Have you ever been Triggsed?

First published by The Hoopla, 25 February 2015

Tony Abbott has accused Gillian Triggs, the President of the Human Rights Commission, of losing the confidence of the Australian people. Accusations are flying that his government tried to move her sideways by offering her another senior role. The police have been called in.

The whole sorry episode has raised questions about democracy, the independence of public servants, and it has even started a trending hashtag #IStandWithGillianTriggs. But in an era when employment is precarious and often contract-based, the Triggs case also raises broader questions about the ability of workers to withstand pressure from employers determined to get certain results, even if they might not be fair or right.

Unless they have plenty of other work options available to them, workers on casual or contract employment will always find it harder to express unpopular opinions, even when they are honestly held, than a worker in a permanent job.

Around 35% of the Australia workforce is employed on a casual or contract basis. These are forms of employment that may suit those whose skills are in high demand, but for the vast majority, such workplace arrangements can lead to feelings of insecurity and stress about where their next pay cheque will come from.

In this precarious employment environment, it’s fair to ask how often are employees tempted to do the thing their employer wants them to do – fiddle the numbers, or skew the report findings to present a favourable outcome – rather than the thing they know is right and true?

In 2013 in NSW senior executives in the public service – which includes many senior policy workers who provide advice to government – were moved onto “ongoing contracts”. Such contracts don’t have the same security as permanent contracts: it’s a trend that’s being rolled out across the public service, and it’s one that can have a chilling effect on advice these public servants provide.

Triggs, as a 69-year-old lawyer nearing the end of a long working life, including a glittering career as a barrister and dean of law at the University of Sydney, is in a less vulnerable position than many others. And the high profile nature of her case has provided her with immeasurable public support. More vulnerable are those who have just commenced careers, those whose skills are not in high demand, and those who can be easily replaced (with barely anyone noticing) if they displease their masters.

“I believe I am very able to carry out the work of the commission and that I have the support of the commissioners and the staff,” Professor Triggs said during a day-long appearance before a Senate committee. Could you make the same strong statement?

14 Women dead this year and counting…

First published by The Hoopla, 19 February 2015

We are just seven weeks into 2015 and already 14 women have been violently murdered in Australia.

That’s two women every week – much higher than Tony Abbott acknowledged last month when he said: “Every week, one Australian woman dies as a result of domestic violence.”

The grim statistics are collected by the Counting Dead Women project, an initiative of the Destroy the Joint movement.

“We’ve seen increasing unemployment, and that puts strain on families. None of this is any excuse for abuse of women, but this may partly explain why it’s particularly happening at a higher rate now,” says Price.

Price also points to “repeated examples” where offenders, or alleged offenders, have been released on bail. “This might send a message to other men who might think they too can get away with their behaviour,” she says.

“When you see cases like that, perhaps it gives a perpetrator permission to think he can get away with it.”

The Counting Dead Women project collects and names every death of a woman by violence in Australia, including when the alleged killer is a woman (the vast majority of offenders are men –  this year only one woman has been identified as an offender).

The figures are much worse than this time last year. The number of deaths should be ringing alarm bells across the country.

Says Price: “The violent deaths of women should be a signal to the community and the government that something is seriously wrong. But we know that the legal sector that supports women who have been victims of violence has been devastated by recent cuts, both at federal and state level, and more cuts are coming. Tony Abbott is blithely saying that he is going to concentrate on domestic violence, and he’s saying that to Rosie Batty. Yet at the same time he is making cuts to legal services where women go to get help.”

“What is the point of having a national intervention order register [announced last month by Abbott] when women can’t access it in the first place?”

“Right now the federal government is working against the safety of women by making those cuts,” she added.

Australian of the Year, Ms Batty, told the PM’s office this month her appointment was “meaningless” unless funding cuts were reversed: “It is a double standard, it is contradictory and totally undervaluing the part that these workers play in our front line services.”

Programs that aim to prevent men’s violence – such as Relationships Australia’s behavioural change initiative – have also lost funding.

Ainur_Isamgul

The most recent death was that of Dr Ainur Isamgul (55). She was found dead this week when police arrived at a house in Adelaide’s north-east. Her 53-year-old husband was arrested at the scene.

