Vol 25 No 13
Kerry Murphy
Terrorist or criminal? Why it matters
Page 3
Ellena Savage
Zen and the art of wealth amassment
Page 6
Tim Kroenert
Love and violence in Thomas Hardy’s England
Page 8
Andrew Hamilton
Pope Francis looks beyond hammer and sickle crucifix chatter
Page 10
Fiona Katauskas
Power politics
Page 13
Cassandra Golds
Tears as a sign of inner strength in troubled waters
Page 14
Paul Collins
Encyclical's groundbreaking critique of technology
Page 17
Neil Ormerod
Coal warriors targeting Pope Francis
Page 21
Justin Glyn
The depths of common cause between Australia and Nauru
Page 23
Jane Downing
The moment of not knowing wishes do not come true
Page 25
Andrew Hamilton
A time for all Australians to nurture Indigenous heritage
Page 27
Tim Robertson
Foreign fighter with the 'Anzac spirit'
Page 29
Bruce Duncan
'The Australian' gangs up on Pope Francis
Page 31
Barry Gittins
Confessions of a news junkie who hides the news from his kids
Page 34
Tim Kroenert
Carefully burning Scientology
Page 37
Andrew Hamilton
When life and death break into the game
Page 39
Fiona Katauskas
Down, Down and Awaaaay
Page 43
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Peter Kirkwood
US Bishops reckon with same sex marriage support rollercoaster
Page 44
Samuel Tyrer
The limits to private ownership of property
Page 46
Fatima Measham
Intimidated ABC embraces self-censorship
Page 49
Dougal Hurley
Elegy for Joshua Hardy
Page 52
Andrew Hamilton
The Border Force Act's disquieting parallels
Page 55
John Warhurst
The normalisation of lying in Australian politics
Page 58
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Terrorist or criminal? Why it matters
Kerry Murphy
A young man walks into a place of worship. He kills a number of people from a different
ethnic or religious group, and has photos of himself displayed online with a flag known
for extremist political affiliations.
If this is done in the US by a young white man, the place is a church, the victims are
African Americans and the flag is the old Confederate flag - he is labelled a mass
murderer and criminal. If this is done in Kuwait by a Saudi and it is a Shia Mosque, and
the flag is that commonly used by Daesh or ISIS, he is a terrorist.
What is the difference when the result is the same (i.e. innocent people killed whilst
practising their religion)?
This separate labelling of criminals and terrorists has some basis in The Commonwealth
Crimes Act which lists the following as terrorist offences:
A terrorist act is an act, or a threat to act, that meets both these criteria:
1. It intends to coerce or influence the public or any government by intimidation to
advance a political, religious or ideological cause.
2. It causes one or more of the following:
- death, serious harm or danger to a person
- serious damage to property
- a serious risk to the health or safety of the public
- serious interference with, disruption to, or destruction of critical infrastructure such as a
telecommunications or electricity network.
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The Government has listed 21 organisations as 'terrorist organisations'. Only one, the
Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) is not an Islamist military organisation. The PKK is a Marxist
nationalist organisation. The PKK works with the Syrian Kurdish YPG and the Iraqi Kurds
against Daesh. The fact that a terrorist organisation is working with groups the Australian
and US Governments are supporting illustrates the complexities of the conflicts in Syria
and Iraq. Although the mafia or camorra commit murder, and are a 'serious risk to the
health or safety of the public' they are called 'organised criminals', not terrorists.
Why does it matter whether someone is labelled a criminal or terrorist? It matters
because we can treat terrorists differently to criminals. How we name someone makes a
big difference. Criminals are subject to the criminal justice system. They can access to
legal aid if they meet the means and merits tests. The prosecution must prove its case
and if the alleged criminal is found guilty by a court, or by a jury, they are sentenced.
Whereas a terrorist could have their citizenship cancelled under the proposed changes to
the Citizenship Act if they are a dual national, simply on the basis of the conviction for
certain terrorist offences. It is also possible for their citizenship to be cancelled on the
basis of other acts, without even requiring a conviction. There is no further assessment
or any discretion about whether the citizenship cancellation is appropriate, or how
immediate family here could be affected.
They then face mandatory detention until removed to the country of their other
nationality or citizenship unless the Minister personally intervenes in their case and
revokes the notification of cancellation. There is no power to force the Minister to
consider the revocation, and no judicial review if the Minister declines to consider a
revocation, or refuses the revocation. Banishment is the preferred solution.
I am not advocating the banishment of citizens found guilty of very serious offences, but
rather questioning whether there needs to be such an obsession in just demonising and
banishing one group in the name of protection of the community. Serious criminal
offences need to be dealt with by the criminal law, following a proper process. This is not
done to 'roll out the red carpet for terrorists' as some allege. Rather, it is to ensure that
whoever you are, you are subject to the same process of criminal justice in a system that
follows the rule of law, not the current political whim of a politician. There will always be
crime and punishment and the difficulty for Government is balancing the desire for
punishment and vengeance, against the need to reform offenders.
This is much harder to achieve, and requires sober analysis and thought out processes. It
is not possible to reduce it to three word slogans or just make a speech about it flanked
by a bunting of flags. We need to deal with those who do not fit in, rather than just
labelling them as 'the banishable other'.
An advanced liberal democracy needs the rule of law and separation of powers as key
elements to survival. As we wind these back in fear, we revert to a lesser democracy
where rule of opinion polls is more important than the rule of law. This is recognised by
the Minister of Communications who noted in a recent speech to the Sydney Institute:
The genius of a liberal democracy is that at the same time it empowers the majority,
through the ballot box, it also constrains that majority, or its government, through the
rule of law.
…We should always shudder a little, perhaps a lot, when cynics sneer at courts and
laws as just troublesome obstacles standing in the way of justice.
At least one senior lawyer in Government understands the importance to our democracy
of the rule of law.
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Kerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy
Lawyers and member of the boards of the IARC and JRS.
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Zen and the art of wealth amassment
Ellena Savage
There is a suburban
myth about the genealogy of class in migrant families that I heard as a teenager. It goes
something like this. The first generation step onto the soil with two pennies in their
pocket and toil for their whole lives so they can send their children to the best schools
they can afford.
The second generation - flush with sophisticated educations - become professionals. The
third generation - benefiting from the financial and cultural privilege of professional
parents - well, they become artists.
I heard this story in the migrant suburbs, and while I can see its logic, it doesn't really
account for many of the family stories in my orbit, including my own. What it does speak
to is the narrative of capitalist affluence: We toil so that we can be free.
All hard work pays off. It has to.
But what happens when you toil and toil and get your payoff, and your children reject the
values you toiled in the name of? That's a question you can ask Gina Rinehart.
The wonderful and outrageous spectacle of the Rinehart family drama delivers a mild
sense of justice to the middle and working classes, who are, relatively speaking,
unpoisoned by wealth.
Justice, because the Rineharts are deranged. Mild, because they are still billionaires who
are able to influence government for the benefit of their own wealth. The matriarch's
interview on Australian Story revealed her children's failings: 'They say that if you give
your children too much, they don't get the joy out of work, they just want unearned
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things to keep falling from the sky. I think I've been the fortunate one.'
Is that what the purpose of amassing wealth? To produce children who will be free from
work, free from the obsession that productivity inspires, but who will inevitably fight
bitterly with their parents and siblings for their share of the empire in some real-life
adaptation of King Lear? That's great news, because it means that the money I will never
have was toxic all along. You can't fire me, I quit.
Like all dynasties, the Rineharts are destined to one day represent the crusty relics of
former glory. That's fine, schadenfreude is a beautiful thing. And apparently, 65 per cent
of family wealth is lost by the second generation, and 90 per cent by the third
generation. I mean, why would the beneficiaries of other people's obsessive toils and
struggle work, if they didn't have to? Isn't accumulating wealth supposedly for buying the
luxury of freedom and the ability to wear white linen?
The tremendous social mobility, or maybe it is rather movement of people and resources,
of the past century, has created profound class and culture difference between
generations. The old models pertaining to the genealogy of wealth and class do not make
sense any more, because even without income difference, cultural difference between
generations trumps all. Cultural difference is marked by consumption habits, material
identifications, and political realities.
I am always speculating on the pseudo-psychological origins of people's personal choices,
to my own folly. This practice is supposed to help me determine what choices to make in
order to become the best version of myself, if that is possible. How can I become more
charismatic like my friend X, or more generous like my friend Y? Was it their birth order,
or their parents' wealth, or is it something I can implement in my own life? But then
there is the inevitable roadblock to any person's greatness: their terrible, crushing flaws.
Generous Gemma might also be chronically lazy. Charismatic Chrissy might be, I don't
know, bad at keeping secrets.
While culturally there are people I have more in common with - and therefore admire
more than I admire others (i.e. not Bianca Rinehart) - this practice of looking deep into
the lives of others to better myself falls short, because everyone is almost equally
brilliant and deranged, just in highly specific ways. When I think of the 'good' parents
and the 'bad' parents - although almost all are probably good-enough - as my friends
remember them, all of them, in the end, produce similarly wonderful, and specifically
damaged offspring. There is no solution to the problem of being human.
Every person who decides to raise children does so with the intention of making up for
the sins of their literal fathers. But, having surveyed the museum of living evidence, I
can say absolutely that none succeeds. About the best they can expect is to raise
children to become living adults who might not sue them over their trust funds.
Ellena Savage is the Editor at The Lifted Brow, commissioning Editor at Spook Magazine,
and a graduate student in creative writing.
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Love and violence in Thomas Hardy’s England
Tim Kroenert
Far From the Madding Crowd (M). Director: Thomas Vinterberg. Starring: Carey
Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, Michael Sheen. 118 minutes
A key moment in Thomas Hardy's novel Far From the Madding Crowd occurs when frugal
young sheep farmer Gabriel loses his entire flock due to the errant behaviour of an
inexperienced dog. In a new film adaptation of the novel, Danish filmmaker Vinterberg
imbues this moment with a mythic aura. Awoken by the animal ruckus beyond his walls,
Gabriel (Schoenaerts) arrives at the cliff's edge in the predawn half-light to see the fresh
corpses strewn on the beach below.
Vinterberg, a pioneer of the avant-garde Dogme 95 movement, is a fine filmmaker, able
to draw emotionally complex performances out of his actors, and compose visual
sequences that are almost mystical in their evoked sense of awe of the natural world.
These sensibilities made his previous film, 2012's The Hunt - a relatively straightforward
story about the ordeal of a schoolteacher who is wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a
student - into a dense and difficult fable.
They are the great strengths of Far From the Madding Crowd, too, which is on the face of
it a fairly pedestrian adaptation of an often-adapted novel, but is elevated by sequences
like that described above, and others that in Vinterberg's hands become equally
portentous or potent: one that depicts a late-night scramble to shield massive haystacks
from a coming storm; another that cross-cuts between a young bride arriving at one
church while her groom-to-be waits at the altar of another.
At the heart of Hardy's story is Bathsheba, a proud and independent young shepherd and
object of Gabriel's affection, whose fortunes change inversely to Gabriel's; as he faces
financial ruin after the death of his flock, she comes into an inheritance and becomes the
new proprietor of her late uncle's farm. Mulligan, a wonderful actress, combines in her
portrayal of Bathsheba both headstrongness and vulnerability. Her performance, like
Vinterberg's direction, is magnetic.
In addition to Gabriel, who by chance comes into her employ, Bathsheba acquires two
more suitors: prosperous and socially awkward bachelor William Boldwood (Sheen) and
cocky young sergeant Frank Troy (Sturridge). Much of the tension in the story according
to Vinterberg accumulates in the interstices of this masculine triangle, with Bathsheba at
its fraught centre tyring to attain romantic fulfilment while also maintaining her closely
guarded independence.
English literary journalist Lucasta Miller noted that Hardy's title, with 'madding' taken to
mean 'frenzied', is an ironic nod to idyllic perceptions of rural life; Hardy 'disrupts the
idyll, and not just by introducing the sound and fury of an extreme plot … he is out
to subvert his readers' complacency'. Vinterberg captures this spirit, at least. The
stunning rural landscapes of his film provide a sublime stage for violence both physical
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and emotional. It is memorable and deeply affecting viewing.
Tim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.
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Pope Francis looks beyond hammer and sickle crucifix
Andrew Hamilton
Like Queen Victoria, Pope Francis in Bolivia was not amused. On that the media were
agreed. But if, after Bolivian President Morales had presented him with a crucifix
superimposed on a hammer and sickle, they agreed about what he was not, they
disagreed about what he was.
The prudent said that he simply received the crucifix, the wary declared him apparently
not amused, the Vatican went a letter further into the alphabet to describe him as
bemused, others raised the emotional charge to find him surprised, put on the spot, and
One went out on a limb to assert that he rebuked President Morales for embarrassing
him with this melange of Communist and Christian symbols. Whatever of the Pope's
feelings, some Bishops used social media to denounce Morales for arrogantly conflating
faith and ideology.
As the story developed, discussion turned to what the Pope had said to Morales
(inaudible on the tape), and whether the hammer and sickle were intended as a
Communist symbol at all.
President Morales explained, and the Vatican spokesperson agreed, that the design of the
crucifix came from Jesuit Luís Espinal who was captured, tortured and killed by
right-wing paramilitaries in 1980. On his visit, Pope Francis had stopped to pray at the
place where he was killed and had praised his faith and courage. Espinal designed the
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cross to show Christ close to workers and to peasants.
The story quickly died in a snow flurry at the close of the news cycle. But for those of us
for whom the crucifix is a sacred symbol, it invited reflection on how to respond to art
that places Christian symbols in political contexts.
Those who criticised the cross given to the Pope believed that it associated Christian faith
with communist ideology and the revolutionary violence it endorsed.
To make that association would be wrong, but to be consistent we would have also to
deplore the practice of the Conquistadors whose chaplains held the cross aloft in battle.
We would also need to reflect on the crosses on Latin American churches that share the
town square with the army barracks, the police station and the town hall. The cooptation
of faith and the violence Bolivia and many other Latin American nations came from
national security ideology as well as from communism.
Religious art has regularly been controversial. We need only remember the outrage at
Piss Christ in Melbourne some years ago. Marilyn Manson's gun cross made of rifle and
revolvers and the plethora of popular craft in which images of crosses, hand grenades
and guns dangle from bracelets have also been strongly criticised.
Outrage, however should be tempered by the fact that works of art are susceptible to
many interpretations. Even if the Bolivian crucifix was intended to identify Christ and
communism, it can equally be taken to represent Christ crucified under communism, in
the same way that the crosses on churches in town squares can be seen to represent the
suffering of the faithful under the violence of the security state, and Manson's Holy Wood
to warn of the prevalent association of religiosity with violence.
Debate about what is acceptable in the combination of religious and other symbols is
usually inconclusive, and perhaps should be so. But it should be kept in mind that there
are two audiences for religious art. One uses crucifixes and other art primarily as aids to
devotion. They know who and what the image represents and do not wish to be diverted
by change and provocation. So they may be enraged, for example, by a statue of a
visibly pregnant Mary because it makes them focus on the image instead of on the
familiar Mary who for them lies behind it.
The second audience comprises those who expect artistic images to reveal something
new and surprising. For them an image of Christ on hammer and sickle makes them see
afresh the ambiguous relationship of Jesus to revolutionary movements. They will
welcome the way it disturbs more conventional ways of seeing Jesus.
Both these audiences deserve respect. Conversation between them will turn most
profitably to what the images represent than to how they represent it.
On his visit to Bolivia Pope Francis was more interested in the reality of a crucified people
than in the image of the crucified Jesus. His apology for the evils of colonial conquest
focused on people, not what benefits Spanish occupation may have brought.
I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offences of the Church herself, but also for
crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of
America… There was sin, a great deal of it, for which we did not ask pardon. So for
this, we ask forgiveness, I ask forgiveness. But here also, where there was sin, great sin,
grace abounded through the men and women who defended the rights of indigenous
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Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.
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Power politics
Fiona Katauskas
Fiona Katauskas' work has also appeared in ABC's The Drum, New Matilda, The
Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, The Financial Review and Scribe's Best
Australian political cartoon anthologies.
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Tears as a sign of inner strength in troubled waters
Cassandra Golds
'Be strong.' 'Stay
strong.' 'You are stronger than you know.' To scroll through Facebook is to meet such
exhortations constantly.
They will often form the basis for a self-help meme, a mode of expression which is
ubiquitous on social media: a nature photograph, typically, with the chosen motto printed
over it in an appropriately friendly font, put together by somebody, somewhere, and
shared, and shared again around the world.
Some seem circular, and strangely unhelpful. 'You never know how strong you are until
being strong is the only choice you have.'
Some, at a time of rising concern about violence against women, are downright alarming.
'A strong woman is one who is able to smile this morning like she wasn't crying last
Some are the stuff of fascistic nightmares. 'The world is the great gymnasium where we
come to make ourselves strong.'
Oh, and let us not forget poor Nietzsche's repulsive, and ever popular, 'That which does
not destroy us makes us strong.' (Well, that's all right, then.)
But the one I find most comically fascinating is this: 'People cry, not because they're
weak, but because they've been strong for too long.' (Like many gems of wisdom on the
internet, it is often attributed to Johnny Depp, who must find his unsolicited status as a
teacher of wisdom, interchangeable with the Buddha, Oscar Wilde and John Lennon,
quite bewildering.) The meme is, I think, a highly revealing example of the genre,
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because of the way it turns itself upside down to defend the one weeping from a slander
it seems to assume would be a slander indeed. For after all, if the person crying actually
were weak, instead of a strong person in disguise, well, that really would be despicable.
I can only imagine that many people find these mantras about strength encouraging,
perhaps even life-saving. Perhaps most people identify as 'strong' and enjoy being
reminded of it. Perhaps such words are often said, or shared, with little reflection, simply
to offer the comfort most ready to hand, by asserting the most fashionable virtue.
But I find them terrifying.
Why? Because I cannot deafen myself to the implied threat I hear within them. It seems
to me that they are really saying, 'Be strong… or else.'
'Be strong… because if you are not strong you are weak, and our society has
contempt for the weak.'
'Be strong… because if you are weak you will not be acceptable… you will lose
our support and sympathy… you will not fit into the story we want to tell, about
brave battles with cancer or depression or addiction…'
'Be strong… because if you are not we will be entitled to abandon you.'
And I can't help relating this most vaunted of virtues to the fear, hostility or lack of
empathy there often seems to be towards such groups as the mentally ill, the poor and
the elderly.
Why is a lack of strength so abhorrent? Are fragility and vulnerability to be avoided at all
costs? Could frailty not be something we appreciate and respect? Might it not be more
important to be authentic than to be strong?
I search my memory, but I cannot recall a single instance when I loved anyone or
anything for his or her or its strength. Everything, everyone I ever loved, I have loved
because of some form of vulnerability. And everything I value in life - love, creativity,
compassion - has more to do with sensitivity than strength.
There are many virtues I would put before strength as a desirable quality in a human
being. Compassion. Kindness. Fair-mindedness. Perceptiveness. Empathy. In fact,
anything that contributes towards the ability to love. Of course, how much you value
strength might depend partly on how you define it, and strength could be a part of all the
virtues I have mentioned here. Strength can certainly be used for good. If, however, you
think of strength mainly as toughness of spirit or brute force of character or even just
whatever it takes not to be defeated by something, I would hazard that, considered as a
character trait, it is more at odds with the capacity to love and understand than
otherwise. The most perceptive, compassionate people I know are people who have
known defeat, who have been overwhelmed, who have broken down.
The person I fear most in life is the strong person who does not understand weakness.
'That which does not destroy us' does not make us strong. It makes us wounded. In the
most tragic of circumstances, it can wound us almost beyond the ability to love. But it
also true that it is our very woundedness that makes the deepest compassion and
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understanding possible.
The unforgivable sin is not weakness. The essential quality of our humanity is not
strength. It is surely, vulnerability, which is perhaps another way of saying truth, or
authenticity. As humans, we meet most profoundly at the shared table of our
vulnerability. This is the centre of things. This is where we love.
I am not strong. I don't want to be strong. I want, most of all, to love, and in order to
love, I must be myself - and the one I love must be him or herself too. Telling someone
to be strong is vacuous. Offering someone your acceptance whether they are strong or
not - that is a gift.
Cassandra Golds is a Melbourne-based author of children's fiction. Her most
recent book is The Three Loves of Persimmon.
Teary woman image by Shutterstock.
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Encyclical's groundbreaking critique of technology
Paul Collins
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One of the most interesting sections of the
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encyclical Laudato Si' are paragraphs 102-111 on the role of technology. 'We have
entered,' Pope Francis says, 'a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to
a crossroads.'
While he recognises the improvements to life that technology has achieved which he
describes as 'wonderful products of a God-given human creativity...in the fields of
medicine, engineering and communications', he nevertheless mounts a profound critique
of technology and what it is doing to us.
While Francis has no time for technological solutions and 'fixes' for complex ecological
problems, he is no techo-Luddite. What he does is link technological knowledge to power
and says that those with this knowledge and the economic resources to use it, gain 'an
impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world.'
Francis argues that technology cuts us off from our biological connectedness with nature
and creates the illusion that the world simply exists for us to use. 'Technology,' he says,
'tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic' that presupposes that 'there is an
infinite supply of the earth's goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry
beyond every limit', an idea he says that 'proves so attractive to economists, financiers
and experts in technology.'
Quoting theologian Romano Guardini, Francis says that 'there is a tendency to believe
that every increase in power means &'an increase of progress itself&'...[yet]
&'contemporary man has not been trained to use power well&' because our immense
technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human
responsibility, values and conscience.' We are besotted with technology, but don't have
the maturity to use it wisely.
Francis' critique draws on the writings of Romano Guardini (1885-1968) who, despite
being born in Verona, was German. Although present-day conservative Catholics have
tried to harness Guardini to their critique of post-Vatican II Catholicism, he was a key
theologian leading-up to the Council and his much of his thought is reflected by
progressive Catholics.
The Guardini book that Francis quotes is The End of the Modern World (1956). Guardini
argues that we have entered a post-modern world that is dominated by a technology that
cuts us off from the natural world creating an artificial, abstract, one-dimensional, depersonalised reality. 'The technological mind,' he says, 'sees nature as an insensate
order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere &'given&', as an object of utility, as raw
material to be hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos as a mere &'space&' into
which objects can be thrown with complete indifference.'
Technology 'is creating a radically different sociological type' which Guardini calls 'mass
man'. This 'simply designates the man who is absorbed by technology and rational
abstraction.' Mass man, according to Guardini is 'fashioned according to the law of
standardisation, a law dictated by the functional nature of the machine.'
Pope Francis says that 'this paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long
as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority
who wield economic and financial power. Amid this confusion, post-modern humanity has
not yet achieved a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction, and
this lack of identity is a source of anxiety. We have too many means and only a few
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insubstantial ends.'
Lurking the background, perhaps unconsciously, of Guardini and Pope Francis is German
philosopher, Martin Heidegger's 1955 essay The Question Concerning Technology.
Guardini and Heidegger knew each other and were colleagues in Munich and Freiburg.
The essence of Heidegger's environmental thought is rooted in his profound ambiguity
about technology. For him the ecological crisis is the direct result of our technological
culture which, in turn, we have inherited from our philosophical tradition. He defined
technology in the broadest sense: it meant human interference by mechanistic force in
the natural dynamics of the world for some perceived 'good' for humankind.
It was everything from stem cell manipulation to the use of chain-saws and bulldozers, to
irrigation and hydroelectricity. The modern world is dominated by an opportunistic, 'cando' mentality; if something can be done, it should be done. It needs no further ethical
justification. Technology has created a cultural and intellectual Ge-stell, an 'en-framing'
of reality that determines the way we think. And how we think, says Heidegger, is much
more important than what we think.
This is precisely what Francis is saying. 'The idea of promoting a different cultural
paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable...It
has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly
independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the
It is precisely this countercultural stance that Pope Francis is promoting.
Paul Collins has published further and more detailed articles on Laudato si' and
Heidegger's philosophy on his blog.
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Coal warriors targeting Pope Francis
Neil Ormerod
It is not surprising that The Australian should be leading the local pushback
on Pope Francis' environmental encyclical Laudato Si. This remarkable document is
almost a line by line rejection of the neo-liberal agenda of the Murdoch press.
Paul Kelly's frenzied opinion article accused the pope of being an 'environmental
populist', 'economic ideologue', 'quasi-Marxist', of employing 'hysterical' language, and of
'profound intellectual ignorance', all by the second paragraph.
Of course anyone familiar with Catholic Social Teaching would know that the pope's
message was deeply embedded in that tradition and should not have been at all
surprised. After all, the pope is a Catholic.
What is surprising is that a Catholic priest should be joining the chorus against the
encyclical. Fr James Grant, an adjunct fellow of the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), has
written a piece entitled 'It's unchristian to oppose coal generated power' (The Australian,
July 10), suggesting that the pope's concern for the poor would be better placed
promoting the advantages of cheap coal generated electricity.
The pope on the other hand singled out coal as a major contributor to climate change:
'technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels - especially coal, but also oil
and, to a lesser degree, gas - needs to be progressively replaced without delay.'
Grant appears to be a colourful character. A convert to Catholicism from Anglican
ministry, one of his achievements was the establishment of 'Chaplains without borders.'
While the name echoes 'Doctors without borders' (Médecins sans
Frontières), a humanitarian organisation dedicated to bringing medical services
to those most in need, 'Chaplains without borders' provides spiritual services for 'range of
organisations from corporations, such as banks or central offices, to semi-corporate
organisations, like shopping centres or football clubs.' While many of these areas are
undoubtedly spiritual wastelands, it is less clear why those in these groups cannot simply
access spiritual services in their local churches.
Grant's initial foray against the encyclical was an IPA press statement, released even
before the contents of the document were known, seeking to reassure Catholics that the
pope's message was not binding Catholic teaching. Technically there is some truth to
this, but it is a strange understanding of loyalty to the pope to seek to defuse his
message even before it was made public. His more recent contribution to The Australian
is right out of the briefing notes supplied by the coal industry in its global public relations
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efforts to shore up its waning reputation.
In strains we've regularly heard from the coal industry, we're told coal is the best way of
bringing people out of poverty by providing them with the electricity necessary for
improving their way of life. Coal is by far the cheapest way to generate electricity to free
them from the burdens of poverty.
One might be able to maintain such a position as long was one doesn't take some of the
following into account: the $1.5 billion per day of subsidies given globally to the fossil
fuel industry (according to the International Energy Agency); the aesthetic cost of
scarred landscapes in otherwise pristine conditions; the political cost of corruption in the
granting of coal licenses as evidenced in ICAC hearings; the capital cost of centralised
power distribution networks lacking in poor countries; the medical cost of mining,
distributing and burning coal, through injuries and respiratory diseases; the social cost of
climate change caused by coal burning, especially from rising sea levels on coast regions
(a point especially noted by Pope Francis). This is why when fossil fuel companies do in
fact seek to provide an energy supply to the world's poor, they often opt for solar. BHP
Billiton uses solar panels to help with energy poverty in Southern Pakistan, while Adani
Mining provides solar-powered streetlights to villages in India. Solar power is getting
cheaper by the day, set to hit $1 per kilowatt hour, it is decentralised and non-polluting.
Why would we not want to use it to the utmost?
Of course the real issue here is climate change. Either one accepts what Pope Francis has
called the 'very solid scientific consensus' on human induced climate change, or one does
not. If one does not, cheap coal may be the answer; if not then what cheap coal gives
with one hand, it takes with the other twice or three times over. Cheap coal, in fact,
costs the earth.
We all know that climate change is contested, but those who oppose the 'very solid
consensus' are regularly exposed as scientific outliers, eccentrics, or people with
compromising links to the fossil fuel industry. Fr Grant and the IPA do not appear to hold
any scientific expertise, and are colourful perhaps, but not eccentric. The question then is
what is the source of the IPA's funding? Undoubtedly IPA personnel would hold the same
opinions anyway, but someone is paying handsomely to have those opinions trumpeted
over the media onto an unsuspecting public.
Neil Ormerod is Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University, a member of ACU
's Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry and a Fellow of the Australian Catholic
Theological Association.
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The depths of common cause between Australia and
Justin Glyn
Nauru is a small country, heavily reliant on aid from
Australia and New Zealand. To Australia, whose government and opposition have been
tirelessly highlighting the dangers inherent in uncontrolled rights to citizenship, judicial
decision-making and freedom of expression - and has recently made great progress in
curbing or blunting these in a number of areas - this smaller island nation represents a
shining example of the exciting possibilities open to a government willing to combat
these liberal evils in the service of staying in power at all costs.
In 2014, following a series of court decisions against the Government in this tiny country
whose (phosphate) mining boom has long since come and gone into the hands of big
businesses and overseas powers, the resident magistrate and non-resident Chief Justice
were removed from office (and, in the Chief Justice's case, expelled), leaving
Government-trained lawyers as the only lawyers on the island. (Overseas lawyers who
have sought to come to Nauru to help fight the Government in court have had their visas
In an impressive demonstration of how the revocation of citizenship can be made to work
to defend the national reputation and lifestyle of a country against those who would wish
it harm, five of the country's seven opposition MPs (in a 19 member Parliament) have
had their passports cancelled for 'damaging the reputation and development of the
country'. In Australia, at least for the moment, damaging of Government property will
still be required for the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection to revoke
citizenship under the new anti-terror provisions in s.35A of the Citizenship Act. (At least
one lawyer has, however, pointed out that blowing the whistle on embarrassing
intelligence operations would also probably be a good way to lose your Australian
passport under the new legislation.)
All of the five Nauruan MPs who have had their passports suspended have also been
expelled from Parliament indefinitely (leaving their seats vacant for over a year now) and
three of them have since been arrested without bail for protesting against what they see
as the Government's heavy handed policies. This degree of enthusiastically political
policing has not yet happened in Australia although, as we were reminded this week,
three opposition leaders - including two former Prime Ministers - have been subpoenaed
to appear before a Royal Commission established by the new Government which, like its
Nauruan counterpart, was elected in 2013. (The New Zealand Government, while of
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course, part of the Five Eyes universal bugging programme, has so far signally failed to
enact any reprisals against its political opponents.)
Unfortunately, despite all the evidence of Nauru's progress in combating the scourge of
civil and political rights in two short years, the New Zealand Government has raised
concerns about the rule of law in that country. The NZ Government has so far funded
Nauru's Department of Justice and Border Control to the tune of $1.2m per year and
contributed about another 1.1m to the country's education system. Following a
unanimous motion in the New Zealand Parliament last week expressing concern at the
situation on Nauru, intense pressure from the New Zealand Law Society and an open
letter from some of the country's leading constitutional and human rights lawyers
(including former PM Geoffrey Palmer), NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully has
(somewhat reluctantly) indicated that he expects to see some improvement before
disbursing further aid to Nauru. (New Zealand has not gone on record with any
discussion of Australia's adherence to the rule of law although the US-based World
Justice Project ranks Australia 10th in the world for rule of law, four places behind New
Zealand and down from seventh place in 2013 and eighth last year. Statistics for Nauru
are not given.)
Radio New Zealand, a public broadcaster, even had the temerity to allow Professor
Claudia Geiringer, Professor of Public Law at Victoria University of Wellington (and a
leading proponent of human rights) to suggest that Australia's ability to convert its status
as the largest aid donor to Nauru was 'very compromised' by the fact that it funds a
detention centre on the island. She also requested that New Zealand withdraw funding
from Nauru, even if there may have been pressure to the contrary from Australia.
Radio NZ has form in allowing such dangerous ideas on air. On a number of occasions,
they even interviewed Tame Iti, a Maori activist and artist who (like Zaky Mallah) was
acquitted of terrorism charges but convicted of far lesser offences. The National
Government in New Zealand is not overly fond of Radio NZ. It has slashed the national
broadcaster's funding by around 9% in five years. At the time of writing, however, Radio
NZ heads have not rolled for interviewing Iti, nor indeed for allowing Geiringer to express
such tendentious views on a prominent news programme. To my knowledge, no enquiries
been launched.
New Zealand is, of course, a far smaller player in the region than Australia. In the light of
Nauru's example, however, scrutiny of its failure to live down to its neighbours' human
rights standards is long overdue.
Justin Glyn SJ is a student for the priesthood who has practised law in South Africa and
New Zealand after gaining his PhD in administrative and international law.
Nauru image from Wikimedia Commons.
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The moment of not knowing wishes do not come true
Jane Downing
It turns from scrubbed white to dead-bone yellow on the sill above the sink
A furcula fetched from the chicken's neck for a game as old as the Etruscans
It sits like a water divination rod above the taps, rocks when we touch it
Clippity-clop, rocking-horse-rock on two solid sled-like arms
I will put my pinky round one arm, she'll do the same to the other
Our knuckles will graze, purchase will slip on the smooth old bone
Thumbs will hanker to push against the head that binds the two arms
But our mother says, wait, it won't snap, too young, too flexible
Competition is repressed: we hide our wishes, daughters of the one mother
Maybe it is the same small wish
For now we do not know wishes do not come true, whether we win or not
We do the dishes and watch another Sunday pass, another wishbone appear
Mothers have a rare wisdom: a second chance joins the brittle bone on the sill
Still, how did she ensure we shared the wins?
Coming home
Having someone wonder where you are when you don't come home at night
is a very old human need
- Margaret Mead
It is as late as a dead comedian
The last hill is Sisyphean
Margaret Mead was right
He waits on the top step
Moggie playing statues:
Bastet, goddess of Egypt
His bib is moonlight white
his matching paws are poised on the edge
(why isn't he called Socks?)
The cat gets through the door first
populates the dark hallway
mews hello, you're late
we are home
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Tathra Wharf
The sky is postcard blue and he notices just how picturesque
so she goes over, strikes
a pose against the weathered railings in a gap between the fishermen
feet nudging a bucket of bait (smells don't come out in photographs)
Then the usual: smile, cheese, fidget, smile, silent click, capture
She walks across historic planks head butting the breeze off the cliffs
reaches into his hands to check
the image on their phone - her grimace says it all but that wind
has taken her hat and he is speaking loudly to her racing back
Words caught before they blow away: photoshop fixing smile
Jane Downing, who teaches at the Albury-Wodonga campus of Charles Sturt University,
has had poems published in Social Alternatives, The Canberra Times, Rabbit, Poetrix, and
other journals.
Wishbone image by Shutterstock.
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A time for all Australians to nurture Indigenous heritage
Andrew Hamilton
The most publicised event of NAIDOC Week this year has been the meeting of Indigenous
leaders with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. It initiated a process
that all hope will lead to the recognition of Indigenous Australians and their relationship
to the land.
For the Indigenous leaders the process raises contentious issues, and particularly how
the freedom of Indigenous people to be involved in the decisions that concern them is to
be given institutional form. It is about agency, not simply recognition, something
important for all Australians, not just Indigenous Australians.
NAIDOC week itself embodies Indigenous initiative and decision making. The initials
stand for 'National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee'. After the
institution of Australia Day, Indigenous Australians recognised that they needed a day of
the own to celebrate distinctive aspects of their own culture and history that Australia
Day obscured. Each year the Committee names the theme for the week.
The theme of NAIDOC week in 2015 has been distinctively Indigenous in flavour, but it
offers much for all Australians to reflect on. 'We all stand on sacred ground: Learn,
respect, celebrate'. It evokes the attachment to land so central to Indigenous peoples,
and the corresponding injury people suffer when they see their land violated or they are
excluded from it.
The theme calls on Indigenous Australians to value their inheritance and to nurture it. It
also challenges other Australians to be curious about the heritage of their Indigenous
brothers and sisters, and to respect it in the uses to which their lands are put to.
But more deeply, the NAIDOC theme reminds us that we all stand on sacred ground, and
that we lose much if we lose touch with it. Our lives, our connections with place and with
our forefathers are sacred and matter deeply. In a culture that is so much about instant
gratification we are at risk of losing sight of the great gift that these deep connection are.
The more we treasure and respect our earth and the places that are sacred to us, the
better our society will be.
To be asked to consider the ground we stand on as sacred invites us to reflect on how we
walk on it. We need to learn the ways in which we can cultivate it in an enduring way,
the connections between the ways we exploit it for food or for minerals, and how to
preserve the climate and water resources we rely on for life. We need to respect the
limits that bound the satisfaction of our desire for profit, and to see our world as an
inheritance we hold in trust for later generations. We need to take time to celebrate the
beauty of sea, forest and mountains, and value the economy of the spirit as well as that
of buying and selling.
Our sacred ground is the world on which we depend. But it is also our fellow beings on
whom we also depend. We recognise this in our families and friends from whom we
learn, whom we respect, and with whom we celebrate. But we are bound to all human
beings, particularly the most vulnerable, by our shared humanity. To stand on this sacred
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ground we must stand together in solidarity.
This year NAIDOC week came in the shadow of Pope Francis' Encyclical on the
Environment. The letter comes out of an intellectual culture very different from our
Indigenous cultures, but it echoes the themes of NAIDOC week in insisting that which the
natural world is a gift and not an entitlement, that it is given to us in trust, that to
despoil it for gain is a terrible thing, and that in any environment all things and people
are connected. It recognises that respect for human beings and for the natural world are
The continuing struggle of Indigenous Australians for the recognition of their unique place
in Australian life and for respect in giving them a say in the decisions that affect them is
the business of all Australians. It is part of respecting and celebrating the sacred ground
on which we all stand.
Andrew Hamilton is a consulting editor of Eureka Street.
<!--Follow him on Twitter.-->
© 2015 www.eurekastreet.com.au
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Foreign fighter with the 'Anzac spirit'
Tim Robertson
It's hard not to admire Reece Harding, who died in Syria fighting for the Kurdish
peshmerga against IS. His sense of social justice, idealism and internationalism led him
to take up arms against an organisation he seemingly believed lived up to Tony Abbott's
characterisation as a 'death cult'.
His father, Keith Harding, told the ABC:
With all the information that's spread about on the internet with people beheading
people, killing children, raping and beating women, I think it really did get to him in the
end [&hellip;] He felt that he wanted to do the right thing and try and stop it in his small
way that he could [&hellip;] I'm sure that's the driving force of him going to do this.
The Islamic State hasn't made any effort to hide its brutality; on the contrary, it's
promoted it and used it as a perverted recruiting tool. But the Federal Government has
also used it to stoke fear within Australia, play-up the risk of terrorism at home,
dismantle democratic freedoms and the rule of law and boost its own approval rating.
The media saturation, the constant 'death cult' references and the battle between the
two major parties over who can better protect Australians has meant politicians have
benefitted from the characterisation of IS as a force more violent and ruthless than the
world has ever seen.
IS has a special status, partly because of their online propaganda, but also because
politicians have afforded it to them. There's hardly been a week in the past year that the
PM hasn't made a direct or indirect reference to the rape and torture of the Yazidis. But
when was the last time he mentioned the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram?
Reece Harding was simply answering the prime minister's increasingly nationalistic and
jingoistic calls to 'degrade and ultimately destroy' the 'Islamist death cult'.
The government has warned Australians against travelling to the Middle East to fight on
any side. But these calls are drowned out by decades of contradictory rhetoric that has
seen the Anzac legend (or myth) placed at the very fore of Australian history and culture.
It's become Australia's great foundation story, filling the void of the revolution she never
had and obscuring the mass murder of the Aboriginal people.
'Anzac values' and 'Australian values' have become synonyms embodying ideas of
larrikinism, mateship and disdain for authority. After more than a decade of John Howard
promoting Gallipoli as Australia's most important military engagement - despite it being a
resounding failure - and few politicians or pundits challenging him since, these qualities
are more venerated now than they've ever been.
The centenary celebration of the Gallipoli landing was a reminder of just how prominent a
place the conception of 'Anzac' has in contemporary Australian society. All the pomp and
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circumstance cost upwards of $30 million - an expensive exercise to celebrate an event
that has become dangerously divorced from any historical reality.
But who could deny the streak of larrikinism and disdain for authority in Reece Harding's
decision to disregard Australian law and travel to join the war in Syria? There's also
photos of him, published on The Lions of Rojava Facebook page, arm in arm with his
fellow soldiers - his mates.
It may seem paradoxical to be compelled by Australian/Anzac values to take up arms and
join an organisation other the ADF, but changes in the way wars are now fought means
that this logic is perfectly in keeping with military developments.
The rise of private military contractors - mercenaries, if you will - during the Iraq and
Afghanistan wars has shattered the idea that armies are an exclusively national force. In
an essay for The Monthly, James Brown writes that at its peak, 'the conflict in Iraq
employed over 20,000 armed private security contractors.' 'Australian contractors', he
explains, 'are prolific in the private security world, alongside Americans, Britons and
South Africans.'
The Australian public has, therefore, had over a decade to get used to the idea that their
fellow citizens are fighting in wars that their government supports, but for security firms
that aren't subjected to any executive oversight. These mercenaries do the jobs that
national armies either can't, won't or don't want to do.
The parallels between these contractors and the Kurdish forces are not insignificant. The
Federal Government agrees that airstrikes alone will not be sufficient to defeat IS. Troops
on the ground need to take the fight to IS too, and the Kurds are just one of the West's
proxy fighting forces.
Reece Harding understood that Australia's commitment to fighting IS is mostly tokenistic
and that her impact will be largely inconsequential. In a video released after his death,
he says: 'I volunteered to join the YPG in the fight against Daesh. I believe the Western
world is not doing enough to help.'
He wanted to help. He gave up his life to fight an organisation - an 'Islamist death cult' all Australians are being told to fear. Spurred on by a sense of internationalism, he did
something, one suspects, many politicians - if they didn't have to contend with the
political backlash - would like to commit more Australians to do. If there's anyone who
embodies that great Australian construct - the 'Anzac spirit' - it's Reece Harding. We
shouldn't lose sight of that.
Tim Robertson is an independent journalist and writer. Tweets @timrobertson12.
© 2015 www.eurekastreet.com.au
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'The Australian' gangs up on Pope Francis
Bruce Duncan
In a series of
articles, The Australian newspaper has strongly criticised the new encyclical Laudato Si:
On care for our common home by Pope Francis as being wrong about climate change and
ignorant about economics. Editor-at-large, Paul Kelly, on 24 June charged that the Pope's
language was 'almost hysterical. Profound intellectual ignorance is dressed up as
honouring God'.
'Page after page reveals Francis and his advisers as environmental populists and
economic ideologues of a quasi-Marxist bent.' He wrote that the Pope has 'delegitimised
as immoral' pro-market economic forces. 'Francis is blind to the liberating power of
markets and technology'.
The Weekend Australian's long editorial of 27-28 June reiterated these views and
dismissed the Pope's warnings of catastrophic climate change.
These are very serious allegations and, if true, would be very damaging for the Pope. Let
me take up the Pope's alleged attack on free-market principles and his critique of
neoliberalism and inequality.
Pope Francis is not opposed to the free market in principle, but insists that it be well
regulated to ensure social justice for all involved. He strongly supports socially
responsible forms of capitalism which enhance social equity and cohesion. He has
repeatedly appealed for investors and business people to help eradicate global hunger
and severe poverty, lift living standards and opportunity, and restrain excessive
consumption to secure a more equitable and sustainable future.
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It is not socially responsible forms of capitalism that are the target of the Pope's
criticism, but the neoliberal versions of economics that have dominated conservative
circles. This critique is not new in Catholic social thinking.
John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus called for markets to be adequately
regulated to ensure just outcomes for everyone involved. He warned that after the
collapse of communism 'a radical capitalist ideology could spread', blindly entrusting
societies to unregulated free-market forces. He rejected 'neoliberal' capitalism, saying in
1993 that the Church had 'always distanced itself from capitalist ideology, holding it
responsible for grave social injustices'.
In 1998 John Paul again attacked 'a certain capitalist neoliberalism that subordinates the
human person to blind market forces', placing 'intolerable burdens' on poorer countries.
Later, Benedict XVI warned against growing inequality and 'ruinous exploitation of the
Neoliberal thinkers, on the other hand, have tried to reduce regulation and constraints on
business as much as possible, in the belief that markets will almost automatically
produce the best outcomes. Yet as many economists attest, failures in neoliberal
economics helped precipitate the global financial crisis and widening inequality in and
between countries.
The Pope is speaking for millions of people in the developing world, protesting against
the unfairness in economic outcomes, the despoliation of much of their resources and
environment, and that their peoples will be hit hardest by the effects of global warming.
Francis was closely involved in writing this encyclical and is convinced that reform of
capitalism, global warming and environmental sustainability are among the most urgent
moral issues of our time.
In Buenos Aires, the future Pope witnessed Argentina's economy collapse in 2001-02,
following the largest financial default in history till then. Argentina had been a prosperous
country with only 4 percent of people living in poverty in 1990, but in 2001 half the
population fell below the poverty line. The global financial crisis was a replay of what
Francis had seen in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America.
In preparing his new encyclical, Francis consulted widely with leading economists and
academics; the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which worked closely with
specialists (including Joseph Stiglitz) in the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, until
recently headed by the Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon; the Pontifical Academy
of Sciences, with many Nobel laureates among its members; the Vatican Secretariat of
State with its extensive diplomatic networks; and episcopal conferences around the
Francis personally met some of the leading specialists including Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel
laureate who was senior vice-president and chief economist at the World Bank from 1997
to 2000, and numerous world leaders including Barack Obama and the UN secretarygeneral, Ban Ki-moon, who have both welcomed the encyclical enthusiastically.
The Australian claims that 'present debates about inequality within rich countries, while
of academic interest, remain a footnote in the bigger story of falling global inequality and
poverty.' That claim would surprise many economists since it ignores the concentration of
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economic power in the global economy.
Stiglitz's famous article in Vanity Fair in March 2011, &'Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the
1%&',demonstrated the increasing extent of inequality and sparked the Occupy Wall
Street movement. Even in the United States most of the wealth has gone to the top
income groups, and the incomes of the most people has hardly increased at all over
recent decades. The top 1 percent had accumulated astronomical wealth, and with that
came unprecedented political influence and power.
In his 2010 book Freefall Stiglitz deplored the '&'moral deficit&' that has been exposed
[by the] unrelenting pursuit of profits and elevation of the pursuit of self-interest.' (278)
In The Price of Inequality (2012) he added that globalization had unsurprisingly left many
behind, given that largely it 'has been managed by corporate and other special interests
for their benefit.' (277).
Stiglitz is not alone in thinking that the crisis is fundamentally an ethical one. Many
eminent economists think the problem is systemic in neoliberal economics, resulting in
growing inequality and economic instability.
Kelly alleges that the encyclical is 'flouting science', 'which has smashed Christianity from
the time of Darwin'. Yet the overwhelming opinion among scientists and governments of
most developed countries, along with China, strongly supports the Pope's alarm about
the dangers of climate change and growing inequality, endorsing his calls to conscience
and responsibility.
Redemptorist Fr Bruce Duncan is a lecturer in in history and social ethics in Melbourne's
University of Divinity and director of the Yarra Institute for Religion and Social Policy.
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Confessions of a news junkie who hides the news from
his kids
Barry Gittins
I'm increasingly
aware of fumbling to turn off the TV or rapidly switching channels as my kids wander in
and out of the room to spend quality time with their mother and myself.
It's not that I've been viewing violent, risqu&eacute;, or scary footage. But I've been
consciously and studiously protecting my kids from the news.
This goes against the grain, as I am a news junkie who loves discussing the state of
political economic play with my wife, and talking through some issues with our children.
I am supportive and hyper-conscious of open communication. But I've re-connected with
my inner media fascist. For good reason. The time that kids now spend consuming media
- at school, during leisure, doing homework - is 'second most to anything else children
do, besides sleep'.
Children are devoting at least four hours to accessing the universe on their iPads and
other electronic gear, including mobile phones, TV and video games. By the time they
graduate from high school 'teenagers will have spent more time in front of the screen
than in the classroom'.
At home we supervise what our kids interact with as much as is humanly possible. At
school it's via the in loco parentis role exercised by their teachers. It's becoming more
common for our supervision to involve a decision to switch channels, or switch off
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devices, for the sake of our kids' mental health.
The horrific patricide by Cy Walsh, son of Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh wounded his
wife Meredith, and left their daughter Quinn devastated. It baffled my family. The kids
joined us in expressing sorrow, but we didn't dwell on the murder. Noting many factors, I
couldn't come close to explaining it.
Then there's the latest in a seemingly continuous number of 'colour by dots' mass
executions, as 25 Syrian regime soldiers were murdered by ISIS in the ancient stadium
in Palmyra, Syria. This grisly, spectator sport turned propaganda opportunity was
perpetrated by child soldiers, no less. Want to explain that gleeful slaughter to your 11year-old and eight-year-old? No thanks.
Fielding questions about the latest shark attack, or car crash, or government culling of
charitable funds; these are relatively simple conversations compared to talking about the
latest rape or mugging or instance of cruelty.
And there's the perennial verbal assaults that shamelessly abuse others. There is no
simple answer to the 'why'; no straightforward answer when our kids ask us how they
can reason with people who are not rational - those who have no desire to be reasonable.
I chose not to tackle Mark Latham's attack on Australian of the Year, anti-domestic
violence advocate Rosie Batty. While we had earlier sat with our kids and discussed Ms
Batty's courage in the face of cruelty and irreparable loss, we have chosen not to expose
them to Latham's banal, nostalgic reference to a time of 'dignity of working class life,
when grieving was conducted in private'.
As Mia Freedman noted, Latham's 'absurd, reckless and fatuous argument' harks back to
an epoch when 'rape in marriage was still legal and children were routinely sexually
abused by clergy in churches who thought it was fine to cover up their abuse'.
Likewise, we chose not to canvass the bizarre misfiring of good intentions through a sex
education message telling year seven girls in one of Melbourne's outer-eastern private
schools that females are chemically at risk of being 'more needy than boys' and that
young women who pursued 'active' relationships would end up losing their stickability,
like 'overused sticky tape'.
Murder, sexual and verbal assault, abuse of power, strange, paternalistic takes of female
sexuality&hellip; a few of the real life dramas played out on our TVs in just a few days;
conversations we chose not to have. Our kids face enough challenges, traumas and
growing pains.
We take responsibility for educating our children about relationships, sexuality, politics,
parity and justice, discernment and prejudice, spirituality and rationality. We do so as we
deem appropriate and timely. We are all too aware of our own perspectives, values and
Our responsibility to watch over children's media consumption may be a blindingly
obvious. But I for one am becoming more and more aware of the impact that media can
have, as part of the wider 'neighbourhood' our children live in. It is not that I believe
media is a magic bullet, ricocheting off our kids' lives to cause grief and fear. Mass media
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and social media are merely streams that pour into the informational torrent.
But as a parent I have decided to be more proactive in staving off much of that tide of
depressing and distressing news that washes over our kids as they grow; at least while
they are building their own 'filters'.
Barry Gittins is a communication and research consultant for the Salvation Army.
Media child image my Shutterstock.
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Carefully burning Scientology
Tim Kroenert
Going Clear (M). Director: Alex Gibney. 121 minutes
If you're going to apply a blowtorch to an institution as wealthy, as litigious and as
notoriously aggressive in the face of criticism as the Church of Scientology, you might
best be advised to first apply a magnifying glass. There is no doubt that a power of
research underpins veteran American documentarian Alex Gibney's Going Clear:
Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The film plays out like a gripping Hollywood drama,
but with the cogency of an academic paper.
Gibney's primary source is author Lawrence Wright's 2013 book Going Clear:
Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winner (for
2006's The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11), interviewed 200 current
and former Scientologists for his book. He serves as producer of Gibney's film and
appears as a talking head, alongside a raft of former high-ranking Scientologists, from
whom Gibney draws testimony of the most persuasive kind.
So armed, Gibney details the dark side of the movement: its dubious tax-exempt status;
allegations of psychological and physical abuse of current members (including a surreal
depiction of a brutal game of 'musical chairs' played to the tune of Queen's 'Bohemian
Rhapsody') and of harassment of former members; the bizarre, quasi-sci-fi belief
system; and heartbreaking, sadistic practices such as 'disconnection' from alleged
apostates, which sometimes amounts to the forced separation of families.
But Gibney is equally interested in unpacking the nature of belief in Scientology: what
draws people to it, and also what drives them away. Hana Eltringham Whitfield, an
original member of Scientology's devout Sea Org religious order, was enamoured with
the charismatic Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, but came to see him as a tyrant.
Several high-ranking Scientologists say that after years of loyal service they could no
longer stomach the institutionalised abuse they say they witnessed.
Oscar winning filmmaker Paul Haggis exited in 2009 after 30 years, after the movement
supported anti-marriage-equality legislation in California (two of Haggis' daughters are
gay). He details his experiences of the methodology of Scientology's therapeutic 'audits',
and the appeal of this process to him as a troubled young writer trying to make his way
in the world. He admits that for many years he had remained wilfully ignorant of external
media scrutiny that might have caused him to doubt his devotion.
These personal perspectives add some emotional and pragmatic muscle to the 'juicier'
elements of the film, such as its consideration of movie stars John Travolta and Tom
Cruise's many years of membership. Scientology's association with Hollywood is perhaps
the thing that most fascinates a prurient public; Gibney examines Travolta and Cruise's
involvement in the context of the movement's longstanding strategy of recruiting
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celebrities as mediums of mass proselytization.
The film digs, too, into the history of Scientology's founder, the enigmatic and eccentric
science fiction author Hubbard, in order to illuminate the movement's beginnings and
ideological underpinnings; and the character and style of current leader David Miscavige,
a onetime Scientology 'prodigy' who assumed leadership following his mentor Hubbard's
death in 1987. Unsurprisingly, neither Miscavige nor any Scientology spokesperson
deigns to lend their voice to Gibney's revelatory account.
Tim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.
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When life and death break into the game
Andrew Hamilton
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The proper response to the death of Adelaide AFL coach Phil Walsh at the hands of his
son, is one of silent compassion. A father has lost his life. A mother has lost her husband,
a sister her father, and have gained the knowledge that their son and brother killed him.
We can feel for them, include them in such prayer and hope we are given, but words
adequate to describe the loss do not come easily.
Greek tragedies on similarly horrific themes evoked terror and compassion. They took
their audiences into silence, beyond easy response. But before silence the tragedians had
to struggle to find appropriate words.
Sometimes people who work in football and other professional sports also need to find
words to speak of tragedies. That is inherently difficult because popular sport is an image
of life and mimics life in its words. Games become a matter of life and death; players are
variously warriors, artists and workers; clubs are nations and tribes, with their initiation
ceremonies, their elders, their flags and their economy. They flourish, they fall ill, they
recover their health. Some, such as South Sydney, even die and return to life.
Because football and other large sports are an image of life, they are safe spaces in
which loss is never final and youth is never lost. Words come without cost, with no need
for exactitude. But occasionally, as in the death of Philip Hughes and Phil Walsh, real life
breaks into the image. Death and horror have to be grappled with. When only easy words
lie at hand, they find expression in language that is a little archaic and sacral. People are
slain or sacrificed; they are victims. Their lives are described as a battle or a struggle.
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Others will find words to emphasise that, although an image of life, sports are not
divorced from life. They have the resources to deal with whatever life brings. Like the
military, they form the character required to face tragedy. Sport is so important in the
community that clubs are prepared to shoulder the burden that tragedy lays on it.
All these words reach towards connection, towards understanding. If they often seem
hollow or over-reaching, it is because the abrupt intersection of life and its sporting
image is so disorientating.
The difficulty of finding words that do justice to life when it breaks into sport is also
central to a recent book by Martin Flanagan. He is consistently one of the best sports
writers because he is interested in the way in which sport intersects with life, and focuses
on its personal, relational and broadly political aspects, not merely on the celebrity or
corporate aspects.
In The Short Long Book his subject is Michael Long, the Essendon footballer who once
took John Howard to task for minimising both the enormity of the Stolen Generation (of
whom Long's father was one) and the importance of symbols of reconciliation. He also
demanded that the AFL respond seriously to racial abuse after he was abused in a game,
and in 2004 to Canberra to persuade the Prime Minister to listen to Indigenous
Australians. He brought the world of Indigenous Australians into sport, and from football
- particularly from his coach, Kevin Sheedy - learned skills of leadership needed to
change the world.
Words do not come easily to Flanagan in this book. It is short because Long is a man of
very few and very carefully measured words. Football was the way in which he expressed
himself and connected with the world. He did not answer phone calls, answered
questions with silence or turned them back to the questioner, but did not disengage.
The book starts with Flanagan pursuing Long to describe what it has means for life and
football to intersect. He has the words, the idiom of the Outer rather than of the press
gallery. But in their encounter the adamantine Long constantly frustrates the use of
words. He leads Flanagan to places where he might see and to people through whose
eyes he might understand. The centre point of the book is a shared journey from
southern Australia to Darwin and the Tiwi Islands, visiting places and people to which
Long is ancestrally connected and known through football.
Most writers work by amplification, filling out their ideas and rounding the structure. This
book is a work of stripping. It stammers, goes down cul de sacs and takes detours. In it
the hunter becomes the hunted and cared for. The climactic event in which the two men
meet on common ground is comic and totally unscripted. Flanagan is invited by Long to
shoot hunt geese. Despite his best efforts to miss, he shoots one down. So it is with
When life breaks into an image world it is wild and disturbing. It cannot be caught by
easy words, only through persistence in silence. Before the AFL games that followed the
killing of Phil Walsh the spectators and players stood in silent respect. That said all that
could be said.
Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.
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Down, Down and Awaaaay
Fiona Katauskas
Fiona Katauskas' work has also appeared in ABC's The Drum, New Matilda, The
Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, The Financial Review and Scribe's Best
Australian political cartoon anthologies.
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US Bishops reckon with same sex marriage support
Peter Kirkwood
Two Liberal backbenchers in the Australian federal parliament, Teresa Gambaro and
Warren Entsch, with two Labor MPs, Terri Butler and Laurie Ferguson, are drafting a
cross-party private member's bill in a bid to legalise same-sex marriage in the next
sitting of parliament.
Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is pouring cold water on the idea, saying he doesn't support
the bill and that the government has greater priorities to pursue regarding the economy
and national security.
This new effort to legalise gay marriage in Australia comes hard on the heels of the US
Supreme Court decision a few weeks ago ruling that the American constitution
guarantees the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states in the USA. This
overturns laws in the remaining 14 states that prohibited same-sex marriage.
Frank Brennan published an incisive article last week in Eureka Street outlining his
reservations about the US Supreme Court decision.
Catholic bishops in the US and Australia are in a quandary on the issue. Same-sex
marriage is clearly against traditional Catholic Church teachings on homosexuality and
marriage, and bishops have spoken out strongly against it.
The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference recently published a Pastoral Letter on the
topic with the simple and pointed title, Don't Mess With Marriage.
But many grass-roots Catholics in both countries support same-sex marriage, and the
Catholic Catechism teaches in article 2358 that homosexuals 'must be accepted with
respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard
should be avoided.'
The journalist featured in this interview recorded via Skype for Eureka Street TV has
covered this issue extensively in the United States. Here he talks about American Church
reaction to the Supreme Court ruling.
Michael O'Loughlin is national reporter for Crux, The Boston Globe's publication covering
Catholic life and the Church in America. Brought up in a Catholic family in Massachusetts,
he now lives and works in Chicago, and reports occasionally from Rome.
O'Loughlin is a graduate of Saint Anselm College, a liberal arts college founded by the
Benedictines in New Hampshire, where he began his writing career working for the
student newspaper. After graduating from Saint Anselm's he went on to further
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theological study at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.
Before joining the staff of Crux, he had a six month stint as an intern at the Jesuit
publication America, followed by five years in Washington DC as a freelance writer with
articles appearing in a number of mainstream and religious news outlets including
America, National Catholic Reporter, and Religion & Politics.
O'Loughlin has appeared on several US TV networks discussing the Catholic Church's
influence on public life, and frequently gives talks on a range of Catholic issues.
His book The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters, to be published
in September, uses Pope Francis's tweets to his nearly 21 million followers to explain why
this pope has captured the world's imagination and to explore his strategy and vision for
the Catholic Church.
<!-This interview is in two parts - Part 1 (13 mins) above, and Part 2 (11 mins)
Peter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the
Sydney College of Divinity.
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The limits to private ownership of property
Samuel Tyrer
The concept of ownership is at the heart of any property regime. 18th century English
jurist William Blackstone described ownership as 'that sole and despotic dominion which
one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of
the right of any other individual in the universe'.
Australians share this individualistic understanding of ownership. If I own property - that
is goods, land or intangible things such as shares in a company - then it is my right to
decide how that property is used and by whom.
Recently the house of the French National Assembly passed laws under which
supermarkets must donate to charity food that would otherwise be discarded. The laws
are now before the French Senate. As reported in the London Telegraph in August last
year, the law requires 'supermarkets with 1000 square metres of floor space to give their
&'unsold but still consumable food products to at least one food charity&''. Penalties
would apply for failure to comply.
Is a law that compels food donation by supermarkets consistent with our understanding
of property 'ownership'? Does it go too far in infringing the ownership rights of
supermarket retailers? To answer these questions we must consider what it is that our
property law system seeks to achieve.
One goal of property law is to protect individual rights to property. This concern is
reflected in the views of Australian courts, in reference to compulsory acquisition. Take
for instance the presumption applied by courts that parliament does not, in making laws,
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intend to interfere with private property rights.
The Australian High Court expounded this rule recently in R & R Fazzolari Pty Ltd v
Parramatta City Council; Mac's Pty Ltd v Parramatta City Council (2009) 237 CLR 603.
The courts' view was that a statute be interpreted so as to authorise 'the least
interference with private property rights'.
As well, private property rights are one of the few rights expressly protected under the
Australian Constitution. Readers may be familiar with the movie The Castle which looked
at section s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution and the prohibition there on the acquisition of
property on other than 'just terms'.
Underpinning all this is respect for the individuals' right to own property and to control
how that property is used. Defining this in law helps to create an ordered society in
relation to our material world. Property law, then, and its protection of ownership,
performs a vital function.
So back to mandatory food donation laws. Requiring a property owner (here a
supermarket retailer) to 'give away' its property (here unsold perishable goods) seems at
first glance at odds with the property law system. But at the heart of Australian property
law, there are multiple interests to be served.
Broader societal interests have to be balanced alongside the need to protect individual
property rights. Ask any property lawyer, and they will tell you that in legal systems,
including Australia's, limits have always been placed on ownership rights to achieve this
As explained by the law professor Christie Weeramantry in An Invitation to the Law, the
Roman civil law system recognised places set aside for public use (res publicae) and for
the sacred (res sacrae). Such places could not be the subject of private ownership rights.
Today we also recognise places set aside for public enjoyment. In Victoria, crown land
reserves may be managed by Committees of Management (of which there are over
1200). These committees manage land on behalf of the government operating under the
Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978.
English land law has also recognised limits to private ownership. Adverse possession law
is a good example. It recognises that a person who possesses land for a relevant period
of time and satisfies certain requirements may become the owner of that land. In this
way, an existing owner's rights may be defeated by a possessor of land (i.e. a squatter).
The rationale of adverse possession is to ensure land is used, rather than left unused for
significant periods of time (and to the deprivation of others who may be able to put the
land to use). Adverse possession is alive and well in Australian property law.
Planning regimes also restrict owners on how they develop and use their land. This is to
ensure certain objectives are achieved such as protection of natural resources, or the
sustainable use of land. Again these objectives operate as limits on individual property
rights and reflect the interests of society as a whole.
We may conclude then that property law has always recognised broader societal
interests. These may necessitate limits on individual rights of ownership.
In any debate about ownership (and limits to it) we should be considering the
fundamental question: what is it that we want our system of property law to achieve?
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Alongside protecting private interests there sits broader societal interests to consider.
Mandatory food donation laws recognise a broader societal interest. That there are
people in wealthy countries who still do not have enough to eat. Foodbank Australia, the
largest hunger relief organisation in this country, states that: '[c]harties report that every
month they are turning away almost 60,000 Australians seeking food relief due to lack of
food and resources.'
Recognising when such interests justify limits on private property ownership is the matter
for debate here. As Weeramantry states in An Invitation to the Law, 'property is an
important area where major refashionings of legal concepts will be needed to match the
social and economic demands of the future'. The French have recognised this with the
push for innovative mandatory food donation laws.
Samuel Tyrer is a Melbourne based lawyer who teaches in the law program at Australian
Catholic University.
'Private Property' sign image by Shutterstock.
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Intimidated ABC embraces self-censorship
Fatima Measham
ABC Q&A, 22 June,
approximately 57 minutes into an hour-long program. It felt as if it was going to be one
of those Monday evening spot fires that would extinguish itself by the end of the week.
But by Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott had announced an urgent government
inquiry into Zaky Mallah's appearance on the program. Government MPs lined up in
The conflagration has been framed in any number of ways, mostly ones that serve the
current government's priority on preserving national security. Such framing has centred
on character assessments not just of Mallah but staff at the ABC, who were accused of
engaging in 'a form of sedition' and 'terrorist recruitment advertisement'.
Nine days after the episode aired, the ABC Board released a statement indicating that an
internal formal warning had been issued against its executive producer. It may be the
case that the episode constituted a failure of editorial judgment but the sense of
appeasement makes me uneasy.
When the highest government official asks the public broadcaster whose side it is on, it
inevitably makes me think of the Philippine media under Ferdinand Marcos (pictured),
when the only side to be on is his. Broadcasters as well as the press came to anticipate
direct interventions from Malaca&ntilde;ang Palace; eventually, none had to be made.
One story from my childhood, which may be apocryphal, is that the beloved
anim&eacute; TV series Voltes V was banned for being subversive; such are the
sensitivities of undemocratic governments. It seems absurd from an Australian vantage
point, until one hears that the Prime Minister has just forbidden the entire frontbench
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from appearing on a panel show.
If this is starting to look, smell and walk like a vendetta, then maybe it is. This is not the
first time that Prime Minister Abbott has put pressure on the ABC. In January 2014, after
the ABC and The Guardian jointly revealed that Australian agencies had wiretapped
former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudohoyono and his wife in 2009, he said:
'I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone's
side but its own'.
Around the time, there were also concerns about ABC reports regarding the way that the
Royal Australian Navy had handled a group of asylum seekers. The PM said that the ABC
should have 'at least some basic affection for the home team', and that 'you shouldn't
leap to be critical of your own country'.
The reaction to Mallah's remark on Q&A is therefore part of a pattern where otherwise
legitimate critique about editorial process, including judgment of public interest, has
become indistinct from accusations of bias, disloyalty, and - it seems lately - aiding
terrorists. It is the relentless hyperbole that gives it away; this is not a national security
matter. It is vapid opportunism.
The Coalition's hostility toward the ABC is not just talk. The 2014 budget cut $254 million
over five years from ABC funding, leading to 241 redundancies across the country as of
February, with the greatest impact on rural and regional areas. Over the past couple
weeks, Coalition members and supporters have agitated for further cuts and even the
privatisation of the ABC. Remarkably, both Liberal MP Steven Ciobo and Institute of
Public Affairs (IPA) research fellow Patrick Hannaford last week ran the argument that
the ABC does not need to run a 24-hour news channel because Sky News exists.
The case for savings would be more convincing if the same crowd weren't also saying
that the ABC is a lefty lynch mob. It is an ill-founded perception. As The Guardian Data
Blog points out, ABC coverage of the last two federal elections was evenly split between
the Coalition and Labor. Newspoll and Essential surveys in 2013 also indicate that a high
proportion of Australians 'believe the ABC is balanced and even-handed when reporting
news and current affairs' and trust it above all other media outlets.
If the ABC leant any way at all, it probably leans right. An empirical study of partisanship
in Australian media outlets shows that over the period 1999-2007, ABC TV News had a
statistically significant slant toward the Coalition. John Howard was the Prime Minister
during that period, suggesting that maybe the issue isn't ABC bias but dismal
government performance. During the tumultuous Rudd-Gillard years, Labor members
were known to routinely complain that the ABC was giving the Opposition a free pass.
In other words, it is not the weaknesses of the ABC that have been illuminated by the
careless remark of a dubious character on its panel show. In their reaction to the
incident, members of the federal government have shown theirs.
Fatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She tweets @foomeister and blogs
at This is Complicated.
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Elegy for Joshua Hardy
Dougal Hurley
Elegy for Joshua Hardy
This is not a poem about loss,
it's about planting one foot in the turf
and wrapping your leg languidly
around a plump Sherrin before tea.
Tilt, twist and pivot,
send that leather bean soaring
high towards the Eucalypts.
Sorry Albert - ghostly gums;
there's still no better way.
This is not a poem about loss,
it's about promise beyond a vulgar epithet.
Eulogia is 'high praise', but there's nothing Greek
about these speeches, this music,
the ferrous dust that covers my brogues.
Stop trying to possess him,
claim him, covet your story,
talk it away with the Christ
or the hackneyed straddling
of 'Two Worlds'.
He didn't walk between them,
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he just was,
and ever shall remain,
a man not a slogan.
This is not a poem about loss,
it's about screaming so softly
that you feel your lungs
pressing against your sternum,
tossing the dirt in the hole
and having it blow back into your eyes.
You know the Waratahs still stare back at me
rotting, rancid bracts
quizzically turning in,
vital but death red.
This is not a poem about loss,
but it is surely not about 'high hospitality' either.
Stringy barbecued duck
and the comfort of community
are as useful as ginger-orange juice at the market,
lukewarm bitter in an aluminium can,
Eucalyptus smoke waved over the body
or a freshly printed pamphlet.
This is not another poem about loss,
Be easy. The Rubbish Country The fire started on the rubbish country, resinous marma
grasses don't burn hot. Lizards, mice and birds manage to scrape by among the feather
topped spinifex tufts. The wind whipped the front toward the Mulgas ruffling the Buffel
grass, stubborn green weeds - the last thing rooted after a dry spell. Endemic, the
leprous cascade rumbled leaping bush to bush, climbing smooth gum trunks. They held
bolt upright, sometimes toppling onto motley clusters of cellophane. Canopy met churned
stump, prickle and dirt a teratoma of hair, nails, teeth, fat, cannibalistic cancer of good
things. Eddies conduct the awful percussion into the night, casting ash flecked off timber
ribbons high enough to warp the moon. It could have been a fiction. You have to know
that I myself did not see the flames burnish the land. Before long, boots will tread over
fresh shoots, sink prints into blackened mud. I know the Mallee roots will live on, but not
the Mulgas. The Blowhole Wind licking igneous ripples that stubbornly hold their ground,
a few lengths deep those rocks go. Whittled away and blown over into sharp candied
shapes. Honeycomb protrusionsbriefly harbour the salty air before it dances astray,
bristling past the thin coat of brine, weeds and dust.
The Sou' Westerly whips whitecaps,
but under the cliffs it is dry.
There, crabs burrow into the sand,
children tread over shells
with jellied sandals and rash vests.
If you run your hand along the stone,
you coarsen the skin, rub earth in
to keep the oil company.
Around the bend is the blowhole;
It spits foam and bile up
over the rocks before it
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settles a crud on the flat.
Rampant waves coast
into the tepid enclave.
The foam obscures the ripples
that must run and break
slap the rock, change course and
compete with the incoming.
'Do not walk on the rocks,
this is a dangerous area.'
Dougal Hurley is a postgraduate law student at Melbourne University.
Image: Joshua Hardy, a Melbourne University student who died after an October 2014
street bashing outside McDonalds in St Kilda Road, Melbourne.
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The Border Force Act's disquieting parallels
Andrew Hamilton
On July 1 the Australian Border Force Act 2015 came into force. On the same day 40
people who were working in Australian detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island
signed an open letter of protest to the Prime Minister and Minister for Immigration and
Border Protection.
They attacked the provision that forbids them to speak publicly about abuses of human
rights. The penalty for doing so is two years in jail. They also dared the Government to
prosecute them for writing the letter.
Such letters reflect their letters deep disquiet and considerable bravery. The disquiet is
justified. Enquiries and reports have brought to public notice incidents of sexual abuse,
have claimed Australia to be in breach of the International Convention on torture, and
have highlighted the way in which human beings are damaged in detention centres.
As a Catholic priest I all too slowly became aware of the defects in church governance
and culture that led to so many children being abused and the crimes against them being
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kept secret. So I am horrified that the Government should impose this culture of silence
on detention centres by legislating to ensure that sexual abuse and other crimes are kept
in-house. I have learned how foolish people were to believe us when we said to them,
'You can trust us, we are the church'. I have still less reason to believe government
ministers when they say, 'You can trust us to act justly, we are the government'.
Although comparisons with other times and other states are never conclusive, there are
disquieting parallels between the purpose of this and other recent legislation and the
steps taken by other security states bear reflection. In nations like Nazi Germany,
Stalinist Russia, Apartheid South Africa, and Chile and Argentina under the Generals,
evidence of gross violation of human rights through arbitrary detention, beatings, rapes,
torture and murder in places of detention came to light only when the regimes that
practiced them fell. All these regimes ensured that their security apparatus could act in
secrecy, and prevented information from leaking out.
These security states also denigrated their victims as enemies of the people and gave
impunity to those who mistreated them. In Stalin's Russia those sent to the Gulags were
considered enemies of the state, as were the Jews and gypsies sent to Nazi camps, and
Black activists imprisoned in South Africa. The populace generally was not concerned
about how they were treated. Furthermore the military and other officers of the state
enjoyed impunity for any brutality they practiced.
In Australia people who come by boat to seek protection from persecution have long
been vilified. Recent legislation, too, allows officers in detention centres to use whatever
force they themselves deem necessary to maintain order. They will effectively be judges
of their own cases. This confers on them a dangerous degree of impunity. Taken together
with the imposition of secrecy and the widespread antipathy to asylum seekers, this
measure removes all the effective hindrances to the development of a brutal culture.
People will say that this can never happen in Australia - our national virtues and
institutions will prevent it. So will the decency of the officers working in detention
centres. And I can testify to their decency. But this is what people said in South Africa,
Chile, Germany and Russia.
Still in those nations brave people risked their lives or freedom when telling the truth to
power. Osip Mandel'stam, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Aleksandr Solzhenitisyn, Nelson Mandela
and Pablo Neruda are some of the best known faces of resistance to brutality. The
signatories of the open letter follow honorably in their own small way in this tradition.
Over the entrance to the Nazi death camps hung the slogan: 'Work makes free'. For
those arriving there its chilling irony lay in the fact that the only freedom offered and
imposed upon them was to be killed. But for the Nazi State its comforting irony lay in the
knowledge that, if it worked to denigrate its victims, to impose silence around its security
apparatus and to give its officials impunity, it would be made free from all that waffle
about decency, justice and respect.
As we read the letter of the 40 just people, that bears thinking about&hellip;
Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.
Image: Victims of Argentina's Dirty War.
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<!--Follow him on Twitter.-->
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The normalisation of lying in Australian politics
John Warhurst
The terms 'lie' and 'liar' have become so completely devalued that there are now far
worse sins in modern politics. That is why I can't get excited about Opposition Leader Bill
Shorten choosing to lie on air to Neil Mitchell about his involvement in discussions with
Kevin Rudd to unseat Julia Gillard as Prime Minister.
The suggestion that his admission, contained in an apology, means that he can no longer
be trusted is ludicrous. His sin, if it is one, pales into insignificance compared to others.
Current tricks include evasion, lack of transparency, broken promises and wilful
misrepresentation. This means that the whole question of telling the truth, which should
be a serious matter, has now become so murky that knowing how to judge supposed
departures from the truth is next to impossible.
Let's take each of these tricks in turn. Evasion is a stock in trade of modern politics.
Professional media trainers actually instruct would be public figures never to feel
compelled to answer the question that is put to them by an interviewer. That is, never be
led by into territory you don't want to visit. Shorten actually told Mitchell that he should
have answered 'No Comment' and left the listeners to infer the answer. That is hardly an
improvement in public discourse.
Both sides of politics have recently evaded the question of whether they have paid people
smugglers to stop the boats. This came up with the revelation that a boat crew had been
paid to return a boat load of asylum seekers to Indonesia. The public is left to presume
that the report was true but the government refused to confirm or deny it.
More generally questions about asylum seeker matters are routinely rebuffed by the
excuse that the government will not comment on operational matters. In other areas of
public policy the usual phrase is that a government will not comment on matters of
commercial in confidence. Either way the public is denied the truth on grounds that are
often spurious.
To evade or to seek to hide the truth is common. The professional term is 'lack of
transparency' but that jargon itself doesn't help because it lulls us into a sense of
business as usual. It is better described as lack of openness or deliberately covering up
the truth.
Broken election promises are also now common currency. There are sometimes reasons
why such promises end up being broken. Circumstances do change and governments
should not be inflexible.
But governments now adopt a cavalier approach to breaking promises, whether it is to
bring the budget back to surplus or not to cut education and health spending.
Governments make a noose for their own necks by over-promising during election
campaigns just to curry favour with the electorate. But they should not be excused for
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doing so.
Governments now try to excuse broken promises by claiming that some promises are
more serious than others. The most notorious formulation was John Howard claiming that
broken promises were excusable because there were so-called 'core' and 'non-core'
The most famous recent case, prior to the many examples from the Abbott government,
of a so-called broken promise, was Julia Gillard's promise not to introduce a carbon tax.
She argued minority government demanded it and that therefore circumstances had
changed. Her opponents argued that she had betrayed the electorate and that 'Ju-Liar'
had actually lied. Whatever her sin she certainly didn't lie, which is very different from
breaking a promise.
This leads into another common trick which is misrepresentation of what is and is not a
lie. A current example comes from American politics but is relevant to Australia.
Republican Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, pointed out that President Barack
Obama opposed same sex marriage marriage until 2012. He went on: 'He was either
lying in 2008, or he's lying now'. People in public life can change their minds so long as
they are honest about it and explain their reasons for doing so.
Where all this leaves us is that any judgement of an individual's trustworthiness should
take into account the fact that avoiding telling the truth is embedded in public life.
John Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National
University and a Canberra Times columnist.
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