Love and hate

Monday, 1 March 2021


Trigger warning: sexual assault, medical abuse, suicide

 Despite everything that's happened in my life (and pretty much everyone my age has had something awful happen in their lives), I try to be a forgiving person. To not hold on to resentment, or let bad feelings develop into hatred in the first place.  The saying is true: holding on to resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. I've seen people eaten alive by that resentment, and how the hatred has poisoned everyone around them, without hurting the object of their hatred in any way.


But what am I to do with the white hot rage I feel today at Scott Morrison? I've never cared for the bloke. He's a smug, slimy git, with a glib turn of phrase, condescending manner, and complete lack of humanity since his turn as immigration minister in the Abbott government. My Facebook memories pop up regularly with various horrible things Morrison said 5, 6, 7 years about the people trying to seek asylum in Australia. Then he became - God help us - Prime Minister, and somehow managed to be worse than Abbott himself. He's like a shapeshifting cipher programmed by an AI scripted from political launch videos, but has now been infected with malware. Former Labor speech writer Don Watson says it best:



All that, we could (reluctantly, angrily) live with. But what to make of Morrison today? On Friday, an historical allegation of rape against a senior member of the Morrison government became public; a letter outlining details of the allegation was sent to several members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister. Over the weekend, Morrison responded to this grave matter with silence; he probably wondered if he could head off to Hawaii again, as he did at the height of the 2019-20 bushfires.  

Today Morrison reacted, with irritation, that he is being bothered by this unseemly business when questioned by reporters. Regarding allegations of the rape of a 16 year old girl by a senior member of the government, Morrison had this to say:

“I had a discussion with the individual, who absolutely rejects the allegations,” Mr Morrison said.


“At this stage there are no matters that require my immediate attention.”


“That is a matter for the police. I’m not the commissioner of police. Allegations of criminal conduct should be dealt with by competent and authorised agencies."

 

Emphasis mine. It's "I don't hold a hose, mate" all over again. This is not my problem, it's got nothing to do with me. I asked the bloke in question, he said he didn't do it, I'm not the police, what more do you want?

It was a disgusting display, even for Morrison, whose regurgitated sludge we are, alas, used to. He's expecting that we'll all just forget that one of his senior ministers has been credibly accused of rape.

Morrison forgets he is not an individual here. He is the leader of the government, and paid $10,000 a week for it to be his business. And that's why I am so angry. It is horrible enough to be violated by an individual. But when you are failed by the institutions that are supposed to be in place to protect you, that's a whole other layer of violation, one that, for me, was so much worse to deal with.

In the late stages of pregnancy with my son, I realised prior experiences would make it too traumatic for me to have a "normal" delivery, so I told the birthing unit staff that I wanted a caesarean section. Instead of being referred to an obstetrician, I was sent to see a mental health nurse, who told me I should have thought of this before if I wanted a c-section, and no I couldn't have one. Then, when my pregnancy went way overdue, I agreed to the induction on the understanding that once it was started, I could go back home to wait it out. After the induction was underway, however, I was told I couldn't leave. I started to panic, as for the next 48 hours I was subject against my will to a series of physical examinations and attempts to further the induction, but he wasn't going anywhere, and finally the c-section was performed.

It was an experience of being held against my will and repeatedly assaulted, under coercion, for 48 hours.

Obviously that's all horrible - and still, nearly ten years later, very difficult to write. But that's not the part that made me furious with our Prime Minister today. What made me so mad is the experience of complaining through the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission. Despite the many hospital staff involved, what I wanted was fairly simple: for the nurse who'd denied me the c-section at the start (which she had no right to do) to be in some way reprimanded, an apology, and to be there when the reprimand was handed down. 

Not knowing the HCCC procedure, I wrote a 2-3 page outline of my experiences in hospital and sent it off, focusing on the nurse at the centre of it and not the numerous other staff who refused to let me leave or speak to an obstetrician (or any sort of counsellor or social worker, I might add, despite my obvious distress). What I thought would happen from there is the HCCC would get in contact with me and conduct some sort of an investigation. Instead, it was many months later when the HCCC informed me that my complaint was being closed; they had put my claims to the hospital and the hospital denied it all. End of story. 

