Swanson Street & the Racial Discrimination Act

Walking through the lower reaches of Swanson street towards Flinders Street Station is an interaction with the cultural vibrancy and underbelly of Melbourne – a interweaving of Melbourne’s communities of lack and abundance, multi and mono-culturalism, illustrating their complex and sometimes unsubtle relationships.

These interactions of Big Issue vendors, tourists, shoppers and commuters can led to telling observational moments.

Yesterday while walking through the busy weekend throng of humanity near the transportation hub of Flinders Street Station a drunken individual abused an Aboriginal man sitting near entrance to the lower Swanson Street McDonalds.

” Piss off you N****R, go back to where you came from.”

Perhaps the incident and the use of the word ‘n****r’ could be dismissed under the guise the ‘gentleman’ in question was drunk  but in reality there is no excuse for any form of racist language.

And using the term “go back to where you come from” is  redundant when spoken to a member of Australia’s indigenous people. Where exactly is this Aboriginal man meant to go to?

Racial abuse in Australia brings up complex issues of belonging and ownership within the ‘lucky country ‘ which is potentially about to take on new forms as the Liberal Coalition government reviews key sections (sections 18B -E) of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Under the proposed changes to the act (as covered in the SMH), led by Attorney General  George Brandis,  it looks likely that it will no longer be unlawful to ”offend, insult and humiliate” someone because of their race, colour or ethnic origin while making it illegal to incite hatred or intimidate. On face value these changes seem contradictory or far more allowing of hate based speech against race unless it is extreme.

How are law enforcement meant to police legal racially skewed language while making the judgment that it may or may not be being used to incite hatred or intimidation when the language itself comes from a place of hatred and intimidation? It is a net with very large holes. It is understandable that numbers of ethnic groups have raised concerns with the government over the proposed legislative changes.

But what is the real solution to addressing racially based hatred or how does government limit the use of hateful language in order to engineer an aspirational societal change? Or is that even what the proposed legislation changes are trying to achieve? Are the changes an issue of  free speech? Or are the legislative changes a complicit acceptance of the prevalence of racism in Australia and a reflection that it is too difficult to address through law except in extreme cases such as the 2005 Cronulla race riots?

 Australian Guardian contributor Antony Loewenstein, who supports aspects of the proposed changes from a free speech perspective writes;

  “I share some of the concerns of learned law experts, such as Andrew Lynch, a director at the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at the  University of NSW, who writes in the Melbourne Age that the government has a wilful blindness to the profound power disparity between those individuals or groups who may be offended or hurt by hate speech and those most likely to be using them (such as media personalities or politicians). It’s a position utterly lost on cocooned editorial writers and also on columnist Andrew Bolt, who this week praised his ability to receive an apology for hurt feelings, forgetting that his requests come with the power of the massive corporation behind him. Bolt is neither a fair arbiter of how the law should work in relation to hateful speech, nor in a position to understand the awful effect that verbal abuse can have on an Aboriginal, refugee, Jew, Muslim, or Greek.”

If the government’s justification for changing the Racial Discrimination Act is about free speech, what is it exactly they want speech to be free to do? As going on the current proposed changes it is possible to argue, as Loewenstein does later in his column, that the major backers of the freedom to use racially charged language as part of free speech principles are all white, privileged and male.  So why do people of cultural and societal privilege need to legimitise language that rarely affects them except if they are caught out using it?

A poll carried out by Fairfax  in March this year indicated that 78 per cent of  2242 respondents thought that the current Racial Discrimination Act does not limit free speech.

Debates about the use of racially based  language and the need to protect those whom are the most common recipients of it are complex and necessary. But legislative moves to remove protections of those vulnerable to racist language while potentially protecting the users of racially based hate speech through the guise of free speech seems counter intuitive.

 

 

 

 

 

Vigil for indefinitely held Tamil refugees – January 20 – Victoria State Library

 IMG_5495 IMG_5514 IMG_5525 VIgil for in definitely held Tamil refugees

Images Copyright Neesha Bremner 2014 and cannot be used without permission.

On Christmas Island and at Broadmeadows on the outskirts of Melbourne, 46 refugees, 42 of whom are Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, are sitting in indefinite detention despite being recognised as legitimate refugees by the Australian government. The refugees received a negative viewing from ASIO who deem them a risk to national security. The reasoning behind the negative ruling has not been disclosed but it is assumed because as Tamil they may have supported the Tamil Tigers resistance during the genocide against their people by the Sri Lankan government.

The UN has labelled the detention “cruel and arbitrary” and in breach of international law. The Australian government refutes this despite some of the legitimate refugees being now held for five years without trial or charges and with no clear course for resolution  even though there is the possibility of spending their lifetime behind bars.

Advocates for the refugees speaking at yesterday’s vigil say that the detainees include women, men and a child, Pari, who was born into detention. The refugees are suffering physiologically with many self harming and suicidal.

Around forty people attended the vigil with proceedings overseen by more than 10 representatives from the Victorian Police.

We smile because we must

As Nepal prepares for its first election since 2008 military presence on the streets is increasing as tensions rise across the country. One candidate has  already been murdered by a rival in the Terai district and through out Nepal conflict between rival political cadres is increasing. The outcome of the Nov 19 election is uncertain with speculation of country wide bandas ( general strikes) before polling day. Copyright Neesha  ( Alexandra) Bremner 2013

As Nepal prepares for its first election since 2008, the second since the civil war ended in 2006, military presence on the streets of Kathmandu is increasing as tensions rise across the country. One candidate has already been murdered by a rival in the Terai district and through out Nepal conflict between rival political cadres is increasing.
The outcome of the Nov 19 election is uncertain with speculation of country-wide bandas ( general strikes) before polling day.
Copyright Neesha ( Alexandra) Bremner 2013

I play where I was born

IMG_4009IMG_4008 IMG_4006 IMG_4005

Children are born into life on the streets and for some of them this is the only life they know. It is not a life full of hope but one of  violence, abuse, disease and malnutrition as a baseline of  their existence. The following images of a little girl were taken on the outskirts of Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu. This girl, of around 18 months, ironically lives with her two brothers and mother outside a popular tourist attraction called the Garden of Dreams. The children all show signs of malnutrition. But regardless of this, this toddler still plays. Copyright Neesha ( Alexandra) Bremner 2013

Children are born into life on the streets and for some of them this is the only life they know.
It is not a life full of hope but one of violence, abuse, disease and malnutrition as a baseline of their existence.
The following images of a little girl were taken on the outskirts of Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu.
This girl, of around 18 months, ironically lives with her two brothers and mother outside a popular tourist attraction called the Garden of Dreams. The children all show signs of malnutrition. But regardless of this, this toddler still plays.
Copyright Neesha ( Alexandra) Bremner 2013

Poverty and homelessness is an ongoing problem throughout Nepal.

In Kathmandu many live on the streets or in tenuous slum communities in order to survive. Figures from Homeless International indicate that out of Nepal’s 28 million citizens, 2.8 million live in slums, with 59 percent of urban populations living in slum communities. According to UNICEF there are an estimated 30,000 street children alone in Nepal, of which 3,700 are homeless.

In slum communities (which can be bulldozed down )  or for those living on the streets access to clean water, food and the fundamentals of a “good life”  is highly limited if not non-existent.  Living on the streets near tourist hubs gives access to income sources through begging and the ability to access foreigners wanting to “help” as well as being situated near the proliferation of NGO’s who assist street populations on an ad hoc or in a more systematic manner depending on the organisation, time of year, the political situation and the availability of funds.

Children are born into life on the streets and for some of them this is the only life they know.

It is not a life full of hope but one of  potential violence, abuse, disease and malnutrition as a baseline of  their existence.

The following images of a little girl were taken on the outskirts of Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu.

This girl, of around 18 months, ironically lives with her two brothers and mother near a popular tourist attraction called the Garden of Dreams. The children all show signs of malnutrition. But regardless of this, this toddler still plays.

To support the ongoing work of The Storyteller Project – documenting the human stories of the developing world – please donate through the provided link on the left hand side of the page here. It is the intention of the The Storyteller Project,  with your support, to document this family further and to learn more about their situation.

Occupy Melbourne -Day 1.

There is something magical about walking into a publicly held space, a space being  reclaimed for change. City Square in central Melbourne occupied  peacefully despite the four mounted police of the occupation, despite police cameras filming the crowd from above and a crowd representing a diverse range of political opinions.It is inspirational.

Poets, punks, anarchist dogs (“no leads, no leaders!”), children, environmentalists,performance artists,film makers, hipsters, unionists, curious teenagers joggled alongside one another, took to the mic, workshopped, assisted organisers, played drums and marched in support of others (BDS protestors) who had previously arranged a march. It became more and more obvious as the day continued that peacefully and together we have real power. Even though in Melbourne they are only just picking up the reins started with the Madrid Occupation that started in May, it feels like this movement has the potential to facilitate change. No other reason for all the police, surveillance and undercover cops in the crowd unless the occupation movement was a real challenge to the inequitable status of now.

One of the criticisms of the #occupy movement is that it doesn’t have concrete aims. But from what I see internationally not having concrete aims at this early stage of the movement is the point. Huge sections of the population globally are dissatisfied with the status quo. With the insane inequality of wealth distribution , a correlating power resting in the hands of the very few and governments globally facilitating this concentration of power (As one occupier said to me yesterday. “Governments no longer govern, they are corporate administrators”) to have a cohesive plan already laid out would be unrealistic and non representational of the diversity of the movement. The movement needs to be representational, grassroots based so it cannot be co-opted to represent current government/corporate interests. This is something I found evident yesterday, the general assembly model while slow-moving means that strategies developed are truly representational of the majority.

It became clear  after speaking to more people than I can count that not only do occupiers want the world to be equitable,they want real community , they want purpose and meaning, they are claiming back our connectedness. Occupation is about putting humanity first.

A sign of the times - #occupymelbourne day 1. Copyright Alexandra Bremner 2011

Te Mana and women.

Today a Feminist activist Boganette (link – www.twitter.com/boganettenz) posted a question on the Te Mana political party’s Facebook page asking if they had policy on sexual health and access to abortion and if they would be listing their positioning on ‘conscious’ issues.What followed can only be described as base sexism, misogyny, abuse, and trolling.

The abuse is pretty normal when discussing access to abortion or issues surrounding pro-choice, as is the hate against women who dare to ask uncomfortable questions. Being called a lesbian, a whore, (as if these are even fundamentally bad things), and being told to get fucked in various forms, is classic, if not run of the mill misogyny aimed at women who ask valid questions even without stating a position. What is important is knowing what each potential party stands for .It is surprising and extremely disappointing  that all this happened on the social networking page of a political party looking to gain votes not far out from a important election for New Zealand.

Many on the left in New Zealand feel disaffected and are looking for a place to put their vote on November 26. A party, even a young one like Te Mana, should be monitoring its social networking pages regularly and looking after its supporters, potential voters, and not letting one man loose with hate speech against women. It makes me wonder if his perspective is something the party membership are comfortable with. This may be unfair but when I asked Sue Bradford, on her facebook page, about what the party position on sexual health and abortion access was, my questions were ignored. This could be because she is busy with her campaign for the Waitakere seat. But I do wonder, in all fairness to Sue Bradford – does the party have a policy on these issues? Issues that are so important to so many voters?

I have asked the party to moderate their page, but from what I can tell the thread is still there with vitriol intact. I know abortion and sexual health can be contentious but it is also a fundamental policy platform. And potential voters should not be verbally attacked online for making a valid policy enquiry.

So I have some questions for Te Mana;

  • Who is in charge of the Women’s Affairs portfolio?
  • What is your policy on sexual health?
  • What is your policy on access to abortion?
  • Is Te Mana a pro-choice party?

Te Mana is a political party that claims to represent Maori, the poor and under -represented; many of those are women. This is a time when they need to stand up and be counted. Do they stand with women?

Deadline day looms

Tomorrow – May 28th – is the deadline for Nepal’s constitution.

Differing political blocks (of the 20 plus political parties involved including the Maoists)have been scrambling to get an extension of the deadline but with little success. Parliament is closed today and will reconvene for the deadline.. Rival factions have started to have photo ops with the media of their paramilitary groups according to the Himalayan Times and Kathmandu Post. There is no finalised constitution. Nepal is amazing but rife with problems inflicted from external and internal sources – development issues, economic uncertainty, political instability, lack of access to clean water, food supply costs, load shedding, pollution, competing INGO’s and NGO’s, homelessness, land seizures, drugs…

But this country deserves a bright future.

The people are tenacious even after years of political instability and civil war. They are open-hearted, funny  and intelligent. The country is beautiful and despite its issues Nepal gets under your skin. I miss living there. I love Nepal and I am fearful about her future if things go badly after the deadline passes.

Here are some links if you wish to follow what is happening more closely.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2010/05/2010525101847265629.html

http://www.thehimalayantimes.com/

http://epaper.ekantipur.com/ktpost/epaperhome.aspx?issue=2752010

http://blog.com.np/

http://www.nepalnews.com/main/index.php/news-archive/2-political/5142-maoist-ethnic-group-forms-paramilitary-wing.html

To my friends and family in Nepal be safe – my thoughts are with you.

Please contact me if needed or you have information about what is happening you would like to share.

Bhanda -day 1

A few hours ago, according to the Himalayan Times, Maoists took to the streets of Kathmandu filling the night  with  shadows  sourced from burning brands.

I don’t know about you, but for me a group of protesters carrying burning torches and patrolling the streets has a menacing undertone.

The Himalayan Times was a sobering read this morning. The email in my inbox from a Nepali friend , “Bob” (named changed) was even more sobering.

This is what Bob had to say about the Maoists actions in Nepal;

“They have weapons and ordered people to come to the capital city for war with government. And many people came from village and participant in their demonstration though many people do not have desire to participant.”
“Actually Maoist are lying to the world. They are playing double role. One thing saying to the world -but another things they are doing here. Their activities are  against the democracy.”

Other friends I have managed to contact say it’s okay but a bit edgy with locals advising them not to go out.

But it is Nepal, anything could happen and everything could be fine in a few days or not. It is that kind of country.What to do?

Also the American’s have stopped  public services  at the embassy- I don’t like it when embassies close like that.

For all the latest happenings in Nepal. I suggest the Himalayan Times is a good starting point.

Check  them out here

P.S If you have any news of what is happening, on the ground in Nepal, please get in touch.