Monday, May 18, 2009

Aboriginal campaigner breaks Aboriginal tradition to protect his family

A rare example of realism

A LONG-TIME campaigner against racism says he banned his Aboriginal relatives and friends from staying in his home for fear of his two children being sexually assaulted. Stephen Hagan said his decision a decade ago initially caused resentment, but he felt it necessary to ensure the safety of his children, Stephen Jr, now 16, and daughter Jayde, 13. "I chose not to have people, in particular men in town on business, sleeping under the same roof as my young children," the University of Southern Queensland academic said. "I took that decision principally because I was not fully cognisant of their past inclinations around children."

The former Aborigine of the Year - who fought a successful decade-long campaign to rename the ES "Nigger" Brown Pavilion at the Toowoomba Sports Ground - also refused to lend money.

In a speech to a forum on preventing violence in indigenous families in Mackay, Mr Hagan said he gave up drinking alcohol and gambling to be a better role model for his children. He told the forum he would never have been able to live with himself if he allowed someone to stay the night in his Toowoomba home and later found out that the person "abused my trust by wandering into one of my children's rooms with the intent of violating their innocence". "Today, I sleep soundly knowing they are safe in their beds without a worry in the world about devious intrusions from within," he said.

Referring to the federal Government's National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children report released last month, Mr Hagan said that if women who were the victims of violence got no satisfaction from the Government, they should "do what we are best at in times of crisis - look out for and protect each other".

"In 1999, I reprioritised my personal and family goals," he said. "It was the year I discerned the critical proactive role I needed to play in support of my immediate family. I took those decisions knowing they were directly opposed to the desire to always attempt to satisfy the shallow expectations of my extended family and friends. "In its infancy, this process was quite painful as I stopped lending money to my family and friends - most of which anyway was never returned in full, or sometimes at all - and I declined requests from them to bunk down for the night at my residence when visiting from out of town. "While initially my actions put me offside with disgruntled relatives and longstanding acquaintances, it nevertheless gave me complete confidence to provide uncompromising safety and financial security for my family - and an increase in quality time with them."

It was a sad reality that other indigenous parents could not sleep soundly in their homes because community expectation was often so great they "succumbed to the pestering of visitors seeking free accommodation", he said. "It is in fact this very issue of overcrowding of indigenous homes that today has been identified as one of the chief reasons for high incidents of sexual abuse of children as articulated in the Little Children are Sacred Report done in 2007 in the Northern Territory.

"I often wonder why perpetrators of domestic violence don't take out their frustrations on someone in the pub and spare their loved ones at home the indignity of being violated by them. "Too high-risk, I guess - the other fellow in the pub might hit back and, worse still, hit a lot harder."

Mr Hagan criticised indigenous adults who did not take action when they knew of violence occurring in their communities, even being committed on their daughters by drunken husbands. "Although men's groups are growing steadily around the nation with the goal of assisting other men to address issues of intergenerational violence, I'm afraid they still lag behind their female counterparts nationally and globally in setting strategic goals," he said.

"I recently spoke to an Aboriginal friend I had not seen since high school and she told me of her past 30 tumultuous years of unsuccessful and painful relationships. She told me she tolerated the first 15 years of hell at the hands of her unstable high school sweetheart before finding the courage to leave while she still had her sanity. "She said she forgave him for the first assault as she justified the loss of his job as a passable excuse for the unanticipated violent outburst." But the woman told Mr Hagan the bashings continued "a couple of times a week after drinking sessions with his mates".

"She said her children knew when he was drinking and left to visit friends for the night to be out of harm's way. I noticed a deep sadness in her eyes when she recalled how she waited, fearful and alone at home, cowering in her lounge room chair for him to arrive and commence his usual verbal abuse, telling her she was a useless so-and-so. She said she never sought protection from friends at their house after her first experience that resulted in her husband tracking her down, forcing entry to the house and beating her in front of her friends, and then bashing them as well.

"The day after these beatings, her children would routinely return home to get dressed for school and attempt to patch their mother's wounds. "Their inebriated father slept soundly, sprawled across the blood-spattered sheets on the double bed in their rented Aboriginal Housing Company house.

"My friend took some delight in saying, with a toothless grin, that she was now living alone, but ashamedly revealed her sons became teenage statistics in the prison system and her daughters 'had children to a couple of no-hopers while still children themselves'. Only time will tell whether the vicious cycle of violence will be continued into the next generation of this unlucky family whose only mistake their loving mother made was an extremely poor choice of partners."

Mr Hagan's battle to remove the word "nigger" from the now-demolished stand at the Toowoomba Sports Ground was settled out of court in February. He had gone to Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Tribunal seeking $10,000 in damages for the "hurt and humiliation" caused by the Toowoomba Sports Ground Trust. The trust counter-sued Mr Hagan for $80,000 in legal costs for the court battles, which went as far as the UN.

Mr Hagan's bid to have the sign removed failed in the Federal Court and the High Court. In 2003, a UN committee deemed "nigger" offensive and insulting, and recommended the sign be removed. But the signage remained and it was intended the nickname would be included in a planned memorial to the footballer after the stand was demolished last year. In September, the state Government - which is funding a $2.15million upgrade of the stadium - declared it unacceptable for the word "nigger" to appear at any venue.

Mr Hagan launched legal action last year against the Toowoomba Chronicle for $750,000, saying the newspaper encouraged people to lampoon and vilify him on the basis of his race. He blames the Toowoomba Chronicle for fuelling racial hatred in his home town.


Tamil rage comes to Australia

I am generally biased in favour of people from South Asia but I am beginning to think that Tamils are a very nasty exception to the usual virtues of patience and non-aggression among South Asians. Maybe the "Tigers" were not so exceptional among Tamils

A man is expected to lose his eyesight after he and a friend were splashed with acid during a violent home invasion in Sydney's west overnight. Jayasri, a 22-year-old student from Sri Lanka, was today in an induced coma in Concord Hospital's burns unit after the attack, which friends say was carried out by local Tamils targeting supporters of the Sri Lankan Government.

The other man in the house - Chathurika, 27 - also suffered acid burns, was stabbed in the stomach and broke his ankle in the attack. He is in a serious but stable condition at Westmead Hospital.

Neither of the men were involved in politics or in yesterday's brawl between Tamils and Sinhalese, and were probably only targeted because it was known Sinhalese - the Buddhist ethnic majority in Sri Lanka - lived in their house, said a friend. "But this house has always been famous for Sri Lankans ... they are always having parties and stuff, so they know [there are Sinhalese here]," said the friend, who did not wish to be named.

It also emerged that Chathurika was only recently married. He arrived back in Sydney last week after his wedding three weeks ago, but his wife remained in Sri Lanka. He worked in a fast-food restaurant.

Today Sri Lanka's consul general, Ms Gothami Indikadahena, visited the house and appealed for calm. "This is a very tragic incident - these boys were just sleeping,'' she said. "We want to contain these incidents because we are a united country. "I am really very disturbed. These are innocent boys,'' she said. "I feel like they are my brothers or my sons. I feel very very sad.'' She said a witness to the attack was being protected.

The attack occurred just before midnight last night, and left walls splattered with blood and debris scattered through the house. Police said five men broke into the house and threw acid at the victims. "My friend who lives in [Alexandra Avenue] rang me about 11.30pm and said: 'These Tamil guys are here and they are going to kill us,' " said the friend. "I could hear them screaming." Chathurika and Jayasri knew the attackers were Tamils because they were screaming in Tamil during the rampage, he said.

Relatives of Jayasri had been told by doctors this morning that the young student was likely to lose his eyesight as a result of the acid attack, the friend said. A third occupant of the house escaped injury by hiding during the attack. The friend said he was still trying to contact him at midday.

A neighbour said he heard screaming from the house and was about to call police, but they arrived before he had a chance to phone. "Someone else must have heard it too and called them," said the man, who did not wish to be named. "I was asleep, and I heard the noises and got up and went to my kitchen window. I saw one of the guys going back and forth ... but I didn't [see who did it]."

The trail of destruction left by the attackers was still visible this morning, with blood splattered on walls and on the floor, bloodied handprints on light switches and door handles and debris scattered throughout the house. Glass sliding doors at the front of the house had been smashed. In the lounge room, a glass coffee table and TV were smashed, and a fridge and microwave had been thrown on the floor.

The victim's friend said the attack had followed clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sydney's west yesterday afternoon, after the Tamil Tigers' admission of defeat in Sri Lanka in their long-running battle with the Government. Groups of Sinhalese had celebrated at parks yesterday, but the victims had not been present, the friend said. "They didn't come to the celebration; they were working, that's why we were wondering [why they were attacked].

"But this house has always been famous for Sri Lankans ... they are always having parties and stuff, so they know [there are Sinhalese here]." The Sinhalese community was now petrified, he said. "Everyone's worried, every single person is worried. You don't know how many calls I'm getting about this." The friend said he drove to the victim's house from his Blacktown home as soon as he heard about the attack, but by that time the attackers had fled and his friends had been taken to hospital.

The victim's neighbour said they had lived in the house about 2½ years, and that there had been no trouble in the past. He said he was angry at the attack.

Ms Indikadahena said Sri Lanka was a united country and appealed to the local Sri Lankan community not to escalate the violence further.

Police had no details about the attackers, or how they got away.


Teachers subject to harrowing attacks by students

Lots of British schools have police permanently stationed onsite. That would seem to be the future for Australia too

TEACHERS are being terrorised by students who have assaulted them with bricks, furniture, threatened with death, spat on and held hostage. A shocking list of assaults and harrowing attacks by students on teachers since January last year has been supplied to The Courier-Mail. It comes as state school teachers across Queensland get ready to strike tomorrow.

The list of assaults, provided by the Queensland Teachers Union, shows teachers are bearing the brunt of a current wave of violence in state schools. One special school teacher had her jaw broken and multiple teeth knocked out in an attack by a student using fists, feet and furniture. Another suffered extensive eye socket and rib damage after a student's assault. Students terrorised one primary teacher and the teacher's young family for three nights in a row at the family home, throwing rocks on the roof.

Another teacher was forced into a storage room and then terrorised by a student whose hat she had confiscated in class. "The teacher tried to use a phone in the room to call for help but the student repeatedly disconnected the call by pressing the hook switch on the phone. The teacher was eventually able to pass the student and sought help from the school admin," the list states.

It follows revelations in The Courier-Mail over the past two months of violence in schools, including more than 150 attacks on staff and students across the state from intruders last year and rising violence against teachers inside Prep classes.

A teacher specialising in behaviour management contacted The Courier-Mail last week to detail a barrage of attacks over the past fortnight. "I've had a brick thrown at me, been threatened with dangerous weapons, had a chair thrown at me, a classroom window smashed, received very specific and detailed death threats and an assurance that, after I was dead, my classroom would be burned down," she wrote.

QTU president Steve Ryan said the account was not unusual. But, he said, teaching was still a career he could not recommend highly enough. "About 5 per cent of the population gives you about 95 per cent of the problem," he said. Mr Ryan blamed rising disrespect for authority, a lack of resources and student behavioural problems for the violence.

Education Queensland has 325 full-time equivalent behavioural staff across the state - more than one for every four state schools. An EQ spokeswoman said violence had no place in the sector. More than 17,000 students were suspended for violence in Queensland state schools in 2007-2008, with almost 300 expelled.


Australia fares best in downturn

TIMES may seem bad but the Australian economy is beating the best and biggest in the world. In terms of growth and employment, we are proving more resilient to the global recession than any other major advanced nation. Analysis of data from the International Monetary Fund shows that of the world's 12 largest developed economies, Australia's is forecast to perform best this year. The IMF predicts we will have the mildest recession - a contraction of 1.4 per cent this year.

The Economist's most recent survey draws the same conclusion.

The UK is tipped to go backwards at nearly three times the pace of Australia and Japan at more than four times the speed. And the IMF believes our jobless rate will reach 6.8 per cent this year - 2 per cent lower than Germany, France, Italy and the US. If we were doing as badly as those countries, an additional 200,000 Australians would be joining the dole queue.

What is more, we are one of the few leading countries with remaining capacity to cut interest rates if the economy requires further stimulation. Most nations' central banks have monetary policy settings at close to zero. Some, such as the UK, have even resorted to printing money to kick-start economies.

"Australia is certainly doing much better than other developed nations," JB Were chief economist Tim Toohey said. And it is doing better than the Government wants you to think. Forecasts contained in the Federal Budget were much more pessimistic than the IMF's outlook - and that of most economists. Mr Toohey said the Government's numbers were "unrealistically bearish", although he said there was a reason for this. "Treasury has low-balled the economic assumptions so that any improvement in economic news flow over the next two years can be attributed to sound economic policy," he said.

Jodie Fried is one Sydney entrepreneur defying the downturn. She has a product the world wants and can't get anywhere else. One of her big recent wins was to have her hand-made furnishings stocked by ABC Home in America. Ms Fried's company Bholu, started in 2004, was placed in the Top 100 of Time magazine's influential green designs for its stuffed toys, carpets and blankets - made by women in rural India, whose communities receive part of the proceeds. Four schools have been built with the money and another three are under way. "We've had a really big wave of business come in off the back of Time," Ms Fried said.


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