Philistines no longer at the gates…

Academics, Hookham and MacLennan, threatened with the sack!

I have just received a paper from the National Tertiary Education Union [NTEU] about closure of the Humanities and Human Services School at Queensland University of Technology.

The letter states:

The argument that Creative Industries is the ‘new’ humanities is spurious – the programmes are important to QUT but are not intended to the breadth and depth of the (humanities degrees) BA & B.Soc Sci. Indeed, much of the argument about the ‘new’ revolves around the apparent audacity of comparing Shakespeare and Big Brother … the undergraduate degrees and the postgraduate research at Humanities and Human Services … is grappling with the complex human, social and ethical issues and uncertainties faced in science and bio-medicine, business, built environment, law and education.

Are students and staff aware of the attacks being made against two academics in Creative Industries at QUT, John Hookham and Gary MacLennan, who wrote a critical article ‘Philistines of relativism at the gates‘, about a PhD thesis called ‘Laughing at the Disabled: Creating comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains‘.

Their criticism of ‘Laughing at the Disabled …’ has been covered widely in the higher education supplement of the Murdoch newspaper, The Australian.

It is clear that, for some, there is a point at which we can tolerate no more.

Sadly, in these times, it seems it is difficult to coordinate this into collective action rather than individual revolt.

What collective action is to be organised by union members for John Hookham and Gary MacLennan, now charged under QUT Code of Conduct and apparently threatened with the sack?

It seems the philistines are no longer at the gates, they run the institutions and, as always, those who oppose them are to be arrested and shut outside.

Ian Curr,
May 2007

Protests and arrests at Gardens Point Campus as students demonstrate the closing of the School of Humanities and Human Services

Since this article was written there has been some support for the two academics, MacLennan and Hookham.

Also there has been the parallel action by the QUT to get rid of Humanities.

This has met with some resistance by the students and staff at QUT.

The university response to that resistance is shown in the video below.

The video is short and worth watching right to the end.

Congratulations to the student activists and filmaker for courage and determination ‘under fire’ from police and University authorities. We need to see more students standing up for a better education and making videos like this available on You Tube.

Sadly the video showing student resistance has been taken down.

Ian Curr
July 2007

85 thoughts on “Philistines no longer at the gates…

  1. Stanislav says:


    Perhaps your readers might be interested in the following two emails:

    The first email was sent by Assoc Prof Alan McKee, Television Coordinator, Creative Industries Faculty, to students a bit earlier today. Alan McKee is Michael Noonan’s supervisor, and supported Noonan’s work from the outset.

    The second email was sent by Prof Sue Street, Dean, Creative Industries Faculty to students a couple of days ago. Prof Street asks students (and I expect also staff) not to make judgements about what’s happening to Gary MacLennan and John Hookham (a rather big ask, but there you go).

    —– Forwarded message —–

    Michael Noonan’s student …
    By Alan McKee, on Tue 8 May 07, 10:57AM

    Hello everybody.

    Michael Noonan is a QUT student just like you.

    His project was developed in consultation with a disability support organisation. That organisation is also providing some funding for the project, and is involved in its production.

    Below is a copy of the letter that the head of that organisation wrote to The Australian.

    Hope this information is helpful.

    Alan McKee

    I am writing in response to John Hookham and Gary MacLennan’s attacks (“Disabled project a crisis”, HES April 25 and “Philistines of relativism at the gates”, HES April 11) on a television program featuring two young men with intellectual disabilities.

    I am the CEO of the Spectrum Organisation, a non-profit, benevolent incorporated association whose sole aim is to break down barriers for people with disabilities so they can live fully integrated lives in their own communities.

    I am fully aware of Michael Noonan’s PhD project and support it completely. It presents a positive alternative representation of people living with intellectual disabilities. There is nothing unethical about it.

    Michael has worked with Spectrum for the last two years on a project entitled Unlikely Travellers, which has been sold to the ABC. It is a wonderful, funny and moving three-part documentary series about six people with intellectual disabilities.

    His new project, which is only in its infancy, seeks also to empower the disabled, to give them a voice through comedy. I have been on set for the entire shoot and I have viewed the rough material. I act in conjunction with the two men’s independent advocates, who have been informed of every stage of the project and continue to reaffirm their support.

    The comments made by Hookham and MacLennan distort and misrepresent the intent of the work: clips have been taken out of context and, in some cases, incorrectly described. Comments such as theirs are antiquated and can potentially put the cause of disability back 50 years. The two men they claim to be defending are independent, free-thinking men who make choices, love to laugh and enjoy life.

    It is my hope that television programs and research such as this, when complete, will make it possible for two men with disabilities to go into a pub, talk to aborigines, have a laugh and discuss girls – and no-one will even notice.

    John Hart
    CEO, Spectrum Organisation

    —– Forwarded message —–

    From: Professor Susan Street
    To: KKB008
    Date: 07/05/2007 01:35 PM
    Subject: Message from the Executive Dean of Creative Industries Faculty

    Dear Students,

    I write in response to a recent email that was sent to you by Dr Gary MacLennan in which he advises you of a misconduct claim that has been brought against him.

    Following the publication of the article Philistines of relativism at the gates written by Dr$B!G(Bs MacLennan and Hookham in the Australian on April 11th a number of complaints claiming breaches of QUT$B!G(Bs Code of Conduct were formally made to the university. (see reference below to the Code of Conduct). After due consideration and in line with QUT$B!G(Bs policy, a letters was sent by the Vice Chancellor to Dr MacLennan alleging breaches of the Code of Conduct and misconduct (not serious misconduct). I wish to make it clear that Dr MacLennan has not been suspended or sacked from the university. He is required to submit a written response to the allegations that have been made. Following such advice the university will act according to the prescribed policy. Appropriate support will be provided to Dr MacLennan as he goes through this process.

    I was surprised information concerning a confidential matter of this nature would be circulated to large numbers of students and I apologise to those of you for whom this has caused distress or upset. Confidentiality needs to be respected so as not to prejudice the case for either the complainants or those for whom misconduct has been alleged. I have been asked to attend an open forum to discuss this matter, however, given the information provided above and the sensitive nature of the issue at hand I feel it best that I do not attend the forum and allow the matter to be dealt with according to QUT’s protocols, which respect all those involved in the process. Should you have specific concerns regarding this matter please do not hesitate to contact me by email.

    This is a critical time in the semester for all students and I would hope that the matter does not unduly divert you from focus on your study.



    Policy B/8.1 Code of conduct (

    The QUT Code of Conduct applies to members of the University community including the following:

    * employees of the University, whether full-time or part-time, ongoing, fixed term, casual or sessional staff;
    * members of QUT Council or other University committees whether they hold office by election, selection or appointment;
    * visiting and adjunct academics;
    * volunteers who contribute to or act on behalf of the University (such as associate supervisors of students).

    Additionally, individuals who are associated with QUT related entities or who have been granted access to QUT property, services or infrastructure are expected to comply with any applicable provisions of this code, as are consultants and independent contractors undertaking services for QUT.

    Where the provisions of this code apply to all members of the University community, the general term ‘officer’ is used.

    Officers are bound by this code and the code also acts as a model for ethical conduct for students (for further detail, see the Student Charter (MOPP E/2.2 )).

    Professor Susan Street
    Executive Dean, Creative Industries Faculty
    Queensland University of Technology
    the hut, Z4-104 Musk Avenue Kelvin Grove Qld 4059
    Tel: +61 7 3138 8108 (Mob: 0417 364 881 (Fax: +61 7 3138 8105 Email:
    CRICOS No: 00213J

  2. The letter from Professor Street to her students (see comment above) indicates that the University is using disciplinary proceedings to intervene in an academic debate over the role and nature of tertiary education.
    The collective union agreement for QUT academic staff gives the vice-chancellor of the university the power to suspend without pay, to exclude the academics from the university and, ultimately, to sack them both.
    The mere fact that Professor Street would pursue misconduct in an academic debate shows a willingness to intervene and use the power of master over servant implied in QUT’s Enterprise Bargaining Agreement 2005-2008.
    The right of students to takes sides in the debate is met with the none-too-subtle reprimand: “Confidentiality needs to be respected so as not to prejudice the case for either the complainants or those for whom misconduct has been alleged”.
    It is also a warning to students and staff alike who wish to speak up that they may face similar disciplinary action.

    But the QUT code of conduct and all the ‘liberal’ laws and lawyering are a side issue, some will say that the code cannot be invoked for the mere expression of a point of view by the lecturers.

    It seems to me, the real issue here is a political one: the role of the master (the University and its officials) and the servants (the students and staff). Masters that permit the rolling out of crap PhDs (‘Laughing at the disabled…’ [sic]) in the name of creativity is a sign of the purchasing power of money and influence that comes with governments that put profit before people.

  3. the voice of reason says:

    Seems like you’re a bit of a bush lawyer…. If someone makes an allegation or complaint and there is evidence to substantiate their allegation, then there is a duty to investigate that according to the prescribed policy.

    It’s not a a subjective matter, but one of due process.

    You are reading an awful lot into the email from Professor Street. As for an ‘academic debate’, those are had in academic fora with an opportunity for fair response by all, not by running to the national press and writing a sensational article which provides no voice for Noonan.

    Try to aim for a little balance won’t you?

  4. Reply to ‘the voice of reason’,

    Editors Note: ‘the voice of reason’ was not a pseudonym used by Michael Noonan, the PhD student involved in the dispute. It was written by someone else.

    The problem is that the ‘due process’ you (the voice of reason) speak of hides the complaint and the complainant. A bit like your anonymous posting here — all is done under the cloak of secrecy.
    At least MacLennan and Hookham were open enough to put their own name to the critique they delivered against Noonan’s thesis.
    Where is the reason in Prof. Street hiding behind QUT’s code of conduct and due process?
    Where is the reason behind asking the real motives for charging the academics concerned?
    You say it is not personal, where is the reason why a process that leads to sacking be launched on the basis of an undisclosed complaint?
    Where is the reason to resort to the adversarial where the balance of power lies squarely with the employer (the Vice Chancellor) and not the teachers (MacLennan and Hokham)?
    After all the PhD approval process is hidden in secrecy as well, we have to resort to hunting on YouTube for a few fragments of the film material that is subject of the debate and that led to the subsequent charges under the QUT code of conduct.
    Where is the balance when the vice-chancellor is bestowed with the power of suspension and has chosen to use it?
    Here is the rub.
    Where is the reason in a university where a PhD student who obtains approval to write and title a film ‘Laughing at the Disabled’, yet his critics are ignored by the ethics committee, the dean of Creative Industries?
    Where is the reason where the PhD student feels no need to defend his thesis with reasoned argument in public?
    If to ask ‘where is the reason?’ is being a bush lawyer and not a real lawyer. Or is being a real lawyer is to be obsessed by ‘due process’ rather than the reason.
    Bush Lawyer
    June 2007

  5. Universities encourage controversy.
    Universities support freedom of speech.

    From my perspective; BOTH sides enjoyed freedom of speech but only ONE side was punished for it.

    Very unfair.

  6. the voice of reason says:

    dear bushy
    >The problem is that the ‘due process’ you speak of hides the >complaint and the complainant.
    Due process protects both parties by allowing an appropriate space to investigate the complaint. I don’t care you what say, but the national press is not an appropriate place to investigate someone’s complaint. Your assertion that it is, is out of step with most people’s understanding of a fair process. Look up the ‘principles of natural justice’.
    >>At least MacLennan and Hookham were open enough to put their >>own name to the critique they delivered against Noonan’s thesis.
    Yes its very courageous for tenured academics to attack a student in the press. I agree with you. Takes huge balls. They should be proud of their demolition job. Let’s just hope that Michael manages to finish his thesis.
    >>Where is the reason in Prof. Street hiding behind QUT’s code of >>conduct and due process?
    Don’t make me laugh… ‘hiding behind a code of conduct and due process?’ Do you understand what that phrase means? You have these things to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected. I’ll give you an example… so i can spell it out. Doing a demolition job on a student in the national press kind of steps outside these commonly agreed boundaries of decency and the agreed code of conduct. Do you think its an over-reaction to protect students from a being dragged through the mud in the press by their lecturers? A bit heavy handed? A bit….. a bit like you are infringing their ‘free speech’?
    >> You say it is not personal, where is the reason why a process that >>leads to sacking be launched on the basis of an undisclosed >>complaint?
    If I can untangle that sentence, i think you are asking me how someone can be sacked on the basis of an ‘undisclosed complaint’? First things first. They weren’t sacked. They were suspended as a punishment for breaching the university code of conduct. Secondly, they complaints were disclosed – to the relevant authorities (not to the press), who investigated the complaint, gave the academics a fair opportunity to respond to the complaints against them and upheld the complaints. You seem to think that complaining about someone in the press is a normal thing to do. Clearly other people, including Noonan, think otherwise.
    >Where is the reason to resort to the adversarial where the balance >of power lies squarely with the employer (the Vice Chancellor) and >not the teachers (MacLennan and Hokham)?
    Poor old Maclennan and Hookham… so disempowered. Their article in the Australian should have been at least twice as long, their YouTube videos should have been more widely circulated… poor little things. Tell me, who do you think has more power? Two lecturers with a line into a national newspaper, or a student standing in a room trying to do an assessment? Don’t talk to me about power relationships. That’s completely absurd in this case. Have your powers of reason abandoned you?
    >After all the PhD approval process is hidden in secrecy as well,
    They are open to the public
    >we have to resort to hunting on tube for a few fragments of the film >material that is subject of the debate and that led to the >subsequent charges under the QUT code of conduct.
    You assume that it is appropriate to abandon and sense of privacy when dealing with a complaint. That’s a pretty bizarre position to take. People should not be made to live their lives in the press, no matter how much you are itching to blog about them. Leave them alone and get a life.
    >Where is the balance when the vice-chancellor is bestowed with the power of suspension and has chosen to use it?
    Errr.. because he is the CEO? No one is suggesting that Hookham and Maclennan have as much power as the VC. You seem to think the VC abused the power. I think not. There was a very fair process. Gary and John did not come up roses
    >>Where is the reason in a university where a PhD student who obtains approval to write and title a film ‘Laughing at the Disabled’, yet his critics are ignored by the ethics committee, the dean of Creative Industries?
    The ethics committee did not ignore the critics. They came in later. The Dean did not ignore the critics, she asked for an investigation into the matter. Get your facts straight.
    >Where is the reason where the PhD student feels no need to defend >his thesis with reasoned argument in public?
    Where did you get this from? The process he subjected himself was called ‘confirmation of candidature’ and it is explicitly set up to do just that. What version of reality are you promoting? The facts are the facts. He did defend his position.

  7. the voice of michael noonan says:

    Editors Note: The following was not posted by Michael Noonan. It is a letter to the editor of The Australian posted by someone other than Michael Noonan.

    Letters – May 09, 2007
    Missing the point
    AS the Queensland University of Technology PhD student at the centre of attacks by John Hookham and Gary MacLennan (“Philistines of relativism at the gates”, HES, April 11; Disabled project a crisis, HES, April 25) I feel it is time for me to say “Enough!”
    Their claim that the two intellectually disabled men in this “sorry affair” have been abused is a most serious and uninformed charge. It implies that I have abused them. It implies that their parents and guardians, who have given the project their full support, have let them be abused. It implies that the Spectrum Organisation, a highly respected disability organisation with more than 250 disabled clients, is supportive of this abuse.
    The two disabled men who are part of my project do not need to be defended by Hookham and MacLennan. They are perfectly capable of defending themselves. They are independent men who can make choices of their own. They are my dear friends. Their parents and guardians have offered to write vigorous letters of support. But I do not think they should have to defend me publicly.
    The simple facts are these: the excerpts I showed at my PhD confirmation seminar were presented in the context of exploring and discussing issues of authorship and representation in disability. My project seeks to empower the disabled, to give them a voice through comedy. Each clip was prefaced with my own thoughts about whether this had been achieved.
    Hookham and MacLennan say they are “alone in their criticism of the project”, that the rest of those present at the seminar, QUT staff and students among them, are somehow morally corrupt. The reason they are alone in their criticism is simple: everyone else at the seminar was listening. Everyone else understood the context in which the clips were played.
    The confirmation panel, which included a Disability Studies expert, read my 50-page confirmation document and watched two hours of supplied video material. As far as I know, Hookham and MacLennan have made no effort to read my confirmation document. They rejected my attempts to meet and discuss their concerns. They challenged Brad Haseman, the assistant dean (research) of QUT’s creative industries faculty, to distribute my video footage for judgment. In response, I challenge them to find a filmmaker on earth who would think it reasonable for their rushes to be judged by an external party. Never have I stated that my project is complete or ready for public scrutiny.
    They speak highly of the complex and sophisticated way in which Shakespeare shaped, formed and structured his texts, yet they do not allow me the time and the space to shape, form and structure my own text. They speak of academic freedom, yet deny me mine. They speak of morals and values and decency, yet they have treated me – and those involved in my project – with little regard to these considerations.
    Last week MacLennan further attacked my integrity, my project and QUT, emailing more than 400 of his students with a link to his original column. Many of these students I teach and have taught in my duties as a sessional staff member and I am appalled that they have been so deliberately dragged into this issue without all the necessary facts.
    If my integrity and intentions are to be judged, let my critics do so on the basis of my completed work: my previous project, Unlikely Travellers, is a three-part series that will screen on the ABC later this year. It has taken two years to shape and I think it will break down barriers and empower people with disabilities. It is a work of which I am extremely proud.
    The intentions of my new project are the same: all I ask is the time and the space to complete it.
    Michael Noonan
    Queensland University of Technology ( AUSTRALIAN – HIGHER EDUCATION)

  8. Stanislav says:

    Gary MacLennan and John Hookham have published some of the charges that they were facing:
    1. (iii) that in an article appearing in the Higher
    Education supplement of ‘The Australian” newspaper on
    Wednesday 11 April 2007.which was co-authored by you, you
    attacked Noonan and his thesis, in a way that misrepresented
    Noonan’s work presented to the candidature confirmation
    hearing. Your article represented that Noonan’s work included
    a scene that would be used in a “six-part comedy series” and
    said of the scene “The young men were also instructed to ask
    the locals about whether there were any girls in the town as
    they were looking for romance. This produced a scene wherein
    a drunk Aboriginal woman amorously mauled William.”
    That reference is alleged to be misleading and an unfair
    treatment of Noonan’s work because it was made quite clear
    on a number of occasions by Noonan during his candidature
    presentation that the relevant scene would not be included
    in the final television production
    1.(iv) That in the article that appeared in ‘the Australian’
    you attacked, by inference if not directly, Noonan’s work
    as “misanthropic and amoral trash produced under the
    rubric of post-structuralist thought”.
    2. That in relation to the persons directly involved in the
    supervision of Noonan’s PhD work (supervisors) you.
    2.(i) stated or inferred that the Supervisors were responsible
    for producing “misanthropic and amoral trash”.
    2.(ii) Personally attacked Alan McKee whom you describe as the
    “enfant terrible of the post-structuralist radical philistines within
    the creative industries faculty”.
    2.(iii) Inferred that the Supervisors lacked moral judgement,
    appropriate ethical standards and sensitivity to the disabled
    It would now seem that they’ve been found guilty of these charges, and have been disciplined accordingly.

  9. For Genuine Freedom of Expression says:

    Dear Mr Noonan,

    I’m so glad to hear your voice in this debate. I have been trying to extract from the news-papers, the details of what has actually occured here but could not obtain basic information from our dysfunctional mass media. Having read your column above I believe you were well within your rights to complain about being mis-represented. I am very sorry to hear that you were treated in this way. And yes, I can see that you were at a disadvantage in the ensuing “debate”. Is it possible that what was written about you was actionable?

    Unfortunately, I fear that the University’s punitive response bodes extremely poorly for all concerned and the notion of any sort of “public sphere” in which debate is possible is the real victim. I don’t like what Gary MacLennan and John Hookham wrote. But even more, I’m angered by the fact that our outrageously monopolised, commercial media did not give you equal “right of reply”.

