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Unnecessary necessities

Unnecessary necessities
Inventions that cure social ills

Inventions that revolutionise society seem to sneak up on us and before we even learn to pronounce the absurdly pneumonic names these curiosities are christened with, they have become a requirement rather than an option. Microwaves, word processors, internet and email, mobile phones and home espresso machines. Hard to think of life before them, eh?

Last month the office I was working at in central London lost its internet for a week thanks to a piece of grand bureaucratic negligence on the part of British Telecom. Hastening our trip into the Dark Ages, the UK was hit by a postal strike—the sort of malevolent coincidence this country specialises in, such as cold weather and bad television. Yet we didn’t all curl up into balls beneath our desks and wail but managed to get done what needed to be done. This has led me to the notion that technology has been marching in the wrong direction and needs to take an abrupt left turn so that inventions that really make a difference get invented.

A start would be a device that detects bores at parties. It could fit discreetly inside the ear and bark out warnings like ‘paisley shirt hogging the fondue—self-obsessed currency trader—collects odd-shaped house bricks as a hobby’, saving you from unnecessary conversations. Another would be a machine that compressed and expanded time, so you could stretch it out like the horizon when you are sitting on a surfboard with the sun on your back and the swell full and constant, and shorten it to the blink of an eye during meetings on how to cut stationery costs. Even better would be a new car that doesn’t ding at you when you leave the door open, forget to turn the lights off, or prevent you taking  a  sideways look at a pretty girl walking.

The only problem is how to get a logo on all of these.

Jon Greenaway

Waiting time
Letter from broome

Along every street in Old Broome, pinky-green mangoes dangle on long stems, clustered in sixes and sevens. This morning I woke to the sound of my neighbours shaking the lower branches of their enormous tree, and the soft plop of half-ripe mangoes on the dust. They tell me that in a few weeks I will be sick of the sight of them, and of the rich smell of rotting fruit lining the nature strips. The fruit is so prolific and its stench so strong that holes have to be dug in backyards to dispose of it.

I have the first five of the season lined up on a high shelf in my kitchen. I check on them often as if they are eggs waiting to hatch. They fit in my hand like smooth river rocks, and I stand at the window with one in each hand, inhaling the smell that grows sweeter and stronger every day.

The ocean is warm now, and every time I swim I wonder whether it will be my last before the stingers arrive to scare us out of the water till June. It seems impossibly far away, and impossibly cruel—to be sweltering in this town on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert, right next to all this beautiful blue water. Some of the locals assure me that they swim right through the wet season, but they are the same people who tell me stories of a friend who talked in tongues on morphine for days in the local hospital after being stung by an irikanji. These are jellyfish so small that they can’t be spotted, and so toxic they can kill. It makes the idea of relaxing in the ocean somewhat oxymoronic. Besides, I tell myself, the water’s so warm it’s barely refreshing anyway. 

The local swimming pool heats up, too, till it’s a soupy mix of chlorine and urine and sun cream. In Melbourne, where I come from, swimming pools are heated, even in summer. But here I am excited by the news that one of the resort pools is refrigerated. Next weekend, if I can face the heat, I will don my resort wear (sarong, loose cotton shirt, straw hat, sunglasses) and go in search of cool, stinger-free water.

The heat has hit in the same week that a native title hearing recommences at a local hotel. The claimants and their supporters from neighbouring mobs sit all day in the courtyard outside the room where the hearing is taking place, listening to the broadcast of proceedings on large speakers. They sit in small groups, men with men, women with women. The men wear jeans, boots, cowboy hats, and the women bright dresses. On a blackboard next to the table set up with an urn and cold water, a child has written ‘we will win for our country’.

Inside the hotel room, white anthropologists give competing evidence about the kinship structures and social organisation of the people sitting outside. White lawyers scribble pages of notes, and refer to documents in the dozens of lever arch folders lined up behind them. The white judge listens intently for the most part, showing occasional irritation at the slow pace of the questioning but seemingly unaffected by the length of the days and the complexity of the evidence. At the back of the room, separated by partitions, black men and women sit and watch.

At the end of every day, the claimants and their supporters wait around till everyone else has left. They wait to be told by the white lawyers whether they are going to win their case, or lose it. Every day, the lawyers tell them that it’s been a good day, or that it’s been a hard day, but that tomorrow should be better. They have been hearing this for years now, ever since they lodged their claim. And they will continue to wait for years before all the evidence has been heard, and compared, and analysed, and made to fit the requirements of the process, or not, as the case may be.

I have a cartoon on my fridge. It is by Michael Leunig, and it came out in The Age the morning after the Yorta Yorta decision. A white, wigged judge leans down from his bench which sits high amongst the city skyscrapers. He tells the Aboriginal man standing under a tree ‘you have forfeited your claim to your land by being thrown off it and our hands have been washed clean by the tide of history.’ I see it every time I go to check whether my mangoes have ripened. And I think of it every time I walk into that courtyard, and see that mob sitting there patiently waiting to be told whether the forced removal of their parents and grandparents has wiped out their claim to their country.

Kristie Dunn

Heavy traffic
Reviewing trafficking laws

While australian immigration policy has lurched from bad to worse, recent changes by the federal government  indicate there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

The big change in the immigration arena is the October announcement of new policies in relation to people who are trafficked across our borders for sexual ex-ploitation. This is a welcome development. The creation of a new class of visa for trafficked women could signal that the government is easing up on its strict approach.

As recently as June, members of the federal government were downplaying the seriousness of Australia’s trafficking problem, inferring that even if a few women were trafficked to Australia for sex slavery, these women ought to have known that they would be working as prostitutes and deserved little sympathy. In a backflip of Olympian proportions, the federal government has recently committed serious resources to what it now recognises as a problem. It is widely acknowledged, both within and outside government, that Australia has a problem involving the exploitation of (mainly) south-east Asian women as brothel-slaves.

The federal government’s $20 million dollar anti-trafficking package is good news. Not only is the figure substantial, but it is matched by proposed policy reforms which will put the victims of trafficking first and give Australia a chance of reducing this violent form of organised crime.

Three factors are critical to the success of the government’s proposals. First, training for those who interact with trafficked victims will be important, to ensure that responses to trafficking victims are humane and informed. The high level of political momentum generated by this issue needs to be balanced with appropriate sensitivity to the victims involved.

Second, relevant state and federal laws need to be reformed to better address the conditions that give rise to the trafficking of women. Trafficking occurs in an environment of supply and demand. On the demand side, state governments need to examine whether the decriminalisation and regulation of prostitution is working for women in the sex industry. On the supply side, foreign aid programs need to address the increasing feminisation of poverty and the status of women, and develop feasible and lasting solutions for women whose vulnerabilities push them across borders into situations of sexual exploitation.

Third, a cooperative approach between agencies and governments is required to address the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. Each agency has an important role to play. DIMIA needs to give trafficked women the right visas so that women fearing re-trafficking or reprisals in home countries are not deported, and so that trafficked women can remain in Australia to assist with prosecution of traffickers. From expert NGOs, trafficked women need support to recover from the sex crimes perpetrated against them, and find life solutions outside the sex industry.

Local, state and federal police must be given the training and resources to implement optimal approaches to policing trafficking-related crime, including the re-establishment of targeted vice-squads with the required specialisation to undertake effective policing.

State and federal governments must find the political will to pass laws which are adequate for prosecuting trafficking criminals. The absence of a single conviction to date under the Commonwealth sex slavery laws introduced in 1999 is a clear indication that greater effort is required. Tribunals and courts need awareness-raising programs to assist their capacity to make well-informed and humane decisions about the trafficked women who appear before them, and legal and migration advisors also need special training in this area.

The government’s counter-trafficking package has every indication of being the multi-sector, whole-of-government approach Australia has been crying out for. It is to be hoped the federal government will continue to abandon aspects of its former approach to immigration, in favour of more humane and sensible policy approaches. Perhaps Minister Vanstone could take another look at those children held in immigration detention centres. Their release may be another step in the right direction.

Georgina Costello

This month’s contributors: Jon Greenaway is a London-based writer and consultant; Kristie Dunn is a Melbourne-based writer currently living in Broome; Georgina Costello is a fellow of OzProspect, a
non-partisan public policy agency.



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