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

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...

Cross-posted from Major Karnage.

As regular readers of Major Karnage 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. Crazy, I know.

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.

Major Karnage is a Sydney-based blogger and can be followed on Twitteror Facebook. This article was originally posted on majorkarnage.net


PS: 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.


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.

Gina Rinehart and how self-styled “progressives” are keeping the boardroom male

Cross-posted from Major Karnage.

IN MY line of work, I get to spend quite a lot of time in high-level boardroom meetings with people who all sit on corporate boards. I also have a few relatives who have sat on various boards in their time and my extended networks include quite a number of others. This means that while am not on any corporate boards, I am not a stranger to them either.

I still remember the first time I was at one of said meetings and a female colleague muttered to me, “do you notice anything particularly… male about the room?” The truth was that I hadn’t. While I had definitely noticed that I was the youngest person in the room by at least a decade (two if you didn’t count her). Until she pointed it out to me, it did not occur to me that she was the only woman there.

That incident jolted me into awareness. Since then, I have been paying attention to the gender balance when I am in corporate settings and a lot of observations have struck me that anecdotally support the mountains of research showing that the boardroom is simply not a place for girls. Not once in the last couple of years have I ever seen anything that even comes close to gender balance. Several times, there have actually been no women present. I also find that the “higher-level” the meeting, the less women tend to be invited.

That said, there are other observations that I can make about people in boardrooms than merely their gender. They are generally very sure of themselves – often manifesting as arrogance, but always including a calm and confident demeanour. They are hard-working, ambitious and persistent to the point of obsession, they know what they want and they make it happen. They are uncompromising – they expect the best and will not accept anything less. They are often very blunt and straight-talking. They can be friendly and charming when they want to, but they can be aggressive and intimidating when they have to.

I note these things not as a criticism of the corporate world and certainly not as an affront to the people that I am writing about. I have a tremendous amount of respect for most of them, they work harder than anyone else I know and they do amazing and under-appreciated (if not under-paid) work, without which our society could not function.

I MENTIONED those character traits is because of a common thread running through them: they are generally “alpha male” traits, they are not things that women are “supposed” to be. Women are loving, conciliatory, family-oriented and selfless. Women are neurotic and emotional, they doubt themselves, they shut-down and cry when bad things happen and they panic when they are stressed. They are not confident, ambitious, persistent and aggressive. When shit hits the fan, they are the ones panicking and screaming, not the ones who take-charge – at least in most sitcoms.

Again, I am not trying to say that it is a bad thing for someone to put others first, display their emotion and focus more on relationships than outcomes. I am trying to say that doing this is unlikely to get you ahead in the corporate world (or in other areas of public life). If you doubt yourself, the person who believes in themself will get the pay-rise or the promotion. If you shut-down and cry or panic, someone else will take charge. If you compromise, someone else won’t and they will have the better result in the end. Potential alone can only get you so far, there is not a lot of room at the top and to get there requires hard work, sacrifices and, above all, wanting to be there more than everyone else.

The public image of most successful women in Australia does not fit the stereotype of a high-powered Director. I say “public image” because, from my experience, the women who get to these positions do have most of these traits in private, but are able to create a persona that comes across as more “feminine” when they want to.

I refuse to believe that the corporate exec described above is actually gender-related. I know plenty of men who do not act like that. That character is simply how a person needs to act in order to reach the top of the corporate ladder – possibly the most competitive position anyone can aspire to reach (except maybe professional athlete). Other high-profile positions (rockstar, politician etc) require a huge amount of luck as well as hard work, becoming a CEO or company chair is about nothing except ability, attitude and work ethic.

THERE IS one very notable exception: Gina Rinehart. Here is a woman who is overweight and unattractive, but clearly not too concerned about her appearance and uninterested in the world of glamour and fashion. She is abrasive, intimidating and even a bully. She is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants, without regard to the way it makes her look or the people she is offending. She is ambitious, single-minded and dedicated to the point where she supposedly goes without any of the frills that other billionaires afford themselves so that she can re-invest all her money into her company.

She is also not a “loving mother” figure by any stretch of the imagination. She isreportedly quiet and reserved in person and she keeps her personal affairs completely private. What did leak last year was that, having judged her children as inept for running her company, she offered them each $300mln a year in return for signing-away their shares. When they refused, she fought them all the way to the High Court – becoming estranged in the process.

Meanwhile, her achievements are incredible. She inherited a floundering, debt-ridden mining company that was making its money from a lucky break and transformed it into a hugely profitable, gigantic operation – becoming the world’s wealthiest woman in the process. She is now in the process of planning the biggest Australian-owned mining development in history and is funding it entirely on her own.  Yes, she was born into some wealth due to a lucky find by her father, but many people born into wealth spend their lives turning a large fortune into a small one. She turned a small fortune into a gargantuan one.

