Monday, January 23, 2017

One Nation Is Now Part of the Mainstream

(The following editorial was originally written on the 16th of November 2016 for 2SM, however it was never used. I have posted it now because I think it is becoming increasingly clear that I was right.)
The legitimisation of One Nation as a serious political force has just reached a completely new level, with a former State Premier predicting that the Party will become part of a coalition government in Queensland.

Once regarded as political pariahs, a party that was at best part of the extreme fringe, and at worst a complete joke, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party has now become part of the political mainstream.

It began with the Party winning four Senate seats in the July Federal Election, forcing the established parties to take them seriously.

Now, world events have added to the political momentum of One Nation and its controversial leader, with the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the United States seen as indicative of a seismic shift in the political landscape around the world.

There is absolutely no doubt that Australia is experiencing that shift, and as the evidence mounts that voters are looking for a new solution to their problems, the major parties are finally sitting up and taking notice.

The impact has been dramatic, with Labor Leader Bill Shorten suddenly springing to the defence of Australian jobs and demanding curbs on foreign workers…

And Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ramped up his rhetoric on asylum seekers and border security.

But it’s probably all too little, and too late, because support for One Nation is undeniably growing stronger.

It is by far strongest in Queensland, the home state of the party, where Pauline Hanson’s personal popularity is higher than ever.

And it’s in Queensland where One Nation expects to do very well at the State Election, due in about a year from now.

In fact, the party is expected to do so well that former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has made a bold prediction that the One Nation Party will win enough seats to demand to be part of a coalition government.

Now, just stop and think about that for a moment… after years of being in the wilderness, One Nation could actually be part of a coalition to form a state government.

It’s a staggering reversal of fortunes.

Speaking on Sky News earlier this week, Mr Newman said “Things could change of course, but I think the next government in Queensland will have to be a coalition government with One Nation.”

He said, “You can talk preferences all you like, but they’re going to win enough seats.”

Mr Newman referred to the recent run of polls that have failed to accurately predict outcomes, underestimating the support for candidates like Donald Trump in the US, and Pauline Hanson here in Australia.

He said, “There was a poll in Queensland on the weekend that says she was at 16 per cent. I think it’s over 20.”

Mr Newman also said that Pauline Hanson is now “an older and wiser politician” than she was 20 years ago.

Of course, Campbell Newman himself fell victim to a shock election defeat when he was bundled out of office almost two years ago, so he should know something about placing too much faith in polling figures.

While the Labor Party has already vowed to place One Nation at the bottom of its preferences at the Queensland election, the Liberal National Party has made no such commitment.

Mr Newman said that the current leader of the LNP in Queensland, Tim Nichols, might be the next Queensland Premier, but “he’s going to have to confront that issue and he’s going to have to answer in the media.”

The clear implication is that if Mr Nichols wants to be Premier of Queensland, he may well have to form a coalition with One Nation to do so.

That would have once been considered to be a deal with the devil… now it’s the cold hard reality of the new political paradigm.

In one simple statement, former Premier Campbell Newman has awarded One Nation an entirely new status as part of the political mainstream.

One Nation has finally arrived as a serious political force, and it would be an enormous mistake for anyone to treat them as a joke now.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Why Senate Voting Reform Actually Reduces Democracy

It is all but certain that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to reform the voting process for the Senate will sail through that very same Senate thanks to a deal negotiated with the Greens. While Mr Turnbull insists the plan is aimed solely at improving transparency, and allowing voters to choose where their preferences flow, there is little doubt that the change will benefit the major parties, at the expense of micro parties and independents. And it is likely to benefit the Coalition more than it will help Labor, because micro parties and independents have historically eroded votes from the right more often than from the left.

It remains to be seen what the outcome will be for the Greens; presumably they would not agree to the changes if they feared that their own existence would be imperilled. However some analysts believe that a double dissolution election under the new rules will see the number of Green Senators reduced from 10 to 8. I suspect that over time, the Greens would see their numbers further eroded, until perhaps they go the same way as the Australian Democrats. Remember them?

