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.
High Crimes and Misdemeanors
It is impossible (well, difficult) to be alive today and not be aware of Donald Trump. And if you are aware of him, it is difficult to overlook the fact that his conduct as President of the USA is (to say the least) unorthodox. So unorthodox that the US House of Representatives undertook an official impeachment enquiry. In American law, the articles of impeachment are formulated by the lower house, for trial in the upper house. A President is not removed from office except by a two thirds vote in the Senate.
It all starts with the US Constitution.
The American Constitution was the result of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The first draft was prepared in 1787, and it was ratified in 1788 after Congress voted to transmit the document to the thirteen states for ratification. By 21 June 1788, it had been ratified by the minimum number of nine states required under Article VII. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were adopted in 1789. They are collectively referred to as the Bill of Rights: they reflect the English Bill of Rights of 1689 – a century earlier – and a couple of additional protections drawn from Magna Carta as interpreted by Sir Edward Coke.
Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution provides:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors
There is a continuing debate about what is meant by “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”.
Nowadays misdemeanour is generally a reference to a relatively minor offence. The OED gives the current meaning of the word in the law as “One of a class of indictable offences which were formerly regarded as less heinous than those called felonies…” and the Macquarie defines it as “a less serious crime”. The English Dictionary (1742) by N. Bailey defines misdemeanour as “an offence or fault” whereas Johnson (1755) defines it as “Offence; ill behaviour; something less than an atrocious crime”. Webster’s International Dictionary (1902) defines misdemeanor ( no u) as “(Law) a crime less than a felony” and adds a note quoting from Blackstone:
“As a rule, in the old English law, offences capitally punishable were felonies, all other indictable offences were misdemeanors. In common usage the word crime is employed to denote offences of the deeper and more atrocious dye, while small faults and omissions of less consequence are comprised under the gentler name of misdemeanors.”
(Even though Blackstone spelt the word misdemeanours with a u, Webster drops it in the quotation.) The American Heritage Dictionary adopts a definition, consistent with Webster: “(Law) an offence less serious than a felony”. In England, the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanour was abolished by the Criminal Law Act of 1967.
It is to be noted that many dictionaries still distinguish between the ordinary meaning of misdemeanour and the meaning at law. The OED, for example, defines misdemeanour as follows:
- a.1.a Evil behaviour, misconduct. Now rare.
b.1.b An instance of this; a misdeed, offence.
- Law. One of a class of indictable offences which were formerly regarded as less heinous than those called felonies; high misdemeanour
The New Oxford English Dictionary (1998) defines misdemeanour as “a minor wrongdoing” and adds “Law a non-indictable offence, regarded in US (and formerly in the UK) as less serious than a felony”.
(It is interesting to see the silent nod to the Criminal Law Act of 1967 which abolished the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanour).
Johnson does not make such a clear distinction between ordinary usage and legal usage, when he defines it as “Offence; ill behaviour; something less than an atrocious crime”.
Given the way the words are printed in the US Constitution (“…high Crimes and Misdemeanors…) it is possible that the adjective high was intended to qualify both nouns (Crimes and Misdemeanors). That would raise the question: what is a high misdemeanour? The OED definition of misdemeanour (quoted above) defines it, in part, as high misdemeanour. The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” as one of the criteria for removing public officials who abuse their office was suggested by George Mason of Virginia. Before Mason’s suggestion, other phrases had been suggested, including high misdemeanor, maladministration, and other crime. George Mason was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. (He was one of the three delegates who refused to sign the Constitution.) So, it seems that we do not have to unpick the idea of high misdemeanour.
This becomes clearer, when you consider that, at the Constitutional Convention, Edmund Randolph (a lawyer from Virginia) said impeachment should be reserved for those who “misbehave.” Charles Pinckney (from South Carolina) said, it should be reserved “for those who behave amiss, or betray their public trust.” These both seem to fit within the contemporary understanding of misdemeanor.
The phrase high Crimes and Misdemeanours was used often enough in England to remove officials. Since 1386, the English Parliament had used the term high crimes and misdemeanours as the ground on which officials of the Crown could be impeached. The allegation was used to remove from office officials accused of widely varying acts (not all of them criminal offences) such as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament, granting warrants without cause, and bribery. The common feature of these accusations was that the official had abused the power of their office and was unfit to serve.
Section 4 of Article II provides that an official can be removed from office on “…impeachment for, and Conviction of…” (Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors). The impeachment investigation is a matter for the House of Representatives; conviction is a matter for the Senate. The House of Representatives in USA has begun impeachment proceedings against only 19 officials – one U.S. senator, four presidents (including Trump), one cabinet member, and 13 federal judges. It is notorious that three presidents have been impeached by the lower house, but they have been spared conviction in the Senate. Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1868, but not convicted in the Senate. Richard Nixon was impeached, but resigned when the Watergate tapes surfaced and before a trial in the Senate: on 27 July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment charging Nixon with obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. He resigned on 8 August 1974, before the Senate could hear the case against him. And Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1999, but not convicted in the Senate (there were 50 votes against him, where 67 votes were needed for a conviction: despite the oath Senators must take before sitting on an impeachment trial, it all ultimately turns on politics).
