Tuesday, June 16, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG sees the latest gangland killing in Melbourne as a sign of decline in the quality of Australian life

Health nazis losing obesity war

THE Aussie pie, pizzas and sausage rolls are back in school canteens as the war against child obesity falters and threatens to collapse. Lollies, ice creams, chips and even banned sports drinks have also re-emerged on school menus because thousands of families are snubbing healthier foods.

Nutritionists and dietitians are desperately trying to rescue the $750,000 school health campaign launched five years ago by former Premier Bob Carr. They are offering "low fat" Aussie beef pies, pizzas made with wholemeal pita bread and vegetables and chicken burgers to children who turn their noses up at salads and wraps.

The anti-health push is greatest at secondary level where students leave school grounds to eat at local fast food outlets or order in takeaway pizza on their mobile phones.

Dietitians have told The Daily Telegraph some schools are offering pies to children three times a day - at breakfast, recess and lunch. In a bid to reverse the trend the Healthy Kids School Canteen Association is taking over some school food operations. Low fat pies, pizzas and sausage rolls, with ingredients that meet health guidelines and home-made lasagne are now the front line items aimed at winning customers back.

Friday is pie and pizza day at Holy Cross Primary School at Glenwood in Sydney's west - portion sizes limited to healthy amounts - and the kids are lining up to get their orders. Canteen Association dietitian Jennifer Madz said Holy Cross would become a template across the state. "The problem is parents see the canteen as a treat and expect treat food there. We are trying to change the behaviour," Ms Madz said. "High schools are a special problem where students with money in their pockets go off campus to lunch in local fast food outlets. We are working on a plan to combat that."

Canteens hit by the global recession claim profits have been eroded as students resist low-fat menus.

While most sugary drinks are banned from school canteens, the food industry has manipulated some products to get around the rules. To get a non-milk-based gelato accepted the manufacturer added calcium and reduced the portion size. Banned Powerade became "Powerade Light" and juice was carbonated and sold in a can so children would think it was a softdrink. Under the nutrition rules foods are divided into red (no more than twice a term), amber (to be selected carefully and in smaller servings) and green (fill the menu) categories.

But enforcement has been almost non-existent and the Catholic and independent school sectors are not bound by them.


Black drunk driver negligently burnt to death in a prison van

This is a truly horrible story. Prosecutions must follow

THE Director of Public Prosecutions will be asked to consider criminal charges in the case of an Aboriginal elder who was effectively cooked in the back of a prison van on a scorching day in the West Australian outback. WA Coroner Alastair Hope said yesterday he would ask the DDP to consider whether charges should be laid after finding the death of Mr Ward, 46, whose first name cannot be released for cultural reasons, was “unnecessary and wholly avoidable”.

Mr Hope found “inhumane treatment” led to Mr Ward's death from heat stroke in the pod of the commercially owned prison van, which had no air conditioning and little or no air flow. He criticised the transport company, Global Solutions Ltd (GSL), for arranging Mr Ward's horror 360km journey between the Goldfields towns of Laverton and Kalgoorlie, and accused its custodial guards of colluding in their evidence.

He found the company, the two guards, Nina Stokoe and Graham Powell, and the Department of Corrective Services had all contributed to Mr Ward's “terrible death” on January 27 last year. The coroner found the father of four, from the Goldfields town of Warburton, died of heat stroke when he succumbed to temperatures of 50C inside the van on a searing day, after being picked up for drink-driving the previous day.

Mr Hope said Ms Stokoe and Mr Powell, who provided Mr Ward with only a 600ml bottle of water and did not check on him throughout the journey, had breached their duty of care. He said Mr Ward had no proper method of communicating with the guards, who had colluded before giving unreliable evidence to police about the death. The hearing was told that when Mr Ward eventually arrived unconscious at Kalgoorlie hospital, his body was so hot that staff had been unable to cool him down. Even after an ice bath he had a body temperature of 41.7C. He had a laceration to his head from falling in the vehicle and a 9cm third degree burn to his stomach from lying on its hot metal floor.

Mr Hope said the department had failed to provide GSL with proper means of transport and that the vehicle was “not fit for humans”. The prison van did not have a spare tyre, indicating GSL's “reckless approach” towards the transport of prisoners, he said. “In my view, it is a disgrace that a prisoner in the 21st Century, particularly a prisoner who has not been convicted of any crime, was transported for a long distance in high temperatures in this pod,” Mr Hope said. Among his 14 recommendations, he said the state government must improve its handling of prisoners and review its justice system.

In response, WA Attorney-General Christian Porter said action had already been taken to prevent another “tragic incident” and pledged $3 million and a rollout of 40 new custodial vehicles by December 2010. “Things have improved substantially and I intend to see they improve further,” Mr Porter said. “But it now falls to this government to repair the system that allowed this quite shocking event to occur.”

About 40 protesters demonstrated outside Perth's Central Law Courts, where the coroner delivered his findings. The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee called for improved human rights for Aboriginal people, while Amnesty International called it “a disgrace that a prisoner should be transported in this way in the 21st century”. Aboriginal Legal Services of WA CEO Dennis Eggington said Mr Ward's family was happy with the recommendations but wanted criminal charges laid against the Government.


Victorian government hospital gives woman fatal overdose

Mogadon is well known as a powerful sleeping pill. Why would anybody be given three of them? This sounds deliberate, not accidental. It's not even indicated for depression

A family say they could only watch their mother slowly die after staff at Casey Hospital allegedly gave her an accidental overdose of a sleeping pill. The coroner is investigating the March 30 death of Elsinor Mitchell, 74, who was allegedly given three Mogadon tablets on March 27 when she was not supposed to receive any medication. Ms Mitchell's family say that within 15 minutes of the medication she fell into a coma while being transferred in an ambulance, and they could only watch as her organs shut down over the next three days because doctors were powerless to reverse the damage.

Victoria police have prepared a brief for the coroner, who is reviewing medical records and referring the information to the clinical liaison service for a medical opinion. Southern Health, which runs Casey Hospital, yesterday declined to comment on the incident, saying it was standard procedure not to discuss matters before the coroner. Other medical sources have told the Herald Sun it would typically require a greater dose of Mogadon to overdose.

Ms Mitchell's brother, Alf Hulland, his sister's power of attorney while in hospital, said Ms Mitchell was diagnosed as suffering depression by Casey Hospital doctors and given medication just before being placed in an ambulance to travel to a Heatherton clinic. He claims the hospital's doctors later admitted they realised the mistake only while Ms Mitchell was in transit, but she had already slipped into a coma before they could alert paramedics to the problem.

The Narre Warren mother of five adult children was later rushed to Monash Medical Centre but could not be saved. "A doctor took her youngest son into a room and told us somebody had made a terrible error at Casey Hospital," Mr Hulland said. "She said there would be a big inquiry and it would not be covered up, but apart from that there was nothing more she could do and her organs would shut down so she had 24 to 48 hours at the most to live.

"It is the most distressing thing I have ever had to endure in my entire life - to sit there and watch her die. I think it is absolutely disgraceful. "They had told me that within a fortnight she would be home and back to her normal self again. There was no reason for her to die. "A doctor came over from Casey Hospital the next day and apologised. It is the first time I have seen a doctor cry." Mr Hulland said he could barely recognise his sister in her final hours because her transformation was so severe. "She was a bubbly, happy-go-lucky person who always helped anybody," he said. "She absolutely had a heart of gold."


Pervasive violence is part of traditional Aboriginal life

And only integration and assimilation into mainstream culture offers any prospect of reducing it

In his address to the National Press Club in 2003, Mick Dodson claimed that "violence is not and never was part of Aboriginal tradition ... We have no cultural traditions based on humiliation, degradation, and violation. Let me make this point abundantly clear. Most of the violence, if not all, that Aboriginal communities are experiencing today [is] not part of Aboriginal tradition or culture."

That denies the reality. Pre-contact Aboriginal society was very violent, and that violence and the cultural norms that sustained it continue to generate the extreme levels of violence in today's remote communities.

There is little point in criticising traditional Aboriginal Australia, unless traditions pose dangers for today's Aborigines, and unless we incorporate this reality into policy responses.

Despite considerable evidence that pre-contact Aboriginal Australia had high levels of violence, and that traditional norms concerning violence still operate, policy distortion continues because of a resistance to consider traditional norms of violence.

Even among intellectuals such as Joan Kimm and Louis Nowra, who have bravely pointed to pre-contact origins of today's high rate of Aboriginal violence, evoking the policy implications is resisted.

To secure a less violent, more positive future for Aborigines, today's restrictive conditions on inquiry and policy need to end.

The particularly high level of violence against women in pre-contact Aboriginal Australia can no longer be denied. First-contact explorers and colonists noted with distress the terrible scars and bruises that marked the women due to the frequent brutality of their menfolk.

Stephen Webb's palaeopathology studies of cranial and post-cranial remains verify that before European arrival, violence against Aboriginal women was prevalent across the mainland continent, with women suffering significantly more cranial injuries than men.

The level of Aboriginal violence particularly against women remains shocking. In 2004-05 across four states where records were kept, "indigenous females were 44.1 times more likely to be hospitalised for assault than non-Indigenous females".

To open up this restrictive research climate, we need to de-couple some falsely linked concepts.

In his book Race and Culture, African-American economist and social commentator Thomas Sowell writes that the horror of racial oppression and hatred cannot be denied: "It is difficult to survey the history of racial or ethnic relations without being appalled by the inhumanity, brutality, and viciousness of it all.

"But there are no more futile or dangerous efforts than attempts to redress the wrongs of history."

Sowell also argues that morality and causation are confused: "What is most morally revolting, or morally inspiring, about a given situation may not be what is the most important causal factor" and that "no group was a tabula rasa to begin with".

In the case of Aboriginal Australians, the most "morally revolting factor" might well be the white colonisation of this country.

However, insistent blaming of white colonisation as a primary generator of high Aboriginal violence suppresses the uncomfortable fact that within Aboriginal culture, violence continues to have strong, traditional legitimacy.

Hence, reducing Aboriginal violence to around mainstream levels will entail further shifts away from traditional beliefs, norms, power structures and behaviours.

A key upsetting aspect about critical assessment by Westerners and their intervention in Aboriginal violence is that it seems to ring hollow. What allows westerners to take the moral high ground given their history of imperialism and violence?

People are very malleable regarding their attitude and capacity to tolerate violence. It is culture and its associated belief systems, power structures and norms that largely determine people's tolerance and attitudes concerning violence. The key difference between the West and traditional Aboriginal culture is that only very recently, Western culture developed effective philosophies and associated political and legal systems that could effectively reduce violence.

In contemporary liberal democracies, violence is forbidden. For private citizens there is no legitimised violence apart from self-defence. Within traditional Aboriginal culture, there was considerable legitimate scope for people to use violence. Dreamtime law functioned above all else to protect country against sacrilege and to uphold the social order. Enforcement of correct ceremonial procedures and obligations included harsh violent punishment, sometimes death. Moreover, violence as a means to set things right extended beyond the sacred, rendering family and kinship conflict a dangerous realm too. In this traditional zeitgeist, there was no "individual right" to counter this.

Ceremonial mistakes and violations were very frightening events for traditional Aborigines because they triggered the wrath of the powerful ancestral creation beings, threatening the country on which life depended.

In such a context, causation rather than intention was the primary consideration, and members of the tribe, particularly male elders, had the right and obligation to carry out punishment against the wrongdoers. Even accidental sacrilegious acts could be subject to the death penalty.

Furthermore, the identity of a guilty party could be determined through irrational sorcerous or magical means. In one instance described by T.G.H. Strehlow, relatives make a spindle from a murdered man's hair, and watch for when it breaks while it spins into a hair string.

The distance and the direction of the spindle's travel indicate the murderer. Disputes regarding the identity of culprits identified through sorcery could lead to deadly vendettas.

Sacred law discriminated on the basis of sex, with more prohibitions placed on women. Certainly, men faced restrictions on pain of death to many sacred places, objects and ceremonies. However, for a woman, there were more sacred objects that she could not see or touch, more sacred sites that she could not be in or near, and more sacred ceremonies that she should not participate in or witness, even accidentally, on pain of death.

Surely most nerve-racking, this could affect essential daily tasks such as water collection. As noted by the Strehlows, "even waters open to women and children, if they were at all near a sacred site, had to be approached carefully".

W. Lloyd Warner detailed several examples of east Arnhem Land's Murnjin men and women being killed for willing or accidental totemic and ceremonial transgressions, noting that "if women look at a totemic emblem they are killed by their own group".

Even husbands were expected not to save their "guilty" wife, although there were brave husbands who did.

Despite the misogyny of the 18th and 19th century western world, white colonial officials and explorers were shocked by what they saw.

In the 1840s, explorer and magistrate Edward John Eyre wrote very critically of the white occupation of Australia, which he called aggression: "To sanction this aggression, we have not, in the abstract, the slightest shadow of either right or justice; we have not even the extenuation of endeavouring to compensate those we have injured, or the merit of attempting to mitigate the sufferings our presence inflicts."

Eyre's ability to see the colonial injustice and aggression against Aboriginal Australia did not compromise his ability to decry the subjugated status of the Aboriginal women.

"Women are often sadly ill-treated by their husbands or friends, in addition to the dreadful life of drudgery, and privation, and hardship they always have to undergo; they are frequently beaten about the head, with waddies, in the most dreadful manner, or speared in the limbs for the most trivial offences.

"No one takes the part of the weak or the injured, or ever attempts to interfere with the infliction of such severe punishments ... Few women will be found, upon examination, to be free from frightful scars upon the head, or the marks of spear wounds about the body.

"I have seen a young woman, who, from the number of these marks, appeared to have been almost riddled with spear wounds."

Sadly there are thousands of examples of legitimised injurious violence, debilitating beliefs and misogyny of traditional origin that continue to give power to some and to hurt many others in Australia's remote Aboriginal communities.

What shocks outsiders is often seen as ordinary by the communities. This other country is a dangerous country.

Joan Kimm and David McKnight, within their respective fields of legal history and anthropology, recount how the tolerance of violence or thepropensity to behave violently can increase markedly in the same people when they move out of the mainstream and into traditional community. In his book From Hunting to Drinking, McKnight relates how Mornington Island youths were able to treat their white girlfriends well in the mainstream context but became violent towards them in the traditional context.

This suggests that when and where to be violent is a matter of choice. It is a strong indicator that the violence has less to do with Aboriginal men's loss or brokenness due to white colonisation, such as separation from their spiritual lands or being directly affected by the Stolen Generation; or the need for anger management or cultural healing; or even the curse of alcohol or other violence-promoting substance abuse.

No doubt these realities can be contributing factors. Nevertheless, it has more to do with traditional expectations, mores and permissions to be violent.

No matter how unfairly they, their family or their community have been treated or continue to be treated by mainstream Australia, it is - in seeming irony - the mainstream context where Aboriginal violence is more effectively suppressed and less tolerated by Aborigines themselves.

It is in the traditional context, on lands of dreams and ideals hard-won after years of political battles with their white conquerors, where violence is legitimised as a proper tool to uphold male dominance over women.

People generally want to conform to their culture. They tend to be as violent and as tolerant of violence as their culture expects and allows. Strategies to ensure that Aborigines no longer endure cultural contexts where violence is normal just have to be implemented. But the nation's thinkers and policy-makers have been baulking at the task.

In her book A Fatal Conjunction, Kimm laments in her concluding chapter that "the continuing public denial that violence is part of traditional culture remains a large part of the 'root of the problem"'.

Kimm also urges the need to place women's rights above cultural rights in law and sentencing.

However, the powerful implications of Kimm's book - that addressing Aboriginal violence requires strategies that tackle its traditional, cultural roots - are circumvented in her last chapter by her insistence that policy stay within the tenets of self-determination and community control of programs.

Kimm emphasises the need to ensure that Aboriginal women themselves determine their own responses, and points to the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women's Council of Central Australia, in a positive light.

Australian Crime Commission figures compiled by Jane Lloyd, an expert in remote indigenous domestic violence, show that 28 years after the establishment of the NPYWC, the violence on the NPY lands remains catastrophic, clearly indicating that women's initiatives and other responses are not working.

Women from the NPY regions are "67 times more likely to be a domestic violence related homicide victim".

Despite the power of the rest of Kimm's book, one is left with the sense that community violence at higher than the mainstream rate is inevitable, and Aboriginal women's empowerment is about community women themselves running the sadly necessary community women's shelters and night patrols and legal centres to secure some safety. There is no breakthrough here and it sounds little better than surrender. Is this the best we can do as a nation for the Aborigines of remote Australia?

Adjustment to the mainstream is not about taking anything from Aborigines. It is about implementing policies and programs that reverse Aboriginal exclusion from mainstream culture, because this is the only effective broad-scale strategy for the acquisition of strong norms against violence. It is critical that governments encourage integration, otherwise Aborigines are condemned to dangerous traditional norms of violence. Those norms not only cause misery and suffering, they also limit the life chances that many Aborigines could enjoy within contemporary Australia.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Three Mogadon kills someone? Love to know more about this story. So often there is more than meets the journalistic eye with this sort of thing.