Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

E G Whitlam

Whitlam in WW2 (13 Squadron RAAF)

Gough Whitlam died yesterday at the age of 98 – a good innings.

His brief three years in office changed this country for the better, and along the way, changed my life substantially.

Twelve months after my return from Vietnam, and after teaching children with disabilities for that period, I headed off to the University of Queensland on a scholarship granted though the then Department of Labour and National Service as a post-discharge benefit. The fees were paid by the department, and I was given a stipend (roughly the equivalent of the basic wage) for that time.

I did well (straight Distinctions) as a consequence of being able to focus completely on study, and was encouraged to continue part time when I went back to teaching in 1973.

Plugging away at study, by 1981, had two degrees (Arts and Education) which stood me in good stead for the rest of my career.

 This university attendance would not have been possible without Whitlam’s removal of university fees.

In 1976, as a serving teacher, I was selected for a full-time post graduate course in the education of students with disabilities at Griffith University (then known as Mt Gravatt College of Advanced Education).

These courses were financed by Commonwealth money which was part of support for the states to provide equal educational opportunities for children with disabilities across the country.

This Commonwealth support for students with disabilities continued after the demise of Labor in 1975, because it was embedded in Whitlam’s human rights legislation, the first federal legislation on human rights enacted in this country.

Many years later, another tranche of this historical Commonwealth funding built a new special school which I opened in Townsville in 1987. Prior to that, in 1982, I had been taken off-line for six months to prepare a design brief for the school, and to negotiate with the board of the North Queensland Society for Crippled Children (now the Cootharinga Society) to ensure that the children it was built to accommodate would be allowed to attend.

Back then, not everyone (including some members of the board of the society) believed that these children had the right to receive an education. I remember a conversation at the time with a board member who told me that these children were "unreceptive to education". The Cootharinga Society has come a long way since then.

By the end of 1987 all the children resident in the nursing home were traveling daily by bus to their new school, in the same way as their able-bodied peers These days, the nursing home doesn't exist as the children are living in the community thanks to the sterling work done by the society using the funds which originated in the Whitlam era support human rights for people with disabilities. 

Whitlam’s administration introduced the concept of human rights for people with disabilities, an achievement often forgotten.

Whitlam is wrongly credited for withdrawing our troops from Vietnam. He didn’t. The Australian withdrawal effectively commenced in November 1970. McMahon had seen the writing on the wall, and announced on 18 August 1971 that 1 ATF would cease operations in South Vietnam, and would begin commencing a phased withdrawal.

It could be argued, however, that Whitlam’s success in creating a viable opposition, and promoting the abolition of conscription and withdrawal from Vietnam strongly influenced that decision.

It came a bit late for the people in my intake, of course, and the fact that as a serving soldier I was denied an opportunity to vote for Whitlam’s policies – which had a strong bearing on my immediate future - in the 1969 federal poll is a reflection of the sclerotic attitudes prevailing at the time. These attitudes were swept away by Whitlam in about two months after December 1972.

The improvements in the quality of life of people with disabilities, which I have closely observed and lived through since 1970, saw their origin in Whitlam’s three years in power.

That achievement alone honours his memory.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Hare Today - Gone Tomorrow

When I returned from a trip to Roma and St George on Wednesday evening, I thought I was seeing things.

Calmly munching on what passes for a front lawn at our place was a fairly large, and very healthy hare. I have no idea whether it was male or female, but it was pretty robust looking.

The other surprising thing was that it was not at all discomforted by my presence, even though I made a couple of trips removing luggage from the car, and would have been no more than five metres away.

I took a couple of photos, but given the descending sun, and the fact that they were taken through a window, they're not wonderful. The brief video displayed from from my iPhone is a little better.

According to the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries -

 The hare became a widespread species throughout much of south-east Australia by 1870. Spreading at an approximate rate of 60 kilometres per year, hares crossed the Murray River in 1875, where they made their way along the western slopes and tablelands of New South Wales. By 1900, hares had reached the Queensland border and become a major agricultural problem in northern and western Victoria.

I don't know how long they've been around this neck of the woods, or how far North they've ranged, but this one looked well established in suburban Toowoomba.

It was munching contentedly on some green shoots, and given the unhappy state of the lawn due to a dry Spring so far, I decided to give it the "move on" message.

It looked quite miffed and was very reluctant to leave.

Our two dogs completely ignored it, which was surprising, as they usually take strong exception to any critter (including birds and lizards) encroaching on our property.

For all you fauna tragics out there, The scientific name is Lepus europaeus.

Please forgive the outrageous pun..........

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Because I Will Stand Up

This tape has been doing the rounds in the local media.

It was staged - set up by filmmaker Kamal Saleh.

Saleh told the Herald Sun the video was made on behalf of the Macquarie University Muslim Student’s Association in light of next week’s Islamic Awareness Week, titled “iSlamPhobia”.

“As a Muslim student organisation, we were concerned with the recent influx of islamaphobic attacks we’ve witnessed in Australia over the past few weeks.So to determine how entrenched this issue was in the public, we staged a social experiment to see how people would respond to a public display of bigotry and hatred to a Muslim women and boy,” he said in an email.

“We were extremely overwhelmed by the response of passers-by, especially in their eagerness to help a stranger being vilified on the basis of their religion. It has indeed restored our faith in humanity".

It does serve to neutralise some of the media hype that has surrounded this issue in the last few weeks, and shows that Australians are far too level headed to be used by the gutter press.

The bloke in the suit and tie at 4.28 in says it well - "Because I will stand up".

Monday, 6 October 2014

Trickle Down Economics

Every now and then an image bobs up on the web that is worth blogging.

Here is such an image.

H/T the Other 98%.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

People Smuggling - State Sponsored

Pic courtesy the Catholic Weekly

This article by Paul Dobbyn appeared in today's Catholic Weekly.
Freddie Steen calls selling refugees to Cambodia for what it is -

Brisbane refugee rights activist Freddie Steen described an Australian Government agreement with Cambodia to resettle asylum seekers there as “people trafficking”.
“What else can you call it?” the former volunteer at Woolloongabba’s Mercy Family Services Romero Centre said.
“Our government is paying another country to take people we don’t want – basically using humans as a commodity.
“They’re saying this is a product come by boat of which we can dispense at will; it’s absolute inhumanity.
“It’s also shocking to think our Government is giving Cambodia $40 million to look after a handful of refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.
“What a disgusting waste when we keep hearing all the time about a budget deficit.”
Ms Steen was among many to criticise the Australian Government’s agreement with Cambodia to see Australia-bound asylum seekers resettled in the impoverished South East Asian nation.
In May, the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office issued a statement to say it was “appalled” by the proposal.
Australian Catholic Bishops’ Delegate for Migrants and Refugees Bishop Gerard Hanna said: “Resettlement is about integrating refugees from poverty and oppression into a community that has the capacity to provide economic and social opportunities as well as peace and safety.”
The issue was sure to be a hotly discussed topic at the Fourth National Conference on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees 2014 held at Sydney’s Australian Catholic University MacKillop Campus from October 1 to 3.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodian officials in Phnom Penh on September 26.
The agreement stipulated refugees would only be sent on a voluntary basis, with the number of refugees accepted to be determined by Cambodia, whose interior minister said the Government only wanted to take four or five refugees to begin with.
Protesters clashed with riot police outside the Australian embassy in that city as the MOU was signed.
After the signing of the MOU, a joint statement was released to say: “Australia will use its expertise and experience to assist Cambodia to strengthen settlement support provided to refugees in Cambodia.”
“As part of this commitment, Australia will bear the direct costs of the arrangement, including initial support to refugees, and relevant capacity building for Cambodia to ensure it has the appropriate resources to receive and integrate the refugees successfully,” the statement said.
Minister Morrison’s office was contacted for a comment on Ms Steen’s claim, but had not replied by publication deadline.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Rise Above Vengeance

The following appeared in today's Toowoomba Chronicle.

The Chronicle, is, to be charitable, a bit of a rag, but this is worth a read.

The author is Dr Mark Copland, Executive Officer, Toowoomba Social Justice Commission.

Rise above vengeance to send a stronger message.
Imagine this. Last week as Prime Minister Abbott was traveling to New York he was informed of a dramatic and tragic violent incident in Melbourne.
A young man allegedly attacked two policemen and as a result, he was shot dead. When the Prime Minister landed in Hawaii he immediately got in touch with the policemen and offered them his gratitude and support.
This was right. This was proper. Just yesterday at St Luke's Anglican Church our city's civil and religious leaders stopped to show gratitude to the men and women in our police force.
Every day they do an incredible job and play a key role in protecting the rest of us.
Sadly some even pay the ultimate price as a part of this commitment.
They are human, like the rest of us they are not perfect - but many of the things we ask them to do can never be paid for with money.
But imagine this. What if our Prime Minister followed up the phone calls to the police officers with a call to the family of the dead young man! In this call he conveyed his dismay and shock at what had happened, but also offered condolence and support to the grieving family.
What a powerful statement it would be! It would let everybody know that the Muslim community are well and truly inside the tent when it comes to the nation of Australia.
Our leader would join with the parents searching for an answer. How does a young Australian citizen find himself in such a situation, allegedly adhering to a dangerous and deluded messed up ideology?
In doing this our Prime Minister would be matching his good words regarding Australia not being at war with any religion with a remarkable act of courage and moral leadership. I'm not presuming he didn't do it, perhaps he did and is just keeping it quiet, but imagine if it really happened.
There are times when very powerful messages can be made by people seizing the moment. There are many of these moments.
Rosa Parks in Alabama in 1955, refusing to give up her seat on a bus to somebody, simply because they were white.
Pope Francis in May of this year stopping to pray at a wall in Bethlehem in the Holy Land.
He rested his forehead against the wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
A wall covered with anti-Israeli graffiti. Speaking of graffiti and seizing the moment.
In 2005 there were a number of racist attacks on newly arrived households of refugees from South Sudan.
One anonymous bike rider rode around town plastering, "Sudanese are welcome in my city" posters on power-poles at various intersections in Toowoomba.
Giving heart and voice to those enduring and resisting the venomous actions of a misguided few.
And then this year we had the extraordinary example of Paul Guard.
In the wake of instantly losing his parents Roger and Jill, two remarkable people, Paul honoured them in an extraordinary way.
Instead of calling for vengeance or denouncing a group of people, he called for peace and an end to the violence that has claimed so many lives in Ukraine.
Each of these actions have a few things in common. They put the person making the gesture in touch with another's pain.
They are risky responses which go against what is most expected. The actions have integrity which makes them inspiring.
And they are grounded in doing what is right, no matter the consequence.

Monday, 22 September 2014

An Old Currency – Freshly Minted

It’s happening again.

We watch grabs of earnest looking old white men with ties using words such as “evil”, “counter measures” and “national security”.

We see images of rows of neatly uniformed diggers and grey liveried fighter aircraft being prepared for overseas deployments.

And something new and sinister –federal police appearing at carefully orchestrated press conferences explaining how, in concert with their state counterparts, they have successfully prevented us from being murdered in our beds.

It all serves to take those of us into our sixth decade into a strange land of déjà vu.

Remember when the evil de jour was Communism?  Remember when Bob Menzies, election after election, successfully kept Australians in thrall with the Great Fear?

Mind you, he had a lot of help from the likes of Bob Santamaria. No doubt the use of fear was one of the many lessons the current PM absorbed from his erstwhile mentor.

Remember how skilfully wee Johnny wedged the opposition using 9/11 and Tampa as catalysts to initiate an almost chemical reaction with fear and loathing as its residue?

We see this residue bubbling to the surface in the desecration of mosques, the abuse of women in traditional clothing, and the daily ranting and raving on scrofulous blogs.

Abbott absorbed many useful lessons from his predecessors, and the manipulation of the basest instincts in his fellow Australians is one of them.

The cost of fear in blood and treasure is rarely counted. Consider Vietnam – around 500 dead, thousands wounded - tens of thousands sickened with foul chemicals, and countless lives and families damaged by both trauma experienced and rejection upon return.

And then there was Iraq, a war fought on a lie.

Afghanistan followed, although the returning diggers are generally greeted and thanked – not forced to return home at 3am wearing civvies. They were volunteers. Many Vietnam Vets weren’t, and they were abused for participating in a conflict without the luxury of choice.

Xenophobia and bigotry always dissolves logic when mixed with a tincture of fear.

The price of fear and loathing has always been high. Unfortunately, it seems to be a price that our political masters continue to be prepared to pay. It's currency is our soldiers, sailors and airmen.

And they, are, apparently, entirely expendable...........

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