Monthly Archives: June 2013

Farewell Ms Gillard – I’m not sad to see you go

Last night, a Twitter critic accused me of consistently undermining Julia Gillard when I should have showed solidarity.

Twitter Rock

My first response was that he was overestimating my power to bring down a Prime Minister with my modest blog.

But, his criticism raises some interesting points.

I am a woman – a feminist. Does that necessarily mean that I am required to support a Prime Minister who happens to be a woman? What if the woman was Julie Bishop? Should I throw my support behind she-of-the-death-stare in order to keep my membership of ‘the sisterhood’?

Like many other people, I was delighted to see our first female Prime Minister come to power.  I even wrote her a letter.

While many were outraged by the method in which Ms Gillard despatched the  incumbent PM, I was less perturbed than most. Politics is a dirty game. Rudd obviously had serious flaws and had lost the confidence of his party.  There was probably no ideal way for Gillard to succeed Rudd, and, if her party thought she could do a better job, who I was I to argue? Perhaps I spent too much time in the corporate world to be surprised or even offended by political skullduggery.

I will admit to a little frisson of excitement that, in addition to being a woman, Gillard was also open about her atheism.

Let me set the record straight here. I did not expect, or even want, Ms Gillard to be an ‘atheist Prime Minister’ – any more than I want Tony Abbott to be a ‘Catholic Prime Minister’. I did hope, though, that she would be a secular Prime Minister, making decisions based on utilitarian considerations, evidence and rational argument.

And yet, with almost indecent haste, our new PM fronted up to the Australian Christian Lobby to insist that, despite her atheism, her morals sprang from her Baptist upbringing. The implication was that atheist morality was, somehow, inferior. Further, selling out the mental health of Australia’s most important asset – our children – the new PM pledged her continued support (and millions of dollars in tax-payers’ funds) to the National School Chaplaincy Program.

Equal marriage? We soon learned that, despite living in a defacto relationship with her partner, Ms Gillard did not support same-sex marriage because of her ‘traditional values’. WTF????  It was an oft repeated mantra that just never rang true.

More believable, was the hypothesis that her Prime Ministership had been secured at the cost of a deal with fundamentalist Christians within the Labor Party – notably Joe de Bruyn and Don Farrell. In other words, she had sold out her principles for power.

In August 2012, Ron Williams took the government to the High Court of Australia to challenge the funding of the National School Chaplaincy Program. He was successful. The High Court ruled the Federal government’s funding of the scheme unconstitutional. But, instead of accepting the authority of the High Court, Gillard’s government rushed through dodgy legislation to allow its continued funding and keep the Christian right happy. It was a cynical, dishonest move which thumbed its nose at the authority of the High Court and will necessitate Williams – an ordinary citizen – going back to court in another action to insist that the Commonwealth abide by the original decision.

Earlier this year, Ms Gillard’s government cut welfare to single parents in a Quixotic attempt to balance her government’s budget. Ignoring warnings from no less an authority than the UN that the cuts potentially violated several human rights conventions to which Australia is a signatory – including the elimination of discrimination against women – Ms Gillard defended the move which has brought incredible hardship to many women who are doing it tough and simply trying to do best they can for their families.

And then there is the Gillard government’s lurch to the right on asylum seekers. The ‘Pacific solution’ is no solution at all.

Women like me who have faced misogyny all our lives were buoyed by Ms Gillard’s now famous tirade against Mr Abbott, but, in the context of her refusal to fight for equal rights for gay women, the human rights of female asylum seekers and their families, and her insistence on making life inestimably harder for single mothers, her conviction lost much of its shine.

It’s true. Julia Gillard is a strong, intelligent, hard-working woman who has probably been as good a Prime Minister as any. Under incredibly difficult circumstances she implemented some extremely important policies – the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Gonski education reforms, and a price on carbon, among them. She deserves credit for that and has earned her place in history.

But, should this, and the fact that she is a woman, exempt her from criticism? I don’t believe so.

I am quite willing to admit that Julia Gillard was dealt with more harshly in the press because she is a woman. She certainly did not deserve the shocking, personal, misogynistic crap that was dealt to her by various dinosaurs of the rat-bag right and I spoke out against that, too.

This is a blog. I am an opinion writer, not a journalist. It is, I think, very clear that the opinions stated here reflect my own particular interests. On  the issues that really mattered to me, personally, Gillard did not deliver.

I never criticised Ms Gillard for ‘knifing Rudd’. I never criticised her because she is a woman – why would I? But, neither did I give her a free pass because she is a woman. Frankly, I don’t think she would have wanted that kind of patronising concession from anyone.

Some people have criticised me for attacking Ms Gillard, arguing that commentaries like mine will make it easier for Tony Abbott’s party to win at the next election. I think they massively over-estimate my influence!

But, even so, should Gillard really be exempt from criticism because Abbott is worse? Should we ‘keep mum’ over important issues like equal marriage, gay youth suicide, professional mental health support for school students, separation of church and state, respect for the High Court and more than a subsistence income for single mums because Gillard performed well in other areas? I don’t think so.

This month, it became increasingly clear that the ‘Gillard brand’ was irrevocably damaged. She was, for all intents and purposes, unelectable.

Perhaps if she had not sold her soul to the likes of de Bruyn and Farrell we might have seen the ‘real Julia’ and things might have been different. Sure, the mainstream media can take some of the credit – perhaps most of the credit – for her political demise. But, Julia had a hand in it too. We do no credit to strong, female leaders if we depict them, one-dimensionally,  as the hapless victims of a predatory male-dominated press-gallery.

And now, Rudd has returned the favour and mercilessly manoeuvred to remove an incumbent PM from office. Ms Gillard has no basis on which to complain about that. She gave that strategy her imprimatur when she did the same thing to Rudd. That’s politics.

Am I ‘ecstatic’ that Rudd has won the long game? Not particularly. I readily accept the possibility that he is a grumpy, irascible, foul-mouthed individual with a charismatic veneer and a chaotic management style. It may be that Rudd’s only saving grace is that he can charm the electorate out of a landslide victory for Abbott. If he wins the election and then gets knifed by Bill Shorten, it may be the best outcome all round.

I’m sorry if my pragmatism sounds shocking. But, ultimately, the ALP’s only goal must be to win the forthcoming Federal election or, at least,  not to lose it in a landslide.  For a variety of complex reasons – including ‘the misogyny factor’ – Gillard was simply not capable of achieving either of those goals in the short time before the election.  Whether or not that’s her fault is, frankly, academic. As far as I can see, installing Rudd was the only viable option.

That doesn’t mean that Rudd will be a good PM. It doesn’t mean a Rudd-led ALP will be a good government. But, hopefully, there is enough talent behind the scenes in the ALP to keep Rudd in check and keep the Australian boat afloat.

To give credit where it’s due, Abbott and his team, no doubt, would be good economic managers. But the ALP has also done a good job under extremely difficult circumstances. And, on the issues that matter to me – separation of church and state, equality, social justice, asylum seekers, human rights, reproductive rights, et cetera – Abbott, frankly, scares the shit out of me.

Let’s be honest. A Rudd government won’t be perfect on any of those issues either. But I have more confidence that the ALP will deliver kinder, more just, social policies than the Coalition. If the Greens gain the balance of power in the Senate, that provides an extra safe-guard.

After Gillard refused to back equal marriage I swore that I would not vote for any party whose leader did not support marriage equality. To me, a Prime Minister who does not believe in the basic human right of all citizens to equality under the law does not deserve the highest position in our nation. I would not have voted for a Gillard-led Labor government for that reason – regardless of any other policies. Equality is the bedrock upon which a democracy is built. A Prime Minister who would sell that out for power is not one I could respect nor cast a vote for.

Rudd is a late-comer in his support of marriage equality and, while I may doubt his motives and sincerity, while I may cringe at the theological gymnastics he performed to reconcile his new position with his faith, he has stuck his rainbow flag in the sand and that’s good enough for me.

I am not a ‘Labor voter’ or a ‘Greens voter’ or even a ‘Liberal hater’.  I am an advocate for equal rights, social justice,  human dignity and a secular state. Ultimately, I will vote for the party or parties that support the foundations upon which my political beliefs are constructed.

I don’t presume to tell anyone else how to vote. My role as a writer and blogger is simply to call the shots as I see them and let my readers make their own choices. I try to do that responsibly and fairly.

I refute the allegation that I had any hand in ending Ms Gillard’s Prime Ministership but, I couldn’t say, honestly, that I’m sad to see her go.

Chrys Stevenson

Gaynor ‘Gatsby’s’ his way into political oblivion

pick meBernard Gaynor is not a popular boy. He reminds me of that poor kid at school. You know the one! The kid who, when it came time for picking sporting teams, would hop up and down as if dying for a pee, thrust his hand in the air and shout with increasing desperation, “Pick me! Pick me!”. But, despite his puppy-like enthusiasm, he was always the last to be reluctantly chosen under the greatest duress. It’s the mental image that springs to mind when I think of Gaynor’s not-so-spectacular political career.

Known for referring to the Gay Mardi Gras as “the prancing pansy parade”, Gaynor’s personal blog (the only place which will publish his increasingly lunatic rants) today suggests that the phrase “good people” should be redefined to refer exclusively to heterosexual couples “in a lifelong commitment to each other that is open to procreation and children”.

Apart from being just plain silly, Gaynor’s definition of “good people” apparently includes de-facto couples (providing they’re fecund) but excludes heterosexual couples who have no interest in reproducing and “couples who cannot have children due to their bits being the same”.

It’s all a bit of a mystery, really, because somehow, despite their squidgy bits being the same, there are a hell of a lot of lesbian and homosexual couples who do have children. Perhaps if Mr Gaynor’s church was more inclusive of Rainbow Families he wouldn’t be so gosh-darned ignorant.

So who is this Bernard Gaynor? His name might be vaguely familiar if you live in Queensland but, for the rest of you, the short-answer to the question is, “Nobody, really”.

The longer answer is that Gaynor is yet another pro-life Catholic whose wacky religious zealotry situates him outside the furthest reaches of polite society, alongside the fundamentalist Muslims he so militantly opposes but, with delicious irony, so closely resembles.

By his own admission, Gaynor cast his first-ever vote for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. Sadly, his political judgement doesn’t seem to have improved since. Little did he know then, with one stroke of a blunt HB pencil, he had just begun a Gatsbydecades-long losing streak in which he would back a string of crash-and-burn, clapped-out political nags – none of them stayers.

It would be fair to say that, in the last couple of years, young Bernie’s Charlestoned his way through more fringe-filled parties than the flappers in Baz Lurhrmann’s Gatsby.

Gaynor started his chaotic political career as state secretary of the newly-minted Queensland Party – founded by his equally barmy army buddy Aidan McLindon.

In late 2011, spooked, some say, by the spectre of Katter’s new Australian Party, McLindon and Gaynor divided the Queensland Party when they decided to merge with Katter’s mob, thereby gaining a couple of cushy jobs for themselves and royally pissing off those they left behind.

A small group of Queensland Party die-hards opposed the merger and attempted to keep the party operating, but ultimately, an investigation by the Queensland Electoral Commission found the McLindon/Gaynor-led exodus to Katter’s party had left the Queensland Party with insufficient members to maintain its registration. Oh, the lure of that Golden Calf of political power.

The defection left Queensland Party chairman, Jim Nicholls spitting chips. He accused McLindon, the party’s only sitting member, of jumping ship without consulting the state executive. The ‘merger’, said Nicholls, was not only illegitimate, but illegal. According to one report, the Queensland Party stayers accused McLindon and Gaynor of being untrustworthy, incompent, saboteurs. And these were their political allies talking!

But Gaynor’s defection to Katter’s Australian Party was short-lived. In January last year, he was suspended after tweeting that he didn’t want gay people teaching his children. Bob Katter is not known for his love of the ‘friends of Dorothy’ but, it seems, Gaynor was even too homophobic for him!

A month of rising tensions between Gaynor and Katter led to Gaynor’s resignation in late February 2012 – ostensibly because the party refused to take a public position against abortion.

As Rohan Williams observes, even Katter’s uber-conservative party was not conservative enough for Gaynor.

Not yet discouraged, Gaynor hinted strongly that his next political port o’ call would be the DLP – once the political holy land of Australian conservative Catholicism. (Take a bow B A Santamaria).

Prior to his ill-advised political foray, Gaynor served with the Australian Defence Force in Iraq and Afghanistan. Returning to Australia, he continued to serve as an intelligence officer in the Army Reserve. In April this year, the ADF joined the growing cavalcade of public institutions scrambling to distance themselves from Gaynor’s excrementally extremist views. According to Gaynor himself, the ADF charged him with seven counts of bringing the ADF into disrepute by discussing links between Islam and terrorist activity on his blog.

Having been decorated as a soldier, Gaynor was now rapidly accruing a mass of less laudable distinctions. Found too homophobic for one of Australia’s best known homophobes, he was now outed as an intelligence officer of very little intelligence.

By early June, the Democratic Labor Party, in which Gaynor had hoped to find a haven for his homophobia, issued a statement distancing itself from the would-be politician.

“Bernard Gaynor was never an endorsed DLP candidate” the DLP was anxious to clarify.

Apparently, Mr Gaynor had breached an agreement with the DLP and the Federal Executive (probably with a huge sigh of relief) voted unanimously to revoke his membership.

As Sal Piracha at “Only the Depth Varies” observes, “Bernard Gaynor will go down in history as having one of the shortest, stupidest political careers in Australia’s history”.

Indeed! Surely only a highly trained military marksman like Gaynor could so accurately shoot himself in the foot so many times during such a very short political career.

Recently, having run out of parties who’d have ‘im, Gaynor accepted defeat and said he was giving up politics. It would, of course, have been more honest to note that politics had given up on him.

But Bernie didn’t leave us wondering what kind of political leader he might have been, given the opportunity.

While Gillard draws her political inspiration from her father, Keating and Obama, while Rudd looks to Bonhoeffer as a guide to negotiating the rocky path between faith and politics, Gaynor’s inspiration is … well … slightly to the right of Attila the Hun.

Aussie JesusWith his ill-advised ejaculations forcing his premature political withdrawal, Gaynor hopes that a divine intervention might plant the seed that will produce an Australian messiah to save us from “the empty, atheistic and crumbling secularist society that is killing Western civilisation.”

Writing on his blog earlier this month, Gaynor said:

“I …pray that God raise[s] up a national hero who can save Australia in the same mould as Garcia Moreno, who dedicated his country to Christ the King and achieved great things for Ecuador, before being assassinated for his Catholic faith.”

You may not have heard of Garcia Moreno. I hadn’t. Fortuitously, Encyclopaedia Britannica comes to our aid:

“Gabriel García Moreno, (born December 24, 1821, Guayaquil, Ecuador—died August 6, 1875, Quito), initiator of a church-oriented dictatorship in Ecuador (1861–75). His rule, oppressive but often effective in its reformist aims, eventually cost him his life.”

Moreno, I learned, is condemned by liberal historians as Ecuador’s worst ever tyrant – and they’ve had a few! According to one report, he executed more people than any other 19th century Ecuadorian president, bar one.

In 1861 Moreno implemented Catholicism as the exclusive religion of Ecuador and, in 1863 negotiated Ecuador’s first concordat with the Vatican, investing the Ecuadorian Roman Catholic Church with vast power over the country’s education system. Imagine the National School Chaplaincy Program on steroids.

Even the local clergy accused Moreno of being a religious fanatic.

But, to give Moreno his due, like Hitler, he did marvellous things for the transport system.

While Catholics do like to cast Moreno as a religious martyr, it’s rather a stretch to say he was killed because of his Catholicism.

It seems Moreno was killed by a Colombian, a former friend, who held a personal grudge against the President. All of the conspirators involved in his murder were Catholics.

Sadly, Bernie is no better at history than he is at politics.

Without the likes of merciless Catholic dictators like Moreno to defend us, Gaynor fears:

“… we will see soldiers beheaded on our streets and the Islamic population will continue to grow rapidly. In ten years, it will be so much harder to address this difficult issue than it is today. It will probably be too late.”

There is no doubt, says Gaynor, that Islam will eventually prevail in Australia.

Hmmm. Jihad on one hand, the Spanish Inquisition on the other. Godless atheism is looking better all the time.

Bernard Gaynor, whose only political mark seems to be the kind of stain one occasionally finds in one’s undergarments , is now desperately seeking to extend his Warholian 15 minutes of fame by making increasingly outrageous remarks.

I hesitate to give this kind of fringe-dwelling fanatic oxygen but I decided there was probably some value in shining the Cross-Eyed Bear’s klieg light on him.

A religious fanatic, a political outcast, and a disgrace to the Australian Defence Force, Gaynor has spectacularly failed to gain any traction for his Crusade against Muslims and homosexuals.

(I’m sorry, I can’t resist the temptation to suggest he’s suffering from a Middle Ages crisis.)

In 21st century Australia, Gaynor is an embarrassing anachronism. Applying none of the ‘intelligence’ the ADF apparently credited him with, he looks at religion, homosexuals and an entire race of people with the same one-eyed, two-dimensional, intellectually bankrupt zealotry as the suicide bombers and jihadist hijackers he so ardently seeks to protect us from.

It seems the only job Gaynor is now fit for is as Brigadier Jim Wallace’s replacement over at the Australian Christian Lobby. They do like their staff to come with military credentials!

If only Gaynor could see, he is the mirror image of those he fears most. He is the monster he is fighting.

It is not Muslims or Christians or even atheists who will destroy this country; it is fanatics, ideological zealots and those who seek to dehumanize those whom they don’t and won’t understand.

I advocate an inclusive society. But, if we must redefine the phrase “good people” let’s redefine it to exclude people like Bernard Gaynor.

Chrys Stevenson

Fluoride – Fact vs Fiction

Doug and ChrysA letter to the editor of the local newspaper caught my attention this week. Written by one, “RG”, astrologer, clairvoyant, feng shui aficionado and crop-circle observer, the letter warned of the dangers of adding fluoride to our drinking supply.  And, there is indisputable scientific evidence to prove his claim, RG informed us; a recent Harvard study ‘concluded’ that high amounts of fluoride in the water impacts negatively on children’s IQs.

“Where do Australian dental groups and politicians get their science?” wrote this clearly exasperated defender of public health.

I happened to mention this letter to my cousin, Doug, when he was visiting last week. Doug and I appear to be genetically predisposed to eye-rolling at hippies quoting scientific papers. There also appears to be some genetic predisposition for writing scathing letters to the editor. But, not fond of the idea of having our house picketed by a heard of disgruntled hippies,  bearing rainbow placards and brandishing twirling fire batons, I have studiously avoided responding to RG’s letters to the editor for 11 long years. I will admit though, to taking some delight in consigning them to the fire.

“I think I have to answer this one,” I said, feeling rather like the proverbial overloaded dromedary.

The week moved on and  I never did get around to checking out this Harvard paper which, apparently, proved just how dangerous fluoride is for children’s neurological development.  Then, I received an email from Doug.  RG’s letter had been gnawing at him too and he’d taken pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – in reply.

Doug wrote:

“RG’s”  complaints about the lack of scientific process being applied in the issue of fluoride in our water supplies would be laughable if it was not so sad.

As anyone with even a basic understanding of science and scientific process would understand, when quoting from scientific research it is imperative to name the author, the journal the study was published in and a date. Correct referencing of articles is necessary so people can check facts and make sure the information being quoted is not being taken out of context or manipulated from the author’s intention.

A scientific research paper usually covers many thousands of words and can rarely be accurately condensed into one sentence.

If  “RG” understood anything about science, he would know this. Alas, I fear he may be one of those classic examples of a little education being a dangerous thing.

“RG” seems to be someone who does not bother to check the original source documents or take the time to understand them in all their complexity. Instead, relying on simplistic summaries from those with a very unscientific bias, he makes wild and dangerous claims which don’t accord with scientific consensus on this issue.

I am no expert in this field. But I know that the experts in chemistry and public health I have spoken to are alarmed at the rising number of misinformed people who are using twisted pseudo-science to remove an important tool for improving public health.

Doug Steley

Well, I couldn’t let myself be outdone, could I? Suitably inspired, I tracked down the study referred to  by “RG” and, as expected, it didn’t quite say what he said it did. My letter to the editor follows:

In “Fluoride Flaws”, Range News, 30 May, local conspiracy theorist, “RG” sneers, “Where do Australian dental groups and politicians get their science?”

The answer, “RG”, is that most of them actually read the academic literature rather than regurgitating propaganda from dubious online sources.

I took the time to track down and read the Harvard University analysis referred to by RG. It is “Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” by Anna L Choi et al, published in Environmental Health Perspectives in October 2012. The full text is available online.

“RG”  falsely states that Ms Choi’s study ‘concludes’ that children who live in areas with highly fluoridated water have ‘significantly lower’ IQ scores.

In fact, Choi’s study found a ‘possible’ correlation between a slightly reduced (although possibly significant) IQ level and exposure to exceptionally high concentrations of fluoride in drinking water – in China. But, Ms Choi also concedes that, despite her subjects’ exposure to very high levels of fluoride, “the estimated decrease in average IQ scores” is sufficiently small that it “may be within the measurement of error for IQ testing.”

So, a possible correlation warranting further research, but not at all proven. Certainly not ‘concluded’ as RG suggests.

Funny that RG neglects to mention that Ms Choi’s analysis is based on data from rural and regional areas of China.

Why China? It’s simple really. Ms Choi explains that the levels of fluoride exposure needed for her study “are difficult to find in many industrialized countries.”

There’s a good reason for that. As in many industrialized nations, the level of fluoride in Australia’s town water supplies is closely monitored and controlled within demonstrably safe limits. Australian children simply aren’t exposed to the ‘highly fluoridated water’ that features in Choi’s study – even when fluoride is added to the water supply.

Most of Australia’s natural water supplies are low in fluoride. Fluoride is added to bring our water up to relatively normal, safe levels of around .7-1mg per litre; a concentration which is low, safe and protects against dental decay.

Conversely, Choi’s study focuses on regional and rural areas in China with unmonitored, uncontrolled, abnormally high rates of fluoride in water sources such as springs, wells and streams. It’s simply not comparable with the water supplied to Australian families.

Like many chemical substances, the toxicity of fluoride depends upon the dose. You can die from drinking too much water or inhaling too much oxygen, but I haven’t noticed Mr Giles writing to the Range News to suggest we should stop breathing and drinking! Just so, fluoride, a naturally occurring substance in drinking water, is certainly toxic in high concentrations but has been proven safe and beneficial in lower doses.

So let’s be clear. Ms Choi’s research on fluoride and IQ levels does not ‘conclude’ anything.  Nor should her research raise any alarms for Australian parents whose children are not and will never be exposed to the unmonitored, high fluoride levels which exist in the wells, springs and streams of some regional areas of China.

RG should be more responsible when reporting on scientific studies. He should at least, read them. He has badly misrepresented this one.”

Chrys Stevenson

MeansLike climate science deniers and anti-vaxxers, our friend, “RG”,  has set himself up as the font of all knowledge on issues about which he knows fuck-all. One can only stand in amazement at the level of self-delusion required to imagine that his little bit google research provides him with the equivalent of a PhD in chemistry!

But google research does have its place. Indeed, a little bit of google research reveals that the key paragraph of RG’s letter to the editor was plagiarised, complete and unattributed, from an article by über woo-meister, Dr Joseph Mercola’s:

“A recently-published Harvard University meta-analysis funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that children who live in areas with highly fluoridated water have “significantly lower” IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas.”

If “RG” even bothered to read the study I’ll run down to Maleny, buy a hand-woven, organic hemp hat from the Co-op and consume it for my vegan, locally sourced, non-fluoridated dinner.

Sadly, the editor of our local rag didn’t see fit to publish our letters. OK, maybe they were just a tad ranty. But, hey – that’s why I have a blog.

Chrys Stevenson