And yet another royal visit

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on April 16th, 2014

Another royal visit is upon us and the media is in its customary spin cycle. There will be wall to wall coverage of Will and Kate shaking hands with politicians, waving at the small crowd of royal watchers and giving dull and predictable speeches about the mutual love and respect Britain and Australia have for one another. The odd article or sound bite will be given to a token republican trying to spoil the party by pointing out the sheer lunacy of it all. In this case Australian Republican Movement national director, David Morris wrote an excellent piece for the Herald. And then we are back to normal. Gushing colonials eager to name another road or hospital after our British betters.

I don’t want to be a Grinch. If Australia was an independent republic and people wanted to fawn over the royals and follow every minute detail of their celebrity lives, I would be all for it. People love gossip and celebrity culture and making heroes out of people who can kick a ball well, sing a song or in this case live in a castle and help charity (by turning up at expensive dinners and such). It’s all fine with me. Some Americans are equally interested in royal events and sit glued to the screen watching the pomp and ceremony of births, deaths and marriages. We are a free country and people can obsess about whatever they like.

All I’ve ever wanted is my nation to have the honour and dignity it deserves with a constitution that enshrines equality and allows any of our children to rise to the top rather than the colonial document we currently have that actively discriminates against our own citizens. British royals are always welcome in Australia but like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who visited in January, they should pay their own way, not take from our tax payers. Visiting royals should be welcomed as guests not as our superiors and in this case future sovereigns.

The whole point of Project Republic was to remind Australians  that the job is not yet done. It is easy to wave a flag and claim to love your country, but real patriotism involves hard work. Sometimes it requires sacrifice. If you truly love Australia and believe this is an exceptional country, every bit the equal  of countries around the world, then you must raise your voice and demand a constitution worthy of a free people. A constitution that does not rely on a foreign country for leadership (even symbolic leadership) but that has faith and confidence in itself. If you believe any Australian child should be able to become our head of state rather than only the children of the British royal family, then join our cause. If you want to live in a nation that does not bend the knee to any other then get active. If you want our prime minister to pledge allegiance to the Australian people not the British Queen, then embrace the republican cause.

During this royal tour, I encourage anyone who loves Australia and wants to see it thrive and given the respect it deserves to buy a copy of Project Republic. Familiarise yourself with the arguments. Educate yourself about what our constitution currently says and what it should say. Only a groundswell of grass roots momentum will motivate our polls driven politicians to action. Let us send them a message that this is our country and we want to be free. We want a constitution that respects democracy and egalitarianism not one governed by elitism and birthright. Until the day comes when an Indigenous person, a recent migrant or a white Australian can all aim to be our head of state, the fight must go on. Our constitution must be for us not against us. Until then, it is broken – let’s fix it!

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Can’t teachers be trusted to dress themselves?

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on March 28th, 2014

This is my latest article published in The Conversation.

Do the clothes make the teacher? This certainly appears to be the attitude of NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli who released details of a new dress code starting in term two for the state’s 70,000 teachers.

While much in the report is little more than common sense, there is a strange inconsistency in a government that wants to give more power to principles yet does not trust them to manage the dress standards of their staff. Whatever the intention, the decision is demeaning, laden with negative connotations about the profession and unnecessary micro-management with an undertone of sexism.

Read the full article for free here.

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Geert Wilders and the new Australian anti-Muslim political party

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on March 12th, 2014

Based on the anti-Muslim principles of extreme right Dutch politician Geert wilders, the Australian Liberty Alliance will contest the next federal election. How will they fare? Is it important? Is there a risk that, even with modest electoral success, this party might legitimise Islamophobia and normalise far right rhetoric?

My new article in The Conversation looks at the new party and the politics of Islamophobia.

Read the full article for free HERE.

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Pyne’s Review Panel: Will it help improve teacher quality?

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on February 21st, 2014

With the controversial appointment of Greg Craven to chair Christopher Pyne’s review education panel, the issue of teacher quality has again returned to the fore. If Craven recommends a neo-liberal teacher market, both the quality and the spirit of pedagogy will be compromised, reduced to the fluctuation of market forces.

The following is a short extract form my article on The Conversation website.

“The goal of the review board should be to attract the best and brightest into education and to secure the best possible outcome for Australian students. This can only happen if the prestige and respect once associated with teaching is restored along with the resources and support needed to achieve outstanding results.

An economic rationalist position that compromises academic rigour will never achieve this. If Craven’s panel follows base supply-and-demand principles and accepts even the most mediocre teaching candidates, then the derogatory maxim will be proved true: those who can’t do, teach.”

Read the full article for free here.

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Only a Republic Can Save Australia Day!

