Monthly Archives: August 2019

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JOANNE McCARTHY: Hiding among the mob

THE scene was Bondi Beach, September 24, 2000. The time, 9am. Around me people were shouting. I was shouting. The man on the sports ground in front of us was strutting and shouting.
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Suddenly we were on our feet with our hands in the air, then back in our seats again. Laughing.

We’d met the challenge. We hadn’t broken the Mexican wave.

In front of me now is the ticket from that day – $105 for seat 15, row 7, aisle 109 of a Sydney Olympic Games beach volleyball session. Photos show at some point I watched a rather improbable match between Portugal and – seriously? – Switzerland.

Anyway, there I was, part of a mob on a glorious day doing what mobs do best – enjoying being with others who were enjoying the same things.

Everyone talked with everyone. Photos show I was with people from around the world. All shapes, colours, creeds. The only constants were hats, sunnies, zinc swipes and grins.

From memory there were 123,000 Mexican waves that day which were almost as entertaining as the beach volleyball.

Were we, as a mob of many thousands, up to jumping up and down with our hands in the air for hours?

That was our challenge, as clear as day and without any discussion.

Who started it? I have no idea, but it didn’t matter.

We were at the beach volleyball on Bondi Beach during the Sydney Olympics and our job was to watch the event, laugh, shout, take photos, talk to people about how great the Games were, and maintain the Mexican waves.

When people bailed from exhaustion and the wave faltered there were good-natured shouts, but others further along would keep the wave going.

I can’t hear the words beach volleyball these days – and I wonder how the Swiss team is going? – without thinking of the Mexican wave.

And I can’t bear to think of what Adam Goodes has been enduring on too many sportsgrounds in Australia, and for much too long, without thinking of the mob mentality of crowds – the good, like at Bondi Beach, and the appalling, turning against an Indigenous man.

There is a whole branch of psychology dedicated to crowd behaviour, and a whole sub-branch dedicated to why it took so long for science to consider how individuals can act very differently when part of a crowd.

It’s worth looking at as public debate about the treatment of Adam Goodes has become mired in claims and counter-claims about whether it is racist or not, and Goodes has indicated he is considering immediate retirement because of it.

In crowds we can be anonymous. When individuals believe they will not be called to account for their actions they can – and I stress can – be more likely to do things they would otherwise refrain from doing.

In crowds you can feel that you don’t have to take personal responsibility if things go wrong – and again I stress that you can feel that way, not that you inevitably will.

Clearly, crowds of people gather every day, around the world and in most diverse situations, without suddenly running amok.

There is no inevitability about crowds turning rogue. But Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists last year used brain scans to show that some individuals are more susceptible to the negative aspects of crowd behaviour.

The MIT group scanned the medial prefrontal cortex of people’s brains, which light up when we think about ourselves, or self-reflect. Self-reflection is tied to our sense of self, which in turn determines our moral compass.

The scans showed that while in groups, the medial prefrontal cortex in some individuals was more inactive than others, meaning their moral compass was more likely to be challenged than others.

A subsequent part of the study, during which people were asked a series of questions about moral judgment both as individuals, and while they were competing in groups, backed up the scans by showing that those with less active medial prefrontal cortex areas showed the least goodwill.

Other research shows that crowds can be dramatically influenced by the behaviour of individuals – both good and bad.

Which is the point here.

Whether individuals within those football crowds have booed Adam Goodes because he is an Indigenous man, because they wanted to fit in with the people booing around them, because they’d had too much to drink, because his sporting ability was an affront to their own sense of self, or for some other reason, by joining that booing group they’ve lost a part of themselves.

This issue – the treatment of Adam Goodes, an Indigenous man – is a test of each of us as individuals.

Are we in the group that stands by, silent, waiting for others to do something, or do we speak to people about why, in Australia in 2015, it is shameful that anyone is treated this way?

As Goodes said in his Australian of the Year acceptance speech, it’s about the choices we make.

Bronwyn Bishop expenses scandal: Tony Abbott goes to ground as Speaker finally says sorry

Tony Abbott at the Boao Forum for Asia in Sydney. Photo: Michele MossopApology too little, too lateBishop apology only about ‘saving her job’: LaborA lesson in eating humble pieExpenses controversy: Full coverage
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Tony Abbott has spent a third full day away from the media spotlight as the travel allowance scandal engulfing his hand-picked Speaker finally brought an apology from Bronwyn Bishop and with it a request that the Department of Finance examine all her travel claims.

However, Mrs Bishop vowed to fight on and has no plans to resign.

Despite several other issues of public interest running in the national space, the Prime Minister has kept an uncharacteristically low profile all week, even departing a trade function in Sydney on Thursday via a side door without speaking to reporters about Mrs Bishop’s case.

While the question of his continued confidence in Mrs Bishop as the chief guardian of standards would inevitably have arisen, Mr Abbott also would have faced questions about the racism furore around former Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, and developments regarding the aviation disasters of MH17 and MH370.

Leadership on the poor treatment of Goodes was instead left to NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird, despite the issue’s importance to national cohesion and the maintenance of social harmony.

Ms Bishop’s apology has been greeted with bemusement by colleagues, who say after nearly three weeks of the Speaker refusing to say sorry, her mea culpa was too late and self-serving.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wasted no time dismissing it as a tactical manouevre aimed at Mrs Bishop’s own survival.

“There’s a difference between saying sorry because you mean it and saying sorry because you’re about to get the sack,” he said.

He said if Mrs Bishop was genuine, she would not have previously refused to apologise.

The Speaker – who is set to face a no-confidence motion if she survives in the job until Parliament resumes on August 10 – used a doorstop press conference in regional Victoria to admit for the first time that her use of a charter helicopter to travel to and from a Liberal Party fundraiser in Geelong, at a cost of more than $5000, was “just ridiculous” and “inexcusable”.

“It was too much money,” she told reporters. “It just looked wrong. Although it’s within the rules, it just doesn’t look right and therefore I am apologising and repaying.”

Senior Coalition figures are in no doubt as to the scale of the confidence crisis around the Speaker, with such ministers as Treasurer Joe Hockey displaying frustration at having to answer questions on the subject.

In recognition of the collapse of public confidence caused by Mrs Bishop’s performance, rising Liberal star and potential frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer called for the Finance Department’s investigation into the Speaker’s travel claims to be fully disclosed.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton appeared to set a new low watermark for public accountability of politicians and how they claim entitlements by declaring the allowance rules were adequate, that merely paying back the money if caught was sufficient, and that deliberate breaches were unlikely.

“If people breach the rules, even inadvertently, there’s a penalty you pay; you repay the money,” he told Macquarie Radio.

“But there are no crooks in politics in my judgment.”

Privately, Liberals are incensed that the “choppergate” scandal has not been resolved, with many arguing it is a distraction that has crippled the government’s public messaging.

One MP said it could only end one way, with Mrs Bishop’s resignation being “clearly” in the best interests of her party.

In April 2012, Mr Abbott himself laid out the reasons why the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, should intervene because of charges over travel entitlement abuse and sexual harassment claims associated with Peter Slipper.

“The Speaker is the guardian of parliamentary standards,” he said.

“The speakership is one of the most important offices in the Parliament. The Speaker is there to uphold the integrity of the Parliament and now we have very, very serious allegations against the incumbent Speaker … The prime minister, to uphold the integrity of the Parliament, needs now to require the Speaker to step down until these matters are resolved.”

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The Bronwyn Bishop scandal: A timeline of quotes

“The Speaker had a number of meetings during her visit to Victoria and always seeks to fit in as many meetings and events into her schedule as possible. It is because of her concern for the country, she works as hard as she can and wishes she could do even more.”
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Spokesperson for Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, July 15

“Look, instinctively, it doesn’t [pass the sniff test]…”

“It’s not a good look. I think the Speaker needs to explain the matter.”

Treasurer Joe Hockey, July 16

“When I saw that large amount clearly it was unacceptable and that’s why I have repaid it … I think the biggest apology one can make is to repay the money.”

“The fact of the matter is I was a guest speaker and speaking about the Parliament and how it works … it was done within entitlement but as I said, the amount of money was clearly far too large and that’s why I’m repaying it.”

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, Saturday, July 18

“I can really understand why people are unhappy about this. Frankly, I’m unhappy about it as well.”

“She has been a strong Speaker … she has been a strong servant of our country, she has been a good servant of the Coalition and so she does have my confidence but like everyone who has done something like this, inevitably, for a period of time, they are on probation.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Monday, July 20

“I understand that the Labor Party will seek to use this to destabilise question time, for example, and I’m sure Speaker Bishop will take that into account as she considers her position.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, July 29

“The Speaker is not resigning.”

Spokesperson for Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, July 29

“I want to apologise to the Australian people and say sorry for my error of judgment. You know, that helicopter, yes I was short of time, but it is no excuse…”

“On all these things, although it’s within the rules, it just doesn’t look right and therefore and I’m apologising and I’m repaying the money.”

“I won’t be resigning but I will be working very hard to make sure that I mean my apology to the Australian people and I will be putting in all that hard work.”

“I wish I had [apologised] earlier.”

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, Thursday, July 30

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct to be assessed for National Heritage List

The Female Factory was where “the most depraved held sway”. Photo: Fairfax Photo Library The Female Factory, pictured in about 1938, was built to house female convicts. Photo: Fairfax Photo Library
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Australia’s earliest female convict site, the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, is being eyed for inclusion on the National Heritage List.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt will announce on Friday that the three-hectare site next to the Parramatta CBD will be assessed for the highest heritage listing in the country.

The precinct has been at the heart of a battle waged by heritage advocates against the NSW government’s property development arm, which aims to build thousands of apartments in area.

The Female Factory was established in 1818 and was the first destination of all unassigned convict women sent to colonial Australia.

The colony’s second governor, John Hunter, described convict women as the “disgrace of their sex”, saying they were “far worse than the men” and “generally found at the bottom of every infamous transaction committed in the colony”.

The prison is within a largely neglected and inaccessible precinct that includes a collection of historic buildings that reflect the formative years of the NSW colony.

Among them is the former Roman Catholic Orphan School, which was established by the government in 1844.

An orphanage later became the Industrial School for Girls and then the notorious Parramatta Girls School through which about 30,000 young girls passed before it was closed in 1974.

The precinct has been nominated for heritage listing previously, but has now been selected for a two-year assessment.

“The inclusion of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in the Australian Heritage Council’s work plan is an important first step towards possible national heritage recognition of this remarkable place,” Mr Hunt said.

Australian Heritage Council former chair Tom Harley said it was highly likely that the precinct would be added to the National Heritage List. He could not think of an example where a site had been knocked back after being nominated for assessment.

The precinct is on the state heritage register but being add to the national list would afford it much greater protection as well as access to a bigger pool of funds and grants. The listing would require the creation of a management plan to set out how the heritage values of the site would be protected.

“What it means is that this is one of the most significant places in the country,” Mr Harley said.

Parramatta Female Factory Friends president Gay Hendriksen, who has nominated the site to be added to the National Heritage List two times, said the news was “absolutely brilliant”.

The group has been calling for the site to be preserved and turned into a living museum, similar to the World Heritage listed Port Arthur convict settlement in Tasmania.

But those rallying against UrbanGrowth NSW’s North Parramatta Urban Transformation Program may be disappointed if they hope the possible listing will change a proposal to create 3900 dwellings in buildings up to to 30 storeys in the area.

A spokeswoman for the agency said the project, which is being considered by the Planning Department, would not change and restoring and adaptively reusing the heritage buildings was one of its primary concerns.

“The process of assessing the precinct and potential National Heritage listing will not set back UrbanGrowth NSW’s plans for North Parramatta,” the spokeswoman said.

The assessment of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct is due to be completed by June 2017. The National Heritage List contains 103 sites, including 23 in NSW.

Charges dropped against UberX drivers, but government warns of campaign to come

Uber: the fight continuesFollow more Sydney news on FacebookLuke Foley: Engage with the shared economyMore NSW news
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In an embarrassing defeat, the NSW government has been forced to drop charges against 24 UberX drivers after a bungled prosecution.

But the government says it will be ramping up its campaign against the ride-sharing service, including through random roadside checks in the next couple of weeks.

Roads and Maritime Services had been attempting to prosecute 24 UberX drivers for breaches of the Passenger Transport Act, under which the drivers faced fines of up to $110,000.

But the government was forced to drop these charges this week after what it called “evidentiary issues”.

In a statement on Thursday, RMS Director of Safety and Compliance Peter Wells said drivers of ride-sharing services like UberX were breaking the law, “it’s as simple as that”.

“They are not regulated, not authorised and are not subject to ongoing criminal checks like taxi, hire car and bus drivers are,” Mr Wells said.

“It is only a matter of time before an incident occurs and a driver faces the possible denial of insurance cover, leading to substantial financial loss.”

Uber welcomed the dropping of charges.

“No one should be penalised for providing safe and reliable rides in their city,” a statement from the company said.

“The people of Sydney are voting with their feet – almost 4000 Sydneysiders are now earning a flexible income on the Uber platform and hundreds of thousands are choosing Uber to get around their city,” the company said.

But the chief executive of the Taxi Council, Roy Wakelin-King, said: “If Uber thinks that this is a win, then they are deluded. This fight has a long way to go.”

The NSW Transport Minister has announced a review of taxis and ride-sharing services.

Both Uber and the taxi industry were positive about the prospect of the review, with significant uncertainty running through the industry.

NSW Labor leader Luke Foley has endorsed the Uber model.

Opposition transport spokesman Ryan Park said: “The Baird government’s policy on ride-sharing is a shambles: its current case against Uber drivers has fallen apart, and yet it’s still left the door open to prosecution.

“The government needs to regulate the industry to make it safe and fair, or risk staying stuck in the slow lane and getting left behind by the hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders already using the service.”

Uber does not breach the Passenger Transport Act in facilitating its UberX platform, in which drivers take lifts through their regular cars.

But the drivers do, because they are not accredited as either taxis or hire cars.

Mr Wells said enforcement against UberX drivers would be targeted at known hot spots and during random roadside tests.

A Transport for NSW spokesman would not explain the issues with the prosecution. “To ensure future prosecutions are not jeopardised we cannot comment further,” the spokesman said.

In a release issued on Thursday night, Uber said no court in Australia had “held that any UberX driver partner has committed any offence under any passenger transport laws, including the NSW Passenger Transport Act”.

The Uber statement said a magistrate “at the Downing Centre Local Court recently ruled that NSW Roads and Maritime Services did not have authority to prosecute the alleged offences under the Passenger Transport Act”.

“About a week after that ruling, we were notified that RMS would be withdrawing all of its remaining prosecutions against uberX partners in NSW,” Uber said.

“These matters should never have proceeded to court and have been a waste of taxpayers’ money. Had costs been sought against the RMS, this would have meant even further waste.”