Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Roger Covell

June 4, 2019

The Australia Ensemble and UNSW announced today that Roger Covell has died.

It doesn’t seem more than a year ago that I ran into him and Patricia Brown, his wife,  on a city underground train and we had a short but pleasant conversation about the opera du jour and the future of the Australia Ensemble.

Covell  made a great contribution to music in Australia and in Sydney, as music critic for the SMH and at UNSW – the Australia Ensemble is probably his monument so far as I am concerned, though that is not to belittle his other contributions, some of which, such as the UNSW Opera, have receded into the mists of time.

A relatively little-known fact is that as a young man Covell was one of four applicants for the role of founding editor of Quadrant.  James McAuley got the job.  Covell subsequently contributed to that journal from time to time. I forgive him for that [!], but I think he dodged a bullet and we can be grateful that his career took a more strictly musical turn.

Homeless in Mangerton

May 30, 2019

Just now there is an orgy of opinion-writing about homelessness.

The issue is topical because of the death of Courtney Herron, of no fixed address, whose savagely beaten body was recently found in Royal Park in Melbourne.

On top of the usual stuff about toxic masculinity, Catherine Lumby and a journalist weighed in with a piece sporting the headline: “Next time you have a meeting dominated by men, consider how it is affecting homelessness.”

The basic thesis seemed to be encapsulated in this passage:

Domestic violence is experienced by one in six Australian females – with an incident occurring every two minutes in this country. Domestic violence is also the dominant pathway to homelessness for women.

Ask most people why people are homeless and they are likely to say it’s because of drug and alcohol addiction or mental health issues. In fact, research initiated by the bipartisan Council of Australian Governments found that domestic and family violence is the leading cause.

It seems unbelievable, but one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence from the age of 15. It’s a tough statistic to get our heads around. And even tougher when you realise that most of that violence occurs at the hands of men they trust – those they are in an intimate relationship with or related to.

The most common reason women give for seeking support from government funded homelessness services is domestic or family violence.

….

There are women living on the street with their children. Living in their cars. Afraid to go to homeless shelters because they don’t want to deal with more violence and they want to protect their children.

….

Why are women still relegated to the lower ranks of organisations despite their educational and professional achievements? Why is feminised labour like childcare, primary school teaching and nursing still undervalued? Why do we accept indirect discrimination in hiring practices?

And why do we think it’s OK for women and children to be treated as property? This is at the heart of domestic and family violence. It’s a hard truth.

Which is why we should all take a turn participating in or supporting the Vinnies Sleepout and spending some time thinking about that truth. And thinking about how we might more urgently address female disadvantage in the workplace as a way to tackle the root causes of domestic violence and homelessness.

There has also been quite a lot of recent publicity of studies showing increases of homelessness amongst older women.  An instance here.

There are a lot of different kinds and causes of homelessness.

The homelessness of Courtney and her alleged assailant seem pretty clearly to have been an caused by a mixture of “drug and alcohol addiction or mental health issues” of the sort to which Lumby and her co-author refer.

Another quite common type of homelessness is that recounted by Wendy Squires in The Age, of which she writes:

I don’t want to dwell on how and why I ended up homeless. It was an escalation of parental circumstance from which I felt I had no choice but to flee.

That was when she was still at school. That strikes me as a kind of liminal phase not so remote from just “leaving home” and likely to be relatively surmountable – provided all other things are equal or a bit better than equal. You are young; you don’t have much ballast or stuff.

The growing homelessness of older women is mostly part of the general category of homelessness arising from poverty.  Whilst female disadvantage obviously contributes to this for women, homeless men still outnumber homeless women in all age groups, according to ABS 2016 figures.

Every private-rental low-income tenant is just a no-grounds termination or a tipping-point financially adverse event away from homelessness – and that’s a lot of people.  It is futile for most such people to even contemplate seeking public housing – the queues for that are as meaninglessly long as the “queues” for offshore refugees.

The statement that “domestic or family violence” is the “most common reason” women give for seeking support from government funded homelessness services has to be read in that light: the general homeless mostly do not even bother seeking such assistance. The figures must be skewed by women with children who do because they actually have a chance of receiving it.

