By Ken Lay
September 4, 2013
I want you all to imagine something with me. Imagine that each week an Australian is murdered at a train station.

That each week, someone’s brother or sister; mother or father is violently killed getting on or off a train. Picture it?

Now picture the public response.

It would be a front-page news story in each of our capital cities. Police would flood our stations, while people would avoid public transport in favour of private cars. Congestion would quickly become a major problem, as the number of cars on the roads increased. The word “crisis” would pepper our talkback.

Can you imagine it?


Now I have another figure — a real figure — that I think is just as horrific. A figure that is just as worthy of galvanising our sympathy and outrage. But it doesn’t.

The figure is this: every week a woman is murdered by her partner or ex-partner.

Every week this happens.

Now, our public response isn’t at all like we imagined it would be if those victims died not in their family rooms but at train stations.

Why do you think that is?

I’ll tell you why I think it is.

Because what happens in someone else’s home doesn’t affect us. And because we are constantly misapprehending the nature of violence. We do this because we want to feel safer — so we apportion complicity to those who die violently. In our heads, we make them somehow responsible for the wickedness that befell them. When we do this, we feel better. We feel safer.

And it’s also much, much easier to do this when the crimes are domestic — when they’re behind closed doors. When it happens we might think “Well, why did she marry him?” just as we might think of a rape victim, “Well, why was she wearing a short skirt?”

When we imagine this sort of complicity for the victim — when we essentially blame them — we are congratulating ourselves for our superior judgement, a judgement that will ensure it never happens to us.

But when we do this we are injuring our imaginations, which is the lifeblood of our sympathy. When we do this, we come up with the wrong answers about why violence happens. And when we do this, we make it less likely anybody will care enough to do anything.

In blaming victims, we create a lot of myths about family violence. Here are some of them:

that the victim must have incited the abuse;
that the victim is guilty of awful judgement;
that if the woman’s life was endangered, she would simply leave.

No, no and no. These are myths and they’re getting in the way of honesty. In order to discard these myths, I’m going to broaden our story a little.

I place family violence in a long continuum of violence against women. I place family violence in a wider culture where vulgar and violent attitudes to women are common.

So as I try to correct some myths — and as I explain the urgency of this problem — let me begin at one end of the continuum.

In July, I wrote a piece on violence against women as part of the Herald Sun’s “Take a Stand” campaign. At the beginning of my piece I introduced a fictional — but unfortunately realistic — scenario.

Susie is 21. She’s just finished uni exams and decides to head out for a night with friends. Within the first two hours she’s been groped twice. The first from a leering drunk. The second happens from behind, anonymously, as Susie’s making her way through a crowd.

Susie feels a lot of things — saddened, humiliated and a little frightened. But she’s not surprised. This, she knows, happens every single day. Some women plan their evenings around avoiding it. As men, how often — if ever — do we do that?

Now, if you’re wondering what this has to do with tonight’s theme, what it has to do with the drunk belting teeth from his wife’s mouth, I’ll tell you:

Our culture is filled with men who hold an indecent sense of entitlement towards women.

Our culture is heavy with warped and misspent masculinity.

And every single day the casual groping and lewd comments that go unchallenged erode our standards.

And if none of us are saying anything, then this feral atmosphere gets worse, until it becomes an endorsement of violence against women.

If you think I’m exaggerating, consider the recent World Health Organisation’s report that found that violence against women had reached “a global health problem of epidemic proportions.”

And yes, that includes Australia.

The Organisation’s report found that a third of the world’s women had been assaulted.

If you think I’m exaggerating, consider Victoria’s crime statistics for the previous financial year. During 2012/13, there were 60,829 incidents where police submitted family incidence reports. This is a rise of 21.6% on the 50,000 reports submitted the previous year. 60,000 incidents in Victoria alone.

Grim statistics can be found all over the world.

In the United States, 3,200 US soldiers were killed between 2000 and 2006. In that same time in the US, three times as many people were killed in domestic homicides.

If you still think I’m exaggerating, consider the almost total absence in our culture of men writing about the casual molestation of women.

Violence against women — in whatever form — is not solely a feminist issue. It’s a social issue… It’s a blokes’ issue.

And if you still need to be convinced that this is a public matter, just wonder where you think the 8 year-old boy who watches his Mum gurgle on her own blood ends up.

Think about the kids.

So I’ve now explained to you some of our misapprehensions and myths about violence — that it’s a private matter or that the victims are to blame somehow.

And I’ve now explained to you the urgency. Now let me give you my challenges.

Men, I need your help in making any form of indecency against women deeply shameful.

I want you to use the full measure of your profession and your passion to try to correct this.

I want you to use radio and newspaper and TV; I want you to use boardroom and community meetings; I want you to talk about it with colleagues and children.

Men, when an estimated 20 per cent of Australian women have been sexually assaulted — and when we know that sexual assault is massively under-reported — we can’t say we don’t have a problem.

I want you to consider what shallow sense of masculinity validates abuse. I want you to consider what twisted sense of entitlement compels a man to grab a woman in a bar or call her a slut.

Men, I want you to consider why blokes are so quiet on these issues. Then I need you to correct that silence.

To all of you, I ask that you help repel a callousness that has crept into our society.

Callousness and complacency.

What I want to leave you with is a sense of the complacency we must battle.

And a sense of the prevailing, damaging attitudes towards women.

We must all stand up to these things wherever they occur.

Not just at community forums, but on trams and trains and streets. In the workplace and our sporting clubs.

With our children.

I talk a lot about ethical leadership in my position, and how I frame it for my audiences — how I explain why people fail to act — is often with what psychologists call the bystander effect.

A famous case-study of this phenomenon comes from 1968, when a young New Yorker called Kitty Genovese was murdered in front of her apartment.

About 40 witnesses did nothing.

The bystander effect looks at why there is less likelihood of bystanders responding when there are more people around.

Now what psychologists have found is that people don’t fail to intervene because of malice or indifference. What they found is that most people fail to intervene because of simple social anxiety. People become self-conscious: what if no-one else helps? What if my appraisal of the situation is wrong? What if my help isn’t wanted? What if people think I’m a busybody?

There’s also the assumption that somebody else will help — an assumption that increases with a larger number of bystanders. So what happens is there’s a collective reluctance to act until somebody else has acted. Once somebody has, it becomes the normal thing to do — the barrier to action has been broken.

And that’s my challenge to you: be that circuit-breaker. Be that person that says something — again and again and again.

Because if we shrug our shoulders when a sex worker is murdered — or a wife is battered to death — then we’re diminished as a community.

Ken Lay is the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police.


Sex Appeal in Politics

Random Observations of Life

Tony Abbott copped a lot of flak in the media, mainstream and social, for introducing the candidate for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, by saying “I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal”.

Tracey Spicer wrote a great article for The Hoopla:

Too often, a woman’s stocks rise and fall on the value of her sexuality. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wanted to scream, “Stop looking at my tits and listen to what I have to say!”

Then in middle age, we are disappeared by the diminution of this appeal.

Clementine Ford wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald:

Some people have leapt on the comments as evidence of Abbott’s inherent misogyny, but that’s being a little opportunistic. Abbott isn’t a misogynist (he owns four women, remember?) any more than he is a worthy candidate to run the country.

Ed Butler wrote a piece for AusVotes2013

View original post 1,388 more words


By Randa Abdel-Fattah
July 3, 2013

Anglo-Australians are a bunch of drunken bogans. They wear wife-beater Bonds singlets, drive around in utes with bumper stickers such as ‘Real Aussies drive utes’ or ‘F off, we’re full’.

When they’re not marinating their barbecue meat in VB, they’re at the pokies or bumming around at the beach, or posing for a photo in front of a Holden while draped in an Aussie flag, posting status updates about Aussie pride.

Pretty offensive, isn’t it? This kind of crude caricature is intuitively repulsive.

Imagine what it would be like if every news story about Anglo Australians contained an accompanying image of a drunkard in a ute. Actually, no, I think I can do better than that. An image of a cast member from The Shire.

Imagine if every racist, sexist, rat bag named and shamed on the online site, the anti-bogan press, was the visual representation and dominant marker of Anglo Australian identity.

Now imagine you are a Muslim and belong to any one of the countless ethnic backgrounds that characterise the Australian Muslim community. Or imagine you are an Arab. The most persistent images of Islam and Muslims that we are bombarded with in our popular culture and media are the Shire equivalents in Muslim communities.

If you don’t believe me, just switch to Today Tonight, which regularly churns out the ‘angry bearded Muslim man’ story.

All the research demonstrates that since the 1990s and certainly post-September 11, Muslims and Arabs are our ‘folk devils’. The vitriol and Islamophobic diatribe Ed Husic (Australia’s first federal parliamentarian of Muslim background) was subjected to yesterday for choosing to swear an oath on the Koran was not surprising.

Being Australian and Muslim is considered an oxymoron.

Muslims are accused of failing to ‘fit in’ (code for abandoning one’s Muslim identity) or, as part of larger moral panics and discourses surrounding Islam, are viewed as a clandestine group attempting to subvert the nation from within.

When you type a text in your smart phone, the predictor text function automatically inserts a word that overrides what you intended to write. I believe that even the most well-meaning ‘I’m-not-racist-but types’ have failed to develop an immunity to the predictor text function.

Because we are living in a time when any and all discussions about Muslims and Arabs start from several default positions, namely, that a) Islam is intrinsically incompatible with Western values; b) Muslims and terrorism are inextricably linked and c) Islam oppresses women.

And so in the public imagination you try to say ‘Muslim’ but what you automatically get is ‘terrorist’, ‘extremist’, ‘radical’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘Islamist’. You say Muslim woman and you get a woman in a black burqa. You say Muslim man and you get an angry, hairy bearded guy frothing at the mouth.

But wait! We should reassure ourselves, we are told ad nauseam, because the Italians, Greeks and Asians had their turn. Is that supposed to make us feel better about our experience of prejudice? We just need to wait until we can hand the baton onto another group and breathe a sigh of relief that the focus is off us.

The only thing that Australia’s ‘cycle’ of victims tells us is that Australia is fundamentally a racist country.

One of the most insidious aspects of the racism we see in Australia is how deeply entrenched it is in the language we use in our public space and discourse, and how such language threatens the capacity for Muslims as a diverse and nuanced group to be treated as legitimate citizens.

By language I mean words and representations and the values and meanings we ascribe to particular communities. I mean the way we visualise Muslim otherness.

Countless studies have been carried out that demonstrate both the overt and subtle dimensions of racism that exist in this country.


Underpinning it are moral panics about so-called boat people, ‘Islamic’ extremism, creeping shariah, the burqa debate, a clash of civilisations, angry men as ticking time bombs.

I am just as interested in subtle racism as I am in the overt. While subtle racism is systemic and pervasive, it is easily disguised and denied and represents a symbolic violence, challenging people’s status as legitimate social participants. Its banality renders it less embarrassing to the dominant cultural elite and so it doesn’t really provoke much fuss.

Yet while I am utterly appalled by our government and community stance on asylum seekers, for example, and see that debate as a clear example of how effectively some politicians and media commentators can exploit the politics of fear and racism, I am also concerned by the white-washing of our popular cultural content on TV as another example.

Trivial? Perhaps, but nonetheless an example of the dangers of systemic and subtle racism. Our popular culture and media can disenfranchise and delegitimise human beings who are literally liquid papered white in our cultural, artistic and political production.

The ‘ethnics’ and Aboriginals are relegated to SBS while commercial TV is still predominantly white. Neighbours practically imploded when an Indian family arrived on Ramsay Street.

Our hospital and medical shows are also largely white even though anybody who’s been to the ER department of any Aussie hospital knows it’s the Aussies of Indian and Asian descent who run the show.

I see this as a cultural white elite desperate to retain the delusion of a monocultural society against the reality of our clearly diverse population. As for our indigenous population, they are by and large invisible.

After all, as anthropologist Ghassan Hage argues, Australia constituted itself physically through a racist act. It exists as a territory because of an act of appropriation of a land and the decimation of a people who were defined racially.

The ‘us and them’ project continues, perpetually against indigenous Australians, and cyclically against various kinds of ‘brown or third-world looking people.’

Australia’s culture of racism can only be challenged when we acknowledge and address the systemic, shameful racism that persists against our indigenous population, and cure the racism that deprives agency and dignity to the indigenous people of this country.

This is fundamentally about honestly rejecting our colonial mindset, understanding and owning up to dominant group Anglo privilege and reinventing ourselves as a nation.

Randa-Abdel-Fattah*Randa Abdel-Fattah is an author and current PhD candidate, exploring Islamophobia and racism in Australia. You can follow her on Twitter: @RandaAFattah.



By Monica Attard

January 21, 2013

It’s not long now until Australia Day.

On that day, some will show their love of Australia by flying the Australian flag atop their cars. Or by draping the flag over their shoulders to parade on beaches, beer in hand. Others will quietly celebrate whatever it is that we think we are when we so publicly and proudly declare ourselves Australian.

Love of this country and nationalism are deliberately fused together on this day – to set an example of how it is we ought to live in this multicultural nation – as Australians! We will be told by politicians of all persuasion that we peacefully co-exist because we all “share” something.

