Post-coup, it’s time to stop naming electorates after politicians

After all the excitement of Canberra’s latest production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the reviews have emphasised, among other things, vindictive egos, the sheer joy of the dark arts of duplicity and cunning, and a failing of honour.  Solutions such as a Federal ICAC are being promoted.[1]  It is reasonable to ask what we, the audience, i.e the voters, have done that encourages or at least fails to deter such foolery.  Has 30 years of neoliberalism so alienated us from the places we love and identify with that we no longer care?[2]  Are these questions related?

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One seemingly innocuous change in the backdrop, and one small change we can now reverse, is that federal (and other) electorates should stop being named after old politicians.  This must surely be one of the greatest vanity projects devised by parliamentarians.  It has zero benefit to the electors, and offers no identifiable benefit to the workings of parliament or democracy.  It does, however, provide plenty of opportunities for chicanery and general in-the-bubble argumentativeness – energy that could, instead, be being directed to better governance.  It also contributes to the cynicism, despondency and anger among voters when they see their representatives behaving as perfidiously as they have been, yet still seek to keep their spoils and look for more.

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The Liberal contenders held the seats of Dickson, Cook and Curtin.  Where are these places?  What state or territory are they in?  Are they even real ‘places’?  In 1901, of the 75 federal electorates only 15, or 20%, were named after a person.[3]  In 2018, 76% of federal seats now bear a person’s surname.[4]  The AEC guidelines for seat naming, based on parliamentary recommendations, state

In the main, divisions should be named after deceased Australians who have rendered outstanding service to their country.  When new divisions are created the names of former Prime Ministers should be considered,

and

Locality or place names should generally be avoided.[5]

The result is clearly evident in Western Australia, for example, where the original five seats in 1901, all with toponymic names (two Aboriginal), have been replaced in 2018 with 16 seats of which at least 8 bear an old politicians name and none have an Aboriginal name.

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The AEC guidelines do state “Aboriginal names should be used where appropriate, and as far as possible existing Aboriginal divisional names should be retained.”[6]  ‘Names’ in this sense seems to mean either personal names (e.g. Lingiari, established 2001) or words derived from Indigenous languages (e.g. Kalgoorlie, abolished 2008).  Former ALP president Warren Mundine recently argued against the continuing loss of Aboriginal electorate names, and noted that less than half the original 19 Indigenous electorate names from 1901 still survive.[7]  Its an old story, repeating.

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The trend is clear.  Place names (toponyms) and Indigenous names (whether eponyms, toponyms or other nouns) as federal electorate names are rapidly being replaced by the surnames of old politicians and political dynasties.  This has not gone un-noticed, and has hardly been a popular trend.[8]  However, at least one state electoral body is also looking at emulating federal naming because it is “becoming more difficult to achieve stability in the naming of districts” due to rapid population growth requiring frequent redistributions.[9]  Apparently, constantly changing surnamed electorate names will be OK, but not toponymic names that actually identify the location of an electorate.  Perhaps dazzled by the patronage possibilities of the federal system, this State move is just as deaf to the increasing alienation and consternation in the community at the behaviour of politicians and others ‘in-the-bubble’.

jinka park edge

I live in the federal seat of Hasluck, and while I mean no disrespect to its namesake, I’m sure most of its electors could more readily identify their federal seat and its local representative if the seat was named something like Perth Hills or Darling Scarp or Helena & Swan or Mundaring or Moorda.  My State lower house seat is Midland, and upper house seat is East Metropolitan – hardly difficult to identify on a map or in the streets, or comprehend in my mind as the place I live.  But Hasluck … where actually is that place?

Midland Town Hall – Version 2

Returning to the old practices of naming parliamentary seats with geographical place names and Aboriginal names might help revive a sense of place and locality in voters, and help reduce feelings of discombobulation in a dislocating world.  It might even have some effect on the politicians elected by those voters by reminding them that ‘their’ seat is a real place, inhabited by real people, with real world concerns, and not some imaginary estate to which they are entitled, bearing the name of one of their own like a heraldic device.

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Now and for a long time in the future, naming electoral seats after old politicians just looks like a self-absorbing privilege, an amusing divertissement, for a tin-eared political class.  But we elect our parliamentarians, and so cannot evade some responsibility – we need to demand the end of this pernicious practice.  One thing is certain, returning to proper geographical electorate names will not actually hurt or inhibit those parliamentarians who do actually perform their duties, and no doubt there are some.

