An unmarked grave. No details. No name. No age. Nothing. A void. Desolate. Forgotten. A bare plot revealing nothing.
Devastatingly sad. Especially so when you know the plot is the resting place of one who was willing to sacrifice his life for you and me.
700 World War I veterans in unmarked graves just in Tasmania alone. And around Australia, it would be thousands. It doesn't bear thinking. They deserve better.
Men who had fought for our safety, our values, our way of life.
The same service personnel we commemorated and honoured on Remembrance Day just six days ago, promising "we will remember them".
Yet many of them lie unknown, unrecognised, unacknowledged. We forgot them.
A national disgrace. We didn't care as we should have cared. We didn't remember them.
Alienated from family, from society, or the ravages of the depression making a headstone unaffordable, whatever the reasons our Nation didn't honour our returned men in death.
Into this void, this blot on our nation entered Andrea Gerrard OAM - a diminutive lady with tenacity, passion and professionalism.
And so the Headstone Project was born.
Through her involvement in the Families and Friends of the First AIF Inc Andrea Gerrard brought this disgrace to light. Not satisfied at just finding this neglect Andrea set about to rectify this appalling situation.
In Tasmania, about 500 out of the 700 veterans who languished unrecognised are now acknowledged with an appropriate headstone and plaque thanks to a wonderful team effort spearheaded by Andrea Gerrard.
Private support from the corporate sector including - Mitre 10, Cement Australia, Sika, Kings Trailers, Nyrstar, Crossroads Concrete and My Pathway, together with RSL's and the 12th/40 Battalion Royal Tasmanian Regiment display the strong and generous community spirit and support. Local Government from Launceston to Hobart, the Derwent Valley to King Island have chipped in as well.
It was my privilege to assist with facilitating a number of Work for the Dole programmes to assist. Rewarding not only for myself but the participants who found their involvement exceptionally rewarding. More recently DGR (Deductible Gift Recipient} status for tax purposes was granted. Not much advocacy was needed on my part with the Treasurer readily accepting the worthiness of this wonderful cause.
In typical style for Andrea the placement of headstones was simply not enough. As each group of headstones was completed a fitting ceremony was held with the Governor, Chief of Army, Director of the War Memorial, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, variously officiating at the unveiling ceremonies. The ceremonies included local students researching and providing a brief biography of each digger whose dignity in death has been restored.
The Headstone Project has allowed families to be reunited with their ancestors and loved ones as well.
Not surprisingly the Headstone Project initiative has been observed and replicated on the mainland leading the Minister for Veteran Affairs at the last election to start a national pilot programme of co-funding with communities.
As we rightly saluted our veterans last week, we should also salute the Andrea Gerrards of this world who see a need and selflessly dedicate themselves to seeing the need fulfilled. An OAM in 2018 was deserved recognition for Andrea's efforts, as was the Community Group of the Year Award at last years’ Tasmanian Community Achievement Awards.
Anyone wishing to be involved in the worthy Headstone Project can contact
Bare plots have been transformed into enduring memorials of appreciation thanks to Andrea Gerrard OAM. Her committee is converting community goodwill into practical action to ensure we live up to our commitment to remember them.
Standing firm against ugly dictatorships is everyone’s duty. I, therefore, make no apology for the exchange between Mr Chiu and myself yesterday.
Mr Chiu appeared before a Senate Committee. His submission’s opening line was “Australian politics is too white”. His concern was clearly about identity politics of colour/race and not of values, beliefs and character. Criticism of a dictatorship that holds one million people of an ethnic minority in concentration camps and unapologetically commits a wide range of human rights abuses has nothing to do with race and everything to do with values. He was willing to criticise Australia on the basis of colour but not condemn China on the basis of values.
I have been accused of “demanding proof” of Mr Chiu’s loyalty. The Hansard proves this to be a falsehood. Let the record speak:
Mr Chiu: As I said previously, I support and believe in the universality of human rights. I don't support the Communist Party but I don't believe that it's helpful to get into a political game of denouncements.
Senator ABETZ: So you can't condemn it?
Mr Chiu: I think my statement was quite clear about how I don't support the Communist Party and I don't support what it does.