The misdeeds of Nixon and Clinton are well-remembered by most people. Johnson was President much longer ago: he was Lincoln’s Vice-President and took office after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865; he was in favour of slavery. The House voted to impeach him in February 1868, three days after he sacked his secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, contrary to the provisions of the Tenure of Office Act.
Which raises the question what impeach means. According to the OED impeach originally meant “To impede, hinder, prevent”, with supporting quotes from 1380 to 1690. Closer to the mark, it is also defined as meaning “To challenge, call in question, cast an imputation upon, attack; to discredit, disparage” with supporting quotes up to 1888, with the earliest from Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream:
“You do impeach your modesty too much To leave the City, and commit yourself into the hands of one that loves you not.” (1590).
Impeach is also defined as meaning “To bring a charge or accusation against; to accuse of, charge with.”, supported by quotations from 1380 (Wyclif) to 1840 (Dickens).
As the House of Representatives has resolved that Donald Trump engaged in high crimes or misdemeanors, it has impeached him accordingly, but he will not be removed from office unless the Senate convicts him (by a two- thirds majority) of either of the articles of impeachment resolved by the lower house. At the time of writing, the articles of impeachment have not been sent to the Senate, because the Republican Senate leader (Mitch McConnell) is talking about having a trial without hearing from any witnesses, or receiving any documents. Senator McConnell clearly has no idea what a trial is.
Conviction in the Senate is where raw politics saved Johnson and Clinton. Johnson avoided conviction in the Senate by just one vote. Clinton survived conviction by 17 votes. Trump may get a similar result, given the power of the Republicans in the Senate, even though his erroneous ways have been far more egregious than those of Johnson or Clinton.
It would be the great irony of our times that a President, who has tormented the English language as much as George W Bush did, should finally raise the greatest challenge for English: the meaning of the key phrase in section 4 of Article II of the Constitution.
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 has had regular bouts of unemployment and a number of convictions for low-level criminal offences. Every time he has been assessed by a psychiatrist, the diagnosis has been the same: anxiety, profound depression, no sense of identity and no sense of belonging anywhere.
Bruce was the Plaintiff in a major action against the State of South Australia. The trial ran for many weeks, in 2005 and 2006.
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. The judgment, given on 1 August 2007, is here.
There are a few things to say about this. First, Bruce’s circumstances are 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. …”
Kevin Rudd wanted to make sure there were Aboriginal people in the public gallery of the House of Representatives when he apologised to the Stolen Generations. Tom and George Trevorrow were invited. They had become leaders of the Ngarrindjerri community and they were internationally recognised as leaders. Bruce Trevorrow – then and still the only Aboriginal person to have been recognised by a court as having been taken unlawfully, and to have suffered as a consequence and to be awarded compensation – Bruce did not get an invitation. The bureaucrats were reminded, and Bruce got a hurried, late invitation. He got to Canberra for the apology, but died on 20 June that year, a few months short of his 52nd birthday.
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.: not only in its attitude to Aboriginal people, but also in many other instances. 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 acknowledges for the first time that a great moral wrong was done, and it acknowledges 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.
From that point, events could play out in a couple of different ways. One possibility is that members of the stolen generations would bring legal proceedings in various jurisdictions. Those proceedings would occupy lawyers and courts for years, and would run according to the circumstances of the case and the accident of which State or Territory was involved. The worst outcome would be that some plaintiffs would end up the way Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner ended up a few years earlier: crushed and humiliated. Or they might succeed, as Bruce Trevorrow did. Either way, it would be a very expensive exercise for the State, and a gruelling experience for the plaintiff.
A second possibility is a national compensation scheme, run by the States, Territories and the Commonwealth in co-operation. The scheme I advocate would allow people to register their claim to be members of the stolen generations. If that claim was, on its face, correct then they would be entitled to receive copies of all relevant Government records. A panel would then assess which of the following categories best describe the claimant:
- removed for demonstrably good welfare reasons;
- removed with the informed consent of the parents;
- removed without welfare justification but survived and flourished;
- removed without welfare justification but did not flourish.
The first and second categories might receive nominal or no compensation. The third category should receive modest compensation, say $5,000-$25,000, depending on circumstances. The fourth category should receive substantial compensation, between say $25,000-$75,000, depending on circumstances.
The process could be simple, co-operative, lawyer-free and should run in a way consistent with its benevolent objectives.
If only the Governments of Australia could see their way clear to implement a scheme like this, the original owners of this land would receive real justice in compensation for one of the most wretched chapters in our history.
Until such a scheme is introduced, members of the stolen generations will have good reason to think that they have been denied justice.
In the past, I’ve said I wasn’t interested in politics. But it’s clear to me that things need to change, and that has motivated me to run for parliament, because of the situation our community, our country and our planet are facing. In late 2018 the IPCC issued a report which said that we have until 2030 to take serious steps to tackle climate change, or it will be too late. The idea that we will reach a point of no return is deeply worrying.
I’ve decided to stand for election in Kooyong because I have lived in this electorate my entire life, and I don’t feel like moving.
For years the major parties have allowed people to be misled and ignored when it comes to climate change, to refugee policy, to addressing inequality. They’re driven by self-interest and by the demands of their big corporate donors pulling the strings. People are not being listened to and they are not being respected by the Liberals or Labor.
I’m standing for the Greens because their policies are centred around people: caring about how people are treated, about the opportunities we have throughout our lives, the world we live in and the world we hand on to those who come after us…and they deliver results.
