Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Can feminists wear taffeta?

A letter to Wendy Squires in response to her article.

Dear Wendy,

I thought it was a joke: a columnist’s reverie of sequinned decoration and shimmering spangles. 

When you said you believed women (and men) need finery, elegance and an outing with “our decorous inner selves”, I smiled.  I read to the end in anticipation of a reassuring punch line.

But, astonishingly, you were serious – even when you said “young women want to dress up; they want to have princess moments,” you were serious.

I know this because our exchange on Twitter left no doubt.  If I wasn’t convinced by “it’s called an opinion; we’re all allowed one”, I was when you tweeted “I don’t want to engage with you any further; you women given feminism a bad name”.

So I have contemplated, with great remorse, the ways I bring feminism into disrepute.

My nails aren’t painted?  I don’t like the races?  I avoid high-heels?  I rarely, consciously, opt for “ladylike”?  That I don’t tell my daughter that it “feels good to look good”?  That I don’t take her to the ballet in a flouncy skirt wearing pearls?

I guess I give feminism a bad name because I questioned your intent, and whether your writing advances women.

Sorry.  I mean that.

I am sorry for imposing on your writing a purpose it did not have.  You are right: it is nice to look nice.  Millions of women agree.  And why not say it.  I shouldn’t have denied your right of expression.

But I was disappointed.  I wanted you to interrogate the fantasy of feminine, floral niceties.  I wanted you to tell the seven year old with glittery shoes that there is more to life than taffeta.

That is the message I try to impart to my ten year old, the girls I have taught, and myself.

Throughout history and most cultures, women are allowed to, if not expected to, dress nicely: nothing too short, too low, too masculine, too rough, too tight, or too radical.

No one will stop me and other strong minded women from turning up to a party, or a race day, in a frilly floral frock.  I probably would find that I enjoyed it.

But plenty of people have tried to stop women from undertaking other ventures – like running companies, becoming a government minister, serving as a pope.

I don’t want to give feminism a bad name – and I don’t think I do.  But I do want to question why girls are still expected to have dreams of looking nice.

I have dreams for my daughter: that she will never experience violence or discrimination on the basis of her gender; that she will be able to follow her passions without being dismissed or disrespected because she is female; and that she won’t feel the need to go to the races or dress in high-heels if she doesn’t wish to.

Feminism is about choice: women being able to make choices regardless of gender.  Wendy, I am glad you and other women have the choice to dress in finery and enjoy the races.  No one will ever prevent you from exercising this choice.

Many women do not have the choices they deserve. But you undoubtedly know that and that was not the focus of your writing.

You are lucky enough to have a column in a major news-outlet.  Most women do not.  I was hoping you would use your position to help give more women more choices – then we can all celebrate by enjoying a day at the races, if we wish.

With best regards,


Monique, 10

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

CHOGM - a chance to free 43 Tamils

The best by-product of the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this month would be the release of 43 Tamil refugees indefinitely detained in Australia. 

To continue to detain the Tamils, despite heavy criticism from the UNHCR, is a show of diplomatic weakness by Australia.

It demonstrates a willingness to put external demands from a Commonwealth colleague below standards of rule of law, human rights and freedom from arbitrary detention.

Australian diplomats should walk into discussions in Sri Lanka with a deal to release the refugee detainees into community detention, or on conditional visas, in exchange for assurances that incentives for Tamils to continue to leave Sri Lanka (such as threats of violence) will be addressed.

The 43 Tamil refugees have been detained for an average of four years because they are believed to have some level of engagement with the pro-separatist Tamil movement in Sri Lanka.

Some are believed to have been members of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) and may have trained with the militant organization.

They continue to be held in detention because it is believed that they are ideologically supportive of the Tamil struggle for independence and that their links with the Tigers make them likely to act in ways that are “prejudicial to Australia’s national security”.

Successive Australian governments have been reluctant to set aside security recommendations from ASIO that the men (and two women) pose a risk to national security – despite a number of High Court challenges.

Whatever the individual circumstances of the refugees, the fact they have been found to be refugees is inconsistent with a finding that they are criminally active or prospective criminals: they would be excluded from being refugees if this were the case.

A number of reports and experts have contemplated ways in which the refugees could be released from detention with conditions that ensure any lingering security risks are mitigated.

The most obvious risk to Sri Lanka (not necessarily Australia) is that the Tamils will band together to lobby and act for independence of Tamil homelands in Sri Lanka. 

Many Tamils in Australia are already active in the political movement for self-determination.  Over the past decade, none of the activities in Australia to protest or speak out for Tamil self-determination or freedom have caused security issues in Australia.

Government leaders in Sri Lanka speak openly of their fear expatriate Tamils will stir up sympathy for Tamil self-determination.  They see Canada’s refusal to join CHOGM as an example of Tamil refugees acting against the interests of a reconciled Sri Lanka.

But for the nation of Sri Lanka to expect Australia to assess Tamils with links to the Tamil Tigers (however weak) as security risks to Australia, and therefore maintained in expensive and damaging indefinite detention, is extraordinary.

For Australia to continue to comply with this expectation is even more extraordinary.

The Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon should have known better than to call a provocative media conference on foreign soil.  But the sensitive reaction by the Sri Lankan government, in confiscating her passport and temporarily detaining her, does vindicate the point made: that speaking out in Sri Lanka is punished.

This should also highlight to Australia that Tamils speaking out in Sri Lanka, in ways that our Liberal government should celebrate as expressions of free speech, are harshly condemned.

The libertarian values of the current Abbott government should not support the indefinite detention of Tamils who may or may not have once spoken out in favour of a particular political view.

The assumption that the refugees are dangerous, or pose security risks to Australia is nonsense – if only they were given opportunities in a court of law to prove it.

If the Prime Minister does not raise this issue with Sri Lanka during CHOGM, he is once again showing himself to be weak in the face of diplomatic challenges.

For Australia, a prosperous, secure and free country, to keep 43 broken Tamil men and women in indefinite detention to appease the Sri Lankan government, is a sign of serious diplomatic weakness.

Prime Minister Abbott needs to stand up for the freedoms his party espouses.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

East West Link will adversely impact ground water, heritage sites and parkland

The east-west link will adversely impact Royal Park, ten heritage sites including the Melbourne cemetery, ground water flow and contamination plumes according to the comprehensive impact statement released by the Napthine government this morning.

The statement said there will be permanent impact and "substantial physical change" at two locations in Royal Park with 23.27 hectares temporarily disrupted and 1.36 hectares permanently acquired.

The proposed tunnel section of the link will require excavation beneath ten heritage sites including the cemetery, former police complex and college church in Parkville, and Royal Park.  Consent will be required for works affecting heritage sites.

The tunnel will also act as a "physical barrier to ground water flow" by intersecting the north-south water flows.  An remnant river channel at the eastern end of the tunnel will be blocked by the tunnel.

"Some continued disturbance [during] the tunnel's operation could be expected," the statement said, including leakage through cracks and ground water migration.  "Ground water will need to be disposed of during operation."

105 private residences and 34 commercial properties will be acquired including 13 homes in Bent and Barrett streets in Kensington.

There will be an increase in regional air-pollution and the removal of significant Moreton bay fig trees in Royal Park.

The statement listed areas that will suffer large adverse impacts: Bendigo St, Elliot Avenue, Ross Straw Field (that "could not be reinstated"), Trin Warren Tam-boore wetlands, Oak and Manningham streets, Moonee Ponds Creek, the residences in the building on the former Lombards site, Royal Park and Debneys' Park.

At Debneys' Park, a second elevated roadway will run alongside the existing roadway above the $2.5m playground recently constructed for children primarily living in the public housing estate adjacent to CityLink.

The east-west link was originally proposed in Sir Rod Eddington's Study in 2007, but detailed designs have not been available until now.

The tunnel will provide "benefits associated with the removal of traffic from surface roads and reductions in noise levels".

The proposed benefits include: reduced travel times, relieving the cost of congestion, improved freight routes, fewer crashes, an improved road link to the airport and better options for road-based public transport and cycling and walking.

The work would be carried out by 3000 construction workers per year working 24 hours seven days a week.

A key selling point of the tunnel is that traffic will experience reduced travel times of up to 50 per cent by 2031.

Thirty percent of cars travelling on the east-west link will benefit from the reduced travel times.

Currently, 54 percent of morning peak traffic travelling westerly on the eastern freeway does not continue as far as CityLink.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The conversation they had to have

In a parallel universe….

Thursday 18th October 2013

Adam Bandt: Hello – Adam here.  It’s a difficult time for New South Wales this week, but I’m calling because it prompts a conversation that I think we need to have.

Greg Hunt: I appreciate your call, Adam.  What would you like to discuss?

Bandt: Without wanting to put it too bluntly, we have a climate change catastrophe razing hundreds of houses and it’s only October.  There could be people dead in the next few days.  The reality of global warming is staring us in the face – it’s too deadly and dangerous to ignore.

Hunt: Look – I agree with you that we face a genuine challenge to stop the growth of CO2.  But I’m not sure we need to have this discussion today.  I thought you might be calling about our draft legislation to repeal the disastrous carbon tax.

Bandt: In effect, I am.  Repealing the carbon price is deadly. The rest of the world is moving forward with action on climate change.  You know that I believe that your party is taking us backwards.

Hunt: Yes – you made that clear in a rather unflattering piece in the Guardian yesterday.  It’s our election commitment and we’re sticking to it.  It’s costing families $550 and making us internationally uncompetitive and has been unfair on businesses.  

Bandt: I understand where you stand on this and I know that if we are going to have a meaningful discussion on this we are both going to have to think more broadly than we have before now.  We are both in our corners. Yesterday I wrote about Reagan’s view of a government’s first duty – to protect its people.  It’s up to all MPs to get out of our corners and do this – as uncomfortable as it is.

Hunt: I appreciate your call, but we know our positions and we have our respective political limits and expectations. The fires don’t change anything.

Bandt: The IPCC has said that 9000 more Australians will die every year from extreme heat unless we get global warming under control.  We are potentially seeing some of those deaths this weekend in New South Wales.  The fires can change minds – they are the perfect reason to change minds.  I know you don’t want to change tack; I don’t either.  But unless we can work out something here we are doomed – not politically, but environmentally and morally.

Hunt: Look to blunt again, Adam, your party has called us ‘climate criminals’ and I could be wrong but I think this may be the first time you have ever attempted to discuss climate policy with me.  I am the Minister for the Environment with a mandate to repeal the carbon tax.  There are better ways of dealing with CO2 levels and threats of bushfire.  There is little to achieve in discussing the matter.  After July next year, the carbon tax will be repealed – if not before.

Bandt: Can I suggest that in the interests of the Australian people, and the globe more widely, that we approach the matter with some sensitivity to the fires and the people who have lost everything this week.  Repealing a carbon tax while fires rage and more fires threaten seems untimely.  Would you consider adjusting the timing of introducing the legislation to allow for discussion on climate change to take into account the dryness of the land and our vulnerability to a fire wipeout?

Hunt: It’s going to be impossible for me to convince anyone of anything of that nature.

Bandt: What if it came as a request from those affected by the fires?  That would be difficult to refuse.

Hunt: What are you proposing?

Bandt: Would you attend a meeting called by residents affected by the fires to discuss the environmental condition of the Blue Mountains and the best ways of managing the threat of fire to their homes and lives?  We could see where things go after that.  Just as a first step.

Hunt: I doubt it – but I can discuss it with Tony.  No commitment at this stage.  But I’ll discuss it.

Bandt: We have little in common on policy, Greg, but I would like to see what we can achieve to combat climate change.  There is too much at stake.

Hunt: We have a mandate and a clear policy, Adam.

Bandt: I see it as a responsibility.  But thank you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wiki now fixed

Greg Hunt must have read this version:

Which has now been fixed:

At least until it is edited once more to remove the well documented connections between climate change and increased bushfire activity in Australia.

Carr takes plane

A Foreign Minister should travel to foreign lands, it is true.

The Age reported today that former Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, travelled frequently and at considerable expense in the latter months of 2012.

Just how often he travelled can be drawn from an analysis of Senator Carr's entitlements claims.

From July to December 2012, Senator Carr was on the move for over four months in total.

The green shaded areas of his diary represent travel overseas; red areas, when he dropped into Parliament to speak in the Chamber; blue shaded areas involved official business.  All MPs and staff are away for the Christmas break.

Senator Carr said yesterday that the former Labor government had "lost its way".  After all that travel, Carr now has to find his way home.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shorten: man of the powerless

For three long, cold weeks in August 2010, Bill Shorten stood at the Moonee Ponds pre-poll centre wearing a grim expression.  He was not sure the gamble of replacing Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard would pay dividends.

I stood next to him handing out ‘how to vote’ cards for the Greens, through gloves, scarves and bitter winds.