Senator ABETZ: There's a difference between not supporting something and actively condemning a regime that engages in forced organ harvesting and having a million Uighers in concentration camps—the list goes on, and all we have is this limp statement that we don't support it.
At no point did I question the loyalty of anyone. I did not even mention the word “loyalty”. Yet Mr Chiu’s twisted and distorted narrative is blatantly false. Unfortunately, some now have parroted this false narrative without checking the record.
I was questioned by another witness as to whether I had ever been asked “to be loyal to Australia because you were born in Germany?” Numerous times throughout my life I have been asked this question. I am still questioned about it to this day especially by left-wing operatives.
Further on, in the Hansard I say:
That is why, might I add, that in nearly every single interview that I do unequivocally condemning the Chinese Communist Party I stress that this is not a condemnation of the Chinese people—because I believe that they are just as freedom loving as every other human being on the planet—but that I am condemning the regime under which they suffer, just as much as not all Germans were Nazis, or all Russians communists, or all Italians part of the Mafioso or Vietnamese part of the triads. But, as German-born, can I say that I have no difficulty in unequivocally saying that the Nazi regime deserved to be condemned. I'm just concerned that some of our witnesses have great difficulty in condemning a regime that has been responsible for millions of deaths; incarceration of millions; forced organ harvesting; illegal land grabs; ripping up of an international—UN sanctioned, even—agreement between the UK and China in relation to Hong Kong; and the list goes on. I'm just concerned that in this great freedom-loving country of Australia, that has adopted all of us as part of its citizenry, we are unable to fully celebrate the great freedoms we have and to condemn some of the backgrounds from which we come—not courtesy of the people but courtesy of the ugly regimes that were inflicted over them.”
If Mr Chiu, a prominent Chinese-Australian from a “progressive” think tank and whose submission was made in consultation with China Matters, which “strives to advance sound China policy”, cannot bring himself to denounce a regime that continually and systematically commits human rights abuses, there is no hope for the Chinese diaspora in Australia to speak out.
This example of prominent Chinese-Australians not speaking out for the rest of the Chinese-Australian community was a direct point made in a confidential submission to the inquiry. They are afraid to speak out because of reprisals within their community and the possibility of family members back home being targeted by the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship. Chinese-Australians look for leadership by prominent Chinese-Australians but often receive meaningless platitudes instead.
For all the hot air from Mr Chiu at the hearing and his hit piece in the media, his limp platitudinous statements are cold comfort for the Chinese-Australian diaspora, the millions of Uighers, and all the others, languishing in detention and oppressed.
The ABC's refusal to delay a 2 per cent pay rise for just six months is indicative of an entitlement mentality that is so out of touch with mainstream Australia.
In April and May, the Communications Minister, the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Public Service Commission wrote to the ABC asking - along with all non-public service agencies - to not take their mandated 2 per cent pay rise.
112 Commonwealth Government agencies elected to defer the mandated pay rise, including those playing a vital role in the COVID-19 pandemic such as Centrelink and the Department of Health, displaying a social awareness that escapes the ABC which continually purports to assert itself as our social conscience. The ABC clearly thinks itself as more important than these agencies as a staggering approximately 80 per cent of staff voted against the proposed pay rise deferral.
Commercial media organisations have significantly cut back to deal with the economic effects of the pandemic with redundancies and pay cuts yet the ABC feels no need whatsoever to tighten its belt.
"The ABC seems to seize every possible opportunity to highlight how out of touch it is with the rest of Australia and fellow public servants," said Senator Abetz.
"The decision to take the pay rise was not even a close decision which is a further reflection of the entitlement mentality which prevails in so many areas of the ABC. Approximately 80 per cent of staff voted not to take the pay rise in circumstances where many have shown leadership and sacrifice to help Australia through this COVID recession."
"When it comes to the ABC, 'we're not all in this together'. As hard-working Australians lose their jobs and financially tighten their belts, they will be forced to pay for the ABC and its pay rises."
Originally published in The Examiner 22 September (Available here)
Most of us can imagine crimes which in the abstract are deserving of the death penalty.
