Friday, 14 November 2014

The Disgrace of Western Australia's Treatment of Aboriginal People

Pivot West*



The Western Australian government has commenced a program of closing down about half of the state's 274 remote communities. The program will, the Premier acknowledges, 'cause distress' to the more than 12,000 Aboriginal people who live there. Premier Colin Barnett cites the 'existing high rates of suicide, poor health and a lack of jobs' as well as the 'abuse and neglect of young children' as the reason for these measures. He says that the latter is 'a disgrace for the state'.

The Western Australian government is somehow managing to make this disgrace even worse. What is unclear about these extraordinary measures is how replacing one government disgrace with another provides any kind of solution to the endemic social problems of these communities. Sadly this act of institutional racism in pursuit of so-called economic outcomes is unsurprising. The signs are all around us that government, at all levels, has failed society in its metamorphosis from state to business.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The cost of 'regular' freehold over Indigenous land in Queensland

J.D.Lang, Map of the proposed seven united provinces of eastern Australia, 1857
Opening up land for development*

There is perhaps a tension within the way we understand these communities as both an expression of Indigenous autonomy but also with a more oppressive colonial past. This tension is implicit in the complicated relationship between ideas of being treated the same - having a 'regular' freehold title - and recognising communal title and traditional ownership as prevailing norms within Indigenous communities.

The Queensland government has now passed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land (Providing Freehold) Act 2014. The Act's primary purpose is to enable the freeholding of land in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Presently much of this land is held as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander freehold or on trust for the community. The current arrangements limit the grant of these interests to traditional owners or other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander inhabitants of the community. The existing freehold is therefore a limited type of freehold.


The aims of this reform is to 'introduce the option of ordinary freehold title into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities'. According to the government, this will 'provide greater economic development opportunities and remove barriers to home ownership in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.' While this may well be the effect, it raises the question: at what cost?

Friday, 19 September 2014

Terror: abstract and embodied

How do women respond to threats of violence?*
Over the last two days, Australian media have been filled with reports of the execution of search warrants in a number of locations in Brisbane and Sydney. Two have already been charged with terrorism-related offences as a result, and investigations continue. Security at Parliament House in Canberra has been 'ramped up' after 'chatter' revealed a security threat. These events follow the upgrading (downgrading??) of Australia's security status to 'high risk'. For all the talk of terror plots, security experts say that 'lone wolves' pose the greatest threat to our safety.

The public has been told to be alert, but reassured of our safety. The Queensland Premier has gone as far as to proclaim Queensland as the 'safest place in the world'. These reassurances only seem to me to feed into an alarmism surrounding these so-called terror threats. I note also that these events and political responses to them are proximate to the introduction of 'sweeping new powers' for Australian security agencies under the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill. Of some concern, these powers, according to Senator David Leyonhjelm will 'open the door' to torture.

In the face of the wall-to-wall coverage of these recent events, I am left unable to assess either the nature or the extent of the risk of the types of crimes described by authorities. That is principally, random acts of violence. I realise that these possible crimes are truly awful, and that the police and authorities must take action to protect the community.  I cannot, however, seem to stem a skepticism about the reality of the so-called 'threat'. I think my skepticism is borne out of seeing how police so frequently fail to respond to actual and reported threats of violence against women.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ending Feminised Poverty

Here is my piece in Eureka Street on ending feminised poverty. 
Progressive institutional reform requires setting a clear direction confirming the value of women in all social and institutional contexts: the workplace, the home, the parliament, courts and executive, in education, sport, media and culture.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Women's property - the case for ambitious change


Were they ambitious enough?


The proposal for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is in the news again, with Tony Abbott putting the brakes on anything that looks like a 'bill of rights'. At the moment, it's looking like a split argument as between 'minimalists' and others - just as occurred with the republic referendum all those years ago.

I've written about my own views on constitutional recognition, suggesting that a full suite of changes is necessary to achieve the goal. In this post though, I'll explore another minimalist change to rights - that of married women's property. My suggestion is that in failing to be ambitious in the change ushered in, what looks like a win only really reinforces the status quo.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Bring back the cane: revisiting patriarchy

The head of the government's curriculum review, Kevin Donnelly, said yesterday that corporal punishment in schools was an effective way of disciplining children. The conversation continued, leading to the implication that Donnelly is not averse to reintroducing corporal punishment into Australian schools.

Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Australia therefore has obligations to protect children from violence or abuse, by their parents or anyone caring for them (article 19); and discipline in schools should respect children's human dignity (article 28). There is no overarching statute however that implements the provisions of this Convention and regulation of schools and criminal laws that may apply, are left to the states.

A number of news outlets have conveniently summarised the legal framework on corporal punishment in schools - see eg Crikey's explainer. There seem to be examples in both West Australia and Queensland where corporal punishment is integral to some schools' program - including in one reported case, the requirement for parents to accept corrective punishment as a condition of enrolling their child.

For a government appointee ostensibly holding expertise in education and charged with advising government on matters of education, these comments and their implication are concerning. This is so despite Minister Pyne's rejection of the idea. What these views really tell us about the state of play in Australia at the moment is the resurgence of patriarchal views and patriarchal control. These views are apparent, for example, in the government's discourse around 'lifting and leaning'. Donnelly's views play into this discourse.

I'm interested in this post to explore the way in which this patriarchal attitude underpins support for corporal punishment in schools, and the lack of logic in Donnelly's ideas.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Unsettled Great South Land? 'Um' indeed


Australia: settled? Unsettled?
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in a speech concerning foreign investment is reported as having said 
I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land.
Similarly, this week New Matilda reported on Rolf Harris' racism, noting his 2008 comments that
The attitude is that in their [ie Aboriginal peoples'] original way of life they would really wreck the surrounding countryside that they lived in and they would leave all the garbage and they would go walkabout to the next place.
Without addressing the implications of the Prime Minister's equating English acquisition of Australian territory with the benign sounding 'foreign investment', the allegation of a 'scarcely settled' land deserves correction. Like Rolf Harris' statement, it represents a misunderstanding of the nature of connection, occupation and use of land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. While I cannot speak for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I believe that I can point out the obvious mistake in these outdated notions.