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[1] Bernard Keane, ‘Six things Morrison must do to be competitive against Labor’, Crikey, 27 August 2018

[2] Bernard Keane, ‘The death of Homo Economicus: how neoliberalism fuelled the rise of identity politics’, Crikey, 27 August 2018

[3] ‘Australian federal election, 1901’, Wikipedia

[4] AEC, Classification of electoral division names, 12 July 2018

[5] AEC, Guidelines for naming federal electoral divisions, 11 April 2018

[6] AEC, Guidelines for naming federal electoral divisions, 11 April 2018

[7] Samantha Hutchinson, ‘Keep our electoral indigenous names, says Warren Mundine’, The Australian, 7 June 2018

[8] ‘Throsby electorate division to become Whitlam electorate’, Southern Highland Times, 18 January 2016; John Warhurst, ‘Fraser naming controversy reminds us of how seat names are never set in stone’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February 2016

[9]Naming of Districts’, WA Electoral Commission, 2015

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On Australia Day 2018 | Reflections

Much Writing, Many Opinions, Not a lot of History. Bark of the Scribbly Gum (Eucalyptus sclerophylla), Blue Mountains, New South Wales.  Image Mohamed Mokak

I have been reading and watching and hearing the debate/conflict around Australia Day over the past few weeks, and past few years.  There are many views and opinions, so instead of writing history with footnotes this post is just another opinion, another view, to add to the – I’d like to say conversation, but that seems too genteel a word for much of what I observe.  I choose opinion rather than history because, while ‘history’ is claimed by many, few seem able to distinguish history from polemic.  After recently reading that Irish people fleeing the potato famine resisted being transported to Sydney in 1788 on the First Fleet … I gave up in despair.

First, disaggregate

My first point is to disaggregate the date (26th January) and the celebration (Australia Day), and have a look at each in turn.

26th January is the anniversary of a distinct historical event, the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove.  This was an event that has had huge and continuing consequences for the continent, and the peoples who chose to live here, and the societies around us in the South Pacific and South East Asia.  These consequences don’t begin and end at the high-water mark.  They are not contained by 21st century borders.  26th January was commemorated before 1808 as the Day of Landing, recalling journeys rather than boundaries.

The consequences for the Indigenous countries and peoples of this continent cannot be ignored or obscured.  Invasion, colonisation, dispossession.  These are traumas that last for generations, and affect both the colonised and the colonisers, and all their descendants.  I am not Indigenous, and can’t presume to speak for Indigenous peoples.  But, I think we non-Indigenous people deny ourselves the chance to come to terms with our inheritances if we continue to deny, or choose not to hear, the stories being told by Indigenous peoples about what this date means for them.  What is it that we really want to bequeath to coming generations?

I do think the 26th January should continue to be observed as a significant date – but to name it and celebrate it as we do now cannot be sustained.

Sydney Cove, where the First Fleet landed in 1788. This nationally significant historic landscape shows, for those who want to see, the true balance between inheritance and mammon.  Image mrbbaskerville

Australia Day is a celebration that has had several names and been held on several other dates.  I remember it, before the late-80s, as just another long-weekend that heralded the return to school and work after summer holidays.  Fireworks, flag-waving, parades, angst –these things were not especially apparent.  The coincidence of the date and the name dates from 1935.  The sanctification the date and the celebration dates from 1994.

It is instructive to note the contexts for this evolution.  The name ‘Australia Day’ arose when preparing for the 1938 sesquicentenary of Australia as part of the Empire.  It is an imperial name.  The awarding of honours on 26th January dates from the early 1970s and the invention of the Order of Australia.  It came as part of the ‘new nationalism’ of that period in the wake of the British government’s abandonment of the Commonwealth in favour of Europe.  Until then, New Year’s Day had been perfectly fine for announcing honours.  The specific sanctifying of Australia Day by making it a holiday on the precise calendar date of 26th January conflates it with the 1990s republic campaign.  We lost a long-weekend (except for calendrical serendipity) in another wave of nationalism.

Honours: Centenary of Federation Medal and the ‘crimson thread of kinship’. Image mrbbaskerville

These decisions were all made ‘inside the bubble’ of the political classes, not by us.  As this genealogy shows, ‘Australia Day’ is really a relatively recent phenomenon, an accumulation of events and decisions, driven by imperialism, then abandonment, then nationalism.  With each new political imperative an attempt was made to anchor it to a definitive ‘historical’ date, to add some lustre of ‘authenticity’, to put it beyond questioning and present ‘Australia Day’ as an old and enduring thing.  Each change was driven by a crumbling of previous political and ideological frameworks, and the current questioning can be understood as simply the next chapter in what is the actual ‘old story’.

Is disagreement really a problem anyway?

An argument often advanced is that Australia Day is for partying and having a jolly time without any whingers ‘spoiling things’.  ‘Be happy’, we’re exhorted (with the implication ‘and don’t be traitorous’).  But is there really a problem with debating (as distinct from crudely celebrating) the meaning of Australia Day on 26th January?  The argument does raise consciousness of the impacts of 1788, especially for non-Aboriginal people.  I wonder if that actually makes it more meaningful in some perverse way, just as republicans invariably rise to their soap boxes on the Queen’s Birthday holiday.  No other public holidays seem to attract any debate or discussion, and tend to pass quietly over a somnolent long-weekend.  Perhaps these are the two events that have truly deep resonances for Australians and their multiple identities, while all the others are just days-off?

Some suggestions have been made to change the date of Australia Day to that on which Australia becomes a republic (rarely ‘if’, always confidently ‘when’ in this rhetoric), or to replace the Queen’s Birthday holiday with this ‘national’ holiday.  Rarely is a voice raised that this is treason-talk, or that it should be silenced.  Advocates say that either change will be uncontentious and will be unifying.  Frankly, I think this is self-delusional.  Not contentious?  To quote a well-known fictional character, “Tell ‘em they’re dreamin’”.  But, being able to have that discussion is healthy and tends to confirm rather than diminish the royal holiday’s significance – because we actually talk about it rather than slumber.

To build something new from the ruins of the old means talking with each other, exploring the shades of grey. Ruins of Maley’s Mill, Greenough, Western Australia after the fire of 2013. Image LBaskerville.

Marking the seasons

Why do we have public holidays anyway?  I’m guessing they originate in rituals to mark the passing or turning of the seasons, for reasons both pragmatic and spiritual.

We already have some of these.  Perhaps the most relevant is Melbourne Cup Day, which informally marks the beginning of the summer holiday season.  26th January has been its bookend, marking the end of summer, whatever called.  A holiday at the end of summer has a pragmatic purpose as a marker, and a ritual purpose as a farewell to the holidays and returning to work.  The political overlaying of Australia Day since the 1930s has tended to obscure this informal seasonal purpose.

Another seasonal date, sometimes a holiday, is 1st September which marks the end of winter and beginning of spring.  It is known as Wattle Day or, in the earlier 20th century, as Australia Day.  It iss about rebirth, or re-emergence after winter, and the blooming of the national flower, the wattle (or specifically, the Golden Wattle).  Golden Wattle blossom ornaments the Commonwealth Coat of Arms (since 1912), provides the decorative forms for the insignia of the Order of Australia (since 1976), and its green and gold foliage provides the national sporting colours (since 1988).

Clearly, there is some coincidence of dates with the serial ordering of Australia Day referred to before, but the difference is that 1st September, like Melbourne Cup Day, is a date without any notable political significance.  That is a strength.

Sandhills or summer-scented wattle (Acacia rostellifera), Bootenal Spring, Western Australia.  This species flowers from July to December, and it is said that there is always a wattle species flowering somewhere across the continent at any time of the year.
Image mrbbaskerville

Do we even need a ‘national’ day?

While some countries have a national day that lacks contention, I’m not really sure such a thing is possible in a settler society.  It may be better to try and turn that contention towards creating change rather than trying to silence it in favour of some illusory neutral ‘fun’ celebration of beer, bbqs and beaches sans angry words.

Many countries manage to have a national holiday without the name of the country in it.  Think Bastille Day, Independence Day, Flag Day, Accession Day, a patron saint’s day, a sovereign’s birthday, Statehood Day, Longest Day of the Year, Liberation Day.  Some relate to ‘nation-building’ events, but not all.  Perhaps, whatever the date, even retaining the name Australia Day needs to be considered.

Another consequence of this debate that has rarely been mentioned but which, logically, must arise at some point, is the ‘State days’, by which I mean those dates on which the various state and territories celebrate their own ‘national’ day.  Those which mark the commencement of colonisation are WA Day, formerly Foundation Day, in Western Australia (first Monday in June), and Proclamation Day in South Australia (28 December).  Canberra Day (second Monday in March), Queensland Day, formerly Separation Day (6 June), Territory Day in the Northern Territory (1 July) and Foundation Day on Norfolk Island (6 March) are similar.  With such State Days available, is a single homogenous national day essential in a country with multiple beginnings?

A land of many flags, many stories. Image mrbbaskerville

Where to next?

A common theme in the opinion writing about Australia Day has been an unwillingness to name an alternate date, or a demand that someone name another date.  The term ‘Australia Day’ hasn’t been questioned so much, although I’m not sure there’s any compelling reason to preserve it.  Perhaps it too has ‘had its day’, so to speak, and another name without the historical baggage may be better.

This are my suggestions for replacing an Australia Day celebrated on 26th January.

26th January should be retained as a significant day, devoted to reflection and contemplation, atonement and redemption, in a secular or civic space.  Colonisation commenced on that date, and we need to face this and its consequences.  I think the original name for this date, the Day of Landing, is both historically descriptive and sufficiently ambiguous to provoke people to think about what happened, about consequences and about futures.  It should be a day with similar sensibilities as Anzac Day.

A seasonal holiday is still needed to mark the end of summer, and I think we could create a new Summer’s End Long Weekend in the first weekend of February.  This would celebrate the end of summer and return to ‘ordinary’ time, and is deliberately lacking in any political or nationalistic symbolism.  A celebratory Summer’s End first weekend in February would provide a sensitive gap after the atoning Day of Landing.  It would re-establish this holiday in its traditional ‘long-weekend’ form.  The ‘modern’ Australia Day Honours could be returned to New Year’s Day Honours, reinstating an actual tradition for honours.

Summer’s End, in The Rocks where invasion and colonisation began in 1788. Image mrbbaskerville

If we really need to have a specific national day, then at this stage 1st September is my suggestion, named either as Australia Day or preferably Golden Wattle Day.  This would enable some element of traditionalism to be included in the day, as it has a history as an informal national day, and it could celebrate the date of which the Golden Wattle was formally adopted as the national floral emblem on 1 September 1988.  It would also have the seasonal, celebratory neutrality of Summer’s End.

Finally, if we should have a national day with cultural and political resonances, then I think that can only really come in the future when a treaty or treaties have been made between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.  We must address the fundamental issue, the original sin, at the heart of our commopnwealth, to properly hear and listen and respond to that “whispering in the bottom of our hearts” described by Richard Windeyer in 1844.  The circle can never otherwise be closed.

I find inspiration in the words of the Uluru Statement from the Heart of 25 May 2017, especially in these two passages that intersect place and time:

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion, the ancestral tie between the land, or mother nature, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom … it has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.  How could it be otherwise?

This our ancestors did,

according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation;

according to the common law, from time immemorial; and

according to science, for more than 60,000 years.

Creation, common law, spirit, co-existence – how, indeed, can it be otherwise?  And yet this is what was so flippantly dismissed by our republican prime minister, avid defender of Australia Day 26th January.  Now, I suspect, it will be time for him to reap the whirlwind.

Treaty Day, or Uluru Day, on 25th May, would be an honourable day and date for which we can all strive.

How could it be otherwise? Image Parks Australia

Marriage Legalised | One Commonwealth | Now to reclaim the word tradition

The Commonwealth Parliament was finally legalised same-sex marriage, or perhaps more precisely, ‘marriage between two people’.  The Royal Assent has been given.  What seems to have been a long, long march for LGBTIQA Australians might have reached a destination.  But, I wonder.

The black-letter wording of the postal survey and the legislative reforms have been about marriage, but the sub-text, the real meaning of it all, has been the question of whether LGBTIQA people are truly equal citizens with other Australians, whether we too are part of the histories, the present and the futures of our commonwealth.  That two-thirds of Australians said yes, that parliament has finally said yes, that the Crown has assented – I’m still not sure whether I believe this, or will suddenly wake-up and find it was all a dream.  I still fear pinching myself.

The prime minister has made jubilant claims to ‘his’ reform, parliamentarians have suddenly embraced and appropriated the outcome en-masse.  But really, these are the very people who spent years and years prevaricating and obfuscating and throwing obstacles at every turn.  This is a victory for the citizenry who voted and accepted us, for our common weal, not a trophy for the political class.  I don’t believe any party will gain any advantage from the outcome, and neither should they.  I have yet to meet a single person who thanks the prime minister, despite his ebullient claims to paternity.  Success, as always, is claimed by many parents and I nominate Australians everywhere.

The survey form, by which the people instructed the parliament to act

I do make an honourable exception for the small group of LGBTIQA parliamentarians, and especially Senator for Western Australia, Dean Smith.  Amongst all his hard work in achieving this historic outcome, Senator Smith still found time to arrange for royal and vice-regal greetings to be sent to my parents when they recently marked their 60th wedding anniversary.  That is the mark of a man who truly respects and values tradition (and I mean an actual real man, not the fake men who even on the last day still tried to damn us all as AIDS-infested paedophiles[1]).  Respect, Senator Dean Smith, Respect.

Senator Dean Smith, Western Australia

But, I remain wary, uncertain.  The Murdoch press overflows with lengthy opinion pieces that read like a call to arms, a crusade under the banner of ‘religious freedom’[2].  It is difficult to read and be blind to an insidious theme running through these pieces: same-sex marriage, and by implication every LGBTIQA person, inherently represses, simply by their existence, every person of faith and every religious institution.  This terrible oppression can only be relieved by somehow containing and controlling LGBTIQA people.  On the other hand, the Fairfax press rather blithely editorialise “The gay and lesbian community … have survived [the survey] unscathed … In six months, once the euphoria dies down, few outside the gay and lesbian communities will notice anything has changed”.[3]  More wish than analysis, I suspect.  So much opposition has been uttered in the name of religion, views that have truly surprised, worried, shocked and indeed ‘scathed’ many people.  However, I think two contending positions are now evident among religious Australians.

One the one hand, there have been many, many good people of faith who openly supported LGBTIQA people, who continue to do so, and realise that now is a moment to be heard.  The Anglican Archdeacon of Albury and The Hume, in the Diocese of Wangaratta, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says:

“It would [now] be right for the people of Australia to anticipate an apology for faith based discrimination, and a migration away from churches that continue to discriminate and towards institutions and communities that support traditional values of respect, compassion and equality.”[4]

The Diocese of Wangaratta is roughly contiguous with the rural seat of Indi, which voted 63.1% Yes[5].  Similarly, the ex-Anglican and gay minister of Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney has argued:

“The church has been appalling to LGBTIQ people telling them there’s no place for them … that they are sinful … I am certainly hoping the inclusion of LGBTIQ couples into the institution of marriage with God’s blessing will occur.”[6]

Paddington is in the wealthy inner-Sydney seat of Wentworth, which recorded an 80.8% Yes vote.  These are arguments from within the churches, and they suggest there is a more expansive common ground between us all that was somehow hidden during the survey debates.

One the other hand, some No campaigners derive strength from their claimed repression.  I had held some hope that perhaps I might marry my partner of 19 years in the same church my parents and grand-parents were married, in which several generations have been baptised (including me) and buried.  But, alas, such traditions are of No value to the Anglican Bishop of North West Australia who, having campaigned for a No vote, has been very quick to pronounce:

…he would not deviate from God’s word … it would seem a terrible imposition to have that freedom taken away from us when it’s our property … gay people, like adulterers, should be encouraged to repent.[7]

The Bishop “…has firmly declared he will not allow same-sex couples to marry inside his churches”.[8]

His stance was well-known before the survey, when he threatened, in the case of a Yes result,

“… we might just withdraw all [marriage] approvals for everyone”, and polemically demanded “…[if] a same-sex couple came in saying ‘We want to use your building’ and we said ‘no’, will be have a right to say no to a use of our building?”[9]

The Lord Bishop sounds overly-conscious of ‘his’ ecclesiastical estate, which is already well-known for its ‘buildings’, which women are forbidden to ‘use’ for preaching.  The huge electorate roughly contiguous with the Diocese of North West Australia, the mining and pastoral seat of Durack, recorded a 59.2% Yes, 13th highest in WA, 98th highest nationally, higher than the State of New South Wales.  Clearly, the Anglicans of North West Australia did not succumb to threats.

1937

1957

2017

I fear the religious freedom crusade will take some unfortunate twists and turns, and LGBTIQA people will once again find ourselves targets.  The Ruddock religious freedoms committee appointed by the prime minister already sounds McCarthyist.

One place to find some common ground between LGBTIQA and good religious people is to

reclaim the word tradition.  The No reactionaries have tried to hijack and steal this word, to make it their own.  Well, it isn’t theirs.  It does not belong to them.  It never did and never will.  We should all work now to reclaim this word and what it represents.

The Lord Bishop’s denials in North West Australia are not tradition, they’re anti-tradition.  They’re just plain nasty.  We don’t have to take that anymore.  But exclusion always benefits someone, and so will always have its defenders.  The law is already clear that the Lord Bishop can arbitrarily ban and exclude us from ‘his buildings’ (a.k.a. traditional parish churches and church halls) at will.  He can erect a ‘rainbow bar’ with complete impunity at any time.  He can deny deep, traditional, personal links between any LGBTIQA person and any church within his vast domains upon a whim.  He can drape his ‘buildings’ with all manner of signs that demean unrepentant LGBTIQA people whenever he wants.  It’s his private (tax-free) property, after all.  Too bad for us, we just have to accept that.  But we don’t have to accept, for a moment, people like the Lord Bishop traducing the word tradition or arrogating it to their campaign for a ‘new segregation’ under the banner of religious freedom.

Priorities of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney: ironfistvelvetglove

Priorities of other Anglicans: Bendigo Advertiser 28 August 2017

Ruddock’s religious freedom committee looms in 2018.  LGBTIQA people have a long, long history of being on the receiving end of such ‘freedoms’.  It is hard to ignore the history of the No case’s principal mouthpiece, the ACL, which grew out of an organisation based in Toowoomba (in the electorate of Groom, 50.8% No vote) dedicated to re-criminalising homosexuality and restoring the death penalty[10].  Vigilance is a tradition we must continue to maintain.

Reclaiming the word tradition is an act every person can do.  At least it might begin to assuage the uneasiness I can’t quite shake, the nagging doubt in the back of my mind, despite the euphoria of the moment.


[1] Jacqueline Maley, ‘Same sex marriage legalised: now let’s hunt crocs’, Sydney Morning Herald News Review, 9 December 2017: 33; for an example of international coverage see ‘Gay people ‘Have only existed for 60 years’ MP claims’, The Metro, 8 December 2017

[2] Paul Kelly, ‘Amid jubilation and history lie deep divisions’: 15; Cameron Stewart, ‘Love, Constitutionally’: 19; letters under ‘Parliament rejoiced imposing a new belief system’: 21; Weekend Australian, 9 December 2017

[3] editorial, ‘Turn of fortune? Gold at the end of rainbow week’, Sydney Morning Herald News Review, 9 December 2017: 30

[4] ‘Unchanged marriage bill relief’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 2017: 19

[5] All survey figures are from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey Results

[6] ‘Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney bombarded with same-sex wedding bookings – but there’s a catch’, ABC News online, 8 December 2017

[7] ‘Bishop ‘no’ to church weddings’, West Australian, 16 November 2017: 14

[8] ‘Dean seeks OK over gay rites’, West Australian, 25 November 2017: 20

[9] ‘Anglican bishop threatens over Australian same-sex marriages’, La Croix International: The world’s premier independent Catholic daily, 12 October 2017

[10] Logos Foundation (Australia), Wikipedia, accessed 10 December 2017

For Marriage Equality – Thank You

Wednesday 15 November 2017.  The results are in.  61.6% said Yes, 38.4% said No, .02% were invalid, 79.5% turned out, 20.5% were not interested.  133 Commonwealth electorates said Yes, 17 said No.

