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Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
You can prove my 2 ex-comrades wrong by donating to my blog En Passant at BSB: 062914 Account: 1067 5257, the Commonwealth Bank in Tuggeranong, ACT. More... (12)

My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/18-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-g20-meeting-age-of-enttilement-engineers-attack-of-austerity-hardship-on-civilians.mp3 (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2014/02/11/john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-2/ (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/4-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-end-of-the-age-of-entitlement-for-the-needy-but-pandering-to-the-lusts-of-the-greedy.mp3 (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole
(0)

Sick kids and paying upfront

(0)

Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2013/12/03/john-passant-australian-national-university-8/ (0)

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Let’s call Manus Island and Nauru detention centres what they really are – concentration camps

I listened to the discussion on Wednesday from the Press Gallery of the 3 major media outlets in Australia all lamenting the decline of press freedom in Australia. They are right to be worried. There is clearly, to me at least, a decline in our freedoms. This decline has been consistent with the rise of neoliberalism in Australia as the dominant economic story to justify the transfer of wealth from the working class to the capitalist class.  

Yet speaking truth to power does not really seem to be at the heart of the News Corps media, Channel 9 newspapers, (formerly Fairfax media,) or the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Of course there are differences about the way forward for Australian capitalism, but the joint neoliberal project of the main parties and the mainstream media means they are all united in supporting the system of working class exploitation that is capitalism. To quote a Socialist Worker US article from 2011:

‘Exploitation is the forced appropriation of the unpaid labor of workers… Marx argued that the ultimate source of profit, the driving force behind capitalist production, is the unpaid labor of workers. So for Marx, exploitation forms the foundation of the capitalist system.’

Where the major parties differ is over the details of that exploitation – the rate of exploitation, for example over penalty rates, government spending, tax cuts etc etc. The exploitation however continues.

Of course there are exposés of rotten government action. This is done mainly by the press, including of late the less mainstream press. And whistle-blowers! It is no accident that journalists and whistle-blowers are being raided and/or prosecuted for the ‘crime’ of revealing possible government crimes.  

Yet these exposés and whistle-blowing do little to question the exploitation of workers that is the heart of capitalism and from which the bosses’ profit arises. When for example was the last time you read an article in the mainstream media explaining our current economic situation in Marxist terms, or their equivalent made comprehensible? Of course outside a  few academic, student and union circles, you will find few Marxists, and even fewer who understood Marx’s essential message that the liberation of the working class must be the act of the working class.

Let’s focus on speaking truth to power, something you might think should be the role of the media.  In particular let’s talk about Australia’s detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

A debate has broken out in the US about the nature of Donald Trump’s detention centres. Some politicians there and one Jewish group at least are calling them what they really are – they are  concentration camps.

This is not to demean the Holocaust but to recognise that the hundreds of concentration camps the Nazis set up preceded the five extermination camps, laid the ground work for them and somehow, with a range of other state actions, readied many German people for the murder of six million Jews.   Not only that, but as David M Perry in Pacific Standard points out, there is a history of concentration camps before the Nazis used them.  He says:

‘Historian Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of
Concentration Camps
defines concentration camps as facilities used for
the “detention of civilians without trial based on group identity.”
She traces the emergence of such camps to those erected by imperial Spain
during the Cuban rebellion of 1896, by the U.S. not long after in the
Philippines, and by the British in South Africa during the Boer War and
beyond. These were not death camps per se, but vast numbers of people died in
each by design, as governments tried to crush, expel, and isolate specific
populations. … The same thing seems to be happening along the American Southern
border.’ 

To that we might add that the same thing seems to be happening in the Australian run camps on Manus Island and Nauru.

Yet a quick google search highlights how few articles there are in the Australian media calling them concentration camps. One exception is retired judge Stephen Charles QC who in a 2016 Fairfax article called Australia’s detention centres concentration camps.  His commentary in the mainstream media stands almost alone.

Never again means never again.  Let’s tell the truth. Manus Island and Nauru detention centres are concentration camps.  Over to you, media, the ALP and the Greens.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. To republish this article contact John to work out the terms. Roughly they will be pay me if you are mainstream media or an ‘independent’ media outlet whose aims are revenue. Publish it for free if you are not. But check first.

