‘L’ Plate Cabinet or Safe Pairs of Hands?

March 25, 2013

There’s not going to be a blog about last week’s non-spill in the Labor Party. I considered it, but then … what was the point? Really? What could be said that wasn’t either pointing out the obvious, or banging my head against a wall of stupidity in both mainstream and social media?

So, in the immortal – and dreadfully twee – words of the Prime Minister’s last election campaign … this blog is ‘moving forward’. (Ugh. Who thought of that, anyway? Worst. Campaign slogan. EVER.) Last Friday, a slew of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries offered their resignations, which the PM accepted (the exception being Simon Crean, who was sacked after he publicly called for the leadership spill and excoriated the government in the process of doing so). Martin Ferguson, Joel Fitzgibbon, Kim Carr, Janelle Saffin, Ed Husic, and Chris Bowen all went to the backbench, leaving the PM no choice but to reshuffle.

Usually, a reshuffle is not terribly good for headlines. Sometimes you get an unexpected inclusion (such as Gillard’s oft-criticised decision to appoint Rudd as Foreign Minister when he resigned), or a predicted punishment (sending Robert McLelland to the junior ministry after he supported Rudd in his challenge last year). This time, though, there are more than a few areas of interest.

First up, we’re only six months out from the September 14 election. That means any new Cabinet has a very short shake-down cruise. Second, Gillard has to show that the government has enough depth of talent to replace those who resigned – no easy task in the case of someone like Martin Ferguson.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott went on the attack almost before the ink was dry on the resignation letters. The depth simply wasn’t there, he proclaimed. Any new Cabinet would be on its ‘L’ plates – read: inexperienced, unable to do their job without the supervision of a ‘grown-up’, and potentially dangerous. He invited Australians to compare what’s left of the PM’s choices to his own, ‘stable’ front bench. There was simply no contest – and just by the way, he’ll be tabling a no confidence motion when Parliament resumes for the May Budget. (Not that this was any surprise to anyone.)

Leaving aside the posturing, Abbott did have a point. The PM was under pressure to show her Cabinet was not only competent, but experienced – and there weren’t really a lot of choices. Her solution was to side-step altogether the question of who to bring in from the backbench.

Her first announced appointment was Anthony Albanese, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Added to this is now Regional Development and Local Government. This is a resounding show of confidence in Albanese, whose support for Rudd is well-known. After last year’s failed challenge, he offered his resignation to the PM, who refused. Last week, he told media that he would not try to depose a sitting PM, and that he had, in fact, urged Rudd not to challenge. Nonetheless, many expected him to end up on the backbench.

In fact, this is a promotion – and a very pointed one, too. Albanese’s taken on part of Crean’s former responsibilities. It doesn’t take a political genius to see the subtext there.

Tony Burke picked up the other half of Crean’s portfolio – Arts. It’s a slightly odd fit with his current position as Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, but Burke has always had a great deal of interest in the Arts.

Craig Emerson adds Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research to the Trade portfolio. Even with two assisting junior Ministers, this is a huge amount of responsibility.

The Department for Climate Change is now merged with Industry and Innovation, all under the purview of Greg Combet. Again, somewhat strange bedfellows here – although, arguably, Combet is now in a position to drive policy encouraging business to innovate in ways that mitigate the effects of climate change. The Greens may not see it that way, however. It will be interesting to see if Christine Milne considers this merger an irreconcilable conflict of interests.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus also picked up extra responsibilities, adding Special Minister of State, Public Service and Integrity.

The appointment of Gary Gray to Resources, Energy, Tourism and Small Business surprised exactly no one. He’s a West Australian, experienced in dealing with the Resources Sector.

Jan McLucas is the new Minister for Human Services, and Jason Clare remains Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, but becomes a full Cabinet member. Finally, the PM announced a number of new junior Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, including Andrew Leigh, who will now serve as Parliamentary Secretary to Gillard.

In a way, this isn’t really a reshuffle at all. With the exception of Gray, McLucas and Clare, there are no new appointments, no moving around. Instead, Gillard’s largely loaded more responsibility onto existing Ministers, effectively creating super-portfolios.

