Archive for May, 2007

Miranda hasn’t given up about The History Boys

May 31, 2007

Miranda Devine has finally moved her campaign about children, films and censorship  (see also  here) from the tabloid Sun-Herald to her mid-week broadsheet gig in the Sydney Morning Herald. The History Boys again rates a mention.  She doesn’t say that she has seen it. 

I confess I am tiring of her, in fact, I was tired of her before she began this latest riff, but it is still maddening to read her statements which gain nothing in accuracy or truthfulness by their repetition but do nevertheless gain currency and publicity.

 For the time being, I shall content myself with a non-exhaustive commentary of some extracts.  Emphasis in bold added by me.

We are witnessing the acceleration of “ratings creep”, the steady erosion of film classification standards, as more and more adult content seeps down into PG and M ratings, leaving parents powerless and confused about what to allow their children to watch.

What is it that leads parents powerless?  If parents have a particular sensitivity to such matters, then they need not rely on the nanny state (the censor) or reviews aimed at the public at large.

Even G ratings are not what they used to be. A 2003 revision of movie classification guidelines allowed drug use and nudity “in context”. Mild coarse language has always been allowed, as has “mild and very discreetly implied” sexual activity and drug use. 

You don’t have to be a wowser or a religious fundamentalist to dislike the trend.

You don’t have to be, although it certainly helps.  It’s probably enough if you are a conservative columnist who gets paid for being conservative and have a bee in your bonnet about homosexuality. 

 Parents are increasingly finding themselves walking out of films they have discovered are unsuitable for their children. You are hard-pressed finding a children’s movie tamer than an M – the third Pirates of the Caribbean film and Spider-Man 3 are the latest M-rated blockbusters. Of 21 movies advertised yesterday at Hoyts cinemas, just one was rated G and three were PG, and all four were being shown in Chatswood. The rest of Sydney was a ratings desert for children.

Well, this is either a problem with the ratings (some children’s films are incorrectly being rated G or PG) or else a failure of the market.  If the latter, then surely the “invisible hand” can see things right without any help from Miranda, as she seems to concede later:

 To return, however, to the flow of her argument:

But in the same M category are movies clearly unsuitable for children that might once have been rated MA15+. Two current M movies are The History Boys, a homoerotic tale set in a British boys’ school featuring a pedophile teacher whose students don’t mind being groped; and Georgia Rule, with the theme of child sexual abuse, scenes of oral sex and lots of swearing. Trailers for both movies would appeal to children under 15.

That’s the point which maddens me because this is where Miranda runs a “ratings creep” agenda of her own.  Just because the M rating has been applied to Pirates of the Caribbean film and Spider-Man 3 (I presume because they are either scary or violent), Miranda, who isn’t too worried by violence but doesn’t like sex, bad language or depiction of homosexuality, thinks that other films now need to be “bumped up” a rating. (And anyway, if we go back further, the MA15+ rating was itself an innovation: it used just to be M and was purely advisory.)

Everything which Miranda says about The History Boys is wrong, unless, you allow her, like Humpty Dumpty in Alice through the Looking Glass, a special mastery over words.  To itemise this:

  1. The film is not homoerotic.  Inclusion of references to homosexuality is not the same thing.
  2. The teacher is not a pedophile.  He is a teacher who abuses 18-year-olds and is expressly not interested in the younger-looking boy who would attract his interest if he were a pedophile.
  3. The students do mind being groped by him.  They are sufficiently loyal to him for other reasons not to actually shop him for it,  but they all try to beg off accepting a lift from him on his motor bike, which is when the groping occurs. 

Miranda is peddling this account now for the third time.  I don’t see any reason to believe anything she says about any other film which I haven’t seen given her track record on the one I have seen.  Her peroration gives the tone:

But in fact it is precisely because of the cornucopia of violence and porn available on the web that we need to carve out safe ground in which desirable standards are maintained.

Otherwise we are just frogs in boiling water, barely noticing that the debasement of language, casual violence and sexualisation of everything is having a deadening effect on our culture, not to mention our children.

Oh my God, our children are being deadened!

Drug dealing in the Eastern Suburbs – a true story

May 31, 2007
     Foreword 

    I have written before (go to the last few paragraphs of that post and in particular the link) about the unlikely chains of events which which can bring matters before the courts.

    In the story below,  I have changed some names, but basically it is a very lightly edited extract from a judgment.  I have highighted in bold the dramatis personae on their first entry, to help you keep track of who’s who. 

    Are you all sitting comfortably?  Very well then, I’ll begin.

    Jacob Epstein began dealing in drugs while still at school.  At the time of these events, he was 20 years old and this was his principal source of income. His area of business was Bondi and its neighbourhood.

    Epstein knew of a rumour circulating in Bondi that he owed $3,000 to a man called Michael Abraham who owned a pizza shop in Bondi. Abraham was apparently the leader of a gang of drug dealers operating in Bondi, sometimes known as the “king.”

    On 11 February 200x Epstein received a telephone call from Salah. Salah told Epstein that he wanted to meet him. Epstein agreed to meet him.

    At about 10.00 pm the next evening Epstein drove his father’s jeep to Bondi and waited outside a pizza shop on Bondi Road. Sabah was in the driver’s seat. Epstein got into the car and sat down next to him. Epstein noticed two large men standing in the vicinity of the service station.

    Salah drove the car to the service station. Salah asked Epstein what he sold and Epstein told him “mainly pot and a little bit of pills.” The appellant said, “I run the eastern suburbs, nobody deals here without paying me rent”.

    A few seconds later the car door opened and Epstein was confronted by the two large men. One held a gun to Epstein ‘s side and told him to get in the back of the car. Epstein did so and the smaller of the two men sat in the back with him. The larger man sat in the passenger seat in front. The smaller man punched Epstein to the side of the head and demanded his keys, wallet and mobile telephone. The larger man held a small silver gun. Epstein later told the court: I knew I was in trouble at that point, I was scared for my life.”

    Salah drove the car a short distance and then stopped. The larger man got out, took Epstein ‘s keys and went to Epstein ‘s jeep. The two vehicles drove to Bondi Junction and stopped in Spring Street outside the Commonwealth Bank. An old blue Tarago with Amal and two or three other occupants pulled up on the left. Epstein was punched to the back of the head and told to look at one of the occupants of the Tarago. The hat or cap Epstein was wearing fell to the floor of the Toyota. Epstein was asked if he recognised Amal. He replied in the negative. Amal looked back at Epstein and said: “Yeah, that’s him.”

    The three vehicles proceeded to Queen’s Park. All the occupants of the cars got out. Epstein said that they marched him into the middle of the park “in the pitch black, the darkness”. He thought he was going to die. He was bashed repeatedly. He said:“I had guns pointed at my head. … – they made me kneel down, I had a gun to my forehead and a gun to the back of my head, and then they demanded money”.

    While he was so kneeling on the ground with the guns pointed at him, Salah was in front of him, about one metre away. One of the men said:“You are going to give us 50 grand.”Another said:“If you run, we’ll shoot you down”.

    Epstein was then asked where certain specific assets belonging to him were. He responded by saying they had been sold, or lost in a fire or stolen. He was asked about the jeep and said that it was under finance. He was then hit again. One of the men said:“I’m going to enjoy killing you … I’m Palestinian, do you know what we do to Jews”.

