Monday, November 16, 2009


No major post today, time is very short, just a few ramblings.

The bringing of a twelve year old Aboriginal child to court on the charge of receiving a stolen Freddo Frog (an Australian chocolate) plus sign makes an apparent mockery of the justice system. I say apparent because there may be things that I simply do not know. See Charged with receiving chocolate frog for details. See a news report here.

I cannot report on the accuracy of the following story because I have not investigated it. It was told to me by an Aboriginal colleague.

In the NSW juvenile justice system there are apparently mechanisms for avoiding the formal court process. These are designed to make the system quicker, fairer and more humane. The only problem is that they are time limited. Many Aboriginal people live in regional Australia in smaller settlements and do not have easy access to lawyers. By the time they can contact Aboriginal legal age and get a lawyer involved, the time for alternative procedures has passed. So they end before the courts where they are far more likely to go to jail.

Mr Rudd's apology to the forgotten children created very mixed feelings. You see, as part of my PhD thesis I investigated the history of NSW child welfare. I did so because my grandfather was a ward of the state who suffered at the Pokolbin Farm Home. Later when he became NSW Minister for Education and Child Welfare he had to suffer through the troubles and injustices at his beloved Yanco Farm Home.

I wrote a little of this in David Henry Drummond and the Importance of Compassion because the single most important thing that Drummond's experiences gave him was a sense of compassion. He never forgot what had been done to him.

When I investigated the NSW child welfare system, I did not do so from any perspective of right or wrong. The thought never occurred to me. Shit happens. Rather, I was concerned to understand what happened and why, how it influenced my grandfather.

I do not doubt Mr Rudd's sincerity, nor the hurt that has been imposed on people by past systems. I just think that responses are out of kilter. Of course we must try to improve. Yet the tensions in our current society are manifest.

My grandfather wrote that the phrase the child is the father of the man is one of the cruellest phrases in the English language because it condemned the child to suffer as an adult from youthful mistakes. How many children, he said, had committed suicide alone and in despair?

Modern Australian society stands condemned at two levels.

It is condemned because Prime Minister Rudd can apologise to the forgotten generation at the same time as a child is brought before the courts for receiving a Freddo frog. It is condemned because in its desire for law and order and for quick solutions. It brings in things such as three strikes and you are out. Then it wonders at exploding prison numbers.

Most important, and this is the second level, modern Australian society stands condemned because it is censorious and hypocritical, moralistic. It is prone to harsh and simplistic judgements without recognising the conflict between those judgements and its own stated fundamental values.

I am not negative about the future in the way some are. I still believe in progress and the possibility of change. I still see the history in part as a record of progress. Still, I do struggle sometimes.        

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