She was a respected researcher on genetically modified crops.

The Counting Dead Women project is asking people to honour her memory by sharing their Facebook post about the project. They are also interested in hearing from anyone able to work on the project.

You can also remind the Prime Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, that good government begins with protecting the most vulnerable.

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Principal Abbott: Good education starts today

First published by The Hoopla, 15 February 2015

The Hoopla has an exclusive: this year’s commencement address from Tony Abbott, principal of Capital Hill High, Canberra.

“Welcome parents and students. Firstly, let me apologise for the lack of seats. Our school has a terrible deficit after the waste and chaos of its previous two principals, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

We had to sell most of our school furniture to help pay for Sir Prince Philip’s message – which you’ll hear at the end of this speech. He’s given so much to this school, and I’m sure you’re looking forward to hearing him live from Buckingham Palace – that’s if the copper network holds up.

Now, to address some of school gate gossip that has been consuming a number of parents and the muck-racking editors of our school newsletter for the past few weeks. I know many of you thought our communications and IT teacher, Malcolm Turnbull, might have been standing on the stage here today.

But after our 9am staff meeting this morning, I want to assure you I have the full and complete support of every one of this school’s teachers. I’ve heard their concerns about wanting a more consultative leadership style and I’m taking them all on board.

Rumours that I’ve offered the deputy co-ordinator of cadets, Sean Edwards, a contract to build mini submarines through a competitive evaluation process are completely true. I’ll now call on our head of cadets, Kevin Andrews – who, as many of you know, also doubles as our linguistics teacher – to come to the stage to explain what a competitive evaluations process is.

[Kevin Andrews, Head of cadets]
I’m not going to get into all sorts of definitions and what’s a definition and what that is. You know, as Sean says, you never get a second chance to ask your uncle to your wedding. I’m blowing up balloons, something.
[Back to Principal Abbott]

Well now that’s clear, let’s move forward to look at the school year moving forward ahead. First, let me say this: Good education starts today.

The last couple of weeks have been difficult. But as you all know, it’s all because of the waste and chaos of the previous Rudd/Gillard years. And that’s why I have had to make some changes.

Our head teacher, Christopher Pyne, has introduced a wonderful new initiative: the deregulation ofPrincipal's_officeschool fees. From today all teachers will start charging for classes. Obviously the most popular and prestigious teachers will be able to charge the most. But I know you all want the best for your children. Those parents who can afford to pay will get a fantastic education for their children. And those that can’t – well, good luck.

After our productivity inquiry into school hours, we’ve also decided to eliminate teachers’ penalty rates.
We will now hold some classes on the weekend. The school will give students at least two hours’ notice of any weekend classes. And look, if you don’t want to come to school on a weekend, fair enough, don’t come to school on a weekend. But lots of students would love to come to school on the weekend.

There will be some changes to parent teacher interviews this year too, including a $20 charge for any consultation of less than six minutes. We’re also introducing charges for sick bay visits: as our school treasurer Joe Hockey has noted, the practice of parents holding back children from school means some are 19 and still here. Older children mean more complex health problems, and we have to budget for that. There’s no alternative: Rudd. Gillard. Waste. Chaos.

We’ve also pooled all teachers with similar skills together, with a particular focus on the media studies department. They will have to eliminate 25% of their staff. Some people have said these cuts don’t compare to the job losses of Holocaust proportions teachers here faced under Rudd/Gillard. Um, that was probably me. The history department has now informed me this is an inappropriate reference and I withdraw that remark because, um, that’s what my EA Peta Credlin said I should do.

Just a word on the state of the playground. Some people are concerned that rubbish is destroying the school environment. But I can’t see any rubbish, and there are plenty of science teachers who deny the existence of student-caused dirty playgrounds too. Electronic graffiti is another matter: all electronic devices will now be banned. The copper network can’t cope.

A final announcement: I’m abolishing the P&C and I’m pleased to inform you that all P&C decisions will, from now on, be made by my captain’s pick – our legal studies teacher, George Brandis. He’s replacing all school policies with just one policy (and it’s one I’m particularly fond of): Everyone has the right to be an idiot.
As I said: good education starts today.

