Ken McAlpine is a very occasional contributor who always makes me sit up straight. Last time (in Feral admission) he chastised me for letting antipathy to Kim Beazley cloud the big picture of whether Labor or Liberal was best to rule us. Today, he’s at it again with a depressing piece with a ring of truth.
“This is an awful business. This supposed issue of rape and reconciliation has made a lot of people (particularly at Fairfax, and including you) make what they probably think is a very big judgment call, but in the end it is all just a sideshow in a bigger game.
What the entire Clark/Fairfax/O’Shane media circus has done is rip any credibility out from underneath those who supposedly drive the reconciliation process. But it is only a small piece in the puzzle. I have long thought that the “reconciliation process” is an oxymoron akin to the Middle East peace “process” – there is no process at all, just a lot of set piece demonstrations, presentations, shows of support, patronising essays, reactionary statements, funding cuts, power plays and exploitation of stereotypes.
The truth is that Aboriginal reconciliation is dead, it was probably never really alive, and very little has changed over the last 25 years despite all the fuss. Reconciliation was a political issue from its origins in the late 1960s and will never change. It is not a popular movement at all, despite the mumblings to the contrary by people like Sir Gustav Nossal and Ray Martin.
John Howard’s replacement of Paul Keating in 1996 is probably the best example of what I am talking about. Keating talked a bit too much about reconciliation for the comfort of most people in Australia and John Howard promised to govern “for all of us” (the subtext being of course that he would not bother to look after blacks, gays, immigrants and feminists like Keating had tried to do). And Howard won in a landslide.
White people do not properly understand Aborigines enough to save them and I see it as inevitable that the process of wiping out the Aboriginal race that began over 200 years ago will soon be complete, despite the well-intentioned hiatus that began in the late 1960s.
It is very depressing, but my view is that white people have already done far too much damage to Aborigines for them to survive past perhaps the year 2050. We have put alcohol, tobacco and petrol into their society and left it to fester there for decades upon decades. Yet in the meantime we have denied them the health benefits and infrastructure that allows white society to subsist despite a high level of abuse of these substances in our culture. And to top it off we jail their kids if they commit even the most minor crimes. Quite often they kill themselves in jail, which makes them cheaper to deal with than other prisoners (apart from when a royal commission is called and a few tough questions get asked).
Deep down, not enough white people do not care enough about Aborigines to take serious steps to save them when it comes to the crunch. We are not willing to change our lifestyle to improve theirs. If you want to talk about practical reconciliation (again, whatever that really means), I suspect that the response of most white people would be to ask why we can’t just sponsor a child and forget about it like we do for African kids.
Journalists and columnists can all make digs about things like the embedded culture of domestic violence in Aboriginal society (whatever that means) but the fact is that white people started a fire a long time ago and really only turned their minds to putting it out just recently. This circus in the media regarding Geoff Clark is not even on the radar when you turn your mind to the big picture.
For the record, I don’t think Fairfax should have run with the article/s on the rape allegations. You can put your own spin on the justice system and its ability to find the truth, but Clark has been seriously defamed and no criminal charges have been laid against him. We all are subject to the same laws and courts. Working for a newspaper gives you a little bit more financial protection than is afforded to Geoff Clark from those laws.
He might be a thug, he might be a liar, he might be a rapist and he might be a conspiracy theorist, but he hasn’t been charged with any of these things under the law. Let him go for a while, and use the webdiary to explore some of the bigger issues.
From what you say, Ken, reconciliation is the biggest issue of them all. The native title debate was the one which forced us to decide if we would give away some of our privileges, and in the end we did, however grudgingly and after a truly brutal political process.
Try as we might, we can never enter into the reality of the black experience in Australia, and yes, so often we make it worse with our romanticism.
My first experience of covering Aboriginal issues was as a green reporter at The Courier Mail in Brisbane. The Aboriginal legal service called a press conference to detail allegations of fraud against the then federal Aboriginal affairs department. Ray Robinson, then its head (now deputy chairman of ATSIC) appeared – clearly drunk – and made spectacular but seriously garbled allegations without a shred of proof.
I was lost. Should one simply report the allegations, or report the spectacle? I rang the department, and was given detailed information, including what they thought Ray was saying, what they said the truth was, and some background on why they thought this was happening.
In the end, I wrote up the allegations in general terms that were not defamatory, and the department’s reply. The experience was so complicated, the layers of the story so intricate, and the impossibility of discerning right from wrong so acute, that I swore I would never venture inside black politics again.
Some time later in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane’s mild equivalent of King’s Cross, I saw an Aboriginal man and woman yelling at each other in the street. She held a baby in her arms, and was trying to run away from the man. He grabbed her and started pulled the baby from her so violently that it dropped onto the road. She screamed, and I ran down the street to get help. I found a policeman. When he tried to arrest the man, the woman turned on him, screaming “Pig, pig, pig”.
The policeman told them to go home. He explained that the woman would never give evidence against her attacker, and I suggested I give evidence instead. He said if he arrested the man, the woman would wait outside the lock-up until he was released and take him home.
When I told my sister about this, she related the experience of a school friend who was nursing in an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. Sexual and physical assaults on women were endemic, and most tragically of all, toddlers were sexually abused as a matter of course. Her friends dilemma was this – should she take steps to remove the children concerned and produce another stolen generation, or should she let them stay with their community. She chose the latter.
Years later, I reported the Mabo and Wik debates and became passionate about reconciliation. But I did not venture into the internal workings of Aboriginal politics or Aboriginal communities again. A cop out, I suppose, but perhaps its all we whites can do now. It is for the Aboriginal peoples through their leadership and their grass roots efforts to repair their communities, with all the money and resources we can supply.
What has been so graphically revealed in the last week is that the Aboriginal leadership has done little to stop the sexual and physical abuse of women and children. Pat O’Shane, Evelyn Scott and Lowitja O’Donoghue have admitted that women have let these things go on – on the ground, and in elite Aboriginal circles – to protect their men and fight us whites for equal rights and respect.
And make no mistake – the men run the show and take the big pay packets. Sometimes they even take money Aboriginal women have applied for for health or other services to buy four wheel drives.
O’Shane yesterday detailed a story where a prominent female Aboriginal leader was bashed by Aboriginal men at a conference and refused to go to the police. Yet O’Shane too, when asked to comment about the allegations of four women that clark had raped them, replied that a lot of women made up such allegations (official figures show that 2 percent of reports of crime – including rape – are fabricated) and said she believed Clark’s claim of a conspiracy against him. Most Aboriginal women thought fighting racism was more important than fighting for their physical and sexual integrity against their men, she said.
The former Aboriginal affairs minister John Herron says that five years ago he raised the issue of violence against women and children with the ATSIC board “and there was total denial’.
“They said: ‘What are you talking about?’There was only one female board member and I said to her … later: ‘Why didn’t you stand up to them?’ and she said: ‘I’m too afraid’.”
The Australian’s Frank Devine today quoted from an interview he did with Herron when he retired as minister, when he said that he’d suggested a program to help battered women. Ray Robinson said, “Well I suppose we could give you $200,000”. Herron threatened not to sign off on ATSIC’s $1 billion budget unless there was more, and ATSIC allocated $1 million. The then family services minister Jocelyn Newman allocated $20 million from her budget last year.
We now have an Aboriginal leadership whose credibility is utterly on the line, especially after Geoff Clark refused to address the allegations of the women who accused him of rape and the ATSIC board’s decision to back him as chairman despite his refusal to attempt to clear his name by suing for defamation. Sorry Geoff, this matter has not unified your people as you so cynically suggest. It has opened up its sores to the wider community.
Yet who am I to judge?
As David Davis said yesterday, reconciliation cuts both ways, and the more understanding we get about each other the truer will reconciliation be. Many of you see this matter as playing into the hands of the people who do not care or who are malicious. Those of us who do care must ensure this does not happen.
Here’s a piece I spent months thinking about, which appeared on the Herald’s opinion page on January 17 this year.
Labor’s silence can only harm Aborigines
It’s time to the Opposition to stop tiptoeing around the problem of welfare-dependence among indigenous people, writes Margo Kingston.
DURING the last Federal election campaign, Pauline Hanson faced claims by a Queensland One Nation MP that indigenous Australians were better off when they lived and worked on pastoral leases “for a bit of meat”. Hanson responded that it was a much “happier time for the Aborigines and the pastoralists”. The next year, Noel Pearson began his crusade to end “the poison of welfare”, and came close to concurring.
“The dilemma facing policymakers at the time the equal wage case was being debated [in 1965] was this. On the one hand, Aboriginal stockworkers were being discriminated against in relation to their wages and conditions and this could not continue,” Pearson said. “On the other hand, it was clear to everyone that the institution of equal wages would result in the …removal of Aboriginal people from cattle station work to social security on the settlements.”
The tragic consequences of taking the latter option were cultural (Aborigines removed from traditional lands to settlements), social (work to no work) and an end to coexistence, however flawed.
Equal rights for Aborigines are an essential ingredient of a civilised society and a bedrock precursor to reconciliation, but Pearson believes the Government should have used Aborigines’ social security entitlements “to subsidise continued work in the cattle industry” and improve living conditions on the stations. Ironically, this would have meant agreements between government, pastoralists and Aborigines, something taking place only now since the Rock decision.
Labor’s Aboriginal affairs spokesman, Bob McMullan, notes that Pearson’s honesty about the horrors of welfare dependency in Aboriginal communities and his radical solutions like giving social security entitlements to Aboriginal communities rather than individuals are fraught with danger, including One Nation-type dangers of winding back rights.
But Labor has succumbed to this fear for too long. It has not yet engaged in serious public discourse on Aboriginal welfare, leaving itself open to Pearson’s charge that “the left side of politics is strong and correct on rights and the conservative side is strong and correct on responsibilities”.
Another reason for Labor’s silence is its lack of fresh ideas after establishing ATSIC, the embodiment of its self-determination ideal. That vacuum saw Paul Keating renege on the third prong of his promised response to the High Court’s Ameba decision a comprehensive plan to ensure social justice for Aborigines.
As the revolutionary ATSIC endured teething problems, money disappeared before it reached those on the ground. In 1994, an evaluation of Labor’s $250 million Aboriginal health strategy found “little evidence” that it ever existed, “a lack of political will” to get the job done and “a confusing and dysfunctional array of political responses” standing between problem and solution.
The then minister, Robert Tickner, said the Government needed “vision and purpose” to break through, and warned of the pending political mood shift which would fan Hanson’s flame. “The climate of public and government opinion is changing… Now is the time to act,” Tickner said then.
Most Australians are eager for new solutions which benefit from old failures, and would agree with Pearson that it is no longer enough “to just hold on to our ideals as a matter of philosophy and intellectual debate [while] the real society and economy unravels in front of our eyes”.
Keating’s Labor took responsibility for health away from ATSIC and gave it to the health minister. The Coalition’s Michael Wooldridge, deeply committed to Aboriginal advancement, has begun moving some decision-making and responsibility for Aboriginal community health to communities on the ground.
This attachment of rights and responsibilities in a constructive way is what Pearson is talking about.
Last year Peter Reith made an impact with a pilot employment program where private sector employers get a $4,000 subsidy to place an indigenous Australian in paid work for 26 weeks.
Reith’s response to the “special treatment” brigade was the simple, effective statement that Aboriginal unemployment was higher than the average and his job was to ensure equality for all Australians.
It is senseless for progressives committed to the survival of Aboriginal people and their culture to tiptoe around Aboriginal welfare dependence because they fear that engagement would fuel racist flames.
Everyone sees the problem, and without a progressive philosophy to tackle it, the solutions may end up promoting a largely unstated goal of many on the Right assimilation.
Reconciliation is about each culture learning from and adjusting to the other. It should enrich the lives of all Australians. I don’t fear what will happen if progressives publicly debate the future of Aboriginal welfare. I do fear what will happen if they don’t.
Emails have poured in again today on this desperately painful topic. I’ve grouped representative pieces according to theme.
THE PROBLEM OF WHITE JUDGING
The issue I am having the most trouble with here is encapsulated in your claim that “There is no doubt that present-day Aboriginal culture is misogynistic.” This claim, I suspect, calls to a tacit understanding in white culture of the cliched Aboriginal scenario of deprivation, anger and alcohol engendering male aggression towards females.
That this scenario constitutes the domain Aborigines occupy in our collective imagination is part of their “burden”. It dominates all our thinking on the topic. To call someone “racist” or “politically correct” according to their views on rape and racism again only re-enforces our much cherished inner bigotries.
Personally, I have no idea what the statistics are in regards to the abuse of women in Aboriginal society – nor am I certain that those statistics necessarily mean that Aboriginal men actually “hate” women. But I do have a suspicion of any “truth”, however well meaning, revealed by a dominant culture concerning a marginalised culture.
This includes the “truth” that Aboriginal culture is currently mysogynistic.
The unfortunate result of this discussion, and why I think it is so dangerous, is that stereotypes are toyed with, perhaps redefined, but ultimately camouflaged by an ever greater sense of our “understanding”.
WHO IS THE REAL WINNER?
I am with you all the way about Geoff, but who are the winners from this situation twenty weeks before election?
Should I believe in the purity of The Age “moral” stand? Is this situation ultimately creating an enormous breakdown of social forces that were gathering to send Howard to the history bin? I believe the winner in this tragic situation is Howard.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CLOSURE
Kathryn Pollard O’Hara in Lismore
This is an email Kathyrn sent to Geoff Clark in response to his statement after the ATSIC board meeting which backed him.
This matter that you write of will not come to rest.
Some people would say that the reason why so many Australians are losing their zest, why there is so much depression and spiralling rates of legal and illegal drug use is because there is too much unfinished social business.
Lots and lots of people have damaged psyches. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people carrying around bags and minds full of angst and anger. They feel they cannot have their voices heard. I think people desperately need to sit down with those they believe have done them wrong. I think they need to sit around big tables or under trees and let all their grief spill out.
I think people like the women who have said that you raped them need the opportunity to sit down with you and for all of you to try really hard to understand each other irrespective of whether you did rape these women or not.
I think perpetrators, just and unjust accusers and victims need to tell their stories to each other face to face as was the way of problem resolution of yore before courts and cops and judges and jails were ever invented.
Lots of junior Australians are perplexed when they learn of the farce that is called justice in this country. Inconsistencies and double standards abound and bring confusion and distrust where should be care and respect.
In my mind we can only respect each other when we are authentically honest with each other, when those who have hurt and harmed can get down on their goddamn knees – admit that they have done wrong and ask for ways to be make up for the hurt and damage.
I agree with those who scoff at the courts and the jails but at the same time there must be more listening to those who push for alternative ways to render justice. You know and everyone else knows that the legal system will look after you and your ilk while women and child cry in silence that it could all be so different with authentic community spirit , where people looked beyond their immediate friends and family to whole nation, whole world stuff of unconditional care for each and all.
At the end of the day, whether we like to admit it or not – we’re all related.
I am a lawyer. I spent six of the twelve years since my admission working in the criminal justice system representing accused people, two of those years with an Aboriginal legal aid organisation which refused to take female clients alleging sexual or physical assault by Aboriginal men, referring them instead to the (non-Aboriginal) legal aid office. In that time I often represented Aboriginal men who pleaded guilty to such offences, but did not represent men who denied them, referring them as above. Later I spent two years liaising with the office of the DPP in SA regarding the prosecution of lawyers. I’m now working as a quasi-judicial member of a civil law tribunal.
A few comments about the real problem at the heart of the Geoff Clark allegations:
a. The Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions, like the Commonwealth Director (whom you pursued so vigorously over Peter Reith), is an independent statutory official. His decisions to be prosecute or not are not reviewable at law.
b. The DPP, Mr Geoff Flatman QC, charged Mr Clark with rape. Mr Clark exercised his rights under Victorian law to have the evidence tested by a magistrate at a committal hearing. Not all states and territories still have such a right available to an accused person. The magistrate found insufficient evidence of the crime charged, to warrant sending the charge to the County Court to be heard by a judge and jury. The exact wording of the evidentiary test in Victoria might require that last sentence to be slightly recast, but I am confident that I have got the gist of the magistrate’s decision.
c. There is other evidence, known to the police, of other sexual assaults involving Mr Clark. We do not know why the DPP has chosen not to proceed with charges. The long delay between the acts and the apparent complaints to police is likely to be the chief factor. Perhaps the politics of Framlingham came out poorly against the police witnesses at the committal hearing.
d. Mr Clark is a very prominent man.
e. The Age has access to some of the evidence that the police have, and perhaps more. If the accounts of these potential witnesses are accepted, Mr Clark has committed several very serious offences, and if convicted even of one would be likely to receive a jail sentence.
f. I believe the DPP could, in serious and special circumstances, proceed direct to jury trial in relation to any appropriate indictable offence without the process of evidentiary testing at committal (or indeed in the face of a magistrate’s decision to dismiss the charge). This process is variously called laying an ex officio information or indictment.
Margo, you used the press to put pressure on Damien Bugg QC to lay charges in relation to the Reith telecard. True, the accounts of the witnesses published by The Age were not in the public domain as was the story of Paul Reith when you pursued Bugg. But that story came to light as the result of a leak, and that leak went to press. Immediately the prosecution policy of the Commonwealth was under scrutiny.
Only the press can put real pressure on the decision making power of a DPP. Such officials have great responsibility and little accountability. Mr Clark’s prominence, not his race, and the apparent (I repeat apparent) quality of the evidence make ex officio indictments the appropriate course here.
It is quite unfair to Mr Clark for the DPP to let these allegations sit. It is completely wrong of the ATSIC commissioners to do or say anything “backing” Mr Clark or otherwise. It is completely wrong of Ms O’Shane to make various airy statements about the allegations. It is even worse that Tony Jones and the Lateline team at the ABC chased her for sensationalist quotes, as they would well know her inability to resist an open mike.
It was quite right of The Age to publish. The door of the court, in which the allegations may be tested, can be opened by Mr Flatman. If ex officio indictments are beyond him then at least another single committal is justified. The DPP’s prosecution guidelines make the public interest one of the reasons to prosecute, or to hold one’s hand. The public interest has changed since he made his initial decision to proceed no further with charges against Mr Clark. One hopes Victorian judges are brave enough to withstand the inevitable application for a permanent stay of proceedings on the basis of the publication by The Age. Perhaps even Mr Clark might see the sense in submitting himself to a jury.
It’s time to try these questions.
CLARK SHOULD GO
Isn’t pressure put on politicians to step down until proven innocent so as not to bring disrepute to their position? Shouldn’t this be even more important for people in positions of power who should be setting an example for the younger people to follow and respect.
I consider myself a reasonably tolerant, “look for the best in people” sort of bloke. I am 47 and although I have never committed any crimes against Aboriginal Australians – in fact I’ve hardly ever encountered any in my lifetime so far – I am genuinely sorry for those removed from their homes and families all those years ago.
I am not sorry because they are Aborigines, but because they are HUMAN BEINGS. It is a truly sad part of our history which any reasonable & compassionate person must view as regrettable. I’m sure that many of the people actually involved in the exercise of removal were genuinely well intended, believing that the childrens’ lot would be improved in terms of health, welfare and education. Alas, in the light of another era the actions appear (correctly) as very cruel.
I am saddened for the Prime Minister’s refusal to say sorry, but I am even sadder because of his reasons for not doing so – for fear of legal proceedings designed to extract unrealistic sums of money from this or future governments. Wouldn’t it be nice if he just “did the deed”, and Aborigines equally simply said “thank you for your expression of sympathy, now let us go forward as Australians, together.
But what I have become angry about, is self-serving politicians (black and white) who want one rule for themselves and another for everyone else. Geoff Clark is a politician. To kill off ANY debate about these most serious allegations from his past, he plays the “racially vilified victim” card.
I personally believed the women’s stories after reading the Herald, because I could see nothing to be gained by the women – especially in revealing themselves by name. Mr Clark, on the other hand, has much to lose. I believe he was a boxer, footballer and thug. A “tough guy” because of his size, who happened in to politics. Someone used to pushing people around. I doubt he is involved in ATSIC for anything other than reasons of personal aggrandisement. Good, old-fashioned naked ambition. And he has cleverly, cynically and deliberately used his colour to make a “defence” when his colour has absolutely nothing to do with the issue – in fact, 3 of the women were Aborigines themselves.
Geoff Clark is beneath my contempt – a cynical human being who has learnt how to use being a member of a minority group to his own advantage – a top-drawer ugly Australian. He doesn’t name who these mysterious conspirators are (because he can’t), nor does he show any pity for the women. What is sad is that the Aborigines are stuck with him because they are too scared to kick him out.
I would like to make a concluding and positive suggestion. The cause of the Aboriginal people would be far better served if they removed Geoff Clark as Chairman of ATSIC (preferably from any role in which this scum purports to represent anyone but himself). My choice for his replacement? Sir William Deane. A truly great Australian and human being, who I strongly suspect is more genuinely concerned about Aboriginal Australians than Geoff Clark will ever be – and someone who would bring great dignity and respect to the cause.
Anna Garrett, student and legal secretary
I wanted to let you know how much I agree with your arguments regarding the allegations against Geoff Clark. I made the mistake of reading the original article over lunch, and was unable to finish eating. I was further sickened by the response of Pat O’Shane (with powerful women like that, who needs powerful male chauvinist pigs!)and the ATSIC board members and others who came out in support of Geoff Clark.
Perhaps Clark is right, and there is some kind of so-called conspiracy to find dirt on him. But the dirt diggers obviously found a lot of dirt. The matter should be further investigated by the police and hopefully in Court. Clark should stand down now until the truth can be discovered.
The dominant male culture in Australia still does not respect women enough,
1) I find the comments made by Pat O’Shane offensive and derogatory towards women and in particular Aboriginal women.
2) I find her comment “bleeding heart middle class feminists” offensive and derogatory towards all women and in particular our Aboriginal women who have been in and are still in high profile positions.
3) I do not think that the ATSIC Commissioners should be making public statements whether it be in support of or otherwise, on behalf of all Aboriginal people – THIS IS A PERSONAL MATTER BETWEEN GEOFF CLARK AND THE WOMEN CONCERNED, which has to be dealt with in the appropriate manner.
5) In my opinion ATSIC is fully aware that supporting Geoff Clark is a deliberate tact to divide black and white in this country – how can we expect non Aboriginals to be sympathetic to our cause (health, education, land, employment, stolen generation etc etc) when they see this happening.
6) I wish the country to know that when Geoff Clark states that “the Aboriginal Community supports him” I am not one of them.
7) Pat O’Shane states Geoff Clark has been trialled by the media Pat O’Shane has already condemned the women concerned through the media.
8) Geoff Clark should stand down from his position till such time as he has been cleared of all allegations.
CLARK SHOULD STAY
The point you are missing is that the police have no evidence upon which to raise a charge, so why should newspapers raise the issue – that is trial by media. Now I see that you have a poll on whether he should step down – surely that is the ATSIC boards issue not yours.
How would you feel if someone started to investigate your activities and raise them in the news? They wouldn’t need evidence just hearsay and innuendo. Give us a break and let the Aboriginal community sort this out.
I do not believe you (news media) are the messengers here but rather the message. You have manufactured the entire story from start to finish (sought out victims and raised a lot of hearsay evidence). As an Aboriginal man I do not like Geoff (I have met him and spoken to him over a number of hours). It is the law that must act, not some newspaper journalist.
I read all this material on Geoff Clarke and some things stand out – Fairfax and its journalists give themselves the right to judge and execute, but there is no accountability for decisions, no transparency of process or decision making, and no genuine prospect of redress for the aggrieved.
Journalists get very high minded and present themselves as a profession, but they never really hold themselves accountable. The story generates stories and gets its own momentum and then something else happens and everyone moves on.
But the story sits there and those who have been caught in it have to deal with it after the crowd has gone. Story tellers have moral obligations because they control the narrative and shape its life in the world. The Age and Andrew Rule seem not to know this, or worse not to care
They seem to think that it is simply enough to make accusations and then its up to Clark. This is an act of bad faith, fundamentally patronising to readers and exploitative of those they write about. It’s the sort of thing you get from Sixty Minutes and A Current Affair.
I don’t particularly object to publication, but I don’t think The Age took the story seriously enough to finish what they started. So they short change everyone, including Clark. But then, The Age hasn’t been a serious newspaper for years.
It is a shame to see the witch hunt against Pat O’Shane. She is a fine public servant with a very long record of progressive social activism. She doesn’t deserve the vilification. Danna Vale can condemn from the warm sanctity of the Liberal Party. She might have stood up to Howard on mandatory sentencing, but then she backed down, and hey, we still have mandatory sentencing and she’s still in the Liberal Party.
My take on your article “Who is oppressing who here, Geoff?” is that this period leading up to the Federal election, will go down as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Australian media, particularly with regard to the treatment of Aboriginal people.
I have no objection to the publication of the names of prominent people who have been accused of offences by a number of complainants prior to any legal proceedings against them – there is indeed a law for the rich and a law for the rest – but let us have the same rules for everyone.
Karel Zegers in Marong, Victoria
Watching Ms O’Shane trying to worm her way out of admitting to what she said on Lateline last night, I couldn’t escape the impression she was digging her hole deeper and deeper.
Some 15 years ago I was told in Alice Springs and Cooper Pedy that abuse of women was happening at a grand scale amongst Aboriginal communities. The medical community and the police were very aware of this phenomenon. But no action was ever taken because the “politically correct” of this country have caused this to be hidden.
Only a mention of this and one would have been labelled a “racist”. The media at large are guilty of this situation as well and should be ashamed of themselves, as many Aboriginal women have suffered enormously due to this behaviour.
Reporters and newspapers should report, not opinionate or push a political barrow. Funny thing is that some are now trying to make out that this abuse is a “cultural phenomenon” in Aboriginal communities. (Duhh!!!)
For all those defending Ms O’Shane, a simple question. What if a white magistrate had spoken out and stated “well, it’s a fact that a lot of Aborigines are violent criminals”? Would these defenders still be supportive, agreeing that yes, it’s true, so the magistrate is entitled to say so? Or would they be calling for blood?
And what chance would such a magistrate have of still being employed, let alone remaining qualified to sit in cases concerning Aboriginals? Zero, I would expect, and with reasonable justification. Is the O’Shane situation any different?
In her most recent outburst, Pat O’Shane labels the people who criticised her original comments as “bleeding heart, bleating middle-class feminists”.
I don’t have much time for those who use the term “bleeding heart” as some kind of put down. It implies that a certain level of naivete exists within those with so-called bleeding hearts.
Let’s turn it around. The opposite of a “bleeding heart” is probably a hard liner not interested in the welfare of any. If Australia’s bleeding hearts could be eliminated quickly we would live in a much harsher and more unjust society.
It’s interesting that we live in a society where words like “ruthless” and “hard-liner” are positive descriptions while the term “bleeding heart” is a negative term. No one wants to be known as a “bleeding heart”. Pity about that.
As for the middle class thing – all I can say is here we go again. Why are middle class people less entitled to a view? I don’t like this attitude because it ends up antagonising those who could be most helpful in mobilising broader public opinion in a way that would help Aborigines.
There seems to be an idea that you can’t have a view or any “street cred” unless you have been there yourself. That’s rubbish. Again, let’s turn it around. The alternative is for middle class people to shut their mouths, withdraw from debate and ponder less weighty issues like their next visit to the suburban shopping mall. If less middle class people care, less will be done. It’s as simple as that.
Anyway, I’m not so sure a “working class feminist” or an “upper class feminist” would form a different view. I actually think the vast majority of feminists and non-feminists of all classes would object to the line that “a lot of women manufacture a lot of stories about men”. Turning it solely into a feminist and even more ludicrously class based view is really clutching at straws.
I’m not sure why Pat O’Shane is now pushing the line that she had everything to say about violence toward Aboriginal women 20 years ago and no one cared then. If that’s the case, she should be happy now that at least people are finally listening.
She doesn’t get out of it that easily though because it is totally inconsistent with her original comments implying that a lot of complaints from Aboriginal women are fabricated. What a muddle.
If the bleeding heart, middle class feminists are bleating so be it. What’s Pat O’Shane doing? Running around like a chook with its head chopped off if you ask me. She’s not making much sense. The bleaters are.
Like Rhonda Dixon, (diary Us and them) I thought Margo’s piece Rape and racism was excellent. I’m surprised at the negative reaction.
I want to explain why I find Pat O’Shane’s remarks that ‘ lot of women make up lots of stories’ offensive, and why it is not simply about ideology.
Isn’t it interesting that this issue has attracted responses from 15 men out of 18 people. Of the 3 women, one response was from an Aboriginal women. (Please send more! – it’s the voices of Aboriginal women we need to hear more of).
Most of the men and one woman objected to Margo’s analysis. Of the men, two cited the case of a mentally ill woman whose false rape call in a Melbourne park led to the killing of a gay man. That does not mean that ‘lots of women manufacture a lot of stories about men’.
Here are the reasons I am so grossly offended and shocked at O’Shane’s comments:
* it was an assault on the four women who made the allegations – how shattering it must be to hear such condemnation by one of the highest profile Aboriginal women in Australia;
* it will discourage women in general and Aboriginal women in particular from coming forward with rape allegations;
* it feeds into the general public consciousness about attitudes to sexual assault – in particular, it gives more power to pedophiles who are well known for threatening children with the line that no-one will believe them;
* it is simply not true!!
If O’Shane wanted to make the point that it was possible the story may not be true she should have done so. She could have made this point without attacking the credibility of three brave Aboriginal women and one brave white woman.
So how many women make up rape stories? No-one knows for sure. No-one knows how many rape stories are true or untrue. There is no way of empirically testing this. Usually its one man’s word against one woman’s word. Sometimes its one man’s word against a child’s word. Sometimes it’s a gang of men or boys’ words against one woman or one girl.
So when its one person’s word against another and there is no compelling physical evidence either way what do we do? As individuals and as a society, in social discourse, we make judgements based on probabilities- we consider the likelihood of this or that being true based on our previous experience. This is informed by personal experience and ideas which have infiltrated our consciousness from television reports, soap operas, news stories and sometimes academic theories.
When Pat O’Shane says lots of women manufacture lots of stories she, because of the position she holds and her credibility, shifts the general public’s sense of the balance of probabilities against women. In my view, her comments will lead to more people being more likely to doubt a woman’s story. She has sown seeds of doubt in the general public consciousness about the credibility of all women who allege rape.
This issue seems to have struck a chord with men’s fear of being falsely accused of rape. And so these men accuse women of being ideologues if they object to a woman stating categorically that lots of women lie about rape.
Last night on Lateline, Tony Jones should have challenged Pat O’Shane to justify her claim that lots of women make up lots of stories. He should have asked her what is her evidence for making that claim. Did she have personal experience of this? Did she discover this in her court?
I will share my personal experience. Here are four cases of women I know who have
been raped but obtained no redress through the legal system.
A woman in her mid-30s, adopted by a conservative Catholic family, and raped on a daily basis by the church-going white next door neighbour, a ‘close friend of the family’ from the age of 10 to 16, drinking alcohol from age 12 to block it out, alcohol addiction problems continue through university – still can’t tell her parents – tried to tell them once when she was a child but they didn’t believe her. So why wouldn’t they believe her? Because they thought it was quite likely that women and girls make up such stories and how could they even think that their church-going neighbour and friend would do such a thing? Better to doubt the child.
A white woman in her early 30s, sexually assaulted by a white family friend from 5 years to 7 years old, gang raped by teenage boys at age 11 and pregnant to a 19 year-old at 13. Gave birth to the child at 14 and married the 19 year-old. Became a sex worker. The father of her child turned out to be a pedophile who sexually assaulted neighborhood children and his own daughter when she was 12. The grandmother still blames her daughter and calls her a slut.
A white doctor in her late 30s, sexually assaulted by a ‘servant’ while her parents were posted to a third world country from ages of 3 to 6. Still can’t tell parents. Years of thinking they wouldn’t believe her.
A white woman in her mid-twenties, adopted into a Foreign Affairs family as a child, repeatedly raped by the high-ranking father from age 12 to 17. Tried to tell the department but they did not want to know. She now has mental illness (in my view directly related to the rapes) and would have no credibility.
One of those women was my partner for 6 years. Let me tell you, when you hear the graphic details of the rapes and see the aftermath- the addictions, the nightmares, waking up screaming, the headbanging, the pure unadulterated emotional pain which may diminish over time but never goes away -you get angry when anyone perpetuates the view that ‘lots of women’ make up these stories.
When Pat O’Shane says it, it makes it worse than if some old white man says it because she knows better. She knows how damaging such comments are to those who are survivors of sexual assault, and because she is a well-known feminist and Aboriginal role model her comments have more credibility and do more damage than if said by someone else.
So to those men who were affronted by Margo’s piece I ask you to put yourself in the place of a young girl (black or white) being raped by a friend of the family who your parents trust implicitly and who keeps telling you no-one will believe you if tell and what’s more he’ll start on your little sister and kill your cat, how do you feel when you hear Pat O’Shane make those comments?
Imagine your wife or your daughter has been raped and you believe their story – you know them so well you know beyond a skerrick of a doubt they are telling the truth. But your mates at the pub cast aspersions and say are you sure it really happened – after all lots of women make up these stories. How do you feel then about Pat O’Shane’s comments?
To finish, I have to say I think, Margo, you are not being fair to drag out comments from 25 years ago and use them to explain O’Shane’s entire philosophical approach to life. There is truth in what she said last night on Lateline that she has been talking about violence in Aboriginal communities for a long time when others have not.
Now its time to turn the heat away from O’Shane back onto Clark where it belongs. I agree with Michael Johnston (diary yesterday) that we should leave O’Shane alone now.
Dig up Clark’s public policy record on violence. Why hasn’t he responded to O’Shane’s report that she said last night was presented to him last year? What has he ever said on the public record about violence and sexual assault in Aboriginal communities? What is ATSIC doing about it? How much money is being spent by ATSIC to redress the problems?
And I hope more journalists prove O’Shane wrong and do some investigative stories exposing high-profile white rapists.
One final point to demonstrate what I said yesterday about our legal system not giving justice to women who have been raped. The Canberra Times reported on Tuesday in ‘Canberra man wins acquittal on incest charges’ that ‘the collapse of this case is but the latest in a string of unsuccessful prosecutions for sex-related offences in the ACT Supreme court. It was the seventh case in succession in which an accused has been acquitted of serious charges.’
And these are only the cases that got to court. Remember the SMH reported onTuesday that ABS data shows 87% of women who have been sexually assaulted do not report to the police. No wonder some of us now welcome investigative journalism exposing rapists.
And like Margo said today, most top defamation lawyers would do the job for Clark – they do that for high-profile cases all the time. Clark is hiding behind his claim that he won’t sue for lack of money.
SOME GOOD WILL COME OF THIS
Well done on having the courage to speak so honestly about the race versus gender conflict faced by women within the indigenous community. The first step in resolving any complex problem is the revelation and acknowledgement of all facets of the problem.