Monday, March 14, 2022

How much longer can the law justify the killing of Aboriginal people?

Teela Reid

image from

The article below attributed to Teela Reid is both delightfully articulate and deeply offensive. It turns on the matter of Northern Territory police officer Zachary Rolfe and his attacker. If a hardened criminal is coming at you with a sharp object you are supposed to just cop it because the attacker is black? That seems to be the claim by Ms Reid. It was the Aborigine who initiated the series of events leading to his own death, no-one else. The law did not "justify" the death on frivolous or unreasonable grounds.

It is in fact Ms Reid who is most open to the claim of unreasonableness. She repeatedly skates over important details in the matters she refers to. In referring to the Coniston masssacre, for instance, she ignores the fact the the precipitating event there was also the work of Aborigines. They killed a white man who was friendly with them and who camped with them. And even then the matter was not glided over by the authorities. It was the subject of official reports, three court hearings and a Board of Enquiry. The outcome of the various hearings has been claimed to be unfair but if the acquittal of Const. Rolfe was unfair, whence unfairness?

It is true that white setters in the early days did mount punitive expeditions in response to attacks on isolated whites by blacks but that was indeed defensive. Aborigines had formidable skills derived from their hunting lifestyle. They had genius-level skills at sneaking up on alert prey animals and killing them. Evidence that such skills were being turned against whites was justifiably terrifying to local whites. To comfortable present-day urbanites, what the whites did is easily seen as unfair and unjust but they were not in the shoes of the whites concerned. In law, as in much else, context is not everything but it is close to it.

I could go on to dissect further the foolish screed below but I think I have said enough to show it for the inspissated bias that it is

The killing of Kumanjayi Walker, a 19-year-old Aboriginal man in Yuendumu, reminds us that the law does not always equal justice when it comes to Aboriginal experiences within the criminal process. In the wake of Northern Territory police officer Zachary Rolfe’s acquittal, the Walpiri people have stood strong and dignified in their calls for ceasefire, police accountability and control of their homelands.

This case begs the question: how much longer can the law justify the killing of Aboriginal people?

Without cavilling with the not guilty verdict or the conduct of the trial, there are legitimate concerns about the training and recruitment of the Northern Territory Police Force. How is it that NT police officers are trained and drilled that an “edged weapon equals a gun”, as Rolfe’s lawyer argued, and in this instance that the three bullets Rolfe shot into Kumanjayi’s body were a lawful response to his threat of having a pair of medical scissors?

It wasn’t just the shooting of Kumanjayi that sent shockwaves across the desert; it was also the fact he died alone in the most undignified way inside a police station while the rest of his family and community sat outside wailing and waiting for answers, wondering if he was dead or alive the same day the Walpiri buried his uncle.

Surely, there are more appropriate and humane ways to respond and disarm a person. And the Northern Territory police have proven an alternative approach is possible when the person posing the threat is a white man. In June 2019, the same year Kumanjayi’s life was cut short inside a family member’s home, Benjamin Hoffman, a white man who terrorised the streets of Darwin in a one-hour killing spree that resulted in the death of four people, was spared his life. Why is the response different when it comes to Aboriginal men like Kumanjayi?

The disparity is jarring and the rage and fear felt by First Nations people across the continent is valid. Police preparedness to shoot Aboriginal men was reinforced during the Kumanjayi murder trial – as the jury deliberated Rolfe’s fate, the Northern Territory police fired six shots into another 19-year-old Aboriginal man in Palmerston.

Not long after the trial and further shooting, Samara Fernandez-Brown, the cousin of Kumanjayi, stood on the steps of the Northern Territory Supreme Court and described how his death has affected other young Blak men. “We are all in so much pain, particularly our young men. They have struggled, they have been scared, yet they have been respectful of this process.”

Our Blak men deserve better.

