Monthly Archives: July 2010

Climate change: more action, less hysteria, please

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past couple of years, fearfully watching the passing shadows of the outside world, you’d be aware that there is a raging ‘debate’ about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. On one side are the scientists who claim that man’s activities on the planet are causing climate change, very much for the worse. On the other are those who claim that anthropogenic climate change is, at best, a scam and, at worst, a conspiracy of the United Nations to implement a world government (seriously).

In addition to the supportive comments on the many online articles, there have been significantly more ‘anti’ comments, ranging from “Ho hum, it’s just a scare campaign” to “If you say one more thing about I’m gonna eat your children and rape your dog.”* See, for example, the five part series written by Clive Hamilton for ABC’s The Drum (this link will take you to Mr Hamilton’s bio page. The relevant articles are dated 22 February 2010 to 26 February 2010).

What amazes me, in addition to the sheer nastiness of those in the denialist** camp, is that so many apparently average people are experts on climate science. If they are not experts themselves they claim to know someone who is or cite articles written by, ahem, ‘reliable’ sources such as journalists Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman, or non-scientists such as Lord Monckton. When those sources have bothered to base their tirades on factual information, they’ve often selectively cited (or misquoted) legitimate science papers. Sometimes the names of real scientists, such as Ian Plimer, pop up, but it’s notable that they are usually not climate scientists.***

While much of the science is still being debated amongst the pro camp, mostly over the details, the consensus of reputable scientists with qualifications in relevant fields is that anthropogenic climate change is real and we need to do something about it. However, there is also appears to be evidence to support the theory that a changing climate is part of the natural cycle of our 4.5 billion year old planet.

So who do we believe? Do we shrug and think there’s nothing we can do about it so why worry? Or do we try to minimise the damage (assuming it’s now too late to actually ‘fix’ the problem)?

I’m not an expert in any scientific field, but for me common sense alone says that both theories are probably correct: climate change not only occurs naturally (the ice ages came and went before homo sapiens walked the earth), but all the crap we pump into the air and oceans and the rate at which deforestation occurs will logically have an impact on the climate. How can it not? (The carbon dioxide, methane and other gases we emit have to go somewhere; they don’t just slip through an invisible release valve into space).

Stop the insults, stop the personal attacks, and focus on the issue. I think this is the perfect situation where the old saying ‘better safe than sorry’ should be applied. If the pro-climate change scientists are wrong, great! We can all relax a little bit, knowing that we’re not going to make ourselves extinct just yet, with the added bonus of knowing that we’ve cleaned up our act and improved our use of the planet’s resources. If the scientists are right, well we’ve at least done something positive to try and mitigate the effect rather than sitting around arguing and insulting one another.

What do we have to lose?

For those who say that radical change would be bad for the economy, well, yes, there’s bound to be some effect, even if only initially. But the simple response to that is: how will we have an economy if we’re trying to survive in a barely-habitable environment?

* This may not be an actual quote, but I am surprised that climate change denialists haven’t yet copied the terrorism-style campaigns of the anti-abortionists and religious fundamentalists.

** Denialists find that term offensive for some reason; they prefer to be called sceptics. But, as Michael Shermer wrote recently, there is a big difference between denialism and scepticism.

*** Plimer is a geologist. While the geological record may provide evidence of past climate change events I’m not convinced that geology has any predictive abilities.

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Opposition to gay adoption in New South Wales

On 14 July 2010, Greg Donnelly, Government Whip in the NSW Parliament, wrote an article for The Punch in which he stated that the best interests and wellbeing of a child is best protected when that child is “raised by a woman and a man, a mother and a father in a permanent relationship” (preferably married). This principle is, in his opinion, “underpinned by that profound bond that exists between a child and a mother and a father”.

With respect, Mr Donnelly, your contention is nonsense.

Mr Donnelly, and many others like him, is opposed to people in a same-sex relationship being able to adopt a child, whether or not there is any biological connection with that child, thereby doing the unthinkable of “placing homosexual couples on an equal footing with heterosexual couples”. In 2008 the Australian Government made legislative changes to remove the discrimination against same-sex couples. Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney, seems to be aiming for the same result with her Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2010.