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on January 25th, 2014

Australia is a fantastic place to live and it is only right that we have a national celebration every year. It is becoming increasing clear, however, that 26 January is unsustainable as the date of our national holiday. Rather than a unifying occasion, Australia Day is divided between those who believe it should be a day of pride and those who think it should be a day of solemn reflection

Every year many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians insist that 26 January is a day of mourning and sorrow. Just as it commemorates the arrival of the first British colonists, it also represents the beginning of Indigenous dispossession. The real irony is that historically, Australia Day has never really been about Australia but about Britishness. While other nations celebrate their day of independence, we celebrate the day the flag of a foreign country was planted on these shores.

Australia Day’s 1888 centenary was undoubtedly a celebration of Britishness. The imposing statue of Victoria near Hyde Park was unveiled and the Queen was cheered and toasted at banquets and celebration services all over Sydney. With Union Flags waving, food and tobacco was given to the poor as proud colonists sang God Save the Queen. When a radical politician asked if something should be done for the Aborigines, Sir Henry Parkes curtly replied, ‘and remind them that we have robbed them?’

A century later there was an even larger celebration but again it was celebration of Britishness and White Australia. The focal point of the 1988 bicentenary was not Australian achievements but the visit from Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales and our future king. While the media fawned over the visiting royals, this time Aboriginal voices could not be silenced. Some 40 000 protesters – the largest since the Vietnam moratorium – declared that Australia Day was to them, Invasion Day.

Australia is stuck now in an awkward stalemate where we have a national holiday that people feel increasingly uncomfortable about celebrating. This cultural unease came to the fore when retail giants Aldi and Big W decided to remove Australia Day shirts with the slogan “Australia: Est 1788”. There is a strange contradiction here. If the shirts are offensive then surely the official holiday commemorating 26 January 1788 is more so.

There have been many calls to change the date of Australia Day. Mick Dodson and Chris Bourke have been two of the most articulate voices for change. 26 January is an important date for Australia, they argue, but it is not right to celebrate a day that causes so much pain for so many. The problem, however, is when to change it to. The obvious choice would be the anniversary of Federation but falling on 1 January it is not practical.

The creation of an Australian republic holds the key to Australia Day. Commemorating the day we become a republic will allow us to celebrate everything that is laudable about our nation without the ghosts of colonisation and dispossession. Our history cannot be changed and we should honestly reflect on the mistakes of the past but our day of celebration should be a reminder of what we have achieved and what we can be proud of.

The creation and celebration of an Australian republic will allow us to begin a new national story, a story of inclusion and respect. The republic will unify all Australians because it will not favour or privilege one group over another. For Indigenous Australians, those of British heritage or immigrants from around the world, Republic Day includes all who call Australia home.

26 January will always have great significance but the creation of a free republic built on the principles or equality, inclusion and a fair go, would be something to be truly proud of. A nation honest enough to face its past wrongs but brave enough to stand on its own two feet, I’ll celebrate that any day of the year!

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Time to update our coins?

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on December 13th, 2013

Is the Queen really the unifying symbol of Australia? We took down the British flag and stopped singing God Save the Queen – surely the next step is updating our currency (preferably before Prince Charles becomes King)?

This is the topic of my new article in ABC’s The Drum.

To read the full article CLICK HERE.

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Project Republic

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on November 26th, 2013

It’s time for some straight talking about Australia’s future

We need a head of state who shares a genuine affinity with our country. True independence does not require us to relinquish affection for the Queen or downplay excitement about a royal birth or wedding. Rather it is a chance for national renewal, and to lend an Australian dignity to the highest office in the land. In short: to decide what kind of country we want to live in.

Featuring forewords by Malcolm Turnbull and Wayne Swan, Project Republic unites a range of passionate Australian voices to show why Australia must become a republic – and how we get there from here.

Henry Reynolds / Thomas Keneally / Larissa Behrendt / John Hirst / Julian Morrow / Helen Irving / Mark Tredinnick / John Warhurst / David Morris / George Williams / Joy McCann / Erika Smith / Anthony Dillon / Paul Picking / James Curran / David Donovan / George Winterton

Click here to buy the book!

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Abbott should judge women on their merit not sex appeal

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on August 14th, 2013

Having worked in a variety of sectors with many different people, I am acutely aware that many men still judge their female colleagues by how they look. Thankfully for the most part, I have worked with professionals who judge women by their ability, but there remains a sexist minority who not only think it is fine to objectify women in the workplace but who think any woman who complains about personal remarks about their looks must be stuck up or have no sense of humour. This is why Tony Abbott’s comments on Tuesday about the Liberal candidate for Lindsay were so alarming.