And it is not as though Australia doesn’t know what to do. The issues were ventilated in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody more than 30 years ago that made 339 recommendations. These were reinforced in the royal commission into Don Dale, and they continue to be revealed in the many coronial inquiries and highlighted in mass protests for Black Lives Matter – yet the suffering of Aboriginal people at the hands of state-sanctioned violence continues. This is an indictment on our nation and a status quo none of us should accept.

Since Rolfe killed Kumanjayi, the Walpiri made clear their community had remained in Sorry Business for the past two years. On Friday, in a powerful statement, Walpiri elder Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves broke his silence after attending the five-week trial: “We want ceasefire. No more guns in our communities. It must never happen again. The police must put down their weapons. We have been saying this since the beginning. We cannot walk around in fear in our own homes.”

To appreciate the significance of this demand, we must understand the terror and disempowerment that stems from the 1928 Coniston Massacre in which up to 60 Walpiri, Anmatyrre and Kayteye men, women and children were slaughtered by settlers. This is Australia’s most recently documented massacre.

None of the perpetrators have been held accountable for the murders and an inquiry set up to investigate the killings ruled the settlers “acted in self-defence”. A justification that has become all too familiar when it comes to Blak victims and white perpetrators.

It is the relentless injustice where the law protects white innocence, yet Blak people are often considered guilty until proven innocent and have all aspects of our lives policed. It is the fact that we can see in plain sight white police officers shoot our Blak men and walk free, meanwhile, our children as young as 10 sit inside police cells for doing a lot less.

It is the abuse of police power monitoring Aboriginal communities that is exacerbated by the lack of accountability for the wrongs perpetrated against First Nations communities that reveals a racist system that privileges white supremacy at the expense of Blak lives – too many Blak deaths, not enough justice.

The criminal process, coronial inquests and royal commissions cannot bring back the Blak lives already lost.

But we can prevent many more unnecessary deaths if we ameliorate the tension between the police and Aboriginal communities.

We need enforceable police accountability mechanisms for abuses of power and systemic changes to confront and dismantle the systemic racism that is rife among the police forces across Australia.

If there is any jurisdiction in Australia that exposes the urgent need for a powerful First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution to guarantee the voices of the Walpiri are honoured, and proper independent oversight of the implementation of countless recommendations that have been ignored by governments, it is the Northern Territory.

And, perhaps, we all need to show Blak men a little more love to ensure their lives do, in fact, matter.


Let’s think twice before we exclude white male artists from our art galleries

Terms such as “social justice, equity and inclusion” can mean replacing one set of prejudices with a different but equally narrow variety.

By John McDonald

A change is always an opportunity and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art is set to begin a new chapter with the departure of long-term director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor and senior curator Rachel Kent. Yet, the transition has been complicated by two years of pandemic, and the impending opening of the Art Gallery of NSW’s Sydney Modern – a new wing that will duplicate much that goes on at Circular Quay.

The pressure is on the new director Suzanne Cotter, an Australian who has worked in Luxembourg, Portugal, the Middle East and the UK, to quickly come to terms with the nature of the museum and its audience. In her first few weeks, Cotter has said all the positive things one might expect from a new incumbent and raised a few warning signs.

She has spoken of the need to implement “urgent reforms with respect to social justice, equity, inclusion, and now COVID which has had a particular impact on the financial models of museums.” In theory, nobody could object to such goals, but terms such as “social justice, equity and inclusion” can mean replacing one set of prejudices with a different but equally narrow variety.

When we try to understand how this translates into attendance figures, sponsorships and patronage, there is a danger of principle outstripping practicality. It’s indisputable that public museums and galleries have historically favoured male artists over females, but does that mean today’s museums should deliberately reverse the trend? The same applies to Indigenous work, which was often treated as amateur or folk art. Should museum collections now give precedence to Indigenous art over more cosmopolitan expressions?

Move too far, too fast, in the direction of affirmative action and the museum runs the risk of alienating more people than it attracts. There’s no consolation in feeling virtuous when your paymasters are asking why attendances and revenues are down.