And yet she is being punished for this – not by the Andrew Bolts and Alan Jones’ of this world, but by the very people that would generally be the first to jump to her defence if she hadn’t made the unfortunate mistake of being a Conservative and one of the mining magnates vilified by Wayne Swan. Oh, as well as committing the awful sin of giving jobs to people who weren’t lucky enough to be born in Australia.

The best (but not the only) example was the abuse she received from David Marr and Miriam Margolyes on Q and A last month:

Note: I did not criticise the others as Barry Humphries was playing a character, Tony Jones was trying to defend her while still maintaining his “distance” as chair, Jacki Weaver seemed a little stunned and John Hewson later said he regretted not arguing but felt overwhelmed. Also, Marr and Margolyes were the two noted “feminists” on the panel.

THAT INCIDENT did receive fairly wide coverage – in News Ltd papers. It was all but ignored in the ABC, Fairfax (well, aside from the SMH’s balance columnist),New Matilda etc. Some good responses were written that I could find in more minor leftist publications, however it was generally her political allies that were jumping to her defence. More anecdotally, the people on my social networks who would normally be concerned about this kind of thing have been completely silent.

Why is this such a problem? Because it shows that this kind of abuse is acceptable for women that the left don’t like. It sends the message that the only reason anyone complains about comments aimed at Julia Gillard or Christine Milne is that they are on the left and not because this kind of discourse should be unacceptable. It reaffirms the idea that women shouldn’t act like CEOs, which discourages women from acting like CEOs, which in turn means women won’t become CEOs.

To some degree I think that it may be that people who hold corporate leaders in contempt yet think they want to see more women being corporate leaders were somehow expecting female corporate leaders to be more like “women” and less like “businessmen”. The issues inherent in that assumption should speak for themselves.

It’s all well and good to conduct research and then complain about the lack of women at the top, but unless there are a lot of ambitious and competitive young women willing to fight to get there, nothing will ever change.

Major Karnage is a Sydney-based blogger and can be followed on Twitter or Facebook. This article was originally posted on majorkarnage.net

Union progression towards White Australia

Major Karnage notes that "progressives" are taking us back

I recently had a long conversation with a Union representative who was trying to convince me that I was wrong about the Australian Union movement. As I explained, my thoughts are generally that I am theoretically in favour of an organised workforce and I have no qualms with workers coming together to demand certain rights – but this is no longer what the Union movement is (which is the reason I capitalise the “u”).

From my perspective, Australian Unions are mostly opaque, bloated, entrenched organisations that represent a very small portion of the workforce. Their institutionalisation and the extend to which they are favoured by successive Labor governments have given them hubris, to the point where they seem to care more about perpetuating their own existence than actually doing anything in the interest of Australia’s workforce and spend a lot of time playing political games instead of concentrating on their nominal mission.

What bothers me the most is the dogmatic adherence to certain anachronistic principles because these used to be good for “workers”. I see absolutely no self-reflection and no desire to reevaluate the policies of the movement in light of the world that we live in. As I have noted before, this has resulted in Australia having ridiculous penalty rates and bad teachers.

Well here’s yet another example, which follows this post:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told: migrants or the mine | The Australian.

In an increasingly bitter dispute over the management of the mining boom, ministerial splits are emerging within the Gillard government and unions have started a racist campaign to hound West Australian-based minister Gary Gray from his seat. …

Yesterday, five unions ran a full-page newspaper advertisement in Mr Gray’s seat of Brand, south of Perth, alluding to high levels of indigenous unemployment and accusing the Special Minister of State and former ALP national secretary of not standing up for “Aussie jobs”.

Joe McDonald, the assistant secretary of the West Australian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, accused Mr Gray last night of betraying Australians and vowed to run a union campaign to get rid of him.

“He’s betrayed the people of his constituency,” Mr McDonald told The Weekend Australian. “He’s betrayed them. He should pack up and piss off. If the union movement puts a politician in, they shouldn’t forget where they came from and if they do then we should piss them off and put someone else in.”

Last night Mr Gray, who won his seat with a margin of just 3 per cent in 2010, said EMAs, for which projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 jobs are eligible, would create “many, many mining jobs for Australians”.

Note that the story calls the campaign against Gray “racist”. I don’t like when a news story editorialises like this, but in this case I don’t see a lot of other ways to describe it.

The CFMEU is notionally a “progressive” Union, yet its officials are spouting rhetoric that would not have been out of place during the days of the White Australia Policy. I am also disgusted by the way that McDonald is threatening to remove Gray from Parliament if he doesn’t “play ball”.