Mr Donnelly is entitled to his opinion, of course, but I think he’s being more than a little old fashioned. I am not convinced that a child who has both a mother and a father (as opposed to two mothers or two fathers) will obtain any greater benefit over a child who does not. I’m a believer of function over form; that mothers are important and fathers are important. Not because of their gender but because of who they are as people.

But I’m not a parent so what would I know?

I was, however, a child. And I really don’t think being a child of a same-sex couple would have disadvantaged me at all (other than the teasing I would have copped at school, but I got teased for other reasons anyway).

Mr Donnelly urges his fellow citizens of NSW speak up in opposition to the proposed amendments because children have not been asked whether they want “to be raised by two mothers or two fathers as opposed to a mother and a father”, because the drivers of this change are same-sex couples. Well of course it’s not being driven by the children! This is adult-oriented legislation designed to improve the rights of adults, to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. The rights of children are second place at this point in time, as they should be; this is not about them. The rights and interests of children should properly be considered during an assessment of the proposed parents’ suitability to adopt.

Provided they’re loved and cared for, I’d hazard a guess that most children these days probably wouldn’t really give a damn about their parents’ sexual orientation. And neither should Mr Donnelly.

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Catch the crap, again

I don’t want to give this idiot any more publicity than he has already received, but Danny Nalliah, leader of the Catch the Fire Ministries, has again blessed us with his wisdom.

On 13 July 2010 Nalliah continued his rant against Julia Gillard, claiming that she is “unfit to be Prime Minister because, if elected, she would live out of wedlock”. He also claims that she is anti-God, pro-abortion, bereft of Christian values, a liar and a leftist.

Julia is indeed unmarried and a self-professed atheist, but who cares? She may be pro-choice (as opposed to ‘pro-abortion’ as Nalliah claims), but so what? Her personal beliefs don’t in themselves make her any better or worse to lead this country than Nalliah’s champion of Christian values and decency, Tony Abbott. (My belief, however, is that Julia’s failure to believe in fairy tales and her belief in a woman’s right to choose makes her a much more credible leader than Abbott.)

Nalliah claims that Julia is a bad role model (for precisely who he doesn’t say) because she does not “deem marriage and wedlock important enough in her own life” and because her atheism “is an insult to the [Judeo-Christian] belief system of the bulk of this country.”

What a load of crap. Does he not understand that many people in this slightly less repressed age don’t subscribe to the outdated, patriarchal concept of marriage? (Don’t get me wrong, if a couple choose to marry then that’s their right and the same right should be extended to same-sex couples; I just view it as unnecessary).

Do people actually take this man seriously? The handful of comments on his website suggests that some people do like what he says. The following is a sample of the intellect of Nalliah’s faithful (all grammatical and spelling errors are those of the original comments).

Rob says “We need a Christian Leader the Lead the Christian Ship.”

(Australia is a Christian Ship? I’m sure the 36% per cent* of Australians who, in the 2006 ABS Census, did not identify as being one of the varieties of Christianity would disagree.)

Ian, in true Christian soldier fashion, encourages Nalliah to “keep sticking the boot in”.

(If only burning at the stake was still common practice…)

Bob says that “Ms. Gillard is an affront to every christian in the land” and that “we should pray for her to have a confrontation with Jesus.”

(Other than that one time at band camp, umm, I mean in the temple with the money lenders, I though Jesus was a non-confrontational, turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy.)

Ewan thinks that Ms Gillard’s “living in sin” is a “reproach … to our nation” and “an appaling example for any leader let alone for the Prime Minister!”

(How fortunate we are that our leaders haven’t been caught utilising cigars as sexual accessories.)

It’s all been pretty harmless so far, but then it gets more hysterical.

Trevor says that “the hypocrisy of political correctness … is from the devil” and, unless they “pray and love Julia Gillard into the Kingdom and she accepts Jesus as her Savior … she will continue to undermine our nation with her socialist/communist dogma, which is evil.”

