Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: November, 2018

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 27 November 2018

New forced adoptions law will create another stolen generation

Late at night last Wednesday, on its final sitting day for the year, the NSW Liberals voted to pass their cruel forced adoption bill into law.

Child welfare organisations, survivors of past forced removal practices, and thousands of individuals all came together to oppose these laws.

There was opposition from both Labor and the Greens, but sadly not enough to vote down these cruel new laws.

What many expected to happen today has happened despite the united call from Aboriginal people and the child welfare sector.

“These laws will mean more vulnerable, often Aboriginal, children will be forcibly removed and taken permanently from their families” said MP David Shoebridge, the Greens Justice spokesperson.

This is in clear contrast to the advice of almost every single welfare agency, Aboriginal organisations, survivors of past failed removal policies and legal body, who have told the government that these laws take us backwards.

The weeks of campaigning against these damaging laws has given strength to the growing alliance between the community, the Greens, Labor and everyone in the sector who has taken the time to understand the damage these laws will cause.

Let’s look at the detail of this sorry situation. The bill places a two year limit on the amount of time a child can remain in out-of-home care prior to the court having the power to order they be adopted.

These laws are set to disproportionately affect Aboriginal communities that are facing a system that’s increasingly removing their children. First Nations children and youths make up only 5 percent of people in this state under 18, but 37 percent of young people in out-of-home care.

First Nations groups have long asserted that current Indigenous child removal practices are a continuation of the paternalistic policies that saw hundreds of thousands of children taken during the 70-odd years of the Stolen Generations.

And these new laws are just more of the same. Not only does the legislation place an extremely tight maximum time frame on families seeking restoration with their children, but it also seeks to remove the judicial oversight of guardianship arrangements and it restricts provisions around parents applying for variations of court orders.

“This is going to totally annihilate Aboriginal culture,” said Aunty Hazel Collins, a founding member of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR). “This is genocide in the first degree and it should be abolished.”

And the Gomeroi woman understands all too well how unreasonable the proposed new forced adoption time limit is. “My own daughter fought for seven years to have her child returned,” Aunty Hazel explained. “Families are not going to get their children back within two years.”

“Nobody has the right to sign off on an adoption, when that child is not an orphan,” she added. “That child has parents, grandparents and family that want them back.”

The new law comes despite the findings of the Independent Review of Out-Of-Home Care in NSW report, which NSW family and community services minister Pru Goward stalled the release of for 18 months.

The damning report found that the NSW out-of-home care system “does not improve outcomes for children and families with complex needs”. And the $1.86 billion spent over 2015-16 was “crisis driven” expenditure and “not well aligned to the evidence”.

The report also found that Aboriginal children are overrepresented in the system. It revealed that around 7.5% of Aboriginal children in this state were in out-of-home care with only 1 percent of non-Indigenous kids.

Following the release of the report last June, Ms Goward rejected calls for the establishment of an Aboriginal child and family commissioner. “We’re not creating a separate system for Aboriginal children,” the minister told ABC radio.

However, as far as First Nations groups like GMAR are concerned, there’s already a separate system in place for Indigenous children under the guidance of FACS and it was implemented a very long time ago.

Fortunately this does not mean a permanent victory for the forces of darkness. “With the passage of these laws, the struggle has only begun. The Greens commit to reversing these laws in the first 100 days of a new parliament after the March 2019 election. We invite all MPs to join with us,” said David Shoebridge.

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 20 November 2018

There is a simple way to save lives

As summer approaches so too does the music festival season, and regrettably we will read stories of many preventable deaths, which could be avoided if the state government would only adopt a common-sense harm minimisation approach to pill testing.

Instead, Premier Gladys Berejiklian established what she touted as an ‘expert’ panel to address the issue after the deaths at the Defqon 1 dance festival in Penrith. The result was a headline reading ‘NSW to introduce tougher drug penalties, but no pill testing, after festival deaths’ (Guardian Australia).

The new measures recommended by the panel included on-the-spot fines for drug possession and tougher penalties for dealers who supply drugs to people who die are among new measures proposed.

The police commissioner, Mick Fuller, a member of the panel, said the belief that pill-testing was going to save lives in NSW was a “myth”.

Yet doctors, harm minimisation advocates and drug researchers say there’s a simple solution to stop young Australians dying at music festivals, but it’s the one thing authorities refuse to try. That simple solution is pill testing.

Advocacy groups, including STA-Safe and some of the nation’s leading drug researchers, have begged the government to drop its “zero-tolerance” stance, insisting the answer is simple and lives will be saved if the government changed its approach.

“You would hope a tragedy like this would’ve pressed reset on the government’s approach to drugs but it’s clear that hasn’t happened,” Greens MP David Shoebridge told news.com.au.

