Is Germaine germane?

Germaine Greer has written an article criticising John Howard’s plan for intervention in indigenous communities. I like the second half of the article better than the first. But, as far as I can judge, Greer’s article suffers from the “critic’s malaise”. She criticises, but doesn’t offer an alternative. Greer says:

The name of the game, as usual, is bad faith. Everything Howard does is calculated to win him votes. The suffering of Aboriginal women and children at the hands of their deranged menfolk has been going on all Howard’s life. For most of that time whitefellas made a joke of it. At this late hour, on the eve of a general election, he is suddenly taking it seriously. It is of no consequence that what he is doing is illegal. His treatment of asylum seekers and boat people is just as illegal, and it is widely admired by Australians and people who should know better.

As a lawyer, I must hone in on her claim that Howard’s action is “illegal”. What does she mean by this? What laws has the Federal government breached? They may have breached some international law norms…but I don’t like hyperbole like this which is not backed up with proper analysis.

My own experience is that, unfortunately, indigenous people do not get much joy out of the law. Its rhetoric is grand, but the reality is not so good. As I have argued before, native title as it is currently conceived is barely proprietary anyway, and the rights given to indigenous people are extraordinarily limited and fragile.

As for human rights law – I get depressed with it. It always shuts the door after the horse has bolted. How does it actually balance the competing rights of an indigenous women who have been abused with the rights of indigenous men who has committed the abuse? One has a right to protection, a right to safety, a right to be free of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. The other has a right to a defence, a right to a fair hearing, a right to a presumption of innocence. These are difficult questions to answer.

I think Greer’s point about insufficient policing of bootleg alcohol sales is well made. Her comment that the unintended consequence of banning alcohol in communities may be to drive people off the land is also important to take into consideration.

But at the end, I am still left with the question: what then would she do? What solutions does she have? How does she respond to Noel Pearson, Wesley Aird, Warren Mundine and John Moriarty, who are asking for radical intervention? Does she ignore them entirely? Does she concede that some sort of radical intervention may be desirable? Does she only take on board the opinions of indigenous leaders who agree with her particular point of view? In which case, isn’t that a bit patronising? (“I know what’s best for you, indigenous people, don’t worry yourselves about that, I don’t want to hear what you have to say”…)
It’s oh-so-easy to criticise, so much harder to come up with constructive criticism. I’d find her article more convincing if she had come up with real alternatives.

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16 Comments

Filed under Australia, human rights, indigenous issues, politics

16 responses to “Is Germaine germane?

  1. AV

    But at the end, I am still left with the question: what then would she do? What solutions does she have?

    Well, as you point out, it’s easier to spot flaws than it is to come up with solutions. Perhaps Greer doesn’t have a solution to the crisis in indigenous communities, in which case the honest thing to do is to not offer one. Of course, it would be great if she had a solution to offer; but if Greer has valid criticisms to make of the Federal Government’s plan, they are valid regardless of whether or not she has solutions of her own to offer. Hence, Greer’s being critical of Howard’s plan does not oblige her to provide an alternative–we can learn from or reject her critique on its own terms.

    (Just a nitpick.)

  2. Greer is a very good example of some one who is all about the “rights” agenda and has no answer at all for a practical solution to the problems in these communities. And if you read the subtext what she wants is a sort of apartheid where the blackfella’s can continue living as hunter-gatherers as if the 21st century does not exist.
    Honestly she does not live in this country and like a lot of long-term expats she has a vision of the country that is very much coloured by the social paradigm that existed before she decided to emigrate to the UK, basically she does not have a clue about the Australia of 2007.

  3. pete m

    GG is a fool. We pay too much attention to her. She doesn’t understand (or bother to understand) the full extent of the assistance being planned. How then can she criticise it?

    Iain – careufl, you sound like Kim with that “coloured” crap. While people do speak from experience, they also speak from having learned from others.

  4. pete m

    hehe typo on “careful” pimf – soz

  5. AV: technically that’s true, Greer is entitled to merely critique – and I concede above that there’s some good points in there. But her analysis is weakened by the lack of practical solution in my opinion.

    Iain and Pete: Iain, I share your frustration with these ex-pat Aussies who expound from the UK on what Australia should do. They all seem to delight in portraying Australia as racist and backward. Of course Australia has racist elements – everywhere does – but there’s some good things about Australia too.

    In Greer’s defence, she does actually seem to have spent time with remote indigenous communities and have some idea of what she is talking about.

    People can comment on things whether they have experience or not. So, I love those No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books – written by a male white Scottish doctor, but from the perspective of a “traditionally proportioned” Botswanan woman. Some people suggested that McCall shouldn’t write about Botswana because he’s white, but I don’t think they can have read the books, which are delightful, compassionate and sensitive. One of the pleasures of fiction is that the author imagines what it is like to be someone else and tells that story.

    But it is true that experience makes a difference. Before I was a parent, I had all kinds of opinions on parenthood and children. The other day, I was walking through Myer with a screaming tantruming toddler tucked under one arm, and I realised how much experience changes your perspective. Doesn’t mean that my previous opinions were wrong, but my subsequent opinions have been tinctured by experience…so I think they’re a bit more rounded.

  6. Greer is completely LAME. Nothing more than an attention seeking schmuck. Her “argument” is riddled with fallacies.

  7. I’m with AV – one doesn’t have to have a better idea than the status quo to criticise an idea that’s worse than the status quo. Presumably Greer’s position is that, appalling as it is, doing what we were doing is less terrible than what Howard proposes.

    This whole “something must be done; this is something; therefore we must do this” argument gets bandied about far too often for my liking. (“Kennett was a Premier who DID things”, people say, as if whether those things were good or bad isn’t important.)

  8. Jeremy: yes, it’s important to criticise the government’s plans. And I concede that Greer has some valid points.

    Nevertheless, it’s a personal bugbear of mine. I hate it when people criticise but don’t have any better proposals to make. It’s just so negative. And the risk of just criticising all the time is that you get stuck in a slough of inaction, unable to do anything positive.

    The fact is that for whatever reason, the government is finally expressing a desire to do something about indigenous disadvantage (yeah, I’m cynical about it, but at least something is being done). If we just criticise and don’t give an alternative, then the status quo just stands. But if we criticise and give an alternative, then we can harness that reforming zeal and perhaps get something positive out of it.

    To my mind, just letting the status quo stand is not an option. What we are doing now in regard to indigenous issues is pathetic in the extreme. Children are dying (like the three month old baby girl who was bludgeoned to death the other day). No, I don’t like ill-thought out knee-jerk reactions which may make matters worse rather than better. But I’m not willing to throw the whole idea out – I would support the implementation of the recommendations by the NT taskforce, for example. And I’m willing to try to find a workable alternative.

  9. GavinM

    Poor old Germaine..We shouldn’t be too hard on her, she just can’t come to terms with the fact that nobody is interested in her looney opinions any more..It’s making her more bitter and twisted with every passing year.

  10. Pingback: Club Troppo » Missing Link, Friday 6 July

  11. Well the government seized on a report to the NT government that had been months in the making to justify the ‘national emergency’ so why not give the recommendations in the report a go? On what basis, other than crass political opportunism, did Captain Brough ignore the recommendations in the Wild/Anderson Report in favour of his own authoritarian ‘plan’?

  12. Agreed, Ken, I think the government should have considered the NT report carefully, and put the recommendations it made into operation. More haste, less speed and something positive might come out of it. I can only hope.

  13. Anthony_

    Yeah as Gavin said, the stupid comments she has been spewing lately has turned people off.

  14. I think she’s just a bit full of herself really.

  15. Do you?

    I came here from Missing Link because it described your post as a wonderfully rational take.

  16. What I think of her personally doesn’t affect my judgment of her article. No point getting personal.

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