In countries such as France and Germany, the arts are taken seriously by a more cultured set of politicians. In Australia, with a few notable exceptions, our MPs are rank philistines who see the visual arts as part of the tourist industry. For the average politician, who would probably prefer arts funding to be handled by the private sector, the quality of a show is judged by its attendance numbers.

Corporate sponsors are equally keen on the big numbers when it comes to deciding how they distribute their largesse. When a museum has to reconcile a commitment to social justice with the need to raise revenue, the “financial models” are more complex to navigate.

Cotter dramatised this dilemma when she was quoted in The Australian as saying: “Today, if you are a white male artist, you are not so interesting... It doesn’t mean to say you’re not a great artist – I think it’s more that this isn’t what is ­relevant for people now. You have to think in a timely way.”

This sounds like bad news for white male artists, but it also raises the question of “relevance”. All contemporary institutions act as tastemakers, imposing their ideas about what’s relevant, fashionable, politically correct, etc, on their exhibition programs. But what a curator believes to be “relevant”, may be completely contrary to the views of the average gallery-goer.

The museum needs to strike a balance, avoiding populism without venturing too far into the realms of the esoteric. It needs to recognise minoritarian concerns, but pitch exhibitions to the broadest possible audience. In recent years the MCA has got its best results from projects with a touch of the wow factor. I’m thinking of solo shows by artists including Pipilotti Rist, Cornelia Parker and Sun Xun. Neither should we discount major retrospectives by David Goldblatt and John Mawurndjul that may not have been crowd-pullers but deserve the highest accolades.

At the time the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago opened in October 1967, Modern art was breaking down into Conceptual Art, performance, political activism, and a range of “anti-art” gestures.

With its militant attachment to “the New”, the museum was greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and scepticism. In an essay titled Museum of the New, critic Harold Rosenberg pointed out the obvious contradictions of a museum devoted to the avant-garde project of dissolving the boundaries that separate art from life. Exhibit A was Allen Kaprow, the pioneer of “happenings”, who saw the museum as “a fuddy-duddy remnant from another era” and called for such institutions to be turned into swimming pools and nightclubs.

New gallery director aims to bring showstopping art to Sydney

Kaprow’s iconoclasm didn’t prevent the Chicago MCA from including his work – or at least documentation of his work – in its opening display. It’s a gesture that has been repeated countless times in the decades that followed: the artist who declares that art and its institutions are either dead or deserve to be killed, is celebrated and collected by those same institutions.

The logic is explained in Chicago’s mission statement of 1966: “A museum of contemporary art is different from the general art museum where the values of the past are enshrined. Instead, it is a place where new ideas are shown and tested.”

But if the “new idea” is that museums must be abolished, how can this be reconciled with a bricks-and-mortar institution caught up in the familiar round of exhibition and collection development, fund-raising, tourist initiatives and public education?

Perhaps the only option is to invoke Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once wrote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”


The "woke" CSIRO

Don’t expect Australia’s peak science body to come up with a vaccine against ‘wokeness’. They are, themselves, riddled with it.

Last week, the CSIRO announced it was abandoning science to chase the pot of gender confusion at the end of the LGBTQ+ rainbow – a case of spending taxpayer gold in pursuit of the fools’ kind.

In an announcement timed to coincide with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, our Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation said it would be offering staff extra leave for ‘gender reassignment’ surgery.

Our premier science organisation no longer regards gender as a fixed biological reality. Instead, gender is something assigned at birth – often incorrectly, as it so happens – but that can be ‘reassigned’ with a surgeon’s knife and the state-approved adjustment to birth certificates.

While telling the public to ‘follow the science’, our scientific community has decided to follow Caitlyn Jenner.

So-called ‘experts’ tell us that ‘the science is settled’ on climate change, but are happy to do a bit of casual re-writing on the basics of biology.

I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on people demonised for questioning ‘climate science’.

In particular, the CSIRO’s Gender Affirmation policy entitles staff to take time off for medical appointments before and after surgery, and to organise new birth certificates. This is probably annoying for staff who would like extra time off for non-woke activities.

