As the raging debate confirms, allegations of sexual violence in
someone's distant past, whether a US Marine in Vietnam, a bloke
from the 'best' public school or the head of ATSIC are never easy
to deal with. But such are the political implications of the allegations
against Geoff Clark, it's a veritable minefield.
To hear Aboriginal Magistrate Pat O'Shane thundering like any other
patriarchal judge about 'a lot of women manufacturing a lot of stories
against men' is a sad consequence of the Age's public 'investigation',
and of the historical and cultural framework of the allegations
From the understandable observation that men and women are capable
of lying about their political enemies, O'Shane has emerged as a
defender of the stark prejudices that befuddle our judicial system.
But she didn't need to speak the demeaning and prejudicial language
of a rape-defence barrister to defend Clark.
As the social and economic indicators - health, income and levels
of incarceration - confirm, Indigenous Australians know all about
'white fella' justice. That's why O'Shane and thoughtful people
are sensitive about Clark's 'trial by the white man's media'. Not
that what's happened to Clark couldn't happen to a white fella,
or as Robert Manne puts it, the Age would 'suppress identical
allegations if they were levelled against a non-indigenous politician
of businessman'. It's just that allegations against the rich and
powerful (UNLESS THEY ARE GAY) rarely go past the public bar or
the parliamentary dining room.
When was the last time a white public figure was asked to resign
on the basis of an unproven allegation? Did John Elliott resign
from the Carlton Football Club or the boards of any companies and
refuse a gig on the Footy Show when a Labour politician under
parliamentary privilege accused him of fraud, and the NCA laid charges
that sent his co-accused to gaol?
The problem isn't that the Age pursued Clark, but that 'white
middle class' identities who yield real power are rarely if ever
the subject of such covert and detailed investigation and are never
castigated and 'outed' prior to criminal charges or a legal hearing.
The question now for the Age is where this form of 'investigative'
journalism will end. Given it believed these allegations would not
result in charges being laid, the Age obviously proceeded on the
basis of public good.
So why not, starting with the Prime Minister, undertake a thorough
assessment of the worthiness of existing political leaders to hold
public office, then work our way through the back benches and the
judicial chambers? By journey's end we might have ensured that politicians
of the ilk of former ALP member Keith Wright won't again be free
to sanctimoniously deliver god fearing speeches in the parliament
whilst at the same time sexually abusing members of their family.
So too might we expose the documented gulf that often exists between
public and private policy, and come to understand why some judges
say the things they do when confronted with the rape or murder of
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for acts of violence, whether by public
figures, the US Marine or the average bloke, being the subject of
public discussion. If the Age had chosen not to proceed with
these accusations it risked being labelled guilty of complicity
in the violence that occurs against women. And as my own writings
about the killing of a woman by the man in her life assert, these
and like acts, as Pat O'Shane's words testify, remain a blind spot
in our cultural and political understanding.
If Geoff Clark committed these rapes, it's something he and the
legal system must address. But does it mean as Robert Manne claims,
'he's lost his capacity to speak with any authority on the questions
of self-determination, the apology and the treaty'? By these standards
no one who's committed a serious crime can ever assume a place in
public life or be rehabilitated. If this is so how can the white
fella ever be forgiven for the documented acts of violence perpetrated
against blacks over the past two hundred years?
If acts of violence can never be reconciled, then there can never
be reconciliation between black and white Australia. Robert Manne,
of course, doesn't believe that. The problem is, if Geoff Clark
is guilty, he's hardly likely to seek forgiveness and risk gaol
and so bring to an end his political journey. That's the conundrum.
There's a certain irony also that Geoff Clark should be tried
in the media for an alleged crime now acknowledged as seriously
under reported in white society. When Germaine Greer claimed in
later life she'd been raped while at University many wondered why
such a fiercely independent woman had waited so long to divulge
What we all are beginning to understand is that our much-vaunted
criminal justice system suffers from a chronic inability to understand
and deal with violence against women. That Geoff Clark's alleged
rape of four women, and policeman Denis Tanner's alleged 'murder'
of his brother's wife was tried in the pages of the Age,
rather than in the courts, is what really matters. Ultimately, this
and the fact that the white fella Tanner is but a small fish by
comparison with Clark, might be the moral of the story.
June 18, 2001
THIS ARTICLE WAS SUBMITTED TO THE AGE FOR CONSIDERATION. IT WASN'T