(Political correctness, socialism and communism are evil? I don’t even know how to respond to this guy other than to suggest that praying and loving Julia “into the Kingdom” against her will would, in my view, equate to spiritual rape. But I’m sure that sort of thing is acceptable to people like Trevor.)

Jessica says “AN ATHEIST,BARREN,PRO-ABORTIONIST IS NOT WHAT WOULD PLEASE GOD.”

(I was under the impression that Julia made a conscious decision to not have children, not that she is incapable of breeding. Why would Jessica’s cranky little god care that Australia’s Prime Minister is an atheist? Julia’s not going to suddenly open the eyes of his gullible followers and put at risk the money making machine, is she?)

Final honours go to Melissa who plaintively asks “WHO WILL SAVE THE UNBORN CHILDREN?”

(What are on about, Melissa? My questions to you are: Who will save the unborn children from having religious affiliations enforced upon them by their parents? Who will save the unborn children from the hypocritical teachings of narrow-minded, xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted followers of mythical gods?)

Julia ought to be applauded for having the courage to admit her atheism and for declaring that she is won’t give lip service to religious rituals simply for the sake of appearances.

She should be admired for her decision not to marry.

She should be congratulated for not having children and choosing instead to pursue her career. She’s also doing her bit for a ‘sustainable population’, something that Nalliah and his supporters should also do; a few less religious morons like them would be a very good thing for the world.

I hope that Julia can withstand the ridiculous bullshit Nalliah and his hysterical trolls are dribbling and rise up to show this country that one doesn’t need to be a married parent and a religious cretin (or an ass-kisser of religion) to be a successful leader and inspiring role model for younger generations.

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Give a man a fish: the short-sighted scheme of compulsory income management

In 2007 the then-Government under John Howard introduced compulsory income management to 70-odd Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, ostensibly to address concerns about child abuse raised in the June 2007 Little Children are Sacred report which stated that the main causes of child abuse were alcohol abuse and lack of education.

Income management withholds between 50 and 70% of welfare payments (and 100% of lump sum payments) in an attempt to ensure that parents spend their money on food and other necessities rather than alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pornography.

In late 2009 the Minister for the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), Jenny Macklin, announced changes to the operation of income management. Starting 1 July 2010, those changes would, in theory, remove the Indigenous focus of the program, apply it to a wider category of Northern Territory welfare recipients regardless of race, and act as a trial to the potential roll-out of income management to other ‘disadvantaged’ areas of Australia.

Over a period of 5½ years (2009-10 to 2014-15) the government will spend $410.5 million on income management, a cost of over $4,000 per person. This is only the cost for the Northern Territory. An Australia-wide roll-out would cost a hell of a lot more.

Minister Macklin’s reasoning was that income management has been proven to work.

This is not the case; it’s not even close to being the case.

Problems with income management
Indigenous people, academics and community organisations have soundly criticised compulsory income management, both in its original form and the new model.

FaHCSIA’s ‘consultations’ obtained feedback from less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of income managed people in the NT, hardly a basis for claiming widespread support.

Lack of evidence
The efficacy of imposing compulsory income management on particular categories of welfare recipients is not supported by evidence demonstrating that the benefits warrant the substantial costs. Several reviews and evaluations have shown that domestic data are limited and what little ‘evidence’ has been inferred is weak, conflicting and largely anecdotal (see, for example, the 2009 report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Report on the evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory).

The Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association found no evidence that compulsory income management had been effective in improving child health or reducing child sexual abuse.

Store licensing may have improved community access to a better range of food and other goods, but this is only coincidentally linked to income management. Evidence about increased food sales is based on reports of store owners and customers, not hard data.

A much less expensive way to improve nutrition in remote Indigenous communities would be to subsidise the transport of fresh fruit and vegetables to the communities.

The effects of income management are also difficult to separate from the related programs of alcohol restrictions, financial management and the licensing of community stores.

The Government has not listened.

It doesn’t build capacity
Compulsory income management is very unlikely to assist people to find work or achieve financial independence but may instead trap people in a cycle of long-term dependence on others to make financial decisions for them.

Financial management support services would be more cost-effective and are more likely to improve the financial management skills of welfare recipients over the long term, thereby assisting them to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families. Building the money management and budgeting skills of welfare recipients would minimise their dependence on external support to manage their money in the future.

It doesn’t deliver what Indigenous people want
The expansion of compulsory income management does not deliver what the majority of Indigenous people want and risks continuing government failure to ‘close the gap’.

Paternalistic approaches such as this disempower Indigenous people. The solving of Indigenous problems requires the building of Indigenous capacity and self-determination; it requires that Indigenous people be given the freedom to make their own genuinely informed decisions about their lives and communities.

The majority of community consultations have shown that Indigenous people support a trigger model – rather than people ‘being found guilty until proven innocent’, an income management sanction would apply only where people have behaved in socially harmful ways. They also supported voluntary income management.

Once again the government has failed to listen.

It is stigmatising and racist
Social security recipients generally have a legal right to decide how to spend their payments. However, income management stigmatises the long-term unemployed, young people and sole parents and has, and will continue to have, a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Australians.

The changes to income management were brought about by Minister Macklin’s desire to make the scheme compliant with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Despite the new scheme applying to a range of welfare recipients across the whole of the Northern Territory (and, from 2012, other “disadvantaged locations” across Australia) rather than just selected Indigenous communities, there is still a significant risk that the new scheme would be racially discriminatory because those locations have significant Indigenous populations that rely on unemployment, youth or sole parent payments.

While income management would be applicable to the non-Indigenous residents, there will be little practical difference between the new and old schemes as many Indigenous people across Australia rely on income support payments.

It won’t improve social issues
Income management is not the most effective method of addressing community and/or individual disadvantage, dysfunction and disengagement, and dictating how 50 to 70% of a person’s income can be spent will do nothing to address entrenched disadvantage.

There is no guarantee that the substantial cost of income management would be offset by improved health, education or employment status.

There is also no guarantee that income management will reduce unemployment or long term reliance on social security payments or that it will improve child safety and welfare.

Attempts to address Indigenous disadvantage would be better focused on areas proven to be effective, such as the provision of public services in housing, health and education. Investment in these areas could also assist in reducing imprisonment rates (countries and states investing more in education, health and social security typically spend less on their prison systems).

While income management has the potential to positively affect individuals with alcohol or drug problems, intensive counselling and support to help people overcome their addictions is likely to be much more effective than a poorly targeted compulsory income management regime. Without this support, people with drug and alcohol problems are likely to find ways around restrictions on their spending.

The recently announced East Arnhem family support service is one example of a program with the potential for greater success than the imposition of compulsory income management: its range of child-focused services will help parents to provide a safe, happy and healthy environment for their children and protect them from abuse and neglect. Services include intensive parenting services, early learning and literacy programs, playgroups, and other services that the local communities indicate they need such as after school recreation programs, home budgeting courses and child nutrition education.

Alternatives
While I am not opposed to income management in principle, I am opposed to compulsorily managing the income of people simply because they fit into particular welfare categories, particularly when the majority of those people are required to carefully manage their meagre income support payments and care for their dependents.

Ideally, income management would be scrapped altogether. Termination from 1 July 2011 would save the country approximately $250 million. The money saved could instead be spent on higher priority needs such as housing, health and education.

Alternatively, income management should be applied only where welfare recipients think that their personal circumstances warrant opting in to the scheme (voluntary income management) or where there is a clearly demonstrated need to protect ‘at-risk’ people or their children or other dependents. Remodelling income management in this manner would, from 1 July 2011, save the country approximately $240 million.

If particular welfare recipients require assistance in managing their income, the Centrepay service is available to Centrelink customers. It is a free and voluntary direct bill-paying service and clients can have a regular amount deducted from their Centrelink payments. Unlike in the income management scheme, deductions can be started, changed or cancelled at any time to suit personal circumstances. Expenses that can be paid using Centrepay include private rent, telephone, utilities, education fees and expenses, ambulance costs, child care, home care services, rental of household goods, and court fines.

A future national roll-out
Minister Macklin states that income management is part of a wider policy agenda to end ‘welfare dependency’ and has referred to an “entrenched cycle of passive welfare”, suggesting that welfare payments, rather than high unemployment and poverty, are the problem. Even if she is right, it is hard to see how income management will provide a solution.

The wider scheme of income management will not be restricted to people who have difficulty managing their finances or are not adequately caring for their children. Instead, long-term recipients of the identified income support payments will automatically be enrolled in the scheme, regardless of how diligently they budget their money, search for work or care for their children.

Imposing income management upon certain classes of welfare recipients will be of limited effectiveness as many recipients of income support already manage their money effectively due to the need to survive on income below the poverty line. Most income support recipients spend their payments carefully to meet the basic needs of their families.

The single rate of Newstart Allowance has not increased in real terms for over 15 years. Even careful budgeting will not make it any easier to live on payments such as the $231 per week received by a single adult on Newstart Allowance – anyone living off this payment will struggle to make ends meet.

To get out of the scheme, individuals will have to apply for an exemption. This is patently unfair, particularly to income support recipients without children who must either get a job or enter full-time study to obtain an exemption.

It is not sufficient to justify the removal of an individual’s control over their social security payments simply because they fall within a particular category and are “economically and socially disadvantaged”. Convincing evidence is needed to show that a substantial proportion of these groups are affected by a “culture of welfare dependency”, incapable of managing their budgets, spend a high proportion of their incomes on such things as gambling and alcohol, or that they are not responsible parents.

Even if this evidence can be provided, the Government would be better advised to instead fund initiatives for which there is a demonstrated need: adequate payments, better employment assistance and training for long-term unemployed people, improved access to mental health and alcohol and drug services, and intensive case-management services.

Income management is a simplistic and flawed answer to a complex problem and it will do nothing to remedy the underlying causes of poverty or social exclusion.

If anyone thinks a change of Government at the upcoming election will change things, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has argued that compulsory income management should extend to all welfare dependent families with children. Be afraid.

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Pigeon

I find a shady quiet place
in Manuka to drink my
coffee and smoke a
cigarette.

To my left a pigeon
lies dead under a tree,
only the breeze, a
handful of ants and
a lone fly disturb its
still smooth feathers.

I wonder if the other
pigeons miss it,
or if it’s just one less
competitor for the scraps.

One pigeon flies down,
struts around and tries
to fuck it. Once, twice.

Even in death,
some things
never change.

Watching and Hesitating

He watches her as she walks and
tries not to stare,
but she glides with a certain grace
at a particular pace
that barely disturbs the air.
And he, standing next to her,
feels cumbersome and dull.

He watches, afraid to ask
exchanging furtive glances
that skip and dance past the question
that hangs stubbornly
from the tip of his tongue, leaving
his eyes to ask that which
his lips won’t pass.

She says she’s a dancer, and he
believes it to be true; it’s like she’s
still performing every time she moves.
He wonders how he can interest her
and take her back to his room…

And still he watches while his mind paces
and hesitates too long as the moments
drift past.

Babe

Don’t call me ‘babe’.

I hate the way it sounds
coming out of your mouth,
like a possession
rather than an endearment.

It makes me want to
take the word and crush it
against your face and
shove it back where
it came from.

I’m not your ‘babe’
and I never will be.

Shane

his eyes are bleary and mostly
closed, his mouth broken
from drink.
a pint of guinness
on a stool to his left, he
sways, cries out “fuck bush!”
and mumbles something else,
angry and indecipherable,
into the microphone.
he staggers
and grabs the stand tighter.

when he sings, the voice shows
only a little sign of the life
and remains remarkably in tune.
the town is still dirty, the girl
with brown eyes is gone, and the
thousands who were sailing have
long since reached their destination,
but the poet is still there, somewhere,
in the heart that has pumped more
liquor than blood.
and, maybe,
that is what keeps the man alive.

Distractions

blonde heads bobbing
across the bridge
pony tails flicking back
and forth and back

delicious curves gloved
in tight black
fabric

distracting me on
my drive home
from work

Two (No. 2)

two arms to hold you tightly

two hands to draw you near

two eyes to drink your beauty

two lips to taste your skin

two ears to hear your song


two legs to pursue you