So maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t like being watched


I’ve just got to put on record my disagreement with the government’s request to access every drivers licence photo and ID from the states. For me it’s another step down the path towards a surveillance state. The justification put forward is obvious – to safeguard us from undesirable characters and prevent terrorist attack. To do that means that we, the citizens, will be subjected to real time facial scanning. There are many who think that’s a small price to pay, including every state government, who have rolled over on this meekly.

Me, I hate the idea of being tracked. I don’t want my face being scanned over and over again as I go about my business. It’s an infringement of my civil liberties to start with, but the practical implications are pretty scary too. The government in the past has made a big song and dance about keeping such details secure, but information has been leaked, and details shared with other government agencies. What happens when this stuff gets hacked? Where is the line drawn – who will have access to this information?

Ultimately there is an existential threat as well. Nearly 30 years ago there was an uproar when the government tried to implement the Australia Card – an ID card. That was a step too far for civil libertarians, and most of the public agreed. The idea was scrapped. Thirsty years on we’ve gone far beyond a simple, dumb ID card. With CCTV on every corner, government access to our metadata, and now this, our personal privacy has been reduced to the size of a postage stamp (not to mention Google, Facebook, tracking, etc). To a degree some of this is unavoidable, but it should be minimised.

This is how it happens. It becomes a domino effect. Once you relinquish that first right the others become further threatened. One after another you lose these things, small things often, but in totality they add up to a lot. That is what we are facing now. Once we have relinquished something we have lost it forever. Where does it end? At what point will we be asked to produce ID on the streets – as only a couple of years ago Abbott’s Border Force did on the streets of Melbourne?

We have given the government the tools to monitor and control us. In the hands of a benign government there should be little to fear, but should we degenerate into an autocratic state then there is every reason to fear that what has been wrought supposedly to defend us, will instead be used against us. In this day and age, who can guarantee that won’t happen?

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Hail the individual


Was walking to work this morning when I passed going the other way a tall, slender, stylishly dressed woman. She was about 32, 33, and what I would call handsome, rather than pretty. It was the strong, confident face of someone who has experienced life and drunk it in. It would not be unusual for me to appreciate a woman like that as we passed by, but what really caught my eye on this occasion was her hair.
She had beautiful hair. It was dark, and fell to just below her shoulder, though ‘fell’ is the incorrect verb. Her hair was gently kinked and had an airy quality that immediately put me in mind of the seventies. It was an emanation, a halo of beautiful hair that was impossible to miss. It was a statement in itself, of style certainly, and certainly of individuality.
I felt a thrill just seeing her hair. You go, girl, I thought. I admired such strident independence. She was someone with her own mind, her own view of the world, her own unique way of expressing herself. I wanted to know her, but at the same wished their were more people with such irrepressible individuality.
I really think it boils down to that in the end. There’s no point in being anyone other than yourself all the way through. What joy is there in compromising on your individuality? The highest attainment of selfhood is to understand and embrace that individuality and express it without compunction.
I think there is a real practical benefit of this. Society is such that often we feel obliged to conform to norms which are ultimately quite arbitrary, and often no more than temporary.
That’s especially true within a work environment. We become a part of an explicit hierarchy. We have defined roles and responsibilities. Most of the duties we perform are clearly prescribed, and we must comply with office rules and regulations. We are squeezed on every side.
One of the reasons I managed to climb the ladder relatively quickly is because I rejected much of that. I always had a strong sense of self, had the confidence to speak my mind more often than not, on top of which I’ve always been stubborn. All the same, I’d never have got away with it if I couldn’t deliver.
Still, you have to play by the rules, even if you might stretch them a bit.
I reckon most major advances come from someone having the balls to defy convention. That’s true at work, and I think it’s true in history. I reckon we should celebrate individuality more, and in fact, encourage it.
If nothing else it’s liberating to see someone so completely themselves.

Equal love, equal recognition, equal rights


Last night I watched A Single Man again. I’m already on record exclaiming at what a beautiful movie it is. Visually it’s fantastic, with vivid colours and great angles. It is a work of artistic vision, very personal I suspect, and so often very clever. There’s a knowingness that is true both for technique and content. It feels so real, and at the same time, so true – different things. Some of that is simple, such as the light, and the neighbourhood, familiar to me at least as someone who grew up in a similar world in far

Some of that is simple, such as the light, and the neighbourhood, familiar to me at least as someone who grew up in a similar world in far away Oz. Of course, the truth goes far deeper than that. This is a movie that charts human emotion in the most poignant way. Certainly I, watching it, recognised much that hitherto was set aside in some dark internal place. Movies such as this, and great art in general, bring such things to the surface. They touch on the universal in such a way that is new to us, reminding us of the depth of things we overlook in the busy act of just living. For me, experiencing such things, there is a bracing reminder that that’s what I want, in fact, that’s what is meaningful even in such a melancholy film as this. To feel deeply, truly, both the razor’s edge and the sublime.

