Why we’re making no progress tackling the exploitation of migrant workers

Marie Segrave, Monash University

On Tuesday night, SBS’ Insight program aired concerns about temporary migrant labour exploitation. These issues tend to come to national attention when a particular case is exposed, but mostly they are not seen as national priorities – and, as such, the response is generally reactive rather than proactive.

The exploitation to have attracted attention most recently often involves student-visa holders, working-holiday-visa holders and 457-visa holders.

Just a little under ten years ago, many of these situations would more immediately have been framed as issues of labour trafficking. But, since then, there has been a shift away from identifying and responding to these cases as potential slavery or trafficking offences, and instead focusing on labour exploitation as an issue for the Fair Work Ombudsman to review and/or redress.

The problems with purely pursuing employers

The current focus in tackling temporary migrant labour exploitation is workplace breaches. This involves the pursuit of employers who have paid below the minimum rate or breached working conditions in other ways to achieve outcomes such as financial reparation for employees and, potentially, to fine employers.

There are a number of concerns to be raised here.

First, while it has been recommended that the Fair Work Ombudsman has no responsibility to report on migration status to the Department of Immigration, for many workers their migration status is a significant concern and obstacle to reporting exploitative conditions.

Such conditions and fears include non-payment, significant wage deduction, being forced to work in breach of visa conditions and experiencing a range of threats, intimidation and/or abuse. An example is student-visa holders being required to work for more hours than they are entitled with the threat of being fired if they don’t complete the hours.

And the threat of being reported to the department, even for those whose work status is legal, has been identified as a significant obstacle to reporting employer exploitation. There is a concern that migration status, particularly for those who are working in breach of visa conditions, is an obstacle to making contact or working with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The fear of deportation and/or the inability to find alternative employment is significant. This is the case for many reasons, including but not limited to the shame of returning home, fear of retribution from the employer, or the significant debts incurred to get to Australia.

We need to understand the vulnerabilities of workers who have been exploited, and to create a system that supports workers – regardless of their migration status. The current response is not focused on preventing exploitation but responding to it, and is not well-designed to respond to the complex issues that impact workers coming forward in the first instance.

The second concern is the distinction between cases referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman and cases referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for criminal investigation, and why there is no overlap.

The AFP currently has no process for referring a case they are dealing with to the Fair Work Ombudsman to enable the pursuit of remuneration and/or compensation. Similarly, there is no formal process for referring cases to the AFP. It is unclear why this is not happening.

In the course of my research involving interviews with stakeholders, authorities and migrant workers, it has been made clear that some of the cases related to the 7-Eleven scandal have included situations where individuals had passports confiscated, were forced to work in breach of student visa conditions and were living in accommodation controlled by their employer.

It seems none of the 7-Eleven cases raised so far have been investigated by the AFP as possible offences under the slavery or slavery-like practices legislation. Yet the cases that have come to light have clear and direct overlap with the relevant Criminal Code.

None of the cases arising out of the 7-Eleven scandal have been reported or discussed with the AFP. fridy/flickr, CC BY-NC

It’s trafficking, too

Human trafficking is tackled as an issue of criminal exploitation. This requires AFP involvement to determine whether there is a potential criminal offence and the transfer onto the government-funded, Red Cross-provided Support for Trafficking People package (if required/desired by the victim/witness). This process is solely focused on criminal matters as an outcome, in addition to welfare and support provisions for victims.

There is no automatic or supported process to enable access to remuneration or compensation. All civil matters are outside of this process.

Civil compensation in trafficking cases has been sought. But it is clear this process is piecemeal and pursued purely on a case-by-case basis.

Australia has pursued very few trafficking-related charges. This creates a vacuum of legal precedence in the area of human trafficking, reproducing a false notion that Australia remains a nation where such practices are relatively uncommon.

The absence of transparency regarding the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions decisions not to pursue trafficking cases referred to it via the AFP, other than to note the limitations of the evidence, creates a significant obstacle to understanding how best we can pursue prosecutions under these laws.

There is an opportunity to review how we respond across all forms of temporary migrant labour exploitation – regardless of the victim’s migration status – to ensure both criminal charges and civil and administrative remedies are pursued.

This will allow us to better understand the breadth of exploitation that is occurring in the dark places across many industries, and to better redress the conditions that create and sustain exploitative practices.The Conversation

Marie Segrave, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


There’s a time to put down the smartphone, seriously!

Brett Hutchins, Monash University

Fans of singer-songwriter Alicia Keys were greeted with a simple message earlier this year when they entered the Highline Ballroom, in New York, to watch her perform.

This is a phone free event.

Their smartphones were placed in a lockable pouch distributed by the consumer electronics company, Yondr. They carried the pouch with them, only opening it when they exited the venue by tapping on a metal disc located at the main door.

No mobile video or audio recording, live streaming, tweeting, status updates, texting or phone calls occurred while Keys performed on stage.

Alicia Keys performing in Australia in 2011. Walmart/Flickr, CC BY
Alicia Keys performing in Australia in 2011. Walmart/Flickr, CC BY

This arrangement met with a range of responses including open frustration, muted acceptance and enthusiastic embrace.

Yondr’s website presents an intriguing promise about the experience of phone-free space. Recalling an era before smartphones and broadband mobile services, the company promises to show people “how powerful a moment can be” once the habitual checking and constant use of smartphones is stopped.

Rather than offering connection, it says smartphones cut “people off from each other”, distracting the attention of the user and diminishing the emotional purchase of live events.

Others seek to ban the smartphone

Other artists including The Lumineers, Guns N Roses, Louis CK and Dave Chappelle, have backed Yondr’s promise by employing the pouch at their shows.

Other performers have objected openly to mobile media use by audience members. Performing in Verona, Italy, British performer Adele rebuked a woman for filming her as she sang, arguing:

Because I’m really here in real life, you can enjoy it in real life rather than through your camera.

In 2014, the renowned singer-songwriter Kate Bush asked fans to leave their smartphones and tablets at home during her comeback gigs in London. She wrote on her website:

I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iPhones, iPads or cameras.

Parallel appeals are evident in live sport. Celebrity entrepreneur and team owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban has advocated against the use of smartphones at live basketball games since 2010.

Much like his appearances on Shark Tank, Cuban’s message is delivered with characteristic bluntness:

We don’t need no stinking smartphones!

Cuban warns spectators that looking down at a mobile screen during play could mean missing:

[…] the look on the face of your child, or your date, and the everlasting memories that are created from games.

Cuban’s argument corresponds with a group of ardent fans who follow the Dutch football team, PSV Eindhoven.

The opening home game of the 2014-15 season witnessed a protest by fans against the installation of a new Wi-Fi network in the stadium. A large banner held aloft during the game made it very clear what fans thought of Wi-Fi.

The protest met with approval by a vocal subsection of fans who post in online football forums.

The live experience

The conflicted relationship between mobile use and non-use is a common dominator in these events. The power of live performances and games is built on the heightened emotions and sensory engagement generated by the collective focus of a crowd.

But some performers and audience members believe that the constant use of smartphones and tablets by other attendees erodes the quality of their focus and experience. It is a situation in which each individual’s choice possesses exponential significance, producing the overall atmosphere of a live event.

The widespread coverage given to the likes of Keys, Bush, Cuban and others says a great deal about the contested status of mobile technology use in social life.

The problem is a failure to reflect on the impact of smartphone and tablet use in particular social situations. It is necessary to think about and discuss the ways mobile media connect and disconnect people to differing degrees and in different ways.

A failure to do so risks the thoughtless prioritisation of always-on mobile connectivity to the detriment of potentially memorable social experiences. A temporary disengagement from mobile media is sometimes the preferable arrangement.

The shared event

The question of how to best integrate technical and social forms of connectivity requires an understanding of what is shared at events such as concerts and sporting fixtures.

With regard to smartphones, sharing encompasses images, footage, audio content, messages and related information (the songs played and live sport scores). The circulation of these items manifests the experiences and reactions of users, as well as a feeling of camaraderie with friends and networks.

But sitting alongside these media practices are the collective excitement, togetherness and emotions generated by crowds as they focus on a spectacle together, and the lasting memories these experiences create.

The balance between these forms of sharing in a mobile age is unpredictable and occasionally cause for visible disagreement.

We are all a part of the unfolding response to this conundrum, which demands social experience be taken as seriously as economic considerations in figuring the role of mobile devices in our lives. This is not always an easy task when faced by the seductive marketing efforts of digital technology giants such as Apple, Samsung, Google, Facebook and Twitter.

But mobile media users must contemplate how incessant sharing serves the commercial interests of social networking platforms, digital data harvesters, mobile advertisers and telecommunications carriers.

Conscientious non-users also need to pause and ask how their stance is leveraged by those seeking to protect intellectual property and minimise the circulation of content on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.

Even as it sells tens of millions of iPhones each quarter, Apple has hinted at a move in this direction by registering a patent that would prohibit phone cameras from recording footage in designated areas.

The outstanding question is how much content people really need to record, produce and distribute via their smartphone before they miss witnessing or sharing something significant in their immediate environment.The Conversation

Brett Hutchins is an Associate Professor in Media Studies and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Find out more:


Research Interview: Japanese Studies’ Jason Jones

Dr Jason Jones, Japanese Studies lecturer at Monash University.

Want to know how the Japanese language, wine, Godzilla and video games all tie in to being a researcher at Monash? Jason talks about his research in the sub-genre of wine manga and the Japanese fascination with French wine, as well as giving us a window onto some of his current and future research projects.


The Border Observatory’s Dr Marie Segrave at AAS High Flyers Think Tank

The Border Observatory’s  Dr Marie Segrave was selected to take part in the recent Australian Academy of Sciences Theo Murphy Think Tank: An interdisciplinary approach to living in a risky world hosted by the Academy of Sciences, Theo Murphy High Flyers Think Tank, July 20-22, Canberra.

Across two days high achieving early- and mid-career researchers were brought together to discuss issues of national and global significance related to risk and uncertainty with a focus on:

  1. International security
  2. Risk and resource allocation for the environment
  3. Antimicrobial resistance in a connected world
  4. Uncertainty, ignorance and partial knowledge

A key point of discussion in the International Security group, which Marie was appointed Special Rapporteur (with Dr Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle), was consideration of global migration flows and how we are responding nationally and globally to the movement of people, and the extent to which this can be understood, and best responded to, as a ‘security’ or ‘risky’ issues. These issues are a critical part of the consideration of new forms of governance in a global world, but also, as the recommendations to be released later in the year will reveal, highlight that research around these issues has to include the experiences and analysis of what is happening in localised areas, for people on the ground.


