I just read an emotional and inspiring post at Will Owen’s blog about a speech that Mal Brough gave on Tuesday October 2, for the Alfred Deakin Lecture at Melbourne University. A recurring theme of Brough’s speech (reproduced in full at Will’s blog) is his outrage at the situation. Here is an extract of Will’s commentary:

I, too, am outraged, and not just by the suffering of indigenous people in Papunya and elsewhere in the Northern Territory. If you read Brough’s remarks, you will find no mention of indigenous action in the face of this suffering. He talks about the “war zone” of nighttime in the Outback; he doesn’t talk about the night patrols that women in Maningrida and other communities organized until the funding that allowed them to operate effectively was stripped by the machinations of the Intervention.

He doesn’t mention Titjikala and the indigenous-run tourism business that has closed down because CDEP is being dismantled. He doesn’t talk about the capital raised for community-based health care through the sale of art from Kintore and Kiwirrkura.

Reading Brough’s words in this speech angered me as well, mostly for the reasons that Will gives, but also because of the shameless lack of debate, the fact that as citizens living in a country whose two levels of federal governance are held hostage by the whim of a single man and his unconscionable cronies, we have depressingly little power. I’m angry that as much as we are putting up strong arguments for better, more considered policies, for the strengthening of CDEP rather that its scrapping, for cultural diversity rather than assimilation, for co-operative community-based societies rather than competitive-based urban life, as much as we shout and yell, there’s an overwhelming silence that sounds like no one with any power is listening.

The rest of this post is going to concentrate on a single instance of this lack of debate; the seemingly superhuman ability of Brough and the rest of the government to not allow the logic of their argument to be tested, their ability to willfully ignore reasonable dissent and to dismiss any detractors. This ability stems from mere syllogistic sleight-of-hand.

~

There is a massive logical gap in the government’s arguments; in Brough’s arguments. Any good syllogism is supposed to begin with any number of agreed-upon premises and finish with a conclusion that is derived by mechanistic processes involving axiomatic, pre-defined operators such as ‘hook’, ‘and’ and ‘not’. That sentence glosses over perhaps an entire 2 millennia of scientific and philosophical investigation and analysis, but it is the foundation upon which modern western thought, culture and law is based.

Brough’s argument doesn’t follow this formula. He has a number of premises: that the living conditions in indigenous communities are atrocious and cannot be tolerated any longer, and that there is a particularly abhorrent, high level of child sexual assault and neglect that must be addressed. Moreover, he has a number of conclusions, that have become manifest in the legislative action that he and the government have undertaken. What’s missing is a logical step from premise to conclusion.

This is possibly a very easy way to argue and may seem trivial, but it has serious consequences. Brough’s rhetoric omits the entirety of the logical progression, rendering it unable to be argued. He simply sticks to the agreed upon premises and his own deduced conclusions. If anyone disagrees with his conclusions, then according to Brough, they are being unreasonable.

Take this example. During the Alfred Deakin Lecture, Brough referred to two questions that were asked of him at another speech a week earlier, both of which were met with the same ‘raucous’ applause from the audience, meaning that they collectively agreed with the implication of each question. The first asked why he had to suspend suspend the Racial Discrimination Act, to which his (frankly inadequate) response was that aboriginal people living in these appalling conditions are more concerned about the well-being of their children and not the Racial Discrimination Act. The second question asked why he, or the government, hadn’t done anything for the last eleven years. This was his commentary:

I thought isn’t it interesting the same audience can have two totally different perspectives. One, why did you breach the Racial Discrimination Act, and point up that that’s wrong, and then 15 minutes later applaud when challenged for why I didn’t breach it 10 years ago.

The question did not ask why he didn’t breach the Racial Discrimination Act ten years ago, it asked why he didn’t do anything 10 years ago. His conflation of the two indicates that to Brough, they are logically equivalent.

He believes it is inconsistent to give in-principle support for the need to address the issue, as was the implication of the second question, without supporting everything the government is doing in addressing it. It’s as though breaching the Racial Discrimination Act is logically necessitated by the imperative to act; it is therefore no longer susceptible to debate.

If you read the speech, you’ll notice that it’s heavily-laden with nauseating tales of specific cases of child sexual assault, and some rather horrifying statistics. You’ll also notice that it’s heavy with Brough’s defences of his and the government’s actions, and subsequently, lots of denouncement of any opposition. The way the two connect is in itself quite sickening; he’ll make reference to some “white academic in a university down south” as attacking him for racist legislation, which he then counters with a description of a three-year-old with gonorrhea. There is absolutely no explanation of the logical connection between that child and, for instance, taking several thousand people off important community-oriented jobs, like night patrols, and placing them on welfare. The mere existence of the child is all the justification he needs.

By omitting the entire logical progression of an argument - everything between the premise and the conclusion - Brough manages to force the debate to boil down to a simple equation: if you accept that there is a problem, then you are compelled to accept our solution. A worrying corollary of that is something along the lines of: if you don’t support our solution then you are acting in the interests of child abusers.

I hope it’s obvious that I’m not arguing that there is no problem. Far from it. There is a very serious and devastating social problem and we have a real obligation to fix it – I think my beliefs on this point have been consistent. What I’m arguing for here, is that it benefits no one to denounce as unimportant any legitimate questions as to the efficacy of the legislation, or to ignore any sensible suggestions about how they might address these issues with a bit more foresight, and a little less election-sight.

~

This is a good place to bring up that Will also drew analogy with the progress of the Iraq war. He warns Australia not to be so easily led down that same path, coming from a country that dealt with the same sort of thing 6 years ago, when the US justified a primarily resources-based military strike on a sovereign state using trumped up weapons of mass destruction accusations and overblown cries of the evils of a tyrant. I’m not saying that child sexual assault is a bogus charge or that the whole thing is trumped up, but I am saying that the government is taking advantage of this most serious and grave of situations, with more sinister goals in mind, which I’ve written about here many a-time before.

The similarity of the rhetoric is uncanny; ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ was the crux of Bush’s means of silencing any critics of he and his administration’s invasion of Iraq. Now I think it’s fair enough to say the same of Brough’s way of silencing his critics.

I’ll close this lengthy and meaty post with a reprint of Will’s warning, and I suggest we heed his advice:

So I hope that Australians will not follow in America’s footsteps this time. I hope they will engage in critical examination of what their government claims to be doing, and why. When Brough announces, as his does in this lecture, “I have breached the Racial Discrimination Act in a positive sense,” I hope someone will point out that governments that put themselves above the law–as the Bush administration has done consistently in America since taking office–tread dangerously close to the borders of tyranny.


Kim writes that Labor have announced their policy to not only retain CDEP, but to strengthen it and to attempt to smooth out the problems. This is of course very welcome, well, to everyone except for Brough predictably, who thinks it’ll be a ‘backward step’. Backwards or forwards: it depends which way you’re facing, and Brough is certainly facing the wrong way.

But Mr Brough says Labor is failing to listen to Aboriginal leaders who argue that CDEP must go.

“We have seen what is a crucial element of the intervention, that is curtailing the amount of cash that can be available for alcohol, drugs and gambling being reinjected into those communities by reinstating of CDEP,” he said.

If Brough thinks the problem is that there is too much money in communities, which I think the above quote clearly demonstrates, then he should bite the bullet and say he doesn’t want blackfellas to have the same economic opportunities as white folk. I would personally contend that the problem is not too much money but too much time and too little work. Moving CDEP employees onto work-for-the-dole will not help.

I heard on Lateline last night that the US military is asking Congress to approve a further US$190 billion to fund its “projects” in Iraq and Afghanistan, much to the dismay of Congress:

ROBERT BYRD, DEMOCRAT SENATOR: If the Congress were to approve the President’s revised budget request, the total funding for the war in Iraq will exceed $600 billion, 600 billion, billion, billion dollars!

Meanwhile, something I had heard years ago was confirmed in a talk by Michael Walsh on Wednesday. At 100,000 pounds per year, for three years per language, it would cost some 900 million pounds (or AU$2.137 billion) to do some pretty solid documentation work on the 3000 languages predicted to lose all their speakers¹ by the end of the century. In Michael’s words, that’s equivalent to a couple of days’ oil revenue, in an average year. “Where else would you get such value for money?”²

I’m just sayin’, is all.

~

¹We don’t like using the term ‘die’.

²Based on: Crystal, D. (2004). The Language Revolution. Cambridge: Polity Press.

There’s been a lot of whining in the government over the last week. First we had Downer having a hissy fit because Rudd chose to greet Hu Jintao in his native language, then we had Howard crying because no one likes him anymore, and now we have Brough getting all blurry-eyed and tremor-lipped because the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is ‘unfair’.

“We haven’t wiped our hands of it, but as it currently stands at the moment, it would provide rights to a group of people which would be to the exclusion of others,” he said.

“The best way of putting it is, it’s outside what we as Australians believe to be fair.”

In other words (I love doing this), “Waa, the UN says we have to stop needlessly persecuting the most disadvantaged demographic in the country and make up for over 200 years of appalling treatment by giving them privileges? It’s Just Not Fair!

Grow up Malcolm.

The United Nations is due to vote on the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples tomorrow, as I’ve just learned from an article sent out on ILAT.

“Basically, it’s a very wide-ranging declaration that recognizes rights that they already have, such as the right to cultural integrity, the right to education in their own language, the right not to be dispossessed of their ancestral land and so on,” [Kali Mercier of Survival International] says.

[...]

“There has been a lot of support for it from some countries. Other countries have not been quite so keen and they’re some of the countries in which we would have hoped to have a much better example set. For example, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, all countries with indigenous peoples, have been very opposed to some of the wide-reaching rights recognized by the declaration.”

“Have not been quite so keen” is putting it very mildly. The Declaration has been about 24 years in the making, but suffered a setback earlier this year, when, possibly under pressure from John Howard, the recently elected Canadian government withdrew their support.

If adopted the declaration would encourage states to do things such as:

  • Not dispossess indigenous people of their land,

  • Undertake efforts to prevent loss of indigenous languages, and

  • Make bilingual education possible,

Australia, the United States and Canada between them have many hundreds of different indigenous ethnic groups spanning many hundreds of distinct languages, so I suppose it isn’t surprising that these countries would do what they can to thwart the adoption of this declaration. Protecting hundreds of indigenous languages, some spoken by, or affiliated with as few as a hundred people, is a very costly affair. And any good economic rationalist government would weigh up cost with benefit and conclude that doing so isn’t worth it, especially when we can do things like buy helicopters, give election-motivated tax cuts, or throw massive soirées at Kirribilli House instead.

Understandably, economic rationalism is an ideology I don’t altogether buy.

~

No more than an hour after hitting the ‘publish’ button for this post, I opened the Herald to see that this story had been taken up there. While the conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in town after the APEC summit monstrosity, the minor parties are lobbying hard to have the government support the declaration, which will probably pass tomorrow irrespective of Australia’s position.

On Monday, the Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett moved an urgent motion in the Senate urging the Government to change its position while the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was in Canberra. Labor, the Greens and Family First supported the motion, which was defeated by 35 votes to 33.

It also brought to light an interesting snippet of information which is especially pertinent with all the current hoo-haa:

The Government, which has lobbied since 1998 to have the phrase “self-determination” – saying it could lead to calls for a separate indigenous state – removed from the draft declaration, is standing firm.

Now of course, they are all for self-determination. Well, “self-determination” inasmuch as it doesn’t impinge on the federal government’s self-imposed sovereignty over mineral-rich land that they would very much like to dig up and sell to China. They’re ecstatic with “self-determination” when it refers to their getting away with not funding vital services in remote communities.

The hypocrisy is nauseating.

~

<update>

Despite Australia thinking its opinion is worth anything on the world stage, the Declaration passed overnight by a whopping 143 to 4 with only eleven abstentions. I find it encouraging that so many nations supported the declaration, but deeply embarrassing that we, along with the US, Canada and New Zealand (I still can’t believe that, Helen Clarke was otherwise highly likeable), chose to oppose it.

Robert Hill, Australia’s ambassador to the UN and former Howard government Cabinet Minister (independent diplomatic appointments is a thing of the past, apparently) again made it clear that the Australian government’s opposition was motivated by the term self-determination, which, I might point out again, is the very term they use for the ultimate goal of the current NT intervention.

It’s interesting that the ABC news website now allows comments on many stories, this being one of them, because we can see a glimpse of the ideology that drives Australia’s opposition to this declaration.

Good on the government for voting against this crap.
It’s time these people stopped living in their stone-age past and realise they were conquered, the white man came and took over.
Nobody is excluding them from being a part of our society, the only thing that is excluding them is the chip on their shoulder.

(from “Realist“)

</update>

I’ve managed to avoid APEC almost entirely thus far, both here on this blog and in real life. But last night, I was held up while walking along Pitt St. in Sydney, as a motorcade pulled out of the Hilton. It’s only fitting then, that I stop avoiding it on the blog.

Kevin Rudd, the Opposition leader, demonstrated his skills in Mandarin during an official APEC welcome for Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday, in which he ‘wowed’ a room full of Chinese press as well as the great Hu himself. The whole thing went for about half an hour and had to be interpreted on-line¹ for the local crowd (a small taste of Rudd’s Mandarin can be seen in this report, at about 4:30) [See the updates below].

~

This section of perpetual updates is getting a bit out of hand, so I might detach it using my conventional section-breaking tildes.

[Sep 8: David has just alerted me to the fact that the link to Rudd's Mandarin doesn't work. Unfortunately I can't find a working one, except for a transcript of the report here (actually, it has the video too, over on the right, just noticed), which only transcribes Rudd's Mandarin as "KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION LEADER: (greetings in Mandarin)", which isn't very helpful. Apparently the ABC doesn't have good Mandarin transcribers, which is why we need SBS, Paul Sheehan. For video, you may have to navigate to the 7:30 Report's front page and select the video called 'The Politics of APEC". Again, it's about 4:30 through.]

[Sep 9: Both SBS and The Australian have reports specifically on Rudd's meeting with Hu Jintao whereas the ABC report uses it as a segue. The Australian report also contains a translation of what Rudd had to say; mostly mundane stuff really.]

~

Anyway, we all know that Rudd speaks excellent Mandarin, and today some Chinese people found that out for the first time. Big deal. This post is about Downer’s reaction.

Asked if he was impressed by Mr Rudd’s language skills, Mr Downer, a French speaker, said he was not one to flaunt his talent with foreign tongues.

“I know dozens and dozens of people who speak a lot of languages, they don’t just speak Mandarin, but other languages as well.”

In other words: “Woopty-doo! Kevin can speak Mandarin, he’s such a show-off. Who cares anyway? I can speak French but I don’t show off whenever Sarcozy’s in town.”

Grow up, Alex.

Apart from that little whinge, Downer elaborated on his own linguistic prowess and genius, as opposed to the relative sloth with which Rudd evidently acquires languages:

I did the French language course and Mr Rudd did the Chinese language course. I did mine in two months and he did his in two years, that could say something [about] him and me or something about the two languages. I think the former but that sounds a tad partisan.

Downer “did” his in two months while Rudd “did” his in two years? I don’t think that says anything about you and him or the two languages, Mr Downer, but I do think it speaks volumes about your attitude towards multilingualism.

Hu Jintao doesn’t speak English as far as I know (perhaps Laurie could fill me in here), but alas, he is a native Mandarin speaker. Rudd also speaks Mandarin. The logical thing to do then, rather than having to go through an interpreter, which can be decidedly awkward in my experience, would be for Rudd and Hu to conduct their parlance in a language that they have in common.

Sure, Rudd may have been ‘flaunting’ it a tad, but why on Earth wouldn’t he? Why should multilingualism be something one has to hide? Why does Downer of all people seem to think so? He’s the Foreign Minister.

To be honest, I think Downer is a little sour that Rudd was getting so much attention over his talks with Hu, which is almost (but not really) taking some of the limelight away from Australia’s Woodside Petroleum’s $35 billion natural gas deal with China.

~

¹On-line as in ‘live’ or ‘directly’, by an interpreter pumping out the English as quick as Rudd pumps out the Mandarin. I don’t mean it was ‘Babelfished’ or anything, unlike they appear to do at the Australian Federal Police, as Jane implies.

A friend of mine forwarded me an opinion piece in the Maltese newspaper The Times, which argues for the further adoption of English as a lingua franca and conversely, the dropping of Maltese:

Maltese needs to have its wings clipped today, rather than tomorrow. It is a quaint, museum-piece code which requires so many foreign fixes and props to keep it alive in today’s world that the line where Maltese stops and other languages (English especially) start has become blurred to the point where it is no longer there, effectively.

I say drop Maltese and concentrate on English.

The only semblance of a reason that the writer, Mario Schembri Wismayer, appeals to is the ubiquitous ‘English literacy is plummeting’ argument. Obviously he is under the assumption that there is no better way to increase literacy in one language than to abandon all others.

Anybody involved in education will tell you that the levels of spoken and written English are plummeting and hitting desperate levels. If we turn our back on this problem, we will be allowing a vast resource to slip through our hands.

I think, and I’m sure many will agree, that this argument is entirely fallacious and isn’t borne out by the facts. One such fact is that a sizeable majority of human beings are bilingual at least, and many of those speak three, four or five languages, all learned natively, with very little, if any, difficulty.

Then there is the slightly less obvious fact that bilingual education is a very effective method of increasing literacy in both languages, and may even be more effective than monolingual English education, where children are expected to learn a new language at the same time as gaining literacy skills. This places far too much cognitive burden on the child.

It’s an argument that emerges in Australia from time to time as well, as it probably does in any location where there are minority languages in addition to a standard lingua franca. It’s been the subject of a couple of posts here, as well as elsewhere, and without fail, someone argues that everyone should have the option to speak English. I agree completely. However, what they fail to acknowledge is that learning English is by no means mutually exclusive with learning the language of one’s ancestry. Furthermore, the option to speak one’s language of ancestry is the right of all people, according to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (a pdf of the entire declaration is available here).

That’s a good segue into my counterpoint to Wismayer’s opinion piece. His main thesis is that we all have the right to uniformity, at least with respect to language. Sure, I’ll concede that; no person should be prevented from being able to speak any international lingua franca, such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin and so on. I would argue though, that in addition to the right to linguistic/cultural uniformity, we all have the right to linguistic/cultural diversity. If speaking a particular language is a salient aspect of one’s identity, and allows them to differentiate themselves from others, then by all means their right to diversity through language should absolutely be respected.

At the end of the day, I believe monolingualism is conducive to a narrow-minded, monocultural world view, in which the concept ‘us’ versus ‘them’, and exclusion generally, abounds. Multilingualism and multiculturalism on the other hand, engender inclusion, broad-mindedness and awareness of and respect for others with different cultural backgrounds.

Surely in this increasingly divided world, the latter is what we should aim towards.

Canada elected a new government 18 months ago and it appears that they’re trying to prevent the UN Human Rights Council’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from being approved (adopted, in the official terminology) by the general assembly. To put this into perspective, the decleration and resolution, avaliable from here, took 24 years to negotiate.

I went and had a look at the resolution to see what could have been so odious that Canada would want to prevent it from becoming bound by international law, but it seems reasonable to me. Here’s an interesting excerpt that is especially relevant in a current local debate in Australia.

Article 13

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

2. States shall take effective measures to ensure this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.

Article 14

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.

2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.

3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.

I draw particular attention to the last sentence, the one that orders States to provide education to indigenous people in their own language. So if Canada aren’t successful in hindering this declaration any further, bilingual education could become a matter of international law. Interesting.

~

<update>

It appears that Howard may have had a slight helping hand in Canada’s change of heart, rather than it being due to merely a change in government.

The newspaper is quoting unnamed political sources as saying Mr Howard convinced Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his visit that the declaration would be “problematic.”

Although, ‘unnamed’ sources are always a bit sketchy, the timeline is curious:

Mr Howard visited Ottawa and the Toronto Globe and Mail says things began to happen within days.

</update>

While browsing a few of my more regular news websites, I came across this article on the BBC World News site, about Zimbabwe, Mugabe and Howard, who is being accused by Mugabe of financially supporting ‘terrorism’.

Aside from any political discussions about the issue of terrorism, Zimbabwe and Mugabe (it’s tempting, but I may leave it to a footnote) I was drawn to the caption underneath the image of Howard. It reads:

Mr Howard accused Robert Mugabe of being a “grubby dictator”

What drew my attention was the Mr, which is curious as it isn’t his usual title. It would ordinarily be something like Prime Minister Howard or the completely repugnant The Right-Honorable something-or-other. Now, Mr Howard is the name that Kevin Rudd, leader of the opposition (which I can finally say without using quote marks), has been using of late when referring to him.

To me, the choice of Mr as opposed to some of the more uppity titles available for a Prime Minister of a sovereign nation, is actually a relatively diminutive term, which was, as I understood it, Rudd’s motivation for the choice.

<update>

I went to the extraordinary step of asking the BBC what motivated the choice of title. The response was underwhelming but entirely acceptable:

Our style is to refer to all living men as “Mr” on second reference, unless they are a medical doctor, or have been convicted of a crime.

On re-reading the article, the first reference was to Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Still, I wonder what they use to refer to males who have been convicted of a crime.

</update>

~

While I’m talking about titles of parliamentarians, something that never fails to annoy me is the completely ungrammatical (no matter what your opinion of English usage) double determiner-phrase used by the speaker of the house during parliamentary sessions.

The honorable the Leader of the Opposition

Don’t the first two determiners jump out at you as being incompatible? The only way this can be grammatical for me is if the the two constituents beginning with the are conjoined as though they were members of a list, similar to the one, the only… Except this can’t be right, since the honorable and the leader are not the same sort of constituent and so can’t be readily conjoined. It’d be like the brown, the dog over there. Completely awful.

I was going to attempt to segment this NP into its various smaller nodes and discuss it further, but it occurred to me that my knowledge of English syntax, specifically where DPs, NPs and APs fit in with eachother, is pretty rudimentary and I don’t want to make myself look a fool! I’m pretty certain the section The leader of the opposition breaks down like this:

{NP [DP The] Leader (PP Of {NP [DP The] Opposition})}

But when I try to stick honorable in as well, I get too many conflicting ideas about APs inside DPs, NPs inside APs etc. Best to leave it there.

The Guide to the House of Representatives Practice includes a small section on titles, which claims that the correct method for referring to a minister (who warrants the title ‘honorable’) is something like The honorable member for (electorate) which makes perfect sense. Except the current speaker of the house, the honorable David Hawker, always inserts a second the, and I just can’t accept it!

~

<footnote>

As implied earlier, I might take a little moment to editorialise about ‘terrorism’ and Zimbabwe.

Now, don’t take this as an advocation of the Zimbabwean government, I think Mugabe’s a raving lunatic and should be overthrown by force, I would even actively support revolutionary sentiment in order to do so. But the issue brings to light an interesting question as to the meaning of ‘terrorism’, which, despite occurring in pieces of legislation around the world, lacks an adequate definition.

I’m sure the various governments that are involved would certainly scoff at being accused of providing material support for terrorism with respect to Mugabe and Zimbabwe, but how can terrorism possibly be defined that would include politically motivated violence in some countries but not in others? Surely it would be morally impermissible to make decisions based on judgments like we don’t like that government, therefore violence against it is not terrorism, but that seems to be the determining factor more often than not.

This is why I often put terrorism in quote marks.

</footnote>

Apparently a site of great cultural significance has been found in Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains. It’s a 100m x 50m sandstone slab covered in shallow engravings that are invisible for most of the day, emerging only in the angular light of dawn and dusk. From the substance of the engravings it is being compared to Mount Olympus, in that it supposedly depicts various deities and mythological creatures such as an ‘eagle man’ as well as “an evil and powerful club-footed being, infamous for eating children.”

The site is being described as ‘the most amazing rock engraving site in the whole of couth-eastern Austalia’. Probably second only to the thousands of known individual rock engravings on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia, which was a hot topic of debate at the end of last year, but for one reason or another, has fallen from the spotlight of late.

Woodside Petroleum want to build an on-shore natural liquefied natural gas plant on the peninsula – which, by the way, will process the spoils of Australia’s support for East-Timorese independence back in 2002 (read about it here) – but the rock art is unfortunately precisely where they want to build it.

At the time, we recorded about 9500 engravings on our North West Shelf leases, many of which remain undisturbed today. About 1800 were relocated. (from Woodside Petroleum’s website)

The same website claims that Woodside are working with local Aborigines to minimise any impact on the remainder, but from all news pieces on the matter, this is by no means uncontroversial.

No matter what we try and do, it’s the Minister is the one who’s got the answer. We could sit and cry day and night and they’ll just turn around and say, “There’s only black fellas. We’ll just go straight through them. We want this project to go ahead. We’ll go straight through it.” And that’s the way it’s happening. (Wilfred Hicks talking to the 7:30 report)

Hicks refers to the Minister for Environment (former Minister by now; Howard shuffles them around so often that it’s amazing they actually know what their portfolios are) Ian Campbell, who refuses to assign heritage listing to the Burrup, citing economic growth as the reason (and this is was the Minister for the Environment, not Industry).

Anyone who knows the extent of this rock art, and who says that none of it should be disturbed is taking an absolutist position that will hurt Australia’s economy and it will hurt the world’s environment. (transcript of a PM program, taken from the department’s website)

He mentions hurting the world’s environment here because of the relative benefits of natural gas as opposed to other forms of fossil fuels, but that is another debate altogether. To cut a long story short, I am skeptical that they would reduce any use of coal-power, just because of an influx of gas, and, by the time the gas is exported on diesel-powered ships, the difference in emissions is greatly reduced.

Having said that, it isn’t just the federal government taking an unreasonable economic-growth-trumps-all argument; understandably, the Western Australian government is keen to preserve the state’s 14% growth. And at the end of the day, why let a bunch of old rocks get in the way of inherently unsustainable economic growth?

Luckily, Wollemi National Park is nowhere near any politically hot natural gas reserves (as far as we know!) so it has a good chance of gaining the heritage listing that the Burrup desperately needs.

For no apparent reason other than to further pressurise this issue, here’s a quote pertaining to the Australian government and its handling of the David Hicks case:

If our government is prepared to allow any one of its citizens to be sacrificed on the altar of expediency, if our government demonstrates that it is not really concerned for justice, for a fair process, for one person, then none of us know whether circumstances might arise in which the same lack of care, lack of concern, will be exhibited in relation to ourselves.

So, who do you think said it?

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