The new punitiveness in NSW

30 04 2008

Attacks on the right to be judged by one’s peers are steadily mounting in NSW, as the government introduces changes to the Jury Act.  This follows recent amendments changing the need for unanimous decisions – 11/12 is apparently near enough according to the NSW government.  I’m reminded once again of the aphorism- “better to let ten guilty men walk free than to imprison one innocent man”.


From the ABC news online:

Judges “should be able to dismiss individual jurors”


New South Wales Cabinet has approved changes to the Jury Act to give judges the discretion to dismiss an individual juror without aborting a whole trial.

NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos says he wants to stop entire trials being aborted to the detriment of all, because of the actions of an individual juror.

Mr Hatzistergos says he does not believe the changes will disadvantage defendants.

“If for example the act of misconduct or the act of wrong empanelment has in some way contaminated the entire jury than the judge will have the discretion to be able to act accordingly,” he said.

“But we want to ensure that the jury system is able to be preserved and in particular that unnecessary abortions of jury trials can be avoided.”

But New South Wales shadow attorney-general Greg Smith says the Government has only acted on four out of 70 recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission.

He says lifting jurors’ fees should be a top priority.

“The fees paid to jurors are inadequate,” he said.

“They’re falling behind the average weekly earnings and I think that’s leading to many people that should be serving on jurors seeking exemption because they can’t afford it.

“Trials are getting longer.”


What did he say?

24 04 2008

Helen Hughes & the CIS vs. Indigenous Culture & Identity

7 04 2008

This year has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Languages.  There is an increasing recognition, across the globe, of the importance of language and culture, particularly to Indigenous peoples. These issues have become even more pressing given the hastening extinction of languages and cultures under what we call “globalisation”.

Sadly, not all of us in Australia appreciate the benefits of language and cultural distinctiveness to one’s sense of identity and worldview.

A case in point is Helen Hughes’ recent work with the CIS on Indigenous education in the Northern Territory. Helen’s opinion piece on the ABC web site upset me greatly.  Here are some extracts with my responses in blue text.

Critical of “separate Aboriginal curriculums”.

So a child in the Torres Strait must learn the same as a child in Hobart.   No room for local culture, geography, customs, history etc.  Appalling.  (Not to be pedantic, but Helen should know the plural form is “curricula”.)

“Many of the men and women who actually stand in front of the class in Aboriginal schools have so little training that they are not…even articulate in English.”

There are some schools who have non-Indigenous teachers present English as a foreign langauge or in a bilingual context.  In this setting, the Indigenous teacher’s English ability is pretty much irrelevant.

“…most children graduating from Aboriginal primary schools were unable to manage the work in mainstream high schools.”

And most children from mainstream primary schools would be unable to handle the work in Indigenous language high schools (not that there are many).  

“Three generations of welfare dependence, poor education, and public housing have led to family and community dysfunction, so that teenage pregnancies, alcoholism, drug addiction, and crowded housing often undermine school attendance.”

Many of the communities with stronger language and culture e.g. Yolngu of Arnhem Land and Badulgal of Torres Strait are far more functional and have stronger family ties than those where cultural dispossession is well advanced e.g. Redfern, Alice Springs.  Plenty of the more traditional communities have complete alcohol bans that are self-imposed.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children deserve and must have the same school facilities, curriculums, and teaching as other Australian children so that they may choose how and where to live.”

If they do not inherit the gift of language and culture from their parents, then they will not have the choice of living in their own distinctive societies.  Place and belonging are central to Indigenous questions of identity and coercing them away to boarding schools (as Helen suggests) is not exactly offering choice of where to live.

“If mainstream schooling is not deemed to be viable in very small communities, arrangements will have to be made to board children or assist their parents to move so that they can attend school.”

See previous comment. Geez, I think history has seen enough of “moving them on” policies.

“All remote schools should be twinned with mainstream schools so that exchanges of students, teachers, and parents can expose substandard conditions and enable Australians to learn at first hand how their taxes are being spent.”

Mainstreaming is another word for assimilation.  It is deeply immoral and will lead to cultural annihilation. Helen Hughes and the CIS are to be condemned for this brutal vision of a possible future.  Let us hope she does not have the ear of our prime minister.


Further comment at linguistic blog Transient Languages & Cultures.

Economic contraction without unemployment?

6 04 2008

Mainstream approaches to global environmental crises tend to suggest that we can have our cake and eat it too.  That is, we can continue to “grow” economic activity while saving the planet.  For some time, advocates of this approach have suggested that we “de-link” economic growth and increased carbon emissions. Nobody knows if this is possible.  Certainly there are no examples of countries maintaining economic growth without increased material consumption or carbon emissions.  What if this approach is misguided?Could it be that endless increases in human consumption and population are not compatible with maintaining the Earth’s basic ecological functions.

Fortunately, there are fringe groups of academics exploring models of decreased consumption that might not lead to joblessness and poverty.  The European Society of Ecological Economics is hosting the first international  “De-growth conference”. Check it out here.