The Democrats also reached a deal with an incumbent Coalition government to pass contentious legislation, in that case the introduction of the GST. It was a turning point for the Democrats, and although they loitered on the scene of the crime for a number of years, voter discontent saw their ranks slowly dwindle until eventually they disappeared altogether. Obviously there were other factors involved, but the decision to support the GST was received by many voters as a sign that the Democrats had abandoned their self appointed task to “keep the bastards honest.”

In the same way, the Greens have grown well beyond their original brief as a party of environmental conservation, and have come to relish their role as major political players; so much so that it now appears they no longer believe the phrase “minor party” applies to them. How else to explain their apparent belief that they will be immune to the effects of the voting change they are about to rubber-stamp for the Turnbull Government. Nevertheless, if they are so willing to risk shooting themselves in the foot, there will be little cause to mourn their ultimate demise.

On the other hand, critics of the major political parties will have substantial cause to mourn the loss of representation in the Senate. While the importance and influence of the Greens will most likely wither away gradually, the influence of micro parties and independents will be destroyed at the stroke of a pen, and their seats in the Senate stolen from under them by the changed voting arrangements at the subsequent election.

Now, it is easy to see why some people think that would be a good thing. As Malcolm Turnbull has so pointedly reminded us, Senator Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party was elected to the Senate on the strength of a primary vote amounting to 0.5 per cent, with the help of a complex string of preference deals. On the face of it, such a phenomenon seems to be far from democratic and not at all transparent. Indeed, that is exactly the argument put forward by the Prime Minister when he claims that people have been “gaming the system.”

However, to say that Ricky Muir represents only 0.5 per cent of the electorate is a boldly misleading assertion. Certainly he received the benefit of preferences from people who did not put the number one against his name on the ballot paper. But remember, those preferences all came from people who did NOT vote for the major parties. In that sense, Ricky Muir is the duly elected representative of ALL those people whose first choices did not make the cut, but whose preferences eventually found their way to him. Senator Muir represents the nearly 25 per cent of people who did not vote for either of the two major parties.

On the latest figures from this week’s Newspoll, 43 per cent of voters support the Coalition, 35 per cent support Labor. That leaves 22 per cent who support neither. Of those, 12 per cent support the Greens, and 10 per cent are divided up among the micro parties and independents. On that basis alone, the Senate can only be truly representative of all Australians if those numbers are reflected by the election results. And oddly enough, under the current system, they actually are.

Currently the Coalition has 33 out of the 76 seats in the Senate; that’s about 43 per cent.

Labor has 25 seats, or around 33 per cent; the Greens have 10 seats, or 13 per cent; and the eight cross benchers equate to just over 10 per cent of the Senate.

A consistent 10 per cent of voters support micro parties and independents, and by the magic of our preferential voting system, 10 per cent of the Senate seats are held by (surprise surprise) micro parties and independents.

What could be more representative than that?

And yet, Prime Minister Turnbull is trying to sell us the snake-oil that eradicating the preference deals will somehow make the Senate more representative. Clearly that cannot be the case, when the representation already so accurately reflects the wishes of the people.

On the contrary, Mr Turnbull’s proposals can only make the Senate less representative, by stemming the flow of preferences from minor candidates to other minor candidates. It should be blatantly obvious that this is nothing short of hypocrisy when the major parties carefully negotiate preference deals all the time, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, to maximise their own advantage. To seek to deny this opportunity to smaller parties on the basis that they are somehow less worthy is distinctly unfair, elitist, and just plain bullying.

Of course, given the standard of the discourse on this matter, it would be easy to presume that the minor parties and the independents are in fact less worthy. Once again, poor old Ricky Muir can be held up as an example of an individual considered to be ill prepared for office. But let us not pick on poor Ricky quite so much; how about the colourful Jacqui Lambie with her propensity to speak bluntly even if she is not in full possession of any degree of expertise on any given topic? Or Glenn Lazarus, also given to an exuberant turn of phrase in the right circumstances?

