know about the mechanism of Climate Change. We ignored the science, but now it’s getting critical. Let’s hope we don’t allow politics to distract us too much: our future depends on understanding the implications of what we have known for more than a century. Al Gore simply reminded us of this “inconvenient truth”. And Dr C.J. Hamilton shows plainly that it is a very divisive issue. The sad fact is that it has become highly political.
in 2011 the Israeli writer Yuval Noah Harari wrote a book called Sapiens. It is a history of our species, homo sapiens. He makes the point that we have been around for about 200-300 thousand years. Until we discovered agriculture we lived in extended family groups, hiding from our predators. But when we discovered agriculture, about 12 thousand years ago, we started living in villages, towns, cities.
Harari raises a fascinating question, which he does not answer: Are we genetically disposed to be concerned about the immediate group rather than the entirety of our species? It’s a good question, and all the more important because Climate Change is the first phenomenon in history which threatens our entire species. And that threat is now at its most visible and critical phase: in November 2018, the IPCC reported that we have until 2030 to take serious steps to defeat Climate Change, or it will be too late. Despite the urgency of that warning, the government in the USA seems to deny the reality and seriousness of Climate Change; Australia’s major political parties seem incapable of formulating policies which accept the sorry facts, the mechanism for which has been known since 1856: both of Australia’s major political parties seem contented to ignore the science (as well as the evidence of our warming climate), and to keep exploiting our fossil fuel resources, either for use or sale. Is it too cynical to think that their attitude to Climate Change might be different if they did not receive large donations from the fossil fuel industry?
Dr C.J. Hamilton’s disdain for Climate Change is reflected in the fact that (in Australia) the only political party to take Climate Change seriously is the Greens, and that party is treated as a refuge for people whose ideas do not deserve to be taken seriously.
Harari’s question has immediate importance for all of us: unless we are willing to be so selfish that we will accept the best the planet has to offer us, despite the fact that future generations will probably be unable to survive on this planet.
It troubles me that, as a species, we seem unwilling to accommodate the idea that it will be difficult for us to keep going like this; that we need to recognise that Climate Change is a serious threat; a serious threat to us, and to the whole of our species.
In Australia, we seem able to accept all that is good, while ignoring the dangers we have created. If the bushfires over the summer of 2019-2020 were a kind of warning, we seem able to ignore the warning.
Perhaps it is because we have a government which has denied the existence of Climate Change for a long time and a PM (Scott Morrison) who took a lump of coal into the parliament, apparently to show us how safe it is! Perhaps it is because we have a dis-spirited Opposition which does not have a clear policy on Climate Change.
Perhaps politicians in both major parties see that they will be long gone before the harshest consequences of Climate Change are apparent; and for that reason they are willing to accept huge donations from the fossil-fuel industry. I have a different view.
For my part, I expect to live out my life before the worst effects of Climate Change make human life on Earth impossible, but I think we all have an obligation to make sure that we leave the planet as liveable for the future as possible, or at least foreseeable.
It would be a fine thing if the science of Climate Change turned out to be wholly wrong, but that seems highly unlikely. So far, all the evidence seems to support the science. It is interesting that politicians who are willing to dismiss the science of Climate Change would probably not be willing to board a plane if science told them it had a 20% chance of crashing before it arrived at their destination. And most politicians who are willing to dismiss or ignore the science of Climate Change nevertheless use mobile phones, the functioning of which is plainly a product of science.
The rich, advanced countries in the world have benefitted greatly from the phenomena which are responsible for Climate Change: the use of fossil fuel to power the remarkable enterprises of the post-industrial revolution world. But Climate Change has consequences for every country, rich and poor; for the entire planet. The phenomena responsible for it are, essentially, fossil fuels used to create light, heat and energy.
While the mechanism of Climate Change has been known for about 160 years, the precursors go much further back: to Newton’s time. Newton’s law of the conservation of energy teaches us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another. So, an explosion of petrol in an engine is transformed into motion, heat, noise etc..
Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) were produced tens of millions (or hundreds of millions) of years ago as a product of the sun’s energy (Sunlight provides the energy for plant growth; plants eventually die and become coal, etc.). Fossil fuels store energy in the bonds between the atoms that make up their molecules. Burning the fuels breaks apart those bonds. This releases the energy that originally came from the sun. That is why timber can be burned to produce (release) heat. Allowed enough time, the timber becomes a fossil fuel. Simply stated, the sun is the original source of energy on this planet (and all others in our solar system).
It is worth remembering that the fossil fuels we use today store energy from the sun from millions of years before our species existed. And since the start of the industrial revolution, at least, we have been releasing that energy with increasing enthusiasm, to the great profit of some, but at a terrible risk, eventually, to us all.
The difficulty (and the confusion) about the conservation of energy arises where the transformation of stored energy to noticeable energy results in wasted energy. So, the heat and noise produced by fuel in a car engine are forms of energy which are difficult or impossible to capture and re-use. When a stick of dynamite explodes, the chemical energy is transformed into heat, noise (sound energy) and movement of objects (motion energy).
Energy which dissipates that way is difficult to harness for useful purposes. Because of this, Newton’s law of the conservation of energy is not self-evident. The simple fact is that all the energy we use ends up going somewhere. Using fossil fuels releases energy which arrived on the Earth many millions of years ago. If we use fossil fuels now, the stored energy has to go somewhere. Using fossil fuel means that energy will be released which arrived on the Earth millions of years ago. The science of Climate Change shows that the stored energy ends up warming the vast amount of water in the oceans, and causing catastrophic weather effects: increasing average temperatures, storms and so on.
And where a by-product of the transformation of one form of energy to another is CO2 (or water vapour, nitrous oxide, methane or ozone), the tendency of those chemicals to trap infra-red radiation in the atmosphere means that our planet gets warmer.
The fact that the sun is the original source of energy on this planet raises interesting possibilities for Australia. I have heard that if just 3% of the centre of Australia was covered with solar panels, we would produce enough electricity for the entire globe. There are many obvious practical difficulties with implementing that approach, but it makes a very important point about Australia’s natural advantages.
Sunshine could easily create enough electricity for all of Australia, and there would be a lot of energy left over. That’s important, given that the sun does not shine brightly every day, and does not shine at all at night.
But on days when the sun shines brightly, the use of surplus sunshine, in a country like Australia, raises many possibilities, especially as the spare sunshine could easily be used to create energy which can be stored and used later. For example Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, has suggested using the energy from surplus sunshine to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Later, the hydrogen could be burned (as a source of energy) and the by-product of this is, of course, water. Hydrogen is readily transportable.
Other suggestions include using sunshine to superheat various salts which can be stored underground as a medium- to long-term heat storage. Another suggestion is to use surplus sunshine energy to lift water in projects like Snowy 2.0.
Wind power is another obvious energy source. Europe, especially, has many wind-turbines in use. The number of wind farms in Australia is increasing, but depends largely on government encouragement which at present is sorely lacking.
And Elon Musk has shown how efficiently energy can be stored in Lithium ion batteries. Australia has vast deposits of Lithium: one prediction says that Western Australia could supply half the world’s Lithium. Whether Lithium ion batteries remain a preferred way of storing energy is not clear, but it offers immediate possibilities.
Right now, the wealthiest countries in the world are run by the luckiest generation in history. The baby-boomers are a generation which has not seen a World War, or a Depression, although it remains to be seen if the Covid-19 pandemic changes that. It is a generation which has had the very best the world can offer. This has been managed (in part) by massively exploiting the fossil fuel resources of the Earth, the impact of which is being felt, especially, in poor countries which cannot afford to protect their people against it; and in low-lying countries, which are becoming increasingly unliveable. And yet, the richest countries in the world are doing little or nothing to protect poorer countries from the impact of what we have done. The injustice of it is obvious.
Australia is in an interesting position. Our domestic CO2 production is relatively small by world standards: China is the largest producer, USA number 2; Australia number 17. However on a per capita basis Australia is at the top of the list: per head of population, Australia is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.
Unfortunately it is easy for us, who have benefitted from the use of fossil fuel, to deny that there is a problem or to assert that it will resolve. After all, the consequences are comfortably remote. By contrast, the world’s reaction to Covid-19 was much sharper because it showed immediate consequences. That said, America’s response was tragically relaxed. As at the start of June 2020, about 105,000 people had died in America because of Covid-19. It took a delayed (and relaxed) approach to the pandemic, and had the biggest death toll in the world. In Australia we responded much more actively, and our per capita death rate was very low, as at the start of June 2020.
But even America’s death toll was way less than 1% of its population. Yet its approach to the threat of Climate Change, which threatens 100% of its population (as well as the population of the rest of the world), is to deny it or ignore it. And the reason for that striking difference appears to be simply this: Covid-19 is an immediate threat, with consequences which are visible right now; Climate Change is a threat that might not destroy us for 50 or 100 years. Our “leaders” will be long dead before the consequences of their short-sightedness are noticed; but ignoring Climate Change rewards Americans with a booming economy. As a result, political pressures mean that warning about Climate Change (let alone taking steps against it) looks politically difficult; politically disadvantageous.
To those of us who are old enough to remember early advertising about smoking, this is a familiar response.
The fact that smoking tobacco was associated with adverse health outcomes was known from the 1890s.
When science first raised doubts about the health consequences of smoking, the tobacco industry responded with advertising lines like “You’ve got nothing to lose but your smoker’s cough”.
In the early 1950s an English study showed a clear link between smoking and lung cancer, although it could not predict that a given individual who smoked would certainly get cancer: the likelihood increased, but it was not a certainty.
On 11 January, 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General‘s Report on Smoking and Health was published; it led millions of American smokers to quit, and it resulted in certain advertising being banned.
Cigarette advertising was banned progressively over the following 40 years. Australia slowly followed, so that many types of tobacco advertising are no longer legal in Australia.
In short, the known ill-effects of smoking were resisted (or doubted, or denied) for a very long time, because there was good money in pretending the truth lay elsewhere; and the effect of smoking on any given individual was almost certainly a long way in the future and impossible to predict with any confidence. The parallel with Climate Change is obvious.
For most people, the idea that our planet will become impossible for human life is nearly impossible to accept. Denying the possibility is easy and comforting. Not one of us would like to think that the quality of our lifestyle will cost a future generation the possibility of continued existence. If the science was plainer, or more definite, or more precisely predictable, it is likely that our response (as a species) would lie somewhere between our recent response to Covid-19 and our current attitude to smoking.
The human rights implications of Climate Change are profound, and obvious. The rich, lucky countries have got richer and luckier, while the whole world pays the price. Those of us who live in New World countries enjoy the benefits of the consumption of fossil fuels: in the USA there are 838 motor cars for every thousand people in the population; in Australia, there are 790 motor cars for every thousand people in the population. But our avoidable production of Greenhouse gases has an impact in every country, and on all the oceans.
It is tragic that concern about Climate Change and Greenhouse gas emissions has become so mired in politics and commerce and blind optimism.
I’m a bit late posting this: just came across it again. it’s the Barry Jones Oration I gave in 2013.
Are We There Yet?
It is a great privilege to be giving a talk in honour of Barry Jones.
Like many others, I first became aware of Barry when he was an apparently permanent fixture on Pick-a-Box. Most of us remember that he often tangled with Bob Dyer and quibbled about the expected answer, most famously when he was asked who the first British Governor-General of India was. He gave the expected answer, Warren Hastings, but then pointed out that, strictly, Hastings was only the Governor of Bengal. The first Governor-General of India was Lord William Bentinck.
But what distinguished Barry’s participation in Pick-a-Box was a disconnect between his purposes and Bob Dyer’s purposes. For Bob Dyer, the show was all about competing for material reward; for Barry it seemed to spring from a genuine interest in knowing things. I will never forget how excited I found it to see a person who knew so much about so much.
His extraordinary run on that show started in 1960 and ended in 1968. Viewed from the present, that may not seem such a long time but, to orient it to my own life, it began when I was in year 6 and ended when I was in my second year at Monash University. I did not imagine then that I would later be able to count him as a friend.
No-one who lived through those years could forget the mark Barry made in his mighty struggle to save Ronald Ryan from the gallows. While Barry did not manage to save Ryan from the crazed vindictiveness of Henry Bolte, he won the larger fight: although Ryan was eventually hanged, in February 1967, he was the last person to be executed in Australia.
Barry once predicted that one day there would be more computers than cars in Tasmania. He was ridiculed for this.
The received wisdom then was in line with what had been said for years by people who should have known:
- In 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM said: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
- In 1957 the editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall said: “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
- And 20 years later, in 1977, the president of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olson, said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
In this and many other things, Barry sees much further than any of us. It is no accident that he is the only Australian to be a Fellow of all four learned academies: the Australian Academy of Science; the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.
In 1962, when I was in year 8 at school and Barry was cleaning up all comers on Pick-a-Box, I discovered the writing of James Thurber. In particular, his Fables for our Time and Further Fables for our Time. These were little stories in the style of Aesop’s fables: short, simple stories which generally had small animals as the main protagonists and ended with an explicit moral.
Thurber’s reason for choosing that style was probably the same as Aesop’s: it meant he could write subversive things, but get under the radar of government censors. He wrote during the McCarthy era, when dissident thinking was even more dangerous and unwelcome in America than it is today.
In the last of his fables, Thurber tells of a lemming who, on his way home after a late night, stumbles, hits his head and, dazed, starts running towards the cliff. He accidentally starts a stampede. The other lemmings who follow him toward the cliff are no more certain why they are running than he is. They hurtle over the cliff, some shouting “We are saved” and others shouting “We are lost”.
The moral of the story was: “All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why”.
As a 12-year old I was greatly impressed by that moral. It has stood the test of time: I am still impressed by it, as the most unassailable single sentence of philosophical truth.
Thurber’s question shares a frontier with the question all children ask, as the miles roll tediously by: Are we there yet?
The answer depends on where you trying to go.
For human beings, we discover we are there just as we go over the cliff. At that moment it is a bit late to deal with Thurber’s question.
For Societies, Thurber’s question is just as important, but the cliff is a much more abstract idea. But every Society should ask: Are we there yet? Because asking that question focusses the mind on where we are trying to go.
Barry has a 17 year advantage on me, and his memory is far better stocked than mine. He would certainly have details which would illuminate the present landscape better than I can. But even with my more limited vision, it looks as though Australia has not worked out what it is running from, or to or why.
As a country, we are performing way below our potential. We have never been perfect. No country is. But I am old enough to remember how things were in the 1950s.
Post-war migration to Australia presented some interesting challenges for us.
I remember during the 1950’s hearing people of my parents’ generation talking about the DPs and dagos and wogs who were coming into the country. Old Australians complained that New Australians were too religious, they had too many kids, they didn’t learn English, they didn’t fit in. Their women dressed all in black from head to foot and their food was weird: coffee, with froth on the top. Spaghetti which didn’t come from a tin. And, heaven help us, they ate squid.
They challenged our view of ourselves.
What I did not notice at the time was that, by small degrees, those same people began to adopt some of our ways, and we began to adopt some of theirs. It became smart and fashionable to eat at Italian and Greek restaurants.
The stereotypes of the 1950s faded, and our fear of wogs and dagos evaporated.
One way or another, things seemed to work out fairly well. Bit by bit the White Australia policy was dismantled. In 1967 we overwhelmingly supported a referendum to recognize Aboriginal Australians as part of the human population of the country which we had colonized in 1788.
The Pill and the Swinging Sixties did not spell the end of civilization.
Despite the direst predictions, it turned out that 6 o’clock closing was not essential to the good functioning of Society.
And some time in the 1960s the divide between Catholics and Protestants – something which had broken families in the past – faded away.
In the late 1970s there was another wave of new faces, this time refugees who had fled Vietnam and Cambodia. Fraser persuaded Whitlam that we should let Vietnamese boat people come to Australia. A lot came: about 25,000 a year for a few years. Fraser said we had been part of the problem and we had to be part of the solution.
The problem was brought to us in terrible images and in real time. For the first time in the history of human conflict, we saw events as they unfolded. Previously, we had to wait until the hostilities ended before we got the pictures. We only learned of the concentration camps when allied troops conquered Germany and the world was exposed to the skeletons, living and dead, in Belsen and Auschwitz and Dachau and other places, and suddenly we understood what the Jewish refugees had been running from when we turned our backs on them at the Evian conference in 1938.
But the Vietnam war came to us each night on the TV news. And newspapers showed us the appalling image of a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in 1963; and by another photograph of a police chief blowing a man’s brains out in the street.
Later, a photograph of a naked child running, terrified, from her burning village. And images of vast areas devastated by napalm.
It was to Fraser’s credit that he persuaded Whitlam not to make a fuss about the arrival of refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.
We took another small step forward in 1992, when the High Court departed from centuries of learning and held that Australia had not been terra nullius in 1788: that Aborigines had been here as the owners of the land when white settlers arrived. Rai Gaita illuminated the significance of the Mabo decision when he explained the thinking which had supported the doctrine of terra nullius for so long:
“We love, but they ‘love’; we grieve, but they ‘grieve’; and of course we may be dispossessed, but they are ‘dispossessed’. That is why, as Justice Brennan said, racists are able ‘utterly to disregard’ the sufferings of their victims. If they are to see the evil they do, they must first find it intelligible that their victims had inner lives of the kind which enable the wrongs they suffer to go deep”.
So far, so good. As a Society, Australia had come to grips with a lot of contentious issues. It hadn’t been perfect, but it was not bad. And we knew that the idea of a fair go was in our DNA: it was not just a marketing idea.
But in 1998, something important and fundamental started to shift. Or perhaps that is just when I began to pay attention. By chance I was briefed to act for the Maritime Union of Australia in what turned out to be a fairly contentious case.
Patricks was one of the two big stevedoring operations in Australia. They were caught out training an alternative, non-union workforce in Dubai and never offered a convincing explanation.
Early in 1998, rumours began to circulate that Patricks were about to do something drastic. As the weeks went by, the rumour firmed into a suggestion that Patricks were about to dismiss the entire unionized workforce on the Australian waterfront. Rumours are not evidence and so there was not much to work with. Innocent of any knowledge about the Workplace Relations Act, I asked what would happen if Patricks acted as the rumour suggested.
Those in the team, who were cleverer and better informed than I was, told me that the workforce would be reinstated, because of the provisions of the Workplace Relations Act. I asked innocently if there were any exceptions to that. They said that the only exception was if Patricks were going out of the business of stevedoring. Well, if they were to go out of the business of stevedoring, Patricks would have to sell their assets, so I suggested that we should write to Mr Corrigan asking for an undertaking not to dispose of Patricks’ assets and not to dismiss the workforce. If he did not give the undertaking sought, then his refusal would provide the evidence we needed.
He treated the request dismissively. He did not give the undertaking. We prepared a motion for injunctions, returnable on the Wednesday before Good Friday. The motion simply sought an order restraining Patricks from disposing of its assets or sacking its workforce.
On Wednesday morning, 8th April 1998, Australia woke to headlines saying that the entire workforce of Patrick Stevedores had been dismissed and had been replaced by an alternative, non-unionized workforce. When I arrived in court, Counsel for Patricks told me that administrators had been appointed to Patrick Stevedores. This was a surprising turn of events. My time practising as a commercial junior in the 1970s and 1980s made me think immediately of Bottom of the Harbour schemes. I thought that probably the court would be unimpressed by Patricks acting precipitately and doing the very thing which the court had been asked to restrain.
