Monday, 1 March 2021

My experiences challenging patriarchy in politics


This post is prompted by the current situation in federal politics, particularly by the action of Brittany Higgins, a former Liberal staffer in federal Parliament, who has reported that she was raped by a more senior colleague in Parliament in 2019. This happened shortly before the federal election. Ms Higgins suggests there was subsequently pressure on her not to take further action and to cover up the rape. There have since been other complaints and allegations about politicians, some of a very serious nature.

The media coverage and discussion on twitter has raised issues for me relating to my own experiences in politics. I've written about these in various place on this blog and elsewhere, but this has been fragmented, so I am attempting here to write the story of my experience and how it has affected me in the long term.

Broader political context

First I'd like to put this in a broader political context. The nation of Australia has its origins in invasion, in which First Peoples of the continent were forced off the land, and many killed, to make way for several white supremacist, hierarchical, patriarchal states. These states federated to create the nation of Australia in 1901. While much of the legislation and regulation underlying white supremacist patriarchy has been dismantled since then, Australia still operates as a white supremacist patriarchy to a large degree in practice, through hierarchies in which white men hold most high level positions of power and a disproportionate amount of land, property and wealth.

As a white person, I have benefited from privilege in this society. As a woman, I have experienced disadvantage, including direct and indirect discrimination, and occasional violence and sexual assault. 

In class terms, for most of my life I have been middle class, but I did experience some financial and other hardship in my teenage and early adult years, particularly when we lost our family farm, which was also associated with conflict, family violence and mental health issues.

Overall, I have had a good life and have benefited from privilege as a white middle class person. I want to acknowledge that here, before talking about specific harms that I have experienced as a woman in politics.

Experiences with the Victorian Parliamentary Labor Party 1996 - 2002

In late 1996 I accepted a job with the Parliamentary Labor Party in Victoria as a health and social policy researcher/adviser in the Office of the then leader of the Opposition, John Brumby. At the time I had recently completed a research MA in Australian history and had been working as a tutor and research officer at La Trobe and Monash Universities. I was not a member of the Labor party, although I subsequently joined. I was recruited through open advertising, not through the party. John Brumby's then chief of staff, Julia Gillard, who appointed me, gave me a contract that stated I was to be employed until the next state election.

I began work in early 1997. I found the working environment difficult, very pressured, and also very male dominated and 'blokey'.  There were frequent sexual jokes and innuendoes in the office and comments on women's appearance and sexual attractiveness. During the time I worked there, there were rumours of sexual assault by a male MP, but I don't know enough about this to comment further.

The atmosphere in the Victorian Parliament at that time was demonstrated by an incident shortly after I started work, when the then Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, referred in Parliament to John Brumby and his recently appointed Deputy, John Thwaites, as "the girls from Grammar". This was a reference to Melbourne Grammar, the private boys' school Brumby and Thwaites had both attended, while Kennett himself had gone to another private boys' school, Scotch College. 

In its boys' club misogyny, the remark summed up much of the situation on both sides of the Victorian Parliament at the time. While the Liberal and National parties were clearly male dominated and represented the wealthier classes in Victoria, the Parliamentary Labor Party was also dominated by four men who had attended private boys' schools, including John Brumby and John Thwaites, plus the Shadow Treasurer, Steve Bracks, and Shadow Attorney General, Rob Hulls, who had both attended Catholic boys' schools. 

During the time I worked there, I worked hard and was good at my job, as was ultimately acknowledged. However, I sometimes struggled with the work environment. I occasionally found it distressing and at one time offered to resign, though I subsequently withdrew this. I worked mainly for John Thwaites, at that time the Shadow Health Minister as well as Deputy Leader, and for John Brumby, as required, when he was speaking on health and social policy issues. I was particularly involved in supporting Brumby's campaign in regional areas, recognised as a key factor contributing to Labor's eventual election success in September 1999.

In March 1999, John Brumby was replaced as Leader by Steve Bracks, who appointed Tim Pallas as his chief of staff. Tim Pallas conducted a review of staff. He met with most staff during the review, including male colleagues in equivalent positions to mine, but did not meet with me. At the end of the review he called me in to his office and summarily dismissed me. 

Later two appointments were made, one of a social policy adviser at a more senior position than mine, and another researcher. Both were male. I think their appointments also partly reflected concessions that Bracks made to the left for their support, as he was from the right (as was Brumby). Between them they took up some of the work that I had done, including in areas like health and drug policy, where policy I had written or coordinated continued to be used, and was later published in a largely unchanged form.

My position was not a factional appointment and I was unaligned, although my views were left. Nevertheless, I had accepted that Bracks becoming Leader probably had consequences for me, particularly as I was mainly working for John Thwaites, his unsuccessful rival for leader. I would have been prepared for some downgrading of my position, perhaps being moved to a position as an electorate officer or similar. While my appointment was not 'political', and not factional, I nevertheless accepted that a leader has a right to staff they are comfortable with, and Bracks was not someone with whom I was particularly sympathetic. 

I was not, however, prepared to be made to wait throughout the whole review process and then be summarily dismissed without even being allowed to speak for myself. It was shocking and traumatic.

Subsequently I contacted my union, only to find that Pallas had already spoken to a senior official in the union and a deal had been stitched up. The organiser who spoke to me told me she was unable to do anything other than arrange a small payout for me. She suggested I take the payout and go on a cruise or something. Apart from being a painfully ridiculous suggestion for someone who was a single mother and whose youngest child had just started year 12, it seemed to exemplify an attitude to women as people who had 'feelings' and might benefit from a treat, but weren't significant as workers. 

Compounding it was a remark made by Tim Pallas in a subsequent meeting, to the effect that John Thwaites had said I would find it easy to get another job because of my skills. In other words he acknowledged I was good at my work, but that was irrelevant - I was still seen as disposable.

It took me some days to start collecting myself. By the time I found my contract, sought legal advice, and was advised that what I had been offered was below what I could have reasonably expected, it was a bit late, as I had already agreed in principle to the deal. Even so, there were points where the whole process could have been resolved. Two other MPs discussed offering me work, and I began working for one of them in another office at Parliament. One day I came in to visit my colleagues in the main office and talked to them about my view that I'd been unfairly treated. Tim Pallas obviously found out about it because he then banned me from entering the main office. After that I gave up the idea of continuing to work for the Labor party and took another job elsewhere.

The way I was treated still amazes me. If Pallas, Bracks and Thwaites had shown even the most basic compassion, the whole thing could have been resolved. But instead Pallas decided to treat me as someone who should be punished.

I looked into possible legal recourse, and decided that the Equal Opportunity Commission was the best avenue. Due to Kennett government legislation, I had very limited rights as an employee (staffers were officially employed by the Department of Parliamentary Services). It was also clear to me that I had been treated less favourably than male colleagues in equivalent positions, as I was aware they had been given the opportunity to speak with Pallas during the review. 

I decided not to pursue the case until after the state election, which was expected to occur shortly at that time, because I wanted Labor to win the election and did not wish to be a distraction, or for my case to reflect unfavourably on the party as a whole. However, the election did not happen until September, and I had to bite my tongue until October, when Labor finally took power. This was very difficult. It was particularly difficult during the election period, when policies were published, and I saw Steve Bracks and John Thwaites on television speaking words that I had written for them, while I struggled with depression and social isolation.

The extent of my trauma can probably be gauged from the fact that it took me a very long time, even after Labor won the election, to accept that my former colleagues were no longer working in the opposition rooms at Parliament house. I knew rationally, of course, that they were not, that Labor was now in government and my former colleagues were now in Ministerial offices or different circumstances. At a deeper level, however, my mind refused to accept that and was stuck at the time of my trauma for a long time. Even now, more than 20 years later, I still sometimes have hopeful dreams that it has all been resolved.

Ultimately I lodged two complaints with the Equal Opportunity Commission in late 1999, one of discrimination in employment and one of victimisation. The Commission subsequently refused the discrimination complaint, saying it could not be substantiated (partly I think because some of my former colleagues, who were at the time going through a process of review to see whether their employment would be continued in government, refused to support me). It accepted the victimisation complaint. I exercised my right to have both complaints moved to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and after a long and exhausting legal battle over more than a year, the Tribunal ruled that both complaints had substance and could proceed to hearing. The complaints did not go to hearing because after that the respondents (Bracks, Thwaites, Pallas and the Department of Parliamentary Services) agreed to negotiate a settlement and the matter was finally settled before hearing.

I agreed to a confidentiality clause on the settlement, against my initial wishes, for reasons set out in more detail here. Confidentiality clauses are a bad idea for many reasons, but were pretty much standard, and there was a risk of being seen as an unreasonable litigant if you did not agree to one. As stated in the post linked above, I have arguably breached this clause by revealing some of the terms, however much of it had already been reported in the media at that time (it was leaked from within the Labor party, I don't know by whom). Anyway it's not necessary to go into details - the discrimination case was settled essentially as a wrongful dismissal, and the respondents did not ever admit discrimination in employment, although victimisation was not disputed. I received a detailed written reference acknowledging my work, private apologies from Thwaites and Pallas, various other expressions of support, and a cash payment. The Department of Parliamentary Services undertook to introduce anti-discrimination training for members of parliament.

Later, in 2002, I tried to go to a community forum held by the Labor government, to discuss my concerns about the equal opportunity process with the Attorney General, Rob Hulls, and was refused entry. I made another complaint of victimisation following that incident, which again was settled before hearing. This was settled publicly, and the main outcome was that Steve Bracks agreed to receive a paper from me on equal opportunity processes. 

Later there was reform of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission. Some measures that I had called for were put into practice, although I don't know whether my paper contributed to that. A significant change was that organisations covered by the legislation needed to have equal opportunity policies and procedures in place. If they did not, that could be taken as evidence against them in the event of a discrimination claim. In other words, some of the burden of proof was put on to employers and managers to show they were doing the right thing, rather than on individual complainants to prove that they were not. This is appropriate in relation to legislation intended to correct widespread past patterns of discrimination. Moreover, employers and managers have much more power than individual employees, and can cover up relevant evidence, or put pressure on other employees not to provide evidence.

Did my action achieve anything?

Overall I think my action did achieve something, even though change is incremental. There are still problems in the Labor party, but it appears better than the conservative parties in relation to women in politics. Much of this is the result of pressure within the party, particularly from organisations like Emily's List, who support female candidates for pre-selection. However I think the actions  of individual staffers like me, who stand up when MPs within the party behave wrongly, is also important.

Long term harms

Some painful aspects of this for me remain. It had a long term impact on my mental health and through that on my family, and it affected my career, particularly that I was not able to do the work I wanted to do. It took several years for me to focus effectively on other avenues of work. It also gave me a reputation as a 'feminist trouble-maker' with some people, including some in the Greens when I later left Labor and joined the Greens in 2001. 

Bracks, Thwaites and Pallas remained prominent in public life, reminding me of the trauma I suffered. Although I received private apologies from Thwaites and Pallas, there has never been a significant attempt on their part (or that of Steve Bracks) at meaningful reconciliation. John Thwaites has remained influential in the field in which I now work, creating considerable awkwardness for me, rather than the collegial support I should have been entitled to. 

Overall I do not think any of the men involved has suffered professional harm, notwithstanding that in a broad sense I 'won' the legal action. I am not vindictive and do not wish them harm, but it is wrong that I, the person who was wrongly treated, suffered both psychological harm and career disadvantage, while those who did the harm experienced no disadvantage.

I have written extensively about patriarchy in my academic work, and this was a clear case of a woman coming up against a patriarchal organisation, as the parliamentary labor party was when I worked for it. I made a dent in the patriarchy I think, but the fact that in doing so I suffered more apparent harm than any of the men involved, is a cautionary tale.

My experiences with the Victorian Greens

In 2001 I left the Labor party and joined the Greens. This was partly because of my experiences in Labor, but mainly because of the Tampa incident and federal Labor's failure to take a principled position on asylum seekers.

During the time I was in the Greens I served as convenor of the Women's Network, cooordinated the national health policy committee and stood as a Greens candidate for the then Province of Eumemmering in the Victorian elections in 2002. I also did a lot of other volunteer work as a local Branch member. More details of my work for the Greens are available here.

I also became involved in some disputes, partly related to my previous history in Labor. My experience in Victorian parliament was recognised as relevant and contributed to me gaining positions of responsibility in the Greens, but some people also appeared to have ambivalent or hostile attitudes towards me as a former Labor staffer. 

When I first joined, I was still involved in the equal opportunity action, and appealed for support within the Greens. My appeal was for personal support, because the action was so difficult, and was on the basis that women have a right to be heard (not necessarily that we are always right). This position might possibly be better understood now after the #MeToo movement, but was not so well understood then. 

Some Greens members, through misunderstanding or anti-feminism, suggested I was trying to get the Greens to 'take sides' in a legal action or get involved in Labor's 'internal disputes'. One of these was Mike Puleston, an influential older man in my local Branch, and at that time co-convenor of the Branch. I believe Mike Puleston has been one of the Greens members who has opposed me for a long time, although it is difficult to know, because unfortunately Greens processes allow anonymous attacks.

The most significant dispute I had in the Greens was with the then Victorian Greens Convenor, Adrian Whitehead, around 2003-04. Adrian, with the support of State Executive Committee, proposed to restructure the staff in the Greens office. The key proposal was to create a new more senior position to replace the office manager position. All office staff at the time were women. I was then convenor of the Greens' Women's Network and it appeared the restructure was being done in a high-handed way and was likely to result in disadvantage to existing staff. (There is evidence that as organisations get bigger, they become more hierarchical and are more likely to appoint men to senior positions.)

The Women's Network put a motion to State Conference to defer any decision on the staffing restructure until further ideas could be considered. However, due to lengthy discussion on other items, the motion was not discussed. Adrian Whitehead said he was going ahead with the current plan and the new position would be advertised. I decided I had no option but to resign, as he was sidelining the Network, and I did so in an email to State Council outlining my reasons.

Subsequently the Executive did appoint a man to the new senior staff position (I am not personally criticising him) and the female officer manager lost her job. 

I did rejoin the party somewhat later, through State Council. I got a lot of support from members, but there was a small group including Adrian Whitehead who opposed me and said I should be banned from the party. I continued to have some reservations about the way the party was working and let my membership lapse in 2004, after the national health policy was completed.

Sometime later I applied to rejoin but was refused because some members of my local Branch objected. By this time the party regulations had been changed so that rejection of membership could occur at local Branch level. 

I don’t know who the people objecting to me were, or what they said about me. I had no opportunity to hear or respond to the objections. A few years later I tried again and was again refused. This time branch office bearers met with me to discuss, but I still wasn’t told the objections or who was making them. 

The officer bearers suggested that I could become a 'friend' of the Greens and become involved in policy development, but it seemed to me a ridiculous position for a political party to allow people to be excluded from membership because of unknown complaints by anonymous people, but allow them to be involved in policy development. I did, however, later do some voluntary work supporting local Greens candidates, prior to 2018, when Alex Bhathal was subjected to a campaign of undermining while she was Greens candidate for the then federal electorate of Batman (now Cooper). 

I won't go into detail about what happened to Alex, as there was widespread media coverage at the time. This article from the Guardian gives a reasonable summary of what happened and how Alex finally quit the party in disgust. I was absolutely shocked. I had known Alex and worked with her when I was in the party and was appalled by the way she was treated. Like me, Alex was subjected to anonymous attacks, although her case was worse than mine.

I know something about the attitudes of some people in positions of influence in the party who failed to support or undermined Alex (not those involved in the complaints against her, I don't know them), and I believe that disapproval of Alex as an outspoken women, and sexist victim-blaming, played a part in why the Greens were not able to resolve this situation. Alex, as a woman of colour, also has suggested that racism played a part.

I am aware of other women in the Victorian Greens who have made claims of discrimination or harassment, or quit in disgust at failures in the party. I started researching this in preparation for a submission to the party, which I am still preparing. Below are some links to media reports of four other prominent women in the Greens, in addition to Alex Bhathal, who have chosen to resign in protest at the culture in the party:

I won't comment further on these here, because I have not spoken to all the women involved, and will be trying to follow this up in preparing the submission. However, they show that the Victorian Greens have not been able to deal effectively with discrimination, harassment and bullying of women in the party, in spite of the fact that they have a female leader in the Victorian Parliament.

I am not aware of any cases of sexual assault and rape in the Victorian Greens, however that of course does not mean there have not been any. There have been reported cases of sexual assault and rape of women in the NSW Greens. I won't comment further on that here, as I do not know much about it, but again it shows that even though the culture definitely appears much worse in the Liberal National Parties, none of the parties can claim to be exempt from these problems. 


My overall conclusion is that even though the patriarchal and misogynist culture of politics in Australia is worse in the conservative parties, the ALP and Greens have also had problems in this area, and women like myself and others who have taken action to address this are at risk of exclusion and punishment. The situation seems to exemplify misogyny as defined in Kate Manne's 'Down Girl'. 

In Down Girl moral philosopher Kate Manne argues that misogyny should not be understood primarily in terms of the hatred or hostility some men feel toward all or most women. Rather, it is primarily about controlling, policing, punishing and exiling the "bad" women who challenge male dominance. And it is compatible with rewarding "the good ones" and singling out other women to serve as warnings to those who are out of order. (From description by publisher)

In fact something very much like this was expressed to me years ago by Rob Hulls when I was working for Labor, when he said: 'we don't hate all women Val, only some of them'. It was a joke, but expressed a truth: men in patriarchal organisations believe that they are 'granting' equality to women, and that they have the right to decide which women are deserving and which aren't. This is exemplified in Labor and the Greens at federal level, where leadership is usually held by men, even in the Greens where women are the majority of MPs. When women such as Julia Gillard or Christine Milne become leaders, they face gendered criticism and undermining, including - at least in Gillard's case - from within their own party. Julia Gillard was widely liked and approved of within Labor while she remained in the Deputy Leader position. 

I also want to talk about silencing. There has been a lot of pressure on me over the years to be silent. In Labor there was at first the pressure of loyalty to the party, later the pressure of not speaking publicly while the case was on (this is a grey area but complainants are often advised not to speak publicly), then the pressure of the confidentiality clause. 

Then there is the social pressure, including from friends and family, to get over it, to move on, to put it behind me. This applies to my experiences in both parties. There is so much pressure in our society not to be a 'victim', but to be a 'survivor', to overcome the hurt and 'live well'. Women are subjected to pressure to be silent about the injustice we experience and the impact it has on us, and in a way this is all the more effective because of the stereotype of female 'weakness'. We resist that stereotype, and try to act as if we are ok, but this also means that the harm done to us by men and patriarchy is being hidden. It's a vicious circle.

Finally there is the question of why women don't support each other more. The 'divide and conquer' tactic of misogyny that Kate Manne identifies could not work if women supported each other. In my own case and in Alex Bhathal's case, I know women who could have supported us but didn't, instead resorting to victim blaming, to suggestions that we are 'difficult', that we somehow did 'bring it on ourselves'. 

Women need to support each other if we are to overcome patriarchy, and we need to support each other knowing that we are imperfect. I've thought a lot about why women don't support each other more and I basically think it comes down to fear. I agree with the idea of internalised  misogyny but I think fear is a greater reason. 

I remember as a 15 year old, when I started at a new school in  remote area of South Australia, seeing Aboriginal children vilified and shouted at on a school bus. I was horrified but I was also scared that if I spoke out the kids shouting would start on me, so I sat there, hating it but too scared to speak. I think many woman feel like that about patriarchy, hating it but too scared to oppose it. As Kate Manne says, singling out women like me as a "warning" as what happens to "bad" women is a way of maintaining patriarchy. I can only hope that more and more women will start to see this, to recognise that women like me, even though we are imperfect, don't 'deserve' the harm we have experienced in political life. 

Friday, 27 November 2020

Submission on the Climate Change Act 2020 proposed by Zali Steggall

Submissions on the Climate Change Act 2020, proposed by the independent member of parliament Zali Steggall, are being taken by the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy. They were supposed to close today (27 November 2020) but extensions appear to be available. More information here 

I urge anyone interested to make a submission, even if short. This is a great opportunity to encourage parliament to end the 'climate wars' and take a non-partisan approach, which all MPs should have the responsibility and maturity to do.

My own submission is below - made in a very short time, but hopefully if necessary the committee will  ask for follow up information and evidence if needed. My submission obviously highlights my qualifications and experience, but I urge anyone interested to make a submission, because this is a matter that affects all of us, most particularly young people, and we are all entitled to have a say.

My submission:

Submission to the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy on the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020

From: Valerie Kay, PhD

Dear Committee members

Background to this submission:

-        In 2018 I completed a PhD on promoting equity, environmental sustainability and health in Victoria. A copy of my PhD is available through the Monash University library here  and an article with some key findings is available here

-        Since 2014, I have been teaching in the unit MPH5042 Climate Change and Public Health in the Monash University Masters of Public Health course and am currently the Chief Examiner and Unit Coordinator in the unit I am happy for this information to be publicly available in the submission, as it is already in the public domain.

-        Unfortunately due to the very limited time I have to prepare this submission, I cannot cite all the relevant sources for the statements in this submission, but would be very happy to provide further follow up information to the committee. If I can obtain the permission of the University, I may be able to provide in confidence to the committee some of the teaching material from the unit, which is in plain language and would be available at short notice.

As someone who has been researching and teaching in this area for over ten years, I am writing to urge you to support this Bill, and to suggest some amendments to strengthen the Bill.

Climate change is an unequivocal threat to the health and wellbeing of Australians, people of the world, and other species. People in Australian and elsewhere are already dying as a result of climate change, particularly through extreme heat events. Other risks, including from floods and other severe weather events, droughts and water shortages in some areas, bushfire risk, and wider range and novel forms of infectious diseases, are also increasing.

It is more than possible, it is unfortunately likely, that significant areas of Australia and other parts of the world may become uninhabitable for humans this century, unless we act now to reduce emissions and do as much as humanly possible to hold global warming to 1.5C.

Even at 1.5C, much of the Barrier Reef is likely to be lost, and at 2C it is likely that all will be. I cannot believe that committee members can stand by and let this happen, let alone face the possibility that your actions will be responsible for more deaths from climate change and a frightening legacy for today’s children and young people.

I say this not to scare committee members, but because my reading of the Bill suggests to me that even the drafters of this Bill, well-informed as they clearly are, have not yet fully understood the risks to health from climate change.

In order to address these risks, it is essential to have a non-partisan approach to climate change in this country. Findings from research outlined in the article linked above, strongly suggests that in the period 2009-16, particularly in the federal election year of 2013, health workers and community members were deterred from acting on climate and environmental sustainability by the politicisation of climate change in Australia.

The actions that they were taking were ones I am sure committee members, as representatives of local electorates, would strongly support. Their work involved projects to increase housing sustainability and reduce energy bills for low income community members, support community members in growing and sharing local fresh food, and increase active transport though walking and cycling. All these actions have direct benefits for people’s health, as well as a wide range of benefits from promoting a more sustainable, fair and socially inclusive society, and reducing carbon emissions. I am confident committee members would never again wish to see a situation where local community members were deterred from such worthwhile actions by the politicisation of climate change. It is imperative that Australia develops a non-partisan approach to climate change, and this Bill, proposed by an independent member of parliament, gives a chance to achieve that. I strongly urge you to support the Bill.

As noted, I also suggest that the drafters of the Bill have not fully recognised the degree of risk from climate change to the health of humans and other species. Similarly, it appears they may not have fully recognised the potential benefits to health and wellbeing from addressing climate change. They also may not have recognised the extent to which the science of climate change has been perceived as ‘top-down’ and remote, detached from the everyday experience of people’s lives. These factors are connected. There is research showing that when people realise the impact that climate change is having, and will have, on health, it becomes much more meaningful to them and makes them more likely to act, and support action, on climate change.

On the basis of this evidence (which, as stated, I am more than happy to provide to the committee), I make the following suggestions for amendments to strengthen the Bill:

S1 Objects of the Act

-          Clause (1) (a) should include reference to serious challenges to health and survival of Australians, other people of the world, and other species.

-          Clause (1) (b) should specify limiting global warming to 1.5C as the primary goal and restricting it to under 2C as secondary.

-          Clause (2) (f) should include ‘community’ as well as government and private sector


-          (2) (a) should include risk to ‘health of Australia’s population’ first, before economy, and not confined to workers.


-          (a) health effects should be first, not economic effects (climate change is genuinely a matter of life and death, and this should be recognised)


-          (3) include benefits to health from emissions reductions, and savings from reductions in healthcare costs due to reduced climate change impacts

 S 37

-          (2) should also include experience and knowledge in social change, community participation and development, health impacts of climate change, and the health co-benefits of climate action and emissions reductions

-          (5) (b) a minimum of two members to be Indigenous Australians (appointing one person to represent previously marginalised groups can lead to further marginalisation on committees when the single representative presents, or is inhibited from presenting, viewpoints that appear to conflict with conventional or ‘mainstream’ perspectives)


Thank you for your consideration and my best wishes for the success of this Bill.

Valerie Kay

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Long rambling post on coming out of lockdown

Have started to update this 14 February 2021, now in a new lockdown, hopefully only for five days. This is a work in progress which blogger is being completely weird about so I can't fix it right now but will leave it here just for a change

Originally published 24 November 2020 -  Haven't written anything on here for ages so thought I might do some kind of long rambling blog post about coming out of lockdown and everything I thought about writing over the last few months, partly to have a record, even if very imperfect, of a historic year.

What a year it's been. Started so positively for me with my visit to Myanmar (Burma) and travelling home over land and sea, as discussed a few posts back. Then the Covid pandemic really got going. Today Victoria has no new cases and no active cases, after an extended and pretty hard lockdown. How do you write about that experience? 

The thing I often wanted to do was a kind of photo essay on parks, and nature, because it was so important. So here is is, probably a bit random, but maybe I can use it as the basis for something more developed one day. 14 February 2021 - started adding captions

Coming home, just before the pandemic really got going: Overland Train from Adelaide to Melbourne 1 March 2020. The Overland was due to close, then got some more funding from Vic government (I think?) but could not run in 2020 due to pandemic and border closures. Was due to start in early 2021, not sure if it did, but as of now (14 Feb 2021) SA has again closed its border to Vic.

Community garden: it was great to get back to the community garden, but access was restricted shortly after I came home, due to Covid19, and became more restricted in the second lockdown (from late June in this area, as this suburb was a 'hotspot'). Even when we could only go down one at a time, for essential food purposes (maintaining and harvesting) it remained a great source of comfort, as well as food.

As autumn set in, people still wanted to use their gardens. Family members invested in a fire drum, which the kids loved, particularly toasting marshmallows.

Late harvest of tomatoes from the community garden. I used some of these to make a Burmese tomato salad with peanuts, which I'd learned in Myanmar. Highly recommend. 

I'm not entirely sure where this is 😀 but I think it's in Royal Park? I walked there a lot, especially after golf was prohibited and the golf course became available to walkers. Walking on the golf course in Northcote became so popular that when we came out of lockdown late in 2021, there was a movement in that area to keep the golf course for walking. Unsuccessful I think but interesting.

In the shorter days of autumn and winter, I walked often in the afternoon and saw many many sunsets. This and the next picture is Royal Park golf course (I wish it had an Indigenous name!) in the late afternoon

Not a great photo, but captures a lovely conjunction of colour with the Rainbow Lorikeets in the sunflowers. Rainbow Lorikeets are a native species that have adjusted well to urban life and as such are possibly pushing out other native species. But who could entirely mind when they are so beautiful? People became very interested in birds. When we were only allowed an hour of outside exercise, baby Tawny Frogmouths in the Northcote golf course area became a highlight of people's day.

More sunsets in autumn

Masks were not mandatory at first, but became so later. This is me trying out my first mask. I asked my grandkids (on social media) what superhero I could be, and one said 'Zebra woman'.

In May, the first lockdown was loosened. I was able to go for a walk along Merri Creek with my daughter and grandsons whom I hadn't seen 'in real life' for a while. We saw a kookaburra.
In June, we were briefly able to go outside Melbourne and visit regional areas in Victoria. I went to Ballarat for a short holiday with a close friend who lives in that area, to celebrate my birthday. This is from our walk around the lake.

Birthday flowers from dear friends who gave me a 'high tea'. I was very lucky that my birthday fell in that brief period before the lockdown started again

The Tawny Frogmouths in Northcote.

One of my lockdown projects was to fix my courtyard on the southern side of my place. The white lattice is to make it brighter in winter and reflect light through my window. These orchids bloomed prolifically in winter and gave me a moment of happiness each morning.

Trying out my hand at good photography for once! These are all harvested from the community garden or donated by gardeners from their backyards. It took me a long time to do this, but I think it captures some of the beauty.

Note sure if this is Merri Creek or Darebin Creek, but if it's Darebin Creek it must have taken during the brief period in mid 2020 when we were allowed to go further than 5 kilometres from our homes. I normally walk with a friend once a week, and we often go along the creeks or the Yarra River, but we had to suspend our walks for most of 2020.

This is in late winter in the White calendar, or the beginning of the Petyan season, the season of flowers, in the Kulin calendar. The Hardenbergia (I don't know its Indigenous name) is one of the earliest flowers to appear. July to August was the hardest time in Melbourne, cold, short days, in lockdown but with Covid19 infections still rising. Even after infections started to go down, the sad toll of deaths in aged care continued for some time. The flowers were a reminder that the natural world is still beautiful.

Coburg Velodrome was one of the places where kids could enjoy themselves safely, even when playground were closed. Throughout the lockdown, there were always people exercising in the parks, walking, playing games, rollerskating, riding bikes, skateboards, scooters and all sorts. They did my heart good.

My oldest grandson emailed me a really good picture of a bird that he had drawn and challenged me to draw one. I took this photo of a magpie, but it was a while before I got around to drawing it.

A hop bush blooming along the Moonee Ponds Creek path.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Bad types of women

seeing a lot of anti-women sentiment on Twitter these days so just making a list of bad types of women, old and new

All the insults on this list seem to be (or have been, because some are not used much now) directed towards women. Felmlee et al 'Sexist slurs'  is a good article discussing Twitter harassment of women and how insults to women commonly draw on stereotypes.

There is a debate about whether 'TERF' is an insult or merely a descriptor (similar to bigot) but I've included it here because it's normally directed at women. Similarly to 'Karen', there seems to be no male equivalent word. This suggests to me that it relates to gendered expectations of women as being caring and supportive (see Kate Manne 'Down Girl').

I think words like 'Karen' and 'TERF' are new because they are particularly used by the left, people who would see themselves as supporting social justice, thus they are gendered left wing insults. They take a behaviour or attitude which people on the left agree is bad (racism, transphobia) and direct censure for it particularly towards women, suggesting that either women are particularly inclined to this or that women deserve particular censure for this. It's concerning because it can divide the left (encouraging really bitter fights between women on the left, two of which I've just seen on Twitter) and support patriarchy, which is currently on the ascendant in many countries, including Australia.

As far as I'm aware, there is no evidence that women are more racist than men (I can't find much research evidence on this, but this 2003 article suggests they are slightly less, although the difference is not great) and, as in nearly all violent crimes, men are much more likely to commit violence, including against transgender people (see eg Stotzer 2009). Thus there is no particular reason why there should be no male equivalent for these terms, and it could be expected that men would face even more censure. The fact that they don't suggest these terms fit the category of gendered insults, which draw on stereotypes of how women ought to behave.

There's a recent book out on why women are blamed so much, but I haven't yet read it. Maybe I can look at this further later. Anyway here is my list:

Plain Janes
Aunt Sallies
Basic bitches
Mad fucking witches
Town bikes
Barren spinsters
Gold diggers
Dumb blondes
Breastfeeding nazis
Hairy legged feminists
Mean girls

(edited today to take ‘Beckies’ out because think that’s more a term of criticism by Black women for certain behaviour by White women specifically - critique of racism/privilege but could not have male equivalent so it’s different from Karens and TERFs, which could have male equivalents but don’t)

Here's another interesting article

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Maybe a positive social movement can arise from the Covid_19 experience

‪‪‪Maybe a long term positive social movement could come out of our experience of isolating to prevent Covid_19 infections

Nearly 19,000 people have died from Covid_19. In spite of problems, societies are mobilising to reduce & prevent further deaths

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could also mobilise against Chronic Disease, Air Pollution, Climare Crisis and War which are still causing more deaths

The underlying issues are the same - do we want societies in which all people are equal and valued and we look after each other and share resources fairly and sustainably? Or do we want societies in which 'the economy', power & wealth for the top are more important?‬

This could be a historical moment where people start mobilising collectively to create healthier, fairer, more sustainable societies. ‬

The risk is it could be a moment where existing hierarchies consolidate their power. But it doesn't have to be. The old patriarchal model of an exploitative hierarchal society where those at the top get more than others doesn't have to be the way we live.