Now it’s time for that address from Sir Prince Philip… Oh dear, the cross to Buck House doesn’t seem to be working. Where’s our IT man? Malcolm! Help me out here!
And the rest of you, don’t forget: Rudd…Gillard…Chaos!”

Follow Kath Kenny on twitter @kathkenny_
*Digital mischief: the dingo

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Izzard in Oz: Why I love mascara on a man

First published by The Hoopla, 22 January 2015

When I was 17 I kept kissing a boy who wore mascara. Whenever we saw each other at someone’s house or out a nightclub, we’d end up in a corner in a clinch and a kiss.

It wasn’t just his long dark lashes I found appealing: there was his tall mohawk, and the ripped black jeans and sleeveless punk T-shirts he wore. With his broad shoulders and hands adorned with nail polish, he was the most exotic man I’d ever met. And even though he was only 19 or so, he already had a deep timbre to his voice and a throaty chuckle.

Seeing all the pictures of the touring Eddie Izzard in the Australian media recently – all black, black lashes and glossy lacquered nails – has reminded me of just how much I can really quite fancy a bit of make-up on a man.

Not that I would ever go the full Barry Humphries: I’m not suggesting I fancy Edna Everage (Humphries himself is a pretty sexy man – but that’s more to do with him being a funny man. And funny equals brainy equals sexy, which is another story).

I’m not really enamoured by Izzard when he’s in his fully frocked-up state either. But there’s something about a man who’s not afraid to play with a bit of face powder and lip gloss that can make me swoon.

A long time ago I was involved with a boy who played guitar in a band: he too had a throaty, sexy voice, and a prominent adam’s apple. But he also wore bracelets, and he’d sometimes cross his legs like a girl, toss his shoulder-length hair and wave his finely boned hands around like a gay man.

It’s the same kind of feline sexual energy that I imagine attracted Paula Yates, and one or two other famously beautiful women, to Michael Hutchence. Robert Downey Jr. has it too.

For young girls exploring the other sex for the first time, men wearing make-up, or men with a noticeable feminine streak, can provide a familiar bridge with which to access a world that otherwise can seem completely foreign. And for some men, a hint of something feminine – some jewelry, a bit of eyeshadow – can only serve to highlight their essential manliness.

But let’s be clear – not any man can carry it off. I’m not recommending Bill Shorten or Barrie Cassidy should rush out and buy a bit of lippy. But a Daniel Johns or a Kurt Cobain? Yes, yes.

Part of the appeal is the mystery. Are they straight? Are they gay? Are they interested in girls and boys (Oh! Maybe that makes you even more interesting!).

Adam_Ant

The first men I pinned up on my bedroom wall all wore make-up : the pretty boys of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Adam from Adam and the Ants. Boy George and Marilyn.

Marc Bolan and David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust incarnation carved a pretty path for these later men to follow.

It says something about the art school backgrounds of many of those British bands that they adopted the made-up look to a much more adroitly sophisticated degree than their American counterparts. In the US, far away from the fashion laboratory that was London’s streets, the rock star make-up tended more towards grotesquery and pantomime. Think of the Halloween-style faces of the men from Kiss, or of Alice Cooper or Dee Snider, or later, Marilyn Manson. Much cooler, much more rock star, is the English Keith Richards in a bit of eye liner.

Tim-Minchin

Compared to the shirtless, toned-chest look of many of today’s young men, or the bushranger swagger of the lumbersexual, the tribes of new romantics and goths and punks of the 80s and early 90s seem infinitely more playful and experimental. Much more fun.

I for one am thankful there are still a handful of men who are still flying the flag for men in make-up: Russell Brand and his stick of eyeliner, Tim Minchin and his please-love-me lashes of mascara.

Welcome to Australia Eddie Izzard.

Hey listen, there’s this really great nightclub I know…

Twitter @kathkenny_

A 6-point plan to make kids men’s business


First published by The Hoopla, 6 March 2015

This International Women’s Day I have one wish: that we start making caring for children men’s business. Honestly, truly, men’s business.