What many people fail to appreciate, and in my opinion it is a pity that they do, is that the present system of voting means that genuine ordinary everyday Australians can actually get elected to the Senate. That is a marvellous thing, and a precious thing not to be discarded lightly. Of course there is always the risk that a ratbag will be elected. But can anyone honestly claim that no ratbags have ever been elected while members of the major parties? Both Labor and the Liberals have had plenty of ratbags, and as for the Greens, well conventional opinion has already written them off as being all ratbags.

The reality is that there are 76 Senators. Most legislation can be passed through sensible negotiations, and when it can’t be passed, perhaps we should consider the possibility that this lack of consensus might indicate a lack of quality in both the proposed legislation and the arguments supporting it. It would be highly unusual for one rogue Senator to ransom the nation, and even less likely that such an individual would continue to have a political career in the aftermath.

And let us not forget that some of the Senators elected under the current system have been considered to be pretty good. Nick Xenophon is widely respected, even by those who don’t agree with his policies. It is something of a paradox that Senator Xenophon supports the proposed changes to the Senate voting procedure. There is no doubt that Senator Xenophon is sufficiently popular that he would not only survive the reform, but he would most likely succeed at having some of his chosen colleagues join him in the Senate.

However, the paradox arises from the reality that Senator Xenophon has only been able to build that popularity and respect because he was elected in the first place. When Nick Xenophon was first elected to the Legislative Council of his home state South Australia in 1997, he won his seat on the strength of a primary vote of 2.86 per cent. It was the flow of preferences that got him over the line. From there he built his reputation and was able to make the leap to federal politics in 2007 on the strength of his track record.

Under the proposed new system, an unknown independent candidate would have little hope of success. In that case, where would the nation’s next Nick Xenophon come from? Are we condemning ourselves to a future where only candidates with the backing of a major party machine can aspire to the Senate?

The beauty of the current system is that it not only allows, it encourages, minority groups to engage in politics and to participate in the process. It fosters a diversity that is more likely to reflect the concerns of the community than would otherwise be the case. But if the reform proceeds, with the imprimatur of the Greens, it will result only in the political elite controlling the flow of their own preferences, while rendering impotent the preferences of their smaller opponents, denying their supporters any kind of voice.

Now, that really is the very definition of “gaming the system.”


Friday, November 14, 2014

Shirt Fronts and Coat Tails

Not being terribly familiar with Australian Rules Football, when I first heard Mr Abbott say that he intended to “shirtfront” Vladimir Putin, I had a slightly different image come to mind.

The picture that I saw was of an aggressor taking hold of his target’s “shirtfront”, possibly with both hands, drawing him in close and delivering a stern talking to. It’s a common enough standover tactic, and works to intimidate an individual with the implied threat of violence, without having to actually be violent.

As I soon discovered however, the phrase has long been used in the AFL to describe a physical clash which can be both reckless and dangerous. Given the fallout from Mr Abbott’s utterance, perhaps this is the more accurate definition after all.

Nevertheless, even the most ardent critic of Mr Abbott must surely realise that he was not speaking literally, but metaphorically. In effect, Mr Abbott was saying that he intended to demand Mr Putin’s attention, whether Putin wanted to give it or not, for long enough to express his extreme displeasure with the state of affairs.

It should not have been a surprise to anyone that Mr Abbott would use a sporting metaphor, given his athletic proclivities. In any case, he is far from being alone in employing such figures of speech. Indeed, sporting metaphors are to be found throughout not only politics, but also the corporate world.

There is constant talk of “crash tackling” an opponent, “destroying” a competitor, “blowing out of the water” rival companies, and so on, and so on, and so on. It’s a manner of speaking so commonplace that it usually passes without comment.

