Bullying, asylum seekers, child abuse, anti-discrimination laws…and more

November 25th, 2012  |  Published in Social justice

As long as I can remember I’ve been one of those people who write lists, and some weeks in from launching this website the list of blogposts I have written is, perhaps unsurprisingly, much shorter than the list I intend to write. I keep finding myself diverted by immediate events such as suicide attempts by asylum seekers, the royal commission on child sex abuse, Obama’s reelection, new anti-discrimination legislation, and more, which stir me into writing brief posts on the 2020socialjustice facebook page instead of the longer, more considered ones I intend for this blog here.

What follows below is a collation of some of the brief posts. If you already follow the facebook page you may have seen a lot of this material before (sorry, I’ll write something new soon), but if you don’t and haven’t but would like to, here they are. Also, if you would like to get subsequent brief posts in a more timely fashion, you could visit the facebook page (click on the link above). If you then ‘like’ the page (you need to be ‘on’ facebook to do this), I can ‘share’ brief posts with you more immediately.

Workplace bullying and hierarchical power

image001The blogpost I plan to write on workplace bullying and hierarchical power is one of those still on the drawing board. In the meantime, there was a relevant article in a recent Sunday supplement. It provides a broad sweep in a short space and avoids trivialising and victim-blaming. It’s easy to read and you can go to the full article by clicking on the picture. If you find it interesting, you might also like my novel, Swimming with Sharks, which is a fictional account of everyday happenings in countless workplaces.

Asylum seekers and national sovereignty

The right to national sovereignty seems largely unquestioned and also unquestionable; an article of faith – like the existence of God, but with fewer critical voices. It drives the frenzy about border protection, and competes with the right to seek asylum, over which it takes precedence. (“We will decide who comes to this country…”) Associated language of ‘illegals’ and ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ (for goodness sake!) creates an Other who can then be mistreated with impunity. I worry that this prejudiced position is increasingly colonising the collective psyche and forcing the voices of protest further into the wilderness.

Asylum protesters

For example, a recent rally in Melbourne against offshore processing of asylum seekers warranted a few column inches and no photo in my print version of the newspaper, although there was a photo online. The “crowd”, according to the report, amounted to 300 people, which seems a pretty sad commentary on something: Indifference? Complacence? Support for current policy? Or, some corrosive mix of these, and more, bred by years of demonising propaganda, dehumanising language, and inaccurate euphemisms – all grounded in taken-for-granted assumptions.

Speaking of euphemisms, describing attempted suicide on Nauru as a “behavioural incident” is a recent stark illustration. The man involved is said to have tied a sheet around his neck, and to the ceiling but, according to the spokesperson for the immigration department, “it was not an incident of self-harm“. Whatever the language, there seems little doubt it was an act of desperation.

Of course, dissenting voices have not been entirely silenced, and friends I recently had dinner with all agreed that Waleed Aly’s article, Shattering the façade of kindness, was an excellent example of counter-propaganda. It cuts right through the spin and hypocrisy, is written with characteristic flair, and provides a valuable reminder that stating the obvious can sometimes pack a powerful punch. If you missed it, you can click on the title (above) or the picture (below).

Aly’s invitation to challenge the spin and hypocrisy is crucial, and I find myself returning to questions of sovereignty. If, for example, we start from the premise that we live in an increasingly global world, the concept of nationhood becomes arguably passé, and the idea of ownership of countries is also up for discussion. It becomes reasonable to recognise asylum seekers as global citizens for whom the global world has a shared responsibility. I’m not sure where this line of thought might lead if taken seriously, but at least it gets beyond the no-advantage nonsense that passes as policy in the scramble to barricade the borders.

Royal commission and terms of reference

Archbishop Pell

It may seem unreasonable, even churlish, to be less than enthusiastic about the royal commission on child sex abuse. Before letting go of my scepticism, however, I want to see the terms of reference, and I want to see results. Hal Wootten, QC, who was a commissioner on aboriginal deaths in custody, has said that the real question – of overrepresentation of indigenous people in prison – was outside their terms of reference. I worry that the real questions may likewise be left outside of this commission. Individual cases and serial perpetrators, cover-ups and sabotage of investigations by high-ranking clergy are all important, but the institutional cultures that allow these behaviours to flourish are the real core of the problem. In the Catholic Church this amounts to some toxic combination of power and its abuse in sexual form (among others), secrecy and the putative seal of the confessional, entitlement and the belief that the Church is immune to ordinary law. Cardinal Pell’s complaints of scapegoating and smear campaigns are either arrogant bluff or disturbing evidence of denial. Of course the Catholic Church does not have a monopoly on abuse, but Pell’s brand of hubris is part of the problem, and would not survive the revolution I have in mind for this commission. Nor would he or his ilk survive to rule another day.

Activist organisations and internal power relations

Sad, but also sadly unsurprising to see OCCUPY Melbourne apparently “marred by sexism, harassment, internal discord…”  Movements and organisations that stand against injustice at the broader social level too often seem unreflective about their internal practices of power. This could surely change – given the will. But it is work, and involves commitment and passion of comparable proportions to the broader social change agenda. It may thus be seen as a waste of time, and may also lack appeal to “fantasies of heroic leadership”.

Let’s hear it for Joffa…

Aging hippies and other boomers across downunder-land recently celebrated, with considerable astonishment at the passage of time, the fortieth anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s stirring speech to the “Men and women of Australia”. Many of my demographic, particularly the women, got the opportunity for tertiary education, often as mature-aged students, after Gough abolished university fees; we were, and still are, grateful for this, and for many of his other policies on health care, legal aid, women’s affairs, aboriginal affairs, conscription and getting Australia out of Vietnam. I, for one, feel nostalgic for some aspects of those heady days. More than that, though, this anniversary provides an opportunity to revisit Gough’s vision for social justice and chart a path towards a compassionate future. To quote the big man, it is indeed time. You can hear the opening words of his original “It’s time” speech, and read the full text by clicking this link.

…And for Obama

Wow! and Phew! and heartfelt thanks to the coalition of “women, young voters, Hispanics, gays and even auto workers” (The Age, 8/11, p.1) who used their collective power to return Obama to the White House (and keep that other person out). I will remember them next time I feel despondent about the political process, social justice, and the rate of social change. Every individual contribution counts – very energising.

Finishing on a hopeful note

‘Another step forward for social justice’

‘Congratulations Nicola Roxon and Penny Wong’

‘Themis celebrates’

These are some of the front page headlines that might have announced draft federal laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout Australia. Instead, a brief article was tucked away on an inside page of the paper (although you can see more by clicking on this link to the online article). Nicola Roxon, as Attorney General, Penny Wong, as Finance Minister, and presumably many other support workers bring hope to the trenches with this sort of landmark, which would not have got to first base in days past. I’m sure Themis is celebrating. (If you don’t know who Themis is, you can look her up– and see her in the logo of this website).

Until next time,

Best wishes, and good 2020socialjustice vibes,

Joan Beckwith.


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