How gross inequality and crushed hopes have fed the rise of Donald Trump

Nick Fischer, Monash University

Donald Trump is now the Republican nominee for president of the United States and millions of people are asking: “How could this happen?”

There is no single answer to this question, but there are some explanations. For while the nomination of a reality-TV star and businessman with no executive experience is unprecedented, the economic, social and party-political conditions that have made a Trump candidacy viable are certainly not.

The rise of Trump is explicable when we consider three factors. First, the living standards of America’s middle and working classes have been declining in real terms for many years. This has fuelled a second factor, namely economic and social fears about the impact of immigration on the prospects and safety of “real” Americans. And third, the Republican Party has been unable to control these anxieties or at least convince voters that the policies its preferred candidates are offering are the best available solutions to their problems.

In this respect, the “Grand Old Party” is finally reaping what it has long been sowing. Twenty years of bashing minorities on Fox News, coupled with 35 years of support for “trickle-down” economics, has drawn voters to a populist candidate who marries economic nationalism with racist nativism.

All of this has happened before, on several occasions. Let’s start with the economic woes of millions of Americans. We are familiar with the problem of the growing army of poor and working poor Americans. The struggles of the middle classes have also been noted, if not addressed, by President Barack Obama.

Since the global financial crisis, everyday Americans have paid the price for the debts of the finance industry. While the US Treasury has paid off the self-incurred losses of the surviving mega-banks, these banks have driven up the price of commodities through speculation, devastating regional economies and denuding state and local governments of vital revenue.

In the face of this crisis, right-wing administrations have sought to deflate costs by driving down public-sector wages. Once the manufacturing powerhouse of the global economy, the United States is now hollowed out, in debt and failing to provide prosperity and hope to millions of its citizens. It has become what American writer Ross Perlin has termed an “Intern Nation”, requiring legions of graduates to labour without pay or purpose, just to qualify for the privilege of work.

These economic conditions have been widely compared with those of the Gilded Age, the period between the American Civil War and 1900 that is remembered as a time when capitalist “robber barons” dominated the economy and politics. Before the civil war, the richest third of citizens held more than half the nation’s wealth. Just a generation later, this same portion of wealth had been concentrated into the hands of the barons, the richest 1%. This distortion of wealth and opportunity essentially remained until the post-war boom of the 1950s.

The distribution of wealth in the US today has returned to historical extremes. This is the direct result of tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. Corporate and top-tier personal income taxes fell steadily between around 1960 and the early 1980s, while payroll taxes increased just as steadily.

When he was president, Ronald Reagan delivered nearly US$200 billion in tax relief to the affluent. In the first decade of the new millennium, income inequality reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2005, the top 10% of earners collected 44.3% of national income, compared with 32.6% in 1975, but about equal to 1929’s 43.8%. Similarly, in 2005, the top 1% of earners took 17.4% of national income, compared with 8% in 1975 and 18.4% in 1929.

Such a monumental transfer of wealth would not have been possible had business not colonised regulatory agencies. Yet while plutocrats shared control of such agencies in the “Roaring Twenties”, Goldman Sachs dominates regulatory bodies today: the US Treasury, the New York Federal Reserve and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission have all been run by former Goldman executives.

Thus in 2008, while the US plunged into its greatest recession in 80 years, Goldman Sachs paid US$14 million in federal taxes, one-third the amount its chief executive officer was gifted. More broadly, two-thirds of corporations paid no taxes at all between 1998 and 2005.

Not surprisingly, the failure of the major political parties to prevent these excesses has spawned insurrections, as it did in the Gilded Age. Hence Donald Trump has won the Republican presidential nomination, as a populist from the right, while Bernie Sanders very nearly won the Democratic Party nomination with a redistributive economic program. This tells us that Democratic power-brokers are more in control of their party than their Republican counterparts.

In the Gilded Age, it was the Democratic Party that was convulsed by populist insurrection. Three times, in 1896, 1900 and 1908, Democratic power-brokers were forced to accept the nomination of William Jennings Bryan, a great orator who opposed the gold standard and the political power of banks. Bryan’s popularity was a running sore for the “Bourbon Democrats” who ran the party.

But if the Bourbons could not prevent Bryan’s nomination, they could derail his campaigns and they did, with half-hearted fundraising and by tacitly supporting imperial expansion abroad. With no election war chest and too little to distinguish him from the imperialist Republicans, Bryan was safely barred from the White House. Not until the arrival of Woodrow Wilson, who posed no threat to boss rule of the party, could the Democrats’ controlling interests risk a genuine tilt at the presidency.

During the Gilded Age, the major parties’ differences were trivial. So were the margins in presidential elections. Hence the British historian Viscount Bryce lamented that neither Republicans nor Democrats possessed “any principles, any distinctive tenets”.

Today, journalist Matt Taibbi writes, the presidential election has again become an event that Americans “have learned to wholly consume as entertainment, divorced completely from any expectations about concrete changes” in their lives. Trump’s campaign has risen on his promise to break the major parties’ corporate consensus. His racist decrying of immigration – a recurrent populist policy since the Irish Catholic influx of the 1840s – is embarrassing for establishment Republicans. But what they and the party’s most important supporters will not brook is Trump’s opposition to deregulated trade and labour markets.

As the presidential campaign gets into full swing, look for signs that the Grand Old Party is doing all that it can to prevent Trump from winning the White House. Like the Democrats of old, they will not be too distressed by a Hillary Clinton presidency. After all, Trump has pledged to break up the biggest banks, but Clinton has not.

When the Trump insurrection is defeated, the party will be handed over to a safe candidate, with more appeal than Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. At least, that is the plan.The Conversation

Nick Fischer, Adjunct Research Fellow, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Monash Art Ensemble release ‘Nyilipidgi’ through ABC Records

Professor Paul Grabowsky and the Monash Art Ensemble, in collaboration with David Yipininy Wilfred, the traditional djunggayi (manager) of the manikay of the country of Nyilipidgi, and his brother Daniel Ngukurr Boy Wilfred, last month released their latest album Nyilipidgi, through ABC records.

Nyilipidgi, the latest release to come out of Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, was composed by Grabowsky who celebrates 12-years of collaboration with ceremonial musicians of the Wagilak clan and was drawn by a ‘long-held desire to engage with this old, old music, this living, breathing time tunnel, the heritage and testimony of the world’s oldest living culture’. 

Nyilipidgi Album Cover

Coordinator of Jazz and Popular Music, Dr Paul Williamson comments of the release of Nyilipidgi that it ‘marks a significant educational and research outcome for the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music.  The opportunity for Monash students to learn about Australian indigenous culture, and perform and be mentored by the Young Wagilak Group, professional musicians and Monash staff is an example of the ongoing unique opportunities and artistic vision of the School of Music‘. 

The work was premiered at the 2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival and continues to be performed around the nation, including an upcoming performance at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival on October 28. The Monash Art Ensemble are an ensemble at the forefront of music innovation, creativity and discovery, and consistently commission new Australian works, collaborate with international musicians, and produce consistent high-quality and award-winning recordings. The ensemble, active since 2012, acts to support the development of excellence in young Australian musicians, foster a culture of innovation amongst established Australian musicians and encourage community engagement with Australian musicians and music. 

Monash alumni and scholar Dr Samuel Curkpatrick comments of the album that it ‘thrives on the unique voices of individuals brought together to play, create and imagine. As a part of the manikay tradition, it is an invitation to sit and listen to the voices of those who are beside us, who wish to share and relate their own lives in song. Nyilipidgi is an artwork of possibility, a breath of fresh air that might just sweep us somewhere we could never anticipate. We do not know to where the wind blows’. 

Nyilipidgi lies north-east of Ngukurr, in Australia’s Arnhem Land. At the heart of the ancient culture of the Wagilak people, who continue to care for these ancestral homelands, is the tradition of manikay: shared songs which bind the community together, both reflecting on and creating a sense of identity, place and unity.


This album is the result of that 12-year collaboration, and itself an expression of the manikay tradition through which people come together in song. Music becomes a space where stories are shared, and where boundaries between traditions are dissolved. Rather than becoming two musical forms layered onto one another, Nyilipidgi presents an almost transcendental integration of the two: jazz and Wagilak manikay have a shared foundation in the musical and aesthetic principles of freedom and expression; the rhythmic groove of their respective instrumentations further add a sense of shared time.

Reflecting on the project, Daniel Wilfred comments ‘This song [manikay] never stops; it’s still there, it never changes – my song! Sometimes we do new songs, but it still comes up with our language. New songs, it never stops. Sometimes I mix it up: yidaki [didjeridu] with bilma[clapsticks] with jazz, guitar and drums. Mix it up with the white-fella music. And I keep teaching the Balanda mob [non-Aboriginal people]. Teach them my language too – always teaching them!

The Monash Art Ensemble is directed by Professor Paul Grabowsky and consists of current students and staff from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music. It is generously supported by Monash University, the Vizard Foundation and the Robert Salzer Foundation.


Professor Paul Grabowsky AO – director, piano
Daniel Ngukurr Boy Wilfred – voice, yidaki (didjeridu), bilma (clapsticks), dance
David Yipininy Wilfred – y
idaki (didjeridu), dance
Assoc. Prof. Rob Burke – soprano saxophone
Tony Hicks – clarinet, bass clarinet
Lachlan Davidson – alto saxophone, piccolo
Arin Grigg – tenor saxophone
Dr Paul Williamson – trumpet
Niran Dasika – trumpet
Jordan Murray – trombone
Chris Vizard – trombone
Lizzy Welsh – violin
Dan Marmot – guitar
Matthias Schack-Arnott – percussion
Kieran Rafferty – drums
Luke Andresen – drums
Dan Sheehan – electric piano
Peter Knight – electronics, trumpet

Track listing

  1. First Dawn
  2. Cycles
  3. The First Dance
  4. Hunt and Pursuit
  5. Warp and Weft
  6. String Theory
  7. Dimensionality
  8. Rolling
  9. In the Bag
  10. Smoke
  11. On the Wing
  12. Safe Journey

The album is currently available for purchase through ABC records.
For more information on the project, upcoming events and performances, please contact Ensemble Manager Megan Burslem at megan.burslem@monash.edu


Congratulations to Evie Kendal, winner of the 2016 Faculty of Arts 3-Minute Thesis Competition

3MT is an academic competition that sees graduate research students from across Australia and the Asia Pacific compete against each other in a battle to provide the most engaging, inspirational and concise three minute summary of their research. The competition provides current candidates with the opportunity to:
  • develop academic and research communication skills
  • share the important and potential impact of their research with colleagues and the broader community
  • explain their research to a non-specialist audience
  • learn about other research happening at Monash University
  • win prize money!
The Faculty of Arts 3MT took place on 21 July 2016. Warmest congratulations all 2016 3MT participants for their extremely interesting and entertaining presentations. A special congratulations to Evie Kendal, who won the competition, as well as the People’s Choice Award. Evie is a PhD candidate in the Philosophy HDR Program and her presentation was on ectogenesis in science fiction.
Having won the Arts 3MT competition, Evie will now go on to represent the Faculty in the University final competition, which will be held on 13 September 2016. More details of this event will be provided closer to the date. Come along and support Evie!


Monash ethnomusicologist, Dr Adrian McNeil, teaches prestigious Indian government course

Monash ethnomusicologist, Dr Adrian McNeil, has recently returned from Kolkata where he taught an intensive course, ‘Ethnomusicology and the Digital Archive’ at Jadvapur University.

GIAN course

The course was an initiative of the Indian Government through their GIAN scheme (Global Initiative of Academic Networks) in which leading academics around the world are invited and sponsored to teach cutting edge courses at the top universities in India. The course ran for 5 days with 45 participants involved in the documentation of archival, community and heritage materials.

The course focused on metadata, ethics, ethnomusicological theory and cultural sustainability.

The course attracted professional participants and academics from across the country. Dr McNeil was hosted by Professor Amlan Das Gupta, School of Cultural Texts and Records, Jadavpur University.

Dr McNeil is a leading authority on cultural history and music in India.


Medieval history and finding what you love: A conversation with Monash Historian Kathleen Neal

We recently chatted to Monash Historian, Dr Kathleen Neal. Kathleen discussed her first career as a scientist, and how she found a job she loves by following her passions, which led her to Medieval history and historical research. Kathleen told us about her current research projects, what she loves about her job, and her favourite (and most historically accurate) TV show.

Tell us who you are and what you do at Monash?

My name is Kathleen Neal and I’m a Lecturer in Medieval History in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies (SOPHIS). This means that most of my responsibility is introducing first-year students to Medieval and Renaissance history. So I get to teach the two big flagship first-year units in those areas (Medieval Europe and Renaissance Europe), which is great fun.

Kathleen (centre) with students at the 'Medieval Expo', a showcase of public history projects by teams of first year undergraduate students. Photo: Matt Chen, Faculty of Arts
Kathleen (centre) with students at the ‘Medieval Expo’, a showcase of public history projects by teams of first year undergraduate students. Photo: Matt Chen, Faculty of Arts

Students tend to only take these courses if they’re really interested in the time period, so we’re pretty blessed to have motivated and interested students in the group. It’s a pleasure to teach them. (Students also seem to love having Kathleen as their lecturer – she was awarded the Faculty of Arts Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning in 2014). 

Research-wise, I work on 13th century English history and especially political culture. This means I think about the way that the king and his nobles communicated and the extent to which women were involved in political society.

Research in this field means I’ve been lucky enough to spend quite a period of time over in the UK National Archives where I got to look at some of the original letters and documents from the time and did my own translations.

Why did you decide to focus on medieval history? 

I loved medieval history from when I was a kid. By coincidence, my family moved to Scotland when I was 7 for 18 months and we used to go to a different castle or stately home every weekend. The stories and books we had in our childhood stuck with me to the point where I really wanted to study medieval history at university, even though I thought I might have to give it up at some point and do something ‘serious’. All my family are medical doctors. I resisted the push into science for a while by studying history at Melbourne and Oxford.

I did become a scientist (Kathleen worked in neuroscience) for a bit, and published as a scientist, but the whole time I was missing medieval history. So eventually, I decided to quit my science career and retrained in history, did my PhD and came into this role now. It’s been a long and winding journey but I knew I had to give it a go.

What was it like to shift from being a scientist to working in historical research?

I found both areas fascinating. I felt like I could have been reasonably content as a scientist, I worked on interesting topics and my colleagues in the lab were wonderful, but it just didn’t inspire me. It wasn’t what I wanted to do on my weekends. During the weekends, I did medieval history related stuff. I would spend evenings donating time to local historical associations and I became the book reviews editor for a local historical journal, so everything I did because I really wanted to do was about history.

I suppose it’s a cliché but in an academic career, you spend so much more time than your 40 hours a week on the job. So you have to really love it. I travel every year to conferences to be part of the research community but also just to see my people and community. It makes me sure that I made the right choice.

What does an average day look like for a medieval historian?

I think there’s a lot that you have to try to find time for. Some of it is teaching, undergraduate teaching and also postgraduate teaching, which I find rewarding. Like being able to mentor one project closely. Then there are admin things too.

In between all of that I try and find some research time. That comes in a variety of guises. When I spent a few months living in London a few years ago looking at the archives, I got the opportunity to make my own digital archive of all the things I wanted to look at. Today, that’s pushing 32000 digital images of medieval documents. Sometimes my research involves sitting here and looking at the photographs, translating the Latin or the Medieval French to English and gathering up evidence from the time.

Sometimes, opportunities come up to work outside the university with people interested in the history I research. A little opportunity I’ve been invited to be involved in is working with a scriptwriter about developing a historical drama about the period in the UK.

About once a year I get to spend a week or two, usually in the UK, sometimes in Europe or the US, to work with archives and looking at fresh stuff that I don’t already have. There’s so much out there, I’ll never see all of it.

Kathleen at work in the Cathedral Library at Lincoln, UK. Photo: K Neal.
Kathleen at work in the Cathedral Library at Lincoln, UK. Photo: K Neal.

Is there a lot from the medieval period that’s still unexplored? What sorts of materials are out there?

My PhD was on royal letters in the reign of one king, and in my doctoral research I only looked at one collection of letters and even then, there are more from that time than I could look at in my lifetime so I had to be selective. And I didn’t attempt to look elsewhere. It gives you an idea of the scale of what’s out there for certain kinds of questions.

“There’s a stereotype that the medieval period is the ‘Dark Ages’, that we don’t know a lot about it, and there’s an assumption that we don’t know anything about it because they didn’t leave any records or didn’t have any capacity for self-reflection. That just isn’t true. Not only did they have that capacity but they clearly exercised it and left loads of records, just not the same sorts of records that we leave in our own lives.”

What are you working on currently in terms of research projects?

I’m in the process of developing two big projects. The first is about taking the idea of politics and introducing women into the equation. One of the assumptions people make about the medieval period is that women are completely downtrodden or only having a symbolic function but that’s not the case. I think people are realising that not only is it not the case but that there is evidence for what women did, which past generations of historians didn’t notice.

That’s partly because of our own biases and what we look for in evidence. So the project is in part going over things like the royal letters I worked on before and looking at these hints about women’s involvement in the process and try to synthesise them into an understanding of what women’s roles were in negotiations.

How do you spot those things?

Partly it’s the lens you use to look at these things. For example, I’ve been looking at something that reminds me a little of the family Christmas letter of the 21st century. You have this print-out of updates: ‘K did this, M did this etc’ and everyone gets the same thing and it’s empty of real meaning but you still have this list of people that you send them to.

In medieval letters, you have a group of letters called the ‘Literae de Statu’ which means ‘letters of the state’, meaning the state of your health rather than the nation state. They’re completely formulaic in the same way a Christmas letter is. They say things like: “to my dearest cousin, when this letter was dispatched, we were well. We hope you’re well too, please let us know, sincerely, whomever”. They don’t say anything particularly interesting about what was happening or what people felt about it or any of those other things that historians love to read, and so these letters were almost completely ignored.

But what I’ve realised is that by applying a feminist lens to [these letters], so reading between the lines, taking insights from historians who studied Renaissance Italy looking at the ways people formed networks of patrons and clients politically and socially, when you put all that together you notice that women are often involved in these letter exchanges.

You realise that heaps of these letters are exchanged. Then you then add in the fact that to produce and send a letter in this period requires a really major commitment of time and resources. Most aren’t written on paper yet at this time, animal skin has to be prepared in a certain way, they’re written by a scribe who needs training, then carried by a messenger who is privately employed as there’s no postal service yet. If all these resources are going to it, it shows to me it can’t be an empty act of communication. My project looks at these letters and tries to work out what’s the context that they get exchanged in and does that help us to understand why they might be contacting each other in this way.

It looks to me like really important people send these letters to their female relations who have a particular capacity to draw branches of the family together when there’s something major/political at stake.

So when kings of England and France are preparing to go to war, the King of England writes to pretty much every female relation he has on the continent asking about their health. That has to be significant and he’s assuming that they have some role to play and he’s reminding them that he’s their dutiful nephew or their cousin so that when it comes to the crunch, those women remember their obligation of kinship to do something but we don’t know what yet.

And the second project?

The other project takes a different course and looks at the reasons why people got really concerned in the 12th and 13th century about identification. It’s fascinating because what I realised was means of ID is thought of as a really modern concern, to the extent that precise identification is almost like a diagnostic criterion of modernity, but you can see this sudden crucial attention to it in the late 12th century and the following couple of hundred years. So I’m in the process of developing a project looking into the reasons for that.

The significant thing about it is that it’s not just in the records of government but also literature, art, philosophy and theology, almost every kind of writing suddenly becomes really concerned with identification and also with its opposite: they get really worried about anonymity. They play with the opportunities of being anonymous in literature, almost like a mirror of our own obsession with privacy online. To me, this project has the potential to draw out some surprising resonances with the medieval past and our own time period, which I hope other people will find interesting.

What’s the best thing about being a researcher?

I think research is a creative process. You have to be very organised, which luckily I am, but it’s actually pretty rare to find a job where you can be really organised and creative and I love that about research. It’s fun to have an idea and go to the archives and see if that idea stands up, or have interesting discussions with colleagues about ideas or thoughts you might be having. It’s so much fun to have those discussions and processes, that’s what I really wanted in my life.

Best advice you’ve received?

I think some good advice I got for career development is that it’s about attitude. So once you recognise that you really want something in your career, walk the walk straight away. For me, that has been fundamental. As soon as I bit the bullet and decided that I wanted to become a historian and step aside from the science career I had been developing, I made myself a professional even though I was just starting out. I try to convey that to people, to grasp the professional ‘you’, to envisage it and embody it as early as you can in your career.

What are some things you’d love to know but can’t find out due to limitations in the resources available?

Sometimes I’m frustrated by the illusion of subjectivity in medieval sources. People present themselves in the sources as though they’re giving you unmediated access to what they think. The more I study, the more I realise that there are so many overlaying systems of expectation and rules about how you express yourself, behavioural rules and social rules, that actually you’re only ever accessing a curated self that someone wanted to present for an audience.

Accessing the interiority of medieval people is hard. It’s not an insurmountable problem, and there is a new movement in Historical study called the History of Emotions, strongly influencing historical practice, especially in Australia and New Zealand in the last 5-10 years that means that people are uncovering creative ways of getting inside people’s heads and emotional experience, but it still remains that holy grail.

“That’s when you wish you could travel back and see for yourself! Maybe it’s something you can’t ever access. This ties into social media, because people present themselves in ways that are designed to look spontaneous and designed to look like they’re giving people access to the real, moment by moment individual but even that’s so curated and designed. So maybe it’s a false wish but it’s a dream.”

How do you share your research with a wider community/the public?

One thing I’ve noticed increasing is opportunities for historians and other arts academics to be involved in outreach of different kinds, whether it’s teaching school kids or doing public lectures, [for example] the Medieval lego book I was involved with, things that connect with the passion that people in the general public have for the types of topics we research. Those opportunities have been increasing and I’ve been trying to take advantage of them because I’ve realised how rewarding they are. They help people beyond the academy see that what you do has a value.

Kathleen delivering a public presentation at Parliament House, Canberra, in 2015. Image: K Neal.
Kathleen delivering a public presentation at Parliament House, Canberra, in 2015. Image: K Neal.

Last year was big because it was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. I was invited to give a paper at a symposium in Parliament House in Canberra, which was great, to a general public audience about the importance of this document in political and legal history. Even more fun was doing a bunch of radio interviews on ABC and answering questions that had been called in.

Historical TV shows, how accurate are they?

I love historical shows on TV! In undergrad it was a bit shameful to admit you liked historical television, but I love it. I’ve been really enjoying watching Vikings and I’m really impressed with the research they’ve done in setting up the scripts for that. Even in the first episode, there were little details that people were doing in the background and I would think, oh you got that from such-and-such text etc. You could see the depth they’d gone into to get the background right so I was really impressed.

If you want to hear more from Dr Kathleen Neal, you can follow her research and related adventures on her blog.

Find out more:


Grey dawn or the twilight years? Let’s talk about growing old

Kate Burridge, Monash University and Réka Benczes, Monash University

The most recent National Press Club forum on aged care has once again put the spotlight on the “longevity revolution” and attitudes towards Australia’s ageing population.

Australia as a ‘youthful’ society

The word ageism – “prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age” – made its first appearance in 1969 in the Washington Post. So it’s an American invention. But what about the concept it refers to – does the concept of ageism have any Australian roots?

Social history research like that by Graeme Davison suggests a resounding “yes”.

Ageism appeared in the early colonial period, and was fuelled by Australia’s perception of itself as a “young society”. The use of young was doubly justified: it contrasted with old in “the Old Country” (as Britain was commonly referred to), and it also emphasised the high percentage of young people in the population. Nuclear families in early colonial Australia consisted of parents and their children, where the latter often grew up not ever knowing their grandparents.

Characteristics associated with youth – both positive (energy, vigour, optimism), and negative (immaturity, unruliness, disrespect for elders) – became accepted as national traits. By the end of the 19th century, Melbourne-based journalist John Stanley James made note of the ageist tendencies of Australian contemporary society:

Neither privately nor publicly have the Old Folks that consideration shown to them here [in Australia] which is evidenced in Europe and Great Britain.

So how are “the old folks” viewed more than a century after James? We’ve been trawling through Australian newspapers to find out how the media portrays “ageing Australians” today.

A problem that ‘isn’t going away’

It’s common to read about older people being a “burden” on both carers and social services (hence the impending “aged-care crisis”), as well as on the economy as a whole. The National Press Club forum’s title says it all:

The Aged Care Conundrum: Meeting The Care Needs of an Ageing Population Without Blowing the Budget.

And as moderator Katharine Murphy pointed out, “this problem isn’t going away”.

The growing proportion of older people within the total population, described as “grandpa boom” (or “elderly boom”), places intense “pressures” on both individuals and families, and also threatens to “bankrupt” society (in the form of a “social Armageddon” – to quote a yet-more-extreme phrase).

In this scenario, older people are essentially viewed as frail and ill. They’re often abused (hence the term “elder abuse”), and need legal protection in the form of “elder law”.

In this scenario, older people are unable to care for themselves and thus create an “elderly burden” that can be combated by extending the “retirement age” and establishing “granny crèches” (adult daycare centres). This is so that the “sandwich generation” (those stuck between having to care for dependent parents and dependent children) can keep on working.

‘Zuppies’ and ‘zoomers’

It’s a grim scenario contrasting with Australia’s zuppies and zoomers, two recent colloquial expressions for the ageing and active baby boomer. (Zuppy means Zestful Upscale Person in their Prime, while zoomer is anamalgam of boomer and zip, also playing on zoom.)

“Gerontolescence” does away with the image of the frail and dependent “ageing Australian”, and instead depicts the “senior boom” as a “grey revolution”. Older people are seen as a “greying army” or “grey brigade” – a formidable entity who fight for “grey power” (also the name of a political party representing older people’s rights).

The image of active and self-conscious seniors is also implied with the use of expressions like “healthy ageing” and “positive ageing”. These emphasise the individual’s responsibility in “ageing well” – something best achieved by maintaining a “portfolio lifestyle” that is divided among family responsibilities, volunteer work, and personal hobbies and interests.

The “new aged” can opt to live in “over-55s resorts” (the latest euphemism for a “retirement home”) and experience the “golden years” (the years of retirement) as a second chance at life. They are the “grey nomads” who travel around the country in their caravans and the “silver surfers” who are tech-savvy (and might even take up surfing as a hobby).

Cashed-up working boomers

Another scenario in ageing articles focuses on the highly valued skills and expertise of older people, which can be exploited in earnest in the workforce. This is the rise of “grey labour”, which helps diminish the labour-shortage crisis that is hitting Australia.

Within this discourse the elderly are respected for the knowledge they have accumulated over the years, hence the expression “mature-aged worker”. And yet plenty of workplaces are still not “mature age-friendly”, overlooking anyone above 55 years.

Longer employment results in more money that can be spent by “older consumers” (the “not-so-young shoppers” or the “cashed-up baby boomers”). These are the forgotten customers of the “grey market” who have plenty of “grey dollars” to dispose of and have significant influence on investment patterns.

Senior sunset or greying dawn?

What these words and expressions show is that alternative scenarios exist side-by-side in the media about older Australians. They are not necessarily compatible.

After all, somebody described as a “silver surfer” is hardly frail and in need of care. Conversely, the “economic burden” of the ageing population is at odds with the image of a “mature-age workforce”. These expressions are powerful. They can evoke the whole scenario they belong to, backgrounding other alternatives.

Undoubtedly, ageing has biological, social, political and economic aspects, but how we think (and feel) about it also boils down to how we talk about it: is it the start of the twilight years or the beginning of a grey dawn?

Here’s a list of ageing-related expressions, collected from the Australian media from 1987. And if you’ve got ten minutes and are interested in completing a questionnaire on ageing and stereotypes in Australian English, please visit this link.The Conversation

Kate Burridge, Professor of Linguistics, Monash University and Réka Benczes, Research Fellow in Linguistics, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music represent in 2016 Art Music Awards

ArtMusicAwards2016Finalists for the Australian Music Centre‘s 2016 Art Music Awards were announced last week, with staff and students from Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music featuring heavily. The prestigious awards are presented in 11 categories, from large-scale symphonic pieces to instrumental works and experimental projects, and reflect the diverse, high-quality and flourishing Australian music industry. The award categories recognise works composed and performed in 2015.

Chair of Composition at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Professor Mary Finsterer has been nominated for ‘Orchestral Work of the Year’ her symphonic composition Darkest Light, as performed and premiered by the School of Music ensemble, the Monash Academy Orchestra in 2015.

Nyilipidgi Album CoverDirector of the Monash Academy of Performing Arts, Professor Paul Grabowsky in collaboration with the Young WägilakGroup of East Arnhem Land were nominated for ‘Jazz Work of the Year’ for  Nyilipidgi as performed by the School of Music ensemble, The Monash Art Ensemble. Nyilipidgi was released in 2016 through ABC records. Professor Grabowsky was also nominated in the same category for his work Spiel, composed with percussionist Niko Schäuble. 

The Australian Music Centre CEO, John Davis commented of the nominees that they ‘represent our champions, and those who champion our champions. The names of those established and emerging, in cities and in regional areas, show that we have much to celebrate in the Australian art music sector’. 

The 2016 Art Music Awards will be presented at the Plaza Ballroom in Melbourne on Tuesday 16 August, hosted by Jonathan Biggins and with a live performance program curated by Gabriella Smart.

Monash University would like to congratulate all finalists of the 2016 Art Music Awards. For more information on the Awards, and to see a full list of nominees please visit the Australian Music Centre. 


Queenslanders will soon see in real-time who’s paying politicians – now Canberra must act

Colleen Lewis, Monash University

At long last, Australia has a government that is prepared to introduce real-time disclosure for political donations. The Queensland government – and independent Speaker Peter Wellington, who has been crucial in pushing for the change – deserve praise for this long-awaited reform.

The significance of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s promise to implement “an electronic real-time disclosure system” by the beginning of 2017 should not be underestimated.

I have spent many years researching and writing on public sector accountability matters and more recently on Australia’s mismatched nine sets of political donations laws. In my opinion, the introduction of real-time disclosure – already in place in New York and Ontario – is the most important reform in a suite of much-needed political funding reforms.

I say this because it allows the electorate to know, before casting a vote, who has made a donation, how much they have donated, and to whom. The introduction of real-time disclosure will mean that at least Queensland voters will soon be making an informed decision at the ballot box – an informed choice denied to Australian voters on July 2.

If other state and territory governments and the federal government can display the moral courage shown by the Queensland government, it would mark an important first step toward an open political donations system. It may also prove to be an important first step toward addressing the widening trust deficit between the community and those we entrust with the power to make decisions on behalf of us all.

But as welcome as it is, this reform does not go far enough. What is required – and quickly – is a national approach to how politics is funded in this country. This needs to be accompanied by changes to other key elements of what constitutes a political donations regime.

Read more on political finance in Australia, including an infographic of donations at glance.

These elements include (but are not limited to) the disputed issue of placing a ban on certain types of donors, setting a cap on all donations regardless of their source, and meaningful penalties for those who break the law. Without these reforms, many politicians and the parties to which they belong will continue to game the federated system and to adopt a minimalist approach to the democratic principles of transparency and accountability.

The issue of governments banning donations from particular donors has been widely contested, including in the High Court of Australia. There is a strong possibility that imposing bans could again end up in the High Court. Therefore, it might be prudent, in the short term at least, to settle for placing a cap on all donations.

Restricting donations to a maximum of say $500 or $1000 addresses the possibility of “policy capture”. When this occurs, inappropriate, unfit-for-purpose polices can be implemented. This in turn fuels the perception that those capable of donating considerable sums of money to a political party can, in return, exert inappropriate influence over public policy.

The penalties currently imposed for breaking political donations laws require urgent attention. To be frank, they are totally inadequate. If they are to have a preventive dimension, which is one of the primary reasons sanctions are imposed in the first place, they must be significantly increased.

The federal government should take the lead when it comes to reforming Australia’s political donations laws. Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope that they will act to do so in the near future. Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos made it clear when interviewed by Michelle Grattan in May 2016 that he thought political donations should be disclosed in “continuous real time”. As he explained:

I think the time has come to do that because I think that will be a major step forward in transparency.

Sinodinos is correct in his assessment. He was also correct when he said that inconsistencies between federal and state laws needed to be examined.

Sinodinos is a senior member of the recently re-elected Coalition government. As such, he is in a position to put in place the mechanisms needed to turn his words into action, including plans to have a national approach to political donations placed on the next Council of Australian Governments agenda.

He must also act to have real-time disclosure laws introduced into the federal parliament. If the Queensland government is able to do so by January next year, there is no reason why the federal government cannot do the same. The technology already exists and has for some time to implement a real-time disclosure policy.

What has not existed is the desire to place the public interest before personal and party interests. The Palaszczuk government has just shown it is possible to do so. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the federal government and all other governments around Australia to come to the same decision.The Conversation

Colleen Lewis, Adjunct Professor, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


History’s Adam Clulow awarded 2016 W.K. Hancock Prize

Adam Clulow's The Company and the Shogun
Adam Clulow’s ‘The Company and the Shogun’

Monash History’s Dr Adam Clulow was awarded the 2016 W.K. Hancock Prize at the Australian Historical Association Conference last week. 

The W.K. Hancock Prize recognises and encourages an Australian scholar who has published a first book in any field of history in 2014 or 2015. Adam was awarded the prize for his monograph, The Company and The Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (Columbia University Press, 2014).

The citation reads:

In the broadest sense, The Shogun and the Company deals masterfully with how European colonialism worked on the ground in Asia. Innovatively organized around key diplomatic incidents or moments of conflict between the Dutch East India Company and Japan’s Tokugama regime in the two centuries after 1609, the book shows that would-be colonizers were forced to accommodate themselves to the expectations, protocols, and requirements of a powerful Asian state, and not the other way around.

Disrupting historiographical assumptions about the inevitability of European domination, Clulow provides a riveting account of the difficulties of cross-cultural diplomacy in the early modern era, focusing on moments of failure or misunderstanding rather than success. He reveals a context in which Dutch military technology was rarely decisive, and one in which Dutch attempts to claim sovereignty in Asia were undercut by overlapping claims on both land and sea. 

Built on transcribed sources in multiple languages and making its arguments through comparisons and counter-examples from far afield, Clulow’s work is both brilliantly original and impressively synthetic.

Find out more:


History in practice: Monash Arts graduate interned with International Criminal Tribunal

Monash Arts Law graduate, Stephanie Sprott.

In 2015 Monash Arts/Law alumnus, Stephanie Sprott, did an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ITCY). We talked to her about the challenges and rewards of this unique experience, and how it relates to her recent studies in law and history.

Why did you choose to do the internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia?

I thought it was a really perfect combination of my two degrees (Arts/Law). It was an international criminal tribunal, so I would be working in a legal context, but it was an international criminal tribunal that is a pillar of post conflict reconstruction from a very significant conflict that happened in the 90’s, and that means it has a really historical context.

I’d learnt a lot about the break up of the former Yugoslavia in both my degrees, and I felt like it tied in with my disciplinary interests really well.

Can you explain to people who don’t understand the history, why so long after a massacre occurred, work is still going on?

Well the reason the case that I was working on is still going on is that the defendant (Ratko Mladic) was in hiding, he was a fugitive for fourteen years, so his trial only began in 2011. So that’s why this particular case was so delayed, but there’s still a huge amount of work going on.

This (delay) is partly just because the international legal sphere is fairly un-resourced and things move quite slowly, and if there’s an appeal, then you have another case that has to be redone, and sometimes appeals go back to trial, and then it just goes on and on…..

It’s interesting in a way that you are doing something ‘current’, but really it’s about history

Yes, and I personally really enjoyed that because I had that historical background, but quite a lot of the other interns at the tribunal who were from a straight ‘law’ background found that a bit challenging, because they found it hard to connect with something that seemed very much in the past.

A lot of the evidence is really old, you’re dealing with a lot of hand-written witness transcripts that are barely legible, and you can’t track who has given that evidence properly, and sometimes you’ll just get piles and piles of very random documents and you have to work out how they fit together…

Did your History Studies training helped you with this work?

It actually helped a lot because in history you learn how to analyse documents in context, how to connect different factors together, and so having having that training, I think, gave me an eye for dealing with document analysis quite well.

And you wouldn’t be put off by barely legible documents – that would be ‘normal’ for historians?!

Exactly! You’re given a lot of images as well and you have to understand the context of those images, and I think that is something we do a lot in history studies, where images are a really important primary source.

It must have been very confronting for you, some of those images?

Some of it was really confronting, yes, there are definitely times when you are affected by the sensitivity and gravity of the material. 

Actually it can be a bit disorientating sometimes because you are in The Hague, which is this very beautiful sterile city in the Netherlands, full of bureaucrats and lawyers. So even though you are looking at this imagery, you’re quite far removed from the issues, it’s not that different from from learning in a classroom in some ways.

There’s also a big network of support there, you’re working with about twenty other interns, so I think that support makes it easier to process the issues you’re dealing with, but it’s definitely still hard.

Would you do it again or is that enough?

Yes I would do it again, I think it further invigorated my interest in human rights issues. I also like dealing with things like this that are at the core.

Stephanie Sprott is an Arts/Law graduate who majored in History. She has recently finished working for a parliamentary committee inquiry (The CFA Training College at Fiskville), and has just started a graduate position in a law firm.

Find out more


Memo Steve Price: how ‘hysteria’ has been used to degrade and control women

Paula Michaels, Monash University

Is there a difference between calling a woman or a man “hysterical”? The word’s origin as the term for a psychological disorder grounded in female physiology suggests the answer is yes.

Last week’s verbal tussle on the ABC’s Q&A contributes the latest chapter to our ongoing national conversations about domestic violence, misogyny, and microaggressions.

Amid a discussion about the culture of violence towards women, journalist Steve Price repeatedly interrupted and talked over Guardian columnist Van Badham. Their kerfuffle peaked when, to audible audience gasps, Price accused Badham of being “hysterical”. Her rejoinder, that “it’s probably my ovaries making me do it,” exploded on Twitter.

On The Project, Price later asserted that Badham’s status as a woman was irrelevant to the meaning and impact of his characterisation of her as hysterical. Gender and history, he said, had nothing to do with it.


Yet hysteria’s long, dark past as a medical diagnosis casts a shadow over our modern colloquial use. With a genealogy that can be traced back 4000 years to ancient Egypt, hysteria can arguably be understood as Western civilisation’s first conceptualisation of mental illness.

Ancient physicians attributed erratic female behaviour to spontaneous movement of the womb, with which the disorder shares its Latin root.

By its very definition, hysteria could not afflict men. The hallmark behavior of a hysteric – overly emotional, out-of-control, irrational – was uniquely characteristic of women and linked directly to their anatomy.

Over millennia, Western medicine and culture reinforced the connection between the understanding and interpretation of women’s behaviour and their reproductive capacity. In more modern times, this knot tightened as the emerging field of psychology tied the diagnoses of so-called nervous disorders to women’s reproductive organs.

Nineteenth-century physicians widely attributed mental disturbance in women to a malfunction of their sex organs, a phenomenon that had no parallel in the diagnosis of male patients.

Treating hysteria with hypnosis, French neurologist JM Charcot emphasised that it afflicted both men and women, but nonetheless the wider medical community continued to link female psychology to female physiology. Advocating a rest cure, British physician WS Playfair attributed nervous disorders to “uterine mischief”.

Rogue uteri. Denis Bocquet, CC BY


At the other end of the spectrum, the “grim apotheosis” of this mind-body link took the form of hysterectomies, oophorectomies (removal of the ovaries) and clitoridectomies. Beginning in the late-1800s and continuing into the mid-20th century, doctors treated women’s mental disorders by removing the uterus, ovaries or clitoris that were believed to be the problem.

Sigmund Freud, whose ideas dominated Western psychology for much of the 20th century, also promoted a theory of hysteria that was ultimately grounded in physiology. He believed hysteria to be an expression of stunted, immature sexual development. The uncontrolled behaviour of the hysteric served as an outlet for frustrated sexual impulses that had failed to develop beyond infantile desires for parental affection.

Despite arguing, like Charcot, that hysteria could afflict both women and men, Freud was far from egalitarian in his thinking. Women’s intrinsic inadequacy, experienced psychologically as “penis envy”, left them vulnerable to hysteria. For men, a diagnosis of hysteria bore a clear medico-cultural stamp of feminisation and emasculation.

Hysteria today is no longer an accepted medical diagnosis, but the word lives on as a colloquial way to deem someone out-of-control and irrational. It can, as Price notes, be levelled again women and men, but it beggars belief that he did not acknowledge the word’s lingering gendered overtones.

The fact is, describing someone as “hysterical” associates them with a trait deemed feminine – if levelled against a man, the charge would impugn his manliness.

Price’s refusal to acknowledge the power of this word, so freighted with gendered meaning, is evidence of his male privilege. He asserts his right to determine the very terms of debate and denies the reality of others.

Calling out offensive language is not, as those on the Right would have it, political correctness gone wild. It is a strategy for resistance.

Only by shining a light on how we use language to degrade and diminish others – in this instance, women – can we challenge injustices that run the gamut from mansplaining to murder.

Paula Michaels, Senior lecturer, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


PhD Scholarship Success for Criminology’s Madeleine Ulbrick

Monash Criminology doctoral student, tutor and research assistant, Madeleine Ulbrick, has recently been awarded a highly competitive APA scholarship to complete her doctoral research.

Madeleine’s thesis, Escaping’ Family Violence: Legal Barriers for Women Beyond the Urban Frontier seeks to investigate what legal barriers exist for Aboriginal, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and cognitively impaired women who have or are experiencing family violence in peri-urban, regional, rural and remote areas across Victoria, and who have sought free legal assistance through community legal centres (CLCs).

Specifically, her project will examine: women’s experiences with, and perceptions of, police and police prosecutors in family violence matters; women’s experiences with, and perceptions of, CLCs and the assistance they provide in family violence matters; and the impacts of shifts in federal funding priorities on CLCs.

Madeleine’s research will provide an enhanced understanding of the obstacles that Aboriginal, CALD and cognitively impaired women encounter in seeking free legal assistance and to develop evidence-based recommendations to improve legal policy, practice and access to legal services.

Madeleine is co-supervised by Monash Criminology’s Dr Asher Flynn and Professor Jude McCulloch and Deakin University’s Dr Danielle Tyson.

Find out more:



Dr Monima Chadha awarded the 2016 Annette Baier Prize


Master of Journalism and International Relations graduate Eileen McInnes



Facilitated ideation sessions


3-hour workshop facilitating startup and entrepreneurship ideas. The first hour is a quick overview of opportunity analysis and some white space discussion, followed by one hour of interactive idea generation and discussion. The final hour, the group will work together to filter the ideas. The owners of the top ideas will then practice pitching their ideas to the group.

This would be a great way to help teams form, and be competitive, for the PITCH ORIGINATOR (application deadline 18 August).

But it is also just a great professional development and teamwork exercise.

Learn more


Wednesday, 10th August 2016

Time: 10:00am to 1:00pm

Light lunch provided


E561, (Menzies Building)

20 Chancellors Walk, Clayton Campus


Lots of people don’t consider themselves entrepreneurs, but then after an ideation session and they have come up with five interesting startup concepts in just a few hours, they begin to think about themselves, and their ideas, in a new light. This is an empowering, exciting and fun event that is great for team building and professional development.


All students and staff from Arts Faculty.


Ideation sessions work best with an intimate group of 10-30 people (maximum 50).

So book in your place by emailing – robin.chacko@monash.edu


Dr Ahmad Sarmast awarded UNESCO Cultural Heritage Rescue Prize

We are pleased to announce that Dr Ahmad Sarmast, founder and Director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) and Adjunct Research Fellow at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, has been awarded UNESCO’s Second Annual Cultural Heritage Rescue Prize.

The award ceremony was held at the Spoleto International Festival in Italy on July 2, 2016, coordinated by Francesco Rutelli, Chairman of the Association Priorita Cultura and of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (Berlin), under the patronage of the Council of Europe and the support of Venice’s Superintendence for Cultural Assets.

Dr Ahmad Sarmast


The highly regarded annual prize recognises the courage and determination of those fighting to preserve culture as universal heritage, and was awarded to Dr Sarmast for his ‘tireless dedication ensuring the musical rights of Afghan children’, as well as his achievements in reviving and preserving Afghan music.

A native of Afghanistan, Dr Sarmast (PhD Arts 2005) is a musician and strong believer in the power of music as a force in bringing about social change, transforming lives, and connecting nations and civilisations.

In 2010 this belief led him to establish ANIM, a music school that within a short period of time became one of the most influential educational and cultural entities in Afghanistan and widely known internationally for its unique mission and vision.

Based in Kabul, the organisation empowers Afghan children through education, literacy and music regardless of class, ethnicity or gender.

Against the odds and showing tremendous courage, Ahmad established ANIM in the ruins of the former school and with virtually no instruments.

Despite the physical dangers of working in a conflict zone, including being trapped by crossfire, and in 2013, surviving a deadly suicide attack at a concert, as well as entrenched prejudice, Dr Sarmast continues to advocate the establishment of a civil society in Afghanistan.

Dr Sarmast has received many accolades honouring his work including the International Music Council Musical Rights Award, the David Chow Humanitarian Award, and the Education Award of the Government of Afghanistan.

In 2013 he was a finalist for Australian of the Year, and was named Person of the year by Radio Azadi, RFE/RL. Recently Dr Sarmast received the Charles Ansbacher Music for All Award.

In addition to his Monash PhD, Dr Sarmast holds a degree in performance and music education and a Masters in Musicology and Ethnomusicology from Moscow State Conservatorium. He is an Honorary Fellow of the National College of Music in London.

Find out more:


In a world of low rates, what else can the RBA and central banks do?

Remy Davison, Monash University

The world still needs the central banks to bail us out of trouble but the impact of monetary policy is complicated in a world of zero or near-zero interest-rate policy (ZIRP) and negative interest-rate policy (NIRP).

Money presents us with three alternatives: we can spend it, save it or invest it. Most households and governments do the first; financial institutions take the third option; and virtually no one saves. Except Asia, obviously.

In 2008, spending and investment froze during the global financial crisis (GFC). This forced central banks and governments to ultimately adopt unorthodox and largely unprecedented strategies. Two tools were available to governments: fiscal stimulus and looser monetary policy. Most governments adopted a mix of both.

However, there are political and financial limits to fiscal policy, particularly as governments grew increasingly overextended during the GFC. Consequently, since 2008, monetary policy has largely displaced fiscal policy as means of generating economic stimulus. Except in Sydney, at the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

ZIRP it. ZIRP it good

The Bank of Japan (BoJ) was the first to adopt ZIRP, as it sought to deal with the aftershocks of the Heisei recession of the early 1990s. This was referred to as Japan’s “lost decade”, as it experienced stagnant growth, a condition still bedevilling the country today, despite the best efforts of Abenomics.

As the global financial crisis emerged throughout 2007–08, the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of England sank hundreds of billions of their respective currencies into their foundering financial sectors. The People’s Bank of China injected massive liquidity into Chinese markets.

In Australia, the RBA slashed interest rates, with deep successive cuts in 2008–09. Looser monetary policy was matched by the Rudd government’s significant fiscal expansion to prevent the collapse of consumer spending.

The reason behind this fiscal pump priming, combined with the dramatic monetary measures, was clear: in late 2008, credit markets froze. Admittedly, there is much debate about how long and to what extent this occurred. However, the fear of contagion was so palpable that the interbank lending market experienced systemic dysfunction and, at the very least, credit rationing took place.

The problem for central banks is that they have relatively few monetary tools available to them. The traditional lever to prevent overheating is to exert monetary discipline by raising interest rates, thus increasing the cost of credit.

Conversely, under the crisis conditions of the GFC, the central banks slashed interest rates to encourage consumption. However, the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank reached their lower limits faster than the RBA, which never adopted ZIRP.

But that may be about to change. The RBA’s cash rate is at a historic low of 1.75%, and the bank may cut further as the Australian economy plateaus, combined with the uncertainty wrought by Brexit.

The new normal

Make no mistake: ZIRP and even perhaps NIRP are the new normal. Just ask Janet Yellen. When the Federal Reserve chairman increased US interest rates by 0.25% in December 2015, the markets reacted savagely. It was the first Federal Reserve (Fed) rate rise since 2006.

Fourteen months earlier, Yellen had tapered off the US’s third quantitative easing program (QE3), ending it on schedule in October 2014. Between 2008 and 2014, the Fed had purchased over US$4.5 trillion in government bonds and mortgage-backed securities in three rounds of QE, plus a fourth program, Operation Twist (2011–12).

The outcome was an avalanche of “free” money. Why “free”? Because, in the long run, the real cost of the capital for commercial banks was zero, or less than zero.

The Fed was effectively printing money (although it’s more complex than that). The effects were clear: the US central bank was reflating the American economy, and by extension the global economy, by injecting massive amounts of liquidity into the system in an attempt to ameliorate the worst effects of the 2008–09 financial crisis.

US Fed moves this year

No one on the markets was surprised by the central bank’s December 2015 rate rise. The clear objective was to return some semblance of normality to global interest rates.

The problem is it didn’t work. The tapering-off of QE in late 2014 meant that the last sugar hits of stimulus were wearing off in 2015.

The Yellen rate rise, plus the clear intention of the Fed to incrementally drive rates higher, spooked the markets. In May this year, undeterred by gloomy US jobs figures, Yellen indicated that she would seek to raise US interest rates “gradually” and “over time” as US growth continued to improve. Her concern was that adherence to ZIRP would ultimately bite in the form of inflation.

Not anymore. Brexit has seen to that. It was one of the factors behind the Fed committee’s decision to keep interest rates on hold in mid-June.

ZIRP – or something approximating it – is becoming the “new normal” because cheap money has become structural; the global financial system is now structured around the persistence of low-cost credit. NIRP is thus the logical continuum of this downward interest rate spiral.

Negative interest zates

Until recently, most macroeconomic textbooks argued that zero was rock bottom for interest rates. The GFC shifted the goalposts.

This is where NIRP enters the picture: negative interest rates. How do they work? Typically, commercial banks will park their money in their accounts with the central bank, or in private markets, such as the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Thus, their money never sleeps and earns interest 24/7, even when bank doors are shut.

But NIRP is different. Negative rates mean depositors pay for the privilege of a bank to hold their money. Which means depositors are better off holding the cash than placing the funds on deposit. Japan has experienced the results of a NIRP first-hand.

There is a method in this madness: the G7 central banks want commercial banks to lend, not to accumulate piles of cash. Consequently, the policy effect of both ZIRP and NIRP is to stimulate business and consumer lending in order to drive real economic activity. With piles of cash looking for investment placements, the shadow banking system of financial intermediaries may also drive enterprise investment.

However, ZIRP and NIRP are blunt instruments; the perverse outcomes of the stimulus programs of the US Fed, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank were artificially inflated stockmarkets and various sector bubbles (such as real estate, classic cars).

The combination of ZIRP and QE may have also created a “liquidity trap”. This means that central banks’ QE injections caused only a sugar rush and did not inflate prices, as one would normally expect from a significant expansion of the monetary base.

Instead, many developed countries have experienced multiple recessions and a prolonged period of deflation. In April this year, the Australian economy experienced deflation for the first time since the GFC, which compelled the RBA to make its most recent 0.25% cut in May 2016.

Yellen knows the global economy cannot retain ZIRP indefinitely. But, ironically, all of the central banks are caught in their own liquidity trap: unable to relinquish ZIRP for fear of market catastrophe; unwilling to abandon QE entirely as “the new normal” demands fresh injections of virtually cost-free credit.

A lack of interest

The Australian economy has done quite well by having interest rates above the OECD average, particularly since the GFC. This has encouraged significant foreign investment flows into Australia as global investors seek somewhere – anywhere – to park their cash as other safe-haven government bonds, such as the US, Japan and Germany, are in ZIRP or NIRP territory. It also doesn’t hurt that Australia’s major banks and government bonds are blue-chip-rated. And Australian sovereign bonds have excellent yields too.

If ZIRP is the new normal, that matters to the Reserve Bank of Australia. It also matters to all Australian home buyers, businesses, banks, pensioners, investors, students and credit card holders. Everyone, in other words.

ZIRP has created hordes of winners: mortgage interest rates are at historic lows. Property buyers who borrowed when rates were relatively high (at, say, 6-7%) are now paying less than 4%. Credit card rates are still astronomically high (20–21% or more), but balance transfer rates are zero. New credit issues in terms of consumer debt represented by unsecured loans (which is what a credit card is) have a real capital cost of zero. This is virtually unprecedented.

But ZIRP or near-ZIRP produces many losers as well. There is no incentive to save because rates are so low. Hoarding cash makes no sense.

Global surplus capacity reinforces deflation as both goods and commoditised services are cheap. Wages are terminal. Pension funds’ margins are smaller, thus expanding future liabilities and reducing the value of current superannuation yields.

In a world of ZIRP, is it any wonder that all of this cheap or (effectively) free cash has been stuffed into the global stock exchange and real estate markets, creating not only a double bubble, but double trouble?

The best things in life are free

QE is like heroin: the first hit is always free. The commercial banks got their first hit in 2008 and the prospect of going cold turkey sends them into paroxysms of fear.

The problem is that the dealers – the central banks – have started using their own product and are just as hopelessly addicted to both ZIRP and QE. To rudely cut off supply would destroy their own markets.

The RBA is not immune to the elixir of ZIRP. No central bank wants to assume responsibility for a recessionary economy; the RBA took enough heat for its monetary policy mismanagement of 1989-90, which induced the 1990s recession.

Unlike the Fed, the RBA is not about to fire up the printing presses and engage in rounds of QE, if it runs out of tools and is compelled to adopt ZIRP. The RBA is too conservative to engage in such policy in any case.

But this conservatism has a direct impact upon federal government fiscal policy, irrespective of whether the LNP or the ALP is in power. From Rudd to Turnbull, Treasury has been forced to increase its borrowing time and time again, blowing out the forward fiscal projections year after year.

No government has delivered a surplus because it is no longer possible. The RBA is partly responsible for this because, rather than expanding its balance sheet via QE, it has forced Canberra to accumulate government debt of more than $AU400 billion, which the overburdened Australian taxpayer will pay for.

Like most drug deals, this will not end well.The Conversation

Remy Davison is the Jean Monnet Chair in Politics and Economics at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Find out more:


Enigmatic Turnbull creates his own misfortune and will be forever diminished by it

Shaun Carney, Monash University

Malcolm Turnbull has been leader of the federal Liberal Party twice – once as opposition leader, the second as prime minister. On both occasions, he has blown it. He has not been the victim of outside forces, nor an ambush, nor terrible luck. He has inflicted the damage on himself.

The narrative he and his Liberal deputy Julie Bishop tried to get up on election night – that the near-disaster of the result inflicted on their government at the nation’s polling booths was down to Labor lies about Medicare – is not convincing.

This excuse goes to Turnbull’s real problem: he’s not a very talented politician. By focusing on Labor’s “Mediscare” campaign, he was as good as telling Australians who shifted their vote from Liberal to Labor that they were gullible dills.

The one time in the political cycle when a politician should not be casting doubt on the wisdom and intelligence of voters is in the hours and days after an election. His first post-election speech, deep into the election night, was predicated on exactly this explanation for the Liberal Party’s precipitous electoral fall.

It was a curious performance for a prime minister: a bellicose, at times bewildered, rant about the perfidy of Labor’s behaviour that foreshadowed him calling in the police to investigate his opponents, and included a declaration of total victory and then a paradoxical plea for all Australians to come together in these uncertain times.

This, from a man who has since he took over nine months ago been selling a message of unbridled optimism: that there had never been a more exciting time to be an Australian.

Inevitably, to make up for the night before, on Sunday afternoon he held a press conference and gave something like the speech he should have given. He pulled back on the boast about having won a majority and acknowledged the message voters had handed him by cutting the Coalition’s two-party-preferred vote. By Monday morning, it had suffered a 3.7% per cent swing and was actually trailing, with 49.78% after preferences.

The question is: how can someone who has had designs on becoming prime minister for decades, a man of commercial and academic accomplishment, with friends and connections in all corners of power in the land, well-read, well-informed, long untroubled by the need to make any more money, keep making so many unnecessary mistakes?

The very purpose of Turnbull’s prime ministership was to rescue the Coalition government, to get it back up and running, making the most of its landslide majority and its status as a fresh administration.

This election result, even in its incomplete form, has returned the verdict on how well he did in meeting those metrics. Turnbull might well manage to scrape home with a tiny majority or, less desirable, a minority government arrangement with an assortment of independents and minor party members. But he will be forever diminished – humbled, really – by the judgement at the ballot boxes on July 2.

The initial response to his elevation to the leadership after his September coup against Tony Abbott among voters was, every poll showed, incredibly positive.

Here was a man who looked every ounce a prime minister in the old patrician style: 60-ish, well-preserved, untroubled by the world around him, self-confident, articulate, pledging to reduce the temperature of politics.

For the so-called progressive voter, he was the Liberal that Labor voters believed they could love. For Liberals, he was a smooth operator, just the type of accomplished manager they desire as leader.

He turned out to be a policy ditherer. Within four months, voter disillusionment set in. It turned out that he did not appear to have a comprehensive plan for the Australian people apart from his headline innovation policy, which most voters assumed would not involve them.

As a retail politician he turned out to be dreadful. He was tightly controlled during the campaign because he is not easy with people; he is more Paul Keating than Bob Hawke.

Worse, the decision to set aside three-and-a-half months for the election campaign was just lunacy. Yes, you read correctly. While the formal campaign lasted eight weeks, Turnbull set the election campaign off on March 21 when he sent the contentious industrial relations bills that would trigger the double dissolution back to the Senate.

It was an act of hubris he would come to regret because it squandered the advantage of incumbency, one of the greatest gifts any political leader can enjoy. Once an election is in the offing, governments naturally lose a good deal of their ability to keep the focus on themselves as the public starts to peel off and consider the alternative.

To add further weight to his own saddlebags, Turnbull fashioned his election pitch around a “jobs and growth” mantra that had as its centrepiece a trickle-down economics policy of a A$50 billion company tax cut, distributed over the next ten years. It will also be remembered that the government was at first reluctant to put a dollar figure on the policy.

This policy – this approach, really – had no prospect of making an emotional connection with voters. What did it mean? It was, like the prime minister’s personal presentation, a retro piece, an echo of the 1980s when technocratic politicians were all the rage. It is far from a guaranteed success all these decades later, when disillusionment and cynicism about politics are high and widespread.

Labor’s policies, promising to deliver and maintain high-quality services in health and education, and to protect wages and conditions, were of the everyday. But they were definitely able to make that emotional connection with voters, especially those at the lower end of the income spectrum living in the outer suburbs and regions who see their wages stagnating.

The Brexit vote, the Trump nomination, the Sanders phenomenon, the rise of populism throughout Europe – the drivers behind these developments are not isolated to lands beyond our shores. Many Australians are not happy. Their grievances are diverse. On Saturday they declared their inclination not to hand anyone an easy path to government.The Conversation

Shaun Carney is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Find out more:


Explainer: what’s at stake in the Australian election?

Zareh Ghazarian, Monash University

Australia has burned through five prime ministers in five years – and it could soon have another: on July 2, Australians will vote for their next government. But no one seems to have pulled definitively ahead.

The opinion polls predict a close battle between the two political forces that have taken turns in government since World War II: the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal and National coalition.

So what’s at stake – and how can a party win in the Australian system?

As the Australian system is based on the Westminster model, the government is formed by the party (or coalition of parties) that wins a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, which is commonly referred to as the lower house. The leader of this majority becomes prime minister.

The last election to this house was in 2013, when the Liberal and National coalition won government in a landslide. It now holds 90 of the lower house’s 150 seats. The Labor opposition must win 21 seats in the forthcoming election to have the 76 seats it needs for a majority.

Parliament also has a very powerful upper house, the Senate, which has the same powers as the House of Representatives except that it cannot initiate or amend “supply bills” – legislation providing resources for day-to-day government business. There are 76 senators: 12 from each state, and two from each territory. Senators from the states are elected for six-year terms, meaning that at every general election, half of them are up for election.

But this year’s election is unusual as it’s a “double dissolution” election, meaning that both houses of parliament have been dissolved and are up for election at once. It is triggered if the Senate fails to pass a specific bill sent to it from the lower house on at least three occasions. This year, the trigger was a law concerning industrial relations in the building and construction sector. There have only been six elections like this since Australia federated in 1901; the last was back in 1987.

Because it puts all Senate seats up for election, prime ministers use double dissolution as a tactic to sweep out legislative troublemakers.

The leaders

Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister in September 2015, when he overthrew Tony Abbott in a party coup. Abbott had led the coalition to a big win in 2013, but a series of poor opinion polls precipitated a leadership challenge which he ultimately lost.

Turnbull’s leadership had an immediate impact on the party’s standing in the community and he enjoyed strong support according to opinion polls. Before he became prime minister, he supported a range of progressive policies including same-sex marriage and an emissions trading scheme, but in government, he took a much more orthodox tack.

Turnbull’s hesitation is understandable, since his parliamentary coalition includes a significant number of social conservatives. Winning the election could give him a strong mandate for a more progressive platform.

On the other side, Labor leader Bill Shorten has had a longer time leading his party. He was given the leadership after Labor’s disastrous performance in 2013. Like many other opposition leaders in Westminster-style systems, he struggled to advance his party’s policy agenda before the campaign got underway – but once it did, he suddenly became much more effective.

No love lost: Bill Shorten (L) and Malcolm Turnbull. EPA


Oppositions have tended to avoid releasing many of their major policies in contemporary Australian election campaigns as they have feared they could backfire. Shorten, however, eschewed this approach and presented a suite of policies throughout the campaign. Shorten has also surprised many commentators by being a strong campaigner, especially when meeting with voters face-to-face and during televised leadership debates.

The minor parties

While Labor and the coalition battle it out to form a government, Australia’s various minor parties are campaigning to extend their influence on government policy in the lower house.

Winning representation in the lower house has been very difficult for minor parties, with only two parties winning seats at a general election in the post-war period.

The Australian Greens are hoping to hold onto the seat they already have and are in the race for another two. The Xenophon Team, another new party led by independent senator Nick Xenophon, is also well placed to win seats in South Australia.

If both parties are able to win representation, they may become critical actors if neither major party wins a majority and must rely on cross-bench MPs to form government.

The Greens and the Xenophon Team are also inline to have a significant role in the new Senate where it is likely that they will hold the balance of power. In doing so, they will be crucial to shaping government policy.

Issues and policies

The major parties have come at the election from different angles. Labor emphasises government services, while the coalition has campaigned on the need for strong economic management.

Can they do it? EPA


That might well pay off. The election comes as jobs, interest rates and economic prosperity all top the political agenda. Australia faces a downturn in the mining sector, and the three car makers who operate in the country (Ford, Toyota and General Motors Holden) will be all be closing their factories within the next 18 months.

The issue of asylum seekers has also been prominent in Australia throughout recent years, but the major parties are generally avoiding the issue for fear of opening up bitter internal divisions among their members. The Greens, on the other hand, have been raising the issue quite readily, and getting plenty of attention for it.

A similar dynamic is at play on the issue of climate change, which arguably undid Julia Gillard’s prime ministership in 2013. Like asylum seeker policy, climate change policy has the potential to drive a wedge within the major parties. Indeed, Labor and the coalition appear to be locked in holding patterns, while the Greens have been vigorously advocating for greater action on the issue.

By the time of the vote, the campaign will have gone for a gruelling eight weeks. The candidates, parties, and Australia at large will be exhausted. Labor faces a mammoth task in trying to claw back seats from the coalition. If history is any guide, Turnbull appears set to be returned as prime minister.

This will not only give him a legislative mandate, but could also offer Australia a desperately needed sense of political stability after the upheaval of the last five years.The Conversation

Zareh Ghazarian, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Find out more:


Slanguage and ‘dinky di’ Aussie talk in elections

Howard Manns, Monash University

Co-written with Kate Burridge

Bill Shorten’s been telling us he wants to give Australians a “fair go”. Malcolm Turnbull has decried Labor for an “assault on the Australian spirit”.

Of course, they’re not the first pollies to drag the Australian spirit and Aussie talk into the dirty business of campaigning. But why do they do it?

It goes without saying that slanguage has always played a pivotal role in the Australian sense of self. ANU researcher Evan Kidd recently set out empirically something Australians have intuitively known for a long time – “using Australian slang increases your likeability among other Australians”.

And useful campaigning fodder are those distinctively Australian expressions with no easy equivalents in national varieties elsewhere. They might be a bit old hat, but they conveniently package some of those cultural values that many Australians hold dear.

Fair dinkums and fair goes in elections

So, in 2007, Kevin Rudd doubled down by telling us John Howard wasn’t being “fair dinkum” by using a likeable term to tell us about a guy doing something unlikable in Australian terms.

Pollies use Australian slang to draw “fairness”, “honesty” and “authenticity” (e.g. fair go, fair dinkum) into public discussions. Recall when Tony Abbott promised a “fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme” in his 2010 and 2013 election speeches – and in every budget reply speech from 2010 to 2012.

There has been a notable upsurge in the use of Australian slang in politics from the 1970s. When Gough Whitlam became prime minister in 1972, Australia’s highest office took on a distinctly Australian voice. This was the case in terms of accent (compare the speeches of Whitlam and Robert Menzies here), but also in the use of a distinctly Aussie idiom.

Menzies was the first to use “fair go” in an election speech, doing it in 1951, but he did so with some cautious introduction (“…the sound Australian phrase, a fair go”). “Fair go” then took a hiatus in elections until 1974 when Gough Whitlam used it six times in his election speech.

Not to be outdone, Malcolm Fraser used the much-loved phrase a record seven times in his 1975 speech. Since then, fair go has featured “bigly” (to use a favourite Trumpism) in campaigns, well except for 1977 and, for some reason, elections in the 1990s.

Yet, it’s important to note that pollies don’t use Australianisms the same way and some are better at doing it than others.

Mateship, battlers and ‘Team Australia’

English professor G.A. Wilkes notes that “no word in the Australian vocabulary has such a wealth of associations as mate” and this has certainly been true in politics.

Former science minister Barry Jones provides an excellent example in the story he tells in his autobiography of a phone conversation with a colleague on whose vote he was counting to retain his ministerial position.

“Mate,” he began and with that word I knew that I was gone. “Mate, I’ll have to break my promise to vote for you.”

The applications of mate and mateship by Australian prime ministers have been wide and varied. In 1983, Bob Hawke launched his famed Economic Summit, in the wake of years of political divisiveness, with an appeal to mateship. A little later Paul Keating linked mateship to Asian notions of community and obligation and used mateship to support his argument that Australia should find “security in Asia, not from Asia”.

As historian James Curran points out, John Howard had a deep affection for mateship (going as far as trying to enshrine it in the constitution). But sometimes he used it in baffling ways, even “extending the hand of Australian mateship” and its links to the Anzac legend to rally Australians against terrorism – a sentiment later echoed in Abbott’s “Team Australia” (short-listed for the Australian 2014 Word of the Year).

Ignoring the historical links to trade unionism, Howard also used the narratives around mateship to justify neoliberal economic pragmatism. Along these lines, and perhaps most confusingly, he labelled the famed 1907 Harvester judgement (one which obliged workplace to pay a fair, basic wage): “mateship gone wrong”.

Howard’s economic redefinition (or for some corruption) of mateship and his redefinition of another word, battler, hint at his close relationship with George W. Bush. The American president contributed to the neoliberal redefinition of freedom in a manner similar to Howard’s rebranding of mateship and battler.

Howard changed the meaning of the word battler indirectly and directly. Indirectly, people began to speak of “Howard’s battlers” or disenfranchised, blue-collared voters who had switched their allegiances from Labor to Liberal. Directly, Howard expanded battlers from working families to include anyone trying to better themselves.

Suddenly, even bankers and property magnates came under the umbrella of “battlers”, as did, in the words of Bush, Howard himself – it’s a long away from the Dale Kerrigan-type underdog, working hard and struggling to make ends meet.

This leads us to our final questions: who has the right to use Australian slang? When does it work and when doesn’t it?

Larrikins, malapropisms and drunken dorks

Authenticity is the most critical factor guiding the use of misuse of Australian slang, regardless of the speaker (a fact hinted at by Evan Kidd’s research mentioned above).

For instance, Barnaby Joyce caused a stir when he said the Johnny Depp apology video was “going off like a frog in a sock”. People get quite excited about pollies using Australian slang, especially in reference to an international incident. Yet, people weren’t that surprised to hear frog in a sock coming from Joyce – he’s a bit of a larrikin.

Rudd, and his use of Australian slang, offers a stark contrast to Joyce. Rudd’s a dork (this was part of his appeal in 2007), and he didn’t start using Australian expressions (at least publically) until things started to go badly in the polls.

And when Rudd did begin using these expressions, he did so awkwardly and conspicuously. His use (three times) of “fair shake of the sauce bottle” was reported and criticised far and wide – “Antiquated Australian slang, recently deployed by the country’s prime minister” (The New York Times, June 17, 2009). More so, it muddled the earlier idiom (“fair suck of the sauce bottle”), a possible or even likely reference to booze.

But we shouldn’t judge Rudd too harshly. Do we really want an Australian prime minister saying everyone deserves their fair share of booze? (Well, there was that time a drunken Bob Hawke told the nation they could go into work late, but then he was another larrikin.)

Anyway, fair shake of the sauce bottle goes back at least to the 1990s, and as lexicographer Bruce Moore points out, it’s been well-entrenched in politics and beyond (senator Rod Kemp famously used it in 1995).

Besides, we love to play with slang expressions – fair suck of the sav/fair suck of the sausage and even fair suck of the Siberian sandshoe are just some of the variants about. And who could forget Norman Gunston’s “fair bite of the pineapple donut”. So why shouldn’t equality be measured by even distributions of dollops of tomato sauce (and not grog!).

This certainly wasn’t the first time Australian slang has been “adapted” in politics. The swagman took the expression greasing one’s swag straps to mean time to move on. Bruce Moore writes that when Bob Hawke was being advised to step down as prime minister, Gareth Evans is reported to have said to him:

Pull out, digger. The dogs are pissing on your swag.

Well, the dogs are pissing on our swags and we’re due a fair suck of the sauce bottle ourselves.The Conversation

Howard Manns is a Lecturer in Linguistics and Kate Burridge is a Professor of Linguistics at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Find out more: