Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : Politics Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

 

Black Justice?

As the raging debate confirms, allegations of sexual violence in someone's distant past, whether a US Marine in Vietnam, a bloke from the 'best' public school or the head of ATSIC are never easy to deal with. But such are the political implications of the allegations against Geoff Clark, it's a veritable minefield.

To hear Aboriginal Magistrate Pat O'Shane thundering like any other patriarchal judge about 'a lot of women manufacturing a lot of stories against men' is a sad consequence of the Age's public 'investigation', and of the historical and cultural framework of the allegations against Clark.

From the understandable observation that men and women are capable of lying about their political enemies, O'Shane has emerged as a defender of the stark prejudices that befuddle our judicial system. But she didn't need to speak the demeaning and prejudicial language of a rape-defence barrister to defend Clark.

As the social and economic indicators - health, income and levels of incarceration - confirm, Indigenous Australians know all about 'white fella' justice. That's why O'Shane and thoughtful people are sensitive about Clark's 'trial by the white man's media'. Not that what's happened to Clark couldn't happen to a white fella, or as Robert Manne puts it, the Age would 'suppress identical allegations if they were levelled against a non-indigenous politician of businessman'. It's just that allegations against the rich and powerful (UNLESS THEY ARE GAY) rarely go past the public bar or the parliamentary dining room.

When was the last time a white public figure was asked to resign on the basis of an unproven allegation? Did John Elliott resign from the Carlton Football Club or the boards of any companies and refuse a gig on the Footy Show when a Labour politician under parliamentary privilege accused him of fraud, and the NCA laid charges that sent his co-accused to gaol?

The problem isn't that the Age pursued Clark, but that 'white middle class' identities who yield real power are rarely if ever the subject of such covert and detailed investigation and are never castigated and 'outed' prior to criminal charges or a legal hearing. The question now for the Age is where this form of 'investigative' journalism will end. Given it believed these allegations would not result in charges being laid, the Age obviously proceeded on the basis of public good.

So why not, starting with the Prime Minister, undertake a thorough assessment of the worthiness of existing political leaders to hold public office, then work our way through the back benches and the judicial chambers? By journey's end we might have ensured that politicians of the ilk of former ALP member Keith Wright won't again be free to sanctimoniously deliver god fearing speeches in the parliament whilst at the same time sexually abusing members of their family. So too might we expose the documented gulf that often exists between public and private policy, and come to understand why some judges say the things they do when confronted with the rape or murder of a woman.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for acts of violence, whether by public figures, the US Marine or the average bloke, being the subject of public discussion. If the Age had chosen not to proceed with these accusations it risked being labelled guilty of complicity in the violence that occurs against women. And as my own writings about the killing of a woman by the man in her life assert, these and like acts, as Pat O'Shane's words testify, remain a blind spot in our cultural and political understanding.

If Geoff Clark committed these rapes, it's something he and the legal system must address. But does it mean as Robert Manne claims, 'he's lost his capacity to speak with any authority on the questions of self-determination, the apology and the treaty'? By these standards no one who's committed a serious crime can ever assume a place in public life or be rehabilitated. If this is so how can the white fella ever be forgiven for the documented acts of violence perpetrated against blacks over the past two hundred years?

If acts of violence can never be reconciled, then there can never be reconciliation between black and white Australia. Robert Manne, of course, doesn't believe that. The problem is, if Geoff Clark is guilty, he's hardly likely to seek forgiveness and risk gaol and so bring to an end his political journey. That's the conundrum.

There's a certain irony also that Geoff Clark should be tried in the media for an alleged crime now acknowledged as seriously under reported in white society. When Germaine Greer claimed in later life she'd been raped while at University many wondered why such a fiercely independent woman had waited so long to divulge the truth.

What we all are beginning to understand is that our much-vaunted criminal justice system suffers from a chronic inability to understand and deal with violence against women. That Geoff Clark's alleged rape of four women, and policeman Denis Tanner's alleged 'murder' of his brother's wife was tried in the pages of the Age, rather than in the courts, is what really matters. Ultimately, this and the fact that the white fella Tanner is but a small fish by comparison with Clark, might be the moral of the story.

Phil Cleary

June 18, 2001

THIS ARTICLE WAS SUBMITTED TO THE AGE FOR CONSIDERATION. IT WASN'T RUN.

 

 

 


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