Geoff, where do you get off?

So Geoff Clark told Minister for Reconciliation Phillip Ruddock some weeks ago that he could well be in Geneva when State and Federal Aboriginal affairs ministers meet next weekend to find solutions to the endemic violence by Aboriginal men against Aboriginal women and children.


You’ll recall that Ruddock put the crisis on top of the agenda in response to devastating revelations by female Aboriginal leaders that women had kept quiet about the violence for too long. He said then that ATSIC chairman Clark – who strongly denies allegations by four women that he raped them – would come with him.


Clark’s decision is the latest proof that ATSIC has learnt nothing and he must go.


Can you imagine Ruddock getting away with preferring an overseas junket to being at this crucial meeting? Double standards, Geoff.


It gets worse. Clark told the Herald today in an interview from Geneva, where he’s lobbying United Nations human rights groups, that he wants the Australian government to invite a newly appointed UN special rapporteur on indigenous rights, Rodolpho Stavenhagen, to investigate deaths in custody and native title.


Clark said Mr Stavenhagen would understand problems such as family dysfunction and violence were symptoms of the lack of economic development and recognition of the rights of indigenous people.


“Hopefully then he would be able to comment on that to the UN to put pressure on for change if that’s not occurring in a country,” Clark said.


Geoff, where do you get off?


There is pressure for change in this country NOW. The meeting is the first step towards translating that pressure into IMMEDIATE action.


Aboriginal people do have the right to economic empowerment and to native title, but Aboriginal women and children also have the RIGHT not to be routinely attacked and abused by Aboriginal men.


Aboriginal children are the future of your people, Geoff. We don’t need a UN rapporteur to tell us there is a crisis. We already KNOW that.


Your priorities are disgusting.


If you had any credibility left, it might be worthwhile asking why you misled the Australian people on June 19, when you announced that you would not sue The Age for publishing the rape allegations against you, and that instead “I will lodge an immediate complaint with the Press Council”.


No complaint has yet been lodged.




I interviewed Phillip Ruddock on Clark’s likely no-show today. Here is my report.


ATSIC reversed its decision to expand its London office in the wake of revelations that it took little interest in endemic violence by Aboriginal men against Aboriginal women and children.


It decided in May to spend $3.6 million to set up an office in London to help lobby for a treaty, and to cut regional health and legal budgets to pay for it, sparking outrage from some indigenous leaders. After the violence scandal broke last month, it was also revealed that ATSIC had ended funding for a domestic violence program in North Queensland.


But Reconciliation minister Phillip Ruddock told the Herald online that the dumping of the London spending was evidence that ATSIC was responding to revelations by Aboriginal women leaders last month that women had stayed silent for too long on the crisis.


“Indigenous organisations are now having to weigh up in their priorities the amount of money they spend on this, rather than on other things,” he said.


But he refused to directly criticise the chairman of ATSIC Geoff Clark, for advising him that he might not attend a meeting of State and Federal Aboriginal affairs ministers next weekend to find solutions to the crisis.


Mr Ruddock announced last month that he and Mr Clark – who denies allegations of serial rape – would attend the meeting.


Mr Clark is in Geneva to lobby United Nations human rights groups, and has said he might not come back in time for the meeting.


“He still has to formally advise us as to whether or not he will attend,” Mr Ruddock said. “I would like him to be there, and he still might be.”


“All of the participants in meetings of this sort have to make judgements on their priorities.”


Mr Ruddock said his top priority a the meeting was to force the States to collect the necessary information on the extent of the crisis.


“Some States have, over a long period of time, not wanted to get the evidence or to put it clearly on the table,” he said.


He accused the states of failing in their responsibilities to protect Aboriginal women and children from violence. “Aboriginal people must have the same capacity to access police and family and community services as everyone else, and this is a matter the States can no longer avoid,” he said.




Today, the view from the trenches in Genoa, courtesy of my brother Hamish Alcorn.






