Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A whitewash of black crime and racism

The most disturbing element in the murder of 17-year-old Andrew Farrugia in Griffith during the early hours of 2007 was the inevitability that someone like Farrugia was going to be killed by members of the feral underclass that exists in many rural towns with large Aboriginal populations. Andrew Farrugia died for one reason only. He was white. This is the defining reality of his murder. It is the most important single fact in this tragedy. Whatever the outcome of any trial, there are ample witnesses who have told police that this not only appeared to be an unprovoked attack but a case of black on white violence.

After Farrugia had been beaten senseless, one of the youths who had attacked him allegedly turned to onlookers and boasted: "This is how we roll in this town." Who exactly is "we"? Right from the start, the police and media reports of this crime smelled of censorship. It took just two phone calls to Griffith to discover what was being left out: the perpetrators were young Aborigines who had been cruising for a brawl, and it was a common occurrence.

This was nowhere to be found in news reports for days. Finally, after two accused appeared in court charged with killing Farrugia, a paragraph was inserted into the bottom of one news story, not in this newspaper, that the two 15-year-olds arrested "had strong ties to the local Aboriginal community". Thus, their lawyers argued, they should be allowed bail. Bail was refused because it also emerged during this court appearance that one of the accused had a criminal record.

The long initial silence about this case raises several wider issues. Go to the news section of the NSW Police website and you will find an informational G-string: it provides the bare minimum. For example, another murder took place over the weekend when Sione Matevesi, 22, who had a job and a stable life, was stabbed and murdered early on Saturday by a group of drunks. Who are the police looking for? This is the information provided by the NSW Police website: "Police are looking for a group of men described as wearing dark clothing."

Oh, that is extremely useful. The NSW Police Media Unit is a paradigm of drip-feed information, a policy that comes down from the top. It is part of a much broader and more serious problem, the whitewashing of the official depiction of the realities of criminal life in Australia.

This begins with the piccaninny complex that dominates the welfare bureaucracy, education system, court system, university system and the ABC. The piccaninny complex is one of the reasons we've thrown a generation of young Aborigines into the gutter, including a generation of zombies - the living dead in rural and remote Australia of petrol-sniffing children, disproportionately under the primary care of drunks. As one of Australia's most prominent anthropologists, Peter Sutton, wrote in Anthropological Forum back in 2001: "The contrast between the progressive public rhetoric about empowerment and self-determination and the raw evidence of a disastrous failure in major aspects of Australian Aboriginal affairs policy since the early 1970s is frightening."

Nothing has changed. We've known for years there is endemic child abuse within many remote and rural Aboriginal communities, yet had the absurdity of the "shock revelation" last year that child abuse is rampant in many Aboriginal communities. This was fully seven years after publication of the Robertson report into domestic violence in indigenous communities in Queensland, chaired by Boni Robertson, an Aboriginal academic. The report found:

"Violence is now overt; murders, bashings and rapes, including sexual violence against children, have reached epidemic proportions. "A majority of the informants believed that the rise of violence in Aboriginal communities can be attributed to the so-called 'Aboriginal industry' in which both indigenous and non-indigenous agencies have failed in many ways to deliver critical services. "The taskforce believes the number of violent offences is much higher than the officially recorded data. Taskforce researchers heard many stories about crimes that women did not report for fear of reprisals from the perpetrator, his kinfolk or the justice system. "The harsh reality is that many families are now trapped in environments where deviance and atrocities have become accepted as normal behaviour and as such form an integral part of the children's socialisation."

For years, white ideological activists and Aboriginal racists within the welfare system have been accessories to domestic crime and rampant child abuse. They have actively covered up the problem, rationalising and protecting perpetrators, and perjured themselves in court.

Soon after the Robertson report was released, Dr Stephanie Jarrett told a symposium into domestic violence in Aboriginal communities: "Lawyers use cultural rights to reduce penalties for domestic violence. "Cultural rights carry the risk of placing Aboriginal victims of domestic violence outside the scope of state intervention," she said. "Where does this leave Aboriginal women? Domestic violence is the major source of Australia's internal refugees." Jarrett's PhD thesis was based on a study of a culture of violence inside one Aboriginal community, part of a much wider pathology of violence which immemorially predated the arrival of Europeans.

Our society has to start treating Aborigines as human beings, not mendicants and piccaninnies who either exist within a feudal communal land system our legal system has invented for them, and/or in a culture of excuse, welfarism, denialism and double standards that guarantees both economic stagnation and cultural (as distinct from racial) extinction. All accompanied by a deadly silence.

Andrew Farrugia was killed by racists. The time for whitewashing, blame-shifting and rationalising racism in any form is over.


"Work for the dole" is working

Nearly 1600 single mothers forced to look for part-time jobs under the Howard Government's welfare-to-work policy have found employment. Figures show that the Government forced 3724 parents off single parent benefit and on to the dole between July 1 and December 8 last year, telling them to find part-time work. Of those, the Government boasts that 1580 people, mainly women, found jobs, typically in sectors such as retail, financial services, hospitality and community services. Under welfare-to-work reforms, single parents will go on the dole and be forced to look for work when their youngest child turns eight. At September last year there were 423,000 sole parents on the parenting payment.

News of the reforms, introduced in last year's budget, sparked anger from the welfare sector, which described the changes as unfair. The employment rate for sole parents with dependant children rose by 3 per cent to a record high of 52.3 per cent in June last year, well above the 42.8 per cent recorded in June 1996. Employment Minister Kevin Andrews said the Government's privatised employment agencies, Job Network, had increased placements for single parents overall from 13,300 in September 2004 to 40,300 in September last year. He said the proportion of single parents on the pension reporting that they had worked at least once in the financial year had increased from just over 40 per cent in 2003-04 to nearly 50 per cent in 2005-06, Mr Andrews said. "It is clear that recent strong labour market conditions are providing numerous opportunities to help more sole parents with dependent children to move into paid work," he said.

Under rules announced in May last year, single mothers have to accept a job that leaves them just $25 a week better off than they would have been on welfare. At the time, Mr Andrews said that a job would be considered financially suitable if the parent was at least $50 a fortnight better off after taking into account the costs associated with working, including childcare. John Howard had been forced into an embarrassing backflip promising that single parents who refused a job because they could not find appropriate childcare would not lose welfare payments. In a statement, he said: "If no suitable childcare is available, or the cost of care would result in a very low or negative financial gain from working, the parent will not be required to accept the job." Labor workforce participation spokeswoman Penny Wong said with parents expected to work 15 hours a week, that meant an hourly rate of $1.66


Nuclear family makes a return

Economic prosperity and record low unemployment rates have reversed the decades-long growth in single-parent families. New figures reveal that Australia's economic boom has strengthened the traditional family unit, achieving a chief aim of the Howard Government. The Government last night attributed the change to its strong economic and family policies, while the Opposition said there was still much to do to make Australia truly family-friendly.

Demographer Bob Birrell, who produced the data, said it showed women found employed men more attractive than men on the dole. Dr Birrell's analysis, based on ABS Labour Force Survey data, reveals the percentage of families with children under the age of 15 headed by a sole parent - either male or female - declined from 22.9 per cent in 2001-02 to 21.5 per cent in 2005-06.

For at least the past two decades the number of families with children under 15 headed by sole parents increased to the point where "we were getting nearly one in every four headed by a sole parent," said Dr Birrell, director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University. "It shows that there have been some very favourable consequences from the strength of the economy, particularly over the past five to six years."

A spokesman for Family and Community Services Minister Mal Brough said the Government had put in place a number of family-friendly policies and maintained a strong economy to help families financially to support their choices. "Having said that, we also appreciate that many single parents find themselves in that situation for reasons outside their control," he said. "Clearly, creating more jobs, as the Howard Government has done, is important for the providers in all family structures."

Labor Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan said the decline in single-parent households should be lauded. But he said: "Australia has a long way to go in making our workplaces and the services governments supply as family-friendly as possible."

There were about 500,000 single-parent families in Australia in 2005-06. Dr Birrell and Genevieve Heard - a researcher with the Centre for Population and Urban Research - argue that the new trend reflects the strength of the economy. "That share (of single-parent families) has now fallen a little, and that is very important in Australia because it gives some hope to diminishing one of the major sources of disadvantage in our society, which is the difficulty these kids in sole-parent families face in competing for education and jobs."

New figures also reveal that for males aged 25-34 who were employed full-time in 2005-06, 61.6 per cent had a wife or a partner, whereas for males who were unemployed in the same age group only 33.6 per cent had a partner. "The strength of the Australian economy has a lot to do with this," he said. "A major factor in determining partnering is the economic situation of men. The higher the levels of employment the better particular men are at being able to take on partnering responsibilities. "More men are able to take on family responsibilities, and women are more likely to see a man who is full-time employed as a better prospect than one that is not in the workforce or who is part-time or unemployed."


Global warming still a fear, not a fact

After more than 200 years, you would think that non-Aboriginal Australians would be used to the fact that the continent experiences great variability in its climate, oscillating between years of too much rain and years of too little. Yet each time we have one of these naturally occurring events, there have been calls for something to be done about the weather. And there have always been people prepared to make alarming predictions and offer simplistic solutions to phenomena that are still not completely understood by meteorologists and climatologists.

On the banks of the Warrego River in the western Queensland town of Charleville, there is a monument to this recurring foolishness. In an attempt to break the prolonged drought that began in the mid-1890s, the self-promoting Queensland meteorologist, Clement Wragge, used six funnel-like devices to fire shots of gunpowder into clouds to make them release their moisture. The experiment was an embarrassing failure. Two of the devices exploded and the remainder failed to produce any rain. It helped end Wragge's official career, although it did not end his career as a paid spruiker to credulous audiences wanting certainty from their climate.

Now, of course, every flood, drought or cyclone is seen through the prism of the continuing debate about global warming. And there are those prepared to play on people's fears with exaggerated and simplistic claims that demean the debate and the depth of scientific inquiry that is being conducted on the issue. Tim Flannery's article in Tuesday's Age provided a good example of this. To take just one point, it is nonsense to suggest, as Flannery did, that the present drought is the worst in 1000 years.

Whenever someone claims that a weather event is the worst since records began, it is important to remember that reliable climate records only go back for a century at best. And even after the establishment of the Bureau of Meteorology in 1908, the records remained very patchy, and periodically became even more so when cost-cutting governments forced the bureau to restrict its record-gathering activities. With a relatively brief climate record, it does not take much for a drought to be portrayed as the worst on record, or for a temperature to be described as the highest on record.

Even so, the evidence does not suggest that the present drought is even the worst in 100 years, let alone the worst in 1000 years. Moreover, even a bad drought will have less effect on Australians today than droughts have had in the past, when the economy was much more dependent on the farming sector and farmers were less able to ameliorate the effects of drought. Present projections suggest that the present drought will cause less than a 1 per cent decrease in Australia's GDP, whereas droughts in the 19th and early 20th centuries almost invariably triggered an economic depression as farm incomes collapsed.

After making his alarmist claim about the drought being the worst in 1000 years, Flannery leaps from one insupportable conclusion to another, with his claim that this supposedly "extraordinary drought" is a "manifestation of the global fingerprint of drought caused by climate change", and his implication that Australians need to prepare for a state of permanent drought. In fact, Australians would do better to prepare for the floods that will almost certainly follow this drought as they have done in the past.

As for the "global fingerprint of drought", whatever that means, droughts in Australia have often occurred in tandem with droughts elsewhere in the world. A century ago, such simultaneous drought events were blamed by Clement Wragge on the "inevitability of cosmic law", although meteorologists nowadays are more likely to ascribe the cause to cyclical changes in ocean temperatures.

Despite Flannery's claim to base his alarmist arguments on science and common sense, few scientists working in the field of weather and climate would be as definite as Flannery in predicting our future climate. It was only a few years ago that meteorologists were unwilling to predict the weather more than a day or two ahead. Although they now routinely make forecasts for a week ahead, the public are sensible enough to realise that the longer the prediction the less reliable it is likely to be. Similarly with seasonal forecasts, which the Bureau of Meteorology now issues despite them enjoying limited predictive ability. You certainly would not want to bet your farm on them just yet.

Predictions about the likely climate to be experienced 50 or 100 years hence are even more problematic. Although the past few decades have seen huge leaps in our understanding of the ocean-atmosphere interaction, and huge increases in our computing capacity, no serious climatologist would attempt to predict the future global climate with the sense of certainty that Flannery purports to do.

In particular, there remain great uncertainties about the extent to which human activity is responsible for the increase in global temperatures over the past few decades, and whether or not such increases are largely driven by a natural cycle that will reverse itself in coming decades.


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