Like Scott Morrison did today, the HCCC took the hospital's word for it, and that was good enough for them. (I was bemused to see that in the refutation to my claims, the nurse involved stated that being rude to patients was "not her usual practice". I don't get why medical staff get to cite their "usual practice" as defence to claims. It's like Lee Harvey Oswald claiming that shooting presidents wasn't his usual practice. Sometimes, we need to be judged by our one offs). 

Reviewing the letter from the HCCC, I noted that the nurse claimed that I'd never asked her for a c-section. This gave me hope that some justice would be done; I had an earlier letter from the hospital where the nurse said I had asked her for a caesarean. I had proof, in writing, that she lied. Well, if subjecting an abuse survivor to a 2 day long traumatic ordeal wasn't considered professional misconduct, surely openly lying to the HCCC would be? I sent the HCCC a copy of the letter in question.

And months later, I got another reply. It didn't matter that the nurse lied. The hospital said they had no case to answer, so case closed.

My heart broke. I failed. The reason why I'd been so passionate about pursuing an official complaint is because I knew this nurse was the chief mental health contact for other vulnerable people birthing at one of NSW's busiest hospitals. I knew I had to do something so this couldn't happen to anyone else, no matter how much pain it caused me. As a last resort, I sent a letter to the NSW Health Minister at the time, Jillian Skinner. Ms Skinner's office got back to me with a copy of the HCCC letter saying my complaint had been closed. The bureaucratic machinery which is theoretically in place to protect the public and ensure good practice failed, and it sent me into a very dark place for a very long time.   

But it's not surprising when you consider the head of the HCCC at the time of my complaint, Kieran Pehm, was the guy who kept his job despite being in charge of the HCCC for years whilst it was ignoring complaints about the "Butcher of Bega", Graham Reeves, later jailed for mutilating women he was operating on. Pehm was also at the helm when the HCCC closed an allegation of child sex abuse because the doctor responsible failed to respond in time; the doctor in question was later jailed.

The memory of all this flooded back today as I watched Scott Morrison deny responsibility for any action in the face of the allegation of sexual assault against one of his ministers. It's not my problem, he said he didn't do it, leave it to the police. But there is little the police can do in this instance. Police in NSW, where the assault was alleged to have taken place, cannot investigate sexual assault without a complainant; the complainant in this case tragically took her own life. The Australian Federal Police wouldn't investigate a sexual assault that took place in NSW, as it is a crime under state based legislation. So whilst the cry of "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law" goes up every time a prominent individual is accused of assault, with only a tiny percentage of assaults ever going to court, the lack of a court judgement does not mean the assault in question never happened

When the machine of the Federal Government - whose primary duty is to protect Australian citizens - fails to step up in this case, we all have a right to be angry. Morrison is using the machinery of the Federal government to protect an alleged rapist - and doing so in his usual slimy, condescending way (when being questioned about the alleged assault, a frustrated Morrison asked if any of the journalists present had questions about the Covid-19 vaccine). 


The Prime Minister should announce that an independent investigation by an eminent former judge will be convened to examine all available materials and decide whether the minister who has been accused is a fit and proper person to be a minister of the Crown.


This way, the accuser has her allegation investigated and the minister has a chance to clear his name. Morrison can’t be reproached for protecting an alleged rapist in his cabinet room. And Australia can’t be condemned for tolerating the possibility that it is allowing a person who has been alleged to have committed a depraved crime to shape its laws and policies at the highest level.

 

I quite agree, but I doubt that will happen. My prediction is that Morrison will continue to dig his heels in, until the Minister against who the allegations have been made is named publicly, and either Peter Dutton or Josh Frydenberg* will try to gather supporters for a leadership challenge - they may be doing the numbers already. But an investigation? What justice can be found? I don't know. Since the hospital incident I've dedicated my career to social justice, thinking maybe i can do some good some place else. I know what an impossible slog it is.

But dear God I'm so sick of seeing the bastards get away with it. But worse, I am absolutely sick of seeing those in power close ranks to protect one of their own. 

* Everyone seems to agree neither of them are the accused party. At any rate, neither of their Wikipedia pages have been in the last few days the subject of extensive revisions as to their whereabouts in 1988.
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