If I could wave my feminist wand and make all my equality dreams come true, I would begin by banning all talk about parental leave, childcare and flexible work as if they were only women’s issues, or mainly women’s issues. The ACTU is currently running campaigns for family friendly work policies and the right to request part-time work. The rights are for parents, but the campaign material nearly always talks about women.

I’d like to see our whole thinking about who does what at work and home shifted. But in the meantime I’d settle for enacting these six simple policies.

1. Make men responsible for phone numbers

Any parent will be familiar with the way your telephone contacts list balloons post-children. And you’d think that dads would totally ace this numbers business, given how boys still outnumber girls at math-based subjects at school and university.

Yet, for some mystifying reason, when men have children their numerical advantage disappears as fast as Peta Credlin at cabinet meetings these days. Is there a (heterosexual) father in Australia who hasn’t asked their child’s mother: “Do you have the number for the doctor/babysitter/tuba tutor”?

It’s time for a ban on the number crunching mothers: let’s make that dad’s job from now on.

2. No more talk about how childcare will help “women get back to work”

Tony Abbott and opinion writers everywhere need to stop carrying on about how more investment in the childcare sector will “help” women “get back to work”. Presumably male parent humans also need “help” to work. But it’s invariably women who help men go to work by looking after their children. And we don’t talk about that, we just ASSUME it.

The last time I checked, the numbers of women enrolling and graduating from university had outpaced men for some years. So this unofficial but remarkably persistent policy that it’s still the mother who stays home, while a man stays at work when children come along, has to be one of the greatest economic inefficiencies in the nation.

3. A moratorium on all talk about paid maternity as if it’s a private benefit to women

There’s a section of the community that seems to hold enormous resentment for the money paid to women on maternity leave. As one voter told Abbott at a community forum: “The forklift driver in Mount Druitt shouldn’t be paying his taxes so a pretty little lady lawyer on the North Shore earning 180 grand a year can have a kid.”

It’s as if the enormous largesse of maternity payments, that women are apparently squirrelling away all to themselves, is creating mini Gina Rineharts across the country. (To be fair, it briefly crossed my mind to use the $5,000 baby bonus I received for a round-the-world shoe shopping expedition. But I ended up staying at home and spending the money on petrol, groceries, food and nappies – and a bunch of other stuff the whole family needed.)

Perhaps the men and women of Australia should start adding up the volunteer hours they contribute to the community? Then let’s see which gender is in greater debt (see policy 4).

Firassi_Apron4. Make men do canteen duty

You see them on MasterChef, you see them on cookbook covers, you see them in the most expensive restaurants lovingly plating up $90 mains, but how often do you see them in the school tuckshop? About as often as you see Bill Heffernan reading bell hooks, that’s how often. Here’s my plan to get those weekend kitchen warriors into the canteen – tell them there’s a hot new cooking show in development and scouts will be crawling around a school canteen near you looking for undiscovered talent. And if that doesn’t work, put their names on the school’s billboard.

5. Teachers & childcare workers: talk to the FATHER about their problem child

I know they are underpaid and under-appreciated, and I can’t thank them enough for the years of service they have given, and continue to give, my own children. But if I hear one more mother friend tell me that the teacher/childcare worker always corners her to talk about her child’s problem with biting/hitting/not paying sufficient attention at baby Zumba class/trigonometry lessons, while never mentioning a word to the fathers, I’ll bite someone myself.

That child they have a problem with? Fifty percent of its DNA has come from its father. So there’s a good chance he might have a handle on what the problem is: “Oh yes, I never paid attention in baby Zumba classes either – but mum said it was just a phase and I grew out of it. I’m sure Jack will too.” Teachers should take the same approach (but the shorter school days means that many teachers will be rendered speechless at seeing a father at 3 in the afternoon).

Househusband26. When you meet an expecting couple, ask the father, not the mother: “So, how long are you planning on taking off work?”

It’s funny how before having children there were plenty of men who could find six months or a year to take off work to find a new career direction, an undiscovered surf break, or themselves. But when the kids come along? Suddenly the business will not be able to survive a week without their input and the world will stop turning on its axis.

Introduce paid paternity leave on a use-it-or-lose-it basis (men tend to need financial incentives – see policy 4) and all the other policies of collecting and remembering phone numbers, getting men more involved in volunteering, dealing with the teachers and carers in their child’s life, and learning that there is life outside of work, will start falling into place.

There’s one final frontier I haven’t covered: organising the school holiday care. I’m yet to meet a man prepared to tackle that herculean task: we’ll know equality has arrived when men start taking on that job.

My policies might sound unrealistic, but I know they are all possible. They are still in a minority, but I do know dads who happily pick up other people’s children after school and do their share of swapping babysitting favours. I know dads who spend hours setting up and cleaning up after school fetes. And I know dads who have taken a year or more off work when babies have come along. I even know one or two house husbands.

It’s true that sometimes dads still expect medals for doing what women do as a matter of course. But the good guys are pretty much just getting on it without fuss. Just like the mums always have.

Follow Kath Kenny on twitter @kathkenny_

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Not a great day for celebrating

First published by The Hoopla, 8 March 2015

The traditional March 8 greeting of “happy International Women’s Day” feels like a particularly false note to sound this year.

The headline story on Sunday on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website was about a woman who was assaulted in an alley behind a nightclub by the nightclub owner’s son. “Was a sick night – took a chick’s virginity,” the convicted man sent in a message to his friend.

Meanwhile a prominent female surgeon – a surgeon – is making headlines across the country for a radio interview where she suggested surgical trainees should accept unwelcome advances, because not to do so could “ruin” their careers.

Dr Gabrielle McMullin was referring to a case from 2008, where a trainee won a sexual harassment case, but was subsequently vilified and has not been able to secure work at any Australian public hospital.

“Realistically, she would have been much better to have given him a blow job on that night,’ said Dr McMullin.

Not surprisingly, her comments were met with outrage by advocates for sexual assault and rape victims. But for anyone who has thought long and hard about these issues, the reminder that there are still many people who think it is wise to give in to assault and remain silent about abuse is stark evidence of just how far we still have to go.

There is a stubbornly, shockingly, persistent notion that women will be blamed and shamed for men’s behaviour. But perhaps even more shocking is that some people still seem to believe that we must accept the current state of affairs.

Counting-the-deadOn Monday morning, Fairfax media was reporting that a doctor, “who asked not to be named for fears it would damage her career”, said surgeons called her a “dumb bitch”, and said that women were “f—ing useless” and men should be hired instead.

The Fairfax report said: “On one occasion, a consultant surgeon told her to ‘get some knee pads and learn to suck c–k’, which was laughed off by colleagues who were present. She said that a senior colleague inappropriately touched her on several occasions and that she was ostracised after she rebuked him. ‘They think they own you, a lot of these guys. As soon as you stand up, you cop a lot,’ she said.”

These stories come on top of an already bleak year for women, including the recent release of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, revealing the gender pay gap is 18.8%: up 1.4% from last year, and the worst since records began being collected in 1994.

But most appalling of all is the dreadful record so far this year of 17 women murdered in Australia in domestic violence incidents. The grim statistics are being collected by the Counting Dead Women project, an initiative of the Destroy the Joint movement.

The deaths of two women per week should be viewed as a national emergency. And there are some signs that the conversation about domestic violence is finally taking the main stage, with speeches in parliament, commitments to bipartisan approaches, and Q&A specials tackling the topic. Queensland has held a taskforce into the issue, Victoria is holding a royal commission, Mike Baird is promising a domestic violence offenders register in NSW, and the Abbott government is promising a national intervention order register.

Crying_WomanBut it is all happening against a backdrop of funding cuts to legal services and refugees that provide women with the legal advice and support they need to escape violent situations.

There is one notable reason to cheer this year though: the record number of women elected to parliament in Queensland, where Annastacia Palaszczuk and Jackie Trad lead a glass ceiling-smashing cabinet where eight of the 14 ministers are women.

It’s a small flashback to not that many years ago, when the country was ruled by a female prime minister (Julia Gillard), a female governor general (Quentin Bryce) and a female attorney general (Nicola Roxon). In NSW briefly in 2011, women could add to that list a female premier (Kristina Keneally) and a female governor (Marie Bashir).

It’s a long way from 2015, where our current Minister for Women is Tony Abbott, a prime minister who last week stood up in parliament to justify a LNP International Women’s Day lunch in a men’s-only club.

We still need an International Women’s Day. But what we really need is a whole lot more to celebrate.

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Pollie want a crack-up?

First published by The Hoopla, 2 March 2015

The endless Liberal leadership speculation was punctuated last week when Julie Bishop responded to a Today show interview question with an emoji face. And Mike Baird looked like he was auditioning for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, not for another stint as NSW premier, when he released a youtube video of himself reading mean tweets.


Bishop and Baird provided rare moments of light relief in an otherwise heavy week of wars on terrorism, human rights commissioners and raspberries. But it’s impossible to imagine their antics will be remembered years from now – at least not in the same way that Gough Whitlam’s sense of humour was endlessly celebrated last year.

The tributes that followed Whitlam’s death invariably mentioned his famous wit: if he ever met god, he “would treat him as an equal”, he once said. Many women would have appreciated the winning, if possibly old-fashioned, sentiment behind his observation about his marriage to Margaret Dovey: she was his “best appointment.”

Paul Keating, too, was renowned for his clever lines – he described debating John Hewson as “like being flogged with a warm lettuce”.

Amanda Vanstone

The Labor side can’t claim a monopoly on the gags though. Who could forget Amanda Vanstone’s 1991 retort to senator Bob Collins, when he commented on her not-insubstantial backside.

“It’s better to be big in the backside than to have bulldust for brains,” she shot back.

Trying to think of contemporary political wits to match the likes of Whitlam, Keating or Vanstone isn’t easy. And while blatant misogyny might still be running free – recall Bill Heffernan describing Julia Gillard as deliberately barren – genuinely funny political witticism that skirts the edge of nicety and beyond seems to be a thing of the past.

James Carleton, the editor of a new compilation of Whitlam bon mots – titled, of course, The Wit of Whitlam – singles out Labor icon, ex-shearer and Hawke government special minister of state, Mick Young, for a particularly crude remark.

“Young said upon meeting the daughter of former Prime Minister John Gorton, a man who was facially disfigured as a result of an RAAF accident during WWII: ‘I didn’t know plane crashes were hereditary!’”

Young’s caustic joke – which hit its mark by saying something everyone else perhaps thought, but which was until then unspeakable – would struggle to get past today’s politically correct checkpoints. But Carleton wonders if something’s been lost in the process.

“Some might say that the absence of such boorishness from modern politics is a good thing. Others may venture that politics in the 60s, 70s and even 80s enabled an authentic truth to be displayed – for good or ill – and that politics today, with its confected pre-conceived focus-grouped sound bites, is the worse for its absence.”

In an era of 24/7 media scrutiny, where every comment and policy is minutely audience tested, jokes must pass the good taste test. It’s hard to imagine anyone in parliament today getting away with Whitlam’s retort when Sir Winton Turnbull called out in parliament “I am a country member”. Gough interjected “I remember”.

The gags are still with us, but they mostly come without a bite, and minus the bitter, but unforgettable, aftertaste. Some just aren’t funny. When the then opposition leader Kevin Rudd appeared on Rove McManus’ show just before the 2007 election, he was rumoured to have endlessly workshopped with his advisors an answer to McManus’ standing question to guests: “Who would you turn gay for?”

“There is only one person for me, my wife Therese,” Rudd replied. Disappointment ricocheted around the nation.

“Is she a man?” McManus inquired, attempting to squeeze a laugh out of the moment.

Things don’t always go well when comedians enter political territory either. When Russell Brand released his book Revolution, his effort was met with groans and mirthful derision not seen since one-hit-wonder Craig Emerson released his No Whyalla wipe-out video.

There are many good arguments for comedians to leave the politics to the politicians, just as there are many good arguments for politicians to leave the comedy to the professional comedians – and not to a team of tired advisors looking desperately for another way to make the headlines.

But I’m prepared to make an exception for Julie Bishop. She’s one of the few politicians who comes across as a natural comic. Fans of physical comedy across the country must be secretly hoping Bishop manages to wrest the Liberal leadership from the blokes this week. Just imagine the endlessly hilarious possibilities that a nation led by a human emoji presents.

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