Henson in the schoolyard:

Henrie Ellis writes: I barely can contain my anger at the venom directed at Bill Henson and the former Principal of St Kilda Park Primary School by the likes of Peter Faris QC (Crikey yesterday Item 9 ‘Henson and school principal should be investigated’) and Bernard Keane (Crikey yesterday Item 1 ‘Don’t shout Turnbull down for shifting on Henson’), aided and abetted by politicians and the journalistic “caterpillars of the commonwealth” in the media. We already know our schools are targeted by perverts, panderers and sleazy characters with videos and cameras hovering around the boundaries of schools often encroaching onto the grounds during recess and lunch and testing the patience of teachers on yard duty

To suggest that a Principal would be complicit in the allegedly nefarious designs of a photographer who supposedly gets his “rocks off “ by photographing children does play upon our vulnerability to the suggestion that children might be put in danger by those who are “ in loco parentis” and have a very special duty of care. What “duty of care” was breached by the Principal? Did Bill Henson photograph children on the grounds without permission? No, it appears he did not.

Did the Principal, Sue Knight, demand that Bill Henson had a Working with Children check as required in Victoria? Probably not, but that is not unusual. Has anyone asked the worthy people who distribute Gideon’s Bibles in schools if they have had a “police check”? Now let me ask this crucial question.

Would Bill Henson be cleared for a Working with Children check? Highly likely and with that clearance he could contact any school and state he is a fit and proper person to work with children. Meanwhile the real “abusers” working with children still ply their trade often protected by the fear and shame of those they have abused and the indifference of the colleagues who work with the abusers. My particular scorn is reserved for Peter Faris QC who of all people must appreciate the toxicity of campaigns directed against him which led to his resignation from the National Crime Commission.

Cathy Bannister writes: When the Bill Henson issue first hit the stands, the furore felt to me like a witch hunt. I lived in Dunedin, New Zealand, at the time of the Christchurch Civic Crèche case, when all sorts of bizarre and often physically impossible accusations were made of the crèche workers. The only male member of staff, Peter Ellis, was charged, although a rational examination of the evidence showed that he couldn’t possibly have done what he was accused of. I remember the aura in Dunedin at the time — the topic of p-edophilia and fear dominated conversations. It got to the stage where fathers felt unable to hug their own children. The same sort of effect can be seen in the movie Capturing the Friedmans. The Henson case felt so similar, I’ve even defended him in conversation.

So why now do I feel profoundly discomforted to hear that Henson scouted around school yards for suitable models? The image reminds me too much of Robert ‘Dolly’ Dunn and his videos of young boys on the beach. It’s impossible to think of one now without the other. I’ve seen more of Henson’s work now, and it makes me very queasy. Henson’s series Untitled 83-84 includes a picture of a young woman lying n-ked, her legs open (the photograph is shot from between them) and her g-nitalia focal. She is smeared in what has been described as menstrual fluid, but might be any blood. Her face is hidden in shadow. In fact, she looks dead — like the victim of a s-x crime, her youth nauseatingly apparent. It feels wrong even to describe it. It is possible to take charming and innocent photographs of n-ked children (Polixeni Papapetrou’s photographs of her daughter fall into this category), but Henson’s 83-84 series is just way beyond the boundaries. It’s very hard to consider the issue rationally without the emotional response of absolute disgust. Bill Henson has been working for nearly 30 years, with many different models. Perhaps someone should chase up those models and canvass their responses. If a proportion have been adversely effected, then yes, those images should be considered child p-rnography. Until we know how these children’s lives have worked out, artists should voluntarily avoid using such images.

John Harding writes: Coca Cola used to proudly show a model release signed by Elle McPherson, who their ad agency representative discovered at a school (Crikey yesterday Item 10 ‘Forget Barns, a bigger menace plagues the playground’). It was common popular knowledge (not verified though) in the seventies that Coke talented scouted schools. Coke publicly released the McPherson document to illustrate to others how appearing in a soft drink commercial might launch their potential modeling career.
Bill Henson’s “N” will undoubtedly do very well in the media when she is 19 or so.

Paul Gilchrist writes: I agree with Bernard Keane (Monday, item 1) that a big issue with Bill Henson’s trip to the schoolyard is that apparently none of the children or their parents were aware of what was happening. However, even if they were, how does this activity fit in with the goals of a school? Aren’t the children supposed to learn how to create art themselves, and not just be objects to be arranged and photographed by a professional adult? Isn’t a school a place of equality, not a place where some of the children are selected and some rejected, on the basis of Bill Henson’s designs? Schools are supposed to exist for the benefit of the children, not to be a handy resource for adults.

Sunil Badami writes: Isn’t it sort of strange that the Sun Herald’s screaming headline “Parent Outrage Over Henson” didn’t actually quote any parents from St Kilda Park Primary School the school involved, and today’s Herald quotes St Kilda Park Primary School council president David Myer saying he supports the former principal? What parents, exactly, were outraged? Does Julia Gillard have any children we — or Sophie Mirabella — don’t know about?

David Hand writes: The views of Rudd, Gillard, Turnbull et al regarding Bill Henson’s talent search are driven entirely by how any other response would play in our vapid, sensationalist, tabloid, screaming media. When you have a camera thrust in your face and are asked for a response, there is no other choice. As such, they are pretty meaningless and add nothing to the debate. Henson’s photography raises a disturbing aspect of human life and adolescent s-xuality which are complex and ambiguous. This is why there are such polarised views, such as Peter Faris and Greg Barns and it is also why Henson makes a significant contribution to art. Though our community is worried about paedophiles and child pornography, the vast majority of child s-xual abuse is perpetrated by adults known to the victims, not by strangers patrolling school playgrounds. But don’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

Joe Boswell writes: As stated elsewhere in Crikey, parents should be confident that their children will not be exploited at school for purposes that have no connection with education. Henson and school principal Sue Knight have a case to answer. But when Faris baldly states that Henson’s photographs fall within the definition of child p-rnography in the Victorian Crimes Act he grossly over-reaches himself. It’s a point that will only be settled if a court decides it is so. It is striking how some people, including Faris and Rudd, react so strongly, not just at the sight of a n-ked child, but at the mere thought of it. There is something warped and unhealthy in the minds of people who can only see p-rnography in this context, whether or not they dress up their reaction as disgust or anything else.

Stilgherrian writes: Peter Faris’ rant about Bill Henson (Item 9) is the usual grab-bag of logical fallacies (like the appeal to an assumed majority of “Most decent Australians”) and cheap rhetorical tricks (like the name-calling of “Left glitterati”). But unlike Keane, who clearly points out the key difference between the two rounds of Henson-bashing, Faris makes an obvious error which demonstrates that he simply hasn’t thought this through. He starts by pointing out that Henson makes pictures of “n-ked or semi-n-ked pre- pubescent children”, but then says the Victorian Crimes Act defines child p-rnography as including a photograph of a minor “depicted in an indecent s-xual manner or context”. Bzzzt! Since when does “semi-n- ked” equal “s-xual”? I don’t know who all these sickos are who can’t see a little uncovered skin, adult or pre-pubescent, without feeling their lust rise, but why is Faris agreeing with their perverted worldview? And if he continues to overlook the obvious difference between “semi-n-ked” and “s-xual”, can I assume his next spray will be to call for the arrest of all surf club members for the mass child p- rnography of Nippers Carnival, everyone involved in building a church with cherubs, kitschmaker Anne Geddes, and the producers of that toilet paper advert showing a baby’s bottom?

Katherine Stuart writes: Peter Faris writes: “Section 67A of the Victorian Crimes Act defines child p-rnography as including a photograph of a minor “depicted in an indecent s-xual manner or context”. Henson’s photographs fall within this definition. Section 68 makes it a criminal offence if a person “makes or produces child p-rnography”. But then that “On the facts provided so far in the media, it is open for both Henson and Knight to be charged. As I said, let a jury of their peers decide.” Surely you can’t have it both ways Mr Faris – first stating categorically that the photographs fall within the definition under Section 67A, but then curiously saying this is based on facts provided by the media (what is this? Trial by media?) and then quickly covering yourself by “let a jury of their peers decide”. The hysterical tone of this article makes one really wonder what lies beneath. Are our community standards to be based on reasoned debate, or emotional hype?

Peter Knight writes: Does anyone else feel like it would be appropriate for the editor to provide some sort of rationale for why Crikey continues to present the views of Faris? No doubt Peter Faris will think I’m calling for censorship but I’m not… I just think that Crikey should be a place where reasonable views are are given space from both sides of politics. Peter Faris does not qualify as a reasoned or reasonable commentator. The fact that he’s a QC demonstrably means nothing, this guy is way out there. Come on Crikey chip in, why do you print him…??

Wayne and Kevin’s excellent financial crisis:

John Goldbaum writes: The art of politics is to pick the winning side on each issue. When it comes to banks and households (Crikey yesterday, Item 2 ‘Wayne and Kevin’s excellent financial crisis’), the ratio of net depositors to net borrowers is 2:1. It makes more sense for the government to protect people’s savings than to give mortgagors a break. Even if their savings were government guaranteed, the two-thirds majority would be pissed off if they had to re-establish their direct debits and direct credits because their bank was jawboned into recklessly passing on a rate cut in full, only to fail down the track as a result. In any event, banks wouldn’t lend to new borrowers at a loss. They would simply stop lending. The government and the economy would be battered more by a credit squeeze than by continued high mortgage interest rates.

As for infrastructure partners, the government’s most likely co-investors should be the superannuation funds because their 40-year investment outlook will match their income streams to their clients’ retirement annuity requirements. Superannuation funds ought to be the patient capital which life companies once were. For similar reasons, superannuation funds could invest in residential mortgage backed securities which they would hold to maturity although mortgage securitisation removes the loan risk from the balance sheet of the originator who is best qualified to assess the risk, so the fund managers would want the assurance of a ratings agency with more integrity than the sub-prime AAA raters. Nevertheless, with proper real estate valuations, mandatory substantial house deposits, regulated maximum loan to valuation ratios, and proper assessment of the borrowers’ credit history and capacity to re-pay interest and capital, such a scheme for housing finance is workable.

Judy Bamberger writes: Banks whinge they cannot pass a full rate cut to its customers due to their increased costs. What rubbish! Record profits annually in the billions of dollars and executive pay packages (and parachutes) in the eight-digit levels, and banks are hurting? My epiphany came Saturday night as the ANZ bank processed my USA-based credit card, and automatically

    – and without my concurrence 
    – converted the bill at a usurious exchange rate nearly 4% higher than published exchange rates.

Having worked for Australian banks, having observed numerous unaccountable excesses allowed to managers on their expense accounts, having witnessed archaic, wasteful, and sometimes vengeful business practices in several departments, I have lost all credibility in bank management. Cannot pass on full rate cuts? Poppycock!

Frederick Toben:

Deborah Hurst writes: The scenario painted in your editorial (Crikey, yesterday) sounded like dejavu. An Australian citizen in jail in a foreign country, having been seized by a third country, for nothing other than a set of thoughts that sensible people find disgusting. However, I wouldn’t be holding my breath for the Australian government to “protest long and loud” at Frederick Toben’s treatment. During David Hicks’ and Mamdouh Habib’s long incarceration in their third country (for fourth – depending on how you look at it) without even a whiff of a fair trial, the ALP flogged the Coalition with nothing more than wet lettuce. The only party in Parliament to have a decent record on protecting Australian’s human and legal rights overseas are the Greens. The message should by now be abundantly clear. Australian passport holders who find themselves in trouble overseas are in a very serious predicament.

Ken McLeod writes: I think you miss the point in Monday’s editorial criticizing Frederick Toben’s treatment as an “offence against the basic concept of free speech.” Toben has been arrested in Britain on a valid warrant issued by a State, Germany, with whom Britain has agreements that concern the enforcement of law. Britain would have been obliged, indeed had no choice, but to make that arrest regardless of what the supposed offence was: breaking and entering, assault, Holocaust denial, or whatever. You could criticize Germany’s Holocaust Denial laws on the grounds of free speech, but that would be rather specious also; you see, there is no such thing as free speech. Consider Australia’s laws on contempt of Parliament, contempt of Court, copyright, defamation, national security, racial vilification, incitement to commit a crime, and so on, and you will see that free speech should really be called “freedom to speak responsibly.” Germany and other States have enacted Holocaust denial laws to try to maintain civil order, bearing in mind their awful history. A regrettable limit on speech, i.e. the cost, is outweighed by the benefit.

Randy Rose writes: You say Frederick Toben “He has a right to express them as long as he does not urge violence or deliberately cause harm in expressing them.” Yes no problem with that…BUT given that his views do cause me maximum emotional distress (given that my four grandparents and my only aunts were murdered by the nazis before I was born) and do think he does not do this deliberately? …you are on the wrong side of morality!

Alan Kennedy writes: I share your views on the Toben matter. It has always rankled that David Irving is denied a visa to this country. Let him in and let him espouse his disgraceful views so we can pelt him with facts and figures before we pelt him with rotten fruit. The same with his delusional mate now being held in England. German’s have a holocaust deniers law for their own obvious, albeit misguided, reasons. It’s not a law I agree with. You refute lies with the truth not jail terms and you bring the deniers out in the open where they can be exposed. You don’t let them fester in the dark feeding their delusions with visions of martyrdom. Bill Henson is on his way to martyrdom when all he wants to be in an artist. The principal of a Melbourne school who it seems has the solid support of the parents who send their kids to her school is on the way to a media auto de fe with Miranda Devine, Bill Leak and Chris Mitchell lighting the first faggots. It’s all a media distraction to the real world were the economy is trying to survive hurricane. And on that point, what is the ABC’s Emma Albirici, a hot shot business journo doing schlepping around Dubrovnik while the European economy gets thrown under a bus by its leaders? I am heartfelt sorrow for the parents of the missing backpacker but Albirici’s talents are being wasted. Get her back to the main game.

Manly’s win, and Storm’s ugly loss:

Martin Copelin writes: Yes, Manly deserved to win (Crikey, yesterday, Item 16, ‘The biggest NRL grand final trouncing of them all’, they are a very disciplined outfit, well coached and stay out of trouble off field. The Storm, because of their Qld contingent were the favoured team up here but Craig Bellemy certainly changed that with his ill-timed whinging. Despite the fact I like their captain Smith, I knew he would be suspended and it was justified. Perhaps Bellemy can change the way his players tackle and hold the man down – plus pull on their heads to really slow them. It may well be they hire Steve Menzies in two years to teach them how to really tackle abnd success may again follow. It was a tragedy that the Brisbane Broncos didn’t play Manly in the grand final. It did not happen in 1997 and didn’t happen in 2008. 

Les Heimann writes: Indeed — what a defeat! Jeff Wall is quite correct in pointing out the less than perfect Melbourne Storm preparation and all of us were ignoring the form fall off by the Storm over the last few months. As Geelong learnt — and the Storm also — a team becomes a sitting duck eventually when every game they play over a number of years is a “mini grand final”. Both Geelong & the Storm have been the pacesetters for up to three seasons and as was the case with both their opponents were not that hard to beat in ordinary competition but in the one that counts the opposition could lift higher than the team that had to do it week in, week out. Both Geelong & Storm (especially Storm) have also been cruel victims of the salary cap. The Storm will lose one third of its list this year!. “Winners are grinners and losers can suit themselves” Not so the Melbourne Storm — let’s get this sensation out in the open and away from a blatant media hijack in the worst Australian tradition. Your team is hanging on but only just; suddenly your captain, arguably your most important player, gets suspended — two weeks final & grand final – the coach and CEO feel aggrieved; why? because – and no one can deny the fact — he did a little, just a little, of what every team every game does a lot of.

The so called “grapple tackle”. Two of the most important games of the year for a particularly minor infringement! Of course there would be an appeal, of course any reasonable person applying the test of reasonableness would arrive at the inescapable conclusion that this penalty was unbelievably harsh. But no it stood. The coach and CEO went balistic, and rightly so — this was manifestly unfair. They were fined $50,000 for complaining. They were then pilloried for not apologising after receiving a fine. They did the “crime” and they were required to “do the time” $50,000!. Then in comes double jepoardy — they didn’t apologise so they will have to be sued. What arrogance! This is the administration of the NRL. The Sydney media jeering and baying for blood. It’s a bloody roman circus. And, like Rome, the NRL will sooner rather than later cease to exist. Rupert’s vandals will once again tear down the wasting walls of NSW and Super League will (once again) rise to join its ever so successful sister competition in the UK. Bring it on! 

Jetstar woes:

Richard Davoren writes: A couple of weeks ago, I got a call, late at night, from Jetstar saying my flight to Melbourne next day was to be cancelled. Luckily, I squeezed on a Virgin flight and made it to the funeral on time. The return flight, the last, was delayed two hours due to “weather conditions” in Newcastle. Finally on the plane, the pilot said I don’t know what you were told but we had a mechanical problem and had to may an unschedule stop at Williamtown air base. I seems we had a plane ready to go to Hobart, but no crew. This is the price for flying with budget airlines. But at least now I can afford to fly. 

Peter Fray

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