    However, I also see a genuine danger here for what is little right to freedom of speech we have generally and academic freedom in Australia. University Vice-Chancellor’s asserting the power to suspend two academics for stating their views in public, no matter how wrong-headed or fallacious those views (short of libel), sets a precedent that puts us all at risk — yourself included. Far from defending your academic freedom it seems to me that Prof. Coaldrake believes we academics have less right of access to the media than other citizens. It would seem that executive prerogative to punish and send a message is what has been gained in this terrible episode in which you are clearly a victim as well.

    Once again, I am very sorry that you have been the victim of misrepresentation. I do not condone that for a moment but I do wonder where we are heading? As a film-maker I’m sure that you would agree that the idea that academic debate can only take place legitimately in a class-room or journal seems is a total nonsense. Its the sort of thing that was said to Luther before the Reformation and to Thomas Paine Patrick and Henry before the American Revolution.

    Maybe we need an equally siesmic rupture in our public life to those great events before equal and genuine, freedom of expression is possible in our mass media? Meanwhile, an opportunity to stifle employee dissent is being exploited.

  10. Michael Keane says:

    People tend to have uncritical or blind faith in charismatic leaders (e.g. Hitler, Mao), charismatic cult leaders (Pauline Hansen), political ideologies (Marxism, capitalism), points of view (ethnocentrism), and gut impulses or unanalysed experience (moral panics).

    Intellectual hypocrisy is a state of mind unconcerned with genuine integrity. It is marked by deep-seated contradictions and inconsistencies. Let’s take a couple of the statements made on the documentaries. John Hookam says that the Michael Noonan project is unethical and he throws in the term ‘concentration camp’. Concentration camps are associated with charismatic leaders John, with people who closed down universities, killed millions of people including children, and tortured intellectuals. It’s interesting that John Hookham and Gary McLennan are happy to be touted as charismatic lecturers. When people give over their intellectual autonomy, they become emotionally dependent and open to exploitation.

    So, is the Michael Noonan project unethical? Well, no, actually: it has passed every test thrown at it. Is there dishonesty in saying that it is unethical? Yes, particularly when this comes from a person (Hookham) who has in the past insinuated that the university ethics committee acts like big brother and censors student work, well, work of his students. Are the statements of Hookham’s therefore logical and rational? If we subject the positions mounted by both Gary McLennan and John Hookham to reasoning we find that they:
    (1) based on questionable assumptions (it’s bad to give disabled people autonomy; they should be denied the kind of rights accorded to people of sound mind);
    (2) Draw inferences that do not follow from evidence (they confuse the project with racial vilification laws i.e. ‘you can’t laugh at the aborigines’);
    (3) Fail to disclose personal agendas (that the real reasons for this attack are personal);
    (4) Use faulty concepts (in confusing schizophrenia with autism);
    (5) Reason within prejudiced points of view (something that armchair socialists are particularly good at)
    (6) Are egocentric and irrational in their thinking (lack the intellectual courage to present all sides of the argument)

    Much of what is said is just plain dumb and deliberately and callously used out of context. These are people paid handsomely by the state. Years of working in the sheltered workshop of the university has dulled their intellects. They deny intellectual freedom to others, they hide behind a facade of being politically correct, they shriek about big brother and concentration camps, while enlisting their mates to write letters to the editor and cry foul. It’s back to the dark ages if you swallow that line, I’m afraid.

  11. Stephi Donald says:

    Dear Michael,

    I wish you and your project partners well in completing your project. Your previous work has been extremely well thought through and ethically sound, as is the work of your supervisor (Alan) and people like Michael Keane, with whom I have worked on many occasions. Michael’s comments on intellectual bullying by people who use charisma to cloud fact, is well taken and the stuff of a true intellect at work on eh side of justice,


  12. Peter Thomas says:

    Dear Michael Keane

    you take Hookham and McLennan to task for using apparently faulty logic, yet you start out finding a generic principle with which to equate them with Hitler, Mao and Hansen. You accuse them of using ‘moral panic’, yet you end by claiming that they will take us ‘back to the dark ages’ if they have their way. At least you are not taking the short way with argument by using fierce rhetoric…

    You accuse them of hidden personal agendas, and speak of the goodness and greatness of QUT ethical clearance- is it the case that you were on the panel that gave the project ethical clearance? You suggest that state salaries and university work have rotted their brains- how are you doing as a senior fellow etc? You find distasteful that they are defended by people they know. You wouldn’t know anyone involved in the Noonan project, and it’s just a nice co-incidence that your friend in Sydney could catch up with you here?

    It’s just nice to know that the snakepit of Brisbane academia has produced such a straight shooter as yourself to reassure us all and hold back the return of the dark ages. “Don’t you worry about that”, is that your line? Go feed some other chook, cos this one ain’t biting

  13. Laughing at the Post-Structuralists
    An evening of Solidarity with Gary and John.
    Bonding our forces to get them reinstated, compensated and apologised to.
    And, maintaining our vigilance about free speech.
    A Cabaret of friends prioviding plenty of time to chat, eat, drink and conspire with repect and trust among free speech activists.
    Great Blues duo tp cheer us up; inexpensive hot food available. BYO.
    When: Friday, 22nd June, 2007
    Time: 7.30pm
    Where: Ahimsa House – Emma Goldman Room
    26 Horan Street, West End.
    (if coming by public transport – get off the 195 or 199 Buz at the West End State School bus stop).

  14. Very little has been said about the industrial aspects of this dispute.

    From my experience as a former employee in the Australian Public Service and of the QUT, the action taken against these two teachers would have been the result of many incidents of conflict with QUT management. Pressure would have been placed on these two over a long period, years in fact.

    Amalgamation of departments, redundancies of staff, reorganisations, curriculum changes … all would have taken their toll on these teachers and their fellow workers.

    Management has targeted Gary MacLennan because he has stood up for the disabled, something that is taught in peasant societies but is so lacking in ours, especially the disabled who are poor. The wealthy disabled may be looked after but the poor are not.

    It is a shame that unions have become so weak that they can only resort to legal action to defend these two teachers at the QUT.

    This is an industrial issue, industrial action should be organised by the unions to defend these two and to prevent the decline of the institution that led to this situation.

    Ian Curr
    21 June 2007

  15. Stuart Cunningham says:

    Taking arts into digital era
    Stuart Cunningham
    June 22, 2007

    QUEENSLAND University of Technology has been under the pump on more than one front in recent weeks.

    Far from pure and simple

    Readers of The Courier-Mail and viewers and listeners to local TV and radio could be excused for being concerned, not only over QUT’s regard for academic freedom and the humanities but also confused about how these matters are connected.

    There has been much commentary on these matters – both locally and nationally – from supporters of the suspended academics, Dr John Hookham and Dr Gary MacLennan, and supporters of the continuation of School of Humanities and Human Services. Nothing less than the reputation of the institution is at stake.

    Such institutions live and die on their reputations; these issues require serious consideration.
    Hookham and MacLennan wrote a substantial article in The Australian newspaper recently accusing a doctoral student of a deeply offensive and unethical stance towards the disabled and argued that this was symptomatic of the cultural and ethical relativism engendered by postmodernism in the Creative Industries Faculty of which they are part.

    The actual words they used to describe the student’s work were “misanthropic and amoral trash produced under the rubric of post-structuralist thought”.

    About the same time, QUT proposed to close Humanities and Human Services, with Vice-Chancellor Peter Coaldrake saying the humanities would continue at QUT in the shape of creative industries. Some of the debate has also focused on whether QUT’s creative industries is part of the humanities at all.

    Is this managerial fiat riding roughshod over academic freedom while dispensing with pure humanities in favour of a postmodernist house of cards? It is time now to set the record straight.

    The suspension of Hookham and MacLennan followed a unanimous finding by a properly constituted review that they had engaged in academic misconduct through abusive behaviour towards a student and his supervisors.

    QUT’s code of conduct states “academic staff members have the right to express unpopular or controversial views, but this does not mean they have the right to vilify, defame or intimidate”.

    This was not the first time that Hookham and MacLennan had written a thoroughgoing put-down of the Creative Industries Faculty and all its works. In 2005, they published a long article in the national press saying that its governing philosophy was rotten to the core, its educational practices were suspect, its students were turned off, and even its precinct was a wasteland.

    No matter how harsh staff or the university had thought this attack, it was treated as defensible as an exercise in academic freedom of speech.

    What differentiated this latest attack was that it contained virulent criticism of a student for whom the university has a duty of care. This was not a case of academic freedom denied. It is a proven case of academic bullying and intimidation.

    The proposal to close Humanities and Human Services has been portrayed as a worrying part of a trend toward further “marketisation” of higher education.

    The pure humanities must be part and parcel of any higher education system. The values of independence of mind, critical thought and curiosity about the world, and the disciplines that teach them, must not be eroded by managerial fiat or postmodern relativism.

    But there still must be a market for such “non-market” disciplines in any given university. That is to say, there must be sufficient students of sufficiently high entry score to justify offering such courses. This has not been the case at QUT for some time.

    Universities must increasingly “choose their poison”. They must concentrate on their strengths and seek to complement each other in an overall higher education system. The old days of a small number of elite institutions offering all disciplines have long gone.

    QUT’s philosophy is to embed pure disciplinary inputs into professional applications. The success of this approach in the Creative Industries Faculty is seen by the surge in demand when we first opened the faculty to new students in 2002 and it has remained high since.

    Not everyone likes the Creative Industries project. Clearly, this includes Hookham and MacLennan, who appear uncomfortable with our desire to renew the arts for a contemporary digital age, and those who see it as a poor substitute for the pure humanities.

    But our undergraduate student demand remains high because we offer a responsible balance between critical intelligence and preparation for professional practice. Our research student numbers have skyrocketed since the faculty started. Our research in applied humanities is nationally and internationally of the first order.

    We must be doing something right.

    Professor Stuart Cunningham is director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at QUT

    The Courier-Mail, Friday 22 June

  16. Wayne Curr says:

    Ian Curr “Very little has been said about the industrial aspects of this dispute”

    Because the NTEU won’t touch it. They know they don’t have a case.

    “Management has targeted Gary MacLennan because he has stood up for the disabled”

    This is the most ridiculous statement I have heard – conspiracy theory – loony tunes. Who exactly is ‘management’? Where does that start in a university?

  17. Peter Thomas says:

    Great to hear how well things are going at QUT, funny then that such a scrupulous observance of internal technocratic process could lead so swiftly to a situation where “the reputation of the institution is at stake”. Perhaps this can happen when universities are busy choosing their own poison. Still, doesn’t much address the issue of M&H’s virulent criticism of a student’s work, and on from that to the supervisors, system etc. Is criticism, once it becomes virulent, banned outright, or can accuracy of criticism be a mitigating factor, as inaccuracy could be an aggravating one? If the substance of the criticism could have relevance to the disciplinary process, then why didn’t the tribunal look at the footage? Does it matter whether or not the work-the footage-is ‘amoral trash’ or not? If not, why not? Is the tribunal informed by an advanced theoretical position which sees ‘amoral trash’ as a relative and thus vacuous concept, or which privileges the form of a communication over its content? Couldn’t QUT refrain from playing into M&H’s criticism at least briefly?

  18. Asher Lev says:

    In Cunningham’s article he’s quoted as saying

    But our undergraduate student demand remains
    high because we offer a responsible balance
    between critical intelligence and preparation for
    professional practice.

    However, from a couple of sources who’ve seen the QTAC (Qld Tertiary Admissions Centre) first preferences for 2007 degrees across Qld tertiary institutions, it’s reported that first preferences for the Creative Industries Faculty’s general degree (the Bachelor of Creative Industries – Interdisciplinary) dropped in 2007 by as much as 25%, although the majors and BFA degrees *seem* to be holding their own.

    It would be interesting to hear if this is, indeed, the case, because if it is, then how much spin has Cunningham inlcuded in the rest of his article? Cunningham, like everyone one else involved directly or indirectly in this controversy, puts a spin on statements released in the media.

  19. Brian Laver says:

    Response to Prof Cunningham of QUT

    It was good to see Prof Cunningham emerge from the shadows of the conflict that is wracking QUT at present. However his attempt to place into context the controversy surrounding the suspension of Drs Hookham and MacLennan is deeply flawed. To begin with he perpetuates the mistake made in American films about the Vietnam War. These films generally insist that the war was something that happened to America. Just so Cunningham insists that the Laughing at the Disabled controversy is something that is happening to QUT rather than something that QUT is doing to Hookham and MacLennan and the disability community.

    Thus we are told that QUT is ‘under the pump’. Cunningham doesn’t even consider why this should be so. The recent demonstration outside the Administrative block of QUT was supported by members of the disability community. What other Australian university has ever faced a protest from the disabled?

    Why were the disabled community protesting the suspension of Hookham and MacLennan? Cunningham will not even consider why. For he steadfastly refuses to engage with the detail and the context of this controversy.

    Cunningham does tell us that Hookham and MacLennan were suspended for intimidation and bullying of supervisors and a student. He makes no mention however of what they were objecting to. Hookham and MacLennan attended on the 20th March a confirmation seminar where Michael Noonan launched in public scenes from his PhD project entitled ‘Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains’. It is because they went into print objecting to this project that MacLennan and Hookham have been suspended for 6 months without pay.

    However Cunningham does not tell us why QUT supported a project for profit which Hookham and MacLennan believed had at its core the ridiculing and mockery of the disabled. Does Cunningham think that QUT should be spending tax-payers’ dollars to support such a project? Does he support the disability community’s request to have input into this project to ensure the protection of the rights of the intellectually impaired men who are being filmed? Does he think we should laugh at the disabled?

    There is total silence from the good professor on these issues. Yet he hastens to tell us that Hookham and MacLennan were found guilty by a ‘duly constituted review’. The general public may not be aware that this review was set up by the Vice Chancellor. He handpicked the Chair and the staff members. The VC also decided the penalty and there is no right of appeal. It is true that this process is sanctioned by an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement reached by the university and the Academic Union, but it can hardly be described as fair or just. Certainly in this instance it has led to a verdict which has been described by a distinguished academic Prof Henningham in his resignation letter from QUT as being punitive in the extreme. Now Hookham and MacLennan’s legal team has learnt that the ‘duly constituted review’ of which Cunningham boasts has lost the vital record of its proceedings.

    The truth is, if one could evoke such an old fashioned concept, that Hookham and MacLennan have been victims of ‘workplace mobbing’. This is the tried and true method of getting rid of one’s staff when they ostensibly have tenure. Interested readers should go to where they will find details of the latest research on the topic. It is already clear that the case of QUT versus Hookham and MacLennan is destined to become a classic in the literature of how institutions trample on the rights of their employees.

    The case is also destined to go down as one of the most severe attacks on free speech and the rights of the press ever launched from a university. Hookham and MacLennan have been fined $40,000 each for writing an article in the mainstream press. They have been punished for being whistleblowers. They told the world what was going on at QUT and the university has reacted in what can only be described in an extremely punitive manner.

    It is true that as Cunningham points out they wrote another article in 2005 also critical of the manner in which the Creative Industries was being run. Does this mean that they are repeat offenders and should thus be punished severely? Is it a case of two strikes and you’re out at QUT? Cunningham assures us that he realizes that universities live and die by their reputation. He is correct and he should be very worried about QUT. One has only to go to youtube and watch what is being said about this controversy to realize that the university is destroying its own reputation. Of especial interest are the clips entitled ‘International students speak out against QUT’.

    Cunningham concludes his article with the good news about research students etc at QUT and claims to be doing something right. He makes no mention of the ongoing budget crisis in the Creative Industries Faculty. He does not tell us of the lecturers who cannot go to overseas conferences because the university can only advance $2000 towards their expenses. He makes no mention of the recent review which told the faculty that it could only survive another two years in its current state. Nor does he remind us of how QUT which was once the Number One teaching institution in Australia has now slumped to 36th out of 37 universities in Australia.

    By his own logic he and the other leading administrators at QUT must be doing something wrong. If they wish to do something right they should immediately reinstate Drs Hookham and MacLennan and apologize to the disability community for supporting a project which in the opinion of many ethicists mocked and ridiculed the most vulnerable in our society.

    On a personal level I would urge Professor Cunningham as a well known cinephile to take a look again at Istvan Szabo’s 1981 film Mephisto. There he will see how compromises on such issues as compassion towards the weak and the right to free speech might well serve one’s own ambitions but can also lead to the triumph of totalitarianism.

    Brian Laver
    Institute For Social Ecology
    Ahimsa House
    West End.

    Brian Laver is a long time campaigner for human rights. From the 1960s onwards he has promoted the right to free speech. He has lectured at Griffith University and the University of Queensland, and has frequently given guest lectures at QUT, a practice which he will not now repeat.


  20. Gary MacLennan says:

    Dear Friends

    I would like to extend an invitation to you all and your friends to attend the Federal Court North Quay Brisbane on Thursday, 12th July at 10.00am.

    We are seeking an injunction and if it is granted that will mark a very important step in our quest for justice.

    Hopefully there will be some media there as well.

    If anyone can contact the media for us that would be great.

    Please feel free to pass this invitation on to all who have taken an interest in this case.



  21. On 12 July 2007 the court adjourned the matter to be heard on 22 October 2007 before Mr Justice Spender.

    MacLennan and Hookham were placed on full pay but if they are unsuccessful in their action against their suspension they will have to repay the money through their recreation and sick leave entitlements.

    Ian Curr
    13 July 2007

  22. If I may, I would like to turn briefly to more mundane issues like the court action taken by MacLennan and Hookham against the Vice-Chancellor and the QUT.

    You would think that if ever there was a DAVID and GOLIATH struggle, this was going to be it.

    On 12 July 2007 I went to court to hear barristers [MR D. O’GORMAN SC and JOHN REED] take up the cudgels for MacLennan and Hookham.

    They applied to the court to have their suspension without pay declared void.

    Yet I heard almost nothing from the applicants’ lawyers.

    Instead I heard a debate between the JUDGE and the Solicitor General of Queensland (Walter SOFRONOFF SC) acting for the Vice-Chancellor and the QUT.

    SOFRANOFF discussed (led) the evidence from the bar table saying that Gary MacLennan made “a personal attack upon him (Michael Noonan)” to which the judge replied: “what was the personal attack?”.

    JUDGE reads from an affidavit that Gary MacLennan said “Thank God my son doesn’t have to meet you or words to that effect.”

    JUDGE: when the student is presenting a doctoral thesis entitled, “Laughing at the Disabled.”

    SOFRANOFF: but your Honour hasn’t seen it and your Honour oughtn’t … make pejorative comments like that.

    JUDGE: Why?

    SOFRANOFF: Because your Honour hasn’t seen it (the video LAUGHING AT THE DISABLED).

    PLEASE NOTE: The reason why so few people have seen the video is that neither Michael Noonan nor the QUT will release the rushes of the video or even discuss them publicly. If this were to happen the people concerned with this issue could resolve the matter of whether the video is “very clumsy or paternalistic” as John Tracey describes above.

    The debate I then heard between SOFRANOFF and the JUDGE then deteriorates even further.

    SOFFRANOFF: … Dr MacLennan’s attacks upon Mr Noonan for his work was or was not warranted in the way the committee found it was not warranted depends upon your Honour understanding the full facts of the case which aren’t yet before you.

    JUDGE: You say that that is an attack on Mr Noonan?

    SOFFRANOFF: Yes. As it plainly is …

    JUDGE: Why?


    JUDGE: Why is it an attack on Mr Noonan?

    SOFFRANOFF: Because it was said to him … Yes. It’s an insulting statement made to him.

    JUDGE: … with, one would have thought, at least, reasonable cause… Mr Noonan has – there is, in the material, the statement made him feel like a paedophile.


    JUDGE: Then I would have thought that, at least, in the real world, there’s not a very great deal of difference between laughing at the disabled and abusing children.

