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Turnbull’s reinvention of the 457 visa scheme does little to aid Australia

By John Haly

We are bringing the 457 visa class to an end”, announced Mr Turnbull after Easter, “…We will replace it with two new temporary skills visas.” With a quick slight of hand, Turnbull re-branded the much criticised 457 visa with two – as yet unnamed – programs to bring foreign workers to Australia. Though new rules and security checks were mentioned, he ensured that he would guard us from the impeding “threat of permanent citizenship” of intelligent and skilled foreigners whom our employers have sought out. Rest assured, Turnbull has proclaimed he will keep us safe from having people of this caliber, stay in Australia.

As Australia returned to work after the Easter long weekend, Malcolm Turnbull reminded us we were a nation of immigrants but we should not be overrun by too many more. With the Australian workforce apparently foremost on his mind, Turnbull told the nation (first via Facebook) that the 457-visa program was being scrapped for two new innovative temporary foreign worker schemes to tackle our unemployment issues. In restricting that program and although unnamed, he proposed two new visa programs with fewer job role options, new market tests, English language, skills and experience requirements.

The first reminder that comes to the fore concerning these new reforms that “put Australian’s first”, is a reference to similar policy I’ve previously heard. Didn’t Julia Gillard propose something similar herself in 2013? Didn’t Malcolm Turnbull criticize her for striking at the “heart of the skilled migration system”?

457 in decline?

Leaving Turnbull’s change of perspective aside, the numbers of 457 workers in Australia have been a subject of much speculation and false rhetoric by politicians seeking to introduce alternative facts and in some cases, outright bigotry. 457 visa numbers have been following a pattern of decline in the last few years but a significant aspect of that in the annual cyclic pattern.

In terms of the 2016 decline of numbers in Australia in any quarter – providing you limit your scope – it looks significant. The first quarter of 2016 (March) there were about 177,390 people in the country working under 457 visas.

Annual patterns of 457 workers in Australia

Since then it dropped slightly to 170,580 (June), up a little to 172,187 (Sept), and dropped significantly to 150,219 (Dec). Now, while these last figures may create the illusion of a significant fall, you need to look at the annual pattern of numbers over the last few years. Stepping back and reviewing the last seven years, a pattern emerges for every year. (Rising sharply, slight fall, slight rising, sharp fall). The pattern – as graphed here – will show you that it is about to jump back up again, so there is a deception inherent in quoting the last quarter’s figures of any year as indicative of where 457 figures are or will be. 457 visa figures have a predictable annual cyclical pattern. Turnbull’s timing made before the Department of Immigration released the last quarter’s figures creates the short-term illusion in media reporting that the coalition is indeed clamping down on 457 workers.

Workers come and go. Totals expressed in net movements of visa entrants – over periods such as a year – hide the significant seasonal change in numbers in the country. So when it is stated that 33,340 of the 40,100 primary applicants lodged 457 visa requests in the first quarter of 2016 were successful, and that this is a decrease from the same time last year, what is notably absent is how many 457 workers left. This is also dependent on which quarter you choose. So pointing out that – during the third quarter of 2012 under Gillard – that 35,452 foreign workers entered the country, ignores that only 14,665 entered in the last quarter of 2009. The coalition cherry picking numbers from specific quarters to disparage Rudd/Gillard’s record – that in actuality had both the highest and lowest intake of 457 Visa workers – is perhaps a tad disingenuous.

Annual cycle aside, it is still true to say the average number of 457 workers in the country since the coalition took power has been larger than the number of government recorded job vacancies in Australia. To keep it in the context of the last 457 worker totals released by the Immigration department, there were 165.9K vacancies in Dec 2016. 457 workers had done their customary annual December quarter drop to 150K, down from 172K for the previous quarter. Unemployment at the time (Roy Morgan’s figures) was at over 7 times that amount at 1,186K or 9.2%. If you added Morgan’s December underemployment numbers to the unemployment, then you reach a number nearly 16 times the vacancy rate at 2,584K. I am not going to entertain the ABS figures because of their inherent inaccuracy.

So even if you threw out all the 457 visa holders in December representing less than 1% of the workforce and made all their jobs available, it would have little impact on the 2.5 million both under and unemployed. This is particularly so as the presumption is there are no available Australians in the market who have the skills necessary to fill these roles. This begs two questions.

  1. Why is it so?
  2. Is it so?

Why 457?

Introduced by John Howard in 1996, the 457 Visa program has been beset by concerns about fraud, corruption and need. Fraud, we will get back to, but the need for it is still a failure of policy. Howard claimed it was to enable employers to address labour shortages in the Australian market and yet after 20 years, we still need to address skill shortages? You’d have to wonder after 20 years, about an economy and a national policy framework that has so failed to raise the skill levels in Australians, that we still need 457 visa workers. How is that “in the national interest” as Mr Turnbull so frequently repeated? A medical degree takes 6yrs, engineering 5yrs and a commerce degree 3yrs. So what has the government been doing in the last two decades? Why have we been unable to educate and upskill our population? Why is this foreign labour market even necessary? To answer that, we need to go back initially to Howard and ask how he began to prepare our children.

As a western nation which once boasted of free education for it’s population, the growing restriction of education to the people has had consequences for our labor market. Howard changed how education was funded by allocating considerable funding to private schools and undercutting public schools. Students drifted away from public schools to the better-funded private schools, where they could afford the luxury. The public school system was left with a community of poorer demographics with less time or capacity for higher education and an increasing inequality of educational results. The social class division between the affluent and the underprivileged then began at school for children. Two decades later the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey shows Australian children falling behind in education. Segregating our schooling system by either academic or social class boundaries have been largely to blame for our children’s poor performance. Our ranking for investment on the OECD league tables for education is 22 out of 37 1n the OECD. Low expenditure is followed by low results.

Whitlam onwards

Leaving high school for TAFE or University has done little to revoke the class distinctions established by Howard’s redistribution of school funding. Whitlam abolished fees for TAFE and university students and provided support for apprenticeships through the National Apprenticeship Assistance Scheme (NAAS). Hawke reduced funding and re-established costs to students as well as changing labour market programs around apprenticeships and introduced traineeships as a major response to rising youth unemployment. Trade apprenticeships flourished as the government focused on traineeships. Mr Keating started governments down the neo-liberal path of privatising the public sector. The problem with privatising the public sector was that these were the main generators of apprenticeship training such as electricity utilities, telecommunications, defence industries, rail, roads, and Australian airlines. Howard also continued to undermine the public sector which contributed to a reduction in skills training – via public sector apprenticeships. Howard quickly consolidated apprenticeships and traineeships under a single umbrella and wrested it away to unions and into the hands of employers. Skewing support for apprenticeships heavily in the interests of employers was followed by a decline in training delivery, apprenticeship completions, pay and conditions. None of which was aided by the further dismantling of the industrial relations system, through the introduction of enterprise bargaining.  While Rudd and Gillard dismantled Howard’s “work choices”, they still followed the traditions of the Hawke/Keating legacy by “make[ing] concessions to the big mining companies, reduc[ing] corporate tax, and restrict[ing] unions rights and push[ing] through spending cuts to maintain a budget surplus.” The decimation of manufacturing under Abbott destroyed yet another training base for trades, and reduced the intake of apprentices.  The budget cuts of his administration also severely impacted apprenticeships.  Tracking the causes, consequences and level of damage to our employment economy have been made all the more difficult by Abbott’s savage dismantling of expert advisory panels as compiled by Sally McManus.

The combination of factors including the dismantling of education, expert advice, the industrial relations system and the public sector meant that a four year apprenticeship in the building trade gets replaced by a shallow sixteen week CBT course as the bare minimum for that specific role. The results have been described as “a disaggregation of skill which is ‘modularised’, ‘flexible’ and ‘atomised’ … [that] will ultimately leave skills ‘fragmented’ at their core.

Many apprenticeships as a means of training up in skills for increasing levels of youth unemployment have largely vanished by comparison. For example, Federal funding for NSW Tafe reached it’s zenith in 2011 and thereafter decreased. Deregulation of training provision meant funding to non-TAFE and private providers increased by 20%. The consequence of this produced the rise of dodgy private providers of vocational education and also the unscrupulous practices by some private providers which have become a scandal in Australia.

No matter the skill training, your always schooled in Finance!

Add too, what Abbott euphemistically referred to as “Fee Deregulation”. Attempts to rectify the class based education system via Gonski funding were scrapped and the vocational education sector simply received new student loan systems, all of which has done little to encourage Australians to “buy” education. The end result has been a drop-off in education in Australia as students fall by the wayside, get ripped off or – even if they do complete their degrees – are faced with indexed debts that limit their employment capacities in a market of decreasing full-time jobs, low vacancies and enormous competition from other under and unemployed members of the workforce. Skills shortages have been a function of deteriorating access to Education driven by political policy.

Is there a skills shortage?

The distribution of 457 visa workers (image from The Guardian)

It is, of course, true to say we do have skill shortages. The question as to what extent any occupation is genuinely suffering from a skill shortage – is problematic. Questions arise as to whether the request for that skill simply represents an opportunity for an employer to take advantage of a compliant, cheap and deunionised workforce. Most reports whether from Flinders University or the National Institute of Labour studies have all rather reflected the opinion of the Flinders University report that “Despite the attention paid to skill shortages, the evidence used to evaluate their incidence and the causes and responses by firms remains thin.

The problem predominately is that the labor market testing for skills shortages will still be conducted by employers – not by an independent panel. This will do nothing to affect the corruption at the core of exploitation of 457 workers.

Turnbull has announced that 216 job roles will no longer be covered by the renamed 457 visa scheme. The problem is that Turnbull’s new visa jobs list would affect just 9 per cent of the current 457 visa holders. So essentially he has cut an already redundant list of skills requirements – at least a quarter of which have never been applied for in the last year. Turnbull has not addressed the issue of employer rorts because the determination of a genuine skills shortage has been so easy to defraud. Underpaying 457 workers has been pervasive amongst dishonest employers.

In the absence of a plan to rectify education, the public sector, independent labour market analysis, unemployment, jobs and growth Malcolm Turnbull’s reinvention of the 457 visa scheme does little to aid Australia out of the economic malaise. Without attention to these issue now, we’ll be obsessing over skill shortages and “temporary” foreign workers in another twenty years.


Day to Day Politics: Dutton has alternative facts?

Monday 24 April 2017

As I said yesterday the Australian’s NewsPoll will be published today. The week started with a change to 457 Visa rule changes, then the rules pertaining to Citizenship. Then coincidently Peter Dutton turns up on Insiders. Will the weeks propaganda turn the tide of unpopularity.

Those who follow politics would understand that this was all calculated to effect the polling result. It is also premeditated propaganda to speak to the conservative heartland and to those with racist inclinations.

Only a political party in its death throes would lower itself to the point of trying to deliberately inluence political polls.

On insiders Dutton went through his usual boring script of blaming Labor for everything. When it came to the truth of what happened on Manus Island with a 10-year-old boy he decided on the American defence of I have alternative facts”.

He couldn’t or wouldn’t use any to defend or support his view.

An observation.

”The rise of the right has brought with it a new political language. One that has not yet been classified because it defies any normal understanding of what the word truth means”.

It is patently clear that his words on the matter are cast in such a way as to suggest that the asylum seekers involved were paedophiles intent on using the boy in some nefarious manner. In doing so he was attempting to infer that there was a connection between this incident and one that occurred two weeks later.

Now lest it be suggested that I am only opining about this matter let me point out that it is true that opinion forms some of what I write. In the first instance what I write is subjected to the truth of it. Then I resort to over 60 years of life experience. As in this instance when people like Dutton are repeat offenders of demonising asylum seekers I take that into consideration when forming my opinion.

So according to the SMH Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said fears about the safety of a five-year-old boy may have sparked last week’s rampage on Manus Island, in which gunshots were allegedly fired into the Australian-run detention centre.

Mr Dutton told Sky News ”asylum seekers had been spotted leading the Papua New Guinean boy into the regional processing centre,” which could have led to tensions escalating before the fracas on Good Friday.

Members of the PNG Defence Force, who were apparently drunk, allegedly discharged their weapons, threw stones and assaulted refugees, guards and local police officers in the clash.

Peter Dutton was falsely intending to draw a link between the two events. They were two weeks apart and the boy was 10 not 5.

There was a lot of angst around that within the local PNG community. There was concern about why, or for what purpose, the boy was being led away back into the regional processing centre.

“I think it’s fair to say the mood had elevated quite quickly. I think some of the local residents were quite angry about this particular incident and another alleged sexual assault [by a refugee on Manus Island].”

Dutton keeps repeating that it is ”indisputable” that the two incidents were related. Be that the case then he should be transparent and offer some evidence that the shooting on the Manus Island detention centre and the young boy was connected.

The PNG Defence Force contradicted Dutton’s version of events saying that the  incident was triggered by an altercation on a football field when asylum seekers refused to leave the ground as directed, which escalated after an officer was assaulted.

And the local police commander, Inspector David Yapu, blamed the incident on “drunken” soldiers’’ who he claimed had waged an unethical and unacceptable rampage.

The boy – aged 10 not five as claimed by Mr Dutton – was taken into the centre, given some fruit and then escorted out by security. He was returned to his parents unharmed, Mr Yapu said. It was all openly viewed by Australian and PNG officials.

But Mr Dutton on Sunday insisted the incident with the child – along with a separate sexual assault – had contributed to a volatile mood on the island.

Buzz Feed reported that.

But Manus province police commander David Yapu said Dutton was referring to an unrelated incident earlier in the week when a 10-year-old boy came into the centre.

“He was given some fruits by the residents in the centre and then he was taken out again,” he said.

“So there was nothing done to him and also there was no official complaint by the parents of that small boy.”

In all my reading I can find nothing that supports Dutton’s view that the incident with the boy was responsible for the event two weeks later with the fight and break out on Friday night.

An observation.

”The pedlars of verbal violence and dishonesty are the most vigorous defenders of free speech because it gives their vitriolic nonsense legitimacy. With the use of free speech, the bigots and hate-mongers seek to influence those in the community who are susceptible or like-minded.”

 There is no substance to Dutton’s claim and it’s obvious that he is just trying to cast aspersions on asylum seekers and refuges. His words arise from a deep well of hatred within the Coalition of all things Muslim.

As one asylum seeker said.

“There are Australian guards who monitor every single activity upon entry, which makes the claim that Mr Dutton made impossible.”

I await the evidence of Mr Dutton’s alternative facts.

”At another time in our political history he would not have lasted the weekend”.

My thought for the day.

‘’Have we reached the point in politics where TRUTH is something that politicians have convinced us to believe, “like alternative facts” rather than TRUTH based on factual evidence, arguments and assertions.”

Turnbull dogwhistles bigots while Trump bluffs and blusters.


Mr Turnbull identified Australian values as freedom, equality of men and women, the rule of law, democracy and “a fair go”, and claimed these were “uniquely Australian”.

“They are shared with many other democracies but they are in and of themselves unique. There’s something uniquely Australian about them,” he said.

A haze of fake tan and a whiff of panic hangs over Canberra this week as Malcolm Turnbull vows Australian values be put first. He plays an anti-migrant card to inflame the same blind fear of others as John Howard’s desperate lie of 2001 that asylum seekers were throwing babies overboard. 457 Visas will be scrapped to ensure that any migrant who gets an Aussie job can speak English. Pass an Aussie values test – even if he can’t define those values himself.

The fair go he speaks of certainly does not apply to women who as Michael Short reports continue to be paid less than men, on average $27,000 and $100,000 if we’re talking about executive salaries, according to Tax Office figures. The gender gap, on average 26,000 a year in wages, he reminds us, is unchanged after 20 years.

Australia’s take on a fair go and equality of opportunity ensures that it’s a blokes’ world where men have more power, earn more while women not only earn less and are more likely to be passed over for promotion. Women continue to carry out two thirds of all unpaid domestic work, three quarters of child care and 70 per cent caring for adults in Australia.  Unpaid childcare alone is estimated by PwC at $345 billion a year.

A fair go is a pet rhetorical device for our politicians. A fair go had a fair go from Kevin Rudd when he opposed Howard’s WorkChoices. Julia Gillard wove “mateship” into the skein when she spoke of the ways the NDIS could offer a fair go, a scheme now imperilled by our current government which pretends that there it is unfunded.

Turnbull gave it a whirl when he blathered on about tax reform in 2015. Menzies and Fraser also both hopped into it. It’s at best an appeal to fairness and justice. Equality of opportunity is in there, too. Clearly, however, it’s not something to be taken too seriously although the ten to fourteen per cent of Australians living below the poverty line would disagree.

Above all, Indigenous Australians whose life expectancy is lower than other Australians; whose children are more likely to die as infants; whose health, education and employment outcomes are poorer than non-Indigenous people would , sadly, have plenty of evidence to dispute the sincerity beneath the PM’s glib rhetoric. The irony for Malcolm Turnbull is that his trumpeting of Australian values, as Michelle Grattan points out, raises serious questions about his own.

Is he tapping into community fears; reaching out to ordinary Australians, widely believed to be Hanson supporters – spurned in an age of identity politics? Or is he willing, once again, to forgo his own beliefs to save his career?

There is nothing uniquely Australian about the values which Malcolm Turnbull is able to instance in a patronising interview with Leigh Sales on ABC 7:30, the PM reveals that respect for a woman with a different point of view is often conspicuously lacking. Indeed, viewers, would be forgiven for concluding Australian values include arrogantly talking over the top of your (female) interviewer and chiding, belittling or mocking your adversary’s commitment.

“I’m surprised you’re challenging this on the ABC,” he says. “I don’t think your heart’s in it actually, Leigh. I think you agree with me.” Daddy knows best, dear. Of course, if Turnbull were really concerned to preserve our uniquely Australian freedoms, he’d not only be practising what he preached, he’d be pushing for a bill of rights.

Instead, what’s clear is that his own heart is not in it. He’s toying with populist rhetoric. It’s also a dog-whistle to those who like Peter Dutton would have us believe, against all evidence, that migrants were taking our jobs. That all our problems are caused by people from other countries who don’t know Don Bradman’s batting average.

That’s it! He’ll set a harder test – only three tries allowed – as if migrants need further tests; as if the questions mean anything; as if any test which rests on cultural  assimilation is not at odds with even his lip service to multiculturalism.

Doubtless a focus group or a think tank told him this is how to win over Pauline Hanson’s fans. It’s not going to work. Yet there’s an awkward echo to Australia first. An orange ring around the rhetoric. An echo of the yam that talks.

The PM is, of course, paying homage to another weak, vainglorious lout, Donald Trump, who’s also muscling up, bigly.  Abruptly switching from America First or self-interested isolationism, to an intrusive, if not, trigger-happy foreign policy involving missiles and bombs, a violent right turn in desperate attempt to stem a rocketing disapproval in opinion polls, the Trump administration marks its hundredth day of chaos and dysfunction by picking a fight with everyone this week.

All the old foes cop a serve: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran. Russia’s “vassal” Syria is threatened with regime change. China must pull its spoilt brat, North Korea, into line; stop its “illegal activities” on the Spratly and Paracel Islands in The South China Sea. Pipsqueak Montenegro is pulled into NATO, adding an extra US base in Europe, antagonising Russia.

Yet a US alone in a world of threats is an illusion, a paranoid collective delusion. America’s real enemies are injustice, inequality and ignorance fostered, as in Australia, by a Neoliberal domestic policy which puts profits over people.

Trump promises “massive tax cuts” which would boost the rapid transfer of wealth from worker to capitalist, benefiting the top one per cent on average $214,000. Eight million low-income and single-income families would suffer financially.

It is not clear, however, that he will be able to deliver. Even Republicans – especially Republicans – want to see something revenue neutral. What he has accomplished is a Cabinet of billionaires and millionaires, the wealthiest in US modern history which stars Education Secretary Betsy de Vos, an opponent of state education, a woman who helped Michigan expand private schools with public funds. Students in Detroit now finish last in US tests of numeracy and literacy.

At the top, its role model is a president who knows no better than to claim in public that Korea was once part of China.  Not that it worries him. He has money. “Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich”, he once told an interviewer.

We don’t care. US allies fawn approval. Mike Pence is feted by the Turnbull government this week as “wise and stable”.

Like Trump, who paid his own business $8.2 million out of campaign funds, Pence has also helped himself. 1990 campaign finance records show that Pence, then 31, was using political donations to pay the mortgage on his house, his personal credit card bill, groceries, golf tournament fees and car payments for his wife.  Not that it was illegal, then.

Turnbull may see this as wise and stable but it cost Pence an election. Public records also reveal as Governor of Indiana, Pence communicated with advisers through his personal AOL account on homeland security matters and security. Yet he’s despatched to Australia on a goodwill tour and to help us tell China to tighten the screws on North Korea.

It’s a rapid, dramatic change of role for the US. Exit stage left, Barrack Obama’s “pivot to Asia”. Enter stage right, Trump’s Team Heavy, a loosely affiliated gang of self-interested thugs united by their insecurity and a desire to kick heads.

Not that anyone can claim to have worked out Trump’s Foreign policy. It’s still a work in progress; a baffling, blustering incoherence based on boosting an already hugely unpopular, geopolitically ignorant President’s bellicose campaign rhetoric which usurps any rational policy based on negotiated mutual interest or calculated strategic initiative.

The US wants Russia out of Syria while it adds Montenegro to NATO.  Another link is added to a ring of bases it has established in spite of its 1990 agreement with Russia not to add a single one. It mouths off at Iran over its landmark nuclear test treaty. Iran, it says, is a threat to the entire civilised world. It’s a pivot to a hard core Neocon agenda which earns it gushing praise from a Turnbull government, desperate to arrest its terminal unpopularity by any means.

America’s reverse charm offensive is unique in US foreign policy history, at least in tone.  Cue VP Mike Pence, the smooth-talking former talk show hate radio host, who styles himself “Russ Limbaugh decaf” Hailed as a moderate, a safe pair of hands, (only by contrast with Trump?), Pence is an “evangelical social conservative“, a climate change sceptic determined to undo 40 years’ progress on abortion, gay rights, civil rights, criminal justice reform and race relations.

Anti-abortion, homophobic, Tea Party Pence is an oddball who won’t dine alone with any woman, a man who must have his wife by his side at events featuring alcohol. As a Congressman, he opposed federal funding to support HIV and AIDS sufferers unless it were matched by government investment in programs to discourage same-sex relationships.

Pence was one of only 25 Republicans to vote against George W Bush’s signature legislation No Child Left behind because he feared its Federal intervention in education. He visits Australia Saturday, with his family, to rapturous applause.

Turnbull is all over him like a rash. Over-zealous US sycophants feature large in the fawning over America that is our political leaders’ response to the US-Australia Alliance, an agreement which binds the US to do no more than consult with us in time of danger, but never has any PM been so keen to gush over a Vice President so far to his right.Â

Desperate for a bounce in the polls, in thrall to his own powerful conservative party rump, Turnbull dotes on Pence; rashly parrots US anti-China nonsense.

“The real obligation, the heaviest obligation, is on China because China is the nation that has the greatest leverage over North Korea,” Turnbull said. “It has the greatest obligation and responsibility to bring North Korea back into a realm of at least responsibility in terms of its engagement with its neighbours.” 

Does North Korea pose a problem for China? Noting its “medieval leadership” run by a family dynasty with “a habit of murdering its family members”, is problematic, Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr counters that China’s got less influence over North Korea than it has over any of its other thirteen neighbours on its 22,000 km borders.

China does fear, however, he says, that a DPRK collapse would leave US ally South Korea’s army on the Chinese border.

Yet nothing has changed in the behaviour of the leader of the DPRK. The only change has been Trump’s bluster.

Now that The Donald’s got his rockets off over Syria or Iraq, he’s not quite sure where, and the USS Carl Vinson is found to be nowhere near the Korean Peninsula but heading to Australia for war games instead, the confrontation is revealed to be a fake face off or a bluff, neither of which does much for Trump’s credibility. Nor our local media.

