Monday, October 11, 2021

A Sea of White Faces in Australia’s ‘Party of Multiculturalism’

She seemed an ideal political candidate in a country that likes to call itself the world’s “most successful multicultural nation.”

Tu Le, a young Australian lawyer who is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, was set to become the opposition Labor Party’s candidate for Parliament in one of Sydney’s most diverse districts. She grew up nearby, works as an advocate for exploited migrant workers and had the backing of the incumbent.

Then Ms. Le was passed over. The leaders of the center-left party, which casts itself as a bastion of diversity, instead chose a white American-born senator, Kristina Keneally, from Sydney’s wealthy northeast to run for the safe Labor seat in the city’s impoverished southwest.

But Ms. Le, unlike many before her, did not go quietly. She and other young members of the political left have pushed into the open a debate over the near absence of cultural diversity in Australia’s halls of power, which has persisted even as the country has been transformed by non-European migration.

While about a quarter of the population is nonwhite, members of minority groups make up only about 6 percent of the federal Parliament, according to a 2018 study. That figure has barely budged since, leaving Australia far behind comparable democracies like Britain, Canada and the United States.

In Australia, migrant communities are often seen but not heard: courted for photo opportunities and as fund-raising bases or voting blocs, but largely shut out of electoral power, elected officials and party members said. Now, more are demanding change after global reckonings on race like the Black Lives Matter movement and a pandemic that has crystallized Australia’s class and racial inequalities.

“The Australia that I live in and the one that I work in, Parliament, are two completely different worlds,” said Mehreen Faruqi, a Greens party senator who in 2013 became Australia’s first female Muslim member of Parliament. “And we now know why they are two completely different worlds. It’s because people are not willing to step aside and actually make room for this representation.”

The backlash has reached the highest levels of the Labor Party, which is hoping to unseat Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a federal election that must be held by May.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, faced criticism when he held up the white senator, Ms. Keneally, 52, as a migrant “success story” because she had been born in the United States. Some party members called the comment tone deaf, a charge they also leveled at former Prime Minister Paul Keating after he said local candidates “would take years to scramble” to Ms. Keneally’s “level of executive ability, if they can ever get there at all.”

Ms. Keneally, one of the Labor Party’s most senior members, told a radio interviewer that she had “made a deliberate decision” to seek the southwestern Sydney seat. She did so, she said, because it represents an overlooked community that had “never had a local member who sits at the highest level of government, at a senior level at the cabinet table, and I think they deserve that.”

She plans to move to the district, she said. In the Australian political system, candidates for parliamentary seats are decided either by party leaders or through an internal vote of party members from that district. Candidates do not have to live in the district they seek to represent.

When contacted for comment, Ms. Keneally’s office referred The New York Times to previous media interviews.

Chris Hayes, the veteran lawmaker who is vacating the southwestern Sydney seat, said he had endorsed Ms. Le because of her deep connections with the community.

“It would be sensational to be able to not only say that we in Labor are the party of multiculturalism, but to actually show it in our faces,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in March.

Ms. Le, 30, said she believed the party leadership sidelined her because it saw her as a “tick-the-box exercise” instead of a viable contender. As an outsider, “the system was stacked against me,” she said. “I haven’t ‘paid my dues,’ I haven’t ‘served my time’ or been in with the faceless men or factional bosses for years.”

What she finds especially disappointing about Labor’s decision, she said, is the message it sends: that the party takes for granted the working-class and migrant communities it relies on for votes.

Australia has not experienced the same sorts of fights over political representation that have resulted in growing electoral clout for minority groups in other countries, said Tim Soutphommasane, a former national racial discrimination commissioner, in part because it introduced a “top down” policy of multiculturalism in the 1970s.

That has generated recognition of minority groups, though often in the form of “celebratory” multiculturalism, he said, that uses food and cultural festivals as stand-ins for genuine engagement.

When ethnic minorities get involved in Australian politics, they are often pushed to become their communities’ de facto representatives — expected to speak on multiculturalism issues, or relegated to recruiting party members from the same cultural background — and then are punished for supposedly not having broader appeal.

“The expectation from inside the parties as well as the community is that you’re there to represent the minority, the small portion of your community that’s from the same ethnic background as you,” said Elizabeth Lee, a Korean Australian who is the leader of the Australian Capital Territory’s Liberal Party. “It’s very hard to break through that mold.”

Many ethnically diverse candidates never make it to Parliament because their parties do not put them in winnable races, said Peter Khalil, a Labor member of Parliament.

During his own election half a decade ago, he was told to shave his goatee because it made him “look like a Muslim,” he said. (Mr. Khalil is a Coptic Christian.)

“They want to bleach you, whiten you,” he added, “because there’s a fear that you’ll scare people off.”

In the Australian political system, the displacement of a local candidate by a higher-ranking party insider is not unusual. Mr. Morrison was chosen to run for a seat in 2007 after a more popular Lebanese Australian candidate, Michael Towke, said he was forced to withdraw by leaders of the center-right Liberal Party.

Ms. Keneally moved to the safe Labor seat, with the backing of party leaders, because she was in danger of losing her current seat. Her backers also note that she has been endorsed by a handful of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Middle Eastern community leaders.

Joseph Haweil, 32, the mayor of a municipality in Melbourne and a Labor Party member, said that as a political aspirant from a refugee background, he saw in the controversy over Ms. Le a glimpse of his possible future. Mr. Haweil is Assyrian, a minority group from the Middle East.

“You can spend years and years doing the groundwork, the most important thing in politics — assisting local communities, understanding your local community with a view to help them as a public policy maker — and that’s not still enough to get you over the line,” he said.

Osmond Chiu, 34, a party member who is Chinese Australian, said “the message it sent was that culturally diverse representation is an afterthought in Labor, and it will always be sacrificed whenever it is politically inconvenient.”

Ms. Le spoke out in a way that others in the past have avoided, perhaps to preserve future political opportunities. She said that she was uncertain what she would do next, but that she hoped political parties would now think twice before making a decision like the one that shut her out.

“It’s definitely tapped into something quite uncomfortable to discuss, but I think it needs to be out in the open,” she said. “I don’t think people will stand for it anymore.”


Extraordinary story of how a mother and daughter spent months in jail for 'importing drugs' – but it was actually TEA

A mother and daughter got themselves into hot water when they were thrown in the slammer for six months due to a botched police investigation which wrongfully determined they were smuggling drugs when in reality it was just ginger tea.

Connie Chong and her daughter Melanie Lim imported the exotic brew from China so they could sell it in Australia online, but in January two of their shipments were seized by Border Force agents at Sydney Airport.

The preliminary indicator tests on the cargo wrongfully found the presence of a rare banned stimulant was known as phenmetrazine, leading investigators to suspect the tea pushers were really major drug queens.

Heavily-armed police officers then raided their Greenacre home in southwest Sydney slapping cuffs on the pair and discovering more of the substance. The terrified women were then charged with the commercial supply of drugs, refused bail and told they could be facing life behind bars.

But in August more thorough laboratory testing uncovered the shocking realisation that Chong and Lim were completely innocent and that the original presumptive colour test indicators detected a false positive.

All charges against the women have now been dropped but police prosecutors are refusing to pay for their legal bills despite their obvious blunder.

Defence barrister Steve Boland said the case was one of the most extraordinary police 'stuff-ups' in modern memory which has caused tremendous trauma for the pair.

'It is a gross injustice,' defence lawyer Benjamin Goh told 7News outside court on Tuesday. 'Two innocent women that have served their time as a result of the police not doing the investigations properly. 'It is open to the Crown to say 'sorry'. We stuffed up and two women went to prison for our dodgy prosecution.'

The women are now taking legal action against the NSW Police who say the delay in receiving adequate test results was due to a lack of lab equipment.

Their case seeking damages will continue before the court next year.


Peter Dutton tells court he was ‘deeply offended’ by tweet branding him a ‘rape apologist’

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has told a court he was “deeply offended” by an “egregious” post on Twitter branding him a rape apologist, which prompted him to sue for defamation for the first time.

Mr Dutton, 50, formerly Home Affairs Minister and Immigration Minister, is suing refugee advocate Shane Bazzi in the Federal Court over a tweet posted on February 25 this year which said: “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist.”

The post linked to a Guardian Australia article reporting Mr Dutton’s comments in 2019 that some women on Nauru “have claimed that they’ve been raped and came to Australia to seek an abortion”. Mr Dutton suggested they were “trying it on” in order to secure a medical transfer to Australia.

Earlier on February 25, Mr Dutton had spoken at a press conference about the Brittany Higgins rape allegations and said he received a high-level briefing from police, which he did not personally pass on to the Prime Minister.

Ms Higgins, a former Liberal Party staffer, alleges she was raped by another former staffer in Parliament House in March 2019.

Mr Dutton’s barrister Nick Ferrett, QC, said there had been a number of “unpleasant observations” about his client during his time as a politician, however Mr Bazzi’s comment was “personal” because “it’s the opposite of who he is”.

On Wednesday, Mr Dutton told the Federal Court he was an officer in the Queensland Police Service for almost nine years before entering politics, including a stint as a plainclothes constable in the sex offender squad.

Mr Dutton said he spent considerable hours taking witness statements to prosecute those responsible for sex crimes, took victims to shelters and provided support to them during the investigation phase and in court.

He said Mr Bazzi’s tweet was brought to his attention by one of his staff members, and he was “deeply offended by it”.

“Obviously as Minister for Immigration or Home Affairs, it’s a rough-and-tumble business and there are lots of advocates and a lot of passion in the space where people make comments which are false and untrue, offensive, profane,” Mr Dutton said.

“But that’s part of the rough-and-tumble, if you like. This went beyond that, and it went against who I am, my beliefs.

“For some people, they don’t put constructed arguments. Even given the passion, either because of the limit to their vocabulary or their intellect, they resort to insults or comments which are profane and beyond the reasonable bounds. This went to a different level.

“That’s why I was most offended by it, because I thought it was defamatory. I thought it was hurtful, and I took particular exception to it.”

Mr Dutton said he had arranged for a legal letter to be sent to Greens Senator Larissa Waters for a similar tweet, also on February 25, which referred to Mr Dutton as an “inhuman, sexist rape apologist”.

The tweet followed Mr Dutton’s comment at the press conference about Ms Higgins that he had not been “provided with the ‘she said, he said’ details of the allegation”.

Mr Dutton said he took offence to Ms Waters’ comments, for which she apologised, and took offence to Mr Bazzi repeating them. He said he chose to sue Mr Bazzi because his comment was “egregious” and “goes beyond anything I’ve seen before”.

In court documents, Mr Dutton argues Mr Bazzi’s tweet defamed him by wrongly suggesting he condones rape and excuses rape. The politician is seeking damages, including aggravated damages, and costs.

Mr Bazzi is seeking to rely on the defence of honest opinion and the public interest-style defence of qualified privilege in the case. His barrister, Richard Potter, SC, said an ordinary reasonable reader would consider the entirety of Mr Bazzi’s tweet, and would have known the additional context related to Ms Higgins.

Mr Potter said no amount of loose thinking by readers would lead to the “strained” interpretation suggested by Mr Dutton. “If the respondent meant to convey that [Mr Dutton] condones or excuses rape, he could have done so explicitly,” Mr Potter said. “Context is significant, especially in this case.”

Mr Ferrett said Mr Bazzi could have said something in his tweet like “Peter Dutton doesn’t pay sufficient regard to allegations of rape”, but instead chose to say something more impactful, hyperbolic and serious. “Instead of saying something which the material justified, and which was being debated in the community at the time … he said ‘Peter Dutton is a rape apologist’,” Mr Ferrett said.

The hearing continues.


How Barnaby Joyce sent the ‘fear of God’ through Big Tech

Here’s a puzzle. On Wednesday, the Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher, appeared at the National Press Club in Canberra. He took the national media spotlight to talk about his new booklet, Governing in the Age of the Internet. It’s a vast and urgent problem. But he had nothing new to say on the topic.

Fletcher didn’t so much as utter the words “social media” in his speech. Yet on Thursday, the very next day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made news on Fletcher’s chosen topic when he damned the big social media companies that Fletcher is supposed to be in charge of regulating:

“Social media has become a coward’s palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people’s lives and say the most foul and offensive things,” Morrison said at a press conference, signalling a crackdown. This made news not only in Australia but around the world. The global newsagency Reuters made it their “quote of the day”.

Morrison went further. It was “not a free country” where people could destroy lives with impunity. “So people should be responsible for what they say, in a country that believes in free speech. I think that’s very important … we intend to set the pace because we value our free society and in a free society, you can’t be a coward and attack people and expect not to be held accountable for it.”

So what changed in between the minister’s anodyne address and the Prime Minister’s unscripted denunciation? Two things. One was the appearance of the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen before a committee of the US Congress. The other was Barnaby Joyce.

Haugen’s testimony to the US Senate Commerce Committee was the culmination of a systematic three-week media campaign she’d waged, supplying tens of thousands of pages of internal Facebook files to The Wall Street Journal for a blockbuster series known as the Facebook Files.

She was motivated to act, she said, because she’d lost a friend to online radicalisation. Now she was trying to coach the American legislature in how to do what it has never done – tame the tech monsters: “During my time at Facebook, first working as the lead product manager for civic misinformation, and later on counterespionage, I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety. Facebook consistently resolve these conflicts in favour of its own profits.”

Among the many, the most powerful single disclosure Haugen made was the leaking of a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board. It cited internal research at the company’s Instagram business: “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

Another slide said: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Among teenagers who reported suicidal thoughts, 13 per cent of British users and six per cent of American traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, according to the internal Facebook research.

Now Haugen told the Congress: “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

She told the senators: “When we realised the extent of the damage caused by the tobacco industry, the government stepped in. When we realised cars were safer with seat belts, the government stepped in.” It was now the responsibility of legislators to act against the damage wrought by Facebook. “I implore you to do the same here.”

At the same time Haugen was holding the attention of the US political and media worlds, Barnaby Joyce was getting alarming messages of commiseration from friends abroad.

They were very sad and sorry to see the horrible things being said about his eldest daughter, Bridgette, on social media. A mystified Nationals leader went to search social media sites and was stunned to find that his daughter was being insulted and abused by anonymous internet voices, supposedly for being in a relationship with John Barilaro, the NSW Nationals leader who this week announced his retirement from NSW Parliament.

Bridgette Joyce had worked on Barilaro’s staff, but it was a “devastating lie” that they’d been in a relationship, Barnaby Joyce said. It was not only a lie, it was being seized upon by hateful grubs and internet bottom-feeders anonymously to heap vilification and abuse on the young woman. In other words, just another day’s entertainment for the Twitter trolls.

Joyce, fuming and frustrated, acted as any concerned father would to try to find a solution. But as Deputy Prime Minister, he had more tools at his disposal.

Among other things, he phoned the Prime Minister on Thursday morning and demanded that the government act to impose accountability on the US social media corporations. The government already had work under way to try to advance the accountability agenda, but Joyce insisted it move faster and, if need be, unilaterally. Joyce says he told Morrison: “This is enough.”

A Morrison trademark is his close supervision and control of his ministers. But Joyce, the leader of the Nationals and a force of nature, is beyond his control. So when Morrison gave his press conference that afternoon, he was primed. When a reporter asked him about the government’s work program, Morrison took the opportunity to “pick up and add my voice to Barnaby’s”.

Next, Joyce went public to denounce the rumours as “utter rubbish” and called for the social media companies to end the endless, anonymous “character assassinations” on their platforms.

Then he wrote an opinion piece for Friday’s issue of the Herald and Age: “Twitter, it is not the trolls that inspire the devastating mental health issues. The trolls don’t have a voice unless you give them one, and you do!” And: “The public has reasonable grounds to ask that these companies, supporting the lifestyles of billionaires, do not make their money by dropping character bricks on the heads of innocent private individuals.”

Joyce tells me that he wants the Commonwealth unilaterally to legislate to make Twitter, Facebook and the rest held liable for any defamatory material published on any of their platforms available in Australia. His ministerial colleague, Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, had already written to the states to consider this area of law, but Joyce is pushing her to act faster and unilaterally if necessary. He wants legislation passed before Parliament is prorogued for the election due by May next year.

And while he’d like to work with the US Congress on reforms, “don’t wait for them”, he adds. He promises that it’s not just a moment of catharsis: “I’m not going to just drop this.”

And Joyce takes up the car metaphor: “In a car, if I run over a person I go to jail, seatbelt or not. Online, I’m apparently indemnified. What’s the difference – breaking a leg or breaking a mind? We spend billions on mental health while they make billions in profits. I want to put the fear of God in them.”

And when Twitter and Facebook make the inevitable threats to withdraw from Australia in response? “I will say great, problem solved. I’ll say, hurry up!”

Paul Fletcher and the e-Safety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, who works in his portfolio, are working on an ambitious, world-leading online safety code. It’s careful and painstaking work.

The Office of e-Safety already has a sound record of getting the US tech firms to remove harmful material on a voluntary basis. The new code would make it mandatory. This work, says Inman Grant, aims to stop serious cyber abuse, and could possibly intersect with Joyce’s agenda. She says it’s a world first and “we need to show restraint and use it for the most serious and harmful cases”.

This code could intersect with Joyce’s agenda, but it’s not at all clear whether Joyce’s unilateral law to hold Big Tech accountable for defamation would help or hinder.

Joyce is in a tearing hurry and he doesn’t seem to care whether others, even in his own government, can keep up. He had a phone call from Facebook’s Australian operation about 4pm on Friday, offering to work with the Deputy Prime Minister to help solve the problem. According to Joyce, he told the Facebook executive: “Your time is over. We are going to do something.

“How many opportunities do you need? Why are we going through this charade? It’s over.”

On the contrary, it’s just beginning.




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