    SOFRONOFF: Your Honour is simply in no position this morning to make adverse comments about our case in the way that your Honour is doing.

    PLEASE note that SOFFRONOFF was appearing in this case as a private lawyer on behalf of the cashed-up Vice Chancellor and QUT. Apparently his employment contract with the Queensland Government permits him to do this, earn even more money as a private barrister.
    Could this be the very same Queens Council who stood up for Dr Haneef’s barrister in THE AUSTRALIAN [Letters to the Editor 21 July 2007]:
    “STEPHEN Keim has defended his client at great risk to his own reputation and standing, against some of the most powerful political figures in the nation. There is a lot of empty hypocritical rot spoken by barristers about the fierce independence of the Bar. This has been an actual and rare example of it.” — Walter Sofronoff QC Brisbane, Qld.

    What does Mr Soffranoff mean by fierce independence? Is he worried about is own standing in this case?

    Back to MacLennan & Hookham v Coaldrake & QUT.
    Yes the 40 or so people in the court were witness to the JUDGE making a comparision between laughing at the disabled being as bad as being a pedophile.

    The JUDGE’s demeanour at the time was both frowning and indignant. The JUDGE went on to make his own claims about the University and what it should be.

    JUDGE: “I regard this as a very, very important case dealing with the nature of a university and what a university is, or ought to be, all about, and that there seems to me to be a terrible inherent tension between the claim that Mr Noonan and his supervisors are entitled, consistently with the idea of a university, to embark on a thesis of this kind and of this nature and that that task is not in breach of one of the five cardinal ethical principals that is to be derived from the Public Affairs Act (sic).”

    SOFRONOFF: Your Honour is referring to …

    JUDGE: Respect for persons.

    SOFRONOFF: Your Honour – sorry?

    JUDGE: Respect for persons.

    SOFRONOFF: … I know, but I have seen the video and your Honour hasn’t.

    PLEASE note: Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, SOFFRANOFF must have thought his clients are in for a ‘hiding-to-nothing’.

    But what happens next made my jaw drop sitting there in the back stalls of the court. The JUDGE offered the parties an almost immediate trial on the facts in early August 2007 or later in the year at the end of October. Not surprisingly SOFRANOFF plumbed for the later date. Here is what we heard them say:

    JUDGE: Mr Sofronoff has indicated his preference for the later date that I’m able to give, 22, 23, and 24 October… are you content with 22, 23 and 24 October?

    O’GORMAN (not Terry): Yes, we are, your Honour.

    The judge had offered O’GORMAN (the QC for MacLennan and Hookham) an almost immediate trial of facts. The JUDGE indicated that saw the issues to be (1) the role of the University and (2) the respect (or lack of it) for disabled in contravention of the QUT code of conduct.

    Yet, strangely, O’GORMAN had turned the good judge’s offer down.

    The lawyers, the judges, the Human Resources people, the industrial consultants all seem to have missed the point.

    These two worthy teachers are banned from teaching at the QUT while this plays out in the courts.

    Surely they should have been allowed to return to work, to their classes and students that need them?

    This is what made my jaw drop.

    Ian Curr
    21 July 2007

  23. John Tracey says:

    bit of a diversion from the immediate industrial/legal issues – sorry, but related to the nature of academia which is a key aspect of this issue.

    I would like to comment on some of the issues covered in the original Australian article by Gary and John. I have gathered these thoughts as a direct result of reading the original article in the Australian which I found intelectually challenging and consistent with a holistic intelectual framework. However I disagree with it. Having said that, I expect acedemics to get involved in public debates, especially regarding issues of the role of acedemia and changes occuring in it. I thank Gary, who I know, and John for taking an intellectual issue into the public domain where if allowed the light of day might have some relevence in the real world outside of universities.
    I have disagreed often with Gary since I first met him however I respect him as both an intelectual and an ally of humanity and for his many decades of hard work and brave risk taking, not least of which has been his ongoing contributions to public discussion of the major political debates of our times.
    So before I explain why Gary and John are wrong,
    I not only assert their right to be wrong (only I am right!) but affirm their responsibility as a publically paid teachers to be wrong as publically and provocatively as they are able to be.

    The tradgedy in this is that the student who is making the documentary did not opportunistically and publically inflame the debate about disability which would have done wonders for his career and profile but instead he has suffered a fate worse than the lashing of his teachers wicked tongues, now he is just perceived as an irrelevent pawn in the battle now defined by academic freedom and institutional reform, not the rights and aspirations of people with disabilities.

    Gary and John have indeed captured the high moral ground on this issue because of QUT’s actions, and rightly so.

    So, on with the show…..

    It is innacurate to speak of “the disabled” as a class or a community, as if disability provided a cultural and historical unity with some evolved mass sensibility. A person with a disability is going to be defined or socialised by their family, institutions and television – just like anyone else. The public perception of a disabled community is generated by workers in the disability industry and is an illusion that describes their work issues and environment more than the real lives of people with disabilites.
    The exception is the deaf community who resist the notion that they have a disbility, just a different language, culture and community.
    Individual real people such as the stars of the contraversial video have had their personal behaviour judged by way of the industrial standards of disability workers.
    If entertainers with disabilities like the stars of this video, Steady Eddy or Dave Allen with his amputated finger want to make fun of themselves, any aspect of themselves including their disability, it is a mainstream comic tradition that is not considered to be offensive in any other context than “the disabled”. Danny Devito’s height has not been used by Hollywood as a cruel attack on short people and Devito is not exploited.
    So I suggest this “disabled” notion is conservative moralising (structuralism?) similar to the christians and feminists who insist all sex workers are exploited. Some are, some aren’t depending on the individual’s circumstance, not their class as sex workers. But the moral entrepreneurs generate a self reinforcing ideological myth that determines sex workers as exploited by definition simply because they are sex workers.
    A disability is not a pittiful affliction by which a person is defined. Disability is not a sickness, though sickness can cause disability. Disability is easily overcome – assistance, gadgets and modified environments make it easy. But these things do not accommodate disability, they do not create a place in the corner for the pathetic pittiful people to sit in and we can all smile at them from time to time. Augmentative technologies and social protocols such as support workers and advocates do not reduce the world to the level of a persons disability, they overcome the disability so that the person also is not reduced to the level of the disability and is assisted to engage in the world as a competent equal.
    So if there is to be any judging of this vidio, considering family and support workers are performing their advocacy function properly, I feel it is appropriately judged by mainstream standards to determine if the actors are being exploited contracts, % of profit, acknowledgement for contributed intelectual property etc. – Similarly the video’s humor should be judged on whether it makes people laugh or not. If it is considered poor taste by some it joins a long tradition of poor taste humour. The fact that scenes were set up does not discredit the humour any more than when “The Chaser” does it.

    Now, Ive only just figured out what post modernism is and now they are saying post structuralism? The structuralist must understand that their structure is not universal, it is generated by a particular tradition into which people are socialised. There is nothing sacred about Shakespeare, his dominance in Australian language programs is an indication of our colonial history more than our appreciation for well crafted art. Shakespeare is art from an English perspective within English values and common English psychological denominators and is perceived as normal, historical and classical to those socialised within this English tradition. The humour of the stars of “Laughing at the disabled” have created art – the humour – from within their particular unique and ideosyncratic world view just like any other artist does. The tyrranny of structuralism is when it demonises the world view of another cultural perspective, in particularly a non-literary perspective such as many with an intelectual disability as well as Aboriginal culture, simply because it has an aesthetic or social logic that does not conform to the dominant tradition.
    Now I’m not sticking up for big brother, that style is shit. And I am disturbed that QUT and elsewhere seem to be sacrificing intelectual integrity for pop learning and bean counting. And as Ian has said earlier this is now an industrial issue dealing with vindictive punitive administration by QUT authorities. However the old styles of acedemic tradition such as structuralism have been properly critiqued by post-modernism as imposing prior assumption onto its subject of study, failing to properly recognise the relationships between differnet paradigms in the naïve assertion that there is only one true paradigm.
    Post modernists however have dropped the batton by interpreting diversity as nothingness, nothing is real, only a range of illusions from which we choose and analyse from that particular illusions own point of view. Post modernism and structuralism are both products of the same culture and institutions and as such share the same inherent flaw of literacism. The dominant methodology of learning in our institutions from pre-school to Phd is written text. While we may read about many things from many perspectives, our monotonous one dimensional pavlovian experience is that of perceiving text – marks on paper or a screen generating electro/chemical reactions in our brain that generate perceptions of shape that trigger pre-existing concepts. Even oral teaching such as lectures are predominantly focused on written texts.
    Written texts and institutional lectures are not a direct experience of the reality of their subject matter.They are an experience of a representation of the subject matter, a secondary learning. Within this represented learning, charachterised by the single experience of text triggered conceptual recall, lies the status quo of the post modernists who logically evaluate the recalled concepts as equal and one dimensional – in reflection of the mode in which they were taught. – nothing is real.
    However a multi-dimensional education methodology based on direct experience of the reality being studied gives new concepts (rather than just networking existing concepts) for which often the student must afterwards find the language (or music or art) to explain it (rather than discovering the concept through language as is the academic norm). Within this direct experience of an infinitely diverse world a universal widom and intelectual tradition emerges, something akin to the art formally called dialecticism. But as with dialecticism, the point of connection between differing entities, for example classes, is a real historical thing independent of the conflicting thesis and antithesis. But this hystorical thing in the middle cannot be mastered by either side of the conflict while remaining inside their paradigm, they must transcend it to participate in, learn about, and then to teach the tradition of, the essential dynamic of the dialectic in reality – which is that which must necessarily form the future, not the conflicting paradigms. This universal reality of the epicentres of dialectics is an intelectual tradition that has manifested in many higher intelectual traditions around the world and through history…….. but not yet in academia.

    And to conclude on an anecdotal note, in my six years as a disability support worker in a previous lifetime and as the uncle of a young man who lives on an undiagnosed planet, I became aware that this non-literary education and consciousness is a charachteristicof how and what people with intelectual disabilites know. This knowledge is deep, sophisticated, mature and determines behaviour, but staff and family working with these people must learn this consciousness from scratch to begin relationships of equality with these people and are often very clumsy or paternalistic trying to understand this consciousness. They remember relating on this level to babies and infants but have to re-learn to relate within the same mode with adults. The industrial mode identifies this non-literary consciousness as a disability to be overcome to ensure assimilation of some sort into mainstream consciousness and common norms, repressing this mode of consciousness rather than develop it is a body of knowledge with great capacity that should be facilitated .
    I got to enjoy spending time in this headspace at work and turned into a painter through it.

    Gary and John (and everyone else), I offer these contrary thoughts to support the public discussion that you have initiated.

    I fully support you both in the acedemic integrity and worker rights campaign that this has now become.

  24. This link is to a more considered (than the from-the-hip rant above) response to “Philistines no longer at the gates”

    I would be more than happy to speak to this article at a forum on human rights and disability, or something like that, in the grounds of QUT (official or otherwise) if there were ever to be such a thing again. – Ian knows how to find me.

    The following is cut and paste from my online opinion comment…….

    on the matter of Noonan keeping his work secret.

    I do not know Noonan and I have no idea what is in his video, but I have been impressed by the few select words he has used to explain what he is doing.

    However, If I was Noonan I would not let an inch of footage out yet. On the youtube video “Disability community speaks out against QUT” he is threatened with investigations from the anti discrimination commission and the Qld. Adult Guardian.

    If this happened to me there is no way in the world I would allow anything into the public, including the final product, without being first passed by lawyers to check for vulnerability.

    There are serious academic freedom issues to consider here, where someone is subjected to hostile and official investigation.

    Noonan has apparently allready said that there are scenes that he will not use and he has also changed the name of his project because of this controversy.

    The judge dealing with the industrial issues has said that, amongst other things, what is to be examined by the court is what a university ought or ought not be able to teach and study.
    Judicial control of education and research? Where is academic freedom then?

    Noonan should be allowed to make mistakes so that we can all discuss them – a basic educational methodology that has now been replaced by which hunts based on innuendo and projection.

    The reason this has occured is because QUT smashed the discussion heavily as soon as it raised its head in John and Gary’s criticism of the project.

    QUT had a brilliant opportunity to be a national and international leader in forging new attitudes and services for people with disability – All it had to do was manage this controversy as a healthy public debate.

    Instead they have acted with an arrogant, Bjelkesque determination to punish infidels.

    Drop the charges against MacLennan and Hookham and stop the hysterical distraction from the very important issues of identity, justice and innovation in disability fields.

  25. Sorry, Paradigm Oz is John Tracey. My posts turn up as either for some reason.


    The following brochure will be distributed by staff, students, public intellectuals and members of the community at QUT’s open day on Sunday, July, 29th, 2007.

    The distributors will be wearing T-Shirts encouraging potential students and parents to ask them to “tell them about the QUT”.

    As well, we will be encouraging the Vice-Chancellor Peter Coaldrake to have the intellectual courage to debate staff and students on the steps outside his office on the issues raised in our leaflet.

    We urge Professor John Hartley, Stuart Cunningham, Professor Brad Haseman, Assoc Professor Terry Flew, Assoc Professor Alan McKee, Geoff Portmann and Michael Noonan to explain their ardent support for Coaldrake’s position.

    At a time in Australian history when what it means to be human is under attack by the cowardly politics of governments, both Liberal and Labor, we congratulate those members of the judiciary and the media who are strenously trying to defend free speech and civil liberties in all areas of our lives from insidious and creeping government control.

    While we can’t say we didn’t expect such behaviour from academic attack-dogs for management, it’s always a shock to see so much cowardice emanating from people in such privileged institutions.

    Come on, you frightened academics and citizens, Free Speech requires exercising it and always defending it – there are no exceptions to the rule at any time, at any place in the world. Or one morning you will wake up in a totalitarian world!!

    Solidarity with Gary McLennan and John Hookham Committee
    Contacts: Brian Laver and Bernie Neville
    Tel: 3846 5077
    Fax: 3846 7238

    FORUM: When: 10am-12noon – Sunday, 29th July, 2007.
    Where: Outside U Block, Gardens Point Campus.


    Chairperson: Sam Watson – Indigenous Rights Activist

    Invited Speakers:
    Brian Laver Free Speech and Civil Rights Activist during Bjelke-
    Petersen’s Regime.
    Bernie Neville ETU Worker/Rank & File Activist during SEQEB strike against
    Open Forum to follow
    LEAFLETTING: from 9am

    All invited speakers have indicated their preparedness to be arrested. Given the Vice-Chancellor’s predeliction for strong arm tactics, as in the suspension without pay of MacLennan and Hookham; the arrest of students at Kelvin Grove Campus in early 2007 and the arrests last week at QUT’s Gardens Point Campus. All speakers should anticipate arrest.


    QUT has attacked Free Speech. It is at war with the disability community. It has closed its humanities faculty at Carseldine

    QUT has suspended two senior academics John Hookham and Gary MacLennan because they blew the whistle on a PHD project called LAUGHING AT THE DISABLED: CREATING COMDEDY THAT CONFRONTS, OFFENDS AND ENTERTAINS. The project involved putting two intellectually impaired men into situations where they appeared foolish. This was done so they could be laughed at and the film then sold to the ABC. That is QUT “research” for you. Hookham and MacLennan’s “crime” is that they went public about this scandal. So QUT attacks academics who publish articles in the mainstream press. It has also had students arrested for handing out leaflets.

    QUT must be made to understand Free Speech is a right and not a privilege that the VC doles out like a charity. Do you want to go to a university where academics are punished for speaking out? Do you want to go to a university where the staff live in fear? Do you want to go to a university where student meetings are broken up by police?

    QUT has refused to meet with mainstream disability groups to discuss Laughing at the Disabled. It has told the disability groups in effect to bugger off. It has refused to make its ethical procedures open to proper external supervision. Disabled men have been brought into lectures and students have laughed at them. Do you want to go to a university where students are encouraged to laugh at the disabled?

    QUT has closed down its Humanities faculty at Carseldine. It has turned its back on those subjects that encourage students to think and to be critical. Instead the VC has said that Creative Industries is the future. What kind of future does Creative Industries offer you? Go there and you will find lecturers who say they prefer pornography to performance art. Go there and you will find lecturers who say that Big Brother is more important than Shakespeare. Go there and you will find lecturers who tell you to burn books. That is the future Creative Industries offers you. You will get an endless dose of Reality Television. Why choose a university that actually wants to dumb you down?

    What they will not tell you on Open Day is that a recent review said that Creative Industries can only survive in its present state for two years. Creative Industries is in financial trouble. Last year QUT came a dismal 37th out of the 38 Australian universities in terms of satisfaction with its teaching. Go to and type in “Laughing at the Disabled QUT” and “QUT International Students Speak Out “ to learn the truth.

    Do yourself a favour. Go To Griffith or UQ.

  28. The solidarity commmittee is going to look stupid in a few weeks if it continues to lump disability issues with civil liberties/industrial issues. The attitude expressed about disability by Gary and John and others is a patronising and oppressive one that has been rejected even by the status quo of government disability protocols and legislation. The use of the word “boys” in the philistines article and the youtube video “disability community speaks out against QUT” to describe a 20 year old man and a 40 year old man reveals an underlying attitude in this movement, that people with an intelectual disability are hopeless, dependent, vulnerable and immature – and in need of protection.

    Noonan’s work is progressive and challenges status-quo prejudices about people with disabilities and people like him need support from progressives in the community. But because his work has been thrown in the same basket as the industrial issues, it has been demonised by the movement that has arisen to support Gary and John with little exploration of the deeper issues of disability.

    On disability issues this campaign has become reationary.

    Noonan’s work is secret so what has been said about it by Gary, John, QAI and others has been accepted because of the integrity of these people alone. However the first edition of the films (unlikely travellers) is being launched publically in a few weeks and will air on the ABC later in the year apparently. When Noonan’s stuff goes public, and with all the publicity it will be a splash, people will see what he is really doing. All who have seen his first episode (I haven’t seen it) have said it is very good and sensative. Noonan will gain great credit in the community and the movement to support Gary and John will be portrayed as old fasioned wowsers trying to keep people with disabilities in their box.

    For the sake of the reputation of “the left” as well as the individuals involved, drop the attacks on progression and innovation in the disability field.

    John T.

  29. p.s.
    put my name on the open forum list on Sunday

    I very much support this acton and the campaign for industrial justice for Gary and John.


  30. There have been comments about international solidarity here.

    I note on the youtube from international students, the student refers to intelectual disability as a “sickness” and people with disability as “patients”. And his credibility to speak? He once worked in a “mental institution”.

    What is the nature of this outrage overseas? Does it have anything to do with truth or the interests of people with disabilities?

    Just came accross this from the Times online

    “The film, called Laughing at the Disabled, featured two mentally handicapped men who were sent into a bar to ask if there were any women looking for romance. One of them was severely beaten by a drunken Aboriginal woman.”

    I was quite disturbed by Gary and John’s criticism of the Boulia Pub scene in Noonan’s rushes. It seems that the critique not only dehumanises men with disabilities as asexual children, it also dehumanises Aboriginal women with an apparent stereotype of a drunken slut. It seems to me that what may at worst be a sexual joke in a pub (how unusual) between two consenting adults, has been represented as a drunken slut molesting a child.

    The speculative sensationalism that has characterised the campaign against Noonan’s work has been extended to the international reporting including inflaming ignorant criticism of Noonan’s work and international stereotypes of Aboriginal women and Aboriginal violence.

  31. Michael Noonan says:

    Dear Ian Curr

    This is Michael Noonan. I write in relation to comments 4, 6 and 23, in which you claim that I am “the voice of reason”…

    This is an absolute lie. Please correct it.

    When I have written on blogs, I have done so using my real name. Have a look around at other blogs. I’m quite comfortable and proud of what I’m doing and what I believe in — no need to use pseudonyms..


    Michael Noonan

    Editors Note: This posting was made by Michael Noonan.

  32. Paradigm Oz says:

    A couple of decades ago the Late Aldo Gennaro, a Chilean theatre director produced a theatre production at the Sydney Opera House. The cast were all inmates at a Sydney home for “the disabled”.
    A film was made about this – “Stepping Out”

    “Stepping Out” portrays the challenges faced and the determination to overcome them by the cast. There is a lot of humour in these struggles strikingly similar to that in this short clip of Noonan’s. (which is quite clearly laughing AT the man’s disability),

    Stepping out has a similar scene where a fellow is getting scared to go on stage and Gennaro prompts him “You are a man, you are a man, you are a man. Then the fellow puffs his chest out and continues the mantra “I am a man” as he runs around in circles and prepares to go on stage.

    Anyway, stepping out also documents the blossoming romance of the two lead actors in Gennaro’s play, and delves quite intimately into the love lives of these two people with Downes Syndrome. Issues such as marriage, children and sex are discussed by these two lovebirds.
    The film got rave reviews around the world and it really is a love story as well as about a play in the opera house.

    But when this movie was released Gennaro was sacked from the home. He was villified in the same way as Noonan for exploiting people, including sexually to get good footage for his film and build his career.

    Who attacked Gennaro? The so called “disability community” consisting of the church people and the blue rinse charity set, the same people who run the Miss Australia quest, sheltered workshops and puppy dog enbroidery classes.

    I am truly saddened that “the left” have positioned themselves alongside the blue rinse charity set’s attitudes to disability.

    There is no need to continually harp on about Gary and John sticking up for the disabled against the cruel brutes, as the solidarity committee seems to be committed to.

    Free speech, worker rights and the role of the university are strong enough platforms to carry this campaign.

    As soon as Noonan’s work goes public this criticism of his work is going to look stupid and further anachronise the left.

  33. John Tracey says:

    Is there anybody in this campaign who can defend Gary and John’s attitude to disability?

    If not, as seems to be the case, why is their critique still central to this campaign? Why does the solidarity committee continue to attack Noonan’s work and support Gary and John’s criticism of it?

    If we are going to be taken seriously in a free speech and acacemic integrity campaign, we cannot afford to be defending conservative and oppressive notions without discussion and then presenting it as our lead issue.

    If we ourselves are incapable of discussing the depths that lie beneath out shallow rhetoric, especially once Noonan’s work is released, we will be seen as small minded, reactionary sloganeers of the ilk of religeous evangalists.

    If there is nobody in this movement capable of a discussion on disability issues then we should cut this aspect out of the campaign completely.

    Come on solidarity committee, get your act together. Either engage in a debate on disability or drop it from the platform.

  34. Paradigm Oz says:

    “Come on, you frightened academics and citizens” of the solidarity committee. Do you have two ideas to rub together about disability?

    Or have you just reduced this issue to just another opportunistic tokenistic sloganistic dot point with no depth of understanding or analysis as “the left” has also done on indigenous issues?

  35. John Tracey says:

    See, other lefties can talk about these issues – it isn’t hard if you are not scared to talk about it.
    This discusson even gets a bit academic for those that way inclined.

    Why can the leadership of a campaign highlighting the rights of “the disabled” avoid any intelligent consideration of the issue of disability?

    The answer is simple! This is a Pauline Hanson campaign. Gary and John, just like Pauline, have shouted from the rooftops “I don’t like it”. Those with a political or an emotional loyalty to Pauline, or John and Gary as the case may be, shout back in unison “we don’t like it too”.

  36. John Tracey says:

    I’ll finish my tyrade now. Even I’m getting bored with it. I would like to explain my motivation before I finish.

    I have better credentials than most for inclusion in The disability “movement” or “community”, but that is nobody elses business and I reject such a notion in my own self identity or those I love. The problem is there is no such thing as a disability community. There are many sorts of communities What there is is neworks of people employed in disability agencies that systematically imprison their clients into notions of “other”, categories of a diffferent sort of human.
    The “disability community” is the nuts and bolts of a totalitarian existance that so many people with disabilities are trapped into.

    For years I have been whinging that the white left is contained within a colonial psychological matrix and as such have not been able to connect with Aboriginal people in terms of real solidarity (not just turning up at marches) and real understandings of the issues.

    whether you are a structuralist or a post modernist, a catholic or a Jew, the psychological and cultural framework within which debate occurs exists outside of the psychological or environmental reality of Aboriginal people.

    Similarly the pseudo-debate about the rights of “the disabled” – (whoever they are) that is generating through this campaign, exists outside of the lives of people with disability and more importantly, totally detatched and alienated from those people and organisations who work tirelessly year after year to figure out ways to change the nature of “The disability community”.

    The widespread demonising and villification of Noonan’s work has put this struggle for the liberation FROM “disability” back 20 years – to Aldo Gennaros time when the debate last spilled outside of “the disability community” with his movie “Stepping out”. I wrote a post about the Chilean theatre director, the Late Aldo Gennaro here, but it seemed to dissapear from this thread, then it came back, and now it is gone again. I hope Ian will put it back.

    Change only comes in the disability industry when thick skinned people from outside do things. This is why Noonan and Gennaro’s work is so important. Culture that challenges the status quo of the “disability community” is not going to come from within it.

    Many including myself think the notion of a “disability community” is repulsive and wont go near anything that smells like that. We believe there is no “disabled community” , – there are many communities, families, workplaces, feminist organisations, swingers clubs, gardening clubs, gymnasiums and adventurist anarchist communities, ALL of which have people with disabilities amongst their ranks. These people with disabilities should be defined as equals within these heterogeneous communities, not as “the disabled”.

    Nobody in my family is disabled but some of us have disabilities that we all share the burden of.

    See you on Sunday – don’t worry, I will behave!


  37. To Michael Noonan.

    Hello Michael,

    I do not understand why you made the complaint against Gary MacLennan and John Hookham.

    What reason did you give in the complaint?

    Who did you make the complaint to?

    Are you able to provide BushTelegraph with the written complaint that you made to the University?

    Ian Curr
    27 July 2007

  38. John Tracey says:

    Now, I don’t want to appear patronising, but I would like to encourage anyone not feeling 100% confident to discuss disability issues to look at these two discussions.

    My own site

    and on the British Socialist Unity site

    You will notice that the contributors are socialists and academics, just like you. If they can do it then of course you can, there is nothing to be afraid of.

    Everyone is disagreeing, it is alright if you have your own point of view, that is allowed, and after all its just a blog. What harm could it do?

    Go on, be adults and discuss these issues. You will feel so much better afterwards.

  39. Paradigm Oz says:

    If we, as a movement are not prepared to discuss disability issues amongst ourselves, how can we preach about disability in such terms as the leaflet for Sunday?

    It is a straight out sensational lie to say QUT is at war with the disability community. The only war is this campaign’s attack on the aspirations of the 2 men in Noonan’s film.

    It is just silly to justify the attacks on these actors’ self management by way of solidarity with persecuted workers.

    Again I plead with this movement to drop the disability agenda completely and focus on the clear cut issues of getting Gary and John back into the classroom based on support for free speech and academic integrity.

    I bet the Machiavellis in QUT are going to string the court case out until after Noonan’s work has gone on the ABC so that they can do a thorough job on John and Gary – once their criticism of the film has been publically discredited. They will wait until Gary and John are weakest and then they will demolish them.

    For those of you who claim Noonan will sugar coat his film in light of the controversy, then all the more reason that we can now anticipate the criticism to be discredited.

    I’ve been surfing the discussions on this issue and I am certainly not alone in my support for John and Gary’s rights at the same time as rejecting their notions of disability and critique of Noonan’s stuff.

    Unity, Solidarity, build the strongest common denominator rather than walk into a humiliating, divisive and marginalising defeat.

    Drop the disability agenda or deal with it properly.


  40. John Tracey says:

    The following link “Fascism and Disability in Queensland – the Guardianship and Administration Act” is the topic that I hope to talk about tomorrow, I put it on the blog just in case tomorrows forum is attacked again.

    On the YouTube video “Disability community speak out against QUT” the representative of QAI calls for, amongst other things, an investigation by the Office of the Adult Guardian.

    This is a most dangerous thing to do as it could result in the 2 men in Noonan’s film being removed from their existing family and support structure, even without any evidence of wrongdoing being tested in court.

  41. An open letter to Bush Telegraph

    John Tracey’s official resignation from “the left” (in Brisbane at least).

    Dear Bush Telegraph,

    I have been doing some soul searching this evening.

    I was asked a pertinent question the other day – do I still consider myself part of “the left”? Tonight I decided I do not.

    I have long since left behind “left” orthodoxy, starting with the prison reform campaigns of the 80s. The screws union was the enemy, not the government. The government wanted change but the screws wouldn’t let it. The Kennnedy enquiry reccomended privatising prisons in order to break the influence of the screws and train new recruits from outside of the existing screw systems. Privatisation also allowed for such things as Aboriginal organisations to tender to provide correction programs, which occurred with the Trinity Lane hostel and the Incarcerated Peoples Cultural Heritage Aboriginal corporation (IPCHAC) which I worked for at the time. I was at a spinny meeting one night with Denis Walker and Ted Watson from IPCHAC, Keith Hamburger and Anne Warner who was prison minister at the time. The meeting had concensus about setting up IPCHAC in Boggo Rd. as a (privatised) Aboriginal facility. Ted Watson and two white lifers were transferred to Boggo Rd. (after it had been closed) to set up the programs. The problem is the screws assigned to this project kept them locked up like ordinary prisoners preventing them from achieving anything. They blocked communication between this leadership cell and other prisoners and the outside support organisation. The project collapsed and set up in Borallon as a joint venture with the private managers.

    The screws through their union ( CPSU?) which covered public servants of all sorts with signiificant “left” influence, had got the support of all the other unions and the “left”and ran an anti privatisation and private prison campaign which undermined IPCHAC, Trinity Lane and over a couple of years, all of Kennedy’s reforms. The union backed the bashers and racists, many of whom were reinstated after Kennedy culled them.

    I have written somewhere recently about the Gurindji strike, probably on BT but cant remember. It was horrific for me to realise that the equal wages campaign lead directly to the dispossesson of the Gurindji from their land and exiled into the despearate camps in places like Alice.

    The “left”’s adherence to ideology and predetermined parameters for political activity have time and again failed to connect to the real historical forces of oppression, nor has it managed to realistically organise in any way amongst those most impacted by this oppression.

    The reality, so I now conclude, is “the left” is totally irrelevent to the process of social change, incapable of even looking at the structures of power, let alone figuring out a strategy to reform or destroy them.

    And then there is this QUT stuff which the more I find out about it the more I am disgusted by how this campaign has unfolded. Gary and John are no class heros, they did indeed attack their fellow workers in a most bitter way. The essence of their demands about Noonan are essentially that he should be censored, there is still enough anarchist in me to see this as wrong, I don’t know how Brian Laver, who still calls himself an anarchist can justify this. Then Noonan was threatened with official investigations and interventions by QAI, which became a key propaganda point of the defence campaign.

    I have corresponded with Michael Noonan. He has told me of some of the harrassment he has been receiving from “left” activists on campus – brown shirt stuff not seen since Lee Bermingham was a student it seems.

    The dynamic of viscious and hatefull peer group pressure is masquerading as solidarity and militance. I’m no vegetarian, sheep should be roasted!

    I applaud Michael Noonan and his film, what I know of it. I have heard nothing yet from his critics that makes me concerned in any way about what he is doing.

    I look forward to his public vindication in 9 days time as I do the humiliation of the small minded bigots who have built their campaigns against QUT or against the capitalist system on the back of persecution of this innovative film maker.

    If anyone asks my opinion I will still say Universities should cherish their elder scholars even if they get a bit outspoken and out of touch. The treasure of eldership is a lifetime of experience, not necessarily a correct line.

    As I have already said, QUT could have responsibly facilitated this important public debate and avoided all this shit. But they didn’t. This does not however justify “the left” bastardising the disability debate in order to fuel the ongoing struggle against windmills.

    No longer in solidarity with sheep and tyrants


  42. “Unlikely Travellers” is being screened at the Brisbane Independent Film Festival on Aug 12

    Go on, picket it – I dare you!

    Unlikely Travellers is the candid story of six people who travel for the first time to Egypt. As suggested by the title, the group consists of people you would not expect to travel to an exotic destination— the intellectually disabled. The trip was funded by a Brisbane-based disability organisation, and the expedition begins with a selection process whereby a panel of professionals selects candidates according to criteria such as the their ability to cope with crowds. The film documents this process in detail, and background on the colourful and diverse selection of shortlisted candidates is given by means of interviews with the hopeful travellers and their relatives. The personalities and strong character of each of the individuals are revealed through this process, and we gain even greater insight into the diversity of the group during their physical training for the tour. At the heart of Unlikely Travellers is a desire to lend insight into the daily realities faced by the individuals within this group. The film gives voice to a part of society that is commonly overlooked and rarely featured on screen. It is in showing the process of preparing for the trip and the unexpected setting of Egypt that enables all viewers to gain a very different perspective on intellectual disability with which to identify rather than what usual, stereotypical portrayals provide.

  43. The Philistines of Class

    I would like to address briefly some of the issues raised in the discussion of Michael Noonan’s film and the suspension of teachers, MacLennan and Hookham.

    I wish to discuss some issues not yet raised in the debate provoked by the article “Philistines of relativism at the gates” written by MacLennan & Hookham.

    The “Left”
    To begin, in political debates on this site and elsewhere there is mention of the “Left”.

    The term “Left” is problematic because it suggests an “oppositional” stance without a clear view of what “the Left” stands for.

    For me the Left stands for democratic rights, the rights of one class, the working class.

    For others “Left” means we stand for human rights, the rights of humanity over the dehumanising influence of capitalism — where capitalist society is organised for profit rather than human need.

    I make a distinction between the struggle for class rights [workers’ rights] and the struggle for human rights because much of humanity in Australian society, at least, is protected from powerlessness if not poverty and disadvantage that comes with class.

    Because of an accident of birth, many Australians were born into the middle class, a class of wealth and privilege.

    In student politics it is often difficult to tell what class people on the “Left” have come from. At times some students disguise their class roots, at times pretending to have come from disadvantage when the opposite is the case.

    Later as a worker, class and class aspirations become more evident. For example, in public service, the middle class aspire to management, so may working class people. This is made possible through education.

    Meanwhile the rest remain at the bottom of the heap — used and abused. Along the way workers meet many unlikely travellers who, like them, are often worn out or dumped by bosses and human resources managers when these workers no longer serve their purposes.

    As a result, it is abhorrent to hear the middle class debate the plight of working class people in Logan City or Aboriginal people in Central Australia when these educated debaters, people of class and privilege, have no experience or knowledge of mindless backbreaking work, poverty or racial discrimination.

    Such debate is academic, abstract, and resulting in no solution. It seems to be little more than an entertainment.

    Such debate ignores the practical need for workers control, the need for land by Aboriginees, for infrastructure, for economic development by workers — needs of the people themselves.

    In a word, the debate is paternalistic.

    This intellectual debate may have more meaning if the ‘Left’ in Australia were stronger and had the industrial, political and economic means to provide democratic solutions based on workers’ rights and social justice.

    The truth is Australia is a conservative country where wealth and poverty both exist. It is a country where the workers are quiet, at least for the time being.
    Poverty and class are camouflaged by social democratic fixes of the past: union bargaining in the workplace, the dole, Medicare, and state school education, to name a few.

    In the current climate where recession [perhaps a limited one this time (August 2007)] is close at hand, the class divide will become more apparent and the years of conservative policies like privatisation, casualisation and attacks on unions will bite hard against the working poor and may affect the not-so-poor.

    The dispute described above between film maker and teacher is not resolved, and may never be. On the surface it may in future seem to be a small conflict among individuals. But it is more than that; it represents a breakdown of trust and solidarity that may scar more than the immediate participants.

    The Real Philistines
    One thing is certain the University authorities at QUT will take full advantage of the lack of solidarity among teachers and students to ram home their agenda of courses for employer and profit. The Creative Industries faculty is one example of the University’s push to serve the demands of business rather than nurturing critical skills in education. As the You Tube video [shown above] of the rally by student and staff to defend the school of humanities demonstrates, while solidarity among the greater part of students and staff is absent, we are likely to see more unprovoked arrests on campus.

    When you look at the unlawful arrest and detention of the student in the You Tube video shown at the end of the article above you could be forgiven for thinking that this way of handling a demonstration looks reminiscent of the Bjelke Petersen years. Equally you may have thought the security guards and police would have learned from experience that violent manhandling of a crowd is a bad public image for a police force seeking public support. The police moto is to protect and to serve. But then it is hard to forget that armed police spend their time threatening aboriginal people in places like Palm Island. It is impossible to forget that Queensland police kill defenceless aborignal people as in the case of Mulrunji on 19 November 2004.

    The fact that this armed police manhandling of students is on QUT property is very bad public relations for the university – certainly the police would have been acting in the way they understood the university administration wanted them to, i.e. on university administration instructions.

    There may be sufficient truth in such views to make the QUT vacillate in their use of force against dissent.

    On the other hand, history shows that conservative authorities often see such use of force as a badge of conservatism, a badge to be shown when convenient, an advertisement for the university and the state.

    There is little evidence that the “Left”, if it exists in any permanent form, has learnt how to combat conservatism in the long haul from the Bjelke-Petsen years to the current son-of-Joh and and end-of-Howard eras. The protest of the students and staff is one thing but a sustained organised resistance has not been achieved.

    Some may indeed resign [from the Left], some may even join, others may be forced into retirement [from the University] but the next wave of resistance will have to learn from the mistakes of the past for there to be any chance for real change.

    Ian Curr
    1 August 2007

  44. Bernie Dowling says:

    I wonder if the “middle class” is disappearing in Australia and the country is becoming polarised into the working class and ruling class.
    A lot of people in “white collar” jobs which was a rough definition of middle class are paid as little as blue collar workers and certainly less than tradespeople

  45. Bernie Dowling says:

    I agree with most of what J.T. has to say about the campaigns in support of MacLennan and Hookham. The basic issue is that QUT does not want ageing academics haunting their halls of business,
    When I was going to UQ in the seventies, the uni was happy to have ageing poets Val Vallis and Judith Wright on the payroll. The left used to critique university as a microcosm of society. It wasn’t then and now it’s part of the capitalist macrocosm.
    I have an intellectually disabled son and, without having seen Michael Noonan’s film, I could see he could be making an attempt to demarginalise the disabled and good on him if he is.
    To say he will now “sanitise” his film is a loathsome argument because it condemns Noonan no matter what.
    Having said the above, I do not in any way support Noonan’s putting in a complaint to the university.
    Noonan is a former journalist and it is unbelieveable that he argued MacLennan and Hookham should have gone up the right channels.
    Michael, journalism exists because the right channels are corrupt.

  46. There is a tradition of working class knowledge, wisdom and intelectualism.
    It has never manifested in or be taught in Universities. Universities have objectified “class” and studued it the same way they have objectified indigenous knowledge, women’s knowledge and disability knowledge -any kind of knowledge, it is the nature of the beast. (see my “literacism” comments above). Even engineering and pure science is not a quest for innovation but a training ground for technocrats in the ruling class and power agendas.
    Oppositional modes that arise within this paradigm, apart from being repressed, define themselves and are contained totally by the ruling class notions of the institution. For example, how many people realy believe that Gary and John’s critique “misanthropic and amoral trash produced under the rubric of postmodernist, post-structuralist thought” is of any relevence to working class agendas and intelectualism or indeed the disability debate?. A non-academic commentary might exclaim “That is shit” and it would be no less accurate or precise. The rest of the verbage attatched to the essential message is totally within the contained ideational agendas within academia.
    The ruthlessness of QUT management is not new or unique. Anyone working in a factory or an office anywhere within the capitalist world will face exactly the same issues from bosses. But they do not revert to critique of post modernism or even to challenge the nature of the product that our labour is applied to. The working class response is usually to organise on the shop floor and negotiate with the boss, with the possibility of strike or work to rule hanging over the bosses head during negotiations. The complicated power relations and the possibility of pushing the boss or the state too far requires a deep understanding of power and its exercise that is not taught at university. A master/apprentice relationship inherent in the workplace (formal or otherwise) is much more conducive to transferring this working class intelectualism than the teacher/student relationship inherent in academia.
    In terms of management of an industrial dispute this whole thing has nothing to do with working class sensibilities. To start with the heroic critique of J&G was a direct attack on their workplace colleagues – representing class treason and a total lack of discipline from an industrial point of view. This lack of solidarity between G&J and their colleagues is the division necessary for the bosse to rule.
    There is nothing working class about showing solidarity with G&J. Beyond post-liberal notions of respect for elder scholars, there is nothing to support these two over, for example Noonan.
    The question that Bernie raises is a crucial one – was Noonan correct to complain against his colleagues who had attacked him.
    Should a person complain up the right channels if they are subjected to sexual harrassment or racial villification by a fellow worker? Should a person complain if they have been publically slandered by a colleague? I would say sexual harrasment and racial vilification protocols are a pro-worker, fought for by many workers over time in an attempt to make work places more worker-friendly.
    Noonan has been slandered, villified and harrassed. Is his case so different from other sorts of attack by fellow workers?
    I suspect Noonan is not the sort of thick skinned big-mouth as folks like me and Gary are. I would have taken this fight right up to Gary and John in the first possible opportunity if I were Noonan.(Bernies journalist ethic?) But I have been sacked or arrested on more than one occaision for such an attitude in disputes of my own, so I can’t claim it is a good strategy.
    There was nothing wrong with Noonan making a complaint, as there is nothing wrong with any worker complaining about harrassment and villification by fellow workers.. The problem is that QUT used this as an opportunity for a public execution when it should have facilitated mediation between the parties and ensure that the academic issues of disability and representation were managed properly.
    Ideational struggles that just excite the middle class adventurism of neo-pubescent undergrads is not the worker’s struggle. The old men who are doing this should know better, especially if they are from working class backgrounds.
    If there was to be a worker’s agenda at QUT it would be a solidarity amongst teachers of diverse opinions agreeing to keep their arguments in-house at the same time as putting on a united front to demand a curriculum that they want. If the post modernists are as morally weak as has been suggested then they might need the power of a brave structuralist or two to negotiate with management. But in the end the general meeting of staff should be the sovereign authority, not the outspokenness of working class or socialist identified factions within the general meeting.

    John Tracey,
    Son of a nurse and a railway fettler turned teacher..
    Grandson of a coalminer turned fruiterer.
    Of the Traecys of Tipperary
    University dropout 5 times – still no degree. (I’m waiting for an honorary doctorate like Joh’s)

  47. While much of what JT says about Universities above is true we should not ignore the change that occurred in Universities when the Whitlam Labor Government made Universities free in 1972.

    Working class people who did not previously have access to a University education were able to study and obtain degrees.
    I obtained a degree in this way whereas my older sister who finished school when universities were still full free paying did not have the opportunity to study at Uni. She was encouraged by the family to pursue the more traditional women’s occupation of nursing while I ended up with a degree in Science. I was then the only member of my family to go to Uni. Many years later my older sister returned to get a degree in social and community welfare.

    In the mid to late 1970s Australian Universities were flooded with the first generation of students from working class backgrounds. This had an affect on universities themselves. For example at Queensland University [UQ] the elitism of the previous generation of students was replaced by ordinary people, and, for the first time, nearly as many women as men.

    This affected the politics of the University and it is no coincidence that the Queensland street march campaign of 1977-1979 against the conservative Bjelke Petersen government began at UQ in this climate of greater egalitarianism.

    Sure, the street march campaign soon moved off campus, as the arrest lists of the time attest. After the first two marches in September 1977, there were far more workers and unemployed arrested than students. The impetus for change was there at UQ as well as in the wider community. Links between student and worker were cast and the longest period of sustained revolt against a government was fought out on the streets of Queensland during the following two years.

    The effect this working class struggle had on the University was significant if only transient. For example students and workers protesting outside the UQs Mayne Hall in August 1985 made it impossible for University authorities to confer the honorary doctorate on Joh Bjelke-Petersen at the University itself. Joh’s degree of ignominy was conferred at a later time, off-campus.

    At least for a time, our opposition to the Bjelke-Petersen regime was not ‘defined’ solely and ‘contained totally by the ruling class notions of the institution.’

    Our education as students was enriched by a common struggle with wharfies, truckies, labourers, working womens’ organisations to the extent that we would even talk of the university of the working class, an idea that finds itself here in the debates on obscure blogs like BushTelegraph.

    Ian Curr

  48. Bernie

    It’s worth noting three things:

    1. MacLennan lodged a complaint against me and my project long before I initiated a complaint. He also made a complaint against my teaching, asking the Acting Dean to intervene over the content of a lecture I present. Read MacLennan’s post at:

    2. I lodged my complaint as a student, not as a work colleague. I have absolutely no dealings with MacLennan and Hookham on a work basis: the only time our work paths have crossed is when they arranged for emails to be sent to my students.

    3. I was initially reluctant to lodge my complaint. But I saw no other option. I have rights as a student, as a researcher and as a human being — and I am very proud that I have stood up for those rights. I tried to meet with Hookham and MacLennan after they raised their concerns — but they refused. They then began a relentless campaign against me, my project, my supervisors, the Spectrum Organisation, and the parents/advocates of the two men involved in my project. To date that campaign has not stopped — in fact it has intensified. Should I and everybody involved in my project have just copped it on the chin?


    Michael Noonan

  49. Ian,
    Yes you are right about free education and I have not done justice to this period. However the “powers that be” easily enough rectified that short lived glitch years ago.

  50. p.s.
    not just “the working class” got an education in the time of free education, many indigenous people also got degrees and went on to administer the white system against their own people because of it. The education did not equip them to deal with real needs in their communities but rather trained them how to be cogs in the white machine.

  51. Peter Thomas says:

    Michael, in the youtube clip you’ve put up from Unlikely Travelers, a seemingly significant intertitle says “His disability isn’t funny. He is.” Tell me if I’m over extending, but the drive of this is that the individual actor’s warmth, wit and persona shines through and is the source of the humour, not any visible signs of disability that there may be, not the existing stereotype of the “disabled” – he appears as an individual and not an undifferentiated member of the group marked “disabled”. The idea being that even prejudiced audience members will connect with the individuality of the actor through his humour, which would challenge and perhaps overcome such audience members’ propensity to lump all people with disabilities together as all the one (‘inferior’, ‘unable’ etc) thing.

    Conversely, if the comedy did come from disability not the individual, rather the opposite would be expected to occur? The individual would be submerged and silenced behind the prejudicial stereotype, the stereotype standing front and centre inviting the laughter of the assembled. Can we all agree that this would be a bad thing were it to occur?

    Unless H&M are suspected of having finessed this controversy as a faculty political move, out of lust for celebrity, or some other unconnected reason, then it should be accepted that they’ve been genuine – whether mistaken or not – in their description of the footage from/not from/otherwise connected to Downunder Mystery Tour, which was that in the comic scenarios the disability stereotype was the source of humour. Their contention is that there’s just something plain wrong about such a situation, whereas your contention is that that’s not what your footage is or does. Is their any dispute that the situation as H&M describe it would be a bad thing, or that making a complaint to institute a review of such a project would be an inappropriate move?

    As for the complaint against your teaching, the source to which you direct us just says that Gary sought to stop you showing the footage, was patently unsuccessful, and tried again in that letter to the VC, again without success or further effect.

    It seems that the email exchange between you after the confirmation seminar was unpleasant and unproductive, excepting that you then had it to use in the complaint against them. if the section cited in your complaint – regarding Gary’s regard for his mother’s attitudes – is the worst of it, then how it violates your rights as a student, a researcher and a human being is enduringly mysterious to me. What is this trivial thing doing in the complaint?

    After the email exchange, and after you say they refused to meet with you, Gary’s letter, to which you draw our attention, says “I have since written and spoken to the Dean offering to help Michael find a way out of the trap that he has been led into. I do not know if she has passed those concerns on to him” and asserts that he is still willing to help. Did you ever receive this letter? Probably you had already made the complaint by then anyway.

    You mention the emails H&M sent ‘or arranged to send’ to students (which are now the subject of a further complaint against them). These emails were their response to the charges you laid. You mention how the campaign against you has only intensified, but isn’t it the case that it has intensified because of the complaint you made- increasing in early May when the charges were issued, and exploding in early June with the suspensions?

    Right or wrong, H&M’s campaign was about serious issues, and they spoke to those issues directly. That you would want to contest all that is fine and absolutely your prerogative. But your complaint against them is studded with trivia – raising of voice, preferring mother’s wisdom, whether the scene is in or out – which seems to have no further significance to anything beyond raising charges itself. Maybe you wanted to do something after the HES article came out, but as several QUT spokespeople have made clear in the press, that in itself is not an offence. Much of these charges fall under the punitive category of not being courteous at all times, so I wonder how you see the endgame of your project, subtitled “Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains”. You’ll just be graduating when they slap charges on you?

  52. I’ve just read Gary’s defence in the link above. I think there is a basic misconception in it that may explain where this went off the rails.
    Gary speaks of his own family connections to schitzophrenia, which is indeed a disability but it is not an intelectual disability and, if properly treated, represents no impairment to decision making capacity at all.
    As a sufferer of chronic anxiety myself, one of the things I get anxious about is that one day I too will fall off the edge into schitzophrenia – one of the things that often happens to sufferers of chronic anxiety. I am a carer for a person who has fallen of the edge from time to time. I know how disturbing this experience can be and how angry I could get if anyone poked fun at mental illness- in an ignorant way. But poking fun simply of itself I do not object to. e.g. as an often depressed person, I find Marvin the Paranoid Android in Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy to be hilarious – not offensive. He cheers me up!.
    Haven’t we all identified with Thelma and Louise as strong charachters? – despite obvious degeneration of notions of reality and self destructive and suicidal tendencies portrayed by the charachters in the film. But this is not offensive representation to those who are similarly in the onset of schitzophrenia.
    But the personal issues that Gary has about mental illness in his family has no place in any analysis of intelectual disability. The issues of advocacy/support, decision capacity and media representation are very different.

    The essential difference is that mental illness can be and should be treated. Intelectual disability should be accepted and embraced as part of the beautiful nature of a person.

  53. qualification.

    perhaps not all mental illness should be treated as per my blanket statement above. A lot of bi-polar folk say that the ups by far outway the downs and they would never want to give up the ups, so they accept their swings as part of their own beautiful nature.

  54. The plot thickens…….,23739,22187930-3102,00.html

    The human rights and equal opportunity commission has accepted a complaint against QUT.

    It seems the front line of this defensive move is, again, trying to justify the attacks on Noonan’s work. This is Gary and John’s weakest point. Their strongest point is improper procedings by QUT, in particular the missing record of the disciplinary hearing. But this is not the core business of HREOC who will no doubt only decide whether the injury to “the disabled” warrented action outside of “Up the right channels” , if indeed there were right channels for Gary and John to pursue their concerns and if Gary and John were denied proper access to these channels – by way of a precise and limited notion of “discrimination” which cannot question the propriety of the nature of “the right channels”. The fact that Gary and John refused to read Noonan’s confirmation notes or meet for mediation will not go at all well for them.

    In the C.M. article at least, much is made of the public finally being able to see Noonan’s work, as though this will vindicate our disability heroes. “Unlikeley Travellers” will have been screened at BIFF before the HREOC hearing which will certainly colour the perspective of Noonan’s QUT rushes if they are shown to the commission. Noonan seems to have been meticulous in involving respectable disability experts and his subjects family in his work, which the commission will not want to appear to discredit. Have no doubt that QUT will present this credible and respectable opinion from those involved in the project.

    Gary and John and their supporters seem determined to try and dig themselves out of a whole by focusing on their disability critique. This is sad when they have, as I have said before, much community support on the issues of free speech and workers rights. But as long as these issues play second fidel to the disability issues then this “campaign” will stagger forward in the same bizzarre, sensational and irrational fasion as it has to date.

  55. What is “Life Stream” and what is their interest in Noonan and Spectrum’s film?

    According to Life Stream’s website, Steve Kerin is its deputy chair. Steve Kerin is also the solicitor acting on behalf of Gary and John

    Erin Marrone is a Resource Program officer with Life Stream. She has been anonomously condemniing Noonan and Spectrum on the blogosphere, claiming to be a support worker for people exploited in Noonan’s film. (see the film and this claim appears to be a lie).

    Can anyone on this forum clarify Lifestream’s interest in this matter?

    Is this something to do with proffesional rivalry, or competition for funding? How can a disability organisation take such an active role in attacking another disability organisation – based on no information?

    John T.

  56. “Noonan and QUT’s Unlikely Story”

    What fools decided to produce an anonymous leaflet focusing on Noonan at the launch of his movie? The movie was brilliant and Noonan was widely praised afterwards by BIFF, the stars of his film and their families after the screening. He is now a hero! This silly leaflet has succeeded in convincing the audience that the attacks on Noonan are totally unfounded.

    The leaflet states Noonan’s unfinished film -Mystery tour down under features “two intelectually disabled men being put into situations which could only result in them appearing inept and encouraging ridicule”

    Todays audience saw these two “inept” men deliver impromptu speeches to a packed theatre, field questions from the floor and thank Noonan and spectrum for the whole experience. Darren’s excitement about Mystery tour down under was obvious as was his comic talents when he grabbed the microphone before a cheering crowd.

    As I have declared, i do not consider myself part of your movement any more, but I am still saddened by how pathetic and bizzare the supporters of Gary and John have now portrayed themselves as.

    The leaflet is a lie also. It says that there was never criticism of Unlikely travellers, only the stuff we have not yet seen. The Philistines article targets a particular scene where Darren and James discuss the possibility of sharing a woman. This is in Unlikely Travellers, and the way it has been descibed in the philistines article is just perverted.

    Here is my review of the movie

    Unlikely Travelers.

    The controversial movie “Unlikely Travelers” by Brisbane film maker Michael Noonan had its world premier on Sunday as part of the Brisbane International Film Festival. The documentary features the lives of a group of people with intellectual disabilities who travel to Egypt as well as their families and support workers.

    Up until Sunday’s screening “Unlikely Travelers” has benefited from perhaps the most sensational pre-publicity campaign of any independent documentary ever made in Australia.

    Noonan’s academic work at the Queensland University of Technology , including the production of “Unlikely Travelers”, has come under severe public criticism by two academics, Gary MacLennan and John Hookham, who claim his work demeans and exploits people with disabilities. As a result of this criticism MacLennan and Hookham were charged, convicted and suspended without pay for six months for crimes against Q.U.T., This in turn ignited an international media sensation around free speech and censorship which has still not died down.

    Noonan’s work has been condemned across the globe, yet until Sunday’s BIFF screening nobody has seen it except a small group of quarreling academics. The anticipation of the release of this film has been electric, further energised by recent news that the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is investigating QUT’s action against the two suspended academics. – A publicist’s dream!

    Those looking for controversy will not be disappointed by “Unlikely Travelers”. It is indeed confronting, morally ambiguous and in many places sexist. Such is the nature of the real lives of real people presented in the documentary.

    “Unlikely Travelers” is about adventure. The first half of the movie documents the physical and emotional preparation for the trip to Egypt, the second half focuses on the trip itself and its consequences. This journey is a collective step into the unknown that changed the lives of each of the participants.

    Noonan, his crew and camera have been allowed privileged access into the lives of the cast. Inside he finds some of the key issues relating to the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, especially as weighed up against the will of their families and support workers. But Noonan’s film does not make any grand gesture in support of these rights, instead exploring the complexities, contradictions, differing perspectives and needs of all those involved including family and support workers. His interviews with over-protective parents about over-protectiveness is as profound and enlightening as it is contradictory. The families interviewed have been brave and honest in discussing their real family situation, not just detached principles and protocols governing the lives of people with disability.

    One of the themes of the movie is sexuality. It is an honest, beautiful and disturbing insight into the unresolved issues of sex, marriage and children from the perspective of the travelers, their families and their support workers. The anxieties of temporarily separated spouses (Nicole left her husband at home while she went to Egypt), holiday romances, fidelity and fickleness are all confronted head on with no neat resolutions. The authority in charge of this project, John Hart from the Spectrum organisation also shares his own challenges as a support worker as to when and if he should intervene in relationships heading in the direction of sexual intimacy. He respects the adulthood and independence of the travelers at the same time as being morally and legally responsible for their well being. Lucky for him the trip only lasted two weeks and the dilemma is handed back to the families.

    And then there is the terrible sexism! There are two characters that stand out in this film – James and Darren. These are the two who Noonan is presently working with on a comedy project. Their aptitude for such a project shines brightly in “Unlikely Travelers” as it did with their impromptu speeches after the screening. Darren, 40 and James, 20 develop a friendship which provides much of the comic relief in this documentary. Darren is the ideas man, he knows what he wants (which includes women!) and he has a fair idea how to go about getting it. The more reserved and intellectual James has reached the point in his life where he wants to be independent and is obviously inspired by Darren’s zest for life and mischief. James is willingly drawn into Darren’s grand schemes including moving into a house together to create a barbeque wonderland that will attract women.

    One of the scenes singled out by the QUT critics was of James’ figuring that if Darren got a girlfriend then the two could share her. This was well received by the audience who laughed at the statement as well as Darren’s interjection that this might not be possible to arrange. This scene is near the end of the film and the audience has already got two know the two men well. In this context the scene is neither sexist nor offensive but just another insight into complicated perspectives of sexuality, humour and independence.

    Darren emerges as the expedition leader as he pursues his quest to find out if there is a trap door underneath the foot of the Sphinx and how Tutankhamen died, if indeed he did die.. Darren’s excitement at proving his brother wrong about how many Sphinxes there are in Egypt was audibly shared by the audience, as was his disappointment at discovering that some people in Egypt may try and rip him off – a truly sad point in the movie.

    There are other sad moments such as Stanley’s story of welfare authorities taking away his three children, and then losing his wife because of the pressure of losing the children. His brave attempt at a holiday romance and coming back to earth after the trip is also a brave and honest insight into the life of this particular person with an intellectual disability. For me the saddest part of the movie was Stanley explaining that the authorities had decided it was not appropriate for his children to see him off at the airport or to welcome him home as all the other travelers’ families had.

    All the travelers – Nicole, James, Darren, Stanley, Natasha and Carla – have their own unique stories which are portrayed with depth and integrity. It is the intertwining of all the different stories that holds this film together.

    Viewing the film has dismissed in my mind the much publicised criticism that Noonan has an exploitative or inappropriate attitude towards disability. Four of the six unlikely travelers spoke after the film, expressing a deep gratitude to Noonan and Spectrum for the experience, as did members of their families speaking from the floor.

    Darren took the microphone to the cheers of the audience, a situation that he immediately took advantage of to show his talent as a comic orator, Stanley spoke and gave an update on his continuing struggle to be reunited with his children. James opened the floor to questions and skillfully handled heckling from his mother. Nicole made some insightful comments about the comparative difference of cultures in Egypt and Australia.

    MacLennan and Hookham have criticised one scene in “Unlikely Travelers”, but to be fair to them the bulk of their attack is on Noonan’s current work in progress – the “Down Under Mystery Tour”with Darren and James. Again nobody in the world has seen this except the same small group of quarreling academics. Supporters of the suspended academics handed out leaflets at Sunday’s screening claiming they were not talking about “Unlikely Travelers” as an example of “misanthropic and amoral trash”, only the “Down Under Mystery Tour”. This ongoing criticism is sure to inflame the pre-publicity of “Down Under Mystery Tour” as with “Unlikely Travelers”. Noonan sure is lucky with publicity!

    I look forward to seeing how Noonan tackles comedy in his next project. I also look forward to laughing at the antics of Darren and James, I predict we will see a lot more of these two movie stars in the future.

    John Tracey

  57. The sheer dishonesty of this campaign is astounding. as well as today’s leaflet lying about the criticism was not of Unlikely travellers because one of contraversial scenes is in this movie, how many of the you tube videos are about how uncomfortable students felt watching Unlikely Travellers when Noonan showed it to his class, especially once they discovered the stars were in the lecture theatre too?

    The only contact on this anonymous letter today is an encouragement for people to search for “free speech” and “QUT” on you tube. Anyone who did do this would immediately see the students reaction to Unlikely Travellers.

    The dishonesty and stupidity is amazing.

  58. Oh yeah, allmost forgot, Lies, lies lies. “we didn’t mean this movie, its the other one”

    One of the attacks on Noonan’s work all along has been that he is doing it for a profit. Brian Laver from the slopidarity committee says the following in his posts above

    “However Cunningham does not tell us why QUT supported a project for profit which Hookham and MacLennan believed had at its core the ridiculing and mockery of the disabled. Does Cunningham think that QUT should be spending tax-payers’ dollars to support such a project?”


    “This was done so they could be laughed at and the film then sold to the ABC.”

    noonan has only sold one film to the ABC – Unlikely Travellers

    I doubt if an ABC budget, split up amongst the cast and crew could realy be considered a prophitable enterprise.

  59. Admit it fools, you had no idea at all what you were criticising, you just attacked because the big dogs attacked. It is your pack mentality, not any genuine concern for people with disabilities that has motivated this. If you were serious about free speech you would not be continually leading your arguments against Noonan’s work.

    Somehow you have concluded that Noonan’s film is QUT’s achilles heel and chosen that as the terrain to try and capture the high moral ground. You have marched into a pit! – the last thing Gary and John need.

    Even stupid lawyers say dont ask a question until you know the answer. Yet so many people have put their blind faith in the attitude of Gary and John that they dont care what the question, or movie, is.

    Sheer infantile adventurism using dishonesty as a weapon.


  60. Paradigm Oz says:

    Fascists who try to destroy families!

    how can you say the criticism had nothing to do with “Unlikely Travellers”

    Hookhams comments below are disgusting!
    This shit when fed to the Adult Guardian, as it was, could have smashed all the families in this movie.

    The Adult guardian has both the authority and the track record to smash families with no evidence. And this is somehow supposed to be a civil liberties campaign?

    Paradigm Oz will be more than willing to publish any public apologies to Darren and James for the insulting and degrading things that have been said about them.

    Now that these 2 men have spoken for themselves there is no excuse for you to not hang your heads in shame.


    “As this research is continuing and the young men are still being exposed to mockery and ridicule I ask you to investigate this matter with a view to intervening to prevent the young men from further mistreatment .”

    ” I have consulted with Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini who is responsible for the Disability portfolio in the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC). Dr Tonti-Filippini’s personal opinion as regards the “Laughing at the Disabled” project is that it “ought not to have been approved by an HREC (Human Research Ethics Committee) as it appears to be demeaning of persons with cognitive disability and causes them discomfort or distress and thus harms them. It would also appear that the participants lacked the capacity to understand the project and hence lacked the capacity to consent to it. The project would thus appear not to meet a fundamental criterion of voluntary participation in research.”

  61. To Brian Laver, Sam Watson and Bernie Neville,

    – who seem to be the only people brave enough to put their names on their own campaign literature.

    Did the solidarity committee produce the anonymous leaflet that was handed out at the screening of Unlikely Travellers on Sunday?

    If so, why was it anonymous? If not, do you know who did produce it?

    What is the solidarity committee’s connection to the “Life Stream” organisation (mentioned on comment 56)

    I am amazed that you have criticised QUT people for being “frightened academics and citizens” yet you have been unable to engage on disability or offer one syllable in defense against my initial polite critique or of my increasingly confrontational challenges.

    I can hear Brian’s voice echoing through the gutters of West End “We can deal with Tracey; Just ignore him!”

    But you cannot ignore Noonan’s now popular film or his stars Darren and James who have most profoundly spoken for themselves.

    Brian, Sam and Bernie, I believe you owe Noonan, Darren and James a public apology for what you must by now have realised was an unjustified malicious and untruthful campaign against them. As I said before I got peaved, I support the reinstatement of Gary and John, but you have certainly alienated me from active support. I was, it seems, the only person other than yourselves willing to speak at your non-event advertised as civil disobedience during the QUT open day. But you were too slack to do anything except hand out leaflets (leading with disability issues) so I went home.

    If you are brave enough to tackle the cops and QUT guards in the street about disability issues, why are you so fearful of discussion on a safe forum such as Bush Telegraph?

    John Tracey

  62. Picket to demand justice for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. (Brisbane)

    Join the campaign to reform the Queensland Office of the Adult Guardian.

    There will be a picket next Wednesday, the 29 August 2007 at 9.00 am. outside the Brisbane Magistrate’s Court, 240 Roma St. Brisbane to demand reform of the Queensland Office of the Adult Guardian.

    see link below for details

    The picket will be opened by a traditional Aboriginal dance from Baganan Kurityityin Theresa Creed.

    There will be an open forum during the picket chaired by Drew Hutton. All are welcome to speak.

    Please pass this link to friends and networks in Brisbane.

    John Tracey

  63. “One young women with an undiagnosed intellectual disability screamed at the top of her lungs ” we are finally somebody !!”.

    This message was just posted on Paradigm Oz, I thought I would share it with you.


    Dr. David A. Jordan
    August 16th, 2007 at 8:39 am
    I offer my unsolicited and unequivocal support to John Hart, Michael Noonan, and most particularly to the individuals with intellectual and associated disabilities who concieved, produced, and participated in this most enjoyable adventure of a film – “Unlikely Travelers”. I have devoted the past 34 years of my professional career to serving individuals with a variety of life challenges and was enthralled when I saw an early edition of the film this past Spring. In stark contrast to the assertions made by Professors Hookham & MacLennan who felt the film demeaned individuals with disabilities, I felt it served as a long-awaited ( and desperatley needed) celebration of their humanity and genuineness. The many disabled citizens which I have shown a copy of the film to here in the US, they both applauded and wept with joy following during and after watching it. One young women with an undiagnosed intellectual disability screamed at the top of her lungs ” we are finally somebody !!”. Intent and motivation are indicators of purpose and in the case of making this film I have no doubt that both were ingenuous. I applaud Misters Hart and Noonan for their bravery and idealism in elevating the dignity and humanity of people with disabilities. We here in the States congratulate you for your work !

    Dr. David A. Jordan
    President & CEO
    Seven Hills Foundation
    Professor / Social Entrepreneur -In- Residence
    Clark University
    Worcester, MA USA

  64. To the fascist dogs who reported Michael Noonan to the Adult Guardian.

    Read this link from the ABC law report to see the serious and real danger you put real people in, just so you can persist with your petty point scoring in the QUT play pen .

    Your ignorance and vindictiveness has undermined any credibility you formerly had on civil liberties issues.

    By the way, if anyone was really serious about either disability rights or civil liberties, or indeed land rights, consider supporting the picket on the 29th Aug (not “next Wednesday” as mentioned above – the date is still right).

    This is about an Aboriginal man who has been systematically neglected and repressed by your “disability community” and is facing a serious gaol sentence because of the neglect by your “disability community”.

    Does your concern for disability and civil liberties, and your solidarity with Murries actually extend to people with disabilites and Murries?, or is your solidarity only extended to white affluent men talking shit at university?


  65. Hello John,

    Regarding comments 62-65 above, perhaps you should offer Brian Laver, Gary McLennan, Bernie Neville and Sam Watson the same rights on BushTelegraph that you have i.e. the ability to publish their own story/article/poem/film.

    Nevertheless all parties to this debate should bear in mind that nearly everything written on BT relates to litigation that may affect Gary MacLennan’s future livelihood and that of his co-accused, John Hookham. As many of us are no longer in the employment rat race (by choice or having been suspended or sacked by our employers) this is a luxury that we no longer risk.

    I know that QUT management (and no doubt, its lawyers) monitor BT and use the freely spoken words on its pages against workers.

    For example, in March 2007, the manager of HR Services at QUT, Graham MACAULEY, cited a BT article that I worte about QUT Enterprise bargaining methods titled “He can’t work he’s useless” as one reason for why he sacked me from my job at QUT.
    See .

    As I have stated above, until the film “Laughing at (with) the Disabled” is released we will not know how valid the crticism in “Philistines at the gates” was.

    Mind you, this whole debate is focussed on one film and what it says about, with, or for the disabled.

    My view is that film as a medium is unlikely ever to bring about change for the better either for workers or the disabled. A bit like blogging really.

    Who among us can claim the Dylan line: “His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean.”

    One thing is certain not a single boss at QUT gives a fig for any of us, sacked workers, present workers, whether we be disabled or not.

    Ian Curr
    27 August 2007

  66. Ian, I was not aware of any restrictions on Brian, Sam and Bernie from publishing on BT. I can assure you I would not have blocked it if such a thing was sent in.

    Their absolute silence on this thread is perhaps a better indication of why they have not submitted anything. It is not through lack of invitation from me.

    I take your point about the enemy reading this. But the enemy is also the Adult Guardian who will no doubt also be presented with things such as this blog indicating a support for the complaints against Noonan. If the Adult Guardian took seriously what has been said aboout Noonan they would steal Darren and James from their families. With organisations such as QAI and Lifestream participating in the lies and charachter assasinations it is important to challenge the dishonesty and vindictiveness of the attacks on Noonan and all his work.

    Propping up a lie in public is no way to defend against QUT’s attacks.

    This is why I wrote a review of Unlikely Travellers – including the criticised scene about sharing a woman – so that the bullshit that has been said about Noonan’s work can be seen for what it is – ignorant and repressive.

    I look forward to the next Darren and James movie, not just because it is sure to be a good laugh but also none of you will be able to say “we didn’t mean that one” again, and you will all look silly, again.

    Ian, I came into this business at your invitation. You convinced me that something smelly was going on and I should look into it. I did look into it and found a nasty murky coagulation of bile bubbling away, reinforcing its own stench and splattering shit at Noonan and Spectrum at any opportunity.

    I found lifestream people fraudulantly defaming Noonan on the bloggosphere. I found QUT activists behaving like brownshirts. QAI to this day refuse to answer my correspondence on the matter. Worst of all I found people arguing to limit the life decisions of people with impaired capacity, digging up irrelevant proffessional opinion to reinforce the notion that Darren and James are mindless vegetables. I found Gary refering to his competent but complex son as “handicapped”, some how licensing him to claim membership of “The disability community”.

    This is a sick thing, especially for “progressives” with ideals of “human rights” and “social justice” and “free speech” and dare I say – it the rights of “the disabled”.

    There was no need for this workers rights and free speech campaign to use disability as its forward charge, but it did, and it was wrong!

  67. Here is an OPINION PIECE circulated by John Hookham and Gary MacLennan

    What’s Empowering About Laughing at the Disabled?


    Dr John Hookham and Dr Gary MacLennan are senior lecturers in the Creative Industries Faculty of QUT. In June this year they were suspended without pay for 6 months after they were found guilty of showing disrespect to filmmaker Michael Noonan and bringing the University into disrepute.

    We welcome Michael Noonan’s decision to finally publish the excerpts from Laughing At the Disabled. It has only taking five months, our suspension, student rallies, Federal Court proceedings for breach of contract, a complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, an application for Whistleblower protection, a battery of lawyers, Alan Jones our constant urgings and tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money for him to do what he could always have done rather than prosecuting us for misconduct.
    It’s a great pity that it is not what we saw or heard on 20 March 2007 at his PhD presentation.

    The presentation on the website has been reworked. There is a new spin in town. It is no longer about comedy which exploits and offends. Now it is about empowerment.

    This sanitized version has led Tess Livingstone to wrongly conclude that the ensuing controversy is a storm in a teacup. By extension she is on the side of that group of people who oppose the New Mexico government’s intentions to prosecute the film producers who left 40 children in a desert town for 40 days to fend for themselves. Darren and Jones are now likened to Kath and Kim and Mother & Son.

    But Kath does not exist in reality. She is a fictional character. In reality “Kath” is Jane Turner, professional actor, married to a lawyer, mother of 3 children and honorary United Nations Refugee Ambassador. Kim does not exist in reality either. She is fictional too In reality Kim is Gina Riley, professional actor, married to a TV producer and mother of a ten year old daughter.

    Darren and James are …… well they are Darren and James. They are not married to lawyers or film producers or indeed to anyone. They are not United Nations’ Ambassadors. They are not fictional. They are not professional actors. They are human beings with intellectual disabilities. They do not work or run a business. They do not give interviews or issue press releases simply because they can’t. Michael Noonan speaks on their behalf and tells us what they think. James’ mother tells us what James feels. Tess Livingstone now tells us that they are not offended by the film because Michael Noonan told her they were not. She tells us that Michael’s intentions are ‘honorable’. They were also about making money. We have heard from everybody about Darren and James’ thoughts and feelings – except from the people that count: Darren & James.

    And now months after we asked for the video to be shown at our disciplinary hearings, we learn while eating our cornflakes this morning that Michael Noonan has uploaded a version of the tape on to the Courier Mail website together with a trailer explaining his motivations. We uploaded a trailer on to You Tube and now face further misconduct charges for defending ourselves in exactly the way that Michael Noonan now seeks to defend himself. There will be no charges against Michael Noonan just as there will be no retaliation against Tess Livingstone by the Press Council. There are no disciplinary proceedings in place against our colleagues who defamed and scandalized us in secret reports they made to our Dean. All are free to express their dissent with our opinion their disgust with us personally without reprisal. We alone are suspended, robbed of our career, reviled on the campus and prosecuted to the full extent of the Vice Chancellor’s powers.

    But is our society so brutalized by years of reality TV that we can no longer see mockery and ridicule for what it is? Why would we laugh at a young man whose face twitches not because he is acting but because his genuine and severe limited speech abilities fail him when he is asked about a girlfriend? Why would we hoot at him holding a pencil with a horse’s head struggling to write down answers that he cannot comprehend? Why would we smile as James struggles to put an ironing board in the boot because he does know how to fold it? Why are we amused when Darren and James cannot erect a tent with a hammer which we able bodied and minded people know is a toy and is too small to knock the pegs into the ground? Haven’t we laughed enough at staggering aboriginal people draped over a drink?

    It’s funny when you’re doing the laughing.

    It’s a hoot when you’re filming these antics.

    It’s funny when it’s other people.

    But we did not think it was funny. Ironically we were prosecuted for misconduct for doing no more than telling Michael Noonan and his collaborators that they had achieved their ambition. He told us that he wanted to ‘confront and offend’. We told him we were confronted and offended. He told us that he had made a film which laughed at the disabled. We saw what he had done and told him it was reprehensible to laugh at the disabled. He had us charged with misconduct and Peter Coaldrake and the entire institutional power of QUT stood toe to toe with him. Those that laughed are free to go on laughing. Those that didn’t ….. . Well that’s us and we have been punished, suspended, exiled and reviled.

    Tess Livingstone and Peter Coaldrake have both quoted Henry Kissinger’s remark that academic politics is so vicious because there is so little at stake. We grant the viciousness. Tell us about it! However we would point out that for the disabled and their families who love and support them laughing at the disabled is not a trivial matter. What Michael Noonan has done is to legitimize the ridicule and mockery of those with a disabled. Thanks to QUT sniggering at the intellectually impaired it is again ‘cool’ to laugh at the disabled.

  68. What a load of crap!

    Firstly, Darren and James both spoke publically at the launch of Unlikely Travellers and spoke of their excitement about Down Under. (See my review of the launch above)

    The problem is not that they have not spoken, just that MacLennan and Hookham have not listened.

    Secondly, Noonan handed all the footage to the Courier Mail. It was the CM that edited it. All the scenes criticised by Hookham and MacLennan in the Philistines article are included in the CM footage,

    and thirdly, what the fuck is this supposed to mean?
    “This sanitized version has led Tess Livingstone to wrongly conclude that the ensuing controversy is a storm in a teacup. By extension she is on the side of that group of people who oppose the New Mexico government’s intentions to prosecute the film producers who left 40 children in a desert town for 40 days to fend for themselves.”

    This desparate, hysterical and nonsensical bullshit clearly exposes the nature of the attacks on Noonan.

    The more H&Mc try to defend themselves on disability issues, the further down the hole their industrial and civil liberties campaign falls.

    Just look at the comments on the CM website to see how out of touch the hysterical criticism is.

    People have now seen the footage. It no longer works to tell lies about it.

  69. Of course John Hookham and Gary MacLennan will claim the footage I released on Friday is doctored. They have to because it is the only way they can continue to defend what can no longer be defended.

    There are three versions of the footage on the CM website: the complete 17 minute package, which contains my introductions and all the clips I showed at my confirmation seminar in the precise order in which I showed them; an edited 10 minute package requested by the CM for easier downloading and viewing (but still containing all of the clips that have been savagely misrepresented); and a 3-minute highlights package, which was edited by the CM. Again, the 17 minute version contains all of the footage that I showed at my confirmation and legal affidavits can attest to that.

    The footage clearly shows that Darren and James are not being abused or that the work is the atrocious disgrace Hookham and MacLennan have claimed it to be.

    What Hookham and MacLennan fail to understand is that these young men have power – personal power. They live and work autonomously; they have acute and wicked senses of humour and are full of ideas about this show. These men have agency and control and the footage clearly shows that. They have power precisely because they enthusiastically engaged in planning and preparing for the trip to Boulia. And empowerment has always been part of my study. At the confirmation seminar I spoke at length about authorship and control, both crucial matters ensuring that Darren and James are in control of both the form and content of this film. They have full editorial control after all. Like so many other matters, Hookham and MacLennan obviously missed this part of my confirmation seminar.

    Note the language of Hookham and MacLennan in their opinion piece: they claim Darren and James “do not work or give interviews simply because they can’t” and that James “cannot comprehend”. This is the language of a dated and ugly perspective – one which concentrates on what people with disabilities cannot do, rather than what they can. It demonstrates a patriarchal and paternalistic worldview which is both demeaning and dangerous.

  70. Peter Watson says:

    Dear Gary and John,

    The reason most disability services haven’t spoken out to date about the controversy is that most of us understood that this argument is indeed between the University and the two of you who truly spoke out against a student by going to a national newspaper when this issue was and should have been kept within the University arena. Most of us that don’t believe in sheltered workshops and segregation in the disability sector and also DSQ have already seen and support the work of Michael Noonan.

    Many of us were also at the Unlikely Travellers Biff festival screening and saw James and Darren speak about how much fun they are having, how much they think of Michael Noonan and how grateful they were for having this wonderful experience. The funniest bit was when Darren who has been sadden by your comments and truly wonders why you are telling him what to do spoke and said he had a message for you both…he simply said’ Well who’s laughing now…sorry guys but his comments were directed at you both. He rightly thought what right you both have to tell him how to live his life. You may also remember Darren spoke about the same thing on National Television when he appeared on the 7.30 report.

    So in the hope that you are both genuine in your attempts to make things right I offer you the following and trust you will indeed be enlightened.

    Many disability organisations ethos is about the concept of inclusiveness and focuses on challenging the barriers that often prevent diverse communities from working together. The ongoing goal of these organisations is to provide and facilitate services and opportunities that are accessible and enjoyable for all rather than for small groups within the community. It is their hope that through such inclusive pathways, current divisions and barriers within the community will be broken down.

    Projects are undertaken in a way that encourages collaboration, focussing on understanding individual differences and rejoicing in those things that make us all alike, human and part of the community. By considering people as individuals and the community as a whole, we avoid defining people through group generalisation.

    It is with the best of intentions that our society often makes exceptions for children with a disability. We have special schools, classes, groups and networks that seek to assist in the development of these children by segregating them from society and thereby limiting their experience with everyday social situations. The assumption that there is limited potential for these children/man/woman to participate fully in the community can result in the development of a “hidden disability” of low self-esteem, over-dependency or being spoiled with a sense of “entitlement.”

    The goal of many parents, whether their child has a disability or not, is for their child to reach their full potential in the areas of: functioning in society, finding friendship and love, enjoying good health, being happy, and ‘living a full life’, meaning one that is rich in experience. While happiness, health and love maybe achieved though the model of segregation, functioning in society and diversity of life experience will not.

    Through segregation we place unnecessary restrictions on:

    • who they will meet, be friends with, love.
    • what they will see in terms of different value systems, cultures, types of people, society.
    • what is expected of them.
    • how they obtain happiness.
    • the choices that they can make.

    The potential need for such restrictions on a person’s life is individual, cannot be determined by age, social status, gender, race or diagnostic classification. The person must be considered as an individual. To take this point one step further, capability should be assumed until there is sufficient evidence to the contrary. By starting out with a ‘can do’ attitude and then adjusting the boundaries as necessary, we are more likely to deal with children with disabilities in a least restrictive way, ensuring that their participation in society is maximised. This approach attempts to maximise the abilities of the child and reduce focus on any pathologies. The approach is called NORMALISATION and involves the following types of principles/behaviours:

    • Expecting behaviour that is as normal as possible from birth onwards.
    • Using discipline and child management techniques as they would for any other child.
    • Exposing the child to other children and encouraging the child to socialize as normally as possible from infancy on.
    • Treating the child as any other child would be treated, allowing for the development of the child’s self-esteem.
    • Exposing the child to life and all the activities of the world in the same way you would any other child.
    • Exposing the child to an inclusive school environment where the child would be challenged to develop as normal a language, behaviour pattern, and personality as possible.
    • Discouraging handicapped behavioural patterns.
    • Encouraging the child to participate in typical and able-bodied community activities and programs as much as possible.
    • Making the child accept personal responsibility for their own actions.
    • Encouraging the child to become as self-sufficient as possible.
    • Encouraging the child to reach for the highest level of functioning possible.
    • Helping the child to recognize personal deficiencies, but not to use them as an excuse for lack of progress.
    • Considering the child’s mental health as important as physical and intellectual development.
    • Considering the child’s siblings’ and parents’ well-being, and physical, and emotional health in planning treatment, services and programs for the child.
    • Keeping in mind the child’s future in planning for preschool, elementary, and secondary school.
    • Working as a unit toward self-sufficiency and autonomy for the child’s adult years


    It is important to acknowledge the power of the written and spoken word to empower or segregate groups and individuals in our society. Throughout history, well-intentioned policies and belief systems have created and enforced barriers for the very same individuals that they were meant to assist. Under the misunderstood yet well-intentioned guise of ‘protection’, people have been segregated and disempowered. By limiting the life experience of people with disabilities in order to protect them from a range of risks and misfortunes, we are in fact denying them the basic human rights that we should all enjoy – the right to make our own decisions and to succeed or fail under our own direction.

    Overall, the arrogance of the comments made by you Gary and John ( Drs Gary MacLennan and John Hookham) is disturbing. Just because the two men involved in this project have disabilities, it is assumed that they need to be ‘saved’ from the choices they make. With no background into James’ and Darren’s personal lives, you as academics would remove the rights of these men to make decisions for themselves. This illustrates the real challenge to prejudice in our society: those with limited experience, little information and big voices who believe that they always know what’s best for everyone else.

    With the best of intentions, these people inadvertently strip people of their own right to choose. Are their choices automatically invalid because they are not the same as MacLennan and Hookham, people who come from a different frame of reference. It is this basic assumption that people with disabilities suffer, are incapable, are less than in any way shape or form that the Disabilty sector aims to challenge. Your (Drs Hookham and MacLennan) writings illustrate how vital it is to challenge the current view of disability in the community.

    Here are our responses to selected contents of the article “Philistines of relativism at the Gates” by Drs Gary MacLennan and John Hookham, which appeared in The Australian in the very first instance on April 11, 2007:

    • Gary MacLennan and John Hookham claim that the project shows one of the pair “mauled” by a drunk aboriginal woman and later twitching when asked what they would do if a woman liked both of them.
    • response: No one was mauled by anyone. The indigenous woman in the film was not drunk. She did however think James was very attractive. Is this a crime? Should people with disabilities not be allowed to enter a pub? James and Darren visit their own pub at least once a week and no one says anything. James does “twitch” at times but this has nothing to do with the question he was supposed to have been asked. In fact, the response referred to was from a totally different project — Unlikely Travellers — and had nothing whatsoever to do with the current show mentioned in the article. In a news article, also published in The Australian on April 11, MacLennan is quoted as saying that Unlikely Travellers “was warm and beautiful”. Is there some confusion about his points of concern?

    • Drs MacLennan and Hookham refer to how Darren and James “suffer” with their disabilities.
    • Response: How arrogant it is to assume that Darren and James’ quality of life is in some way reduced. These sorts of assumptions are damaging to the way people with disabilities are perceived in society.

    • Drs MacLennan and Hookham write: “The locals were not informed that (the pair) were disabled. But the candidate assured us some did ‘get it’, ‘it’ being the joke that these two men could not possibly understand the content of the interviews they were conducting.”
    • Response: Why should everyone Darren and James met be introduced as “Oh! By the way, James and Darren have a disability”. How absurd. Michael’s point was that the people they were interviewing were not aware of the their disabilities – it didn’t matter to them. Darren and James came up with their own questions. They were simply briefed about the project and decided on the questions they asked. Further, the academics should be aware that they Darren and James not “disabled people”; they are people first and they have a disability.

    • The academics believe that work such as Noonan’s is being validated under the rubric of postmodernist or poststructuralist thought, where “you abandon any idea of individual worth”.
    Response: Perhaps these academics should be enlightened about normalization, instead of living in the 1950s.

    • Quote from The Australian: “Dr MacLennan said that Unlikely Travellers, a documentary about six disabled people, was warm and beautiful, but the characters in Mr Noonan’s latest project were portrayed as objects of ridicule”.
    • Response: The wild footage from Michael Noonan’s new project is simply that: wild footage. It is not complete; it has not yet reached its full potential. We all know that. He knows that. Being academics in the creative industries field, one would hope that Drs MacLennan and Hookham would understand and appreciate this. It should also be noted that both Darren and James are heavily involved in the post production process and have input into all cuts. They view and comment on rushes. Nothing would be included without their consent and the consent of their parents and guardians.

    Most distressing to us all in the disabilty sector was the following assumptions made by Drs Hookham and MacLennan:

    • That James and Darren are disabled. They do have disabilities but it should not be assumed that this ‘disables’ them in any way.
    • That James and Darren ‘suffer’ as a result of these disabilities. How can you possibly tell whether a person is suffering or not or why this may be so when you don’t know them?
    • That because James and Darren meet the diagnostic criteria for intellectual disability, their ability to make decisions for themselves must me questioned. The capacity to make decisions is individual and is NOT dictated by a diagnostic label. The very nature of the decision making process indicates a choice between options. Do Drs MacLennan and Hookham question the intellectual capacity of every person who makes a decision that they would not agree with?

    The majority of people commenting on this issue have no personal knowledge of Darren and James at all yet feel compelled to speak out to protect them. They should consider the following points before pursuing their ‘cause’ any further:

     Darren and James are men, not boys, who are legal adults.
     Darren and James are friends and colleagues of the filmmaker. He knows them and their families well.
     Darren and James have had and will continue to have significant input into the production of this project.
     They enjoy the filming process and visiting all the places they get to go.
     They both live independently in the community. They look after the house, cook meals, do the gardening — just like the rest of us.
     They both work and earn an income independent of social security.
     They both have a great sense of humour and enjoy joking around.
     They have their own circle of friends.
     They both have the support and guidance of their families when they need it.
     They enjoy their independence.
     They are proud of the project and their contribution to it.

    With all this information available, critics should ask themselves ‘what right do we have to interfere?’ Do Darren and James need to be protected and advocated for by people who have no relationships with them and no experience in their personal situations?

    We would suggest that the answer is emphatically: ‘NO!’ Darren and James can and will make decisions for themselves. If they need guidance, they will get it from people who know and love them well.

    This is another case where people have intervened in the lives of others where it is not necessary and not appreciated.

  71. Dear Peter (Watson),

    You state at Comment 72 above that “Many disability organisations ethos is about the concept of inclusiveness and focuses on challenging the barriers that often prevent diverse communities from working together.

    The ongoing goal of these organisations is to provide and facilitate services and opportunities that are accessible and enjoyable for all rather than for small groups within the community.”
    Worthy goals indeed. But what of the reality?

    The wealthy have access to ‘services and opportunities’ but what of the poor?

    What real chance do poor people with disability have in societies based on class and privilege? The Spectrum Organisation culled 100 applicants to find people suitable (including Darren and James ) for the trip they took to Egypt. To Darren and James good luck to you for winning the prize but what of the people who were overlooked? Where is their film, their prize?

    How many others do organisation like Spectrum reject, put aside in the too hard basket?

    Why should teachers (whose analysis of Michael Noonan’s film was flawed) be suspended and ultimately driven from their jobs?

    I can see one common goal in MacLennan, Hookham and Noonan’s work, all had good intentions and were seeking to make changes where it counts from the bottom up, and thereby to improve institutions based on elitism and segregation.

    You state “the two of you [Hookham and MacLennan] who truly spoke out against a student by going to a national newspaper when this issue was and should have been kept within the University arena. Most of us that don’t believe in sheltered workshops …”

    Yet their employer QUT hid behind the same defence of fairness and due process and so called ethics to have the (surely) ironic title of Noonan’s PhD thesis changed, the QUT refused to allow interested parties to scrutinise and debate the merit of the work.

    Sure it was a mistake for the academics to go to the media but not for the reasons you suggest. They opened themselves up to the heavy hand of their none-too-ethical employer whose intent is plainly to deny critical inquiry, to rid itself of its own History Department, to take it back to what it was – a technical college run in the interest of business ad industry.

    Noonan has taken up his right to publically prosecute his cause by releasing the rushes of his unfinished film so do the two academics have a right to raise their mild critique of the University in Philistines at the gates. Their naivety was to make their criticism open and at times personal.

    Noonan’s naivety was to allow himself to be used by the calculating Human Resources people and Vice Chancellor Coaldrake looking for an excuse to rid themselves of an expense of two tenured lecturers when they would prefer the younger casualised teachers like Noonan himself.

    Ian Curr
    4 Setember 2007

  72. Ian,

    The greatest error in all this was the bad attitude towards disability held by Hookham and McLennan. Their attacks on capacity, independence and freedom were not just a one-off, they have continued right up to the opinion piece above, in all the posts on this thread from the solidarity committee, in their leaflets and in the two legal actions they have initiated.

    Not only do they still maintain their attack on Noonan in their recent communique – including likening him to someone who abandoned 40 children in the desert, they also challenge James’ mother for speaking on behalf of her own son.

    Now that the footage has been released they have not changed their opinion or admitted they were wrong.

    The second greatest error was using this hateful and dishonest analysis to score points in the dual campaigns of criticising post modernism and criticising the QUT administration.

    They dragged Noonan, Spectrum, Darren and James into their own agendas and used them as the front line of their attack on QUT.

    It is this second error that I believe you are repeating in your response to Peter Watson.

    You are again attacking Noonan as an example of the corruption of QUT, just like the Philistines article did. Hasn’t this happened enough allready?

    Isn’t it time to now let Noonan continue on his merry way making movies that everyone seems to think are very positive? (except Gary, John and Paul Benedec)

    There are hundreds of thousands of Australian casual workers who you could criticise in the same terms as what you have said of Noonan. Why do you want to highlight this man?

    It seems to me that you are continuing to target him simply because he was attacked by Gary and John, no other reason.

    Noonan clearly created something very positive and has had his personal integrity slandered across the globe in the process.

    Leave him alone and attack some exploitative scum instead.

    Similarly you attack Spectrum because of the limited funding that disability organisations recieve from the government.

    You attack Spectrum as an example of class oppression but ignore the fact that it was Spectrum that paid for the six adventurers and their carers to travel to Egypt to make “Unlikely Travellers”.

    Why do you target Spectrum rather than any other underfunded disability organisation? It is clear that it is, again, simply because they were attacked by Gary and John.

    I bet you have never lobbied for more funding to disability agencies to expand oportunities for poor families. Yet you attack Spectrum for having to operate within their limited budget.

    None of the so called supporters of “the disabled” – those who “hold the disabled close to their hearts” from this campaign turned up to the picket last week where an Aboriginal man is being systematically abused by state disability agencies.

    If “left” activists are not prepared to get involved in disability issues they should keep their noses out of it, especially given the oppressive attitudes to disability that has characterised this whole campaign.


  73. John,

    My aim is not to attack Michael Noonan but to reconcile the warring parties of Michael Noonan on one side and Gary MacLennan and John Hookham on the other.

    Conciliation is clearly not my strong suit.

    Michael Noonan has capably defended himself by his action of putting the rushes to his film ‘Down Under Mystery Tour’ out there in the public domain.

    People may never read his satirically titled ‘Laughing at the Disabled’ PhD thesis but many will see his films ‘Unlikely Travellers’ and ‘Down Under Mystery Tour’.

    As for Spectrum, people who use their services or those who have been turned away can make their own judgments about that organisation.

    Perhaps the divisions are too strong to reconcile, but despite all that you have said I do not see so much difference between Noonan and his critics MacLennan and Hookham that conciliation is not possible.

    You are probably right, I just don’t get it, that only people ‘involved in disability issues’ understand.

    But I see a whole world of difference between Darren and James, Noonan, Hookham and MacLennan on the one hand and the corporate institutions that employ them on the other.

    Perhaps I am stretching it to say that Darren and James as lead actors in the film, Unlikely Travellers, were like many casual employees in the film industry. They receive benefits for their work. Didn’t Darren and James have to pass through a selection process set up by Spectrum to go to Egypt and be in the film? Please correct me if I am wrong.

    One thing I do know, there can be no reconciliation between master and the servant, between worker and boss, exploiter and exploited. That is a struggle of classes where workers must organise collectively to obtain the fruits of our labour. For a more complete analysis of the need to organise collectively see “After the Waterfront – the workers are quiet” [soon to be launched by LeftPress]

    Teachers are workers as are the workers in administration and support areas of QUT or any organisation.

    Noonan, MacLennan, and Hookham are workers. So too are Darren and James in Unlikely Travellers.

    In the world of the university where individualism reigns supreme this fact is obscured even to the parties themselves.

    Insofar as teachers and other workers (whether they be disbaled or not) at QUT and their unions have fail to recognise this unity, this objective reality, the supremacy of the boss is guaranteed.

    A lack of solidarity can only add to their exploitation by their employer, the QUT and the corporate interest it represents.

    Ian Curr
    4 September 2007

  74. Ian,

    1/Continuing to attack Noonan and Spectrum is a funny step towards reconciliation?

    2/All six of the Unlikely Travellers went through an extensive selection and training process which is the focus of at least the first third of “Unlikely Travellers” – you should see it before you criticise it.

    According to the film, the 6 were chosen (and many more were not chosen) on the basis of their ability to cope with the stresses of travelling to Egypt including physical fitness because they climb Mt Sinai. Their (or their families) income was not a consideration. Spectrum paid for the trip.

    3/I was not refering to a lack of understanding of disability issues (although that is clearly the case with Hookham and McLennan), I was refering to a a lack of commitment and action on disability issues unless, as with this case, it is framed within some other agenda such as attacking QUT, post modernism or windmills.

    4/ You are correct when you say “A lack of solidarity can only add to their exploitation by their employer, the QUT and the corporate interest it represents.” – someone should have said this to McLennan and Hookam before they crucified their work colleagues in the national press.


  75. The crap continues from Mac and Hook – yet another sad and pathetic communique

    “We have throughout been motivated by nothing less than a horror of what you have done to the disabled.”

    At least they dont refer to the authority or integrity of Alan Jones like the one on this thread does.

    They seem to have dropped the accusation that Noonan has doctored the footage too.

    Socialist Alliance are still running with this bullshit. They seem to be so far removed from common sense that anyone who offers a militant left whinge will be supported by them, no matter how wrong the whinge is or even if there is overwhelming evidence and public support to the contrary opinion, as is the case now.

    This kind of left wing mindlessness is what killed the left. It is dead – there are only zombies left, mindlessly, heartlessly and aimlessly wandering accross the political landscape trying to recruit healthy souls to their empty ideological sarcophagii.

  76. Gary MacLennan and John Hookham says:

    BT has been advised by MacLennan and Hookham that The Australian refused to publish the following letter after it published “I am the one who has been humiliated” by Michael Noonan.

    Open Letter to Michael Noonan

    Dear Michael,

    At last! You have decided to enter the public debate over your work. For over five months you have maintained the line that no one can discuss your work who has not seen it and you did not intend to show it to anyone. Now you have shown some of it. However sadly you do not seem to realize that your work has the potential to do real damage to other people. Thus you talk scornfully of “external groups” who had demanded to see your documentary. You refer here presumably to Kevin Cocks the CEO of Qld Advocacy Org and Sam Watson the Indigenous activist. Both of them have written to QUT Vice Chancellor expressing reservations about your work.

    Kevin is a great Australian and a tireless worker for the disabled. He is moreover the recipient of the Human Rights Medal for 2005 and ironically he is also a distinguished alumnus of QUT. Yet the VC dismissed his concerns about your research and refused to meet him. Similar treatment was meted out to Sam Watson who is a brave Aborigine who has fought heroically to advance the cause of his people. You share QUT’s arrogance here and indifference to the harm and distress your work has caused the most vulnerable people in our society and those who support them.

    But you understand none of this just as you still refuse to recognize the legitimacy of our concerns. You say we are politically motivated. What you mean by that is beyond us. We have throughout been motivated by nothing less than a horror of what you have done to the disabled. That horror is compounded by a disgust for those who had the responsibility of providing you with adequate supervision. Indeed if you go back to our original article you will see that we hold most responsible those who supervised you. You think you have received great support from QUT. But in reality they have let you down. Hardly surprising given that your principal supervisor Geoff Portmann does not possess the formal qualification to mark an undergraduate essay. He does not have a degree. Moreover your co-supervisor Assoc Prof Alan McKee volunteers on the QUT website that his academic interests are “television, magazines, popular films, pornography, sexuality – anything trashy and downmarket. He is entitled to research downmarket trash, but it is hardly the best qualification for supervision in the area of disability. We should add here that both Portmann and McKee brought charges against us and this affair was never a case of Hookham and MacLennan against the poor lone defenseless PhD student.

    You accuse us of a deliberate and premeditated assault on your PhD candidacy and your career. You claim we have incited students to rally against you. These are untruths. Your supporters taped all the student demonstrations and you know that they were never aimed at you but expressed support for us against QUT. It is also a lie that we incited the students. You have brought charges to that effect against us and they still hang over us. Let us point out here Michael that students are free to make up their own mind. We are proud of their support but it was freely given. We do not see them as the pawns you obviously think they are.

    We are also proud of those members of the disability community who took part in the first ever demonstration by the disabled against an Australian University. That was a wonderful achievement for the “University for the Real World”. You make no mention of that demonstration. How surprising. Do you think we incited the disability community as well?

    Still what are a few untruths among poststructuralists like yourself who do not believe there is such a thing as the truth? You and your fellow poststructuralists have never understood when words lose their anchoring in a belief in the truth then our very humanity is in danger. Thus you tell us that you are very proud of your work. You call Darren and James “stars”. You say they are “really funny guys”. Repeatedly you have assured us that you love and respect them and would never exploit them. Yet at your seminar you said you wanted to offend and exploit! And the full title of your thesis was Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains.

    You tell us everyone had a ball in Boulia. But Michael this is just another strand in the web of weasel words that you and the Public Relations dept of QUT have spun so effortlessly. People need to avoid being trapped in the web and to look instead at your tape. What “friend” would expose another friend to ridicule? What “friend” would film James trying to put an iron board into a car and fail because he did not understand it had to be folded up?

    What friend would take James and Darren into a class of students and have the students laugh at them? You did and you claimed they got a “standing ovation”. That is another postructuralist maneuver! There was no standing ovation and people should go to youtube and watch Atle Nielsen’s account of what it was like to be in your class when you exhibited James and Darren.

    James longs for a girl friend. This should be a trigger for our pity and compassion, but no, in the brave new world of QUT research it is a source for comedy. In Unlikely Travellers James’ mother says that it would take a very special girl to be able to form a relationship with James. She is of course right. But she needs to ask herself if you are not exploiting her son’s needs when you sent James off into a pub carrying his horse head pencil to find a girl. Did you think, Michael, that James would meet that very special girl at 11.00 am in the morning in Boulia pub? Or were you laughing at the thought of him trying to find her? Would you Michael go up to strangers in Boulia and ask if there were any girls or if they ate cats? We don’t think so.

    It is clear now that it is beyond you to understand that these are not the acts of a true friend. You have clearly demonstrated that you are totally incapable of grasping that depicting James and Darren in the way you have done is humiliating for them. Instead you cast yourself in the role of victim and say that you are the one who has been humiliated. But this “Noonan as victim” argument is truly self-serving. You have been lionised at the Brisbane Film Festival. You have the full support of QUT. Unlike ourselves, you are free to argue the merits of your case without the spectre of disciplinary reprisal, free to go on to campus as you choose, free to use your QUT email address and free from the shame of suspension. All of our suffering – yours and ours – pales before the observation that it is Darren and James who have been laughed at while you their “friend” looked on and joined in the laughter. Fundamentally, it is not about you or us – it is about the disabled.
    You also claim that we have endangered the right to “controversial research”. Let us try and point out a simple logical error here. If we had not spoken up at your seminar, if we had not gone into print then there would have been no controversy. Duh! We have actually created the debate. The first response of you and your supervisors was not to debate us but to charge us and we were found guilty and suspended for 6 months. You and Portmann and McKee brought charges against us for a second time when we went into print again. Will you three bring more charges after this article? It is not controversial research that is in danger in this whole affair is the freedom of academics to speak out. We went into print and the full might of QUT was brought against us.

    Let us finish by returning to your seminar and two of the scenes that you are so proud of. Firstly the scene where Darren and James are responding to your question (not shown on the Courier Mail tape) about what would they do if a girl fancied them both. James struggles to answer this. He stands immobile, then his face twitches and he eventually stammers out “We would take turns”. There is laughter off camera, from you and someone else. At the confirmation we witnessed students and academics laugh at James’ face twitches and then explode into laughter when he said “Take turns’.

    You have described this scene as “Wonderful and funny”. There is nothing at all wonderful about it. To be charitable in the extreme this scene is very ordinary in aesthetic terms. Of course you are indulging in the typical hyperbole of show business, where the rule is the bigger the turkey you have on your hands the more you hype it up. But academia is not show business. Something more than hype should be expected from a PhD candidate and his supervisors.

    But to be fair to you, students, academics and you laughed at the taking turns sequence. So obviously you thought it funny. But what exactly is funny in this sequence? The idea that anyone could fancy both Darren and James? That James hopes to find a girlfriend? That he interprets your question through his experience of schooling where he would have been taught to resolve conflict by sharing? What about the face twitches? These did provoke laughter. At the confirmation you owned up to doubts about showing them, but you told us that James’ mother said it was ok to show them because that was the way James was. But is it ok to laugh at the way James is? And by extension to laugh at other people who are also different?

    The second sequence we want to deal with in detail is the scene with May the Aboriginal woman. It is morning in Boulia pub and May is quite clearly drunk. We pass no judgment on that at all. Indeed we are full of compassion for May. But once more you treated someone’s disability as an opportunity for more comical footage. So May drapes herself over James, grabs him kisses him to his obvious discomfort and your amusement. Have you given even a passing thought to what May’s family and people would now be feeling about this footage?

    Here you tell us you are “really proud of the work”. However when we described this scene in our original article on April 11 th you brought a charge against us of misrepresentation claiming that you had made it quite clear that you would never show that scene again. You repeated this charge at our disciplinary hearings. We were found guilty of this charge, Michael yet now you tell us of your pride. Why then did you bring a charge against us?

    Throughout this sorry affair it has become abundantly clear that very few at QUT will admit to understanding the damage done to the disability community by your work. That for us has been a major disappointment. However we know all too well the culture of fear and viciousness that prevails at QUT.

    Peter Coaldrake quoted Henry Kissinger’s remark that academic politics is so vicious because there is so little at stake. We grant the viciousness. Tell us about it! However we would point out that for the disabled and their families who love and support them there is a lot at stake when the disabled are laughed at and that is why we have spoken out against your research and your supervisors. What you and Portmann and McKee have done is to legitimize the ridicule and mockery of those with a disability. Thanks to your and QUT’s sniggering at the intellectually impaired it is again ‘cool’ to laugh at the disabled.

    John Hookham
    Gary MacLennan

  77. MacLennan and Hookham’s critique of post modernism in the Philistines article………

    “They can take this position because in the postmodern world there are no theories, no knowledge and no truth; there are only narratives, fictional stories, all told with bias.”

    I hope others can also see the irony in this.

    Mischievous and immoral trash produced undr the rubric of Post-Catholicist thought!


  78. I can’t let this drunken Murri business go unchallenged.

    Firstly, drunken Murris are not allowed in the Boulia Pub. The publican prides himself on his zero tolerance policy, which I have seen in action first hand.

    In Noonan’s film “Unlikely Travellers” the story is told of how Darren was once not allowed on a bus because the driver thought he was drunk. Darren speaks a bit differently to most people and the bus driver just assumed he was drunk.

    It is the same with Murris, and I suggest with Mac and Hook’s labelling of the woman drunk.

    An Aborigine in a pub? Of course she’s drunk.

    Aboriginal english is not the same as white english. Words are pronounced differently and different rules of grammar apply.

    The woman in the pub was speaking in what some may call “broken english” but she was not talking with any drunken slur.

    She was affectionate and she was drinking beer, as adults sometimes do in pubs.

    But she was not drunk.

    see also – my analysis of the Boulia pub scene

    I watched this footage with my partner who is a traditional owner of Boulia – Pitta Pitta – and she enjoyed the clip.

  79. So Hookham and Maclennan said that the public would be outraged by the terrible film clips that Noonan had presented. Guess what…the public has now seen them and love it. So where does that now leave them and their whole argument that the Phd should never have been allowed and that QUT and the supervisors are all immoral and evil.

    The two men from the film, their parents and disability support group have all condemned the actions of H & M publicly now.

    It is becoming clear that the whole eposide was a clever manipulation of the media and blogs by H & M in order to create embarrasment for QUT. Why would they do this, well there is obviously a lot of money to be made by getting paid out by QUT to keep quiet and go away.

    I think it would be described as media blackmail. Why else would you want to pursue two legal actions against QUT on something which has no factual basis?

    I hope that QUT has the guts to take this to court as it would be appalling to see taxpayer education money go to these two bullies. And whay has no one objected to the fact that they are currently on a 6 month taxpayer funded holiday. Sure they will have to pay it back if they loose, but in what other workplace can you get 6 months off fully paid just for disagreeing with the boss.

    By the way, Maclennans “handicapped child” is actually a grown man who has attended QUT. He is a fine, intelligent guy who I have met and in no way a “handicapped child”. If that is not an example of misrepresentation and manipulation then I don’t know what is.

    I think Noonan should sue them for defamation.

  80. The purpose of BushTelegraph is to promote worker solidarity.

    This means the focus is on the collective rather than on the individual.

    In much of the comment above, emphasis has been placed on the individual, not on the collective.

    Therefore I have decided to close the comments section of this article.

    Ian Curr
    10 September 2007

  81. P.S.

    I have been asked to re-open the comments section of this story.

    I am saddened by the effect this matter has had on the protagonists.

    When people start calling for blood, as they are now, it is time to stop.

    QUT management has got off scott free, and they made this controversy what it is, a bloody affair.

    There is too much stereotyping, I am not an academic, I have spent most of my working life in menial clerical work, I have had shit jobs and bad bosses but I am glad I never had to put up with the kind of sledging that goes on in academia.

    I have seen white collar workers behave badly, especially at the higher levels, but this is up there with the worst examples.

    The webstats demonstrate continuing interest in ‘Philistines …’ but the sledging is too rancorous, too far from solidarity among equals.

    For a better idea of what BT is about see ‘Your Rights at Work’

    Unless someone has a way of getting some kind of social justice in this dispute this comments section shall remain closed.

    Ian Curr

  82. The Free Market and the Social Divide in Education says:

    The Free Market and the Social Divide in Education

    By Trevor Cobbold (ACT spokesperson for Save Our Schools)

    Presentation to the National Public Education Forum
    Old Parliament House

    Canberra, 27-28 March 2009

    As Geoffrey Robertson has just said, education is a human right. Education for all without discrimination is an essential feature of a democracy. It is also a guarantee of democracy.

    However, the right to a successful education for all is being undermined by subjecting schooling to the market forces of competition, choice and privatisation. This program launched by John Howard and David Kemp is being maintained by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. They are extending it with the publication of tables of individual school results.

    The Prime Minister says that it is designed to get parents “to walk with their feet”; that is, to make the market work better. David Kemp used the same euphemism incessantly.

    The Prime Minister’s ultimate market discipline is to subject schools to a form of bankruptcy proceeding – schools that fail to improve will be subject to “tough action” that includes firing principals and senior staff and closing schools. This is something Kemp could only dream of.

    The Government’s approach presents some startling paradoxes.
    Rudd’s market paradoxes

    Paradox 1

    The first paradox is that the Government has given John Howard and David Kemp another term in office.

    Labor strongly opposed Kemp’s major initiatives such as the massive expansion of private school funding under the SES model, fewer restrictions on new private schools and reporting the results of individual schools. Yet, Labor has maintained these market-based policies, and is extending them by publishing tables of school results.
    Julia Gillard’s “new progressive approach to schools” is to implement Kemp’s goal to efface the difference between the public and private sectors. According to Gillard, “the old progressive assumptions about the roles of different schools and the nature of disadvantage don’t hold”.

    Advocacy of the special role of the public sector to ensure universal access, social equity and democracy in education is now disparaged as a “sterile” and “fractious” debate, just as it was by Howard and Kemp.

    As under Howard, private schools continue to share proportionately in all new initiatives such as the new infrastructure program, despite their much lower proportions of disadvantaged, Indigenous and special education students. They even get a windfall gain on these students because their government funding is already linked to government school costs.

    Who would have thought that a government that sees itself as progressive would be completing the work of its conservative predecessor? This is the real revolution in the Labor’s education policy.

    Paradox 2
    The second paradox is that the Rudd Government is extending the market in education at a time when markets are discredited as never before in the past 30 years. As one of leading voices of free markets, Financial Times economics writer, Martin Wolf, said on 8 March:
    Another ideological god has failed. The assumptions that ruled policy and politics over three decades suddenly look as outdated as revolutionary socialism.

    “Governments bad; deregulated markets good”: how can this faith escape unscathed ….

    A Financial Times editorial on the future of capitalism opined on the same day:

    The credit crunch has destroyed faith in the free market ideology that has dominated Western economic thinking for a generation.

    The Prime Minister himself has joined the chorus of criticism. He has criticised the “neo-liberal extremism” of market fundamentalism that has landed the world economy in its current mess. He says that “unchecked market forces have brought capitalism to the precipice” and that “the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed”.

    Yet, he has shut his eyes to the failure of the market in education. He doesn’t even seem to be conscious of the paradox.

    Paradox 3

    Another paradox is that the Government is looking to the failing English and American market models, especially New York City, rather than the most successful education system in the world – Finland – which has rejected the market approach. Australian students are 6-12 months ahead of English, US and New York City students but about a year behind Finnish students in reading, mathematics and science. It is clear where we should be looking.

    It is said that Finland is not a good model because it has a relatively homogenous population and faces an easier education task than Australia. Australia must look to England and the US because they have more diverse populations. However, the evidence shows this is a furphy.

    Australia has a higher proportion of immigrant students than these countries, yet it has the best results for immigrant students of all OECD countries, and it is well ahead of those in the UK and the US. Children from immigrant families perform as well as native born Australians whereas there are large gaps between the achievement of immigrant and native born students in the UK and the US.

    Australia’s most disadvantaged students have much higher average outcomes in reading, mathematics and science than those in the UK and the US. Australian disadvantaged students are 6 months or more ahead of those in the UK and 18 months ahead of those in the US.

    But, Australia can do much better. Our results are much lower than those of the most disadvantaged students in Finland. Finnish disadvantaged students are some 12-18 months ahead of the Australian students. Overall, Finland’s most disadvantaged students are over 18 months ahead of those in the UK and about 2½ years or more ahead of those in the US.

    Finland also has the lowest achievement gap between rich and poor students in the OECD. In contrast, the US has the largest gap and the UK has the third largest.

    All this suggests that we have something to learn from Finland in its rejection of the market in education. The lesson is not to copy – but to examine, evaluate, learn and adapt as required.

    Paradoxically, this is what many educators and governments in the US are starting to do. For example, last week the Christian Science Monitor reported that many political and education leaders are studying Finland’s approach in order to improve their education systems.

    But we remain stuck with a discredited model because a blinkered Federal Education Minister cannot see behind the halo of her hero, Joel Klein in New York City.

    Paradox 4
    It is paradoxical also that Julia Gillard preaches the virtues of evidence-based policies but ignores her own advice when it comes to extending the market in education. It shows the triumph of ideology over evidence.

    Major research studies demonstrate that reporting school results and greater competition and choice do not lead to significant
    improvements in student achievement. As Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and the co-author of Freakonomics, Steven Levitt, says of school choice and competition:

    “the theory sounds great, but evidence confirming it has been hard to find”. A major study by the London School of Economics concludes that “choice and competition does not seem to be generally effective in raising standards”.

    Only last week, a major new study on charter schools published by the RAND Corporation found against the two key arguments of market advocates. It confirms the finding of several other studies that student achievement in charter schools does not differ substantially from those of traditional public schools. It also concludes that competition from charter schools does not increase student achievement in nearby traditional public schools.

    The Minister has failed to support her case with evidence. The best she can do is to cite the misleading and selective evidence used by the Commonwealth Treasury.

    Paradox 5
    A further paradox is that the Federal Education Minister argues that reporting individual school results is necessary to provide transparency about school performance. Yet, she is not applying the same standard to herself. She has restricted public information and debate about her proposal. It is all being decided under the cloak of secrecy.

    The Minister has denied teacher and parent organisations, as well as the general public, any opportunity to examine and discuss the proposed arrangements. This is not the open government promised by the Prime Minister.

    The Minister has taken her cues from her champion, Joel Klein, on how to force through controversial measures without public debate. Secrecy and avoidance of public debate are characteristic of how Klein has implemented change in New York City’s schools. There too, teacher and parent organisations were excluded from the process.

    Paradox 6

    It also paradoxical that a Government which espouses the rhetoric of social inclusion has weakened national equity goals while extending the market in education.

    Under Gillard’s stewardship, national equity goals have been substantially weakened. The new Melbourne Declaration removes the key goal of achieving social justice in schooling which was in the previous Declaration. It also weakened the commitment to eliminating achievement gaps for disadvantaged students and other social groups.

    It also switches the emphasis from equity in student outcomes to equity in access to education. Offering a commitment to equitable access to schools, rather than a commitment to equity in outcomes, has always been the way out for conservatives. Now Rudd and Gillard are singing from the same song sheet, yet again.

    The head of Nokkia, Finland’s most successful and well-known company, said in the Financial Times this week that the Nordic way of capitalism is a model for the world in the current crisis because of its social solidarity system and its good, egalitarian education system. These provide the answers that are needed he said.

    It suggests that weakening Australia’s commitment to an egalitarian education system in the new national goals portends grave consequences for Australia’s future prosperity.
    The social divide in Australian education
    Already, Australia has a large achievement gap between rich and poor by comparison with other high performing OECD countries. This, together with the gaps between outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, and between successful immigrant groups and low-performing immigrant groups, is the major challenge facing Australian education today.

    If you have any doubt about this, just look at the evidence on educational divides in NSW compiled by a recent Auditor-General’s report. It shows that the proportion of children in the south-western and western Sydney who do not reach national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy is ten times that in the northern suburbs. Yet, they all have access to education.

    The latest PISA results show that nearly 25% of 15 year-old students from low socio-economic families in Australia do not achieve expected international proficiency standards compared to 5% of high SES students. In contrast, the proportion of high SES students achieving the highest proficiency levels is about 5 times that of low SES students. On average, 15 year-old students from low SES families are 2-2½ years behind their high SES counterparts. But, they do have access to education.

    Large achievement gaps also exist between girls from low and high income families, just as there are large gaps for boys. But, they have access to education.

    About 40% of 15 year-old Indigenous students do not achieve expected international proficiency standards compared to 13% of all Australian students. On average, 15 year-old Indigenous students are over 2-2½ years behind non-Indigenous students.

    The Government’s response to the socio-economic divide in education is the National Partnership Agreement between the Federal, State and Territory Governments to inject $3 billion into 1500 disadvantaged government and private schools over the next 6 years.
    This looks impressive. It amounts to about $330 000 per year for each school. Spread over an average school size of say 250 students, it means an additional $1320 per student – just over 10% of current average expenditure per student in government schools, which is $11 874 according to the latest figures published by the Productivity Commission.

    But, this is far less than what is required. Extensive research shows that the funding required for low achieving disadvantaged students to achieve adequate levels of achievement is two to three times the cost of educating an average student– or something like 20-30 times what the Government has on offer. No wonder they have shifted the goal posts.

    What will happen of course in 5 or 10 years time is that someone will review this program, find it didn’t work to any significant extent, then the right wing think tanks will jump on it to argue that money doesn’t matter in schooling and funding for the disadvantaged will be seen as a waste of taxpayer funds.

    A fundamental contradiction in policy
    The Government’s approach to education is fatally contradictory. Extending the market in education and improving social equity are incompatible policies. Inevitably, it is equity which loses out, as it has in England and the US. Instead of improving student achievement, market-oriented school systems lead to greater social segregation and exacerbate achievement gaps in schooling.

    Publication of tables of school results represents a critical stage in the introduction of a market in education. It could well tip the balance against the public system by misrepresenting its performance and giving succour to politicians and others who want to shift people out of the public system and reduce the taxpayer commitment to public education.

    Until now, public education has managed to hold its own as federal and state governments have chipped away remorselessly at its democratic task for over a decade now. Its resilience in the face of a multi-pronged attack is due in no small part to the overall quality of teaching in government schools, the commitment of most families to their local school and to the egalitarian values of most Australians.
    But, now there is a real threat to public education. Just listen to the words this week of two experts on the state of education in the UK and the US, experts who can hardly be called left-wing radicals – sorry, I should have said “old progressives”.

    Former head of the NSW Board of Studies and now director of the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, Gordon Stanley, urged Australia not to make the mistakes of the UK and the US in ranking schools.

    We could well end up with a similar situation to the UK, where you get a whole industry created around improving performance on the tests rather than necessarily improving students’ learning skills.

    He said that in the US there had been an “enormous manipulation of data” since schools were asked to show “adequate yearly progress” and it is corrupting the professional process.

    Former Assistant Secretary of Education to President George Bush Snr., Diane Ravitch, questioned whether the New York City public education system will survive the “embrace of big money” and the market model being imposed by Julia Gillard’s hero, Joel Klein.
    At some point the music and the upheaval will stop. But when it does, will there still be a public school system? Or will the schools all be run by hedge fund managers, dilettantes, and Education Management Organizations?

    These are the prospects we face. What the Rudd Government education policies promise is not progress – but a step backwards. They are a threat to egalitarianism and social solidarity. They will lead to greater educational divides, which will flow on into greater social divides as they have in England and the United States.

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