Time and again, we have seen the advocacy of the Greens, in Parliament and in the community, deliver outcomes, lead the political debate and give voice to the people and issues the major parties ignore.
As a Greens candidate and as a Greens MP, I’ll have honest and frank conversations with people about how we have been let down by the Liberals and Labor, and how the Greens’ plans put the well-being of everyone at its centre.
Climate change is the biggest single issue we all face, and it too is about humanity. It’s about our survival, but it’s also about jobs, health, power bills, the liveability of our towns and cities, whether it’s too hot to enjoy our summers, whether our community parks are protected, and whether we have clean air and clean water that doesn’t make us sick.
We need plans to address climate change, to make the transition to renewable energy technology and exports that will ensure workers are not hung out to dry as the world continues to move away from coal. The Greens are the only party talking about how we deliver this.
The current member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, has consistently been in a position to deliver climate change action – as Environment and Energy Minister, as Treasurer, as Deputy Liberal Leader – but he has consistently disappointed us.
When Josh Frydenberg was the Minister for Energy, he championed policies that would have meant more coal, more pollution, higher prices and less renewable energy. He was unable to grasp the opportunities that renewable energy has provided Australia. Meanwhile, his party continues to accept donations from coal and mining giants.
The renewable energy sector has been badly damaged by the instability within the Liberal Party over the past few years. By comparison, the Greens helped established the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Renewable Energy Agency and a price on carbon – they developed a world leading package that was then wrecked by Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party.
Refugees and people seeking asylum is another issue of great importance to me. To their great shame, the Liberals and Labor have used used people seeking our protection from war and conflict and the most appalling abuses of their human rights as a political tool for decades (stretching all the way back to Paul Keating).
Australia is a kind and compassionate country, yet we have been subjected to decades of this corrosive debate, acting as though offering support for people who need it is an intractable problem.
I have acted pro bono in many cases concerning the treatment of refugees. It concerns me greatly that the Liberals have lied about the treatment of refugees for years, and Labor has been too cowardly to call them out on their lies. I will be campaigning to end the major parties’ cruel and internationally condemned offshore detention regime. The Greens values reflect my values. They care about people, and they are the party that consistently stands up for human rights.
In my career, the cases I am proudest of are those where I have worked to protect people or remedy the injustice they’ve faced by attacks from big corporate interests or from cruel and craven government actions.
I’ve defended the rights of workers, of refugees, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, of our environment – against governments and against corporate giants.
That’s the challenge we are all facing right now: big corporate donors dictate terms to politicians who care more about their own jobs, and about looking after their mates, than they do about the people they’re elected to represent. This is the challenge the Greens are ready to take on.
Unlike both major parties, the Greens are a party that, again and again, show leadership, achieve outcomes and champion big ideas when it comes the issues that really matter. This is the only way we’ll deal with challenges as significant as the future of our planet and the most vulnerable people that occupy it. And that’s why I’m running. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.
If you would like to support my campaign you can visit: www.greens.org.au/burnside
How does this work?
The story so far:
-Some Tory squatter couple needs a Froggy au pair to mind their idiot sprogs while they go to the polo.
-La Bimbo gets stopped by border security because she was clearly intending to break her visa conditions.
-Minutes later she is freed to work illegally after a couple of calls by our hero the head of the AFL
-Hundreds of refugees rot on Nauru.
-Dutton tells us there’s nothing to see here: it is irrelevant that the Tory squatter couple’s family are big donors to Dutton’s political party.
-Time to throw up
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.
What Concerned_Citizen_66 said is false. Let’s be blunt: it’s a lie.
What is interesting about it is that people are willing to invent things like that in order to distract attention from the obvious fact that some people are unfortunate enough to live in our society without being able to get work. They are not only denied the dignity of working, the government does not give them enough to live on. What’s a person supposed to do, if they can’t afford to pay the rent and feed their kids?
What sort of society are we, if we will willingly let people suffer?
Bronwyn Bishop made much of the fact that her pension had been “earned”, whereas payments to the unemployed are not earned. Even if that is true, even if you assume that a person on Newstart has never paid tax, it remains the fact that they are part of our Society, and our Society is damaged if we let some people in it suffer: or worse, if we let their children suffer because the parents are unemployed and the Newstart allowance is not enough to allow them a life worth living.
People like Bronwyn Bishop, who have never had to scrape along on hopelessly inadequate resources, probably think that some people will rort the system it if offers a Newstart allowance which allows a decent, if modest, chance of survival.
Let that be so: as a Society we have to decide whether it is better to provide a safety net, or let people fall to the ground and be destroyed.
In my view it is better to provide a safety net. Even if some people will rort the system.
And how can any politician take a different view? They have salaries which start at $199k a year (more for Ministers, Committee chairs etc), and allowances which add another $200k to $800k a year.
And then there are the pensions, like the one Bronwyn Bishop gets, so she doesn’t have to see what it’s like living on $40 per day.
- All politicians may claim expenses relating have their travel within Australia covered if they are on Parliamentary or electorate business
- This may include first class tickets on scheduled commercial services.
- If heading overseas, these entitlements may extend to medical services and clothing allowances.
- Politicians are also entitled to a travel allowance for overnight stays, with varying rates for different locations and positions.
- For example, all politicians can claim $273 for an overnight stay in Canberra but this increases to $498 in Karratha.
- Office holders are given larger allowances in some locations.
- The Prime Minister is limited to $564 for each overnight stay in a place other than an official establishment or the Prime Minister’s home base.
- Accommodation and sustenance at official establishments is provided at Government expense.
- Politicians have a limited number of overnight stays that they can claim.
- For some MPs this limit might be 90 nights per year.
- Ministers can also claim the cost of travel for their spouse, if it is in Australia and for official purposes.
- All politicians are entitled to a private-plated vehicle to be used for parliamentary, electorate or official business.
- They can choose an additional $19,500 per annum of electorate allowance to meet the costs of transport within and for the service of the electorate, instead.
It is interesting to compare reports in today’s The Australian and The Guardian Australia
In The Australian, there is an article with the headline: “Newspoll: Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity surges on the back of the budget”
In The Guardian there is an article with this headline: “Coalition’s budget fails to turn around Turnbull’s government’s fortunes”
On Sunday The Guardian had an article headlined: “An unfunded, uncosted tax plan plays into Labor’s hands – again”
Turnbull continues to be preferred PM, but Labor seems to be preferred government. So, what are we meant to believe?
A student who witnessed the shooting called out lawmakers on TV, looking directly into the camera and saying: “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.” He added: “Ideas are great but without action, ideas stay ideas and children die.”
And when people say we need to discuss gun control, the NRA and its patsies in Congress say “Now is not the right time…”
So, when is the right time to start taking a rational approach to gun control, in a country where the possession and use of guns is out of control?
Earlier I wrote about a person who emails me with very odd views about Islam. Here are some of this person’s toxic ideas. He advocates:
- banning all Muslims from Australia
- supporting Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump
- putting all Australian Muslims in Concentration Camps
- strafing Muslim boat people (for the millennials, strafing means machine gunning)
And he quotes Adolf Hitler to advance some of his poisonous views.
Today, I got another email from him, in which he said that the Muslims who are facing genocide in Myanmar are simply being punished for 9/11.
That prompted me to ask him a couple of questions. My questions, and his answers, are as follows (prepare to be shocked):
Q1:How many of the thousands of Muslims being killed in Myanmar were involved, directly or indirectly, in 9/11?
A: All the Muslims receiving divine retribution in Myanmar were indirectly involved in 9/11. Anyone who believes that non-Muslims should be killed, especially if they are Jews or homosexuals and who give credence to the evil ideology of Islam are collectively guilty.
Q2: I get the clear impression that you think it is OK to kill people because of their religion, regardless whether they have done anything wrong. Or have I misunderstood?
A: I do not consider Islam to be a religion. Islam is an ideology that hides behind a cloak of religion. During WW2 the allies bombed civilians in Germany and Japan. These civilians may themselves have done nothing wrong, however they were collectively guilty. No allied aircrew were ever prosecuted for killing these people. I rest my case
This provoked me. I responded:
I understand your answers, and I disagree profoundly.
You clearly have no conception of the rule of law, or of any recognisable form of ethics. Your willingness to countenance the slaughter of countless thousands of people because of their religion (or ideology, if you prefer) is, quite frankly, appalling.
I do not know what religion or ideology you adhere to, if any. If you claim to be a Christian, it is clear that you know nothing about the teachings of Christianity.
Your answers disclose a degree of bigotry which astonishes me, despite the shocking content of some of the emails you have sent me in the past.
Your attitudes disgust me.
Two Greens Senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, recently quit the Senate after discovering that they held dual citizenship: Ludlam is, apparently, a citizen of New Zealand, and Waters is, apparently, a citizen of Canada. You wouldn’t have guessed: both have normal Aussie accents, and both have worked tirelessly in support of Australia’s interests.
The sudden departure of Ludlum and Waters from the Senate focussed renewed attention on section 44 of the Commonwealth Constitution. Section 44 provides:
“44. Any person who:
(i) is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power …
shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”
Senator Ludlam said “About a week or so ago it was brought to my attention that I hold dual-citizenship nationality of Australia and New Zealand”. Given that section 44 is the relevant provision, it is ironic that Scott Ludlam, who is now 47 years old, has lived in Australia for 44 years. He came here when he was a 3-year old.
A few days later, Senator Larissa Waters also announced she was leaving the Senate, as she had been born in Canada and came to Australia when she was 11 months old.
According to news reports on 20 July, Senator Richard di Natale is now trying to find papers showing that he has renounced any rights to Italian citizenship. It is significant to notice that, if your citizenship of another country is a thing of the distant past, digging out documents to show that you no longer adhere to that other country could be challenging. Given that a lot of people come to Australia as young children born in another country, or are born here to parents who came here from another country, the challenge is a large one. And add to this that you would have to find out whether the law of the country where you were born, or where your parents came from, recognised you as a citizen in the particular circumstances.
In a multi-cultural country like Australia, it looks a bit crazy.
When a person is elected to the Commonwealth Parliament, they take an Oath of Allegiance in the following terms:
“I [name] do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law, So help me God”
This is a little less comprehensive than the Governor-General’s Oath of Office:
I, [name], do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law, in the office of Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the Commonwealth of Australia, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. So help me God!