All staff are to be given ‘diversity training’ to make the CSIRO more welcoming for non-binary, trans, and gender-diverse team members.

Finally, CSIRO computer software will be updated to allow researchers to display their preferred pronouns.

It’s all very sciencey.

CSIRO spokesman Chris Gerbing boasted that the Australian government agency responsible for scientific research had given staff permission to ‘be themselves at work’. The public, who are bankrolling the CSIRO, would probably rather its scientists knuckle down and get some work done.

Imagine what a ghastly work environment the CSIRO used to be before the Gender Affirmation Policy came into effect… All those un-affirmed genders out there, forced to walk the corridors and do research without ‘being themselves’. After all, an employer’s chief role is to continuously affirm the gender and sexual preferences of their staff, is it not? Or was it to not ask personal questions?

The Pride@CSIRO Network Leadership, which among other things exists to identify LGBTQI+ staff and their allies, claimed ‘diversity of thought is crucial to doing impactful science’.

Such a pity that diversity of thought at the CSIRO is positively mandated when it comes to gender, yet actively discouraged when it comes to climate, or to vaccine efficacy, or to mask mandates, or to the usefulness of taboo Ivermectin, or to the merits of lockdowns or to any number of real issues that actually matter to Australians the CSIRO are paid to serve.


Ignore climate twerps, fossil fuels coal, gas and oil still rule

Don’t we have enough twerps in Australia that we have to import one like the former hapless and hopeless Bank of England governor turned climate-boondoggle main-chancer Mark Carney?

Carney, who is now vice-chairman of Canadian investment group Brookfield, was ‘in’ Australia – be thankful for small mercies, only virtually – to lecture Australians on two topics.

The first was our tardiness in embracing ‘going dark’ with so-called full-on renewable energy.

The second was to berate the board of AGL specifically for knocking back the opportunistic takeover bid Brookfield had launched for it in partnership with ‘Mr Harbourside Mansions Version 2.0’, got-lucky, once, tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes.

Brookfield and Brookes wanted to buy AGL, abandon its proposed de-merger into two companies, and accelerate the closure of its coal-fired stations which are currently keeping Australian lights on, especially, when the wind don’t blow - and you know the rest. Last weekend the partners had upped their bid to $8.25 a share. It was promptly – and sensibly – rejected by the AGL board.

The central point that AGL holders should understand is that if the duo were prepared to pay $8.25, AGL shares are worth more, much more. Bidders don’t go around offering to spend $9bn just to play Father Christmas.

They want to make big bucks on their billions outlaid. The central point that the other 25m Australians should understand is that those ‘big bucks’ would be made by ripping more dollars out of their pockets, either directly as consumers or indirectly as taxpayers, while taking them into an increasingly – real, not virtual – dark future.

Indeed, with surprising – utterly unknowing? – ‘honesty’ Carney said as much out loud. “The scale of the net zero transition (read: destroying cheap, reliable power generation) is such that this is a target-rich environment (read: there are trillions of dollars to be made from hapless governments and suffering consumers),” he said.

You could not have asked for more exquisite timing for Carney’s comments, as the events in and out of Ukraine prove the absolute, utterly critical, centrality of coal, gas and oil – fossil fuels all – in our every-day 24/7 energy needs and indeed our very existence. Despite the trillions of dollars already wasted around the world on useless wind and solar, 85 per cent of global energy still comes from coal, gas and oil.

Just 5 per cent comes from so-called ‘renewables (not including the real renewable, hated by Dark Greens, hydro) after all those trillions. The trillions more that Carney talks about will barely take it up to 10 percent. And people like Carney never talk about China, pumping one-third of global emissions today and yet more tomorrow, other than to make fatuous and false claims China is ‘taking action on climate change’.

