Ending the cover-up

Reconciliation Australia, through Fred Chaney and Jackie Huggins – white man, black woman – called for action. The government, through Phillip Ruddock and the opposition through Bob McMullan, responded with a bipartisan commitment to help protect Aboriginal women and children.


ATSIC was busy fending off the latest allegations of sexual abuse by members of its leadership. It remains silent on the real issue.


I never thought I’d return to the paper with a piece demanding an overhaul of ATSIC and the dismissal of its board. I felt sick writing it last night, and I feel sick seeing it today.


Yet an elder stateswoman of the Aboriginal community rang this morning in tears, saying it all needed to be said. She did not want to be named, but said: “There are so many of my people terrified of the violence of the men at the top. People like me are quite broken-hearted. I never felt so depressed about the Aboriginal situation as I do now. When I think of the people who worked without a cracker for all those years for our people, I cry to see these crooks sitting on their beds of feathers.”


Here’s my piece, and your latest responses to this sad and bitter story.


It’s time to stop messing around. ATSIC must be overhauled, the cover-up must end and a fresh, new Aboriginal body put in place to lead the fight for the safety of Aboriginal women and children.


When Evelyn Scott wrote last week that violence against Aboriginal women had become “a part of our tradition and culture and cannot be spoken about” and that “many women and children are cowed into helplessness by their menfolk” the end was nigh for ATSIC in its current form.


When senior Aboriginal women backed her dreadful confession and Australians learned that ATSIC was part of the conspiracy of silence and inaction, the end had come.


Now claims of sexual misconduct swirl around three senior Aboriginal male leaders, all members of the ATSIC hierarchy.


Now Reconciliation Australia, the replacement body for the Council of Aboriginal Reconciliation, urges an end to the talk and the beginning of concentrated, concerted action to save Aboriginal women and children from endemic physical and sexual violence.


ATSIC should have led this debate for years. It should have been its top priority to expose the crisis and to shame white governments into financing solutions. Imagine a world where there is no safe house, nowhere to go if a mother or her child has been raped or bashed. As Labor’s spokeswoman on the status of women, Carmen Lawrence, told the Herald: “There’s no refuges, there’s no support from the legal system, and women are often exposed to the same players. These are the key reasons why indigenous women often shut up about it.”


Yet rather than protect its children, ATSIC was largely silent. It has not denied a devastating claim by former minister John Herron that when he raised the issue five years ago the ATSIC board denied its existence, and that in 1999 deputy chairman Ray Robinson told him ATSIC would allocate a mere $200,000.


Yet in 1995 ATSIC agreed to pay Robinson $45,000 to pursue a private legal action against the Queensland Government for wrongful arrest, after he had been convicted of rape in 1989 (his second rape conviction) then acquitted at a retrial in 1992.


What business was it for ATSIC to underwrite this action, as well as top up his legal expenses?


Robinson said last week on behalf of the ATSIC board that unanimously backed Geoff Clark that ATSIC “will support him in whatever legal course of action he should pursue in seeking remedy against the newspaper”.


Maybe it is time for Aboriginal leaders who cut their teeth winning equal rights for Aboriginal people decades ago to step down in favour of young Aboriginal leaders with fresh ideas and a fresh commitment to further the interests of their people.

One thing is certain: this discredited ATSIC, which cannot see that the safety of Aboriginal children is its top priority, has lost its authority to speak to the Australian people on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Australia.





Bryan Law in Manunda, Queensland


Coming from Queensland, I don’t know Senator Bill Heffernan. From the way he made his statement, he must be a tireless worker for Aboriginal people, deeply involved in the grass-roots communities of NSW.


But what I mostly noticed was that while he used the coward’s castle to name Terry O’Shane, he didn’t put forward one constructive idea on how to address family violence in Aboriginal communities (He vows to provide more advocacy services for victims in the European justice system, but he doesn’t say what or how, and he mentions no programs at the grass-roots of the communities themselves).


I also notice that in the lead up to an election we now have three ATSIC leaders being attacked in such a way as to divide and confuse Aboriginal activists, their supporters, and the general public. Forget reconciliation as an issue, let alone a treaty. Instead we’ll have Laura Norder and the brutish black man. Quite an achievement in a short period of time.


Let’s not kid ourselves that this a campaign against rape, sexual violence, or any other violence within Aboriginal communities. It’s just an attack. Making it an attack based on sexual matters helps to ensure it creates maximum disruption.


Also let’s get off the “newly discovered” advertising slogan you journalist-politician types seem addicted to. For a “hidden” issue, family violence in Aboriginal society has been getting an awful lot of attention over the past few decades, and is a focus of policy and programmes in all the Aboriginal communities I’ve been in contact with (Cairns and Cape York).


Maybe I can tell you about M, our neighbour, and some of her life experiences during the past week of attacks on Aboriginal men.


M is a member of the stolen generation, and was brought up at Mona Mona mission, in the dormitory system. She has few parenting or interpersonal skills as a result of that upbringing, and is a welfare case. She has children and grandchildren scattered around northern Australia. Suicide, imprisonment, and substance abuse are all in her family now. She is a fine person, doing the best she can under difficult circumstances.


Twice in the past week we have lent support and assistance to M and her family. First a son was visiting after getting out of prison, and he “went off”, raging around their housing commission unit and threatening to burn it down. M and three littlies came to our place for safety, and to call the police and have him removed. The police didn’t want to attend, but did after my wife talked to them. Her son had run away by the time the police arrived.


M was shaken by this episode and descended once again into her own issues of alcohol abuse. One night she was very late home, so the littlies came to our place by themselves for some care and attention. When M came home, the kids didn’t want to go to her that night because they were scared of emotional abuse.


That’s just a tiny mote in a relatively well-resourced regional city. Visit any remote Aboriginal community here in far north Queensland, and you will discover concentration camps where the guards have packed up and gone home, and the inmates now run the program themselves. Violence, scary violence, is directed against everyone. Women, men, children.


These problems are deep, difficult and widespread. But there’s no “brutish” ogre at the centre of them. No Geoff Clark. There is a de-humanising concentration camp up-bringing at the hands of church and state. There is the continuing racism of anglo-Australian culture, expressed all through policing and the welfare state. There are the victims of official abuse for 130 years (here).


Care and attention, plus resources, can go a long way to fixing these problems, but it will take time measured in generations. It will also take a big attitude change from us migaloo and our institutions.


The question I would ask you Margo is just what help the attacks on Geoff Clark or Terry O’Shane or Ray Robinson any other Aboriginal leader will provide for people like M and her family? Could you please explain that to me? I’m having trouble understanding it.


MARGO: White people cannot take black children away – look what happened when we did. Only black people can intervene, take children to safety and give them a chance. This requires black leadership.


Maya Hessels in Cairns


How courageous of Mr Heffernan to make such serious allegations against Terry O’Shane. How sure is he of the accuracy of his accusations and could this be abuse of parliamentary privilege?

I know Mr O’Shane from personal experience, when he single-handedly saved the lives and sanity of many Cairns teenagers when their sixteen year-old very close friend was brutally gunned down by a crazed killer. I know this man to be supremely caring and honourable and I think he deserves more than finger-pointing from those who cowardly drop a grenade and then hide behind the skirts of the government.


Maybe parliamentary privilege has its place, but there should be certain considerations and checks before this kind of bleating should be allowed to take place.


Mr Heffernan, I seriously hope you know what you are doing. I, for one, don’t think much of you and your lily-livered ravings. If you are THAT sure of your allegations, be a man and come out to where you can be held accountable for what you say.


Fiona Ferrari in Canberra


Heffernan’s use of parliamentary privilege to name an alleged child abuser will no doubt attract strong negative reactions. Personally I support it.


While our legal system continues to give so much protection to those accused of child abuse (especially through evidence laws and statute of limitation laws) it is inevitable that some people who care deeply about injustice will find other ways of speaking the truth.


Our current legal system protects rapists at the expense of children who have been raped. We must find ways of reforming the legal framework for child abuse cases if we want to stop anarchic leakage of names through the media and parliament.


Preventing child abuse is so important but we also we need better systems to heal the pain of those who have been abused as children.


Most states have victims of crime legislation which provides for payment to child abuse victims to compensate for some of their pain and assist in getting their life together. Unfortunately, most states have recently tried to rationalise these provisions so it is becoming harder for sexual assault survivors to access financial compensation.


In the ACT, the Government recently proposed abolition of all financial compensation for sexual assault survivors and all other victims of crime. The sexual assault survivors only maintained access to financial assistance with the support of Independent members of parliament.


But under the current legislation, if your crime happened outside the ACT, you are not entitled to counselling and other services available to victims of crime. As you can imagine there must be many survivors of child sexual assault who were assaulted in NSW, Victoria and other places where they grew up now living in the ACT, but not entitled to any help.


Don Arthur


Suddenly indigenous family violence was on the public agenda – but just as quickly the issue will vanish from view. The problem won’t go away – there’s no risk of that – it’s just that journalists, politicians and the public will lose interest. Already the attention of the Herald and Web Diary seems to have shifted to other angle of the Clark story, the Aboriginal leadership crisis.


I get worried when a chronic, deep seated problem like family violence gets called a “national emergency.” A car crash or a bush fire is an emergency, family violence is something else – something much worse.


An emergency comes suddenly and demands a quick response. Once the victims are in the ambulance, the fires are out and the houses rebuilt the crisis is over and we can let the locals mop up the mess and get on with their lives.


Emergencies respond well to the media’s issue cycle – crisis, intervention, resolution and the afterglow of heroism and survivor stories for the features pages.


It worried me when you called for an “urgent summit or commission” (in Time for action). Policy makers have an issue cycle too. Once decision makers have matched a solution with a problem the problem then drops from the agenda. The more urgency there is about the issue the more pressure there is to say that you’ve done something – the faster the better.


A crisis is no place for discussion among experts or community involvement – a crisis demands action. Almost anything that looks like a solution will do. And once the problem is ‘addressed’ it’s almost impossible to get it on the agenda again.


Americans were shocked when Michael Harrington discovered poverty amidst the wealth of their booming post-war economy. It was a national emergency and the president declared war on it – Johnson’s War on Poverty.


Everyone knew what to expect. America had never lost a war. Things would be tough for a few years but victory was inevitable. But whatever was achieved wasn’t enough. It fell short of the inflated expectations of a swift and decisive victory.


Ever since Johnson lost the War on Poverty conservatives have been saying that the war was unwinnable – that only the poor can solve the problem of poverty. The energy generated by the sudden, shocking discovery vanished. Going to the moon was easier and a lot more satisfying.


So let’s not declare war on family violence. It needs sustained attention. Nobody should expect it to be sorted out in a couple of years. It’s too caught up with other deep seated problems – alcohol, unemployment and histories of childhood abuse and neglect.


I’d like to see more stories about what’s working in communities as well as about what’s standing in the way. It’s too easy for people to think that the situation is hopeless. Once that happens they’ll try very hard not to think about it.


I’m with Anne Marks (in It’s make or break time) when she writes “I look forward to

real support for Aboriginal people who have been beavering away for a

long, long time to make their lives bearable.”


Geoff Eagar in Toowoon Bay.


Many of the last few days’ contributions return to the theme of reconciliation. Jack Robertson’s very practical suggestions are a positive step forward yet still it seems from both his contribution and that of others that it’s up to someone else or “them” such as the Fairfax Press or a TV Station.


If that’s as far as reconciliation has come then we’ve still a long way to go. I remember a while ago the theme of Walking Together. It’s about engaging with Aboriginal People at a face-to-face personal level in your own local community. Try starting at your local school’s ASSPA Committee, your local schools’ district’s AECG. Your school district Aboriginal Education Consultant can point you a direction where you can work in your own area, your local area health service, legal service. Your skills as a journalist helping to draft letters, mentoring students…


Working out what Reconciliation is is like defining the length of a piece of string but it starts with personal engagement: like all the kids at primary and high schools across the state whose art work so commonly depicts a white and a black hand clasping.


Brian Clayton


What a shambles the way forward for the Aboriginal population has become. Can the leadership of ATSIC not see what they are doing to their people’s cause?


I feel saddened whenever I see the condition in which many of the Aboriginal people live and I am old enough to understand that there are no easy answers. But at the end of the day the Aborigines are only 2% of the population and necessarily rely on the support of the other 98% if they are ever to move forward.


I believe the enlightened leaders of the Aboriginal people, such as Noel Pearson, see this and are bent on moving towards self reliance. The only successful indigenous populations elsewhere in the world are self reliant.


But I am one of those older middle class Australians who, while sorry for events of the past, feel I have nothing to apologise for.


When I look at Geoff Clark’s eyes I do not see reconciliation, I see revenge. I think I can understand that because he may very well be a victim of the same cycle of violence he is alleged to have perpetrated. I believe I understand why some of our forebears tried to remove some children from this environment. After all, how culturally stimulating is it to be the object of continual sexual abuse?


Be that as it may, it seems the entire leadership of ATSIC has a problem in one way or another. Their focus seems to be everywhere but on the future of their people.


But how do we help? For the white people to do this directly leads to (perhaps justifiable) accusations of paternalistic imperialism. It must be done by involving the aboriginal communities.But how can you now deal with ATSIC?


Personally, I would spend whatever it took to help the vast bulk of the Aboriginal people.


I would spend not a penny more on indulging the likes of Geoff Clark.


John Dunlop in Brisbane


I liked your polls “Should Geoff Clark step down?” and “Should the fairfax papers have published the report?”, skilfully crafted such that answering yes to the first question would lead to answering yes to the second.


I’m a yes/no man myself. I can’t see any good coming from encouraging future trial by media journalism. Fairfax has got away with it this time but it’s only a matter of time before someone get’s seriously hurt by this approach.


Yes, he should stand down, not because of the allegations, but because of his contempt for them. An innocent man in his position owes it to his supporters and detractors alike to deal with the pain of others with sensitivity.


Quoted in context, Pat O’Shane was attacking Trial By Media, not supporting Geoff Clark, but Merely pointing out how the media and the public can be manipulated. Offering a magistrate’s perspective, not condoning or supporting Geoff Clark. Her comments since have vindicated her. Full marks to Pat O’Shane for calling it like it is. If I was in court and innocent I’d want her hearing my case.


Did he do it? I don’t know, and neither does Fairfax.

Ray and Terry

Terry O’Shane:

Terry O’Shane is the chairman of the ATSIC regional council in Cairns, a former commissioner of the ATSIC board – he was defeated by Ray Robinson ally Jenny Pryor in the 1999 election – and the brother of Pat O’Shane. The Supreme Court yesterday continued its injunction against The Courier Mail publishing allegations concerning Mr O’Shane. The case resumes in Cairns tomorrow.

NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan made mention of Mr O’Shane in a speech to the Senate last night. Here is its text.

Senator HEFFERNAN (New South Wales Parliamentary Secretary to Cabinet) (10.08 p.m.)

Recent events have highlighted the sexual, physical and emotional abuse, often in warlike conditions, of women and children in our indigenous community. The honesty and clarity of the statements by the former chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Dr Evelyn Scott, is to be commended. The courage and strength of her family, her daughters, and son Mr Sam Backo is awe-inspiring. Their honesty in breaking the code of silence on the stolen innocence and ultimate betrayal of their childhood should be both a beacon of light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel and an inspiration for all victims of child abuse.

In view of the widespread allegations that a high profile indigenous leader, Mr Terry O’Shane, is the person who abused members of Evelyn Scott’s family, I find the contradictions and hypocrisy of some male Aboriginal leaders breathtaking – none more so than that of the deputy chairman of ATSIC, who was convicted and jailed for rape in the 1960s and is now seeking the high moral ground.

It is not the least bit surprising to me to see that victims of abuse have suffered in silence all those years. The option to break their silence risked death. Sadly, many victims of all ages take the streets, drugs and suicide route and many other victims go on to be perpetrators.

A study commissioned by me in June 2000 and funded out of my office, titled Child sexual abuse in rural and remote Australian indigenous communities, did a preliminary investigation into child abuse in our indigenous communities. This study was undertaken by a Sydney University Masters graduate who won the university medal for her thesis on domestic violence in rural New South Wales. While this report of 50,000 words is not yet finalised, it certainly identifies a direct relationship between family violence; drug, alcohol and sexual abuse; malnutrition; family dysfunction; incarceration; and a culture of silence that is driven by fear of both emotional and physical intimidation. In the report there is ample evidence of the enormous catastrophe in everyday life that many indigenous people endure.

This catastrophe can best be summarised by a quote from Maryanne Sam, author of Through black eyes: a handbook of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It reads: “The silence of the victims has brought so much fear and pain into their lives. The silence of families has caused a breakdown in our cultural and moral values, and the silence of the abuser has meant little hope of them getting the sort of help they need.”

I am sure that Mr Sam Backo understood this when he said to the Courier Mail last week: “It was only last Sunday that I had the first conversation with my mother for an hour and a half and it was the best conversation I have ever had in my life. When they say the expression ‘a child loses its innocence’, I know about that, and I went on to play for Australia. I’ve been carrying that for a long time.”

Mr Backo said he had discussed child sexual abuse with his best mate, rugby league star Peter Jackson, who died of a drug overdose in 1998 after repeated sexual abuse as a teenager. He said he wanted to publicly support his mother, the former chairwoman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, who .. said her daughters had been sexually abused as children. The other reason for speaking out was that he had five children of his own. Mr Backo said the perpetrator of the abuse against him was a family member.

Talking time is over – it is time for solutions. A major impediment to solutions and public recognition of the horrendous conditions of family violence and sexual abuse till now endured in silence, especially in rural and remote Aboriginal communities, has been a fear of a backlash driven by political correctness.

Further evidence to emerge was the difficulty of finding amongst the male leadership suitable role models for an anti-abuse campaign. In our study there were several indigenous women who strongly expressed the view that they wanted an effective legal response. As I have said many times, we all stand condemned while ever the point of shame is allowed to remain with the victims.

However, it should not be forgotten that family violence and sexual abuse are not restricted to our indigenous community. As was demonstrated at the Wood royal commission, our justice system has serious fault lines when it comes to child abuse, especially when committed by high profile offenders. The royal commission, in its final report, concluded at 7.226:

“The Commission has looked at factors which contribute to inadequacies in this type of investigation: those identified include an inability to believe that the prominent person would engage in such conduct, in some cases conditioned by respect for or close association with the institution they represent (for example, the church or justice system).”

The recent conviction of a former magistrate in South Australia on charges of gross systematic sexual abuse of young boys over a period of years highlights the real plight of the victims of sexual abuse. This magistrate displayed the typical predator’s manipulative skill and the abuse of his power and position to shame his victims into silence. How can the victims of sexual abuse and family violence be confident that they obtain justice if they break their silence? Victims of child abuse and family violence, whether indigenous or non-indigenous, enjoy the least advocacy and virtually no political representation. I intend to correct this imbalance.

Ray Robinson

Ray Robinson is the deputy chairman of ATSIC. He has called on Geoff Clark to stand down.

Under the ATSIC legislation, when Lowitja O’Donohue’s term as chairman expired, the board would, for the first time, elect its own chairman. Up until then, the government had appointed the chairman.

But the Coalition government – with the support of Labor and the Democrats – changed the law to allow it to appoint a chairman one last time, and selected Gatjil Djerrkura. The reason was that Ray Robinson had the numbers on the board to make Charlie Perkins chairman, and political figures feared a Robinson-controlled board. At the end of Djerrkura’s term, the ATSIC board elected Geoff Clark – a factional opponent of Robinson – to be its chairman.

Senator Heffernan told the Senate last night that Robinson had been jailed for rape in the 1960s. He was also convicted of rape in 1989. The verdict was set aside on appeal, and he was acquitted at the retrial in 1992. ATSIC topped up Robinson’s costs – met by the Queensland Aboriginal Legal Aid Service – by $1,000, according to evidence given to Senate estimates by ATSIC in 1998. .

ATSIC also told the Senate committee that in February 1995, the ATSIC Board agreed to provide $45,000 to Robinson to fund the costs of a case he lodged against the Queensland government for wrongful arrest. After he had spent $43,000, the ATSIC board decided it would no longer fund the matter.

Robinson sued radio 2UE for defamation in 1995, and the case is still active. A procedural hearing took place in December 1999. To read the judge’s decision on the procedural matter, go to the Robinson judgement

Time for action

Aboriginal women have come out. They have admitted their terrible secret. We must respond. But how? Janice Judd at the University of California wrote to me last night: “I would like to make a contribution to the legal costs that the women who claim they have been raped by G. Clark incur. Please let me know where and when to send it.”


There is no fund for a civil action by the women against Clark, and since the disdain shown for their allegations by Geoff Clark and Pat O’Shane in her first incarnation, they have gone to ground.


It’s been a long and upsetting week, but next week we should really think about what can be done.


ATSIC must pull a plan together. At the very least there needs to be a safe house in every community.


The government and the opposition must commit to addressing the national emergency. Maybe the government should call an urgent summit or commission detailed options from the experts.


As citizens, maybe we could set up a fund.



Maybe our young Aboriginal leaders could tell us what needs to be done. Maybe the Aboriginal community needs to retire its current crop of leaders, and bring in fresh, young leaders with fresh ideas.


David Davis wrote last night, after reading yesterday’s diary: “I’m now lost for words. This is really heavy stuff – I can’t remember the last time I read something as disturbing as today’s Web Diary. It wasn’t just one contribution or just your comments – it was the whole thing. It’s painful but perhaps it engenders a greater sense of urgency and a greater level of honesty.”


I begin today’s diary with an edited speech by Danna Vale, the woman who went to the brink for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory subject to mandatory sentencing for theft and has persistently urged John Howard to apologise to the stolen generations. She was a juvenile justice lawyer before winning the middle class Sydney seat of Hughes in 1996 for the Liberal Party. Last year, she told Parliament about the Queensland report on the violence which is only now making headlines. Her speech was unreported. ATSIC was silent on the report.


Thank you to contributors this week for sticking with the issues arising from this story. Nothing in it is black and white.


Danna Vale


Speech to Parliament, June 7, 2000


Today, regretfully, I rise to speak of the unspeakable. I will speak not just of matters which are politically incorrect but of matters against which many of us turn our faces and block our ears because we just do not want to know.


There is a war zone in Australia today that is more dangerous than any battlefield. It exists in many of our indigenous communities, particularly in the remote and rural regions of Australia, but of course it is not exclusive to those communities.


I was shocked to read details of this war zone in the recent report of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Task Force on Violence, which reported to the Queensland parliament last December…


What impressed me was that the task force constantly asked themselves three questions: can we possibly do justice to the great human suffering and tragedy in the stories we were given? Can we reasonably write of the courage and resilience we have observed and found? Do we have the skills to make sense of this senselessness so that others will understand what we are trying to say? They struggled for words until the decision was made to let people tell their own stories with as little interpretation as possible. I have adopted the same principle in speaking to the report.


It is relatively unknown in mainstream Australia that in some of our indigenous communities violence and sexual abuse have reached a crisis point. While the source of this violence can be traced to the impact of colonial history – with the consequences of dispossession and marginalisation, the introduction of alcohol, unemployment and poor education – it matters little to the innocent women and children who are being bashed, raped, mutilated and murdered on an appallingly large scale.


It is not an exaggeration to describe the lives of many women, children and elderly people as lives of unpredictable and frequent mayhem. Many women and children in these communities are being deliberately ignored by those who have a moral duty to protect them. There is only minimum intervention, which may or may not occur.


In my opinion, such neglect is worse than the policies that led to the Bringing Them Home report because the policies of the past were at least initially motivated by good intentions. The motivation today is silence. As the report itself points out, Silence is the language of complicity.


I wish to take the time to record my respect and regard for the personal courage, strength of character and scholarship of Boni Robertson, the chairperson of the task force, and for her fellow members, who ‘shared the agony, grief and at times the triumphs of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have survived incredible ordeals of violence’. These fine Australian women dared to bring such ordeals into the light so that we all may face the truth together and share in the eradication of atrocity and indifference, which affect the most powerless amongst us.


It seems to me that the time has come to put aside fears of being politically and culturally intrusive and to do what is necessary to protect and support the women and children in these communities. It can no longer be dismissed as the Aboriginal way. Both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians must work together to help eradicate the violence.


There are few services available in isolated communities to deal with these problems, and the lack of appropriate services exacerbates stress and the likelihood of continued violence. Due to isolation and lack of skills, the innocent cannot escape. They must endure the suffering.


In some communities, at least one member of each family is likely to become a victim of violence. Many of the victims believe that the services intended for their protection are in reality increasing their violation.


There is no doubt that the impact of history and forced acculturation has been a key factor that has led to the present tragedy. It is crystal clear that the decades spent focusing on the problems of the past have not been productive in protecting any of the women and children who live out their lives in these communities.


These are fellow Australians whose lifestyle reality is a continuum of bashings, rapes, mutilation and violent death, and our silence and indifference convicts the rest of us as accomplices. Appalling acts of physical brutality and sexual violence are being perpetrated within some families and across the communities to a degree previously unknown in indigenous life. There are women, children and other older people living in a constant state of despair and desperation…


The report of the ATSI Women’s Task Force reveals that not only has there been a significant increase in the number of offences recorded in indigenous communities but the level of severity in such crimes has increased.


Violence is now overt. Murders, bashings and rapes, including sexual violence against children, have reached epidemic proportions, with both indigenous and non-indigenous people being perpetrators.


It is alarming to note that almost half of the female hospital admissions for intentional injury are indigenous women. We should be alarmed to learn that indigenous children are five to eight times more likely than other children to be the subject of abuse or neglect.


One of the reasons I sat up and took notice of this report was that it contained the views of ordinary indigenous people, whom you never hear on radio or television. It was coming from their present, real life experiences, undistorted by ideology or political correctness.


Misused authority, like the sly grog trade, assists violence in these communities. There is reluctance on the part of authorities to enforce regulations and to carry out their duties. The result is the abuse and violence perpetrated upon innocent indigenous women, children and older members of the community.


The extent of this unspeakable violence is being hidden. The task force reports that the number of violent offences is much higher than the officially recorded data. In all the consultations, there was an obvious reluctance to talk about sexual assaults. The task force estimates that 88 per cent of rapes go unreported.


One of the informants to the task force said: “I got a call out on the weekend to see a seventeen-year-old mother who had been tied to the bed and repeatedly raped by three men. She was raped within reach of her three-year-old child, and still did not press charges. What do you do? Fear has immobilised many people from taking action while others have accepted it as normal behaviour because they have not been able to get help when they have tried.”


This reluctance is driven by fear of reprisals or shame, because of the nature of the attacks. As well, it appears that the sexual abuse of young males is increasing and, because of the hidden nature of male to male sexual attacks, it goes unreported. Despite this, violent and sexual offences and breaches of domestic orders for ATSI offenders in Queensland increased from 664 in 1994 to 1075 in 1998.


The rate of sexual abuse among young girls who ultimately became involved with the criminal justice system is between 70 per cent and 80 per cent. In one state, it is claimed by the Aboriginal and Islander child-care agency that 50 per cent of children within the court system in the region were victims of incest. It is time to end the taboo on discussing this form of sexual atrocity. If we do not face it, it will never be eradicated.


Alarmingly, this report states: “… sexual abuse is an inadequate term for the incidence of horrific sexual offences committed against young boys and girls in a number of community locations in Queensland over the last few years.”


You can hear the women and children weeping in the trauma chronicled in this report. One informant poignantly explained: “Because of the social isolation and emotional deprivation many Indigenous families experience, the youth and the children are vulnerable to ongoing abuse and violence from both inside and outside the Communities. Many Indigenous young people are searching for love, emotional security, a sense of belonging, a parental figure, and escape from the dysfunctional home or Community. They want to enjoy the things that a limited income cannot buy, or to gain warmth and acceptance from others. Their deprived situation puts them in a position where they may attract the attention of sinister elements. Many Indigenous children are growing up in a disabling environment where they are vulnerable to great harm. This is a matter that warrants urgent attention and investigation if there is to be a positive future for the next generation.”


It is recorded that that type of sexual assault has become worse because of the recent widespread availability of pornographic videos. Together with alcohol and illicit drugs, the task force identified that the pornographic videos are creating deformed male socialisation. It was explicitly reported to the task force: “The incidence of sexual violence is rising and is in a direct relationship to negative and deformed male socialisation associated with alcohol and other drug misuse, and the prevalence of pornographic videos in some communities.”


The link between pornographic videos and indigenous child sexual abuse has been known for some time. The Aboriginal Coordinating Council brought it to the attention of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. Since then, access to pornographic videos no longer trickles into indigenous communities. It is now a veritable tsunami.


It seems that access to pornographic videos has become a common factor in a new wave of sexual crimes, including child sexual assault on other children. While there are many factors that together fuel sexual crime, the recent widespread availability of pornographic videos is being seen more and more to be the trigger for those crimes across Australia.


This is the case whether it is in Far North Queensland or in the white communities in the respectable outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. According to the task force report, cash-on-delivery orders of $4,000 to $5,000 worth of pornographic videos have been sent into Cape communities. It is no wonder that one community, with a history of pornographic video usage, has the highest rate of men in prison for sexual offences.


A lot has been written and said about the violence of the past but, frankly, it is the violence of the present that should rightly concern us here in the parliament of the nation. … Since 1990, indigenous deaths from domestic violence have been almost 30 per cent higher nationally than indigenous deaths in custody for the same period.


The National Committee on Violence reported to the Australian government that in Queensland Aboriginal reserves the homicide rate for the 17 communities under review was 39.6 per 100,000, which is more than 10 times the Australian national homicide rate. Over a three-year period in South Australia, Aborigines-who constitute approximately one per cent of the population-constituted 10 per cent of that state’s homicide victims. The Northern Territory police advise that, in 1987, Aboriginal females were victims of 70 per cent of total deaths involving chargeable offences.


Members of the task force were advised that, while some indigenous people in these remote communities do not experience violence, there are others whose daily lives are marked by its constant presence. The harsh reality is that many families in remote communities are now trapped in environments where deviance and atrocities have become accepted as normal behaviour. As a result, deviance and atrocities form an integral part of the children’s socialisation.


This is a hopeless state of affairs. It must be fully and effectively addressed, and it is up to us here in this House to help address the violence. It seems to me to be pointless to speak of reconciliation unless we can bring the people of these isolated communities into the same Australia that the majority of us share. Otherwise, reconciliation will do nothing for these Australian families. It will be but a hollow word and an empty promise.


I applaud the fact that the government is taking positive steps to address this spiralling and appalling violence amongst indigenous families. The Howard coalition government has provided $6 million over four years for an Indigenous Family Violence Grants program under the Partnerships Against Domestic Violence initiative.


These grants will provide practical and flexible support for grassroots projects and will test new approaches to addressing violence in indigenous communities. This funding will support community based organisations to develop innovative ways of reducing and preventing family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It will also support projects with a holistic approach so that the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community will be addressed to increase the long-term capacity of communities to respond to family violence.


As difficult and as complex as this problem is, there is much to be done in developing community strategies that focus on healing the whole community. In particular, indigenous men need to help to restore to themselves a value system that protects the vulnerable in their family and community rather than abuses and exploits them. Special programs are needed to help treat sexually traumatised children in order to break the cycle of the abused becoming the abuser.


The most pressing problem advanced by the report was the influence of alcohol. Alcohol misuse has a devastating effect on family life by precipitating domestic violence and sexual abuse amongst members of the community.

Whilst there are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who remain responsible social drinkers, there are many others who have a serious problem with alcohol which has been identified as a major trigger for violence.


The introduction to alcohol is a legacy from the earliest colonial days. It has become a curse in these remote communities. There is a desperate, urgent need for culturally relevant programs to address the destruction of alcoholic abuse.


We cannot ignore this human tragedy any longer. For too long there has been a lack of violence targeted services, especially perpetrator education programs, and it must be recognised that this need also must be addressed. It will take a long time for conditions to begin to improve – probably generations. There is also a desperate need for safe haven accommodation for the vulnerable women and children.


The report is as traumatic as it is comprehensive of the pain of daily existence experienced by these neglected Australians. Somehow we must help. But first of all we must understand their pain.


The poignant words of one contributor from Central Queensland attempt to inform us. I quote: “If they want to help us heal and to stop the violence that we are seeing, then we must all go back to the beginning and help some of our people start again for it is those people who are stuck in a vacuum where they are now adults, but there is a small and vulnerable child, confused and abused in all manners, that is lurking deep within.”


“The trouble is that this situation may describe too many of us. Everyone I have spoken to has been affected by the process of being taken away, being brought up on a mission or having suffered some form of discrimination or abuse at the hands of authoritative figures either in the schools, when you go to get a job or just by watching what has happened to your family.”


“You can’t experience these sorts of pain and not expect some of it to be retained in the young mind. I think that is where much of this violence is coming from, unresolved conflict which has been allowed to fester within and with no counselling available for many years, the individual has often resorted to other means for release, ie., alcohol which encourages other difficulties to surface which in some cases is abusive and aggressive behaviour which can act as an agent for unresolved and pent-up feelings that have no other form of release.”


I think there is a lot of truth in those words. But it is now time for us as a nation to help these Australian communities to overcome the violence. They have suffered enough and they cannot help themselves on their own.


During Corroboree 2000 we saw a real warmth in the goodwill expressed by the vast majority of ordinary Australians across the nation. This real warmth expressed extended towards the personal pain endured by our fellow indigenous families. Many truly wish for reconciliation.


By working together to help these remote Australian communities, we can provide an important step in the healing journey because we have no right to enjoy the legacy of being an Australian unless each and every Australian shares in the bounty together.


David Eastwood


Congratulations on diving head first into one of our largest taboos – criticising the Aboriginal community – and the meatiest debate in years. I’m already blown away by the quality of your and your contributors material on the Clark/O’Shane/Rape and Violence issue. It’s truly exciting watching this unfold. When did that last happen in politics?


I’ll confess I’m no expert on reconciliation, I know little about the Aboriginal nation and its issues, but I’m interested, as a “logical reconciliationist”, to see the perspective from some pundits and scribes that this episode will set the cause of reconciliation back.


I’m not sure I agree. Surely the open public airing, debate and analysis of what appears to be a long hidden problem in the Aboriginal community can only serve to broaden our understanding of the real plight this section of our community faces, and boost our collective empathy towards this community?


As this issue takes its course its hard to believe some major action will not eventuate, and it’s even conceivable to me that it may become an election issue.We sure need one in today’s political vacuum.


I’m sure something good will come of this, eventually.




In response to Ken McAlpine and your response to him, I agree that the gulf between Aboriginal and white experiences is so great that it makes almost anything one might say trite and patronising.


I don’t like the term reconciliation, but I do think that the most urgent task facing Australia is understanding our history, exploring the meaning of our silence and forgetting, and working out how we have damaged ourselves as a culture because of our spiritual and imaginative failures. The key one is our failure to respond to the challenge of the Aboriginal experience. Only when that happens will reconciliation become possible.


But any talk of reconciliation is patronising unless there is a genuine dialogue, with all the risk this implies. Australia is not a long term prospect unless we take this risk and try to create a new sort of society. Why should we matter in the bigger world if we are too timid to try and understand ourselves and create something new?


I also don’t see how racism and sexism can be separated. Hierarchies always diminish and humiliate and someone is always at the bottom. How can anyone argue against racism and implicitly condone sexism? Both represent a diminishment of one’s own and another person’s humanity. Both take you to the same place – degradation and humiliation, and you can’t leave either behind without rejecting both.


Andrew Cave in Kuraby


What a dilemma for the company of columnists singlehandedly battling the forces of PC from their swivel chairs.


Do they gleefully leap upon the opportunity to kick all Aborigines for being of the same race as Geoff Clark. Do they fall upon that class chatterer of the chattering classes Margo Kingston for supporting the publishing of the allegations? Will they try a contortion of McGuinness-esque complexity and blame the Labor Left as well?


For my money, I agree that there is considerable misogyny among Aboriginal men. Unfortunately, I have seen much the same from white males of a similar background. Against that there is a considerable body of Aboriginal and white men who are not misogynists.


From your statements one could easily gain the impression that to be Aboriginal is to be violent, alcoholic and unemployed. But of course, most Aboriginal people work for a living and most are not reliant on welfare. Just like most other Australians, most Aborigines are also not particularly interested in the political process and are not involved in the organisations. If an Aboriginal family lives in the suburbs and dad has held the same job for the past 20 years (and there are many who do and have), their story is not going to be raised in the media. (“SHOCK: Aboriginal family entirely normal” is not a headline to move many papers or hearts).


In the responses in Web Diary and in your chat with P Adams on Tuesday there has seemed to be a slight note of hysteria creeping in. Things are not as bad as all that, nor does “the Aboriginal problem” have to be solved before the year is out. You don’t change many important things in 2 years or 10. You don’t turn around 100 years of active spite and benign neglect in 20 years. Keep pushing the point and ignore the doomsayers.


To quote our favourite economist – GIT (Give it Time.)



Andrew Elder


The actions of Geoff Clark and ATSIC brings out the patronising (but no less pressing) question of whether the Aborigines can run their own affairs. From the latest eruption we see fully exposed one of the vulnerabilities in our national life.


The old certainty of powerful whites over powerless Aborigines is our default option. When Hanson and others claim that Aborigines were “happy” to accept what little they were given by White Australia, they don’t mean “happy” in the sense of true inner joy and satisfaction; they mean that they support the only clearly understandable and practicable relationship in existence.


Many of us want a truly clear and practical progressive ethos that enables Aborigines to have both the social and economic opportunities open to other Australians, while enabling them to live as a community shaped by their choices.


There is no firm evidence of such an ethos in race relations today; there is much earnest mental groping toward the realisation of such an ethos, much spirited discussion an amount of taxpayer funds devoted toward the realisation of a progressive ethos in race relations.


What certainties have arisen over the last few weeks? That all accusers in rape cases are untrustworthy, or none are? That Pat O’Shane is an Aboriginal leader, or she isn’t? That Geoff Clark is a beneficiary of our politico-legal system, or a victim of it? The old certainties can look better and better in the face of this maelstrom, even before you start the full-scale romanticising of the past.


In the absence of a clear progressive way of working we take an open, liberal approach that may allow a progressive ethos to take shape, the work of many hands (and not just plastic ones stuck in a lawn). The current absence of a satisfactory, practical model of race relations gives Hanson and other reactionaries satisfaction that is not due to them; they sneer at “talk shops” (like this one!) and believe that the old order can be reimposed by sheer force of will.


The oldest conceit of the reactionaries is that democracy and compromise is weakness. Having denigrated open discussion, they can shut it down further by demonising individuals within the debate. They knock down “straw men” in the absence of a clear alternative paradigm, which discourages the committed striving toward an unrealised ideal.


When the media focuses on the bloodsport rather than the issues behind any given conflict, they accept the assumptions of the reactionaries. If we had more light than heat cast on reportage and analysis of Aboriginal issues we would have a better chance at achieving a true, deep reconciliation.


We should be less shy in demanding such stories. We should defend the slow process of consideration and deliberation. We should give more credit than we have to the small successes that light up this vast expanse of failure. We identify the straw men before reactionaries can take a decent swing at them.


The weaknesses of liberalism lie in its preference for compromise, its fawning and cringing in the face of confrontation. Reactionaries know this, and believe that glossing over the old certainties is better than taking a chance with uncertainty.


In this debate as in so many others, progressives need to show that deep thought and wide-ranging debate provides a foundation for our future that is far stronger than the crumbling, glossed over “certainties” of old. Stand up for the aims, stand up for the process, and know that the reactionaries can only play their poor hand if you don’t call their bluff.


Never mind the heat, it’s the endurance that counts. So much is possible if we insist upon good and wide-ranging discussion: a republic, ameliorating the digital divide, all these and so much is possible if only we defend the slow, earnest deliberation and the small steps taken toward reconciliation.



David Palmer


Having moved here from the US in 1992 – and now a citizen – I’m quite amazed at the problem of libel law and the media in Australia – as if anyone who says anything critical of powerful figures will be sued. Perhaps this is an opening wedge to reforming these laws and the legal pattern around it.


On the “race” vs. “gender” issue, I’m reminded of what happened in the U.S. during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings by the U.S. Senate. Thomas was up for the Supreme Court, and Anita Hill was brought forward as a witness that he had sexually harassed her on the job. Thomas was no ordinary bureaucrat – he had responsibility for overseeing the most important agency in the U.S. – the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which handled complaints of racial and sexual discrimination in employment. Hill was his personal legal assistant.


Americans were glued to the TV, and the hearings ran live for a number of days. At the time I worked at the George Meany Center for Labor Studies in Washington D.C. and everyone stopped work to hear Hill testify. The straw poll among all of us – “progressive” educators who were a fair mix of men, women, black and white? All the women all believed her and the men were split

I (being of white/Anglo background – not really an “identity” for me) believed Hill – it seemed obvious. In the larger black community, a majority supported Thomas and considered Hill was betraying her people. But a minority of African Americans, including most black leaders (Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus among them), supported her and opposed Thomas.


At that time people just didn’t want to talk about sexual harassment and abuse if it was in the black community – although many community activists did of course. Now the whole situation has changed – and there’s considerable awareness of the need to address black women’s issues and issues of harassment regardless of where they are.


Unfortunately you’d have no idea of this if you listened to the gansta rap from the US now hugely popular among young teenage Australia males. But back in 1990, when this issue was something you just couldn’t bring up in some circles people brought it up anyway.


One comparison with Clark and Thomas that intrigues me (keeping in mind they are very different people – with very different political viewpoints – one to the left, the other to the far right): both claimed they were “tried” and “convicted” in public, though not in a court of law.


A newspaper, however, is not a court of law – nor is a U.S. Senate committee that is conducting a confirmation hearing. The public, however, is misled into thinking that these men have in fact been “tried”. In part this demonstrates not only the ignorance of the public regarding the nature of the courts – it also shows that public figures encourage this misconception.


Just as background – my criticisms do not come from someone who is not sympathetic to the cause of Aboriginal people. I recently published a feature article in the Overland journal, entitled “Injustice in Black and White,” addressing in part the problem of backward government policies toward Aboriginal people.


This piece targetted the “human rights crisis” in Australia, as we’ve seen recently in mandatory sentencing, badly run and ill-conceived detention centres for illegal immigrants, and the Howard government’s non-cooperation with the U.N. human rights committee.


At the same time made the point that Australia’s “human rights crisis” does not necessarily divide along typical “left/right” or “Labor/Liberal” lines – it is complex and cuts across all previous stereotypes. The same can be said about the current controversy with ATSIC and Mr Clark’s credibility as its leader.


One last thought. The issue of sexual abuse and sexual harassment is not just one confined to Aboriginal communities and families – it is Australia-wide and affects every community regardless of ethnic background. Perhaps the discussion needs to be broadened – including the media-led reporting at the moment. Such a discussion can only be beneficial in the long run, and maybe neglecting it is part of the crime.


Brian Bahnisch


I did not want to enter the lists again (Brian debuted in The sound of values clashing) but it is hard to stay out.


Four decades ago Abraham Maslow identified safety, sustenance and shelter as basic needs for all humans. In a civilised social democracy these needs translate easily into rights. And basic means basic and irreducible. No one should have to trade one for the other, even as an interim strategy.


Rape is a horrible crime from which every-one should be safe. On this topic Marea Donnelly’s article in Tuesday’s Sydney Morning Herald was truly shocking. Quoting official figures she wrote that only 15 per cent of cases were reported to the police. Of these, charges were only laid in 22 per cent of cases. Of these, 30 per cent were convicted of sexual assault and 12 per cent convicted of a lesser charge. That means a rapist is convicted a little more than one per cent of the time. Marea Donnelly concludes that sexual assault has been effectively decriminalised.


In a civilised social democracy where freedom is valued, the State should see that every-one within it’s borders is safe. Further, the State should not only see that the basic needs of its inhabitants are met, it should nurture and support them at least to the extent that all have reasonable opportunities to pursue higher needs. (Here it is worth noting that the economic theories underlying economic rationalism deem that the second helping of caviar for a rich man has the same status in the market system as the basic meal for the starving).


In the case of the basic needs, many Aborigines and others in our community, the marginalised and the powerless, there has been a clear case of market failure. The market society has no use for the poor. This properly is a concern for all of us, especially our government.


Initially I thought it appalling that Pat O’Shane feels that concern for sexual abuse and violence needs to be suppressed or given a lower priority while the greater evil of racism is addressed. Then I thought it is appalling that she and others should feel the need to make such a choice.


We have had enough cheap shots at feminism and feminists for a while. Where misogyny exists and is manifested in cruel acts we are all diminished. Similarly, many of us think the male role in modern (postmodern?) society is in trouble. This harms women also, and needs to be addressed by the concern, understanding and action of both sexes.


Overall I agree with David Davis (in The sound of values clashing) that this controversy could be a marker. In the end even Pat O’Shane’s anger may serve a useful purpose, as it certainly gave the whole thing legs. It all depends on what we all do from here on.


Ken McAlpine (Webdiary yesterday) has thrown an amazing hand grenade into the works. I can’t go all the way with him. To broaden the debate further, we are all standing in it as late capitalism sucks meaning out of our lives. It is becoming ever more difficult to construct a life, given this lack of meaning and growing uncertainty. Some of us are up to our ankles in it, some up to our knees and some up to our necks.


By and large the Aborigines are in so deep they have lost their footing. I repeat, capitalism has no use for the poor in this country. The reserve labour supply is now elsewhere in developing countries. We tell big business it sucks, so increasingly they are leaving. CSR is the latest to say they’re off to where the action is. We can’t, we’re stuck.


But on this website we are trying to construct a bit of meaning so we can understand the nature and the extent of the problems that face us. It is what we do now that counts, and history shows that it is not possible to say when turning points are reached.

Sex, race, violence, politics, media, law – wheretofore reconciliation?

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.





Stephen Blackwell


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”.




Cesar Benalcazar


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.





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.


Dear Geoff,


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.


Robert Lawton


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.





Raelene Myles


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.


John Thomson


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,


Ronda Ross


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.




Les Bursill


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.


Laurie Forde


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.




She’s wrong


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!!!)


Sue Hunt


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?


David Davis


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.


Fiona Ferrari

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.


Case 1


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.


Case 2


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.


Case 3


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.


Case 4


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.



Bronwyn Fletcher


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.

The sound of values clashing

My Geoff Clark comment piece on page one of the Herald online yesterday has provoked howls of protest. So here it is, then your response and my reply. Then, some wonderful pieces by contributors, first on Geoff Clark then on Pat O’Shane.


Who is oppressing who here, Geoff?



By Margo Kingston


What happens now that the ATSIC board has backed the word of its chairman, Geoff Clark, against the word of four women – three Aboriginal and one white – that he raped them?


Let’s be clear on this. Mr Clark has refused to detail why the allegations are false. For example, we don’t know whether he knew these women or had ever met them. We don’t know whether or not he had sex with all or any of them, and if so, his version of what happened.


In other words, he has refused point blank to take their allegations seriously enough to address them. Who is oppressing who here, Geoff?


Instead, we have from Mr Clark two defences. First, that he is a victim of a conspiracy by whites and blacks to destroy him. He gives no detail of this conspiracy.


His second defence is that he has been picked on by the Fairfax press because he is a radical Aboriginal voice. “The fact (is) that my only crime is that I am an Aboriginal and I have had the audacity to question the legitimacy of this country, to question the treatment of Aboriginal people…and I have called for a treaty.”


Whether the women speak the truth or not, it is difficult to doubt their courage in being prepared to be named, and to detail their alleged experiences. There is also little doubt that they are – in the absence of the Fairfax story – powerless voices.


And whether the Fairfax papers should have published the stories or not, it is utter nonsense to accuse them of racial motives. Just ask John Howard whether he thinks The Sydney Morning Herald supports the cause of Aborigines or not – during the Wik debate senior Liberals called the Herald the Aboriginal Morning Herald, and several Aboriginal leaders have told me our relentless campaign for native title rights was an important factor in their favour during the long debate.


There is no doubt that the fracturing of Aboriginal culture since colonisation has seen Aboriginal men assault women as a matter of routine. The reason the previous Labor government funded a separate Aboriginal women’s legal service was that the general Aboriginal legal service would not take on their cases if they were assaulted by black men.


There is no doubt that present-day Aboriginal culture is deeply misogynist, and that the burden of being Aboriginal and a woman is, in many cases, to double the tragedy of their circumstances.


Mr Clark has not sued Fairfax for defamation. If he chooses not to do so, the story will end, unless someone or some group is prepared to fund the women to take their own case for defamation against him.


The deputy chairman of ATSIC, Ray Robinson, said on Tuesday that ATSIC “will support him in whatever legal course of action he should pursue in seeking remedy against the newspaper”. Given ATSIC’s previous performance in such matters, this could mean that it funds a defamation case launched by Clark, who refuses to comment on whether or not he will sue.


Mr Clark said after the ATSIC board backed him: “I think this represents a turning point in the history of Aboriginal relationships in this country. I believe that now Aboriginal people know and feel in their hearts that they need to unite.”


How chilling. Is Geoff Clark saying that women better realise it’s black against white, and the injustices black people suffer at the hands of each other should be put aside in the greater cause?


And isn’t he coming very close to the stand Aboriginal magistrate Pat O’Shane took in choosing to effectively call the women liars on the basis only of the media report she and Mr Clark so condemned?


For Mr Clark to say this story has healed division in the Aboriginal community is shocking in its silencing of the voices of many Aboriginal women who want justice within the Aboriginal community as well as from the white world.


As the supposed leader of Aboriginal Australia – male and female – his public comments have betrayed the just cause of powerless female Aboriginal people, and left a nasty taste in the mouths of many white Australians who are deeply committed to the Aboriginal cause.


The least he owed to the cause of Aboriginal unity was to address the allegations of the women concerned. And the least he owed to the Australian people was not to indulge in ludicrous reverse racism.



GEORGE OOI in Clifton Hill, Melbourne


Some women do lie!


I cannot understand the fuss over the remarks of Pat O’Shane’s remark that in her experience as a Magistrate, some women do lie.


Do her critics, including the Sydney Morning Herald reporter Margo Kingston, claim that women never lie?


Do her critics have such short memory that they forget a recent case in Melbourne when a woman, falsely crying “RAPE!” led to the tragic bashing to death of an innocent gay man at a park in Melbourne?


Do the outraged feminists seriously claim that women NEVER LIE at all!


I’ve been a long time supporter of women’s rights and was one of the few men at the first conference of the Women’s Electoral Lobby at Canberra in the mid 70’s but does not further the cause of the feminists to make outrageous claim that women never make false accusations of rape or any other matter.


Sure, it’s sad that many men and women do not report rape. But all accusations must be tested in court.


Geoff Clark should not be tried by the high and mighty Fairfax Press usurping the role of prosecutor, judge and jury and Pat O’Shane should not be pilloried for supporting him and stating the obvious that some men and women do lie.


Stating the Geoff Clark has legal remedies open to him is a furphy. Firstly, according to a legal expert on Radio 774 Melbourne, it costs about a quarter of a million dollars to mount a complex libel case against the Fairfax press, which is OK for Geoff Kennett, Kerry Packer or the Fairfax Press but very few ordinary Aussie can even contemplate it.


Secondly the accusers should have the burden of proof, not the accused. Why should Geoff Clark, the accused, have to prove anything at all, Margo, or even respond? As the Prime Minister, to his credit asserted last Thursday, under our system of Common Law, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not in the press.


The presumption of innocence is the very foundation of our law and judicial system and must not be usurped by the press.


Neither Geoff Clark nor Pat O’Shane has anything to answer for! It is the ilk of Margo Kingston and Andrew Rule (who wrote the story) and other arrogant usurpers of justice who should apologise to them and answer for their diatribe!


IAN WILSON in Toowoomba, Queensland


Margo Kingston’s article should read: There is no doubt that present-day media culture is deeply misandrist, and that the burden of being white and a man is, in many cases, to double the tragedy of their circumstances.


GEOFF HONNOR in Undercliffe, NSW


“What” huffs Margo Kingston “happens now that the ATSIC Board has decided to give their full support to Geoff Clark.” Well manifestly unjust as it may seem Margo, a public lynching of the Editor of the Age and the Fairfax columnists who so enthusiastically co-operated in his tawdry little knockoff plot is probably out of the question.


All however may not be lost. Pat O’Shane looks to be limping badly. With a bit of a push you guys might be able to get her instead and smother her to death with the old Fairfax sanctimony.


And yes indeed Margo, I too think that Geoff should follow John Marsden’s heroic example and absorb months of corrosive, character-destroying mudflinging in a can’t-win and utterly unnecessary attempt to “clear his name.” It would be almost as entertaining as watching journos discover the high moral ground; in the middle of a very smelly swamp.


PETER NUGENT in Queensland


Margo Kingston opinion piece published on 20 June is exactly the point Geoff Clark makes on the same day. However loathsome the crime of rape, and however unappealing his response to the allegations, Mr Clark is currently an innocent man.


He does not become guilty unless convicted in a Court following proof of his guilt by the prosecution. Mr Clark is under no obligation to prove his innocence and is entitled to simply deny his guilt and then mutely await the verdict.


The presumption of innocence is one of the cornerstones of our allegedly free society. A free and independent media is another cornerstone. I support the original publication of the story and all genuine reporting on it.


After all, Mr Clark can always have his day in the defamation Court and, if he wins, the Fairfax organisation will then simply have made him a wealthy man.


Kingston’s piece is pernicious and deplorable. A responsible editor should have consigned it to the wastebasket. I wonder whether she would have written the same things if the allegations had been about a different type of crime. I bet she wouldn’t have.




In defence of the women who allege they were raped by Geoff Clark, Margo Kingston says: ” There is also little doubt that they are – in the absence of the Fairfax story – powerless voices.” This is not true.


The courts are the appropriate venue for this debate. I would not want the courts replaced by the Sydney Morning Herald.


The Burden of proof is on the prosecution not the defendant. The police have chosen not to prosecute at this stage. A large article in the Sydney Morning Herald does not equal a full prosecution and therefore no defence is required.


Is Margo Kingston suggesting that the burden of proof be lowered in criminal matters, so that a few statutory declarations and an article in the SMH proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? I hope not.


If the Police charge Geoff Clark then a defence will not only be desirable it will be necessary. Until then Geoff Clark has no case to answer. In the meantime all that is being achieved is that Geoff Clark is being deprived of his liberty.






I’ll begin with a contribution by Brian Bahnisch, as he makes it as clear as I could that the criminal justice system is not about truth, but proof according to strict rules of evidence – as it should be when the citizen’s liberty is threatened.


BRIAN BAHNISCH in Ashgrove, Brisbane


Disclosure: I used to work in the Department of Education in Brisbane and studied some philosophy and sociology many years ago. I was cleaned out by Wayne Goss’s boys 10 years ago when everyone was suspected of being a National Party toady. Now I mow lawns, invest in stocks and shares and try to work out how the world could be better organised.


Since The Age published the Geoff Clark allegations I have read and heard a lot on the ABC about the issues raised. I found your analysis particularly helpful and was particularly struck by the Rhonda Dixon email (Diary yesterday). It had the ring of truth about it, and if true, was clearly disturbing.


My reason for writing is not to add to the condemnation or praise of Pat O’Shane, Geoff Clark or The Age, but to identify an aspect of the discourse which has been overlooked to some extent.


We use different standards to establish the truth depending on the context. This was highlighted in the Carmen Lawrence matter. A Royal Commission uses ‘the balance of probabilities’ whereas a court uses ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.


This higher standard of proof is important if we are to preserve the presumption of innocence. It is based on the notion that an individual’s rights in criminal matters must not be trampled in the interest of the State or society.


It was interesting that you said that The Age needed to satisfy itself as to the truth of the allegations against Clark ‘on the balance of probability’. It seems to me that the ATSIC commissioners should be using this standard of proof also.


If the police won’t act for whatever reason, the facility to test the criminal standard of proof is not available. To use the lack of a criminal conviction is a copout.


It is a copout because the question then becomes not whether Geoff Clark is a criminal, but whether he is fit to fill the position he holds. Here the Commissioners have a duty to the position of Chair which should take precedence over any feeling of solidarity towards an individual person.


Furthermore the Commissioners should not privilege the voice of the powerful over that of the weak and marginalised. To do so is to call into question their own fitness for the commission they hold.


One statement you made about the misogyny of Aboriginal men brought me up with a start. I had heard of it and read about it, but you made it sound pretty general. Then came the witness of Rhonda Dixon and just moments ago I heard you read out to Philip Adams a powerful statement by Evelyn Scott (in the Herald today) – chilling indeed!


It seems to me that if people like Pat O’Shane feel they have to choose between solidarity against racism over a concern for possible victims of crimes against women then the whole ATSIC project is deeply flawed. All the more reason for the Commissioners to think carefully about who should lead them.




The second part of my defence is this. There is a civil law which applies to this case – just as much THE LAW as the criminal law. It is the law of defamation.


The High Court held in the Theophanous case, as clarified in the 1998 Lange case, that the media has the right to publish matters in the public interest in certain circumstances. Clearly, the Clark story diminished his reputation. To defend ourselves, we could rely on truth, which we could have to prove on the balance of probabilities, or “qualified privilege”.


The High Court held unanimously in Lange that “Each member of the Australian community has an interest in disseminating and receiving information, opinions and arguments concerning government and political matters that affect the people of Australia.”


Now what must a media group prove to come within this limited right to free speech?


The Court said the media group “must establish that its conduct in making the publication was reasonable in all the circumstances of the case…The proof of reasonableness will fail as a matter of fact unless the publisher establishes that it was unaware of the falsity of the matter and did not act recklessly in making the publication”.


“As a general rule, a defendant’s conduct in publishing material giving rise to a defamatory imputation will not be reasonable unless the defendant had reasonable grounds for believing that the imputation was true, took proper steps, so far as they were reasonably open, to verify the accuracy of the material and did not believe the imputation to be untrue.”


This defence allows the media to engage in investigative reporting in the public interest provided it is meticulously researched and bona fide.


As I wrote in Monday’s diary, we do not yet know all the steps taken by The Age on this story. Clark says he won’t sue because he can’t afford it. This is incredible – any number of lawyers would take a case like this “on spec” if it had a reasonable prospect of success because of its potential for huge damages.


In these circumstances, the full details of the steps taken by The Age will come out in the press council hearing of Clark’s complaint, when he makes it.


By the way, do not imagine that the ATSIC Board is as one on this issue. Note that NO statement was issued by the board – instead deputy chair Ray Robinson announced verbally that Clark had the its unanimous support. I understand that intense pressure was placed on the five female board members to sign a statement supporting Clark. They refused.



JOY STEVENSON in Thornbury, Melbourne


Disclosure: My background includes teaching and research on Aboriginal communities (Borroloola, also Alekarenge and Goulburn Island). I have also worked at a Women’s Refuge and with women dealing with sexual assault.



Thursday’s front page article on Geoff Clark was the first time I have been really ashamed to be reading The Age. I looked forward to seeing your take on the issue in your Monday piece, and also listened to you talk to Philip Adams and then read Tuesday’s piece. I was so disappointed, and I have been trying hard to put the reason into words. Here goes.


Firstly, to look at an action and think ‘would we do the same if it was a white bloke?’ is only one of the checks for racist behaviour, and is very limited. Over and over the comment (not just from you) has been that the article would have of course been printed if it was a white official accused.


Well where are those articles? There is no lack of men in high positions who have raped and abused women and children (true!). There are many, many women who have been raped and never have seen justice.


So why does it happen that the one they get the dirt on is from an Aboriginal background? Think about it. Think what his background is. Think what his being Aboriginal means in terms of the research that led to those women, and of their positions. Of course it is a race issue.


If there was the evidence to convict Clark it could have been done and justice would have been seen to be done. But without that evidence Clark, innocent or guilty, will deny charges and act in a way to cause least damage to his own life and reputation, and to that of his organisation and his cause.


So what is the point? To expect him to address the women’s claims is just bizarre. It would be detrimental to himself to put them down, or to give any credence to them. Of course he will do neither.


Secondly, putting the issue as sex vs race politics is terribly simplistic. It may have been a concept to grapple with in the 1970’s but it is you, not Pat O’Shane, who is running with it now. And it is also The Age’sdefence against any criticism of its article. How clever.


Sex and Race are both issues of personal as well as wider social justice and of course no one should be keeping quiet about one for the good of the other. But I would query if that was the issue for those women in trying to get justice done.


If there had been accessible justice and support for the women at the time of their assaults there would not be an issue now. That there was not says more about our policing and justice system than it does about race politics in Aboriginal organisations.


Thirdly, I cannot believe that this is an ethical piece of journalism. If Andrew Rule and The Age had wanted to bring justice to those women, they should have got enough evidence to convict. Since they didn’t, this article is simply a slur. It is a slur on Geoff Clark, and then it slurs onto anyone who defends him, who supports him, onto his organisation and quite possibly onto the women who trusted The Age with their stories.


The Age knew that the police were not taking up the cases. What did they expect to get out of it? Front page news. Well done.


As for the women, I hope that having their stories told brings them some good and some healing. But it is also possible (likely?) that this experience may be a continuation of their abuse.


For Geoff Clark, if he is innocent it has been a wicked abuse of his rights by The Age. If he is guilty he learns to dig in his heels and keep denying it.


For the Aboriginal community, no matter who says what about the issue, they will be jumped on and needled and dug at to try to get more front page news. ATSIC is an organisation under enormous pressure, it is fighting hard to keep working well in spite of attack from all areas of society. This is the latest one.


It is possible that good may come from this story. Maybe, somewhere along the line, there may be justice done on some issue, or important issues aired and examined. But at the moment all I can see is destruction.


The messages that come across from this piece of journalism are the same old ones:

* Aboriginal men abuse and rape women,

* Abusive Aboriginal men get power,

* Aboriginal women are victims,

* Sexual abuse and misogyny is a much bigger issue in Aboriginal Communities than it is in ours,

* It’s the Aborigines who are racist, not us,

* ATSIC is a mess,

* The Aboriginal community does not support its leaders but are too frightened to say so,

* If they do support their leaders they are putting race politics ahead of the truth. and

* Journalists aren’t racist, and they are fighting for justice.






Geoff Clark’s tough approach may not be so effective against the Libs now. Surely if he backs anyone into a corner he will be reminded that he is on very thin ice.


I am reading an Amazon book called ‘The Mafia, CIA, George Bush’ about the the Contras, cocaine and Texas money.The author says journalists are not in the proof business, they are in the information business, and that proof is for mathematicians and courts of law.


What amazes me is how the elite – black and white – have closed ranks behind Clark. I heard the Age man justifying his work and he talked about a video of a footie match involving Clark when he bashed several players and was suspended. I know that he was a violent bastard and despite my support of Aboriginal rights, I dislike him.


ELLIAS ELLIOTT in Townsville


“Luvvy, luvvy, got two dollar?”

“No mother, I’m skint.”

“‘Ere, I know you. You been foolin’ with my daughter.”

“Rubbish. She just helped me blow my pay packet in the pub.”

“‘Ere, ‘er ‘usband, ‘e fix you up good.”

“But I never touched her.”

“Gimme two dollar.”

“Listen. I’ve got nothing left.”


I get home and find the T.V. and video missing. Charge me with rape? All I’d get is the luxury of defending myself at law.


In court, the currency is supposedly truth. But many people do lie in court and for truly base reasons. For such people, truth is a secondary issue. The real prize is leverage. Even vengeance for some perceived wrong is often a windfall outcome.


Outside the court, the currency is cred. People will believe what they want, interpret what they hear as they like and always push their own barrow.


In our urban jungles guilt or innocence becomes irrelevant when it comes to cred. Fairfax has unwisely bought into the furore surrounding Geoff Clark, ostensibly in a quest for truth. Truth will be lost in a battle for cred.


My many indigenous friends and neighbors know I would shun impropriety, let alone commit rape. But that doesn’t get my T.V. back. Somewhere, with someone, the thief has more cred.


I do not presume to know the truth of Mr Clark’s actions, but to attack his credibility is to engage in the realpolitik of indigenous society. A domain in which I fear Fairfax has no real experience, one in which it’s meddling will provide only succour for Hansonites.


DAVID DAVIS in Switzerland


Martin Williams (diary yesterday) talks about “the grubbiness of the attempted destruction of two of the most important Aboriginal figureheads and power brokers”. He’s referring to the reporting of the rape allegations made against Geoff Clark and the subsequent comments by Pat O’Shane. He then makes the point that Aborigines of both sexes are the most likely to suffer from all of this.


He may be right in the short term and this saga is undeniably regrettable from virtually every aspect. But who started it and how else could it have panned out?


If four women come forward and allow their names to be attached to such allegations, they need to be listened to. Clark deserves and gets his presumption of innocence but to brush aside or cover up the allegations would be unforgivable. To do that in the name of promoting the Aboriginal cause would be grotesque.


So far we don’t have a “Ministry of Truth” and while ever we don’t at least there is some hope of reconciliation. It would also be pretty weird if the O’Shane remarks weren’t set upon by any who care about justice and the rights of women. Her dismissive remarks were breathtaking.


This controversy could be a marker – opening an avenue for further discussion. Reconciliation is by definition a two way street. For it to be successful it needs to run below the superficial level of the white elites and the black elites. Unless both sides can be frank and discuss the issues openly, reconciliation cannot take place. (MARGO: My emphasis.)


The broad swathe of white Australia is not going to be brought along if they see double standards operating at the highest levels. Equally, I am not so sure that a huge chunk of Aboriginal women in particular would be happy with Clark or O’Shane. Potentially happy or unhappy is an inadequate description – “betrayal” may be more appropriate.


No one is untouchable and it would be an utter outrage if the media started adopting some kind of censorship based on race. Leaders, elected and unelected are accountable to their constituencies. The idea that different standards should apply is patronising.


In criminal terms, rape is about as serious as it gets. The idea that repeated, independent allegations would or should be ignored is nonsense.


Margo, I found your comment that present day Aboriginal culture is deeply misogynist to be disturbing but thought provoking. I have no particular reason to doubt you and it seems that practical experience suggests it is largely true.


The truth can sometimes be painful but denial and double-talk are ultimately more damaging.


Beyond all the symbolism though, there are some practical issues, such as how on earth can either Clark or O’Shane continue in their present roles?


If I were Clark and I were innocent I would not rest until my name was cleared. I certainly wouldn’t be trying to put the issue behind me and “drive on” in the name of aboriginal unity. That’s why we have defamation laws. Our law recognises that character is crucial. There’s a reason for that – it’s central, it’s intangible, and it can’t be bought or sold.


Character is actually priceless. Once irreparably damaged, it can’t be easily repaired either. ATSIC needs a leader who is seen to have character intact. Unless Geoff Clark or someone else can do something to restore his character he has to go.




MARTIN WILLIAMS has something to add


I note the the peculiar haste with which women in the Liberal Party (Chikarovski, Vanstone, Vale) have rushed to condemn O’Shane and demand her removal. As a federal minister, Vanstone’s comments were actually no less outside her brief than O’Shane’s. And Danna Vale’s pugnacious comment demanding to know what O’Shane had ever done for Aboriginal women really stuck in my craw.


With Howard’s contempt for judicial activism and Vale’s demand that O’Shane be judicially active, where is one left to go? In fact, the women in the federal Liberal Party have generally done their utmost to redefine and expand what it means to be “token”.


Their long standing uninterest in Aboriginal welfare has been even less edifying. (MARGO: To be fair, Danna Vale led the confrontation with Howard over the Northern Territory’s mandatory sentencing laws for children.) So their comments make me seethe, but they will probably capitalise more than anyone else from all of this.


I grew up in Kempsey. Not what you might call Australia’s model town as far as black-white relations are concerned. Anyone who has lived there can relate (with hilarity or discomfort and embarrassment depending on your attitude towards Aborigines) or relay stories of black women having the crap beaten out of them, up and down the main street, by a drunken black man while their children watched and while all the whites stared, laughed or walked away.


It brings me to tears to remember such things. And how “c…” is the favoured and prominent term of abuse used by younger male and female Aborigines who are inclined to talk like that.


And how black women are casually referred to as “gins” by white men at meetings of local civic organisations”.


My girlfriend is also “Aboriginal” – of a tribal indigenous minority – but not from Australia. She can also tell any number of stories about how poorly or superciliously Aboriginal men from her own community and elsewhere treat her and other women. And how she was ostracised from her village when she had a child out of wedlock. And in particular how top Aboriginal male leaders in political circles retain strongly sexist and contemptuous attitudes toward women and aren’t afraid to show it.


But these behaviours were so culturally accepted that there was absolutely nothing one could do to avoid them apart from flee to the cities and find work, where new sexist regimes would lay in wait. So I gained an insight into the predicament facing indigenous women from her as well.


But I still maintain that O’Shane’s looming fall is an utter tragedy, for all. And I get the impression that most ordinarily responsible voices (especially white people who approvingly “thought O’Shane was a feminist”) are treating O’Shane’s words more like a personal affront or an ideological sin rather than first and foremost considering that in the end hers was a supremely crude defense of the presumption of innocence of the defendant (which is her job, oddly enough). And also considering what effect O’Shane’s removal will have.


The key to escaping or fighting injustice is education, and O’Shane is a highly educated Aboriginal woman under siege by judicial and media inconsistency and who is not being assessed on her merits in balance. What a fine example this will set for young, aspiring, Aboriginal women.


If O’Shane gets the boot, she becomes an ethnic scapegoat. If she is allowed to stay, she will be forever branded as Australia’s judicial Uncle Tom (“better patronise her and let her stay, she’s Black and makes us look good”). The Liberal Party’s Aboriginal affairs thinktank could not have scripted this affair any better.


After the current media fuss dies down, I can’t see any dramatic increase in interest in Aboriginal women’s welfare in the short to medium term. Cathy Freeman must be grateful that she’s out of town and so not have to view and be asked to comment on all of this unravelling.




Disclosure: White male former military officer, currently studying law & working part time as a researcher.


I think you’re guilty of a knee jerk reaction to Magistrate O’Shane’s remarks. I say this because of what looks like a near deliberate attempt to misinterpret her.


Having said that, I can well understand anyone reacting angrily to what APPEAR to be convincing allegations of forcible rape, as I think the community generally holds this crime to be in the worst category of offence, along with murder and child sexual abuse.


I can also understand a woman being especially incensed, as there is nothing makes us humans more furious than an injustice which were powerless to stop, as are most women when confronted with a male rapist.


It is undoubtedly true that the majority of sexual assault allegations are made bona fide, and that many more instances go unreported, leaving vicious males (I’m loathe to call them men) free to offend again.


It is also true that false accusations are made. The motives for this need not even be malicious: I’m sure we all remember the recent tragic case of a gay man being bashed to death in a Sydney park after a mentally ill woman falsely claimed that he had raped her. Those men who thought they were doing extra-judicial justice for that woman are now, as I understand it, in gaol.


Which should give us all pause when considering Ms O’Shane’s remarks, especially journalists. Contrary to what you have now written several times, the magistrate DID NOT say that “most” women are lying when making such allegations. She said “a lot”, by which I take her to mean a number which is not statistically insignificant.


I have a friend working in family law who would agree, both that the majority of such allegations are well founded, and that quite a few aren’t. It is ridiculous that anyone can sincerely suggest that a woman appearing before O’Shane would be worried about gender bias. To once again buck the trend and cite an example, it was O’Shane who refused to punish women found guilty of vandalising advertising that she felt was sexist. As a feminist jurist, O’Shanes runs are on the [bill]board.


You have said that O’Shane “rejected the testimony” of Clark’s accusers. Your use of that legalistic term implies that the allegations were akin to court testimony when they were not in fact subject to cross examination or the rules of evidence.


Furthermore, O’Shane specifically stated that she had not seen the women or heard their stories. In other words she does not consider a newspaper report to be “testimony” at all, and was not judging the truth or otherwise of the specific allegations. (MARGO: If you check the transcript at abc.net.au, or the extensive excerpts in Rape and racism, diary Monday, you will see that she specifically attacked the credibility of one of the women, as well as all four in general terms.)


The magistrate was merely reminding society that the allegations could conceivably be false, and that Clark is innocent until they are proven, which is a degree of responsibility not shown by Fairfax or yourself.


The stories about Clark were presented as factual accounts, which almost certainly elicited feelings of outrage in the breasts of many readers similar to those experienced by our above mentioned park vigilantes.


If O’Shane is worried about a media witch-hunt, exacerbated by the emotive nature of the alleged crime and community prejudice, I would say that such fears are well grounded in the country whose press brought us the Chamberlain fiasco. (MARGO: Are you kidding? That was a jury verdict, and it stank!)


I hope you can see the parallels, but I dare say Australian journalism’s response would be much like Homer Simpson: “Marge my friend, I haven’t learned a thing.”




I feel you have been hard on Pat – I have seen her work and was impressed. She has bled to shift very stodgey/reactionary judicial attitudes especially in relation to authority, police, minorities and rape.


I’ve found the outcry against her very opportunistic – it will be a loss to the broader community if she is driven out.


Misogyny is a big issue in the indigenous community – the Australian has ran some devastating articles on it recently.


The dilemma of appointments to co-opt/achieve diversity is: do you go for the Clarence Thomas (at least he’s black) who’ll echo established values not matter how far they are removed from his community’s reality or do you pick an O’Shane who is willing to take risks to make a difference even though she shares the (tragic) blind-spots of her community.


Better still let’s pick someone safe from a nice private school who won’t rock the boat. With luck they’ll put a tax form in.


It may be in the public interest to report the allegations against Clark, but it will be a disaster if Pat goes down in the fall-out. The power of the Meejah again – for good or for ill.

Rape and racism

A week away, and a deeply complex, multi-layered issue to think about – the allegations of rape against Geoff Clark published in the Age and the Herald last Thursday.

Let’s start with Pat O’Shane, because she’s easily dealt with. O’Shane began her Lateline interview with a condemnation of trial by media. “Well, the first thing I want to say, Tony, is I think it’s tabloid sleaze at its best – or worst, however you like to characterise it. Now, it seems to me that what we’re seeing in the absence of any successful criminal legal proceedings, a trial by media. And that’s outrageous.”

She then judges the four women making the allegations on the basis of the media report.

JONES: I guess that’s what surprises me in what you’re saying Pat O’Shane, that you seem to have no sympathy for these women.

O’SHANE: Tony, I can only tell you on the basis of my experience that people will raise allegations for all sorts of motives, including some exceedingly base motives, and I can tell you on the basis of my experience that a lot of women manufacture a lot of stories against men. Now, I know a huge number of my feminist friends are going to be shocked to hear me say it, but we don’t live in fairy land. We live in a real world.

And I find it extremely difficult to accept, especially in the case of one of these women, who was the daughter of, I take it from the report, an Anglo-Australian fellow of some standing in the community, that she was afraid to report the matter because of Geoff Clark’s alleged violence and gang leadership, which allegations, by the way, are extremely spurious in themselves, since there is absolutely not a shred of anything further being raised in support of such allegations.

They’re just thrown off in broad general terms, which just leave one wondering, “Well, what was that all about?”

JONES: Now, Mr Clark is saying that there’s a conspiracy against him. It’s because he’s questioned the legitimacy of this country and the treatment of Aboriginal people. Do you agree with him on that?

O’SHANE: Well, of course, there is a lot of truth in what he says in that regard, Tony. If I were to say to you there are allegations against senior Liberal Party politicians in the Federal Government accused of sexual assault when he was at university – Sydney University, would you run that?

Of course not. For the very reason that he is who he is.

But if it’s Geoff Clark, head of ATSIC in this country, yes, it gets run. One has to question the motives in those circumstances…

JONES: But do you seriously think that these women are part of such a conspiracy?

O’SHANE: I put nothing past anybody, let me say that Tony. I don’t know these women. I haven’t heard their stories, apart from what is reported in the newspaper, and I’ve just made my comments about those.

The case against O’Shane is open and shut. Based on a media report she decries, she clearly judges the women unreliable and gives credence to a conspiracy theory which casts them as deliberate liars. This prejudgment is intolerable behaviour for any self-respecting lawyer, let alone a magistrate. One has only to reverse the comments to see how untenable they are. If O’Shane had said, “Of course, most men who rape deny the charge” she would clearly be accusing Geoff Clark of rape.

One need not even enter the sexual and race politics embedded in this issue to find O’Shane guilty of the very behaviour she accuses the Fairfax press of perpetrating. So now – bereft of any defence for her actions, she complains of the general remarks of a white, male Supreme Court judge about feminists, homosexuals and the like. There is a crucial difference – those remarks were not related to a particular case where the facts were at issue.

And the implication of her counter-attack, that she is being targetted because she’s black and a woman, is nonsense. Her remarks could have easily come out of the mouth of a white male judge 30 years ago. If they came out of such a mouth now, he’d be condemned in spades. Justice Bollen was crucified some years ago when he suggested that a wife might expect “rougher than usual handling” from her husband. In fact, O’Shane is being treated more gently than she would have been had she been a white male.

We can see from the transcript that O’Shane’s remarks were no slip of the tongue. She explicitly states that feminists will be upset. She knows that over the last several decades women have fought the inbuilt bias in the justice system against women alleging they have been raped, including the fact that a women’s sexual history is fair game while the man’s is off limits.

Sure, a few women fabricate rape, about the same proportion as allegations on non-sexual matters. But to say this is commonplace, to the extent that a woman’s version of events should be doubted as a matter of course, attempts to take us back to the days before women won respect for their rights on being raped.

One heartening fact in all this is that O’Shane has not taken us back to those dark days. Her remarks have been unacceptable to the NSW Attorney-General, a man, the chief magistrate, a woman, and to men and women across the spectrum. That’s progress.

One disheartening fact is that O’Shane made the remarks despite the fact that Aboriginal culture is so deeply misogynistic that many Aboriginal men still think it appropriate to rape and assault women as a matter of course. In this regard, Aboriginal women are still fighting the battle won, at least in part, in the white culture for years. If their allegations are true, the courage of the three Aboriginal women to come forward is enormous. Yet O’Shane casts a shadow of suspicion over her black sisters in the course of defending a male Aboriginal leader from allegations which neither she or we know are true or false. This is sexual and race politics on collision course, and O’Shane has picked loyalty to the latter at the expense of the former, which makes its own statement about women’s value in Aboriginal politics.

And here is the rub for Geoff Clark. Does he represent the Aboriginal peoples – men and women? If he truly does, should he not stand aside, for now at least, to show Aboriginal women that he does indeed respect their rights and interests? Is it enough for him to merely deny the allegations and claim a giant conspiracy he will not detail? And if he does not step aside, should he not at the very least sue the Fairfax press for defamation to allow the matter to be tested in Court?

A serious problem in this mess is that the allegations are out, the police will not prosecute, and we are at stalemate. Noone knows the truth of the matter. It sits there, festering. As Labor’s Aboriginal affairs spokesman Bob McMullan said in a statement, the allegations “are extremely serious”. “However, Mr Clark, as any other Australian, has a right to the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. Any further activity in relation to these allegations is a matter for the Police. It is in the public interest that this matter be dealt with in a timely and transparent manner.”

Which brings me to the most difficult issue of all, the decision to publish.

Let’s get out of the way the ludicrous notion being peddled by the ATSIC deputy chairman Ray Robinson – coincidentally himself convicted of rape until it was overturned on appeal and he was found not guilty at a retrial – that Fairfax was racist to publish.

Robinson charges that “non-Aboriginal leaders … would not be subject to this type of treatment.Why is there another rule for Aboriginal leaders?” So does O’Shane. “If I were to say to you there are allegations against senior Liberal Party politicians in the Federal Government accused of sexual assault when he was at university – Sydney University, would you run that? Of course not.”

I can give you an example right now. Some years ago, I published a story that the wife of WA Liberal Senator Noel Crichton Brown had taken out a domestic violence order against him some years before. It was a controversial story at the time, with many arguing that the matter was private. My defence was that domestic violence had finally been taken out of the closet, and that federal and state leaders had agreed that it was a crime. I won’t say I was completely happy about what I’d done – far from it. It was a very difficult decision to make. And it was interesting that while little was done after that revelation, Crichton Brown was later expelled from the Liberal party for telling a female journalist he would “screw your tits off” if she published a certain story. A nice case of the socially unacceptable being more serious than private domestic assault.

We would publish if the alleged perpetrator was a white public figure. This contrary claim is reverse racism at its most destructive. It is untrue, it is self-serving, and it debases the currency of race politics. It also raises serious questions about the quality of some of our present Aboriginal leaders and their fitness for office.

If a white politician was accused of serial rape, he would stand down or be stood down by the Prime Minister. Clark, in contrast, remained chairman even while a criminal prosecution for rape was on foot. In my view it is the Aboriginal leader who is getting more favourable treatment than his white counterpart, and every Australian knows it. How damaging is this distasteful fact?

By the way, to me it is very significant that it was the Fairfax press which published the allegations. The Fairfax papers are noted for their long-held support of the Aboriginal cause. A media organ antagonistic to Aboriginal interests which published the story would make the whole murky affair even more murky. For O’Shane to allege a racist conspiracy by Fairfax is just plain silly.

But there remain incredibly important questions about publication. The fact is that police know of all four cases. They prosecuted one, and Clark was acquitted due to lack of corroborative evidence. The other three women were not called to give evidence at the trial. This is because of the strict rules of evidence, which mean allegations of similar crimes cannot be used in court as evidence that the crime being prosecuted was committed because the admission of such evidence would be prejudicial to the defendant. For the same reason, a defendant’s previous convictions cannot be raised in the trial, even if they were for rape.

The only exception to the rule is “similar fact” evidence. If other allegations follow an identifiable pattern, they may be introduced in evidence. But the exception is very strict, and basically allows evidence to be admitted only if the modus operandi was precisely the same.

So if Clark was charged with the four alleged rapes, in no case could the other three women be called to give evidence. You can see the bind. For example, ten rapes committed in ten different ways without witnesses a long time ago and the perpetrator gets off scott free.

So Clark is safe under the law. That does not mean he is innocent or guilty. Does the media then back off and do nothing? And if it chooses to do something, in what circumstances should it do so?

The Age gave the following reasons for publishing the story.

“Three months ago The Age set out to profile Australia’s most powerful Aboriginal politician. In the process, our reporter travelled widely and spoke to many people.

What emerged was a picture of a hard and powerful man who wielded his power to great effect. But there was also something else: a deeply disturbing pattern that reached far back into Mr Clark’s life.

What we uncovered was a compellingly consistent story. We found four women who accused Geoff Clark of raping them inn a series of attacks in the 1970s and 1980s.

We acknowledge that these are claims stretching back 30 years but the stories of these women is no less harrowing today. They are all prepared to be named. We have tested them on their accounts and they have remained steadfast. We can find no reason why they would not be telling the truth.

These are grave and damaging accusations but we believe they have to be published. Geoff Clark is a prominent public figure. It is in the public interest that these serious claims against him are revealed.”

You can see the problem. A media group publishes allegations because it is convinced they are true. This is a grave responsibility.

Imagine for a moment that you are a public figure. Someone accuses you of rape in the distant past. You did not commit rape, but the damage done to your reputation is almost irredeemable. You are put in the position that to save yourself you must initiate expensive, time consuming, and very unpleasant defamation litigation.

To my mind, there is no doubt that a single allegation of rape would not be published. It is the number of allegations which allowed the publisher to cross the line. While the evidentiary rules against admitting other offences help an alleged serial rapist in Court, the number of similar complaints helps the alleged victim when it comes to media publication. Deprivation of liberty is, after all, more serious than deprivation of reputation.

Then there is the question of relevance. It is clearly in the public interest for a public figure in Clark’s position to be investigated, and substantial allegations published. But what if, for example, the person concerned was the head of a corporate watchdog? To me, you cannot draw any lines here. The limits do not depend on whether one is a public figure or not, or the duties one carries out as a public figure, because we are talking about a serious criminal offence.

Instead, the limits are purely practical. If you are not a public figure, the media will not investigate your past. If you are a public figure, you run the risk of investigation.

Then the question is whether serious, “compelling” evidence of wrongdoing will be published. Clearly, publication is defamatory. The judgement is two fold. For the publisher’s lawyer, the question is “Can we prove on the balance of probability that the allegations are true?” If yes, the editor’s question is “Are we prepared to pay the bills for an expensive defamation trial?” A related question is “Will he sue?” Another related question is “Will the damages bill be so high if we lose that the risk outweighs the desire to publish?”

To me, there is not enough on the public record to know whether the decision to publish was correct. In a case where a potentially frightening precedent is created, the public should be told by the media group:

1. The precise circumstances leading to the investigation. For example, did the police, frustrated by being stymied in court, lead the reporter to the witnesses, perhaps hoping other victims might come forward? Did the reporter happen upon them through Geoff Clark’s enemies? I know some sources cannot be revealed, but a story such as this does not pop up from nowhere, and as much information as possible should be provided to the reader.

2. The evidence which convinced the publisher of the truth of the allegations. Merely to state that the witnesses didn’t change their story is not enough. We need to know why the publisher believed the story, the evidence upon which that assessment was made, in what ways the Age tested the truth of the allegation’s and the reliability of the accusers and, if there is any reason to question the motivation of the accusers, the reason why motivation was judged not to be tainted.

3. The processes by which the decision to publish was made. In my view, it is not enough to state baldly that “it is in the public interest that these serious claims against him are revealed”. We need to know, precisely, the public interest considerations the publisher found relevant in coming to his decision – both for and against publication – and how he weighed up those competing factors.

The reason I believe these three matters should be addressed is because we are relying on the publisher’s judgement, and the publishers judgement has the potential to destroy careers. The law is one way to test allegations. The law has not helped these women. The media are another way, and there must be strict, self-imposed accountability on the media. Yes, the public has the right to know. But they have the right to know everything that the publisher can reveal. I mean, public servants must give citizens written reasons for decisions which effect them – surely the media must have, at the very least, a commensurate responsibility.

It seems likely that this story will not be resolved, one way or the other. But damage has been done, and it is vital in the public interest that the precedent this sets is debated and analysed on the merits to create clear guidance on when the power of the media to disclose and destroy should and should not be exercised.

Now there could be strategic reasons for the absence of full disclosure from the Age so far, in that they must have expected a writ (none so far). I can tell you what happened at the Herald. We got the story the day before the Age intended to publish. The Herald and the Age have an agreement to share good stories which are not generated out of the Paper’s Canberra bureaus.

In such swaps, the paper getting the story from the sister publication relies on the latter’s judgement in matters of truth and journalistic rigour. The papers share the virtually the same requirements of journalists and standards of journalism.

The first question asked by the Herald’s deputy news editor, Mark Coultan, was “Would we publish if the story concerned a powerful right-wing figure?” That was easy – yes.

“The fact that it was an Aboriginal leader made me think twice, and you ask the question – is this some anti-Aboriginal conspiracy?”

The Herald lawyers read the story and consulted the Age lawyers.

The one hole Mark could see in the story was that it stated that all the women had spoken to the police but did not reveal the status of the police inquiries. The Age advised that the story was not dependent on police inquiries, but its own. Mark got a Herald reporter to ring the Victorian police, and was told that they were not taking the matter further. This was inserted into the story.

Mark’s other worry was that Clark may not have been given sufficient time to reply, the allegations having been put to him the day before. His concerns were alleviated when Clark issued a statement on the matter.

An important factor, of course, is that the Age would publish the next day anyway and that it would quickly go national. By publishing the story in the Herald, our readers would know the facts before the furore.

Today, Jack Robertson’s Meeja Watch looks at the Clark case. George Hirst, editor of the far north Queensland newspaper the Magnetic Times, took up my challenge to question politicians on the ground about pollies super, and I’ve posted his excellent report. Thanks to those who emailed hoping I’d get well soon.


The Triumph of the barbarians

By Jack Robertson

It’s been a noisy two weeks for the Fourth Estate.

The McVeigh execution was a journalistic farce of Kafka-esque dimensions. Whatever your position on Capital Punishment, no civilised person could endorse the way it was fetishised to the point where blah blah blah. It was the most sickening blah blah blah I’ve ever blah blah blahed, and unless journalists stop blah blah blahing, then blah blah blah blah blah.

Now in Oz, the allegations against Geoff Clark. Whatever your position on the seriousness of Rape, no civilised person could endorse the decision to publish, given that police weren’t intending to blah blah blah. It was the most outrageous blah blah blah I’ve ever blah blah blahed, and unless journalists stop blah blah blahing, then blah blah blah blah blah.

Actually, I was convinced by the four women’s accusations. Then again, I was convinced by Clark’s denials, too. I was convinced by Pat O’Shane. Then I was convinced by Pat Staunton’s denunciation of O’Shane. I was in turn convinced by John Howard, Kim Beazley, the ATSIC commissioners, the Civil Libertarians, the Age’s editor, Andrew Rule, the legal experts, every single columnist on the planet, Clark’s enemies, his friends, the man-in-the-street and the Ordinary Australian. I now believe absolutely everything, and absolutely nothing, I see and hear in the Modern Meeja. I’m a child of the Modern Meeja Times.

Journalism is as sick as a dog. Even our good young Reporters are doomed to be bad Reporters now, because the only weapon journalism ever had was its own credibility, and all the Boomer generation has done during their watch is to collectively ensure that the Public will never again ascribe credibility to any journalist.

They’ve progressively transformed a career in Reportage into one pointless road-trip, with the stories simply along for the ride to pay for the gas. Janet Malcolm is still the one writer who has come close to honesty about New Journalism – it has become, no matter how genuine the individual Reporter, a collective exercise in the exploitation and betrayal of Humanity.

I’m beginning to think that the only possible answer is to sack every journalist over fifty and start completely from scratch using only anonymous Reporters, so methodologically-compromised is the Watergate generation.

Ultimately, McVeigh’s execution and Clark’s rape allegations cannot be any more than just the latest in the long series of adversarial soap operas that has increasingly defined news Reportage ever since Nixon was taken down by Woodward and Bernstein.

It shouldn’t be this way; rape and execution are both deadly serious. But the Meeja has become hopelessly dirty. Like a reverse Midas Touch, it automatically diminishes everything it touches – rape, execution, war, love, sex, death, genocide, global catastrophe. That small square box-with-a-lens, the ten second soundbite, those 1000 word limits, that ninety second satellite feed – they transform real life into mere self-parody, gold into lead.

The problem isn’t the message, or even the journos, who mostly try like hell to do the impossible – make the same old stories hit home, somehow, anyhow. But just how can you interest anyone (who doesn’t have to live there) in the Middle East, these days? All you can do is jack up the level of sensationalism.

It’s a limitation of the Meeja itself. No matter how profound the subject or adroit the Reporter, a story can never be much more than just the next few frames in that long, blaring MTV video that now incorporates OJ Simpson’s bloody running shoes, Bill Clinton’s dob of dried spunk, the crumpled Mercedes in the Paris underpass and those smart bomb’s-eye views of rapidly-approaching Iraqi bunkers.

Perhaps serious journalism was doomed the second the first lurid TV images from Vietnam flashed into our homes, or perhaps the moment when the irresistibly seductive idea of the Deep Throat informer took hold. Perhaps it’s just that the corpse is taking a while to rot.

Watergate, OJ-gate, Diana-gate, Clintongate, McVeighgate, Clarkegate, Yawngate. This is the cyclic Meeja Paradigm the Boomers bequeath, a 24-hour linked and layered electronic hypertext of regurgitated conspiracy theories, manufactured emotional hysteria, adversarial confrontation.

A blanket of Meeja noise in which so much nonsensical babbling now goes on that Baudrillard and Foucault are starting to sound like plain-talking Good Public Citizens in comparison. It’s all very exciting and chin-stroking if you’re a Reporter, a Columnist or a Cultural Studies Professor, I suppose, but for the overwhelming majority of the world’s people, Journalism is over.

It’s gone. It’s broken. It doesn’t work for us any more, it works only for itself. How can it do otherwise, when it’s impossible to distinguish, from outside it, the real from the staged, fact from fiction, substance from spin, and profound Human truth from a tossed-off throw to a dunny roll ad?

The Blahbarians have come at last, and us Human Beings can’t get a word in edgeways.


Magnetic Times 15 – 28 June 2001


Questioning the Candidates


This issue we wish to ask a question which concerns independent MP Peter Andrens Parliamentary (Choice of Superannuation) Bill 2001 which would enable parliamentarians the

opportunity to vote for the option of being able to opt out of the compulsory Parliamentary Super scheme.

The question comes in two parts. The first: Would you like to have the right to opt out of the compulsory Parliamentary Superannuation Scheme in which taxpayers provide a 69% contribution and be able to join an ordinary super scheme with the rules that apply to all other salaried Australians which include a 8% employer contribution? If so, if elected would you support Peter Andren’s bill which would give you the right to exercise that choice?


Peter Lindsay (Sitting Liberal Member for Herbert):

I would go further than the Times question asks. Not only would I support the right of Members and Senators to join the super scheme of their choice, I have the view that Members in the Parliamentary scheme should not have access to their super before reaching age 55. I support the Prime Minister who has taken the lead on this issue and intends to bring changes to the scheme forward within about two weeks. (MARGO: Tricky, Peter. Howard wants to change ONLY the age 55 principle, and then ONLY for future politicians. The super-generous scheme otherwise remains intact.)


Conway Bown (Independent candidate):

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Andrens bill to allow parliamentarians the opportunity to choose a scheme that is in line with that offered to every other Australian as opposed to the incredibly generous taxpayer funded scheme currently in place. And Yes, if elected, I would have absolutely no hesitation in choosing Andrens scheme. One in, all in, I say.


Jenny Hill (Labor Candidate):

(1) I dont think it is sensible to create two or more different schemes for the same group of workers.

(2) I would endorse the move to bring politicians superannuation closer in line with community standards especially in relation to the age at which MPs can get access to their pensions.

(3) I believe the best body to consider the MPs superannuation scheme is the Remuneration Tribunal which is independent and looks after MPs entitlements EXCEPT superannuation which is operated under an Act of Parliament and administered by a trust operated by the Minister for Finance.

Editor’s note: Incidentally, Peter Andren has noted: “If Kim Beazley did his research he’d find the Remuneration Tribunal has already given the thumbs up to the salary and super package MPs receive. In its 7th December 1999 report on MPs pay the Tribunal concluded it was satisfied that the remuneration package for Senators and Members (salary, superannuation and vehicle) is now competitive.”

George Hirst wrote: In his answer, Member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay said, I would go further than the Times question asks. Not only would I support the right of Members and Senators to join the super scheme of their choice, making a clear statement of support for Independent Peter Andrens bill.

Our Members statement was, according the Peter Andren’s office, the first solid expression of support for the bills option by any member of the government across the country so MT decided to ask if our member was prepared to let his feet follow his tongue and cross the floor of parliament on an issue that irks probably more Australians about their representatives than any other and, if need be, vote against his own party.

The opportunity to applaud Peter Lindsay for his courage soon evaporated however when we sought the answer. Mr Lindsay said, “I don’t want to add anything at this stage until I see what the PMs task force comes up with. This issue is not straightforward as there are many things to be considered. It therefore would not be prudent to shoot from the hip without the benefit of knowing the outcome of the PMs committee consideration.”

Its a pity, it would only be a short walk to the cross benches where Peter Andren sits. The Labor party sounds, as Herbert candidate Jenny Hill confirms, like it wants to make the right sounds and even support the Prime Minister’s plans to push back the access age to 55 but that is as far as it goes. Her party line follow-up comment which Peter Andren has exposed as the Beasley line and not much more than a sensible sounding sham, gives little cause for hope to cynical voters while John Howard’s plan to defer superannuation entitlements till age 55 won’t apply to anyone already in Parliament. More than a bit clubby you may think.

Little surprise then that the only candidate to make himself perfectly clear with no outs was One in, all in Independent, Conway Bown.