The Independent Media Center in Genoa City and a nearby schoolhouse “safe area” was attacked at midnight last night by police, aided, it appears, by mysterious elements disguised as anarchists who committed savage and bloody attacks on activists and independent journalists.


This is the culmination of a systematic campaign of state violence against enormous and overwhelmingly peaceful protests against the G8 summit here.


We were in the Carlini stadium which was where Ya Basta! was camped out when the attack occurred – most of the major tutti bianci and other contingents were already gone, there were only about three or four hundred people left there at 1 AM when we got news of the IMC attack.


We were told to get our things and walk up to a different camp about twenty minutes walk away while Ya Basta! assembled journalists and parliamentarians whose presence would protect us, as our camp was definitely next.


Apparently the cops did show up an hour after we took off, and completely trashed the place; after searching everything, they opened the camp to a bunch of junkies who then went through all the remaining bags and tents and made off with or destroyed everything of value.


The cops have been working with a lot of low-life elements: the big story today is of a group of about fifty “Black Bloc” types who none of the other anarchists knew who always showed up and started acting extremely violently right before the cops arrived to gas and attack peaceful protestors. In some cases this reportedly caused actual fistfights with other Black Blockers who were trying to stop them from attacking small shops or other illegitimate targets.


The main question people are asking is whether they were cops or fascists working with the cops – the question may be moot if reports are to be believed that the top story of the local carabinieri HQ here is covered with swastikas and fascist symbols.


The story with the IMC: a couple minutes before midnight according to an eyewitness account from someone from RTS New York, a band of 50 “anarchists” in suspiciously uniform black clothes, bandanas and halmets appeared on a corner near the IMC, coming from the direction of a police position, started overturning dumpsters, and vanished again.


At exactly midnight a major police convoy appeared and bashed down the gate of the IMC with a van; people on the street who tried to form a line were beaten bloody with truncheons; at the IMC itself they had to produce a warrant and behave in a fairly civilized fashion, simply ripping tapes out of cameras, appropriating files and smashing computers – largely because the IMC was given the space by the city government and at least one minister of parliament was present – but across the street, in a “safe space” in which many activists were sleeping or eating in a schoolhouse, they simply came in swinging and attacked everyone they could get their hands on.


Most of the most savage beatings were again not done by uniformed police but by characters dressed in jeans and bandanas and helmets with ‘police’ written on their T-shirts, which had presumably been under the black sweatshirts all along. There was blood and broken glass everywhere inside; dozens were arrested, many carried off to the station in stretchers with broken limbs; today every third person you see in the IMC is wounded in some way – black eyes, arms in casts, gashes and cuts all over. Most are afraid to go to the hospital because the police have been removing people with unexplained wounds from hospital beds and throwing them in jail.


There were unconfirmed reports in the corporate media that three people were killed in the assault; most people today think this was mistaken (corporate media is hobbled in covering stories like this because most of them have a policy not to use independent media as a source. Apparently the BBC refused to run live footage of the police assault the IMC offered to supply them while it was happening because they claimed the event was “unconfirmed”!)


A French journalist is looking into the matter of the “warrant” and believes that it was a fraud – no such warrant was actually issued. There are rumors that Amnesty International is going to take up the matter at the World Court at the Hague and specifically accuse the Italian government of fascism.


Considering the fact that the Berlusconi regime is already working in coalition with overtly fascist parties (ie, led by Mussolini’s grand-daughter) the press is already beginning to talk of a fascist government. Many of the techniques employed here: the use of fake bomb threats, rightists posing as leftist terrorists to justify brutal oppression, were those employed in the ’70s to repress Autonomia.


However, what is happening here is obviously not just an Italian phenomena: techniques of repression are clearly being developed systematically, with new elements being added with every major action.


For instance, the Italian police here used what were for them entirely new techniques here, such as the wall around the “red zone” and the systematic use of extremely powerful tear-gas, which were spearheaded in Quebec City in April; the use of agents provocateurs disguised as anarchists right before police attacks on peaceful protestors was used at least since Barcelona in June, where it was fully documented on film and acknowledged even by the corporate media; the use of live ammunition of course goes back to Gothenburg.


It is important to note that after Gothenburg, Ya Basta! appealed to the government, saying that they were going to promise that no one associated with them engaged in any aggressive acts against either persons or property, and they were asking the police in return to agree not to bring live ammunition but rubber bullets and other relatively non-lethal arms.


The police refused, and even publicly announced a week before the summit that they were ordering body bags for dead protestors. The shootings and killings were not accidental: this was an intentional policy which goes back at least to the top of the Italian government but most likely to agencies like the US secret service which were ultimately coordinating the defense of the summit.


It is important to stress that the initiative for personal violence in just about every case we have looked into came from the police and not the protestors. On the 19th, there was a completely peaceful march of 50-60,000 people calling for international freedom of movement; since the police did not attack, there was no violence or property destruction of any kind.


The next day there were to be four or five separate columns descending on the walled “red zone” ranging from the Tuti Bianci in whimsical foam rubber armor and giant plexiglass shields, reformist groups like ATTAC who had no intention of doing direct action of any kind, radical syndicalists, a theatrical “pink bloc” with wigs and feather dusters, and a pagan bloc teamed with Gandhian pacifists who performed a spiral dance ceremony.


Every single one was attacked by the police, and always following the same pattern: first massive gassing similar to Quebec City, then baton charges meant to break bones and heads. The only group which was not attacked was the small “splinter group” within the Black Bloc which somehow mysteriously appeared in the middle of whatever group the police were about to attack next, destroying property randomly, and in some cases physically attacking people (including other anarchists) who tried to stop them, then somehow vanishing right before the cops began gassing.


This group was never itself assaulted by the police, it seems, but every other one was at one point or another.


If the police were intending to provoke mayhem, they succeeded: enraged protestors and many local citizens banded together to smash store windows and set fire to banks; in some places they even turned police violence back on the police, throwing rocks and bottles: there were several street battles, and in one of them, nearby where the Ya Basta! march was blocked by a police assault, local people, (real) anarchists and others combined forces to drive the police back and at certain points the police were definitely getting the worst of it; this is where a police officer shot one protester through the eye and drove his van over him, killing him.


Whatever the circumstances of the actual shooting (and it was not the only occasion in which police used live ammunition, others were, apparently, wounded by live bullets), the decision to incite violence and then arm police with live ammunition was made beforehand with full knowledge of the likely results, and in open defiance of desperate pleas from the protestors not to take that course.


It is the Berlusconi regime and the international police networks who have been coordinating the repression of the movement who are responsible for the violence and death in Genoa, not any particular policeman, carabinieri, or even fascist. These men knew exactly what they were doing.


We have to coordinate an immediate response. We always knew that the hammer of the state would come down eventually. The movement has been growing too fast, and has been far too effective, to be allowed to advance further. Now it is happening.


At this point it appears we have no choice: we must appeal, in every way possible, to civil society; to spread the word about what is happening and to hold those responsible to account.


It is already starting to happen in Europe and it is much harder in the United States where the press is so much more systematically biased against us, but this is a time to start playing every card we have – every connection or access to the power structure, time to start making phone calls, to start daily protests and even, if necessary, scrupulously non-violent direct actions against the media itself if it refuses to reveal what is actually happening here.


We have to jam their email and phone banks, not to let them get away with lying about us any more. These things can be done. We can turn it around. We can stop the engine of repression in its tracks if our pressure is massive and overwhelming.


Every time we read a story saying “police raid headquarters of violent protestors” we need to have a hundred letters sent demanding that they print the truth. We need to start calling the journalists responsible and demanding to know why they use the language they did and will not publish key information.


To ask them: if you admit (as they often do in private) that police attacked overwhelmingly peaceful protesters, why is it they never say so?


Be creative. Be disruptive. Absolutely refuse to go away.

How the Knowledge Nation diagram evolved

Barry Jones, author of Labor’s Knowledge Nation and creator of the so-called ‘spaghetti’ diagram, answers his critics.

In the Knowledge Nation Task Force Report the now famous diagram, labelled Figure 1: The complex interactions between the elements of the Knowledge Nation appears on page 9.

The diagram has become a matter of controversy, diverting commentators from the content of the Report itself, much to my regret. It has also led to personal abuse of its creator – namely, me. The central theme of the critics has been to say: “We can’t handle complexity and the report should have ignored it.”

It is essentially a graphic illustration of the text (largely ignored) set out on the same page above the diagram.

It might have been better, indeed, if Bruce Petty had designed the diagram, suggesting dynamic processes, rather than static ones.

The whole fracas raises the question: If the diagram had been omitted (as it could well have been), what would the commentators have written about?

The diagram evolved over several months. When I talked about Knowledge Nation to various groups, schools, service clubs, public meetings or ALP branches, I often used a simplified version, either on white board, black board or overhead projection.

There were a variety of responses. Some groups thought it was overcomplicated and confusing. One observer suggested that, with its circles and lines, it looked like an Aboriginal bark painting. But generally the response was favourable, especially with young people.

So I became committed to the diagram as a useful teaching tool.

Kim Beazley’s office was always anxious that the diagram would become the story and that it might short circuit serious discussion about the report. I thought this was an overanxious reaction and that press commentators would be far more sophisticated than they feared.

They were right, and I was wrong.

Nevertheless, the diagram makes several important points – and it would repay examination for several minutes.

1. The diagram is a diagrammatic representation of complexity, but pointing out how the complexity can be integrated. As it turned out, the challenge is hard to ignore. Our nation, as society and economy, is marked by extremely complex interactions involving the generation and transfer of knowledge. People who suffer from knowledge deficits, because of remoteness, lack of access, limited language skills or poverty, are seriously disadvantaged. In the current situation where the control of, or access to, Information is in a very few hands (Murdoch, Packer, Stokes, the Fairfax group) means that the Information Revolution actually strengthens the powerful, at the expense of the weak. I speculated about this in Sleepers, Wake! in 1982. Not one commentator has referred to the concentration of media power. If they obsess on the format of the diagram, what more needs to be written?

2. Knowledge Nation is the central concept – the area in which diverse knowledge-based activities and transactions meet, involving individuals, industry or professional groups, and Government itself.

3. Government plays an important role in Knowledge Nation, as a catalyst, generator, provider and user of knowledge, but it is not central. The facile argument that Knowledge Nation would be an instrument of Big Government, Big Spending and the Command Economy, misses our argument completely. If individuals were empowered by their use of knowledge, the role of government might actually contract.

4. Before the Report was published, commentators made sweeping assumptions about what Knowledge Nation would be about. It was often assumed that Knowledge Nation = Education. Well, education is of major importance to Knowledge Nation, but it is only one element, although a central one. Other writers, depending on their areas of expertise, assumed that Knowledge Nation = the generation of new industries, especially in IT and biotechnology. Well, yes, both propositions are true, but they are only elements. Others hoped, at least, that Knowledge Nation = preserving our great national institutions, such as the ABC, CSIRO, the Australia Council, and enhancing creativity. That is also true. Another view was that we must use knowledge resources to protect the environment and heritage. Indeed all the propositions are correect. The diagram attempts to make all those points.

5. A central element in our thinking involved the concepts of ‘silos’ and ‘linkages’. Perhaps it might have been better if the elipses in the diagram had been circles because that might have suggested the silos in which we store much of the knowledge we have generated. The lines, with arrows at both ends, indicate dynamic, two-way linkages. Task Force members concluded in the Report that Australia already has most of the building blocks to be a Knowledge Nation, but that we are underperforming badly. The main reason is that the linkages or connections are very weak. We need more dynamic connections for effective synergy. What are the linkages? They are ways of communicating, negotiating and integrating. We thought this would be a relatively inexpensive process – indeed that the returns from existing expenditure would be far higher. There is much unnecessary duplication of effort where parallel agencies operate in competition with each other – and this is counterproductive, expensive and wasteful. We were also enthusiastic about the concept of a National Inventory or National Data Bank (whatever called) which would link together information already collected about physical and human resources – including health, education, environmental, and make it freely available to citizens and governments alike.

Data alone does not produce knowledge, let alone wisdom. It is how we make connections. The diagram is an illustration of the central theme ‘Connecting the nation’.

I would have welcomed some assistance from professional designers, to improve the diagram. Perhaps somebody could offer to design it as a moving, dynamic set of computer images. But that still would not be appropriate for the print medium, on which most citizens rely.

On reflection, it might have been better for the elipses to have been grouped differently. For example, schools, universities, TAFE/Learning, ‘Third Age’ Lifelong Learning, should probably have been next to each other. So should ABC/Media, Communications IT and Print. There should have been a line linking CSIRO and Trade/Commerce. Libraries, Museums and Galleries should have had an elipse of their own.

But these are all trivial points – or, at least, I thought they were trivial. I doubt if they would satisfy my attackers!

Easing black men’s rage: many rivers to cross

Back in the old days Aboriginal men would gather round the campfire to discuss problems, bringing the entire community together.


An approach harking back to this old treatment of “men’s business” could fill a gap in the struggle against domestic violence that is endemic in indigenous communities in the Kempsey area and across Australia.


A pilot project is being launched in the next three months through the ATSIC-funded Many Rivers Violence Prevention Unit to temporarily remove men from their troubled families and sit them around a campfire to discuss their problems. These “group healing sessions” aim to make the men accept responsibility for their actions, seek the approval of their peers and the respected people in the community, and to say sorry.


“We are taking them out of town, getting them into information sessions over a weekend, teaching them anger management, life skills, communication, dealing with any issues they have,” said the project co-ordinator, Mr Drew Roberts.


The men’s program, which is in its infancy and has yet to be formally named, aims to be offered as an alternative sentencing option or bail condition, requiring participants to attend a two-day program followed up by two hours a week group therapy.


It also aims to make men feel comfortable enough to approach the services that are on offer, to ask questions about family law and seek help through the legal system services now largely accessed only by the women.


“Sentencing people to imprisonment hasn’t really worked and even then they aren’t necessarily taking responsibility for what they’ve done,” said violence prevention unit case worker Ms Annette McPhillips.


Mr Roberts said established programs aimed to empower women most often the victims of the domestic violence but nothing had been done to help the men, the perpetrators, to address the issues that had ignited their rage. Domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse were all indicators that something deeper was wrong with the menfolk in this community, he said.


“There’s no use empowering just one in the relationship. The women are empowered they are the ones with the education, they have more of a chance of employment, they are the head of the household when the men are in jail, and the men feel bad about it so they are doing all these things.”


Steven, a former alcoholic who bashed his wife for many years before being rehabilitated through the Many Rivers unit, also believes the key to addressing the problem of domestic violence lies in helping the men.


“We are the dominant ones but we have to learn to survive,” he said. “The men are the strength not in a violent way, not in a moral way; it just has to be a man that has to stand up and tell our kids when they are doing wrong and praise our kids when they are doing right.


“We have to get back the admiration of our children because we are losing it bad.


“The men need to be fixed. Thrust them forward a little bit that’s all they need and they can fix it themselves.”


The response to the idea has been encouraging. The unit thought it would start with 25 men, but has been approached by 100 wanting to take part including those who have not been through the legal system.


“The younger men thought they had been forgotten and nobody cared about their situation,” Ms McPhillips said.


“And I couldn’t believe how many had been through the system and hadn’t been offered any other options, no follow up, they’d just served their time.”


The Many Rivers violence prevention unit is one of 12 projects run by ATSIC to tackle indigenous domestic violence, and the co-ordinators of the men’s project hope that, if it proves successful, it will be extended to the other 11 centres around Australia.