Daily Archives: Wednesday 13 February 2008

National doesn’t want women

In quite a different context, I have blogged before about how National and its supporters need to stop blowing women off. This could start to be quite important. According to the latest Roy Morgan poll, support for National is starting to slip, and support for Labour is climbing again. Of course, National is still well ahead, but it is short of the 50% mark, and it’s not all that clear that it is going to have any friends to play with in the big house.

Going on vague memories (if anyone can help me out here, I’d be grateful), the group of people that National has yet to win over is women with children. Of course, many women with children support National, but as a group, they are less likely to support National than other groups. It seems that this is the one group where Don Brash and National did not enjoy good support back in 2005, and not to put too fine a point on it, and not withstanding the Exclusive Brethren fiasco, and with all reasonable caveats, National needs to get women voters.

They’re going the wrong way about it. Today, Katherine Rich has announced that she is leaving Parliament at the next election. And that makes it all the less likely that I will be ticking the National box come polling day (or in my case, come the day when I need to sort out my special vote and get it back to the old country).

I wouldn’t vote for National just because they had Katherine Rich on their list. It takes more than one person to make a party worth voting for. She is however, very very good at her job. In my former job, I saw her in operation at select committees. Informed, insightful, committed, far more so than some committee members who were clearly there only to fill the seats, and took no part in the proceedings at all. From both major parties, by the way. She also had courage and integrity, standing up to the entire National caucus over the section 59 bill.

And why is she going? For the reasons that confront all parents, and especially mothers, sooner or later. She has young children, and they need her.

I do not doubt about my ability to fill such a role. It’s just that with two young children I have other responsibilities that I have to balance alongside my work.

That speaks to me, about the sheer difficulty of balancing family work, something I have grappled with too, and failed miserably at coming up with a viable solution. If I pour my energy into a demanding job, my beloved children lose out. If I stay at home with my beloved children, I go quietly mad. (Actually, my husband says it isn’t so quiet.)

What this tells me is that the homogeneous National party caucus simply doesn’t understand what it is like, trying to balance the demands of jobs and children. Infamously, as reported in The Hollow Men, Bill English said:

The star strategy is crap … and the Leader’s office ought to drop it. Katherine’s difficulties are a product of the same process. She has two young children and a tough job and she has been oversold instead of supported. Now you are getting the backlash. … I hope by now you can see the tragedy of losing Roger [Sowry] and Lynda [Scott]. They were trashed by people who are now showing they cannot fill the gap. Their resignations were both avoidable, and I hope Katherine does not head in the same direction.

The Hollow Men, by Nicky Hager, pp. 146 – 147.

She has headed in the same direction.

And there’s the rub. As a former working mother, as a mother who would like to work again, I just can not see that the National caucus understands my difficulties. There is no one there who can tell them what it’s like, no one who can tell them just why access to good quality, affordable childcare is important, no one who can point out that being able to work flexible hours, and to get employers to acknowledge that sometimes, mothers simply have to drop everything and run, run as fast as they can, to succor an injured or ill or simply upset child, is a real and pressing need, not just a luxury. Not only do they not have anyone left who can tell them about that, from the inside, but by their actions, by their failure to support a talented, high-performing mother within their midst, they tell me that they just don’t care.

National needs to wake up, and put some hard work into thinking about why they scare the hell out of women. Or come election time, they will find that they still can’t get the votes up.

A picture of diversity the National caucus:

National caucus

Stef has a nice take on Katherine Rich’s resignation too.

A day to remember

Many years ago, when I was four or five, my parents got my brothers and me up to watch one of the lunar missions returning to earth, on what was then our very new and exciting black and white TV. I can recall shots of the sea, and not much more. I think they were live shots, but my memory could be playing me false here – it could be that film was flown out to New Zealand and then shown on TV. But in that case, I can’t think why Mum and Dad would have gotten us up specially to watch it. What I do remember is the occasion, and why it was important.

Fast forward a few decades, to a different country, and a much larger colour TV (flat screen, digital, bells and whistles, and not something we had intended to get just yet, but our old TV suffered from mechanical derangement in the move over the Tasman).

Today, my husband and I got our children to watch the apology to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation being read in Federal Parliament by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. We want our girls to remember this day, or even if they don’t remember the day itself, to remember that we got them to watch and witness when the Prime Minister, in the Federal Parliament, said “Sorry.”

Saying sorry is important. The words really do matter. Here’s why.

I wrote, months ago, about the republican account of freedom as non-domination. A free person is someone who can stand tall, who can look others in the eye, who need not constrain her actions for fear of other people’s reactions. She is a person is with standing, one who can treat with the powerful, can act without fear of unjust retribution, can take her place in the community. She is free from domination.

Freedom as non-domination is a highly social sense of freedom – a free person is one who enjoys standing within social settings. And it is an institutional sense of freedom. The republican account of freedom looks at the relationships between people, and the institutional structures that guarantee freedom. So a person is not accounted free just because of a happy coincidence; she is only free if the world is organised in such a way that she is necessarily free.

This account of freedom can be used to explain what goes on when one person commits a crime against another. Very roughly, the person who commits the crime dominates the other, remove her freedom, and constrains her actions. The offender does not see the victim as a citizen, someone who enjoys freedom as non-domination.

I know, my account here is, well, thin, when it comes to crimes like rape and murder, and it could do with a lot more explanation. If you want to follow up on this, then the book to look for is Not Just Deserts: A Republican Theory of Criminal Justice, by John Braithwaite and Philip Pettit, (OUP: 1990). But the account does work quite nicely when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous Australians. For an incredibly long time, their citizenship was formally and literally denied, and even when that was changed, the treatment of Indigenous Australians by other Australians denied that Indigenous Australians had any rights, even, at its extremes, denied that they might have any status as human beings, and certainly denied them the same sort of status as other Australian citizens. They were totally dominated, treated as being of little account, treated as being some sort of irritation on the Australian polity.

So how to start restoring the status of Aboriginal people, as full citizens, as people who can stand tall and look the other in the eye, secure and respected in their freedom?

Braithwaite and Pettit argue that where a crime has been detected, and the offender convicted, then there should be recognition, recompense and reassurance. The offender must recognise that she has offended against the victim, compromising his standing as a citizen who enjoys freedom as non-domination. She must take steps to make good the victim’s losses, through compensation or whatever other steps are thought necessary. And she must reassure the victim that the actions or circumstances which created the crime will not re-occur.

I think Australia has done a lot of hard work with recognising that a great wrong occurred. To be sure, at least some people thought they were doing the right thing when Aboriginal children were taken from their families, in what we now know as the Stolen Generation, but whatever the intent of those who devised the polices and implemented them, the fact was that a great wrong occurred. (Rather than getting into “did it / didn’t it” occur discussions here, there’s a great post and links and comments thread – Debunking Windschuttle on Larvatus Prodeo for anyone who wants to argue that there never was a stolen generation.)

Some work on recompense is starting to happen, with claims against state and territory governments. More on that in a moment. It’s the third “R” I want to concentrate on, reassurance.

The victim needs to know that she will not be vulnerable to the crime again. She needs to know, not just the the offence is recognised, and the compensation has been paid, but that it will never reoccur. That’s why the apology is so important. After all, if it was only about recognition and recompense, then in a perverse market solution, it could become okay to commit crimes, provided you paid the price afterwards. Payment rendered for goods taken. And of course, transactions can always be repeated.

That’s why standing up and saying sorry matters so very much. The apology ties the recognition and recompense together, and binds them into a reassurance that the crime will not happen again.

Of course, paying compensation reinforces the strength of the apology. It turns the words from being mere words, into a genuine and sincere acknowledgement of past wrongs, and a clear signal that all efforts will be made to ensure that such a crime will not occur again, that the victims of the crime are no longer vulnerable to domination, that they are free citizens standing tall and proud.

That means that the next steps that the Rudd government takes are very important. From the outside at least, the recent John Howard inspired incursion into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory looks suspiciously like another version of the Stolen Generation. In addition, so far, Rudd has not talked about recompense. However, for today, that should not detract from the enormous step that has been taken with the apology. And the apology contained this important sentence:

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

It’s a first step.

Alas, this morning we had time only to watch the apology itself, and a little of Mr Rudd’s speech, before we had to take the girls to school. We don’t know how long we will be living in Australia – it could be a few years, or it could be forever. There’s a good chance that our girls will become Australians in substance, not just form (they all have Australian citizenship, by birth or by descent, in addition to NZ citizenship). As Australians, I think that it is important for them to know that they witnessed the moment when the leader of the nation had the courage and the integrity to say, “Sorry.”

Update over the break.
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It only took until the 21st century

Sometimes, instead of the same old policies with different faces, elections make real changes. Like at last putting in place a leader who recognises that Aboriginal people exist, that they existed in Australia long before other people existed in Australia, and that the other people who came to Australia treated its first human inhabitants shamefully.

I plan to write something sensible about why saying sorry, as well as doing sorry, is so important on the day that the apology is formally given (Wednesday 13 February). But in the meantime, another change – for the VERY FIRST TIME, a traditional welcome to country by Indigenous elders has been held in the Australian federal Parliament.