Poorly-handled rabbit incident at Circular Quay library

Customs House (Detail)Earlier today I saw something which shouldn’t have happened. Rather than walk away, I said something about it. And rather than leave it there, I sent this email to the City of Sydney. I also tweeted it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

[Update: On Thursday I received an email from the City of Sydney’s security operations manager, saying there would be “an internal investigation into this matter”.]

This is a complaint.

Two hours ago [at the time of writing] I saw an older man chucked out of the Circular Quay library for the heinous crime of trying to take a photograph with his pet rabbit. It was poorly handled. This is not on.

I’ve already discussed this with the staff member involved, but I could tell he just wanted me to go away. So I’m putting this on record, and I’m hoping it’ll lead to actual change rather than a boilerplate bureaucratic response. Please don’t disappoint me.

I’ll start at the beginning…

Around 4.45pm on Tuesday, I was leaving the library when I saw a man set down his rabbit on the corner of the 3D city model. It was a big rabbit, clean and well-behaved, with smooth orange-brown fur. It was a good rabbit, a rabbit that anyone would be proud to own. I stopped to watch.

As the man stepped back to take a photograph of his bunny friend with the model city in the background, a staff member approached. The security guy. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation, but the security guy stood close in front of the man, a metre away with the rabbit between them, in a stance which said “I am in control and you will obey me”.

It was clear to me that the man was confused, if nothing else because English wasn’t his first language. Was the problem walking on the glass floor? There were signs indicating it was wet, and a hazard. Was it photography? Was it the rabbit?

It was also clear to me that the man was being compliant. He was trying to understand the request and, once he understood that he had to leave, to leave at his own pace, keeping the rabbit calm while he moved to collect the bag in which he’d been carrying it.

Each time the man paused, however, the security guy stepped forward into his personal space. His body language was aggressive, the tone of his voice ever more assertive. This continued as the man slowly left the building, the security guy continually pressing forward into his personal space. It was clear that the man was frustrated by this constant pressure.

If I had to paraphrase the conversation, it would be like this:

Man: OK, I’m leaving.
Security guy: You have to leave now.
[repeat]

As the man stepped down onto the plaza, he turned, and for the first time in this entire encounter he raised his voice in frustration. “I’ll never see you again,” he said, not understanding why he was being pursued, then a few words I didn’t hear.

“Fuck you,” he finally said, before walking away.

The rabbit expressed no opinion.

Here’s what I think is wrong with all this…

There was simply no need whatsoever for aggressive policing by the security guy. He disagrees with me on the word “aggressive”, but stepping into the personal space of someone half your size, and staying there, is an aggressive act.

Once the man had finally understood what was required of him, and he was walking from the building, there was no need for close pursuit. The security guy could’ve just stood back and watch him leave. He didn’t seem to have anything else to do at the time.

I decided to confront the security guy about this. I spoke with him near the front desk. Two staff members witnessed it, but they said they didn’t see the incident itself.

The security guy pointed out that there’s a no-animals policy. Fair enough. But one brown rabbit is hardly an existential threat. There was no need for this situation to be rushed, let alone dealt with so aggressively.

It was just a rabbit, for God’s sake!

He also said that the man was intoxicated. I have no idea whether he was or wasn’t. That hadn’t been part of the conversation between them. But even if he was intoxicated, so what? Yes, he should be asked to leave, but why add pressure to an until-then harmless situation?

He also said that the man had been abusive. Yes, but only once, and only after he’d been under continuous pressure.

I wonder how this all might have gone if the person with the rabbit had been a child or tourist, rather than an older man with limited English.

I wonder whether a better way of handling this might have been to say, with a smile, “Mate, you can’t have a rabbit in here. Take the photo quickly, but then you’ll have to take the rabbit outside.” It would have made a cute photo, and it wouldn’t have harmed anyone.

To be clear, the security guy was nowhere near being violent or even abusive. I’m not making that kind of accusation.

But far too often we see an escalation of aggression in situations which present no risk of harm, or even of inconvenience, to anyone but the police or security personnel involved. These are the situations which turn a simple eviction into a fight, or an arrest into a fatal shooting.

The causes are usually a lack of patience, and a personal need by police or security personnel to feel that their commands are being obeyed promptly, rather let the situation unfold at its natural pace.

This was one of those cases. A tiny one, to be sure, but it’s still something that I think we should speak out against.

It was just a rabbit, for God’s sake!

Thanks for your time. I look forward to your response.

Stilgherrian

[Photo: Customs House (Detail). The facade of Customs House at Circular Quay, Sydney. This building houses the Circular Quay branch of the City of Sydney Library, amongst other things, photographed on 14 February 2018. Note: This version of the text corrects a some typing errors.]

Operation Sovereign Borders, sinister and banal [blogjune05]

An Australian bureaucrat reacts to allegations that Operation Sovereign Borders removes safety gear from lifeboats: click to embiggenThis man’s name is Mick Kinley, and he’s shrugging with indifference at allegations that safety equipment is deliberately removed from the lifeboats used to return asylum seekers to Indonesia. But that OK, he’s the acting chief executive officer of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

I’ve never met Kinley. I know nothing of his work apart from this incident. But do we really need any further context? The bureaucrat in charge of maritime safety is challenged over what sounds like a breach of maritime safety, but, you know, “Whatever.”

I believe this is what’s called the banality of evil.

Hang on, I’d better scroll back a bit…

Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) is the Australian government’s grand-sounding name for the grubby process of intercepting any boats at sea that contain asylum seekers and returning them to Indonesia. They’re put into standard orange lifeboats towed behind our ships, and once they’re within a certain distance of Indonesia they’re cast off and left to find their own way hone.

But as The Guardian’s Paul Farrell reported on 7 May, safety equipment is removed from those lifeboats beforehand — ropes, scissors, knives, a mirror, fishing line and even buckets.

On 27 May, Kinley was questioned about this in the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee by Senator Stephen Conroy, who was clearly unimpressed. You can read the transcript — the relevant exchange starts on page 86 — but you should really watch the video to see the body language for yourself.

Actually, it’s worth picking up the story a little before that video starts, on page 84…

Continue reading “Operation Sovereign Borders, sinister and banal [blogjune05]”

Guilty of being a teenager in a public place [blogjune04]

Police news clipping, click to embiggenEarlier this evening, Channel TEN journalist Hayden Nelson tweeted this news clipping, and oh how we laughed. But beyond the laughter, there’s something quite sinister here.

This item appears to be from one of the Murdochland local suburban papers, and it reads:

Mosman police were patrolling Rawson Park on Friday night, May 30, when they spotted two teenage males standing in the darkness at about 10.30pm. Police deemed it to be suspicious and thought they may have been there to consume alcohol or drugs. The 18-year-olds stated that they were just hanging out and eating lollies. After a search nothing was found but red frogs in their pockets. The pair were moved on from the area by the officers.

I know that the Sydney North Shore suburb of Mosman is a separate planet from the rest of human society, but I seem to recall that when I was 18 years old, some time shortly before the last of the mammoths died out, the local park was about the only place you could go for a private conversation with your mates about… well, life.

Home was obviously out, because your parents were there. Shopping malls were closing, and in any event you can’t just hang around in the mall without buying something. The same goes for pubs and cafés. Not everyone can afford to buy endless beverages, even in Mosman.

The increasing privatisation of public space is a problem. You can’t just walk around the Sydney Harbour Foreshore, for example, without coming under the management of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority and their arbitrary rules enforced by private security guards.

The privatisation of public space even has its own story category at The Guardian.

The roads have been turned over to traffic, not people. What seats you can find to sit on are part of JCDecaux’s advertising empire masquerading as bus shelters, sited right at the edge of the road where their hoardings can be seen, rather than set back from the kerb so you can hear yourself think.

No, the local park is the place for a quiet chat about the hell of growing into adulthood.

“Hanging around” is precisely what public parks are for — and if that’s “in the darkness” it’s because the local council is either stingy with the lighting budget, or understands that it’s not actually healthy for the night to be lit up like a football stadium.

Actually no. It’s “in the darkness” because, der, that’s what happens at nighttime.

Maybe there’s more to this story than meets the eye. But as it’s reported, it seems like these two lads were “deemed to be suspicious” simply because they were teenagers outside after dark, and were asked to move on for no valid reason whatsoever, other than to cover the police officers’ embarrassment with having interfered with people going about their lawful business. And that’s wrong.

[Update 5 June 2014, 0805 AEST: In a comment below I’ve written about the law that apparently applies in this situation. It reinforces my view that what happened here was just plain wrong.]

[This is one of 30 daily posts I’m writing during Blogjune. See them all under the tag blogjune, or subscribe to the RSS feed.]

Tone-Deaf Abbott no statesman, never will be [blogjune02]

Screenshot from Tony Abbott D-Day video 600px: click to embiggen“At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we are open for business,” tweeted @bernieb last night, adding, “As I stand here on Anzac Cove, I’m reminded of just how terrible a place Australia was before I became Prime Minister.” An utterly crass scenario, no?

@bernieb’s scenario is fictional, but it precisely mirrors the tone-deaf pollution of a D-Day Commemoration message with grubby day-to-day politics committed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday.

My reaction was to groan rather than laugh. but there was plenty of laughter to be had watching the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) go into damage control.

Continue reading “Tone-Deaf Abbott no statesman, never will be [blogjune02]”

May Reza Berati be the last, Mr Abbott

[Update 24 February 2014, 0820 AEDT: Before commenting, political tribalists might want to read my further comment. Then again, if you don’t, you’ll reveal yourselves for the fools that you are. So on second thoughts, comment away!]

Photograph of Reza Berati on screen, with a candle in the foregroundA man — no, a youth — fled danger and sought safety with us. But we put him in a concentration camp, and our hired goons stood back while he was bashed to death. According to our Prime Minister, a man who professes to follow the teachings of that Jesus bloke, that’s OK. After all, we don’t want to be “wimps”.

Well, Mr Abbott, I’m a wimp. A weak nerd. Yet I’ve stepped in to stop people being bashed, despite the risk.

I’ve been the one who, alone and late at night on an otherwise deserted street, walked up to the young couple, the shouting man with his hand gripped on the terrified woman’s throat, and said, “Is everything OK, miss?”

I’ve been the one who’s stood, hands empty and with open palms, and looked straight into the eyes of the crazed guy with the knife and talked him down.

I did those things on those occasions, and other things on other occasions, not because I’m brave — because I’m not, I was shit-scared. Not because I’m tough — because I’m not. Not because I needed to prove anything to myself, because — yeah right, like I could prove to anyone that I were brave or tough. I don’t race a bicycle, or swim in the surf, or strip to my Speedos in public. I’m middle-aged, overweight, short-sighted and I’ve got flat feet.

But I did those things then, and I mention them now, because that’s what people do.

At least if they have any character. Any spine.

The problem here, Mr Abbott, is that you don’t seem to ever admit that you’ve ever done anything wrong, let alone take responsibility for it. Fine. You’re a Christian, or so you say. You know when you’ll be called to account, right?

What’s particularly loathesome, however, is your hypocrisy. Last July you said you’d take responsibility for deaths at sea as a result of the Coalition’s policy of turning back the boats. “Obviously I will take responsibility for what happens on my watch,” you said.

But only when they’re at sea? Once they’re on land that’s fine, eh Abbott? Then we can all bash the living shit out of them and let them die in a pool of their own blood and that’s acceptable? Is that what you’re saying?

Even if this were remotely acceptable behaviour in a civilised society — which of course it’s not — you’ve got it arse-about, Abbott. If you kill ’em at sea, then the bodies sink and the blood washes away. Think it through!

Speaking of arse, do you remember when you told Tony Windsor that you’d do anything except sell your arse to become PM? It seems that includes letting 23-year-old lads get bashed to death. And you worry about “wimps”. What a pathetic, cowardly, desperate grub you are. Craving power, but unable to take any responsibility once you’ve got it.

You’ve even said that you can’t be trusted at your word unless it’s in writing.

The game of politics is riddled with hypocrites, of course, but you and your current batch of visionless seat-warmers in Canberra really does take the biscuit. Every single muppet that warms a green seat on your side of the House lets a turd like you be their “leader”? How noble of them!

Well in my part of the world, Dear Coalition, the only things that follow a turd are a good long piss and the paper I’ve wiped my arse with.

Reza Berati died on your watch, Anthony John Abbott. “Responsibility”, you said? Why don’t you finally become a man and take some? And may Reza Berati be the last.

Before commenting, political tribalists might want to read my further comment below.

Welcome to Abstralia, Tony Abbott’s Australia

Cover of today's Sun-Herald app: click to embiggenAs expected, a landslide victory in yesterday’s election means Tony Abbott will soon be Australia’s Prime Minister — and to judge by some of the screechy hand-wringing, you’d think the world was about to end in a plague of radioactive ever-bleeding toad-newts.

Well, that’s the impression I got via Twitter. I wasn’t watching the news coverage, because I’ve pretty much abandoned the daily — and faster!– news cycle. Research has shown that reactions on Twitter don’t represent overall public opinion.

Nevertheless, I think some people forget how very similar Labor and the Coalitions’s positions actually are on many, if not most, issues. Mindless tribal loyalties lead them to imagine vast differences where none exist.

They also forget that a party’s announced policies have to survive the sausage factory of parliament before they can be enacted, and governments still have to work within the existing framework of law and government agencies. A certain inertia is involved.

That said, the image in the news this morning of Abbott’s face-splitting grin, almost-invisible wife and entourage of near-identical meat-prop daughters, looking for all the world like out-takes from the wedding episode of Deal or No Deal Mosman, does not fill me with confidence. It’s the very picture of assumed privilege.

“Ready to rule” indeed.

Nor am I reassured by his victory speech.

So my friends, in a week or so, the Governor-General will swear in a new government.

A government that says what it means and means what it says. A government of no surprises and no excuses. A government that understands the limits of power as well as its potential.

And a government that accepts that it will be judged more by its deeds than by its mere words. In three years’ time, the carbon tax will be gone.

The boats will be stopped. The budget will be on track for a believable surplus. And the roads of the 21st century will finally be well under way. And from today, I declare that Australia is under new management and that Australia is once more open for business.

There’s not a lot of what you’d call “grand vision” in there. Dismantling a tax that most people were already being compensated for. A hand-wavey promise to stop a made-up threat. Some bookkeeping issues. And building roads. There’s an air of assumed privilege in that too, with the dismissal of the incompetent lesser folk who’ve been minding the shop these past few years and the reinstatement of proper authority.

“Once more open for business,” you say? Perpetuating simultaneously the idea that a nation is no more than an economy, and an economy is about nothing more than running businesses.

During the election campaign, Abbott made plenty of unforced errors, we might call them. He does have a habit of saying daft things a bit more frequently than I like to see in a leader. And he did say once that he can only be held to what he puts in writing. These are not good traits for Abbott to possess as his role changes from the relentless carping negativity of opposition to the positive consensus-building of leadership.

Now Abbott may well grow into the role. Maybe he’ll be able to build a coherent team from his ragtag collection of the experienced, inexperienced and occasional nut-job. Maybe they’ll be able to implement their policy program. I’m sure there’s already endless speculation on these points. But I might try to form my own opinion.

I plan to re-read David Marr’s Quarterly Essay, Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott. Indeed, I just bought an electronic version for my iPad. I’ll let you know if I have any interesting thoughts about the man’s character.

I also plan, or had planned, to return to daily blogging at some point. This seems as good a day as any to start setting aside an hour or so to gather my thoughts and see what emerges. So here we go. Welcome to Abstralia.