Saturday, July 21, 2007

Global cooling spreading in Queensland

QUEENSLAND'S tourist strips have woken to record subzero temperatures on another cold morning in the state's south-east. The Bureau of Meteorology said temperatures fell below zero for the first time since records began at Coolangatta, on the Gold Coast, and at Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast. While Coolangatta dipped just below zero, Maroochydore plunged to -1 degree celsius, a bureau spokesman said. ``It's so unusual getting temperatures near zero with the ocean being so close,'' he said.

Many Brisbane residents woke to ice on the windscreen this morning after another near freezing night in the south east. Although the overnight minimum was a touch higher than the previous night, at 4.7 degrees compared with 3.8, the apparent temperature was a teeth chattering 1C. Senior Forecaster Gordon Banks said Amberley shivered on -3.8C within a degree of its all time record low of -4.5C. The cold temperatures did not just grip the south-east corner though, with below zero temps recorded as far north as Samuel Hill, in Central Queensland where the mercury dipped to -1C. And Gympie posted a new record, plunging to -3.4C, almost half a degree colder than ever before.


Put meddling judges in their place

Expect more turf battles as activists in the judiciary pilfer power from our elected representatives, writes Janet Albrechtsen

JUDICIAL activism has had its day. The experiment is over, says our federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. With respect, wishful thinking will not end the power struggle between politicians and the judiciary under way for the past quarter century. If politicians are serious about protecting their turf from power-hungry judges, they may need to consider passing a new law. They could call it the Why We are Not Legislating Law. Shorthand for "Back off, judges", this law will tell judges their role is not to step in to fix a problem just because parliament has yet to solve it.

Why do we need such an unusual-sounding law? As revealed in The Weekend Australian's Inquirer, plenty of Australian judges stand ready to assume the role of law-maker, usurping the role of elected politicians. In a series of anonymous interviews with American academic Jason Pierce, our most senior judges admit they believe it is up to them to legislate from the bench whenever they feel politicians are too stupid, too slow or too cowardly to act.

Given that politicians are our elected representatives, judges are really telling us we, the people, are too stupid to get it right. While many of us suspected as much, judges have never before admitted to such a brazen belief in a judicial take over of the legislative role. They appear to be under the quaint impression their comments would remain buried away in an unpublished dissertation. Instead, their breathtaking candour is available for all to read. Indeed Pierce's book, Inside the Mason Court Revolution: The High Court of Australia Transformed should be mandatory reading for those politicians in charge of judicial appointments. The interviews reveal that the leading motivation behind the activist judges is filling what they perceive to be a political vacuum.

Some of our most senior judges believe the High Court's decision in Mabo, which overturned 200 years of settled law, was justified because, to quote a Federal Court judge, parliament "wimped out". When the "whole issue is too divisive ... it falls to the court to fill in," he said.

This chap is no renegade. Many are champing at the bit to resume the rampant activism unleashed by the High Court under Anthony Mason. Another Federal Court judge said: "With the two houses of parliament and the difficulty of the government actually commanding a majority ... it really does give courts the power to move where the legislature can't."

Make no mistake. We have an open declaration of war against our elected politicians. One senior Australian judge described an elected government as a "majoritarian autocracy". It was "a form of dictatorship as far as minorities and individuals are concerned".

The interviews make clear that many Australian judges watched with envy as the US Supreme Court under Earl Warren and successors implemented substantial social and political change without having to bother about the backroom deals or the pesky political processes needed to muster support from Congress. It's no coincidence judicial activism is often called "doing an end run around democracy". The Yanks may not have invented judicial hyper-thyroid activity but they turned it into a modern sport. From Brown v Board of Education to Roe v Wade and countless other decisions, US judges made changes that your ordinary activist could not have got through Congress quickly or at all. And judges here got a taste for it.

But those judges pumped up with impatience over social change fail to consider the enormous cost that comes from meddling in controversial issues. Indeed, the progressives who hail Roe v Wade, which usurped the role of state legislatures by cementing a federal right to abortion, never stop to think how that decision swept their conservative nemesis, George W. Bush, to power. The conservative backlash over Roe v Wade unified the religious Right into an enormously powerful political constituency that would back Bush all the way to the White House.

While history's verdict on US judicial activism is likely to be mixed - some good decisions, some bad - at least US judges had some legitimacy for their law-making. The US bill of rights, with its broad language and utopian ideals, was tailor-made for unelected judges to make law. In Australia, there is no constitutional bill of rights (yet). Traditionally, the pact between judges and politicians was that judges stayed out of politics. They interpreted the law, making small incremental changes where necessary. They did not make law. In return, politicians would leave judges alone to do their judge thing. However, idealism and the desire to be beloved in the right circles, coupled with the powerful US model, drove some judges - and their erstwhile supporters among legal ranks - to break that pact.

Fuelled by extraordinary judicial hubris, some Australian judges even regard the absence of a federal bill of rights in Australia as reason for them to step in. When the High Court dreamed up an implied right to freedom of political speech in our Constitution, one senior judge justified it as a "void-filling exercise ... In the absence of a bill of rights, there is a void there that from time to time has to be filled."

That grand-sounding path, where judges follow their meandering individual conscience, not what parliament lays down, is nothing short of judicial anarchy. Just as drug-taking, thieving parents make dreadful role models for their offspring, senior judges who openly showcase their addiction to pilfering power from politicians will inevitably lure junior judges down the wrong path. It's rule by lawyers, not rule of law. And their extraordinary egos prevent them from realising they are simply not up to the task. They lack the skills and the resources to fully explore the social, political and economic consequences of their activism.

History may well find that the Aboriginal rights era fuelled so heavily by Mabo in fact hurt the average Aborigine. The focus on land rights and the perfidy of white colonists enabled the growth of cancerous welfare dependence, exacerbating deep-seated problems of domestic violence and substance abuse within indigenous communities.

Given that judicial appointments season is on us - High Court Justice Ian Callinan steps down on September 1 - politicians had better choose the next High Court justice very carefully. Former US president Dwight Eisenhower would later describe his appointment of the activist Warren as "the biggest damn fool mistake I ever made". There is little point crying after the event. That's why, with war declared, politicians need to respond with their own heavy arsenal: a law instructing judges that, in a democracy, parliamentary inaction is no reason for judicial action.


Perverse Leftist myth of the noble savage in Australia

HARDLY a day has gone by in recent weeks without new reports of the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in remote settlements. Last Monday we learned that more than 30 men had been implicated in sexual assaults on children as young as 11 at Halls Creek in Western Australia. Another 26 men from the Kimberley region were also expected to be charged with similar offences. At Yalata, in outback South Australia, an Aboriginal man was convicted on Wednesday of trading petrol for sex with three under-age girls, whom he'd later attempted to silence with death threats.

There's ample reason to believe the federal Government's intervention in the 60 or so isolated communities in the Northern Territory will uncover comparable levels of child abuse. Aboriginal women and children are increasingly finding the courage to speak to police prosecutors and to give evidence in the courts. What's more, black leaders such as Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine have been admirably forthright in saying that this is fundamentally a moral and legal issue rather than something that can be deplored and excused as a consequence of disadvantage or the dispossession of tribal land.

In the midst of all these painful but necessary attempts to come to grips with an intractable problem, which is far more prevalent in Aboriginal families than the rest of society, the last thing needed in the debate is a return to romanticising Aborigines and the myth of the noble savage. Yet it's the best that Robert Manne, identified in a recent Fairfax press straw poll as our foremost public intellectual, could bring to the national conversation in his column "The Lost, Enchanted World" in the June edition of The Monthly.

He speaks of Australian anthropologists of the past century observing "not an Edenic but an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being had a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning." [Yuk! What a wet dream!]

As habitual readers of this column will appreciate, I'm far from dismissive of world views that are suffused with the numinous and where, in American sociologist Peter Berger's famous phrase, the sky forms a sacred canopy. But Manne's emphasis on playfulness, joy and humour suggest to me that he's conjuring with the Arcadian fantasies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau rather than traditional Aboriginal life.

Enchantment, in the technical sense, ought not to blind us to the often murderous realities of hunter-gatherer existence. It's possible to understand the ritual or religious dimensions of practices such as infanticide and cannibalism, for example, without losing sight of what else was involved. A world filled with magic looks a whole lot less entrancing when you understand that most deaths other than in infancy or old age were explained in terms of malevolent sorcery and punished with endless irrational cycles of payback. Having a precise and acknowledged place in the scheme of things may not have been all that much of a comfort if it was a role of wretched subjugation as a young woman in a male gerontocracy.

Mircea Eliade, the great historian of religion, proposed some useful categories. In the case of the Aztecs, for example, he didn't hesitate to conclude that a society based on large-scale human sacrifice was a perversion of the religious impulse. Likewise, belief systems that legitimated constant inter-tribal warfare and an extremely high incidence of violent death were common to most hunter-gatherer societies. There is no sense in romanticising them.

Manne's account of the lost, enchanted world before the arrival of the First Fleet makes some concessions to reality. He says: "There is no doubt that in pre-contact Aboriginal society adult interpersonal violence of many kinds was very common: male on male; female on female; male on female; even, as we have seen, female on male. It is also clear that, although in Aboriginal society sex was decoupled from shame, sexual violence against women was common. "But it is acknowledged by almost everyone that no violence of any kind was directed against children."

The last point, that traditionally Aboriginal children were never subjected to any kind of violence, is the rhetorical climax of his argument and another lapse into Arcadian fantasy. He offers it as a complete refutation of Louis Nowra's book Bad Dreaming and in particular his argument that contemporary Aboriginal sexual abuse of children is an aggravated version of patterns of behaviour that were part of traditional culture. Manne says: "Any argument about contemporary abuse as a pathological tradition must begin by explaining the awkward fact that one of the two main forms of contemporary Aboriginal male violence - the sexual abuse of children - didn't exist in the pre-contact world."

But in this argument it is Manne who has a lot of awkward facts to explain. Nowra notes evidence of "boy-wife arrangements that are known to have existed late into the end of the 19th century", citing the work of Carl Strehlow. "Pederasty is a recognised custom among the Arunta and has a name, kwalanga. It prevails especially among the Western Loritja and tribes north of the MacDonnell Range, the Katitja, Ilpara, Warramunga, etc. Commonly a man, who is fully initiated but not yet married, takes a boy 10 or 12 years old, who lives with him for several years." Referring to the southern part of the Kimberley, he cites Alfred Radcliffe-Brown on "the custom for a man before marriage to take as a boy-lover a member of the prescribed kinship section from which he must later obtain his wife, and who is therefore sociologically equivalent to the wife's brother and sister's husband."

Nowra comments: "Boys in a boy-wife arrangement were called chookadoo (about age five) or mullawongah (ages five to seven). Some boys could remain in such a marriage up until the age of 11 ... Even into the 1930s, there was evidence of homosexuality (among) the Kimberley Aborigines. The youths of 17 or 18 who were still unmarried would take boys of 10 or 11 as lovers. "The women did not regard it as shameful and considered the practice a temporary substitute for marriage."

We can be reasonably confident that Manne has read the relevant chapter of Bad Dreaming because in his review article he complains about it specifically. If he has read it, the question then becomes: what part of the phrase boy-wives doesn't he understand? Does he imagine that these were partnerships willingly entered into and consensual, an indigenous variation on a Socratic theme? Does he deem the arrangements non-abusive, despite the involvement of children as young as five, because they were traditionally sanctioned?

Nowra's evidence of heterosexual abuse is just as compelling. For example, he says that "when a nine or 10-year-old girl was handed over to her husband, there was generally no sexual intercourse (until) after puberty" but notes anthropologist Phyllis Kaberry's caveat that "sexual intercourse without penetration did take place but infrequently". Can Manne, when he read it, have imagined that these relationships were free of psychological violence?

On the subject of incestuous abuse, Nowra summarises an account from A.W. Howitt's The Native Tribes of South-East Australia. "Girls from the Dieri tribe would be kidnapped by their intended husbands and friends, who would then drag her away, she screaming and biting as much as she was able. If she put up too much resistance, other men were called in to help constrain the struggling girl. Then all of the men took turns to have sex with her over a one or two-day period, which was regarded as consummation of the marriage. After this the group, with the resigned girl in tow, would return to camp, where there were 'several days of ceremonial dancing, during which time there was between her and the men of the camp a period of unrestricted licence, not even excluding her father'."

How could Manne have concluded "the sexual abuse of children did not exist in the pre-contact world", despite the anthropological evidence to the contrary? Perhaps once he began to imagine "the lost, enchanted world", he peopled it with noble savages who could do no wrong. Then again, perhaps he's simply adopting a Gramscian view of the past in which it doesn't matter what really happened and the only question worth worrying about is what sort of history best serves the interests of progressive politics.


Terrorism is real. Just ask those who have lost loved ones

The left is losing its sense of right and wrong in a frenzy to demonise conservatives, writes John Roskam

ONE OF the great myths of history is that communism never threatened Australia. It is a myth successfully propagated by generations of left-leaning academics. As the story goes, the danger of international communism during the Cold War was a figment of then prime minister Robert Menzies' imagination conjured up to embarrass the Labor Party. We're now witnessing vigorous efforts to create another historical fiction. It is a fiction based on the argument that terrorism has been merely "imagined" by Prime Minister John Howard.

The claim is that to improve his election chances the Prime Minister is instilling in the electorate baseless fears. This is the contention of La Trobe university professor of politics Judith Brett in a new edition of her book on the Liberal Party. According to her, Howard is "paranoid" about terrorism. Brett draws a parallel between Menzies and Howard. One invented the threat of communism and the other the threat of terrorism. In the same way that the Australian people were duped into believing that communism was real, so they have been duped into thinking the same of terrorism.

It's one thing to debate things such as the causes of terrorism and the best way to combat it, but it is something else entirely to question the reality of terrorism. There was nothing "imagined" about the murders in New York, Madrid, London, and Bali, or the recent attempted murders in London and Glasgow.

Brett's analysis is the latest manifestation of a pathology that seems to have engulfed the left. It is a pathology that denies the existence of any evidence at odds with a particular world view. This is a world view that sees George Bush, Tony Blair, and Howard as unremittingly malign and manipulative. They are considered to have no redeeming features and they are to be given no credit, for anything, ever. Whatever concern they display for the safety of their citizens is dismissed as mere posturing.

The cynicism of the left has almost turned into a form of inhumanity. This can be seen in the way the British playwright Alan Bennett responded in the wake of the London bombings in July 2005 in which 50 commuters were killed. Bennett's play The History Boys was recently performed in Melbourne. Instead of experiencing horror or shock or sympathy for the victims, Bennett's reaction was that the bombings were particularly "convenient" and "useful" to the political purposes of Tony Blair.

It is almost understandable why so many Australian historians have devoted their careers to playing down the menace of communism. Many of those same historians were members of the Communist Party or at least sympathetic to it. Even if the results of the communism in Eastern Europe or Asia could not be entirely ignored, at least it could be pretended that Marxism/Leninism in this country was of a more friendly variety. The proof of the harmlessness of communism is found in the fact that war didn't break out between the Americans and the Russians. And while Menzies' effort to ban the Communist Party gets all the attention, other things are overlooked. For example, it was not until Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 that communist-led trade unions in Australia committed themselves to the cause of the allies. For communists in this country, honouring the pact between Hitler and Stalin was more important than helping defend Britain against Nazism.

It's more difficult to appreciate why the impact of terrorism is minimised. It's not as though anyone who enjoys the freedoms provided by a liberal democracy can have any sympathy with the aims of jihadist terrorists. As has been said many times, those aims are antithetical to the values of freedom and tolerance, which are values that the left once believed in. It is not always the case that an enemy of an enemy is a friend.

Most likely what has happened is that a hatred of conservative political leaders has combined with a cultural relativism. Thus there is a refusal to acknowledge the existence of any universal application of the concepts of right and wrong.

Brett criticises Howard for regarding terrorism as "pure evil". This echoes one of the favourite accusations of George Bush's opponents, namely that he views the war on terror in black and white terms. But sometimes matters are black and white. Classifying something as "pure evil" doesn't satisfy the predilection of relativists for seeing shades of grey in everything. But surely there can be no other description for the sort of terrorism we've experienced. If the premeditated murder of thousands of people is not evil then what is it? What's at stake in the debate about terrorism is more than a question of historical interpretation. Unfortunately there's nothing imagined about terrorism.


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