23 December 2009


17 MAY 2009


The Rudd Government’s 2009 budget put forward the proposal to change retirement age from 65 to 67. What follows is an analysis of condescension, discrimination, homophobia, double standards and hypocrisy, to name some of the issues, from this government and its responses to the introduction of same-sex legislation in December 2008.

Dishonesty in the advertisement stating that couples are couples whether they are gay or straight is not only dishonest, it is an outright lie, and the government knows it too. It reflects the fact that the Advertising Standards organization, as operated in Australia, is a toothless tiger. The lie is that straight couples are able to register their relationships while gay couples are not – this is discrimination and homophobia!

The first item to examine in this litany of deceit is the matter of how the government has approached the proposed change of retirement age from 65 to 67.

An article in The Age newspaper on Wednesday 13 May 2009 reports that “. . . the Government will lift the pension age from 65 to 67 within 15 years and claw back more money faster from future pensioners who earn other income.” “Pension age to be lifted from 65 from 2017, rising by six months every two years, until 67 in 2023.”

“To start in September (2009), the increase will be worth $32.49 a week for singles (pensioners) and $10.14 per couple.”

The pension age increase is, in effect, grandfathered, meaning that between now and 2017, a period of 8 years, people who will become pensioners at that time will have been given 8 years’ notice of changes to occur.

Contrast this with the situation for the gay, lesbian, transgender and HIV/AIDS (GLTH) communities who have not only been given only 8 MONTHS’ notice of dramatic changes to financial circumstances in their lives after a lifetime of having known they were discriminated against but were subject to ongoing governmental homophobia, by virtue of the fact that many, now in their 70s, 80s and older, will be “outed” by an irresponsible and reckless government who care nothing for these communities. The laws were promulgated in December 2008, and are due to come into effect on 1 July 2009, with the government agency Centrelink being able to pry into the private lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our society in order to find out whether they are singles or couples.

The most dishonest part of the government’s “couples are couples” advertisement is the fact that straight couples are able to register their relationships with civil or religious marriage rites, whereas GLTH couples are denied this basic human right and therefore show the government’s hypocrisy and lies by stating that “couples are couples”.

The next part of this behaviour is the statement by government that the same-sex legislative changes will be promoted through the media on a regular basis from December 2008 to July 2009. So far the straight media have been very silent on the issue other than the false and misleading advertisement with “gay and straight toothbrushes” which is also as demeaning as it is false.

In a letter written on 11 May 2009 from the office of the Hon. Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the following is the second paragraph:

“During the 2007 election campaign the Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, announced that legal discrimination against same-sex couples should be removed, including from social security law. The Government announced its intention to remove same-sex discrimination, including in the area of social security, on 30 April 2008. The Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws – General Law Reform) Bill 2008 was subsequently tabled on 4 September 2008. The Government has staggered the commencement dates for the reforms to provide a period for individuals and couples to adjust to their new financial circumstances”.

So, 8 months is considered a “period for individuals and couples to adjust to their new financial circumstances” after a lifetime of discrimination and restrictions on financial arrangements for people in same-sex relationships, but 8 years is considered a reasonable time for working people to make arrangements for their retirement years in 2017.

This is homophobia writ large – not surprising considering other actions by this government to prevent equality by every means available by stating in the strongest possible terms that there will be no registration of same-sex couples federally, thus ensuring inequality remains entrenched, thus contradicting Rudd’s statement that “legal discrimination against same-sex couples should be removed, including from social security law.”

Considering that the government has no idea whatever of the numbers of GLTH couples there are in the community, how are they able to assess the costs to government of the changes about to take place in 6 weeks’ time? This is their method of ruining the lives of countless old and vulnerable people who know very little of what is happening with legislative changes and who will be in great difficulties when Centrelink starts prying into their lives.

No members of this government have publicly addressed this issue in any way and have refused to consider the grandfathering that has been requested of them.

Homophobia and hypocrisy will continue to dog the elderly, frail, disabled and impoverished in the GLTH communities in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

This government should be ashamed of the way it has handled these legislative changes.

Many community organisations were not consulted and it is dishonest to say that there were consultations across the board, and the most vulnerable were not consulted at all!
Mannie De Saxe, Lesbian and Gay Solidarity, Melbourne.

Changes to Age Pension qualifying age Published in News for Seniors Summer 2009 Issue 80

The qualifying age for Age Pension will be gradually increased from 65 to 67. The qualifying age will increase by six months every two years, commencing from 1 July 2017 and reaching 67 on 1 July 2023. These changes will not affect anyone born before 1 July 1952. Everyone born from 1 January 1957 will have an Age Pension age of 67.
The age pension age increase is part of the Secure and Sustainable Pension Reform package. The increase reflects improvements in life expectancy and helps meet the challenge of an ageing population. It is projected that by 2049, 22 per cent of the population will be over 65 years of age, compared with around 13 per cent today.
The table below describes the gradual increase in the qualifying age for Age Pension and includes the current increase from 60 to 65 in the women’s qualifying age.
Born Women eligible for Age Pension at age Men eligible for Age Pension at age
Before 1 July 1935------------------60------------------------------65
1 July 1935 to 31 December 1936-----60&1/2--------------------------65
1 January 1937 to 30 June 1938------61------------------------------65
1 July 1938 to 31 December 1939-----61½-----------------------------65
1 January 1940 to 30 June 1941------62------------------------------65
1 July 1941 to 31 December 1942-----62½-----------------------------65
1 January 1943 to 30 June 1944------63------------------------------65
1 July 1944 to 31 December 1945-----63½-----------------------------65
1 January 1946 to 30 June 1947------64------------------------------65
1 July 1947 to 31 December 1948-----64½-----------------------------65
1 January 1949 to 30 June 1952------65------------------------------65
1 July 1952 to 31 December 1953-----65½-----------------------------65½
1 January 1954 to 30 June 1955------66------------------------------66
1 July 1955 to 31 December 1956-----66½-----------------------------66½
From 1 January 1957-----------------67------------------------------67



There are people in the community who care very deeply about issues such as the Wonthaggi desalination plant. Unfortunately there are newspapers such as The Age which refuse to publish our letters - we are too bolshie for them and they kowtow to their editors and owners. Because the media is so pathetic, blogs have become a popular form of protest at what is going on in the world around us.

There is absolutely no reason in the world why Melbourne, as well as other cities around Australia can't use recycled water. Melbourne does not need to have water pumped from Tasmania, does not need the north-south pipeline, does not need a desalination plant.

Melbourne needs to have a recycling system! Just stand on any street corner when we have one of those rare events in Melbourne these days - a downpour with water falling from the skies. Look at the gutters and watch the amount of water flowing - to where?

Underground reservoirs built at low-lying positions to collect all this run-off and think of the millions saved by Victorians and the country using recycled water - not just from rare rain but from everything else we use water for and it gets flushed down our sewers and drains.

One day people will see the light and rebel against their capitalist-controlled governments and realise how they have been fooled for decades. Maybe then something realistic will be done, not just about water but about all those other things our governments do in our names!!!

Desal plant figures don't hold water

December 7, 2009

Comments 24

In the modern democratic state, the durability of the big policy lie is prolonged by secrecy, and where this is no longer tenable, by creating an artificial maze to make the relevant information as difficult as possible to find, and once found, almost impossible to interpret.

Take the case of the Wonthaggi desalination plant. Last month Premier John Brumby's office released a media statement based on a ''project summary'' that shows that the net present cost (NPC) of the 30-year project as a public-private partnership was $5.7 billion compared with $6.7 billion if the Government did the job. This is based on the public sector comparator (PSC), which is a government creation that purports to show the true cost to taxpayers if the Government undertook the project. Ergo, a saving of a billion dollars, which was duly reported in the media.

But even based on the figures the Government grudgingly includes in its summary, the PSC shows no such thing. A reasonable interpretation of the document shows that over the 30-year period, Victorians will pay $650 million a year for the water supplied by the PPP (Macquarie Bank, the French multi-national, Suez and the builder, Theiss). This compares to $425 million a year it would cost as a government project. The difference of $225 million a year is the rent that will accrue to the PPP groups and their financiers.

Public or private, the 150-gigalitre desal plant is not needed. The additional water could be produced at a sixth to a quarter of the cost by a judicious mixture of conservation, recycling and diversion dams.

The Government asked itself the wrong question and is offering as an answer a cover-up. Implicitly the project summary recognises that the construction and operating costs are the same for both the PPP and the PSC. The Government, like the PPP, AquaSure, would contract out construction and buy the stainless steel pipes and reverse osmosis filters from comparable sources and the main operating cost - electricity - would be bought from the National Electricity Market Management Company grid.

The main difference between the two NPCs postulated by the Government is the risk that is purported to be transferred from the Government to AquaSure. The PSC calculated that AquaSure would take on risks worth $782 million NPC, which translates to an annual burden equal to $82 million a year.