    Salah then asked Epstein where his money was and Epstein said that he was owed a lot of money. He proffered the names of a number of people including one Stephen Kelly. At about this stage, Danny Goldstein, a school friend of Epstein , rang on Epstein ‘s mobile telephone and told Epstein that he had $150 for Epstein to pick up. Goldstein was indebted to Epstein for gambling and purchases of marijuana.

    Epstein was handed his telephone and told to telephone those persons who owed him money. One of the men said:“You better hope they have our money.”

    Epstein proceeded to make at least three telephone calls but none was fruitful.

    Sirens were heard in the distance. Epstein was grabbed by the shirt and the men ran towards Queen’s Park Road. They collected the three vehicles. Epstein got into the back of the jeep, which the appellant drove. Epstein directed the appellant to Kelly’s flat.

    Kelly had been living with a friend who had returned to Ireland. Kelly owed Epstein $120 and his friend owed Epstein $1,000. The men entered Kell’s flat. They told him that he owed money. Kelly commenced to shake. Epstein told him to pay the money he owed to “these guys”. Kelly pulled $200 out of his wallet and gave it to one of the men. He was then shaking badly.

    Kelly made some reference to getting money from a bank. The men returned to the vehicles with Kelly accompanying them. The men drove to a Westpac Bank automatic teller machine in Belmore Road, Randwick. There, the Salah and Kelly left the vehicle. Kelly was able to use his Commonwealth Bank key card and after a number of attempts (because he attempted to withdraw amounts over his limit) withdrew $500 was successfully withdrawn from the account.

    Kelly then left and Epstein was driven to a Commonwealth Bank ATM. The appellant told him to withdraw money, using his credit card. Epstein withdrew $700 (his limit) and handed over the money.

    Eventually the three vehicles drove to Goldstein’s house. On the way the appellant asked Epstein how much money Goldstein owed him and Epstein replied “$950” When they arrived outside Goldstein’s house, Goldstein approached the jeep in which Epstein was sitting and handed him $150. Goldstein was told to get in the vehicle and he did so. Goldstein was then asked for “the rest” of the money. Goldstein asked Epstein  how much more he owed and Epstein said “another 800”Goldstein was asked when he would produce the $800. Goldstein replied, “probably within a week or two”. He was told, however, that it had to be done “that night”.

    According to Goldstein, the man in the jeep had with him a cigarette lighter in the shape of gun. Goldstein said that this man slapped him across the head when he made “a smart remark”. Goldstein said that he“wasn’t too happy about being slapped”. According to Epstein , the larger of the two men who had entered the Toyota at the service station gave Goldstein a punch with his right hand to the left side of Goldstein’s face. According to Epstein, “it was a big punch and I heard a big crack when it connected.”

    One of the men asked Goldstein for his jewellery. Goldstein refused to give it to him but the man took it off him. The jewellery comprised a chain with a pendant, a bracelet and a ring that he was wearing on his little finger. All the jewellery was made of gold. Goldstein also handed over his wallet. The men looked through the wallet and returned it. There was no money in it.

    The man sitting on Goldstein’s side then told him to hand over his mobile telephone. Goldstein complied with this instruction. He did not get the telephone back.

    According to Epstein , whilst sitting in the car, Goldstein “put his head down towards his lap” and “groaned”.

    After Goldstein was told to get the additional money, he made a telephone call. The group drove on to Epstein’s house in Kensington. He had told the men that he had $1,000 to $2,000 in cash at his home. On the way he telephoned his younger brother, Danny. He told Danny to get “all the money” out of the right hand pocket of their mother’s fur coat. Unbeknown to Epstein and his brother, their mother had removed the $2,000 from the right pocket but there was $10,000 in the left pocket. Danny thought the $10,000 was the money that he should bring, and did so.

    Epstein told Danny to walk to the jeep at the end of the street, hand the money to him and walk away. Danny did more. He handed Epstein a box that contained approximately 1,200 blue ecstasy tablets as well as the $10,000. Epstein handed the box to the appellant who retained the contents.

    In the meantime, Sheslow (who was a friend of Goldstein and Epstein) had been telephoned by Goldstein. By now it was after midnight. After receiving the call, Sheslow drove one Danny Spiecer (who had also received a call from Goldstein) and Daniel Aron (who had received a call from Sheslow) to an ATM in Rose Bay. There, the three men withdrew about $800 which Sheslow kept.

    An arrangement was then made by telephone for Sheslow to deliver the money so withdrawn to Goldstein, outside Goldstein’s home. Goldstein was still in the jeep with Epstein and the other men. The three men proceeded to Goldstein’s home in Sheslow’s car. When Sheslow saw Epstein ‘s vehicle he drove slowly past it and, without stopping, stretched out his arm and passed the money to Goldstein who was seated in the right rear passenger seat. Sheslow kept driving and turned his headlights off to ensure that he was not followed. He could not see well because of the time of night and the lighting. Nevertheless, he said that when he passed the money to Goldstein he noticed that he looked as if he had been crying, as did Epstein .

    After receiving the money from Sheslow, the appellant asked Goldstein if family was important to him and said:“If you go to the police your family is dead.”Goldstein was then released, having been in the car for an hour to an hour and a half. His jewellery was returned, but not his telephone.

    On one of the occasions Goldstein was slapped, one of the men in the car said:“He’s here to pay a debt, leave him alone”.

    Salah then drove Epstein home. According to Epstein , Salah said to him that if he went to the police, his family would be dead and he would be dead. Epstein said that Salah told him:

    “Now that you have no money you’ll be selling my coke. You’ll get it for $4,500 an ounce and it will be pure and untouched, and if you go to anyone – if you buy off anyone else you’re dead”. and “You’ll even be selling our pot.”

    Epstein ‘s right eye was bruised, his left eye was sore and he had bruises on his head. He did not seek medical attention for any of his injuries.

     Afterword

    So, how did Danny manage to accidentally hand over all those pills?  What was this thing with the family all hiding money in mum’s fur coat?  Where did Danny get the box with the pills from?  Was it, too, in the fur coat?  (We all know about “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Does this suggest a fresh reading of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe?)  Did Epstein bring this whole thing down on himself by not paying his creditors on time or not monitoring his receivables with sufficient care?  

    And who squealed?  It doesn’t look as though Epstein was likely to want to tell the police about this.   For what it’s worth, my own guess is that the police caught someone with the pills or maybe there was some incident involving the jeep (it’s not clear whether that was given back to Epstein), and the trail led back either via Salah directly to Epstein, who then told the story and went crown evidence either to save his skin orto get a reduced sentence.

    I know it is heartless of me, but I find parts of this story pretty funny.  In a couple of places the humour arises because of some details in the story have been left out.  Perhaps it lacks dramatic structure, but I can’t help thinking it would make a good film or telemovie.  Knowing the places where these events occurred also adds a certain picquant charm.

    Luckily, no-one was seriously hurt on this occasion.  The threat was all, provided it produced results, that is.  In fact, the honour-amongst-thieves element (ie, the solicitude, probably part of a good-thug-bad-thug routine, shown for Goldstein by one of the standover men) is almost touching.

    Anti-drugs crusaders are inclined to cite this sort of drug-related crime as further proof of the evil of drugs.  My own feeling is that the argument goes the other way.  It’s the law of the jungle out there because of the laws against drugs.  The accusations against international pharmaceutical companies are many, but they mostly deal in inducements rather than threats, and you don’t find many pharmacists having this sort of problem with their suppliers or would-be suppliers.

    Further afterword, 2013: “Epstein,” his brother and his mother moved to St Ives. As they were subsequently all convicted of either cultivation or supply I suppose they cannot be harmed if I mention that you can read the original of this “true story” in the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal hereor here.

Caveat solicitor

May 30, 2007

Yesterday I read an unusually brisk judgment ordering a caveator to withdraw a caveat and pay compensation, given by Justice Brereton in the NSW Supreme Court. 

You may or may not know that Australia’s main contribution to legal history is “Torrens Title,” named for the nineteenth-century South Australian politician after whom Adelaide’s Torrens River is also named.  This is a system of registration of land ownership which was conceived in order to do away with the cumbersome and expensive system of land title which the white man brought to Australia from England, where in order to prove ownership of land you had to establish title in the land through the series of documents which indicated all the dealings with the land which went right back to some document which could be considered a good “root of title.”  Any weak link in this chain of title could cause the whole process to unravel (yes, mixed metaphor) and lead to lengthy and expensive delays and disputes.

The key principal of Torrens Title is the existence of a register, maintained by the government, which records interests (ie, property rights) in land.  The state in effect guarantees these interests because the law considers them to be indefeasible.  There is an important exception to this indefeasibility, in that, broadly speaking, an interest in land is subject to the rights that other parties may have against the owner of the land, for so long as the owner remains the owner, but a person who deals with that owner or receives the land from that owner without knowledge of such interests will normally take their interest in the land free of any such hidden interests.

Some interests in right are created by statute or by planning schemes, and these are then recorded on the register.  However, most rights are created by the owner of the land.  The owner of the land is issued with a certificate of title, and the interests which the owner creates (such as, for example, a mortgage) are registered by production to the government office of the paperwork in relation to the creation of that interest, together with the certificate of title.

However, it is still possible (and indeed, quite common) to have an interest in land which is not registered, either because the owner is unable to produce the certificate of title to the register to enable registration of your interest (for example, when a person borrows money from a bank or other financial insitution, as well as registering its mortgage, the bank will hold on to the certificate of title until the mortgage has been discharged) or because the registered owner does not co-operate in producing the certificate of title for this purpose together with the necessary paperwork appropriately signed by the registered owner.  Sometimes there will in fact be no paperwork, because the owner does not agree that the other party has an interest in the land, and/or the owner has not executed a document which could lead to the registration of that interest.

Obviously, the holder of such an unregistered interest (or claimed interest) is vulnerable to the owner’s interest being transferred to a third party who doesn’t know about that interest, and who will consequently acquire an indefeasible title in the land.  If that happens, the unregistered interest in the land will have disappeared.  You might be able to sue someone about this, but if they don’t own the land any more, not only will you have lost the interest in the land, but you may well face difficulties in getting any money from them as compensation.

To guard against this risk, you can lodge a caveat which will be recorded in the register.  You don’t need to produce the Certificate of Title to do this, and it doesn’t require the consent of the registered owner or of the holders of other registered interests.  While the caveat remains on the register, no further dealing can be registered which is inconsistent with the interest claimed in the caveat.  The word caveat comes from the latin “to warn,” but the practical effect of a caveat is rather more than this, since it will generally block any dealings with the land.  This could be very inconvenient for registered owners or other parties wishing to deal with their interests.  For example, if they have entered into a contract to sell the land and are unable to do so, they could face claims for damages as a result. They may also face losses as a result of the funds which they were expecting from such a transaction no longer being available so that, for example, they are unable to buy another property and may be facing contractual damages claims for that.

Obviously, then, the lodging of a caveat can be a very powerful spoiling tactic in any dispute between people where one side has property over which such a caveat can be lodged.

In such cases, the person whose interest is, in effect, blocked by the caveat can issue a lapsing notice to the person who has lodged the caveat.  The effect of this lapsing notice is that the caveat will lapse (that is, cease to be recorded) after (in NSW, at least) 21 days unless the caveator obtains a court order extending its operation.  To do this, the caveator has to commence proceedings which will ultimately result, if the caveator is successtul, in establishing the caveator’s right to the interest in the land.  The first step in these proceedings will then involve a decision to determine whether the caveator’s claim is sufficiently strong that the owner’s interest in the land should continue to be blocked by the caveat until the claim can be litigated in the proceedings.  Other considerations at this time will also include the balance of convenience, that is, a weighing up of the likely harm to the caveator if the caveat should be removed and the likely harm to the person who owns the interest in the land if they are unable to deal with it in the interim.

Because the order has to be made in 21 days, this step is taken urgently.  Caveators don’t have to prove their case fully, but they have to do more than simply assert their claim.  Because it is urgent, the question usually comes before a duty judge to be decided at relatively short notice, and often at the last minute so that, if an order is obtained, the caveator can get the necessary paper work and rush across the road to the government department which maintains the register before it closes on the last day.  This urgency gives the proceedings a certain subdued air of drama compared to the usual leisured majesty of the law.

Such applications are relatively commonplace.  It is easy to lodge a caveat, and lots of people have interests in land.  My guess is that these applications are one of the three most commonly-litigated types of matters heard in the Supreme Court, the other two being applications to set aside statutory demands (statutory demands are a way of shaking down a company for money by issuing a demand for a debt which, if not satisfied, can establish that a company is insolvent and lead to it being wound up) and applications for security for costs (this is when a defendant says that the plaintiff must provide some money or other security upfront to the defendant because if the defendant wins there is a risk that the defendant will whistle in the wind to recover the defendant’s legal costs from the plaintiff).  There is a forest of case law about all three of these, or rather, there would be forests, had they not been cut down to print the paper on which the decisions are printed.

I mentioned already that lodging a caveat can be a very powerful spoiling tactic.  If the caveat was wrongy lodged, you can seek compensation against the caveator.  This is rare, because usually the question about extension of the caveat hinges on the strength of the caveator’s claim, or whether the balance of convenience favours its extension or not.  Whether or not the caveat was really justified will often disappear in the wash when, after the initial stoush, the parties settle their differences out of court.

In this case, a solicitor was engaged to prepare, and did prepare, a contract of sale for a property.  The solicitor seems to have acted for both sides (purchaser and vendor) in doing so, and performed some other associated work.  The parties then changed solicitors, and a fresh contract was entered into which then proceeded to completion.  The first solicitor’s fees were not paid.  Shortly before the proposed settlement of that contract (that is, the final point where monies are exchanged and the certificate of title handed over for transfer of registration to the new owner) the original solicitor lodged a caveat claiming an “equitable interest” by virtue of “exchange contract of sale of the subject property dated 19 November 2006” (that is, the contract which the first solicitor had prepared). He said he would withdraw the caveat if his fees (which he said were owed by the owner) and other monies (owed by various parties associated by the purchaser) were paid.

The owner of the land did not wait for the usual lapsing notice procedure to run its course.  He went straight to the court and sought an order that the caveat be removed and that the solicitor pay him compensation for the loss caused by the delay.  The proceedings were brought on for hearing the very next day.

Justice Brereton took a very dim view of the solicitor’s conduct.

He held that:

“It is as plain as can be that he personally has no caveatable interest in the subject land, and there never was the slightest basis for him to lodge a caveat claiming an interest in it”

The solicitor claimed that he had lodged the caveat to protect the interests of his former clients.  Justice Brereton said that it was:

“manifestly clear that the real purpose of the caveat was to extract payment of Mr Abboud’s fees, and not to protect the interests of his former clients.”

He ordered that the first solicitor withdraw the caveat and “pay the plaintiff compensation for the loss occasioned by the wrongful lodging of the caveat, assessed in the sum of $1,070.34.”