The Judge granted a holding injunction and directed that the matter should come back for further argument after Easter. Patricks were required to provide us with all relevant documents showing what had gone on. The picture revealed by those documents was truly astounding.
The previous year, in September 1997, the assets of the main stevedoring companies had been sold to new companies and the resulting credit balances were sent upstream to a holding company. The companies which had always employed the workforce – apparently large and successful stevedoring companies – were left with two assets only: their workforce, and contracts to provide the workforce to the new owners of the assets. These labour hire contracts were, in effect, terminable at will by the company with the assets. The employees had no job security whatever and no means of knowing the fact.
The effective result of this arrangement was that the labour hire company could be jettisoned without harming the enterprise. This made it possible to dismiss the entire workforce in a single stroke. On the ground, nothing at all had changed: Patrick Stevedores still had the appearance of prosperity which it had enjoyed for many decades, but it was a mere shell. The workers were hostage to a corporate shadow, and a CEO with secret plan.
The only party bound to gain from this strategy was the company which owned the assets. The only people bound to lose were the employees. As it happened, an obliging Federal Government had agreed in advance to provide the labour hire company with enough cash to pay the accrued entitlements of the employees when the workforce was sacked en masse. Thus the risks associated with the stevedoring venture were transferred to the workers and underwritten by a Government enthusiastic for waterfront reform at any price.
The case ran at an astonishing pace. We resumed argument before Justice North on the 15th April. The argument ran for three days. On the 21st April, Justice North delivered his Judgment and granted injunctions pending trial. At 3 o’clock that afternoon the Full Federal Court convened. They ordered a stay of Justice North’s orders pending appeal.
The Full Court appeal began the next day, 22nd April and ran over to the 23rd April. At 7 o’clock that night the Full Court gave judgment, upholding the order of Justice North. At 10 pm Justice Hayne in the High Court granted a stay of the Full Court’s orders, pending an application for special leave to the High Court.
The following Monday, 27th April, the seven judges of the High Court convened in Canberra and began hearing Patrick Stevedores’ application for special leave to appeal from the Full Federal Court’s orders. The application ran until the afternoon of Thursday, 30th April.
The following Tuesday, 4th May 1998, the High Court delivered judgments upholding the judgment of Justice North. The process of going from Judge at first instance to appeal to a final hearing by 7 judges of the High Court took three weeks. Ordinarily it would take between three and five years.
For me at least it was a shock to learn that any Australian government would conspire to break its own laws in an attempt to break the union movement: it’s not how patrician blue-bloods are meant to behave. But the Coalition government argued all the way to the High Court that it was OK. They lost.
Then things got worse.
Since the Russians had left Afghanistan, the Taliban had escalated their attacks on the Hazara minority. Millions of Hazara fled Afghanistan. A few thousand reached Australia.
In August 2001, the Palapa I was carrying 438 Hazaras towards Australia.
It began to sink. Australia asked the Norwegian cargo ship, the Tampa, to rescue them. But when it tried to put them ashore at Christmas Island, Australia sent the SAS to take command of the Tampa at gunpoint.
John Howard said the people rescued by Tampa would never set foot in Australia. He said any asylum seeker trying to get protection in Australia would be sent to Nauru: a tiny Pacific Republic with a population of 10,000 people and an area of just 21 square kilometers. He ordered that no humanizing images of the Hazara refugees were to be allowed.
Then September 11 happened. And the Liberal government headed into the 2001 election on the indecent slogan that “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which thy come”. Liberal propaganda called asylum seekers “illegals” and “queue-jumpers” and said that asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea.
The Labor party said nothing to contradict the lies. The Liberals, it seemed, had turned into a party which was prepared to lie to the electorate, and gain popularity by mistreating the most helpless people in the world.
For the next few years the cruelty and dishonesty continued. Asylum seekers, innocent of any offence, were held in detention for years until they collapsed into hopelessness and despair.
A little girl, ten years old, held in detention in Melbourne, hung herself.
A little boy, eight years old, held in detention in South Australia, slashed his arms with razor wire.
A man who had been in detention for five years cut himself so often he had ten meters of scarring on his body, but the government insisted that the only treatment he needed was solitary confinement and Panadol.
The Liberal government argued all the way to the High Court that a man who had not committed any offence and was not seen as a risk to anyone, who had been refused a visa but could not be removed from Australia because he was stateless, that this man could remain in detention for the rest of his life.
What was shocking was not only that the government won, but that a Liberal government was prepared to make the argument in the first place.
The Immigration Department held Cornelia Rau in detention for more than a year, in wretched, degrading conditions. She was filmed as she was dragged, naked and protesting, from her cell in Baxter detention centre, being manhandled by a group of guards.
Eventually the Department discovered that she had a visa and was entitled, all along, to be in Australia. It paid her a huge sum in compensation for the brutality and humiliation she had suffered.
We deported Vivian Alvarez-Solon from Australia and dumped her in the Philippines. The Department then realised that she was legally entitled to be in Australia: but it ignored that fact and did nothing to correct its mistake for the next two years.
We ignored the fact that David Hicks was being held and tortured in Guantanamo Bay by our allies, the USA. The Americans told him that, even if he was charged and found not guilty, he would not be released from Guantanamo. We knew this.
Hicks was held without charge for five years and the Australian government did nothing to help him. The Howard government eventually interceded on his behalf when public opinion swung in his favour, and Howard saw that there was an advantage to be had from helping him.
Then Kevin Rudd became leader of the Labor party and won government in late 2007. He promised a better, more humane, policy concerning refugees. And he delivered it.
But then Tony Abbott became leader of the party which still called itself Liberal.
He re-started the anti-refugee rhetoric. Rudd responded by attacking people smugglers. He called them “vermin” and the “vilest form of human life”. He seems to have forgotten that his moral hero, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, was also a people smuggler.
The attack on people smugglers was ham-fisted at best, and hypocritical at worst. For a start, it lumped all people smugglers into one irredeemable moral group: they were the “scum of the earth”. When today’s refugees wash up on our shores, Abbott and Morrison speak with concern about the boat people who die in their attempt to get to safety, but their concern is utterly false. Instead of attacking the refugees directly, which is their real purpose, they attack the people smugglers instead.
Because, aren’t people smugglers the worst people imaginable? We overlook the fact that Oskar Schindler was a people smuggler, and so was Gustav Schroeder, captain of the ill-fated MS St Louis which left Hamburg in May 1939 with a cargo of 900 Jews looking for help. He tried every trick in the book to land them somewhere safe, but was pushed away. He ended up putting them ashore again in Antwerp, and more than half of them perished in concentration camps.
We also overlook the fact that, without the help of people smugglers, refugees are left to face persecution or death at the hands of whatever tyranny threatens them.
Many recent boat people are Hazaras from Afghanistan. They are targeted ruthlessly by the Taliban, who are bent on ethnic cleansing. The Hazara population of Afghanistan has halved over the past decade, as Hazaras escape or are killed. The Taliban want to get rid of all of them. We have overlooked, it seems, that we are locked in mortal combat with the Taliban; and that my enemy’s enemy is probably my friend.
For a couple more elections and a couple more fractured administrations, things kept sliding to the right. It is a striking fact that the Labor party’s stance on refugees is well to the right of John Madigan – a DLP Senator.
The Pacific Solution was begun by Howard’s Liberal government in 2001, it was abolished by Rudd’s Labor government in 2008, and it was re-started by Gillard’s Labor government in 2012. In 2013, Rudd topped it with the PNG Arrangement.
Then in 2013 we had an awful election campaign in which Rudd and Abbott competed with each other in their promises to mistreat asylum seekers. It’s tempting to think that if Pauline Hanson had been asked to help Rudd, she might have been concerned that he was too far to the right for her taste.
The Liberal won the election. Australia lost.
The Labor party lost a lot of talent when half its front bench followed Gillard out the door.
The Liberals quickly showed their true colours when we learned that senior members of the new government had been rorting their parliamentary expenses. That was no surprise: but it was interesting to see that the new Attorney-General was involved. Haughty, supercilious, self-righteous George Brandis had elbowed his way to the trough with the best of them.
After all wasn’t Brandis the one who had ferociously attacked Peter Slipper for visiting a winery and charging the taxi ride to the Commonwealth? Brandis went to a friend’s wedding and billed the Commonwealth $1600. When he was found out two years later, Brandis repaid the $1600 but said he had done nothing wrong.
Peter Slipper is still facing criminal charges for much less.
And Tony Abbott has billed the Commonwealth for every fun-run and lycra cycle-fest, not to mention his Tamworth photo opportunity which apparently cost us about ten grand. Over the last couple of years he has had his hands in our pockets for about $3 million.
Just last week, Scott Morrison issued a directive to Immigration Department staff that boat people were to be referred to as “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”. Calling boat people “illegals” is now official Coalition policy, it seems.
It is a lie.
Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott know it is a lie.
But they lie to us deliberately, in order to dehumanize asylum seekers. That way they can mistreat asylum seekers and gain political advantage from doing so.
What is striking about the “illegals” lie is that Abbott and Morrison, and others in Cabinet, claim to be devout Christians.
But with their stealing from us, and lying to us and their claim to Christian belief smells like hypocrisy.
Since very recently, people held in our detention centres are again being addressed by use of their camp number, rather than by name. There are 1700 children in detention – innocent children, jailed indefinitely. Ostensibly for our protection. It is monstrous.
So here’s the problem.
By 1998, we had stopped running from our fear of foreigners and our fear of Communism; we had come to enjoy the idea that the world saw us as part Crocodile Dundee, and part Jack Thompson; part Kath and Kim, and part Edna Everage.
It’s a strange mix, but kind of endearing. It was a good place to be.
Now, we have a hard right-wing Liberal government, led by dishonest, self-seeking hypocrites.
Now, we have a weakened, right wing Labor opposition.
Now, we believe it is good policy to mistreat people who are escaping persecution.
Now, we are a country which is seen overseas as selfish, greedy and cruel and we have no political leadership at all.
We are well into the process of redefining Australia and what it is to be Australian. Most of us have not noticed because, for most of us, life is good. But a surprising number of people have admitted to me that they are ashamed to be Australian.
The sight of the major parties competing in their promises of greater cruelty to boat people was new in Australian politics. We have never been perfect, but this was something without precedent.
It is painful to recognize that we are now a country which would brutalize one group in the hope that other people in distress will choose not to ask us for help.
What are we running from? No one can say.
It’s not hard to see what we might be running to: but why?
The new path we are on has plenty of precedents in history. We know what can happen when governments conspire to break their own laws. We know what can happen when a Society thinks it is acceptable to see one group as less human than the rest, and use that as an excuse to mistreat them. We know what can happen when governments start stealing from the people and lying to them.
We know where those paths lead.
Are we there yet? Not yet. Not quite.
It is not too late to turn back.
An essay by Sarah Ruby
Domestic and family abuse is currently at the forefront of our national discourse, due to the horrifying murder of a Brisbane mother and her three beautiful children, by a man who decided that if they weren’t going to live ‘his way’, they had no right to live.
As a survivor of domestic abuse, I know I was only one of thousands of women around Australia who watched the aftermath of the attack with that sinking feeling in our stomachs, the familiar internal refrain of “that could have been me”- or, for some of us, “that could be me one day”. I certainly never expected to live to see 2020.
There is something frightening, impossible to prevent, and without and end-date happening in communities around Australia. The victims are men, women and children. They are hidden from sight, intimidated into silence, afraid of the consequences if they speak out. I’ve witnessed one such threat personally.
Therefore, with the freedom I have to do so, I believe it is necessary for me to inform the Australian public of this fact- the men, women and children in immigration detention in this country, and their friends and family, are being subjected to domestic abuse. The perpetrator is the Honourable Minister for the Department of Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.
Allow me to tell you what I’m watching unfold, from the perceptive of a domestic abuse survivor- men and women who have left situations of domestic abuse can usually, at some point in the future, identify the key elements that define the situation as abusive. In my case, that took years of therapy. Hopefully I can save you that time.
Emotional abuse- being belittled, dehumanised, being told at every turn that what you’re doing is wrong, that you’re a bad person or a bad parent, name-calling.
Financial abuse- having your access to money restricted, not being allowed to work or study, having your spending examined and essential items withheld from you.
Physical abuse- including, but not limited to, assault.
Sexual abuse- including, but not limited to, sexual assault.
Restriction of movement- being told where you’re allowed to go, and when. Having a curfew. Being isolated from family and friends.
Medical abuse and reproductive coercion- not being allowed to keep your medical visits or records private, being denied medical treatment, being denied contraception.
Gaslighting- blaming complaints about the above on your ‘mental health issues’, telling other people you’re unstable or that you’ve harmed your children, in order to isolate you from anyone who might support you.
Let’s examine how these play out in Immigration Detention.
Firstly, it needs to be said- the ‘kids off Nauru’ campaign was successful, but the vast majority of these children are now living in Community Detention.
In both custodial and community detention scenarios, the abuse criteria play out as follows:
Emotional abuse – parents are told by Australian Border Force caseworkers and Immigration staff that they’re ‘bad parents’ for bringing their children to Australia. The children are told that their parents made a mistake in bringing them to Australia, that this will never be their home, and that they have no future here. I witnessed one speaker-phone call with a minor in which an Australian Border Force caseworker told her that if she continued to complain about her unsuitable accommodation (strange men were frequently at the home, on one occasion under the influence, because the owner was allowing it- I physically removed a drunk man from their backyard), ‘the Minister might reconsider his generosity in allowing you to live in the community’. This was a threat to put the child back into Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, and I immediately cut the call.
Financial abuse – nobody in detention is allowed to work. Families in Community Detention rely on food banks and charities in order to survive. When rotting fruit and vegetables are all that can be procured, mothers cut the rotten bits off, and freeze them. Once teenagers turn eighteen, they are no longer allowed to study in any form. Young women whose mothers fled their country of origin so that they can receive a tertiary education are relegated to sitting at home, unable to work or study.
Physical abuse – Beatings from guards in detention are common, and have always been. Beatings from other detainees are a risk, some claim at the behest of the guards. What you won’t know, however, is that refugee children were beaten on Nauru by locals. One boy I know, as a ten year old, was badly beaten by an adult Nauruan man for trying to assist a child half his age who was also being beaten.
Sexual abuse – for some detention guards, sexual assault is a game. They target Muslim men during pat downs, then laugh, knowing homosexual activity is considered ‘haram’; I don’t know a single detained woman who wants to fall pregnant. Everyone identifies as too traumatised to care for a newborn.
An Australian Citizen is being repeatedly hospitalised against her will because her carer, her partner, has been detained. His detention has been officially declared arbitrary (yet in 2019, a man who murdered his wife walked free from Immigration Detention).
Gaslighting: You’ve all seen the claims of ‘asylum seekers being coached to self-harm by advocates’, ‘parents harming their children to come to Australia’. Not a shred of evidence has ever been offered, or found, to support these claims. After two years of searching extensively for proof of these claims from the Government, my only findings are:
children being bullied at school due to the stigma of having been a refugee on Nauru – bullied not only by students, but by teachers, and parents of other children.
I witnessed a speaker-phone call between a caseworker and teenage boy, where the boy was refusing to sleep in his allocated granny flat because the men in the house at the front had repeatedly accosted him, his mother, their friends, and threatened to shoot him – the caseworker told him that he couldn’t sleep in a car because ‘there could be snakes’. My own son is the same age – 16; if I forced him into an unsafe living situation, with an active threat of violence, I would be rightly investigated by Family and Children’s Services.
I wish I didn’t know any of this. I wish I could go all ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and erase what I’ve seen over the past five years. The reality is, I cannot.
We are taught as a society to speak up when we see domestic abuse being perpetrated. As a survivor, I strongly believe this principle must be upheld.
So, Australia, I must inform you: in my opinion, from both lived experience and what I’ve witnessed, the biggest perpetrator of domestic abuse against men, women and children, is your elected Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.
What will you do about it?
5 November 1605: The Gunpowder Plot
Those of us old enough to remember “Cracker Night” will associate it with the name of Guy Fawkes. Some might remember that Guy Fawkes’ name is synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot. Very few indeed will recognise that the Gunpowder Plot was the 17th Century equivalent of September 11.
It is a pity that the Gunpowder Plot has slipped from popular memory. It has striking parallels with contemporary events, both in its origins and in its consequences. Just a few years before the Gunpowder Plot, Francis Bacon wrote that “[h]istories make men wise …”. Our response to September 11 might have been wiser if only we had read history more carefully.
The last years of the reign of Elizabeth I were marked by increased persecution of Roman Catholics in England. Recusants were fined for not attending the Protestant churches, and the recusant fines had become a significant source of revenue. Catholic priests – especially Jesuits – were persecuted terribly, and many were put to death for their faith.
As Elizabeth’s health failed the question of succession had not been settled. Among the several possible candidates to succeed her was James VI of Scotland. He was Protestant, but the son of Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic daughter of James V of Scotland. Mary had been put to death by Elizabeth in 1587. James was married to Anne of Denmark. She was born a Lutheran but had converted to Catholicism. This made James’ position on religion decidedly ambiguous.
Many high-placed Englishmen established contact with James in advance of Elizabeth’s death, in order to test the ground. Among these was Thomas Percy, a recusant and protégé of the Earl of Northumberland. He returned from Scotland with enthusiastic accounts of the religious toleration James would introduce. Sir Robert Cecil, the Queen’s trusted adviser, also ascertained that James was not inclined to persecute the Catholics so long as they “lived quietly”. Thus it was that, when James VI of Scotland succeeded as James I of England there was real hope that the time of religious persecution would end.
The hopes engendered by Thomas Percy’s account and James’ ambivalent correspondence were not realised. By 1605, things had become markedly worse and more anti-Catholic legislation was expected.
The Gunpowder Plot
Robert Catesby was the son of a rich Warwickshire family. He was 30 years old at the time of James’ coronation. His father had been persecuted under Elizabeth. He was intelligent, pious, conscientious and (by all accounts) charismatic. Frustrated by the absence of real reform, he conceived the idea of destroying at a single stroke the Royal family and the Parliament which had passed the harsh, anti-papist laws. For this purpose he proposed to blow-up the Parliament at its opening, when the Royal family would be present. In March 1604, he recruited Thomas Winter and John Wright. Others were drawn into the conspiracy. In May, Thomas Percy and Guido Fawkes joined.
In July 1604, new anti-Catholic legislation was passed by Parliament. In January 1605 John Grant, Robert Winter and Thomas Bates joined the plot; in September Sir Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood and Francis Tresham joined.
Apart from the folly of the entire enterprise, it was probably the introduction of Francis Tresham which brought the plot down. The conspirators had arranged to store 36 barrels of gunpowder in an apartment adjacent to the Hall of Parliament. The recall of Parliament had been postponed several times, but was eventually fixed for Tuesday, 5 November. Someone – apparently Francis Tresham – wrote a cryptic letter to Lord Monteagle, advising him to absent himself from the opening of Parliament. Monteagle was a Roman Catholic, married to Tresham’s sister. But instead of heeding the warning, Monteagle took it to Robert Cecil. In due time, the Parliament building was searched, Guido Fawkes was discovered and the plot was undone.
Fawkes was taken into custody as the other conspirators fled from London. Under the law of the time, torture was illegal. However in exercise of the royal prerogative King James personally authorised the use of torture to discover the identity of the other conspirators. His letter of authority, dated 6 November 1605 reads in part:
“The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him et sic per gradus ad majora tenditur [and thus by degrees to the worst] and so God speed your goode worke”.