It is mildly surprising that members of the Parliament have to swear allegiance to a person who would be disqualified from being a member of the Australian Parliament. Queen Elizabeth the Second is a British national, she is not a citizen of Australia, but she is our Head of State. It is also disconcerting that the Governor-General is not constrained in the way members of parliament are. the governor-General might or might not be a citizen of Australia, and traditionally was a British, but not an Australian, national.
But putting those minor quibbles to one side, no-one has ever suggested that Ludlam, Waters (or any other Greens member) has been untrue to their oath of allegiance. Given that their connection to New Zealand or Canada respectively is so remote, and so slight, that is not surprising. Whatever your views about Greens policies, Australian democracy is the weaker for losing Senators Ludlam and Waters. We should consider very carefully whether section 44(i) is too wide and indiscriminate in its reach.
And here is Ian Holland’s take on the same question, published on 20July 2017 in the Brisbane Times
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is holding an enquiry into proposed changes to the Citizenship Act. The bill being considered is the “Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017”.
The Bill includes the following provision:
“At the end of section 46 Add:
Required information or documents
(5) The Minister may determine:
(a) an Australian Values Statement; and
(b) any requirements relating to the Australian Values Statement….”
The Minister (that is, the Immigration Minister) is therefore given the power to decide what constitutes an appropriate statement of Australian Values. The significance of that power should not be underestimated.
The values which define a nation’s character are, typically, very diverse. It is not easy to imagine that every person in any nation would identify the same values as characteristic of that nation. The proposed amendments noted above would produce the result that adherence to Australia’s values would become a touchstone to citizenship. It seems odd then that one person should have the power to determine, for the nation at large, what its values are. For example, the history of Australia since white settlement could lead a person to suppose that Christian principles were central to Australia’s values. But that proposition would be inconsistent with aspects of Australia’s conduct (past and present) and inconsistent with section 116 of the Constitution, which says:
“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”
It is worth noting that the proposed s. 46(5) may not prevent a Minister from including, in a Statement of Australian Values, a requirement to adhere to Christian principles. This would be objectionable on at least four obvious grounds:
- The fact of growing Islamophobia in the community;
- The fact that people from various religious backgrounds join the Australian community and contribute greatly to it;
- The fact that such a requirement would be inconsistent with section 116 of the Constitution, even if not in breach of it;
- The fact that the indigenous peoples of Australia embrace religious views which are pre-Christian.
It seems highly undesirable that any one person, whether a Minister of the Crown or not, should have the power to determine what the nation’s values are, especially when his or her determination has the potential to affect a person’s right to citizenship.
There is a further point. A Statement of Australian Values already exists, as part of the process of applying for permission to enter Australia. If it is a template for what is proposed, then we have a problem.
The Australian Values Statement, in Form 1281, provides as follows:
“AUSTRALIAN VALUES STATEMENT
This statement must be signed by the main applicant and each person aged 18 years or over who is included in the visa application, unless they have already signed it on the visa application form…
- 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;
- the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.
What is notable about the parts emphasised is that they are difficult to reconcile with the idea of imprisoning innocent people who have sought a safe place to live, and in particular they stand awkwardly with treating asylum seekers the way we do in order to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia.
If we are to have a Statement of Australian Values, the Parliament should ensure that it genuinely reflects Australia’s values as reflected by its conduct as a nation, and the Parliament should ensure that all members of the Parliament could, in good conscience, say that they embrace and live up to the Values reflected in the Statement.
It is notorious that Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum has been trenchantly criticised by various NGOs. If we are to have a Statement of Australian Values, it should either reflect our willingness to behave in ways that had attracted that criticism, or else our conduct as a Nation should be made to conform to the Statement of Values. Failing one or other of these, the proposed Statement of Australian Values would only survive at the frontier where self-delusion meets self-congratulation.
And while it is true that the English language is important in Australia, there are some Federal MPs whose grasp of English is so tenuous that they would probably fail the Values Statement.
Submissions can be made online at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/ Committees/OnlineSubmission or via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The text of the bill and the Explanatory Memorandum can be found here
I have received a first-hand account of how things are on Nauru at present. It’s not good. How much are we paying each year to maintain out offshore warehousing? $500,000 per person per year…
Sounds like pretty bad value.
Nauru is a very small island nation. It is smaller in area than Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne. Here is the report I received. I have edited it slightly to ensure that the person who wrote it cannot be identified:
The ring road (the only real road) is 23 km long. From the ring road you can drive up to the Island’s centre, which is elevated. There, it is much hotter without any breeze like you get on the ring road. On this elevated plateau are the RPC’s (Reception and Processing Centres).
RPC1 is occupied by service providers like Broadspectrum and IHMS.
Due to lack of housing, ‘positives’ remain located in either RPC 2 or RPC3. So-called ‘settlements’ are scattered around the ring road and most refugees prefer to live there, because there is access to the ocean, the shops and a cooling breeze.
HOST International works from the Community Resource Centre, located close to the airport on the ring road. HOST employs refugees in numerous positions. Some work as IT support, some as community liaison officers, others as employment officers. In the office, refugees are treated with respect by ex-pats. In the office are also Nauruans. They are part of the government and predominantly work in housing, employment and child protection.
Australia’s history with Nauru centred on phosphate mining. By nature, Nauruans are not hard working. Think Fiji, Rarotonga, Vanuatu…developing countries. Not as poor as PNG, but nevertheless without much prospect, mainly due to its isolated location and tiny size.
The Nauru government holds all power. This power is absolute. They issue or, as the case may be, withdraw visas for ex-pats. Land can only be owned by Nauruans (this is a very important issue). Nauruans in general are not well educated. However, they are well looked after: they have land, they do not pay rent and they have been given power over ex-pats and refugees, because after all, it is their island.
So, imagine this tiny island being run by not so well-educated, entitled people: Nauruans feel they are very, very precious and every single ex-pat and refugee have to bow to their whims. It leads to unrealistic situations. Example: ex-pats and refugees-are told over and over again that they MUST NOT overtake Nauruans while driving on the ring road. They must be extremely cautious NOT to splash Nauruans by driving through water. Consequences are dire: Nauruans will cut off your car and bash you up, regardless of age or sex. Example: One refugee who works on Nauru, accidently cut off a Nauruan. Before he could apologise, the Nauruans got out of their car and bashed up the refugee very badly. No point going to the police because they are Nauruans also. Refugees are routinely bashed up by angry locals for no specific reason. Nauruans are a very jealous people. Example: Some Iranians refugees had settled on the ring road. They started a business – as many try to – by renting a huge house on the beach front and converting it into a restaurant. Hard working, and with stunning ocean views, the business thrived. Soon the Nauruan landlord found out, and told them to pack up. He simply evicted them. The building has been empty ever since.
Housing is a real issue. Some Nauruans are extremely rich but they do not want refugees to live in their houses. So, all along the ring road you see empty, neglected houses and units which could easily house numerous refugees who are instead housed in the hot and oppressive camps (“Reception and Processing Centres”). No-one can do anything: it is in the hands of the Nauruans.
In the office, ex-pats have to be very careful talking to Nauruan staff. Nauruan staff MUST always be in the right. If not, they simply revoke your visa. Example: An Australian worker had a difference of opinion with a Nauruan staff member. Within half an hour that person’s visa was revoked and he was transported to the airport, never to return. HOST International is powerless to stop any of this. Employees are warned by HOST, to be very careful NOT to criticise Nauruans or their government, because it is not possible to know what is being overheard.
When it comes to dealing with foreigners, Nauruans, and the Government of Nauru, have all the power and, although many welcome refugees on their island, many do not. Refugee children are bullied at school but the Nauru Government has no policies in place with respect to child protection. It is all new to them and they are unwilling to take advice from experienced ex-pats. Refugees have limited opportunities: They can NEVER own land, they are ALWAYS at the mercy of ruthless landlords, jobs will go to Nauruans first and, even if a refugee manages to get a job, they can easily lose it due to jealousy of the Nauru Government. Most refugees who are employed, are employed by HOST or by Broadspectrum.
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.
What sort of operation is Wilson Parking running? How hard can it be to run a car park? Apparently it is much to hard for the geniuses who run Wilson Parking.
For almost a decade I have had a permanent car park at a site run by Wilson Parking. In February 2017, the Wilson people had the brilliant idea that they would replace the card by which permanent parkers get into and out of the car park.
Problems started (probably due, at least in part, to the fact that Wilson car parks have no staff: just a machine that you touch your card on in order to get in or out).
First, the card would not let me into the car park. So, you press the intercom button on the machine at the entry to the car park and eventually a human being speaks to you. You explain the problem, while other drivers queue up (impatiently) behind you: they also want to get in. they do something from their remote vantage point and the boom opens to let you in.
I tried ringing Wilson Parking. they are as difficult to contact by phone as Centrelink is. Eventually I managed to get someone to speak to me: they said they would reset the card.
Resetting a card must be awfully difficult: for the first half of February, I had to use the intercom help service every time to get into the car park.
Second, For the whole of February, when I try to leave the car park, the machine has told me either that my car is not present or that the car park number is invalid. I do not understand how the first message could possibly be true, and I do not understand what the second message means.
So, every time I have tried to leave the car park in February, I have had to wait for someone to respond to the intercom call. It can take a while.
Most of the time, they tell me again that my card will be reset. I can’t wait. Just imagine the luxury of being able to park my car and (at the end of the day) leave, without having to wait at the end of an intercom in order to explain that their system is hopeless.
Third, I wrote to them in mid-February, politely explaining the problem, since speaking to them is so difficult. Here is my email to them:
To whom it may concern:
- Please take this email seriously
- Please read this email
- Please reply to this email
- I have had a permanent car park at 200 Queen St Melbourne for about 8 years
- Recently Wilson Parking introduced the Wilson One card
- Every day last week, and again this morning, the boom gate does not respond to the card: this happens when I am entering and when I am leaving.
- This morning I had to speak to 4 different people on the intercom before I could persuade someone to allow me in.
- I have tried ringing Wilson Parking to explain the problem, but no-one answers the phone.
- If this problem is not fixed by this afternoon, I am going to detail my concerns on social media. I will not hesitate to suggest that people use a parking service that treats its customers properly (eg, by letting them in and out)
Very best wishes …
Three weeks later, I have not had a response.
This is part of the same corporate beast that runs security on Manus and Nauru. And parking people in those places is vastly more expensive than parking a car with Wilson Parking.
PS: I posted this on Monday 27 February. On Tuesday 28 February, I tried to enter the car park and the machine told me I was already present! Yet again I had to press the intercom button and wait for someone to ask me to read out the 16-digit number on my Wilson One card and (eventually) let me in. My attempts to call head office continue to end in frustration.
Climate change denial is on the rise, encouraged no doubt by the example of that great intellectual President Donald Trump. That other intellectual giant Andrew Bolt had a crack at me recently for what I thought was the modest suggestion that we need to listen to what the scientists are telling us. Good on Bolt for his ability to take cheap shots from behind the shelter of the Murdoch press. But still, it was a cheap shot on an issue which deserves more serious attention. Trump may not have the intellectual rigour to think about these things, but Bolt might.
What drives people to question climate science is the desire to profit from exploiting coal resources. But what climate change sceptics like Trump and Bolt ignore is the precautionary principle.
If global warming is real, it threatens everyone. It raises questions about the viability of the human species on Earth. In simpler times, the worst consequences of global warming would threaten only a portion of mankind. However, the growing interdependence of all people means that a catastrophe in Western agriculture or in Chinese manufacturing or in the major trading cities will have consequences for practically every human being.
The solution to global warming is, primarily, a question of science. However, history shows us that scientific solutions are generally compromised by politics. Politicians in most nations are answerable to their people. Without careful leadership, the people of most nations will prefer their own interests ahead of others’ interests. This is true locally and globally. The refusal of Australia and the USA to ratify the Kyoto Protocol was a regrettable example: it was a triumph of selfish, insular concerns over the dictates of science and the interests of the entire world.
The debate about global warming is a useful illustration of the way politics and self-interest can damage public discourse. The 5th report of the IPCC is clear: global warming is real, dangerous, and to a significant degree the result of human activity. These findings are accepted as true by about 97% of the world’s scientists.
Some groups have a vested interest in slowing or stopping action to combat climate change. Big oil and the coal industry are obvious examples. They have a lot to lose, and delaying action on climate change serves their interests. The debate, unfortunately, has tended to focus on sniping at specific facts identified by the IPCC. And some people, quite correctly, argue that science is not decided by democratic majority.
Morgan polls indicated that in 2008 about 35% of Australians nominated the environment as a major issue: by 2013 this had fallen to 7%. The debate shifted from acceptance to doubt to indifference. What is staggering about the shift is that it ignores the seriousness of the problem itself.
If climate scientists are right, we have less than 5 years in which to act on climate change. Even Tony Abbott eventually acknowledged that climate change is real and (at least in part) anthropogenic. Even so, it must be noted that his chief business advisor, Maurice Newman, denied climate change as did some members of Abbott’s cabinet.
Turnbull seems to have thrown his hat in the ring with the fossil fuel industry, so if he has any concerns about climate change, he has subordinated them to his political survival.
If climate scientists are wrong and, of course, they might be wrong, then we will spend a lot of money for no advantage. But if they are right…
Suppose there is an 80% chance that all the scientists are wrong (that is, only a 20% chance they are right). If we do nothing about climate change there is only a 20% chance of an avoidable catastrophic outcome.
But that is worse odds than Russian roulette. In Russian roulette, a revolver with 6 chambers has just one bullet in it. When you hold the revolver to your head and pull the trigger, you have a one chance in six of a bad outcome. One in six is more favourable odds than on in five
It may be objected that, in Russian roulette, you hold the gun to your head, and if the one in six chance goes against your child, then the child dies. If climate science is right, we won’t all die. OK, so try playing Russian roulette with your children, but hold the gun to their stomach: if the one in six chance goes against your child, it’s not fatal, just dangerous and very painful.
Other arguments which support taking action just in case include: if you were told that 97% of engineers predicted that the bridge will collapse, will you walk across it? If the airline tells you there is a 97% chance that the plane will crash, will you nevertheless get on board?
Those who would withhold action on climate change (by denying it, or by extending the argument about the steps that should be taken, thereby delaying any action at all) are playing Russian roulette with our children’s future. But those who doubt will ultimately fall back on the idea that it is people in other countries who will bear the brunt of climate change. This idea is rarely articulated, because it is self-evidently unrespectable to say that other people’s suffering is less important than our own. But if anyone makes the argument, they are not only immoral, they are also wildly optimistic.
Q&A on Monday 20 February 2017 included Attorney-General George Brandis QC.
Brandis showed rather unhappy aspects of himself, as he sought to justify enormous and extravagant expense allowances for Federal parliamentarians while justifying the meanness of NDIS funding, disability allowances, Community Legal Centre funding and the harshness of automated Centrelink debt recovery.
There was a common theme in Brandis’ position. He seemed to prefer meanness to generosity. He seemed unsympathetic to people who are struggling to survive; he does not care what we do to refugees; he does not care that his party has lied systematically to the public for years about boat people; he can’t be bothered to check the law in an area which, whatever your position, is contentious.
He chose to blame Labor for every difficulty, no matter that his party has had years to correct the situation which, he asserted frequently, was created by Labor. I don’t have much time for Labor, but watching him blame everything on a government which was defeated four years ago is simply pathetic.
It would be charitable to assume some kind of neural deficiency rather than a deep-seated personality disorder.
On robo-debt, Brandis seemed mildly concerned that a man had committed suicide after being chased for an alleged debt of $18,000 (this was later revised down to $10,000, without explanation). The way the system “works”, the burden is on the recipient of the debt notice to prove the demand is wrong. Most lawyers (at least, most lawyers who have actually practised law) respond instinctively against civil claims in which the Defendant has to prove that they do not owe the money claimed: the usual situation is that the person who makes a claim must prove it.
Brandis urged that anyone who received a robo-debt demand should ring Centrelink and discuss the claim: he seemed not to understand that getting Centrelink to answer a phone call is extraordinarily difficult. Several people in the audience with practical experience of the matter told Brandis how difficult it is to get Centrelink to answer a call, but our esteemed Attorney-General continued urging the same course. He cruised calmly on like a Spanish galleon in full sail, completely untroubled by any facts. Perhaps that’s the world he lives in: when he wants to speak to someone he simply instructs a staff-member to arrange it. He appears to know nothing of the world experienced by ordinary people, and did not seem willing or able to learn anything about it.
When tackled about the reduced funding for Community Legal Centres, he tried to blame Labor. It seemed not to occur to him that, as Attorney-General, he could arrange increased funding for Community Legal Centres and for Legal Aid. After all, Community Legal Centres deal with about 260,000 clients each year. Their total funding is about $40 million a year. So it costs the government about $153 per client for a CLC to help people who can’t afford lawyers. That’s pretty good value, but government funding is about to fall to about $30 million a year. Brandis did not seem to notice this as a problem, just as he didn’t notice the grotesque difference between his position on welfare payments and his position on parliamentary entitlements. Interestingly, Brandis presides over a department which spends about $792 million per year on lawyering. He has access to excellent legal advice.
Perhaps Brandis regards his government’s legal problems as vastly more important than the legal problems of any ordinary Australian.
And then we got to refugee policy. Confronted with the awkward fact that several thousand men, women and children have been locked up on Nauru and Manus for over 3 years, Brandis again tried to blame it on Labor. It is true that Kevin Rudd’s government put them there, but Brandis party, in government, could have removed them. Instead, it left them to swelter for years on end, suffering torment and abuse which includes hundreds of reported cases of child sex abuse and at least 5 deaths that we know of.
But the most surprising development was when I asked Brandis directly whether boat people commit any offence by arriving in Australia seeking protection from persecution. He said Yes, they do. He is wrong about that. I asked him to identify the provision in any legislation which makes it an offence. He protested that he could not be expected to identify a particular statute and a particular provision. He is wrong about that, too. The Coalition government has, for the past 15 years, called boat people “illegal”.
I assume Senator Brandis sometimes finds time to consider his party’s policies. So he can hardly have missed the fact that men, women and children who have fled persecution were being branded as “illegal”, and were being locked up in shocking conditions for years.
Unless he has slept through the past 15 years (and I would not rule that out as a possibility), Brandis must be aware of a few related things:
- the Coalition, of which he is part, has called boat people “illegal” for the past 15 years;
- some irritating people (including me) have been pointing out for years that boat people commit no offence by coming to Australia as they do.
- If they don’t commit any offence by coming here, calling them “illegal” is misleading at best, and dishonest at worst.
- He has a big staff of highly qualified lawyers and access to lots more.
If he had ever had any of his staff research the question, he would know affirmatively that boat people do not commit any offence by coming here the way they do.
And yet, when I asked him what offence he thought they committed, he protested that he could not be expected to remember what section of what Act.
If the first Law Officer of the country paid more attention, he might have paused to wonder whether his own party’s marketing was honest or not; he might have paused to wonder why no boat people are ever prosecuted because of their means of arrival.
But it seems that our Attorney-General is much too busy enjoying the fat perks of office to think about these things. Either Brandis does not care or he is a hopeless lawyer. In either case, it will be a relief to see him leave the Parliament and the country.
The only available conclusions are either:
- He has never bothered to have the question researched; or
- He lied, because he knew the true answer
Really, Attorney-General? Did you expect anyone to believe you?
Brandis is a disgrace to the office he holds. The first law officer of the country should be a bit more curious and a bit more honest.
[Incidentally, both before and after the show, Brandis conspicuously avoided speaking to me in the Green Room. So I will add pettiness and a lack of manners to my criticism of him]
On 13 February 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations. It was not great rhetoric, but it was a fine moment, because (for once) we heard a Federal Politician who sounded sincere. 9 years later, here is a message from Liberty Victoria:
Yesterday marked the ninth anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations. For many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, it was a hugely significant day and an important step towards redressing the extraordinary and inexplicable harm leveled against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by successive governments.
It also marked the start of a new commitment: to do more and do better for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and to close the enormous gap across basic health, education and employment indicators.
Yet nine years on, the gap remains a gaping gulf. In many areas, that picture is even worse than it was nine years ago.
This anniversary, Liberty Victoria joins the call for the inclusion of specific and measurable justice targets. Curbing the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, one of the most imprisoned groups of people in the world, and reducing the number of children in out-of-home care, must be priorities if we are to meaningfully close the gap and start redress the harm done by past and present governments.
This anniversary of the apology, take the time to rewatch the apology Kevin Rudd gave back in 2008. Imagine – or remember – the hope that these words gave to so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; that, this time, the change would be real and it would happen. As a country, we need to seriously grapple with the need to do better across all areas, including the justice sphere, and we need to do that now.
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