This amount was the loss caused by the delay in the settlement.  It is not a particularly large amount, and would normally not be the sort of thing with which judges of the Supreme Court would be concerned.  Obviously, however, there was a principle at stake.

This is apparent from the penultimate sentence of the judgment:

“I order that the defendant pay the plaintiff’s costs of the proceedings on an indemnity basis.”

Usually, unsuccessful litigants are only ordered to pay the other side’s costs “as agreed or assessed.”  If the costs are assessed by the court on this basis, in most cases the successful party is only entitled to recover about 75% to 80% of their actual costs, if that.  An indemnity costs order, although it may still need to be assessed, is one which entitles the party in whose favour it is ordered to recover 100% of the party’s costs.  Such orders are only made against parties who have behaved unreasonably or really badly.

It is rare and therefore oddly cheering to see justice so swiftly and decisively done.  This sentiment may be tempered by the thought that, although he went too far in lodging the caveat, the solicitor may well have been dudded by his clients in relation to money owed by them to him.

Rice Queen, Potato Queen

May 30, 2007

For those who are not in the know, “white” men who are exclusively or primarily attracted to “Asian” men (meaning, at least in Australia, ethnically East (including North) or South-east Asians)  are known as “rice queens.”  Their counterparts are known as “potato queens.”  More amusingly, Asian men who are exclusively or primarily attracted to their own kind are known as “sticky rice” or “sticky” for short.

There is a lot of stereotyping that goes around about the first two of these groups.  Like much stereotyping, this has some basis in fact, although it also involves generalisations which can’t fairly be applied automatically to individuals who appear to fit the stereotype.

It is said that “rice queens” are “UFO” – “ugly, fat and old,” that they only turn to (by implication beautiful, slim, young) Asian men because they cannot attract the attention of a white boy.  There are further generalisations then made about such men’s motivation for seeking out Asian men, which in turn either involve acceptance of further stereotypes of Asian men being “submissive, less “masculine” and in particular taking the “bottom” role in sex, or entail a rejection of those stereotypes but an imputation to the rice queen of motives based on them.  In effect it is said that rice queens are a kind of sex tourist who has not left home (not that they don’t also leave home) – using their advantages of race and wealth to prey on the Asian men whom they pursue.

Consider this depiction of ‘The Rice Queen” from a blog which I would acknowledge but whose author has expressed a (you might think paradoxical) desire to blog privately: 

He knows he has got it and he uses it to his full advantage. Like a stalking tiger, he waits in the grass, ever ready to pounce on his next victim. The empowerment that he feeds off comes partly from the physical features that he has inherited from his forefathers.

Blond. Blue haired. White man skin. The rarity that comes along with having these characteristics become even more valuable when he has a preference for Asian men over his own kind.

Because to begin with, not many white guys go exclusively for Asian men.

His built is does not need to be any different from the ordinary; not stunning, not muscular, not well toned, because these features do not matter. He doesn’t need to have a huge dick, or be good in bed. He does not need to dress up for the occasion, or own expensive clothes, or have a good sense of fashion; often the Rice Queen’s wardrobe is composed of oversized shirts with hideous floral motives, and probably the odd straw hat. Even facial features and expression can be mediocre but the simple reason why he remains valuable lies in the rarity of his preferences for Asian boys and his hair/eye/skin colour.

Because he targets such a specific market of people, and there are not many competitors, his face value is vastly exaggerated. He knows this well and works on these qualities to prey on the people who are seeking for them.

Like a tiger, he targets the weakest of the gazelles. He assesses the herd of Asians for the young ones. The vulnerable ones. The ones who are alone. The ones who are desperately looking for company. The Asian boys who are looking for someone who is dominant in the relationship. Someone who will show the way, to hold their hand through the uncertainty of being alone.

Undoubtedly, there are people like this, even if the tiger/gazelle metaphor is setting things up in loaded terms. It is interesting to me that the “dominant/(and by implication) submissive” paradigm makes an appearance at this point.  Leaving that aside though, the issue which obviously arises is the existence of a sexual “market” and the morality of how people use their advantages in such a market (including maximising some advantages to compensate for other disadvantages such as the UFO factor), or take advantage of other people’s disadvantages.

The rice queen is often the subject of scorn.  That such people approach younger and more beautiful (but Asian) men in bars also engenders fierce resentment.

It seems a bit unfair to direct all this resentment to such “sleazy” old men who dare to presume that younger Asian men might be interested in them.  The fact that these men think they have a chance is shaming and shameful, but the missing object of scorn is the non-RQ man who apparently is not interested.  Perhaps it is difficult to scorn or condemn someone whom you still desire.

There is some more in the blog I have quoted about the rice queen’s modus operandi, including a claimed propensity to impress, use and discard the latest crop of vulnerable newly-arrived Asian young men on a serial basis by apparent support and protection which evaporates once the Asian man expresses a desire for a relationship.  The blogger reveals that he was once such a vulnerable young Asian man who fell for such a rice queen.

In another post he gives a profile of “The Potato Queen.”

His wardrobe will have the usual clothes of any other funky person (quote Gucci and Armani), except that it will be ten sizes smaller. A Barbie Doll would feel comfortable in the tank tops that he wears. Some of his jeans have huge holes in them to air the fuck out of his balls (possibly to ease the rash that comes from the friction that he experiences due to the lack of hair down there) He is not shy to show off his hairless skin to the world. The ripple-effect that he causes by wearing clothes big enough for a toddler resonates wherever he walks. People turn and look at him, admire him, mentally undress him, and think dirty thoughts about him. He realises this, and he loves the attention, pushing himself harder by wearing even smaller clothes. I reckon the tension in the fabric would send any apparatus used to measure it into the scrap bin.

His taste for men, well, only the old and ugly. And they must be blond, they must be white, they must be blue eyed. It doesn’t matter if the person is balding or has wrinkles. I’m not sure if the ability to perform is a criteria, though I highly doubt it after seeing the men he’s dated. They must be very committed purchasers of Sildenafil.

The potato queen will do anything to keep his old white man happy; even if it means wearing a size 8 when he’s really a 9-and-a-half. The potato queen is oblivious to whatever the white man fantasizes; he is the receptive bottom and doesn’t need to worry about such details.

So much for sisterhood.

Serious sex offenders – Detention orders 2

May 29, 2007

The latest orders made under this legislation  are reported in the press here.  See also my previous post.

Pending final determination of the application, Mr Tillman is now subject to a series of rolling detention orders, although at least the plan at present is that the Attorney-General’s application for a 5-year detention order will be heard within the period of the next 28 days, though obviously not necessariy determined.

Two aspects of the application ring a particularly grim note.

First, the crown argued that, once an interim detention order had been made, the court only had the power to make a further detention order – that is, it could not decide that in fact an interim supervision order would be sufficient would suffice.

Secondly, for the period Tillman had been let out on a supervision (the first judge who heard the application  considered that this would be sufficient and Tillman spent some time at large under supervision until the Court of Appeal reversed this decision and put him back inside) he was subject to particularly rigorous physical surveilance.  One would have thought that the capacity of the government to undertake such supervision would have been relevant to the question of whether supervision, as opposed to detention, was an appropriate approach.

The crown said that this was not relevant, and resisted even the admission of evidence of the surveillance which it had undertaken.  In the end, Justice Bell admitted the evidence, but said:

“I do not draw the inference that if the defendant were released on an interim supervision order he would be subject to constant physical surveillance. I do not know what, if any, measures the Commissioner of Corrective Services would implement in this respect.”

and

“Section 11 of the Act provides that an interim supervision order may direct an offender to comply with such conditions as the Court considers appropriate, including (but not limited to) directions requiring the offender to do or refrain from doing the things specified in subparas (a) to (j). It was not suggested that the Court’s powers to impose conditions on an interim supervision order would extend to a condition having the effect of subjecting the offender to 24-hour physical surveillance.”

That’s right.  The man is locked up because Corrective Services won’t tell the court and therefore the court doesn’t know what steps (beyond the conditions which could be imposed by the court on the applicant) the department could (or would) take so that supervision might in fact be adequate to prevent him from reoffending in the interim period.

Fisher Library – the death of the book?

May 29, 2007

On Sunday I went to Fisher Library. As a University of Sydney graduate, I am able to borrow from the university libraries on payment of an annual fee of about $80. It is good value.  In the city, I use the law school library and the Conservatorium Library.  I get to Fisher less often.

I went there on Sunday to borrow:

Business valuation discounts and premiums / Shannon P. Pratt. 658.15 355 

That scintillating title was for my work.

I also borrowed:

  1. Backing into the limelight : a biography of Alan Bennett / Alexander Games. 822.91 B471 Y 1
  2.  Untold stories / Alan Bennett. 822.91 B471 J16 1 
  3. Writing home / Alan Bennett. 822.91 B471 J13 1
  4.  Forty years on ; Getting on ; Habeas Corpus / Alan Bennett. 822.91 B471 E 4 
  5. 漢語與文化讀本 = Chinese language and culture : an intermediate reader / 黃偉嘉, 敖群合著. 495.186421 21

Can you detect a theme there? I owe that to Miranda Devine  (and  here).

I have a long and indeed familial connexion with libraries.  My mother’s Aunty Malvina (in fact, I think, the sister-in-law of one of her aunts) was the first Australian female university librarian, at the University of Western Australia, where she was librarian for over 30 years.  My step mother and my paternal aunt both trained as librarians under her.  My mother and her sister were both teacher-librarians.

All up, I spent about 12 years at the University of Sydney, and especially when I did my first degree there, spent many long (to the point of thirst and headache) afternoons browsing in the stack, chasing down various obscurities, such as the purple-bound slim volumes of Denton Welch  or Ronald Firbank.  Word of mouth had led me to seek out Firbank’s Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, which (as summarized by Wikipedia) “begins with the Cardinal christening a dog in his cathedral…  and ends with His Eminence dying of a heart attack while nakedly chasing a choirboy around the aisles.”

Fisher Library was divided into two main collections.  The Research Collection, housed in the tall metal-clad “stack” at the southern end of the building, was the main  collection.  The name “stack” did not refer (though at first I think I thought it did) to the shape of the building, but to the fact that, up to the year before I started at the university, it was not generally an open-access collection. Ordinary borrowers had to fill in slips which where dispatched to the respective floors by pneumatic tube and wait for the books to be brought down.  The vestiges of these tubes remained for many years, though I forgot to check last Sunday whether they are still there.

The lower-lying northern wing of the library housed the “Undergraduate” collection.  Call numbers were all prefixed by “U.”  This was the teaching collection.  It included multiple sets of often-used books, and books borrowed on this side could only be borrowed for a week.

I conducted my first searches on Sunday in the stack.  As closing time was approaching, I took my choices to the loans desk and effected the transaction.  This was the first change: no longer is the due date stamped on the return slip at the back of the book; you are given a printout of the books you have borrowed.  Actually, I had experienced this already in the city branches but hadn’t quite realised it.

With time to spare, I then wandered over to the undergraduate collection for a little browse. The entrance floor and foyer are on level 3, and on the northern side this also houses an AV and microfiche collection, as well as the catalogue computer area, the reference collection and the periodicals room.  I headed down a level, according to my (lower number Dewey Decimal) chosen browsing range. 

The undergraduate collection had gone!  In its place was a vast bank of computers, called an “Access Lab.”

I went down another floor, and still there was no undergraduate collection.  Here its place seemed to have been taken by a separate “Curriculum Resources” collection – formerly resident within the Faculty of Education.

Finally, I found the old Undergraduate collection, renamed “short loan collection” on level 4.  It seemed considerably truncated. I guess that photocopied course materials and changes in the subject matter taught in the subjects which are covered in this particular undergraduate collection (some faculties still have their own undergraduate borrowing collections) had led to a bit of a spring clean as well as a purging of some of the multiple copies.  It is a sad fact (even if understandable) that there seems to be nothing a modern librarian enjoys so much as throwing out books.

I felt like Rip van Winkle.  I forgot to look to see if the old sign, prohibiting the wearing of stilleto heels smaller than a 10 cent coin (to protect the linoleum) was still to be found at the front entrance.

There are still plenty of books, but it was hard to escape the feeling that the writing is on the wall.

Speaking of which, I forgot to see if the walls of the men’s toilets on the odd-numbered floors in the stack still bore their old mixture of appeal and abuse.  I expect times have moved on in that respect too.

“Whisky” Galore

May 28, 2007

Fernbrew Pty Limited, trading as D’Aquino Bond Wholesalers and conducting a liquor wholesale business at Orange, in rural NSW, has pleaded guilty to and been fined $15,000 for one charge of misleading food labelling, $15,000 for another charge of selling food which does not comply with a requirement of the Food Standards Code that related to the food, and has been ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs of $80,000.

The offence was to sell as “Old McTavish Scotch Whisky” a drink which only contained 38.6% alcohol.

For many years, much “Scotch” whisky in Australia was reconstituted from concentrate.  That is, it was made up with local water from a kind of alcoholic cordial.  Obviously, this saved transport costs and on environmental grounds alone would appear to be commendable.  The standard alcohol content to which it was made up was 37.5%.  Better brands had 40% or more alcohol.  Often these were not the locally reconstituted whiskies, but those which had been “Bottled in Scotland.”

This finally changed after a decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in 1994.  In the face of evidence that in Scotland whisky must have at least 40% alcohol, and further more exquisite evidence about the effect of alcohol content on the taste of whisky, new standards provided that Scotch sold in Australia must be at least 40% alcohol (just to be on the safe side: ethyl alcohol).

So much so good.  The defendant had broken the law and should be punished.  It may be that the defendant will be able to seek compensation from whoever supplied this “whisky” to it.

But what really shocked me was paragraph 18 of Justice Studdert’s judgment (emphasis and identification of lawyers’ capacities added):

In the statement of facts recorded, I referred to the seizure of 24½ cartons of the whisky. That liquor has not yet been destroyed but Mr Hodgkinson of Senior Counsel [for the prosecution] informed the Court that destruction was the intended fate for the liquor seized. Mr Temby [for the defence] informed the Court that the defendant was not opposed to the destruction of the liquor. That, it seems to me, is reflective of a responsible attitude by the defendant.

I’ve heard of responsible drinking, but responsible destruction?  Unless you take your whisky neat, a very small variation in the quantity of water or other mixer would quickly make the exact percentage of alcohol in the the “whisky” irrelevant, and of course, you could just stop calling it whisky.

I am prepared to assist the authorities and shoulder part of the responsibility for destroying this iniquitous and misleadingly labelled food.

Miranda is still banging on about History Boys

May 27, 2007

In her weekly column in the Sun-Herald, Miranda Devine has returned to The History Boys. She says:

Pitched as a new Dead Poets Society, The History Boys is soaked in homoeroticism and features a teacher at a British boys’ school whose students adore him even though he fondles their genitals.

Obviously, she garnered little support or sympathy for her “not-a-prude” friend who took his pre-teen children to an M-rated film. Not even from “reader Helen” who wrote:

“If I had known, I wouldn’t have gone to see a movie about a pedophile.”

 There is something pathetically comical about having to engage in a debate  about the sexual proclivities of a fictional character, but, if only for the record, Hector, the character in question, is not a pedophile.  And only somebody with Miranda’s obsession with the “elephant in the room” could say that the film is “soaked in homoeroticism.”  That description comes out of similar polemics against the kindergarted readers which happen to depict gay or lesbian families – it comes from people who, because they want to see the world bleached of any representations of or references to homosexuality (because they hate it) see any reference to such matters as an outrage.  

With the power of the Sunday press at her disposal, Miranda has been able to elicit one colourful story of an allergic reaction to the film, by the 16-year-old friend “reader Jasmine”.  He “had been abused by his PDHPE teacher when he was 12.”

“Jasmine wrote to say they had thought The History Boys would be like Goodbye, Mr Chips but left, shocked, halfway through. She followed her friend to the toilet and held “his head as he vomited violently”.”

Of course, even rating this film MA15+ would not have prevented this occurring.  Implicitly, Miranda concedes this, because her conclusion is (emphasis added):

“An appropriate classification or honest review might have saved him the torment.”

Because her account of the film is so inaccurate, I don’t think that Miranda has established that the classification of The History Boys was inappropriate, though doubtless many of her readers, who have not seen the film , will probably now think so.

Miranda is now advocating a more complicated array of censorship classifications, as is the case in New Zealand, which provides for, as she puts it:

“eight easily comprehensible ratings: G, PG, M, R13 (restricted to people 13 and over), R15, R16, R18 and R.” 

The difference between this and the Australian system is the addition of the R13, R15, R16 classifications, all of which (unlike our MA 15+ classification: which allows people under the age of 15 to attend with a parent or guardian) are absolute age-based prohibitions.

So, do we want such a censorship system to meet the desires of parents who want the state to ensure that their children, and other people’s children, are prohibited from seeing things which they don’t like?  The case which Miranda mounts (such as it is) indicates why not, because then we will just be buying further into the arguments which we already have where a body whose only obvious expertise is in child developmental psychology erect a series of defensive ramparts against what they see as a flood of undesirable materal, and then, by extension, also apply their own prejudices against what even adults can see.

In the meantime, it is telling that Miranda reaches back to Dead Poets Society as a kind of stalking-horse.  The true elephant in the room in that film was its failure to suggest in any way that such a teacher as Robin Williams’ character is very likely to have been gay, and even if not, in real life he would certainly have been suspected of so being.  Proponents of more rigorous censorship are all about keeping that elephant invisible, so that when or if it occasionally becomes visible, it can be denounced as deviant and offensive, or as “undermining marriage,” etc etc.  There is no word from such people, such as our beloved prime minister, who has the nerve to denounce bullying in schools, of the bullying and other harm which this conributes to.

Are You Gay? Can you prove it?

May 26, 2007

That might seem to be a strange question.  More commonly, people struggle to pass as “straight” in the face of constant speculation that they might be gay.  Generally speaking, being gay  involves such a stigma that if a person willingly declares that he is gay, most people would be inclined to accept that without further proof. 

But if you want to stay in Australia as a refugee because, as a gay person, you face persecution in your home country, you will be asked this question.

This  category of refugee developed gradually in the teeth of opposition from the Australian government.  First, it was reluctant to concede that gay people faced persecution.  Secondly, it said that gay people did not relevantly form a social group which attracted protection under Australia’s treaty obligations. Thirdly, it said that members of this group could avoid persecution if only they pursued their sexuality “discreetly.”

Each of these points had grudgingly to be conceded in the face of High Court judgments to the contrary. 

A landmark case: R and J (or: S395 and S; or NAOX) 

The third point was knocked on the head in 2003 by a 4:3 majority in S395/2002 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.  This case involved two Bangladeshi men who had arrived in Australia in 1999.  They made various claims of persecution which they had experienced in Bangladesh, most of which were not believed by the tribunal.  The tribunal accepted that they were gay, but said that it was not satisfied that they faced persecution because:

“I do not believe that there is a real chance that they will be persecuted because of their sexuality if they return. As discussed above, while homosexuality is not acceptable in Bangladesh, Bangladeshis generally prefer to ignore the issue rather than confront it. [The appellants] lived together for over 4 years without experiencing any more than minor problems with anyone outside their own families. They clearly conducted themselves in a discreet manner and there is no reason to suppose that they would not continue to do so if they returned home now.”

The High Court said that this involved an error of law amounting to jurisdictional error (which is what is required to succeed in an appeal against a decision of the tribunal) and held that their case should be sent back to the tribunal to be redetermined.

This landmark case was widely reported at the time, and has to an extent improved the prospects of applicants for refugee status who claim to be facing persecution on account of their sexuality or, indeed, on other bases where the risk of exposure and denunciation would pose a constant threat of persecution.  Presumably, the two Bangladeshi men have long since been able to settle in Australia and, other vicissitudes of life aside, have been able to live happily ever after.

Or so I had thought, until this week I read  “Under the Gaydar”  in The Bulletin.  As Paul Toohey reports:

The court remitted the case to the RRT. It was expected they would rubber-stamp the applications by R and J but, at a new 2004 hearing, the tribunal revealed that an anonymous caller had said J was engaged to a woman in Bangladesh, and that the men were cousins. The RRT probably suspected the men would, in a year or two, find they were straight after all and import wives and children.

R was asked to remove his shirt and show the scars from the lashing he’d claimed to have received decades before. The RRT member says he saw no scars.

Although the RRT accepted at the earlier hearing that the men were gay, it was now noted they’d ticked boxes on their original application forms stating they were married. They said they had meant that they were married to each other. The papers were dodgy – or badly completed by the Bangladeshi-speaking migration agent who’d advised them.

The men offered to perform a sex act in front of an adult witness. The RRT declined. It couldn’t be running a porn shop. The two were told they were straight – and to pack their bags.

In fact, apart from some of the details about the conduct of the hearing, most of this was old news, though you could be forgiven for not picking it up because of the system of pseudonymous naming of decisions which is ostensibly designed to protect the applicants in the event that their claims are not upheld and they have to return to their country of origin.  The decision of the Federal Magistrates Court dismissing the appeal from the Refugee Review Tribunal has been available on the internet since last year, although the decision of the Tribunal itself, handed down on 14 January 2005, was not amongst those selected for publication in this manner.

It is easy to see how the system is stacked against the applicants.  When appealing against a decision by the tribunal, the applicant is bound by all the tribunal’s findings of fact, unless it can show that these are affected by jurisdictional error.  But when the decision goes back to the tribunal for a rehearing, all bets are off, and the applicants cannot hold onto any findings of fact which were previously made in their favour.  This is contrary to the normal position in legal proceedings, where, once an issue has been decided in a party’s favour against another party, the party in whose favour the finding was made has the benefit of “issue estoppel” so that the party on the losing side cannot simply go on arguing over and over again the point which it has already lost.  This argument was rejected by the Tribunal and on appeal to the Magistrates Court.

You might also think that, in a case such as this, the applicants would be entitled to be represented by their barrister, who was familiar with this case, and who had taken it to the High Court and was still representing them before the Tribunal.  After the hearing when the argument about “issue estoppel” was made and rejected by the Tribunal, a date was set down for a further hearing about the factual issues.   The applicants’ barrister said that he would not be available on this date, and indicated a range of dates in the relatively near future when he would be available.  There are occasions where the “availability of counsel” is used by parties as a tactic to delay a hearing when it appears that this is simply an attempt to delay an inevitable adverse finding, but given the long history of this case and the relatively short delay which this would have entailed, it is hard to see that the tribunal needed to come to such a conclusion in this case. It may be that the tribunal member considered that the arguments raised at the first hearing were themselves something of an ambush which had been designed to delay matters, as it informed the applicants’ migration agent:

There is nothing arbitrary about the setting of the Hearing on 28 October 2004. These matters have already been delayed once and the Tribunal has a duty to not to delay them further.

The tribunal refused to reschedule the hearing to enable the applicants’ barrister to represent them.  It considered that it was sufficient that their migration agent could attend.  In the event, they were represented by their solicitor, and subsequent written submissions were made by the barrister.  In the hearing, the tribunal member revisited a number of inconsistencies in the applicants’ previous evidence.  He also referred to information which he had received the day before the hearing, to the effect that the DIMIA (the relevant government department) had received two anonymous calls from within the community to the effect that the applicants were not homosexual, and to information provided on visa application forms by the brother of one of the applicants to the effect that the applicants were in fact cousins and had been married (the applicants otherwise claimed to have an aversion to marriage).  In the end, the tribunal member held:

“The Tribunal finds that the Applicants are close relatives who are, or have been married to women. The Tribunal’s finding is based on evidence provided by them and by [SZFSG’s] brother. The Tribunal does not rely on the evidence of the anonymous caller to DIMIA in relation to these or, in fact, any adverse factors in the Applicants’ respective cases. However, the Tribunal is also of the view that the anonymous caller’s evidence does not help their cases. The Tribunal considers that it is important to make this clear because the Applicants have made unsupported claims about the caller having acted on behalf of either a homophobic section of the Bangladeshi community or DIMIA or both. The Tribunal does not accept those suggestions. For the reasons stated, the Applicants’ being close and married relatives is at odds with their being a homosexual couple who met by chance in 1994 and lived exclusively with each other in Bangladesh for four years until coming to Australia together. The fact that they are married knocks out their claims about their aversion to heterosexual marriage”.

Tribunal Member Luke Hardy 

As ever, there is a twist to this story.  Paul Toohey, in The Bulletin writes that:

The RRT member who ruled R and J were not gay is himself gay.

I don’t know whether Toohey checked this with the tribunal member, Luke Hardy.  Presumably, Paul Toohey’s source was Mr Levet, the barrister in question, to whom Toohey spoke before writing the story.  Luke Hardy is described on the Refugee Review Tribunal’s 2002-2004 Annual Report as follows:

Luke Hardy was first appointed to the RRT in 1993. Prior to that he was on the staff of UNHCR in Thailand and Indonesia, working on the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese asylum seekers. His MA was in Latin American Studies, examining the predicament of Salvadoran refugees in Honduras in the 1980s. He has worked on two documentaries about refugees, one filmed in Laos and the other on the Iran-Iraq border. From 1986 to 1991, he was the Executive Director of the Refugee Council of Australia, and before that, in the early 1980s, he worked with a Commonwealth government-funded resettlement orientation program in Phanat Nikhom refugee camp, Thailand.

Toohey continues:

Maybe his “gaydar” is a finely calibrated machine that detects pretend gays; maybe not. During an appeal in another gay case, a magistrate said the member had “preliminary views incapable of alteration regarding male homosexuals” and “a closed mind” about gays. (The magistrate’s ruling was later overturned.)

Although the magistrate’s ruling was later overturned by the Full Federal Court, there was a subsequent appeal to the High Court.  A grant of special leave was made by the High Court in November 2004, where Mr Hardy’s judgment was subjected to a certain amount of criticism.  By consent (that is, the department finally agreed that there had been a jurisdictional error) Mr Hardy’s decision was subsequently set aside and the matter remitted to the tribunal to be decided again.  I haven’t been able to work out what has happened in that case since.

In another case heard in 2005 Mr Hardy tested a Pakistani applicant’s claim to be homosexual and found it wanting by reason of, amongst other things, inaccuracies in the applicant’s recollection of the procedure in the changing room at Sydney’s “Bodyline” gay sauna. Mr Hardy relied in part on what he (perhaps rather coyly) described as “research conducted by the other Tribunal members ” (the mind boggles).  This decision was upheld on appeal to the Federal Magistrate’s Court in 2006.

And there is another twist.  In the case involving R and J, the two Bangladeshis, Toohey reports in The Bulletin:

At the time of going to press, government solicitors had contacted the men’s lawyer conceding the RRT member made a “jurisdictional error” at the second RRT hearing. The case is to be remitted to the RRT for a third hearing.

This seems strangely reminiscent of what happened in the previous case which had been heard by Mr Hardy, where the referral to a further hearing means that there has been no ruling on whether Mr Hardy exhibited bias or otherwise failed to reach a proper decision.  From my own experience in conducting matters against the Commonwealth, it should not be thought that the department is throwing in the towel in either of these cases.  The sagas continue.

Senator Nettle goes in to bat  

Paul Toohey also refers to the case of Ali Humayan, which I have blogged about   previously:

“This comes after news that a bisexual Pakistani man has been shown the door because an RRT member said the man’s bisexuality was “simply the product of the situation where only partners of the same sex were available”. That is, in Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.”

 As she had promised, Senator Kerry Nettle raised that case, as well as other matters ventilated in the Bulletin article, at the Senate estimates committee hearings.  You can read the transcript here, starting from about page 22.

Training for tribunal members 

Senior Member Karas, appearing on behalf of the tribunal, seemed to say that the Tribunal would look into the question of providing its members with training in sexuality-related issues.  This made the front page of the Sydney Star Observer.

But how much will such “training” really help?  How would even a “well-trained” tribunal member be assisted in deciding if applicants were gay and faced persecution for this if their application were rejected?  In the case of R and J, the two Bangladeshis, Toohey wrote in The Bulletin

For what it’s worth, R and J seemed gay to me. J, 34, is a classic peeping-voiced queen. R, 54, is the bloke in the relationship – assuming one exists. R says that while he was growing up, he was constantly being set upon by his father’s devout fundamentalist friends.

 I think he means “piping-voiced.”

In the  readers’ feedback to this story, one reader commented (I think justly):

“Please, Mr Toohey… if your (presumably) external ideas of gay relationships are such that you still hold on to the prehistoric cliche of “he” and “she” existing in gay male relationships, I can’t imagine that your opinions on their possible sexuality mean too much. At least you qualified your opinion with your “for what it’s worth” and an offhand “assuming one exists”.

But really… in today’s world of metrosexuality, masculine male homosexuality, and blurred subcultural lines, one would hope that the way someone speaks would not offer any sure indication of what they may do in bed, or with whom. Shame that you saw to perpetuate the idea in your story.”

Even what people do in bed, or before a witness, as R and J allegedly offered to do for Mr Hardy’s benefit, would not necessarily take matters any further.  In the world of prostitution or pornography, the concept of “gay for pay” is quite familiar. There is no reason to suppose that people are not also capable of being “gay for stay.”

Nor is it clear that the institution of “sexuality-related training” would make much of a difference.  For what it is worth (to coin a phrase), Mr Hardy seems to me to be quite knowledgeable about such issues.  In WAAG, he commented:

The Tribunal has already acknowledged that there is no tried and true test for establishing an individual’s innermost personal convictions. A person can boast a political opinion and articulate it in a most unconvincing way and yet be utterly sincere. The Tribunal thus well understands that it should not expect all or any homosexual men in Iran to take an interest, for example, in Oscar Wilde, or in Alexander the Great, or in Naguib Mahfooz, or in Greco-Roman wrestling, or in the songs of Egypt’s tragic muse Oum Khalsoum, let alone, say, in the alleged mystique of Bette Midler or Madonna. There are always political, social and potentially intangible cultural considerations to take into account. However, the Tribunal was surprised to observe such a comprehensive inability on the Applicant’s part to identify any kind of emotion-stirring or dignity-arousing phenomena in the world around him. In his evidence, absolutely nothing in the world speaks to him in his claimed isolation from Iranian society. It is strange that a purportedly isolated and ostracised person does not even appear to have looked for such things.

The Tribunal stresses that it was not looking for evidence of engagement with `high culture’.

The Tribunal put all of these elements together: the inconsistencies about the first sexual experience; the uniformity of the relationships and of most of their conclusions; the complete absence of a `gay’ circle of friends; lack of evident contact with the `gay’ underground; lack of other forms of identification. Cumulatively, and in some instances on their own, these elements strongly argue a lack of reality.Of albeit less significance, the Tribunal notes that other potential indicators of life’s realities are also missing from the Applicant’s account: whilst he found fulfilling partners at every stage of his career, his evidence shows no unrequited attractions, no unwelcome suitors, no mistakes. Even ignoring this, his story is simply unbelievable.

This does not read like the decision of a man who is in need of education about sexuality issues, even though the approach he took was subject to a degree of criticism in the High Court (and by Federal Magistrate Raphael).  If anything, the criticism would be that he was well-informed about such issues, but that these preconceptions unduly affected his approach to the particular case.  This, together with an unguarded manner of expression left his reasoning open to criticism which a legally-trained tribunal member could well have been able to avoid.

Two final comments

As I commented before in relation to Mr Humayun, the whole system of immigration law is unfair.  If the system is unfair, there is something odd about talking about people obtaining an unfair advantage within that system by “queue jumping,” which is the accusation often levelled against claimants for refugee status.

Secondly, these stories are complicated, and I have necessarily had to simplify matters in this post.  You don’t need to take my word for it though.  You can always click on the links.

Meme

May 25, 2007

I have been a blog lurker and commenter for a long time.  This blog finally sprang not-quite-fully-armed from More lines from a floating life, after Ninglun called for participants in a meme to disclose 8 random facts about themselves.  As a non-blogger, I wasn’t really entitled to participate, but I did so anyway, by commenting on Dues Lo Volt.

Exhausted after the triumph (it’s all relative) of my entry on Miranda and The History Boys, I have been forced to fall back on old material and repost my response here.  I’ve wrestled with getting the photo to fit in the page properly, but that will need to await sage advice from somebody else (he knows who I mean) before I can put it to rights.  So here goes.

  1. In the year I turned 5, our family travelled to England on the occasion of my father spending a year’s sabbatical leave at Birkbeck College, University of London. We lived in a Queen Anne terrace in Twickenham (London real estate was cheap then) rented from a director of BP who was spending a year in some tax haven in the Carribean. I loved it and it was a source of great disappointment to me that, when the opportunity next arose, a combination of factors (including the fact that by then our family also depended on my mother’s income) prevented us going away. I started school while I was there. The playground chant I recall from Orleans Street Infants School was “We won the war in 1964.”
  2. I learnt ballet for a couple of years as a child.  There is a famous (in our family) photo of me in a white skivvy and black tights and purple cummerbund holding an arabesque, taken in our rather shady back yard, except that, allowing for the slow speed of colour slide film at that time, the shade and my sense of balance, I am actually supporting myself against a tree with a broom held in one hand. Note (rather indistinct in this version of the picture) the bruising on my left hand under the finger-nail – presumably from shutting some door or drawer on my fingers.  I was a clumsy child.  Not Sir RObert Helpmann!
    The ballet school was run by two sisters. The pianist was the husband of one of them, a man called Max Aronsten, now dead. He befriended me, and for many years after used to send me music for Christmas. In later years I sometimes visited him at Chappel’s office in the city, where he was a manager. I last saw him, briefly and in passing, at an eisteddfod in about 1985. I have since found out that he was a much more interesting character than simply a ballet school pianist or even music publisher. There is an interview with him in the oral history archives of ScreenSound Australia, but I doubt if I figure in it.  Although I loved the music, I had no physical aptitude for the dance.  I stopped doing ballet when I started piano lessons.
  3. In 1970 I won a children’s story-writing competition run by Puffin (ie, Penguin) Australia, and judged by Ivan Southall (the things authors need to do for a crust!). The prize was 50 Puffin books. I was allowed to take other Penguin imprints; I still have a few of those books today. The first third of my story was printed in the Australian and I was interviewed by Robert Drewe, who, tongue-in-cheek, imagined a future of literary awards for me. In fact, it was Robert Drewe who had such a future.
  4. In year 8 Geography, I proved unable to hand in my homework, and was given the lowest mark possible on the school computer report system: 30%. I was on a scholarship, and when things didn’t particularly improve by the next year, the headmaster threatened to take the scholarship away. Fortunately or not, this didn’t occur, and I managed to stay at the school until the end of year 12.
  5. In my teenage years I briefly learnt the cello. My first teacher was Henri Penn, once a pianist and accompanist of some renown on ABC broadcasts but by this time (obviously) fallen on rather harder times.
  6. In 1984, at the end of my history honours year at ANU, I arranged for all of my fellow students to make Freedom of Information requests for documents relating to our assessment. There was little reason for me to make such a request other than the trouble-making of youth, as I had been treated well. I have reason to believe that this act of ingratitude on my part backfired insofar as the unavailability of my file appears to have prevented an application for a scholarship at the Research School for Social Sciences being considered. I made the first request. The case appears in the textbooks, but not under my name, because of an anomaly in the university’s response to my request which meant that another student’s request became the lead case.
  7. I have performed in two productions of Benjamin Britten’s Noyes Fludde: first on the treble recorder (doubling handbells) and the second playing the piano duo primo part. In the first production, one of my handbells was defective and inclined to just click rather than ring; in the second, my left elbow was fouled by the secondo player’s right elbow at a crucial moment, and a leap down to the D just above middle C, which was a vital cue for a singer, came out as an E. The performance, recorded by ABC, was never broadcast.
  8. In 1994, after a whirlwind romance, a colleague and I proposed to marry. You had to fill in a form at the marriage registry which needed to be witnessed by an eligible person. As solicitors, we were both eligible persons, but the clerk baulked at our witnessing each other’s signatures. The woman in question called the whole thing off in the week it was due to occur. When I announced the impending marriage to a colleague, she said “but we all assumed you were gay,” to which I beamingly replied that I was a “closet heterosexual.” I have since retired (hurt?) from heterosexuality.

This meme seems to have had quite a ripple effect.  There have been some striking disclosures as well as some which, have apparently been regretted and consequently retracted.  As almost everybody I know seems to have participated in this meme already (it obviously gratifies the bloggers’ rage for free-form self-disclosure) I won’t bother with inviting further participation, though, God knows, I would welcome practically any comment by anyone who wants to follow on.