7 June 2020

In Melbourne, an anonymous “senior government source” used a client journalist to plant a false front-page story accusing protesters of planning violence. In Sydney, police spent a week working with protesters to plan logistics, before unsuccessfully reneging and attempting to have the protest declared illegal. But despite this sabotage, huge crowds gathered in cities and towns to protest racism in Australia and abroad. Zach Hope’s coverage captures the mood of the Melbourne march well: “Melbourne public life returned on Saturday with a jolt, a cry, a three-word call: Black Lives Matter. It began with a tribute to the spirits watching on, a reverent farewell to lives violently ended. From closed-off living rooms and home offices, to thousands of feet stamping on Spring and Bourke streets in the rhythm of a beating heart and a mournful Kulin Nations song. While Aboriginal-led, the shapes, colours and names in the demonstration were typically Melbourne. … One woman walked through the crowd yelling at people to spread out. ‘We can use the whole city,’ she said. They nearly did. … Demonstrators cheered the speeches and held placards. They cried ‘shame’ at the statistics of Aboriginal deaths, sickness and incarceration. Some swore at police, but they were no more than a handful. Shortly after 3pm, they began to march down Bourke Street. An hour later, marchers were still, slowly, filing past Parliament.” Hundreds of thousands of people in an illegal gathering. This could be the start of something.

5 June 2020

Daniel Nguyen of the Police Accountability Project makes two concrete proposals to address discriminatory policing: “A critical first step is to mandate the uniform collection, release and independent analysis of stop-and-enforcement data by police. It must be law that any time a police officer stops to question a member of public, they record the rationale for the stop, time/date/location, along with officer-perceived ethnicity of that person. Importantly, the reason for the stop and details of the police officer should be provided to the member of public as a receipt after the interaction. De-identified data should then be provided to an independent, monitoring body for the data to be analysed and cross-referenced with demographic data. … Secondly, there needs to be a truly independent system to investigate any alleged discriminatory practices or approaches. Any systemic review of police practices needs to be prompt, open to public scrutiny and independent and cannot involve police investigating their own colleagues. These two measures provide only a glimpse of what is required. Without a system to transparently monitor police data and to independently investigate misconduct, discriminatory policing will continue to affect those who have always been its target. Discriminatory policing is a global problem. Let’s make sure we tackle it in our own backyard.”

4 June 2020

Tim Dunlop: “The whole idea of what is usually called ‘centrism’, or sometimes, ‘sensible centrism’, or even ‘radical centrism’ is predicated on this idea: that if we simply stop listening to the ‘extremists’ from either side of the political spectrum and reach a ‘reasonable consensus’ we will have solved the problem. … Here’s the thing: … the solution is often not going to be found in any so-called compromise. Sometimes there is simply no middle ground. … The arguments [around the Black Lives Matter protests] are not about finding some compromise between police brutality and a non brutalising police force. They are about whether police should be allowed to brutalise members of the public, almost always members of minorities, with impunity, or whether they should be held accountable for this sort of illegal action in the way that almost anyone else is. There is no halfway point here. No middle ground. You either believe police are subject to laws and should be prosecuted when they break them, especially when they murder people, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you are likely a fascist and my obligation to chat with you and to use reason and deliberation to change your mind does not exist. Indeed, to even engage with your abhor[r]ent views is to lend them a credence they do not deserve. … To put it more simply: choose a fucking side.”

3 June 2020

Alex Vitale: “Liberals think of the police as the legitimate mechanism for using force in the interests of the whole society. For them, the state, through elections and other democratic processes, represents the general will of society as well as any system could; those who act against those interests, therefore, should face the police. The police must maintain their public legitimacy by acting in a way that the public respects and is in keeping with the rule of law. For liberals, police reform is always a question of taking steps to restore that legitimacy. That is what separates the police of a liberal democracy from those of a dictatorship. … The reality is that the police exist primarily as a system for managing and even producing inequality by suppressing social movements and tightly managing the behaviours of poor and nonwhite people: those on the losing end of economic and political arrangements. … [P]olice exist to ‘fabricate social order’, but that order rests on systems of exploitation — and when elites feel that this system is at risk, whether from slave revolts, general strikes or crime and rioting in the streets, they rely on the police to control those activities. When possible, the police aggressively and proactively prevent the formation of movements and public expressions of rage, but when necessary they will fall back on brute force.”

(Vice has published an extended excerpt from Vitale’s book, The End of Policing, and Verso is making the ebook available for free — encouraging readers to make a donation to a bail fund instead; in Australia, Sisters Inside’s FreeHer fund is a good option.)

Paddy Manning: “[F]or sheer government incompetence and malevolence, nothing comes close to the disgraceful robodebt program, which was based on a tabloid myth of rampant welfare fraud, was heartlessly implemented, and which turned out to be illegal. On Friday afternoon we learnt that, in the face of litigation that threatened to embarrass key Coalition ministers, the federal government would refund a staggering $721 million in debts unlawfully charged to more than 373,000 vulnerable Australians. … But this utter debacle is about much more than the money, which always represented chicken feed for taxpayers but was literally a matter of life or death for the unfortunate recipients of unlawful debts. Last year, a Senate inquiry into the scheme took evidence that more than 2000 people died after receiving their initial robodebt letter, of which a third were considered ‘vulnerable’ by the Department of Human Services. … But the government … has learnt nothing from all this, announcing the resumption of mutual obligations yesterday, forcing the unemployed through the humiliating ritual of searching for jobs that don’t exist as the economy dives into recession.”

Historian of antifascism Tim Bray on Trump’s blustering declaration that Antifa is a terrorist organisation: “Trump’s declaration seems impossible to enforce – and not only because there is no mechanism for the President to designate domestic groups as terrorist organisations. Though antifa groups exist, antifa itself is not an organisation. Self-identified antifa groups … expose the identities of local Nazis and confront the far right in the streets. But antifa itself is not an overarching organisation with a chain of command… Instead, largely anarchist and anti-authoritarian antifa groups share resources and information about far-right activity across regional and national borders through loosely knit networks and informal relationships of trust and solidarity. And in the United States, antifa have never killed anyone, unlike their enemies in Klan hoods and squad cars. … Trump is conjuring the spectre of ‘antifa’ … to break the connection between this popular groundswell of anti-racist and black activism that has developed over recent years and the insurrections that have exploded across the country in recent days… Paradoxically, this move actually suggests a tacit acknowledgement of popular sympathy with the grievances and tactics of the protesters: If torching malls and police stations were sufficient on their own to delegitimise protests, there would be no need to blame ‘antifa’.”

2 June 2020

Amy McQuire: “Four days ago, the police officer charged with the murder of Aboriginal woman Joyce Clarke entered a not guilty plea. You may not have heard about it. In a search of the Factiva database over the past three months, I found only one article on Ms Clarke’s death… While the world has been understandably outraged at the police killing of African American man George Floyd and the modern-day lynching of Ahmaud Arbery by a former cop, Australian media have not followed Ms Clarke’s story. Australia is not similarly outraged, despite waves of protests by Aboriginal people. … They are not ‘outraged’ because they are not ‘shocked’. There is nothing shocking about racist violence perpetrated by police because it is normalised. It is seen as legitimate violence. It is this legitimate violence that was not only used to steal the country and assert white dominance but also maintain it through the oppression of Aboriginal people. While the high profile deaths of black men in the United States have allowed white Australians to see the racist violence perpetrated by police and the white supremacy ingrained in systems, these are lessons they are not willing to learn on this land.” (White Australians need to follow the leadership of Aboriginal people in protesting these issues.)

1 June 2020

Peter Gowan: “In the aftermath of a Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd, America’s media has turned to some crucial questions which must be addressed: Should we condemn looting? Yes, we should condemn the looting of the Global South by Western militaries and multinational corporations. … Private equity stands to make a fortune off the bankruptcy of businesses around the country. By firing workers and raiding their pensions, they’ll make off with the bag. … [T]he billionaire class has become $434 billion richer during the pandemic. … Should we blame working-class black people for lashing out at a government and economy designed to repress, exploit, and subdue them…? No. George Floyd mattered. Black lives matter. And until we can build a movement that can defeat racism and capitalism, until working people of all races unite against capitalists and their repressive apparatus, it is a good thing that bosses, government officials, and the police who protect them are sometimes reminded that black lives matter through a little proletarian fury. If you care about looting, turn your eyes to the militaries, the police, the pharmaceutical companies, the private equity ghouls, the landlords, the real estate speculators, and the billionaires. And demand that a world once looted from the vast majority be now returned to them.”

27 May 2020

The bar is set so low for Scott Morrison that he is hailed as a peacemaker for simply saying he will allow union representatives to express an opinion about industrial relations, as part of a ‘working group’ process that will be dominated by employer representatives. How generous. The ACTU has agreed to participate, saying it will be guided by two criteria: increasing job security, and giving workers a fair share of our economic prosperity. These are sound principles but it is hard to see how they will be satisfied when the topics of the working groups are the business lobby’s anti-worker wish list. For example, “award simplification” is code for stripping working conditions out of the safety net, and the Prime Minister said the “casuals and fixed term employees” working group was “made even more prescient by recent changes through the Fair Work Commission” — he presumably means the recent Federal Court decisions that confirmed the common law definition of casual employment — and employers’ request to retrospectively legalise wage theft from casuals. Signing up to the process was worthwhile in exchange for killing off the immediate threat of the Government’s union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill, but this has all the hallmarks of a rope-a-dope strategy and unions need to tread very carefully.

26 May 2020

The University of Melbourne’s Tim Adair: “People living in socially disadvantaged areas and outside major cities are much more likely to die prematurely, our new research shows. The study, published in the journal Australian Population Studies, reveals this gap has widened significantly in recent years, largely because rates of premature death among the least advantaged Australians have stopped improving. … Our research analysed trends in deaths between ages 35 and 74 years from 2006-16. We found people living in the 20% most socio-economically disadvantaged areas are twice as likely to die prematurely than those in the highest 20%. More worryingly, this gap in death rates between the most and least well-off sectors of the Australian population grew wider between 2011 and 2016. It widened by 26% for females and 14% for males. … Reducing this widening gap in rates of premature death will require a major policy effort. We need to understand and improve the many factors involved – including smoking, diet and alcohol use, education, employment, housing, and access to health care. We need to ensure policies and information campaigns are targeted to the population groups where death rates are highest and improvements have been slowest.” Needless to say, the impact of Covid-19 is likely to exacerbate this trend.