Go coal, gas and oil to keep the lights on; go renewables-woke, go broke and go dark. Talking of twerps, there was opposition leader and wannabe-PM Anthony Albanese Wednesday saying in a speech that he would be a PM like John Howard (and Bob Hawke). So, was that Albanese saying he intended to emulate the “petulance, pettiness and sheer grinding inadequacy” that he judged Howard as PM?

I’m indebted to blogger Michael Smith for highlighting a speech Albanese gave back in 1998 where he described Howard as a worse PM even than Billy McMahon. Is it Albanese’s intent to ‘match that’? I was particularly taken with Albanese’s reference to Howard – nicely highlighted by Smith:

“You can trim the eyebrows; you can cap the teeth; you can cut the hair; you can put on different glasses; you can give him a ewe’s milk facial, for all I care; but, to paraphrase a gritty Australian saying, `Same stuff, different bucket’.”

Looked in a mirror recently, Anthony?


Shortlist was ignored for three Qld. judicial appointments in 2017

Not sure how relevant this is five years later

The Palaszczuk government is again at the centre of an integrity scandal after it dumped its much trumpeted protocol for judicial appointments in 2017 and appointed three magistrates who had not been among a short list of 20 provided by a review panel.

Yesterday, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman put out a statement saying that “every (judicial) appointment is based on the recommendations of a panel of independent professionals from each arm of the legal profession’’.

“The Palaszczuk government introduced a robust policy for judicial appointments in 2016 to ensure every appointment is based on the recommendations of a panel of independent professionals from each arm of the legal profession,’’ she said.

“This ensures that all appointees are well respected and qualified members of the legal community, and each appointment is based on merit.’’

Yet in 2017, then attorney-general Yvette D’Ath trumpeted “a transparent protocol for judicial appointments in Queensland’’ and then ignored some of the specialist panel’s recommendations and appointed three “captain’s picks’’.

Ms D’Ath received 20 names on a short list and appointed eight magistrates. Five people came from the short list of 20 and three did not.

It is unknown which of the five were recommended by the panel, and which were not. The appointees were Clare Kelly (Southport), Dennis Kinsella (Caboolture), Andrew Molony (Children’s Court), Louise Shepherd (Southport), Stephen Courtney (Townsville), Donald McKenzie (Southport), Kerrie O’Callaghan (Southport) and Mark Nolan (Mackay).

The Sunday Mail does not suggest any of the appointments lacked merit.

In a departmental document sighted by the Sunday Mail, authored by then chair of the

appointments panel Judge Sarah Bradley, five recommendations from the panel were appointed, and three magistrates were appointed who were not recommended by the panel.

In the document – sent to the panel members, it says:

“The panel met for the second time in July, 2017. It considered 213 expressions of interest in relation to six vacancies. We provided a list of 20 suitable appointees to the AG. Eight appointments were made, five from the list provided by the panel.’’

The anomaly in appointments comes a day after The Courier-Mail reported just how many judicial appointments under the current government have gone to relatives and friends of Labor figures.

On October 15, 2015, then attorney-general Yvette D’Ath said: “The Palaszczuk government is pushing forward with its plan to deliver a transparent protocol for judicial appointments in Queensland.

“Confidence in the expertise, independence and impartiality of the judiciary is essential to the proper functioning of government in Queensland.

“The Palaszczuk government believes that the public will only share that confidence if the process for the selection and appointment of members of the judiciary can be seen to be transparent and genuinely consultative.’’

A senior judicial source said the selection process was “far from transparent if the panel puts up 20 names and only five are chosen among eight appointments”.

“So you’ve had three ring-ins that were selected by the A-G, that were not even on the list of 20 names supplied by the panel,” the source said.

“It just reinforces the notion that this government will say anything, do anything, to protect itself from scrutiny.’’

A spokesperson for Ms Fentiman said she had always taken the recommendation of the panel in appointing magistrates and judges and the 2017 decision was best explained by then AG Yvette D’Ath.

A spokesman for former attorney-general Yvette D’Ath said: “As attorney-general, the minister adhered to all protocols around judicial appointments.




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