He was pre-occupied, but chatted about local issues, his family and the fortunes of the Labor party.  He said he wasn’t sure Gillard would make it.  I thought she had it by two seats – not realising they would be the seats of Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

Critics have called-out his ambitious and ruthless style, but I met a professional and intelligent politician openly anxious about Labor’s future.

Three years later, Labor’s future is in his hands.  Are his hands steady, manipulative, controlling or nurturing?  Most commentators are wary.

Much has been said about his baggage as a union organiser and key player in Labor’s three-year-long leadership woes.  He is clearly sharp, impatient with fools and unapologetically driven.

But Shorten is also thoughtful and astute and has a strong sense of fairness for the voiceless and powerless.  His sense of responsibility is reflected in the words used in parliament more so than in his tidy responses or quips to the media.

“We should always listen to people who lack power. It is not just our duty, but a key source of advice on how this parliament and this country can conduct themselves,” he said in March 2011 when speaking of people living with debilitating medical conditions.

The reference to ‘people who lack power’ was repeated in Shorten’s campaign for Labor leadership: “I would like to be known as the PM for the powerless.” Given his union background, he has often used the phrase in the context of workers who are underpaid, injured or bullied.

“Employees do need a voice. They need it in the parliament, they need it in the community and they need it at work. With the best will in the world, sometimes bad things happen to good people, and this can happen at work,” he said in June 2013.

And in June 2012: “Let me talk about some of the most vulnerable Australian workers in Australian society—those who get injured.”

Last week in Crikey, Guy Rundle penned a scathing critique of the now opposition leader.  He wrote: “Shorten is willing, even keen, to make the world a better place while on the road to accumulating power, but it’s strictly a sideline. All along, Shorten — the manic student politician, the endlessly networking unionist, the relentless MP — has been powered by an ambition that appears, at its core, to have a vacuum to it.”

Shorten’s speeches in parliament do not indicate vacuousness.  His speeches, if thematically limited, point to an observance of the ways in which parliament can improve the lives of workers and their families. 

In March 2012, Shorten spoke of his most famous pre-parliamentary moment – the Beaconsfield mine tragedy.

I remember the Beaconsfield mine tragedy and rescue. The whole of Australia willed Brant Webb and Todd Russell to be brought out of that goldmine alive. … We all exulted with joy and relief when they emerged smiling and waving. I witnessed the joy and relief of their families. But one miner did not make it out of that mine alive: Larry Knight. I attended his funeral. I saw how Larry's family felt; I can imagine how they are still feeling.”

This rhetoric could be cynically dismissed as emotive media-bait, but Shorten’s intense tone is repeated in parliament.

“Last week, organised through the Transport Workers Union of Australia, I met with wives and mothers and friends and families, the bereaved of truck drivers and bystanders who have lost their lives…” (March 2012)

The solemnity of his speeches is sometimes punctuated with sharp attacks on the other side – frequently in response to interjections or jibes.  He throws quick-witted arrows, as well as fully-fledged attacks dripping with contempt.

“It is time for those opposite to stop being self-righteous and instead—why don't they ever vote for an increase in super for low-paid health workers? Why don't they ever vote for a pay rise for low-paid workers? Will they be making a submission to the minimum wage case in favour of health workers? I think not.” (May 2012)

Rundle attacked Shorten for not having “personal heft” and “genuine politics”.  If Rundle is referring to reputation and sincerity, Shorten does have to make up some ground to convince people he is genuine and develop reputational ‘heft’.

However, Shorten is smart, articulate, a political salesperson and intent on returning Labor to power.  He also has his eye firmly on workers and their families – and that focus may determine Labor’s future.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nobel not-so-peaceful Prize

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize, to be awarded on 11 October in Oslo, is provoking talk of violence, treachery and embarrassment. 

16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, nominated for her campaign for girls’ right to education and recognised for her courage in surviving an assassination attempt and critical gun-wound, has had her life threatened by the Taliban should she win the prestigious award.  She has been reported globally as the popular favourite, despite the threat against her young life.

SouthChina MorningPost has reported that America would be embarrassed if either nominees Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) or Russian President Vladimir Putin took out the award.

The HuffPost goes as far as to say that the prize has lost its moral compass.

For a peace prize, it’s stirring up a lot of antagonism.  Although one blogger, confusing the Peace prize with the Nobel Prize in Physics happily reports: