Category Archives: Politics

The right to free speech

I love this.

From Let’s Not Tolerate the Haters:

[Cory] Bernardi and [Geert] Wilders are stereotypical of our modern Right to Free Speech Worrier. They’re male. They’re in positions of power. And they’re paid an exorbitant amount for doing not terribly much.

But the defining characteristic is their self indulgence: their rights are more important than your rights. You don’t have a right to have your religion respected, because Cory Bernardi has the right to free speech. You don’t have a right to enjoy our great country unmolested, because Cory Bernardi has the right to free speech. And you certainly don’t have the right to feel welcome or even invited to celebrate your rich cultural heritage in Australia, because Cory Bernardi has the right to express whatever half-baked, pig-ignorant, and mendacious idea comes into his overtaxed mind.

 

Advertisements

American exceptionalism

This, America, is why much of the world hates you: your arrogant presumption that you’re better than any other nation in the world.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote in an article for Salon (‘The quaint and obsolete Nuremberg principles’, http://is.gd/kHq3R6), ‘ “American exceptionalism” in its most odious expression means that we have the right to do things that nobody else in the world has the right to do…’

Revamping Kevin Rudd’s image: an action plan

I wrote this some time last year, obviously before Kevin was dumped as leader of the ALP. Having since rediscovered it, I think it’s only fair I share with you all. Hooray!

Dear Prime Minister.

After careful consulatation with your constituents we have developed the following action plan to boost your popularity among the fickle, whingeing voters who can’t remember just why they supported you back in 2007.

First, you need to change your hairstyle to something more contemporary. Your current style makes you resemble Dr Bunsen Honeydew from The Muppet Show. That’s not a good thing.

Second, consider replacing your glasses with contact lenses; they make you look like John Howard and no-one wants to look like John Howard. Also, if you get into a political brawl with Abbott you don’t want people to pity you just because Abbott won’t hit a person wearing glasses (although he probably would).

Third, eat meat. No male who considers himself a real Australian would ever be a vegetarian. Maybe consider doing television advertisements with Sam Kekovich (“Australia loves its lamb”).

Fourth, don’t yell at air hostesses. Are you familiar with the Mile High Club? Try that instead. Yelling at air hostesses about a vegetarian meal makes you appear, well, homosexual to most Aussie males (and probably a good portion of Aussie females). However, given that Abbott has publicly declared that he feels threatened by homosexuals, you could probably use this to create another change of leadership in the Liberal Party.

Fifth, speak English. Even when you’re not speaking Mandarin you’re still not speaking English. Simply your speeches and get to the point. It may be a cliché, but if you want to be taken seriously you need to say what you mean and mean what you say. Chinglish is not acceptable, either.

Sixth, don’t say ‘sixth’ in a sentence. It’s hard to pronounce without lisping and a lisp will make you appear homosexual.

Seventh, lose the public affirmations of ‘faith’. If you choose to believe in god and Jesus and virgin births, keep it to yourself. A leader who wants to be taken seriously on the world stage does him/herself no favours in professing a belief in fairy tales. Alternatively, you could demonstrate the Aussie sense of larrikinism my changing the opening prayer at Parliament to one thanking Harry Potter from saving us all from Lord Voldemort.

Eighth, Rupert Murdoch is nobody’s friend and only idiots listen to talkback radio. You don’t need to appeal to a demographic that gets its information from those media sources; people like that believe the earth is flat and that their destinies are determined by astrology.

Ninth, consider giving Rove an Order of Australia medal. People seem to like Rove for some reason and giving him an AO would make you appear like a ‘good bloke’. A bit like Hawke did when, after Australia won the America’s Cup, he said something like “Any boss that sacks a worker for calling in sick tomorrow is a bum!”

Tenth, like Hawkey, be seen drinking beer. Seing as you’re from Queensland, XXXX is acceptable. However, do not, under any circumstances, be seen with a VB. The only people who drink VB are racists, homophobes, and people with southern cross tattoos (ie, people of below-average intelligence, and you don’t want to appear of below-average intelligence).

Eleventh, chuck a sickie every now and then. Julia is more than capable of answering your telephone and letters. Real Aussies chuck sickies.

Twelfth, consider giving Julia speech therapy to make her sound less bogan. If she’s going to be the “people’s princess”, she needs to not sound like a Victa mower whenever she opens her mouth.

Australia and foreign aid

The following quote is taken from an article by Damien Kingsbury at Crikey today (emphasis added):

“It is true that many Australians do wonder why we have a foreign aid program. Barnaby Joyce was in favour of scrapping it a little while back. One has to assume that foreign policy is not the strong suit of either Mr Joyce or Mr Abbott. Australia has an aid program so it can (try to) achieve desirable outcomes in countries of strategic interest, to give a little bit of economic substance to its diplomatic rhetoric, and to genuinely assist some people who, through no personal fault of their own, end up in pretty rotten circumstances…”

What this tells me is that Abbott and Co. don’t realise that if Australia cuts back its foreign aid then we will have an even harder time ‘stopping the boats’. If we cannot provide assistance to people who struggle to survive or to receive their basic human rights, then Australia becomes a more attractive destination for them to escape to when things get worse. If Abbott and Co. have their way, then they will have no-one to blame but themselves for the increased number of refugees they dread so much.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

No miracle in Arizona

I’m sorry, but the survival of Gabrielle Giffords after being shot in the head on Saturday is not a miracle. It certainly is amazing and remarkable, but it’s not a miracle, at least not in the sense that some divinity reached down and redirected the bullet. If you accept that god did prevent her from being killed that day, as many people of ‘faith’ would believe, then you must also accept that god was happy for the other victims to die. Is that how your god works? Well, I guess he does have a history of encouraging the killing of children, doesn’t he?

No porn, please. We’re British.

I’m a little concerned.

The British government has proposed that internet service providers block access to pornography, with people being required to opt in to access their daily dose of nudity and debauchery instead of making a choice to block it themselves.

Apparently this proposal is aimed at combating “the early sexualisation of children”. Hands up who else thinks this is a load of crap? I suggest that any early sexualisation is more likely to be the result of advertising, music video clips, and the behaviour of parents and friends, not access to pornography.

Communications minister Ed Vaizey hopes that “ISPs come up with solutions to protect children” and to stop them from being exposed to pornography on the internet. Umm, hello? There are commercially available site blockers and filters that parents can install themselves if they’re concerned. Parents can also exercise some common sense and supervise their children.

While to some extent the government does have a point (after all, pornography is not permitted into the home via free-to-air TV), why does the government think that parents should not be responsible for controlling what material enters their homes by other means? Since when did parents and guardians abdicate their child-raising duties to the government?

The other problem I have with this is the opt in aspect. I don’t imagine too many people would comfortable contacting their ISP to request access to porn; it’d be a bit like walking into an adult store and hoping no-one you know sees you. Would we be asking for blanket access to (legally available) porn or would we have to request particular categories, such as soft core, gay, lesbian, interracial, Asian girls, MILFs, etc? I wouldn’t care too much about firing off an email to sate my desire to view hot, horny housewives in the nude, but how much personal information would I have to provide and who would have access to the records of my request?

No, this opt in business is a ridiculous limitation on my right at access whatever I like in my home, provided that it’s not illegal (for example, while I have objection to porn I draw the line at child porn and bestiality). Now if governments decide to make all porn illegal, that’s another matter, but this would amount to unreasonable censorship and they’d have a hell of a fight on their hands.

The answer, in my opinion, is not to prevent adults from accessing pornography in the privacy of their homes, but for parents and guardians to supervise and control what their children are watching, just like they do with TV, movie rentals and computer games. If parents aren’t sure how to install filters or blockers, it’s up to them to learn how. If the government wants to help it can provide widely available information on how to do so. However, it’s not the government’s job to function as a ‘net nanny because some parents are too lazy to monitor what their children are doing.

Tagged , , , , ,

Don’t dismiss Madeleine Madden’s message

At 7:30pm on Sunday, 24 October 2010, Australia’s TV channels broadcast a young Aboriginal girl’s plea to end, within the next 20 years, the inequality between our Indigenous people and the rest of us. I won’t go in to what she said (you can read the GenerationOne media statement here) but I do want to talk about is the ignorant reaction of some, ah… ‘unenlightened’ people to her message.

Many people in Australia seem to think that because Aboriginal people seem to get ‘more government handouts and benefits than white Australians’ or because ‘they get preferential treatment in many areas of society … over other Australians because supposedly they are a minority’, there is no inequality.

Those arguments are simplistic, absurd and inexcusably ignorant of Australian history.

Yes, some Aboriginals do get benefits – health care concessions, lower interest rates on home loans, and so on – that most of us don’t, but so what? Most Aboriginals are in a very different situation to the rest of us, particularly us white Australians. We don’t tend to be discriminated against when seeking employment. We generally live longer and healthier lives. We don’t have a history of being oppressed.

Frankly, Aboriginal Australians are among the most disadvantaged indigenous people in the world. I defy anyone to prove otherwise. While it’s true that they live in a civilised, technologically advanced, democratic country, for much of their history since colonisation they haven’t been treated like Australian citizens (they’re still not recognised in the Constitution) and have been left to live in third world conditions.

There’s a line in a Blue King Brown song that says something like, “White man holds the key to black man’s identity”. I used to disagree with this, thinking that Aboriginals needed to stop allowing themselves to be victims. I was wrong. It’s white Australia that is treating them like victims, like children, thinking that we know best and they should do what we tell them to; that they should assimilate and be white like us (if only in lifestyle).

There are no simple solutions, and assimilation or segregation is not the answer. Continuing to throw money at the problems, many of which white Australians have created, will not repair 200-plus years of damage.

But we can start with trying to understand their culture; to understand why they may be reluctant to sever a traditional connection with their land in order to find employment in our larger towns or cities; to understand the challenges they face every day, even the ones who do move away or have long since lived in our cities; to understand the underlying causes behind the violence and the drinking; and to accept that we have a responsibility to help them so that one day they don’t need special programs or benefits to enable them to simply live.

So to the haters out there: No, Madeleine didn’t have a political agenda and she wasn’t after more money for Aboriginals. She was after better understanding of what her people face every day. She was asking for all of us to help her people stand up and overcome Aboriginal disadvantage, to take some responsibility for helping Indigenous Australians where successive governments have failed.

She was asking us to be the Australians we like to think we are, but too often are not.

Tagged , , , ,

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.

Tagged , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,