Yet we have wisely abolished the death penalty because as a community we believe in the inherent value of human life and that the state should not have the power or authority to dispense with the life of any of its citizenry. Once you give the state such power, where do you draw the line?
Coupled with this fundamental principle is the pragmatic real-life experience that even with the best justice system in the world (which we do enjoy in Australia) errors are nevertheless and regrettably made.
Doubts about the appropriateness of previous convictions continually arise.
It is all too late when the convicted person is no longer with us because of the death penalty. These same considerations of principle and pragmatism need to be embraced by our Tasmanian legislators as they consider the Bill before the Parliament which seeks to provide state sanction for suicide or more euphemistically described as "end-of-life choices".
It's human nature to want to be the master of your own destiny. As it is human nature to seek as pleasant a death as possible.
We all agree with that in principle.
We would be silly if we didn't.
Yet there are two fundamental key issues.
Can state-sanctioned suicide be safely legislated? And in any event, is it right and possible to so legislate?
The wise truism "the devil is in the detail" is sage counsel and exceptionally apt when considering whether the state ought to allow the taking of another human life.
Another maxim worthy of adoption is that "tough cases always make for bad law".
When a former distinguished Chief Justice of our Tasmanian Supreme Court, the Hon Bill Cox AC, persuasively exposes the dangers of this latest version of the proposal along with the Australian Medical Association, which notes the confusing nature and contradictory aspects of it, we can't glibly dismiss opposition to this Bill as some have sought to do to avoid discussing the details.
And without forming a judgement on the principles of the proposal, the state government has raised a litany of technical issues with the legislation.
Given the host of issues - technical, legal, medical, ethical - all in a community climate of ever-increasing elder abuse and suicide, we would be well served to have the proposal fully considered by a qualified panel to consider and proffer advice on the detail.
Having been so self-satisfied by his Bill, the mover told the community "there is nothing an inquiry could improve on...".
The mover is now in the unfortunate position of having to propose his own amendments to at least five separate clauses and inserting a new section dealing with "objectives and principles".
One may have thought that when dealing with life-and-death issues the matter of objectives and principles may have been a first-order issue and settled before drafting the Bill and not as an afterthought.
Yet that is what is happening.
Most of us won't go past the euphemistic title of the Bill "End-of-Life Choices".
No set of choices on offer by the way - just an earlier death. And it's not only for the terminally ill in the latter stages of their life, as most think because that is what we are continually being told. The detail tells a very different and chilling story.
Section 5(1) tells us the "relevant medical condition" means a disease, illness, injury or medical condition that is advanced, incurable and irreversible and is expected to cause the death of the person. Note the condition needs only to be "expected" to cause death.
We expect many things in life which ultimately don't happen. Further, despite having the best medical system in the world, incorrect diagnoses and treatments occur.
Section 5(2) tells us a condition is "incurable and irreversible" if there is no reasonable available treatment that is acceptable to the person and that can cure or reverse the condition. So, no objective assessment by a panel of qualified medical practitioners, just the patient's subjective assessment that the treatment is not acceptable.
There is many an incurable condition which may be expected to lead to death of which we can think, e.g. diabetes and heart disease. Section 6 refers to "intolerable" suffering, but Section 13 tells us this is to be determined not by medical experts but by the opinion of the person.
And the "intolerable" aspect of it can be simply the "anticipation of the suffering" as per Section 13(b)(ii). Thankfully there is a word limit imposed by the editor, but these few examples highlight how essential it is for this Bill to be fully and professionally examined. After all, life-and-death are serious topics - worthy of exceptionally careful scrutiny especially for parliamentarians seeking to legislate in this area.
Originally published in The Examiner 8 September (Available here)
Tasmania's lucrative Manuka honey producers are being stung, from a most unlikely source.
Our cousins across the ditch (Tasman not the Bass Strait) are laying sole claim to the botanical name "Manuka" so that New Zealand can have the world rights to marketing.
They are doing so with a New Zealand government-backed fund. The main, if not only, reason anyone would want sole rights to a name is because of its marketing value. A casual glance at the supermarket shelf informs the buyer that Manuka honey carries with it a premium price compared to other honey - even our cherished leatherwood.