And take a look at those Ministers – senior, highly experienced, without a breath of incompetence clinging to them. There’s no Peter Garrett here, forever tainted by the debacle with the insulation program. Yes, Combet’s linked with carbon pricing, and Albanese is associated with Rudd, but there’s no doubt that they have performed well in their positions. More importantly, perhaps, they project the image that they are safe pairs of hands.

Albanese, Dreyfus, Emerson, Burke and Combet are Gillard’s answer to the ‘L’ plate accusation. No one could argue these are ‘drivers’ in need of supervision. (Even if Emerson does have a tendency to occasionally quote Monty Python in Question Time, or filk old Skyhooks songs in Parliament House courtyards.)

Cleverly, Gillard has also managed to take some of the wind out of Abbott’s sails in regards to his assertion that there is not enough depth of talent on the government benches. (Dear me, the metaphors are mixing terribly today.) Appointing a whole group of new Parliamentary Secretaries and junior Ministers signals to the electorate that here is the next generation of Ministers, learning their trade while apprenticed to strong, competent mentors. It doesn’t entirely nullify Abbott’s suggestion, but it goes a long way to bringing new faces into public view without exposing them to potential problems.

Of course, these new responsibilities also leave the appointees open to questions and criticism regarding their ability to handle the increased workload. They have a little over six weeks to deal with that – and I’m sure there’ll be any number of announcements and media opportunities for them to demonstrate how well they’re doing before they head back to Canberra for the Budget sitting.

This is a purely political move for Gillard. She knows she has to demonstrate to the electorate not only unity, but also competence. She has to show that, even in the face of so many resignations, she has more than enough talent on which she can rely. She’s found the best possible way to do that.

Adoption – a personal perspective

March 21, 2013

Note: Today was the day of the official apology to those whose suffered as a result of forced adoptions in Australia. These people – mothers, fathers, children – all went through the most dreadful trauma, and it’s not my wish to minimise or crowd in on that in any way. They deserve apologies from all of us, our unconditional support and love.

But something struck me during the speeches. Everyone spoke of the past, as though adoption was no longer a problem. As though women no longer suffer. Sadly, this is absolutely untrue. Australia’s adoption system is an utter, heart-breaking mess – and while they may no longer resort to brutal and illegal methods, there is still coercion, and judgement and trauma.

With that in mind, I decided to adapt an old article. I hope that those who suffered under forced adoption will take this in the spirit it’s meant – a story that warns us we have not, perhaps, come as far as we should from those terrible years.

Today, every State has its own set of legislation and guidelines. In some states, adoptions are done the old-fashioned way: the birth parent never knows who’s bringing up their child, and never sees them again unless that child wants to track them down after their 18th birthday via a private registry. In Victoria, so-called ‘open’ adoption is the rule: the birth parent sets out their preferred criteria in adoptive parents, meets with them beforehand, and has regular access with the child. That sounds much more compassionate all round, but it’s a deeply flawed system.

I speak from experience.

My older children, triplets, were taken from me when they were babies. I wasn’t shackled to a bed. I wasn’t pumped so full of drugs that I had no idea what I was signing. There were no nurses guiding my hand to sign papers I couldn’t even see. I was awake, free to move and speak.

Even so. I had no choice. My attempts to reach out for help as a single woman, desperately trying to raise triplets and fighting off post-natal depression, were rewarded with judgement and unrelenting pressure. A cascade of intervention from the Department of Human Services ensued which was so streamlined that, in retrospect, I wondered if there was a checklist being followed by the caseworkers. First a few hours’ respite care, then a weekend’s respite, then a week with a foster family, then a couple of months with my family – all of which occurred while I was left to find my own way of coping with the increasing guilt and sense of failure. No counselling. No support. Nothing but condemnation, as though I’d deliberately decided to make trouble for them. I wasn’t a good housekeeper. I wasn’t thinking ‘enough’ about my children. I wasn’t ‘making an effort’.

And, of course, the implicit criticism – I’d fallen pregnant while single, without a partner, and was now unable to work. I was a drain on the system.

(Could I have had an abortion? Sure. But I wanted a baby – and by the time I knew I had three growing in me, it was beyond the point where I could consider one. So I tried to do my best.)

Then the ultimatum. Take them back in the next 24 hours – regardless of my living circumstances (I was sharing a house with four other people, trying to save money) or mental health (a doctor had finally decided that perhaps I did need medication). If I didn’t do that, I would have to agree to have them adopted under Victoria’s open adoption laws, or have them taken away and never see them again.

I opted for what seemed to be the best choice at the time – adoption under Victoria’s scheme. A new case-worker came on board, to help me fill out a form listing my preferred criteria for the children’s new family – their religious belief, their location, their attitude towards queer sexuality, etc. I tried to balance my concerns with fairness – asking for an open mind on all religions, an accepting attitude towards queer sexualities, living in the greater Melbourne area, that sort of thing. The case-worker took that form away and came back with three families. Not one fulfilled the majority of my preferred criteria. For example, two were practising Christian families, and one lived in rural north-west Victoria. When I rejected them, I was told that they were my only choices, decided by DHS, and that if I didn’t select one, the choice would be made for me. No further investigation would be done.

Again, I chose the best outcome out of a group of bad choices. I met with the prospective parents, who seemed friendly and enthusiastic about the open adoption scheme. They agreed to my visiting four times a year, and exchanging letters and photos. DHS informed me that the first few visits would be supervised, but then the Department would step out and the family and I would work together in the future.

That was the plan. The reality was very different.

Trying to arrange access was always a fraught process. I was forced to rely entirely on the DHS worker, who often did not pass on to the family my requests for a visit. Actually being with the family was nothing short of distressing, as we struggled to adjust to the situation. No counselling was ever offered to me, though the adoptive family were given a great deal of support. My visits, which usually lasted less than an hour, were always mediated by DHS, and the adoptive parents watched me like a hawk the whole time.

And then things took a turn for the worse. The family started to make excuse to deny me access. Though I had insisted on visits being part of the legal adoption order, I was unable to enforce that order. In four years, I saw my children twice. My complaints to DHS were met with declarations of impotence – there was nothing the worker could do, apparently. Consulting a solicitor didn’t help, either. The laws were in such a sorry state that there was little way of enforcing that legal order.

As the years wore on, it got worse and worse. The family refused to allow me direct contact – everything had to be done with DHS as an intermediary. The access stopped altogether, and for months the DHS worker would not even return my calls. Finally, the worker and her supervisor turned up on my doorstep, and informed me that the family had ‘relinquished’ two of the children, who had been placed in foster care. Two months ago. I hadn’t been told because – despite legal orders – I didn’t have the ‘right’ to know if the family explicitly said they didn’t want me to be told.

My parents immediately offered to have the two children – now nearly 11 – stay with them. I had neither appropriate living arrangements nor the financial ability to care for them myself; I’d recently married, and we were expecting twins within two months. We went to court for that, where the Magistrate repeatedly stressed the ridiculous and confusing nature of the laws – which, even now, allowed the adoptive parents a say in what happened to these children that they had told DHS were effectively ‘orphaned’. We won that court date, but I’ll never forget the Magistrate’s puzzlement and frustration.

The two who went to live with my parents started talking – and they unfolded a tale of emotional and physical abuse that horrified me. This was a family that had supposedly been vetted thoroughly by DHS, who were presented to me as an ideal choice – and I’d taken the Department at its word. This was the family who were ‘better’ than me at parenting – and for years, I’d been told the children were better off. I immediately contacted DHS, and told them I was worried about the third child. The Department’s response was that, unless contacted by someone ‘in the child’s life’, they could not do anything other than request to see the child. The parents were free to refuse – and they did.

I fought for two years to even see my child, while my other two were under care of counsellors. In the end, that child took matters into their own hands, and ran away to be with their siblings. We informed DHS and the police that my parents were happy to care for all of them, and for once, the parents didn’t fight.

But in all of this, there was nothing I could do. I could pass on the terrible stories of the abuse meted out by these adoptive parents. I could plead with DHS to intervene, to at least contact the teachers at their school. I could write letters begging the adoptive parents to let me have access, or at least to let the DHS worker in the door. I did all of those things, and they were all utterly useless. The adoptive parents were aided and abetted by the system.

My children are now healthy adults with their own lives. Our family are committed to each other, even though we are thousands of miles apart. All of this is not because of Victoria’s adoption system, but despite it. And we all have scars.

Looking back now, it seems as though the decision to institute ‘open adoption’ was little more than someone’s thought bubble. In theory, the idea that a child can have access to both birth and adoptive parents has much to recommend it. The reality is that there is no support for birth parents, that court orders are not worth the paper they’re written on, and the screening process for adoptive parents is sorely in need of a complete overhaul. And that’s just for a start.

Children deserve to be protected by the State, not allowed to suffer abuse while it turns a blind eye or throws up its hands in defeat.

This is only my story. I know it’s happened to others, who have contacted me in the past, but it’s not my place to tell their stories here. I wanted to tell my story. While we think about the horrible injustices of the past, we also need to make sure that our current laws are uniform across the States – and above all, that they work. We need also to make sure that those who are supposed to be there to help us do so in a compassionate, non-judgemental way. Let’s support all our parents, and all our children. Being single shouldn’t be a licence to be treated poorly. Let’s be the village who raises the child.

posted originally on Dreamwidth

Honesty is its own punishment

March 19, 2013

There’s an old saying that goes something like this:

How do you know when a politician is lying? Their lips are moving.

This has never been more true in recent times. Lies about children being thrown overboard. About young single women trying to get pregnant so they can buy televisions with their baby bonus. About people who ‘jump the queue’ so they can laze around on welfare. About same-sex marriage threatening our Judeo-Christian way of life. About unions, who only exist to line their pockets. About those same unions not being responsible for sacking leader after leader. About third parties who hold themselves, self-righteously, above the trough.

And it goes on. Lies, lies, lies. And the worst lies of all? The ones that we hear, day after day, when someone says that an issue is ‘too important to politicise’ – and then goes to to do exactly that.

Abortion. The National Disability Insurance Scheme. Asylum Seekers. Newstart. Climate change. Bridges, trains, the NBN, the list goes on.

And not one party is immune. Not Labor, with its ringing tones of condemnation. Not the Coalition, with its fake sorrow that the government ‘just doesn’t listen’. Not the Greens, with their insistence that only they truly care, even as they’re busily politicising every issue that comes near them.

And you know what’s really sad about all this? The few people in Parliament who aren’t solely interested in scoring political points, or holding power for power’s sake, are either silenced or sidelined as nuts.

Look at the ridicule heaped on Bob Katter. This is a man who stands up, time and again, and politically shoots himself in the foot for his beliefs. He champions his farmers, excoriates the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, roundly criticises all and sundry for taking advantage of indigenous people. He gets very little air time, either in the Parliament or the media – and when he does, what gets reported has nothing to do with what he says. Instead, there’s laughter if he can’t get his question out in the allotted time, or applause if he does. There are barely concealed smirks around the chamber when he rises.

How about Tony Windsor, possibly the sole voice of sanity in the House of Representatives? He holds a huge amount of power – his vote can make or break legislation, and he knows it. When he gets asked how he’ll vote, he says he’ll consider the matter very carefully, and refuses to be drawn. That’s not good enough, apparently, and out come the accusations that he’s a traitor, that he holds his seat under false pretenses, since what people ‘really’ wanted was for him to support the Coalition. Then there’s the uglier muttering, never quite said to his face, but implicit in so many comments from media outlets – that he’s power-mad, and just enjoys making the major parties wait upon him.

That same accusation gets flung at Rob Oakeshott, but it seems to be far more ‘fun’ to make comments about his tendency to be long-winded in his speeches. Ever since his joint speech with Windsor announcing support for a Labor government back in 2010 – in which his contribution lasted around 17 minutes – people make a point of ridiculing him. Strangely, those same people don’t stop to consider there may be a good reason for such comprehensive answers – that perhaps Oakeshott may simply want to be clearly understood. Heaven forbid.

Andrew Wilkie – accused of everything from being a turncoat from the Liberal Party to something of a tinpot dictator destined to fall in some kind of 2013 election ‘coup’ – exposed the hypocrisy of the entire minority government bargaining process, at least as far as the Coalition was concerned. For that he was viciously attacked, and the Coalition simply haven’t let up. His concern for problem gambling made him the target of an amazing smear campaign, and when he was hung out to dry by the government, his justified anger received nothing but indifference.

Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott, Andrew Wilkie & Tony Windsor

Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott, Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor

These are the MPs who hold the balance of power in the House. These four men have exercised their responsibilities wisely and well. They don’t play the game. They don’t lie to make themselves look better, or to score a point. They engage with their electorates and across social media personally. Take a look at their Twitter feeds and see how many threats they receive every day – threats of personal harm, harm to their families, even death. The language is vicious, and frightening.

Of course, they’re not the only ones to receive that kind of abuse. The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader are just as much victims as the Independents, and that is something we shouldn’t forget – or condone. It doesn’t matter who the targets are – there’s no excuse for threatening someone’s safety.

But this is about honesty. This is about not playing the game of politics with false pronouncements of truth and compassion. This is about what happens to those who do their jobs without always looking to the next poll, or the next election, but who actually want to get something done – even at the expense of their own careers. Does anyone believe Wilkie, Oakeshott and Windsor are under any illusions that both major parties will go easy on them in the upcoming campaign? The Coalition’s already said it will throw everything it’s got at them – don’t think the government will do any less, or the Greens in Tasmania.

We live in an era where lies are spoken with utter sincerity by those who are supposed to represent us, and go unchallenged by those who are supposed to investigate and interrogate on our behalf. We live in a country where those who buck this trend are attacked, abused, undermined and ridiculed.

Honesty is its own punishment, I guess. And if that doesn’t make you wake up and start doing something – well, I guess nothing will. And you’ll get the government you deserve, come September.

When is a knife not a knife?

March 7, 2013

When it’s a sword, apparently.

Remember back in 2010, when Education Minister Julia Gillard and the Faceless Men of Labor ‘knifed’ then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? The lurid headlines trumpeting, ‘Assassination’? The pundits crying, ‘J’accuse!’ at everyone from Labor junior Ministers to union officials?

Of course you do. After all, it’s not like any of us have been allowed to forget it. As recently as two weeks ago, we were treated to yet another reminder courtesy of the Coalition, complete with dire warnings that federal Labor will ‘inevitably’ see Gillard suffer the same fate as her predecessor.

Back up a second. Let’s remember something. Rudd may have been urged to go, but he didn’t lose a leadership challenge. He resigned in the face of loss of confidence from his party room. Splitting hairs? Maybe, but hold that thought.

Last night, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu also resigned from his leadership position. An earlier leader, Denis Napthine, emerged from the party room as the new Premier as a tearful Baillieu made his farewells.

The headlines made it clear. Baillieu ‘walked away’. He ‘fell on his sword’. In the face of loss of confidence from his party room (not to mention potential corruption charges and a continued slump in the polls), he resigned.

Sound familiar?

Oh, but wait.

It’s not the same at all, clamoured the Coalition. Rudd was ‘executed’. And anyway, he was a bad PM. Baillieu was a good Premier, a ‘man of integrity‘ who had ‘put Victoria’s finances on a sustainable footing and made significant investments in infrastructure,’ to quote Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Never mind the fact that earlier the same day, Victoria officially slipped into recession. It’s not nice to say bad things about an outgoing leader – unless that leader happens to be from the Labor Party, according to the Coalition playbook.

So let’s get this straight. When a Labor leader resigns under pressure from his party, he ‘gets knifed’. When a Liberal leader does the same thing, he ‘falls on his sword’. Is it just me, or is there something just a little ridiculous about that?

Kevin Rudd's tearful resignation

Kevin Rudd’s tearful resignation

Ted Baillieu's tearful resignation

Ted Baillieu’s tearful resignation

The Coalition will now reap everything it sowed when it sought to capitalise on the resignation of Rudd. The new Premier, in power under the same circumstances, is well and truly open to allegations of ‘assassination’ and ‘execution’ – and let’s not forget, Napthine himself was rolled as leader after poor polls and a split in the Coalition. Already, the accusations are flying thick and fast in the Victorian Parliament.

At least The Australian, ordinarily a bastion of Coalition support, didn’t go along with the ‘when-is-a-knife-not-a-knife’ spin attempt. Peter van Onselen was frankly incredulous at the turn of events in Victoria, describing the state Coalition as ‘rats in an experiment that did not learn from their mistakes’.

The frantic efforts to paint Baillieu as some kind of courageous and noble Roman general (notably absent from Parliament today) just won’t work. And the Coalition only has itself to blame. It wrote this script back in 2010, and ever since, have hammered it into public discourse without once stopping for breath. What goes round, comes round, as they say.

The big question, of course, is what – if any – effect this will have on Federal politics. It’s possible there will be none. Abbott’s very good at deflecting media attention, and Gillard risks a backlash from voters if she adopts the dramatic language usually directed at her. Neither stands to gain much (pending an early change of government in Victoria), and Abbott’s ‘sustainable finances’ gaffe is already the stuff of ridicule – so it won’t be long before he drowns it out with yet another criticism of the ‘carbon tax’ or the mining tax.

There is, though, one crucial lesson that we should take to the next Federal election – the knowledge that neither party can claim any sort of moral high ground in terms of loyalty to the leadership. Whether it’s resignation through coercion (as in the case of Rudd and Baillieu), or loss of position through a leadership spill (Nelson and Turnbull), ultimately doesn’t matter. Both parties are ruthless, and will do whatever it takes to gain (and hold) power. No leader is ‘safe’.

That’s something to remember next time you hear a politician wax lyrical about the stability of their party, or the instability of their opponent’s. In the words of Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar, just after the real assassination of Rome’s leader:

How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted o’er,
In states unborn, and accents yet unknown!
(Julius Caesar, 3.1.111)

How many, indeed?

Just a little bit of history repeating

Just a little bit of history repeating

Morrison and Nile – it’s just a lurch to the right

March 1, 2013

Some days, it doesn’t pay to log on and read the news.

It started when a 24 year old asylum seeker on a bridging visa was charged with sexual assault. It’s a serious offence, and not to be belittled or dismissed. Nor is it a situation where the facts are known, or a verdict obtained. Apparently the Opposition’s Shadow Immigration spokesperson, Scott Morrison, doesn’t care about that.

On the basis of this one arrest, Morrison launched into a speech full of deafening dogwhistles and rife with racism. Asylum seekers should have to conform to ‘behaviour protocols’ before being released into the community, he argued. Moreover, residents in the area should be informed before asylum seekers or refugees are settled there. While they were at it, there should be regular reports to police.

All on the basis of one arrest. No confession. No verdict.

It wasn’t long before Senators Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi (infamous for his ‘halal by stealth’ comments) jumped in to support their colleague. Abetz thought it was all quite reasonable – after all, residents would find it hard to live next to someone who didn’t speak English well. In fact, he was prepared to go even further. We should make sure that police and health authorities be notified of an asylum seeker’s arrival into the community, just in case their ‘traumatised’ state led them to need intervention.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott thought it was fair enough, and quickly pointed the finger at the government, using his patented ‘look-over-there-at-what-Julia’s-doing’ tactic. The media went along obediently. Even Malcolm Turnbull, who usually represents a voice of moderation in the Coalition, was silent.

Mind you, the government weren’t exactly quick to jump on the subject, either – not the Prime Minister, nor the Immigration Minister, nor even Kevin ‘someday-he’ll-challenge-again-you-betcha’ Rudd.

Of the major parties, only Opposition backbencher Russell Broadbent and Senator Doug Cameron spoke out against these sentiments, and they were voices crying in the wilderness.

Unable to contain her fury, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young let fly at Morrison and those who supported his comments. Whether in the media (particularly when she held her own against some extremely provocative questions from Tony Jones on ABC1’s Lateline), or in the Parliament itself, she made it clear just how disgusting she found their ideas. She announced that she would be lodging complaints with ACMA, the broadcast regulator, and attempted to move a motion in the Senate condemning the vilification of asylum seekers.

Senator Sarah-Hanson Young

Senator Sarah-Hanson Young

Now, you might think that a motion like this would be a godsend for the government. Here’s a chance for them to get stuck into the Opposition, to paint them as completely heartless, and make even their own inhumane treatment of asylum seekers look better by comparison. Best of all, they didn’t have to bring it to the chamber. But no.

The major parties once more showed that – all evidence to the contrary – they are capable of bipartisanship – when it comes to silencing the Greens. The government joined the Opposition, and refused to allow standing orders to be suspended so that Hanson-Young could move her motion. They didn’t even allow the motion a full debate.

Later, one Coalition Senator in an Estimates Committee commented to Greens Senator Richard di Natale, ‘I suppose your colleague feels better now she’s had her say’. It was a blatant pat on the head to Hanson-Young, who frequently attracts criticism for being an outspoken, young woman.

So we’re left with this; a call for asylum seekers, who’ve committed no crime and are not even under suspicion of unlawful activity, to be treated worse than convicted sex offenders. Yes, worse.

You see, under Australian law, you can’t tell people if you know someone is on the Sex Offenders Register. Not even if that person is being asked to babysit your friend’s children. You can’t go door-to-door in a neighbourhood and tell everyone that a sex offender is moving in down the street. There’s no Megan’s Law here. But if Morrison had his way, innocent people would be subject to far harsher reporting conditions and invasion of privacy than those who commit sexual offences. Men, women, and even children.

All on the basis of one arrest. No confession. No verdict.

* * * * *

As if that’s not bad enough, New South Wales state politics took a sharp lurch to the far right of the Tea Party when Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile introduced a private member’s bill that would allow charges to manslaughter to be brought if the actions of another person caused a baby to die in utero, or be stillborn. It’s called ‘Zoe’s Law’ (Zoe was the name given to a NSW woman’s unborn baby who was stillborn after a car accident), and Nile claims it’s purely about protecting a baby from a third party – say, an abusive partner or a mugger. It’s not about abortion, he says: ‘This bill provides an exemption for medical procedures, which is the terminology for a termination or abortion’.

There’s just one problem with Nile’s claims. There’s nothing in the bill to prevent the pregnant woman from being charged. Nor is there any specification in the bill to say when a foetus becomes a ‘baby’. A woman who goes horse-riding and miscarries at 8 weeks could be charged. A drug-addicted woman who is in rehab, but even sober, cannot carry the child to term. A woman who falls asleep at the wheel. A woman on antidepressants or other medications that are necessary for survival, but which can pose a danger to a foetus. A woman on chemotherapy.

All of these women could be charged under the proposed ‘Zoe’s Law’. For all Nile dresses it up as some kind of compassionate protection for the vulnerable, this is no different to the tactics used by anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-choice groups in the US. There, a woman can be locked up in some states until she has her baby, and refused medication. It’s not a big step from charging a woman with manslaughter after the death of a foetus and deciding that preventative action is a ‘better’ option. It’s all hearts and flowers and cuddly babies.

And let’s just ignore the fact that this law would see women’s rights are abrogated to a completely unacceptable extent.

So, friends and neighbours, this is the double barrel we’re looking down. A Federal Coalition that – let’s face it – has a damned good chance of forming the next government. A notoriously conservative State government that, all too often, gratefully accepts Nile’s vote.

And a desire to criminalise the innocent in the name of ‘protecting’ Australians.

We’re supposed to be a society that enshrines the presumption of innocence. We’re supposed to protect the right to privacy and the right to live our lives. And we shouldn’t let flowery words and protestations of ‘compassion’ distract us from what’s at the heart of these proposals – racism, fear, and social control.

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