Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dennis Ferguson Dilemma

The broader context of the Dennis Ferguson story is that as a culture, we do not know what to do with the mentally ill, the criminally insane, or the radically neurologically different, and we know damn well that there are no easy answers.

We do not believe in dedicated psychiatric hospitals. Yet we dump people with psychiatric problems in public housing with who knows what support. If public housing fills up with enough mentally ill, aren't we going to end up with Claytons Psychiatric Hospitals, the psychiatric hospitals you have when you don't believe in having them, which means psychiatric hospitals with no services, no staff, no central office, no resources, no nothing. Apologies to the advocates for the mentally ill, but nothing describes it better than Free Range Psychiatric Hospitals

Both David Borger and today Barry O'Farrell have been grandstanding on this issue. You have to feel sorry for them, because whichever way you look, there are no easy answers, but leading populist stampedes, and giving aid and comfort to lynch mobs does neither of them credit.

Predictably, the vigilante role of the gutter press is despicable. How's this for a title from the Daily Telegraph: " Paedophile: Beware of the devil Dennis Ferguson next door"

Meanwhile, Callan Park, a sacred space, some say, for the mentally ill, is slipping out of the public's grasp. Here is an opportunity to do something creative, to create supported homes with communal facilities, perhaps onsite employment opportunities and support in place.

DH Comments on SMH Website here

Public Housing tenants in my experience are extraordinarly understanding, patient with and tolerant of their troubling neighbours, despite the fact that public housing estates have become dumping grounds for mentally ill people, drug addicts, and released prisoners, without sufficient investment in support services for them. Part of the reason is a decade's neglect of public housing by the Howard Govt, [who over its tenure ripped $3 billion out of the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement which funds the states social housing programs, and led to the current triage policy targetting housing to "those most in need"]. Partly it's the red tape associated with setting up the necessary support services, with years of pilot projects and evaluation reports. Nevertheless we as tenants understand better than most, and accept with good grace, that everyone has a right to accommodation.

There is no easy answer, but a decent society will not get off on hounding a few unfortunates while taking a "beggar my neighbour" approach, ie refusing to pay the taxes that support adequate solutions.


Andrew Elder said...

Nice attempt to avoid the issue by getting all vague. You can take the helicopter view all you like but sooner or later you're going to run out of fuel and have to deal with issues on the ground.

If Howard had doubled the Federal-State Housing agreement every year for his period in office, and Rudd had doubled irt again, Ferguson would still be an impost on NSW that it doesn't need. We haven't imported criminals from other jurisdictions since 1840. Ferguson is not "part of the community" of this state at all. Note that selfish old trout quoted in that article: he's not a drug dealer and he's not molesting me, so fuck everyone else.

Child molestors who flout the conditions of their release by using fake names to deal with children can't be integrated into communities containing children. The governments of two states now have to find such a community: prison was one such but as the State Government has taken on the challenge to accommodate this problem from interstate, the onus is on it to do so responsibly.

What it has done is two things. First, it has denied a finite resource to residents of this state whose need for accommodation is no less than Ferguson's, but who lack his commitment to get his jollies at the expense of others. Second, it has basically given up on governing NSW - not managing public resources to best effect but taunting the Liberals by dumping a toxic presence in a Liberal seat (titter!).

Don't try and equate Borger and O'Farrell. Borger volunteered to take on Queensland's problem and make it his own. He's one of Labor's best people, and he's not fit to govern: O'Farrell would be a fool not to point this out.

Oh, and as for using this issue to try and draw attention to unrelated but no less real issues in public housing: this makes resolution of such issues less likely, not more so. I realise that evasions and disingenuousness by public figures corrupts the public debate, but when DH sounds like some absurd Rees Government drone ("You're missing the bigger picture, Quentin"), you know that corruption has gone far and deep. Piss off Ferguson back to Queensland, and take Borger and Rees with you.

DH said...

Andrew, what would you do if you were were Housing Minister? What hubris to assert that Borger is not fit to govern based on this one very thorny ethical, moral, and political issue.

And what would you have DH say? The bottom line is that if a person is unredeemable, then we may as well bring back the death penalty. Is that what you want?

The D in DH does not stand for Defarge, and she is damned if she's going to be standing at the head of any mob with a pitchfork, baying for blood.

So why don't we all just calm down shall we?

But alright, you've called DH on her hypocrisy. If a known paedophile were to be moved in next door to DH, she would be very afraid. Perhaps then she would be singing a very different tune...


I too hate the witch-hunt mentality that has emerged around Ferguson. It is a primitive, knee jerk reaction that makes me feel sick. It must be horrible to be on the receiving end of it. A very tired and slightly depressed looking Tania Plibesek was a voice of reason on ABC Q&A tonight when members of the audience called for Ferguson to be castrated. She rightly pointed out that pedophilia was not primarily a sexual act but one of power and control. But public housing authorities are into 'power and control'. They must be 'housophiles'! And if you're a houso, they try to screw you too!!

Andrew Elder said...

I said very clearly what I'd do, and here it is again: look for a community without children, and failing that, shunt Ferguson back to Queensland. He's a Queensland problem. Borger didn't have to accept Queensland problems as though they were NSW problems.

I'm perfectly calm, and nor am I baying for blood. I said that we ought not take on other states' problems as though they were our own. I said that random Queenslanders ought not jump the considerable queue for public housing. You still haven't addressed that latter point and I think you should.

It must be horrible to be on the receiving end of a witch-hunt, but it is also horrible to be sexually abused, and to think that your community cannot protect itself from sexual predators without recourse to the lynch mob.

There are no easy answers but a) sympathy for Ferguson is misplaced and b) no, this is not your opportunity to get long-neglected houso issues into the media spotlight. Sorry.

DH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garry Mallard, National Tenant Support Network said...


Ferguson is not a "Queensland paedophile" as has been suggested. We are not a nation of closed borders. Nor are we genetically disposed or endemic to any particular state. Ferguson is, if one must apply a label, an Australian paedophile. He is free to live in whatever state/territory he wishes, notwithstanding any travel restrictions that may have been placed upon him as a condition of his parole. Once resident in NSW - and for the purpose of this situation 'resident' can be read as 'present' - he is entitled to apply for public housing in NSW, if he meets the criteria.

The main function of public housing - under current policy - is to house those who, for whatever reason, are unable to find and maintain accommodation in the private sector. Lets see now, a man hunted by media and angry, poorly informed mobs...mobs whose ONLY source of information about Ferguson is the aforementioned and wholly trustworthy media -- a man who has coffins delivered to him and firebombs found in his yard -- a man who "law abiding" citizens have promised to torment, harass and otherwise subject to relentless abuse and attention until they have him out -- a man who, to anyone playing with a full deck of their own, is obviously afflicted with an intellectual disability and mental illness quite distinct from his perverse attraction to children -- a many whom even the Housing Minister and the Premier have sought to see out on his ear...a man who under all these circumstances has absolutely zero chance of finding and maintaining a tenancy in the private sector, and you are thick enough to wonder why he is eligible for public housing?

It's YOU, you and the media with your madness and obsessions, YOU have MADE him the MOST eligible human being in all Christendom! Congratulations, you must feel so proud.

For the record, when he was allocated the home in Ryde it was done in consultation with numerous agencies whose job it was to 'support' him. For support, read "watch" and monitor him. Here's a reality check for the people of Ryde. Until the moment you assembled your mobs and started to complain, you were, on balance of probability, safer from his perversions than any other community in the nation. That's not to say your community was immune from the influence of paedophiles in general - they were doubtless among your mates in the mob. But safe from Ferguson. Why? Ferguson has the highest profile of any criminal in Australia. People are not just watching him, they are actively looking for excuses to put him away again. Let me just point out here, that it's a matter of record that he has been lumbered with a number of charges since his release from prison, all of which he was acquitted of. Sloppy police work no doubt, but I digress... He enjoys a level of infamy not seen for many years and for this reason, should he be driven to offend again, surly he's unlikely to do it on his own doorstep? Isn't it more likely he'll offend somewhere where police won't knock on his door before looking elsewhere? Of course it is! If he is going to offend again, it will be somewhere other than Ryde.

I'm stunned to think that anyone thinks finding digs for him in the boonies, far from schools -- and children for that matter -- offers any sort of security. Do they think him too stupid to buy a train ticket, or board a bus? Has a phobia about public transport and Taxis I've not read about, does he?

If people don't like his ilk, they should lobby for tougher sentencing, or the return of the death penalty -- it matters little which, but it does matter that they should have the courage of their convictions and work to develop social policy to address their concerns. Mobs spoon fed every 'fact' by the least reliable source of information in the cosmos - the media - should not be permitted to engage in this process however, for they have already proven themselves too gullible; too stupid to be trusted with such a weighty responsibility.


I hate lynch mobs and witch-hunters of any description. They made it impossible for Ferguson to stay at Ryde and the last thing this government would want is an 'incident' like burning of Ferguson at the stake, or worse still, burning down his Housing NSW townhouse!! It was a fight he could not win and he was lucky to have someone to stand by him, and someone with courage and conviction.