Sunday, January 13, 2013

NSW moves to strengthen hate laws

The controversial commentators Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt are due to be called before an inquiry that will consider strengthening anti-discrimination laws to make it easier to convict people for serious racial vilification.

The inquiry was ordered by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, who is concerned there have been no successful criminal prosecutions in the history of the NSW laws and that they have fallen out of step with community expectations.

The move is likely to inflame the debate over freedom of speech, amid warnings that broadening the laws could be dangerous and unacceptable.

It is understood Jones and Bolt are on a witness list drafted by the inquiry, which will hold public hearings in early April.

Last month, Jones was ordered by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal to apologise on air for describing Lebanese Muslims as "vermin" and "mongrels" who "simply rape, pillage and plunder a nation that's taken them in".

In September 2011, Bolt was found by the federal court to have contravened the federal Racial Discrimination Act in newspaper columns which accused prominent light-skinned Aborigines of choosing to identify as black for personal gain.

The parliamentary inquiry will focus on Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, which deals with the criminal offence of "serious racial vilification" and requires proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" for a prosecution.

Penalties of up to $5500 and six months' jail apply to anyone found guilty of inciting "hatred", "serious contempt" or "severe ridicule" of a person or group by threatening physical harm to them or their property or inciting others to do so on the basis of their race.

The vilification laws have been in place in NSW since 1989. According to figures supplied by the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, 27 complaints have been referred by the board for criminal prosecution since 1998 the period for which records are available. But none were prosecuted as the Director of Public Prosecutions did not feel the burden of proof required by the legislation would have been achieved.

A spokesman for Mr O'Farrell said it was "questionable" whether this section of the act "constitutes a realistic test or is in line with community expectations".

"The Premier has therefore asked the [parliamentary law and justice] committee to report on whether section 20D is effective and if not, provide recommendations that will improve its efficacy with regard to the continued importance of freedom of speech," he said.

In NSW complaints about racial vilification must first be brought to the Anti-Discrimination Board, which will attempt to resolve them through conciliation.

If that fails the board's president may refer a complaint to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal if it is deemed an unlawful act or, in the case of serious racial vilification, to the DPP.

The inquiry was welcomed by the secretary of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, who said serious racial vilification should be treated differently from actions or material that simply causes offence. "It is treading on free speech but it's speech which has very direct consequences," he said. "And it's quite right to criminalise that sort of speech".

The president of the NSW Anti- Discrimination Board, Stepan Kerkyasharian, said the inquiry was overdue. "It's a great opportunity to deal with this matter," he said.

The chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said the NSW law was "completely ineffective in that for all practical purposes it is impossible to prove the elements of the offence in any specific case".

But director of the Legal Rights Project at the Institute of Public Affairs Simon Breheny, warned against broadening the law.

"The government is justified in restricting threats of physical harm," he said.  "The current Section 20D is therefore appropriate as far as it restricts conduct of this kind. However, any weakening of Section 20D risks impacting on our fundamental right to free speech."

The NSW inquiry comes amid the furore about a proposed overhaul of federal anti-discrimination laws, which would make it unlawful to offend a person. The draft laws have been criticised by the former chief justice of NSW, Jim Spigelman, who believes they risk putting Australia in breach of its international obligations to protect free speech.



Larry Pickering

Serial pest of the extreme Left, strident ALP supporter and regular ABC contributor, John Pilger, runs a magazine fittingly called “Green Left”.

So it was surprising to see that he was well aware of the AWU scandal in 1995, albeit totally unaware of a Ms Julia Gillard or her role.

His magazine reported in 1996 that the US company Fluor Daniel had contracts worth more than $7 billion, including a partnership with BHP in the Escondida copper mine in Chile and US mining projects in Indonesia.

Pilger’s magazine said that in 1996 the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Fluor Daniel was one of several large corporations paying into a slush fund set up for Australian Workers Union officials.

Fraud squad detectives from Victoria were trying to trace $30,000 paid by Thiess, part of Leighton Holdings and builders of the $700 million Sydney Harbour casino.

The magazine article said that, “A Mr Ian Cambridge, one of the secretaries of the AWU at the time, said, ‘Recent evidence suggests that a variety of bank accounts operated under various names linked to the AWU have in fact operated secretly and for improper purposes so as to channel money into private slush funds’”.

