by Gethin A. Lynes
There must have been something organic left hidden in the car, some mouldering piece of fruit or half-eaten sandwich beneath the seat, because the air as I climb in is like the underside of the blankets after an all-night summer session at the Cricketers Arms, hot and flatulent.
With the door hanging open in an attempt to decontaminate, I turn the key, desperate also to relieve myself of a serious case of swamp-ass by cranking the A/C as high as it will go. The engine coughs… and dies, a dry, death-bed rattle.
In that moment of power, the radio flares for a second and goes quiet. The ensuing silence is filled with disquiet, an uneasiness spawned by a ripe, sweaty bum crack, by the briefest of broadcasts, by a voice familiar and slightly sinister.
I am put in mind of Maggie Thatcher, a mental image of some indistinct, rusted iron monument looming menacingly over the past. I turn the engine over again, and as it splutters to life, so too the radio, and the voice. I am immediately both relieved and further disturbed.
This is no Thatcher, no faceless, cold creature, no steel voice broadcast from street corners, espousing the virtues of the common good for the select few. No, this is no voice of influence, no lasting testament to severity and lack of compromise. This is Amanda Vanstone, sinister, yes, but in the way of the small-minded, avaricious perjurers who dominate our current political landscape.
And while she ain’t no Thatcher – even her own sense of self importance is no match for the lasting influence of the Iron Lady – she is a voice that belongs in the past.
To be honest I haven’t really thought about Amanda Vanstone since her instrumental days of fucking up the funding of the country’s education system (and other equally laudable activities). There is some small part in the back of my mind, though, that rather hoped that she had long since met a timely end. No such luck. Apparently she’s managed to convince the august overseers of Radio National that she deserves a regular slot. I am dismayed. Almost as dismayed as I am that anyone ever thought she was worthy of election to the senate, let alone of being given a seat on anyone’s Front Bench.
Counterpoint. What a pinnacle of journalistic integrity and objectivity. Speaking of which, I had absolutely no idea who her interviewee Gary Johns was, but having listened to the segment, I am not remotely surprised to have subsequently discovered he’s a regular columnist for that other peak of national journalism, The Australian.
Aside from his frequent opinions, unfortunately given credence by inclusion in afore mentioned newspaper, Johns has apparently been involved in both editing and contributing to a book called Really Dangerous Ideas.
Amanda Vanstone (AV): “It’s a great book because it’s the sort of book that someone who’s very busy can easily use because the essays are … short.”
Fucking winning endorsement that one.
AV: “Take a gold star for the book for starters.”
That’s more like it. Now, if I could only get Amanda to give me a gold star for this blog…
AV: “Now, let’s deal with your contribution, number nine, Abolish the Human Rights Commission.”
Gary Johns (GJ): “Yes, that’s a tad dangerous isn’t it?”
AV: “Well some people might think it is. But why don’t I let you tell us why you think we should do that?”
GJ: “Well I think that all of the hard work, looking after people’s human rights, has been done…”
Bricktop: “In the Quiet Words of the Virgin Mary, Come Again?”
GJ: “…And it was done people like you and, to a lesser extent, me…”
Hang on, Hang on. Just a fucking second here Gary Johns. Let’s for a moment ignore your extensive contribution to human rights, after all, no one has any fucking idea who you are. But Amanda “The Pacific solution has been an outstanding success” Vanstone? What fucking universe do you live in?
GJ: “…that is politicians and ordinary citizens who’re active in seeking equal rights for…” Let’s tick some boxes now Gary: “…women, immigrants, gays…” And everyone else comes under: “…and so on and so forth.
GJ: “Then, the H.R.C. comes along at the end, when it’s all over if you like, and it’s really just a bit of what I call ‘Triumphal Decoration’ at the end.”
GJ: “…there are significant acts of parliament, discrimination acts, which were all put in place in the 80s, and life has moved on…”
Phew! Legislation enacted **dusts off hands**, problem solved.
GJ: “…and those acts can be used to effect through the courts.”
GJ: “Well Graham is the Federal Disabilities Discrimination Commissioner, and a very decent person…” And I’m sure he’s very grateful and relieved to know you think so Gary. “…and took a private action against NSW Railcorp because when he was standing on the station he couldn’t hear the announcements for the trains, and a blind person needs to be able to hear that, I understand that…”
You do? Well, I’m satisfied. As long as you understand a blind man needs to be able to hear shit, we’re all good. Fuck the H.R.C., waste of space.
GJ: “…but he took the action before a Federal Magistrate as a private person and had a win. So he didn’t need to be a Discrimination Commissioner, we don’t need a Discrimination Commission … and others can take such private action.”
Tell that to this guy:
Or, you know, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe all the hard work you’re talking about has been done since 2005… 2005 was in the 80’s right?
AV: “That begs the question, why do we have the Human Rights Commission if people can in fact, the laws are there, the processes are there for people to achieve these things in their own right?”
Assuming of course, everyone has the money (and the time) to spend untold months traversing the judicial system.
GJ: “Yes there are… and there are plenty of NGOs… that would support such action in a court.”
Which must be a huge relief for, I don’t know, young French women on Melbourne buses?
AV: “You make the point that the H.R.C. is like a lot of bureaucracies, that is they engage in ‘mission creep’ … adding commissioners all the time, finding something else to be upset about.”
GJ: “I don’t know why there’s a Race Commissioner, and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner. Presumably one would have done.”
Maybe because there’s a difference between this:
And they need to be dealt with differently, with different understanding of the different problems, and the different cultures, and, anyway, it takes more than one guy to change the attitudes of an entire country. Attitudes that, evidenced by you two clowns, clearly fucking need changing.
Not that things are looking like they’re actually going to change any time soon, what with Tony “Budgerigar’s Nightmare” Abbott (who’s set to start running the fucking place come September) and his mission to repeal laws prohibiting statements that offend people on racial or ethnic grounds.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for telling people to harden the fuck up, and take their testicles out of their handbags, but you know, there’s a time, and place, and a way to do it… which generally doesn’t involve removing hard-won legislative protections.
GJ: “But what annoys me most is that the Commission lobbies. It lobbies Government for resources…” And now we get to the crux of it. “…look they cost us thirty two million dollars a year … but, you know, we have a Government that’s world ranked in terms of waste, so thirty two million, hey…”
Bill Hicks: “Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!”
GJ: “…but, if you have a look at the staff of the Commission, they proudly boast that women comprise 73% of the staff of the Commission. Now, that suggests to me that these are true believers, not analysts…”
AV: “They’d be a bit upset, I think, if the 73% was male.”
GJ: “They would indeed, so I think there’s some pushing and plugging going on there. But let’s go back to the real world, not the Discrimination Commission.”
Excuse me while I find where the fuck I dropped my jaw… Found it! It was back when in the realm of reason…
GJ: “Now, since WW2, women have entered the workforce in larger numbers, and that will continue. And one of the reasons for this is quite simple: women produce children over a smaller percentage of their life now. They are living longer. Now… in fact, I’ve got a little figure here: time devoted to raising and caring for children could be as little as ten percent of a woman’s life. So it doesn’t consume her whole life. A woman is out there looking for other things to do. That alone drives women to demand equal rights in the workplace and elsewhere. And that’s been going on for 30, 40, 50 years, in a serious way. I don’t think we need a Sex Discrimination Commissioner to tell us that.”
Now… in fact, I’ve got a little figure here: “the largest gap in personal wealth between men and women [in Australia] is within the ﬁnance and insurance sector ($330,600 versus $88,500) where many women work. By contrast, there exists only a small differential in the construction industry ($63,500 versus $62,700) where few women work. In other industries where many women work, there are large wealth gaps: for example, in health and community services ($174,000 versus $68,000) and retail trade ($84,000 versus $34,000).”1
AV: “Well I can’t think of any people who regard themselves as part of a women’s movement, who think that their being and their thinking processes and their energy towards that, comes from the existence of a H.R.C..”
Methinks we could safely end that statement at “women’s movement”.
GJ: “The Commissioners could hang up their spectacles tomorrow, and the world would get on in a less discriminatory way.”
AV: “You’ve raised some interesting figures about Aboriginal Australians…”
GJ: “…The key to Aboriginal success is integration … where an Aboriginal person, if you like, lives in a viable labour market … and where they mix and match, go to school, are well trained, they get work just about, not quite as much, just about the same as anyone else. Which blows away the whole myth that Aborigines are so different, and culturally distinct, blah blah blah blah. They may well be, but if they go to school, stick at it, get a job, get married [to a non-Aboriginal person2], they pay their taxes.”
Shit. I seem to have lost my jaw again…
AV: “What you’re basically saying, is, if we look at the underlying, real causes of change, we won’t find it’s the H.R.C. at all, and what we’ll see them doing is engaging in after the fact proselytising.”
GJ: “Absolutely. Nicely summed up. They remind us of the victories that have been won. By migrants, by women, by aborigines… We’ve gone thorugh, we Australians, have gone through an enormous cultural change since WW2. We just don’t need Discrimination Commissioners to tell us that.”
Colour me fucking stupid, but I was under the impression that we still have a bloody long way to go… and that we absolutely need to be reminded about that.
AV: “We don’t need someone to remind us about it every day.”
Yes. Yes we do.
GJ: “We got to be a big liberal democracy through who we are, and a Discrimination Commission reminds us, perhaps, of who we were … They’re oudated, and like any good bureaucracy, they make work, they keep themselves busy, and they try and dream up ever more remote ways in which they can keep themselves relevant.”
AV: “I have to say it doesn’t really seem such a dangerous idea to me, it seems a damn good idea.”
As is the discussion of the Prime Minister’s wardrobe, not to mention her marital status… and draping ourselves in red, white and blue Anglo iconography every 26th of January… and working for a guy who uses the word coon (and he ain’t fucken talking about cheese)… and “so on and so forth”… all damn good ideas.
There’s dangerous ideas, Gary Johns, and there’s dangerous ideas. The former, (such as Isreal Is An Apartheid State, All Australians Are Racist, Anzac Day: Best We Forget, The End Of Growth, or Let Banks Fail3) are perhaps worth discussing, the latter (such as Abolish the Human Rights Commission, or Let’s Give Gary Johns and Amanda Vanstone a Public Platform From Which to Air Their Ignorant, Small-Minded Bigotry) are not.
2 – Gary Johns, Counterpoint, Monday 15th April, 2013.