All posts by Margo Kingston

The small matter of prosecution

To fill you in on DPP Damian Bugg to date.

His brief statement of last week made no mention of whether he would charge anyone apart from Reith and son but the Prime Minister’s office advised us today that Mr Bugg had decided not to prosecute anyone, including X and Y.


Solicitor-General David Bennett QC, briefed by John Howard to advise on civil liability, has reserved his position on whether Miss X or Mr Y are civilly liable. He says Miss X’s actions ”would, at first sight, give rise to an action against her for unjust enrichment”. She could also be ”liable to Telstra for deceit”. Of Mr Y, he says that on any version of events ”he acted dishonestly”.


So the question is, why won’t Bugg prosecute Y or X for fraud?


Attorney-General Daryl Williams QC, as his is wont, won’t say anything except that Bugg is an independent statutory officer and all answers must come from him, if he choses to make them.


But Peter Reith – God bless his soul – has effectively demanded criminal action against Miss X and Mr Y. He’s a lawyer, too, and he doesn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that his son Paul, who lived in the same house as Miss X but denies giving her the Telecard number and PIN, would have to take the stand.


He also doesn’t seem to have a problem with what the public’s reaction might be to the pollie and his son, who are at the head of the chain of events which led to the fraud, not being charged while the non-pollies further down the chain were.


Yesterday, Mr Peter Reith said:


”Clearly, the use by the person referred to as ‘X’ and the person referred to as ‘Y’ was obviously wrong.


”It’s quite clear that both ‘X’ and ‘Y’ have set out to illegally use the card.”


Today, he went further. He said of Miss X: ”She clearly just set out to fraudulently use that card for her benefit.


”It’s been pretty obvious to me all along that this person [Miss ‘X’] has taken those details and gone off and effectively defrauded the Commonwealth”.


He also describes her actions as ”her attempt to defraud the Commonwealth”.


So where does that leave Mr Bugg? Why did he decide not to prosecute X and Y? Silent, as always.


I reprint, for your interest, Mr Bugg’s statement of last week, and my letter to him this morning.


If you want to get answers directly from Mr Bugg, his email is, his fax is 0262065684 and his telephone number is 0262065666.







12 October, 2000


It is not the usual practice of my Office to publicise its reasons for not prosecuting matters. There are, however, on this occasion, good reasons for doing so.


It must also be understood that my consideration of this matter concerned the question of prosecution for criminal offences and not questions of civil liability or compliance with conditions or guidelines governing the use of Telecards by members of Parliament.


The investigation of this matter disclosed that Mr Reith MP provided his son with the Telecard access code and PIN prior to his son’s interstate trip in early 1994 to enable his son to contact him in the event of an emergency if he (Mr Reith) was away from home (reverse charge facilities were available for home contact).


I am satisfied that, on the evidential material provided to my Office, the investigation has disclosed that Mr Reith’s son is not criminally liable for his subsequent personal use of the facility which he has told police he thought would be debited to the personal component of his father’s telephone account. The estimated cost of these calls has been repaid.


Mr Reith did not authorise the non ”emergency” use of the facility by his son. He is not criminally liable on that basis. I also concluded that the authorisation did not offend section 64A of the Audit Act, which provides:


”A person who uses a Commonwealth credit card with the intention of obtaining cash, goods or services otherwise than for the Commonwealth is guilty of an offence”.


Ignoring technical issues such as whether the card itself was used, Mr Reith’s authorisation to his son was for contact in emergencies when he, Mr Reith, was away from home. I was not satisfied that if public duties took Mr Reith away from his home, facilitating emergency contact with his family could be said to be ”obtaining a service” otherwise than for the Commonwealth.


As I have said, my consideration of this matter concerned the possible commission of offences and not issues of civil liability or compliance with Guidelines.



LETTER TO MR BUGG (this morning):




October 16


Mr Damian Bugg QC

Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions,



Dear Sir,




I enclose an application under the Freedom of Information Act for your report on the Reith Telecard matter.


I note that you have refused to release the report and have refused my written and verbal requests to give reasons for that decision. I again ask for your reason not to release your report and cite the following factors:


(1) The commitment in the DPPs vision statement to ”accountability”.


(2) The stated objective of the DPP to ”preserve and enhance public confidence in the prosecution process and the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system.”


(3) The questions raised by members of the public, the legal profession, and the media on the evidentiary and legal bases of your decision, and the extent of this exception.


(4) The failure of your statement to disclose whether anyone apart from the Reiths will be charged.


I also seek answers to the following questions:


(1) Will you charge ”X” or ”Y”?


(2) An explanation for the contradiction between the Solicitor-General’s advice and your statement. Mr Bennett says that ”Both Mr Reith and his son have stated that the card was given to him on the basis that it was to be used in case of need to contact home or family”. Your statement, in contrast, says that Mr Reith’s claim to police, which is the basis of your ”emergency” section, was that he gave the telecard details to his son ”to enable his son to contact him in the event of an emergency if he (Mr Reith) was away from home”.


(3): Have you taken into account the public statements of Mr Reith before and since your report to the Australian Federal Police, some of which appear to contradict his statement to police.


Yours sincerely,



Chief of Staff, Sydney Morning Herald Canberra Bureau

Liberals’ memory fails – again

Those of you who managed to trawl through yesterday’s diary on the details of the federal police raid on a staffer of Laurie Brereton to find leaked documents on East Timor may be interested in these comments from Peter Costello.

Remember that Howard saw nothing wrong with the cops raiding pollies homes to find leaked documents of embarrassment to him.

Well, back in 1994, Costello ran the campaign against Labor Minister Ros Kelly over the sports rorts affair. He, too, got some embarrassing documents.

Costello wrote a comment piece for the Herald Sun expressing outrage that he had received a mere phone call from the police asking for a mere interview on the matter.

“Now the police are only follow ing orders. It was the government that approved the police inquiry. The Government wants the police to find out how a member of the Opposition came to reveal the truth…The government doesn’t want that kind of thing happening too often! The government is pretty powerful and if those running it decide to unleash their resources on an individual then the individual is pretty defenceless… This all makes people a little scared of the Government, which, I suspect, is just the way the Government wants it. And don’t ever tell the truth about what the Government’s been up to. The Federal Police might start ringing.”’

Liberals just hate big, bad government, but this government isn’t Liberal, is it? Its operation is control freaked to the point of routine censorship via John Howard at central office.

If public servants and whistleblowers were scared under Labor, they’re terrified under this lot. Truth? Spare me, Peter.

Neil Andrew, as expected, yesterday refused to order a Parliamentary investigation into the harassment of the federal police officer who told the truth on the seizure of confidential Labor Party policy documents from the home of a staffer of Laurie Brereton.

The executive wins again. Beware, parliamentary committee witnesses. Beware, whistleblowers. Big Government triumphs over the people, again.

LINDSAY YEATES suggests that the next Your Vote be “Would you invest in, or otherwise do business with, a company that employed Michael Knight?”, and that the Yes option includes the phrase “drive over the bastards”?

I’m off to the Young Writers Festival in Newcastle tomorrow. The web diary will return Monday.

How Malcolm Fraser has changed

“I have thought long and deeply about the thrust of this lecture. Tonight my remarks are directed primarily to non-indigenous Australians.”

Looking at the old man last night on the ABC, as he gave the fifth annual Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, I was overwhelmed by how radically my feelings had changed towards Malcolm Fraser. Like many others of my generation, I hated Fraser with a passion when he overthrew the Whitlam government in 1975. I felt he had trampled on democracy to feed his “born to rule” mentality.

Decades later, Fraser has gradually become, like several other “elders” of white Australia, a figure respected by many Australians of Labor and Liberal hue. Looking back on his time in office, his achievements seem enormous on race issues, from passing Northern Territory lands rights legislation – still the most advantageous to Aborigines in the nation – to his steely commitment to abolishing apartheid in South Africa.

His performance last night will be seen from at least two angles. To those who don’t see liberalism and indigenous issues his way, he will seem a forlorn, defeated, crumpled and emotional figure. He will seem a frail old man of the past describing core beliefs no longer relevant to modern Liberals, or even to modern Australia.

To me, Fraser was consciously making his last major address to the nation he once ruled, and the Party he once led. He delivered the finest defence of the need for Australia to take its international human rights obligations seriously that I have heard from a politician. I do not agree with all his remedies and suggestions on Aboriginal policy, but the intellectual muscle of his philosophical position cannot be doubted.

As I sat open mouthed at each Fraser bombshell – including his conversion to a bill of rights – he delivered another and another, in waves. Malcolm Fraser, statesman, set out, clearly and without equivocation, the principles in which, as a Liberal, he believes and their application to the Aboriginal question. Whatever your views, his speech is a must read. It could even lift the quality of the race debate, from both sides. Watching Fraser last night was an exhilarating experience.l I felt proud to be Australian.

An isolated group of moderates within the Liberals subscribe to Fraser views, as do some in the centre and the Christian right, but as a Party, the Liberals under Howard have officially abandoned them, without articulating an alternative philosophy in their place. This has triggered a tortured, seemingly endless cultural war, the result of which will define our national identity.

Fraser has five core disputes with Howard.


Fraser first laid out the documentary evidence which he believes proves that there was a policy of forced removal of Aboriginal children.

“It is hard to realise that the history we were taught of a great empty land being settled by brave explorers was largely false. It might be harder still for some of us who have known people of influence and respect, who participated in policies which we regard today as outdated, barbarous, cruel and racist. We can’t say it happened beyond the memory of today’s Australians. These events were continued after we (had) accepted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Clearly the test of those “human rights” was not put against the policy of removal.”

Howard and the intellectual right which backs him denies the existence of a stolen generation as such. Through his barrister, Howard argued in the stolen generations’ test case that policies of removal were for the welfare of the child.

He also argues that current generations are untainted, refusing to answer the challenges from many questioners about how he can say this since the policy lasted into the 1960’s. He does not accept – in the case of Aboriginal policy – that the Australian government, as an institution, carries the weight of our history and must deal with it. However he does not subscribe to this view – that each successive government and generation can wash its hands of the performance of their predecessors – when it comes to celebrating glory, like Gallipoli, or demanding an apology from the present Japanese government for WW11 atrocities. He has never articulated why he makes this distinction.

More broadly, Howard describes as “the black armband view of history” the idea that there are themes in our short history for which we should be deeply ashamed and for which we need to atone to both heal the national psyche and become one nation.


Fraser believes there must be a national apology to the stolen generations, a political settlement on the compensation question, self-determination, and a treaty. He cites evidence from Canada and New Zealand, which have taken this approach, that native disadvantage has since reduced dramatically, while the health and welfare of Australian Aborigines has remained chronically low.

Howard says no to all that, and says that “practical reconciliation” without the symbolic trimmings will do the job. His view is essentially assimilationist, his aim to move Aboriginal people fully into white society and white values. He does not accept that reconciliation is a two way street – that there are spiritual and other values Australian whites can learn from Australian blacks. s


Fraser says reconciliation can never be achieved by the people alone, without political leadership. “Issues of race are always the hardest to resolve, especially when the issue involves property.”

“In a matter so critical to the future of society and the future of Australia, it is not reasonable to say the community must lead.”

“It is the government that must be to the fore and persuade all Australians that we must act with greater expedition and with greater generosity. Government, if not this, another, will set the pace.”

Howard replied that Australians must accept that “progress is slow”.


The traditional Liberal position is that a bill of rights is unnecessary because the British system of parliamentary democracy, under which power is divided between parliament and an independent judiciary which enforces the rule of law, provided all protection inaccessibly. Australia is now the only Western country not to have a bill of rights, with even the British becoming subject to binding European human rights obligations. Labor tried and failed to get a bill of rights several times in its term of office because the Liberals wouldn’t have it.

Fraser’s conversion is therefore extremely important, as are his reasons for it.

“Through much of my political life I accepted the view of noted lawyers that our system of law, derived from Britain and the development of the common law, best protected the human rights of individuals. I now believe that our own system has so patently failed to protect the “rights” of Aborigines that we should look once again at the establishment of a “bill of rights” for Australia.”

Fraser favour an act of parliament guaranteeing basic rights to all. It could be overturned by Parliament, but at least parliament would have a yardstick to measure itself by.

In reply, Howard restates his antipathy to a bill of rights. saying a bill of rights didn’t help the Soviets or Nazi Germany. He says Australia’s He claims that our strong parliamentary system, incorruptible courts and a strong free press are the best guarantees of human rights.


Fraser notes that Labor and Liberal governments have, until now, been at the forefront of signing human rights treaties and subliming to United Nations scrutiny on our performance. “Did we mean it when we took these steps? Or were we trying to say ‘we ratified these instruments so that we can apply them to the rest of the world but they do not apply to Australia?”

He argues that Australia’s protection, ultimately, “is a civilised lordly and the UN was the only way to progress that aim. Fraser fears the super-power status of the United States, and argues that “it is overwhelmingly in our interests to assist the UN and its instrumentalities in establishing a rule of law which internationally can apply to the great and powerful, just as the rule of law can apply to the great and powerful in Australia.”

Howard’s dramatic break with that bi-partisan tradition has diminished us and damaged the UN, he says. “If the treatment of the original inhabitants of Australia by the white settlers represents the darkest hour in Australian history, the rejection of what many Australians would regard as justified criticism of Australian policies by international institutions, in a way that puts jingoistic nationalism over and above the concept and ideal of human rights, is a step into the past which we should not have taken.”

The government’s response to such criticisms is not to address them. Ministers freely admit privately that their inflammatory remarks against the UN when it critiques them is designed to appeal to uninformed, populist sentiment. My own theory here is that Howard sees UN human rights bodies as unnecessary curbs on his power, and would rather shoot the messenger than change policy.

Malcolm Fraser’s views are intellectually and philosophically coherent. John Howard’s are not, and are adjusted routinely to suit the cause for which he is arguing. Since he became Prime Minister, Howard has never made a speech dedicated to setting out his philosophy on Aboriginal affairs, the outcomes he seeks, and his strategy to get there.

In his end-of-year speech to the National Press Club setting out his priorities for 2000, neither reconciliation or indigenous Australians generally did not rate a mention.

Given Howard’s dramatic break with the joint Labor/Federal tradition on Aboriginal affairs, Howard owes all Australians this speech. It needs to state a philosophy, a set of core principles and a strategy for action.

In my view, Malcolm Fraser’s speech was historic. It could prove one of the last gasps of liberalism, or force John Howard to, at last, articulate his own core philosophy on the question. Aboriginal Australians deserve at least that from the current Prime Miniskirt.

The tangled web of sex, rights and IVF

Oh what tangled webs we weave when we decide to roll back human rights.

This story is complicated but bear with it because it will assist in understanding further developments in the IVF debate.

On Thursday, the Attorney-General Daryl Williams produced the legislation the Government claimed would allow States to discriminate against single women in IVF and artificial insemination treatment.

The Current Law:

* Section 22 of the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) bans marital status discrimination in the provision of services.

* The SDA defines ”marital status” as ”the status or condition of being single, married, married but living separate and apart from one’s spouse, divorced, widowed or the de facto spouse of another person”

* The SDA defines de facto as two people of the opposite sex who live together ”on a ‘bona fide’ domestic basis although not legally married”.

Williams’ First Take:

Easy. His amendment simply said that nothing in section 22 (the ban on marital status discrimination) made it unlawful to ”refuse a person access to or restrict a person’s access to assisted reproductive technology services (ARTs) if that refusal or restriction is on the ground of the person’s marital status” and is authorised by a State or territory law.

Williams was simply vacating all Commonwealth protection in the area of marital status discrimination for ART. What that meant, of course, is that a State could ban de facto couples or ban de facto couples who hadn’t been living together for 5, 10 or even 20 years (at least one State has tried to limit access only to married couples and been frustrated because of the SDA). A State could also ban married couples for that matter or even provide that only lesbians could access ART.

There are two extraordinary aspects to Williams’ actions.

First, he did not tell his Coalition colleagues that he planned to remove protection against all forms of marital status discrimination, not just discrimination against single women. At no time did he or the Government generally disclose to the public that this was the plan – instead, Howard made it explicit that the action was motivated by the ”right” of a child to a mother and father.

Second, how on earth did Williams think he’d get away with it? The outcry when yours truly broke the story in the Herald on Friday saw Howard act that day to make Williams back down. (To be fair to Williams, he was alone in raising doubts about Howard’s plan in the Cabinet meeting that decided on it.)

Why Did Williams Do It?

Neither Mr Williams nor the Attorney-General’s department are stupid. Removing the protection from de factos was not an ”unintended consequence” or a drafting error. Indeed, Williams made that very clear in his comments to me the day before Howard made him back down.

He said then that his amendment was designed to hand back the power to restrict or deny access to IVF and artificial insemination to the States. It was ”consistent with the States’ responsibilities in relation to the regulation of the provision of medical care and treatment – that they be permitted to legislate in the area of ARTs as they consider appropriate and in a manner which reflects the views of the community”.

I believe that the REASON he took so stark an approach, which removed de factos as well as singles from the protection of Federal discrimination law is for the very reason that two States CURRENTLY discriminate against de factos.

South Australia and Western Australia restrict access to de factos who have lived together for 5 years. The SDA, in contrast, merely requires that they live together on a bona fide domestic basis. Neither SA or WA require that married couples have lived together for five years.

Thus, a couple might have never lived together, been married for a day and get access. De factos who have lived together for less than five years are out, as are de factos who, say, separated after five years then got back together two years later.

If Williams had followed the Government’s public rationale for amending the SDA, he would have granted an exemption from section 22 to States who discriminated only against single women.

He didn’t because then he would have to define what a de facto relationship is and either override the SA and WA laws or allow all States to require a five-years living together period. The WA and SA regimes are considered certain to be overridden when and if a challenge is mounted. So far no-one has challenged it, preferring instead to get married under protest or go interstate for treatment.

Messy, hey? As Labor’s shadow Attorney-General Robert McClelland told me yesterday, ”Williams is in a double bind. If he relies on the Federal definition of de facto, he’ll override the SA and WA laws. If he defines de facto as living together for five years, he is discriminating against de factos.”


Where that does leave the claim of Williams and the Prime Minister on Friday that NO State or Territory currently discriminates against defactos? Pretty sick, I’d say. Williams, in his backdown press release, was careful enough to admit that some States defined de factos differently but claimed that they did not do so ”in unreasonably restrictive ways”. Note he was careful not to claim that all State laws complied with the SDA on de factos. No wonder everyone is waiting with bated breath for Williams next attempt. Believe me, Liberal women won’t give his legislation a tick sight unseen as they so foolishly did last time. And perhaps, just perhaps, the penny will finally drop on all those supporters of Howard on this one that he’s not on about the rights of the child at all but the right of the States to discriminate as they wish, regardless of whether the child will get a father or not.

I wrote to Williams today with some questions:

August 21, 2000

Daryl Williams QC,



Dear Sir,


I refer to your press release of August 18 in which you state that no State currently discriminates against de facto couples in the provision of Assisted Reproductive Technology.

Were you aware when making this statement that both the South Australian and Western Australian laws and/or codes of practice restrict access to de facto couples who have lived together for five years and place no such condition on married couples?

Is it your opinion that such restrictions do not amount to a breach of the SDA and, if so, what is the basis of that opinion?

Given that you have now decided to propose an amendment to your proposed amendment to the SDA ”to give effect to its commitment in relation to ART services for women in a defacto relationship with a man”, do you propose to define ”de facto” for the purpose of the SDA exemption?

If so, do you intend to specify the length of time in which a defacto couple need to live together to qualify for non-discrimination protection?

If so, what time will be nominated and do you intend to impose a similar condition for married couples – ie that they must have lived together for at least five years?





Late today, Williams’ office replied that the Government’s position was that even under his fresh amendment, the WA and SA restrictions should stand. Therefore, it seems, all States will be able to discriminate against de facto couples by requiring of them, not of married couples, to have lived together for five years. After all the denials, the fact remains that de factos have now been drawn into the discrimination net.

REPLY TO NAME WITHHELD (Friday’s diary):

DELL HOREY: I have to respond to ”Name Withheld” in case no one else does. I wouldn’t like to see her arguments unchallenged.

As I see it Name Withheld makes major assumptions when she asks why on earth do you [lesbians] want to biologically have your own child?

It seems that she believes that lesbian women are fundamentally different to heterosexual women and not only in regard to their sexuality. This must follow if she believes that the desire (or urge) of lesbians to be mothers is not the same as that which drives heterosexual women.

I am not sure that there is any evidence that would support this belief, nor does it seems rational that such a desire is solely related to sexuality. If it were to hold true, it would suggest that the stronger your sex drive the greater would be your desire to have children. Is there any proof of this? I dont think so.

Advice to lesbians to foster or adopt should hold equally true for infertile heterosexual couples and was certainly the only option prior to IVF when there was no possibility of biological children.

But like the introduction of a lot of new technologies, along with all the problems, we now have new choices. We no longer have to walk everywhere, we can drive (or go by train or plane). Medicines have saved a lot of lives and improved the quality of many others. We can adopt these new technologies and learn how to use them wisely, though admittedly that can take some time.

However, I can’t see how discrimination, based on the direct involvement of a male partner actually helps anyone. I don’t see how men are made redundant by IVF – surely the sperm donors have made a choice too!

The test of our commitment to human rights must be our willingness to see that they apply to all people not only those like ourselves or those that we like.

I am heterosexual, fertile and married and I dont believe that I would ever (access) use IVF services. However, I will never need to test my belief because I will never be in the situation to need to. But how I possibly think it is OK for me to veto the choices of others.

Most of the lesbian parents that I know were married and only after some struggle came to terms with their sexuality. I think that it is a vast improvement in our society that gradually homosexual people are able to live without the horrors troubled previous generations.

I don’t believe that homosexuals’ whole identity and their rights as citizens be determined by a small part of them.

More on IVF, genetics, parties and pictures


The IVF debate ain’t going to go away for a long time. Today’s revelations in the Herald that the Government plans to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to give the States open slather to discriminate against de factos as well as single women has given Labor its first chance to get on the front foot. (NEWSFLASH: The Attorney-General has just backed down and will now amend his own bill to protect de facto couples.)

The layers on layers in this debate will produce, I predict:

* Labor proposing legislation to give children conceived through IVF and artificial insemination the right to be told the identity of the father at 18. Tasmanian independent Brian Harradine and Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway have already publicly supported this idea. The Minister for Health, Michael Wooldridge, also wants this but has been unable to convince the States to do anything. Sooner or later, Howard will be forced, through his own ”rights of the child” rhetoric, to confront this issue.

* The inevitable Senate inquiry into the Coalition’s plan will be passionate, wide ranging and could even come up with sensible policy on this fraught area, instead of Howard’s knee jerk abolition of fundamental human rights. Expected participants include Joe de Bruyn from the shoppies’ union and the Howard-appointed Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Halliday, who’s been left out in the cold by the Government and is so angry at the loss of protection for de factos that she’ll put her good relations with government on the line to fight for women’s rights.

* Attorney-General Daryl Williams has been forced to shift the Government’s rationale for the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act from seeking to ensure a child has the right to a father, to vacating the field on marital status discrimination when it comes to IVF and artificial insemination. This is intellectually untenable, as Howard has invoked the ”rights” of the child to justify his action, which shows he believes there is a national responsibility in this area. You’d also have to start wondering what other human rights protections in the Sex Discrimination Act the Government thinks should be left to the States. Also, since Howard finds the whole thing so important, why not produce a national policy? It’s sort of like euthanasia when you think about it. Howard on that one said the issue was so fundamental it couldn’t be left to the Northern Territory or the States.

* The Senate inquiry could well be broadened to take on other big genetic issues so far undealt with. It could investigate the thorny issue of genetic testing by insurance companies, employers and banks. It could also take in cloning.

* Howard has opened a Pandora’s box and he can’t close it now. As Aden Ridgeway says, without national legislation, there can be no national data base, and tragic stories of half siblings falling in love without knowing their biological relationship are bound to happen.



Name withheld:

I am a 30-something full-time working mother. I pride myself on being a feminist and my husband and I (yes, he and I are married) try our best to bring our boys up to be feminists as well.

Throughout the entire debate on IVF and the issue of lesbians and single mothers, I have had a few problems with how I felt that the issue is not so black-and-white. All my women and men friends expect me to support the lesbians and boo Howard’s stance on this issue.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with lesbians bringing up children, be they adopted or children from one or both of them when they were in heterosexual relationships. I have no problems at all with that situation. In fact, some lesbian couples I know would make very good parents.

What I have problems with though is this: If you are a lesbian, why on earth do you want to biologically have your own child? Isn’t your child one of the many consequences, accidental, happy or otherwise, of a heterosexual relationship and if you don’t want such a relationship, then why do you want the consequences?

If you have maternal instincts that you need to satisfy, then foster a child, adopt a child, whatever. Why insist on IVF? To my mind, IVF technology is to treat and address a medical need, not a sexual preference. The ethics have not kept up with the technology but hang on a minute, why on earth do lesbians or for that matter, gay men have to have everything?

If I go into a relationship that would not enable me to conceive and have a child, then I go into it with my eyes wide open; I don’t turn around and expect society to owe me a living and satisfy my maternal instincts regardless of the costs.

I think it is obscene to put lesbian women on the same standing (as it were) as heterosexual couples who medically and health wise have a problem conceiving. [MARGO: Lesbians go into IVF for the same reason – that they have a problem conceiving. Hell, you wouldn’t go through all that pain, with such low odds of success, otherwise.] It is denying the heterosexual couple’s very real problems of conception, de-valuing their trauma of trying to have a child, if you equate their problem to that of a lesbian couple’s.

Am I the only one who thinks like this?

Obviously I haven’t been brave enough to broach this topic amongst our friends for fear of an outcry. What has really niggled me, too, is the way the media and indeed our friends have immediately surmised what our stand on this issue is – oh, they are a left-leaning, well-read, professional couple, surely they must have this view, which is to support the lesbians.

I have no problems with single women having IVF technology, really, I have no problems with heterosexuals having IVF technology, single or married.

I must confess I don’t know what your personal or professional views are on this but if I don’t share this with someone else apart from my husband soon, I am going to scream!

Do raise my concerns in your columns but please do not use my name. I am not sure I am ready to be ”outed” yet!

Jane O’Dwyer:

Suddenly the gains made for women by feminism seem terribly fragile – all thanks to a clever but nasty piece of political skulduggery on Howard’s part.

There is not really an IVF debate happening here – no debate is actually taking place about IVF itself and the vast number of issues that arise out of it. Perhaps that debate does need to take place. This legislation sure as hell ‘ain’t it.

What this is really about is government-sanctioned discrimination against women on the grounds of marital status and sexuality. The right of women to enjoy all the opportunities of life regardless of marital status was hard won (and I know we still haven’t really got there on sexuality).

If a Federal government can legalise discrimination on the basis of ”morality” or State rights, what is next? Does marital status once again become the determining factor for women’s status? It was only 35 years ago that women were tossed out of the workforce when they got married – this sort of discrimination cuts both ways for women. Maybe we haven’t come a long way, baby.

All of which makes the silence of the non-Lyons Forum Liberals and the excessive noise of the SDA Labor Senators look unforgivable. Maybe this will jolt women to protect and build on feminist gains – but do we really need these kind of threats?

How tragic a reflection it will be on our political system if a political stunt is the starting point for unravelling the anti-discrimination act.


David Moore sent in some big picture warnings on genetics from the United States:


Bioethicist Warns of Lack of Preparedness For Genetic Testing in US



By Todd Zwillich

in Washington

A government bioethicist warned a gathering of genetics expertson Thursday that current US laws and regulations will not protect individuals from the possible deeply negative impact of widespread testing for disease susceptibility genes.

Insurance laws, employment regulations and Federal medical testing standards are unable to prevent the ”very real chance” of discrimination against people testing positive for particular genes, a bioethicist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Dr Richard Sharp, said before a group of scientists at the Institute of Medicine.

”We haven’t spent much time talking about testing for susceptibility genes,” he said.

”The problems are going to be colossal.”

After the recent announcement that scientists had sequenced the human genome, President Clinton signed an executive order banning genetic discrimination against Federal employees. But the executive order was ”mostly symbolic”, Dr Sharp said. ”No comprehensive Federal genetic privacy law or antidiscrimination law exists.”

Problems were also likely in the area of workplace safety, he said.

Genetic tests were already available that screened for genes that could cause illness if the person was exposed to certain chemicals, he pointed out.

One example is the CYP2E1 allele, which is known as a marker for leukemia in patients exposed to benzene.

Regulations currently require employers to provide a reasonably safe working environment for employees but no rules lay down who is responsible for the safety of a worker who tests positive for risk associated with chemicals he or she works with.

”Are we going to shift the focus of blame to individuals who have genetic susceptibility or keep it on a dangerous workplace?” Dr Sharp asked.

Congress is currently considering overarching medical records privacy legislation that could apply to genetic testing but the measure has been mired in committees for years. There is still no way to know who will have access to the results of genetic tests.

”When you get tested, somebody knows you’re at risk. How they use the information is going to be the problem,” Dr Sharp said. – Reuters Health



The inaugural media ball in Parliament House last Wednesday night ended up a good humoured affair.

Even the PM was relaxed and led his short speech with ”You all look beautiful”. He ended by saying he felt ”civil to all of you”. Now that’s really something, given the presence of all those nasty leftie journos he so loves to hate.

Here are some photos of the night. I’ve included our photographers, so you know the face behind the people who shoot for the Herald and ”Pot shot”. Most photos were taken by the Minister for Financial Services, Joe Hockey, an ebullient character who, once he got his hands on a Herald camera, took 18 rolls of film for Canberra Inside Out. We’re considering offering him a job.


Roy and HG with PM John Howard and ball organiser and ABC Radio journalist Fran Kelly.

Fairfax photographers, from left, Paul Harris, Gabrielle Charotte and Phil Carrick with SMH Canberra chief of staff and yours truly Margo Kingston.

Roy and HG with Kim Beazley and his wife, Susie.

Progressive lefties and libertarian liberals unite!

In the week before Parliament resumes, when the cultural wars will be toe-to-toe and eyeball-to-eyeball, IVF e-mails are running hot.

We have a wildly skewed readership judging from the poll results and e-mails. Progressive lefties and libertarian liberals unite! If you’re a cool-headed analytical type or even a professional or lay mediator, please consider getting your head around a summary of issues and angles and coming up with a diagram or something. I’ve read so many e-mails on IVF my mind’s a blur.


NICK: In a country where birth rates are stillborn or even negative, every cent that goes to ‘singles’ and ‘lezzo wannabes’ is well spent. Somebody has to have the bloody children.



DELL HOREY: What I find really hard to get my head around is the argument that this is about the rights of children to have both a mother and father. It is so weird because they seem to be setting themselves up as the defenders of children who don’t even yet exist – and they are so concerned about protecting their rights, they want to stop them from existing.

So women who do exist have to have their rights diminished unless they can find a man. It is even worse than the anti-abortion argument. The hierarchy of rights seems to be States then children then women!

Part of the problem is that most of the people in the Cabinet are unable to imagine that this issue would ever apply to them or people they love. Of course, their children and grandchildren will do the right thing, be heterosexual, find the perfect person to marry and have perfect babies etc etc. I just wonder how John Howard would see things if his daughter got to her late 30s and hadn’t found the “right man”?

While (the yet to exist) children must have their right to both a male and female parent apparently it is ok not to try to protect them from potential diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

There is a sense that this is about men claiming their relevance in society. Some men feel very threatened by the thought that they are not essential in happy family life – but I don’t think that women can claim that they are essential either – there are some great single parent families around with a male head. You can’t make generalisations about this and men and women have to make meaningful contributions not just think it comes just by being there.

The hurt from the debate is enormous – and it may explain the silence from the Liberal women. If they have witnessed anything like the response I have they probably don’t know what to do with all that anger. It isn’t only lesbians either. My dentist, who is a very calm and I would have thought conservative woman, asked me what I thought about the latest thing “our lovely PM” had to say. She was so angry that I was quite surprised. She was insulted that someone would suggest that as a single mother her child was being properly looked after. “I’m a very good parent,” she said and indignant that someone should suggest she should pick up someone if she wanted to have another child.

I am just so infuriated by the whole idea that some people in society (who just happen to be women) are permitted to participate fully when it comes to paying taxes and using skills and talents but others can determine whether they can have the right to use the services and resources available to others in community. Basically what is being said is that women can’t be trusted to make decisions on their own about what is good for them when it comes to children.

While in some ways I think it is a worthwhile debate to have – like a lot of other issues I worry about who ends up paying the cost for that public debate. It isn’t really the politicians who will be affected by it but women and children who didn’t ask for their private lives to be made so public.While there may be some long-term benefit, it could be very painful (I am thinking here of the teenage children of a lesbian friend who don’t want their schoolfriends to know about their mother’s sexuality).



BRENDON: Politicians create their meaning through division. Howard is a master of it. By demonising lesbian mothers, Howard has created another outcast group as a vehicle for building his group’s identity.

He did it with Aborigines during Wik (remember the map?). He’ll do it again before the next election with some other group. And those small l liberals will keep quiet as they did during Wik and have subsequently on mandatory sentencing – moral cowards the lot of them. They should read Dante (Inferno: Canto 111). They wait for Costello, but he won’t save them.

This talk of children’s rights I find particularly dishonest. Deconstruct it and they are saying, better not to be born rather than be born without a father. Are they serious? If they were, they would advocate abortion as a vehicle for social engineering. But of course that’s not what they mean.

They are saying, you must conform to our version of family and society or you can have no rights. Of course, the implication is that no one can have genuine rights because rights will always be conditional on conformity. So in the end it’s the same old authoritarian stuff wrapped up in the rhetoric of the rights of the child.

People who make family structure and conception processes an issue make the world smaller and sadder for all of us. But they divide and conquer only themselves.



CATHY BANNISTER: Howard claims that “every child needs a father and a mother”, and that, therefore, single mothers and lesbians should be barred from the IVF program. The extension of this is almost too backward to contemplate.

What next, denying Medicare payment for obstetric care for single and lesbian women? The same logic could be used to justify forced sterilisations: “We’re not discriminating against you as a lesbian, it’s just that any child you had would be so messed up it would be better for them if they didn’t exist.”

What’s so intrinsically important about “a mother and a father” anyway? Why not just two loving parents? Why not one loving parent and enough funding and social support to actually do a half decent job? It’s old fashioned Christian disapproval of non-trad families, pure and simple. The stance is otherwise totally indefensible.

He’s not even arguing the rights of the child but the rights of the hypothetical child. And this hypothetical child is being denied the right to exist, on the basis of it’s own hypothetical rights! At this point the logic disappears up it’s own fundament.

Never, ever, has a politician made me so angry.



EMMA BRIDGE, Hobart: The ethics of IVF are difficult – who could forget those early pictures of the beaming doctors who brought us the technology, who were always given credit for the babies as if the mothers were irrelevant in the process. Unfortunately our society still values reproduction so highly that those who cannot conceive are left feeling incomplete or failures. Unlike other cultures, we have no concept of the community sharing in the upbringing of children leaving direct parenting as the only way to “have” children. If we resolved this, maybe some of the pressure on reproductive technologies may lessen. Given the way we are though, I firmly believe all women should have equal access to the technology.

The irony of Howard championing the rights of children (to have a father in their lives) is almost laughable. Here is a government which has done nothing to improve conditions to allow working parents of either gender be more involved in their children’s lives.

Here is a government made up largely of men who have spent huge periods of time almost completely absent from their children’s lives.

Here is a government that will not apologise for a policy under which the State denied children the right to either a mother or father (well not a black one anyway).

Here are a bunch of hypocrites.

I find it distressing to see in a lot of the news coverage of this issue, how it has forced women to belittle other women’s mothering. The Victorian woman whose rights were being tested in the first place has been quoted as saying she will make a better mother than young women who sleep around and get pregnant (or something like that). Lesbians have been quoted as saying they are better mothers than another group of women and so we go on. As a mother and a daughter and a feminist I find this very sad, that women have been pitted against other women to come up with their “good mother” credentials. Lets not get sucked into that. We are all the best mothers we can be, sometimes that isn’t good enough but it is very very rarely from a lack of trying.



DAVID DAVIS, our Switzerland correspondent: Your recent “random thoughts about the IVF debate” was quite incredible. Incredibly thought provoking and moving.

I liked the way you employed the term “the State”. To me, the term “the State” has particular overtones which make me feel uneasy. I don’t want “the State” in my life. Who does?

We don’t need the State to be making value judgments and choices like these. I really thought that respect for individual choice was a core Liberal philosophy (as you say). I always thought it was one of the most attractive aspects of the Liberal Party that was under-promoted.

But then, I suppose it is no use promoting something that isn’t really respected and enacted in practical ways by the people at the top. People that do have a coherent philosophy will always be marginalised and fail in politics. Politics is the art of compromise, sell-out and the lowest common denominator.

I haven’t noticed the Australian Tax Office making value judgments when it takes the money from us. So one arm of government takes our personal resources without discrimination, while another arm of government in the form of Medicare then nominates some people as worthy and others as not. It’s really quite sickening.

This is just good old fashoned politics and discrimination in the most pure form imaginable.

It hurts people to the core though. They can dress it up however they like but they can’t run away from the reality. The reality is they are pointing a discriminating, intolerant finger at certain Australians and are deeming them to be unworthy.

The rhetoric becomes really offensive when you are personally affected or know someone who is.

The story of your friend is very moving. I can understand how hurt she would be and really love the idea that she’s fighting back with the support of her friends.

Unless people stand up and be counted, we will be stuck with the medieval mindset for a lot longer.



CAROLYN: How very strange that you should treat facetiously the “right” of children to a mother and father, yet totally accept the very modern, very recent, and entirely unsupportable concept of the “right” to have a child.

No government in the world can legislate to give anyone the “right” to have a child, the whole notion of such a right is entirely artificial (no pun intended). Why has the public and the media accepted such a nonsensical right?

If we accept that everyone (let’s include men as well as women here, shall we?) has the right to have a child, or many children, then, by the same logic that you deride the concept of a child’s right to a mother & father, that is, “Should a child be able to sue his or her mother for failing to ensure a father on hand?”, we are led, inevitably, to the question “Should a person be able to sue the Government for failing to ensure they have a children if they want them?”

The next step, logically, is the right, not just to have a baby but to bare a healthy baby, followed by the right to bare a healthy, happy, intelligent and grateful child etc, etc. When the initial concept is so utterly artificial, there is no natural point at which to stop. The perversity of treating babies as a consumer item has no natural or social boundaries.

Let’s stop pretending that there is something good or altruistic about any of this: if single women can demand to be impregnated with tax payers’ financial support, the next logical step is that single men, of whatever persuasion, should also be permitted to buy a baby with taxpayers’ financial support.

Never, never, in history have children been so totally treated as a commodity to satisfy the unquenchable wants of adults (not needs, wants!). Whether taxpayer funded or not, is it really a reflection of a healthy society, and healthy adults, if we treat conception and children as an entitlement to be exercised regardless of how extreme or artificial the means required to achieve that entitlement? And regardless of the consequences and lifetime impact on the children concerned?

No amount of parental love and devotion can override fundamental social constructs that can & will damage a lot of these proposed children. What a self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-indulgent, bratty generation of adults we have become.

Random thoughts about the IVF debate

The more I think about this IVF issue the more layers it gets. Here’s a few random thoughts that have popped up in my head – please throw yours in too and we’ll try for a synthesis of facets, meanings and consequences.


Many people – religious and otherwise – don’t like IVF per se. They think it interferes with what should be a rather more natural conception process. Where to draw the line these days is a big issue – with fertility drugs, artificial insemination?

The real question in this debate is that since IVF is here to stay, should it be available on a non-discriminatory basis? It’s not good enough for the Catholic Church leadership to see a discriminatory restriction on IVF as a win in the battle to ban IVF, because a ban is not realistic.


The silence of female Liberal MPs is eerie. There are several feminist women in the Party who have fought as individuals for a woman’s right to control her reproduction. They’ve fought battles for the pill and for abortion.

Now the sheer populist appeal of Howard’s stand and the party-political joys of watching Labor tear itself apart have seen these women either not return calls or call back to say they won’t comment. Goodbye Liberal feminism when the chips are down. Remember, there has been no partyroom decision on this.

As of today Labor has no policy on the matter, despite the fact that the Sex Discrimination Act was a Hawke Labor government achievement against great odds.

This means that advocates of women’s rights are reliant only on the Democrats and the Greens in the public debate. So sad. It’s not even a fair fight in the sphere of public conversation.

It’s at times like these that you realise the terrible injustice of having so few women in federal politics. They’re just another minority when it comes to issues that are central to women but on which men have all sorts of emotions, prejudices and fears they seem to need to force down women’s throats.


But wait. The Sex Discrimination Act was the result of fierce lobbying by an activist women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s. They were radical, ideological and deeply committed to the cause.

Since then, feminist has in some respects become mainstream, and young women have in many cases come to believe that discrimination on the basis of gender or marital status is over.

This debate could bring the generations together at last. Older feminists can remember the old battles, younger women will discover the excitement of the repeat performance. Both groups will teach each other. This could be the rebirth of feminist activism. Watch out, John.


Do Australians really want to be told by the State what to do in their personal life? The strength of that strand of the Australian psyche will be tested in this debate. Howard looks like he’s on a sure winner, but when you polarise opinion so hard on lifestyle as Howard has done on this one, you just never know.

I remember attending an Opposition party hosted by Peter Reith many years ago, and having a spirited debate with John Howard on citizenship initiated referenda. No way, I said, citing majority opinion in favour of capital punishment.

Howard accused me of elitism. He said he too opposed capital punishment, but believed passionately that a sustained debate on its merits leading up to a referendum would see Australians vote no.

Well John, here comes the debate. With Labor so split, this one will be fought mainly at a grassroots level, in town protests, public meetings, and over dinner tables.


Banning discrimination on the grounds of marital status helps married women, and single women, married men and single men. The Sex Discrimination Act was riddled with exceptions after tumultuous public debate. The Act helped decide who we were and what we believed in. Some exceptions have since gone as the slow progression to judging people on their merits continued.

I see this reopening of the discrimination debate as an aspect of Howard’s CULTURAL rollback setting itself up against Labor’s GST rollback. Open the gate to discrimination and the potential consequences are horrifying. He has coopted the human rights debate to suit his ends – speaking of the right of the child to a mother and father involved in his or her upbringing.

How ironic – a man who has trashed the human rights discourse as irrelevant when it comes to race discrimination (Wik) and the right to a fair trial (mandatory sentencing) suddenly turns it all around when it suits his value system to do so. Human rights should not be treated as political footballs to be forgotten if unpopular and promoted if popular.

I have never heard of a child’s right to a mother and father involved in his or her upbringing before, but Howard’s invention means, by definition, that this new right should be enforceable. Should a child be able to sue his or her mother for failing to ensure a father on hand?

Should the State enforce the right to a father by requiring him to participate in the child’s upbringing.?

Should the State take a child away from a family without a live-in father and put him or her into a family which has one?

Imagine how the debate changes if the IVF criteria include the requirement that the mother should be able to show that the child will be brought up with love, with the family involved, however constituted, willing and able to provide the necessary physical, emotional and intellectual support.

This is not a right – it cannot be given the failures of many parents – but it is an obligation which the State should be satisfied of before providing financial assistance for IVF. This approach does concern itself with the welfare of the child – John Howard’s approach merely discriminates on the basis of his preferred family model. Guess what John, the overwhelming majority of child abuse is perpetrated by live in fathers or step fathers. Guess what John, most homosexuals were born of straight parents, and on my anecdotal experience, all children of homosexual parents are straight.

The Liberals’ core philosophy of respect for individual choice has been replaced by John Howard’s moral fundamentalism.


A lesbian friend of mine had a baby two years ago. A male friend donated his sperm. She needed fertility drugs to conceive, and if that hadn’t worked, she was prepared to incur the expense and pain of IVF.

The father has agreed to be identified as her son’s father when he asks the question. He visits every few months to say Hi. My friend has been assiduous in having male friends involved with her son, so he has male role models. Her son is healthy, happy and loved. She finds it hard to mange her full-time job and being with her son as much as she wants, and has asked her employer to consider letting her work part time, because she wants more time with him.

Her stated reaction to Howard’s announcement was outrage at the financial inequity of it all. She pays her taxes and her Medicare levy. Yet that was just cover for her devastation. Howard has told her the State disapproves of who she is, how she lives her life, and her capacity as a mother, without knowing who she is as a person.

Howard has never been for all of us, and now he is getting more explicit in saying which of us he targets for discrimination. My friend is fighting back. At her son’s birthday party tomorrow, her friends, gay and straight, will bring their children on the understanding that they want to be interviewed by the local paper. They want to say my friend is a good mother and that her son has the rights most children don’t have.


To me, a child should have a right to know who his or her father is. That’s the basis on which adopted children now have rights to access their adoption records. There is a real debate to be had on the identity confusion that can result when a child has no way of finding out who his or her father is. Personally, I could accept State intervention to insist that State funded procedures to help a woman get pregnant include that requirement. But that isn’t what this is really all about, is it, John.


This is an exchange between a listener to Melbourne Radio 3AW and our Prime Minister this morning.


I’m a lesbian. I have a child. I didn’t go through IVF because it wasn’t available to me. I took the risk of getting AIDS to have a child. I changed my career to make sure I could be home after school and also thought every long and hard before I did it. Also something else I have heard you say is that its a lifestyle choice. Well when I was 17 and realised (I was a lesbian) I definitely wanted to be was a parent. There is nothing I could do about being a lesbian, but there was something I could do about being a parent and I thought long and hard, and I am a damn good parent with a wonderful son who excels at school, who gets fed, looked after, better than the children that I work with with two parents that are drug addicted, 25, with five children and one on the way and they could be entitled to IVF but I can’t. Can you answer me, where is the logic in this?



Lisa, it is not just a question of the government intervening in something which is intensely personal because there are public resources made available in relation to IVF, so therefore the government does have a role. I mean the idea that governments who are the representatives of the entire community have no role at all in relation to a service which is in part at least funded by the general community of taxpayers is wrong.

Now I don’t criticise in any way or denigrate in any way your affection towards your child. Equally I dont think it is fair to, as your observation and comparison suggested, to categorise all two parent families in quite the derogatory terms of the example you quoted. I mean look there are good and bad two parent families. There are good and bad parents. That is not the issue.

I mean the issue is whether you believe, or society believes, in the principle that every child born in this world should have the expectation, other things being equal, of the care and love of a mother and a father, whether that is a reasonable principle.

Now, I happen to believe and the majority of my colleagues in the government happen to believe that that is a good principle and we think its a principle that’s worth supporting and its a principle that is worth promoting. It does not represent a negative value judgement on people who have a homosexual lifestyle. I have never wanted people in that situation to be discriminated against or persecuted and that is why I supported the former Labor governments legislation to over turn the Tasmanian anti homosexual laws. Its a question of whether you wish to positively assert that fundamental right of children and I think that fundamental right takes precedence over all other rights in this case.



DAVID HANCOCK, Balgowlah NSW: What the debate should be about is whether we should fund IVF at all. These procedures cost us huge amounts of money, and producing sickly and unhealthy premature babies most of the time. To what end? There are far more important areas where that money could be spent. Areas where people really suffer.

The way this turd floats these red-herrings and people who should know better bite makes me sick. The words of Bob Hughes after we lost the republican debate come to mind constantly these days………”The country’s not fucked, merely delayed”…………………

GEORGIA GRAY, Fairhaven: Do we know what polls say on this issue? It’s surely not just the Labor party which is divided. There must be some concerned people in the Liberal party? Maybe not. Bob Carr’s line seemed to diffuse it a bit with ‘this is a private matter for women and their doctors’. Labor just has to do what’s right eg. support human rights and get on with the big picture. I don’t reckon too many cross country people will change their vote on this. It will be forgotten soon if handled decisively.

DAVID, Our correspondent from Switzerland: John Howard may be the bad guy in this most recent issue regarding lesbians and IVF. His “tolerance without endorsement” is an interesting policy to say the least. Perhaps this is an example of where pandering to the masses is not always as attractive as it intuitively seems.

I don’t really see Labor as being very different though. Few mainstream politicians are prepared to go out on a limb on these kinds of issues.

This kind of discrimination cuts equally across both parties. Of course there are different aspects to the hardliners in each party but the end result is the same.

The “tolerance-speak” on both sides is just a thin veneer to cover up a great deal of very real intolerance. No influential politician (I mean REALLY influential) ever takes leadership on such issues.

Several continental European countries are a long way ahead of Australia in this regard. They may also be ahead of their respective publics but that isnt ALWAYS a bad thing.

This message may seem somewhat contradictory to prior messages … but there you go.

Of truth and lies and all shades between

Uh oh. Della’s lunch has raised big questions about whether truth exists and, if it does, is anyone telling it? Craig D thinks he’s got it:

“The Della Bosca blunder is truly a study in the truth. Della Bosca told the truth and self imploded. Beazley says Della Bosca was lying when he told the truth. Della Bosca says he was lying when he told the truth. Beazley must also say he was lying when he truthfully(?) supported a GST some years ago. Della Bosca must have been telling the truth about the GST – a lie could never attract so much attention in Canberra.”

Tim Dunlop pretended he was asking an innocent question:

“Hope you can bear with me while I try to explain this. Actually, explain is the wrong word – while I think out loud.

“I wonder if there isn’t a parallel to be drawn between your comment on the Della Bosca ‘blurt’ and the way you introduced the idea of this Canberra Inside Out forum? Discussing Della Bosca, you wrote: ‘Maxine McKew’s report of her lunch with Della is a must read because the man talked for real. His pathetic excuse that he thought he was off the record only emphasises the dishonesty of public political discourse and imagery.’

“In a similar vein in your introductory column you wrote: ‘I’m allowed to say what I think whenever I like …’

“Now when I read your intro I thought that, um, wait a minute, isn’t that what journalists are meant to do anyway – say what they think? I know sometimes they are meant to just ‘report’ but columnists like you are always meant to say what they think, aren’t they?

“So why is this Inside Out column any different? And does that mean that the stuff you (and others) write elsewhere is not what you really think or what you really want to say?

“In other words, if, as you say, part of the attraction of the Della Bosca blurt is the fact that ‘the man talked for real’ and that we should ‘as journalists and citizens … applaud his honesty’ and that it ‘only emphasises the dishonesty of public political discourse and imagery’, doesn’t your comment about the Inside Out forum beg the same response?

“If part of the attraction of this forum is that you get to say ‘what [you] think’ and that, by implication, this is something to be applauded as out of the ordinary, then wouldn’t we, as citizens, be right to think that it ‘only emphasises the dishonesty of public political discourse and imagery’?

“Don’t get me wrong – I’m not having a big go at you personally, being a fan of long-standing (you and Mike Seccombe often make my day) but I wonder if you haven’t hit on something more central in the state of our relations with our democratic institutions?”


The Herald editor, Paul McGeough, read my diary a couple of days ago and he too was disturbed by the “I can write what I like” line. He, too, said it implied that I couldn’t do the same in the paper.

I am not censored in my paper and certainly didn’t mean to imply such a thing. What I was getting at is that space is limited in a newspaper. Sometimes what I write doesn’t get into the paper because of that or what I write is cut to fit the available space. In the diary, it is self-discipline alone that determines volume.

Also, I often cannot write what I like in a stylistic sense and this is a big attraction of the Net for me. I’ve felt for a while that the current formulae of newspapers are stale and sometimes arid. There’s news style, feature style, opinion style, colour style etc etc. One’s work either fits or it doesn’t make the paper. With limited space, it’s usually impossible to experiment with style.

Since covering Pauline Hanson, I’ve also realised how disconnected we’ve become from readers and how often our opinion pieces are judgmental and closed to alternative perspectives. It’s the same with news – we’ve come to rely on peak bodies to tell us what people feel and think, instead of being on the ground finding out first hand. So this diary is an experiment in attempting to connect and interact with readers in a less formal way while obeying core values of journalism – accuracy and ethics.

As for the unusual case of political honesty via Della, this is one of the most difficult areas for journalists. We must get access to powerful people in order to get the news to our readers. But often they insist that chats be on “background” (for use as information, not for quotation). If you see the journalist as the interface between the people and the powerful, asking questions on behalf of the people and bringing the people’s concerns to the attention of the powerful, then you must admit that their postion is delicate, even compromised. You can easily be co-opted and used and often you can’t tell all of the “truth” because you’ve promised not to in order to get part of it.

But after taking all that into account, your point still stands. One of the problems of political journalism is that we get obsessed with the game, the spin, and forget about “the truth” behind it. Consumers of news, I think, are well aware they’re being spun at and are becoming more interested in the story behind the spin and how “news” is constructed. Newspapers need to tackle that challenge too and I think part of confronting it is to admit the subjectivity of the journalist so the consumer sees the angle from which the reporter is coming and takes account of that when reading his or her work. This does not mean that I am unprofessional – ie that I do not use my best efforts to get the story and to report it accurately. I think it just means that I am being honest with readers. Anyway, Tim, that’s my response, just thinking aloud.


MC Pye of Pyrmont writes: “Margo – do we see the future here in your diary? Is it the death of the apostrophe?

“I like your style – enjoy/think about your thoughts but do you have a trustworthy someone who could intelligently run a spelling checker or an eye over it for those little details? Or is it part of the ‘spontaneous’ on-line SMH style? (Lovely pun tho’: ‘Wither the Labor Party’ rather than ‘whither’)”

The apostrophe absence was not an expeiment in style but the failure of the CyberNews system we work on to pick them up when the story was transferred from Microsoft Word. The on-line operation is small, frenetic and frantically busy at the moment so you get the product pretty raw. We will improve.


MC Pye also wonders how she can answer yes or no to polls.

“They tend not to have the alternative I want to answer. Maybe (as originally trained in science) I’m just a qualified-answer sort of person. But wouldn’t a lot of people be? Most of life – well, the stuff that’s worth thinking about/discussing – isn’t Yes/No.”

Agreed. But with my poll, you can do Yes/No depending on your mood, AND send an e-mail to explain your answer. Speaking of which, David Eastwood, of Sydney, suggests the first poll question and states the case for a yes vote:

“Are we a banana republic?

“Our leaders make a large play of deferring to the tradition of a now distanced colonial power and weren’t they looking chuffed at the pomp and circumstance?

“Our Government flies in the face of current wisdom and attempts to regulate the internet – like they do in many third world countries.

“Our Government gives incumbent media heavyweights protected access to a new media channel at the expense of competition – perhaps to continue to curry their favour and maintain a managable oligopoly. This one’s been a popular play in a number of non-democracies near here for a while now.

“Our Prime Minister pointedly avoids big moral questions like apologies and republicanism by mechanisms cleverly setting the rules and other devious and not so devious means, like they do in many African countries.

“I wonder if it would be possible to synthesise a list of criteria that define a banana republic and test our current status?”



Herald bureau chief Michelle Grattan reminds me that just because I’m on-line doesn’t mean I can be inaccurate. I said in yesterday’s Della Bosca rave that Labor planned to fight its third GST election in a row. Wrong. The first two were in 1993 and 1998. 1996 was Howard’s “never-ever a GST” triumph.

What you had to say about the diary

What I really want for this diary is an ”outside in” button, so people can post their comments to the public, not just me through email.

I’m told that’s possible, but everyone at the Herald is frantic getting ready for our Olympics coverage, so I’ll have to wait till the post-Olympics blues for that.


Till then, I’ll record some emails as part of the diary.

I don’t know if it’s just that Herald readers and listeners to Late Night Live are wonderful people, or whether only wonderful people are reading my diary, but I’ve got only nice emails so far. If I get a really nasty one, I’ll publish a nice one with it, for balance.

So here’s the response to yesterday’s diary:

Cathy: Hi. I just wanted to comment on something else that might effect the three-month review of the GST.

We hear that the government is going to receive over double what it expected in GST revenue, and that the windfall might be even more than that.

So, where is all the money going to come from? They don’t seriously expect us to believe that the cash economy was quite that big….


To put this in perspective, my husband was a medical research assistant in New Zealand when their GST was introduced.

That 12.5% GST was sufficient to fund a tax cut for his supervisor (and everyone else in his tax bracket) which was greater than my husband’s entire salary.

The tax cuts granted to Australians of all salary levels are unbelievably meagre in comparison. Now, I’m not arguing that the higher salary brackets should have got greater tax cuts, I’m just pointing out that if there is greater revenue drawn, someone must be paying a heck of a lot more tax.

Howard even uses tax cuts for the rich as a justification for the GST in his little letter to us all.

He cites a problem with the old tax system being that people were not motivated to earn more because so much of the higher salaries goes in tax.

As I read it, this translates to: The rich should be taxed less, so that people have more motivation to earn more.

Now apart from being straight bullshit (I don’t think people notice their level of taxation until it changes), this demonstrates a very punitive morality – punish the poor, because it will motivate them to become rich.

As if being poor wasn’t motivation enough..

It sounds awfully like John Howard’s “incentivation” (anyone remember that?). Here’s another prediction. If it remains in office, the government would use the windfall to give progressive tax cuts which would increasingly favour the rich. Just a guess.


Andrea: I think your point about political reporting has been waiting to be made for a long, long time … because when it comes down to it, as a reader, worker, citizen, most people are really only academically interested in the manoeuvring, the Machiavellian moves and the posturing.


I know I really want to know what government is doing, how this benefits most people or least, and whether it is living up to its pre-election advertising. (It’s a pity that political parties aren’t covered by fair trading laws).

In the absence of that sort of reporting, I want to know if the bureaucracy is doing its job and if it is being allowed to do its job.

I want to know if political parties are moving ahead or just moving in on themselves. I want to know why it is politically feasible to suggest free trade but the logical accompaniment of free (not defamatory or licensed or regulated) expression is totally out of the question.

I would really love to see more journalists stepping out of the PR and source machine and following up the questions that most people want answers to – or at least more information on.

On that note, I’ll add that I thought your work on Pauline Hanson was some of the best reporting and perspective I’ve seen in an Australian newspaper – keep it up. (Margo: Aren’t you unusual!)

Chris: An SMH journo with a email address that the public can see. Hope you don’t get inundated with too much crap.

The real sting in the tail of the New Tax System for the Libs is coming in October and more so in January. These are when the first two Business Activity Statements are due to be filed. The first will be hellish because it is the first one.

The second will be a disaster because small businesses especially in service sectors traditionally don’t have much actual revenue in January and February.

And they are going to have to come back from holiday earlier than usual to start work on the BAS. And they ain’t going to have the cash to pass on to the ATO … And what’s the ATO gonna do? Put 5,000, 10,000, x 000 of the Liberal’s core constituency out of business?


A lot of small business people are in business because they perceived that there were ways of er ahem minimising their tax, especially when it came to cash or contras.

It made the grief of running your own small business worthwhile. Now that benefit has gone.

Now I would venture that most people in this category are natural coalition voters – they will not be best pleased. And they are going to have to recover the lost “revenue” or reduce their standard of living.

In our case we have never had any cash income so they way we handle our customers won’t change. But what will change is all the record keeping (non productive, non-billable work) that we will have to do.

This overhead will increase, we estimate, to about 10% of our time. We like a lot a service businesses will have to increase our charges to our clients to cover this cost and the extra accountancy fees.

Presumably these extra charges will be passed on eventually to their customers. 7% inflation? – More like 11%.

And because some of our contractors can’t or won’t get ABNs we are getting more of our programming work done offshore. And we are not the Lone Rangers in this regard.

Bad for our CAD. (Incidentally I can’t understand why Crean and Beazer don’t make more of this considering how badly they were beaten about the head on this in ’96).

Joan M: I agree about the need for the media to restrain from reporting political rhetoric about who is in front. There should be more coverage about what the new system says about our attitudes towards each other..

Tax cuts really aren’t beneficial in the end. Because of a capitalistic culture, the money we get from the cuts, won’t be used for our own well being, as the tax was in the past. We won’t use the extra 50 bucks to go educate ourselves, to join a union, to get our flu injections, to go into rehab.

The balance is all wrong.

I am hoping Howard will be out next election. But Australians seem to respect someone who acts like a toughie.

Anyway, it’s always nice to peek in someone’s diary

Welcome to my diary … and now for the GST

Welcome to my Canberra diary. I’m allowed to say what I think whenever I like, and lucky you can interact if you like. The downside for this indulgence is that all the words stay forever so I can be judged for my sins.

If this weird idea survives, I’m going to lobby for the f2 techheads to add a program called “MPoll”, where I’ll ask a question and you can vote (and suggest your own). I’ll send the results to whoever is responsible for the question or the answer and publish their response, if any.

My biggest wish amid the GST blues is that the media not report any of the politicans’ spins, strategems and rhetoric and that we don’t use up valuable space pontificating about who’s on top, under pressure or on the line. Surely July 1 was the day the politicians handed over to the people and the media began reporting what consumers and small business think, how they cope and if they reckon they’re better off. Let the politicians bombast all they like and get their cheap thrills from pointscoring. Let the media report the people only until October 1. This is a time to collect the information, not let the politicians manipulate the ambience before the facts are known.

I can’t resist recording my best guess, though, before holding my peace. Poorer people will be worse off because their tax cuts are so frighteningly skinny they can’t survive even minor errors in price assumptions. That will hurt the Coalition big time in the bush, as the Nationals’ desperate campaign for caravan residents showed. The Australian Bureau of Statistics published “Social Trends 2000” today and noted that in 1999 “most people living in areas of low socio-economic status live in major urban centres, but such groups tend to be over-represented in smaller towns and geographically isolated locations”. The Liberals haven’t learned the Pauline Hanson/Jeff Kennett lesson and they’ll pay for it. Middle earners with reasonable net tax cuts won’t be happy either because that extra cash and more will go to private schooling (because public school standards and facilities have declined) and to private health insurance (because the Government won’t properly fund public hospitals and instead props up the private sector). Many upper income voters, if the recent Australian survey is to be believed, are starting to get rather uncomfortable with the ever growing gap between rich and poor, which will only be exacerbated by the tax reforms, which give them heaps more in the pocket even after the Democrats removed their cream.

Overall, I agree with National Party leader, John Anderson, who’s been saying since 1999 that people can now actually see that tax cuts are illusory. They mean simply that with your tax cut, you pay for things the Government used to provide well and for free. And that gets back to who we are as a society. I say the egalitarian streak survives and that unless John Howard can alter his tax reform to make gestures to that ideal, he’ll be out of office next year.