The Human Rights Omissioner and the Freedom to Starve

commission

Of all the decisions of the last 100+ days, under the Abbott government, the decision by George Brandis to appoint Tim Wilson as the Human Rights Commissioner has hit hardest home. I think this act, more than most, exemplifies the ideological undercurrents of the current government. I interpret this as an incredibly symbolic act of the government that will define their political motif for the next three years.

I like to think of human rights as something of an expertise of mine, and there is something profoundly jarring about this appointment. I will not go into detail about some of the more obvious issues around this, as this has already been reported: including his former role with the Institute for Public Affairs and its desire to abolish the commission; including the underlying antagonism  between Wilson and the President of the Commission Professor Gillian Triggs (having met and interacted with both Wilson and Triggs, my read of that dialogue hints at a deeper animosity). I’m not even particularly bothered by his politics in a broad sense, and I will visit that idea later on.

Such a model will only serve to entrench those behaviours, and push the state and its use of force more towards an oppressive model of governance. It is an act of omission rather than commission.

Serving the State or the People

What I am most dismayed about is this one statement: “I am looking forward to the challenge of reasserting the importance of human rights and advancing the government’s freedom agenda,” made by him in this interview. In that one statement he has revealed a significant disconnection between how he understands the role and one of the nominal functions of that office.

The reason that this should be worrying is because human rights are principally doctrines of international law. They emerged because they sought to curtail the gross abuse of state power over the lives of their citizens in response to the horrors of the genocides of World War II. They are designed to keep a state government to account and to draw a line around what they can and cannot do towards their subjects. Pursuing the government’s agenda, and keeping the government in check are mutually exclusive tasks because they constitute a conflict of interest. So in that one statement, Wilson is effectively saying that he thinks his obligations are more to the state than they are to the people.

When questioned by Naomi Woodley about his recent appointment and his position on asylum seekers being detained in Manus Island and Papua New Guinea, he effectively brushed off the question and instead asserted his intention to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In that one statement he effectively noted that his first interests were not towards the thousands of people enduring inhumane living conditions, but seeks to support the interests of public officials who have reasonable levels of power to begin with. It is a clear example of his particular predilections aligning more with the interests of the governing elite than challenging the regimes they create.

It is a clear example of his particular predilections aligning more with the interests of the governing elite than challenging the regimes they create.

This is indicative of a government that is driven by its ideological assumptions. It has no interest in moderating its agenda because it seeks to profoundly change the political landscape to match the vision of its utopia. Time and time again, we are seeing the politics of minimalist government and retreat from the market, all in the name of waste cutting and freedom. It might be okay for an opposition to adhere strongly to its ideological guns, if only to challenge the government. However, it is a perilous position for a government to adopt because they must represent the entirety of the public, not just the ones that voted for them.

Minarchist Utopia

The reason this is very concerning is because states remain one of the most powerful institutions within modern society. They maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and so its notion of justice will often see how that state structures its many organs to maintain and provide for justice. The use of force in the Australian context defaults typically to police powers, and the limitations of their powers

Brandis has effectively stated that the appointment was specifically to change the politics of the commission, concerned that it had narrowed its agenda significantly. He noted that there would need to be an emphasis on the freedom to speech and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). There was no mention of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This is not surprising but it is troubling.

The ICCPR and the ICESCR are designed to be two halves of the same whole. The former is a doctrine designed to vaunt individual freedoms while the latter is a document designed to direct states towards providing the necessary welfare to achieve those rights. They are in fact the manifestation of the ideologies of the USA and the USSR brought together to create a more holistic doctrine of rights alongside the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (together, all three are considered to be the International Bill of Human Rights).

It is entirely ironic that Brandis is touting Wilson because he will expand the agenda of the commission only by focusing it on one half of the discussion of rights. A commission that vaunt the ICCPR would emphasise the rights to physical integrity (right to life, freedom from torture, and slavery); rights of justice (presumption of innocence, procedural fairness, habeus corpus); individual liberties (freedom of movement, religion, thought, speech, assembly, association); and political rights. However, a commission that then also ignores or omits the ICESCR would overlook labour rights, social security, rights to family life (children’s rights, parental rights, and reproductive rights), standards of living (clothing, food, shelter, and water), public health, public education, and the right to participate in public life (art, culture, and science).

This is the classical libertarian playbook, promising freedom from unwanted state intervention and the freedom to starve. It is a paradise fit for become a paradise fit for Ayn Rand or Gina Rineheart.

Police Powers and Human Rights

Any rights-based organisation that aligns itself with the state tend towards a view that the role of government has a role of keeping the peace and not interfering with the lives of its private citizens. Libertarian visions of justice usually default to Nozick’s vision of the night-watchman state. It is a view that suggests that the proper use of the state monopoly on force must withdraw from the private affairs of people, meaning that the state should only interfere to restore the peace, to prevent violence, and to enforce the private contractual arrangements between its citizens.

Putting aside the issues of disproportionate bargaining capacity of individuals and corporations (or even powerful people), there is a very worrying issue in relation how a libertarian view would frame police powers, being solely towards the maintenance of law and order. Such a view would emphasise the role of the police as a para-military force, designed to subdue public dissent in the name of public order; particularly where that disorder interferes with the market. In such a situation, police powers are emphasise in any type of public action deemed disruptive, such as curtailing rights to protest in Tasmania, police breaking union blockades in Victoria, and police brutality at Mardi Gras in NSW. Not to mention Wilson’s attitudes on the Occupy Movement and their right to speech.

I have already spoken before about the distinctions between acts that are corrupt and acts that are oppressive in the context of police culture. A human rights commission that is shifted towards a more ‘law and order’ model of police culture, rather than a ‘police service’ type of model will be more permissible of patterns of violent behaviour as being acceptable in the name of the public interest. Such a model will only serve to entrench those behaviours, and push the state and its use of force more towards an oppressive model of governance. It is an act of omission rather than commission.

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Condoms Are Not Enough

Earlier this week Simon Copland launched a salvo at anyone that dares to engage in risk-taking sexual activities. While the underlying message of safer sex is necessary after the sharp rise of HIV transmissions this year, particularly in the 20s demographic, the overly simplistic message is not going to address the underlying problems. Nic Holas later published a counterpunch in response, which he outlines such an approach is stigmatising. I take the issue further, and it is something I have commented on before.

Condom use is still the best means of preventing the transmission of most sexually transmissible diseases, to the point that most of the sexual health sector would encourage its use even amongst long-term committed relationships. What Copland’s message does not do is engage with the broad number of psychological and social issues that inflame people’s desires around risk-taking behaviour. It is not like condom use is not a message that isn’t already out there.

Even though condom use plays an important role in safer sex, an over-reliance on it shifts the issue away from the issues of desire and aversion, and does nothing to speak to the underlying causes of risk-taking sex. The implicit message is one that equates risk-taking sex and aversion to condom use to stupidity, rather than trying to grapple with the harder question of why people pursue it even with the knowledge that there are potential dangers.

There are multiple studies that have sought to find out the answer to this question. Some of the best scholars on this subject include Michael Shernoff (author of the book Without Condoms) as well as other authors like David Moskowitz and Michael Roloff. What this research shows, among other thing, is that desire is a powerful drive that isn’t incredibly rational, and that this is why simplistic messages of condom use doesn’t enter people’s thinking when influenced by incredible sexual appetites; especially when that is compounded by drug or alcohol use.

There are a great number of underlying motivations that complicate people’s thinking, some of those include a sense of distance from the impact of HIV, a sense of invincibility in youth, a desire to embrace a sexually liberated lifestyle, or even a sense of stifling dread that they will eventually contract HIV and thus leading them to giving up on trying. While none of these should be seen as justifications, they do speak to the fact that human sexual psychology is incredibly complex, and therefore no single one-stop solution will work completely.

So any approach that fails to grapple with these complex issues relegates the legitimacy of those desires into the taboo. When something becomes taboo it becomes shameful and stigmatised. More, the denial of these desires creates a sense of forbidden fruit, and that tends to excite and inflame those desires. When taboo behaviours have no opportunity to discuss those desires publicly without shame, those discussions go underground.  It is little wonder that MSM who are hungry for this type of risk taking behaviour are finding ways to meet in a discreet manner outside of the gaze of a disapproving public.

By making it harder for people to speak candidly about their experiences, their acts, and their risks, it actively discourages people to approach and access public health services when they do. It means that people who don’t normally partake in risky sex acts, or perhaps indulge in one after normal judgment is impaired by alcohol have a huge disincentive for approaching sexual clinics for services like PEP, or even PrEP.

So what is the solution? There is no single solution, but to start it’s best to think in terms of safer sex, (rather than safe sex). No sex is completely safe, and so any approach to condom use must be accompanied by a humanisation of desire and transmission. STIs are fundamentally a human problem, and if we only approach it with only a clinical solution we begin to dehumanise the people involved.

Silence leads to erasure, victim-blaming, and a breakdown of community.

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The Gathering Storm of Diplomatic Catastrophe

Taken from Wikipedia, part of public domain.Australia is facing one of the most significant diplomatic crises in the last few decades, and there is almost no significant reportage of this impact. The first three months of government has seen a spectacular cavalcade of international incidents that is putting Australia in an incredibly fraught position. Significantly, there is currently a very insular account of international politics that is currently being trotted out by many of the media outlets, and if you were to take it at their word you might be forgiven for imagining this international furore is nothing more than a spat over phone tapping.

There are three policies and responses that are currently impacting Australia’s international relations, which are namely Australia’s immigration “turn back the boats” policy, Australia’s current climate policies, and Australia’s diplomatic activity through Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott. Both the previously mentioned policy positions are alienating Australia from the Asia-Pacific region, and Australia’s subsequent so-called ‘diplomatic’ activity is aggravating already delicate issues. While this might not be on the scale of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Australia will see itself caught in the middle of any escalating Sino-American tensions.

Australia’s policy on immigration and climate change are subtly and overtly affecting our foreign relations: our immigration policies are casting Australia as xenophobic, while our climate change policies are characterising us as a potential threat to national security.

Policy Failures on the Environment and Immigration

For a more nuanced take on Australia’s recent actions and how they are impacting upon our relations with Indonesia, I would direct you to this excellent analysis. The points to take away from this analysis is that the “turn back the boat” policy has incensed Indonesian national pride by undermining Indonesian sovereignty; it also highlights the significant impact that cutting foreign aid has had.

Australia’s climate change policy is an increasingly an issue of foreign policy, particularly as connections between climate change and security become manifest.

The other issue is Australia’s climate change and environmental policies (or lack thereof). Australia’s climate change policy is an increasingly an issue of foreign policy, particularly as connections between climate change and security become manifest. Climate change will have two big impacts on security, the first of them being the rise in ocean levels. To understand the geo-politics of these changes, I’d like you to look at a comparison of the Rising Sea maps by Natural Geographic. While the projections of ocean-level increases are variable, these maps are pretty reasonable medians compared to most projections I’ve seen. They are sufficient for our purposes here. You can get a broad sense of the way it will affect highly populated areas, and not to mention the impact it will have on the Pacific Islands, many of which may become entirely submerged like the island nation Kiribati.

If you compare Australia to South-East Asia, you will see that the ocean level rises will be particularly devastating to some of the most heavily populated areas in South-East Asia. These changes will put vast swathes of territory underwater and displace massive numbers of people. Comparatively, Australia will have some significant coastal impacts, but the principle population centres affected are coastal South Australia and the Murray-Darling basin. Agriculturally speaking, the creation of a permanent inner sea for Australia might actually be beneficial (please do not read this as an endorsement of sea-levels rising, merely an observation that on the balance of impact Australia will have some relative gains).

However, the real impact of global warming is how the impact on regional stability and security as hotter temperatures affect water cycles. Global warming’s impact on water cycles is phenomenal, from its impact on glacial waters in the Himilayas (a source of water for much of south-east Asia), to desertification in the Middle East. When sources of water dry up, and the land becomes more arid, there is a significant drop in arable land. Beyond this, as global temperatures increase, the frequency and potency of storm surges increases (see the 5th IPCC report). This means that storms are more devastating and more often, and flooding tends to be larger and more powerful. The issues on this for human habitation is not just the destruction of homes, but the stripping of topsoil necessary for arable land. It is these impacts through a shaken water cycle that will be most relevant to Australia’s domestically agriculture, far more than changes to ocean levels.

There is another angel for Australia, as both ocean levels and increased aridity are triggers for mass migrations, meaning global warming has a consequential implication for regional stability and security. It is for this reason, that Australia’s climate policies must be inherently linked to Australia’s foreign policy, as our stance and our pollution begins to jeapordise our neighbours’ very existence. Australia’s current policy regime smacks of Western exceptionalism, and there is little wonder why it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of our Asia-Pacific neighbours, particularly in light of Typhoon Haiyan.

…both ocean levels and increased aridity are triggers for mass migrations, meaning global warming has a consequential implication for regional stability and security.

Geopolitics of Asia-Pacific

Australia is in a precarious position diplomatically in the Asia-Pacific, by virtue of its the geopolitics of the history of the region. Australia’s three most important Asia-Pacific neighbours are Indonesia, China, and Japan: Japan and China constitute two (of four) of our most significant trading partners. To give you an idea, allow me to refer to an earlier article of mine where I explore Australia’s energy market relationships with China. Our foreign relations have also been markedly affected by the variable political stability of the Pacific Islands, and the regional stability of South-East Asia.

The defining historical attributes of Australia in the context of Asian-Pacific relations were fomented during the Cold War. Japan was westernised in order to provide a principle bulwark against the expansion of communism into the pacific theatre, and when the Domino Theory became prevalent there were significant overtures to secure places like Malaysia and Indonesia as anchor points for containment. In fact, Australia’s relationship to Indonesia was a key component of that policy.

Jump forward to the 1990s, and Australia endured an Asian security crisis under the Howard government. Part of Howard’s victory was achieved through rhetoric of White Australian nationalism, which was both jingoistic and echoed alarmism of the Yellow Peril. This was best exemplified in Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech, which catalysed the Coalition’s jump to the right as they sought to recapture Hanson’s voter block (for a supremely excellent deconstruction of the Howard years Asian crisis, I refer you to Anthony Burke’s “Fear of Security”, Chapter 5). Moreover, during this period, the Asian nations observed Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, as a bell-weather for populist attitudes of its non-white neighbours.

What we saw then, and what we are seeing repeated under the Abbott government, is a political ‘double-bind’ where the government of the day is incapable of diplomatic overtures because of its own ideological complicity.

What we saw then, and what we are seeing repeated under the Abbott government, is a political ‘double-bind’ where the government of the day is incapable of diplomatic overtures because of its own ideological complicity. The Howard and Abbott governments both achieved power partly due to racist polemics, and Abbott significantly touts a domestic mandate that stems from these positions. This means the Abbott government must present bravado in response to the posturing of our Asian-Pacific neighbours, lest it alienate its voter base.

The Gathering Storm

There is a gathering storm of military and political posturing happening in our region. There are numerous policies of encirclement occurring as China is emerging as the next superpower. This year alone, Russia has sought to politically encircle China, strengthening Sino-Russo relations while also forging alliances with its peripheral neighbours. The US is seeking to demonstrate its military presence by encircling China with fighter jets and stealth bombers, and also giving support to the disputed Taiwan island. Japan, China, and South Korea are becoming increasingly anxious over territorial disputes. There are huge games of realpolitik occuring, and Australia, like it or not, will be dragged into the centre of it.

Australia is strategically pivotal for for the USA, should any conflict break out between the USA and China. Any escalation of tensions between these two superpowers becomes of intrinsic interest to Australian national security. Very recently, China tested the limits of Japan’s naval territorial limits by sailing a war fleet through the Soya Strait, encircling Japan, and returning through the La Perouse Strait. This is overt military posturing, and since Japan has a pacifist military policy since its capitulation after WWII, it is struggling to respond to this gesture. Instead, we see the US responding by flying jet fighters unannounced over the Chinese controlled East China Sea, over territory that is disputed between China and Japan; because the USA must prop up the sovereignty of Japan as a bulwark against any Chinese expansion into the pacific theatre.

Because of its close ties to both China and the USA, this is not an issue that Australia can remove itself from, even in the fact of China rebuking Julie Bishop for ‘interfering’. Moreover, Australia is a temporary member of the UN Security Council, and must necessarily be seen to take actions towards issues that affect global and regional stability. Australia stands on the precipice of a diplomatic disaster, and the continued gaffs and alienation are only undermining Australia’s capacity to employ effective diplomacy. It is no surprise that even the most diplomatic overtures by Australian representatives will be met with hostility and suspicion. As far as the international stage is concerned Abbott has huge shoes to fill after the exemplary diplomacy of Rudd-Gillard and Carr; even Alexander Downer, a former Coalition foreign minister, is casting aspersions to the government’s diplomatic competence.

Australia’s policy on immigration and climate change are subtly and overtly affecting our foreign relations: our immigration policies are casting Australia as being xenophobic, while our climate change policies are characterising us as a potential threat to national security. 

Promethean Futures

Today’s article is a academic essay which begins to foment some of my broader philosophies, and has helped consolidate my vision of this website. It questions whether a techno-progressive disposition towards environmentalism must necessarily lead to a position of unlimited economic growth.

You can download the essay here:
Promethean Futures

Queer Technologies and Reproductive Rights

The issue of Zoe’s Law (2) remains unresolved. Three sessions of parliament have passed where the issue has been debated. I was a member of the audience in that parliament for the last two, along with a large contingent of protesters against the motion.

One of the issues that has come up around my participation was why I felt this issue was a queer issue. I thought I would take the time to explain myself on that. While I think that these matters are primarily an issue for women, they are part of a broader narrative of queer resistance against the medicalisation of bodies and bodily autonomy. For a really good contemporaneous example of this conflict, I would refer you to the opposition against medical intervention of intersex children – it is a similar refrain that homosexuals fought to have their sexuality declassified from being a mental illness 30 years ago.

Women should hopefully find allies on this issue within the queer movements, and I encourage women to embrace this issue as an intersectional one, to oppose the medicalisation of sexual bodies.

Queer Technologies

So much of the history of the queer movement has been around challenging medicalised notions of sex, sexuality, and gender, and shifting them more towards a framework that is about actualisation. By this, I mean that these struggle seek to make the experience of personality superior to the experience of embodiment, and using a variety of technologies to help change, control, and remodel our physically lived experiences to suit the designs of our personality. While the most obvious example of this relates to the use of hormones and surgery to assign and reassign sex, issues that relate to the regulation and control of reproductivity are also part of that broad spectrum.

In many ways, this struggle is directed towards the way we understand the practice of medicine, and various technologies within its purview. It seeks to move medical practice away from normalising bodies towards a position of liberating those bodies instead. That is, so much of queer resistance is against a medicalisation of sex, sexuality, and gender. It is against the co-option of medicine and science to construct our bodies in a manner that is useful only to patriarchy and heteronormative ideas.

[Queer Resistance] seeks to move medical practice away from normalising bodies towards a position of liberating those bodies instead.

Reproductive technologies are a subset of what I consider queer technologies because of the way they remove the constraints of biological determinism. They challenge traditional notions of sex, gender, and sexuality. They reconfigure them from serving reproduction, to serving a broader range of agendas, including identity, pleasure, and power.

For women, intersex people, and trans people (amongst others), queer technologies are granting autonomy over our bodies, that they might be shaped in a way that conforms with their desired experience of that body. Thus, I consider the pill as one of the world’s first queer technologies, because it helped precipitate the sexual revolution by granting women control over their reproduction.

The Medicalisation of Bodies

Medicalisation is a process that uses medical expertise and knowledge to render phenomena of living down to its basic biology and physiology.

Medicalisation is a process that uses medical expertise and knowledge to render phenomena of living down to its basic biology and physiology. Our distinctiveness is described less in the context of social characteristics, and more in terms of anatomical and biological ideas. In doing so, medicalisation tends to view difference and variation in a very pathological manner, because definitions of ‘health’ refer frequently back to standard and normal models. Consequently, medicalisation is actually counterposed with legal notions of personhood, because it actively seeks to move away from social predicates of being towards medical ones.

That is, the law is itself a social construction. It is limited by an issues called the fact-value distinction, which means that any issue before the law must distinguish between empirically observed matters (facts) and what those facts mean for society (values). Because it is almost impossible to determine what we ought to do based on what has been observed, the law must refer to social values to give those facts meaning. Thus the law is a fabric of social values, which gives meaning, agency, and power to a variety of things and interactions that happen around us.

More importantly, the law must reduce complex ideas down into simpler ones. The law is inherently reductive because it struggles to cope with ambiguities. Not only can thousands of dollars depends on an interpretation, but judges are required to return a definitive interpretation. Leaving room for ambiguity only serves to undermine a piece of legislation. Check out my Beyond Binaries policy brief for how many of these issues play out, even under a legal framework that seek to be actively inclusive.

The Carriage of Personhood

In the instance of foetal personhood, the above-mentioned issues are doubly troublesome. On one hand it personifies a foetus, and on the other hand it medicalises a mother. That is, it gives a foetus the status of a personality, and it reduces a mother to her caricature as a uterus. She is no longer a mother, but a carriage for another person.

The problem here is that this law is conflating personification with the ascription of personhood. Personification is understandable, because mothers and parents are neurologically wired to bond with their children, and humanity has historically inscribed human characteristics onto all manner of things. Even babies are capable of recognising faces, revealing that it is something of an innate skill.

However, the reason that personification must be distinguished from personhood is because one has significant social consequence. Personhood imputes agency through entitling an entity with a suite of legal rights. Agency is a crucial component of the law, because it relates to actions and agendas, not merely philosophies. To grant personhood is to grant agency to an entity. It means that that entity has the capacity to impact upon and interact with the law.

Children are given increasing amounts of agency as they mature, until they are recognised by law as being responsible for their own choices. This is another reason why it is important to allow personhood to be dependent on birth, not merely the appearance of humanity. Children may be dependent on their parents socially speaking, but a foetus is dependent for its very existence on its mother. A society can remove an infant from the custody of its mother if it deems it to be in the best interests of that child. However, the law only permits medical intervention to remove a foetus from a mother in situations that are medically justified.

Bodily Autonomy

This brings us back to my original position. These shifts Zoe’s Law (2) proposes would carry the unintended consequences of medicalising mothers and personifying foetuses. Moreover, granting personhood to a feotus grants them agency that would contrast that of the mother’s.

This is incredibly insidious, by medicalising the mother and personifying the foetus it increases the ambit around what justifies medical intervention. We have already seen one instance where a mother’s was entirely reduced to her capacity as a uterus, completely disregarding her status as a person. Moreover, external forces had to act as proxies for the feotus in order to act in this way. For these reasons, and for all the reasons I previously articulated, no law should recognise the personhood of a feotus.

Women should hopefully find allies on this issue within the queer movements, and I encourage women to embrace this issue as an intersectional one, to oppose the medicalisation of sexual bodies.

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Police Culture: Corruption or Oppression?

I propose to critique the institution of the police, particularly in their actions towards protecting vulnerable groups that as part of society. As part of this query, I will look towards specific examples of abuse of police powers with the intent to query whether those actions are indicative of a type of corruption, being examples of aberrant behaviour for the institution, or whether they are a type of oppression, being examples of behaviour normative of the institution itself.

In order to consider this question I will contrast a number of incidents in Australia and Russia. First, I will focus on a number of incidents during the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival, where police were accused of abusing police powers, including police brutality. Then, I will focus on Russia, where there exists a broad, loosely connected series of incidents that pertain to the treatment of LGBTI subjects in this jurisdiction following the legislation on a ban of ‘gay propaganda towards minors’.

I reference to the terms ‘corruption’ and ‘oppression’, with particularity. Though they are both contestable terms, as shown by Leys showing how the reality of corruption can be informed by context, and difficult to isolate with definitive rules or heuristics. For the purposes of this essay, it is sufficient to understand an idea of corruption as an abuse of police powers (this is elaborated on in the second section). On the other hand, I would contend that in the context of abuse directed towards a marginalised group in society, corruption and oppression may appear very similar in how they manifest. However, I consider a theory of oppression like that of Cudd, describing institutionally structured harm, perpetrated on social groups through a variety of direct and indirect forces (material, economic, and psychological). What I infer from models like Cudd’s is that oppression describes more of a systematic and pervasive expression of coercion and abuse, which has internalised and institutionalised the instrumentation of harm; contrasted to corruption which would signify and aberration of the norm.

By comparing these ideas, I propose a simple heuristic for assessing whether a type of abuse is more symptomatic of corruption (a perversion of a normative order) or of oppression (an expression of an institutionalised system of harm), with the former being characterised as acute and irregular, and the latter being chronic and pervasive. Using this heuristic, I will endeavour to demonstrate that the violence of Mardi Gras 2013 is acute and irregular while Russia is evidence of chronic and pervasive, thereby demonstrating a distinction between them.

Background of Incidents

It is not necessary to fully detail the incidents compared, only to provide an overview of police actions. However, I outline the violence experienced by LGBTI groups in both jurisdictions, and make inferences from their comparison.

During the Mardi Gras festival 2013, a number of incidents alleged police brutality and hostility several key events. The most visible was alleged police assault on Jamie Reed on the night of the parade, which was accompanied by a second alleged police assault against Bryn Hutchinson on the same night.

These incidents occurred within a broader range of alleged abuses of police power, particularly towards attendees of large dance parties. A sample of observed police conduct from the Inner City Legal Centre includes:

  • “police not giving warnings or following legal process before asking people about drugs in their possession”;
  • “police singling out stereotypical gay people and gender diverse people to search with dogs”;
  • “police placing hand on dog’s hind to encourage them to sit”; and
  • “dogs not giving any indication for a search but the police perusing the person regardless”.

Compare this to Russia, which gained international attention in passing legislation that banned the “propaganda of nontraditional [sic] sexual relations to minors“, followed by the rise of vigilantism towards LGBTI groups. Russian vigilante groups used social media to lure gay men into fake sexual encounters where they are promptly kidnapped and filmed being beaten, tortured, and humiliated; some reports indicated fatal casualties from these incidents. In recent months, there has been an arrest of a Dutch activist for discussing LGBTI rights in Russia, and violent encounters with LGBTI activists and their counter-protesters at LGBTI protests. Moreover, in many of these incidents, the police have seemingly failed to intervene adequately to prevent that violence.

Comparisons

The biggest difference between these jurisdictions is the source of the violence. In Australia, the source was from the police force: in Russia, the violence was the product of vigilantism, which the police failed to prevent. This describes two distinct caricatures of violence, as comprehended by the broader public. In the Australian context, these describe examples of an excess of power that has directly caused harm. In the Russian context, such incidents describe complicity by the police to allow pervasive harm to be applied. On this consideration alone, it would seem that the Australian incident describes an acute example while the Russian incidents describe a chronic example.

In Australia, the public response to the allegations of violence included protests and two separate investigations. Admittedly, some of this protest attribute the incidents of police violence to broader systematic form of violence, signified by the notorious “All Cops are Bastards” banner, but their voice is not necessarily indicative of the community.

The Russian depiction is starkly different, with a number of descriptions that speak to a growing hostility in Russia towards LGBTI persons, including statements by Russian citizens stating that it has “becom[e] dangerous on the streets” and that “[o]rdinary people consider [homosexuals] criminals”, as well as other comments that create a picture by sound-bites of a traditional population compounding a persecution of LGBTI people with a fear of the West (see here for those quotes).

These comparisons conform my own earlier research (from my own Masters thesis), where I contended that legal regimes in the West have come to frame their LGBTI subjects as minorities entitled with civic rights, contrasted with jurisdictions that reject/oppose Western political hegemony. Under these regimes, LGBTI subjects are characterised as politically dissident and sick, such that:

“attempt[s] to create rights for queer subjects must reconcile itself with the structures of power and agency that produce identity… [and that] … systems of power can alienate and marginalise ‘dissonant’ identities”.

These relationships become immensely important when considering the state’s disposition to a vulnerable group. My earlier research compared the characterisation of LGBTI citizens in different types of statehood. I synthesised the position of a number of international commentators, which observed that a large number of nations were increasingly challenged to reformulate their models of statehood with the fall of the Soviet Union (and the end of bipolarity). Emerging nations needed to emulate Western paradigms for political legitimacy, whilst simultaneously attempting to distinguish a national identity that was distinctive enough from the West. This dichotomy produced a number of states that sought to impose strong statist models, and a consequence of those changes included regulations of sexual and gendered behaviour, emphasising family model that repressed any sexual dissidence. Citizenship emphasised allegiance nationalist symbolism, military-patriarchal power hierarchies that encouraged homosocial bonding but homosexual repression.

Police Culture

Having compared the set of incidents, I now enquire directly into police culture. To do so, I will outline some of the theories of the function of police forces and standard models of police culture, while recognising those critiques. In doing so, I hope to provide a framework of understanding the institutionalism of the police, and from this position consider whether the incidents can be considered irregular or pervasive.

I first ground my argument within a theoretical understanding of the role of the police. I refer to a Weberian model of the state, and its proposed monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In doing so, I argue that the police force serves as an ancillary body of the State, being both legitimised and authorised to use force for the purposes of enforcing the law and maintaining of civil order. In this manner, police corruption can be seen as irregular if it constitutes a breakdown of the normal preservation of law and order. They become oppressive when they are part of an institutionalised breakdown of the same.

Standard Model of Police Culture

In Australia public order is frequently mediated by discretionary police powers: police are vested with discretion on “whether (and how) to investigate a reported crime, which method of initiating proceeding to adopt, whether to detain after arrest, whether or not to grant bail (in most cases), whether or not to charge, what to charge with, and so on” (see pp. 746-747 of this book). I would contend that the use of discretionary powers become a means by which we can understand the norms of police culture. So if the alleged acts of violence by the police are extraordinary use of police power rather than normative misuse they would indicate corruption rather than oppression (and vice versa).

To that end, consider the standard model of police culture, which originated with the works of Wesley where:
“[h]e gave a detailed, vivid description of an organization that operated in a context that was often experienced as hostile. This contributed to isolation, self-protection, secrecy and internal solidarity – all seen as central values among the police officers. This is why they often closed ranks against the outside world” (p. 60 from here).

Academic inquiry has refined this departure point through subsequent studies and synthesised a new standard model of police culture. This updated model characterised police culture being possessed of a sense of mission leading to direct action, which is juxtaposed by a sense of cynicism and suspicion of outsiders, such as the citizenry. This characterisation elaborates on Wesley’s observations, depicting a siege mentality buffeted by strong internal solidarity, even over breaches of rules and regulations.

Russian Police Enforcement

In Russia, the base presumption of police culture seems to have shifted someone. Gerber and Mendelson consider Russian police culture and its intersection with corruption. Rather than a siege mentality as outlined above, they provide a concept of ‘predatory policing’, which “occurs where police officers mainly use their authority to advance their own material interests rather than to fight crime or protect the interests of elites”. They conclude that “[p]ublic encounters with police corruption are at least as common as experiences with police violence, and both are widespread”.

Semukhina and Reynolds provide a comprehensive book titled Understanding the Modern Russian Police. A significant part of their work reviews the pervasiveness of police corruption, and the way they frame the issue describes it in very ubiquitous manner to the point where it is necessary to produce theoretical positions to explain it. Of these positions, they outline four dominant explanations, which include:

  • a persistence of historical Soviet practices of bribery into the modern Russian police institution, where personal favours were exchanged for consumer goods during a period of commodity scarcity;
  • a consequent of deteriorating social and economic disruptions experienced caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and maturing interconnections between former Soviet government officials and organised crime syndicates;
  • a ‘business of corruption’, where corrupt conduct is normalised, and rationalised with arguments that the costs of proper anti-corruption are higher and more riskier; all exacerbated by widespread poverty; and
  • a larger cultural phenomenon within Russia, of pervasive disrespect for the law and broad public tolerance for corruption.

Regardless of which view is taken, they all collectively describe a picture of police corruption that is widespread and affected by deeply problematic socio-economic issues. In fact, an emphasis of structural problems more strongly highlights the views expressed in the second point, which argues that there has been an increased hierarchical organisation, centralisation, and extreme militarisation of the police force; all having led to a lack of independent oversight of police powers and activity. Specifically, the main institution charged with supervising the legality of conduct, the Procuracy, is an adjunct of the criminal police: international reviews of the Procuracy have revealed low levels of confidence in their ability to fight corruption.

Comparisons

What these comparisons show is that despite the Russian and Australian police forces exhibiting a similar societal role, they can manifest significantly different institutional norms. It is to this that it is necessary to consider a number of criticisms of this standard model, citing the standard model’s claims of homogeneity or emphases on problematic police behaviours.

A particularly relevant critical position is Chan, who argues that police culture is the result of “the interaction between the socio-political context of police work and various dimensions of police organizational [sic] knowledge”. She contends that any model of police culture should:

  • account for multiple internal institutional perspectives;
  • recognise the active role that police officers have in being interpreting and producing that culture;
  • be able to consider the culture within broader socio-political contexts; and
  • include formulations for the acceptance and resistance to cultural changes.

This conforms to my earlier claim that the nature and stability of the state has a deep influence on the integrity of a police culture, and whether an act of corruption is institutional or aberrant. Moreover, Terpstra and Schaap earlier critques includes Chan’s critiques and eventually conclude that many of the descriptive characteristics of the police culture model, as well as the individualistic police behaviours, shift significantly in the broader socio-political context of the state norms that their force serves.

Given these positions and a comparison of Australian and Russian police cultures, it follows that there is a strong argument for the incidents of Mardi Gras 2013 to be acute incidents that are not part of a normative police culture in Australia; it follows that the conduct and actions of the Russian police are located within a comparison, it would follow a point of evidence that conforms to my original premise that particular incidents of police conduct can be understood as acute or chronic in reflection to systemic and pervasive views that inform police conduct.

Conclusions

I have compared a set of incidents in both Australia and in Russia. I have sought to determine whether, given the context of the police culture and statehood, if these incidents could be understood as either acute and irregular or chronic and pervasion.

In the instance of Mardi Gras 2013, the incidents, while not the first of their kind in Australia, do not seem to be rooted within a broader framework of police violence and hostility. While they could indicate the beginnings of a pervasive approach, they currently seem isolated, making them acute incidents. Moreover, the standard model of police culture, which is normative for Anglo-American institutes, would indicate that despite a siege mentality such conduct is irregular. In this sense, I would characterise the allegations of Mardi Gras as an example of corruption, in the sense they are a perversion of the norm.

In the instance of Russian, the incidents of violence are partly attributable to the complicity of the police, which are continuing and repeated; the police only seeming to respond to prosecute vigilantism after international attention. Moreover, these incidents exist within a broader context of state-persecution of LGBTI subjects, and a broad culture of Russian police corruption that is itself regarded as widespread and pervasion. In this sense, I would characterise the issues reported in Russia as an example of oppression, in the sense that they are systematically entrenched and internalised into police culture.

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Cutting the Umbilical Cord Between Church and State

AngelusProtesr

This Thursday, I will be participating in a protest before the NSW State Parliament, where a bill is being proposed that would make amendments to the Crimes Act, called the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2013 (No. 2). It is euphemistically called Zoe’s Law (2) because it refers to the tragedy of the posthumously named Zoe, and is the second time a variant of this bill has been introduced to NSW Parliament. The substantive feature of this law would be the recognition of legal personhood of a foetus. This shift in legal definitions has a number of effects, which would significantly impact women’s rights, particularly around issues of child-birthing and bodily autonomy.

Although this is an issue I am profoundly passionate about, I had until now refrained from commenting. Partly because I do not identify as a woman, but also because far better women commentators were already weighing in on the issue and I feel I have an obligation to hear their view points before I formulate/refine my own.

However, the protest is drawing nigh and I was roused to significant anger this morning when it seemed that NSW Parliament were going to debate the bill today (until it wasn’t). To that end, I wanted to comment on the matter, not from viewpoint of being a feminist (even though I count myself as one), but as a legal scholar. I therefore seek to address the fundamental question at the heart of this challenge, which depends on the point at which the law recognises a subject as a legal person.

Ultimately, my objections refer back to the significance of legal personhood, and the immense problems that arise in extending that status onto any entity that does not have a separate existence from its mother. While it is incredibly understandable that a mother would want to have some manner of public recognition for being deprived of a child, doing so through a criminal process is one with far too many social consequences.

Outline of Zoe’s Law (2)

To outline exactly what the law would do, I refer to statements made in the Bill’s first reading, as introduced by Mr Chris Spence MP, as well as a statement provided by the mother of the eponymous Zoe.

The object of the bill is to amend the Crimes Act 1900 to recognise the existence of the foetus of a pregnant woman that is of at least 20 weeks gestation so that proceedings for certain offences relating to grievous bodily harm may be brought against an offender who causes the unlawful destruction of or harm to any such foetus as proceedings for grievous bodily harm to the foetus rather than proceedings for grievous bodily harm to the pregnant woman.

The above is the opening paragraph of Mr Spence’s first reading of the bill. He goes on to note that the bill as introduced is a refinement of the original bill submitted by Fred Nile, in that it would exempt any offences that would occur in the “course of a medical procedure, including medical treatment or anything done by or with the consent of the pregnant woman that causes harm to or the destruction of a foetus” and does not intend to impact upon a woman’s right to choose.

However, the very specific aspect of the amendment is schedule 1 [2] of the bill, which states:

For the purposes of the proposed section, an unborn child that is taken to be a living person for the purposes of applicable offences, is defined as a foetus of at least 20 weeks gestation or, if that cannot be reliably established, a foetus that weighs at least 400 grams (proposed section 8A (1) and (2)).

It specifically states that the intention of the amendment is to enable the law to recognise an unborn child as a living person, for the purpose of a range of applicable offences. Mr Spence claims that it would not create new categories of crime, but rather focus on the crimes of grievous bodily harm that are currently relevant to injury toward a foetus.

There have been some preliminary responses from a variety of legal experts who have expressed concern and dissent to these intentions of the bill. Roughly speaking, a variety of legal organisations and experts (except for lawyers known for being anti-abortion) have been consulted and come to an opinion that it is something of a Trojan horse for women’s choices. There is a legal conceit in Zoe’s Law (2), in that while it allows for exemptions from medical procedures that women choose to undergo (such as the termination of a foetus), the passing of this bill would nonetheless establish the legal category of “foetal personhood”. It would instate that foetus with a series of protected rights that would potentially come up by virtue of the fact that this foetus is now viewed as a separate legal entity.

One of the comments regarding this conceit is that because this entity would not technically have a category until the passing of the bill, it has not been included in any of the pre-bill analysis of the bill’s proponents. It is this exact same pattern that equivalent bills in the USA used to be passed as legislation. It is why such bills are being advocated for by anti-choice veterans like Fred Nile and current Attorney-General and former ‘Right To Life’ president Greg Smith. Among those, I would direct you to the responses written up in this article by Jabour in the Guardian.

For a good grounding in the background of the current legislative provisions as they apply around the legal recognition of the personhood of children being born, and how they intersect with crimes like manslaughter, I refer you to the review by the Judicial Commission of New South Wales.

Donegan’s Appeal and Legal Reasoning

One of the things that is seen as particularly compelling in this case is the public appeal by Brodie Donegan, which is regarded as convincing because Donegan is a self-professed pro-choice mother. In her view (and as articulated in the amendment), the provisions of the amendment would still protect women’s choices.

Rather than refer to specific passages of Donegan’s appeal, I will simply outline that it describes the way that Donegan experienced a highly traumatic event, and that Donegan ‘s experience of the still birth was one akin to having lost a fully realised child. A lot of her language speaks to visceral memories that are undoubtedly painful and extremely difficult to reconcile. That this loss has taken place in the context of an accident would likely exacerbate those memories and experiences. To these I can only sympathise with, even while I have no significant frame of reference to empathise with.

However, as a legal scholar, I am required to step back from these subjective experiences and ask whether these experiences should formulate a dimension of criminality. The important question being asked is not whether there is validity to Donegan’s claim or experiences, but whether these experiences speak to a significant truth or aspect of our society as a generalisation. While this bill would not directly seek to create new crimes, per se, it does expand the way existing criminal legislation interacts with unborn children.

The reason I treat this issue with some measure of skepticism is because to consider an issue before law it is necessary to identify what the relevant questions of fact are, as well as those questions of law. In the account detailed above by Donegan we see references being made to the fact these events occurred on Christmas Day, the interactions between the unborn child and he potential sister. All of these are appeals to emotion, designed to qualify the experience beyond a tragic accident where an unborn child was stillborn. If they are relevant facts, than any law that is made in response to them would need to include ‘happening on Christmas Day’ or ‘the unborn child had siblings’ as conditional aspects before the law became relevant. They are understandably personally relevant to the family in question, but legal reasoning must remain agnostic to them.

My argument against this amendment does not depend on this fact, because it would be disingenuous to do so. Clearly the arguments for this bill do not entirely turn on these issues, but they add an undercurrent personalisation that I think only serve to muddy the discussion. These are incredibly significant issues and cannot be resolved through emotional appeals.

The Autonomy of Being

The substantive basis for these types of claims, and in fact the point to which Donegan points to as the point at which this law should kick into effect, relates to the fact that currently levels of medical technologies can enable a foetus at 23 weeks to become a viable baby outside the womb. Proponents of the law will point to the status of a foetus at 20+ weeks, to indicate that they should be reasonably recognised as a separate body (see this video as an example).

In a first glance, it might make common sense to regard these entities as living persons. They share all of the apparent characteristics of babies, and can be made as a viable separate entity. It is around this particular test that the idea of the ‘born alive rule’ emerges, which is the legal test applied to births to determine whether the birth should be recognised as having personhood. It currently holds that a birthed human being becomes a legal person when they are able to breath independently from the mother, even if that breathing is machine assisted.

It is to this idea that the challenge of Zoe’s Law is levelled, reasoning that since technology can enable a foetus to survive at increasingly earlier stages, we should recognise earlier stages as being potentially viable. This is a false equivocation, because the born alive rule is a test applied after birth, irrespective of the period of gestation. Its premise is to identify viability after the fact, not seek to pre-empty viability in potential. For an extremely excellent academic response to this kind of challenge, I would refer you to Kristen Savell’s article in the Sydney Law Review.

She concludes that:

“the law should resist pressures to enlarge its understanding of personhood on the basis of some straightforward analogy between late-term foetuses and newborn infants. The comparable intrinsic properties of late-foetuses and newborns is not alone sufficient to warrant the ascription of legal personhood to foetuses. The conditions that make late-term foetuses resemble persons certainly include intrinsic properties but, until the foetus achieves separation, they also include the investments and attachments of the mother. Foetuses cannot become actively embedded in a social matrix and, to the extent that the foetus becomes situated in a web of relationships, this is only achieved through its mother. However, after birth the baby can become actively embedded in a social matrix irrespective of its mother. It is in this sense that the experience of individuated embodiment has substantive significance.”

What this means, and what I wholeheartedly agree with is the rebuttal that just because a foetus has the outward appearance of a natal child does not mean it should be entitled with the full suite of human rights. What I find inherently troubling by this particular line of reasoning is that it attributes personhood towards a body, but this says nothing about the really thorny question of whether that foetus has consciousness, or bears many other signifiers of socialisation that are also intrinsic qualities of being human. To ascribe those social qualities onto a foetus before it has become actualised as an independent person is premature (please excuse the pun, but I cannot find a better synonym).

Legal Construction of Personhood

From a much more broader theoretical perspective, I am deeply troubled by some of the implications of recognising personhood for any foetus that has not yet achieved independent existence from its mother. This is largely due to the way that the legal system interacts with medical bodies of knowledge, particularly around matters that have criminality attached, but are often insulated from sociological considerations, which specifically investigate questions of identity and personhood in terms of its meaning to society.

The very notion of legal personhood is a rather difficult one, because the legal system has taken what we consider to be rather essential elements of being and framed them into highly discreet categories. The problem is that our lived experiences and the realities of being a full actualised human are not able to be reduced so easily. Personhood is actually a complex of various socio-legal boundaries, each of which circumscribes a certain kind of social space with legal provisions. Each boundary represents some ideal of personhood or individuality, which is then framed as some kind of real thing. While I describe four spheres of personhood in this model, I will mention only the inner-most two as I consider they are the ones truly relevant when discussing this matter.

The innermost sphere describes those qualities of personhood we might regard as the ego, and here the Anglo-American tradition of law protects our rights to hold beliefs and ideas, and otherwise protect against psychological injury. The second boundary is effectively equated our body, and while the body encompasses the ego, the laws relevant to this boundary protect individuals against unlawful medical intervention, battery, and other violations of our bodily autonomy. There are other dimensions beyond this, which relate to matters like privacy, property, and other areas of our civil and legal personhood, but since most of those are not relevant for this discussion I won’t detail them. Suffice it to say, the notion of personhood is already mutable, and recognising the existence of a legal person that still exists within and is dependent upon another person for their existence causes a direct conflict of rights that is incredibly difficult to reconsile.

Ultimately, my objections refer back to the significance of legal personhood, and the immense problems that arise in extending that status onto any entity that does not have a separate existence from its mother. While it is incredibly understandable that a mother would want to have some manner of public recognition for being deprived of a child, doing so through a criminal process is one with far too many social consequences.

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The Heisenberg Messenger

There is a recent article that seems to have gone viral over the net. In it, the author announces that his upcoming book will allegedly substantiate that the figure of Jesus Christ was none other than a Roman conspiracy. Specifically that much of his identity and was little more than a fabrication of the Roman ruling class in order to subdue the Jewish dissidents. While I will visit the substance of this issue in brief, I will only do so to attend to a broader subject that this necessarily provokes. Usually I tend to accept that a repost is not necessarily an endorsement of content, however in this instance I saw a large number of those reposts contain positively validating messages. While I accept this is largely an anecdotal evidentiary point, I think how pervasive the issue is does not disqualify the need to revisit these issues.

Propagators of information should acquire some critical disposition to the content we reflect back to and upon our networks. [The] simple act of stating our position in response to content is the first step in separating the message from the messenger.

My main concern with the article was less to do with the content, and more to do with the rapidity that Atwill’s claim managed to take hold on popular imagination, almost in complete defiance of any valid scepticism. It is to this issue that I wish to address more significantly, because I think it speaks to the way we are absorbing and regurgitating stories via social media without any significant critical thought.

Thus, this issue provides an object lesson that necessitates a review of critical thought and our engagement with digital content. Effectively, I hope to cover some ground on being critical in the age of social media, particularly with regards to how and when we present content and the vicarious authority we lend it. It is one thing to find the article itself interesting and intriguing, but it is another to laud its content without critical reflection. I suspect that in many instances, this stands as a symbol for a desire to critique religion’s disproportionate influence on mainstream society, but done in a lazy way.

It was my observation that far too many people happily vaunted the claim on face value because it aligned with their world view or what they would like to see be truth. This is a traditional case of confirmation bias, where we accept claims presented to us because they confirm our disposition. Admittedly, much of what I will speak about is scarcely new, but considering a significant number of the people I saw posting are people with levels of university education, they should be exemplars of scepticism rather than victims of a media cycle. Education, particularly higher education, is (as a friend of mine put it) vaccination against shallow thought.

The Historicity of Jesus

This discussion refers back to questions of the historicity of Jesus, which has a number of subtle historical traps that may catch people not invested into historical studies. This is because there is a popular understanding of this figure compounded by depiction through religious doctrine; notwithstanding the validity and substance of any historical and archaeological evidence that speaks to his existence. Rather than weigh in on this issue at length, as I am neither an expert nor wishing to focus on that issue itself, these matters have been debated with great alacrity by Robert M. Price, Bart Ehrman, and Richard Carrier, all of whom have debated prominent Christian apologists.

For now, it is sufficient that I demonstrate that in making claims as to the existence of a figure that is known as Jesus, we are really attempting to position ourselves against or alongside a number of distinct claims. From a purely historical point of view, these include whether there was an actual historical Jesus, what we can know of him from evidence, whether he was actually some manner of moral philosopher, what historical acts can be attributed to him, how much of his attested philosophy and religious ideology can be verified as originating from him, and lastly how much of his attested cultural impact can actually be attributed to him.

The historian would likely stop at these points, where the theologian would being to ask questions about whether he was of divine nature and so forth. From an historical point of inquiry, one need not necessarily dismiss supernatural claims off hand, for these claims are attendant and significant in the popular understanding of this figure. They must be weighed according to some rational method. If we consider the stories of Jesus’ miraculous acts as a type of story, then we begin to ask whether there was any kernel of truth to their legend, and how much of their story has been magnified or mythologised by subsequent interpretations and iterations.

Atwill’s Claims of Conspiracy

[E]ven if there was a conspiracy, the odds that the conspirators produced a written confession and the confession survived until the present day (when few manuscripts from that period have) and has only just now been discovered… multiple the improbabilities out, and a Secret Mark-style forgery is more likely.

Atwill’s claims are nothing short of extraordinary. It makes an allegation that one of the most thoroughly studied historical figures was the direct intentional fabrication of a contemporaneous group of elites. While some have suggested that this claim is no more extraordinary than the claim than his depiction in the bible, this kind of misses the point.

Technically, if I was presented with a dilemma of Roman conspiracy vs. literal biblical account, Occam’s Razor would favour the conspiracy. This is simply because the claim of ancient conspiracy is a less extraordinary claim than the claim of miraculous powers. However, this is not the dilemma that is actually being presented, because the claims of miraculous powers are not actually juxtaposed against the claims of conspiracy. It is actually a two-part claim: it firstly refutes the existence of an historical Jesus (either entirely or partially) at least as far as the biblical account is concerned; and then goes on to propose that the biblical account was an intentional act of deception, which achieved wide-spread popularity.

Chris Hallquist provides a succinct response to why we must be sceptical of these claims, in outlining that even taking into account biblical bias amongst theological scholars, that there is nevertheless something of an academic consensus that Jesus probably existed. Moreover, those that doubt his existence do not posit a claim of conspiracy of the type that Atwill claims. He rounds off his rebuttal thusly:

[E]ven if there was a conspiracy, the odds that the conspirators produced a written confession and the confession survived until the present day (when few manuscripts from that period have) and has only just now been discovered… multiple the improbabilities out, and a Secret Mark-style forgery is more likely.

When we view the claim this way, it is much easier to see why this is actually an extraordinary claim. It would require unprecedented historical evidence, of a kind that is elusive and unlikely in its own right. As an immediate step in encountering this extraordinary claim, one of the first questions that we should be asking is who is making this claim, and whether they have any expertise to do so. In the instance of Atwill, a basic background check would reveal that he has made claims like this before, and that they have been responded to with significant criticism. Atwill seems to have no notable academic qualifications, and is not attached to a university. All this paints a picture of someone making a radical claim that is not only divorced from an academic consensus, but without any significant grounding in the field itself. This further multiplies the aforementioned improbabilities cited by Hallquist.

NB: The above is not to suggest that universities are the only persons qualified to speak on subjects, but as institutions they remain our best at ensuring that those who lay claim to academic-levels of expertise are justified in that claim. They are useful shortcuts for us in assessing someone’s ability to make claims.

Critical Social Media

It is at this point, that I now return to the question of our engagement on social media. Social media is not an environment that readily lends itself to the type of critical engagement that we might accept in academic circles. Many of these issues are magnified by the nature of social media, where we tend to inhabit echo chambers.

Most of the major social media platforms have inbuilt mechanisms that allow us to filter out information that does not resonate with our view point, and elevates ideas that do resonate instead. This creates a reinforcing social sphere that reflects back to us positions that vindicate our own expectations without credible challenge. As more and more people transfer their consumption of digital knowledge from traditional media platforms onto the loosely collaborative fora of the internet, we are increasingly exposed to a new type of media circus, one with little accountability for content, its veracity, or its framing of message.

Part of this reflects a growing fallacy regarding internet behaviour, which imputes the existence of a digital native: people whose lives have been surrounded with online engagement to the point that they natively inhabit its virtual spaces. However, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that we are observing the emergence of a generation of people who intuitively use media, but lack more than a superficial understanding of its medium. Similarly, there is similar evidence that shows that while a growing number of students know how to source content for their academic writings, they do not know how to vet that content for veracity properly, or if they do simply fail to do so.

I am beginning to come to the position that we have some manner of obligation in the content that we share and re-share.

It is for these reasons that I am beginning to come to the position that we have some manner of obligation in the content that we share and re-share; particularly for those who are not merely consumers of digital content, but creators and professors of the same (I use the word profess here to mean: to make a claim of knowledge). As our media platforms become increasingly synonymous with individual presenters, our society begins to lose meaningful distinction between the message and the messenger. Our very personalities frame and contextualise any content, and as we acquire public voice, we lend veracity to the things we present. For these reasons, it is in our interests to separate those ideas that we would simply share for consideration, and those we would profess or propagate.

While I would be loath to propose some kind of artificial checklist of actions to take I think it is meritorious to consider the idea of a digital ‘professor’. Propagators of information should acquire some critical disposition to the content we reflect back to and upon our networks. Increasingly, I have come to sign any content that I am merely presenting with the statement “presented without comment” (or PWC on twitter) to signify that I am not authenticating or acknowledging its positions. I think this simple act of stating our position in response to content is the first step in separating the message from the messenger.

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Hare-Clarke Oz 2013

I previously conducted a thought experiment based one what Australia might look like under a particular configuration of the Hare-Clarke system. While it makes a lot of assumptions, it shows how the landscape would change under a system that is more proportionally representative in the upper and lower houses. To review the original post on what Hare-Clarke 2010 would look like, refer to this link: On the Campaign Trail.

The Results

Hare-Clark Oz 2013

The parenthetical number provides a comparison to the previously modelled results.

ALP: Australian Labor Party – 55 Seats (lose 10 seats )
CDP: Christian Democrat Party (Fred Nile’s Group) – 4 Seats (gain 2 seats)
FFP: Family First Party – 4 Seats (no change)
GRN: The Australian Greens – 17 Seats (lose 3 seats)
KAP: Katter’s Australia Party – 4 Seat (new party)
LP: Liberal Party* – 44 Seats (lose 6 seats) – including Country Liberal Party
LNP: Liberal National Party* – 13 Seat (amalgamated party)
NP: National Party* – 5 Seats (lose 1 seat) – note the WA Nationals are not formally part of the Coalition.
PUP: Palmer United Party* – 4 Seats (new party)

IND: Independent – 1 Seats (Wilke)
* Formally part of the Coalition, producing a total of 61 Seats.

What this model shows is that even with a huge swing towards the Coalition, the surge of the minor parties, particularly KAP and PUP, would prevent any party from holding government in their own right. This begs the question of what kind of Coalition is likely to arise, and what would be the pathways to forming government.

The smallest coalition available, presuming that the Liberal-National alliance is treated as a single party, is to form a Grand Coalition with either the ALP (as a Grand Coalition) or the Greens. Of these two, the former is most likely for a range of reasons, but would probably have long-term political fall out; particularly as it would make the Greens the Opposition. It would be some rather amazing set of negotiations that would enable the Liberal-National Parties to form government with the Greens, and likely be a toxic relationship for all involved.

Far more likely, the Coalition would seek to bring the Christian Democrats and Family First into their fold, which might almost be a given as they only get up preferences from the Liberal Party. However, this still places them at 69 seats only. In order to form government, they would have to acquire support from both KAP and PUP, which would give them 76 seats exactly. This would be an incredibly fraught and politically contentious alliance, which would necessitate negotiations between no less than 7 distinct parties, and at least 4.5 roughly distinct political ideologies. Indeed, while an alliance with the Greens would be more toxic this deal is likely to be even more toxic from instabilities, and require making increasing concessions to the religious right and other factions that don’t agree with the neoliberal economics of the Coalition.

For Labor, the pathway to government is even easier, presuming they were willing to take a jump to the left. By forming an alliance with the Greens, they would be sitting on 72 seats, and would be able to form government simply by bring either PUP or Katter and Wilke on board. Given both Katter and Palmer’s party splintered off from the Liberal-National alliance, they might consider this plausible. Admittedly Katter would likely refuse to participate in any government that involved the Greens, but based on Palmer’s semi-friendly preferences with the Greens, a Labor-Green-Palmer Coalition would be feasible.

New South Wales

Hare-Clark NSW 2013

NSW Inner M: ALP 5 (-2); CDP 1 (+1); GRN 2 (0); LP 7 (+1)
NSW Outer M: ALP 4 (-1); CDP 1 (+1); GRN 1 (0); LP 5 (0)
NSW Province: ALP 3 (0); CDP 1 (+1); GRN 1 (-1); LP 3 (0)
NSW Rural: ALP 4 (-1); CDP 1 (0); GRN 2 (+1); IND 0 (-1); LP 2 (-1); NP 4 (+1); PUP 1 (+1)

NSW Total: ALP 16 (-4); CDP 4 (+3); GRN 6 (0); IND 0 (-1); LP 17 (0); NP 3 (+1); PUP 1 (+1)

Victoria

Hare-Clark Vic

Vic Inner M: ALP 4 (0); GRN 2 (+1); LP 3 (-1)
Vic Outer M: ALP 7 (-1); FFP 1 (+1); GRN 2 (0); LP 6 (0)
Vic Province: ALP 2 (0); GRN 1 (0); LP 1 (0)
Vic Rural: ALP 3 (0); FFP 1 (+1); GRN 1 (0); LP 3 (0); NP 0 (-1)

Vic Rural: ALP 16 (-1); FFP 2 (+2); GRN 6 (+1); LP 13 (-1); NP 0 (-1)

Queensland

Hare-Clark Qld 2013

QLD Inner M: ALP 2 (+1); GRN 0 (-1); LP 1 (0)
QLD Outer M: ALP 4; FFP 0 (-1); GRN 0 (-1); LNP 4 (+1); PUP 1 (+1)
QLD Province: ALP 2 (-1); FFP 0 (-1); GRN 0 (-1); KAP 1 (+1); LNP 3 (+1)
QLD Rural: ALP 3 (-1); FFP 0 (-1); GRN 0 (-1); KAP 2 (+2); LNP 5 (0); PUP 1 (+1)

QLD Total: ALP 11 (-1); FFP 0 (-3); GRN 0 (-4); LP 14 (+3); PUP 2 (+2)

Western Australia

Hare-Clark WA 2013

WA Inner M: ALP 2 (0); CDP 0 (-1); GRN 1 (0); LP 3 (+1)
WA Outer M: ALP 1 (-1); GRN 1 (0); LP 2 (0); NP 1 (+1)
WA Province: ALP 1 (0)
WA Rural: ALP 1 (-1); GRN 1 (+1); LP 1 (0)

WA Total: ALP 5 (0); CDP 0 (-1); GRN 3 (+1); LP 6 (+1)

South Australia

Hare-Clark SA 2013

SA Inner M: ALP 1 (-1); FFP 1 (+1); GRN 1; LP 1
SA Outer M: ALP 1 (0); GRN 1 (0); LP 1 (0)
SA Rural: ALP 1 (0); FFP 1 (0); GRN 0 (-1); LP 2 (+1)

SA Total: ALP 3 (-1); FFP 2 (+1); GRN 2 (+1); LP 4 (+1)

Tasmania

Hare-Clark Tas 2013

Tas IM: IND (Wilke)
Tas OM: ALP 1 (0)
Tas P: ALP 0 (-1); LP 1 (+1)
TAS R: ALP 1 (0); LP 1 (0)

Tas Total: ALP 2 (-1); LP 2 (+1); IND (Wilke) (0)

The Territories

Hare-Clark Ter 2013

ACT: ALP 1 (0); LP 1 (0)

NT IM: CLP 1 (0)
NT R: ALP 1 (0)

Marketising Climate Change

NRM-Clusters-Map

In this article, I review the newly formed Coalition’s agenda to repeal the carbon pricing scheme implemented by the Clean Energy Bill 2011, and the policy program of the Clean Energy Plan. These actions are subsidiary to a broader political attack upon the doctrine of State-based initiatives to regulate climate change. It is perhaps most clearly manifested in their initial actions to repeal the Clean Energy Bill, as well as abolishing three agencies incentivising renewable electricity production in Australia: the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), the Climate Change Authority (CCA), and the Climate Commission (CC).

That the political debate has moved on from the question of climate change to its solution is worth interrogation, but not within the scope of this article. Instead, by focusing specifically on the interactions of these agencies with potential energy markets a single thread of the debate is analysed debate while contextualising the relevant political components.

…should the policy platform produce the results anticipated by the Coalition, it would be remiss to suggest that it was due entirely due to market forces

Political Climate

Broadly speaking, the political division over climate change falls upon the Clean Energy Plan. The polarisation centres not upon climate change and denial, but the application of political ideology as to the best means to address it. The Coalition’s policy reflects a neoliberal scepticism towards government regulation, deferring instead to market-mechanisms. In counterpoint, the Clean Energy Plan exemplifies a rejection of the market alone as the means for resolution, and places incumbency upon the State to induce sufficient change.

The Clean Energy Plan is and its attendant carbon pricing is a policy program responding to anthropogenic climate change, synthesising the disciplines of environmental sciences and political economy. It emerged after a failed attempt by the Rudd government to secure an Emissions Trading Scheme, and a subsequent compromise through the hung parliament under Gillard. It implicitly entails a classical economic approach that reconciles government agenda with environment concerns, and attempts to model its program on economic rationality. This necessarily filters the debate of climate change through economic discourse, by emphasising the nature of emissions as externalities. Implicit in this position is a contention that the market cannot respond rationally to climate change, and requires government intervention (see such claims as made in this book). Typically such critiques claim that market mechanisms cannot internalise emissions because individual choices within the context of market forces are subject to profit seeking over public interest.

The counter-argument lauds the capacity of market forces in selecting for environmentally sound practices: as the externalities of the environment increase social costs, and as these demands become increasingly urgent, industry and technology are able to respond with a solution by sheer dint of the demand. In this light, the Clean Energy Plan has been criticised on a number of fronts, including an inability to realise its ideals due to economic sleight-of-hand, which prevented incentivisation; another being a failure to engage with the populace on the significance of the carbon price, beyond how it impacts on the daily cost of living. These two arguments are exemplar of climate change denialism that rejects the potential thread of a Malthusian catastrophe, as exemplified in the works of Lomborg. These critiques effectively accuse the Clean Energy Plan of environmental authoritarianism (for example).

Power Dynamics

Having laid the groundwork of these political divisions, the contentions between market-mechanisms and State-based mechanisms become much more apparent. The ‘Carbon Tax’ is easily the most visible component of State-based instruments, and the principle focus of the Coalition’s actions. However, where we see additional complications and nuances on these issues is the Coalition’s focus on the abolishment of the climate change agencies.

Firstly, the CEFC’s principle mandate was the subsidisation of renewable electricity innovation: in the last year the CEFC managed to invest $560 million in projects, including the Moree solar farm and the Taralga wind farm. Moreover, the CEFC has laid claim to having encouraged an additional $1.6 billion worth of private investment towards clean energy projects. Incoming Climate Action Minister, Greg Hunt, has critiqued the CEFC of being a green hedge fund, “borrowed in taxpayers’ name for investing in speculative ventures” . It is worthwhile noting that such actions and positions are perfectly in line with the neoliberal sentiment of deregulating interference with the market.

The predominant form of electricity production in Australia is coal, comprising 77.2% of the country’s total electricity production

However, the issue is not as reductive as there are other political and commercial interests relevant to these changes; not the least of which is the significance of Australian coal. The predominant form of electricity production in Australia is coal, comprising 77.2% of the country’s total electricity production in 2003. Though different States and Territories have specific energy policies, the aggregate cost of most electricity production is based on the price of coal at the power station: coal also constitutes one of Australia’s principle energy exports to China. So the question remains that if State-based mechanisms are removed to incentivise change and Australia is economically dependent on the coal industry, will market-mechanisms alone be sufficient to achieve the government’s mandated renewable energy targets for 2020. If critiques hold true, then deregulation will simply expose a vulnerable environmental system to greater intrusion by market mechanisms, which cannot redress the issue. If the neoliberal vision holds true, then the market should reach a point of equilibrium as the burden of environmental degradation affects consumer choices.

There are two principle issues that will significantly play into this: the first is the cost of peak coal production, and the latter is the tipping point of solar power energy production. Currently there are a series of predictions suggesting that the production of solar powered electricity may become equivalent to conventional fossil fuel production. That Germany has taken a significant lead in adopting solar powered energy production, and thus growing the global solar market. There is also predictions of the decline of the global coal market, with Citi analysis predicting coal consumption in China could peak as early as 2014. Equally compelling, there is some evidence that renewable energies are gaining confidence in the US market, to the point of being considered reliable. This competition of solar and coal energy markets is made even more pertinent in Australia, as the Climate Commission revealed a significant uptake of solar panels.

To suggest these changes signal the success of the neoliberal vision is flawed, particularly in context of these competing energy markets.

To suggest these changes signal the success of the neoliberal vision is flawed, particularly in context of these competing energy markets. Neither of these energy markets has changed significantly without some form of government intervention. In 2012, the Chinese government invested $68 billion into renewable energy, making it a leader of that investment. In comparison, Germany and its production of solar power is more difficult to determine. At first glance, Germany seems to depict a narrative of a staunchly pro-nuclear power leading changes to become the world’s top photovoltaic installer. However, some later commentary predicts the burst of the solar bubble, and Lomberg specifically critiquing the policy project as being economically unsustainable. While a genuine economic critique is far beyond the scope of this essay, it is reasonable to say that neither the reduced cost of solar power in Germany nor the peak consumption of coal in China are purely the consequence of market mechanisms.

Due to the vagaries of both China and Germany, it is far too early to predict the success or failure of the Coalition’s policy platform to respond to the issue of climate change through a high dependency on market mechanisms. Moreover, should the policy platform produce the results anticipated by the Coalition, it would be remiss to suggest that it was due entirely due to market forces, which are merely capitalising on opportunities produced through contrary political economic agendas.