Manuka honey happens to contain a naturally occurring compound - methylglyoxal. In 2006 this compound was identified as the dominant antibacterial constituent of Manuka honey. Ever since then the honey has gained in reputation as a food and in medicinal and cosmetic applications. Taxpayers are currently funding six separate research projects into its qualities and potential uses.
Manuka is the honey sector's equivalent to abalone in the fishing sector. For a long time, it was worthless but now commanding top dollar. Of such nuisance value was Manuka honey that it was once washed away in the river. If only the bees could be trained to stay away. No market, no value.
But along a market came with an appetite so vociferous right across the world it isn't easy to satisfy. Within 10 years it was worth more than $1 billion per annum.
The humble unwanted Leptospermum, which produces the necessary blossoms, is now so sought after, entrepreneurs are trialling plantations as the wild-growing areas can't produce sufficient supply.
This is the first time a plant has been domesticated and planted just for honeybees, according to Dr Barbour, the chief executive of the Cooperative Research Centre into Honeybee Products. Australia is blessed with 83 varieties of this Leptospermum growing down South East Australia's coastline from Queensland right through to Tasmania, and across to Western Australia. It grows in New Zealand as well.
In both our countries, Leptospermum grows wild. New Zealand has just the one variety, yet they're claiming the right to sole usage of the name. It has long been accepted in world trade that geographical names can be protected if it is analogous with a product, for example, Champagne. Saving a botanical name which occurs naturally in different countries such as Manuka would set a disruptive world precedent.
New Zealand's honey producers are going full bore in their attempt to snatch the rights to the name "Manuka" with a clumsily attempted arms-length yet obvious slush fund of $6m from the New Zealand government.
From their own sources, our hard-working, enterprising beekeepers can't match such an exorbitant fighting fund provided by New Zealand's taxpayers.
While in relative terms our honey sector mightn't be large it is worth protecting in its own right and should be exciting more significant government support, both diplomatically and financially in this fight with New Zealand. Apart from the correctness in supporting our own is the vital principle of maintaining an open world trade protocol whereby botanical names cannot be opportunistically claimed.
If New Zealand believes it has the best Manuka honey in the world, it should market it as "New Zealand Manuka honey". And we would market ours as "Tasmanian" or "Australian".
A fair, reasonable, sensible solution protecting everyone's interest without disrupting long-established and fully acceptable international understandings.
Why devote a column to this topic? A bit of nostalgia perhaps. I kept bees with my father as a hobby, even taking them to the South West for the leatherwood season. It was hard work, yet a rewarding hobby. Those who do it all day every day - our beekeepers - deserve our full support.
Imagine their response after detailing their plight to Canberra, and the suggestion to consider changing the name of their honey. They were entitled to be angrier than a poked beehive.
These officials, who may well think honey comes from jars (like milk from bottles), need to show as a minimum greater empathy as well as a fighting commitment to our hard-working regional enterprises and job providers which ultimately provide the tax base which pays their wages. All societies seem to replicate the culture of the beehive with its workers and freeloaders (drones). Like a beehive in winter, the Manuka honey sector has no room for the drones of officialdom who are willing to live off the rewards but who make no contribution in working for or protecting the hive.
Originally published in The Examiner 25 August (Available here)
A potential jewel in Tasmania's ever-growing list of must-see destinations is the underappreciated Eddystone Point Lighthouse and its precinct on our state's most easterly protrusion.
In its prime, its 1000-watt tungsten halogen lamp flashed twice every 15 seconds with an intensity of one million candelas sending out its beam some 26 nautical miles. Steeped in history, situated in sensational scenic surrounds and supported by an active group of local champions Eddystone Point has a lot of potential on offer. The potential is there ready and available. It only needs to be effectively harnessed.
The Break O'Day Council rightly describes the lighthouse as the "jewel in the crown" of the heritage listed structures in its municipal boundaries. Three of the staples that make Tasmanian tourism so unique are our people, our scenery and our heritage. Eddystone Point has all three in abundance.
Friends of Eddystone Light Inc. provide the people (including the last keepers, John and Christine Denmen), the enthusiasm and drive. Their passion is built on their knowledge and understanding of Eddystone's beauty, heritage and significance. The president, Lindsay Dawe, along with his committee is a treasure trove of history and vision.
Deemed a vital piece of infrastructure given the ever-growing number of shipwrecks occasioned by the hazardous coastline together with the ever-growing maritime trade, Eddystone first started operations on May 1, 1889.
But the history of getting there was not easy.
It was an inter-colonial board established to recommend lighthouse sitings which recommended its construction in 1856. Seventeen years later the Conference of Principal Officers of the Marine Department of the Australasian Colonies also recommended its construction. Despite the decision of the body, the name of which would've taken all day to say, building only commenced in 1887 - 31 years after the initial suggestion.
Researching the history is instructive - a couple of inquiries, 31-year delay while ships kept getting wrecked and no town planners, heritage officers or Greens to blame. And for those who may entertain thoughts about infrastructure and cost over runs - nothing was different then either. On an £18,000 project, there was an over run of £3900. The Lighthouse's construction so many years ago without today's mechanical support is a story in itself.
Originally published in The Examiner 11 August 2020 (Available here)
The seductive smooth salesmanship of the "End of Life Choices Bill" glosses over the ugliness of state-sanctioned suicide.
For that is what "voluntary assisted dying" or "euthanasia" stripped of its nice words actually is - state-sanctioned suicide.
There are no choices being offered.
The only option offered by the Bill, soon to be debated in the Tasmania Parliament, is the finality of death and authorising others to assist in the death
First, some clarification.
- Refusing treatment has always been allowed and is not the same as deliberately killing someone. There are strong intuitive moral and clinical distinctions between stopping treatment and deliberately killing.
- Administering pain relief which may as a side effect hasten death is materially and morally different to administering a substance the only purpose of which is to kill. This has also always been allowed.
- Poor medical practice and poor palliative care should never be the reason for state-sanctioned suicide.
Heartrending stories of difficult deaths countered by heart-warming stories of last day/hour reconciliations and unanticipated recovery provide an emotional yet unhelpful element to the debate.
No question as serious as state-sanctioned suicide/killing should be settled on individual cases, nor emotive scenarios.
Ultimately, a general principle must be found which transcends particular cases.
As with capital punishment, one principle which could be universally applied is that human life should be valued to the extent which puts it beyond the state.
What value do we place on the life of our fellow citizens?
Once administered, state-sanctioned suicide remains permanent.
Death is irrevocable. Let's campaign for a right to live rather than a so-called "right to die" which will inevitably come to us all.
Opposition to state-sanctioned suicide is based on the premise that every life irrespective of its circumstances is worth living.
There is no such thing as an "undignified" human life. Sure, life can be tough, excruciatingly tough.
Human dignity is not dependent on an individual's utility to society or their health but their intrinsic humanity. Intentionally killing someone even if motivated by a sense of "compassion" is never dignified.
But even then, can there ever be sufficient safeguards to protect the vulnerable?
Inherent in the use of the word "dignity" in this context is the disturbing equating of "dignity" as being without disability.
The proposition that there is a loss of dignity if someone who was previously without disability takes on a disability only serves to devalue those who live in such circumstances.
As a society, we have a choice.
Provide the support, succour and solace to the afflicted, affirming their intrinsic value as a precious member of our community or agree with the ailing person that their life isn't worth living anymore.
A truly caring, compassionate community will not adopt the latter. Killing should never be seen as a solution to human suffering.
Let's be very clear, the proposed change in the law only changes the law for the person undertaking the killing.
The authorising of another person in taking life challenges to the very core our notions of civilisation.
As soon as such a concept takes hold within the psyche of our community, we will irreparably demean the value we place on human life.
In an era where elder abuse has become such a scourge that public service announcements are necessary to protect the elderly against financial, physical and emotional exploitation, it is unbelievable that state-sanctioned suicide might be considered let alone allowed.
A culture of disdain for the disabled and elderly persons awaits.
Another societal scourge is suicide, also necessitating compassionate community messaging offering support.
Yet there are some willing to send the message that suicide is okay if you believe your circumstances are too difficult.
What's more, we will authorise people to facilitate your death. This is mixed messaging madness.
How do you tell a troubled teen their pain and anguish is not as real as someone else's? It's impossible.
That's where integrity and consistency of message, especially to protect those with suicidal thoughts, is so important.
Having authored the Senate committee report into this vexed issue some years ago I was able to garner majority support from senators across the divides - Liberal, National, Labor, Australian Democrat and independent.
A common concern, even amongst those instinctively attracted to "choice", was that with the best will in the world you could never provide adequate safeguards against family manipulation, wrong diagnosis and a false sense of fear in the person that they would become a burden on others.
To deliberately assist in someone's killing is to deny our common humanity.
Surely our task as a humane, compassionate and caring society is to eliminate the pain, not the patient.
Originally published in The Examiner 29 July 2020 (Available here)
"Be careful for what you wish".
The Australian Republican Movement must be choking on that wise proverb.
For 45 years peddling a conspiracy theory about the British establishment or the Monarchy being sinisterly involved in what was actually the self-immolation of the disastrous Whitlam Government.
And all that was needed, they believed, were the "secret" letters between the Governor-General Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace to "prove" the conspiracy.
After many a roadblock, the letters were finally ordered to be released courtesy of a recent split High Court decision.
The anticipation would have been palpable. The patience, the perseverance had finally delivered the "proof".
But alas, it was not to be. It was like an elaborately wrapped present found to be without any contents.
The release of the correspondence proved two things.
Firstly, the Whitlam dismissal was made by an Australian, the Governor-General, in Australia using Australia's Constitution to give the Australian people a say on the future of their Australian Parliament.
Secondly, and this is hugely humiliating and embarrassing for the Republicans - the only people who sought the intervention of Buckingham Palace were Labor and Republicans.
They, who had protested for 45 years asserting ''foreign" interference in our politics, were the only ones who had actually sought such foreign interference by asking Her Majesty to countermand the Australian Governor-General.
So what happened in 1975?
Two massive bulls of Australian politics had locked horns and brought the country to a standstill.
Mr Whitlam's Labor government was plagued by scandals and resignations.
Labor's Mr Whitlam was a physically imposing figure possessed of unshakeable self-belief. Ditto for the Liberals' Mr Fraser.
Labor had the numbers in the House of Representatives and the Liberals in the Senate. It is a well-established protocol/convention that a government cannot continue in office without a budget.
In those circumstances, it should seek a mandate from the people.
The other protocol is that whilst the Senate has the power to block the budget it should only do so in the most reprehensible of circumstances.
The Liberals believed those circumstances existed with the Khemlani Loans Affair seeking overseas money to bankroll the government's needs so it could bypass the democratically elected Parliament.
A stalemate had occurred.
To use an AFL analogy, when the ball is locked in between two opposing players the umpire blows the whistle, bounces the ball and play resumes.
Our democracy was similarly locked in between Labor and Liberal.
The umpire blew the whistle to allow the real umpire - the Australian people - to deliver their verdict.
The timing here is important. The dismissal was left to the last minute.
The 11th of November dismissal allowed the Australian people to vote on December 13.
A week later we would have been into Christmas and the New Year, meaning the paralysis would have continued for weeks. An unacceptable situation.
The Australian people delivered their verdict in a landslide of mammoth proportions.
Instead of reflecting on their glaring inadequacies, Labor sought to vilify the umpire and divide Australians with ugly violent rallies.
This behaviour repulsed Australians who may have otherwise instinctively thought Labor had been given a raw deal by Fraser's Liberals.
In all this, spare a thought for Sir John Kerr, our Governor-General.
Personally appointed by Mr Whitlam. They shared the same chambers as barristers.
To come to the conclusion Whitlam had to be dismissed must've occasioned substantial mental anguish.
What it showed was independence, wisdom and a concern to allow the true masters of Australia, the Australian people, to make the call.
What is clear in all this is that our Constitutional Monarchy (umpire) worked exceptionally well.
The Republicans' conspiracy theories have been well and truly debunked.
Sure, debate the merits of the Whitlam-Fraser clash.
But in the circumstances of neither giving in, the umpire had to blow the whistle to allow us the Australian people to decide our nation's future.
What was broke was not our Constitution. It was the actions of two desperate politicians. Imagine if the Governor-General were an elected president.
The "umpire" would be wearing one team's colours. The problem wasn't the constitution or the umpire. It was the political players.
The fulfilment of the republican wish to have the Palace Letters released has proven beyond doubt that our Constitutional Monarchy served us extremely well in 1975 and continues to do so today, 45 years later.
Originally published in The Examiner 14 July 2020 (Available here)
Child abuse. It makes your skin crawl. It's difficult to imagine anything worse. Children having their innocence callously denied them in the most heinous manner possible by self-absorbed predators.
Your repulsion, my repulsion, indeed society's repulsion at child abuse is so strong we rightly demand unambiguous punishment for perpetrators and the strongest protection for our vulnerable children.
Yet too often our legal system appears to side with the perpetrator and vague prospects of rehabilitation rather than expressing abhorrence and adopting a precautionary principle for the protection of our most precious ones.
Senator Claire Chandler, my Tasmanian Liberal Senate colleague, told the Senate recently, "From 1st February 2014 to 31st January 2019, 40 per cent of Commonwealth child sex offences did not result in a custodial period. For those offenders who did receive a custodial sentence during this time, the most frequent custodial period recorded was just six months."
This judicial failure to appropriately sentence, punish and send a loud, clear message of deterrence to perpetrators or would-be perpetrators is of catastrophic proportions. Which is why the Liberal governments (both state and federal) committed to legislating for mandatory sentencing. The courts having failed, the community rightly wanted action. And so it was that at the last elections (state and federal) the Liberals adopted firm policy platforms for mandatory sentencing for child sex offenders.
Our policy was based on a commitment to protect our children against the horrific statistics that last year saw the Australian Federal Police receive almost 18,000 reports of child exploitation involving Australian children or Australian child sex offenders. These statistics are horrific in themselves. But they aren't just numbers. Even more horrific is the consideration that each number represents a violated life. And the numbers are rapidly rising; confirming the sentencing approach currently adopted is not working.
The legislation to give expression to society's demand for penalties to protect our children was contained in Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2019. Readers will be surprised and concerned to learn that it was only their Tasmanian Liberal representatives that voted for these vital child protection measures. Labor, Greens and independents opposed the mandatory sentencing provisions thus seeing the defeat of the legislation.
Labor reluctantly allowed the measures through after the Liberal government immediately reintroduced them. The Greens and independents continued to oppose. Talk about misguided writ large.
Under federal law our children now have the protection so desperately needed. In Tasmania under state law our children are still being denied.
For Tasmanian children, it's a different story. The Labor party, Greens and independents are continuing to refuse to implement the Liberals' clear policy platform of delivering protection for our most vulnerable.
In my life as a lawyer, I represented countless victims of child abuse whose lives were wrecked and tormented. From substance abuse attempting to dull the pain, committing crimes and complete disregard for any authority figures, to an incapacity to form a lasting stable relationship, the damage caused by child abuse is like a wrecking ball crashing through most, if not every, aspect of the lives of victims.
Today, as a senator, I have victims' files seeking recognition of, and compensation for, that which they so devastatingly endured.
The personal and economic cost to individuals, families and our community is immeasurable. The facts, the figures, the anecdotal stories are there for all who want to know.
Child abuse devastates lives for life. The impact lingers and debilitates. The punishment of perpetrators needs to be not only proportionate to the life-long, life-shattering impact of their selfish actions to give a sense of justice to the victims but also needs to act as a forceful deterrent.
The victims are entitled to know that the community and justice system is on their side. Mandatory sentencing is the community's expression of support to the victims given the justice system has failed them.
Surely, there is nothing more important than protecting our children. In blocking mandatory sentencing the current Parliament wrongly sided with the perpetrators' interests rather than the victims' interests.
The Rosevears election on August 1 provides an opportunity for the community to express its view on an issue of paramount importance - protecting our children. If that is the only issue on which Rosevears electors cast their ballot and on which the newly elected member votes, they will have made a significant and worthwhile difference - one that will endure for generations and for which countless children will be eternally grateful.
The scourge of child abuse needs to be removed from our society. Mandatory sentencing is a worthy start.
Electors of Rosevears should ask each of the candidates if they support the Gutwein Liberal policy of getting tough on child sex offenders.
Originally published in The Examiner 30 June 2020 (Available here)
"It's moments like these you need Minties" ... or not, if you're councillor Mike Wilson in Tasmania's most southern council (Huon Valley).
Can you believe your taxpayer dollars were spent on an inquiry into whether mints are or are not handed out at the start of Huon Valley Council meetings?
Of such great moment is this issue that a Code of Conduct complaint was made against Councillor Mike Wilson. The allegation? He lied about whether mints were handed out or not. Momentous stuff.
First, who would care, let alone think, to elevate such a matter to an official complaint? It was Mr Swan - a serial complainant and each time he complains it costs his fellow ratepayers money that should be spent on potholes.
Second, how could a self-respecting Code of Conduct Panel seriously entertain such a complaint? It should have been rejected.
Instead, the panel pontificated over the significance of this matter and thankfully determined to dismiss it.
Mr Swan also laid complaints against another popular Huon Valley councillor Mick Newell for calling him a "bloody coward" and a "parasite" and for being part of a Facebook group which "calls out the Huon Valley's biggest whinger". Cr Newell also referred to a "faceless group of people" at a council meeting. It seems Mr Swan self-identified although not being named.
All that said, Mr Swan labelled fellow ratepayers as telling "a blatant lie ... and they both know it" at a Legislative Council Committee hearing with the benefit of Parliamentary privilege. It seems what was good for the goose wasn't so good for the Swan.
Luckily I'm a senator and can call this nonsense out without having the panel shut me down for six weeks for giving expression to the views of constituents (the fate meted out to Councillor Newell).
In a robust democracy, people don't sit in circles holding hands humming flower power tunes. They will engage, disagree and yes, use colourful language. The electors will determine whether they like or appreciate that style.
It's not for a panel to pontificate about whether a democratically elected councillor's choice of language was appropriate.
After receiving 5000 votes, Councillor Newell should be able to determine, as will the voters, whether or not he demonstrated good judgement or "poor judgement" as determined by the panel. We have publicly funded panellists determining whether or not a type of language displays good or poor judgement. Pass me another Mintie.
I'm sure none of the panel members have ever exhibited poor judgement in their utterings.
Come on - we all have and more than once. But to suspend a councillor for six weeks from his democratically elected role because he called someone a few choice words is laughable.
Sir Robert Menzies referred to his opponents as "faceless". Bob Hawke referred to an older gentleman as a "silly old bastard". And they're the more printable ones. Just imagine this panel suspending Mr Menzies or Mr Hawke.
Thankfully state and federal parliamentarians don't have such stifling provisions, which would see most of us suspended and in fact would even see many letters to the editor being discarded.
And just in case the discerning The Examiner reader is thinking "typical silly Southerners ", the same problem alas festers in our northern woods as well. Just ask the highly popular Dorset mayor, Greg Howard (who has faced similar issues), or every other northern council other than the West Tamar Council where mayor Christina Holmdahl keeps the peace and Flinders Island.
In fairness to the panel though, it needs to administer the law which includes Part 7 of the Local Government (Model Code of Conduct) Order 2016, which requires that only saints run for local government. You see, according to Part 7 C1 1(b) "A councillor must not cause any reasonable person ... embarrassment".
How often are we embarrassed when reminded of misdeeds? I'm sure Labor was embarrassed when told they were run by "faceless" men and the old fellow in the Adelaide shopping mall being referred to on National TV as a "silly old bastard" was embarrassed.
And feeling "embarrassed" can be as simple as feeling "awkward" associated with mild levels of discomfort.
Tidying up the public discourse is always laudable. It's not for the strictures of official regulations imposed by one level of government (which doesn't bind itself by those standards) on to another.
The Code of Conduct Panel provisions need removal or at least a significant overhaul as otherwise these matters will ultimately end up in the High Court at great expense, which may well confirm an implied freedom of speech.
The current review of the Local Government Act needs to deal with this issue. Hopefully, someone will hand out the mints along with some common sense.