But not in Tony Abbott’s case.

Of course, the almost universal condemnation of Mr Abbott’s choice of metaphor portrayed a picture of a man who opens his mouth only to jam both his feet into it. The more extreme critics suggested that he is not fit to be in politics, let alone run the country.

The worst of them carried on as if the metaphor was intended literally, and gave the appearance of salivating over the prospect of the volunteer life saver going 12 rounds with the KGB hard-man.

Then, when Abbott and Putin finally had fifteen minutes together on the sidelines at APEC this week, it was widely reported that the “shirtfront” had failed to materialise.

But it’s time for the armchair critics and the professional commentariat to get a grip. There was never going to be a bout of jelly wrestling for the photographers; the metaphorical shirtfront was always going to be a personally delivered verbal message.

And that’s exactly what took place.

I’m quite certain that Vladamir Putin doesn’t often have the leaders of smaller countries coming up to him to personally demand an apology, request compensation and offer advice on how to run Russia. That’s just not something that would happen everyday... or even, let’s see, ever.

I’m sure that Putin is much more accustomed to people snapping to attention and carrying out his every order as if their lives depend on it. Because, most likely, they do.

But instead of being able to carelessly bat Mr Abbott’s concerns aside, Mr Putin had to listen to an Antipodean upstart lecturing him about not seeking to reinstate the past glories of the Soviet Union, or for that matter the Tsars of the old Russian Empire.

I hope it pissed him off.

I am equally certain that Tony Abbott knows full well that Vladimir Putin is highly unlikely to take his advice, or to give the requested apology. I suspect that Mr Abbott believed that he had an obligation to speak for the dead of MH17, as well as for the living breathing Australians who want to see Putin held to account for his actions.

Obviously, Mr Putin did not pull the trigger himself, and the MH17 disaster was an unintended consequence of his regional politics. But he is clearly in a position to provide much greater assistance to the investigators of this terrible crime. His only problem is that any transparency might reveal too much about his role in propelling the rebellion in the Eastern Ukraine.

So far, it looks like Tony Abbott is the only one prepared to grab Putin by the lapels, metaphorically of course, and give him a few choice words. At least the only one prepared to do it in public.

And then there has been the wild hysteria about the Russian “fleet” steaming “towards Australia.” Television reports in particular were lurid in their assessment of what it all meant, speaking of “elevated tensions.”

So what if a handful of Russian Navy vessels are steaming along our east coast? So long as they stay in international waters there is no problem. They are only there, coinciding with the G20 meeting in Brisbane, in an attempt to remind the world that Russia is a powerful nation. It’s a bit like the village hoon doing blockies in his Monaro, showing off to the locals.

So long as he keeps to the speed limit, nobody will get hurt...

Anybody suggesting that the Russian navy flotilla represents some kind of threat is hyperventilating. And to claim that it is a direct response to the “shirtfront” remark is myopic and moronic.

Sure, Putin and his navy want to remind us that they are tough guys. But the message is not for us alone; it is a message for the whole world. And it is also a message for Putin’s constituents in Russia, where his “strongman” image has made him remarkably popular.

It’s nothing more than the schoolyard bully parading around to remind everybody not to mess with him.

While others might lower their eyes, Tony Abbott has instead gone up to the bully, tugged on his coat tails, and said, “You’re not fooling us.”

There’s a lot about Tony Abbott’s government that I find disappointing, and many of his policies with which I disagree. I even agree that the “shirtfront” comment was ill-considered, and the way it was delivered was awkward and embarrassing.

But I’m glad he told Putin what he thought of him. It was the Australian thing to do.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Interstellar Review

***No Spoilers***

It is not unusual for a masterpiece to have its flaws. In fact, some would say it comes with the territory. So it’s not a surprise that the science depicted in the new Chris Nolan film “Interstellar” has been subjected to a little criticism from those who know about such things, despite having the benefit of the advice of one of the most respected physicists on the planet.

Apparently, according to some experts, it would not be possible for any planet to orbit a black hole as closely as the film suggests without being ripped to pieces by the gravity. A spacecraft could not approach the superheated accretion disc without being vaporised. And so on.

But does any of that really matter? After all, most of the science in Interstellar is actually pretty good; dare I say it: light years ahead of most science fiction movies. And I’m not a scientist anyway, and I suspect, neither are you or most of the rest of the audience. I just want to see a good story that gives great entertainment, and maybe something to think about as well.

On that score, there’s plenty to chew on in Interstellar.

If you’re expecting a space opera, or an action flick, this is not the film for you. It takes all of the first act (about 45 minutes, because it’s a LONG movie) before the action even gets off the ground. Instead, the opening act establishes Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) as a former NASA test pilot who is now a farmer in a post disaster world where food is in short supply and farmers are sorely needed.

Director Nolan lingers on this opening act to ram home the message of environmental destruction, but more importantly for this story, the bond Cooper has with the two children he is raising as a single father. The younger child, his daughter Murphy, is especially close to her father and it is this relationship which ultimately becomes the central theme of the film, as well as a pivotal part of the plot structure.

Given the importance of this relationship, it is understandable that Nolan has put so much effort into portraying the emotions involved, especially when Cooper must choose between staying with his family, or leaving them behind to pilot NASA’s last spaceship on a mission that could save all humanity.

When Cooper is reunited with a former colleague, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), he learns that a wormhole was discovered decades previously near the orbit of Saturn. (A wormhole, which is a genuine feature of physics as we understand it, links otherwise distant points in space and time.) In this case, it apparently leads to another galaxy where there may be a planet suitable for mankind to colonise, abandoning the ravaged Earth. Brand insists that Cooper should lead the mission to find a new home for all mankind.

The catch, of course, is that Cooper has no idea of when or if he can ever return.

This emotional tug of war between Cooper’s desire to fly the mission he was born to lead, and his love for his children, is not just a plot point; it is actually integral to the whole story, and leads to the events of the final act, which I will not reveal here.

Even so, the film suffers from what appears at first to be an unnecessarily heavy hand pushing the emotional point home over and over again. To some extent, the payoff at the end helps to explain this aspect of the narrative, but it takes a long time to get there.

Along the way, the film also bogs down in presenting some fairly clumsy philosophical ideas, to the point of becoming a little ponderous and self important.  That sensation is not helped by the imposing music score, which for much of the film is magnificent, but far too often intrusive to the point that you cannot hear the dialog. Maybe that was deliberate, so that the audience doesn’t receive all the exposition too quickly, but it becomes distracting and annoying at times.

It also doesn’t help that McConaughey spends the entire film mumbling throughout what is otherwise a great performance.

The bizarre robot which accompanies Cooper and his crew into space also takes a little getting used to. It is like nothing seen on film before, as far as I know, and doesn’t seem to me to be entirely consistent with the rest of the technology in the film. The machine moves around with a strange walking motion, and appears to do so even in the weightlessness of space, which didn’t look right to me. Nevertheless, the cheerful demeanour of the Artificial Intelligences (yes there’s more than one of them) in this film make an interesting contrast to the meltdown of the HAL 9000 computer in the Stanley Kubrick classic “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

The music and the visual effects are deliberately evocative of “2001,” which in many ways is a nice touch. It’s no secret that Nolan was tremendously influenced by Kubrick’s film, and if you are looking for inspiration, you might as well look to the best. Inevitably, comparisons have been made, and for the most part it’s a fair call to suggest that Interstellar may be the best space movie since “2001.”

But Kubrick remains on his pedestal.

Interstellar keeps the story moving forward with some clever plot turns, and an un-advertised appearance by another major star, but is hampered by some sequences which slow the pace too much, prompting the viewer to question whether 169 minutes are really necessary to tell the tale.

The final act has caused some controversy, with some critics appearing to dislike the ending. Without disclosing details, I actually didn’t mind the ending. I feel that the most important loose ends were tied up, and while it might be all just a little bit too neat, let’s remember we are talking about a Hollywood movie, and the vast bulk of audiences like to leave the cinema with a sense of completion.

Besides, as I suggested before, the events of the final act help to explain the mysteries of the first, such as how and why the wormhole appeared in the first place.

Interstellar is a flawed masterpiece, great at moments, frustrating at others, but ultimately it’s worth the trip. Perhaps it doesn’t quite live up to the hype, but given the expectations which preceded its release, that would have been a very tall order.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Last Drinks At The Empty Arms

So it’s the end of the age of entitlement... unless you’re a politician. While the Federal Government has revealed the details of its enhanced “work for the dole” arrangements, politicians are still claiming tens of thousands of dollars for study tours, book collections, and travel to sporting events.

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Peter Slipper, who has today been found guilty of acting dishonestly over those cab charge vouchers he used to visit the wineries around Canberra in 2010. Mr Slipper will be sentenced in September, but in the meantime, there will be no action taken against all those senior Liberals who pinged the tax-payer for the cost of attending a wedding... Oh, but they paid it back so it’s all good.

It seems you can be forgiven your mistakes if you haven’t abandoned your own party.

It’s a little more difficult to work out just what unemployed people have done to upset the government. But it must have been sensational given the arrangements that have been wheeled out in the name of welfare “reform.”

We already know that unemployed people under the age of 30 will be expected to survive for six months from the time they apply for assistance before they receive any money at all. There will be reductions on that waiting period based on the length of time someone has been employed prior to the application.

So someone who has had a job for 5 years, and is then made redundant, will receive a 5 month remission, and be entitled to receive assistance after just one month.

But people generally don’t choose when they will become unemployed. If only I can last until the end of the year, I’ll get my dole money a month earlier....

However, the strangest element of the new arrangements, set to commence from the 1st of July next year, is the new improved version of mutual obligation.

Now, in principle, I can understand the argument in favour of mutual obligation. It only stands to reason that if the taxpayer is providing support to the unemployed, the unemployed might be obliged to do something in return. It seems not only sensible, it seems fair.

But the scheme outlined by the Government today is counterproductive, short-sighted, and driven by blind ideology. The people who designed it are safely ensconced within their own cocoon of entitlement, and have little understanding of the experience of the unemployed.

Astoundingly, the strictures of “mutual obligation” will apply to those people who have committed the crime of being under 30 and have been punished by having any payment withheld for six months.

Yes, that’s correct. As incredible as it seems, mutual obligation means that people receiving NO MONEY AT ALL for up to six months will be expected to jump through all the hoops anyway. There’s absolutely nothing “mutual” about that at all.

And even when your six months of fiscal imprisonment have been served, during which time you might well have turned to crime just to make ends meet, the rigors of mutual obligation are still designed to do you more harm than good.

Under the new regime of mutual obligation, unemployed people under 30 will be required to perform 25 hours per week community work and to prove that they have applied for a minimum of 40 jobs per month.

For sake of argument, let’s say there are four weeks in a month; that’s ten job applications per week, or two every working day. Now, if you live in a major city, you might be able to find 40 jobs a month  for which your qualifications are appropriate. But in regional towns? That’s a sick joke.

It was a long time ago, but I was unemployed in a country town in 1981. For 16 months, I filled out forms and attended job interviews. In that time, I spent a few weeks loading trucks and trains, and another week digging a trench. Thankfully, I was able to do some casual work on my uncle’s farm, which was a big help at the time.

Quite literally, I wasn’t qualified for anything else, except broadcasting... and getting back into the radio industry was not exactly easy.

After 26 rejection letters, I was finally offered a position doing the job I was actually trained for, and life was good again. But the point is that during those 16 months, there was no way I could have applied for 640 jobs. They simply didn’t exist.

Or perhaps I’m mistaken. Perhaps the Government expects people to apply for every advertised position, regardless of their qualifications, wasting the time of all those recruitment officers who will have to wade through pointless CVs from desperate but inappropriate applicants.

I know that sounds crazy, but it’s not as crazy as the other problem.

As I said, I get it that mutual obligation is supposed to provide the job-seeker with a sense of doing something in return for the money. Ideally, it should also provide them with useful experience, possibly some rudimentary training, and even just the opportunity  to interact with other people in a professional manner.

All of that is a worthwhile exercise.

However, requiring young people to report for duty for 25 hours a week is not only impractical, it’s downright exploitative. For starters, 25 hours is two thirds of the working week. It adds up to three-and-a-bit days. Surely the obvious question has to be: just when do you find the time to actually apply for those 40 jobs?

It’s not just a matter of sending out CVs. There’s all the time you need to spend combing through the classified ads. Writing the letters. Going to interviews. This business of looking for a job can be time consuming. That is, if you are serious about it. 25 hours a week is an enormous commitment, and leaves very little time for other responsibilities.

And on the subject of hours, consider this:

The current minimum wage is $640.90 per week, or $16.87 per hour. But if a young unemployed person is required to do community work for 25 hours that adds up to barely more than $10.00 per hour.

Even 18 year old junior employees are supposed to be entitled to a minimum wage of $11.52 per hour. It would appear that the Federal Government wants to force people to work at rates that would be illegal in business. If there is to be any kind of work demanded in return for the support of the taxpayer, it should at least be at a fair rate of pay.

The phrase “mutual obligation” is becoming increasingly Orwellian, with all the obligation weighing heavily on the shoulders of the un-empowered, and very little of it is in any way “mutual.”

It is, however, highly ideological.

The current Liberal Party Government has shown distinct signs of being driven more by the ideology of the hard core right, than by the principles of fairness and opportunity that most politicians claim. Certainly, all the guff about a “budget crisis” and an “economic emergency” is straight out of spin-doctor school.

It’s a time honoured tactic of declaring a crisis, or manufacturing one if a suitable crisis isn’t immediately handy, and then offering to provide the solution. All sides of politics have been guilty of something similar at one time or another. But that’s all OK if the tactic is used to push a policy that ultimately serves a greater good.

In this case, the supposed “greater good” is based on the notion that people who can’t find a job just aren’t trying hard enough, without any consideration of any other potential factors. Of course, that’s understandable given the massive problem Australia faces with unemployment...

Oh wait.

Unemployment is pretty stable at about 6 per cent, and has been for quite some time. Now, if you happen to be one of those people in the six per cent, you would indeed be confronting a crisis. But is the nation suffering an unemployment crisis?

No, it is not.

Obviously, lower unemployment is better. And equally obviously, Australia actually has a much more complex challenge with severe under-employment in many areas. The casualisation of the workforce has left too many people working in jobs with insufficient hours to make ends meet, and without the job security enjoyed by previous generations of full time workers.

But those challenges are not going to be addressed by a system that punishes people when they have been failed by that system. That’s because the fundamental flaw of “mutual obligation” is similar to the fundamental flaw of “user pays.”

It always sounds good in practice, but all too often is not necessarily the most efficient way to manage human affairs. All too often it is those who are least able to afford it who are left to pick up the tab. Whenever a politician tells you that a new proposal will be “better,’ your first question should always be “better for whom?”

Nine times out of ten, it’s not you. And even on the tenth time you would be wise to double check.

We are being told that the proposals put forward by the Government, not just for the unemployed, but for pensioners, for people who visit the doctor, for university students... the list goes on... are all “necessary” for the future prosperity of the nation.

But it’s not true. There are other options. The notion that it’s “my way or the highway” is nothing more than a bully boy tactic, employed to advance an ideological agenda. There are other ways to bring prosperity to the nation, that don’t involve punishing the weak for being weak.

What they have forgotten is the fact that the “nation” is us, including the poor, the weak, the aged, the unwell, the incompetent, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed. We are all in it together whether the Government likes it or not.

There are two reasons that this Government is unpopular. Firstly, it’s because some of their policies are hurting some of the people. But the second reason is the one doing the real damage.  It’s because they flat out said one thing, and then proceeded to do another, blatantly and deliberately.

They have opened their arms wide, and now that we have all had a good look, we can see that those arms are empty.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Seems Like Only Yesterday...

It has been 45 years since Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon in 1969. The official date was the 20th of July, but with the time difference, it was actually the 21st here in Australia.
With so much going on in the world today, it would be easy to forget the anniversary, but at the time it was a monumental event.
An estimated 600 million people watched the television coverage of Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon, setting a record that would not be broken until the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana 12 years later.
Australia played an important role in the moon mission with the Deep Space Tracking Stations at Honeysuckle Creek and Tidbinbilla helping to maintain communications.
The famous Parkes Radio Telescope was also a key facility, as portrayed in the Australian feature film “The Dish.”
Of course, we all remember Neil Armstrong’s famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The line was supposed to be “one small step for A man…” and there was controversy for years about whether Armstrong made a mistake, or if the radio link just dropped out momentarily.
Either way, history was made that day, 45 years ago.
Neil Armstrong passed away in 2012 at the age of 82, but his Apollo Eleven colleagues Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are alive and well... Which is more than you can say for the US space program at the moment.
Since the retirement of the space shuttle, American astronauts are currently forced to hitch a ride on Russian space capsules to get the International Space Station….
I’m not sure how much longer that can go on, considering the current friction between Russia and pretty much the rest of the world.
Private companies like Space-X are expected to fill that void in the future, but for the time being, the once mighty NASA has no manned flight capability of its own.
I suspect Neil Armstrong would be disappointed about that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

12 Facts About Asylum Seekers

Just in case you want to weigh in to the argument, you might as well start with the facts, not the BS.

12 Facts About Asylum Seekers
1. It is not illegal to arrive in Australia and ask for asylum.
2. The Refugee Convention specifically states that asylum seekers cannot be penalised for arriving by means which might otherwise be considered illegal.
3. In Australian law, arrival without documentation is “unlawful” or “irregular” but not illegal so long as an asylum seeker presents himself or herself to the authorities to make a claim for asylum.
4. The Refugee Convention stipulates that any claim for asylum will be given proper consideration.
5. The Refugee Convention prohibits “refoulement” or the return of refugees to the jurisdiction from which they are fleeing persecution.
6. UNHCR has stated this week that it has no problem with people being returned to their home country provided it has been established that they are NOT refugees.
7. Those who are found to be genuine refugees are guaranteed protection, but not resettlement. Under the Refugee Convention, the resettlement program is conducted by signatory nations as a voluntary measure.
8. Those who are resettled in Australia are LESS likely to become employed than other immigrants, with about 40 per cent having a job of some sort after the first 4 years.
9. Those who are resettled in Australia are MORE likely to engage in education than other immigrants, with 23 per cent earning a university or technical college qualification after the first 5 years, and about 40 per cent of refugees earn some sort of qualification.
10. Those who are resettled in Australia are MORE likely to receive welfare benefits, with about 85 per cent receiving some sort of payment after the first four years. This compares to about 30 per cent of Australians overall. However, more than 50 per cent of refugees are categorised as either studying full time, setting up a business which is not yet profitable, working as an unpaid carer or simply retired.
11. Those who are resettled in Australia are LESS likely to commit a crime, with a crime rate of about 0.04 per cent compared to the community average of about 1.9 per cent.
12. There are up to 50 million displaced people in the world right now. About 20 million are considered refugees. About 10 million are registered with the UNHCR. In the 38 years from the beginning of 1976 until the end of 2013, a total of 69,445 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat.