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.

A lot has happened in Canberra overnight, as it’s the start of the first parliamentary sitting since John Howard and Mal Brough announced their intervention plan.

I pointed out weeks ago that their actions implied that they were simply ignoring the 97 recommendations of the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle report. The feeling is still shared by co-author of the report, Pat Anderson:

“There’s not a single action that the Commonwealth has taken so far that corresponds with a single recommendation,” she said. “There is no relationship between these emergency powers and what’s in our report.” (source)

Howard ‘fessed up to this too, putting forward the defence that ‘people who do a good job of writing up reports don’t necessarily do a very good job of writing recommendations’ (paraphrased: I saw it on ABC news last night but I can’t find a transcript). 

Now, the parliament has been handed a 500 page bill, with no more than one day to digest and debate it before they will have to vote on it. This is all too consistent with the stifling of debate under Howard that David Marr wrote about for Quarterly Essay last month¹ and has been labelled ‘pathetic’ by independent MP Tony Windsor.

“[It is] a pathetic process, and it’s obviously geared at trying to wedge the Labor Party, in my view, rather than actually have a deliberative debate in the Parliament and in the community about a very, very important issue.” (source)

Moreover, the proposed legislation specifically excludes the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act and the Anti Discrimination Act legislation of the Northern Territory. Rightly, the Greens are pissed off, even if no other party seems to be, although their concern  is echoed by Murray Wilcox QC, who has labelled it “constitutionally valid but extremely descriminatory”.

It also emerged today that, in its first year alone, and not including adequate compensation for the forced leasing of land, the intervention will cost more than $500 million, by the government’s own estimates. This is an awful lot more than the “tens of millions” that Finance Minister Nick Minchin claimed it would cost back in June.

Of course, indigenous Australia deserves ten times that amount in funding to fix the woefully inadequate housing conditions and living standards in some remote communities, so I’m not exactly going to say it’s too much (indeed to do so would mean being labelled ‘soulless’ by Brough). I’m just concerned that it will mean less funding for communities in the future, for the things they desperately need and for which they have for years been submitting funding applications.

I can just imagine it: “What? you want more?! We already spent half a bil’ on the issue during the intervention! Surely that’s enough for now.”

~

<update>
8/8: The bills passed through the lower house at about 8:30 last night, 74 to 54, after some token debate, during which Kevin Rudd reaffirmed his in-principle support for the legislation.

Let us be blunt: this emergency plan is far from perfect. We are, however, prepared on this side of the House to give it a go and we commend the proposals we have put to the government by way of amendment for their serious consideration [unsuccessfully - J]. The attitude we bring to bear to this problem in the Northern Territory is one of wanting to fix the problem and to identify solutions that work, rather than engaging in the perpetual blame game between the Commonwealth, the states and the territories on the one hand and between our two sides of politics on the other. It is time for action on behalf of all Aboriginal people, in particular Aboriginal children subject to abuse.

The Senate is supposed to vote on the bills on Friday and, unless there’s a miracle, they’ll go through without a hitch.
</update>

~

¹Marr, David. His Master’s Voice: The Corruption of Public Debate under Howard. Quarterly Essay; Issue 26; 2007; 1-84 (available online for free with an institutional subscription).

Yesterday’s Herald’s News Review section included an edited version of a piece written by David Marr for the Quarterly Essay, about the gradual corruption of public debate and the stifling of free speech under John Howard. Here is one of the opening chapters:

Since 1996, Howard has cowed his critics, muffled the press, intimidated the ABC, gagged scientists, silenced non-government organisations, neutered Canberra’s mandarins, curtailed parliamentary scrutiny, censored the arts, banned books, criminalised protest and prosecuted whistleblowers.

At a lazy 4000 words, the edited version is just a fraction of what is in the QE, but unfortunately doesn’t contain any explicit detail as to the instances that Marr is alluding to. I presume the full version will, and I eagerly await the internet release, which should soon be freely available to anyone with university access, just like any other journal.

Still, I expect that the specific instances won’t include anything previously unknown, in fact Marr says exactly this.

We haven’t been hoodwinked. Each step along the way has been reported – perhaps not as thoroughly and passionately as it should have been, but we’re not dealing in dark secrets here. We’ve known what’s going on. If we cared, we didn’t care enough to stop it.

There’s also an entertaining debate between Marr and Andrew McIntyre, pundit, commentator, Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, from Radio National’s Late Night Live programme last week (Mp3 available here) which Marr convincingly won¹. Unfortunately it’s rather short relative to the breadth of issues that Marr’s essay addresses.

However, one issue that was discussed briefly was that Aid/Watch, a charitable organisation set up to scrutinise foreign aid, have lost their status as a charity for the reason that they recently drew attention to Australia’s foreign aid figures being inflated by more than $1 billion, and made it clear that they would like this to change, thereby acting in a partisan manner. Contrast this with the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank that does have charity status from the Tax Office, as conceded by McIntyre himself in this debate. In its ‘About’ page, the IPA claims that:

By the close study of Australian policy, we can recommend the best path for our politicians, policy makers and businesses to take.

Which sounds an awful lot to me as though the IPA seeks to influence public policy, the very reason for Aid/Watch’s loss of charity status.

Another reason this particular debate wasn’t quite long enough was that McIntyre kept saying outrageous claims as premises while on the way to a point, while never actually getting to the point itself. One such claim was that if you “google Howard is a fascist then you will [be directed to some ABC website]“. The net result is that McIntyre said absolutely nothing that related to the topic at hand while simultaneously denouncing Marr, (the presenter) Philip Adams, Kevin Rudd, Stuart Littlemore, the entire arts industry, Antonio Gramsci, Pat Byrne and the AEU, the entire Islamic world, the ABC and the supposed left in general.

~

¹(Inserting my tongue firmly in my cheek) I reckon it was fixed. Marr only won the debate because it was on the ABC, that leftist, communist, anarchic, chardonnay-swilling, latte-sipping, inner-urban, pinko, bleeding-heart, anthropogenic global warming fanatical, anti-American ABC, on a programme that McIntyre describes as “the tax-payers’ answer to [extremely influential right-wing shock-jock] Alan Jones”.

There. I said it so that no one else needs to point it out.

²I’ll concede that Howard isn’t solely responsible for this; Paul Keating more or less began the current trend towards censorship, but according to Marr, Howard does it better than anyone.

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