In my own little sallies into the criminal law, I have seen more than enough of the vulnerability of the druggy and mentally disturbed homeless.  The lower reaches of the criminal law are awash with it.  Police know about it though they become hardened to it in their role as society’s garbage collectors and boundary enforcers.  The criminalisation of drug law has a large part to play.

A particularly grim example, though hardly in the lower reaches of the criminal law, is described in unusual detail in [2018] NSWSC 978 – in which, after a 7-week judge-alone trial, Justice Hamill dealt in agonising detail (as he was required to) with the last days of Mark Dower and the responsibility of Mark Jenkin for Dower’s death.

Dower had spent some years teaching English as a foreign language in Finland. You’d have to be a reasonably personable and educated person to do that, and also, one would think, quite adventurous. He had married; he had a daughter.  His wife died.  His life fell apart.  He became an alcoholic and also had mental health problems.  He returned to live in the Wollongong area where (I infer) he had grown up.

Dower became homeless and fell into a terrible milieu of drug users and ex-cons in a public housing estate at Mangerton,  an inner western suburb of Wollongong.

There was no need for Dower to be homeless on economic grounds.  Courtesy of his time in Finland, he was a man with two pensions.  This seems to have become well-known in Mangerton.

Dower was ripe for exploitation and he was exploited.  To his new protectors, and particularly to Mark Jenkin, he became a cash cow escorted to the ATM at milking time or forced to hand his keycard over for Jenkin’s use.

In 2015, aged just 53, Dower died in Jenkin’s flat where he had been for a bit under a week.

Jenkin claimed that he had been caring for Dower and that Dower didn’t want to be taken to hospital because he was afraid of being subjected to electric-shock therapy (which he had been in the past).  Hamill J did not accept this because Dower had  presented himself at hospital on numerous occasions, including on one occasion where he said he had been assaulted by a “martial arts expert” to whom he had lent money to to feed the assailant’s drug addiction.  (The hospital presentations had abated during a period when Jenkin had been in custody.)

Dower had told an old school friend that Jenkin was standing over him for his money but that he was scared to go to the police because he feared Jenkin would kill him if he did so.  He also told a shop-keeper about it one time when he was unable to repay credit he had been extended.

Dower’s fear that Jenkin would kill him had he gone to the police was not so fanciful as you might think.

RS, described by Jenkin in intercepted calls as “a fuckin’ street-working fuckin’ junkie fuckin’ deadset moll” had turned up at Jenkin’s flat just after Dower’s death.  Not long after this, Jenkin lost his key to the flat when he himself was assaulted in retaliation for a burglary he had committed of an ex-girlfriend’s place.  As a result Dower’s body, by this stage almost a week in Jenkin’s bath, needed to be taken out of the flat through the window. RS helped Jenkin do this.  The body was left in a laundry block at the flats which Jenkin had taken over as his own by placing a padlock on it.

Presumably Jenkin was planning to dispose of the body further, but before he got around to it he was arrested for the burglary.  A bit over a week later,  RS anonymously tipped the police off that there was a dead body in Jenkin’s laundry.

Rumours reached Jenkin in gaol that RS was “going crown.”  She was (unless others and Jenkin have remained stumm) the only person who had actually seen Dower dead in Jenkin’s flat.  Phone calls by Jenkin from gaol were intercepted in which Jenkin urged his step-brother to shut  RS up for good by giving her a “hot shot.”  The step-brother tried to source some heroin but the supplier told the court she wouldn’t sell it to him as she hadn’t sold to him before and wasn’t going to start then.

That seems a surprising twist of heroin-dealing ethics and you have to seriously wonder about it, though it could just have been prudence.  The dealer understood that ice rather than heroin was the step-brother’s drug of choice though she denied selling the step-brother anything.

Hamill J’s judgment includes an almost comical roll-call of the numerous witnesses who were potentially unreliable because they were drug users, alcoholics, suffered from mental problems or had drug-addled memories, who may have been concerned to minimise their own involvement in the circumstances surrounding Dower’s death or any conspiracy to murder RS or whose evidence for the prosecution might have been given in return for leniency about their own involvement or in relation to other matters.

There is a lot more forensic detail in the judgment about the indignities (and worse) to which Mr Dower was subjected whilst he was in the flat.  Videos probably taken by Jenkin were recovered from a phone which was in his possession at his arrest.  It must have been heart-breaking for his daughter, whose identity has been suppressed.

Justice Hamill suspected that Jenkin in fact struck a blow which killed Dower (in which case he would have been guilty of murder), but because it was a circumstantial case and other potential mortal assailants could not be excluded, Hammil J found Jenkin  guilty of manslaughter on the basis that Jenkin had assaulted Dower when he was in the flat and failed to obtain medical assistance for him, as a result of which Dower died.  It’s the same basis on which, for example, parents who fail to take their children to a doctor can be found guilty of manslaughter.

Jenkin was also found guilty of conspiracy to murder RS.

He received a total sentence of 19 years with a 14-year non-parole period.

Fiddling while Rome burns

May 20, 2019

On Saturday to the SOH to hear the SSO with soloist Yulianna Avdeeva, conducted by Andrey Boreyko.

The program was:

Krysztof Meyer, Hommage a Johannes Brahms
Chopin, Piano Concerto No 1 (which is actually No 2) and
Brahms arr Schoenberg Piano Quartet in G minor (op 25).

The Meyer is definitely a rarity: Boreyko may be its champion.  Written in Poland in or for 1983 (Brahms was born in 1833) it started off very much like Brahms’ first symphony, but by the second half of the piece could just as well have been a tribute to Bernstein.  There were some interesting orchestral textures. I especially liked a kind of rancid squeezebox woodwind effect which cropped up from time to time.

In the background, votes were being counted.  As the piano was being wheeled onto the stage, mobile phones were checked.  News of Tony Abbott’s electoral demise trickled in. But that was hardly the main game.

The Chopin is a funny piece.  Its long orchestral introduction is notoriously stodgy and for me even after the piano came in the real Chopin didn’t seem to emerge until the E-major theme – before then it was just early 19th century noodling.  After that things got much better though I didn’t feel the orchestra really rose to Avdeeva’s rhythmic liveliness.  As an encore she played Bourree I and II from Bach’s English Suite in A (or “a” if you are adopting the major-minor nomenclature).

By interval, there was a distinct lack of encouraging news for ALP supporters. It was clear that the swing was not “on.” Considering we’d all heard such rousing music, the atmosphere in the foyers was subdued.  I suppose some were cheerful about the tidings but they were probably in the minority in this particular crowd.

I think I’ve dismissed the “Brahms” before as a bit of a vulgarity.  In search of necessary consolation I made a special  effort to appreciate it on its own terms.  Funnily enough this worked and I enjoyed it more than the last time the SSO played it.  The second movement remains my favourite.

D had gone to an election night party.  There had been some talk of my joining him there post-concert if the night proved a long one.  When I rang him on my way out he told me he was already home.

 

Kangaroo!

April 25, 2019

ConnorParissisBartonprofile

Election posters are going up.  As I walked home from the station last night I spotted this young man’s picture fastened to the railings on the bridge over the Cooks River.

He is Connor Parissis, Greens candidate for Barton.

I’ve got a lot of respect for Linda Burney, the ALP incumbent, but before I vote for her I doubt if I will be able to resist expressing a prior preference.

Explanation of the title of this post is here.

The tram to nowhere

April 24, 2019

On Saturday, with my Chinese-Australian friend Z, I drove to Canberra.

The purpose was to shift some stuff in my late father’s house which was too bulky for me to deal with on my own.

We reached Canberra about an hour after sundown.  We had paused on the way to view the Easter moon as it rose over Lake George.

We came in down the now tree-denuded Northbourne Avenue.  The avenue of trees was felled to make way for the light rail.

Hang on!  Wasn’t Saturday the first day of Canberra’s new light rail?  I knew some festivities had been planned.  A quick internet check revealed that it was to be a fare-free day.

This was our moment to help make history!  We left the car in the car park of the former ACT motor registry and sauntered to Dickson light rail stop.  The first tram which arrived was headed to Gungahlin and we hopped aboard.

It was a bit silly really. From the brightly lit carriage we could scarcely make out any scenery.  We resorted to people-watching.

The tram was liberally staffed attendants clad in red with dinky Akubras.  It’s the bush capital, y’know.  From time to time there was a bit of fussing around about one thing or another: they are still on a learning curve.

Canberra has its fair share of bogan elements but on the light rail we were more a mixture of would-be urbanites/public transport nerds and families of subcontinental background with small children.  I pointed out to Z examples of a special kind of Canberra youth which you hardly ever see in Sydney.  I’ve had a theory about this ever since I met boys from Canberra when I first went to university.  They seem gentler than their Sydney counterparts; sometimes a little precious.  I’ve wondered if it was the lack of the example of the very poor before them in such a middle-class city; an ex-Canberran friend offered the view that it is more to do with Canberra being a very large country town.  At 440,000 on last announcement I spotted, it is just under twice the population it was when I lived there fresh out of uni, now more than 35 years ago.

Z shared with me a code he and his (“Western”) friend use when wishing to point out to each other beguiling (I guess young) men in public places.  If “Asian,” “panda;” if “Western,” “kangaroo.”

Z wanted something to eat at Gungahlin, but the restaurants he liked the look of were all closing, even though it was scarcely 8pm.  An enormous Coles was still open.

Time to linger was short as we still needed to get something to cook for dinner.  We took the next tram back to the other end of the line in Civic, stayed on it and rode back to Dickson.  By pressing my face closer to the window I was able to get a better view of the scenery, such as it was.

You can’t say that

April 13, 2019

In breaking news, Melissa Parke, former member for Fremantle and “star candidate” for Julie Bishop’s former seat of Curtin, has withdrawn her candidature following criticism of pro-Palestinian  views expressed by her.

It is not possible for such views or even the mildest suggestion of even-handedness between two sides in this dispute to be expressed in Australia by a mainstream career politician. Politicians who do wish to express such views have to wait until they are retired or at least on the home stretch to retirement – the brief outbreak of UN abstention when Bob Carr was foreign affairs minister is an example of the latter.

Meanwhile, Australian parliamentarians routinely go on “information tours” of Israel which, however dressed-up, could only occur if state-sponsored by Israel.  This happens without a murmur from those who are quickest to denounce “foreign influence” when it comes from other directions.

Australia is a global outlier when it comes to Israel and Palestine.   The circumscription of permissible public discourse underwrites this. There must be ramifications for our international relations.  It should be possible in a democracy for these questions to be entertained in mainstream political debate, but at present it is not.

This is not a healthy situation.  How long can it be sustained?

PS, 15/4: Now Josh Wilson, Parke’s successor as member for Fremantle, is also under fire.  Video here:

“They are going to turn Palestine into Swiss cheese and that is what is happening,” Mr Wilson is seen as saying.

Executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council Colin Rubenstein told the West Mr Wilson’s comments were “both insulting and insidious and should have no role in our national debate”.

The “Swiss cheese” line was a throwaway; most of the video is about the ordeal of going through check points.

More of this saga  here.

See also  here. There’s also a party line.  Some Labor MPs/senators together with some Greens and independents  were prepared to criticise Israeli treatment of Palestinians (in this case, Palestinian children in Gaza, I think, or maybe the West Bank). Not one Liberal-Coalition MP or senator did so.

Update – see comment 2 below – apparently some coalition parliamentarians did express a view in 2019.

Bloody old Barry O’Sullivan

February 19, 2019

In Senate Estimates today, Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan was inveighing against the proposed/impending levy on stevedores, which has been justified as helping to fund Australia’s biosecurity efforts.

His claim is that biosecurity is more threatened by people entering Australia than by imported goods, and that if a levy is to be raised it should be raised from them.