The main risks of operating a desal plant are many. For example, at some time in the next 30 years a future government might not want to take all the 150 gigalitres of desalinated water available; there could be interruptions to power supply; likely changes to the price of power and the exchange rate risk at the time when the foreign debt in the highly geared project needs to be rolled over.

The monthly service payments incorporate ''a security element that is paid to the extent that the project delivers water that is ordered or is capable of delivering 150 gl per annum'', which amounts to a ''take or pay'' contract, plus an unspecified usage payment depending on the water ordered each month, which probably amounts to a bonus.

Electricity prices will skyrocket because some form of carbon tax will be imposed on electricity generators, but the cost of this will be passed on to water consumers irrespective of who owns the desal plant.

All this does is simply underline the madness of using electricity to produce water when non-electric alternatives are available.

The project only got off the ground because AquaSure got a government guarantee for its borrowings. It was flooded with offers of loan money because the generous deal it got from the Government meant it could offer an interest rate slightly above the risk-free, long-term bond rate and a government guarantee at the same time.

In other words, the ''risk'' transfer that purports to make the PPP the superior proposal is a fiction. But the most egregious element in the PSC is to apply a discount rate of 7.3 per cent (real) to the comparator. This, after taking into account an underlying inflation rate of 2.5 per cent, implies the Government alternative had to earn a rate of return equal to 10 per cent to put it on a level playing field with the PPP bid even though the Government can borrow all it needs for a nominal interest rate 5.5 per cent interest.

The difference adds up to a colossal financial burden for the state. The difference between a return at current prices of 10 per cent apparently required by AquaSure and the 5.5 per cent needed to cover the costs of a publicly owned desal plant is an annual average extra payment of $225 million a year over 28 operating years based on an NPC of $5.7 billion.

To buy the approval of powerful local and global financial interests, the Government has mortgaged the future of this state to the hilt. The consequences of this are not yet even dimly perceived by those charged with the duty of providing good government.

Kenneth Davidson is an Age senior columnist:


We're dudded on water but no one rebels

December 21, 2009

Comments 32

It is tempting for governments to reward most the people who can keep them in power. They do it with tax cuts and subsidies. It is clear that this has increasingly become the modus operandi of the Brumby Government.

The question now is whether the Government is, in effect, becoming a kleptocracy with the passive co-operation of the Opposition, as all sides of politics refuse to justify or criticise my calculation that the cost of the Wonthaggi desalination plant will be $650 million a year over the next 30 years or $225 million a year more than if the project was financed with public debt.

Victoria's politicians, whatever their motives, show by their silence that they have more to gain politically by serving the interests of AquaSure and by keeping quiet rather than addressing the public interest concerns about the contract - which still hasn't been made public.

Both sides want to shut down debate. Yet Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu is in a win-win situation unless he is also part of the game.

The public-private partnership game depends on secrecy, embellished by complexity, which turns away all but the most curious and most obsessed about protecting the public interest. Complexity, which reinforces public apathy, is the favoured tool of rent-seekers of all types.

The most notorious example of rent-seeking throughout the 1970s was tax avoidance, tacitly promoted by the federal treasurer, John Howard, and sanctified by the Barwick High Court.

It blew up when the Painters and Dockers Royal Commission stumbled into a far bigger scandal in the form of ''bottom of the harbour'' tax schemes that ''deep-sixed'' companies after they had been stripped of all their money, including tax liabilities. This captured public imagination and tax avoidance became a significant factor in the defeat of the Fraser government in 1982.

The public waste, the failure to follow proper process and the continued secrecy about the desal contract between the government and Aquasure should also capture the public imagination.

I can't believe the scale on which Victorians are being dudded. The prospect of $20 billion over 30 years to undertake a project that isn't necessary, but could have been done for $12 billion, is financial turpitude on a scale hard to imagine - even in Third World countries that don't have or don't respect institutional checks and balances to keep executive government honest.

Since the election of the Kennett government in 1992 Victoria has progressively lost a professional public service capable of producing independent advice and an independent auditor-general with the confidence to write relevant reports in plain language, while FOI legislation has been reduced to a joke and parliamentary committees have seen their reports hijacked to reflect the executive agenda.

Brumby's silence in the face of the facts that have been gleaned from the limited information that has been made public is understandable.

Baillieu's silence is inexplicable - unless he has made the political judgment that the interests behind AquaSure can do his party more damage than the votes he would gain by articulating the public interest. A responsible Opposition could offer a way back from the financial precipice. Has Victoria now no defence against bad government?

There is one slim chance. Like public opinion when its attention to tax avoidance rorts was stirred by the ''bottom of the harbour'' evasion racket, unwelcome attention has been drawn to the desalination plant by the outrageous decision of the police to hand over files on peaceful demonstrators to AquaSure. It is a clear signal to public opinion about who really pulls the strings in this state.

Governments should be absolutely scrupulous in entering multibillion-dollar contracts, especially involving private partners such at the Macquarie Group and Suez. Macquarie gave us CityLink and tolls at least twice the level that would have been required to finance the project by public borrowings. The French multinational Suez has a record of corrupt dealings with governments over water contracts, with directors sent to jail as a result.

The Brumby Government cannot continue to be silent for long. The amounts wasted are too big to hide. Misleading statements won't wash.

For instance, the project summary tabled in Parliament states that the plant will produce water at a cost of $1370 per megalitre. Rubbish. Simple arithmetic based on the production of 150 gigalitres a year suggests revenue of $205 million a year would not even cover the plant's operating costs.

At the Dubai annual international desalination power conference last month it was stated that the best price for water produced by the best desal technology in the world was $5100 per megalitre - three times the cost of water from Tasmania and more than five times the cost from aquifer injection and conservation.

Victoria is going down a privatisation path that France began in 1985 but is now rolling back in favour of management contracts where government retains strategic control of water.

Kennneth Davidson is an Age senior columnist. His column will return in February.


19 December 2009


Why is it that in the second decade of the 21st century Australia is going backwards to the status of a police state?

Australia poses no threat to any country and in turn is not threatened by other countries, yet the federal government is petrified that Australian citizens may read or see or hear things on the internet which will be so abhorrent to them that they have to be protected by big brother Stephen Conroy and his religious-based colleagues.

The farce has reached such proportions that a new domain name using the Genghis
Khan-related communications (what was that dirty word?)minister's name has been summarily ordered to close down its use or face prosecution.

Fortunately, as Conroy is yet to discover obviously, there are ways to circumvent this sort of nonsense which the US governments of the past discovered during Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. Hard to believe this is happening in Australia in 2010!!

Just to help you with this ridiculous farce, here is the web site as it is at the moment:


Flawed idea puts democracy at risk
December 17, 2009

A MANDATORY internet filter is to be introduced under the guise of blocking access to illegal material, such as child pornography (The Age, 16/12). Preventing access to such sadistic material is a noble cause, but the Government's approach is fundamentally flawed.

A filter is technically insufficient. Those with a basic understanding of the internet know it can be easily bypassed. Even if this could not be done, the vast majority of illegal material is exchanged on peer-to-peer networks, which a filter is incapable of prohibiting.

More importantly, this sets a dangerous precedent for our democracy. Any system where hidden, nameless bureaucrats decide what we can or cannot know erodes public debate. For example, discussion of euthanasia will be eliminated, destroying any chance of future progress. What other public issues will join the Government's blacklist?

Stephen Conroy worries children will grow up being able to access illegal material. I worry that they will grow up unable to decide for themselves.

Mark Colautti, Glen Iris

Where will this stop?

AS AN adult and an Australian citizen, I have concerns about the Government's planned internet censorship.

At first Stephen Conroy wanted to ''filter'' child abuse. Some might say ''fair enough''. Then he said he planned to ''filter'' refused classification sites. Some might say ''I am an adult, I can watch whatever I wish to''. Then Conroy stated he wanted to censor websites that import R18 games into Australia, because we are the only Western democracy without an 18 rating for video games. Where will it stop?

This is not about protecting the children, or ''refused classification''. It is about the Government being scared of something it perceives as a threat and trying to control it.

Sebastian Lardieri, Mount Waverley

Saving the children

WHILE I understand the importance of retaining our freedom to choose what we access on the internet, what of the rights of the children used in child pornography? Sexual exploitation of children in any form should not be tolerated, and banning such sites on the internet is just one small step in the right direction.

Catherine Manning, Cardinia

Get thee to Beijing

I'M OLD enough to remember how we used to shake our heads at those communist countries.

They employed an army of people to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, steam open letters and follow people in the street. They said this was necessary to safeguard the people from their (capitalist) enemies. We smugly called ourselves the ''free world''.

But now that technology has made it so much easier and cheaper, Western governments are getting in on it too. We're getting internet blocking to protect us from ''unhealthy influences'', just like they do in China.

I suppose Stephen Conroy will go on a fact-finding mission to Beijing to learn how best to do it. They are the experts.

