1 February 2023

The Victorian coroner has made damning findings of systemic racism throughout the Victorian criminal justice system, which caused the death of Victoria Nelson: “I find that the use of handcuffs by Victoria Police was unjustified and disproportionate in the circumstances. I find that the police [bail decision-maker] was empowered to grant Veronica bail and failed to give proper consideration to the discretion to do so and this infringed her Charter rights. By failing to give proper consideration to the discretion, I find that the police [bail decision-maker] failed to adequately consider Veronica’s vulnerability in custody as an Aboriginal woman. I find that the training provided by Victoria Police on these topics fails to equip its members with an adequate appreciation of the vulnerability of an Aboriginal person in custody. … I find that at the time of Veronica’s appearance at the [Melbourne Magistrates’ Court]…, culturally specific support for Aboriginal court users was under-resourced and designed to address the cultural needs of only some Aboriginal people – those attending Koori Court. The restrictions of the cultural support role as planned by the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, and the inadequate process for identifying people who might need it, failed to give proper consideration to Veronica’s rights to equality and culture and those of other Aboriginal court users. I find that the Bail Act has a discriminatory impact on First Nations people resulting in grossly disproportionate rates of remand in custody, the most egregious of which affect alleged offenders who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women. I find that ss 4AA(2)(c), 4A, 4C and Clauses 1 and 30 of Schedule 2 of the Bail Act are incompatible with the [Victorian Human Rights] Charter.” It goes on, but the findings about the Bail Act, and the coroner’s detailed recommendations about how it should be reformed, have forced the government to promise change.

The finding about the Bail Act has captured media attention, but it is not a shocking revelation. Here is a report from 2019: “Human rights advocates say the state’s expanding prison system and legal changes that make it tougher to access bail and parole are ensnaring disadvantaged women responsible for relatively minor criminal offending linked to poverty and substance abuse. This increase is particularly stark for Aboriginal women, with a 240 per cent jump in the number of female Aboriginal prisoners in Victorian prisons over the past five years. There has been a 50 per cent increase in the total number of female prisoners in Victoria over the same period… About two-thirds of women whose period of remand had ended were released from prison without needing to serve any more time in jail.” We knew what was happening, but the Andrews Government (which loves to pat itself on the back as the most progressive government in the nation) didn’t want to upset the cops [$] by fixing it. It shouldn’t have taken the death by racism of another Aboriginal woman to shock Andrews into a response — and, frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it, because the death of Tanya Day prompted a similar promise to amend the criminal law in 2019, but it still hasn’t happened.

26 January 2023

Claire G Coleman wants the onus of proof put where it belongs [$] in land rights cases: “An important distinction in the Mabo decision is that native title exists wherever it has not been extinguished by the land being put to other uses. Land claimed by Cook and then by Arthur Phillip was determined to have always belonged to the traditional owners. In other words, all unallocated or unclaimed crown land belongs to the traditional owners and not to the government or the crown. … There is no crown land on this continent. … It’s all legally and spiritually Aboriginal land. Always was, always will be. … The Mabo decision determined that the crown did not legally occupy any land in the colony of Australia in 1788. All land holdings present in 1787, which is all land on the continent, continue to this day unless the title has been extinguished by allocation between 1788 and the Mabo decision. Post-Mabo, the crown owns no land in Australia. Crown land should not exist; the Mabo decision gives traditional owners the right to claim crown land once they have asserted their land rights. Yet regardless of this, the adversarial stance of the government against land rights continues. … The only reason I can think of why crown land is not being returned to traditional owners is a refusal to give us back what is ours. Want to prove you give a shit? Want to prove reconciliation is possible? Return all vacant crown land to the traditional owners of that land, return what you have stolen but have not used. All traditional owners have the right to claim unclaimed crown land post-Mabo, but when we ask for our land back, particularly when that land contains mineral resources or is in the temperate south of the continent or near a capital city, the government, no matter what party is in control, fights us. This fighting can end.”

Coleman gave a very good interview elaborating on her argument on the 7am podcast.

25 January 2023

“Change the date? If that’s the considered will of the people, fine by me. Yet, to foster far greater knowledge of our complex history, let’s change the curriculum first. … It should be compulsory for all secondary students to complete units on Australian history from 1788 to 1914. These units should cover, among other things, Indigenous responses to colonisation, disease, the frontier wars, the establishment of western institutions and norms, official policies regarding Indigenous Australians (including the removal of Indigenous children) and the framing of the constitution. This period of our history includes many shameful elements. At the same time, institutions and systems were established that enabled Australia to become, arguably, the most successful multicultural nation in the world. It’s imperative that young people come to an understanding of this complex history: the very good, the bad and the downright racist.” As I read this column, I found myself nodding along — and then I did a huge spit-take when I saw the byline: the Victorian Liberal shadow education minister, Matthew Bach. The debate has shifted…

The Canberra Times [$]: “The RBA governor wants any wage gains to be kept below 4 per cent. In effect, he is asking workers to accept a real pay cut now in the hope that the nation’s inflation problem will resolve reasonably quickly. It is a big ask, particularly coming, as it does, on top of a decade when wages barely kept up with rising living costs (and, in the case of most public servants, actually fell behind).” Australian Financial Review [$]: “Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe earned $1 million last year, making him one of the country’s highest paid public servants. The central bank’s annual report shows Dr Lowe’s total remuneration was $1.02 million in the 2017-18 financial year, including $114,617 in superannuation. The RBA governor is paid about double the Prime Minister and above most other senior public servants such as the heads of the Prime Minister’s Department, Treasury and financial regulators.” I have my doubts that this guy, when fulfilling his obligation to make decisions with “the economic prosperity and welfare of the people of Australia” in mind, actually understands what a real wage cut feels like to ordinary people. This is the guy who said interest rates would not increase until 2024, then reneged — and when called on it, said, “I’m sorry that people listened to what we said and then acted on that and now find themselves in a position they don’t want to be in.” He’s a disgrace.

24 January 2023

You might have seen reports that radicals within the Aboriginal community are opposed to the Voice. This is no surprise — a minority group led by Lidia Thorpe walked out of the Statement from the Heart conference when they realised the overwhelming majority of delegates supported Voice before Treaty, and while she said she won’t campaign against the referendum, she seems to be walking away from that commitment. I’m sympathetic to the splinter group’s view (they argue that including Indigenous people within the Constitution without a treaty will undermine their sovereignty) but it is too theoretical — in reality, sovereignty comes from power, not words on a page, and leveraging the existing legal structures to build power is the better way to achieve a treaty. I think Eddie Synot [$] is right when he says, “Having a permanent, constitutionally protected and mandated representative body that enables Indigenous people to mobilise around will have a massive impact in pushing for these kinds of issues to be dealt with and dealt with respectfully.” As Megan Davis explains, “At an institutional level, Victoria has the most advanced treaty process in Australia and may deliver an alternative Indigenous vision for the nation and the globe. To negotiate a treaty, it had to do what the Uluru statement contemplates and create a political Voice first: this pioneering Voice is known as the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. The assembly advanced its treaty negotiation framework and, on the advice of communities, has now established the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission. (Yoo-rrook being a Wamba Wamba / Wemba Wemba word meaning ‘truth’.)” The Uluru vision is that the Voice underpins Treaty and Truth, so it must come first. Does that mean I think the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance should drop their campaign? Not at all — the radical wing pushing for more than just the Voice will ensure that the momentum of the referendum campaign will continue for further change in future. But I will be voting Yes, and I hope you will too.

Michael Bradley: “To seek change as ground-shifting as the Voice, you need to be honest and you need to try to build the widest constituency of support. In the context of Australian constitutional reforms, that means bipartisanship. So it was wise to come out open-handed, asking the Coalition to join hands in the cause. But now we know that is never going to happen. We know that even if the polls shifted radically in favour of the Voice question being answered Yes, Dutton would only triple down on his mission to wreck it. This is a cast-iron fact. Dutton has also settled on a strategy that is likely to work if the government maintains its tactical approach. … If there was bipartisanship, the ‘lack of detail’ wouldn’t matter and the entire debate could focus where it should: on the question of principle. However, there is and will be no bipartisanship. The Liberals are disingenuously demanding ‘the detail’, and Albanese is not going to succeed if he continues just calling bullshit on that. Yes, it is bullshit, but … [it’s] time to change tack to find a way to neutralise the attack. … The 260-page report does exist, and nobody’s going to read it. If they did, they’d understand the necessity of the Voice. They wouldn’t lose this one chance to change our country, permanently, for the better. Albanese’s task now is to take those 260 pages, distil their essence and deliver that to the right brains — the emotional, triggered brains — of the fearful. To still their fears, neuter Dutton’s shamelessness, and engage their empathy for a righteous cause.” Albanese reckons “more detail would be released by the referendum working group, which is due to meet again on 2 February” — I think letting the detail come from the expert group is the right approach, but they need to get a move on.

Australia is, rightly, a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which requires all places of detention to be open to independent inspections by the UN to ensure there is no inhumane treatment of detainees. The process is has uncovered dangerous and illegal treatment of prisoners in immigration detention: “An immigration detainee [in the Park Hotel detention centre] served a contaminated meal was not offered an alternative because the maggots were ‘just on the vegetables’… The report made 18 recommendations to the Department of Home Affairs and detailed several incidents, including how fire extinguishers were deployed against immigration detainees on Christmas Island last year in a ‘planned and systematic use of force’. The report also uncovered two ‘holding cells’ — rooms with just a mattress on a concrete slab — in New South Wales’s Villawood immigration detention centre were being used without any time limits or consultation with health or mental health staff, despite a toilet, sink or running water being a requirement for inmates kept for any significant amount of time.” Unfortunately, Victoria, Queensland and NSW are refusing to open their prisons to the same scrutiny. They are complaining about the cost — but frankly, if you’re going to open a prison the cost of independent inspections should be part of it. Their recalcitrance is putting Australia in breach of treaty obligations.

18 January 2023

Oxfam: ”Billionaires have seen extraordinary increases in their wealth. During the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis years since 2020, $26 trillion (63 percent) of all new wealth was captured by the richest 1 percent, while $16 trillion (37 percent) went to the rest of the world put together. A billionaire gained roughly $1.7 million for every $1 of new global wealth earned by a person in the bottom 90 percent. Billionaire fortunes have increased by $2.7 billion a day. … Billionaire wealth surged in 2022 with rapidly rising food and energy profits. The report shows that 95 food and energy corporations have more than doubled their profits in 2022. They made $306 billion in windfall profits, and paid out $257 billion (84 percent) of that to rich shareholders. The Walton dynasty, which owns half of Walmart, received $8.5 billion over the last year. Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, owner of major energy corporations, has seen this wealth soar by $42 billion (46 percent) in 2022 alone. Excess corporate profits have driven at least half of inflation in Australia, the US and the UK. At the same time, at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages, and over 820 million people —roughly one in ten people on Earth— are going hungry. Women and girls often eat least and last, and make up nearly 60 percent of the world’s hungry population.”

The cost of living crisis is driven by sheer greed, and wage rises would not add inflationary pressure if the filthy rich paid their fair share. Labor’s defence of huge tax cuts for the richest Australians is grotesque in this context.

16 January 2023

”The City of Monash’s anti-gambling policy, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, is facing coordinated opposition”, reports The Guardian. Of course it is, because pokie venues took about $85 million from victims in Monash last year. “According to the policy, sports clubs that continue to display the logos of sponsors that have gambling machines will eventually be banned from council grounds and clubhouses. At the moment, these logos appear on some jerseys, websites, newsletters and billboards around council grounds. City of Monash mayor, Tina Samardzija, said local governments should ‘absolutely’ play a bigger role in preventing gambling harm and dismissed claims that councils should not be involved in social policy. ‘Our community is very concerned about young people being exposed to gambling,’ Samardzija said. ‘In my view, there is nothing that’s more of a local government issue than kids going to play sport at their local clubs and being exposed to a message that gambling is normal.’” The policy is being phased in over four years to make sure clubs can adjust to the new requirements. It’s a great example of how local councils can show leadership on important issues.

13 January 2023

Ormond Chiu: “Of our top five countries of birth excluding Australia, three are Asian countries (China, India, the Philippines), and one in ten now have a religion other than Christianity. As our population becomes increasingly diverse, we should be recognising many other significant cultural and religious days as public holidays to reflect this change. There has already been discussion about making Diwali a public holiday and given Australia already likes to boast that Sydney has one of the largest Lunar New Year celebrations outside of Asia, it seems like a no brainer to embrace them as Australian public holidays. It is far from a radical idea. While we mythologise ourselves as the ‘land of the long weekend’, many countries in the Indo-Pacific region have more public holidays than Australia because of their multicultural makeup. Neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia recognise a range of diverse cultural and religious days as public holidays whether it be Buddha’s birthday, Diwali, Lunar New Year, Eid or Christmas Day. It is also not without precedent in Australia. On Christmas Island, Lunar New Year is a public holiday, and on both Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Eid is. … The debate over whether to change Australia Day shows us the symbolic power that public holidays can have on our national narrative and sense of identity. The impact of a more inclusive approach to public holidays would go far beyond our shores. … The message would be that Australia does not just talk about how it is a successful multicultural country, our society genuinely recognises that our cultural and religious diversity is important for every single Australian”.