The question of whether we are citizens or foreigners has been answered.  To everyone who voted Yes, a great big THANK YOU.  I feel I can once again begin to become part of our commonwealth.

Most people voted YES

To those who voted No, please don’t succumb to despair.  We are not going to go away, but we can all try and share this place without rancour.  Draw upon our shared traditions of valuing intimate relationships, of the importance of being with the ones we love.  These are common traditions we define by our actions, and which institutions can support – not the other way around.

As I return home on my daily commute the train crawls through the surprising heartland of the No vote, Western Sydney.  I watch as the suburbs pass by, and wonder if this is now a foreign country?  No 38% here, but 70%, and more … do they all really despise us that much, I wonder, all too ready to Manus or Nauru us if given the chance?

But I resist.  That’s too simple.  It is time to end of this ‘foreigner’ bullshit.  What began with the political classes failed attempt to cast the Queen as a nasty foreigner in the 1990s has descended into a sort of cannibalism as the same political class eats itself in the current citizenship fiasco.  Their brazenness in claiming today’s victory as theirs is breath-taking, but true to form.

If there is any hope of redemption among our elected, it lies with Dean Smith, Penny Wong, Louise Pratt, Janet Rice, all from the supposedly red-neck outer states of Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland.  The centre of gravity is moving.

61.6% of you said Yes, we are fellow citizens.  We do have a right to this commonwealth.  We do belong.  That is powerful.  Even if you voted No, there will be space and time to reflect and maybe see things differently.  But now, it’s time to for all of us open our arms to all the other excluded, to undo the foreignising of the past 30 years.  For that, we all need to come together as equals in our diverse commonwealth.

Wednesday 15 November 2017 shows we can do that, if we choose to.

The union of two consenting adults to the exclusion of all others

Vote Yes, because it’s our commonwealth too

‘Yes’ banners flying in Custom House Square at Circular Quay, Sydney | photo mrbbaskerville 30 August 2017

Today I voted Yes in the same-sex marriage referendum plebiscite postal survey.  So did my partner of nineteen years.  The day before we attended our daughter and son-in-law’s baby shower.  They are married.  A grand-daughter is on the way.

The words in the survey, just as in the poll above, asks if the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry.  But is that what the question really asks?  Or is it asking whether we are citizens or foreigners?  If the survey says No, who next will be subject to a ‘survey’ like this?  Your families, your friends, your neighbours, your colleagues.  What rights of a citizen will be given or taken away like this?  Australians All, it’s now in your hands.  Make your choice, Yes or No.  Are we citizens or are we foreigners?  Is it our commonwealth too?

‘Yes’ banners, corner of Alfred Street and Phillip Street, Circular Quay, Sydney | photo mrbbaskerville 30 August 2017

 

Sirius | Brutalist and shining ever-more brightly

[click on images to enlarge for better viewing]

Concrete mould for URO (Unidentified Running Object), public art for Sirius building, 1979. Photograph Tao Gofers

A recent decision by the New South Wales Land & Environment Court has declared ‘invalid and of no effect’ the refusal by the Heritage Minister to list the Sirius apartment building on the State Heritage Register.

The dreams of some: the Sirius site in Cumberland Street, The Rocks before construction, c1977. Photograph Tao Gofers

The decision has some important implications for heritage in New South Wales and Australia, especially places that are of historical significance.

Other dreams: providing quality social housing in the heart of Old Sydney for the local Rockites and Pointers in their home quarter. Source: Sirius, Housing Commission of NSW, c1980, page 10

One very significant implication is that the heritage significance of a place must be properly considered when deciding the future of such a place.  It is not just one factor among many, but the prime factor that needs to be decided first, and which will provide the subsequent framework for all other decision making about the place.

Aged community balcony area, 1980, with characteristic use of rich colour, and view to the Harbour Control Tower on Millers Point (demolished in 2016).  Photograph Tao Gofers

A speaker at the recent Australian Historical Association conference in Newcastle said “constraint is enabling”.  In other words, any field of endeavour needs to be bounded in order to keep it achievable, and the ‘constraints’ of a heritage listing can have the effect of focussing attention on carefully crafting and designing new works that support and even enhance heritage and historical values.

Sirius under construction, tower stepping down to south wing, east facade, overlooking Atherden Street, The Rocks.  Photograph Tao Gofers

Sirius is a creative design response to the environmental constraints of its site.  Its multiple levels and forms mimic the natural topography of the sandstone cliffs and ledges of The Rocks, emphasised by its exaggerated scale.  ABC TV’s second series of the dystopian Indigenous sci-fi drama Cleverman, filmed around Sirius, reveals the complexity of the building’s geometry and shows to full advantage its relationships with its setting.  It is remarkable that, along with the old State Archives building also in The Rocks, Sirius can still convey a visual sense of an imagined modernist future nearly 40 years after it was built.

Sirius under construction: stepping downwards along the north wing, with Bunkers Hill rock face in foreground and Harbour Bridge approach in background. Photograph Tao Gofers

This has been a signal victory for the Millers Point Community Association Inc., all the other people and groups that have continued to campaign and fight for keeping the Sirius building in The Rocks, and the Environmental Defender’s Office who successfully argued the case in Court.

The Royal Australian Historical Society has posted a more detailed summary of the Court’s decision on its website, which also contains a number of links to other useful sites concerning the Sirius battles.  Click here to read the summary and access the links.

Sirius under construction: east facade of tower, stepping down to the north, with westerly views to Pyrmont.  Photograph Tao Gofers

The Minister for Heritage has been ordered by the Court to properly consider whether Sirius has heritage significance, and while it is entirely possible that may still lead to a curmudgeonly decision of ‘no significance’, the possibility that heritage conservation might finally be turning a corner after the past few Stygian years gives some cause for hope.

Pausing to take a cool drink – public art in Sirius, a URO fibreglass model, 1979. Photograph Tao Gofers

Ahistorical history on the run: Section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution

Recently there has been a lot of media hyperventilating about federal parliamentarians needing to check their citizenship status and declare they are purely Australian, without any taint of dual-citizenship.[i]  As usual, little of the pitchfork commentary is informed by history.

When the Australian constitution was drafted in the 1890s, allegiance was given to the Crown, not to a territory.  We all shared the status of British subjects, and a person born in Australia could be elected to parliament in Britain, New Zealand, Canada and other places, and vice-versa.  There was no need for renunciations or denunciations of allegiance.  Canadian-born Labor MP King O’Malley, for example, Minister for Home Affairs, a founder of the Commonwealth Bank and of Canberra among other things, could be a member of the federal parliament because he was a British subject, and therefore not the liege of a ‘foreign power’ in breach of Section 44.  There are numerous examples.

A lost world, bigger but now foreignised and forgotten.

Our world was so much bigger then.  Once upon a time, a person born in Australia could work, travel, study and live anywhere the Queen reigned.  Now we are confined to the continental high water mark.  The post-World War Two nationalist victories that are celebrated in orthodox Australian history books now seem like one big own-goal, and we clearly are not living happily ever after.

Certificate of Naturalisation, as used 1955-1970

Post-war nationalism began with the dominions adopting citizenship acts – Canada in 1946, Australia in 1948 and so on.  However, dominion citizens also remained British subjects.  But, that dual-world soon began to shrink.  Australia’s Department of External Affairs changed to Foreign Affairs in 1970.  Britain abandoned the Commonwealth for Europe in 1973.  Australia removed Australian citizens’ British Subject status in 1984.  The High Court ruled in 1999 that Britain (and all other countries) had become ‘foreign powers’ so a dual citizen became, under Section 44, subject to a foreign power.  For this ‘judicial-nationalism’, Section 44 was in interesting divertissement for years.[ii]  Indignant talk of vestigial, archaic, unjust, obscure and antiquated law buttressed the arguments of political nationalists and continued to underpin our shrinking horizons into the early 21st century.

The external becomes weirdly foreign: Canberra Times, 7 November 1970: 1.  Mr McMahon was born in Australia, and so never had to deal with being cast as a ‘foreigner’.  He later became 20th prime minister, following six former PMs born elsewhere in the Empire or Commonwealth and one in a ‘foreign’ country.

Media commentators have blithely advised “just amend s44 by referendum” so that dual-citizens are eligible to be federal parliamentarians.[iii]  It would just be an easy tidying-up.  They appear unaware that we’ve been living through an extended period of foreignising anyone and anything ‘not like us’ (whatever that is).

The chronology continues.  Through the 1990s republican nationalists cast the Queen as an indulgent foreign overlord, in the 2000s Little Australia nationalists cast boat people as invading foreigners, and in the 2010s the list has just gotten fatter and longer.  Foreigners are everywhere, infesting the homeland and now we have a Home Office to root them out and expel them from our pure heart land.  This week the bourgeois nationalists at Fairfax have resurrected the 1990s Queen-as-foreigner motif[iv], while the boofhead nationalists indulged in ugly schadenfreude at the number of federal MPs having to check their nationality.[v]  Today, King O’Malley would either be barred at the gates, locked-up on an (ironically) foreign island or chucked out.

(left to right) The Governor General Lord Denman, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, Her Excellency Lady Denman and Minister for Home Affairs King O’Malley, at the formal naming and foundation of Canberra. All were born overseas, but none were considered ‘foreigners’. Image, still from NFSA 9382

The only people who seem to have much historical awareness are some letter writers and online commenters, who make the same point as I have in my second paragraph.  Some of them have questioned how New Zealand, Canada or Britain can really be ‘foreign’ cultures to us, ideas that likely smack of subversion for today’s authoritarian nationalists.  Their arguments echo those of CANZUK for creating new ties between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.[vi]  Technology now triumphs geography.  But should they be careful?  The new Home Office may already have spots reserved for them in Nauru and Manus.

The Crossroads, Kingston, Norfolk Island with former remote detention facilities in the background. Photo mrbbaskerville 7 June 2009

I think we are at a crossroads.  The old post-1945 nationalism of the Anglophone world is dead, or at least dying, along with its younger Neoliberal sibling.[vii]  It is a time to think differently as the Indo-Pacific returns to centre-stage.  A century ago, the whole British world had to re-invent itself amongst the residues of the Great War, and today, amidst more recent post-war residues spaces for another re-invention are opening.  New histories are needed for new futures.

To continue on as if nothing has changed invites a referendum to change Section 44 (just imagine, for a moment, the No case against ‘foreigners’ sitting in parliament), and more lofty legal interpretations of Section 44 that, effectively, maintain a stalemated nationalism.  Perhaps, instead of assuming Section 44 is the problem, we need to ask ourselves whether we have been so traduced by nationalist-induced fear of the ‘foreign’ that we are forgetting our own histories and foreignising our own past?  How else to explain a centralising, militaristic, authoritarian Home Office?

An old tradition of antipathy to militarised over-reach in British and British-descended cultures – now reduced to a forgotten/foreignised/museumised history in Australia? ‘The Common wealth ruleing with a standing Army‘, Frontispiece to Thomas May’s “Arbitrary Government Display’d, in the tyrannick usurpation of the Rump Parliament”, 1683, British Museum collections

Parliament could define the phrase ‘foreign power’, for Section 44 purposes, to exclude Commonwealth countries.  As well as honouring the original intent, it will also recognise our long, complex and continuing history of multi-generational migration between Commonwealth countries. Most of the reported ‘problems’ of dual-citizenship are intra-Commonwealth, suggesting a foreclosing amnesia about the larger world we once inhabited.[viii]

Perhaps that small change might even lead to reducing vitriol directed at people and things ‘not like us’, now fashionably tarred in high offices and the media as pejoratively ‘foreign’?  If not, I fear the day when all but those with a one hundred percent First Fleet ancestry will be denounced as foreign – and even they will be suspect.

Who, if any, are the ‘foreigners’?  Queen Elizabeth II with the Commonwealth’s women prime ministers: from Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina (left), from Australia, Julia Gillard (second right) and from Trinidad & Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, during the opening of 2011 CHOGM in Perth, 28 October 2011. Photo credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire

[i] Rosie Lewis, ‘MPs rush to confirm true-blue credentials’, The Australian, 19 July 2017; Tom Minear, ‘Greens Party loses another politician … Greens Senator Ludlum exposed as a Kiwi’, Daily Telegraph, 19 July 2017; Lorraine Finlay, ‘Greens resignations show a need to change dual citizenship requirements’, The Conversation, 19 July 2017; Alle McMahon, ‘Australian politicians born overseas jump to clarify citizenship’, ABC News online, 19 July 2017

[ii] John Kalokerinos, Who May Sit?: An examination of the parliamentary disqualification provisions of the Commonwealth Constitution, Faculty of Law, ANU 2000, https://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/senate/pubs/pops/pop36/kalokerinos.pdf , accessed 20 July 2017

[iii] Prof George Williams, quoted in Amy Remeikis, ‘MPs scramble to confirm citizenship’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 2017: 6; William Bowe, ‘Section 44 is a sticky wicket in need of reform’, Crikey, 19 July 2017; for a somewhat more nuanced article see Adam Gartrell, ‘Allegiance rule is a relic but we’re stuck with it’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 2017: 5;

[iv] Cathy Wilcox, untitled cartoon, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 2017: 17

[v] Derryn Hinch, ‘I am not in allegiance to a foreign power and I have proof’, Crikey, 19 July 2017

[vi] CANZUK International, http://www.canzukinternational.com , accessed 20 July 2017

[vii] there are many examples to cite, just two recent being Ross Gittins, ‘History’s pendulum is changing course’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 2017: 18-19, which quotes The Economist magazine “the neo-liberal consensus has collapsed”; Bernard Keane, ‘The surprisingly quick death of neoliberalism in Australia is underway’, Crikey, 21 June 2017

[viii] Of the 222 federal parliamentarians in March 2017, 18 (8%) were born in a Commonwealth country and 6 (0.4%) were born in a ‘foreign’ country: http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Parliamentary_Handbook/mpsbyplc , accessed 21 July 2017