Anthony Shipman, East Burwood

Filtering threatens freedom, but won't stop net nasties
December 17, 2009

The Rudd Government should drop plans to censor the internet.

FOR some people, the boundary between the real world and the virtual world of the internet is a slippery, and increasingly porous, one. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is avowedly not among them. Senator Conroy is crystal-clear about what's real, as he explained this week when announcing that the Federal Government would proceed with mandatory internet filtering. ''This is about taking the standards of the real world, the physical world, and applying them to the virtual world,'' he said.

But surely, Senator, those standards already do apply? Child pornography, for example, is already illegal, and those who distribute it through websites, or who seek it from them, are as liable to criminal prosecution as they would be if they had been dealing with printed texts. The same applies to the other ''RC'' (Refused Classification) content that internet service providers will be expected to block from overseas servers: material depicting sexual violence or bestiality, or which gives ''detailed instruction of crime or drug use''. What, then, does the Government expect to achieve by this foray into internet censorship?

The answer to that question was not apparent from Senator Conroy's remarks. The need for an answer, however, certainly was. The minister said it was important ''that all Australians, particularly young children, are protected from this material'', yet the Government's own filtering trial concedes that it will be possible to circumvent the filters. Whether those seeking the banned material are pedophiles using virtual private networks and peer-to-peer file sharing, or tech-savvy, inquisitive adolescents unwisely seeking sexual content online, filtering will not constitute the barrier Senator Conroy seems to think it will. Pedophiles will still have to be tracked down by the methods police use now, and the vigilance of parents will still be the best means of preventing children from calling up dubious, dangerous or corrupting online content.

Nor will it necessarily be the case that filtering a defined list of websites can be done ''with 100 per cent accuracy and negligible impact on network performance'', as Senator Conroy claimed. These assurances seem to owe more to spin than to an accurate reporting of the trial results, which showed that filtering wrongly blocked up to 3.4 per cent of content - in effect, many millions of web pages. Moreover, ''negligible impact'' was defined in the trial - helpfully, from the Government's point of view - as an effect on internet speeds of plus or minus 10 per cent.

The list of banned websites is to be maintained by an independent body ''at arms length from the Government'', yet the Government will add sites containing ''known child-abuse material'' obtained from ''highly regarded international agencies''. If the agency charged with this task is to be genuinely independent, why cannot it maintain the necessary content with ''highly regarded agencies'' itself? A body whose list can be topped up as and when the government of the day sees fit to do so hardly has an independence worthy of the name.

Worse, the list is to be ''compiled by a public complaints mechanism'', which raises the prospect that innocent individuals may be denounced by those with hidden agendas, or that works of artistic or literary merit may be proscribed because of agitation by activists. The Age has noted before that distinguishing art from pornography is not the simple task self-proclaimed defenders of artistic freedom, or of public morals, sometimes assume it to be. However the line between them is to be judged, it is perilous for a liberal democracy to rely in these matters on what amounts to a clamour in the street.

Senator Conroy is obviously aware of the concerns raised about government abuse of internet filtering: ''… for people wanting to campaign on the basis that we're going to maybe slip political content in - we will never support that, and if someone proposes that, I will be on the floor of Parliament arguing against it.'' As we hope he would do, if it ever came to that. The problem, however, is that he can't make promises for any future government.

The proposed internet filters would deliver to government extensive powers of censorship that are not compatible with freedom of speech and expression, and which are in any case likely to be technically ineffective. If the Government proceeds with this legislation early next year, as announced, it will do little to help fight child porn, or any other evil online. It will, however, demonstrate how little it understands the internet, and its own disregard of liberal-democratic values

Outcry on internet censorship
December 17, 2009

THE Federal Government's proposal for an internet filter faces a barrage of criticism, including from both sides of politics and a former High Court judge.

Two Liberal backbenchers, Jamie Briggs and Alex Hawke, condemned the proposal. The Opposition doubts the legislation can be workable, although it has promised to examine it.

''We are open to proposals, provided they achieve their objective without unfortunate side effects,'' Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said.

He said it made sense to try to ensure homes were not invaded with pornography.

''On the other hand, I don't want to see wider censorship [or] … the internet destroyed as a tool for people's education or … businesses,'' he said.

Mr Briggs said constituents under 25 in his electorate overwhelmingly disagreed with the plan. ''There's no way I'm supporting this. I joined the Liberal Party because I believe in individual responsibility,'' he said.

The move would give parents a false sense of security about what their children could access on the internet, he said.

Mr Hawke said while there might be valid concerns about some material on the internet, people who used it as their primary network for information and social interaction were ''highly suspicious of the Government censoring this medium in a blanket fashion''.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby warned the filtering risked jeopardising free ideas and could lead to a global tightening of internet controls.

''I understand the problem that is being addressed, but it is an entirely different approach than the approach taken elsewhere in the world,'' he told Sydney radio station 2UE in an interview to be aired today.

The proposal was opposed in some circles as ''the thin end of a wedge of the Government moving into regulating the internet. And once you start doing that you get into the situation of Burma and Iran where the government is taking control of what people hear and what information they get,'' he said.

A LaborNSW Government parliamentary secretary, Penny Sharpe, said mandatory filtering would be ''a triumph of fear and false promise over what works and good sense''.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said this week he would introduce legislation to make service providers block websites that had been ''refused classification''. The sites would include material such as child sex abuse and sexual violence.

The blacklist would be produced using a public complaint mechanism, government censors and information from international agencies.

Fighting Australia’s impending web censorship farce
Published by
Antony Loewenstein
19 December 2009

An important letter sent by Reporters Without Borders:

The Hon Kevin Michael Rudd Prime Minister Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600 Australia

Paris, 18 December 2009

Dear Prime Minister,

Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends free expression worldwide, would like to share with you its concern about your government’s plan to introduce a mandatory Internet filtering system. While it is essential to combat child sex abuse, pursuing this draconian filtering project is not the solution. If Australia were to introduce systematic online content filtering, with a relatively broad definition of the content targeted, it would be joining an Internet censors club that includes such countries as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy announced on 15 December that, after a year of testing in partnership with Australian Internet service providers (ISPs), your government intended to introduce legislation imposing mandatory filtering of websites with pornographic, paedophile or particularly violent content.

Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to the risks that this plan entails for freedom of expression.

Firstly, the decision to block access to an “inappropriate” website would be taken not by a judge but by a government agency, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Such a procedure, without a court decision, does not satisfy the requirements of the rule of law. The ACMA classifies content secretly, compiling a website blacklist by means of unilateral and arbitrary administrative decision-making. Other procedures are being considered but none of them would involve a judge.

Secondly, the criteria that the proposed law would use are too vague. Filtering would be applied to all content considered “inappropriate,” a very slippery term that could be interpreted very differently by different people. In all probability, filtering would target “refused classification” (RC) sites, a category that is extremely controversial as it is being applied to content that is completely unrelated to efforts to combat child sex abuse and sexual violence, representing a dangerous censorship option. Subjects such as abortion, anorexia, aborigines and legislation on the sale of marijuana would all risk being filtered, as would media reports on these subjects.

The choice of filtering techniques has not been clearly defined. Would it be filtering by key-words, URL text or something else? And what about the ISPs that are supposed to carry out the filtering at the government’s request? Will they be blamed, will they be accused of complicity in child sex abuse if the filtering proves to be ineffective, as it almost certainly will?

Your government claims that the filtering will be 100 per cent effective but this is clearly impossible. Experts all over the world agree that no filtering system is effective at combating this kind of content. On the one hand, such a system filters sites that should not be affected (such as sites about the psychology of child sexuality or paedophile crime news). And on the other, it fails to filter targeted sites because their URLs contain key-words that are completely unrelated to their content, or because their content (photo and text) is registered under completely neutral terms. Furthermore, people who are determined to visit such sites will know how to avoid the filtering by, for example, using proxy servers or censorship circumvention software or both.

The Wikileaks website highlighted the limitations of such as system when it revealed that the ACMA blacklist of already banned websites contained many with nothing reprehensible in their content. According to Wikileaks, the blacklist included the Abortion TV website, some of the pages of Wikileaks itself, online poker sites, gay networks, sites dealing with euthanasia, Christian sites, a tour operator’s site and even a Queensland dentist’s site.

The US company Google has also voiced strong reservations. Google Australia’s head of policy, Iarla Flynn, said yesterday: “Moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.”

As regards paedophilia, the most dangerous places on the Internet are websites offering chat and email services. So if this project were taken to its logical conclusion, access to sites such as Gmail, Yahoo and Skype would also have to be blocked, which would of course be impossible.

There are more effective ways to combat child pornography, including tracking cyber-criminals online (by means of cookies, IP address comparison, and so on), combined with police investigation into suspects and their online habits. Why did your government end the programme launched by the previous government, which made free filtering systems available to Australian families? This procedure had the merit of being adapted to individual needs and gave each home the possibility of shielding its children from porn.

A real national debate is needed on this subject but your communications minister, Stephen Conroy, made such a debate very difficult by branding his critics as supporters of child pornography. An opportunity was lost for stimulating a constructive exchange of ideas.

We also regret the lack of transparency displayed by your government as regards the tests carried out in recent months using procedures that have been kept secret. Your government paid some 300,000 Australian dollars to ISPs to finance the tests. Australian taxpayers have a right to be given detailed information about the results.

Finally, you must be aware that this initiative is a source of a concern for your compatriots. In a recent Fairfax Media poll of 20,000 people, 96 per cent were strongly opposed to such a mandatory Internet filtering system, while around 120,000 Australians have signed a petition against Internet censorship launched by the online activist group GetUp. The withdrawal of this proposal would therefore satisfy public opinion as well as prevent a democratic country from introducing a system that threatens freedom of expression.

I thank you in advance for the consideration you give to our recommendations.


Jean-François Julliard

16 December 2009


The following article appeared in The Age newspaper on 15 December 2009, and the letter below the article, from Rodney Croome, Australian Marriage Equality, was published in the same paper the next day, 16 December 2009.

What Rodney states in his letter is that what the article's author is suggesting is just carrying on the tradition of sexual apartheid which the world has been practising for so long.

Unfortunately religion enters the equation every time, and when one considers that we are supposed to live in a country with a secular government one has to ask why it is that religions still carry so much weight. Statistics indicate that more and more people are atheists, but governments are presided over by religious fanatics who ensure their religious colleagues are endlessly pandered to.

Here are the article and the letter:

A civil partnership law for gay couples should be a priority

December 15, 2009

Giving recognition to partnerships will bring gay marriage nearer.>

Almost a year ago, my partner and I formed a civil partnership. We have been together for more than 10 years, and wanted to make a public declaration of our commitment. As Australia doesn't allow this for same-sex couples, our ceremony took place 1500 kilometres away, in the City of Westminster's Registry Office on Marylebone Road. While we are grateful to Britain for the opportunity, and to the people in London who were able to join us, this meant that no members of our families and few of our close friends could be there.

Why does Britain provide same-sex civil partnership? It's not due to greater levels of tolerance. In fact, careful surveys of public opinion show that a slightly larger majority of Australians support legal recognition of gay and lesbian partnerships. Nor is it due to the greater power of opposing voices in Australia; the British have their own advocates of something called ''traditional marriage'' (which turns out, of course, to be a very slippery concept). There, too, clerics oppose ''gay marriage'' with highly selective borrowings from the broad base of Christian, Jewish and Islamic teachings.

What the British very sensibly did was create a form of ''civil partnership'' defined and enacted by the state and made legally equal to marriage. Civil partnership and marriage generate the same rights and responsibilities in terms of taxation, assets and benefits. In Britain, my partner also has rights as my next of kin. Here, in Victoria, in 2009, his rights are not so clear, because they depend upon a recognition - by hospitals, for instance - that he is what the law calls my ''domestic partner or spouse''. It probably wouldn't matter, because most people who work in hospitals are sensible and flexible. But that's the problem with an absence of rights: you can never be sure you won't end up with the bigoted and inflexible exception.

What gay people don't have in Britain is the right to marry in places such as churches. Nor can we use religious words and symbols. The Civil Partnership Act does not use the word ''marriage'', because its framers and advocates understood that avoiding that word would deliver practical change more quickly.

I think a similar kind of civil partnership arrangement is a reasonable way of moving forward and should be a priority for Australia's Federal Government. Clearly, it will not satisfy some advocates of gay marriage. I am particularly aware of the dilemmas this creates for gay and lesbian people of faith. I can only imagine how galling it must be to know that heterosexual people with little or no evidence of professed faith can marry in your churches, when you are denied that ceremony.

Nor will a civil partnership act solve every problem. But it will achieve three things. First, it establishes practical rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples and ends a host of ridiculous inequities.

Second, it allows religious institutions to continue discriminating if they wish, while also making clear that this is what they are doing. This might take the heat out of the issue, encouraging debate and even the tolerance of difference. But if churches or synagogues or mosques don't wish to sanction or carry out the marriage of same-sex couples, or other kinds of people they don't want to recognise, then so be it. I am personally offended by the fact that they can evade one of the most fundamental obligations of citizenship: to treat all as equally as possible. I will continue to argue that faith should not sanction prejudices that have no basis in evidence and should be long gone. But that battle is for the longer term, and I'd rather have the rights and responsibilities now.

Third, recognising partnerships will significantly narrow the scope of disquiet about ''gay marriage'', because most of the people who are currently uncertain about that term are not in principle opposed to legal and social equality. Indeed, it will make very obvious the difference between those who are unsure about gay marriage and those who oppose any recognition and respect for homosexual relationships. It will reveal the latter's bigotry, and show how out of step they are with the 75 or 80 per cent of Australians who support full legal equality between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

A careful reading of the evidence on public opinion and debate in Australia suggests the wisdom of the British approach: if some people are worried by the use of the term ''marriage'', far fewer are concerned by the extension of legal and civil recognition to gay people. I don't think a civil partnership law now will prevent a sexuality-blind marriage law in the future. The most likely outcome, in a few years or a decade, is a quiet change, done without much fuss, once everyone realises that it's the quality of the relationship that matters, not the gender of the partners.

In January 2010, my partner and I will return to Britain, this time to live and work. We may be there for a couple of years, or longer, or for good. We're not leaving Australia with any bitterness, as this has always been our home. Yet there is something gratifying in the fact that we will be moving to a country that says we share the same responsibilities and rights as any other couple. There is something wrong when a country to which we have contributed so much can't extend us the same basic courtesy.

Mark Peel is a professor in the school of historical studies at Monash University

Equality in marriage is crucial, for all
PROFESSOR Mark Peel (Comment, 15/12) is wrong to claim that Australia should follow the British example on civil partnerships. Australia already has schemes for the formal recognition of unmarried couples, in Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT.
Compared with the British scheme, Australia's civil partnership schemes provide a greater range of spousal rights (in state and federal law) to a much wider range of couples.
In Tasmania and the ACT, couples can also have ceremonies with greater legal effect than in Britain.
Australia's existing schemes are superior to Britain's and should be enacted in all states.
But the bigger issue is that no civil partnership scheme can ever be a substitute for same-sex marriage. Overseas studies show civil partnerships do not afford the same legal security or social recognition as marriage, because they are not as widely understood. Indeed, where civil partnerships exist instead of same-sex marriage they entrench discrimination rather than removing it.
Marriage may have a religious connotation for Professor Peel, but most Australians understand it is a civil institution, with a majority now marrying in civil ceremonies. Increasingly, Australians also understand that without equality within this key institution gays and lesbians are not equal citizens.
Rodney Croome, Australian Marriage Equality, Darlinghurst, NSW

14 December 2009


These letters appearing in The Age newspaper of 14 December 2009 remind one - if one needs reminding - of how easy it is for governments to provide themselves with police state powers which people discover too late that they have lost control:

Powers breach rights in charter
December 14, 2009

WHEN the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act was enacted in 2006 it appeared a new era had arrived in the relationship between government and citizens in Victoria.

When the Summary Offences and Control of Weapons Acts Amendment Bill was passed last week, however, it became obvious how weak Victoria's proud new charter really is and how ready elected representatives are to ignore the charter.

The act has given police increased powers to:

■Search any person in a designated area, even when there is no reasonable suspicion the person is carrying a weapon. The Government admits this new power is a breach of the charter.

Moreover, there is no exemption for peaceful protests. Accordingly, these powers breach the rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression contained in the charter.

■Conduct pre-arrest strip searches of anyone in certain circumstances. The Government tried to justify this in the interests of community safety, a grossly insufficient justification for a law that disregards fundamental human rights.

■Move people on. These powers are distressingly broad. For example, the police have power to direct a person to ''move on'' whenever an officer believes the person "is likely to breach the peace" or "is likely to endanger the safety of other persons".

As the Federation of Community Legal Centres noted, such broad move-on powers involve "granting police powers based on subjective predictions of future behaviour by individual police officers". Such powers are inevitably "prone to be applied in a discriminatory and disproportionate way against some of our most vulnerable community members, including people who are homeless, young people, Aboriginal people and people experiencing mental health issues''.

A motion by the Greens that would have seen the act submitted to a process of public consultation was voted down by Government and coalition members, thus ignoring the clear recommendation of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, who was concerned about the lack of public consultation on a proposal with such adverse impacts on the rights of Victorians.

Alice de Jonge, Brunswick

Orwellian notions

ON JANUARY 1, it is expected the State Government will implement legislation on assisted reproductive treatment. Most people would be familiar with this as IVF. The legislation requires all individuals and couples accessing treatment

to undertake a criminal record check and child protection order check before beginning or continuing treatment.

The legislation aims to control the reproductive rights of anyone who, due to infertility, requires medical assistance. In a society with rising infertility rates, this is not only highly insulting, but a potentially devastating consequence of any ''criminal'' behaviour for which anyone requiring treatment has already paid their dues.

Do we want to live in a society with Orwellian notions of controlling our reproduction and determining our access to medical treatment based on perceived criminality? This is the thin, sharp edge of the legal wedge, which sets a precedent for future control of access to medical treatment. It is discriminatory and breaches basic rights set out in United Nations conventions.

Jane Mateer, Hawthorn

Gross distortions of truth

SO BRUMBY'S Labor Government has again withheld critical information (''True cost of desal plant concealed'', The Age, 12/12). Yet again, the grand words of then Labor leader Steve Bracks from 1999 are shown to be hollow. He said a Labor government would differ from its predecessor through "leadership that believes in openness and accountability, that isn't afraid of scrutiny, that credits the people of this state with the intelligence to make their own judgements".

Thank you to The Age for highlighting such abuses of power. It's time the broader media,

and the population in general, scrutinised our governments more closely. They get away with murder because too many media outlets feed the public a diet of orchestrated 10-second sound grabs that either say nothing or grossly distort the truth.

12 December 2009


Archbishop Kevin Rudd heads the ALP government in Australia's secular parliament.

Cardinal Tony Abbott heads the Coalition opposition in Australia's secular parliament.

And one of the main things they have in common, apart from their being religious leaders in a secular parliament is that they are both homophobes of the first degree!

All frocked up and ready to go to federal parliament to tell us we have to listen to what they tell us because their god has told them how to act and what to do with rules and regulations - THOU SHALT NOT---------!!!

11 December 2009


Reports in the latest Victorian gay and lesbian papers (9 December 2009) indicate that the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV)has yet again displayed its homophobia to a gay Jewish organisation which, for its own good reasons, is trying to join the Council.

This council (JCCV) may be Jewish, but it certainly does NOT represent the Jewish communities in Victoria.

Jews forget at their peril the fact that they have been an oppressed group for many hundreds of years, and that to then oppress Jews just because they are not all identical in sexuality is just another form of discrimination and repression and should be condemned by every Jew who has ever faced antisemitism and other forms of hatred against them as a group who are 'different' from other groups.

Aleph is a gay male group in Victoria which has tried to become a member group under the umbrella of something called the "JEWISH COMMUNITY COUNCIL OF VICTORIA".

This organisation is guilty of homophobia and discrimination and should be taken to task for this behaviour.

Who or what is a Jew and who or what is this council which thinks it can behave in such a disgusting way towards other Jews?

There are estimated to be some 40,000 Jews in Victoria - and how many of them are represented by this council?

Not too many, I would wager.

30 November 2009




Submitted by:

E.J.(Mannie) De Saxe, Lesbian and gay Solidarity, Melbourne
PO Box 1675
Preston South
Vic 3072
Phone: 03 9471 4878
Email: josken1_at_pacific_net_au
(Home address: 2/12 Murphy Grove, Preston, Vic 3072)

I am making this submission because for many years I have been involved with the ongoing problems confronting the gay, lesbian, transgender and HIV/AIDS communities relating to suicide and/or attempted suicide (ideation).

The gay, lesbian, transgender and HIV/AIDS communities (hereinafter referred to as GLTH) have generally not been included in studies about suicide and this lack of attention to such community members is directly attributable to the homophobia of the population at large and governments at all levels in particular.

Non-government organizations such as beyondblue have over the years refused to involve these groups in their research and care facilities because they are intrinsically homophobic and refuse to deal with people for whom they have the utmost contempt.

Fortunately there are a few organizations such as Suicide Prevention Australia who actually see the larger picture of human rights and who are justifiably concerned at the fact that GLTH people have been treated as they have been by society at large.

This brings us to the point of the senate inquiry exercise which is that so many groups around the country are not being looked at for possible suicide reasons and have dropped off the agenda and therefore helped cause depression, loneliness, anxiety, desperation, and ultimately suicide.

Most at risk, according to statistics which may or may not be very accurate, are young males, and specifically young gay males and many living in rural or regional areas where they have no access to any type of support or community consultation processes.

Also at risk in similar categories, but not young, are older people in our communities who may be isolated, have lost partners, have few or no friends, have no supporting networks and are therefore totally isolated.

Personal experience in recent years has been as a carer during the 1990s of people with AIDS at a time before various combination drugs had become available, and many were dying of AIDS-related diseases which were horrible in their actions on bodies already decimated from ongoing illness and debilitation. When some of these young men were told that they had a particularly nasty illness which would blind them or cause other major traumas, they were not prepared to go through the suffering they had seen in so many of their friends, partners, relatives, acquaintances, so they simply prepared themselves for suicide and succeeded.

Earlier personal experiences of suicide were related to family members or acquaintances, and so often, reasons were not forthcoming as to the causes of the suicides. Now in my 80s with a partner likewise in his 80s, my thoughts have been drawn to aspects of euthanasia because of the dreadful sufferings which occur with certain diseases which, at the end of a long life does not inspire one with hopes of a painless death.
Why suffer needlessly when there are other solutions?

However, that is not the reason I am making a submission to this senate inquiry. The reason is that I am sickened by the ongoing homophobia which is causing so much trouble for GLTH members in our communities and the fact that there are so few resources out there for them to get any help from.

Recent changes to same-sex relationships legislation by the federal government ensured that their refusal to consider providing a transitional arrangement for the December 2008 legislation helped many desperate people in long-term partnerships to attempt suicide because they saw their situations as hopeless.

Fortunately, in one particular instance which has come to my knowledge, the people involved in these traumas were assisted by friends who were also specialists in such fields as gerontology and social work and lives were saved. This may have been the exception to the general rule.

Before addressing the items in the "Terms of Reference" document I believe that one issue above all needs to be addressed and that is to ask the question: How far is the federal government prepared to go in addressing fundamental problems relating to suicide – homophobia and financial support for organizations addressing the issues involved? Will the government be prepared to ensure that better statistics become available and that the findings are made public?

These are but a few of the questions which require urgent answers. Without positive responses, the whole inquiry is a waste of time and money.


The impact of suicide on the Australian community including high risk groups such as indigenous youth and rural communities, with particular reference to:

a) the personal, social and financial costs of suicide in Australia;
The financial costs should be the least of the Inquiry's problems. The personal and social costs are infinite and cannot be quantified without doing much deeper and more meaningful research into the consequences of suicide to those left to address the disasters. Indigenous youth and rural communities can not be dealt with unless the government is determined to address indigenous poverty, unemployment, housing, education and related issues and ensure rural communities have the services required to assist those most in need. This means not only young but old members of our communities who are isolated and without support.

b) The accuracy of suicide reporting in Australia, factors that may impede accurate identification and recording of possible suicides, (and the consequences of any under-reporting on understanding risk factors and providing services to those at risk);
Accuracy of suicide reporting requires more resources than are currently available and more effort needs to be put in to determine if unexplained deaths have been recorded without adequate explanation. There are so many risk factors ignored by mere statistics that it is therefore necessary to have greater services available AFTER risk factors have been identified.

c) the appropriate role and effectiveness of agencies, such as police, emergency departments, law enforcement and general health services in assisting people at risk of suicide;
If suicide is such a problem in Australia as this inquiry would suggest then it seems as if the appropriate role and effectiveness of the agencies mentioned in item c) are totally ineffectual and publicity needs to be generated to address the problems faced by the communities. There would thus appear to be a failure to be aware of, and assist people at risk of suicide.

d) the effectiveness, to date, of public awareness programmes and their relative success in providing information, encouraging help-seeking and enhancing public discussion of suicide;
Four young people committed suicide in Geelong during the last year. There was a public outcry about the publicity generated in the media, and attempts were made to silence all discussion on the issue, particularly by people like Jeff Kennett of beyondblue. This is hardly calculated to enhance public discussion of suicide.

e) the efficacy of suicide prevention training and support for front-line health and community workers providing services to people at risk;
If suicide prevention training and support for front-line health and community workers was working, there would be no need for inquiries such as this, so the question is self-answering! There would be no alarming increases in rates of suicide as possible statistics seem to suggest there are.

f) the role of targeted programmes and services that address the particular circumstances of high-risk groups;
What targeted programmes and services exist for young and old GLTH members of our communities? Are they publicised? Who runs them? Does one find them in the media? Are isolated GLTH people found to be in particular circumstances making them high-risk groups?

g) the adequacy of the current programme of research into suicide and suicide prevention, and the manner in which findings are disseminated to practitioners and incorporated into government policy;
If the current programme of research into suicide and suicide prevention was adequate, findings would be disseminated to whoever required the information and government policy would respond accordingly. Again this item begs the question - is there actual government policy which addresses suicide and its enormous ramifications for the communities and those most affected by the impact on individuals, families, groups, partners - the numbers affected by each suicide have ripple effects.

h) the effectiveness of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy in achieving its aims and objectives, and any barriers to its progress.
The barriers to the progress of a national suicide prevention strategy, if such a strategy actually exists, would be the homophobia besetting the federal government and those who develop policies for the government. There would therefore be no possibility of any aims and objectives being achieved until such time as there was a total reversal of attitude to so many gay, lesbian, transgender and HIV/AIDS members of our communities by all levels of government in Australia - local, state and federal.

We have a web site which was started when we became involved with groups trying to overcome the homophobia generated by the religious institutions in this country who have a direct link to government through various ministers and lobby groups. The web site is:


We started the web page in 2001 and now, in 2009, not only has nothing changed, the situation has deteriorated during those 8 years.

We are making this submission in the hope that the apathy and homophobia surrounding the issue of the suicide of young and older gay people will actually be drawn to the attention of policy-makers and politicians who will do something to ensure that the problems in indigenous and gay communities causing so many to be driven to suicide will finally be addressed.

Mannie De Saxe, Lesbian and Gay Solidarity, Melbourne

28 November 2009


Atheists feel cold shoulder
November 26, 2009

ATHEISTS have accused the Brumby Government of discriminating against them by refusing to fund the movement's global conference in Melbourne but giving $2 million to a religious conference.
The Parliament of the World's Religions begins on December 3 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. It has received $2 million from the Federal Government and $500,000 from Melbourne City Council.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia says it approached all three levels of government for a total of $270,000 for its conference, to be held at the same venue early next year, but has received no funding.
''This is a world-class event with world-class academic and intellectual speakers,'' foundation president David Nicholls said.
''If I was the Catholic Church they'd be all over me like a rash. This is an ideological decision.''
Some tourism dollars worth less
November 27, 2009

AS ONE of 4 million-plus non-religious Australians, I'm outraged that Labor governments are putting $4 million of taxpayers' money into a religious event, but have refused funding for Melbourne's Global Atheist Convention.
You only have to search the internet to see how news of this event is spreading internationally. Isn't that what the funding is for: to promote tourism to Australia and Victoria?
I will be travelling to the convention in March. Does the Brumby Government value my tourist dollars less than those of a theist? If so, I will be careful to restrict my spending while in Victoria and I won't be in a hurry to return to a state where non-theists are obviously not wanted.
Chrys Stevenson, Mapleton, Qld
Was application read?
I WOULD be tempted to think there may be some kind of religious bias in the Government's decision especially as I wrote to Tourism Victoria, the department responsible for funding not-for-profit international conferences, only to be told it did not provide funding for business conferences.
The Atheist Foundation is a registered not-for-profit organisation and this was clearly stated in the application. From the department's answer I can only assume the application for assistance was rejected without even being read.
Doug Steley, Cowwarr
Christians agree with bias
AS A Christian minister I agree with my atheist friends on this one - it appears they have been discriminated against on the basis of religion.
It's all very ironic and kind of humorous, given the Brumby Government's social engineering reconstruction project for Victoria. As a taxpayer I don't support funding a conference for atheists (how much money do they need to say ''God is not there''?), and I also don't agree with funding the ''World Parliament of Religions''. I would have thought that putting the money into hospitals would be a better investment.
Murray Campbell, minister, Mentone Baptist Church, Mentone
Blurring the boundaries between church and state
THE Government's funding decision is not surprising. Religious lobby groups have formed a very powerful relationship with government far, far beyond the numbers they represent. This continual assault on the equality of non-believers in supernatural things is going to prove costly. We really have had enough.
The State Government's decision to grant $2 million to a world religious conference, also in Melbourne, reveals a bias that disregards our status as a secular nation. This is just another example of the blurring of the separation of the church from the state.
Warren Bonett, Pomona, Qld
Where's the money going?
WHERE are the missing delegates to the Parliament of World Religions and where is all the money going?
Original claims of about 13000 delegates have now been reduced to 5000 by John Brumby. With funding of $4.5 million from taxpayers and ratepayers, that is nearly $1000 per head.
What have they spent the money on?
Andrew Rawlings, Blackburn
All welcome to attend
ATHEISTS need not ''feel the cold shoulder'' (The Age, 26/11) because the State Government has provided funding to a multi-religious, not a religious, event.
Everyone who is willing to be respectful of the views of others is welcome at the Parliament of the World's Religions, including atheists. They, too, are part of the rich diversity of religious and philosophical value bases that ennobles our life in Melbourne.
Professor Gary D. Bouma, Monash University

19 November 2009


Breaking the Australian Silence

(This speech was delivered at the Sydney Opera House on Thursday 5 November 2009)

Thank you all for coming tonight, and my thanks to the City of Sydney and especially to the Sydney Peace Foundation for awarding me the Peace Prize. It’s an honour I cherish, because it comes from where I come from.
I am a seventh generation Australian. My great-great grandfather landed not far from here, on November 8th, 1821. He wore leg irons, each weighing four pounds. His name was Francis McCarty. He was an Irishman, convicted of the crime of insurrection and “uttering unlawful oaths”. In October of the same year, an 18 year old girl called Mary Palmer stood in the dock at Middlesex Gaol and was sentenced to be transported to New South Wales for the term of her natural life. Her crime was stealing in order to live. Only the fact that she was pregnant saved her from the gallows. She was my great-great grandmother. She was sent from the ship to the Female Factory at Parramatta, a notorious prison where every third Monday, male convicts were brought for a “courting day” -- a rather desperate measure of social engineering. Mary and Francis met that way and were married on October 21st, 1823.
Growing up in Sydney, I knew nothing about this. My mother’s eight siblings used the word “stock” a great deal. You either came from “good stock” or “bad stock”. It was unmentionable that we came from bad stock – that we had what was called “the stain”.
One Christmas Day, with all of her family assembled, my mother broached the subject of our criminal origins, and one of my aunts almost swallowed her teeth. “Leave them dead and buried, Elsie!” she said. And we did – until many years later and my own research in Dublin and London led to a television film that revealed the full horror of our “bad stock”. There was outrage. “Your son,” my aunt Vera wrote to Elsie, “is no better than a damn communist”. She promised never to speak to us again.
The Australian silence has unique features.
Growing up, I would make illicit trips to La Perouse and stand on the sandhills and look at people who were said to have died off. I would gape at the children of my age, who were said to be dirty, and feckless. At high school, I read a text book by the celebrated historian, Russel Ward, who wrote: “We are civilized today and they are not.” “They”, of course, were the Aboriginal people.
My real Australian education began at the end of the 1960s when Charlie Perkins and his mother, Hetti, took me to the Aboriginal compound at Jay Creek in the Northern Territory. We had to smash down the gate to get in.
The shock at what I saw is unforgettable. The poverty. The sickness. The despair. The quiet anger. I began to recognise and understand the Australian silence.
Tonight, I would like to talk about this silence: about how it affects our national life, the way we see the world, and the way we are manipulated by great power which speaks through an invisible government of propaganda that subdues and limits our political imagination and ensures we are always at war – against our own first people and those seeking refuge, or in someone else’s country.
Last July, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said this, and I quote: “It’s important for us all to remember here in Australia that Afghanistan has been a training ground for terrorists worldwide, a training ground also for terrorists in South-East-Asia, reminding us of the reasons that we are in the field of combat and reaffirming our resolve to remain committed to that cause.”
There is no truth in this statement. It is the equivalent of his predecessor John Howard’s lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Shortly before Kevin Rudd made that statement, American planes bombed a wedding party in Afghanistan. At least sixty people were blown to bits, including the bride and groom and many children. That’s the fifth wedding party attacked, in our name.
The prime minister was standing outside a church on a Sunday morning when he made his statement. No reporter challenged him. No one said the war was a fraud: that it began as an American vendetta following 9/11, in which not a single Afghan was involved. No one put it to Kevin Rudd that our perceived enemy in Afghanistan were introverted tribesmen who had no quarrel with Australia and didn’t give a damn about south-east Asia and just wanted the foreign soldiers out of their country. Above all, no one said: “Prime Minister, There is no war on terror. It’s a hoax. But there is a war of terror waged by governments, including the Australian government, in our name.” That wedding party, Prime Minister, was blown to bits by one the latest smart weapons, such as the Hellfire bomb that sucks the air out of the lungs. In our name.
During the first world war, the British prime minister David Lloyd George confided to the editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and they can’t know.”
What has changed? Quite a lot actually. As people have become more aware, propaganda has become more sophisticated.
One of the founders of modern propaganda was Edward Bernays, an American who believed that people in free societies could be lied to and regimented without them realising. He invented a euphemism for propaganda -- “public relations”, or PR. “What matters,” he said, “is the illusion.” Like Kevin Rudd’s stage-managed press conferences outside his church, what matters is the illusion. The symbols of Anzac are constantly manipulated in this way. Marches. Medals. Flags. The pain of a fallen soldier’s family. Serving in the military, says the prime minister, is Australia’s highest calling. The squalor of war, the killing of civilians has no reference. What matters is the illusion.
The aim is to ensure our silent complicity in a war of terror and in a massive increase in Australia’s military arsenal. Long range cruise missiles are to be targeted at our neighbours. The Rudd government and the Pentagon have launched a competition to build military robots which, it is said, will do the “army’s dirty work” in “urban combat zones”. What urban combat zones? What dirty work?
“I confess,” wrote Lord Curzon, viceroy of India, over a century ago, “that countries are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world.” We Australians have been in the service of the Great Game for a very long time. Do the young people who wrap themselves in the flag at Gallipoli every April understand that only the lies have changed – that sanctifying blood sacrifice in colonial invasions is meant to prepare us for the next one??
When Prime Minister Robert Menzies sent Australian soldiers to Vietnam in the 1960s, he described them as a ‘training team’, requested by a beleaguered government in Saigon. It was a lie. A senior official of the Department of External affairs wrote this secret truth: “Although we have stressed the fact publicly that our assistance was given in response to an invitation by the government of South Vietnam, our offer was in fact made following a request from the United States government.”
Two versions. One for us, one for them.
Menzies spoke incessantly about “the downward thrust of Chinese communism”. What has changed? Outside the church, Kevin Rudd said we were in Afghanistan to stop another downward thrust. Both were lies.
During the Vietnam war, the Department of Foreign Affairs made a rare complaint to Washington. They complained that the British knew more about America’s objectives than its committed Australian ally. An assistant secretary of state replied. “We have to inform the British to keep them on side,” he said. “You are with us, come what may.”
How many more wars are we to be suckered into before we break our silence?
How many more distractions must we, as a people, endure before we begin the job of righting the wrongs in our own country?
“It’s time we sang from the world’s rooftops,” said Kevin Rudd in opposition, “[that] despite Iraq, America is an overwhelming force for good in the world [and] I look forward to working with the great American democracy, the arsenal of freedom …”.
Since the second world war, the arsenal of freedom has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, and crushed some 30 liberation movements. Millions of people all over the world have been driven out of their homes and subjected to crippling embargos. Bombing is as American as apple pie.
In his acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter asked this question: “Why is the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought of Stalinist Russia well known in the West while American criminal actions never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it never happened. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”
In Australia, we are trained to respect this censorship by omission. An invasion is not an invasion if “we” do it. Terror is not terror if “we” do it. A crime is not a crime if “we” commit it. It didn’t happen. Even while it was happening it didn’t happen. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.
In the arsenal of freedom we have two categories of victims. The innocent people killed in the Twin Towers were worthy victims. The innocent people killed by Nato bombers in Afghanistan are unworthy victims. Israelis are worthy. Palestinians are unworthy. It gets complicated. Kurds who rose against Saddam Hussein were worthy. But Kurds who rise against the Turkish regime are unworthy. Turkey is a member of Nato. They’re in the arsenal of freedom.
The Rudd government justifies its proposals to spend billions on weapons by referring to what the Pentagon calls an “arc of instability” that stretches across the world. Our enemies are apparently everywhere -- from China to the Horn of Africa. In fact, an arc of instability does indeed stretch across the world and is maintained by the United States. The US Air Force calls this “full spectrum dominance”. More than 800 American bases are ready for war.
These bases protect a system that allows one per cent of humanity to control 40 per cent of wealth: a system that bails out just one bank with $180 billion – that’s enough to eliminate malnutrition in the world, and provide education for every child, and water and sanitation for all, and to reverse the spread of malaria. On September 11th, 2001, the United Nations reported that on that day 36,615 children had died from poverty. But that was not news.
Journalists and politicians like to say the world changed as a result of the September 11th attacks. In fact, for those countries under attack by the arsenal of freedom, nothing has changed. What has changed is not news.
According to the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, a military coup has taken place in the United States, with the Pentagon now ascendant in every aspect of foreign policy.
It doesn’t matter who is president – George Bush or Barack Obama. Indeed, Obama has stepped up Bush’s wars and started his own war in Pakistan. Like Bush, he is threatening Iran, a country Hillary Clinton said she was prepared to “annihilate”. Iran’s crime is its independence. Having thrown out America’s favourite dictator, the Shah, Iran is the only resource-rich Muslim country beyond American control. It doesn’t occupy anyone else’s land and hasn’t attacked any country -- unlike Israel, which is nuclear-armed and dominates and divides the Middle East on America’s behalf.
In Australia, we are not told this. It’s taboo. Instead, we dutifully celebrate the illusion of Obama, the global celebrity, the marketing dream. Like Calvin Klein, brand Obama offers the thrill of a new image attractive to liberal sensibilities, if not to the Afghan children he bombs.
This is modern propaganda in action, using a kind of reverse racism – the same way it deploys gender and class as seductive tools. In Barack Obama’s case, what matters is not his race or his fine words, but the power he serves.
In an essay for The Monthly entitled Faith in Politics, Kevin Rudd wrote this about refugees: “The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst …. We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of occupied Europe who sought asylum.”
Compare that with Rudd’s words the other day. “I make absolutely no apology whatsoever,” he said, “for taking a hard line on illegal immigration to Australia … a tough line on asylum seekers.”
Are we not fed up with this kind of hypocrisy? The use of the term “illegal immigrants” is both false and cowardly. The few people struggling to reach our shores are not illegal. International law is clear – they are legal. And yet Rudd, like Howard, sends the navy against them and runs what is effectively a concentration camp on Christmas Island. How shaming. Imagine a shipload of white people fleeing a catastrophe being treated like this.
The people in those leaking boats demonstrate the kind of guts Australians are said to admire. But that’s not enough for the Good Samaritan in Canberra, as he plays to the same bigotry which, as he wrote in his essay, “turned its back on the Jewish people of occupied Europe”. .
Why isn’t this spelt out? Why have weasel words like “border protection” become the currency of a media crusade against fellow human beings we are told to fear, mostly Muslim people? Why have journalists, whose job is to keep the record straight, become complicit in this campaign?
After all, Australia has had some of the most outspoken and courageous newspapers in the world. Their editors were agents of people, not power. The Sydney Monitor under Edward Smith Hall exposed the dictatorial rule of Governor Darling and helped bring freedom of speech to the colony. Today, most of the Australian media speaks for power, not people. Turn the pages of the major newspapers; look at the news on TV. Like border protection, we have mind protection. There’s a consensus on what we read, see and hear: on how we should define our politics and view the rest of the world. Invisible boundaries keep out facts and opinion that are unacceptable.
This is actually a brilliant system, requiring no instructions, no self-censorship. Journalists know not what to do. Of course, now and then the censorship is direct and crude. SBS has banned its journalists from using the phrase “Palestinian land” to describe illegally occupied Palestine. They must describe these territories as “the subject of negotiation”. That is the equivalent of somebody taking over your home at the point of a gun and the SBS newsreader describing it as “the subject of negotiation”.
In no other democratic country is public discussion of the brutal occupation of Palestine as limited as in Australia. Are we aware of the sheer scale of the crime against humanity in Gaza? Twenty-nine members of one family -- babies, grannies – are gunned down, blown up, buried alive, their home bulldozed. Read the United Nations report, written by an eminent Jewish judge, Richard Goldstone.
Those who speak for the arsenal of freedom are working hard to bury the UN report. For only one nation, Israel, has a “right to exist” in the Middle East: only one nation has a right to attack others. Only one nation has the impunity to run a racist apartheid regime with the approval of the western world, and with the prime minister and the deputy prime minister ofb Australia fawning over its leaders.
In Australia, any diversion from this unspoken impunity attracts a campaign of craven personal abuse and intimidation usually associated with dictatorships. But we are not a dictatorship. We are a democracy.
Are we? Or are we a murdochracy.
Rupert Murdoch set the media war agenda shortly before the invasion of Iraq when he said, “There’s going to be collateral damage. And if you really want to be brutal about it, better get it done now.”
More than a million people have been killed in Iraq as a result of that invasion -- “an episode”, according to one study, “more deadly than the Rwandan genocide”. In our name. Are we aware of this in Australia?
I once walked along Mutanabi Street in Baghdad. The atmosphere was wonderful. People sat in cafes, reading. Musicians played. Poets recited. Painters painted. This was the cultural heart of Mesopotania, the great civilisation to which we in the West owe a great deal, including the written word. The people I spoke to were both Sunni and Shia, but they called themselves Iraqis. They were cultured and proud.
Today, they are fled or dead. Mutanabi Street has been blown to bits. In Baghdad, the great museums and libraries are looted. The universities are sacked. And people who once took coffee with each other, and married each other, have been turned into enemies. “Building democracy”, said Howard and Bush and Blair.
One of my favourite Harold Pinter plays is Party Time. It’s set in an apartment in a city like Sydney. A party is in progress. People are drinking good wine and eating canapés. They seem happy. They are chatting and affirming and smiling. They are stylish and very self aware.
But something is happening outside in the street, something terrible and oppressive and unjust, for which the people at the party share responsibility.
There’s a fleeting sense of discomfort, a silence, before the chatting and laughing resumes.
How many of us live in that apartment?
Let me put it another way. I know a very fine Israeli journalist called Amira Hass. She went to live in and report from Gaza. I asked her why she did that. She explained how her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen when she saw a group of German women looking at the prisoners, just looking, saying nothing, silent. Her mother never forgot what she called this despicable “looking from the side”.
I believe that if we apply justice and courage to human affairs, we begin to make sense of our world. Then, and only then, can we make progress.
However, if we apply justice in Australia, it’s tricky, isn’t it? -- because we are then obliged to break our greatest silence – to no longer “look from the side” in our own country.
In the 1960s, when I first went to South Africa to report apartheid, I was welcomed by decent, liberal people whose complicit silence was the underpinning of that tyranny. They told me that Australians and white South Africans had much in common, and they were right. The good people of Johannesburg could live within a few kilometres of a community called Alexandra, which lacked the most basic services, the children stricken with disease. But they looked from the side and did nothing.
In Australia, our indifference is different. We have become highly competent at divide and rule: at promoting those black Australians who tell us what we want to hear. At professional conferences their keynote speeches are applauded, especially when they blame their own people and provide the excuses we need. We create boards and commissions on which sit nice, decent liberal people like the prime minister’s wife. And nothing changes.
We certainly don’t like comparisons with apartheid South Africa. That breaks the Australian silence.
Near the end of apartheid, black South Africans were being jailed at the rate of 851 per 100,000 of population. Today, black Australians are being jailed at a national rate that is more than five times higher. Western Australia jails Aboriginal men at eight times the apartheid figure.
In 1983, Eddie Murray was killed in a police cell in Wee Waa in New South Wales by “a person or persons unknown”. That’s how the coroner described it. Eddie was a rising rugby league star. But he was black and had to be cut down to size. Eddie’s parents, Arthur and Leila Murray, launched one of the most tenacious and courageous campaigns for justice I’ve known anywhere. They stood up to authority. They showed grace and patience and knowledge. And they never gave in.
When Leila died in 2003, I wrote a tribute for her funeral. I described her as an Australian hero. Arthur is still fighting for justice. He’s in his sixties. He’s a respected elder, a hero. A few months ago, the police in Narrabri offered Arthur a lift home and instead took him for a violent ride in their bullwagon. He ended up in hospital, bruised and battered. That is how Australian heroes are treated.
In the same week the police did this -- as they do to black Australians, almost every day – Kevin Rudd said that his government, and I quote, “doesn’t have a clear idea of what’s happening on the ground” in Aboriginal Australia.
How much information does the prime minister need? How many ideas? How many reports? How many royal commissions? How many inquests? How many funerals? Is he not aware that Australia appears on an international “shame list” for having failed to eradicate trachoma, a preventable disease of poverty that blinds Aboriginal children?
In August this year, the United Nations once again distinguished Australia with the kind of shaming once associated with South Africa. We discriminate on the basis of race. That’s it in a nutshell. This time the UN blew a whistle on the so-called “intervention”, which began with the Howard government smearing Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory with allegations of sex slavery and paedophile rings in “unthinkable numbers”, according to the minister for indigenous affairs.
In May last year, official figures were released and barely reported.
Out of 7433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors, 39 had been referred to the authorities for suspected abuse. Of those, a maximum of four possible cases were identified. So much for the “unthinkable numbers”. Of course, child abuse does exist, in black Australia and white Australia. The difference is that no soldiers invaded the North Shore; no white parents were swept aside; no white welfare has been “quarantined”. What the doctors found they already knew: that Aboriginal children are at risk -- from the effects of extreme poverty and the denial of resources in one of the world’s richest countries.
Billions of dollars have been spent – not on paving roads and building houses, but on a war of legal attrition waged against black communities. I interviewed an Aboriginal leader called Puggy Hunter. He carried a bulging brief case and he sat in the West Australian heat with his head in his hands.
I said, “You’re exhausted.”
He replied, “Look, I spend most of my life in meetings, fighting lawyers, pleading for our birthright. I’m just tired to death, mate.” He died soon afterwards, in his forties.
Kevin Rudd has made a formal apology to the First Australians. He spoke fine words. For many Aboriginal people, who value healing, the apology was very important. However, the Sydney Morning Herald published a remarkably honest editorial. It described the apology as “a piece of political wreckage” that “the Rudd government has moved quickly to clear away … in a way that responds to some of its supporters’ emotional needs”.
Since the apology, Aboriginal poverty has got worse. The promised housing programme is a grim joke. No gap has even begun to be bridged. Instead, the federal government has threatened communities in the Northern Territory that if they don’t hand over their precious freehold leases, they will be denied the basic services that we, in white Australia, take for granted.
In the 1970s, Aboriginal communities were granted comprehensive land rights in the Northern Territory, and John Howard set about clawing back these rights with bribery and bullying. The Labour government is doing the same. You see, there are deals to be done. The Territory contains extraordinary mineral wealth, especially uranium. And Aboriginal land is wanted as a radioactive waste dump. This is very big business, and foreign companies want a piece of the action.
It is a continuation of the darkest side of our colonial history: a land grab
Where are the influential voices raised against this? Where are the peak legal bodies? Where are those in the media who tell us endlessly how fair-minded we are? Silence.
But let us not listen to their silence. Let us pay tribute to those Australians who are not silent, who don’t look from the side – those like Barbara Shaw and Larissa Behrendt, and the Mutitjulu community leaders and their tenacious lawyer George Newhouse, and Chris Graham, the fearless editor of the National Indigenous Times. And Michael Mansell, Lyle Munro, Gary Foley, Vince Forrester and Pat Dodson, and Arthur Murray.
And let us celebrate Australia’s historian of courage and truth, Henry Reynolds, who stood against white supremacists posing as academics and journalists. And the young people who closed down Woomera detention camp, then stood up to the political thugs who took over Sydney during Apec two years ago. And good for Ian Thorpe, the great swimmer, whose voice raised against the intervention has yet to find an echo among the pampered sporting heroes in a country where the gap between white and black sporting facilities and opportunity has closed hardly at all.
Silences can be broken, if we will it. In one of the greatest poems of the English language, Percy Shelley wrote this:
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew.
Which in sleep has fallen on you.
Ye are many – they are few.
But we need to make haste. An historic shift is taking place. The major western democracies are moving towards a corporatism. Democracy has become a business plan, with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies -- socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor -- and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war.
This is not democracy. It is to politics what McDonalds is to food.
How do we change this? We start by looking beyond the stereotypes and clichés that are fed to us as news. Tom Paine warned long ago that if we were denied critical knowledge, we should storm what he called the Bastille of words. Tom Paine did not have the internet, but the internet on its own is not enough.
We need an Australian glasnost, the Russian word from the Gorbachev era, which broadly means awakening, transparency, diversity, justice, disobedience. It was Edmund Burke who spoke of the press as a Fourth Estate. I propose a people’s Fifth Estate that monitors, deconstructs and counters the official news. In every news room, in every media college, teachers of journalism and journalists themselves need to be challenged about the part they play in the bloodshed, inequity and silence that is so often presented as normal.
The public are not the problem. It’s true some people don’t give a damn – but millions do, as I know from the responses to my own films. What people want is to be engaged – a sense that things matter, that nothing is immutable, that unemployment among the young and poverty among the old are both uncivilised and wrong. What terrifies the agents of power is the awakening of people: of public consciousness.
This is already happening in countries in Latin America where ordinary people have discovered a confidence in themselves they did not know existed. We should join them before our own freedom of speech is quietly withdrawn and real dissent is outlawed as the powers of the police are expanded.
“The struggle of people against power, “wrote Milan Kundera, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
In Australia, we have much to be proud of – if only we knew about it and celebrated it. Since Francis McCarty and Mary Palmer landed here, we’ve progressed only because people have spoken out, only because the suffragettes stood up, only because the miners of Broken Hill won the world’s first 35-hour week, only because pensions and a basic wage and child endowment were pioneered in New South Wales.
In my lifetime, we have become one of the most culturally diverse places on earth, and it has happened peacefully, by and large. That is a remarkable achievement – until we look for those whose Australian civilisation has seldom been acknowledged, whose genius for survival and generosity and forgiving have rarely been a source of pride. And yet, they remain, as Henry Reynolds wrote, the whispering in our hearts. For they are what is unique about us.
I believe the key to our self respect -- and our legacy to the next generation -- is the inclusion and reparation of the First Australians. In other words, justice. There’s no mystery about what has to be done. The first step is a treaty that guarantees universal land rights and a proper share of the resources of this country.
Only then can we solve, together, issues of health, poverty, housing, education, employment. Only then can we feel a pride that comes not from flags and war. Only then can we become a truly independent nation able to speak out for sanity and justice in the world, and be heard.


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Preston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm