Online Opinion, and 2nd reply to CIS’s Sara Hudson

Note: in an article last Wednesday, Sara Hudson, from the Centre for Independent Studies, wrote her second article in which I featured. The references to me were gratuitous – they began with the first paragraph, where I was alleged to have a “virulent” dislike for Intervention supporter and Country Liberal candidate Bess Price. My supposed hatred of her was not because of what I have described as “outrageous” comments she has made, but supposedly because of the company she keeps, which, Ms Hudson informed readers, was “pretty petty schoolyard behaviour.” The article continued at this intellectual level, with more references to me of similar nature.

 I emailed the editor of Online Opinion, seeking a right of response. I was informed it would go up Monday. So I sent a response on Friday. It had most of the same content as the article below, except it included Ms Hudson’s previous insults of me, a previous point I’d made about Ms Hudson’s egregious misrepresentation of the Little Children are Sacred report, and harsh criticisms  made of her at Crikey.

The editor of Online Opinion, Graham Young, replied by informing me that he had read “the first few pars and this isn’t going to fly.” Mr Young would not have “contributors letting fly at each other. I’m happy to publish a response but it can’t be in a tit-for-tat format, with your own invective thrown in.” He would also only publish a less emotional article.

 I replied: “I find your response a little surprising, given that her references to me in her article were completely gratuiutous (sic), had no basis in fact, and in fact, my article begins by quoting what she has said about me.”

 Young:

I didn’t read all of the article Michael, I only had to read the beginning to know it is not going to fly. I did read enough of your article on The Drum to which Sara links to know that she hasn’t misrepresented your position and it is not “gratuitous” to refer to your attack on Price when writing an article in her defence.

 I’m not going to publish a Drum style rant, so you can either write to suit our style, or leave Sara’s piece unchallenged. Your choice.

 That is, Mr Young read “enough” of my article to decide that if I thought my position was misrepresented, I was wrong, and would not be allowed to respond to criticisms made of me. As he had only read a little of my article, he presumably did not know what I regarded as gratuitous, and was uninterested in finding out. This seems to me a rather unusual approach of an editor of a publication: to refuse a right of reply, on the grounds that he agreed with another contributor.

 I sent the article below. Mr Young replied

You got a couple of mentions in Sara’s article, but you weren’t the focus of it. This article is all about you and is quite disproportionate in terms of Sara’s article. I’m not in the business of publishing “he said, she said” articles.

  So, the editor of Online Opinion is happy to publish harsh criticisms of me, but thinks it inappropriate for me to write a response to those criticisms. If I want to write about unrelated matters, he might be interested.

The rejected article

Ms Hudson mentions me several times in her recent article for Online Opinion. It is my view that her references to me are false and misleading. More seriously, I believe what Ms Hudson wrote about Bess Price and the Intervention gives a misleading view of both.

Ms Hudson attributes to me a “virulent dislike” of Price. I do not believe I do have a virulent dislike of Ms Price. Ms Hudson claims that, referring to an article I wrote last year, my “biggest problem” with Price is “the friends she keeps, in particular, Gary Johns and the Bennelong Society.”

 

My article does refer to Price’s supporters, but not in the manner Ms Hudson describes. After Larissa Behrendt said something rude about Bess Price on twitter, the Australian launched a massive campaign against Behrendt. As an aside, the Australian recently wrote  that when Intervention opponents “argued for a more nuanced and respectful approach, [Price] said political correctness paved the way to abuse.” This passed without comment.

I began my article during the controversy by noting that Price was entrenched among a network of right-wing commentators and politicians, and a think tank known for its hostility to Aboriginal people. This helped account for the confected outrage from the Australian.

As to why people find what Price says offensive, I gave examples of quotes from Ms Price. For example “My people don’t use money the way white people do. They don’t save, they don’t budget, they can’t say no to relatives even when they are drunks and addicted to gambling and drugs. They need help in spending their money wisely.”

Is it so hard to understand why some people don’t like Bess Price? Is it so hard to understand why some people find her remarks offensive? How many white people would dare to say that Aboriginal people don’t know how to use money?

Contrary to Ms Hudson’s claims, I described one thing about Price as “outrageous”. Specifically, her claims about progress caused by the Intervention, and that it had given Indigenous Australians a voice. I wrote – at length – about the facts, as conceded by the Australian government, and the Australian. That is, the people who back the Intervention concede it has not achieved the socio-economic goals its supporters claim to care about.

I have written about this again, and again . And again, and again.

What has been Ms Hudson’s engagement with the evidence I have presented? In her previous article on me, she dismissed out of hand my “3000 word diatribe”.

Returning to Ms Hudson’s most recent article, she writes that “Price became a supporter of the Northern Territory Intervention because she saw it bringing much needed improvements in housing”.

Let us just consider a few basic facts about the housing program. According to the allegedly independent Evaluation report, featured on the Government’s website, the crisis levels of overcrowding in the Northern Territory before the intervention were 9.4 people per dwelling. However, “both governments are aiming to achieve an average occupancy rate of 9.3 persons per dwelling.”

That is, the housing program is aiming to reduce overcrowding by 0.1 person per dwelling. With a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, this is what has so deeply impressed Bess Price and Ms Hudson. This is what is supposed to show their deep concern about socio-economic conditions in remote Indigenous communities.

The other “evidence” that Ms Hudson presents for the Intervention is a survey. She cites it as showing that some 59 percent feel their lives were better than they were 3 years earlier.

Firstly, we should note that this survey was conducted from December 2010 to June 2011. Three years earlier still means after the start of the Intervention. It is not a survey which compared how things were before the Intervention.

Put that aside. A more impressive result of the survey was that 63.1 per cent of those surveyed said that children have been going to school more in the last three years. The Government’s own statistics showed that this was not true: school attendance rates had basically stagnated. The survey was obviously unrepresentative of the Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. I mentioned this already, in the article Ms Hudson dismissed as a “diatribe”.

I did not appreciate Ms Hudson referring to me as engaging in “pretty petty schoolyard behaviour”, nor her gratuitous insinuation that I, along with supposed cohorts, am unaware that socio-economic “problems existed well before the intervention” in remote Indigenous communities. I hope that readers will look past her ad hominem attacks, to the evidence. It continues to be my view, as I keep writing, that there is no evidence that Indigenous communities are being helped by the racially discriminatory, punitive measures of the Intervention.

There is, and remains, considerable evidence of what works. That is, a respectful approach, based on consultations. As I noted in a previous response to Ms Hudson, the Evaluation report said:

The NTER was prompted by the publication of the Little children are Sacred Report, but it should be remembered that the report found that the number of perpetrators of abuse was small and that considerable community functionality remains, together with a strong will to overcome the problems.

The Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association stressed

the centrality of human dignity to health”. Its “principal” recommendation, “based on the evidence (from communities, stakeholders and experts)”, was “that it is essential to find ways to work together as equals”. The government must work in “respectful partnership with the Aboriginal leaders and organisations responsible for the governance of the prescribed communities in the NT.

This sounds so obvious that it ought to be a truism. It is a mark of the deeply entrenched racism in Australia that it is not.

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Comments
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