SURVIVORS WANTED


Is the Royal Commission on child sex abuse, still trundling its inquisitional way around the country like Judge Jeffreys and his assizes, reduced to touting for custom? Have not enough sad individuals come forward to blame their present state of life on having been, as the phrase once was, "interfered with" by an adult half a lifetime ago? I ask because on Sunday afternoon a friend answered his home phone and was asked by a "market researcher" whether he knew, if you claimed to be a victim of sexual abuse, how you would go about bringing a complaint before the commission - to "tell us your story" as the commission's website puts it.

That sounds to me as though not enough "survivors" of abuse (as they have come to be called, as though they had escaped from a train wreck) have already come forward. If there'd been an avalanche of claims you'd think the commission would have its work cut out dealing with them without looking for more. It could all go on for years. On the other hand perhaps the commission shares the propensity of all human institutions of wishing to perpetuate itself.
  
The caller, who was pleasant and polite, gave his name as "Troy" and said he represented a well known polling company. "I am calling to conduct a survey," he said. "It will take a few minutes. Are you happy to proceed?"

Instead of bundling Troy off the phone as an unrequired intruder into the sabbath calm my friend, who is kindly natured, agreed. "Have you heard about the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse?" asked Troy, giving the commission its full title. 

"I think so," said my friend, repressing the temptation to add, "Who hasn't, given the blare of publicity it's received in the media?" - and especially on the ABC (which itself, back in the hippy era, was endorsing child sex abuse by promoting paedophilia as a "lifestyle matter", a legitimate sexual preference, at a time when the modish liberal demand, the gay marriage of the day, was for the age of consent to be lowered to eleven). 

Troy produced another question. "What do you think is the function of the Royal Commission?" To this of course the correct answer is: "It's a witch hunt set up for cynical political motives by a discredited prime minister and supported by the secularist Left as a means of bashing the Roman Catholic Church," which is what anyone with clear sight knows it is. The Left hates the Catholic Church as the most influential opponent of its gay-marriage-and-unlimited-abortion agenda.

Troy's next question indicated that he too might he aware of this. "Can you name" (nudge nudge, wink wink) "any major institution that has been investigated by the commission?"

My colleague had no intention of falling into that trap, so he said, "Oh, I think the Salvation Army," which is like saying that the principal enemy in the Second World War was not Germany or Japan but Bulgaria.

Now began the subtle sales pitch. "Do you know how someone who might want to submit something to the Royal Commission would do so?" 

"Go to the police, I suppose," said my friend (the commission's website helpfully suggests three pretty obvious ways: "over the phone", "in writing" and "face to face"). It struck my friend that it would be rather odd if someone who had a serious complaint to make were still sitting around wondering how to make it: ("Should I ring them up? Oh perhaps I'd better not. Maybe I should send a note"). But perhaps the commission wishes to reach out to people in two minds about whether they were really victims or not. People who'd been touched up by the gym master at school but neither psychologically nor physically damaged by it and had just got on with their lives. 

The next question seemed to insinuate that my friend might actually know of an abuse case but was being coy about advising the survivor to report it. "If you know anyone who has been a victim of child sexual abuse," said Troy, "do you know they (sic) can contact the Royal Commission, or not?" In other words, you're not encouraging anyone to keep something back, are you? You're not encouraging anyone not to tell their story? The only answer to that was no. 

Troy had kept to his few minutes and that was that, apart from Troy giving my friend the commission's "contact details", presumably in case he should bump into someone who was looking for them - "Oh by the way, did I ever tell you I was once sexually abused? You wouldn't happen to know how to get in touch with that Royal Commission, would you?" 

For anyone wavering about coming forward, the commission's website has a section called "Why should I tell my story?" "People," it explains, in a tone of patient sympathetic persuasion, "may want to tell their stories for different reasons." (Would wanting to blame someone else for what's gone wrong in one's life be one of them?) "For many, having their voices heard will help with healing and rebuilding their lives." Oh and there's another reason too. "The Commissioners will listen to and read people's stories to help them" (presumably the commissioners, not the story-tellers) "better understand the issue of child sex abuse that occurred as a result of children's involvement in institutions such as" (note the order) "a church, school, residential care, sporting club or recreational group." Note too the illogicality of "as a result". Abuse doesn't happen as a result of children being "involved" in things. It happens as a result of lust and distorted desire. And note the inadequacy of an investigative commission that ignores the principal arena of child sexual abuse, the family. An American survey two years ago indicated that in more than 90 per cent of cases the abuser was a family member or someone known to the family (21 per cent alone were either stepfathers or boyfriends of the child's mother).

Though many Leftists disapprove of the family, they know that to investigate the innumerable cases of abuse that have taken place within its hallowed confines, to haul all the wicked Uncle Ernies (as in The Who's rock opera Tommy) into the dock and persuade all the Tommies to tell their story, is beyond the range of even as well-funded and well-staffed an entity as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It's much easier to find as many "victims" of "involvement" in churches etc as possible. Was that the purpose of Troy's survey? To bump up the numbers?

Certainly, the more "stories" to come before it, the better the commission can fulfil the political and secularist agenda of which it is a product. The better too it can justify all the public money spent on what, unless the numbers can be found, could turn out to be an exaggeratedly expensive response to what may not to be such a huge problem in our society after all.

* Statistics from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems of the US Children's Bureau of the United States Department of Human Services, quoted in Quadrant, January-February 2013.

24 March 2013

INTIMATIONS OF IMPERIAL MORTALITY


Who reads Captain Marryat today? Certainly, with his rousing adventure stories in which good trumps evil under the wise hand of Providence, he is not the kind of author who would make it onto the national curriculum. And he was writing at a time (he retired from the sea to write in 1830 and died in 1848) when the British Empire was in full expansion mode, with all the disastrous consequences that that is said to have inflicted on the planet, among them, according to post-colonialist historians in our own country, the white settlement of Australia. If you consulted some kind of cosmic central casting saying you needed a racist-imperialist author to hold up as an example of all that correct opinion now considers reprehensible in nineteenth-century British attitudes, and Kipling was already booked, Frederick Marryat would do just as well.

And yet, one wonders. Did British empire-builders and explorers really hold the arrogant and superior attitudes to other races and nations commonly imputed to them in the modern academy? Or is that an Aunt Sally thought up by the academy itself to mock and deride the patriotism and pride in our history that is so uncongenial to the dealers in Marxist-lite platitudes whose views constitute contemporary intellectual orthodoxy?

Perhaps some did hold those attitudes, though I suspect that it is unlikely any servant of the empire with the liberal classical education of the day did. Could an arrogant believer in the unique virtue of Britishness have written the lucid and realistic account of the rise and fall of his own country's fortunes that Marryat offers in Chapter XXVII of his Masterman Ready, the novel I have been reading?

It is clear from the conclusion but not from the text that Marryat intended Masterman Ready as a children's book, in which case either my taste is infantile or it is one of those happy children's books which appeal just as much if not more to adults, such as Richmal Crompton's William stories. In any event, the tale tells of a shipwrecked family, the Seagraves, marooned on an uninhabited South Seas island in the company of the second mate of the lost ship, the eponymous Masterman Ready. The book was published in 1841 but set probably 25 years earlier.

Mr Seagrave is a cultivated man, a colonial official who was bringing his family back to Sydney after home leave in England when their ship was wrecked. During the days the family and Ready work from dawn to dusk building a house and cultivating a garden in expectation of a long sojourn on the island. Ready is the acknowledged leader of the group, a class inversion of the sort later examined by J. M. Barrie in his play The Admirable Crichton. Mr and Mrs Seagrave and Ready are by today's standards unfashionably devout and give thanks to God morning and night for their preservation. Before evening prayers, Mr Seagrave spends some time on the instruction of his eldest son, William, a twelve-year-old full of such nowadays outmoded attributes as character and self-help, and it is in the course of one of these lessons that the account I refer to is given.

Mr Seagrave has explained to William what colonies are and how they are acquired, and how the most successful of the colonising nations since the days of the Romans was "Portugal, that was once the most enterprising nation in the world [but] is now a mere cipher." "'Now, father, answer me another question,'" says William. "'Will England ever fall, and be of no more importance than Portugal is now?'

"'We can only decide that question by looking into history,'" replies Mr Seagrave, "'and history tells us that such is the fate of all nations. We must, therefore, expect that it will be the fate of our own dear country. At present we see no appearance of it, any more than we perceive the latent seeds of death in our own bodies; but still the time arrives when man must die, and so it must be with nations. Did the Portuguese, in the height of their prosperity, ever think that they would be reduced to what they are now? Would they have believed it? Yes, my boy, the English nation must in time meet with the fate of all others. There are various causes which may hasten or protract the period: but, sooner or later, England will be no more mistress of the seas, or boast of her possessions all over the world.'"

Queen Victoria had been on the throne for four years when those words were written. Was not that the height of an era in which Britain is now generally supposed to have been in the full flood of its rapacity, its greed masquerading as a mission to civilise as it aggressively expropriated other people's wealth and territories to establish an empire on which the sun would never set? If so, Captain Marryat, through Mr Seagrave, would seem to have been atypical in taking a more realistic view of his country's imperial prospects.

As to the number one evil in today's canon of wrongdoing, "racism", Mr Seagrave has no illusions about the intrinsic superiority of any national or ethnic group. "'Recollect," he tells his son, "'that when the Roman Empire was in the height of its power Great Britain was peopled by mere barbarians and savages. Now Rome has disappeared, and is only known in history and by the relics of its former greatness, while England ranks among the highest of nations. How is the major portion of the continent of Africa peopled - by barbarians and savages: and who knows what they may become some future day?'

"'What!'" says William, in a reaction more in conformity with the modern stereotype, "'the negroes become a great nation?'

"'That,'" replies his father, "'is exactly what the Romans might have said in former days. What? the British barbarians become a great nation? And yet they have become so.'" Colour, Mr Seagrave goes on to explain, is no barrier to civilisation and accomplishment. "'As to the darkness of the skin, the majority of the Moors are quite as black as the negroes, yet they were once a great nation, and, moreover, the most enlightened nation of their time, with a great many excellent qualities - full of honour, generosity, politeness and chivalry. They conquered and held the major part of Spain for many hundred years, introduced arts and sciences then unknown, and were as brave and heroic as they were virtuous and honourable.'" (Perhaps Mr Seagrave would not have regarded a second Islamification of parts of Europe predicted by the writer Mark Steyn and others as anything to be alarmed about.)

If the racial terminology is a little strong for contemporary sensibilities the sentiments are impeccable. As impeccable as those of the maligned Kipling at the other end of Victoria's reign when, in Recessional, the hymn he wrote for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, he foresaw a time when Britain would have to face the fact that

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Perhaps in one way Marryat and Mr Seagrave were wrong that there was nothing historically out of the ordinary about the British. Must there not be a quality beyond the commonplace in a culture whose most articulate voices, at the height of their country's prosperity and attainment, understand that decay inevitably awaits and who can express their awareness in words that still speak to anyone with ears to listen in an era of rising and declining global powers?

13 March 2014

WHAT TO DO WITH THE ABC


What to do about the ABC and its shameless indulgence of in-house ideological bias at public expense is right under our noses - at least if we look at an atlas it is.

The pragmatic Germans have already solved the problem. They have found a way for citizens who disapprove of their national broadcasting service, the catchily named Arbeitsgemeinschaft der offentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland or ARD, not to have to pay for it. Germans who are fans of the ARD pay to keep it going.

Here's how it works. ARD viewers pay a voluntary tax, collected by the government along with their income tax and passed direct to the broadcaster. Those who for whatever reason wish to disavail themselves of the ARD's services have only to register as non-viewers or listeners and they pay nothing. This seems to suit everyone. The ARD - the second biggest public broadcaster in the world after the BBC - is publicly funded but no one who objects to its output (or just finds it boring - a considerable constituency, I should have thought, when it comes to our own national broadcaster) has to subsidise it. One consequence is that the ARD takes a close interest in the demographics of those who do not pay the broadcasting tax and conducts surveys and designs programmes to try to attract them back. If you've opted out one year you can always opt back in the next.

What a difference the German system would make to the ABC. No more poll tax to keep it on air. And even better, an ABC eager to win as many subscribers as possible might quickly revise its present not so thinly veiled contempt for those who have the cheek to challenge its self-anointed status as impartiality personified.

Before proceeding to the fine print, a quick clarification. The account above is, as the late Edgar Lustgarten used to say in the 1950s at the start of his masterly little crime films Tales of Scotland Yard, "a true story with only the names changed to protect the innocent." Here it's not so much to protect the innocent as to make a point. For ARD substitute religious institutions in Germany. All churches in that country are financed by a tax exactly as described, which no one has to pay. And that would be the best thing we could do with the ABC.

If, once he has control of the Senate, Tony Abbott's saintly patience with the ABC's sniping should snap, he should go the ABC's hip pocket. As it is, ABC audiences never amount to more than a quarter of the nation. If every one of those viewers and listeners paid an ABC tax it would not be nearly enough to maintain the national broadcaster in the style to which it has become accustomed. Economies would follow, but also a determined effort to bump up income by finding out what more people would like to watch or listen to, rather than what the ABC staff association prescribes for them.

A user-pays system is an extension of democracy. How could any socialist or Green, committed to implementing the Will of the People, object to that?

Leaving aside the perfectly reasonable view that there is no justification in a free society for having a state broadcaster at all, if we must have one - and it is difficult to imagine even a hard-right government dismantling the ABC - the question of its reform is going to become more pressing. The ABC has wandered too far from the principles of its charter not to have to be reined in. Though only a Coalition government is likely to attempt this reform, the matter is no longer, if ever it was, a party-political affair. The political, cultural and ideological assumptions entrenched in the ABC, and most evident in its current affairs and news programmes, are not those of most of the citizens who have to pay for their expression. Election after election shows this.

A voluntary tax would make the ABC responsive to a wider range of opinion by tying it into a direct relationship with the community in a way it at present feels no need of. It would still have some funding of its own. It could supplement its audience's contributions, as it already does its huge annual subsidy, with its sundry publishing activities and ABC shops. Its endless on-air commercials for itself, which are irritating without telling you anything you want to know about or don't already know, could be made to pay by advertising real things, as on SBS, without any further loss of programme time.

If making the ABC dependent on a voluntary tax were not enough to induce its management to stand up to the inherent culture from which all bias and arrogance in programming spring, a change in programme-makers could work wonders. ABC news and current affairs programmes should be put out to tender. Other newsgathering organisations could bid to run them - even the Murdoch media (Vite, mes sels!) might win a tender. If News Limited could do the job to the satisfaction of viewers, and bring more in, why not? Pace the media censorship enthusiasts who gave us the Finkelstein report, Murdoch biases are nowhere near as evident in The Australian and other papers as the ABC's are in its output (or the Fairfax press's in its, come to that). And if bringing in outsiders were objected to as wasting all that staff programme-making talent and expertise we're always hearing about from ABC apologists, there'd be nothing to stop current ABC staff forming consortiums and bidding to make the programmes themselves.

Besides, much ABC non-news programming is already contracted out so the principle is established within the corporation as it now exists. (Inviting a wider range of tenders might also help lift the quality of the ABC's drama and "comedy" from its present tragic depths, though probably not. ABC ineptitude, sadly, is beyond fiscal reform. It's a national characteristic. A small population like Australia's has limited reserves of genius.)

A voluntary tax would have the additional virtue of giving those who are most vocal in support of the ABC the pleasure of paying even more for their revered institution. For an additional annual amount they could be singled out for recognition as corporate benefactors. Imagine the pride Friends of the ABC would feel driving around in their elderly Volvos with "ABC Platinum Taxpayer On Board" on a sticker in the back windscreen.

24 February 2014