The gentler torture was the manacles: Fawkes was hung from a wall by iron manacles tightly bound around his wrist, with his feet above the ground. This has a physiological effect similar to crucifixion. The worst torture was the rack. This involved lying the victim on a horizontal frame and binding cords around his wrists and ankles. These cords were wound around rollers at each end of the frame. By use of winches, the rollers slowly wound in the cords, thus stretching the victim until the major joints came apart. It is accounted the most excruciating form of non-lethal treatment yet devised.
Under this treatment, Guido Fawkes made three confessions. The third bears a signature which hardly looks to be the work of a human hand: mute testimony to the effects of the rack.
Fawkes’ third confession led to the capture of the other conspirators. Catesby, Percy and Jack and Kit Wright were killed whilst being taken. Francis Tresham was badly wounded and died before he could be tried.
The Gunpowder Plot was the work of over-zealous extremists, isolated from their co-religionists. The Roman Catholic hierarchy in England had tried to dissuade any violence against the State. Nevertheless, when the conspirators were charged, the first name on the indictment was Father Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Superior of England. He was unquestionably innocent of the plot. But it was deemed important to pitch the Plot as a Catholic attack on England.
Those conspirators who had survived were tried on 27 January 1606 and were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Henry Garnet, who was not captured until later, was also brought to trial. His conviction was certainly unjustified, but reflects the public frenzy of anti-Catholicism which the plot had released. He was executed on 3rd May, 1606.
Divine right of kings
A key feature of the reign of James I was his belief in the divine right of Kings, and with it the unlimited scope of the sovereign prerogative. In his speech to Parliament on 21 March 1610 he said:
“Kings are justly called Gods for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth. For if you will consider the attributes of God you shall see how they agree in the person of a King. God hath power to create or destroy; make or unmake at his pleasure; to give life or send death; to judge all and to be judged nor accountable to none; to raise low things and to make high things low at his pleasure. And the like power have Kings.”
(Note the echo of King Lear, written in 1605: “as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, they kill us for their sport”).
Even though torture was illegal in 1605, the King could order it in the exercise of the royal prerogative. Furthermore James I, and after him Charles I, insisted that the Royal prerogative entitled them to rule without Parliament and to act beyond the laws made by Parliament or to suspend those laws in particular cases as they chose. As the notion of parliamentary democracy took shape, two questions became an increasing source of tension: did the King rule under the law, or did he stand outside it; and if Parliament made a law, was the King free to dispense with it? This was one of the great constitutional questions which dominated 17th century England.
The Gunpowder conspirators had been prosecuted by Sir Edward Coke, the then Attorney-General. In his capacity as Attorney-General, Coke had been an advocate of the right of the King to dispense with the law as he saw fit. When Coke was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, his views changed. He insisted that the King ruled under the law: in a famous confrontation with James I, Coke declared that “the King cannot change any part of the common law nor create any offence by proclamation which was not an offence before”.
Judicial independence was unknown in the time of James I. After many manoeuverings, James I dismissed Coke from his judicial office and Coke subsequently entered Parliament in 1620. In 1627 (the second year of the reign of Charles I) the King ordered the arrest of Sir Thomas Darnel and four others who had refused to advance a compulsory “loan” to the King. They sought habeas corpus. The jailer answered the suit by saying the five were held “per speciale mandatum Regis” [by special order of the King].
Darnel’s case in 1627 prompted Coke to draft for Parliament the Petition of Right (1628). The Petition raised, with exquisite politeness, the following complaints about the King’s conduct:
he had been ordering people, like Darnel, to be jailed for failing to lend him money;
he had been billeting soldiers in private houses throughout the country against the wishes of the owners;
he had circumvented the common law by appointing commissioners to enforce martial laws and those commissioners had been summarily trying and executing “such soldiers or mariners or other desolate persons joining with them as should commit … (any) outrage or misdemeanour whatsoever …”;
he had been exempting some from the operation of the common law.
The Parliament prayed that the King “would be graciously pleased for the further comfort and safety of your people, to declare … that in the things aforesaid all your officers and ministers shall serve you according to the laws and statutes of this realm …”.
The emergence of the Rule of Law
The Petition of Right was the opening shot in the battle for the Rule of Law. The principle of the Rule of Law in a parliamentary democracy insists that the Parliament is the supreme lawmaker and that all people, including every member of the Government and the head of state, are subject to the law; it requires that the laws be enforced by independent judges appropriately skilled, enjoying security of tenure so as to free them from extraneous pressures.
The struggle for the Rule of Law was waged in various forms over the balance of the 17th Century. Charles I prorogued the Parliament which had presented the Petition of Right. He ruled without Parliament until 1640 and then called the Short Parliament which refused to grant supply and was dissolved. He called the Long Parliament in November 1640 which confronted the King and declared it illegal to levy tax without the authority of Parliament.
The power struggle between Charles I and Parliament led to the Civil War (1642-1649) which ended with the surrender and execution of Charles I. It was followed by the Commonwealth period under Cromwell. That experiment collapsed after increasing mismanagement, and Charles II was restored to the throne, but only after issuing a promise (the Declaration of Breda) that he would meet the demands articulated in the Petition of Right 22 years earlier.
After Charles II came the truncated reign of James II and then in 1688 William of Orange and his wife Mary (daughter of King James) were offered the English crown and with it they were offered a Declaration of Rights prepared by the Parliament. This required regular, fair elections, protection of Parliamentary debates, no tax without Parliamentary consent, and the King was not to suspend or dispense with laws properly passed by the Parliament. They agreed.
Later, the Act of Settlement declared the sovereign to reign subject to the law. In the meantime, the Habeas Corpus Act had been passed, which ensured that no person could be held except by the authority of laws duly passed by the Parliament.
Thus were all the central principles of the Rule of Law put in place: the monarch is subject to the law and cannot set aside the common law or the laws passed by the Parliament; Judges are independent of the executive; no-one can be detained except as provided by law and the legality of their detention can be tested by the writ of habeas corpus.
These principles were won in the great constitutional struggles of 17th Century England. The chain of events which led to these momentous changes can be traced back to 1605 when those perceived as dangerous religious fanatics could be put to the torture on the authority of the King acting outside the law.
This tectonic shift was reflected in John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. Published in 1689, it demolished the theory of the divine right of kings, and proposed that the only true authority of the government came from the consent of the governed. In addition, Locke reasoned that the obligation to obey the laws of the state was conditional on the state protecting person and property, and that if the sovereign breached the terms of the Social Contract, he could be overthrown.
America and the Rule of Law
Echoes of the Petition of Right and the Act of Settlement can be found in the constitutional documents of the United States. The American colonists expressly adopted Locke’s reasoning in their preamble to the Declaration of Independence:
In Congress, July 4, 1776
The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.–We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. …
The US Constitution (1789), especially the Bill of Rights, adopts the principles first demanded in the Petition of Right 160 years earlier. From the beginning, the United States of America adopted the Rule of Law as fundamental and unchangeable. But in the aftermath of September 11, it all went badly wrong.
The attack on America created, or brought into sharp focus, another form of religious animosity: not between Protestants and Catholics, but between Christians and Muslims. Like the Gunpowder Plot, September 11 was an attack of unprecedented horror, the likes of which could not have been imagined. Like the Gunpowder Plot, it was the work of a small group of religious fanatics striking at the very heart of a group seen as a religious oppressor. But there are two obvious differences: the Gunpowder Plot failed, but it set in train the events which ultimately laid the foundations of the Rule of Law in a parliamentary democracy; September 11 succeeded, and set in train events which are undermining those very foundations.
In the aftermath of September 11, America raided Afghanistan in pursuit of al Quaeda. With the help of Northern Alliance troops, they swept up tens of thousands of supposed al Quaeda operatives and sympathizers. Suspects were captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other places.
As a matter of legal principle, combatants captured in Afghanistan during the hostilities there are Prisoners of War.Otherwise they are criminal suspects. Domestic and international laws deal comprehensively with both cases. There is no ground between the two possibilities.
The regime for treatment of Prisoners of War is clear: it is established by the Geneva Convention in relation to Prisoners of War, to which USA is a party. Relevantly, it provides for:
(a) humane treatment;
(b) no interrogation beyond name, rank and serial number;
(c) release at the end of hostilities
The regime for treatment of criminal suspects is also clear:
(a) humane treatment;
(b) no obligation to answer questions;
(c) no detention without charge;
(d) prima facie entitlement to bail when charged;
(e) (importantly in these circumstances) criminal charges are generally to be dealt with in the country where the offences occurred.
In either case, and in all circumstances, there is an absolute prohibition on the use of torture. This is recognised as a universal norm of international law, and is the subject of the Convention Against Torture to which most countries, including the USA and Afghanistan, are parties.
Unfortunately, there comes a time in the history of nations when, for some unaccountable reason, basic values and accepted principles are diluted, betrayed or cast aside. The pretext may be external threat, internal strife or other great forces which call for extraordinary responses. Faced with very clear legal limits, President Bush stepped back to the 17th Century and acted, in substance, as James I did. He acted as if he could set aside the law and implement his own conception of right. He did so with obliging help from Department of Justice employees.
Suspects who had been rounded up during the war in Afghanistan were taken to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There they are held in cages, and are interrogated, humiliated and tortured. They are denied proper legal help. The Bush administration has argued that the American Constitution, and the American courts, have no authority in Guantanamo: that it is a legal black hole.
The basic features of the regime at Guantanamo were founded on an enabling memo from Alberto Gonzales. He advised that President Bush could declare prisoners held at Guantanamo not to be amenable to the protections of the Geneva Convention relating to Treatment of Prisoners of War (the GPW). He identified several points in favour of this position:
· Preserves flexibility:
As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors …
Substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441).
That statute, enacted in 1996, prohibits the commission of a “war crime” by or against a U.S. person, including U.S. officials. “War crime” for these purposes is defined to include any grave breach of GPW or any violation of common Article 3 thereof (such as “outrages against personal dignity”). Some of these provisions apply (if the GPW applies) regardless of whether the individual being detained qualifies as a POW. Punishments for violations of Section 2441 include the death penalty. A determination that the GPW is not applicable to the Taliban would mean that Section 2441 would not apply to actions taken with respect to the Taliban. …”
The author of the memo is unmistakably urging a path which would facilitate torture of prisoners and protect the torturers from the inconvenience of criminal charges. The author of the memo is now US Attorney-General.
Six months later Mr Jay Bybee wrote another memo to President Bush, which in substances authorises mistreatment of al Quaeda suspects. This memorandum, the existence of which was denied for several years, contains the most startling and convoluted justification of torture imaginable. Its legal reasoning is profoundly flawed. The memo says:
“it is difficult to take a specific act out of context and conclude that the act in isolation would constitute torture.”
It identifies seven techniques recognised as torture, including severe beatings, threats of imminent death, burning with cigarettes, electric shocks to genitalia, rape or sexual assault, and forcing a person to watch the torture of another. It then observes that:
“While we cannot say with certainty that acts falling short of these seven would not constitute torture, . . we believe that interrogation techniques would have to be similar to these in their extreme nature and in the type of harm caused to violate law…For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture, it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”
Here are some first hand accounts of what has been happening at Guantanamo:
“every day we were stuck in a cage of 2 meters by 2 meters. We were allowed out for 2 minutes a week to have a shower and then returned to the cage. Given the extreme heat, we sweated a lot and the area obviously began to smell. During the day we were forced to sit in the cell (we couldn’t lie down) in total silence. We couldn’t lean on the wire fence or stand up and walk around the cage.”
“very often the guards would refuse to take us to the portaloo outside and therefore people started to use the buckets in the cells. Many of the people [were] … suffering from dysentery … and simply couldn’t wait until the guards decided they would take them to the toilet. … The smell in the cell block was terrible.”
“We had the impression that at the beginning things were not carefully planned but a point came at which you could notice things changing. That appeared to be after General Miller around the end of 2002. That is when short-shackling started, loud music playing in interrogation, shaving beards and hair, putting people in cells naked, taking away people’s ‘comfort’ items, … moving some people every two hours depriving them of sleep, the use of (air conditioning). … After [General Miller] came, people would be kept [in solitary] for months and months and months. We didn’t hear anybody talking about being sexually humiliated or subjected to sexual provocation before General Miller came. After that we did.”
“… This time I was short shackled. I was left squatting for about an hour and then this Bashir came back again and he started questioning me again about the photographs and trying to get me to admit that I was in the photographs. I was telling him that if you check you will find out that I was in England during this time. After a while he left the room and I was left again in the short shackle position for several hours (I think for about 4 hours) before I was eventually taken back to the cells.”
“I was interrogated repeatedly about my presence at this meeting. … I said it wasn’t me but she kept pressing that I should admit it. She was very adamant. She said to me “I’ve put detainees here in isolation for 12 months and eventually they’ve broken. You might as well admit it now so that you don’t have to stay in isolation”.
These statements are all from the Tipton Three: three English boys who went to Afghanistan to give humanitarian aid after the Americans attacked that country. They were eventually released and sent back to Britain: they were never charged with any offence. They were there simply by mistake.
Another person later released because his capture had been “a mistake” was a 99 year old shepherd. He was incontinent. Because of his age and frailty, he could barely hobble around the camp; he was chained to a walking frame. Other inmates reported that he spent much of his time weeping.
Values at risk
It is impossible to reconcile these events with the values which are basic to our democratic system: no arrest without lawful authority (enforced by the ancient writ of habeas corpus); no arbitrary search and seizure; no prison except by authority of law; the presumption of innocence; criminal charges to be proved beyond reasonable doubt; no torture; an assumption (although not a legal right) of privacy. These values can all be traced to the events in 17th century England and equivalent events elsewhere in Europe. It is interesting to remember that most of those excesses arose from the supposed threat presented by unpopular religious beliefs.
It has long been recognised that these basic values, so hard won, are always at risk. In a speech in Boston on 28 January 1852 Wendell Phillips said:
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”
In America, in Australia and elsewhere, there is a retreat from basic values. Pragmatism is emerging as a sufficient justification of measures which, until recently, would have been abhorrent. The dictates of pragmatism can be very appealing, especially to those (always the majority) who take the benefit. In the wake of September 11, Australia and other Western governments introduced draconian anti-terrorist laws. These laws, unprecedented in recent history except in time of war, betray the basic values on which democratic systems are established.
“Anti-terrorism” legislation in Australia
In 2002 the ASIO legislation was amended to permit the incommunicado detention, for a week at time, of people not suspected of any wrong-doing: it is enough if they are thought to have information about others who may have been involved in terrorist offences. The person may be taken into isolated custody, and will not have a free choice of legal help; they will not be permitted to tell friends or family where they are; they must answer questions, or face 5 years imprisonment. When released, they are not permitted to tell anyone where they were or what happened to them, on pain of imprisonment.
In 2005 further anti-terror legislation was introduced.
Division 105 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code provides that a member of the Federal Police may apply for a preventative detention order in relation to a person. A preventative detention order will result in a person being jailed for up to 14 days in circumstances where they have not been charged with much less convicted of any offence. The order is obtained in the absence of the subject and authorises that the person be taken into custody. When the person is taken into custody pursuant to the order, they will not be told the evidence on which the order was obtained: they will be given a copy of the order and a summary of the grounds on which the order was made. The summary need not include any information which is likely to prejudice national security (within the meaning of the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act (2004).
Thus, a preventative detention order can be made not only without a trial of any sort, but in circumstances where the subject of the order will not be allowed to know the evidence which was used to secure the order.
Division 104 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code allows the Federal Police to obtain a control order against a person. A control order can include an order confining a person to a single address for up to 12 months, without access to telephone or the internet. When the subject of the control order is served with the order, they are to be given a summary of the grounds on which the order was made, but not the evidence. Thus, a person’s freedom of movement can be grossly interfered with for up to 12 months in circumstances where they have no opportunity to know the evidence on which the order was obtained much less to challenge it. The summary of the grounds on which the order was obtained need not include any information disclosure of which is likely to prejudice national security within the meaning of the NSI Act.
Secrecy provisions prevent publication of the fact that people are held for incommunicado questioning, or held on preventative detention, or the subject of a control order.
Lying behind these draconian laws is something even more sinister: National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act (2004)) (the NSI Act). It is perhaps the most alarming piece of legislation ever passed by an Australian Parliament in a time of peace. The Act as originally passed was confined in its operation to criminal proceedings. In early 2005 it was amended so as to extend to civil proceedings as well. It provides that if a party to a proceeding knows or believes that they will disclose in the proceeding information that relates to national security, or the party intends to call a witness and that witness would, by their presence in court or by the evidence they could give, disclose information that relates to national security, then the party must notify the Commonwealth Attorney-General of the fact. The party must also notify the opposite party and the court. The court is then required to adjourn the proceeding until the Attorney-General acts on the matter. If the Attorney-General chooses, he may sign a conclusive certificate to the effect that the evidence proposed to be called, or the proposed calling of the witness, would be likely to prejudice Australia’s national security interests.
The certificate must then be provided to the court and the court must hold a hearing to decide whether or not to make an order preventing the evidence or witness from being called. During that hearing, the court must be closed. The Act authorises the court to exclude both the relevant party and his or her counsel from the closed hearing in which the question will be decided whether or not the evidence may be called or the witness brought to court.
In deciding the balance between the interests of a fair trial and the national security interests, the statute directs the court to give the greatest weight to the Attorney-General’s certificate that the evidence would present a risk of prejudice to national security.
These provisions are immediately alarming to anyone who understands the essential elements of a fair trial. They are all the more alarming when the real breadth of the provisions is understood. Their breadth comes from two things:
(a) the notion “likely to prejudice national security” is defined as meaning that there is a “real, and not merely remote, possibility that the disclosure will prejudice national security”;
(b) the definition of national security which means: “Australia’s defence, security, international relations or law enforcement interests”.
The apparently uncontroversial definition of national security is rendered astonishingly broad by the definition of “law enforcement interests”. That expression is defined as including interests in:
(a) avoiding disruption to national and international efforts relating to law enforcement, criminal intelligence, criminal investigation, foreign intelligence and security intelligence;
(b) protecting the technologies and methods used to collect, analyse, secure or otherwise deal with, criminal intelligence, foreign intelligence or security intelligence;
(c) the protection and safety of informants and of persons associated with informants;
(d) ensuring that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are not discouraged from giving information to a nation’s government and government agencies.
By reference to this definition, Australia’s national security is affected by each of the following things:
(a) evidence that a CIA operative extracted a confession by use of torture;
(b) any evidence which tended to reveal operational details of the CIA, Interpol, the FBI, the Australian Federal Police, the Egyptian Police, the American authorities at Guantanamo Bay, etc.;
(c) evidence which tended to show the use of torture or other inhumane interrogation techniques by any law enforcement agency.
These provisions are likely to have profound effect in several types of case.
First, in cases of people charged with terrorist offences. In such cases confessional statements may be received, but evidence that torture or other improper practices were used to obtain the confession may be excluded, in the name of national security.
Second, where a person is the subject of a preventative detention order or a control order they have a right to challenge the making of the order. However their challenge will be made difficult or impossible if they are prevented from knowing the evidence against them, or if they are prevented from calling other evidence which would qualify or explain the evidence against them.
Third, in cases where a person’s ordinary rights have been interfered with because of an adverse security assessment by ASIO. In those circumstances, it may prove impossible to have effective access to the material which provided the foundation of the interference.
There may be examples of the first and second type, but we are not allowed to know. The secrecy provisions surrounding control orders and preventative detention orders means that, in effect, the general public will not learn of them until many years have passed.
However examples of the third type can already be identified. An adverse security assessment from ASIO can result in a person’s passport being cancelled, or their job application being refused, or (for foreign visitors) a visa being refused or cancelled. In those circumstances, getting access to the material which provided the foundation for the adverse security assessment may prove difficult or impossible. Attempts to challenge the material can be met with the Attorney-General’s certificate.
Adverse security assessments from ASIO create another, related problem. An adverse security assessment will result in the cancellation of a visa or passport as the case may be. Cancellation of a passport may be challenged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act contains provisions enabling the Attorney-General to grant a certificate which, in substance, prevents the applicant and the applicant’s lawyer from being present in the Tribunal whilst certain evidence is given and submissions are made on behalf of the Government. Here is the text of one such certificate, issued early in 2006:
“I, Philip Maxwell Ruddock, the Attorney-General for the Commonwealth of Australia … hereby certify … that disclosure of the contents of the documents … described in the schedules hereto, and the schedules, would be contrary to the public interest because the disclosure would prejudice security.
I further certify … that evidence proposed to be adduced and submissions proposed to be made by or on behalf of the Director-General of Security concerning the documents … are of such a nature that the disclosure of the evidence or submissions would be contrary to the public interest because it would prejudice security.
As the responsible Minister … I do not consent to a person representing the applicant being present when evidence described … above is adduced and such submissions are made ….”
In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, and wrongly convicted. The heart of the problem was that the trial was held in camera, and documkents were provided to the judges which were withheld from Dreyfus and his counsel, on grounds of national security. The documents were forgeries.
The campaign for Dreyfus’ freedom is still remembered, not least for Emile Zola’s famous newspaper article “J’accuse…” which exposed the appalling nature of the “trial” which convicted Dreyfus. It was many years before justice was finally done: 13 July 2006 marks the centenary of his ultimate exoneration.
It is all too easy to look back on the Dreyfus Affair and imagine that it could not happen here today. Two matters made the Dreyfus Affair possible:
(a) a secret trial and the use of evidence concealed from the accused and his counsel, and
(b) racial or religious prejudice which ran so deep as to blind people to any concern about the quality of justice accorded to Dreyfus.
In the certificate set out above however, the Attorney-General produces the conditions which led to the wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. The applicant who seeks to have his passport restored will face an impossible burden in knowing what evidence must be called, because neither he nor his counsel will be allowed to know the nature of the case against him. And he is a Muslim.
Anti-Semitism no longer exists in any significant measure in Australia, at least not in the virulent form which characterised 19th Century France and the first half of the 20th Century in Western Europe generally. However there are other groups who are sufficiently unpopular that, for practical purposes, most members of the community do not regard the rights of those people as mattering. Those unpopular groups include alleged paedophiles, alleged terrorists, aborigines, people with mental disorders and Muslims. This is not to say that the feeling against each of those groups runs as deep and as strong as anti-Semitism at the time of Dreyfus’s trial. But it is strong enough that a large majority of people in our society do not regard the rights of those groups as being important enough to deserve recognition or protection.
The possibility of secret trials and trials in which evidence is concealed from the accused and their counsel already exist in Australia as a matter of law, because of the NSI Act and related legislation.
Fair trials are one of the basic promises of democracy. It is a tragedy that we have abandonned the guarantee of fair trials, ostensibly to help save democracy from terrorists. What we will achieve in fact by these measures is a growing concern that the real danger to democracy is our own government.
In December 2004 the House of Lords decided a case concerning UK anti-terrorist laws which allow terror suspects to be held without trial indefinitely. By a majority of 8 to 1 they held that the law impermissibly breached the democratic right to liberty. Lord Hope said that “the right to liberty belongs to each and every individual”. Lord Bingham traced these rights to Magna Carta, and made the point that the struggle for democracy has long focused on the need to protect individual liberty against the might of executive government. Lord Nicholls said:
“Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law. It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford. Wholly exceptional circumstances must exist before this extreme step can be justified.”
Lord Hoffman said:
“The real threat to the life of the nation … comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.”
How much more forcefully could that be said of Australia’s “anti-terror” legislation.
By these laws, the Howard government betrayed the rule of law in Australia. It damaged Australian democracy more than any terrorist could. It created the new Terror.
Seventeen years on, there has been no improvement. We would do well to remember the lessons of the Gunpowder Plot.
Julian Assange is an Australian. He is in trouble overseas. He needs the Australian government’s help.
For six years he has been virtually a prisoner in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The reason he is there is because he is the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, which published evidence of war crimes leaked by an American soldier, Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning as a matter of conscience. WikiLeaks has since revealed the secrets of the world’s unaccountable forces. This Australian has provided an historic public service.
The Americans have made it clear from the start that they want to get Assange, who has good reason to fear he will be mistreated the way Chelsea Manning was. That’s why this week’s events in London are so critical. Will the Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno, at present visiting London and under pressure from Washington, abandon the man his country has so honourably protected?
Julian Assange has never been charged with any crime. In 2010, Sweden wanted to extradite him from Britain under a European Arrest Warrant. When it became clear that Sweden was likely to hand him over to the Americans, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
The Swedish case has been dropped, but the British authorities still want him for jumping bail. If he steps out of the Embassy, they will very likely hand him over to the Americans.
This Australian needs Australia’s help.
He has not seen sunshine or felt rain for 6 years. Try to imagine what it is like to be stuck indoors for 6 years. Whatever your view of what he did, 6 years inside is enough.
His health has deteriorated badly over those 6 years. I visited him at the Embassy in the middle of June: he is looking much frailer than when I saw him there in mid-2012.
His teeth are causing great pain: a dentist can’t visit him. He needs root-canal surgery, which is not possible except in a fully equipped dental surgery.
He is suffering from oedema: his legs are swelling.
His eyesight is fading, because he cannot look into the distance: the most distant thing from him inside the Embassy is a view down the corridor, which is perhaps 10 metres.
His bone-density is reducing seriously, because he has not been in the sunshine for 6 years, and exercise is difficult.
The government of Ecuador changed recently, and conditions in the Embassy have changed as well: it is now much more difficult for Assange to receive visitors, and he does not have access to a phone or the internet.
Because the British authorities are likely to hand him over to the Americans, Assange does not dare to step out of the Embassy. That’s why he needs the help of the Australian government. Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop could easily reach a diplomatic agreement with Britain to allow Assange to be brought safely back to Australia, where his family is. If the Americans want to extradite him, they can apply to an Australian Court. The Australian Government has given help to other Australians in trouble overseas – such as the journalist Peter Greste in Egypt.
It in era of diminishing rights, of widespread insecurity and injustice, it is time to recognise one who has stood against the tide. Julian Assange needs our help, urgently. The Government should give it without delay.
I was honoured to be invited to give the 2018 Hobart Oration. It is sponsored by the Bob Brown Foundation. Here is what I said.
Hobart Oration 23 July 2018: Justice for the next Generation? The Collapse of Values.
The two great issues our generation is leaving the next are climate change and the treatment of refugees.
I have no hesitation in saying that climate change is the number one issue today: refugees are a second-order issue, but they just happen to be the issue which has captured my attention.
Both are issues which the next generation will have to solve, if humanity is to survive and flourish.
It is often overlooked that climate change has been known about for a long time. The foundations were laid by the French mathematician Joseph Fourier, who noted that the Earth was too far from the Sun to account for a temperature which could support life, unless the atmosphere trapped some of the sun’s heat.
Later the Irish physicist John Tyndall identified the role of water vapour, CO² and methane as the key factors in trapping infra-red heat and thus maintaining atmospheric temperature.
Fourier’s work was done in 1824, Tyndal’s in 1859. Later a Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, named the ‘Greenhouse effect’ and calculated the relationship between CO² levels and atmospheric temperature with astonishing accuracy. That was in 1896.
Let’s take a moment to look at what Australia is doing — or not doing — on climate change.
In November 2016 an expert advisory panel reported that coal-fired Queensland, with just 7% of its power generation from renewables at present, could lift that to 50% by 2030 with very little cost to electricity consumers. The Queensland government would subsidise renewables. The federal energy minister, Josh Frydenberg criticised the report.
We are a uniquely embarrassing case on the global stage: the Gillard Government put in place a fairly comprehensive domestic climate policy with a carbon price by that was later dismantled. Our emissions have risen every year since. Malcolm Turnbull has failed to adopt policies any more advanced than those of the troglodyte Tony Abbott. Conservative politics in Australia will have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards energy sector reform.
To watch Malcolm Turnbull fade into a shadow of what he could have been is to watch the slow destruction of a man the country once respected on many of our most important issues. He seems unable to lead his party, and has capitulated to the hard right: intellectual giants like Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and Eric Abetz – particularly on the issues of climate change and refugees – that Australia’s global reputation on climate change has gone from global leader to global threat.
Since the world signed the Paris Agreement, here are some of our “achievements”:
- Tony Abbott asked the mining industry to “demonstrate its gratitude” to the retiring Federal Resources Minister – Ian MacFarlane – who had dismantled the mining tax. The Industry paid attention, and MacFarlane got a $500k per year job with the Queensland Resources Council — on top of his $140k Parliamentary pension — so he can spruik for the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. And Abbott recently expressed regret that he had signed Australia up to the Paris Agreement in the first place.
- The government fast-tracked the Adani coal mine in Queensland – one of the biggest coal basins in the world which, if developed, would blow any chance the world has of remaining below 2 degrees of global warming. It continues to press for the Adani mine to go ahead.
- It has attacked environmental groups standing up for the world’s climate and trying to protect our natural environment. The Turnbull Government launched a two-pronged attack on environmental groups – the first attack: seeking to amend the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This Act allows groups and individuals to legally challenge resource projects if they are a threat to water or the environment. It is an incredibly important provision – introduced by the Howard Government – that allows for a check on the Government’s power. The second attack: on the tax-deductible status of environmental not-for-profits. This is an attempt to silence groups who are standing up against fossil fuel projects. Recent changes introduced by the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018 present an additional threat to environmental groups with foreign affiliation.
- In May of 2016 it was revealed that the government censored a UN report on the extent of bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and how much of a role climate change had to play in it. In 2016 the health of the reef got a “D” on the Australian government’s annual report card for the fifth year in a row and large-scale bleaching in the northern part of the reef threatens to see it never return to a productive state. To put this in perspective, the world’s coral reefs have perished before, but they recovered… 10,000 years later. That should be encouraging for the Great Barrier Reef tourist operators.
- The Government launched an ideological war on renewable energy after the notorious South Australian blackout. It culminated in Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg trying to bully the states out of their ambitious renewable energy targets and pushing them instead to focus on promoting onshore gas production.
- The Australian government actively resisted and watered down restrictions on financing of coal plants by OECD export credit agencies in 2015 because the government wants more coal plants to be built so that there are new markets for Australian coal.
And we thought Donald Trump was embarrassing!
By exporting our coal, we are exporting our emissions to other countries that we are not required to take responsibility for under our UN climate commitments. Just Australia’s domestic emissions equate to 1.5% of the world’s carbon emissions – 16th in the world.
However, if we add emissions from our exported coal to our domestic emissions, Australia’s carbon footprint trebles in size and we become the 6th largest emitter after China, the USA, Russia, India and Indonesia – all of which have populations over 250 million.
Even worse is that if the proposed Adani coal mine and development of the Galilee Basin goes ahead, we would be responsible for 705 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
This is at a time when reports are telling us that if there is any chance of avoiding the ‘safe’ 2 degree warming scenario that no new fossil fuel projects can go ahead, and that current ones need to be scaled back.
It is up to us – Australian citizens – to lead the way on climate and make the moral case for climate change leadership.
And still the climate change deniers are taken seriously by our media.
We need to force our politicians to consider the precautionary principle. About 97% of the world’s climate scientists accept that climate change is real, anthropogenic and dangerous. Deniers would point out that science is not decided by popular vote. True enough, although it is sometimes useful to listen to people who know what they are talking about. But let’s accept it: the scientists may be wrong.
Let’s give odds of 80% against the scientists: that is, let’s assume there is an 80% chance they are wrong. But if they are right, if the 20% chance comes in, the result will be catastrophic and avoidable. 20% chance of a catastrophic, avoidable result is worse odds than Russian Roulette. So next time someone argues the denialist case, ask them if they are willing to play Russian Roulette with their children or grand-children.
And let’s face it: if we spend the money to avoid climate change, and if the denialists turn out to be right, the worst you can say is that we cleaned up the planet for no reason…
It is tempting to reach far back into history for the origins of human rights thinking. But it is not necessary to go back further than 1948.
The Universal Declaration was the work of a surprising activist: Eleanor Roosevelt. She was the widow of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had died shortly before the end of the Second World War. She was also cousin to Roosevelt and had grown up in the rich surroundings of the Roosevelt family. But Eleanor Roosevelt was a genuine egalitarian and had set her heart on responding decisively to the horrors of the Second World War.
The Universal Declaration begins as follows:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …
It’s not widely remembered that Australia was advocating that the rights it declared should be enforceable. The inspiration for that of course came from the fact that Ben Chifley was the Prime Minister at the time and Doc Evatt, uniquely among Australians, was the President of the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations. Australia’s influence in the formation of the declaration was very significant, especially considering that we only had a population of about 3.5 million back then.
I like to think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a genuine reflection of the sentiment of the times: across Australia and across the world.
But things changed. At the start of 2001, John Howard was facing an election to be held in November that year. He played what he probably hoped would be a trump card and which turned out to be more successful than his devious mind could have dared hope for. He became aware that a small boat, the Palapa, carrying Hazara refugees from Afghanistan was falling apart in the Indian Ocean. He knew the Norwegian container ship the MV Tampa was in the area. He asked the Tampa to rescue the people on the Palapa.
The captain of the Tampa agreed, and when he found the Palapa he thought it might hold maybe 50 people. He was astonished when 434 people climbed out of the water, up the rope ladder and onto the deck of the Tampa.
Australia – indeed the whole world – knew about the Taliban’s murderous attitude to Hazaras. In February that year, the Taliban had publicly destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas. The statues had been erected 1500 years earlier by Hazaras – thought to be descendants of Genghis Khan – when they arrived in the area now known as Afghanistan. Hazaras are readily identifiable, because they look Asian. They were Buddhists when they arrived, but later converted to Islam. But they embraced Shia Islam. The Taliban are Sunni Muslims, and claimed that they wanted to clear Afghanistan of idolatry. The division between Shia and sunni Muslims is as sharp as the division between Protestants and Roman Catholics used to be.
When the Tampa had rescued the refugees on the Palapa, there were two problems: some of them were in bad shape and needed medical help. And the Tampa was licensed to carry 50 people: it had 47 crew, and (suddenly) 434 unexpected passengers.
Captain Arne Rinnan decided to put the refugees ashore at Christmas Island, which was on his planned route.
Christmas Island is a speck of Australian sovereignty in the Indian Ocean. It is close to the equator. It is about 2000 kilometres to the nearest point on the West Australian coast and is almost 3000 kilometres from Perth or Darwin.
When the Tampa tried to reach Christmas Island, Howard sent out the SAS, who took command of the bridge at gunpoint.
A stand-off followed. Howard closed the airspace above Christmas Island, and issued a command that no “humanising images” of the people rescued (they were called “rescuees”) should be taken. A group of us went to the Federal Court to try and resolve the impasse: after all, there were more than 400 people – men, women and children – being held hostage on the steel deck of a ship, in the tropical sun. The trial was heard straight away by Justice North in the Federal Court. He delivered judgment at 2.15 pm, Eastern Australian Time, on 11 September 2001. The attack on America happened about 8 hours later.
John Howard, always quick to scramble for a political advantage, started calling boat-people “illegals”. The Federal election was held two months later. Howard went to the polls with the slogan “We will decide who comes to the country, and the circumstances in which they come.” The coalition election campaign had Philip Ruddock – the walking spectre – as its pin-up boy.
Australia’s unhappily named “Pacific Solution” involved taking boat-people from Christmas Island to Manus Island or Nauru.
Manus is part of Papua New Guinea. Nauru is an independent republic. Both are close to the equator. Both are tiny: Nauru is smaller than Tullamarine airport in Melbourne.
Until 2013, when boat people arrived at Christmas Island, they had typically spent eight or 10 days on a rickety boat. They had typically come from landlocked countries and had typically never spent time on the ocean. Typically, they had not had enough to eat or drink on the voyage. Typically, they had not had any opportunity to wash or to change their clothes. Typically, they arrived distressed, frightened and wearing clothes caked in their own excrement.
They were not allowed to shower or to change their clothes before they were interviewed by a member of the Immigration Department. It is difficult to think of any decent justification for subjecting them to that humiliation.
When they arrived, any medical appliances they have would be confiscated and not returned: spectacles, hearing aids, false teeth, prosthetic limbs: all were confiscated. If they had any medications with them, those medications were confiscated and not returned. According to doctors on Christmas Island, one person had a fulltime job of sitting in front of a bin popping pills out of blister packs for later destruction.
If they had any medical documentation with them, it was confiscated and not returned. The result of all of this was that people with chronic health problems found themselves denied any effective treatment. The results could be very distressing.
Doctors were required to determine within 48 hours whether a person was suitable to be moved to Manus or Nauru. The tests which are necessary for that assessment take seven days to complete. They were not given the opportunity to complete the tests properly. The detainees were nevertheless moved to Nauru or Manus.
One doctor who worked on Christmas Island told me of a woman who had been detained there for some weeks because she was generally regarded as psychotic. Her behaviour was highly erratic, but for reasons no-one understood. The consultation with this woman was very difficult because, although the doctor and the patient were sitting across a table from each other, the interpreter joined them by telephone from Sydney: over 5000 kilometres away.
Eventually, the doctor worked out the problem: the woman was incontinent of urine. She could not leave her cabin without urine running down her leg. It was driving her mad. When the doctor worked out the cause of the problem, she asked the Department to provide incontinence pads. The Department’s initial response was “we don’t do those”. The doctor insisted. The Department relented and provided four per day: more than that would be a fire hazard, they said.
In 2012, the Pacific Solution was revived by Julia Gillard and in 2013 it became much harsher thanks to Kevin Rudd, in his second incarnation as PM.
From 2013, boat people were sent for offshore processing more or less regardless of circumstances. So, for example, we know of cases where some members of a refugee family arrived in Australia before the cut-off date, were assessed as genuine refugees, and have since been settled in the Australian community. But their family had been split up in the course of the journey, and some of the arrived just after the cut-off date, and are still held in Manus or Nauru.
From 19 July 2013, boat people have been sent offshore as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to seek asylum in Australia. Behrooz Bouchani is held on Manus. He has written a book called No Friend but the Mountains. In it he says, at page 133:
“Can it be that I sought asylum in Australia only to be exiled to a place I know nothing about? … Clearly they are taking us hostage. … We are being made examples to strike fear into others, to scare people so they won’t come to Australia. …”
Tony Abbott became PM later in 2013 (there’s a thought to conjure with) and appointed Scott Morrison as his Immigration Minister. Later, Malcolm Turnbull rolled Abbott, and Turnbull appointed Peter Dutton as his Immigration Minister.
I mention Morrison and Dutton specifically because they are, arguably, the most dishonest hypocrites ever to hold high office in this country. “Dishonest” because they call boat people “illegal”, even though the fact is that boat-people do not commit any offence against Australian law by arriving the way they do. “Hypocrites” because they both claim to be Christians, and yet their treatment of asylum seekers has been criticized by every Christian denomination and by the World Council of Churches. Their conduct is irreconcilable with Christian teaching.
So we are led by dishonest hypocrites who trade on sanctimony and imprison innocent children. Right now there are about 125 refugee children on Nauru, living in misery and hopelessness. 40 of them were born in detention and have never experienced a day’s freedom in their lives.
In the middle of 2017 The Guardian Australia published the Nauru files: more than 2000 incident reports, compiled by workers employed by Australia. More than half of the Nauru files concern mistreatment of children. They range from a guard grabbing a boy and threatening to kill him once he is living in the community to guards slapping children in the face. In September 2014 a teacher reported that a young classroom helper had asked for a four-minute shower instead of a two-minute shower. “Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn’t occurred. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower.”
Reading the Nauru files, you learn that in September 2014, a girl had sewn her lips together. A guard saw her and began laughing at her. In July 2014 a child under the age of 10 undressed and invited a group of adults to insert their fingers into her vagina.
Morrison in his maiden speech in parliament said this:
“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:
… I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.
From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others…”
The Abbott government, with Scott Morrison as Immigration Minister renamed the Department of Immigration and Citizenship: it became the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Under Peter Dutton’s “leadership” it became Australian Border Force and was later swept into Home Affairs. Home Affairs was established on 20 December 2017. It combines the national security, law enforcement and emergency management functions of the A-G’s Department, the transport security functions of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the counterterrorism and cybersecurity functions of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the multicultural affairs functions of the Department of Social Services, and the entire Department of Immigration and Border Protection. It controls the Federal Police, Border Force and ASIO.
Home Affairs is the most powerful ministry in the country, and it is headed by Peter Dutton. It is hard to imagine a worse or more dangerous choice than to elevate a dishonest ex-cop from Queensland to the most powerful ministry in the land. If you feel comfortable and sleep well, you clearly do not understand what is going on.
The UNHCR recently delivered a report on the state of affairs on Manus. Their report includes these observations:
“UNHCR protection staff and medical experts observed a high level of tension and further deterioration in the mental health of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. Separation from family members and a deep-seated fear of being abandoned in Papua New Guinea by Australia without adequate support has contributed to an acute sense of insecurity and helplessness…
Caseworkers visit refugee and asylum-seeker accommodation sites for the purpose of identifying and providing support for vulnerabilities such as medical needs and mental health issues. For people who have withdrawn and are unable to seek assistance, however, no follow up interventions are made. For those with serious mental health needs, such withdrawal may in fact be a sign of greater vulnerability. There is no systematic, ongoing process to identify those at low, medium or high levels of risk, and tailor assistance accordingly. This means that those with the most significant needs have not been monitored on a regular basis since October 2017.
UNHCR staff asked diverse stakeholders who is responsible for follow up of identified vulnerable people, and received inconsistent answers. Service providers work in silos, without clear information as to the role of others – which should be complementary and coordinated.
The Government of Australia has no continuous or regular on the ground presence to coordinate and supervise the fulfilment of contractual obligations by those it has engaged to provide basic assistance and support to refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. The Government of Australia, rather than the Government of Papua New Guinea, is the contracting party for all medical, security, infrastructure, garrison and caseworker services…”
The report includes recommendations:
“…The Government of Australia should ensure that a clear strategy and critical incident response plan includes significantly bolstered mental health support…
The Government of Australia should immediately identify and secure alternate durable solutions outside of the bilateral arrangement between Australia and the United States of America, including acceptance of the continuing New Zealand offer. Clear information on all appropriate available options outside of Papua New Guinea should also be communicated to refugees…
Given the increasing mental health needs of the refugee population, the number and expertise of caseworkers should be increased to a level commensurate to different degrees of risk and vulnerability…
There is an urgent need for outreach medical care, enhanced general medical and specialist mental health care. The tragic death of a Rohingya refugee on 22 May 2018 underscores the criticality of these unmet needs…”
In February 2014 Reza Berati was killed on Manus Island. Initially, Australia said that he had escaped from the detention centre and was killed outside the detention centre. Soon it became clear that he was killed inside the detention centre. It took nearly five months before anyone was charged with the murder of Reza Berati.
Curiously, tellingly, Scott Morrison went public after Reza Berati was killed. He said Berati had escaped the detention centre, and had been killed by locals. He said:
“…[T]his was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk…”
By making up this lie, Morrison inadvertently disclosed a serious truth: that the locals on Manus are extremely hostile to the refugees.
Just a couple of weeks after Reza Berati was killed, I received a sworn statement from an eyewitness, Benham Satah. The statement included the following:
“J … is a local who worked for the Salvation Army. … He was holding a large wooden stick. It was about a metre and a half long … it had two nails in the wood. The nails were sticking out …
When Reza came up the stairs, J … was at the top of the stairs waiting for him. J … said ‘fuck you motherfucker’ J … then swung back behind his shoulder with the stick and took a big swing at Rezaa, hitting him on top of the head.
J … screamed again at Reza and hit him again on the head. Reza then fell on the floor …
I could see a lot of blood coming out of his head, on his forehead, running down his face. His blood is still there on the ground. He was still alive at this stage.
About 10 or 15 guards from G4S came up the stairs. Two of them were Australians. The rest were PNG locals. I know who they are. I can identify them by their face. They started kicking Reza in his head and stomach with their boots.
Reza was on the ground trying to defend himself. He put his arms up to cover his head but they were still kicking.
There was one local … I recognized him … he picked up a big rock … he lifted the rock above his head and threw it down hard on top of Reza’s head. At this time, Reza passed away.
One of the locals came and hit him in his leg very hard … but Reza did not feel it. This is how I know he was dead.
After that, as the guards came past him, they kicked his dead body on the ground …”
A short time later, Benham Satah was taken into the Wilson Security cabin in the detention centre. Wilson Security provide the guard services on Manus and Nauru, and in your local park. They are incorporated in Panama, presumably to avoid the inconvenience of paying Australian tax on the vast amounts they are paid by the Australian government. The Wilson Security people tied Benham Satah to a chair and beat him up. They told him that, unless he withdrew his witness statement, they would take him outside the camp, where he would be raped and killed by locals.
By their threat, the Wilson Security people echoed what Morrison had conveyed: that the locals on Manus are extremely hostile to the refugees.
Several Australians involved in the killing of Reza Berati were, conveniently, able to return to Australia before any charges were laid. The people who were, eventually, two years later, convicted of murder were somehow able to escape from prison.
Benham Satah is still on Manus, still living in fear of retribution.
The treatment of boat people in offshore detention is dreadful, and I am glad that Behrooz Bouchani will be speaking to us later: it’s our loss that he has to speak to us electronically rather than in person.
Peter Dutton recently had to deal with a suggestion that some people should be brought from Manus to Australia as a matter of compassion. He said:
“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia…”
How many people in this country – how many people in this hall – would have believed it possible, even 5 years ago, that a senior Minister of the Crown would publicly dismiss the possibility of compassion?
And this from the most powerful politician in the country. But he’s not invincible: for some years now I have publicly called him a dishonest hypocrite, but he has not sued for defamation. I repeat it now: Peter Dutton is a dishonest hypocrite. Dishonest, because he calls boat-people “illegal”. They aren’t. A hypocrite because he claims to be a Christian, but his wilful mistreatment of refugees is the exact opposite of what Christianity teaches. And now he is arguing against compassion!
In the tumult of news we get every day, especially that rich and varied diet produced by Donald Trump, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a Minister of the Crown urged us not to act with compassion. He is the same person who recently reduced the social welfare entitlements of people living in the Australian community as they wait for their refugee status to be decided. The government has just cut the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) program that provides a basic living allowance, casework support, help in finding housing, and access to torture and trauma counselling. Before the cuts, the SRSS payments amounted to about 89% of Newstart allowance: just $247 per week.
Newstart is hardly the most generous scheme in the world. Surviving on $247 per week ($35 per day) would be unbelievably hard. In 2016, between 28 March and 2 April, Dutton attended the UNHCR high-level meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian Refugees. He claimed expenses of $36,221.80 for those days. That is, roughly $8000 per day on top of his parliamentary salary, which amounts to a bit over $940 per day ($343 thousand per year). And since we are talking numbers, keeping refugees in offshore detention costs us about $570 thousand per person per year. To put that in perspective, it is equal to about 44 years worth of SRSS payments. So, if we decided to put an end to the cruelty of indefinite offshore detention, we could put every refugee on SRSS for 40 years, and actually save money.
Many members of the Coalition seek to make their anti-refugee stance look respectable, and even morally worthy, by saying that they are worried about refugees drowning, so they need to deter people from using people smugglers to get to Australia. More hypocrisy: I do not for one minute believe them. They are not being sincere or honest when they express concern about people drowning: if they were genuinely concerned about people drowning, they would not punish the ones who don’t drown. They would not use the survivors as hostages, to deter others from trying to get here.
If our politicians were genuinely concerned about people drowning in their attempts to escape persecution, why are we not allowed to know the fate of people whose boats are turned back? We are told this is an “on-water matter”. If boats are turned back, there is clearly a risk of people drowning, but we know nothing of it. If people are deterred from trying to come here and instead head to the Mediterranean, they still risk drowning, but we know nothing of it. And if our deterrent measures persuade them to stand their ground and they are killed by their persecutors, they are just as dead as if they had drowned, but we know nothing of it.
We are not well-served by our Coalition government: it has lied to us repeatedly on this issue, and has induced the country to descend into behaviour which contradicts our national values.
We are not well-served by the Labor party, which has never contradicted the Coalition’s lies. If the Labor Party had a shred of decency, Bill Shorten would make a speech before the next election in which he would tell the nation what we are actually doing. Imagine the impact if the Murdoch press reported Shorten saying:
“Men and women of Australia.
We are not behaving well.
Australia is paying billions of dollars a year to hold people hostage on Nauru and Manus.
They arrived in Australia seeking to be protected from persecution. Most of them are genuine refugees. Australia took them to Nauru or Manus by force, against their will.
For 17 years, the Coalition has, called them “illegal”. They aren’t “illegal”. We should have pointed out that the Coalition was lying to you. We didn’t. I am sorry we didn’t.
The way we are treating refugees is a betrayal of what Australia stands for.
What does this country stand for? The statement of national values, which was introduced by the Turnbull government and is now part of the citizenship ceremony, says in part:
“I understand Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion … and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good; …”
If that is who we are, then what we are doing to refugees is simply un-Australian.
It is un-Australian to mistreat innocent people, which we are doing to people held on Manus and Nauru.
It is un-Australian to hold innocent people hostage, which we are doing to people held on Manus and Nauru.
It is un-Australian for political leaders to lie to the public in order to frighten them into tolerating the wilful mistreatment of innocent people.
If the Turnbull government was honest, it would have included something about cruelty and dishonesty in the statement of Australian value
I am sorry it has taken us so long to tell you truthfully what is being done in your name…”
But somehow I don’t think Bill Shorten has the courage to make a speech like that.
And, if I may return to the issue of climate change, here’s a thought to finish on. If the Tony Abbott attitude to climate change ultimately prevails, then in 8 or 10 generations we will all be history. The collapse of agriculture and of complex supply lines will spell the end for most members of the human race. Presumably there will be some survivors: the Kalahari bushmen, the Inuit, the outback aborigines…
So: if the Tony Abbott view of climate change ultimately prevails, the Aborigines will get their land back. I’m not sure that is what he intends.
I have said before, and I repeat it here, that I regard as hypocrites any Federal politicians who claim to be Christian, and yet go along with the deliberate mistreatment of people seeking asylum. The key offenders are Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull.
Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton claim to be Christians, along with most other members of the Australian Parliament. For fear of being misunderstood, I should declare that I was brought up in the Christian tradition, but I no longer adhere to any religion. But I do remember some of the fundamental tenets of Christian teaching: compassion for those in need; treat others as you would want to be treated…
These men lie to us, and they are hypocrites. They lie when they call boat people “illegal”, when it is not an offence to arrive in Australia, without a visa, seeking to be protected from persecution. And by their wilful mistreatment of people seeking asylum they betray the Christian values they pretend to hold.
Christ told the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish traveller on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, has been stripped and beaten and left, helpless, beside the road. A priest and a Levite both pass him by and avoid engaging with him. A Samaritan sees him and helps him, even though Jews and Samaritans were traditional enemies.
Tony Abbott, who claims to be a devout Roman Catholic, once suggested that the parable of the Good Samaritan might have been different if a number of travellers had been found beside the road. It takes someone like Abbott to claim that he can reconstruct Christs’s teaching.
Abbott, Morrison, Dutton and Turnbull are dishonest hypocrites. Their conduct is impossible to reconcile with their asserted Christian beliefs.
Today I got a very snippy email from a person who did not like my views on this subject. He wrote:
Dear Mr Burnside,
You have on several occasions publicly berated and condemned Australian leaders for failing to live up to your understanding of the teachings and example of Jesus Christ(15).
Yet you deliberately and wilfully ignore the terrifying(3) implications of Muslims living in accordance with the teachings and example of Mohammed(11), as Islam commands them to.
You appear to be ideologically incapable of progressing beyond your own facile, self-serving understanding of what Islam actually teaches:
– Islam incites hatred against Jews, Christians and all non-Muslims(1)
– Islam incites violence against all non-Muslims(2)
– Islam incites terror against all non-Muslims(3)
– Islam’s prophet Mohammed was a self-professed terrorist(4)
– Prophet Mohammed tortured people to death(5)
– Mohammed beheaded men, women and children(6)
– Mohammed advocated killing non-Muslim children(7)
– Mohammed advocated global Islamic supremacy through violence(8)
– A Muslims highest goal is martyrdom, Islam’s only sure path to paradise(9)
– Islam’s prophet Mohammed sexually enslaved women after killing their menfolk(10)
– Prophet Mohammed is Islam’s perfect example for all Muslims(11)
– Islamic State “follow the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail”(12)
– Mohammed slaughtered anyone who insulted him(13)
– Islam demands the death penalty for anyone who questions or criticises Islam(14)
Pots in glass houses should be careful when throwing black stones at kettles.
(There followed an impressive number of footnotes quoting passages from the Quran)
Thank you for advancing my education on religious matters.
Quoting extracts from the Quran is probably no more helpful than quoting selected extracts from the Bible: some well-known passages from Leviticus, for example.
In any event, your fundamental point (as exemplified by the subject line of your email) was the difference between the conspicuous Christianity of some of our political “leaders” and their conduct. As best I recall, Christ never taught people to despise or mistreat people of other religions, so politicians who make a public virtue of their Christianity (Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull…) can hardly justify their mistreatment of refugees because many refugees are Muslims. That would be difficult to square with, for example, the parable of the good Samaritan. The point of that parable, of course, was that the Samaritan helped someone who adhered to a different faith and was part of a despised group. But the hypocritical Christian politicians, who are our political “leaders” apparently think it’s OK to mistreat members of a despised minority, buoyed by the fact they are (or might be) Muslims. If you can tell me how that is acceptable as a matter of Christian teaching, I would be fascinated.
And then there is the small matter of comparing mainstream Australian values (mateship, “fair go” etc) with what the politicians do. And it seems pointless to notice that they lie to us: calling boat people “illegal”, even though they commit no offence by coming here the way they do, and calling the exercise “border protection”, although speaking for myself I feel less need to be protected from people fleeing persecution than I need to be protected from our dishonest, hypocritical politicians.
I have met people from many faiths. I have never feared any of them on account of their religious beliefs. But it is a major concern to see dislike of Islam becoming so vocal: it’s the new anti-Semitism.
In this context it is worth recalling that in July 1938 an international conference was held in Evian-Les-Bains, France. The purpose of the conference was to arrange help for the increasing number of Jewish refugees fleeing Germany. The Australian representative, T. W. White said: “as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one”. Most countries said they could not accommodate any more refugees.
History soon showed us how terrible this response was.
Not surprisingly, I get a lot of trolls sniping at me on Twitter.
I posted a suggestion recently that we should identify the trolls, without wanting to give them any publicity. People have been writing to me with suggested trolls. The list follows. I will update it as time goes on. Let’s make social media #SocialAgain
Here’s a short-list of people on Twitter who seem unable to tweet anything but false allegations or meaningless insults:
In mid-March 2018 I retweeted a tweet which included a photo-shopped image of Peter Dutton as a Nazi.
The Jewish Anti-Defamation Commission criticised me for it. Andrew Bolt published a piece on his blog which was very critical of me. He did not bother to contact me about it for comment, before or after.
At the outset, I would say that I am very sorry that some people were offended by the tweet. It is worth noting that I did not compare our present conduct with the events of the Holocaust, and I never would.
Twitter is not an ideal place for complex ideas. I agree with the ADC that nothing in the Western world today is equivalent to the Holocaust, which cost the lives of millions of Jews. Australia’s detention centres, onshore and offshore, are not death camps.
However it is important to recognise that the Nazi regime spent years generating in the German community a hatred and fear of Jews, without which the Holocaust would not have been possible. The Nazis took control in 1933. By degrees they generated fear and hatred of Jews. If they had introduced the ”final solution” in 1933, I think the German public would have revolted, By spending years spreading lies about Jews, the Nazis were able to get away with increasing mistreatment of Jews: mistreatment which reached flash-point in November 1938 (Kristallnacht) and rapidly descended into the events we call the Holocaust.
Peter Dutton is not doing things equivalent to the unspeakable acts which we call the Holocaust; but he is cultivating a climate of fear and hatred of some (I emphasise some) refugees: in particular Moslems and people who are not white. His wish to encourage white South African farmers to come to Australia under “special arrangements” stands in marked contrast to the fact that he is encouraging Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, by offering them money if they will go back: but we all know that the plight of Rohingya Muslims is far worse than that of white South African farmers.
The Jewish community in Australia is to be congratulated for its strong advocacy in favour of decent treatment of people seeking asylum. And no wonder: they understand better than most what can happen if fear and hatred are allowed to govern the way people are treated.
I retweeted the image because I regard Peter Dutton as a dangerous force in Australian politics: he is leading the dogwhistle charge to make ordinary Australians fear Moslems generally, and Moslem refugees in particular. He is making life increasingly difficult for them. The pattern of his conduct is familiar: certainly they should be alarmingly familiar to the ADC.
Presumably it suits Peter Dutton for arguments like this to break out, driving a wedge between advocates who broadly agree with each other.
As I say, I am sorry that the tweet offended some people, but the direction in which the conduct of Australia is being taken by Peter Dutton is very troubling: we must be aware of what he is doing.
As George Santayana said “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
PS: the whole thing was brought to light by an article in the Australian, a Murdoch newspaper. It is easy to forget that just before the 2013 Federal election a Murdoch paper ran front page pictures of Rudd and Albanese in Nazi uniforms!
PPS: Since posting this piece on my blog, I received a number of emails. Here is one of them, and my response:
YOUR COMMENTS RE Peter Dutton were inappropriate and wrong
How dare you slander this politician who has done in my opinion a great job in protecting Australia
Yes he has even cleaned up Labor’s mess in getting children out of refugee camps.
Why can’t you give him some credit you righteous person.
Love to hear your comments sorry Mr Bolt didn’t talk to you ….did you ring him first before you published?
Who do you think you are
Thank you for your email. I am sorry you take such strong exception to my comments about Peter Dutton.
I will not match your personal abuse of me because I do not know who you are or what you do.
However I do know a bit about Peter Dutton, and what he does.
Peter Dutton kept many children in detention (on Nauru) despite his plainly dishonest public claims that there are “no children in detention”. Apparently his dishonesty fooled you. You may not have caught up on the news that being held on Nauru has caused terrible harm to the children who have been sent there. In the past 4 months 2 children have been transferred from Nauru for treatment in Australia. Both were suicidal. Both were about 10 years old. All the experts said that the children could not get appropriate treatment on Nauru. Mr Dutton’s department resisted attempts to bring the children here so that the damage we had done to them could be treated.
Incidentally, you may not have caught up on the fact that self-harm and suicide is extremely rare in children under the age of 12 or 13: except in Australia’s detention system, where it is common.
Peter Dutton says we have to put people in offshore camps in order to prevent asylum seekers from drowning. I do not believe he is troubled about people drowning. In fact I think he is lying about that: if he was truly concerned about people drowning, he would not punish them for not drowning. But if people try to escape persecution and survive the perils of the journey, he forces them to Manus or Nauru and keeps them there for years, in conditions which have attracted criticism from around the world. Of course, he won’t tell you that, because he is too dishonest to admit that he is doing it all for electoral advantage.
Most of the people seeking asylum who are now held on Manus or Nauru have been there for 4 years or more. New Zealand has offered to take 150 people a year from our offshore camps. Peter Dutton has actively discouraged that by making dark noises about trade arrangements. Did you know that Australia spends about $570,000 per refugee per year to keep them offshore: that’s roughly 5 times more than it would cost to keep them in immigration detention in Australia, and roughly 20 times more than it would cost if we let them live in the community until their refugee claims were assessed.
Peter Dutton has been at the forefront of dog-whistling about boat people, in order to persuade a lot of Australians (apparently including you) that cruelty to innocent people is OK: that is what the Nazis did between 1933 and 1938. Oh, by the way, they are innocent people. Even though dishonest politicians call them “illegal” they do not break any law by coming here the way they do in order to seek asylum. None of them is ever charged with having come here without a visa, because it is not an offence. We just jail them indefinitely.
If you have read this far, please feel free to tell me if any of the facts I have set out above is incorrect. Because I am confident that the facts are as I have set them out, I regard Peter Dutton as dishonest, and I regard his dishonesty as profoundly dangerous: it has persuaded decent Australians to tolerate things which would have appalled us 10 or 20 years ago. Peter Dutton is doing what the Nazis did between 1933 and 1938.
Very best wishes… “
I don’t claim to have the answers to all our problems. And I recognise that Australia has a lot going for it: great climate; great natural resources; great people. Maybe our good fortune is the source of our complacency. We’re a bit like Middleton’s Rouseabout (see the poem by Henry Lawson here).
It’s hard to go to any public function in an Australian city these days without the MC intoning recognition of “…the traditional owners of the land we meet on. The people of the …Nation; their leaders past, present and emerging…”.
It is one-sided and self-indulgent. It does not recognise that our ancestors took the land from them, and caused them immense harm. And we don’t intend to give it back. Then we added to the harm by taking their children from them.
It is easy to overlook that Aboriginal settlement in Australia goes back about 65,000 years. Compare that with recent developments like ancient Egypt (about 4,000 years ago) and ancient Greece (about 3,000 years ago) and blow-ins like ancient Rome (a bit over 2,000 years ago).
Aboriginal people are about 2.8% of the Australian population. So how about this:
- A once-off tax of 2.8% of the capital value of the land we took. The proceeds would amount to billions of dollars. Use that money specifically to fund programmes designed – genuinely designed – to repair the damage we did to members of the oldest, longest-lasting civilization on earth.
The Arts struggle to get genuine, meaningful support from governments and big-Australia. Of course there are exceptions, but it is rare to see a head of government also holding the Arts portfolio. And most practising artists in Australia can’t make enough from their art to cover the cost of surviving, so they take a job as a teacher or as a waiter.
But in the long sweep of history, it’s artists who are remembered. Try this experiment:
Take a room of 50 or 60 people of fair intelligence and reasonable education. Give them a list of names from the past 6 centuries. They will recognise the names of painters, sculptors, composers and writers out of proportion to the number of practising artists from time to time. They will not recognise the names of lawyers, accountants, sporting heroes…They will recognise the names of a few politicians, but mainly the ones who were tyrants. By this experiment you will demonstrate the real, transcendent value of the Arts.
- So: when governments at any level (from local to Federal) put out a request for tender, they could include this question: “What does your company do to support the Arts?”. It’s a fair bet that a lot of companies would want to be able to give a good answer and might just start supporting the Arts creatively – and generously.
In 1974 the parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive”. It was new norm of conduct for companies in Australia. While it was resisted at first, it is, by now, a deeply ingrained idea of the way companies should behave.
But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that the norms of conduct, which parliamentarians set for commerce in 1974, do not apply to politicians.
Most people expect politicians to lie. Not many politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.
But should we expect better? I propose:
- Parliament should pass an Act which provides that “A politician, in his or her capacity as a politician, shall not engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive”.
Imagine how our politics would be transformed if politicians were expected to behave with the same honesty they demand of companies…
I am grateful to Barry Jones for drawing this to my attention: the Gettysburg address as Trump would have made it.
First, the original:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Now, the Trump version:
It was many, many years ago that our beautiful founders created this great nation for Americans to love deeply. It’s been 400 years, or 700 years. That’s the information I was given. We’ve had a tremendous number of years. And they’ve been good years, believe me, the best. No country in the history of the world has had years like ours. Because we were conceived in winning and dedicated to the proposition of America first. Always America first.
Now we have a huge fight on our hands. I’m telling you folks, we’re fighting to take back our country and start winning again. We’re fighting to make America great again. We’re fighting to make America first again. Some people have taken some very unfair hits in this fight. They’ve been hit by liberal activists and the dishonest fake news media. They’re gone now, but we remember their dedication to our movement, and we will be even more dedicated in their memory. We will commit ourselves to secure borders to keep our nation safe, extreme vetting to keep out the bad dudes, and the best trade deals to guarantee that our great American economy does not perish from the earth.
Chris O’Carroll/Donald Trump
In 1974 the Parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive…”. But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that norms of conduct which parliamentarians sets for commerce do not apply to them.
Most people expect politicians to lie. But few politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.
Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton claim to be Christians, along with most other members of the Australian Parliament. For fear of being misunderstood, I should declare that I was brought up in the Christian tradition, but I no longer adhere to any religion. But I do remember some of the fundamental tenets of Christian teaching: compassion for those in need; treat others as you would want to be treated…
These men lie to us, and they are hypocrites. They lie when they call boat people “illegal”, when it is not an offence to arrive in Australia, without a visa, seeking to be protected from persecution. And by their wilful mistreatment of people seeking asylum they betray the Christian values they pretend to hold.
Christ told the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish traveller on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, has been stripped and beaten and left, helpless, beside the road. A priest and a Levite both pass him by and avoid engaging with him. A Samaritan sees him and helps him, even though Jews and Samaritans were traditional enemies.
Tony Abbott, who claims to be a devout Roman Catholic, once suggested that the parable of the Good Samaritan might have been different if a number of travellers had been found beside the road. It takes someone like Abbott to claim that he can reconstruct Christs’s teaching.
Abbott had earlier exposed his bankrupt version of Christianity when he gave the second Margaret Thatcher Lecture, in London on 27 October 2015. Among other things he said:
“Implicitly or explicitly, the imperative to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” is at the heart of every Western polity. It expresses itself in laws protecting workers, in strong social security safety nets, and in the readiness to take in refugees. It’s what makes us decent and humane countries as well as prosperous ones, but – right now – this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.”
So, a wholesome instinct is sidelined because of its consequences.
In the same speech, Abbott said this:
“…no country or continent can open its borders to all comers without fundamentally weakening itself. This is the risk that the countries of Europe now run through misguided altruism.
On a somewhat smaller scale, Australia has faced the same predicament and overcome it. The first wave of so-called “illegal” arrivals to Australia peaked at 4000 people a year, back in 2001, before the Howard government first stopped the boats: by processing illegal arrivals offshore; by denying them permanent residency; and in a handful of cases, by turning illegal immigrant boats back to Indonesia.
The second wave of “illegal” boat people was running at the rate of 50,000 a year – and rising fast – by July 2013, when the Rudd government belatedly reversed its opposition to offshore processing; and then my government started turning boats around, even using orange lifeboats when people smugglers deliberately scuttled their vessels.”
(Incidentally, in addition to his lie about “illegal boat people”, his figures were false. The Australia Parliament House library shows that the largest number of boat people to come to Australia in a single year was just short of 25,000).
Malcolm Turnbull converted to Roman Catholicism . He has not tried to reinterpret Christ’s teaching, but he has embraced Abbott’s practical lessons in morality by embracing his policy of mistreating refugees.
By contrast, Pope Francis has taken a principled stand on the need for compassion for the plight of asylum seekers said:
“Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in so doing, we open our doors to God, and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself.”
He was referring to a passage in the Bible (Matthew 25), where Christ says:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Sadly, neither Abbott nor Turnbull appear to have listened to the Pope or understood the Bible.
Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Parliament placed great emphasis on his Christian values. Among other things he said:
“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:
… I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.
From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil. Desmond Tutu put it this way:
… we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.
These are my principles.”
If those are Scott Morrison’s principles, he is not a man of his principles. During his time as Immigration Minister, Morrison showed no trace of “loving kindness” or justice or compassion for refugees who came to Australia by boat looking for protection from persecution.
Peter Dutton claims to be Christian, but he boycotted Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008. Like other members of Coalition governments during the past 16 years, he refers to boat people as “illegal” and he administers a system of detention which shows astonishing cruelty.
This is not the place to give details of Australia’s mistreatment of refugees: the facts are well-enough known. Equally well-known is the Coalition message that a harsh refugee policy is essential to protect refugees from the risk of drowning.
But to suggest that they are worried about refugees drowning is a lie: a fig-leaf to make immoral mistreatment look compassionate. “Worried about people drowning”! So worried that, if they don’t drown, we punish them as if they were criminals, and call them “illegal” to make their punishment look vaguely respectable. We do it, explicitly, as a deterrent so that others will not try to find safety in Australia. And these dishonest politicians, pretending to be motivated by compassion, overlook altogether that if persecuted people stand their ground and are killed by their persecutors, they are still dead: just as if they drowned; if they die in an attempt to escape to some other country, they are still dead: just as if they drowned.
For politicians like Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison and Dutton to say they are worried about boat people drowning is a lie. For them to mistreat asylum seekers in the way they do is a betrayal of the Christian values they cherish.
They are dishonest hypocrites.
On Sunday 15 October 2017, the Wheeler Centre put on a day of ideas at Melbourne Town Hall. The first session was called Questions for the Nation.
Here’s my contribution:
“Is democracy still working?”
Donald Trump is President of the USA.
Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister of Australia, and the alternative PM is Bill Shorten.
This is what democracy has thrown up. Whatever happened to the idea of leadership?
Donald Trump was democratically elected. Leaving aside the complexities of the Electoral College system, it seems he was elected in accordance with the democratic principles of the United States of America.
Since his election, Trump has been an embarrassing failure.
He denies the science of climate change. As a candidate he vowed to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form,”. His first budget cut the EPA’s budget by more than 30%.
Trump is famous for his use of Twitter. As long ago as 2012, he tweeted:
“The concept of global warming was invented by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”
Meantime, in the real world the past 10 weeks have seen10 tropical storms become hurricanes: Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate and Ophelia.
The strength and ferocity of a hurricane is a function of the ocean temperature: as ocean temperatures rise, so hurricanes become more destructive. There is no doubt that hurricanes will be more destructive as the oceans warm.
In the past couple of months, Texas, Florida and various Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico have suffered immense damage because of hurricanes.
The people who live on Puerto Rico are American citizens. They have been without electricity and fresh water for nearly two weeks, because of Hurricane Maria. Last week, Trump got around to visiting Puerto Rico.
He spent four hours there. He visited a wealthy suburb of San Juan called Guaymabo, which had suffered very little damage. He said he “had fun” in Puerto Rico. He might not have said that if he had visited the rest of the island, where people are still dying for want of the most basic supplies which FEMA is planning to provide once all the paperwork is done.
In Washington, Trump has not achieved any legislative success. He has not delivered on any of his electoral promises.
This is due in large measure to Trump’s shameless capacity to deny facts. So he tags as “Fake News” anything that does not sit with his world view.
Malcolm Turnbull is a very intelligent man, and likeable. When he replaced Tony Abbott as PM, most Australians breathed a sigh of relief.
If he had had the political nous to go to the polls straight away, he would probably have won a substantial majority. He would have been able to hose out the hard-right.
But instead of going to the polls straight away, he dithered until his political instincts were shown to be missing in action. And now he is hostage to the hard right, with Tony Abbott sniping at him from the back bench, and Pauline Hanson calling the shots in the Senate.
The big change in the way democracies work happened 20 or 30 years ago: the science and technology of opinion polls developed dramatically. It is now possible to get an apparently accurate, representative measure of public attitudes easily and cheaply (it does not have to cost $122 million).
As this technology developed, political parties saw a way of shaping their policies so as to suit a perceived majority of the electorate. It is an interesting irony that this technology could have been, but has not been, used to find the nation’s views on marriage equality. If it had been used, the result would be more reliable statistically and would have cost thousands rather than millions of dollars. But that’s what the government does when it does not intend to be bound by the result but rather intends to leave plenty of room for the hard right to vote against same sex marriage.
In recent years, the government has been brutalising asylum seekers in ways that would appal most Australians. It has been costing us a fortune: it costs Australian taxpayers about $560,000 per refugee per year to lock them up in hellish conditions in Nauru and Manus. And the government makes it nearly impossible for us to find out what is going on. Journalists simply can’t get to Nauru. It costs $8000 for a journalist to apply for a Nauru visa. The fee is not refunded if the application is refused. The application is refused for any journalist who does not share the government’s ideology.
The public has been persuaded to accept all this by dishonest political rhetoric:
- the Coalition call boat people “illegal”. It’s a lie
- the Coalition call the exercise “border protection”, suggesting that we need to be protected from boat people. It’s a lie.
- the Coalition says the offshore processing regime is the responsibility of PNG and Nauru. It’s a lie.
- the Coalition prevent us from learning the truth about the cruelty with which innocent men, women and children are being treated. It’s a disgrace
And the same politicians who have lied to us for years about refugees have thrown $122 million at a postal plebiscite to find our views on marriage equality: a subject on which Australian views are already very clearly known. And they don’t intend to do what we want.
That’s where democracy has got us: Malcolm Turnbull panders to a party that has Pauline Hanson as its leader and (for the time being at least) Malcolm Roberts as a successful Senate candidate.
And what better can we hope for? Bill Shorten? He’s a very nice guy personally; he is intelligent and thoughtful. But he leads a party which reintroduced the Pacific Solution and made its operation even more vicious than John Howard and Philip Ruddock managed.
Look around and identify a genuine leader in politics these days. It’s a lonely search.
The mistreatment of asylum seekers is now, effectively, a bi-partisan issue. But that is true of many issues.
There was a time when you could predict, with fair accuracy, what the Labor policy on a particular issue would be, and what the Liberal policy on that same issue would be. Because the origins and inclinations of both major parties were well-known.
There was a time when politicians would say “This is what I believe. Here is why you should agree with me”.
There was a time when political leadership included the idea of leading. That idea seems to have faded away, some time in the past 20 or 30 years.
Western democracies now have leadership in the Jim Hacker mould. Jim Hacker, in Yes Prime Minister, famously said “I am their leader. I must follow them.”
There was a time when, despite Churchill’s comment, democracy worked quite well.
That time has passed.
It is easy to forget that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. So was Richard Nixon.
It is easy to forget that Australia once had political leaders like Deakin and Menzies; Chifley and Keating.
It is also easy to forget the real point of the American Declaration of Independence. Part of the Preamble is famous, but its broader point is often overlooked. It starts like this:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
–We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. …”
This is not talking about just calling another election: it is about a fundamental change to system of government.
Democracy is not working. Short of scrapping the entire system, let’s try something novel: let’s see if we can find some politicians who are also willing to be leaders.
Never forget the lesson of Martin Niemoller.
The lesson is: when government’s misbehave, it’s just a matter of time before they will come for you.
Recently, two Australian citizens arrived back in Australia after a long overnight flight.
They had nothing to declare and filled out customs declarations accordingly. The dogs sniffed their bags, legs etc and soon lost interest.
Nevertheless the Australian Border Force people (ABF) decided to single them out for closer inspection. ABF staff were particularly unfriendly and treated them as suspects.
It was 6 am and ABF turned the Australians’ luggage inside out. They took X-rays of the luggage, but found nothing. Not surprising, as there was nothing to find.
But ABF then decided to confiscate the travellers’ iPhones, iPads and laptop computers. They kept the travellers at the airport for almost 2 hours. Finally, they said that the travellers – two Australian citizens who had just returned from a holiday – were suspected ‘people smugglers’.
ABF then confiscated the travellers’ iPhones, iPads and laptop computers “for forensic testing”. They kept them for the next ten days. Nothing was done to protect their personal, private and confidential information on their electronic devices.
During the ten days they kept the electronic devices, ABF made NO effort to contact either of the Australian citizens. Instead, the citizens had to chase ABF in an attempt to have their electric equipment returned.
Eventually the equipment was returned. The Australian travellers have not been charged with any offence (probably for the good reason that they had committed no offence). But there was no apology from ABF, and no explanation.
Just for a moment, try to imagine how it feels: You arrive back in Australia tired, the ABF men in black rummage through all your luggage and then keep your iPhone, iPad and computer for ten days. I thought that’s what happened in Police States. But with two former Queensland policemen in charge (Dutton and Quadvlieg), expect the unthinkable.
Be aware, be very aware!
And remember the words of Martin Niemoller (he is in the centre of the photograph of people taken in by the Nazis), the Lutheran pastor who was taken in for questioning by the Nazis in July 1938:
When they came for the Communists I said nothing, because I am not a Communist.
When they came for the trade unionists I said nothing, because I am not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews I said nothing, because I am not a Jew.
And when they came for me There was no-one to speak for me.
On 1 July 2017 I gave the inaugural Ralph Summy lecture for Ngara.
The event honoured Ralph Summy and was also the occasion of the award of the inaugural Australian Activists of the Year Awards. The winners were Murrawah Johnson and Adrian Burragubba of the Wangan and Jagalingu Traditional Owners Family Council, for their tireless work in opposing the Adani coalmine, which will destroy the traditional lands of the Wangan and Jagalingu.
NGARA: Inaugural Ralph Summy Speech: 1 July 2017
WHAT SORT OF COUNTRY ARE WE? WHAT SORT OF COUNTRY CAN WE BE?
Ralph Summy; … Two steps forward, one step back; … The Melian dialogue; … Slavery.; … The Zorg; … The American Declaration of Independence; … Dred Scott; … The Declaration of the Rights of Man; … The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; … The Trevorrow case; … Australian Values; … Conclusion
Today’s talk is given in honour of Professor Ralph Summy.
Professor Summy taught political science at the University of Queensland for more than 30 years. He established an interdisciplinary major in peace and conflict studies.
In 1971 he wrote a thesis called Australian Peace Movement 1960-67: A Study of Dissent. He wrote it for the purpose of a Master of Arts at the University of Sydney. It is an interesting thesis because it covers the history of a movement of which I was vaguely aware during my years of blind passivity. The period covered by his study begins in 1960 (when I was in Grade 6 at school, and hopefully I can be forgiven for not paying attention to what was going on) and ends in 1967, which was my first year at university and had become vaguely aware of things that were happening. The big name in political activism during the years that I remember included Jim Cairns. Jim Cairns gets numerous references in Ralph Summy’s thesis. It is easy to forget these days that the big issues back then included the nuclear arms race, the war in Vietnam and (in Australia specifically) conscription. I was acutely aware of the war in Vietnam and conscription because my birth date had come out of the ballot, by which people were chosen for conscription, and because I was a university student when I turned 18 I was able to defer my call-up until I finished my degrees. I finished at university in 1972. The Federal election that year was fought at least in part on the issue of conscription, and I was due to be called-up at the start of the following year. But Gough Whitlam won that election, and had promised during his election campaign to abolish conscription. He did so and as a result I wasn’t called up. That was a relief, of course. But it has to be conceded that I had voted against self-interest in December 1967, because I voted Liberal.
It is easy to forget that the 1966 election followed shortly after Harold Holt (who was then Australia’s Prime Minister) had said that Australia would go “all the way with LBJ”.
It is also easy to forget that Holt had been given the Prime Ministership by Sir Robert Menzies, who had begun his record run as Prime Minister of Australia in 1949 (the year I was born – I didn’t catch up with the news until a bit later) and Liberals continued to hold government in Canberra until 1972. Ralph Summy’s thesis includes the useful reminder that a Victorian SOS pamphlet included this sentence: “Why … the Menzies-Holt government committed Australian troops is because the government believes that Australia must blindly follow American policies in order to consolidate the Australian-American alliance, which the government regards as necessary to Australian security”.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
The catchcry “all the way with LBJ” was universally recognized in Australia, although it originated in America. In March 1964, Democrat Party supporters in New Hampshire called “all the way with LBJ and RFK”. In October 1966, LBJ visited Australia and Harold Holt declared that Australia was “all the way with LBJ”. Holt had been treasurer until January 1966, when Robert Menzies stepped down as Prime Minister and handed over to Holt. Holt was sworn in as Prime Minister on Australia Day 1966. (Interestingly, his first Cabinet included Billy McMahon, John Gorton and Malcolm Fraser). LBJ’s visit to Australia was usefully timed in October 1966, because the Federal election was held in November that year.
Holt’s declaration that Australia would go “all the way with LBJ” was wildly contentious, because of course it was a direct reference to Australia’s continued involvement in the war in Vietnam. Holt disappeared in late December 1967, presumably drowned at sea near his beach-house at Portsea. So, his big issue and his death fit neatly into Ralph Summy’s thesis.
Summy’s thesis notes that the Parliamentary party of the ALP had made known in May 1966 that conscription would be a major issue in the election later that year. Arthur Calwell in a motion of dissent from the policies outlined by Harold Holt in his first statement as Prime Minister, noted as the first item “emphatic opposition to the dispatch of conscripted youths for service in Vietnam”. It is easy to forget what a contentious issue conscription and the war in Vietnam had been. It is altogether fitting that this speech is in honour of Ralph Summy, whose thesis provides such a powerful reminder of the simple truth that political activism can ultimately achieve results.
Tonight we honour Ralph Summy.
Two steps forward, one step back
Because Ralph Summy was an activist, and because the Australian Activists Award is to be presented tonight, I was asked to keep my talk largely upbeat. After all, activists should not be discouraged.
It will be no surprise to anyone here that occasionally I find it difficult to remain upbeat in my pursuit of something approximating justice for refugees in Australia. However, it is important to notice that political activism sometimes takes a while to meet its mark (for example, the activism summarized by Ralph Summy and which was in large part responsible for the end of conscription and the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War). And equally it is important to notice that various other forms of political activism have also produced striking and enduring results – results which should still be celebrated.
The cause of human rights often advances and then slips back. We are in a slippage phase at present.
My general proposition tonight is that the slippage phases should not discourage us: taken in the long sweep of history, the activists are helping humankind make progress.
The Melian dialogue
Although I am sure there are many earlier examples, it is useful to start with Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars. The second Peloponnesian war ran from 431BC until 404BC. Athens wasn’t doing too well and decided that it needed a launching place somewhere close to Sparta. The island of Melos was an ideal candidate. But the island of Melos had never done anything to harm the Athenians and was, in all possible respects, a neutral. The Athenians sent a delegation to speak to the commissions of Melos and explained to them fairly bluntly that they were planning to take over Melos and that there was an easy way and a hard way. They acknowledged that the Melians had never done any harm to the Athenians but then pointed out that this was irrelevant “You know as well as we do” they said “that justice is only relevant between equals in power. Where power is unequal, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must” (the Melians stood their ground and Athens took them over the hard way: they murdered the men and raped the women).
Although it is easy to be cynical about our conceptions of justice, the legal system still aims to achieve justice and in particular justice of a kind which does not depend on whether the antagonists are equal in power or one weak and the other strong. It may not be a perfect system, but at least its objectives have taken us some distance from the theoretical underpinnings and harsh consequences of the Melian dialogue.
Let me give another example of progress. It is easily forgotten how differently slaves were seen before the heroic and pioneering work of William Wilberforce in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Before Wilberforce started campaigning against slavery, slavery was common and accepted and, in some places at least, was regarded as fundamental to the continued economic prosperity of the British Commonwealth.
In 1781, a ship variously called The Zorg or The Zong (one appears to be a misreading of the other) set sail from the coast of West Africa, bound for Jamaica. The captain was Sir Luke Collingwood. As was the custom at the time, its cargo was fully insured.
The cargo comprised 470 slaves.
Because of faulty navigation and changes in the weather, supplies of food and water on the ship looked as though they might not last the distance. By the 29th November, 1781 overcrowding together with malnutrition and disease had resulted in the deaths of seven crew members and about 60 slaves. Captain Collingwood decided to throw a further 133 slaves overboard. By that extreme measure, he hoped that the remaining food and water would be sufficient for the balance of the voyage.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the case ended up in court: not on a charge of mass-murder but on an insurance claim. The insurer defended the case on the footing that the market value of the slaves had fallen below the insured value. There was no suggestion that anyone would be charged with murder. In fact, the Solicitor-General John Lee said that a master could drown slaves without any impropriety. He said: “What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. … The case is the same as if horses had been thrown overboard”.
The case of The Zorg is one which is almost inconceivable in modern times. In that simple proposition you see that we have, in fact, made some progress in our conceptions of justice. William Wilberforce was a great activist and although it took a long time he succeeded.
The American Declaration of Independence
It is easy to forget that, at least until the English Civil War, the received theory of Government was that Kings ruled by divine right and they could not safely be removed.
The English Civil War (1642-1647) was the result of growing tension between King Charles I and his Parliament but it had not been fought when the British colonized North America by establishing a settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. By 1773, the Americans had tired of being taxed by a British Government in which they had no say. Their direct expression of discontent was called the Boston Tea Party. The British Parliament had been trying to raise funds to help out the East India Company. It increased import duties by passing the Tea Act in 1773. On December 16, 1773, the so-called “sons of liberty” boarded three ships in the Boston Harbour under cover of night and threw 342 chests of tea into the harbour. This was a trigger for the American Revolution which began in 1775 and ran through until 1783. However, by July 1776, the revolutionaries had decided that the time had come to declare America’s independence from the British. On the 4th July, 1776, in congress, the 13 United States of America declared:
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s god entitlement, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its power in such form, as to then shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness …”
The reference to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is widely known and universally famous. But the simple explanation of the nature of government and the source of power to form government is often overlooked but was truly revolutionary.
The Declaration of Independence was a truly revolutionary act, the result of years of careful thinking and calculated activism. Even though some of the large objectives of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence have not yet been achieved, it has to be said that it was a great triumph and a step in the right direction.
When I say that not all the objectives had been achieved, I have in mind in particular the case of Dred Scott
Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia, in 1799. He was owned by Peter Blow. The Blow family moved to St Louis, Missouri, in 1830. Missouri had been acquired in 1804 in the Louisiana purchase. It had been admitted to the Union in 1820, as a slave State, as part of the Missouri Compromise. The Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri into the Union as a slave State, but otherwise prevented the admission to the Union of slave States above 36º30’ north latitude. In effect, it guaranteed that slavery would not spread to the other States acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. It had been a hotly contested measure. Since Eli Whitney had invented the cotton gin in 1794, cotton had been a great source of wealth in the southern States, but its profitability depended on slave labour to pick the cotton.
In 1830, Blow sold Scott to Dr Emerson, an army surgeon. Emerson took Scott with him to his various postings. They spent the next 12 years in free States, principally Illinois. They returned to St Louis in 1842. Emerson died in 1846. His executors were his wife, and her brother John Sanford.
In 1846, Scott sued Mrs Emerson in the St Louis Circuit Court. In form, it was a petition for freedom, based on the fact that he had spent years in a free State, and was therefore released from slavery. A decision of the English courts (Smith v. Brown & Cooper (1705) 2 Salk 666) provided an argument that the simple fact of having spent time in a non-slave State meant that Dred Scott’s condition of slavery was dissolved
Judge Alexander Hamilton heard Scott’s case. A technicality in the evidence led to its failing. The Judge granted leave for a new trial. He won; but the decision was reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852.
By this time, Mrs Emerson had remarried. Her new husband was an abolitionist. She made over Scott to her brother and co-executor, John Sanford. Sanford lived in New York. Thus Scott was able to sue in the Federal jurisdiction, since the suit was between residents of different States. The action was for assault.
Sanford (erroneously called Sandford in the Court record) filed a plea in abatement on the basis that Scott was a slave and therefore not a citizen. Accordingly, so the argument went, there was no suit “between citizens of several States” and the Federal jurisdiction was not attracted. In other words, he sought to have the action struck out peremptorily as incompetent.
The matter was argued in December 1855, and was re-argued in 1856. Powerful interests wanted to retain the institution of slavery: American plantation owners, as well as English manufactureres and merchants. Slavery had been abolished in Britain and its Colonies by the Emancipation Act 1834, but that did not prevent English commerce from benefitting from it indirectly. Such was still the position when Roger Casement undertook his tour of investigation in the Congo Free State (1901-04), and Brazil (1906-11).
The first question in issue resolved to this: was a slave capable of being a citizen under the Constitution, so that his action against a citizen of another State would attract the Federal jurisdiction?
Chief Justice Taney and Justices Wayne, Nelson, Grier, Daniel, Campbell and Catron said that the answer to the first question was No. Taney J said:
“The question before us is whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them. …
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it.” (emphasis added)
The ideas expressed, and the intensity of the language used, strike the modern ear as shocking, especially in light of the introductory words of the Declaration of Independence (1776):
” … We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Taney J dealt with those words in this way:
“The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included … for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted …”
McLean J (dissenting) did not agree in the result on this issue, but expressed himself in language not much happier than that of Taney J:
“In the argument, it was said that a colored citizen would not be an agreeable member of society. This is more a matter of taste than of law. Several of the States have admitted persons of color to the right of suffrage, and, in this view, have recognised them as citizens, and this has been done in the slave as well as the free States. On the question of citizenship, it must be admitted that we have not been very fastidious. Under the late treaty with Mexico, we have made citizens of all grades, combinations, and colors. The same was done in the admission of Louisiana and Florida …” (per McLean J at 533).
Curtis J (dissenting) found in the words of the Constitution ample authority for the proposition that a slave could be a citizen of the United States.
The second question was whether a slave could become a free man by entering a free State. The question had precedents in English case law. In 1678, it had been held that if a Negro slave came into England and was baptised, he thereupon became a free man. If he were not baptised, he remained “an infidel” and was not freed: Butts v. Penney 2 Lev 201. This rule was later relaxed: in Smith v. Brown & Cooper Holt CJ had said:
“As soon as a Negro comes into England, he becomes free: one may be a villein in England, but not a slave.”
In Somerset v. Stewart (1772) 98 ER 499, Lord Mansfield had decided on a habeas corpus application that a Virginian slave who had arrived in London must be set free. Lord Mansfield’s decision is famous for its declamatory final sentence “The black must go free”. It is less well-remembered that his Lordship had tried to avoid having to decide the matter. He had said in the course of argument:
“… a contract for the sale of a slave is good here; the sale is a matter to which the law properly and readily attaches … The setting 14,000 or 15,000 men at once free … by a solemn opinion, is much disagreeable in the effects it threatens … An application to Parliament, if the merchants think the question of great commercial concern, is the best, and perhaps the only method of settling the point for the future …” (emphasis added)
The majority in Dred Scott’s case held that the English authorities had no application in the different constitutional framework of the American Union. Specifically, the 5th Amendment prevented the slave being freed by passing into a free State. So far as relevant it provides:
“No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
To allow that a slave be freed by virtue of travelling to a free State would involve a deprivation of property without due process. It is an interesting irony that a slave owner could not be deprived of ownership of his slave without due process, but the slaves were deprived of liberty without due process. The relevant difference is that slaves were not considered “people” for Constitutional purposes.
For good measure, 6 of the 7 judges in the majority held the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional, as contravening the 5th Amendment. Thus they struck down the measure which had, in effect, quarantined slavery to the southern States where the cotton industry was the principal source of wealth, and slave labour was the principal engine of that industry.
The Dred Scott case [reported under the name Scott v Sandford 60 US 393] was decided by the US Supreme Court on 6 March 1857. It provoked bitter controversy. It was one of the precipitating causes of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Abolition was the great question over which the war was fought During that war, on 19 November 1863 (87 years after the Declaration of Independence) Abraham Lincoln famously re-stated the founding proposition of the American Union:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. …”
In so saying, he was unequivocally advancing the cause of abolition. His address at Gettysburg is regarded as a clarion call for the abolitionist cause.
The Dred Scott case resulted in the resignation of Curtis J, and blighted the reputation of Taney J. He was a decent man and a fine lawyer. He had voluntarily freed his own slaves, at great personal cost, and had 35 years earlier described slavery as “a blot on our national character”. Ironically, the decision in the Dred Scott case is generally regarded as a blot on the record of the US Supreme Court.
The decision was an exercise in strict construction which reached an unpalatable result by chaining the words of the Constitution to their historic origins. In 1992 Scalia J. – himself no bleeding-heart liberal in matters of construction – said that “ … the Court was covered with dishonour and deprived of legitimacy” by the Dred Scott decision.
On 28 July 1868, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the effect of the decision was overturned by the 14th amendment to the US Constitution.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
The French Revolution started in 1789. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was prepared at about the same time. It is not surprising to learn that Thomas Jefferson had a hand in drafting it. It was influenced by the political philosophy of the Enlightenment and principles of human rights, as the U.S. Declaration of Independence was. Jefferson had prepared the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.
The first five articles of the Declaration are immediately recognisable as a reflection of modern thinking:
- Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
- The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
- The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.
- Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.
- Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law…
For all this, it is worth noticing that these principles expressly did not apply to women or slaves. And it is worth noting that in 1791 Olympe de Gouge prepared the Declaration of the Rights of Woman. The following year she was executed by guillotine.
Two steps forward, one step back…
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The next giant step forward resulting from activism which I would identify did not happen until the middle of the 20th Century, although I am sure there were plenty of other significant advances between 1776 and 1948.
It is widely forgotten that anti-Semitism was common through the Western world until the end of the Second World War. Arguably, anti-Semitism hasn’t disappeared but has simply gone underground. There are clear traces of anti-Semitism in the earliest version of Magna Carta. There are clear instances of anti-Semitism in Shakespeare, notoriously in the Merchant of Venice. But the horrors of the holocaust gave anti-Semitism the bad name it always deserved.
The Second World War gave rise to a new need to protect human rights. After the war ended, it was impossible – indecent – to permit a continuation of the anti-Semitism which has disfigured many countries (including England and Australia). The holocaust showed where that line of thinking leads if left unchecked. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Refugees’ Convention in 1951 were the most prominent expressions of a new global concern to see that those who fear persecution should be protected.
The Universal Declaration (10 December 1948) was the work of a surprising activist: Eleanor Roosevelt. She was the widow of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had died shortly before the end of the Second World War. She was also cousin to Roosevelt and had grown up in the rich surroundings of the Roosevelt family. But Eleanor Roosevelt was a genuine egalitarian and had set her heart on responding decisively to the horrors of the Second World War.
When I say Eleanor Roosevelt was a true egalitarian, it is worth remembering that from the death of FDR in 1945 until her death in 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt spent most of her time at a small property called Val-Kill in upstate New York. Val-Kill is truly remarkable in a number of ways. It is strikingly plain. It is a very simple old farmhouse. The sitting-room is furnished with very ordinary chairs and very simple bookshelves. But there are photographs on the wall one of which is a photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt having tea in that very room with John F. Kennedy. Next to the sitting-room is the dining-room. The dining-room table seats 10 or 12 people. Many great heads of state dined at that table. But Eleanor Roosevelt was always conscious of the need to have equal numbers of locals whenever she was entertaining dignitaries. And the crockery on which dinner was served had been bought at a Five and Dime store. Eleanor Roosevelt must have been a truly remarkable person. Her sense of the equality of all human beings still lives and breathes at Val-Kill.
After the end of the Second World War, Eleanor Roosevelt set her heart on creating a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It begins as follows:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …
As with the Declaration of Independence, some of the rhetoric goes beyond what has ultimately been achieved but it remains the case that for such a document to be universally acknowledged in the United Nations is a mark of progress to which all activists can aspire.
The Trevorrow case
The Trevorrow case happened half a world away, and 150 years later.
Bruce Trevorrow was the illegitimate son of Joe Trevorrow and Thora Lampard. He was born in November 1956. They lived at One Mile Camp, Meningie, on the Coorong. They had two other sons, Tom and George Trevorrow.
They lived at One Mile Camp because, in the 1950s, it was not lawful for an aborigine to live closer than one mile to a place of white settlement, unless they had a permit.
When Bruce was 13 months old, he got gastroenteritis. Joe didn’t have a car capable of taking Bruce to the hospital, so some neighbours from Meningie took him to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital where he was admitted on Christmas Day 1957. Hospital records show that he was diagnosed with gastroenteritis, he was treated appropriately and the gastro resolved within six or seven days. Seven days after that he was given away to a white family: Mr & Mrs Davies.
The Davies lived in suburban Adelaide. They had a daughter who was about 16 at the time. She gave evidence at the trial as a woman in her late middle age. She remembered the day clearly. Her mother had always wanted a second daughter. They had seen an advertisement in the local newspaper offering aboriginal babies for fostering. They went to the hospital and looked at a number of eligible babies and saw a cute little girl with curly hair and chose her. They took her home and, when they changed her nappy, they discovered she was a boy. That’s how Bruce Trevorrow was given away in early January, 1958.
A short time later Bruce’s mother, down at One Mile Camp Meningie, wrote to the Department asking how Bruce was doing and when he was coming home. The magnitude of her task should not be overlooked: pen and paper, envelope and stamp were not items readily obtained in the tin and sackcloth humpies of One Mile Camp, Meningie. But Thora managed to write her letter, and it still exists in the South Australian State archives. The reply is still in existence. It notes that Bruce is doing quite well but that the doctors say he is not yet well enough to come home. Bruce had been given away weeks earlier.
In South Australia in the 1950s, the laws relating to fostering required that foster mothers be assessed for suitability and that the foster child and foster home should be inspected regularly. Although the laws did not distinguish between white children and aboriginal children, the fact is that Bruce’s foster family was never checked for suitability and neither was he checked by the Department to assess his progress. He came to the attention of the Children’s Hospital again when he was three years old: he was pulling his own hair out. When he was eight or nine years old, he was seen a number of times by the Child Guidance Clinic and was diagnosed as profoundly anxious and depressed and as having no sense of his own identity.
Nothing had been done to prepare the foster family for the challenges associated with fostering a young aboriginal child. When Bruce was 10 years old, he met Thora, his natural mother, for the first time. Although the Department had previously prevented his mother from finding out where Bruce was, the law had changed in the meantime and they could no longer prevent the mother from seeing him.
The initial meeting interested Bruce and he was later to be sent down to stay with his natural family for a short holiday. When the welfare worker put him on the bus to send him down to Victor Harbour, the foster mother said that she couldn’t cope with him and did not want him back. His clothes and toys were posted on after him.
Nothing had been done to prepare Bruce or his natural family for the realities of meeting again after nine years. Things went badly. Bruce tried to walk from Victor Harbour back to Adelaide (about 80 kilometers) to find the only family he knew. He was picked up by the police and ended up spending the next six or eight years of his life in State care. By the time he left State care at age 18, he was an alcoholic. The next 30 years of his life were characteristic of someone who is profoundly depressed and who uses alcohol as a way of shielding himself from life’s realities. He had regular bouts of unemployment and a number of convictions for low-level criminal offences. Every time he was assessed by a psychiatrist, the diagnosis was the same: anxiety, profound depression, no sense of identity and no sense of belonging anywhere.
The trial had many striking features. One was the astonishing difference between Bruce – profoundly damaged, depressed and broken – and his brothers, who had not been removed. They told of growing up with Joe Trevorrow, who taught them how to track and hunt, how to use plants for medicine, how to fish. He impressed on them the need for proper schooling. They spoke of growing up in physically wretched circumstances, but loved and valued and supported. They presented as strong, resilient, resourceful people. Their arrival to give evidence at the trial was delayed because they had been overseas attending an international meeting concerning the repatriation of indigenous remains.
The second striking feature was the fact that the Government of South Australia contested every point in the case. Nothing was too small to pass unchallenged. One of their big points was to assert that removing a child from his or her parents did no harm – they even ventured to suggest that removal had been beneficial for Bruce. This contest led to one of the most significant findings in the case. Justice Gray said in his judgment:
“ I find that it was reasonably foreseeable that the separation of a 13 month old Aboriginal child from his natural mother and family and the placement of that child in a non-indigenous family for long-term fostering created real risks to the child’s health. The State through its emanations, departments and departmental officers either foresaw these risks or ought to have foreseen these risks. … ”
That finding was not only supported by evidence, it also accords with common sense. We all have an instinct that it is harmful to children to remove them from their parents. The finding was based on extensive evidence concerning the work of John Bowlby in the early 1950s, which showed that it is intrinsically harmful to remove a child from his or her parents, in particular when this occurs after nine months of age.
At the time Bruce was given away, the Aborigines Protection Board of South Australia had already been advised by the Crown Solicitor that it had no legal power to remove aboriginal children from their parents. One of the documents tendered at the trial was a letter written by the secretary of the APB in 1958. It read in part:
“… Again in confidence, for some years without legal authority, the Board have taken charge of many aboriginal children, some are placed in Aboriginal Institutions, which by the way I very much dislike, and others are placed with foster parents, all at the cost of the Board. At the present time I think there are approximately 300 children so placed. …”
After a hard-fought trial, the Judge found in Bruce’s favour, and awarded him a total of about $800,000.
There are a few things to say about this. First, Bruce’s circumstances were not unique. There are, inevitably, other aboriginal men and women who were taken in equivalent circumstances while they were children and suffered as a result. Although they may seek to vindicate their rights, the task becomes more difficult as each year passes. Evidence degrades, witnesses die, documents disappear.
Second, litigation against a Government is not for the fainthearted. Governments fight hard. It took Bruce’s case eight years to get to court, and the trial ran for some months. If he had lost the case, Bruce would have been ruined by an order to pay the Government’s legal costs.
Kevin Rudd’s Labor government was elected in late 2007. The new parliament assembled in Canberra on 13 February 2008. At that first sitting, the Government said ‘sorry’ to the stolen generations. It seemed almost too good to be true: the apology so many had waited so long to hear. And it was astonishing and uplifting to hear some of the noblest and most dignified sentiments ever uttered in that place on the hill. It is worth recalling some of the words:
“Today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history. …
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and Governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. …
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say ‘sorry’.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say ‘sorry’.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say ‘sorry’. …
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. …”
13 February 2008 will be remembered as a day the nation shifted, perceptibly. The apology was significant not only for marking a significant step in the process of reconciling ourselves with our past: it cast a new light on the former Howard government, which had refused to apologise to the Stolen Generations. It set a new tone. And it reminded us of something we had lost: a sense of decency.
Most of the worst aspects of the Howard years can be explained by the lack of decency which infected their approach to government. They could not acknowledge the wrong that was done to the Stolen Generations; they failed to help David Hicks when it was a moral imperative: they waited until his rescue became a political imperative; they never quite understood the wickedness of imprisoning children who were fleeing persecution; they abandoned ministerial responsibility; they attacked the courts scandalously but unblushing; they argued for the right to detain innocent people for life; they introduced laws which prevent fair trials; they bribed the impoverished Republic of Nauru to warehouse refugees for us. It seemed that they did not understand just how badly they were behaving, or perhaps they just did not care.
One of the most compelling things about the apology to the stolen generations was that it was so decent. Suddenly, a dreadful episode in our history was acknowledged for what it was. The Prime Minister’s apology makes no difference whatever to whether or not Governments face legal liability for removing aboriginal children. But it acknowledged for the first time that a great moral wrong was done, and it acknowledged the damage which that caused. The most elementary instinct for justice tells us that when harm is inflicted by acts which are morally wrong, then there is a moral, if not a legal, responsibility to answer for the damage caused. To acknowledge the wrong and the damage and to deny compensation is simply unjust.
In recent times there has been considerable discussion of the statement of Australian values which, it seems, will become inextricably linked with applications for citizenship. The statement includes the following:
“Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair-play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good;
Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background …”
It would be good to see Federal parliamentarians place hand on heart and swear that these are values they embrace. The wilful mistreatment of asylum seekers sits uncomfortably with these values.
As I have been asked to be optimistic in this talk, I won’t say much about refugees, nor will I attempt to reconcile the Statement of Australian values with the facts surrounding our treatment of refugees. But let me give you an example that we might choose to follow. Just a few weeks ago I was in Jordan, investigating their treatment of refugees. Jordan is a country which faces some interesting challenges: it has Israel and Palestine on the west; Iraq on the east and Syria on the north. One way or another, this means that quite a few uninvited refugees have walked from one or other of those countries into Jordan, looking for a place of safety. In addition, Jordan has a population of only 9.6 million people and a fairly fragile economy, because it does not have any oil.
In the north of Jordan, just about five kilometres from the Syrian border, is a refugee camp called al Za’atari. The Za’atari camp presently holds about 80,000 people, all of whom arrived in Jordan as uninvited refugees. But for the fact that they arrived on foot, they would have been boat people. The Za’atari camp is an open one: people inside the camp are allowed to get jobs outside the camp and they go out each day and return each evening. The camp contains almost 2,000 shops which have been established by refugees and are run by refugees. They include not only the best falafel shop I’ve ever been to but also two shops where you can hire bridal gowns!
The 80,000 people in the Za’atari camp are just the tip of the iceberg. There are about 1 million refugees living in the community in Jordan. They are all informal refugees: that is, refugees who have simply turned up looking for protection. To put that figure in perspective: in the approximately 60 years since Australia signed the Refugees’ Convention, we have received fewer than 1 million refugees in total. Of that group, fewer than 100,000 were informal refugees. It need hardly be said that in recent years Australia has been hostile, to the point of paranoia, about informal refugees arriving here. Jordan manages informal refugees with remarkable grace, and yet it has not signed the Refugees’ Convention. In the last few years it has received far more informal refugees than we’ve received since we signed the Convention 60 years ago, but Jordan treats them well.
So, if you are an activist in relation to the interests of refugees, keep at it. Human decency will eventually find a way. Sometime, perhaps even in the near future, Australia will find that it is able to respond to refugees as generously as Jordan does.
To conclude, on the same trip that took me to Jordan I was taken to Lesbos. Lesbos is a Greek island just four kilometres off the coast of Turkey. As a result of that little accident of geography, Lesbos has received a lot of refugees who have fled through Turkey and who want to get to safety in Europe. A lot of them land on Lesbos. While I was in Lesbos, I heard a story about a beach there which, occasionally, has a big tide which washes up tens of thousands of starfish. The starfish are stranded on the beach as the tide recedes. If they stay on the sand they will dry out and perish. A little girl who lived in Mytilene, the main town on Lesbos, was very concerned about the starfish. She went down to the beach. A grown-up said to her “you can’t save them all”.
Her response was to bend down pick up one starfish, throw it into the ocean and say “well I saved that one”.
And that is my message tonight: every one of us, by seeing the difference between what is right and what is wrong, every one of us can make a difference by doing something. And if enough of us do something, we can achieve everything.
It is alarming to see the views some Australians have. On 23 May, Roger Franklin published an article in the online edition of Quadrant, in which he said it would have been better if the bomb which killed so many in Manchester had instead been detonated in the ABC studios during last Monday night’s Q & A. Specifically, he wrote:
“Life isn’t fair and death less so. What if that blast had detonated in an Ultimo TV studio? Unlike those young girls in Manchester, their lives snuffed out before they could begin, none of the panel’s likely casualties would have represented the slightest reduction in humanity’s intelligence, decency, empathy or honesty.”
Beyond that bit of foolish poison from Roger Franklin, there is a person who emails me regularly, advocating various anti-Muslim responses. For example, he advocates:
- banning all Muslims from Australia
- supporting Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump
- putting all Muslims in Concentration Camps
- strafing Muslim boat people (for the millennials, strafing means machine gunning)
More recently, he wrote this:
- (in relation to Angela Merkel): “Poor Herr Hitler must be rolling in his grave to see that Germany is being led by: (i) a women, (ii) a former Communist, (iii) who is inviting in the enemies of the Aryan race to destroy the Fatherland. This is not going to end well”
- (in relation to the Manchester bombing): “After the attack in the UK do [you] now agree Concentration Camps are the answer to protect our children from Muslims?”
- (in relation to 2 Sudanese refugees, accused of involvement in a home invasion): “How about electrocuting these bastards as well or at least putting them in concentration camps as did our former Prime Minister – Billy Hughes?”
- “the famous “Rivers of Blood” speech of Enoch Powell … must be one of the greatest speeches of our time.”
- “Human Rights are bullshit”
And he fired up about Yassmin Abdel-Magied:
“Do you recall the fate of the American William Joyce who was better known as Lord Haw Haw? Joyce promoted an evil ideology of world domination through violence using the media. Yassmin Abdel -Mageed (sic) is also promoting an evil ideology of world domination through violence using the media.
The British hung Joyce. What punishment should be given to Yassmin the Traitor?”
The trouble with stuff like this is that it gives vent to some weird inner frustration with no regard to the facts. Lord Haw Haw campaigned against Britain during the second World War and was hanged as a traitor. Yassmin Abdel-Magied quietly invited us, when we are not at war, not to forget refugees held on Manus and Nauru, and not to forget Syria and Palestine. They are things we should not forget. Maybe my frequent emailer is the real traitor, for betraying the values Australia defended during two world wars.
What people like Roger Franklin (and my frequent emailer) do not seem to understand is that their rabid views are just as dangerous as the views of Islamic extremists and other madmen. Dangerous because, by inciting hatred against all Muslims, they run a very clear risk of radicalising some Muslims who (understandably) feel that they are not welcome in our community, even if they have never said or done anything which could be a threat to any of us. Radicalising young people is a foolish and dangerous thing to do: it creates the very risk Roger Franklin (and my frequent emailer) are so upset about.
Incidentally, Roger Franklin was very rude about Lawrence Krauss, who was on the Q & A panel which Franklin would have liked to see bombed. What Franklin wrote was this:
“A smug stick insect and tireless self-promoter, fellow guest Lawrence Krauss, the warmist shill who has the gall to present himself as a man of science, couldn’t resist the temptation to demonstrate a nuanced acuity. Below are his actual words, reproduced verbatim. Try not to throw up.
You’re more likely to be killed by a refrigerator, in the United States, falling on you.
If you need to read this loathsome creature’s glib sophistry once more, just to grasp the full breadth of its breathtaking brazenness, brace yourself and do so.
Tumbling refrigerators are a bigger hazard than Islamic terrorism? God Almighty but that Krauss is a filthy liar.”
Let’s put to one side that Franklin did not understand Krauss’ point. The simple fact is that dying in a terrorist event is a very unlikely way of dying. I am not trivialising it: it is a terrible thing. But here are the statistics:
The piece below was written by Mem Fox, the much-loved Australian children’s author. It details the shocking treatment she received when she tried to enter USA recently.
It is important to remember that, if you give people great power, they will use it. And some will misuse it. Read this piece and imagine being a hapless traveller to gulag America. Imagine being a boat person stranded in Nauru or Manus. .
I was pulled out of line in the immigration queue at Los Angeles airport as I came in to the USA. Not because I was Mem Fox the writer – nobody knew that – I was just a normal person like anybody else. They thought I was working in the States and that I had come in on the wrong visa. I was receiving an honorarium for delivering an opening keynote at a literacy conference, and because my expenses were being paid, they said: “You need to answer further questions.” So I was taken into this holding room with about 20 other people and kept there for an hour and 40 minutes, and for 15 minutes I was interrogated. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying The room was like a waiting room in a hospital but a bit more grim than that.
There was a notice on the wall that was far too small, saying no cellphones allowed, and anybody who did use a cellphone had someone stand in front of them and yell: “Don’t use that phone!” Everything was yelled, and everything was public, and this was the most awful thing, I heard things happening in that room happening to other people that made me ashamed to be human. There was an Iranian woman in a wheelchair, she was about 80, wearing a little mauve cardigan, and they were yelling at her – “Arabic? Arabic?”. They screamed at her “ARABIC?” at the top of their voices, and finally she intuited what they wanted and I heard her say “Farsi”. And I thought heaven help her, she’s Iranian, what’s going to happen? There was a woman from Taiwan, being yelled at about at about how she made her money, but she didn’t understand the question. The officer was yelling at her: “Where does your money come from, does it grow on trees? Does it fall from the sky?” It was awful.
There was no toilet, no water, and there was this woman with a baby. If I had been holed up in that room with a pouch on my chest, and a baby crying, or needing to be fed, oh God … the agony I was surrounded by in that room was like a razor blade across my heart. When I was called to be interviewed I was rereading a novel from 40 years ago – thank God I had a novel. It was The Red and the Black by Stendhal – a 19th century novel keeps you quiet on a long flight, and is great in a crisis – and I was buried in it and didn’t hear my name called. And a woman in front of me said: “They are calling for Fox.” I didn’t know which booth to go to, then suddenly there was a man in front of me, heaving with weaponry, standing with his legs apart yelling: “No, not there, here!” I apologised politely and said I’d been buried in my book and he said: “What do you expect me to do, stand here while you finish it?” – very loudly and with shocking insolence.
The way I was interviewed was monstrous. If only they had been able to look into my suitcase and see my books. The irony! I had a copy of my new book I’m Australian, Too – it’s about immigration and welcoming people to live in a happy country. I am all about inclusivity, humanity and the oneness of the humans of the world; it’s the theme of my life. I also had a copy of my book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. I told him I had all these inclusive books of mine in my bag, and he yelled at me: “I can read!” He was less than half my age – I don’t look 70 but I don’t look 60 either, I’m an older woman – and I was standing the whole time. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying. I had to hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard. They were not apologetic at any point. When they discovered that one of Australia’s official gifts to Prince George was Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, he held out his hand and said: “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Ms Fox.” I was close to collapse, very close to fainting, and this nearly broke me – it was the creepiest thing of all. I had been upright, dignified, cool and polite, and this was so cruelly unexpected, so appalling, that he should say it was a pleasure. It couldn’t have been a pleasure for him to treat me like that, unless he was a psychopath. In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country. And it was my 117th visit to the country so I know that most people are very generous and warm-hearted. They have been wonderful to me over the years. I got over that hatred within a day or two. But this is not the way to win friends, to do this to someone who is Australian when we have supported them in every damn war. It’s absolutely outrageous. Later in the hotel room I was shaking like a leaf. I rang my friend, my American editor and bawled and bawled, and she told me to write it all down, and I wrote for two hours. I fell asleep thinking I would sleep for eight hours but I woke up an hour and a half later just sobbing. I had been sobbing in my sleep. It was very traumatic.
After I got back to Australia I had an apology from the American embassy. I was very impressed, they were very comforting, and I’ve had so many messages of support from Americans and American authors. I am a human being, so I do understand that these people might not be well-trained, but they now have carte blanche to be as horrible and belligerent as they want. They’ve gone mad – they’ve got all the power that they want but they don’t have the training. They made me feel like such a crushed, mashed, hopeless old lady and I am a feisty, strong, articulated English speaker. I kept thinking that if this were happening to me, a person who is white, articulate, educated and fluent in English, what on earth is happening to people who don’t have my power? That’s the heartbreak of it. Remember, I wasn’t pulled out because I’m some kind of revolutionary activist, but my God, I am now. I am on the frontline. If we don’t stand up and shout, good sense and good will not prevail, and my voice will be one of the loudest. That’s what it has taught me. I thought I was an activist before, but this has turned me into a revolutionary. I’m not letting it happen here. Instead of crying and being sad and sitting on a couch, I am going to write to politicians. I am going to call. I am going to write to newspapers. I am going to get on the radio. I will not be quiet.
No more passive behaviour. Hear me roar.
It is blindingly obvious that something is seriously wrong with politics at present. In the West, at least.
Barry Jones wrote a great piece on that theme for The Saturday Paper. The article included the following observations:
“Lincoln’s views, published on broadsheets, were extremely subtle and nuanced, without bitterness, personal attack or exaggeration. He could always see the other side of an argument and often set it out, fairly. … In 2016, 156 years later, Donald Trump won the Presidential nomination of Lincoln’s Party. … Lincoln was reflective, self-doubting…Trump is unreflective, posturing in a way that may conceal deep insecurity, narcissistic, always personalising issues (the hero v. the devil), talking – shouting, really – in slogans, endlessly repeated with no evidentiary base. He appeals to fear, anger, envy and conspiracy theories. …”
Here is the full article. It should be compulsory reading in Canberra: Trumpism-Barry Jones