Ethics & Sustainability
Since May 2016, I’ve become acutely aware that I am under surveillance, day and night. My privacy has been stolen from me and I’m not happy about it.
Since I am a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record, I can only assume that those responsible for tracking my movements and associations are doing so for a combination of political and/or economic reasons. While I can understand the private sector investing in the surveillance of politically active people in this way, I have deep ethical objections to the use of any public resources in support of such a campaign. I suspect that many other concerned Australian citizens would share this sentiment. I won’t speculate as to who might be coordinating these efforts, but I will say that it is comprehensive. I suspect the techniques used have been honed over many decades, including through the monitoring of progressive social and environmental movements, including the opposition to the Vietnam war, apartheid, nuclear weapons and the animal rights movement.
If you’re shaking your head in disbelief, or flatly dismissing my claim as delusional, I can assure you that I have seen enough and corroborated with others to have total confidence in my own observations and analyses. I know other people who have had similar experiences and made similar observations during their investigative, whistle-blowing or political work. While the surveillance I am presently experiencing itself is passive (ie. bystanders placed in locations everywhere I go, augmented by the monitoring of my communications) the effect is pervasive, intrusive and effectively inescapable. My only refuges are private residences and the psychological impact is pronounced. My life has been studied to such an extent that all my movements are either anticipated or intercepted, even when travelling in regional areas.
Perhaps I have my own curiosity to blame?
Back in 2011, I began full-time work on my first documentary feature film, Cuttlefish Country (soon to be completed). Through this work I have explored the history of industrial development in the Spencer Gulf region of South Australia, and I have come to understand the politics surrounding major industrial development. I have also gained insights into relationships between major corporations and the public sector. I have discovered entrenched cultures of secrecy, enshrined in law, which in my opinion, betray the public interest.
In response, I have lodged over 100 Freedom of Information requests, across a range of topics with South Australia’s Department of Premier and Cabinet in 2016 alone. I have also lodged further requests with several Federal departments and agencies. You can see these on the website RightToKnow.org.au, where my applications and their results are published into the public domain I have been fortunate enough to have been supported by a small but very generous group of donors. They have assisted me with paying the administrative costs associated with obtaining the deliberations and decision-making processes of various government bodies and releasing them into the pubic domain. I refer to this work as public interest research.
In 2015, I became a member of the press gang attending to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission in South Australia, as an independent documentary filmmaker. I also participated in the Commission’s processes as a South Australian citizen, writing submissions during the establishment of its Terms of Reference, during the Commission itself, and more recently to the South Australian parliament, where a joint committee is considering the Commission’s findings.
Since May 2016, when the Royal Commission handed over its report to the Government of South Australia, the monitoring of my activities became too obvious to falsely interpret. I’ve had cars lurking in my street, cars parked on roadsides with drivers in them anticipating or logging my movements, and a rolling stock of faces everywhere I go… from supermarkets, to cafes and public parks.
So here I am… documentary filmmaker, public interest researcher and full-time surveillance target.
I can no longer find peace in any public place… but this has only strengthened my resolve to press on with my inquiries.
And of course, I’ll continue to respond creatively. Here’s a poem I wrote yesterday, inspired by the events of 2016:
TOO FAMILIAR I see the way you look at me with your cover story and your hollow eyes. Playing it cool behind shades that reflect attention and hide your inhumanity. You tell me you're not the type but I'm no fool. There is no 'type'. Man, woman young, old silent, smug. Bold, arrogant, precocious. Shopper, jogger, cyclist, driver, gardener, fisher, shadow lurker. I've seen it all, including your soul: ghoulish, twisted, perfect. You log the lives of innocents drawing their light into your darkness to feed the vampires. I mentioned your eyes now darting sideways, hand on face, a stretch, a yawn a twitching leg. Unfamiliar ground. You want to run, compelled to stay. I'm a body to you, a target. I get that. It's nothing personal. You have a job to do.
Dan Monceaux, 2 October 2016.
Since embarking on the production of my first feature-length documentary film Cuttlefish Country a year ago, my life been dedicated, broadly speaking, to investigating the topic of water justice in South Australia. While we initially approached the topic from a marine biodiversity perspective (through examining the potential impact of large-scale desalination plants on Gulf systems) the scope of our enquiry expanded rapidly to include groundwater use and to a lesser extent, catchment management. For the benefit of readers beyond our borders, South Australia boasts a reputation for being the driest state on the driest continent on this blue planet of ours. Needless to say, in SA, water management has the potential make or break the health of our environment, our primary industries’ productivity and the sustainability of our towns and cities.
I am very pleased to have met many intelligent, articulate and activated experts and concerned citizens through the course of making Cuttlefish Country (the production is ongoing), and am looking forward to attending tonight’s Water Justice Forum in Adelaide. I expect to listen and learn from the wisdom of others and broaden my knowledge on the history of water resource management in SA. I also expect to hear some though-provoking visions for water-wise future in my home state. If you’re in Adelaide and reading this, I sincerely hope to see you there.
The event is co-presented by the Water Action Coalition and The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, 50-55 North Terrace, Adelaide. Doors at 5.30pm for a prompt 6pm start. The panel discussion will feature short presentations from each speaker, followed by a question and answer session. The event is officially described as follows:
The natural water resources of the River Murray are critical to the environment, economy and population of South Australia. Any Basin Plan that fails to ensure that South Australia receives a fair share of the water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin, for consumptive use and to sustain its precious environments, presents a significant threat to the rights of this state. In addition, South Australia’s share will only be truly fair if it is sufficient to allow for the full range of natural variability of climate cycles, the projected impacts of climate change and the requirements of a growing population.
This forum seeks to discuss the legal matters of those rights at a community level, with an emphasis on South Australia, its history, the problems with sharing those rights and to discuss what can be done to achieve water justice for all South Australians.
The forum speakers will focus on the following topics:
- Brief History of Water Allocation & Creation of Property Rights as Water Shares – Professor Jennifer McKay, UniSA Professor of Business Law
- What are the Problems with Sharing Water between & within States? – Professor John Williams, University of Adelaide Dean of Law & Adam Webster, 2012 Fulbright Scholar winner
- What can be done to Achieve Water Justice for all South Australians, including indigenous Australians? – Shaun Berg, Berg Lawyers
The event is free to attend. You an register your attendance here. For full event details, visit the Hawke Centre’s website. For those unable to attend we will be posting videos from this event on our Youtube channel in the following fortnight.
When a playwright frames a fictitious story in a current, local, real-world socio-political issue, the stakes are raised for both the presenter and the audience. In the case of Emily Steel’s original play Sepia, the environmentalists are the ones who come out of it with ink on their faces.
The play Sepia’s name is derived from the Latin name of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish, Sepia apama. These animals have developed fame and notoriety in the last two decades for their mass breeding aggregations between Point Lowly and the town of Whyalla in South Australia’s Upper Spencer Gulf. In 2007, plans were announced by BHP Billiton to expand the Olympic Dam mine north of Roxby Downs. To satisfy the mine’s increasing thirst, a desalination plant was decided upon as their future primary water source. The desalination plant’s location, and the return of its waste brine back into the waters off Point Lowly were approved by the South Australian State Government and Australian Federal Government in October of 2011. The play was in development at the time, and that event provides the starting block for the fictitious story of Neil, Emma and Matty.
A little background… the short video below from Naturescope introduces the Giant Australian Cuttlefish and some of their vulnerabilities.
Playwright Steel and director Nescha Jelk establish the audience’s perception of Neil, the play’s central character, before the lights even raise. He sits in his Whyalla home wearing snorkelling gear, in the murky waters of depression after the October Government approvals. Projected video cuttlefish swim by behind him, and when his mouth opens, the portrait of a fool is rapidly coloured.
As the play commences, it is clear that Neil’s passion for protecting the cuttlefish governs his actions. Despite his imposed utility as the ‘fool’, no laugh-out-loud comedy ensues. He is a tragic figure, who has failed threefold: in running a business, keeping his family together, and protecting the cuttlefish from industrial development. Neil is a former Company man, who broke from the fold to invest in the promise of a burgeoning tourism industry in Whyalla. Now he is wallowing in the rotten fruits of his labours.
Presented in RiAus’ unspectacular basement, the play viewed like a draft rather than a finished work. The relationship between the dreamer Neil (Rory Walker) and his conservative wife Emma (Holly Myers) was improbable- devoid of chemistry, and addled with condescension and resentment. Ultimately the pragmatic, conservative voice of Emma resounded as the voice of reason. The one who took a job in accounts, and left Neil and his ideals behind. Was this evidence of the writer’s own prejudice, a representation of her perception of the Australian majority, or was it a creative defence mechanism, an over-compensation against any possible accusation of siding with environmentalists?
Politically, the scope of this work was frustratingly narrow. The writer isolated the desalination plant from the wider impacts of the Olympic Dam mine expansion, and the mining boom which lies beyond it. A single description of the mine becoming ‘the biggest uranium mine in the world’ threatened to open another juicy can of worms, but shied away from the challenge. There was no mention of community action, grass-roots activism or public protest. Whyalla was portrayed true to the Adelaide-centric stereotype, as a BHP company town with a steelworks and a future desalination plant. The State Government’s agenda to heavily industrialise the Point Lowly peninsula with an explosives factory, diesel storage, new refineries and an expanded port facility right through the cuttlefish’s breeding reef was strangely absent. By isolating the issue of the desalination plant and hinging the play on it post-approval, the play creates the impression that we will all have to ‘wait and see’ what happens next. In reality, the desalination plant’s operation is 7-10 years away in BHP Billiton’s timeline, and proposals for Port Bonython expansion and other industrial developments are stacking up around it now. There are clear and present opportunities for public opinion to influence the cuttlefish’s future, and to discourage action by accident or design, is unhelpful to those fighting for their cause.
Dramatically, the play was at times painful to watch. The director failed to induce the ebb and flow of pace and emotional intensity the script desperately required to maintain interest, resulting in performances which ambled along monotonously. Over-acting was another major problem. Despite the furthest extremities of the audience being less than five metres from the players, Neil and Matt’s (Matthew Gregan) performances were large enough to be seen from an upstairs gallery.
Sepia is essentially a domestic drama, with a few factoids, crude stereotypes and a conservative bias thrown in for spice. Yes, it takes a real world issue, but it simplifies it, freezes it in time and cooly skates over the surface. Once upon a time, playwrights represented threats to the establishment, presenting radical, progressive ideas and challenging the status quo. If that is the brand of theatre that you yearn for, you won’t find it in Sepia.
For a more detailed study of the issues touched upon by Sepia, visit Cuttlefish Country.