When asked to describe the qualities Fiona Scott shared with the last Liberal to hold the West Sydney seat, Jackie Kelly, Abbott replied that, ‘They’re young, they’re feisty,’ and ‘I can probably say they have a bit of sex appeal’. It seemingly never occurred to Abbott that perhaps these women were intelligent or hard working or had any virtues apart from being, to him anyway, sexually appealing.

Abbott has been taken to task for the comment especially through Twitter and other social media but perhaps even more shocking than the comment was Scott’s reaction. Rather than showing any indignation, a delighted Scott giggled like a star stuck child. Defending Abbott from charges of sexism, she insisted being described as sexually appealing by her boss was ‘a lovely compliment’. John Howard even chipped in to say objectors should ‘get a life’.

Any woman who has suffered sexual harassment in the workplace would be truly horrified by this example. What a message to send to young women around the nation! It is fine for a boss to comment on a female employee’s sexual appeal and women should happily accept such comments.

Of course, it is really no surprise to hear Abbott demean women in such a way. He routinely attacked Julia Gillard in sexist terms and never afforded her the respect he shows even to male Labor Prime Ministers. He happily stood in front of a sign describing her as a bitch and was quick to echo Alan Jones’ heinous comment that her late father died of shame. This is why Gillard’s misogyny speech resonated so strongly with women around the world. (All of this has been well documented in Anne Summer’s excellent book, The Misogyny Factor).

Abbott’s comment was no gaffe, it is his genuinely held belief that women are designed by god to occupy a separate sphere to men – a private nurturing sphere. It never occurred to him that anyone other than women would be doing the ironing when tried to attack an ETS back in 2010. As a student in 1979, he made this honest and candid remark about the place of women:

‘I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons’.

Asked on Four Corners if he still felt that way about women, he replied, ‘I don’t want to repudiate what was said, but I don’t want people to think that what I thought as a 21 year old is necessarily what I think as a 52 year old’.

Perhaps even more telling was his Q&A performance in 2009 when he stated that just as men did not have the right to demand sex, women did not have a right to ‘absolutely withhold’ it either. Women have a clear and well defined role in Abbott’s mind. They exist to iron the shirts, provide sex, nurture children and support the men. Yes, a few may rise through the ranks to prominent positions but they are the exception not the rule and it would be ‘folly’ to expect anything else.

As a nation, we are rightly proud that in 1902 we were the first in the world to allow women to not only vote but stand for parliament also. Since then, Australian women have fought hard to create a society where they are judged not by their sex appeal but by their ability and work ethic. Australian women have entered and thrived in many arenas once seen as the domain of men. We have now seen an Australian woman make it all the way to the Lodge. Yes, she was dogged by relentless gendered persecution, the point is she made it and others will follow.

Abbott is entitled to his views but they are out of place in a modern Australia. He claimed, in his defence that he was ‘a little old fashioned’. This is true (albeit a huge understatement) and professional women can only hope their bosses and male colleagues are not similarly old fashioned in the way they act. Abbott’s world view does not include a fair go for women and it would be folly indeed to think it would.

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Rudd Returns and Labor Soars

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on June 27th, 2013

No political thriller could match the reality of current Australian politics. Lazarus with a triple bypass has once again risen from the political graveyard. The martyr is now the master and our first female prime minister will retire from politics at the next election. Kevin Rudd, the man who carried the ALP to a historic victory in 2007 – and unseated our second longest serving prime minister along the way – is once again the people’s PM.

The impact of this change has been immediate. Suddenly there is a spring in the ALP’s step. The gloom and despair has evaporated and a snap Morgan poll has seen the ALP gain 5 points for a nail-biting 49.5 to the Coalition’s 50.5 on a two party preferred basis.  For months Rupert Murdoch and his acolytes have insisted that the debate is over and that Tony Abbott should be given the keys to the Lodge immediately. Suddenly, all has changed.

Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, appeared on ABC’s Lateline moments after the leadership spill and the change in tenor was immediately apparent. Despite Tony Jones’ best attempts to emphasis the instability and fractured nature of the current caucus, Carr was only interested in taking the fight to Abbott insisting that “suddenly the next election has become very contestable”. Who do people want to represent Australia at the G20 summit: Rudd, described by Bill Clinton as one of the most intelligent leaders in the world or Abbott, described by Peter Costello as an economic illiterate?

But why did Gillard have to go? Why was our first female leader the cause of such friction rather than a great celebration? Put simply, Australian politics – like the Australian constitution – operates under the laws of convention. Do we the people vote for the prime minister? No we don’t. We vote for a local member and the members themselves appoint a leader. While the ALP was technically within its rights to remove Kevin Rudd, it broke an important, unwritten but well understood protocol. You never knife a first term prime minister.

As I wrote back in 2012:

“The removal of a new prime minister after a landslide victory following a decade in opposition is absolute political hubris. They had 11 years of Howard government to get to know Kevin. To knife him in his first term claiming they had no idea he was such a dictatorial tyrant is simply ridiculous – and the public have been fittingly unforgiving”. (Full article here)

We are rightly proud of our Australian Westminster system that places the democratic emphasis on party and politics not personality and popularity. The Australian people accept that after a couple of terms a leader may be out of fresh ideas and that internal renewal may serve the nation best. Keating’s decision to challenge Hawke (twice) was legitimised with his subsequent electoral victory. The removal of Kevin Rudd in his first term, however, was seen as unjust and undemocratic. Many of the MPs who voted against him had ridden into parliament on his popular coattails only 2 years earlier. This is an offense to the fair go concept.

In the fullness of time, history will remember Julia Gillard as an exceptional prime minister who saw the passage of many important bills under very difficult circumstances often in the face of a hostile media, a rabid opposition and an undercurrent of misogyny. Ultimately, however, her fatal flaw was not her gender but her decision to take a poisoned chalice offered to her by factional kingmakers. Her legitimacy has never been accepted by many and this has made it impossible to sell her message.

With Rudd once again at the helm, the ALP can focus its efforts and the nation’s attention on Tony Abbott and his ultra-conservative vision for Australia. Finally, we can compare the stark reality of Labor’s plan for education reform with the Coalition. What will Abbott’s policies mean for the NBN, for public health or asylum seekers? How far back would an Abbott government push the campaigns for an Australian republic, Indigenous recognition or marriage equality? The leaders’ debates have been suddenly infused with meaning as the Abbott free ride has ground to a halt. Labor have done the right thing, they have put the nation first and they are back in business. The message is clear, not only to ALP supporters but to all Australian democrats who believe in fair play: Rejoice, for a great injustice has been undone!

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Housos add Racism to Misogyny: SBS

Written by Benjamin Thomas Jones on June 19th, 2013

With SBS refusing to address misogyny and death threats, the Housos Facebook page has added racism to their repertoire.

In the wake of sexual harassment and institutional sexism scandals, Australian Chief of Army David Morrison earned the respect of many with his sincere apology to the victims and denouncement of the offences. It is not only those who commit vile acts against women that are to blame, he reminded us. Those who laugh it off, turn a blind eye or dismiss sexism or racism tacitly endorse it. Morrison challenged us all to be leaders, declaring that, “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.

What standards does the SBS hold? Independent Australia has broken three stories listing the vile sexism and even death threats against Prime Minister Julia Gillard that are not only tolerated but prompted and supported by the Housos Facebook page. SBS may well stand for Silent ‘Bout Sexism. They have done nothing in response apart from attempt to censor Independent Australia and request that no more complaints be received.

SBS has sent a clear message to the Housos Facebook page: you can do or say anything as we lack the courage or will to stop you. The Admins responded in kind with a blantent display of racism.

Yesterday, the page posted a picture of Maori actor Kevin Takamata – one of the stars of the show – next to a picture of a man in a monkey costume with the caption, “Kev’s Long Lost Brother”.

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Over 2000 people liked the picture, 2 claimed it was racist. Those two were then subjected to the usual torrent of abuse that flows in the direction of anyone who challenges the Housos page. The Housos Admin even stepped in to repudiate the claim stating:

“How is that racism ? All Maoris look like a banana split ? Go back to political correct land !”

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The Admin was doubtless trying – and failing – to be funny. The monkey costume was originally worn on an American children’s show from the late 1960s called the Banana Splits. The audacity and vulgarity of the comment and the picture is incredible. Given the recent controversy after Indigenous AFL star Adam Goodes was called an ape, first by a young Collingwood fan then through inference by Eddie McGuire, you would think only a person devoid of any cultural sensitivity could find this funny.

The blame, however, must be laid squarely at the feet of SBS. It is their blatant disregard for their own charter and standards that has given the Housos Admins carte blanche to post anything they like, safe in the knowledge the airtime and promotional dollars will continue to flow in. SBS utterly failed its viewers by taking no stand at all against sexism, why would anyone expect them to respond to racism?

SBS does not run the Housos Facebook page – and they remind us ad nauseum. But they have a responsibility to their viewers to only promote and air shows that comply with their charter. Housos is set to be aired on SBS next month. If they have any standards, any respect for the rights of women or Indigenous people, if they want to even pretend that their charter is more than empty rhetoric then they must confront this issue.

If there is a moral fibre left in the operations of SBS they will tell the Housos Admins to either remove the blatant sexist and racist content from their page or pull the plug from future airings of the show. The standards you walk past, SBS, are most certainly the standards you accept.

If you would like to complain to SBS, please do so here.