Few festivals pushed a zero drug tolerance policy harder and had a stronger police presence than Defqon.1, according to Mr Shoebridge.

The festival, which features hardstyle and electronic dance music DJs, reportedly has a stronger drug-taking culture than some other Australian festivals.

But the reputation has led to Defqon.1’s organisers paying for police presence at the festivals in a bid to curb the drug culture.

“Defqon.1 signed on to the most hardcore zero-tolerance drug policy. They actively worked with, and paid for, a lot of police to attend and support them. There was a very active police presence,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Pill testing and amnesty bins have been debated as an option to reduce the risk of potential overdoses or deaths from contaminated pills at music festivals for more than a decade.

However, “Anyone who is advocating pill testing is giving the green light to drugs — that is absolutely unacceptable. Do not take them … Pill testing is not a solution,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Ted Noffs Foundation spokesman Kieran Palmer told Today the Premier had her “head in the sand”.

“We have the evidence. Shutting down festivals, getting tough on drugs, telling kids to ‘just say no’ doesn’t work. It doesn’t change behaviour.”

Indeed. pill testing advocates finally received the home soil evidence they needed in May when a pill testing trial at Canberra’s Groovin The Moo festival revealed two people had been stopped from taking deadly drugs.

The trial, which tested 128 batches, found a number of worrying chemicals, the worst of which was a drug called N-ethyl pentylone.

At the time, emergency doctor and STA-Safe representative David Caldicott told news.com.au the drug was particularly concerning “because it’s killed people”.

“The drug is known to cause mass-casualty overdoses, where you can have groups of 10-20 people just dropping at festivals,” he said.

Working in the emergency department of Calvary Hospital in Canberra, Dr Caldicott has become one of Australia’s most vocal advocates for a harm minimisation approach to illicit drug use.

Thankfully and following David Shoebridge’s comments, the Australian Greens have revealed a plan to open 18 pill-testing services across Australia at a cost of $16m, saying the policy would disrupt drug dealing networks and cut preventable deaths.

The Australian Greens parliamentary leader, Richard Di Natale, a former drug and alcohol doctor, said the war on drugs had failed because 1 million Australians still used ecstasy and cocaine every year and a number of them were dying because they had no idea what they were consuming.

He said the pill-testing services, which would allow people to test drugs for dangerous substances and their level of purity, would help Australians who were going to take drugs anyway make more informed choices.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 13 November 2018

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel

Last week’s announcement that Virgin Airlines would honour our veterans and offer them priority boarding brought many thoughts to mind, one of which was Samuel Johnson’s famous observation of 1775 that ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’.

Johnson’s biographer James Boswell doesn’t provide any context for the remark, but assures us that Johnson was not indicting patriotism in general, only false patriotism.

 

It is false patriotism used for political advantage that I will explore in my column this week.

 

The Virgin scheme followed Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcement of the Veterans Card Initiative and lapel pin.

 

“What this is about is businesses honouring the services by offering them a discount,” he said.

 

“Now we’re putting the details in place over the back of this year and it will be out and running next year and it means veterans will have a card which will entitle them to discounts and services.”

 

The PM announcing something before the details have been finalised is becoming something of a habit of Mr Morrison’s, as was his premature announcement during the Wentworth by-election of Australia moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem.

 

However, Mr Morrison’s habit of governing by thought bubble is not my topic this week, rather it is the exploitation of our patriotism for selfish political ends that I’ll concentrate on.

 

But first a note that the Morrison/Virgin ploy thankfully seems to have exploded in their faces.

 

It seems that the veterans themselves saw through these attempts to exploit them, for “Following Virgin Australia’s announcement, Wagga RSL Sub-Branch’s Richard Salcole says veterans need more” reported the Daily Advertiser (6th November 2018).

 

The story in the DA went on to report that Mr Salcole said airlines need to make sure they are not naming veterans. “Veterans with mental health issues are going to struggle to fly as it is without the added spotlight,” he said.

 

He also noted that in 1989 the Defcon Card was introduced as a loyalty program offering discounts to ex-serviceman and it is still active today, and that he hopes to see more support given to veterans looking for a job or accessing medical services, points made by many other veterans after Mr Morrison’s thought bubble.

 

Virgin Australia has since energetically back-pedalled, releasing a statement saying it will consult with community groups following the backlash, but not Mr Morrison.

 

The Scott Morrison and Virgin Australia stunt using returned servicemen and women is of course a marketing ploy, in part a commercial one for the businesses, and a political one for the PM, which is bad enough.

 

But it’s more than that, and much worse. As the New Daily reported “It’s part of a calculated plan to exploit Australians’ respect for people who have taken risks and worse in our armed services.”