Our media eagerly, uncritically recycle the US show of force narrative and its dramatic brinksmanship. Is it a bluff or, perhaps, a double bluff, a signal that the Pentagon has no wish to let North Korea put the wind up it; spring a Thucydides trap? The risk or the trap is that the US will be drawn into war with China, as Karen Middleton notes.

Egg permanently on face Press Secretary, White House fall-guy, alternative factotum and, now, hapless casuist, Sean Spicer, is left to split hairs in the faint yet undying hope that he can claim black is white.

“The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That’s a fact. It happened. It’s happening, rather,’ he tells a scowl of reporters. “We never said when it would get there.” He could have made a virtue of a calculated delay. When we’ve finished bowls worked for Drake in 1588. But Trump’s White House is in 1984 mode.

War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength and Spicer is credible in the Orwellian world of modern politics.

While The Donald’s armada is found and turned around, our nation’s appetite for hate is regaled, ad infinitum, by a volley of shots of North Korea’s missile exhibitionism.

Scenes of last Saturday’s DPRK massed parades and assorted military porn help imprint an image of a “reclusive, rogue state” which is, paradoxically, never too shy to threaten nuclear Armageddon or put its people in gulags worse than anything Australia has on Manus or Nauru.

At least, that’s how our press packages its hate, served up with double-helpings of demonisation and lashings of fear.

Sample questions are produced to illustrate the type of thinking that will keep us safe from those who don’t share our values. Oddly they are all aimed at Muslims. Fear of 457 fraudsters, a type of visa which is all Labor’s fault, is whipped up in Canberra. Happily our heroic PM will save the day. Clean up Labor’s mess. He’ll rebadge the visa. It’s name will change and there will be some tinkering but the changes will affect only nine per cent of current 457 visa holders.

The PM hoses down any expectations his government’s budget will do anything except talk about housing affordability. It’s re-run of his all talk and no show tax summit.

Not talking, however, Monkey-Pod Top Banana, Immigration Minister and Border Enforcer, former Queensland drug squad copper Peter Dutton puts report of PNG soldiers shooting at asylum seekers on Manus on Good Friday down to a payback for sexual abuse of a young boy. It’s a rumour he starts. His facts are wrong.

But he’ll leave the commentary to others, he says, deflecting any questions.

Dutton should resign. He’s prejudiced any inquiry on Manus. He’s smeared asylum seekers’ motives as John Howard might. The implication of sexual abuse is a despicable attempt to blame the shooting on the victims.

It would seem, moreover, Dutton’s got the date wrong, the boy’s age wrong and that he’s refusing to admit PNG police evidence. He’s conflated two incidents. The boy who entered the camp was begging for food and was given some fruit.

Interviewed on ABC’s Insiders, Sunday, Peter Dutton won’t hear Barrie Cassidy’s protest that the incident involving a young boy was a separate matter; a week apart from when asylum-seekers were fired upon by an intoxicated mob of PNG solders after a football match at which asylum-seekers had refused to leave the field , according to local police. Dutton perpetuates the lie that the centre is run by PNG, to dodge responsibility for an unsafe environment.

The only proper solution would be to bring the asylum-seekers to Australia and out of harms’ way but Peter Dutton’s more interested in blaming the ABC for “commentary”. It’s un-Australian to expect him to account for his actions.

In the deeper international waters of intolerance and mindless enmity, however, a Leni Riefenstahl Logie goes to MSM, for its sensational scenario of a North Korea a goose step away from world annihilation, in a televisual extravaganza set up to loop endlessly, effortlessly across our screens, as George Orwell foresaw, a cheap and easy means of social control in a world of fear, hate and scarcity made possible by perpetual war. Neocons take a bow.

News editors are spoilt for choice of long-running conflict. There’s more dirt to dish on Syria as it dives for Russian cover, fear that ISIS will link with Al Qaeda in Iraq while Iran is back in the US hit list as public enemy number one.

After a cordial meeting with US Saudi leaders and pals who fund and export extremism, Rex Tillerson accuses Iran of being the mother of all evil with its alarming and ongoing provocations that “export terror and destabilise” the world.

“Allowing this dictator to have that kind of power is not something that civilised nations can allow to happen,” says Paul Ryan Speaker of US House of Representatives. He’s talking about North Korea’s Kim but it’s a nifty confection of moral outrage that would suit any number of contemporary US allies including Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who seized power in a coup and killed more than 800 protesters in a single day.

A similarly US-favoured strong man is Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose recent referendum win means a sidelined parliament and judiciary. Erdogan can now just get on with the business of growing the economy, cracking down on dissent and providing arms and other support to Jihadists in Syria.

Allowed far too much power, nominal leader of Rogue Superpower US President Donald Trump swears, on the other hand, he’ll put an end to nasty North Korea’s nuclear testing all by himself if he has to. Horrible. “The shield stands guard and The sword stands ready,” fearless leader, dimes in his sidekick, bloodless hulk VP Mike Pence, a villain fresh from a Marvel Comic Universe. International law? We make the rules, boss.

The words get worse. The “era of strategic patience” is now over. Why, he’ll even snatch Kim’s missiles out of a falling sky, while as for Syria, bad-ass Bashar al Assad will get his regime changed on him any day now. Or sometime soon. OK.

Will North Korea launch a nuclear attack? Can China tighten the screws on its wayward neighbour, the DPRK? Will Iran prove itself the mother of all evil by pursuing its own nuclear programme? Can Bashar al Assad continue to defy Trump’s threats of regime change? Will Russia take Trump’s Tomahawk hint and pull out of Syria?

The essence of US foreign policy currently is to keep everyone guessing. What is clear, however, is that beneath the spin, the bluff and bluster and the breathless, apocalyptic reporting is a president whose opinion ratings are at record low.

Only 41.9 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s performance as President. 52.3 percent disapprove, according to the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of polls. Polls from swing states similarly show Trump’s approval rating under water, making him the least popular newly elected president in decades.

Most reassuring – but not to The Donald was that national polling showed that after his Syrian attack, euphemistically referred to everywhere as a “strike”, his polls remain flat. Trump is enough of a dud and a disappointment already to be denied the traditional bounce in approval enjoyed by presidents after ordering military action.

Turnbull should take note. Yet this week his grandstanding and dog-whistling on Australian values and his 457 visa rebadging stunt together with his embarrassingly over exuberant greeting of one of the least distinguished and most disturbing Vice Presidents ever to reach our shores is a signal that our PM’s in full panic mode.

As with our great and powerful friend, the US, Australia’s voters are not going to be fooled by a random attack of misty-eyed patriotism or any con-job about Aussie values. Another babies overboard in disguise at this late stage will not help a government which is so divided, so uninspired and so poorly led it just cannot deliver.

Spare us the embarrassing rhetoric, Mr Turnbull. Your frenzied embrace of a fair go and an Aussie freedom, you and your government are not remotely committed to betrays a lack of good faith and good judgement.

Similarly your adulation of Mike Pence and all he represents will do you no favours. Above all, your supercilious and patronising response to Leigh Sales on the 7:30 Report betrays your real values. Australians, especially women can spot a con.

Give up the fear-mongering. The enemy is not the migrant or the asylum seeker or the terrorist. It is within the neoliberal policy of your government which puts profit before people, a government which wages war on the poor and provides tax cuts for the rich.

Australia doesn’t need a new citizenship test. It does need a government which can honour its commitment to meet the needs of its people.

This means providing access for all to good health, welfare and education; ensuring equal opportunities, equality and justice for all; a fair go for all, if you like, but not just more empty talk or posturing while your policies deny these rights.

The report card

Former minister and Liberal Party director Andrew Robb recently completed an investigation into the poor performance of the Liberal Party in the 2016 federal election. Yes, they won by a whisker, but losing 14 seats is a drubbing. Former PM Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, writing for the Daily Telegraph has her theory

On two separate occasions over the past 10 years, Malcolm Turnbull has plotted to seize the Liberal Party leadership from the incumbent. On both occasions, the polls hit high highs, and then low lows. On both occasions, the base deserted Turnbull and on both occasions, the considered judgment was he had a plan to take the leadership but he had no plan to run the party, or the country.

Robb was probably a little less biased, claiming according to Fairfax media

The review argues the party needs to “recognise and respond to the fact that the next campaign effectively begins the day after polling day” and establish a structured research operation that provides politicians with a “continuous understanding of community sentiment” towards policy.

It argues Liberals must “while governing for all, at all times respect, and be seen to be respecting our base”.

This underlines the party’s need to focus on the mainstream – necessary to win elections – while also pleasing core conservative supporters who demand action on deeply held but potentially divisive policy positions, such as free speech and tax cuts.

Both Credlin and Robb are pushing the same argument. A political party must appear to have a plan to be successful. The plan must be continually honed to be attractive to the particular requirements of the ‘rusted-on’ supporters as well as society in general. The alternative is the proverbial baseball bats on the verandah at the next election, to which a number of ALP politicians as well as Newman, Barnett, and Turnbull can personally attest. It is a lesson that is forgotten more often than remembered – apparently. Opinion polls would suggest that Turnbull hasn’t learnt the lesson.

One of Turnbull’s actions in the last session of Parliament was to steer tax cuts for business through the House of Representatives and the Senate, unfortunately at the same time the Centrelink ‘robo-debt’ farce continued. Regardless of the claimed benefit to the community of tax cuts for business or recouping overpayments from Centrelink recipients, to be apparently giving business a reduction in tax while actively and aggressively pursuing those on lower incomes [possible paywall] for what are frequently non-existent or grossly inflated debts is certainly not a good look. As Mungo Maccullum observed in The Monthly [possible paywall]

With Turnbull having negotiated the reductions for small to medium firms through the Senate, it was thought that he would take his winnings and retire – that the cuts for the big end of town would be quietly removed from the table. But not a bit of it: Turnbull will plough ahead, pushing the doors marked pull and ignoring the lessons – not just from the last election, but from all the polling since.

The price of housing (predominately in Sydney and Melbourne) is a ‘hot button’ issue at the moment. Domain.com.au breathlessly (they would do that, they are a real estate sales site) reported in mid – 2015 that the median Sydney house price was in excess of $1million, with their economist, Dr Andrew West attributing

the huge growth to the high level of investor activity, with the $6.4 billion in loans approved over May – a record. “Sixty-two per cent of the housing market loan share is now investors – another record – and an increase of 27 per cent over the first five months of this year compared with the first five months of last year.

Last February, consumer rights group Choice co-authored a study that found

thousands of tenants are being discriminated against and live in a climate of fear.

The research, undertaken by CHOICE, the National Association of Tenants’ Organisations and National Shelter, found that 83% of renters in Australia have no fixed-term lease or are on a lease less than 12 months long, and 62% feel they’re not in a position to ask for longer term rental security.

Half the tenants who took part in the study said they’ve been discriminated against, and an equal percentage said they were worried about being blacklisted on a ‘bad tenant’ database.

During April, Choice looked at the economics of renting again and looked at Treasurer Morrison’s recent speech to the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute and quoted Morrison as suggesting

housing prices in Sydney and Melbourne are causing people on higher incomes to remain in the rental market longer, causing a “concertina effect” that’s impacting those on lower incomes.

“Over half of renters say they rent because they can’t afford to buy their own property,” says Morrison. “Because of this, they are staying in the rental market for longer – a dynamic that puts upward pressure on rental prices and availability, and even more pressure on lower-income households, increasing the need for affordable housing.”

Rather than tackle the potentially difficult discussion around negative gearing, Morrison suggests that the way to reduce rental demand (and prices) is to increase the amount of rental properties available. While supply and demand does play a part, as Choice points out

The focus of property investment in Australia is capital gain, rather than yield – meaning investors make more money from selling a property that has increased in value than they get from rental income. As a result, there is little incentive for investors – particularly “mum and dad” investors – to hold onto investments for longer.

Greg Jericho, reporting on the same speech reported

The treasurer emphatically ruled out any changes to negative gearing to temper investor lending on Monday.

