Griffith Review 65: Crimes and Punishments

Crimes and Punishments

Reviewed by E.B.Heath

 Pamela M Lombard, banking executive,
For charging fees upon the dead,
Shall be exhumed before her time
And her head garlanded with worms.
Philip Dean

Griffith Review 65: Crimes and Punishments features multi-faceted issues of crime and changing ideas of justice. The diverse contributions of essay, memoir, reportage, poetry and fiction, sit alongside two evocative photo stories.  The subject matter ranges from how the constitution influences the high court to political corruption.  From domestic abuse and racial injustice to ecological murder.  There are personal accounts of how families are left to cope when a relative is murdered, or imprisoned.  Some accounts are confronting, so readers will appreciate the light relief of Philip Dean’s poem ‘Adjudged’, where he imagines creative punishments that fit misdemeanours.

Typographical errors are noted: p.15 ‘… to be (to be) called to dinner … and p.253 ‘…wished he’d (been) given us…’

The essay by Paul Williams ‘Enduring change: detoxifying Queensland’s political system’ examines why Queensland fell into corruption and the outcomes of the Fitzgerald Inquiry.  It is a most informative essay, highlighting the importance of an educated electorate and a vigilant non-restrained media. From its earliest days, impoverished Queensland favoured pragmatic materialism over liberal accountability. The focus was on getting infrastructure in place rapidly; power was mainly invested in the governor and colonial secretary.   There were no complaints from the electorate in 1922 when a Labor government abolished the Legislative council.  These lacklustre attitudes to Westminster ideas of democracy seem to be the foundation that allowed corruption to flourish. While rumours of police dishonesty circulated as early as the 1950s, no real action was taken.  Eventually an Inquiry was held in 1963 only to exonerate the police of all corruption.  Gary Crooke’s ‘Unmasking a culture of corruption: Reflections on the Fitzgerald inquiry’, gives a useful analysis of the procedures followed in 1963, revealing that Mr. Justice Gibbs was hampered by the narrow terms of reference, based on Lord Salmon’s principles of inquiry, known as the ‘Six Salmon Principles’. Fitzgerald’s redesign of the Act was responsible for the successful outcome of the Inquiry.  When Premier Ahern took over from Bjelke-Petersen, he was determined to adopt the recommendations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry ‘lock, stock and barrel’.

Bill Wilke’s reportage ‘Paradise lost: the Cedar Bay raid’ complements Williams and Crooke’s essays in showing what heavy-handed policing looks like at a grass roots level. It also details the struggle of Police Commissioner Ray Whitrod who resisted Bjelke-Petersen using the police force as a political tool.  Whitrod resigned on 15 November 1976 fearing the role of police commissioner was being reduced to one of a political puppet.

The above three contributions illustrate the need for appropriate legislation for the issues at hand, a vigorous media, an educated public that does not privilege ‘hip pocket’ issues over liberal democracy, and ethical politicians, such as Ahern.  (Where have all the good pollies gone?).  Together they make good reading as a prescient message for the current political environment.

Domestic abuse is reported in a memoir entitled ‘The trauma of discipline’ by Yen-Rong Wong, and Gideon Haigh’s report ‘This is how I will strangle you’. Both contributions detail inappropriate parental behaviour.  Whereas the treatment Yen-Rong Wong received at the hands of her parents was overly harsh, it was more in line with the norms of the time and, perhaps, the culture.   Her father did apologise later in life, wishing he had acted differently, but, of course, the emotional scars remain. 

However, Haigh’s report of a father using his daughter as a sexual slave from age three was, and is, a heinous crime.  The details of this poor woman’s suffering, as a child, and her continued suffering from physical and mental illness are confronting.  But confront it we must.  It is estimated that 90 per cent of sexual abuse takes place within the family setting.  This strongly suggests that domestic sexual abuse should have its own royal commission.  Haigh’s historical and current analysis of the situation needs to be read by medical, legal and educational professionals.  Training is needed so the appropriate professionals can read the signs and take action to protect the victim.  Easier said than done, especially when the victim is only three years old.  The women in Haigh’s report have received compensation of sorts, thanks to the determined efforts of a few people who helped her pursue a claim in Victoria’s Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal.  But what of all the other victims of incest, the children that make up 90 per cent of all sexual abuse?   This is a most timely report – I do hope that Haigh will continue to write about these issues until that all-important royal commission is put in place.

Ross Homel details the economic, social, and emotional strain that families ‘at risk’ are experiencing in ‘As if children mattered … Creating pathways to wellbeing’.   He writes about the programmes designed to bridge the divide between families and schools in disadvantaged communities.  Of particular interest is the innovative work of Dr. Kate Freiberg.  Freiberg who has designed an interactive computer game for primary-aged children (Rumble’s Quest) that gives children a framework to discuss how they feel about their lives.  I could not help but think this might be adapted for use in detecting if children are being subjected to incest, as detailed above.   To quote Homel ‘We dare to believe that such powerful systems of support, implemented by communities guided by accurate and meaningful data, might strengthen the work of caring groups of people who will be there to look out for children when families can’t do it alone.’

The idea in the essay ‘Bringing in the bystander: Preventing violence and abuse’ by Paul Mazerolle, Shaan Ross-Smith and Anoushka Dowling is to train individuals in the community to act together to address violence and abuse.  The authors detail several programs being used to combat violence within the community by training individual community members how to stand up against perpetrators, without endangering their own safety.  Most importantly the link between gender inequality and violence against women is explored.  To quote the authors: ‘It’s not just about imagining a world where we are all leaders; it’s about believing in it’.

Whereas word limits have been wildly exceeded I must mention the photo story ‘All men choose the path they walk: art and the scales of justice’ by Fiona Foley.  This powerful work is challenging us to remember our history in its entirety, hopefully inspiring a better future.  Foley is a contemporary Indigenous Australian artist from Badtjala, Fraser Island, Queensland.  She studied at the Sydney College of the Arts and has travelled as an artist internationally and to remote communities in Northern Territory.

While only a small sample are discussed here, collectively these insightful essays shed light on the justice system and offers research-based ideas on how we might advance in the management and prevention of crime.

Griffith Review 65: Crimes and Punishments

(August 2019)

Edited by Ashley Hay

Text Publishing

ISBN:  9 781925 773798

Pp.291; $27.99 

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