Posts Tagged Australia

How the ‘Kashrut Racket’ drives Jews away from practicing Judaism

Olive Oil

Olive Oil (Photo credit: desegura89)

Note for my non-Jewish readers: please refer to the glossary at the end if you don’t understand any of the Hebrew/Yiddish terms.

I would say it’s time to blow the whistle on this, but what I am about to write about is such an ‘open secret’ in Australia at least that the whistle has been well and truly blown by now. What has not really been considered enough are the ramifications of what has been going on.

I’ll begin with a personal story.

A few years ago, I was organising an overnight event for young Jews in NSW. As a matter of practice, all such events should be kosher-catered – clearly, not to do so would exclude all of the more practicing members of the community, which is not something that Jewish organisations should be in the business of doing.

For some background: the extremely stringent standard of kashrut kept by Judaism’s current brand of Orthodoxy (which is not the same as has always been practiced) mandates that people like the leadership of Jewish communal organisations cannot be trusted to make sure that the cooking is done correctly. Instead, all food preparation must be officially certified by, in this case, Sydney’s Kashrut Authority (‘KA’).

This meant that in organising the camp, I had the extreme displeasure of having to gain approval from the KA. Fortunately for me, a friend of mine at the time was a certified moshgiach with the KA and he had agreed to supervise the camp’s kitchen on a pro bono basis.

Of course, having a certified moshgiach is still not sufficient for Orthodoxy Inc., which requires the KA’s actual stamp of approval.

That left me with the task of calling the KA and asking for approval to call the camp ‘kosher’. Naturally, the woman on the other end of the line was *shocked* that we were contemplating having a kosher event with a moshgiach and not paying the KA. It wouldn’t stand, she quote a figure of several hundred dollars and hung up the phone.

The organisation that I was working for is not particularly wealthy. Those several hundred dollars were much more than we could afford if we hoped to charge a cover fee that our members would actually pay. I had to call back and practically beg for an exception to be made, given the service we were doing for the community and the fact that we were doing this in order that Orthodox Jews not be excluded etc. etc. I think we got away with it in the end, but I left the affair with a very sour taste in my mouth.

This story was far from unique. It is, in fact, just a tiny example of the extortion racket that the KAs in Sydney and elsewhere have become.

There is a vegan restaurant that I know of in Bondi, which pays thousands of dollars each year to the Melbourne KA in order to be kosher certified and so appeal to the large Jewish clientele in the area (the Sydney KA were outside their budget). Now, kosher laws only really govern meat/seafood. If there is a restaurant that is completely vegetarian, you can be more or less certain that all of the food it serves is kosher. Vegan, even more so.

Anything that is vegan necessarily complies with every single law of kashrut bar one. What one would that be? The one requiring large cash payoffs to the KA. This is how there are such arbitrary differences between what different KAs will and will not accept as kosher.

For example, for those following the Melbourne KA, here are the Australian oils you can buy this Pesach:

ADELPHIA (umberto@frattali.com.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
BANABAN (www.naturepacific.com)
*Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, *Virgin Coconut Oil
BENEVITA (thebigolive.com)
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
CECCONI’S CANTINA
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COBRAM ESTATE
+Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Fresh & Fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Rich & Robust Extra Virgin Olive
Oil, +Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Pictual Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Premiere Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COCKATOO GROVE (www.cockatoogrove.com.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COLES
+Australian Extra Virgin Olive oil
COORONG
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil
DIANA
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil
DISSEGNA (dissegna@activ8.net.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
FRATTALI (umberto@frattali.com.au)
*Extra VirginOlive Oil
OLIVE GROVE
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil
OLLO
+Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Fresh & Fruity, +Mild & Mellow
OZOLIO
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
PROCHEF
+Extra Virgin Coconut Oil Spray, +Extra VirginOliveOil Spray
PUREHARVEST
+Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
THE BIG OLIVE (thebigolive.com)
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray

As for Sydney, you can pick from this list:

ALTO OLIVES
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Delicate
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Lemon Infused
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Robust
BENEVITA
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COORONG
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
MACADAMIA OILS OF AUSTRALIA
P Macadamia Oil
OLLO
P Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Fresh and Fruity
P Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Mild and Mellow
OZOLIO
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
PRESSED PURITY BY PROTECO
P Cold Pressed Almond Oil
P Cold Pressed Apricot Oil
P Cold Pressed Avocado Oil
P Cold Pressed Macadamia Oil
P Cold Pressed Olive Oil
P Cold Pressed Walnut Oil
PROCHEF
P Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray
R SOLOMON & CO
P Cottonseed Oil ONLY when bearing a Diamond KA – Kosher for Pesach Logo
THE BIG OLIVE
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil

So why exactly are, for example, Adelphia and Banaban oils kosher in Melbourne but not in Sydney? This is conjecture, but my bet would be that, similar to the vegan restaurant in Bondi, they could afford the Melbourne KA’s fees, but not those of the Sydney KA. I don’t believe for one second that it’s about ‘higher standards’ and not higher fees.

Why does this matter?

I’m glad you asked.

Essentially, keeping kosher these days is not an easy thing to do. If you live any distance away from the Jewish population centres in the major cities, you had better get used to eating plain chips and the tiny selection of chocolates and other goods with the official KA stamp. If you want to eat anything that can vaguely be described as ‘interesting’ – especially any meat products – you need to be prepared to spend 2-3 times what you would pay for the same item without the kosher stamp.

More to the point, if you want to go out for a meal, you are essentially restricted to four overpriced restaurants in Bondi. When you are at functions or parties, you have to either bring your own food or make sure that the host has ordered you a ready-to-microwave meal from Lewis’ Kosher Kitchen. For this reason, most of my friends who intend to keep kosher will still go out and eat a vegetarian meal at a non-kosher restaurant. Also for this reason, most of my other friends do not keep kosher.

The exorbitant costs of being kosher-certified ensure that there is little competition in the kosher catering industry. In order to remain officially kosher, new restaurants or caterers have to increase their prices and push-down their profit margins so that they remain competitive in an already difficult market.

Further, the arbitrary way in which products are designated ‘kosher’ or ‘non-kosher’ – not much to do with the preparation of the food, but everything to do with who the company has paid-off – makes the whole kosher enterprise lose credibility in many eyes.

In essence, thanks to the KAs, being kosher in Australia is both expensive and unappetising. The KA extortion racket is reducing the culinary choices for practicing Jews in Australia and, in doing so, ensuring that fewer Jews in Australia could be described as ‘practicing.’

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Kashrut: refers to Jewish dietary laws. You probably know the word ‘kosher’ – same kind of idea.

Moshgiach: a person who is employed to supervise the preparation of the food in order to ensure that it is being done in accordance with kashrut.

 

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Reshuffling the gargantuan cabinet

Something seemed curious to me, looking at the list of new ministers in Australia’s recent government reshuffle:

Julia Gillard loads up senior ministers in her sixth reshuffle | The Australian.

The Prime Minister used her sixth ministerial reshuffle to merge the Department of Climate Change with the Department of Industry, creating a new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

Dr Emerson has been appointed Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research – the role relinquished by Mr Bowen – while continuing as Minister for Trade and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy.

Mr Albanese, a Rudd supporter who escaped demotion after last week’s events, has taken on Mr Crean’s former portfolio of regional development and local government, while remaining Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Leader of the House.

Mr Gray, a West Australian with close mining industry links, has been awarded Martin Ferguson’s old resources and energy and tourism portfolios. He also takes Mr Bowen’s vacated small business ministry.

Mr Gray’s special minister of state responsibilities go to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

Mr Clare, the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, becomes a full cabinet member with his current roles. […]

Mr Albanese will be supported by Victorian MP Catherine King, who has been elevated to the outer ministry as Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories, and as Minister for Road Safety.

Gillard supporter and so-called “faceless man” Don Farrell has been promoted to the ministry as Minister for Science and Research, while fellow backer Sharon Bird becomes Minister for Higher Education and Skills.

Queenslander Jan McLucas steps into Kim Carr’s role as Minister for Human Services following his resignation last week.

Environment Minister Tony Burke becomes Arts Minister in addition to his current responsibilities, taking on Mr Crean’s other portfolio following his sacking last week.

Ms Gillard also appointed a number of parliamentary secretaries to assist ministers with heavy workloads…

I’m not going to even bother getting into the Parl Secs. Let’s have a look at that ministry.

Apparently the departments of Industry and Innovation are different from Small Business. We also have a Department of Higher Education and Skills, and a Department of Science and Research, both of which are different from the new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

Oh, and apparently that mammoth “Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, etc” portfolio also does not encompass Climate Change, which needs its own separate department as well. Or, for that matter, Resources and Energy.

Then there’s the fact that “Human Services” and “Regional Services” are different — perhaps because regional Australians are not human?

One would think that there is some doubling-up going on between all of these public service departments. Perhaps the government’s failure to deliver a budget surplus, despite record terms of trade, would have something to do with this gargantuan bureaucracy that they have been constructing?

Nah, couldn’t be.

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Is Christmas offensive? A non-Christian perspective

I had an interesting experience last week, it happened a couple of times. When arranging something to do with friends, I suggested Monday night, only get the response: ‘you mean Christmas Eve??’

It was interesting because it showed me how everyone else must feel when I say something like that for the many festivals that I have over the course of the year (which is  a lot more than non-Orthodox Christians keep). It reversed the roles a little. I wasn’t cognisant of Christmas Eve, you see. As a non-Christian, it really doesn’t mean that much to me.

I am aware of the fact of Christmas Eve, I know that 24 December is Christmas Eve, but I am not aware of it enough to have connected it to Monday night in my mind. I don’t generally plan to mark Christmas Eve with anything in particular – to me, it is just another night of the brief holidays that I have at this time of year. (Not that I’m complaining about the day off work, but I’m kinda complaining about the day off work. I’ll get back to that later.)

It’s not the forgetting Christmas that got to me though, it’s what comes after. You see, it seems as though the Jew forgetting that it’s Christmas Eve serves as a little reminder to everyone that the Jew is different. The tone of conversation changes from there because everyone is aware of that fact. We live in a modern, multicultural society and everyone knows that they should be inclusive. So they try to be. Which is really quite horrible.

Talking about Christmas: NOT offensive. But apologising for talking about Christmas: OFFENSIVE

Suddenly it seems as though everyone needs to apologise for everything that they do on Christmas. My friends start talking about the great ham they are eating or the tree that they decorated, then they catch themselves, turn to me and apologise.

This is not ok. Aside from the fact that they are doing nothing wrong, the reason it is not ok is that it is patronising. It’s a little reminder of the hegemonic status of Christianity compared with my practices. It would never even occur to me as a Jew to apologise to Christians for celebrating any of the Jewish holidays. It’s what I do, they don’t do it, so I need to tell them that [x] date is Simchat Torah and It’s my religious duty to be getting hammered and dancing around in circles carrying a Torah scroll, so I can’t come to the poker night. Or something.

Apologising is what people from the hegemonic culture do to minority cultures to make us feel ‘included’. What it does is exactly the opposite: it is a reminder of status. Think about it this way: if the reason that you were celebrating with your family was not a point of difference, but something that is shared between cultures – ie a wedding, birth etc – would you be apologising? I can’t imagine anyone saying:

Yeah the wedding is going to be amazing! I’ve seen the menu, the food is beautiful and… oh, I’m really sorry MK!

It just doesn’t play that way. But I have heard from several people something along the lines of:

My dad is making pork belly for Christmas, it going to be amazing! Oh, really I’m sorry MK!

Fuck that.

Eating pork: NOT offensive. But apologising for eating pork: OFFENSIVE

It’s a similar phenomenon to eating out. I am not especially observant as a Jew and I don’t keep strictly kosher, but there are a few ‘red lines’ that I tend not to cross – no pork, no shellfish, and I try to avoid mixing milk and meat when I can. What this means is that I struggle to eat at some forms of Asian cuisine, which seems to have nothing but pork and shellfish. What this does not mean is that I am offended by other people eating pork or shellfish.

Yet in these scenarios, people start doing that apologising thing again. And then they act overly friendly to compensate, as if to say:

Hey MK, we know that you’re one of those strange ‘Jew’ types, so you don’t eat normal food like us, but that’s super ok, we can order vegetarian food for you and be really super friendly, just to show you how ok it is that you don’t eat pork. Because it’s fine. Really. Doesn’t bother us one bit. No, seriously! We’re ok with it. Are you ok? We’re ok if you’re ok. Because that’s what friends do. They’re ok.

Again, people do not act that way for other kinds of dietary requirements. I can’t remember ever being in a situation where someone was condescended to in that fashion for being vegetarian, or gluten intolerant, or allergic to nuts. It’s a particular brand of condescension that comes from all of the power dynamics playing out in the room. And I’m going to stop there, because I’m starting to sound like Foucault, and I hate Foucault.

Celebrating Christmas: NOT offensive

I don’t know who came up with the idea that non-Christians would feel less offended when people celebrate Christmas and then pretend that they are doing something else, but it’s a little silly. You can call it a ‘holiday tree’ if you want. You know it’s a Christmas tree, and I know it’s a Christmas tree. What are you trying to prove? The whole charade is ridiculous. I hate all of these initiatives to ban public Christmas displays, or have ‘Happy Holidays!’ written everywhere. It’s Christmas, you’re Christians, you’re allowed to celebrate the birth of Jesus if you want to.

I actually find the Christmas trees, lights, and songs this time of year quite beautiful. Believe it or not, it’s possible to appreciate other cultures and not just be offended by them all the time. Sure, Lakemba Mosque issues fatwas on saying ‘merry Christmas’, and I hear some equally stupid sentiments from some of the more zealous in the Jewish community, but really what does it matter? I say ‘chag sameach’ to my non-Jewish friends on holidays, they can say ‘merry Christmas’ to me. It’s no problem.

That said…

Forcing me to celebrate Christmas: OFFENSIVE

So I was driving around yesterday with two friends, trying to find something to do. There was nothing, the whole town was dead. Even the obligatory Christmas Chinese food was almost impossible to find. We tried almost every Chinese joint in the East, before stumbling across a little one in Bondi that had decided to open its doors to some hungry Jews on a rainy day. God bless them.

Which is fine, except that the only reason that everything is closed because of penalty rates. I’ve complained about penalty rates before, but this is yet another example and I want to do it again.

The bastion of cultural tolerance that is the Australian Labor Party and its affiliates at the Australian Union movement have decided that Australians should be with their families on the Christian holidays and on the Christian sabbath, whether they want to or not. For this reason, they have imposed inordinately high penalty rates that must be paid to anyone working on Christmas – and slightly lower, but a similar idea on Sundays – to the effect that businesses operating legally are more or less forced to close.

That means that all of us non-Christians out there are being forced by law to keep Christian holidays, or else be fined. THAT is extremely offensive. It’s a lot more offensive than the beautiful lights display projected onto St Mary’s Cathedral at night, I’ll say that much.

Sure a day off work is a day off work and I won’t complain about a day off work. I also bet that, were there not penalty rates, most places would still choose to close on Christmas. But people to whom 25 December bears little unusual significance should be allowed to go to work on 25 December if they so choose. But we don’t even enter into the discussion. As a regular viewer of Q and A, I have seen numerous Anglo officials from the ALP and the Unions saying something like ‘well we can’t take working people away from their families on Christmas!’

Newsflash: NOT ALL WORKING PEOPLE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS.

At the risk of sounding like Foucault again: check your fucking privilege.

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Why I don’t care about the Gillard-Abbott sexism war and neither should you

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...

As readers will probably have figured out, I like to follow Australian politics. As you may have guessed (and those who know me would know), I also like to talk about Australian politics. People I associate with know this, so they tend to engage me whenever an issue in Australian politics catches their attention — I even have some friendships based around these conversations.

So when there is a huge scandal in Australian politics that the whole world is talking about, I expect that it will come up somewhere. Sure enough, a lot of people have been asking me about Julia Gillard’s now world-famous speech calling Tony Abbott a misogynist. My answer has surprised a few people, so I now feel the need to write a post and justify it. Simply put:

I don’t really care.

It just doesn’t really interest me. I watched a recording of the speech and got bored after a couple of minutes. Since it was such a big thing, I went back and watched the rest later, but now I just want that 10 minutes back.

So why this uncharacteristic apathy? Well, I don’t really see this as anything new. The issue that was much more important/interesting was the resignation of Speaker Peter Slipper because of the revelation of lewd and offensive text messages that he sent his former staffer.

The Slipper issue I care about. In fact, I might care enough to write a whole post on the right to privacy and the dilemmas that this kind of situation brings up (ie should someone be forced to resign over what were really private comments, no matter how offensive they were?)

Gillard’s speech? Well, the reaction says it all really. Below are a few responses from friends on my Facebook and Twitter feeds (for obvious reasons, I am not mentioning any names and have slightly edited some of the comments for length):

Wow go Julz! She schooled Abbott #likeaboss

Julia Gillard strikes me as the sort of university feminist who screams “chauvinist pig!” when you hold the door for her and “woman-hater!” if you just let it swing back in her face.

Look, I just had to post it. Fucking brilliant. I could watch this over and over again. … There should be a whole channel devoted to this one video.

I look forward to the rude shock that the lefties who are currently engaged in self-congratulation and saying how amazing Gillard’s performance yesterday was will receive when they realise voters havn’t fallen for her BS…

Yes, Tony Abbott, you were just destroyed.

Gillard stands by Thomson after prostitute revelations. Now stands by Slipper after texts. Yet says Abbott is misogynist. #chutzpah

Amazing speech by our PM. Showing some serious leadership.

And so on.

What was really remarkable about these comments were that there was a very clear divide, but it was not on gender lines, nor was it even on the lines of people who are generally feminist versus people who aren’t. The responses that I have seen were split exactly down party lines. Labor supporters loved it, Liberal supporters mocked it.

And there is the reason why I find the whole thing boring.

Gillard’s speech was not a scathing attack on Abbott to expose his deeply held sexism, and neither was it a blatant display of hypocrisy in defence of a real misogynist.

What was it? An uninspiring partisan response to a successful partisan power-play. It was smart PR — a very clever way to divert the public conversation away from the Slipper debacle.

Abbott was trying to embarrass the government while also taking away the vote that they had from Slipper being speaker, Gillard was trying to defend her majority by recycling old allegations at Abbott.

I have annexed a breakdown of the arguments that Gillard used at the end of this post, but more important than what was there is what was missing: there was absolutely nothing about Abbott’s record in office or any policies that he has proposed which harm women, it was a purely personal attack on Abbott’s character. There is no real policy issue at all and it contributes little to the Australian debate, it’s just boring.

That is why its effect will never be anything other than to provoke cheers from Labor supporters and jeers from Liberal supporters. It was not aimed at ‘exposing Abbott’, so much as spurring-on people who already don’t like Abbott. The Liberals had a bit of a coup when Slipper’s text messages were made public and Labor countered with a clever diversion to mitigate the damage. Yawn.

Until I started this post, I had been filtering out the discussion around this issue. It has joined the categories of things that set-off my mental killswitch — like the carbon tax, Gillard “backstabbing” Rudd, and anything that uses the phrases: “clean energy future”, “working Australians”, “great big lie”, there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”, ”
fair go”, “getting on with the job” etc etc.

Now that I am done, I am free to go back to not caring. Trust me, that’s a relief.

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Gillard’s arguments:

Transcript of Julia Gillard’s speech.

He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros. The Leader of the Opposition says “If it’s true, Stavros, that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”

And then a discussion ensues, and another person says “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son.” To which the Leader of the Opposition says “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”

Then ensues another discussion about women’s role in modern society, and the other person participating in the discussion says “I think it’s very hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of women,” to which the Leader of the Opposition says, “But now, there’s an assumption that this is a bad thing.”

I have looked for a full transcript of this discussion and I can’t find it anywhere online. Abbott was not expressing a viewpoint in those comments, they were inquisitive and hypothetical. In context, they could well be completely innocuous. Then again, they may not be, but I will not make up my mind until I am shown a full transcript. A couple of soundbites extracted from a whole conversation is not sufficient to condemn anyone.

Anyway,

This is the man from whom we’re supposed to take lectures about sexism. And then of course it goes on. I was very offended personally when the Leader of the Opposition, as Minister of Health, said, and I quote, “Abortion is the easy way out.” I was very personally offended by those comments. You said that in March 2004, I suggest you check the records.

Doesn’t convince me. Whatever Abbott’s stance may be on abortion policy, there is no reason why he has to personally support it.

I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of this carbon pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…” Thank you for that painting of women’s roles in modern Australia.

Gotta hand it to the PM, this one is pretty convincing. I am very reluctant to attribute anything to a “gaffe“, but this does show that Abbott harbours a degree of subconscious discrimination. But then, there is the whole “gaffe” issue.

And on:

And then of course, I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…”, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair.

That I don’t agree with. I have no doubt that an unmarried male Prime Minister would be attacked on the grounds that he was unmarried.

I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.” I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s bitch.

Now that is just spurious. So Abbott was photographed standing next to the wrong sign at an anti-carbon tax rally, what does that have to do with anything? I have seen several prominent Labor and Green MPs standing next to the flags of terrorist organisations and nobody batted an eyelid.

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Ivory tower watch: we don’t need free speech protections when we have vague ideas instead

We’re doing well this week – the last ITW even had a response from the actual academic in question. Since I’m on a high, I figure I’ll let it ride – especially as I have just had the rather painful experience of trawling through ‘What to do about hate speech:
 an “institutionalised argumentation” model’ by Kath Gelber.

Gelber doesn’t believe that free speech protections are needed in racial vilification legislation, mostly because she has a magic formula to find out if a statement should be unlawful. First-off, I’ll highlight this passage if only because it re-affirms my general issue with social scientists trying to talk about law. The law faculty can’t be that far away, you would think that she could walk on over and ask about some of these issues before presenting a paper on them.

[I]t has been claimed that the public interest exception was necessary because Australia lacked specific constitutional protections of freedom of expression, although no evidence is provided to support a direct link between the lack of a constitutional free speech protection in Australia and the inclusion of the public interest exception in the legislation. Except for very general comments in parliamentary debate, very little concrete evidence exists that the specific terms or breadth of the exemptions were discussed in detail before the racial anti-vilification legislation was enacted in NSW. [references omitted, my bold]

How is this for evidence of a direct link: if there were a constitutional free speech protection, having the public interest exception built into the racial vilification provisions would be completely redundant as it would just be replicating protections that already exist. The US does not need to include free speech protections in any of its legislation because they are already covered by the first amendment.

But the paper is really about hate speech – Gelber thinks a theory by Jurgen Habermas is all that we need in determining whether a statement should be proscribed hate speech. The statement she chooses as the sole test example?

The incident concerns a woman who was the target of the following comments from occupants of another vehicle at a service station: “You black slut”, “You’re nothing but a coon”, “I’ve shot worse coons than you”.

Using Habermas’ theory, Gelber spends 7.5 pages determining that this statement is, in fact, discriminatory. I hope that comes as a shock to you, because I was certainly blown-away by the revelation.

To summarise her application of the theory:

  1. On one level, it is objectively determinable, and probably untrue, that the woman was, in fact, a ‘slut’ or ‘nothing but a coon’ (short for ‘racoon’) and whether speaker had actually shot any ‘coons’ before.
  2. The statement reinforced the idea that the black woman was inferior because she was black and a woman.
  3. We can’t really know why the person made the statement, but they are probably a racist.

I’m glad we sorted that one out. To me, that statement is pretty clear-cut racial vilification. In fact, it would probably be harassment even if there were no racial undertones. Maybe Gelber could have chosen something a little more ambiguous to test her theory on?

How, for instance, would this test apply to very black Aboriginal activist Bess Price saying to a very European-looking Aboriginal man, “Look, I didn’t know you were a blackfella as well because I’m sitting here and you look totally like a whitefella to me”? Or for Chris Graham, the Founder of the National Indigenous Times and another pale-skinned Aboriginal, calling Price a ‘grub’ in response?

A little more difficult, no? Let’s apply the formula to the first:

  1. Price probably did assume that the man was not Aboriginal.
  2. She was affirming a norm that does exist where appearing black is linked with Aboriginality. Society has a lot of difficulty in determining if this is valid, but it is hard to tell someone who looks like Price that it is not. This criterion is a little vague.
  3. Both Price and the man knew exactly what Price wanted to say.

And the second:

  1. Price is not, in fact, a ‘grub’.
  2. Well, Graham is technically Aboriginal, however there does seem to be something racist in a white-skinned man calling a black-skinned woman a ‘grub’.
  3. His intent was pretty clear: he found it offensive that his Aboriginal appearance was being called into question by Price.

Should this be proscribed conduct? Not so sure now, are we?

But the worst part really is the ‘policy’ that Gelber puts forward at the end:

Might there be mechanisms other than apologies, retraction, fines and workplace-based educational programs that might respond more effectively to hate speech?

One alternative is to provide a hate speech policy which allows for the generation of speech which aims to counter the claims of the hate speakers. This means providing an assisted response to those who would seek to contradict and counter the effects of hate-speech-acts. This means that victims and victim groups would be empowered to respond to, and to seek to contradict, the impact of and the discrimination embodied in, the utterance.

She then spends a while explaining the benefits of this idea. The problem is, this is not really a ‘policy’ – it is a goal.

Apologies, retraction, fines and workplace-based educational programs are policies – they are things that can be implemented in the event that the Act is breached. Allowing the oppressed person to counter the claims of the speaker is not a policy. A policy could be, say, forcing the abuser to sit down with the abused and have at it – although I would question the effectiveness of this.

What I do know is that these vague alternatives have not convinced me that we can get rid of free speech protections in our racial vilification laws.

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Huge victory over Rinehart by Fairfax and its supporters

Fairfax Media

 

Remember when Gina Rinehart was being viciously attacked for buying shares in Fairfax by people who were trying to ‘preserve Fairfax’s editorial independence’ and were ‘concerned’ that she would have ‘too much control’?

Well, I guess it’s time to congratulate the ‘why is Gina Rinehart so fat and greedy?’ brigade, it seems that Australia’s most wealthy and successful businesswomanperson has been driven away from Fairfax, possibly for good:

Gina Rinehart seeks to downsize Fairfax stake.

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart is looking to further cut her stake in Fairfax Media, offering to sell around 117 million shares, or 5 per cent of the company, sources with knowledge of the sale say.

Broking firm Morgan Stanley is acting for Ms Rinehart. It has been approaching potential institutional traders offering the stake at 50 cents per share.

Yup, showed her!

… hooooooold on just one second.

How much per share?

Fairfax shares closed at 51 cents, down 9.7 per cent, just off an all-time low of 49.5 cents hit earlier this month.

Waaait.

So that means…

Earlier today, Fairfax … slashed the value of its newspaper titles by $2.8 billion and posted a steep loss, saying it saw no early turnround in the worst advertising conditions in more than 30 years.

If I’ve got this straight (and I do), Rinehart is selling her shares for 10% less than she bought them for. The dramatic drop in share price is because Fairfax is bleeding money and will go out of business unless it can pull some kind of miraculous turnaround out of a place that I’d rather not name.

Sounds like what Fairfax could use is a massive injection of capital to keep it afloat for a little while. You know, like, say, a multi-billionaire who can absorbe a loss of tens of millions of dollars deciding to by-up as many shares as possible.

Yeah, that would do the trick.

Oh, wait a second…

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Fear of new immigrants: just part of the process?

I had a thought today related to an argument that I have often seen against hysteria around Muslim immigrants. Here is Lainie Anderson giving an example:

There’s no such thing as the bogeyman, just a scapegoat | Article | The Punch.

Australia has a bogeyman. His face changes every few decades: once he was Russian, then he was Asian.

Right now he’s Muslim, probably a queue jumper with bags of cash to pay people smugglers, but definitely a new arrival.

The argument is that the previous waves of migrants (Irish, Italians, Jews, Asians) were all subjects of some kind of hysteria too and they turned out ok, so we should give the Muslims the benefit of the doubt because they will also turn out ok.

What if that is missing a part of the picture? It could be that these groups are now “ok” (read: assimilated into Australia) not in spite of this widespread fear and suspicion, but because of it.

What if the demands from the public to “prove” that they were “really Australian” compelled the community to accept Australian culture and expedited the assimilation process, so that they could put the fear to bed?

Is this whole process a method that our society has developed for self-correcting when a group arrives with clashing values?

I’m not convinced, but it seems like an interesting idea. I would welcome any thoughts one way or the other.

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Note: I am aware of how offensive this may sound to some people, so I probably need to disclaim that it is just a thought exercise and does not reflect any opinion that I hold.

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It’s about the victims, not Assange

Do the names ‘Sofia Wilen’ and ‘Anna Ardin’ mean anything to you? No? Well then, keep reading.

Ever had that feeling where you’re watching someone on TV and every second brings you closer to throwing something at the screen? I came quite close to breaking my beautiful 47″ LCD last night watching the Julian Assange love-in on ABC 24’s The Drum TV.

The whole thing was abysmal, but I was particularly bothered by Assange biographer Andrew Fowler at 5:00,

Julian Assange is a journalist seeking political asylum from Australia, saying that Australia won’t protect him.

And at 5:20,

I think, you know, the issue of the third party, which is the issue of national security, would appear to be what we’re talking about. We’re not really talking about an extradition for sexual molestation.

He’s right, we are not talking about an extradition for sexual molestation. What we are in fact talking about is an extradition for sexual assault, which is a more serious crime than “molestation”.

But that’s not really what our friend Andrew meant, and we all know that. Yes he was trying to make “rape” sound more palatable by using softer language like “sexual molestation”, but what he was really saying was that there is a US conspiracy to extradite Assange once he reaches Sweden and the rape charges are all a fabrication.

Now where does that line of thought come from exactly? Well, you see, Fowler thinks that Assange is a pretty good guy. Assange seems to be a hero for a lot of people around the world who think that pissing off the US government is more important than the lives of US collaborators in Afghanistan or maintaining good diplomatic relations around the world. I personally don’t agree — I think dumping all of those cables was completely irresponsible and a real hero would have gone through them first and only published ones that were actually important — but Fowler is entitled to his opinion.

Here’s the thing though, there’s this old trope that nice, upstanding guys couldn’t possibly be rapists. When women who were clearly throwing themselves at Assange later accuse him of rape, that must be false — they were obviously asking for it.

It is telling that I get 340 words into this post before I mention the two women who are at the centre of this whole affair. Want to know something ridiculous? I had to look up the names Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin — who, by the way, are the victims. All of this media coverage over the last two years and I did not even know their names off-hand. I do feel a little guilty about this (pun not intended), but then you probably had no idea who they were either.

See, this notoriously egotistical Assange character has managed to convince the world that it is all about him.

This is some huge conspiracy to persecute poor little Julian. It’s really the US, UK, Australian and Swedish governments all secretly coordinating to get him into an electric chair in CIA HQ. He‘s the victim.

Bullshit.

It’s not like we’re talking about an extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo Bay here, he’s being extradited from the UK to Sweden. Both are European countries with very strong legal institutions and the rule of law. In fact, there is no logical argument that I can see for Sweden being easier to extradite him from, or why the US wouldn’t be trying to extradite him from the UK right now if that was the intention.

It especially bothers me that so many people seem to be attacking the Swedish legal system for being too easy on rape victims. Seriously. Now that’s the argument that the pro-Assange left is using — end Sweden’s draconian anti-rape policies!

Put simply, Julian Assange is doing everything that is humanly possible to avoid standing trial for rape in a liberal, democratic country. Of course he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but his victims are also entitled to justice. If the Swedish prosecutors believe that they can prove the charges, Assange must have his day in court and if he continues to avoid doing that, it only makes him seem more guilty.

In a way, it feels similar to the people who are willing to overlook the horrific culture of abusing women amongst Palestinians because it doesn’t fit their anti-Israel narrative. Because it’s Assange and they like Assange, he is being treated as an oppressed hero and not an accused rapist.

Here’s the reality: nothing you may like about Assange or Wikileaks means that he is not capable of committing sexual assault. Nothing about the behaviour of those women towards Assange means that they were Asking For It.

If you have any credibility, stop making excuses for Assange, it’s not about him. If Julian Assange had sex with Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin and they did not consent, he is a criminal and should go to jail. The only way to resolve the situation is for him to stand trial in Sweden, which he must do by law. That is all there is to it.

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Thank Government for that!

English: Barry O'Farrell in 2010.

Barry O’Farrell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: en:Nicola Roxon, federal ALP Member f...

Nicola Roxon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always great to see Australian domestic issues making headlines around the world. This morning, it is yesterday’s High Court decision on plain packaging of cigarettes that is doing the rounds.

The judgment upheld the benevolent decision by my Government to not allow me to look at all of those cigarette packages that were already hidden away in a cupboard behind the counter of any store.

Thank Government, I say. The temptation from that multicoloured packaging underneath the pictures of cancer and gangrene was so strong sometimes, it was all I could do to pull myself away. Now I guess I will be able to overcome the overwhelming desire of buying a little blue and white box with a huge picture of a diseased eye.

I particularly liked this report from the Jerusalem Post:

Australian court orders drab cigarett… JPost – Health & Science.

Several major tobacco companies challenged Australia’s legislation. But the industry’s attempt to derail this effective tobacco control measure failed.

Plain packaging is a highly effective way to counter industry’s ruthless marketing tactics, Chan said.

It is also fully in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which was ratified by 170 countries including Israel – but not the US, due to its strong tobacco lobby, and went into effect in 2005. “The Australian lawsuits filed by Big Tobacco look like the death throes of a desperate industry.

Sounds horrifying. Ruthless marketing tactics, Big Tobacco, strong tobacco lobby. Lucky Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek are here to protect us from this evil!

… as they were very keen to point out.

Australian Court Strikes Down Tobacco Challenge – NYTimes.com.

“This is a victory for all those families who have lost someone to a tobacco-related illness,” Nicola Roxon, the attorney general, and Tanya Plibersek, the health minister, said in a joint statement. “No longer when a smoker pulls out a packet of cigarettes will that packet be a mobile billboard.”

Mobile billboard?? Quick! Ban them! We can’t have mobile billboards with cigarette company logos under all those pictures of gangrenous feet and rotten teeth!

Even better was Roxon in Question Time:

 I do indeed have some good news for the House: today the highest court in the country has confirmed legislation that was passed by this parliament. That means that Australians will no longer be subjected to tobacco being sold in packaging which is attractive to young people and which entices them to take up what is a deadly and addictive habit. This decision is good news for every parent who worries about their child taking up this habit.

Attractive to young people? Government forbid! Thanks Nanny Nicola for protecting us from that. As a ‘young person’ myself, it’s nice to know that I am in good hands.

But it’s not just the ALP that is looking out for my best interests. See, a few weeks ago a young man was tragically killed in Sydney’s Kings Cross by a random attack. Fortunately, the perpetrator was found and imprisoned. It seems as though he was on some kind of a rampage at the time.

Luckily, the NSW Liberals know exactly how to respond to such random acts of violence: regulate!

Kings Cross owners plan crisis talks amid crackdown on violence.

The Premier, Barry O’Farrell, has announced the government will introduce a ban on shots, doubles, ready-to-drink beverages and glassware after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays for the area’s 58 venues.

No more than four drinks may be purchased at a time after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays under the changes and from 11pm two responsible service of alcohol ”marshalls” must patrol all venues and alcohol sales must cease one hour before closing.

Clearly there is a problem with alcohol-fuelled violence in Kings Cross after 11pm.

Yes, you could say “well the boy was killed just after 10pm”, or “there’s no evidence that the attacker had been drinking heavily”, or “this was a random attack and is not really evidence of an ingrained culture”. And you would technically be completely right on all counts:

Thomas Kelly Kings Cross killing: Kieran Loveridge charged.

The man accused of murdering Sydney teenager Thomas Kelly, 18, in Kings Cross this month went on a crime spree lasting more than an hour, punching four people in total, police said.

According to police documents, Kieran Loveridge, also 18, allegedly began his crime spree at 10.03pm on Saturday, July 7, assaulting an 18-year-old boy on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street.

But why let a little thing like the truth get in the way of some good regulation? Clearly if I am no longer allowed to keep ordering drinks at night before I wonder out onto poorly-policed streets with no way of getting home, I am much less likely to go around punching random people in the head!

It must be all that alcohol that’s the problem, not the fact that the 3am enforced closing time happens to coincide with cab changeover and comes two hours after all public transport has ended, which actually leaves no way of getting home for hundreds of people.

That couldn’t be it.

This is actually one of those rare occasions where I agree with NSW Labor.

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, said the measures ”will not put a single extra police officer on the streets and they do nothing to address one of the biggest problems in Kings Cross – and that is getting revellers home on Friday and Saturday nights”.

I know, someone pinch me.

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So this is ‘tolerance’? Doug Cameron, Campbell Newman and the NDIS

Last time I mentioned Senator Doug Cameron, the leader of Labor’s left faction from what I gather, it was because of some horribly intolerant remarks he was making about foreigners stealing “our” jobs.

Well, it’s good sad to see that some things don’t change.

Today he called for raising taxes and abolishing the Productivity Commission and raising taxes because this would help “build the country”. That seems absurd, but I’ll leave it to the economists to say why.

What really bothered me was this:

Axe Productivity Commission and up taxes | The Australian.

I have been arguing for some time that hypothecated taxes should be introduced to pay for Gonski, aged care reform and the NDIS. It makes me a little uncomfortable to know that I’m on the same page as the Queensland Premier on this when it comes to the NDIS, but I’ll take all the friends I can get. I am serious about this issue – I am not sure the Queensland Premier is.

The not-so-subtle subtext is that Cameron does not like Campbell Newman, who is a Liberal after all, and therefore does not want to ever agree with him on anything and is suspicious of him whenever he says something that Cameron does agree with.

In Cameron’s view, he and Newman are polar opposites and must necessarily disagree on everything — it is very unlikely that Newman would genuinely be concerned about something like helping the disabled because he’s, you know, Conservative and stuff.

I am quite repulsed by that attitude.

To me, if Cameron truly agrees with Newman, the logical thing to do would be to pick up a phone, call Newman and say, “Hey, so I know we disagree on a lot of things, but this is very important and I’m glad you’re on board, we should work together to make it happen.”

Not only would he then learn whether Newman was actually serious, he would also be part of a bipartisan group working for something that he apparently feels very strongly about. Instead, he writes to the nation about how “uncomfortable” he is that they agree.

For shame.

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