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The crucifixion of Christine Nixon


Christine Nixon, Herald Sun'In Australia, a lone woman
is being crucified by the Press
at any given moment.'
–Les Murray, A Deployment of Fashion, 1997

John Brumby, as Victorian Premier, wants it both ways: rejecting calls for Christine Nixon's removal as chief executive of the Black Saturday reconstruction authority, yet agreeing with vitriolic remarks about her 'mistakes' on 7 February 2009. This is unworthy of him.

What did then-Commissioner Nixon do? On a day she was not rostered for duty she went in to the emergency centre to contribute to fire-fighting management, worked in her office for a bit over an hour, returned to the centre, made arrangements for some briefings to ministers, and nicked off for tea.

For reasons best known to counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Nixon was cross-examined on her 'need' to leave at 6.00pm — before the insanely out-of-control firestorm status was known — and replied she had no such need. Hostile questioning from journalists after the public hearing had her admit the terrible truth: she hadn't cooked tea at home but slipped into a nearby pub with her husband and two friends for about an hour.

Did (dog-whistle: overweight and middle-aged) Commissioner Nixon get pissed? No. Did she party? Evidently not: the meal took about an hour. Did she take rest of the night off? No: she kept in touch from home. Had she shrugged off responsibility as police commissioner for responding to the firestorm? Well, no.

Should she have waited another hour to listen to the ministerial briefing, knowing by that stage that deaths were likely? Why? What benefit, even in hindsight, would it have been to hang about looking concerned, when there was nothing more she could possibly do? The full horror was not to be known until light on the following day.

The Royal Commission can't even begin to pin blame on Nixon for the widespread failure to predict the savagery of the firestorms, to save more people, or create or mend failed radio/telecommunications — all of this was in others' hands.

Nixon's only 'mistake' was to say that she 'could have done better' on Black Saturday. Everyone could have.

No man would have said this. Linguistics Professor Deborah Tannen's research into the communication patterns of women and men (Talking From 9 to 5) proved that even at work men communicate as they have been socialised as boys, to build up status and social credit in the hierarchy they learned in the playground. Women aim to establish relationships and commonalities, an approach that they, too, learned among their peers.

Interrogated by a woman, even a tough, sometimes ruthless manager of operational police officers could slip into a reflective acknowledgment of fallibility.

Perhaps Nixon was unnecessarily honest, too, in telling a journo where she had eaten that night, because women leaders' vulnerabilities make airborne news, and politicians who sniff the wind (better than the CFA did that horror night) will run before it.

The tongue is a little instrument, Commissioner, which does much harm. The Secretary of the Police Association — at war with the first woman Chief Commissioner of Police and first Commissioner who would neither accept nor turn a blind eye to bullying — was quick to strike more matches. Opposition politicians in an election year struck poses and opened their mouths to add more fuel. Blame splashed around, but not from all of the bushfire-affected survivors (notably, not from Kinglake). Yet she is burning, burning.

Let us put it out. No firestorm of blame would be raging in Victorian papers or in Canberra nor would Christine Nixon herself be scorched by it, were she not a woman, a decent woman, a strong woman, a prominent woman and an ethically sound woman of an age and with the experience to possess a raging integrity of her own and, by her very being, to offer ruthless men a soft target.

Julia Baird wrote in Media Tarts, her book about press treatment of women politicians:

'[W]hat drives a lot of the ... coverage ... is a questioning of their humanity. Those with right-wing views, who are not seen as particularly compassionate, are portrayed as almost subhuman monsters, with grotesque features ripe for satire or caricature ... Those seen as honest, decent and warm-hearted are canonised and showered with praise for being human, real, and like the rest of us ... They are cheered for representing the politics of change.

'But then, when they show emotion, make mistakes or behave like the men in playing political hardball, they are fiercely castigated ... if they crack under the pressure, the ensuring criticism makes it clear we actually want them to be superhuman.'

Anyone who, as Christine Nixon did, takes the lead in the war zone of policing is in exactly the same position.

Let us admit our own mistakes. One would be to blame 'the media' for it all, and I don't. Our attitudes to strong women are grievously at fault. The other would be to fail to acknowledge that even saints are fully, humanly fallible. Christine Nixon's flaw is a noble one: the learned law of all women, to accept personal responsibility.

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. She is a former Equal Opportunity and HREOC Commissioner. She is principal of Moira Rayner and Associates.

Topic tags: Christine Nixon, Black Saturday, Victorian Bushfire Recovery and Reconstruction Authority



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Existing comments

At last someone with some sanity and expertise rather than the media rating abuse that has occurred on 3AW this week. The testy male dominated Police Union has reared its shrinking balls and revealed its dislike for women in leadership where their own inadequate work ethic has been published! Well done!

Peter Lynch | 09 April 2010  

Thank you for saying what needs to be said. I hope it will be published for a wider audience.

Lou Hill | 09 April 2010  

Fantastic piece which clarifies a lot for me, and makes very clear how selectively the mainstream media has reported this issue. Good to see some female solidarity with a very fine and humane woman. Thanks, Moira Rayner.

Frances | 09 April 2010  

Reading the media reports set me to wondering just what Christines Nixons "crime" was ... she was hungry, went and had dinner for an hour ... there seemed to be no dispute about those facts.

The furore then seems irrational and reading Moira Raynor's article reminds me of the subversive nature of beat-ups.

Since her position of Police Commissioner was announced it seems to me that she has been hounded relentlessly.

By whom and to what end??

Australia has a lot to learn about a fair go!!!!!

GAJ | 09 April 2010  

Moira Rayner is spot on in her analysis of the gender bias inherent in the media and political comment on Christine Nixon.

The Australian even went to the trouble of publishing a photograph (occasion and date not specified) biting into Ms Nixon holding, shock! horror! a sandwich. This photo was may well have been taken at a bushfire recovery event.

ABC Radio National on 9 April referred to Ms Nixon being 'hauled back before' the Royal Commission. I think the Commissioners should object to this. They presumably offered an invitation or a request. The head of the CFA has never been referred to as being 'hauled'. That's a fate apparently reserved to high-ranking women.

Juliet Flesch | 09 April 2010  

Thank you, Moira, for stating publicly and so articulately what I and several other women to whom I have spoken over the last few days, have felt and thought.

Christine Nixon is a woman of honesty, warmth and integrity and I agree that her honesty brought her into the line of fire.I was pleased to read and see that many of the bushfire survivors supported her fully.

Maryrose Dennehy | 09 April 2010  

Thanks Moira for saying what my friends - women and men - are saying. Christine has been a target from day one of her appointment as Comissioner and much of the criticism is gender based.

Joan Creati | 09 April 2010  

Fabulous article, Moira. The criticisms of Christine Nixon are ridiculous and unjust. They reflect poorly on the critics who are opportunistically trying to use the situation to push their own agenda. The praise that you lavish upon her is very well placed, in my opinion.

Richard Olive | 09 April 2010  

Thank you Eureka Street. Yes, 'let us put out' the burning around the Chief Commissioner.

The serial failure of other key leaders questioned by the enquiry (who did not communicate with each other, were not coordinated etc etc) has made me wonder how much of what happened (or didn't happen) was about protecting territory and power of the various bodies involved. But somehow we call that failure 'structural' not personal.

Let's call the structure patriarchy - and then we might see witch hunts more clearly too.

Katie | 09 April 2010  

Thank you Moira Rayner for sanity! I do worry about the Police Association's role in all this - very vindictive, very nasty. Is there an email address for Christine Nixon where I could let her know of my support?

Adrian Robson | 09 April 2010  

Thank you Moira for challenging this most disgraceful political and media beat up and for stating the case in clear terms. Christine Nixon's honesty increases most people's respect for her. And what, pray tell, did all the other high level individuals responsible for fire management on February 7th 2009, have for dinner? Perhaps the idea for a good colour article for the Saturday newspapers. But will it sell?

PHILIP HARVEY | 09 April 2010  

Well spoken Moira Rayner. I had the honour of working with Christine Nixon on child abuse in NSW some years ago and she is indeed a woman of the greatest integrity and courage.

Jo Spangaro | 09 April 2010  

Thanks Moira for a very good article,
Ms Nixon was liked and well respected when she was head of the police in the Illawarra.

Unfortunately our local rag (The Illawarra Mercury, known in the Gong as 'the Mockery') published a very ugly cartoon yesterday with her feasting on a plate of donuts while the countryside burned outside her window, i presume the donuts were some of sort of oblique Homer Simpson reference.

Fran Bailey can't be let of the hook for her unfair and politically expedient attacks on Ms Nixon either, so much for solidarity.

Fortunately the unfair attacks do not seem to be taking hold; i suspect a lot of people can see through the politics, sexism and hidden agendas and our community still retains a sense of the 'fair go'.

chris gow | 09 April 2010  

Congratulations on a fantastic article Moria. Christine has been doing a fantastic job and I am sure she will continue to in the future.

Nic | 09 April 2010  

20/20 hindsight is a marvellous thing. Further, a clique of policemen have never accepted that one of their number was not appointed to the position of Commissioner.

Gary Thomas Carroll | 09 April 2010  

Wonderful piece Moira. It is full of justice, compassion and truth. I hope Christine Nixon can read the article and the comments. Moira you are truly an Easter person. Remember the women who first knew of the Resurrection were not believed! Nothing much has changed. Hope remains.

Margaret Keane sgs | 09 April 2010  

Thank you! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have written. I hesitate to use the (overused) label 'witch-hunt' but every connotation of the term fits - wise women wrongly accused of heinous acts then burned at the stake. Metaphorically, this is how Ms Nixon has been treated.

Lek Koswig | 09 April 2010  

Beautifully written. I couldn't agree with you more.

Jenny | 09 April 2010  

Well said Moira. Even our ABC 7.30 Report had to jump on lynching wagon - and I had to turn off the TV in disgust. I still can't, for the life of me, understand what wrong was done.

Helen Bergen | 09 April 2010  

Very well said Moira Rayner. It is fascinating that the slings and arrows are more vitriolic when women are the targets. Thanks for writing about it and to Eureka St for publishing the article. Rosemary Keenan WA

Rosemary Keenan | 09 April 2010  

I await the day Moira Rayner publishes a list of 'Female public figures who deserved to resign because they were shown by any objective standard to be dishonest or incompetent.'

When even Guy Rundle joins the'misogynist' pack;'And now we find that Nixon spent a total of three hours at the control room before going out to dinner because she ‘had to eat’ – thereafter ‘monitoring’ the situation – ie listening to the radio...'), you know the 'Iz it because I iz female?' shtick is wearing thin for anyone who wasn't awarded an AO by a Whitlam Govt. If these deaths had occurred in a detention centre a decade ago, you'd want Amanda Vanstone's political head, and rightly so.

Rod Blaine | 09 April 2010  

Thank you! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have written. I hesitate to use the (overused) label 'witch-hunt' but every connotation of the term fits - wise women wrongly accused of heinous acts then burned at the stake. Metaphorically, this is how Ms Nixon has been treated.

Lek Koswig | 09 April 2010  

Brilliant piece. Thank you. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Moira.

Michelle | 09 April 2010  

Powerful, accurate and compassionate writing here Moira Rayner. Thank you muchly. I can't recall when a EUREKA STREET posting had 20+supportive comments by mid morning! Please make sure Ms. Nixon has your article and the associated comments to read ASAP : just in case she gave a minutes consideration to the bile in that disgraceful rag that we call a newspaper here in Melbourne.


Well done, Moira Rayner, for having the courage to write such a well-written defence of a strong, compassionate and caring woman.

I, too, have noted the malicious barbs directed at her by the Police Association and others.

It is no surprise really. It was heartening to read of the support that Christine has received from many of the Kinglake residents, directly affected by the fires. They have witnessed her care and compassion first hand.

Let us be very wary of attacking others' perceived lack of action on that horrific day. Rather than get caught in the addictive blame game with the advantage of the wisdom of hindsight, is it not better to work together so that future management of catastrophic situations might be handled with the collective wisdom and experience gained from last year's tragic events.

Sophie | 09 April 2010  

Are women in significant positions of authority not to be held accountable because they are women?

Christine Nixon's evidence to the Royal Commission seemed to me to lack an appreciation of the senior public leadership role she was expected to exercise at a time of public crisis - going out to dinner at such a time is I think a legitimate illustration of this.

I have a similar view of the evidence of a number of males who had key roles on Black Saturday.

By all means, condemn those whose criticism of Christine Nixon is driven by gender rather than fair comment, but don't use gender to ignore the appropriate heavy responsibilities of those in well-paid positions of authority. Royal Commissions are about ensuring proper public accountability.

Peter Johnstone | 09 April 2010  

Hear hear. Couldn't agree with you more.

Jillian | 09 April 2010  

Well said. One commentator likened her to a surgeon abandoning his post in the face of incoming casualties. What rot. Who died because Christine wasn't hovering and getting in the way of her competent team. My experience is the presence of a boss usually creates extra work and distraction. Just like parents are told to put on their own oxygen mask first, she was getting the rest and nourishment to face the days to come.

Eclair | 09 April 2010  

Thank you for saying this Moria. This is I believe exactly what is at play here. The Les Murray lines imply the tragedy in this (and not just at the hands of the Press), but go unnoticed.

Ruth Fowler | 09 April 2010  

Thank you for the social comment, Moira.

When I first read about this matter, I was struck by the harsh focus and scapegoating of Christine Nixon, relative to other [male] figures in the enquiry.

Your observations are most perceptive
and the reference to Linguistics Professor Deborah Tannen's research into the communication patterns of women and men (Talking From 9 to 5) gives depth to your insights.

Unfortunately, I cannot subscribe to your notion of 'the learned law of all women, to accept personal responsibility'.

I commend Christine Nixon for her acknowledgement of fallibility. [Oh, for the benefit of 20-20 hindsight]. However, accepting personal responsibility is NOT the general case for ALL women.

Such prejudice between men and women promotes a 'nobler than thou' mentality that may offer a shield from the slings and arrows of public torment, but it will ultimately be detrimental to meaningful discourse.

Men and women should recognise and accept their differences as a potential benefit when working together. With mutual respect, they can utilise those differences in a complementary fashion to add greater value than either party could produce in isolation. It's called a synergy.

By all means, highlight the differences between men and women. By all means, break down the barriers so they may work together.

Bob GROVES | 09 April 2010  

I agree wholeheartedly with Moira's article, and I hope that Christine Nixon is not hounded into retiring, but feels strong enough to stand her ground.

Maureen Keady | 09 April 2010  

Thank you for such a good article. My son Robert and I were most upset with the coverage on the ABC last evening. Christine Nixon is a good woman doing a good job.

Barbara Matthies | 09 April 2010  

Ms Raynor's use of the word 'crucifixion' is hysterical - and a little unseemly during this Eastertide.

Sylvester | 09 April 2010  

This article puts the media criticism of Christine Nixon into perspective. The journalistic coverage of Christine Nixon's dining activity has been dishonorable in its self-righteousness and hysterical exaggeration.

Thriving on calamity, journalists have treated the victims abominably. Cameras thrust into tear-filled faces, interrogation of authority figures as to why they did not prevent the uncontrollable situation and now, the current, monstrous treatment of Christine Nixon. The press coverage of most issues relating to the bushfires has been superficial and mischievous.

Isabel Hodgins | 09 April 2010  

Yes Sylvester, there was always something unseemly about crucifixion. Crucifixion at Passover would have been insufferable, so move it forward to Friday. Anyway, there could have been a riot. Which raises the question, when is the right time for crucifixion? If Les Murray is to be believed, anytime is the right time in someone's book. Crucifixion over breakfast while reading the newspaper, or while watching the evening news. It's not a hanging offence to quote a poet in context though, and Moira Rayner's use of the Murray quote is about perceived injustice, not capital punishment. Easter, always a great time for revelations.

Desiderius Erasmus | 09 April 2010  

Well, let me be a partial dissenter from Ms Rayner's piece. First, I agree with her that Ms Nixon was unfairly treated by the media. The facts are what they are and I do not see why Ms Nixon should have been criticised for having dinner. Moreover, from I have seen and read, Ms Nixon is a highly competent professional who deserves better. But, second, that point can be made without recourse to the overblown feminist ideology through which Ms Rayner chooses to argue her case. the most egregious example of this ideology is to be seen in the last sentence of Ms Rayner's piece: "Christine Nixon's flaw is a noble one: the learned law of all women, to accept personal responsibility." So, ALL women accept personal responsibility do they? The simplest reading of history gives the lie to that. Women are as given as men are to avoid responsibility as are men, and have just as much drive, ambition, goodness, sensitivity, creativity, intelligence, and virtue as men. No more and no less. It's called "being human". It is true that sometimes injustices occur when men and women demean each other because they are men or women. And Ms Rayner demeans women with her caricatures of male and female. Objectively though, Ms Nixon has been unfairly and harshly dealt with publicly by the media. Ms Rayner asserts motives to "men" as to why this has happened in a "patriarchal society". All very PC if you want to view life through the prism of a particular ideology which has never been able to be justified by agreed facts.

Fr John Fleming | 09 April 2010  

I am grateful to Moira Rayner for this article. I had been sickened by the attack on Christine Nixon. I hope Ms Nixon is able to read this article and take some comfort from it.

Sr Marian McClelland sss | 09 April 2010  

Thank you, Moira, for making compassion and justice your focus.

Delia Bradshaw | 09 April 2010  

There’s certainly a prejudice operating here, but I don’t know that it’s a particularly anti-middle-aged woman one. For some time it has struck me that there is a more fundamental problem with the Aussie psyche that causes prominent people of a certain kind to become targets of hypocritical populist “outrage.”

Certainly there’s Lindy Chamberlain, but what about Peter Hollingworth, and even Peter Garrett? There are people in whom the media detect … something: perhaps a fineness of moral character, but necessarily in such cases combined with a certain vulnerability – and they go for them with a vengeance, to make the rest of us feel better about our lack of character and achievement.

Paul Tankard | 09 April 2010  

Three cheers for Moira Rayner's insightful article. Christine Nixon, a hard working women with a keen social conscience, simply didn't have the time to cook tea. If she had made the time to cook she would have had to leave her office before 6.00 p.m. Where is that famous fair-go I wonder.

Joyce | 09 April 2010  

Two words describe Christine Nixon for me - grace and courage. Even when the howling packs are at her heels (what were they, by the way, doing on Black Saturday?) and she is being publicly pilloried, she is all grace and courage. Thank you, Moira. You have done her justice and done us all a great service.

David Conolly | 09 April 2010  

Eating the goat

Tut-tut Christine
you added fuel to the fire
at the pub (except with the salad).
Fuel to the bellies hungry
to milk and roast the scape-goat.
Fuel to those who hate foodies
and love women
who on the scale of values
are light-weight.
‘Out of the heart
doth the mouth speak’.
I heard you Christine Nixon
Let’s do dinner together,
(you too, Moira)
and if ever I would eat tongue,
it would be yours.

Marlene Marburg | 09 April 2010  

Wonderful article Moira. Articulate and fair and I, like you, think Christine Nixon is a woman of great integrity, public mindedness and strength. I will try and forward this article to the Bushfire Recovery website.

Thank you!

Annette Hill | 09 April 2010  

Thank you Moira Rayner - an excellent article.
Stand tall, Christine, your detractors are only small minded media types and a selection of bullyboys. You have more integrity than the lot of them put together! Please don't let them get to you!

M.M.Kerby | 09 April 2010  

Thanks for this Moira, Something Christine said struck me as very relevant. It was something like I trusted my people to keep me up to date with what was going on. There is nothing more annoying that the Boss standing over you asking for information when you are fully stretched doing the job you have been trained to do.

Margaret McDonald | 09 April 2010  

This is a fine piece - vindicating a good and competent woman and offering readers a chance to critique the way populist media hijacks decency and truth. I hope this article can 'get into' the wider scene. Thanks.

Caroline Ryan | 09 April 2010  

I'm afraid I must disagree with most of this piece. Yes, a lot of the vitriol aimed at her has been aimed at her gender, and that is unforgivable.

Yes, it wouldn't have made a difference if she'd been at the IECC for a couple more hours.

However, her efforts on that day and her performance before the Royal Commission demonstrate that she is and was not the right person to be in charge of a paramilitary organisation, the police force. Her practice of not taking notes, and therefore the wishy-washy, prevaricative nature of her evidence (she said "I think", or "I assume" dozens of times under cross-examination), showed that she is a manager, NOT a commander. It showed a lack of interest in real command, and a disdain for the kind of precision, attention to detail, and authority that is VITAL in emergency management.

Like it or not, emergency management relies on a clear chain of command; those on the ground need to know who is in charge and receive clear orders. This did not happen on that day.
While she is not personally responsible, so much of what went wrong on Black Saturday was a direct result of Nixon's and others' style of management by buzzword and committee.
She shouldn't be subject to personal attacks simply because she is a woman, but nor should she be immune to legitimate criticism of her lack of competence for the same reason.

juzzy | 09 April 2010  

There have been two articles recently in Eureka Street seeking to correct the balance of the media reportage on the alleged failings of key figures. This one on Christine Nixon, and the other on Peter Garrett.

I look forward to reading the Eureka Street article which speaks up for another figure even more atrociously dealt at this time by the media: Pope Benedict. I trust the delay is simply due to the editors' onerous task deciding between the plethora of quality articles submitted?

Hugh Henry | 09 April 2010  

As is clear in my comment, "unseemly" refers not to the act of crucifixion itself but to Ms Raynor's fevered use of the word to describe the media's reaction to Ms Nixon's behaviour. Maybe, "insensitive" would have been a better adjective to use.

Either way, to compare Ms Nixon's trials with a "crucifixion", even rhetorically, is ridiculously over the top. It is offensive to Christians at this time of the year in particular. It typifies the tendency of feminists to paranoia about female public figures who get into strife and to exaggeration about the woes of women qua women.

Sylvester | 09 April 2010  

An excellent article to balance the garbage published in most of the mainstream media. I also concur with most of the comments. The main issue that should be addressed is that Australia is anti-feminist. Most of our institutions - family, government, business, public service, religious, universities, sports clubs and media - have a predominant masculinist culture.

Mark Doyle | 10 April 2010  

A similar martyrdom narrative was constructed a few years ago around Qld Chief Magistrate Diane Fingleton. When she threatened a subordinate with consequences for his "disloyalty" (his crime: to offer an affidavit in support of Anne Thacker - a working mother who was arguing against a compulsory transfer ordered by Fingleton), she was jailed. She was later released, not because she hadn't threatened Basil Gribble, but because the court hadn't realised the magistrates enjoy statutory immunity.

Now, imagine a TV show in which Single Working Mother (let's cast Claudia Karvan) is threatened by Uncaring Male Boss (Steve Bisley? Gary Sweet? call your agents!) because she doesn't want to take her kids and move to a strange town across the State. I think you're getting the same picture I am.

But Fingleton was A Woman, and so therefore a legion of (in Patrick Cook's memorable phrase) "lipless earrings" around Australia rallied to her cause and depicted her as a martyr to the Boys' Club.

To sweeten (NPI) the irony, the first I ever heard of Anne Thacker was her 1993 article in the Alternative Law Journal arguing that the judiciary should be made more representative because the old white Christian males dominating the bench were too lacking in empathy...

Rod Blaine | 10 April 2010  

Experts from the weather bureau through to the CFA could not predict the ferocity of the fires. The thought that the Police Commissioner could either know more or do more is ridiculous. Perhaps the Premier could have done more? Christine Nixon has been and is great for Victoria let her get on with her work without this male bullying.

Gail Poynter | 10 April 2010  

Well said Hugh Henry. Can this Catholic journal not spare some one's time and effort to defend the pope?

Patrick James | 10 April 2010  

In the general chorus of praise, Juzzy's comment stands out eminently sensible. Very often (irrespective of gender) it is perception that matters, particularly to those affected by any tragedy. A dinner (not "tea") lasting for an hour - one could eat a meal in 20 minutes with or without "friends" - strikes one as insensitive, given that Nixon already knew that the fire situation was extraordinary to say the least. Leading from the rear is never well-perceived.

Saul Bastomsky | 10 April 2010  

You have got to be joking - I watched the commission today - the woman couldn't even recall if she was on duty or not, if she was in uniform or not. She left her post on the largest natural disaster in Victoria's history to go out with friend to tea. Get real.

steve | 10 April 2010  

If the former chief commissioner had any credibility over this matter, and I think she did have some, that credibility has been undermined by the author's highly contrived attempt to view the episode in terms of feminist conspiracy theories. Where was the Eureka Street editor? Out to lunch, perhaps.

John Fawkner | 10 April 2010  

It's interesting to see how the comments line up. I am pleased there has been considerable support for Christine Nixon by both women and men. The criticism seems to me to be quite peevish.

Stephen Kellett | 10 April 2010  

I agree totally. I was listening to ABC all that Saturday night right up to 5 am on the Sunday and people were totally unaware that 173 people were long dead and whole towns razed to the ground.

The tragedy was the stay or go policy that should not have been implemented, everyone should have been out the night before.

Marilyn Shepherd | 11 April 2010  

Good article Moira Rayner, we Australians still have a long way to go with sexual equality, especially the media.

I have three daughters in positions of authority and the have had a pretty rough row to hoe to achieve and hold their positions.

David Sykes | 11 April 2010  

Great piece Moira Rayner. Congratulations, and to all those in support. Reassuring after the media attack on Christine Nixon.

Bernadette S | 11 April 2010  

This is the best thing I have read on Eureka Street in a long time. Thank you Moira for saying what I have been thinking so much more eloquently than I could have.

Joan of Melbourne | 12 April 2010  

It's always another woman to be shot down for all men's own inadequacies. Let's face it, if there were more women in the world like Ann Sherry, Fay Marles and Liz O'Keefe and the likes of Christine Nixon the world we be a far better place to live.

Lorraine Frewen | 12 April 2010  

SMH today: "AS THE Catholic Church battled a sexual abuse crisis, Pope Benedict XVI spent Friday evening watching a movie:"

Hey, that's your cue, Eureka Street, for the 'Nixon' defence! Sure, I realize he's male, German, white, nearly dead, probably not a Labor or Green voter, ex-Hitler youth, and has some old fashioned views on a few things, but, as Rayner says, we're all "fully, humanly fallible". (Except, er, him. Sometimes.)

The clock is ticking ...

Hugh Henry | 12 April 2010  

Dear Moira

You seem to have overlooked a few things, the first being the responsibilities under the Emergency Management Act and I would expect that you might have read that. But hell don't let that get in the way of a tear jerker article and try and bring in the feminist card. Nixon was a General and deserted the post when the shooting started and that is a hanging offence. She may well be all of those things that you speak of, but unfortunately a leader in crisis she is not.

Neil | 12 April 2010  

thank you Moira.

why aren't the Ministers she was briefing being questioned about their arrangements at meal time? Why weren't the journalist questioned about their meal-breaks?

cronos telfer | 13 April 2010  

Moira Rayner's defence of Christine Nixon is wholly justified. Sadly it seems only one voice in the relative clamor. I live in NSW and watched with dismay and amazement the extraordinary cross-examination of Nixon. I could scarcely credit the snide line suggesting fault for almost every action over the course of her attendance at the emergency centre on Black Saturday.

I too was impressed by her candour in the face of carping point-taking against her; she was a someone whose best response was to do what she did, put in an appearance and leave the task in hand to the officers on the spot.

I wonder what the Royal Commission is about when it lends itself to such a threadbare and cavilling effort to find fault from its counsel assisting. As for the media's part in this and other beat-ups, I guess we get the media we deserve.

Paul Munro | 14 April 2010  

Spot on moira, thkgod u wrote this acutely observant piece. i thought i was going balmy listening to the obscenely biased assassinations of her character on the radio. As a Victorian i find it embarrassing and disgusting the vicious trial by media ms nixon is going though. it's become a personal vendetta.its like her foes want to burn her at the stake professionally and personally. Also, i feel theres some calculated undetones of her being a gluttonous woman putting food before fire. 3aw neil mitchell& paul mullet etc should be ashamed of themselves,such vicious animosity they have toward her. disgustedly, KATE .

kate.g | 14 April 2010  

What a relief to read this! Perfectly said Moira. The media rants about Christine Nixon's dinner belt at the ear and for a moment there I thought I was going mad. Nice to know that there are others out there with sore ears.

Bronwyn Lay | 14 April 2010  

As a member of the NSW Police Force C Nixon was a complete failure, and an insult to the job. How she got the job in Victoria I don't know but we were glad to see her go.

She went on to stuff up the Victorian Police Force senior divisions by trying to introduce softly softly social re educations to the int where any decent cop walked out and got a job in another state.

Being to top cop means that you are on duty 24/7...you don't have a family and you don't have a social life...she should have been on half hourly updates and ready to jump at a moments notice. If you have other people doing your job why be there in the first place.

Do you really think the top military commander would be "out to lunch" while the battle raged on.
Nixon should do the honorable thing and resign now the fade back into obscurity.

Chris Gaff | 14 April 2010  

I was prepared to agree with you, Ms Rayner, until last night, when I watched Ms Nixon's recall testimony on APAC. She lied in her first testimony, and she lied again yesterday. When confronted with mobile phone records of
her calls that day, she suddenly remembered all the calls she'd denied receiving; not only that, she was able to tell us what they were about. And the sudden mobile silence between
6:00 and 9:00 pm, the period when she was at dinner? Of course she didn't have her phone switched off; it was pure coincidence that nobody wanted to talk to her while she was at dinner. And instead of straight answers, we
were treated to reams of self-justification.

You may choose to believe her testimony, but I think she was lying, and so did the Counsel who was questioning her. She made the mistake
of treating the 7th like any other day, and now she's compounding her poor judgment by trying to cover up with lies. To support her because she's a woman in a man's world is
just as bad as condemning her for the same reason.

Carolyn White | 15 April 2010  

Thank you Moira for articulating so eloquently the real issues here. My hope is that more women will stand up and demand to be heard. Maybe oneday not so far away the female propensity to take responsibility and focus on people in need, not power will prevail.Cheers.

Carolyn Burns | 15 April 2010  

Get off Mrs Nixon's back, and I mean everyone who is condemning her. Is she not entitled to have a meal? Mrs Nixon knew she had an excellent team making decisions re the Fire.Therefore, they did not need her authority to act. No one could have known the massive pace that fire was travelling at. Leave her alone. Who do these people think they are GOD!!! No Man!! could have done any better!!!!!

Margaret Grace | 15 April 2010  

Whilst I have many faults and have done things that maybe I shouldn't have, it doesn't give you a license to exempt you from public investigation. Christine Nixon I believe should step down. If you have lost faith in the people you lead it is time to do the right thing and move on graciously.

To stay in this position is a slap in the face not only for the victims of Black Saturday but all the fire fighters that served on the day.

Despite her admission to a serious error of judgement, I am at a quandary to forgive Christine Nixon. Even more damning was the conflicting information found during the Royal Commission and like any politician they are open to public scrutiny and should be if their income is derived from the public purse. Now if that conflicting information is incriminating then justice must be served.

This is not about gender bias. I am a female too but I believe in meritocracy not endorsement to fill in numbers to break the glass ceiling.

Kerry | 16 April 2010  

Christine Nixon is an extremely bright and competent woman who seems to have encountered what can befall those who are the most senior of senior bureaucrats and leaders whatever their gender-- that is, they often float so far above the fray as presiders over vast organisations, preoccupied with the largest longitudinal policy concerns that they become disconnected from the immediate operational sphere. Perhaps she forgot that such leaders will ultimately be held responsible for what happens at the coalface since no matter how much delegation and sub-delegation occurs within a department, the buck stops at the top. What appears to be an inexplicable lack of judgement about dining, hairdressing and an appointment with a biographer on that terrible day may have more to do with a far more subtle problem of how organisational structures and roles influence the thinking and focus of their leaders,causing detrimental loss of adroitness and acuity in recognising the dire nature of an immediate situation and the relative importance of various tasks at such a crucial time. A cautionary tale for all in positions of ultimate authority and responsibility.

Deb | 19 April 2010  

Christine Nixon deserves to be castigated and I have no problem with her being asked to resign from her post as long as EVERYONE who performed poorly re the whole bushfire tragedy is disciplined too.

We should be taking to task those politicians and/or public servants who failed to authorise burning off in bush fire prone regions. What about some penalties for those who allowed people to build in high risk areas? Why aren't people in bushfire areas required by law to have fire proof bunkers?

Catherine | 20 April 2010  

Thanks for this, Moira.

Helen | 20 April 2010  

Six months after this column and the responses were published, I wonder how many of Nixon's supporters still stand by her actions (and inactions) on that terrible day?

Me? As I am still living in a caravan because the reconstruction process has been a red-tape strangled nightmare, my opinion of Nixon is quite simple: She is a champion at issuing press releases and organising photo ops, but an abject failure at anything to do with actually doing her job.

She should never have left the IECC on Black Saturday, especially to go for a meal, and she should have quit the reconstruction authority years ago.

If Moira thinks being female is the reason Nixon has been criticised, her's is an attitude that helps to explain why the fires claimed so many lives: because competence is trumped by political sympathy and expedience.

Singed | 15 August 2010  

I have the gratest admiration for Christine. The enquiry was not looking for answers just for someone to blame. If she hadn't been a woman she would have been treated with greater respect. good on you Christine. It has been obvious to me that "they" were out to get you from the very beginning of your tenure. Your contribution to cleaning up the police force will be judged by history as a courageous move. Your successor has also been crucified. All the best to Christine and Simon.

patricia spargo | 10 August 2011  

This is a well written article which i agree with. christine Nixon was from new south wales and that was probably also held against her, after all how could an outsider be victorian chief comissioner of police, yet she was. wEll done miss Nixon. You are a hero to women.

lisa Hayes | 04 September 2012  

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