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The Israel Folau case: the weaponising of hate speech

In writing about the Folau saga recently, I showed compassion to those rank and file Christians who felt under threat.  As time goes on however it is becoming clearer (to me anyway) that some of those ordinary Christians have fallen or are falling for a campaign of hate disguised as religious freedom.

As I pointed out then, what is now under threat is not religious freedom but religious dominance. Various Christian leaders are using Folau’s breach of his employment contract as a weapon to attempt to protect their own privileged position and that of their various churches in Australian capitalism.

Before gofundme shut down his money raising legal defence venture, Folau had raised about $565,000 in just a few days. It shows the grip Christian fundamentalism has on sections of Australian society.  The Australian Christian League has now opened a new fundraising account for him and it raised over $1 million in less than one day.  I am sure he will raise his aimed for $3 m easily.

That tells me there is widespread concern among some Christians about religious freedom. It also tells me some of those donating are doing so driven by a fabricated fear campaign run by master manipulators. Some at least of those donating seem to be dutifully following the powerful Church figures and politicians pushing the fake news that this is an ‘attack on religious freedom.’

Some of the people behind this campaign are shrewd political operators. Their aim is to build a reactionary Christian movement through building a unity, incorrectly, around religious freedom.  It has been done before as the Bible Belt in the US shows us. More prosaically it may be their aim is to unite conservative forces behind an identifiable self-described symbol of persecution. Playing the victim wins sympathy and hides the reality of the oppression and the cry against oppression that is religion.

The problem is that freedom to spout religious ideas does not or should not include freedom to promulgate hate speech.  In my opinion what Folau, a well-known rugby union player, said about gay people was hate speech.  He wrote:

WARNING Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters HELL AWAITS YOU Repent! Only Jesus Saves.

Despite Folau’s claim this is a quote from the Bible, the actual passage from Corinthians 6:9-10 makes no mention of hell.

This fire and brimstone attack on gays and lesbians and others was a warning that they were ‘sinners’ and hell awaited them.  For many gays and lesbians hell is here already and Folau’s words have only made their living hell worse.

How many gay and lesbian kids must die before the hate speech stops?

And the real battle for religious freedom must involve a battle not to be religious and not to be subject to hate speech disguised as religious commentary and broadcast to the millions of non-believers. Christianity will only be free when it is free of its hate mongers and charlatans. Love your neighbour as yourself can then become a reality.

This is a battle between secular forces (including some religious people who believe in the separation of state and church and who view Folau’s speech as hate speech) and a gang of politicised right wing Christian fundamentalists wanting to unite and grow their forces.

The marriage equality plebiscite saw 61% of Australians vote for love. Thirty nine percent voted against. While the result was a shock to the forces of fundamentalism and conservatism, they are regrouping around an issue they are clearly telling porkies about to try and turn their minority into a majority. On top of that at the last election there was a big swing in sections of Australia to the politicians of hate dressed in Christian garb.

We must resist this fundamentalism and fight for a world in which gay and lesbian and other kids and adults are not threatened by Christian fundamentalists.  

Let’s build the resistance now to fundamentalism. We beat them in the fight for marriage equality. We can beat them in our campaign against their hate speech.

Go Fund Me: Israel Folau raises much more money than me

Do not donate: Update:

I have just sent this or something similar on 2 July to those supporters who donated money to me to keep my left wing writing going. If you did and have not seen my message below, PM me.

‘Dear XYZ, a week after I posted this [call for donations through gofundme], my health took a bit of an unexpected and sudden down turn. I begin five working days of radiation on Wednesday 3 July until Tuesday 9 July. It means I cannot post as regularly as I would like. This means I think I should refund your contribution because at least in the short term I cannot keep my end of the bargain. John’

_________________

Until Go Fund Me suspended his campaign, Israel Folau had raised about $765,000 in 4 days to support his legal action against Rugby Australia.

RA sacked him from his $4 m employment contract because he breached a term of it. He was to be inclusive, and his post about sinners (like drunks, adulterers, and homosexuals) going to hell if they did no repent was clearly not.

I had been thinking of setting up a similar page to support me and my left wing journalism. Once I saw Folau had done so, I decided to go ahead with my own attempt to raise some money for what seems to me, in this age of manufactured capitalist consent, to be an OK cause. This is what I say on my campaign site:

‘I am a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. I am a socialist opinion writer, critical of the Morrison government and its neoliberal cousin, the Australian Labor Party. 

‘The funds received will help me continue my work in the Press Gallery and my articles on my blog, En Passant with John Passant (https://enpassant.com.au/). The mainstream media have to date not published my contributions. Some of the non-mainstream left-wing media is censorious, and supports patriarchal ‘heroes’ so I do not contribute to them.

‘I do not want my words to remain isolated on my own blog, read by only a few. A contribution from you will not only keep me going, but help spread my words through you (I believe.) 

‘One caveat to this is I am undergoing tablet treatment for lung cancer and a recent MRI shows I may need surgery and/or radiation on some new growths on my spine. This may impact on my capacity to deliver my aim of 3 or 4 reports  a week. I am fine at the moment, waiting for a radiation specialist to talk to me about the MRI results. 

‘Help keep alive an independent voice of the left.’

In two days I have raised $310. In five days, before his fund raising was stopped, Folau raised about $765,000.

That $765,000 tells you a lot about the hold sport AND fundamentalist religion have over Australian society. Folau has a name and a following because of his undoubted skills as a rugby player. I do not (despite my undoubted skills as an opinion writer?)

One reason for this is the decades’ long swing to the right by the Labor Party and the denial and suppression of socialist ideas that the Party’s neoliberal program entails. We need to understand that mainstream media is part of the debate between the two major parties of capitalism – the ALP and the Liberals. Another is the popular uprisings that overthrew the Stalinist state capitalist regimes then falsely parading as ‘socialism.’

My freelance articles are rejected in part because of the ideas and opinions they contain. A free press is really only about freedom within the confines of capitalism and ideas acceptable to it.

It may also be that I write rubbish. I would hope my writing skills after decades as an academic and senior public servant are at least as adequate as some of those who parade as opinion writers in both versions of the mainstream media – Nine Media and not quite Nine Media (aka News Corp.)

Let’s not make Gerard Henderson my journalistic bar. I have higher aspirations than that – the liberation of the working class, by the working class. And articles that will make some readers think about the nature of our society and the way forward.

The hold sport has over working class people is like religion – it is our escape from the reality of exploitation.

If you want to donate to my gofundme campaign and help keep my left wing journalism alive, click here for the link.

Update on 1 July: I have to have radiation treatment for a tumor on my spine. That will be every working day from 3 July to 9 July for about 30 minutes a time. My back pain at the moment means an increase in pain killer strength, which is slowing me down. So I will not in the short term be able to write many articles here. I will contact those who donated to see about refunding their donations.

Adani: an injury to one planet is an injury to all workers

Adani tells you everything you need to know about politics in Australia.

The decisions by the Queensland and Federal Governments to give Adani various approvals to effectively mine a massive amount of coal is irrational.  It makes no sense economically. It makes no sense environmentally.

But to those involved it makes perfect political sense. Jobs, jobs and more jobs are their mantra.  It is a lie to win working class support. Given the big swings against Labor in the region and to the conservatives and reactionaries, it is working.

Despite initial talk of 10,000 jobs, on oath Adani admitted that in the construction stage there would be 1440 or so jobs. And once construction is finished? It is not clear what the number of ongoing jobs Adani will create is.

Recently, Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie suggested 100. So destroying land on the Carmichael mine is going to create only 100 jobs at the site. How many tourist jobs will it destroy? As many, if not more, is my guess.  Others have suggested the figure is about 800, although I suspect the figures from McKenzie are likely to be close to the truth.  Briefings, followed by unguarded moments and all that, eh?

Adani was never about jobs. Mining is one of the most mechanised industries in the world. In Australia for example mining contributes about 8.5% to GDP, but employs only 2% of the workforce (or around 220,000 jobs), As the industry automates even further, that employment figure will fall even lower.

Adani is a good example. The estimated investment cost is $16 bn. All that for 100 ongoing jobs, or to be optimistic 800 ongoing jobs.  Plus the destruction of the Galilee Basin, and associated land and waterways.  How much is the Great Barrier Reef worth anyway? See it before it dies.

Surely that $16 bn would be better invested in sun, wind and other renewable energy plus batteries? Not if you are, like the Coalition Government, (now joined by the Queensland Labor government) married to coal.  The decision to support Adani was political. This is a government of climate change deniers and climate change sceptics. Its first rule is to support big capital.

The ALP knew before the election it risked losing workers’ votes in Queensland by not being openly for the mine. It also knew it could lose votes in suburban seats if it openly supported Adani. Hence its equivocation, its nudge nudge, yes, after legal requirements are met, to the mine.

The other side of this means the Government had to lie to workers about the things that we hold dear – jobs, and living costs. And lie they did. Vague suggestions of thousands of jobs, plus a ‘commitment’ to lower power prices should be seen for what they are – bullshit of the highest order. All designed to swing workers behind the lie that is Adani.

It worked. Some workers, especially in the mining regions, fell for the lies. Our response should not be to abuse them but to develop policies that do address their and our jobs and living cost concerns.  Renewable energy offers that.

We can, and we must, make the arguments that our future has to be totally renewable. Such a shift will take a lot of money – about $370 bn over ten years under the BZE plan  for example – but it will help save our planet.

That altruism won’t win votes. But a comparison of jobs in reliable energy construction and then operation would suggest a much larger number of jobs in the renewable energy sector than the mining sector.  Much more. And prices will fall as a result. If they do not then impose price controls on the energy suppliers.

These are arguments that must be made.  The ALP will not make them. It is part of the coal bubble.  The Government will not make them. It will be up to us and our unions to make the obvious point – an injury to our one earth is an injury to all workers. The destruction of our planet is the destruction of the working class.

Eyewitness from Hong Kong as protests force a retreat on extradition bill

Hong Kong socialist Lam Chi Leung in Socialist Worker UK says the current protests sweeping the country show the politicisation of ordinary people


Mass protests in Hong Kong have forced the government to retreat
Mass protests in Hong Kong have forced the government to retreat (Pic: PA)

The government in Hong Kong has suspended a planned bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The climbdown follows huge demonstrations.

On the morning of 12 June, forty thousand Hong Kong citizens occupied the streets near Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and the government headquarters.

Most protesters were aged between 18 and 24.

Previously, on Sunday 9 June, an astonishing 1.03 million citizens joined the “No China extraction” mass demonstration. That was the biggest demonstration since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. On average, one in seven Hong Kong people joined the demonstration!

The official mainland China media said that demonstrations were surreptitiously engineered by Western powers. That is absolute nonsense.

The 12 June protest forced the delay of the Second Reading of the draft amendment to the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill – the extradition bill.

Currently Hong Kong is allowed to sign long-term fugitive extradition arrangement with all regions in the world except China. Hong Kong’s government wants to amend this bill so that the mainland authorities can extract suspects from Hong Kong.

The amendment would severely reduce Hong Kong’s autonomy. Due to the authoritarian regime of one-party rule in China, people lack protection from the law.

This would affect especially those who criticise the China government and leadership openly and those who organise the remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident every year, and Hong Kong citizens who have helped Chinese democratic activists to escape. All of these citizens would be in serious danger.

Pretext

Hong Kong activists who have provided practical assistance to China’s labor, human rights, and social movement NGOs could also be extracted by the China government under the pretext of “endangering national security”.

The amendment would make Hong Kong citizens live in fear of “the consequence” of criticising the system and policies.

The police responded to the protests with violence. They not only employed tear gas and pepper spray but also fired bean bag shot and rubber bullets without warning. This resulted in 79 injuries, two of them very serious.

Both the Commissioner of Police and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam described the protest as a “riot”.

The protests against the Extradition Bill took place five years after the Umbrella Movement. The 81-day-long roads occupation for democratic elections in September 2014 ended in failure. This time, the protests have revived the morale of the masses to some degree.

People called for a workers’ and students’ strike last week.The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and the Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union showed support for it.

In addition, some young people established a picket line in the commercial district. Some suggested political strikes and this led to discussions on the internet. All these signs show that this movement has advanced in political consciousness compared to the Umbrella Movement.

It is not easy to mobilise a powerful strike in a short time. The socialist left of Hong Kong can push the discussions about political strikes toward a strategic conclusion that we need to establish mass self-organisation. It can also explain why the struggle for civil liberty is inseparable to the struggle for political democracy and economic equality.

Lam Chi Leung is a revolutionary socialist based in Hong Kong. This article first appeared in Socialist Worker UK (https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/48494/Eyewitness+from+Hong+Kong+as+protests+force+a+retreat+on+extradition+bill).

The unfreedom of tax academia for the left

The Australian and other Murdoch outlets have been running a faux University freedom campaign for years now. As they lose more and more ‘sensible centre’ journalists – how much longer can Peter van Onselen stay there more or less on his own? – they seem to have become more strident in their condemnation of cultural Marxism, our takeover of Universities, education, and the like.

Apparently our Gramscian march through the Universities continues unabated. Let me interrupt their wet dreams with some personal reality of my march through the universities.

Recently I was looking back at the many Bills that became law when I was the Assistant Commissioner in charge of international tax reform. My team worked closely with Treasury on developing those Bills. We were, according to the relevant General Manager in Treasury at the time, the best ATO team, among the dozens, to work with, from their point of view.

I, along with one other senior ATO Officer, was the major ATO contributor to the 2002 Treasury discussion paper entitled The Review of International Tax Arrangements (RITA). See http://www.taxboard.gov.au/content/int_tax/int_tax.asp

Then there were the reforms made during the period I was in charge of the ATO contribution to RITA (both to the law and to getting the rest of the ATO ready for the particular reform). They include:

  • New International Tax Arrangements Act 2003, which among other things amended the Foreign Investment Funds (FIFs) and Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC) regimes and made changes to Interest Withholding Tax and unit trusts.
  • New International Tax Arrangements Act 2004, which modified certain foreign investment fund rules; provided an interest withholding tax exemption for interest paid on certain debentures issued by eligible unit trusts; removed the need for certain income of a controlled foreign country resident to be included as notional assessable income; and prevented double taxation of royalties subject to withholding tax.
  • New International Tax Arrangements (Participation Exemption and Other Measures) Act 2004 which among other things reduced the amount of the capital gain or capital loss that will be subject to capital gains tax rules where Australian companies and controlled foreign companies sell shares in a foreign company with an underlying active business; extended the current exemptions for foreign branch profits and foreign dividends to all countries from 1 July 2004; and reduced the scope of tainted services income.
  • New International Tax Arrangements (Managed Funds And Other Measures) Bill 2004
  • New International Tax Arrangements (Foreign-owned Branches and Other Measures) Act 2005
  • Various Double Tax Agreements implementing policy from RITA, and the review of the anti- CFC and FIF rules leading to Foreign Accumulation Fund (FAF) rules. The anti-deferral rules review which produced the change from FIFs to FAFs (well after I had retired). 

The Board of Tax has estimated that these various international tax reforms have had roughly the same impact as tariff reductions for the economy about a 0.024% annual GDP increase.

I look back on my team’s achievements with pride.  Interestingly not one tax academic has approached me about these groundbreaking reforms. Not one.

From 1989 to January 1997 I was a tax lecturer in the law school at the ANU. I left in early 1997 after the promotion round saw five of six academics promoted from lecturer to senior lecturer. My crime had to been lead those 50% of Law School staff who had opposed the introduction of $9000 fees for the Legal Workshop, the almost year long course to enable those who had earned their law degrees to practise as lawyers. This mad me never to be promoted among the powerful conservative and soft left factions in the School.

I was a great teacher. I got rave reviews from students, year after year. My research was certainly unique, marrying left wing and Marxist ideas with tax law.  It was also regular enough, according to the creeping neoliberal standards Universities were then beginning to apply.

So I left the ANU and eventually, after ten months with the Welfare Rights and Legl Centre, rejoined the ATO.  I retired from the ATO in 2008 and began looking for a job with academia. After all, I had 8 years tax law teaching experience and a successful career as a tax administrator behind me.  My two years in 2010 and 2011 at the University of Canberra should have forewarned me, but it did not.

I resigned in disgust from there in November 2011 and over the next six or so years applied for tax law academic jobs. Of the 38 applications I lodged, I had one interview (because I knew one of the professors well.) I was doing a PhD, the new neoliberal apprenticeship requirement evidently.

I merely note that a number of my ATO colleagues from that time, without PhDs, have been employed by academic institutions. I should also add that a number of my tax teaching colleagues would, in my view, be less than ideal employees as tax administrators. They are OK gatekeepers for conservatism but not good educators.

So why am I unemployable? The excuse is often my lack of a PhD. Given my life experience, I doubt this would be a problem, if I were a conservative. There’s the rub.

Tax and legal academia is, by and large, conservative. It employs like minded people. For a socialist and Marxist like me who organised and took action against the neoliberalisation of Universities, this is a death sentence.

Is there a lesson from all of this? Tax academia is a bastion of reaction and conservatism. Lefties have to try to survive in this all-encompassing environment. For leftists and socialists, if you want a job in tax academia or want to keep it, do not put your beliefs into action.   

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery and an adjunct member of the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University.

It is time to resign, John Setka

I have been a long-time supporter of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union or its various earlier incarnations.

I remember joining with BLF members in 1985 and 1986 to fight the Hawke government’s de-registration of the union. In the short term they lost. However, their commitment to class struggle remained and so did the brutal reality of working in the building industry. As a consequence, the union remained alive and does so today, in the form of the construction branch of the CFMMEU.

In these times of class collaboration and surrender by many union leaders, and their Labor Party leaders, it is an absolute necessity to have a fighting union that uses strikes and other action to defend and increase wages, jobs and impose some safety responsibilities on the bosses. The CFMMEU are even prepared occasionally to break bad industrial laws, something Australian Council of Trade Union Secretary Sally McManus has so far only talked about.

It is why the bosses, and their political parties, hate them. It is why we must defend the union. That does not mean we must protect the leadership on all occasions.

Of course the government and the ALP will use this in different ways to divorce themselves from the union, in the case of the ALP, or smash it, in the case of the Coalition government.

Already the Government has signalled it will reintroduce its Ensuring Integrity Bill (or CFMMEU deregistration Bill,) a piece of proposed legislation defeated previously. There was no mention of resurrecting this legislation during the election campaign we just had. The government is trying to use the accusations against John Setka, the elected leader of the Victorian branch of the CFMMEU.

What are those accusations? The latest one is that he denigrated anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty for reducing the freedom of men. Setka calls it lies. Maritime Union leader Christie Cain says Setka’s comments have been taken out of context.  It is possible for something to be taken out of context, and to also be a lie, I guess. For me it seems far too convenient that this accusation comes out at a time when the ALP under fake left leader Anthony Albanese wants to expel Setka from the ALP.

If this was all, then there would be nothing to the attacks on Setka other than the forces of reaction opposing a militant union that keeps alive the idea of class struggle, and sometimes its practice.

It is unfortunately not all.  Setka has said he will plead guilty to charges of harassing a woman and breaching a court order.  If so, he should resign as secretary of the Victorian branch of the CFMMEU.

There are two reasons for doing so. Women make up 46.9 percent of the workforce.  We cannot have a senior union leader who is guilty of crimes against them, as ACTU secretary Sally McManus understands.  On Thursday she called on Setka to resign, in the best interests of the union movement.

There is a second reason. To keep alive the idea and the reality of union militancy in these times of general union and worker passivity, he should resign. Setka has given the class enemy too much ammunition to allow him to continue in the role of the main union leader in Australia prepared to break the law and urge his members to take industrial action.

John Setka, it is time to go.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. Mainstream and other for profit media should approach him for payment rates if they want to republish this article.

The Australian Federal Police acknowledge receiving my Freedom of Information request

I lodged my FoI request with the AFP to find details of any advice they had about the legality and constitutionality of the recent raids on the press. This is their acknowledgement of my FoI request.

stripslashes('
') .  clean_pre('Dear Mr Passant

YOUR FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST

I refer to your application dated 10 June 2019, in which you seek access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the Act) as per your email below.

Timeframe

Your request was received by this agency on 11 June 2019, and the 30 day statutory period for processing your request commenced from that date. The due date for your request is 11 July 2019.

Information considered irrelevant to the scope of your request

The AFP, in its management of FOI requests, excludes the following information on the basis that is irrelevant to the scope of a request:

- Names of AFP members, other than the Senior Executive.
- Direct telephone numbers, signatures and mobile telephone numbers of AFP members.
- Duplicate documents, including duplicate emails. The AFP will only provide emails where they form a final email chain and the authors/recipients are contained within the final email.
- Information that is publicly available, for example, newspaper articles, online publications including information available on the AFP Information Publication Scheme and the AFP disclosure log.

If you object to the AFP excluding any of the above information, please advise this office within seven days of receipt of this email.

Charges

You will be notified of any charges in accordance with the Freedom of Information (Fees and Charges) Regulations, should they apply, in relation to your request as soon as practicable.

Information Publication Scheme

Please be advised that effective 1 May 2011 and in accordance with section 8(2) of the Act, an agency is required to publish information on the AFP website following the notification of a decision in respect of a freedom of information request. Details of the decision will be published in a Disclosure Log which can be found at https://www.afp.gov.au/about-us/information-publication-scheme/routinely-requested-information-and-disclosure-log.

The requirement to publish information released under FOI reinforces the objectives of the FOI Act to promote a pro-disclosure culture across government and to increase recognition that information held by government is a national resource. Exceptions to the requirement to publish information would apply to personal information and information concerning the business affairs of a person if it was considered ‘unreasonable’ to do so.

If, however, after noting the above, you wish to raise any concerns about the publication of information concerning your request prior to the notification of a decision, please advise this office in writing before 11 July 2019.

Regards

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PRINCIPAL FOI OFFICER/TEAM LEADER, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CHIEF COUNSEL AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE ') . '

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The police, the constitution, freedom of information and a free press

Australia does not have a right to free speech. However the High Court has ruled that there is implied in the Constitution a right to political communication. Like all things constitutional, written or implied, this is subject to the Court’s interpretation.  I think it fair to say it is a fairly narrow right, and one the Court keeps narrowing.

However, it is likely to be important in the cases of the Australian Federal Police raids recently on the Canberra home of Anika Smethurst from News Corp, and the ABC offices in Sydney. Certainly, it appears the ABC is going to argue against the raids and one of their arguments will be that the police actions breach their implied constitutional right.

What is this implied right? To quote a friend:

‘An implied right is a right that flows from the existence of another right or constitutional quality as opposed to being specifically noted.

‘The implied right of freedom of political communication flows from the fact that we have a system of publicly-chosen representative democracy, and that system inherently requires political communication.’

To quote academic Leanne Griffiths:

“The High Court held that the Constitution established systems of representative and responsible government in particular under sections 7, 24, 64 and 128 and that the freedom to discuss political and government matters was indispensable to these systems of government.”

Scott Morrison’s comment in attempting to justify the recent Australian Federal Police raids on journalists that ‘no one is above the law’ got me thinking. Presumably the AFP had checked that they had the power to undertake these raids, and that they would be or were in accordance with the law and their powers.

That got me thinking about the Constitution and the implied right of political communication.  Surely the AFP would have sought advice to make sure their actions in raiding the journalists were, at least in the opinion of eminent lawyers, in accordance with the constitution?  After all, no one is above the law.

So on Monday 10 June 2019 I sent a Freedom of Information request to the Australian Federal Police to ask them for copies of all the documents they have on the legality and constitutionality of the raids on Smethurst and the ABC.

After all it would seem strange if the AFP ignored the highest law in the land, including implied rights that flow from it.

I have also argued it is the public interest for such documents to be provided, without cost.

I will keep you informed of what happens.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. Any media wishing to republish this article should contact John for his permission and rates.

Israel Folau, freedom and hate speech

The Israel Folau case worries me. Rugby Australia sacked Folau for his proselytising post that said:

WARNING Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters HELL AWAITS YOU Repent! Only Jesus Saves.

Despite Folau’s claim this is a quote from the Bible, the actual passage from Corinthians 6:9-10 makes no mention of hell. It says that these sinners will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And nowhere does the passage contain the word WARNING, upper case or lower case.  Both WARNING and HELL AWAITS YOU are Folau additions.

I may be splitting hairs. On the other hand it may be a track that hair splitting lawyers will take.

Folau’s intention clearly was to quote the Bible to warn we sinners that we face eternal damnation for our sins. Only embracing Jesus Christ (and repenting our sins) can save us.

There is another passage from the Bible that comes to mind. In
the Gospel according to John, chapter 8, verse 7, Jesus says: ‘He that is
without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

The context in which Jesus was said to have said this was
that the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had committed adultery
before Jesus. In accordance with the commandments, they wanted to stone her to
death.  They asked Jesus what his
thoughts were. 

His answer shows the problems with quoting the Bible. The whole document is riddled with contradictions which you can use to justify or condemn a position.  For example, as many have pointed out, the Bible seems to condemn tattoos.  Certainly, many fundamentalist Christians believe it is a sin to get a tattoo. Leviticus 19:28 says ‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourself.’

Folau has tattoos. That is his choice. As is his religion and any rationalisations he makes to reconcile the word and his actions. But Folau goes beyond exercising that choice when he wants to impose his views on the rest of society, or, in slightly different language, to convert the rest of us to a life in Jesus Christ.  

For example Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality. The Bible appears to condemn same sex activity as sinful.  Leviticus 18:22 says, ‘[Men] shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.’ Leviticus 20:13 says, ‘If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.’

Paul in Romans also warns against homosexual activity. He says at Romans 1:26-27 ‘For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.’

The material explanation for this homophobia in ancient times was the need for the particular tribe to survive in difficult circumstances. The material explanation for current Christian homophobia (#notallChristians) is its loss of state power as capitalism developed and the working class fought for democracy. Capitalism also benefits from expanding markets. This has meant that the various Christian leaders in the 1800s began to emphasise the pie in the sky aspects of Christianity and denounce ‘harmful’ sins such as homosexuality to keep their congregations together. One way of doing this, as politicians in Australia know all too well, is to create a fake enemy and vilify them.

Religious freedom is a catchcry of reactionaries and conservatives. Let’s be clear. The power of the hierarchy of the Christian churches and their close association with Australian capital continues unabated. It is this power that demands enshrined religious rights to cement the hierarchies’ power and reinforce Christianity’s major role in allowing capitalism to dominate our thoughts and prayers.

I am all for the protection of the rights of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, gays and lesbians etc etc in a society that Christian power-brokers dominate. Those powerbrokers are not only the likes of convicted child abuser Cardinal George Pell, but the Scott Morrisons of the political class. For too long the cosy relationship between the Christian messages of submission and subservience, and indeed of hate, and Australian capitalism have dominated our society. Only a revolution can free us from that.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that many Christians feel under threat.  Telling them they aren’t under threat makes no difference. Indeed, other religious people, who do suffer religious intolerance, such as Muslims or Jews in Australia, are joining with Christians on this.

Given its pervasive role in Australian capitalism, enshrining Christian religious freedom is in my view, objectively unnecessary.  Nevertheless, just as we need some protection for freedom of speech, and the press, I support giving religious freedoms protection.  I do not however support giving the religion of the capitalist class free reign to impose its beliefs on the rest of us or to indulge in hate speech.

What Folau said may be hate speech. For a 14-year-old rugby fanatic and player struggling with their sexuality, Folau’s words could be hurtful. So, having a massive support system at school and in society for these people – protecting them from Christian hate speech in effect – is a must.

Safe schools anyone? Hang on. These are the very programs the ‘freedom loving’ right wing is shutting down.

The other problem I have in the Folau case is the power we give to employers to set the agenda of their employees even outside work. As a senior public servant for example I was careful not to express political views on social media until I retired. Why should I be so restricted? Should Folau?

The case of public servant Michaela Banerji and her appeal to the High Court after being sacked for anonymous political comments reverberates with me. Where is the free speech brigade in defending her rights as well as Folau’s? Why is the employer able to restrict free speech outside work hours?

Now Banerji is not Folau. She is not on a $4 million contract. She does not have people hanging off her every word. It may be appropriate in the case of high paid professionals to have their employer restrict their freedoms, if they want to enter into a contract of employment. It does not strike me as appropriate when that person is on say the median wage of about $65,000 a year.

The balance between religious freedom and hate speech can be a fine line. I want Folau to be able to repeat his Church’s assertions about the words of Jesus. I also want vulnerable people not to be offended, upset or suicidal as a consequence.

In Folau’s case I think there is both a practical and a legislative solution. Despite my misgivings about the power employers seem to be giving themselves in their employment contracts to control their employees outside of work, in Folau’s case he has made a commitment that if employed by the National Rugby League he would be subject to stringent supervision and control over his social posts. So, while he can preach his Christian homophobia to the like-minded, he won’t be able if he joins the NRL to proselytise his homophobic hate speech.

One issue is whether any potential team mates would work with Folau. Certainly, the NRL has a policy of rehabilitating those who have broken the law. They should extend that approach to Folau, and show him what it really means to love your neighbour as yourself. However, if the player’s association will not accept him, that is good enough for me. Time to play rugby in France, Israel.

Legally, there may be an opportunity to link freedom of religion and hate speech. Yes, if the government is intent of making political capital out of the issue, then let’s legislate for religious freedom. Couple that with strict criminal laws that make it a very very serious offence to spread hate speech.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. For-profit organisations wanting to republish this should contact him to discuss payment.