Patriotism, jingoism, militarism, national security threats, war memorials, flag waving, border security, medals, warships, policing, $200 billion military equipment budgets, military ceremonies, Captain Cook statues are all right-wing propaganda.

 

The more a reactionary government with low opinion poll ratings faced with the prospect of electoral defeat can associate itself with things military, and tap into the sacrificial ethos of Anzac, the better it hopes it will be.

 

It is very American, calculated to look good on our TV news and in the Murdoch tabloids. The shock jocks will loudly applaud. One Nation, Bob Katter and Australian Conservative voters will certainly lap it up, and so, the perpetrators hope, will Liberal voters thinking of jumping to the alternative right.

 

If the marketing types had really done their homework instead of calculating how good they would look in front of the War Memorial (or throwing money at it), they would have discovered that it wasn’t entirely a flag, a King or Queen or a monument that sustained our troops, it was their colleagues, their mates. As it was in the First World War, the Second World one, and in Vietnam. As it has always been.

 

Australians willingly acknowledge our returned and serving men and women. There’s respect and honour. We want them looked after and repaired if they are damaged.

But don’t use them for political gain or tawdry commercial marketing.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 6 November 2018

Minister’s blocking of university research grants smacks of totalitarianism

Recently we learnt that the previous federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham personally blocked $1.4m grants for humanities research. This quite rightly provoked a strong reaction from universities, individual academics, and the Liberal Party’s political opponents.

Australian Greens Education Spokesperson, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, has called Senator Simon Birmingham’s personal intervention “outrageous”. She also called for a completely independent process, free from Ministerial interference.

Senator Faruqi said: “As a former academic, I am horrified that the Minister intervened to block research grants. This is a massive and outrageous overreach from the Government” she concluded.

As I am also a former academic I share Senator Faruqi’s outrage, though I hope I would be equally appalled if I had not been an academic.

And as a proud member of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) I also share its condemnation of Birmingham’s action.

“NTEU members and other researchers expect the Minister to uphold the principles of academic freedom and to not directly interfere in the allocation of research grants,” said NTEU President Dr Alison Barnes.

“There was no transparency around these decisions. Applicants were not notified that their grants successfully navigated and found their way to the top of the extremely tough ARC vetting process only to be rejected by the Minister.”

“We can only speculate on what the reasons were. Was Senator Birmingham’s decision based on perceptions of how his colleagues or conservative commentators might react to these announcements? If this is the case, secretive political interference in the allocation of competitive research grants is totally unacceptable” she concluded.

Research grants are not there for the Minister to pick and choose based on his own political prejudices. The Australian Research Council should be trusted to guide research funding, free from political interference.

Academic research is too valuable to be hijacked by a narrow ideological agenda.

Labor accused Simon Birmingham of pandering to “knuckle-dragging right-wing philistines” by blocking 11 Australian Research Council grants in the humanities totalling $4m.

According to evidence given by Australian Research Council (ARC) officials, Birmingham rejected six Discovery grants worth a total of $1.4m, three Early Career grants ($1.1m) and two Future Fellowships ($1.7m).  The rejected projects are all based in the humanities and social sciences.

The grant projects were proposed by researchers at universities including the Australian Catholic University, the Australian National University as well as Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales and Monash universities. All grants were independently approved by the Australian Research Council (ARC).

As the grants had been approved by the ARC they had been accepted as being worthy research topics and so should not be able to be blocked by the Minister.

Labor’s innovation spokesman, Kim Carr, accused Birmingham of judging research on its title and targeting the humanities because no research in other disciplines such as science were blocked.

Carr also picked up the ideological justification for blocking the grants. “He’s pandering to right-wing extremism in an attempt to peddle ignorance,” he told Guardian Australia. “There is no case for this blatant political interference to appease the most reactionary elements of the Liberal and National party and the shock-jocks.

“These are grants in arts, culture, music and history which somehow or other in his mind are not acceptable … what is his research expertise to justify interventions of that type?” he noted.

When the former education minister Brendan Nelson vetoed humanities grants in 2004-05 there was “outcry from the Australian research community”.

When in government Labor instituted a protocol that blocking research required a special declaration so the decision was public, which the Lib/Nat Coalition government had rescinded.

In a statement the Australian Academy of the Humanities expressed “shock and anger” that the minister intervened and called for the funding to be restored.

And to add insult to injury last week the Morrison government said academics who want to apply for research council funding will now have to explain how their proposed projects will “advance the national interest.”

The education minister, Dan Tehan, says a “national interest test” will be introduced to the application process for Australian Research Council grants, applying to all future grant rounds.

This is beginning to look like Nazi Germany, or at least fascism.