Thursday, September 29, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is rightly scandalized by the verdict against Andrew Bolt -- as all supporters of free speech and a free press should be. Bolt has been penalized for exposing a racket.

Cultural identity open for discussion

by: Gary Johns

HERALD Sun journalist Andrew Bolt and his 2009 articles on light-skinned Aborigines have offended the gods of identity. The court found that Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times contravened the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 because the comments were not made reasonably or in good faith. They offended the sensitivities of those about whom the articles were written.

Interestingly, the judge refused to order that HWT apologise. Instead, the court will make orders prohibiting the republication of the articles and consider making an order for the publication of a corrective notice. By the way, the offending articles can be held in the HWT archives for all time and read on the Federal Court website.

The nature of the complaint against Bolt by Pat Eatock and others is that the articles conveyed offensive messages about her and people like her by saying that they were not genuinely Aboriginal and were pretending to be Aboriginal "so they could access benefits that are available to Aboriginal people".

The provisions of the act used to silence Bolt are bad law. The provisions inserted by the Racial Hatred Act 1995 were strongly opposed by the Coalition on the grounds that it might impinge free speech. They have now done so. Why did the statutes remain on the books during 13 years of Coalition government? I expect better from Liberals.

Cultural identity is arguable and should be discussed in a free and open manner. If not, then Australia is entering a world where Aboriginal people, especially those of light colour and claiming discrimination (or favours) based on their race, become a laughing-stock. Is this what the activists wanted? Forget constitutional recognition, this decision has undercut goodwill.

The court decision relies on "the perspective of the ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community" to take offence. What is ordinary about someone who has spent their entire life as a political activist and has probably suffered little prejudice on the basis of their race because no one can distinguish them?

The judgment acknowledges that "a group of people may include the sensitive as well as the insensitive, the passionate and the dispassionate, the emotional and the impassive". The decision, however, has privileged the sensitive over the insensitive, the passionate over the dispassionate and the emotional over the impassive. The law has ensured that racial politics is a winner.

The ordinary and reasonable test is classically the man on the "Clapham bus", not the highly tutored and sensitised political activist. This decision will drive a wedge between Aboriginal and all other Australians. Whatever Bolt's offence, it was not racial hatred or racial vilification.

I wonder if Aboriginal West Australian Labor MP Carol Martin, who has decided to not run at the next election, reportedly after being vilified as a "toxic coconut" over her support for Woodside's gas proposal near Broome, will sue those Aboriginal activists allegedly spreading the vile imputations.

One proponent in the Bolt case made the argument that she "will have strong feelings of solidarity with other Aboriginal people who, like her, have pale skin and are exposed to challenges to their identity by reason of their appearance". She would be offended not because someone called her Aboriginal but because they failed to know she was Aboriginal. I understand the frustration.

The judgment argues that "People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying. Disparagement directed at the legitimacy of racial or religious identification of a group of people is a common cause for racial or religious tension. A slur upon the racial legitimacy of a group of people is just as, if not more, destructive of racial tolerance than a slur directed at the real or imagined practices or traits of those people."

The issue of Aborigines identifying as Aborigines should be one of supreme indifference to public policy. As with any private association it is a private matter. It becomes public because there are public benefits in so identifying. The fact people are sensitive about the link between identity and benefit serves to underline the fact there is such a link: remove the benefits, remove the sensitivity.

The decision argued that "Bolt could have made his point without attacking the basis upon which the participants identified as Aboriginal and without attributing to them ulterior motives for so identifying". This is true, but in that case it would be better to use the law of defamation instead of playing the race vilification card.

Freedom of speech has been curtailed by the Racial Discrimination Act; the judgment said as much: "What Mr Bolt did and what he failed to do did not evince a conscientious approach to advancing freedom of expression in a way designed to honour the values asserted by the RDA."

Nothing is more sacred than free speech. Tony Abbott must repeal the offending provisions. He should start drafting now, flush out the freedom-loving Labor members, stand them up and have them counted.


CO2 study reinforces our policy, say Australian conservatives

THE Coalition has seized on a new report showing forests, plants and soil may take more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than previously thought.

The new study, published in the science journal Nature overnight, shows that soil and vegetation may absorb 25 to 45 per cent more carbon each year, or between 150 and 175 billion tonnes, compared to previous estimates of 120 billion tonnes.

The study cautions, however, that the extra carbon may not be retained in the soil permanently, limiting the potential for atmospheric carbon reduction.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said the study showed there was “stronger and stronger evidence that the right green carbon measures can reduce the volume of CO2 in the atmosphere”.

“This is another important step in confirming that land-based carbon capture and storage is both measurable and essential as a low-cost, long-term way of reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere,” he said.

“From our perspective it reinforces our views, 18 months after we released our policy, the scientific evidence has moved more strongly in favour of the enormous potential of land and agriculture-based emissions reductions.”

The report's lead researcher Lisa Welp, from the University of California's Scripps Institute of Oceanography, said figuring out the annual carbon uptake from the terrestrial biosphere had been one of the biggest problems in the emissions equation.

Scientists, though, were confident about current estimates for carbon sequestration in land and this was unlikely to change much in the light of the new findings, she said.

“More CO2 is passing through plants (than thought), not that it actually stays there very long,” she said. “The extra CO2 taken up as photosynthesis is most likely returned right back to the atmosphere via respiration.”

The leader of the CSIRO Changing Atmosphere research group, Paul Fraser, told ABC radio the paper would help address uncertainties in carbon modelling and allow scientists to more accurately predict global temperature changes.

He cautioned that new research did not mean there was more leeway for allowing carbon emissions to rise, saying “it doesn't mean they hold more carbon, they (plants) probably respire faster”.

“I'd love to be able to say it does mean that but we just don't know that, that's in the next few steps (of research),” he said.


Australia is better than its current politics

By BBC reporter Nick Bryant

FOR the past five years I have reported on the rise of Australia. It is an increasingly consequential country unrecognisable from the journalistic kingdom of the mind of old: a land good for the occasional "And finally" animal story, a bizarre outback crime or two and, in the eyes of many foreign news organisations, not a whole lot more.

It is a nation where the tyranny of distance no longer brings with it the felony of neglect. Indeed, that very phrase is almost as much a historical relic as Ned Kelly's skeletal remains. Now that the locus of global economic activity has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific, proximity has become more defining than distance. The "land down under", a phrase dripping with inconsequentiality, is also likely to become redundant.

Instead, Australia is clearly in the right place at the right time, a modish phrase that during the next decade or so may even become the new national mantra.

Before the turn of the new millennium, when Bill Bryson began to research his much-read travelogue, Down Under, he started with a short trip to the local library. There, he conducted a fruitless search of The New York Times index for stories about Australia, which in 1997 merited just 20 mentions. Albania, by contrast, got 150. Fast-forward 10 years or so, and compare the coverage now. In the past few months alone, The New York Times has published 16 stories from its Sydney-based correspondent. On what might be called the NYT index - or, more accurately, the Bryson scale - Australia is faring exceedingly well. Few peaceful countries with a population of just 22 million people receive such close per capita attention. That trend is set to accelerate, as the rise of Australia and Asia continue in tandem.

So international news organisations, whose footprint in Australia is heavier than ever before, will continue to marvel at a seemingly recession-proof economy: the much-vaunted "wonder from down under", with low public debt, near full employment economy, record terms of trade, a totemic currency and a resources sector set to underwrite its prosperity late into the Indo-Pacific century. They will also report on a much-envied economic model with watchful regulators, risk-averse banks and a distaste for irrational exuberance. True, we are talking now of a twin-track boom and gloom economy, and the strong possibility that Australia has been contaminated by the Dutch disease. But most advanced economies are contending with a gloom-and-doom economy, and are afflicted by more serious maladies, the Greek and subprime contagions.

On the corporate front, companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto will continue to catch the international eye. Their profits have become key Asian and thus global indicators. So, too, will the shopping mall giant Westfield, whose annual results are fast becoming another important economic barometer, much like the length of the queue of coal ships waiting outside Newcastle, the world's largest coal export port. The Macquarie Group has also become another must-watch Australian company, not least because it is estimated to be the single largest non-governmental owner of infrastructure in the world.

In diplomacy, Australia's rising influence has become institutionalised, whatever becomes of its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Why, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum and the G20, an organisation to which few paid much attention prior to the GFC, even bear the stamp of made in Australia.

Kevin Rudd's prolific travel, first as prime minister and then as Foreign Affairs Minister, may have raised eyebrows at home but it also raised Australia's standing abroad. John Howard followed the same internationalist path.

In terms of good living, Australia has become one of the lifestyle superpowers. It is a place outsiders aspire to live in and, in the meantime, try to ape. Just visit a bookshop in London, and see how many cookbooks and style guides come from Australian chefs and interior designers. One of Australia's biggest exports is an intangible that will never appear in the national accounts: its sunny way of life.

In the arts and entertainment, the cultural cringe has long superseded the cultural creep. Here, crucially, many of the country's most internationally celebrated artistic ambassadors speak - or sing - with an emphatically Australian voice. Tim Winton, Peter Carey, Christos Tsiolkas, Les Murray and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. Indigenous art is respected internationally as never before, while Cate Blanchett even had the audacity to woo New York with a Sydneysider production of A Streetcar Named Desire. In recent years especially, Australia's cultural infrastructure has started to rival its sporting infrastructure. Witness the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, the new National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, the new wing of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney or the Melbourne Recital Centre.

The fall of Australia is a recent phenomenon, and is to be seen on daily display in the nation's capital. There is something very dismal and second-rate about the quality of politics right now in Canberra. Indeed, at the very moment when Australia is presenting such a confident face to the region and the world, the country's politicians give the appearance of turning away. When Julia Gillard told Kerry O'Brien that foreign affairs was not her passion, the rest of the world responded, I suspect, with much the same indifference. Clearly, she has been nowhere near as globally newsworthy as her predecessors, Rudd, Howard, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser or Gough Whitlam.

Tony Abbott has also expressed a preference for being a stay-at-home prime minister. Indeed, he turned it into a campaign boast. Both leaders appear to revel in their parochialism and reinforce it in each other. The main parties are led then by figures whose limited and increasingly immediate ambitions are happily accommodated within these shores. Tellingly, Colin Barnett, Premier of Australia's most thrusting state, says he now spends more time in China than Canberra.

Seasoned observers know that ill-tempered question times and the hair-trigger ruthlessness of leadership spills have long been a feature of life within the Capital Circle. But it is the extent to which Canberra has become so thoroughly dominated by conflict that has spawned so much negative coverage within and outside Australia. That anger and hostility is being compared with the mood in 1975 throughout the Whitlam dismissal crisis. But perhaps there is also a late-1960s feel to national affairs: a post-Menzies, pre-Whitlam interlude when the country appeared to be treading water and waiting for something to happen.

Certainly, as I prepared to hang up my microphone as the BBC's Australia correspondent I was struck by how the stories in my final week so closely mirrored the headlines from when I arrived in late 2006. Howard, who continues to frame Australian politics in much the same way that Margaret Thatcher does in Britain, reappeared. So did David Hicks. The angriest debates focused still on the governmental response to climate change and the equally vexed issue of the governmental response to asylum-seekers. Indeed, there seems to be a standstillism that cannot be explained away simply by the constraints imposed by a hung parliament. It also stems from the warring styles of Gillard and Abbott, who seem locked in this continual trench warfare. That is why I have found it so hard to summon much enthusiasm for reporting on Canberra in recent times: it has made a mockery of the sophisticated, modern and consequential country that is evident elsewhere. For so much of my time here I have reported with affection on the rise of Australia. For the past 18 months, however, politics has been heading in the opposite direction.


Kiwi hatred of Australians really comes out at sporting fixtures

It's much like Canadian hatred of the USA -- except that Canadians are much better mannered

Australian rugby fans claim they have been spat on and abused by New Zealanders at the World Cup. Phil Dunne, a Sydney man who flew into Auckland with his wife last weekend, told the New Zealand Herald a "hate vibe" had become entrenched in the psyche of many New Zealanders.

"Some of the charming exchanges involved sexual comments about my wife, instructions on how we could all f--- off back to Australia and even included one charming bloke attempting to spit on us," Dunne said. "I think the hate vibe given off by New Zealanders towards us is so entrenched at this World Cup that most Kiwis don't even realise how hostile they actually are."

The story set off debate on talkback radio. Radio Sport host Miles Davis said he had observed the same "vitriolic" hatred directed towards Australians in other cities. "I saw it in Dunedin and I have got to say it's not a pleasant side of the New Zealand rugby fan," he said.

Another supporter told the Herald there were patches of real meanness at Eden Park during the Australian game against Ireland. "A Kiwi, dressed in Irish green, shouted to a group of Australian fans, 'It's not mardi gras you f---ing poofters'," the unnamed fan said.

Radio Sport listeners said the abuse was not confined to Australian rugby supporters or to the World Cup. Davis heard from two listeners who said they were abused and had beer tipped on them for supporting Australian NRL teams. "I no longer go to (Warriors' home ground) Mount Smart because I've been spat on, had beer spilled on me, I was almost run over in the car park," listener Brian sent via text message to Radio Sport.

A listener named as Alex said his wife was abused for supporting the Springboks. "There's a fair amount of it out there and it's not pleasant," Davis said.

"But anyway a lot of people think 'harden up' - it goes on elsewhere in the world so it makes it right here."


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