When the serial child molester Dennis Ferguson attempted to move into the leafy Sydney suburb of Ryde, he defiantly stated that the only way he would ever leave the suburb was in a wooden box. Obligingly, a local father who was handy with the tools made a coffin and placed it on his verandah.
It was the kind of vigilantism I could never endorse, only because I’m not very good at woodwork. Crude as they were, the sentiments expressed by that local Dad were pretty much in keeping with mine, especially as I was also living in the area and my kids were then aged three and six.
It was one of those bracing moments in life when reality crashes up against your philosophical views. Most of my neighbours in this part of Sydney were, like me, pretty small-l liberal in their attitude towards things, taking a libertarian view of issues and thinking people should be allowed to live their lives as they wish. Not so with this bastard, a man who has spent the whole of his dysfunctional life playing cat and mouse games with the saps in the legal system who have given him second, third and fourth chances despite the fact that he is not just incapable of but hostile to rehabilitation.
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Just to be absolutely clear, smashing convicted paedophile and child rapist Dennis Ferguson over the head with a medicine ball is not the ideal way to respond to his presence in a city gymnasium.
That said, Ferguson’s presence in a city gymnasium is not an ideal situation either.
Especially when he just sits there, dressed in a business suit, not even exercising at all, but outside at the pool where he can gaze at dozens of primary school kids who are learning to swim. Especially when he times his visits to coincide with the swimming lessons, either the primary school kids in the mornings, or the high school students when he visits in the afternoon.
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There will have been a lot of breakfasts ruined in Sydney this morning after a newspaper decided to publish a photo of convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson sitting on a beach in budgies. In the background are some adults - and some children playing in the sand and surf.
Children just like the three Ferguson once kidnapped and sexually assaulted at a motel. The kids in the photo have become unwitting visual props in a campaign to portray as normal this man who is indisputably one of the most reviled characters in Australia.
Ferguson is on the beach with Brett Collins, a prisoner rehabilitation advocate who has been his most visible supporter. The photo, the Sydney Morning Herald comments, could be “to make us think more deeply and carefully about our reaction to Ferguson’s presence in the community”. A fine idea, but it shouldn’t be done through a photo of this man on a beach with kids.
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It is just a matter of time before we once again see an outraged local community - concerned Mums, Dads and Grandparents – holding placards and rallying against having convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson as a neighbour.
It’s happened at least 4 times in the last 5 years, and the scene will be replayed over and over. Each time we see public opinion divide into two camps – the larger one believing that this repeat-offender ought not be living in any community with children (and certainly not theirs), and the smaller camp decrying vigilantism and claiming the guy has a right to live in the community having “done his time”.
But let’s stop for a moment and look at the concept of “having done his time”.
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There are many things that trouble me about convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson.
There is the debate about whether such offenders are ever capable of rehabilitation (I doubt it). There is the debate about whether we are doing enough to address the causal factors that hard wire this evil behaviour, transforming a person into a predator that destroys young people’s lives.
But one issue that seems to have escaped attention is how can a convicted paedophile from Queensland move to NSW and get himself a five year lease in public housing, while almost 40,000 more worthy tenants in NSW are waiting in the queue.
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Federal Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek reckons she’d be pretty uncomfortable about convicted pedophile Dennis Ferguson living in her street.
Ms Plibersek, who has young children, told Punch TV she would alter the family’s regime if she learned someone like Ferguson had moved into her community.
You can see what she called an old-fashioned take on the subject in the video of this week’s episode.
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A funny thing happened on the way out of the glamorous Punch TV studios yesterday. As we stood in the carpark waiting for Penbo to remember where he’d left the Commodore, a heavy-looking dude called out: “Oy, what’s this show The Punch and how come I’m not on it?”
It was world cruiserweight champion Danny Green, stepping out of the shadows with his hand extended and a mischievous grin spreading across his face.
We explained that despite Penbo and Tors being, ahem, avid fight fans, it was in fact a politics and current affairs show (although I reckon there’s a spot for Greeny on the panel somewhere down the track.)
The mood was upbeat until we got around to the topic of the paedophile Dennis Ferguson, whose situation we had just spent a fair slice of the show discussing with Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek.
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I’m trying to think of an intro that won’t make me sound like a Dirty Harry-style vigilante. But I can’t so I’ll just admit it – if serial paedophile Dennis Ferguson moved into my suburb I’d be out on the street with the rest of the neighbours demanding he be kicked out immediately, and asking why he was ever let out of jail in the first place.
With one exception, which I’ll deal with further down, all the wise-headed counsel against mob hysteria is coming from people who haven’t just discovered that their new next-door neighbour kidnapped and raped three children.
Or that he’s been charged with other aberrant or disturbing conduct since then too. And is still quite obviously as mad as a meat axe, a genuinely scary-looking weirdo who would probably be safer and happier if he were still in custody, rather than popping up in an endless series of new locations across our continent, on every occasion confronted by parents who become frightened and angry when they realise who’s just moved in.
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Sometimes there really is no simple answer. Convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson has been ordered to move on yet again from a suburb filled with families who are understandably uncomfortable with his presence in their midst.
Ferguson is Australia’s least wanted man - free but not free - finished his sentence but still imprisoned in the public outrage that follows him where ever he goes.
And after years of shunting him around the country, supplying him false names and fresh starts until he’s once again outed and driven out of town, a permanent solution has not yet shown itself.
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