“Between 1992 and 1995, $400,000 flowed into the fund. The money disappeared once it was placed in union hands, much of it drawn in 40 or so cheques ranging from $4,000 to $50,000.”

There were 12 other fraudulent AWU accounts that other monies were paid into and transferred from.

“Some of the money was traced to a property bought by an AWU official... (Bruce Wilson, with the assistance of Julia Gillard.) parentheses added.

The magazine went on to say, “It is known that one of Fluor Daniel's payments into the fund exceeded $29,000 because this was one of the cheques returned to Fluor Daniels once the fraud was discovered.”

We know now that in 1995, when Gillard and Wilson were sprung, Wilson had paid himself and others $114,000 in redundancy payments.

Some of this money was hurriedly repaid to duped contractors.

Some of the stunned contractors, other than Thiess who were aware of the fraud, returned the cheques back to the slush fund believing the repayments were a mistake.

“At the time, there were calls for the Keating government to convene a Royal Commission. “None was forthcoming.”

The author stated, “The Liberals did not pursue the case either”, obviously unaware that contractors had refused to cooperate with the WA Fraud Squad for fear of retribution.

Thiess' Joe Trio wrote to Sgt David McAlpine in Perth saying they wanted the matter dropped.

The WA police file shows that payments totalling more than $400,000 went through bank accounts tied to the AWU Workplace Reform Association.

A three-page memo from Sergeant McAlpine to the Fraud Squad's legal officer, Samantha Tough, stated: "The point of this report is to obtain from you a better sense of direction in regards to charging these two crooks.”

The matter is far from finished, as Ms Gillard would prefer, because former WA State secretary of the Australian Workers Union Tim Daly, made a decision to box up and lock away hundreds of documents in the late 1990s knowing full well that the stench of the financial dealings would one day return.

Those documents are now part of the ongoing Police investigation launched as a result of Mr Ralph Blewitt’s recent statement.

The 1998 edition of “Green Left” magazine was actually far more concerned over the alleged environmental disasters of Fluor Daniels and this was a discussed at length. The AWU matter was an aside.

But it is interesting to note that the radical Mr Pilger, who says he is an investigative journalist, was privy to the intricacies of the fraud at the time and has not proffered a word since.

The ascendancy of one of the culprits to the position of Prime Minister may have prompted Pilger’s silence as the thought of a Coalition Government would be, to him, a fate worse than death.


Civil disobedience demands courage of convictions

Anti-coal protestor Jonathan Moylan became a cause célèbre in some quarters this week after issuing a fake press release, the contents of which precipitated a temporary plunge in the value of Whitehaven Coal on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Greens leader, Christine Milne, was quick to praise Moylan’s antics as ‘part of a long and proud history of civil disobedience, potentially breaking the law, to highlight something wrong.’

ASIC is now investigating – it raided Moylan’s ‘camp’ in northern NSW on Wednesday morning – and the proper authorities will rightly determine if any laws have been broken.

If criminal charges are laid, we may well see the Greens and their fellow travellers on the Left launch a Julian Assange-style outcry against the persecution of an innocent, well-meaning activist.

As with the global campaign for the leader of WikiLeaks to escape trial in the United States for publishing classified intelligence documents stolen from the Pentagon, these efforts to evade the legal consequences of illegal behaviour will profoundly misunderstand the principle of civil disobedience.

Any anarchist, vandal or malcontent can disobey the law. What makes civil disobedience morally and politically powerful is the willingness to pay the penalty for an act of conscience protesting unfair or immoral government policies. By demonstrating the courage of one’s conviction, the aim is to sway opinion and convince governments to rectify the injustice that motivated the self-sacrifice of liberty.

This was the principle of civil disobedience at the core of Gandhi’s campaign of passive resistance against British rule in India. The Mahatma ordered his followers to submit to arrest and obey all subsequent orders from the authorities.

He also practiced what he preached and, when arrested by the British, asked to receive the highest penalty under the law. Had Gandhi sought to evade imprisonment by fleeing the country, say, acting like the proverbial thief in the night would have diminished the moral force of his anti-colonial movement, and it is unlikely he would have become an international figure and rallying point for Indian independence.