What does “being an Australian” mean to you? Image via

What is extraordinary is that over the years, Australia Day has cemented the notion that there is some quintessential characteristic or set of characteristics that we share that make us all Australian. And even more extraordinary, that we share it simply because we happen to have been born here or happened to have arrived here.

What this is has changed over the years. When I was growing up in 1970s Sydney, even if you were born here, you were Australian only if (a) your parents were born here and (b) you didn’t look Mediterranean. I ticked neither box.

Though waves of Vietnamese immigration, followed by Lebanese immigration, followed by waves of asylum seekers have dimmed this peculiarly 1970s definition of Australia, the notion remains that there is something identifiable which – if subscribed to or accepted – makes you somehow, magically, Australian, and the same as everyone else.

And it’s not mere citizenship of the type, which can be bestowed upon anyone who meets certain government set criteria.

Many have tried to define it, this “Australian-ness”.

Some say it is egalitarianism – that we all have the right to work and live as well as the next bloke (or sheila). Some say it is mateship – that we are there, barracking for or defending each other when the chips are down. Some say it is loving cricket, or loving tennis, or playing rugby, or bagging those who bag us, or loving fish and chips on the beach, or just not being – generally speaking – a douchebag.

Some say you can feel this thing that makes us Australian whether you are Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jew, black, white, or somewhere in between. Watch this video for evidence of how we now flatten out what it “means to be Australian”.

But in the absence of an absolute definition with which all of us can identify, celebrating sameness when so many of us are so different can surely serve only to make many people feel more different and less like the rest of the country in its Australianness, and therefore less accepted.

The whole “we are all Australian” thing can feel like little more than the jingoism of nationalism on steroids on Australia Day. And that can so quickly and so easily turn very ugly.

Remember those horrific years of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and John Howard’s “we will decide who comes to this country and under what circumstances” time as PM?

Remember Cronulla in 2005 when mobs of rioting angry, young, Anglo youth rounded up on young, angry, non Anglo youth – throwing bottles at them as they carried signs reading “F*ck off Lebs” and “ We grew here, you flew here”? Relations between Anglo and non-Anglo Sydneysiders still haven’t returned to pre-Cronulla normal.

A violent scene from the 2005 Cronulla riots. Photo via

Loving the place where you live is a great thing. But lest we forget that it can be and indeed, has been abused to produce behaviour that is most dishonourable. Cronulla is but one example.

There are, for example, the decades we insisted on the notion of terra nullius followed by our refusal to apologise to indigenous Australia for the sins of the past. To do otherwise – on either count – would have been to dishonour the idea of this being “our” country, possessed by us (and no-one before us) in a nationalistic fervour that could be whipped up at whim. It would have been to discount the idea that this is our country where we can institute whatever policy we deem necessary, no matter how inhumane, to maintain our idea of law and order.

And there’s our refusal to see the suffering of asylum seekers and open our national doors for pretty much the same reasons as above: this is OUR country, not theirs. We decide who gets to live here.

As the philosopher Raimond Gaita has said in the past, love of country often degenerates. And it can often degenerate into something we may not like or even have control over. It can often encourage people to think its okay to say “we” in a way that excludes others.

It can also often degenerate into nationalistic jingoism peddled by politicians for their own political purposes.

We can however, enjoy the day off knowing that the public holiday is, indeed, the one thing we all have in common.

What does Australia Day mean to you?

*Monica Attard OAM, is a five-time Walkley award-winning Australian journalist – including the Gold Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism 1991. She was the host of the ABC’s PM, the World Today and Media Watch. She spent 28 years at the ABC, leaving to start up The Global Mail where she was, until recently, the Managing Editor. In 1997, Monica published a book entitled Russia: Which Way Paradise? documenting her time there as a foreign correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter: @attardmon.



By Sandy Ghandi                                                                                                                                         January 23, 2012

Last week revered neurosurgeon Charlie Teo commented about racism being alive and well in Australia.

Sandi Ghandi

Sandy Ghandi in Broome

His Aussie-born and Chinese-featured daughter told him about being on Bondi beach during an Australia Day celebration when someone told her: “Go back to your own country”.

He later discovered an Indian colleague of his had been spat on for being black.

I can relate to both events because both have happened to me.

I migrated here from Bangalore as a 12-year-old in the 70s and, despite a list of prejudiced and race-related atrocities, many fabulous things have also happened.

I am now an Australian citizen. This is my home.

Jessica Rowe’s insightful piece posted on The Hoopla, I’m not a racist, but… reminded me of a couple of tongue-in-cheek columns I wrote for the Byron Bay newspaper, The Northern Star, about racism in sport and what prompted me to write them.

One sunny day in downtown Byron Bay in early 2008, for no apparent reason, a bunch of white blokes drove past me and yelled out, “Fucking Indian monkey! Fuck off back to your own country!” and then the gutless wonders sped off.

Turns out there was a reason. There had been reports of racist incidents on the cricket pitch, involving players from both teams of the India/Australia cricket match the day before.

I’m no sports-person, and although I’m Indian by birth and origin, I’m not a cricket enthusiast. (I do eat a lot of bananas but surely that doesn’t make me a monkey and, as an Aussie, I’m in my own country, so what?)

Initially I was shocked and hurt, but relieved this had happened in broad daylight around other people, rather than meeting these guys in the dark somewhere on my own.

Then I was pissed off. So I went home, researched the “monkey incidents” and wrote a piece at the time called “Cameras don’t lie, reporters do!”

I had a bit of fun with “The Bowled and the Beautifool, starring Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh”. It was published in the Northern Star.

Some two years later, racist attacks on Indian students were in the news.

It was my opinion, that the on-field argy bargy, and the subsequent shock-jock style media reporting that ensued, only served to incite racism and was instrumental in the racist attacks on Indian students that followed.

So in 2010, I wrote:

Racism – beat up or take-away?

Have we got racists? Of course we’ve got racists, in several colours, like most countries. They are an ignorant, fearful minority, often found in groups of sports-crazed, violent yobbos – when on their own, they’re gutless wonders.

There’s also the closet-racist Caucasian, who secretly thinks Caucasians are superior to Asians, or other coloured skins – these are the ‘but’ people, who say ‘I’m not a racist, but…’. Perhaps they should be called the ‘butt’ people.

If we are to enlighten our racists, we have to own them, but our pollies are in denial of their existence and some media and sporting outfits often nourish them, making it a difficult task.

Maybe we should start a sort of RA – Racist Anonymous. Racists can clandestinely attend RA meetings to admit their prejudices amongst like-minded ignoramuses, with the idea of curing themselves of their race-phobia.

Actually, let’s just kill them… with kindness. Provide some multi-coloured refugees to give them a hug and a kiss, and an Indian take-away… student, that is!”

The reply from the newsdesk was probably predictable, although I didn’t see it coming. After all, I had been submitting my weekly column to the Northern Star for four years, receiving the the stellar payment of $50 (raised from $30 after some agitation).

The email came from the then acting editor and he said, in part: “I know you are trying to push the envelope and be feisty but I think in trying to do that you sometimes confuse the point you are trying to make.”

“Like it or not, we are a family newspaper (the demographic is 40-65, mainly professional people working in Lismore, Casino and Ballina). That’s a fairly conservative audience so swear words are not going to go down too well.

“… thank you for your input to the Star, but we won’t be reconsidering the decision (to cease your column), nor will we be asking readers what they think. If we do cop some backlash and get some letters to the editor, we’ll run these in the appropriate place.”

I offered to “tweak” my words. (Surely they’d get the Shane Warne reference?)

But after an almost four-year association, the acting editor saw me off with a three-line email, one of which read: “Just to confirm that we no longer require your column for the Northern Star.”

In this ever-increasing multicultural nation in which we live, that includes mixed-race marriages producing more mixed-race offspring, sometimes it’s hard to define racism.

One theory is: “When you have a derogatory attitude to certain people based on their cultural or ethnic background, that’s prejudice. When you express your prejudice through bad words or actions, that’s racism.”

Like many other “isms” that come from bullying, to me racism is bullying with ethnic undertones.

As nasty, distasteful and scary as it is, I find it laughable – possibly one of the reasons why I took to stand-up comedy and satire and prefer to see the lighter side of the darker things in life. No racism intended!

Sandi Ghandi2*Sandy Gandhi of Byron Bay, is Australia’s most “Easterly Indian”. From Bangalore to Bangalow, her verbal jousting has endeared her to stand-up comedy audiences in Byron and beyond, including a recent successful stint in India. She launched her first book at the 2008 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Called Enlighten Up – a literary titterary, it’s a collection of some her columns and other musings, and photos.
Sandy is much in demand for corporate performances and is a regular on the comedy circuit in Northern NSW and beyond. You can get all her news at Namaste!!