This is the tragedy of Australia’s major social democrat party being beholden to these groups; it is also a problem that the Union rep in the conversation that I mentioned above did not seem to understand. The current system of preselection means that we get exactly the wrong people into Parliament. A few conversations between key people within the Union movement or the ALP can be enough to get someone a safe seat for life – the process is completely opaque and prone to corruption and abuse. Once there, do/say the wrong thing and upset the wrong people and goodbye – no matter what the public may want. (Incidentally, this is not a partisan issue. Union movement aside, the same principle holds for the Liberal party.)

So now we have a situation where the Government is being pressured from inside to bow to xenophobic demands and prevent people who want to come to Australia and contribute to the country’s economy from doing so. They are also using arguments like this gem from Senator Doug Cameron:

Good jobs for Aussies is not a miner matter | thetelegraph.com.au.

Since when was it unreasonable to expect that highly profitable mining companies should provide Australian workers with the skill upgrading, training, travel support and accommodation to ensure they have genuine access to employment opportunities?

I am constantly amazed by the Union mentality that the way to achieve these demands is for the Government to force mining companies to provide them. What is preventing the Unions from doing something useful like developing their own training programs and apprenticeships, investing in the development of mining towns to allow workers’ families to move there, or forming recruitment initiatives to connect their members with the mining companies to fill employment vacancies? (Note: I’m aware that some do this already, but obviously not very well, or else there wouldn’t be an issue.)

Why do they think that playing the political system to force the mining companies to do it would be a better idea?

I am also shocked by the silence from people I know who are generally pro-immigration and usually speak-out against xenophobic rhetoric like this. Even the Greens are behind the migrant workers idea – and they think that Australia is overpopulated and the world is ending.

Clearly, there is something wrong here. I could go on, but plummeting membership figures speak for themselves.

It is paramount that we introduce stronger requirements for Union transparency and accountability and remove the disgraceful Rudd/Gillard industrial relations reforms that force workers to be represented by organisations that they have no intention of joining. Otherwise, backwards thinking may just win the day yet again.

Major Karnage is a Sydney-based blogger and can be followed onFacebook or Twitter.

Publishing drivel on taxpayer dime

Major Karnage exposes a public media body you may not have heard of

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland, which describes itself as “the most radical of Australia’s long-standing literary and cultural magazines”.

Sparrow has some very particular views and a slightly perturbing pseudo-intellectual way of putting them across. Take this blog post today, for instance, where he seems to spend some time flirting with comparisons between the Obama Administration and the Nazis/Stalinists:

living in The Avengers’ universe | Overland literary journal.

Yet you cannot ignore the origins of [Superman] in an era awash with supermen, from the Nietzschean blond beasts so popular with national socialists to the Stakhanovites inspired by Joe Stalin, the original man of steel. That doesn’t mean that the genre’s innately and inevitably fascistic, as is sometimes argued. Nonetheless, the concept of the superhero necessarily rests upon a distinction central to both the far Right and the Stalinist Left – the gulf between the (ordinary) masses and the (extra-ordinary) hero. …

The cult of the superman developed by the fascists, like its equivalent in Stalinism, was implicitly directed against mobilisations of ordinary people. The Aryan ubermensch was necessary precisely because the untermenschen against whom the fascists raged were so numerous and so well organized …

That seems to me the context for the new hegemony of superheroes. … We are, in other words, already living in a comic book.

The most obvious example is the War on Terror, which, from its beginning, played out as the most clichéd super hero script. In what other context would the phrase ‘Axis of Evil’ be accepted as a serious proposition? How did it ever make sense to devote $1.3 trillion to defeating the tiny organization that was al Qaeda, unless you understood bin Laden as exerting the kind of mighty power wielded by the mad geniuses in comic books?

You get the picture.

Of course, Sparrow is as entitled to these views as anyone else. Similarly, the wankers who read his work are entitled to do so if they so choose. The problem is that said wankers are not necessarily paying for Sparrow to spend his days spouting this kind of nonsense. A quick scroll to the bottom of the page reveals this:

Overland sponsors

Those logos are the sponsors of Overland. From left, this is: the UN, Melbourne City Council, Federal Government, Federal Government, Victoria Government, Victoria Government and Victoria University.

Essentially, Overland is paid for from public funds (Vic Uni being the arguable exception). It is as much a public media body as the ABC or SBS, yet it is not afforded the same level of scrutiny because it is not a statutory body, but is funded by various Government agencies.

Regardless, this means that taxpayers are paying for Sparrow to be employed full-time so he can draw parallels between Captain America and the SS. Personally, I find this offensive and am not happy that some of my income is being diverted to this crap (albeit a small amount, since I live in NSW).

With all the attention on the budget this week, people seem to only look at actual Government initiatives. There is not nearly enough attention on what Government agencies go on to do with the money that they are allocated.

It is a complete joke that taxpayers are being forced to pay Sparrow a steady income for his polemic when struggling Menzies House writers have to polemicise for free. It’s about time to let useless and unprofitable publications like Overland collapse and make way for something that appeals to a wider audience than a handful of arts students who don’t like paying for their reading material themsevles.

Major Karnage is a Sydney-based blogger and can be followed on Facebook or Twitter.

Why strengthening the state weakens humanity

Highlighting one international judge's view on State-sanctioned attrocities

Cross-posted from Major Karnage

I have just had to read through the entire ICJ decision on the Jurisdictional Immunities (Germany v Italy) case, including the mammoth dissent by Brazilian Judge Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade, which was longer than the leading judgment and all of the other separate and dissenting opinions combined. I’ve been reading up on the guy a little and it sounds like he’s the ICJ version of Michael Kirby (anyone who has studied law in Australia would know what I mean).

I did come across one portion of his judgment that I thought would be worth reproducing. The case in general concerned judgments made in Italy against Germany for war crimes committed between 1943 and 1945. The issue was whether Italy had the right to put Germany on trial for war crimes or whether Germany had state immunity.

Trinidade thought they should, and he spent 88 pages constructing a legal system where the interests of humanity prevail over the interests of States and people subjected to massacres and slave labour would be entitled to justice in any legal jurisdiction. Fanciful? Maybe, but definitely compelling.

This is the best point that he made IMO, it concerns how the State creates a collective identity that dehumanises the individual to the point where atrocities like the ones committed by Nazi Germany can occur. These acts could never have been carried-out by

individual people without the State structures giving them the physical means and resources, as well as the psychological impression that they were “doing their job” rather than committing acts for which they were accountable.

Dissenting opinion of Judge Cançado Trindade

XVII. The State-Centric Distorted Outlook in Face of the Imperative of Justice

172. The beginning of the personification of the State ⎯ in fact, of the modern theory of the State ⎯ in the domain of International Law took place, in the mid-XVIII century, with the work of E. de Vattel (Le Droit des gens ou Principes de la loi naturelle appliquée à la conduite et aux affaires des nations et des souverains, 1758), which was to have much repercussion in the international legal practice of his times. The emphasis on State personality and sovereignty led to the conception of an International Law applicable strictly to the relations among States (the jus inter gentes, rather than thejus gentium), that is, an inter-State legal order; it amounted to a reductionist outlook of the subjects of the law of nations, admitting only and exclusively the States as such.

173. The consequences of this State-centric distortion were to prove disastrous for human beings, as widely acknowledged in the mid-Xth century. In the heyday of the inter-State frenzy, individuals had been relegated to a secondary level. To G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), ⎯ apologist of the Prussian State, ⎯ for example, the individual was entirely subsumed under the State; society itself was likewise subordinated to the State. The State was an end in itself (Selbstzweck), and freedom could only be the one granted by the State itself. Hegel endorsed and justified the authoritarian and absolutely sovereign State; to him, the State should be stronger than society, and individuals could only pursue their interests within the sovereign State.

174. From the late XIXth century onwards, legal positivism wholly personified the State, endowing it with a “will of its own”, and reducing the rights of human beings to those which the State “conceded” to them. The consent of the “will” of the States (according to the voluntarist positivism) was erected into the alleged predominant criterion in International Law, denying jus standi to individuals, to human beings; this rendered difficult a proper understanding of the international community, and undermined International Law itself, reducing its dimension to that of a strictly inter-State law, no more above but rather among sovereign States. In fact, when the international legal order moved away from the universal vision of the so-called “founding fathers” of the law of nations (droit des gens ⎯ supra), successive atrocities were committed against human beings, against humankind.

175. Such succession of atrocities, ⎯ war crimes and crimes against humanity, ⎯ occurred amidst the myth of the all-powerful State, and even the social milieu was mobilized to that end. The criminal policies of the State ⎯ gradually taking shape from the outbreak of the I world war onwards ⎯ counted on “technical rationality” and bureaucratic organization; in face of the aforementioned crimes, without accountability, individuals became increasingly vulnerable, if not defenceless. It soon became clear that there was a great need for justice, not only for the victims of their crimes and their relatives, but for the social milieu as a whole; otherwise life would become unbearable, given the denial of the human person, her annihilation, perpetrated by those successive crimes of State.

176. It was at the time of the prevalence of the inter-State myopia that the practice on State immunity took shape and found its greatest development, discarding legal action on the part of individuals against what came to be regarded as sovereign “acts of State”. Yet, the individual’s submission to the “will” of the State was never convincing to all, and it soon became openly challenged by the more lucid doctrine. The idea of absolute State sovereignty, ⎯ which led to the irresponsibility and the alleged omnipotence of the State, not impeding the successive atrocities committed by it (or in its name) against human beings, ⎯ appeared with the passing of time entirely unfounded. The State ⎯ it is nowadays acknowledged ⎯ is responsible for all its acts ⎯ both jure gestionis and jure imperii ⎯ as well as for all its omissions. In case of (grave) violations of human rights, the direct access of the individuals concerned to the international jurisdiction is thus fully justified, to vindicate such rights, even against their own State.

Major Karnage can be followed on Facebook or Twitter.


Why state marriage is worse for marriage than gay marriage

Major Karnage explains why gay marriage should never have been an issue before Parliament.

Cross-posted from Major Karnage

A few conversations popped-up on my Facebook feed last week regarding the revelation that Tony Abbot has a gay sister and has *gasp* not shunned her. In fact, he treats her quite well.

Why is that a "shock"? Well, Tony Abbot holds the point of view that "marriage" is something that happens between a man and a woman. To numerous proponents of gay marriage, this means that he is a priori a homophobe. I definitely saw at least one comment thread in which someone accused him of trying to "hide" his "bigotry" through treating his sister well when he clearly is actually a bigot because he is against gay marriage.

This is a stupid argument to make. There seems to be this horrible tendency amongst fanatics to assume that anyone who disagrees with them must be doing so out of prejudice. I see it all the time with the Middle East conflict. Being anti-Israel is antisemitic, and being pro-Israel is Islamophobic, homophobic, sexist, normative, imperialist, neo-colonialist… you get the picture. It also happens with immigration, feminism and plenty of other areas. It's a very simple argument, it's almost always wrong and it actually works against your point – no one is ever going to agree with you if you keep calling them a sexist because "Israeli occupation hurts Palestinian women as well as men". Especially when you have a month-long summit on the global status of women and this is the only condemnation you could come up with – as if everything is fine and dandy everywhere else in the world (it isn't). Yeah UN Commission on the Status of Women, I'm looking at you.

Big M little m

The problem is that they are arguing about different things. To gay marriage proponents, "marriage" is a right. To Tony Abbot, "marriage" means

the marriage described by Lord Penzance in Hyde v Hyde & Woodmansee (1866) LR 1 P & D 130, at 133:

The position or status of 'husband' and 'wife' is a recognised one throughout Christendom: the laws of all Christian nations throw about that status a variety of legal incidents during the lives of the parties, and induce definite rights upon their offspring. … I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

When he said "Christendom", he meant "Christendom". He actually distinguished between "Christendom" and Turkey, where the Sultan had a whole harem of wives and "marriage" was between one man and one or more women.

Notice, though, there are two different components to "marriage" that the good Lord was talking about. Let's call them "marriage 1" and "marriage 2":

  • The first component is the "status" of husband and wife. As he said, this status gives the married couple certain legal rights and also may give rights to their children. What rights are these? Well Lord Penzance couldn't pin that down, mostly because it varies from place to place. For a whole variety of reasons, marriage law is slightly different everywhere, although everywhere has some kind of marriage law.
  • The second component is this controversial sentence that half of Australia wants to remove from the Marriage Act and the other half is fighting tooth-and-nail to keep: "the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others".

Protect what institution again?

This is why there is conflict. When Henry VIII broke from the Vatican and founded his own church, it was because he disagreed with the Catholic idea that you could not be divorced without approval of the Pope – and preferred the more progressive Anglican idea that you could not be divorced without permission from the King. He created the Anglican Church, appointed himself as its head, and declared that as the embodiment of the Church and the Sovereign, he could marry whomever he damn well chose.

So began the Anglican institution of Marriage that is now being strongly championed by Australia's Catholic community – an involuntary union, forever, of one common church and one common law, to the exclusion of all others.

I believe that State marriage is destroying marriage. Enforcing marriage 2 in a legal system is done today in some Muslim countries and the results are horrible and inhumane. This is where adultery is criminalised  and punished – in some cases with death by stoning – or where boys and girls are married-off by their families for money or social status and then never permitted to separate. Thankfully, "Christendom" has become "the West" and we no longer have a taste for this kind of thing. What that means, however, is that marriage has been watered-down over centuries.

What does marriage mean today? To some, it means permanent residency in Australia; to others, it means a tax break; to others, it means a baby bonus; to others, it means inheritance. It also does not carry much weight – the idea of a union "for life" is disappearing throughout society. Marriage is becoming a temporary arrangement, whereby a man and a woman can join in a union for a few years, one gets an Aussie passport, the other gets some nice inheritance, and both get tax breaks. Meanwhile, neither of them "excludes all others" and they eventually get divorced, meaning that the whole "for life" thing didn't happen either.

What I have just described is the legal institution of "marriage", as it exists in Australia in 2012. However it may be defined in the Marriage Act, this is clearly not "the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others". So here is my question: why would any Catholic like Tony Abbot even want to keep that? Let alone exclude two men or two women from being a part of it. And how is excluding gay couples from that institution "saving marriage"? Do you really think that allowing two people of the same gender to "marry" is the silver bullet that will tear down the institution?

Honey, we need a divorce

This is why the whole debate is so wrong. The people who want to "legalise gay marriage" do not want to change marriage 2, but they want gay people to participate in marriage 1. The people who oppose "gay marriage" want to preserve marriage 2 and so they refuse to change marriage 1.

To put it another way: marriage 2 does not discriminate – any person, regardless of sexual preference, is able to become part of a "voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others". Marriage 1 does discriminate – it gives legal rights to heterosexual couples and denies homosexual couples those same rights.

So what do I want? I want a divorce – of church and state. I want to sever the centuries-old union between legal marriage and Christian marriage and allow each to go back to where they should be: one in court, the other in church.

I want to abolish the Marriage Act and replace it with something called the Civil Unions Act or similar. An Act that would allow two consenting adults to be joined in whatever over-politicised legal mess they want, but would leave marriage out of it.

Marriage can go back to being "a union between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others" in substance and not just in name. Different religious denominations could marry whoever they want however they want and could choose whether to recognise each other's marriages according to their beliefs. The State would no longer need to be the arbiter of who can and cannot call themselves "husband" and "wife".

My bet? Marriage would mean something again, because it would be something that people do when they believe in it. It also would also mean that marriage advocates could concentrate on things that would actually save marriage – like more accessible couples therapy and childcare.

Gay marriage is not the issue, there are plenty of provisions in the Marriage Act that have already eroded marriage beyond recognition. We need to stop talking past each other on gay marriage and realise the real enemy here – the Marriage Act. If you want to save marriage, stop making it a political issue and let it be about morals again.


Major Karnage is a Sydney-based young professional. 

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In defence of skepticism on climate change

Major Karnage explains that skepticism is the only way to believe the science and not the spin

Reviewing the "Heartland affair", Robert Murphy notes how one climate scientist did not think that the actual evidence against Heartland was enough and decided to forge a more "damning" document; and how gleefully the rest of the climate change movement began adopting this clearly forged document with no skepticism whatsoever: Diminished Climate Alarmism: Lessons from L’Affair Heartland — MasterResource

Now to be sure, climate science isn’t the same thing as politics and the blogosphere. Just because these climate alarmists showed ridiculously bad judgment when it came to the Heartland affair, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wrong about the trajectory of global temperatures in the absence of mitigation strategies. However, I do think this episode—and the reaction of the skeptic community during Climategate—are quite illustrative of the two camps’ approaches to the actual science. Back when the Climategate emails were first spreading around the Internet, I distinctly remember many people in the comments at blogs such as ClimateAudit warning their peers by saying things like, “Guys, remember, we’re skeptics. This is too good to be true. Let’s not jump up and down on this, because it might be a trap to make us look gullible.” In contrast, the major players on the other side—when Heartland was “caught” saying things that were far more absurd than what the Climategate emails revealed—jumped with glee. For example…

Walter Russell Mead posits his analysis of the incentives leading to distortions in the climate debate: How Green Gullibility, Hyperpartisanship Are Wrecking The Climate Movement | Via Meadia.

  • The climate movement’s proposals (above all, the global carbon treaty that in theory will subject the economic output of  every country on earth to global controls) are radical, costly and virtually certain to fail.
  • To be enacted, these unpromising measures require an unprecedented degree of consensus, as every major country on earth would have to accept, ratify and then enforce the climate treaty the movement seeks.
  • The climate movement must therefore be, in Dean Acheson’s words, “clearer than truth” in order to stampede public and elite opinion around the world into a unique and unparalleled act of global legislation.
  • Because many in the climate movement believe that this treaty is literally a matter of life and death for the human race, the moral case both for stretching the evidence and attacking critics of that agenda as aggressively as possible looks strong to weak minds.
  • The absence of any central authority or quality control in the climate movement (and the tendency of unbalanced foundation execs and direct mail contributors to provide greater support to those ready to take more aggressive action and espouse more alarming ideas) gives more radical and less responsible voices undue prominence and entangles the whole movement in dubious claims.
  • The increasing obstacles encountered by such a poorly conceptualized and poorly advocated agenda cause the embittered and alarmed advocates to circle the wagons and become both more extreme in their rhetoric and less guarded in their claims when precisely the opposite approach would work better.

I must say that I have a lot of sympathy for this position, although I do not think the phenomenon is limited to the "the world is ending" side of the debate; the other side is just as irrational and just as selective in its facts/deliberately deceptive for policy reasons. What we essentially have is a political debate posing as a scientific one. The best example of this is the fact that the most commonly cited reason to believe in the climate change alarm is the supposed "scientific consensus" shown through petitions like this one – the idea being that if 31,487 scientists agree with something, it can't possibly be wrong. The very idea makes a mockery of

the scientific process. Since when was science measured by opinion polls?!? By politicising the issue so radically, scientists are forced to take sides, and measuring the number that each side has is hardly productive towards settling the debate. Just look at this paragraph from NASA's website: Climate Change: Causes | NASA

In its recently released Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there's a more than 90 percent probability that human activities over the past 250 years have warmed our planet.

The "Intergovernmental" is revealing of quite how politicised the debate has been from the very beginning — the "science" of climate change is not being determined independently, but by people with clear vested interests in a certain outcome. This leads to situations like that 90% figure, which I will translate for the non-mathematicians amongst you:

The 90% is the significance level of the model that they have created to show changes in the climate over the past 250 years. A mathematical model is similar to other models, in that it is a smaller, simplified version of a complex original. What they have done is taken all known measurements of temperature in the world and averaged them out per year to try and find the "global average temperature over time"; then they have incorporated all of the factors that they know to affect the environment in order to find an equation that "models" the effects these things have; then they test how well the model fits the actual recorded temperatures. The "significance level" shows the probability that any one point on the model will reflect the actual observed temperature.

To say that there is a 90% probability that human activities have warmed the planet is misleading. In actual fact, the model that the IPCC generated including estimated human greenhouse gas emissions has a 90% chance of fitting the observed results — which is a far less persuasive statement; especially since, as anyone who has formally studied statistics would know, general practise is to work to a 95% significance level.

This is not at all to say that CO2 emissions are not playing a role in warming our climate or that the climate is not warming: both of these points are, more or less, beyond dispute. What I am saying is that — contrary to what a certain Australian Government keeps telling us — the science is not "settled". There is a lot we have left to learn and a lot that is uncertain.

Of course, to deny the proven science is not productive either. In fact, I would recommend a healthy dose of skepticism whenever you read anything related to climate change, pro or anti. Nothing outside of the internal debates in the scientific community hold much water these days.

And no Ms Gillard, the science is not "in". Science does not come "in", we're not talking poll results. That's not how science works.

Major Karnage is a Sydney-based young professional. This was originally posted on his personal blog

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Labor MP’s doublethink on Fair Work Act

Major Karnage examines the effect of the "Fair Work Australia" Act: 

The term “Orwellian” seems to be attached to anything vaguely misleading these days, but I genuinely believe that it can be applied to Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite’s defence of the Fair Work Act (FWA) – Labor’s industrial relations legislation that was introduced to replace the Howard government’s Work Choices policy and came into full effect in mid-2010.

When extolling the virtues of the FWA, Thistlethwaite uses what I can only call “doublethink“, Orwell’s idea of telling “deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them”. Just look at the “facts” that he was using:

A simple measure of unsuccessful bargaining in workplaces is the number of days lost due to industrial disputes. Since 1991 the number of days lost to industrial disputes has been falling. In 1991 the average days lost during the year was 239.4 days per 1000 employees.

To compare, last year the figure was 15.9 days lost per 1000 employees. This is a significant drop. There has been an average reduction in days lost to industrial disputes almost every year for the past two decades.

For a few reasons I am no fan of the FWA, but I am also able to change my mind in the face of solid evidence. I was curious about what he was saying and decided to investigate a little further. I did not need to go very far; Thistlethwaite’s own figures came from the ABS Industrial Disputes, Australia report on industrial disputes up to September 2011. Looking at the report, there was a dramatic spike in disputes that began in the quarter ending September 2010 – exactly when the FWA came into full effect.

Also note: the major industries where most working days were lost were construction, mining and education/healthcare and NOT in transport – nothing to do with Qantas.

Another point I noticed: remember how he was lauding the fact that the number of days lost per 1000 employees had dropped from 239.4 to 15.9 since 1991? Well a couple of paragraphs later:

… The Howard Government had more than 105 days lost to industrial action per 1000 employees in 1999-2000. This figure represents the first four years of the Howard Government’s initial industrial regime, a policy that turned the screws on working people.

There seems to be more to it than he is telling, but the ABS did not have a graph showing the trend in the data going back decades. Luckily, I could do this myself:

The red line is a moving average over the previous four quarters.

Strange, to me that looks like the 1999-2000 period happens to have been an anomalous spike in what was otherwise a consistent decline in industrial disputes during Howard’s term. Meanwhile, he conveniently did not mention the 1985-1991 period under the Hawke Labor government where industrial disputes were actuallyincreasing (albeit not significantly).

After Keating took over, there was a drop, but then disputes started rising again until Howard started “turning the screws on working people” in 1996, when they began to drop again and did so more or less consistently, aside from the spikes in 1999-2000 and 2003-2004. Note in particular that the number of hours lost dropped under Work Choices (2005-07) and then have been slowly rising since Labor took over in 2007 andhave risen sharply since the FWA came into full effect.

I was a little disturbed by this, but I did give Thistlethwaite the benefit of the doubt at first. After all, no one looking at this data with any remote mathematical competence would arrive at the conclusions that he did without very carefully and deliberately choosing only the parts that prove their argument and ignoring everything else.

Well, lo and behold, recently there was another Thistlethwaite piece in The Punch on the FWA:

The recently negotiated Holden Enterprise Agreement shows that the Fair Work Act equips employers and employees with the tools to produce high quality, mutually satisfactory agreements.

The link that he points to says this:

Today’s stories about Holden signing a new EBA are premature.

The EBAs covering engineering and manufacturing employees have not been signed and the coverage today is misleading and takes a very one-sided view of negotiations.

Now I kind of feel like he’s doing this on purpose. This must be an Easter Egg. There is no possible way that someone would actually try to argue that their industrial relations scheme is working because of a protracted negotiation over salaries by a company that’s about to get a $300mln bailout and then back that up by linking to a press statement from that company saying that no agreement has actually been reached. I mean, that just seems silly.

Since 1991, wages have increased from $929 to $1287 per week in real terms. That means even once cost of living increases over the past two decades are taken into account, Australians are now $358 better off per week. Over this 20-year period, combined real wage growth was 33 per cent, an average increase real in wages of 1.7 per cent per year.

Since the introduction of the Fair Work Act, real wages have increased by 2.8 per cent, an average of 1.4 per cent per year. This is consistent with real wage growth trends seen over the last 20 years and shows that real claims about wages breakouts are grossly exaggerated.

Hold on a second, did he just  argue that the FWA has maintained real wage growth using figures showing that, under the FWA, growth has been 18% lower than average? I had to make sure, because it definitely looks like he did that.

It does make sense that the FWA would lower wage growth and cause more industrial disputes, seeing as it effectively takes Australian IR policy back to the pre-Keating era, when this was the norm:

The labour market regression started with the FWA’s repudiation of Keating’s concept of enterprise bargaining. But it went a lot further; it abolished individual contracts and non-union collective agreements, made bargaining more difficult, bolstered the centralised system, returned to and reinforced the concept of arbitration, put agreement-making back into the tribunal thereby undercutting the involvement of employers and employees, brought the unions back into virtually every agreement, expanded the right to strike and reinvigorated the awards system. It widened union access to business through right of entry provisions; it broadened unfair dismissal provisions, changed anti-discrimination rights and gave the tribunal more jurisdiction.

… Under the FWA, all agreements are, in practice, union agreements because if, in any business, regardless of its size, there is even only one union member then the union with coverage becomes the default bargaining representative. The employer is not allowed to know the identity of that member. And the union member is not consulted.

That last point is particularly sore for me. Less than 20% of Australian workers are members of Unions. Note that I capitalise the “U” – this is because the Union movement in Australia today is not the trade union movement of the past. These are no longer grassroots organisations formed by uniting workers to demand better conditions; they are now large, opaque and corrupt institutions, which, as their membership numbers show, are becoming increasingly irrelevant with every passing year.

It is an absolute disgrace that there would be legislation forcing Unions into negotiations between employers and employees who are not Union members. Who is the Government to tell Australian workers who should be representing them? Especially when they have made a clear choice that they do not want to be a part of the Union!

But then I guess this is apparently a Government who can only defend the policy with proof that it isn’t working. That, right there, is straight out of Orwell.

UPDATE: Since time of writing, December Quarter figures have been released, further confirming the thesis of this article. 

Major Karnage is a Sydney-based young professional. This was originally posted on his personal blog