His speech contained a continuation of the regular theme of specious reasons in favour of negative gearing that we have come to expect.

Jericho goes on to quote Morrison arguing against his own policy

you’ve got one set of circumstances over in Perth and to that matter in South Australia and Tasmania. I mean negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions exist there as well and property prices in Perth are going the other way or have been in the eastern states you’ve got a very different response

To demonstrate his point, Jericho argues

And yet Morrison – as did his predecessor Joe Hockey – also likes to suggests abolishing negative gearing will cause rents to rise because when it was briefly abolished in the 1980s, rental prices rose in Sydney and Perth, despite the fact they were flat elsewhere:

Thus for Morrison different house prices growth in different cities suggests negative gearing is not an issue, but different rental prices growth suggests it is.

Similarly Morrison continued to argue that negative gearing is mostly used by average income earners. He argued that “two thirds of those taxpayers who negatively gear their investments have a taxable income of $80,000 or less”.

That might be true, but of course it ignores that most of the benefit of negative gearing goes to higher income earners:

And crucially his argument ignores the fact that people use negative to gearing in order to reduce their taxable income below $80,000.

You may remember Abbott’s claim before the 2013 federal election that the ALP’s National Broadband Network plan was unnecessary and unaffordable. Abbott won the 2013 election and appointed Turnbull the Communications Minister to ‘demolish the NBN’. Paddy Manning has written a long and detailed article on the policy and practice behind the NBN as rolled out by firstly the ALP and then the Coalition Government (with Turnbull in charge for a considerable period of the time) and it is less than complimentary. There have been a number of opportunities where an intelligent politician would have changed course and delivered a better solution for all Australians – Turnbull didn’t.

Turnbull’s recent headline ‘successes’ include losing 14 seats in Parliament at the only election he has faced as Prime Minister, legislating corporate tax cuts while falsely accusing thousands of those who have relied on Centrelink of theft and perpetuating obsolete technology for political reasons. In addition, he still has hundreds if not thousands of human refugees suffering in Detention Camps. Robb’s review suggested that the next campaign needed to commence the day after election and while the Liberals’ conservative base needs to feel considered, there needs to be a ‘continuous understanding of community sentiment’.

Opinion polls, general sentiment and media coverage would suggest that Turnbull clearly doesn’t understand community sentiment. Additionally, his report card (marked by Liberal Party elder Andrew Robb) is a fail for the lead up to the 2016 election. Can Turnbull learn the lesson before the next election or another night of the long knives?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Who’s running this show?

When asked about the conditions of the written agreement between the Liberals and Nationals to form a Coalition government after last year’s election, Barnaby Joyce said “The first aspiration is the agreement remains confidential. That’s aspiration one, two, three, four, five and six.”

What did they have to hide?

As Mark Kenny put it, “to actively deny that exposure dishonours the democratic process… if the Prime Minister’s first act is to ink a private arrangement in which policies and patronage are seen to be traded.”

It has been widely reported that part of that horsetrading was Barnaby’s insistence that a plebiscite would precede any changes to marriage law.

A Galaxy poll in August 2012 showed that 64% of Australians believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Another poll conducted by Crosby|Textor in late June 2014 showed that almost three-quarters of Australians (72%) now support legalising same-sex marriage, including around half (48%) ‘strongly supporting’ it. Just a fifth (21%) opposed this to any degree with those strongly opposed, a small and shrinking 14%.

A Reachtel poll in February this year revealed almost 62% of those surveyed believe that their Federal member should be allowed to vote for same-sex marriage when the issue comes to parliament with almost 60% believing that should happen this year.

There are 226 elected representatives in Federal parliament.

Of the 204 that do not belong to Barnaby’s Nationals, 62% are in favour of marriage equality, 17% are undecided, and 21% are opposed.  This roughly correlates with community opinion.

Of the 22 Nationals members, 18% are in favour, 23% are undecided, and a whopping 59% are opposed.  This is completely unrepresentative of what the people of Australia actually think.

Ever since the election, Barnaby has been flexing his muscles.  Fiona Nash has announced that, unless they can present a case as to why not, the entire public service will be moved to the bush.  Matt Canavan is strongly pushing for the Nationals slush fund (aka the NAIF) to be spent subsidising an Indian billionaire’s coal venture.  The inland railway, that may or may not make Barnaby Joyce’s Pilliga property more valuable, will go ahead.  Dog whistling about 457 visas and citizenship is designed purely to shore up Barnaby’s party against James Ashby’s One Nation.

Approximately 10% of Australians live outside urban areas.  Nationals make up about 10% of our MPs but they occupy over 21% of the ministry giving them a disproportionate voice in Cabinet.

After Tony Abbott deliberately scuttled any chance of marriage equality by inviting Barnaby’s bozos to join the Liberal’s party room debate, Malcolm Turnbull contacted Alan Jones asking him to intercede.

“This is ridiculous Alan, this plebiscite stuff,” Jones quoted Turnbull as saying at the time.

Well Malcolm, you’re the boss now – well at least in name.  You could actually have the courage of your convictions for once and allow the lawmakers to vote now on what is an inevitability.

Not only would it remove a festering topic, it would put Tony Abbott in his place and remind Barnaby that he isn’t running the show.  Despite what Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews may think, it would undoubtedly give you a lift in the polls and would give you some clear air to get on with more pressing issues before the next election.  It would remove a wedge issue from Labor’s arsenal.

Why are the Nationals allowed to impose their will on the country against the wishes of the vast majority of politicians and citizens?  What is Barnaby going to do if you decide to have a parliamentary vote – give up being Deputy PM?  I don’t think so.  Dissolve the Coalition?  Hardly.

The February Reachtel poll also showed that 41% of voters are less likely to vote for the Government if the Liberal Nationals Coalition continues to block members voting according to their conscience.

For everyone’s sake, show some ticker and to use Barnaby’s words, just get ‘er done.

The Biggest Problem With Labor’s Negative Gearing Policy

Looking at the register of pecuniary interests, one can’t help but notice the number of politicians with more than one property. Actually, when you look at the number of properties, it’s tempting to suggest that were they all required to divest themselves of all real estate investments, then that’d go more than halfway toward solving the “supply” problem that the Liberals suggest is the reason for high prices.

Of course, to suggest that it’s all a supply problem overlooks the demand side of the equation. Ever since non-landholders were granted the vote a couple of centuries back, the poor have grown more demanding and now most of them seem to think that they require houses, even in the more temperate areas of Australia. Thankfully, there are some who are content to be homeless even if they make the streets untidy. Personally, I think our Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce (doesn’t sound so absurd if you say, US President Donald Trump!) hit the nail on the head when he suggested that people should quit their jobs and move to his electorate so that they could afford a house… Assuming that they could get another job in an area where unemployment is so high.

But I didn’t start writing because I had a solution to the problem. Like the Liberals, I think it’s enough to point out Bill’s shortcomings… (Mm, Shorten’s Shortcomings! I may be able to sell them that one. They seem to have run out clever catch-phrases lately. I mean, “clean coal” is an oxymoron and makes about as much sense as “dry water” or “right-wing think tank”. They haven’t had anything like “jobs and growth” or “Innovation rules, ok” for over a year!)

The big problem with the policy Labor took to the last election is that only allowing negative gearing on new construction is that it would bring down the price of houses. And this won’t help affordability. Why not? Well, it just won’t. Have I done any economic modelling? There’s no need for economic modelling because it’ll either just confirm what I already know, or else it won’t have taken into consideration other factors like the fact that it doesn’t confirm the assumptions that I started with.

If housing prices come down, then the value of the politicians’ property portfolio would drop by millions of dollars. And they’d feel poor, making them vulnerable to corruption. So by keeping property values high, then we’re helping to ensure the integrity of the Parliament. In fact, recently some politicians suggested that by giving people access to their superannuation, we could help push prices even higher and therefore our MPs would have even less incentive to accept a bribe.

But really the problem is now solved. The crackdown on 457 visas means that no longer will we have goat farmers, blacksmiths and various other occupations coming over and buying up all our houses so that they can use them to strike their spouses, practise female circumcision and deny their families Australian values.

Hopefully this doesn’t cause too much of drop in demand. I’d hate anything to reduce the wealth of our politicians, but I guess, if that were to happen, Malcolm would have a solution. If not, I’m sure Tony would have an idea he’d be happy to share.

Day to Day Politics: Destroying what we stand for.

Sunday 23 April 2017

It’s a lazy Sunday. There’s not much on. Rain is falling on corrugated roof creating a rhythm of thought-provoking questions that are not easily put aside. The word democracy keeps insinuating itself upon me. I know I have written about it unendingly but the political person who lives within me tells me I must incessantly return to it. Our democracy is in an unholy mess and my desire, before my candle extracts its last breath, is that it is rescued from its dank demise.

It is incontestable that Australians have had enough. How do we know? Well the latest Newspoll tells us that 29% of voters have abandoned both the major parties in favour of the minor parties and independents. That is the highest national level since 1910, when the two-party system was formed.

There can be no doubt that a high proportion of Australians have lost faith in our two-party system of Government and are electing to drop out altogether or change their voting pattern.

I would go so far as to say that if we didn’t have compulsory voting the turnout would be as bad as in the US.

Both major parties are responsible. The incumbent is on its last legs with a leader so weak that he takes orders from the far right of his party which is in a fight to the death with the moderates. Everything the Prime Minister turns his mind to has the smell of desperation about it. There is no sense of governance as a democratic principle. We have witnessed it this week with Turnbulls openly racist citizenship changes together with 457 Visas.

The Shorten-Labor Opposition with its eye on winning the next election has given away the opportunity to take the moral high ground and talk about restoring our democratic ideals.

It seems to me that in their desire to destroy each other they are in fact destroying the very thing that allows then to exist.

The AIMN has published many fine contributions on this subject.

Jenifer Wilson says that ”Democracy isn’t just the right to vote. It’s a way of being.”

Kyran O’dwyer says:

”The greatest threat posed by erosion is not that the change occurs, but that the change occurs gradually, over time. The change is not noticeable on a daily basis, but at the end of a year, a decade, a century, you suddenly notice all that has eroded away. You suddenly realise what you had, only because you suddenly realise it has gone.”

Kaye Lee:

”Successful democracy depends on an informed electorate to choose the appropriate representatives and informed politicians to make the right choices.  When information is withheld, obfuscated, or corrupted with lies, democracy is up for sale to the bidder with the loudest voice and the money to buy the biggest megaphone.”

Ken Wolff:

”We are seeing the same phenomenon around the world: the election of Jeremy Corbin to the Labour leadership in the UK; the rise of anti-establishment parties in Spain and Greece; and, unfortunately, it has also meant the rise of extreme right (and sometimes neo-fascist) parties that tap into that disaffection with the political system.”

John Lord:

In the recipe of what a democracy is there are many ingredients, but simply explained it is a political system where like-minded people come together to form ideas that become a philosophy. They then become the foundation of political parties. These ideologies pull in different directions in a quest for majority approval by the people. It is a far from perfect system that has variations all around the world. It is elastically flexible (we even have democratic dictatorships), unpredictable and at its worst, violent and extremely combative.

At its best it is noble, constructive and generally serves society well. It is very much better than the next best thing and accommodates diagonally opposed ideas, extreme or otherwise. All in all it’s an imperfect beast that has served us well. Yes it’s government for the people by the people.

Common to most Western Democracies (and in the absence of anything better) it has a capitalistic economic system. Of late this has come under question.

In Australia the right to vote is the gift that democracy gives and people are free to vote for whichever party (or individual) they support but overriding this is the fact that people cannot possibly believe in democracy, if at the same time they think their party is the only one that should ever win.

A clear indication of an Australian Democracy in decline is the fact that people are giving up this voting gift, literally saying: ”A pox on both your houses”.

Three million do so by not voting.

Our political system is in crisis because our politicians fail to speak with any clarity on issues that concern people.

Moreover, an enlightened democracy should provide the people with a sense of purposeful participation. It should forever be open to regular improvement in its methodology and its implementation. Its constitutional framework should be exposed to periodical revision and renewal, compromise and bi-partisanship when the common good cries out for it.

But above all its function should be, that regardless of ideology the common good should be served first and foremost. A common good healthy democracy serves the collective from the ground up rather than a top down democracy that exists to serve secular interests. One that is enforced by an elite of business leaders, politicians and media interests who have the power to enforce their version. That is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Every facet of society including the democratic process needs constant and thoughtful renewal and change. Otherwise we become so trapped in the longevity of sameness that we never see better ways of doing things. Unfortunately, Australia’s particular version of the democratic process has none of these things inherent in it and is currently sinking in a quagmire of American Tea Party Republicanism.

I am not a political scientist, historian or a trained journalist. I write this as a disgruntled and concerned citizen because it seems to me that the Australian democracy I grew up with no longer exists. The demise of Australian Democracy has its origins in a monumental shift by both major parties to the right with the result that neither seem to know exactly what it is they stands for. They are now tainted with sameness.

The Liberal Party has been replaced by neo-conservatism, actively asserting individual identity against a collective one and old style Liberalism no longer has a voice. There is little or no difference between the Liberals and the National Party who seem irrelevant as a political force.

Conservatives have gone down the path of inequality with a born to rule mentality that favours the rich.

”The whole logic of the ”lifters” and “leaners” rhetoric so favoured by the current Government is a distillation of the idea that there is no such thing as society, that we and only we are responsible for our own circumstances”. (Tim Dunlop, The Drum, 4/7/2014).

The Labor Party needs to rid itself of an outdated social objectives and invest in a social philosophical common good instead. And recognise that the elimination of growing inequality is a worthwhile pursuit.

The major parties have become fragmented with Labor losing a large segment of its supporters to the Greens whilst the LNP is being undermined by rich populist extremists on the far right.

In terms of talent both parties are represented by party hacks of dubious intellectual liability without enough female representation and worldly work life experience. Both parties have pre-selection processes rooted in factional power struggles that often see the best candidates miss out. Both need to select people with broader life experience. Not just people who have come out of the Union Movement or in the case of the LNP, staffers who have come up through the party.

Our Parliament, its institutions and conventions have been so trashed by Tony Abbott in particular that people have lost faith in the political process and their representatives. Ministerial responsibility has become a thing of the past.

Question time is just an excuse for mediocre minds who are unable to win an argument with factual intellect, charm or debating skills, to act deplorably toward each other. The public might be forgiven for thinking that the chamber has descended into a chamber of hate where respect for the others view is seen as a weakness. Where light frivolity and wit has been replaced with smut and sarcasm. And in doing so they debase the parliament and themselves as moronic imbecilic individuals.

Question Time is the showcase of the Parliament and is badly in need of an overhaul and an independent Speaker. Our democracy suffers because no one has the guts to give away the slightest political advantage.

Recent times have demonstrated just how corrupt our democracy has become. We have witnessed a plethora of inquiries all focusing on illegal sickening behaviour. There is no reason to doubt that the stench of NSW doesn’t waffle its way through the corridors of the National Parliament and into the highest offices. Corruption weaves it way through all sections of society including Unions, Business and Politics.

And our democracy lacks leadership because our current leaders and their followers have so debased the Parliament that there is no compelling reason to be a politician. Well at least for people with decency, integrity and compassion.

I cannot remember a time when my country has been so devoid of political leadership. In recent times we have had potential but it was lost in power struggles, undignified self-interest and narcissistic personality.

The pursuit of power for power’s sake and the retention of it has so engulfed political thinking that the people have become secondary and the common good dwells somewhere in the recesses of small minds lacking the capacity for good public policy that achieves social equity.

Our voting system is badly in need of an overhaul. When one party, The Greens attracts near enough to the same primary votes as The Nationals but can only win one seat in the House of Representatives, as opposed to eight there is something wrong with the system. Added to that is the ludicrous Senate situation where people are elected on virtually no primary votes, just preferences. It is also a system that allows the election of people with vested business interests with no public disclosure.

One cannot begin to discuss the decline of Australian democracy without at the same time aligning it to the collapse in journalistic standards and its conversion from reporting to opinion. Murdoch and his majority owned newspapers with blatant support for right-wing politics have done nothing to advance Australia as a modern enlightened democratic society. On the contrary it has damaged it, perhaps irreparably.

The advent of social media has sent the mainstream media into free fall. Declining newspaper sales have resulted in lost revenue and profits. It is losing its authority, real or imagined. Bloggers  more reflect the feelings of grass-roots society. Writers with whom they can agree or differ but have the luxury of doing so. As a result newspapers in particular have degenerated into gutter political trash in the hope that they might survive. Shock jocks shout the most outrageous lies and vilify people’s character with impunity and in the process do nothing to promote decent democratic illumination. They even promote free speech as if they are the sole custodian of it.

There are three final things that have contributed to the decline in our democracy. Firstly, the Abbott factor and the death of truth as a principle of democratic necessity. I am convinced Tony Abbott and others who have followed believe that the effect of lying diminishes over time and therefore is a legitimate political tool. So much so that his words and actions brought into question the very worthiness of the word truth. Or he has at least devalued it to the point of obsolescence..

The 2014 budget will be remembered for one thing. That it gave approval for and overwhelmingly legitimised lying as a political and election contrivance.

Tony Abbott set a high standard when it comes to keeping promises. On August 22, 2011 he said:

“It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. Nothing could be more calculated to bring our democracy into disrepute and alienate the citizenry of Australia from their government than if governments were to establish by precedent that they could say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.”

We should never forget that, after crucifying Prime Minister Julia Gillard daily for three years, Abbott made this solemn promise:

”There will be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS”

This was unambiguous statement that cannot be interpreted any differently than what the words mean. To do so is telling one lie in defence of another.

In that budget he broke them all. As a result, a rising stench of hypocrisy and dishonesty engulfed the Abbott prime minister-ship. When you throw mud in politics some of it inevitably sticks but there is a residue that adheres to the chucker. That was Abbott’s dilemma but the real loser was our democracy. In Australian political history Abbott’s legacy will be that he empowered a period emblematic of a nasty and ugly period in our politics. Abbott’s contribution to the decline of the Australian body politic is unmeasurable.

Our democracy is nothing more or nothing less than what the people make of it. The power is with the people and it is incumbent on the people to voice with unmistakable anger the decline in our democracy.

People need to wake up to the fact that government effects every part of their life (other than what they do in bed) and should be more concerned. But there is a political malaise that is deep-seated. Politicians of all persuasions must be made to pay for their willful destruction of our democracy.

Good democracies can deliver good governments and outcomes only if the electorate demands it.

“You get what you vote for” rings true.

Lastly but importantly we need to educate our final year school leavers (the voters of tomorrow) with an indebtedness and fundamental appreciation of democracy. A focus group I held recently at a nearby college revealed two things. One was that our young people are conversant with societal issues and have strong opinions grounded in clear observation. They cannot however place them into a logical political framework because (two) they are not adequately informed about political dogma and its place in the workings of a democracy.

We deserve better than what we have at the moment. However, if we are not prepared to raise our voices then our democracy will continue to decline and the nation and its people will suffer the consequences.

Three books have recently been published that address the state of our democracy. The first ‘Triumph and Demise’ is by The Australian’s editor-at-large, Paul Kelly. In the final chapter Kelly suggests that our political system is in trouble and that, if that is the case, then by definition so are we. Prime Minister Abbott launched the book, and at the time, fundamentally disagreed with the authors assertions.

Paul suggests that the relentless negativity of our contemporary conversation, the culture of entitlement that he thinks has sprung up over the last decade or so, means that good government has become difficult, perhaps impossible’.’

”It’s not the system which is the problem, it is the people who from time-to-time inhabit it. Our challenge at every level is to be our best selves.”

In the first quote two words, negativity and entitlement jump out at you. Not necessarily in the context of the difficulty of governance, he was alluding to, but rather as self-descriptive character analysis. He could not have chosen two better words to describe his own footprint on the path to our democratic demise.

The second is a disingenuous, even sarcastic swipe at his opponents that leaves no room for self-examination or blame for his own period as opposition leader and later as Prime Minister in particular. And in another indignant self-righteous swipe he said that Labor was “much better at politics than government.”

Three quotes from Kelly at the book’s launch are worth repeating. Kelly said he increasingly felt there were “real problems” with the mechanics of the political system as he worked on his book.

”I have always believed in the quality of leadership. I have always felt that leadership was fundamental … to the success of the country,” Kelly said.

”I do think the system today makes governing, and in particular serious reform, more difficult, and I think the record does show that.”

I have not read the book but I agree entirely with his diagnosis. In the first quote I believe he is referring to a breakdown in the conventions and institutional arrangements of our democracy.

The second is a general commentary on the dearth of leadership over the past decade or so. Although he was a Howard supporter and he said this of Abbott prior to his sacking..

”Abbott is governing yet he is not persuading. So far. As Prime Minister he seems unable to replicate his success as Opposition leader: mobilising opinion behind his causes. The forces arrayed against Abbott, on issue after issue, seem more formidable than the weight the prime minister can muster.”

The third quote is a direct reference to the 24/7 News cycle and negativity as a means of obtaining power.

The second book, The Political Bubble’ by Mark Latham also addresses the state of our democracy:

”Australians once trusted the democratic process. While we got on with our lives, we assumed our politicians had our best interests at heart”

He suggests that trust has collapsed. In this book, he freely explores and travels up and down every road of our democratic map. On the journey he talks about how democracy has lost touch with the people it’s supposed to represent. Like a fast talking cab driver he gives view on how politics has become more tribal with left and right-wing politics being dominated by fanatical extremists.

An entire chapter is devoted to how Tony Abbott promised to restore trust in Australian politics and how he failed to keep his promises. Another chapter is devoted to what can be done about fixing the democratic deficit as he calls it.

”Can our parliamentary system realign itself with community expectations or has politics become one long race to the bottom?”

The third, and more recent book, by Nick Bryant (BBC correspondent and author) aptly titled ‘The Rise and Fall of Australia: How a great Nation lost its way’ takes a forensic look at the lucky country from inside and out. The most impressive thing about this book, besides the directness of his observations and astuteness of his writing, is that what is being said is an outsider’s point of view. He is not constrained by the provincial restrictions of self-analysis. Instead he offers his take on what he calls:

”The great paradox of modern-day Australian life: of how the country has got richer at a time when its politics have become more impoverished.”

Another important contribution to the democracy debate is this piece by Joseph Camilleri ‘Democracy in crisis’ I highly recommend this thoughtful article for a comprehensive outline of what ails our democracy.

I have alluded to these works, not as a review of each, but rather to highlight a growing concern over the state of our democracy.

There is no doubt in my mind if one looks at all the ingredients that go into forming a strong democracy, and you make a list of ingredients, the traditional recipe is no longer working. Or it has been corrupted by inferior ingredients.

At the risk of repeating myself, take for example the seemingly uncontrollable bias and market share of Murdoch. A desire for unaccountable free speech that is weighted toward, extremism. The attack on the conventions and institutions of parliament by the Prime Minister. The precedent of invoking Royal Commissions into anything as a means of retribution. The rise of fanatical right-wing partisan politics and media. The decline in parliamentary respect and behaviour. Add to that the right wings dismissive contempt for feminism.

Corporate sway and the pressure of the lobbyist can also be added to the mix, together with the voice of the rich that shouts the voice of inequality. The idea that with political servitude comes entitlement via financial benefit and privilege. And you can throw in the power of personalities over policy within the mainstream parties. Then there is the uninhibited corruption from both major parties. Then there is the acceptance by both sides that negativity is the only means of obtaining power.

But at the top of the list is the malaise of the population. Although we have compulsory voting 3 million people at the last election felt so disgusted with our democracy that they felt more inclined to have a beer at the pub, or mow the lawn than cast a vote for Australian democracy.

My thought for the day.

”If we are to save our democracy we might begin by asking that at the very least our politicians should tell the truth”.

Previous instalments:

Day to Day Politics: Where did it all go wrong? Part one.

Day to Day Politics: When did it all go wrong? Part two – Newspapers.

Day to Day Politics: When did it all go wrong? Part three – Electronic Media.

Day to Day Politics: When did it all go wrong? Part four – ‘Right wing feral opinion’





The world is bat poo crazy

The world is bat poo crazy.

Barnaby Joyce is our Deputy Prime Minister, Pauline Hanson is dictating policy, and Spud Duddy is being touted as our next leader.

Action on climate change is seen as too expensive.

We can’t afford foreign aid for our neighbours but we can afford $400 billion for new war toys on top of 2% of GDP each year on defence.

In order to stop terrorists killing innocent people, we spend a fortune bombing innocent people in other sovereign nations.

In the name of keeping people safe, we close the door to those fleeing war and oppression.  In order to stop refugees drowning at sea, we lock them up indefinitely in corrupt hellholes or send them back to their tormentors.

The Western defenders of democracy, freedom and human rights continue to pour obscene amounts of armaments into any hotspot with the bucks to pay.

To create tolerance and cohesion, we scapegoat minority groups.

To fix the budget, we cut income to the poorest consumers and revenue from the wealthiest tax avoiders.

A gross debt of $260 billion was a disaster but a gross debt of $500 billion is sound economic management showing a credible path back to surplus.

In order to “create jobs”, we pay billions of dollars to subsidise coal-mining which is moving towards making everything autonomous from pit to port but could not afford to subsidise car manufacturing which employed many more people and kept manufacturing alive.

To facilitate decentralisation, and to improve competition, we build a hopelessly inadequate NBN.

To fill skills shortages, we close TAFEs and then argue about what hoops imported workers must jump through to be exploited by unscrupulous employers.

To encourage children to attend school we employ truancy officers and threaten to cut off their parents’ income or block their citizenship.

To foster creativity and innovation we revert to Direct Instruction with a focus on phonics and our Judeo-Christian heritage.  We cut research funding and increase university fees.

With youth unemployment at dangerous highs, we extend the retirement age to 70.  Expect a spike in disability pensions as happened when they increased it from 60 to 65.  Unless you are a politician (past or present), judge or one of those endless Board members, getting a job in your 60s is pretty hard.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Australia are homeless and more than 13% live in poverty despite the country having achieved 25 uninterrupted years of growth.

In an attempt to lower electricity bills, we have watered down the Renewable Energy Target saving households, on average, 50c a week while adding to the uncertainty that has strangled renewable energy investment.  The government continues to collect 10% GST on every electricity bill.

To make health more affordable, we cut preventative health programs and make going to the GP more expensive.  Despite the statistics showing how much is spent in the last few days of life, dying with dignity remains a forbidden topic.

To help young Aboriginals who are struggling to cope, we lock them up, abuse and humiliate them, and then punish them more for not becoming model citizens.

Homosexuality is still seen by the lawmakers of the country as deviant behaviour that precludes gays from the same rights as others.

“Intellectual” and “do-gooder” are now derogatory terms and environmental protection is “lawfare” or, even worse, “socialism”.

As the world struggles with the challenges of climate change, inequality, overpopulation, resource depletion, famine and war, all our time is spent discussing “fake news” – a term I have come to loathe.  Truth and evidence no longer matter when we have facebook confirmation.

And what’s more….

Donald Trump is President of the United States.

Can the lunacy end or are we doomed to hasten our own destruction?

Putin and Exxon win trillions to destroy the planet

By LeftOfCentre
U.S. Secretary of State, Rex (RExxon) Tillerson forged a massive venture with Russian-owned oil company and Putin’s gravy train, Rosneft in 2012. But then Vladimir decided to invade Ukraine and Obama had no choice but to issue sanctions upon Russia, putting a halt to any progress on this massive project. This was a monkey wrench into the $500 billion venture between Rosneft and Exxon. Until now.

The Wall Street Journal explains:

Exxon has been seeking U.S. permission to drill with Rosneft in several areas banned by sanctions and applied in recent months for a waiver to proceed in the Black Sea, according to these people.

The Black Sea request is likely to be closely scrutinized by members of Congress who are seeking to intensify sanctions on Russia in response to what the U.S. said was its use of cyberattacks to interfere with elections last year. Congress has also launched an investigation into whether there were ties between aides to Donald Trump and Russia’s government during the presidential campaign and the political transition.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is Exxon’s former chief executive officer and forged a close working relationship with Rosneft and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The State Department is among the U.S. government agencies that have a say on Exxon’s waiver application, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Due to the sanctions, other major components of the Exxon-Rosneft agreement were put on hold in 2014, shortly before Rosneft revealed that the first well the two companies drilled together in the arctic waters of the Kara Sea may hold as much as 750 million barrels of oil.

The Black Sea has become a major area of interest for many of the world’s biggest oil companies. Exxon has drilled there off the coast of Romania and holds a license for an area in Ukrainian waters. Royal Dutch Shell PLC has also drilled in the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey.

Isn’t it convenient that the State Department plays a major role in approving this deal? Tillerson and Trump, likely at the behest of Vladimir Putin, have gutted the Department of State, which is woefully understaffed.

The state department’s weakness also empowers Trump and his advisers, and enables them to more easily bypass the electorate and the bureaucracy when making foreign policy decisions.

There’s no question why Putin simply marched his way into Ukraine and seized Crimea, strategic access is very important. He wasn’t about to say bye bye (до свидания, do svidaniya) to all those rubles.

The earning potential of the Black Sea makes Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves seem like the ‘JV Squad’ of wealth. So now, Putin has his personal buddy in charge of removing those very financially straining sanctions and VOILA!  CA CHING!  Rexxon, Putin and all the other evil members of their circle of fascism can rule the world.

The GOP pretends to love the unborn as a diversion, so we don’t mention the unpleasant reality that our government is controlled by a party completely devoted to this oil deal. Even Halliburton plays a pretty big role in all this.

Russia faces a dilemma: it still needs Exxon Mobil Corp., Halliburton Co. and BP Plc to maintain output from Soviet-era oil fields and develop Arctic and shale reserves.

There’s nothing to see here, no unsavory business practices, no ethical conundrums, right? Just a couple hundred billion dollars, ROUGHLY $8,000,000,000,000.00 (TRILLION) to polluters and murderers with unlimited nuclear access. What could possibly go wrong?

This article was originally published on Crooks and Liars as Exxon looks to Tillerson for sanctions break so they can score a jackpot and has been reproduced with permission.

Must see: $500 billion opportunity for Exxon, Russia in Trump cabinet pick


Day to Day Politics: They may survive on life support.

Saturday 22 April 2017

1 It was calculated that with a Newspoll due on Monday that the blatantly racist political moves on Citizenship and 457 visas would cause a lift in the polls for the Coalition and the Prime Minister.

Although both were announced with all the characteristics of a party at war with itself, it could nevertheless be argued that there are those in the community who would have been impressed.

Enter Tony Abbott with a now weekly engagement with Ray Hadley and the Newspoll agenda was sabotaged.

Not happy with Abbott’s interview where he called on the Government to change policies and embrace more conservative principles the Prime Minister wasn’t happy.

“I’m not interested in personalities or politics of that kind.”

Then one of two people, Tony Nutt or Malcolm Turnbull leaked on the former Prime Minister with regards to his re-election prospects at the last election and by Friday it had turned into an all in brawl. Abbott called the leak ”sneaky and underhand”.

Of course the PM has vehemently denied that he and the former prime minister were engaged in “open warfare” Mr Abbott was entitled to his view said the PM.

Cabinet colleague Christopher Pyne told the Nine Network Mr Abbott went on the attack on Thursday against “self-serving” leakers, following revelations Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had to be drafted in to save his political hide during the 2016 election.

On 7.30 Thursday in Lee Sales interview with Turnbull, two important questions arose. The first was when she asked “If we were are the most successful multicultural country in the world, why are these changes necessary.” He simply avoided the question and moved unto Australian values of which he had no idea how to define other than they were unique to us. Bullshit of course.

“Freedom, equality of men and women, mutual respect, the rule of law, democracy, a fair go — that’s our Australian values,” he said. But are these not universal human values.

“There is something uniquely Australian about them. We’re proud of them. We’re committed to them. We should celebrate them and we should put them at the core of becoming an Australian citizen.”

Really? Maybe they should be at the very core of becoming an Australian politician.

It was all an exercise about image or lack of it. The second one was when Sales asked him to characterize himself and he botched it because he didn’t know what his values were.

Chris Ullman writing for the ABC put it this way:

”He has clearly greatly disappointed many in the community who invested faith in the obvious intellectual talents he brings to the top job.

To date he neatly fits James Russell Lowell’s famous and unfair criticism of Edgar Allen Poe — that he had written some verses “quite the best of their kind, but the heart somehow seems all squeezed out by the mind”.

”Unable to define himself, Mr Turnbull has been defined by others and found wanting against his past words and deeds”.

Labor’s shorthand for him has stuck — an out-of-touch rich toff who doesn’t believe in anything.”

In the interview the PM expressed incredulity that his proposals had been viewed cynically by the electorate which of course caused me to wonder just how many real folk he met on a daily basis.’

Or does he have such a high opinion of himself that he believes we trust him? How silly.

Anyone who could say that he trusted ‘’the ”wisdom and judgment” of Trump and Pence by virtue of uttering the phrase leaves himself open to having no values.

He said to Sales:

”I’m surprised you’re challenging this on the ABC,” he said. “I don’t think your hearts in it actually, Leigh. I think you agree with me.”

It is well-known that Mathias Cormann had an all in brawl with Abbott about playing as a team but it appears Tony wasn’t listening.

”We have to ensure, working as a strong and united team, that we don’t help inadvertently Bill Shorten become prime minister”

”because that would be very bad for Australia.”

”All of us would love to be able to focus on the significant policy legacy of the Abbott government, I’d like to be able to do that.”

“Able to be interpreted as undermining our efforts to be able to provide strong and effective government and to maximise our chances of being successful at the next election.”

Now they are talking about bringing in former Prime Minister and manipulator, of all things political, John Howard to sort out the problems. Why not Mr Fixit you ask. Well he was unavailable. He had taken leave to question his values.

Prissy Pyne said on Chanel 9 that he doesn’t know and doesn’t care if Mr Howard is enlisted.

Christopher Pyne told the Nine Network Mr Abbott went on the attack on Thursday against “self-serving” leakers, following revelations Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had to be drafted in to save his political hide during the 2016 election.

Asked on Friday whether it was annoying to have Mr Abbott interrupting him from the backbench, Mr Turnbull said there were many potential distractions in his job.Values might be another.

Veteran MP Liberal MP Warren Entsch also got stuck into Abbott saying his backbench colleague hasn’t kept his word.

“He was going to step down graciously, he was going to serve in the best interests of the country, but he was not going to do a running commentary, he was not going to be political. Well, it’s been anything but that.”

“I look forward to all the members of my party room, all the members on the backbench or the frontbench, working together and getting out there and talking about the success of the government’s policies,”

It seems that whatever decisions are taken, whatever policies developed that they are overshadowed by Abbott’s opinion and the internal differences of left and right. At the moment it would appear that the internal bickering is pulling the party apart with the right-wing extremists seemingly having the upper hand.

During their term of office, and despite their claims to the contrary, they have not produced anything noteworthy in terms of policy. The whole of their time seems to be spent thinking up announcements that might improve the publics image of the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile the country stands still while Turnbull moans.

2 I have written that Tony Abbott is beyond doubt the greatest lying politician this country has ever seen. If that be true then Peter Dutton must surely take the prize for the sickest. What a vile vomitus man he is. His latest attempt to paint asylum seekers on Manus Island as pedophiles is beyond belief

“There was an alleged incident where three asylum seekers were alleged to be leading a local five-year-old boy (the boy was 10) back toward the facility and there was a lot of angst around that,” Dutton told Sky News.

“I think there was concern about why the boy was being led, or for what purpose he was being led away, back to the regional processing centre, so I think it’s fair to say the mood had elevated quite quickly.”

Read this comment by Terry2 on my post yesterday:

Peter Dutton said that the recent disturbances at the Manus Island Detention Centre were due to some refugee inmates being seen escorting a five-year old local boy into the centre : Dutton was clearly blowing a dog-whistle implying that there were issues of pedophilia, after all they are foreigners and they tried to come here by boat.

The officials on Manus have now said that there is no truth in this and that an instance where a ten-year old boy went into the detention centre – the centre is unlocked between dawn and dusk to convey the cynical Dutton deception that these people are not actually detained – looking for food was given some fruit by the detainees and then escorted back to his parents.

Dutton is a despicable individual and to think that some say he is being groomed to take over from Turnbull and lead this country is just too sickening to contemplate.

You can read a full account of the incident in The Guardian. My concern is to expose the former copper for the vile excuse of a human being he thinks he is. He should resign over this incident. He is unfit to serve as a Minister in any government.

3 The other thing that will cloud Mondays Newspoll will be the revelation that there are so many politicians soaking up our money by virtue of capital gains on property.

My thought for the day.

”We should always be careful when speaking of values lest our own come into view”



Peter Dutton And His Imaginary Five Year Old Friend

Mr Dutton told Sky News today that the mood on the island had been tense following an alleged incident “where three asylum seekers were alleged to be leading a local five-year-old boy back toward the facility”.
“There was concern about why the boy was being led or for what purpose he was being led away back in the regional processing centre,” Mr Dutton said.
“I think it’s fair to say the mood had elevated quite quickly. I think some of the local residents were quite angry about this particular incident and another alleged sexual assault.”

ABC Online

In an exclusive interview, the Minister Responsible for Incarceration, Mr Peter Plod, revealed that he had no information about what caused the shooting incident but he was happy to speculate and spread nasty innuendo.

AIMN: Good morning, Mr Plod.
Plod: Good morning.
AIMN: What’s the latest information about the incident on Manus?
Plod: Well, I understand that several asylum seekers were filmed throwing a child into the ocean.
AIMN: Really?
Plod: Yes, apparently there’s a video.
AIMN: And you’ve seen the video?
Plod: No, but I’m told by a very reliable source that it exists and it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that these people throw children into the sea…
AIMN: But just yesterday you were implying that this was related to an alleged sexual assault?
Plod: Yes, I stand by that as well.
AIMN: But the PNG police have said that nothing of the sort occurred, that a ten-year-old boy had been taken into the centre because he was asking for food and there was no allegation of sexual assault.
Plod: I’m not going to comment on an ongoing investigation by the PNG police.
AIMN: But it doesn’t sound like they’re investigating anything.
Plod: No, Look the point is that these people in the centre aren’t very nice people. Otherwise why would the armed forces be shooting at them?
AIMN: Well you couldn’t have unarmed forces shooting at them…
Plod: What? Or, no the point is that it was defence personnel who launched the attack. That surely tells you that it was deserved.
AIMN: So you’re suggesting that any time asylum seekers are attacked it’s their own fault.
Plod: Illegal immigrants.
AIMN: What?
Plod: They’re illegal immigrants. People who come to Australia by boat are illegal immigrants…
AIMN: But they never made it to Australia.
Plod: No but they intended to. Just like they had intentions with that five-year-old boy…
AIMN: But the incident with the boy appears to be a complete fabrication.
Plod: You’re overlooking the video.
AIMN: There’s a video of a five-year-old boy being led into the centre.
Plod: No there’s a video of these people throwing children in the water. I just told you about a minute ago.
AIMN: Who has it?
Plod: Peter Reith, I’m told, and I don’t want to be bothering him now, because he’s not well.
AIMN: So let’s get this straight. You’re no longer claiming that a five-year-old boy being led away and linking that to some alleged sexual assault?
Plod: That’s not what I said… I never claimed that at all. You’re trying to put words into my mouth!
AIMN: So, what did you claim?
Plod: I merely confirmed that there was a definite rumour and that shots were fired and it was probably something to do with that alleged sexual assault and some kid being led away and all those children in the water. Whatever, they’re not the sort of people who should be allowed to stay.
AIMN: On Manus Island or here?
Plod: So I don’t follow.
AIMN: Never mind. If I can just move on to the citizenship test. Let’s take the English skills test. How good does your English have to be? Like, for example, would Matthias Cormann pass?
Plod: That’s really offensive. Making fun of someone just because he has a little bit of an accent.
AIMN: I wasn’t making fun of him. It was a genuine question. I just wondered if people had a thick accent like that, would they pass the test?
Plod: Oh. In that case, no. It’s far too foreign.
AIMN: And some of the questions on the front page of the paper yesterday… Are they really the sort of thing you’ll be asking?
Plod: Give me an example.
AIMN: “Under what circumstances is it appropriate to prohibit girls from education?”
Plod: Great question.
AIMN: Is the answer, “When they can’t afford their HECS debt”?
Plod: Umm….
AIMN: Here’s another: “While it is illegal to use violence in public, under what circumstances can you strike your partner in the privacy of your home?”
Plod: Ok.
AIMN: So. What’s the answer?
Plod: Ah… I don’t have the answers. I just helped out with a few of the questions. We didn’t have to supply answers. That’s up to the applicants.
AIMN: So the answer isn’t, “If you are the leader of a political party in (REMOVED FOR LEGAL REASONS AND BECAUSE IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO AND IT WAS ALL HUSHED UP)”
Plod: That’s an outrageous thing to say! You’re just repeating unsubstantiated rumours. I bet you wouldn’t do that if it were a Labor guy.
AIMN: So you have a problem with someone repeating unsubstantiated rumours. Now that’s ironic.
Plod: What is?
AIMN: Ok, back to question. What if someone wrote, “You are allowed to strike your partner if he’s coming at you with a knife”?
Plod: Look, I’m not going to give the answers. This is the government’s way of ensuring that we get the right sort of people gaining citizenship.
AIMN: Yeah, but it’s too late to exclude Abbott’s parents.
Plod: Pity that… Don’t write that down. Write: Tony was a great PM, he just had trouble explaining things to people, and it was a shame but when his poll numbers dropped that low he to go. Emphaise the bit about poll numbers, but don’t say anything directly about Malcolm’s being just as bad. And say that we all should remeber that Tony really loved Australia and he had great ideas about what the country should be like.
AIMN: And what did he think the country should be like?
Plod: Well, more like England really, with knights and dames and lots and lots of English people.
AIMN: So when do you think we’ll get to see this video?
Plod: What video?
AIMN: The children being thrown into the sea.
Plod: Oh, that’s an on-water matter. It’s classified. But you can trust us. We wouldn’t make something like that up.
AIMN: Thanks, Mr Plod.
Plod: And thanks for not asking me about any leadership challenge.
AIMN: Yes, it would be, wouldn’t it?
Plod: What?
AIMN: A challenge. Leadership, I mean.
Plod: I don’t understand.

Day to Day Politics: Australian values, fair dinkum.

Friday 21 April 2017

1 As a true blue Australian citizen I was perplexed with yesterday’s joint press conference between the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to announce changes to citizenship laws. In fact, I became angry that they could play the race card in such an obvious way. The changes were designed to strengthen Australian citizenship. What nonsense.

It was all smoke and mirrors designed to win back One Nation voters who have deserted them. They couldn’t even provide details of their proposed changes.

Asked at least five times to define ‘Australian values’ neither of them could. But it didn’t stop them from continuously repeating the term which seemed to get the journalists a trifle upset.

They seemed to be implying that these mysterious Australian values are somehow unique or peculiar to the local citizenry.

Are these the values that dared not pass their lips?

Respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual

Freedom of speech

Freedom of association

Freedom of religion and secular government

Support for parliamentary democracy and the rule of law

Equality under the law

Equality of men and women

Equality of opportunity, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background

A spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play, compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good

But surely these are universal values common to most educated democracies.

So what are these uniquely Australian values?

Are they that one of our national songs is about a thieving itinerant worker who steals a sheep and commits suicide to avoid being caught?

Our national hero is a bushranger who ran around with a saucepan on his head.

Are our values built on our ability to overcome defeat on the sporting field?

Ricky Ponting is one of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes, for being the only Australian Cricket Captain famous for having lost the Ashes twice.

Do we look up to the values of Don Bradman who famously scored a duck in his last Test innings, thus ensuring he spectacularly failed to achieve a test average of 100 by the slimmest of margins?

What about the ABC who identifies so closely with his example of almost succeeding, while actually failing, that its GPO Box number is 9994 (Bradman’s ultimate average of 99.94)?

What about our armed forces who we celebrate with a biscuit?

We celebrate a massive and humiliating defeat in WW1 caused by British arrogance, idiocy and bad management. That’s why we prefer English migrants above all others. They make us look less stupid.

Most of our national icons are owned by foreign companies.

Our most famous piece of architecture was designed by a Dane.

Our most coveted sporting trophy is a bunch of ashes. The last day of an Ashes Test is called a “sickie”.

The country prides itself on its healthy disrespect for authority. It proved it at the Eureka Stockade when the miners fought the tax collectors. Sadly, they lost!

Australian Values, Fair dinkum.

Are our values enshrined in the example set by government, locking up and throwing away the key for asylum seekers on Nauru? What values do we find in committing people to a life in prison for not having perpetuated a crime?

Can our values be seen through the prism of and function of our body politic? By the standards our leaders set. By their corruption and incompetence.

We have built an entire culture on dubious values.

What about a “fair go”? Now that’s a tradition engrained in us. We give everyone a fair go unless it is politically useful not to do so or there is some advantage for our media to attack them.

What about the values we used to justify unilaterally attacking Iraq on the basis of a lie. That doesn’t mean we don’t respect democracy. We do. Specifically, we respect the democracies of Burma, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, China and Khazakstan.

As Australians we value and have a deep respect for a wide diversity of European cultures such as English and American.

You might recall that we demonstrated these values with the Cultural Respect classes we hold yearly in January at Cronulla Beach, a famous sewer near Sydney.

Again we demonstrate our values by showing tolerance. After all we tolerate homosexuals. We just don’t like them in our churches. We tolerate their awful deviant practices as long as we can avoid the mental pictures. Our values are such that at some time in the future we may even consider marriage equality.

Disregarding the fact that Australia has arguably the worst record of domestic violence in the world. Australia values and respects its women.

All Australians (except politicians) respect and value democracy. The government values the wishes of the people. It takes care to listen to the people and to their wishes, and then it does what it wants.

We value our own but prefer the head of another nation as our head of state. Australian values indeed.

And we value the existence of our indigenous folk so much that we might one day acknowledge their presence in our constitution. No hurry though.

My Australian values might be different to yours but we are a multicultural country.

2 I said but a few days ago that one only had to look at the property ownership of our politicians to find a reason for the Governments blanket ban on any changes to Capital gains and Negative gearing. Showing true self-interest and, might I say, Australian values. Yes the system has been set up to advantage the rich and privileged and of course our politicians. We should value them and we do.

The ABC says There’s no housing affordability crisis in the ranks of Federal Parliament’s members and senators.”

Even the razor gang, the group that slice and dice the budget and will ultimately decide on the housing affordability policies own many properties.

It’s composed of Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who owns two residential and three investment properties; Treasurer Scott Morrison, who owns a home at Dolans Bay; and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who with his wife Lucy owns several properties, including a home at Point Piper and an apartment in Canberra.

Together with their perks on allowances it truly is a scandal what they are getting away with.

But they are the defenders of Australian values.

My thought for the day.

”Often our opinions are based on our values rather than our understanding and the difficulty is separating the two”.

PS: I acknowledge the contribution of Australian Values in the writing of this piece.



Discrimination for being a white male – seriously?

Australia has recently been subject to a debate over proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The changes were seen by conservatives to be necessary as there was some evidence to suggest that the Courts found that sometimes, some of their rank were found guilty of harassing, offending or insulting others based on their race or religion. During the debate,

Senator Brandis further added that he found it “deeply offensive and insulting” for Labor and the Greens to say his campaign for the changes to race hate laws had something to do with him being a white man.

Thankfully, the changes were voted down in the Senate.

The same week, ‘legendary’ entertainer Barry Manilow at the age of 73 announced that he and his partner had been together for 39 years. The reason that Manilow’s relationship was ‘newsworthy’ is that his partner is male and they finally married in Palm Springs in 2014. Any partnership that lasts 39 years must have a lot of commitment and consensus by those in the partnership and in my view anyway, should be commended.

Manilow apparently kept his personal life to himself because he was worried that he would lose his fans if he ‘came out’, but found out that most actually supported him. And so they should have.

Patrick Garvin, a staff writer for The Boston Globe took a different view, namely why is there an expectation for people who don’t live traditional male/female partnerships to ‘come out’ and justify their lifestyle choices? Garvin has a point – while sometimes a conversation will turn to how various couples met and determined they would form a partnership, there usually isn’t a discussion on why a particular male formed a partnership with a female.

Despite the claims made, Brandis can’t be serious that he is being actively discriminated against. Yes, he is a white man and while he is divorced, it’s highly likely that he has never had to justify his choice of the opposite gender for the partnership that brought two children into the world. This is the same George Brandis who is responsible for the carriage of the changes to the Australian Marriage Act, which are required to remove the requirement that only a man and a woman can be lawfully married.

In 2004, the Sydney Morning Herald reported

Less than an hour after Prime Minister John Howard announced the changes to the Marriage Act, the government rushed legislation enabling the changes into parliament.

Mr Howard said the Marriage Act would be changed to include a definition of marriage as the voluntarily entered-into union of a man and a woman to exclusion of all others.

The laws currently do not define marriage.

“We’ve decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation”, Mr Howard told reporters.

The US Judge who ruled on same sex marriage completed his ruling with the following words

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves.”

Australia still has a long way to go before we can claim to be a society based on equality. As Howard said, the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation. Howard changed the law to prevent same sex marriage without the need for a referendum, postal plebiscite or any other delaying tactic; Brandis and Turnbull can adopt a position on marriage that agrees with contemporary beliefs and change it back.

By the way Senator Brandis, Manilow faced discrimination as he had to justify why he prefers to be partnered with a male – you and Turnbull haven’t had to justify your choices of female partners. It is a factual statement that you are a white male. Factual statements are not discrimination – it’s in Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act.

This article by 2353NM was originally published on TPS Extra.


Warning Scripture replaced by new type of Theism

“Morality cannot be derived from myths,” writes Hugh Harris as he illustrates the problems with promoting unverifiable beliefs. But what do we replace them with?

Placating the Reverend Fred Nile and the various religious lobbies is no easy task, but the NSW Government has taken to it with Yes Minister style obtuseness and Baldrick-like cunning. Maintaining its cuddly relationship with Scripture enthusiasts, the government has spent $300k on a comprehensive report, waited 18 months to release it (just before Easter), and then refused to accept most of the recommendations.

Particularly brazen, was both the refusal to include Ethics on the enrolment form, and continuing to prevent non-participating students from proceeding with curriculum learning while Scripture was conducted. Both, the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, and the NSW P & C Federation expressed disappointment and mystification at this outcome.

So, in the wake of this ongoing debacle – and like the phantom from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol – I’d like to offer the advocates of Scripture a disturbing glimpse into Australia’s atheistic yet-to-come. Christianity is in freefall in Australia: the 2016 Census result will show non-belief overtaking Catholicism as the most popular category. Soon, classes in Secular Humanism and Rationalism will appear in Victorian schools as part of “Learning about world views and religions”. Although these classes will be educational rather than evangelical, it’s not hard to imagine an increasingly irreligious society acquiescing to a more muscular approach to teaching nonreligious worldviews.

Imagine the following inverse scenario: State governments have become beholden to irreligious lobby groups, demanding to protect their freedom to promote their naturalistic belief systems. Perhaps we even have an antitheist holding the balance of power.

And now that the metaphysical wheel has come full circle, we atheists will band together, gather up our copies of “God is not Great – Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens, and begin offering evangelical classes in a new type of Theism. Yes – Antitheism! Just like Scripture, classes will be deceptively marketed as “educational”, and a benign “introduction”, but in practice they will be all-out, Hitchens-like assaults on religion, aimed at ridding children, once and for all, of the human susceptibility and credulity towards the supernatural.

After enduring a century or so of state school Bible-bashing, it’s about time. We have developed a non-believer’s version of the Lausanne movement – the Christian group committed to entreating children into fellowship with Jesus, based on research showing that if they don’t embrace the Lord before the age of 13 they likely never will. Our secular version will scare the bejesus and Jesus out of young children, warning them off celestial tyrants for life.

You’re not a teacher? Don’t worry, we’ll give you the Antitheism crash course, some angry YouTube videos, and a sober pep talk on the importance of brainwashing other people’s children.

We’ve had plenty of time to plan the rise of evangelical antitheism. While Scripture classes segregated us from our friends and frittered away hours of our childhood, we were in the other room, brooding quietly– imagine Damien from Damien the Omen – and secretly plotting revenge.

We envisaged the sort of spine-tingling, dystopian future that would chill the blood of any good Scripture teacher. Same-sex marriage is law. Evidence-based laws and regulations with appropriate limitations allow abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. And with religious exemptions removed from anti-discrimination law, no-one has to lie about their sexuality or pretend to believe in ancient myths to secure employment.

Finally, in state schools, Bible classes have made way for supercharged Antitheism, administered with the same deceptive policies which currently fail to regulate Scripture. Who approves and vets lesson content? No-one.

Parents who fail to be vigilant enough to opt their children out, will find them automatically enrolled into Antitheism. And – accidents will happen – even devout children will suddenly find themselves being told matter-of-factly that there is no God. There’s no heaven or hell either, kids. And by the way, we disapprove of your superstitious parents.

Kids will be Hitch-slapped with the absurdity of the Christian idea that our lives are governed by a God so powerful, he created an unfathomably vast universe with trillions of planets; and yet, is such an inveterate gossip and all-knowing busybody, that he insists on listening to the prayers of every single person on the planet.

Supplanting current day Scripture classes presenting the Bible as “factual” and “historical”, our classes will pillory the “good” book as a litany of fables and comical morality tales. No kids, people did not reside inside of whales, joyride upon Dinosaurs, nor live for 600 years before deciding to have children. Koala’s did not wave goodbye to Noah and leap from tree to tree all the way to Australia without leaving any trace anywhere else.

Morality cannot be derived from myths. Anthropology has shown that Adam and Eve did not exist, thus original sin is bunk. Prohibitions against murder appeared in civilisations predating Christianity and Judaism, well before the supposed Mt. Sinai summit of Moses and God.

That will bring us to the end of term, and our “God is dead” Sombrero party, climaxing spectacularly with the smashing of a lolly-filled Pinyata of Christ the Redeemer.

But we won’t repeat some of the more desperate Christian SRE classes, such as those encouraging instructors to bring in dead animals to dissect, simulating beheadings, age-inappropriate vampire lessons, comparing kids to dirty towels in need of cleansing, and threatening young children or their parents with death.

Nonetheless, Scripture advocates might justifiably recoil from this dread atheistic future. But this future is not inevitable. Take it as a warning of what’s in store unless we change our ways. Perhaps, after all, there is something to be said for a non-discriminatory and comparative approach to teaching religion in state schools. And hopefully the idea of obtruding unverifiable beliefs onto children may seem a little less appealing.


Hugh Harris is an architect, columnist, and member of the Rationalist Society of Australia.

Hugh has written for ABC’s The Drum, The Brisbane Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Courier Mail, The Huffington Post Australia, New Matilda, and The Daily Banter (US). Hugh blogs at rationalrazor.com.


Recent articles:

Christianity no longer a central part of Australian life – Rendezview The Daily Telegraph 17 April 2017

Fundamentalist Islam and rise of Alt-Right go hand in hand – Courier Mail 25 January 2017

Scientology’s personality test said I have “no real reason to live” – The Daily Telegraph 13 January 2017

Trying to Silence Unwelcome Views Only Perpetuates Them – The Huffington Post Australia 6 September 2016

Queensland’s abortion law among the most repressive in world and must change – The Courier Mail 9 August 2016

Parents should worry about religious education materials –  The Sydney Morning Herald 07/06/2016

The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes – ABC’s The Drum 14 April 2016

The horrifying religious instruction classes planned for Qld schools – Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Brisbane Times 20 April 2016

Queensland law should reflect public support for abortion – The Brisbane Times 07 April 2016

We Should Be Promoting Freedom of Belief, Not Religious Freedom – ABC’s The Drum 22 October2015

A Letter to Gun Obsessed America From a Concerned Australian – The Daily Banter 18/12/15


Barnaby’s thought bubble is blatant pork-barrelling

Yesterday, regional development minister Fiona Nash told the Press Club about the Nationals grand scheme to move the public service to the bush.  Their decentralisation policy would be applied across the whole of government.

“All portfolio ministers will be required to report back to Cabinet by August on which of their departments, functions or entities are suitable,” Senator Nash said.  “Departments will need to actively justify if they don’t want to move, why all or part of their operations are unsuitable for decentralisation.”

“Relevant ministers will be required to report to Cabinet with robust business cases for decentralisation by December. It’s important for government to lead by example and invest in rural, regional and remote Australia.”

In March, Jack Waterford wrote a scathing criticism of this thought bubble.

“Success in politics may entitle a party to expend public resources in support of pet theories or so as to reward and punish enemies, or to seek to cultivate constituencies. But the current Joyce crusade about getting government agencies into the bush – transparently so that the Nationals can out-Hanson Hanson – will do the Nationals no good, will do the country no good, and will do the nation no good.

The big losers from self-indulgent transfers of bodies such as the pesticides regulatory authority to Armidale, in the New England region of NSW (and Joyce’s electorate), will be people involved in agriculture. And the taxpayer, stiffed for an extra $40 million or so. The consequence of the disruption that Joyce is demanding will almost certainly be a worsened access by farmers and graziers to the best agricultural and veterinary chemicals, and a reduced quality of service to Australian agriculture and our export trade. We can scarcely afford it.

Think-tanks, repositories of specialised knowledge, regulators, and consultative bodies only rarely operate effectively away from their key audiences, and away from where the power is. The pesticides authority has almost no direct interaction with farmers or graziers, almost no association with university research, or the sorts of professions educated by institutions such as the University of New England. Very little of its work is on the ground with farmers. Its dealings are with chemical and pharmaceutical companies, with agencies at national and state level, and with the world of regulation, control and information sharing.

[T]he National Party, One Nation and many of the ragbag of people focused on decentralisation, a more human scale society, or, perhaps, the turning back of the clock for a recreation of some imagined monocultural bucolic past can’t get much beyond feelings and prejudices, convictions and emotions. The intellectual sloth and ingrained ignorance of the National Party, or at least its Barnaby Joyce wing, ought to be particularly galling to taxpayers, given the party’s access to the resources, funds and brains of government, and its lack of scruple about the misappropriation of public resources to its own.”

Waterford points out the hypocrisy of the idea when so many government services in rural and regional areas have closed and there are so many other services needed that would be of actual benefit to the community.

We have seen the closure of banks, post offices, schools, TAFEs and police stations, the centralisation of Medicare and Roads Authority offices, the amalgamation of local councils, and the privatisation of employment services leading to the closure of CES offices.  Small businesses have been sucked into the vortex of regional cities, concentrating health services and leaving smaller towns without local facilities.  The corner store has been replaced by a supermarket, the local chemist and the local hardware shop by large discount warehouses, all much further from home for those in rural and remote areas.

Communities are crying out for aged care facilities, for more teachers and police, for nurses and ambulance officers, for Aboriginal services, for baby health facilities and child care centres, for dentists and doctors and legal aid, for counselling and community support groups to address the tragedy of depression and suicide that is far too prevalent in country areas.

Instead of spending a fortune pork-barrelling and grandstanding and making announcements with no thought of the cost, consequences, logistics or benefit, it’s time the National Party actually did some good for the people they represent rather than playing politics with Pauline.