That’s an arguable point. I’ve no idea of the respective risks.  Let’s leave to one side for a moment the legerdemain of “levies” as taxes dressed up as some kind of user-pays impost.

But I  was taken aback at how the senator chose to make his point.  The transcript isn’t up yet, but according to AAP, and reproduced without comment in the regional and national press:

“There’s a bigger chance of us having a biosecurity breach from some bloody old Chinaman that brings in his favourite sausage down the front of his undies,” Senator O’Sullivan said at Tuesday’s hearing.

And later:

“I’m not opposed to a tax to raise money for biosecurity, but from those that pose a risk. So start with the Chinaman,” he said.

Why pick on the “Chinaman”?

It is a word which which all  Chinese-background people I know find offensive because of its historically derogatory usage.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Senator O’B apparently doesn’t know this.

Update here.

And here.

I have been surprised at the slow reaction to this (only SBS and Junkee took up the story at first), because the Chinese-background (and not only Chinese – Japanese Americans have also complained about this) reaction to the term is pretty unequivocal.  The slow media  reaction goes to show how deeply ingrained casual racism is.

Meanwhile, I like to think “Bang goes Bennelong.” John Alexander will have to hit the streets at Eastwood to dissociate himself pdq.

Afternote:

Belatedly (in my opinion) Bill Shorten seized the day to denounce O’Sullivan on Wechat (= the overseas version of the Chinese quasi-Facebook, Weixin – I had an account linked to my Chinese mobile number but have failed to maintain it since that number lapsed).  The leader of the Nationals distanced himself from O’Sullivan (who lost preselection for the Qld No 1 senate spot and will be “retiring” when his term expires this June/July), describing him as “off the reservation.”  It turns out that this too is a phrase with unwelcome associations to Native Americans, as Labor MP Brendan O’Connor was quick to point out.  That may have been a bit of an own goal given that Andrew Leigh, Penny Wong and another Labor parliamentarian have all used the phrase relatively recently, though the (Labor) Northern Territory chief minister has recently disclaimed future use of the term after its connotations were pointed out to him.

 

 

The Quiet Australian

January 14, 2019

quiet mr morrison

I don’t normally go out of my way to get past the Daily Telegraph paywall so I am reliant on The Guardian (which provided the above photo) for news that, in a piece published in the DT, Mr Morrison has declared an intention “to reframe the Coalition government as the champion of ‘quieter Australians.'”

If that means a break from Mr Shouty, I’m looking forward to it. A longer and more permanent break later would be even better.

The promised emphasis is on “security and native species.” The latter apparently means  “local” environmentalism as opposed to the too-hard global warming.

Keep your eyes peeled for an Indian mynah trapping program.  It wouldn’t cost much, and could well kill more than one bird with the same stone.

The gleaners

December 7, 2018

Jean-François_Millet_-_Gleaners_-_Google_Art_Project_2

That is the classic image.

So what about this?

IMG_20181206_190139

That’s meant to be a picture of the woman by the bin. She had a male companion whom I saw first but he spotted me taking this picture and I was shy to take another. He probably thought I was photographing him as a prelude to dobbing him in.

They were both collecting containers from the “yellow” bins left by people outside their houses for council to collect, evidently with the intention of themselves collecting the statutory 10 cents for each one.

I had read about this  (see also here) but this was the first time I’d spotted it.

Councils are not happy about it. The standard council line is:

“The contents of someone’s bin is the legal possession of the property owner when on private land and of council when on the kerbside for collection.”

That’s very cutely expressed. It’s probably correct so far as it goes but there is a bit of a fudge there between possession and property. For example, whatever possession the council has (because the containers are in a bin which is its property and on the street which is also probably its property) is at least subject to the householder changing their mind.

Presumably  councils want to suggest that removing items from bins is stealing because under the container-recycling  scheme, councils themselves (or their contracted recyclers) collect the “deposit” (inverted commas because the 10 cents paid is only about two-thirds of the upfront charge) for containers which they collect.  They probably also are not keen about the contents of bins being scattered on the street by scavengers.

To be fair to the two scavengers I saw, they were perfectly tidy.

D spoke up for them.  “It’s a hard job.”  God knows, the effective hourly rate for collecting containers at 10 cents each cannot be high.

I don’t want to  dob them in.  But I do resent what they are doing.  It is an abuse of the scheme because these containers were already headed for recycling.

Where the abuse hits is if you bother go to a recycling depot.  These  are too few and too widely scattered.  There you will face a lengthy wait behind professional recyclers with enormous sacks containing hundreds of plastic bottles, which they feed into the machine one by one.  It’s like the supermarket transaction cost of being stuck behind people doing enormous weekly shops, but much, much worse.

The only silver lining is that the professionals generally only bother with the lighter plastic cans and bottles, so that the queue for glass bottles – not in truth worth the trouble but most of what I have to dispose of, is relatively short.

 

 

 

EF

December 3, 2018

In breaking news, the Victorian state government has announced a royal commission into the affair of “Informer 3838.”

This follows the publication, after a short delay, of the High Court’s decision on 5 November in AB (a pseudonym) v CD (a pseudonym) EF (a pseudonym) v CD (a pseudonym) [2018] HCA 58.

The background is succinctly summarised in the first paragraph:

Early in February 2015, the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission provided to the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police (“AB”), and AB in turn provided to the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions (“CD”), a copy of a report (“the IBAC Report”) concerning the way in which Victoria Police had deployed EF, a police informer, in obtaining criminal convictions against Antonios (“Tony”) Mokbel and six of his criminal associates (“the Convicted Persons”). The Report concluded among other things that EF, while purporting to act as counsel for the Convicted Persons, provided information to Victoria Police that had the potential to undermine the Convicted Persons’ defences to criminal charges of which they were later convicted and that EF also provided information to Victoria Police about other persons for whom EF had acted as counsel and who later made statements against Mokbel and various of the other Convicted Persons. Following a review of the prosecutions of the Convicted Persons, CD concluded that he was under a duty as Director of Public Prosecutions to disclose some of the information from the IBAC Report (“the information”) to the Convicted Persons.

That’s all very hush-hush, isn’t it? Surely the identity of the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police and the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions can’t be that much of a secret?

EF, of course, is another story.

CD’s intention set the cat among the pigeons, though it took a while for the wheels of justice to grind into action. To cut a long story short, in mid to late 2016, EF and AB appied to the Victorian Supreme Court for injunctions restraining CD from passing on the relevant information to the criminals in question. Ginnane J knocked them back in June 2017 (1) (2). On appeal, the Victorian Court of Appeal knocked them back in November 2017. The police and EF obtained special leave to appeal to the High Court in June 2018, which has now also knocked them back, unanimously revoking the grant of special leave.

The basis of the revocation was an acceptance by the High Court (on the police’s say-so rather than EF’s) that EF could be adequately protected by the Victorian Police. In that case, the need to uphold the integrity of the criminal law system (to which EF’s conduct and the police’s conduct in encouraging and exploiting her in it is a scandalous and outrageous affront) trumped any other bases on which EF’s identity as a police informant was entitled to be kept a secret.

All of these proceedings were conducted in camera.

Obviously, Mokbel and the various convicted persons will know straight away who EF is.

I know nothing about Victorian criminal lawyers, but it took me about 5 minutes to make a pretty good guess. And if I’m right, then there’s enough information out there already about EF for Mokbel et al to at least suspect that EF was working with the police. I suppose they might have thought she was working with the police for them. (See comments here: in truth the cat must well have been not only among the pigeons but out of the bag a good 4 years ago.) It’s not as if such characters are above acting on a mere suspicion.

Nevertheless, the court has made orders prohibiting the disclosure other than in specified exceptions of “the real name or image of EF in connection with these proceedings” and the proceedings below until 5 February 2019. Presumably that is to give EF a head start should she decide to go into witness protection and (I surmise) the state an opportunity to act if she declines to do so and her children need to be taken away from her so that they can go into protection.

It’s a murky world out there. I hope that EF and her children escape reprisal. Meanwhile, she and the police have surely made life more dangerous for other lawyers and their families in the future.