In complete contrast to Gandhi are the modern agitators and their supporters who want a get-out-of-jail free card for acting illegally for the self-proclaimed greater good.

To truly belong to the ‘long and proud history of civil disobedience,’ Assange and his like should display the courage of their convictions and willingly surrender to lawful authority. Like Gandhi, maybe Assange would do greater service to his cause (whatever that is) banged up in the US penitentiary instead of hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.


Dangers of an artificial gender war


IMAGINE the furore if Tony Abbott were accused today of allowing pornographic movies to be played at his wife's birthday party, upsetting members of her family so much they left the venue. Consider the outrage if the Opposition Leader then admitted that, yes, those videos were played and he thought it was a great laugh, the birth of a "legendary story" for the boys.

In the wake of Julia Gillard's denunciation of sexism last October, in an outburst so impassioned it rapidly became the parliamentary version of Madonna - an international phenomenon recognisable by a single word: "misogyny" - it is highly likely Abbott's leadership of the Coalition would be dead by the end of the day.

Presenting evidence of Abbott's sexism, the Prime Minister even called him out on looking at his watch while she was speaking. One wonders, then, how the Labor women who have subsequently spent much of the summer warning us of Abbott's "problem with women" would react to the Opposition Leader's hearty public endorsement of a video called Freaks of Nature as entertainment in mixed company.

But these tawdry events did happen. And they did involve an opposition leader. The only difference is that man was Mark Latham.

Latham outlined the distasteful details himself in his 2005 memoir, The Latham Diaries. Granted, by then he had retired from politics and was no longer Labor's problem. But rumours of his unsavoury attitudes and behaviour - which would surely fit the definitions of sexism or "a problem with women" as they are being wielded today - were rife long before then. And while some of those stories may have been muddled, exaggerated or even fabricated, Latham confirmed enough of the general flavour, with gusto, in his book: how he and mate Joel Fitzgibbon, now the chief government whip in the House of Representatives, spent a cheerful night out in a pole-dancing venue in Melbourne; how he blasted the current Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, with "five minutes of swearing" after a factional dispute; how Jenny Macklin was "as useful as pockets in underpants"; how unattractive the women of the Canberra press gallery were.

And yet nobody spoke out. Certainly they didn't take to the floor of parliament to let fly publicly about misogyny. Sexism is not some strange, virulent strain of the flu, only recently discovered; the stories that seem so distasteful today would surely have been as unpleasant to Labor women then. But they sucked it up and stayed silent.

The reason, of course, is partisan politics. And it illustrates why Australian women should be alarmed, rather than excited, about the prospect of a historic federal election in which women's interests and the women's vote are set to take centre stage.

Sexist behaviour cannot and should not be defined by whether or not the perpetrator is on your team. A pathological, criminal hatred of women - or misogyny in its traditional meaning - is far too serious to become a political plaything. The lawyer in Julia Gillard must know this. In her private moments, this woman who has made many personal sacrifices, and brushed off countless cruel smears and slights, to blaze a trail for women to The Lodge must appreciate it too. But the hardened political street fighter will ignore it anyway.

Given what is at stake - her government - perhaps this is understandable. Certainly, it is no different from what generations of political hard men, the warriors who live by the "whatever it takes" credo, would have done. Indeed, that Gillard has demonstrated she can play the game as roughly and remorselessly may be considered by some as a triumph of feminism in its own right.

She has tempted Abbott on to unfamiliar and dangerous territory - a place where he must somehow disprove the amorphous charge that he has "a problem with women" - and she will want to keep him there, under fire. This week proved what a treacherous and unforgiving position the Opposition Leader is in. When his formidable chief of staff, Peta Credlin, gave a character reference for her boss, recounting how she had been reassured as a self-described "right-wing feminist" by Abbott's positions on IVF and abortion, and had enjoyed his support during her own IVF travails, an intensely personal story was immediately decried as playing politics.

Asked about the Credlin interview, Roxon replied: "It's clear from these sorts of stories that Mr Abbott does have a problem with women." In other words, we are moving into a bizarre cycle where anything Abbott says or does to demonstrate that he values women will be held instead as proof against him, and character references from female friends, family and colleagues will be similarly dismissed.

And there's the red flag for women. When only some female voices are acceptable as representatives of "what women want", how is that respectful of women? If we truly respect women's right to the vote, and their intellectual capacity to grapple with issues and come to their own conclusions, and their equality with men generally, then we have to accept the sometimes uncomfortable reality that they will sit across the political spectrum, depending on what their own priorities are, just as men do.

The simple truth is there is no such thing as the "women's vote" and any attempt to pretend there is can usually be revealed to be a political ploy to support another group of sectional interests.

Witness the way Barack Obama's victory in this year's presidential election was immediately embraced by liberal feminists here and elsewhere as conclusive evidence that women vote as a bloc on certain issues. "Threaten women's reproductive rights and they will vote against your arse," thundered a headline on influential women's website Mamamia.

The argument there, and elsewhere, was that women overwhelmingly rejected Mitt Romney because of a string of repugnant attacks by Republicans on reproductive rights.

To be sure, exit polls revealed a significant gender gap; the US President enjoyed an 11-point margin with women voters over Romney, although that was actually a two-point drop in the endorsement he received from women in 2008. But consider this: among white women only, the gender gap reversed and was even larger (14 points) in favour of Romney. More than half of all women in this category (56 per cent) favoured the conservative, despite the baggage of Tea Party extremists in the GOP, over Obama.

The President was saved by his ability to bring out the black and Hispanic vote in massive numbers, and his awesome standing among women in those categories.

From a women's perspective, what can we read into this result? That white American women are traitors to their sex and black and Hispanic women make better feminists? More likely, voters made their choice according to an array of factors, with ethnicity and socio-economic status being at least as important as sex.

Similar factors will have an impact in the Australian federal election later this year, and will be particularly influential in some key seats. But the same polling that gives us the "Abbott has a problem with women" headline already points to a similar diversity in the way Australian women will vote. Throughout last year, about 40 per cent said they preferred Gillard as prime minister, while about one-third favoured Abbott and one-quarter were uncommitted, indicating they may not like either particularly much.

That is hardly a uniform "problem with women" or evidence of misogyny. And the oft-overlooked "uncommitted" category - which remains markedly higher than in previous election years - may give an indication as to what women really want.

Perhaps discerning women want to hear about what these leaders will actually do for them, in policy terms. Perhaps they feel irritated, even demeaned, by this hysterical nonsense about whether or not the candidates "like" women, coupled with sinister but unsubstantiated whispers about what rights they intend to take away. Both leaders' relatively high disapproval ratings suggest voters generally are sick of negative smears.

Abbott's greatest vulnerability here may be that he is yet to release policies on a number of areas that might engage women, and particularly show them how a Coalition government would make their day-to-day lives and the lives of their families better in practical, "real world" terms.

However, as a prolific writer and speechmaker never shy of an impassioned debate, he has left a rich seam for his opponents to mine and quote, often selectively, to fill the void. Having chosen to put his religious faith, including his friendship with Cardinal George Pell, into the public sphere, it is now necessary for him to clarify whether and how he intends to keep those beliefs separate from policymaking - and then get on with it. Just like men, the majority of women couldn't care less what religion their leader practises, provided it doesn't impinge on them or their family.

Meanwhile, the danger for Gillard is that Labor's stoking of an artificial gender war, to stage a character assassination, will look increasingly opportunistic. Where are the policies to tackle income equality, improve community and health services, or promote women's economic security, particularly when they are most likely to be the ones juggling the care of children, ageing parents and family members with a disability?

Given this government has just drastically reduced the incomes of almost 100,000 single parents (most of whom are women), while its female Families Minister assured them that she could live on $35 a day, they are fair questions. Women certainly have the right to ask whether this newfound angst about sexism in all its forms will continue after the next election. Indeed, will it spell any meaningful change or improvement at all in the lives of Australian women?


1 comment:

Paul said...

Of course the various Jewish organizations are in the forefront calling for "vilification" or "hate" laws everywhere because they want criticism and questioning of Israel and its policies lumped in with the umbrella phrase "anti-Semitism" and therefore subject to such laws. The trojan horse they use here is the protection of "minorities". This activity of theirs is certainly not restricted to Australia.