Watching, there is a heart-rending scene early in the film that made me think of the looming same-sex marriage plebiscite here in Australia. George has just heard on the phone that his dearly loved partner has died in a car accident. He is undone, but holds it together in a very British way while talking to the far away cousin of his partner. George is lucky to be told at all, and it is clear that the family view his connection with shame – it is only this cousin, Ackerly, who has been decent enough to do the right thing. George inquires about the service, and is told that the service is for ‘family only’. He is not wanted there. Though George has shared his life for 16 years with their son, he is not of the family, and is an embarrassment they want nothing to do with. It is truly awful, if not downright ugly.

George must mourn alone, without even the solace of a service to bid goodbye to the person he has loved above all else. He is bereft, without even the comfort of the dogs they shared and loved so much – they too were victims of the accident. He has gone from perfect happiness to devastated isolation in the course of a short phone call.

This scene to me is a neat parable illustrating what we are voting for next month. Everyone is capable of love, and in our willful hearts, there is no division between love for someone of a different, or same sex. Love is independent of us all and can’t be legislated on. Where we do discriminate is how we recognise that love, and it’s that legislation we come to battle over. This story is all about recognition. The right to recognise the love and relationship of two people regardless of whether they are of same or different sex, indeed, the opportunity to celebrate it. It is

This story is all about recognition. The right to recognise the love and relationship of two people regardless of whether they are of same or different sex, indeed, the opportunity to celebrate it. It is time we reached out to say that you are as equal as us, and what you feel for your partner is no different in nature from what we feel for ours. Any argument to the contrary seems ugly and bitter and just downright wrong. A no vote cannot be abided.

Who in their heart would deny George his grief, or indeed, his love? It is a truth that can no longer be ignored.

If you’re a bigot you’re a prick, no saying otherwise


I figured out about a month ago that anyone who opposes marriage equality is basically an arsehole. Or dumb. Or both. Being a well-brought up middle-class kid meant that I gave the benefit of the doubt up to then. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion after all. But truth is just as everyone is entitled to an opinion then everyone is entitled to disagree with it. You might think it a step too far name calling as a result of that, but I’ve got no time these days for well-mannered reticence. That describes pretty well who I’ve become in recent years. I’ve always been blunt, but these days it verges on the brutal – and I’m fine with that. Sometimes things just are and you have to call them for what they are.

And so I’m willing to proclaim it – anyone who believes that two people in love of the same sex don’t deserve the same rights and respect as two people of different sex in love is just a fucking narrow minded bigot, and I don’t care how they dress it up.

The no side of the equation throw up a lot of simple-minded and uneducated reasons why it should be opposed. Believe me I’ve listened to them and read their opinion pieces. I may not agree with what they say, but I’m always prepared to listen because I want to understand. I’m a rationalist, and I give them the benefit of that. I’ve yet to come across a single opinion of substance. Most of it is raw prejudice – be it based on religion or bigotry – dressed up in self-serving justification. The bottom line is that they don’t like the idea of two people of the same gender getting it on, and are prepared to impose their ugly worldview on society.

I’m sick of it, and want nothing to do with those people, simple as that. If someone stands up and tells me they’ll be voting no to the plebiscite then I’ll tell them what I think, and with some relish.

Now this is an attitude some in the no camp are using to justify their position. I read another opinion piece by someone this morning saying they would be voting no because the debate had been too one sided and in favour of yes. Well, there’s both a logical reason for that, and some wilful blindness.

If most of the commentary has come out in favour of marriage equality that’s because most Australians are in support of it. It’s simple arithmetic. There was also the inference that the debate had become tawdry, and this is just rank hypocrisy.

I may rail against those nay-sayers and I’m happy to call them a prick to their face, but it’s not the yes side of the argument perpetrating outright lies and misinformation, engaging in inflammatory bigotry by suggesting that same-sex relationships are un-godly, or will lead to child abuse, and it’s not the yes vote re-printing vile posters from neo-nazi organisations. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that this is a vile allegation that proves that anyone against equal rights is an utter prick.

Bigots I can understand. Religious nuts I understand. Morons I understand. Supposedly measured and intelligent people who claim to be indifferent to the result but will vote no for spurious reasons of discrimination I don’t understand. For someone to come out against something they claim to be sympathetic to for such narrow (and cock-eyed) reasons is deplorable. If I were to take it at face value then it’s hard to understand why someone would choose to cut off their nose to prove a point not worth making: it’s selfish to the point of idiocy. I doubt that. I reckon they’re just one of those people deep in their soul uncomfortable with the idea of gay love. It creeps them out, not that they would ever admit to it, to others, or to themselves. Easier to find an excuse to justify a reason to be out of step with society.

Well, you’re both dumb and a prick. You can tick that off as more justification, and burn for it.

It’s our house


This week we’ve had the unfortunate spectacle of a couple of Melbourne inner-city councils deciding not to celebrate Australia Day because of the offense done to the indigenous of Australia, supposedly commemorated by that day. In response, the federal government has repealed those councils rights to citizenship ceremonies. Naturally, there has been much controversy and comment as a result.

I wish this wasn’t the case. I understand the argument put by the councils, though I don’t entirely agree. I’m sympathetic to a government who wants to maintain the integrity of our national day, though believe they’ve been typically heavy-handed. Above all, I wish this debate could have been conducted in an intelligent and thoughtful way, which is now impossible, as it probably always was. All of this makes it unfortunate. It can’t end well.

I understand why the councils have made this decision. Disquiet over Australia Day has been brewing for years, which is also known as Invasion Day by those who oppose it, which explains the rift. On the one side you have the conventional, traditional and officially endorsed view that Australia Day celebrates the founding of the nation, the day the first fleet sailed into Botany Bay. The contrary view is that this is the day the indigenous peoples were dispossessed of their land by white ‘invaders’.

I can understand both perspectives, and if it was left to me would happily shift our national day to another date. The day itself means more to me in popular culture than it does historically. It’s a day of barbecues and citizenship ceremonies and cricket. It’s a happy day when you look at it like that, which is the symbolic. I don’t think much about the historical significance of the day, and the fact that it marks the day when some leaky ships turned up is a matter of general indifference to me. What has happened in the last 20 years is that it has become less symbolic and more literal. As such I can perfectly understand the cultural insensitivity of the day.

Having said that, I think there is a lot of simplistic groupthink in those who choose to oppose the day. That local councils choose to embrace that groupthink is no surprise given the historical mediocrity of said administrators. Ultimately it’s more about appearance than it is about action.

I liken it in my mind to two rival families bidding at auction for a property. Inevitably one family will be successful and the other will miss out. Australia Day in a way is a celebration of the winning bid, but in so doing offends the losers.

Most of us are reasonable people. We might be thrilled to have the winning bid, but know better than to celebrate in the faces of the losers. This is what Australia Day does, however.

Now, of course, the indigenous will say, well wait a minute, that was our house! That’s the crux of their argument, and hence what has been historically viewed as a settlement is in Aboriginal eyes an invasion. And this is what the councils are supporting in their refusal to support the day.

Personally, I find this semantically tricky territory. I don’t think it’s as simple as a black ‘nation’ being invaded by a white people, but I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole today. And as a white person of Anglo-Saxon stock living in Australia, it is problematic and complex regardless. The very people who decry the day would not exist if that day had never happened. I would not exist. I may be sympathetic to those indigenous who see January 26 as a commemoration of dispossession, but as someone who has a personal stake in the historical record I’m glad it happened, and it would be hypocrisy to claim otherwise.

This is one reason I feel this is a simple-minded, feel-good gesture by the councils involved. This is a conversation we had to have, but this is not the way to have it. Ideally, this conversation should come from the top down. Our government should engage with this, in the same way it should engage with notions of republicanism. This, of course, is unlikely, even impossible in the current environment, but there was a time when it was a part of the zeitgeist, and it will be again.

Unfortunately, the government has doubled down on this issue with their punitive actions against the councils concerned. It’s pathetic really, and unedifying on all sides.

What we need is a national day that is inclusive of all. We know Australia Day is not. It’s a big leap for an Australian government to make that change, but it must and will happen, later if not sooner. My preference is that our national day is the day we declare ourselves a republic finally.

That’s a truly inclusive event, for all Australians, regardless of background or colour. Forget the posturing. This house is big enough for all of us to live in.

None of your business


Big news last Friday when two AFL executives were basically sacked after having affairs with female subordinates.

It’s not a good look, and given these men are married with children, is pretty shabby – but since when is that sufficient to fire someone?

I can’t support these men, but I feel some disquiet over what’s happened because it sets up the employer as moral arbiter. More pointedly, it’s interference in personal lives.

In both cases the affairs were consensual. No-one did anything against their will. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, older executive with younger, more junior colleague, but that’s all it is. It may be questionable, but it’s not illegal, and it’s only vaguely immoral when the parties have other partners – but then, it happens all the time. What if we lived in a society whereby adultery led to instant dismissal? We don’t thankfully, yet these men have lost their jobs (but only because the media got hold of it).

The only possible justification I can see is if it directly impacts on job performance, in which case the reason for dismissal is performance. Otherwise it might contravene a code of conduct the employees have signed up to – but then I don’t think such a thing should be in a code of conduct. It becomes more understandable if it is part of a pattern and a broader culture of entitlement and abuse – which may be the case here. It’s not something that should be encouraged, and yet I’d bet if these guys chose to challenge their dismissal then the law would be on their side.

One of the things I find disturbing about this is the general acceptance that this is just. Officially these managers chose to resign, but only after a hefty push. There seem only a few who have questioned the justice of this, or pointed out that really this is nobody’s business but those involved. It feels to me that convention and public morality intrudes more and more upon our private lives. There is a gap – a necessary gap – between our private and public/professional lives that should be maintained, even if we choose to get hot and bothered with someone we work with.

Speaking for myself I’ve had multiple affairs with women I’ve worked with. Who hasn’t? It’s hardly unusual. I understand if it is frowned upon, but no corporation has the right to dictate my personal relationships. This is what has happened now though, these men have lost their jobs, the women humiliated, and the PR fallout very ugly – and for the most part we seem ready to accept it as fair. Why?